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Oliver soon recovering from the fainting-fit into which Mr. Brownlow's abrupt exclamation had thrown him, the subject of the picture was carefully avoided, both by the old gentleman and Mrs. Bedwin, in the conversation that ensued:

which indeed bore no reference to Oliver's history or prospects, but was confined to such topics as might amuse without exciting him.

He was still too weak to get up to breakfast; but, when he came down into the housekeeper's room next day, his first act was to cast an eager glance at the wall, in the hope of again looking on the face of the beautiful lady.

His expectations were disappointed, however, for the picture had been removed. 'Ah!' said the housekeeper, watching the direction of Oliver's eyes.

'It is gone, you see.' 'I see it is ma'am,' replied Oliver.

'Why have they taken it away?' 'It has been taken down, child, because Mr. Brownlow said, that as it seemed to worry you, perhaps it might prevent your getting well, you know,' rejoined the old lady. 'Oh, no, indeed.

It didn't worry me, ma'am,' said Oliver. 'I liked to see it.

I quite loved it.' 'Well, well!' said the old lady, good-humouredly; 'you get well as fast as ever you can, dear, and it shall be hung up again. There!

I promise you that!

Now, let us talk about something else.' This was all the information Oliver could obtain about the picture at that time.

As the old lady had been so kind to him in his illness, he endeavoured to think no more of the subject just then; so he listened attentively to a great many stories she told him, about an amiable and handsome daughter of hers, who was married to an amiable and handsome man, and lived in the country; and about a son, who was clerk to a merchant in the West Indies; and who was, also, such a good young man, and wrote such dutiful letters home four times a-year, that it brought the tears into her eyes to talk about them.

When the old lady had expatiated, a long time, on the excellences of her children, and the merits of her kind good husband besides, who had been dead and gone, poor dear soul! just six-and-twenty years, it was time to have tea. After tea she began to teach Oliver cribbage: which he learnt as quickly as she could teach:

and at which game they played, with great interest and gravity, until it was time for the invalid to have some warm wine and water, with a slice of dry toast, and then to go cosily to bed. They were happy days, those of Oliver's recovery.

Everything was so quiet, and neat, and orderly; everybody so kind and gentle; that after the noise and turbulence in the midst of which he had always lived, it seemed like Heaven itself.

He was no sooner strong enough to put his clothes on, properly, than Mr. Brownlow caused a complete new suit, and a new cap, and a new pair of shoes, to be provided for him.

As Oliver was told that he might do what he liked with the old clothes, he gave them to a servant who had been very kind to him, and asked her to sell them to a Jew, and keep the money for herself.

This she very readily did; and, as Oliver looked out of the parlour window, and saw the Jew roll them up in his bag and walk away, he felt quite delighted to think that they were safely gone, and that there was now no possible danger of his ever being able to wear them again.

They were sad rags, to tell the truth; and Oliver had never had a new suit before. One evening, about a week after the affair of the picture, as he was sitting talking to Mrs. Bedwin, there came a message down from Mr. Brownlow, that if Oliver Twist felt pretty well, he should like to see him in his study, and talk to him a little while. 'Bless us, and save us!

Wash your hands, and let me part your hair nicely for you, child,' said Mrs. Bedwin.

'Dear heart alive!

If we had known he would have asked for you, we would have put you a clean collar on, and made you as smart as sixpence!' Oliver did as the old lady bade him; and, although she lamented grievously, meanwhile, that there was not even time to crimp the little frill that bordered his shirt-collar; he looked so delicate and handsome, despite that important personal advantage, that she went so far as to say:

looking at him with great complacency from head to foot, that she really didn't think it would have been possible, on the longest notice, to have made much difference in him for the better. Thus encouraged, Oliver tapped at the study door.

On Mr. Brownlow calling to him to come in, he found himself in a little back room, quite full of books, with a window, looking into some pleasant little gardens.

There was a table drawn up before the window, at which Mr. Brownlow was seated reading.

When he saw Oliver, he pushed the book away from him, and told him to come near the table, and sit down.

Oliver complied; marvelling where the people could be found to read such a great number of books as seemed to be written to make the world wiser.

Which is still a marvel to more experienced people than Oliver Twist, every day of their lives. 'There are a good many books, are there not, my boy?' said Mr. Brownlow, observing the curiosity with which Oliver surveyed the shelves that reached from the floor to the ceiling. 'A great number, sir,' replied Oliver.

'I never saw so many.' 'You shall read them, if you behave well,' said the old gentleman kindly; 'and you will like that, better than looking at the outsides,--that is, some cases; because there are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.' 'I suppose they are those heavy ones, sir,' said Oliver, pointing to some large quartos, with a good deal of gilding about the binding. 'Not always those,' said the old gentleman, patting Oliver on the head, and smiling as he did so; 'there are other equally heavy ones, though of a much smaller size.

How should you like to grow up a clever man, and write books, eh?' 'I think I would rather read them, sir,' replied Oliver. 'What! wouldn't you like to be a book-writer?' said the old gentleman. Oliver considered a little while; and at last said, he should think it would be a much better thing to be a book-seller; upon which the old gentleman laughed heartily, and declared he had said a very good thing.

Which Oliver felt glad to have done, though he by no means knew what it was. 'Well, well,' said the old gentleman, composing his features. 'Don't be afraid!

We won't make an author of you, while there's an honest trade to be learnt, or brick-making to turn to.' 'Thank you, sir,' said Oliver.

At the earnest manner of his reply, the old gentleman laughed again; and said something about a curious instinct, which Oliver, not understanding, paid no very great attention to. 'Now,' said Mr. Brownlow, speaking if possible in a kinder, but at the same time in a much more serious manner, than Oliver had ever known him assume yet, 'I want you to pay great attention, my boy, to what I am going to say.

I shall talk to you without any reserve; because I am sure you are well able to understand me, as many older persons would be.' 'Oh, don't tell you are going to send me away, sir, pray!' exclaimed Oliver, alarmed at the serious tone of the old gentleman's commencement!

'Don't turn me out of doors to wander in the streets again.

Let me stay here, and be a servant.

Don't send me back to the wretched place I came from.

Have mercy upon a poor boy, sir!' 'My dear child,' said the old gentleman, moved by the warmth of Oliver's sudden appeal; 'you need not be afraid of my deserting you, unless you give me cause.' 'I never, never will, sir,' interposed Oliver. 'I hope not,' rejoined the old gentleman.

'I do not think you ever will.

I have been deceived, before, in the objects whom I have endeavoured to benefit; but I feel strongly disposed to trust you, nevertheless; and I am more interested in your behalf than I can well account for, even to myself.

The persons on whom I have bestowed my dearest love, lie deep in their graves; but, although the happiness and delight of my life lie buried there too, I have not made a coffin of my heart, and sealed it up, forever, on my best affections.

Deep affliction has but strengthened and refined them.' As the old gentleman said this in a low voice:

more to himself than to his companion:

and as he remained silent for a short time afterwards:

Oliver sat quite still. 'Well, well!' said the old gentleman at length, in a more cheerful tone, 'I only say this, because you have a young heart; and knowing that I have suffered great pain and sorrow, you will be more careful, perhaps, not to wound me again.

You say you are an orphan, without a friend in the world; all the inquiries I have been able to make, confirm the statement.

Let me hear your story; where you come from; who brought you up; and how you got into the company in which I found you.

Speak the truth, and you shall not be friendless while I live.' Oliver's sobs checked his utterance for some minutes; when he was on the point of beginning to relate how he had been brought up at the farm, and carried to the workhouse by Mr. Bumble, a peculiarly impatient little double-knock was heard at the street-door:

and the servant, running upstairs, announced Mr. Grimwig. 'Is he coming up?' inquired Mr. Brownlow. 'Yes, sir,' replied the servant.

'He asked if there were any muffins in the house; and, when I told him yes, he said he had come to tea.' Mr. Brownlow smiled; and, turning to Oliver, said that Mr. Grimwig was an old friend of his, and he must not mind his being a little rough in his manners; for he was a worthy creature at bottom, as he had reason to know. 'Shall I go downstairs, sir?' inquired Oliver. 'No,' replied Mr. Brownlow, 'I would rather you remained here.' At this moment, there walked into the room:

supporting himself by a thick stick:

a stout old gentleman, rather lame in one leg, who was dressed in a blue coat, striped waistcoat, nankeen breeches and gaiters, and a broad-brimmed white hat, with the sides turned up with green.

A very small-plaited shirt frill stuck out from his waistcoat; and a very long steel watch-chain, with nothing but a key at the end, dangled loosely below it.

The ends of his white neckerchief were twisted into a ball about the size of an orange; the variety of shapes into which his countenance was twisted, defy description.

He had a manner of screwing his head on one side when he spoke; and of looking out of the corners of his eyes at the same time:

which irresistibly reminded the beholder of a parrot.

In this attitude, he fixed himself, the moment he made his appearance; and, holding out a small piece of orange-peel at arm's length, exclaimed, in a growling, discontented voice. 'Look here! do you see this!

Isn't it a most wonderful and extraordinary thing that I can't call at a man's house but I find a piece of this poor surgeon's friend on the staircase? I've been lamed with orange-peel once, and I know orange-peel will be my death, or I'll be content to eat my own head, sir!' This was the handsome offer with which Mr. Grimwig backed and confirmed nearly every assertion he made; and it was the more singular in his case, because, even admitting for the sake of argument, the possibility of scientific improvements being brought to that pass which will enable a gentleman to eat his own head in the event of his being so disposed, Mr. Grimwig's head was such a particularly large one, that the most sanguine man alive could hardly entertain a hope of being able to get through it at a sitting--to put entirely out of the question, a very thick coating of powder. 'I'll eat my head, sir,' repeated Mr. Grimwig, striking his stick upon the ground.

'Hallo! what's that!' looking at Oliver, and retreating a pace or two. 'This is young Oliver Twist, whom we were speaking about,' said Mr. Brownlow. Oliver bowed. 'You don't mean to say that's the boy who had the fever, I hope?' said Mr. Grimwig, recoiling a little more.

'Wait a minute! Don't speak!

Stop--' continued Mr. Grimwig, abruptly, losing all dread of the fever in his triumph at the discovery; 'that's the boy who had the orange!

If that's not the boy, sir, who had the orange, and threw this bit of peel upon the staircase, I'll eat my head, and his too.' 'No, no, he has not had one,' said Mr. Brownlow, laughing. 'Come!

Put down your hat; and speak to my young friend.' 'I feel strongly on this subject, sir,' said the irritable old gentleman, drawing off his gloves.

'There's always more or less orange-peel on the pavement in our street; and I _know_ it's put there by the surgeon's boy at the corner.

A young woman stumbled over a bit last night, and fell against my garden-railings; directly she got up I saw her look towards his infernal red lamp with the pantomime-light.

"Don't go to him," I called out of the window, "he's an assassin!

A man-trap!"

So he is.

If he is not--'

Here the irascible old gentleman gave a great knock on the ground with his stick; which was always understood, by his friends, to imply the customary offer, whenever it was not expressed in words. Then, still keeping his stick in his hand, he sat down; and, opening a double eye-glass, which he wore attached to a broad black riband, took a view of Oliver:

who, seeing that he was the object of inspection, coloured, and bowed again. 'That's the boy, is it?' said Mr. Grimwig, at length. 'That's the boy,' replied Mr. Brownlow. 'How are you, boy?' said Mr. Grimwig. 'A great deal better, thank you, sir,' replied Oliver. Mr. Brownlow, seeming to apprehend that his singular friend was about to say something disagreeable, asked Oliver to step downstairs and tell Mrs. Bedwin they were ready for tea; which, as he did not half like the visitor's manner, he was very happy to do. 'He is a nice-looking boy, is he not?' inquired Mr. Brownlow. 'I don't know,' replied Mr. Grimwig, pettishly. 'Don't know?' 'No.

I don't know.

I never see any difference in boys.

I only knew two sort of boys.

Mealy boys, and beef-faced boys.' 'And which is Oliver?' 'Mealy.

I know a friend who has a beef-faced boy; a fine boy, they call him; with a round head, and red cheeks, and glaring eyes; a horrid boy; with a body and limbs that appear to be swelling out of the seams of his blue clothes; with the voice of a pilot, and the appetite of a wolf.

I know him!

The wretch!' 'Come,' said Mr. Brownlow, 'these are not the characteristics of young Oliver Twist; so he needn't excite your wrath.' 'They are not,' replied Mr. Grimwig.

'He may have worse.' Here, Mr. Brownlow coughed impatiently; which appeared to afford Mr. Grimwig the most exquisite delight. 'He may have worse, I say,' repeated Mr. Grimwig.

'Where does he come from!

Who is he?

What is he?

He has had a fever.

What of that?

Fevers are not peculiar to good people; are they?

Bad people have fevers sometimes; haven't they, eh?

I knew a man who was hung in Jamaica for murdering his master.

He had had a fever six times; he wasn't recommended to mercy on that account.

Pooh! nonsense!' Now, the fact was, that in the inmost recesses of his own heart, Mr. Grimwig was strongly disposed to admit that Oliver's appearance and manner were unusually prepossessing; but he had a strong appetite for contradiction, sharpened on this occasion by the finding of the orange-peel; and, inwardly determining that no man should dictate to him whether a boy was well-looking or not, he had resolved, from the first, to oppose his friend.

When Mr. Brownlow admitted that on no one point of inquiry could he yet return a satisfactory answer; and that he had postponed any investigation into Oliver's previous history until he thought the boy was strong enough to hear it; Mr. Grimwig chuckled maliciously.

And he demanded, with a sneer, whether the housekeeper was in the habit of counting the plate at night; because if she didn't find a table-spoon or two missing some sunshiny morning, why, he would be content to--and so forth. All this, Mr. Brownlow, although himself somewhat of an impetuous gentleman:

knowing his friend's peculiarities, bore with great good humour; as Mr. Grimwig, at tea, was graciously pleased to express his entire approval of the muffins, matters went on very smoothly; and Oliver, who made one of the party, began to feel more at his ease than he had yet done in the fierce old gentleman's presence. 'And when are you going to hear a full, true, and particular account of the life and adventures of Oliver Twist?' asked Grimwig of Mr. Brownlow, at the conclusion of the meal; looking sideways at Oliver, as he resumed his subject. 'To-morrow morning,' replied Mr. Brownlow.

'I would rather he was alone with me at the time.

Come up to me to-morrow morning at ten o'clock, my dear.' 'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver.

He answered with some hesitation, because he was confused by Mr. Grimwig's looking so hard at him. 'I'll tell you what,' whispered that gentleman to Mr. Brownlow; 'he won't come up to you to-morrow morning.

I saw him hesitate. He is deceiving you, my good friend.' 'I'll swear he is not,' replied Mr. Brownlow, warmly. 'If he is not,' said Mr. Grimwig, 'I'll--' and down went the stick. 'I'll answer for that boy's truth with my life!' said Mr. Brownlow, knocking the table. 'And I for his falsehood with my head!' rejoined Mr. Grimwig, knocking the table also. 'We shall see,' said Mr. Brownlow, checking his rising anger. 'We will,' replied Mr. Grimwig, with a provoking smile;

'we will.' As fate would have it, Mrs. Bedwin chanced to bring in, at this moment, a small parcel of books, which Mr. Brownlow had that morning purchased of the identical bookstall-keeper, who has already figured in this history; having laid them on the table, she prepared to leave the room. 'Stop the boy, Mrs. Bedwin!' said Mr. Brownlow; 'there is something to go back.' 'He has gone, sir,' replied Mrs. Bedwin. 'Call after him,' said Mr. Brownlow; 'it's particular.

He is a poor man, and they are not paid for.

There are some books to be taken back, too.' The street-door was opened.

Oliver ran one way; and the girl ran another; and Mrs. Bedwin stood on the step and screamed for the boy; but there was no boy in sight.

Oliver and the girl returned, in a breathless state, to report that there were no tidings of him. 'Dear me, I am very sorry for that,' exclaimed Mr. Brownlow; 'I particularly wished those books to be returned to-night.' 'Send Oliver with them,' said Mr. Grimwig, with an ironical smile; 'he will be sure to deliver them safely, you know.' 'Yes; do let me take them, if you please, sir,' said Oliver. 'I'll run all the way, sir.' The old gentleman was just going to say that Oliver should not go out on any account; when a most malicious cough from Mr. Grimwig determined him that he should; and that, by his prompt discharge of the commission, he should prove to him the injustice of his suspicions:

on this head at least:

at once. 'You _shall_ go, my dear,' said the old gentleman.

'The books are on a chair by my table.

Fetch them down.' Oliver, delighted to be of use, brought down the books under his arm in a great bustle; and waited, cap in hand, to hear what message he was to take. 'You are to say,' said Mr. Brownlow, glancing steadily at Grimwig; 'you are to say that you have brought those books back; and that you have come to pay the four pound ten I owe him.

This is a five-pound note, so you will have to bring me back, ten shillings change.' 'I won't be ten minutes, sir,' said Oliver, eagerly.

Having buttoned up the bank-note in his jacket pocket, and placed the books carefully under his arm, he made a respectful bow, and left the room.

Mrs. Bedwin followed him to the street-door, giving him many directions about the nearest way, and the name of the bookseller, and the name of the street:

all of which Oliver said he clearly understood.

Having superadded many injunctions to be sure and not take cold, the old lady at length permitted him to depart. 'Bless his sweet face!' said the old lady, looking after him. 'I can't bear, somehow, to let him go out of my sight.' At this moment, Oliver looked gaily round, and nodded before he turned the corner.

The old lady smilingly returned his salutation, and, closing the door, went back to her own room. 'Let me see; he'll be back in twenty minutes, at the longest,' said Mr. Brownlow, pulling out his watch, and placing it on the table.

'It will be dark by that time.' 'Oh! you really expect him to come back, do you?' inquired Mr. Grimwig. 'Don't you?' asked Mr. Brownlow, smiling. The spirit of contradiction was strong in Mr. Grimwig's breast, at the moment; and it was rendered stronger by his friend's confident smile. 'No,' he said, smiting the table with his fist, 'I do not. The boy has a new suit of clothes on his back, a set of valuable books under his arm, and a five-pound note in his pocket.

He'll join his old friends the thieves, and laugh at you.

If ever that boy returns to this house, sir, I'll eat my head.' With these words he drew his chair closer to the table; and there the two friends sat, in silent expectation, with the watch between them. It is worthy of remark, as illustrating the importance we attach to our own judgments, and the pride with which we put forth our most rash and hasty conclusions, that, although Mr. Grimwig was not by any means a bad-hearted man, and though he would have been unfeignedly sorry to see his respected friend duped and deceived, he really did most earnestly and strongly hope at that moment, that Oliver Twist might not come back. It grew so dark, that the figures on the dial-plate were scarcely discernible; but there the two old gentlemen continued to sit, in silence, with the watch between them.

(进一步叙述奥立弗在布朗罗先生家里的情形,在他外出办事时,一位名叫格林维格的先生为他作了一番值得注意的预言。)

布朗罗先生突然发出一声惊呼,奥立弗吓得晕了过去,过了一会他醒了。在随后的谈话中,老绅士和贝德温太太都十分谨慎,对画中人避口不谈,也不谈论奥立弗的过去和将来,话题都以让他感到快活同时又不会刺激他为限。他依然很虚弱,不能自己起床吃早饭。第二天,他下楼走进女管家的屋子里,第一个举动就是将急切的目光投向那一面墙,希望能再看看那位漂亮女士的脸。然而他的希望落空了,肖像已经移走。

“啊。”女管家留心到了奥立弗眼睛看的方向,说道,“你瞧,没了。”

“我也发现不见了,太太,”奥立弗回答,“他们干吗要把画拿走呢?”

“是给取下来啦,孩子,布朗罗先生说了,它好像会使你挺难受似的,说不定还会妨碍你身体复原,你是懂得的。”

“喔,不,真的,一点也碍不着我,太太,”奥立弗说道,“我喜欢看,我可喜欢呢。”

“好了,好了。”老太太乐呵呵地答应着,“你尽快把身体长结实,宝贝儿,画就又会挂上去的。嗳,我答应你。对了,我们还是谈点别的事情吧。”

此刻,有关那张肖像的情况,奥立弗所能知道的就是这些了。他想到,在生病期间,贝德温太太对自己那样好,便打定主意眼下再也不去想这件事。他专心致志,听她讲了许多故事,说她有一个又可爱又漂亮的女儿嫁了一位又可爱又漂亮的丈夫,女儿女婿都住在乡下,一个儿子在西印度群岛,给一个贸易商当职员,儿子也是个挺好的年轻人,蛮孝顺,一年要给家里写四次信。说到那些信,泪水便涌上她的双眼。老太太一五一十,说了半天儿女们的长处,此外还谈到,她那体贴温柔的丈夫也有无数的优点,他已经去世,真可怜啊。整整二十六年了。喝茶的时候到了。喝过茶,她开始教奥立弗玩克里比奇牌戏。奥立弗学得很快,一点也没叫她费心。两个人玩得兴致勃勃,毫无倦意,一直玩到该给病人来上一点暖和的兑水红葡萄酒外带一片烤面包的时候才罢手,接着他才心满意足地睡觉去了。

奥立弗恢复健康的那些日子是多么幸福啊。周围的一切都是那么宁静,整洁,井井有条——每一个人又都那么和蔼可亲——他向来就是在喧嚣扰嚷中生活,在他看来,这里似乎就是天堂。他刚恢复到能自己动手穿衣裳,布朗罗先生便叫人替他买了一套新衣裳、一顶新帽子和一双新皮鞋。奥立弗得知自己可以随意处置那些旧衣服,就把它们送给了一个对他非常关照的女仆,要她拿去卖给一个犹太人,钱留下她自己花。这事她很快就办妥了。奥立弗打客厅窗户里望出去,瞧见那犹太人把旧衣裳打成一卷,放进袋子里离去了。他满心欢喜,心想这些东西总算妥善处理了,自己现在不可能遇到得重新穿上它们的危险。说实话,那都是些烂得不成样子的破布条,奥立弗还从来没穿过一套新衣裳。

一天傍晚,大约是肖像事件之后一个礼拜,他正坐着和贝德温太太聊天,布朗罗先生传下话来,说如果奥立弗·退斯特精神很好的话,他希望能在自己的书斋里见见他,跟他谈谈。

“哎哟,真没办法。你洗洗手,我来替你梳一个漂漂亮亮的分头,孩子,”贝德温太太说,“真要命。早知道他要请你去,我们该给你戴一条干净的领子,把你打扮得跟六便士银币一样漂亮。”

奥立弗照着老太太的吩咐做了。尽管那功夫她一个劲地惋惜,来不及在他的衬衫衣领的边缘理出一条小小的波纹。尽管少了这样重要的一大优势,他的模样还是十分清秀,招人喜欢。老太太十分满意,一边将他从头打量到脚,一边说道:哪怕是早就接到通知,恐怕也没法将他打扮得更精神了。

凭着老太太这番话的鼓励,奥立弗敲了敲书房门。布朗罗先生要他进去,他便走了进去。他发现这一间小小的里屋整个就是一座书城。屋里有一扇窗户,正对着几个精美的小花圃。临窗放着一张桌子,布朗罗先生正坐在桌前看书。一见奥立弗,他把书推到一边,叫他靠近桌旁坐下来。奥立弗照办了,心里感到挺纳闷,不知道上什么地方才能找到要读这么多书的人,这些书好像是为了叫全世界的人都变得聪明一些才写出来的。这一点在许多比奥立弗·退斯特更有见识的人看来,也依然是他们日常生活中一桩不可思议的事情。

“书可真多,是吗,我的孩子?”布朗罗先生留意到了,奥立弗带着明显的好奇心,打量着从地板一直垒到天花板的书架。

“好多书啊,先生,”奥立弗答道,“我从来没见过这么多书。”

“只要你规规矩矩做人,你也可以读这些书,”老先生和蔼地说,“你会很喜爱它们,而不光是看看外表——这是,在某些情况下,因为有些书的精华仅仅是书的封底封面。”

“先生,我猜准是那些厚的。”奥立弗说着,指了指几本封面烫金的四开本大书。

“那倒不一定,”老先生在奥立弗头上拍了拍,微微一笑。“还有一些同样也是大书,尽管篇幅要小得多,怎么样,想不想长大了做个聪明人,也写书,嗯?”

“我恐怕更愿意读书,先生。”奥立弗回答。

“什么!你不想当一个写书的人?”老先生说。

奥立弗想了一会儿,最后才说,他觉得当一个卖书的人要好得多。一听这话,老先生开心地大笑起来,说他讲出了一件妙不可言的事。奥立弗非常高兴,尽管他一点都不知道这句话妙在哪里。

“好啦,好啦,”老绅士平静下来,说道,“你别怕。我们不把你培养成一个作家就是了,只要是正当手艺都可以学,或者改学制砖。”

“先生,谢谢您。”奥立弗答话时那种一本正经的神气又引得布朗罗先生大笑起来,还提到一种奇怪的直觉什么的,奥立弗对此一点也不懂,也没大在意。

“唔,”布朗罗先生尽量想说得温和一些,然而在这一时刻,他的脸色仍然比奥立弗一向所熟悉的要严肃得多。“孩子,我希望你认认真真听我下边的话,我要和你开诚布公地谈一谈,因为我完全相信你能够懂得我的意思,就像许多年龄大一些的人那样。”

“喔,先生,别对我说您要把我打发走,求您了。”奥立弗叫了起来,老先生这番开场白的严肃口吻吓了他一跳。“别把我赶出去,叫我又到街上去流浪,让我留在这儿,当个仆人。不要把我送回原来那个鬼地方去,先生,可怜可怜一个苦命的孩子吧。”

“我亲爱的孩子,”老先生被奥立弗突如其来的激奋打动了。“你不用害怕,我不会抛弃你,除非是你给了我这样做的理由。”

“我不会的,决不会的,先生。”奥立弗抢着说。

“但愿如此吧,”老绅士答应道,“我相信你也不会那样。从前,我尽力接济过一些人,到头来上当受骗。不管怎么样,我依然由衷地信任你。我自己都说不清为什么这样关心你。我曾倾注满腔爱心的那些人已经长眠于黄泉之下,我平生的幸福与欢乐也埋在了那里,不过从内心感情上说,我还没有把我的这颗心做成一口棺材,永远封闭起来。切肤之痛只是使这种感情越发强烈越发纯净罢了。”

布朗罗先生娓娓而谈,与其说是对那位小伙伴讲的,不如说是对他自己。随后,他稍稍顿了一下,奥立弗默不作声地坐在旁边。

“好了,好了。”老先生终于开口了,语气也显得比较愉快。“我只是说,因为你有一颗年轻的心,要是你知道我以往曾饱受辛酸苦痛,你就会更加小心,或许不会再一次刺伤我的心了。你说你是一个孤儿,举目无亲,我多方打听的结果都证实了这一点。让我也听听你的故事吧,说说你是哪儿人,是谁把你带大的,又是怎么跟我见到你时和你在一起的那一伙人搞到一块儿的。什么也别隐瞒,只要我活在世上一天,你就不会是无依无靠的。”

奥立弗抽抽搭搭地哽咽起来,好一会儿说不出话,他刚要开始叙述自己是如何在寄养所里长大,邦布尔先生又如何把他带到济贫院去的,大门口却响起一阵颇不耐烦的“砰砰。砰砰”的敲门声,仆人跑上楼报告说,格林维格先生来了。

“他上楼来了?”布朗罗先生问道。

“是的,先生,”仆人答道,“他问家里有没有松饼,我告诉他有,他说他是来喝茶的。”

布朗罗先生微微一笑,转过脸对奥立弗说,格林维格先生是他的一位老朋友,切不可对他举止稍有一点粗鲁耿耿于怀,那位先生其实是个大好人。布朗罗先生这样说是有根据的。

“要不要我下楼去,先生?”奥立弗问。

“不用,”布朗罗先生回答,“我想让你留在这儿。”

这时,一个体格魁伟的老绅士走了进来。他一条腿略有些痛,拄着一根粗大的手杖,身穿蓝色外套,条纹背心,下边是淡黄色的马裤,打着绑腿,头上戴一顶宽檐的白色礼帽,印有绿色徽章的边沿向上翻,衬衫领绉从背心里伸出来,领子上的沼边十分细密,下边晃荡着一条长长的怀表钢链,表链末端上挂的是一把钥匙。白围巾的两头绞成一个球形,和一只桔子差不多大小。他扭动面部,脸上做出各种表情,让人根本形容不出来。他说话时老喜欢把头扭到一边,同时两只眼睛打眼角里往外看,不免使看见他的人联想到鹦鹉。他一进来就定在那里,摆出那种姿势,手臂伸得长长的,拿出一小块桔子皮,忿忿不平地吼了起来:

“瞧瞧。看见这个了吗?真是邪门,我每次去拜访一户人家都要在楼梯上发现这么个东西,莫非是那个穷大夫的朋友干的?我已经让桔子皮弄病了一回,桔子皮总有一天会要了我的命。会的,先生,桔子皮会叫我送命的,如果不是的话,叫我把自己脑袋吃下去我也心甘情愿,先生。”

格林维格先生最后夸下了这一句海口,他每次提出一种主张,几乎都要用这句话作为后盾。以他的具体情况而言,这一点就更不可思议了,因为即使是为了作出这种论证,承认科学上可能出现的种种进步已经到了一位绅士能够在本人有这种意愿时吃下自己的脑袋的程度,但格林维格先生的头硕大无比,就是世间最自信的人也不敢指望一顿把它吃下去——姑且完全不考虑上边还抹着厚厚的一层发粉。

“我可以把脑袋吃下去,先生,”格林维格先生重复了一句,一边用手杖敲了敲地板。“嗳,这是什么。”他打量着奥立弗,向后退了两步。

“这就是小奥立弗·退斯特,我们前次谈到的就是他。”布朗罗先生说。

奥立弗鞠了一躬。

“但愿你该不是说他就是那个患热症的小男孩吧?”格林维格先生说着又往后退了几步。“慢着。别吭声。停——”格林维格先生继续说道,猝然间,他又有了新发现,不禁得意起来,对热症的满腹疑惧顿时化为乌有。“他就是吃桔子的那个孩子。假如不是这个孩子吃了桔子,又把这一片桔子皮扔在楼梯上的话,老兄,我可以把我的脑袋连同他的一道吃下去。”

“不,不,他没吃过桔子,”布朗罗先生大笑,“行了。摘下帽子,同我的年轻朋友谈一谈。”

“先生,我对这个问题很有感触,”这位容易上火动怒的老绅士一边把手套脱下来,一边说,“我们这条街人行道上老是多多少少有几块桔子皮什么的,我知道,是拐角上那个外科大夫的儿子丢在那儿的。昨晚上有一位年轻妇女就在上边滑了一跤,撞在我家花园的栏杆上。她一爬起来,我看见她一个劲地往他那盏该死的红灯①瞅,那整个就是马戏团的灯光广告。‘你别到他那儿去,’我打窗户里往外喊,‘他就是凶手。专门坑人。’事实也是如此。假若他不是——”说到这里,暴躁的老绅士又用手杖使劲在地上顿了一下,朋友们向来就明白这个动作的意思,每当词不达意的时候,他就会把这句口头样搬出来。随后他依旧握着手杖,坐下来,打开一副用黑色的宽带子挂在身上的的眼镜,看了看奥立弗,奥立弗见自己成了审查对象,脸唰地红了,又鞠了一躬。

①当时医生诊所门前设红灯为标记。

“他就是那个孩子。是吗?”格林维格先生终于问道。

“是那个孩子。”布朗罗先生回答。

“孩子,你好吗?”格林维格先生说。

“好多了,先生,谢谢你。”奥立弗答道。

布朗罗先生似乎意识到了,这位脾气古怪的朋友就要说出一些不中听的话来,便打发奥立弗下楼去告诉贝德温太太,他们准备用茶点。奥立弗一点也不喜欢客人的风度,便高高兴兴地下楼去了。

“这孩子很漂亮,是不是?”布朗罗先生问道。

“我不知道。”格林维格先生没好气地说。

“不知道?”

“是啊,我不知道。我从来看不出小毛孩子有什么两样的。我只知道有两类孩子。一类是粉脸,一类是肉脸。”

“奥立弗是哪一类的呢?”

“粉脸。我认识一位朋友,他儿子就属于肉脸,他们还管他叫好孩子——圆圆的脑袋,脸蛋红扑扑的,一双眼睛也挺亮,可压根儿就是一个可恶透顶的孩子,身子和手脚四肢像是快把他一身蓝衣裳的线缝都撑破了,嗓门跟领港员差不多,还有一副狼的胃口。我认识他。这个坏蛋。”

“行了,”布朗罗先生说,“小奥立弗·退斯特可不像那样,不至于激起你的火气来啊。”

“是不像那个样子,”格林维格先生回答,“没准还要坏。”

谈到这里,布朗罗先生有点不耐烦地咳嗽起来,格林维格先生看来却感到有说不出的欣慰。

“没准还要坏呢。”格林维格先生重复了一遍。“他打哪儿来?姓什么叫什么?是干什么的?他得过热症,那又怎么样?热症不是只有好人才会生,不是吗?坏人有时候也会染上热症,对不对,啊?我认识一个人,他在牙买加因为谋杀主人给绞死了,他就患过六次热症,并没有因此得到宽恕。呸。那是胡说八道。”

当时的情况是,从内心深处说,格林维格先生很想承认奥立弗的仪表举止都非常讨人欢喜,可是,他生来喜欢抬杠,这一次因为拾到那块桔子皮,就更要抬抬杠了。他暗自打定主意,谁也别想对自己发号施令,说什么一个小孩漂亮还是不漂亮,打一开始他就决心跟自己的朋友过过招。布朗罗先生承认,到目前为止没有一个问题他能给出令人满意的答案,他已经把考察奥立弗以往经历的事搁到一边,等到他认为那孩子经受得住的时候再说。这时,格林维格先生冷冷一笑,不无嘲讽地问,管家有没有晚间清点餐具的规矩,因为,只要她在某一个阳光明媚的早晨没发现有一两只银汤匙不翼而飞的话,嗨,他甘愿——云云。

尽管布朗罗先生本人也是一位急性子绅士,可他深知朋友的怪脾气,对这一切他还是带着少有的好兴致照单全收。喝茶的时候,格林维格先生满面春风,对松饼大加赞许。气氛十分融洽。奥立弗也在座,他逐渐感到自己不像刚见到这位凶巴巴的老绅士时那样紧张了。

“你什么时候才能原原本本详详细细听到有关奥立弗·退斯特的生活遭遇的故事呢?”吃过茶点,格林维格先生斜着眼睛盯住奥立弗,重新提起了这件事。

“明天上午,”布朗罗先生回答,“到时候我希望就他一个人在我这儿。明天上午十点钟到我这里来,亲爱的。”

“好的,先生。”奥立弗答道。因为格林维格先生老是盯着自己,目光又是那样冷峻,他有点心神不定,回答起来不免有些犹豫。

“我跟你说句话,”格林维格先生低声对布朗罗先生说道,“明天上午他不会来找你的,我看他还没打定主意,他在骗你呢,我的好朋友。”

“我可以起誓他不会的。”布朗罗先生温和地答道。

“假若不是的话,我甘愿——”格林维格先生的手杖又敲了一下。

“我敢拿我的生命担保,这孩子很诚实。”布朗罗先生说着,敲了敲桌子。

“我敢拿我的脑袋担保他会说谎。”格林维格先生应声说道,也敲了一下桌子。

“走着瞧好了。”布朗罗先生强压住腾起的怒气说道。

“我们会看到的,”格林维格先生带着一种气人的微笑回答,“我们会看到的。”

真好像是命中注定似的,就在这功夫,贝德温太太送进来一小包书,这是布朗罗先生当天早晨从那位已经在这部传记中露过面的书摊掌柜那里买的,她把书放在桌子上,便准备离开房间。

“叫那送书的孩子等一下,贝德温太太。”布朗罗先生说,“有东西要他带回去。”

“先生,他已经走了。”贝德温太太答道。

“把他叫回来,”布朗罗先生说,“这人也真是的,他本身就不富裕,这些书都还没付钱呢。还有几本书也要送回去。”

大门打开了,奥立弗和女仆分两路追了出去,贝德温太太站在台阶上,高声呼唤着送书来的孩子,然而连人影也没见到一个。奥立弗和女仆气喘吁吁地回来了,回报说不知道他跑到哪儿去了。

“啧啧,太遗憾了,”布朗罗先生多有感触,“这些书今天晚上能送回去就好了。”

“叫奥立弗去送,”格林维格先生脸上挂着讽刺的微笑,说道,“你心中有数,他会平安送到的。”

“是啊,先生,如果您同意的话,就让我去吧,”奥立弗请求道,“先生,我一路跑着去。”

布朗罗先生正要开口,说奥立弗在这种情形下无论如何是不宜外出的,格林维格先生发出一声饱含恶意的咳嗽,迫使他决定让奥立弗跑一趟,由他迅速办完这档子事,自己就可以向格林维格先生证明,他的种种猜疑是不公正的——最低限度在这一点上——而且是立刻证明。

“你应该去,我亲爱的,”老绅士说道,“书在我桌子旁边的一把椅子上,去拿下来。”

奥立弗见自己能派上用场,感到很高兴。他胳臂下夹着几本书匆匆走下楼来,帽子拿在手里,听候吩咐。

“你就说,”布朗罗先生目不转睛地盯着格林维格先生,“你是来还这些书的,并且把我欠他的四镑十先令交给他。这是一张五镑的钞票,你得把找的十个先令带回来。”

“要不了十分钟我就回来,先生。”奥立弗急不可待地说,他把那张钞票放进夹克口袋,扣上扣子,小心翼翼地把那几本书夹在胳膊下边,恭恭敬敬鞠了一躬,离开房间。贝德温太太随着他走到大门口,给了他不少嘱咐,最近的路怎么走啦,书摊老板的姓名啦,街道名称啦,奥立弗说他一切都清楚了。老太太又添上了许多训诫,路上要当心,别着凉,这才准许他离去。

“看在他漂亮小脸蛋的分上,可别出事啊。”老太大目送他走到门外。“不管怎么说,我真不放心让他走到我看不见的地方去。”

这时,奥立弗高高兴兴地扭头看了一眼,转过街角之前他点了点头,老太太笑吟吟地还了个礼,便关上大门,回自己房间去了。

“我看,最多二十分钟他就会回来,”布朗罗先生一边说,一边把表掏出来,放在桌子上。“到那个时候,天也快黑了。”

“噢,你真以为他会回来,是不是?”格林维格先生问。

“你不这样看?”布朗罗先生微笑着反问道。

存心闹别扭的劲头在格林维格先生的胸中本来就难以按捺,看到朋友那副满有把握的笑容,他更来劲了。

“是的,”他用拳头捶了一下桌子,说道,“我不这样看,这孩子穿了一身新衣服,胳膊下边夹了一摞值钱的书,兜里又装着一张五镑的钞票。他会去投奔他那班盗贼老朋友的,反过来笑话你。先生,要是那孩子回到这房子里来了,我就把自己脑袋吃下去。”

说罢这番话,他把椅子往桌旁拉了拉。两个朋友一言不发坐在那里,各自怀着心事,表放在他俩之间。

为了举例说明我们对自身作出的判断有多么看重,作出一些极为鲁莽轻率的结论时又是多么自负,有一点很值得注意,那就是,尽管格林维格先生绝对不是心术不正的坏蛋,看着自己尊敬的朋友上当受骗,他会真心诚意地感到难过,但是在这一时刻,他却由衷而强烈地希望奥立弗不要回来。

天色已经很暗,连表上的数字也几乎辨认不出来了。两位老先生依然默不作声地坐在那儿,表放在他俩中间。