Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Ten Girls from Dickens by Kate Dickinson Sweetser

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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.

CHARLEY

[Illustration: CHARLEY]

CHARLEY

When I, Esther Summerson, was taken from the school where the early
years of my childhood had been spent; having no home or parents, as had
the other girls in the school, my guardian, Mr. Jarndyce, gave me a home
with him, where I was companion to his young and lovely ward, Ada Clare.
I soon grew deeply attached to Ada, the dearest girl in the world; to my
guardian, the kindest and most thoughtful of men; and to Bleak House, my
happy home.

One day, upon hearing of the death of a poor man whom we had known, and
learning that he had left three motherless children in great poverty, my
guardian and I set out to discover for ourselves the extent of their
need. We were directed to a chandler's shop in Bell Yard, a narrow, dark
alley, where we found an old woman, who replied to my inquiry for
Neckett's children: "Yes, surely, Miss. Three pair, if you please. Door
right opposite the stairs." And she handed me a key across the counter.
As she seemed to take it for granted I knew what to do with the key, I
inferred it must be intended for the children's door, so without any
more questions I led the way up a dark stair.

Reaching the top room designated, I tapped at the door, and a little
shrill voice inside said, "We are locked in. Mrs. Blinder's got
the key!"

I applied the key, and opened the door. In a poor room, with a sloping
ceiling, and containing very little furniture, was a mite of a boy,
some five or six years old, nursing and hushing a heavy child of
eighteen months. There was no fire, though the weather was cold; both
children were wrapped in some poor shawls and tippets, as a substitute.
Their clothing was not so warm, however, but that their noses looked red
and pinched, and their small figures shrunken, as the boy walked up and
down, nursing and hushing the child with its head on his shoulder.

"Who has locked you up here alone?" we naturally asked.

"Charley," said the boy.

"Is Charley your brother?"

"No, she's my sister, Charlotte. Father called her Charley."

"Are there any more of you besides Charley?"

"Me," said the boy, "and Emma," patting the child he was nursing, "and
Charley."

"Where is Charley now?"

"Out a-washing," said the boy, beginning to walk up and down again, and
even as he spoke there came into the room a very little girl, childish
in figure, but shrewd and older looking in the face--pretty faced,
too--wearing a womanly sort of a bonnet, much too large for her, and
drying her bare arms on a womanly sort of apron. Her fingers were white
and wrinkled with washing, and the soap-suds were yet smoking, which she
wiped off her arms. But for this, she might have been a child, playing
at washing, and imitating a poor working woman with a quick observation
of the truth.

She had come running from some place in the neighborhood. Consequently,
though she was very light, she was out of breath, and could not speak at
first, as she stood panting and wiping her arms. "O, here's Charley!"
said the boy.

The child he was nursing stretched forward its arms and cried out to be
taken by Charley. The little girl took it, in a womanly sort of manner
belonging to the apron and the bonnet, and stood looking at us over the
burden that clung to her most affectionately.

"Is it possible," whispered my guardian, as he put a chair for the
little creature, and got her to sit down with her load, the boy holding
to her apron, "that this child works for the rest?

"Charley, Charley!" he questioned. "How old are you?"

"Over thirteen, sir," replied the child.

"O, what a great age!" said my guardian. "And do you live here alone
with these babies, Charley?"

"Yes, sir," returned the child, looking up into his face with perfect
confidence, "since father died."

"And how do you live, Charley," said my guardian, "how do you live?"

"Since father died, sir, I've gone out to work. I'm out washing to-day."

"God help you, Charley!" said my guardian. "You're not tall enough to
reach the tub!"

"In pattens I am, sir," she said quickly. "I've got a high pair as
belonged to mother. Mother died just after Emma was born," said the
child, glancing at the face upon her bosom. "Then father said I was to
be as good a mother to her as I could. And so I tried. And so I worked
at home, and did cleaning, and nursing, and washing, for a long time
before I began to go out. And that's how I know how, don't you
see, sir?"

"And do you often go out?"

"As often as I can, sir," said Charley, opening her eyes and smiling,
"because of earning sixpences and shillings!"

"And do you always lock the babies up when you go out?"

"To keep 'em safe, sir, don't you see?" said Charley. "Mrs. Blinder
comes up now and then, and Mr. Gridley comes up sometimes, and perhaps I
can run in sometimes, and they can play you know, and Tom ain't afraid
of being locked up, are you, Tom?"

"No--o," said Tom stoutly.

"When it comes on dark, the lamps are lighted down in the courts, and
they show up here quite bright--almost quite bright. Don't they, Tom?"

"Yes, Charley," said Tom, "almost quite bright."

"Then he's as good as gold," said the little creature, oh, in such a
motherly, womanly way. "And when Emma's tired, he puts her to bed. And
when he's tired he goes to bed himself. And when I come home and light
the candle, and has a bit of supper, he sits up again and has it with
me. Don't you, Tom?"

"O yes, Charley!" said Tom. "That I do!" and either in this glimpse of
the great pleasure of his life, or in gratitude and love for Charley, he
laid his face among the scanty folds of her frock, and passed from
laughing into crying.

It was the first time since our entry, that a tear had been shed among
these children. The little orphan girl had spoken of their father and
their mother, as if all that sorrow was subdued by the necessity of
taking courage, and by her childish importance in being able to work,
and by her bustling busy way. But now, when Tom cried; although she sat
quite tranquil, looking quietly at us, and did not by any movement
disturb a hair of the head of either of her little charges, I saw two
silent tears fall down her face.

I stood at the window pretending to look out, when I found that Mrs.
Blinder, from the shop below, had come in, and was talking to
my guardian.

"It's not much to forgive 'em the rent, sir,---who could take it from
them!"

"Well, well!" said my guardian to us two. "It is enough that the time
will come when this good woman will find that it _was_ much, and that
forasmuch as she did it to one of the least of these--! This child," he
added after a few moments, "Could she possibly continue this?"

"Really, sir, I think she might," said Mrs. Blinder. "She's as handy as
it's possible to be. Bless you sir, the way she tended them two
children, after the mother died, was the talk of the yard! And it was a
wonder to see her with him, after he was took ill, it really was!--'Mrs.
Blinder,' he said to me, the very last he spoke--'Mrs. Blinder, whatever
my calling may have been, I see a Angel sitting in this room last night
along with my child, and I trust her to our Father!'"

From all that we had heard and seen, we felt a deep interest in the
bright, self-reliant little creature, with her womanly ways and burden
of family cares, and my thoughts turned towards her many times, after we
had kissed her, and taken her downstairs with us, and stopped to see her
run away to her work. We saw her run, such a little, little creature, in
her womanly bonnet and apron, through a covered way at the bottom of the
court, and melt into the city's strife and sound, like a dewdrop in
an ocean.

Some weeks later, at the close of a happy evening spent at Bleak House
with my guardian and my dearest girl, I went at last to my own room, and
presently heard a soft tap at the door, so I said, "Come in!" and there
came in a pretty little girl, neatly dressed in mourning, who dropped
a curtsey.

"If you please, miss," said the little girl in a soft voice, "I am
Charley."

"Why so you are," said I, stooping down in astonishment, and giving her
a kiss. "How glad am I to see you, Charley!"

"If you please, miss," pursued Charley, "I'm your maid!"

"Charley?"

"If you please, miss, I'm a present to you, with Mr. Jarndyce's love.
And O, miss," says Charley, clapping her hands, with the tears starting
down her dimpled cheeks, "Tom's at school, if you please, and learning
so good, and little Emma, she's with Mrs. Blinder, miss, a-being took
such care of! and Tom, he would have been at school--and Emma she would
have been left with Mrs. Blinder--and me, I should have been here--all a
deal sooner, miss; only Mr. Jarndyce thought Tom and Emma and me had
better get a little used to parting, we was so small. Don't cry, if you
please, miss."

"I can't help it, Charley."

"No, miss, nor I can't help it," said Charley. "And if you please,
miss," said Charley, "Mr. Jarndyce's love, and he thinks you'll like to
teach me now and then. And if you please, Tom and Emma and me is to see
each other once a month. And I'm so happy and so thankful, miss," cried
Charley with a heaving heart,--"and I'll try to be such a good maid!"

Charley dried her eyes, and entered on her functions: going in her
matronly little way about and about the room, and folding up everything
she could lay her hands upon. Presently she came creeping back to my
side, and said:

"O don't cry, if you please, miss."

And I said again, "I can't help it."

And Charley said again, "No, miss, nor I can't help it." And so, after
all, I did cry for joy indeed, and so did she--and from that night my
little maid shared in all the cares and duties, joys and sorrows of her
mistress, and I grew to lean heavily upon the womanly, loving,
little creature.

According to my guardian's suggestion, I gave considerable time to
Charley's education, but I regret to say the results never reflected
much credit upon my educational powers. As for writing--it was a trying
business to Charley, in whose hand every pen appeared to become
perversely animated, and to go wrong and crooked, and to stop and
splash, and sidle into corners, like a saddle donkey. It was very odd to
see what old letters Charley's young hands had made. They, so shrivelled
and tottering; it, so plump and round. Yet Charley was uncommonly expert
at other things, and had as nimble little fingers as I ever watched.

"Well, Charley," said I, looking over a copy of the letter O in which it
was represented as square, triangular, pear-shaped, and collapsed in all
kinds of ways, "We are improving. If we only get to make it round, we
shall be perfect, Charley."

Then I made one, and Charley made one, and the pen wouldn't join
Charley's neatly, but twisted it up into a knot.

"Never mind, Charley. We shall do it in time."

Charley laid down her pen, opened and shut her cramped little hand; and
thanking me, got up and dropped me a curtsey, asking me if I knew a poor
person by the name of Jenny. I answered that I did, but thought she had
left the neighborhood altogether, "So she had, miss," said Charley, "but
she's come back again, and she came about the house three or four days,
hoping to get a glimpse of you, miss, but you were away. She saw me
a-goin' about, miss," said Charley, with a short laugh of the greatest
delight and pride, "and she thought I looked like your maid!"

"Did she though, really, Charley?"

"Yes, miss!" said Charley, "really and truly." And Charley, with
another short laugh of the purest glee, made her eyes very round again,
and looked as serious as became my maid. I was never tired of seeing
Charley in the full enjoyment of that great dignity, standing before me
with her youthful face and figure, and her steady manner, and her
childish exultation breaking through it now and then in the pleasantest
way. And so long as she lived, the dignity of having been in my service
was the greatest crown of glory to my little maid.

Although my efforts to make a scholar of Charley were never crowned with
success, she had her own tastes and accomplishments, and dearly loved to
bustle about the house, in her own particularly womanly way. To surround
herself with great heaps of needlework--baskets-full and tables
full--and do a little,--and spend a great deal of time in staring with
her round eyes at what there was to do, and persuade herself that she
was going to do it, were Charley's great dignities and delights.

When we went to see the woman, Jenny, we found her in her poor little
cottage, nursing a vagrant boy called Jo, a crossing-sweeper, who had
tramped down from London, and was tramping he didn't know where. Jenny,
who had known him in London, had found him in a corner of the town,
burning with fever, and taken him home to care for, Seeing that he was
very ill, and fearing her husband's anger at her having harbored him,
when it was time for her husband to return home, she put a few
half-pence together in his hand, and thrust him out of the house. We
followed the wretched boy, and pitying his forlorn condition led him
home with us, where he was made comfortable for the night in a loft-room
by the stable. Charley's last report was, that the boy was quiet. I went
to bed very happy to think that he was sheltered, and was much shocked
and grieved the next morning, when upon visiting his room we found him
gone. At what time he had left, or how, or why, it seemed hopeless ever
to divine, and after a thorough search of the country around, which
lasted for five days, we abandoned all thought of ever clearing up the
mystery surrounding the boy's departure, nor was it until some time
later that the secret was discovered.

Meanwhile, poor Jo left behind him a dread and infectious disease which
Charley caught from him, and in twelve hours after his escape she was
very, very ill. I nursed her myself, with tenderest care, bringing her
back to her old childish likeness again. Then the disease came upon me,
and in my weeks of mortal sickness, it was Charley's love and care, and
unending devotion that saved my life. It was Charley's hand which
removed every looking-glass from my rooms, that in my convalescence I
might not be shocked by the alteration which the disease had wrought in
the face she loved so dearly.

When I was able, Charley and I went away together, to the most friendly
of villages, and in the home which my guardian's care had provided, we
enjoyed the hours of returning strength. There was a kindly housekeeper
to trot after me with restoratives and strengthening delicacies, and a
pony expressly for my use, and soon there were friendly faces of
greeting in every cottage as we passed by. Thus with being much in the
open air, playing with the village children, gossiping in many cottages,
going on with Charley's education, and writing long letters to my
dearest girl, time slipped away, and I found myself quite strong again.

And to Charley,--now as well, and rosy, and pretty as one of Flora's
attendants, I give due credit, and the bond which binds me to my little
maid is one which will only be severed when the days of Charley's happy
life are over.

TILLY SLOWBOY

[Illustration: TILLY SLOWBOY]

TILLY SLOWBOY

Although still in her earliest teens, Tilly Slowboy was a nursery-maid
for little Mrs. Peerybingle's baby, and despite her extreme youth, was a
most enthusiastic and unusual nursery-maid indeed.

It may be noted of Miss Slowboy that she had a rare and surprising
talent for getting the baby into difficulties; and had several times
imperilled its short life, in a quiet way peculiarly her own.

She was of a spare and straight shape, this young lady, insomuch that
her garments appeared to be in constant danger of sliding off those
sharp pegs, her shoulders, on which they were loosely hung. Her costume
was remarkable for the partial development on all possible occasions, of
some flannel vestment of a singular structure; also affording glimpses,
in the region of the back, of a pair of stays, in color a dead green.

Being always in a state of gaping admiration at everything, and absorbed
besides, in the perpetual contemplation of her mistress's perfections,
and the baby's, Miss Slowboy, in her little errors of judgment may be
said to have done equal honor to her head and to her heart; and though
these did less honor to the baby's head, which they were the occasional
means of bringing into contact with deal doors, dressers, stair-rails,
bed-posts, and other foreign substances, still they were the honest
results of Tilly Slowboy's constant astonishment at finding herself so
kindly treated and installed in such a comfortable home. For the
maternal and paternal Slowboy were alike unknown to Fame, and Tilly had
been bred by public charity, a foundling; which word, though only
differing from fondling by one vowel's length, is very different in
meaning, and expresses quite another thing.

It was a singularly happy and united family in which Tilly's lot was
cast. Honest John Peerybingle, Carrier; his pretty little wife, whom he
called Dot; the very remarkable doll of a baby; the dog Boxer; and the
Cricket on the Hearth, whose cheerful chirp, chirp, chirp, was a
continual family blessing and good-omen;--were collectively and
severally the objects of Tilly's unbounded admiration.

If ever a person or thing alarmed Tilly, she would hastily seek
protection near the skirts of her pretty little mistress; or, failing
that, would make a charge or butt at the object of her fright with the
only offensive instrument within her reach--which usually happened to be
the baby. Tilly's bump of good fortune being extraordinarily well
developed, the baby usually managed to come out from the siege unharmed,
to be soothed and comforted in Tilly's own peculiar fashion; her most
common method of amusement being to reproduce for its entertainment
scraps of conversation current in the house, with all the sense left out
of them, and all the nouns changed to the plural number, as--"Did its
mothers make it up a beds then! And did its hair grow brown and curly
when its cap was lifted off, and frighten it, a precious Pets, a-sitting
by the fire!"

It was a notable and exciting event to Miss Slowboy when she set out one
day in the Carrier's cart, with her little mistress and the remarkable
baby, to have dinner with Caleb Plummer's blind daughter, Bertha, who
was Mrs. Dot's devoted friend.

In consequence of the departure, there was a pretty sharp commotion at
John Peerybingle's, for to get the baby under weigh took time. Not that
there was much of the baby, speaking of it as a thing of weight and
measure, but there was a vast deal to do about it, and all had to be
done by easy stages. When the baby was got, by hook and by crook, to a
certain point of dressing, and you might have supposed that another
touch or two would finish him off, he was unexpectedly extinguished, and
hustled off to bed; where he simmered (so to speak) between two blankets
for the best part of an hour, while Mrs. Peerybingle took advantage of
the interval to make herself smart for the trip, and during the same
short truce, Miss Slowboy insinuated herself into a spencer, of a
fashion so surprising and ingenious, that it had no connection with
herself, or anything else in the universe, but was a shrunken,
dog's-eared, independent fact, pursuing its lonely course without the
least regard to anybody. By this time, the baby, being all alive again,
was invested by the united efforts of Mrs. Peerybingle and Miss Slowboy,
with a cream-colored mantle for its body, and a sort of nankeen
raised-pie for its head, and in course of time they all three got down
to the door, where the old horse was waiting to convey them on
their trip.

In reference to Miss Slowboy's ascent into the cart, if I might be
allowed to mention a young lady's legs, on any terms, I would observe of
her that there was a fatality about hers which rendered them singularly
liable to be grazed; and that she never effected the smallest ascent or
descent without recording the circumstance upon them with a notch, as
Robinson Crusoe marked the days upon his wooden calendar. But as this
might be considered ungenteel, I'll think of it--merely observing that
when the three were all safely settled in the cart, and the basket
containing the Veal-and-Ham Pie and other delicacies, which Mrs.
Peerybingle always carried when she visited the blind girl, was stowed
away, they jogged on for some little time in silence.

But not for long, for everybody on the road had something to say to the
occupants of John Peerybingle's cart, and sometimes passengers on foot,
or horseback, plodded on a little way beside the cart, for the express
purpose of having a chat. Then, too, the packages and parcels for the
errand cart were numerous, and there were many stoppages to take them in
and give them out, which was not the least interesting part of
the journey.

Of all the little incidents of the day, Dot was the amused and open-eyed
spectatress from her chair in the cart; making a charming little
portrait as she sat there, looking on. And this delighted John the
Carrier beyond measure.

The trip was a little foggy, to be sure, in the January weather, and was
raw and cold. But who cared for such trifles! Not Dot, decidedly. Not
Tilly Slowboy, for she deemed sitting in a cart on any terms, to be the
highest point of human joy; the crowning circumstance of earthly hopes.
Not the baby, I'll be sworn; for it's not in baby nature to be warmer or
more sound asleep than that blessed young Peerybingle was all the way.

In one place there was a mound of weeds burning, and they watched the
fire until, in consequence, as she observed, of the smoke "getting up
her nose," Miss Slowboy choked--she could do anything of that sort on
the smallest provocation--and woke the baby, who wouldn't go to
sleep again.

But, at that moment they came in sight of the blind girl's home, where
she was waiting with keen anticipation to receive them.

Bertha had other visitors as well that day, and the picnic dinner
proceeded in a very stately and dignified manner. Miss Slowboy was
isolated, for the time being, from every article of furniture but the
chair she sat on, that she might have nothing else to knock the baby's
head against, and sat staring about her in unspeakable delight. To her
the day was all too short, and when that evening John Peerybingle making
his return trip, called to take them home, Miss Slowboy's regret
was intense.

As long as her little mistress smiled, Tilly's face too was wreathed in
smiles; but when a hidden shadow darkened the Perrybingle sky,
overclouding the happiness of the little home, and Dot cried all night,
Tilly's eyes were red and swollen too, the next morning.

It happened in this way. Pretty little Dot gave good John Perrybingle
cause for anxiety by her actions, and the honest carrier, disturbed and
misled, felt that he had reason to doubt her love for him, which almost
broke his honest, faithful heart. While he was worrying over this, and
over her, his little wife was merely shielding a secret belonging to
Edward Plummer, Bertha's brother, who had just come back, after many
year's absence in the golden South Americas.

So unaccustomed was Dot to keeping a secret that it caused her to act
very strangely, and give her husband reason to misjudge her, which
almost broke her loving little heart. All of which trouble Tilly Slowboy
did not understand, but was deeply affected by it, and when she found
her mistress alone, sobbing piteously, was quite horrified, exclaiming:

"Ow, if you please, don't! It's enough to dead and bury the baby, so it
is, if you please!"

"Will you bring him sometimes, to see his father, Tilly?" inquired her
mistress, drying her eyes; "when I can't live here, and have gone to my
old home?"

"Ow, if you please, _don't!_" cried Tilly, throwing back her head and
bursting out into a howl--she looked at the moment uncommonly like
Boxer--"Ow, if you please, don't! Ow, what has everybody been and gone
and done with everybody, making everybody else so wretched. Ow-w-w-w!"

The soft-hearted Slowboy trailed off at this juncture, into such a
deplorable howl, the more tremendous from its long suppression, that she
must infallibly have wakened the baby and frightened him into something
serious (probably convulsions) if her attention had not been forcibly
diverted from her misery for a moment, after which she stood for some
time silent, with her mouth wide open; and then, posting off to the bed
on which the baby lay asleep, danced in a weird, Saint Vitus manner, on
the floor, and at the same time rummaged with her face and head among
the bedclothes, apparently deriving much relief from those extraordinary
operations.

Fortunately for all concerned in the little domestic drama, before a
crisis had been reached, Edward Plummer revealed his secret, and his
reasons for having been obliged to keep it. This cleared up the mystery
concerning Mrs. Dot's conduct, proving her to be the same loyal, loving
little wife she always was: to the exquisite satisfaction of the honest
carrier, his family and friends, and last but not least, Miss Slowboy,
who wept copiously for joy, and wishing to include her young charge in
the general interchange of congratulations, handed round the baby to
everybody in succession, as if it were something to eat or drink.

Of course it became a serious duty now, to make such a day of it as
should mark these events for a high feast and festival in the
Peerybingle Calendar forevermore. Accordingly, Dot went to work to
produce such an entertainment as should reflect undying honor on the
house and on every one concerned, and in a very short space of time
everybody in the house was in a state of flutter and domestic turmoil
and during the flurry of preparation, everybody tumbled over Tilly
Slowboy and the baby everywhere. Tilly never came out in such force
before. Her ubiquity was the theme of universal admiration. She was a
stumbling-block in the passage at five-and-twenty minutes past two; a
man-trap in the kitchen at half-past two precisely; and a pitfall in the
garret at five-and-twenty minutes to three. The baby's head was, as it
were, a test and touchstone for every description of matter,--animal,
vegetable, and mineral. Nothing was in use that day that didn't come, at
some time or other, into close acquaintance with it.

That was a great celebration indeed, with Dot doing the honors in her
wedding-gown, her eyes sparkling with happiness, and the good carrier,
so jovial and so ruddy at the bottom of the table, and all their guests
aiding to make the occasion a memorable and happy one.

There was a dance in the evening, for which Bertha played her liveliest
tune. Inspired by infectious joy, old and young get up and join the
whirling throng. Suddenly Caleb Plummer clutches Tilly Slowboy by both
hands and goes off at score, Miss Slowboy firm in the belief that diving
hotly in among the couples, and effecting any number of concussions with
them, is your only principle of footing it, and ecstatically glad to
abandon herself to the delights of the occasion, so long as she sees joy
written again on the pretty face of her beloved little mistress, and
feels that happiness has been restored to honest John Peerybingle and
his family.

Hark! How the Cricket on the Hearth joins in the music, with its Chirp,
Chirp, Chirp, and how the kettle hums!

AGNES WICKFIELD

[Illustration: AGNES WICKFIELD]

AGNES WICKFIELD

When I became the adopted son of my aunt, Miss Betsy Trotwood, my new
clothes were marked Trotwood Copperfield, instead of the old familiar
David of my childhood; and I began my new life, not only in the new
name, but with everything new about me, and felt for many days like one
in a dream, until I had proved the happy reality to be a fact.

My aunt's first desire was to place me in a good school at Canterbury,
and, lack of education having been my chief source of anxiety, this
resolve gave me unbounded delight. So it was with a flutter of joyful
anticipation that I accompanied her to Canterbury to call upon her agent
and friend Mr. Wickfield, and to confer with him upon the all-important
subject of schools and boarding places.

Arriving at Canterbury, we stopped before a very old house, bulging out
over the road, with long low latticed windows bulging out still further,
and beams with carved heads on the ends bulging out too; so that I
fancied the whole house was leaning forward, trying to see who was
passing on the pavement below. It was quite spotless in its cleanliness.
The old-fashioned brass knocker on the low arched door, ornamented with
carved garlands of fruit and flowers, twinkled like a star; the two
stone steps descending to the door were as white as if they had been
covered with fair linen, and all the angles, and corners, and carvings,
and mouldings, and quaint little panes of glass, and quainter little
windows, were as pure as any snow that ever fell upon the hills.

When the pony chaise stopped at the door, we alighted and had a long
conference with Mr. Wickfield, an elderly gentleman with grey hair and
black eyebrows. He approved of my aunt's selection of Dr. Strong's
school, and in regard to a home for me, made the following proposal:

"Leave your nephew here for the present. He's a quiet fellow. He won't
disturb me at all. It's a capital house for study. As quiet as a
monastery, and almost as roomy. Leave him here."

My aunt evidently liked the offer, but was delicate of accepting it,
until Mr. Wickfield cried, "Come! I know how you feel, you shall not be
oppressed by the receipt of favors, Miss Trotwood. You may pay for him
if you like."

"On that understanding," said my aunt, "though it doesn't lessen the
real obligation, I shall be very glad to leave him."

"Then come and see my little housekeeper," said Mr. Wickfield.

We accordingly went up a wonderful old staircase, with a balustrade so
broad that we might have gone up that, almost as easily, and into a
shady old drawing-room, lighted by three or four quaint windows which
had old oak seats in them, that seemed to have come of the same trees as
the shining oak floor, and the great beams in the ceiling. It was a
prettily furnished room, with a piano, and some lively furniture in red
and green, and some flowers. It seemed to be all odd nooks and corners;
and in every nook and corner there was some queer little table, or
cupboard, or bookcase, or seat, or something or other, that made me
think there was not such another corner in the room, until I looked at
the next one and found it equal to it if not better. On everything
there was the same air of refinement and cleanliness that marked the
house outside.

Mr. Wickfield tapped at a door in a corner of the panelled wall, and a
girl of about my own age came quickly out and kissed him. On her face, I
saw immediately the placid and sweet expression of a lady whose portrait
I had seen downstairs. It seemed to my imagination as if the portrait
had grown womanly, and the original had remained a child. Although her
face was quite bright and happy, there was a tranquillity about it, and
about her--a quiet, good, calm, spirit--that I never have forgotten;
that I never shall forget.

This was his little housekeeper, his daughter Agnes, Mr. Wickfield said.
When I heard how he said it, and saw how he held her hand, I guessed
what the one motive of his life was.

She had a little basket-trifle hanging at her side with keys in it; and
she looked as staid and discreet a housekeeper as the old house could
have. She listened to her father as he told her about me, with a
pleasant face; and when he had concluded, proposed to my aunt that we
should go upstairs, and see my room. We all went together, she before
us. A glorious old room it was, with more oak beams, and diamond panes;
and the broad balustrade going all the way up to it.

I cannot call to mind where or when, in my childhood, I had seen a
stained-glass window in a church. Nor do I recollect its subject. But I
know that when I saw her turn round, in the grave light of the old
staircase, and wait for us above, I thought of that window; and I
associated something of its tranquil brightness with Agnes Wickfield
ever afterwards.

My aunt was as happy as I was, in the arrangement made for me, and we
went down to the drawing-room again, well pleased and gratified, and
shortly after this my aunt took her departure, in consequence of which
for some hours I was very much dejected. But by five o'clock, which was
Mr. Wickfield's dinner hour, I had mustered up my spirits again, and was
ready for my knife and fork. The cloth was only laid for us two; but
Agnes was waiting in the drawing-room before dinner, and went down with
her father, and sat opposite to him at table. I doubted whether he could
have dined without her.

We did not stay there after dinner, but came upstairs into the
drawing-room again, in one snug corner of which Agnes set glasses for
her father, and a decanter of port wine. There he sat, taking his wine,
while Agnes played on the piano, worked, and talked to him and me. Later
Agnes made the tea, and presided over it; and the time passed away after
it as after dinner, until she went to bed; when her father took her in
his arms and kissed her, and, she being gone, ordered candles in his
office. Then I went to bed too.

Next morning I entered on my new school life at Dr. Strong's, and began
a happy existence in an excellent establishment, the character and
dignity of which we each felt it our duty to maintain. We felt that we
had a part in the management of the school, and learned with a good
will, desiring to do it credit. We had noble games out of hours, and
plenty of liberty; but were well spoken of in the town, and rarely did
any disgrace by our appearance or manner, to the reputation of Dr.
Strong or Dr. Strong's boys, and the Doctor himself was the idol of the
whole school.

On that first day when I returned home from school, Agnes was in the
drawing-room, waiting for her father. She met me with her pleasant
smile, and asked me how I liked the school. I told her I should like it
very much, I hoped; but I was a little strange to it at first.

"You have never been to school," I said, "have you?"

"Oh yes! every day."

"Ah, but you mean here, at your own home?"

"Papa couldn't spare me to go anywhere else," she answered smiling and
shaking her head, "His housekeeper must be in his house, you know."

"He's very fond of you, I am sure," I said.

She nodded, "Yes," and went to the door to listen for his coming up,
that she might meet him on the stairs. But as he was not there, she came
back again.

"Mamma has been dead ever since I was born," she said in her quiet way.
"I only know her picture, downstairs. I saw you looking at it yesterday.
Did you think whose it was?"

I told her yes, because it was so like herself.

"Papa says so, too," said Agnes, pleased. "Hark! that's Papa now!"

Her bright calm face lighted up with pleasure as she went to meet him,
and as they came in, hand in hand; and from that time as I watched her
day by day, I saw no trace in Agnes of anything but single-hearted
devotion to that father, whose wants she cared for so untiringly in her
beautiful quiet way.

When we had dined that night, we went upstairs again, where everything
went on exactly as on the previous day. Agnes set the glasses and
decanters in the same corner, and Mr. Wickfield sat down to drink. Agnes
played the piano to him, sat by him, and worked and talked, and played
some games at dominoes with me. In good time she made tea; and
afterwards, when I brought down my books, looked into them, and showed
me what she knew of them (which was no slight matter, though she said it
was), and what was the best way to learn and understand them. I see her,
with her modest, orderly, placid, manner, and I hear her beautiful,
calm voice, as I write these words. The influence for all good, which
she came to exercise over me at a later time begins already to descend
upon my breast. I love little Emily, and I don't love Agnes--no, not at
all in that way--but I feel that there are goodness, peace, and truth
wherever Agnes is; and that the soft light of the colored window in the
church, seen long ago, falls on her always, and on me when I am near
her, and on everything around.

The time having come for her withdrawal for the night, as I gave Mr.
Wickfield my hand, preparatory to going away myself, he checked me and
said; "Should you like to stay with us, Trotwood, or go elsewhere?"

"To stay," I answered quickly.

"You are sure?"

"If you please. If I may."

"Why, it's but a dull life that we lead here, boy, I'm afraid," he said.

"Not more dull for me than Agnes, sir. Not dull at all!"

"Than Agnes," he repeated, walking slowly to the great chimney-piece,
and leaning against it. "Than Agnes! Now I wonder," he muttered,
"whether my Agnes tires of me. When should I ever tire of her? But
that's different, that's quite different."

He was musing, not speaking to me; so I remained quiet.

"A dull, old house," he said, "and a monotonous life, Stay with us,
Trotwood, eh?" he added in his usual manner, and as if he were
answering something I had just said. "I'm glad of it. You are company to
us both. It is wholesome to have you here. Wholesome for me, wholesome
for Agnes wholesome perhaps for all of us."

"I'm sure it is for me, sir," I said, "I'm so glad to be here."

"That's a fine fellow!" said Mr. Wickfield. "As long as you are glad to
be here, you shall stay here."

And so I lived at Mr. Wickfield's through the remainder of my
schooldays, and to Agnes, as the months went by, I turned more and more
often for advice and counsel.

We saw a good deal of Dr. Strong's wife, both because she had taken a
liking to me, and because she was very fond of Agnes, and was often
backwards and forwards at our house, and we had pleasant evenings at the
doctor's too, with other guests, when we had merry round games of cards,
or music--for both Mrs. Strong and Agnes sang sweetly--and so, with
weekly visits from my aunt, and walks and talks with Agnes, and the
events and phases of feeling too numerous to chronicle, which make up a
boy's existence, my schooldays glided all too swiftly by.

Time has stolen on unobserved. I am higher in the school and no one
breaks my peace. Dr. Strong refers to me in public as a promising young
scholar, and my aunt remits me a guinea by next post. And what comes
now? I am the head boy! I look down on the line of boys below me, with a
condescending interest in such of them as bring to my mind the boy I was
myself, when I first came there. That little fellow seems to be no part
of me; I remember him as something left behind upon the road of
life--and almost think of him as of some one else.

What other changes have come upon me, beside the changes in my growth
and looks, and in the knowledge I have garnered all this while? I wear a
gold watch and chain, a ring upon my little finger, and a long-tailed
coat; and twice have I been desperately in love with a fair damsel, and
have twice recovered.

And the little girl I saw on that first day at Mr. Wickfield's, where
is she? Gone also. In her stead, the perfect likeness of the picture, a
child's likeness no more, moves about the house; and Agnes, my sweet
sister, as I call her in my thoughts, my counsellor and friend, the
better angel of the lives of all who come within her calm, good,
self-denying influence--is quite a woman.

When the time came to take leave of Agnes and her father, though it
saddened me, my mind was so filled with thoughts of self that I paid
little heed to Agnes and her brave farewell, nor did I realize what her
loneliness would be when the old and silent house was made doubly silent
by the removal of a boy's presence. I did not then understand what her
devotion to the elderly father and his interests held of sacrifice for
one so young, nor of what fine clay the girl was moulded. But in later
years I realized it fully, and looking back, I always saw her as when on
that first day, in the grave light of the old staircase, I thought of
the stained-glass window, associating something of its tranquil
brightness with her ever afterwards.

With Agnes the woman, and the influence for all good which she came to
exercise over me at a later time, this story does not deal. It need only
record the simple details of the girl's quiet life,--of the girl's calm
strong nature,--that there were goodness, peace and truth wherever Agnes
was,--Agnes, my boyhood's sister, counsellor and friend.

Book of the day: