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Oliver, being left to himself in the undertaker's shop, set the lamp down on a workman's bench, and gazed timidly about him with a feeling of awe and dread, which many people a good deal older than he will be at no loss to understand.

An unfinished coffin on black tressels, which stood in the middle of the shop, looked so gloomy and death-like that a cold tremble came over him, every time his eyes wandered in the direction of the dismal object: from which he almost expected to see some frightful form slowly rear its head, to drive him mad with terror.

Against the wall were ranged, in regular array, a long row of elm boards cut in the same shape: looking in the dim light, like high-shouldered ghosts with their hands in their breeches pockets. Coffin-plates, elm-chips, bright-headed nails, and shreds of black cloth, lay scattered on the floor; and the wall behind the counter was ornamented with a lively representation of two mutes in very stiff neckcloths, on duty at a large private door, with a hearse drawn by four black steeds, approaching in the distance. The shop was close and hot.

The atmosphere seemed tainted with the smell of coffins.

The recess beneath the counter in which his flock mattress was thrust, looked like a grave. Nor were these the only dismal feelings which depressed Oliver. He was alone in a strange place; and we all know how chilled and desolate the best of us will sometimes feel in such a situation. The boy had no friends to care for, or to care for him.

The regret of no recent separation was fresh in his mind; the absence of no loved and well-remembered face sank heavily into his heart. But his heart was heavy, notwithstanding; and he wished, as he crept into his narrow bed, that that were his coffin, and that he could be lain in a calm and lasting sleep in the churchyard ground, with the tall grass waving gently above his head, and the sound of the old deep bell to soothe him in his sleep. Oliver was awakened in the morning, by a loud kicking at the outside of the shop-door: which, before he could huddle on his clothes, was repeated, in an angry and impetuous manner, about twenty-five times.

When he began to undo the chain, the legs desisted, and a voice began. 'Open the door, will yer?' cried the voice which belonged to the legs which had kicked at the door. 'I will, directly, sir,' replied Oliver: undoing the chain, and turning the key. 'I suppose yer the new boy, ain't yer?' said the voice through the key-hole. 'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver. 'How old are yer?' inquired the voice. 'Ten, sir,' replied Oliver. 'Then I'll whop yer when I get in,' said the voice; 'you just see if I don't, that's all, my work'us brat!' and having made this obliging promise, the voice began to whistle. Oliver had been too often subjected to the process to which the very expressive monosyllable just recorded bears reference, to entertain the smallest doubt that the owner of the voice, whoever he might be, would redeem his pledge, most honourably. He drew back the bolts with a trembling hand, and opened the door. For a second or two, Oliver glanced up the street, and down the street, and over the way: impressed with the belief that the unknown, who had addressed him through the key-hole, had walked a few paces off, to warm himself; for nobody did he see but a big charity-boy, sitting on a post in front of the house, eating a slice of bread and butter: which he cut into wedges, the size of his mouth, with a clasp-knife, and then consumed with great dexterity. 'I beg your pardon, sir,' said Oliver at length: seeing that no other visitor made his appearance; 'did you knock?' 'I kicked,' replied the charity-boy. 'Did you want a coffin, sir?' inquired Oliver, innocently. At this, the charity-boy looked monstrous fierce; and said that Oliver would want one before long, if he cut jokes with his superiors in that way. 'Yer don't know who I am, I suppose, Work'us?' said the charity-boy, in continuation: descending from the top of the post, meanwhile, with edifying gravity. 'No, sir,' rejoined Oliver. 'I'm Mister Noah Claypole,' said the charity-boy, 'and you're under me.

Take down the shutters, yer idle young ruffian!' With this, Mr. Claypole administered a kick to Oliver, and entered the shop with a dignified air, which did him great credit.

It is difficult for a large-headed, small-eyed youth, of lumbering make and heavy countenance, to look dignified under any circumstances; but it is more especially so, when superadded to these personal attractions are a red nose and yellow smalls. Oliver, having taken down the shutters, and broken a pane of glass in his effort to stagger away beneath the weight of the first one to a small court at the side of the house in which they were kept during the day, was graciously assisted by Noah: who having consoled him with the assurance that 'he'd catch it,' condescended to help him.

Mr. Sowerberry came down soon after. Shortly afterwards, Mrs. Sowerberry appeared.

Oliver having 'caught it,' in fulfilment of Noah's prediction, followed that young gentleman down the stairs to breakfast. 'Come near the fire, Noah,' said Charlotte.

'I saved a nice little bit of bacon for you from master's breakfast.

Oliver, shut that door at Mister Noah's back, and take them bits that I've put out on the cover of the bread-pan.

There's your tea; take it away to that box, and drink it there, and make haste, for they'll want you to mind the shop.

D'ye hear?' 'D'ye hear, Work'us?' said Noah Claypole. 'Lor, Noah!' said Charlotte, 'what a rum creature you are!

Why don't you let the boy alone?' 'Let him alone!' said Noah.

'Why everybody lets him alone enough, for the matter of that.

Neither his father nor his mother will ever interfere with him.

All his relations let him have his own way pretty well.

Eh, Charlotte?

He! he! he!' 'Oh, you queer soul!' said Charlotte, bursting into a hearty laugh, in which she was joined by Noah; after which they both looked scornfully at poor Oliver Twist, as he sat shivering on the box in the coldest corner of the room, and ate the stale pieces which had been specially reserved for him. Noah was a charity-boy, but not a workhouse orphan.

No chance-child was he, for he could trace his genealogy all the way back to his parents, who lived hard by; his mother being a washerwoman, and his father a drunken soldier, discharged with a wooden leg, and a diurnal pension of twopence-halfpenny and an unstateable fraction.

The shop-boys in the neighbourhood had long been in the habit of branding Noah in the public streets, with the ignominious epithets of 'leathers,' 'charity,' and the like; and Noah had bourne them without reply.

But, now that fortune had cast in his way a nameless orphan, at whom even the meanest could point the finger of scorn, he retorted on him with interest.

This affords charming food for contemplation.

It shows us what a beautiful thing human nature may be made to be; and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy. Oliver had been sojourning at the undertaker's some three weeks or a month.

Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry--the shop being shut up--were taking their supper in the little back-parlour, when Mr. Sowerberry, after several deferential glances at his wife, said, 'My dear--'

He was going to say more; but, Mrs. Sowerberry looking up, with a peculiarly unpropitious aspect, he stopped short. 'Well,' said Mrs. Sowerberry, sharply. 'Nothing, my dear, nothing,' said Mr. Sowerberry. 'Ugh, you brute!' said Mrs. Sowerberry. 'Not at all, my dear,' said Mr. Sowerberry humbly.

'I thought you didn't want to hear, my dear.

I was only going to say--' 'Oh, don't tell me what you were going to say,' interposed Mrs. Sowerberry.

'I am nobody; don't consult me, pray.

_I_ don't want to intrude upon your secrets.'

As Mrs. Sowerberry said this, she gave an hysterical laugh, which threatened violent consequences. 'But, my dear,' said Sowerberry, 'I want to ask your advice.' 'No, no, don't ask mine,' replied Mrs. Sowerberry, in an affecting manner: 'ask somebody else's.'

Here, there was another hysterical laugh, which frightened Mr. Sowerberry very much.

This is a very common and much-approved matrimonial course of treatment, which is often very effective. It at once reduced Mr. Sowerberry to begging, as a special favour, to be allowed to say what Mrs. Sowerberry was most curious to hear.

After a short duration, the permission was most graciously conceded. 'It's only about young Twist, my dear,' said Mr. Sowerberry. 'A very good-looking boy, that, my dear.' 'He need be, for he eats enough,' observed the lady. 'There's an expression of melancholy in his face, my dear,' resumed Mr. Sowerberry, 'which is very interesting.

He would make a delightful mute, my love.' Mrs. Sowerberry looked up with an expression of considerable wonderment.

Mr. Sowerberry remarked it and, without allowing time for any observation on the good lady's part, proceeded. 'I don't mean a regular mute to attend grown-up people, my dear, but only for children's practice.

It would be very new to have a mute in proportion, my dear.

You may depend upon it, it would have a superb effect.' Mrs. Sowerberry, who had a good deal of taste in the undertaking way, was much struck by the novelty of this idea; but, as it would have been compromising her dignity to have said so, under existing circumstances, she merely inquired, with much sharpness, why such an obvious suggestion had not presented itself to her husband's mind before?

Mr. Sowerberry rightly construed this, as an acquiescence in his proposition; it was speedily determined, therefore, that Oliver should be at once initiated into the mysteries of the trade; and, with this view, that he should accompany his master on the very next occasion of his services being required. The occasion was not long in coming.

Half an hour after breakfast next morning, Mr. Bumble entered the shop; and supporting his cane against the counter, drew forth his large leathern pocket-book: from which he selected a small scrap of paper, which he handed over to Sowerberry. 'Aha!' said the undertaker, glancing over it with a lively countenance; 'an order for a coffin, eh?' 'For a coffin first, and a porochial funeral afterwards,' replied Mr. Bumble, fastening the strap of the leathern pocket-book: which, like himself, was very corpulent. 'Bayton,' said the undertaker, looking from the scrap of paper to Mr. Bumble.

'I never heard the name before.' Bumble shook his head, as he replied, 'Obstinate people, Mr. Sowerberry; very obstinate.

Proud, too, I'm afraid, sir.' 'Proud, eh?' exclaimed Mr. Sowerberry with a sneer.

'Come, that's too much.' 'Oh, it's sickening,' replied the beadle.

'Antimonial, Mr. Sowerberry!' 'So it is,' asquiesced the undertaker. 'We only heard of the family the night before last,' said the beadle; 'and we shouldn't have known anything about them, then, only a woman who lodges in the same house made an application to the porochial committee for them to send the porochial surgeon to see a woman as was very bad.

He had gone out to dinner; but his 'prentice (which is a very clever lad) sent 'em some medicine in a blacking-bottle, offhand.' 'Ah, there's promptness,' said the undertaker. 'Promptness, indeed!' replied the beadle.

'But what's the consequence; what's the ungrateful behaviour of these rebels, sir?

Why, the husband sends back word that the medicine won't suit his wife's complaint, and so she shan't take it--says she shan't take it, sir!

Good, strong, wholesome medicine, as was given with great success to two Irish labourers and a coal-heaver, only a week before--sent 'em for nothing, with a blackin'-bottle in,--and he sends back word that she shan't take it, sir!' As the atrocity presented itself to Mr. Bumble's mind in full force, he struck the counter sharply with his cane, and became flushed with indignation. 'Well,' said the undertaker, 'I ne--ver--did--' 'Never did, sir!' ejaculated the beadle.

'No, nor nobody never did; but now she's dead, we've got to bury her; and that's the direction; and the sooner it's done, the better.' Thus saying, Mr. Bumble put on his cocked hat wrong side first, in a fever of parochial excitement; and flounced out of the shop. 'Why, he was so angry, Oliver, that he forgot even to ask after you!' said Mr. Sowerberry, looking after the beadle as he strode down the street. 'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver, who had carefully kept himself out of sight, during the interview; and who was shaking from head to foot at the mere recollection of the sound of Mr. Bumble's voice. He needn't haven taken the trouble to shrink from Mr. Bumble's glance, however; for that functionary, on whom the prediction of the gentleman in the white waistcoat had made a very strong impression, thought that now the undertaker had got Oliver upon trial the subject was better avoided, until such time as he should be firmly bound for seven years, and all danger of his being returned upon the hands of the parish should be thus effectually and legally overcome. 'Well,' said Mr. Sowerberry, taking up his hat, 'the sooner this job is done, the better.

Noah, look after the shop. Oliver, put on your cap, and come with me.'

Oliver obeyed, and followed his master on his professional mission. They walked on, for some time, through the most crowded and densely inhabited part of the town; and then, striking down a narrow street more dirty and miserable than any they had yet passed through, paused to look for the house which was the object of their search.

The houses on either side were high and large, but very old, and tenanted by people of the poorest class: as their neglected appearance would have sufficiently denoted, without the concurrent testimony afforded by the squalid looks of the few men and women who, with folded arms and bodies half doubled, occasionally skulked along.

A great many of the tenements had shop-fronts; but these were fast closed, and mouldering away; only the upper rooms being inhabited.

Some houses which had become insecure from age and decay, were prevented from falling into the street, by huge beams of wood reared against the walls, and firmly planted in the road; but even these crazy dens seemed to have been selected as the nightly haunts of some houseless wretches, for many of the rough boards which supplied the place of door and window, were wrenched from their positions, to afford an aperture wide enough for the passage of a human body.

The kennel was stagnant and filthy. The very rats, which here and there lay putrefying in its rottenness, were hideous with famine. There was neither knocker nor bell-handle at the open door where Oliver and his master stopped; so, groping his way cautiously through the dark passage, and bidding Oliver keep close to him and not be afraid the undertaker mounted to the top of the first flight of stairs.

Stumbling against a door on the landing, he rapped at it with his knuckles. It was opened by a young girl of thirteen or fourteen.

The undertaker at once saw enough of what the room contained, to know it was the apartment to which he had been directed.

He stepped in; Oliver followed him. There was no fire in the room; but a man was crouching, mechanically, over the empty stove.

An old woman, too, had drawn a low stool to the cold hearth, and was sitting beside him. There were some ragged children in another corner; and in a small recess, opposite the door, there lay upon the ground, something covered with an old blanket.

Oliver shuddered as he cast his eyes toward the place, and crept involuntarily closer to his master; for though it was covered up, the boy felt that it was a corpse. The man's face was thin and very pale; his hair and beard were grizzly; his eyes were bloodshot.

The old woman's face was wrinkled; her two remaining teeth protruded over her under lip; and her eyes were bright and piercing.

Oliver was afraid to look at either her or the man.

They seemed so like the rats he had seen outside. 'Nobody shall go near her,' said the man, starting fiercely up, as the undertaker approached the recess. 'Keep back! Damn you, keep back, if you've a life to lose!' 'Nonsense, my good man,' said the undertaker, who was pretty well used to misery in all its shapes.

'Nonsense!' 'I tell you,' said the man:

clenching his hands, and stamping furiously on the floor,--'I tell you I won't have her put into the ground.

She couldn't rest there.

The worms would worry her--not eat her--she is so worn away.' The undertaker offered no reply to this raving; but producing a tape from his pocket, knelt down for a moment by the side of the body. 'Ah!' said the man: bursting into tears, and sinking on his knees at the feet of the dead woman; 'kneel down, kneel down --kneel round her, every one of you, and mark my words!

I say she was starved to death.

I never knew how bad she was, till the fever came upon her; and then her bones were starting through the skin.

There was neither fire nor candle; she died in the dark--in the dark!

She couldn't even see her children's faces, though we heard her gasping out their names. I begged for her in the streets: and they sent me to prison. When I came back, she was dying; and all the blood in my heart has dried up, for they starved her to death.

I swear it before the God that saw it! They starved her!'

He twined his hands in his hair; and, with a loud scream, rolled grovelling upon the floor: his eyes fixed, and the foam covering his lips. The terrified children cried bitterly; but the old woman, who had hitherto remained as quiet as if she had been wholly deaf to all that passed, menaced them into silence.

Having unloosened the cravat of the man who still remained extended on the ground, she tottered towards the undertaker. 'She was my daughter,' said the old woman, nodding her head in the direction of the corpse; and speaking with an idiotic leer, more ghastly than even the presence of death in such a place. 'Lord, Lord!

Well, it _is_ strange that I who gave birth to her, and was a woman then, should be alive and merry now, and she lying there: so cold and stiff!

Lord, Lord!--to think of it; it's as good as a play--as good as a play!' As the wretched creature mumbled and chuckled in her hideous merriment, the undertaker turned to go away. 'Stop, stop!' said the old woman in a loud whisper.

'Will she be buried to-morrow, or next day, or to-night?

I laid her out; and I must walk, you know.

Send me a large cloak: a good warm one: for it is bitter cold.

We should have cake and wine, too, before we go!

Never mind; send some bread--only a loaf of bread and a cup of water.

Shall we have some bread, dear?' she said eagerly: catching at the undertaker's coat, as he once more moved towards the door. 'Yes, yes,' said the undertaker,'of course.

Anything you like!' He disengaged himself from the old woman's grasp; and, drawing Oliver after him, hurried away. The next day, (the family having been meanwhile relieved with a half-quartern loaf and a piece of cheese, left with them by Mr. Bumble himself,) Oliver and his master returned to the miserable abode; where Mr. Bumble had already arrived, accompanied by four men from the workhouse, who were to act as bearers.

An old black cloak had been thrown over the rags of the old woman and the man; and the bare coffin having been screwed down, was hoisted on the shoulders of the bearers, and carried into the street. 'Now, you must put your best leg foremost, old lady!' whispered Sowerberry in the old woman's ear; 'we are rather late; and it won't do, to keep the clergyman waiting.

Move on, my men,--as quick as you like!' Thus directed, the bearers trotted on under their light burden; and the two mourners kept as near them, as they could.

Mr. Bumble and Sowerberry walked at a good smart pace in front; and Oliver, whose legs were not so long as his master's, ran by the side. There was not so great a necessity for hurrying as Mr. Sowerberry had anticipated, however; for when they reached the obscure corner of the churchyard in which the nettles grew, and where the parish graves were made, the clergyman had not arrived; and the clerk, who was sitting by the vestry-room fire, seemed to think it by no means improbable that it might be an hour or so, before he came.

So, they put the bier on the brink of the grave; and the two mourners waited patiently in the damp clay, with a cold rain drizzling down, while the ragged boys whom the spectacle had attracted into the churchyard played a noisy game at hide-and-seek among the tombstones, or varied their amusements by jumping backwards and forwards over the coffin.

Mr. Sowerberry and Bumble, being personal friends of the clerk, sat by the fire with him, and read the paper. At length, after a lapse of something more than an hour, Mr. Bumble, and Sowerberry, and the clerk, were seen running towards the grave.

Immediately afterwards, the clergyman appeared: putting on his surplice as he came along.

Mr. Bumble then thrashed a boy or two, to keep up appearances; and the reverend gentleman, having read as much of the burial service as could be compressed into four minutes, gave his surplice to the clerk, and walked away again. 'Now, Bill!' said Sowerberry to the grave-digger. 'Fill up!' It was no very difficult task, for the grave was so full, that the uppermost coffin was within a few feet of the surface.

The grave-digger shovelled in the earth; stamped it loosely down with his feet: shouldered his spade; and walked off, followed by the boys, who murmured very loud complaints at the fun being over so soon. 'Come, my good fellow!' said Bumble, tapping the man on the back. 'They want to shut up the yard.' The man who had never once moved, since he had taken his station by the grave side, started, raised his head, stared at the person who had addressed him, walked forward for a few paces; and fell down in a swoon.

The crazy old woman was too much occupied in bewailing the loss of her cloak (which the undertaker had taken off), to pay him any attention; so they threw a can of cold water over him; and when he came to, saw him safely out of the churchyard, locked the gate, and departed on their different ways. 'Well, Oliver,' said Sowerberry, as they walked home, 'how do you like it?' 'Pretty well, thank you, sir' replied Oliver, with considerable hesitation.

'Not very much, sir.' 'Ah, you'll get used to it in time, Oliver,' said Sowerberry. 'Nothing when you _are_ used to it, my boy.' Oliver wondered, in his own mind, whether it had taken a very long time to get Mr. Sowerberry used to it.

But he thought it better not to ask the question; and walked back to the shop: thinking over all he had seen and heard.

(奥立弗结识新同事,平生第一次参加葬礼就冒出了一些和他主人的买卖颇不适宜的想法。)

奥立弗单独留在棺材店堂里,他把灯放在一张工作台上,怀着敬畏的心情怯生生地环顾四周,不少年龄大得多的人也不免产生同样的心情。一具未完工的棺材放在黑黝黝的支架上,就在店堂中间,每当他游移的目光无意中落到这可怕的东西上边,看到它是那样阴森死寂,一阵寒颤立刻传遍全身,他差一点相信真的看见一个吓人的身影从棺材里缓缓地抬起头来,把自己吓疯过去。一长列剖成同样形状的榆木板整整齐齐靠在墙上,在昏暗的灯光下,就像一个个高耸肩膀,手插在裤兜里的幽灵似的。棺材铭牌,木屑刨花,闪闪发亮的棺材钉子,黑布碎片,疏疏落落撒了一地,柜台后边的墙上装饰着一幅形象逼真、色彩鲜明的画:两个职业送殡人脖子上系着笔挺的领结,守候在一扇巨大的私人住宅门旁,一辆灵车从远处驶来,拉车的是四匹黑色的骏马。店铺里又问又热,连空气也似乎沾上了棺材的气味。奥立弗的一条破棉絮给扔在柜台底下凹进去的地方,那地方看上去跟坟墓没什么两样。

使奥立弗感到压抑的不仅仅是这些令人沮丧的感觉。他于然一身,呆在一个陌生的场所,众所周知,处于这么一种境地,就是我们当中的佼佼者有时也会感到凄凉与孤独。这孩子没有一个需要他去照看的朋友,或者反过来说,也没有朋友可以照看他。他并不是刚刚经历了别愁离恨,也不是因为看不到亲切熟悉的面容而觉得心里沉甸甸的。尽管如此,他依然心情沉重,在缩进他那狭窄的铺位里去的时候,仍然甘愿那就是他的棺材,他从此可以安安稳稳地在教堂墓地里长眠了,高高的野草在头顶上轻盈地随风摇曳,深沉的古钟奏响,抚慰自己长眠不醒。

清晨,奥立弗被外边一阵喧闹的踢打铺门的声音惊醒了,他还没来得及胡乱穿上衣服,那声音又愤怒而鲁莽地响了大约二十次。当他开始拉开门闩的时候,外边不再踢了,有个声音说道:

"开门,开不开?"那声音嚷嚷着,它与刚才踢门的那两只脚属于同一个人。

"我马上就来,先生。"奥立弗一边回答,一边解开链条,转动钥匙。

"你大概就是新来的伙计,是不是?"透过锁眼传来的声音说道。

"是的,先生。"

"你,多大了?"那声音问。

"先生,我十岁。"

"哼,那我进来可要揍你一顿。"那声音说,"看我接不揍你,走着瞧吧,济贫院来的黄毛小子。"那声音许下这一番亲切诺言,便吹起了口哨。

对于奥立弗来说,"揍"是一个极富表现力的字眼,这一过程他领教过无数次了,因而丝毫不存侥幸心理,管他是谁,反正那个声音的主人是要极其体面地履行诺言的。奥立弗的手颤抖着拍下门闩,打开铺门。

奥立弗朝街的两头看了看,又看了一眼街对面,他以为刚才透过锁眼跟自己打过招呼的陌生人想暖暖身子,已经走开了,因为他没看见其他人,只看见一名大块头的慈善学校学生,坐在铺子前边的木桩上,正在吃一块奶油面包。大块头用一把折刀把面包切成同嘴巴差不多大小的楔形,又异常灵巧地全部投进嘴里。

"对不起,先生,"奥立弗见没有别的客人露面,终于开口了,"是你在敲门吗?"

"我踢的。"慈善学校学生答道。

"先生,你是不是要买一口棺材?"奥立弗天真地问。

一听这话,慈善学校学生立刻现出一副狰狞可怕的样子,宣称倘若奥立弗以这种方式和上司开玩笑的话,过不了多久就需要一口棺材了。

"照我看,济贫院,你还不知道我是谁吧?"慈善学校学生一边从木桩上下来了,一边摆出开导别人的派头继续说道。

"是的,先生。"奥立弗应道。

" 我是诺亚·克雷波尔先生,"他说,"你就属我管,把窗板放下来,你这个懒惰的小坏蛋。"说罢,克雷波尔先生赏了奥立弗一脚,神气活现地走进店铺去了,这副派头替他增光不少。要让一个身材粗笨,面容呆板,大头鼠眼的小伙子显得神气十足,在任何情况下都不是件容易的事,更何况在个人尊容方面替他增加魅力的又是一尊红鼻子和一条黄短裤。

奥立弗取下一扇沉甸甸的窗板,摇摇晃晃地往屋子侧面的一个小天井里搬,这些东西白天放在那里,哪知刚搬头一扇就撞坏了一块玻璃。诺亚先是安慰他,担保说"有他好瞧的",接着也放下架子,帮着干起来。不一会儿,苏尔伯雷先生下楼来了,紧跟在后的是苏尔伯雷太太。奥立弗果然"有好瞧的",应了诺亚的预言,之后便与这位年轻的绅士一起下楼吃早饭。

"诺亚,靠火近一点,"夏洛蒂说道,"我从老板的早饭里给你挑了一小块熏肉留起来。奥立弗,把诺亚先生背后的门关上。你的饭我放在面包盘的盖子上边了,自己去拿吧,这是你的茶,端到箱子边上去,就在那儿喝,快一点,他们还要你去拾掇铺子呢。听见了吗?"

"听见了吗,济贫院?"诺亚·克雷波尔说。

"唷,诺亚,"夏洛蒂话头一转,"你这人真怪。你管他干吗?"

"干吗?"诺亚说道,"哼,因为一个个都由着他,这儿可不行。不管是他爹还是他妈,都不会来管他了。他所有的亲戚也由着他胡来。喔,夏洛蒂。嘻嘻嘻!"

"喔,你这个怪人!"夏洛蒂不禁大笑起来,诺亚也跟着笑了,他俩笑够了之后,又傲慢地看了奥立弗一眼,这功夫他正呆在离火炉最远的角落里,哆哆嗦嗦地坐在一只箱子上,吃着特意给他留下的馊臭食物。

诺亚是慈善学校的学生,不是济贫院的孤儿。他不是私生子,顺着家谱可以一直追溯到他的境遇不佳的双亲,母亲替人洗衣服,父亲当过兵,经常喝醉酒,退伍的时候带回来一条木头假腿和一份抚恤金,数额为每天两个半便士,外带一个很难说清的尾数。邻近各家店铺的学徒老是喜欢在大街上用一些不堪人耳的浑名来嘲笑诺亚,诸如"皮短裤"啦,"慈善学堂"啦什么的,他一一照单全收,概不还价。现在可好,命运把一个连名字都没有的孤儿赐给了他,对这个孤儿,连最卑贱的人都可以指着鼻子骂,诺亚饶有兴致地对奥立弗来了个如法炮制。这件事十分耐人寻味,它向我们表明,人的本性是多么的美妙,同样美好的品质从不厚此薄彼,既可以在最出色的君子身上发扬,又可以在最卑污的慈善学校学生的身上滋长。

奥立弗在殡葬承办人的铺子住了有个把月了。这一天打烊以后,苏尔伯雷夫妇正在店堂后边的小休息室里吃晚饭,苏尔伯雷先生恭恭敬敬地看了太太几眼,说道:

"我亲爱的——"他正打算说下去,见太太眼睛朝上一翻,知道兆头不对,赶紧打住。

"咦。"苏尔伯雷太太厉声说道。

"没什么事,亲爱的,没什么。"苏尔伯雷先生说道。

"呃,你这个可恶的东西。"苏尔伯雷太太说。

"哪里,哪里,我亲爱的,"苏尔伯雷先生低声下气地说,"我以为你不高兴听呢,亲爱的。我只是想说……"

"呃,你想说什么都别告诉我,"苏尔伯雷太太打断了他的话,"我算老几,拜托了,别来问我。我不想插手你的秘密。"苏尔伯雷太太说这话的时候发出一阵歇斯底里的狂笑,预示着后果将是非常严重的。

"不过,亲爱的,"苏尔伯雷说道,"我想向你讨教呢。"

" 不,不,你不用来问我的意见,"苏尔伯雷太太大动感情,"你问别人去。"又是一阵歇斯底里的大笑,苏尔伯雷光生吓了个半死。这是夫妇间的一种极为寻常而又受到普遍认可的程序,通常都很灵验。苏尔伯雷先生当即告饶,请求太太特别恩准,允许自己把话说出来,苏尔伯雷太太其实很想听听是什么事。经过短短三刻钟不到的拉锯战,太太总算大发慈悲,予以批准。

"亲爱的,这事关系到小退斯特,"苏尔伯雷先生说道,"这是个漂亮的小男孩,亲爱的。"

"他理当如此,吃饱了喝足了嘛。"太太这样认为。

"亲爱的,他脸上有一种忧伤的表情,"苏尔伯雷先生继续说,"这非常有趣,他可以做一个出色的送殡人,亲爱的。"

苏尔伯雷太太的眼睛朝天上翻了一下,显然颇感意外,苏尔伯雷先生注意到了这一点,便接着说下去,没有给贤惠的夫人留下插话的机会。

"亲爱的,我不是指参加成年人葬礼的普通送殡人,而是单单替儿童出殡用的。让孩子给孩子送殡,亲爱的,那该有多新鲜。你尽管放心,这一招效果保准不赖。"

苏尔伯雷太太对于办理丧事可以说颇具鉴赏力,听到这个新颖的主意也大为吃惊。可是,照直承认不免有失体面,事已至此,她只好非常严厉地问,这样浅显的一个建议,他这个作丈夫的干吗事先没想到呢?苏尔伯雷先生来了个顺水推舟,认定这是对他这个点子的默认。事情当场定下来,干这一行的秘诀须马上传授给奥立弗,鉴于这个目的,老板下一次外出洽谈生意,奥立弗就得跟着一起去。

机会很快就来了,第二天清晨,吃过早饭大约半个小时,邦布尔先生走进了铺子。他将手杖支在柜台上,把他的大皮夹子掏出来,从里边拈出一张纸片,递给苏尔伯雷。

"啊哈。"苏尔伯雷先生眉开眼笑,看了一下纸片说道,"订购一口棺材,哦?"

"先订一副棺材,后边还有一套葬礼,由教区出钱。"邦布尔先生一边回答,一边紧了紧皮夹子上的皮带,这皮夹子跟他人一样胀鼓鼓的。

"贝登,"殡仪馆老板瞧了瞧那张纸片,又看看邦布尔先生,"我从来没听说过这个名字。"

邦布尔摇摇头,答道:"一个很难对付的家伙,苏尔伯雷先生,非常非常之顽固,恐怕是太得意了,老兄。"

"得意,喔?"苏尔伯雷冷笑一声,大声说道。"真是的,这也太过分了。"

"噢,是啊,真叫人恶心,"教区干事答道。"真缺锑①,苏尔伯雷先生。"


  ①邦布尔本来想说"缺德"(antinomian,反对遵从道德律法的),却与"缺锑(antimonial)一词用混了。

"是这么回事。"殡葬承办人表示同意。

"我们也是前天晚上才听说这家人的,"教区干事说,"他们的情况我们本来不知道,有个住在同一幢房子里的女人找到教区委员会,要求派教区大夫去看看,那儿有个女人病得很重。大夫到外边吃饭去了,他那个徒弟(一个很机灵的小伙子),把药装在一个鞋油瓶子里,捎给了他们。"

"啊,倒真利索。"殡葬承办人说。

" 利索是利索啊,"干事回答,"可结果呢,老兄,这些个家伙真是反了,你知道他们有多忘恩负义?嗯,那个男的带回话来,说药品与他妻子的病症不合,因此她不能喝——先生,他说不能喝。疗效显著又符合卫生的药,一个星期以前才有两个爱尔兰工人和一个运煤的喝过,效果蛮好——现在白白奉送,分文不取,外带一个鞋油瓶子——老兄,他倒回话说她不能喝。"

这极恶行活生生地展现在邦布尔先生心目中,气得他满面通红,狠命地用手杖敲打着柜台。

"哟,"殡葬承办人说,"我从——来——没——"

"先生,从来没有。"教区干事吼了起来,"真是闻所未闻。喔,可现在她死了,我们还得去埋,这是地址姓名,这事越快了结越好。"

邦布尔先生由于为教区感到不平,激愤之下险些把三角帽戴反了,然后三脚两步跨出店门去了。

"唷,奥立弗,他发那么大火,都忘了问问你的情况。"苏尔伯雷目送教区干事大步走到街上,说道。

" 是的,先生。"奥立弗答道。邦布尔来访的时候,他一直小心翼翼地躲得远远的,他一听出邦布尔先生的嗓音,从头到脚都抖起来了。话说日来,他倒也用不着想方设法避开邦布尔先生的视线。这名公务人员一直将白背心绅士的预言铭记在心,他认为,既然殡葬承办人正在试用奥立弗,他的情况不提也好,一直要等到为期七年的合同将他套牢了,他被重新退回教区的一切危险才能一劳永逸、合理合法地解除。

"嗨,"苏尔伯雷先生拿起帽子说,"这笔生意越早做成越好。诺亚,看住铺子。奥立弗,把帽子戴上,跟我一块儿去。"奥立弗听从吩咐,跟着主人出门做生意去了。

他们穿过本城人口最稠密的居民区,走了一程,接着加快脚步,来到一条比先前经过的地方还要肮脏、破败、狭窄的街上,他们走走停停,找寻他们此行的目标居住的房子。街道两边的房屋又高又大,然而非常陈;日,住户都是赤贫阶层,不用看偶尔遇到的几个男人女人脸上的苦相,光是看看这些房子破败的外观就可以看出这一点。行人拢着双臂,弓腰驼背,走路躲躲闪闪。大多数房子带有铺面,可是都关得紧紧的,一派衰朽破败的样子,只有楼上用来住人。有些房屋因年久失修,眼看要坍倒在街上,就用几根大木头一端撑住墙壁,另一端牢牢地插在路上。就连这些无异于猪栏狗窝的房子看来也被某些无家可归的倒霉蛋选中,作为夜间栖身的巢穴,因为许多钉在门窗上的粗木板已经撬开,留下的缝隙足以让一个人进进出出。水沟阻塞不通,恶臭难闻,正在腐烂的老鼠东一只西一只,就连它们也是一副可怕的饿相。

奥立弗和他的老板要找的这一家到了,大门敞开着,上边既没有门环,也没有门铃拉手。老板吩咐奥立弗跟上,什么也别怕,自己小心翼翼地摸索着穿过漆黑的走廊,爬上二楼。他在楼梯口踉踉跄跄地撞上了一道门,便用指结嘭嘭嘭地敲了起来。

开门的是一个十三四岁的女孩。殡仪馆老板一看室内的陈设,就知道这正是他要找的地方,便走进去,奥立弗也跟了进去。

屋子里没有生火,却有一个男人纹丝不动地蜷缩在空荡荡的炉子边上,一位老妇人也在冷冰冰的炉子前放了一张矮凳,坐在他身边。屋子的另一个角落里有几个衣衫褴褛的小孩。有个什么东西用毯子遮盖着,放在正对门口的一个小壁龛里。奥立弗的目光落到了那上边,禁不住打起哆嗦来,身子不由自主地和老板贴得更紧了,尽管上边盖着毯子,这孩子却依然意识到那是一具尸体。

那男人面容瘦削,显得十分苍白,头发和胡子已经灰白,两眼充满血丝。老太婆满脸皱纹,仅有的两颗牙齿突出,挡住了下唇,目光炯炯有神。奥立弗吓得连头也不敢抬,这两个人看上去和他在屋外见到的老鼠实在太相像了。

"谁也不许走近她,"殡仪馆老板正要往壁龛走去,那男的猛地跳了起来。"别过去。他妈的——你要想留条活命,就别过去。"

"别说傻话,伙计,"殡葬承办人对各式各样凄惨悲凉的事情早已见惯不惊,"别说傻话了。"

"我跟你说,"那男的紧握拳头,狂暴地用脚踩着地板——"我跟你说,我不能让她入士,她在那儿得不到安宁,蛆虫会打扰她的——不是吃掉她——她已经成了空心的了。"

老板没有答理这一番咆哮,从口袋里掏出一副卷尺,跪下来,在尸体旁边量了一会儿。

" 啊。"那个男子在死者的脚边跪了下来,泪水奔泻而出。"跪下吧,跪下吧——你们都来跪在她身边。听好啦。我说她是饿死的。我一点也不知道她的身体有多差,一直到她这次得了热病,后来她的皮肤连骨头都包不住了。屋子里没有生火,也没有点蜡烛,她是死在黑暗之中——在黑暗之中啊。尽管我们听得到她在喘气,叫孩子们的名字,可她连孩子们的脸都看不见。为了她,我上街要饭,他们却把我投进了监狱。我回来的时候,她已经死了,我心里的血全都干涸了,是他们把她活活饿死的啊。我当着上帝发誓,这事上帝都看见了。是他们把她饿死的。"他伸出双手揪住自己的头发,随着一声狂叫,在地板上打起滚来,两眼发直,唾沫糊住了他的嘴唇。

孩子们吓得魂不附体,放声大哭。只有那个老太婆仿佛对这一切都充耳不闻似的,一直没有开口,她恐吓着要他们静下来,把直挺挺倒在地上的那个男子的领带松开,然后摇摇晃晃地朝殡仪馆老板走过来。

" 她是我女儿,"老妇人朝尸体摆了摆头,像白痴一样乜斜着眼睛说道,在那种场合里,这个动作甚至比死亡本身还要可怕。"天啦,天啦。唷,真是奇怪,我生了她,当时我也不年轻了,现在还活得好好的,快快活活的,可她却躺在那儿,冷得硬邦邦的。天啦,天啦——想想这事吧。真像是一场戏——真像是一场戏。"

可怜的老人叽哩咕噜地说着,以她那种令人毛骨悚然的幽默格格地笑起来,棺材店老板转身就走。

" 等一等,等一等。"老妇人高声说道,有点像自说自话,"她下葬是明天、后天,还是今天晚上?我都替她收拾好了,你知道,我也得去。给我送一件大的斗篷来,要穿上很暖和的,天气可真冷。去以前,我们还得吃点面包,喝点酒啊。千万别小气,送点儿面包来——只要一个面包一杯水就够了,我们会有面包的,亲爱的,是不是啊?"她急切地说,殡仪馆老板又想往门外走,被她一把拉住了大衣。

"是的,是的,"殡仪馆老板说道,"当然会有的,你要什么都有。"他挣脱了老妇人的拉扯,领着奥立弗,匆匆忙忙走了。

第二天(这户人家已经得到了半个四磅面包和一块奶酪的救济,是邦布尔先生亲自送来的),奥立弗和他的主人又一次来到丧家。邦布尔已经先到了,还带来四个济贫院的男人,准备扛棺材。老太婆和那个男子破烂的衣衫外边披了一件旧的黑斗篷,光溜溜的白木棺材拧紧了,四个搬运夫扛上肩,往街上走去。

"喂,老太太,您老可得走好。"苏尔伯雷凑近老妇人耳边低声说道,"我们已经晚了一点,叫牧师老等就不好了。走起来,伙计们——能走多快走多快。"

搬运夫肩上本来就没什么分量,一听这话,便快步小跑,两个送葬的亲属尽力不落在后头。邦布尔先生和苏尔伯雷大步流星走在前边,奥立弗的两条腿比起老板的来可差远了,只得在旁边跑。

然而,情况并不像苏尔伯雷先生预料的那样,他们大可不必如此匆忙。他们来到教堂墓园一个僻静的角落时,牧师还没有到场,那地方长满尊麻,教区居民的墓穴也修在那里。教区文书正坐在安葬器具室里烤火,他似乎认为一个钟头之内牧师是来不了的。于是他们便把棺材放在墓穴边上。天上飘起一阵冷冽的细雨。这幅景象引来了一群穿得破破烂烂的孩子,他们吵吵嚷嚷地在墓碑之间玩起捉迷藏来,忽而兴趣又变了,在棺材上边跳来跳去。两个亲属耐心地守候在一旁。苏尔伯雷先生和邦布尔与教区文书有私交,便和他坐在一起烤火看报。

就这样过了一个多小时,忽见邦布尔先生、苏尔伯雷,还有那位文书,终于一起朝墓地奔过来,紧接着牧师出现了,一边走一边穿白色的祭服。邦布尔先生挥起手杖,赶跑了一两个小孩,以撑持场面。那位令人敬畏的绅士把葬礼尽力压缩了一番,不出四分钟就已宣讲完毕。他把祭服交给文书,便又走开了。

"喂,毕尔,"苏尔伯雷对掘墓人说,"填上吧。"

填墓倒不是什么难事,墓穴装得满满的,棺材最上面离地面只有几英尺。掘墓人把泥土铲进去,用脚随便跺了几下,扛起铁铲就走,后边跟着那群孩子,他们叽叽喳喳地抱怨着这游戏结束得也太快了。

"吱吱,伙计,"邦布尔在那个鳏夫背上拍了拍,说道,"他们要关墓地了。"

那男子自打来了以后就一直伫立在墓穴旁边,没有挪过地方,这时,他猛地一愣,抬起头,目不转睛地打量着和自己打招呼的这个人,朝前走了几步,便昏倒在地。那个疯疯癫癫的老太婆对失去斗篷深感痛惜(斗篷已由棺材店老板收回),无暇顾及到他。于是大家往他身上泼了一罐冷水。等他醒过来,送他平平安安走出教堂墓地,这才锁上大门,各自散去。

"喂,奥立弗,"在回去的路上,苏尔伯雷老板问道,"你喜欢不喜欢这一行?"

"还好,先生,谢谢你,"奥立弗颇为犹豫地回答,"并不特别喜欢,先生。"

"啊,奥立弗,你早晚会习惯的。"苏尔伯雷说道,"只要你习惯了,就没事啦,孩子。"

奥立弗满腹疑窦,不知道苏尔伯雷先生当初习惯这一套是不是也花了很长时间。不过,他想还是不去打听这个问题为妙。在回殡仪馆的路上,他一直在捉摸自己的所见所闻。