Chapter 17-20 Summary
Nell awakens early the next morning, at first confused by her surroundings. She goes out to visit the graveyard, reading the various epitaphs on the gravestones. She comes across one of a man who died fifty-five years ago at the age of twenty-three. An old woman comes and asks Nell to read the engraving to her. She tells Nell that she is the dead man’s wife, which strikes Nell as interesting, imagining her as an old woman married to such a young man. The widow explains how she used to want to die when her husband passed away, but now she comes often to his grave to pick daisies.
Nell and Grandfather join Codlin and Short, who are going to the races to perform their Punch and Judy show. On the way, they encounter the Grinders, who are walking on stilts (to save the trouble of having to carry them). They are heading for the races as well.
When the group encounters many other performers on their way to the races, Mr. Codlin worries that there will be no accommodations for them. They find room, however, at the Jolly Sandboys. Mr. Codlin waits eagerly for the dinner to be prepared. Mr. Short speculates that Grandfather is fleeing London for some nefarious reason, using Nell to help him along the way. As they wait for the meal to be set, Codlin and Short discuss their past history as a travelling show.
Mr. Codlin draws Nell aside and tells her that he is her friend, but she should beware of Short. He suggests that she stay close to him and not think of leaving. Short also seems to be keeping a close eye on her, which worries Nell. She reminds her grandfather of what he told her before they left The Old Curiosity Shop, that people would separate them if they thought that he were mad. Nell, now out of money, gathers flowers and makes nosegays to sell to the crowds. When she has a little money, she and Grandfather decide the time is ripe to leave. They sneak away through the masses and depart without letting Codlin and Short discover their absence.
Kit continues to go by The Old Curiosity Shop, worrying about Nell’s disappearance. His mother tells him that she has heard a rumor that they were seen boarding a ship and so most likely have gone to some foreign country. Kit rejects this, certain that he will find Nell someday. He goes back to the Notary’s office and sees Mr. Garland there again, who is please that Kit has shown himself faithful. Mr. Chuckster, from the Notary’s office, questions him as to his intentions of coming back. Kit replies that he has come to work out the rest of the shilling, which Mr. Garland gave him previously because he did not have change. Mr. Garland asks him questions about himself, which he writes down in his notebook.