The two attendants, after a little whispering, came out into the passage, stretching themselves as if glad of the temporary relief, and motioned the visitors to follow the jailer into the cell. They did so.
The condemned criminal was seated on his bed, rocking himself from side to side, with a countenance more like that of a snared beast than the face of a man. His mind was evidently wandering to his old life, for he continued to mutter, without appearing conscious of their presence otherwise than as a part of his vision.
'Good boy, Charley--well done--' he mumbled. 'Oliver, too, ha! ha! ha! Oliver too--quite the gentleman now--quite the--take that boy away to bed!'
The jailer took the disengaged hand of Oliver; and, whispering him not to be alarmed, looked on without speaking.
'Take him away to bed!' cried Fagin. 'Do you hear me, some of you? He has been the--the--somehow the cause of all this. It's worth the money to bring him up to it--Bolter's throat, Bill; never mind the girl--Bolter's throat as deep as you can cut. Saw his head off!'
'Fagin,' said the jailer.
'That's me!' cried the Jew, falling instantly, into the attitude of listening he had assumed upon his trial. 'An old man, my Lord; a very old, old man!'
'Here,' said the turnkey, laying his hand upon his breast to keep him down. 'Here's somebody wants to see you, to ask you some questions, I suppose. Fagin, Fagin! Are you a man?'
'I shan't be one long,' he replied, looking up with a face retaining no human expression but rage and terror. 'Strike them all dead! What right have they to butcher me?'
As he spoke he caught sight of Oliver and Mr. Brownlow. Shrinking to the furthest corner of the seat, he demanded to know what they wanted there.
'Steady,' said the turnkey, still holding him down. 'Now, sir, tell him what you want. Quick, if you please, for he grows worse as the time gets on.'
'You have some papers,' said Mr. Brownlow advancing, 'which were placed in your hands, for better security, by a man called Monks.'
'It's all a lie together,' replied Fagin. 'I haven't one--not one.'
'For the love of God,' said Mr. Brownlow solemnly, 'do not say that now, upon the very verge of death; but tell me where they are. You know that Sikes is dead; that Monks has confessed; that there is no hope of any further gain. Where are those papers?'
'Oliver,' cried Fagin, beckoning to him. 'Here, here! Let me whisper to you.'
'I am not afraid,' said Oliver in a low voice, as he relinquished Mr. Brownlow's hand.
'The papers,' said Fagin, drawing Oliver towards him, 'are in a canvas bag, in a hole a little way up the chimney in the top front-room. I want to talk to you, my dear. I want to talk to you.'
'Yes, yes,' returned Oliver. 'Let me say a prayer. Do! Let me say one prayer. Say only one, upon your knees, with me, and we will talk till morning.'
'Outside, outside,' replied Fagin, pushing the boy before him towards the door, and looking vacantly over his head. 'Say I've gone to sleep--they'll believe you. You can get me out, if you take me so. Now then, now then!'
'Oh! God forgive this wretched man!' cried the boy with a burst of tears.
'That's right, that's right,' said Fagin. 'That'll help us on. This door first. If I shake and tremble, as we pass the gallows, don't you mind, but hurry on. Now, now, now!'
'Have you nothing else to ask him, sir?' inquired the turnkey.
'No other question,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'If I hoped we could recall him to a sense of his position--'
'Nothing will do that, sir,' replied the man, shaking his head. 'You had better leave him.'
The door of the cell opened, and the attendants returned.
'Press on, press on,' cried Fagin. 'Softly, but not so slow. Faster, faster!'
The men laid hands upon him, and disengaging Oliver from his grasp, held him back. He struggled with the power of desperation, for an instant; and then sent up cry upon cry that penetrated even those massive walls, and rang in their ears until they reached the open yard.