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Chapter 4

OLIVER, BEING OFFERED ANOTHER PLACE, MAKES HIS FIRST ENTRY INTO PUBLIC LIFE

In great families, when an advantageous place cannot be obtained, either in possession, reversion, remainder, or expectancy, for the young man who is growing up, it is a very general custom to send him to sea. The board, in imitation of so wise and salutary an example, took counsel together on the expediency of shipping off Oliver Twist, in some small trading vessel bound to a good unhealthy port. This suggested itself as the very best thing that could possibly be done with him: the probability being, that the skipper would flog him to death, in a playful mood, some day after dinner, or would knock his brains out with an iron bar; both pastimes being, as is pretty generally known, very favourite and common recreations among gentleman of that class. The more the case presented itself to the board, in this point of view, the more manifold the advantages of the step appeared; so, they came to the conclusion that the only way of providing for Oliver effectually, was to send him to sea without delay.

Mr. Bumble had been despatched to make various preliminary inquiries, with the view of finding out some captain or other who wanted a cabin-boy without any friends; and was returning to the workhouse to communicate the result of his mission; when he encountered at the gate, no less a person than Mr. Sowerberry, the parochial undertaker.

Mr. Sowerberry was a tall gaunt, large-jointed man, attired in a suit of threadbare black, with darned cotton stockings of the same colour, and shoes to answer. His features were not naturally intended to wear a smiling aspect, but he was in general rather given to professional jocosity. His step was elastic, and his face betokened inward pleasantry, as he advanced to Mr. Bumble, and shook him cordially by the hand.

'I have taken the measure of the two women that died last night, Mr. Bumble,' said the undertaker.

'You'll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,' said the beadle, as he thrust his thumb and forefinger into the proffered snuff-box of the undertaker: which was an ingenious little model of a patent coffin. 'I say you'll make your fortune, Mr. Sowerberry,' repeated Mr. Bumble, tapping the undertaker on the shoulder, in a friendly manner, with his cane.

'Think so?' said the undertaker in a tone which half admitted and half disputed the probability of the event. 'The prices allowed by the board are very small, Mr. Bumble.'

'So are the coffins,' replied the beadle: with precisely as near an approach to a laugh as a great official ought to indulge in.

Mr. Sowerberry was much tickled at this: as of course he ought to be; and laughed a long time without cessation. 'Well, well, Mr. Bumble,' he said at length, 'there's no denying that, since the new system of feeding has come in, the coffins are something narrower and more shallow than they used to be; but we must have some profit, Mr. Bumble. Well-seasoned timber is an expensive article, sir; and all the iron handles come, by canal, from Birmingham.'

'Well, well,' said Mr. Bumble, 'every trade has its drawbacks. A fair profit is, of course, allowable.'

'Of course, of course,' replied the undertaker; 'and if I don't get a profit upon this or that particular article, why, I make it up in the long-run, you see--he! he! he!'

'Just so,' said Mr. Bumble.

'Though I must say,' continued the undertaker, resuming the current of observations which the beadle had interrupted: 'though I must say, Mr. Bumble, that I have to contend against one very great disadvantage: which is, that all the stout people go off the quickest. The people who have been better off, and have paid rates for many years, are the first to sink when they come into the house; and let me tell you, Mr. Bumble, that three or four inches over one's calculation makes a great hole in one's profits: especially when one has a family to provide for, sir.'

As Mr. Sowerberry said this, with the becoming indignation of an ill-used man; and as Mr. Bumble felt that it rather tended to convey a reflection on the honour of the parish; the latter gentleman thought it advisable to change the subject. Oliver Twist being uppermost in his mind, he made him his theme.

'By the bye,' said Mr. Bumble, 'you don't know anybody who wants a boy, do you? A porochial 'prentis, who is at present a dead-weight; a millstone, as I may say, round the porochial throat? Liberal terms, Mr. Sowerberry, liberal terms?' As Mr. Bumble spoke, he raised his cane to the bill above him, and gave three distinct raps upon the words 'five pounds': which were printed thereon in Roman capitals of gigantic size.

'Gadso!' said the undertaker: taking Mr. Bumble by the gilt-edged lappel of his official coat; 'that's just the very thing I wanted to speak to you about. You know--dear me, what a very elegant button this is, Mr. Bumble! I never noticed it before.'

'Yes, I think it rather pretty,' said the beadle, glancing proudly downwards at the large brass buttons which embellished his coat. 'The die is the same as the porochial seal--the Good Samaritan healing the sick and bruised man. The board presented it to me on Newyear's morning, Mr. Sowerberry. I put it on, I remember, for the first time, to attend the inquest on that reduced tradesman, who died in a doorway at midnight.'

'I recollect,' said the undertaker. 'The jury brought it in, "Died from exposure to the cold, and want of the common necessaries of life," didn't they?'

Mr. Bumble nodded.

'And they made it a special verdict, I think,' said the undertaker, 'by adding some words to the effect, that if the relieving officer had--'

'Tush! Foolery!' interposed the beadle. 'If the board attended to all the nonsense that ignorant jurymen talk, they'd have enough to do.'

'Very true,' said the undertaker; 'they would indeed.'

'Juries,' said Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane tightly, as was his wont when working into a passion: 'juries is ineddicated, vulgar, grovelling wretches.'

'So they are,' said the undertaker.

'They haven't no more philosophy nor political economy about 'em than that,' said the beadle, snapping his fingers contemptuously.

'No more they have,' acquiesced the undertaker.

'I despise 'em,' said the beadle, growing very red in the face.

'So do I,' rejoined the undertaker.

'And I only wish we'd a jury of the independent sort, in the house for a week or two,' said the beadle; 'the rules and regulations of the board would soon bring their spirit down for 'em.'

'Let 'em alone for that,' replied the undertaker. So saying, he smiled, approvingly: to calm the rising wrath of the indignant parish officer.

Mr Bumble lifted off his cocked hat; took a handkerchief from the inside of the crown; wiped from his forehead the perspiration which his rage had engendered; fixed the cocked hat on again; and, turning to the undertaker, said in a calmer voice:

'Well; what about the boy?'

'Oh!' replied the undertaker; 'why, you know, Mr. Bumble, I pay a good deal towards the poor's rates.'

'Hem!' said Mr. Bumble. 'Well?'

'Well,' replied the undertaker, 'I was thinking that if I pay so much towards 'em, I've a right to get as much out of 'em as I can, Mr. Bumble; and so--I think I'll take the boy myself.'

Mr. Bumble grasped the undertaker by the arm, and led him into the building. Mr. Sowerberry was closeted with the board for five minutes; and it was arranged that Oliver should go to him that evening 'upon liking'--a phrase which means, in the case of a parish apprentice, that if the master find, upon a short trial, that he can get enough work out of a boy without putting too much food into him, he shall have him for a term of years, to do what he likes with.

When little Oliver was taken before 'the gentlemen' that evening; and informed that he was to go, that night, as general house-lad to a coffin-maker's; and that if he complained of his situation, or ever came back to the parish again, he would be sent to sea, there to be drowned, or knocked on the head, as the case might be, he evinced so little emotion, that they by common consent pronounced him a hardened young rascal, and ordered Mr. Bumble to remove him forthwith.

Now, although it was very natural that the board, of all people in the world, should feel in a great state of virtuous astonishment and horror at the smallest tokens of want of feeling on the part of anybody, they were rather out, in this particular instance. The simple fact was, that Oliver, instead of possessing too little feeling, possessed rather too much; and was in a fair way of being reduced, for life, to a state of brutal stupidity and sullenness by the ill usage he had received. He heard the news of his destination, in perfect silence; and, having had his luggage put into his hand--which was not very difficult to carry, inasmuch as it was all comprised within the limits of a brown paper parcel, about half a foot square by three inches deep--he pulled his cap over his eyes; and once more attaching himself to Mr. Bumble's coat cuff, was led away by that dignitary to a new scene of suffering.

For some time, Mr. Bumble drew Oliver along, without notice or remark; for the beadle carried his head very erect, as a beadle always should: and, it being a windy day, little Oliver was completely enshrouded by the skirts of Mr. Bumble's coat as they blew open, and disclosed to great advantage his flapped waistcoat and drab plush knee-breeches. As they drew near to their destination, however, Mr. Bumble thought it expedient to look down, and see that the boy was in good order for inspection by his new master: which he accordingly did, with a fit and becoming air of gracious patronage.

'Oliver!' said Mr. Bumble.

'Yes, sir,' replied Oliver, in a low, tremulous voice.

'Pull that cap off your eyes, and hold up your head, sir.'

Although Oliver did as he was desired, at once; and passed the back of his unoccupied hand briskly across his eyes, he left a tear in them when he looked up at his conductor. As Mr. Bumble gazed sternly upon him, it rolled down his cheek. It was followed by another, and another. The child made a strong effort, but it was an unsuccessful one. Withdrawing his other hand from Mr. Bumble's he covered his face with both; and wept until the tears sprung out from between his chin and bony fingers.

'Well!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, stopping short, and darting at his little charge a look of intense malignity. 'Well! Of _all_ the ungratefullest, and worst-disposed boys as ever I see, Oliver, you are the--'

'No, no, sir,' sobbed Oliver, clinging to the hand which held the well-known cane; 'no, no, sir; I will be good indeed; indeed, indeed I will, sir! I am a very little boy, sir; and it is so--so--'

'So what?' inquired Mr. Bumble in amazement.

'So lonely, sir! So very lonely!' cried the child. 'Everybody hates me. Oh! sir, don't, don't pray be cross to me!' The child beat his hand upon his heart; and looked in his companion's face, with tears of real agony.

Mr. Bumble regarded Oliver's piteous and helpless look, with some astonishment, for a few seconds; hemmed three or four times in a husky manner; and after muttering something about 'that troublesome cough,' bade Oliver dry his eyes and be a good boy. Then once more taking his hand, he walked on with him in silence.

The undertaker, who had just putup the shutters of his shop, was making some entries in his day-book by the light of a most appropriate dismal candle, when Mr. Bumble entered.

'Aha!' said the undertaker; looking up from the book, and pausing in the middle of a word; 'is that you, Bumble?'

'No one else, Mr. Sowerberry,' replied the beadle. 'Here! I've brought the boy.' Oliver made a bow.

'Oh! that's the boy, is it?' said the undertaker: raising the candle above his head, to get a better view of Oliver. 'Mrs. Sowerberry, will you have the goodness to come here a moment, my dear?'

Mrs. Sowerberry emerged from a little room behind the shop, and presented the form of a short, then, squeezed-up woman, with a vixenish countenance.

'My dear,' said Mr. Sowerberry, deferentially, 'this is the boy from the workhouse that I told you of.' Oliver bowed again.

'Dear me!' said the undertaker's wife, 'he's very small.'

'Why, he _is_ rather small,' replied Mr. Bumble: looking at Oliver as if it were his fault that he was no bigger; 'he is small. There's no denying it. But he'll grow, Mrs. Sowerberry--he'll grow.'

'Ah! I dare say he will,' replied the lady pettishly, 'on our victuals and our drink. I see no saving in parish children, not I; for they always cost more to keep, than they're worth. However, men always think they know best. There! Get downstairs, little bag o' bones.' With this, the undertaker's wife opened a side door, and pushed Oliver down a steep flight of stairs into a stone cell, damp and dark: forming the ante-room to the coal-cellar, and denominated 'kitchen'; wherein sat a slatternly girl, in shoes down at heel, and blue worsted stockings very much out of repair.

'Here, Charlotte,' said Mr. Sowerberry, who had followed Oliver down, 'give this boy some of the cold bits that were put by for Trip. He hasn't come home since the morning, so he may go without 'em. I dare say the boy isn't too dainty to eat 'em--are you, boy?'

Oliver, whose eyes had glistened at the mention of meat, and who was trembling with eagerness to devour it, replied in the negative; and a plateful of coarse broken victuals was set before him.

I wish some well-fed philosopher, whose meat and drink turn to gall within him; whose blood is ice, whose heart is iron; could have seen Oliver Twist clutching at the dainty viands that the dog had neglected. I wish he could have witnessed the horrible avidity with which Oliver tore the bits asunder with all the ferocity of famine. There is only one thing I should like better; and that would be to see the Philosopher making the same sort of meal himself, with the same relish.

'Well,' said the undertaker's wife, when Oliver had finished his supper: which she had regarded in silent horror, and with fearful auguries of his future appetite: 'have you done?'

There being nothing eatable within his reach, Oliver replied in the affirmative.

'Then come with me,' said Mrs. Sowerberry: taking up a dim and dirty lamp, and leading the way upstairs; 'your bed's under the counter. You don't mind sleeping among the coffins, I suppose? But it doesn't much matter whether you do or don't, for you can't sleep anywhere else. Come; don't keep me here all night!'

Oliver lingered no longer, but meekly followed his new mistress.


    举凡大户人家,遇到一个优越的位置,比方说财产、名分的拥有、复归、指定继承或者是预订继承,摊不到一个正在成长发育的子弟身上的时候,有一条非常普遍的习惯,就是打发他出海谋生。依照这一个贤明通达的惯例,理事会诸君凑到一起,商议能否把奥立弗交给一条小商船,送他去某个对健康极其有害的港口。这似乎成了处置他的最好的办法了。船长没准会在哪一天饭后闲暇之时,闹着玩似地用鞭子把他抽死,或者用铁棒把他的脑袋敲开花,这两种消遣早已远近驰名,在那个阶层的绅士中成了人人喜爱的娱乐,一点不稀罕。理事会越是琢磨这个事情,越是感到好处真是说不尽,所以他们得出结论,要把奥立弗供养成人,唯一有效的办法就是赶快送他出洋。

    邦布尔先生领了差事,在城里四处奔波,多方打听有没有哪一位船长或者别的什么人需要一个无亲无故的舱房小厮。这一天,他回到济贫院,准备报告这事的进展,刚走到大门口,迎面碰上了承办教区殡葬事务的苏尔伯雷先生。

    苏尔伯雷先生是个瘦高个,骨节大得出奇,一身黑色礼服早就磨得经纬毕露,下边配同样颜色的长统棉袜和鞋子,鞋袜上缀有补丁。他那副长相本来就不宜带有轻松愉快的笑意傅山(1607―1684)明清之际思想家。初名鼎臣,字青,不过,总的来说,他倒是有几分职业性的诙谐。他迎着邦布尔先生走上前来,步履十分轻快,亲眼地与他握手,眉间显露出内心的喜悦。

    “邦布尔先生,我已经给昨儿晚上去世的两位女士量好了尺寸。”殡葬承办人说道。

    “你要发财啦,苏尔伯雷先生,”教区干事一边说,一边把拇指和食指插进殡葬承办人递上来的鼻烟盒里,这鼻烟盒是一具精巧的棺材模型,做得十分别致。“我是说,你要发财啦,苏尔伯雷。”干事用手杖在对方肩上亲亲热热地敲了敲,又说了一遍。

    “你这样认为?”殡葬承办人的嗓音里带有一点似信非信,不尽了然的意思。“理事会开的价钱可太小啦,邦布尔先生。”

    “棺材不也是这样吗。”干事答话时面带微笑,这一丝微笑他掌握得恰到好处,以不失教区大员的身份为原则。

    苏尔伯雷被这句话逗乐了,他自然不必拘谨过头,便不歇气地打了一长串哈哈。“得,得,邦布尔先生,”他终于笑够了,“是这话呀,自打新的供给制实施以来,棺材比起以前来说,是越做越窄,越做越浅罗。话说回来,邦布尔先生,我们总还得有点赚头才行,干得呗吼叫的木料就是挺花钱的玩艺儿,铁把手呢,又全是经运河从伯明翰运来的。”

    “好啦,好啦,”邦布尔先生说,“哪一行都有哪一行的难处。当然赚得公平还是许可的。”

    “当然,当然。”殡葬承办人随声附和着,“假如我在这笔那笔买卖上没赚到钱的话,您是知道的,我迟早也会捞回来――嘿嘿嘿!”

    “一点不错。”邦布尔先生说,

    “可我也得说说,”殡葬承办人继续说道,又拣起刚才被教区干事打断的话题来,“可我也得说说,邦布尔先生,我现在面对的情况极其不利,就是说,胖子死得特别快,一进济贫院这道门,最先垮下去的就是家道好一点,常年纳税的人。我告诉你吧,邦布尔先生,只要比核算大出三四英寸,就会亏进去一大截,尤其是当一个人还得养家糊口的时候。”

    苏尔伯雷先生说话时愤愤不平,像是吃了大亏的的样子。邦布尔先生意识到,再说下去势必有损教区体面,得换个题目了。这位绅士立刻想起了奥立弗退斯特,便把话题转了过去。

    “顺便说一下,”邦布尔先生说道,“你知不知道有谁想找个小厮,啊?有一个教区见习生,眼目下跟一个沉甸甸的包袱似的,我应该说,是一盘石磨,吊在教区脖子上,对不对?报酬很可观,苏尔伯雷先生,很可观呢。”邦布尔扬起手杖,指指大门上边的告示,特意在用巨型罗马大写字母印刷的“五英镑”字样上咚咚咚敲了三下。

    “乖乖。”殡葬承办人说着,一把拉住邦布尔制服上的金边翻领,“我正想和您谈谈这档子事呢。您是知道的――喔,哟哟,这扣子好漂亮,邦布尔先生。我一直没注意到。”

    “是啊,我也觉得挺漂亮,”教区干事自豪地低头看了一眼镶嵌在外套上的硕大的铜纽扣,说道,“这图案跟教区图章上的一模一样――好心的撒玛利亚人在医治那个身受重伤的病人①。苏尔伯雷先生,这是理事会元旦早晨送给我的礼物。我记得,我头一回穿上身是去参加验尸,就是那个破了产的零售商,半夜里死在别人家门口的。”——

    ①《新约圣经路加福音》第十章:“只有一个撒玛利亚人,行路来到那里,看见他就动了慈心,上前用油和酒倒在他的伤处,包裹好了。”现用来指乐善好施的人。

    “我想起来了,”殡葬承办人说,“陪审团报告说,是死于感冒以及缺乏一般生活用品,对不?”

    邦布尔点了点头。

    “他们好像把这事作为一个专案,”殡葬承办人说,“后边还加了几句话,说是倘若承办救济的有关方面当时――”

    “胡扯。瞎说。”教区干事忍不住了,“要是理事会光去听那班什么都不懂的陪审团胡说八道,他们可就有事情干了。”

    “千真万确,”殡葬承办人说,“可不是。”

    “陪审团,”邦布尔紧握手杖说道,这是他发起火来的习惯,“陪审团一个个都是些卑鄙下流的家伙,没有教养。”

    “就是,就是。”殡葬承办人说。

    “不管是哲学还是政治经济学,他们也就懂那么一点,”邦布尔轻蔑地打了一个响指,说道,“就那么点。”

    “确实如此。”殡葬承办人表示同意。

    “我才看不起他们呢。”教区干事一张脸涨得通红。

    “我也一样。”殡葬承办人附和道。

    “我只希望能找个自以为是的陪审团,上济贫院呆上一两个礼拜,”教区干事说,“理事会的规章条款很快就会把他们那股子傲气给杀下去。”

    “随他们的便吧。”殡葬承办人回答时深表赞许地微笑起来,想平熄一下这位满腔激愤的教区公务员刚刚腾起的怒火。

    邦布尔抬起三角帽,从帽顶里取出一张手巾,抹掉额头上团刚才一阵激怒沁出的汗水,又重新把帽子戴端正,向殡葬承办人转过身去,用比较平和的语气说:

    “喂,这孩子如何?”

    “噢。”殡葬承办人答道,“哎,邦布尔先生,你也知道,我替穷人缴了好大一笔税呢。”

    “嗯。”邦布尔先生鼻子里发出了响声,“怎么?”

    “哦,”殡葬承办人回答,“我想,既然我掏了那么多钞票给他们,我当然有权利凭我的本事照数收回来,邦布尔先生,这个――这个――我想自个儿要这个孩子。”

    邦布尔一把拉住殡葬承办人的胳膊,领着他走进楼里。苏尔伯雷与理事们关起门来谈了五分钟,商定当天傍晚就让他带奥立弗到棺材铺去“见习”――这个词用在教区学徒身上的意思是,经过短期试用之后,只要雇主觉得能叫徒弟干很多活,而伙食方面也还合算的话,就可以留用若干年,高兴叫他干什么就叫他干什么。

    傍晚,小奥立弗被带到了“绅士们”面前,他得知当天夜里自己就要作为一个普通的济贫院学童到一家棺材铺去了。倘若他去了以后诉苦抱怨,或者去而复返,就打发他出海去,不管到时候他是淹死还是被打烂了脑袋瓜,这种情况是完全可能的。听了这些话,奥立弗几乎毫无反应。于是,他们众口一辞地宣告他是一个无可救药的小坏蛋,命令邦布尔先生立即把他带走。

    说起来,世间一应人等当中,如果有谁流露出一丝一毫缺少感情的迹象,理事会理所当然会处于一种满腔义愤、震惊不已的状况,然而,这一回他们却有些误会了。事情很简单,奥立弗的感受并非太少,而应当说太多了,大有可能被落到头上的虐待弄得一辈子傻里傻气,心灰意懒。他无动于衷地听完这一条有关他的去向的消息,接过塞到他手里的行李――拿在手里实在费不了多大劲,因为他的行李也就是一个牛皮纸包,半英尺见方,三英寸厚――把帽檐往下拉了拉,又一次紧紧拉住邦布尔先生的外套袖口,由这位大人物领着去了一处新的受难场所。

    邦布尔先生拖着奥立弗走了一程,教区干事直挺挺地昂着头往前走,对他总是不理不睬,因为邦布尔先生觉得当差的就应该是这副派头。这一天风很大,不时吹开邦布尔先生的大衣下摆,把奥立弗整个裹起来,同时露出上衣和浅褐色毛绒裤子,真的很风光。快到目的地了,邦布尔先生觉得有必要视察一下奥立弗,以便确保这孩子的模样经得起他未来的主人验收,便低下头,带着与一个大恩人的身份非常协调。相称的神气看了看。

    “奥立弗。”邦布尔说。

    “是,先生。”奥立弗哆哆嗦嗦地低声答道。

    “先生,把帽子戴高一些,别挡住眼睛,头抬起来。”

    奥立弗赶紧照办,一边还用空着的一只手的手背利落地抹了抹眼睛,可是当他抬起头来,看着自己的领路人时,眼里还是留下了一滴泪水。邦布尔先生狠狠地瞪了他一眼,这滴眼泪便顺着脸颊滚了下来,跟着又是一滴,又是一滴。这孩子拚命想忍住泪水,却怎么也止不住。他索性把手从邦布尔先生的袖口上缩回来,双手捂住面孔,泪珠从他纤细的指头缝里涌泻而出。

    “得了。”邦布尔先生嚷起来,又猛然停住脚步,向这个不争气的小家伙投过去一道极其恶毒的目光。“得了。奥立弗,在我见过的所有最忘恩负义、最心术不正的男孩当中,你要算最最――”

    “不,不,先生,”奥立弗哽咽着说,一边紧紧抓住干事的一只手,这只手里握着的就是他非常熟悉的藤杖、“不,不,先生,我会变好的,真的,真的,先生,我一定会变好的。我只是一个小不点儿,又那么――那么――”

    “那么个啥?”邦布尔先生诧异地问道。

    “那么孤独,先生。一个亲人也没有。”孩子哭叫着,“大家都不喜欢我。喔,先生,您别,别生我的气。”他拍打着自己的胸脯,抬眼看了看与自己同行的那个人,泪水里包含着发自内心的痛苦。

    邦布尔先生多少有些诧异,他盯着奥立弗那副可怜巴巴的模样看了几秒钟,嘶哑地咬了三四声,嘴里咕噜着什么“这讨厌的咳嗽”,随后吩咐奥立弗擦干眼泪,做一个听话的孩子。他又一次拉起奥立弗的手,默不作声地继续往前走去。

    殡仪馆老板刚关上铺子的门面,正在一盏昏暗得与本店业务十分相称的烛光下做账,邦布尔先生走了进来。

    “啊哈。”殡葬承办人从账本上抬起头来,一个字刚写了一半。“是你吗,邦布尔?”

    “不是别人,苏尔伯雷先生,”干事答道,“喏。我把孩子带来了。”奥立弗鞠了一躬。

    “喔。就是那个孩子,是吗?”殡仪馆老板说着,把蜡烛举过头顶,好把奥立弗看个仔细。“苏尔伯雷太太。你好不好上这儿来一下,我亲爱的?”

    苏尔伯雷太太从店堂后边一间小屋里出来了,这女人身材瘦小,干瘪得够可以的了,一脸狠毒泼辣的神色。

    “我亲爱的,”苏尔伯雷先生谦恭地说,“这就是我跟你说过的那个济贫院的孩子。”奥立弗又鞠了一躬。

    “天啦,”殡仪馆老板娘说道,“他可真小啊。”

    “唔,是小了一点。”邦布尔先生打量着奥立弗,好像是在责怪他怎么不长得高大些。“他是很小,这无可否认。可他还要长啊,苏尔伯雷太太――他会长的。”

    “啊。我敢说他肯定会长的。”太太没好气地说,“吃我们的,喝我们的,不长才怪呢。我就说领教区的孩子划不来,他们本来就值不了几个钱,还抵不上他们的花销。可男人家倒总觉得自己懂得多。好啦。小瘦鬼,下楼去吧。”老板娘嘴里念叨着,打开一道侧门,推着奥立弗走过一段陡直的楼梯,来到一间潮湿阴暗的石砌小屋。这间起名“厨房”的小屋连着后边的煤窖,里边坐着一个邋遢的女孩,脚上的鞋已经磨掉了后跟,蓝色的绒线袜子也烂得不成话了。

    “喂,夏洛蒂,”苏尔伯雷太太跟在奥立弗身后,走下楼来说道,“把留给特立普吃的冷饭给这小孩一点。他早上出去以后就没回来过,大概不用给他留了。我敢说这孩子不会这也不吃,那也不吃――小孩,你挑不挑嘴啊?”

    奥立弗一听有吃的,立刻两眼放光。他正馋得浑身哆嗦。他回答了一句不挑嘴,一碟粗糙不堪的食物放到了他的面前。

    要是有这样一位吃得脑满肠肥的哲学家,他吃下去的佳肴美酒在肚子里会化作胆汁,血凝成了冰,心像铁一样硬,我希望他能看看奥立弗是怎样抓起那一盘连狗都不肯闻一闻的美食,希望他能亲眼看一看饥不择食的奥立弗以怎样令人不寒而栗的食欲把食物撕碎,倒进肚子。我更希望看到的是,这位哲学家本人在吃同样的食物的时候也有同样的胃口。

    “喂,”老板娘看着奥立弗吃晚饭,嘴上不说,心里可吓坏了,想到他今后的胃口更是忧心忡忡。“吃完了没有?”

    奥立弗看看前后左右,可以吃的东西没有了,便作了肯定的回答。

    “那你,跟我来吧。”苏尔伯雷太太说着,举起一盏昏暗而又肮脏的油灯,领路朝楼上走去。“你的床铺就在柜台底下,我看,你该不会反对睡在棺材中间吧?不过你乐意不乐意都没关系,反正你不能上别的地方去睡。快点,我没功夫整个晚上都耗在这儿。”

    奥立弗不再犹豫,温顺地跟着新女主人走去。



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