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Further Adventures of Captain Edward Cuttle, Mariner
Time, sure of foot and strong of will, had so pressed onward, that
the year enjoined by the old Instrument-maker, as the term during
which his friend should refrain from opening the sealed packet
accompanying the letter he had left for him, was now nearly expired,
and Captain Cuttle began to look at it, of an evening, with feelings
of mystery and uneasiness
The Captain, in his honour, would as soon have thought of opening
the parcel one hour before the expiration of the term, as he would
have thought of opening himself, to study his own anatomy. He merely
brought it out, at a certain stage of his first evening pipe, laid it
on the table, and sat gazing at the outside of it, through the smoke,
in silent gravity, for two or three hours at a spell. Sometimes, when
he had contemplated it thus for a pretty long while, the Captain would
hitch his chair, by degrees, farther and farther off, as if to get
beyond the range of its fascination; but if this were his design, he
never succeeded: for even when he was brought up by the parlour wall,
the packet still attracted him; or if his eyes, in thoughtful
wandering, roved to the ceiling or the fire, its image immediately
followed, and posted itself conspicuously among the coals, or took up
an advantageous position on the whitewash.
In respect of Heart's Delight, the Captain's parental and
admiration knew no change. But since his last interview with Mr
Carker, Captain Cuttle had come to entertain doubts whether his former
intervention in behalf of that young lady and his dear boy Wal'r, had
proved altogether so favourable as he could have wished, and as he at
the time believed. The Captain was troubled with a serious misgiving
that he had done more harm than good, in short; and in his remorse and
modesty he made the best atonement he could think of, by putting
himself out of the way of doing any harm to anyone, and, as it were,
throwing himself overboard for a dangerous person.
Self-buried, therefore, among the instruments, the Captain never
went near Mr Dombey's house, or reported himself in any way to
Florence or Miss Nipper. He even severed himself from Mr Perch, on the
occasion of his next visit, by dryly informing that gentleman, that he
thanked him for his company, but had cut himself adrift from all such
acquaintance, as he didn't know what magazine he mightn't blow up,
without meaning of it. In this self-imposed retirement, the Captain
passed whole days and weeks without interchanging a word with anyone
but Rob the Grinder, whom he esteemed as a pattern of disinterested
attachment and fidelity. In this retirement, the Captain, gazing at
the packet of an evening, would sit smoking, and thinking of Florence
and poor Walter, until they both seemed to his homely fancy to be
dead, and to have passed away into eternal youth, the beautiful and
innocent children of his first remembrance.
The Captain did not, however, in his musings, neglect his own
improvement, or the mental culture of Rob the Grinder. That young man
was generally required to read out of some book to the Captain, for
one hour, every evening; and as the Captain implicitly believed that
all books were true, he accumulated, by this means, many remarkable
facts. On Sunday nights, the Captain always read for himself, before
going to bed, a certain Divine Sermon once delivered on a Mount; and
although he was accustomed to quote the text, without book, after his
own manner, he appeared to read it with as reverent an understanding
of its heavenly spirit, as if he had got it all by heart in Greek, and
had been able to write any number of fierce theological disquisitions
on its every phrase.
Rob the Grinder, whose reverence for the inspired writings, under
the admirable system of the Grinders' School, had been developed by a
perpetual bruising of his intellectual shins against all the proper
names of all the tribes of Judah, and by the monotonous repetition of
hard verses, especially by way of punishment, and by the parading of
him at six years old in leather breeches, three times a Sunday, very
high up, in a very hot church, with a great organ buzzing against his
drowsy head, like an exceedingly busy bee - Rob the Grinder made a
mighty show of being edified when the Captain ceased to read, and
generally yawned and nodded while the reading was in progress. The
latter fact being never so much as suspected by the good Captain.
Captain Cuttle, also, as a man of business; took to keeping books.
In these he entered observations on the weather, and on the currents
of the waggons and other vehicles: which he observed, in that quarter,
to set westward in the morning and during the greater part of the day,
and eastward towards the evening. Two or three stragglers appearing in
one week, who 'spoke him' - so the Captain entered it- on the subject
of spectacles, and who, without positively purchasing, said they would
look in again, the Captain decided that the business was improving,
and made an entry in the day-book to that effect: the wind then
blowing (which he first recorded) pretty fresh, west and by north;
having changed in the night.
One of the Captain's chief difficulties was Mr Toots, who called
frequently, and who without saying much seemed to have an idea that
the little back parlour was an eligible room to chuckle in, as he
would sit and avail himself of its accommodations in that regard by
the half-hour together, without at all advancing in intimacy with the
Captain. The Captain, rendered cautious by his late experience, was
unable quite to satisfy his mind whether Mr Toots was the mild subject
he appeared to be, or was a profoundly artful and dissimulating
hypocrite. His frequent reference to Miss Dombey was suspicious; but
the Captain had a secret kindness for Mr Toots's apparent reliance on
him, and forbore to decide against him for the present; merely eyeing
him, with a sagacity not to be described, whenever he approached the
subject that was nearest to his heart.
'Captain Gills,' blurted out Mr Toots, one day all at once, as his
manner was, 'do you think you could think favourably of that
proposition of mine, and give me the pleasure of your acquaintance?'
'Why, I tell you what it is, my lad,' replied the Captain, who had
at length concluded on a course of action; 'I've been turning that
'Captain Gills, it's very kind of you,' retorted Mr Toots. 'I'm
much obliged to you. Upon my word and honour, Captain Gills, it would
be a charity to give me the pleasure of your acquaintance. It really
'You see, brother,' argued the Captain slowly, 'I don't know you.
'But you never can know me, Captain Gills,' replied Mr Toots,
steadfast to his point, 'if you don't give me the pleasure of your
The Captain seemed struck by the originality and power of this
remark, and looked at Mr Toots as if he thought there was a great deal
more in him than he had expected.
'Well said, my lad,' observed the Captain, nodding his head
thoughtfully; 'and true. Now look'ee here: You've made some
observations to me, which gives me to understand as you admire a
certain sweet creetur. Hey?'
'Captain Gills,' said Mr Toots, gesticulating violently with the
hand in which he held his hat, 'Admiration is not the word. Upon my
honour, you have no conception what my feelings are. If I could be
dyed black, and made Miss Dombey's slave, I should consider it a
compliment. If, at the sacrifice of all my property, I could get
transmigrated into Miss Dombey's dog - I - I really think I should
never leave off wagging my tail. I should be so perfectly happy,
Mr Toots said it with watery eyes, and pressed his hat against his
bosom with deep emotion.
'My lad,' returned the Captain, moved to compassion, 'if you're in
'Captain Gills,' cried Mr Toots, 'I'm in such a state of mind, and
am so dreadfully in earnest, that if I could swear to it upon a hot
piece of iron, or a live coal, or melted lead, or burning sealing-wax,
Or anything of that sort, I should be glad to hurt myself, as a relief
to my feelings.' And Mr Toots looked hurriedly about the room, as if
for some sufficiently painful means of accomplishing his dread
The Captain pushed his glazed hat back upon his head, stroked his
face down with his heavy hand - making his nose more mottled in the
process - and planting himself before Mr Toots, and hooking him by the
lapel of his coat, addressed him in these words, while Mr Toots looked
up into his face, with much attention and some wonder.
'If you're in arnest, you see, my lad,' said the Captain, 'you're a
object of clemency, and clemency is the brightest jewel in the crown
of a Briton's head, for which you'll overhaul the constitution as laid
down in Rule Britannia, and, when found, that is the charter as them
garden angels was a singing of, so many times over. Stand by! This
here proposal o' you'rn takes me a little aback. And why? Because I
holds my own only, you understand, in these here waters, and haven't
got no consort, and may be don't wish for none. Steady! You hailed me
first, along of a certain young lady, as you was chartered by. Now if
you and me is to keep one another's company at all, that there young
creetur's name must never be named nor referred to. I don't know what
harm mayn't have been done by naming of it too free, afore now, and
thereby I brings up short. D'ye make me out pretty clear, brother?'
'Well, you'll excuse me, Captain Gills,' replied Mr Toots, 'if I
don't quite follow you sometimes. But upon my word I - it's a hard
thing, Captain Gills, not to be able to mention Miss Dombey. I really
have got such a dreadful load here!' - Mr Toots pathetically touched
his shirt-front with both hands - 'that I feel night and day, exactly
as if somebody was sitting upon me.
'Them,' said the Captain, 'is the terms I offer. If they're hard
upon you, brother, as mayhap they are, give 'em a wide berth, sheer
off, and part company cheerily!'
'Captain Gills,' returned Mr Toots, 'I hardly know how it is, but
after what you told me when I came here, for the first time, I - I
feel that I'd rather think about Miss Dombey in your society than talk
about her in almost anybody else's. Therefore, Captain Gills, if
you'll give me the pleasure of your acquaintance, I shall be very
happy to accept it on your own conditions. I wish to be honourable,
Captain Gills,' said Mr Toots, holding back his extended hand for a
moment, 'and therefore I am obliged to say that I can not help
thinking about Miss Dombey. It's impossible for me to make a promise
not to think about her.'
'My lad,' said the Captain, whose opinion of Mr Toots was much
improved by this candid avowal, 'a man's thoughts is like the winds,
and nobody can't answer for 'em for certain, any length of time
together. Is it a treaty as to words?'
'As to words, Captain Gills,' returned Mr Toots, 'I think I can
Mr Toots gave Captain Cuttle his hand upon it, then and there; and
the Captain with a pleasant and gracious show of condescension,
bestowed his acquaintance upon him formally. Mr Toots seemed much
relieved and gladdened by the acquisition, and chuckled rapturously
during the remainder of his visit. The Captain, for his part, was not
ill pleased to occupy that position of patronage, and was exceedingly
well satisfied by his own prudence and foresight.
But rich as Captain Cuttle was in the latter quality, he received a
surprise that same evening from a no less ingenuous and simple youth,
than Rob the Grinder. That artless lad, drinking tea at the same
table, and bending meekly over his cup and saucer, having taken
sidelong observations of his master for some time, who was reading the
newspaper with great difficulty, but much dignity, through his
glasses, broke silence by saying -
'Oh! I beg your pardon, Captain, but you mayn't be in want of any
pigeons, may you, Sir?'
'No, my lad,' replied the Captain.
'Because I was wishing to dispose of mine, Captain,' said Rob.
'Ay, ay?' cried the Captain, lifting up his bushy eyebrows a
'Yes; I'm going, Captain, if you please,' said Rob.
'Going? Where are you going?' asked the Captain, looking round at
him over the glasses.
'What? didn't you know that I was going to leave you, Captain?'
asked Rob, with a sneaking smile.
The Captain put down the paper, took off his spectacles, and
brought his eyes to bear on the deserter.
'Oh yes, Captain, I am going to give you warning. I thought you'd
have known that beforehand, perhaps,' said Rob, rubbing his hands, and
getting up. 'If you could be so good as provide yourself soon,
Captain, it would be a great convenience to me. You couldn't provide
yourself by to-morrow morning, I am afraid, Captain: could you, do you
'And you're a going to desert your colours, are you, my lad?' said
the Captain, after a long examination of his face.
'Oh, it's very hard upon a cove, Captain,' cried the tender Rob,
injured and indignant in a moment, 'that he can't give lawful warning,
without being frowned at in that way, and called a deserter. You
haven't any right to call a poor cove names, Captain. It ain't because
I'm a servant and you're a master, that you're to go and libel me.
What wrong have I done? Come, Captain, let me know what my crime is,
The stricken Grinder wept, and put his coat-cuff in his eye.
'Come, Captain,' cried the injured youth, 'give my crime a name!
What have I been and done? Have I stolen any of the property? have I
set the house a-fire? If I have, why don't you give me in charge, and
try it? But to take away the character of a lad that's been a good
servant to you, because he can't afford to stand in his own light for
your good, what a injury it is, and what a bad return for faithful
service! This is the way young coves is spiled and drove wrong. I
wonder at you, Captain, I do.'
All of which the Grinder howled forth in a lachrymose whine, and
backing carefully towards the door.
'And so you've got another berth, have you, my lad?' said the
Captain, eyeing him intently.
'Yes, Captain, since you put it in that shape, I have got another
berth,' cried Rob, backing more and more; 'a better berth than I've
got here, and one where I don't so much as want your good word,
Captain, which is fort'nate for me, after all the dirt you've throw'd
at me, because I'm poor, and can't afford to stand in my own light for
your good. Yes, I have got another berth; and if it wasn't for leaving
you unprovided, Captain, I'd go to it now, sooner than I'd take them
names from you, because I'm poor, and can't afford to stand in my own
light for your good. Why do you reproach me for being poor, and not
standing in my own light for your good, Captain? How can you so demean
'Look ye here, my boy,' replied the peaceful Captain. 'Don't you
pay out no more of them words.'
'Well, then, don't you pay in no more of your words, Captain,'
retorted the roused innocent, getting louder in his whine, and backing
into the shop. 'I'd sooner you took my blood than my character.'
'Because,' pursued the Captain calmly, 'you have heerd, may be, of
such a thing as a rope's end.'
'Oh, have I though, Captain?' cried the taunting Grinder. 'No I
haven't. I never heerd of any such a article!'
'Well,' said the Captain, 'it's my belief as you'll know more about
it pretty soon, if you don't keep a bright look-out. I can read your
signals, my lad. You may go.'
'Oh! I may go at once, may I, Captain?' cried Rob, exulting in his
success. 'But mind! I never asked to go at once, Captain. You are not
to take away my character again, because you send me off of your own
accord. And you're not to stop any of my wages, Captain!'
His employer settled the last point by producing the tin canister
and telling the Grinder's money out in full upon the table. Rob,
snivelling and sobbing, and grievously wounded in his feelings, took
up the pieces one by one, with a sob and a snivel for each, and tied
them up separately in knots in his pockethandkerchief; then he
ascended to the roof of the house and filled his hat and pockets with
pigeons; then, came down to his bed under the counter and made up his
bundle, snivelling and sobbing louder, as if he were cut to the heart
by old associations; then he whined, 'Good-night, Captain. I leave you
without malice!' and then, going out upon the door-step, pulled the
little Midshipman's nose as a parting indignity, and went away down
the street grinning triumphantly.
The Captain, left to himself, resumed his perusal of the news as if
nothing unusual or unexpected had taken place, and went reading on
with the greatest assiduity. But never a word did Captain Cuttle
understand, though he read a vast number, for Rob the Grinder was
scampering up one column and down another all through the newspaper.
It is doubtful whether the worthy Captain had ever felt himself
quite abandoned until now; but now, old Sol Gills, Walter, and Heart's
Delight were lost to him indeed, and now Mr Carker deceived and jeered
him cruelly. They were all represented in the false Rob, to whom he
had held forth many a time on the recollections that were warm within
him; he had believed in the false Rob, and had been glad to believe in
him; he had made a companion of him as the last of the old ship's
company; he had taken the command of the little Midshipman with him at
his right hand; he had meant to do his duty by him, and had felt
almost as kindly towards the boy as if they had been shipwrecked and
cast upon a desert place together. And now, that the false Rob had
brought distrust, treachery, and meanness into the very parlour, which
was a kind of sacred place, Captain Cuttle felt as if the parlour
might have gone down next, and not surprised him much by its sinking,
or given him any very great concern.
Therefore Captain Cuttle read the newspaper with profound attention
and no comprehension, and therefore Captain Cuttle said nothing
whatever about Rob to himself, or admitted to himself that he was
thinking about him, or would recognise in the most distant manner that
Rob had anything to do with his feeling as lonely as Robinson Crusoe.
In the same composed, business-like way, the Captain stepped over
to Leadenhall Market in the dusk, and effected an arrangement with a
private watchman on duty there, to come and put up and take down the
shutters of the wooden Midshipman every night and morning. He then
called in at the eating-house to diminish by one half the daily
rations theretofore supplied to the Midshipman, and at the
public-house to stop the traitor's beer. 'My young man,' said the
Captain, in explanation to the young lady at the bar, 'my young man
having bettered himself, Miss.' Lastly, the Captain resolved to take
possession of the bed under the counter, and to turn in there o'
nights instead of upstairs, as sole guardian of the property.
From this bed Captain Cuttle daily rose thenceforth, and clapped on
his glazed hat at six o'clock in the morning, with the solitary air of
Crusoe finishing his toilet with his goat-skin cap; and although his
fears of a visitation from the savage tribe, MacStinger, were somewhat
cooled, as similar apprehensions on the part of that lone mariner used
to be by the lapse of a long interval without any symptoms of the
cannibals, he still observed a regular routine of defensive
operations, and never encountered a bonnet without previous survey
from his castle of retreat. In the meantime (during which he received
no call from Mr Toots, who wrote to say he was out of town) his own
voice began to have a strange sound in his ears; and he acquired such
habits of profound meditation from much polishing and stowing away of
the stock, and from much sitting behind the counter reading, or
looking out of window, that the red rim made on his forehead by the
hard glazed hat, sometimes ached again with excess of reflection.
The year being now expired, Captain Cuttle deemed it expedient to
open the packet; but as he had always designed doing this in the
presence of Rob the Grinder, who had brought it to him, and as he had
an idea that it would be regular and ship-shape to open it in the
presence of somebody, he was sadly put to it for want of a witness. In
this difficulty, he hailed one day with unusual delight the
announcement in the Shipping Intelligence of the arrival of the
Cautious Clara, Captain John Bunsby, from a coasting voyage; and to
that philosopher immediately dispatched a letter by post, enjoining
inviolable secrecy as to his place of residence, and requesting to be
favoured with an early visit, in the evening season.
Bunsby, who was one of those sages who act upon conviction, took
some days to get the conviction thoroughly into his mind, that he had
received a letter to this effect. But when he had grappled with the
fact, and mastered it, he promptly sent his boy with the message,
'He's a coming to-night.' Who being instructed to deliver those words
and disappear, fulfilled his mission like a tarry spirit, charged with
a mysterious warning.
The Captain, well pleased to receive it, made preparation of pipes
and rum and water, and awaited his visitor in the back parlour. At the
hour of eight, a deep lowing, as of a nautical Bull, outside the
shop-door, succeeded by the knocking of a stick on the panel,
announced to the listening ear of Captain Cuttle, that Bunsby was
alongside; whom he instantly admitted, shaggy and loose, and with his
stolid mahogany visage, as usual, appearing to have no consciousness
of anything before it, but to be attentively observing something that
was taking place in quite another part of the world.
'Bunsby,' said the Captain, grasping him by the hand, 'what cheer,
my lad, what cheer?'
'Shipmet,' replied the voice within Bunsby, unaccompanied by any
sign on the part of the Commander himself, 'hearty, hearty.'
'Bunsby!' said the Captain, rendering irrepressible homage to his
genius, 'here you are! a man as can give an opinion as is brighter
than di'monds - and give me the lad with the tarry trousers as shines
to me like di'monds bright, for which you'll overhaul the Stanfell's
Budget, and when found make a note.' Here you are, a man as gave an
opinion in this here very place, that has come true, every letter on
it,' which the Captain sincerely believed.
'Ay, ay?' growled Bunsby.
'Every letter,' said the Captain.
'For why?' growled Bunsby, looking at his friend for the first
time. 'Which way? If so, why not? Therefore.' With these oracular
words - they seemed almost to make the Captain giddy; they launched
him upon such a sea of speculation and conjecture - the sage submitted
to be helped off with his pilot-coat, and accompanied his friend into
the back parlour, where his hand presently alighted on the rum-bottle,
from which he brewed a stiff glass of grog; and presently afterwards
on a pipe, which he filled, lighted, and began to smoke.
Captain Cuttle, imitating his visitor in the matter of these
particulars, though the rapt and imperturbable manner of the great
Commander was far above his powers, sat in the opposite corner of the
fireside, observing him respectfully, and as if he waited for some
encouragement or expression of curiosity on Bunsby's part which should
lead him to his own affairs. But as the mahogany philosopher gave no
evidence of being sentient of anything but warmth and tobacco, except
once, when taking his pipe from his lips to make room for his glass,
he incidentally remarked with exceeding gruffness, that his name was
Jack Bunsby - a declaration that presented but small opening for
conversation - the Captain bespeaking his attention in a short
complimentary exordium, narrated the whole history of Uncle Sol's
departure, with the change it had produced in his own life and
fortunes; and concluded by placing the packet on the table.
After a long pause, Mr Bunsby nodded his head.
'Open?' said the Captain.
Bunsby nodded again.
The Captain accordingly broke the seal, and disclosed to view two
folded papers, of which he severally read the endorsements, thus:
'Last Will and Testament of Solomon Gills.' 'Letter for Ned Cuttle.'
Bunsby, with his eye on the coast of Greenland, seemed to listen
for the contents. The Captain therefore hemmed to clear his throat,
and read the letter aloud.
'"My dear Ned Cuttle. When I left home for the West Indies" - '
Here the Captain stopped, and looked hard at Bunsby, who looked
fixedly at the coast of Greenland.
- - "in forlorn search of intelligence of my dear boy, I knew that
if you were acquainted with my design, you would thwart it, or
accompany me; and therefore I kept it secret. If you ever read this
letter, Ned, I am likely to be dead. You will easily forgive an old
friend's folly then, and will feel for the restlessness and
uncertainty in which he wandered away on such a wild voyage. So no
more of that. I have little hope that my poor boy will ever read these
words, or gladden your eyes with the sight of his frank face any
more." No, no; no more,' said Captain Cuttle, sorrowfully meditating;
'no more. There he lays, all his days - '
Mr Bunsby, who had a musical ear, suddenly bellowed, 'In the Bays
of Biscay, O!' which so affected the good Captain, as an appropriate
tribute to departed worth, that he shook him by the hand in
acknowledgment, and was fain to wipe his eyes.
'Well, well!' said the Captain with a sigh, as the Lament of Bunsby
ceased to ring and vibrate in the skylight. 'Affliction sore, long
time he bore, and let us overhaul the wollume, and there find it.'
'Physicians,' observed Bunsby, 'was in vain."
'Ay, ay, to be sure,' said the Captain, 'what's the good o' them in
two or three hundred fathoms o' water!' Then, returning to the letter,
he read on: - '"But if he should be by, when it is opened;"' the
Captain involuntarily looked round, and shook his head; '"or should
know of it at any other time;"' the Captain shook his head again; '"my
blessing on him! In case the accompanying paper is not legally
written, it matters very little, for there is no one interested but
you and he, and my plain wish is, that if he is living he should have
what little there may be, and if (as I fear) otherwise, that you
should have it, Ned. You will respect my wish, I know. God bless you
for it, and for all your friendliness besides, to Solomon Gills."
Bunsby!' said the Captain, appealing to him solemnly, 'what do you
make of this? There you sit, a man as has had his head broke from
infancy up'ards, and has got a new opinion into it at every seam as
has been opened. Now, what do you make o' this?'
'If so be,' returned Bunsby, with unusual promptitude, 'as he's
dead, my opinion is he won't come back no more. If so be as he's
alive, my opinion is he will. Do I say he will? No. Why not? Because
the bearings of this obserwation lays in the application on it.'
'Bunsby!' said Captain Cuttle, who would seem to have estimated the
value of his distinguished friend's opinions in proportion to the
immensity of the difficulty he experienced in making anything out of
them; 'Bunsby,' said the Captain, quite confounded by admiration, 'you
carry a weight of mind easy, as would swamp one of my tonnage soon.
But in regard o' this here will, I don't mean to take no steps towards
the property - Lord forbid! - except to keep it for a more rightful
owner; and I hope yet as the rightful owner, Sol Gills, is living
and'll come back, strange as it is that he ain't forwarded no
dispatches. Now, what is your opinion, Bunsby, as to stowing of these
here papers away again, and marking outside as they was opened, such a
day, in the presence of John Bunsby and Ed'ard Cuttle?'
Bunsby, descrying no objection, on the coast of Greenland or
elsewhere, to this proposal, it was carried into execution; and that
great man, bringing his eye into the present for a moment, affixed his
sign-manual to the cover, totally abstaining, with characteristic
modesty, from the use of capital letters. Captain Cuttle, having
attached his own left-handed signature, and locked up the packet in
the iron safe, entreated his guest to mix another glass and smoke
another pipe; and doing the like himself, fell a musing over the fire
on the possible fortunes of the poor old Instrument-maker.
And now a surprise occurred, so overwhelming and terrific that
Captain Cuttle, unsupported by the presence of Bunsby, must have sunk
beneath it, and been a lost man from that fatal hour.
How the Captain, even in the satisfaction of admitting such a
guest, could have only shut the door, and not locked it, of which
negligence he was undoubtedly guilty, is one of those questions that
must for ever remain mere points of speculation, or vague charges
against destiny. But by that unlocked door, at this quiet moment, did
the fell MacStinger dash into the parlour, bringing Alexander
MacStinger in her parental arms, and confusion and vengeance (not to
mention Juliana MacStinger, and the sweet child's brother, Charles
MacStinger, popularly known about the scenes of his youthful sports,
as Chowley) in her train. She came so swiftly and so silently, like a
rushing air from the neighbourhood of the East India Docks, that
Captain Cuttle found himself in the very act of sitting looking at
her, before the calm face with which he had been meditating, changed
to one of horror and dismay.
But the moment Captain Cuttle understood the full extent of his
misfortune, self-preservation dictated an attempt at flight. Darting
at the little door which opened from the parlour on the steep little
range of cellar-steps, the Captain made a rush, head-foremost, at the
latter, like a man indifferent to bruises and contusions, who only
sought to hide himself in the bowels of the earth. In this gallant
effort he would probably have succeeded, but for the affectionate
dispositions of Juliana and Chowley, who pinning him by the legs - one
of those dear children holding on to each - claimed him as their
friend, with lamentable cries. In the meantime, Mrs MacStinger, who
never entered upon any action of importance without previously
inverting Alexander MacStinger, to bring him within the range of a
brisk battery of slaps, and then sitting him down to cool as the
reader first beheld him, performed that solemn rite, as if on this
occasion it were a sacrifice to the Furies; and having deposited the
victim on the floor, made at the Captain with a strength of purpose
that appeared to threaten scratches to the interposing Bunsby.
The cries of the two elder MacStingers, and the wailing of young
Alexander, who may be said to have passed a piebald childhood,
forasmuch as he was black in the face during one half of that fairy
period of existence, combined to make this visitation the more awful.
But when silence reigned again, and the Captain, in a violent
perspiration, stood meekly looking at Mrs MacStinger, its terrors were
at their height.
'Oh, Cap'en Cuttle, Cap'en Cuttle!' said Mrs MacStinger, making her
chin rigid, and shaking it in unison with what, but for the weakness
of her sex, might be described as her fist. 'Oh, Cap'en Cuttle, Cap'en
Cuttle, do you dare to look me in the face, and not be struck down in
The Captain, who looked anything but daring, feebly muttered
'Oh I was a weak and trusting Fool when I took you under my roof,
Cap'en Cuttle, I was!' cried Mrs MacStinger. 'To think of the benefits
I've showered on that man, and the way in which I brought my children
up to love and honour him as if he was a father to 'em, when there
ain't a housekeeper, no nor a lodger in our street, don't know that I
lost money by that man, and by his guzzlings and his muzzlings' - Mrs
MacStinger used the last word for the joint sake of alliteration and
aggravation, rather than for the expression of any idea - 'and when
they cried out one and all, shame upon him for putting upon an
industrious woman, up early and late for the good of her young family,
and keeping her poor place so clean that a individual might have ate
his dinner, yes, and his tea too, if he was so disposed, off any one
of the floors or stairs, in spite of all his guzzlings and his
muzzlings, such was the care and pains bestowed upon him!'
Mrs MacStinger stopped to fetch her breath; and her face flushed
with triumph in this second happy introduction of Captain Cuttle's
'And he runs awa-a-a-y!'cried Mrs MacStinger, with a lengthening
out of the last syllable that made the unfortunate Captain regard
himself as the meanest of men; 'and keeps away a twelve-month! From a
woman! Such is his conscience! He hasn't the courage to meet her
hi-i-igh;' long syllable again; 'but steals away, like a felion. Why,
if that baby of mine,' said Mrs MacStinger, with sudden rapidity, 'was
to offer to go and steal away, I'd do my duty as a mother by him, till
he was covered with wales!'
The young Alexander, interpreting this into a positive promise, to
be shortly redeemed, tumbled over with fear and grief, and lay upon
the floor, exhibiting the soles of his shoes and making such a
deafening outcry, that Mrs MacStinger found it necessary to take him
up in her arms, where she quieted him, ever and anon, as he broke out
again, by a shake that seemed enough to loosen his teeth.
'A pretty sort of a man is Cap'en Cuttle,' said Mrs MacStinger,
with a sharp stress on the first syllable of the Captain's name, 'to
take on for - and to lose sleep for- and to faint along of- and to
think dead forsooth - and to go up and down the blessed town like a
madwoman, asking questions after! Oh, a pretty sort of a man! Ha ha ha
ha! He's worth all that trouble and distress of mind, and much more.
That's nothing, bless you! Ha ha ha ha! Cap'en Cuttle,' said Mrs
MacStinger, with severe reaction in her voice and manner, 'I wish to
know if you're a-coming home.
The frightened Captain looked into his hat, as if he saw nothing
for it but to put it on, and give himself up.
'Cap'en Cuttle,' repeated Mrs MacStinger, in the same determined
manner, 'I wish to know if you're a-coming home, Sir.'
The Captain seemed quite ready to go, but faintly suggested
something to the effect of 'not making so much noise about it.'
'Ay, ay, ay,' said Bunsby, in a soothing tone. 'Awast, my lass,
'And who may you be, if you please!' retorted Mrs MacStinger, with
chaste loftiness. 'Did you ever lodge at Number Nine, Brig Place, Sir?
My memory may be bad, but not with me, I think. There was a Mrs
Jollson lived at Number Nine before me, and perhaps you're mistaking
me for her. That is my only ways of accounting for your familiarity,
'Come, come, my lass, awast, awast!' said Bunsby.
Captain Cuttle could hardly believe it, even of this great man,
though he saw it done with his waking eyes; but Bunsby, advancing
boldly, put his shaggy blue arm round Mrs MacStinger, and so softened
her by his magic way of doing it, and by these few words - he said no
more - that she melted into tears, after looking upon him for a few
moments, and observed that a child might conquer her now, she was so
low in her courage.
Speechless and utterly amazed, the Captain saw him gradually
persuade this inexorable woman into the shop, return for rum and water
and a candle, take them to her, and pacify her without appearing to
utter one word. Presently he looked in with his pilot-coat on, and
said, 'Cuttle, I'm a-going to act as convoy home;' and Captain Cuttle,
more to his confusion than if he had been put in irons himself, for
safe transport to Brig Place, saw the family pacifically filing off,
with Mrs MacStinger at their head. He had scarcely time to take down
his canister, and stealthily convey some money into the hands of
Juliana MacStinger, his former favourite, and Chowley, who had the
claim upon him that he was naturally of a maritime build, before the
Midshipman was abandoned by them all; and Bunsby whispering that he'd
carry on smart, and hail Ned Cuttle again before he went aboard, shut
the door upon himself, as the last member of the party.
Some uneasy ideas that he must be walking in his sleep, or that he
had been troubled with phantoms, and not a family of flesh and blood,
beset the Captain at first, when he went back to the little parlour,
and found himself alone. Illimitable faith in, and immeasurable
admiration of, the Commander of the Cautious Clara, succeeded, and
threw the Captain into a wondering trance.
Still, as time wore on, and Bunsby failed to reappear, the Captain
began to entertain uncomfortable doubts of another kind. Whether
Bunsby had been artfully decoyed to Brig Place, and was there detained
in safe custody as hostage for his friend; in which case it would
become the Captain, as a man of honour, to release him, by the
sacrifice of his own liberty. Whether he had been attacked and
defeated by Mrs MacStinger, and was ashamed to show himself after his
discomfiture. Whether Mrs MacStinger, thinking better of it, in the
uncertainty of her temper, had turned back to board the Midshipman
again, and Bunsby, pretending to conduct her by a short cut, was
endeavouring to lose the family amid the wilds and savage places of
the City. Above all, what it would behove him, Captain Cuttle, to do,
in case of his hearing no more, either of the MacStingers or of
Bunsby, which, in these wonderful and unforeseen conjunctions of
events, might possibly happen.
He debated all this until he was tired; and still no Bunsby. He
made up his bed under the counter, all ready for turning in; and still
no Bunsby. At length, when the Captain had given him up, for that
night at least, and had begun to undress, the sound of approaching
wheels was heard, and, stopping at the door, was succeeded by Bunsby's
The Captain trembled to think that Mrs MacStinger was not to be got
rid of, and had been brought back in a coach.
But no. Bunsby was accompanied by nothing but a large box, which he
hauled into the shop with his own hands, and as soon as he had hauled
in, sat upon. Captain Cuttle knew it for the chest he had left at Mrs
MacStinger's house, and looking, candle in hand, at Bunsby more
attentively, believed that he was three sheets in the wind, or, in
plain words, drunk. It was difficult, however, to be sure of this; the
Commander having no trace of expression in his face when sober.
'Cuttle,' said the Commander, getting off the chest, and opening
the lid, 'are these here your traps?'
Captain Cuttle looked in and identified his property.
'Done pretty taut and trim, hey, shipmet?' said Bunsby.
The grateful and bewildered Captain grasped him by the hand, and
was launching into a reply expressive of his astonished feelings, when
Bunsby disengaged himself by a jerk of his wrist, and seemed to make
an effort to wink with his revolving eye, the only effect of which
attempt, in his condition, was nearly to over-balance him. He then
abruptly opened the door, and shot away to rejoin the Cautious Clara
with all speed - supposed to be his invariable custom, whenever he
considered he had made a point.
As it was not his humour to be often sought, Captain Cuttle decided
not to go or send to him next day, or until he should make his
gracious pleasure known in such wise, or failing that, until some
little time should have lapsed. The Captain, therefore, renewed his
solitary life next morning, and thought profoundly, many mornings,
noons, and nights, of old Sol Gills, and Bunsby's sentiments
concerning him, and the hopes there were of his return. Much of such
thinking strengthened Captain Cuttle's hopes; and he humoured them and
himself by watching for the Instrument-maker at the door - as he
ventured to do now, in his strange liberty - and setting his chair in
its place, and arranging the little parlour as it used to be, in case
he should come home unexpectedly. He likewise, in his thoughtfulness,
took down a certain little miniature of Walter as a schoolboy, from
its accustomed nail, lest it should shock the old man on his return.
The Captain had his presentiments, too, sometimes, that he would come
on such a day; and one particular Sunday, even ordered a double
allowance of dinner, he was so sanguine. But come, old Solomon did
not; and still the neighbours noticed how the seafaring man in the
glazed hat, stood at the shop-door of an evening, looking up and down