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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
sugar-tongs, and the canister, and laying them on the table, swept
them with his great hand into Walter's hat; but in handing that
singular strong box to Walter, he was so overcome again, that he was
fain to make another retreat into the shop, and absent himself for a
longer space of time than on his first retirement.
But Walter sought him out, and brought him back; and then the
Captain's great apprehension was, that Florence would suffer from this
new shock. He felt it so earnestly, that he turned quite rational, and
positively interdicted any further allusion to Walter's adventures for
some days to come. Captain Cuttle then became sufficiently composed to
relieve himself of the toast in his hat, and to take his place at the
tea-board; but finding Walter's grasp upon his shoulder, on one side,
and Florence whispering her tearful congratulations on the other, the
Captain suddenly bolted again, and was missing for a good ten minutes.
But never in all his life had the Captain's face so shone and
glistened, as when, at last, he sat stationary at the tea-board,
looking from Florence to Walter, and from Walter to Florence. Nor was
this effect produced or at all heightened by the immense quantity of
polishing he had administered to his face with his coat-sleeve during
the last half-hour. It was solely the effect of his internal emotions.
There was a glory and delight within the Captain that spread itself
over his whole visage, and made a perfect illumination there.
The pride with which the Captain looked upon the bronzed cheek and
the courageous eyes of his recovered boy; with which he saw the
generous fervour of his youth, and all its frank and hopeful
qualities, shining once more, in the fresh, wholesome manner, and the
ardent face, would have kindled something of this light in his
countenance. The admiration and sympathy with which he turned his eyes
on Florence, whose beauty, grace, and innocence could have won no
truer or more zealous champion than himself, would have had an equal
influence upon him. But the fulness of the glow he shed around him
could only have been engendered in his contemplation of the two
together, and in all the fancies springing out of that association,
that came sparkling and beaming into his head, and danced about it.
How they talked of poor old Uncle Sol, and dwelt on every little
circumstance relating to his disappearance; how their joy was
moderated by the old man's absence and by the misfortunes of Florence;
how they released Diogenes, whom the Captain had decoyed upstairs some
time before, lest he should bark again; the Captain, though he was in
one continual flutter, and made many more short plunges into the shop,
fully comprehended. But he no more dreamed that Walter looked on
Florence, as it were, from a new and far-off place; that while his
eyes often sought the lovely face, they seldom met its open glance of
sisterly affection, but withdrew themselves when hers were raised
towards him; than he believed that it was Walter's ghost who sat
beside him. He saw them together in their youth and beauty, and he
knew the story of their younger days, and he had no inch of room
beneath his great blue waistcoat for anything save admiration of such
a pair, and gratitude for their being reunited.
They sat thus, until it grew late. The Captain would have been
content to sit so for a week. But Walter rose, to take leave for the
'Going, Walter!' said Florence. 'Where?'
'He slings his hammock for the present, lady lass,' said Captain
Cuttle, 'round at Brogley's. Within hail, Heart's Delight.'
'I am the cause of your going away, Walter,' said Florence. 'There
is a houseless sister in your place.'
'Dear Miss Dombey,' replied Walter, hesitating - 'if it is not too
bold to call you so!
Walter!' she exclaimed, surprised.
'If anything could make me happier in being allowed to see and
speak to you, would it not be the discovery that I had any means on
earth of doing you a moment's service! Where would I not go, what
would I not do, for your sake?'
She smiled, and called him brother.
'You are so changed,' said Walter -
'I changed!' she interrupted.
'To me,' said Walter, softly, as if he were thinking aloud,
'changed to me. I left you such a child, and find you - oh! something
so different - '
'But your sister, Walter. You have not forgotten what we promised
to each other, when we parted?'
'Forgotten!' But he said no more.
'And if you had - if suffering and danger had driven it from your
thoughts - which it has not - you would remember it now, Walter, when
you find me poor and abandoned, with no home but this, and no friends
but the two who hear me speak!'
'I would! Heaven knows I would!' said Walter.
'Oh, Walter,' exclaimed Florence, through her sobs and tears. 'Dear
brother! Show me some way through the world - some humble path that I
may take alone, and labour in, and sometimes think of you as one who
will protect and care for me as for a sister! Oh, help me, Walter, for
I need help so much!'
'Miss Dombey! Florence! I would die to help you. But your friends
are proud and rich. Your father - '
'No, no! Walter!' She shrieked, and put her hands up to her head,
in an attitude of terror that transfixed him where he stood. 'Don't
say that word!'
He never, from that hour, forgot the voice and look with which she
stopped him at the name. He felt that if he were to live a hundred
years, he never could forget it.
Somewhere - anywhere - but never home! All past, all gone, all
lost, and broken up! The whole history of her untold slight and
suffering was in the cry and look; and he felt he never could forget
it, and he never did.
She laid her gentle face upon the Captain's shoulder, and related
how and why she had fled. If every sorrowing tear she shed in doing
so, had been a curse upon the head of him she never named or blamed,
it would have been better for him, Walter thought, with awe, than to
be renounced out of such a strength and might of love.
'There, precious!' said the Captain, when she ceased; and deep
attention the Captain had paid to her while she spoke; listening, with
his glazed hat all awry and his mouth wide open. 'Awast, awast, my
eyes! Wal'r, dear lad, sheer off for to-night, and leave the pretty
one to me!'
Walter took her hand in both of his, and put it to his lips, and
kissed it. He knew now that she was, indeed, a homeless wandering
fugitive; but, richer to him so, than in all the wealth and pride of
her right station, she seemed farther off than even on the height that
had made him giddy in his boyish dreams.
Captain Cuttle, perplexed by no such meditations, guarded Florence
to her room, and watched at intervals upon the charmed ground outside
her door - for such it truly was to him - until he felt sufficiently
easy in his mind about her, to turn in under the counter. On
abandoning his watch for that purpose, he could not help calling once,
rapturously, through the keyhole, 'Drownded. Ain't he, pretty?' - or,
when he got downstairs, making another trial at that verse of Lovely
Peg. But it stuck in his throat somehow, and he could make nothing of
it; so he went to bed, and dreamed that old Sol Gills was married to
Mrs MacStinger, and kept prisoner by that lady in a secret chamber on
a short allowance of victuals.