Day after day as he bent his steps homeward, returning from some new effort t_rocure employment, Kit raised his eyes to the window of the little room h_ad so much commended to the child, and hoped to see some indication of he_resence. His own earnest wish, coupled with the assurance he had receive_rom Quilp, filled him with the belief that she would yet arrive to claim th_umble shelter he had offered, and from the death of each day's hope anothe_ope sprung up to live to-morrow.
'I think they must certainly come to-morrow, eh mother?' said Kit, layin_side his hat with a weary air and sighing as he spoke. 'They have been gone _eek. 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 disappointe_lready.
'For the matter of that,' said Kit, 'you speak true and sensible enough, a_ou always do, mother. Still, I do consider that a week is quite long enoug_or 'em to be rambling about; don't you say so?'
'Quite long enough, Kit, longer than enough, but they may not come back fo_ll that.'
Kit was for a moment disposed to be vexed by this contradiction, and not th_ess so from having anticipated it in his own mind and knowing how just i_as. But the impulse was only momentary, and the vexed look became a kind on_efore it had crossed the room.
'Then what do you think, mother, has become of 'em? You don't think they'v_one to sea, anyhow?'
'Not gone for sailors, certainly,' returned the mother with a smile. 'But _an't help thinking that they have gone to some foreign country.'
'I say,' cried Kit with a rueful face, 'don't talk like that, mother.'
'I am afraid they have, and that's the truth,' she said. 'It's the talk of al_he neighbours, and there are some even that know of their having been seen o_oard ship, and can tell you the name of the place they've gone to, which i_ore than I can, my dear, for it's a very hard one.'
'I don't believe it,' said Kit. 'Not a word of it. A set of idle chatterboxes,
how should they know!'
'They may be wrong of course,' returned the mother, 'I can't tell about that,
though I don't think it's at all unlikely that they're in the right, for th_alk is that the old gentleman had put by a little money that nobody knew of,
not even that ugly little man you talk to me about—what's his name—Quilp; an_hat he and Miss Nell have gone to live abroad where it can't be taken fro_hem, and they will never be disturbed. That don't seem very far out of th_ay now, do it?'
Kit scratched his head mournfully, in reluctant admission that it did not, an_lambering up to the old nail took down the cage and set himself to clean i_nd to feed the bird. His thoughts reverting from this occupation to th_ittle old gentleman who had given him the shilling, he suddenly recollecte_hat that was the very day—nay, nearly the very hour—at which the little ol_entleman had said he should be at the Notary's house again. He no soone_emembered this, than he hung up the cage with great precipitation, an_astily explaining the nature of his errand, went off at full speed to th_ppointed place.
It was some two minutes after the time when he reached the spot, which was _onsiderable distance from his home, but by great good luck the little ol_entleman had not yet arrived; at least there was no pony-chaise to be seen,
and it was not likely that he had come and gone again in so short a space.
Greatly relieved to find that he was not too late, Kit leant against a lamp-
post to take breath, and waited the advent of the pony and his charge.
Sure enough, before long the pony came trotting round the corner of th_treet, looking as obstinate as pony might, and picking his steps as if h_ere spying about for the cleanest places, and would by no means dirty hi_eet or hurry himself inconveniently. Behind the pony sat the little ol_entleman, and by the old gentleman's side sat the little old lady, carryin_ust such a nosegay as she had brought before.
The old gentleman, the old lady, the pony, and the chaise, came up the stree_n perfect unanimity, until they arrived within some half a dozen doors of th_otary's house, when the pony, deceived by a brass-plate beneath a tailor'_nocker, came to a halt, and maintained by a sturdy silence, that that was th_ouse they wanted.
'Now, Sir, will you ha' the goodness to go on; this is not the place,' sai_he old gentleman.
The pony looked with great attention into a fire-plug which was near him, an_ppeared to be quite absorbed in contemplating it.
'Oh dear, such a naughty Whisker" cried the old lady. 'After being so goo_oo, and coming along so well! I am quite ashamed of him. I don't know what w_re to do with him, I really don't.'
The pony having thoroughly satisfied himself as to the nature and propertie_f the fire-plug, looked into the air after his old enemies the flies, and a_here happened to be one of them tickling his ear at that moment he shook hi_ead and whisked his tail, after which he appeared full of thought but quit_omfortable and collected. The old gentleman having exhausted his powers o_ersuasion, alighted to lead him; whereupon the pony, perhaps because he hel_his to be a sufficient concession, perhaps because he happened to catch sigh_f the other brass-plate, or perhaps because he was in a spiteful humour,
darted off with the old lady and stopped at the right house, leaving the ol_entleman to come panting on behind.
It was then that Kit presented himself at the pony's head, and touched his ha_ith a smile.
'Why, bless me,' cried the old gentleman, 'the lad is here! My dear, do yo_ee?'
'I said I'd be here, Sir,' said Kit, patting Whisker's neck. 'I hope you'v_ad 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'_ure.'
'I'm sure he is,' rejoined the old lady. 'A very good lad, and I am sure he i_ good son.'
Kit acknowledged these expressions of confidence by touching his hat again an_lushing very much. The old gentleman then handed the old lady out, and afte_ooking at him with an approving smile, they went into the house—talking abou_im as they went, Kit could not help feeling. Presently Mr Witherden, smellin_ery hard at the nosegay, came to the window and looked at him, and after tha_r Abel came and looked at him, and after that the old gentleman and lady cam_nd looked at him again, and after that they all came and looked at hi_ogether, which Kit, feeling very much embarrassed by, made a pretence of no_bserving. Therefore he patted the pony more and more; and this liberty th_ony most handsomely permitted.
The faces had not disappeared from the window many moments, when Mr Chuckste_n his official coat, and with his hat hanging on his head just as it happene_o fall from its peg, appeared upon the pavement, and telling him he wa_anted inside, bade him go in and he would mind the chaise the while. I_iving him this direction Mr Chuckster remarked that he wished that he migh_e blessed if he could make out whether he (Kit) was 'precious raw' or
'precious deep,' but intimated by a distrustful shake of the head, that h_nclined to the latter opinion.
Kit entered the office in a great tremor, for he was not used to going amon_trange ladies and gentlemen, and the tin boxes and bundles of dusty paper_ad in his eyes an awful and venerable air. Mr Witherden too was a bustlin_entleman who talked loud and fast, and all eyes were upon him, and he wa_ery shabby.
'Well, boy,' said Mr Witherden, 'you came to work out that shilling;—not t_et another, hey?'
'No indeed, sir,' replied Kit, taking courage to look up. 'I never thought o_uch a thing.'
'Father alive?' said the Notary.
Kit made answer, not without some indignation, that she was a widow with thre_hildren, and that as to her marrying again, if the gentleman knew her h_ouldn't think of such a thing. At this reply Mr Witherden buried his nose i_he flowers again, and whispered behind the nosegay to the old gentleman tha_e believed the lad was as honest a lad as need be.
'Now,' said Mr Garland when they had made some further inquiries of him, 'I a_ot going to give you anything—'
'Thank you, sir,' Kit replied; and quite seriously too, for this announcemen_eemed to free him from the suspicion which the Notary had hinted.
'—But,' resumed the old gentleman, 'perhaps I may want to know something mor_bout you, so tell me where you live, and I'll put it down in my pocket-book.'
Kit told him, and the old gentleman wrote down the address with his pencil. H_ad scarcely done so, when there was a great uproar in the street, and the ol_ady hurrying to the window cried that Whisker had run away, upon which Ki_arted out to the rescue, and the others followed.
It seemed that Mr Chuckster had been standing with his hands in his pocket_ooking carelessly at the pony, and occasionally insulting him with suc_dmonitions as 'Stand still,'—'Be quiet,'— 'Wo-a-a,' and the like, which by _ony of spirit cannot be borne. Consequently, the pony being deterred by n_onsiderations of duty or obedience, and not having before him the slightes_ear of the human eye, had at length started off, and was at that momen_attling down the street—Mr Chuckster, with his hat off and a pen behind hi_ar, hanging on in the rear of the chaise and making futile attempts to dra_t the other way, to the unspeakable admiration of all beholders. Even i_unning away, however, Whisker was perverse, for he had not gone very far whe_e suddenly stopped, and before assistance could be rendered, commence_acking at nearly as quick a pace as he had gone forward. By these means M_huckster was pushed and hustled to the office again, in a most ingloriou_anner, and arrived in a state of great exhaustion and discomfiture.
The old lady then stepped into her seat, and Mr Abel (whom they had come t_etch) into his. The old gentleman, after reasoning with the pony on th_xtreme impropriety of his conduct, and making the best amends in his power t_r Chuckster, took his place also, and they drove away, waving a farewell t_he Notary and his clerk, and more than once turning to nod kindly to Kit a_e watched them from the road.