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9. In which the Wooden Midshipman gets into Trouble
That spice of romance and love of the marvellous, of which there was a pretty strong
infusion in the nature of young Walter Gay, and which the guardianship of his Uncle, old
Solomon Gills, had not very much weakened by the waters of stern practical
experience, was the occasion of his attaching an uncommon and delightful interest to
the adventure of Florence with Good Mrs Brown. He pampered and cherished it in his
memory, especially that part of it with which he had been associated: until it became the
spoiled child of his fancy, and took its own way, and did what it liked with it.
The recollection of those incidents, and his own share in them, may have been made
the more captivating, perhaps, by the weekly dreamings of old Sol and Captain Cuttle
on Sundays. Hardly a Sunday passed, without mysterious references being made by
one or other of those worthy chums to Richard Whittington; and the latter gentleman
had even gone so far as to purchase a ballad of considerable antiquity, that had long
fluttered among many others, chiefly expressive of maritime sentiments, on a dead wall
in the Commercial Road: which poetical performance set forth the courtship and
nuptials of a promising young coal-whipper with a certain 'lovely Peg,' the accomplished
daughter of the master and part-owner of a Newcastle collier. In this stirring legend,
Captain Cuttle descried a profound metaphysical bearing on the case of Walter and
Florence; and it excited him so much, that on very festive occasions, as birthdays and a
few other non-Dominical holidays, he would roar through the whole song in the little
back parlour; making an amazing shake on the word Pe-e-eg, with which every verse
concluded, in compliment to the heroine of the piece.
But a frank, free-spirited, open-hearted boy, is not much given to analysing the nature of
his own feelings, however strong their hold upon him: and Walter would have found it
difficult to decide this point. He had a great affection for the wharf where he had
encountered Florence, and for the streets (albeit not enchanting in themselves) by
which they had come home. The shoes that had so often tumbled off by the way, he
preserved in his own room; and, sitting in the little back parlour of an evening, he had
drawn a whole gallery of fancy portraits of Good Mrs Brown. It may be that he became a
little smarter in his dress after that memorable occasion; and he certainly liked in his
leisure time to walk towards that quarter of the town where Mr Dombey's house was
situated, on the vague chance of passing little Florence in the street. But the sentiment
of all this was as boyish and innocent as could be. Florence was very pretty, and it is
pleasant to admire a pretty face. Florence was defenceless and weak, and it was a
proud thought that he had been able to render her any protection and assistance.
Florence was the most grateful little creature in the world, and it was delightful to see
her bright gratitude beaming in her face. Florence was neglected and coldly looked
upon, and his breast was full of youthful interest for the slighted child in her dull, stately
Thus it came about that, perhaps some half-a-dozen times in the course of the year,
Walter pulled off his hat to Florence in the street, and Florence would stop to shake