Dombey and Son
Part 16 out of 21
Florence loved him still, but, by degrees, had come to love him
rather as some dear one who had been, or who might have been, than as
the hard reality before her eyes. Something of the softened sadness
with which she loved the memory of little Paul, or of her mother,
seemed to enter now into her thoughts of him, and to make them, as it
were, a dear remembrance. Whether it was that he was dead to her, and
that partly for this reason, partly for his share in those old objects
of her affection, and partly for the long association of him with
hopes that were withered and tendernesses he had frozen, she could not
have told; but the father whom she loved began to be a vague and
dreamy idea to her: hardly more substantially connected with her real
life, than the image she would sometimes conjure up, of her dear
brother yet alive, and growing to be a man, who would protect and
The change, if it may be called one, had stolen on her like the
change from childhood to womanhood, and had come with it. Florence was
almost seventeen, when, in her lonely musings, she was conscious of
She was often alone now, for the old association between her and
her Mama was greatly changed. At the time of her father's accident,
and when he was lying in his room downstairs, Florence had first
observed that Edith avoided her. Wounded and shocked, and yet unable
to reconcile this with her affection when they did meet, she sought
her in her own room at night, once more.
'Mama,' said Florence, stealing softly to her side, 'have I
Edith answered 'No.'
'I must have done something,' said Florence. 'Tell me what it is.
You have changed your manner to me, dear Mama. I cannot say how
instantly I feel the least change; for I love you with my whole
'As I do you,' said Edith. 'Ah, Florence, believe me never more
'Why do you go away from me so often, and keep away?' asked
Florence. 'And why do you sometimes look so strangely on me, dear
Mama? You do so, do you not?'
Edith signified assent with her dark eyes.
'Why?' returned Florence imploringly. 'Tell me why, that I may know
how to please you better; and tell me this shall not be so any more.
'My Florence,' answered Edith, taking the hand that embraced her
neck, and looking into the eyes that looked into hers so lovingly, as
Florence knelt upon the ground before her; 'why it is, I cannot tell
you. It is neither for me to say, nor you to hear; but that it is, and
that it must be, I know. Should I do it if I did not?'
'Are we to be estranged, Mama?' asked Florence, gazing at her like
Edith's silent lips formed 'Yes.'
Florence looked at her with increasing fear and wonder, until she
could see her no more through the blinding tears that ran down her
'Florence! my life!' said Edith, hurriedly, 'listen to me. I cannot
bear to see this grief. Be calmer. You see that I am composed, and is
it nothing to me?'
She resumed her steady voice and manner as she said the latter
words, and added presently:
'Not wholly estranged. Partially: and only that, in appearance,
Florence, for in my own breast I am still the same to you, and ever
will be. But what I do is not done for myself.'
'Is it for me, Mama?' asked Florence.
'It is enough,' said Edith, after a pause, 'to know what it is;
why, matters little. Dear Florence, it is better - it is necessary -
it must be - that our association should be less frequent. The
confidence there has been between us must be broken off.'
'When?' cried Florence. 'Oh, Mama, when?'
'Now,' said Edith.
'For all time to come?' asked Florence.
'I do not say that,' answered Edith. 'I do not know that. Nor will
I say that companionship between us is, at the best, an ill-assorted
and unholy union, of which I might have known no good could come. My
way here has been through paths that you will never tread, and my way
henceforth may lie - God knows - I do not see it - '
Her voice died away into silence; and she sat, looking at Florence,
and almost shrinking from her, with the same strange dread and wild
avoidance that Florence had noticed once before. The same dark pride
and rage succeeded, sweeping over her form and features like an angry
chord across the strings of a wild harp. But no softness or humility
ensued on that. She did not lay her head down now, and weep, and say
that she had no hope but in Florence. She held it up as if she were a
beautiful Medusa, looking on him, face to face, to strike him dead.
Yes, and she would have done it, if she had had the charm.
'Mama,' said Florence, anxiously, 'there is a change in you, in
more than what you say to me, which alarms me. Let me stay with you a
'No,' said Edith, 'no, dearest. I am best left alone now, and I do
best to keep apart from you, of all else. Ask me no questions, but
believe that what I am when I seem fickle or capricious to you, I am
not of my own will, or for myself. Believe, though we are stranger to
each other than we have been, that I am unchanged to you within.
Forgive me for having ever darkened your dark home - I am a shadow on
it, I know well - and let us never speak of this again.'
'Mama,' sobbed Florence, 'we are not to part?'
'We do this that we may not part,' said Edith. 'Ask no more. Go,
Florence! My love and my remorse go with you!'
She embraced her, and dismissed her; and as Florence passed out of
her room, Edith looked on the retiring figure, as if her good angel
went out in that form, and left her to the haughty and indignant
passions that now claimed her for their own, and set their seal upon
From that hour, Florence and she were, as they had been, no more.
For days together, they would seldom meet, except at table, and when
Mr Dombey was present. Then Edith, imperious, inflexible, and silent,
never looked at her. Whenever Mr Carker was of the party, as he often
was, during the progress of Mr Dombey's recovery, and afterwards,
Edith held herself more removed from her, and was more distant towards
her, than at other times. Yet she and Florence never encountered, when
there was no one by, but she would embrace her as affectionately as of
old, though not with the same relenting of her proud aspect; and
often, when she had been out late, she would steal up to Florence's
room, as she had been used to do, in the dark, and whisper
'Good-night,' on her pillow. When unconscious, in her slumber, of such
visits, Florence would sometimes awake, as from a dream of those
words, softly spoken, and would seem to feel the touch of lips upon
her face. But less and less often as the months went on.
And now the void in Florence's own heart began again, indeed, to
make a solitude around her. As the image of the father whom she loved
had insensibly become a mere abstraction, so Edith, following the fate
of all the rest about whom her affections had entwined themselves, was
fleeting, fading, growing paler in the distance, every day. Little by
little, she receded from Florence, like the retiring ghost of what she
had been; little by little, the chasm between them widened and seemed
deeper; little by little, all the power of earnestness and tenderness
she had shown, was frozen up in the bold, angry hardihood with which
she stood, upon the brink of a deep precipice unseen by Florence,
daring to look down.
There was but one consideration to set against the heavy loss of
Edith, and though it was slight comfort to her burdened heart, she
tried to think it some relief. No longer divided between her affection
and duty to the two, Florence could love both and do no injustice to
either. As shadows of her fond imagination, she could give them equal
place in her own bosom, and wrong them with no doubts
So she tried to do. At times, and often too, wondering speculations
on the cause of this change in Edith, would obtrude themselves upon
her mind and frighten her; but in the calm of its abandonment once
more to silent grief and loneliness, it was not a curious mind.
Florence had only to remember that her star of promise was clouded in
the general gloom that hung upon the house, and to weep and be
Thus living, in a dream wherein the overflowing love of her young
heart expended itself on airy forms, and in a real world where she had
experienced little but the rolling back of that strong tide upon
itself, Florence grew to be seventeen. Timid and retiring as her
solitary life had made her, it had not embittered her sweet temper, or
her earnest nature. A child in innocent simplicity; a woman m her
modest self-reliance, and her deep intensity of feeling; both child
and woman seemed at once expressed in her face and fragile delicacy of
shape, and gracefully to mingle there; - as if the spring should be
unwilling to depart when summer came, and sought to blend the earlier
beauties of the flowers with their bloom. But in her thrilling voice,
in her calm eyes, sometimes in a sage ethereal light that seemed to
rest upon her head, and always in a certain pensive air upon her
beauty, there was an expression, such as had been seen in the dead
boy; and the council in the Servants' Hall whispered so among
themselves, and shook their heads, and ate and drank the more, in a
closer bond of good-fellowship.
This observant body had plenty to say of Mr and Mrs Dombey, and of
Mr Carker, who appeared to be a mediator between them, and who came
and went as if he were trying to make peace, but never could. They all
deplored the uncomfortable state of affairs, and all agreed that Mrs
Pipchin (whose unpopularity was not to be surpassed) had some hand in
it; but, upon the whole, it was agreeable to have so good a subject
for a rallying point, and they made a great deal of it, and enjoyed
themselves very much.
The general visitors who came to the house, and those among whom Mr
and Mrs Dombey visited, thought it a pretty equal match, as to
haughtiness, at all events, and thought nothing more about it. The
young lady with the back did not appear for some time after Mrs
Skewton's death; observing to some particular friends, with her usual
engaging little scream, that she couldn't separate the family from a
notion of tombstones, and horrors of that sort; but when she did come,
she saw nothing wrong, except Mr Dombey's wearing a bunch of gold
seals to his watch, which shocked her very much, as an exploded
superstition. This youthful fascinator considered a daughter-in-law
objectionable in principle; otherwise, she had nothing to say against
Florence, but that she sadly wanted 'style' - which might mean back,
perhaps. Many, who only came to the house on state occasions, hardly
knew who Florence was, and said, going home, 'Indeed, was that Miss
Dombey, in the corner? Very pretty, but a little delicate and
thoughtful in appearance!'
None the less so, certainly, for her life of the last six months.
Florence took her seat at the dinner-table, on the day before the
second anniversary of her father's marriage to Edith (Mrs Skewton had
been lying stricken with paralysis when the first came round), with an
uneasiness, amounting to dread. She had no other warrant for it, than
the occasion, the expression of her father's face, in the hasty glance
she caught of it, and the presence of Mr Carker, which, always
unpleasant to her, was more so on this day, than she had ever felt it
Edith was richly dressed, for she and Mr Dombey were engaged in the
evening to some large assembly, and the dinner-hour that day was late.
She did not appear until they were seated at table, when Mr Carker
rose and led her to her chair. Beautiful and lustrous as she was,
there was that in her face and air which seemed to separate her
hopelessly from Florence, and from everyone, for ever more. And yet,
for an instant, Florence saw a beam of kindness in her eyes, when they
were turned on her, that made the distance to which she had withdrawn
herself, a greater cause of sorrow and regret than ever.
There was very little said at dinner. Florence heard her father
speak to Mr Carker sometimes on business matters, and heard him softly
reply, but she paid little attention to what they said, and only
wished the dinner at an end. When the dessert was placed upon the
table, and they were left alone, with no servant in attendance, Mr
Dombey, who had been several times clearing his throat in a manner
that augured no good, said:
'Mrs Dombey, you know, I suppose, that I have instructed the
housekeeper that there will be some company to dinner here to-morrow.
'I do not dine at home,' she answered.
'Not a large party,' pursued Mr Dombey, with an indifferent
assumption of not having heard her; 'merely some twelve or fourteen.
My sister, Major Bagstock, and some others whom you know but
I do not dine at home,' she repeated.
'However doubtful reason I may have, Mrs Dombey,' said Mr Dombey,
still going majestically on, as if she had not spoken, 'to hold the
occasion in very pleasant remembrance just now, there are appearances
in these things which must be maintained before the world. If you have
no respect for yourself, Mrs Dombey - '
'I have none,' she said.
'Madam,' cried Mr Dombey, striking his hand upon the table, 'hear
me if you please. I say, if you have no respect for yourself - '
'And I say I have none,' she answered.
He looked at her; but the face she showed him in return would not
have changed, if death itself had looked.
'Carker,' said Mr Dombey, turning more quietly to that gentleman,
'as you have been my medium of communication with Mrs Dombey on former
occasions, and as I choose to preserve the decencies of life, so far
as I am individually concerned, I will trouble you to have the
goodness to inform Mrs Dombey that if she has no respect for herself,
I have some respect for myself, and therefore insist on my
arrangements for to-morrow.
'Tell your sovereign master, Sir,' said Edith, 'that I will take
leave to speak to him on this subject by-and-bye, and that I will
speak to him alone.'
'Mr Carker, Madam,' said her husband, 'being in possession of the
reason which obliges me to refuse you that privilege, shall be
absolved from the delivery of any such message.' He saw her eyes move,
while he spoke, and followed them with his own.
'Your daughter is present, Sir,' said Edith.
'My daughter will remain present,' said Mr Dombey.
Florence, who had risen, sat down again, hiding her face in her
hands, and trembling.
'My daughter, Madam' - began Mr Dombey.
But Edith stopped him, in a voice which, although not raised in the
least, was so clear, emphatic, and distinct, that it might have been
heard in a whirlwind.
'I tell you I will speak to you alone,' she said. 'If you are not
mad, heed what I say.'
'I have authority to speak to you, Madam,' returned her husband,
'when and where I please; and it is my pleasure to speak here and
She rose up as if to leave the room; but sat down again, and
looking at him with all outward composure, said, in the same voice:
'I must tell you first, that there is a threatening appearance in
your manner, Madam,' said Mr Dombey, 'which does not become you.
She laughed. The shaken diamonds in her hair started and trembled.
There are fables of precious stones that would turn pale, their wearer
being in danger. Had these been such, their imprisoned rays of light
would have taken flight that moment, and they would have been as dull
Carker listened, with his eyes cast down.
'As to my daughter, Madam,' said Mr Dombey, resuming the thread of
his discourse, 'it is by no means inconsistent with her duty to me,
that she should know what conduct to avoid. At present you are a very
strong example to her of this kind, and I hope she may profit by it.'
'I would not stop you now,' returned his wife, immoveable in eye,
and voice, and attitude; 'I would not rise and go away, and save you
the utterance of one word, if the room were burning.'
Mr Dombey moved his head, as if in a sarcastic acknowledgment of
the attention, and resumed. But not with so much self-possession as
before; for Edith's quick uneasiness in reference to Florence, and
Edith's indifference to him and his censure, chafed and galled him
like a stiffening wound.
'Mrs Dombey,' said he, 'it may not be inconsistent with my
daughter's improvement to know how very much to be lamented, and how
necessary to be corrected, a stubborn disposition is, especially when
it is indulged in - unthankfully indulged in, I will add - after the
gratification of ambition and interest. Both of which, I believe, had
some share in inducing you to occupy your present station at this
'No! I would not rise, and go away, and save you the utterance of
one word,' she repeated, exactly as before, 'if the room were
'It may be natural enough, Mrs Dombey,' he pursued, 'that you
should be uneasy in the presence of any auditors of these disagreeable
truths; though why' - he could not hide his real feeling here, or keep
his eyes from glancing gloomily at Florence - 'why anyone can give
them greater force and point than myself, whom they so nearly concern,
I do not pretend to understand. It may be natural enough that you
should object to hear, in anybody's presence, that there is a
rebellious principle within you which you cannot curb too soon; which
you must curb, Mrs Dombey; and which, I regret to say, I remember to
have seen manifested - with some doubt and displeasure, on more than
one occasion before our marriage - towards your deceased mother. But
you have the remedy in your own hands. I by no means forgot, when I
began, that my daughter was present, Mrs Dombey. I beg you will not
forget, to-morrow, that there are several persons present; and that,
with some regard to appearances, you will receive your company in a
'So it is not enough,' said Edith, 'that you know what has passed
between yourself and me; it is not enough that you can look here,'
pointing at Carker, who still listened, with his eyes cast down, 'and
be reminded of the affronts you have put upon me; it is not enough
that you can look here,' pointing to Florence with a hand that
slightly trembled for the first and only time, 'and think of what you
have done, and of the ingenious agony, daily, hourly, constant, you
have made me feel in doing it; it is not enough that this day, of all
others in the year, is memorable to me for a struggle (well-deserved,
but not conceivable by such as you) in which I wish I had died! You
add to all this, do you, the last crowning meanness of making her a
witness of the depth to which I have fallen; when you know that you
have made me sacrifice to her peace, the only gentle feeling and
interest of my life, when you know that for her sake, I would now if I
could - but I can not, my soul recoils from you too much - submit
myself wholly to your will, and be the meekest vassal that you have!'
This was not the way to minister to Mr Dombey's greatness. The old
feeling was roused by what she said, into a stronger and fiercer
existence than it had ever had. Again, his neglected child, at this
rough passage of his life, put forth by even this rebellious woman, as
powerful where he was powerless, and everything where he was nothing!
He turned on Florence, as if it were she who had spoken, and bade
her leave the room. Florence with her covered face obeyed, trembling
and weeping as she went.
'I understand, Madam,' said Mr Dombey, with an angry flush of
triumph, 'the spirit of opposition that turned your affections in that
channel, but they have been met, Mrs Dombey; they have been met, and
'The worse for you!' she answered, with her voice and manner still
unchanged. 'Ay!' for he turned sharply when she said so, 'what is the
worse for me, is twenty million times the worse for you. Heed that, if
you heed nothing else.'
The arch of diamonds spanning her dark hair, flashed and glittered
like a starry bridge. There was no warning in them, or they would have
turned as dull and dim as tarnished honour. Carker still sat and
listened, with his eyes cast down.
'Mrs Dombey,' said Mr Dombey, resuming as much as he could of his
arrogant composure, 'you will not conciliate me, or turn me from any
purpose, by this course of conduct.'
'It is the only true although it is a faint expression of what is
within me,' she replied. 'But if I thought it would conciliate you, I
would repress it, if it were repressible by any human effort. I will
do nothing that you ask.'
'I am not accustomed to ask, Mrs Dombey,' he observed; 'I direct.'
'I will hold no place in your house to-morrow, or on any recurrence
of to-morrow. I will be exhibited to no one, as the refractory slave
you purchased, such a time. If I kept my marriage day, I would keep it
as a day of shame. Self-respect! appearances before the world! what
are these to me? You have done all you can to make them nothing to me,
and they are nothing.'
'Carker,' said Mr Dombey, speaking with knitted brows, and after a
moment's consideration, 'Mrs Dombey is so forgetful of herself and me
in all this, and places me in a position so unsuited to my character,
that I must bring this state of matters to a close.'
'Release me, then,' said Edith, immoveable in voice, in look, and
bearing, as she had been throughout, 'from the chain by which I am
bound. Let me go.'
'Madam?' exclaimed Mr Dombey.
'Loose me. Set me free!'
'Madam?' he repeated, 'Mrs Dombey?'
'Tell him,' said Edith, addressing her proud face to Carker, 'that
I wish for a separation between us, That there had better be one. That
I recommend it to him, Tell him it may take place on his own terms -
his wealth is nothing to me - but that it cannot be too soon.'
'Good Heaven, Mrs Dombey!' said her husband, with supreme
amazement, 'do you imagine it possible that I could ever listen to
such a proposition? Do you know who I am, Madam? Do you know what I
represent? Did you ever hear of Dombey and Son? People to say that Mr
Dombey - Mr Dombey! - was separated from his wife! Common people to
talk of Mr Dombey and his domestic affairs! Do you seriously think,
Mrs Dombey, that I would permit my name to be banded about in such
connexion? Pooh, pooh, Madam! Fie for shame! You're absurd.' Mr Dombey
But not as she did. She had better have been dead than laugh as she
did, in reply, with her intent look fixed upon him. He had better have
been dead, than sitting there, in his magnificence, to hear her.
'No, Mrs Dombey,' he resumed. 'No, Madam. There is no possibility
of separation between you and me, and therefore I the more advise you
to be awakened to a sense of duty. And, Carker, as I was about to say
to you -
Mr Carker, who had sat and listened all this time, now raised his
eyes, in which there was a bright unusual light'
As I was about to say to you, resumed Mr Dombey, 'I must beg you,
now that matters have come to this, to inform Mrs Dombey, that it is
not the rule of my life to allow myself to be thwarted by anybody -
anybody, Carker - or to suffer anybody to be paraded as a stronger
motive for obedience in those who owe obedience to me than I am my
self. The mention that has been made of my daughter, and the use that
is made of my daughter, in opposition to me, are unnatural. Whether my
daughter is in actual concert with Mrs Dombey, I do not know, and do
not care; but after what Mrs Dombey has said today, and my daughter
has heard to-day, I beg you to make known to Mrs Dombey, that if she
continues to make this house the scene of contention it has become, I
shall consider my daughter responsible in some degree, on that lady's
own avowal, and shall visit her with my severe displeasure. Mrs Dombey
has asked "whether it is not enough," that she had done this and that.
You will please to answer no, it is not enough.'
'A moment!' cried Carker, interposing, 'permit me! painful as my
position is, at the best, and unusually painful in seeming to
entertain a different opinion from you,' addressing Mr Dombey, 'I must
ask, had you not better reconsider the question of a separation. I
know how incompatible it appears with your high public position, and I
know how determined you are when you give Mrs Dombey to understand' -
the light in his eyes fell upon her as he separated his words each
from each, with the distinctness of so many bells - 'that nothing but
death can ever part you. Nothing else. But when you consider that Mrs
Dombey, by living in this house, and making it as you have said, a
scene of contention, not only has her part in that contention, but
compromises Miss Dombey every day (for I know how determined you are),
will you not relieve her from a continual irritation of spirit, and a
continual sense of being unjust to another, almost intolerable? Does
this not seem like - I do not say it is - sacrificing Mrs Dombey to
the preservation of your preeminent and unassailable position?'
Again the light in his eyes fell upon her, as she stood looking at
her husband: now with an extraordinary and awful smile upon her face.
'Carker,' returned Mr Dombey, with a supercilious frown, and in a
tone that was intended to be final, 'you mistake your position in
offering advice to me on such a point, and you mistake me (I am
surprised to find) in the character of your advice. I have no more to
'Perhaps,' said Carker, with an unusual and indefinable taunt in
his air, 'you mistook my position, when you honoured me with the
negotiations in which I have been engaged here' - with a motion of his
hand towards Mrs Dombey.
'Not at all, Sir, not at all,' returned the other haughtily. 'You
were employed - '
'Being an inferior person, for the humiliation of Mrs Dombey. I
forgot' Oh, yes, it was expressly understood!' said Carker. 'I beg
As he bent his head to Mr Dombey, with an air of deference that
accorded ill with his words, though they were humbly spoken, he moved
it round towards her, and kept his watching eyes that way.
She had better have turned hideous and dropped dead, than have
stood up with such a smile upon her face, in such a fallen spirit's
majesty of scorn and beauty. She lifted her hand to the tiara of
bright jewels radiant on her head, and, plucking it off with a force
that dragged and strained her rich black hair with heedless cruelty,
and brought it tumbling wildly on her shoulders, cast the gems upon
the ground. From each arm, she unclasped a diamond bracelet, flung it
down, and trod upon the glittering heap. Without a word, without a
shadow on the fire of her bright eye, without abatement of her awful
smile, she looked on Mr Dombey to the last, in moving to the door; and
Florence had heard enough before quitting the room, to know that
Edith loved her yet; that she had suffered for her sake; and that she
had kept her sacrifices quiet, lest they should trouble her peace. She
did not want to speak to her of this - she could not, remembering to
whom she was opposed - but she wished, in one silent and affectionate
embrace, to assure her that she felt it all, and thanked her.
Her father went out alone, that evening, and Florence issuing from
her own chamber soon afterwards, went about the house in search of.
Edith, but unavailingly. She was in her own rooms, where Florence had
long ceased to go, and did not dare to venture now, lest she should
unconsciously engender new trouble. Still Florence hoping to meet her
before going to bed, changed from room to room, and wandered through
the house so splendid and so dreary, without remaining anywhere.
She was crossing a gallery of communication that opened at some
little distance on the staircase, and was only lighted on great
occasions, when she saw, through the opening, which was an arch, the
figure of a man coming down some few stairs opposite. Instinctively
apprehensive of her father, whom she supposed it was, she stopped, in
the dark, gazing through the arch into the light. But it was Mr Carker
coming down alone, and looking over the railing into the hall. No bell
was rung to announce his departure, and no servant was in attendance.
He went down quietly, opened the door for himself, glided out, and
shut it softly after him.
Her invincible repugnance to this man, and perhaps the stealthy act
of watching anyone, which, even under such innocent circumstances, is
in a manner guilty and oppressive, made Florence shake from head to
foot. Her blood seemed to run cold. As soon as she could - for at
first she felt an insurmountable dread of moving - she went quickly to
her own room and locked her door; but even then, shut in with her dog
beside her, felt a chill sensation of horror, as if there were danger
brooding somewhere near her.
It invaded her dreams and disturbed the whole night. Rising in the
morning, unrefreshed, and with a heavy recollection of the domestic
unhappiness of the preceding day, she sought Edith again in all the
rooms, and did so, from time to time, all the morning. But she
remained in her own chamber, and Florence saw nothing of her.
Learning, however, that the projected dinner at home was put off,
Florence thought it likely that she would go out in the evening to
fulfil the engagement she had spoken of; and resolved to try and meet
her, then, upon the staircase.
When the evening had set in, she heard, from the room in which she
sat on purpose, a footstep on the stairs that she thought to be
Edith's. Hurrying out, and up towards her room, Florence met her
immediately, coming down alone.
What was Florence's affright and wonder when, at sight of her, with
her tearful face, and outstretched arms, Edith recoiled and shrieked!
'Don't come near me!' she cried. 'Keep away! Let me go by!'
'Mama!' said Florence.
'Don't call me by that name! Don't speak to me! Don't look at me! -
Florence!' shrinking back, as Florence moved a step towards her,
'don't touch me!'
As Florence stood transfixed before the haggard face and staring
eyes, she noted, as in a dream, that Edith spread her hands over them,
and shuddering through all her form, and crouching down against the
wall, crawled by her like some lower animal, sprang up, and fled away.
Florence dropped upon the stairs in a swoon; and was found there by
Mrs Pipchin, she supposed. She knew nothing more, until she found
herself lying on her own bed, with Mrs Pipchin and some servants
standing round her.
'Where is Mama?' was her first question.
'Gone out to dinner,' said Mrs Pipchin.
'Mr Dombey is in his own room, Miss Dombey,' said Mrs Pipchin, 'and
the best thing you can do, is to take off your things and go to bed
this minute.' This was the sagacious woman's remedy for all
complaints, particularly lowness of spirits, and inability to sleep;
for which offences, many young victims in the days of the Brighton
Castle had been committed to bed at ten o'clock in the morning.
Without promising obedience, but on the plea of desiring to be very
quiet, Florence disengaged herself, as soon as she could, from the
ministration of Mrs Pipchin and her attendants. Left alone, she
thought of what had happened on the staircase, at first in doubt of
its reality; then with tears; then with an indescribable and terrible
alarm, like that she had felt the night before.
She determined not to go to bed until Edith returned, and if she
could not speak to her, at least to be sure that she was safe at home.
What indistinct and shadowy dread moved Florence to this resolution,
she did not know, and did not dare to think. She only knew that until
Edith came back, there was no repose for her aching head or throbbing
The evening deepened into night; midnight came; no Edith.
Florence could not read, or rest a moment. She paced her own room,
opened the door and paced the staircase-gallery outside, looked out of
window on the night, listened to the wind blowing and the rain
falling, sat down and watched the faces in the fire, got up and
watched the moon flying like a storm-driven ship through the sea of
All the house was gone to bed, except two servants who were waiting
the return of their mistress, downstairs.
One o'clock. The carriages that rumbled in the distance, turned
away, or stopped short, or went past; the silence gradually deepened,
and was more and more rarely broken, save by a rush of wind or sweep
of rain. Two o'clock. No Edith!
Florence, more agitated, paced her room; and paced the gallery
outside; and looked out at the night, blurred and wavy with the
raindrops on the glass, and the tears in her own eyes; and looked up
at the hurry in the sky, so different from the repose below, and yet
so tranquil and solitary. Three o'clock! There was a terror in every
ash that dropped out of the fire. No Edith yet.
More and more agitated, Florence paced her room, and paced the
gallery, and looked out at the moon with a new fancy of her likeness
to a pale fugitive hurrying away and hiding her guilty face. Four
struck! Five! No Edith yet.
But now there was some cautious stir in the house; and Florence
found that Mrs Pipchin had been awakened by one of those who sat up,
had risen and had gone down to her father's door. Stealing lower down
the stairs, and observing what passed, she saw her father come out in
his morning gown, and start when he was told his wife had not come
home. He dispatched a messenger to the stables to inquire whether the
coachman was there; and while the man was gone, dressed himself very
The man came back, in great haste, bringing the coachman with him,
who said he had been at home and in bed, since ten o'clock. He had
driven his mistress to her old house in Brook Street, where she had
been met by Mr Carker -
Florence stood upon the very spot where she had seen him coming
down. Again she shivered with the nameless terror of that sight, and
had hardly steadiness enough to hear and understand what followed.
- Who had told him, the man went on to say, that his mistress would
not want the carriage to go home in; and had dismissed him.
She saw her father turn white in the face, and heard him ask in a
quick, trembling voice, for Mrs Dombey's maid. The whole house was
roused; for she was there, in a moment, very pale too, and speaking
She said she had dressed her mistress early - full two hours before
she went out - and had been told, as she often was, that she would not
be wanted at night. She had just come from her mistress's rooms, but -
'But what! what was it?' Florence heard her father demand like a
'But the inner dressing-room was locked and the key gone.'
Her father seized a candle that was flaming on the ground - someone
had put it down there, and forgotten it - and came running upstairs
with such fury, that Florence, in her fear, had hardly time to fly
before him. She heard him striking in the door, as she ran on, with
her hands widely spread, and her hair streaming, and her face like a
distracted person's, back to her own room.
When the door yielded, and he rushed in, what did he see there? No
one knew. But thrown down in a costly mass upon the ground, was every
ornament she had had, since she had been his wife; every dress she had
worn; and everything she had possessed. This was the room in which he
had seen, in yonder mirror, the proud face discard him. This was the
room in which he had wondered, idly, how these things would look when
he should see them next!
Heaping them back into the drawers, and locking them up in a rage
of haste, he saw some papers on the table. The deed of settlement he
had executed on their marriage, and a letter. He read that she was
gone. He read that he was dishonoured. He read that she had fled, upon
her shameful wedding-day, with the man whom he had chosen for her
humiliation; and he tore out of the room, and out of the house, with a
frantic idea of finding her yet, at the place to which she had been
taken, and beating all trace of beauty out of the triumphant face with
his bare hand.
Florence, not knowing what she did, put on a shawl and bonnet, in a
dream of running through the streets until she found Edith, and then
clasping her in her arms, to save and bring her back. But when she
hurried out upon the staircase, and saw the frightened servants going
up and down with lights, and whispering together, and falling away
from her father as he passed down, she awoke to a sense of her own
powerlessness; and hiding in one of the great rooms that had been made
gorgeous for this, felt as if her heart would burst with grief.
Compassion for her father was the first distinct emotion that made
head against the flood of sorrow which overwhelmed her. Her constant
nature turned to him in his distress, as fervently and faithfully, as
if, in his prosperity, he had been the embodiment of that idea which
had gradually become so faint and dim. Although she did not know,
otherwise than through the suggestions of a shapeless fear, the full
extent of his calamity, he stood before her, wronged and deserted; and
again her yearning love impelled her to his side.
He was not long away; for Florence was yet weeping in the great
room and nourishing these thoughts, when she heard him come back. He
ordered the servants to set about their ordinary occupations, and went
into his own apartment, where he trod so heavily that she could hear
him walking up and down from end to end.
Yielding at once to the impulse of her affection, timid at all
other times, but bold in its truth to him in his adversity, and
undaunted by past repulse, Florence, dressed as she was, hurried
downstairs. As she set her light foot in the hall, he came out of his
room. She hastened towards him unchecked, with her arms stretched out,
and crying 'Oh dear, dear Papa!' as if she would have clasped him
round the neck.
And so she would have done. But in his frenzy, he lifted up his
cruel arm, and struck her, crosswise, with that heaviness, that she
tottered on the marble floor; and as he dealt the blow, he told her
what Edith was, and bade her follow her, since they had always been in
She did not sink down at his feet; she did not shut out the sight
of him with her trembling hands; she did not weep; she did not utter
one word of reproach. But she looked at him, and a cry of desolation
issued from her heart. For as she looked, she saw him murdering that
fond idea to which she had held in spite of him. She saw his cruelty,
neglect, and hatred dominant above it, and stamping it down. She saw
she had no father upon earth, and ran out, orphaned, from his house.
Ran out of his house. A moment, and her hand was on the lock, the
cry was on her lips, his face was there, made paler by the yellow
candles hastily put down and guttering away, and by the daylight
coming in above the door. Another moment, and the close darkness of
the shut-up house (forgotten to be opened, though it was long since
day) yielded to the unexpected glare and freedom of the morning; and
Florence, with her head bent down to hide her agony of tears, was in
The Flight of Florence
In the wildness of her sorrow, shame, and terror, the forlorn girl
hurried through the sunshine of a bright morning, as if it were the
darkness of a winter night. Wringing her hands and weeping bitterly,
insensible to everything but the deep wound in her breast, stunned by
the loss of all she loved, left like the sole survivor on a lonely
shore from the wreck of a great vessel, she fled without a thought,
without a hope, without a purpose, but to fly somewhere anywhere.
The cheerful vista of the long street, burnished by the morning
light, the sight of the blue sky and airy clouds, the vigorous
freshness of the day, so flushed and rosy in its conquest of the
night, awakened no responsive feelings in her so hurt bosom.
Somewhere, anywhere, to hide her head! somewhere, anywhere, for
refuge, never more to look upon the place from which she fled!
But there were people going to and fro; there were opening shops,
and servants at the doors of houses; there was the rising clash and
roar of the day's struggle. Florence saw surprise and curiosity in the
faces flitting past her; saw long shadows coming back upon the
pavement; and heard voices that were strange to her asking her where
she went, and what the matter was; and though these frightened her the
more at first, and made her hurry on the faster, they did her the good
service of recalling her in some degree to herself, and reminding her
of the necessity of greater composure.
Where to go? Still somewhere, anywhere! still going on; but where!
She thought of the only other time she had been lost in the wild
wilderness of London - though not lost as now - and went that way. To
the home of Walter's Uncle.
Checking her sobs, and drying her swollen eyes, and endeavouring to
calm the agitation of her manner, so as to avoid attracting notice,
Florence, resolving to keep to the more quiet streets as long as she
could, was going on more quietly herself, when a familiar little
shadow darted past upon the sunny pavement, stopped short, wheeled
about, came close to her, made off again, bounded round and round her,
and Diogenes, panting for breath, and yet making the street ring with
his glad bark, was at her feet.
'Oh, Di! oh, dear, true, faithful Di, how did you come here? How
could I ever leave you, Di, who would never leave me?'
Florence bent down on the pavement, and laid his rough, old,
loving, foolish head against her breast, and they got up together, and
went on together; Di more off the ground than on it, endeavouring to
kiss his mistress flying, tumbling over and getting up again without
the least concern, dashing at big dogs in a jocose defiance of his
species, terrifying with touches of his nose young housemaids who were
cleaning doorsteps, and continually stopping, in the midst of a
thousand extravagances, to look back at Florence, and bark until all
the dogs within hearing answered, and all the dogs who could come out,
came out to stare at him.
With this last adherent, Florence hurried away in the advancing
morning, and the strengthening sunshine, to the City. The roar soon
grew more loud, the passengers more numerous, the shops more busy,
until she was carried onward in a stream of life setting that way, and
flowing, indifferently, past marts and mansions, prisons, churches,
market-places, wealth, poverty, good, and evil, like the broad river
side by side with it, awakened from its dreams of rushes, willows, and
green moss, and rolling on, turbid and troubled, among the works and
cares of men, to the deep sea.
At length the quarters of the little Midshipman arose in view.
Nearer yet, and the little Midshipman himself was seen upon his post,
intent as ever on his observations. Nearer yet, and the door stood
open, inviting her to enter. Florence, who had again quickened her
pace, as she approached the end of her journey, ran across the road
(closely followed by Diogenes, whom the bustle had somewhat confused),
ran in, and sank upon the threshold of the well-remembered little
The Captain, in his glazed hat, was standing over the fire, making
his morning's cocoa, with that elegant trifle, his watch, upon the
chimney-piece, for easy reference during the progress of the cookery.
Hearing a footstep and the rustle of a dress, the Captain turned with
a palpitating remembrance of the dreadful Mrs MacStinger, at the
instant when Florence made a motion with her hand towards him, reeled,
and fell upon the floor.
The Captain, pale as Florence, pale in the very knobs upon his face
raised her like a baby, and laid her on the same old sofa upon which
she had slumbered long ago.
'It's Heart's Delight!' said the Captain, looking intently in her
face. 'It's the sweet creetur grow'd a woman!'
Captain Cuttle was so respectful of her, and had such a reverence
for her, in this new character, that he would not have held her in his
arms, while she was unconscious, for a thousand pounds.
'My Heart's Delight!' said the Captain, withdrawing to a little
distance, with the greatest alarm and sympathy depicted on his
countenance. 'If you can hail Ned Cuttle with a finger, do it!'
But Florence did not stir.
'My Heart's Delight!' said the trembling Captain. 'For the sake of
Wal'r drownded in the briny deep, turn to, and histe up something or
another, if able!'
Finding her insensible to this impressive adjuration also, Captain
Cuttle snatched from his breakfast-table a basin of cold water, and
sprinkled some upon her face. Yielding to the urgency of the case, the
Captain then, using his immense hand with extraordinary gentleness,
relieved her of her bonnet, moistened her lips and forehead, put back
her hair, covered her feet with his own coat which he pulled off for
the purpose, patted her hand - so small in his, that he was struck
with wonder when he touched it - and seeing that her eyelids quivered,
and that her lips began to move, continued these restorative
applications with a better heart.
'Cheerily,' said the Captain. 'Cheerily! Stand by, my pretty one,
stand by! There! You're better now. Steady's the word, and steady it
is. Keep her so! Drink a little drop o' this here,' said the Captain.
'There you are! What cheer now, my pretty, what cheer now?'
At this stage of her recovery, Captain Cuttle, with an imperfect
association of a Watch with a Physician's treatment of a patient, took
his own down from the mantel-shelf, and holding it out on his hook,
and taking Florence's hand in his, looked steadily from one to the
other, as expecting the dial to do something.
'What cheer, my pretty?' said the Captain. 'What cheer now? You've
done her some good, my lad, I believe,' said the Captain, under his
breath, and throwing an approving glance upon his watch. 'Put you back
half-an-hour every morning, and about another quarter towards the
arternoon, and you're a watch as can be ekalled by few and excelled by
none. What cheer, my lady lass!'
'Captain Cuttle! Is it you?' exclaimed Florence, raising herself a
'Yes, yes, my lady lass,' said the Captain, hastily deciding in his
own mind upon the superior elegance of that form of address, as the
most courtly he could think of.
'Is Walter's Uncle here?' asked Florence.
'Here, pretty?' returned the Captain. 'He ain't been here this many
a long day. He ain't been heerd on, since he sheered off arter poor
Wal'r. But,' said the Captain, as a quotation, 'Though lost to sight,
to memory dear, and England, Home, and Beauty!'
'Do you live here?' asked Florence.
'Yes, my lady lass,' returned the Captain.
'Oh, Captain Cuttle!' cried Florence, putting her hands together,
and speaking wildly. 'Save me! keep me here! Let no one know where I
am! I'll tell you what has happened by-and-by, when I can. I have no
one in the world to go to. Do not send me away!'
'Send you away, my lady lass!' exclaimed the Captain. 'You, my
Heart's Delight! Stay a bit! We'll put up this here deadlight, and
take a double turn on the key!'
With these words, the Captain, using his one hand and his hook with
the greatest dexterity, got out the shutter of the door, put it up,
made it all fast, and locked the door itself.
When he came back to the side of Florence, she took his hand, and
kissed it. The helplessness of the action, the appeal it made to him,
the confidence it expressed, the unspeakable sorrow in her face, the
pain of mind she had too plainly suffered, and was suffering then, his
knowledge of her past history, her present lonely, worn, and
unprotected appearance, all so rushed upon the good Captain together,
that he fairly overflowed with compassion and gentleness.
'My lady lass,' said the Captain, polishing the bridge of his nose
with his arm until it shone like burnished copper, 'don't you say a
word to Ed'ard Cuttle, until such times as you finds yourself a riding
smooth and easy; which won't be to-day, nor yet to-morrow. And as to
giving of you up, or reporting where you are, yes verily, and by God's
help, so I won't, Church catechism, make a note on!'
This the Captain said, reference and all, in one breath, and with
much solemnity; taking off his hat at 'yes verily,' and putting it on
again, when he had quite concluded.
Florence could do but one thing more to thank him, and to show him
how she trusted in him; and she did it' Clinging to this rough
creature as the last asylum of her bleeding heart, she laid her head
upon his honest shoulder, and clasped him round his neck, and would
have kneeled down to bless him, but that he divined her purpose, and
held her up like a true man.
'Steady!' said the Captain. 'Steady! You're too weak to stand, you
see, my pretty, and must lie down here again. There, there!' To see
the Captain lift her on the sofa, and cover her with his coat, would
have been worth a hundred state sights. 'And now,' said the Captain,
'you must take some breakfast, lady lass, and the dog shall have some
too. And arter that you shall go aloft to old Sol Gills's room, and
fall asleep there, like a angel.'
Captain Cuttle patted Diogenes when he made allusion to him, and
Diogenes met that overture graciously, half-way. During the
administration of the restoratives he had clearly been in two minds
whether to fly at the Captain or to offer him his friendship; and he
had expressed that conflict of feeling by alternate waggings of his
tail, and displays of his teeth, with now and then a growl or so. But
by this time, his doubts were all removed. It was plain that he
considered the Captain one of the most amiable of men, and a man whom
it was an honour to a dog to know.
In evidence of these convictions, Diogenes attended on the Captain
while he made some tea and toast, and showed a lively interest in his
housekeeping. But it was in vain for the kind Captain to make such
preparations for Florence, who sorely tried to do some honour to them,
but could touch nothing, and could only weep and weep again.
'Well, well!' said the compassionate Captain, 'arter turning in, my
Heart's Delight, you'll get more way upon you. Now, I'll serve out
your allowance, my lad.' To Diogenes. 'And you shall keep guard on
your mistress aloft.'
Diogenes, however, although he had been eyeing his intended
breakfast with a watering mouth and glistening eyes, instead of
falling to, ravenously, when it was put before him, pricked up his
ears, darted to the shop-door, and barked there furiously: burrowing
with his head at the bottom, as if he were bent on mining his way out.
'Can there be anybody there!' asked Florence, in alarm.
'No, my lady lass,' returned the Captain. 'Who'd stay there,
without making any noise! Keep up a good heart, pretty. It's only
people going by.'
But for all that, Diogenes barked and barked, and burrowed and
burrowed, with pertinacious fury; and whenever he stopped to listen,
appeared to receive some new conviction into his mind, for he set to,
barking and burrowing again, a dozen times. Even when he was persuaded
to return to his breakfast, he came jogging back to it, with a very
doubtful air; and was off again, in another paroxysm, before touching
'If there should be someone listening and watching,' whispered
Florence. 'Someone who saw me come - who followed me, perhaps.'
'It ain't the young woman, lady lass, is it?' said the Captain,
taken with a bright idea
'Susan?' said Florence, shaking her head. 'Ah no! Susan has been
gone from me a long time.'
'Not deserted, I hope?' said the Captain. 'Don't say that that
there young woman's run, my pretty!'
'Oh, no, no!' cried Florence. 'She is one of the truest hearts in
The Captain was greatly relieved by this reply, and expressed his
satisfaction by taking off his hard glazed hat, and dabbing his head
all over with his handkerchief, rolled up like a ball, observing
several times, with infinite complacency, and with a beaming
countenance, that he know'd it.
'So you're quiet now, are you, brother?' said the Captain to
Diogenes. 'There warn't nobody there, my lady lass, bless you!'
Diogenes was not so sure of that. The door still had an attraction
for him at intervals; and he went snuffing about it, and growling to
himself, unable to forget the subject. This incident, coupled with the
Captain's observation of Florence's fatigue and faintness, decided him
to prepare Sol Gills's chamber as a place of retirement for her
immediately. He therefore hastily betook himself to the top of the
house, and made the best arrangement of it that his imagination and
his means suggested.
It was very clean already; and the Captain being an orderly man,
and accustomed to make things ship-shape, converted the bed into a
couch, by covering it all over with a clean white drapery. By a
similar contrivance, the Captain converted the little dressing-table
into a species of altar, on which he set forth two silver teaspoons, a
flower-pot, a telescope, his celebrated watch, a pocket-comb, and a
song-book, as a small collection of rarities, that made a choice
appearance. Having darkened the window, and straightened the pieces of
carpet on the floor, the Captain surveyed these preparations with
great delight, and descended to the little parlour again, to bring
Florence to her bower.
Nothing would induce the Captain to believe that it was possible
for Florence to walk upstairs. If he could have got the idea into his
head, he would have considered it an outrageous breach of hospitality
to allow her to do so. Florence was too weak to dispute the point, and
the Captain carried her up out of hand, laid her down, and covered her
with a great watch-coat.
'My lady lass!' said the Captain, 'you're as safe here as if you
was at the top of St Paul's Cathedral, with the ladder cast off. Sleep
is what you want, afore all other things, and may you be able to show
yourself smart with that there balsam for the still small woice of a
wounded mind! When there's anything you want, my Heart's Delight, as
this here humble house or town can offer, pass the word to Ed'ard
Cuttle, as'll stand off and on outside that door, and that there man
will wibrate with joy.' The Captain concluded by kissing the hand that
Florence stretched out to him, with the chivalry of any old
knight-errant, and walking on tiptoe out of the room.
Descending to the little parlour, Captain Cuttle, after holding a
hasty council with himself, decided to open the shop-door for a few
minutes, and satisfy himself that now, at all events, there was no one
loitering about it. Accordingly he set it open, and stood upon the
threshold, keeping a bright look-out, and sweeping the whole street
with his spectacles.
'How de do, Captain Gills?' said a voice beside him. The Captain,
looking down, found that he had been boarded by Mr Toots while
sweeping the horizon.
'How are, you, my lad?' replied the Captain.
'Well, I m pretty well, thank'ee, Captain Gills,' said Mr Toots.
'You know I'm never quite what I could wish to be, now. I don't expect
that I ever shall be any more.'
Mr Toots never approached any nearer than this to the great theme
of his life, when in conversation with Captain Cuttle, on account of
the agreement between them.
'Captain Gills,' said Mr Toots, 'if I could have the pleasure of a
word with you, it's - it's rather particular.'
'Why, you see, my lad,' replied the Captain, leading the way into
the parlour, 'I ain't what you may call exactly free this morning; and
therefore if you can clap on a bit, I should take it kindly.'
'Certainly, Captain Gills,' replied Mr Toots, who seldom had any
notion of the Captain's meaning. 'To clap on, is exactly what I could
wish to do. Naturally.'
'If so be, my lad,' returned the Captain. 'Do it!'
The Captain was so impressed by the possession of his tremendous
secret - by the fact of Miss Dombey being at that moment under his
roof, while the innocent and unconscious Toots sat opposite to him -
that a perspiration broke out on his forehead, and he found it
impossible, while slowly drying the same, glazed hat in hand, to keep
his eyes off Mr Toots's face. Mr Toots, who himself appeared to have
some secret reasons for being in a nervous state, was so unspeakably
disconcerted by the Captain's stare, that after looking at him
vacantly for some time in silence, and shifting uneasily on his chair,
'I beg your pardon, Captain Gills, but you don't happen to see
anything particular in me, do you?'
'No, my lad,' returned the Captain. 'No.'
'Because you know,' said Mr Toots with a chuckle, 'I kNOW I'm
wasting away. You needn't at all mind alluding to that. I - I should
like it. Burgess and Co. have altered my measure, I'm in that state of
thinness. It's a gratification to me. I - I'm glad of it. I - I'd a
great deal rather go into a decline, if I could. I'm a mere brute you
know, grazing upon the surface of the earth, Captain Gills.'
The more Mr Toots went on in this way, the more the Captain was
weighed down by his secret, and stared at him. What with this cause of
uneasiness, and his desire to get rid of Mr Toots, the Captain was in
such a scared and strange condition, indeed, that if he had been in
conversation with a ghost, he could hardly have evinced greater
'But I was going to say, Captain Gills,' said Mr Toots. 'Happening
to be this way early this morning - to tell you the truth, I was
coming to breakfast with you. As to sleep, you know, I never sleep
now. I might be a Watchman, except that I don't get any pay, and he's
got nothing on his mind.'
'Carry on, my lad!' said the Captain, in an admonitory voice.
'Certainly, Captain Gills,' said Mr Toots. 'Perfectly true!
Happening to be this way early this morning (an hour or so ago), and
finding the door shut - '
'What! were you waiting there, brother?' demanded the Captain.
'Not at all, Captain Gills,' returned Mr Toots. 'I didn't stop a
moment. I thought you were out. But the person said - by the bye, you
don't keep a dog, you, Captain Gills?'
The Captain shook his head.
'To be sure,' said Mr Toots, 'that's exactly what I said. I knew
you didn't. There is a dog, Captain Gills, connected with - but excuse
me. That's forbidden ground.'
The Captain stared at Mr Toots until he seemed to swell to twice
his natural size; and again the perspiration broke out on the
Captain's forehead, when he thought of Diogenes taking it into his
head to come down and make a third in the parlour.
'The person said,' continued Mr Toots, 'that he had heard a dog
barking in the shop: which I knew couldn't be, and I told him so. But
he was as positive as if he had seen the dog.'
'What person, my lad?' inquired the Captain.
'Why, you see there it is, Captain Gills,' said Mr Toots, with a
perceptible increase in the nervousness of his manner. 'It's not for
me to say what may have taken place, or what may not have taken place.
Indeed, I don't know. I get mixed up with all sorts of things that I
don't quite understand, and I think there's something rather weak in
my - in my head, in short.'
The Captain nodded his own, as a mark of assent.
'But the person said, as we were walking away,' continued Mr Toots,
'that you knew what, under existing circumstances, might occur - he
said "might," very strongly - and that if you were requested to
prepare yourself, you would, no doubt, come prepared.'
'Person, my lad' the Captain repeated.
'I don't know what person, I'm sure, Captain Gills,' replied Mr
Toots, 'I haven't the least idea. But coming to the door, I found him
waiting there; and he said was I coming back again, and I said yes;
and he said did I know you, and I said, yes, I had the pleasure of
your acquaintance - you had given me the pleasure of your
acquaintance, after some persuasion; and he said, if that was the
case, would I say to you what I have said, about existing
circumstances and coming prepared, and as soon as ever I saw you,
would I ask you to step round the corner, if it was only for one
minute, on most important business, to Mr Brogley's the Broker's. Now,
I tell you what, Captain Gills - whatever it is, I am convinced it's
very important; and if you like to step round, now, I'll wait here
till you come back.'
The Captain, divided between his fear of compromising Florence in
some way by not going, and his horror of leaving Mr Toots in
possession of the house with a chance of finding out the secret, was a
spectacle of mental disturbance that even Mr Toots could not be blind
to. But that young gentleman, considering his nautical friend as
merely in a state of preparation for the interview he was going to
have, was quite satisfied, and did not review his own discreet conduct
At length the Captain decided, as the lesser of two evils, to run
round to Brogley's the Broker's: previously locking the door that
communicated with the upper part of the house, and putting the key in
his pocket. 'If so be,' said the Captain to Mr Toots, with not a
little shame and hesitation, 'as you'll excuse my doing of it,
'Captain Gills,' returned Mr Toots, 'whatever you do, is
satisfactory to me.
The Captain thanked him heartily, and promising to come back in
less than five minutes, went out in quest of the person who had
entrusted Mr Toots with this mysterious message. Poor Mr Toots, left
to himself, lay down upon the sofa, little thinking who had reclined
there last, and, gazing up at the skylight and resigning himself to
visions of Miss Dombey, lost all heed of time and place.
It was as well that he did so; for although the Captain was not
gone long, he was gone much longer than he had proposed. When he came
back, he was very pale indeed, and greatly agitated, and even looked
as if he had been shedding tears. He seemed to have lost the faculty
of speech, until he had been to the cupboard and taken a dram of rum
from the case-bottle, when he fetched a deep breath, and sat down in a
chair with his hand before his face.
'Captain Gills,' said Toots, kindly, 'I hope and trust there's
'Thank'ee, my lad, not a bit,' said the Captain. 'Quite contrairy.'
'You have the appearance of being overcome, Captain Gills,'
observed Mr Toots.
'Why, my lad, I am took aback,' the Captain admitted. 'I am.'
'Is there anything I can do, Captain Gills?' inquired Mr Toots. 'If
there is, make use of me.'
The Captain removed his hand from his face, looked at him with a
remarkable expression of pity and tenderness, and took him by the
hand, and shook it hard.
'No, thank'ee,' said the Captain. 'Nothing. Only I'll take it as a
favour if you'll part company for the present. I believe, brother,'
wringing his hand again, 'that, after Wal'r, and on a different model,
you're as good a lad as ever stepped.'
'Upon my word and honour, Captain Gills,' returned Mr Toots, giving
the Captain's hand a preliminary slap before shaking it again, 'it's
delightful to me to possess your good opinion. Thank'ee.
'And bear a hand and cheer up,' said the Captain, patting him on
the back. 'What! There's more than one sweet creetur in the world!'
'Not to me, Captain Gills,' replied Mr Toots gravely. 'Not to me, I
assure you. The state of my feelings towards Miss Dombey is of that
unspeakable description, that my heart is a desert island, and she
lives in it alone. I'm getting more used up every day, and I'm proud
to be so. If you could see my legs when I take my boots off, you'd
form some idea of what unrequited affection is. I have been prescribed
bark, but I don't take it, for I don't wish to have any tone whatever
given to my constitution. I'd rather not. This, however, is forbidden
ground. Captain Gills, goodbye!'
Captain Cuttle cordially reciprocating the warmth of Mr Toots's
farewell, locked the door behind him, and shaking his head with the
same remarkable expression of pity and tenderness as he had regarded
him with before, went up to see if Florence wanted him.
There was an entire change in the Captain's face as he went
upstairs. He wiped his eyes with his handkerchief, and he polished the
bridge of his nose with his sleeve as he had done already that
morning, but his face was absolutely changed. Now, he might have been
thought supremely happy; now, he might have been thought sad; but the
kind of gravity that sat upon his features was quite new to them, and
was as great an improvement to them as if they had undergone some
He knocked softly, with his hook, at Florence's door, twice or
thrice; but, receiving no answer, ventured first to peep in, and then
to enter: emboldened to take the latter step, perhaps, by the familiar
recognition of Diogenes, who, stretched upon the ground by the side of
her couch, wagged his tail, and winked his eyes at the Captain,
without being at the trouble of getting up.
She was sleeping heavily, and moaning in her sleep; and Captain
Cuttle, with a perfect awe of her youth, and beauty, and her sorrow,
raised her head, and adjusted the coat that covered her, where it had
fallen off, and darkened the window a little more that she might sleep
on, and crept out again, and took his post of watch upon the stairs.
All this, with a touch and tread as light as Florence's own.
Long may it remain in this mixed world a point not easy of
decision, which is the more beautiful evidence of the Almighty's
goodness - the delicate fingers that are formed for sensitiveness and
sympathy of touch, and made to minister to pain and grief, or the
rough hard Captain Cuttle hand, that the heart teaches, guides, and
softens in a moment!
Florence slept upon her couch, forgetful of her homelessness and
orphanage, and Captain Cuttle watched upon the stairs. A louder sob or
moan than usual, brought him sometimes to her door; but by degrees she
slept more peacefully, and the Captain's watch was undisturbed.
The Midshipman makes a Discovery
It was long before Florence awoke. The day was in its prime, the
day was in its wane, and still, uneasy in mind and body, she slept on;
unconscious of her strange bed, of the noise and turmoil in the
street, and of the light that shone outside the shaded window. Perfect
unconsciousness of what had happened in the home that existed no more,
even the deep slumber of exhaustion could not produce. Some undefined
and mournful recollection of it, dozing uneasily but never sleeping,
pervaded all her rest. A dull sorrow, like a half-lulled sense of
pain, was always present to her; and her pale cheek was oftener wet
with tears than the honest Captain, softly putting in his head from
time to time at the half-closed door, could have desired to see it.
The sun was getting low in the west, and, glancing out of a red
mist, pierced with its rays opposite loopholes and pieces of fretwork
in the spires of city churches, as if with golden arrows that struck
through and through them - and far away athwart the river and its flat
banks, it was gleaming like a path of fire - and out at sea it was
irradiating sails of ships - and, looked towards, from quiet
churchyards, upon hill-tops in the country, it was steeping distant
prospects in a flush and glow that seemed to mingle earth and sky
together in one glorious suffusion - when Florence, opening her heavy
eyes, lay at first, looking without interest or recognition at the
unfamiliar walls around her, and listening in the same regardless
manner to the noises in the street. But presently she started up upon
her couch, gazed round with a surprised and vacant look, and
'My pretty,' said the Captain, knocking at the door, 'what cheer?'
'Dear friend,' cried Florence, hurrying to him, 'is it you?'
The Captain felt so much pride in the name, and was so pleased by
the gleam of pleasure in her face, when she saw him, that he kissed
his hook, by way of reply, in speechless gratification.
'What cheer, bright di'mond?' said the Captain.
'I have surely slept very long,' returned Florence. 'When did I
come here? Yesterday?'
'This here blessed day, my lady lass,' replied the Captain.
'Has there been no night? Is it still day?' asked Florence.
'Getting on for evening now, my pretty,' said the Captain, drawing
back the curtain of the window. 'See!'
Florence, with her hand upon the Captain's arm, so sorrowful and
timid, and the Captain with his rough face and burly figure, so
quietly protective of her, stood in the rosy light of the bright
evening sky, without saying a word. However strange the form of speech
into which he might have fashioned the feeling, if he had had to give
it utterance, the Captain felt, as sensibly as the most eloquent of
men could have done, that there was something in the tranquil time and
in its softened beauty that would make the wounded heart of Florence
overflow; and that it was better that such tears should have their
way. So not a word spake Captain Cuttle. But when he felt his arm
clasped closer, and when he felt the lonely head come nearer to it,
and lay itself against his homely coarse blue sleeve, he pressed it
gently with his rugged hand, and understood it, and was understood.
'Better now, my pretty!' said the Captain. 'Cheerily, cheerily,
I'll go down below, and get some dinner ready. Will you come down of
your own self, arterwards, pretty, or shall Ed'ard Cuttle come and
As Florence assured him that she was quite able to walk downstairs,
the Captain, though evidently doubtful of his own hospitality in
permitting it, left her to do so, and immediately set about roasting a
fowl at the fire in the little parlour. To achieve his cookery with
the greater skill, he pulled off his coat, tucked up his wristbands,
and put on his glazed hat, without which assistant he never applied
himself to any nice or difficult undertaking.
After cooling her aching head and burning face in the fresh water
which the Captain's care had provided for her while she slept,
Florence went to the little mirror to bind up her disordered hair.
Then she knew - in a moment, for she shunned it instantly, that on her
breast there was the darkening mark of an angry hand.
Her tears burst forth afresh at the sight; she was ashamed and
afraid of it; but it moved her to no anger against him. Homeless and
fatherless, she forgave him everything; hardly thought that she had
need to forgive him, or that she did; but she fled from the idea of
him as she had fled from the reality, and he was utterly gone and
lost. There was no such Being in the world.
What to do, or where to live, Florence - poor, inexperienced girl!
- could not yet consider. She had indistinct dreams of finding, a long
way off, some little sisters to instruct, who would be gentle with
her, and to whom, under some feigned name, she might attach herself,
and who would grow up in their happy home, and marry, and be good to
their old governess, and perhaps entrust her, in time, with the
education of their own daughters. And she thought how strange and
sorrowful it would be, thus to become a grey-haired woman, carrying
her secret to the grave, when Florence Dombey was forgotten. But it
was all dim and clouded to her now. She only knew that she had no
Father upon earth, and she said so, many times, with her suppliant
head hidden from all, but her Father who was in Heaven.
Her little stock of money amounted to but a few guineas. With a
part of this, it would be necessary to buy some clothes, for she had
none but those she wore. She was too desolate to think how soon her
money would be gone - too much a child in worldly matters to be
greatly troubled on that score yet, even if her other trouble had been
less. She tried to calm her thoughts and stay her tears; to quiet the
hurry in her throbbing head, and bring herself to believe that what
had happened were but the events of a few hours ago, instead of weeks
or months, as they appeared; and went down to her kind protector.
The Captain had spread the cloth with great care, and was making
some egg-sauce in a little saucepan: basting the fowl from time to
time during the process with a strong interest, as it turned and
browned on a string before the fire. Having propped Florence up with
cushions on the sofa, which was already wheeled into a warm corner for
her greater comfort, the Captain pursued his cooking with
extraordinary skill, making hot gravy in a second little saucepan,
boiling a handful of potatoes in a third, never forgetting the
egg-sauce in the first, and making an impartial round of basting and
stirring with the most useful of spoons every minute. Besides these
cares, the Captain had to keep his eye on a diminutive frying-pan, in
which some sausages were hissing and bubbling in a most musical
manner; and there was never such a radiant cook as the Captain looked,
in the height and heat of these functions: it being impossible to say
whether his face or his glazed hat shone the brighter.
The dinner being at length quite ready, Captain Cuttle dished and
served it up, with no less dexterity than he had cooked it. He then
dressed for dinner, by taking off his glazed hat and putting on his
coat. That done, he wheeled the table close against Florence on the
sofa, said grace, unscrewed his hook, screwed his fork into its place,
and did the honours of the table
'My lady lass,' said the Captain, 'cheer up, and try to eat a deal.
Stand by, my deary! Liver wing it is. Sarse it is. Sassage it is. And
potato!' all which the Captain ranged symmetrically on a plate, and
pouring hot gravy on the whole with the useful spoon, set before his
'The whole row o' dead lights is up, for'ard, lady lass,' observed
the Captain, encouragingly, 'and everythink is made snug. Try and pick
a bit, my pretty. If Wal'r was here - '
'Ah! If I had him for my brother now!' cried Florence.
'Don't! don't take on, my pretty!' said the Captain, 'awast, to
obleege me! He was your nat'ral born friend like, warn't he, Pet?'
Florence had no words to answer with. She only said, 'Oh, dear,
dear Paul! oh, Walter!'
'The wery planks she walked on,' murmured the Captain, looking at
her drooping face, 'was as high esteemed by Wal'r, as the water brooks
is by the hart which never rejices! I see him now, the wery day as he
was rated on them Dombey books, a speaking of her with his face a
glistening with doo - leastways with his modest sentiments - like a
new blowed rose, at dinner. Well, well! If our poor Wal'r was here, my
lady lass - or if he could be - for he's drownded, ain't he?'
Florence shook her head.
'Yes, yes; drownded,' said the Captain, soothingly; 'as I was
saying, if he could be here he'd beg and pray of you, my precious, to
pick a leetle bit, with a look-out for your own sweet health. Whereby,
hold your own, my lady lass, as if it was for Wal'r's sake, and lay
your pretty head to the wind.'
Florence essayed to eat a morsel, for the Captain's pleasure. The
Captain, meanwhile, who seemed to have quite forgotten his own dinner,
laid down his knife and fork, and drew his chair to the sofa.
'Wal'r was a trim lad, warn't he, precious?' said the Captain,
after sitting for some time silently rubbing his chin, with his eyes
fixed upon her, 'and a brave lad, and a good lad?'
Florence tearfully assented.
'And he's drownded, Beauty, ain't he?' said the Captain, in a
Florence could not but assent again.
'He was older than you, my lady lass,' pursued the Captain, 'but
you was like two children together, at first; wam't you?'
Florence answered 'Yes.'
'And Wal'r's drownded,' said the Captain. 'Ain't he?'
The repetition of this inquiry was a curious source of consolation,
but it seemed to be one to Captain Cuttle, for he came back to it
again and again. Florence, fain to push from her her untasted dinner,
and to lie back on her sofa, gave him her hand, feeling that she had
disappointed him, though truly wishing to have pleased him after all
his trouble, but he held it in his own (which shook as he held it),
and appearing to have quite forgotten all about the dinner and her
want of appetite, went on growling at intervals, in a ruminating tone
of sympathy, 'Poor Wal'r. Ay, ay! Drownded. Ain't he?' And always
waited for her answer, in which the great point of these singular
reflections appeared to consist.
The fowl and sausages were cold, and the gravy and the egg-sauce
stagnant, before the Captain remembered that they were on the board,
and fell to with the assistance of Diogenes, whose united efforts
quickly dispatched the banquet. The Captain's delight and wonder at
the quiet housewifery of Florence in assisting to clear the table,
arrange the parlour, and sweep up the hearth - only to be equalled by
the fervency of his protest when she began to assist him - were
gradually raised to that degree, that at last he could not choose but
do nothing himself, and stand looking at her as if she were some
Fairy, daintily performing these offices for him; the red rim on his
forehead glowing again, in his unspeakable admiration.
But when Florence, taking down his pipe from the mantel-shelf gave
it into his hand, and entreated him to smoke it, the good Captain was
so bewildered by her attention that he held it as if he had never held
a pipe, in all his life. Likewise, when Florence, looking into the
little cupboard, took out the case-bottle and mixed a perfect glass of
grog for him, unasked, and set it at his elbow, his ruddy nose turned
pale, he felt himself so graced and honoured. When he had filled his
pipe in an absolute reverie of satisfaction, Florence lighted it for
him - the Captain having no power to object, or to prevent her - and
resuming her place on the old sofa, looked at him with a smile so
loving and so grateful, a smile that showed him so plainly how her
forlorn heart turned to him, as her face did, through grief, that the
smoke of the pipe got into the Captain's throat and made him cough,
and got into the Captain's eyes, and made them blink and water.
The manner in which the Captain tried to make believe that the
cause of these effects lay hidden in the pipe itself, and the way in
which he looked into the bowl for it, and not finding it there,
pretended to blow it out of the stem, was wonderfully pleasant. The
pipe soon getting into better condition, he fell into that state of
repose becoming a good smoker; but sat with his eyes fixed on
Florence, and, with a beaming placidity not to be described, and
stopping every now and then to discharge a little cloud from his lips,
slowly puffed it forth, as if it were a scroll coming out of his
mouth, bearing the legend 'Poor Wal'r, ay, ay. Drownded, ain't he?'
after which he would resume his smoking with infinite gentleness.
Unlike as they were externally - and there could scarcely be a more
decided contrast than between Florence in her delicate youth and
beauty, and Captain Cuttle with his knobby face, his great broad
weather-beaten person, and his gruff voice - in simple innocence of
the world's ways and the world's perplexities and dangers, they were
nearly on a level. No child could have surpassed Captain Cuttle in
inexperience of everything but wind and weather; in simplicity,
credulity, and generous trustfulness. Faith, hope, and charity, shared
his whole nature among them. An odd sort of romance, perfectly
unimaginative, yet perfectly unreal, and subject to no considerations
of worldly prudence or practicability, was the only partner they had
in his character. As the Captain sat, and smoked, and looked at
Florence, God knows what impossible pictures, in which she was the
principal figure, presented themselves to his mind. Equally vague and
uncertain, though not so sanguine, were her own thoughts of the life
before her; and even as her tears made prismatic colours in the light
she gazed at, so, through her new and heavy grief, she already saw a
rainbow faintly shining in the far-off sky. A wandering princess and a
good monster in a storybook might have sat by the fireside, and talked
as Captain Cuttle and poor Florence talked - and not have looked very
much unlike them.
The Captain was not troubled with the faintest idea of any
difficulty in retaining Florence, or of any responsibility thereby
incurred. Having put up the shutters and locked the door, he was quite
satisfied on this head. If she had been a Ward in Chancery, it would
have made no difference at all to Captain Cuttle. He was the last man
in the world to be troubled by any such considerations.
So the Captain smoked his pipe very comfortably, and Florence and
he meditated after their own manner. When the pipe was out, they had
some tea; and then Florence entreated him to take her to some
neighbouring shop, where she could buy the few necessaries she
immediately wanted. It being quite dark, the Captain consented:
peeping carefully out first, as he had been wont to do in his time of
hiding from Mrs MacStinger; and arming himself with his large stick,
in case of an appeal to arms being rendered necessary by any
The pride Captain Cuttle had, in giving his arm to Florence, and
escorting her some two or three hundred yards, keeping a bright
look-out all the time, and attracting the attention of everyone who
passed them, by his great vigilance and numerous precautions, was
extreme. Arrived at the shop, the Captain felt it a point of delicacy
to retire during the making of the purchases, as they were to consist
of wearing apparel; but he previously deposited his tin canister on
the counter, and informing the young lady of the establishment that it
contained fourteen pound two, requested her, in case that amount of
property should not be sufficient to defray the expenses of his
niece's little outfit - at the word 'niece,' he bestowed a most
significant look on Florence, accompanied with pantomime, expressive
of sagacity and mystery - to have the goodness to 'sing out,' and he
would make up the difference from his pocket. Casually consulting his
big watch, as a deep means of dazzling the establishment, and
impressing it with a sense of property, the Captain then kissed his
hook to his niece, and retired outside the window, where it was a
choice sight to see his great face looking in from time to time, among
the silks and ribbons, with an obvious misgiving that Florence had
been spirited away by a back door.
'Dear Captain Cuttle,' said Florence, when she came out with a
parcel, the size of which greatly disappointed the Captain, who had
expected to see a porter following with a bale of goods, 'I don't want
this money, indeed. I have not spent any of it. I have money of my
'My lady lass,' returned the baffled Captain, looking straight down
the street before them, 'take care on it for me, will you be so good,
till such time as I ask ye for it?'
'May I put it back in its usual place,' said Florence, 'and keep it
The Captain was not at all gratified by this proposal, but he
answered, 'Ay, ay, put it anywheres, my lady lass, so long as you know
where to find it again. It ain't o' no use to me,' said the Captain.
'I wonder I haven't chucked it away afore now.
The Captain was quite disheartened for the moment, but he revived
at the first touch of Florence's arm, and they returned with the same
precautions as they had come; the Captain opening the door of the
little Midshipman's berth, and diving in, with a suddenness which his
great practice only could have taught him. During Florence's slumber
in the morning, he had engaged the daughter of an elderly lady who
usually sat under a blue umbrella in Leadenhall Market, selling
poultry, to come and put her room in order, and render her any little
services she required; and this damsel now appearing, Florence found
everything about her as convenient and orderly, if not as handsome, as
in the terrible dream she had once called Home.
When they were alone again, the Captain insisted on her eating a
slice of dry toast' and drinking a glass of spiced negus (which he
made to perfection); and, encouraging her with every kind word and
inconsequential quotation be could possibly think of, led her upstairs
to her bedroom. But he too had something on his mind, and was not easy
in his manner.
'Good-night, dear heart,' said Captain Cuttle to her at her
Florence raised her lips to his face, and kissed him.
At any other time the Captain would have been overbalanced by such
a token of her affection and gratitude; but now, although he was very
sensible of it, he looked in her face with even more uneasiness than
he had testified before, and seemed unwilling to leave her.
'Poor Wal'r!' said the Captain.
'Poor, poor Walter!' sighed Florence.
'Drownded, ain't he?' said the Captain.
Florence shook her head, and sighed.
'Good-night, my lady lass!' said Captain Cuttle, putting out his
'God bless you, dear, kind friend!'
But the Captain lingered still.
'Is anything the matter, dear Captain Cuttle?' said Florence,
easily alarmed in her then state of mind. 'Have you anything to tell
'To tell you, lady lass!' replied the Captain, meeting her eyes in
confusion. 'No, no; what should I have to tell you, pretty! You don't
expect as I've got anything good to tell you, sure?'
'No!' said Florence, shaking her head.
The Captain looked at her wistfully, and repeated 'No,' - ' still
lingering, and still showing embarrassment.
'Poor Wal'r!' said the Captain. 'My Wal'r, as I used to call you!
Old Sol Gills's nevy! Welcome to all as knowed you, as the flowers in
May! Where are you got to, brave boy? Drownded, ain't he?'
Concluding his apostrophe with this abrupt appeal to Florence, the
Captain bade her good-night, and descended the stairs, while Florence
remained at the top, holding the candle out to light him down. He was
lost in the obscurity, and, judging from the sound of his receding
footsteps, was in the act of turning into the little parlour, when his
head and shoulders unexpectedly emerged again, as from the deep,
apparently for no other purpose than to repeat, 'Drownded, ain't he,
pretty?' For when he had said that in a tone of tender condolence, he
Florence was very sorry that she should unwittingly, though
naturally, have awakened these associations in the mind of her
protector, by taking refuge there; and sitting down before the little
table where the Captain had arranged the telescope and song-book, and
those other rarities, thought of Walter, and of all that was connected
with him in the past, until she could have almost wished to lie down
on her bed and fade away. But in her lonely yearning to the dead whom
she had loved, no thought of home - no possibility of going back - no
presentation of it as yet existing, or as sheltering her father - once
entered her thoughts. She had seen the murder done. In the last
lingering natural aspect in which she had cherished him through so
much, he had been torn out of her heart, defaced, and slain. The
thought of it was so appalling to her, that she covered her eyes, and
shrunk trembling from the least remembrance of the deed, or of the
cruel hand that did it. If her fond heart could have held his image
after that, it must have broken; but it could not; and the void was
filled with a wild dread that fled from all confronting with its
shattered fragments - with such a dread as could have risen out of
nothing but the depths of such a love, so wronged.
She dared not look into the glass; for the sight of the darkening
mark upon her bosom made her afraid of herself, as if she bore about
her something wicked. She covered it up, with a hasty, faltering hand,
and in the dark; and laid her weary head down, weeping.
The Captain did not go to bed for a long time. He walked to and fro
in the shop and in the little parlour, for a full hour, and, appearing
to have composed himself by that exercise, sat down with a grave and
thoughtful face, and read out of a Prayer-book the forms of prayer
appointed to be used at sea. These were not easily disposed of; the
good Captain being a mighty slow, gruff reader, and frequently
stopping at a hard word to give himself such encouragement as Now, my
lad! With a will!' or, 'Steady, Ed'ard Cuttle, steady!' which had a
great effect in helping him out of any difficulty. Moreover, his
spectacles greatly interfered with his powers of vision. But
notwithstanding these drawbacks, the Captain, being heartily in
earnest, read the service to the very last line, and with genuine
feeling too; and approving of it very much when he had done, turned
in, under the counter (but not before he had been upstairs, and
listened at Florence's door), with a serene breast, and a most
The Captain turned out several times in the course of the night, to
assure himself that his charge was resting quietly; and once, at
daybreak, found that she was awake: for she called to know if it were
he, on hearing footsteps near her door.
'Yes' my lady lass,' replied the Captain, in a growling whisper.
'Are you all right, di'mond?'
Florence thanked him, and said 'Yes.'
The Captain could not lose so favourable an opportunity of applying
his mouth to the keyhole, and calling through it, like a hoarse
breeze, 'Poor Wal'r! Drownded, ain't he?' after which he withdrew, and
turning in again, slept till seven o'clock.
Nor was he free from his uneasy and embarrassed manner all that
day; though Florence, being busy with her needle in the little
parlour, was more calm and tranquil than she had been on the day
preceding. Almost always when she raised her eyes from her work, she
observed the captain looking at her, and thoughtfully stroking his
chin; and he so often hitched his arm-chair close to her, as if he
were going to say something very confidential, and hitched it away
again, as not being able to make up his mind how to begin, that in the
course of the day he cruised completely round the parlour in that
frail bark, and more than once went ashore against the wainscot or the
closet door, in a very distressed condition.
It was not until the twilight that Captain Cuttle, fairly dropping
anchor, at last, by the side of Florence, began to talk at all
connectedly. But when the light of the fire was shining on the walls
and ceiling of the little room, and on the tea-board and the cups and
saucers that were ranged upon the table, and on her calm face turned
towards the flame, and reflecting it in the tears that filled her
eyes, the Captain broke a long silence thus:
'You never was at sea, my own?'
'No,' replied Florence.
'Ay,' said the Captain, reverentially; 'it's a almighty element.
There's wonders in the deep, my pretty. Think on it when the winds is
roaring and the waves is rowling. Think on it when the stormy nights
is so pitch dark,' said the Captain, solemnly holding up his hook, 'as
you can't see your hand afore you, excepting when the wiwid lightning
reweals the same; and when you drive, drive, drive through the storm
and dark, as if you was a driving, head on, to the world without end,
evermore, amen, and when found making a note of. Them's the times, my
beauty, when a man may say to his messmate (previously a overhauling
of the wollume), "A stiff nor'wester's blowing, Bill; hark, don't you
hear it roar now! Lord help 'em, how I pitys all unhappy folks ashore
now!"' Which quotation, as particularly applicable to the terrors of
the ocean, the Captain delivered in a most impressive manner,
concluding with a sonorous 'Stand by!'
'Were you ever in a dreadful storm?' asked Florence.
'Why ay, my lady lass, I've seen my share of bad weather,' said the
Captain, tremulously wiping his head, 'and I've had my share of
knocking about; but - but it ain't of myself as I was a meaning to
speak. Our dear boy,' drawing closer to her, 'Wal'r, darling, as was
The Captain spoke in such a trembling voice, and looked at Florence
with a face so pale and agitated, that she clung to his hand in
'Your face is changed,' cried Florence. 'You are altered in a
moment. What is it? Dear Captain Cuttle, it turns me cold to see you!'
'What! Lady lass,' returned the Captain, supporting her with his
hand, 'don't be took aback. No, no! All's well, all's well, my dear.
As I was a saying - Wal'r - he's - he's drownded. Ain't he?'
Florence looked at him intently; her colour came and went; and she
laid her hand upon her breast.
'There's perils and dangers on the deep, my beauty,' said the
Captain; 'and over many a brave ship, and many and many a bould heart,
the secret waters has closed up, and never told no tales. But there's
escapes upon the deep, too, and sometimes one man out of a score, -
ah! maybe out of a hundred, pretty, - has been saved by the mercy of
God, and come home after being given over for dead, and told of all
hands lost. I - I know a story, Heart's Delight,' stammered the
Captain, 'o' this natur, as was told to me once; and being on this
here tack, and you and me sitting alone by the fire, maybe you'd like
to hear me tell it. Would you, deary?'
Florence, trembling with an agitation which she could not control
or understand, involuntarily followed his glance, which went behind
her into the shop, where a lamp was burning. The instant that she
turned her head, the Captain sprung out of his chair, and interposed
'There's nothing there, my beauty,' said the Captain. 'Don't look
'Why not?' asked Florence.
The Captain murmured something about its being dull that way, and
about the fire being cheerful. He drew the door ajar, which had been
standing open until now, and resumed his seat. Florence followed him
with her eyes, and looked intently in his face.
'The story was about a ship, my lady lass,' began the Captain, 'as
sailed out of the Port of London, with a fair wind and in fair
weather, bound for - don't be took aback, my lady lass, she was only
out'ard bound, pretty, only out'ard bound!'
The expression on Florence's face alarmed the Captain, who was
himself very hot and flurried, and showed scarcely less agitation than
'Shall I go on, Beauty?' said the Captain.
'Yes, yes, pray!' cried Florence.
The Captain made a gulp as if to get down something that was
sticking in his throat, and nervously proceeded:
'That there unfort'nate ship met with such foul weather, out at
sea, as don't blow once in twenty year, my darling. There was
hurricanes ashore as tore up forests and blowed down towns, and there
was gales at sea in them latitudes, as not the stoutest wessel ever
launched could live in. Day arter day that there unfort'nate ship
behaved noble, I'm told, and did her duty brave, my pretty, but at one
blow a'most her bulwarks was stove in, her masts and rudder carved
away, her best man swept overboard, and she left to the mercy of the
storm as had no mercy but blowed harder and harder yet, while the
waves dashed over her, and beat her in, and every time they come a
thundering at her, broke her like a shell. Every black spot in every
mountain of water that rolled away was a bit o' the ship's life or a
living man, and so she went to pieces, Beauty, and no grass will never
grow upon the graves of them as manned that ship.'
'They were not all lost!' cried Florence. 'Some were saved! - Was
'Aboard o' that there unfort'nate wessel,' said the Captain, rising
from his chair, and clenching his hand with prodigious energy and
exultation, 'was a lad, a gallant lad - as I've heerd tell - that had
loved, when he was a boy, to read and talk about brave actions in
shipwrecks - I've heerd him! I've heerd him! - and he remembered of
'em in his hour of need; for when the stoutest and oldest hands was
hove down, he was firm and cheery. It warn't the want of objects to
like and love ashore that gave him courage, it was his nat'ral mind.
I've seen it in his face, when he was no more than a child - ay, many
a time! - and when I thought it nothing but his good looks, bless
'And was he saved!' cried Florence. 'Was he saved!'
'That brave lad,' said the Captain, - 'look at me, pretty! Don't
look round - '
Florence had hardly power to repeat, 'Why not?'
'Because there's nothing there, my deary,' said the Captain. 'Don't
be took aback, pretty creetur! Don't, for the sake of Wal'r, as was
dear to all on us! That there lad,' said the Captain, 'arter working
with the best, and standing by the faint-hearted, and never making no
complaint nor sign of fear, and keeping up a spirit in all hands that
made 'em honour him as if he'd been a admiral - that lad, along with
the second-mate and one seaman, was left, of all the beatin' hearts
that went aboard that ship, the only living creeturs - lashed to a
fragment of the wreck, and driftin' on the stormy sea.
Were they saved?' cried Florence.
'Days and nights they drifted on them endless waters,' said the
Captain, 'until at last - No! Don't look that way, pretty! - a sail
bore down upon 'em, and they was, by the Lord's mercy, took aboard:
two living and one dead.'
'Which of them was dead?' cried Florence.
'Not the lad I speak on,' said the Captain.
'Thank God! oh thank God!'
'Amen!' returned the Captain hurriedly. 'Don't be took aback! A
minute more, my lady lass! with a good heart! - aboard that ship, they
went a long voyage, right away across the chart (for there warn't no
touching nowhere), and on that voyage the seaman as was picked up with
him died. But he was spared, and - '
The Captain, without knowing what he did, had cut a slice of bread
from the loaf, and put it on his hook (which was his usual
toasting-fork), on which he now held it to the fire; looking behind
Florence with great emotion in his face, and suffering the bread to
blaze and burn like fuel.
'Was spared,' repeated Florence, 'and-?'
'And come home in that ship,' said the Captain, still looking in
the same direction, 'and - don't be frightened, pretty - and landed;
and one morning come cautiously to his own door to take a obserwation,
knowing that his friends would think him drownded, when he sheered off
at the unexpected - '
'At the unexpected barking of a dog?' cried Florence, quickly.
'Yes,' roared the Captain. 'Steady, darling! courage! Don't look
round yet. See there! upon the wall!'
There was the shadow of a man upon the wall close to her. She
started up, looked round, and with a piercing cry, saw Walter Gay
She had no thought of him but as a brother, a brother rescued from
the grave; a shipwrecked brother saved and at her side; and rushed
into his arms. In all the world, he seemed to be her hope, her
comfort, refuge, natural protector. 'Take care of Walter, I was fond
of Walter!' The dear remembrance of the plaintive voice that said so,
rushed upon her soul, like music in the night. 'Oh welcome home, dear
Walter! Welcome to this stricken breast!' She felt the words, although
she could not utter them, and held him in her pure embrace.
Captain Cuttle, in a fit of delirium, attempted to wipe his head
with the blackened toast upon his hook: and finding it an uncongenial
substance for the purpose, put it into the crown of his glazed hat,
put the glazed hat on with some difficulty, essayed to sing a verse of
Lovely Peg, broke down at the first word, and retired into the shop,
whence he presently came back express, with a face all flushed and
besmeared, and the starch completely taken out of his shirt-collar, to
say these words:
'Wal'r, my lad, here is a little bit of property as I should wish
to make over, jintly!'
The Captain hastily produced the big watch, the teaspoons, the
Back to Full Books