mansion in its grim reality, as it stood lowering on
the street : always by night, when lights were shin-
ing from neighboring windows, a blot upon its
scanty brightness ; always by day a frown upon its
There were not two dragon sentries keeping ward
before the gate of this abode, as in magic legend
are usually found on duty over the wronged inno-
cence 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 arbor over the
threshold, budding in spikes and corkscrew points,
DOMBEY AND SON. 49
and bearing, one on either side, two ominous extin-
guishers, 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 — particu-
larly round the corner where the side-wall was —
and drew ghosts on the stable door; and, being
sometimes driven off by Mr. Towlinson, made por-
traits 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 morn-
ing, 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 autom-
aton 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 fur-
niture, still piled and covered up, shrunk like im-
prisoned and forgotten men, and changed insen-
sibly. Mirrors were dim as with the breath of
years. Patterns of carpets faded, and became per-
plexed 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,
VOL. II. -4.
60 DOMBEY AND SON.
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 black-
beetle 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 be-
neath 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 pendent
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
DO^nBEY AND SON. 51
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, crum-
bling 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 dom-
ineered above the leaves. Through the whole build-
ing, 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 in-
fluences, 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 un-
accountable recollection of his supposed enemy in
52 DOMBEY AND SON.
the neighborhood, 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
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 his table, chan-
ging 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 ; to-morrow 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 reject-
ing 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 house-
hold found it out when she was not there — and
they all held Mr. Dombey's rooms in awe — it was
DOMBEY AND SON. 53
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, excepting that she left her light
Shadowy company attended Florence up and down,
the echoing house, and sat with her in the dis-
mantled 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
favorite child, that sometimes, for the moment, she
almost believed it was so, and, borne on by the cur-
rent of that pensive fiction, seemed to remember
how they had watched her brother in his grave
together ; how they had freely shared his heart be-
tween 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 con-
fidence 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 pur-
54 Do:MBEr axd son.
pose. Into her miud, 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 murmur-
ing, 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
DOMBEY AND SON. 55
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 knowl-
edge 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
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 stead-
fastly. 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.
56 do:mbey and son.
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 Sket-
tles, Susan," returned Florence, with a mild correc-
tion of that young lady's familiar mention of the
family in question, "to repeat their invitation so
Miss Nipper, who was perhaps the most thorough-
going partisan on the face of the earth, and who
carried her partisanship into all matters, great or
small, and perpetually waged war with it against
society, screwed up her lips and shook her head, as
a protest against any recognition of disinterestedness
in the Skettleses, and a plea in bar that they would
have valuable consideration for their kindness in
the company of Florence.
" They know what they're about, if ever people
did," murmured Miss Nipper, drawing in her breath,
" oh ! trust them Skettleses for that ! "
" I am not very anxious to go to Fulham, Susan,
I confess," said Florence thoughtfully ; " but it will
be right to go. I think it will be better."
"Much better," interposed Susan, with another
emphatic shake of her head.
" And so," said Florence, " though I would prefer
to have gone when there was no one there, instead
of in this vacation-time, when it seems there are
some young people staying in the house, I have
thankfully said yes."
DOIMBEY AND SON. 57
" For which / say, Miss Floy, Oh be joyful ! "
returned Susan. " Ah ! h — h ! "
This last ejaculation, with which Miss Nipper
frequently wound up a sentence at about that epoch
of time, was supposed, below the level of the hall,
to have a general reference to Mr. Dombey, and to
be expressive of a yearning in Miss Nipper to favor
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
"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 strug-
gling with some latent anxiety and alarm, and looking
full at her young mistress, while endeavoring to work
herself into a state of resentment with the unoffend-
ing 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
58 DOMBEY AND SON.
" Why, nothing, miss," said Susan. " Good gra-
cious, nothing ! It's only that wet curl-paper of a
man Perch, that any one might almost make away
with, with a touch, and really it would be a blessed
event for all parties if some one would take pity on
him, and would have the goodness ! "
" Does he give up the ship, Susan ? " inquired
Florence, very pale.
"No, miss," returned Susan; "I should like to
see him make so bold as to 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 con-
sideration, " if I know myself, a dromedary neither."
" What else does he say, Susan ? " inquired Flor-
ence earnestly. "Won't you tell me ? "
"As if I wouldn't tell you anything. Miss Floy,
and everything ! " said Susan. " Why, 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 any one 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,
DOMBEY AND SON. 59
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 weather-cocks on spires and
housetops were mysterious with hints of stormy
wind, and pointed, like so many ghostly fingers, out
to dangerous seas, where fragments of great wrecks
were drifting, perhaps, and helpless men were rocked
upon them into a sleep as deep as the unfathomable
waters. When Florence came into the City, and
passed gentlemen who were talking together, she
dreaded to hear them speaking of the ship, and
saying it was lost. Pictures and prints of vessels
fighting: with the rolling waves filled her with alarm.
The smoke and clouds, though moving gently, moved
too fast for her apprehensions, and made her fear
there was a tempest blowing at that moment on the
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-
60 DOMBEY AND SON.
kind and herself there was some natural animos-
ity, 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 instru-
ment-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 capa-
cious mouth two fingers of each hand, and, with
the assistance of that machinery, whistled, with
astonishing shrillness, to some pigeons at a consid-
erable 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 resusci-
tated prospects of her son and heir, Florence was
prepared for the meeting; so, a favorable moment
presenting itself, they both hastened across, without
any further contemplation of Mrs. Richards's bane.
That sporting character, unconscious of their ap-
proach, again whistled with his utmost might, and
then yelled, in a rapture of excitement, " Strays !
Whoo-oop ! Strap's ! " 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; where-
upon Mrs. Richards's first-born pierced them with
another whistle, and again yelled, in a voice that
rose above the turmoil of the street, " Strays !
Whoo-oop ! Strays I "
DOMBEY AND SON. 61
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. Eichards 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 honor of the latter, and
said to the former, that ]Mr. Gills was out.
" Fetch him home," said Miss Xipper with author-
ity, " 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
" 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 ? "
'' Yes, miss," replied Rob, with another applica-
tion 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
" 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.
62 DOMBEY AND SON.
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 Cap-
tain Cuttle ? " inquired Florence after a moment's
"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 Eob, 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 Eob.
"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
Eob replied in the affirmative, and turning to a
greasy parchment book on the shop desk, read the
Florence again turned to her maid, and took coun-
sel with her in a low voice, while Eob the round-
eyed, mindful of his patron's secret charge, looked
on and listened. Florence proposed that they should
go to Captain Cuttle's house ; hear from his own
lips what he thought of the absence of any tidings
of the Son and Heir ; and bring him, if they could,
to comfort Uncle Sol. Susan at first objected
slightly, on the score of distance ; but a hackney
coach being mentioned by her mistress, withdrew
DOI^EBEY AXD SON. 63
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 arguments.
In fine, Rob was despatched for a coach, the visit-
ors 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 demeanor;
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 pro-