'Have we far to go?' asked Florence at last, lilting up her eyes to her companion's face.
'Ah! By-the-bye,' said Walter, stopping, 'let me see; where are we? Oh! I know. But the offices are shut up now, Miss Dombey. There's nobody there. Mr Dombey has gone home long ago. I suppose we must go home too? or, stay. Suppose I take you to my Uncle's, where I live - it's very near here - and go to your house in a coach to tell them you are safe, and bring you back some clothes. Won't that be best?'
'I think so,' answered Florence. 'Don't you? What do you think?'
As they stood deliberating in the street, a man passed them, who glanced quickly at Walter as he went by, as if he recognised him; but seeming to correct that first impression, he passed on without stopping.
'Why, I think it's Mr Carker,' said Walter. 'Carker in our House. Not Carker our Manager, Miss Dombey - the other Carker; the Junior - Halloa! Mr Carker!'
'Is that Walter Gay?' said the other, stopping and returning. 'I couldn't believe it, with such a strange companion.
As he stood near a lamp, listening with surprise to Walter's hurried explanation, he presented a remarkable contrast to the two youthful figures arm-in-arm before him. He was not old, but his hair was white; his body was bent, or bowed as if by the weight of some great trouble: and there were deep lines in his worn and melancholy face. The fire of his eyes, the expression of his features, the very voice in which he spoke, were all subdued and quenched, as if the spirit within him lay in ashes. He was respectably, though very plainly dressed, in black; but his clothes, moulded to the general character of his figure, seemed to shrink and abase themselves upon him, and to join in the sorrowful solicitation which the whole man from head to foot expressed, to be left unnoticed, and alone in his humility.
And yet his interest in youth and hopefulness was not extinguished with the other embers of his soul, for he watched the boy's earnest countenance as he spoke with unusual sympathy, though with an inexplicable show of trouble and compassion, which escaped into his looks, however hard he strove to hold it prisoner. When Walter, in conclusion, put to him the question he had put to Florence, he still stood glancing at him with the same expression, as if he had read some fate upon his face, mournfully at variance with its present brightness.
'What do you advise, Mr Carker?' said Walter, smiling. 'You always give me good advice, you know, when you do speak to me. That's not often, though.'
'I think your own idea is the best,' he answered: looking from Florence to Walter, and back again.
'Mr Carker,' said Walter, brightening with a generous thought, 'Come! Here's a chance for you. Go you to Mr Dombey's, and be the messenger of good news. It may do you some good, Sir. I'll remain at home. You shall go.'
'I!' returned the other.
'Yes. Why not, Mr Carker?' said the boy.
He merely shook him by the hand in answer; he seemed in a manner ashamed and afraid even to do that; and bidding him good-night, and advising him to make haste, turned away.
'Come, Miss Dombey,' said Walter, looking after him as they turned away also, 'we'll go to my Uncle's as quick as we can. Did you ever hear Mr Dombey speak of Mr Carker the Junior, Miss Florence?'
'No,' returned the child, mildly, 'I don't often hear Papa speak.'
'Ah! true! more shame for him,' thought Walter. After a minute's pause, during which he had been looking down upon the gentle patient little face moving on at his side, he said, 'The strangest man, Mr Carker the Junior is, Miss Florence, that ever you heard of. If you could understand what an extraordinary interest he takes in me, and yet how he shuns me and avoids me; and what a low place he holds in our office, and how he is never advanced, and never complains, though year after year he sees young men passed over his head, and though his brother (younger than he is), is our head Manager, you would be as much puzzled about him as I am.'
As Florence could hardly be expected to understand much about it, Walter bestirred himself with his accustomed boyish animation and restlessness to change the subject; and one of the unfortunate shoes coming off again opportunely, proposed to carry Florence to his uncle's in his arms.