He was very happy, but the old home haunted him, and he longed bitterly for some news of his foster-father and the schoolmaster. Whilst the terror of the Cheap Jack was still oppressing him, he had feared to open any communication with the past, for fear the wretched couple who were supposed to be his parents should discover and reclaim him. But as his nerves recovered their tone, as the horrors of his life as a screever faded into softer tints, as that boon of poor humanity—forgetfulness—healed his wounds, and he began to go about the streets without thinking of the hunchback at every corner, he felt more and more inclined to risk any thing to know how his old friends fared. There also grew upon him a conviction that the Cheap Jack’s story was false. He knew enough of art now, and of the value of his own powers, and of the struggle for livelihoods in London, to see that it had been a very good speculation to kidnap him. He had serious doubts whether the cart had been driven round by the mill, and whether Master Lake had refused to let him be awakened from his sleep, and had said it was, “All right, and he hoped the lad would do his duty to his good parents.” He remembered, too, the hunchback’s words when he lay speechless from the drugged liquor, and these raised a puzzling question: Why should “the nobs” recognize him? He had learned what nobs are. Spelt without a “k,” they are grand people, and what had grand people to do with Sal’s son?
One cannot live without sympathy, and Jan confided the complexities of his history to the bow-legged boy, and the interest they awakened in this young gentleman could not but be gratifying to his friend. He kept one eye closed during the story, as if he saw the whole thing (too clearly) at a glance. He broke the thread of Jan’s narrative by comments which had no obvious bearing on the facts, and, when it was ended, be gave it as his opinion that certain penny romances which he named were a joke to it.
“Oh, my! what a pity we can’t employ a detective!” he said. “Whoever knowed a young projidy find his noble relations without a detective? But never mind, Jan. I knows their ways. I’m up to their dodges. Fust of all, you makes up your mind deep down in your inside, and then you says nothing to nobody, but follows it up. Fol-lows it up!”
“I don’t know what to follow,” said Jan; “and how can I make up my mind, when I know nothing?”
“That’s just where it is,” said his friend; “if you knowed every thing, wot ’ud be the use of coming the detective tip, and making it up in your inside?”
The bow-legged boy had made it up in his. He had decided that Jan was a nobleman in disguise, and that his father was a duke, or a “jook,” as he called him. Jan’s active imagination could not quite resist the influence of this romance, and he lay awake at night patching together the hunchback’s reference to the nobs, and the incredulous glance of the dark-eyed gentleman who had given him the half pence, and who was certainly a nob himself. And never did he leave the house on an errand for the painter that the bow-legged boy did not burst forth, dish-cloth or dirty boots in hand, from some unexpected quarter, and adjure him to “look out for the jook.”