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Chapter 18

HOW OLIVER PASSED HIS TIME IN THE IMPROVING SOCIETY OF HIS REPUTABLE FRIENDS

About noon next day, when the Dodger and Master Bates had gone out to pursue their customary avocations, Mr. Fagin took the opportunity of reading Oliver a long lecture on the crying sin of ingratitude; of which he clearly demonstrated he had been guilty, to no ordinary extent, in wilfully absenting himself from the society of his anxious friends; and, still more, in endeavouring to escape from them after so much trouble and expense had been incurred in his recovery. Mr. Fagin laid great stress on the fact of his having taken Oliver in, and cherished him, when, without his timely aid, he might have perished with hunger; and he related the dismal and affecting history of a young lad whom, in his philanthropy, he had succoured under parallel circumstances, but who, proving unworthy of his confidence and evincing a desire to communicate with the police, had unfortunately come to be hanged at the Old Bailey one morning. Mr. Fagin did not seek to conceal his share in the catastrophe, but lamented with tears in his eyes that the wrong-headed and treacherous behaviour of the young person in question, had rendered it necessary that he should become the victim of certain evidence for the crown: which, if it were not precisely true, was indispensably necessary for the safety of him (Mr. Fagin) and a few select friends. Mr. Fagin concluded by drawing a rather disagreeable picture of the discomforts of hanging; and, with great friendliness and politeness of manner, expressed his anxious hopes that he might never be obliged to submit Oliver Twist to that unpleasant operation.

Little Oliver's blood ran cold, as he listened to the Jew's words, and imperfectly comprehended the dark threats conveyed in them. That it was possible even for justice itself to confound the innocent with the guilty when they were in accidental companionship, he knew already; and that deeply-laid plans for the destruction of inconveniently knowing or over-communicative persons, had been really devised and carried out by the Jew on more occasions than one, he thought by no means unlikely, when he recollected the general nature of the altercations between that gentleman and Mr. Sikes: which seemed to bear reference to some foregone conspiracy of the kind. As he glanced timidly up, and met the Jew's searching look, he felt that his pale face and trembling limbs were neither unnoticed nor unrelished by that wary old gentleman.

The Jew, smiling hideously, patted Oliver on the head, and said, that if he kept himself quiet, and applied himself to business, he saw they would be very good friends yet. Then, taking his hat, and covering himself with an old patched great-coat, he went out, and locked the room-door behind him.

And so Oliver remained all that day, and for the greater part of many subsequent days, seeing nobody, between early morning and midnight, and left during the long hours to commune with his own thoughts. Which, never failing to revert to his kind friends, and the opinion they must long ago have formed of him, were sad indeed.

After the lapse of a week or so, the Jew left the room-door unlocked; and he was at liberty to wander about the house.

It was a very dirty place. The rooms upstairs had great high wooden chimney-pieces and large doors, with panelled walls and cornices to the ceiling; which, although they were black with neglect and dust, were ornamented in various ways. From all of these tokens Oliver concluded that a long time ago, before the old Jew was born, it had belonged to better people, and had perhaps been quite gay and handsome: dismal and dreary as it looked now.

Spiders had built their webs in the angles of the walls and ceilings; and sometimes, when Oliver walked softly into a room, the mice would scamper across the floor, and run back terrified to their holes. With these exceptions, there was neither sight nor sound of any living thing; and often, when it grew dark, and he was tired of wandering from room to room, he would crouch in the corner of the passage by the street-door, to be as near living people as he could; and would remain there, listening and counting the hours, until the Jew or the boys returned.

In all the rooms, the mouldering shutters were fast closed: the bars which held them were screwed tight into the wood; the only light which was admitted, stealing its way through round holes at the top: which made the rooms more gloomy, and filled them with strange shadows. There was a back-garret window with rusty bars outside, which had no shutter; and out of this, Oliver often gazed with a melancholy face for hours together; but nothing was to be descried from it but a confused and crowded mass of housetops, blackened chimneys, and gable-ends. Sometimes, indeed, a grizzly head might be seen, peering over the parapet-wall of a distant house; but it was quickly withdrawn again; and as the window of Oliver's observatory was nailed down, and dimmed with the rain and smoke of years, it was as much as he could do to make out the forms of the different objects beyond, without making any attempt to be seen or heard,--which he had as much chance of being, as if he had lived inside the ball of St. Paul's Cathedral.

One afternoon, the Dodger and Master Bates being engaged out that evening, the first-named young gentleman took it into his head to evince some anxiety regarding the decoration of his person (to do him justice, this was by no means an habitual weakness with him); and, with this end and aim, he condescendingly commanded Oliver to assist him in his toilet, straightway.

Oliver was but too glad to make himself useful; too happy to have some faces, however bad, to look upon; too desirous to conciliate those about him when he could honestly do so; to throw any objection in the way of this proposal. So he at once expressed his readiness; and, kneeling on the floor, while the Dodger sat upon the table so that he could take his foot in his laps, he applied himself to a process which Mr. Dawkins designated as 'japanning his trotter-cases.' The phrase, rendered into plain English, signifieth, cleaning his boots.

Whether it was the sense of freedom and independence which a rational animal may be supposed to feel when he sits on a table in an easy attitude smoking a pipe, swinging one leg carelessly to and fro, and having his boots cleaned all the time, without even the past trouble of having taken them off, or the prospective misery of putting them on, to disturb his reflections; or whether it was the goodness of the tobacco that soothed the feelings of the Dodger, or the mildness of the beer that mollified his thoughts; he was evidently tinctured, for the nonce, with a spice of romance and enthusiasm, foreign to his general nature. He looked down on Oliver, with a thoughtful countenance, for a brief space; and then, raising his head, and heaving a gentle sign, said, half in abstraction, and half to Master Bates:

'What a pity it is he isn't a prig!'

'Ah!' said Master Charles Bates; 'he don't know what's good for him.'

The Dodger sighed again, and resumed his pipe: as did Charley Bates. They both smoked, for some seconds, in silence.

'I suppose you don't even know what a prig is?' said the Dodger mournfully.

'I think I know that,' replied Oliver, looking up. 'It's a the--; you're one, are you not?' inquired Oliver, checking himself.

'I am,' replied the Doger. 'I'd scorn to be anything else.' Mr. Dawkins gave his hat a ferocious cock, after delivering this sentiment, and looked at Master Bates, as if to denote that he would feel obliged by his saying anything to the contrary.

'I am,' repeated the Dodger. 'So's Charley. So's Fagin. So's Sikes. So's Nancy. So's Bet. So we all are, down to the dog. And he's the downiest one of the lot!'

'And the least given to peaching,' added Charley Bates.

'He wouldn't so much as bark in a witness-box, for fear of committing himself; no, not if you tied him up in one, and left him there without wittles for a fortnight,' said the Dodger.

'Not a bit of it,' observed Charley.

'He's a rum dog. Don't he look fierce at any strange cove that laughs or sings when he's in company!' pursued the Dodger. 'Won't he growl at all, when he hears a fiddle playing! And don't he hate other dogs as ain't of his breed! Oh, no!'

'He's an out-and-out Christian,' said Charley.

This was merely intended as a tribute to the animal's abilities, but it was an appropriate remark in another sense, if Master Bates had only known it; for there are a good many ladies and gentlemen, claiming to be out-and-out Christians, between whom, and Mr. Sikes' dog, there exist strong and singular points of resemblance.

'Well, well,' said the Dodger, recurring to the point from which they had strayed: with that mindfulness of his profession which influenced all his proceedings. 'This hasn't go anything to do with young Green here.'

'No more it has,' said Charley. 'Why don't you put yourself under Fagin, Oliver?'

'And make your fortun' out of hand?' added the Dodger, with a grin.

'And so be able to retire on your property, and do the gen-teel: as I mean to, in the very next leap-year but four that ever comes, and the forty-second Tuesday in Trinity-week,' said Charley Bates.

'I don't like it,' rejoined Oliver, timidly; 'I wish they would let me go. I--I--would rather go.'

'And Fagin would RATHER not!' rejoined Charley.

Oliver knew this too well; but thinking it might be dangerous to express his feelings more openly, he only sighed, and went on with his boot-cleaning.

'Go!' exclaimed the Dodger. 'Why, where's your spirit?' Don't you take any pride out of yourself? Would you go and be dependent on your friends?'

'Oh, blow that!' said Master Bates: drawing two or three silk handkerchiefs from his pocket, and tossing them into a cupboard, 'that's too mean; that is.'

'_I_ couldn't do it,' said the Dodger, with an air of haughty disgust.

'You can leave your friends, though,' said Oliver with a half smile; 'and let them be punished for what you did.'

'That,' rejoined the Dodger, with a wave of his pipe, 'That was all out of consideration for Fagin, 'cause the traps know that we work together, and he might have got into trouble if we hadn't made our lucky; that was the move, wasn't it, Charley?'

Master Bates nodded assent, and would have spoken, but the recollection of Oliver's flight came so suddenly upon him, that the smoke he was inhaling got entangled with a laugh, and went up into his head, and down into his throat: and brought on a fit of coughing and stamping, about five minutes long.

'Look here!' said the Dodger, drawing forth a handful of shillings and halfpence. 'Here's a jolly life! What's the odds where it comes from? Here, catch hold; there's plenty more where they were took from. You won't, won't you? Oh, you precious flat!'

'It's naughty, ain't it, Oliver?' inquired Charley Bates. 'He'll come to be scragged, won't he?'

'I don't know what that means,' replied Oliver.

'Something in this way, old feller,' said Charly. As he said it, Master Bates caught up an end of his neckerchief; and, holding it erect in the air, dropped his head on his shoulder, and jerked a curious sound through his teeth; thereby indicating, by a lively pantomimic representation, that scragging and hanging were one and the same thing.

'That's what it means,' said Charley. 'Look how he stares, Jack!

I never did see such prime company as that 'ere boy; he'll be the death of me, I know he will.' Master Charley Bates, having laughed heartily again, resumed his pipe with tears in his eyes.

'You've been brought up bad,' said the Dodger, surveying his boots with much satisfaction when Oliver had polished them. 'Fagin will make something of you, though, or you'll be the first he ever had that turned out unprofitable. You'd better begin at once; for you'll come to the trade long before you think of it; and you're only losing time, Oliver.'

Master Bates backed this advice with sundry moral admonitions of his own: which, being exhausted, he and his friend Mr. Dawkins launched into a glowing description of the numerous pleasures incidental to the life they led, interspersed with a variety of hints to Oliver that the best thing he could do, would be to secure Fagin's favour without more delay, by the means which they themselves had employed to gain it.

'And always put this in your pipe, Nolly,' said the Dodger, as the Jew was heard unlocking the door above, 'if you don't take fogels and tickers--'

'What's the good of talking in that way?' interposed Master Bates; 'he don't know what you mean.'

'If you don't take pocket-handkechers and watches,' said the Dodger, reducing his conversation to the level of Oliver's capacity, 'some other cove will; so that the coves that lose 'em will be all the worse, and you'll be all the worse, too, and nobody half a ha'p'orth the better, except the chaps wot gets them--and you've just as good a right to them as they have.'

'To be sure, to be sure!' said the Jew, who had entered unseen by Oliver. 'It all lies in a nutshell my dear; in a nutshell, take the Dodger's word for it. Ha! ha! ha! He understands the catechism of his trade.'

The old man rubbed his hands gleefully together, as he corroborated the Dodger's reasoning in these terms; and chuckled with delight at his pupil's proficiency.

The conversation proceeded no farther at this time, for the Jew had returned home accompanied by Miss Betsy, and a gentleman whom Oliver had never seen before, but who was accosted by the Dodger as Tom Chitling; and who, having lingered on the stairs to exchange a few gallantries with the lady, now made his appearance.

Mr. Chitling was older in years than the Dodger: having perhaps numbered eighteen winters; but there was a degree of deference in his deportment towards that young gentleman which seemed to indicate that he felt himself conscious of a slight inferiority in point of genius and professional aquirements. He had small twinkling eyes, and a pock-marked face; wore a fur cap, a dark corduroy jacket, greasy fustian trousers, and an apron. His wardrobe was, in truth, rather out of repair; but he excused himself to the company by stating that his 'time' was only out an hour before; and that, in consequence of having worn the regimentals for six weeks past, he had not been able to bestow any attention on his private clothes. Mr. Chitling added, with strong marks of irritation, that the new way of fumigating clothes up yonder was infernal unconstitutional, for it burnt holes in them, and there was no remedy against the County. The same remark he considered to apply to the regulation mode of cutting the hair: which he held to be decidedly unlawful. Mr. Chitling wound up his observations by stating that he had not touched a drop of anything for forty-two moral long hard-working days; and that he 'wished he might be busted if he warn't as dry as a lime-basket.'

'Where do you think the gentleman has come from, Oliver?' inquired the Jew, with a grin, as the other boys put a bottle of spirits on the table.

'I--I--don't know, sir,' replied Oliver.

'Who's that?' inquired Tom Chitling, casting a contemptuous look at Oliver.

'A young friend of mine, my dear,' replied the Jew.

'He's in luck, then,' said the young man, with a meaning look at Fagin. 'Never mind where I came from, young 'un; you'll find your way there, soon enough, I'll bet a crown!'

At this sally, the boys laughed. After some more jokes on the same subject, they exchanged a few short whispers with Fagin; and withdrew.

After some words apart between the last comer and Fagin, they drew their chairs towards the fire; and the Jew, telling Oliver to come and sit by him, led the conversation to the topics most calculated to interest his hearers. These were, the great advantages of the trade, the proficiency of the Dodger, the amiability of Charley Bates, and the liberality of the Jew himself. At length these subjects displayed signs of being thoroughly exhausted; and Mr. Chitling did the same: for the house of correction becomes fatiguing after a week or two. Miss Betsy accordingly withdrew; and left the party to their repose.

From this day, Oliver was seldom left alone; but was placed in almost constant communication with the two boys, who played the old game with the Jew every day: whether for their own improvement or Oliver's, Mr. Fagin best knew. At other times the old man would tell them stories of robberies he had committed in his younger days: mixed up with so much that was droll and curious, that Oliver could not help laughing heartily, and showing that he was amused in spite of all his better feelings.

In short, the wily old Jew had the boy in his toils. Having prepared his mind, by solitude and gloom, to prefer any society to the companionship of his own sad thoughts in such a dreary place, he was now slowly instilling into his soul the poison which he hoped would blacken it, and change its hue for ever.


   第二天中午时分,机灵鬼和贝兹少爷外出干他们的老本行去了,费金先生借此机会向奥立弗发表了长篇演说,痛斥忘恩负义的滔天罪行。他清楚地表明,奥立弗的罪过非同小可,居然忍心抛下一帮时时记挂着他的朋友,再者说,大家惹来那么多的麻烦,花了那么大本钱,才把他找回来,他还一心想逃走。费金先生着重强调了他收留、厚待奥立弗这件事,当时如果没有他及时伸出援手,奥立弗可能已经饿死了。他讲述了某个小伙子的凄惨动人的经历,他出于恻隐之心,在类似的情形之下帮助了那个小伙子,可事实证明小伙子辜负了自己的信赖,妄图向警方通风报信,有天早晨,在“老城”①不幸被绞死。费金先生毫不讳言,自己与这起惨案有关,但却声泪俱下地悲叹说,由于前边谈到的那个年轻人执迷不悟、背信弃义的行为,旁人不得不向巡回刑事法庭举报,将他作为牺牲品――即便提供的并不都是真凭实据――为了他(费金先生)和不多几个密友的安全,这是势在必行的。费金先生描绘了一副令人相当厌恶的画面,说明绞刑具有种种难受之处,以此作为演说的结尾。他彬彬有礼、充满友情地表达了无数殷切的希望,除非迫不得已,他决不愿意让奥立弗遭受这种令人不愉快的处置——

    ①伦敦中央刑事法庭。

    小奥立弗听着老犹太的一席话,隐隐约约听出了其中流露的阴险狠毒的威胁,他的血凉了下来。他已经有了体验,当无辜与有罪偶然交织在一起的时候,连司法当局也很可能将其混为一谈。对于如何除掉知道得太多或者是过分藏不住话的家伙,老犹太早有深谋老算,这类计划他的确已经不止一次设计并且实施过了。奥立弗想起了这位绅士和赛克斯先生之间争吵的缘由,似乎就与以往的某一桩类似的阴谋有关。他怯生生地抬起头来,不想却碰上了老犹太锐利的目光,他意识到,这位谨慎的老绅士对自己苍白的面孔和索索发抖的四肢既不是视而不见,也不是毫无兴趣。老犹太令人作呕地微微一笑,在奥立弗头上拍了拍,说只要他自己不吵不闹,专心做事,他们照旧可以成为非常要好的朋友。说罢,他戴上帽子,裹了一件缀有补丁的大衣,随手锁上房门,出去了。

    就这样,整整一天,连同随后的好几天,从清早到半夜,奥立弗一个人影也见不到。在这段漫长的时光里,与他作伴的只有他自己的浮想。他怎么也忘不了那些好心的朋友,他们一定早就把自己看成另一种人了,这样的念头实在令人伤心。

    约莫过了一个礼拜,老犹太不再锁门,他可以随意在房子里到处走了。

    这地方非常肮脏污秽。楼上的几个房间装有高大的木制壁炉架和大门,墙壁上镶有嵌板,壁带一直嵌到天花板。由于无人看管,这些东西积满了尘埃,已变得暗淡无光,但却装饰得千姿百态,各不相同。根据所有这些迹象,奥立弗断定,很久以前,在犹太老头还没生出来的时候,这房子属于一些境遇比较好的人,说不定曾一度金碧辉煌,尽管现在满目凄凉。

    在墙壁与天花板的犄角里,蜘蛛早已架好了网。有时候,奥立弗轻手轻脚走进一间屋子,会看见老鼠在地板上窜来窜去,惊慌不迭地跑回洞里。除此以外,房子里再也看不见、听不到任何有生命的东西的动静声响了。有好多次,当天色暗下来,他一个房间一个房间地游荡,累了便蜷缩到靠近大门的走廊角落里,盼着能尽量离有血有肉的人近一些,他呆在那儿,倾听着外边的声音,计算着时间,直到费金或是那几个少年回来。

    所有房间的窗板正一天天腐烂,全都关得密不透风,压窗板的横条用螺钉牢牢地钉在木槽里。仅有的光线从房顶上一个个圆孔中躲躲闪闪地溜下来,使屋子显得更加昏暗,布满奇形怪状的影子。顶楼开着一扇后窗,没有装窗板,上边的栅栏已经生锈。奥立弗经常满脸惆怅地往外张望,一看就是几个小时,可是除了参差不齐、密密层层的一大片屋顶,黑沉沉的烟囱和山墙的尖顶之外,什么东西也分辨不出。确实,偶尔也可以看到远处一所房子的屋顶矮墙上冒出一个头发蓬乱的脑袋,但一晃又很快消失了。奥立弗的了望窗是钉死了的,加上多年雨淋烟熏,往外看一片朦胧,他顶多能够把外边各种东西的形状区别开,至于想办法让别人看见他或者听到他的声音――这就好比他是呆在圣保罗大教堂的圆顶里边一样,根本谈不上。

    一天下午,机灵鬼和贝兹少爷都在张罗晚上出门的事,先提到名字的那位小绅士心血来潮,表示出对他个人打扮的某种忧虑(平心而论,这决不是他向来就存在的一个缺点)。出于这一目的,他居然赏脸,命令奥立弗帮助他梳妆打扮一下。

    奥立弗见自己能派上用处,真有些受宠若惊,身边总算有了几张面孔,哪怕看上去并不和气,也够他高兴的。再者说,他很想通过老老实实做事来感化身边的几个人,对这一提议他没有一点反对的意思,立刻表示乐意效劳,机灵鬼坐到桌子上,以便将靴子搭在奥立弗的一条腿上,他在地板上跪下来,开始进行被达金斯先生称作“替脚套上光”的这一道工序。用通行的语言来说这句话,就是替他擦鞋。

    一个人摆出一副非常舒适的姿势,在餐桌上坐下来,一边抽烟斗,一边漫不经心地将一条腿荡来荡去,让别人替自己擦鞋,既省下了从前那种脱下来的麻烦,又免去了重新穿上时估计得到的痛苦,免得打断自己的暇想,有理性的动物在这种时候想来都可能体验到这种悠哉游哉的感觉,要不然就是醇厚的烟草使机灵鬼心旷神恰,或者是温馨的啤酒使他的思维活动平静下来了,反正眼下他显然浑身洋溢着一种既浪漫又热忱的情趣,跟他的天性颇不相符。他低头看了奥立弗一眼,一副若有所思的样子。接着他又抬起头来,轻轻叹了一口气,一半是走神一半是冲着贝兹少爷说道:

    “真可惜,他不是搞我们这行的。”

    “啊,”查理贝兹少爷说,“他不知道好歹。”

    机灵鬼又叹了一口气,吸起烟斗来,查理也吸了起来。两个人吞云吐雾,一时都没作声。

    “你大概连扒包是怎么回事都不知道吧?”机灵鬼悲哀地问。

    “这个我懂,”奥立弗抬起头来,回答说,“就是小――你就是一个,对吗?”奥立弗说着,打住了话头。

    “是啊,”机灵鬼答道,“别的行当我还瞧不上呢。”达金斯先生抒发出这番感想,把帽子使劲往上一推,直瞪瞪地瞅着贝兹少爷,似乎想表示欢迎他发表与此相反的观点。

    “是啊,”机灵鬼重复了一句,“查理是,费金是,还有赛克斯、南希、蓓特,大家伙儿全是小偷,直到那只狗,它还是我们一伙中最滑头的一个呢。”

    “也是嘴巴最牢靠的一个。”查理贝兹加了一句。

    “就是在证人席上它也不会汪汪叫,怕祸事落到它自个儿身上,是啊,就是把它绑起来,让它在那儿呆上两个礼拜,不给它东西吃,它也不会吭声。”机灵鬼说。

    “可不是嘛。”查理表示赞同。

    “这狗怪怪的。碰上生人大笑或是唱歌,它从不摆出凶神恶煞的样子。”机灵鬼接着说道,“听见拉提琴,它从不乱吼乱叫。跟它不是一家子的狗,它从来不恨。噢,才不呢。”

    “真是个地地道道的基督徒。”查理说。

    这句话仅仅是褒奖这头畜生有能耐,然而贝兹少爷并不知道,这句话在另外一个意义上却是一种颇为中肯的看法,因为世间有无数的女士、先生自称为地地道道的基督徒,这些人与赛克斯先生的狗之间存在着非常突出而又奇特的相似之处。

    “得啦,得啦,”机灵鬼将扯到一边的话题又拉了回来,这是出于职业上的细心,这种细心总是左右了他的一言一行。“反正跟这个小娃娃没一点关系。”

    “可不是嘛,”查理说道,“奥立弗,你干吗不拜费金为师呢?”

    “不想很快发财?”机灵鬼咧嘴笑了笑,补充道。

    “有了钱就可以告老退休,做上等人,我的意思是,就是往后数四个闰年,再往后一个闰年,也就是三一节①的第四十二个礼拜二。”查理贝兹乱扯一气——

    ①宗教节日,三位一体节亦称三一节,在复活节后第八周,三位一体即圣父上帝、圣子耶稣及圣灵为一体。

    “我不喜欢这种事,”奥立弗怯生生地回答,“他们放我走就好了,我――我――很想走。”

    “费金才不想哩。”查理答道。

    奥立弗对这一点再清楚不过了,然而,他意识到,把自己的心思吐露得再明白一些,没准会引来祸事,只好长叹一声,继续擦鞋。

    “走,”机灵鬼嚷嚷着,“哎,你的志气哪儿去了?你难道没一点自尊心?还想去投靠你那些朋友?”

    “喔,真没劲,”贝兹少爷说着,从衣袋里掏出两三张丝手绢,扔进壁橱里。“那也太没意思了,真的。”

    “我可于不出这种事。”机灵鬼挂着一副高傲的蔑视神气,说道。

    “你也可以扔下你那些朋友,”奥立弗苦笑着说,“让他们去为你做的事受罚呀。”

    “那,”机灵鬼晃了晃烟斗,“都是考虑到费金,警察知道我们一块儿混饭吃,我们要是运气不好,他也会遇到麻烦,就是这么回事,对吗,查理?”

    贝兹少爷赞同地点了点头,正要说话,上次奥立弗一路飞跑的场面突如其来地浮现在他的心目中,一下子搅得他刚吸进去的烟和笑声纠缠在一起,往上直冲脑门,往下窜进喉咙,憋得他又是咳嗽,又是跺脚,折腾了约莫五分钟之久。

    “瞧瞧,”机灵鬼掏出一大把钱,全是些先令和半便士的。“这才叫快活日子呢。谁管它是哪儿钻出来的?喏,接着,那些地方钱还多着呢。你要不要,不要?哟,你这个可爱的小傻瓜。”

    “真没规矩,对不,奥立弗?”查理贝兹问道,“人家会把他的脖子勒个转儿的,你说呢?”

    “我不懂这是什么意思。”奥立弗回答。

    “是这个,老伙计,”贝兹少爷一边说,一边抓住围巾的一端,往空中一抛,他把头搭拉在肩膀上,牙缝里挤出一种古怪的声音,通过这样一个生动的哑剧造型,示意勒脖子跟绞刑是一回事。

    “就是这个意思,”查理说道,“杰克,瞧他眼睛瞪得多大。我从来没见过这样的好伙伴,他会把我笑死了,我知道他会的。”贝兹少爷又开心地大笑一通,眼里含着泪水,叼起了烟斗。

    “你已经给教坏了,”机灵鬼心满意足地审视着靴子,这工夫奥立弗已经把鞋擦得明光铮亮。“不过,费金会培养你的,不然你可要成他手下头一件废品。你最好马上干起来,因为你脑筋还没转过来就已经人道了。奥立弗,你现在纯粹是浪费时间。”

    贝兹少爷把自己在道德方面的种种信条都搬了出来,全力支持这一提议。教训已毕,他与朋友达金斯先生又天花乱坠地说了一通,介绍他们过的这种日子附带捎来的无穷乐趣,用各种各样的暗示开导奥立弗,最好的办法就是别再耽搁,采取他们用过的办法来博得费金的欢心。

    “还得老是把这个放在你的烟斗里,诺利,”机灵鬼听见老犹太在上边开门的声音,话锋一转说道。“你要是没弄到抹嘴儿和嘀嗒盒的话――”

    “你那样说有什么好处?”贝兹少爷插嘴说,“他听不懂你的意思。”

    “假如你不去拿手绢和金表的话,”机灵鬼把谈话调整到奥立弗能听懂的水平,“别人也会去拿的。那么丢东西的家伙全都倒霉了,你也全都倒了霉,撇开捞到东西的小子不算,谁也摊不上一星半点好处――你跟他们没什么两样,也有权利得到那些东西。”

    “千真万确,千真万确。”费金说道,他进来的时候没让奥立弗看见。“事情一点不复杂,我亲爱的,简单极了,你相信机灵鬼的话好了。哈哈!他挺在行的。”

    费金老头喜滋滋地搓了搓手,对机灵鬼这番头头是道的推理表示认可,眼见自己的徒弟这样有出息,他乐得格格直笑。

    这一回,谈话没再继续下去,因为与老犹太一块回来的还有蓓特小姐和奥立弗不认识的另一位绅士,机灵鬼管他叫汤姆基特宁。这位先生在楼梯上停了停,与那位女士谦让了几句才走进来。

    基特宁先生年龄比机灵鬼大一些,兴许已经数过了十八个冬天,然而他和那位小绅士一举一动都各不相同,这似乎表明他在天分和职业技能方面都略有一点自愧不如。他长着一双闪烁的小眼睛,脸上痘疤密布,头戴皮帽,身穿黑色灯心绒外套,油腻腻的粗布裤子,系了一条围裙。他这身衣服确实需要好好修补一下。他向在场各位表示歉意,声明他一个小时前才“出来”,由于过去六个星期一直穿制服,还没顾得上考虑便服的问题。基特宁先生满脸的不自在,补充说,那边熏蒸衣裳的新方法整个就是无法无天,衣服上熏出些个窟窿,可跟郡里又没有什么道理好讲。他对理发的规定也有同样的批评,那绝对是非法的。基特宁先生在结束他的评论时声明,自己在长得要命、累得要死的四十二天里,没碰过一滴东西,他“要是没有渴得像一只石灰篓子的话,自己甘愿炸成灰”。

    “你猜这位绅士打哪里来,奥立弗?”老犹太借着别的孩子正张罗着把一瓶酒往餐桌上放的功夫,笑嘻嘻地问。

    “我――我――不知道。先生。”奥立弗回答。

    “那是谁呀?”汤姆基特宁轻蔑地看了奥立弗一眼,问道。

    “我的一位小朋友,亲爱的。”费金回答。

    “那他还算运气不错,”小伙子意味深长地望了望费金,说道。“别管我是哪儿来的,小家伙。要不了多久你也会找上门去的,我拿五先令打赌。”

    这句俏皮话引得两个少年笑了起来,他们就同一个话题开了几句玩笑,又与费金低声说了几句,便出去了。

    不速之客跟费金到一旁交谈了几句,两人把椅子扯到壁炉前,费金招呼奥立弗坐到他的身边,将谈话引入了最能激发听众兴趣的话题,比方说,干这一行的巨大优势啦,机灵鬼的精明干练啦,查理贝兹的亲切可爱啦,以及老犹太自己的豪爽大方什么的。最后,这些题目出现了完全枯竭的迹象,基特宁先生的情况也一样,因为只要在感化院呆上一两个礼拜就再也打不起精神来。蓓特小姐知趣地退了出去,让大家各自休息。

    从这天起,奥立弗很少单独留下,但却几乎时时刻刻都与那两个少年呆在一起,他俩每天都要跟费金一起做以前那种游戏,究竟是为他们自己有长进还是为奥立弗好,只有费金先生最清楚。其余时间,老头儿给他们讲了一些他年轻时打劫的故事,其中穿插了许多滑稽奇妙的情节,连奥立弗也忍不住开怀大笑,这表明他被逗乐了,尽管他天良未泯。

    简而言之,诡计多端的老犹太已经使这孩子落入圈套,他用孤独与忧郁去熏陶奥立弗的心,让他感到在这样一个阴森凄凉的地方,与随便什么人为伍都比独自沉浸在忧愁苦恼中好受一些,他现在正将毒汁缓慢地注入奥立弗的灵魂,企图将那颗心变黑,永远改变它的颜色。



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