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In the obscure parlour of a low public-house, in the filthiest part of Little Saffron Hill; a dark and gloomy den, where a flaring gas-light burnt all day in the winter-time; and where no ray of sun ever shone in the summer:

there sat, brooding over a little pewter measure and a small glass, strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor, a man in a velveteen coat, drab shorts, half-boots and stockings, whom even by that dim light no experienced agent of the police would have hesitated to recognise as Mr. William Sikes.

At his feet, sat a white-coated, red-eyed dog; who occupied himself, alternately, in winking at his master with both eyes at the same time; and in licking a large, fresh cut on one side of his mouth, which appeared to be the result of some recent conflict. 'Keep quiet, you warmint!

Keep quiet!' said Mr. Sikes, suddenly breaking silence.

Whether his meditations were so intense as to be disturbed by the dog's winking, or whether his feelings were so wrought upon by his reflections that they required all the relief derivable from kicking an unoffending animal to allay them, is matter for argument and consideration.

Whatever was the cause, the effect was a kick and a curse, bestowed upon the dog simultaneously. Dogs are not generally apt to revenge injuries inflicted upon them by their masters; but Mr. Sikes's dog, having faults of temper in common with his owner, and labouring, perhaps, at this moment, under a powerful sense of injury, made no more ado but at once fixed his teeth in one of the half-boots.

Having given in a hearty shake, he retired, growling, under a form; just escaping the pewter measure which Mr. Sikes levelled at his head. 'You would, would you?' said Sikes, seizing the poker in one hand, and deliberately opening with the other a large clasp-knife, which he drew from his pocket.

'Come here, you born devil!

Come here!

D'ye hear?' The dog no doubt heard; because Mr. Sikes spoke in the very harshest key of a very harsh voice; but, appearing to entertain some unaccountable objection to having his throat cut, he remained where he was, and growled more fiercely than before:

at the same time grasping the end of the poker between his teeth, and biting at it like a wild beast. This resistance only infuriated Mr. Sikes the more; who, dropping on his knees, began to assail the animal most furiously.

The dog jumped from right to left, and from left to right; snapping, growling, and barking; the man thrust and swore, and struck and blasphemed; and the struggle was reaching a most critical point for one or other; when, the door suddenly opening, the dog darted out:

leaving Bill Sikes with the poker and the clasp-knife in his hands. There must always be two parties to a quarrel, says the old adage.

Mr. Sikes, being disappointed of the dog's participation, at once transferred his share in the quarrel to the new comer. 'What the devil do you come in between me and my dog for?' said Sikes, with a fierce gesture. 'I didn't know, my dear, I didn't know,' replied Fagin, humbly; for the Jew was the new comer. 'Didn't know, you white-livered thief!' growled Sikes. 'Couldn't you hear the noise?' 'Not a sound of it, as I'm a living man, Bill,' replied the Jew. 'Oh no!

You hear nothing, you don't,' retorted Sikes with a fierce sneer.

'Sneaking in and out, so as nobody hears how you come or go!

I wish you had been the dog, Fagin, half a minute ago.' 'Why?' inquired the Jew with a forced smile. 'Cause the government, as cares for the lives of such men as you, as haven't half the pluck of curs, lets a man kill a dog how he likes,' replied Sikes, shutting up the knife with a very expressive look; 'that's why.' The Jew rubbed his hands; and, sitting down at the table, affected to laugh at the pleasantry of his friend.

He was obviously very ill at ease, however. 'Grin away,' said Sikes, replacing the poker, and surveying him with savage contempt; 'grin away.

You'll never have the laugh at me, though, unless it's behind a nightcap.

I've got the upper hand over you, Fagin; and, d--me, I'll keep it.

There!

If I go, you go; so take care of me.' 'Well, well, my dear,' said the Jew, 'I know all that; we--we--have a mutual interest, Bill,--a mutual interest.' 'Humph,' said Sikes, as if he thought the interest lay rather more on the Jew's side than on his.

'Well, what have you got to say to me?' 'It's all passed safe through the melting-pot,' replied Fagin, 'and this is your share.

It's rather more than it ought to be, my dear; but as I know you'll do me a good turn another time, and--' 'Stow that gammon,' interposed the robber, impatiently. 'Where is it?

Hand over!' 'Yes, yes, Bill; give me time, give me time,' replied the Jew, soothingly.

'Here it is!

All safe!'

As he spoke, he drew forth an old cotton handkerchief from his breast; and untying a large knot in one corner, produced a small brown-paper packet.

Sikes, snatching it from him, hastily opened it; and proceeded to count the sovereigns it contained. 'This is all, is it?' inquired Sikes. 'All,' replied the Jew. 'You haven't opened the parcel and swallowed one or two as you come along, have you?' inquired Sikes, suspiciously. 'Don't put on an injured look at the question; you've done it many a time. Jerk the tinkler.' These words, in plain English, conveyed an injunction to ring the bell.

It was answered by another Jew:

younger than Fagin, but nearly as vile and repulsive in appearance. Bill Sikes merely pointed to the empty measure.

The Jew, perfectly understanding the hint, retired to fill it:

previously exchanging a remarkable look with Fagin, who raised his eyes for an instant, as if in expectation of it, and shook his head in reply; so slightly that the action would have been almost imperceptible to an observant third person.

It was lost upon Sikes, who was stooping at the moment to tie the boot-lace which the dog had torn.

Possibly, if he had observed the brief interchange of signals, he might have thought that it boded no good to him. 'Is anybody here, Barney?' inquired Fagin; speaking, now that that Sikes was looking on, without raising his eyes from the ground. 'Dot a shoul,' replied Barney; whose words:

whether they came from the heart or not:

made their way through the nose. 'Nobody?' inquired Fagin, in a tone of surprise:

which perhaps might mean that Barney was at liberty to tell the truth. 'Dobody but Biss Dadsy,' replied Barney. 'Nancy!' exclaimed Sikes.

'Where?

Strike me blind, if I don't honour that 'ere girl, for her native talents.' 'She's bid havid a plate of boiled beef id the bar,' replied Barney. 'Send her here,' said Sikes, pouring out a glass of liquor. 'Send her here.' Barney looked timidly at Fagin, as if for permission; the Jew remaining silent, and not lifting his eyes from the ground, he retired; and presently returned, ushering in Nancy; who was decorated with the bonnet, apron, basket, and street-door key, complete. 'You are on the scent, are you, Nancy?' inquired Sikes, proffering the glass. 'Yes, I am, Bill,' replied the young lady, disposing of its contents; 'and tired enough of it I am, too.

The young brat's been ill and confined to the crib; and--' 'Ah, Nancy, dear!' said Fagin, looking up. Now, whether a peculiar contraction of the Jew's red eye-brows, and a half closing of his deeply-set eyes, warned Miss Nancy that she was disposed to be too communicative, is not a matter of much importance.

The fact is all we need care for here; and the fact is, that she suddenly checked herself, and with several gracious smiles upon Mr. Sikes, turned the conversation to other matters. In about ten minutes' time, Mr. Fagin was seized with a fit of coughing; upon which Nancy pulled her shawl over her shoulders, and declared it was time to go.

Mr. Sikes, finding that he was walking a short part of her way himself, expressed his intention of accompanying her; they went away together, followed, at a little distant, by the dog, who slunk out of a back-yard as soon as his master was out of sight. The Jew thrust his head out of the room door when Sikes had left it; looked after him as we walked up the dark passage; shook his clenched fist; muttered a deep curse; and then, with a horrible grin, reseated himself at the table; where he was soon deeply absorbed in the interesting pages of the Hue-and-Cry. Meanwhile, Oliver Twist, little dreaming that he was within so very short a distance of the merry old gentleman, was on his way to the book-stall.

When he got into Clerkenwell, he accidently turned down a by-street which was not exactly in his way; but not discovering his mistake until he had got half-way down it, and knowing it must lead in the right direction, he did not think it worth while to turn back; and so marched on, as quickly as he could, with the books under his arm. He was walking along, thinking how happy and contented he ought to feel; and how much he would give for only one look at poor little Dick, who, starved and beaten, might be weeping bitterly at that very moment; when he was startled by a young woman screaming out very loud.

'Oh, my dear brother!'

And he had hardly looked up, to see what the matter was, when he was stopped by having a pair of arms thrown tight round his neck. 'Don't,' cried Oliver, struggling.

'Let go of me.

Who is it? What are you stopping me for?' The only reply to this, was a great number of loud lamentations from the young woman who had embraced him; and who had a little basket and a street-door key in her hand. 'Oh my gracious!' said the young woman, 'I have found him!

Oh! Oliver!

Oliver!

Oh you naughty boy, to make me suffer such distress on your account!

Come home, dear, come.

Oh, I've found him.

Thank gracious goodness heavins, I've found him!'

With these incoherent exclamations, the young woman burst into another fit of crying, and got so dreadfully hysterical, that a couple of women who came up at the moment asked a butcher's boy with a shiny head of hair anointed with suet, who was also looking on, whether he didn't think he had better run for the doctor.

To which, the butcher's boy:

who appeared of a lounging, not to say indolent disposition:

replied, that he thought not. 'Oh, no, no, never mind,' said the young woman, grasping Oliver's hand; 'I'm better now.

Come home directly, you cruel boy! Come!' 'Oh, ma'am,' replied the young woman, 'he ran away, near a month ago, from his parents, who are hard-working and respectable people; and went and joined a set of thieves and bad characters; and almost broke his mother's heart.' 'Young wretch!' said one woman. 'Go home, do, you little brute,' said the other. 'I am not,' replied Oliver, greatly alarmed.

'I don't know her. I haven't any sister, or father and mother either.

I'm an orphan; I live at Pentonville.' 'Only hear him, how he braves it out!' cried the young woman. 'Why, it's Nancy!' exclaimed Oliver; who now saw her face for the first time; and started back, in irrepressible astonishment. 'You see he knows me!' cried Nancy, appealing to the bystanders. 'He can't help himself.

Make him come home, there's good people, or he'll kill his dear mother and father, and break my heart!' 'What the devil's this?' said a man, bursting out of a beer-shop, with a white dog at his heels; 'young Oliver! Come home to your poor mother, you young dog!

Come home directly.' 'I don't belong to them.

I don't know them.

Help! help!' cried Oliver, struggling in the man's powerful grasp. 'Help!' repeated the man.

'Yes; I'll help you, you young rascal! What books are these?

You've been a stealing 'em, have you? Give 'em here.'

With these words, the man tore the volumes from his grasp, and struck him on the head. 'That's right!' cried a looker-on, from a garret-window. 'That's the only way of bringing him to his senses!' 'To be sure!' cried a sleepy-faced carpenter, casting an approving look at the garret-window. 'It'll do him good!' said the two women. 'And he shall have it, too!' rejoined the man, administering another blow, and seizing Oliver by the collar.

'Come on, you young villain!

Here, Bull's-eye, mind him, boy!

Mind him!' Weak with recent illness; stupified by the blows and the suddenness of the attack; terrified by the fierce growling of the dog, and the brutality of the man; overpowered by the conviction of the bystanders that he really was the hardened little wretch he was described to be; what could one poor child do!

Darkness had set in; it was a low neighborhood; no help was near; resistance was useless.

In another moment he was dragged into a labyrinth of dark narrow courts, and was forced along them at a pace which rendered the few cries he dared to give utterance to, unintelligible.

It was of little moment, indeed, whether they were intelligible or no; for there was nobody to care for them, had they been ever so plain. * * * * * * * * * The gas-lamps were lighted; Mrs. Bedwin was waiting anxiously at the open door; the servant had run up the street twenty times to see if there were any traces of Oliver; and still the two old gentlemen sat, perseveringly, in the dark parlour, with the watch between them.

(表一表快活的老犹太和南希小姐是何等宠爱奥立弗·退斯特。)

在小红花山最肮脏的地段,有一家下等酒馆,酒馆的店堂十分昏暗,这里冬天从早到晚点着一盏闪闪烁烁的煤气灯,就是在夏天,也没有一丝阳光照进这个阴森幽暗的巢穴。这家酒馆里坐着一个正在独斟独酌的汉子。他穿一身平绒外套,淡褐色马裤,半长统靴带套袜,守着面前的一个白锡小酒壶和一只小玻璃杯,浑身散发出浓烈的酒味。尽管灯光十分昏暗,一个有经验的警探还是会毫不迟疑地认出这就是威廉·赛克斯先生。一只白毛红眼狗伏在他的脚下,时而抬起头来,两只眼睛同时向主人眨巴眨巴,时而又舔舔嘴角上一条新的大口子,那显然是最近一次冲突落下的。

“放老实点,你这狗东西!别出声!”赛克斯先生突然打破了沉默。不知是因为这样专注的思索却被狗的眼光打乱了呢,还是因情绪受到思维的推动,需要冲着一头无辜的畜生踢一脚,以便安神静气,这个问题还有待讨论。不管原因何在,结果是狗同时挨了一脚和一句臭骂。

狗对于主人的打骂一般不会动辄予以报复,可赛克斯先生的狗却跟它的当家人一样生性暴躁,在这一时刻,或许是由于感到受了莫大的侮辱吧,它也没费什么事,一口便咬住了一只半长统靴,使劲摇了摇,便嗷嗷叫着缩回到一条长凳下边,正好躲过了赛克斯先生兜头砸过来的白锡酒壶。

“你还敢咬我,你还敢咬我?”赛克斯说着,一手操起火钳,另一只手从衣袋里掏出一把大折刀,不慌不忙地打开。“过来啊,你这天生的魔鬼。上这边来。你聋了吗?”

狗无疑听见了,因为赛克斯先生说话时用的是极其刺耳的调门中最最刺耳的一个音阶,然而它显然对于脖子上挨一刀抱有一种说不出的厌恶,所以依旧呆在原来的地方,叫得比先前更凶了,与此同时亮出牙齿,咬住火钳的一端,像一头不曾驯化的野兽似的又咬又啃。

这种抵抗反而使赛克斯先生更加怒不可遏,他双膝跪下,开始对这头畜生发动极其凶猛的进攻。狗从右边跳到左边,又从左边跳到右边,上下扑腾,咆哮着,吠叫着。那汉子一边又戳又捅,一边赌咒发誓。这场较量正进行到对于双方都万分紧急的当儿,门忽然打开了,狗立刻丢下手持火钳和折刀的比尔·赛克斯,夺路逃了出去。

常言说一个巴掌不响,吵架总得双方。赛克斯先生一见狗不肯奉陪,失望之下,立刻把狗在这场争执中的角色交给了刚来的人。

“老鬼,你搀和到我和我的狗中间来干吗?”赛克斯凶神恶煞地说。

“我不知道啊,亲爱的,我一点儿不知道。”费金低声下气地回答——来人原来正是老犹太。

“不知道,做贼心虚!”赛克斯怒吼道,“没听见嚷嚷吗?”

“比尔,一点声音也没有,我又不是死人。”犹太人回答。

“喔,是的。你没听见什么,你没听见,”赛克斯发出一声恶狠狠的冷笑,应声说道,“偷偷摸摸地跑来跑去,就不会有人知道你是怎么出去进来的了。费金啊,半分钟以前,你要是那只狗就好了。”

“为什么?”费金强打起一副笑脸问。

“因为政府虽说记挂你这号人的小命,你胆子连野狗的一半都赶不上,可它才不管人家高兴怎么样杀掉一只狗呢,”赛克斯一边回答,一边意味深长地合上折刀。“就这么回事。”

费金搓握手,在桌边坐了下来,听了朋友的这一番打趣,他假装乐呵呵地笑了笑。可是,他心里显然正烦着呢。

“一边笑去,”赛克斯说着,把火钳放回原处,带着露骨的蔑视扫了他一眼。“一边笑去。轮不到你来笑话我,除非是喝了夜酒以后。我胜你一头,费金,我他妈会一直这样。听着,我完了你也完了,所以你给我当心点。”

“好,好,我亲爱的,”犹太人说道,“我全懂,我们——我们——彼此都有好处,比尔——彼此都有好处。”

“哼,”赛克斯似乎觉得老犹太得到的好处远比自己多,“得啦,你有什么要说的?”

“保险着呢,都用坩锅熬过了。”费金答道,“你的一份我带来了,比你应得的多了许多,我亲爱的,不过我知道,下次你不会亏待我,再说——”

“少来那一套,”那强盗不耐烦地打断了他的话,“在什么地方?拿来。”

“行,行,比尔,别着急,别着急,”费金像哄孩子似地回答,“这儿呢。分文不少。”说着,他从怀里掏出一张旧的棉手帕,解开角上的一个大结,取出一个棕色小纸包。赛克斯劈手夺过纸包,忙不迭地打开来,一五一十地数着里边的金镑。

“就这些,是吗?”赛克斯问。

“全在这儿了。”费金回答。

“一路上你没有打开这个包,私吞一两个?”赛克斯满怀狐疑地问道,“别装出一副受委屈的样子,这事你干过多次了,拉一下铃。”

说得明白一点,这些话下达了拉铃的命令。铃声唤来了另一个犹太人,比费金年轻一些,但面目一样可憎。

比尔·赛克斯指了指空酒壶,犹太人立刻领会了这一暗示,又退出去盛酒去了,退出去之前,他与费金交换了一道异样的眼色,费金抬了抬眼睛,好像正等着对方的眼色似的,摇摇头作了回答,动作幅度极小,即使是一个细心旁观的第三者也几乎察觉不到。赛克斯一点也没发觉,那功夫他正弯腰系上被狗扯开的靴带。假如他注意到了的话,很可能会把两人之间一闪而过的暗号当作一个不祥之兆。

“这儿有人吗,巴尼?”费金问,目光依旧没有从地上抬起来,因为赛克斯已经抬起头来。

“一个人也没有。”巴尼回答,他的话不管是不是发自内心,一概是打鼻子里出来。

“没有一个人?”费金的嗓门里透出惊奇的意思来,也许是打算暗示巴尼,他不妨讲真话。

“除了达基小姐,没别的人。”巴尼答道。

“南希!’赛克斯嚷了起来,“在哪儿呢?我真服了她了,这姑娘是天才,我要是说瞎话,让我成瞎子。”

“她在柜上点了一碟煮牛肉。”巴尼回答。

“她上这儿来,”赛克斯斟上一杯酒,说道,“叫她来。”

巴尼怯生生地看了一眼费金,像是在征得他的许可,见老犹太默默地坐着,眼睛都没抬一下,便退了出去,不多一会又领着南希进来了,这姑娘还戴着软帽,围着围裙,手拿篮子和大门钥匙,全副行头一样不少。

“你找到线索了,是不是,南希?’赛克斯一边问,一边把酒杯递过去。

“是的,找到了,比尔,”南希把杯里的酒一饮而尽,答道,“真把我累得够呛。那毛孩子病了,床都下不了——”

“噢,南希,亲爱的。”费金说着,头抬了起来。

当时,费金那赤红的眉毛怪里怪气地皱了起来,深陷的双眼半睁半闭,他是不是在向藏不住话的南希小姐发出警告,这并不重要。我们需要留意的是以下事实,那就是,她忽然打住,向赛克斯先生抛过去几道妩媚的微笑,话锋一转谈起别的事情来了。过了大约十分钟,费金先生使劲咳嗽了几声,南希见他这副模样,便用围巾裹住肩膀,说她该走了。赛克斯先生想起自己和她有一段同路,表示有意要陪陪她,两人一块儿走了,隔不多远跟着那只狗,主人刚走出视野,狗就打后院溜了出去。

赛克斯离开了酒馆,费金从屋门口探出头去,目送他走上黑沉沉的大路,握紧拳头晃了两晃,嘟嘟哝哝地骂了一句,随后又发出一声令人毛骨悚然的狞笑,重新在桌旁坐下来,不一会儿就被一份《通缉令》的饶有趣味的版面深深地吸引住了。

与此同时,奥立弗·退斯特正走在去书摊的路上,他做梦也没想到自己与那位快活老绅士相隔咫尺。在走进克拉肯韦尔街区时,他稍稍走偏了一点,无意中拐进了一条背街,走了一半才发现错了,他知道这条路方向是对的,心想用不着折回去,所以依旧快步往前赶,那一叠书夹在胳膊下边。

他一边走,一边寻思,只要能看一眼可怜的小狄克,无论要他付出多大代价都行,自己该会感到多么高兴多么满足啊,狄克还在挨打受饿,在这一时刻兴许正在伤伤心心地哭呢。就在这时,一个年轻女子高声尖叫起来,吓了他一大跳。“喔,我亲爱的弟弟!”他还没来得及抬头看清是怎么回事,便有两条胳臂伸过来,紧紧搂住了他的脖子,迫使他停住了脚步。

“哎呀,”奥立弗挣扎着嚷了起来,“放开我。是谁呀?你干吗拦着我?”

搂住他的这位年轻女子手里拎着一只小篮子和一把大门钥匙,用一大串呼天抢地的高声哭喊做了回答。

“呃,我的天啦!”年轻女子叫道,“我可找到他了!呃!奥立弗!奥立弗!你这个顽皮孩子,为了你的缘故,我吃了多少苦头。回家去。亲爱的,走啊。噢,我可找到他了,谢谢仁慈厚道的老天爷,我找到他了!”少妇这么没头没脑地抱怨了一通,接着又一次放声大哭,歇斯底里发作得怪吓人的,有两个这时走到近旁的女人不由得问一个头发用板油擦得亮光光的肉铺伙计,他是不是该跑一趟,把大夫请来。肉铺伙计——他本来就在旁边看,那个样子即便不说是懒惰,也属于游手好闲——回答说,他认为没有必要。

“噢,不用,不用,不要紧,”少妇说着,紧紧抓住奥立弗的手。“我现在好多了。给我回家去,你这个没良心的孩子!走啊!”

“太太,什么事?”一个女人问道。

“喔,太太,”年轻女子回答,“差不多一个月以前,他从爸妈那儿出走了,他们可是干活卖力,受人尊敬的人。他跑去跟一伙小偷坏蛋混在一起,妈的心差一点就碎了。”

“小坏蛋!”一个女人说道。

“回家去,走啊,你这个小畜生。”另一个说。

“我不,”奥立弗吓坏了,回答说,“我不认识她。我没有姐姐,也没有爸爸妈妈。我是一个孤儿,住在本顿维尔。”

“你们听听,他还嘴硬!”少妇嚷嚷着。

“呀,南希!”奥立弗叫了起来,他这才第一次看清了她的脸,不由得惊愕地往后退去。

“你们瞧,他认出我来了!”南希向周围的人高声呼吁,“他自己也糊弄不过去了,哪位好人,劳驾送他回家去吧,不然的话,他真要把他爹妈活活气死,我的心也要给他碾碎了。”

“这他妈什么事啊?”一个男人从一家啤酒店里奔了出来,身后紧跟着一只白狗。“小奥立弗!回到你那可怜的母亲那儿去,小狗崽子!照直回家去。”

“我不是他们家的。我不认识他们。救命啊!救命啊!”奥立弗喊叫着,在那个男人强有力的怀抱里拼命挣扎。

“救命!”那男人也这么说,“没错,我会救你的,你这个小坏蛋。这是些什么书啊?是你偷来的吧,是不是?把书拿过来。”说着,他夺过奥立弗手里的书,使劲敲他的脑袋。

“打得好!”一个看热闹的人从一扇顶楼窗户里嚷嚷着,“非得这样才能叫他知道点厉害。”

“没错!”一个睡眼惺忪的木匠喊道,冲着顶楼窗回投过去一道赞许的眼色。

“这对他有好处!”两个女人齐声说。

“而且他也是自找的!”那个男人应声说道,又给了奥立弗一下,一把揪住他的衣领。“走啊,你这个小坏蛋!嘿,牛眼儿,过来!看见没有,小子,看见了没有!”

一个苦命的孩子,大病初愈身体虚弱,这一连串突如其来的打击搞得他晕头转向,那只狂吠的恶犬是那样可怕,那个男人又是那样凶横,再加上围观者已经认定他确实就是大家描述的那么一个小坏蛋了,他能有什么办法!夜幕已经降临,这儿又不是一个讲理的地方,孓然一身,反抗也是徒劳的。紧接着,他被拖进了由无数阴暗窄小的胡同组成的迷宫,被迫跟着他们一块儿走了,速度之快,使他大着胆子发出的几声呼喊变得完全叫人听不清。的确,听得清听不清都无关紧要,就算是很清楚明白,也不会有人放在心上。

煤气街灯已经点亮。贝德温太太焦急不安地守候在敞开的门口,仆人已经二十来次跑到街上去寻找奥立弗。客厅里没有点灯,两位老绅士依然正襟危坐,面对放在他俩之间的那块怀表。

1111111111111

第十六章

(奥立弗·退斯特被南希领走之后的情况。)

在一片宽敞的空地,狭小的胡同、院落总算到了尽头,四下里立着一些关牲口的栏杆,表明这里是一处牛马市场。走到这里,赛克斯放慢了脚步,一路上快行急走,南希姑娘再也支持不住了。赛克斯朝奥立弗转过身来,厉声命令他拉住南希的手。

“听见没有?”赛克斯见奥立弗缩手缩脚,直往后看,便咆哮起来。

他们呆的地方是一个黑洞洞的角落,周围没有一点行人的踪迹。抵抗是完全没有作用的,奥立弗看得再清楚不过了。他伸出一只手,立刻被南希牢牢抓住。

“把另一只手伸给我,”赛克斯说着,抓住奥立弗空着的那只手。“过来,牛眼儿。”

那只狗扬起头,狺狺叫了两声。

“瞧这儿,宝贝儿。”赛克斯用另一只手指着奥立弗的喉咙,说道,“哪怕他轻声说出一个字,就咬他。明白吗?”

狗又叫了起来,舔了舔嘴唇,两眼盯着奥立弗,似乎恨不得当下就咬住他的气管。

“它真是跟基督徒一样听话呢,它如果都不是,就让我成瞎子。”赛克斯带着一种狞恶残忍的赞许,打量着那头畜生。“喂,先生,这下你知道你会得到一个什么结果了,你高兴怎么喊就怎么喊吧,狗一眨眼就会叫你这套把戏完蛋的。小家伙,跟上。”

牛眼儿摇了摇尾巴,对这一番亲热得异乎寻常的夸奖表示感谢,它又狺狺吠叫了一通,算是对奥立弗的忠告,便领路朝前走去。

他们穿过的这片空地就是伦敦肉市场史密斯菲德,不过也有可能是格罗夫纳广场,反正奥立弗也不知道。夜色一片漆黑,大雾弥漫。店铺里的灯光几乎穿不过越来越厚浊的雾气,街道、房屋全都给包裹在朦胧混浊之中,这个陌生的地方在奥立弗眼里变得更加神秘莫测,他忐忑不安的心情也越来越低沉沮丧。

他们刚匆匆走了几步,一阵深沉的教堂钟声开始报时,伴随着第一声钟响,两个领路人不约而同停了下来,朝钟声的方向转过头去。

“八点了,比尔。”钟声停了,南希说道。

“用不着你说,我听得见。”赛克斯回答。

“不知道他们是不是听得见。”

“那还用说,”赛克斯答道,“我进去的时候正是巴多罗买节①,没有什么听不见的,连集上最不值钱的小喇叭哗哗吧吧响我都能听见。晚上,把我锁起来以后,外边吵啊,闹啊,搞得那个老得不能再老的监狱愈发死寂,我差一点没拿自己的脑袋去撞门上的铁签子。”

①巴多罗买为基督十二使徒之一,该节系指每年八月二十四日的市集日。

“可怜的人啊。”南希说话时依然面朝着传来钟声的方向。“比尔,那么些漂亮小伙子。”

“没错,你们女人家就只想这些,”赛克斯答道,“漂亮小伙子。唔,就当他们是死人好了,所以也好不到哪儿去。”

赛克斯先生似乎想用这一番宽慰话来压住心中腾起的妒火,他把奥立弗的手腕抓得更紧了,吩咐他继续往前走。

“等一等。”南希姑娘说,“就算下次敲八点的时候,出来上绞刑台的是你,比尔,我也不赶着走开了。我就在这地方兜圈子,一直到我倒下去为止,哪怕地上积了雪,而我身上连一条围脖儿也没有。”

“那可怎么好呢?”赛克斯先生冷冰冰地说,“除非你能弄来一把挫刀,外带二十码结实的绳子,那你走五十英里也好,一步不走也好,我都无所谓。走吧,别站在那儿做祷告了。”

姑娘扑嗤一声笑了起来,裹紧围巾,他们便上路了。然而,奥立弗感觉到她的手在发抖,走过一盏煤气街灯的时候,他抬起眼睛,看见她脸色一片惨白。

他们沿着肮脏的背街小路走了足足半个小时,几乎没碰见什么人,一看遇上的几个人的穿着举止就猜得出,他们在社会上的身份跟赛克斯先生一样。最后,他们拐进一条非常污秽的小街,这里几乎满街都是卖旧服装的铺子。狗好像意识到自己再也用不着担任警戒了,一个劲往前奔,一直跑到一家铺子门前才停下。铺门紧闭,里边显然没有住人。这所房子破败不堪,门上钉着一块把租的木牌,看上去像是已经挂了好多年。

“到了。”赛克斯叫道,一边审慎地扫了四周一眼。

南希钻到窗板下边,奥立弗随即听到一阵铃声。他们走到街对面,在一盏路灯下站了片刻。一个声音传过来,好像是一扇上下开关的窗框轻轻升起来的声音,房门无声无息地开了。赛克斯先生毫不客气地揪住吓得魂不附体的奥立弗的衣领,三个人快步走了进去。

过道里一片漆黑。他们停住脚步,等领他们进屋的那个人把大门关紧闩牢。

“有没有人?”赛克斯问。

“没有。”一个声音答道,奥立弗觉得这声音以前听到过。

“老家伙在不在?”这强盗问。

“在,”那个声音回答,“唉声叹气个没完。他哪儿会高兴见到你呢?呢,不会的。”

这番答话的调门,还有那副嗓音,奥立弗听上去都有些耳熟,可黑暗中他连说话人的轮廓都分辨不出来。

“给个亮吧,”赛克斯说道,“要不我们会摔断脖子,或者踹到狗身上。你们要是踹到狗了,可得留神自己的腿。去吧。”

“你们等一会儿,我去给你们取。”那声音回答,接着便听见说话人离去的脚步声。过了一分钟,约翰·达金斯先生,也就是速不着的机灵鬼的身影出现了,他右手擎着一根开裂的的木棍,木棍末端插着一支蜡烛。

这位小绅士只是滑稽地冲着他咧嘴一笑,算是招呼了,便转过身,嘱咐来客跟着自己走下楼梯。他们穿过一间空荡荡的厨房,来到一个满是泥土味的房间跟前,这间屋子像是建在房后小院里的。门开了,一阵喧闹的笑声迎面扑来。

“哦,笑死我了,笑死我了。”查理·贝兹少爷嚷着说,原来笑声是从他的肺里发出来的。“他在这儿哩。哦,哭啊,他在这儿。呢,费金,你瞧他,费金,你好好看看。笑死我了,这游戏多好玩,笑死我了。拉我一把,那谁,干脆让我笑个够。”

这股子高兴劲儿来势迅猛,贝兹少爷一下子倒在地上,乐不可支地又蹬又踢,折腾了五分钟。接着他跳起来,从机灵鬼手中夺过那根破木棍,走上前去,绕着奥立弗看了又看。这功夫老犹太摘下睡帽,对着手足无措的奥立弗连连打躬,身子弯得低低的。机灵鬼性情一向相当阴沉,很少跟着起哄,如果这种找乐对事情有妨碍的话,他这时毫不含糊地把奥立弗的衣袋搜刮了一遍。

“瞧他这身打扮,费金。”查理说道,把灯移近奥立弗的新外套,险些儿把它烧着了。“瞧这一身。头等的料子,裁得也派吼叫。喔,我的天,太棒啦。还有书呢,没的说,整个是一绅士,费金。”

“看到你这样光鲜真叫人高兴,我亲爱的,”老犹太佯装谦恭地点了点头,“机灵鬼会另外给你一套衣裳,我亲爱的,省得你把礼拜天穿的弄脏了。你要来干吗不写信跟我们说一声,亲爱的?我们也好弄点什么热乎的当晚饭啊。”

一听这话,贝兹少爷又大笑起来,他笑得那样响,费金心里一下子轻松了,连机灵鬼也微微一笑。不过,既然这当儿机灵鬼已经把那张五镑的钞票搜了出来,引起他兴致来的是费金的俏皮话还是他自己的这一发现,可就难说了。

“喂。那是什么?”老犹太刚一把子过那张钞票,赛克斯便上前问道,“那是我的,费金。”

“不,不,我亲爱的,”老犹太说,“是我的,比尔,我的,那些书归你。”

“不是我的才怪呢。”比尔·赛克斯说道,一边神色果断地戴上帽子。“我跟南希两人的,告诉你,我会把这孩子送回去的。”。

老犹太吓了一跳,奥立弗也吓了一跳,然而却是出自完全不同的原因,因为他还以为只要把自己送回去,争吵就真的结束了。

“喂。交出来,你交不交?”赛克斯说。

“这不公平,比尔,太不公平了,是吗,南希?”老犹太提出。

“什么公平不公平,”赛克斯反驳道,“拿过来,我告诉你。你以为我和南希赔上我们的宝贵时间,除了当当探子,把从你手心里溜掉的小孩子抓回来,就没有别的事干了?你给我拿过来,你这个老不死的,就剩一把骨头了,还那么贪心,你给我拿过来。”

随着这一番温和的规劝,赛克斯先生把钞票从老犹太指头缝里抢过去,冷冷地劈面看了一眼老头儿,把钞票折小,扎在围巾里。

“这是我们应得的酬劳,”赛克斯说,“连一半儿都不够呢。你要是喜欢看书,把书留下好了,如果不喜欢,卖掉也行。”

“书还真不赖呢,”查理·贝兹做出各种鬼脸,装出正在读其中一本书的样子。“写得真不错,奥立弗,你说呢?”一见奥立弗垂头丧气,眼睛盯着这些折磨他的人,生来就富有幽默感的贝兹少爷又一次发出狂笑,比一开始还要来得猛。

“书是那位老先生的,”奥立弗绞着双手说道,“就是那位慈祥的好心老先生,我得了热症,差点死了,他把我带到他家里,照看我,求求你们,把书送回去,把书和钱都还给他,你们要我一辈子留在这儿都行,可是求求你们把东西送回去。他会以为是我偷走了,还有那位老太太——他们对我那样好,也会以为是我偷的,啊,可怜可怜我,把书和钱送回去吧。”

奥立弗痛不欲生,说完这番话,随即跪倒在费金的脚边,双手合在一起拼命哀求。

“这孩子有点道理。”费金偷偷地扭头看了一眼,两道浓眉紧紧地拧成了一个结,说道。“你是对的,奥立弗,有道理,他们会认为是你偷走了这些东西。哈哈!”老犹太搓了搓手,嘻嘻直笑。“就算让我们来挑选时机,也不可能这么巧。”

“当然不可能喽,”赛克斯回答,“我一眼看见他打克拉肯韦尔走过来,胳臂下夹着些书,我心里就有底了,真是再好不过了。他们都是些菩萨心肠,只会唱赞美诗,要不压根儿就不会收留他。他们往后一个字也不会提到他了,省得还要去报案,弄不好会把他给关起来。他现在没事了。”

在这些话由他们口中说出来的功夫,奥立弗时而看看这个,时而又望望那个,仿佛坠入了云里雾里,对发生的事全都茫然不解似的。赛克斯刚一住嘴,他却猛然跳起来,一边不顾一切地冲出门去,一边尖声呼喊救命,这所空空如也的旧房子顿时连屋顶都轰鸣起来。

“比尔,把狗唤住。”费金和他的两个弟子追了出来,南希高声叫着跑到门边,把门关上了。“把狗唤回来,它会把那孩子撕成碎片的。”

“活该。”赛克斯吆喝着,奋力想挣脱姑娘的手。“靠边站着吧你,要不我可要把你脑袋在墙上撞个粉碎。”

“我不在乎,比尔,我不在乎,”南希姑娘口里高声喊叫着,不顾一切地跟那家伙扭打起来。“我决不让孩子被狗咬死,除非你先杀了我。”

“咬死他。”赛克斯牙齿咬得格格直响。“你再不放手,我可真要那么干了。”

这强盗一把将姑娘甩到房间对面,就在这时,老犹太同两个徒弟架着奥立弗回来了。

“这儿怎么啦?”费金环顾了一下四周,说道。

“小娘们发疯了,恐怕是。”赛克斯恶狠狠地回答。

“不,小娘们没疯。”这场混战弄得南希脸如死灰,上气不接下气。“她才没发疯呢,费金,别当回事。”

“那就安静点吧,好不好?”老犹太杀气腾腾地说。

“不,我偏不!”南希高声回答,“喂。你们打算如何?”

像南希这类身份特殊的女子有些什么派头、习惯,费金先生是心中有数的。有一点他很清楚,目前再与她理论下去是要冒险的。为了岔开大家伙的注意力,他朝奥立弗转过身去。

“这么说,你还想跑哦,我亲爱的,是不是?”老犹太说着,把壁炉角上放着的一根满是节瘤、凹凸不平的棍子拿在手里。“呃?”

奥立弗没有答话,他呼吸急促,注视着老犹太的一举一动。

“你想找人帮忙,把警察招来,对不对?”费金冷笑一声,抓住奥立弗的肩膀。“我的小少爷,我们会把你这毛病治好的。”

费金抡起棍子,狠狠地照着奥立弗肩上就是一棍。他扬起棍子正要来第二下,南希姑娘扑了上去,从他手中夺过木棍,用力扔进火里,溅出好些通红的煤块,在屋里直打转。

“我不会袖手旁观的,费金,”南希喝道,“你已经把孩子搞到手了,还要怎么着?——放开他——你放开他,不然,我就把那个戳也给你们盖几下,提前送我上绞架算了。”

姑娘使劲地跺着地板,发出这一番恫吓。她捐着嘴唇,双手紧握,依次打量着老犹太和那个强盗,脸上没有一丝血色,这是由于激怒造成的。

“嗳,南希啊,”过了一会儿,费金跟赛克斯先生不知所措地相互看了一眼,口气和缓地说道,“你——你可从来没像今儿晚上这么懂事呢,哈哈。我亲爱的,戏演得真漂亮。”

“是又怎么样。”南希说道,“当心,别让我演过火了。真要是演过火了,费金,你倒霉可就大了,所以我告诉你,趁早别来惹我。”

一个女人发起火来——特别是她又在所有其他的激情之中加上了不顾一切的冲动的话——身上的确便产生了某种东西,男人很少有愿意去招惹的。老犹太发现,再要假装误解南希小姐发怒这一现实的话,事情将变得无可挽回。他不由得后退几步,半带恳求半带怯懦地看了赛克斯一眼,似乎想表示他才是继续这场谈话最合适的人。

面对这一番无声的召唤,也可能是因为感觉到能不能马上让南希小姐恢复理智关系到他本人的荣誉和影响吧,赛克斯发出了大约四十来种咒骂、恐吓,这些东西来得之快表明他很有发明创造方面的才能。然而,这一套并没有在攻击目标身上产生明显的效果,他只得依靠更为实际一些的证据了。

“你这是什么意思?”赛克斯问这句话的时候使用了一句极为常用的诅咒,涉及了人类五官中最美妙的一处①,凡间发出的每五万次这种诅咒中只要有一次被上苍听到,便会使双目失明变得跟麻疹一样平常。“你什么意思?活见鬼。你知道你是谁,是个什么东西?”

①赛克斯诅咒时常提到眼睛。

“喔,知道,我全知道。”姑娘歇斯底里地放声大笑,头摇来摇去,那副冷漠的样子装得很勉强。

“那好,你就安静点儿吧,”赛克斯用平常唤狗的腔调大吼大叫,“要不我会让你安静一时半会儿的。”

姑娘又笑了起来,甚至比先前更不冷静了,她匆匆看了赛克斯一眼,头又转到一边,鲜血从紧咬着的嘴唇淌下来。

“你有种,”赛克斯看着她说,一副轻蔑的样子。“你也想学菩萨心肠,做上等人了。你管他叫小孩,他倒是个漂亮角色,你就跟他交个朋友吧。”

“全能的上帝,保佑我吧,我会的。”姑娘冲动地喊叫着,“早知道要我出手把他弄到这儿来,我宁可在街上给人打死,或者跟咱们今晚路过的那个地方的人换换位子。从今天晚上起他就是一个贼,一个骗子,一个魔鬼了,就有那么坏。那个老浑蛋,还非得接他一顿才满足吗?”

“嗨,嗨,赛克斯,”费金用规劝的嗓门提醒道,指了指站在一旁的几个少年,他们瞪大眼睛看着发生的一切。“大伙说话客气点儿,客气点儿,比尔。”

“客气点儿!”南希高声叫道。她满面怒容,看着让人害怕。“客气点儿,你这个坏蛋!不错,这些话就该我对你说。我还是个小孩的时候,年龄还没他一半大,我就替你偷东西了。”她指了指奥立弗。“我干这种买卖,这种行当已经十二年了。你不知道吗?说啊。你知不知道?”

“得,得,”费金一心要息事宁人,“就算那样,你也是为了混口饭吃。”

“哼,混口饭吃。”姑娘答道,她不是在说话,而是用一连串厉声喊叫把这些话语倾泻出来。“我混口饭吃,又冷又湿的肮脏街道成了我的家,很久以前,就是你这个恶棍把我赶到街上,要我呆在那儿,不管白天晚上,晚上白天,一直到我死。”

“你要是再多嘴的话,我可要跟你翻脸了。”老犹太被这一番辱骂激怒了,打断了她的话。“我翻起脸来更不认人。”

姑娘没再多说,她怒不可遏地撕扯着自己的头发和衣裳,朝老犹太撞了过去,要不是赛克斯眼明手快,一把抓住她的手腕,说不定已经在他身上留下复仇的印记了。她软弱无力地挣扎了几下便昏了过去。

“她眼下没事了,”赛克斯说着把她放倒在角落里。“她这么发作起来,胳膊劲大着呢。”

费金抹了抹额头,微微一笑,仿佛对这场风波告一段落感到欣慰。然而无论是他、赛克斯、那只狗,还是那几个孩子,似乎都认办这不过是一桩司空见惯的小事而已。

“跟娘们儿打交道真是倒霉透了,”费金把棍子放回原处,说道,“可她们都挺机灵,干我们这一行又离不开她们。查理,带奥立弗睡觉去。”

“费金,他明天恐怕还是不要穿这一身漂亮衣服,是吗?”查理·贝兹问。

“当然不穿喽。”老犹太亮出和查理提问时相同的那种龇牙咧嘴的笑容,回答道。

贝兹少爷显然很乐意接受这一任务。他拿起那根破棍子,领着奥立弗来到隔壁厨房,里边放着两三个铺位,奥立弗以前就是在这里睡觉。查理情不自禁一连打了好多个哈哈,才把奥立弗在布朗罗先生家里千恩万谢丢掉的那一套破衣服拿了出来,买走这套衣服的那个犹太人碰巧拿给费金看过,费金这才得到了关于他的行踪的第一条线索。

“把这套漂亮衣服脱下来,”查理说道,“我去交给费金保管。真有趣。”

苦命的奥立弗很不情愿地照办了,贝兹少爷把新衣裳卷起来夹在胳膊下边,随手锁上房门,离去了,把奥立弗一个人丢在黑暗之中。

隔壁传来查理喧闹的笑声以及蓓特小姐的声音。她来得正巧,她的好朋友正需要浇点凉水,做一些男士不宜的事情,促使她苏醒过来。随便换一个比奥立弗所处的地方舒适一些的环境,查理的笑声、蓓特的话声也会使许多人睡不着的,然而他心力交困,不多一会儿就呼呼地睡着了。