فصل 08

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فصل 08

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Chapter eight

Kidnap

As Smike was crossing the corner of a side-street, he felt a hand on his collar.

While Mrs Nickleby, Kate and Miss La Creevy were busy decorating the cottage and Nicholas was busy in his new job, Smike spent all his time working in the garden. As the garden filled with flowers, his heart filled with happiness.

‘You’ve made the garden a place of great beauty, Smike,’ Kate told him one evening, standing next him and looking at the flowers. ‘We’re all so happy to see you so happy.’

Mrs Nickleby also saw how enthusiastically he worked and how much pleasure the garden gave him. She became very fond of him, too, and soon everybody was treating him as a member of the family. Smike had never felt so happy.

One evening, he was walking back to the cottage in East London from Miss La Creevy’s house. As he was crossing the corner of a side-street, he felt a hand on his collar. Then he was pulled backwards and pushed against a wall.

‘Well, what a surprise!’ said Wackford Squeers, looking at Smike with his one eye. Then he turned to his son, who was jumping up and down with excitement next to him. ‘Wackford, my boy, go and find a coach.’

Smike fought and kicked as hard as he could, but he was too weak to escape. Soon a coach arrived and Squeers pushed Smike inside. He sat down opposite the frightened boy and stared at him with an unpleasant smile. Then, with a loud laugh, he hit Smike several times across the face.

‘It isn’t a dream!’ he laughed. ‘It’s real. You thought that you could escape me, didn’t you? Well, you were wrong!’

‘Let me go home!’ Smike cried, looking wildly around.

‘You are going home!’ Squeers replied, hitting him again. ‘You’ll soon be back at Dotheboys Hall, where you belong.’

After a long journey, the coach stopped outside a small house with green windows. Squeers pulled Smike out of the coach, paid the driver and pushed Smike into the house.

In the front room, a fat man was having dinner with his wife. His name was Snawley, and he had sent his two sons to Dotheboys Hall. When he had invited Squeers and his son to stay at his house while they were in London, Squeers had accepted immediately - it was much cheaper than staying at the Saracen’s Head!

‘Here’s the boy that ran away and stole my wife’s ring,’ Squeers told the surprised couple. ‘The ungrateful little animal! If there wasn’t a lady here, I would hit him!’

‘Where has he been staying?’ Mr Snawley asked.

‘Probably with that man Nickleby. Is that right, Smike?’

Smike refused to answer, so Squeers pushed him upstairs into a small room. He took the boy’s shoes and coat and locked him inside.

The next morning, Squeers was having breakfast at the Saracen’s Head with his son when three people walked into the coffee-room. His daughter, Fanny, with her friend Tilda and Tilda’s new husband, John Browdie, had just arrived from Yorkshire for a short holiday in London. While they were all having breakfast, Squeers told them about Smike.

‘Poor boy,’ John Browdie said when Squeers had finished his story. ‘Where are you keeping him?’

‘On the top floor of my lodgings,’ Squeers replied.

John Browdie laughed loudly and shook the schoolmaster’s hand. ‘The cleverest schoolmaster in all England!’ he said. ‘Congratulations!’

‘Thank you,’ Squeers said, pulling his hand away. ‘It’s lucky you came today. We’re travelling back to Yorkshire tomorrow morning. If you don’t come for tea with me this evening, you won’t see us again in London.’

‘We’ll be at your lodgings at six o’clock tonight,’ John Browdie promised.

Squeers gave the farmer Mr Snawley’s address, then left with his son.

That evening, John Browdie, Tilda and Fanny arrived at Snawley’s house at six o’clock exactly. John seemed strangely quiet while they were having tea in the front room.

After a short time he said, ‘I don’t feel very well. It’s probably the long journey and all the excitement. I think I need to lie down for half an hour.’

Tilda helped him upstairs into Squeers’s bedroom. John closed his eyes, and Tilda returned downstairs.

‘He’s sleeping like a baby,’ she told the others.

In fact, John Browdie was not sleeping at all. When his wife had gone downstairs, he got off the bed, took off his shoes and softly left the room. The key to the room next to his was still in the door. Quietly turning it, he opened the door and hurried inside, where Smike was lying quietly on the bed under a thin blanket.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ John whispered, putting his big hand gently over Smike’s mouth. ‘I’m here to help you escape.’

Not knowing who this big stranger was, and shaking with fear, Smike went with the farmer into the next bedroom, where he found his coat and shoes on a chair. He put them on and followed the big man quietly down the stairs. He felt even more frightened when he heard Squeers and the others talking in the front room.

‘Don’t worry,’ John whispered when they reached the bottom of the stairs. ‘I’ll make sure that no one follows you.’ He opened the front door quietly. ‘Quickly! Go now!’

Smike gave Browdie a confused but grateful look, and ran off into the darkness.

A few hours later, he arrived at Newman Noggs’s lodgings and, after a hot drink, told him his story.

‘You’re tired,’ Noggs said, when Smike had finished talking. ‘You must stay here for the night. I’ll tell the others that you’re back. They’ve been worried about you all day.’

But Smike refused to be left alone and walked with Noggs through the dark, empty streets of London. They arrived at the Nickleby’s cottage just as it was getting light.

Everybody was relieved to see him. There was much congratulation and noisy conversation, and Smike cried with happiness to be safely back with his ‘family’ again.

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