فصل 03

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فصل 03

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CHAPTER THREE

Oliver goes to London

Oliver was now officially an undertaker’s assistant. It was a good, sickly time of year, and coffins were selling well. Oliver gained a lot of experience in a short time, and was interested to see how brave some people were after a death in the family. During funerals for some rich people, for example, he saw that the people who had cried the loudest in church usually recovered the fastest afterwards.

He noticed how in other wealthy families the wife or the husband often seemed quite cheerful and calm despite the recent death - just as if nothing had happened. Oliver was very surprised to see all this, and greatly admired them for controlling their sadness so well.

He was treated badly by most of the people around him. Noah was jealous because Oliver went out to burials while he was left back in the shop, so he treated him even worse than before.

Charlotte treated him badly because Noah did. And Mrs Sowerberry was his enemy because Mr Sowerberry was supposed to be his friend.

One day something happened which might seem unimportant, but which had a great effect on Oliver’s future. Noah was in a particularly bad mood one dinner-time, and so he tried to make Oliver cry by hitting him, pulling his hair, and calling him horrible names. This was all unsuccessful, so he tried personal insults. ‘Workhouse, how’s your mother?’ he asked.

‘She’s dead,’ replied Oliver, his face going red with emotion. Noah hoped that Oliver was going to cry, so he continued. ‘What did she die of, Workhouse?’

‘Of a broken heart, I was told.’ And a tear rolled down Oliver’s cheek.

‘Why are you crying, Workhouse?’

Oliver remained silent, and Noah grew braver. ‘You know, I feel very sorry for you, Workhouse, but the truth is your mother was a wicked woman.’

Oliver seemed suddenly to wake up. ‘What did you say?’

‘She was so bad it was lucky she died, or she would have ended up in prison, or hung.’

His face bright red with anger, Oliver jumped up, seized Noah’s throat, and shook the older boy so violently that his teeth nearly fell out. Then he hit him with all his strength and knocked him to the ground.

‘He’ll murder me!’ screamed Noah. ‘Charlotte! Help! Oliver’s gone mad-‘

Charlotte and Mrs Sowerberry ran in and screamed in horror. They took hold of Oliver and began to beat him. Then Noah got up and started to kick him from behind. When they were all tired, they forced Oliver, who was still fighting and shouting, into the cellar and locked it.

Mrs Sowerberry sat down, breathing heavily. ‘He’s like a wild animal!’ she said. ‘We could all have been murdered in our beds!’

‘I hope Mr Sowerberry doesn’t take any more of these dreadful creatures from the workhouse,’ said Charlotte. ‘Poor Noah was nearly killed!’ Mrs Sowerberry looked at Noah sympathetically.

Noah, who was twice Oliver’s size, pretended to rub tears from his eyes.

‘What shall we do?’ cried Mrs Sowerberry. ‘He’ll kick that door down in ten minutes.’ They could hear Oliver banging and kicking at the cellar door. ‘Noah - run and get Mr Bumble.’

So Noah ran through the streets as quickly as he could to fetch the beadle. When he reached the workhouse, he waited for a minute to make sure his face was suitably tearful and frightened.

As soon as Mr Bumble came out, Noah cried, ‘Mr Bumble! Mr Bumble! It’s Oliver Twist, sir. He’s become violent. He tried to murder me, sir! And Charlotte, and Mrs Sowerberry as well.’

Mr Bumble was shocked and angry. ‘Did he? I’ll come up there immediately and beat him with my stick.’

When he arrived at the shop, Oliver was still kicking wildly at the cellar door.

‘Let me out!’ he shouted from the cellar, when he heard Mr Bumble’s voice. ‘I’m not afraid of you!’

Mr Bumble stopped for a moment, amazed and even rather frightened by this change in Oliver. Then he said to Mrs Sowerberry, ‘It’s the meat that’s caused this, you know.’

‘What?’

‘Meat, madam. You’ve fed him too well here. Back in the workhouse this would never have happened.’

‘I knew I was too generous to him,’ said Mrs Sowerberry, raising her eyes to the ceiling.

At that moment Mr Sowerberry returned and, hearing what had happened (according to the ladies), he beat Oliver so hard that even Mr Bumble and Mrs Sowerberry were satisfied. Mr Sowerberry was not a cruel man, but he had no choice. He knew that if he didn’t punish Oliver, his wife would never forgive him.

That night, alone in the room with the coffins, Oliver cried bitter, lonely tears. He did not sleep, and very early in the morning, before anyone was awake, he quietly unlocked the shop door and left the house. He ran up the street and through the town as far as the main road, where he saw a sign that told him it was just seventy miles from there to London, The name London gave the boy an idea. That huge place! Nobody, not even Mr Bumble, could ever find him there! He had heard old men in the workhouse say it was a good place for brave boys, and that there was always work there for those that wanted it. It would be the best place for him. He jumped to his feet and walked forward again.

But after only four miles he began to realize just how far he would have to walk. He stopped to think about it. He had a piece of bread, a rough shirt, two pairs of socks and a penny. But he could not see how these would help him get to London any faster, so he continued walking.

He walked twenty miles that day. The only thing he had to eat was his piece of bread and some water which he begged from houses near the road. He slept the first night in a field, feeling lonely, tired, cold and hungry. He was even hungrier the next morning when he woke up, and he had to buy some more bread with his penny. That day he walked only twelve miles. His legs were so weak that they shook beneath him.

The next day he tried to beg for money, but large signs in some villages warned him that anyone caught begging would be sent to prison. Travellers on the road refused to give him money; they said he was a lazy young dog and didn’t deserve anything. Farmers threatened to send their dogs after him. When he waited outside pubs, the pub-owners chased him away because they thought he had come to steal something. Only two people were kind enough to feed him: an old woman and a gate-keeper on the road. If they had not given him some food, he surely would have died like his mother.

Early on the seventh morning of his journey, Oliver finally reached the little town of Barnet, just outside London. Exhausted, he sat down at the side of the road. His feet were bleeding and he was covered in dust. He was too tired even to beg. Then he noticed that a boy, who had passed him a few minutes before, had returned, and was now looking at him carefully from the opposite side of the road. After a long time the boy crossed the road and said to Oliver, ‘Hello! What’s the matter then?’

The boy was about Oliver s age, but was one of the strangest-looking people he had ever seen. He had a dirty, ordinary boy’s face, but he behaved as if he were an adult. He was short for his age and had little, sharp, ugly eyes. His hat was stuck on top of his head but it looked as though it would blow off at any minute. He wore a man’s coat which reached almost down to his feet, with sleeves so long that his hands were completely covered.

‘I’m very tired and hungry,’ answered Oliver, almost crying. ‘I’ve been walking for a week.’

‘A week! The magistrate’s order, was it?’

‘The magistrate? What’s that?’

‘A magistrate’s a kind of judge,’ explained the surprised young gentleman. He realized Oliver did not have much experience of the world. ‘Never mind that. You want some food,’ he went on. ‘I haven’t got much money but don’t worry - I’ll pay.’

The boy helped Oliver to his feet, and took him to a pub. Meat, bread, and beer were placed before Oliver, and his new friend urged him to satisfy his hunger. While Oliver was eating, the strange boy looked at him from time to time with great attention.

‘Going to London?’ he asked him finally.

‘Yes.’

‘Got anywhere to live?’

‘No.’

‘Money?’

‘No.’

The strange boy whistled, and put his arms into his pockets as far as the big coat sleeves would allow him. ‘I suppose you want to sleep somewhere tonight, don’t you?’

‘I do,’ replied Oliver. ‘I haven’t slept under a roof since I started my journey.’

‘Well, don’t worry. I’ve got to be in London tonight, and I know a very nice old gentleman there who’ll let you live in his place and not even ask you for money!’

Oliver was deeply grateful for this offer of shelter and talked for a long time with his new friend. His name was Jack Dawkins, but he was usually called ‘The Artful Dodger’. ‘Artful’ because he was very clever at getting what he wanted; and ‘Dodger’ because he was very good at not getting caught when he did something wrong. When he heard this, Oliver felt rather doubtful about having such a friend. However, he wanted first to meet the kind old gentleman in London, who would help him. After that, he could decide whether to continue the friendship with the Artful Dodger.

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