One of Miss Jenny's firmest friends was an aged Jew, Mr. Riah, by name; of venerable aspect, and a generous and noble nature. He was supposedly the head of the firm of Pubsey and Co., at Saint-Mary-Axe, but really only the agent of one Mr. Fledgeby, a miserly young dandy who directed all the aged Jew's transactions, and forced him into sharp, unfair dealings with those whom Mr. Riah himself would gladly have befriended; shielding his own meanness and dishonesty behind the venerable figure of the Jew, and keeping his own connection with the firm a profound secret. Mr. Riah suffered himself to remain in such a position only because once when he had had sickness and misfortune, and owed Mr. Fledgeby's father both principal and interest, the son inheriting, had been merciful and placed him there; and little did the guileless old man realize that he had long since, richly repaid the debt; his age and serene respectability, added to the characteristics ascribed to his race, making a valuable screen to hide his employer's misdeeds.
The aged Jew often befriended the dolls' dressmaker, and she called him, in her fanciful way, "godmother."
On his roof-top garden, Jenny Wren and her friend Lizzie were sitting one day, together, when Mr. Fledgeby came up and joined the party, interrupting their conversation. For the girls, perhaps with some old instinct of his race, the gentle Jew had spread a carpet. Seated on it, against no more romantic object than a blackened chimney-stack, over which some humble creeper had been trained, they both pored over one book, while a basket of common fruit, and another basket of strings of beads and tinsel scraps were lying near.
"This, sir," explained the old Jew, "is a little dressmaker for little people. Explain to the master, Jenny."
"Dolls; that's all," said Jenny shortly. "Very difficult to fit too, because their figures are so uncertain. You never know where to expect their waists."
"I made acquaintance with my guests, sir," pursued the old Jew, with an evident purpose of drawing out the dressmaker, "through their coming here to buy our damage and waste for Miss Jenny's millinery. They wear it in their hair, and on their ball-dresses, and even (so she tells me) are presented at court with it."
"Ah!" said Fledgeby, "she's been buying that basketful to-day, I suppose."
"I suppose she has," Miss Jenny interposed, "and paying for it too, most likely," adding, "we are thankful to come up here for rest, sir; for the quiet and the air, and because it's so high. And you see the clouds rushing on above the narrow streets, not minding them, and you see the golden arrows pointing at the mountains in the sky, from which the wind comes, and, you feel as if you were dead."
"How do you feel when you are dead?" asked the practical Mr. Fledgeby, much perplexed.
"Oh so tranquil!" cried the little creature smiling. "Oh so peaceful and so thankful! And you hear the people, who are alive, crying and working and calling to one another in the close dark streets and you seem to pity them so! And such a chain has fallen from you, and such a strange, good, sorrowful happiness comes upon you!"
Her eyes fell upon the old man, who, with his hands folded, quietly looked on.
"Why, it was only just now," said the little creature, pointing at him, "that I fancied I saw him come out of his grave! He toiled out at that low door, so bent and worn, and then he took his breath, and stood upright and looked all around him at the sky, and the wind blew upon him, and his life down in the dark was over!—Till he was called back to life," she added, looking round at Fledgeby with that lower look of sharpness, "Why did you call him back? But you are not dead, you know," said Jenny Wren. "Get down to life!"
Mr. Fledgeby seemed to think it a rather good suggestion, and with a nod turned round and took his leave. As Mr. Riah followed him down the stairs, the little creature called out to the Jew in a silvery tone, "Don't be gone long. Come back and be dead!" And still as they went down, they heard the little sweet voice, more and more faintly, half calling and half singing, "Come back and be dead. Come back and be dead!" And as the old man again mounted, the call or song began to sound in his ears again, and looking above, he saw the face of the little creature looking down out of the glory of her long, bright, radiant hair, and musically repeating to him like a vision:
"Come up and be dead! Come up and be dead!"
Not long after this, there came a heavy trial to the dolls' dressmaker in the loss from her home of her friend and lodger, Lizzie Hexam. Lizzie, having disagreed with her brother upon a subject of vital interest to herself, and having an intense desire to escape from persons whom she knew would pursue her so long as she remained in London, felt it wisest to quietly disappear from the city, leaving no trace of her whereabouts. With the help of Mr. Riah she accomplished this, and found occupation in a paper-mill in the country, leaving poor Jenny Wren with only the slight consolation of her letters, and with the aged Jew for her sole counsellor and friend. He was frequently with Jenny Wren, often escorting her upon her necessary trips, in returning her fine ladies to their homes in various parts of the city, and sometimes the little creature accompanied him upon his own business trips, as well.
One foggy evening as usual, he set out for Church Street, and, wading through the fog, waded to the doorstep of the dolls' dressmaker.
Miss Wren expected him. He could see her through the window, by the light of her low fire—carefully banked up with damp cinders, that it might last the longer, and waste the less when she went out—sitting waiting for him, in her bonnet. His tap at the glass roused her from the musing solitude in which she sat, and she opened the door, aiding her steps with a little crutch-stick.
"Good evening, godmother!" said Miss Jenny Wren.
The old man laughed, and gave her his arm to lean on. "Won't you come in and warm yourself, godmother?" she asked.
"Not if you are ready, Cinderella, my dear."
"Well!" exclaimed Miss Wren, delighted. "Now you ARE a clever old boy! If we only gave prizes at this establishment you should have the first silver medal for taking me up so quick." As she spake thus, Miss Wren removed the key of the house-door from the keyhole, and put it in her pocket. Satisfied that her dwelling was safe, she drew one hand through the old man's arm, and prepared to ply her crutch-stick with the other. But the key was of such gigantic proportions that before they started, Riah proposed to carry it.
"No, no, no! I'll carry it myself," returned Miss Wren. "I'm awfully lop-sided, you know, and stowed down in my pocket, it'll trim the ship. To let you into a secret, godmother, I wear my pocket on my high side o' purpose."
With that they began their plodding through the fog.
"Yes, it was truly sharp of you, godmother," returned Miss Wren, with great approbation, "to understand me. But, you see, you are so like the fairy godmother in the bright little books! You look so unlike the rest of the people, and so much as if you had changed yourself into that shape, just this moment, with some benevolent object. Bah!" cried Miss Jenny, putting her face close to the old man's, "I can see your features, godmother, behind the beard."
"Does the fancy go to my changing other objects, too, Jenny?"
"Ah! That it does! If you'd only borrow my stick, and tap this piece of pavement, it would start up a coach and six. I say,—Let's believe so!"
"With all my heart," replied the good old man.
"And I'll tell you what I must ask you to do, godmother. I must ask you to be so kind as to give my child a tap, and change him altogether. Oh, my child has been such a bad, bad child of late! It worries me almost out of my wits. Not done a stroke of work these ten days."
"What shall be changed after him?" asked Riah, in a compassionately playful voice.
"Upon my word, godmother, I am afraid I must be selfish next, and get you to set me right in the back and legs. It's a little thing to you with your power, godmother, but it's a great deal to poor, weak, aching me."
There was no querulous complaining in the words, but they were not the less touching for that.
"Yes, and then—you know, godmother. Well both jump into the coach and six, and go to Lizzie. This reminds me, godmother, to ask you a serious question. You are as wise as wise can be (having been brought up by the fairies), and you can tell me this,—Is it better to have had a good thing and lost it, or never to have had it?"
"I feel so much more solitary and helpless without Lizzie now than I used to feel before I knew her." (Tears were in her eyes as she said so.)
"Some beloved companionship fades out of most lives, my dear," said the Jew, "that of a wife, and a fair daughter, and a son of promise, has faded out of my own life—but the happiness was"
"Ah!" said Miss Wren thoughtfully, by no means convinced. "Then I tell you what change I think you had better begin with, godmother. You had better change Is into Was, and Was into Is, and keep them so."
"Would that suit your case? Would you not be always in pain then?" asked the old man tenderly.
"Right!" exclaimed Miss Wren. "You have changed me wiser, godmother. Not," she added, with a quaint hitch of her chin and eyes, "that you need to be a very wonderful godmother to do that, indeed!"
Thus conversing, they pursued their way over London Bridge, and struck down the river, and held their still foggier course that way. As they were going along, Jennie twisted her venerable friend aside to a brilliantly lighted toy-shop window, and said: "Now, look at 'em! All my work!"
This referred to a dazzling semicircle of dolls in all the colors of the rainbow, who were dressed for all the gay events of life.
"Pretty, pretty, pretty!" said the old man with a clap of his hands. "Most elegant taste!"
"Glad you like 'em," returned Miss Wren loftily. "But the fun is, godmother, how I make the great ladies try my dresses on. Though it's the hardest part of my business, and would be, even if my back were not bad and my legs queer."
He looked at her as not understanding what she said.
"Bless you, godmother," said Miss Wren, "I have to scud about town at all hours. If it was only sitting at my bench, cutting out and sewing, it would be comparatively easy work; but it's the trying-on by the great ladies that takes it out of me."
"How the trying-on?" asked Riah.
"What a moony godmother you are, after all!" returned Miss Wren. "Look here. There's a Drawing-room, or a grand day in the Park, or a show or a fete, or what you like. Very well. I squeeze among the crowd, and I look about me. When I see a great lady very suitable for my business, I say, 'You'll do, my dear!' and I take particular notice of her again, and run home and cut her out, and baste her. Then another day I come scudding back again to try on. Sometimes she plainly seems to say, 'How that little creature is staring!' All the time I am only saying to myself, 'I must hollow out a bit here; I must slope away there'; and I am making a perfect slave of her, making her try on my doll's dress. Evening parties are severer work for me, because there's only a doorway for full view, and what with hobbling among the wheels of the carriages and the legs of the horses, I fully expect to be run over some night. Whenever they go bobbing into the hall from the carriage, and catch a glimpse of my little physiognomy poked out from behind a policeman's cape in the rain, I daresay they think I am wondering and admiring with all my eyes and heart, but they little think they're only working for my dolls! There was Lady Belinda Whitrose. I said one night when she came out of the carriage. 'You'll do, my dear!' and I ran straight home, and cut her out, and basted her. Back I came again, and waited behind the men that called the carriages. Very bad night too. At last, 'Lady Belinda's Whitrose's carriage!' Lady Belinda Whitrose coming down! And I made her try on—oh! and take pains about it too—before she got seated. That's Lady Belinda hanging up by the waist, much too near the gas-light for a wax one, with her toes turned in."
When they had plodded on for some time, they reached a certain tavern, where Mr. Riah had some business to transact with its proprietress, Miss Abbey Potterson, to whom he presented himself, and was about to introduce his young companion when Miss Wren interrupted him:
"Stop a bit," she said, "I'll give the lady my card." She produced it from her pocket with an air, and Miss Abbey took the diminutive document, and found it to run thus:
Miss JENNY WREN.
Dolls attended at their own residences.
So great were her amusement and astonishment, and so interested was she in the odd little creature that she at once asked:
"Did you ever taste shrub, child?"
Miss Wren shook her head.
"Should you like to?"
"Should if it's good," returned Miss Wren.
"You shall try. Put your little feet on the fender. It's a cold, cold night, and the fog clings so." As Miss Abbey helped her to turn her chair, her loosened bonnet fell on the floor. "Why, what lovely hair!" cried Miss Abbey. "And enough to make wigs: for all the dolls in the world. What a quantity!"
"Call that a quantity?" returned Miss Wren. "Poof! What do you say to the rest of it?" As she spoke, she untied a band, and the golden stream fell over herself, and over the chair, and flowed down to the ground. Miss Abbey's admiration seemed to increase her perplexity. She beckoned the Jew towards her, and whispered:
"Child or woman?"
"Child in years," was the answer; "woman in self-reliance and trial."
"You are talking about me, good people," thought Miss Jenny, sitting in her golden bower, warming her feet. "I can't hear what you say, but I know your tricks and your manners!"
The shrub, mixed by Miss Potterson's skilful hands, was perfectly satisfactory to Miss Jenny's palate, and she sat and sipped it leisurely while the interview between Mr. Riah and Miss Potterson proceeded, keenly regretting when the bottom of the glass was reached, and the interview at an end.
There was at this time much curiosity among Lizzie Hexam's acquaintances to discover her hiding-place, and many of them paid visits to the dolls' dressmaker in hopes of obtaining from her the desired address. Among these was Mr. Wrayburn, whom we find calling upon Miss Wren one evening:
"And so, Miss Jenny," he said, "I cannot persuade you to dress me a doll?"
"No," replied Miss Wren snappishly; "If you want one, go and buy it at the shop."
"And my charming young goddaughter," said Mr. Wrayburn plaintively, "down in Hertfordshire—"
("Humbugshire, you mean, I think," interposed Miss Wren)—"is to be put upon the cold footing of the general public, and is to derive no advantage from my private acquaintance with the Court dressmaker?"
"If it's any advantage to your charming godchild, and oh, a precious godfather she has got!" replied Miss Wren, pricking at him in the air with her needle, "to be informed that the Court dressmaker knows your tricks and your manners, you may tell her so, by post, with my compliments."
Miss Wren was busy with her work, by candlelight, and Mr. Wrayburn, half amused and half vexed, stood by her bench looking on, while her troublesome child was in the corner, in deep disgrace on account of his bad behavior, and as Miss Jenny worked, she rated him severely, accompanying each reproach with a stamp of her foot.
"Pay five shillings for you indeed!" she exclaimed in response to his appeal for money. "How many hours do you suppose it costs me to earn five shillings, you infamous boy? Don't cry like that, or I'll throw a doll at you. Pay five shillings fine for you, indeed! Fine in more ways than one, I think! I'd give the dustman five shillings to carry you off in the dust-cart."
The figure in the corner continuing to whine and whimper, Miss Wren covered her face with her hand. "There!" she said, "I can't bear to look at you. Go upstairs and get me my bonnet and shawl. Make yourself useful in some way, bad boy, and let me have your room instead of your company, for one half minute."
Obeying her, he shambled out, and Mr. Wrayburn, pitying, saw the tears exude between the little creature's fingers, as she kept her hand before her eyes.
"I am going to the Italian Opera to try on," said Miss Wren, taking away her hand, and laughing satirically to hide that she had been crying. "But let me first tell you, Mr. Wrayburn, once for all, that it's no use your paying visits to me. You wouldn't get what you want of me, no, not if you brought pincers with you to tear it out."
With which statement, and a further admonition to her father, who had come back, she blew her candles out, and taking her big door-key in her pocket, and her crutch-stick in her hand, marched off.
Not many months later, one day while Miss Wren was waiting in the office of Pubsey and Co., for Mr. Riah to come in and sell her the waste she was accustomed to buy, she overheard a conversation between Mr. Fledgeby, who had apparently happened in, and a friend who was also waiting for Mr. Riah.
This conversation led her to infer that her old friend was both a treacherous and dishonest man, and entirely unworthy to be trusted in any capacity. Seemingly the conversation was not meant for her ears, but Mr. Fledgeby had planned that she should hear it, and that it should have the very effect upon her which it had. This was Mr. Fledgeby's retort upon Miss Wren for the over-sharpness with which she always treated him, and also a pleasant instance of his humor as regarded the old Jew. "He has got a bad name as an old Jew, and he is paid for the use of it, and I'll have my money's worth out of him." Thus ran Mr. Fledgeby's reflections on the subject, and Miss Wren sat listening to the conversation with a fallen countenance, until Mr. Riah came in, when Mr. Fledgeby led the old man to make statements which seemed further to emphasize his hard-heartedness and dishonesty.
Then Mr. Riah filled Miss Wren's little basket with such scraps as she could buy, saying:
"There, my Cinderella dear, the basket's full now. Bless you, and get you gone!"
"Don't call me your Cinderella dear," returned Miss Wren, "Oh, you cruel godmother!"
She shook that emphatic little forefinger of hers in his face at parting, and as he did not attempt to vindicate himself, went on her way, to return no more to Saint Mary Axe; chance having disclosed to her (as she supposed) the flinty and hypocritical character of Mr. Riah. She often moralized over her work on the tricks and the manners of that venerable cheat, but made her little purchases elsewhere, and lived a secluded life. But during several interviews which she chanced to have later with Mr. Fledgeby, the clever little creature made him by his own words, disclose his system of treachery and trickery, and prove that the aged Jew had been screening his employer at his own expense. Thereupon Miss Jenny lost no time in once again proceeding to the place of business of Pubsey and Co., where she found the old man sitting at his desk. In less time than it takes to tell it, she had folded her arms about his neck, and kissed him, imploring his forgiveness for her lack of faith in him, adding: "It did look bad, now, didn't it?"
"It looked so bad, Jenny," responded the old man with gravity, "that I was hateful in mine own eyes. I perceived that the obligation was upon me to leave this service. Whereupon I indited a letter to my master to that effect, but he held me to certain months of servitude, which were his lawful term of notice. They expire to-morrow. Upon their expiration—not before—I had meant to set myself right with my Cinderella."
While they were thus conversing, the aged Jew received an angry communication from Mr. Fledgeby, releasing Mr. Riah at once from his service, to the great satisfaction of the old man, who then got his few goods together in a black bag, closed the shutters, pulled down the office blind, and issued forth upon the steps. There, while Miss Jenny held the bag, the old man locked the house door, and handed the key over to the messenger who had brought the note of dismissal.
"Well, godmother," said Miss Wren, "and so you're thrown upon the world!"
"It would appear so, Jenny, and rather suddenly."
"Where are you going to seek your fortune?" asked Miss Wren. The old man smiled, but gazed about him with a look of having lost his way in life, which did not escape the dolls' dressmaker.
"The best thing you can do," said Jenny, "for the time being, at all events, is to come home with me, godmother. Nobody's there but my bad child, and Lizzie's lodging stands empty."
The old man, when satisfied that no inconvenience could be entailed on any one by this move, readily complied, and the singularly assorted couple once more went through the streets together.
And it was a kindly Providence which placed the child's hand in the aged Jew's protecting one that night. Before they reached home, they met a sad party, bearing in their arms an inanimate form, at which the dolls' dressmaker needed but to take one look.
"Oh gentlemen, gentlemen," she cried, "He belongs to me!" "Belongs to you!" said the head of the party, stopping;—"Oh yes, dear gentlemen, he's my child, out without leave. My poor, bad, bad boy! And he don't know me, he don't know me! Oh, what shall I do?" cried the little creature, wildly beating her hands together, "when my own child don't know me!"
The head of the party looked to the old Jew for explanation. He whispered, as the dolls' dressmaker bent over the still form, and vainly tried to extract some sign of recognition from it; "It's her drunken father."
Then the sad party with their lifeless burden went through the streets. After it, went the dolls' dressmaker, hiding her face in the Jewish skirts, and clinging to them with one hand, while with the other she plied her stick, and at last the little home in Church Street was reached.
Many flaunting dolls had to be gaily dressed, before the money was in the dressmaker's pocket to get mourning for her father. As Mr. Riah sat by, helping her in such small ways as he could, he found it difficult to make out whether she realized that the deceased had really been her father.
"If my poor boy," she would say, "had been brought up better, he might have done better. Not that I reproach myself. I hope I have no cause for that."
"None, indeed, Jenny, I am very certain."
"Thank you, godmother. It cheers me to hear you say so. But you see it is so hard to bring up a child well, when you work, work, work, all day. When he was out of employment, I couldn't always keep him near me. He got fractious and nervous, and I was obliged to let him go into the streets. And he never did well in the streets, he never did well out of sight. How often it happens with children! How can I say what I might have turned out myself, but for my back having been so bad and my legs so queer, when I was young!" the dressmaker would go on. "I had nothing to do but work, so I worked. I couldn't play. But my poor, unfortunate child could play, and it turned out worse for him."
"And not for him alone, Jenny."
"Well, I don't know, godmother. He suffered heavily, did my unfortunate boy. He was very, very ill sometimes. And I called him a quantity of names;" shaking her head over her work, and dropping tears.
"You are a good girl, you are a patient girl."
"As for patience," she would reply with a shrug, "not much of that, godmother. If I had been patient, I should never have called him names. But I hope I did it for his good. And besides, I felt my responsibility as a mother so much. I tried reasoning, and reasoning failed. I tried coaxing, and coaxing failed. I tried scolding, and scolding failed. But I was bound to try everything, with such a charge on my hands. Where would have been my duty to my poor lost boy, if I had not tried everything?"
With such talk, mostly in a cheerful tone on the part of the industrious little creature, the day work and the night work were beguiled, until enough of smart dolls had gone forth to bring in the sombre stuff that the occasion required, and to bring into the house the other sombre preparations. "And now," said Miss Jenny, "having knocked off my rosy-cheeked young friends, I'll knock off my white-cheeked self." This referred to her making her own dress which at last was done, in time for the simple service, the arrangements for which were of her own planning. The service ended, and the solitary dressmaker having returned to her home, she said:
"I must have a very short cry, godmother, before I cheer up for good. Because after all, a child is a child, you know."
It was a longer cry than might have been expected. Howbeit, it wore itself out in a shadowy corner, and then the dressmaker came forth, and washed her face, and made the tea.
"You wouldn't mind my cutting out something while we are at tea, would you?" she asked with a coaxing air.
"Cinderella, dear child," the old man expostulated. "Will you never rest?"
"Oh! It's not work, cutting out a pattern isn't," said Miss Jenny, with her busy little scissors already snipping at some paper; "The truth is, godmother, I want to fix it, while I have it correct in my mind."
"Have you seen it to-day, then?" asked Riah.
"Yes, godmother. Saw it just now. It's a surplice, that's what it is. Thing our clergymen wear, you know," explained Miss Jenny, in consideration of his professing another faith.
"And what have you to do with that, Jenny?"
"Why, godmother," replied the dressmaker, "you must know that we professors, who live upon our taste and invention, are obliged to keep our eyes always open. And you know already that I have many extra expenses to meet. So it came into my head, while I was weeping at my poor boy's grave, that something in my way might be done with a clergyman. Not a funeral, never fear;" said Miss Jenny. "The public don't like to be made melancholy, I know very well. But a doll clergyman, my dear,—glossy black curls and whiskers—uniting two of my young friends in matrimony," said Miss Jenny shaking her forefinger, "is quite another affair. If you don't see those three at the altar in Bond Street, in a jiffy, my name's Jack Robinson!"
With her expert little ways in sharp action, she had got a doll into whitey-brown paper orders, before the meal was over, and displayed it for the edification of the Jewish mind, and Mr. Riah was lost in admiration for the brave, resolute little soul, who could so put aside her sadness to meet and face her pressing need.
And many times thereafter was he likewise lost in admiration of his little friend, who continued her business as of old, only without the burden of responsibility by which her life had heretofore been clouded, and more able to give her imagination free play along the lines of her interests, without the pressure of home care resting upon her poor shoulders.
Our last glimpse of her, is as usual, before her little workbench, at work upon a full-dressed, large sized doll, when there comes a knock upon the door. When it is opened there is disclosed a young fellow known to his friends and employer, as Sloppy.
Sloppy was full private No 1 in the Awkward Squad of the rank and file of life, and yet had his glimmering notions of standing true to his colors, and in instinctive refinement of feeling was much above others who outranked him in birth and education.
"Come in, sir," said Miss Wren, "and who may you be?"
Mr. Sloppy introduced himself by name and buttons.
"Oh, indeed," cried Jenny, "I have heard of you."
Sloppy, grinning, was so glad to hear it that he threw back his head and laughed.
"Bless us!" exclaimed Miss Wren, with a start, "Don't open your mouth as wide as that, young man, or it'll catch so, and not shut again, some day."
Mr. Sloppy opened it, if possible, wider, and kept it open, until his laugh was out.
"Why, you're like the giant," said Miss Wren, "when he came home in the land of Beanstalk, and wanted Jack for supper."
"Was he good looking, Miss?" asked Sloppy.
"No," said Miss Wren. "Ugly."
Her visitor glanced round the room—which had many comforts in it now, that it had not had before—and said:
"This is a pretty place, Miss.
"Glad you think so, sir," returned Miss Wren. "And what do you think of Me?"
The honesty of Mr. Sloppy being severely taxed by the question, he twisted a button, grinned, and faltered.
"Out with it," said Miss Wren, with an arch look. "Don't you think me a queer little comicality?" In shaking her head at him after asking the question, she shook her hair down.
"Oh!" cried Sloppy in a burst of admiration. "What a lot, and what a color!"
Miss Wren with her usual expressive hitch, went on with her work. But left her hair as it was, not displeased by the effect it had made.
"You don't live here alone, do you, Miss?" asked Sloppy.
"No," said Miss Wren with a chop. "Live here with my fairy godmother."
"With;" Mr. Sloppy couldn't make it out; "with, who did you say, Miss?"
"Well!" replied Miss Wren more seriously. "With my second father. Or with my first, for that matter." And she shook her head and drew a sigh. "If you had known a poor child I used to have here," she added, "you'd have understood me. But you didn't and you can't. All the better!"
"You must have been taught a long time, Miss," said Sloppy, glancing at the array of dolls on hand, "before you came to work so neatly, Miss, and with such a pretty taste."
"Never was taught a stitch, young man!" returned the dressmaker, tossing her head. "Just gobbled and gobbled, till I found out how to do it. Badly enough at first, but better now."
"And here have I," said Sloppy, in a self-reproachful tone, "been a-learning and a-learning at cabinet-making, ever so long! I'll tell you what, Miss, I should like to make you something."
"Much obliged, but what?"
"I could make you," said Sloppy, surveying the room, "a handy set of nests to lay the dolls in. Or a little set of drawers to keep your silks and threads and scraps in. Or I could turn you a rare handle for that crutch-stick, if it belongs to him you call your father."
"It belongs to me," said the little creature, with a quick flush of her face and neck. "I am lame."
Poor Sloppy flushed too, for there was an instinctive delicacy behind his buttons. He said perhaps, the best thing in the way of amends that could be said. "I am very glad it's yours, because I'd rather ornament it for you than for any one else. Please, may I look at it?"
Miss Wren was in the act of handing it over to him when she paused. "But you had better see me use it," she said sharply. "This is the way. Hoppetty, kicketty, peg-peg-peg. Not pretty, is it?"
"It seems to me that you hardly want it at all," said Sloppy.
The little dressmaker sat down again, and gave it into his hand, saying with that better look upon her, and with a smile:
"Thank you! You are a very kind young man, a really kind young man. I accept your offer—I suppose He won't mind," she added as an afterthought, shrugging her shoulders; "and if he does, he may!"
"Meaning him you call your father, Miss?" said Sloppy.
"No, no," replied Miss Wren. "Him, him, HIM!"
"Him, HIM, HIM?" repeated Sloppy, staring about, as if for him.
"Him who is coming to court and marry me," returned Miss Wren. "Dear me, how slow you are!"
"Oh! HIM!" said Sloppy, "I never thought of him. When is he coming, Miss?"
"What a question!" cried Miss Wren. "How should I know?"
"Where is he coming from, Miss?"
"Why, good gracious, how can I tell! He is coming from somewhere or other, I suppose, and he is coming some day or other, I suppose. I don't know any more about him, at present."
This tickled Mr. Sloppy as an extraordinarily good joke, and he threw back his head and laughed with measureless enjoyment. At the sight of him laughing in that absurd way, the dolls' dressmaker laughed very heartily indeed. So they both laughed till they were tired.
"There, there, there!" said Miss Wren. "For goodness sake, stop, Giant, or I shall be swallowed up alive, before I know it. And to this minute you haven't said what you've come for?"
"I have come for little Miss Harmonses' doll," said Sloppy.
"I thought as much," remarked Miss Wren, "and here is little Miss Harmonses' doll waiting for you. She's folded up in silver paper, you see, as if she was wrapped from head to foot in new banknotes. Take care of her—and there's my hand—and thank you again."
"I'll take more care of her than if she was a gold image," said Sloppy, "and there's both my hands, Miss, and I'll soon come back again!"
Here we leave the little dolls' dressmaker, under the protecting care of her "godmother," the first real guardian she has ever known, and with a new friendship to supply her life with that youthful intercourse which has never been hers. And so in leaving her our hearts are light, for Miss Jenny Wren is brighter now, and happier now, and younger now, than ever before.
"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"
The scene was a bare, plain, monotonous vault of a schoolroom, and the speaker's square forefinger emphasized his observation. The emphasis was helped by his square wall of a forehead, by his thin and hardset mouth, by his inflexible and dictatorial voice, and by the hair which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, as if the head had scarcely warehouse room for the hard facts stowed inside. The speaker's obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders,—nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was,—all helped the emphasis.
"In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir! Nothing but Facts!"
The speaker, Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, and the schoolmaster, Mr. M'Choakumchild, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of Facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.
"Girl number twenty," said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, "I don't know that girl. Who is that girl?"
"Sissy Jupe, sir," explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.
"Sissy is not a name," said Mr. Gradgrind. "Call yourself Cecilia."
"It's father as calls me Sissy, sir," returned the young girl with another curtsey.
"Then he has no business to do it," said Mr. Gradgrind. "Tell him he mustn't. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father?"
"He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir."
Mr. Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling with his hand.
"We don't want to know anything about that here. Your father breaks horses, don't he?"
"If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring."
"You mustn't tell us about the ring here. Very well, then. Describe your father as a horse-breaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
"Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier and horse-breaker. Give me your definition of a horse."
(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand).
"Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!" said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. "Girl number twenty possessed of no facts in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy's definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours!"
"Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth." Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
"Now, girl number twenty," said Mr. Gradgrind, "you know what a horse is."
She curtsied again, blushed, and sat down, and the third gentleman present stepped forth, briskly smiling and folding his arms. "That's a horse," he said. "Now, let me ask you, boys and girls, would you paper a room with representations of horses?"
After a pause, one-half of the children cried in chorus, "Yes, sir!" Upon which the other half, seeing in the gentleman's face that Yes was wrong, cried out in chorus, "No, sir!"
"Of course, No. Why wouldn't you?"
A pause. One boy ventured the answer, because he wouldn't paper a room at all, but would paint it.
"You must paper it," said Thomas Gradgrind, "whether you like it or not. Don't tell us you wouldn't paper it. What do you mean, boy?"
"I'll explain to you then," said the gentleman, after another pause, "why you wouldn't paper a room with a representation of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality—in fact? Of course, No. Why then, you are not to see anywhere what you don't see in fact; you are not to have anywhere what you don't have in fact. This is a new principle, a great discovery," said the gentleman. "Now I'll try you again. Would you use a carpet having a representation of flowers upon it?"
"There being a general conviction by this time that, 'No sir!' was always the right answer to this gentleman, the chorus of No was very strong. Only a few feeble stragglers said Yes; among them Sissy Jupe."
"Girl number twenty," said the gentleman, "why would you carpet your room with representations of flowers?"
"If you please, sir, I'm very fond of flowers," returned the girl.
"And is that why you would put tables and chairs upon them, and have people walking over them with heavy boots?"
"It wouldn't hurt them, sir. They wouldn't crush and wither, please sir. They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, sir, and I would fancy—"
"Ay, ay, ay! but you mustn't fancy," cried the gentleman, quite elated by coming so happily to his point. "You are never to fancy."
"You are not, Cecilia Jupe," Thomas Gradgrind solemnly repeated, "to do anything of that kind. You don't walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don't find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use," said the gentleman, "for all these purposes, combinations and modifications in primary colors of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste."
The girl curtseyed and sat down. She was very young, and she looked as if she were frightened by the matter-of-fact prospect the world afforded; while the teacher proceeded to give a lesson based upon hard Fact for the benefit of his visitors.
Mr. Gradgrind walked homeward from the school, in a state of considerable satisfaction. It was his school, and he intended it to be a model. He intended every child in it to be a model, just as the five young Gradgrinds were all models.
No little Gradgrind had ever seen a face in the moon; no little Gradgrind had ever learnt the silly jingle, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are"; each little Gradgrind having at five years old dissected the Great Bear, and driven Charles's Wain like a locomotive engine-driver. No little Gradgrind had ever associated a cow in a field with that famous cow with a crumpled horn who tossed the dog, who worried the cat, who killed the rat, who ate the malt, or with that more famous cow who swallowed Tom Thumb. It had never heard of those celebrities, and had only been introduced to a cow as a graminivorous, ruminating quadruped with several stomachs.
To his matter-of-fact home, which was called Stone Lodge, Mr. Gradgrind directed his steps, walking on in a hopeful and satisfied frame of mind. He was an affectionate father, after his manner; but allowed no foolish sentiment to interfere with the practical basis of his childrens' education and bringing-up.
He had reached the outskirts of the town, when his ears were invaded by the sound of the band attached to the horse-riding establishment, which had there set up its rest in a wooden pavilion. A flag floating from the summit of the temple, proclaimed to mankind that it was Sleary's Horse-Riding which claimed their suffrages. Among the many pleasing wonders which must be seen to be believed, Signor Jupe was that afternoon to "elucidate the diverting accomplishments of his highly trained performing dog, Merrylegs," He was also to exhibit "his astounding feat of throwing seventy-five hundred weight in rapid succession back-handed over his head, thus forming a fountain of solid iron in midair, a feat never before attempted in this or any other country, and which having elicited such rapturous plaudits from enthusiastic throngs it cannot be withdrawn." The same Signor Jupe was to "enliven the varied performances at frequent intervals with his chaste Shakesperean quips and retorts." Lastly, he was to wind them up by appearing in his favorite character of Mr. William Button, of Tooley Street, in "the highly novel and laughable Hippo Comedietta of The Tailor's Journey to Brentford."
Thomas Gradgrind took no heed of these trivialities, but passed on, as a practical man ought to pass on. But, at the back of the booth he saw a number of children congregated in a number of stealthy attitudes, striving to peep in at the hidden glories of the place. What did he then behold but his own Louisa peeping with all her might through a hole in a deal board, and his own Thomas abasing himself on the ground to catch but a hoof of the graceful Tyrolean Flower-act!
Dumb with amazement, Mr. Gradgrind crossed to the spot where his family was thus disgraced, laid his hand upon each erring child, and said:
Both rose, red and disconcerted.
"In the name of wonder, idleness, and folly!" said Mr. Gradgrind, leading each away by a hand; "what do you do here?"
"Wanted to see what it was like," returned Louisa shortly.
"You!" exclaimed Mr. Gradgrind. "Thomas and you, to whom the circle of the sciences is open; who may be said to be replete with Fact; who have been trained to mathematical exactness; Thomas and you, here! In this degraded position! I am amazed."
"I was tired, father," said Louisa.
"Tired? Of what?" asked the astonished father.
"I don't know of what—of everything, I think."
"Say not another word," returned Mr. Gradgrind. "You are childish. I will hear no more." With which remark he led the culprits to their home in silence, into the presence of their fretful invalid mother, who was much annoyed at the disturbance they had created. While she was peevishly expressing her mind on the subject, Mr. Gradgrind was gravely pondering upon the matter.
"Whether," he said, "whether any instructor or servant can have suggested anything? Whether, in spite of all precautions, any idle story-book can have got into the house for Louisa or Thomas to read? Because in minds that have been practically formed by rule and line, from the cradle upwards, this is incomprehensible."
"Stop a bit!" cried his friend Bounderby. "You have one of those Stroller's children in the school, Cecilia Jupe by name! I tell you what, Gradgrind, turn this girl to the right-about, and there is an end of it."
"I am much of your opinion."
"Do it at once," said Bounderby, "has always been my motto. Do you the same. Do this at once!"
"I have the father's address," said his friend. "Perhaps you would not mind walking to town with me?"
"Not the least in the world," said Mr. Bounderby, "as long as you do it at once!"
So Mr. Gradgrind and his friend immediately set out to find Cecilia Jupe, and to order her from henceforth to remain away from school. On the way there they met her. "Now, girl," said Mr. Gradgrind, "take this gentleman and me to your father's; we are going there. What have you got in that bottle you are carrying?"
"It's the nine oils."
"The what?" cried Mr. Bounderby.
"The nine oils, sir, to rub father with. It is what our people always use, sir, when they get any hurts in the ring," replied the girl, "they bruise themselves very bad sometimes."
"Serves them right," said Mr. Bounderby, "for being idle." The girl glanced up at his face with mingled astonishment and dread as he said this, but she led them on down a narrow road, until they stopped at the door of a little public house.
"This is it, sir," she said. "It's only crossing the bar, sir, and up the stairs, if you wouldn't mind; and waiting there for a moment till I get a candle. If you should hear a dog, sir, it's only Merrylegs, and he only barks."
They followed the girl up some steep stairs, and stopped while she went on for a candle. Reappearing, with a face of great surprise, she said, "Father is not in our room, sir. If you wouldn't mind walking in, sir? I'll find him directly."
They walked in; and Sissy having set two chairs for them, sped away with a quick, light step. They heard the doors of rooms above opening and shutting, as Sissy went from one to another in quest of her father. She came bounding down again in a great hurry, opened an old hair trunk, found it empty, and looked around with her face full of terror.
"Father must have gone down to the Booth, sir. I'll bring him in a minute!" She was gone directly, without her bonnet; with her long, dark, childish hair streaming behind her.
"What does she mean!" said Mr. Gradgrind. "Back in a minute? It's more than a mile off."
Before Mr. Bounderby could reply, a young man mentioned in the bills of the day as Mr. E.W.B. Childers,—justly celebrated for his daring vaulting act as the wild huntsman of the North American prairies, appeared. Upon entering into conversation with Mr. Gradgrind he informed that gentleman of his opinion that Jupe was off.
"Do you mean that he has deserted his daughter?" asked Mr. Gradgrind.
"I mean," said Mr. Childers with a nod, "that he has cut. He has been short in his leaps and bad in his tumbling lately, missed his tip several times, too. He was goosed last night, he was goosed the night before last, he was goosed to-day. He has lately got in the way of being always goosed, and he can't stand it."
"Why has he been—so very much—goosed?" asked Mr. Gradgrind, forcing the word out of himself, with great solemnity and reluctance.
"His joints are turning stiff, and he is getting used up," said Childers. "He has his points as a Cackler still, a speaker, if the gentleman likes it better—but he can't get a living out of that. Now it's a remarkable fact, sir, that it cut that man deeper to know that his daughter knew of his being goosed than to go through with it. Jupe sent her out on an errand not an hour ago, and then was seen to slip out himself, with his dog behind him and a bundle under his arm. She will never believe it of her father, but he has cut away and left her.
"Poor Sissy! he had better have apprenticed her," added Mr. Childers, "Now, he leaves her without anything to take to. Her father always had it in his head, that she was to be taught the deuce-and-all of education. He has been picking up a bit of reading for her, here—and a bit of writing for her, there—and a bit of ciphering for her, somewhere else—these seven years. When Sissy got into the school here," he pursued, "he was as pleased as Punch. I suppose he had this move in his mind—he was always half cracked—and then considered her provided for. If you should have happened to have looked in to-night to tell him that you were going to do her any little service," added Mr. Childers, "it would be very fortunate and well-timed."
"On the contrary," returned Mr. Gradgrind, "I came to tell her that she could not attend our school any more. Still, if her father really has left her without any connivance on her part!—Bounderby, let me have a word with you."
Upon this, Mr. Childers politely betook himself outside the door, and there stood while the two gentlemen were engaged in conversation.
Meanwhile the various members of Sleary's company gathered together in the room. Last of all appeared Mr. Sleary himself, who was stout, and troubled with asthma, and whose breath came far too thick and heavy for the letter s. Bowing to Mr. Gradgrind, he asked:
"Ith it your intention to do anything for the poor girl, Thquire?"
"I shall have something to propose to her when she comes back," said Mr. Gradgrind.
"Glad to hear it, Thquire. Not that I want to get rid of the child, any more than I want to thtand in her way. I'm willing to take her prenthith, though at her age ith late."
Here his daughter Josephine—a pretty, fair-haired girl of eighteen, who had been tied on a horse at two years old, and had made a will at twelve, which she always carried about with her, expressive of her dying desire to be drawn to the grave by two piebald ponies—cried "Father, hush! she has come back!" Then came Sissy Jupe, running into the room as she had run out of it. And when she saw them all assembled, and saw their looks, and saw no father there, she broke into a most deplorable cry, and took refuge on the bosom of the most accomplished tight-rope lady, who knelt down on the floor to nurse her, and to weep over her.
"Ith an infernal shame, upon my thoul it ith," said Sleary.
"O my dear father, my good, kind father, where are you gone? You are gone to try to do me some good, I know! You are gone away for my sake, I am sure. And how miserable and helpless you will be without me, poor, poor father, until you come back!" It was so pathetic to hear her saying many things of this kind, with her face turned upward, and her arms stretched out as if she were trying to stop his departing shadow and embrace it, that no one spoke a word until Mr. Bounderby (growing impatient) took the case in hand.
"Now, good people all," said he, "this is wanton waste of time. Let the girl understand the fact. Here, what's your name! Your father has absconded, deserted you—and you mustn't expect to see him again as long as you live."
They cared so little for plain fact, these people, that instead of being impressed by the speaker's strong common sense, they took it in extraordinary dudgeon. The men muttered "Shame!" and the women, "Brute!" Whereupon Mr. Gradgrind found an opening for his eminently practical exposition of the subject.
"It is of no moment," said he, "whether this person is to be expected back at any time, or the contrary. He is gone away, and there is no present expectation of his return. That, I believe, is agreed on all hands."
"Thath agreed, Thquire. Thtick to that!" from Sleary.
"Well, then. I, who came here to inform the father of the poor girl, Jupe, that she could not be received at the school any more, in consequence of there being practical objections, into which I need not enter, to the reception there of the children of persons so employed, am prepared in these altered circumstances to make a proposal. I am willing to take charge of you, Jupe, and to educate you, and provide for you. The only condition (over and above your good behavior) I make is, that you decide now, at once, whether to accompany me or remain here. Also, that if you accompany me now, it is understood that you communicate no more with any of your friends who are here present. These observations comprise the whole of the case."
"At the thame time," said Sleary, "I muth put in my word, Thquire, tho that both thides of the banner may be equally theen. If you like, Thethillia, to be prentitht, you know the natur' of the work, and you know your companionth. Emma Gordon, in whothe lap you're a lying at prethent, would be a mother to you, and Joth'phine would be a thithther to you. I don't pretend to be of the angel breed myself, and I don't thay but what, when you mith'd your tip, you'd find me cut up rough, and thwear a oath or two at you. But what I thay, Thquire, ith, that good tempered or bad tempered, I never did a horthe a injury yet, no more than thwearing at him went, and that I don't expect I thall begin otherwithe at my time of life, with a rider. I never wath much of a cackler, Thquire, and I have thed my thay."
The latter part of this speech was addressed to Mr. Gradgrind, who received it with a grave inclination of his head, and then remarked:
"The only observation I will make to you, Jupe, in the way of influencing your decision, is, that it is highly desirable to have a sound practical education, and that even your father himself (from what I understand) appears, on your behalf, to have known and felt that much."
The last words had a visible effect upon her. She stopped in her wild crying, and turned her face full upon her patron. The whole company perceived the force of the change, and drew a long breath, together, that plainly said, "She will go!"
"Be sure you know your own mind, Jupe," Mr. Gradgrind cautioned her; "I say no more. Be sure you know your own mind!"
"When father comes back," cried the girl, bursting into tears again after a minute's silence, "how will he ever find me if I go away!"
"You may be quite at ease," said Mr. Gradgrind calmly; he worked out the whole matter like a sum; "you may be quite at ease, Jupe, on that score. In such a case, your father, I apprehend, must find out Mr. Sleary, who would then let him know where you went. I should have no power of keeping you against his wish."
There was another silence; and then Sissy exclaimed sobbing, "Oh, give me my clothes, give me my clothes, and let me go away before I break my heart!"
The women sadly bestirred themselves to get the clothes together, and to pack them. They then brought Sissy's bonnet to her and put it on. Then they pressed about her, kissing and embracing her: and brought the children to take leave of her; and were a tender-hearted, simple, foolish, set of women altogether. Then she had to take her farewell of the male part of the company, and last of all of Mr. Sleary.
"Farewell, Thethilia!" he said, "my latht wordth to you ith thith: Thtick to the termth of your engagement, be obedient to the Thquire, and forget uth. But if, when you're grown up and married and well off, you come upon any horthe-riding ever, don't be hard upon it, don't be croth with it, give it a Bethpeak if you can, and think you might do worth. People must be amuthed, Thquire, thomehow," continued Sleary, "they can't be alwayth a working, nor yet they can't be alwayth a learning. Make the betht of uth; not the wurtht. I've got my living out of horthe-riding all my life, I know, but I conthider that I lay down the philothophy of the thubject when I thay to you, Thquire, make the betht of uth; not the wurtht!"
The Sleary philosophy was propounded as they went downstairs; and the fixed eye of Philosophy—and its rolling eye, too,—soon lost the three figures, and the basket in the darkness of the street.
To Mr. Bounderby's house the weeping Sissy was conducted, and remained there while Mr. Gradgrind returned to Stone Lodge to mature his plans for the clown's daughter. He soon came back to Mr. Bounderby's, bringing his daughter Louisa with him, and Sissy Jupe stood before them, with downcast eyes, while Mr. Gradgrind thus addressed her:
"Jupe, I have made up my mind to take you into my house; and when you are not at school, to employ you about Mrs. Gradgrind, who is rather an invalid. I have explained to Miss Louisa—this is Miss Louisa—the miserable but natural end of your late career; and you are to understand that the subject is not to be referred to any more. From this time you begin your history. You are at present ignorant, I know."
"Yes, sir, very," she answered curtseying.
"I shall have the satisfaction of causing you to be strictly educated; and you will be a living proof of the advantages of the training you will receive. You will be reclaimed and formed. You have been in the habit now of reading to your father, and those people I found you among, I dare say?" said Mr. Gradgrind.
"Only to father and to Merrylegs, sir. At least I mean to father, when Merrylegs was always there."
"Never mind Merrylegs, Jupe," said Mr. Gradgrind with a frown. "I don't ask about him. I understand you have been in the habit of reading to your father, and what did you read to him, Jupe?"
"About the fairies, sir, and the Dwarf, and the Hunchback, and the Genies," she sobbed out: "And about—"
"Hush!" exclaimed Mr. Gradgrind, "that is enough. Never breathe a word of such destructive nonsense any more."
Then Mr. Gradgrind and his daughter took Cecilia Jupe off with them to Stone Lodge, where she speedily grew as pale as wax, and as heavy-eyed as all the other victims of Mr. Gradgrind's practical system of training. She had not an easy time of it, between Mr. M'Choakumchild and Mrs. Gradgrind, and was not without strong impulses, in the first months of her probation, to run away. It hailed facts all day long, so very hard, and life in general was opened to her as such a closely ruled ciphering book, that assuredly she would have run away, but for only one restraint. She believed that her father had not deserted her; she lived in the hope that he would come back, and in the faith that he would be made the happier by her remaining where she was.
The wretched ignorance with which Jupe clung to this consolation, rejecting the superior comfort of knowing on a sound arithmetical basis that her father was an unnatural vagabond, filled Mr. Gradgrind with pity. Yet, what was to be done? Mr. M'Choakumchild reported that she had a very dense head for figures; that, once possessed with a general idea of the globe, she took the smallest conceivable interest in its exact measurements; that after eight weeks of induction into the elements of Political Economy, she had only yesterday returned to the question, "What is the first principle of this science?" the absurd answer, "To do unto others as I would that they should do unto me."
Mr. Gradgrind observed, shaking his head, that all this was very bad; that it showed the necessity of infinite grinding at the mill of knowledge, and that Jupe must be "kept to it." So Jupe was kept to it, and became low spirited, but no wiser.
"It would be a fine thing to be you, Miss Louisa!" She said one night, when Louisa had endeavored to make her perplexities for next day something clearer to her, to which Louisa answered, "I don't know that, Sissy. You are more useful to my mother. You are pleasanter to yourself, than I am to myself."
"But, if you please, Miss Louisa," Sissy pleaded, "I am—Oh so stupid! All through school hours I make mistakes. To-day for instance, Mr. M'Choakumchild was explaining to us about Natural Prosperity."
"National, I think it must have been," observed Louisa.
"National Prosperity," corrected Sissy, "and he said, Now, this schoolroom is a Nation, and in this nation there are fifty millions of money. Isn't this a prosperous nation? Girl number twenty. Isn't this a prosperous nation, and a'n't you in a thriving state? Miss Louisa, I said I didn't know. I thought I couldn't know whether it was a prosperous nation or not, and whether I was in a thriving state or not, unless I knew who had got the money, and whether any of it was mine. But that had nothing to do with it. It was not in the figures at all," said Sissy, wiping her eyes.
"That was a great mistake of yours," observed Louisa.
"Yes, Miss Louisa, I know it was now. Then Mr. M'Choakumchild said he would try me again. And he said, This Schoolroom is an immense town, and in it there are a million inhabitants, and only five-and-twenty are starved to death in the streets, in the course of a year. What is your remark on that proportion? And my remark was, that I thought it must be just as hard upon those who were starved, whether the others were a million or a million million. And that was wrong too. Then Mr. M'Choakumchild said he would try me once more. And he said That in a given time a hundred thousand persons went to sea on long voyages, and only five hundred of them were drowned or burned to death. What is the percentage? And I said, Miss;" here Sissy fairly sobbed in confessing to her great error; "I said it was nothing, Miss—to the relations and friends of the people who were killed—I shall never learn," said Sissy. "And the worst of all is, that although my poor father wished me so much to learn, and although I am so anxious to learn, because he wished me to, I am afraid I don't like it."
Louisa stood looking at the pretty, modest head, as it drooped abashed before her, until it was raised again to glance at her face. Then she asked:
"Did your father know so much himself, that he wished you to be well taught too?"
Sissy hesitated before replying, for this was forbidden ground, but Louisa insisted upon continuing the conversation.
"No, Miss Louisa," answered Sissy, "father knows very little indeed. But he said mother was quite a scholar. She died when I was born. She was"—Sissy made the terrible communication, nervously—"she was a dancer. We travelled about the country. Father's a"—Sissy whispered the awful word—"a clown."
"To make the people laugh?" said Louisa with a nod of intelligence.
"Yes." But they wouldn't laugh sometimes. Lately they very often wouldn't, and he used to come home despairing.
I tried to comfort him the best I could, and father said I did. I used to read to him to cheer up his courage, and he was very fond of that. Often and often of a night, he used to forget all his troubles in wondering whether the Sultan would let the lady go on with her story, or would have her head cut off before it was finished."
"And your father was always kind?" asked Louisa.
"Always, always!" returned Sissy, clasping her hands. "Kinder and kinder than I can tell. He was angry only one night, and that was not at me, but Merrylegs, his performing dog. After he beat the dog, he lay down crying on the floor with him in his arms, and the dog licked his face."
Louisa saw that she was sobbing, and going to her, kissed her, took her hand, and sat down beside her.
"Finish by telling me how your father left you, Sissy. The blame of telling the story, if there is any blame, is mine, not yours."
"Dear Miss Louisa," said Sissy, sobbing yet; "I came home from the school that afternoon, and found poor father just come home too, from the booth. And he sat rocking himself over the fire, as if he was in pain. And I said, 'have you hurt yourself father?' and he said, 'A little, my darling.' Then I saw that he was crying. The more I spoke to him, the more he hid his face; and shook all over, and said nothing but 'My darling'; and 'My love!' Then he said he never gave any satisfaction now, that he was a shame and disgrace, and I should have done better without him all along. I said all the affectionate things to him that came into my heart, and presently he was quiet, and put his arms around my neck, and kissed me a great many times. Then he asked me to fetch some of the stuff he used, for the little hurt he had had, and to get it at the best place, which was at the other end of town. Then after kissing me again, he let me go. There is no more to tell, Miss Louisa. I keep the nine oils ready for him, and I know he will come back. Every letter that I see in Mr. Gradgrind's hand takes my breath away, and blinds my eyes, for I think it comes from father, or from Mr. Sleary about father."
After this whenever Sissy dropped a curtsey to Mr. Gradgrind in the presence of his family, and asked if he had had any letter yet about her, Louisa would suspend the occupation of the moment, and look for the reply as earnestly as Sissy did. And when Mr. Gradgrind answered, "No, Jupe, nothing of the sort," the trembling of Sissy's lips would be repeated in Louisa's face, and her eyes would follow Sissy with compassion to the door. Thus a warm friendship sprang up between the girls, and a similar one between the mathematical Thomas and the clown's daughter.
Time with his innumerable horse-power presently turned out young Thomas Gradgrind a young man and Louisa a young woman. The same great manufacturer passed Sissy onward in his mill, and worked her up into a very pretty article, indeed.
"I fear, Jupe," said Mr. Gradgrind, "that your continuance at the school any longer would be useless."
"I am afraid it would, sir," Sissy answered with a curtsey.
"I cannot disguise from you, Jupe," said Mr. Gradgrind, "that the result of your probation there has greatly disappointed me. You are extremely deficient in your facts. Your acquaintance with figures is very limited. You are altogether backward, and below the mark, yet I believe you have tried hard. I have observed you, and I can find no fault with you in that respect."
"Thank you, sir. I have thought sometimes;" Sissy faltered, "that perhaps I tried to learn too much, and that if I had asked to be allowed to try a little less, I might have—"
"No, Jupe, no," said Mr. Gradgrind, shaking his head. "No. The course you pursued, you pursued according to the system, and there is no more to be said about it. I can only suppose that the circumstances of your early life were too unfavorable to the development of your reasoning powers, and that we began too late. Still, as I have said already, I am disappointed."
"I wish I could have made a better acknowledgment, sir, of your kindness to a poor forlorn girl who had no claim upon you, and of your protection of her." said Sissy, weeping.
"Don't shed tears," added Mr. Gradgrind, "I don't complain of you. You are an affectionate, earnest, good young woman, and we must make that do."
"Thank you, sir, very much," said Sissy, with a grateful curtsey.
"You are useful to Mrs. Gradgrind, and you are serviceable in the family also; so I understand from Miss Louisa, and indeed, so I have observed myself. I therefore hope," said Mr. Gradgrind, "that you can make yourself happy in those relations."
"I should have nothing to wish, sir, if—"
"I understand you," said Mr. Gradgrind; "you refer to your father. I have heard from Miss Louisa that you still preserve that bottle. Well! If your training in the science of arriving at exact results had been more successful, you would have been wiser on these points. I will say no more."
He really liked Sissy too well to have contempt for her. Somehow or other, he had become possessed by an idea that there was something in this girl which could hardly be set forth in a tabular form; that there was something in her composition which defied the cold analysis of Fact; that there was some great virtue in her loving-kindness which more than compensated for her deficiencies of mind.
From that time Sissy lived at Stone Lodge on equal terms with the rest of the family, and after Louisa's marriage, cared for fretful Mrs. Gradgrind in her invalidism, with a sweet patience that endeared her to the poor woman. Indeed the entire household were deeply attached to Sissy, and, seeing the unselfishness of her daily life, even Mr. Gradgrind himself was forced to acknowledge that there was a greater Teacher than M'Choakumchild, with a system of education superior to the Gradgrind system, and that the same great Teacher had educated the clown's daughter to a higher degree of usefulness and courage than the Gradgrind system had yet been able to produce.
In fact, as time went on, Mr. Gradgrind was slowly discovering the flaws in his mathematical theories; finding out that laws and logic can never take the place of love in the development of a nature, and the discovery was a bitter one to him.
Despite their careful bringing-up by rule and measure, neither Louisa nor Thomas Gradgrind, in their maturity, did any credit to their father's system, and when his mistakes with them became evident to the cold, proud man, and he realized how nearly he had wrecked their lives by those errors, the weight of his suffering was heavy upon him. Then, realizing that all the Facts in his storehouse of learning, could not teach him how to save his children, and win their love, it was to Sissy that he turned for the information that he needed.
When young Thomas Gradgrind robbed the Bank with which he was connected, and was obliged to flee from justice, it was Sissy who saved him from ruin. She sent him, with a note of explanation, to her old friend, Mr. Sleary,—whose whereabouts she happened to know at the time, and asked him to hide young Thomas until he should have further advice from her. Then she and Louisa and Mr. Gradgrind journeyed hurriedly to the town, where they found the Circus. A performance was just beginning when they arrived, and they found the culprit in the ring, disguised as a black servant.
When the performance was over, Mr. Sleary came out and greeted them with great heartiness, exclaiming; "Thethilia, it doth me good to thee you. You wath always a favorite with uth, and you've done uth credit thinth the old timeth, I'm thure."
He then suggested that such members of his troupe as would remember her be called to see her, and presently Sissy found herself amid the familiar scenes of her childhood, surrounded by an eager and affectionate group of her old comrades. While she was busily talking with them, Mr. Sleary entered into a consultation with Mr. Gradgrind upon the subject of his erring son's future. He then told the poor, distressed father that for Sissy's sake, and because Mr. Gradgrind had been so kind to her, he would help the culprit to escape from the country, secretly, by night Then, growing confidential, he added:
"Thquire, you don't need to be told that dogth ith wonderful animalth."
"Their instinct," said Mr. Gradgrind, "is surprising."
"Whatever you call it—and I'm bletht if I know what to call it"—said Sleary, "it ith athtonithing. Ith fourteen month ago, Thquire, thinthe we wath at Chethter. One morning there cometh into our Ring, by the thage door, a dog. He had travelled a long way, he wath in very bad condition, he wath lame and pretty well blind. He went round as if he wath a theeking for a child he know'd; and then he comed to me, and thood on hith two fore-legth, weak ath he wath, and then he wagged hith tail and died. Thquire, that dog wath Merrylegth."
"Sissy's father's dog!"
"Thethilia's fatherth old dog. Now, Thquire, I can take my oath, from my knowledge of that dog, that that man wath dead—and buried—afore that dog came back to me. We talked it over a long time, whether I thould write or not, but we agreed, No. There'th nothing comfortable to tell; why unthettle her mind, and make her unhappy? Tho, whether her father bathely detherted her; or whether he broke his own heart alone, rather than pull her down along with him, never will be known, now, Thquire, till we know how the dogth findth uth out!"
"She keeps the bottle that he sent her for, to this hour, and she will believe in his affection to the last moment of her life," said Mr. Gradgrind.
"It theemth to prethent two things to a perthon, don't it?" said Mr. Sleary musingly, "one, that there ith a love in the world, not all thelf-interest, after all, but thomething very different; t'other, that it hath a way of its own of calculating with ith as hard to give a name to, ath the wayth of the dogth ith!"
Mr. Gradgrind looked out of the window, and made no reply. He was deep in thought, and the result of his meditation became evident from that day in a gradual broadening of his nature and purposes. He never again attempted to replace nature's instincts and affections by his own system of education, and as the years went by he made no further attempt to destroy Sissy's loving faith in that father who had left her long ago; he only tried to compensate her for that loss as best he could;—and for the education which led to the softening of his hard, cold nature, the credit belongs to the daughter of a clown, to whom love meant more than logic.
There never was a child more loving or more lovable than Florence Dombey. There never was a child more ready to respond to loving ministrations than she, more eager to yield herself in docile obedience to a parent's wish; and to her mother she clung with a desperate affection at variance with her years.
But the sad day came when, clasped in her mother's arms, the little creature, with her perfectly colorless face, and deep, dark eyes, never moved her soft cheek from her mother's face, nor looked on those who stood around, nor shed a tear, understanding that soon she would be bereft of that mother's care and love.
"Mamma!" cried the child at last, sobbing aloud; "Oh, dear mamma! oh, dear mamma!"
Then, clinging fast to that slight spar within her arms, the mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world, leaving Florence and the new-born baby brother in the father's care.
Alas for Florence! To that father,—the pompous head of the great firm of Dombey and Son—girls never showed a sufficient justification for their existence, and this one of his own was an object of supreme indifference to him; while upon the tiny boy, his heir and future partner in the firm, he lavished all his interest, centred all his hopes and affection.
After her mother's death, Florence was taken away by an aunt; and a nurse, named Polly Richards, was secured for baby Paul. A few weeks later, as Polly was sitting in her own room with her young charge, the door was quietly opened, and a dark-eyed little girl looked in.
"It's Miss Florence, come home from her aunt's, no doubt," thought Richards, who had never seen the child before. "Hope I see you well, miss."
"Is that my brother?" asked the child, pointing to the baby.
"Yes, my pretty," answered Richards, "come and kiss him."
But the child, instead of advancing, looked her earnestly in the face, and said:
"What have you done with my mamma?"
"Lord bless the little creetur!" cried Richards. "What a sad question! I done? Nothing, miss."
"What have they done with my mamma?" cried the child.
"I never saw such a melting thing in all my life!" said Richards. "Come nearer here; come, my dear miss! Don't be afraid of me."
"I'm not afraid of you," said the child, drawing nearer, "but I want to know what they have done with my mamma."
"My darling," said Richards, "come and sit down by me, and I'll tell you a story."
With a quick perception that it was intended to relate to what she had asked, little Florence sat down on a stool at the nurse's feet, looking up into her face.
"Once upon a time," said Richards, "there was a lady—a very good lady, and her little daughter dearly loved her—who, when God thought it right that it should be so, was taken ill, and died. Died, never to be seen again by anyone on earth, and was buried in the ground where the trees grow."
"The cold ground," said the child, shuddering.
"No, the warm ground," returned Polly, seizing her advantage, "where the ugly little seeds turn into beautiful flowers, and into grass, and into corn, and I don't know what all besides. Where good people turn into bright angels, and fly away to heaven!"
The child who had drooped her head, raised it again, and sat looking at her intently.
"So; let me see," said Polly, not a little flurried between this earnest scrutiny, her desire to comfort the child, her sudden success, and her very slight confidence in her own powers. "So, when this lady died, she went to God! and she prayed to Him, this lady did," said Polly, affecting herself beyond measure, being heartily in earnest, "to teach her little daughter to be sure of that in her heart; and to know that she was happy there, and loved her still; and to hope and try—oh, all her life—to meet her there one day, never, never, never to part any more."
"It was my mamma!" exclaimed the child, springing up, and clasping her around the neck.
"And the child's heart," said Polly, drawing her to her breast, "the little daughter's heart was so full of the truth of this, that even when she heard it from a strange nurse that couldn't tell it right, but was a poor mother herself, and that was all, she found a comfort in it—didn't feel so lonely—sobbed and cried upon her bosom—took kindly to the baby lying in her lap—and—there, there, there!" said Polly, smoothing the child's curls, and dropping tears upon her. "There, poor dear!"
"Oh, well, Miss Floy! and won't your pa be angry neither?" cried a quick voice at the door, proceeding from a short, brown womanly girl of fourteen, with little snub nose, and black eyes like jet beads, "when it was tickerlerly given out that you wasn't to go and worrit the nurse."
"She don't worry me," was the surprised rejoinder of Polly. "I'm very fond of children. Miss Florence has just come home, hasn't she?"
"Yes, Mrs. Richards, and here, Miss Floy, before you've been in the house a quarter of an hour, you go a-smearing your wet face against the expensive mourning that Mrs. Richards is a-wearing for your ma!" With this remonstrance, young Spitfire, whose real name was Susan Nipper, detached the child from her new friend by a wrench—as if she were a tooth. But she seemed to do it more in the sharp exercise of her official functions, than with any deliberate unkindness.
"She'll be quite happy, now that she's come home again," said Polly, nodding to her with a smile, "and will be so pleased to see her dear papa to-night."
"Lork, Mrs. Richards!" cried Miss Nipper, taking up her words with a jerk, "Don't! See her dear papa, indeed! I should like to see her do it! Her pa's a deal too wrapped up in somebody else; and before there was somebody else to be wrapped up in, she never was a favorite. Girls are thrown away in this house, I assure you."
"You surprise me," cried Polly. "Hasn't Mr. Dombey seen her since—"
"No," interrupted Miss Nipper. "Not once since. And he hadn't hardly set his eyes upon her before that, for months and months, and I don't think he would know her for his own child if he was to meet her in the streets to-morrow. Oh, there's a Tartar within a hundred miles of here, I can tell you, Mrs. Richards!" said Susan Nipper; "Wish you good morning, Mrs. Richards. Now Miss Floy, you come along with me, and don't go hanging back like a naughty wicked child, that judgments is no example to, don't."
In spite of being thus adjured, and in spite also of some hauling on the part of Susan Nipper, little Florence broke away, and kissed her new friend affectionately, but Susan Nipper made a charge at her, and swept her out of the room.
When Polly Richards was left alone, her heart was sore for the motherless little girl, and she determined to devise some means of having Florence beside her lawfully and without rebellion. An opening happened to present itself that very night.
She had been rung down into the conservatory, as usual, and was walking about with the baby in her arms, when Mr. Dombey came up and stopped her.
"He looks thriving," said Mr. Dombey, glancing with great interest at Paul's tiny face, which she uncovered for his observation. "They give you everything that you want, I hope?"
"Oh, yes, thank you, sir;"
She hesitated so, however, that Mr. Dombey stopped again and looked at her inquiringly.
"I believe nothing is so good for making children lively, sir, as seeing other children playing about them," observed Polly, taking courage.
"I think I mentioned to you, Richards, when you came here," said Mr. Dombey, with a frown; "that I wished you to see as little of your family as possible. You can continue your walk, if you please."
With that he disappeared into an inner room, and Polly felt that she had fallen into disgrace without the least advancement of her purpose; but next night when she came down, he called her to him. "If you really think that kind of society is good for the child," he said sharply, as if there had been no interval since she proposed it, "where's Miss Florence?"
"Nothing could be better than Miss Florence, sir," said Polly eagerly, "but I understood from her little maid that they were not to—" But Mr. Dombey rang the bell, and gave his orders before she had a chance to finish the sentence.
"Tell them always to let Miss Florence be with Richards when she chooses," he commanded; and, the iron being hot, Richards striking on it boldly, requested that the child might be sent down at once to make friends with her little brother.
When Florence timidly presented herself, had Mr. Dombey looked towards her with a father's eye, he might have read in her keen glance the passionate desire to run to him, crying, "Oh, father, try to love me,—there is no one else"; the dread of a repulse; the fear of being too bold and of offending him. But he saw nothing of this. He saw her pause at the door and look towards him, and he saw no more.
"Come here, Florence," said her father coldly. "Have you nothing to say to me?"
The tears that stood in her eyes as she raised them quickly to his face, were frozen by the expression it wore. She looked down again, and put out her trembling hand, which Mr. Dombey took loosely in his own.
"There! be a good girl," he said, patting her on the head, and regarding her with a disturbed and doubtful look, "go to Richards! go!"
His little daughter hesitated for another instant, as though she would have clung about him still, or had some lingering hope that he might raise her in his arms and kiss her. But he dropped her hand and turned away. Still Polly persevered, and managed so well with little Paul as to make it very plain that he was all the livelier for his sister's company. When it was time for Florence to go to bed, the nurse urged her to say good night to her father, but the child hesitated, and Mr. Dombey called from the inner room; "It doesn't matter. You can let her come and go without regarding me."
The child shrunk as she listened, and was gone before her humble friend looked around again.
* * * * *
Just around the corner from Mr. Dombey's office was the little shop of a nautical-instrument maker whose name was Solomon Gills. The stock-in-trade of this old gentleman comprised chronometers, barometers, telescopes, compasses, charts, maps, and every kind of an instrument used in the working of a ship's course, or the keeping of a ship's reckoning, or the prosecuting of a ship's discovery. Old prints of ships hung in frames upon the walls; outlandish shells, seaweeds and mosses decorated the chimney-piece; the little wainscoted parlor was lighted by a skylight, like a cabin, The shop itself seemed almost to become a sea-going ship-shape concern, wanting only good sea room, in the event of an unexpected launch, to work its way securely to any desert island in the world.
Here Solomon Gills lived, in skipper-like state, all alone with his nephew, Walter; a boy of fourteen, who looked quite enough like a midshipman to carry out the prevailing idea.
It is half past five o'clock, and an autumn afternoon. Solomon Gills is wondering where Walter is, when a voice exclaims, "Halloa, Uncle Sol!" and the instrument-maker, turning briskly around, sees a cheerful-looking, merry boy fresh with running home in the rain; fair-faced, bright-eyed and curly-haired.
"Well, uncle, how have you got on without me all day? Is dinner ready? I'm so hungry."
"As to getting on," said Solomon, good-naturedly, "It would be odd if I couldn't get on without a young dog like you a great deal better than with you. As to dinner being ready, it's been waiting for you this half-hour. As to being hungry, I am!"
"Come along, then, uncle!" cried the boy, and Uncle Sol and his nephew were speedily engaged on a fried sole, with a prospect of steak to follow.
"Now," said the old man eagerly, "Let's hear something about the Firm."
"Oh! there's not much to be told, uncle," said the boy, plying his knife and fork. "When Mr. Dombey came in, he walked up to my seat—I wish he wasn't so solemn and stiff, uncle—and told me you had spoken to him about me, and that he had found me employment in the House accordingly, and that I was expected to be attentive and punctual, and then he went away. I thought he didn't seem to like me much."
"You mean, I suppose." observed the instrument-maker, "that you didn't seem to like him much."
"Well, uncle," returned the boy laughing, "perhaps so; I never thought of that."
Solomon looked a little graver as he finished his dinner, and glanced from time to time at the boy's bright face. When dinner was done, he went down into a little cellar, and returned with a bottle covered with dust and dirt.
"Why, uncle Sol!" said the boy, "What are you about? that's the wonderful Madeira—there's only one more bottle!"
Uncle Sol nodded his head, and having drawn the cork in solemn silence, filled two glasses, and set the bottle and a third clean glass on the table.
"You shall drink the other bottle, Wally," he said, "When you come to good fortune; when you are a thriving, respected, happy man; when the start in life you have made to-day shall have brought you—as I pray Heaven it may!—to a smooth part of the course you have to run, my child. My love to you!"
They clinked their glasses together, and were deep in conversation, when an addition to the little party made its appearance, in the shape of a gentleman with a hook instead of a hand attached to his right wrist; very bushy black eyebrows; and a thick stick in his left hand, covered all over (like his nose) with knobs. He wore a loose black silk handkerchief round his neck, and such a very large shirt-collar that it looked like a small sail over his wide suit of blue. He was evidently the person for whom the spare wineglass was intended, and evidently knew it; for having taken off his coat, and hung up his hard glazed hat, he brought a chair to where the clean glass was, and sat himself down behind it. He was usually addressed as Captain, this visitor; and had been a pilot, or a skipper, or a privateer's man, or all three perhaps; and was a very salt looking man indeed. His face brightened as he shook hands with uncle and nephew; but he seemed to be of a laconic disposition, and merely said: "How goes it?"
"All well," said Mr. Gills, pushing the bottle towards the new-comer, Captain Cuttle, who thereupon proceeded to fill his glass, and the wonderful Madeira loosened his tongue to the extent of giving utterance to a prodigous oration for Walter's benefit.
"Come," cried Solomon Gills, "we must finish the bottle."
"Stand by!" said Captain Cuttle, filling his glass again. "Give the boy some more."
"Yes," said Sol, "a little more. We'll finish the bottle to the House,—Walter's house. Why, it may be his house one of these days, in part. Who knows? Sir Richard Whittington married his master's daughter."
"Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, and when you are old, you will never depart from it," interposed the Captain. "Wal'r, overhaul the book, my lad!"
"And although Mr. Dombey hasn't a daughter—" Sol began.
"Yes, yes, he has, uncle," said the boy, reddening and laughing. "I know he has. Some of them were talking about it in the office to-day. And they do say that he's taken a dislike to her, and that she's left unnoticed among the servants, while he thinks of no one but his son. That's what they say. Of course I don't know."
"He knows all about her already, you see," said the instrument-maker.
"Nonsense, uncle," cried the boy reddening again; "how can I help hearing what they tell me?"
"The son's a little in our way at present, I'm afraid," added the old man, humoring the joke. "Nevertheless, we'll drink to him," pursued Sol. "So, here's to Dombey and Son."
"Oh, very well, uncle," said the boy merrily. "Since you have introduced the mention of her, and have said that I know all about her, I shall make bold to amend the toast. So,—here's to Dombey—and Son—and Daughter!"
Meanwhile, in Mr. Dombey's mansion, baby Paul was thriving under the watchful care of Polly Richards, Mr. Dombey, and Mr. Dombey's friends, and the day of his christening arrived. On that important occasion, the baby's excitement was so great that no one could soothe him until Florence was summoned. As she hid behind her nurse, he followed her with his eyes; and when she peeped out with a merry cry to him, he sprang up and crowed lustily—laughing outright when she ran in upon him, and seeming to fondle her curls with his tiny hands while she smothered him with kisses.
Was Mr. Dombey pleased to see this? He did not show it. If any sunbeam stole into the room to light the children at their play, it never reached his face. He looked on so coldly that the warm light vanished, even from the laughing eyes of little Florence when, at last, they happened to meet his.
The contemplation of Paul in his christening robe made his nurse yearn for a sight of her own first-born, although this was a pleasure strictly forbidden by Mr. Dombey's orders. But the longing so overpowered her that she consulted Miss Nipper as to the possibility of gratifying it, and that young woman, eager herself for an expedition, urged Polly to visit her home. So, the next morning the two nurses set out together: Richards carrying Paul, and Susan leading little Florence by the hand, and giving her such jerks and pokes as she considered it wholesome to administer. Then for a brief half-hour, Polly enjoyed the longed-for pleasure of being again in the bosom of her family, but the visit had a sad ending, for on the way back, passing through a crowded thoroughfare the little party became separated. A thundering alarm of Mad Bull! was raised. With a wild confusion of people running up and down, and shouting, and wheels running over them, and boys fighting, and mad bulls coming up, and the nurse in the midst of all these dangers, being torn to pieces, Florence screamed and ran. She ran until she was exhausted, then found with a sensation of terror not to be described, that she was quite alone.
"Susan! Susan!" cried Florence. "Oh, where are they?"
"Where are they?" said an old woman, hobbling across from the opposite side of the road. "Why did you run away from 'em?"
"I was frightened," answered Florence. "I didn't know what I did. I thought they were with me. Where are they?"
The old woman took her by the wrist, and said, "I'll show you."
She was a very ugly old woman indeed, miserably dressed, and carried some skins over her arm. Florence was afraid of her, and looked, hesitating, up the street. It was a solitary place, and there was no one in it but herself and the old woman.
"You needn't be frightened now," said the old woman, still holding her tight "Come along with me."
"I—don't know you. What's your name?" asked Florence.
"Mrs. Brown," said the old woman, "Good Mrs. Brown. Susan ain't far off," said Good Mrs. Brown, "and the others are close to her, and nobody's hurt."