فصل 01

مجموعه: کتاب های فوق متوسط / کتاب: اولیور تویست / فصل 1

کتاب های فوق متوسط

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فصل 01

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CHAPTER ONE

Oliver’s early life

Oliver Twist was born in a workhouse, and when he arrived in this hard world, it was very doubtful whether he would live beyond the first three minutes. He lay on a hard little bed and struggled to start breathing.

Oliver fought his first battle without much assistance from the two people present at his birth. One was an old woman, who was nearly always drunk, and the other was a busy local doctor, who was not paid enough to be very interested in Oliver’s survival. After all, death was a common event in the workhouse, where only the poor and homeless lived.

However, Oliver managed to draw his first breath, and then announced his arrival to the rest of the workhouse by crying loudly. His mother raised her pale young face from the pillow and whispered, ‘Let me see the child, and die.’

The doctor turned away from the fire, where he had been warming his hands. ‘You must not talk about dying yet,’ he said to her kindly. He gave her the child to hold. Lovingly, she kissed the baby on its forehead with her cold white lips, then stared wildly around the room, fell back - and died.

‘Poor dear!’ said the nurse, hurriedly putting a green glass bottle back in the pocket of her long skirt.

The doctor began to put on his coat. ‘The baby is weak and will probably have difficulties,’ he said. ‘If so, give it a little milk to keep it quiet.’ Then he looked at the dead woman. ‘The mother was a good-looking girl. Where did she come from?’

‘She was brought here last night,’ replied the old woman. ‘She was found lying in the street. She’d walked some distance, judging by her shoes, which were worn to pieces. Where she came from, where she was going to, or what her name was, nobody knows.’

The doctor lifted the girl’s left hand. ‘The old story,’ he said sadly, shaking his head. ‘No wedding ring, I see. Ah! Good night.’

And so Oliver was left with only the drunken nurse. Without clothes, under his first blanket, he could have been the child of a king or a beggar. But when the woman dressed him later in rough cotton clothes, yellow with age, he looked exactly what he was - an orphan in a workhouse, ready for a life of misery, hunger, and neglect.

Oliver cried loudly. If he could have known that he was a workhouse orphan, perhaps he would have cried even more loudly.

There was no one to look after the baby in the workhouse, so Oliver was sent to a special ‘baby farm’ nearby. There, he and thirty other children rolled around the floor all day, without the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing. Mrs Mann, the old woman who ‘looked after’ them, was very experienced. She knew what was good for children, and a full stomach was very dangerous to their health. She also knew what was good for herself, so she kept for her own use the money that she was given for the children’s food. The board responsible for the orphans sometimes checked on the health of the children, but they always sent the beadle, a kind of local policeman, to announce their visit the day before. So whenever the board arrived, of course, the children were always neat and clean.

This was the way Oliver was brought up. Consequently, at the age of nine he was a pale, thin child and short for his age. But despite frequent beatings by Mrs Mann, his spirit was strong, which was probably the reason why he managed to reach the age of nine at all.

On Oliver’s ninth birthday, Mr Bumble the beadle came to the house to see Mrs Mann. Through the front window Mrs Mann saw him at the gate, and turned quickly to the girl who worked with her.

Quick! Take Oliver and those others upstairs to be washed!’ she said. Then she ran out to unlock the gate. (It was always kept locked to prevent official visitors walking in unexpectedly.) ‘I have business to talk about,’ Mr Bumble told Mrs Mann as he entered the house. He was a big fat man, often bad-tempered, and was full of self-importance. He did not like to be kept waiting at a locked gate.

Mrs Mann took his hat and coat, placed a chair for him, and expressed great concern for his comfort. ‘You’ve had a long walk, Mr Bumble,’ she said, ‘and you must be thirsty.’ She took out a bottle from the cupboard.

‘No, thank you, Mrs Mann. Not a drop.’ He waved the bottle away.

‘Just little drop, Mr Bumble, with cold water,’ said Mrs Mann persuasively.

Mr Bumble coughed. ‘What is it?’ he asked, looking at the bottle with interest.

‘Gin. I keep it for the children’s medicine drink.’

‘You give the children gin, Mrs Mann?’ asked Mr Bumble, watching as she mixed his drink.

‘Only with medicine, sir. I don’t like to see them suffer.’

‘You’re a good woman, Mrs Mann.’ Mr Bumble drank half his glass immediately. ‘I’ll tell the board about you. Now - the reason why I’m here. Oliver Twist is nine years old today. We’ve never been able to discover anything about his parents.’

‘Then how did he get his name?’

‘I gave it to him,’ said Mr Bumble proudly. ‘We follow the alphabet. The last one was an S - Swubble. Then it was T, so this one is Twist. The next one will be Unwin. Anyway, Oliver Twist is now old enough to return to the workhouse. Bring him here, please.’ While Mrs Mann went to get him, Mr Bumble finished the rest of his gin.

Oliver, his face and hands now almost clean, was led into the room.

‘Will you come along with me, Oliver?’ asked Mr Bumble in a loud voice.

Oliver was very glad to be free of Mrs Mann’s violence, but he said nothing because she was angrily shaking her finger at him. However, as the gate closed behind Oliver, he burst into tears. He was leaving behind the other children, the only friends he had, and he realized at that moment how lonely he was in the world.

Mr Bumble walked on with long steps, with Oliver on his short little legs running beside him. The feeling of contentment produced by gin-and-water had now disappeared, and the beadle was in a bad mood once more.

Back at the workhouse, Oliver was taken to see the board. He stood in front of ten fat men who were sitting around a table.

‘What’s your name, boy?’ asked a particularly fat man with a very round, red face.

Oliver was frightened at the sight of so many people, and started to cry.

‘Why are you crying?’

The beadle hit him on the back, and so naturally Oliver cried even more.

‘The boy is a fool,’ one member of the board announced.

‘You know you have no father or mother,’ said the first man, ‘and that you have been brought up with other orphans?’

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Oliver, crying bitterly.

‘Why is the boy crying?’ repeated the other man, puzzled.

‘You have come here to be educated,’ continued the fat man, ‘so you will start working here tomorrow’ at six o’clock.’

Oliver was led away to a large room, where, on a rough hard bed, he cried himself to sleep.

The room in the workhouse where the boys were fed was a large stone hall, and at one end the master and two women served the food. This consisted of a bowl of thin soup three times a day, with a piece of bread on Sundays. The boys ate everything and were always hungry. The bowls never needed washing. The boys polished them with their spoons until they shone. After three months of this slow starvation, one of the boys told the others he was so hungry that one night he might eat the boy who slept next to him. He had a wild hungry eye, and the other boys believed him. After a long discussion, they decided that one of them should ask for more food after supper that evening, and Oliver was chosen.

The evening arrived; the soup was served, and the bowls were empty again in a few seconds. Oliver went up to the master, with his bowl in his hand. He felt very frightened, but also desperate with hunger.

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

The master was a fat, healthy man, but he turned very pale. He looked at the little boy in front of him with amazement. Nobody else spoke.

‘What?’ he asked at last, in a faint voice.

‘Please, sir, replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’

The master hit him with the serving spoon, then seized Oliver’s arms and shouted for the beadle. The beadle came quickly, heard the dreadful news, and immediately ran to tell the board.

‘He asked for more?’ Mr Limbkins, the fattest board member, asked in horror. ‘Bumble - is this really true?’

‘That boy will be hanged!’ said the man who earlier had called Oliver a fool. ‘You see if I’m not right.’

Oliver was led away to be locked up, and a reward was offered to anybody who would take him away and use him for work.

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