The first chapter of Charles Dickens’ novel The Old Curiosity Shop helps create great interest in the narrative that will follow that chapter.
As the chapter begins, an elderly narrator describes how he enjoys walking through the streets of London, especially during the evenings, when he can let his imagination ponder the possible stories of the people he passes. He comments on the habit almost all people have of stopping, as the cross bridges, to look down into the river below. He considers the different thoughts people have as they look down on the passing waters. Some people think of how the river leads to the sea; some poorer people think of the apparently easy lives of men who work on barges; and some other poor people think of a plunge into the river as an easy way to kill themselves.
As the narrator continues walking, he is approached by a small girl who seems lost. She asks him for directions to a particular street. Concerned about her safety, the narrator offers to lead her to the place she seeks. As they walk, he asks her why she is out in the evening by herself. She immediately but pleasantly responds that she cannot tell him. Indeed, the innocent little girl seems extremely pleasant and cheerful.
Finally the old man and the little girl arrive at the address she had been trying to find, which turns out to be a dark old shop full of “curiosities,” including antiques. Inside the shop is another elderly man, the little girl’s grandfather, who feels obviously deep affection for his granddaughter. She, in turn, obviously loves him and helps to take good care of him, including by preparing supper. The elderly visitor implies that Nell should not be allowed to wander the streets at night, but the grandfather insists that he takes good care of Nell and that they love each other very much.
Another youngster, a boy named Kit, arrives and is welcomed both by Nell and the grandfather. Kit is very hungry and heartily eats the meal Nell gives him. Kit is a good-humored lad and strongly agrees with Nell that her grandfather loves her:
Kit, who in despatching his bread and meat had been swallowing two-thirds of his knife at every mouthful with the coolness of a juggler, stopped short in his operations on being thus appealed to, and bawled 'Nobody isn't such a fool as to say he doosn't,' after which he incapacitated himself for further conversation by taking a most prodigious sandwich at one bite.
After Kit leaves, the elderly visitor also prepares to leave, as does the grandfather. When the visitor asks who will stay with Nell overnight, Nell replies that she will stay by herself. She stays there every night by herself when her grandfather goes out. As the visitor and the grandfather part company in the street, the visitor begins to worry about Nell staying alone in the shop. He begins to wonder why the grandfather goes out each evening and what he does while he is away from Nell. The visitor grows increasingly concerned about Nell, and, when he arrives back at his own home, and cannot take his mind off of her and off of the strange circumstances in which she lives.