{tocify}

Dombey and Son

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


CHAPTER XXI. 
New Faces

The MAJOR, more blue-faced and staring—more over-ripe, as it were, than ever—and giving vent, every now and then, to one of the horse’s coughs, not so much of necessity as in a spontaneous explosion of importance, walked arm-in-arm with Mr Dombey up the sunny side of the way, with his cheeks swelling over his tight stock, his legs majestically wide apart, and his great head wagging from side to side, as if he were remonstrating within himself for being such a captivating object. They had not walked many yards, before the Major encountered somebody he knew, nor many yards farther before the Major encountered somebody else he knew, but he merely shook his fingers at them as he passed, and led Mr Dombey on: pointing out the localities as they went, and enlivening the walk with any current scandal suggested by them.

In this manner the Major and Mr Dombey were walking arm-in-arm, much to their own satisfaction, when they beheld advancing towards them, a wheeled chair, in which a lady was seated, indolently steering her carriage by a kind of rudder in front, while it was propelled by some unseen power in the rear. Although the lady was not young, she was very blooming in the face—quite rosy—and her dress and attitude were perfectly juvenile. Walking by the side of the chair, and carrying her gossamer parasol with a proud and weary air, as if so great an effort must be soon abandoned and the parasol dropped, sauntered a much younger lady, very handsome, very haughty, very wilful, who tossed her head and drooped her eyelids, as though, if there were anything in all the world worth looking into, save a mirror, it certainly was not the earth or sky.

“Why, what the devil have we here, Sir!” cried the Major, stopping as this little cavalcade drew near.

“My dearest Edith!” drawled the lady in the chair, “Major Bagstock!”

The Major no sooner heard the voice, than he relinquished Mr Dombey’s arm, darted forward, took the hand of the lady in the chair and pressed it to his lips. With no less gallantry, the Major folded both his gloves upon his heart, and bowed low to the other lady. And now, the chair having stopped, the motive power became visible in the shape of a flushed page pushing behind, who seemed to have in part outgrown and in part out-pushed his strength, for when he stood upright he was tall, and wan, and thin, and his plight appeared the more forlorn from his having injured the shape of his hat, by butting at the carriage with his head to urge it forward, as is sometimes done by elephants in Oriental countries.

“Joe Bagstock,” said the Major to both ladies, “is a proud and happy man for the rest of his life.”

“You false creature!” said the old lady in the chair, insipidly. “Where do you come from? I can’t bear you.”

“Then suffer old Joe to present a friend, Ma’am,” said the Major, promptly, “as a reason for being tolerated. Mr Dombey, Mrs Skewton.” The lady in the chair was gracious. “Mr Dombey, Mrs Granger.” The lady with the parasol was faintly conscious of Mr Dombey’s taking off his hat, and bowing low. “I am delighted, Sir,” said the Major, “to have this opportunity.”

The Major seemed in earnest, for he looked at all the three, and leered in his ugliest manner.

“Mrs Skewton, Dombey,” said the Major, “makes havoc in the heart of old Josh.”

Mr Dombey signified that he didn’t wonder at it.

“You perfidious goblin,” said the lady in the chair, “have done! How long have you been here, bad man?”

“One day,” replied the Major.

“And can you be a day, or even a minute,” returned the lady, slightly settling her false curls and false eyebrows with her fan, and showing her false teeth, set off by her false complexion, “in the garden of what’s-its-name.”

“Eden, I suppose, Mama,” interrupted the younger lady, scornfully.

“My dear Edith,” said the other, “I cannot help it. I never can remember those frightful names—without having your whole Soul and Being inspired by the sight of Nature; by the perfume,” said Mrs Skewton, rustling a handkerchief that was faint and sickly with essences, “of her artless breath, you creature!”

The discrepancy between Mrs Skewton’s fresh enthusiasm of words, and forlornly faded manner, was hardly less observable than that between her age, which was about seventy, and her dress, which would have been youthful for twenty-seven. Her attitude in the wheeled chair (which she never varied) was one in which she had been taken in a barouche, some fifty years before, by a then fashionable artist who had appended to his published sketch the name of Cleopatra: in consequence of a discovery made by the critics of the time, that it bore an exact resemblance to that Princess as she reclined on board her galley. Mrs Skewton was a beauty then, and bucks threw wine-glasses over their heads by dozens in her honour. The beauty and the barouche had both passed away, but she still preserved the attitude, and for this reason expressly, maintained the wheeled chair and the butting page: there being nothing whatever, except the attitude, to prevent her from walking.

“Mr Dombey is devoted to Nature, I trust?” said Mrs Skewton, settling her diamond brooch. And by the way, she chiefly lived upon the reputation of some diamonds, and her family connexions.

“My friend Dombey, Ma’am,” returned the Major, “may be devoted to her in secret, but a man who is paramount in the greatest city in the universe—”

“No one can be a stranger,” said Mrs Skewton, “to Mr Dombey’s immense influence.”

As Mr Dombey acknowledged the compliment with a bend of his head, the younger lady glancing at him, met his eyes.

“You reside here, Madam?” said Mr Dombey, addressing her.

“No, we have been to a great many places. To Harrogate and Scarborough, and into Devonshire. We have been visiting, and resting here and there. Mama likes change.”

“Edith of course does not,” said Mrs Skewton, with a ghastly archness.

“I have not found that there is any change in such places,” was the answer, delivered with supreme indifference.

“They libel me. There is only one change, Mr Dombey,” observed Mrs Skewton, with a mincing sigh, “for which I really care, and that I fear I shall never be permitted to enjoy. People cannot spare one. But seclusion and contemplation are my what-his-name—”

“If you mean Paradise, Mama, you had better say so, to render yourself intelligible,” said the younger lady.

“My dearest Edith,” returned Mrs Skewton, “you know that I am wholly dependent upon you for those odious names. I assure you, Mr Dombey, Nature intended me for an Arcadian. I am thrown away in society. Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for, has been to retreat to a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows—and china.”

This curious association of objects, suggesting a remembrance of the celebrated bull who got by mistake into a crockery shop, was received with perfect gravity by Mr Dombey, who intimated his opinion that Nature was, no doubt, a very respectable institution.

“What I want,” drawled Mrs Skewton, pinching her shrivelled throat, “is heart.” It was frightfully true in one sense, if not in that in which she used the phrase. “What I want, is frankness, confidence, less conventionality, and freer play of soul. We are so dreadfully artificial.”

We were, indeed.

“In short,” said Mrs Skewton, “I want Nature everywhere. It would be so extremely charming.”

“Nature is inviting us away now, Mama, if you are ready,” said the younger lady, curling her handsome lip. At this hint, the wan page, who had been surveying the party over the top of the chair, vanished behind it, as if the ground had swallowed him up.

“Stop a moment, Withers!” said Mrs Skewton, as the chair began to move; calling to the page with all the languid dignity with which she had called in days of yore to a coachman with a wig, cauliflower nosegay, and silk stockings. “Where are you staying, abomination?”

The Major was staying at the Royal Hotel, with his friend Dombey.

“You may come and see us any evening when you are good,” lisped Mrs Skewton. “If Mr Dombey will honour us, we shall be happy. Withers, go on!”

The Major again pressed to his blue lips the tips of the fingers that were disposed on the ledge of the wheeled chair with careful carelessness, after the Cleopatra model: and Mr Dombey bowed. The elder lady honoured them both with a very gracious smile and a girlish wave of her hand; the younger lady with the very slightest inclination of her head that common courtesy allowed.

The last glimpse of the wrinkled face of the mother, with that patched colour on it which the sun made infinitely more haggard and dismal than any want of colour could have been, and of the proud beauty of the daughter with her graceful figure and erect deportment, engendered such an involuntary disposition on the part of both the Major and Mr Dombey to look after them, that they both turned at the same moment. The Page, nearly as much aslant as his own shadow, was toiling after the chair, uphill, like a slow battering-ram; the top of Cleopatra’s bonnet was fluttering in exactly the same corner to the inch as before; and the Beauty, loitering by herself a little in advance, expressed in all her elegant form, from head to foot, the same supreme disregard of everything and everybody.

“I tell you what, Sir,” said the Major, as they resumed their walk again. “If Joe Bagstock were a younger man, there’s not a woman in the world whom he’d prefer for Mrs Bagstock to that woman. By George, Sir!” said the Major, “she’s superb!”

“Do you mean the daughter?” inquired Mr Dombey.

“Is Joey B. a turnip, Dombey,” said the Major, “that he should mean the mother?”

“You were complimentary to the mother,” returned Mr Dombey.

“An ancient flame, Sir,” chuckled Major Bagstock. “Devilish ancient. I humour her.”

“She impresses me as being perfectly genteel,” said Mr Dombey.

“Genteel, Sir,” said the Major, stopping short, and staring in his companion’s face. “The Honourable Mrs Skewton, Sir, is sister to the late Lord Feenix, and aunt to the present Lord. The family are not wealthy—they’re poor, indeed—and she lives upon a small jointure; but if you come to blood, Sir!” The Major gave a flourish with his stick and walked on again, in despair of being able to say what you came to, if you came to that.

“You addressed the daughter, I observed,” said Mr Dombey, after a short pause, “as Mrs Granger.”

“Edith Skewton, Sir,” returned the Major, stopping short again, and punching a mark in the ground with his cane, to represent her, “married (at eighteen) Granger of Ours;” whom the Major indicated by another punch. “Granger, Sir,” said the Major, tapping the last ideal portrait, and rolling his head emphatically, “was Colonel of Ours; a de-vilish handsome fellow, Sir, of forty-one. He died, Sir, in the second year of his marriage.” The Major ran the representative of the deceased Granger through and through the body with his walking-stick, and went on again, carrying his stick over his shoulder.

“How long is this ago?” asked Mr Dombey, making another halt.

“Edith Granger, Sir,” replied the Major, shutting one eye, putting his head on one side, passing his cane into his left hand, and smoothing his shirt-frill with his right, “is, at this present time, not quite thirty. And damme, Sir,” said the Major, shouldering his stick once more, and walking on again, “she’s a peerless woman!”

“Was there any family?” asked Mr Dombey presently.

“Yes, Sir,” said the Major. “There was a boy.”

Mr Dombey’s eyes sought the ground, and a shade came over his face.

“Who was drowned, Sir,” pursued the Major. “When a child of four or five years old.”

“Indeed?” said Mr Dombey, raising his head.

“By the upsetting of a boat in which his nurse had no business to have put him,” said the Major. “That’s his history. Edith Granger is Edith Granger still; but if tough old Joey B., Sir, were a little younger and a little richer, the name of that immortal paragon should be Bagstock.”

The Major heaved his shoulders, and his cheeks, and laughed more like an over-fed Mephistopheles than ever, as he said the words.

“Provided the lady made no objection, I suppose?” said Mr Dombey coldly.

“By Gad, Sir,” said the Major, “the Bagstock breed are not accustomed to that sort of obstacle. Though it’s true enough that Edith might have married twenty times, but for being proud, Sir, proud.”

Mr Dombey seemed, by his face, to think no worse of her for that.

“It’s a great quality after all,” said the Major. “By the Lord, it’s a high quality! Dombey! You are proud yourself, and your friend, Old Joe, respects you for it, Sir.”

With this tribute to the character of his ally, which seemed to be wrung from him by the force of circumstances and the irresistible tendency of their conversation, the Major closed the subject, and glided into a general exposition of the extent to which he had been beloved and doted on by splendid women and brilliant creatures.

On the next day but one, Mr Dombey and the Major encountered the Honourable Mrs Skewton and her daughter in the Pump-room; on the day after, they met them again very near the place where they had met them first. After meeting them thus, three or four times in all, it became a point of mere civility to old acquaintances that the Major should go there one evening. Mr Dombey had not originally intended to pay visits, but on the Major announcing this intention, he said he would have the pleasure of accompanying him. So the Major told the Native to go round before dinner, and say, with his and Mr Dombey’s compliments, that they would have the honour of visiting the ladies that same evening, if the ladies were alone. In answer to which message, the Native brought back a very small note with a very large quantity of scent about it, indited by the Honourable Mrs Skewton to Major Bagstock, and briefly saying, “You are a shocking bear and I have a great mind not to forgive you, but if you are very good indeed,” which was underlined, “you may come. Compliments (in which Edith unites) to Mr Dombey.”

The Honourable Mrs Skewton and her daughter, Mrs Granger, resided, while at Leamington, in lodgings that were fashionable enough and dear enough, but rather limited in point of space and conveniences; so that the Honourable Mrs Skewton, being in bed, had her feet in the window and her head in the fireplace, while the Honourable Mrs Skewton’s maid was quartered in a closet within the drawing-room, so extremely small, that, to avoid developing the whole of its accommodations, she was obliged to writhe in and out of the door like a beautiful serpent. Withers, the wan page, slept out of the house immediately under the tiles at a neighbouring milk-shop; and the wheeled chair, which was the stone of that young Sisyphus, passed the night in a shed belonging to the same dairy, where new-laid eggs were produced by the poultry connected with the establishment, who roosted on a broken donkey-cart, persuaded, to all appearance, that it grew there, and was a species of tree.

Mr Dombey and the Major found Mrs Skewton arranged, as Cleopatra, among the cushions of a sofa: very airily dressed; and certainly not resembling Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, whom age could not wither. On their way upstairs they had heard the sound of a harp, but it had ceased on their being announced, and Edith now stood beside it handsomer and haughtier than ever. It was a remarkable characteristic of this lady’s beauty that it appeared to vaunt and assert itself without her aid, and against her will. She knew that she was beautiful: it was impossible that it could be otherwise: but she seemed with her own pride to defy her very self.

Whether she held cheap attractions that could only call forth admiration that was worthless to her, or whether she designed to render them more precious to admirers by this usage of them, those to whom they were precious seldom paused to consider.

“I hope, Mrs Granger,” said Mr Dombey, advancing a step towards her, “we are not the cause of your ceasing to play?”

“You! oh no!”

“Why do you not go on then, my dearest Edith?” said Cleopatra.

“I left off as I began—of my own fancy.”

The exquisite indifference of her manner in saying this: an indifference quite removed from dulness or insensibility, for it was pointed with proud purpose: was well set off by the carelessness with which she drew her hand across the strings, and came from that part of the room.

“Do you know, Mr Dombey,” said her languishing mother, playing with a hand-screen, “that occasionally my dearest Edith and myself actually almost differ—”

“Not quite, sometimes, Mama?” said Edith.

“Oh never quite, my darling! Fie, fie, it would break my heart,” returned her mother, making a faint attempt to pat her with the screen, which Edith made no movement to meet, “—about these old conventionalities of manner that are observed in little things? Why are we not more natural? Dear me! With all those yearnings, and gushings, and impulsive throbbings that we have implanted in our souls, and which are so very charming, why are we not more natural?”

Mr Dombey said it was very true, very true.

“We could be more natural I suppose if we tried?” said Mrs Skewton.

Mr Dombey thought it possible.

“Devil a bit, Ma’am,” said the Major. “We couldn’t afford it. Unless the world was peopled with J.B.“s—tough and blunt old Joes, Ma’am, plain red herrings with hard roes, Sir—we couldn’t afford it. It wouldn’t do.”

“You naughty Infidel,” said Mrs Skewton, “be mute.”

“Cleopatra commands,” returned the Major, kissing his hand, “and Antony Bagstock obeys.”

“The man has no sensitiveness,” said Mrs Skewton, cruelly holding up the hand-screen so as to shut the Major out. “No sympathy. And what do we live for but sympathy! What else is so extremely charming! Without that gleam of sunshine on our cold cold earth,” said Mrs Skewton, arranging her lace tucker, and complacently observing the effect of her bare lean arm, looking upward from the wrist, “how could we possibly bear it? In short, obdurate man!” glancing at the Major, round the screen, “I would have my world all heart; and Faith is so excessively charming, that I won’t allow you to disturb it, do you hear?”

The Major replied that it was hard in Cleopatra to require the world to be all heart, and yet to appropriate to herself the hearts of all the world; which obliged Cleopatra to remind him that flattery was insupportable to her, and that if he had the boldness to address her in that strain any more, she would positively send him home.

Withers the Wan, at this period, handing round the tea, Mr Dombey again addressed himself to Edith.

“There is not much company here, it would seem?” said Mr Dombey, in his own portentous gentlemanly way.

“I believe not. We see none.”

“Why really,” observed Mrs Skewton from her couch, “there are no people here just now with whom we care to associate.”

“They have not enough heart,” said Edith, with a smile. The very twilight of a smile: so singularly were its light and darkness blended.

“My dearest Edith rallies me, you see!” said her mother, shaking her head: which shook a little of itself sometimes, as if the palsy twinkled now and then in opposition to the diamonds. “Wicked one!”

“You have been here before, if I am not mistaken?” said Mr Dombey. Still to Edith.

“Oh, several times. I think we have been everywhere.”

“A beautiful country!”

“I suppose it is. Everybody says so.”

“Your cousin Feenix raves about it, Edith,” interposed her mother from her couch.

The daughter slightly turned her graceful head, and raising her eyebrows by a hair’s-breadth, as if her cousin Feenix were of all the mortal world the least to be regarded, turned her eyes again towards Mr Dombey.

“I hope, for the credit of my good taste, that I am tired of the neighbourhood,” she said.

“You have almost reason to be, Madam,” he replied, glancing at a variety of landscape drawings, of which he had already recognised several as representing neighbouring points of view, and which were strewn abundantly about the room, “if these beautiful productions are from your hand.”

She gave him no reply, but sat in a disdainful beauty, quite amazing.

“Have they that interest?” said Mr Dombey. “Are they yours?”

“Yes.”

“And you play, I already know.”

“Yes.”

“And sing?”

“Yes.”

She answered all these questions with a strange reluctance; and with that remarkable air of opposition to herself, already noticed as belonging to her beauty. Yet she was not embarrassed, but wholly self-possessed. Neither did she seem to wish to avoid the conversation, for she addressed her face, and—so far as she could—her manner also, to him; and continued to do so, when he was silent.

“You have many resources against weariness at least,” said Mr Dombey.

“Whatever their efficiency may be,” she returned, “you know them all now. I have no more.”

“May I hope to prove them all?” said Mr Dombey, with solemn gallantry, laying down a drawing he had held, and motioning towards the harp.

“Oh certainly! If you desire it!”

She rose as she spoke, and crossing by her mother’s couch, and directing a stately look towards her, which was instantaneous in its duration, but inclusive (if anyone had seen it) of a multitude of expressions, among which that of the twilight smile, without the smile itself, overshadowed all the rest, went out of the room.

The Major, who was quite forgiven by this time, had wheeled a little table up to Cleopatra, and was sitting down to play picquet with her. Mr Dombey, not knowing the game, sat down to watch them for his edification until Edith should return.

“We are going to have some music, Mr Dombey, I hope?” said Cleopatra.

“Mrs Granger has been kind enough to promise so,” said Mr Dombey.

“Ah! That’s very nice. Do you propose, Major?”

“No, Ma’am,” said the Major. “Couldn’t do it.”

“You’re a barbarous being,” replied the lady, “and my hand’s destroyed. You are fond of music, Mr Dombey?”

“Eminently so,” was Mr Dombey’s answer.

“Yes. It’s very nice,” said Cleopatra, looking at her cards. “So much heart in it—undeveloped recollections of a previous state of existence—and all that—which is so truly charming. Do you know,” simpered Cleopatra, reversing the knave of clubs, who had come into her game with his heels uppermost, “that if anything could tempt me to put a period to my life, it would be curiosity to find out what it’s all about, and what it means; there are so many provoking mysteries, really, that are hidden from us. Major, you to play!”

The Major played; and Mr Dombey, looking on for his instruction, would soon have been in a state of dire confusion, but that he gave no attention to the game whatever, and sat wondering instead when Edith would come back.

She came at last, and sat down to her harp, and Mr Dombey rose and stood beside her, listening. He had little taste for music, and no knowledge of the strain she played, but he saw her bending over it, and perhaps he heard among the sounding strings some distant music of his own, that tamed the monster of the iron road, and made it less inexorable.

Cleopatra had a sharp eye, verily, at picquet. It glistened like a bird’s, and did not fix itself upon the game, but pierced the room from end to end, and gleamed on harp, performer, listener, everything.

When the haughty beauty had concluded, she arose, and receiving Mr Dombey’s thanks and compliments in exactly the same manner as before, went with scarcely any pause to the piano, and began there.

Edith Granger, any song but that! Edith Granger, you are very handsome, and your touch upon the keys is brilliant, and your voice is deep and rich; but not the air that his neglected daughter sang to his dead son!

Alas, he knows it not; and if he did, what air of hers would stir him, rigid man! Sleep, lonely Florence, sleep! Peace in thy dreams, although the night has turned dark, and the clouds are gathering, and threaten to discharge themselves in hail!

CHAPTER XXII. 
A Trifle of Management by Mr Carker the Manager

Mr Carker the Manager sat at his desk, smooth and soft as usual, reading those letters which were reserved for him to open, backing them occasionally with such memoranda and references as their business purport required, and parcelling them out into little heaps for distribution through the several departments of the House. The post had come in heavy that morning, and Mr Carker the Manager had a good deal to do.

The general action of a man so engaged—pausing to look over a bundle of papers in his hand, dealing them round in various portions, taking up another bundle and examining its contents with knitted brows and pursed-out lips—dealing, and sorting, and pondering by turns—would easily suggest some whimsical resemblance to a player at cards. The face of Mr Carker the Manager was in good keeping with such a fancy. It was the face of a man who studied his play, warily: who made himself master of all the strong and weak points of the game: who registered the cards in his mind as they fell about him, knew exactly what was on them, what they missed, and what they made: who was crafty to find out what the other players held, and who never betrayed his own hand.

The letters were in various languages, but Mr Carker the Manager read them all. If there had been anything in the offices of Dombey and Son that he could read, there would have been a card wanting in the pack. He read almost at a glance, and made combinations of one letter with another and one business with another as he went on, adding new matter to the heaps—much as a man would know the cards at sight, and work out their combinations in his mind after they were turned. Something too deep for a partner, and much too deep for an adversary, Mr Carker the Manager sat in the rays of the sun that came down slanting on him through the skylight, playing his game alone.

And although it is not among the instincts wild or domestic of the cat tribe to play at cards, feline from sole to crown was Mr Carker the Manager, as he basked in the strip of summer-light and warmth that shone upon his table and the ground as if they were a crooked dial-plate, and himself the only figure on it. With hair and whiskers deficient in colour at all times, but feebler than common in the rich sunshine, and more like the coat of a sandy tortoise-shell cat; with long nails, nicely pared and sharpened; with a natural antipathy to any speck of dirt, which made him pause sometimes and watch the falling motes of dust, and rub them off his smooth white hand or glossy linen: Mr Carker the Manager, sly of manner, sharp of tooth, soft of foot, watchful of eye, oily of tongue, cruel of heart, nice of habit, sat with a dainty steadfastness and patience at his work, as if he were waiting at a mouse’s hole.

At length the letters were disposed of, excepting one which he reserved for a particular audience. Having locked the more confidential correspondence in a drawer, Mr Carker the Manager rang his bell.

“Why do you answer it?” was his reception of his brother.

“The messenger is out, and I am the next,” was the submissive reply.

“You are the next?” muttered the Manager. “Yes! Creditable to me! There!”

Pointing to the heaps of opened letters, he turned disdainfully away, in his elbow-chair, and broke the seal of that one which he held in his hand.

“I am sorry to trouble you, James,” said the brother, gathering them up, “but—”

“Oh! you have something to say. I knew that. Well?”

Mr Carker the Manager did not raise his eyes or turn them on his brother, but kept them on his letter, though without opening it.

“Well?” he repeated sharply.

“I am uneasy about Harriet.”

“Harriet who? what Harriet? I know nobody of that name.”

“She is not well, and has changed very much of late.”

“She changed very much, a great many years ago,” replied the Manager; “and that is all I have to say.

“I think if you would hear me—

“Why should I hear you, Brother John?” returned the Manager, laying a sarcastic emphasis on those two words, and throwing up his head, but not lifting his eyes. “I tell you, Harriet Carker made her choice many years ago between her two brothers. She may repent it, but she must abide by it.”

“Don’t mistake me. I do not say she does repent it. It would be black ingratitude in me to hint at such a thing,” returned the other. “Though believe me, James, I am as sorry for her sacrifice as you.”

“As I?” exclaimed the Manager. “As I?”

“As sorry for her choice—for what you call her choice—as you are angry at it,” said the Junior.

“Angry?” repeated the other, with a wide show of his teeth.

“Displeased. Whatever word you like best. You know my meaning. There is no offence in my intention.”

“There is offence in everything you do,” replied his brother, glancing at him with a sudden scowl, which in a moment gave place to a wider smile than the last. “Carry those papers away, if you please. I am busy.

His politeness was so much more cutting than his wrath, that the Junior went to the door. But stopping at it, and looking round, he said:

“When Harriet tried in vain to plead for me with you, on your first just indignation, and my first disgrace; and when she left you, James, to follow my broken fortunes, and devote herself, in her mistaken affection, to a ruined brother, because without her he had no one, and was lost; she was young and pretty. I think if you could see her now—if you would go and see her—she would move your admiration and compassion.”

The Manager inclined his head, and showed his teeth, as who should say, in answer to some careless small-talk, “Dear me! Is that the case?” but said never a word.

“We thought in those days: you and I both: that she would marry young, and lead a happy and light-hearted life,” pursued the other. “Oh if you knew how cheerfully she cast those hopes away; how cheerfully she has gone forward on the path she took, and never once looked back; you never could say again that her name was strange in your ears. Never!”

Again the Manager inclined his head and showed his teeth, and seemed to say, “Remarkable indeed! You quite surprise me!” And again he uttered never a word.

“May I go on?” said John Carker, mildly.

“On your way?” replied his smiling brother. “If you will have the goodness.”

John Carker, with a sigh, was passing slowly out at the door, when his brother’s voice detained him for a moment on the threshold.

“If she has gone, and goes, her own way cheerfully,” he said, throwing the still unfolded letter on his desk, and putting his hands firmly in his pockets, “you may tell her that I go as cheerfully on mine. If she has never once looked back, you may tell her that I have, sometimes, to recall her taking part with you, and that my resolution is no easier to wear away;” he smiled very sweetly here; “than marble.”

“I tell her nothing of you. We never speak about you. Once a year, on your birthday, Harriet says always, ‘Let us remember James by name, and wish him happy,’ but we say no more.”

“Tell it then, if you please,” returned the other, “to yourself. You can’t repeat it too often, as a lesson to you to avoid the subject in speaking to me. I know no Harriet Carker. There is no such person. You may have a sister; make much of her. I have none.”

Mr Carker the Manager took up the letter again, and waved it with a smile of mock courtesy towards the door. Unfolding it as his brother withdrew, and looking darkly after him as he left the room, he once more turned round in his elbow-chair, and applied himself to a diligent perusal of its contents.

It was in the writing of his great chief, Mr Dombey, and dated from Leamington. Though he was a quick reader of all other letters, Mr Carker read this slowly; weighing the words as he went, and bringing every tooth in his head to bear upon them. When he had read it through once, he turned it over again, and picked out these passages. “I find myself benefited by the change, and am not yet inclined to name any time for my return.” “I wish, Carker, you would arrange to come down once and see me here, and let me know how things are going on, in person.” “I omitted to speak to you about young Gay. If not gone per Son and Heir, or if Son and Heir still lying in the Docks, appoint some other young man and keep him in the City for the present. I am not decided.” “Now that’s unfortunate!” said Mr Carker the Manager, expanding his mouth, as if it were made of India-rubber: “for he’s far away.”

Still that passage, which was in a postscript, attracted his attention and his teeth, once more.

“I think,” he said, “my good friend Captain Cuttle mentioned something about being towed along in the wake of that day. What a pity he’s so far away!”

He refolded the letter, and was sitting trifling with it, standing it long-wise and broad-wise on his table, and turning it over and over on all sides—doing pretty much the same thing, perhaps, by its contents—when Mr Perch the messenger knocked softly at the door, and coming in on tiptoe, bending his body at every step as if it were the delight of his life to bow, laid some papers on the table.

“Would you please to be engaged, Sir?” asked Mr Perch, rubbing his hands, and deferentially putting his head on one side, like a man who felt he had no business to hold it up in such a presence, and would keep it as much out of the way as possible.

“Who wants me?”

“Why, Sir,” said Mr Perch, in a soft voice, “really nobody, Sir, to speak of at present. Mr Gills the Ship’s Instrument-maker, Sir, has looked in, about a little matter of payment, he says: but I mentioned to him, Sir, that you was engaged several deep; several deep.”

Mr Perch coughed once behind his hand, and waited for further orders.

“Anybody else?”

“Well, Sir,” said Mr Perch, “I wouldn’t of my own self take the liberty of mentioning, Sir, that there was anybody else; but that same young lad that was here yesterday, Sir, and last week, has been hanging about the place; and it looks, Sir,” added Mr Perch, stopping to shut the door, “dreadful unbusiness-like to see him whistling to the sparrows down the court, and making of ’em answer him.”

“You said he wanted something to do, didn’t you, Perch?” asked Mr Carker, leaning back in his chair and looking at that officer.

“Why, Sir,” said Mr Perch, coughing behind his hand again, “his expression certainly were that he was in wants of a sitiwation, and that he considered something might be done for him about the Docks, being used to fishing with a rod and line: but—” Mr Perch shook his head very dubiously indeed.

“What does he say when he comes?” asked Mr Carker.

“Indeed, Sir,” said Mr Perch, coughing another cough behind his hand, which was always his resource as an expression of humility when nothing else occurred to him, “his observation generally air that he would humbly wish to see one of the gentlemen, and that he wants to earn a living. But you see, Sir,” added Perch, dropping his voice to a whisper, and turning, in the inviolable nature of his confidence, to give the door a thrust with his hand and knee, as if that would shut it any more when it was shut already, “it’s hardly to be bore, Sir, that a common lad like that should come a prowling here, and saying that his mother nursed our House’s young gentleman, and that he hopes our House will give him a chance on that account. I am sure, Sir,” observed Mr Perch, “that although Mrs Perch was at that time nursing as thriving a little girl, Sir, as we’ve ever took the liberty of adding to our family, I wouldn’t have made so free as drop a hint of her being capable of imparting nourishment, not if it was never so!”

Mr Carker grinned at him like a shark, but in an absent, thoughtful manner.

“Whether,” submitted Mr Perch, after a short silence, and another cough, “it mightn’t be best for me to tell him, that if he was seen here any more he would be given into custody; and to keep to it! With respect to bodily fear,” said Mr Perch, “I’m so timid, myself, by nature, Sir, and my nerves is so unstrung by Mrs Perch’s state, that I could take my affidavit easy.”

“Let me see this fellow, Perch,” said Mr Carker. “Bring him in!”

“Yes, Sir. Begging your pardon, Sir,” said Mr Perch, hesitating at the door, “he’s rough, Sir, in appearance.”

“Never mind. If he’s there, bring him in. I’ll see Mr Gills directly. Ask him to wait.”

Mr Perch bowed; and shutting the door, as precisely and carefully as if he were not coming back for a week, went on his quest among the sparrows in the court. While he was gone, Mr Carker assumed his favourite attitude before the fire-place, and stood looking at the door; presenting, with his under lip tucked into the smile that showed his whole row of upper teeth, a singularly crouching apace.

The messenger was not long in returning, followed by a pair of heavy boots that came bumping along the passage like boxes. With the unceremonious words “Come along with you!”—a very unusual form of introduction from his lips—Mr Perch then ushered into the presence a strong-built lad of fifteen, with a round red face, a round sleek head, round black eyes, round limbs, and round body, who, to carry out the general rotundity of his appearance, had a round hat in his hand, without a particle of brim to it.

Obedient to a nod from Mr Carker, Perch had no sooner confronted the visitor with that gentleman than he withdrew. The moment they were face to face alone, Mr Carker, without a word of preparation, took him by the throat, and shook him until his head seemed loose upon his shoulders.

The boy, who in the midst of his astonishment could not help staring wildly at the gentleman with so many white teeth who was choking him, and at the office walls, as though determined, if he were choked, that his last look should be at the mysteries for his intrusion into which he was paying such a severe penalty, at last contrived to utter—

“Come, Sir! You let me alone, will you!”

“Let you alone!” said Mr Carker. “What! I have got you, have I?” There was no doubt of that, and tightly too. “You dog,” said Mr Carker, through his set jaws, “I’ll strangle you!”

Biler whimpered, would he though? oh no he wouldn’t—and what was he doing of—and why didn’t he strangle some—body of his own size and not him: but Biler was quelled by the extraordinary nature of his reception, and, as his head became stationary, and he looked the gentleman in the face, or rather in the teeth, and saw him snarling at him, he so far forgot his manhood as to cry.

“I haven’t done nothing to you, Sir,” said Biler, otherwise Rob, otherwise Grinder, and always Toodle.

“You young scoundrel!” replied Mr Carker, slowly releasing him, and moving back a step into his favourite position. “What do you mean by daring to come here?”

“I didn’t mean no harm, Sir,” whimpered Rob, putting one hand to his throat, and the knuckles of the other to his eyes. “I’ll never come again, Sir. I only wanted work.”

“Work, young Cain that you are!” repeated Mr Carker, eyeing him narrowly. “Ain’t you the idlest vagabond in London?”

The impeachment, while it much affected Mr Toodle Junior, attached to his character so justly, that he could not say a word in denial. He stood looking at the gentleman, therefore, with a frightened, self-convicted, and remorseful air. As to his looking at him, it may be observed that he was fascinated by Mr Carker, and never took his round eyes off him for an instant.

“Ain’t you a thief?” said Mr Carker, with his hands behind him in his pockets.

“No, sir,” pleaded Rob.

“You are!” said Mr Carker.

“I ain’t indeed, Sir,” whimpered Rob. “I never did such a thing as thieve, Sir, if you’ll believe me. I know I’ve been a going wrong, Sir, ever since I took to bird-catching and walking-matching. I’m sure a cove might think,” said Mr Toodle Junior, with a burst of penitence, “that singing birds was innocent company, but nobody knows what harm is in them little creeturs and what they brings you down to.”

They seemed to have brought him down to a velveteen jacket and trousers very much the worse for wear, a particularly small red waistcoat like a gorget, an interval of blue check, and the hat before mentioned.

“I ain’t been home twenty times since them birds got their will of me,” said Rob, “and that’s ten months. How can I go home when everybody’s miserable to see me! I wonder,” said Biler, blubbering outright, and smearing his eyes with his coat-cuff, “that I haven’t been and drownded myself over and over again.”

All of which, including his expression of surprise at not having achieved this last scarce performance, the boy said, just as if the teeth of Mr Carker drew it out of him, and he had no power of concealing anything with that battery of attraction in full play.

“You’re a nice young gentleman!” said Mr Carker, shaking his head at him. “There’s hemp-seed sown for you, my fine fellow!”

“I’m sure, Sir,” returned the wretched Biler, blubbering again, and again having recourse to his coat-cuff: “I shouldn’t care, sometimes, if it was growed too. My misfortunes all began in wagging, Sir; but what could I do, exceptin’ wag?”

“Excepting what?” said Mr Carker.

“Wag, Sir. Wagging from school.”

“Do you mean pretending to go there, and not going?” said Mr Carker.

“Yes, Sir, that’s wagging, Sir,” returned the quondam Grinder, much affected. “I was chivied through the streets, Sir, when I went there, and pounded when I got there. So I wagged, and hid myself, and that began it.”

“And you mean to tell me,” said Mr Carker, taking him by the throat again, holding him out at arm’s-length, and surveying him in silence for some moments, “that you want a place, do you?”

“I should be thankful to be tried, Sir,” returned Toodle Junior, faintly.

Mr Carker the Manager pushed him backward into a corner—the boy submitting quietly, hardly venturing to breathe, and never once removing his eyes from his face—and rang the bell.

“Tell Mr Gills to come here.”

Mr Perch was too deferential to express surprise or recognition of the figure in the corner: and Uncle Sol appeared immediately.

“Mr Gills!” said Carker, with a smile, “sit down. How do you do? You continue to enjoy your health, I hope?”

“Thank you, Sir,” returned Uncle Sol, taking out his pocket-book, and handing over some notes as he spoke. “Nothing ails me in body but old age. Twenty-five, Sir.”

“You are as punctual and exact, Mr Gills,” replied the smiling Manager, taking a paper from one of his many drawers, and making an endorsement on it, while Uncle Sol looked over him, “as one of your own chronometers. Quite right.”

“The Son and Heir has not been spoken, I find by the list, Sir,” said Uncle Sol, with a slight addition to the usual tremor in his voice.

“The Son and Heir has not been spoken,” returned Carker. “There seems to have been tempestuous weather, Mr Gills, and she has probably been driven out of her course.”

“She is safe, I trust in Heaven!” said old Sol.

“She is safe, I trust in Heaven!” assented Mr Carker in that voiceless manner of his: which made the observant young Toodle tremble again. “Mr Gills,” he added aloud, throwing himself back in his chair, “you must miss your nephew very much?”

Uncle Sol, standing by him, shook his head and heaved a deep sigh.

“Mr Gills,” said Carker, with his soft hand playing round his mouth, and looking up into the Instrument-maker’s face, “it would be company to you to have a young fellow in your shop just now, and it would be obliging me if you would give one house-room for the present. No, to be sure,” he added quickly, in anticipation of what the old man was going to say, “there’s not much business doing there, I know; but you can make him clean the place out, polish up the instruments; drudge, Mr Gills. That’s the lad!”

Sol Gills pulled down his spectacles from his forehead to his eyes, and looked at Toodle Junior standing upright in the corner: his head presenting the appearance (which it always did) of having been newly drawn out of a bucket of cold water; his small waistcoat rising and falling quickly in the play of his emotions; and his eyes intently fixed on Mr Carker, without the least reference to his proposed master.

“Will you give him house-room, Mr Gills?” said the Manager.

Old Sol, without being quite enthusiastic on the subject, replied that he was glad of any opportunity, however slight, to oblige Mr Carker, whose wish on such a point was a command: and that the wooden Midshipman would consider himself happy to receive in his berth any visitor of Mr Carker’s selecting.

Mr Carker bared himself to the tops and bottoms of his gums: making the watchful Toodle Junior tremble more and more: and acknowledged the Instrument-maker’s politeness in his most affable manner.

“I’ll dispose of him so, then, Mr Gills,” he answered, rising, and shaking the old man by the hand, “until I make up my mind what to do with him, and what he deserves. As I consider myself responsible for him, Mr Gills,” here he smiled a wide smile at Rob, who shook before it: “I shall be glad if you’ll look sharply after him, and report his behaviour to me. I’ll ask a question or two of his parents as I ride home this afternoon—respectable people—to confirm some particulars in his own account of himself; and that done, Mr Gills, I’ll send him round to you to-morrow morning. Goodbye!”

His smile at parting was so full of teeth, that it confused old Sol, and made him vaguely uncomfortable. He went home, thinking of raging seas, foundering ships, drowning men, an ancient bottle of Madeira never brought to light, and other dismal matters.

“Now, boy!” said Mr Carker, putting his hand on young Toodle’s shoulder, and bringing him out into the middle of the room. “You have heard me?”

Rob said, “Yes, Sir.”

“Perhaps you understand,” pursued his patron, “that if you ever deceive or play tricks with me, you had better have drowned yourself, indeed, once for all, before you came here?”

There was nothing in any branch of mental acquisition that Rob seemed to understand better than that.

“If you have lied to me,” said Mr Carker, “in anything, never come in my way again. If not, you may let me find you waiting for me somewhere near your mother’s house this afternoon. I shall leave this at five o’clock, and ride there on horseback. Now, give me the address.”

Rob repeated it slowly, as Mr Carker wrote it down. Rob even spelt it over a second time, letter by letter, as if he thought that the omission of a dot or scratch would lead to his destruction. Mr Carker then handed him out of the room; and Rob, keeping his round eyes fixed upon his patron to the last, vanished for the time being.

Mr Carker the Manager did a great deal of business in the course of the day, and bestowed his teeth upon a great many people. In the office, in the court, in the street, and on “Change, they glistened and bristled to a terrible extent. Five o’clock arriving, and with it Mr Carker’s bay horse, they got on horseback, and went gleaming up Cheapside.

As no one can easily ride fast, even if inclined to do so, through the press and throng of the City at that hour, and as Mr Carker was not inclined, he went leisurely along, picking his way among the carts and carriages, avoiding whenever he could the wetter and more dirty places in the over-watered road, and taking infinite pains to keep himself and his steed clean. Glancing at the passersby while he was thus ambling on his way, he suddenly encountered the round eyes of the sleek-headed Rob intently fixed upon his face as if they had never been taken off, while the boy himself, with a pocket-handkerchief twisted up like a speckled eel and girded round his waist, made a very conspicuous demonstration of being prepared to attend upon him, at whatever pace he might think proper to go.

This attention, however flattering, being one of an unusual kind, and attracting some notice from the other passengers, Mr Carker took advantage of a clearer thoroughfare and a cleaner road, and broke into a trot. Rob immediately did the same. Mr Carker presently tried a canter; Rob was still in attendance. Then a short gallop; it was all one to the boy. Whenever Mr Carker turned his eyes to that side of the road, he still saw Toodle Junior holding his course, apparently without distress, and working himself along by the elbows after the most approved manner of professional gentlemen who get over the ground for wagers.

Ridiculous as this attendance was, it was a sign of an influence established over the boy, and therefore Mr Carker, affecting not to notice it, rode away into the neighbourhood of Mr Toodle’s house. On his slackening his pace here, Rob appeared before him to point out the turnings; and when he called to a man at a neighbouring gateway to hold his horse, pending his visit to the buildings that had succeeded Staggs’s Gardens, Rob dutifully held the stirrup, while the Manager dismounted.

“Now, Sir,” said Mr Carker, taking him by the shoulder, “come along!”

The prodigal son was evidently nervous of visiting the parental abode; but Mr Carker pushing him on before, he had nothing for it but to open the right door, and suffer himself to be walked into the midst of his brothers and sisters, mustered in overwhelming force round the family tea-table. At sight of the prodigal in the grasp of a stranger, these tender relations united in a general howl, which smote upon the prodigal’s breast so sharply when he saw his mother stand up among them, pale and trembling, with the baby in her arms, that he lent his own voice to the chorus.

Nothing doubting now that the stranger, if not Mr Ketch in person, was one of that company, the whole of the young family wailed the louder, while its more infantine members, unable to control the transports of emotion appertaining to their time of life, threw themselves on their backs like young birds when terrified by a hawk, and kicked violently. At length, poor Polly making herself audible, said, with quivering lips, “Oh Rob, my poor boy, what have you done at last!”

“Nothing, mother,” cried Rob, in a piteous voice, “ask the gentleman!”

“Don’t be alarmed,” said Mr Carker, “I want to do him good.”

At this announcement, Polly, who had not cried yet, began to do so. The elder Toodles, who appeared to have been meditating a rescue, unclenched their fists. The younger Toodles clustered round their mother’s gown, and peeped from under their own chubby arms at their desperado brother and his unknown friend. Everybody blessed the gentleman with the beautiful teeth, who wanted to do good.

“This fellow,” said Mr Carker to Polly, giving him a gentle shake, “is your son, eh, Ma’am?”

“Yes, Sir,” sobbed Polly, with a curtsey; “yes, Sir.”

“A bad son, I am afraid?” said Mr Carker.

“Never a bad son to me, Sir,” returned Polly.

“To whom then?” demanded Mr Carker.

“He has been a little wild, Sir,” returned Polly, checking the baby, who was making convulsive efforts with his arms and legs to launch himself on Biler, through the ambient air, “and has gone with wrong companions: but I hope he has seen the misery of that, Sir, and will do well again.”

Mr Carker looked at Polly, and the clean room, and the clean children, and the simple Toodle face, combined of father and mother, that was reflected and repeated everywhere about him—and seemed to have achieved the real purpose of his visit.

“Your husband, I take it, is not at home?” he said.

“No, Sir,” replied Polly. “He’s down the line at present.”

The prodigal Rob seemed very much relieved to hear it: though still in the absorption of all his faculties in his patron, he hardly took his eyes from Mr Carker’s face, unless for a moment at a time to steal a sorrowful glance at his mother.

“Then,” said Mr Carker, “I’ll tell you how I have stumbled on this boy of yours, and who I am, and what I am going to do for him.”

This Mr Carker did, in his own way; saying that he at first intended to have accumulated nameless terrors on his presumptuous head, for coming to the whereabout of Dombey and Son. That he had relented, in consideration of his youth, his professed contrition, and his friends. That he was afraid he took a rash step in doing anything for the boy, and one that might expose him to the censure of the prudent; but that he did it of himself and for himself, and risked the consequences single-handed; and that his mother’s past connexion with Mr Dombey’s family had nothing to do with it, and that Mr Dombey had nothing to do with it, but that he, Mr Carker, was the be-all and the end-all of this business. Taking great credit to himself for his goodness, and receiving no less from all the family then present, Mr Carker signified, indirectly but still pretty plainly, that Rob’s implicit fidelity, attachment, and devotion, were for evermore his due, and the least homage he could receive. And with this great truth Rob himself was so impressed, that, standing gazing on his patron with tears rolling down his cheeks, he nodded his shiny head until it seemed almost as loose as it had done under the same patron’s hands that morning.

Polly, who had passed Heaven knows how many sleepless nights on account of this her dissipated firstborn, and had not seen him for weeks and weeks, could have almost kneeled to Mr Carker the Manager, as to a Good Spirit—in spite of his teeth. But Mr Carker rising to depart, she only thanked him with her mother’s prayers and blessings; thanks so rich when paid out of the Heart’s mint, especially for any service Mr Carker had rendered, that he might have given back a large amount of change, and yet been overpaid.

As that gentleman made his way among the crowding children to the door, Rob retreated on his mother, and took her and the baby in the same repentant hug.

“I’ll try hard, dear mother, now. Upon my soul I will!” said Rob.

“Oh do, my dear boy! I am sure you will, for our sakes and your own!” cried Polly, kissing him. “But you’re coming back to speak to me, when you have seen the gentleman away?”

“I don’t know, mother.” Rob hesitated, and looked down. “Father—when’s he coming home?”

“Not till two o’clock to-morrow morning.”

“I’ll come back, mother dear!” cried Rob. And passing through the shrill cry of his brothers and sisters in reception of this promise, he followed Mr Carker out.

“What!” said Mr Carker, who had heard this. “You have a bad father, have you?”

“No, Sir!” returned Rob, amazed. “There ain’t a better nor a kinder father going, than mine is.”

“Why don’t you want to see him then?” inquired his patron.

“There’s such a difference between a father and a mother, Sir,” said Rob, after faltering for a moment. “He couldn’t hardly believe yet that I was doing to do better—though I know he’d try to—but a mother—she always believes what’s good, Sir; at least, I know my mother does, God bless her!”

Mr Carker’s mouth expanded, but he said no more until he was mounted on his horse, and had dismissed the man who held it, when, looking down from the saddle steadily into the attentive and watchful face of the boy, he said:

“You’ll come to me tomorrow morning, and you shall be shown where that old gentleman lives; that old gentleman who was with me this morning; where you are going, as you heard me say.”

“Yes, Sir,” returned Rob.

“I have a great interest in that old gentleman, and in serving him, you serve me, boy, do you understand? Well,” he added, interrupting him, for he saw his round face brighten when he was told that: “I see you do. I want to know all about that old gentleman, and how he goes on from day to day—for I am anxious to be of service to him—and especially who comes there to see him. Do you understand?”

Rob nodded his steadfast face, and said “Yes, Sir,” again.

“I should like to know that he has friends who are attentive to him, and that they don’t desert him—for he lives very much alone now, poor fellow; but that they are fond of him, and of his nephew who has gone abroad. There is a very young lady who may perhaps come to see him. I want particularly to know all about her.”

“I’ll take care, Sir,” said the boy.

“And take care,” returned his patron, bending forward to advance his grinning face closer to the boy’s, and pat him on the shoulder with the handle of his whip: “take care you talk about affairs of mine to nobody but me.”

“To nobody in the world, Sir,” replied Rob, shaking his head.

“Neither there,” said Mr Carker, pointing to the place they had just left, “nor anywhere else. I’ll try how true and grateful you can be. I’ll prove you!” Making this, by his display of teeth and by the action of his head, as much a threat as a promise, he turned from Rob’s eyes, which were nailed upon him as if he had won the boy by a charm, body and soul, and rode away. But again becoming conscious, after trotting a short distance, that his devoted henchman, girt as before, was yielding him the same attendance, to the great amusement of sundry spectators, he reined up, and ordered him off. To ensure his obedience, he turned in the saddle and watched him as he retired. It was curious to see that even then Rob could not keep his eyes wholly averted from his patron’s face, but, constantly turning and turning again to look after him, involved himself in a tempest of buffetings and jostlings from the other passengers in the street: of which, in the pursuit of the one paramount idea, he was perfectly heedless.

Mr Carker the Manager rode on at a foot-pace, with the easy air of one who had performed all the business of the day in a satisfactory manner, and got it comfortably off his mind. Complacent and affable as man could be, Mr Carker picked his way along the streets and hummed a soft tune as he went. He seemed to purr, he was so glad.

And in some sort, Mr Carker, in his fancy, basked upon a hearth too. Coiled up snugly at certain feet, he was ready for a spring, Or for a tear, or for a scratch, or for a velvet touch, as the humour took him and occasion served. Was there any bird in a cage, that came in for a share of his regards?

“A very young lady!” thought Mr Carker the Manager, through his song. “Ay! when I saw her last, she was a little child. With dark eyes and hair, I recollect, and a good face; a very good face! I daresay she’s pretty.”

More affable and pleasant yet, and humming his song until his many teeth vibrated to it, Mr Carker picked his way along, and turned at last into the shady street where Mr Dombey’s house stood. He had been so busy, winding webs round good faces, and obscuring them with meshes, that he hardly thought of being at this point of his ride, until, glancing down the cold perspective of tall houses, he reined in his horse quickly within a few yards of the door. But to explain why Mr Carker reined in his horse quickly, and what he looked at in no small surprise, a few digressive words are necessary.

Mr Toots, emancipated from the Blimber thraldom and coming into the possession of a certain portion of his worldly wealth, “which,” as he had been wont, during his last half-year’s probation, to communicate to Mr Feeder every evening as a new discovery, “the executors couldn’t keep him out of” had applied himself with great diligence, to the science of Life. Fired with a noble emulation to pursue a brilliant and distinguished career, Mr Toots had furnished a choice set of apartments; had established among them a sporting bower, embellished with the portraits of winning horses, in which he took no particle of interest; and a divan, which made him poorly. In this delicious abode, Mr Toots devoted himself to the cultivation of those gentle arts which refine and humanise existence, his chief instructor in which was an interesting character called the Game Chicken, who was always to be heard of at the bar of the Black Badger, wore a shaggy white great-coat in the warmest weather, and knocked Mr Toots about the head three times a week, for the small consideration of ten and six per visit.

The Game Chicken, who was quite the Apollo of Mr Toots’s Pantheon, had introduced to him a marker who taught billiards, a Life Guard who taught fencing, a jobmaster who taught riding, a Cornish gentleman who was up to anything in the athletic line, and two or three other friends connected no less intimately with the fine arts. Under whose auspices Mr Toots could hardly fail to improve apace, and under whose tuition he went to work.

But however it came about, it came to pass, even while these gentlemen had the gloss of novelty upon them, that Mr Toots felt, he didn’t know how, unsettled and uneasy. There were husks in his corn, that even Game Chickens couldn’t peck up; gloomy giants in his leisure, that even Game Chickens couldn’t knock down. Nothing seemed to do Mr Toots so much good as incessantly leaving cards at Mr Dombey’s door. No taxgatherer in the British Dominions—that wide-spread territory on which the sun never sets, and where the tax-gatherer never goes to bed—was more regular and persevering in his calls than Mr Toots.

Mr Toots never went upstairs; and always performed the same ceremonies, richly dressed for the purpose, at the hall door.

“Oh! Good morning!” would be Mr Toots’s first remark to the servant. “For Mr Dombey,” would be Mr Toots’s next remark, as he handed in a card. “For Miss Dombey,” would be his next, as he handed in another.

Mr Toots would then turn round as if to go away; but the man knew him by this time, and knew he wouldn’t.

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” Mr Toots would say, as if a thought had suddenly descended on him. “Is the young woman at home?”

The man would rather think she was, but wouldn’t quite know. Then he would ring a bell that rang upstairs, and would look up the staircase, and would say, yes, she was at home, and was coming down. Then Miss Nipper would appear, and the man would retire.

“Oh! How de do?” Mr Toots would say, with a chuckle and a blush.

Susan would thank him, and say she was very well.

“How’s Diogenes going on?” would be Mr Toots’s second interrogation.

Very well indeed. Miss Florence was fonder and fonder of him every day. Mr Toots was sure to hail this with a burst of chuckles, like the opening of a bottle of some effervescent beverage.

“Miss Florence is quite well, Sir,” Susan would add.

“Oh, it’s of no consequence, thank’ee,” was the invariable reply of Mr Toots; and when he had said so, he always went away very fast.

Now it is certain that Mr Toots had a filmy something in his mind, which led him to conclude that if he could aspire successfully in the fulness of time, to the hand of Florence, he would be fortunate and blest. It is certain that Mr Toots, by some remote and roundabout road, had got to that point, and that there he made a stand. His heart was wounded; he was touched; he was in love. He had made a desperate attempt, one night, and had sat up all night for the purpose, to write an acrostic on Florence, which affected him to tears in the conception. But he never proceeded in the execution further than the words “For when I gaze,”—the flow of imagination in which he had previously written down the initial letters of the other seven lines, deserting him at that point.

Beyond devising that very artful and politic measure of leaving a card for Mr Dombey daily, the brain of Mr Toots had not worked much in reference to the subject that held his feelings prisoner. But deep consideration at length assured Mr Toots that an important step to gain, was, the conciliation of Miss Susan Nipper, preparatory to giving her some inkling of his state of mind.

A little light and playful gallantry towards this lady seemed the means to employ in that early chapter of the history, for winning her to his interests. Not being able quite to make up his mind about it, he consulted the Chicken—without taking that gentleman into his confidence; merely informing him that a friend in Yorkshire had written to him (Mr Toots) for his opinion on such a question. The Chicken replying that his opinion always was, “Go in and win,” and further, “When your man’s before you and your work cut out, go in and do it,” Mr Toots considered this a figurative way of supporting his own view of the case, and heroically resolved to kiss Miss Nipper next day.

Upon the next day, therefore, Mr Toots, putting into requisition some of the greatest marvels that Burgess and Co. had ever turned out, went off to Mr Dombey’s upon this design. But his heart failed him so much as he approached the scene of action, that, although he arrived on the ground at three o’clock in the afternoon, it was six before he knocked at the door.

Everything happened as usual, down to the point where Susan said her young mistress was well, and Mr Toots said it was of no consequence. To her amazement, Mr Toots, instead of going off, like a rocket, after that observation, lingered and chuckled.

“Perhaps you’d like to walk upstairs, Sir!” said Susan.

“Well, I think I will come in!” said Mr Toots.

But instead of walking upstairs, the bold Toots made an awkward plunge at Susan when the door was shut, and embracing that fair creature, kissed her on the cheek.

“Go along with you!” cried Susan, “or Ill tear your eyes out.”

“Just another!” said Mr Toots.

“Go along with you!” exclaimed Susan, giving him a push “Innocents like you, too! Who’ll begin next? Go along, Sir!”

Susan was not in any serious strait, for she could hardly speak for laughing; but Diogenes, on the staircase, hearing a rustling against the wall, and a shuffling of feet, and seeing through the banisters that there was some contention going on, and foreign invasion in the house, formed a different opinion, dashed down to the rescue, and in the twinkling of an eye had Mr Toots by the leg.

Susan screamed, laughed, opened the street-door, and ran downstairs; the bold Toots tumbled staggering out into the street, with Diogenes holding on to one leg of his pantaloons, as if Burgess and Co. were his cooks, and had provided that dainty morsel for his holiday entertainment; Diogenes shaken off, rolled over and over in the dust, got up again, whirled round the giddy Toots and snapped at him: and all this turmoil Mr Carker, reigning up his horse and sitting a little at a distance, saw to his amazement, issue from the stately house of Mr Dombey.

Mr Carker remained watching the discomfited Toots, when Diogenes was called in, and the door shut: and while that gentleman, taking refuge in a doorway near at hand, bound up the torn leg of his pantaloons with a costly silk handkerchief that had formed part of his expensive outfit for the advent.

“I beg your pardon, Sir,” said Mr Carker, riding up, with his most propitiatory smile. “I hope you are not hurt?”

“Oh no, thank you,” replied Mr Toots, raising his flushed face, “it’s of no consequence” Mr Toots would have signified, if he could, that he liked it very much.

“If the dog’s teeth have entered the leg, Sir—” began Carker, with a display of his own.

“No, thank you,” said Mr Toots, “it’s all quite right. It’s very comfortable, thank you.”

“I have the pleasure of knowing Mr Dombey,” observed Carker.

“Have you though?” rejoined the blushing Took

“And you will allow me, perhaps, to apologise, in his absence,” said Mr Carker, taking off his hat, “for such a misadventure, and to wonder how it can possibly have happened.”

Mr Toots is so much gratified by this politeness, and the lucky chance of making friends with a friend of Mr Dombey, that he pulls out his card-case which he never loses an opportunity of using, and hands his name and address to Mr Carker: who responds to that courtesy by giving him his own, and with that they part.

As Mr Carker picks his way so softly past the house, looking up at the windows, and trying to make out the pensive face behind the curtain looking at the children opposite, the rough head of Diogenes came clambering up close by it, and the dog, regardless of all soothing, barks and growls, and makes at him from that height, as if he would spring down and tear him limb from limb.

Well spoken, Di, so near your Mistress! Another, and another with your head up, your eyes flashing, and your vexed mouth worrying itself, for want of him! Another, as he picks his way along! You have a good scent, Di,—cats, boy, cats!

CHAPTER XXIII. 
Florence solitary, and the Midshipman mysterious

Florence lived alone in the great dreary house, and day succeeded day, and still she lived alone; and the blank walls looked down upon her with a vacant stare, as if they had a Gorgon-like mind to stare her youth and beauty into stone.

No magic dwelling-place in magic story, shut up in the heart of a thick wood, was ever more solitary and deserted to the fancy, than was her father’s mansion in its grim reality, as it stood lowering on the street: always by night, when lights were shining from neighbouring windows, a blot upon its scanty brightness; always by day, a frown upon its never-smiling face.

There were not two dragon sentries keeping ward before the gate of this above, as in magic legend are usually found on duty over the wronged innocence imprisoned; but besides a glowering visage, with its thin lips parted wickedly, that surveyed all comers from above the archway of the door, there was a monstrous fantasy of rusty iron, curling and twisting like a petrifaction of an arbour over threshold, budding in spikes and corkscrew points, and bearing, one on either side, two ominous extinguishers, that seemed to say, “Who enter here, leave light behind!” There were no talismanic characters engraven on the portal, but the house was now so neglected in appearance, that boys chalked the railings and the pavement—particularly round the corner where the side wall was—and drew ghosts on the stable door; and being sometimes driven off by Mr Towlinson, made portraits of him, in return, with his ears growing out horizontally from under his hat. Noise ceased to be, within the shadow of the roof. The brass band that came into the street once a week, in the morning, never brayed a note in at those windows; but all such company, down to a poor little piping organ of weak intellect, with an imbecile party of automaton dancers, waltzing in and out at folding-doors, fell off from it with one accord, and shunned it as a hopeless place.

The spell upon it was more wasting than the spell that used to set enchanted houses sleeping once upon a time, but left their waking freshness unimpaired.

The passive desolation of disuse was everywhere silently manifest about it. Within doors, curtains, drooping heavily, lost their old folds and shapes, and hung like cumbrous palls. Hecatombs of furniture, still piled and covered up, shrunk like imprisoned and forgotten men, and changed insensibly. Mirrors were dim as with the breath of years. Patterns of carpets faded and became perplexed and faint, like the memory of those years’ trifling incidents. Boards, starting at unwonted footsteps, creaked and shook. Keys rusted in the locks of doors. Damp started on the walls, and as the stains came out, the pictures seemed to go in and secrete themselves. Mildew and mould began to lurk in closets. Fungus trees grew in corners of the cellars. Dust accumulated, nobody knew whence nor how; spiders, moths, and grubs were heard of every day. An exploratory blackbeetle now and then was found immovable upon the stairs, or in an upper room, as wondering how he got there. Rats began to squeak and scuffle in the night time, through dark galleries they mined behind the panelling.

The dreary magnificence of the state rooms, seen imperfectly by the doubtful light admitted through closed shutters, would have answered well enough for an enchanted abode. Such as the tarnished paws of gilded lions, stealthily put out from beneath their wrappers; the marble lineaments of busts on pedestals, fearfully revealing themselves through veils; the clocks that never told the time, or, if wound up by any chance, told it wrong, and struck unearthly numbers, which are not upon the dial; the accidental tinklings among the pendant lustres, more startling than alarm-bells; the softened sounds and laggard air that made their way among these objects, and a phantom crowd of others, shrouded and hooded, and made spectral of shape. But, besides, there was the great staircase, where the lord of the place so rarely set his foot, and by which his little child had gone up to Heaven. There were other staircases and passages where no one went for weeks together; there were two closed rooms associated with dead members of the family, and with whispered recollections of them; and to all the house but Florence, there was a gentle figure moving through the solitude and gloom, that gave to every lifeless thing a touch of present human interest and wonder.

For Florence lived alone in the deserted house, and day succeeded day, and still she lived alone, and the cold walls looked down upon her with a vacant stare, as if they had a Gorgon-like mind to stare her youth and beauty into stone.

The grass began to grow upon the roof, and in the crevices of the basement paving. A scaly crumbling vegetation sprouted round the window-sills. Fragments of mortar lost their hold upon the insides of the unused chimneys, and came dropping down. The two trees with the smoky trunks were blighted high up, and the withered branches domineered above the leaves, Through the whole building white had turned yellow, yellow nearly black; and since the time when the poor lady died, it had slowly become a dark gap in the long monotonous street.

But Florence bloomed there, like the king’s fair daughter in the story. Her books, her music, and her daily teachers, were her only real companions, Susan Nipper and Diogenes excepted: of whom the former, in her attendance on the studies of her young mistress, began to grow quite learned herself, while the latter, softened possibly by the same influences, would lay his head upon the window-ledge, and placidly open and shut his eyes upon the street, all through a summer morning; sometimes pricking up his head to look with great significance after some noisy dog in a cart, who was barking his way along, and sometimes, with an exasperated and unaccountable recollection of his supposed enemy in the neighbourhood, rushing to the door, whence, after a deafening disturbance, he would come jogging back with a ridiculous complacency that belonged to him, and lay his jaw upon the window-ledge again, with the air of a dog who had done a public service.

So Florence lived in her wilderness of a home, within the circle of her innocent pursuits and thoughts, and nothing harmed her. She could go down to her father’s rooms now, and think of him, and suffer her loving heart humbly to approach him, without fear of repulse. She could look upon the objects that had surrounded him in his sorrow, and could nestle near his chair, and not dread the glance that she so well remembered. She could render him such little tokens of her duty and service, as putting everything in order for him with her own hands, binding little nosegays for table, changing them as one by one they withered and he did not come back, preparing something for him every day, and leaving some timid mark of her presence near his usual seat. Today, it was a little painted stand for his watch; tomorrow she would be afraid to leave it, and would substitute some other trifle of her making not so likely to attract his eye. Waking in the night, perhaps, she would tremble at the thought of his coming home and angrily rejecting it, and would hurry down with slippered feet and quickly beating heart, and bring it away. At another time, she would only lay her face upon his desk, and leave a kiss there, and a tear.

Still no one knew of this. Unless the household found it out when she was not there—and they all held Mr Dombey’s rooms in awe—it was as deep a secret in her breast as what had gone before it. Florence stole into those rooms at twilight, early in the morning, and at times when meals were served downstairs. And although they were in every nook the better and the brighter for her care, she entered and passed out as quietly as any sunbeam, opting that she left her light behind.

Shadowy company attended Florence up and down the echoing house, and sat with her in the dismantled rooms. As if her life were an enchanted vision, there arose out of her solitude ministering thoughts, that made it fanciful and unreal. She imagined so often what her life would have been if her father could have loved her and she had been a favourite child, that sometimes, for the moment, she almost believed it was so, and, borne on by the current of that pensive fiction, seemed to remember how they had watched her brother in his grave together; how they had freely shared his heart between them; how they were united in the dear remembrance of him; how they often spoke about him yet; and her kind father, looking at her gently, told her of their common hope and trust in God. At other times she pictured to herself her mother yet alive. And oh the happiness of falling on her neck, and clinging to her with the love and confidence of all her soul! And oh the desolation of the solitary house again, with evening coming on, and no one there!

But there was one thought, scarcely shaped out to herself, yet fervent and strong within her, that upheld Florence when she strove and filled her true young heart, so sorely tried, with constancy of purpose. Into her mind, as into all others contending with the great affliction of our mortal nature, there had stolen solemn wonderings and hopes, arising in the dim world beyond the present life, and murmuring, like faint music, of recognition in the far-off land between her brother and her mother: of some present consciousness in both of her: some love and commiseration for her: and some knowledge of her as she went her way upon the earth. It was a soothing consolation to Florence to give shelter to these thoughts, until one day—it was soon after she had last seen her father in his own room, late at night—the fancy came upon her, that, in weeping for his alienated heart, she might stir the spirits of the dead against him. Wild, weak, childish, as it may have been to think so, and to tremble at the half-formed thought, it was the impulse of her loving nature; and from that hour Florence strove against the cruel wound in her breast, and tried to think of him whose hand had made it, only with hope.

Her father did not know—she held to it from that time—how much she loved him. She was very young, and had no mother, and had never learned, by some fault or misfortune, how to express to him that she loved him. She would be patient, and would try to gain that art in time, and win him to a better knowledge of his only child.

This became the purpose of her life. The morning sun shone down upon the faded house, and found the resolution bright and fresh within the bosom of its solitary mistress, Through all the duties of the day, it animated her; for Florence hoped that the more she knew, and the more accomplished she became, the more glad he would be when he came to know and like her. Sometimes she wondered, with a swelling heart and rising tear, whether she was proficient enough in anything to surprise him when they should become companions. Sometimes she tried to think if there were any kind of knowledge that would bespeak his interest more readily than another. Always: at her books, her music, and her work: in her morning walks, and in her nightly prayers: she had her engrossing aim in view. Strange study for a child, to learn the road to a hard parent’s heart!

There were many careless loungers through the street, as the summer evening deepened into night, who glanced across the road at the sombre house, and saw the youthful figure at the window, such a contrast to it, looking upward at the stars as they began to shine, who would have slept the worse if they had known on what design she mused so steadfastly. The reputation of the mansion as a haunted house, would not have been the gayer with some humble dwellers elsewhere, who were struck by its external gloom in passing and repassing on their daily avocations, and so named it, if they could have read its story in the darkening face. But Florence held her sacred purpose, unsuspected and unaided: and studied only how to bring her father to the understanding that she loved him, and made no appeal against him in any wandering thought.

Thus Florence lived alone in the deserted house, and day succeeded day, and still she lived alone, and the monotonous walls looked down upon her with a stare, as if they had a Gorgon-like intent to stare her youth and beauty into stone.

Susan Nipper stood opposite to her young mistress one morning, as she folded and sealed a note she had been writing: and showed in her looks an approving knowledge of its contents.

“Better late than never, dear Miss Floy,” said Susan, “and I do say, that even a visit to them old Skettleses will be a Godsend.”

“It is very good of Sir Barnet and Lady Skettles, Susan,” returned Florence, with a mild correction of that young lady’s familiar mention of the family in question, “to repeat their invitation so kindly.”

Miss Nipper, who was perhaps the most thoroughgoing partisan on the face of the earth, and who carried her partisanship into all matters great or small, and perpetually waged war with it against society, screwed up her lips and shook her head, as a protest against any recognition of disinterestedness in the Skettleses, and a plea in bar that they would have valuable consideration for their kindness, in the company of Florence.

“They know what they’re about, if ever people did,” murmured Miss Nipper, drawing in her breath “oh! trust them Skettleses for that!”

“I am not very anxious to go to Fulham, Susan, I confess,” said Florence thoughtfully: “but it will be right to go. I think it will be better.”

“Much better,” interposed Susan, with another emphatic shake of her head.

“And so,” said Florence, “though I would prefer to have gone when there was no one there, instead of in this vacation time, when it seems there are some young people staying in the house, I have thankfully said yes.”

“For which I say, Miss Floy, Oh be joyful!” returned Susan, “Ah! h—h!”

This last ejaculation, with which Miss Nipper frequently wound up a sentence, at about that epoch of time, was supposed below the level of the hall to have a general reference to Mr Dombey, and to be expressive of a yearning in Miss Nipper to favour that gentleman with a piece of her mind. But she never explained it; and it had, in consequence, the charm of mystery, in addition to the advantage of the sharpest expression.

“How long it is before we have any news of Walter, Susan!” observed Florence, after a moment’s silence.

“Long indeed, Miss Floy!” replied her maid. “And Perch said, when he came just now to see for letters—but what signifies what he says!” exclaimed Susan, reddening and breaking off. “Much he knows about it!”

Florence raised her eyes quickly, and a flush overspread her face.

“If I hadn’t,” said Susan Nipper, evidently struggling with some latent anxiety and alarm, and looking full at her young mistress, while endeavouring to work herself into a state of resentment with the unoffending Mr Perch’s image, “if I hadn’t more manliness than that insipidest of his sex, I’d never take pride in my hair again, but turn it up behind my ears, and wear coarse caps, without a bit of border, until death released me from my insignificance. I may not be a Amazon, Miss Floy, and wouldn’t so demean myself by such disfigurement, but anyways I’m not a giver up, I hope.”

“Give up! What?” cried Florence, with a face of terror.

“Why, nothing, Miss,” said Susan. “Good gracious, nothing! It’s only that wet curl-paper of a man, Perch, that anyone might almost make away with, with a touch, and really it would be a blessed event for all parties if someone would take pity on him, and would have the goodness!”

“Does he give up the ship, Susan?” inquired Florence, very pale.

“No, Miss,” returned Susan, “I should like to see him make so bold as do it to my face! No, Miss, but he goes on about some bothering ginger that Mr Walter was to send to Mrs Perch, and shakes his dismal head, and says he hopes it may be coming; anyhow, he says, it can’t come now in time for the intended occasion, but may do for next, which really,” said Miss Nipper, with aggravated scorn, “puts me out of patience with the man, for though I can bear a great deal, I am not a camel, neither am I,” added Susan, after a moment’s consideration, “if I know myself, a dromedary neither.”

“What else does he say, Susan?” inquired Florence, earnestly. “Won’t you tell me?”

“As if I wouldn’t tell you anything, Miss Floy, and everything!” said Susan. “Why, nothing Miss, he says that there begins to be a general talk about the ship, and that they have never had a ship on that voyage half so long unheard of, and that the Captain’s wife was at the office yesterday, and seemed a little put out about it, but anyone could say that, we knew nearly that before.”

“I must visit Walter’s uncle,” said Florence, hurriedly, “before I leave home. I will go and see him this morning. Let us walk there, directly, Susan.”

Miss Nipper having nothing to urge against the proposal, but being perfectly acquiescent, they were soon equipped, and in the streets, and on their way towards the little Midshipman.

The state of mind in which poor Walter had gone to Captain Cuttle’s, on the day when Brogley the broker came into possession, and when there seemed to him to be an execution in the very steeples, was pretty much the same as that in which Florence now took her way to Uncle Sol’s; with this difference, that Florence suffered the added pain of thinking that she had been, perhaps, the innocent occasion of involving Walter in peril, and all to whom he was dear, herself included, in an agony of suspense. For the rest, uncertainty and danger seemed written upon everything. The weathercocks on spires and housetops were mysterious with hints of stormy wind, and pointed, like so many ghostly fingers, out to dangerous seas, where fragments of great wrecks were drifting, perhaps, and helpless men were rocked upon them into a sleep as deep as the unfathomable waters. When Florence came into the City, and passed gentlemen who were talking together, she dreaded to hear them speaking of the ship, and saying it was lost. Pictures and prints of vessels fighting with the rolling waves filled her with alarm. The smoke and clouds, though moving gently, moved too fast for her apprehensions, and made her fear there was a tempest blowing at that moment on the ocean.

Susan Nipper may or may not have been affected similarly, but having her attention much engaged in struggles with boys, whenever there was any press of people—for, between that grade of human kind and herself, there was some natural animosity that invariably broke out, whenever they came together—it would seem that she had not much leisure on the road for intellectual operations.

Arriving in good time abreast of the wooden Midshipman on the opposite side of the way, and waiting for an opportunity to cross the street, they were a little surprised at first to see, at the Instrument-maker’s door, a round-headed lad, with his chubby face addressed towards the sky, who, as they looked at him, suddenly thrust into his capacious mouth two fingers of each hand, and with the assistance of that machinery whistled, with astonishing shrillness, to some pigeons at a considerable elevation in the air.

“Mrs Richards’s eldest, Miss!” said Susan, “and the worrit of Mrs Richards’s life!”

As Polly had been to tell Florence of the resuscitated prospects of her son and heir, Florence was prepared for the meeting: so, a favourable moment presenting itself, they both hastened across, without any further contemplation of Mrs Richards’s bane. That sporting character, unconscious of their approach, again whistled with his utmost might, and then yelled in a rapture of excitement, “Strays! Whoo-oop! Strays!” which identification had such an effect upon the conscience-stricken pigeons, that instead of going direct to some town in the North of England, as appeared to have been their original intention, they began to wheel and falter; whereupon Mrs Richards’s first born pierced them with another whistle, and again yelled, in a voice that rose above the turmoil of the street, “Strays! Whoo-oop! Strays!”

From this transport, he was abruptly recalled to terrestrial objects, by a poke from Miss Nipper, which sent him into the shop.

“Is this the way you show your penitence, when Mrs Richards has been fretting for you months and months?” said Susan, following the poke. “Where’s Mr Gills?”

Rob, who smoothed his first rebellious glance at Miss Nipper when he saw Florence following, put his knuckles to his hair, in honour of the latter, and said to the former, that Mr Gills was out.”

“Fetch him home,” said Miss Nipper, with authority, “and say that my young lady’s here.”

“I don’t know where he’s gone,” said Rob.

“Is that your penitence?” cried Susan, with stinging sharpness.

“Why how can I go and fetch him when I don’t know where to go?” whimpered the baited Rob. “How can you be so unreasonable?”

“Did Mr Gills say when he should be home?” asked Florence.

“Yes, Miss,” replied Rob, with another application of his knuckles to his hair. “He said he should be home early in the afternoon; in about a couple of hours from now, Miss.”

“Is he very anxious about his nephew?” inquired Susan.

“Yes, Miss,” returned Rob, preferring to address himself to Florence and slighting Nipper; “I should say he was, very much so. He ain’t indoors, Miss, not a quarter of an hour together. He can’t settle in one place five minutes. He goes about, like a—just like a stray,” said Rob, stooping to get a glimpse of the pigeons through the window, and checking himself, with his fingers half-way to his mouth, on the verge of another whistle.

“Do you know a friend of Mr Gills, called Captain Cuttle?” inquired Florence, after a moment’s reflection.

“Him with a hook, Miss?” rejoined Rob, with an illustrative twist of his left hand. Yes, Miss. He was here the day before yesterday.”

“Has he not been here since?” asked Susan.

“No, Miss,” returned Rob, still addressing his reply to Florence.

“Perhaps Walter’s Uncle has gone there, Susan,” observed Florence, turning to her.

“To Captain Cuttle’s, Miss?” interposed Rob; “no, he’s not gone there, Miss. Because he left particular word that if Captain Cuttle called, I should tell him how surprised he was, not to have seen him yesterday, and should make him stop till he came back.”

“Do you know where Captain Cuttle lives?” asked Florence.

Rob replied in the affirmative, and turning to a greasy parchment book on the shop desk, read the address aloud.

Florence again turned to her maid and took counsel with her in a low voice, while Rob the round-eyed, mindful of his patron’s secret charge, looked on and listened. Florence proposed that they could go to Captain Cuttle’s house; hear from his own lips, what he thought of the absence of any tidings of the Son and Heir; and bring him, if they could, to comfort Uncle Sol. Susan at first objected slightly, on the score of distance; but a hackney-coach being mentioned by her mistress, withdrew that opposition, and gave in her assent. There were some minutes of discussion between them before they came to this conclusion, during which the staring Rob paid close attention to both speakers, and inclined his ear to each by turns, as if he were appointed arbitrator of the argument.

In time, Rob was despatched for a coach, the visitors keeping shop meanwhile; and when he brought it, they got into it, leaving word for Uncle Sol that they would be sure to call again, on their way back. Rob having stared after the coach until it was as invisible as the pigeons had now become, sat down behind the desk with a most assiduous demeanour; and in order that he might forget nothing of what had transpired, made notes of it on various small scraps of paper, with a vast expenditure of ink. There was no danger of these documents betraying anything, if accidentally lost; for long before a word was dry, it became as profound a mystery to Rob, as if he had had no part whatever in its production.

While he was yet busy with these labours, the hackney-coach, after encountering unheard-of difficulties from swivel-bridges, soft roads, impassable canals, caravans of casks, settlements of scarlet-beans and little wash-houses, and many such obstacles abounding in that country, stopped at the corner of Brig Place. Alighting here, Florence and Susan Nipper walked down the street, and sought out the abode of Captain Cuttle.

It happened by evil chance to be one of Mrs MacStinger’s great cleaning days. On these occasions, Mrs MacStinger was knocked up by the policeman at a quarter before three in the morning, and rarely succumbed before twelve o’clock next night. The chief object of this institution appeared to be, that Mrs MacStinger should move all the furniture into the back garden at early dawn, walk about the house in pattens all day, and move the furniture back again after dark. These ceremonies greatly fluttered those doves the young MacStingers, who were not only unable at such times to find any resting-place for the soles of their feet, but generally came in for a good deal of pecking from the maternal bird during the progress of the solemnities.

At the moment when Florence and Susan Nipper presented themselves at Mrs MacStinger’s door, that worthy but redoubtable female was in the act of conveying Alexander MacStinger, aged two years and three months, along the passage, for forcible deposition in a sitting posture on the street pavement: Alexander being black in the face with holding his breath after punishment, and a cool paving-stone being usually found to act as a powerful restorative in such cases.

The feelings of Mrs MacStinger, as a woman and a mother, were outraged by the look of pity for Alexander which she observed on Florence’s face. Therefore, Mrs MacStinger asserting those finest emotions of our nature, in preference to weakly gratifying her curiosity, shook and buffeted Alexander both before and during the application of the paving-stone, and took no further notice of the strangers.

“I beg your pardon, Ma’am,” said Florence, when the child had found his breath again, and was using it. “Is this Captain Cuttle’s house?”

“No,” said Mrs MacStinger.

“Not Number Nine?” asked Florence, hesitating.

“Who said it wasn’t Number Nine?” said Mrs MacStinger.

Susan Nipper instantly struck in, and begged to inquire what Mrs MacStinger meant by that, and if she knew whom she was talking to.

Mrs MacStinger in retort, looked at her all over. “What do you want with Captain Cuttle, I should wish to know?” said Mrs MacStinger.

“Should you? Then I’m sorry that you won’t be satisfied,” returned Miss Nipper.

“Hush, Susan! If you please!” said Florence. “Perhaps you can have the goodness to tell us where Captain Cuttle lives, Ma’am as he don’t live here.”

“Who says he don’t live here?” retorted the implacable MacStinger. “I said it wasn’t Cap’en Cuttle’s house—and it ain’t his house—and forbid it, that it ever should be his house—for Cap’en Cuttle don’t know how to keep a house—and don’t deserve to have a house—it’s my house—and when I let the upper floor to Cap’en Cuttle, oh I do a thankless thing, and cast pearls before swine!”

Mrs MacStinger pitched her voice for the upper windows in offering these remarks, and cracked off each clause sharply by itself as if from a rifle possessing an infinity of barrels. After the last shot, the Captain’s voice was heard to say, in feeble remonstrance from his own room, “Steady below!”

“Since you want Cap’en Cuttle, there he is!” said Mrs MacStinger, with an angry motion of her hand. On Florence making bold to enter, without any more parley, and on Susan following, Mrs MacStinger recommenced her pedestrian exercise in pattens, and Alexander MacStinger (still on the paving-stone), who had stopped in his crying to attend to the conversation, began to wail again, entertaining himself during that dismal performance, which was quite mechanical, with a general survey of the prospect, terminating in the hackney-coach.

The Captain in his own apartment was sitting with his hands in his pockets and his legs drawn up under his chair, on a very small desolate island, lying about midway in an ocean of soap and water. The Captain’s windows had been cleaned, the walls had been cleaned, the stove had been cleaned, and everything the stove excepted, was wet, and shining with soft soap and sand: the smell of which dry-saltery impregnated the air. In the midst of the dreary scene, the Captain, cast away upon his island, looked round on the waste of waters with a rueful countenance, and seemed waiting for some friendly bark to come that way, and take him off.

But when the Captain, directing his forlorn visage towards the door, saw Florence appear with her maid, no words can describe his astonishment. Mrs MacStinger’s eloquence having rendered all other sounds but imperfectly distinguishable, he had looked for no rarer visitor than the potboy or the milkman; wherefore, when Florence appeared, and coming to the confines of the island, put her hand in his, the Captain stood up, aghast, as if he supposed her, for the moment, to be some young member of the Flying Dutchman’s family.

Instantly recovering his self-possession, however, the Captain’s first care was to place her on dry land, which he happily accomplished, with one motion of his arm. Issuing forth, then, upon the main, Captain Cuttle took Miss Nipper round the waist, and bore her to the island also. Captain Cuttle, then, with great respect and admiration, raised the hand of Florence to his lips, and standing off a little (for the island was not large enough for three), beamed on her from the soap and water like a new description of Triton.

“You are amazed to see us, I am sure,” said Florence, with a smile.

The inexpressibly gratified Captain kissed his hook in reply, and growled, as if a choice and delicate compliment were included in the words, “Stand by! Stand by!”

“But I couldn’t rest,” said Florence, “without coming to ask you what you think about dear Walter—who is my brother now—and whether there is anything to fear, and whether you will not go and console his poor Uncle every day, until we have some intelligence of him?”

At these words Captain Cuttle, as by an involuntary gesture, clapped his hand to his head, on which the hard glazed hat was not, and looked discomfited.

“Have you any fears for Walter’s safety?” inquired Florence, from whose face the Captain (so enraptured he was with it) could not take his eyes: while she, in her turn, looked earnestly at him, to be assured of the sincerity of his reply.

“No, Heart’s-delight,” said Captain Cuttle, “I am not afeard. Wal”r is a lad as’ll go through a deal o’ hard weather. Wal”r is a lad as’ll bring as much success to that “ere brig as a lad is capable on. Wal”r,” said the Captain, his eyes glistening with the praise of his young friend, and his hook raised to announce a beautiful quotation, “is what you may call a out’ard and visible sign of an in’ard and spirited grasp, and when found make a note of.”

Florence, who did not quite understand this, though the Captain evidently thought it full of meaning, and highly satisfactory, mildly looked to him for something more.

“I am not afeard, my Heart’s-delight,” resumed the Captain, “There’s been most uncommon bad weather in them latitudes, there’s no denyin’, and they have drove and drove and been beat off, may be t’other side the world. But the ship’s a good ship, and the lad’s a good lad; and it ain’t easy, thank the Lord,” the Captain made a little bow, “to break up hearts of oak, whether they’re in brigs or buzzums. Here we have ’em both ways, which is bringing it up with a round turn, and so I ain’t a bit afeard as yet.”

“As yet?” repeated Florence.

“Not a bit,” returned the Captain, kissing his iron hand; “and afore I begin to be, my Hearts-delight, Wal”r will have wrote home from the island, or from some port or another, and made all taut and ship-shape.” And with regard to old Sol Gills, here the Captain became solemn, “who I’ll stand by, and not desert until death do us part, and when the stormy winds do blow, do blow, do blow—overhaul the Catechism,” said the Captain parenthetically, “and there you’ll find them expressions—if it would console Sol Gills to have the opinion of a seafaring man as has got a mind equal to any undertaking that he puts it alongside of, and as was all but smashed in his “prenticeship, and of which the name is Bunsby, that “ere man shall give him such an opinion in his own parlour as’ll stun him. Ah!” said Captain Cuttle, vauntingly, “as much as if he’d gone and knocked his head again a door!”

“Let us take this gentleman to see him, and let us hear what he says,” cried Florence. “Will you go with us now? We have a coach here.”

Again the Captain clapped his hand to his head, on which the hard glazed hat was not, and looked discomfited. But at this instant a most remarkable phenomenon occurred. The door opening, without any note of preparation, and apparently of itself, the hard glazed hat in question skimmed into the room like a bird, and alighted heavily at the Captain’s feet. The door then shut as violently as it had opened, and nothing ensued in explanation of the prodigy.

Captain Cuttle picked up his hat, and having turned it over with a look of interest and welcome, began to polish it on his sleeve. While doing so, the Captain eyed his visitors intently, and said in a low voice,

“You see I should have bore down on Sol Gills yesterday, and this morning, but she—she took it away and kept it. That’s the long and short of the subject.”

“Who did, for goodness sake?” asked Susan Nipper.

“The lady of the house, my dear,” returned the Captain, in a gruff whisper, and making signals of secrecy. “We had some words about the swabbing of these here planks, and she—In short,” said the Captain, eyeing the door, and relieving himself with a long breath, “she stopped my liberty.”

“Oh! I wish she had me to deal with!” said Susan, reddening with the energy of the wish. “I’d stop her!”

“Would you, do you, my dear?” rejoined the Captain, shaking his head doubtfully, but regarding the desperate courage of the fair aspirant with obvious admiration. “I don’t know. It’s difficult navigation. She’s very hard to carry on with, my dear. You never can tell how she’ll head, you see. She’s full one minute, and round upon you next. And when she in a tartar,” said the Captain, with the perspiration breaking out upon his forehead. There was nothing but a whistle emphatic enough for the conclusion of the sentence, so the Captain whistled tremulously. After which he again shook his head, and recurring to his admiration of Miss Nipper’s devoted bravery, timidly repeated, “Would you, do you think, my dear?”

Susan only replied with a bridling smile, but that was so very full of defiance, that there is no knowing how long Captain Cuttle might have stood entranced in its contemplation, if Florence in her anxiety had not again proposed their immediately resorting to the oracular Bunsby. Thus reminded of his duty, Captain Cuttle put on the glazed hat firmly, took up another knobby stick, with which he had supplied the place of that one given to Walter, and offering his arm to Florence, prepared to cut his way through the enemy.

It turned out, however, that Mrs MacStinger had already changed her course, and that she headed, as the Captain had remarked she often did, in quite a new direction. For when they got downstairs, they found that exemplary woman beating the mats on the doorsteps, with Alexander, still upon the paving-stone, dimly looming through a fog of dust; and so absorbed was Mrs MacStinger in her household occupation, that when Captain Cuttle and his visitors passed, she beat the harder, and neither by word nor gesture showed any consciousness of their vicinity. The Captain was so well pleased with this easy escape—although the effect of the door-mats on him was like a copious administration of snuff, and made him sneeze until the tears ran down his face—that he could hardly believe his good fortune; but more than once, between the door and the hackney-coach, looked over his shoulder, with an obvious apprehension of Mrs MacStinger’s giving chase yet.

However, they got to the corner of Brig Place without any molestation from that terrible fire-ship; and the Captain mounting the coach-box—for his gallantry would not allow him to ride inside with the ladies, though besought to do so—piloted the driver on his course for Captain Bunsby’s vessel, which was called the Cautious Clara, and was lying hard by Ratcliffe.

Arrived at the wharf off which this great commander’s ship was jammed in among some five hundred companions, whose tangled rigging looked like monstrous cobwebs half swept down, Captain Cuttle appeared at the coach-window, and invited Florence and Miss Nipper to accompany him on board; observing that Bunsby was to the last degree soft-hearted in respect of ladies, and that nothing would so much tend to bring his expansive intellect into a state of harmony as their presentation to the Cautious Clara.

Florence readily consented; and the Captain, taking her little hand in his prodigious palm, led her, with a mixed expression of patronage, paternity, pride, and ceremony, that was pleasant to see, over several very dirty decks, until, coming to the Clara, they found that cautious craft (which lay outside the tier) with her gangway removed, and half-a-dozen feet of river interposed between herself and her nearest neighbour. It appeared, from Captain Cuttle’s explanation, that the great Bunsby, like himself, was cruelly treated by his landlady, and that when her usage of him for the time being was so hard that he could bear it no longer, he set this gulf between them as a last resource.

“Clara a-hoy!” cried the Captain, putting a hand to each side of his mouth.

“A-hoy!” cried a boy, like the Captain’s echo, tumbling up from below.

“Bunsby aboard?” cried the Captain, hailing the boy in a stentorian voice, as if he were half-a-mile off instead of two yards.

“Ay, ay!” cried the boy, in the same tone.

The boy then shoved out a plank to Captain Cuttle, who adjusted it carefully, and led Florence across: returning presently for Miss Nipper. So they stood upon the deck of the Cautious Clara, in whose standing rigging, divers fluttering articles of dress were curing, in company with a few tongues and some mackerel.

Immediately there appeared, coming slowly up above the bulk-head of the cabin, another bulk-head—human, and very large—with one stationary eye in the mahogany face, and one revolving one, on the principle of some lighthouses. This head was decorated with shaggy hair, like oakum, which had no governing inclination towards the north, east, west, or south, but inclined to all four quarters of the compass, and to every point upon it. The head was followed by a perfect desert of chin, and by a shirt-collar and neckerchief, and by a dreadnought pilot-coat, and by a pair of dreadnought pilot-trousers, whereof the waistband was so very broad and high, that it became a succedaneum for a waistcoat: being ornamented near the wearer’s breastbone with some massive wooden buttons, like backgammon men. As the lower portions of these pantaloons became revealed, Bunsby stood confessed; his hands in their pockets, which were of vast size; and his gaze directed, not to Captain Cuttle or the ladies, but the mast-head.

The profound appearance of this philosopher, who was bulky and strong, and on whose extremely red face an expression of taciturnity sat enthroned, not inconsistent with his character, in which that quality was proudly conspicuous, almost daunted Captain Cuttle, though on familiar terms with him. Whispering to Florence that Bunsby had never in his life expressed surprise, and was considered not to know what it meant, the Captain watched him as he eyed his mast-head, and afterwards swept the horizon; and when the revolving eye seemed to be coming round in his direction, said:

“Bunsby, my lad, how fares it?”

A deep, gruff, husky utterance, which seemed to have no connexion with Bunsby, and certainly had not the least effect upon his face, replied, “Ay, ay, shipmet, how goes it?” At the same time Bunsby’s right hand and arm, emerging from a pocket, shook the Captain’s, and went back again.

“Bunsby,” said the Captain, striking home at once, “here you are; a man of mind, and a man as can give an opinion. Here’s a young lady as wants to take that opinion, in regard of my friend Wal”r; likewise my t’other friend, Sol Gills, which is a character for you to come within hail of, being a man of science, which is the mother of invention, and knows no law. Bunsby, will you wear, to oblige me, and come along with us?”

The great commander, who seemed by expression of his visage to be always on the look-out for something in the extremest distance, and to have no ocular knowledge of anything within ten miles, made no reply whatever.

“Here is a man,” said the Captain, addressing himself to his fair auditors, and indicating the commander with his outstretched hook, “that has fell down, more than any man alive; that has had more accidents happen to his own self than the Seamen’s Hospital to all hands; that took as many spars and bars and bolts about the outside of his head when he was young, as you’d want a order for on Chatham-yard to build a pleasure yacht with; and yet that his opinions in that way, it’s my belief, for there ain’t nothing like ’em afloat or ashore.”

The stolid commander appeared by a very slight vibration in his elbows, to express some satisfaction in this encomium; but if his face had been as distant as his gaze was, it could hardly have enlightened the beholders less in reference to anything that was passing in his thoughts.

“Shipmet,” said Bunsby, all of a sudden, and stooping down to look out under some interposing spar, “what’ll the ladies drink?”

Captain Cuttle, whose delicacy was shocked by such an inquiry in connection with Florence, drew the sage aside, and seeming to explain in his ear, accompanied him below; where, that he might not take offence, the Captain drank a dram himself, which Florence and Susan, glancing down the open skylight, saw the sage, with difficulty finding room for himself between his berth and a very little brass fireplace, serve out for self and friend. They soon reappeared on deck, and Captain Cuttle, triumphing in the success of his enterprise, conducted Florence back to the coach, while Bunsby followed, escorting Miss Nipper, whom he hugged upon the way (much to that young lady’s indignation) with his pilot-coated arm, like a blue bear.

The Captain put his oracle inside, and gloried so much in having secured him, and having got that mind into a hackney-coach, that he could not refrain from often peeping in at Florence through the little window behind the driver, and testifying his delight in smiles, and also in taps upon his forehead, to hint to her that the brain of Bunsby was hard at it. In the meantime, Bunsby, still hugging Miss Nipper (for his friend, the Captain, had not exaggerated the softness of his heart), uniformly preserved his gravity of deportment, and showed no other consciousness of her or anything.

Uncle Sol, who had come home, received them at the door, and ushered them immediately into the little back parlour: strangely altered by the absence of Walter. On the table, and about the room, were the charts and maps on which the heavy-hearted Instrument-maker had again and again tracked the missing vessel across the sea, and on which, with a pair of compasses that he still had in his hand, he had been measuring, a minute before, how far she must have driven, to have driven here or there: and trying to demonstrate that a long time must elapse before hope was exhausted.

“Whether she can have run,” said Uncle Sol, looking wistfully over the chart; “but no, that’s almost impossible or whether she can have been forced by stress of weather,—but that’s not reasonably likely. Or whether there is any hope she so far changed her course as—but even I can hardly hope that!” With such broken suggestions, poor old Uncle Sol roamed over the great sheet before him, and could not find a speck of hopeful probability in it large enough to set one small point of the compasses upon.

Florence saw immediately—it would have been difficult to help seeing—that there was a singular, indescribable change in the old man, and that while his manner was far more restless and unsettled than usual, there was yet a curious, contradictory decision in it, that perplexed her very much. She fancied once that he spoke wildly, and at random; for on her saying she regretted not to have seen him when she had been there before that morning, he at first replied that he had been to see her, and directly afterwards seemed to wish to recall that answer.

“You have been to see me?” said Florence. “Today?”

“Yes, my dear young lady,” returned Uncle Sol, looking at her and away from her in a confused manner. “I wished to see you with my own eyes, and to hear you with my own ears, once more before—” There he stopped.

“Before when? Before what?” said Florence, putting her hand upon his arm.

“Did I say ‘before?’” replied old Sol. “If I did, I must have meant before we should have news of my dear boy.”

“You are not well,” said Florence, tenderly. “You have been so very anxious I am sure you are not well.”

“I am as well,” returned the old man, shutting up his right hand, and holding it out to show her: “as well and firm as any man at my time of life can hope to be. See! It’s steady. Is its master not as capable of resolution and fortitude as many a younger man? I think so. We shall see.”

There was that in his manner more than in his words, though they remained with her too, which impressed Florence so much, that she would have confided her uneasiness to Captain Cuttle at that moment, if the Captain had not seized that moment for expounding the state of circumstance, on which the opinion of the sagacious Bunsby was requested, and entreating that profound authority to deliver the same.

Bunsby, whose eye continued to be addressed to somewhere about the half-way house between London and Gravesend, two or three times put out his rough right arm, as seeking to wind it for inspiration round the fair form of Miss Nipper; but that young female having withdrawn herself, in displeasure, to the opposite side of the table, the soft heart of the Commander of the Cautious Clara met with no response to its impulses. After sundry failures in this wise, the Commander, addressing himself to nobody, thus spake; or rather the voice within him said of its own accord, and quite independent of himself, as if he were possessed by a gruff spirit:

“My name’s Jack Bunsby!”

“He was christened John,” cried the delighted Captain Cuttle. “Hear him!”

“And what I says,” pursued the voice, after some deliberation, “I stands to.”

The Captain, with Florence on his arm, nodded at the auditory, and seemed to say, “Now he’s coming out. This is what I meant when I brought him.”

“Whereby,” proceeded the voice, “why not? If so, what odds? Can any man say otherwise? No. Awast then!”

When it had pursued its train of argument to this point, the voice stopped, and rested. It then proceeded very slowly, thus:

“Do I believe that this here Son and Heir’s gone down, my lads? Mayhap. Do I say so? Which? If a skipper stands out by Sen’ George’s Channel, making for the Downs, what’s right ahead of him? The Goodwins. He isn’t forced to run upon the Goodwins, but he may. The bearings of this observation lays in the application on it. That ain’t no part of my duty. Awast then, keep a bright look-out for’ard, and good luck to you!”

The voice here went out of the back parlour and into the street, taking the Commander of the Cautious Clara with it, and accompanying him on board again with all convenient expedition, where he immediately turned in, and refreshed his mind with a nap.

The students of the sage’s precepts, left to their own application of his wisdom—upon a principle which was the main leg of the Bunsby tripod, as it is perchance of some other oracular stools—looked upon one another in a little uncertainty; while Rob the Grinder, who had taken the innocent freedom of peering in, and listening, through the skylight in the roof, came softly down from the leads, in a state of very dense confusion. Captain Cuttle, however, whose admiration of Bunsby was, if possible, enhanced by the splendid manner in which he had justified his reputation and come through this solemn reference, proceeded to explain that Bunsby meant nothing but confidence; that Bunsby had no misgivings; and that such an opinion as that man had given, coming from such a mind as his, was Hope’s own anchor, with good roads to cast it in. Florence endeavoured to believe that the Captain was right; but the Nipper, with her arms tight folded, shook her head in resolute denial, and had no more trust in Bunsby than in Mr Perch himself.

The philosopher seemed to have left Uncle Sol pretty much where he had found him, for he still went roaming about the watery world, compasses in hand, and discovering no rest for them. It was in pursuance of a whisper in his ear from Florence, while the old man was absorbed in this pursuit, that Captain Cuttle laid his heavy hand upon his shoulder.

“What cheer, Sol Gills?” cried the Captain, heartily.

“But so-so, Ned,” returned the Instrument-maker. “I have been remembering, all this afternoon, that on the very day when my boy entered Dombey’s House, and came home late to dinner, sitting just there where you stand, we talked of storm and shipwreck, and I could hardly turn him from the subject.”

But meeting the eyes of Florence, which were fixed with earnest scrutiny upon his face, the old man stopped and smiled.

“Stand by, old friend!” cried the Captain. “Look alive! I tell you what, Sol Gills; arter I’ve convoyed Heart’s-delight safe home,” here the Captain kissed his hook to Florence, “I’ll come back and take you in tow for the rest of this blessed day. You’ll come and eat your dinner along with me, Sol, somewheres or another.”

“Not today, Ned!” said the old man quickly, and appearing to be unaccountably startled by the proposition. “Not today. I couldn’t do it!”

“Why not?” returned the Captain, gazing at him in astonishment.

“I—I have so much to do. I—I mean to think of, and arrange. I couldn’t do it, Ned, indeed. I must go out again, and be alone, and turn my mind to many things today.”

The Captain looked at the Instrument-maker, and looked at Florence, and again at the Instrument-maker. “To-morrow, then,” he suggested, at last.

“Yes, yes. To-morrow,” said the old man. “Think of me to-morrow. Say to-morrow.”

“I shall come here early, mind, Sol Gills,” stipulated the Captain.

“Yes, yes. The first thing tomorrow morning,” said old Sol; “and now good-bye, Ned Cuttle, and God bless you!”

Squeezing both the Captain’s hands, with uncommon fervour, as he said it, the old man turned to Florence, folded hers in his own, and put them to his lips; then hurried her out to the coach with very singular precipitation. Altogether, he made such an effect on Captain Cuttle that the Captain lingered behind, and instructed Rob to be particularly gentle and attentive to his master until the morning: which injunction he strengthened with the payment of one shilling down, and the promise of another sixpence before noon next day. This kind office performed, Captain Cuttle, who considered himself the natural and lawful body-guard of Florence, mounted the box with a mighty sense of his trust, and escorted her home. At parting, he assured her that he would stand by Sol Gills, close and true; and once again inquired of Susan Nipper, unable to forget her gallant words in reference to Mrs MacStinger, “Would you, do you think my dear, though?”

When the desolate house had closed upon the two, the Captain’s thoughts reverted to the old Instrument-maker, and he felt uncomfortable. Therefore, instead of going home, he walked up and down the street several times, and, eking out his leisure until evening, dined late at a certain angular little tavern in the City, with a public parlour like a wedge, to which glazed hats much resorted. The Captain’s principal intention was to pass Sol Gills’s, after dark, and look in through the window: which he did, The parlour door stood open, and he could see his old friend writing busily and steadily at the table within, while the little Midshipman, already sheltered from the night dews, watched him from the counter; under which Rob the Grinder made his own bed, preparatory to shutting the shop. Reassured by the tranquillity that reigned within the precincts of the wooden mariner, the Captain headed for Brig Place, resolving to weigh anchor betimes in the morning.

CHAPTER XXIV. 
The Study of a Loving Heart

Sir Barnet and Lady Skettles, very good people, resided in a pretty villa at Fulham, on the banks of the Thames; which was one of the most desirable residences in the world when a rowing-match happened to be going past, but had its little inconveniences at other times, among which may be enumerated the occasional appearance of the river in the drawing-room, and the contemporaneous disappearance of the lawn and shrubbery.

Sir Barnet Skettles expressed his personal consequence chiefly through an antique gold snuffbox, and a ponderous silk pocket-kerchief, which he had an imposing manner of drawing out of his pocket like a banner and using with both hands at once. Sir Barnet’s object in life was constantly to extend the range of his acquaintance. Like a heavy body dropped into water—not to disparage so worthy a gentleman by the comparison—it was in the nature of things that Sir Barnet must spread an ever widening circle about him, until there was no room left. Or, like a sound in air, the vibration of which, according to the speculation of an ingenious modern philosopher, may go on travelling for ever through the interminable fields of space, nothing but coming to the end of his moral tether could stop Sir Barnet Skettles in his voyage of discovery through the social system.

Sir Barnet was proud of making people acquainted with people. He liked the thing for its own sake, and it advanced his favourite object too. For example, if Sir Barnet had the good fortune to get hold of a law recruit, or a country gentleman, and ensnared him to his hospitable villa, Sir Barnet would say to him, on the morning after his arrival, “Now, my dear Sir, is there anybody you would like to know? Who is there you would wish to meet? Do you take any interest in writing people, or in painting or sculpturing people, or in acting people, or in anything of that sort?” Possibly the patient answered yes, and mentioned somebody, of whom Sir Barnet had no more personal knowledge than of Ptolemy the Great. Sir Barnet replied, that nothing on earth was easier, as he knew him very well: immediately called on the aforesaid somebody, left his card, wrote a short note,—“My dear Sir—penalty of your eminent position—friend at my house naturally desirous—Lady Skettles and myself participate—trust that genius being superior to ceremonies, you will do us the distinguished favour of giving us the pleasure,” etc, etc.—and so killed a brace of birds with one stone, dead as door-nails.

With the snuff-box and banner in full force, Sir Barnet Skettles propounded his usual inquiry to Florence on the first morning of her visit. When Florence thanked him, and said there was no one in particular whom she desired to see, it was natural she should think with a pang, of poor lost Walter. When Sir Barnet Skettles, urging his kind offer, said, “My dear Miss Dombey, are you sure you can remember no one whom your good Papa—to whom I beg you present the best compliments of myself and Lady Skettles when you write—might wish you to know?” it was natural, perhaps, that her poor head should droop a little, and that her voice should tremble as it softly answered in the negative.

Skettles Junior, much stiffened as to his cravat, and sobered down as to his spirits, was at home for the holidays, and appeared to feel himself aggrieved by the solicitude of his excellent mother that he should be attentive to Florence. Another and a deeper injury under which the soul of young Barnet chafed, was the company of Dr and Mrs Blimber, who had been invited on a visit to the paternal roof-tree, and of whom the young gentleman often said he would have preferred their passing the vacation at Jericho.

“Is there anybody you can suggest now, Doctor Blimber?” said Sir Barnet Skettles, turning to that gentleman.

“You are very kind, Sir Barnet,” returned Doctor Blimber. “Really I am not aware that there is, in particular. I like to know my fellow-men in general, Sir Barnet. What does Terence say? Anyone who is the parent of a son is interesting to me.”

“Has Mrs Blimber any wish to see any remarkable person?” asked Sir Barnet, courteously.

Mrs Blimber replied, with a sweet smile and a shake of her sky-blue cap, that if Sir Barnet could have made her known to Cicero, she would have troubled him; but such an introduction not being feasible, and she already enjoying the friendship of himself and his amiable lady, and possessing with the Doctor her husband their joint confidence in regard to their dear son—here young Barnet was observed to curl his nose—she asked no more.

Sir Barnet was fain, under these circumstances, to content himself for the time with the company assembled. Florence was glad of that; for she had a study to pursue among them, and it lay too near her heart, and was too precious and momentous, to yield to any other interest.

There were some children staying in the house. Children who were as frank and happy with fathers and with mothers as those rosy faces opposite home. Children who had no restraint upon their love, and freely showed it. Florence sought to learn their secret; sought to find out what it was she had missed; what simple art they knew, and she knew not; how she could be taught by them to show her father that she loved him, and to win his love again.

Many a day did Florence thoughtfully observe these children. On many a bright morning did she leave her bed when the glorious sun rose, and walking up and down upon the river’s bank, before anyone in the house was stirring, look up at the windows of their rooms, and think of them, asleep, so gently tended and affectionately thought of. Florence would feel more lonely then, than in the great house all alone; and would think sometimes that she was better there than here, and that there was greater peace in hiding herself than in mingling with others of her age, and finding how unlike them all she was. But attentive to her study, though it touched her to the quick at every little leaf she turned in the hard book, Florence remained among them, and tried, with patient hope, to gain the knowledge that she wearied for.

Ah! how to gain it! how to know the charm in its beginning! There were daughters here, who rose up in the morning, and lay down to rest at night, possessed of fathers’ hearts already. They had no repulse to overcome, no coldness to dread, no frown to smooth away. As the morning advanced, and the windows opened one by one, and the dew began to dry upon the flowers and youthful feet began to move upon the lawn, Florence, glancing round at the bright faces, thought what was there she could learn from these children? It was too late to learn from them; each could approach her father fearlessly, and put up her lips to meet the ready kiss, and wind her arm about the neck that bent down to caress her. She could not begin by being so bold. Oh! could it be that there was less and less hope as she studied more and more!

She remembered well, that even the old woman who had robbed her when a little child—whose image and whose house, and all she had said and done, were stamped upon her recollection, with the enduring sharpness of a fearful impression made at that early period of life—had spoken fondly of her daughter, and how terribly even she had cried out in the pain of hopeless separation from her child. But her own mother, she would think again, when she recalled this, had loved her well. Then, sometimes, when her thoughts reverted swiftly to the void between herself and her father, Florence would tremble, and the tears would start upon her face, as she pictured to herself her mother living on, and coming also to dislike her, because of her wanting the unknown grace that should conciliate that father naturally, and had never done so from her cradle. She knew that this imagination did wrong to her mother’s memory, and had no truth in it, or base to rest upon; and yet she tried so hard to justify him, and to find the whole blame in herself, that she could not resist its passing, like a wild cloud, through the distance of her mind.

There came among the other visitors, soon after Florence, one beautiful girl, three or four years younger than she, who was an orphan child, and who was accompanied by her aunt, a grey-haired lady, who spoke much to Florence, and who greatly liked (but that they all did) to hear her sing of an evening, and would always sit near her at that time, with motherly interest. They had only been two days in the house, when Florence, being in an arbour in the garden one warm morning, musingly observant of a youthful group upon the turf, through some intervening boughs,—and wreathing flowers for the head of one little creature among them who was the pet and plaything of the rest, heard this same lady and her niece, in pacing up and down a sheltered nook close by, speak of herself.

“Is Florence an orphan like me, aunt?” said the child.

“No, my love. She has no mother, but her father is living.”

“Is she in mourning for her poor Mama, now?” inquired the child quickly.

“No; for her only brother.”

“Has she no other brother?”

“None.”

“No sister?”

“None,”

“I am very, very sorry!” said the little girl

As they stopped soon afterwards to watch some boats, and had been silent in the meantime, Florence, who had risen when she heard her name, and had gathered up her flowers to go and meet them, that they might know of her being within hearing, resumed her seat and work, expecting to hear no more; but the conversation recommenced next moment.

“Florence is a favourite with everyone here, and deserves to be, I am sure,” said the child, earnestly. “Where is her Papa?”

The aunt replied, after a moment’s pause, that she did not know. Her tone of voice arrested Florence, who had started from her seat again; and held her fastened to the spot, with her work hastily caught up to her bosom, and her two hands saving it from being scattered on the ground.

“He is in England, I hope, aunt?” said the child.

“I believe so. Yes; I know he is, indeed.”

“Has he ever been here?”

“I believe not. No.”

“Is he coming here to see her?”

“I believe not.”

“Is he lame, or blind, or ill, aunt?” asked the child.

The flowers that Florence held to her breast began to fall when she heard those words, so wonderingly spoke. She held them closer; and her face hung down upon them.

“Kate,” said the lady, after another moment of silence, “I will tell you the whole truth about Florence as I have heard it, and believe it to be. Tell no one else, my dear, because it may be little known here, and your doing so would give her pain.”

“I never will!” exclaimed the child.

“I know you never will,” returned the lady. “I can trust you as myself. I fear then, Kate, that Florence’s father cares little for her, very seldom sees her, never was kind to her in her life, and now quite shuns her and avoids her. She would love him dearly if he would suffer her, but he will not—though for no fault of hers; and she is greatly to be loved and pitied by all gentle hearts.”

More of the flowers that Florence held fell scattering on the ground; those that remained were wet, but not with dew; and her face dropped upon her laden hands.

“Poor Florence! Dear, good Florence!” cried the child.

“Do you know why I have told you this, Kate?” said the lady.

“That I may be very kind to her, and take great care to try to please her. Is that the reason, aunt?”

“Partly,” said the lady, “but not all. Though we see her so cheerful; with a pleasant smile for everyone; ready to oblige us all, and bearing her part in every amusement here: she can hardly be quite happy, do you think she can, Kate?”

“I am afraid not,” said the little girl.

“And you can understand,” pursued the lady, “why her observation of children who have parents who are fond of them, and proud of them—like many here, just now—should make her sorrowful in secret?”

“Yes, dear aunt,” said the child, “I understand that very well. Poor Florence!”

More flowers strayed upon the ground, and those she yet held to her breast trembled as if a wintry wind were rustling them.

“My Kate,” said the lady, whose voice was serious, but very calm and sweet, and had so impressed Florence from the first moment of her hearing it, “of all the youthful people here, you are her natural and harmless friend; you have not the innocent means, that happier children have—”

“There are none happier, aunt!” exclaimed the child, who seemed to cling about her.

“—As other children have, dear Kate, of reminding her of her misfortune. Therefore I would have you, when you try to be her little friend, try all the more for that, and feel that the bereavement you sustained—thank Heaven! before you knew its weight—gives you claim and hold upon poor Florence.”

“But I am not without a parent’s love, aunt, and I never have been,” said the child, “with you.”

“However that may be, my dear,” returned the lady, “your misfortune is a lighter one than Florence’s; for not an orphan in the wide world can be so deserted as the child who is an outcast from a living parent’s love.”

The flowers were scattered on the ground like dust; the empty hands were spread upon the face; and orphaned Florence, shrinking down upon the ground, wept long and bitterly.

But true of heart and resolute in her good purpose, Florence held to it as her dying mother held by her upon the day that gave Paul life. He did not know how much she loved him. However long the time in coming, and however slow the interval, she must try to bring that knowledge to her father’s heart one day or other. Meantime she must be careful in no thoughtless word, or look, or burst of feeling awakened by any chance circumstance, to complain against him, or to give occasion for these whispers to his prejudice.

Even in the response she made the orphan child, to whom she was attracted strongly, and whom she had such occasion to remember, Florence was mindful of him. If she singled her out too plainly (Florence thought) from among the rest, she would confirm—in one mind certainly: perhaps in more—the belief that he was cruel and unnatural. Her own delight was no set-off to this. What she had overheard was a reason, not for soothing herself, but for saving him; and Florence did it, in pursuance of the study of her heart.

She did so always. If a book were read aloud, and there were anything in the story that pointed at an unkind father, she was in pain for their application of it to him; not for herself. So with any trifle of an interlude that was acted, or picture that was shown, or game that was played, among them. The occasions for such tenderness towards him were so many, that her mind misgave her often, it would indeed be better to go back to the old house, and live again within the shadow of its dull walls, undisturbed. How few who saw sweet Florence, in her spring of womanhood, the modest little queen of those small revels, imagined what a load of sacred care lay heavy in her breast! How few of those who stiffened in her father’s freezing atmosphere, suspected what a heap of fiery coals was piled upon his head!

Florence pursued her study patiently, and, failing to acquire the secret of the nameless grace she sought, among the youthful company who were assembled in the house, often walked out alone, in the early morning, among the children of the poor. But still she found them all too far advanced to learn from. They had won their household places long ago, and did not stand without, as she did, with a bar across the door.

There was one man whom she several times observed at work very early, and often with a girl of about her own age seated near him. He was a very poor man, who seemed to have no regular employment, but now went roaming about the banks of the river when the tide was low, looking out for bits and scraps in the mud; and now worked at the unpromising little patch of garden-ground before his cottage; and now tinkered up a miserable old boat that belonged to him; or did some job of that kind for a neighbour, as chance occurred. Whatever the man’s labour, the girl was never employed; but sat, when she was with him, in a listless, moping state, and idle.

Florence had often wished to speak to this man; yet she had never taken courage to do so, as he made no movement towards her. But one morning when she happened to come upon him suddenly, from a by-path among some pollard willows which terminated in the little shelving piece of stony ground that lay between his dwelling and the water, where he was bending over a fire he had made to caulk the old boat which was lying bottom upwards, close by, he raised his head at the sound of her footstep, and gave her Good morning.

“Good morning,” said Florence, approaching nearer, “you are at work early.”

“I’d be glad to be often at work earlier, Miss, if I had work to do.”

“Is it so hard to get?” asked Florence.

“I find it so,” replied the man.

Florence glanced to where the girl was sitting, drawn together, with her elbows on her knees, and her chin on her hands, and said:

“Is that your daughter?”

He raised his head quickly, and looking towards the girl with a brightened face, nodded to her, and said “Yes,” Florence looked towards her too, and gave her a kind salutation; the girl muttered something in return, ungraciously and sullenly.

“Is she in want of employment also?” said Florence.

The man shook his head. “No, Miss,” he said. “I work for both,”

“Are there only you two, then?” inquired Florence.

“Only us two,” said the man. “Her mother has been dead these ten year. Martha!” (he lifted up his head again, and whistled to her) “won’t you say a word to the pretty young lady?”

The girl made an impatient gesture with her cowering shoulders, and turned her head another way. Ugly, misshapen, peevish, ill-conditioned, ragged, dirty—but beloved! Oh yes! Florence had seen her father’s look towards her, and she knew whose look it had no likeness to.

“I’m afraid she’s worse this morning, my poor girl!” said the man, suspending his work, and contemplating his ill-favoured child, with a compassion that was the more tender for being rougher.

“She is ill, then!” said Florence.

The man drew a deep sigh. “I don’t believe my Martha’s had five short days’ good health,” he answered, looking at her still, “in as many long years.”

“Ay! and more than that, John,” said a neighbour, who had come down to help him with the boat.

“More than that, you say, do you?” cried the other, pushing back his battered hat, and drawing his hand across his forehead. “Very like. It seems a long, long time.”

“And the more the time,” pursued the neighbour, “the more you’ve favoured and humoured her, John, till she’s got to be a burden to herself, and everybody else.”

“Not to me,” said her father, falling to his work. “Not to me.”

Florence could feel—who better?—how truly he spoke. She drew a little closer to him, and would have been glad to touch his rugged hand, and thank him for his goodness to the miserable object that he looked upon with eyes so different from any other man’s.

“Who would favour my poor girl—to call it favouring—if I didn’t?” said the father.

“Ay, ay,” cried the neighbour. “In reason, John. But you! You rob yourself to give to her. You bind yourself hand and foot on her account. You make your life miserable along of her. And what does she care! You don’t believe she knows it?”

The father lifted up his head again, and whistled to her. Martha made the same impatient gesture with her crouching shoulders, in reply; and he was glad and happy.

“Only for that, Miss,” said the neighbour, with a smile, in which there was more of secret sympathy than he expressed; “only to get that, he never lets her out of his sight!”

“Because the day’ll come, and has been coming a long while,” observed the other, bending low over his work, “when to get half as much from that unfort’nate child of mine—to get the trembling of a finger, or the waving of a hair—would be to raise the dead.”

Florence softly put some money near his hand on the old boat, and left him.

And now Florence began to think, if she were to fall ill, if she were to fade like her dear brother, would he then know that she had loved him; would she then grow dear to him; would he come to her bedside, when she was weak and dim of sight, and take her into his embrace, and cancel all the past? Would he so forgive her, in that changed condition, for not having been able to lay open her childish heart to him, as to make it easy to relate with what emotions she had gone out of his room that night; what she had meant to say if she had had the courage; and how she had endeavoured, afterwards, to learn the way she never knew in infancy?

Yes, she thought if she were dying, he would relent. She thought, that if she lay, serene and not unwilling to depart, upon the bed that was curtained round with recollections of their darling boy, he would be touched home, and would say, “Dear Florence, live for me, and we will love each other as we might have done, and be as happy as we might have been these many years!” She thought that if she heard such words from him, and had her arms clasped round him, she could answer with a smile, “It is too late for anything but this; I never could be happier, dear father!” and so leave him, with a blessing on her lips.

The golden water she remembered on the wall, appeared to Florence, in the light of such reflections, only as a current flowing on to rest, and to a region where the dear ones, gone before, were waiting, hand in hand; and often when she looked upon the darker river rippling at her feet, she thought with awful wonder, but not terror, of that river which her brother had so often said was bearing him away.

The father and his sick daughter were yet fresh in Florence’s mind, and, indeed, that incident was not a week old, when Sir Barnet and his lady going out walking in the lanes one afternoon, proposed to her to bear them company. Florence readily consenting, Lady Skettles ordered out young Barnet as a matter of course. For nothing delighted Lady Skettles so much, as beholding her eldest son with Florence on his arm.

Barnet, to say the truth, appeared to entertain an opposite sentiment on the subject, and on such occasions frequently expressed himself audibly, though indefinitely, in reference to “a parcel of girls.” As it was not easy to ruffle her sweet temper, however, Florence generally reconciled the young gentleman to his fate after a few minutes, and they strolled on amicably: Lady Skettles and Sir Barnet following, in a state of perfect complacency and high gratification.

This was the order of procedure on the afternoon in question; and Florence had almost succeeded in overruling the present objections of Skettles Junior to his destiny, when a gentleman on horseback came riding by, looked at them earnestly as he passed, drew in his rein, wheeled round, and came riding back again, hat in hand.

The gentleman had looked particularly at Florence; and when the little party stopped, on his riding back, he bowed to her, before saluting Sir Barnet and his lady. Florence had no remembrance of having ever seen him, but she started involuntarily when he came near her, and drew back.

“My horse is perfectly quiet, I assure you,” said the gentleman.

It was not that, but something in the gentleman himself—Florence could not have said what—that made her recoil as if she had been stung.

“I have the honour to address Miss Dombey, I believe?” said the gentleman, with a most persuasive smile. On Florence inclining her head, he added, “My name is Carker. I can hardly hope to be remembered by Miss Dombey, except by name. Carker.”

Florence, sensible of a strange inclination to shiver, though the day was hot, presented him to her host and hostess; by whom he was very graciously received.

“I beg pardon,” said Mr Carker, “a thousand times! But I am going down tomorrow morning to Mr Dombey, at Leamington, and if Miss Dombey can entrust me with any commission, need I say how very happy I shall be?”

Sir Barnet immediately divining that Florence would desire to write a letter to her father, proposed to return, and besought Mr Carker to come home and dine in his riding gear. Mr Carker had the misfortune to be engaged to dinner, but if Miss Dombey wished to write, nothing would delight him more than to accompany them back, and to be her faithful slave in waiting as long as she pleased. As he said this with his widest smile, and bent down close to her to pat his horse’s neck, Florence meeting his eyes, saw, rather than heard him say, “There is no news of the ship!”

Confused, frightened, shrinking from him, and not even sure that he had said those words, for he seemed to have shown them to her in some extraordinary manner through his smile, instead of uttering them, Florence faintly said that she was obliged to him, but she would not write; she had nothing to say.

“Nothing to send, Miss Dombey?” said the man of teeth.

“Nothing,” said Florence, “but my—but my dear love—if you please.”

Disturbed as Florence was, she raised her eyes to his face with an imploring and expressive look, that plainly besought him, if he knew—which he as plainly did—that any message between her and her father was an uncommon charge, but that one most of all, to spare her. Mr Carker smiled and bowed low, and being charged by Sir Barnet with the best compliments of himself and Lady Skettles, took his leave, and rode away: leaving a favourable impression on that worthy couple. Florence was seized with such a shudder as he went, that Sir Barnet, adopting the popular superstition, supposed somebody was passing over her grave. Mr Carker turning a corner, on the instant, looked back, and bowed, and disappeared, as if he rode off to the churchyard straight, to do it.

CHAPTER XXV. 
Strange News of Uncle Sol

Captain Cuttle, though no sluggard, did not turn out so early on the morning after he had seen Sol Gills, through the shop-window, writing in the parlour, with the Midshipman upon the counter, and Rob the Grinder making up his bed below it, but that the clocks struck six as he raised himself on his elbow, and took a survey of his little chamber. The Captain’s eyes must have done severe duty, if he usually opened them as wide on awaking as he did that morning; and were but roughly rewarded for their vigilance, if he generally rubbed them half as hard. But the occasion was no common one, for Rob the Grinder had certainly never stood in the doorway of Captain Cuttle’s room before, and in it he stood then, panting at the Captain, with a flushed and touzled air of Bed about him, that greatly heightened both his colour and expression.

“Holloa!” roared the Captain. “What’s the matter?”

Before Rob could stammer a word in answer, Captain Cuttle turned out, all in a heap, and covered the boy’s mouth with his hand.

“Steady, my lad,” said the Captain, “don’t ye speak a word to me as yet!”

The Captain, looking at his visitor in great consternation, gently shouldered him into the next room, after laying this injunction upon him; and disappearing for a few moments, forthwith returned in the blue suit. Holding up his hand in token of the injunction not yet being taken off, Captain Cuttle walked up to the cupboard, and poured himself out a dram; a counterpart of which he handed to the messenger. The Captain then stood himself up in a corner, against the wall, as if to forestall the possibility of being knocked backwards by the communication that was to be made to him; and having swallowed his liquor, with his eyes fixed on the messenger, and his face as pale as his face could be, requested him to “heave ahead.”

“Do you mean, tell you, Captain?” asked Rob, who had been greatly impressed by these precautions.

“Ay!” said the Captain.

“Well, Sir,” said Rob, “I ain’t got much to tell. But look here!”

Rob produced a bundle of keys. The Captain surveyed them, remained in his corner, and surveyed the messenger.

“And look here!” pursued Rob.

The boy produced a sealed packet, which Captain Cuttle stared at as he had stared at the keys.

“When I woke this morning, Captain,” said Rob, “which was about a quarter after five, I found these on my pillow. The shop-door was unbolted and unlocked, and Mr Gills gone.”

“Gone!” roared the Captain.

“Flowed, Sir,” returned Rob.

The Captain’s voice was so tremendous, and he came out of his corner with such way on him, that Rob retreated before him into another corner: holding out the keys and packet, to prevent himself from being run down.

“‘For Captain Cuttle,’ Sir,” cried Rob, “is on the keys, and on the packet too. Upon my word and honour, Captain Cuttle, I don’t know anything more about it. I wish I may die if I do! Here’s a sitiwation for a lad that’s just got a sitiwation,” cried the unfortunate Grinder, screwing his cuff into his face: “his master bolted with his place, and him blamed for it!”

These lamentations had reference to Captain Cuttle’s gaze, or rather glare, which was full of vague suspicions, threatenings, and denunciations. Taking the proffered packet from his hand, the Captain opened it and read as follows:—

“‘My dear Ned Cuttle. Enclosed is my will!’” The Captain turned it over, with a doubtful look—“"and Testament’—Where’s the Testament?” said the Captain, instantly impeaching the ill-fated Grinder. “What have you done with that, my lad?”

“I never see it,” whimpered Rob. “Don’t keep on suspecting an innocent lad, Captain. I never touched the Testament.”

Captain Cuttle shook his head, implying that somebody must be made answerable for it; and gravely proceeded:

“‘Which don’t break open for a year, or until you have decisive intelligence of my dear Walter, who is dear to you, Ned, too, I am sure.’” The Captain paused and shook his head in some emotion; then, as a re-establishment of his dignity in this trying position, looked with exceeding sternness at the Grinder. “‘If you should never hear of me, or see me more, Ned, remember an old friend as he will remember you to the last—kindly; and at least until the period I have mentioned has expired, keep a home in the old place for Walter. There are no debts, the loan from Dombey’s House is paid off and all my keys I send with this. Keep this quiet, and make no inquiry for me; it is useless. So no more, dear Ned, from your true friend, Solomon Gills.’” The Captain took a long breath, and then read these words written below: “‘The boy Rob, well recommended, as I told you, from Dombey’s House. If all else should come to the hammer, take care, Ned, of the little Midshipman.’”

To convey to posterity any idea of the manner in which the Captain, after turning this letter over and over, and reading it a score of times, sat down in his chair, and held a court-martial on the subject in his own mind, would require the united genius of all the great men, who, discarding their own untoward days, have determined to go down to posterity, and have never got there. At first the Captain was too much confounded and distressed to think of anything but the letter itself; and even when his thoughts began to glance upon the various attendant facts, they might, perhaps, as well have occupied themselves with their former theme, for any light they reflected on them. In this state of mind, Captain Cuttle having the Grinder before the court, and no one else, found it a great relief to decide, generally, that he was an object of suspicion: which the Captain so clearly expressed in his visage, that Rob remonstrated.

“Oh, don’t, Captain!” cried the Grinder. “I wonder how you can! what have I done to be looked at, like that?”

“My lad,” said Captain Cuttle, “don’t you sing out afore you’re hurt. And don’t you commit yourself, whatever you do.”

“I haven’t been and committed nothing, Captain!” answered Rob.

“Keep her free, then,” said the Captain, impressively, “and ride easy.”

With a deep sense of the responsibility imposed upon him, and the necessity of thoroughly fathoming this mysterious affair as became a man in his relations with the parties, Captain Cuttle resolved to go down and examine the premises, and to keep the Grinder with him. Considering that youth as under arrest at present, the Captain was in some doubt whether it might not be expedient to handcuff him, or tie his ankles together, or attach a weight to his legs; but not being clear as to the legality of such formalities, the Captain decided merely to hold him by the shoulder all the way, and knock him down if he made any objection.

However, he made none, and consequently got to the Instrument-maker’s house without being placed under any more stringent restraint. As the shutters were not yet taken down, the Captain’s first care was to have the shop opened; and when the daylight was freely admitted, he proceeded, with its aid, to further investigation.

The Captain’s first care was to establish himself in a chair in the shop, as President of the solemn tribunal that was sitting within him; and to require Rob to lie down in his bed under the counter, show exactly where he discovered the keys and packet when he awoke, how he found the door when he went to try it, how he started off to Brig Place—cautiously preventing the latter imitation from being carried farther than the threshold—and so on to the end of the chapter. When all this had been done several times, the Captain shook his head and seemed to think the matter had a bad look.

Next, the Captain, with some indistinct idea of finding a body, instituted a strict search over the whole house; groping in the cellars with a lighted candle, thrusting his hook behind doors, bringing his head into violent contact with beams, and covering himself with cobwebs. Mounting up to the old man’s bed-room, they found that he had not been in bed on the previous night, but had merely lain down on the coverlet, as was evident from the impression yet remaining there.

“And I think, Captain,” said Rob, looking round the room, “that when Mr Gills was going in and out so often, these last few days, he was taking little things away, piecemeal, not to attract attention.”

“Ay!” said the Captain, mysteriously. “Why so, my lad?”

“Why,” returned Rob, looking about, “I don’t see his shaving tackle. Nor his brushes, Captain. Nor no shirts. Nor yet his shoes.”

As each of these articles was mentioned, Captain Cuttle took particular notice of the corresponding department of the Grinder, lest he should appear to have been in recent use, or should prove to be in present possession thereof. But Rob had no occasion to shave, was not brushed, and wore the clothes he had on for a long time past, beyond all possibility of a mistake.

“And what should you say,” said the Captain—“not committing yourself—about his time of sheering off? Hey?”

“Why, I think, Captain,” returned Rob, “that he must have gone pretty soon after I began to snore.”

“What o’clock was that?” said the Captain, prepared to be very particular about the exact time.

“How can I tell, Captain!” answered Rob. “I only know that I’m a heavy sleeper at first, and a light one towards morning; and if Mr Gills had come through the shop near daybreak, though ever so much on tiptoe, I’m pretty sure I should have heard him shut the door at all events.”

On mature consideration of this evidence, Captain Cuttle began to think that the Instrument-maker must have vanished of his own accord; to which logical conclusion he was assisted by the letter addressed to himself, which, as being undeniably in the old man’s handwriting, would seem, with no great forcing, to bear the construction, that he arranged of his own will to go, and so went. The Captain had next to consider where and why? and as there was no way whatsoever that he saw to the solution of the first difficulty, he confined his meditations to the second.

Remembering the old man’s curious manner, and the farewell he had taken of him; unaccountably fervent at the time, but quite intelligible now: a terrible apprehension strengthened on the Captain, that, overpowered by his anxieties and regrets for Walter, he had been driven to commit suicide. Unequal to the wear and tear of daily life, as he had often professed himself to be, and shaken as he no doubt was by the uncertainty and deferred hope he had undergone, it seemed no violently strained misgiving, but only too probable.

Free from debt, and with no fear for his personal liberty, or the seizure of his goods, what else but such a state of madness could have hurried him away alone and secretly? As to his carrying some apparel with him, if he had really done so—and they were not even sure of that—he might have done so, the Captain argued, to prevent inquiry, to distract attention from his probable fate, or to ease the very mind that was now revolving all these possibilities. Such, reduced into plain language, and condensed within a small compass, was the final result and substance of Captain Cuttle’s deliberations: which took a long time to arrive at this pass, and were, like some more public deliberations, very discursive and disorderly.

Dejected and despondent in the extreme, Captain Cuttle felt it just to release Rob from the arrest in which he had placed him, and to enlarge him, subject to a kind of honourable inspection which he still resolved to exercise; and having hired a man, from Brogley the Broker, to sit in the shop during their absence, the Captain, taking Rob with him, issued forth upon a dismal quest after the mortal remains of Solomon Gills.

Not a station-house, or bone-house, or work-house in the metropolis escaped a visitation from the hard glazed hat. Along the wharves, among the shipping on the bank-side, up the river, down the river, here, there, everywhere, it went gleaming where men were thickest, like the hero’s helmet in an epic battle. For a whole week the Captain read of all the found and missing people in all the newspapers and handbills, and went forth on expeditions at all hours of the day to identify Solomon Gills, in poor little ship-boys who had fallen overboard, and in tall foreigners with dark beards who had taken poison—“to make sure,” Captain Cuttle said, “that it wam’t him.” It is a sure thing that it never was, and that the good Captain had no other satisfaction.

Captain Cuttle at last abandoned these attempts as hopeless, and set himself to consider what was to be done next. After several new perusals of his poor friend’s letter, he considered that the maintenance of “a home in the old place for Walter” was the primary duty imposed upon him. Therefore, the Captain’s decision was, that he would keep house on the premises of Solomon Gills himself, and would go into the instrument-business, and see what came of it.

But as this step involved the relinquishment of his apartments at Mrs MacStinger’s, and he knew that resolute woman would never hear of his deserting them, the Captain took the desperate determination of running away.

“Now, look ye here, my lad,” said the Captain to Rob, when he had matured this notable scheme, “to-morrow, I shan’t be found in this here roadstead till night—not till arter midnight p’rhaps. But you keep watch till you hear me knock, and the moment you do, turn-to, and open the door.”

“Very good, Captain,” said Rob.

“You’ll continue to be rated on these here books,” pursued the Captain condescendingly, “and I don’t say but what you may get promotion, if you and me should pull together with a will. But the moment you hear me knock to-morrow night, whatever time it is, turn-to and show yourself smart with the door.”

“I’ll be sure to do it, Captain,” replied Rob.

“Because you understand,” resumed the Captain, coming back again to enforce this charge upon his mind, “there may be, for anything I can say, a chase; and I might be took while I was waiting, if you didn’t show yourself smart with the door.”

Rob again assured the Captain that he would be prompt and wakeful; and the Captain having made this prudent arrangement, went home to Mrs MacStinger’s for the last time.

The sense the Captain had of its being the last time, and of the awful purpose hidden beneath his blue waistcoat, inspired him with such a mortal dread of Mrs MacStinger, that the sound of that lady’s foot downstairs at any time of the day, was sufficient to throw him into a fit of trembling. It fell out, too, that Mrs MacStinger was in a charming temper—mild and placid as a house—lamb; and Captain Cuttle’s conscience suffered terrible twinges, when she came up to inquire if she could cook him nothing for his dinner.

“A nice small kidney-pudding now, Cap’en Cuttle,” said his landlady: “or a sheep’s heart. Don’t mind my trouble.”

“No thank’ee, Ma’am,” returned the Captain.

“Have a roast fowl,” said Mrs MacStinger, “with a bit of weal stuffing and some egg sauce. Come, Cap’en Cuttle! Give yourself a little treat!”

“No thank’ee, Ma’am,” returned the Captain very humbly.

“I’m sure you’re out of sorts, and want to be stimulated,” said Mrs MacStinger. “Why not have, for once in a way, a bottle of sherry wine?”

“Well, Ma’am,” rejoined the Captain, “if you’d be so good as take a glass or two, I think I would try that. Would you do me the favour, Ma’am,” said the Captain, torn to pieces by his conscience, “to accept a quarter’s rent ahead?”

“And why so, Cap’en Cuttle?” retorted Mrs MacStinger—sharply, as the Captain thought.

The Captain was frightened to dead “If you would Ma’am,” he said with submission, “it would oblige me. I can’t keep my money very well. It pays itself out. I should take it kind if you’d comply.”

“Well, Cap’en Cuttle,” said the unconscious MacStinger, rubbing her hands, “you can do as you please. It’s not for me, with my family, to refuse, no more than it is to ask.”

“And would you, Ma’am,” said the Captain, taking down the tin canister in which he kept his cash, from the top shelf of the cupboard, “be so good as offer eighteen-pence a-piece to the little family all round? If you could make it convenient, Ma’am, to pass the word presently for them children to come for’ard, in a body, I should be glad to see ’em.”

These innocent MacStingers were so many daggers to the Captain’s breast, when they appeared in a swarm, and tore at him with the confiding trustfulness he so little deserved. The eye of Alexander MacStinger, who had been his favourite, was insupportable to the Captain; the voice of Juliana MacStinger, who was the picture of her mother, made a coward of him.

Captain Cuttle kept up appearances, nevertheless, tolerably well, and for an hour or two was very hardly used and roughly handled by the young MacStingers: who in their childish frolics, did a little damage also to the glazed hat, by sitting in it, two at a time, as in a nest, and drumming on the inside of the crown with their shoes. At length the Captain sorrowfully dismissed them: taking leave of these cherubs with the poignant remorse and grief of a man who was going to execution.

In the silence of night, the Captain packed up his heavier property in a chest, which he locked, intending to leave it there, in all probability for ever, but on the forlorn chance of one day finding a man sufficiently bold and desperate to come and ask for it. Of his lighter necessaries, the Captain made a bundle; and disposed his plate about his person, ready for flight. At the hour of midnight, when Brig Place was buried in slumber, and Mrs MacStinger was lulled in sweet oblivion, with her infants around her, the guilty Captain, stealing down on tiptoe, in the dark, opened the door, closed it softly after him, and took to his heels.

Pursued by the image of Mrs MacStinger springing out of bed, and, regardless of costume, following and bringing him back; pursued also by a consciousness of his enormous crime; Captain Cuttle held on at a great pace, and allowed no grass to grow under his feet, between Brig Place and the Instrument-maker’s door. It opened when he knocked—for Rob was on the watch—and when it was bolted and locked behind him, Captain Cuttle felt comparatively safe.

“Whew!” cried the Captain, looking round him. “It’s a breather!”

“Nothing the matter, is there, Captain?” cried the gaping Rob.

“No, no!” said Captain Cuttle, after changing colour, and listening to a passing footstep in the street. “But mind ye, my lad; if any lady, except either of them two as you see t’other day, ever comes and asks for Cap’en Cuttle, be sure to report no person of that name known, nor never heard of here; observe them orders, will you?”

“I’ll take care, Captain,” returned Rob.

“You might say—if you liked,” hesitated the Captain, “that you’d read in the paper that a Cap’en of that name was gone to Australia, emigrating, along with a whole ship’s complement of people as had all swore never to come back no more.”

Rob nodded his understanding of these instructions; and Captain Cuttle promising to make a man of him, if he obeyed orders, dismissed him, yawning, to his bed under the counter, and went aloft to the chamber of Solomon Gills.

What the Captain suffered next day, whenever a bonnet passed, or how often he darted out of the shop to elude imaginary MacStingers, and sought safety in the attic, cannot be told. But to avoid the fatigues attendant on this means of self-preservation, the Captain curtained the glass door of communication between the shop and parlour, on the inside; fitted a key to it from the bunch that had been sent to him; and cut a small hole of espial in the wall. The advantage of this fortification is obvious. On a bonnet appearing, the Captain instantly slipped into his garrison, locked himself up, and took a secret observation of the enemy. Finding it a false alarm, the Captain instantly slipped out again. And the bonnets in the street were so very numerous, and alarms were so inseparable from their appearance, that the Captain was almost incessantly slipping in and out all day long.

Captain Cuttle found time, however, in the midst of this fatiguing service to inspect the stock; in connexion with which he had the general idea (very laborious to Rob) that too much friction could not be bestowed upon it, and that it could not be made too bright. He also ticketed a few attractive-looking articles at a venture, at prices ranging from ten shillings to fifty pounds, and exposed them in the window to the great astonishment of the public.

After effecting these improvements, Captain Cuttle, surrounded by the instruments, began to feel scientific: and looked up at the stars at night, through the skylight, when he was smoking his pipe in the little back parlour before going to bed, as if he had established a kind of property in them. As a tradesman in the City, too, he began to have an interest in the Lord Mayor, and the Sheriffs, and in Public Companies; and felt bound to read the quotations of the Funds every day, though he was unable to make out, on any principle of navigation, what the figures meant, and could have very well dispensed with the fractions. Florence, the Captain waited on, with his strange news of Uncle Sol, immediately after taking possession of the Midshipman; but she was away from home. So the Captain sat himself down in his altered station of life, with no company but Rob the Grinder; and losing count of time, as men do when great changes come upon them, thought musingly of Walter, and of Solomon Gills, and even of Mrs MacStinger herself, as among the things that had been.