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Summary Chapter 44

Nell and her grandfather are unnerved by the hurried bustle of the city. They take shelter in an archway from the rain. Nell scans the faces of the crowd, but finds no one to appeal to.

She is feeling ill and regrets coming to the city. A smaller town would have been better, where people would have been more likely to help. The grandfather starts complaining about being lead away and demands that they return to their former abode. They go back to the wharf, hoping to take shelter another night on the boat—but the gates are locked.

Nell tells her grandfather they will have to sleep out in the open, beg for their bread, and find a way back into the country tomorrow. The grandfather again demands why she brought him here. She tells him that she dreamt that he robbed Mrs. Jarley. She knows that he is old and weak. She will not complain if he doesn’t—but she has suffered. The grandfather notices her condition for the first time—her anxious face, the stained clothes, and her bruised feet. He laments their misfortune.

Nell says that at least in the city, they can take comfort that anyone who is looking for them won’t be able to find them. They are lost in a crowd. They find a warm, dry spot—but she shrieks when she sees a figure. At the man’s inquiry, Nell says they don’t have money for lodgings. The man comments on how wet Nell is, and how the streets are no place for her. He carries her to a place where there is a warm fire. It is a noisy factory with a bunch of furnaces. Nell falls asleep, despite the noise.

When she wakes, she notices that the man who watches the fire is motionless. Worried he is ill or dead, she goes up to him. He tells her the other men leave him alone. His only friend is the fire. His mother worked herself to death, and his father watched the fire too. His father used to bring him to work. The fire has never gone out. He is fond of it. His father died before the fire. There was a time when he was separated from it and out in the cold world. He came back to it. Nell reminds him of himself during the period he was out in the cold world. He tells her she should sleep, and he leads her to the couch. He covers her, and she goes to sleep.

The next morning, he shares his breakfast with them. Nell asks what roads lead out of town. The man says he has never strayed further than the door of the factory, but there is one road that is very far away—and it is frightening to travel by night. There are rough people on it. The grandfather becomes frightened, but Nell says they have to travel. She tells the fire watcher that they are fleeing some evil and must get away. He shows them the direction of the road. He gives her some money, and they part ways.

Charles Dickens