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The Captain stared at Mr. Toots until he seemed to swell to twice his natural size; and again the perspiration broke out on the Captain's forehead when he thought of Diogenes taking it into his head to come down and make a third in the parlour.
"The person said," continued Mr. Toots, "that he had heard a dog barking in the shop: which I knew couldn't be, and I told him so. But he was as positive as if he had seen the dog."
"What person, my lad?" inquired the Captain.
"Why, you see there it is, Captain Gills," said Mr. Toots, with a perceptible increase in the nervousness of his manner. "It's not for me to say what may have taken place, or what may not have taken place. Indeed, I don't know. I get mixed up with all sorts of things that I don't quite understand, and I think there's something rather weak in my—in my head, in short."
The Captain nodded his own, as a mark of assent.
"But the person said, as we were walking away," continued Mr. Toots, "that you knew what, under existing circumstances, might occur—he said 'might,' very strongly—and that if you were requested to prepare yourself, you would, no doubt, come prepared."
"Person, my lad!" the Captain repeated."I don't know what person, I'm sure, Captain Gills," replied Mr. Toots, "I haven't the least idea. But coming to the door, I found him waiting there; and he said was I coming back again, and I said yes; and he said did I know you, and I said yes, I had the pleasure of your acquaintance—you had given me the pleasure of your acquaintance, after some persuasion; and he said, if that was the case, would I say to you what I have said, about existing circumstances and coming prepared, and as soon as ever I saw you, would I ask you to step round the corner, if it was only for one minute, on most important business, to Mr. Brogley's the broker's. Now, I tell you what, Captain Gills—whatever it is, I am convinced it's very important; and if you like to step round, now, I'll wait here till you come back."
The Captain, divided between his fear of compromising Florence in some way by not going, and his horror of leaving Mr. Toots in possession of the house with a chance of finding out the secret, was a spectacle of mental disturbance that even Mr. Toots could not be blind to. But that young gentleman, considering his nautical friend as merely in a state of preparation for the interview he was going to have, was quite satisfied, and did not review his own discreet conduct without chuckles.
At length the Captain decided, as the lesser of two evils, to run round to Brogley's the broker's: previously locking the door that communicated with the upper part of the house, and putting the key in his pocket. "If so be," said the Captain to Mr. Toots, with not a little shame and hesitation, "as you'll excuse my doing of it, brother."
"Captain Gills," returned Mr. Toots, "whatever you do, is satisfactory to me."
The Captain thanked him heartily, and promising to come back in less than five minutes, went out in quest of the person who had intrusted Mr. Toots with this mysterious message. Poor Mr. Toots, left to himself, lay down upon the sofa, little thinking who had reclined there last, and, gazing up at the skylight and resigning himself to visions of Miss Dombey, lost all heed of time and place.
It was as well that he did so; for although the Captain was not gone long, he was gone much longer than he had proposed. When he came back, he was very pale indeed, and greatly agitated, and even looked as if he had been shedding tears. He seemed to have lost the faculty of speech, until he had been to the cupboard and taken a dram of rum from the case-bottle, when he fetched a deep breath, and sat down in a chair with his hand before his face.
"Captain Gills," said Toots, kindly, "I hope and trust there's nothing wrong?"
"Thank'ee my lad, not a bit," said the Captain. "Quite contrairy."
"You have the appearance of being overcome, Captain Gills," observed Mr. Toots.
"Why, my lad, I am took aback," the Captain admitted. "Iam."
"Is there anything I can do, Captain Gills?" inquired Mr. Toots. "If there is, make use of me."
The Captain removed his hand from his face, looked at him with a remarkable expression of pity and tenderness, and took him by the hand and shook it hard.
"No thank'ee," said the Captain. "Nothing. Only I'll take it as a favour if you'll part company for the present. I believe, brother," wringing his hand again, "that, after Wal'r, and on a different model, you're as good a lad as ever stepped."
"Upon my word and honour, Captain Gills," returned Mr. Toots, giving the Captain's hand a preliminary slap before shaking it again, "it's delightful to me to possess your good opinion. Thank'ee."
"And bear a hand and cheer up," said the Captain, patting him on the back. "What! There's more than one sweet creetur in the world!"
"Not to me, Captain Gills," replied Mr. Toots gravely. "Not to me, I assure you. The state of my feelings towards Miss Dombey is of that unspeakable description, that my heart is a desert island, and she lives in it alone. I'm getting more used up every day, and I'm proud to be so. If you could see my legs when I take my boots off, you'd form some idea of what unrequited affection is. I have been prescribed bark, but I don't take it, for I don't wish to have any tone whatever given to my constitution. I'd rather not. This, however, is forbidden ground. Captain Gills, good bye!"
Captain Cuttle cordially reciprocating the warmth of Mr. Toots's farewell, locked the door behind him, and shaking his head with the same remarkable expression of pity and tenderness as he had regarded him with before, went up to see if Florence wanted him.
There was an entire change in the Captain's face as he went up stairs. He wiped his eyes with his handkerchief, and he polished the bridge of his nose with his sleeve as he had done already that morning, but his face was absolutely changed. Now, he might have been thought supremely happy; now, he might have been thought sad; but the kind of gravity that sat upon his features was quite new to them, and was as great an improvement to them as if they had undergone some sublimating process.
He knocked softly, with his hook, at Florence's door, twice or thrice; but, receiving no answer, ventured first to peep in, and then to enter: emboldened to take the latter step, perhaps, by the familiar recognition of Diogenes, who, stretched upon the ground by the side of her couch, wagged his tail, and winked his eyes at the Captain, without being at the trouble of getting up.
She was sleeping heavily, and moaning in her sleep; and Captain Cuttle, with a perfect awe of her youth and beauty, and her sorrow, raised her head, and adjusted the coat that covered her, where it had fallen off, and darkened the window a little more that she might sleep on, and crept out again, and took his post of watch upon the stairs. All this, with a touch and tread as light as Florence's own.
Long may it remain in this mixed world a point not easy of decision, which is the more beautiful evidence of the Almighty's goodness—the delicate fingers that are formed for sensitiveness and sympathy of touch, and made to minister to pain and grief, or the rough hard Captain Cuttle hand, that the heart teaches, guides, and softens in a moment!
Florence slept upon her couch, forgetful of her homelessness and orphanage, and Captain Cuttle watched upon the stairs. A louder sob or moan than usual, brought him sometimes to her door; but by degrees she slept more peacefully, and the Captain's watch was undisturbed.
THE MIDSHIPMAN MAKES A DISCOVERY.
It was long before Florence awoke. The day was in its prime, the day was in its wane, and still, uneasy in mind and body, she slept on; unconscious of her strange bed, of the noise and turmoil in the street, and of the light that shone outside the shaded window. Perfect unconsciousness of what had happened in the home that existed no more, even the deep slumber of exhaustion could not produce. Some undefined and mournful recollection of it, dozing uneasily but never sleeping, pervaded all her rest. A dull sorrow, like a half-lulled sense of pain, was always present to her; and her pale cheek was oftener wet with tears than the honest Captain, softly putting in his head from time to time at the half-closed door, could have desired to see it.
The sun was getting low in the west, and, glancing out of a red mist, pierced with its rays opposite loop-holes and pieces of fret-work in the spires of city churches, as if with golden arrows that struck through and through them—and far away athwart the river and its flat banks, it was gleaming like a path of fire—and out at sea it was irradiating sails of ships—and, looked towards, from quiet churchyards, upon hill-tops in the country, it was steeping distant prospects in a flush and glow that seemed to mingle earth and sky together in one glorious suffusion—when Florence, opening her heavy eyes, lay at first, looking without interest or recognition at the unfamiliar walls around her, and listening in the same regardless manner to the noises in the street. But presently she started up upon her couch, gazed round with a surprised and vacant look, and recollected all.
"My pretty," said the Captain, knocking at the door, "what cheer!"
"Dear friend," cried Florence, hurrying to him, "is it you?"
The Captain felt so much pride in the name, and was so pleased by the gleam of pleasure in her face, when she saw him, that he kissed his hook, by way of reply, in speechless gratification.
"What cheer, bright di'mond!" said the Captain.
"I have surely slept very long,"returned Florence. "When did I come here? Yesterday?"
"This here blessed day, my lady lass," replied the Captain.
"Has there been no night? Is it still day?" asked Florence.
"Getting on for evening now, my pretty," said the Captain, drawing back the curtain of the window. "See!"
Florence, with her hand upon the Captain's arm, so sorrowful and timid, and the Captain with his rough face and burly figure, so quietly protective of her, stood in the rosy light of the bright evening sky, without saying a word. However strange the form of speech into which he might have fashioned the feeling, if he had had to give it utterance, the Captain felt, as sensibly as the most eloquent of men could have done, that there was something in the tranquil time and in its softened beauty that would make the wounded heart of Florence overflow; and that it was better that such tears should have their way. So not a word spake Captain Cuttle. But when he felt his arm clasped closer, and when he felt the lonely head come nearer to it, and lay itself against his homely coarse blue