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The narrow streets and courts, at length, terminated in a large open space; scattered about which, were pens for beasts, and other indications of a cattle-market.

Sikes slackened his pace when they reached this spot:

the girl being quite unable to support any longer, the rapid rate at which they had hitherto walked.

Turning to Oliver, he roughly commanded him to take hold of Nancy's hand. 'Do you hear?' growled Sikes, as Oliver hesitated, and looked round. They were in a dark corner, quite out of the track of passengers. Oliver saw, but too plainly, that resistance would be of no avail.

He held out his hand, which Nancy clasped tight in hers. 'Give me the other,' said Sikes, seizing Oliver's unoccupied hand.

'Here, Bull's-Eye!' The dog looked up, and growled. 'See here, boy!' said Sikes, putting his other hand to Oliver's throat; 'if he speaks ever so soft a word, hold him!

D'ye mind!' The dog growled again; and licking his lips, eyed Oliver as if he were anxious to attach himself to his windpipe without delay. 'He's as willing as a Christian, strike me blind if he isn't!' said Sikes, regarding the animal with a kind of grim and ferocious approval.

'Now, you know what you've got to expect, master, so call away as quick as you like; the dog will soon stop that game.

Get on, young'un!' Bull's-eye wagged his tail in acknowledgment of this unusually endearing form of speech; and, giving vent to another admonitory growl for the benefit of Oliver, led the way onward. It was Smithfield that they were crossing, although it might have been Grosvenor Square, for anything Oliver knew to the contrary. The night was dark and foggy.

The lights in the shops could scarecely struggle through the heavy mist, which thickened every moment and shrouded the streets and houses in gloom; rendering the strange place still stranger in Oliver's eyes; and making his uncertainty the more dismal and depressing. They had hurried on a few paces, when a deep church-bell struck the hour.

With its first stroke, his two conductors stopped, and turned their heads in the direction whence the sound proceeded. 'Eight o' clock, Bill,' said Nancy, when the bell ceased. 'What's the good of telling me that; I can hear it, can't I!' replied Sikes. 'I wonder whether THEY can hear it,' said Nancy. 'Of course they can,' replied Sikes.

'It was Bartlemy time when I was shopped; and there warn't a penny trumpet in the fair, as I couldn't hear the squeaking on.

Arter I was locked up for the night, the row and din outside made the thundering old jail so silent, that I could almost have beat my brains out against the iron plates of the door.' 'Poor fellow!' said Nancy, who still had her face turned towards the quarter in which the bell had sounded.

'Oh, Bill, such fine young chaps as them!' 'Yes; that's all you women think of,' answered Sikes.

'Fine young chaps!

Well, they're as good as dead, so it don't much matter.' With this consolation, Mr. Sikes appeared to repress a rising tendency to jealousy, and, clasping Oliver's wrist more firmly, told him to step out again. 'Wait a minute!' said the girl:

'I wouldn't hurry by, if it was you that was coming out to be hung, the next time eight o'clock struck, Bill.

I'd walk round and round the place till I dropped, if the snow was on the ground, and I hadn't a shawl to cover me.' 'And what good would that do?' inquired the unsentimental Mr. Sikes.

'Unless you could pitch over a file and twenty yards of good stout rope, you might as well be walking fifty mile off, or not walking at all, for all the good it would do me.

Come on, and don't stand preaching there.' The girl burst into a laugh; drew her shawl more closely round her; and they walked away.

But Oliver felt her hand tremble, and, looking up in her face as they passed a gas-lamp, saw that it had turned a deadly white. They walked on, by little-frequented and dirty ways, for a full half-hour:

meeting very few people, and those appearing from their looks to hold much the same position in society as Mr. Sikes himself.

At length they turned into a very filthy narrow street, nearly full of old-clothes shops; the dog running forward, as if conscious that there was no further occasion for his keeping on guard, stopped before the door of a shop that was closed and apparently untenanted; the house was in a ruinous condition, and on the door was nailed a board, intimating that it was to let:

which looked as if it had hung there for many years. 'All right,' cried Sikes, glancing cautiously about. Nancy stooped below the shutters, and Oliver heard the sound of a bell.

They crossed to the opposite side of the street, and stood for a few moments under a lamp.

A noise, as if a sash window were gently raised, was heard; and soon afterwards the door softly opened.

Mr. Sikes then seized the terrified boy by the collar with very little ceremony; and all three were quickly inside the house. The passage was perfectly dark.

They waited, while the person who had let them in, chained and barred the door. 'Anybody here?' inquired Sikes. 'No,' replied a voice, which Oliver thought he had heard before. 'Is the old 'un here?' asked the robber. 'Yes,' replied the voice, 'and precious down in the mouth he has been.

Won't he be glad to see you?

Oh, no!' The style of this reply, as well as the voice which delivered it, seemed familiar to Oliver's ears:

but it was impossible to distinguish even the form of the speaker in the darkness. 'Let's have a glim,' said Sikes, 'or we shall go breaking our necks, or treading on the dog.

Look after your legs if you do!' 'Stand still a moment, and I'll get you one,' replied the voice. The receding footsteps of the speaker were heard; and, in another minute, the form of Mr. John Dawkins, otherwise the Artful Dodger, appeared.

He bore in his right hand a tallow candle stuck in the end of a cleft stick. The young gentleman did not stop to bestow any other mark of recognition upon Oliver than a humourous grin; but, turning away, beckoned the visitors to follow him down a flight of stairs. They crossed an empty kitchen; and, opening the door of a low earthy-smelling room, which seemed to have been built in a small back-yard, were received with a shout of laughter. 'Oh, my wig, my wig!' cried Master Charles Bates, from whose lungs the laughter had proceeded:

'here he is! oh, cry, here he is!

Oh, Fagin, look at him!

Fagin, do look at him! I can't bear it; it is such a jolly game, I cant' bear it.

Hold me, somebody, while I laugh it out.' With this irrepressible ebullition of mirth, Master Bates laid himself flat on the floor: and kicked convulsively for five minutes, in an ectasy of facetious joy.

Then jumping to his feet, he snatched the cleft stick from the Dodger; and, advancing to Oliver, viewed him round and round; while the Jew, taking off his nightcap, made a great number of low bows to the bewildered boy.

The Artful, meantime, who was of a rather saturnine disposition, and seldom gave way to merriment when it interfered with business, rifled Oliver's pockets with steady assiduity. 'Look at his togs, Fagin!' said Charley, putting the light so close to his new jacket as nearly to set him on fire.

'Look at his togs!

Superfine cloth, and the heavy swell cut!

Oh, my eye, what a game!

And his books, too!

Nothing but a gentleman, Fagin!' 'Delighted to see you looking so well, my dear,' said the Jew, bowing with mock humility.

'The Artful shall give you another suit, my dear, for fear you should spoil that Sunday one.

Why didn't you write, my dear, and say you were coming?

We'd have got something warm for supper.' At his, Master Bates roared again: so loud, that Fagin himself relaxed, and even the Dodger smiled; but as the Artful drew forth the five-pound note at that instant, it is doubtful whether the sally of the discovery awakened his merriment. 'Hallo, what's that?' inquired Sikes, stepping forward as the Jew seized the note.

'That's mine, Fagin.' 'No, no, my dear,' said the Jew.

'Mine, Bill, mine.

You shall have the books.' 'If that ain't mine!' said Bill Sikes, putting on his hat with a determined air; 'mine and Nancy's that is; I'll take the boy back again.' The Jew started.

Oliver started too, though from a very different cause; for he hoped that the dispute might really end in his being taken back. 'Come!

Hand over, will you?' said Sikes. 'This is hardly fair, Bill; hardly fair, is it, Nancy?' inquired the Jew. 'Fair, or not fair,' retorted Sikes, 'hand over, I tell you! Do you think Nancy and me has got nothing else to do with our precious time but to spend it in scouting arter, and kidnapping, every young boy as gets grabbed through you?

Give it here, you avaricious old skeleton, give it here!' With this gentle remonstrance, Mr. Sikes plucked the note from between the Jew's finger and thumb; and looking the old man coolly in the face, folded it up small, and tied it in his neckerchief. 'That's for our share of the trouble,' said Sikes; 'and not half enough, neither.

You may keep the books, if you're fond of reading.

If you ain't, sell 'em.' 'They're very pretty,' said Charley Bates: who, with sundry grimaces, had been affecting to read one of the volumes in question; 'beautiful writing, isn't is, Oliver?'

At sight of the dismayed look with which Oliver regarded his tormentors, Master Bates, who was blessed with a lively sense of the ludicrous, fell into another ectasy, more boisterous than the first. 'They belong to the old gentleman,' said Oliver, wringing his hands; 'to the good, kind, old gentleman who took me into his house, and had me nursed, when I was near dying of the fever. Oh, pray send them back; send him back the books and money.

Keep me here all my life long; but pray, pray send them back.

He'll think I stole them; the old lady:

all of them who were so kind to me: will think I stole them.

Oh, do have mercy upon me, and send them back!' With these words, which were uttered with all the energy of passionate grief, Oliver fell upon his knees at the Jew's feet; and beat his hands together, in perfect desperation. 'The boy's right,' remarked Fagin, looking covertly round, and knitting his shaggy eyebrows into a hard knot.

'You're right, Oliver, you're right; they WILL think you have stolen 'em.

Ha! ha!' chuckled the Jew, rubbing his hands, 'it couldn't have happened better, if we had chosen our time!' 'Of course it couldn't,' replied Sikes; 'I know'd that, directly I see him coming through Clerkenwell, with the books under his arm.

It's all right enough.

They're soft-hearted psalm-singers, or they wouldn't have taken him in at all; and they'll ask no questions after him, fear they should be obliged to prosecute, and so get him lagged.

He's safe enough.' Oliver had looked from one to the other, while these words were being spoken, as if he were bewildered, and could scarecely understand what passed; but when Bill Sikes concluded, he jumped suddenly to his feet, and tore wildly from the room:

uttering shrieks for help, which made the bare old house echo to the roof. 'Keep back the dog, Bill!' cried Nancy, springing before the door, and closing it, as the Jew and his two pupils darted out in pursuit.

'Keep back the dog; he'll tear the boy to pieces.' 'Serve him right!' cried Sikes, struggling to disengage himself from the girl's grasp.

'Stand off from me, or I'll split your head against the wall.' 'I don't care for that, Bill, I don't care for that,' screamed the girl, struggling violently with the man, 'the child shan't be torn down by the dog, unless you kill me first.' 'Shan't he!' said Sikes, setting his teeth.

'I'll soon do that, if you don't keep off.' The housebreaker flung the girl from him to the further end of the room, just as the Jew and the two boys returned, dragging Oliver among them. 'What's the matter here!' said Fagin, looking round. 'The girl's gone mad, I think,' replied Sikes, savagely. 'No, she hasn't,' said Nancy, pale and breathless from the scuffle; 'no, she hasn't, Fagin; don't think it.' 'Then keep quiet, will you?' said the Jew, with a threatening look. 'No, I won't do that, neither,' replied Nancy, speaking very loud.

'Come!

What do you think of that?' Mr. Fagin was sufficiently well acquainted with the manners and customs of that particular species of humanity to which Nancy belonged, to feel tolerably certain that it would be rather unsafe to prolong any conversation with her, at present.

With the view of diverting the attention of the company, he turned to Oliver. 'So you wanted to get away, my dear, did you?' said the Jew, taking up a jagged and knotted club which law in a corner of the fireplace; 'eh?' Oliver made no reply.

But he watched the Jew's motions, and breathed quickly. 'Wanted to get assistance; called for the police; did you?' sneered the Jew, catching the boy by the arm.

'We'll cure you of that, my young master.' The Jew inflicted a smart blow on Oliver's shoulders with the club; and was raising it for a second, when the girl, rushing forward, wrested it from his hand.

She flung it into the fire, with a force that brought some of the glowing coals whirling out into the room. 'I won't stand by and see it done, Fagin,' cried the girl. 'You've got the boy, and what more would you have?--Let him be--let him be--or I shall put that mark on some of you, that will bring me to the gallows before my time.' The girl stamped her foot violently on the floor as she vented this threat; and with her lips compressed, and her hands clenched, looked alternately at the Jew and the other robber: her face quite colourless from the passion of rage into which she had gradually worked herself. 'Why, Nancy!' said the Jew, in a soothing tone; after a pause, during which he and Mr. Sikes had stared at one another in a disconcerted manner; 'you,--you're more clever than ever to-night.

Ha! ha! my dear, you are acting beautifully.' 'Am I!' said the girl.

'Take care I don't overdo it.

You will be the worse for it, Fagin, if I do; and so I tell you in good time to keep clear of me.' There is something about a roused woman: especially if she add to all her other strong passions, the fierce impulses of recklessness and despair; which few men like to provoke. The Jew saw that it would be hopeless to affect any further mistake regarding the reality of Miss Nancy's rage; and, shrinking involuntarily back a few paces, cast a glance, half imploring and half cowardly, at Sikes: as if to hint that he was the fittest person to pursue the dialogue. Mr. Sikes, thus mutely appealed to; and possibly feeling his personal pride and influence interested in the immediate reduction of Miss Nancy to reason; gave utterance to about a couple of score of curses and threats, the rapid production of which reflected great credit on the fertility of his invention. As they produced no visible effect on the object against whom they were discharged, however, he resorted to more tangible arguments. 'What do you mean by this?' said Sikes; backing the inquiry with a very common imprecation concerning the most beautiful of human features: which, if it were heard above, only once out of every fifty thousand times that it is uttered below, would render blindness as common a disorder as measles: 'what do you mean by it?

Burn my body!

Do you know who you are, and what you are?' 'Oh, yes, I know all about it,' replied the girl, laughing hysterically; and shaking her head from side to side, with a poor assumption of indifference. 'Well, then, keep quiet,' rejoined Sikes, with a growl like that he was accustomed to use when addressing his dog, 'or I'll quiet you for a good long time to come.' The girl laughed again: even less composedly than before; and, darting a hasty look at Sikes, turned her face aside, and bit her lip till the blood came. 'You're a nice one,' added Sikes, as he surveyed her with a contemptuous air, 'to take up the humane and gen--teel side!

A pretty subject for the child, as you call him, to make a friend of!' 'God Almighty help me, I am!' cried the girl passionately; 'and I wish I had been struck dead in the street, or had changed places with them we passed so near to-night, before I had lent a hand in bringing him here.

He's a thief, a liar, a devil, all that's bad, from this night forth.

Isn't that enough for the old wretch, without blows?' 'Come, come, Sikes,' said the Jew appealing to him in a remonstratory tone, and motioning towards the boys, who were eagerly attentive to all that passed; 'we must have civil words; civil words, Bill.' 'Civil words!' cried the girl, whose passion was frightful to see.

'Civil words, you villain!

Yes, you deserve 'em from me. I thieved for you when I was a child not half as old as this!' pointing to Oliver.

'I have been in the same trade, and in the same service, for twelve years since.

Don't you know it?

Speak out!

Don't you know it?' 'Well, well,' replied the Jew, with an attempt at pacification; 'and, if you have, it's your living!' 'Aye, it is!' returned the girl; not speaking, but pouring out the words in one continuous and vehement scream.

'It is my living; and the cold, wet, dirty streets are my home; and you're the wretch that drove me to them long ago, and that'll keep me there, day and night, day and night, till I die!' 'I shall do you a mischief!' interposed the Jew, goaded by these reproaches; 'a mischief worse than that, if you say much more!' The girl said nothing more; but, tearing her hair and dress in a transport of passion, made such a rush at the Jew as would probably have left signal marks of her revenge upon him, had not her wrists been seized by Sikes at the right moment; upon which, she made a few ineffectual struggles, and fainted. 'She's all right now,' said Sikes, laying her down in a corner. 'She's uncommon strong in the arms, when she's up in this way.' The Jew wiped his forehead: and smiled, as if it were a relief to have the disturbance over; but neither he, nor Sikes, nor the dog, nor the boys, seemed to consider it in any other light than a common occurance incidental to business. 'It's the worst of having to do with women,' said the Jew, replacing his club; 'but they're clever, and we can't get on, in our line, without 'em.

Charley, show Oliver to bed.' 'I suppose he'd better not wear his best clothes tomorrow, Fagin, had he?' inquired Charley Bates. 'Certainly not,' replied the Jew, reciprocating the grin with which Charley put the question. Master Bates, apparently much delighted with his commission, took the cleft stick: and led Oliver into an adjacent kitchen, where there were two or three of the beds on which he had slept before; and here, with many uncontrollable bursts of laughter, he produced the identical old suit of clothes which Oliver had so much congratulated himself upon leaving off at Mr. Brownlow's; and the accidental display of which, to Fagin, by the Jew who purchased them, had been the very first clue received, of his whereabout. 'Put off the smart ones,' said Charley, 'and I'll give 'em to Fagin to take care of.

What fun it is!' Poor Oliver unwillingly complied.

Master Bates rolling up the new clothes under his arm, departed from the room, leaving Oliver in the dark, and locking the door behind him. The noise of Charley's laughter, and the voice of Miss Betsy, who opportunely arrived to throw water over her friend, and perform other feminine offices for the promotion of her recovery, might have kept many people awake under more happy circumstances than those in which Oliver was placed.

But he was sick and weary; and he soon fell sound asleep.

(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。