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Chapter 20

WHEREIN OLVER IS DELIVERED OVER TO MR. WILLIAM SIKES

When Oliver awoke in the morning, he was a good deal surprised to find that a new pair of shoes, with strong thick soles, had been placed at his bedside; and that his old shoes had been removed. At first, he was pleased with the discovery: hoping that it might be the forerunner of his release; but such thoughts were quickly dispelled, on his sitting down to breakfast along with the Jew, who told him, in a tone and manner which increased his alarm, that he was to be taken to the residence of Bill Sikes that night.

'To--to--stop there, sir?' asked Oliver, anxiously.

'No, no, my dear. Not to stop there,' replied the Jew. 'We shouldn't like to lose you. Don't be afraid, Oliver, you shall come back to us again. Ha! ha! ha! We won't be so cruel as to send you away, my dear. Oh no, no!'

The old man, who was stooping over the fire toasting a piece of bread, looked round as he bantered Oliver thus; and chuckled as if to show that he knew he would still be very glad to get away if he could.

'I suppose,' said the Jew, fixing his eyes on Oliver, 'you want to know what you're going to Bill's for---eh, my dear?'

Oliver coloured, involuntarily, to find that the old thief had been reading his thoughts; but boldly said, Yes, he did want to know.

'Why, do you think?' inquired Fagin, parrying the question.

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

'Bah!' said the Jew, turning away with a disappointed countenance from a close perusal of the boy's face. 'Wait till Bill tells you, then.'

The Jew seemed much vexed by Oliver's not expressing any greater curiosity on the subject; but the truth is, that, although Oliver felt very anxious, he was too much confused by the earnest cunning of Fagin's looks, and his own speculations, to make any further inquiries just then. He had no other opportunity: for the Jew remained very surly and silent till night: when he prepared to go abroad.

'You may burn a candle,' said the Jew, putting one upon the table. 'And here's a book for you to read, till they come to fetch you. Good-night!'

'Good-night!' replied Oliver, softly.

The Jew walked to the door: looking over his shoulder at the boy as he went. Suddenly stopping, he called him by his name.

Oliver looked up; the Jew, pointing to the candle, motioned him to light it. He did so; and, as he placed the candlestick upon the table, saw that the Jew was gazing fixedly at him, with lowering and contracted brows, from the dark end of the room.

'Take heed, Oliver! take heed!' said the old man, shaking his right hand before him in a warning manner. 'He's a rough man, and thinks nothing of blood when his own is up. Whatever falls out, say nothing; and do what he bids you. Mind!' Placing a strong emphasis on the last word, he suffered his features gradually to resolve themselves into a ghastly grin, and, nodding his head, left the room.

Oliver leaned his head upon his hand when the old man disappeared, and pondered, with a trembling heart, on the words he had just heard. The more he thought of the Jew's admonition, the more he was at a loss to divine its real purpose and meaning.

He could think of no bad object to be attained by sending him to Sikes, which would not be equally well answered by his remaining with Fagin; and after meditating for a long time, concluded that he had been selected to perform some ordinary menial offices for the housebreaker, until another boy, better suited for his purpose could be engaged. He was too well accustomed to suffering, and had suffered too much where he was, to bewail the prospect of change very severely. He remained lost in thought for some minutes; and then, with a heavy sigh, snuffed the candle, and, taking up the book which the Jew had left with him, began to read.

He turned over the leaves. Carelessly at first; but, lighting on a passage which attracted his attention, he soon became intent upon the volume. It was a history of the lives and trials of great criminals; and the pages were soiled and thumbed with use. Here, he read of dreadful crimes that made the blood run cold; of secret murders that had been committed by the lonely wayside; of bodies hidden from the eye of man in deep pits and wells: which would not keep them down, deep as they were, but had yielded them up at last, after many years, and so maddened the murderers with the sight, that in their horror they had confessed their guilt, and yelled for the gibbet to end their agony. Here, too, he read of men who, lying in their beds at dead of night, had been tempted (so they said) and led on, by their own bad thoughts, to such dreadful bloodshed as it made the flesh creep, and the limbs quail, to think of. The terrible descriptions were so real and vivid, that the sallow pages seemed to turn red with gore; and the words upon them, to be sounded in his ears, as if they were whispered, in hollow murmurs, by the spirits of the dead.

In a paroxysm of fear, the boy closed the book, and thrust it from him. Then, falling upon his knees, he prayed Heaven to spare him from such deeds; and rather to will that he should die at once, than be reserved for crimes, so fearful and appalling. By degrees, he grew more calm, and besought, in a low and broken voice, that he might be rescued from his present dangers; and that if any aid were to be raised up for a poor outcast boy who had never known the love of friends or kindred, it might come to him now, when, desolate and deserted, he stood alone in the midst of wickedness and guilt.

He had concluded his prayer, but still remained with his head buried in his hands, when a rustling noise aroused him.

'What's that!' he cried, starting up, and catching sight of a figure standing by the door. 'Who's there?'

'Me. Only me,' replied a tremulous voice.

Oliver raised the candle above his head: and looked towards the door. It was Nancy.

'Put down the light,' said the girl, turning away her head. 'It hurts my eyes.'

Oliver saw that she was very pale, and gently inquired if she were ill. The girl threw herself into a chair, with her back towards him: and wrung her hands; but made no reply.

'God forgive me!' she cried after a while, 'I never thought of this.'

'Has anything happened?' asked Oliver. 'Can I help you? I will if I can. I will, indeed.'

She rocked herself to and fro; caught her throat; and, uttering a gurgling sound, gasped for breath.

'Nancy!' cried Oliver, 'What is it?'

The girl beat her hands upon her knees, and her feet upon the ground; and, suddenly stopping, drew her shawl close round her: and shivered with cold.

Oliver stirred the fire. Drawing her chair close to it, she sat there, for a little time, without speaking; but at length she raised her head, and looked round.

'I don't know what comes over me sometimes,' said she, affecting to busy herself in arranging her dress; 'it's this damp dirty room, I think. Now, Nolly, dear, are you ready?'

'Am I to go with you?' asked Oliver.

'Yes. I have come from Bill,' replied the girl. 'You are to go with me.'

'What for?' asked Oliver, recoiling.

'What for?' echoed the girl, raising her eyes, and averting them again, the moment they encountered the boy's face. 'Oh! For no harm.'

'I don't believe it,' said Oliver: who had watched her closely.

'Have it your own way,' rejoined the girl, affecting to laugh. 'For no good, then.'

Oliver could see that he had some power over the girl's better feelings, and, for an instant, thought of appealing to her compassion for his helpless state. But, then, the thought darted across his mind that it was barely eleven o'clock; and that many people were still in the streets: of whom surely some might be found to give credence to his tale. As the reflection occured to him, he stepped forward: and said, somewhat hastily, that he was ready.

Neither his brief consideration, nor its purport, was lost on his companion. She eyed him narrowly, while he spoke; and cast upon him a look of intelligence which sufficiently showed that she guessed what had been passing in his thoughts.

'Hush!' said the girl, stooping over him, and pointing to the door as she looked cautiously round. 'You can't help yourself. I have tried hard for you, but all to no purpose. You are hedged round and round. If ever you are to get loose from here, this is not the time.'

Struck by the energy of her manner, Oliver looked up in her face with great surprise. She seemed to speak the truth; her countenance was white and agitated; and she trembled with very earnestness.

'I have saved you from being ill-used once, and I will again, and I do now,' continued the girl aloud; 'for those who would have fetched you, if I had not, would have been far more rough than me. I have promised for your being quiet and silent; if you are not, you will only do harm to yourself and me too, and perhaps be my death. See here! I have borne all this for you already, as true as God sees me show it.'

She pointed, hastily, to some livid bruises on her neck and arms; and continued, with great rapidity:

'Remember this! And don't let me suffer more for you, just now. If I could help you, I would; but I have not the power. They don't mean to harm you; whatever they make you do, is no fault of yours. Hush! Every word from you is a blow for me. Give me your hand. Make haste! Your hand!'

She caught the hand which Oliver instinctively placed in hers, and, blowing out the light, drew him after her up the stairs. The door was opened, quickly, by some one shrouded in the darkness, and was as quickly closed, when they had passed out. A hackney-cabriolet was in waiting; with the same vehemence which she had exhibited in addressing Oliver, the girl pulled him in with her, and drew the curtains close. The driver wanted no directions, but lashed his horse into full speed, without the delay of an instant.

The girl still held Oliver fast by the hand, and continued to pour into his ear, the warnings and assurances she had already imparted. All was so quick and hurried, that he had scarcely time to recollect where he was, or how he came there, when the carriage stopped at the house to which the Jew's steps had been directed on the previous evening.

For one brief moment, Oliver cast a hurried glance along the empty street, and a cry for help hung upon his lips. But the girl's voice was in his ear, beseeching him in such tones of agony to remember her, that he had not the heart to utter it. While he hesitated, the opportunity was gone; he was already in the house, and the door was shut.

'This way,' said the girl, releasing her hold for the first time. 'Bill!'

'Hallo!' replied Sikes: appearing at the head of the stairs, with a candle. 'Oh! That's the time of day. Come on!'

This was a very strong expression of approbation, an uncommonly hearty welcome, from a person of Mr. Sikes' temperament. Nancy, appearing much gratified thereby, saluted him cordially.

'Bull's-eye's gone home with Tom,' observed Sikes, as he lighted them up. 'He'd have been in the way.'

'That's right,' rejoined Nancy.

'So you've got the kid,' said Sikes when they had all reached the room: closing the door as he spoke.

'Yes, here he is,' replied Nancy.

'Did he come quiet?' inquired Sikes.

'Like a lamb,' rejoined Nancy.

'I'm glad to hear it,' said Sikes, looking grimly at Oliver; 'for the sake of his young carcase: as would otherways have suffered for it. Come here, young 'un; and let me read you a lectur', which is as well got over at once.'

Thus addressing his new pupil, Mr. Sikes pulled off Oliver's cap and threw it into a corner; and then, taking him by the shoulder, sat himself down by the table, and stood the boy in front of him.

'Now, first: do you know wot this is?' inquired Sikes, taking up a pocket-pistol which lay on the table.

Oliver replied in the affirmative.

'Well, then, look here,' continued Sikes. 'This is powder; that 'ere's a bullet; and this is a little bit of a old hat for waddin'.'

Oliver murmured his comprehension of the different bodies referred to; and Mr. Sikes proceeded to load the pistol, with great nicety and deliberation.

'Now it's loaded,' said Mr. Sikes, when he had finished.

'Yes, I see it is, sir,' replied Oliver.

'Well,' said the robber, grasping Oliver's wrist, and putting the barrel so close to his temple that they touched; at which moment the boy could not repress a start; 'if you speak a word when you're out o'doors with me, except when I speak to you, that loading will be in your head without notice. So, if you _do_ make up your mind to speak without leave, say your prayers first.'

Having bestowed a scowl upon the object of this warning, to increase its effect, Mr. Sikes continued.

'As near as I know, there isn't anybody as would be asking very partickler arter you, if you _was_ disposed of; so I needn't take this devil-and-all of trouble to explain matters to you, if it warn't for your own good. D'ye hear me?'

'The short and the long of what you mean,' said Nancy: speaking very emphatically, and slightly frowning at Oliver as if to bespeak his serious attention to her words: 'is, that if you're crossed by him in this job you have on hand, you'll prevent his ever telling tales afterwards, by shooting him through the head, and will take your chance of swinging for it, as you do for a great many other things in the way of business, every month of your life.'

'That's it!' observed Mr. Sikes, approvingly; 'women can always put things in fewest words.--Except when it's blowing up; and then they lengthens it out. And now that he's thoroughly up to it, let's have some supper, and get a snooze before starting.'

In pursuance of this request, Nancy quickly laid the cloth; disappearing for a few minutes, she presently returned with a pot of porter and a dish of sheep's heads: which gave occasion to several pleasant witticisms on the part of Mr. Sikes, founded upon the singular coincidence of 'jemmies' being a can name, common to them, and also to an ingenious implement much used in his profession. Indeed, the worthy gentleman, stimulated perhaps by the immediate prospect of being on active service, was in great spirits and good humour; in proof whereof, it may be here remarked, that he humourously drank all the beer at a draught, and did not utter, on a rough calculation, more than four-score oaths during the whole progress of the meal.

Supper being ended--it may be easily conceived that Oliver had no great appetite for it--Mr. Sikes disposed of a couple of glasses of spirits and water, and threw himself on the bed; ordering Nancy, with many imprecations in case of failure, to call him at five precisely. Oliver stretched himself in his clothes, by command of the same authority, on a mattress upon the floor; and the girl, mending the fire, sat before it, in readiness to rouse them at the appointed time.

For a long time Oliver lay awake, thinking it not impossible that Nancy might seek that opportunity of whispering some further advice; but the girl sat brooding over the fire, without moving, save now and then to trim the light. Weary with watching and anxiety, he at length fell asleep.

When he awoke, the table was covered with tea-things, and Sikes was thrusting various articles into the pockets of his great-coat, which hung over the back of a chair. Nancy was busily engaged in preparing breakfast. It was not yet daylight; for the candle was still burning, and it was quite dark outside. A sharp rain, too, was beating against the window-panes; and the sky looked black and cloudy.

'Now, then!' growled Sikes, as Oliver started up; 'half-past five! Look sharp, or you'll get no breakfast; for it's late as it is.'

Oliver was not long in making his toilet; having taken some breakfast, he replied to a surly inquiry from Sikes, by saying that he was quite ready.

Nancy, scarcely looking at the boy, threw him a handkerchief to tie round his throat; Sikes gave him a large rough cape to button over his shoulders. Thus attired, he gave his hand to the robber, who, merely pausing to show him with a menacing gesture that he had that same pistol in a side-pocket of his great-coat, clasped it firmly in his, and, exchanging a farewell with Nancy, led him away.

Oliver turned, for an instant, when they reached the door, in the hope of meeting a look from the girl. But she had resumed her old seat in front of the fire, and sat, perfectly motionless before it.


    早晨,奥立弗醒了,发现自己那双旧鞋不翼而飞,床边放着一双鞋底厚厚实实的新鞋,他不禁吓了一大跳。刚开始他还很高兴,以为这是自己即将获得自由的预兆。他坐下来,跟费金一起吃早饭时,这些想法就顿时化为了泡影,老头儿说话时的口气和脸色更增添了他的恐慌,他告诉奥立弗,当天夜里要送他到比尔赛克斯那里去。

    “就――就――留在那儿了,先生?”奥立弗急不可待地问。

    “不,不,亲爱的,不是让你留在那儿,”老犹太答道之学为主导的学派,后人称之“稷下学”。齐襄王之后逐渐衰,“我们舍不得你。奥立弗,别害怕,你还要回我们这儿来的。哈哈哈!我们可不会那样狠心,把你打发走,亲爱的。喔不,不会的。”

    这功夫,老头儿正躬着腰在火上烤面包,他一边这么逗弄奥立弗,一边回头看了看,格格地笑了起来,似乎表示他心中有数,只要有法子,奥立弗还是巴不得溜之大吉。

    “我寻思,”老犹太说话时一双眼睛盯在奥立弗身上,“你很想知道上比尔那里干什么去――啊,宝贝儿?”

    一见老贼对自己的想法了如指掌,奥立弗不由得红了脸,但还是大着胆子说,是的,他的确很想知道。

    “你想想看,去干什么?”费金反过来问他。

    “先生,我真的不知道。”奥立弗回答。

    “呸。”费金唾了一口,对着孩子的面孔细细察看了一番,带着一副沮丧的神情转过身去。“那,等比尔告诉你吧。”

    看得出来,奥立弗在这个问题上没有表示出更浓厚的好奇心,老犹太显然大为光火。然而事实上,尽管奥立弗心急如焚,却被费金眉宇间那股掩藏不住的奸诈以及自己的种种猜测搅得六神无主,也顾不上继续问长问短。他已经没有别的机会了,老犹太直到天黑都是在作出门的准备,老是阴沉着脸,一声不吭。

    “你可以把蜡烛点上了,”老头儿说着,把一支蜡烛放在桌上。“这儿有本书,你看看吧,等他们来接你。祝你晚安。”

    “晚安。”奥立弗轻声答道。

    老犹太朝门口走去,边走边扭过头来打量这孩子。他突然停下来,叫了一声奥立弗的名字。

    奥立弗抬起头,看见费金用手指了指蜡烛,意思是要他点上。奥立弗照办了。他把烛台放到桌上,发现费金依旧站在房间对面的暗处,眉头紧锁,目不转睛地望着自己。

    “当心一点,奥立弗。当心。”老头儿挥了挥右手,像是在警告他。“他是个鲁莽家伙,发起性子来连命都不要。不管发生什么事,一句话也别说,他要你干什么,你就干什么。留神些。”费金重重地吐出最后一句话,绷紧的面部表情逐渐化为一种狞笑,点了点头,离开了房间。

    老头儿走了,奥立弗用手支着脑袋,怀着一颗颤动的心,反复推敲着刚听到的一席话。对于老犹太的一番告诫,他越琢磨越猜不透其中的真实目的和含意,想不出派自己到赛克斯那儿去会有什么罪恶目的,而这个目的又是跟费金呆在一起所无法达到的。他沉思了好一会儿,才认定自己是被选去替那个强盗打打杂,等物色到另外一个更为合适的小孩再说。小奥立弗早就逆来顺受惯了,呆在这里也吃尽了苦头,面对瞬息万变的前景,他就是想哭也哭不出来。他怅然若失,想了一会儿,重重地叹了口气,剔掉烛花,拿起老犹太留给他的那本书,读了起来。

    他翻了几页,刚开始还漫不经心,突然,眼前一亮,其中的一节将他吸引住了,不多一会儿他就沉浸在这本书里了。这本书记录了一帮大名鼎鼎的罪犯的生活经历和审判过程,书页已经翻得污秽不堪,盖满指头的印迹。他在书中读到了足以使人四肢冰凉的一桩桩骇人听闻的罪行,发生在僻静路边的神秘凶杀,尸体神不知鬼不觉地给埋进了深坑,或者丢在井里,尽管这些坑和井很深,却还是瞒不过去,事隔多年到底还是给抖落出来,凶手见状一个个变得疯疯癫癫,惊恐之下只好从实招来,大声要求上绞刑架,以了结自己的痛苦。还有这儿,他读到有人深更半夜好端端地躺在床上,却禁不住自己的种种邪念引诱(他们就是这样说的),干出些个血腥的凶杀案,让人一想起来就心惊肉跳,四肢瘫软。这些吓人的描述是那样真实可靠,栩栩如生,仿佛一页页泛黄的纸张都叫血痕染红了,书上的话回荡在他的耳边,就好像那是死者的灵魂正在喃喃絮语低声诉说似的。

    随着一阵突如其来的恐惧,奥立弗把书合上,扔到一边,然后双膝跪下,祈求上苍别让自己作这份孽,哪怕叫他立刻倒地身死,也别让他活着去于这些令人发指的弥天大罪。他渐渐平静下来,声音低弱而又断断续续,恳求上帝将自己从眼前的危难中解救出来,一个苦命的孤儿,从没有体验过朋友之爱或骨肉亲情,现在他孤苦伶仃,走投无路,处于邪恶与罪孽的包围之中,如果有什么援助是为这样的孩子发起的,这种援助也该到来了。

    他做完祷告,却依然用双手捂住脸,这时一阵悉悉的声音惊动了他。

    “什么东西!”他大叫一声跳了起来,一眼看见门边站着一个人影。“谁在那儿?”

    “我,我啊。”一个颤悠悠的嗓音回答说。

    奥立弗把蜡烛举过头顶,朝门口看去。原来是南希。

    “把蜡烛放下来,”南希姑娘把头扭到一边说,“我眼睛都照花了。”

    奥立弗见她脸色发青,便轻轻地问她是不是病了,这姑娘背朝奥立弗,瘫倒在一张椅子上,使劲地绞着双手,没有回答。

    “主啊,饶恕我吧。”稍停,她叫了起来,“我压根没想到是这么一回事。”

    “出什么事了?”奥立弗问道。“我能不能帮上忙?只要我有法子,一定给你帮忙。一定,真的。”

    南希在椅子里摇来摇去,她卡住自己的喉咙,发出一阵喀喀的声音,喘得透不过气来。

    “南希!”奥立弗大声喊道,“怎么了你?”

    姑娘一双手拍打着膝盖,两脚在地上直跺。她忽然又停住了,紧紧地裹上围巾,打起寒颤来。

    奥立弗将炉火拨大了一些。她把椅子拖到炉边,坐下,好一会儿没有说话。末了,她抬起头来,看了看身后。

    “我真不知道有时候是怎么回事,”她一边说,一边装出尽顾了整理衣服的样子。“八成是这间又潮又脏的屋子。喂,诺利,亲爱的,准备好了没有?”

    “我跟你一块儿去吗?”奥立弗问。

    “对,我刚从比尔那里来,我们俩一块儿去。”

    “去干什么?”奥立弗往后一退,说道。

    “去干什么?”南希应声说道,眼睛朝上翻了翻,她的目光刚一接触孩子的眼睛,便又转向一边。“噢。不是去干坏事。”

    “我不信。”奥立弗紧盯着她说。

    “随你怎么想,”姑娘强打起笑脸,答道。“当然,也不是什么好事。”

    奥立弗看得出,自己多多少少能够赢得这姑娘的好感,一个念头油然而生,以自己哀哀无告的处境来求得她的同情。紧接着又一个念头从他心中闪过:现在刚敲十一点,街上行人还很多,总会有人相信自己讲的事。想到这一点,他便走上前去,略带一点慌张地说,他准备好了。

    不管是他心中的一闪念,还是他的言外之意,都没能瞒过他的这位同伴。他说话的时候,南希的眼睛一直死死地盯着他,这时又看了他一眼,明明白白地表示,她已经猜到了他心中闪过的念头。

    “嘘!”姑娘弯下腰来,机警地看了看周围,用手指了一下门。“你自个儿没法子。为了你,我已经下死劲试过了,可都没用,他们把你看得很牢,你真要是想逃走,现在也不是时候。”

    奥立弗抬起头,目光紧紧地盯着她,南希眉宇间那种热切的表情震撼着他,看来她说的是实话:她的脸色苍白而又激动,浑身抖个不停,看得出她不是说着玩的。

    “我已经救了你一回,免了你一顿打,我还会那么做,现在就是如此,”姑娘高声说道,“假如来接你的不是我,而是别人,那些人都会比我凶多了。我答应过,说你会不吵不闹,一声不吭地上那边去,要是你做不到,只会害了你自己,还有我,说不定还会要了我的命。你看看这儿。我吃了这么多苦头,都是为了你,苍天有眼,这全是真的。”

    她急促地指了指自己脖子、手臂上的块块伤痕,一句紧接一句地说下去:“记住这一点。眼下别再叫我为你吃苦头了。只要能办到,我会帮助你的,但我现在还没有这个力量。他们没存心把你怎么样,他们逼你干的什么事,都不能算你的错。听着,你嘴里漏出的每一个字都跟打我一样。把手伸给我,快。你的手。”

    她一把抓住奥立弗出于本能伸过去的手,吹熄蜡烛,拉着他走上楼去,一个隐藏在黑暗中的人影迅速把门打开,待他们走出去,门又很快关上了。一辆双轮马车正在门外等候,姑娘拽着奥立弗一块儿登上马车,顺手把车帘拉拢来,她的这种急切的心情已经在和他交谈时显露出来了。车夫不待吩咐,毫不拖延地抽了一鞭,马车全速开走了。

    姑娘一路上紧紧抓住奥立弗的手,继续把已经提到过的种种警告与保证送进他的耳朵。这一切来得那样迅疾仓促,他还没顾得上回想一下自己是在什么地方,或者说是怎么来的,马车已经在头天晚上老犹太去过的那所房子前边停下来。

    在短短的一瞬间,奥立弗匆匆扫了一眼空旷的街道,呼救的喊声已经到了嘴边。然而,南希的声音在他耳旁响了起来,那声音恳求自己别忘了她的话,语气是那样痛苦,奥立弗没有勇气喊出声来。犹豫中,机会错过了,这功夫他已经走进屋子,门关上了。

    “这边,”南希说道,这才第一次松开手。“比尔。”

    “哈罗。”赛克斯出现在楼梯顶上,手里擎着一支蜡烛。“喔。来得正是时候。上来吧。”

    以赛克斯先生这种人的性情来说,这要算是一种极其强烈的赞许之辞,一种非常热情的欢迎了。南希显然十分满意,她兴冲冲和他打招呼。

    “牛眼儿跟汤姆一块儿回去了,”赛克斯用蜡烛照着他俩走上楼梯,说道。“他在这儿会碍事的。”

    “是啊。”南希答道。

    “你到底把小崽子弄来了。”赛克斯待他俩走进房间,关上房门,才说道。

    “是的,弄来了。”南希回答。

    “路上没出声?”

    “跟一头小羊羔似的。”

    “这话我爱听,”赛克斯阴沉地打量着奥立弗。“我可是看在他那一身细皮嫩内的分上,要不有他好受的。小家伙,过来,我给你上堂课,还是现在就上的好。”

    赛克斯先生就这样和新来的学生打过招呼,然后一把扯下奥立弗的帽子,扔到角落里,接下来他抓住奥立弗的肩膀,自己在桌旁坐下,让那孩子站在他面前。

    “喏,第一,你知不知道这是什么玩意儿?”赛克斯拿起桌上放着的一支小手枪,说道。

    奥立弗作了肯定的答复。

    “那好,瞧这儿,”赛克斯接着说道,“这是火药,那儿是一颗子弹。这是填药塞要用的一小块破毡帽。”

    奥立弗嘟嘟哝哝地说,他明白这一样样东西是干什么用的,赛克斯先生不慌不忙地着手往手枪里安装弹药,动作非常熟练。

    “这就上好啦。”赛克斯装好子弹,说道。

    “是的,先生,我看见了。”奥立弗回答。

    “噢,”这强盗一把抓住奥立弗的手腕,将枪口对准他的太阳穴,顶了上去――孩子在这一瞬间不禁吓得跳了起来――“你跟我出门的功夫,只要说一个字;除非我叫你说,子弹就会钻进你的脑袋,连声招呼都不打。所以,如果你真的打定主意要随口说话,就先把祷告做了吧。”

    赛克斯先生朝受警告的一方瞪了一眼,以增强效果,又继续说下去:

    “据我所知,你真要是给开销了,压根儿不会有人正二八经问起你的事,因此,如果不是为你好,我犯不着费这个鸟劲,来跟你说东道西,听见了吗?”

    “干脆明说了吧,”南希说话时语气很重,同时向奥立弗微微皱了一下眉头,像是要他多多留神她的话。“就是说,你手头有桩活,要是让他给弄砸了,你就一枪打穿他的脑袋,管保叫他往后再也没法胡说八道了,为这事你就是去尝一尝荡秋千的滋味也不要紧,反正你一辈子干的就是这买卖,每个月都有许多生意上的事,一样要冒这个险。”

    “说的是啊。”赛克斯先生表示赞许。“女人家总是三言两语就把事情说清楚了,除非碰上发神经的时候,那她们讲起来可是没完没了。现在他全明白了,我们吃晚饭,动身以前打个盹儿。”

    依照这番吩咐,南希敏捷地摆上桌布,出去了,过了一会儿,她拿来一罐黑啤酒和一盘羊头肉。赛克斯先生逮着机会,说了好几句令人愉快的俏皮话,他发现“羊头肉”这个词碰巧也是帮口里的一种名称,是他干这一行离不开手的一种精巧的工具。一点不假,这位高尚的绅土精神大振,或许是困为想到马上就可以大显身手了吧,他兴致勃勃,谈笑风生,理当记上一笔,以为佐证:他风趣地一口气把啤酒都喝了下去,粗略估计,在整个用餐的过程中,他发出的咒骂不超过八十次。

    吃过晚饭――完全可以想见,奥立弗这顿饭的胃口实在不佳――赛克斯先生又解决了两杯兑水的烈酒,将他自己放倒在床上,喝令南希五点钟准时叫醒他,其中用了不少骂人的话,免得南希到时候不叫他。遵照同一位权威人士的命令,奥立弗连衣裳也没脱,就在地板上铺着的一床垫子上躺下来。南希姑娘往炉子里加了几块煤,在炉前坐下,作好了在指定时间招呼他们起床的准备。

    奥立弗躺在垫子上,久久不敢入睡,心想南希不可能不抓住这个机会,把下一步的作法悄悄告诉自己。然而,姑娘一动不动,坐在火炉前沉思,不时剪去一段烛花。奥立弗给期待与焦急弄得疲惫不堪,毕竟还是睡着了。

    他醒来的时候,桌上已经摆满茶具,赛克斯先生正把各种东西塞进椅背上挂着的一件大衣口袋里,南希在忙着准备早餐。天还没亮,屋里依然点着蜡烛。外边一片漆黑,一阵骤雨敲打着窗户,天空黑沉沉的,看来布满了乌云。

    “喂,喂。”赛克斯咆哮着,这时奥立弗已经一骨碌爬起来,“五点半了。快一点儿,要不你就吃不上早饭了,本来就晚了一些。”

    奥立弗不一会儿就梳洗完毕,胡乱吃了一点东西,当赛克斯板着脸问他的时候,他回答说自己都准备好了。

    南希尽量不正眼看奥立弗,她扔过来一张手绢,要他系在脖子上。赛克斯给了他一件粗布斗篷,叫他披在肩上扣上扣子。装束已毕,他伸过手去,这强盗顿了顿,随即满脸杀气地示意,那把手枪就放在他的大衣侧边口袋里。他紧紧抓住奥立弗的手,跟南希相互说了声再会,领着他出发了。

    走到门边,奥立弗猛地转过头,盼望着能看到姑娘的眼色,然而她己经回到炉子前边的老地方,纹丝不动地坐在那里。



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