Chapter 1-3 Summary
The unnamed narrator (Master Humphrey) is walking the streets of London late at night, as is his usual habit. A young girl by the name of Nell Trent stops him and asks him to help her find her way home. She sees that Master Humphrey is old, so she knows he is trustworthy. Touched by the child’s innocence, Master Humphrey walks her to a distant section of the city to the door of The Old Curiosity Shop. Nell knocks on the door, which is opened by her grandfather. He invites Master Humphrey to enter. Master Humphrey questions whether the old man should be allowing his granddaughter to be out on the streets at night. Grandfather takes offense at this and claims that Nell is the sole object of his consideration. He invites Master Humphrey to stay for tea, and Nell brings it in.
Nell had told Master Humphrey that she could not tell what her errand had been, and Grandfather refuses to divulge any more information. Master Humphrey can tell that Grandfather does indeed love his granddaughter. Kit Nubbles arrives after having performed an errand for Grandfather. He is an odd boy with a comical appearance. He tells Master Humphrey that he would have found Nell if she had not come to him when she was lost. As Master Humphrey prepares to leave, Nell brings her grandfather’s hat and coat. Master Humphrey questions his leaving Nell alone all night. He watches as Grandfather walks away into the night.
After a few days, Master Humphrey decides to return to The Old Curiosity Shop, though he knows he might not be welcome. He enters to find Grandfather in an argument with his grandson (Nell’s brother), Fred. Each accuses the other of using Nell as a pawn to get back at the other. With Fred is his friend Dick Swiveller, who talks about outrageous topics but leads back to the unpleasantness when family members have a falling out.
Nell walks into the shop, followed by a “dwarf” by the name of Daniel Quilp. Nell had been coming from his home the night she got lost; now Quilp has escorted her home. Quilp is interested to hear the argument between Grandfather and Fred; he sarcastically comments on the nature of family relations. Fred vows to take Nell from his grandfather, who swears that he will not allow it. Fred and Dick leave, and Quilp gives Grandfather the money that was the point of Nell’s errand. Afterward, Quilp says he must return to Mrs. Quilp, who will worry over his absence.