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a good 'spectable chimbley-sweepin' bisness,' said Mr. Gamfield, 'I wants a 'prentis, and I am ready to take him.'

'Walk in,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. Mr. Gamfield having lingered behind, to give the donkey another blow on the head, and another wrench of the jaw, as a caution not to run away in his absence, followed the gentleman with the white waistcoat into the room where Oliver had first seen him.

'It's a nasty trade,' said Mr. Limbkins, when Gamfield had again stated his wish.

'Young boys have been smothered in chimneys before now,' said another gentleman.

'That's acause they damped the straw afore they lit it in the chimbley to make 'em come down again,' said Gamfield; 'that's all smoke, and no blaze; vereas smoke ain't o' no use at all in making a boy come down, for it only sinds him to sleep, and that's wot he likes. Boys is wery obstinit, and wery lazy, Gen'l'men, and there's nothink like a good hot blaze to make 'em come down vith a run. It's humane too, gen'l'men, acause, even if they've stuck in the chimbley, roasting their feet makes 'em struggle to hextricate theirselves.'

The gentleman in the white waistcoat appeared very much amused by this explanation; but his mirth was speedily checked by a look from Mr. Limbkins. The board then proceeded to converse among themselves for a few minutes, but in so low a tone, that the words 'saving of expenditure,' 'looked well in the accounts,' 'have a printed report published,' were alone audible. These only chanced to be heard, indeed, or account of their being very frequently repeated with great emphasis.

At length the whispering ceased; and the members of the board, having resumed their seats and their solemnity, Mr. Limbkins said:

'We have considered your proposition, and we don't approve of it.'

'Not at all,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

'Decidedly not,' added the other members.

As Mr. Gamfield did happen to labour under the slight imputation of having bruised three or four boys to death already, it occurred to him that the board had, perhaps, in some unaccountable freak, taken it into their heads that this extraneous circumstance ought to influence their proceedings. It was very unlike their general mode of doing business, if they had; but still, as he had no particular wish to revive the rumour, he twisted his cap in his hands, and walked slowly from the table.

'So you won't let me have him, gen'l'men?' said Mr. Gamfield, pausing near the door.

'No,' replied Mr. Limbkins; 'at least, as it's a nasty business, we think you ought to take something less than the premium we offered.'

Mr. Gamfield's countenance brightened, as, with a quick step, he returned to the table, and said,

'What'll you give, gen'l'men? Come! Don't be too hard on a poor man. What'll you give?'

'I should say, three pound ten was plenty,' said Mr. Limbkins.

'Ten shillings too much,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat.

'Come!' said Gamfield; 'say four pound, gen'l'men. Say four pound, and you've got rid of him for good and all. There!'

'Three pound ten,' repeated Mr. Limbkins, firmly.

'Come! I'll split the diff'erence, gen'l'men,' urged Gamfield. 'Three pound fifteen.'

'Not a farthing more,' was the firm reply of Mr. Limbkins.

'You're desperate hard upon me, gen'l'men,' said Gamfield, wavering.

'Pooh! pooh! nonsense!' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. 'He'd be cheap with nothing at all, as a premium. Take him, you silly fellow! He's just the boy for you. He wants the stick, now and then: it'll do him good; and his board needn't come very expensive, for he hasn't been overfed since he was born. Ha! ha! ha!'

Mr. Gamfield gave an arch look at the faces round the table, and, observing a smile on all of them, gradually broke into a smile himself. The bargain was made. Mr. Bumble, was at once instructed that Oliver Twist and his indentures were to be conveyed before the magistrate, for signature and approval, that very afternoon.

In pursuance of this determination, little Oliver, to his excessive astonishment, was released from bondage, and ordered to put himself into a clean shirt. He had hardly achieved this very unusual gymnastic performance, when Mr. Bumble brought him, with his own hands, a basin of gruel, and the holiday allowance of two ounces and a quarter of bread. At this tremendous sight, Oliver began to cry very piteously: thinking, not unnaturally, that the board must have determined to kill him for some useful purpose, or they never would have begun to fatten him up in that way.

'Don't make your eyes red, Oliver, but eat your food and be thankful,' said Mr. Bumble, in a tone of impressive pomposity. 'You're a going to be made a 'prentice of, Oliver.'

'A prentice, sir!' said the child, trembling.

'Yes, Oliver,' said Mr. Bumble. 'The kind and blessed gentleman which is so many parents to you, Oliver, when you have none of your own: are a going to 'prentice' you: and to set you up in life, and make a man of you: although the expense to the parish is three pound ten!--three pound ten, Oliver!--seventy shillins--one hundred and forty sixpences!--and all for a naughty orphan which nobody can't love.'

As Mr. Bumble paused to take breath, after delivering this address in an awful voice, the tears rolled down the poor child's face, and he sobbed bitterly.

'Come,' said Mr. Bumble, somewhat less pompously, for it was gratifying to his feelings to observe the effect his eloquence had produced; 'Come, Oliver! Wipe your eyes with the cuffs of your jacket, and don't cry into your gruel; that's a very foolish action, Oliver.' It certainly was, for there was quite enough water in it already.

On their way to the magistrate, Mr. Bumble instructed Oliver that all he would have to do, would be to look very happy, and say, when the gentleman asked him if he wanted to be apprenticed, that he should like it very much indeed; both of which injunctions Oliver promised to obey: the rather as Mr. Bumble threw in a gentle hint, that if he failed in either particular, there was no telling what would be done to him. When they arrived at the office, he was shut up in a little room by himself, and admonished by Mr. Bumble to stay there, until he came back to fetch him.

There the boy remained, with a palpitating heart, for half an hour. At the expiration of which time Mr. Bumble thrust in his head, unadorned with the cocked hat, and said aloud:

'Now, Oliver, my dear, come to the gentleman.' As Mr. Bumble said this, he put on a grim and threatening look, and added, in a low voice, 'Mind what I told you, you young rascal!'

Oliver stared innocently in Mr. Bumble's face at this somewhat contradictory style of address; but that gentleman prevented his offering any remark thereupon, by leading him at once into an adjoining room: the door of which was open. It was a large room, with a great window. Behind a desk, sat two old gentleman with powdered heads: one of whom was reading the newspaper; while the other was perusing, with the aid of a pair of tortoise-shell spectacles, a small piece of parchment which lay before him. Mr. Limbkins was standing in front of the desk on one side; and Mr. Gamfield, with a partially washed face, on the other; while two or three bluff-looking men, in top-boots, were lounging about.

The old gentleman with the spectacles gradually dozed off, over the little bit of parchment; and there was a short pause, after Oliver had been stationed by Mr. Bumble in front of the desk.

'This is the boy, your worship,' said Mr. Bumble.

The old gentleman who was reading the newspaper raised his head for a moment, and pulled the other old gentleman by the sleeve; whereupon, the last-mentioned old gentleman woke up.

'Oh, is this the boy?' said the old gentleman.

'This is him, sir,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'Bow to the magistrate, my dear.'

Oliver roused himself, and made his best obeisance. He had been wondering, with his eyes fixed on the magistrates' powder, whether all boards were born with that white stuff on their heads, and were boards from thenceforth on that account.

'Well,' said the old gentleman, 'I suppose he's fond of chimney-sweeping?'

'He doats on it, your worship,' replied Bumble; giving Oliver a sly pinch, to intimate that he had better not say he didn't.

'And he _will_ be a sweep, will he?' inquired the old gentleman.

'If we was to bind him to any other trade to-morrow, he'd run away simultaneous, your worship,' replied Bumble.

'And this man that's to be his master--you, sir--you'll treat him well, and feed him, and do all that sort of thing, will you?' said the old gentleman.

'When I says I will, I means I will,' replied Mr. Gamfield doggedly.

'You're a rough speaker, my friend, but you look an honest, open-hearted man,' said the old gentleman: turning his spectacles in the direction of the candidate for Oliver's premium, whose villainous countenance was a regular stamped receipt for cruelty. But the magistrate was half blind and half childish, so he couldn't reasonably be expected to discern what other people did.

'I hope I am, sir,' said Mr. Gamfield, with an ugly leer.

'I have no doubt you are, my friend,' replied the old gentleman: fixing his spectacles more firmly on his nose, and looking about him for the inkstand.

It was the critical moment of Oliver's fate. If the inkstand had been where the old gentleman thought it was, he would have dipped his pen into it, and signed the indentures, and Oliver would have been straightway hurried off. But, as it chanced to be immediately under his nose, it followed, as a matter of course, that he looked all over his desk for it, without finding it; and happening in the course of his search to look straight before him, his gaze encountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver Twist: who, despite all the admonitory looks and pinches of Bumble, was regarding the repulsive countenance of his future master, with a mingled expression of horror and fear, too palpable to be mistaken, even by a half-blind magistrate.

The old gentleman stopped, laid down his pen, and looked from Oliver to Mr. Limbkins; who attempted to take snuff with a cheerful and unconcerned aspect.

'My boy!' said the old gentleman, 'you look pale and alarmed. What is the matter?'

'Stand a little away from him, Beadle,' said the other magistrate: laying aside the paper, and leaning forward with an expression of interest. 'Now, boy, tell us what's the matter: don't be afraid.'

Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayed that they would order him back to the dark room--that they would starve him--beat him--kill him if they pleased--rather than send him away with that dreadful man.

'Well!' said Mr. Bumble, raising his hands and eyes with most impressive solemnity. 'Well! of all the artful and designing orphans that ever I see, Oliver, you are one of the most bare-facedest.'

'Hold your tongue, Beadle,' said the second old gentleman, when Mr. Bumble had given vent to this compound adjective.

'I beg your worship's pardon,' said Mr. Bumble, incredulous of having heard aright. 'Did your worship speak to me?'

'Yes. Hold your tongue.'

Mr. Bumble was stupefied with astonishment. A beadle ordered to hold his tongue! A moral revolution!

The old gentleman in the tortoise-shell spectacles looked at his companion, he nodded significantly.

'We refuse to sanction these indentures,' said the old gentleman: tossing aside the piece of parchment as he spoke.

'I hope,' stammered Mr. Limbkins: 'I hope the magistrates will not form the opinion that the authorities have been guilty of any improper conduct, on the unsupported testimony of a child.'

'The magistrates are not called upon to pronounce any opinion on the matter,' said the second old gentleman sharply. 'Take the boy back to the workhouse, and treat him kindly. He seems to want it.'

That same evening, the gentleman in the white waistcoat most positively and decidedly affirmed, not only that Oliver would be hung, but that he would be drawn and quartered into the bargain. Mr. Bumble shook his head with gloomy mystery, and said he wished he might come to good; whereunto Mr. Gamfield replied, that he wished he might come to him; which, although he agreed with the beadle in most matters, would seem to be a wish of a totally opposite description.

The next morning, the public were once informed that Oliver Twist was again To Let, and that five pounds would be paid to anybody who would take possession of him.

(叙述奥立弗·退斯特差一点得到了一个并非闲差的职务。)

奥立弗犯下了一个亵渎神明、大逆不道的罪过,公然要求多给些粥,在以后的一个礼拜里,他成了一名重要的犯人,一直被单独关在黑屋子里,这种安排是出自理事会的远见卓识与大慈大悲。乍一看起来,不无理由推测,倘若他对白背心绅士的预见抱有适度的敬重之意,只消把手帕的一端系在墙上的一个铁钩上边,把自己挂在另外一端,保准将一劳永逸地叫那位贤哲取得未卜先知的名望。不过,要表演这套把式却存在一个障碍,就是说,手帕向来就被定为奢侈之物,理事会一道明令,便世世代代从贫民们的鼻子底下消失了。这道命令是他们一致通过,签字盖章,郑重其事地发布出去的。另一个更大的障碍则是奥立弗年幼无知。白天,他只知伤伤心心地哭,当漫漫长夜来临的时候,他总要伸出小手,捂住眼睛,想把黑暗挡在外边,他蜷缩在角落里,竭力想进入梦乡。他不时颤栗着惊醒,身子往墙上贴得越来越紧,他仿佛感到,当黑暗与孤独四面袭来时,那一层冰冷坚硬的墙面也成了一道屏障。

仇视"本制度"的人不要以为,奥立弗在单独禁闭的这段时间享受不到运动的好处,社交的乐趣,甚至宗教安慰的裨益。就运动而言,这时候正值数九寒天,他获准每天早晨到石板院子里的卿简下边去沐浴一番,邦布尔先生在场照看,为避免奥立弗着凉,总是十分殷勤地拿藤条抽他,给他一种全身火辣辣的感觉。谈到社交方面,他间天一次被带进孩子们吃饭的大厅,当众鞭笞,以儆效尤。每天傍晚,祷告时间一到,他就被一脚踢进那间黑屋子,获准在那儿听一听孩子们的集体祈祷,借以安慰自己的心灵,可见他远远谈不上被剥夺了宗教慰藉的益处。理事会特意在祷告中加了一条,呼吁孩子们祈求上帝保佑,让他们成为高尚、善良、知足、听话的人,切不可犯下奥立弗·退斯特所犯的那些个罪孽和劣行,这一番祈祷明确宣布他处于恶势力的特别庇护之下,纯系魔鬼亲自开办的工厂制造出的一件产品。

奥立弗就是处于这么一种吉星高照、备受关怀的境地。一天早晨,烟囱清扫夫甘菲尔先生走到这边大街上来了,他心里一直在盘算如何支付欠下的若于房租,房东已经变得相当不耐烦了。甘菲尔先生的算盘敲得再精,也凑不齐所需要的整整五镑这个数目。这一道算术难题真是逼得他走投无路,他手里拿着一根短棍,轮番地敲敲自己的脑门,又抽一下他的驴,经过济贫院时,他的眼睛攫住了门上的告示。

"呜——唔。"甘菲尔先生冲着驴子发话了。

驴子这会儿完全是一副心不在焉的模样,它可能正在寻思,把小车上的两袋烟灰卸下来以后,是不是可以捞到一两棵白菜帮子作为犒赏,因此,它没有听见这道命令,依然磨磨蹭蹭地往前走。

甘菲尔先生咆哮起来,冲着它的脑袋就是一通臭骂,重点针对它的眼睛。他赶上前去,照着驴脑袋就是一下,幸亏是头驴,换上其他畜生肯定已经脑袋开花了。接着,甘菲尔先生抓住宠头狠命一拧,客客气气地提醒它不要自作主张,这才让它掉过头来。甘菲尔先生随后又在驴头上来了一下,要它老老实实呆着,等他回来再说。甘菲尔先生把这一切搞定了,便走到大门口,读起那份招贴来了。

白背心绅士倒背着双手站在门边,他刚刚在会议室里抒发了一番意味深长的感想。他先已目睹了甘菲尔先生与驴子之间发生的这一场小小的纠纷,又见那家伙走上前来看告示,不禁,冶然自得地微笑起来,他一眼就看出甘菲尔先生正是奥立弗所需要的那一类主人。甘菲尔先生将这份文件细细看了一遍,也在微笑:五英镑,不多不少,正中下怀。至于随这笔钱搭配的那个孩子,甘菲尔先生知道济贫院的伙食标准,料定他将是一件合适的小行头;正好用来清扫烟囱。为此,他又将告示从头到尾,逐字看了一遍。然后,他碰了碰自己的皮帽,算是行礼,与白背心绅士攀谈起来。

"先生,这地方是不是有个小孩,教区想叫他学一门手艺?"甘菲尔先生说。

"是啊,朋友,"白背心绅士面带俯就的微笑,说道,"你觉得他怎么样?"

"假若教区乐意他学一门轻巧手艺的话,扫烟囱倒是一个满受人尊敬的行当,"甘菲尔说,"我正好缺个徒弟,我想要他。"

"进来吧。"白背心绅士说。甘菲尔在后边耽搁了一下,他照着驴头又是一巴掌,外带着又使劲拽了一下缰绳,告诫它不得擅自走开,这才跟着白背心绅士进去,奥立弗第一次见到这位预言家就是在这间会议室里。

听甘菲尔重说了一下他的心愿之后,利姆金斯先生说道:"这是一种脏活啊。"

"以前就有小孩子闷死在烟囱里的。"另一位绅士说道。

" 那是要叫他们下来,可还没点火,就把稻草弄湿了,"甘菲尔说道,"那就尽冒烟不起火。要催小孩子下来,五花八门的烟根本不顶事,只会把他熏睡过去,他正巴不得呢。小鬼头,犟得要死,懒得要死,先生们,再没有比一团红火更灵的了,他们一溜小跑就下来了。先生们,这太厚道了,就是说,万一他们粘在烟囱上了,烘烘脚板,他们赶紧就得下来。"

白背心绅士似乎叫这一番辩解逗得乐不可支,然而,他的满心欢喜立即让利姆金斯先生的一道眼风给打住了。理事们凑到一块儿,磋商了片刻,嗓门压得很低,旁人单单听到几句,"节省开支,""账面上看得过去,""公布一份铅印的报告。"一点不假,这几句话之所以能听出来,也是由于重复了好多遍和特别强调的缘故。

密谈总算停了下来,理事们回到各自的座位,又变得庄重起来,利姆金斯先生说道:"我们考虑了你的申请,我们不予采纳。"

"绝对不行。"白背心绅士说。

"坚决不同意。"其他的理事接上来说。

有人说已经有三四个学徒被甘菲尔先生的老拳脚尖送了命,一段时间以来他就背上了这么个小小的恶名。他心想,理事会真说不清是怎么回事,他们可能认为这件题外的事会影响正在进行的交易。果真如此的话,这和他们办事的一贯作风差得也太远了。尽管如此,他倒也并不特别希望重提那些流言蜚语,只是双手将帽子扭过去倒过来,从会议桌前缓缓往后退去。

"那,你们是不想把他交给我喽,先生们?"甘菲尔先生在门边停了下来,问道。

"是的,"利姆金斯先生回答,"最低限度,鉴于这是一种脏活,我们认为必须降低补贴标准。"

甘菲尔先生的脸色豁然开朗,他一个箭步回到桌前,说道:

"给多少,先生们?说啊。别对一个穷人太狠心了吧。你们给多少?"

"我应该说,最多三镑十先令。"利姆金斯先生说。

"十个先令是多给的。"白背心绅士说。

"嗨。"甘菲尔说道,"给四镑钱,先生们。只消四镑,你们就永久跟他了结啦。中。"

"三镑十先令。"利姆金斯先生毫不松口。

"得得。我还个价,先生们,"甘菲尔急了,"三镑十五先令。"

利姆金斯先生口答得斩钉截铁:"一个子儿也不多给。"

"你们是在要我的命啊,先生们。"甘菲尔犹豫起来。

"呸。呸。胡说。"白背心绅士说,"就是一个子儿不补贴,谁拿到他也算拣了便宜了,你这个蠢家伙,带他走吧。这孩子对你再合适不过了。他时时都离不开棍子,这对他大有好处,而且管饭也花钱不多,这孩子打出世以来还没喂饱过呢。哈哈哈!"

甘菲尔先生目光诡谲地看了一眼围坐在桌子跟前的理事们,发觉一张张面孔都挂着笑容,自己脸上也渐渐绽开了一丝微笑。买卖谈成了。邦布尔先生立刻接到命令,由他当天下午,将奥立弗和有关合同转呈治安推事,办理审批手续。

为了贯彻这一决定,小奥立弗解除了禁闭,还奉命穿上了一件干净衬衫,弄得他莫名其妙,他刚完成这一项非同寻常的健身运动,邦布尔先生又亲手为他端来一碗粥,外加二又四分之一盎司的节日面包。看到这副吓人的场面,奥立弗顿时伤伤心心地大哭起来,他顺理成章地以为,理事会准是要宰了他派用场,否则绝不会用这种办法来把他填肥。

"别把眼睛哭红了,奥立弗,好好吃东西,不要忘恩负义,"邦布尔先生端着架子说道,"你要去当学徒了,奥立弗。"

"当学徒,先生。"孩子战战兢兢地说。

"是啊,奥立弗,"邦布尔说,"你没爹没妈,这么多善良的正人君子,他们可都是你的父母,奥立弗,为了送你去当学徒,自谋生路,长大成人,教区花了三镑十先令呢——三镑十先令,奥立弗!——七十先令——百四十六便士!——就为了一个顽皮的孤儿,一个不讨人喜欢的孤儿。"

邦布尔先生的口吻令人肃然起敬,说完这番话,便停下来歇歇气,可怜的孩子伤心地发出一阵阵抽泣,滚滚泪水从脸上掉落下来。

"唉唉。"邦布尔先生的调子不那么高了,眼见自己的口才效果颇佳,他心里真舒坦。"好啦,奥立弗。用袖子把眼睛擦一擦,别让眼泪掉进粥里,奥立弗,这可是蠢透了的事。"这话倒是不假,粥里的水已经够多的了。

在去治安公署的路上,邦布尔先生嘱咐奥立弗,他要做的事就是显得高高兴兴的,当推事问他想不想去学徒的时候,就回答说他太想了。对这两条命令,奥立弗答应照办,再说邦布尔先生还客客气气地暗示,倘若任其一条出了漏子,到时候怎么处置他,可就谁也说不准了。到了治安公署,奥立弗被关进一间小屋,邦布尔要他在那儿呆着,等自己回来叫他。

这孩子在小房间里呆了半小时,一颗心卜卜直跳,这段时间刚过,邦布尔先生突然把头伸了进来,连三角帽也没戴,高声说道:

"喂,奥立弗,我亲爱的,跟我去见推事大人。"邦布尔先生说着换了一副狰狞可怕的脸色,压低声音补了一句,"记住我对你说的话,你这个小流氓。"

听到这种多少有些前后矛盾的称呼,奥立弗天真地打量起邦布尔先生的面孔来,然而那位绅士没容他就此发表观感,就立刻领他走进隔壁一间房门开着的屋子。屋子十分宽敞,有一扇大窗户。在一张写字台后边,坐着两位头上抹着发粉的老绅士,一位在看报,另一位借助一副玳瑁眼镜,正在端详面前放着的一小张羊皮纸。利姆金斯先生站在写字台前的一侧,甘菲尔先生脸都没擦干净,站在另外一边,两三个长相吓人的汉子穿着长统马靴,在屋子里踱来踱去。

戴眼镜的老绅士冲着那张羊皮纸片渐渐打起盹来。邦布尔先生把奥立弗带到桌子面前站定,接下来有一个短暂的间隔。

"大人,就是这个孩子。"邦布尔先生说道。

正在看报的老绅士抬起头来看了一眼,扯了扯另一位的衣袖,那位老先生这才醒过来。

"噢,就是这个孩子吗?"老绅士发话了。

"就是他,先生。"邦布尔答道,"向治安推事大人鞠一躬,我亲爱的。"

奥立弗直起身子,毕恭毕敬地鞠了一躬。他的目光停留在治安推事头上的发粉上,心里一直在纳闷,是不是所有的推事大人生下来头上就有那么一层白花花的涂料,他们是不是因为有这玩艺才当上推事的。

"哦,"老绅士说道,"我想,他是喜欢扫烟囱这一行了?"

"大人,他喜欢着呢。"邦布尔暗暗拧了奥立弗一把,提醒他识相些,不要说不喜欢。

"那么,他乐意当一个清扫夫罗,是吗?"老绅士盘问道。

"要是明天我们让他去干别的什么营生,他准会马上溜掉,大人。"邦布尔回答。

"这个人就是他的师傅吧——你,先生——要好好看待他,管他的吃住以及诸如此类的事情——是不是啊?"老绅士又说。

"我说能做到,就一定能做到。"甘菲尔先生倔头倔脑地答道。

"你说话很粗鲁,朋友,不过看起来倒是一个爽快的老实人。"老绅士说着,眼镜朝这位奥立弗奖金的申请人转了过去。甘菲尔那张凶相毕露的面孔本来打着心狠手辣的烙印,可这位治安推事一半是眼神不济,一半是想法天真,所以,是人都能看出的事,却不能指望他也看得出来。

"我相信自个儿是这样,先生。"甘菲尔先生说话时眼睛一瞟,样子实在恶心。

"这一点,我丝毫也不怀疑,朋友。"老先生回答。他把鼻梁上的眼镜扶扶正,四下里找起墨水壶来。

奥立弗的命运到了一个关键时刻。倘若墨水壶是在老绅士想像中的地方,他就会把鹅毛笔插下去,然后签署证书,奥立弗也就一径被人匆匆带走了。可墨水壶偏偏是在老绅士的鼻子底下,接下来他照例满桌子都找遍了,还是没有找到。就在他一个劲地往前找的时候,目光落在了奥立弗·退斯特那张苍白而惊恐的脸上。虽说邦布尔在一旁递眼色警告他,掐他,奥立弗全然不顾,目不转睛地望着未来的主人的丑恶嘴脸,那种厌恶与恐慌交融在一起的神情任何人也不会看错,哪怕是一位眼神不济的治安推事。

老先生停了下来,放下鹅毛笔,看看奥立弗,又看了看利姆金斯先生,这位先生装出在吸鼻烟,一副愉快而又若无其事的样子。

"孩子。"老先生从写字台上俯下身来,说道。这声音吓了奥立弗一跳,他这种反应倒也情有可原,听听这话有多温和就是了,然而没有听熟的声音总是叫人害怕的,他不住地打着哆嗦,眼泪夺眶而出。

"孩子,"老绅士说,"瞧你,脸都吓白了。出什么事了?"

"干事,离他远一点儿,"另一位推事说着,放下报纸,饶有兴致地向前探出身子。"行了,孩子,告诉我们是怎么回事,别害怕。"

奥立弗扑地跪下来,双手紧紧地握在一起,哀求他们把自己送回那间黑屋子去——饿死他——揍他——高兴宰掉也行——就是不要打发他跟那个可怕的人走。

"呃,"邦布尔先生说道,他抬起双手,眼珠朝上翻了翻,神情庄重得非常令人感动。"呃,奥立弗,阴险狡猾、心术不正的孤儿我见得多了,你是其中最无耻的一个。"

"闭嘴,干事。"邦布尔先生刚把带"最"字的形容词说出来,第二位老绅士便说道。

"对不起,大人,"邦布尔先生说道,他怀疑自己是不是听错了。"您指的是我吗?"

"不错,闭上你的嘴巴。"

邦布尔先生惊得目瞪日呆。竟然喝令一位教区干事闭嘴。真是改天换地了。

戴了一副玳瑁眼镜的老绅士看了自己的同事一眼,那一位意味深长地点点头。

"这些契约我们不予批准。"老绅士将那张羊皮纸往旁边一扔,说道。

"我希望,"利姆金斯先生结结巴巴地说,"我希望两位大人不要单凭一个孩子毫无理由的抗议,就认为院方有管理不善的责任。"

"治安推事不是专管排难解纷的,"第二位老绅士厉声说道,"把孩子带回济贫院去,好好对待他,看来他有这方面的需要。"

这天傍晚,白背心绅士非常自信、非常明确地断言,奥立弗不光要受绞刑,而且还会被开肠剖肚,剁成几块。邦布尔先生闷闷不乐,有些神秘地直摇脑袋,宣称自己希望奥立弗终得善报。对于这一点,甘菲尔先生回答说,他希望那小子还是归自己,尽管他大体上同意干事的话,但表达出来的愿望似乎完全相反。

第二天清晨,公众再次获悉:重新转让奥立弗,任何人只要愿意把他领走,可获得酬金五镑。