“What has become of you since you left my shop, Little Albert?” asked Mr. Layton.
“Don’t call me that,” growled Little Albert.
Mr. Layton ruffled the young boy’s hair. “What else am I to call you? The engravers you worked with at the shop dubbed you with that name.”
Little Albert yanked himself away from Mr. Layton’s hold. He backed away a few steps, nearly bumping into two tittering females. He tilted his head back so he could glare up into his former employer’s eyes. “Ye don’t ‘ave any right t’ call me that.”
Smirking, Mr. Layton asked, “And why is that? What pretty, little lies have you spun in your head now?”
Little Albert crossed his arms in front of his chest and pouted, like any twelve-year-old boy would do. “I luved workin’ in yer shop, an’ then ye kicked me on t’ the street like some stray. An’ ye knew I ‘ad no family t’ go t’ ’cause they’re all sleepin’ in their graves!”
Mr. Layton bent down onto one knee. His earlier expression of superiority vanished once he saw the vulnerability in the young boy’s face. “You are an intelligent lad, Little Albert. I saw that when you came into my shop asking for a job. That is why I did not make you pass out newspapers like all the other boys. Instead I gave you a man’s job so that you could help the engravers with the machinery. It was no mystery that that was how you taught yourself to read. Everyone grew fond of you, but you are a little troublemaker. You lied to me. You committed theft while under my business’ roof, and you cast the blame on others. It took a while to figure out who was stealing from me, but it did not stay a secret for long. After the stunts you pulled it was time for you to go.”
“That ain’t fair!” said Little Albert like a spoiled child.
“But it is. You were cheating honest men of their pay! Men who had to feed their families.”
“An’ I ‘ad no father t’ feed me. I only ‘ad myself. Yer pay didn’t always feed me. That is why I stole from ye.”
Mr. Layton laid a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off. “Why did you not say so? I would have helped you?”
“Liar! In this world people are cruel an’ mean. There is no kindness towards a gutter rat like me self. Ye never would o’ helped me.”
Mr.Layton was quiet for a while. His gaze swept across the form of the young boy. His pitiful, filthy rags clung to a bony body. His dusky brown hair was unkempt and greasy. Mr.Layton could have sworn he saw a few fleas jumping from his scalp. Dirt darkened the tips of his fingernails. The little boy was a mess, the opposite of the clean, cheery boy who once worked for him. The thought tugged at his heartstrings.
“God gives everyone second chances,” said Mr. Layton.
“God also drowned ‘is own creations an’ made the stones o’ the Tower o’ Babel fall on ‘is own fer wantin’ t’ see ‘im.”
Mr. Layton chuckled. That was something the Little Albert he knew would say. “That is true, but it is beside the point. God is just, but he can be merciful. What if I gave you a second chance?”
Little Albert’s gaze flickered towards Mr. Layton. Candles of hope burned in the windows to his soul, but he was still wary of these promises. “Would ye really?”