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For the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a systematic course of treachery and deception.

He was brought up by hand.

The hungry and destitute situation of the infant orphan was duly reported by the workhouse authorities to the parish authorities.

The parish authorities inquired with dignity of the workhouse authorities, whether there was no female then domiciled in 'the house' who was in a situation to impart to Oliver Twist, the consolation and nourishment of which he stood in need.

The workhouse authorities replied with humility, that there was not. Upon this, the parish authorities magnanimously and humanely resolved, that Oliver should be 'farmed,' or, in other words, that he should be dispatched to a branch-workhouse some three miles off, where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders against the poor-laws, rolled about the floor all day, without the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing, under the parental superintendence of an elderly female, who received the culprits at and for the consideration of sevenpence-halfpenny per small head per week.

Sevenpence-halfpenny's worth per week is a good round diet for a child; a great deal may be got for sevenpence-halfpenny, quite enough to overload its stomach, and make it uncomfortable. The elderly female was a woman of wisdom and experience; she knew what was good for children; and she had a very accurate perception of what was good for herself.

So, she appropriated the greater part of the weekly stipend to her own use, and consigned the rising parochial generation to even a shorter allowance than was originally provided for them.

Thereby finding in the lowest depth a deeper still; and proving herself a very great experimental philosopher. Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopher who had a great theory about a horse being able to live without eating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he had got his own horse down to a straw a day, and would unquestionably have rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at all, if he had not died, four-and-twenty hours before he was to have had his first comfortable bait of air.

Unfortunately for, the experimental philosophy of the female to whose protecting care Oliver Twist was delivered over, a similar result usually attended the operation of _her_ system; for at the very moment when the child had contrived to exist upon the smallest possible portion of the weakest possible food, it did perversely happen in eight and a half cases out of ten, either that it sickened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident; in any one of which cases, the miserable little being was usually summoned into another world, and there gathered to the fathers it had never known in this. Occasionally, when there was some more than usually interesting inquest upon a parish child who had been overlooked in turning up a bedstead, or inadvertently scalded to death when there happened to be a washing--though the latter accident was very scarce, anything approaching to a washing being of rare occurrence in the farm--the jury would take it into their heads to ask troublesome questions, or the parishioners would rebelliously affix their signatures to a remonstrance.

But these impertinences were speedily checked by the evidence of the surgeon, and the testimony of the beadle; the former of whom had always opened the body and found nothing inside (which was very probable indeed), and the latter of whom invariably swore whatever the parish wanted; which was very self-devotional.

Besides, the board made periodical pilgrimages to the farm, and always sent the beadle the day before, to say they were going.

The children were neat and clean to behold, when _they_ went; and what more would the people have! It cannot be expected that this system of farming would produce any very extraordinary or luxuriant crop.

Oliver Twist's ninth birthday found him a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature, and decidedly small in circumference.

But nature or inheritance had implanted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver's breast.

It had had plenty of room to expand, thanks to the spare diet of the establishment; and perhaps to this circumstance may be attributed his having any ninth birth-day at all.

Be this as it may, however, it was his ninth birthday; and he was keeping it in the coal-cellar with a select party of two other young gentleman, who, after participating with him in a sound thrashing, had been locked up for atrociously presuming to be hungry, when Mrs. Mann, the good lady of the house, was unexpectedly startled by the apparition of Mr. Bumble, the beadle, striving to undo the wicket of the garden-gate. 'Goodness gracious!

Is that you, Mr. Bumble, sir?' said Mrs. Mann, thrusting her head out of the window in well-affected ecstasies of joy.

'(Susan, take Oliver and them two brats upstairs, and wash 'em directly.)--My heart alive!

Mr. Bumble, how glad I am to see you, sure-ly!' Now, Mr. Bumble was a fat man, and a choleric; so, instead of responding to this open-hearted salutation in a kindred spirit, he gave the little wicket a tremendous shake, and then bestowed upon it a kick which could have emanated from no leg but a beadle's. 'Lor, only think,' said Mrs. Mann, running out,--for the three boys had been removed by this time,--'only think of that!

That I should have forgotten that the gate was bolted on the inside, on account of them dear children!

Walk in sir; walk in, pray, Mr. Bumble, do, sir.' Although this invitation was accompanied with a curtsey that might have softened the heart of a church-warden, it by no means mollified the beadle. 'Do you think this respectful or proper conduct, Mrs. Mann,' inquired Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane, 'to keep the parish officers a waiting at your garden-gate, when they come here upon porochial business with the porochial orphans?

Are you aweer, Mrs. Mann, that you are, as I may say, a porochial delegate, and a stipendiary?' 'I'm sure Mr. Bumble, that I was only a telling one or two of the dear children as is so fond of you, that it was you a coming,' replied Mrs. Mann with great humility. Mr. Bumble had a great idea of his oratorical powers and his importance.

He had displayed the one, and vindicated the other. He relaxed. 'Well, well, Mrs. Mann,' he replied in a calmer tone; 'it may be as you say; it may be.

Lead the way in, Mrs. Mann, for I come on business, and have something to say.' Mrs. Mann ushered the beadle into a small parlour with a brick floor; placed a seat for him; and officiously deposited his cocked hat and cane on the table before him.

Mr. Bumble wiped from his forehead the perspiration which his walk had engendered, glanced complacently at the cocked hat, and smiled.

Yes, he smiled.

Beadles are but men: and Mr. Bumble smiled. 'Now don't you be offended at what I'm a going to say,' observed Mrs. Mann, with captivating sweetness.

'You've had a long walk, you know, or I wouldn't mention it.

Now, will you take a little drop of somethink, Mr. Bumble?' 'Not a drop.

Nor a drop,' said Mr. Bumble, waving his right hand in a dignified, but placid manner. 'I think you will,' said Mrs. Mann, who had noticed the tone of the refusal, and the gesture that had accompanied it.

'Just a leetle drop, with a little cold water, and a lump of sugar.' Mr. Bumble coughed. 'Now, just a leetle drop,' said Mrs. Mann persuasively. 'What is it?' inquired the beadle. 'Why, it's what I'm obliged to keep a little of in the house, to put into the blessed infants' Daffy, when they ain't well, Mr. Bumble,' replied Mrs. Mann as she opened a corner cupboard, and took down a bottle and glass.

'It's gin.

I'll not deceive you, Mr. B.

It's gin.' 'Do you give the children Daffy, Mrs. Mann?' inquired Bumble, following with his eyes the interesting process of mixing. 'Ah, bless 'em, that I do, dear as it is,' replied the nurse. 'I couldn't see 'em suffer before my very eyes, you know sir.' 'No'; said Mr. Bumble approvingly; 'no, you could not.

You are a humane woman, Mrs. Mann.'

(Here she set down the glass.)

'I shall take a early opportunity of mentioning it to the board, Mrs. Mann.'

(He drew it towards him.)

'You feel as a mother, Mrs. Mann.'

(He stirred the gin-and-water.) 'I--I drink your health with cheerfulness, Mrs. Mann'; and he swallowed half of it. 'And now about business,' said the beadle, taking out a leathern pocket-book.

'The child that was half-baptized Oliver Twist, is nine year old to-day.' 'Bless him!' interposed Mrs. Mann, inflaming her left eye with the corner of her apron. 'And notwithstanding a offered reward of ten pound, which was afterwards increased to twenty pound.

Notwithstanding the most superlative, and, I may say, supernat'ral exertions on the part of this parish,' said Bumble, 'we have never been able to discover who is his father, or what was his mother's settlement, name, or con--dition.' Mrs. Mann raised her hands in astonishment; but added, after a moment's reflection, 'How comes he to have any name at all, then?' The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, 'I inwented it.' 'You, Mr. Bumble!' 'I, Mrs. Mann.

We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. The last was a S,--Swubble, I named him. This was a T,--Twist, I named _him_.

The next one comes will be Unwin, and the next Vilkins.

I have got names ready made to the end of the alphabet, and all the way through it again, when we come to Z.' 'Why, you're quite a literary character, sir!' said Mrs. Mann. 'Well, well,' said the beadle, evidently gratified with the compliment; 'perhaps I may be.

Perhaps I may be, Mrs. Mann.' He finished the gin-and-water, and added, 'Oliver being now too old to remain here, the board have determined to have him back into the house.

I have come out myself to take him there.

So let me see him at once.' 'I'll fetch him directly,' said Mrs. Mann, leaving the room for that purpose.

Oliver, having had by this time as much of the outer coat of dirt which encrusted his face and hands, removed, as could be scrubbed off in one washing, was led into the room by his benevolent protectress. 'Make a bow to the gentleman, Oliver,' said Mrs. Mann. Oliver made a bow, which was divided between the beadle on the chair, and the cocked hat on the table. 'Will you go along with me, Oliver?' said Mr. Bumble, in a majestic voice. Oliver was about to say that he would go along with anybody with great readiness, when, glancing upward, he caught sight of Mrs. Mann, who had got behind the beadle's chair, and was shaking her fist at him with a furious countenance.

He took the hint at once, for the fist had been too often impressed upon his body not to be deeply impressed upon his recollection. 'Will she go with me?' inquired poor Oliver. 'No, she can't,' replied Mr. Bumble.

'But she'll come and see you sometimes.' This was no very great consolation to the child.

Young as he was, however, he had sense enough to make a feint of feeling great regret at going away.

It was no very difficult matter for the boy to call tears into his eyes.

Hunger and recent ill-usage are great assistants if you want to cry; and Oliver cried very naturally indeed.

Mrs. Mann gave him a thousand embraces, and what Oliver wanted a great deal more, a piece of bread and butter, less he should seem too hungry when he got to the workhouse. With the slice of bread in his hand, and the little brown-cloth parish cap on his head, Oliver was then led away by Mr. Bumble from the wretched home where one kind word or look had never lighted the gloom of his infant years.

And yet he burst into an agony of childish grief, as the cottage-gate closed after him.

Wretched as were the little companions in misery he was leaving behind, they were the only friends he had ever known; and a sense of his loneliness in the great wide world, sank into the child's heart for the first time. Mr. Bumble walked on with long strides; little Oliver, firmly grasping his gold-laced cuff, trotted beside him, inquiring at the end of every quarter of a mile whether they were 'nearly there.' To these interrogations Mr. Bumble returned very brief and snappish replies; for the temporary blandness which gin-and-water awakens in some bosoms had by this time evaporated; and he was once again a beadle. Oliver had not been within the walls of the workhouse a quarter of an hour, and had scarcely completed the demolition of a second slice of bread, when Mr. Bumble, who had handed him over to the care of an old woman, returned; and, telling him it was a board night, informed him that the board had said he was to appear before it forthwith. Not having a very clearly defined notion of what a live board was, Oliver was rather astounded by this intelligence, and was not quite certain whether he ought to laugh or cry.

He had no time to think about the matter, however; for Mr. Bumble gave him a tap on the head, with his cane, to wake him up: and another on the back to make him lively: and bidding him to follow, conducted him into a large white-washed room, where eight or ten fat gentlemen were sitting round a table.

At the top of the table, seated in an arm-chair rather higher than the rest, was a particularly fat gentleman with a very round, red face. 'Bow to the board,' said Bumble.

Oliver brushed away two or three tears that were lingering in his eyes; and seeing no board but the table, fortunately bowed to that. 'What's your name, boy?' said the gentleman in the high chair. Oliver was frightened at the sight of so many gentlemen, which made him tremble: and the beadle gave him another tap behind, which made him cry.

These two causes made him answer in a very low and hesitating voice; whereupon a gentleman in a white waistcoat said he was a fool.

Which was a capital way of raising his spirits, and putting him quite at his ease. 'Boy,' said the gentleman in the high chair, 'listen to me. You know you're an orphan, I suppose?' 'What's that, sir?' inquired poor Oliver. 'The boy _is_ a fool--I thought he was,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. 'Hush!' said the gentleman who had spoken first.

'You know you've got no father or mother, and that you were brought up by the parish, don't you?' 'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver, weeping bitterly. 'What are you crying for?' inquired the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

And to be sure it was very extraordinary.

What _could_ the boy be crying for? 'I hope you say your prayers every night,' said another gentleman in a gruff voice; 'and pray for the people who feed you, and take care of you--like a Christian.' 'Yes, sir,' stammered the boy.

The gentleman who spoke last was unconsciously right.

It would have been very like a Christian, and a marvellously good Christian too, if Oliver had prayed for the people who fed and took care of _him_. But he hadn't, because nobody had taught him. 'Well!

You have come here to be educated, and taught a useful trade,' said the red-faced gentleman in the high chair. 'So you'll begin to pick oakum to-morrow morning at six o'clock,' added the surly one in the white waistcoat. For the combination of both these blessings in the one simple process of picking oakum, Oliver bowed low by the direction of the beadle, and was then hurried away to a large ward; where, on a rough, hard bed, he sobbed himself to sleep.

What a novel illustration of the tender laws of England!

They let the paupers go to sleep! Poor Oliver!

He little thought, as he lay sleeping in happy unconsciousness of all around him, that the board had that very day arrived at a decision which would exercise the most material influence over all his future fortunes.

But they had.

And this was it: The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical men; and when they came to turn their attention to the workhouse, they found out at once, what ordinary folks would never have discovered--the poor people liked it!

It was a regular place of public entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavern where there was nothing to pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper all the year round; a brick and mortar elysium, where it was all play and no work.

'Oho!' said the board, looking very knowing; 'we are the fellows to set this to rights; we'll stop it all, in no time.'

So, they established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they), of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it.

With this view, they contracted with the water-works to lay on an unlimited supply of water; and with a corn-factor to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal; and issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll of Sundays.

They made a great many other wise and humane regulations, having reference to the ladies, which it is not necessary to repeat; kindly undertook to divorce poor married people, in consequence of the great expense of a suit in Doctors' Commons; and, instead of compelling a man to support his family, as they had theretofore done, took his family away from him, and made him a bachelor!

There is no saying how many applicants for relief, under these last two heads, might have started up in all classes of society, if it had not been coupled with the workhouse; but the board were long-headed men, and had provided for this difficulty.

The relief was inseparable from the workhouse and the gruel; and that frightened people. For the first six months after Oliver Twist was removed, the system was in full operation.

It was rather expensive at first, in consequence of the increase in the undertaker's bill, and the necessity of taking in the clothes of all the paupers, which fluttered loosely on their wasted, shrunken forms, after a week or two's gruel.

But the number of workhouse inmates got thin as well as the paupers; and the board were in ecstasies. The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with a copper at one end: out of which the master, dressed in an apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at mealtimes.

Of this festive composition each boy had one porringer, and no more--except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides. The bowls never wanted washing.

The boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed this operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon.

Boys have generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn't been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age.

He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist. The evening arrived; the boys took their places.

The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons.

The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbors nudged him.

Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery.

He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity: 'Please, sir, I want some more.' The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper.

The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear. 'What!' said the master at length, in a faint voice. 'Please, sir,' replied Oliver, 'I want some more.' The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arm; and shrieked aloud for the beadle. The board were sitting in solemn conclave, when Mr. Bumble rushed into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said, 'Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir!

Oliver Twist has asked for more!' There was a general start.

Horror was depicted on every countenance. 'For _more_!' said Mr. Limbkins.

'Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly.

Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?' 'He did, sir,' replied Bumble. 'That boy will be hung,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

'I know that boy will be hung.' Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman's opinion.

An animated discussion took place.

Oliver was ordered into instant confinement; and a bill was next morning pasted on the outside of the gate, offering a reward of five pounds to anybody who would take Oliver Twist off the hands of the parish.

In other words, five pounds and Oliver Twist were offered to any man or woman who wanted an apprentice to any trade, business, or calling. 'I never was more convinced of anything in my life,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat, as he knocked at the gate and read the bill next morning: 'I never was more convinced of anything in my life, than I am that that boy will come to be hung.' As I purpose to show in the sequel whether the white waistcoated gentleman was right or not, I should perhaps mar the interest of this narrative (supposing it to possess any at all), if I ventured to hint just yet, whether the life of Oliver Twist had this violent termination or no.

(介绍奥立弗·退斯特的成长教育以及衣食住行情况。)

接下来的八个月,或者说十个月,奥立弗成了一种有组织的背信弃义与欺诈行为的牺牲品,他是用奶瓶喂大的。济贫院当局按规定将这名孤儿嗷嗷待哺、一无所有的情况上报教区当局。教区当局一本正经地咨询济贫院方面,眼下"院内"是否连一个能够为奥立弗提供亟需的照料和营养的女人也腾不出。济贫院当局谦恭地回答说,腾不出来。鉴于这一点,教区当局很慷慨地决定,将奥立弗送去"寄养",换成别的说法,就是给打发到三英里以外的一处分院去,那边有二三十个违反了济贫法的小犯人整天在地板上打滚,毫无吃得太饱,穿得过暖的麻烦,有一个老太婆给他们以亲如父母的管教,老太婆把这帮小犯人接受下来,是看在每颗小脑袋一星期补贴六个半便士的分上。一星期七个半便士,可以为一个孩子办出一流的伙食,七个半便士可以买不少东西了,完全足以把一只小肚子给撑坏,反而不舒服。老婆子足智多谋,阅历非浅,很懂得调理孩子这一套,更有一本算计得非常老到的私账。就这样,她把每周的大部分生活费派了自己的用场,用在教区新一代身上的津贴也就比规定的少了许多。她居然发现深处自有更深处,证明她本人是一个非常了不起的实验哲学家。

人人都知道另一位实验哲学家的佳话,他自有一套马儿不吃草也能跑得好的高见,还演证得活龙活现,把自己一匹马的饲料降到每天只喂一根干草。毫无疑问,要不是那匹马在即将获得第一份可口的空气饲料之前二十四小时一命呜乎,他早就调教出一匹什么东西都不吃的烈性子骏马来了。接受委托照看奥立弗·退斯特的那位女士也信奉实验哲学,不幸的是,她的一套制度实施起来也往往产生极其相似的结果。每当孩子们已经训练得可以依靠低劣得不能再低劣的食物中少得不能再少的一部分活下去的时候,十个之中倒有八个半会出现这样的情形:要么在饥寒交迫下病倒在床,要么一不留神掉进了火里,要不就是偶然之间给呛得半死,只要出现其中任何一种情况,可怜的小生命一般都会被召到另一个世界,与他们在这个世界上从未见过的先人团聚去了。

在翻床架子的时候,没有看见床上还有教区收养的一名孤儿,居然连他一块倒过来,或者正赶上洗洗涮涮的时候一不留神把孩子给烫死了——不过后一种事故非常罕见,洗洗涮测一类的事在寄养所里可以说是绝无仅有——发生这样的事,偶尔也会吃官司,很有趣,但并不多见。陪审团也许会心血来潮,提出一些棘手的问题,要不就是教区居民公然联名提出抗议。不过,这类不识相的举动很快就会被教区医生的证明和干事的证词给顶回去,前者照例把尸体剖开看看,发现里边空无一物(这倒是极为可能的),后者则是教区要他们怎么发誓他们就怎么发誓,誓词中充满献身精神。此外,理事会定期视察寄养所,总是提前一天派干事去说一声,他们要来了,到他们去的时候,孩子们个个收抬得又干净又光鲜,令人爽心说目,人们还要怎么样。

不能指望这种寄养制度会结出什么了不得的或者是丰硕的果实。奥立弗·退斯特的九岁生日到了,眼见得还是一个苍白瘦弱的孩子,个子矮矮的,腰也细得不得了。然而不知是由于造化还是遗传,奥立弗胸中已经种下了刚毅倔强的精神。这种精神有广阔的空间得以发展,还要归功于寄养所伙食太差,说不定正是由于这种待遇,他才好歹活到了自己的第九个生日。不管怎么说吧,今天是他的九岁生日,他正在煤窖里庆祝生日,客人是经过挑选的,只有另外两位小绅士,他们仨真是穷凶极恶,居然喊肚子饿,一起结结实实挨了一顿打,之后又给关了起来。这时候,所里那位好当家人麦恩太太忽然吓了一跳,她没有想到教区干事邦布尔先生会不期而至,此时他正在奋力打开花园大门上的那道小门。

"天啦。是你吗,邦布尔先生?"麦恩太太说着,把头探出窗外,一脸喜出望外的神气装得恰到好处。"苏珊,把奥立弗和他们两个臭小子带到楼上去,赶紧替他们洗洗干净。哎呀呀,邦布尔先生,见到你我真是太高兴了,真——的。"

这不,邦布尔先生人长得胖,又是急性子,所以,对于如此亲昵的一番问候,他非但没有以同样的亲昵作出回答,反而狠命摇了一下那扇小门,又给了它一脚,除了教区干事,任谁也踢不出这样一脚来。

"天啦,瞧我,"麦恩太太说着,连忙奔出来,这功夫三个孩子已经转移了,"瞧我这记性,我倒忘了门是从里边闩上的,这都是为了这些个小乖乖。进来吧,先生,请进请进,邦布尔先生,请吧。"

尽管这一邀请配有一个足以让任何一名教区干事心软下来的屈膝礼,可这位干事丝毫不为所动。

"麦恩太太,你认为这样做合乎礼节,或者说很得体吧?"邦布尔先生紧握手杖,问道,"教区公务人员为区里收养的孤儿的教区公务上这儿来,你倒让他们在花园门口老等着?你难道不知道,麦恩太太,你还是一位贫民救济处的代理人,而且是领薪水的吗?"

"说真的,邦布尔先生,我只不过是在给小乖乖说,是你来了,他们当中有一两个还真喜欢你呢。"麦恩太太毕恭毕敬地回答。

邦布尔先生一向认为自己口才不错,身价也很高,这功夫他不但展示了口才,又确立了自己的身价,态度也就开始有所松动。

"好了,好了,麦恩太太,"他口气和缓了一些,"就算是像你说的那样吧,可能是这样。领我进屋去吧,麦恩太太,无事不登三宝殿,我有话要说。"

麦恩太太把干事领进一间砖砌地面的小客厅,请他坐下来,又自作主张把他的三角帽和手杖放在他面前的一张桌子上。邦布尔先生抹掉额头上因赶路沁出的汗水,得意地看了一眼三角帽,微笑起来。一点不错,他微微一笑。当差的毕竟也是人,邦布尔先生笑了。

"我说,你该不会生气吧?瞧,走了老远的路,你是知道的,要不我也不会多事。"麦恩太太的口气甜得令人无法招架。"哦,你要不要喝一小口,邦布尔先生?"

"一滴也不喝,一滴也不喝。"邦布尔先生连连摆动右手,一副很有分寸但又不失平和的派头。

"我寻思你还是喝一口,"麦恩太太留心到了对方回绝时的口气以及随之而来的动作,便说道,"只喝一小口,掺一点点冷水,放块糖。"

邦布尔咳嗽了一声。

"好,喝一小口。"麦恩太太乖巧地说。

"什么酒?"干事问。

"哟,不就是我在家里总得备上一点的那种东西,赶上这帮有福气的娃娃身体不舒服的时候,就兑一点达菲糖浆,给他们喝下去,邦布尔先生。"麦恩太太一边说,一边打开角橱,取出一瓶酒和一只杯子。"杜松子酒,我不骗你,邦先生,这是杜松子酒。"

"你也给孩子们服达菲糖浆,麦恩太太?"调酒的程序很是有趣,邦布尔先生的眼光紧追不舍,一边问道。

"上天保佑,是啊,不管怎么贵,"监护人回答,"我不忍心看着他们在我眼皮底下遭罪,先生,你是知道的。"

"是啊,"邦布尔先生表示赞同,"你不忍心。麦恩太太,你是个有同情心的女人。"(这当儿她放下了杯子。)"我会尽快找个机会和理事会提到这事,麦恩太太。"(他把酒杯挪到面前。)"你给人感觉就像一位母亲,麦恩太太。"(他把掺水杜松子酒调匀。)"我——我十分乐意为你的健康干杯,麦恩太太。"他一口就喝下去半杯。

"现在谈正事,"干事说着,掏出一个皮夹子。"那个连洗礼都没有做完的孩子,奥立弗·退斯特,今天满九岁了。"

"老天保佑他。"麦恩太太插了一句嘴,一边用围裙角抹了抹左眼。

"尽管明摆着悬赏十英镑,后来又增加到二十镑,尽管本教区方面已经尽了最大努力,应该说,最最超乎寻常的努力,"邦布尔说道,"我们还是没法弄清楚他父亲是谁,也不知道他母亲的住址、姓名、或者说有关的情——形。"

麦恩太太惊奇地扬起双手,沉思了半晌,说道,"那,他到底是怎么取上名字的?"

干事正了正脸色,洋洋得意地说,"我给取的。"

"你,邦布尔先生。"

"是我,麦恩太太。我们照着ABC的顺序给这些宝贝取名字,上一个是S——斯瓦布尔,我给取的。这一个是T——我就叫他退斯特,下边来的一个就该叫恩文了,再下一个是维尔金斯。我已经把名字取到末尾几个字母了,等我们到了Z的时候,就又重头开始。"

"乖乖,你可真算得上是位大文豪呢,先生。"麦思太太说。

"得了,得了,"干事显然让这一番恭维吹捧得心花怒放,"兴许算得上,兴许算得上吧,麦恩太太。"他把掺水杜松子酒一饮而尽,补充说,"奥立弗呆在这里嫌大了一些,理事会决定让他迁回济贫院,我亲自过来一趟就是要带他走,你叫他这就来见我。"

"我马上把他叫来。"麦恩太太说着,特意离开了客厅。这时候,奥立弗脸上手上包着的一层污泥已经擦掉,洗一次也就只能擦掉这么多,由这位好心的女保护人领着走进房间。

"给这位先生鞠个躬,奥立弗。"麦恩太太说。

奥立弗鞠了一躬,这一番礼仪半是对着坐在椅子上的教区干事,半是对着桌上的三角帽。

"奥立弗,你愿意跟我一块儿走吗?"邦布尔先生的声音很威严。

奥立弗刚要说他巴不得跟谁一走了事,眼睛一抬,正好看见麦恩太太拐到邦布尔先生椅子后边,正气势汹汹地冲着自己挥动拳头,他立刻领会了这一暗示,这副拳头在他身上加盖印记的次数太多了,不可能不在他的记忆中留下深刻的印象。

"她也跟我一起去吗?"可怜的奥立弗问。

"不,她走不开,"邦布尔先生回答,"不过她有时会来看看你。"

对这个孩子说来,这完全算不上一大安慰,尽管他还很小,却已经能够特意装出非常舍不得离开的表情。要这个孩子挤出几滴泪水也根本不是什么太难的事情。只要想哭,挨饿以及新近遭受的虐待也很有帮助。奥立弗哭得的确相当自然。麦恩太太拥抱了奥立弗一千次,还给了他一块奶油面包,这对他要实惠得多,省得他一到济贫院就露出一副饿痨相。奥立弗手里拿着面包,戴上一顶教区配备的茶色小帽,当下便由邦布尔先生领出了这一所可悲的房屋,他在这里度过的幼年时代真是一团漆黑,从来没有被一句温和的话语或是一道亲切的目光照亮过。尽管如此,当那所房子的大门在身后关上时,他还是顿时感到一阵稚气的哀伤,他把自己那班不幸的小伙伴丢在身后了,他们淘气是淘气,但却是他结识的不多的几个好朋友,一种只身掉进茫茫人海的孤独感第一次沉入孩子的心田。

邦布尔先生大步流星地走着,小奥立弗紧紧抓住他的金边袖口,一溜小跑地走在旁边。每走两三百码,他就要问一声是不是"快到了"。对于这些问题,邦布尔先生报以极其简短而暴躁的答复,掺水杜松子酒在某些人胸中只能唤起短时间的温和大度,这种心情到这会儿已经蒸发完了,他重又成为一名教区干事。

奥立弗在济贫院里还没呆上一刻钟,刚解决了另外一片面包,把他交给一位老太太照看,自己去办事的邦布尔先生就回来了,他告诉奥立弗,今天晚上赶上理事会开会,理事们要他马上去见一面。

奥立弗多少给这个消息吓了一跳,一块木板怎么是活的①,他显然一无所知,完全搞不清楚自己究竟应该笑还是应该哭,不过,他也没功夫去琢磨这事了。邦布尔先生用手杖在他头上敲了一记,以便使他清醒过来,落在背上的另一记是要他振作些,然后吩咐他跟上,领着他走进一间粉刷过的大房间,十来位胖胖的绅士围坐在一张桌子前边。上首一把圈椅比别的椅子高出许多,椅子上坐着一位特别胖的绅士,一张脸滚圆通红。 

①在英语里,"理事会"和"木板"二词同形。

"给各位理事鞠一躬。"邦布尔说道。奥立弗抹掉在眼睛里打转的两三滴泪水,他看见前面只有一张桌子,没有木板,只好将就着朝桌子鞠了一躬。

"孩子,你叫什么名字?"高椅子上的绅士开口了。

奥立弗一见有这么多绅士不禁大吃一惊,浑身直哆嗦,干事又在背后捅了他一下,打得他号陶大哭。由于这两个原因,他回答的时候声音很低,而且很犹豫,一位穿白色背心的先生当即断言,他是一个傻瓜。应该说明,预言吉凶是这位绅士提神开心的一种重要方法。

"孩子,"坐在高椅子上的绅士说道,"你听着,我想,你知道自己是孤儿吧?"

"先生,你说什么?"可怜的奥立弗问道。

"这孩子是个傻瓜——以前可能就是。"穿白背心的绅士说。

"别打岔。"最先发话的那位绅士说道,"你无父无母,是教区把你抚养大的,你知道不知道?"

"知道,先生。"奥立弗回答时哭得很伤心。

"你哭什么?"穿白背心的绅士问道。是啊,这确实太不可理解了,这孩子能有什么值得哭的?

"我希望你每天晚上作祷告,"另一位绅士厉声说,"为那些养育你,照应你的人祈祷——要像一个基督徒。"

"是,先生。"孩子结结巴巴地说。刚刚发言的那位先生无意间倒是说中了。要是奥立弗为那些养育他,照应他的人祈祷过的话,肯定早就很像一个基督徒了,而且是一个出类拔萃的基督徒。可他从来不曾作过祷告,因为根本没有人教他。

"行了。你上这儿来是接受教育,是来学一门有用处的手艺的。"高椅子上那位红脸绅士说。

"那你明天早晨六点钟就开始拆旧麻绳①。"白背心绅士绷着脸补充了一句。

①用来填塞船板缝,属于囚犯和穷人的工作。

为了答谢他们通过拆旧麻绳这么一个简简单单的工序,把授业和传艺这两大善举融为一体,奥立弗在邦布尔的指教下又深深地鞠了一躬,便被匆匆忙忙带进一间大收容室,在那里,在一张高低不平的硬床上,他抽抽答答地睡着了。好一幅绝妙的写照,活现了仁慈为怀的英国法律。法律毕竟是允许穷人睡觉的。

可怜的奥立弗。他何曾想到,就在他陷入沉睡,对身边的一切都毫不知晓的情况下,就在这一天,理事会作出了一个与他未来的命运息息相关的决定。已经定了。事情是这样的:

该理事会诸君都是一些练达睿智的哲人,当他们关心起济贫院来的时候,立刻发现了一个等闲之辈绝对看不出来的问题——穷人们喜欢济贫院。对于比较卑贱的阶级,济贫院是一个名副其实的公共娱乐场所,一家不用花钱的旅店,三顿便饭带茶点常年都有,整个是一个砖泥结构的乐园,在那里尽可整天玩耍,不用干活。"啊哈!"看来深知个中缘由的理事先生们发话了,"要想纠正这种情况,得靠我们这班人了,我们要立即加以制止。"于是乎,他们定下了规矩,凡是穷人都应当作出选择(他们不会强迫任何人,从来不强迫),要么在济贫院里按部就班地饿死,要么在院外来个痛快的。为此目的,他们与自来水厂订下了无限制供水的合同,和粮商谈定,按期向济贫院供应少量燕麦片,配给的情况是每天三顿稀粥,一礼拜两次发放一头洋葱,逢礼拜天增发半个面包卷。他们还制定了无数涉及妇女的规章制度,条条都很英明而又不失厚道,这里恕不一一复述。鉴于伦敦民事律师公会①收费太贵,理事们便厚道仁慈地着手拆散穷苦的夫妇,不再强迫男方跟以往一样赡养妻小,而是夺走他们的家室,使他们成为光棍。单凭以上两条,如果不是与济贫院配套,社会各阶层不知会有多少人申请救济。不过理事会的先生们都是些有识之士,对这一难题早已成竹在胸。救济一与济贫院、麦片粥挂上了钩,就把人们吓跑了。

①以前伦敦专门处理遗嘱、结婚、离婚的机构。

奥立弗·退斯特迁回济贫院的头六个月,这种制度正处于全力实施之中。一开始花销颇大,殡仪馆开出的账单很长,又要把院内贫民穿的衣裳改小,才喝了一两个礼拜的稀粥,衣服就开始在他们那枯瘦如柴的身上哗啦啦地飘动起来。济贫院的人数毕竟和社会上的贫民一样大为减少,理事会别提有多高兴。

孩子们进食的场所是一间宽敞的大厅,一口钢锅放在大厅一侧,开饭的时候,大师傅在锅边舀粥,他为此还特意系上了围裙,并有一两个女人替他打杂。按照这样一种过节一般的布置,每个孩子分得一汤碗粥,绝不多给——遇上普天同庆的好日子,增发二又四分之一盎司面包。粥碗从来用不着洗,孩子们非用汤匙把碗刮得重又明光铮亮了才住手。进行这一道工序的时候(这绝对花不了多少时间,汤匙险些就有碗那般大了),他们坐在那儿,眼巴巴地瞅着铜锅,恨不得把垫锅的砖也给吞下去,与此同时,他们下死劲地吸着手指头,决不放过可能掉落下来的汁水粥粒。男孩子大都有一副呱呱叫的好胃口。三个月以来,奥立弗·退斯特和同伴们一起忍受着慢性饥饿的煎熬。到后来实在饿得顶不住了,都快发疯了,有一名男童个子长得比年龄大,又向来没有经历过这种事情(他父亲开过一家小饭铺),阴沉着脸向同伴们暗示,除非每天额外多给他一碗粥,否则难保哪天晚上他不会把睡在他身边的那个孩子吃掉,而那又偏巧是个年幼可欺的小不点。他说话的时候眼睛里闪动着一副野性的饥饿目光,孩子们没有不相信的。大家开了一个会,抽签决定谁在当天傍晚吃过饭以后到大师傅那里去再要一点粥,奥立弗·退斯特中签了。

黄昏来临,孩子们坐到了各自的位子上,大师傅身着厨子行头,往锅边一站,打下手的两名贫妇站在他的身后。粥一一分发到了,冗长的祷告念完之后便是花不了多少时间的进餐。碗里的粥一扫而光,孩子们交头接耳,直向奥立弗使眼色,这时,邻桌用胳膊肘轻轻推了他一下。奥立弗尽管还是个孩子,却已经被饥饿与苦难逼得什么都顾不上,挺而走险了。他从桌边站起来,手里拿着汤匙和粥盆,朝大师傅走去,开口时多少有一点被自己的大胆吓了一跳:

"对不起,先生,我还要一点。"

大师傅是个身强体壮的胖子,他的脸刷地变白了,好一会儿,他愕然不解地紧盯着这个造反的小家伙,接着他有点稳不大住了,便贴在锅灶上。帮厨的女人由于惊愕,孩子们则是由于害怕,一个个都动弹不得。

"什么!"大师傅好容易开了口,声音有气无力。

"对不起,先生,我还要。"奥立弗答道。

大师傅操起勺子,照准奥立弗头上就是一下,又伸开双臂把他紧紧夹住,尖声高呼着,快把干事叫来。

理事们正在密商要事,邦布尔先生一头冲进房间,情绪十分激昂,对高椅子上的绅士说道:

"利姆金斯先生,请您原谅,先生。奥立弗·退斯特还要。"

全场为之震惊,恐惧活画在一张张脸孔上。

"还要!"利姆金斯先生说,"镇静,邦布尔,回答清楚。我该没有听错,你是说他吃了按标准配给的晚餐之后还要?"

"是这样,先生。"邦布尔答道。

"那孩子将来准会被绞死,"白背心绅士说,"我断定那孩子会被绞死。"

对这位绅士的预见,谁也没有反驳。理事会进行了一番热烈的讨论。奥立弗当下就被禁闭起来。第二天早晨,大门外边贴出了一张告示,说是凡愿接手教区,收留奥立弗·退斯特者酬金五镑,换句话说,只要有人,不论是男是女,想招一个徒弟,去从事任何一种手艺、买卖、行业,都可以来领五镑现金和奥立弗·退斯特。

"鄙人平生确信不疑之事,"第二天早晨,穿白背心的绅士一边敲门,一边浏览着这张告示说道,"鄙人平生确信不疑之事,没有一件能与这事相比,我断定这小鬼必受绞刑。"

穿白背心的绅士到底说中了没有,笔者打算以后再披露。如果我眼下贸然点破,奥立弗·退斯特会不会落得这般可怕的下场,说不定就会损害这个故事的趣味了(假定它多少有一些趣味的话)。