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Chapter 27

ATONES FOR THE UNPOLITENESS OF A FORMER CHAPTER; WHICH DESERTED A LADY, MOST UNCEREMONIOUSLY

As it would be, by no means, seemly in a humble author to keep so mighty a personage as a beadle waiting, with his back to the fire, and the skirts of his coat gathered up under his arms, until such time as it might suit his pleasure to relieve him; and as it would still less become his station, or his gallantry to involve in the same neglect a lady on whom that beadle had looked with an eye of tenderness and affection, and in whose ear he had whispered sweet words, which, coming from such a quarter, might well thrill the bosom of maid or matron of whatsoever degree; the historian whose pen traces these words--trusting that he knows his place, and that he entertains a becoming reverence for those upon earth to whom high and important authority is delegated--hastens to pay them that respect which their position demands, and to treat them with all that duteous ceremony which their exalted rank, and (by consequence) great virtues, imperatively claim at his hands. Towards this end, indeed, he had purposed to introduce, in this place, a dissertation touching the divine right of beadles, and elucidative of the position, that a beadle can do no wrong: which could not fail to have been both pleasurable and profitable to the right-minded reader but which he is unfortunately compelled, by want of time and space, to postpone to some more convenient and fitting opportunity; on the arrival of which, he will be prepared to show, that a beadle properly constituted: that is to say, a parochial beadle, attached to a parochail workhouse, and attending in his official capacity the parochial church: is, in right and virtue of his office, possessed of all the excellences and best qualities of humanity; and that to none of those excellences, can mere companies' beadles, or court-of-law beadles, or even chapel-of-ease beadles (save the last, and they in a very lowly and inferior degree), lay the remotest sustainable claim.

Mr. Bumble had re-counted the teaspoons, re-weighed the sugar-tongs, made a closer inspection of the milk-pot, and ascertained to a nicety the exact condition of the furniture, down to the very horse-hair seats of the chairs; and had repeated each process full half a dozen times; before he began to think that it was time for Mrs. Corney to return. Thinking begets thinking; as there were no sounds of Mrs. Corney's approach, it occured to Mr. Bumble that it would be an innocent and virtuous way of spending the time, if he were further to allay his curiousity by a cursory glance at the interior of Mrs. Corney's chest of drawers.

Having listened at the keyhole, to assure himself that nobody was approaching the chamber, Mr. Bumble, beginning at the bottom, proceeded to make himself acquainted with the contents of the three long drawers: which, being filled with various garments of good fashion and texture, carefully preserved between two layers of old newspapers, speckled with dried lavender: seemed to yield him exceeding satisfaction. Arriving, in course of time, at the right-hand corner drawer (in which was the key), and beholding therein a small padlocked box, which, being shaken, gave forth a pleasant sound, as of the chinking of coin, Mr. Bumble returned with a stately walk to the fireplace; and, resuming his old attitude, said, with a grave and determined air, 'I'll do it!' He followed up this remarkable declaration, by shaking his head in a waggish manner for ten minutes, as though he were remonstrating with himself for being such a pleasant dog; and then, he took a view of his legs in profile, with much seeming pleasure and interest.

He was still placidly engaged in this latter survey, when Mrs. Corney, hurrying into the room, threw herself, in a breathless state, on a chair by the fireside, and covering her eyes with one hand, placed the other over her heart, and gasped for breath.

'Mrs. Corney,' said Mr. Bumble, stooping over the matron, 'what is this, ma'am? Has anything happened, ma'am? Pray answer me: I'm on--on--' Mr. Bumble, in his alarm, could not immediately think of the word 'tenterhooks,' so he said 'broken bottles.'

'Oh, Mr. Bumble!' cried the lady, 'I have been so dreadfully put out!'

'Put out, ma'am!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble; 'who has dared to--? I know!' said Mr. Bumble, checking himself, with native majesty, 'this is them wicious paupers!'

'It's dreadful to think of!' said the lady, shuddering.

'Then _don't_ think of it, ma'am,' rejoined Mr. Bumble.

'I can't help it,' whimpered the lady.

'Then take something, ma'am,' said Mr. Bumble soothingly. 'A little of the wine?'

'Not for the world!' replied Mrs. Corney. 'I couldn't,--oh! The top shelf in the right-hand corner--oh!' Uttering these words, the good lady pointed, distractedly, to the cupboard, and underwent a convulsion from internal spasms. Mr. Bumble rushed to the closet; and, snatching a pint green-glass bottle from the shelf thus incoherently indicated, filled a tea-cup with its contents, and held it to the lady's lips.

'I'm better now,' said Mrs. Corney, falling back, after drinking half of it.

Mr. Bumble raised his eyes piously to the ceiling in thankfulness; and, bringing them down again to the brim of the cup, lifted it to his nose.

'Peppermint,' exclaimed Mrs. Corney, in a faint voice, smiling gently on the beadle as she spoke. 'Try it! There's a little--a little something else in it.'

Mr. Bumble tasted the medicine with a doubtful look; smacked his lips; took another taste; and put the cup down empty.

'It's very comforting,' said Mrs. Corney.

'Very much so indeed, ma'am,' said the beadle. As he spoke, he drew a chair beside the matron, and tenderly inquired what had happened to distress her.

'Nothing,' replied Mrs. Corney. 'I am a foolish, excitable, weak creetur.'

'Not weak, ma'am,' retorted Mr. Bumble, drawing his chair a little closer. 'Are you a weak creetur, Mrs. Corney?'

'We are all weak creeturs,' said Mrs. Corney, laying down a general principle.

'So we are,' said the beadle.

Nothing was said on either side, for a minute or two afterwards. By the expiration of that time, Mr. Bumble had illustrated the position by removing his left arm from the back of Mrs. Corney's chair, where it had previously rested, to Mrs. Corney's apron-string, round which it gradually became entwined.

'We are all weak creeturs,' said Mr. Bumble.

Mrs. Corney sighed.

'Don't sigh, Mrs. Corney,' said Mr. Bumble.

'I can't help it,' said Mrs. Corney. And she sighed again.

'This is a very comfortable room, ma'am,' said Mr. Bumble looking round. 'Another room, and this, ma'am, would be a complete thing.'

'It would be too much for one,' murmured the lady.

'But not for two, ma'am,' rejoined Mr. Bumble, in soft accents. 'Eh, Mrs. Corney?'

Mrs. Corney drooped her head, when the beadle said this; the beadle drooped his, to get a view of Mrs. Corney's face. Mrs. Corney, with great propriety, turned her head away, and released her hand to get at her pocket-handkerchief; but insensibly replaced it in that of Mr. Bumble.

'The board allows you coals, don't they, Mrs. Corney?' inquired the beadle, affectionately pressing her hand.

'And candles,' replied Mrs. Corney, slightly returning the pressure.

'Coals, candles, and house-rent free,' said Mr. Bumble. 'Oh, Mrs. Corney, what an Angel you are!'

The lady was not proof against this burst of feeling. She sank into Mr. Bumble's arms; and that gentleman in his agitation, imprinted a passionate kiss upon her chaste nose.

'Such porochial perfection!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, rapturously. 'You know that Mr. Slout is worse to-night, my fascinator?'

'Yes,' replied Mrs. Corney, bashfully.

'He can't live a week, the doctor says,' pursued Mr. Bumble. 'He is the master of this establishment; his death will cause a wacancy; that wacancy must be filled up. Oh, Mrs. Corney, what a prospect this opens! What a opportunity for a jining of hearts and housekeepings!'

Mrs. Corney sobbed.

'The little word?' said Mr. Bumble, bending over the bashful beauty. 'The one little, little, little word, my blessed Corney?'

'Ye--ye--yes!' sighed out the matron.

'One more,' pursued the beadle; 'compose your darling feelings for only one more. When is it to come off?'

Mrs. Corney twice essayed to speak: and twice failed. At length summoning up courage, she threw her arms around Mr. Bumble's neck, and said, it might be as soon as ever he pleased, and that he was 'a irresistible duck.'

Matters being thus amicably and satisfactorily arranged, the contract was solemnly ratified in another teacupful of the peppermint mixture; which was rendered the more necessary, by the flutter and agitation of the lady's spirits. While it was being disposed of, she acquainted Mr. Bumble with the old woman's decease.

'Very good,' said that gentleman, sipping his peppermint; 'I'll call at Sowerberry's as I go home, and tell him to send to-morrow morning. Was it that as frightened you, love?'

'It wasn't anything particular, dear,' said the lady evasively.

'It must have been something, love,' urged Mr. Bumble. 'Won't you tell your own B.?'

'Not now,' rejoined the lady; 'one of these days. After we're married, dear.'

'After we're married!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble. 'It wasn't any impudence from any of them male paupers as--'

'No, no, love!' interposed the lady, hastily.

'If I thought it was,' continued Mr. Bumble; 'if I thought as any one of 'em had dared to lift his wulgar eyes to that lovely countenance--'

'They wouldn't have dared to do it, love,' responded the lady.

'They had better not!' said Mr. Bumble, clenching his fist. 'Let me see any man, porochial or extra-porochial, as would presume to do it; and I can tell him that he wouldn't do it a second time!'

Unembellished by any violence of gesticulation, this might have seemed no very high compliment to the lady's charms; but, as Mr. Bumble accompanied the threat with many warlike gestures, she was much touched with this proof of his devotion, and protested, with great admiration, that he was indeed a dove.

The dove then turned up his coat-collar, and put on his cocked hat; and, having exchanged a long and affectionate embrace with his future partner, once again braved the cold wind of the night: merely pausing, for a few minutes, in the male paupers' ward, to abuse them a little, with the view of satisfying himself that he could fill the office of workhouse-master with needful acerbity. Assured of his qualifications, Mr. Bumble left the building with a light heart, and bright visions of his future promotion: which served to occupy his mind until he reached the shop of the undertaker.

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry having gone out to tea and supper: and Noah Claypole not being at any time disposed to take upon himself a greater amount of physical exertion than is necessary to a convenient performance of the two functions of eating and drinking, the shop was not closed, although it was past the usual hour of shutting-up. Mr. Bumble tapped with his cane on the counter several times; but, attracting no attention, and beholding a light shining through the glass-window of the little parlour at the back of the shop, he made bold to peep in and see what was going forward; and when he saw what was going forward, he was not a little surprised.

The cloth was laid for supper; the table was covered with bread and butter, plates and glasses; a porter-pot and a wine-bottle. At the upper end of the table, Mr. Noah Claypole lolled negligently in an easy-chair, with his legs thrown over one of the arms: an open clasp-knife in one hand, and a mass of buttered bread in the other. Close beside him stood Charlotte, opening oysters from a barrel: which Mr. Claypole condescended to swallow, with remarkable avidity. A more than ordinary redness in the region of the young gentleman's nose, and a kind of fixed wink in his right eye, denoted that he was in a slight degree intoxicated; these symptoms were confirmed by the intense relish with which he took his oysters, for which nothing but a strong appreciation of their cooling properties, in cases of internal fever, could have sufficiently accounted.

'Here's a delicious fat one, Noah, dear!' said Charlotte; 'try him, do; only this one.'

'What a delicious thing is a oyster!' remarked Mr. Claypole, after he had swallowed it. 'What a pity it is, a number of 'em should ever make you feel uncomfortable; isn't it, Charlotte?'

'It's quite a cruelty,' said Charlotte.

'So it is,' acquiesced Mr. Claypole. 'An't yer fond of oysters?'

'Not overmuch,' replied Charlotte. 'I like to see you eat 'em, Noah dear, better than eating 'em myself.'

'Lor!' said Noah, reflectively; 'how queer!'

'Have another,' said Charlotte. 'Here's one with such a beautiful, delicate beard!'

'I can't manage any more,' said Noah. 'I'm very sorry. Come here, Charlotte, and I'll kiss yer.'

'What!' said Mr. Bumble, bursting into the room. 'Say that again, sir.'

Charlotte uttered a scream, and hid her face in her apron. Mr. Claypole, without making any further change in his position than suffering his legs to reach the ground, gazed at the beadle in drunken terror.

'Say it again, you wile, owdacious fellow!' said Mr. Bumble. 'How dare you mention such a thing, sir? And how dare you encourage him, you insolent minx? Kiss her!' exclaimed Mr. Bumble, in strong indignation. 'Faugh!'

'I didn't mean to do it!' said Noah, blubbering. 'She's always a-kissing of me, whether I like it, or not.'

'Oh, Noah,' cried Charlotte, reproachfully.

'Yer are; yer know yer are!' retorted Noah. 'She's always a-doin' of it, Mr. Bumble, sir; she chucks me under the chin, please, sir; and makes all manner of love!'

'Silence!' cried Mr. Bumble, sternly. 'Take yourself downstairs, ma'am. Noah, you shut up the shop; say another word till your master comes home, at your peril; and, when he does come home, tell him that Mr. Bumble said he was to send a old woman's shell after breakfast to-morrow morning. Do you hear sir? Kissing!' cried Mr. Bumble, holding up his hands. 'The sin and wickedness of the lower orders in this porochial district is frightful! If Parliament don't take their abominable courses under consideration, this country's ruined, and the character of the peasantry gone for ever!' With these words, the beadle strode, with a lofty and gloomy air, from the undertaker's premises.

And now that we have accompanied him so far on his road home, and have made all necessary preparations for the old woman's funeral, let us set on foot a few inquires after young Oliver Twist, and ascertain whether he be still lying in the ditch where Toby Crackit left him.


   一个无足轻重的作家,让诸如教区干事这样举足轻重的角色背对火炉,大衣下摆撩起来夹在胳膊底下,在一边久等,一直等到笔者高兴放他稍息为止,这种作法是极为失礼的。捎带着又把干事曾报以脉脉含情的目光的一位女士也给怠慢了,这与作者的身份或者骑士风度就更不合适了,干事刚才在她耳旁低声倾诉过的甜言蜜语是有很大来头的,完全足以叫无论哪个级别的小姐、太太听了心里卜卜直跳。身为这部传记的作者,本人的笔尖始终追寻着这些话语――在下对自己的地位十分清楚,并且对权势人物抱有恰如其分的敬意――急于向他们表示他们的职位所要求的尊重,并区尽到他们的高贵身份和(随之而来的)崇高品德要求笔者务必尽到的一应礼节。的确,基于这个目的,笔者曾打算在这里就教区干事的神圣权力进行一番论述,并阐明这样一种立场,即教区干事不会出错,心平气和的读者肯定会既感到高兴,又有所收获。然而不幸的是,由于时间和篇幅有限,笔者不得不把这一通议论推迟到某个更为方便、适当的时候,届时本人将要论证,一名经过合法手续任命的干事――就是说,一位隶属教区济贫院,在职权范围内参与该区教会事务的教区干事――凭职权具有人类的一切长处和优秀品质,而一般的公司干事、法院干事甚至小教堂的干事,与这些长处当中任何一种的距离可能还有十万八千里(只有最后一类属于例外,他们处于一种非常低贱的地位)。

    邦布尔先生把茶匙的数目重新点了一遍,又掂了掂方糖夹子,对奶锅作了一番更为周密的考察,对于家具的一应情形,乃至那几张马鬃椅垫,他都―一做到心中有数,这一程序又重复了六七次,他这才想起柯尼太太也该回来了。他一时思绪万千。柯尼太太归来的足音又老是听不见,邦布尔先生不禁想到,浏览一下柯尼太太的柜橱里的东西,以便进一步满足自己的好奇心,理当算是一种无伤大雅而又合乎道德的消遣方法。

    邦布尔先生贴近锁孔听了一下,确信没有人朝这间屋子走来,便从基层着手,了解三个长抽屉里的内容:里边装满了各式各样的衣物,样式和质地都很讲究马克思的著作,特别是早期著作的注释和说明,以区别以往,用两层旧报纸细心地保护起来,上边还点缀着熏衣草的干花,这一点似乎使他格外满意。他打开右边角落上的抽屉(钥匙就在里边),看见里边放着一个上了锁的小匣子,他摇了摇,匣子里发出一阵令人愉快的响声,好像是金币的丁当声。邦布尔先生步态庄重地回到壁炉前边,恢复了先前的姿势,神色严肃而果断地说道:“就这么办。”这一份意义重大的公告发布完毕,他怪模怪样地摇了十分钟脑袋,活像是在苦苦劝告自己当一只讨人喜欢的狗一样。随后他侧着身子,对自己的双腿左看右看,似乎非常开心,兴趣盎然。

    他正在悠哉游哉地进行后一种鉴定,柯尼太太慌慌张张奔了进来,上气不接下气地倒在炉边的椅子上,一只手捂住眼睛,另一只手压在胸脯上,大口大口地喘气。

    “柯尼太太,”邦布尔先生朝女总管弯下腰来,说道,“怎么回事,夫人?出事了,夫人?你回答我啊,我可是如坐――如坐――”慌张之下,邦布尔没能立刻想起“针毡”这个词,便用“破瓶子”支吾过去了。

    “呃,邦布尔先生!”女总管大叫一声,“刚才真烦死我了。”

    “烦死了,夫人!”邦布尔先生惊呼,“谁有这么大胆子――?我知道了。”邦布尔先生耐住性子,摆出固有的庄重气派,说道。“准是那帮可恶的穷鬼。”

    “光想想就烦死人。”女总管直打哆嗦。

    “夫人,就别想它了。”邦布尔先生答道。

    “我忍不住。”女士抽抽搭搭地说。

    “夫人,那就来点什么,”邦布尔先生很是体贴地说,“一丁点葡萄酒?”

    “这不行啊。”柯尼太太回答,“我喝不――欧!在右边角落最上边一格――呃!”这位可敬的女士说罢,神思恍格地指了指食橱,发出一阵由于内心恐慌引起的抽筋。邦布尔先生向壁橱冲去,按照这一番上气不接下气的指示,从格板上抓起一只容量一品托的绿色玻璃瓶,将瓶中之物斟了满满一茶杯,递到这位女士唇边。

    “现在好点儿了。”柯尼太太喝了半杯,身子又缩了回去。

    邦布尔先生虔诚地抬眼望着天花板感谢上苍。接着又把目光移下来,落到茶杯的边沿上,他端过杯子凑到鼻子底下。

    “薄荷,”柯尼太太有气无力出说,一边笑吟吟地望着教区干事。“尝尝。放了一点――里头放了一点别的东西。”

    邦布尔先生带着似信非信的神情,尝了尝这种药,咂咂嘴唇,又尝了尝,最后把空茶杯放下来。

    “喝着真叫人舒坦。”柯尼太太说。

    “的的确确舒坦哩,太太。”教区干事一边说,一边把椅子挪到女总管身旁,温柔地询问发生了什么事情惹她心烦。

    “没什么,”柯尼太太说道,“我是个容易激动、脆弱、愚蠢的女人。”

    “不脆弱,夫人,”邦布尔回了一句嘴,略略把椅子挪得更近了一点。“柯尼太太,你是一个脆弱的女人吗?”

    “我们都是脆弱的。”柯尼大大搬出了一条普遍原理。

    “就算是吧。”干事说道。

    随后的一两分钟里,双方什么话也没说,待到这段时间届满,邦布尔先生为了替这种观念配上插图,便将先前搭在柯尼太太椅背上的左臂移到柯尼太太的裙带上,逐渐围住了她的腰。

    “我们都是脆弱的。”邦布尔先生说。

    柯尼太太长叹一声。

    “不要叹气,柯尼太太。”

    “我忍不住。”柯尼太太说着又叹了一口气。

    “这是一个非常舒适的房间,夫人。”邦布尔先生扭头看了一眼。“要是再有一间,夫人,就十全十美了。”

    “一个人住太多了。”女士的声音低得几乎听不见。

    “两个人住就不算多。”邦布尔先生的口气很柔和。“呃,柯尼太太?”

    教区干事说这番话的时候,柯尼太太的头垂了下去,干事低下头,瞅了瞅柯尼太太的脸色。柯尼太太很有分寸地把头扭到一边,伸手去拿自己的手绢,但无意之间把手放到了邦布尔先生的手里。

    “理事会配给你煤了,对吗,柯尼太太?”干事一边说,一边情意切切地握紧她的手。

    “还有蜡烛。”柯尼太太也轻轻地迎接这种压力。

    “煤,蜡烛,外加免收房租,”邦布尔先生说,“噢,柯尼太太,你真是一位天使。”

    柯尼太太再也无法抗拒这样奔放的感情,她倒在了邦布尔先生的怀里。那位绅土激动之下,在她那贞洁的鼻尖上印下了一个热吻。

    “何等的教区缘分啊。”邦布尔先生欣喜若狂地嚷了起来,“斯洛特先生今天更糟糕了,你知道吗,我的美人?”

    “知道。”柯尼太太红着脸答道。

    “医生说了,他活不了一个星期,”邦布尔先生继续说道,“他是济贫院的头儿,他一死就会留下一个空位子,一个必须填上的空位。噢,柯尼太太,这件事开辟了多么美妙的前程啊。把两颗心连在一起,两个家合成一个,这该是多好的机会。”

    柯记太太管自抽噎着。

    “快说啊,那个小小的字眼?”邦布尔先生朝羞答答的美人弯下腰来。“那一个小啊,小啊,小而又小的词,我可爱的柯尼,说啊?”

    “是――是――是的。”女总管说着发出一声叹息。

    “再说一次,”干事毫不放松,“把你这份宝贵的感情凝聚起来,再说一次。什么时候办?”

    柯尼太太两次想说出来,两次都说不出口。末了她鼓足勇气,搂住邦布尔先生的脖子说,这事全看他的意思了,他真是“一只叫人无法抗拒的鸭子”。

    事情就这么相亲相爱皆大欢喜地敲定了。作为郑重签署合约的一个仪式,他俩又满满地倒了一杯薄荷混合剂,女士心跳得厉害,激动无比,这一杯混合剂显得尤为必要。喝过饮料,她把老沙丽病死的事告诉了邦布尔先生。

    “很好,”那位绅士呷了一口薄荷剂,说道。“我回家的时候,上苏尔伯雷铺子里去一下,通知他明天早晨就送来。就是这事吓着你了,我的心肝?”

    “不是什么特别的事,亲爱的。”女士闪烁其词地说。

    “一定有事的,我的心肝,”邦布尔先生一口咬定,“你难道不愿意告诉你自个儿的老邦?”

    “现在不谈这些,”女土答道,“改天吧,等我们结婚以后,亲爱的。”

    “我们结婚以后!”邦布尔先生嚷着说,“莫不是哪一个穷小子竟然厚颜无耻到――”

    “不,不,心肝。”女士忙不迭地打住。

    “假如我认定了有这么回事,”邦布尔先生继续说道,“只要我认为他们当中有哪一个,胆敢向这张美丽的面孔抬一下他的下流眼睛的话――”

    “他们没那么大胆子,心肝。”女士应声说道。

    “他们最好别这样。”邦布尔先生握紧拳头说道,“我倒是要看看哪个人,不管是教区的,还是教区外的,敢做这种事,我要让他知道,他不会有第二次了。”

    如果没有慷慨激昂的手势来加以润色,似乎可以认为这番话绝不是对那位女士的魅力的高度赞扬,然而邦布尔先生在发出这一通恐吓的同时,伴之以种种好斗的姿势,他勇于献身的这一明证深深打动了柯尼太太,她带着无限倾慕的神色,发誓说他的的确确是一只讨人喜欢的小鸽子。

    这只鸽子把外套衣领翻起来,戴上三角帽,与自己未来的搭档长时间热烈拥抱,就又一次迎击凛冽的夜风去了。他在男性贫民收容室里逗留了几分钟,臭骂了他们几句,目的是让自己放心,他将以必不可少的尖刻来填补济贫院院长的空缺。邦布尔先生自信自己能够胜任,喜滋滋地离开了那幢楼房,满脑子装的都是即将得到擢升的一幅幅光彩照人的幻象,一路来到丧事承办人的铺子门前。

    这功夫,苏尔伯雷先生和苏尔伯雷太大都上外边吃茶点晚餐去了。尽管已经过了平时打烊的时间,铺子却还没有关门,诺亚克雷波尔什么时候都无意承担过多的体力消耗,只在便于发挥吃喝这两种功能的时刻才有必要的动作。邦布尔先生用他的手杖在柜台上敲了几下,仍一点也没引起注意,他见后边小客厅的玻璃窗里透出一点亮光,便大胆往里边瞅了一眼,想瞧瞧里边在干什么。他看出个究竟之后,不觉大吃一惊。

    晚餐桌布已经铺好了,奶油、面包、碟子、酒杯,还有一罐黑啤酒、一瓶葡萄酒,摆了满满一桌。桌子上首,诺亚克雷波尔先生懒洋洋地靠在一把安乐椅里,双腿跷在扶手上,一只手握着一把张开的大折刀,另一只手拿着一大块涂满奶油的面包。夏洛蒂紧挨着站在他身边,正从一只桶里把牡砺拿出来剖开,克雷波尔先生也很平易近人,以一种相当可观的胃口将牡砺咽下去。这位年轻绅士的鼻子周围比平时还要红,右眼眨巴着老是盯住一个什么地方,意味着他已经略有几分醉意。他吞食牡砺时表现出的浓厚兴趣也证实了这一点,因为他只知道牡砺对于内火上升有一定清凉解热作用,别的东西都不足以说明这一点。

    “这只肥的味道不错,诺亚,亲爱的。”夏洛蒂说道,“尝尝看,尝啊,就这一只。”

    “牡砺还真好吃。”克雷波尔先生咽下那只牡砺,评论道,“真可惜,吃不了几只就叫你觉得不舒服了,不是吗,夏洛蒂?”

    “这可真残酷。”夏洛蒂说。

    “可不是嘛。”克雷波尔先生随声附和,“你不喜欢吃牡砺?”

    “不太喜欢。”夏洛蒂回答,“我喜欢看着你吃,亲爱的诺亚,比我自己吃还有味道哩。”

    “哟。”诺亚若有所思地说,“真奇怪。”

    “再吃一只,”夏洛蒂说道,“这一只须子多美,多嫩。”

    “我再也吃不下了,”诺亚说道,“不好意思,上这边来,夏洛蒂,我要亲你一下。”

    “好啊。”邦布尔先生闯了进来,“先生,再说一遍。”

    夏洛蒂尖叫一声,脸藏进了围裙里。克雷波尔先生把双腿放下来,在姿势方面没有其他的变化,他带着酒后的恐惧直瞪瞪地望着教区干事。

    “再说一遍,你这个胆大包天的混小子。”邦布尔先生说道,“还敢提这种事,先生?你这个不要脸的疯妮子,你还长他威风?亲她啊。”邦布尔先生义愤填膺地喝斥着,“哼。”

    “我才不想亲她呢。”诺亚哭了,“她老是来亲我,也不管我喜欢不喜欢。”

    “呃,诺亚!”夏洛蒂委屈地叫了起来。

    “你就是,你自己也知道是这样、”诺亚反戈一击,“先生,她老是来这一手,邦布尔先生,摸我的下巴,对不住,先生,做出各式各样亲热的样子。”

    “闭嘴!”邦布尔先生厉声喝道,“小姐,你给我滚下楼去。诺亚,把店门关上。你家老板回来之前,你要是敢说一个字,当心你的小命。他一回来,你就告诉他,邦布尔先生说了,要他明天吃过早饭送一口老太婆的棺材过去,先生,听见了?亲啊!”邦布尔举起双手,大吼一声。“这个教区,下等阶级的罪孽邪恶真是可怕。议会要是再不考虑他们的那些个劣迹,这个国家就要破产,农民的品性也就永远完蛋了。”教区干事说完这番话,神色高傲而阴郁地迈开大步,跨出丧事承办人的店铺。

    我们已经陪着他在回家的路上走了很长一段,那个老太婆的丧事也已做好了一切准备,现在让我们去打听一下奥立弗退斯特的下落,看看托比格拉基特丢下他以后,他是否还躺在水沟里。



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