Tales from Dickens - Charles Dickens - ebook

A Collection of Classics tales by Charles Dickens.

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Tales from Dickens

Charles Dickens



Charles John Huffham Dickens, the master story-teller, was born in Landport, England, February 7, 1812. His father was a clerk in one of the offices of the Navy, and he was one of eight children.

When he was four years old, his father moved to the town of Chatham, near the old city of Rochester. Round about are chalk hills, green lanes, forests and marshes, and amid such scenes the little Charles's genius first began to show itself.

He did not like the rougher sports of his school-fellows and preferred to amuse himself in his own way, or to wander about with his older sister, Fanny, whom he especially loved. They loved to watch the stars together, and there was one particular star which they used to pretend was their own. People called him a "very queer small boy" because he was always thinking or reading instead of playing. The children of the neighborhood would gather around him to listen while he told them stories or sang comic songs to them, and when he was only eight years old he taught them to act in plays which he invented. He was fond of[Pg 2] reading books of travel, and most of all he loved The Arabian Nights and Robinson Crusoe.

He had a great affection for Chatham and Rochester, and after he began to write stories that were printed, he often used to put these places into them. It was at Chatham that poor little David in the story, David Copperfield, lay down to sleep when he was running away from London to find his aunt, Miss Betsy Trotwood. It was to Rochester that Mr. Pickwick in Pickwick Papers, rode with Jingle. Rochester was really the "Cloisterham" where the wicked choir master, John Jasper, killed his nephew, in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. And it was in those very marshes near by, that Magwitch, the escaped convict in Great Expectations, so frightened little Pip. It is easy to see that the young Charles Dickens noted carefully and remembered everything he saw, and this habit was of great use to him all his life.

These happy years were not to last long. When he was nine years old, his father became poor and the family was obliged to move to London, where it lived in a shabby house in a poor suburb. Before another year had passed, his father was put into prison for debt—the same prison in which Little Dorrit, in the story of that name, grew up. A very bitter period followed for the solitary ten-year-old boy—a time in which, he long afterward wrote, "but for the mercy of God, he might easily have become, for any care that was taken of him, a[Pg 3] little robber or a little vagabond." The earlier history of David in David Copperfield is really and truly a history of the real Charles Dickens in London. He was left to the city streets, or to earn a hard and scanty living in a dirty warehouse, by pasting labels on pots of blacking. All of this wretched experience he has written in David Copperfield, and the sad scenes of the debtors' prison he has put into Pickwick Papers and into Little Dorrit. Even Mrs. Pipchin, of whom he told in Dombey and Son, and Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, were real people whom he knew in these years of poverty and despair. Dickens's life at this time was so miserable that always afterward he dreaded to speak of it, and never could bear even to walk in the street where the blacking warehouse of his boyhood had stood.

Better days, however, came at last. He was able to begin school again, and though the head-master was ignorant and brutal (just such a one as Mr. Creakle in David Copperfield) yet Dickens profited by such teaching as he received.

After two or three years of school, he found employment as clerk in a lawyer's office. This did not content him and he made up his mind to learn to write shorthand so as to become a reporter, in the Houses of Parliament, for a newspaper. This was by no means an easy task. But Dickens had great strength of will and a determination to do well[Pg 4] whatever he did at all, and he succeeded, just as David Copperfield did in the story.

And like the latter, too, about this time Dickens fell in love. He did not marry on this occasion, as did David, but how much he was in love one may see by the story of David's Dora.

The theater had always a great attraction for Dickens. Throughout his life he loved to act in plays got up and often written, too, by himself and his friends. Some of his early experiences of this kind he has told in the adventures of Nicholas Nickleby at Mr. Crummles's theater. But his acting was for his own amusement, and it is doubtful if he ever thought seriously of adopting the stage as a profession. If he did, his success as a reporter soon determined him otherwise.

When he was twenty-one he saw his first printed sketch in a monthly magazine. He had dropped it into a letter-box with mingled hope and fear, and read it now through tears of joy and pride. He followed this with others as successful, signed "Boz"—the child nickname of one of his younger brothers. This was his beginning. He was soon on the road to a comfortable fortune, and when at length Pickwick Papersappeared, Dickens's fame was assured. This was his first long story. It became, almost at once, the most popular book of its day, perhaps, indeed, the most popular book ever published in England. Soon after the appearance of its first chapters, Dickens married Miss[Pg 5] Catherine Hogarth, daughter of the editor of one of the London newspapers, who had helped him in his career.

Many have tried to explain the marvelous popularity of Pickwick Papers. Certainly its honest fun, its merriment, its quaintness, good humor and charity appealed to every reader. More than all, it made people acquainted with a new company of characters, none of whom had ever existed, or could ever exist, and yet whose manners and appearance were pictured so really that they seemed to be actual persons whom one might meet and laugh with anywhere.

With such a success, and the money it brought him, Dickens had leisure to begin the wonderful series of stories which endeared him to the whole English-speaking world, and made him the most famous author of his day. Oliver Twist came first, and it was followed by Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop.

In the first two of these stories one may see most clearly the principle that underlay almost all of Dickens's work. He was never content merely to tell an interesting story. He wrote with a purpose. In Oliver Twist that purpose was, first, to better the poorhouse system, and second, to show that even in the lowest and wickedest paths of life (the life wherein lived Fagin with his pupils in crime and Bill Sikes the brutal burglar) there could yet be found, as in the case of poor Nancy,[Pg 6] real kindness and sacrifice. In Nicholas Nickleby the purpose was to show what terrible wrongs were done to children in country schools, numbers of which at that time were managed by men almost as cruel and inhuman as was Squeers in the story. It is good to learn that, as a result of this novel, an end was made of many such boys' schools. True artist as he was, Dickens seldom wrote without having in his mind the thought of showing some defect in the law, or some wrong condition of affairs which might be righted. No one could read Pickwick Papersor Little Dorrit without realizing how much wrong and misery was caused by the law which made it possible to throw a man into prison for debt. Nor can one read Bleak House without seeing that the legal system which robbed quaint Miss Flite of her mind and kept poor Richard Carstone from his fortune till the fortune itself had disappeared, was a very wrong legal system indeed. Often, too, Dickens's stories are, in a sense, sermons against very human sins. In The Old Curiosity Shop it is the sin of gambling which brings about the death of Little Nell. In Great Expectations it is the sin of pride which Pip has to fight. In Martin Chuzzlewit the evil and folly of selfishness is what Dickens had in mind.

With his increasing wealth, Dickens had, of course, changed his manner of life. He lived part of the time in the country near London, in Brighton,[Pg 7] in Dover, and in France and Italy. He liked best, however, a little English watering place called Broadstairs—a tiny fishing village, built on a cliff, with the sea rolling and dashing beneath it. In such a place he felt that he could write best, but he greatly missed his London friends. He used to say that being without them was "like losing his arms and legs."

The first great grief of his life came to him at this time, in the death of his wife's sister, Mary Hogarth, a gentle, lovable girl of seventeen. No sorrow ever touched him as this did. "After she died," he wrote years afterward, "I dreamed of her every night for many weeks, and always with a kind of quiet happiness, so that I never lay down at night without a hope of the vision coming back." Hers was the character he drew in Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. When he came to the part of the story which tells of Little Nell's death, he could scarcely write the chapter. When he ended it he said, "It seems as though dear Mary died but yesterday."

When he was less than thirty, Dickens was invited to visit Scotland, and there he received his first great national tribute. A public banquet was given him in Edinburgh, and he was much sought after and entertained. Up to this time he had never seen the United States; he decided now to visit this country and meet his American readers face to face.[Pg 8]

He landed at Boston accompanied by his wife, in 1842, and visited many of the greater cities of the Eastern states. Everywhere he was counted the guest of the nation, and the four months of his stay were one continual welcome. Unfortunately, however, Dickens had taken a dislike to American ways, and this dislike appeared in many things he wrote after his return to England. The pictures he drew of American life in Martin Chuzzlewit were both unjust and untrue, and made him for a time lose a large part of the good opinion which American readers had had for him. Dickens soon came to regret the writing of these chapters, and when, twenty-five years later, he visited the United States a second time, he did all in his power to show his kindly feeling, and America admired and loved him so much that it gradually forgot the incident in the great pleasure with which it read his stories.

Dickens was a very active man, and his life was simple and full of work and exercise. He rose early and almost every day might have been seen tramping for miles along the country roads, or riding horseback with his dogs racing after him. He liked best to wander along the cliffs or across the downs by the sea. When he was in London he often walked the streets half the night, thinking out his stories, or searching for the odd characters which he put in them. This natural activity and restlessness even led him sometimes to[Pg 9] make political speeches, and finally to the establishment of a new London newspaper—the Daily News—of which he was the first editor. Before this, he had started a weekly journal, in which several of his stories had appeared, but it had not been very successful. It was not long before he withdrew also from this second venture.

In the meantime he had met with both joy and sorrow. Several children had been born to him. His much loved sister, his father, and his own little daughter, the youngest of his family, had died. These sorrows made him throw himself into his work with greater earnestness. He even found leisure to organize a theatrical company (in which he himself acted with a number of other famous writers of the time), which gave several plays for the benefit of charity. One of these was performed before Queen Victoria.

People have often wondered how Dickens found time to accomplish so many different things. One of the secrets of this, no doubt, was his love of order. He was the most systematic of men. Everything he did "went like clockwork," and he prided himself on his punctuality. He could not work in a room unless everything in it was in its proper place. As a consequence of this habit of regularity, he never wasted time.

The work of editorship was very pleasant to Dickens, and scarcely three years after his leaving the Daily News he began the publication of a new[Pg 10] magazine which he called Household Words. His aim was to make it cheerful, useful and at the same time cheap, so that the poor could afford to buy it as well as the rich. His own story, Hard Times, first appeared in this, with the earliest work of more than one writer who later became celebrated. Dickens loved to encourage young writers, and would just as quickly accept a good story or poem from an unknown author as from the most famous.

It was while engaged in this work that Dickens wrote the best one of all his tales—David Copperfield, the one which is in so large a part the history of his own early life.

This book brought Dickens to the height of his career. He was now both famous and rich. He bought a house on Gad's Hill—a place near Chatham, where he had spent the happiest part of his childhood—and settled down to a life of comfort and labor. When he was a little boy his father had pointed out this fine house to him, and told him he might even come to live there some day, if he were very persevering and worked hard. And so, indeed, it had proved.

Perhaps it is in connection with this house on Gad's Hill that the world oftenest remembers Dickens now. Everyone, old and young throughout the neighborhood, liked him. Children, dogs and horses were his friends. His hand was open for charity, and he was always the champion of the[Pg 11] poor, the helpless and the outcast. Everyone, he thought, had some good in him, and in all he met he was on the lookout to find it. The great purpose underneath all his writings was after all to teach that every man and woman, however degraded, has his or her better side. So earnest was he in this that he was not pleased at all when a person praised one of his stories, unless the other showed that he had grasped the lesson that lay beneath it. The text of Dickens's whole life and work is best expressed in his own words: "I hope to do some solid good, and I mean to be as cheery and pleasant as I can." The wrongs and sufferings of the young especially appealed to him, and perhaps the most beautiful speech he ever made was one asking for money for the support of the London Hospital for Sick Children. He spoke often in behalf of workingmen, and once he spoke for the benefit of a company of poor actors, when, unknown to him, a little child of his own was lying dead at home.

With such a tender heart for all the world, he was more than an affectionate father to his own children, and gave much thought to their happiness and education. In order that they should properly learn of their own country, he went to the labor of preparing a Child's History of England for them, and at another time he wrote out the story of the Gospels, to help them in their study of the New Testament. As the years went by,[Pg 12] his letters to his oldest son told of his own work and plans. When his youngest son sailed away to live in Australia, he wrote: "Poor Plorn is gone. It was a hard parting at the last. He seemed to me to become once more my youngest and favorite child as the day drew near, and I did not think I could have been so shaken."

When he moved to Gad's Hill it seemed as though Dickens had gained almost all of the things men strive most for. But he was not to be happy there—nor, perhaps, was he ever again to be really happy anywhere. He and his wife were very different in all their tastes and habits, and had never loved each other as well as people should when they marry. Perhaps, after all, it would have been better if in his youth he had married his Dora—the one whom he had pictured in the love-story of David Copperfield and his child-wife. But, however this may be, Dickens and his wife had not lived happily together, and now decided to part, and from that time, though they wrote to each other, he never saw her again. It is sad to reflect that he who has painted so beautifully for others the joys and sorrows of perfect love and home, was himself destined to know neither.

The years that followed this separation were years of constant labor for Dickens. His restlessness, perhaps also his lack of happiness, drove him to work without rest. He wrote to a friend: "I am[Pg 13] quite confident I should rust, break and die if I spared myself. Much better to die doing." The idea of giving public readings from his stories suggested itself to him, and he was soon engaged in preparation. "I must do something," he wrote, "or I shall wear my heart away." That heart his physician had declared out of order, and this effort was destined to wear it away in quite another sense, though for some time Dickens felt no ill effects.

He gave readings, not only in England, but also in Scotland and Ireland, and everywhere he met with enormous success. The first series was hardly over, when he was at work on a new story, and this was scarcely completed when he was planning more readings. The strain of several seasons of such work told on his health. A serious illness followed, and afterward he was troubled with an increasing lameness—the first real warning of the end.

In spite of his weakness, he decided on another trip to America, and here, in 1867, he began a series of readings which left him in a far worse condition. Often at the close of an evening he would become so faint that he would have to lie down. He was unable to sleep and his appetite entirely failed him. Yet his wonderful determination and energy made him able to complete the task. A great banquet of farewell was given to him in New York and he returned to England[Pg 14] bearing the admiration and love of the whole American people.

Before leaving England he had promised to give one other course of readings there, and this promise, after a summer's quiet at home, he attempted to fulfil. But he was too ill. He found himself for the first time in his life feeling, as he said, "giddy, jarred, shaken, faint, uncertain of voice and sight, and tread and touch, and dull of spirit." He was obliged to discontinue the course and to rest.

This summer of 1869—the last summer of his life—was a contented and even a happy one. At home, at first in London, and later in the house on Gad's Hill, surrounded by his children and by the friends he loved best, Dickens lived quietly, working at his last story which his death was to leave for ever unfinished—The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He attempted one more series of readings, and with their close bade farewell for ever to his English audience.

He was seen in public but a few times more—once at the last dinner party he ever attended, to meet the Prince of Wales and the King of the Belgians, and once when the Queen invited him to Buckingham Palace. Soon after, the end came.

One day as he entered the house at Gad's Hill, he seemed tired and silent. As he sat down to dinner all present noticed that he looked very ill. They begged him to lie down. "Yes, on the[Pg 15] ground," he said—these were the last words he ever uttered—and as he spoke he slipped down upon the floor.

He never fully recovered consciousness, and next day, June 9, 1870, Charles Dickens breathed his last. Five days later he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, where are buried so many of the greatest of England's dead. For days, thousands came to visit the spot, and rich and poor alike looked upon his grave with tears.

Hallie Erminie Rives.

[Pg 16]

[Pg 17]


Published 1840

Scene:London and Neighboring TownsTime:1840


"Little Nell"An orphan girlMr. TrentHer aged grandfatherProprietor of "The Old Curiosity Shop""The Stranger"Mr. Trent's brotherChristopher NubblesLittle Nell's friend and protectorKnown as "Kit"QuilpA dwarfMrs. QuilpHis wifeMrs. JarleyProprietress of "Jarley's Waxwork"BrassA dishonest lawyerSally BrassHis sisterDick SwivellerBrass's clerk

[Pg 18]

[Pg 19]



In a narrow side street in London there once stood a shabby building called The Old Curiosity Shop, because all sorts of curious things were kept for sale there—such as rusty swords, china figures, quaint carvings and old-fashioned furniture.

A little old man named Trent owned the shop, and he looked as old as anything in it. He was thin and bent, with long gray hair and bright blue eyes, and his face was wrinkled and full of care. He had an orphan grandchild who lived with him—a pretty little golden-haired girl whom every one called Little Nell, who kept the shop clean and neat and cooked the meals just as a grown woman would have done. She slept in a back room in a bed so small it might almost have been a fairy's. She lived a very lonely life, but she kept a cheerful face and did not complain.

She had only one protector besides her grandfather, and that was a big, awkward boy named Christopher Nubbles, called Kit for short. He had a very large mouth and a turned-up nose, and[Pg 20] when he spoke he had a habit of standing sidewise and twisting his head back over his shoulder. Everything he did seemed funny, and little Nell laughed at him all the while, though she loved him almost as much as she did her grandfather. He ran errands for them, and in the long winter evenings she used to teach him to read and write.

Kit liked to be taught and even liked to be laughed at, and always ended by laughing himself, with his mouth wide open and his eyes shut. He was the best-natured lad in the world, and would have given his life to make little Nell happy.

She was not as happy as she seemed to her grandfather's eyes. There was some mystery about the old man that she could not understand. Almost every night he left her to go to bed all alone in the shop, and went away and did not come back till sunrise, when the door-bell woke her and she let him in.

And, too, he always talked of the great fortune she was to have sometime—if only some mysterious plan he was working on turned out right—the carriages and fine frocks and jewels. But the plan seemed always to go wrong, and the poor old man grew sadder and sadder as he grew more feeble.

Often at night little Nell sat at the upper window, watching for him, crying, and fearing that he might die or lose his mind; she never knew that Kit used to stand in the shadow of an archway opposite[Pg 21] and watch to see that no harm came to her, till she vanished and he knew she had gone to bed.

What troubled little Nell most of all was a strange visitor her grandfather used to have. This was a hideous man named Quilp, with the body of a dwarf and the head of a giant. His black eyes were sharp and cunning, his face was always covered with a stubby beard and he had a cruel smile that made him look like a panting dog. He had grizzled, tangled hair, crooked finger nails, and wore a dirty handkerchief tied around his neck, instead of a collar. He used to bring money to her grandfather, and little Nell more than once saw him look at her and at the contents of the shop in a gloating way that made her shiver.

Indeed, everybody who ever met Quilp was afraid of him, and most afraid of all was his wife. He had a habit of drinking scalding tea and of eating boiled eggs, shell and all, that quite terrified her. Besides, he treated the poor woman cruelly. Sometimes, for instance, when she displeased him, he made her sit bolt upright in a chair all night, without moving or going to bed, while he sat smoking and making faces at her.

Little Nell often had to carry messages from her grandfather to the dwarf, and came to know that he had somehow fallen into Quilp's power.

The fact was that the old man had been borrowing money from the dwarf for a long time, and had spent it on the great plan, which he had[Pg 22] thought sure to succeed, and he now owed the other much more than all the shop and everything in it was worth.

Quilp had loaned the money because he thought when the wonderful plan succeeded he would make the grandfather give him back very much more than he had loaned him. But when the old man continually wanted to borrow more money and yet paid none back, the dwarf grew suspicious and tried hard to find out what the great plan was. To do this he used to question little Nell and try to persuade her to tell how her grandfather passed the time.

She would never tell him anything, but one day, when she had brought a message to his house, the dwarf hid in a closet and listened while the child told his wife how her grandfather, every night after Quilp had brought him money, went out and did not come home till daybreak, and always sadly then. You see, little Nell was in such trouble that she had to tell somebody about it and ask advice, and the dwarf's wife had always been very kind to her.

When Quilp heard the story he guessed the secret—that her grandfather, hoping to win more for little Nell, had gambled away all the money. He was full of rage and sent word that he would loan no more.

The old man was in great grief at this. His mind had not been strong for a long time, or this[Pg 23] foolish and wrong plan would never have misled him, and now, at the thought that he would have no more chance to win the fortune for his grandchild, he fell ill. The child did her best to comfort him, but he told her that if Quilp deserted them they would be no better than beggars.

"Let us be beggars then, and be happy," said little Nell, putting her arms around his neck. "I would rather beg than live as we do now. If you are sorrowful now, let me know it. If you are weaker, let me be your nurse. It breaks my heart to see you so and not to know why. Let us leave this place and sleep in the fields in the country and never think of money again, and I will beg for us both."

Neither had heard the dwarf, who had stolen into the shop behind them. Little Nell shrieked when she saw him, and her grandfather sent her into her own room.

"So that is the way all the money I have loaned you has gone!" sneered Quilp. "Your precious scheme to make a fortune was the gaming-table!"

The old man cried out at this, trembling, that he had done it all for little Nell; that he had never staked a single penny for himself, or without praying that it might win for her good. He told how he had begun gambling months before, knowing he must soon die, hoping thus to leave her enough to live on; how, after losing all his own savings, he had borrowed and lost all that, too. And he[Pg 24] begged the dwarf to loan him a little more so that he might tempt luck again.

Any one but Quilp would have pitied the poor old man, but not he. He refused, and thinking of a lie which would make the other yet more miserable, he told him as he left that it was Kit who had told him where the money was going.

The first Kit knew of this was that night when little Nell came to tell him her grandfather was very ill, and that he raved continually against Kit so that he must never come to the shop again. Kit was stupefied at this, but there was no help for it, so little Nell went sorrowfully back alone.

The Old Curiosity Shop belonged to the dwarf now and he at once moved into the parlor. He took little Nell's own bed for himself and she had to sleep on a pallet on the floor up stairs. She was busy nursing her grandfather, for he was very ill for some time, and she scarcely ever came down because she was so afraid of the dwarf.

Quilp was waiting for the old man to die, thinking that then he would have the shop for his own, and meantime he did a hundred disagreeable things, such as filling the house with strong tobacco smoke from a big pipe he used all the time and driving every one away who came to ask how the sick man was. He even drove off Kit when he came below the window to beg little Nell to come and bring her grandfather to live at his own mother's house.[Pg 25]

The old man would certainly have died if little Nell had not nursed him so faithfully, all alone, till he grew better and at length was able to sit up.

But it was a bitter thing to live as they did, and one day little Nell begged her grandfather to come away with her—to wander anywhere in the world, only so it was under God's sky and away from every one that pursued them—and he agreed.

So that night they dressed and stole down stairs very quietly in order not to waken the dwarf who was snoring frightfully in the back room, and went through the shop to the front door. The bolts were rusty and creaked loudly, and, worst of all, they found the key was not in the lock. Little Nell had to take off her shoes and creep into the back room to get it out of the dwarf's pocket.

She was terribly frightened at the sight of Quilp, for he was having a bad dream, and was hanging so far out of bed that he was almost standing on his head; his ugly mouth was wide open, and his breath came in a sort of growl. But she found the key at last, and they unlocked the door and came safely into the dark street.

The old man did not know where to go, but little Nell took his hand and led him gently away.[Pg 26]


It was a bright June morning. They walked through many city streets, then through more scattered suburbs, and at last came to the open country. That night they slept at a cottage where the people were kind to them, and all the next day they walked on and on.

At sunset they stopped to rest in a churchyard, where two men were sitting patching a Punch-and-Judy show booth, while the figures of Punch, the doctor, the executioner and the devil were lying on the grass waiting to be mended.

The men were mending the dolls very badly, so little Nell took a needle and sewed them all neatly. They were delighted at this, and took the pair to the inn where they were to show the Punch-and-Judy, and there they found them a place to sleep in an empty loft.

The next day the wanderers went on with the showmen. Whenever they came to a village, the booth was pitched and the show took place, and they never left a town without a pack of ragged children at their heels. The Punch-and-Judy show grew tiresome, but the company seemed better than none. Little Nell was weary with walking, but she tried to hide it from her grandfather.[Pg 27]

The inn at which they lodged the next night was full of showmen with trained dogs, conjurers and others, hurrying to a town where there was to be a fair with horse-races, to which the Punch-and-Judy partners were bound, and little Nell began to distrust their company.

To tell the truth, the others believed the child and the old man were running away from their friends, and that a reward might be obtained for giving them up. The way in which the men watched them frightened little Nell, and when they reached the scene of the fair she had determined to escape.

It was the second day of the races before a chance came, and then, while the showmen's backs were turned, they slipped away in the crowd to the open fields again.

These alarms and the exposure had begun to affect the old man. He seemed to understand that he was not wholly in his right mind. He was full of the fear that he would be taken from her and chained in a dungeon, and little Nell had great trouble in cheering him.

At evening when they were both worn out, they came to a village where stood a cottage with the sign SCHOOL in big letters in its window. The pale old schoolmaster sat smoking in the garden. He was a sad, solitary man, and loved little Nell when he first saw her, because she was like a favorite pupil he once had. He made them sleep in[Pg 28] the school-room that night, and he begged them to stay longer next day, but little Nell was anxious to get as far as possible from London and from the dwarf, who she was all the time in fear might find them. So they bade the schoolmaster good-by and walked on.

Another day's journey left them so exhausted they could scarcely keep moving. They had almost reached another village when they came to a tiny painted house on wheels with horses to draw it. At its door sat a stout lady wearing a large bonnet, taking tea with a big drum for a table.

The lady, as it happened, had seen them at the fair, and had wondered then to see them in company with a Punch-and-Judy show. Noticing how tired they were, she gave them tea and then took them into the wagon with her to help them on their way.

The inside of the wagon was like a cozy room. It had a little bed in one end, and a kitchen in the other, and had two curtained windows. As the wheels rattled on the old man fell asleep, and the stout lady made little Nell sit by her and talk. In the wagon was a big canvas sign that read:


[Pg 29]

"I am Mrs. Jarley," the woman said, "and my waxwork is gone to the next town, where it is to be exhibited." She thought little Nell and her grandfather were in the show business, too, and when she found they were not, that they had no home, and did not even know where they were going, she held up her hands in astonishment.

But it was easy to see that they were not ordinary beggars, and she was kind-hearted and wanted to help them. So, after much thought, she asked little Nell if they would take a situation with her. She explained that the child's duty would be to point out the wax figures to the visitors and tell their names, while her grandfather could help dust them.

They accepted this offer very thankfully (for almost all the money they had brought was now spent), and when the wagon arrived at the place of exhibition and the waxwork had been set up, Mrs. Jarley put a long wand in little Nell's hand and taught her to point out each figure and describe it:

"This, ladies and gentlemen," little Nell learned to say, "is Jasper Packlemerton, who murdered fourteen wives by tickling the soles of their feet," or, "this is Queen Elizabeth's maid of honor, who died from pricking her finger while sewing on Sunday."

She was quick to learn and soon became a great favorite with the visitors. Mrs. Jarley was kind,[Pg 30] and but for the fact that her grandfather's mind failed more and more every day little Nell would have been quite happy.

One evening the two walked into the country beyond the town and a sudden thunder-storm arose. They took shelter at an inn on the highroad, and while they waited there some rough men began a noisy game of cards behind a screen.

The talk and the chink of the money roused the old man's failing senses. He imagined himself still gambling to win the old fortune for little Nell. He made her give him the money she had earned from the waxwork, joined the gamblers and in a few hours had lost it all. His insanity had made him forget the presence of the child he so loved, and when the game was done it was too late to leave the inn that night.

Little Nell had now only one piece of money left, a gold piece sewed in her dress. This she had to change into silver and to pay a part for their lodging. When she was abed she could not sleep for fear of the wicked men she had seen gambling.

When at last she fell asleep she waked suddenly to see a figure in the room. She was too frightened to scream, and lay very still and trembled. The robber searched her clothing, took the rest of the money and went out. She was dreadfully afraid he might return to harm her. If she could get to her grandfather, she thought, she would be safe.

She opened the door softly, and in the moonlight[Pg 31] saw the figure entering the old man's room. She caught a view of his face and then she knew that the figure was her own grandfather, and that, crazed by the gambling scene, he himself had robbed her!

All that night little Nell lay and cried. She knew, to be sure, that her grandfather was not a thief and that he did not know what he was doing when he stole her money; but she knew, too, that if people found out he was crazy they would take him away from her and shut him up where she could not be with him, and of this she could not bear to think.

The next day, when they had gone back to the waxwork, she was in even greater terror for fear he should rob Mrs. Jarley, their benefactress. So, to lessen the chance of this, each day she gave him every penny she earned. This, she soon knew, he gambled away, for often he was out all night, and even seemed to shun her; so she was sad and took many long walks alone through the fields.

One evening it happened that she passed a meadow where, beside a hedge, a fire was burning, with three men sitting and lying around it. She was in the shadow and they did not see her. One, she saw, was her grandfather, and the others were the gamblers with whom he had played at the inn on the night of the storm.

Little Nell crept close. They were tempting the poor daft old man to steal the money from[Pg 32] Mrs. Jarley's strong box, and while she listened he consented.

She ran home in terrible grief. She tried to sleep, but could not. At last she could bear it no longer. She went to the old man's room and wakened him.

"I have had a dreadful dream," she told him, "a dream of an old gray-haired man like you robbing people of their gold. I can not stay! I can not leave you here. We must go."

To the crazy old man she seemed an angel. He dressed himself in fear, and with her little basket on her arm she led him out of the house, on, away from the town, into the country, far away from Mrs. Jarley, who had been so kind to them, and from the new home they had found.

They climbed a high hill just as the sun was rising, and far behind them little Nell caught a last view of the village. As she looked back and thought how contented they had been there at first, and of the further wandering that lay before them now, poor little Nell burst into tears.

But at length she bravely dried her tears lest they sadden her grandfather, and they went on. When the sun grew warm they fell asleep on the bank of the canal, and when they awoke in the afternoon some rough canal men took them aboard their dirty craft as far as the next town.

The men were well-meaning enough and meant the travelers no harm, but after a while they began[Pg 33] to drink and quarreled and fought among themselves, and little Nell sat all night, wet with the rain, and sang to them to quiet them.

The place to which they finally came was a town of wretched workmen who toiled all day in iron furnaces for little wages, and were almost as miserable and hungry as the wanderers themselves. No one gave them anything, and they lived for three days with only two penny loaves to eat (for all their money was now gone), and slept at night in the ashes of some poor laborer's hut.

The fourth day they dragged themselves into the country again. Little Nell's shoes were worn through to the bare ground, her feet were bleeding, her limbs ached and she was deadly faint. They begged, but no one would help them.

The child's strength was almost gone, when they met a traveler who was reading in a book as he walked along. He looked up as they came near. It was the kind old schoolmaster in whose school they had slept before they met Mrs. Jarley in her house on wheels. When she saw him little Nell shrieked and fell unconscious at his feet.

The schoolmaster carried her to an inn near by, where she was put to bed and doctored under his care, for she was very weak. She told him all the story of their wanderings, and he heard it with astonishment and wonder to find such a great heart and heroism in a child.

He had been appointed schoolmaster, he told[Pg 34] her, in another town, to which he was then on his way, and he declared they should go with him and he would care for them. He hired a farm wagon to carry little Nell, and he and the old man walked beside it, and so they came to their new place.

Next door to the school-house was the church. A very old woman, nearly a hundred years old, had lived in a tenement near by to keep the keys and open the church for services. The old woman was now dead, and the schoolmaster went to the clergyman and asked that her place be given to the grandfather, so that he and little Nell could live in the house next to his own dwelling.

The child sewed the tattered curtains and mended the worn carpet and the schoolmaster trimmed the long grass and trained the ivy before the door. In the evening a bright fire was kindled and they all three took their supper together, and then the schoolmaster said a prayer before they went gladly to bed.

They were very happy in this new home. The old man lost the insane thirst for gaming and the mad look faded from his eyes, but poor little Nell grew paler and more fragile every day. The long days of hunger and nights of exposure had sowed the seeds of illness.

The whole village soon grew to love her. Many came to visit her and the schoolmaster read to her each day, so that she was content even when she[Pg 35] could no longer walk abroad as she had always done.

As she lay looking out at the peaceful churchyard, where so many whose lives were over lay sleeping, it seemed to her that the painful past was only an ugly vision. And at night she often dreamed of the roof opening and a column of bright faces, rising far into the sky, looking down on her asleep. The quiet spot outside remained the same, save that the air was full of music and a sound of angels' wings.

So the weeks passed into winter, and though she came soon to know that she was not long for earth, she thought of death without regret and of heaven with joy.


It is not to be supposed, of course, that the flight of little Nell and her grandfather from the Old Curiosity Shop was not noticed. All the time, while they were wandering about homeless and wretched, more than one went searching everywhere for them without success.

One of these was Quilp, the ugly dwarf. He had loaned the grandfather more money than the shop would bring, and he made up his mind now that the old man had a secret hoard somewhere, which might be his if he could find it. He soon[Pg 36] learned that if Kit knew anything about it he would not tell, so he and his lawyer (a sleek, oily rascal named Brass) made many plans for finding them. But for a long time Quilp could get no trace.

Another who tried to find them was a curious lodger who roomed in Brass's house. He seemed to have plenty of money but was very eccentric. Nobody knew even his name and so they called him The Stranger.

He kept in his room a big box-like trunk, in which was a silver stove that he used to cook his meals. The stove had a lot of little openings. In one he would put an egg, in another some coffee, in another a piece of meat and in the fourth some water. Then he would light a lamp that stood under it, and in five minutes the egg would be cooked, the coffee boiled and the meat done—all ready to eat.

He was the queerest sort of boarder! The strangest habit he had was this: He seemed to be very fond of Punch-and-Judy shows, and whenever he heard one on the street he would run out without his hat, make the showmen perform in front of the house and then invite them to his rooms, where he would question them for a long time. This habit used to puzzle both Brass and Quilp, the dwarf, and they never could guess why he did it.

The truth was, the mysterious Stranger was a[Pg 37] long-missing brother of little Nell's grandfather. A misunderstanding had come between them many years before when both were young men. The younger had become a traveler in many countries and had never seen his brother since. But he dreamed often of the days when they had been children and at last he forgot the thing that had driven them apart. He had come back now to England, a rich man, to find the other had vanished with little Nell, his grandchild. He had soon learned the story of their misfortune and how the fear of Quilp had driven them away. After much inquiry he had discovered they had been seen with a Punch-and-Judy show and now he was trying to find the showmen. And finally, in this way, he did find the very same pair the wanderers had met!

He learned from them all they could tell him—that the child and the old man had disappeared at the fair, and that since then (so they had heard) a pair resembling them had been seen with the Jarley waxwork exhibition. The Stranger easily discovered where Mrs. Jarley was, and determined to set out to her at once. But he remembered that his brother, little Nell's grandfather, could not be expected to know him after all the years he had been gone, and as for little Nell herself, she had never seen him, and he was afraid if they heard a strange man had come for them they would take fright and run away again. So he tried to find some one they[Pg 38] had loved to go with him to show that he intended only kindness.

He was not long in hearing of Kit, who had found a situation as footman, and he gained his employer's leave to take the lad with him. When Kit learned that The Stranger had discovered where little Nell was he was overjoyed; but he knew he himself was not the one to go, because before they disappeared she had told him he must never come to the Old Curiosity Shop again and that her grandfather blamed him as the cause of their misfortune. But Kit promised the Stranger that his mother should go in his place, and went to tell her at once.

Kit found his mother was at church, but the matter was so urgent that he went straight to the pew and brought her out, which caused even the minister to pause in his sermon and made all the congregation look surprised. Kit took her home, packed her box and bundled her into the coach which the Stranger brought, and away they went to find the wanderers.

Now Quilp had all along suspected that Kit and his mother knew something of their whereabouts, and he had made it his business to watch either one or the other. The dwarf, in fact, was in the church when Kit came for his mother, and he followed. When she left with the Stranger he took another coach and pursued, feeling certain he was on the right track.[Pg 39]

But they were all too late. When the Stranger found Mrs. Jarley next day she could only tell him that little Nell and her grandfather had disappeared again, and he had to return with Kit's mother, much discouraged, to London.

The part Kit had played in this made the dwarf hate him, if possible, more than ever, and he agreed to pay Brass, his rascally lawyer, to ruin the lad by making a false charge of theft against him.

One day, when Kit came to Brass's house to see the Stranger, who lodged up stairs, the lawyer cunningly hid a five-pound note in the lad's hat and as soon as he left ran after him, seized him in the street and accused him of taking it from his office desk.

Kit was arrested, and the note, of course, was found on his person. The evidence seemed so strong that the poor fellow was quickly tried, found guilty and sentenced to prison for a long time.

All might have gone wrong but for a little maid-servant of Brass's, whom the lawyer had starved and mistreated for years. He used to keep her locked in the moldy cellar and gave her so little to eat that she would creep into the office at night (she had found a key that fitted the door) to pick up the bits of bread that Dick Swiveller, Brass's clerk, had left when he ate his luncheon.

One night, while this little drudge was prowling[Pg 40] about above stairs, she overheard Brass telling his sister, Sally (who was his partner and colder and crueler and more wicked even than he was), the trick he was going to play. After Kit was arrested she ran away from Brass's house and told her story to Kit's employer, who had all along believed in his innocence.

Brass in the meantime had gone to Quilp to get his reward for this evil deed, but the terrible dwarf now only laughed at him and pretended to remember nothing at all about the bargain.

This so enraged the lawyer that, when he was brought face to face with the little maid's evidence and found that he himself was caught, he made full confession of the part Quilp had played, and told the whole story to revenge himself on the dwarf.

Officers were sent at once to arrest Quilp at a dingy dwelling on a wharf in the river where he often slept with the object of terrifying his wife by his long absences. Here he had set up the battered figurehead of a wrecked ship and, imagining that its face resembled that of Kit whom he so fiendishly hated, he used to amuse himself by screwing gimlets into its breast, sticking forks into its eyes and beating it with a poker.

A few minutes before the officers arrived the dwarf received warning from Sally Brass, but he had no time to get away. When he heard the knocking on the gates and knew that the law he[Pg 41] had so long defied was at last upon him, he fell into a panic and did not know which way to turn. He tried to cover the light of the fire, but only succeeded in upsetting the stove. Then he ran out of the house on to the dock in the darkness.

It was a black, foggy night, and he could not see a foot before him. He thought he could climb over the wall to the next wharf and so escape, but in his fright he missed his way and fell over the edge of the platform into the swift-flowing river.

He screamed in terror, but the water filled his throat and the knocking on the gates was so loud that no one heard him. The water swept him close to a ship, but its keel was smooth and slippery and there was nothing to cling to. He had been so wicked that he was afraid to die and he fought desperately, but the rapid tide smothered his cries and dragged him down—to death.

The waves threw his drowned body finally on the edge of a dismal swamp, in the red glare of the blazing ruin which the overturned stove that night made of the building in which he had framed his evil plots. And this was the end of Quilp, the dwarf.

As for Kit, he found himself all at once not only free, but a hero. His employer came to the jail to tell him that he was free and that everyone knew now of his innocence, and they made him eat and drink, and everybody shook hands with him. Then he was put into a coach and they drove straight[Pg 42] home, where his mother was waiting to kiss him and cry over him with joy.

And last, but by no means least of all his new good fortune, he learned then that the Stranger who had been searching so long for little Nell and her grandfather had found certainly where they were and that Kit was to go with him and his employer at once and bring them back again to London.

They started the next day, and on the long road they talked much of little Nell and the strange chance by which the lost had been found. A gentleman who lived in the village to which they were now bound, who had himself been kind to the child and to the old man whom the new schoolmaster had brought with him, had written of the pair to Kit's employer, and the letter had been the lost clue, so long sought, to their hiding-place.

Snow began falling as the daylight wore away, and the coach wheels made no noise. All night and all the next day, they rode, and it was midnight before they came to the town where the two wanderers had taken refuge.

The village was very still, and the air was frosty and cold. Only a single light was to be seen, coming from a window beside a church. This was the house which the Stranger knew sheltered those they sought, but both he and Kit felt a strange fear as they saw that light—the only one in the whole village.[Pg 43]

They left the driver to take the horses to the inn and approached the building afoot. They went quite close and looked through the window. In the room an old man bent low over a fire crooning to himself, and Kit, seeing that it was his old master, opened the door, ran in, knelt by him and caught his hand.

The old grandfather did not recognize Kit. He believed him a spirit, as he thought many spirits had talked to him that day. He was much changed, and it seemed as if some great blow or grief had crazed him. He had a dress of little Nell's in his hand and smoothed and patted it as he muttered that she had been asleep—asleep a long time now, and was marble cold and would not wake.

"Her little homely dress!" he said. "And see here—these shoes—how worn they are! You see where her feet went bare upon the ground. They told me afterward that the stones had cut and bruised them. She never told me that. No, no, God bless her! And I have remembered since how she walked behind me, that I might not see how lame she was, but yet she had my hand in hers and seemed to lead me still."

So he muttered on, and the cheeks of the others were wet with tears, for they had begun to understand the sad truth.

Kit could not speak, but the Stranger did: "You speak of little Nell," he said. "Do you remember, long ago, another child, too, who loved you when[Pg 44] you were a child yourself? Say that you had a brother, long forgotten, who now at last came back to you to be what you were then to him. Give me but one word, dear brother, to say you know me, and life will still be precious to us again."

The old man shook his head, for grief had killed all memory. Pushing them aside, he went into the next room, calling little Nell's name softly as he went.

They followed. Kit sobbed as they entered, for there on her bed little Nell lay dead.