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A short story by Kate Dickinson Sweetser

Florence Dombey

Title:     Florence Dombey
Author: Kate Dickinson Sweetser [More Titles by Sweetser]

There never was a child more loving or more lovable than Florence Dombey. There never was a child more ready to respond to loving ministrations than she, more eager to yield herself in docile obedience to a parent's wish; and to her mother she clung with a desperate affection at variance with her years.

But the sad day came when, clasped in her mother's arms, the little creature, with her perfectly colorless face, and deep, dark eyes, never moved her soft cheek from her mother's face, nor looked on those who stood around, nor shed a tear, understanding that soon she would be bereft of that mother's care and love.

"Mamma!" cried the child at last, sobbing aloud; "Oh, dear mamma! oh, dear mamma!"

Then, clinging fast to that slight spar within her arms, the mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world, leaving Florence and the new-born baby brother in the father's care.

Alas for Florence! To that father,--the pompous head of the great firm of Dombey and Son--girls never showed a sufficient justification for their existence, and this one of his own was an object of supreme indifference to him; while upon the tiny boy, his heir and future partner in the firm, he lavished all his interest, centred all his hopes and affection.

After her mother's death, Florence was taken away by an aunt; and a nurse, named Polly Richards, was secured for baby Paul. A few weeks later, as Polly was sitting in her own room with her young charge, the door was quietly opened, and a dark-eyed little girl looked in.

"It's Miss Florence, come home from her aunt's, no doubt," thought Richards, who had never seen the child before. "Hope I see you well, miss."

"Is that my brother?" asked the child, pointing to the baby.

"Yes, my pretty," answered Richards, "come and kiss him."

But the child, instead of advancing, looked her earnestly in the face, and said:

"What have you done with my mamma?"

"Lord bless the little creetur!" cried Richards. "What a sad question! I done? Nothing, miss."

"What have they done with my mamma?" cried the child.

"I never saw such a melting thing in all my life!" said Richards. "Come nearer here; come, my dear miss! Don't be afraid of me."

"I'm not afraid of you," said the child, drawing nearer, "but I want to know what they have done with my mamma."

"My darling," said Richards, "come and sit down by me, and I'll tell you a story."

With a quick perception that it was intended to relate to what she had asked, little Florence sat down on a stool at the nurse's feet, looking up into her face.

"Once upon a time," said Richards, "there was a lady--a very good lady, and her little daughter dearly loved her--who, when God thought it right that it should be so, was taken ill, and died. Died, never to be seen again by anyone on earth, and was buried in the ground where the trees grow."

"The cold ground," said the child, shuddering.

"No, the warm ground," returned Polly, seizing her advantage, "where the ugly little seeds turn into beautiful flowers, and into grass, and into corn, and I don't know what all besides. Where good people turn into bright angels, and fly away to heaven!"

The child who had drooped her head, raised it again, and sat looking at her intently.

"So; let me see," said Polly, not a little flurried between this earnest scrutiny, her desire to comfort the child, her sudden success, and her very slight confidence in her own powers. "So, when this lady died, she went to God! and she prayed to Him, this lady did," said Polly, affecting herself beyond measure, being heartily in earnest, "to teach her little daughter to be sure of that in her heart; and to know that she was happy there, and loved her still; and to hope and try--oh, all her life--to meet her there one day, never, never, never to part any more."

"It was my mamma!" exclaimed the child, springing up, and clasping her around the neck.

"And the child's heart," said Polly, drawing her to her breast, "the little daughter's heart was so full of the truth of this, that even when she heard it from a strange nurse that couldn't tell it right, but was a poor mother herself, and that was all, she found a comfort in it--didn't feel so lonely--sobbed and cried upon her bosom--took kindly to the baby lying in her lap--and--there, there, there!" said Polly, smoothing the child's curls, and dropping tears upon her. "There, poor dear!"

"Oh, well, Miss Floy! and won't your pa be angry neither?" cried a quick voice at the door, proceeding from a short, brown womanly girl of fourteen, with little snub nose, and black eyes like jet beads, "when it was tickerlerly given out that you wasn't to go and worrit the nurse."

"She don't worry me," was the surprised rejoinder of Polly. "I'm very fond of children. Miss Florence has just come home, hasn't she?"

"Yes, Mrs. Richards, and here, Miss Floy, before you've been in the house a quarter of an hour, you go a-smearing your wet face against the expensive mourning that Mrs. Richards is a-wearing for your ma!" With this remonstrance, young Spitfire, whose real name was Susan Nipper, detached the child from her new friend by a wrench--as if she were a tooth. But she seemed to do it more in the sharp exercise of her official functions, than with any deliberate unkindness.

"She'll be quite happy, now that she's come home again," said Polly, nodding to her with a smile, "and will be so pleased to see her dear papa to-night."

"Lork, Mrs. Richards!" cried Miss Nipper, taking up her words with a jerk, "Don't! See her dear papa, indeed! I should like to see her do it! Her pa's a deal too wrapped up in somebody else; and before there was somebody else to be wrapped up in, she never was a favorite. Girls are thrown away in this house, I assure you."

"You surprise me," cried Polly. "Hasn't Mr. Dombey seen her since--"

"No," interrupted Miss Nipper. "Not once since. And he hadn't hardly set his eyes upon her before that, for months and months, and I don't think he would know her for his own child if he was to meet her in the streets to-morrow. Oh, there's a Tartar within a hundred miles of here, I can tell you, Mrs. Richards!" said Susan Nipper; "Wish you good morning, Mrs. Richards. Now Miss Floy, you come along with me, and don't go hanging back like a naughty wicked child, that judgments is no example to, don't."

In spite of being thus adjured, and in spite also of some hauling on the part of Susan Nipper, little Florence broke away, and kissed her new friend affectionately, but Susan Nipper made a charge at her, and swept her out of the room.

When Polly Richards was left alone, her heart was sore for the motherless little girl, and she determined to devise some means of having Florence beside her lawfully and without rebellion. An opening happened to present itself that very night.

She had been rung down into the conservatory, as usual, and was walking about with the baby in her arms, when Mr. Dombey came up and stopped her.

"He looks thriving," said Mr. Dombey, glancing with great interest at Paul's tiny face, which she uncovered for his observation. "They give you everything that you want, I hope?"

"Oh, yes, thank you, sir;"

She hesitated so, however, that Mr. Dombey stopped again and looked at her inquiringly.

"I believe nothing is so good for making children lively, sir, as seeing other children playing about them," observed Polly, taking courage.

"I think I mentioned to you, Richards, when you came here," said Mr. Dombey, with a frown; "that I wished you to see as little of your family as possible. You can continue your walk, if you please."

With that he disappeared into an inner room, and Polly felt that she had fallen into disgrace without the least advancement of her purpose; but next night when she came down, he called her to him. "If you really think that kind of society is good for the child," he said sharply, as if there had been no interval since she proposed it, "where's Miss Florence?"

"Nothing could be better than Miss Florence, sir," said Polly eagerly, "but I understood from her little maid that they were not to--" But Mr. Dombey rang the bell, and gave his orders before she had a chance to finish the sentence.

"Tell them always to let Miss Florence be with Richards when she chooses," he commanded; and, the iron being hot, Richards striking on it boldly, requested that the child might be sent down at once to make friends with her little brother.

When Florence timidly presented herself, had Mr. Dombey looked towards her with a father's eye, he might have read in her keen glance the passionate desire to run to him, crying, "Oh, father, try to love me,--there is no one else"; the dread of a repulse; the fear of being too bold and of offending him. But he saw nothing of this. He saw her pause at the door and look towards him, and he saw no more.

"Come here, Florence," said her father coldly. "Have you nothing to say to me?"

The tears that stood in her eyes as she raised them quickly to his face, were frozen by the expression it wore. She looked down again, and put out her trembling hand, which Mr. Dombey took loosely in his own.

"There! be a good girl," he said, patting her on the head, and regarding her with a disturbed and doubtful look, "go to Richards! go!"

His little daughter hesitated for another instant, as though she would have clung about him still, or had some lingering hope that he might raise her in his arms and kiss her. But he dropped her hand and turned away. Still Polly persevered, and managed so well with little Paul as to make it very plain that he was all the livelier for his sister's company. When it was time for Florence to go to bed, the nurse urged her to say good night to her father, but the child hesitated, and Mr. Dombey called from the inner room; "It doesn't matter. You can let her come and go without regarding me."

The child shrunk as she listened, and was gone before her humble friend looked around again.

* * * * *

Just around the corner from Mr. Dombey's office was the little shop of a nautical-instrument maker whose name was Solomon Gills. The stock-in-trade of this old gentleman comprised chronometers, barometers, telescopes, compasses, charts, maps, and every kind of an instrument used in the working of a ship's course, or the keeping of a ship's reckoning, or the prosecuting of a ship's discovery. Old prints of ships hung in frames upon the walls; outlandish shells, seaweeds and mosses decorated the chimney-piece; the little wainscoted parlor was lighted by a skylight, like a cabin, The shop itself seemed almost to become a sea-going ship-shape concern, wanting only good sea room, in the event of an unexpected launch, to work its way securely to any desert island in the world.

Here Solomon Gills lived, in skipper-like state, all alone with his nephew, Walter; a boy of fourteen, who looked quite enough like a midshipman to carry out the prevailing idea.

It is half past five o'clock, and an autumn afternoon. Solomon Gills is wondering where Walter is, when a voice exclaims, "Halloa, Uncle Sol!" and the instrument-maker, turning briskly around, sees a cheerful-looking, merry boy fresh with running home in the rain; fair-faced, bright-eyed and curly-haired.

"Well, uncle, how have you got on without me all day? Is dinner ready? I'm so hungry."

"As to getting on," said Solomon, good-naturedly, "It would be odd if I couldn't get on without a young dog like you a great deal better than with you. As to dinner being ready, it's been waiting for you this half-hour. As to being hungry, I am!"

"Come along, then, uncle!" cried the boy, and Uncle Sol and his nephew were speedily engaged on a fried sole, with a prospect of steak to follow.

"Now," said the old man eagerly, "Let's hear something about the Firm."

"Oh! there's not much to be told, uncle," said the boy, plying his knife and fork. "When Mr. Dombey came in, he walked up to my seat--I wish he wasn't so solemn and stiff, uncle--and told me you had spoken to him about me, and that he had found me employment in the House accordingly, and that I was expected to be attentive and punctual, and then he went away. I thought he didn't seem to like me much."

"You mean, I suppose." observed the instrument-maker, "that you didn't seem to like him much."

"Well, uncle," returned the boy laughing, "perhaps so; I never thought of that."

Solomon looked a little graver as he finished his dinner, and glanced from time to time at the boy's bright face. When dinner was done, he went down into a little cellar, and returned with a bottle covered with dust and dirt.

"Why, uncle Sol!" said the boy, "What are you about? that's the wonderful Madeira--there's only one more bottle!"

Uncle Sol nodded his head, and having drawn the cork in solemn silence, filled two glasses, and set the bottle and a third clean glass on the table.

"You shall drink the other bottle, Wally," he said, "When you come to good fortune; when you are a thriving, respected, happy man; when the start in life you have made to-day shall have brought you--as I pray Heaven it may!--to a smooth part of the course you have to run, my child. My love to you!"

They clinked their glasses together, and were deep in conversation, when an addition to the little party made its appearance, in the shape of a gentleman with a hook instead of a hand attached to his right wrist; very bushy black eyebrows; and a thick stick in his left hand, covered all over (like his nose) with knobs. He wore a loose black silk handkerchief round his neck, and such a very large shirt-collar that it looked like a small sail over his wide suit of blue. He was evidently the person for whom the spare wineglass was intended, and evidently knew it; for having taken off his coat, and hung up his hard glazed hat, he brought a chair to where the clean glass was, and sat himself down behind it. He was usually addressed as Captain, this visitor; and had been a pilot, or a skipper, or a privateer's man, or all three perhaps; and was a very salt looking man indeed. His face brightened as he shook hands with uncle and nephew; but he seemed to be of a laconic disposition, and merely said: "How goes it?"

"All well," said Mr. Gills, pushing the bottle towards the new-comer, Captain Cuttle, who thereupon proceeded to fill his glass, and the wonderful Madeira loosened his tongue to the extent of giving utterance to a prodigous oration for Walter's benefit.

"Come," cried Solomon Gills, "we must finish the bottle."

"Stand by!" said Captain Cuttle, filling his glass again. "Give the boy some more."

"Yes," said Sol, "a little more. We'll finish the bottle to the House,--Walter's house. Why, it may be his house one of these days, in part. Who knows? Sir Richard Whittington married his master's daughter."

"Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, and when you are old, you will never depart from it," interposed the Captain. "Wal'r, overhaul the book, my lad!"

"And although Mr. Dombey hasn't a daughter--" Sol began.

"Yes, yes, he has, uncle," said the boy, reddening and laughing. "I know he has. Some of them were talking about it in the office to-day. And they do say that he's taken a dislike to her, and that she's left unnoticed among the servants, while he thinks of no one but his son. That's what they say. Of course I don't know."

"He knows all about her already, you see," said the instrument-maker.

"Nonsense, uncle," cried the boy reddening again; "how can I help hearing what they tell me?"

"The son's a little in our way at present, I'm afraid," added the old man, humoring the joke. "Nevertheless, we'll drink to him," pursued Sol. "So, here's to Dombey and Son."

"Oh, very well, uncle," said the boy merrily. "Since you have introduced the mention of her, and have said that I know all about her, I shall make bold to amend the toast. So,--here's to Dombey--and Son--and Daughter!"

Meanwhile, in Mr. Dombey's mansion, baby Paul was thriving under the watchful care of Polly Richards, Mr. Dombey, and Mr. Dombey's friends, and the day of his christening arrived. On that important occasion, the baby's excitement was so great that no one could soothe him until Florence was summoned. As she hid behind her nurse, he followed her with his eyes; and when she peeped out with a merry cry to him, he sprang up and crowed lustily--laughing outright when she ran in upon him, and seeming to fondle her curls with his tiny hands while she smothered him with kisses.

Was Mr. Dombey pleased to see this? He did not show it. If any sunbeam stole into the room to light the children at their play, it never reached his face. He looked on so coldly that the warm light vanished, even from the laughing eyes of little Florence when, at last, they happened to meet his.

The contemplation of Paul in his christening robe made his nurse yearn for a sight of her own first-born, although this was a pleasure strictly forbidden by Mr. Dombey's orders. But the longing so overpowered her that she consulted Miss Nipper as to the possibility of gratifying it, and that young woman, eager herself for an expedition, urged Polly to visit her home. So, the next morning the two nurses set out together: Richards carrying Paul, and Susan leading little Florence by the hand, and giving her such jerks and pokes as she considered it wholesome to administer. Then for a brief half-hour, Polly enjoyed the longed-for pleasure of being again in the bosom of her family, but the visit had a sad ending, for on the way back, passing through a crowded thoroughfare the little party became separated. A thundering alarm of Mad Bull! was raised. With a wild confusion 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 until she was exhausted, then found with a sensation of terror not to be described, that she was quite alone.

"Susan! Susan!" cried Florence. "Oh, where are they?"

"Where are they?" said an old woman, hobbling across from the opposite side of the road. "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 indeed, miserably dressed, and carried some skins over her arm. Florence was afraid of her, and looked, hesitating, up the street. It was a solitary place, and there was no one in it but herself and the old woman.

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

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

"Mrs. Brown," said the old woman, "Good Mrs. Brown. Susan ain't far off," said Good Mrs. Brown, "and the others are close to her, and nobody's hurt."

The child shed tears of delight on hearing this, and accompanied the old woman willingly. They had not gone far, when they stopped before a shabby little house in a dirty little lane. Opening the door with a key she took out of her pocket, Mrs. Brown pushed the child into a back room, where there was a great heap of rags lying on the floor, a heap of bones, and a heap of sifted dust. But there was no furniture at all, and the walls and ceiling were quite black.

The child became so terrified, that 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 keep you, even above an hour. 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, and Florence's habit of being quiet, and repressing what she felt, enabled her to tell her little history. Mrs. Brown listened attentively until she had finished.

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

Florence obeyed as fast as her trembling hands could allow, keeping all the while, a frightened eye on Mrs. Brown, who examined each article of apparel at leisure, and seemed tolerably well satisfied with their quality and value; she then produced a worn-out girl's cloak, and the crushed remnants of a girl's bonnet, as well as other tattered things. In this dainty raiment she instructed Florence to dress herself, and as this seemed a prelude to her release, the child complied as fast as possible. Mrs. Brown then resumed her seat on the bones, and smoked a very short, black pipe, after which she gave the child a rabbit-skin to carry, that she might appear like her ordinary companion, and led her forth into the streets; but she cautioned her, with threats of deadly vengeance in case of disobedience, to go directly 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, and these directions Florence promised faithfully to observe.

At length Mrs. Brown left her changed and ragged little friend at a corner, where, true to her promise, she remained until the steeple rang out three o'clock, when after often looking over her shoulder, lest the all-powerful spies of Mrs. Brown should take offence at that, she hurried off as fast as she could in her slipshod shoes, holding the rabbit-skin tight in her hand.

Tired of walking, stunned by the noise and confusion, anxious for her brother and the nurses, terrified by what she had undergone, and what was yet before her, Florence once or twice could not help stopping and crying bitterly, but few people noticed her, in the garb she wore, or if they did, believed that she was tutored to excite compassion, and passed on. It was late in the afternoon when she peeped into a kind of wharf, and asked a stout man there if he could tell her the way to Dombey & Son's.

The man looked attentively at her, then called another man, who ran up an archway, and very soon returned with a blithe-looking boy who he said was in Mr. Dombey's employ.

Hearing this, Florence felt re-assured; ran eagerly up to him, and caught his hand in both of hers.

"I'm lost, if you please!" said Florence. "I was lost this morning, a long way from here--and I have had my own clothes taken away since--and my name is Florence Dombey, and, oh dear, take care of me, if you please!" sobbed Florence, giving full vent to her childish feelings.

"Don't cry, Miss Dombey," said young Walter Gay, the nephew of Solomon Gills, in a transport of enthusiasm. "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'm only crying for joy."

"Crying for joy!" thought Walter, "and I'm the cause of it. Come along, Miss Dombey, let me see the villain who will molest you now!"

So Walter, looking immensely fierce, led off Florence looking very happy; and as Mr. Dombey's office was closed for the night, he led her to his uncle's, to leave her there while he should go and tell Mr. Dombey that she was safe, and bring her back some clothes.

"Halloa, Uncle Sol," cried Walter, bursting into the shop; "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 parlor to rest--Here--just help me lift the little sofa near the fire, will you, uncle Sol?--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 all.

"Here, wait a minute, uncle," he continued, "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, "it is the most extraordinary--"

"No, but do, uncle, please--do, Miss Florence--dinner, you know, uncle."

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

While Walter was preparing to leave, Florence, overcome by fatigue, had sunk into a doze before the fire and when the boy returned, she was sleeping peacefully.

"That's capital!" he whispered, "Don't wake her, uncle Sol!"

"No, no," answered Solomon, "Pretty child!"

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

Arriving at Mr. Dombey's house, and breathlessly announcing his errand to the servant, Walter was shown into the library, where he confronted Mr. Dombey.

"Oh! 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!"

"I told you she would certainly be found," said Mr. Dombey calmly, to the others in the room. "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?"

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 told why he had come alone.

"You hear this, girl?" said Mr. Dombey sternly, to Susan Nipper. "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, almost fiercely; "and what you think of, or what you affect to think of, is of little consequence. You have done well, sir. Don't undo it."

Returning to his uncle's with Miss Nipper, Walter found that Florence, much refreshed by sleep, had dined and come to be on terms of perfect confidence and ease with old Sol. Miss Nipper caught her in her arms, and made a very hysterical meeting of it. Then, converting the parlor into a private tiring-room, she dressed her in proper clothes, and presently led her forth to say farewell.

"Good-night," said Florence to the elder man, "you have been very good to me."

Uncle Sol was quite delighted, and kissed her like her grandfather.

"Good-night, Walter," she said, "I'll never forget you, No! Indeed I never will. Good-by!"

The entrance of the lost child at home made a slight sensation, but not much. Mr. Dombey kissed her once upon the forehead, and cautioned her not to wander anywhere again with treacherous attendants. He then dismissed the culprit Polly Richards, from his service, telling her to leave immediately, and it was a dagger in the haughty father's heart to see Florence holding to her dress, and crying to her not to go. 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; and the next day a new nurse, Wickam by name, took Polly's place.

She lavished every care upon little Paul, yet all her vigilance could not make him a thriving boy. When he was nearly five years old, he was a pretty little fellow, but so very delicate that Mr. Dombey became alarmed about him, and decided to send him at once to the seashore.

So to Brighton, Paul and Florence and nurse Wickam went, and boarded with a certain Mrs. Pipchin there. On Saturdays Mr. Dombey came down to a hotel near by, and Paul and Florence would go and have tea with him, and every day they spent their time upon the sands, and Florence was always content when Paul was happy.

While the children were thus living at Brighton, a warrant was served upon old Solomon Gills, by a broker, because of a payment overdue upon a bond debt. Old Sol was overcome by the extent of this calamity, which he could not avert, and Walter hurried out to fetch Captain Cuttle to discuss the situation. To the lad's dismay, the Captain insisted upon applying to Mr. Dombey at once for the necessary loan which would help old Sol out of his difficulty. So Walter proceeded with him to Brighton as fast as coach horses could carry them, and on a Sunday morning while Mr. Dombey was at breakfast, Florence came running in, her face suffused with a bright color, and her eyes sparkling joyfully, and cried:

"Papa! Papa! here's Walter, and he won't come in!"

"Who?" cried Mr. Dombey, "What does she mean,--what is this?"

"Walter, Papa," said Florence timidly; "who found me when I was lost!"

"Tell the boy to come in," said Mr. Dombey. "Now, Gay, what is the matter?"

Tremblingly Walter Gay stood in the presence of his proud employer, and made known his uncle's distress, and when he ceased speaking, Captain Cuttle stepped forward, and clearing a space among the breakfast cups at Mr. Dombey's elbow, produced a silver watch, ready money to the amount of thirteen pounds and half a crown, two teaspoons and a pair of battered sugar-tongs, and piling them up into a heap, that they might look as precious as possible, said:

"Half a loaf is better than no bread, and the same remark holds good with crumbs. There's a few. Annuity of one hundred pounds p'rannum also ready to be made over!"

Florence had listened tearfully to Walter's sad tale and to the captain's offer of his valuables, and little Paul now tried to comfort her; but Mr. Dombey, watching them, saw only his son's wistful expression, thought only of his pleasure, and after taking the child on his knee, and having a brief consulation with him, he announced pompously that Master Paul would lend the money to Walter's uncle. Young Gay tried to express his gratitude for this favor, but Mr. Dombey stopped him short. Then, sweeping the captain's property from him, he added, "Have the goodness to take these things away, sir!"

Captain Cuttle was so much struck by the magnanimity of Mr. Dombey, in refusing treasures lying heaped up to his hand, that when he had deposited them in his pockets again, he could not refrain from grasping that gentleman's right hand in his own solitary left, before following Walter out of the room, and Mr. Dombey shivered at his touch.

Florence was running after them, to send some message to old Sol, when Mr. Dombey called her back, bidding her stay where she was, and so the episode ended.

When the children had been nearly twelve months at Mrs. Pipchin's, Mr. Dombey decided to send Paul to Dr. Blimber's boarding-school where his education would be properly begun. Accordingly, Paul began his studies in that hot-bed of learning, where the dreamy, delicate child with his quaint ways soon became a favorite with teachers and pupils. The process of being educated was difficult for one so young and frail, and he might have sunk beneath the burden of his tasks but for looking forward to the weekly visit to his sister at Mrs. Pipchin's.

Oh, Saturdays! Oh, happy Saturdays! When Florence always came for him at noon, and never would in any weather stay away: these Saturdays were Sabbaths for at least two little Christians among all the Jews, and did the holy Sabbath work of strengthening and knitting up a brother's and a sister's love.

Seeing her brother's difficulty with his lessons, Florence procured books similar to his, and sat down at night to track his footsteps through the thorny ways of learning; and being naturally quick, and taught by that most wonderful of masters, Love, it was not long before she gained upon Paul's heels, and caught, and passed him.

And high was her reward, when one Saturday evening she sat down by his side and made all that was so dark, clear and plain before him. It was nothing but a startled look in Paul's wan face--a flush--a smile--and then a close embrace--but God knows how her heart leaped up at this rich payment for her trouble.

"Oh, Floy!" he cried, "how I love you!"

He said no more about it, but all that evening sat close by her, very quiet; and in the night he called out from his little room, three or four times, that he loved her. Regularly after that Florence sat down with him on Saturday night, and assisted him through so much as they could anticipate together of his next week's work.

And so the months went by, until the midsummer vacation was near at hand, and the great party which was to celebrate the breaking up of school, was about to come off. Some weeks before this, Paul had had a fainting turn, and had not recovered his strength, in consequence of which, he was enjoying complete rest from lessons, and it was clear to every one, that, once at home, he would never come back to Dr. Blimber's or to any school again, and to no one was the sad truth more evident than to Florence.

On the evening of the great party Florence came, looking so beautiful in her simple ball dress, with her fresh flowers in her hand, that she was the admiration of all the young gentlemen of the school, and particularly of Mr. Toots, the head boy; a simple youth with an engaging manner, and the habit of blushing and chuckling when addressed. Mr. Toots had made Paul his especial favorite and charge, and was well repaid for his devotion to the boy by the gracious appreciation which Florence showed him for it, and it was to the care of Mr. Toots that Paul, when leaving, intrusted the dog Diogenes, who had never received a friend into his confidence before Paul had become his companion.

The brother and sister remained together for a time at Mrs. Pipchin's, then went back to their home in London, where little Paul's life ebbed away, and his father's hopes were crushed by the blow.

There was a hush through Mr. Dombey's great mansion when the child was gone, and Florence;--was she so alone in the bleak world that nothing else remained to her except her little maid? Nothing.

At first, when the house subsided into its accustomed course she could do nothing but weep, and wander up and down, and sometimes, in a sudden pang of desolate remembrance, fly to her own chamber, lay her face down on her bed, and know no consolation. But it is not in the nature of pure love to burn so fiercely and unkindly long. Soon, in the midst of the dismal house, her low voice in the twilight slowly touched an old air to which she had so often listened with Paul's head upon her arm. And after that, and when it was quite dark, a little strain of music trembled in the room, repeated often, in the shadowy solitude; and broken murmurs of the strain still trembled on the keys when the sweet voice was hushed in tears.

One day Florence was amazed at receiving a visit from Mr. Toots, who entered the room with much hesitation, and, with a series of chuckles, laughs, and blushes, informed her that he had brought her little Paul's pet, the dog Diogenes, as a companion in her loneliness.

"He ain't a lady's dog, you know," said Mr. Toots, "but I hope you won't mind that. If you would like to have him, he's at the door."

In fact, Diogenes was at that moment staring through the window of a hackney cabriolet, into which he had been ensnared on a false pretence of rats among the straw. Sooth to say, he was as unlike a lady's dog as dog might be; and in his gruff anxiety to get out, gave short yelps, and overbalancing himself by the intensity of his efforts, tumbled down into the straw, and then sprung up panting again, putting out his tongue, as if he had come express to a Dispensary to be examined for his health.

But though Diogenes was as ridiculous a dog as one would meet with on a summer's day; a blundering, ill-favored, clumsy, bullet-headed dog, continually acting on the wrong idea that there was an enemy in the neighborhood whom it was meritorious to bark at; and though he was far from good-tempered, and certainly was not clever, and had hair all over his eyes, and a comical nose, and an inconsistent tail, and a gruff voice,--he was dearer to Florence, in virtue of Paul's parting remembrance of him, and that request that he might be taken care of, than the most valuable and beautiful of his kind. So dear, indeed, was this same ugly Diogenes, and so welcome to her, that she kissed the hand of Mr. Toots in her gratitude. And when Diogenes, released, came tearing up the stairs and, bouncing into the room, dived under all the furniture, and wound a long iron chain that dangled from his neck round legs of chairs and tables, and then tugged at it until his eyes nearly started out of his head; and when he growled at Mr. Toots, who affected familiarity, Florence was as pleased with him as if he had been a miracle of discretion.

Mr. Toots was so overjoyed by the success of his present, and so delighted to see Florence bending over Diogenes, smoothing his coarse back with her little delicate hand--Diogenes graciously allowing it from the first moment of their acquaintance--that he felt it difficult to take leave, and would, no doubt have been a much longer time in making up his mind to do so, if he had not been assisted by Diogenes himself, who suddenly took it into his head to bay at Mr. Toots, and to make short runs at him with his mouth open. Not exactly seeing his way to the end of these demonstrations, Mr. Toot with chuckles, lapsed out of the door, and got away.

"Come, then, Di! Dear Di! Make friends with your new mistress. Let us love each other, Di!" said Florence, fondling his shaggy head. And Di, the rough and gruff, as if his hairy hide were pervious to the tear that dropped upon it, and his dog's heart melted as it fell, put his nose up to her face and swore fidelity.

A banquet was immediately provided for him, and when he had eaten and drunk his fill, he went to Florence, rose up on his hind legs, with his awkward fore-paws on her shoulders, licked her face and hands, nestled his great head against her heart, and wagged his tail till he was tired Finally, he coiled himself up at her feet, and went to sleep.

That same night Susan Nipper told her mistress that Mr. Dombey was to leave home the next day for a trip,--which piece of news filled Florence with dismay, and she sat musing sadly until midnight.

She was little more than a child in years,--not yet fourteen--and the loneliness and gloom of such an hour in the great house might have set an older fancy brooding on vague terrors. But her innocent imagination was too full of one theme to admit them. Nothing wandered in her thought but love; a wandering love indeed, and cast away, but turning always to her father.

She could not go to bed, without making her nightly pilgrimage to his door. The moment she touched it she found that it was open, and there was a light within. The first impulse of the timid child--and she yielded to it--was to retire swiftly. A next, to go back, and to enter. She turned back, urged on by the love within her, and glided in.

Her father sat at his old table, in the middle of the room. His face was turned towards her. It looked worn and dejected, and in the loneliness surrounding him, there was an appeal to Florence that struck home, but when she spoke to him, the sternness of his glance and words so overcame her that she shrank away,--and sobbing, silently ascended to her room again.

Diogenes was broad awake, and waiting for his little mistress.

"Oh, Di! Oh, dear Di! Love me for his sake!"

Diogenes already loved her for his own, and did not care how much he showed it. So he made himself vastly ridiculous by performing a variety of uncouth bounces, and concluded, when poor Florence was at last asleep, by scratching open her bedroom door; rolling up his bed into a pillow; lying down on the boards at the full length of his tether with his head toward her; and looking lazily at her, upside down, out of the tops of his eyes, until, from winking and blinking, he fell asleep himself, and dreamed with gruff barks, of his enemy.

About this time Walter Gay was informed by Mr. Dombey of his appointment to a junior position in the firm's counting house in the Barbadoes. The boy ever since he first saw Florence had thought of her with admiration and compassion, pitying her loneliness; and now when he was about to cross the ocean, his first thought was to seek audience with her little maid, to tell her of his going, to say to her that his uncle had had an interest in Miss Dombey ever since the night when she was lost, and always wished her well and happy, and always would be proud and glad to serve her, if she should need that service.

Upon receiving the message, Florence hastened with Susan Nipper to the old Instrument-maker's Shop, and they passed into the parlor so suddenly that Uncle Sol, in surprise at seeing them, sprang out of his own chair and nearly tumbled over another, as he exclaimed, "Miss Dombey!"

"Is it possible!" cried Walter, starting up in his turn. "Here!"

"Yes," said Florence, advancing to him. "I was afraid you might be going away, and hardly thinking of me. And, Walter, there is something I wish to say to you before you go, and you must call me Florence, if you please, and not speak like a stranger. My dear brother before he died said that he was very fond of you, and said, 'remember Walter'; and if you will be a brother to me, Walter, now that I have none on earth, I'll be your sister all my life, and think of you like one, wherever we may be!"

In her sweet simplicity, she held out both her hands, and Walter, taking them, stooped down and touched the tearful face; and it seemed to him in doing so, that he responded to her innocent appeal beside the dead child's bed.

After Walter's departure, Florence lived alone as before, in the great dreary house, and the blank walls looked down upon her with a vacant stare, as if they had a Gorgon-like mind to stare her youth and beauty into stone.

No magic dwelling-place in magic story, shut up in the heart of a thick wood, was ever more solitary and deserted to the fancy than was her father's mansion in its grim reality. The spell upon it was more wasting than the spell which used to set enchanted houses sleeping once upon a time, but left their waking freshness unimpaired. 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, except Susan Nipper and Diogenes, and she lived within the circle of her innocent pursuits and thoughts, and nothing harmed her. She could go down to her father's rooms now without fear of repulse. She could put everything in order for him, binding little nosegays for his table, changing them as 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. Waking in the night, perhaps, she would tremble at the thought of his coming home and angrily rejecting it, and would hurry down 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. Her father did not know--she held 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 try to gain that art in time, and win him to a better knowledge of his only child.

Thus Florence lived alone in the deserted house, and day succeeded day in a monotony of loneliness until yielding to Susan Nipper's constant request Florence consented to pay a visit to some friends who lived at Fulham on the Thames.

Just at this time she learned that Walter's ship was overdue, and no news had been received of her, and, her mind filled with sad forebodings, she went to see old Sol, She found him tearful and desolate, broken down by the weight of his anxiety, refusing to be comforted even by the hopeful words of Captain Cuttle. So it was with a heavy heart that she went to pay her visit, accompanied by her little maid.

There were some other children staying at the Skettleses. Children who were frank and happy, with fathers and mothers. Children who had no restraint upon their love, and showed it freely. Florence thoughtfully observed them, sought to find out from them what simple art they knew, and she knew not; how she could be taught by them to show her father how she loved him, and to win his love again. But all her efforts failed to give her the secret of the nameless grace she sought, among the youthful company who were assembled in the house, or among the children of the poor, whom she often visited.

Of Walter she thought constantly. Her tears fell often for his sufferings, but rarely for his supposed death, and never long. Thus matters stood with Florence on the day she went home, gladly, to her old secluded life.

"You'll be glad to go through the old rooms, won't you, Susan," said Florence as they turned into the familiar street.

"Well, Miss," returned the Nipper, "I wont deny but what I shall, though I shall hate them again to-morrow, very likely!"--adding breathlessly--"Why gracious me, where's our house?"--

There was a labyrinth of scaffolding raised all around the house. Loads of bricks and stones, and heaps of mortar, and piles of wood, blocked up half of the broad street. Ladders were raised against the walls; men were at work upon the scaffolding; painters and decorators were busy inside; great rolls of paper were being delivered from a cart at the door; an upholsterer's wagon also stopped the way; nothing was to be seen but workmen, swarming from the kitchens to the garret. Inside and outside alike; bricklayers, painters, carpenters, masons; hammer, hod, brush, pickaxe, saw, trowel: all at work together, in full chorus.

Florence descended from the coach, half doubting if it could be the right house, until she recognized Towlinson, the butler, standing at the door to receive her. She passed him as if she were in a dream, and hurried upstairs. Her own room was not yet touched within, but there were beams and boards raised against it without. She went up swiftly to that other bedroom, where her brother's little bed was; and a dark giant of a man, with a pipe in his mouth, and his head tied up in a pocket handkerchief, was staring in at the window.

It was here that Susan Nipper found her, and said would she go downstairs to her papa, who wished to speak to her?

"At home! and wishing to speak to me!" cried Florence, pale and agitated, hurrying down without a moment's hesitation. She thought upon the way down, would she dare to kiss him? Her father might have heard her heart beat when she came into his presence. He was not alone. There were two ladies there. One was old, and the other was young and very beautiful, and of an elegant figure.

"Edith," said Mr. Dombey, "this is my daughter. Florence, this lady will soon be your mamma."

The girl started, and looked up at the beautiful face in a conflict of emotions, among which the tears that name awakened struggled for a moment with surprise, interest, admiration, and an indefinable sort of fear. Then she cried out, "Oh, papa, may you be happy! May you be very, very happy all your life!" then fell weeping on the lady's bosom.

The beautiful lady held her to her breast, and pressed the hand with which she clasped her, as if to reassure and comfort her, and bent her head down over Florence and kissed her on the cheek.

And now Florence began to hope that she would learn from her new and beautiful mamma how to gain her father's love. And in her sleep that night her own mother smiled radiantly upon the hope, and blessed it.

Even in the busy weeks before the wedding-day, the bride-elect had time to win the heart of the lonely girl, and Florence responded to her advances with trustful love, and was happy and hopeful, while the new mother's affection deepened daily. But it soon became evident that the affection aroused Mr. Dombey's keen jealousy, and his wife thought it best to repress her feelings for Florence.

The girl soon became aware that there was no real sympathy between her father and his second wife, and that the happiness in their home, of which she had dreamed, would never be a reality. In truth the cold, proud man with all his wealth and power, could not win from his wife one smile such as she had often bestowed upon Florence in his presence, and this added to his dislike for the girl.

Once only, as Mr. Dombey sat and watched his daughter, the sight of her in her beauty, now almost changed into a woman, roused within him a fleeting feeling of regret at having had a household spirit bending at his feet, and of having overlooked it in his stiff-necked pride. He felt inclined to call her to him; the words were rising to his lips, when they were checked by the entrance of his wife, whose haughty bearing and indifference to him caused the gentle impulse to flee from him, and it never returned.

The breach between husband and wife was daily growing wider, when one morning, riding to the city, Mr. Dombey was thrown from his horse, and being brought home, he gloomily retired to his own rooms, where he was attended by servants, not approached by his wife. Late that night there arose in Florence's mind the image of her father, wounded and in pain, alone, in his own home.

With the same child's heart within her as of old, even as with the child's sweet, timid eyes and clustering hair, Florence, as strange to her father in her early maiden bloom as in her nursery days, crept down to his room and looked in. The housekeeper was fast asleep in an easy-chair before the fire. All was so very still that she knew he was asleep. There was a cut upon his forehead. One of his arms, resting outside of the bed, was bandaged up, and he was very white. After the first assurance of his sleeping quietly, Florence stole close to the bed, and softly kissed him and put the arm with which she dared not touch him, waking, round about him on the pillow, praying to God to bless her father, and to soften him towards her, if it might be so.

On the following day Susan Nipper braced herself for a great feat which she had long been contemplating; forced an entrance into Mr. Dombey's room, and told him in most emphatic language what she thought of his treatment of the motherless little girl who had so long been her charge. Speechless with rage and amazement, Mr. Dombey attempted to summon some one to protect him from her flow of language, but there was no bell-rope near, and he could not move, so he was forced to listen to her tirade until the entrance of the housekeeper cut it short. Susan Nipper was then instantly discharged, and bestirred herself to get her trunks in order, sobbing heartily as she thought of Florence, but exulting at the memory of Mr. Dombey's discomfiture. Florence dared not interfere with her father's commands, and took a sad farewell of the faithful little maid, who had for so long been her companion.

Now Florence was quite alone. She had grown to be seventeen; timid and retiring as her solitary life had made her, it had not embittered her. A child in innocent simplicity: a woman in her modest self-reliance and her deep intensity of feeling, both child and woman seemed at once expressed in her fair face and fragile delicacy of shape; in her thrilling voice, her calm eyes, and sometimes in a strange ethereal light that seemed to rest upon her head.

Mrs. Dombey she seldom saw, and the day soon came when she lost her entirely. The wife's supreme indifference to himself and his wishes, stung Mr. Dombey more than any other kind of treatment could have done, and he determined to bend her to his will. She was the first person who had ever ventured to oppose him in the slightest particular;--their pride, however different in kind, was equal in degree, and their flinty opposition struck out fire which consumed the tie between them--and soon the final separation came.

One evening after a dispute with her husband, Mrs. Dombey went out to dinner, and did not return. In the confusion of that dreadful night, compassion for her father was the first distinct emotion that overwhelmed Florence. At daybreak she hastened to him with her arms stretched out, crying, "Oh, dear, dear papa!" as if she would have clasped him around the neck. But in his frenzy he answered her with brutal words, and lifted up his cruel arm and struck her, with that heaviness, that she tottered on the marble floor. She did not sink down at his feet; she did not shut out the sight of him with her trembling hands; she did not utter one word of reproach. But she looked at him, and a cry of desolation issued from her heart. She saw she had no father upon earth, and ran out, orphaned, from his house. Another moment and Florence, with her head bent down to hide her agony of tears, was in the street.

In the wildness of her sorrow, shame, and terror, the forlorn girl hurried through the sunshine of a bright morning as if it were the darkness of a winter night. Wringing her hands and weeping bitterly, she fled without a thought, without a hope, without a purpose, but to fly somewhere--anywhere. Suddenly she thought of the only other time she had been lost in the wide wilderness of London--and went that way. To the home of Walter's uncle.

Checking her sobs and endeavoring to calm the agitation of her manner, so as to avoid attracting notice, Florence was going more quietly when Diogenes, panting for breath, and making the street ring with his glad bark, was at her feet.

She bent down on the pavement, and laid his rough loving foolish head against her breast, and they went on together.

At length the little shop came into view. She ran in and found Captain Cuttle, in his glazed hat, standing over the fire, making his morning's cocoa. Hearing a footstep and the rustle of a dress, the captain turned at the instant when Florence reeled and fell upon the floor.

The captain, pale as Florence, calling her by his childhood's name for her, raised her like a baby, and laid her upon the same old sofa upon which she had slumbered long ago.

"It's Heart's Delight!" he exclaimed; "It's the sweet creetur grow'd a woman!"

But Florence did not stir, and the captain moistened her lips and forehead, put back her hair, covered her feet with his own coat, patted her hand--so small in his, that he was struck with wonder when he touched it--and seeing that her eyelids quivered and that her lips began to move, continued these restorative applications with a better heart.

At last she opened her eyes, and spoke: "Captain Cuttle! Is it you? Is Walter's uncle here?"

"Here, Pretty?" returned the captain. "He a'n't been here this many a long day. He a'n't been heer'd on since he sheered off arter poor Wal'r. But," said the captain, as a quotation, "Though lost to sight, to memory dear, and England, home, and beauty!"

"Do you live here?" asked Florence.

"Yes, my Lady Lass," returned the captain.

"Oh, Captain Cuttle!" cried Florence, "Save me! Keep me here! Let no one know where I am! I will tell you what has happened by and by, when I can. I have no one in the world to go to. Do not send me away!"

"Send you away, my Lady Lass!" exclaimed the captain; "you, my Heart's Delight!--Stay a bit! We'll put up this dead-light, and take a double turn on the key."

With these words the captain got out the shutter of the door, put it up, made it all fast, and locked the door itself.

"And now," said he, "You must take some breakfast, Lady Lass, and the dog shall have some too, and after that you shall go aloft to old Sol Gill's room, and fall asleep there, like an angel."

The room to which the captain presently carried Florence was very clean, and being an orderly man, and accustomed to make things ship-shape, he converted the bed into a couch by covering it with a clean white drapery. By a similar contrivance he converted the little dressing-table into a species of altar, on which he set forth two silver teaspoons, a flower-pot, a telescope, his celebrated watch, a pocket-comb and a song-book, as a small collection of rareties that made a choice appearance.

Having darkened the window, the captain walked on tiptoe out of the room, and from sheer exhaustion Florence soon fell asleep.

When she awoke the sun was getting low in the West, and after cooling her aching head and burning face in fresh water, she made ready to go downstairs again. What to do or where to live, she--poor, inexperienced girl!--could not yet consider. All was dim and clouded to her mind. 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. Then she tried to calm her thoughts and stay her tears, and went down to her kind protector.

The captain had cooked the evening meal and spread the cloth with great care, and when Florence appeared he dressed for dinner, by taking off his glazed hat and putting on his coat. That done, he wheeled the table against her on the sofa, said Grace, and did the honors of the table.

"My Lady Lass," said he, "Cheer up, and try to eat a bit. Stand by, dearie! Liver wing it is. Sarse it is. Sassage it is. And potato!"

All of these delicacies the captain ranged symetrically on the plate, pouring hot gravy on the whole and adding: "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 take on, my Pretty," said the captain: "awast, to obleege me. He was your nat'r'l born friend like, wa'n't he, Pet? Well, well! If our poor Wal'r was here, my Lady Lass--or if he could be--for he's drowned, a'n't he?--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, but she was so tired and so sad that she could do scant justice to the meal, and was glad indeed when the time came to retire.

She slept that night in the same little room, and the next day sat in the small parlor, busy with her needle, and more calm and tranquil than she had been on the day preceding. The captain, looking at her, 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. In the course of the day he cruised completely around the parlor 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 deep twilight that he fairly dropped anchor at last by the side of Florence, and began to talk connectedly. He spoke in such a trembling voice, and looked at Florence with a face so pale and agitated that she clung to his hand in affright, and her color came and went as she listened.

"There's perils and dangers on the deep, my Beauty," said the captain; "and over many a brave ship, and many and many a bold 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 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 his hand.

"There's nothing there, my Beauty," said the captain. "Don't look there!"

Then he 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 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. 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 she did.

"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 stuck in his throat, and nervously proceeded:

"That there unfortunate 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, even 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 carried away, her best men swept overboard, and she left in 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 of 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 one?"

"Aboard o' that there unfortunate 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 heard 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 hearts and oldest hands was hove down, he was firm and cheery. It wa'n'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--ah, many a time!--and when I thought it nothing but his good looks, bless him!"

"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 fainthearted, and never making no complaint nor sign of fear, and keeping up a spirit in all hands that made 'em honor him as if he'd been a admiral--that lad, alone 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 drifting 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 wa'n'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 emotions 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 observation, knowing that his friends would think him drowned, 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 behind her!

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. In his home-coming,--her champion and knight-errant from childhood's early days,--there came to Florence a compensation for all that she had suffered.

On that night within the little Shop a light arose for her that never ceased to shed its brilliance on her path. Young, strong, and powerful, Walter Gay in his chivalrous reverence and love for her, would henceforth protect her life from sadness.

Except from that one great sorrow that he could not lift;--she was estranged from her father's love and care;--but in sweet submission she bent her shoulders to the burden of that loss, and accepted the new joy of Walter's return with a lightened heart.

Years later, when Mr. Dombey by a turn of fortune's wheel, was left alone in his dreary mansion, broken in mind and body, bereft of all his wealth; deserted alike by friends and servants;--it was Florence, the neglected, spurned, exiled daughter, who came like a good household angel and clung to him, caressing him, forgetting all but love, and love that outlasts injuries.

As she clung close to him, he kissed her on the lips and lifting up his eyes, said, "Oh, my God, forgive me, for I need it very much!"

With that he dropped his head again, lamenting over her and caressing her, and there was not a sound in all the house for a long, long, time; they remaining clasped in one another's arms, in the glorious sunshine that had crept in with Florence. And so we leave them--Father and Daughter--united at last in an undying affection.

[The end]
Kate Dickinson Sweetser's short story: Florence Dombey