فصل 01

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فصل 01

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CHAPTER ONE

A Baby is Found

In the west of England, in a part of the country called Somerset, there lived a gentleman whose name was Allworthy. He might be called the favourite of both Nature and Fortune, because Nature had given him the gifts of good health, good sense and a kind heart, and Fortune had made him one of the richest landowners in that part of England.

In his youth this gentleman had married a good, beautiful woman. They had three children, all of whom died young, and about five years before this story begins his wife also died. He loved her still, and sometimes said that he was waiting to join her after death.

He now lived in the country most of the time, with his sister, Miss Bridget Allworthy. This lady was now past the age of thirty. She was a very good woman who often thanked God she was not beautiful, because she believed that beauty led women into wicked ways.

Now, reader, as Mr Allworthy had a large fortune, a good heart and no family, you may think that he lived an honest life, gave to the poor, built a hospital and died a rich man. It is true that he did many of these things, but they are not the reason for this story. Something much more extraordinary happened.

One evening, Mr Allworthy came back to his house very late and very tired. He had been away in London on business for several months. After a light supper with his sister, he went to bed. First he spent some time on his knees, praying to God, and then he pulled back the bedclothes. To his great surprise he saw a baby lying in his bed in a sweet, deep sleep. He stood for some time, looking at its innocent beauty, and then rang his bell to call his elderly housekeeper, Mrs Deborah Wilkins.

When Mrs Wilkins saw the child she cried out, ‘My good sir! What shall we do?’ Mr Allworthy answered that she must take care of the child that evening, and in the morning he would give orders to find a nurse for it.

‘Yes sir,’ said Mrs Wilkins, ‘and I hope you will give orders to send its wicked mother to prison for doing this.’

‘I’m leaving the baby here, Deborah,’ said Mr Allworthy, ‘I suppose the poor woman has tried to provide a good home for her child, and I am very glad she has not done worse.’

‘But sir,’ cried Mrs Wilkins, ‘why should you take care of the child? Why not put it in a basket and leave it at the church door? If you keep it people may think that you are the father.’

But Mr Allworthy did not hear her. He now had one of his fingers in the sweet child’s hand, and was smiling at it gently. So Mrs Wilkins took the child to her room, and Mr Allworthy went to bed and slept well until morning.

Mr Allworthy’s house stood on a hill and had a charming view of the valley beneath. To the right of the valley were several villages, and to the left a great park. Beyond the park the country gradually rose into a range of wild mountains, the tops of which were above the clouds.

The house was very noble. It was surrounded by a fine garden, with old oak trees and a stream that flowed down to a lake at the bottom of the hill. From every room at the front of the house you could see the lake, and a river that passed for several miles through woods and fields till it emptied itself into the sea.

It was now the middle of May, and as Mr Allworthy stood watching the sun rise over this lovely view, Miss Bridget Allworthy rang her bell and called him to breakfast.

When she had poured the tea, Mr Allworthy told his sister he had a present for her. She thanked him. This was not unusual as he often gave her new clothes and jewellery to wear. Imagine her surprise when Mrs Wilkins produced the baby!

Miss Bridget was silent until her brother had told her the whole story. He ended by saying that he had decided to take care of the child and bring it up as his own.

Miss Bridget looked kindly at the child, and told her brother she admired his generosity. He was a good man. However, she was less kind about the poor, unknown mother, whom she called every bad name she could think of. The next step was to discover who the mother was. Mr Allworthy, leaving this task to his housekeeper, and the child to his sister, left the room.

Mrs Wilkins waited for a sign from Miss Bridget. Did she really agree with her brother? Miss Bridget looked for some time at the child as it lay asleep in Mrs Wilkins’s lap, then gave it a big kiss, exclaiming about its beauty and innocence. When Mrs Wilkins saw this, she too started squeezing and kissing the baby, and cried out, ‘Oh, the dear little child! The dear, sweet, pretty child! He is as fine a boy as I have ever seen.’

Then Miss Bridget gave orders for the servants to get a very good room in the house ready for the child, and to provide him with everything he needed. She was as generous as if he had been a child of her own.

Later that day, Mrs Wilkins went to the village nearby to ask questions about the abandoned child. She soon decided that the most likely mother was Jenny Jones.

Jenny Jones was a poor young girl from the village who had lived as a servant with a schoolmaster and his wife for several years. She had a quick mind and a desire to learn, so the schoolmaster had helped to educate her. Jenny became proud of her learning, and when she returned to the village she behaved in a superior way, which her neighbours hated.

They also noticed that Jenny had often been to Mr Allworthy’s house. She had nursed Miss Bridget in a recent illness, and had sat up many nights looking after her. Indeed, Mrs Wilkins herself had seen Jenny at the house the very day before Mr Allworthy’s return. She hurried back to the house to tell Mr Allworthy her suspicions.

Mr Allworthy called Jenny to the house. She confessed freely to being the baby’s mother, but she refused to name the father.

‘I thank you, sir, for your kindness to my poor helpless child,’ she said. ‘He is innocent, and I hope he will live to be grateful for your generosity. But sir, on my knees I must ask you not to insist on finding out the name of his father. I have sworn before God not to tell anyone his name now, but I promise that one day you will know.’

Mr Allworthy fully believed all that Jenny told him, and sent her away with the promise that he would not send her to prison, but would help her to lead a better life.

‘She was lucky!’ said one neighbour, when Jenny returned to the village. A second cried, ‘See what it is to be a favourite.’ A third, ‘Ah, it’s because she has education!’

Soon, through the care and goodness of Mr Allworthy, Jenny left the village, and there was more gossip. The villagers decided that Mr Allworthy was the baby’s father, and began to feel sorry for Jenny Jones. Some even said he had been cruel to send her away. But the good Mr Allworthy did not listen. Baby Jones stayed in his house and was given Mr Allworthy’s first name, which was Thomas.

And now we must leave Jenny Jones and little Tom Jones for a while, as we have much more important things to tell.

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