The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 6

Dombey And Son

Chapter 6

Paul's Second Deprivation

Polly was beset by so many misgivings in the morning, that but for
the incessant promptings of her black-eyed companion, she would have
abandoned all thoughts of the expedition, and formally petitioned for
leave to see number one hundred and forty-seven, under the awful
shadow of Mr Dombey's roof. But Susan who was personally disposed in
favour of the excursion, and who (like Tony Lumpkin), if she could
bear the disappointments of other people with tolerable fortitude,
could not abide to disappoint herself, threw so many ingenious doubts
in the way of this second thought, and stimulated the original
intention with so many ingenious arguments, that almost as soon as Mr
Dombey's stately back was turned, and that gentleman was pursuing his
daily road towards the City, his unconscious son was on his way to
Staggs's Gardens.

This euphonious locality was situated in a suburb, known by the
inhabitants of Staggs's Gardens by the name of Camberling Town; a
designation which the Strangers' Map of London, as printed (with a
view to pleasant and commodious reference) on pocket handkerchiefs,
condenses, with some show of reason, into Camden Town. Hither the two
nurses bent their steps, accompanied by their charges; Richards
carrying Paul, of course, and Susan leading little Florence by the
hand, and giving her such jerks and pokes from time to time, as she
considered it wholesome to administer.

The first shock of a great earthquake had, just at that period,
rent the whole neighbourhood to its centre. Traces of its course were
visible on every side. Houses were knocked down; streets broken
through and stopped; deep pits and trenches dug in the ground;
enormous heaps of earth and clay thrown up; buildings that were
undermined and shaking, propped by great beams of wood. Here, a chaos
of carts, overthrown and jumbled together, lay topsy-turvy at the
bottom of a steep unnatural hill; there, confused treasures of iron
soaked and rusted in something that had accidentally become a pond.
Everywhere were bridges that led nowhere; thoroughfares that were
wholly impassable; Babel towers of chimneys, wanting half their
height; temporary wooden houses and enclosures, in the most unlikely
situations; carcases of ragged tenements, and fragments of unfinished
walls and arches, and piles of scaffolding, and wildernesses of
bricks, and giant forms of cranes, and tripods straddling above
nothing. There were a hundred thousand shapes and substances of
incompleteness, wildly mingled out of their places, upside down,
burrowing in the earth, aspiring in the air, mouldering in the water,
and unintelligible as any dream. Hot springs and fiery eruptions, the
usual attendants upon earthquakes, lent their contributions of
confusion to the scene. Boiling water hissed and heaved within
dilapidated walls; whence, also, the glare and roar of flames came
issuing forth; and mounds of ashes blocked up rights of way, and
wholly changed the law and custom of the neighbourhood.

In short, the yet unfinished and unopened Railroad was in progress;
and, from the very core of all this dire disorder, trailed smoothly
away, upon its mighty course of civilisation and improvement.

But as yet, the neighbourhood was shy to own the Railroad. One or
two bold speculators had projected streets; and one had built a
little, but had stopped among the mud and ashes to consider farther of
it. A bran-new Tavern, redolent of fresh mortar and size, and fronting
nothing at all, had taken for its sign The Railway Arms; but that
might be rash enterprise - and then it hoped to sell drink to the
workmen. So, the Excavators' House of Call had sprung up from a
beer-shop; and the old-established Ham and Beef Shop had become the
Railway Eating House, with a roast leg of pork daily, through
interested motives of a similar immediate and popular description.
Lodging-house keepers were favourable in like manner; and for the like
reasons were not to be trusted. The general belief was very slow.
There were frowzy fields, and cow-houses, and dunghills, and
dustheaps, and ditches, and gardens, and summer-houses, and
carpet-beating grounds, at the very door of the Railway. Little tumuli
of oyster shells in the oyster season, and of lobster shells in the
lobster season, and of broken crockery and faded cabbage leaves in all
seasons, encroached upon its high places. Posts, and rails, and old
cautions to trespassers, and backs of mean houses, and patches of
wretched vegetation, stared it out of countenance. Nothing was the
better for it, or thought of being so. If the miserable waste ground
lying near it could have laughed, it would have laughed it to scorn,
like many of the miserable neighbours.

Staggs's Gardens was uncommonly incredulous. It was a little row of
houses, with little squalid patches of ground before them, fenced off
with old doors, barrel staves, scraps of tarpaulin, and dead bushes;
with bottomless tin kettles and exhausted iron fenders, thrust into
the gaps. Here, the Staggs's Gardeners trained scarlet beans, kept
fowls and rabbits, erected rotten summer-houses (one was an old boat),
dried clothes, and smoked pipes. Some were of opinion that Staggs's
Gardens derived its name from a deceased capitalist, one Mr Staggs,
who had built it for his delectation. Others, who had a natural taste
for the country, held that it dated from those rural times when the
antlered herd, under the familiar denomination of Staggses, had
resorted to its shady precincts. Be this as it may, Staggs's Gardens
was regarded by its population as a sacred grove not to be withered by
Railroads; and so confident were they generally of its long outliving
any such ridiculous inventions, that the master chimney-sweeper at the
corner, who was understood to take the lead in the local politics of
the Gardens, had publicly declared that on the occasion of the
Railroad opening, if ever it did open, two of his boys should ascend
the flues of his dwelling, with instructions to hail the failure with
derisive cheers from the chimney-pots.

To this unhallowed spot, the very name of which had hitherto been
carefully concealed from Mr Dombey by his sister, was little Paul now
borne by Fate and Richards

'That's my house, Susan,' said Polly, pointing it out.

'Is it, indeed, Mrs Richards?' said Susan, condescendingly.

'And there's my sister Jemima at the door, I do declare' cried
Polly, 'with my own sweet precious baby in her arms!'

The sight added such an extensive pair of wings to Polly's
impatience, that she set off down the Gardens at a run, and bouncing
on Jemima, changed babies with her in a twinkling; to the unutterable
astonishment of that young damsel, on whom the heir of the Dombeys
seemed to have fallen from the clouds.

'Why, Polly!' cried Jemima. 'You! what a turn you have given me!
who'd have thought it! come along in Polly! How well you do look to be
sure! The children will go half wild to see you Polly, that they

That they did, if one might judge from the noise they made, and the
way in which they dashed at Polly and dragged her to a low chair in
the chimney corner, where her own honest apple face became immediately
the centre of a bunch of smaller pippins, all laying their rosy cheeks
close to it, and all evidently the growth of the same tree. As to
Polly, she was full as noisy and vehement as the children; and it was
not until she was quite out of breath, and her hair was hanging all
about her flushed face, and her new christening attire was very much
dishevelled, that any pause took place in the confusion. Even then,
the smallest Toodle but one remained in her lap, holding on tight with
both arms round her neck; while the smallest Toodle but two mounted on
the back of the chair, and made desperate efforts, with one leg in the
air, to kiss her round the corner.

'Look! there's a pretty little lady come to see you,' said Polly;
'and see how quiet she is! what a beautiful little lady, ain't she?'

This reference to Florence, who had been standing by the door not
unobservant of what passed, directed the attention of the younger
branches towards her; and had likewise the happy effect of leading to
the formal recognition of Miss Nipper, who was not quite free from a
misgiving that she had been already slighted.

'Oh do come in and sit down a minute, Susan, please,' said Polly.
'This is my sister Jemima, this is. Jemima, I don't know what I should
ever do with myself, if it wasn't for Susan Nipper; I shouldn't be
here now but for her.'

'Oh do sit down, Miss Nipper, if you please,' quoth Jemima.

Susan took the extreme corner of a chair, with a stately and
ceremonious aspect.

'I never was so glad to see anybody in all my life; now really I
never was, Miss Nipper,' said Jemima.

Susan relaxing, took a little more of the chair, and smiled

'Do untie your bonnet-strings, and make yourself at home, Miss
Nipper, please,' entreated Jemima. 'I am afraid it's a poorer place
than you're used to; but you'll make allowances, I'm sure.'

The black-eyed was so softened by this deferential behaviour, that
she caught up little Miss Toodle who was running past, and took her to
Banbury Cross immediately.

'But where's my pretty boy?' said Polly. 'My poor fellow? I came
all this way to see him in his new clothes.'

'Ah what a pity!' cried Jemima. 'He'll break his heart, when he
hears his mother has been here. He's at school, Polly.'

'Gone already!'

'Yes. He went for the first time yesterday, for fear he should lose
any learning. But it's half-holiday, Polly: if you could only stop
till he comes home - you and Miss Nipper, leastways,' said Jemima,
mindful in good time of the dignity of the black-eyed.

'And how does he look, Jemima, bless him!' faltered Polly.

'Well, really he don't look so bad as you'd suppose,' returned

'Ah!' said Polly, with emotion, 'I knew his legs must be too

His legs is short,' returned Jemima; 'especially behind; but
they'll get longer, Polly, every day.'

It was a slow, prospective kind of consolation; but the
cheerfulness and good nature with which it was administered, gave it a
value it did not intrinsically possess. After a moment's silence,
Polly asked, in a more sprightly manner:

'And where's Father, Jemima dear?' - for by that patriarchal
appellation, Mr Toodle was generally known in the family.

'There again!' said Jemima. 'What a pity! Father took his dinner
with him this morning, and isn't coming home till night. But he's
always talking of you, Polly, and telling the children about you; and
is the peaceablest, patientest, best-temperedest soul in the world, as
he always was and will be!'

'Thankee, Jemima,' cried the simple Polly; delighted by the speech,
and disappointed by the absence.

'Oh you needn't thank me, Polly,' said her sister, giving her a
sounding kiss upon the cheek, and then dancing little Paul cheerfully.
'I say the same of you sometimes, and think it too.'

In spite of the double disappointment, it was impossible to regard
in the light of a failure a visit which was greeted with such a
reception; so the sisters talked hopefully about family matters, and
about Biler, and about all his brothers and sisters: while the
black-eyed, having performed several journeys to Banbury Cross and
back, took sharp note of the furniture, the Dutch clock, the cupboard,
the castle on the mantel-piece with red and green windows in it,
susceptible of illumination by a candle-end within; and the pair of
small black velvet kittens, each with a lady's reticule in its mouth;
regarded by the Staggs's Gardeners as prodigies of imitative art. The
conversation soon becoming general lest the black-eyed should go off
at score and turn sarcastic, that young lady related to Jemima a
summary of everything she knew concerning Mr Dombey, his prospects,
family, pursuits, and character. Also an exact inventory of her
personal wardrobe, and some account of her principal relations and
friends. Having relieved her mind of these disclosures, she partook of
shrimps and porter, and evinced a disposition to swear eternal

Little Florence herself was not behind-hand in improving the
occasion; for, being conducted forth by the young Toodles to inspect
some toad-stools and other curiosities of the Gardens, she entered
with them, heart and soul, on the formation of a temporary breakwater
across a small green pool that had collected in a corner. She was
still busily engaged in that labour, when sought and found by Susan;
who, such was her sense of duty, even under the humanizing influence
of shrimps, delivered a moral address to her (punctuated with thumps)
on her degenerate nature, while washing her face and hands; and
predicted that she would bring the grey hairs of her family in
general, with sorrow to the grave. After some delay, occasioned by a
pretty long confidential interview above stairs on pecuniary subjects,
between Polly and Jemima, an interchange of babies was again effected
- for Polly had all this timeretained her own child, and Jemima little
Paul - and the visitors took leave.

But first the young Toodles, victims of a pious fraud, were deluded
into repairing in a body to a chandler's shop in the neighbourhood,
for the ostensible purpose of spending a penny; and when the coast was
quite clear, Polly fled: Jemima calling after her that if they could
only go round towards the City Road on their way back, they would be
sure to meet little Biler coming from school.

'Do you think that we might make time to go a little round in that
direction, Susan?' inquired Polly, when they halted to take breath.

'Why not, Mrs Richards?' returned Susan.

'It's getting on towards our dinner time you know,' said Polly.

But lunch had rendered her companion more than indifferent to this
grave consideration, so she allowed no weight to it, and they resolved
to go 'a little round.'

Now, it happened that poor Biler's life had been, since yesterday
morning, rendered weary by the costume of the Charitable Grinders. The
youth of the streets could not endure it. No young vagabond could be
brought to bear its contemplation for a moment, without throwing
himself upon the unoffending wearer, and doing him a mischief. His
social existence had been more like that of an early Christian, than
an innocent child of the nineteenth century. He had been stoned in the
streets. He had been overthrown into gutters; bespattered with mud;
violently flattened against posts. Entire strangers to his person had
lifted his yellow cap off his head, and cast it to the winds. His legs
had not only undergone verbal criticisms and revilings, but had been
handled and pinched. That very morning, he had received a perfectly
unsolicited black eye on his way to the Grinders' establishment, and
had been punished for it by the master: a superannuated old Grinder of
savage disposition, who had been appointed schoolmaster because he
didn't know anything, and wasn't fit for anything, and for whose cruel
cane all chubby little boys had a perfect fascination.'

Thus it fell out that Biler, on his way home, sought unfrequented
paths; and slunk along by narrow passages and back streets, to avoid
his tormentors. Being compelled to emerge into the main road, his ill
fortune brought him at last where a small party of boys, headed by a
ferocious young butcher, were lying in wait for any means of
pleasurable excitement that might happen. These, finding a Charitable
Grinder in the midst of them - unaccountably delivered over, as it
were, into their hands - set up a general yell and rushed upon him.

But it so fell out likewise, that, at the same time, Polly, looking
hopelessly along the road before her, after a good hour's walk, had
said it was no use going any further, when suddenly she saw this
sight. She no sooner saw it than, uttering a hasty exclamation, and
giving Master Dombey to the black-eyed, she started to the rescue of
her unhappy little son.

Surprises, like misfortunes, rarely come alone. The astonished
Susan Nipper and her two young charges were rescued by the bystanders
from under the very wheels of a passing carriage before they knew what
had happened; and at that moment (it was market day) a thundering
alarm of 'Mad Bull!' was raised.

With a wild confusion before her, of people running up and down,
and shouting, and wheels running over them, and boys fighting, and mad
bulls coming up, and the nurse in the midst of all these dangers being
torn to pieces, Florence screamed and ran. She ran till she was
exhausted, urging Susan to do the same; and then, stopping and
wringing her hands as she remembered they had left the other nurse
behind, found, with a sensation of terror not to be described, that
she was quite alone.

'Susan! Susan!' cried Florence, clapping her hands in the very
ecstasy of her alarm. 'Oh, where are they? where are they?'

'Where are they?' said an old woman, coming hobbling across as fast
as she could from the opposite side of the way. 'Why did you run away
from 'em?'

'I was frightened,' answered Florence. 'I didn't know what I did. I
thought they were with me. Where are they?'

The old woman took her by the wrist, and said, 'I'll show you.'

She was a very ugly old woman, with red rims round her eyes, and a
mouth that mumbled and chattered of itself when she was not speaking.
She was miserably dressed, and carried some skins over her arm. She
seemed to have followed Florence some little way at all events, for
she had lost her breath; and this made her uglier still, as she stood
trying to regain it: working her shrivelled yellow face and throat
into all sorts of contortions.

Florence was afraid of her, and looked, hesitating, up the street,
of which she had almost reached the bottom. It was a solitary place -
more a back road than a street - and there was no one in it but her-
self and the old woman.

'You needn't be frightened now,' said the old woman, still holding
her tight. 'Come along with me.'

'I - I don't know you. What's your name?' asked Florence.

'Mrs Brown,' said the old woman. 'Good Mrs Brown.'

'Are they near here?' asked Florence, beginning to be led away.

'Susan ain't far off,' said Good Mrs Brown; 'and the others are
close to her.'

'Is anybody hurt?' cried Florence.

'Not a bit of it,' said Good Mrs Brown.

The child shed tears of delight on hearing this, and accompanied
the old woman willingly; though she could not help glancing at her
face as they went along - particularly at that industrious mouth - and
wondering whether Bad Mrs Brown, if there were such a person, was at
all like her.

They had not gone far, but had gone by some very uncomfortable
places, such as brick-fields and tile-yards, when the old woman turned
down a dirty lane, where the mud lay in deep black ruts in the middle
of the road. She stopped before a shabby little house, as closely shut
up as a house that was full of cracks and crevices could be. Opening
the door with a key she took out of her bonnet, she pushed the child
before her into a back room, where there was a great heap of rags of
different colours lying on the floor; a heap of bones, and a heap of
sifted dust or cinders; but there was no furniture at all, and the
walls and ceiling were quite black.

The child became so terrified the she was stricken speechless, and
looked as though about to swoon.

'Now don't be a young mule,' said Good Mrs Brown, reviving her with
a shake. 'I'm not a going to hurt you. Sit upon the rags.'

Florence obeyed her, holding out her folded hands, in mute

'I'm not a going to keep you, even, above an hour,' said Mrs Brown.
'D'ye understand what I say?'

The child answered with great difficulty, 'Yes.'

'Then,' said Good Mrs Brown, taking her own seat on the bones,
'don't vex me. If you don't, I tell you I won't hurt you. But if you
do, I'll kill you. I could have you killed at any time - even if you
was in your own bed at home. Now let's know who you are, and what you
are, and all about it.'

The old woman's threats and promises; the dread of giving her
offence; and the habit, unusual to a child, but almost natural to
Florence now, of being quiet, and repressing what she felt, and
feared, and hoped; enabled her to do this bidding, and to tell her
little history, or what she knew of it. Mrs Brown listened
attentively, until she had finished.

'So your name's Dombey, eh?' said Mrs Brown.

'I want that pretty frock, Miss Dombey,' said Good Mrs Brown, 'and
that little bonnet, and a petticoat or two, and anything else you can
spare. Come! Take 'em off.'

Florence obeyed, as fast as her trembling hands would allow;
keeping, all the while, a frightened eye on Mrs Brown. When she had
divested herself of all the articles of apparel mentioned by that
lady, Mrs B. examined them at leisure, and seemed tolerably well
satisfied with their quality and value.

'Humph!' she said, running her eyes over the child's slight figure,
'I don't see anything else - except the shoes. I must have the shoes,
Miss Dombey.'

Poor little Florence took them off with equal alacrity, only too
glad to have any more means of conciliation about her. The old woman
then produced some wretched substitutes from the bottom of the heap of
rags, which she turned up for that purpose; together with a girl's
cloak, quite worn out and very old; and the crushed remains of a
bonnet that had probably been picked up from some ditch or dunghill.
In this dainty raiment, she instructed Florence to dress herself; and
as such preparation seemed a prelude to her release, the child
complied with increased readiness, if possible.

In hurriedly putting on the bonnet, if that may be called a bonnet
which was more like a pad to carry loads on, she caught it in her hair
which grew luxuriantly, and could not immediately disentangle it. Good
Mrs Brown whipped out a large pair of scissors, and fell into an
unaccountable state of excitement.

'Why couldn't you let me be!' said Mrs Brown, 'when I was
contented? You little fool!'

'I beg your pardon. I don't know what I have done,' panted
Florence. 'I couldn't help it.'

'Couldn't help it!' cried Mrs Brown. 'How do you expect I can help
it? Why, Lord!' said the old woman, ruffling her curls with a furious
pleasure, 'anybody but me would have had 'em off, first of all.'
Florence was so relieved to find that it was only her hair and not her
head which Mrs Brown coveted, that she offered no resistance or
entreaty, and merely raised her mild eyes towards the face of that
good soul.

'If I hadn't once had a gal of my own - beyond seas now- that was
proud of her hair,' said Mrs Brown, 'I'd have had every lock of it.
She's far away, she's far away! Oho! Oho!'

Mrs Brown's was not a melodious cry, but, accompanied with a wild
tossing up of her lean arms, it was full of passionate grief, and
thrilled to the heart of Florence, whom it frightened more than ever.
It had its part, perhaps, in saving her curls; for Mrs Brown, after
hovering about her with the scissors for some moments, like a new kind
of butterfly, bade her hide them under the bonnet and let no trace of
them escape to tempt her. Having accomplished this victory over
herself, Mrs Brown resumed her seat on the bones, and smoked a very
short black pipe, mowing and mumbling all the time, as if she were
eating the stem.

When the pipe was smoked out, she gave the child a rabbit-skin to
carry, that she might appear the more like her ordinary companion, and
told her that she was now going to lead her to a public street whence
she could inquire her way to her friends. But she cautioned her, with
threats of summary and deadly vengeance in case of disobedience, not
to talk to strangers, nor to repair to her own home (which may have
been too near for Mrs Brown's convenience), but to her father's office
in the City; also to wait at the street corner where she would be
left, until the clock struck three. These directions Mrs Brown
enforced with assurances that there would be potent eyes and ears in
her employment cognizant of all she did; and these directions Florence
promised faithfully and earnestly to observe.

At length, Mrs Brown, issuing forth, conducted her changed and
ragged little friend through a labyrinth of narrow streets and lanes
and alleys, which emerged, after a long time, upon a stable yard, with
a gateway at the end, whence the roar of a great thoroughfare made
itself audible. Pointing out this gateway, and informing Florence that
when the clocks struck three she was to go to the left, Mrs Brown,
after making a parting grasp at her hair which seemed involuntary and
quite beyond her own control, told her she knew what to do, and bade
her go and do it: remembering that she was watched.

With a lighter heart, but still sore afraid, Florence felt herself
released, and tripped off to the corner. When she reached it, she
looked back and saw the head of Good Mrs Brown peeping out of the low
wooden passage, where she had issued her parting injunctions; likewise
the fist of Good Mrs Brown shaking towards her. But though she often
looked back afterwards - every minute, at least, in her nervous
recollection of the old woman - she could not see her again.

Florence remained there, looking at the bustle in the street, and
more and more bewildered by it; and in the meanwhile the clocks
appeared to have made up their minds never to strike three any more.
At last the steeples rang out three o'clock; there was one close by,
so she couldn't be mistaken; and - after often looking over her
shoulder, and often going a little way, and as often coming back
again, lest the all-powerful spies of Mrs Brown should take offence -
she hurried off, as fast as she could in her slipshod shoes, holding
the rabbit-skin tight in her hand.

All she knew of her father's offices was that they belonged to
Dombey and Son, and that that was a great power belonging to the City.
So she could only ask the way to Dombey and Son's in the City; and as
she generally made inquiry of children - being afraid to ask grown
people - she got very little satisfaction indeed. But by dint of
asking her way to the City after a while, and dropping the rest of her
inquiry for the present, she really did advance, by slow degrees,
towards the heart of that great region which is governed by the
terrible Lord Mayor.

Tired of walking, repulsed and pushed about, stunned by the noise
and confusion, anxious for her brother and the nurses, terrified by
what she had undergone, and the prospect of encountering her angry
father in such an altered state; perplexed and frightened alike by
what had passed, and what was passing, and what was yet before her;
Florence went upon her weary way with tearful eyes, and once or twice
could not help stopping to ease her bursting heart by crying bitterly.
But few people noticed her at those times, in the garb she wore: or if
they did, believed that she was tutored to excite compassion, and
passed on. Florence, too, called to her aid all the firmness and
self-reliance of a character that her sad experience had prematurely
formed and tried: and keeping the end she had in view steadily before
her, steadily pursued it.

It was full two hours later in the afternoon than when she had
started on this strange adventure, when, escaping from the clash and
clangour of a narrow street full of carts and waggons, she peeped into
a kind of wharf or landing-place upon the river-side, where there were
a great many packages, casks, and boxes, strewn about; a large pair of
wooden scales; and a little wooden house on wheels, outside of which,
looking at the neighbouring masts and boats, a stout man stood
whistling, with his pen behind his ear, and his hands in his pockets,
as if his day's work were nearly done.

'Now then! 'said this man, happening to turn round. 'We haven't got
anything for you, little girl. Be off!'

'If you please, is this the City?' asked the trembling daughter of
the Dombeys.

'Ah! It's the City. You know that well enough, I daresay. Be off!
We haven't got anything for you.'

'I don't want anything, thank you,' was the timid answer. 'Except
to know the way to Dombey and Son's.'

The man who had been strolling carelessly towards her, seemed
surprised by this reply, and looking attentively in her face,

'Why, what can you want with Dombey and Son's?'

'To know the way there, if you please.'

The man looked at her yet more curiously, and rubbed the back of
his head so hard in his wonderment that he knocked his own hat off.

'Joe!' he called to another man - a labourer- as he picked it up
and put it on again.

'Joe it is!' said Joe.

'Where's that young spark of Dombey's who's been watching the
shipment of them goods?'

'Just gone, by t'other gate,' said Joe.

'Call him back a minute.'

Joe ran up an archway, bawling as he went, and very soon returned

with a blithe-looking boy.

'You're Dombey's jockey, ain't you?' said the first man.

'I'm in Dombey's House, Mr Clark,' returned the boy.

'Look'ye here, then,' said Mr Clark.

Obedient to the indication of Mr Clark's hand, the boy approached
towards Florence, wondering, as well he might, what he had to do with
her. But she, who had heard what passed, and who, besides the relief
of so suddenly considering herself safe at her journey's end, felt
reassured beyond all measure by his lively youthful face and manner,
ran eagerly up to him, leaving one of the slipshod shoes upon the
ground and caught his hand in both of hers.

'I am lost, if you please!' said Florence.

'Lost!' cried the boy.

'Yes, I was lost this morning, a long way from here - and I have
had my clothes taken away, since - and I am not dressed in my own now
- and my name is Florence Dombey, my little brother's only sister -
and, oh dear, dear, take care of me, if you please!' sobbed Florence,
giving full vent to the childish feelings she had so long suppressed,
and bursting into tears. At the same time her miserable bonnet falling
off, her hair came tumbling down about her face: moving to speechless
admiration and commiseration, young Walter, nephew of Solomon Gills,
Ships' Instrument-maker in general.

Mr Clark stood rapt in amazement: observing under his breath, I
never saw such a start on this wharf before. Walter picked up the
shoe, and put it on the little foot as the Prince in the story might
have fitted Cinderella's slipper on. He hung the rabbit-skin over his
left arm; gave the right to Florence; and felt, not to say like
Richard Whittington - that is a tame comparison - but like Saint
George of England, with the dragon lying dead before him.

'Don't cry, Miss Dombey,' said Walter, in a transport of


'What a wonderful thing for me that I am here! You are as safe now
as if you were guarded by a whole boat's crew of picked men from a
man-of-war. Oh, don't cry.'

'I won't cry any more,' said Florence. 'I am only crying for joy.'

'Crying for joy!' thought Walter, 'and I'm the cause of it! Come
along, Miss Dombey. There's the other shoe off now! Take mine, Miss

'No, no, no,' said Florence, checking him in the act of impetuously

pulling off his own. 'These do better. These do very well.'

'Why, to be sure,' said Walter, glancing at her foot, 'mine are a
mile too large. What am I thinking about! You never could walk in
mine! Come along, Miss Dombey. Let me see the villain who will dare
molest you now.'

So Walter, looking immensely fierce, led off Florence, looking very
happy; and they went arm-in-arm along the streets, perfectly
indifferent to any astonishment that their appearance might or did
excite by the way.

It was growing dark and foggy, and beginning to rain too; but they
cared nothing for this: being both wholly absorbed in the late
adventures of Florence, which she related with the innocent good faith
and confidence of her years, while Walter listened as if, far from the
mud and grease of Thames Street, they were rambling alone among the
broad leaves and tall trees of some desert island in the tropics - as
he very likely fancied, for the time, they were.

'Have we far to go?' asked Florence at last, lilting up her eyes to
her companion's face.

'Ah! By-the-bye,' said Walter, stopping, 'let me see; where are we?
Oh! I know. But the offices are shut up now, Miss Dombey. There's
nobody there. Mr Dombey has gone home long ago. I suppose we must go
home too? or, stay. Suppose I take you to my Uncle's, where I live -
it's very near here - and go to your house in a coach to tell them you
are safe, and bring you back some clothes. Won't that be best?'

'I think so,' answered Florence. 'Don't you? What do you think?'

As they stood deliberating in the street, a man passed them, who
glanced quickly at Walter as he went by, as if he recognised him; but
seeming to correct that first impression, he passed on without

'Why, I think it's Mr Carker,' said Walter. 'Carker in our House.
Not Carker our Manager, Miss Dombey - the other Carker; the Junior -
Halloa! Mr Carker!'

'Is that Walter Gay?' said the other, stopping and returning. 'I
couldn't believe it, with such a strange companion.

As he stood near a lamp, listening with surprise to Walter's
hurried explanation, he presented a remarkable contrast to the two
youthful figures arm-in-arm before him. He was not old, but his hair
was white; his body was bent, or bowed as if by the weight of some
great trouble: and there were deep lines in his worn and melancholy
face. The fire of his eyes, the expression of his features, the very
voice in which he spoke, were all subdued and quenched, as if the
spirit within him lay in ashes. He was respectably, though very
plainly dressed, in black; but his clothes, moulded to the general
character of his figure, seemed to shrink and abase themselves upon
him, and to join in the sorrowful solicitation which the whole man
from head to foot expressed, to be left unnoticed, and alone in his

And yet his interest in youth and hopefulness was not extinguished
with the other embers of his soul, for he watched the boy's earnest
countenance as he spoke with unusual sympathy, though with an
inexplicable show of trouble and compassion, which escaped into his
looks, however hard he strove to hold it prisoner. When Walter, in
conclusion, put to him the question he had put to Florence, he still
stood glancing at him with the same expression, as if he had read some
fate upon his face, mournfully at variance with its present

'What do you advise, Mr Carker?' said Walter, smiling. 'You always
give me good advice, you know, when you do speak to me. That's not
often, though.'

'I think your own idea is the best,' he answered: looking from
Florence to Walter, and back again.

'Mr Carker,' said Walter, brightening with a generous thought,
'Come! Here's a chance for you. Go you to Mr Dombey's, and be the
messenger of good news. It may do you some good, Sir. I'll remain at
home. You shall go.'

'I!' returned the other.

'Yes. Why not, Mr Carker?' said the boy.

He merely shook him by the hand in answer; he seemed in a manner
ashamed and afraid even to do that; and bidding him good-night, and
advising him to make haste, turned away.

'Come, Miss Dombey,' said Walter, looking after him as they turned
away also, 'we'll go to my Uncle's as quick as we can. Did you ever
hear Mr Dombey speak of Mr Carker the Junior, Miss Florence?'

'No,' returned the child, mildly, 'I don't often hear Papa speak.'

'Ah! true! more shame for him,' thought Walter. After a minute's
pause, during which he had been looking down upon the gentle patient
little face moving on at his side, he said, 'The strangest man, Mr
Carker the Junior is, Miss Florence, that ever you heard of. If you
could understand what an extraordinary interest he takes in me, and
yet how he shuns me and avoids me; and what a low place he holds in
our office, and how he is never advanced, and never complains, though
year after year he sees young men passed over his head, and though his
brother (younger than he is), is our head Manager, you would be as
much puzzled about him as I am.'

As Florence could hardly be expected to understand much about it,
Walter bestirred himself with his accustomed boyish animation and
restlessness to change the subject; and one of the unfortunate shoes
coming off again opportunely, proposed to carry Florence to his
uncle's in his arms. Florence, though very tired, laughingly declined
the proposal, lest he should let her fall; and as they were already
near the wooden Midshipman, and as Walter went on to cite various
precedents, from shipwrecks and other moving accidents, where younger
boys than he had triumphantly rescued and carried off older girls than
Florence, they were still in full conversation about it when they
arrived at the Instrument-maker's door.

'Holloa, Uncle Sol!' cried Walter, bursting into the shop, and
speaking incoherently and out of breath, from that time forth, for the
rest of the evening. 'Here's a wonderful adventure! Here's Mr Dombey's
daughter lost in the streets, and robbed of her clothes by an old
witch of a woman - found by me - brought home to our parlour to rest -
look here!'

'Good Heaven!' said Uncle Sol, starting back against his favourite
compass-case. 'It can't be! Well, I - '

'No, nor anybody else,' said Walter, anticipating the rest. 'Nobody
would, nobody could, you know. Here! just help me lift the little sofa
near the fire, will you, Uncle Sol - take care of the plates - cut
some dinner for her, will you, Uncle - throw those shoes under the
grate. Miss Florence - put your feet on the fender to dry - how damp
they are - here's an adventure, Uncle, eh? - God bless my soul, how
hot I am!'

Solomon Gills was quite as hot, by sympathy, and in excessive
bewilderment. He patted Florence's head, pressed her to eat, pressed
her to drink, rubbed the soles of her feet with his
pocket-handkerchief heated at the fire, followed his locomotive nephew
with his eyes, and ears, and had no clear perception of anything
except that he was being constantly knocked against and tumbled over
by that excited young gentleman, as he darted about the room
attempting to accomplish twenty things at once, and doing nothing at

'Here, wait a minute, Uncle,' he continued, catching up a candle,
'till I run upstairs, and get another jacket on, and then I'll be off.
I say, Uncle, isn't this an adventure?'

'My dear boy,' said Solomon, who, with his spectacles on his
forehead and the great chronometer in his pocket, was incessantly
oscillating between Florence on the sofa, and his nephew in all parts
of the parlour, 'it's the most extraordinary - '

'No, but do, Uncle, please - do, Miss Florence - dinner, you know,

'Yes, yes, yes,' cried Solomon, cutting instantly into a leg of
mutton, as if he were catering for a giant. 'I'll take care of her,
Wally! I understand. Pretty dear! Famished, of course. You go and get
ready. Lord bless me! Sir Richard Whittington thrice Lord Mayor of

Walter was not very long in mounting to his lofty garret and
descending from it, but in the meantime Florence, overcome by fatigue,
had sunk into a doze before the fire. The short interval of quiet,
though only a few minutes in duration, enabled Solomon Gills so far to
collect his wits as to make some little arrangements for her comfort,
and to darken the room, and to screen her from the blaze. Thus, when
the boy returned, she was sleeping peacefully.

'That's capital!' he whispered, giving Solomon such a hug that it
squeezed a new expression into his face. 'Now I'm off. I'll just take
a crust of bread with me, for I'm very hungry - and don't wake her,
Uncle Sol.'

'No, no,' said Solomon. 'Pretty child.'

'Pretty, indeed!' cried Walter. 'I never saw such a face, Uncle
Sol. Now I'm off.'

'That's right,' said Solomon, greatly relieved.

'I say, Uncle Sol,' cried Walter, putting his face in at the door.

'Here he is again,' said Solomon.

'How does she look now?'

'Quite happy,' said Solomon.

'That's famous! now I'm off.'

'I hope you are,' said Solomon to himself.

'I say, Uncle Sol,' cried Walter, reappearing at the door.

'Here he is again!' said Solomon.

'We met Mr Carker the Junior in the street, queerer than ever. He
bade me good-bye, but came behind us here - there's an odd thing! -
for when we reached the shop door, I looked round, and saw him going
quietly away, like a servant who had seen me home, or a faithful dog.
How does she look now, Uncle?'

'Pretty much the same as before, Wally,' replied Uncle Sol.

'That's right. Now I am off!'

And this time he really was: and Solomon Gills, with no appetite
for dinner, sat on the opposite side of the fire, watching Florence in
her slumber, building a great many airy castles of the most fantastic
architecture; and looking, in the dim shade, and in the close vicinity
of all the instruments, like a magician disguised in a Welsh wig and a
suit of coffee colour, who held the child in an enchanted sleep.

In the meantime, Walter proceeded towards Mr Dombey's house at a
pace seldom achieved by a hack horse from the stand; and yet with his
head out of window every two or three minutes, in impatient
remonstrance with the driver. Arriving at his journey's end, he leaped
out, and breathlessly announcing his errand to the servant, followed
him straight into the library, we there was a great confusion of
tongues, and where Mr Dombey, his sister, and Miss Tox, Richards, and
Nipper, were all congregated together.

'Oh! I beg your pardon, Sir,' said Walter, rushing up to him, 'but
I'm happy to say it's all right, Sir. Miss Dombey's found!'

The boy with his open face, and flowing hair, and sparkling eyes,
panting with pleasure and excitement, was wonderfully opposed to Mr
Dombey, as he sat confronting him in his library chair.

'I told you, Louisa, that she would certainly be found,' said Mr
Dombey, looking slightly over his shoulder at that lady, who wept in
company with Miss Tox. 'Let the servants know that no further steps
are necessary. This boy who brings the information, is young Gay, from
the office. How was my daughter found, Sir? I know how she was lost.'
Here he looked majestically at Richards. 'But how was she found? Who
found her?'

'Why, I believe I found Miss Dombey, Sir,' said Walter modestly,
'at least I don't know that I can claim the merit of having exactly
found her, Sir, but I was the fortunate instrument of - '

'What do you mean, Sir,' interrupted Mr Dombey, regarding the boy's
evident pride and pleasure in his share of the transaction with an
instinctive dislike, 'by not having exactly found my daughter, and by
being a fortunate instrument? Be plain and coherent, if you please.'

It was quite out of Walter's power to be coherent; but he rendered
himself as explanatory as he could, in his breathless state, and
stated why he had come alone.

'You hear this, girl?' said Mr Dombey sternly to the black-eyed.
'Take what is necessary, and return immediately with this young man to
fetch Miss Florence home. Gay, you will be rewarded to-morrow.

'Oh! thank you, Sir,' said Walter. 'You are very kind. I'm sure I
was not thinking of any reward, Sir.'

'You are a boy,' said Mr Dombey, suddenly and almost fiercely; 'and
what you think of, or affect to think of, is of little consequence.
You have done well, Sir. Don't undo it. Louisa, please to give the lad
some wine.'

Mr Dombey's glance followed Walter Gay with sharp disfavour, as he
left the room under the pilotage of Mrs Chick; and it may be that his
mind's eye followed him with no greater relish, as he rode back to his
Uncle's with Miss Susan Nipper.

There they found that Florence, much refreshed by sleep, had dined,
and greatly improved the acquaintance of Solomon Gills, with whom she
was on terms of perfect confidence and ease. The black-eyed (who had
cried so much that she might now be called the red-eyed, and who was
very silent and depressed) caught her in her arms without a word of
contradiction or reproach, and made a very hysterical meeting of it.
Then converting the parlour, for the nonce, into a private tiring
room, she dressed her, with great care, in proper clothes; and
presently led her forth, as like a Dombey as her natural
disqualifications admitted of her being made.

'Good-night!' said Florence, running up to Solomon. 'You have been
very good to me.

Old Sol was quite delighted, and kissed her like her grand-father.

'Good-night, Walter! Good-bye!' said Florence.

'Good-bye!' said Walter, giving both his hands.

'I'll never forget you,' pursued Florence. 'No! indeed I never
will. Good-bye, Walter!' In the innocence of her grateful heart, the
child lifted up her face to his. Walter, bending down his own, raised
it again, all red and burning; and looked at Uncle Sol, quite

'Where's Walter?' 'Good-night, Walter!' 'Good-bye, Walter!' 'Shake
hands once more, Walter!' This was still Florence's cry, after she was
shut up with her little maid, in the coach. And when the coach at
length moved off, Walter on the door-step gaily turned the waving of
her handkerchief, while the wooden Midshipman behind him seemed, like
himself, intent upon that coach alone, excluding all the other passing
coaches from his observation.

In good time Mr Dombey's mansion was gained again, and again there
was a noise of tongues in the library. Again, too, the coach was
ordered to wait - 'for Mrs Richards,' one of Susan's fellow-servants
ominously whispered, as she passed with Florence.

The entrance of the lost child made a slight sensation, but not
much. Mr Dombey, who had never found her, kissed her once upon the
forehead, and cautioned her not to run away again, or wander anywhere
with treacherous attendants. Mrs Chick stopped in her lamentations on
the corruption of human nature, even when beckoned to the paths of
virtue by a Charitable Grinder; and received her with a welcome
something short of the reception due to none but perfect Dombeys. Miss
Tox regulated her feelings by the models before her. Richards, the
culprit Richards, alone poured out her heart in broken words of
welcome, and bowed herself over the little wandering head as if she
really loved it.

'Ah, Richards!' said Mrs Chick, with a sigh. 'It would have been
much more satisfactory to those who wish to think well of their fellow
creatures, and much more becoming in you, if you had shown some proper
feeling, in time, for the little child that is now going to be
prematurely deprived of its natural nourishment.

'Cut off,' said Miss Tox, in a plaintive whisper, 'from one common

'If it was ungrateful case,' said Mrs Chick, solemnly, 'and I had
your reflections, Richards, I should feel as if the Charitable
Grinders' dress would blight my child, and the education choke him.'

For the matter of that - but Mrs Chick didn't know it - he had been
pretty well blighted by the dress already; and as to the education,
even its retributive effect might be produced in time, for it was a
storm of sobs and blows.

'Louisa!' said Mr Dombey. 'It is not necessary to prolong these
observations. The woman is discharged and paid. You leave this house,
Richards, for taking my son - my son,' said Mr Dombey, emphatically
repeating these two words, 'into haunts and into society which are not
to be thought of without a shudder. As to the accident which befel
Miss Florence this morning, I regard that as, in one great sense, a
happy and fortunate circumstance; inasmuch as, but for that
occurrence, I never could have known - and from your own lips too - of
what you had been guilty. I think, Louisa, the other nurse, the young
person,' here Miss Nipper sobbed aloud, 'being so much younger, and
necessarily influenced by Paul's nurse, may remain. Have the goodness
to direct that this woman's coach is paid to' - Mr Dombey stopped and
winced - 'to Staggs's Gardens.'

Polly moved towards the door, with Florence holding to her dress,
and crying to her in the most pathetic manner not to go away. It was a
dagger in the haughty father's heart, an arrow in his brain, to see
how the flesh and blood he could not disown clung to this obscure
stranger, and he sitting by. Not that he cared to whom his daughter
turned, or from whom turned away. The swift sharp agony struck through
him, as he thought of what his son might do.

His son cried lustily that night, at all events. Sooth to say, poor
Paul had better reason for his tears than sons of that age often have,
for he had lost his second mother - his first, so far as he knew - by
a stroke as sudden as that natural affliction which had darkened the
beginning of his life. At the same blow, his sister too, who cried
herself to sleep so mournfully, had lost as good and true a friend.
But that is quite beside the question. Let us waste no words about it.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.