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It was a chill, damp, windy night, when the Jew: buttoning his great-coat tight round his shrivelled body, and pulling the collar up over his ears so as completely to obscure the lower part of his face: emerged from his den. He paused on the step as the door was locked and chained behind him; and having listened while the boys made all secure, and until their retreating footsteps were no longer audible, slunk down the street as quickly as he could.

The house to which Oliver had been conveyed, was in the neighborhood of Whitechapel. The Jew stopped for an instant at the corner of the street; and, glancing suspiciously round, crossed the road, and struck off in the direction of the Spitalfields.

The mud lay thick upon the stones, and a black mist hung over the streets; the rain fell sluggishly down, and everything felt cold and clammy to the touch. It seemed just the night when it befitted such a being as the Jew to be abroad. As he glided stealthily along, creeping beneath the shelter of the walls and doorways, the hideous old man seemed like some loathsome reptile, engendered in the slime and darkness through which he moved: crawling forth, by night, in search of some rich offal for a meal.

He kept on his course, through many winding and narrow ways, until he reached Bethnal Green; then, turning suddenly off to the left, he soon became involved in a maze of the mean and dirty streets which abound in that close and densely-populated quarter.

The Jew was evidently too familiar with the ground he traversed to be at all bewildered, either by the darkness of the night, or the intricacies of the way. He hurried through several alleys and streets, and at length turned into one, lighted only by a single lamp at the farther end. At the door of a house in this street, he knocked; having exchanged a few muttered words with the person who opened it, he walked upstairs.

A dog growled as he touched the handle of a room-door; and a man's voice demanded who was there.

'Only me, Bill; only me, my dear,' said the Jew looking in.

'Bring in your body then,' said Sikes. 'Lie down, you stupid brute! Don't you know the devil when he's got a great-coat on?'

Apparently, the dog had been somewhat deceived by Mr. Fagin's outer garment; for as the Jew unbuttoned it, and threw it over the back of a chair, he retired to the corner from which he had risen: wagging his tail as he went, to show that he was as well satisfied as it was in his nature to be.

'Well!' said Sikes.

'Well, my dear,' replied the Jew.--'Ah! Nancy.'

The latter recognition was uttered with just enough of embarrassment to imply a doubt of its reception; for Mr. Fagin and his young friend had not met, since she had interfered in behalf of Oliver. All doubts upon the subject, if he had any, were speedily removed by the young lady's behaviour. She took her feet off the fender, pushed back her chair, and bade Fagin draw up his, without saying more about it: for it was a cold night, and no mistake.

'It is cold, Nancy dear,' said the Jew, as he warmed his skinny hands over the fire. 'It seems to go right through one,' added the old man, touching his side.

'It must be a piercer, if it finds its way through your heart,' said Mr. Sikes. 'Give him something to drink, Nancy. Burn my body, make haste! It's enough to turn a man ill, to see his lean old carcase shivering in that way, like a ugly ghost just rose from the grave.'

Nancy quickly brought a bottle from a cupboard, in which there were many: which, to judge from the diversity of their appearance, were filled with several kinds of liquids. Sikes pouring out a glass of brandy, bade the Jew drink it off.

'Quite enough, quite, thankye, Bill,' replied the Jew, putting down the glass after just setting his lips to it.

'What! You're afraid of our getting the better of you, are you?' inquired Sikes, fixing his eyes on the Jew. 'Ugh!'

With a hoarse grunt of contempt, Mr. Sikes seized the glass, and threw the remainder of its contents into the ashes: as a preparatory ceremony to filling it again for himself: which he did at once.

The Jew glanced round the room, as his companion tossed down the second glassful; not in curiousity, for he had seen it often before; but in a restless and suspicious manner habitual to him. It was a meanly furnished apartment, with nothing but the contents of the closet to induce the belief that its occupier was anything but a working man; and with no more suspicious articles displayed to view than two or three heavy bludgeons which stood in a corner, and a 'life-preserver' that hung over the chimney-piece.

'There,' said Sikes, smacking his lips. 'Now I'm ready.'

'For business?' inquired the Jew.

'For business,' replied Sikes; 'so say what you've got to say.'

'About the crib at Chertsey, Bill?' said the Jew, drawing his chair forward, and speaking in a very low voice.

'Yes. Wot about it?' inquired Sikes.

'Ah! you know what I mean, my dear,' said the Jew. 'He knows what I mean, Nancy; don't he?'

'No, he don't,' sneered Mr. Sikes. 'Or he won't, and that's the same thing. Speak out, and call things by their right names; don't sit there, winking and blinking, and talking to me in hints, as if you warn't the very first that thought about the robbery. Wot d'ye mean?'

'Hush, Bill, hush!' said the Jew, who had in vain attempted to stop this burst of indignation; 'somebody will hear us, my dear. Somebody will hear us.'

'Let 'em hear!' said Sikes; 'I don't care.' But as Mr. Sikes DID care, on reflection, he dropped his voice as he said the words, and grew calmer.

'There, there,' said the Jew, coaxingly. 'It was only my caution, nothing more. Now, my dear, about that crib at Chertsey; when is it to be done, Bill, eh? When is it to be done? Such plate, my dear, such plate!' said the Jew: rubbing his hands, and elevating his eyebrows in a rapture of anticipation.

'Not at all,' replied Sikes coldly.

'Not to be done at all!' echoed the Jew, leaning back in his chair.

'No, not at all,' rejoined Sikes. 'At least it can't be a put-up job, as we expected.'

'Then it hasn't been properly gone about,' said the Jew, turning pale with anger. 'Don't tell me!'

'But I will tell you,' retorted Sikes. 'Who are you that's not to be told? I tell you that Toby Crackit has been hanging about the place for a fortnight, and he can't get one of the servants in line.'

'Do you mean to tell me, Bill,' said the Jew: softening as the other grew heated: 'that neither of the two men in the house can be got over?'

'Yes, I do mean to tell you so,' replied Sikes. 'The old lady has had 'em these twenty years; and if you were to give 'em five hundred pound, they wouldn't be in it.'

'But do you mean to say, my dear,' remonstrated the Jew, 'that the women can't be got over?'

'Not a bit of it,' replied Sikes.

'Not by flash Toby Crackit?' said the Jew incredulously. 'Think what women are, Bill,'

'No; not even by flash Toby Crackit,' replied Sikes. 'He says he's worn sham whiskers, and a canary waistcoat, the whole blessed time he's been loitering down there, and it's all of no use.'

'He should have tried mustachios and a pair of military trousers, my dear,' said the Jew.

'So he did,' rejoined Sikes, 'and they warn't of no more use than the other plant.'

The Jew looked blank at this information. After ruminating for some minutes with his chin sunk on his breast, he raised his head and said, with a deep sigh, that if flash Toby Crackit reported aright, he feared the game was up.

'And yet,' said the old man, dropping his hands on his knees, 'it's a sad thing, my dear, to lose so much when we had set our hearts upon it.'

'So it is,' said Mr. Sikes. 'Worse luck!'

A long silence ensued; during which the Jew was plunged in deep thought, with his face wrinkled into an expression of villainy perfectly demoniacal. Sikes eyed him furtively from time to time. Nancy, apparently fearful of irritating the housebreaker, sat with her eyes fixed upon the fire, as if she had been deaf to all that passed.

'Fagin,' said Sikes, abruptly breaking the stillness that prevailed; 'is it worth fifty shiners extra, if it's safely done from the outside?'

'Yes,' said the Jew, as suddenly rousing himself.

'Is it a bargain?' inquired Sikes.

'Yes, my dear, yes,' rejoined the Jew; his eyes glistening, and every muscle in his face working, with the excitement that the inquiry had awakened.

'Then,' said Sikes, thrusting aside the Jew's hand, with some disdain, 'let it come off as soon as you like. Toby and me were over the garden-wall the night afore last, sounding the panels of the door and shutters. The crib's barred up at night like a jail; but there's one part we can crack, safe and softly.'

'Which is that, Bill?' asked the Jew eagerly.

'Why,' whispered Sikes, 'as you cross the lawn--'

'Yes?' said the Jew, bending his head forward, with his eyes almost starting out of it.

'Umph!' cried Sikes, stopping short, as the girl, scarcely moving her head, looked suddenly round, and pointed for an instant to the Jew's face. 'Never mind which part it is. You can't do it without me, I know; but it's best to be on the safe side when one deals with you.'

'As you like, my dear, as you like' replied the Jew. 'Is there no help wanted, but yours and Toby's?'

'None,' said Sikes. 'Cept a centre-bit and a boy. The first we've both got; the second you must find us.'

'A boy!' exclaimed the Jew. 'Oh! then it's a panel, eh?'

'Never mind wot it is!' replied Sikes. 'I want a boy, and he musn't be a big 'un. Lord!' said Mr. Sikes, reflectively, 'if I'd only got that young boy of Ned, the chimbley-sweeper's! He kept him small on purpose, and let him out by the job. But the father gets lagged; and then the Juvenile Delinquent Society comes, and takes the boy away from a trade where he was earning money, teaches him to read and write, and in time makes a 'prentice of him. And so they go on,' said Mr. Sikes, his wrath rising with the recollection of his wrongs, 'so they go on; and, if they'd got money enough (which it's a Providence they haven't,) we shouldn't have half a dozen boys left in the whole trade, in a year or two.'

'No more we should,' acquiesced the Jew, who had been considering during this speech, and had only caught the last sentence. 'Bill!'

'What now?' inquired Sikes.

The Jew nodded his head towards Nancy, who was still gazing at the fire; and intimated, by a sign, that he would have her told to leave the room. Sikes shrugged his shoulders impatiently, as if he thought the precaution unnecessary; but complied, nevertheless, by requesting Miss Nancy to fetch him a jug of beer.

'You don't want any beer,' said Nancy, folding her arms, and retaining her seat very composedly.

'I tell you I do!' replied Sikes.

'Nonsense,' rejoined the girl coolly, 'Go on, Fagin. I know what he's going to say, Bill; he needn't mind me.'

The Jew still hesitated. Sikes looked from one to the other in some surprise.

'Why, you don't mind the old girl, do you, Fagin?' he asked at length. 'You've known her long enough to trust her, or the Devil's in it. She ain't one to blab. Are you Nancy?'

'_I_ should think not!' replied the young lady: drawing her chair up to the table, and putting her elbows upon it.

'No, no, my dear, I know you're not,' said the Jew; 'but--' and again the old man paused.

'But wot?' inquired Sikes.

'I didn't know whether she mightn't p'r'aps be out of sorts, you know, my dear, as she was the other night,' replied the Jew.

At this confession, Miss Nancy burst into a loud laugh; and, swallowing a glass of brandy, shook her head with an air of defiance, and burst into sundry exclamations of 'Keep the game a-going!' 'Never say die!' and the like. These seemed to have the effect of re-assuring both gentlemen; for the Jew nodded his head with a satisfied air, and resumed his seat: as did Mr. Sikes likewise.

'Now, Fagin,' said Nancy with a laugh. 'Tell Bill at once, about Oliver!'

'Ha! you're a clever one, my dear: the sharpest girl I ever saw!' said the Jew, patting her on the neck. 'It WAS about Oliver I was going to speak, sure enough. Ha! ha! ha!'

'What about him?' demanded Sikes.

'He's the boy for you, my dear,' replied the Jew in a hoarse whisper; laying his finger on the side of his nose, and grinning frightfully.

'He!' exclaimed. Sikes.

'Have him, Bill!' said Nancy. 'I would, if I was in your place. He mayn't be so much up, as any of the others; but that's not what you want, if he's only to open a door for you. Depend upon it he's a safe one, Bill.'

'I know he is,' rejoined Fagin. 'He's been in good training these last few weeks, and it's time he began to work for his bread. Besides, the others are all too big.'

'Well, he is just the size I want,' said Mr. Sikes, ruminating.

'And will do everything you want, Bill, my dear,' interposed the Jew; 'he can't help himself. That is, if you frighten him enough.'

'Frighten him!' echoed Sikes. 'It'll be no sham frightening, mind you. If there's anything queer about him when we once get into the work; in for a penny, in for a pound. You won't see him alive again, Fagin. Think of that, before you send him. Mark my words!' said the robber, poising a crowbar, which he had drawn from under the bedstead.

'I've thought of it all,' said the Jew with energy. 'I've--I've had my eye upon him, my dears, close--close. Once let him feel that he is one of us; once fill his mind with the idea that he has been a thief; and he's ours! Ours for his life. Oho! It couldn't have come about better! The old man crossed his arms upon his breast; and, drawing his head and shoulders into a heap, literally hugged himself for joy.

'Ours!' said Sikes. 'Yours, you mean.'

'Perhaps I do, my dear,' said the Jew, with a shrill chuckle. 'Mine, if you like, Bill.'

'And wot,' said Sikes, scowling fiercely on his agreeable friend, 'wot makes you take so much pains about one chalk-faced kid, when you know there are fifty boys snoozing about Common Garden every night, as you might pick and choose from?'

'Because they're of no use to me, my dear,' replied the Jew, with some confusion, 'not worth the taking. Their looks convict 'em when they get into trouble, and I lose 'em all. With this boy, properly managed, my dears, I could do what I couldn't with twenty of them. Besides,' said the Jew, recovering his self-possession, 'he has us now if he could only give us leg-bail again; and he must be in the same boat with us. Never mind how he came there; it's quite enough for my power over him that he was in a robbery; that's all I want. Now, how much better this is, than being obliged to put the poor leetle boy out of the way--which would be dangerous, and we should lose by it besides.'

'When is it to be done?' asked Nancy, stopping some turbulent exclamation on the part of Mr. Sikes, expressive of the disgust with which he received Fagin's affectation of humanity.

'Ah, to be sure,' said the Jew; 'when is it to be done, Bill?'

'I planned with Toby, the night arter to-morrow,' rejoined Sikes in a surly voice, 'if he heerd nothing from me to the contrairy.'

'Good,' said the Jew; 'there's no moon.'

'No,' rejoined Sikes.

'It's all arranged about bringing off the swag, is it?' asked the Jew.

Sikes nodded.

'And about--'

'Oh, ah, it's all planned,' rejoined Sikes, interrupting him. 'Never mind particulars. You'd better bring the boy here to-morrow night. I shall get off the stone an hour arter daybreak. Then you hold your tongue, and keep the melting-pot ready, and that's all you'll have to do.'

After some discussion, in which all three took an active part, it was decided that Nancy should repair to the Jew's next evening when the night had set in, and bring Oliver away with her; Fagin craftily observing, that, if he evinced any disinclination to the task, he would be more willing to accompany the girl who had so recently interfered in his behalf, than anybody else. It was also solemnly arranged that poor Oliver should, for the purposes of the contemplated expedition, be unreservedly consigned to the care and custody of Mr. William Sikes; and further, that the said Sikes should deal with him as he thought fit; and should not be held responsible by the Jew for any mischance or evil that might be necessary to visit him: it being understood that, to render the compact in this respect binding, any representations made by Mr. Sikes on his return should be required to be confirmed and corroborated, in all important particulars, by the testimony of flash Toby Crackit.

These preliminaries adjusted, Mr. Sikes proceeded to drink brandy at a furious rate, and to flourish the crowbar in an alarming manner; yelling forth, at the same time, most unmusical snatches of song, mingled with wild execrations. At length, in a fit of professional enthusiasm, he insisted upon producing his box of housebreaking tools: which he had no sooner stumbled in with, and opened for the purpose of explaining the nature and properties of the various implements it contained, and the peculiar beauties of their construction, than he fell over the box upon the floor, and went to sleep where he fell.

'Good-night, Nancy,' said the Jew, muffling himself up as before.

'Good-night.'

Their eyes met, and the Jew scrutinised her, narrowly. There was no flinching about the girl. She was as true and earnest in the matter as Toby Crackit himself could be.

The Jew again bade her good-night, and, bestowing a sly kick upon the prostrate form of Mr. Sikes while her back was turned, groped downstairs.

'Always the way!' muttered the Jew to himself as he turned homeward. 'The worst of these women is, that a very little thing serves to call up some long-forgotten feeling; and, the best of them is, that it never lasts. Ha! ha! The man against the child, for a bag of gold!'

Beguiling the time with these pleasant reflections, Mr. Fagin wended his way, through mud and mire, to his gloomy abode: where the Dodger was sitting up, impatiently awaiting his return.

'Is Oliver a-bed? I want to speak to him,' was his first remark as they descended the stairs.

'Hours ago,' replied the Dodger, throwing open a door. 'Here he is!'

The boy was lying, fast asleep, on a rude bed upon the floor; so pale with anxiety, and sadness, and the closeness of his prison, that he looked like death; not death as it shows in shroud and coffin, but in the guise it wears when life has just departed; when a young and gentle spirit has, but an instant, fled to Heaven, and the gross air of the world has not had time to breathe upon the changing dust it hallowed.

'Not now,' said the Jew, turning softly away. 'To-morrow. To-morrow.'

(一个值得留意的计划在本章讨论定板。)

这是一个寒冷潮湿,朔风怒号的夜晚。费金穿上外套,将自己枯瘦的躯干紧紧地裹了起来。他把衣领翻上去盖住耳朵,将下半个脸藏得严严实实,走出老巢。他锁好大门,挂上链子,又在阶梯上停下来。他听了听,几个少年把一切都弄好了,他们退回去的脚步声也听不见了,这才尽力快步顺着街道溜掉了。

奥立弗转移以后住进的这所房子位于怀特教堂附近。费金在街角停住,疑虑重重地四下里看了看,然后穿过大路,往斯皮达菲方向奔去。

石子路面上积了厚厚的一层烂泥,黑沉沉的雾气笼罩着街道,雨点忽忽悠悠地飘落下来,什么东西摸上去都是冷冰冰、粘乎乎的。这种夜晚似乎只适合于老犹太之类的人外出。他无声无息地向前滑去,在墙壁、门洞的掩护下溜过。这个狰狞可怕的老头看上去像一只令人恶心的蜥蜴,从往来出没的泥泞和暗处爬出来,趁着夜色四出蠕行,想找到一点肥美的臭鱼腐肉吃吃。

他不停地走,穿过一条条境蜒曲折的小路,来到贝丝勒尔草地,又突然向左一转,很快就走进一座由龌龊的小街陋巷组成的迷宫,这种迷宫在那个闭塞的人口稠密区比比皆是。

老犹太显然对这一带十分熟悉,绝不会因沉沉黑夜或者复杂的道路而迷失方向。他快步穿过好几条大街小巷,最后拐进一条街,这里唯一的亮光来自街道尽头的一盏孤灯。老犹太走到当街一所房子跟前,敲了敲门,同开门的人嘀咕几句,便上楼去了。

他刚一碰门把手,一只狗便立刻咆哮起来,一个男人的声音问是谁来了。

“是我啊,比尔,就我一个,亲爱的。”费金一边说,一边朝屋里望。

“滚进来吧,”赛克斯说道,“躺下,你这蠢货。老鬼穿了件大衣,你就不认识啦?”

看得出,那只狗先前多少是受了费金先生一身打扮的蒙骗,因为费金刚把外套脱下来,扔到椅背上,狗就退回角落里去了,刚才它就是从那儿窜出来的,一边走还一边摇尾巴,以此表示自己十分满意,这也是它的本性嘛。

“不赖。”赛克斯说。

“不赖,我亲爱的,”老犹太答道,“啊,南希。”

后一句招呼的口气有些尴尬,表明他拿不准对方会不会答理,自从南希偏袒奥立弗的事发生以后,费金先生和他的这位女弟子还没见过面。如果他在这个问题上存有一点疑虑的话,也立刻被年轻女子的举动抹去了。她没有多说什么,抬起搁在壁炉挡板上的脚,把自己坐的椅子往后扯了扯,吩咐费金把椅子凑到壁炉边上,这确实是一个寒冷的夜晚。

“真冷啊,我亲爱的南希,”费金伸出瘦骨嶙峋的双手在火上烘烤着。“好像把人都扎穿了。”老头儿说着,揉揉自己的腰。

“要扎进你的心,非得使锥子才行,”赛克斯先生说,“南希,给他点喝的。真是活见鬼,快一些。瞧他那副干巴巴的老骨头,抖得那样,也真叫人恶心,跟刚从坟墓里爬起来的恶鬼没什么两样。”

南希敏捷地从食橱里拿出一个瓶子,里边还有好些这类瓶子,从五花八门的外表来看,盛的全是各种饮料。赛克斯倒了一杯白兰地,要老犹太干了它。

“足够了,够了,比尔,多谢了。”费金把酒杯举到嘴边碰了碰,便放下了。

“干吗。怕我们抢了你的头彩,是吗?”赛克斯用眼睛死死盯住老犹太,问道。“唔。”

赛克斯先生发出一声沙哑的嘲笑,抓起酒杯,把里边的酒泼进炉灰里,又替自己满满地斟了一杯,作为见面礼,端起来一饮而尽。

趁同伴喝第二杯酒的功夫,费金的目光飞快地在屋里溜了一圈——不是出于好奇,他以前时常光顾这间屋子,而是出于一种习惯,闲不住,而且多疑。这是一间陈设十分简陋的公寓,只有壁橱里的东西表明这间屋子的房客不是一个凭力气吃饭的人。室内一角靠着两三根沉甸甸的大头短棒,一把“护身器”挂在壁炉架上,此外,再也看不出有什么使人油然起疑的东西了。

“喂,”赛克斯咂了咂嘴,说道,“我可是准备停当了。”

“谈买卖?”老犹太问。

“谈买卖,”赛克斯回答,“有话就说。”

“是不是杰茨那个场子,比尔?”费金把椅子拉近一些,声音压得很低。

“不错。怎么样啊?”赛克斯问道。

“哦。我的意思你知道,亲爱的,”老犹太说道,“南希,他知道我的打算,不是吗?”

“不,他不知道,”赛克斯先生冷冷一笑。“或者说不想知道,都是一回事。说啊,有什么就说什么,别坐在那儿眨巴眼睛,跟我打哑谜,倒好像你不是头一个盘算持这一票似的。你打算如何?”

“嘘,比尔,小点声。”费金想顶住这一番火气,结果白费力气。“当心有人听见,亲爱的,有人听得见。”

“让他们听好了。”赛克斯说道,“我才不在乎呢。”然而寻思一阵之后,赛克斯先生的确在平起来了,说话时声音压低了一些,也不再那么冲动。

“嗳,嗳,”费金哄着他说,“这只是我提醒一声——没别的。这个,亲爱的,咱们谈谈杰茨的那户人家吧。你看什么时候动手,比尔,唔?什么时候动手?那些个杯盘碗盏,亲爱的,真是太棒了。”费金乐得直搓手,眉毛向上扬起来,仿佛东西已经到手了。

“干不了。”赛克斯冷冷地答道。

“当真干不了?”费金应声说道,身体一下仰靠在椅子上。

“是啊,干不了,”赛克斯回答,“至少不像我们估摸的那样,可以来个里应外合。”

“那就是功夫不到家,”费金气得脸色发青,“别跟我说这些。”

“我就是要跟你说这些,”赛克斯反唇相讥,“你算老几,就不能跟你说?我告诉你吧,托比·格拉基特在那附近已经转悠了两个星期,一个仆人也没勾搭上。”

“比尔,你是不是想说,”老犹太见对方人了,顿时软了下来,“那家的两个仆人没一个拉得过来?”

“一点不错,我就是想告诉你这档子事,”赛克斯回答。“老太婆用了他俩二十年,你就是给他们五百镑,他们也不会干。”

“不过,亲爱的,你的意思是不是说,”老犹太争辩道,“那几个娘们也拉不过来,对不?”

“一点办法也没有。”赛克斯答道。

“连花花公子托比·格拉基特也不行?”费金不大相信,“想想娘们是些什么东西,比尔。”

“是啊,连花花公子托比·格拉基特也不行。他说,这段时间,他一直戴着假胡子,穿了件鲜黄的大衣,在那一带逛荡,可一点没用。”

“他该试一试小胡子,配上军裤,亲爱的。”老犹太说道。

“他试过,”赛克斯答道,“这两样也好不到哪儿去。”

费金听到这个消息,不禁两眼发直。他下巴搭拉在胸前,沉思半晌,又抬起头来,重重地叹了一口气,说如果花花公子托比·格拉基特呈报的全是实情,恐怕这套把戏算是完了。

“话说回来,”老头儿双手放在膝上,说道,“亲爱的,我们一门心思全扑到上边去了,赔进去那么多,想想真心疼。”

“可不是嘛,’赛克斯先生说,“霉透了。”

一阵漫长难熬的沉默随之而起。老犹太陷入了沉思,他面部扭曲,一副奸诈邪恶的样子。赛克斯不时偷偷瞧他一眼。南希像是生怕招惹这个人室抢劫犯,管自坐在一旁,两眼直瞪瞪地盯住火,仿佛刚才发生的一切她都听不见似的。

“费金,”赛克斯骤然打破了沉默,“干脆从外边下手,另加五十个金币,值不值?”

“值啊。”费金好像突然醒过来,说道。

“说定了?”赛克斯问。

“说定了,我亲爱的,说定了。”老犹太经过这一番问答变得兴奋起来,两眼炯炯放光,脸上的每一块肌肉都在活动。

“那好,”赛克斯带着几分轻蔑甩开老犹太的手,说道,“你高兴什么时候动手就什么时候动手。前天晚上我跟托比翻过花园围墙,试了一下门窗上的嵌板。这家子到了夜里就关门闭户,跟大牢似的。不过有个地方我们能砸开,又安全又轻巧。”

“哪个地方,比尔?”老犹太急切地问。

“嗳,”赛克斯打着耳语说,“你穿过草地——”

“是吗?”老犹太说着,头往前靠去,眼珠子几乎都要掉出来了。

“啊呜。”赛克斯骤然打住,跟着又嚷了起来,这当儿,南希姑娘难得地摇了摇头,突然回头看了一眼,又立刻转向费金。“管它是什么地方。离开我,你办不了这事,我心里有数,跟你打交道,还是小心为妙。”

“随你便,我亲爱的,随你便,”老犹太答道,“你和托比还要不要帮手?”

“不要,”赛克斯说,“还要一把摇柄钻和一个小孩子。头一件我们俩都有,第二件你得替我们物色到。”

“一个小孩子。”费金嚷道,“哦。那就是嵌板了,唔?”

“管它是什么。”赛克斯回答,“我需要一个孩子,个头还不能太大,天啦。”赛克斯先生若有所思。“我要是能把扫烟囱师傅勒德的那个小家伙搞到手就好啦。他存心不让那孩子长个,好让他干这一行。那孩子本来在这一行已经开始挣钱了,可作爸爸的给关了起来,再往后,少年犯罪教化会把孩子带走了,教他读书写字,早晚要培养他当学徒什么的,他们老是那样,”赛克斯先生想起自己蒙受的损失,火气又上来了,“没有个完。要是他们得到足够的资金(谢天谢地,他们资金不够),只消一两年的功夫,整个这一行我们连半打孩子也凑不齐了。”

“是凑不齐,啊,”老犹太随声附和道。赛克斯在一边慷慨陈词,他一直在打主意,只听清了最后一句。“比尔。”

“什么事?”赛克斯问。

费金朝依然呆呆地望着炉火发愣的南希点了点头,打了一个暗号,示意他叫南希离开这间屋子。赛克斯不耐烦地耸了一下肩膀,像是认为这种小心纯属多余。尽管如此,他还是同意了,要南希小姐去给他取一罐啤酒来。

“你压根儿不是要什么啤酒。”南希交叉着双手,神色镇定地坐着不动,说道。

“我告诉你,我要。”赛克斯答道。

“胡说,”姑娘淡漠地顶了一句,“说啊,费金。比尔,我知道他下边要说什么,他用不着提防我。”

老犹太还在犹豫。赛克斯看看这个,又看看那个,有些莫名其妙。

“嗨,费金,你别担心老丫头了,好不好?”末了,他问道,“你认识她时间也不短了,也该信得过她,要不就是其中有鬼。她不会乱嚼舌头。是吗,南希?”

“我看不会。”年轻女子说着,把椅子拉到桌边,胳膊肘支在桌子上。

“不,不,亲爱的,我知道你不会,”老犹太说道,“只是——”老头儿说着又停了下来。

“只是什么?”赛克斯问。

“我说不准她会不会又疯疯颠颠的,你知道啊,亲爱的,就像那天晚上的样子。”老犹太回答。

听到这番话,南希小姐放声大笑,一仰脖子喝下去一杯白兰地,神色凛然地摇了摇头,嘴里连声嚷嚷着“咱接着玩”,“千万别泄气”什么的。看来这一番举动立刻产生了效果,两位绅士放心了,老犹太带着满意的神情点了一下头,他俩重新坐定。

“现在行了,费金,”南希笑吟吟地说道,“马上告诉比尔,关于奥立弗的事。”

“哈。你可真机灵,亲爱的,算得上我见过的姑娘中最聪明的一个。”费金说着,拍了拍她的脖子。“没错,我正要说奥立弗的事呢。哈哈哈!”

“关他什么事?”赛克斯问道。

“那孩子正合你用,亲爱的。”老犹太压低沙哑的声音作了回答,他将一个指头摁在鼻子边上,嘻嘻地狞笑着。

“他!”赛克斯嚷了起来。

“带上他,比尔。”南希说道,“我要是处在你的位置,我就这么办。他不像别的小鬼那样老练。反正你也不需要本事大的,只要他能替你打开一扇门就行。放心好了,他错不了,比尔。”

“我就知道他错不了,”费金搭讪道,“最近几个礼拜,他训练蛮好,也该开始自个儿养活自个儿了,再说了,别的孩子都嫌大了点。”

“嗯,个子倒是正合适。”赛克斯先生沉思着说。

“而且什么事都能替你做,亲爱的比尔,”费金插嘴道,“他非干不可,就是说,只要多吓唬吓唬他的话。”

“吓唬他。”赛克斯操着对方的口吻说,“我有言在先,这可不是做做样子的吓唬。一不做,二不休,我们真动起手来,他要是玩什么花样,费金,你休想看到他活着回来。考虑好了你再支他去,听好喽。”这强盗说着,掂了掂刚从床架底下抽出来的一根铁撬。

“我都考虑过了,”费金劲头十足地说,“我——我考察过他,亲爱的,周密——相当周密。只消让他感觉到自个儿跟咱们是一伙的,心里装上这么一个想法,他就已经是一个小偷了,就成我们的人啦。一辈子都是我们的。哦喝。简直再好不过了。”老头儿双手交叉搭在胸前,脑袋肩膀缩作一团,高兴得真是把他自己给抱住了。

“我们的?”赛克斯说,“你该说,是你的。”

“可能可能,亲爱的,”老犹太发出一阵刺耳的笑声,说道,“只要你高兴,算我的好了,比尔。”

“为什么,”赛克斯恶狠狠地瞪了自己这位精明的搭档一眼,“一个脸白得像粉笔的小毛孩子,你怎么这样舍得花力气?你又不是不知道,每天夜里都有五十个小孩在大众公园附近打盹,随你怎么选。”

“因为他们对我一点用处也没有,亲爱的,”老犹太有些慌乱地回答,“留着没用。一旦出了事,光看长相就可以判他们刑,我落个鸡飞蛋打。有这个孩子,只要调教得当,我的好人,靠他们二十人办不了的事我也办得到。再者说,”费金渐渐恢复了自制力,“要是他再给我们来个脚下抹油,可就把我们给坑了。他非得跟我们呆在一条船上不可。你别管他是怎么走到这一步的。我有的是办法叫他干一回打劫,别的什么我也不需要。眼下,这可比迫不得已于掉这个穷小子强多了——那样干很危险,再说我们也吃亏啊。”

“什么时候下手?”南希问了一句,挡住了赛克斯先生方面的一阵大喊大叫,他正准备对费金的假仁假义表示恶心。

“啊,得说定哩,”老犹太说,“比尔,啥时候动手?”

“我跟托比商量过了,只要他没从我这儿听到什么坏消息的话,”赛克斯怪声怪气地回答,“就定在后天夜里。”

“好,”费金说道,“那天没有月亮。”

“对。”赛克斯应声说。

“怎么把货弄出来也都安排好了,是吗?”老犹太问。

赛克斯点了点头。

“还有那个——”

“呃,都安排好了,”赛克斯打断了他的话,“别打听细节了,你最好明天晚上把那小子带来。我天亮后一个钟头出发,你呢,也别出声,把坩锅准备好,你要做的就是这些。”

三个人你一言我一语地议论开了,商定南希在第二天天黑的时候前往费金的住所,接奥立弗过来。费金阴险地加了一句,说假如奥立弗对这项任务流露出一点点厌恶的意思来,自己比旁人更乐意陪着前不久护卫过奥立弗的南希姑娘走一趟。计划中郑重其事地议定,为这一次经过深思熟虑的行动着想,可怜的奥立弗将无条件地交威廉·赛克斯先生看管监护。其次,上述赛克斯先生应酌情对其作出安排。对于可能降临到那孩子头上的任何横祸妄灾,或可能遭受的任何必要惩罚,均不向老犹太承担责任。为使该协议具有约束力,双方达成谅解,赛克斯先生返回之后陈述的种种情况,在一切重要细节上须由花花公子托比·格拉基特加以证实确认。

这些预备事项安排停当,赛克斯先生开始毫无节制地痛饮白兰地,还把铁撬挥舞得怪吓人的,同时将一些完全不合凋门的歌曲片断,与不堪人耳的咒骂混在一起,嚎了出来。末了,他按捺不住职业上的热心,一定要去把他溜门撬锁的工具箱拿来。不一会儿,他果然拎着箱子磕磕绊绊地走进来。他打开箱子,还没来得及把里边装着的各种工具的性能特征以及构造方面的妙处介绍一二,便倒在地板上,趴着箱子睡着了。

“晚安,南希。”费金一边照来的时候那样将自己裹起来,一边告辞。

“晚安。”

俩人口目相遇,老头儿上下打量了她一番,那姑娘没有一点畏首畏尾的样子,在这件事情上她倒是诚实认真的,托比·格拉基特恐怕也不过如此。

老头儿又向她道了一声晚安,乘南希转过背去的功夫,他偷偷踹了倒在地上的赛克斯先生一脚,这才摸索着走下楼去。

“老是这一套。”费金一边往回走,一边嘟哝着自言自语。“这些娘们,最大的毛病就是,一件小事也会唤醒某种老早忘得干干净净的感情,最大的优点呢,就是这种事绝对长不了。哈哈!那家伙为了一袋金币,对付那个孩子。”

费金先生边走边用这些令人愉快的回忆消磨时间。他趟过污水泥泞,回到自己那阴暗的老巢。机灵鬼还没有睡,正望眼欲穿地等他归来。

“奥立弗睡了没有,我有话跟他说。”这是他们刚下扶梯时他讲的第一句话。

“早睡了,”机灵鬼推开一道门,答道。“在这儿呢。”

奥立弗躺在地板上一张粗陋的床上,睡得很沉,焦虑、哀愁以及紧闭的铁窗,使他显得那样苍白,像是死过去了一般——这不是裹上尸衣,装进棺材的死者模样,而是生命刚刚逝去时的形象:幼小柔弱的灵魂飞往天国只一瞬间的功夫,尘世间龌龊的空气还来不及玷污这正在升华的圣体。

“现在不谈,”费金说着,轻轻地转身离去。”明天,明天。”