Chapter 22

by Charles Dickens

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 it was conveyed to the carrier’s, at whose house at Finchley Kit was to find it next day; and the box being gone, there remained but two questions for consideration: firstly, whether the carrier would lose, or dishonestly feign to lose, the box upon the road; secondly, whether Kit’s mother perfectly understood how to take care of herself in the absence of her son.

‘I don’t think there’s hardly a chance of his really losing it, but carriers are under great temptation to pretend they lose things, no doubt,’ said Mrs Nubbles apprehensively, in reference to the first point.

‘No doubt about it,’ returned Kit, with a serious look; ‘upon my word, mother, I don’t think it was right to trust it to itself. Somebody ought to have gone with it, I’m afraid.’

‘We can’t help it now,’ said his mother; ‘but it was foolish and wrong. People oughtn’t to be tempted.’

Kit inwardly resolved that he would never tempt a carrier any more, save with an empty box; and having formed this Christian determination, he turned his thoughts to the second question.

You know you must keep up your spirits, mother, and not be lonesome because I’m not at home. I shall very often be able to look in when I come into town I dare say, and I shall send you a letter sometimes, and when the quarter comes round, I can get a holiday of course; and then see if we don’t take little Jacob to the play, and let him know what oysters means.’

‘I hope plays mayn’t be sinful, Kit, but I’m a’most afraid,’ said Mrs Nubbles.

‘I know who has been putting that in your head,’ rejoined her son disconsolately; ‘that’s Little Bethel again. Now I say, mother, pray don’t take to going there regularly, for if I was to see your good-humoured face that has always made home cheerful, turned into a grievous one, and the baby trained to look grievous too, and to call itself a young sinner (bless its heart) and a child of the devil (which is calling its dead father names); if I was to see this, and see little Jacob looking grievous likewise, I should so take it to heart that I’m sure I should go and list for a soldier, and run my head on purpose against the first cannon-ball I saw coming my way.’

‘Oh, Kit, don’t talk like that.’

‘I would, indeed, mother, and unless you want to make me feel very wretched and uncomfortable, you’ll keep that bow on your bonnet, which you’d more than half a mind to pull off last week. Can you suppose there’s any harm in looking as cheerful and being as cheerful as our poor circumstances will permit? Do I see anything in the way I’m made, which calls upon me to be a snivelling, solemn, whispering chap, sneaking about as if I couldn’t help it, and expressing myself in a most unpleasant snuffle? on the contrary, don’t I see every reason why I shouldn’t? just hear this! Ha ha ha! An’t that as nat’ral as walking, and as good for the health? Ha ha ha! An’t that as nat’ral as a sheep’s bleating, or a pig’s grunting, or a horse’s neighing, or a bird’s singing? Ha ha ha! Isn’t it, mother?’

There was something contagious in Kit’s laugh, for his mother, who had looked grave before, first subsided into a smile, and then fell to joining in it heartily, which occasioned Kit to say that he knew it was natural, and to laugh the more. Kit and his mother, laughing together in a pretty loud key, woke the baby, who, finding that there was something very jovial and agreeable in progress, was no sooner in its mother’s arms than it began to kick and laugh, most vigorously. This new illustration of his argument so tickled Kit, that he fell backward in his chair in a state of exhaustion, pointing at the baby and shaking his sides till he rocked again. After recovering twice or thrice, and as often relapsing, he wiped his eyes and said grace; and a very cheerful meal their scanty supper was.

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