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Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 23

Dombey And Son

Chapter 23

Florence solitary, and the Midshipman mysterious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Much better,' interposed Susan, with another emphatic shake of her

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

'For which I say, Miss Floy, Oh be joyful!' returned Susan, 'Ah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Mrs Richards's eldest, Miss!' said Susan, 'and the worrit of Mrs
Richards's life!'

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

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

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

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

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

'I don't know where he's gone,' said Rob.

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

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

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

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

'Is he very anxious about his nephew?' inquired Susan.

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

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

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

'Has he not been here since?' asked Susan.

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

'Perhaps Walter's Uncle has gone there, Susan,' observed Florence,
turning to her.

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

'Do you know where Captain Cuttle lives?' asked Florence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'No,' said Mrs MacStinger.

'Not Number Nine?' asked Florence, hesitating.

'Who said it wasn't Number Nine?' said Mrs MacStinger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'As yet?' repeated Florence.

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

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

Again the Captain clapped his hand to his head, on which the hard
glazed hat was not, and looked discomfited. But at this instant a most
remarkable phenomenon occurred. The door opening, without any note of
preparation, and apparently of itself, the hard glazed hat in question
skimmed into the room like a bird, and alighted heavily at the
Captain's feet. The door then shut as violently as it had opened, and
nothIng ensued in explanation of the prodigy.

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

'You see I should have bore down on Sol Gills yesterday, and this
morning, but she - she took it away and kep it. That's the long and
short ofthe subject.'

'Who did, for goodness sake?' asked Susan Nipper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'A-hoy!' cried a boy, like the Captain's echo, tumbling up from

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

'Ay, ay!' cried the boy, in the same tone.

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

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

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

'Bunsby, my lad, how fares it?'

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

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

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

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

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

'Shipmate,' said Bunsby, all of a sudden, and stooping down to look
out under some interposing spar, 'what'll the ladies drink?'

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

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

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

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

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

'You have been to see me?' said Florence. 'To-day?'

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

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

'Did I say "before?"' replied old Sol. 'If I did, I must have meant
before we should have news of my dear boy.'

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

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

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

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

'My name's Jack Bunsby!'

'He was christened John,' cried the delighted Captain Cuttle. 'Hear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'What cheer, Sol Gills?' cried the Captain, heartily.

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

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

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

'Not to-day, Ned!' said the old man quickly, and appearing to be
unaccountably startled by the proposition. 'Not to-day. I couldn't do

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

'I - I have so much to do. I - I mean to think of, and arrange. I
couldn't do it, Ned, indeed. I must go out again, and be alone, and
turn my mind to many things to-day.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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