فصل 11

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کتاب های خیلی ساده

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فصل 11

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Public Enquiry

Two days later, the Enquiry began. Scientists came from London to ask questions about the disease that was killing the seals. Before he had gone to Scotland, John had been to see David Wilson about the Enquiry. David Wilson had asked John to speak for the company.

‘You’re our chief biologist, John,’ he said. ‘You’re an important man. They’ll believe you.’

John said nothing. He didn’t want to speak at the Enquiry, but he knew he had to. David Wilson smiled. Or at least, his mouth smiled. But his eyes watched John carefully, all the time, like the cold eyes of a fish.

‘Think carefully about what you say, John. If you say the wrong thing next week, hundreds of people will lose their jobs. And the first person to lose his job will be you, John. I promise you that.’

The Enquiry room was crowded. There were a lot of journalists and photographers there, and a lot of people from the town and the factory too. John’s train was late, and he caught a taxi from the station. When he came into the room, he saw Simon, sitting with the journalists. Christine was near him, with Andrew and some young people from Greenworld. John smiled at her, but she didn’t smile back. She looks very white and ill, he thought. It’s probably the baby. He remembered how ill his wife Rachel had been in the mornings, before Christine was born, and he smiled sadly to himself.

‘Mr John Duncan, please!’

He walked to the front of the room. As he sat down, he saw David Wilson’s cold, grey eyes watching him from the other side of the room. That man should be up here instead, he thought. He should tell his own lies.

A lawyer began to ask him questions. At first it was easy. John explained how long he had worked for the company, and how much paint the factory produced. Then the lawyer asked about the waste products.

‘These are very dangerous chemicals, aren’t they?’ the lawyer said.

‘Well yes, of course,’ John answered. ‘Most chemicals are dangerous if people aren’t careful with them. But we’re very careful with them in our factory. Everyone wears special clothing. We haven’t had a single serious accident in three years.’

‘I’m pleased to hear it,’ said the lawyer. ‘But what happens outside the factory? Do you really put these very dangerous chemicals into the river?’

‘Yes, we do,’ said John. There was a noise in the room. Someone near Christine shouted something angrily, and a policewoman told him to be quiet. John went on. ‘Of course we put these chemicals in the river, but we don’t put a lot in. Only two or three hundred litres every day. That’s not much. And we check the river all the time - three times every day. There are usually only two parts per million, or less, in the water near the factory, and there is much less downstream. That’s not dangerous.’

‘Not dangerous, Mr Duncan?’ said the lawyer slowly. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, I am,’ John said. He looked up, at the hundreds of eyes watching him. David Wilson’s eyes, Christine’s eyes, Simon’s.

‘I understand’, the lawyer said slowly, ‘that there has been an experiment with some rats. Some mother rats were given these chemicals in their drinking water, and some of their babies were born without legs. Is that right, Mr Duncan?’

John looked at the lawyer for the first time. He was a small, uninteresting-looking man in grey clothes, with grey hair and a thin face. He looks like a rat himself, John thought. The man’s eyes were small and bright, and for some strange reason he had a newspaper in his hand. John began to feel afraid of him.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That’s right. But rats are much smaller than people, and they were given nearly five parts per million in their drinking water for ten days. That’s very different. No one drinks the river water. It goes straight out to sea.’

He looked at the lawyer, and waited for the question about the seals. But it didn’t come. Instead, the lawyer said: ‘So you won’t be worried, Mr Duncan, if someone falls into the river by accident, and drinks a lot of river water. Your own daughter, for example. There’s no danger in an accident like that - is that right?’

John looked at Christine across the room. How big her eyes look in that white face, he thought. It must be because of the baby.

‘No,’ he said. ‘There’s no danger at all.’

There was the sound of voices in the room. The lawyer smiled a small, rat-like smile. He held his newspaper out towards John.

‘You’ve been away in Scotland, Mr Duncan,’ he said. ‘Have you seen this?’

As John read the newspaper, his hands began to shake, and he had to hold the side of the table. There was a picture of Christine, standing up in a boat near the factory, and another picture of her lying in an ambulance, with Simon beside her. The headline said: BIOLOGIST’S DAUGHTER NEARLY

DROWNS IN RIVER

There was a long silence. He tried to read the newspaper carefully, but there was something wrong with his eyes. And his head was full of pictures of

Christine in the river, drowning. And his wife, Rachel, drowning in the storm, long ago.

He shook his head quickly from side to side, then took his glasses off and cleaned them.

‘No,’ he said in a quiet voice. ‘I haven’t read this before.’

‘It’s all right, Mr Duncan,’ said the lawyer softly. ‘Your daughter is safe. Her husband saved her, and she hasn’t lost her baby. But she did drink a lot of river water. It was near the factory, too. You’re not worried about that, are you?’

The lawyer’s bright eyes were staring at him, like a rat that has just seen its food. Behind him, David Wilson suddenly stood up.

‘That is a terrible question!’ he shouted into the silence. ‘You can’t ask a man questions like that! Of course he’s worried about his daughter! You must stop this Enquiry at once!’

‘Just a minute, Mr Wilson,’ said the lawyer. ‘Mr Duncan can go in a minute. He just has to answer one question. Are you worried, because your daughter has drunk so much river water, Mr Duncan? Are you worried about her baby?’

John Duncan stared at the lawyer with fear in his eyes. Suddenly he hated him. He picked up the newspaper and threw it into the little man’s rat-like face. ‘Yes!’ he shouted wildly. ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! Of course I’m worried about the baby! Of course it’s dangerous! Now let me go!’

He ran down the room, out of the door, into the street. A hundred staring eyes watched him go.

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