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The Wooden Midshipman goes to Pieces
Honest Captain Cuttle, as the weeks flew over him in his fortified
retreat, by no means abated any of his prudent provisions against
surprise, because of the non-appearance of the enemy. The Captain
argued that his present security was too profound and wonderful to
endure much longer; he knew that when the wind stood in a fair
quarter, the weathercock was seldom nailed there; and he was too well
acquainted with the determined and dauntless character of Mrs
MacStinger, to doubt that that heroic woman had devoted herself to the
task of his discovery and capture. Trembling beneath the weight of
these reasons, Captain Cuttle lived a very close and retired life;
seldom stirring abroad until after dark; venturing even then only into
the obscurest streets; never going forth at all on Sundays; and both
within and without the walls of his retreat, avoiding bonnets, as if
they were worn by raging lions.
The Captain never dreamed that in the event of his being pounced
upon by Mrs MacStinger, in his walks, it would be possible to offer
resistance. He felt that it could not be done. He saw himself, in his
mind's eye, put meekly in a hackney-coach, and carried off to his old
lodgings. He foresaw that, once immured there, he was a lost man: his
hat gone; Mrs MacStinger watchful of him day and night; reproaches
heaped upon his head, before the infant family; himself the guilty
object of suspicion and distrust; an ogre in the children's eyes, and
in their mother's a detected traitor.
A violent perspiration, and a lowness of spirits, always came over
the Captain as this gloomy picture presented itself to his
imagination. It generally did so previous to his stealing out of doors
at night for air and exercise. Sensible of the risk he ran, the
Captain took leave of Rob, at those times, with the solemnity which
became a man who might never return: exhorting him, in the event of
his (the Captain's) being lost sight of, for a time, to tread in the
paths of virtue, and keep the brazen instruments well polished.
But not to throw away a chance; and to secure to himself a means,
in case of the worst, of holding communication with the external
world; Captain Cuttle soon conceived the happy idea of teaching Rob
the Grinder some secret signal, by which that adherent might make his
presence and fidelity known to his commander, in the hour of
adversity. After much cogitation, the Captain decided in favour of
instructing him to whistle the marine melody, 'Oh cheerily, cheerily!'
and Rob the Grinder attaining a point as near perfection in that
accomplishment as a landsman could hope to reach, the Captain
impressed these mysterious instructions on his mind:
'Now, my lad, stand by! If ever I'm took - '
'Took, Captain!' interposed Rob, with his round eyes wide open.
'Ah!' said Captain Cuttle darkly, 'if ever I goes away, meaning to
come back to supper, and don't come within hail again, twenty-four
hours arter my loss, go you to Brig Place and whistle that 'ere tune
near my old moorings - not as if you was a meaning of it, you
understand, but as if you'd drifted there, promiscuous. If I answer in
that tune, you sheer off, my lad, and come back four-and-twenty hours
arterwards; if I answer in another tune, do you stand off and on, and
wait till I throw out further signals. Do you understand them orders,
'What am I to stand off and on of, Captain?' inquired Rob. 'The
'Here's a smart lad for you!' cried the Captain eyeing him sternly,
'as don't know his own native alphabet! Go away a bit and come back
again alternate - d'ye understand that?'
'Yes, Captain,' said Rob.
'Very good my lad, then,' said the Captain, relenting. 'Do it!'
That he might do it the better, Captain Cuttle sometimes
condescended, of an evening after the shop was shut, to rehearse this
scene: retiring into the parlour for the purpose, as into the lodgings
of a supposititious MacStinger, and carefully observing the behaviour
of his ally, from the hole of espial he had cut in the wall. Rob the
Grinder discharged himself of his duty with so much exactness and
judgment, when thus put to the proof, that the Captain presented him,
at divers times, with seven sixpences, in token of satisfaction; and
gradually felt stealing over his spirit the resignation of a man who
had made provision for the worst, and taken every reasonable
precaution against an unrelenting fate.
Nevertheless, the Captain did not tempt ill-fortune, by being a
whit more venturesome than before. Though he considered it a point of
good breeding in himself, as a general friend of the family, to attend
Mr Dombey's wedding (of which he had heard from Mr Perch), and to show
that gentleman a pleasant and approving countenance from the gallery,
he had repaired to the church in a hackney cabriolet with both windows
up; and might have scrupled even to make that venture, in his dread of
Mrs MacStinger, but that the lady's attendance on the ministry of the
Reverend Melchisedech rendered it peculiarly unlikely that she would
be found in communion with the Establishment.
The Captain got safe home again, and fell into the ordinary routine
of his new life, without encountering any more direct alarm from the
enemy, than was suggested to him by the daily bonnets in the street.
But other subjects began to lay heavy on the Captain's mind. Walter's
ship was still unheard of. No news came of old Sol Gills. Florence did
not even know of the old man's disappearance, and Captain Cuttle had
not the heart to tell her. Indeed the Captain, as his own hopes of the
generous, handsome, gallant-hearted youth, whom he had loved,
according to his rough manner, from a child, began to fade, and faded
more and more from day to day, shrunk with instinctive pain from the
thought of exchanging a word with Florence. If he had had good news to
carry to her, the honest Captain would have braved the newly decorated
house and splendid furniture - though these, connected with the lady
he had seen at church, were awful to him - and made his way into her
presence. With a dark horizon gathering around their common hopes,
however, that darkened every hour, the Captain almost felt as if he
were a new misfortune and affliction to her; and was scarcely less
afraid of a visit from Florence, than from Mrs MacStinger herself.
It was a chill dark autumn evening, and Captain Cuttle had ordered
a fire to be kindled in the little back parlour, now more than ever
like the cabin of a ship. The rain fell fast, and the wind blew hard;
and straying out on the house-top by that stormy bedroom of his old
friend, to take an observation of the weather, the Captain's heart
died within him, when he saw how wild and desolate it was. Not that he
associated the weather of that time with poor Walter's destiny, or
doubted that if Providence had doomed him to be lost and shipwrecked,
it was over, long ago; but that beneath an outward influence, quite
distinct from the subject-matter of his thoughts, the Captain's
spirits sank, and his hopes turned pale, as those of wiser men had
often done before him, and will often do again.
Captain Cuttle, addressing his face to the sharp wind and slanting
rain, looked up at the heavy scud that was flying fast over the
wilderness of house-tops, and looked for something cheery there in
vain. The prospect near at hand was no better. In sundry tea-chests
and other rough boxes at his feet, the pigeons of Rob the Grinder were
cooing like so many dismal breezes getting up. A crazy weathercock of
a midshipman, with a telescope at his eye, once visible from the
street, but long bricked out, creaked and complained upon his rusty
pivot as the shrill blast spun him round and round, and sported with
him cruelly. Upon the Captain's coarse blue vest the cold raindrops
started like steel beads; and he could hardly maintain himself aslant
against the stiff Nor'-Wester that came pressing against him,
importunate to topple him over the parapet, and throw him on the
pavement below. If there were any Hope alive that evening, the Captain
thought, as he held his hat on, it certainly kept house, and wasn't
out of doors; so the Captain, shaking his head in a despondent manner,
went in to look for it.
Captain Cuttle descended slowly to the little back parlour, and,
seated in his accustomed chair, looked for it in the fire; but it was
not there, though the fire was bright. He took out his tobacco-box and
pipe, and composing himself to smoke, looked for it in the red glow
from the bowl, and in the wreaths of vapour that curled upward from
his lips; but there was not so much as an atom of the rust of Hope's
anchor in either. He tried a glass of grog; but melancholy truth was
at the bottom of that well, and he couldn't finish it. He made a turn
or two in the shop, and looked for Hope among the instruments; but
they obstinately worked out reckonings for the missing ship, in spite
of any opposition he could offer, that ended at the bottom of the lone
The wind still rushing, and the rain still pattering, against the
closed shutters, the Captain brought to before the wooden Midshipman
upon the counter, and thought, as he dried the little officer's
uniform with his sleeve, how many years the Midshipman had seen,
during which few changes - hardly any - had transpired among his
ship's company; how the changes had come all together, one day, as it
might be; and of what a sweeping kind they web Here was the little
society of the back parlour broken up, and scattered far and wide.
Here was no audience for Lovely Peg, even if there had been anybody to
sing it, which there was not; for the Captain was as morally certain
that nobody but he could execute that ballad, he was that he had not
the spirit, under existing circumstances, to attempt it. There was no
bright face of 'Wal'r' In the house; - here the Captain transferred
his sleeve for a moment from the Midshipman's uniform to his own
cheek; - the familiar wig and buttons of Sol Gills were a vision of
the past; Richard Whittington was knocked on the head; and every plan
and project in connexion with the Midshipman, lay drifting, without
mast or rudder, on the waste of waters.
As the Captain, with a dejected face, stood revolving these
thoughts, and polishing the Midshipman, partly in the tenderness of
old acquaintance, and partly in the absence of his mind, a knocking at
the shop-door communicated a frightful start to the frame of Rob the
Grinder, seated on the counter, whose large eyes had been intently
fixed on the Captain's face, and who had been debating within himself,
for the five hundredth time, whether the Captain could have done a
murder, that he had such an evil conscience, and was always running
'What's that?' said Captain Cuttle, softly.
'Somebody's knuckles, Captain,' answered Rob the Grinder.
The Captain, with an abashed and guilty air, immediately walked on
tiptoe to the little parlour and locked himself in. Rob, opening the
door, would have parleyed with the visitor on the threshold if the
visitor had come in female guise; but the figure being of the male
sex, and Rob's orders only applying to women, Rob held the door open
and allowed it to enter: which it did very quickly, glad to get out of
the driving rain.
'A job for Burgess and Co. at any rate,' said the visitor, looking
over his shoulder compassionately at his own legs, which were very wet
and covered with splashes. 'Oh, how-de-do, Mr Gills?'
The salutation was addressed to the Captain, now emerging from the
back parlour with a most transparent and utterly futile affectation of
coming out by accidence.
'Thankee,' the gentleman went on to say in the same breath; 'I'm
very well indeed, myself, I'm much obliged to you. My name is Toots, -
The Captain remembered to have seen this young gentleman at the
wedding, and made him a bow. Mr Toots replied with a chuckle; and
being embarrassed, as he generally was, breathed hard, shook hands
with the Captain for a long time, and then falling on Rob the Grinder,
in the absence of any other resource, shook hands with him in a most
affectionate and cordial manner.
'I say! I should like to speak a word to you, Mr Gills, if you
please,' said Toots at length, with surprising presence of mind. 'I
say! Miss D.O.M. you know!'
The Captain, with responsive gravity and mystery, immediately waved
his hook towards the little parlour, whither Mr Toots followed him.
'Oh! I beg your pardon though,' said Mr Toots, looking up In the
Captain's face as he sat down in a chair by the fire, which the
Captain placed for him; 'you don't happen to know the Chicken at all;
do you, Mr Gills?'
'The Chicken?' said the Captain.
'The Game Chicken,' said Mr Toots.
The Captain shaking his head, Mr Toots explained that the man
alluded to was the celebrated public character who had covered himself
and his country with glory in his contest with the Nobby Shropshire
One; but this piece of information did not appear to enlighten the
Captain very much.
'Because he's outside: that's all,' said Mr Toots. 'But it's of no
consequence; he won't get very wet, perhaps.'
'I can pass the word for him in a moment,' said the Captain.
'Well, if you would have the goodness to let him sit in the shop
with your young man,' chuckled Mr Toots, 'I should be glad; because,
you know, he's easily offended, and the damp's rather bad for his
stamina. I'll call him in, Mr Gills.'
With that, Mr Toots repairing to the shop-door, sent a peculiar
whistle into the night, which produced a stoical gentleman in a shaggy
white great-coat and a flat-brimmed hat, with very short hair, a
broken nose, and a considerable tract of bare and sterile country
behind each ear.
'Sit down, Chicken,' said Mr Toots.
The compliant Chicken spat out some small pieces of straw on which
he was regaling himself, and took in a fresh supply from a reserve he
carried in his hand.
'There ain't no drain of nothing short handy, is there?' said the
Chicken, generally. 'This here sluicing night is hard lines to a man
as lives on his condition.
Captain Cuttle proffered a glass of rum, which the Chicken,
throwing back his head, emptied into himself, as into a cask, after
proposing the brief sentiment, 'Towards us!' Mr Toots and the Captain
returning then to the parlour, and taking their seats before the fire,
Mr Toots began:
'Mr Gills - '
'Awast!' said the Captain. 'My name's Cuttle.'
Mr Toots looked greatly disconcerted, while the Captain proceeded
'Cap'en Cuttle is my name, and England is my nation, this here is
my dwelling-place, and blessed be creation - Job,' said the Captain,
as an index to his authority.
'Oh! I couldn't see Mr Gills, could I?' said Mr Toots; 'because - '
'If you could see Sol Gills, young gen'l'm'n,' said the Captain,
impressively, and laying his heavy hand on Mr Toots's knee, 'old Sol,
mind you - with your own eyes - as you sit there - you'd be welcomer
to me, than a wind astern, to a ship becalmed. But you can't see Sol
Gills. And why can't you see Sol Gills?' said the Captain, apprised by
the face of Mr Toots that he was making a profound impression on that
gentleman's mind. 'Because he's inwisible.'
Mr Toots in his agitation was going to reply that it was of no
consequence at all. But he corrected himself, and said, 'Lor bless
'That there man,' said the Captain, 'has left me in charge here by
a piece of writing, but though he was a'most as good as my sworn
brother, I know no more where he's gone, or why he's gone; if so be to
seek his nevy, or if so be along of being not quite settled in his
mind; than you do. One morning at daybreak, he went over the side,'
said the Captain, 'without a splash, without a ripple I have looked
for that man high and low, and never set eyes, nor ears, nor nothing
else, upon him from that hour.'
'But, good Gracious, Miss Dombey don't know - ' Mr Toots began.
'Why, I ask you, as a feeling heart,' said the Captain, dropping
his voice, 'why should she know? why should she be made to know, until
such time as there wam't any help for it? She took to old Sol Gills,
did that sweet creetur, with a kindness, with a affability, with a -
what's the good of saying so? you know her.'
'I should hope so,' chuckled Mr Toots, with a conscious blush that
suffused his whole countenance.
'And you come here from her?' said the Captain.
'I should think so,' chuckled Mr Toots.
'Then all I need observe, is,' said the Captain, 'that you know a
angel, and are chartered a angel.'
Mr Toots instantly seized the Captain's hand, and requested the
favour of his friendship.
'Upon my word and honour,' said Mr Toots, earnestly, 'I should be
very much obliged to you if you'd improve my acquaintance I should
like to know you, Captain, very much. I really am In want of a friend,
I am. Little Dombey was my friend at old Blimber's, and would have
been now, if he'd have lived. The Chicken,' said Mr Toots, in a
forlorn whisper, 'is very well - admirable in his way - the sharpest
man perhaps in the world; there's not a move he isn't up to, everybody
says so - but I don't know - he's not everything. So she is an angel,
Captain. If there is an angel anywhere, it's Miss Dombey. That's what
I've always said. Really though, you know,' said Mr Toots, 'I should
be very much obliged to you if you'd cultivate my acquaintance.'
Captain Cuttle received this proposal in a polite manner, but still
without committing himself to its acceptance; merely observing, 'Ay,
ay, my lad. We shall see, we shall see;' and reminding Mr Toots of his
immediate mission, by inquiring to what he was indebted for the honour
of that visit.
'Why the fact is,' replied Mr Toots, 'that it's the young woman I
come from. Not Miss Dombey - Susan, you know.
The Captain nodded his head once, with a grave expression of face
indicative of his regarding that young woman with serious respect.
'And I'll tell you how it happens,' said Mr Toots. 'You know, I go
and call sometimes, on Miss Dombey. I don't go there on purpose, you
know, but I happen to be in the neighbourhood very often; and when I
find myself there, why - why I call.'
'Nat'rally,' observed the Captain.
'Yes,' said Mr Toots. 'I called this afternoon. Upon my word and
honour, I don't think it's possible to form an idea of the angel Miss
Dombey was this afternoon.'
The Captain answered with a jerk of his head, implying that it
might not be easy to some people, but was quite so to him.
'As I was coming out,' said Mr Toots, 'the young woman, in the most
unexpected manner, took me into the pantry.
The Captain seemed, for the moment, to object to this proceeding;
and leaning back in his chair, looked at Mr Toots with a distrustful,
if not threatening visage.
'Where she brought out,' said Mr Toots, 'this newspaper. She told
me that she had kept it from Miss Dombey all day, on account of
something that was in it, about somebody that she and Dombey used to
know; and then she read the passage to me. Very well. Then she said -
wait a minute; what was it she said, though!'
Mr Toots, endeavouring to concentrate his mental powers on this
question, unintentionally fixed the Captain's eye, and was so much
discomposed by its stern expression, that his difficulty in resuming
the thread of his subject was enhanced to a painful extent.
'Oh!' said Mr Toots after long consideration. 'Oh, ah! Yes! She
said that she hoped there was a bare possibility that it mightn't be
true; and that as she couldn't very well come out herself, without
surprising Miss Dombey, would I go down to Mr Solomon Gills the
Instrument-maker's in this street, who was the party's Uncle, and ask
whether he believed it was true, or had heard anything else in the
City. She said, if he couldn't speak to me, no doubt Captain Cuttle
could. By the bye!' said Mr Toots, as the discovery flashed upon him,
'you, you know!'
The Captain glanced at the newspaper in Mr Toots's hand, and
breathed short and hurriedly.
'Well, pursued Mr Toots, 'the reason why I'm rather late is,
because I went up as far as Finchley first, to get some uncommonly
fine chickweed that grows there, for Miss Dombey's bird. But I came on
here, directly afterwards. You've seen the paper, I suppose?'
The Captain, who had become cautious of reading the news, lest he
should find himself advertised at full length by Mrs MacStinger, shook
'Shall I read the passage to you?' inquired Mr Toots.
The Captain making a sign in the affirmative, Mr Toots read as
follows, from the Shipping Intelligence:
'"Southampton. The barque Defiance, Henry James, Commander, arrived
in this port to-day, with a cargo of sugar, coffee, and rum, reports
that being becalmed on the sixth day of her passage home from Jamaica,
in" - in such and such a latitude, you know,' said Mr Toots, after
making a feeble dash at the figures, and tumbling over them.
'Ay!' cried the Captain, striking his clenched hand on the table.
'Heave ahead, my lad!'
- - latitude,' repeated Mr Toots, with a startled glance at the
Captain, 'and longitude so-and-so, - "the look-out observed, half an
hour before sunset, some fragments of a wreck, drifting at about the
distance of a mile. The weather being clear, and the barque making no
way, a boat was hoisted out, with orders to inspect the same, when
they were found to consist of sundry large spars, and a part of the
main rigging of an English brig, of about five hundred tons burden,
together with a portion of the stem on which the words and letters
'Son and H-' were yet plainly legible. No vestige of any dead body was
to be seen upon the floating fragments. Log of the Defiance states,
that a breeze springing up in the night, the wreck was seen no more.
There can be no doubt that all surmises as to the fate of the missing
vessel, the Son and Heir, port of London, bound for Barbados, are now
set at rest for ever; that she broke up in the last hurricane; and
that every soul on board perished."'
Captain Cuttle, like all mankind, little knew how much hope had
survived within him under discouragement, until he felt its
death-shock. During the reading of the paragraph, and for a minute or
two afterwards, he sat with his gaze fixed on the modest Mr Toots,
like a man entranced; then, suddenly rising, and putting on his glazed
hat, which, in his visitor's honour, he had laid upon the table, the
Captain turned his back, and bent his head down on the little
'Oh' upon my word and honour,' cried Mr Toots, whose tender heart
was moved by the Captain's unexpected distress, 'this is a most
wretched sort of affair this world is! Somebody's always dying, or
going and doing something uncomfortable in it. I'm sure I never should
have looked forward so much, to coming into my property, if I had
known this. I never saw such a world. It's a great deal worse than
Captain Cuttle, without altering his position, signed to Mr Toots
not to mind him; and presently turned round, with his glazed hat
thrust back upon his ears, and his hand composing and smoothing his
'Wal'r, my dear lad,' said the Captain, 'farewell! Wal'r my child,
my boy, and man, I loved you! He warn't my flesh and blood,' said the
Captain, looking at the fire - 'I ain't got none - but something of
what a father feels when he loses a son, I feel in losing Wal'r. For
why?' said the Captain. 'Because it ain't one loss, but a round dozen.
Where's that there young school-boy with the rosy face and curly hair,
that used to be as merry in this here parlour, come round every week,
as a piece of music? Gone down with Wal'r. Where's that there fresh
lad, that nothing couldn't tire nor put out, and that sparkled up and
blushed so, when we joked him about Heart's Delight, that he was
beautiful to look at? Gone down with Wal'r. Where's that there man's
spirit, all afire, that wouldn't see the old man hove down for a
minute, and cared nothing for itself? Gone down with Wal'r. It ain't
one Wal'r. There was a dozen Wal'rs that I know'd and loved, all
holding round his neck when he went down, and they're a-holding round
Mr Toots sat silent: folding and refolding the newspaper as small
as possible upon his knee.
'And Sol Gills,' said the Captain, gazing at the fire, 'poor
nevyless old Sol, where are you got to! you was left in charge of me;
his last words was, "Take care of my Uncle!" What came over you, Sol,
when you went and gave the go-bye to Ned Cuttle; and what am I to put
In my accounts that he's a looking down upon, respecting you! Sol
Gills, Sol Gills!' said the Captain, shaking his head slowly, 'catch
sight of that there newspaper, away from home, with no one as know'd
Wal'r by, to say a word; and broadside to you broach, and down you
pitch, head foremost!'
Drawing a heavy sigh, the Captain turned to Mr Toots, and roused
himself to a sustained consciousness of that gentleman's presence.
'My lad,' said the Captain, 'you must tell the young woman honestly
that this here fatal news is too correct. They don't romance, you see,
on such pints. It's entered on the ship's log, and that's the truest
book as a man can write. To-morrow morning,' said the Captain, 'I'll
step out and make inquiries; but they'll lead to no good. They can't
do it. If you'll give me a look-in in the forenoon, you shall know
what I have heerd; but tell the young woman from Cap'en Cuttle, that
it's over. Over!' And the Captain, hooking off his glazed hat, pulled
his handkerchief out of the crown, wiped his grizzled head
despairingly, and tossed the handkerchief in again, with the
indifference of deep dejection.
'Oh! I assure you,' said Mr Toots, 'really I am dreadfully sorry.
Upon my word I am, though I wasn't acquainted with the party. Do you
think Miss Dombey will be very much affected, Captain Gills - I mean
'Why, Lord love you,' returned the Captain, with something of
compassion for Mr Toots's innocence. When she warn't no higher than
that, they were as fond of one another as two young doves.'
'Were they though!' said Mr Toots, with a considerably lengthened
'They were made for one another,' said the Captain, mournfully;
'but what signifies that now!'
'Upon my word and honour,' cried Mr Toots, blurting out his words
through a singular combination of awkward chuckles and emotion, 'I'm
even more sorry than I was before. You know, Captain Gills, I - I
positively adore Miss Dombey; - I - I am perfectly sore with loving
her;' the burst with which this confession forced itself out of the
unhappy Mr Toots, bespoke the vehemence of his feelings; 'but what
would be the good of my regarding her in this manner, if I wasn't
truly sorry for her feeling pain, whatever was the cause of it. Mine
ain't a selfish affection, you know,' said Mr Toots, in the confidence
engendered by his having been a witness of the Captain's tenderness.
'It's the sort of thing with me, Captain Gills, that if I could be run
over - or - or trampled upon - or - or thrown off a very high place
-or anything of that sort - for Miss Dombey's sake, it would be the
most delightful thing that could happen to me.
All this, Mr Toots said in a suppressed voice, to prevent its
reaching the jealous ears of the Chicken, who objected to the softer
emotions; which effort of restraint, coupled with the intensity of his
feelings, made him red to the tips of his ears, and caused him to
present such an affecting spectacle of disinterested love to the eyes
of Captain Cuttle, that the good Captain patted him consolingly on the
back, and bade him cheer up.
'Thankee, Captain Gills,' said Mr Toots, 'it's kind of you, in the
midst of your own troubles, to say so. I'm very much obliged to you.
As I said before, I really want a friend, and should be glad to have
your acquaintance. Although I am very well off,' said Mr Toots, with
energy, 'you can't think what a miserable Beast I am. The hollow
crowd, you know, when they see me with the Chicken, and characters of
distinction like that, suppose me to be happy; but I'm wretched. I
suffer for Miss Dombey, Captain Gills. I can't get through my meals; I
have no pleasure in my tailor; I often cry when I'm alone. I assure
you it'll be a satisfaction to me to come back to-morrow, or to come
back fifty times.'
Mr Toots, with these words, shook the Captain's hand; and
disguising such traces of his agitation as could be disguised on so
short a notice, before the Chicken's penetrating glance, rejoined that
eminent gentleman in the shop. The Chicken, who was apt to be jealous
of his ascendancy, eyed Captain Cuttle with anything but favour as he
took leave of Mr Toots, but followed his patron without being
otherwise demonstrative of his ill-will: leaving the Captain oppressed
with sorrow; and Rob the Grinder elevated with joy, on account of
having had the honour of staring for nearly half an hour at the
conqueror of the Nobby Shropshire One.
Long after Rob was fast asleep in his bed under the counter, the
Captain sat looking at the fire; and long after there was no fire to
look at, the Captain sat gazing on the rusty bars, with unavailing
thoughts of Walter and old Sol crowding through his mind. Retirement
to the stormy chamber at the top of the house brought no rest with it;
and the Captain rose up in the morning, sorrowful and unrefreshed.
As soon as the City offices were opened, the Captain issued forth
to the counting-house of Dombey and Son. But there was no opening of
the Midshipman's windows that morning. Rob the Grinder, by the
Captain's orders, left the shutters closed, and the house was as a
house of death.
It chanced that Mr Carker was entering the office, as Captain
Cuttle arrived at the door. Receiving the Manager's benison gravely
and silently, Captain Cuttle made bold to accompany him into his own
'Well, Captain Cuttle,' said Mr Carker, taking up his usual
position before the fireplace, and keeping on his hat, 'this is a bad
'You have received the news as was in print yesterday, Sir?' said
'Yes,' said Mr Carker, 'we have received it! It was accurately
stated. The underwriters suffer a considerable loss. We are very
sorry. No help! Such is life!'
Mr Carker pared his nails delicately with a penknife, and smiled at
the Captain, who was standing by the door looking at him.
'I excessively regret poor Gay,' said Carker, 'and the crew. I
understand there were some of our very best men among 'em. It always
happens so. Many men with families too. A comfort to reflect that poor
Gay had no family, Captain Cuttle!'
The Captain stood rubbing his chin, and looking at the Manager. The
Manager glanced at the unopened letters lying on his desk, and took up
'Is there anything I can do for you, Captain Cuttle?' he asked
looking off it, with a smiling and expressive glance at the door.
'I wish you could set my mind at rest, Sir, on something it's
uneasy about,' returned the Captain.
'Ay!' exclaimed the Manager, 'what's that? Come, Captain Cuttle, I
must trouble you to be quick, if you please. I am much engaged.'
'Lookee here, Sir,' said the Captain, advancing a step. 'Afore my
friend Wal'r went on this here disastrous voyage -
'Come, come, Captain Cuttle,' interposed the smiling Manager,
'don't talk about disastrous voyages in that way. We have nothing to
do with disastrous voyages here, my good fellow. You must have begun
very early on your day's allowance, Captain, if you don't remember
that there are hazards in all voyages, whether by sea or land. You are
not made uneasy by the supposition that young what's-his-name was lost
in bad weather that was got up against him in these offices - are you?
Fie, Captain! Sleep, and soda-water, are the best cures for such
uneasiness as that.
'My lad,' returned the Captain, slowly - 'you are a'most a lad to
me, and so I don't ask your pardon for that slip of a word, - if you
find any pleasure in this here sport, you ain't the gentleman I took
you for. And if you ain't the gentleman I took you for, may be my mind
has call to be uneasy. Now this is what it is, Mr Carker. - Afore that
poor lad went away, according to orders, he told me that he warn't a
going away for his own good, or for promotion, he know'd. It was my
belief that he was wrong, and I told him so, and I come here, your
head governor being absent, to ask a question or two of you in a civil
way, for my own satisfaction. Them questions you answered - free. Now
it'll ease my mind to know, when all is over, as it is, and when what
can't be cured must be endoored - for which, as a scholar, you'll
overhaul the book it's in, and thereof make a note - to know once
more, in a word, that I warn't mistaken; that I warn't back'ard in my
duty when I didn't tell the old man what Wal'r told me; and that the
wind was truly in his sail, when he highsted of it for Barbados
Harbour. Mr Carker,' said the Captain, in the goodness of his nature,
'when I was here last, we was very pleasant together. If I ain't been
altogether so pleasant myself this morning, on account of this poor
lad, and if I have chafed again any observation of yours that I might
have fended off, my name is Ed'ard Cuttle, and I ask your pardon.'
'Captain Cuttle,' returned the Manager, with all possible
politeness, 'I must ask you to do me a favour.'
'And what is it, Sir?' inquired the Captain.
'To have the goodness to walk off, if you please,' rejoined the
Manager, stretching forth his arm, 'and to carry your jargon somewhere
Every knob in the Captain's face turned white with astonishment and
indignation; even the red rim on his forehead faded, like a rainbow
among the gathering clouds.
'I tell you what, Captain Cuttle,' said the Manager, shaking his
forefinger at him, and showing him all his teeth, but still amiably
smiling, 'I was much too lenient with you when you came here before.
You belong to an artful and audacious set of people. In my desire to
save young what's-his-name from being kicked out of this place, neck
and crop, my good Captain, I tolerated you; but for once, and only
once. Now, go, my friend!'
The Captain was absolutely rooted to the ground, and speechless -
'Go,' said the good-humoured Manager, gathering up his skirts, and
standing astride upon the hearth-rug, 'like a sensible fellow, and let
us have no turning out, or any such violent measures. If Mr Dombey
were here, Captain, you might be obliged to leave in a more
ignominious manner, possibly. I merely say, Go!'
The Captain, laying his ponderous hand upon his chest, to assist
himself in fetching a deep breath, looked at Mr Carker from head to
foot, and looked round the little room, as if he did not clearly
understand where he was, or in what company.
'You are deep, Captain Cuttle,' pursued Carker, with the easy and
vivacious frankness of a man of the world who knew the world too well
to be ruffled by any discovery of misdoing, when it did not
immediately concern himself, 'but you are not quite out of soundings,
either - neither you nor your absent friend, Captain. What have you
done with your absent friend, hey?'
Again the Captain laid his hand upon his chest. After drawing
another deep breath, he conjured himself to 'stand by!' But In a
'You hatch nice little plots, and hold nice little councils, and
make nice little appointments, and receive nice little visitors, too,
Captain, hey?' said Carker, bending his brows upon him, without
showing his teeth any the less: 'but it's a bold measure to come here
afterwards. Not like your discretion! You conspirators, and hiders,
and runners-away, should know better than that. Will you oblige me by
'My lad,' gasped the Captain, in a choked and trembling voice, and
with a curious action going on in the ponderous fist; 'there's a many
words I could wish to say to you, but I don't rightly know where
they're stowed just at present. My young friend, Wal'r, was drownded
only last night, according to my reckoning, and it puts me out, you
see. But you and me will come alongside o'one another again, my lad,'
said the Captain, holding up his hook, if we live.'
'It will be anything but shrewd in you, my good fellow, if we do,'
returned the Manager, with the same frankness; 'for you may rely, I
give you fair warning, upon my detecting and exposing you. I don't
pretend to be a more moral man than my neighbours, my good Captain;
but the confidence of this House, or of any member of this House, is
not to be abused and undermined while I have eyes and ears. Good day!'
said Mr Carker, nodding his head.
Captain Cuttle, looking at him steadily (Mr Carker looked full as
steadily at the Captain), went out of the office and left him standing
astride before the fire, as calm and pleasant as if there were no more
spots upon his soul than on his pure white linen, and his smooth sleek
The Captain glanced, in passing through the outer counting-house,
at the desk where he knew poor Walter had been used to sit, now
occupied by another young boy, with a face almost as fresh and hopeful
as his on the day when they tapped the famous last bottle but one of
the old Madeira, in the little back parlour. The nation of ideas, thus
awakened, did the Captain a great deal of good; it softened him in the
very height of his anger, and brought the tears into his eyes.
Arrived at the wooden Midshipman's again, and sitting down in a
corner of the dark shop, the Captain's indignation, strong as it was,
could make no head against his grief. Passion seemed not only to do
wrong and violence to the memory of the dead, but to be infected by
death, and to droop and decline beside it. All the living knaves and
liars in the world, were nothing to the honesty and truth of one dead
The only thing the honest Captain made out clearly, in this state
of mind, besides the loss of Walter, was, that with him almost the
whole world of Captain Cuttle had been drowned. If he reproached
himself sometimes, and keenly too, for having ever connived at
Walter's innocent deceit, he thought at least as often of the Mr
Carker whom no sea could ever render up; and the Mr Dombey, whom he
now began to perceive was as far beyond human recall; and the 'Heart's
Delight,' with whom he must never foregather again; and the Lovely
Peg, that teak-built and trim ballad, that had gone ashore upon a
rock, and split into mere planks and beams of rhyme. The Captain sat
in the dark shop, thinking of these things, to the entire exclusion of
his own injury; and looking with as sad an eye upon the ground, as if
in contemplation of their actual fragments, as they floated past
But the Captain was not unmindful, for all that, of such decent and
rest observances in memory of poor Walter, as he felt within his
power. Rousing himself, and rousing Rob the Grinder (who in the
unnatural twilight was fast asleep), the Captain sallied forth with
his attendant at his heels, and the door-key in his pocket, and
repairing to one of those convenient slop-selling establishments of
which there is abundant choice at the eastern end of London, purchased
on the spot two suits of mourning - one for Rob the Grinder, which was
immensely too small, and one for himself, which was immensely too
large. He also provided Rob with a species of hat, greatly to be
admired for its symmetry and usefulness, as well as for a happy
blending of the mariner with the coal-heaver; which is usually termed
a sou'wester; and which was something of a novelty in connexion with
the instrument business. In their several garments, which the vendor
declared to be such a miracle in point of fit as nothing but a rare
combination of fortuitous circumstances ever brought about, and the
fashion of which was unparalleled within the memory of the oldest
inhabitant, the Captain and Grinder immediately arrayed themselves:
presenting a spectacle fraught with wonder to all who beheld it.
In this altered form, the Captain received Mr Toots. 'I'm took
aback, my lad, at present,' said the Captain, 'and will only confirm
that there ill news. Tell the young woman to break it gentle to the
young lady, and for neither of 'em never to think of me no more -
'special, mind you, that is - though I will think of them, when night
comes on a hurricane and seas is mountains rowling, for which overhaul
your Doctor Watts, brother, and when found make a note on."
The Captain reserved, until some fitter time, the consideration of
Mr Toots's offer of friendship, and thus dismissed him. Captain
Cuttle's spirits were so low, in truth, that he half determined, that
day, to take no further precautions against surprise from Mrs
MacStinger, but to abandon himself recklessly to chance, and be
indifferent to what might happen. As evening came on, he fell into a
better frame of mind, however; and spoke much of Walter to Rob the
Grinder, whose attention and fidelity he likewise incidentally
commended. Rob did not blush to hear the Captain earnest in his
praises, but sat staring at him, and affecting to snivel with
sympathy, and making a feint of being virtuous, and treasuring up
every word he said (like a young spy as he was) with very promising
When Rob had turned in, and was fast asleep, the Captain trimmed
the candle, put on his spectacles - he had felt it appropriate to take
to spectacles on entering into the Instrument Trade, though his eyes
were like a hawk's - and opened the prayer-book at the Burial Service.
And reading softly to himself, in the little back parlour, and
stopping now and then to wipe his eyes, the Captain, In a true and
simple spirit, committed Walter's body to the deep.