Christopher, or Kit Nubbles, as he was commonly called, was not handsome in the estimation of anyone except his mother, and mothers are apt to be partial. He was a shock-headed, shambling, awkward lad, with an uncommonly wide mouth, very red cheeks, a turned-up nose, and certainly the most comical expression of face I ever saw.
He was errand-boy at the Old Curiosity Shop, and deeply attached to both little Nell Trent and her grandfather, his employer. And just here let me explain that Nell’s grandfather led a curious sort of double life; his days were spent in the shop, but when night fell, he invariably took his cloak, his hat, and his stick, and kissing the child, passed out, leaving her alone through the long hours of the night, and Nell had no knowledge that in those nightly absences he was haunting the gaming table; risking large sums, and ever watching with feverish anticipation for the time when he should win a vast fortune to lay by for the child, his pet and darling, to keep her from want if death should take him away. But of this little Nell knew nothing, or she would have implored him to give up the wicked and dangerous pastime.
Nor did she know that it was from Quilp, a strange, rich, little dwarf, who had many trades and callings, that her grandfather was borrowing the money which he staked nightly in hopes of winning more, pledging his little stock as security for the debt.
It was a lonely life that Nell led, with only the old man for companion, so she had a genuine affection for the awkward errand-boy, Christopher, who was one of the few bits of comedy in her days, and his devotion to her verged on worship. One morning Nell’s grandfather sent her with a note to the little dwarf, Quilp; and Kit, who escorted her, while he waited for her, got into a tussle with Quilp’s boy, who asserted that Nell was ugly, and that she and her grandfather were entirely in Quilp’s power.
That was too much for Kit to bear in silence, and he retorted that Quilp was the ugliest dwarf that could be seen anywheres for a penny.
This enraged Quilp’s boy, who sprang upon Kit, and the two were engaged in a hand-to-hand fight, when Quilp appeared and separated them, asking the cause of the quarrel, and was told that Kit had called him, “The ugliest dwarf that could be seen anywheres for a penny.” Poor Kit never dreamed that his unguarded remark was to be treasured up against him in the mind of the jealous, vindictive, little dwarf, and used to separate him from his idolised mistress and her grandfather, but it was even so, for there was a power of revenge, a hatred, in the tiny body of the dwarf, entirely out of proportion to his size.
Quilp at this time desired to injure the old man and his grandchild, and soon made several discoveries in a secret way, which, added to what he found out from little Nell’s own artless words about her home life, and her grandfather’s habits, enabled him to put two and two together, and guess correctly for what purpose the old man borrowed such large sums from him, and he refused him further loans. More than this, he told the old man that he (Quilp) held a bill of sale on his stock and property, and that he and little Nell would be henceforth homeless and penniless.
The old man pleaded, with agony in his face and voice for one more advance,—one more trial,—but Quilp was firm.
“Who is it?” retorted the old man, desperately, “that, notwithstanding all my caution, told you? Come, let me know the name,—the person.”
The crafty dwarf stopped short in his answer, and said,——
“Now, who do you think?”
“It was Kit. It must have been the boy. He played the spy, and you tampered with him.”
“How came you to think of him?” said the dwarf. “Yes, it was Kit. Poor Kit!” So saying, he nodded in a friendly manner, and took his leave; stopping when he passed the outer door a little distance, and grinning with extraordinary delight.
“Poor Kit!” muttered Quilp. “I think it was Kit who said I was an uglier dwarf than could be seen anywhere for a penny, wasn’t it? Ha, ha, ha! Poor Kit!”
And with that he went his way, still chuckling as he went.
That evening Kit spent in his own home. The room in which he sat down, was an extremely poor and homely place, but with that air of comfort about it, nevertheless, which cleanliness and order can always impart in some degree. Late as the Dutch clock showed it to be, Kit’s mother was still hard at work at an ironing-table; a young child lay sleeping in a cradle near the fire; and another, a sturdy boy of two or three years old, very wide awake, was sitting bolt upright in a clothes-basket, staring over the rim with his great round eyes. It was rather a queer-looking family; Kit, his mother, and the children, being all strongly alike.
Kit was disposed to be out of temper, but he looked at the youngest child, and from him to his other brother in the clothes-basket, and from him to his mother, who had been at work without complaint since morning, and thought it would be a better and kinder thing to be good-humoured. So he rocked the cradle with his foot, made a face at the rebel in the clothes-basket, which put him in high good-humour directly, and stoutly determined to be talkative, and make himself agreeable.
“Did you tell me just now, that your master hadn’t gone out to-night?” inquired Mrs. Nubbles.
“Yes,” said Kit, “worse luck!”
“You should say better luck, I think,” returned his mother, “because Miss Nelly won’t have been left alone.”
“Ah!” said Kit, “I forgot that. I said worse luck, because I’ve been watching ever since eight o’clock, and seen nothing of her. Hark, what’s that?”
“It’s only somebody outside.”
“It’s somebody crossing over here,” said Kit, standing up to listen, “and coming very fast too. He can’t have gone out after I left, and the house caught fire, mother!”
The boy stood for a moment, really bereft, by the apprehension he had conjured up, of the power to move. The footsteps drew nearer, the door was opened with a hasty hand, and the child herself, pale and breathless, hurried into the room.
“Miss Nelly! What is the matter?” cried mother and son together.
“I must not stay a moment,” she returned, “grandfather has been taken very ill. I found him in a fit upon the floor.”
“I’ll run for a doctor——” said Kit, seizing his brimless hat. “I’ll be there directly, I’ll——”
“No, no,” cried Nell, “there is one there, you’re not wanted, you—you—must never come near us any more!”
“What!” roared Kit.
“Never again,” said the child. “Don’t ask me why, for I don’t know. Pray don’t ask me why, pray don’t be sorry, pray don’t be vexed with me! I have nothing to do with it indeed!
“He complains of you and raves of you,” added the child, “I don’t know what you have done, but I hope it’s nothing very bad.”
“I done!” roared Kit.
“He cries that you’re the cause of all his misery,” returned the child, with tearful eyes. “He screamed and called for you; they say you must not come near him, or he will die. You must not return to us any more. I came to tell you. I thought it would be better that I should. Oh, Kit, what have you done? You, in whom I trusted so much, and who were almost the only friend I had!”
The unfortunate Kit looked at his young mistress harder and harder, and with eyes growing wider and wider, but was perfectly motionless and still.
“I have brought his money for the week,” said the child, looking to the woman, and laying it on the table,—”and—and—a little more, for he was always good and kind to me. I hope he will be sorry and do well somewhere else and not take this to heart too much. It grieves me very much to part with him like this, but there is no help. It must be done. Good-night!”
With the tears streaming down her face, and her slight figure trembling with intense agitation, the child hastened to the door, and disappeared as rapidly as she had come.
The poor woman, who had no cause to doubt her son, but every reason for relying on his honesty and truth, was staggered, notwithstanding, by his not having advanced one word in his own defence.
Visions of gallantry, knavery, robbery, flocked into her brain and rendered her afraid to question him. She rocked herself upon a chair, wringing her hands and weeping bitterly. The baby in the cradle woke up and cried; the boy in the clothes-basket fell over on his back with the basket on him, and was seen no more; the mother wept louder yet and rocked faster; but Kit, insensible to all the din and tumult, remained in a state of utter stupefaction.
Of course, after that there was nothing for him to do but to keep as far away as possible from the shop, which he did, except in the evenings, when he often stole beneath Nell’s window on a chance of merely seeing her. One night he was rewarded by a scrap of whispered conversation with her from her window. She told him how sick her grandfather had been, and over and over Kit reiterated all there was for him to say—that he had done nothing to cause that sickness.
“He’ll be sure to get better now,” said the boy, anxiously, “when he does, say a good word—say a kind word for me, Miss Nell!”
“They tell me I must not even mention your name to him for a long, long time,” rejoined the child. “I dare not; and even if I might, what good would a kind word do you, Kit? We shall be very poor they say. We shall scarcely have bread to eat, for everything has been taken from us.”
“It’s not that I may be taken back,” said the boy. “No, it’s not that. It isn’t for the sake of food and wages that I’ve been waiting about in hopes of seeing you. Don’t think that I’d come in a time of trouble to talk of such things as them. It’s something very different from that. Perhaps he might think it over-venturesome of me to say—well then,—to say this,” said Kit, with sudden boldness. “This home is gone from you and him. Mother and I have got a poor one, and why not come there, till he’s had time to look about and find a better? You think,” said the boy, “that it’s very small and inconvenient. So it is, but it’s very clean. Do try, Miss Nell, do try. The little front room upstairs is very pleasant. Mother says it would be just the thing for you, and so it would; and you’d have her to wait upon you both, and me to run errands. We don’t mean money, bless you; you’re not to think of that! Will you try him, Miss Nell? Only say you’ll try him. Do try to make old master come, and ask him first what I have done. Will you only promise that, Miss Nell?”
The street door opened suddenly just then, and, conscious that they were overheard, Nell closed her window quickly, and Kit stole away. And that was his last view of his beloved mistress, for shortly afterwards the Old Curiosity Shop was vacant of its tenants. Little Nell and her grandfather had quietly slipped away, under cover of night, to face their poverty in a new place; where, no one knew or could find out; and all that remained to Kit to remind him of his past, was Nell’s bird, which he rescued from the shop, (now in Quilp’s hands), took home, and hung in his window, to the immeasurable delight of his whole family.
It now remained for Kit to find a new situation, and he roamed the city in search of one daily. He was quite tired out with pacing the streets, to say nothing of repeated disappointments, and was sitting down upon a step to rest, one day, when there approached towards him a little clattering, jingling, four-wheeled chaise, drawn by a little obstinate-looking, rough-coated pony, and driven by a little placid-faced old gentleman. Beside the little old gentleman sat a little old lady, plump and placid like himself. As they passed where he sat, Kit looked so wistfully at the little turnout, that the old gentleman looked at him. Kit rising and putting his hand to his hat, the old gentleman intimated to the pony that he wished to stop, to which proposal the pony graciously acceded.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Kit. “I’m sorry you stopped, sir, I only meant, did you want your horse minded.”
“I’m going to get down in the next street,” returned the old gentleman. “If you like to come on after us, you may have the job.”
Kit thanked him, and joyfully obeyed, and held the refractory little beast until the little old lady and little old gentleman came out, and the old gentleman, taking his seat and the reins again, put his hand in his pocket to find a sixpence for Kit. Not a sixpence could he find, and he thought a shilling too much, but there was no shop in the street to get change at, so he gave it to the boy.
“There,” he said jokingly, “I’m coming here again next Monday at the same time, and mind you’re here, my lad, to work it out!”
“Thank you, sir,” said Kit. “I’ll be sure to be here.”
He was quite serious, but they laughed heartily at his saying so, and then the pony started off on a brisk trot, and Kit was left alone. Having expended his treasure in such purchases as he knew would be most acceptable at home, not forgetting some seed for the bird, he hastened back as fast as he could.
Day after day, as he bent his steps homeward, returning from some new effort to procure employment, Kit raised his eyes to the window of the little room he had so much commended to the child Nell, and hoped to see some indication of her presence.
“I think they must certainly come to-morrow, eh, mother?” said Kit, laying aside his hat with a weary air, and sighing as he spoke. “They have been gone a week. They surely couldn’t stop away more than a week, could they now?”
The mother shook her head, and reminded him how often he had been disappointed already, and Kit, looking very mournful, clambered up to the nail, took down the cage, and set himself to clean it, and to feed the bird. His thoughts reverting from this occupation to the little old gentleman who had given him the shilling, he suddenly recollected that that was the very day—nay, nearly the very hour—at which the old gentleman had said he should be at the Notary’s office again. He no sooner remembered this, than hastily explaining the nature of his errand, he went off at full speed to the appointed place, and although when he arrived there it was full two minutes after the time set, there was as yet no pony-chaise to be seen. Greatly relieved, Kit leaned against a lamp-post to take breath, and waited. Before long the pony came trotting round the corner of the street, and behind him sat the little old gentleman, and the little old lady.
Upon the pony’s refusing to stand at the proper place, the old gentleman alighted to lead him; whereupon the pony darted off with the old lady, and stopped at the right house, leaving the old gentleman to come panting on behind.
It was then that Kit presented himself at the pony’s head, and touched his hat with a smile.
“Why, bless me,” cried the old gentleman, “the lad is here! My dear, do you see?”
“I said I’d be here, sir,” said Kit, patting Whisker’s neck. “I hope you’ve had a pleasant ride, sir. He’s a very nice little pony.”
“My dear,” said the old gentleman. “This is an uncommon lad; a good lad, I’m sure.”
“I’m sure he is,” rejoined the old lady, “A very good lad, and I am sure he is a good son.”
Kit acknowledged these expressions of confidence by touching his hat again and blushing very much. Then the old gentleman helped the old lady out, and they went into the office—talking about him as they went, Kit could not help feeling, and a few minutes later he was called in.
Kit entered in a great tremor, for he was not used to going among strange ladies and gentlemen, and the tin boxes and bundles of dusty papers had in his eyes an awful and a venerable air. Mr. Witherden, the notary, was a bustling gentleman, who talked loud and fast.
“Well, boy,” said Mr. Witherden, “you came to work out that shilling,—not to get another, hey?”
“No indeed, sir,” replied Kit, taking courage to look up. “I never thought of such a thing.”
“Now,” said the old gentleman, Mr. Garland, when they had asked some further questions of Kit, “I am not going to give you anything.” “But,” he added, “perhaps I may want to know something more about you, so tell me where you live.”
Kit told him, and the old gentleman wrote down the address with his pencil. He had scarcely done so, than there was a great uproar in the street, and the old lady, hurrying to the window, cried that Whisker had run away, upon which Kit darted out to the rescue, and the others followed. Even in running away, however, Whisker was perverse, for he had not gone far when he suddenly stopped. The old lady then stepped into her seat, and Mr. Abel, her son, whom they had come to fetch, into his. The old gentleman took his place also, and they drove away, more than once turning to nod kindly to Kit, as he watched them from the road.
When Kit reached home, to his amazement he found the pony and his owners there too.
“We are here before you, you see, Christopher,” said Mr. Garland, smiling.
“Yes, sir,” said Kit, and as he said it, he looked towards his mother for an explanation of the visit.
“The gentleman’s been kind enough, my dear,” said she, “to ask me whether you were in a good place, or in any place at all, and when I told him no, he was so good as to say that——”
“That we wanted a good lad in our house,” said the old lady and the old gentleman both together, “and that perhaps we might think of it, if we found everything as we would wish it to be.”
As this thinking of it plainly meant the thinking of engaging Kit, he immediately fell into a great flutter; for the little old couple were very methodical and cautious, and asked so many questions that he began to be afraid there was no chance of his success; but to his surprise at last he found himself formally hired at an annual income of Six Pounds, over and above his board and lodging, by Mr. and Mrs. Garland, of Abel Cottage, Finchley; and it was settled that he should repair to his new abode on the next day but one.
“Well, mother,” said Kit, hurrying back into the house, after he had seen the old people to their carriage, “I think my fortune’s about made now.”
“I should think it was indeed, Kit!” rejoined his mother. “Six pound a year! Only think!”
“Ah!” said Kit, trying to maintain the gravity which the consideration of such a sum demanded, but grinning with delight in spite of himself. “There’s a property! Please God, we’ll make such a lady of you for Sundays, mother! such a scholar of Jacob, such a child of the baby, such a room of the one upstairs! Six pound a year!”
The remainder of that day, and the whole of the next, were a busy time for the Nubbles family, to whom everything connected with Kit’s outfit and departure was matter of as great moment as if he had been about to penetrate into the interior of Africa, or to take a cruise round the world. It would be difficult to suppose that there ever was a box which was opened and shut so many times within four-and-twenty hours as that which contained his wardrobe and necessaries; and certainly there never was one which to two small eyes presented such a mine of clothing as this mighty chest, with its three shirts, and proportionate allowance of stockings and pocket-handkerchiefs, disclosed to the astonished vision of little Jacob.
At last, after many kisses and hugs and tears, Kit left the house on the next morning, and set out to walk to Finchley.
He wore no livery, but was dressed in a coat of pepper-and-salt, with waistcoat of canary colour, and nether garments of iron-grey; besides these glories, he shone in the lustre of a new pair of boots and an extremely stiff and shiny hat. And in this attire, rather wondering that he attracted so little attention, he made his way towards Abel Cottage.
It was a beautiful little cottage, with a thatched roof and little spires at the gable-ends, and pieces of stained glass in some of the windows. On one side of the house was a little stable, just the size for the pony, with a little room over it, just the size for Kit. White curtains were fluttering, and birds in cages were singing at the windows; plants were arranged on either side of the path, and clustered about the door; and the garden was bright with flowers in full bloom, which shed a sweet odour all around.
Everything within the house and without seemed to be the perfection of neatness and order. Kit looked about him, and admired, and looked again, before he could make up his mind to turn his head and ring the bell.
He rung the bell a great many times, and yet nobody came. But at last, as he was sitting upon the box thinking about giants’ castles, and princesses tied up to pegs by the hair of their heads, and dragons bursting out from behind gates, and other incidents of a like nature, common in story-books to youths on their first visit to strange houses, the door was gently opened, and a little servant-girl, very tidy, modest, and pretty, appeared.
“I suppose you’re Christopher, sir?” said the servant-girl.
Kit got off the box, and said yes, he was, and was ushered in.
The old gentleman received him very kindly, and so did the old lady, whose previous good opinion of him was greatly enhanced by his wiping his boots on the mat. He was then taken into the parlour to be inspected in his new clothes; and then was shown the garden and his little room, and when the old gentleman had said all he had to say in the way of promise and advice, and Kit had said all he had to say in the way of assurance and thankfulness, he was handed over again to the old lady, who, summoning the little servant-girl (whose name was Barbara), instructed her to take him downstairs and give him something to eat and drink after his walk.
From that time Kit’s was a useful, pleasant life, moving on in a peaceful routine of duties and innocent joys from day to day, and from week to week,—until the great, longed-for epoch of his life arrived—the day of receiving, for the first time, one-fourth part of his annual income of Six Pounds. It was to be a half-holiday, devoted to a whirl of entertainments, and little Jacob was to know what oysters meant, and to see a play.
The day arrived, and wasn’t Mr. Garland kind when he said to him,—”Christopher, here’s your money, and you have earned it well;”—which praise in itself was worth as much as his wages.
Then the play itself! The horses which little Jacob believed from the first to be alive,—and the ladies and gentlemen, of whose reality he could be by no means persuaded, having never seen or heard anything at all like them—the firing, which made Barbara (who had a holiday too) wink—the forlorn lady who made her cry—the tyrant who made her tremble—the clown who ventured on such familiarities with the military man in boots—the lady who jumped over the nine-and-twenty ribbons and came down safe upon the horse’s back—everything was delightful, splendid, and surprising! Little Jacob applauded until his hands were sore; Kit cried “an-kor” at the end of everything; and Barbara’s mother beat her umbrella on the floor, in her ecstasies, until it was nearly worn down to the gingham.
What was all this though—even all this—to the extraordinary dissipation that ensued, when Kit, walking into an oyster-shop, as bold as if he lived there, led his party into a box—a private box, fitted up with red curtains, white tablecloth, and cruet-stand complete—and ordered a fierce gentleman with whiskers, who acted as waiter, and called him “Christopher Nubbles, sir,” to bring three dozen of his largest-size oysters, and look sharp about it! Then they fell to work upon the supper in earnest; and ate and laughed and enjoyed themselves so thoroughly that it did Kit good to see them, and made him laugh and eat likewise, from strong sympathy. But the greatest miracle of the night was little Jacob, who ate oysters as if he had been born and bred to the business. There was the baby, too, who sat as good as gold, trying to force a large orange into his mouth, and gazing intently at the lights in the chandelier,—there he was, sitting in his mother’s lap, and making indentations in his soft visage with an oyster-shell, so contentedly that a heart of iron must have loved him! In short, there never was a more successful supper; and when Kit proposed the health of Mrs. and Mr. Garland, there were not six happier people in the world. But all happiness has an end, and as it was now growing late, they agreed that it was time to turn their faces homeward—and the great day was at an end.
One morning just before this, when Kit was out exercising the pony, he was called into the office where he had first seen Mr. and Mrs. Garland, to be examined by a strange gentleman concerning what he knew of little Nell and her grandfather. The gentleman told Kit that he was trying by every means in his power to discover their hiding-place; and, finally, after Kit had repeated all that he could remember of the life and words of his beloved Miss Nelly and the old man, the stranger slipped a half-crown into his hand and dismissed him. The strange gentleman liked Kit so much that he desired to have him in his own service, but the boy stoutly refused to leave his kind employer. At Mr. Garland’s suggestion, however, he offered his services to the stranger for an hour or two every day, and from that came trouble to Kit.
Each day, going up and down, to and from the stranger’s room, he had to pass through the office of one Sampson Brass, attorney; who, through the agency of Quilp, who was Sampson Brass’s best client, was prejudiced against Kit, and pledged to the little dwarf to do him all the injury that he could, for venomous little Quilp had never forgiven the boy who had been connected with his ruined client, and had called him “the ugliest dwarf to be seen for a penny”; and he desired vengeance at any cost.
Every time that Kit passed through the office, Mr. Brass spoke kindly to him, and not seldom gave him half-crowns, which made Kit, who from the first had disliked the man, think that he had misjudged him. Then one day when Kit had been minding the office a few moments for Mr. Brass, and was running towards home, in haste to do his work there, Mr. Brass and his clerk, Dick Swiveller, rushed out after him.
“Stop!” cried Sampson, laying his hand on one shoulder, while Mr. Swiveller pounced upon the other. “Not so fast, sir. You’re in a hurry?”
“Yes, I am,” said Kit, looking from one to the other in great surprise.
“I—I—can hardly believe it,” panted Sampson, “but something of value is missing from the office. I hope you don’t know what.”
“Know what! good heaven, Mr. Brass!” cried Kit, trembling from head to foot; “you don’t suppose——”
“No, no,” rejoined Brass, quickly, “I don’t suppose anything. You will come back quietly, I hope?”
“Of course I will,” returned Kit. “Why not?”
Kit did turn from white to red, and from red to white again, when they secured him, each by an arm, and for a moment he seemed disposed to resist. But, quickly recollecting himself, and remembering that if he made any struggle, he would perhaps be dragged by the collar through the public streets, he suffered them to lead him off.
“Now, you know,” said Brass, when they had entered the office, and locked the door, “if this is a case of innocence, Christopher, the fullest disclosure is the best satisfaction for everybody. Therefore, if you’ll consent to an examination, it will be a comfortable and pleasant thing for all parties.”
“SEARCH ME” said Kit, proudly, holding up his arms. “But mind, sir,—I know you’ll be sorry for this to the last day of your life.”
“It is certainly a very painful occurrence,” said Brass, with a sigh, but commencing the search with vigour. All at once an exclamation from Dick Swiveller and Miss Brass, Sampson’s sister, who was also present, cut the lawyer short He turned his head, and saw Dick, who had been holding Kit’s hat, standing with the missing bank-note in his hand.
“In the hat?” cried Brass, in a sort of shriek, “Under the handkerchief, and tucked beneath the lining,” said Mr. Swiveller, aghast, at the discovery. Mr. Brass looked at him, at his sister, at the walls, at the ceiling, at the floor, everywhere but at Kit, who stood quite stupefied and motionless.
Like one entranced, he stood, eyes wide opened, and fixed upon the ground, until the constable came, and he found himself being driven away in a coach, to the jail, where he was lodged for the night—still dazed by the terrible change in his affairs.
It was a long night, but Kit slept, and dreamed too—always of being at liberty. At last the morning dawned, and the turnkey who came to unlock his cell, and show him where to wash, told him that there was a regular time for visiting every day, and that if any of his friends came to see him, he would be fetched down to the grate, and that he was lodged apart from the mass of prisoners, because he was not supposed to be utterly depraved and irreclaimable. Kit was thankful for this indulgence, and sat reading the Church Catechism, until the man entered again.
“Now then,” he said. “Come on!”
“Where to, sir?” asked Kit.
The man contented himself by briefly replying “Wisitors,” and led Kit down behind a grating, outside which, and beyond a railing, Kit saw with a palpitating heart, his mother with the baby in her arms; and poor little Jacob, who, when he saw his brother, and thrusting his arms between the rails to hug him, found that he came no nearer, began to cry most piteously, whereupon Kit’s mother burst out sobbing and weeping afresh. Poor Kit could not help joining them, and not a word was spoken for some time.
“Oh, my darling Kit!” said his mother at last “That I should see my poor boy here!”
“You don’t believe that I did what they accuse me of, mother, dear?” cried Kit, in a choking voice.
“I, believe it!” exclaimed the poor woman. “I, that never knew you tell a lie or do a bad action from your cradle. I believe it of the son that’s been a comfort to me from the hour of his birth until this time! I believe it of you, Kit!”
“Why then, thank God!” said Kit. “Come what may, I shall always have one drop of happiness in my heart when I think that you said that.”
At this the poor woman fell a-crying again, and soon, all too soon, the turnkey cried “Time’s up!” and Kit was taken off in an instant, with a blessing from his mother and a scream from little Jacob ringing in his ears.
Eight weary days dragged themselves along, and on the ninth the case of Christopher Nubbles came up in Court; and the aforesaid Christopher was called upon to plead guilty or not guilty to an indictment for that he, the aforesaid Christopher, did feloniously abstract and steal from the dwelling-house and office of one Sampson Brass, gentleman, one bank-note for five pounds, issued for Governor and Company of the Bank of England.
By a cleverly worked-up case on his opponent’s side, Kit is so cross-examined as to be found guilty by the jury, and is sentenced to be transported for a term of years.
Kit’s mother, poor woman, is waiting, and when the news is told a sad interview ensues. “He never did it!” she cries.
“Well,” says the turnkey, “I won’t contradict you. It’s all one now, whether he did it or not.”
“Some friend will rise up for us, mother,” cried Kit. “I am sure. If not now, before long. My innocence will come out, mother, and I shall be brought back again, I feel confident of that. You must teach little Jacob and the baby how all this was, for if they thought I had ever been dishonest, when they grew old enough to understand, it would break my heart to know it, if I was thousands of miles away. Oh, is there no good gentleman here who will take care of her!”
In all Kit’s life that was the darkest moment, when he saw his mother led away, half fainting, and heard the grating of his cell door as he entered—entangled in a network of false evidence and treachery from which there seemed no way of escape.
Meanwhile, however, while Kit was being found guilty, a young servant in the employ of the Brasses was also guilty of listening at keyholes, listening to a conversation which was not intended for her ears, in which she heard the entire plot by which Mr. Brass had entrapped and condemned Kit. How he had himself placed the money in Kit’s hat while it lay upon the office table; and how the whole plan had been successful. The small servant, friendly to Kit, and hating her employers, lost no time in repeating what she had heard to Mr. Garland, and he, the notary, and the strange gentleman, after carefully arranging their plan, confronted the Brasses with evidence of their guilt so overwhelmingly true, that they could do nothing but confess their crime, and Kit’s innocence, while Mr. Garland hastened to him with the glad news of his freedom.
Lighted rooms, bright fires, cheerful faces, the music of glad voices, words of love and welcome, warm hearts and tears of happiness—what a change is this! But it is to such delights that Kit is hastening. They are awaiting him, he knows. He fears he will die of joy before he gets among them.
When they are drawing near their journey’s end he begs they may go more slowly, and when the house appears in sight that they may stop,—only for a minute or two, to give him time to breathe.
But there is no stopping then, for they are already at the garden gate. Next minute they are at the door. There is a noise of tongues and a tread of feet inside. It opens. Kit rushes in and finds his mother clinging round his neck. And there is Mrs. Garland, neater and nicer than ever, fainting away stone dead with nobody to help her; and there is Mr. Abel violently blowing his nose and wanting to embrace everybody; and there is the strange gentleman hovering round them all, and there is that good, dear little Jacob sitting all alone by himself on the bottom stair, with his hands on his knees, like an old man, roaring fearfully without giving any trouble to anybody; and each and all of them are for the time clean out of their wits.
Well! In the next room there are decanters of wine, and all that sort of thing set out as grand as if Kit and his friends were first-rate company; and there is little Jacob walking, as the popular phrase is, into a home-made plum cake at a most surprising rate, and keeping his eye on the figs and oranges which are to follow.
Kit no sooner comes in than the strange gentleman drinks his health, and tells him he shall never want a friend as long as he lives, and so does Mr. Garland, and so does Mrs. Garland, and so does Mr. Abel. But even this honour and distinction is not all, for the strange gentleman forthwith pulls out of his pocket a massive silver watch—and upon the back of this watch is engraved Kit’s name with flourishes all over—and in short it is Kit’s watch, bought expressly for him. Mr. and Mrs. Garland can’t help hinting about their present, in store, and Mr. Abel tells outright that he has his; and Kit is the happiest of the happy.
There is one friend that Kit has not seen yet, and he takes the first opportunity of slipping away and hurrying to the stable, and when Kit goes up to caress and pat him, the pony rubs his nose against his coat and fondles him more lovingly than ever pony fondled man. It is the crowning circumstance of his earnest, heartfelt reception; and Kit fairly puts his arm round Whisker’s neck and hugs him.
Happy Christopher!—the darkest days of his life are past—the brightest are yet to be. Let us wish him all joy and prosperity and leave him on the threshold of manhood!