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The old man had gained the street corner, before he began to recover the effect of Toby Crackit's intelligence.

He had relaxed nothing of his unusual speed; but was still pressing onward, in the same wild and disordered manner, when the sudden dashing past of a carriage: and a boisterous cry from the foot passengers, who saw his danger:

drove him back upon the pavement.

Avoiding, as much as was possible, all the main streets, and skulking only through the by-ways and alleys, he at length emerged on Snow Hill.

Here he walked even faster than before; nor did he linger until he had again turned into a court; when, as if conscious that he was now in his proper element, he fell into his usual shuffling pace, and seemed to breathe more freely. Near to the spot on which Snow Hill and Holborn Hill meet, opens, upon the right hand as you come out of the City, a narrow and dismal alley, leading to Saffron Hill.

In its filthy shops are exposed for sale huge bunches of second-hand silk handkerchiefs, of all sizes and patterns; for here reside the traders who purchase them from pick-pockets.

Hundreds of these handkerchiefs hang dangling from pegs outside the windows or flaunting from the door-posts; and the shelves, within, are piled with them. Confined as the limits of Field Lane are, it has its barber, its coffee-shop, its beer-shop, and its fried-fish warehouse.

It is a commercial colony of itself:

the emporium of petty larceny: visited at early morning, and setting-in of dusk, by silent merchants, who traffic in dark back-parlours, and who go as strangely as they come.

Here, the clothesman, the shoe-vamper, and the rag-merchant, display their goods, as sign-boards to the petty thief; here, stores of old iron and bones, and heaps of mildewy fragments of woollen-stuff and linen, rust and rot in the grimy cellars. It was into this place that the Jew turned.

He was well known to the sallow denizens of the lane; for such of them as were on the look-out to buy or sell, nodded, familiarly, as he passed along. He replied to their salutations in the same way; but bestowed no closer recognition until he reached the further end of the alley; when he stopped, to address a salesman of small stature, who had squeezed as much of his person into a child's chair as the chair would hold, and was smoking a pipe at his warehouse door. 'Why, the sight of you, Mr. Fagin, would cure the hoptalmy!' said this respectable trader, in acknowledgment of the Jew's inquiry after his health. 'The neighbourhood was a little too hot, Lively,' said Fagin, elevating his eyebrows, and crossing his hands upon his shoulders. 'Well, I've heerd that complaint of it, once or twice before,' replied the trader; 'but it soon cools down again; don't you find it so?' Fagin nodded in the affirmative.

Pointing in the direction of Saffron Hill, he inquired whether any one was up yonder to-night. 'At the Cripples?' inquired the man. The Jew nodded. 'Let me see,' pursued the merchant, reflecting. 'Yes, there's some half-dozen of 'em gone in, that I knows. I don't think your friend's there.' 'Sikes is not, I suppose?' inquired the Jew, with a disappointed countenance. '_Non istwentus_, as the lawyers say,' replied the little man, shaking his head, and looking amazingly sly.

'Have you got anything in my line to-night?' 'Nothing to-night,' said the Jew, turning away. 'Are you going up to the Cripples, Fagin?' cried the little man, calling after him.

'Stop!

I don't mind if I have a drop there with you!' But as the Jew, looking back, waved his hand to intimate that he preferred being alone; and, moreover, as the little man could not very easily disengage himself from the chair; the sign of the Cripples was, for a time, bereft of the advantage of Mr. Lively's presence.

By the time he had got upon his legs, the Jew had disappeared; so Mr. Lively, after ineffectually standing on tiptoe, in the hope of catching sight of him, again forced himself into the little chair, and, exchanging a shake of the head with a lady in the opposite shop, in which doubt and mistrust were plainly mingled, resumed his pipe with a grave demeanour. The Three Cripples, or rather the Cripples; which was the sign by which the establishment was familiarly known to its patrons:

was the public-house in which Mr. Sikes and his dog have already figured.

Merely making a sign to a man at the bar, Fagin walked straight upstairs, and opening the door of a room, and softly insinuating himself into the chamber, looked anxiously about: shading his eyes with his hand, as if in search of some particular person. The room was illuminated by two gas-lights; the glare of which was prevented by the barred shutters, and closely-drawn curtains of faded red, from being visible outside.

The ceiling was blackened, to prevent its colour from being injured by the flaring of the lamps; and the place was so full of dense tobacco smoke, that at first it was scarcely possible to discern anything more.

By degrees, however, as some of it cleared away through the open door, an assemblage of heads, as confused as the noises that greeted the ear, might be made out; and as the eye grew more accustomed to the scene, the spectator gradually became aware of the presence of a numerous company, male and female, crowded round a long table: at the upper end of which, sat a chairman with a hammer of office in his hand; while a professional gentleman with a bluish nose, and his face tied up for the benefit of a toothache, presided at a jingling piano in a remote corner. As Fagin stepped softly in, the professional gentleman, running over the keys by way of prelude, occasioned a general cry of order for a song; which having subsided, a young lady proceeded to entertain the company with a ballad in four verses, between each of which the accompanyist played the melody all through, as loud as he could.

When this was over, the chairman gave a sentiment, after which, the professional gentleman on the chairman's right and left volunteered a duet, and sang it, with great applause. It was curious to observe some faces which stood out prominently from among the group.

There was the chairman himself, (the landlord of the house,) a coarse, rough, heavy built fellow, who, while the songs were proceeding, rolled his eyes hither and thither, and, seeming to give himself up to joviality, had an eye for everything that was done, and an ear for everything that was said--and sharp ones, too.

Near him were the singers: receiving, with professional indifference, the compliments of the company, and applying themselves, in turn, to a dozen proffered glasses of spirits and water, tendered by their more boisterous admirers; whose countenances, expressive of almost every vice in almost every grade, irresistibly attracted the attention, by their very repulsiveness.

Cunning, ferocity, and drunkeness in all its stages, were there, in their strongest aspect; and women: some with the last lingering tinge of their early freshness almost fading as you looked:

others with every mark and stamp of their sex utterly beaten out, and presenting but one loathsome blank of profligacy and crime; some mere girls, others but young women, and none past the prime of life; formed the darkest and saddest portion of this dreary picture. Fagin, troubled by no grave emotions, looked eagerly from face to face while these proceedings were in progress; but apparently without meeting that of which he was in search. Succeeding, at length, in catching the eye of the man who occupied the chair, he beckoned to him slightly, and left the room, as quietly as he had entered it. 'What can I do for you, Mr. Fagin?' inquired the man, as he followed him out to the landing.

'Won't you join us?

They'll be delighted, every one of 'em.' The Jew shook his head impatiently, and said in a whisper, 'Is _he_ here?' 'No,' replied the man. 'And no news of Barney?' inquired Fagin. 'None,' replied the landlord of the Cripples; for it was he. 'He won't stir till it's all safe.

Depend on it, they're on the scent down there; and that if he moved, he'd blow upon the thing at once.

He's all right enough, Barney is, else I should have heard of him.

I'll pound it, that Barney's managing properly. Let him alone for that.' 'Will _he_ be here to-night?' asked the Jew, laying the same emphasis on the pronoun as before. 'Monks, do you mean?' inquired the landlord, hesitating. 'Hush!' said the Jew.

'Yes.' 'Certain,' replied the man, drawing a gold watch from his fob; 'I expected him here before now.

If you'll wait ten minutes, he'll be--' 'No, no,' said the Jew, hastily; as though, however desirous he might be to see the person in question, he was nevertheless relieved by his absence.

'Tell him I came here to see him; and that he must come to me to-night.

No, say to-morrow.

As he is not here, to-morrow will be time enough.' 'Good!' said the man.

'Nothing more?' 'Not a word now,' said the Jew, descending the stairs. 'I say,' said the other, looking over the rails, and speaking in a hoarse whisper; 'what a time this would be for a sell!

I've got Phil Barker here: so drunk, that a boy might take him!' 'Ah!

But it's not Phil Barker's time,' said the Jew, looking up. 'Phil has something more to do, before we can afford to part with him; so go back to the company, my dear, and tell them to lead merry lives--_while they last_.

Ha! ha! ha!' The landlord reciprocated the old man's laugh; and returned to his guests.

The Jew was no sooner alone, than his countenance resumed its former expression of anxiety and thought.

After a brief reflection, he called a hack-cabriolet, and bade the man drive towards Bethnal Green. He dismissed him within some quarter of a mile of Mr. Sikes's residence, and performed the short remainder of the distance, on foot. 'Now,' muttered the Jew, as he knocked at the door, 'if there is any deep play here, I shall have it out of you, my girl, cunning as you are.' She was in her room, the woman said.

Fagin crept softly upstairs, and entered it without any previous ceremony.

The girl was alone; lying with her head upon the table, and her hair straggling over it. 'She has been drinking,' thought the Jew, cooly, 'or perhaps she is only miserable.' The old man turned to close the door, as he made this reflection; the noise thus occasioned, roused the girl.

She eyed his crafty face narrowly, as she inquired to his recital of Toby Crackit's story.

When it was concluded, she sank into her former attitude, but spoke not a word.

She pushed the candle impatiently away; and once or twice as she feverishly changed her position, shuffled her feet upon the ground; but this was all. During the silence, the Jew looked restlessly about the room, as if to assure himself that there were no appearances of Sikes having covertly returned.

Apparently satisfied with his inspection, he coughed twice or thrice, and made as many efforts to open a conversation; but the girl heeded him no more than if he had been made of stone.

At length he made another attempt; and rubbing his hands together, said, in his most conciliatory tone, 'And where should you think Bill was now, my dear?' The girl moaned out some half intelligible reply, that she could not tell; and seemed, from the smothered noise that escaped her, to be crying. 'And the boy, too,' said the Jew, straining his eyes to catch a glimpse of her face.

'Poor leetle child!

Left in a ditch, Nance; only think!' 'The child,' said the girl, suddenly looking up, 'is better where he is, than among us; and if no harm comes to Bill from it, I hope he lies dead in the ditch and that his young bones may rot there.' 'What!' cried the Jew, in amazement. 'Ay, I do,' returned the girl, meeting his gaze.

'I shall be glad to have him away from my eyes, and to know that the worst is over.

I can't bear to have him about me.

The sight of him turns me against myself, and all of you.' 'Pooh!' said the Jew, scornfully.

'You're drunk.' 'Am I?' cried the girl bitterly.

'It's no fault of yours, if I am not!

You'd never have me anything else, if you had your will, except now;--the humour doesn't suit you, doesn't it?' 'No!' rejoined the Jew, furiously.

'It does not.' 'Change it, then!' responded the girl, with a laugh. 'Change it!' exclaimed the Jew, exasperated beyond all bounds by his companion's unexpected obstinacy, and the vexation of the night, 'I _will_ change it!

Listen to me, you drab.

Listen to me, who with six words, can strangle Sikes as surely as if I had his bull's throat between my fingers now.

If he comes back, and leaves the boy behind him; if he gets off free, and dead or alive, fails to restore him to me; murder him yourself if you would have him escape Jack Ketch.

And do it the moment he sets foot in this room, or mind me, it will be too late!' 'What is all this?' cried the girl involuntarily. 'What is it?' pursued Fagin, mad with rage.

'When the boy's worth hundreds of pounds to me, am I to lose what chance threw me in the way of getting safely, through the whims of a drunken gang that I could whistle away the lives of!

And me bound, too, to a born devil that only wants the will, and has the power to, to--' Panting for breath, the old man stammered for a word; and in that instant checked the torrent of his wrath, and changed his whole demeanour.

A moment before, his clenched hands had grasped the air; his eyes had dilated; and his face grown livid with passion; but now, he shrunk into a chair, and, cowering together, trembled with the apprehension of having himself disclosed some hidden villainy.

After a short silence, he ventured to look round at his companion.

He appeared somewhat reassured, on beholding her in the same listless attitude from which he had first roused her. 'Nancy, dear!' croaked the Jew, in his usual voice.

'Did you mind me, dear?' 'Don't worry me now, Fagin!' replied the girl, raising her head languidly.

'If Bill has not done it this time, he will another. He has done many a good job for you, and will do many more when he can; and when he can't he won't; so no more about that.' 'Regarding this boy, my dear?' said the Jew, rubbing the palms of his hands nervously together. 'The boy must take his chance with the rest,' interrupted Nancy, hastily; 'and I say again, I hope he is dead, and out of harm's way, and out of yours,--that is, if Bill comes to no harm.

And if Toby got clear off, Bill's pretty sure to be safe; for Bill's worth two of Toby any time.' 'And about what I was saying, my dear?' observed the Jew, keeping his glistening eye steadily upon her. 'Your must say it all over again, if it's anything you want me to do,' rejoined Nancy; 'and if it is, you had better wait till to-morrow.

You put me up for a minute; but now I'm stupid again.' Fagin put several other questions: all with the same drift of ascertaining whether the girl had profited by his unguarded hints; but, she answered them so readily, and was withal so utterly unmoved by his searching looks, that his original impression of her being more than a trifle in liquor, was confirmed.

Nancy, indeed, was not exempt from a failing which was very common among the Jew's female pupils; and in which, in their tenderer years, they were rather encouraged than checked. Her disordered appearance, and a wholesale perfume of Geneva which pervaded the apartment, afforded strong confirmatory evidence of the justice of the Jew's supposition; and when, after indulging in the temporary display of violence above described, she subsided, first into dullness, and afterwards into a compound of feelings: under the influence of which she shed tears one minute, and in the next gave utterance to various exclamations of 'Never say die!' and divers calculations as to what might be the amount of the odds so long as a lady or gentleman was happy, Mr. Fagin, who had had considerable experience of such matters in his time, saw, with great satisfaction, that she was very far gone indeed. Having eased his mind by this discovery; and having accomplished his twofold object of imparting to the girl what he had, that night, heard, and of ascertaining, with his own eyes, that Sikes had not returned, Mr. Fagin again turned his face homeward: leaving his young friend asleep, with her head upon the table. It was within an hour of midnight.

The weather being dark, and piercing cold, he had no great temptation to loiter.

The sharp wind that scoured the streets, seemed to have cleared them of passengers, as of dust and mud, for few people were abroad, and they were to all appearance hastening fast home. It blew from the right quarter for the Jew, however, and straight before it he went: trembling, and shivering, as every fresh gust drove him rudely on his way. He had reached the corner of his own street, and was already fumbling in his pocket for the door-key, when a dark figure emerged from a projecting entrance which lay in deep shadow, and, crossing the road, glided up to him unperceived. 'Fagin!' whispered a voice close to his ear. 'Ah!' said the Jew, turning quickly round, 'is that--' 'Yes!' interrupted the stranger.

'I have been lingering here these two hours.

Where the devil have you been?' 'On your business, my dear,' replied the Jew, glancing uneasily at his companion, and slackening his pace as he spoke.

'On your business all night.' 'Oh, of course!' said the stranger, with a sneer.

'Well; and what's come of it?' 'Nothing good,' said the Jew. 'Nothing bad, I hope?' said the stranger, stopping short, and turning a startled look on his companion. The Jew shook his head, and was about to reply, when the stranger, interrupting him, motioned to the house, before which they had by this time arrived:

remarking, that he had better say what he had got to say, under cover:

for his blood was chilled with standing about so long, and the wind blew through him. Fagin looked as if he could have willingly excused himself from taking home a visitor at that unseasonable hour; and, indeed, muttered something about having no fire; but his companion repeating his request in a peremptory manner, he unlocked the door, and requested him to close it softly, while he got a light. 'It's as dark as the grave,' said the man, groping forward a few steps.

'Make haste!' 'Shut the door,' whispered Fagin from the end of the passage. As he spoke, it closed with a loud noise. 'That wasn't my doing,' said the other man, feeling his way. 'The wind blew it to, or it shut of its own accord: one or the other. Look sharp with the light, or I shall knock my brains out against something in this confounded hole.' Fagin stealthily descended the kitchen stairs.

After a short absence, he returned with a lighted candle, and the intelligence that Toby Crackit was asleep in the back room below, and that the boys were in the front one.

Beckoning the man to follow him, he led the way upstairs. 'We can say the few words we've got to say in here, my dear,' said the Jew, throwing open a door on the first floor; 'and as there are holes in the shutters, and we never show lights to our neighbours, we'll set the candle on the stairs.

There!' With those words, the Jew, stooping down, placed the candle on an upper flight of stairs, exactly opposite to the room door.

This done, he led the way into the apartment; which was destitute of all movables save a broken arm-chair, and an old couch or sofa without covering, which stood behind the door.

Upon this piece of furniture, the stranger sat himself with the air of a weary man; and the Jew, drawing up the arm-chair opposite, they sat face to face.

It was not quite dark; the door was partially open; and the candle outside, threw a feeble reflection on the opposite wall. They conversed for some time in whispers.

Though nothing of the conversation was distinguishable beyond a few disjointed words here and there, a listener might easily have perceived that Fagin appeared to be defending himself against some remarks of the stranger; and that the latter was in a state of considerable irritation.

They might have been talking, thus, for a quarter of an hour or more, when Monks--by which name the Jew had designated the strange man several times in the course of their colloquy--said, raising his voice a little, 'I tell you again, it was badly planned.

Why not have kept him here among the rest, and made a sneaking, snivelling pickpocket of him at once?' 'Only hear him!' exclaimed the Jew, shrugging his shoulders. 'Why, do you mean to say you couldn't have done it, if you had chosen?' demanded Monks, sternly.

'Haven't you done it, with other boys, scores of times?

If you had had patience for a twelvemonth, at most, couldn't you have got him convicted, and sent safely out of the kingdom; perhaps for life?' 'Whose turn would that have served, my dear?' inquired the Jew humbly. 'Mine,' replied Monks. 'But not mine,' said the Jew, submissively.

'He might have become of use to me.

When there are two parties to a bargain, it is only reasonable that the interests of both should be consulted; is it, my good friend?' 'What then?' demanded Monks. 'I saw it was not easy to train him to the business,' replied the Jew; 'he was not like other boys in the same circumstances.' 'Curse him, no!' muttered the man, 'or he would have been a thief, long ago.' 'I had no hold upon him to make him worse,' pursued the Jew, anxiously watching the countenance of his companion.

'His hand was not in.

I had nothing to frighten him with; which we always must have in the beginning, or we labour in vain.

What could I do?

Send him out with the Dodger and Charley?

We had enough of that, at first, my dear; I trembled for us all.' '_That_ was not my doing,' observed Monks. 'No, no, my dear!' renewed the Jew.

'And I don't quarrel with it now; because, if it had never happened, you might never have clapped eyes on the boy to notice him, and so led to the discovery that it was him you were looking for.

Well!

I got him back for you by means of the girl; and then _she_ begins to favour him.' 'Throttle the girl!' said Monks, impatiently. 'Why, we can't afford to do that just now, my dear,' replied the Jew, smiling; 'and, besides, that sort of thing is not in our way; or, one of these days, I might be glad to have it done.

I know what these girls are, Monks, well.

As soon as the boy begins to harden, she'll care no more for him, than for a block of wood.

You want him made a thief.

If he is alive, I can make him one from this time; and, if--if--' said the Jew, drawing nearer to the other,--'it's not likely, mind,--but if the worst comes to the worst, and he is dead--' 'It's no fault of mine if he is!' interposed the other man, with a look of terror, and clasping the Jew's arm with trembling hands.

'Mind that.

Fagin!

I had no hand in it.

Anything but his death, I told you from the first.

I won't shed blood; it's always found out, and haunts a man besides.

If they shot him dead, I was not the cause; do you hear me?

Fire this infernal den!

What's that?' 'What!' cried the Jew, grasping the coward round the body, with both arms, as he sprung to his feet.

'Where?' 'Yonder! replied the man, glaring at the opposite wall.

'The shadow!

I saw the shadow of a woman, in a cloak and bonnet, pass along the wainscot like a breath!' The Jew released his hold, and they rushed tumultuously from the room.

The candle, wasted by the draught, was standing where it had been placed.

It showed them only the empty staircase, and their own white faces.

They listened intently:

a profound silence reigned throughout the house. 'It's your fancy,' said the Jew, taking up the light and turning to his companion. 'I'll swear I saw it!' replied Monks, trembling.

'It was bending forward when I saw it first; and when I spoke, it darted away.' The Jew glanced contemptuously at the pale face of his associate, and, telling him he could follow, if he pleased, ascended the stairs.

They looked into all the rooms; they were cold, bare, and empty.

They descended into the passage, and thence into the cellars below.

The green damp hung upon the low walls; the tracks of the snail and slug glistened in the light of the candle; but all was still as death. 'What do you think now?' said the Jew, when they had regained the passage.

'Besides ourselves, there's not a creature in the house except Toby and the boys; and they're safe enough. See here!' As a proof of the fact, the Jew drew forth two keys from his pocket; and explained, that when he first went downstairs, he had locked them in, to prevent any intrusion on the conference. This accumulated testimony effectually staggered Mr. Monks. His protestations had gradually become less and less vehement as they proceeded in their search without making any discovery; and, now, he gave vent to several very grim laughs, and confessed it could only have been his excited imagination.

He declined any renewal of the conversation, however, for that night:

suddenly remembering that it was past one o'clock.

And so the amiable couple parted.



 

(在这一章里,一个神秘的角色登场了,还发生了许多与这部传记不可分割的事情。)

费金老头一直跑到街角,才开始从托比·格拉基特带来的消息造成的影响中回过神来。他丝毫也没有放慢自己异乎寻常的脚步,仍然疯疯癫癫地向前跑去。突然,一辆马车从他身边疾驶而过,行人见他险些葬身车底都不约而同地大叫起来,他这才吓得回到人行道上。老犹太尽量绕开繁华街道,躲躲闪闪地溜过一条条小路狭巷,最后来到了斯诺山。到了这里,他的步子迈得更快了,他毫不拖延,又折进了一条短巷。直到这时,他好像才意识到已经进入了自己的地盘,便又恢复了平日那副懒洋洋的步态,呼吸似乎也比较自由了。

在斯诺山与霍尔本山相交的地方,就是从伦敦老城出来往右边走,有一条狭窄阴暗的巷子通往红花山。巷内好几家肮脏的铺子里都摆着一扎扎种类齐全、花色繁多的旧丝手绢,从小偷手里收购这些东西的商贩就住在铺子里。千百条手中在窗外的竹钉上晃来晃去,或者在门柱上迎风招展,货架上也放满了手巾。这里虽说和菲尔胡同一样狭窄闭塞,却也有自己的理发店、咖啡馆、啤酒店和卖煎鱼的小店。这是一个自成体系的商业区,小偷小摸的销赃市场。从清晨到黄昏来临,都有一些沉默寡言的商贩在这一带逛游,他们在黑黝黝的后厢房里洽谈生意,离去时也和来的时候一样神秘莫测。在这里,裁缝、鞋匠、收破烂的都把各自的货物摆出来,这对小偷来说无异于广告牌。污秽的地窖里囤积着废旧铁器、骨制品、成堆的毛麻织品的边角零料,散发着霉臭味,正在生锈腐烂。

费金老头儿正是拐进了这个地方。他跟胡同里那些面黄肌瘦的住户十分熟识,走过去的时候,好些正在店铺门口做买卖的人都亲热地向他点头致意,他也同样点头回礼,只此而已,没有多的话。他一直走到这条胡同的尽头才停住脚步,跟一个身材瘦小的店家打招呼,那人硬挤在一把儿童座椅里,正坐在店门日抽烟斗。

“嗳,只要一看到你,费金先生,瞎子也能开眼。”这位可敬的买卖人说着,对老犹太向自己请安表示感谢。

“这一带也太热了点,莱渥里。”费金扬起眉毛,双手交叉搭在胳臂上,说道。

“是啊,我听说过这种牢骚,有一两次了,”老板回答,“不过很快就会凉下来的,你没发觉是这么回事?”

费金赞同地点了一下头,指着红花山方向问,今晚有没有人上那边去。

“你说的是瘸子酒店?”那人问道。

老犹太点了点头。

“我想想,”老板想了一会儿,接着说道,“有的,总有六七个人上那儿去了,据我所知。你朋友好像不在那儿。”

“没看见赛克斯,是吗?”老犹太带着一脸的失望问道。

“用律师的说法,并未在场,”小个子摇摇头,说了一句蹩脚的拉丁语,样子十分阴险。“今晚你有什么货要给我?”

“今晚没有。”老犹太说罢转身走了。

“费金,你是不是上瘤子店去?”小个子在后边叫他,“等一等。就算在那儿陪你喝两盅也行。”

老犹太只是扭头看了一眼,挥了挥手,表示自己情愿一个人去,再说了,那小个子要从椅子上挣脱出来也确实不容易,所以这一次瘸子酒店就失去了莱握里先生会同前往的荣幸。当他好不容易站立起来时,老犹太已经消失了。莱渥里先生踞起脚尖,满心以为还能看见他的人影,可希望落空了。他只得又把身子挤进小椅子里,跟对面铺子里一位太太彼此点头致意,其中显然搀和着种种猜疑和不信任,然后又派头十足地叼起了烟斗。

三瘸子,是一家酒店的招牌,一班常客习惯上管它叫瘸子店,赛克斯先生和他的狗已经在这家酒店露过面。费金跟酒吧里的一个男人打了个手势,就照直上楼,打开一扇房门,悄悄溜了进去。他用一只手挡住亮光,焦急地向四周看了看,看样子是在找人。

屋子卫点着两盏煤气灯,窗板紧闭,褪色的红窗帘拉得严严实实,不透一点光。天花板漆成了黑色,反正别的颜色也会被烛火熏黑的。室内浓烟滚滚,乍一进去,简直什么东西也分辨不出来。不过渐渐地,部分烟雾从打开的门口散出去,可以看出屋子里是一大片和涌进耳朵的噪音一样乱糟糟的脑袋。随着眼睛逐渐适应环境,旁观者看得出室内来客众多,男男女女挤在一条长桌的周围,桌子上首坐着手拿司令锤的主席,一位鼻子发青,脸部因牙疼而包扎起来的专业人士坐在室内一角,正叮叮咚咚地弹奏着一架钢琴。

费金轻手轻脚地走进去,那位专业人士的手指以弹奏序曲的方式,飞快地滑过键盘,结果引来了要求点歌的普遍呼声。鼓噪停息之后,一位小姐为大家献上了一支有四段歌同的民谣,在每一节之间,伴奏的人都要把这支曲子从头弹一遍,他使出浑身解数,弹得震天价响。一曲唱罢,上席发表了一通感受,随后,坐在主席左右的两位专业人士又自告奋勇唱了一首二重唱,赢得一片喝彩。

真正有意思的还在于观察一下某些超群出众的面孔。主席本人(也是店主)是一个粗俗暴躁、膀大腰圆的家伙,演唱进行的时候,他一双眼睛滴溜溜地转个不停,像是陶醉在欢乐之中似的,他一只眼观察着发生的一切,一只耳朵聆听着人们议论的每一件事——两者都很敏锐。他身边的歌手个个面带职业上的淡漠,接受大家的赞誉,把越来越喧闹的崇拜者献上的十来杯掺水烈酒喝下去。这些崇拜者脸上流露出的邪恶表情几乎可以说应有尽有,而且几乎是每一个阶段的都有,正是他们脸上这种可憎可恶的表情让人非看一眼不可。他们脸上的奸诈、凶恶和不同程度的醉态都表现得淋漓尽致。女人——有几个女人还保留着最后一丝若有若无的青春气息,几乎眼看就要褪去。另外一些女人已经丧失了作为女性所具有的一切特征和痕迹,展现出来的不过是淫乱和犯罪留下的一具令人恶心的空壳,有几个还仅仅是姑娘,其余的是些少妇,都还没有度过生命的黄金时代 ——构成了这幅可怕的画面上最阴暗最凄凉的部分。

费金感到烦恼的并不是什么高尚的感情,当这一切正在进行的时候,他急切地顺着一张张面孔看过去,但显然没有看见要找的那个人。接着,他终于捕捉到了坐在主席位子上的那个人的目光,便微微向他招了招手,跟进来时一样无声无息地离开了房间。

“有什么事要我效劳吗,费金先生?”那人尾随着来到楼梯口,问道。“你不跟大伙一块儿乐乐?他们一定高兴,个个都会很高兴。”

费金烦躁地摇了摇头,低声悦:“他在这儿吗?”

“不在。”那人回答

“也没有巴尼的消息?”费金问。

“没有,”那人答道,他正是瘸子店老板,“非等到平安无事了,他不会出来活动。我敢肯定,那边查到线索了,只要他动一动,立刻就会把这档子事搞砸了。他一点没事,巴尼也是,要不我也该听到他的消息了。我敢打赌,巴尼会办得稳稳当当的。那事就交给他了。”

“他今天晚上会来这儿吗?”老犹太和先前一样,把这个“他”字说得特别重。

“孟可司,你是指?”老板迟疑地问。

“嘘!”老犹太说,“是啊。”

“肯定会来,”老板从表袋里掏出一块金表。“刚才我还以为他在这儿呢,你只要等十分钟,他准——”

“不,不,”老犹太连声说道,他好像尽管很想见一见此人,又因为他不在而感到庆幸。“你告诉他,我来这儿找过他,叫他今天晚上一定到我那儿去。不,就说明天。既然他没在,那就明天好了。”

“好吧。”那人说,“没别的事了?”

“眼下没什么要说的了。”老犹太说着往楼下走去。

“我说,”对方从扶手上探出头来,沙哑地低声说道,“现在做买卖正是时候。我把菲尔·巴克弄这儿来了,喝得个醉,连一个毛孩子都能收拾他。”

“啊哈!现在可不是收拾菲尔·巴克的时候,”老犹太抬起头来,说道,“菲尔还有些事要做,然后我们才会和他分手。招呼客人去吧,亲爱的,告诉他们好好乐一乐——趁他们还活着。哈哈哈!”

老板跟着老头儿打了个哈哈,回客人那边去了。左右无人,费金脸上立刻恢复了先前那副忧心忡忡的表情。他沉思了一会儿;叫了一辆出租马车,吩咐车夫开到贝丝勒尔草地去。他在离赛克斯先生的公馆还有几百码的地方下了马车,徒步走完余下的一小段路。

“哼,”老犹太嘟嘟哝哝地敲了敲门。“要是这里头有什么鬼把戏的话,我也要从你这儿弄个明白,我的小妞,随你怎么机灵。”

开门的女人说南希在房间里。费金蹑手蹑脚地走上楼,连问也没有问一声就走了进去。姑娘独自一人,蓬头散发地伏在桌子上。

“她在喝酒,”老犹太冷漠地思忖着,“也许是有什么伤心事。”

老头儿这样思忖着,转身关上房门,这声音一下子把南希姑娘惊醒了。她紧紧盯住费金那张精明的面孔,问有没有什么消息,又听他把托比·格拉基特说的情况细细讲了一遍。事情讲完了,她一句话也没说,又像刚才那样趴在桌上,一言不发。她烦躁地把蜡烛推到一边,有一两次,她神经质地换一下姿势,双脚沙沙地在地上蹭来蹭去,不过,也就是如此了。

趁着彼此无话可说的功夫,老犹太的目光忐忑不安地在屋子里扫了一圈,好像是要证实一下房间里的确没有赛克斯已经偷偷溜回来的任何迹象。这一番巡视显然使他感到满意,他咳嗽了三两声,千方百计地想打开话题,可姑娘根本不理他,只当他是个石头人。末了,他又作了一次尝试,搓了搓手,用最婉转的口气说:

“你也该想想,眼下比尔在什么地方,是吗,亲爱的?”

姑娘呻吟着,作出了某种只能听懂一半的答复,她说不上来,从她发出这种压抑的声音来看,她像是快哭出来了。

“还有那个孩子,”老犹太瞪大眼睛,看了看她的表情。“可怜的小娃娃。丢在水沟里,南希,你想想看。”

“那个孩子,”南希突然抬起头来,说道,“在哪儿也比在我们中间好。只要这事没有连累比尔,我巴不得他就躺在水沟里死掉,嫩生生的骨头烂在那儿。”

“哦!”老犹太大吃一惊,喊道。

“嗳,就是这样,”姑娘迎着他那直愣愣的目光,回答说。“要是从此以后再也见不到他,知道最糟糕的事情过去了,我才高兴呢。有他在身边真叫我受不了。一看见他,我就恨我自己,也恨你们所有的人。”

“呸!”老犹太轻蔑地说,“你喝醉了。”

“我醉了?”姑娘伤心地叫道,“可惜我没醉,这不是你的错。依着你的心思,你巴不得我一辈子不清醒,除了现在——怎么样,这种脾气你不喜欢?”

“是啊。”老犹太大怒,“不喜欢。”

“那就改改我的脾气啊。”姑娘回了一句,随即放声大笑。

“改改!”费金大叫起来,同伙这种出乎意料的顽固,加上这天夜里遇到的不顺心的事,终于使他忍无可忍。“我是要改改你的脾气。听着,你这个奥婊子。你给我听着,我现在只需要三言两语,就可以要赛克斯的命,跟我用手掐住他的牛脖子一样稳当。他要是回来了,把那孩子给撂在后头——他要是滑过去了,却不把那孩子交还我,不管是死是活——你如果不想让他碰上杰克·开琪①的话,就亲手杀了他。他一跨进这间屋子你就动手,不然你可要当心我,时间会来不及的。”

①英国历史上以残忍著称的刽子手(一六六三?——一六八六)。这里泛指刽子手。

“这都说了些什么?”姑娘不禁叫了起来。

“什么?”费金快气疯了,继续说道,“那孩子对于我价值成百上千英镑,运气来了,我可以稳稳当当得到这么大一笔钱,就因为一帮我打一声口哨就能叫他们送命的醉鬼精神失常,倒要我失去该我得到的东西吗?再说,我跟一个天生的魔鬼有约,那家伙就缺这份心,可有的是力气去,去——”’

老头儿气喘吁吁,说到这里叫一个词卡住了,在这一瞬间,他突然打住了怒火的宣泄,整个样子都变了。他那蜷曲的双手刚才还在空中乱抓,两眼瞪得滚圆,脸上因激怒而发青,可这会儿,他在椅子里蜷作一团,浑身直哆嗦,生怕自己暴露内心的奸诈。他沉默了一会儿,大着胆子扭头看了看同伴,见她依然和刚才醒来时一样无精打采,又多少显得放心了。

“南希,亲爱的,”老犹太用平时的口气,哭丧着说,“你不见怪吧,亲爱的?”

“你别再烦我,费金。”姑娘缓慢地抬起头来,答道,“要是比尔这一次没有得手的话,他还会干的。他已经替你捞到不少好处,只要办得到,还会捞到很多很多,办不到就没法子了,所以你就别提了。”

“那个孩子呢,亲爱的?”老犹太神经质地连连擦着掌心。

“那孩子只好跟别人去碰碰运气了,”南希赶紧打断他的话,“我再说一遍,我已不得他死,他就不会再受伤害,脱离你们这一伙——就是说,如果比尔没事的话。既然托比都溜掉了;比尔肯定出不了事,比尔再怎么着也顶他托比两个。”

“我说的事怎么办,亲爱的?”老犹太目光灼灼地盯着她,说道。

“你如果要我做什么事,你得从头再说一遍,”南希回答,“真要是这样,你最好还是明天再说。你刚折腾一阵,现在我又有点糊涂了。”

费金又提出了另外几个问题,一个个都带着同样的含意,一心想要弄清这姑娘是不是已经听出他刚才脱口说出的暗示,然而她回答得干干脆脆,在他的逼视下又显得极其冷漠,他最初的想法看来是对的,她大不了多喝了两杯。的的确确,老犹太的一班女弟子都有一个普遍的缺点,南希也不例外,这个缺点在她们年龄较小的时候受到的鼓励多于制止。她那蓬头垢面的样子和满屋浓烈的酒气,为老犹太的推测提供了有力的证据。她当时先是像前边描述的那样发作一气,接着便沉浸在抑郁之中,随后又显出百感交集、无以自拔的样子,刚刚还在垂泪,转眼间又发出各种各样的喊声,诸如“千万别说死啊”什么的,还作出种种推测,说是只要太太、先生们快活逍遥,什么事也不打紧。费金先生对这类事一向很有经验,见她果真到了这种地步,真有说不出的满意。

这一发现使费金先生安心了。他此行有两个目的,一是把当天夜里听到的消息通知南希,二是亲眼核实一下赛克斯还没有回来,现在两个目的都已经达到,便动身回家,丢下自己的年轻同伙,由她伏在桌子上打瞌睡。

这时已经是午夜时分。天色漆黑,严寒刺骨,他实在没有心情闲逛。寒风掠过街道,似乎想把稀稀落落的几个行人当作尘土、垃圾一样清扫掉,行人看得出都在急急忙忙赶着回家。不过,对于老犹太来说倒是一路顺风,强劲的阵风每次粗暴地推他一把,他都要哆嗦一阵。

他走到自己住的这条街的转角上,正胡乱地在口袋里摸大门钥匙,这时一个黑影从马路对面一个黑洞洞的门廊里窜出来,神不知鬼不觉地溜到他身边。

“费金。”一个声音贴近他耳边低声说道。

“啊。”老犹太旋即转过头来,说道。“你是——”

“是的。”陌生人打断了他的话。“我在这儿转悠了足有两个小时,你到什么鬼地方去了?”

“为你的事,我亲爱的,”老犹太顾虑重重地瞟了伙伴一眼,说话间放慢了步子。“一个晚上都是为了你的事。”

“哦,那还用说。”陌生人嘲弄地说了一句。“好啊,情况如何?”

“情况不好。”老犹太说。

“情况不坏吧,我想?”陌生人骤然停了下来,看了看对方,神色也很惊慌。

老犹太摇摇头,刚打算回答,陌生人要他打住,这时两人已经来到费金的门前,陌生人指着大门说,有什么事最好还是进屋去说,自己在附近站了那么久,饱受风寒,连血都冻僵了。

费金面带难色,似乎很想推托,深更半夜的,自己不便把生人带到家里。果不其然,费金咕咕哝哝地说了一通,屋里没有生火什么的,可是同伴却专横地重申自己的要求,他只得打开门,要同伴进来之后轻轻把门关上,自己去取个亮。

“这儿黑得跟坟墓一样,”那人摸索着朝前走了几步。“快一点。”

“把门关上。”费金从过道尽头小声地说。话音未落,门发出一声巨响关上了。

“这可没我的分,”另一位一边辨方向,一边说。“是风刮过去的,要不就是它自个儿关上的。快把亮拿过来,不然我会在这该死的地洞里撞个脑袋开花的。”

费金摸黑走下厨房楼梯,稍停又擎着一支点亮的蜡烛走上来,还带  来了消息,托比·格拉基特已经在楼下里间睡着了,几个少年在前边一间,也都睡了。他招招手要陌生人跟上,自己领路往楼上走去。

“在这儿我们可以有什么说什么,亲爱的,”老犹太推开二楼上的一道门,说道。“百叶窗有几个窟窿,我们把蜡烛搁在楼梯上,隔壁绝对看不到亮,喏。”

老犹太嘴里念叨看弯下腰,把蜡烛放在上边一段楼梯上,正对房    门后放看一张没有椅罩的躺椅或者沙发,除此以外,没有一样能搬走的

东西。陌生人在躺椅上坐下来,一副精疲力竭的样子。老犹太把扶手椅拖过来,两个人对面而坐。这里不算太黑,房门半开着,外边那盏蜡烛把一束激光投射到对而墙上。

他们压低嗓门谈了一阵。除了偶尔几个断断续续的字眼,谈话的内容一点也听不清,尽管如此,听众还是不难听出费金似乎正在就同伴的某些言词替自己辩护,而后者相当烦躁。他们就这样嘀咕了一刻钟,或许稍多一点,孟可司——老犹太在谈话过程中几次用这个名字来称呼陌生人——略略提高嗓门说道:

“我再跟你说一遍,这事安排得糟透了。干吗不让他和另外几个呆在一块儿,把他训练成一个偷偷摸摸的鼻涕虫扒手不就结了?”

“哪有这么简单哩!”老犹太耸了耸肩,喊道。

“哦,你是说你就是有法子也办不到,是不是?”孟可司板着面孔,问道。“你在别的小子身上不是于过好几十次了吗?只要你有耐心,顶多一年,不就可以让他给判个刑,稳稳当当地送出英国,说不定还是一去不回,是不是?”

“这事好处归谁,亲爱的?”老犹太谦卑地问。

“我啊。”孟可司回答。

“又不是我,”老犹太谈吐间显得十分恭顺。“他本来对我有用。一桩买卖两方都要做,那就得照顾两方面的利益才对,是不是,我亲爱的朋友?”

“那又怎么着?”孟可司问。

“我发觉要训练他干这一行还挺费事,”老犹太答道,“他不像别的处境相同的小子。”

“见他的鬼去,是不一样。”那人咕噜着,“不然老早就成小偷了。”

“我抓不到把柄,叫他变坏,”老犹太焦急地注视着同伴的脸色,继续说道。“他还没沾过手,能吓唬他的东西我一样也没有,刚开头的时候,我们横竖得有点什么,要不就是白费劲。我能怎么样?派他跟机灵电和查理一块儿出去?一出门就叫我们吃不消,亲爱的。为了我们大家,我真是提心吊胆。”

“这不关我的事。”孟可司说道。

“是啊,是啊,亲爱的。”老犹太故态复萌。“眼下我不是争论这件事。因为,假如压根就没有这回事,你根本不会注意到他,到后来你又发觉正想找的就是他。嗨,靠着那姑娘,我替你把他弄回来了,再往后她就宠上他啦。”

“勒死那姑娘。”孟可司心急火燎地说。

“嗨,眼下我们还不能那么干,我亲爱的,”老犹太微笑着答道。“再说了,那种事不是我们的本行,或者没准哪一天,我会巴不得找人给办了。这些小妞的底细,孟可司,我心里有数。一旦那孩子横下心来,她的关心不会比对一块木头多到哪儿去。你想叫他当小偷,只要他还活着,我就能让他从今以后干这一行。如果——如果 ——”老犹太朝对方身边凑过去——“这倒也不大可能,你听着——但万一发生最糟糕的情况,他死掉了——”

“那不是我的错。”另一位惊恐万状地插了进来,双手颤抖地扣住费金的肩膀。“听着,费金。这事我可没插手,从一开始我就告诉你了,什么事都可以,只是不能让他死,我不想看见流血,这种事迟早会暴露,还会搅得人老是鬼缠身。如果他们开枪打死了他,责任绝不在我。你听见没有?快放把火烧掉这鬼地方。那是什么?”

“什么?”老犹太也惊叫一声,伸手将吓得跳起来的胆小鬼拦腰抱住。“在哪儿?”

“那边。”孟可司朝对面墙上瞪了一眼。“那个人影。我看见一个女人的影子,裹着披风,戴了顶软帽,一阵风似地贴着护墙板溜过去。”

老犹太松开手臂,两人慌忙从屋里奔出去。蜡烛还立在原来的地方,穿堂风已经刮得它一片狼藉,烛光照出的只有空荡荡的楼梯和他俩惨白的面孔。他们凝神听了一下,整个房子笼罩在一片死寂之中。

“那是你的幻觉。”老犹太说着从地上端起蜡烛,伸到同伴面前。

“我可以发誓,我看得清清楚楚。”孟可司哆哆嗦嗦地答道。“我第一眼看见的时候,那个影子正向前弓着身子,我一开口,它就跑开了。”

老犹太轻蔑地向同伴那张吓得发青的面孔扫了一眼,说了声只要他乐意,可以跟着自己去看一下,便朝楼上走去。他们一个房间一个房间看过去,屋子里空空如也,冷得出奇。他们下到走廊里,随后又走进地下室。淡青色的潮气垂附在矮墙上边,蜗牛、鼻涕虫爬过的痕迹在烛光映照下闪闪发亮,然而一切都死一般地沉寂。

“你现在认为如何?”他们又回到走廊里,老犹太说道。“我们俩不算,这屋里除了托比和那班小鬼,一个人也没有,他们也够安分的。你瞧。”

老犹太从衣袋里掏出两把钥匙作为凭证,解释说,他第一次下楼的功夫就把门锁上了,为的是谈话绝对不受干扰。

孟可司先生面对这一新添的证据顿时犹豫起来。两人又继续进行了一番毫无结果的搜索,他的抗议渐渐变得不那么激昂了,接着他发出几声狞笑,承认那可能只是自己冲动之下产生的想像罢了,不过当天夜里他再也不愿意换个话题继续说下去,因为他猛然想起这时已经一点多了,于是这一对亲密朋友便分手了。