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Chapter 16

WITH my head full of George Barnwell, I was at first disposed to believe that I must have had some hand in the attack upon my sister, or at all events that as her near relation, popularly known to be under obligations to her, I was a more legitimate object of suspicion than any one else. But when, in the clearer light of next morning, I began to reconsider the matter and to hear it discussed around me on all sides, I took another view of the case, which was more reasonable.
Joe had been at the Three Jolly Bargemen, smoking his pipe, from a quarter after eight o'clock to a quarter before ten. While he was there, my sister had been seen standing at the kitchen door, and had exchanged Good Night with a farm-labourer going home. The man could not be more particular as to the time at which he saw her (he got into dense confusion when he tried to be), than that it must have been before nine. When Joe went home at five minutes before ten, he found her struck down on the floor, and promptly called in assistance. The fire had not then burnt unusually low, nor was the snuff of the candle very long; the candle, however, had been blown out.

Nothing had been taken away from any part of the house. Neither, beyond the blowing out of the candle - which stood on a table between the door and my sister, and was behind her when she stood facing the fire and was struck - was there any disarrangement of the kitchen, excepting such as she herself had made, in falling and bleeding. But, there was one remarkable piece of evidence on the spot. She had been struck with something blunt and heavy, on the head and spine; after the blows were dealt, something heavy had been thrown down at her with considerable violence, as she lay on her face. And on the ground beside her, when Joe picked her up, was a convict's leg-iron which had been filed asunder.

Now, Joe, examining this iron with a smith's eye, declared it to have been filed asunder some time ago. The hue and cry going off to the Hulks, and people coming thence to examine the iron, Joe's opinion was corroborated. They did not undertake to say when it had left the prison-ships to which it undoubtedly had once belonged; but they claimed to know for certain that that particular manacle had not been worn by either of two convicts who had escaped last night. Further, one of those two was already re-taken, and had not freed himself of his iron.

Knowing what I knew, I set up an inference of my own here. I believed the iron to be my convict's iron - the iron I had seen and heard him filing at, on the marshes - but my mind did not accuse him of having put it to its latest use. For, I believed one of two other persons to have become possessed of it, and to have turned it to this cruel account. Either Orlick, or the strange man who had shown me the file.

Now, as to Orlick; he had gone to town exactly as he told us when we picked him up at the turnpike, he had been seen about town all the evening, he had been in divers companies in several public-houses, and he had come back with myself and Mr Wopsle. There was nothing against him, save the quarrel; and my sister had quarrelled with him, and with everybody else about her, ten thousand times. As to the strange man; if he had come back for his two bank-notes there could have been no dispute about them, because my sister was fully prepared to restore them. Besides, there had been no altercation; the assailant had come in so silently and suddenly, that she had been felled before she could look round.

It was horrible to think that I had provided the weapon, however undesignedly, but I could hardly think otherwise. I suffered unspeakable trouble while I considered and reconsidered whether I should at last dissolve that spell of my childhood, and tell Joe all the story. For months afterwards, I every day settled the question finally in the negative, and reopened and reargued it next morning. The contention came, after all, to this; - the secret was such an old one now, had so grown into me and become a part of myself, that I could not tear it away. In addition to the dread that, having led up to so much mischief, it would be now more likely than ever to alienate Joe from me if he believed it, I had a further restraining dread that he would not believe it, but would assort it with the fabulous dogs and veal-cutlets as a monstrous invention. However, I temporized with myself, of course - for, was I not wavering between right and wrong, when the thing is always done? - and resolved to make a full disclosure if I should see any such new occasion as a new chance of helping in the discovery of the assailant.

The Constables, and the Bow Street men from London - for, this happened in the days of the extinct red-waistcoated police - were about the house for a week or two, and did pretty much what I have heard and read of like authorities doing in other such cases. They took up several obviously wrong people, and they ran their heads very hard against wrong ideas, and persisted in trying to fit the circumstances to the ideas, instead of trying to extract ideas from the circumstances. Also, they stood about the door of the Jolly Bargemen, with knowing and reserved looks that filled the whole neighbourhood with admiration; and they had a mysterious manner of taking their drink, that was almost as good as taking the culprit. But not quite, for they never did it.

Long after these constitutional powers had dispersed, my sister lay very ill in bed. Her sight was disturbed, so that she saw objects multiplied, and grasped at visionary teacups and wine-glasses instead of the realities; her hearing was greatly impaired; her memory also; and her speech was unintelligible. When, at last, she came round so far as to be helped down-stairs, it was still necessary to keep my slate always by her, that she might indicate in writing what she could not indicate in speech. As she was (very bad handwriting apart) a more than indifferent speller, and as Joe was a more than indifferent reader, extraordinary complications arose between them, which I was always called in to solve. The administration of mutton instead of medicine, the substitution of Tea for Joe, and the baker for bacon, were among the mildest of my own mistakes.

However, her temper was greatly improved, and she was patient. A tremulous uncertainty of the action of all her limbs soon became a part of her regular state, and afterwards, at intervals of two or three months, she would often put her hands to her head, and would then remain for about a week at a time in some gloomy aberration of mind. We were at a loss to find a suitable attendant for her, until a circumstance happened conveniently to relieve us. Mr Wopsle's great-aunt conquered a confirmed habit of living into which she had fallen, and Biddy became a part of our establishment.

It may have been about a month after my sister's reappearance in the kitchen, when Biddy came to us with a small speckled box containing the whole of her worldly effects, and became a blessing to the household. Above all, she was a blessing to Joe, for the dear old fellow was sadly cut up by the constant contemplation of the wreck of his wife, and had been accustomed, while attending on her of an evening, to turn to me every now and then and say, with his blue eyes moistened, `Such a fine figure of a woman as she once were, Pip!' Biddy instantly taking the cleverest charge of her as though she had studied her from infancy, Joe became able in some sort to appreciate the greater quiet of his life, and to get down to the Jolly Bargemen now and then for a change that did him good. It was characteristic of the police people that they had all more or less suspected poor Joe (though he never knew it), and that they had to a man concurred in regarding him as one of the deepest spirits they had ever encountered.

Biddy's first triumph in her new office, was to solve a difficulty that had completely vanquished me. I had tried hard at it, but had made nothing of it. Thus it was:

Again and again and again, my sister had traced upon the slate, a character that looked like a curious T, and then with the utmost eagerness had called our attention to it as something she particularly wanted. I had in vain tried everything producible that began with a T, from tar to toast and tub. At length it had come into my head that the sign looked like a hammer, and on my lustily calling that word in my sister's ear, she had begun to hammer on the table and had expressed a qualified assent. Thereupon, I had brought in all our hammers, one after another, but without avail. Then I bethought me of a crutch, the shape being much the same, and I borrowed one in the village, and displayed it to my sister with considerable confidence. But she shook her head to that extent when she was shown it, that we were terrified lest in her weak and shattered state she should dislocate her neck.

When my sister found that Biddy was very quick to understand her, this mysterious sign reappeared on the slate. Biddy looked thoughtfully at it, heard my explanation, looked thoughtfully at my sister, looked thoughtfully at Joe (who was always represented on the slate by his initial letter), and ran into the forge, followed by Joe and me.

`Why, of course!' cried Biddy, with an exultant face. `Don't you see? It's him!'

Orlick, without a doubt! She had lost his name, and could only signify him by his hammer. We told him why we wanted him to come into the kitchen, and he slowly laid down his hammer, wiped his brow with his arm, took another wipe at it with his apron, and came slouching out, with a curious loose vagabond bend in the knees that strongly distinguished him.

I confess that I expected to see my sister denounce him, and that I was disappointed by the different result. She manifested the greatest anxiety to be on good terms with him, was evidently much pleased by his being at length produced, and motioned that she would have him given something to drink. She watched his countenance as if she were particularly wishful to be assured that he took kindly to his reception, she showed every possible desire to conciliate him, and there was an air of humble propitiation in all she did, such as I have seen pervade the bearing of a child towards a hard master. After that day, a day rarely passed without her drawing the hammer on her slate, and without Orlick's slouching in and standing doggedly before her, as if he knew no more than I did what to make of it.

 

我满脑子里装着乔治·巴恩威尔,因此一开始自然而然地想到,我一定被怀疑和袭击我姐姐的案情有关,或者说因为我总归是她的至亲,所有的人都知道她对我的恩惠很大,所以比起别人来我更是一名合理的怀疑对象。但是第二天在明朗的日光下,我开始重新考虑这个问题,加上又听到了在我四周的许多人的议论,我改变了观点,得出了更加合理的看法。

昨天晚上,乔到三个快乐的船夫酒家,从八点一刻到九点三刻都在那里抽烟。他在酒店里时,我姐姐正在厨房门口站着。有一位农夫从我家门口经过,我姐姐还和他互道过晚安。这个人说看到她的时候一定在九点钟之前,不过十分准确的时间他就说不出了(他的确也想说得准确些,不过越想倒反而越糊涂了)。十点缺五分时乔回到家,当即就发现她被人击倒在地上,立刻叫人们来帮忙。当时炉火还是像往常一样烧得旺旺的,蜡烛的烛花也不是很久没剪过了,不过烛光已经被吹熄了。

整个屋子里没发现有任何东西被拿走。那张放着被吹熄的蜡烛的桌子正在厨房的门和我姐姐之间,蜡烛应在我姐姐身后,她自己正面对着火炉站着,就在这时被人击倒了。厨房里并没有发现什么混乱的痕迹,即使有也是她自己在被击倒下时造成的,地上留有一些血迹。但是,行凶的现场有一件有力的证据。她是被某种沉重的钝器击倒的,凶器敲在她的脑袋上和脊骨上。凶手把她面朝下地击倒在地后又把一个很重的东西狂暴地扔在她的身上。乔回来后在抱起她时,发现她身旁的地上有一副逃犯的脚镣,看上去是被人用锉子锉开的。

当时,乔检查了这副脚镣。作为一个铁匠,他断定这副脚镣被锉开已有一段时期了。这件事情追问到监狱船上,他们派人来检查,认为乔的判断是千真万确的。他们不敢保证究竟什么时候这副脚镣从监狱船上给弄到了这里,但无疑这东西本来是监狱船上的。他们还确定这镣铐肯定不是昨夜两个逃犯所戴的。再说,这两个逃犯中有一个已经又被捉回来了,他腿上的镣铐并没有被锉开。

弄清了这些情况后,我自己便得出一个结论。我认为这副镣铐一定是我过去认识的那个逃犯的,记得在沼泽地上我亲眼看到、亲耳听到他在锉脚镣。当然,这次用镣铐行凶我不认为是他干的。我认为有两个人和这镣铐有关,镣铐落在了他们当中的一个人手上,这回便成为他作案的凶器了。这两个人就是奥立克和那个在酒店里对我摆弄锉子的陌生人。

至于奥立克,他确确实实到镇上去过,与我们在关口上遇到他时他亲口告诉我们的一样,因为有人见到过他,整个晚上都在镇上闲逛。他曾到过几家酒馆,和各式各样的人一起饮酒,而且他是和我及沃甫赛先生一起回来的。没有任何理由怀疑到他,除了上午的争吵。事实上,我姐姐和每一个人都争吵,就说和他争吵也有成千上万次了。至于那位摆弄锉刀的陌生人,无非是想来取回他的两张一英镑的纸币的,但这件事不会引起争吵,因为我姐姐早就准备把钱归还他的。此外,根本没有发生过争执,这个凶手是悄悄地进来的,而且是突然袭击,在我姐姐还没有来得及掉头望一下时,就把她击倒在地。

一想到竟然是我自己提供的这件凶器,虽然不是故意的,也不得不感到毛骨悚然;如果我不这么想又难以成理。我忍受着无言的痛苦,考虑来考虑去,究竟该不该把从童年时起就压在身上的魔咒全部驱除,把所遇的一切都告诉乔。此后一连数月,每天我都一再为此问题烦恼,最后作出否定的决定,千万不能讲。但是,第二天早晨,我又重新开始考虑,展开内心斗争。斗争的最终结果得出如下结论:这一个内心秘密由来已久,愈陷愈深,已经和我的血肉合于一处,成为身体的一个必需部分,还是把它留在心中,不把它从我身上撕走。由于它已招致了如此巨大的不幸,所以我的担心不是偶然的。首先,如果一旦让乔知道,他就会相信它,也就会和我疏远,因为今天的情况和往昔不能相比;其次,我更担心的是万一他不相信它,说这和小狗及小牛肉片一样,全是荒谬的捏造。最后,我还是采取了姑息手段,不说为妙。往往错事犯下之后,人就不得不在是非之间徘徊,我也是如此。当然,如果今后遇到机会,可以协助把凶手查个水落石出,我一定会把所有情况都讲明。

一些地方警察和伦敦弓街派来的警察在我家四周作了一两个星期的调查。当时伦敦的警察都穿着现已绝迹的红背心,一看就知道是从伦敦来的。我听说过并且也在书上看到过,政府当局办这类案件都是如此,干得挺卖力。他们速了几个人,可显然都逮错了,因为他们的思想方法都不对。他们坚持让实际情况符合他们的思维方式,而不愿意从实际情况中得出正确的思想。他们还在三个快乐的船夫酒店的门口布下岗哨,面部表情显出他们十分灵敏和谨慎,使所有这一带的人对他们都赞叹不绝。他们喝酒时也表现得神秘莫测,与他们捉犯人的手法同样高明。其实也不尽然,因为他们根本没有逮住凶手。

政府当局派来的警察离开以后很久,我姐姐还是睡在床上。她的视力出了毛病,把一件东西都看成好几件;明明那里没有茶杯和酒杯,她在幻觉中却觉得有,而且会伸手去拿。她的听觉和记忆力都遭到了严重的破坏,说的话非常难懂。后来她可以由人扶着转个圈,以至于能下楼走走,但却无时不带着我的那块石板。她不能说,只能以写代说。她的字写得极差,而且拼写特别随便,而乔读起来也极随便,自然在他们两人之间出现了一些难以弄清的事情,于是就得把我叫去解决。我常常也会弄错,比如她要药(medicine),我却以为她要羊肉(muffon);她要乔来,我却给她倒茶;她写的是腊肉(bacon),我却以为是面包师父(baker)。其实,这些还都只是我的小错误。

这时她的脾气已经大有好转,也开始有耐性了。她的手脚在行动时总是飘飘忽忽的,不久就成了根深蒂固的毛病。以后,每隔两三个月,她就会用双手捧住自己的头,然后表现出忧郁失常的样子,这个过程总要一个星期左右才好。我们不知道该找谁来服侍她才好,后来真是事有凑巧,一下子解决了我们的难题。沃甫赛先生的姑婆把自己的那套顽固的老习惯彻底地抛除了,所以毕蒂便来到我们家里照顾我的姐姐。

我姐姐重新下楼坐在厨房里大约一个月之后,毕蒂来到我们家,随身带着她的百宝箱。箱子上斑斑点点的,里面装了她的全部家当。她是我们家的福星,尤其是乔的福星,因为我的这位亲爱的老朋友乔一看到我姐姐那个不成人形的样子,心头自然难受,真是心碎肠断。每逢晚上侍候在她旁边时,他经常对着我,睁着一对眼泪汪汪的蓝眼睛,说:“皮普,过去她是一位多么漂亮的女人啊!”毕蒂一到这里便立刻担任起照顾我姐姐的工作。她干事灵巧,好像她天生就对我姐姐十分了解似的。从此,乔便有了比较安宁的生活,不时去到三个快乐的船夫酒店,调剂一下身心。不过警察的特点和一般人不同,他们或多或少对可怜的乔有些怀疑,虽然他本人一点儿也不知道。这些警察们不得不认为在他们所遇到的人中,还没有一个像乔如此深不可测。

毕蒂一来到她的新岗位,第一项成就便是解决了一个我怎么也不能解决的难题。对于这个难题我也曾全力以赴,结果却毫无成效。事情的经过如下:

我姐姐一而再、再而三地在石板上画出一个古怪的形状,看上去颇像一个畸形的“丫’。她非常着急地要我们替她把这个东西找来。我想到了可能的每一件东西,如柏油(tar),吐司(toast)以及桶(tub),但都没有猜中。后来我灵机一动,想起这个符号很有点像锤子,于是便起劲地在我姐姐耳朵边叫出锤子这个词,她也开始锤桌子,似乎表明对我说的很同意。于是我便把家中的锤子一只一只拿来,结果还是劳而无功。后来我又想,也许是一根拐杖,因为这个符号很像拐杖,就到村子里借来一根,十分有信心地交给我姐姐。她一看到手杖便直摇头,令我们十分担心,她的身体如此孱弱,这么猛地摇头,说不定会造成颈骨错位,把头摇掉下来。

当我姐姐发现毕蒂很聪明,说不定能懂得她的意思后,便在石板上又画了那个神秘难解的符号。毕蒂认真地看着这个符号思考着,听着我的说明,若有所思地望望我姐姐,又若有所思地看了看乔(乔在石板上总是被用其第一个字母代替的,写成“J”),接着她便向铁匠铺奔去,乔和我跟着也跑过去。

“我肯定知道了!”毕蒂脸上露出喜悦的神情叫道,“你们看,就是叫他!”

奥立克,无需怀疑,就是指奥立克!我姐姐忘掉了他的名字,只能用他的锤子来代替他。我们告诉奥立克,要请他到厨房里去。他先慢慢地把手中的锤子放下来,用手臂擦了一下额头,然后又用他的围裙擦了一下脸,才慢吞吞地走出铁匠铺,带着流浪汉一般怪模怪样的神气,弯着两个膝盖,明显地表现出他的特点。

我本来认定我姐姐会指责他,可结果却和我所想的完全不同,不得不使我失望。她表情上显露出她非常想和他重归于好,他一来她就十分高兴,做了个手势让他喝些什么。她打量着他的面色,仿佛十分希望他对到这里来感到愉快。她竭力表现出期望和他消解前仇,从她的谦恭神情中可以看出她的态度就像一个孩子对待严师一样。自从那一天之后,很难得有一天她不在石板上画上一个铁锤,所以奥立克也得每天拖拖拉拉地走到我姐姐那里,怪里怪气地站在她面前,好像和我一样弄不清这究竟是怎么一回事。



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