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فصل 04

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chapter two

Un-Beast

Octavian felt even worse when he found more blood and feathers in the coop. Apparently, the cat was innocent; some other animal was the real killer. The cat had probably come near the coop looking for rats. The children learned from the servants that the real killer was not their cat, and one day Octavian found a piece of paper on which was written: ‘Beast. Rats eaten your chickens.’ Now more than ever he wished to find some way to make peace with the children.

One day he had an inspiration. His two-year-old daughter Olivia usually spent a couple of hours with him while her nursemaid ate lunch. About the same time the children appeared on the wall. Octavian walked with Olivia near the wall and he saw that the children seemed very interested.

‘My Olivia,’ thought Octavian, ‘will be able to succeed where I have failed.’

He brought Olivia a large yellow dahlia. Then he looked up at the children on the wall and asked, ‘Do you like flowers?’ They nodded their heads solemnly.

‘Which do you like best?’ he asked.

‘Those with all the colours, over there,’ answered the children, pointing to a group of sweet peas at the other end of the garden. Octavian ran happily to get the flowers for the children. He pulled up lots and lots of flowers of all different colours, and then he returned to the wall to give them to the children. But there was no one on the wall. The children had gone, and, what is more, Olivia had gone too.

Down in the meadow, the three children were pushing a go-cart very fast towards the pigsties; it was Olivia’s go-cart and she was on it. Octavian stared for a moment at the rapidly moving group, and then started to run after them. When he arrived at the pigsties he saw the children climbing on the roof with Olivia. They were old buildings and could not support Octavian’s weight.

‘What are you going to do with her?’ he shouted. It was obvious from the expression on their faces that they were going to do something bad.

‘We are going to cook her over a fire,’ said one of the boys who had obviously read English history.

‘Throw her down and the pigs will eat all of her except the palms of her hands,’ said the other boy, who had obviously read Biblical history.

The last proposal alarmed Octavian the most. He had heard of cases where pigs had eaten small children.

‘You wouldn’t do such a horrible thing to my little Olivia?’ he shouted.

‘You killed our little cat,’ replied the children.

‘I’m very sorry that I did,’ said Octavian.

‘We will be very sorry when we kill Olivia,’ said the girl, ‘but we can’t be sorry until we have killed her.’

Before Octavian could think of an answer to this child-logic, he saw Olivia fall from the roof into the muck below. He went quickly over the wall of the pigsty to rescue his daughter but found himself trapped in the muck. He could hardly move. At first Olivia was almost happy to be in the slippery muck. But when she began to sink she realised that she was not at all happy, and she began to cry. Octavian battled with the muck, but he could not move.

‘I can’t reach her in time,’ he shouted. ‘She’ll die in the muck. Won’t you help her?’

‘No one helped our cat,’ the children reminded him.

‘I’ll do anything to show you that I am really and truly sorry,’ cried Octavian.

‘Will you stand wearing only your white shirt by the cat’s grave?’

‘Yes,’ screamed Octavian.

‘Holding a candle?’ asked one of the boys.

‘And saying, ‘I’m a miserable Beast’?’ asked the girl.

‘Yes, yes!’ answered Octavian.

‘For a long, long time?’ asked the girl.

‘For half an hour,’ said Octavian anxiously. He had read that a German king had done penance by standing outside in only his shirt for five days and five nights at Christmas-time. Fortunately, the children had not read any German history and half an hour seemed like enough time to them. They threw down a ladder and Octavian was able to save Olivia.

That evening he went to the oak tree where the cat was buried. He was wearing only a shirt. In one hand he had a candle, and in the other hand he had a watch. He stood there for half an hour saying, ‘I’m a miserable Beast. I’m a miserable Beast. I’m a miserable Beast.’ He was sure that the three children were watching him.

The next morning Octavian was very happy when he found a piece of paper next to the wall, on which was written the message ‘Un-Beast.’

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