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It is the custom on the stage, in all good murderous melodramas, to present the tragic and the comic scenes, in as regular alternation, as the layers of red and white in a side of streaky bacon.

The hero sinks upon his straw bed, weighed down by fetters and misfortunes; in the next scene, his faithful but unconscious squire regales the audience with a comic song.

We behold, with throbbing bosoms, the heroine in the grasp of a proud and ruthless baron: her virtue and her life alike in danger, drawing forth her dagger to preserve the one at the cost of the other; and just as our expectations are wrought up to the highest pitch, a whistle is heard, and we are straightway transported to the great hall of the castle; where a grey-headed seneschal sings a funny chorus with a funnier body of vassals, who are free of all sorts of places, from church vaults to palaces, and roam about in company, carolling perpetually. Such changes appear absurd; but they are not so unnatural as they would seem at first sight.

The transitions in real life from well-spread boards to death-beds, and from mourning-weeds to holiday garments, are not a whit less startling; only, there, we are busy actors, instead of passive lookers-on, which makes a vast difference.

The actors in the mimic life of the theatre, are blind to violent transitions and abrupt impulses of passion or feeling, which, presented before the eyes of mere spectators, are at once condemned as outrageous and preposterous. As sudden shiftings of the scene, and rapid changes of time and place, are not only sanctioned in books by long usage, but are by many considered as the great art of authorship: an author's skill in his craft being, by such critics, chiefly estimated with relation to the dilemmas in which he leaves his characters at the end of every chapter: this brief introduction to the present one may perhaps be deemed unnecessary.

If so, let it be considered a delicate intimation on the part of the historian that he is going back to the town in which Oliver Twist was born; the reader taking it for granted that there are good and substantial reasons for making the journey, or he would not be invited to proceed upon such an expedition. Mr. Bumble emerged at early morning from the workhouse-gate, and walked with portly carriage and commanding steps, up the High Street.

He was in the full bloom and pride of beadlehood; his cocked hat and coat were dazzling in the morning sun; he clutched his cane with the vigorous tenacity of health and power.

Mr. Bumble always carried his head high; but this morning it was higher than usual.

There was an abstraction in his eye, an elevation in his air, which might have warned an observant stranger that thoughts were passing in the beadle's mind, too great for utterance. Mr. Bumble stopped not to converse with the small shopkeepers and others who spoke to him, deferentially, as he passed along.

He merely returned their salutations with a wave of his hand, and relaxed not in his dignified pace, until he reached the farm where Mrs. Mann tended the infant paupers with parochial care. 'Drat that beadle!' said Mrs. Mann, hearing the well-known shaking at the garden-gate.

'If it isn't him at this time in the morning!

Lauk, Mr. Bumble, only think of its being you!

Well, dear me, it IS a pleasure, this is!

Come into the parlour, sir, please.' The first sentence was addressed to Susan; and the exclamations of delight were uttered to Mr. Bumble: as the good lady unlocked the garden-gate: and showed him, with great attention and respect, into the house. 'Mrs. Mann,' said Mr. Bumble; not sitting upon, or dropping himself into a seat, as any common jackanapes would: but letting himself gradually and slowly down into a chair; 'Mrs. Mann, ma'am, good morning.' 'Well, and good morning to _you_, sir,' replied Mrs. Mann, with many smiles; 'and hoping you find yourself well, sir!' 'So-so, Mrs. Mann,' replied the beadle.

'A porochial life is not a bed of roses, Mrs. Mann.' 'Ah, that it isn't indeed, Mr. Bumble,' rejoined the lady. And all the infant paupers might have chorussed the rejoinder with great propriety, if they had heard it. 'A porochial life, ma'am,' continued Mr. Bumble, striking the table with his cane, 'is a life of worrit, and vexation, and hardihood; but all public characters, as I may say, must suffer prosecution.' Mrs. Mann, not very well knowing what the beadle meant, raised her hands with a look of sympathy, and sighed. 'Ah!

You may well sigh, Mrs. Mann!' said the beadle. Finding she had done right, Mrs. Mann sighed again:

evidently to the satisfaction of the public character:

who, repressing a complacent smile by looking sternly at his cocked hat, said, 'Mrs. Mann, I am going to London.' 'Lauk, Mr. Bumble!' cried Mrs. Mann, starting back. 'To London, ma'am,' resumed the inflexible beadle, 'by coach.

I and two paupers, Mrs. Mann!

A legal action is a coming on, about a settlement; and the board has appointed me--me, Mrs. Mann--to dispose to the matter before the quarter-sessions at Clerkinwell. And I very much question,' added Mr. Bumble, drawing himself up, 'whether the Clerkinwell Sessions will not find themselves in the wrong box before they have done with me.' 'Oh! you mustn't be too hard upon them, sir,' said Mrs. Mann, coaxingly. 'The Clerkinwell Sessions have brought it upon themselves, ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble; 'and if the Clerkinwell Sessions find that they come off rather worse than they expected, the Clerkinwell Sessions have only themselves to thank.' There was so much determination and depth of purpose about the menacing manner in which Mr. Bumble delivered himself of these words, that Mrs. Mann appeared quite awed by them. At length she said, 'You're going by coach, sir?

I thought it was always usual to send them paupers in carts.' 'That's when they're ill, Mrs. Mann,' said the beadle.

'We put the sick paupers into open carts in the rainy weather, to prevent their taking cold.' 'Oh!' said Mrs. Mann. 'The opposition coach contracts for these two; and takes them cheap,' said Mr. Bumble.

'They are both in a very low state, and we find it would come two pound cheaper to move 'em than to bury 'em--that is, if we can throw 'em upon another parish, which I think we shall be able to do, if they don't die upon the road to spite us.

Ha! ha! ha!' When Mr. Bumble had laughed a little while, his eyes again encountered the cocked hat; and he became grave. 'We are forgetting business, ma'am,' said the beadle; 'here is your porochial stipend for the month.' Mr. Bumble produced some silver money rolled up in paper, from his pocket-book; and requested a receipt:

which Mrs. Mann wrote. 'It's very much blotted, sir,' said the farmer of infants; 'but it's formal enough, I dare say.

Thank you, Mr. Bumble, sir, I am very much obliged to you, I'm sure.' Mr. Bumble nodded, blandly, in acknowledgment of Mrs. Mann's curtsey; and inquired how the children were. 'Bless their dear little hearts!' said Mrs. Mann with emotion, 'they're as well as can be, the dears!

Of course, except the two that died last week.

And little Dick.' 'Isn't that boy no better?' inquired Mr. Bumble. Mrs. Mann shook her head. 'He's a ill-conditioned, wicious, bad-disposed porochial child that,' said Mr. Bumble angrily.

'Where is he?' 'I'll bring him to you in one minute, sir,' replied Mrs. Mann. 'Here, you Dick!' After some calling, Dick was discovered.

Having had his face put under the pump, and dried upon Mrs. Mann's gown, he was led into the awful presence of Mr. Bumble, the beadle. The child was pale and thin; his cheeks were sunken; and his eyes large and bright.

The scanty parish dress, the livery of his misery, hung loosely on his feeble body; and his young limbs had wasted away, like those of an old man. Such was the little being who stood trembling beneath Mr. Bumble's glance; not daring to lift his eyes from the floor; and dreading even to hear the beadle's voice. 'Can't you look at the gentleman, you obstinate boy?' said Mrs. Mann. The child meekly raised his eyes, and encountered those of Mr. Bumble. 'What's the matter with you, porochial Dick?' inquired Mr. Bumble, with well-timed jocularity. 'Nothing, sir,' replied the child faintly. 'I should think not,' said Mrs. Mann, who had of course laughed very much at Mr. Bumble's humour. 'You want for nothing, I'm sure.' 'I should like--' faltered the child. 'Hey-day!' interposed Mr. Mann, 'I suppose you're going to say that you DO want for something, now?

Why, you little wretch--' 'Stop, Mrs. Mann, stop!' said the beadle, raising his hand with a show of authority.

'Like what, sir, eh?' 'I should like,' faltered the child, 'if somebody that can write, would put a few words down for me on a piece of paper, and fold it up and seal it, and keep it for me, after I am laid in the ground.' 'Why, what does the boy mean?' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, on whom the earnest manner and wan aspect of the child had made some impression: accustomed as he was to such things.

'What do you mean, sir?' 'I should like,' said the child, 'to leave my dear love to poor Oliver Twist; and to let him know how often I have sat by myself and cried to think of his wandering about in the dark nights with nobody to help him.

And I should like to tell him,' said the child pressing his small hands together, and speaking with great fervour, 'that I was glad to die when I was very young; for, perhaps, if I had lived to be a man, and had grown old, my little sister who is in Heaven, might forget me, or be unlike me; and it would be so much happier if we were both children there together.' Mr. Bumble surveyed the little speaker, from head to foot, with indescribable astonishment; and, turning to his companion, said, 'They're all in one story, Mrs. Mann.

That out-dacious Oliver had demogalized them all!' 'I couldn't have believed it, sir' said Mrs Mann, holding up her hands, and looking malignantly at Dick.

'I never see such a hardened little wretch!' 'Take him away, ma'am!' said Mr. Bumble imperiously.

'This must be stated to the board, Mrs. Mann. 'I hope the gentleman will understand that it isn't my fault, sir?' said Mrs. Mann, whimpering pathetically. 'They shall understand that, ma'am; they shall be acquainted with the true state of the case,' said Mr. Bumble.

'There; take him away, I can't bear the sight on him.' Dick was immediately taken away, and locked up in the coal-cellar.

Mr. Bumble shortly afterwards took himself off, to prepare for his journey. At six o'clock next morning, Mr. Bumble:

having exchanged his cocked hat for a round one, and encased his person in a blue great-coat with a cape to it:

took his place on the outside of the coach, accompanied by the criminals whose settlement was disputed; with whom, in due course of time, he arrived in London. He experienced no other crosses on the way, than those which originated in the perverse behaviour of the two paupers, who persisted in shivering, and complaining of the cold, in a manner which, Mr. Bumble declared, caused his teeth to chatter in his head, and made him feel quite uncomfortable; although he had a great-coat on. Having disposed of these evil-minded persons for the night, Mr. Bumble sat himself down in the house at which the coach stopped; and took a temperate dinner of steaks, oyster sauce, and porter. Putting a glass of hot gin-and-water on the chimney-piece, he drew his chair to the fire; and, with sundry moral reflections on the too-prevalent sin of discontent and complaining, composed himself to read the paper. The very first paragraph upon which Mr. Bumble's eye rested, was the following advertisement. 'FIVE GUINEAS REWARD 'Whereas a young boy, named Oliver Twist, absconded, or was enticed, on Thursday evening last, from his home, at Pentonville; and has not since been heard of.

The above reward will be paid to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the said Oliver Twist, or tend to throw any light upon his previous history, in which the advertiser is, for many reasons, warmly interested.' And then followed a full description of Oliver's dress, person, appearance, and disappearance:

with the name and address of Mr. Brownlow at full length. Mr. Bumble opened his eyes; read the advertisement, slowly and carefully, three several times; and in something more than five minutes was on his way to Pentonville: having actually, in his excitement, left the glass of hot gin-and-water, untasted. 'Is Mr. Brownlow at home?' inquired Mr. Bumble of the girl who opened the door. To this inquiry the girl returned the not uncommon, but rather evasive reply of 'I don't know; where do you come from?' Mr. Bumble no sooner uttered Oliver's name, in explanation of his errand, than Mrs. Bedwin, who had been listening at the parlour door, hastened into the passage in a breathless state. 'Come in, come in,' said the old lady: 'I knew we should hear of him.

Poor dear!

I knew we should!

I was certain of it.

Bless his heart!

I said so all along.' Having heard this, the worthy old lady hurried back into the parlour again; and seating herself on a sofa, burst into tears. The girl, who was not quite so susceptible, had run upstairs meanwhile; and now returned with a request that Mr. Bumble would follow her immediately:

which he did. He was shown into the little back study, where sat Mr. Brownlow and his friend Mr. Grimwig, with decanters and glasses before them.

The latter gentleman at once burst into the exclamation: 'A beadle.

A parish beadle, or I'll eat my head.' 'Pray don't interrupt just now,' said Mr. Brownlow.

'Take a seat, will you?' Mr. Bumble sat himself down; quite confounded by the oddity of Mr. Grimwig's manner.

Mr. Brownlow moved the lamp, so as to obtain an uninterrupted view of the beadle's countenance; and said, with a little impatience, 'Now, sir, you come in consequence of having seen the advertisement?' 'Yes, sir,' said Mr. Bumble. 'And you ARE a beadle, are you not?' inquired Mr. Grimwig. 'I am a porochial beadle, gentlemen,' rejoined Mr. Bumble proudly. 'Of course,' observed Mr. Grimwig aside to his friend, 'I knew he was.

A beadle all over!' Mr. Brownlow gently shook his head to impose silence on his friend, and resumed: 'Do you know where this poor boy is now?' 'No more than nobody,' replied Mr. Bumble. 'Well, what DO you know of him?' inquired the old gentleman. 'Speak out, my friend, if you have anything to say.

What DO you know of him?' 'You don't happen to know any good of him, do you?' said Mr. Grimwig, caustically; after an attentive perusal of Mr. Bumble's features. Mr. Bumble, catching at the inquiry very quickly, shook his head with portentous solemnity. 'You see?' said Mr. Grimwig, looking triumphantly at Mr. Brownlow. Mr. Brownlow looked apprehensively at Mr. Bumble's pursed-up countenance; and requested him to communicate what he knew regarding Oliver, in as few words as possible. Mr. Bumble put down his hat; unbuttoned his coat; folded his arms; inclined his head in a retrospective manner; and, after a few moments' reflection, commenced his story. It would be tedious if given in the beadle's words:

occupying, as it did, some twenty minutes in the telling; but the sum and substance of it was, that Oliver was a foundling, born of low and vicious parents.

That he had, from his birth, displayed no better qualities than treachery, ingratitude, and malice.

That he had terminated his brief career in the place of his birth, by making a sanguinary and cowardly attack on an unoffending lad, and running away in the night-time from his master's house.

In proof of his really being the person he represented himself, Mr. Bumble laid upon the table the papers he had brought to town. Folding his arms again, he then awaited Mr. Brownlow's observations. 'I fear it is all too true,' said the old gentleman sorrowfully, after looking over the papers.

'This is not much for your intelligence; but I would gladly have given you treble the money, if it had been favourable to the boy.' It is not improbable that if Mr. Bumble had been possessed of this information at an earlier period of the interview, he might have imparted a very different colouring to his little history. It was too late to do it now, however; so he shook his head gravely, and, pocketing the five guineas, withdrew. Mr. Brownlow paced the room to and fro for some minutes; evidently so much disturbed by the beadle's tale, that even Mr. Grimwig forbore to vex him further. At length he stopped, and rang the bell violently. 'Mrs. Bedwin,' said Mr. Brownlow, when the housekeeper appeared; 'that boy, Oliver, is an imposter.' 'It can't be, sir.

It cannot be,' said the old lady energetically. 'I tell you he is,' retorted the old gentleman.

'What do you mean by can't be?

We have just heard a full account of him from his birth; and he has been a thorough-paced little villain, all his life.' 'I never will believe it, sir,' replied the old lady, firmly. 'Never!' 'You old women never believe anything but quack-doctors, and lying story-books,' growled Mr. Grimwig.

'I knew it all along. Why didn't you take my advise in the beginning; you would if he hadn't had a fever, I suppose, eh?

He was interesting, wasn't he?

Interesting!

Bah!'

And Mr. Grimwig poked the fire with a flourish. 'He was a dear, grateful, gentle child, sir,' retorted Mrs. Bedwin, indignantly.

'I know what children are, sir; and have done these forty years; and people who can't say the same, shouldn't say anything about them.

That's my opinion!' This was a hard hit at Mr. Grimwig, who was a bachelor.

As it extorted nothing from that gentleman but a smile, the old lady tossed her head, and smoothed down her apron preparatory to another speech, when she was stopped by Mr. Brownlow. 'Silence!' said the old gentleman, feigning an anger he was far from feeling.

'Never let me hear the boy's name again.

I rang to tell you that.

Never.

Never, on any pretence, mind!

You may leave the room, Mrs. Bedwin.

Remember!

I am in earnest.' There were sad hearts at Mr. Brownlow's that night. Oliver's heart sank within him, when he thought of his good friends; it was well for him that he could not know what they had heard, or it might have broken outright.

(奥立弗继续倒运,引得一位前来伦敦的显要人物败坏他的名声。)

在一切优秀的凶杀剧目中,总是交替出现悲哀的和滑稽的场面,就跟一段段肥瘦相间,熏制得法的五花肉一样,这已经成为舞台上的一种惯例了。男主人公为镣铐与不幸所累,栽倒在柴草褥子上。接下来的一场,他那位不开窍的忠实随从却用一首滑稽小调来逗观众开心。我们揣着一颗卜卜跳动的心,看到女主人公落入一位傲慢粗鲁的男爵的怀抱,她的贞操和性命都发发可危。她拔出匕首,准备以牺牲性命的代价来保全贞操。正当我们的暇想被上调到最高限度的当儿,只听一声号角,我们又径直被转移到城堡的大厅里,在那个地方,一个白发总管正领唱一支滑稽可笑的歌曲,参与合唱的是一群更加滑稽可笑的家奴,他们从各种各样的地方跑出来,从教堂的拱顶到宫殿城阙,正结伴邀游四方,永无休止地欢唱。

这样的变化显得有些荒诞,然而它们并不像粗看上去那样不近情理。实际生活中,从摆满珍肴美撰的餐桌到临终时的灵床,从吊丧的孝服到节日的盛装,这种变迁的惊人之处也毫不逊色,只不过我们就是其中匆匆来去的演员,而不是袖手旁观的看客罢了,这一点是有着天壤之别的。以在剧院里模拟作戏为生的演员对于感情或知觉的剧烈转换与骤然刺激已经麻木、可这些一旦展现在观众的眼前就被贬为荒谬绝伦,颠三倒四了。

鉴于场景的急转直下,时间、地点的迅速变换,长期以来不仅在书本中沿用,有许多人还认为这属于大手笔——这一类评论家衡量作者的高下,主要是依据他在每章末尾处将人物置于怎样的困境之中——读者也许认为这一段简短的导言是不必要的。如果是这样,就请把这段话当作是本书作者的一个微妙的暗示吧,作者要照直回到奥立弗·退斯特诞生的那座小城去了,读者都应当考虑到,这一趟远行是有充分而紧迫的理由的,否则无论如何也不会邀请他们作这样一次远行。

这天一大早,邦布尔先生就走出了济贫院大门口。他一副气宇不凡的派头,步履生风地走上大街。他神采飞扬,充满教区干事的自豪感:三角帽和大衣在朝阳下闪着耀眼的光芒,他紧握手杖,精神饱满,浑身是劲。邦布尔先生的头向来就抬得很高,今天早上比平时抬得还要高。他目光有些出神,表情愉悦,这副神气兴许已经向细心的的陌生人发出了警告,这位干事心目中匆匆来去的念头真有说不出的伟大。

他径自朝前走去,几位小店掌柜什么的恭恭敬敬和他搭话,向他敬礼,但他顾不得停下来说两句,只是扬扬手算是回礼。他始终保持着这副高贵的步态,直到他走进麦恩太太的寄养所。这位太太本着教区特有的爱心,负责在寄养所里照看那班贫儿。

“该死的差人。”麦恩太太一听那熟悉的摇撼花园门的声音就烦。“老大清早,不是他才怪。啊,邦布尔先生,我就知道是你。嗨。天啦,真是太高兴了,是啊。先生,请到客厅里边来。”

开头的一句是对苏珊说的,后边的一番愉快的寒暄才是说给邦布尔先生听的。那位贤慧的太太打开园门,十分殷勤而又礼貌周全地领着他走进屋子。

“麦恩太太,”他没有像一般不懂礼数的粗人那样一屁股坐下来,或者说不自觉地让身体掉进座位里,而是缓缓地、慢慢地在一把椅子上坐下来。“麦恩太太,夫人,早安。”

“哟,也问你早,先生,”麦恩大太回答时满脸堆笑。“想来这一阵你身体不错,先生。”

“马马虎虎,麦恩太太,”干事回答,“教区的生活可不是满园玫瑰花,麦恩太太。”

“啊,的确不是,邦布尔先生。”麦恩太太答道。要是寄养所的全体儿童也都听见了,肯定会彬彬有礼地齐声唱出这句答话的。

“在教区做事,夫人,”邦布尔先生用手杖敲着桌子继续说,“就得操心,生烦恼,还得勇敢。所有的公众人物,我可以说,绝对躲不开对簿公堂。”

麦恩太太没有完全听懂教区干事说的话,但还是带着同情的神色抬起双手,叹了一口气。

“啊,麦恩太太,确实可叹啊。”干事说道。

麦恩太太见自己做对了,便又叹了一口气,显然存心讨好这位公众人物,而他正神色庄重地望着三角帽,竭力掩饰脸上得意的微笑,说道:

“麦恩太太,我要去一趟伦敦。”

“呃,邦布尔先生。”麦恩太太大叫一声,往后退去。

“去伦敦,夫人,”倔头倔脑的干事继续说道,“坐公共马车去,我,还有两个穷小子,麦恩太太。有一桩关于居住权的案子,就要开庭审理了,理事会指定我——我,麦恩太太——去每年开庭四次的克拉肯韦尔季审法庭证明这件事。我真怀疑,”邦布尔先生挺了挺胸,补充说,“在跟我说清楚之前,克拉肯韦尔法庭是不是能看出他们自个儿搞错了。”

“噢。你可不能叫他们下不来台,先生。”麦恩太太好言相劝。

“那是克拉肯韦尔季审法庭自找的,太太,”邦布尔先生回答,“要是克拉肯韦尔法庭发现结果比他们预想的差了许多,那也只能怪克拉肯韦尔法庭自己。”

邦布尔先生阴沉着脸,侃侃而谈,处处流露出他决心已定,志在必得的意思,麦恩太太似乎完全让他的话折服了。到末了,她说:

“你们乘班车去吗,先生?我还以为向来都是用大车来送那帮穷鬼的呢。”

“麦恩太太,那是在他们生病的时候啊,”干事说道,“在多雨的季节,我们把有病的穷小子安顿在敞车里,免得他们着凉。”

“哦。”麦恩太太恍然大悟。

“返回伦敦的班车答应捎上他们俩,车票也不贵,”邦布尔先生说,“两个人都快完了,我们发现,让他们挪个地方比起埋他们来要便宜两英镑——就是说,假如我们能把他们扔到另外一个教区去的话,这一点应该能办到,只要他们别死在路上跟我们作对就行,哈哈哈!”

邦布尔先生刚笑了一会儿,目光又一次与三角帽相遇,复又变得庄重起来。

“我们把正事给忘了,夫人,这是你本月的教区薪俸。”

邦布尔先生从皮夹子里掏出用纸卷着的一叠银币,要麦恩太太写了张收据。

“这上头沾了些墨渍,先生,”寄养所所长说,“不过我敢说,写得还算正规。先生,谢谢你了,邦布尔先生。真不知道怎么感谢你才好,真的。”

邦布尔先生和气地点点头,答谢麦恩太太的屈膝礼,接着便问起孩子们的情况。

“天保佑那些个可爱的小心肝。”麦恩太太感慨万端。“他们好得不能再好了,这些宝贝。当然罗,除去上礼拜死掉的两个,还有小狄克。”

“那孩子一点没见好?”

麦恩太太摇了摇头。

“那是个心术不正,品行不端的小叫化子,往后也好不了,”邦布尔先生气冲冲地说,“他在哪儿呢?”

“先生,我这就带他来见你,”麦恩太太回答,“狄克,上这儿来。”

唤了好一阵子,她才找到狄克。他给放到哪筒下边洗了洗脸,在麦恩太太的睡衣上擦干了,才给领来拜见教区干事邦布尔先生。

这孩子脸色苍白而瘦削,两颊凹陷,一对明亮的眼睛睁得大大的,千方百计节省布料的教区衣服,他的贫儿制服,挂在他那软弱无力的身上仍显得十分宽松,幼小的四肢却已经像老年人的一样萎缩了。

在邦布尔先生的逼视下站着索索发抖的就是这么一个小东西,他不敢把目光从地板上抬起来,甚至听到干事的声音就害怕。

“你就不能抬头看这位绅士一眼,你这个犟孩子?”

狄克温顺地抬起双眼,他的目光跟邦布尔先生相遇了。

“你这是怎么啦,教区收养的狄克?”邦布尔先生不失时机,用滑稽的口吻问道。

“没什么,先生。”孩子有气无力地回答。

“我想也没什么,”麦恩太太少不得要对邦布尔先生的幽默大笑一阵。“不用说,你什么也不需要。”

“我想——”孩子结结巴巴地说道。

“哎哟。”麦恩太太打断了他的话。“你现在准要说,你真的需要某一样东西了吧?哼,这个小坏蛋——”

“等等,麦恩太太,等等。”干事端起权威人士的架子,扬起了一只手,说道。“老弟,想什么,嗯?”

“我想,”孩子吞吞吐吐地说,“要是有谁会写字的话,替我在一张纸上写几句话,再把它折好,密封起来,等我埋到地底下以后替我保存着。”

“嗳,这孩子什么意思?”邦布尔先生大声说,狄克那一本正经的样子,苍白的面容给他留下了某种印象,尽管对这样的事他早已屡见不鲜。“老弟,你说什么来着?”

“我想,”孩子说道,“把我的爱心留给可怜的奥立弗·退斯特,让他知道,一想到他在黑咕隆咚的晚上还得到处流浪,没人帮他,我多少次一个人坐下来,哭啊哭啊。我想告诉他,”孩子将两只小手紧紧地合在一起,怀着炽热的感情说,“我很高兴,我还没长大的时候就死了。我要是长成了大人,变老了,我在天堂里的小妹妹说不定会把我给忘了,或者一点都不像我了。要是我们俩都是小孩子,呆在那儿要快活得多。”

邦布尔先生惊讶得无法形容,他把这个说话的小不点从头到脚打量了一番,然后转向自己的老朋友。“这帮小鬼全是一个样,麦恩大太,那个奥立弗真是无法无天,把他们全都教坏了。”

“先生,我才不相信这些话呢。”麦恩太太说着,抬起双手,恶狠狠地望着狄克。“我从来没见过这样可恶的小坏蛋。”

“把他带走吧,夫人。”邦布尔先生傲慢地说,“这事必须呈报理事会,麦恩太太。”

“我希望先生们能谅解,这不是我的错,你说呢?”麦恩太太悲愤地缀泣着说道。

“他们会谅解的,夫人,会把事实真相搞清楚的,”邦布尔先生说,“得啦,把他带走吧,看见他我就讨厌。”

狄克立刻被带出去,锁进了煤窖,随即邦布尔先生也起身告辞,打点行装去了。

第二天早晨六点钟,邦布尔先生登上公共马车的顶座,他的三角帽换成了一顶圆礼帽,身上裹了一件带披肩的蓝色大衣,带着那两个居住权尚有争议的犯人顺顺当当地到了伦敦。一路上别的倒是没什么,只是那两小子的恶习有些复萌,他俩一直哆哆嗦嗦地抱怨天冷,用邦布尔先生的说法,他俩叫得他牙齿咔哒咔哒直打架,弄得他浑身不舒坦,尽管他还穿了一件大衣。

邦布尔先生安排好两个坏蛋的住宿,独自来到停班车的那所房子,吃了一顿便饭,吃的是牡砺油牛排和黑啤酒。他将一杯滚烫的掺水杜松子酒放在壁炉架上,把椅子扯到炉边坐了下来。他痛感世风日下,人心不足,一时间感慨万千。之后,他静了静心,读起一份报纸来。

邦布尔先生的目光停留在开头的一段,那是一则启事。

赏格五畿尼

今有一男童,名奥立弗·退斯特,上礼拜四黄昏时分从本顿维

尔家中失踪,一说被人诱拐出走,迄今杳无音讯。凡能告知其下

落,以资寻回上述奥立弗·退斯特者可获酬金五畿尼,凡透露其昔

日经历之一二者亦同。启者于此甚为关切,诸多缘由,恕不详述。

接下来是对奥立弗的穿着、身材、外貌以及如何失踪的一段详尽的描述,最后是布朗罗先生的姓名和地址。

邦布尔先生睁大眼睛,字斟句酌地把告示翻来覆去读了几遍。约莫过了五分钟多一点儿,他已经走在去本顿维尔的路上了。冲动之下,他丢下了那一杯热腾腾的掺水杜松子酒,连尝也没尝一口。

“布朗罗先生在家吗?”邦布尔先生向开门的女仆问道。

对于这句问话,女仆的回答不仅稀奇,更有些闪烁其词:“我不知道,您从哪儿来?”

邦布尔先生刚一报出奥立弗的名宇,以此说明来意,一直在客厅门口侧耳聆听着的贝德温太太立刻屏住呼吸,快步来到走廊里。

“进来吧——进来吧,”老太太说道,“我知道会打听到的,苦命的孩子。我知道会打听到的,我压根儿就不怀疑。愿主保佑他。我一直就这么说。”

说罢,这位可敬的老太太又匆匆忙忙地回到客厅,一个人坐在沙发上痛哭起来。女仆没有这样容易动感情,她早已跑上楼去,这功夫,她下来传话说,请邦布尔先生立刻随她上楼,邦布尔欣然从命。

他走进里间的小书斋,里边坐着的是布朗罗先生和他的朋友格林维格先生,两人面前放着几只磨口圆酒瓶和玻璃杯。一看见邦布尔,后一位绅士立刻哇哇大叫起来:

“一个干事。准是个教区跑腿的,我要是说错了就把脑袋吃下去。”

“眼下请不要打岔,”布朗罗先生说道,“您请坐。”

邦布尔先生坐了下来,格林维格先生的举动怪模怪样,搞得他极为狼狈。布朗罗先生把灯移了一下,好让自己能不受干扰地看清这位教区干事的相貌,略略有些焦急地说:

“这个,先生,你是看到那张告示才来的吧?”

“是的,先生。”邦布尔先生说。

“你是教区干事,是不是啊?”格林维格先牛问道。

“二位先生,我是教区干事。”邦布尔先生的口气十分自豪。

“那还用说,”格林维格先生冲着自己的朋友说道,“我早就知道,一个十足的教区干事。”

布朗罗先生斯文地摇摇头,要朋友安静下来,又问道,“你知不知道那可怜的孩子眼下在什么地方?”

“一点也不比别人知道的多。”邦布尔先生回答。

“哦,那你究竟知道他一些什么呢?”老绅士问。“请直说,朋友,如果你有什么事要说的话。你到底知道他一些什么?”

“你碰巧知道的该不会都是什么好事吧,对不对?”格林维格先生讥讽地问,他已经对邦布尔先生的长相特征作了一番专心致志的研究。

邦布尔先生立刻明白了这句问话的含意,脸色也预兆不祥地变得庄重起来,他摇了摇头。

“看见了吧?”格林维格先生以胜利者的姿态瞧了布朗罗先生一眼,说道。

布朗罗先生心事重重地望着邦布尔先生那张皱眉蹩额的脸,请他尽可能简要地把他所知道的有关奥立弗的事都谈出来。

邦布尔先生摘下帽子,解开大衣,交叉着双手,以一副追溯往事的架势低下头,沉吟片刻,开始讲述他的故事。

复述这位教区干事的话——这需要二十来分钟——不免倒人胃口,但大意和实质是说,奥立弗是个弃儿,生身父母都很低贱,而且品性恶劣。打出生以来,他表现出的只有出尔反尔,恩将仇报,心肠歹毒,此外没有任何好一点的品质。在出生地,因对一位无辜少年进行残暴而怯懦的攻击,晚间由主人家中出逃,从而结束了那一段简短的经历。为了证实自己的确不是冒名顶替,邦布尔先生把随身带来的几份文件摊在桌上,自己又交叉起双臂,听凭布朗罗先生过目。

“一切看来都是真的,”布朗罗先生看罢文件,痛心地说道,“对于你提供的情况,五个畿尼不算丰厚,可如果对孩子有好处,我非常愿意付你三倍于此的报酬。”

假如在这次造访中,邦布尔先生早一些得知这一消息的话,他完全可能会给奥立弗的简历染上一种截然不同的色彩,但是,现在为时已晚,他煞有介事地摇了摇头,把五个畿尼放进钱袋,告退了。

布朗罗先生在屋子里踱来踱去,走了好一会儿,教区干事讲的事情显然搅得他心绪不宁,连格林维格先生也只得捺住性子,以免火上浇油。

布朗罗光生终于停了下来,狠命地摇铃。

“贝德温太太,”女管家刚露面,布朗罗先生就说道,“那个孩子,奥立弗,他是个骗子。”

“不会的,先生,这不可能。”老太太坚信不疑。

“我说他是,”老绅士反驳道,“你那个不可能是什么意思?我们刚听人家把他出生以来的情况详详细细讲了一遍,他自始至终都是一个十足的小坏蛋。”

“反正我不信,先生,”老太太毫不退让,“决不信。”

“你们这些老太太就是什么也不信,只信江湖郎中和胡编的小说,”格林维格先生怒吼起来,“我早就知道了。你干吗一开始不接受我的忠告?如果他没患过热症的话,你恐怕就会接受了,是不是,呢?他怪可怜的,不是吗?可怜?呸!”格林维格先生说着拨了一下火,动作很俏皮。

“他是个好孩子,知道好歹,又斯文听话,先生,”贝德温太太愤愤不平地抗议道,“小孩子怎么样我心里有数,先生,这些事我有四十年的经验了,谁要是不能夸这个日,就别说他们长啊短的,我的意思就是这样。”

这是对至今还是单身的格林维格先生的沉重一击。一见那位绅士只是微微一笑,没别的反应,老太太把头往上一抬,拂了拂围裙,正打算再理论一番,却叫布朗罗先生止住了。

“静一静。”布朗罗先生装出一副他自己丝毫也没觉察到的怒容,说道。“永远别再跟我提到那孩子的名字。我打铃就是要告诉你这一点。永远,绝不可以用任何借口提到他,你当心一点。你可以出去了,贝德温太太,记住。我是十分认真的。”

那天夜里,布朗罗先生家里有好几颗心充满忧伤。

一想起自己那些好心的朋友,奥立弗的心顿时沉了下去。幸好他无从得知他们所听说的事,否则,他的一颗心也许已经碎了。