Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens - HTML preview
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18. Father and Daughter
There is a hush through Mr Dombey's house. Servants gliding up and down stairs rustle, but make no sound of footsteps. They talk together constantly, and sit long at meals, making much of their meat and drink, and enjoying themselves after a grim unholy fashion. Mrs Wickam, with her eyes suffused with tears, relates melancholy anecdotes; and tells them how she always said at Mrs Pipchin's that it would be so, and takes more table-ale than usual, and is very sorry but sociable. Cook's state of mind is similar. She promises a little fry for supper, and struggles about equally against her feelings and the onions. Towlinson begins to think there's a fate in it, and wants to know if anybody can tell him ofany good that ever came of living in a corner house. It seems to all of them as having happened a long time ago; though yet the child lies, calm and beautiful, upon his little bed.
After dark there come some visitors - noiseless visitors, with shoes of felt - who have been there before; and with them comes that bed of rest which is so strange a one for infant sleepers. All this time, the bereaved father has not been seen even by his attendant; for he sits in an inner corner of his own dark room when anyone is there, and never seems to move at other times, except to pace it to and fro. But in the morning it is whispered among the household that he was heard to go upstairs in the dead night, and that he stayed there - in the room - until the sun was shining.
At the offices in the City, the ground-glass windows are made more dim by shutters; and while the lighted lamps upon the desks are half extinguished by the day that wanders in, the day is half extinguished by the lamps, and an unusual gloom prevails. There is not much business done. The clerks are indisposed to work; and they make assignations to eat chops in the afternoon, and go up the river. Perch, the messenger, stays long upon his errands; and finds himself in bars of public-houses, invited thither by friends, and holding forth on the uncertainty of human affairs. He goes home to Ball's Pond earlier in the evening than usual, and treats Mrs Perch to a veal cutlet and Scotch ale. Mr Carker the Manager treats no one; neither is he treated; but alone in his own room he shows his teeth all day; and it would seem that there is something gone from Mr Carker's path - some obstacle removed - which clears his way before him.
Now the rosy children living opposite to Mr Dombey's house, peep from their nursery windows down into the street; for there are four black horses at his door, with feathers on their heads; and feathers tremble on the carriage that they draw; and these, and an array of men with scarves and staves, attract a crowd. The juggler who was going to twirl the basin, puts his loose coat on again over his fine dress; and his trudging wife, one-sided with her heavy baby in her arms, loiters to see the company come out. But closer to her dingy breast she presses her baby, when the burden that is so easily carried is borne forth; and the youngest of the rosy children at the high window opposite, needs no restraining hand to check her in her glee, when, pointing with her dimpled finger, she looks into her nurse's face, and asks 'What's that?' And now, among the knot of servants dressed in mourning, and the weeping women, Mr Dombey passes through the hall to the other carriage that is waiting to receive him. He is not 'brought down,' these observers think, by sorrow and distress of mind. His walk is as erect, his bearing is as stiff as ever it has been. He hides his face behind no handkerchief, and looks before him. But that his face is something sunk and rigid, and is pale, it bears the same expression as of old. He takes his place within the carriage, and three other gentlemen follow. Then the grand funeral moves slowly down the street. The feathers are yet nodding in the distance, when the juggler has the basin spinning on a cane, and has the same crowd to admire it. But the juggler's wife is less alert than usual with the money-box, for a child's burial has set her thinking that perhaps the baby underneath her shabby shawl may not grow up to be a man, and wear a sky-blue fillet round his head, and salmon-coloured worsted drawers, and tumble in the mud.
The feathers wind their gloomy way along the streets, and come within the sound of a church bell. In this same church, the pretty boy received all that will soon be left of him on earth - a name. All of him that is dead, they lay there, near the perishable substance of his mother. It is well. Their ashes lie where Florence in her walks - oh lonely, lonely walks! - may pass them any day.
The service over, and the clergyman withdrawn, Mr Dombey looks round, demanding in a low voice, whether the person who has been requested to attend to receive instructions for the tablet, is there?Someone comes forward, and says 'Yes.'
Mr Dombey intimates where he would have it placed; and shows him, with his hand upon the wall, the shape and size; and how it is to follow the memorial to the mother. Then, with his pencil, he writes out the inscription, and gives it to him: adding, 'I wish to have it done at once.'It shall be done immediately, Sir.' 'There is really nothing to inscribe but name and age, you see.' The man bows, glancing at the paper, but appears to hesitate. Mr Dombey not observing his hesitation, turns away, and leads towards the porch. 'I beg your pardon, Sir;' a touch falls gently on his mourning cloak; 'but as you wish it done immediately, and it may be put in hand when I get back - ' 'Well?' 'Will you be so good as read it over again? I think there's a mistake.'
'Where?' The statuary gives him back the paper, and points out, with his pocket rule, the words, 'beloved and only child.''It should be, "son," I think, Sir?' 'You are right. Of course. Make the correction.'
The father, with a hastier step, pursues his way to the coach. When the other three, who follow closely, take their seats, his face is hidden for the first time - shaded by his cloak. Nor do they see it any more that day. He alights first, and passes immediately into his own room. The other mourners (who are only Mr Chick, and two of the medical attendants) proceed upstairs to the drawing-room, to be received by Mrs Chick and Miss Tox. And what the face is, in the shut-up chamber underneath: or what the thoughts are: what the heart is, what the contest or the suffering: no one knows.
The chief thing that they know, below stairs, in the kitchen, is that 'it seems like Sunday.' They can hardly persuade themselves but that there is something unbecoming, if not wicked, in the conduct of the people out of doors, who pursue their ordinary occupations, and wear their everyday attire. It is quite a novelty to have the blinds up, and the shutters open; and they make themselves dismally comfortable over bottles of wine, which are freely broached as on a festival. They are much inclined to moralise. Mr Towlinson proposes with a sigh, 'Amendment to us all!' for which, as Cook says with another sigh, 'There's room enough, God knows.' In the evening, Mrs Chick and Miss Tox take to needlework again. In the evening also, Mr Towlinson goes out to take the air, accompanied by the housemaid, who has not yet tried her mourning bonnet. They are very tender to each other at dusky street-corners, and Towlinson has visions of leading an altered and blameless existence as a serious greengrocer in Oxford Market.
There is sounder sleep and deeper rest in Mr Dombey's house tonight, than there has been for many nights. The morning sun awakens the old household, settled down once more in their old ways. The rosy children opposite run past with hoops. There is a splendid wedding in the church. The juggler's wife is active with the money-box in another quarter of the town. The mason sings and whistles as he chips out P-A-U-L in the marble slab before him.
And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one weak creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of vast eternity can fill it up! Florence, in her innocent affliction, might have answered, 'Oh my brother, oh my dearly loved and loving brother! Only friend and companion of my slighted childhood! Could any less idea shed the light already dawning on your early grave, or give birth to the softened sorrow that is springing into life beneath this rain of tears!''My dear child,' said Mrs Chick, who held it as a duty incumbent on her, to improve the occasion, 'when you are as old as I am - '
'Which will be the prime of life,' observed Miss Tox. 'You will then,' pursued Mrs Chick, gently squeezing Miss Tox's hand in acknowledgment of her friendly remark, 'you will then know that all grief is unavailing, and that it is our duty to submit.''I will try, dear aunt I do try,' answered Florence, sobbing. 'I am glad to hear it,' said Mrs Chick, 'because; my love, as our dear Miss Tox - of whose sound sense and excellent judgment, there cannot possibly be two opinions - ' 'My dear Louisa, I shall really be proud, soon,' said Miss Tox
- 'will tell you, and confirm by her experience,' pursued Mrs Chick, 'we are called upon on all occasions to make an effort It is required of us. If any - my dear,' turning to Miss Tox, 'I want a word. Mis- Mis-''Demeanour?' suggested Miss Tox. 'No, no, no,' said Mrs Chic 'How can you! Goodness me, it's on, the end of my tongue. Mis-' Placed affection?' suggested Miss Tox, timidly.
'Good gracious, Lucretia!' returned Mrs Chick 'How very monstrous! Misanthrope, is the word I want. The idea! Misplaced affection! I say, if any misanthrope were to put, in my presence, the question "Why were we born?" I should reply, "To make an effort"''Very good indeed,' said Miss Tox, much impressed by the originality of the sentiment 'Very good.'
'Unhappily,' pursued Mrs Chick, 'we have a warning under our own eyes. We have but too much reason to suppose, my dear child, that if an effort had been made in time, in this family, a train of the most trying and distressing circumstances might have been avoided. Nothing shall ever persuade me,' observed the good matron, with a resolute air, 'but that if that effort had been made by poor dear Fanny, the poor dear darling child would at least have had a stronger constitution.'
Mrs Chick abandoned herself to her feelings for half a moment; but, as a practical illustration of her doctrine, brought herself up short, in the middle of a sob, and went on again.'Therefore, Florence, pray let us see that you have some strength of mind, and do not selfishly aggravate the distress in which your poor Papa is plunged.'
'Dear aunt!' said Florence, kneeling quickly down before her, that she might the better and more earnestly look into her face. 'Tell me more about Papa. Pray tell me about him! Is he quite heartbroken?'
Miss Tox was of a tender nature, and there was something in this appeal that moved her very much. Whether she saw it in a succession, on the part of the neglected child, to the affectionate concern so often expressed by her dead brother - or a love that sought to twine itself about the heart that had loved him, and that could not bear to be shut out from sympathy with such a sorrow, in such sad community of love and grief - or whether the only recognised the earnest and devoted spirit which, although discarded and repulsed, was wrung with tenderness long unreturned, and in the waste and solitude of this bereavement cried to him to seek a comfort in it, and to give some, by some small response - whatever may have been her understanding of it, it moved Miss Tox. For the moment she forgot the majesty of Mrs Chick, and, patting Florence hastily on the cheek, turned aside and suffered the tears to gush from her eyes, without waiting for a lead from that wise matron.
Mrs Chick herself lost, for a moment, the presence of mind on which she so much prided herself; and remained mute, looking on the beautiful young face that had so long, so steadily, and patiently, been turned towards the little bed. But recovering her voice - which was synonymous with her presence of mind, indeed they were one and the same thing - she replied with dignity:
'Florence, my dear child, your poor Papa is peculiar at times; and to question me about him, is to question me upon a subject which I really do not pretend to understand. I believe I have as much influence with your Papa as anybody has. Still, all I can say is, that he has said very little to me; and that I have only seen him once or twice for a minute at a time, and indeed have hardly seen him then, for his room has been dark. I have said to your Papa, "Paul!" - that is the exact expression I used - "Paul! why do you not take something stimulating?" Your Papa's reply has always been, "Louisa, have the goodness to leave me. I want nothing. I am better by myself." If I was to be put upon my oath to-morrow, Lucretia, before a magistrate,' said Mrs Chick, 'I have no doubt I could venture to swear to those identical words.'Miss Tox expressed her admiration by saying, 'My Louisa is ever methodical!'
'In short, Florence,' resumed her aunt, 'literally nothing has passed between your poor Papa and myself, until to-day; when I mentioned to your Papa that Sir Barnet and Lady Skettles had written exceedingly kind notes - our sweet boy! Lady Skettles loved him like a - where's my pocket handkerchief?'Miss Tox produced one.
'Exceedingly kind notes, proposing that you should visit them for change of scene. Mentioning to your Papa that I thought Miss Tox and myself might now go home (in which he quite agreed), I inquired if he had any objection to your accepting this invitation. He said, "No, Louisa, not the least!"' Florence raised her tearful eye'At the same time, if you would prefer staying here, Florence, to paying this visit at present, or to going home with me - ' 'I should much prefer it, aunt,' was the faint rejoinder.
'Why then, child,'said Mrs Chick, 'you can. It's a strange choice, I must say. But you always were strange. Anybody else at your time of life, and after what has passed - my dear Miss Tox, I have lost my pocket handkerchief again - would be glad to leave here, one would suppose.
'I should not like to feel,' said Florence, 'as if the house was avoided. I should not like to think that the - his - the rooms upstairs were quite empty and dreary, aunt. I would rather stay here, for the present. Oh my brother! oh my brother!'
It was a natural emotion, not to be suppressed; and it would make way even between the fingers of the hands with which she covered up her face. The overcharged and heavy-laden breast must some times have that vent, or the poor wounded solitary heart within it would have fluttered like a bird with broken wings, and sunk down in the dust'
'Well, child!' said Mrs Chick, after a pause 'I wouldn't on any account say anything unkind to you, and that I'm sure you know. You will remain here, then, and do exactly as you like. No one will interfere with you, Florence, or wish to interfere with you, I'm sure.Florence shook her head in sad assent'
'I had no sooner begun to advise your poor Papa that he really ought to seek some distraction and restoration in a temporary change,' said Mrs Chick, 'than he told me he had already formed the intention of going into the country for a short time. I'm sure I hope he'll go very soon. He can't go too soon. But I suppose there are some arrangements connected with his private papers and so forth, consequent on the affliction that has tried us all so much - I can't think what's become of mine: Lucretia, lend me yours, my dear - that may occupy him for one or two evenings in his own room. Your Papa's a Dombey, child, if ever there was one,' said Mrs Chick, drying both her eyes at once with great care on opposite corners of Miss Tox's handkerchief 'He'll make an effort. There's no fear of him.''Is there nothing, aunt,' said Florence, trembling, 'I might do to -
'Lord, my dear child,' interposed Mrs Chick, hastily, 'what are you talking about? If your Papa said to Me - I have given you his exact words, "Louisa, I want nothing; I am better by myself" - what do you think he'd say to you? You mustn't show yourself to him, child. Don't dream of such a thing.''Aunt,' said Florence, 'I will go and lie down on my bed.'
Mrs Chick approved of this resolution, and dismissed her with a kiss. But Miss Tox, on a faint pretence of looking for the mislaid handkerchief, went upstairs after her; and tried in a few stolen minutes to comfort her, in spite of great discouragement from Susan Nipper. For Miss Nipper, in her burning zeal, disparaged Miss Tox as a crocodile; yet her sympathy seemed genuine, and had at least the vantage-ground of disinterestedness - there was little favour to be won by it.
And was there no one nearer and dearer than Susan, to uphold the striving heart in its anguish? Was there no other neck to clasp; no other face to turn to? no one else to say a soothing word to such deep sorrow? Was Florence so alone in the bleak world that nothing else remained to her? Nothing. Stricken motherless and brotherless at once - for in the loss of little Paul, that first and greatest loss fell heavily upon her - this was the only help she had. Oh, who can tell how much she needed help at first!
At first, when the house subsided into its accustomed course, and they had all gone away, except the servants, and her father shut up in his own rooms, Florence could do nothing but weep, and wander up and down, and sometimes, in a sudden pang of desolate remembrance, fly to her own chamber, wring her hands, lay her face down on her bed, and know no consolation: nothing but the bitterness and cruelty of grief. This commonly ensued upon the recognition of some spot or object very tenderly dated with him; and it made the ale house, at first, a place of agony.
But it is not in the nature of pure love to burn so fiercely and unkindly long. The flame that in its grosser composition has the taint of earth may prey upon the breast that gives it shelter; but the fire from heaven is as gentle in the heart, as when it rested on the heads of the assembled twelve, and showed each man his brother, brightened and unhurt. The image conjured up, there soon returned the placid face, the softened voice, the loving looks, the quiet trustfulness and peace; and Florence, though she wept still, wept more tranquilly, and courted the remembrance.
It was not very long before the golden water, dancing on the wall, in the old place, at the old serene time, had her calm eye fixed upon it as it ebbed away. It was not very long before that room again knew her, often; sitting there alone, as patient and as mild as when she had watched beside the little bed. When any sharp sense of its being empty smote upon her, she could kneel beside it, and pray GOD - it was the pouring out of her full heart - to let one angel love her and remember her.
It was not very long before, in the midst of the dismal house so wide and dreary, her low voice in the twilight, slowly and stopping sometimes, touched the old air to which he had so often listened, with his drooping head upon her arm. And after that, and when it was quite dark, a little strain of music trembled in the room: so softly played and sung, that it was more lIke the mournful recollection of what she had done at his request on that last night, than the reality repeated. But it was repeated, often - very often, in the shadowy solitude; and broken murmurs of the strain still trembled on the keys, when the sweet voice was hushed in tears.
Thus she gained heart to look upon the work with which her fingers had been busy by his side on the sea-shore; and thus it was not very long before she took to it again - with something of a human love for it, as if it had been sentient and had known him; and, sitting in a window, near her mother's picture, in the unused room so long deserted, wore away the thoughtful hours.
Why did the dark eyes turn so often from this work to where the rosy children lived? They were not immediate!y suggestive of her loss; for they were all girls: four little sisters. But they were motherless like her - and had a father.
It was easy to know when he had gone out and was expected home, for the elder child was always dressed and waiting for him at the drawing-room window, or n the balcony; and when he appeared, her expectant face lighted up with joy, while the others at the high window, and always on the watch too, clapped their hands, and drummed them on the sill, and called to him. The elder child would come down to the hall, and put her hand in his, and lead him up the stairs; and Florence would see her afterwards sitting by his side, or on his knee, or hanging coaxingly about his neck and talking to him: and though they were always gay together, he would often watch her face as if he thought her like her mother that was dead. Florence would sometimes look no more at this, and bursting into tears would hide behind the curtain as if she were frightened, or would hurry from the window. Yet she could not help returning; and her work would soon fall unheeded from her hands again.
It was the house that had been empty, years ago. It had remained so for a long time. At last, and while she had been away from home, this family had taken it; and it was repaired and newly painted; and there were birds and flowers about it; and it looked very different from its old self. But she never thought of the house. The children and their father were all in all.
When he had dined, she could see them, through the open windows, go down with their governess or nurse, and cluster round the table; and in the still summer weather, the sound of their childish voices and clear laughter would come ringing across the street, into the drooping air of the room in which she sat. Then they would climb and clamber upstairs with him, and romp about him on the sofa, or group themselves at his knee, a very nosegay of little faces, while he seemed to tell them some story. Or they would come running out into the balcony; and then Florence would hide herself quickly, lest it should check them in their joy, to see her in her black dress, sitting there alone.
The elder child remained with her father when the rest had gone away, and made his tea for him - happy little house-keeper she was then! - and sat conversing with him, sometimes at the window, sometimes in the room, until the candles came. He made her his companion, though she was some years younger than Florence; and she could be as staid and pleasantly demure, with her little book or work-box, as a woman. When they had candles, Florence from her own dark room was not afraid to look again. But when the time came for the child to say 'Good-night, Papa,' and go to bed, Florence would sob and tremble as she raised her face to him, and could look no more.
Though still she would turn, again and again, before going to bed herself from the simple air that had lulled him to rest so often, long ago, and from the other low soft broken strain of music, back to that house. But that she ever thought of it, or watched it, was a secret which she kept within her own young breast.
And did that breast of Florence - Florence, so ingenuous and true - so worthy of the love that he had borne her, and had whispered in his last faint words - whose guileless heart was mirrored in the beauty of her face, and breathed in every accent of her gentle voice
- did that young breast hold any other secret? Yes. One more.
When no one in the house was stirring, and the lights were all extinguished, she would softly leave her own room, and with noiseless feet descend the staircase, and approach her father's door. Against it, scarcely breathing, she would rest her face and head, and press her lips, in the yearning of her love. She crouched upon the cold stone floor outside it, every night, to listen even for his breath; and in her one absorbing wish to be allowed to show him some affection, to be a consolation to him, to win him over to the endurance of some tenderness from her, his solitary child, she would have knelt down at his feet, if she had dared, in humble supplication.
No one knew it' No one thought of it. The door was ever closed, and he shut up within. He went out once or twice, and it was said in the house that he was very soon going on his country journey; but he lived in those rooms, and lived alone, and never saw her, or inquired for her. Perhaps he did not even know that she was in the house.One day, about a week after the funeral, Florence was sitting at her work, when Susan appeared, with a face half laughing and half crying, to announce a visitor. 'A visitor! To me, Susan!' said Florence, looking up in astonishment.
'Well, it is a wonder, ain't it now, Miss Floy?' said Susan; 'but I wish you had a many visitors, I do, indeed, for you'd be all the better for it, and it's my opinion that the sooner you and me goes even to them old Skettleses, Miss, the better for both, I may not wish to live in crowds, Miss Floy, but still I'm not a oyster.'To do Miss Nipper justice, she spoke more for her young mistress than herself; and her face showed it. 'But the visitor, Susan,' said Florence. Susan, with an hysterical explosion that was as much a laugh as a sob, and as much a sob as a laugh, answered, 'Mr Toots!'
The smile that appeared on Florence's face passed from it in a moment, and her eyes filled with tears. But at any rate it was a smile, and that gave great satisfaction to Miss Nipper.
'My own feelings exactly, Miss Floy,' said Susan, putting her apron to her eyes, and shaking her head. 'Immediately I see that Innocent in the Hall, Miss Floy, I burst out laughing first, and then I choked.'
Susan Nipper involuntarily proceeded to do the like again on the spot. In the meantime Mr Toots, who had come upstairs after her, all unconscious of the effect he produced, announced himself with his knuckles on the door, and walked in very brisKly.'How d'ye do, Miss Dombey?' said Mr Toots. 'I'm very well, I thank you; how are you?'
Mr Toots - than whom there were few better fellows in the world, though there may have been one or two brighter spirits - had laboriously invented this long burst of discourse with the view of relieving the feelings both of Florence and himself. But finding that he had run through his property, as it were, in an injudicious manner, by squandering the whole before taking a chair, or before Florence had uttered a word, or before he had well got in at the door, he deemed it advisable to begin again.'How d'ye do, Miss Dombey?' said Mr Toots. 'I'm very well, I thank you; how are you?' Florence gave him her hand, and said she was very well. 'I'm very well indeed,' said Mr Toots, taking a chair. 'Very well indeed, I am. I don't remember,' said Mr Toots, after reflecting a little, 'that I was ever better, thank you.' 'It's very kind of you to come,' said Florence, taking up her work, 'I am very glad to see you.'
Mr Toots responded with a chuckle. Thinking that might be too lively, he corrected it with a sigh. Thinking that might be too melancholy, he corrected it with a chuckle. Not thoroughly pleasing himself with either mode of reply, he breathed hard.'You were very kind to my dear brother,' said Florence, obeying her own natural impulse to relieve him by saying so. 'He often talked to me about you.' 'Oh it's of no consequence,' said Mr Toots hastily. 'Warm, ain't it?' 'It is beautiful weather,' replied Florence. 'It agrees with me!' said Mr Toots. 'I don't think I ever was so well as I find myself at present, I'm obliged to you. After stating this curious and unexpected fact, Mr Toots fell into a deep well of silence. 'You have left Dr Blimber's, I think?' said Florence, trying to help him out.
'I should hope so,' returned Mr Toots. And tumbled in again. He remained at the bottom, apparently drowned, for at least ten minutes. At the expiration of that period, he suddenly floated, and said,'Well! Good morning, Miss Dombey.' 'Are you going?' asked Florence, rising. 'I don't know, though. No, not just at present,' said Mr Toots, sitting down again, most unexpectedly. 'The fact is - I say, Miss Dombey!' 'Don't be afraid to speak to me,' said Florence, with a quiet smile, 'I should he very glad if you would talk about my brother.'
'Would you, though?' retorted Mr Toots, with sympathy in every fibre of his otherwise expressionless face. 'Poor Dombey! I'm sure I never thought that Burgess and Co. - fashionable tailors (but very dear), that we used to talk about - would make this suit of clothes for such a purpose.' Mr Toots was dressed in mourning. 'Poor Dombey! I say! Miss Dombey!' blubbered Toots.'Yes,' said Florence. 'There's a friend he took to very much at last. I thought you'd lIke to have him, perhaps, as a sort of keepsake. You remember his remembering Diogenes?' 'Oh yes! oh yes' cried Florence. 'Poor Dombey! So do I,' said Mr Toots. Mr Toots, seeing Florence in tears, had great difficulty in getting beyond this point, and had nearly tumbled into the well again. But a chucKle saved him on the brink.
'I say,' he proceeded, 'Miss Dombey! I could have had him stolen for ten shillings, if they hadn't given him up: and I would: but they were glad to get rid of him, I think. If you'd like to have him, he's at the door. I brought him on purpose for you. He ain't a lady's dog, you know,' said Mr Toots, 'but you won't mind that, will you?'
In fact, Diogenes was at that moment, as they presently ascertained from looking down into the street, staring through the window of a hackney cabriolet, into which, for conveyance to that spot, he had been ensnared, on a false pretence of rats among the straw. Sooth to say, he was as unlike a lady's dog as might be; and in his gruff anxiety to get out, presented an appearance sufficiently unpromising, as he gave short yelps out of one side of his mouth, and overbalancing himself by the intensity of every one of those efforts, tumbled down into the straw, and then sprung panting up again, putting out his tongue, as if he had come express to a Dispensary to be examined for his health.
But though Diogenes was as ridiculous a dog as one would meet with on a summer's day; a blundering, ill-favoured, clumsy, bullet-headed dog, continually acting on a wrong idea that there was an enemy in the neighbourhood, whom it was meritorious to bark at; and though he was far from good-tempered, and certainly was not clever, and had hair all over his eyes, and a comic nose, and an inconsistent tail, and a gruff voice; he was dearer to Florence, in virtue of that parting remembrance of him, and that request that he might be taken care of, than the most valuable and beautiful of his kind. So dear, indeed, was this same ugly Diogenes, and so welcome to her, that she took the jewelled hand of Mr Toots and kissed it in her gratitude. And when Diogenes, released, came tearing up the stairs and bouncing into the room (such a business as there was, first, to get him out of the cabriolet!), dived under all the furniture, and wound a long iron chain, that dangled from his neck, round legs of chairs and tables, and then tugged at it until his eyes became unnaturally visible, in consequence of their nearly starting out of his head; and when he growled at Mr Toots, who affected familiarity; and went pell-mell at Towlinson, morally convinced that he was the enemy whom he had barked at round the corner all his life and had never seen yet; Florence was as pleased with him as if he had been a miracle of discretion.
Mr Toots was so overjoyed by the success of his present, and was so delighted to see Florence bending down over Diogenes, smoothing his coarse back with her little delicate hand - Diogenes graciously allowing it from the first moment of their acquaintance - that he felt it difficult to take leave, and would, no doubt, have been a much longer time in making up his mind to do so, if he had not been assisted by Diogenes himself, who suddenly took it into his head to bay Mr Toots, and to make short runs at him with his mouth open. Not exactly seeing his way to the end of these demonstrations, and sensible that they placed the pantaloons constructed by the art of Burgess and Co. in jeopardy, Mr Toots, with chuckles, lapsed out at the door: by which, after looking in again two or three times, without any object at all, and being on each occasion greeted with a fresh run from Diogenes, he finally took himself off and got away.
'Come, then, Di! Dear Di! Make friends with your new mistress. Let us love each other, Di!'said Florence, fondling his shaggy head. And Di, the rough and gruff, as if his hairy hide were pervious to the tear that dropped upon it, and his dog's heart melted as it fell, put his nose up to her face, and swore fidelity.
Diogenes the man did not speak plainer to Alexander the Great than Diogenes the dog spoke to Florence.' He subscribed to the offer of his little mistress cheerfully, and devoted himself to her service. A banquet was immediately provided for him in a corner; and when he had eaten and drunk his fill, he went to the window where Florence was sitting, looking on, rose up on his hind legs, with his awkward fore paws on her shoulders, licked her face and hands, nestled his great head against her heart, and wagged his tail till he was tired. Finally, Diogenes coiled himself up at her feet and went to sleep.
Although Miss Nipper was nervous in regard of dogs, and felt it necessary to come into the room with her skirts carefully collected about her, as if she were crossing a brook on stepping-stones; also to utter little screams and stand up on chairs when Diogenes stretched himself, she was in her own manner affected by the kindness of Mr Toots, and could not see Florence so alive to the attachment and society of this rude friend of little Paul's, without some mental comments thereupon that brought the water to her eyes. Mr Dombey, as a part of her reflections, may have been, in the association of ideas, connected with the dog; but, at any rate, after observing Diogenes and his mistress all the evening, and after exerting herself with much good-will to provide Diogenes a bed in an ante-chamber outside his mistress's door, she said hurriedly to Florence, before leaving her for the night:
'Well, Miss Floy,' returned Miss Nipper, who was full of burning indignation, and minded her stops even less than usual. 'I can't help it, blue he is, and while I was a Christian, although humble, I would have natural-coloured friends, or none.'
It appeared from what she added and had gleaned downstairs, that Mrs Chick had proposed the Major for Mr Dombey's companion, and that Mr Dombey, after some hesitation, had invited him.'Talk of him being a change, indeed!' observed Miss Nipper to herself with boundless contempt. 'If he's a change, give me a constancy. 'Good-night, Susan,' said Florence. 'Good-night, my darling dear Miss Floy.'
Her tone of commiseration smote the chord so often roughly touched, but never listened to while she or anyone looked on. Florence left alone, laid her head upon her hand, and pressing the other over her swelling heart, held free communication with her sorrows.
It was a wet night; and the melancholy rain fell pattering and dropping with a weary sound. A sluggish wind was blowing, and went moaning round the house, as if it were in pain or grief. A shrill noise quivered through the trees. While she sat weeping, it grew late, and dreary midnight tolled out from the steeples.
Florence was little more than a child in years - not yet fourteen- and the loneliness and gloom of such an hour in the great house where Death had lately made its own tremendous devastation, might have set an older fancy brooding on vague terrors. But her innocent imagination was too full of one theme to admit them. Nothing wandered in her thoughts but love - a wandering love, indeed, and castaway - but turning always to her father. There was nothing in the dropping of the rain, the moaning of the wind, the shuddering of the trees, the striking of the solemn clocks, that shook this one thought, or diminished its interest' Her recollections of the dear dead boy - and they were never absent - were itself, the same thing. And oh, to be shut out: to be so lost: never to have looked into her father's face or touched him, since that hour!
She could not go to bed, poor child, and never had gone yet, since then, without making her nightly pilgrimage to his door. It would have been a strange sad sight, to see her' now, stealing lightly down the stairs through the thick gloom, and stopping at it with a beating heart, and blinded eyes, and hair that fell down loosely and unthought of; and touching it outside with her wet cheek. But the night covered it, and no one knew.
The moment that she touched the door on this night, Florence found that it was open. For the first time it stood open, though by but a hair's-breadth: and there was a light within. The first impulse of the timid child - and she yielded to it - was to retire swiftly. Her next, to go back, and to enter; and this second impulse held her in irresolution on the staircase.
In its standing open, even by so much as that chink, there seemed to be hope. There was encouragement in seeing a ray of light from within, stealing through the dark stern doorway, and falling in a thread upon the marble floor. She turned back, hardly knowing what she did, but urged on by the love within her, and the trial they had undergone together, but not shared: and with her hands a little raised and trembling, glided in.
Her father sat at his old table in the middle room. He had been arranging some papers, and destroying others, and the latter lay in fragile ruins before him. The rain dripped heavily upon the glass panes in the outer room, where he had so often watched poor Paul, a baby; and the low complainings of the wind were heard without.
But not by him. He sat with his eyes fixed on the table, so immersed in thought, that a far heavier tread than the light foot of his child could make, might have failed to rouse him. His face was turned towards her. By the waning lamp, and at that haggard hour, it looked worn and dejected; and in the utter loneliness surrounding him, there was an appeal to Florence that struck home.
'Papa! Papa! speak to me, dear Papa!' He started at her voice, and leaped up from his seat. She was close before him' with extended arms, but he fell back.'What is the matter?' he said, sternly. 'Why do you come here? What has frightened you?'
If anything had frightened her, it was the face he turned upon her. The glowing love within the breast of his young daughter froze before it, and she stood and looked at him as if stricken into stone.
There was not one touch of tenderness or pity in it. There was not one gleam of interest, parental recognition, or relenting in it. There was a change in it, but not of that kind. The old indifference and cold constraint had given place to something: what, she never thought and did not dare to think, and yet she felt it in its force, and knew it well without a name: that as it looked upon her, seemed to cast a shadow on her head.
Did he see before him the successful rival of his son, in health and life? Did he look upon his own successful rival in that son's affection? Did a mad jealousy and withered pride, poison sweet remembrances that should have endeared and made her precious to him? Could it be possible that it was gall to him to look upon her in her beauty and her promise: thinking of his infant boy!Florence had no such thoughts. But love is quick to know when it is spurned and hopeless: and hope died out of hers, as she stood looking in her father's face. 'I ask you, Florence, are you frightened? Is there anything the matter, that you come here?' 'I came, Papa - ' 'Against my wishes. Why?' She saw he knew why: it was written broadly on his face: and dropped her head upon her hands with one prolonged low cry.
Let him remember it in that room, years to come. It has faded from the air, before he breaks the silence. It may pass as quickly from his brain, as he believes, but it is there. Let him remember it in that room, years to come!He took her by the arm. His hand was cold, and loose, and scarcely closed upon her. 'You are tired, I daresay,' he said, taking up the light, and leading her towards the door, 'and want rest. We all want rest. Go, Florence. You have been dreaming.'
The dream she had had, was over then, God help her! and she felt that it could never more come back
'I will remain here to light you up the stairs. The whole house is yours above there,' said her father, slowly. 'You are its mistress now. Good-night!'
Still covering her face, she sobbed, and answered 'Good-night, dear Papa,' and silently ascended. Once she looked back as if she would have returned to him, but for fear. It was a mommentary thought, too hopeless to encourage; and her father stood there with the light - hard, unresponsive, motionless - until the fluttering dress of his fair child was lost in the darkness.
Let him remember it in that room, years to come. The rain that falls upon the roof: the wind that mourns outside the door: may have foreknowledge in their melancholy sound. Let him remember it in that room, years to come!
The last time he had watched her, from the same place, winding up those stairs, she had had her brother in her arms. It did not move his heart towards her now, it steeled it: but he went into his room, and locked his door, and sat down in his chair, and cried for his lost boy.Diogenes was broad awake upon his post, and waiting for his little mistress. 'Oh, Di! Oh, dear Di! Love me for his sake!'
Diogenes already loved her for her own, and didn't care how much he showed it. So he made himself vastly ridiculous by performing a variety of uncouth bounces in the antechamber, and concluded, when poor Florence was at last asleep, and dreaming of the rosy children opposite, by scratching open her bedroom door: rolling up his bed into a pillow: lying down on the boards, at the full length of his tether, with his head towards her: and looking lazily at her, upside down, out of the tops of his eyes, until from winking and winking he fell asleep himself, and dreamed, with gruff barks, of his enemy.
19. Walter goes away
The wooden Midshipman at the Instrument-maker's door, like the hard-hearted little Midshipman he was, remained supremely indifferent to Walter's going away, even when the very last day of his sojourn in the back parlour was on the decline. With his quadrant at his round black knob of an eye, and his figure in its old attitude of indomitable alacrity, the Midshipman displayed his elfin small-clothes to the best advantage, and, absorbed in scientific pursuits, had no sympathy with worldly concerns. He was so far the creature of circumstances, that a dry day covered him with dust, and a misty day peppered him with little bits of soot, and a wet day brightened up his tarnished uniform for the moment, and a very hot day blistered him; but otherwise he was a callous, obdurate, conceited Midshipman, intent on his own discoveries, and caring as little for what went on about him, terrestrially, as Archimedes at the taking of Syracuse.
Such a Midshipman he seemed to be, at least, in the then position of domestic affairs. Walter eyed him kindly many a time in passing in and out; and poor old Sol, when Walter was not there, would come and lean against the doorpost, resting his weary wig as near the shoe-buckles of the guardian genius of his trade and shop as he could. But no fierce idol with a mouth from ear to ear, and a murderous visage made of parrot's feathers, was ever more indifferent to the appeals of its savage votaries, than was the Midshipman to these marks of attachment.
Walter's heart felt heavy as he looked round his old bedroom, up among the parapets and chimney-pots, and thought that one more night already darkening would close his acquaintance with it, perhaps for ever. Dismantled of his little stock of books and pictures, it looked coldly and reproachfully on him for his desertion, and had already a foreshadowing upon it of its coming strangeness. 'A few hours more,' thought Walter, 'and no dream I ever had here when I was a schoolboy will be so little mine as this old room. The dream may come back in my sleep, and I may return waking to this place, it may be: but the dream at least will serve no other master, and the room may have a score, and every one of them may change, neglect, misuse it.'
But his Uncle was not to be left alone in the little back parlour, where he was then sitting by himself; for Captain Cuttle, considerate in his roughness, stayed away against his will, purposely that they should have some talk together unobserved: so Walter, newly returned home from his last day's bustle, descended briskly, to bear him company.'Uncle,' he said gaily, laying his hand upon the old man's shoulder, 'what shall I send you home from Barbados?'
'Hope, my dear Wally. Hope that we shall meet again, on this side of the grave. Send me as much of that as you can.'
'So I will, Uncle: I have enough and to spare, and I'll not be chary of it! And as to lively turtles, and limes for Captain Cuttle's punch, and preserves for you on Sundays, and all that sort of thing, why I'll send you ship-loads, Uncle: when I'm rich enough.'
'That's right, Uncle!' cried Walter, merrily, and clapping him half a dozen times more upon the shoulder. 'You cheer up me! I'll cheer up you! We'll be as gay as larks tomorrow morning, Uncle, and we'll fly as high! As to my anticipations, they are singing out of sight now.'Wally, my dear boy,' returned the old man, 'I'll do my best, I'll do my best.' 'And your best, Uncle,' said Walter, with his pleasant laugh, 'is the best best that I know. You'll not forget what you're to send me, Uncle?' 'No, Wally, no,' replied the old man; 'everything I hear about Miss Dombey, now that she is left alone, poor lamb, I'll write. I fear it won't be much though, Wally.' 'Why, I'll tell you what, Uncle,' said Walter, after a moment's hesitation, 'I have just been up there.' 'Ay, ay, ay?' murmured the old man, raising his eyebrows, and his spectacles with them.
'Not to see her,' said Walter, 'though I could have seen her, I daresay, if I had asked, Mr Dombey being out of town: but to say a parting word to Susan. I thought I might venture to do that, you know, under the circumstances, and remembering when I saw Miss Dombey last.''Yes, my boy, yes,' replied his Uncle, rousing himself from a temporary abstraction.
'So I saw her,' pursued Walter, 'Susan, I mean: and I told her I was off and away tomorrow. And I said, Uncle, that you had always had an interest in Miss Dombey since that night when she was here, and always wished her well and happy, and always would be proud and glad to serve her in the least: I thought I might say that, you know, under the circumstances. Don't you think so ?''Yes, my boy, yes,' replied his Uncle, in the tone as before.
'And I added,' pursued Walter, 'that if she - Susan, I mean - could ever let you know, either through herself, or Mrs Richards, or anybody else who might be coming this way, that Miss Dombey was well and happy, you would take it very kindly, and would write so much to me, and I should take it very kindly too. There! Upon my word, Uncle,' said Walter, 'I scarcely slept all last night through thinking of doing this; and could not make up my mind when I was out, whether to do it or not; and yet I am sure it is the true feeling of my heart, and I should have been quite miserable afterwards if I had not relieved it.'His honest voice and manner corroborated what he said, and quite established its ingenuousness.
'So, if you ever see her, Uncle,' said Walter, 'I mean Miss Dombey now - and perhaps you may, who knows! - tell her how much I felt for her; how much I used to think of her when I was here; how I spoke of her, with the tears in my eyes, Uncle, on this last night before I went away. Tell her that I said I never could forget her gentle manner, or her beautiful face, or her sweet kind disposition that was better than all. And as I didn't take them from a woman's feet, or a young lady's: only a little innocent child's,' said Walter: 'tell her, if you don't mind, Uncle, that I kept those shoes - she'll remember how often they fell off, that night - and took them away with me as a remembrance!'
They were at that very moment going out at the door in one of Walter's trunks. A porter carrying off his baggage on a truck for shipment at the docks on board the Son and Heir, had got possession of them; and wheeled them away under the very eye of the insensible Midshipman before their owner had well finished speaking.
But that ancient mariner might have been excused his insensibility to the treasure as it rolled away. For, under his eye at the same moment, accurately within his range of observation, coming full into the sphere of his startled and intensely wide-awake lookout, were Florence and Susan Nipper: Florence looking up into his face half timidly, and receiving the whole shock of his wooden ogling!
More than this, they passed into the shop, and passed in at the parlour door before they were observed by anybody but the Midshipman. And Walter, having his back to the door, would have known nothing of their apparition even then, but for seeing his Uncle spring out of his own chair, and nearly tumble over another.'Why, Uncle!' exclaimed Walter. 'What's the matter?' Old Solomon replied, 'Miss Dombey!' 'Is it possible?' cried Walter, looking round and starting up in his turn. 'Here!'
Why, It was so possible and so actual, that, while the words were on his lips, Florence hurried past him; took Uncle Sol's snuff-coloured lapels, one in each hand; kissed him on the cheek; and turning, gave her hand to Walter with a simple truth and earnestness that was her own, and no one else's in the world!'Going away, Walter!' said Florence.
'Yes, Miss Dombey,' he replied, but not so hopefully as he endeavoured: 'I have a voyage before me.'
'And your Uncle,' said Florence, looking back at Solomon. 'He is sorry you are going, I am sure. Ah! I see he is! Dear Walter, I am very sorry too.'
'Goodness knows,' exclaimed Miss Nipper, 'there's a many we could spare instead, if numbers is a object, Mrs Pipchin as a overseer would come cheap at her weight in gold, and if a knowledge of black slavery should be required, them Blimbers is the very people for the sitiwation.'
With that Miss Nipper untied her bonnet strings, and alter looking vacantly for some moments into a little black teapot that was set forth with the usual homely service on the table, shook her head and a tin canister, and began unasked to make the tea.
In the meantime Florence had turned again to the Instrument-maker, who was as full of admiration as surprise. 'So grown!' said old Sol. 'So improved! And yet not altered! Just the same!''Indeed!' said Florence.
'Ye - yes,' returned old Sol, rubbing his hands slowly, and considering the matter half aloud, as something pensive in the bright eyes looking at him arrested his attention. 'Yes, that expression was in the younger face, too!''You remember me,' said Florence with a smile, 'and what a little creature I was then?'
'My dear young lady,' returned the Instrument-maker, 'how could I forget you, often as I have thought of you and heard of you since! At the very moment, indeed, when you came in, Wally was talking about you to me, and leaving messages for you, and - '
'Was he?' said Florence. 'Thank you, Walter! Oh thank you, Walter! I was afraid you might be going away and hardly thinking of me;' and again she gave him her little hand so freely and so faithfully that Walter held it for some moments in his own, and could not bear to let it go.
Yet Walter did not hold it as he might have held it once, nor did its touch awaken those old day-dreams of his boyhood that had floated past him sometimes even lately, and confused him with their indistinct and broken shapes. The purity and innocence of her endearing manner, and its perfect trustfulness, and the undisguised regard for him that lay so deeply seated in her constant eyes, and glowed upon her fair face through the smile that shaded - for alas! it was a smile too sad to brighten - it, were not of their romantic race. They brought back to his thoughts the early death-bed he had seen her tending, and the love the child had borne her; and on the wings of such remembrances she seemed to rise up, far above his idle fancies, into clearer and serener air.'I - I am afraid I must call you Walter's Uncle, Sir,' said Florence to the old man, 'if you'll let me.' 'My dear young lady,' cried old Sol. 'Let you! Good gracious!' 'We always knew you by that name, and talked of you,' said Florence, glancing round, and sighing gently. 'The nice old parlour! Just the same! How well I recollect it!' Old Sol looked first at her, then at his nephew, and then rubbed his hands, and rubbed his spectacles, and said below his breath, 'Ah! time, time, time!'
There was a short silence; during which Susan Nipper skilfully impounded two extra cups and saucers from the cupboard, and awaited the drawing of the tea with a thoughtful air.
'I want to tell Walter's Uncle,' said Florence, laying her hand timidly upon the old man's as it rested on the table, to bespeak his attention, 'something that I am anxious about. He is going to be left alone, and if he will allow me - not to take Walter's place, for that I couldn't do, but to be his true friend and help him if I ever can while Walter is away, I shall be very much obliged to him indeed. Will you? May I, Walter's Uncle?'
The Instrument-maker, without speaking, put her hand to his lips, and Susan Nipper, leaning back with her arms crossed, in the chair of presidency into which she had voted herself, bit one end of her bonnet strings, and heaved a gentle sigh as she looked up at the skylight.
'You will let me come to see you,' said Florence, 'when I can; and you will tell me everything about yourself and Walter; and you will have no secrets from Susan when she comes and I do not, but will confide in us, and trust us, and rely upon us. And you'll try to let us be a comfort to you? Will you, Walter's Uncle?'
The sweet face looking into his, the gentle pleading eyes, the soft voice, and the light touch on his arm made the more winning by a child's respect and honour for his age, that gave to all an air of graceful doubt and modest hesitation - these, and her natural earnestness, so overcame the poor old Instrument-maker, that he only answered:'Wally! say a word for me, my dear. I'm very grateful.' 'No, Walter,' returned Florence with her quiet smile. 'Say nothing for him, if you please. I understand him very well, and we must learn to talk together without you, dear Walter.' The regretful tone in which she said these latter words, touched Walter more than all the rest.
'Miss Florence,' he replied, with an effort to recover the cheerful manner he had preserved while talking with his Uncle, 'I know no more than my Uncle, what to say in acknowledgment of such kindness, I am sure. But what could I say, after all, if I had the power of talking for an hour, except that it is like you?'
Susan Nipper began upon a new part of her bonnet string, and nodded at the skylight, in approval of the sentiment expressed.
'Ay, but that is not enough, and is not what I mean. For, Walter,' added Florence, bursting into tears, 'he liked you very much, and said before he died that he was fond of you, and said "Remember Walter!" and if you'll be a brother to me, Walter, now that he is gone and I have none on earth, I'll be your sister all my life, and think of you like one wherever we may be! This is what I wished to say, dear Walter, but I cannot say it as I would, because my heart is full.'
And in its fulness and its sweet simplicity, she held out both her hands to him. Walter taking them, stooped down and touched the tearful face that neither shrunk nor turned away, nor reddened as he did so, but looked up at him with confidence and truth. In that one moment, every shadow of doubt or agitation passed away from Walter's soul. It seemed to him that he responded to her innocent appeal, beside the dead child's bed: and, in the solemn presence he had seen there, pledged himself to cherish and protect her very image, in his banishment, with brotherly regard; to garner up her simple faith, inviolate; and hold himself degraded if he breathed upon it any thought that was not in her own breast when she gave it to him.
Susan Nipper, who had bitten both her bonnet strings at once, and imparted a great deal of private emotion to the skylight, during this transaction, now changed the subject by inquiring who took milk and who took sugar; and being enlightened on these points, poured out the tea. They all four gathered socially about the little table, and took tea under that young lady's active superintendence; and the presence of Florence in the back parlour, brightened the Tartar frigate on the wall.
Half an hour ago Walter, for his life, would have hardly called her by her name. But he could do so now when she entreated him. He could think of her being there, without a lurking misgiving that it would have been better if she had not come. He could calmly think how beautiful she was, how full of promise, what a home some happy man would find in such a heart one day. He could reflect upon his own place in that heart, with pride; and with a brave determination, if not to deserve it - he still thought that far above him - never to deserve it less
Some fairy influence must surely have hovered round the hands of Susan Nipper when she made the tea, engendering the tranquil air that reigned in the back parlour during its discussion. Some counter-influence must surely have hovered round the hands of Uncle Sol's chronometer, and moved them faster than the Tartar frigate ever went before the wind. Be this as it may, the visitors had a coach in waiting at a quiet corner not far off; and the chronometer, on being incidentally referred to, gave such a positive opinion that it had been waiting a long time, that it was impossible to doubt the fact, especially when stated on such unimpeachable authority. If Uncle Sol had been going to be hanged by his own time, he never would have allowed that the chronometer was too fast, by the least fraction of a second.
Florence at parting recapitulated to the old man all that she had said before, and bound him to the compact. Uncle Sol attended her lovingly to the legs of the wooden Midshipman, and there resigned her to Walter, who was ready to escort her and Susan Nipper to the coach.'Walter,' said Florence by the way, 'I have been afraid to ask before your Uncle. Do you think you will be absent very long?' 'Indeed,' said Walter, 'I don't know. I fear so. Mr Dombey signified as much, I thought, when he appointed me.' 'Is it a favour, Walter?' inquired Florence, after a moment's hesitation, and looking anxiously in his face. 'The appointment?' returned Walter. 'Yes.'
Walter would have given anything to have answered in the affirmative, but his face answered before his lips could, and Florence was too attentive to it not to understand its reply.'I am afraid you have scarcely been a favourite with Papa,' she said, timidly. 'There is no reason,' replied Walter, smiling, 'why I should be.' 'No reason, Walter!'
'There was no reason,' said Walter, understanding what she meant. 'There are many people employed in the House. Between Mr Dombey and a young man like me, there's a wide space of separation. If I do my duty, I do what I ought, and do no more than all the rest.'
Had Florence any misgiving of which she was hardly conscious: any misgiving that had sprung into an indistinct and undefined existence since that recent night when she had gone down to her father's room: that Walter's accidental interest in her, and early knowledge of her, might have involved him in that powerful displeasure and dislike? Had Walter any such idea, or any sudden thought that it was in her mind at that moment? Neither of them hinted at it. Neither of them spoke at all, for some short time. Susan, walking on the other side of Walter, eyed them both sharply; and certainly Miss Nipper's thoughts travelled in that direction, and very confidently too.'You may come back very soon,' said Florence, 'perhaps, Walter.' 'I may come back,' said Walter, 'an old man, and find you an old lady. But I hope for better things.'
'Papa,' said Florence, after a moment, 'will - will recover from his grief, and - speak more freely to me one day, perhaps; and if he should, I will tell him how much I wish to see you back again, and ask him to recall you for my sake.'There was a touching modulation in these words about her father, that Walter understood too well.
The coach being close at hand, he would have left her without speaking, for now he felt what parting was; but Florence held his hand when she was seated, and then he found there was a little packet in her own.
'Walter,' she said, looking full upon him with her affectionate eyes, 'like you, I hope for better things. I will pray for them, and believe that they will arrive. I made this little gift for Paul. Pray take it with my love, and do not look at it until you are gone away. And now, God bless you, Walter! never forget me. You are my brother, dear!'
He was glad that Susan Nipper came between them, or he might have left her with a sorrowful remembrance of him. He was glad too that she did not look out of the coach again, but waved the little hand to him instead, as long as he could see it.In spite of her request, he could not help opening the packet that night when he went to bed. It was a little purse: and there was was money in it.
Bright rose the sun next morning, from his absence in strange countries and up rose Walter with it to receive the Captain, who was already at the door: having turned out earlier than was necessary, in order to get under weigh while Mrs MacStinger was still slumbering. The Captain pretended to be in tip-top spirits, and brought a very smoky tongue in one of the pockets of the of the broad blue coat for breakfast.'And, Wal'r,' said the Captain, when they took their seats at table, if your Uncle's the man I think him, he'll bring out the last bottle of the Madeira on the present occasion.' 'No, no, Ned,' returned the old man. 'No! That shall be opened when Walter comes home again.'
'Well said!' cried the Captain. 'Hear him!' 'There it lies,' said Sol Gills, 'down in the little cellar, covered with dirt and cobwebs. There may be dirt and cobwebs over you and me perhaps, Ned, before it sees the light.'
'Hear him! 'cried the Captain. 'Good morality! Wal'r, my lad. Train up a fig-tree in the way it should go, and when you are old sit under the shade on it. Overhaul the - Well,' said the Captain on second thoughts, 'I ain't quite certain where that's to be found, but when found, make a note of. Sol Gills, heave ahead again!''But there or somewhere, it shall lie, Ned, until Wally comes back to claim it,' said the old man. 'That's all I meant to say.' 'And well said too,' returned the Captain; 'and if we three don't crack that bottle in company, I'll give you two leave to.'
Notwithstanding the Captain's excessive joviality, he made but a poor hand at the smoky tongue, though he tried very hard, when anybody looked at him, to appear as if he were eating with a vast apetite. He was terribly afraid, likewise, of being left alone with either Uncle or nephew; appearing to consider that his only chance of safety as to keeping up appearances, was in there being always three together. This terror on the part of the Captain, reduced him to such ingenious evasions as running to the door, when Solomon went to put his coat on, under pretence of having seen an extraordinary hackney-coach pass: and darting out into the road when Walter went upstairs to take leave of the lodgers, on a feint of smelling fire in a neighbouring chimney. These artifices Captain Cuttle deemed inscrutable by any uninspired observer.
Walter was coming down from his parting expedition upstairs, and was crossing the shop to go back to the little parlour, when he saw a faded face he knew, looking in at the door, and darted towards it.
'Mr Carker!' cried Walter, pressing the hand of John Carker the Junior. 'Pray come in! This is kind of you, to be here so early to say good-bye to me. You knew how glad it would make me to shake hands with you, once, before going away. I cannot say how glad I am to have this opportunity. Pray come in.'
'It is not likely that we may ever meet again, Walter,' returned the other, gently resisting his invitation, 'and I am glad of this opportunity too. I may venture to speak to you, and to take you by the hand, on the eve of separation. I shall not have to resist your frank approaches, Walter, any more.There was a melancholy in his smile as he said it, that showed he had found some company and friendship for his thoughts even in that.
'Ah, Mr Carker!' returned Walter. 'Why did you resist them? You could have done me nothing but good, I am very sure.
He shook his head. 'If there were any good,' he said, 'I could do on this earth, I would do it, Walter, for you. The sight of you from day to day, has been at once happiness and remorse to me. But the pleasure has outweighed the pain. I know that, now, by knowing what I lose.'
'Come in, Mr Carker, and make acquaintance with my good old Uncle,' urged Walter. 'I have often talked to him about you, and he will be glad to tell you all he hears from me. I have not,' said Walter, noticing his hesitation, and speaking with embarrassment himself: 'I have not told him anything about our last conversation, Mr Carker; not even him, believe me.The grey Junior pressed his hand, and tears rose in his eyes.
'If I ever make acquaintance with him, Walter,' he returned, 'it will be that I may hear tidings of you. Rely on my not wronging your forbearance and consideration. It would be to wrong it, not to tell him all the truth, before I sought a word of confidence from him. But I have no friend or acquaintance except you: and even for your sake, am little likely to make any.''I wish,' said Walter, 'you had suffered me to be your friend indeed. I always wished it, Mr Carker, as you know; but never half so much as now, when we are going to part'
'It is enough replied the other, 'that you have been the friend of my own breast, and that when I have avoided you most, my heart inclined the most towards you, and was fullest of you. Walter, good-bye!''Good-bye, Mr Carker. Heaven be with you, Sir!' cried Walter with emotion.
'If,' said the other, retaining his hand while he spoke; 'if when you come back, you miss me from my old corner, and should hear from anyone where I am lying, come and look upon my grave. Think that I might have been as honest and as happy as you! And let me think, when I know time is coming on, that some one like my former self may stand there, for a moment, and remember me with pity and forgiveness! Walter, good-bye!'His figure crept like a shadow down the bright, sun-lighted street, so cheerful yet so solemn in the early summer morning; and slowly passed away.
The relentless chronometer at last announced that Walter must turn his back upon the wooden Midshipman: and away they went, himself, his Uncle, and the Captain, in a hackney-coach to a wharf, where they were to take steam-boat for some Reach down the river, the name of which, as the Captain gave it out, was a hopeless mystery to the ears of landsmen. Arrived at this Reach (whither the ship had repaired by last night's tide), they were boarded by various excited watermen, and among others by a dirty Cyclops of the Captain's acquaintance, who, with his one eye, had made the Captain out some mile and a half off, and had been exchanging unintelligible roars with him ever since. Becoming the lawful prize of this personage, who was frightfully hoarse and constitutionally in want of shaving, they were all three put aboard the Son and Heir. And the Son and Heir was in a pretty state of confusion, with sails lying all bedraggled on the wet decks, loose ropes tripping people up, men in red shirts running barefoot to and fro, casks blockading every foot of space, and, in the thickest of the fray, a black cook in a black caboose up to his eyes in vegetables and blinded with smoke.
The Captain immediately drew Walter into a corner, and with a great effort, that made his face very red, pulled up the silver watch, which was so big, and so tight in his pocket, that it came out like a bung.
'Wal'r,' said the Captain, handing it over, and shaking him heartily by the hand, 'a parting gift, my lad. Put it back half an hour every morning, and about another quarter towards the arternoon, and it's a watch that'll do you credit.''Captain Cuttle! I couldn't think of it!' cried Walter, detaining him, for he was running away. 'Pray take it back. I have one already.'
'Then, Wal'r,' said the Captain, suddenly diving into one of his pockets and bringing up the two teaspoons and the sugar-tongs, with which he had armed himself to meet such an objection, 'take this here trifle of plate, instead.'
'No, no, I couldn't indeed!' cried Walter, 'a thousand thanks! Don't throw them away, Captain Cuttle!' for the Captain was about to jerk them overboard. 'They'll be of much more use to you than me. Give me your stick. I have often thought I should like to have it. There! Good-bye, Captain Cuttle! Take care of my Uncle! Uncle Sol, God bless you!'
They were over the side in the confusion, before Walter caught another glimpse of either; and when he ran up to the stern, and looked after them, he saw his Uncle hanging down his head in the boat, and Captain Cuttle rapping him on the back with the great silver watch (it must have been very painful), and gesticulating hopefully with the teaspoons and sugar-tongs. Catching sight of Walter, Captain Cuttle dropped the property into the bottom of the boat with perfect unconcern, being evidently oblivious of its existence, and pulling off the glazed hat hailed him lustily. The glazed hat made quite a show in the sun with its glistening, and the Captain continued to wave it until he could be seen no longer. Then the confusion on board, which had been rapidly increasing, reached its height; two or three other boats went away with a cheer; the sails shone bright and full above, as Walter watched them spread their surface to the favourable breeze; the water flew in sparkles from the prow; and off upon her voyage went the Son and Heir, as hopefully and trippingly as many another son and heir, gone down, had started on his way before her.
Day after day, old Sol and Captain Cuttle kept her reckoning in the little hack parlour and worked out her course, with the chart spread before them on the round table. At night, when old Sol climbed upstairs, so lonely, to the attic where it sometimes blew great guns, he looked up at the stars and listened to the wind, and kept a longer watch than would have fallen to his lot on board the ship. The last bottle of the old Madeira, which had had its cruising days, and known its dangers of the deep, lay silently beneath its dust and cobwebs, in the meanwhile, undisturbed.
20. Mr Dombey goes upon a Journey
'Mr Dombey, Sir,' said Major Bagstock, 'Joee' B. is not in general a man of sentiment, for Joseph is tough. But Joe has his feelings, Sir, and when they are awakened - Damme, Mr Dombey,? cried the Major with sudden ferocity, 'this is weakness, and I won't submit to it]'
Major Bagstock delivered himself of these expressions on receiving Mr Dombey as his guest at the head of his own staircase in Princess's Place. Mr Dombey had come to breakfast with the Major, previous to their setting forth on their trip; and the ill-starved Native had already undergone a world of misery arising out of the muffins, while, in connexion with the general question of boiled eggs, life was a burden to him.
'It is not for an old soldier of the Bagstock breed,' observed the Major, relapsing into a mild state, 'to deliver himself up, a prey to his own emotions; but - damme, Sir,' cried the Major, in another spasm of ferocity, 'I condole with you!'
The Major's purple visage deepened in its hue, and the Major's lobster eyes stood out in bolder relief, as he shook Mr Dombey by the hand, imparting to that peaceful action as defiant a character as if it had been the prelude to his immediately boxing Mr Dombey for a thousand pounds a side and the championship of England. With a rotatory motion of his head, and a wheeze very like the cough of a horse, the Major then conducted his visitor to the sitting-room, and there welcomed him (having now composed his feelings) with the freedom and frankness ofa travelling companion.
'Dombey,' said the Major, 'I'm glad to see you. I'm proud to see you. There are not many men in Europe to whom J. Bagstock would say that - for Josh is blunt. Sir: it's his nature
- but Joey B. is proud to see you, Dombey.'
'No, Sir,' said the Major, 'Devil a bit! That's not my character. If that had been Joe's character, Joe might have been, by this time, Lieutenant-General Sir Joseph Bagstock, K.C.B., and might have received you in very different quarters. You don't know old Joe yet, I find. But this occasion, being special, is a source of pride to me. By the Lord, Sir,' said the Major resolutely, 'it's an honour to me!'
Mr Dombey, in his estimation of himself and his money, felt that this was very true, and therefore did not dispute the point. But the instinctive recognition of such a truth by the Major, and his plain avowal of it, were very able. It was a confirmation to Mr Dombey, if he had required any, of his not being mistaken in the Major. It was an assurance to him that his power extended beyond his own immediate sphere; and that the Major, as an officer and a gentleman, had a no less becoming sense of it, than the beadle of the Royal Exchange.
And if it were ever consolatory to know this, or the like of this, it was consolatory then, when the impotence of his will, the instability of his hopes, the feebleness of wealth, had been so direfully impressed upon him. What could it do, his boy had asked him. Sometimes, thinking of the baby question, he could hardly forbear inquiring, himself, what could it do indeed: what had it done?
But these were lonely thoughts, bred late at night in the sullen despondency and gloom of his retirement, and pride easily found its reassurance in many testimonies to the truth, as unimpeachable and precious as the Major's. Mr Dombey, in his friendlessness, inclined to the Major. It cannot be said that he warmed towards him, but he thawed a little, The Major had had some part - and not too much - in the days by the seaside. He was a man of the world, and knew some great people. He talked much, and told stories; and Mr Dombey was disposed to regard him as a choice spirit who shone in society, and who had not that poisonous ingredient of poverty with which choice spirits in general are too much adulterated. His station was undeniable. Altogether the Major was a creditable companion, well accustomed to a life of leisure, and to such places as that they were about to visit, and having an air of gentlemanly ease about him that mixed well enough with his own City character, and did not compete with it at all. If Mr Dombey had any lingering idea that the Major, as a man accustomed, in the way of his calling, to make light of the ruthless hand that had lately crushed his hopes, might unconsciously impart some useful philosophy to him, and scare away his weak regrets, he hid it from himself, and left it lying at the bottom of his pride, unexamined.'Where is my scoundrel?' said the Major, looking wrathfully round the room. The Native, who had no particular name, but answered to any vituperative epithet, presented himself instantly at the door and ventured to come no nearer. 'You villain!' said the choleric Major, 'where's the breakfast?'
The dark servant disappeared in search of it, and was quickly heard reascending the stairs in such a tremulous state, that the plates and dishes on the tray he carried, trembling sympathetically as he came, rattled again, all the way up.
'Dombey,' said the Major, glancing at the Native as he arranged the table, and encouraging him with an awful shake of his fist when he upset a spoon, 'here is a devilled grill, a savoury pie, a dish of kidneys, and so forth. Pray sit down. Old Joe can give you nothing but camp fare, you see.
'Very excellent fare, Major,' replied his guest; and not in mere politeness either; for the Major always took the best possible care of himself, and indeed ate rather more of rich meats than was good for him, insomuch that his Imperial complexion was mainly referred by the faculty to that circumstance.'You have been looking over the way, Sir,' observed the Major. 'Have you seen our friend?' 'You mean Miss Tox,' retorted Mr Dombey. 'No.' 'Charming woman, Sir,' said the Major, with a fat laugh rising in his short throat, and nearly suffocating him. 'Miss Tox is a very good sort of person, I believe,' replied Mr Dombey.
The haughty coldness of the reply seemed to afford Major Bagstock infinite delight. He swelled and swelled, exceedingly: and even laid down his knife and fork for a moment, to rub his hands.'Old Joe, Sir,' said the Major, 'was a bit ofa favourite in that quarter once. But Joe has had his day. J. Bagstock is extinguished - outrivalled - floored, Sir.' 'I should have supposed,' Mr Dombey replied, 'that the lady's day for favourites was over: but perhaps you are jesting, Major.' 'Perhaps you are jesting, Dombey?' was the Major's rejoinder. There never was a more unlikely possiblity. It was so clearly expressed in Mr Dombey's face, that the Major apologised.
'I beg your pardon,' he said. 'I see you are in earnest. I tell you what, Dombey.' The Major paused in his eating, and looked mysteriously indignant. 'That's a de-vilish ambitious woman, Sir.'
Mr Dombey said 'Indeed?' with frigid indifference: mingled perhaps with some contemptuous incredulity as to Miss Tox having the presumption to harbour such a superior quality.
'That woman, Sir,' said the Major, 'is, in her way, a Lucifer. Joey B. has had his day, Sir, but he keeps his eyes. He sees, does Joe. His Royal Highness the late Duke of York observed of Joey, at a levee, that he saw.'
The Major accompanied this with such a look, and, between eating, drinking, hot tea, devilled grill, muffins, and meaning, was altogether so swollen and inflamed about the head, that even Mr Dombey showed some anxiety for him.'That ridiculous old spectacle, Sir,' pursued the Major, 'aspires. She aspires sky-high, Sir. Matrimonially, Dombey.' 'I am sorry for her,' said Mr Dombey. 'Don't say that, Dombey,' returned the Major in a warning voice. 'Why should I not, Major?' said Mr Dombey. The Major gave no answer but the horse's cough, and went on eating vigorously. 'She has taken an interest in your household,' said the Major, stopping short again, 'and has been a frequent visitor at your house for some time now.'
'Yes,' replied Mr Dombey with great stateliness, 'Miss Tox was originally received there, at the time of Mrs Dombey's death, as a friend of my sister's; and being a well-behaved person, and showing a liking for the poor infant, she was permitted - may I say encouraged - to repeat her visits with my sister, and gradually to occupy a kind of footing of familiarity in the family. I have,' said Mr Dombey, in the tone of a man who was making a great and valuable concession, 'I have a respect for Miss Tox. She his been so obliging as to render many little services in my house: trifling and insignificant services perhaps, Major, but not to be disparaged on that account: and I hope I have had the good fortune to be enabled to acknowledge them by such attention and notice as it has been in my power to bestow. I hold myself indebted to Miss Tox, Major,' added Mr Dombey, with a slight wave of his hand, 'for the pleasure of your acquaintance.'
'Dombey,' said the Major, warmly: 'no! No, Sir! Joseph Bagstock can never permit that assertion to pass uncontradicted. Your knowledge of old Joe, Sir, such as he is, and old Joe's knowledge of you, Sir, had its origin in a noble fellow, Sir - in a great creature, Sir. Dombey!' said the Major, with a struggle which it was not very difficult to parade, his whole life being a struggle against all kinds of apoplectic symptoms, 'we knew each other through your boy.'
Mr Dombey seemed touched, as it is not improbable the Major designed he should be, by this allusion. He looked down and sighed: and the Major, rousing himself fiercely, again said, in reference to the state of mind into which he felt himself in danger of falling, that this was weakness, and nothing should induce him to submit to it.
'Our friend had a remote connexion with that event,' said the Major, 'and all the credit that belongs to her, J. B. is willing to give her, Sir. Notwithstanding which, Ma'am,' he added, raising his eyes from his plate, and casting them across Princess's Place, to where Miss Tox was at that moment visible at her window watering her flowers, 'you're a scheming jade, Ma'am, and your ambition is a piece of monstrous impudence. If it only made yourself ridiculous, Ma'am,' said the Major, rolling his head at the unconscious Miss Tox, while his starting eyes appeared to make a leap towards her, 'you might do that to your heart's content, Ma'am, without any objection, I assure you, on the part of Bagstock.' Here the Major laughed frightfully up in the tips of his ears and in the veins of his head. 'But when, Ma'am,' said the Major, 'you compromise other people, and generous, unsuspicious people too, as a repayment for their condescension, you stir the blood of old Joe in his body.'
'Major,' said Mr Dombey, reddening, 'I hope you do not hint at anything so absurd on the part of Miss Tox as - '
'Dombey,' returned the Major, 'I hint at nothing. But Joey B. has lived in the world, Sir: lived in the world with his eyes open, Sir, and his ears cocked: and Joe tells you, Dombey, that there's a devilish artful and ambitious woman over the way.'
'That's all on such a subject that shall pass the lips of Joseph Bagstock,' said the Major firmly. 'Joe is not a tale-bearer, but there are times when he must speak, when he will speak! - confound your arts, Ma'am,' cried the Major, again apostrophising his fair neighbour, with great ire, - 'when the provocation is too strong to admit of his remaining silent.'The emotion of this outbreak threw the Major into a paroxysm of horse's coughs, which held him for a long time. On recovering he added:
'And now, Dombey, as you have invited Joe - old Joe, who has no other merit, Sir, but that he is tough and hearty - to be your guest and guide at Leamington, command him in any way you please, and he is wholly yours. I don't know, Sir,' said the Major, wagging his double chin with a jocose air, 'what it is you people see in Joe to make you hold him in such great request, all of you; but this I know, Sir, that if he wasn't pretty tough, and obstinate in his refusals, you'd kill him among you with your invitations and so forth, in double-quick time.'
Mr Dombey, in a few words, expressed his sense of the preference he received over those other distinguished members of society who were clamouring for the possession of Major Bagstock. But the Major cut him short by giving him to understand that he followed his own inclinations, and that they had risen up in a body and said with one accord, 'J. B., Dombey is the man for you to choose as a friend.'
The Major being by this time in a state of repletion, with essence of savoury pie oozing out at the corners of his eyes, and devilled grill and kidneys tightening his cravat: and the time moreover approaching for the departure of the railway train to Birmingham, by which they were to leave town: the Native got him into his great-coat with immense difficulty, and buttoned him up until his face looked staring and gasping, over the top of that garment, as if he were in a barrel. The Native then handed him separately, and with a decent interval between each supply, his washleather gloves, his thick stick, and his hat; which latter article the Major wore with a rakish air on one side of his head, by way of toning down his remarkable visage. The Native had previously packed, in all possible and impossible parts of Mr Dombey's chariot, which was in waiting, an unusual quantity of carpet-bags and small portmanteaus, no less apoplectic in appearance than the Major himself: and having filled his own pockets with Seltzer water, East India sherry, sandwiches, shawls, telescopes, maps, and newspapers, any or all of which light baggage the Major might require at any instant of the journey, he announced that everything was ready. To complete the equipment of this unfortunate foreigner (currently believed to be a prince in his own country), when he took his seat in the rumble by the side of Mr Towlinson, a pile of the Major's cloaks and great-coats was hurled upon him by the landlord, who aimed at him from the pavement with those great missiles like a Titan, and so covered him up, that he proceeded, in a living tomb, to the railroad station.
But before the carriage moved away, and while the Native was in the act of sepulture, Miss Tox appearing at her window, waved a lilywhite handkerchief. Mr Dombey received this parting salutation very coldly - very coldly even for him - and honouring her with the slightest possible inclination of his head, leaned back in the carriage with a very discontented look. His marked behaviour seemed to afford the Major (who was all politeness in his recognition of Miss Tox) unbounded satisfaction; and he sat for a long time afterwards, leering, and choking, like an over-fed Mephistopheles.
During the bustle of preparation at the railway, Mr Dombey and the Major walked up and down the platform side by side; the former taciturn and gloomy, and the latter entertaining him, or entertaining himself, with a variety of anecdotes and reminiscences, in most of which Joe Bagstock was the principal performer. Neither of the two observed that in the course of these walks, they attracted the attention of a working man who was standing near the engine, and who touched his hat every time they passed; for Mr Dombey habitually looked over the vulgar herd, not at them; and the Major was looking, at the time, into the core of one of his stories. At length, however, this man stepped before them as they turned round, and pulling his hat off, and keeping it off, ducked his head to Mr Dombey.'Beg your pardon, Sir,' said the man, 'but I hope you're a doin' pretty well, Sir.'
He was dressed in a canvas suit abundantly besmeared with coal-dust and oil, and had cinders in his whiskers, and a smell of half-slaked ashes all over him. He was not a badlooking fellow, nor even what could be fairly called a dirty-looking fellow, in spite of this; and, in short, he was Mr Toodle, professionally clothed.'I shall have the honour of stokin' of you down, Sir,' said Mr Toodle. 'Beg your pardon, Sir. - I hope you find yourself a coming round?' Mr Dombey looked at him, in return for his tone of interest, as if a man like that would make his very eyesight dirty. ''Scuse the liberty, Sir,' said Toodle, seeing he was not clearly remembered, 'but my wife Polly, as was called Richards in your family - '
A change in Mr Dombey's face, which seemed to express recollection of him, and so it did, but it expressed in a much stronger degree an angry sense of humiliation, stopped Mr Toodle short.'Your wife wants money, I suppose,' said Mr Dombey, putting his hand in his pocket, and speaking (but that he always did) haughtily. 'No thank'ee, Sir,' returned Toodle, 'I can't say she does. I don't.' Mr Dombey was stopped short now in his turn: and awkwardly: with his hand in his pocket.
'No, Sir,' said Toodle, turning his oilskin cap round and round; 'we're a doin' pretty well, Sir; we haven't no cause to complain in the worldly way, Sir. We've had four more since then, Sir, but we rubs on.'
Mr Dombey would have rubbed on to his own carriage, though in so doing he had rubbed the stoker underneath the wheels; but his attention was arrested by something in connexion with the cap still going slowly round and round in the man's hand.'We lost one babby,' observed Toodle, 'there's no denyin'.' 'Lately,' added Mr Dombey, looking at the cap.
'No, Sir, up'ard of three years ago, but all the rest is hearty. And in the matter o readin', Sir,' said Toodle, ducking again, as if to remind Mr Dombey of what had passed between them on that subject long ago, 'them boys o' mine, they learned me, among 'em, arter all. They've made a wery tolerable scholar of me, Sir, them boys.''Come, Major!' said Mr Dombey.
'Beg your pardon, Sir,' resumed Toodle, taking a step before them and deferentially stopping them again, still cap in hand: 'I wouldn't have troubled you with such a pint except as a way of gettin' in the name of my son Biler - christened Robin - him as you was so good as to make a Charitable Grinder on.''Well, man,' said Mr Dombey in his severest manner. 'What about him?' 'Why, Sir,' returned Toodle, shaking his head with a face of great anxiety and distress, 'I'm forced to say, Sir, that he's gone wrong. 'He has gone wrong, has he?' said Mr Dombey, with a hard kind of satisfaction.
'He has fell into bad company, you see, genelmen,' pursued the father, looking wistfully at both, and evidently taking the Major into the conversation with the hope of having his sympathy. 'He has got into bad ways. God send he may come to again, genelmen, but he's on the wrong track now! You could hardly be off hearing of it somehow, Sir,' said Toodle, again addressing Mr Dombey individually; 'and it's better I should out and say my boy's gone rather wrong. Polly's dreadful down about it, genelmen,' said Toodle with the same dejected look, and another appeal to the Major.
'A son of this man's whom I caused to be educated, Major,' said Mr Dombey, giving him his arm. 'The usual return!'
'Take advice from plain old Joe, and never educate that sort of people, Sir,' returned the Major. 'Damme, Sir, it never does! It always fails!'
The simple father was beginning to submit that he hoped his son, the quondam Grinder, huffed and cuffed, and flogged and badged, and taught, as parrots are, by a brute jobbed into his place of schoolmaster with as much fitness for it as a hound, might not have been educated on quite a right plan in some undiscovered respect, when Mr Dombey angrily repeating 'The usual return!' led the Major away. And the Major being heavy to hoist into Mr Dombey's carriage, elevated in mid-air, and having to stop and swear that he would flay the Native alive, and break every bone in his skin, and visit other physical torments upon him, every time he couldn't get his foot on the step, and fell back on that dark exile, had barely time before they started to repeat hoarsely that it would never do: that it always failed: and that if he were to educate 'his own vagabond,' he would certainly be hanged.
Mr Dombey assented bitterly; but there was something more in his bitterness, and in his moody way of falling back in the carriage, and looking with knitted brows at the changing objects without, than the failure of that noble educational system administered by the Grinders' Company. He had seen upon the man's rough cap a piece of new crape, and he had assured himself, from his manner and his answers, that he wore it for his son.
So] from high to low, at home or abroad, from Florence in his great house to the coarse churl who was feeding the fire then smoking before them, everyone set up some claim or other to a share in his dead boy, and was a bidder against him! Could he ever forget how that woman had wept over his pillow, and called him her own child! or how he, waking from his sleep, had asked for her, and had raised himself in his bed and brightened when she carne in!
To think of this presumptuous raker among coals and ashes going on before there, with his sign of mourning! To think that he dared to enter, even by a common show like that, into the trial and disappointrnent of a proud gentleman's secret heart! To think that this lost child, who was to have divided with him his riches, and his projects, and his power, and allied with whom he was to have shut out all the world as with a double door of gold, should have let in such a herd to insult him with their knowledge of his defeated hopes, and their boasts of claiming community of feeling with himself, so far removed: if not of having crept into the place wherein he would have lorded it, alone!
He found no pleasure or relief in the journey. Tortured by these thoughts he carried monotony with him, through the rushing landscape, and hurried headlong, not through a rich and varied country, but a wilderness of blighted plans and gnawing jealousies. The very speed at which the train was whirled along, mocked the swift course of the young life that had been borne away so steadily and so inexorably to its foredoomed end. The power that forced itself upon its iron way - its own - defiant of all paths and roads, piercing through the heart of every obstacle, and dragging living creatures of all classes, ages, and degrees behind it, was a type of the triumphant monster, Death. Away, with a shriek, and a roar, and a rattle, from the town, burrowmg among the dwellings of men and making the streets hum, flashing out into the meadows for a moment, mining in through the damp earth, booming on in darkness and heavy air, bursting out again into the sunny day so bright and wide; away, with a shriek, and a roar, and a rattle, through the fields, through the woods, through the corn, through the hay, through the chalk, through the mould, through the clay, through the rock, among objects close at hand and almost in the grasp, ever flying from the traveller, and a deceitful distance ever moving slowly within him: like as in the track of the remorseless monster, Death!
Through the hollow, on the height, by the heath, by the orchard, by the park, by the garden, over the canal, across the river, where the sheep are feeding, where the mill is going, where the barge is floating, where the dead are lying, where the factory is smoking, where the stream is running, where the village clusters, where the great cathedral rises, where the bleak moor lies, and the wild breeze smooths or ruffles it at its inconstant will; away, with a shriek, and a roar, and a rattle, and no trace to leave behind but dust and vapour: like as in the track of the remorseless monster, Death!
Breasting the wind and light, the shower and sunshine, away, and still away, it rolls and roars, fierce and rapid, smooth and certain, and great works and massive bridges crossing up above, fall like a beam of shadow an inch broad, upon the eye, and then are lost. Away, and still away, onward and onward ever: glimpses of cottage-homes, of houses, mansions, rich estates, of husbandry and handicraft, of people, of old roads and paths that look deserted, small, and insignificant as they are left behind: and so they do, and what else is there but such glimpses, in the track of the indomitable monster, Death!
Away, with a shriek, and a roar, and a rattle, plunging down into the earth again, and working on in such a storm of energy and perseverance, that amidst the darkness and whirlwind the motion seems reversed, and to tend furiously backward, until a ray of light upon the Wet wall shows its surface flying past like a fierce stream, Away once more into the day, and through the day, with a shrill yell of exultation, roaring, rattling, tearing on, spurning everything with its dark breath, sometimes pausing for a minute where a crowd of faces are, that in a minute more are not; sometimes lapping water greedily, and before the spout at which it drinks' has ceased to drip upon the ground, shrieking, roaring, rattling through the purple distance!
Louder and louder yet, it shrieks and cries as it comes tearing on resistless to the goal: and now its way, still like the way of Death, is strewn with ashes thickly. Everything around is blackened. There are dark pools of water, muddy lanes, and miserable habitations far below. There are jagged walls and falling houses close at hand, and through the battered roofs and broken windows, wretched rooms are seen, where 'want and fever hide themselves in many wretched shapes, while smoke and crowded gables, and distorted chimneys, and deformity of brick and mortar penning up deformity of mind and body, choke the murky distance. As Mr Dombey looks out of his carriage window, it is never in his thoughts that the monster who has brought him there has let the light of day in on these things: not made or caused them. It was the journey's fitting end, and might have been the end of everything; it was so ruinous and dreary.'
So, pursuing the one course of thought, he had the one relentless monster still before him. All things looked black, and cold, and deadly upon him, and he on them. He found a likeness to his misfortune everywhere. There was a remorseless triumph going on about him, and it galled and stung him in his pride and jealousy, whatever form it took: though most of all when it divided with him the love and memory of his lost boy.
There was a face - he had looked upon it, on the previous night, and it on him with eyes that read his soul, though they were dim with tears, and hidden soon behind two quivering hands - that often had attended him in fancy, on this ride. He had seen it, with the expression of last night, timidly pleading to him. It was not reproachful, but there was something of doubt, almost of hopeful incredulity in it, which, as he once more saw that fade away into a desolate certainty of his dislike, was like reproach. It was a trouble to him to think of this face of Florence.
Because he felt any new compunction towards it? No. Because the feeling it awakened in him - of which he had had some old foreshadowing in older times - was full-formed now, and spoke out plainly, moving him too much, and threatening to grow too strong for his composure. Because the face was abroad, in the expression of defeat and persecution that seemed to encircle him like the air. Because it barbed the arrow of that cruel and remorseless enemy on which his thoughts so ran, and put into its grasp a double-handed sword. Because he knew full well, in his own breast, as he stood there, tinging the scene of transition before him with the morbid colours of his own mind, and making it a ruin and a picture of decay, instead of hopeful change, and promise of better things, that life had quite as much to do with his complainings as death. One child was gone, and one child left. Why was the object of his hope removed instead of her?
The sweet, calm, gentle presence in his fancy, moved him to no reflection but that. She had been unwelcome to him from the first; she was an aggravation of his bitterness now. If his son had been his only child, and the same blow had fallen on him, it would have been heavy to bear; but infinitely lighter than now, when it might have fallen on her (whom he could have lost, or he believed it, without a pang), and had not. Her loving and innocent face rising before him, had no softening or winning influence. He rejected the angel, and took up with the tormenting spirit crouching in his bosom. Her patience, goodness, youth, devotion, love, were as so many atoms in the ashes upon which he set his heel. He saw her image in the blight and blackness all around him, not irradiating but deepening the gloom. More than once upon this journey, and now again as he stood pondering at this journey's end, tracing figures in the dust with his stick, the thought came into his mind, what was there he could interpose between himself and it?
The Major, who had been blowing and panting all the way down, like another engine, and whose eye had often wandered from his newspaper to leer at the prospect, as if there were a procession of discomfited Miss Toxes pouring out in the smoke of the train, and flying away over the fields to hide themselves in any place of refuge, aroused his friends by informing him that the post-horses were harnessed and the carriage ready.
'Dombey,' said the Major, rapping him on the arm with his cane, 'don't be thoughtful. It's a bad habit, Old Joe, Sir, wouldn't be as tough as you see him, if he had ever encouraged it. You are too great a man, Dombey, to be thoughtful. In your position, Sir, you're far above that kind of thing.'
The Major even in his friendly remonstrrnces, thus consulting the dignity and honour of Mr Dombey, and showing a lively sense of their importance, Mr Dombey felt more than ever disposed to defer to a gentleman possessing so much good sense and such a well-regulated mind; acoordingly he made an effort to listen to the Major's stories, as they trotted along the turnpike road; and the Major, finding both the pace and the road a great deal better adapted to his conversational powers than the mode of travelling they had just relinquished, came out of his entertainment,
But still the Major, blunt and tough as he was, and as he so very often said he was, administered some palatable catering to his companion's appetite. He related, or rather suffered it to escape him, accidentally, and as one might say, grudgingly and against his will, how there was great curiosity and excitement at the club, in regard of his friend Dombey. How he was suffocated with questions, Sir. How old Joe Bagstock was a greater man than ever, there, on the strength of Dombey. How they said, 'Bagstock, your friend Dombey now, what is the view he takes of such and such a question? Though, by the Rood, Sir,' said the Major, with a broad stare, 'how they discovered that J. B. ever came to know you, is a mystery!'
In this flow of spirits and conversation, only interrupted by his usual plethoric symptoms, and by intervals of lunch, and from time to time by some violent assault upon the Native, who wore a pair of ear-rings in his dark-brown ears, and on whom his European clothes sat with an outlandish impossibility of adjustment - being, of their own accord, and without any reference to the tailor's art, long where they ought to be short, short where they ought to be long, tight where they ought to be loose, and loose where they ought to be tight - and to which he imparted a new grace, whenever the Major attacked him, by shrinking into them like a shrivelled nut, or a cold monkey - in this flow of spirits and conversation, the Major continued all day: so that when evening came on, and found them trotting through the green and leafy road near Leamington, the Major's voice, what with talking and eating and chuckling and choking, appeared to be in the box under the rumble, or in some neighbouring hay-stack. Nor did the Major improve it at the Royal Hotel, where rooms and dinner had been ordered, and where he so oppressed his organs of speech by eating and drinking, that when he retired to bed he had no voice at all, except to cough with, and could only make himself intelligible to the dark servant by gasping at him.
He not only rose next morning, however, like a giant refreshed, but conducted himself, at breakfast like a giant refreshing. At this meal they arranged their daily habits. The Major was to take the responsibility of ordering evrything to eat and drink; and they were to have a late breakfast together every morning, and a late dinner together every day. Mr Dombey would prefer remaining in his own room, or walking in the country by himself, on that first day of their sojourn at Leamington; but next morning he would be happy to accompany the Major to the Pump-room, and about the town. So they parted until dinner-time. Mr Dombey retired to nurse his wholesome thoughts in his own way. The Major, attended by the Native carrying a camp-stool, a great-coat, and an umbrella, swaggered up and down through all the public places: looking into subscription books to find out who was there, looking up old ladies by whom he was much admired, reporting J. B. tougher than ever, and puffing his rich friend Dombey wherever he went. There never was a man who stood by a friend more staunchly than the Major, when in puffing him, he puffed himself.
It was surprising how much new conversation the Major had to let off at dinner-time, and what occasion he gave Mr Dombey to admire his social qualities. At breakfast next morning, he knew the contents of the latest newspapers received; and mentioned several subjects in connexion with them, on which his opinion had recently been sought by persons of such power and might, that they were only to be obscurely hinted at. Mr Dombey, who had been so long shut up within himself, and who had rarely, at any time, overstepped the enchanted circle within which the operations of Dombey and Son were conducted, began to think this an improvement on his solitary life; and in place of excusing himself for another day, as he had thought of doing when alone, walked out with the Major arm-in-arm.
21. New Faces
The MAJOR, more blue-faced and staring - more over-ripe, as it were, than ever - and giving vent, every now and then, to one of the horse's coughs, not so much of necessity as in a spontaneous explosion of importance, walked arm-in-arm with Mr Dombey up the sunny side of the way, with his cheeks swelling over his tight stock, his legs majestically wide apart, and his great head wagging from side to side, as if he were remonstrating within himself for being such a captivating object. They had not walked many yards, before the Major encountered somebody he knew, nor many yards farther before the Major encountered somebody else he knew, but he merely shook his fingers at them as he passed, and led Mr Dombey on: pointing out the localities as they went, and enlivening the walk with any current scandal suggested by them.
In this manner the Major and Mr Dombey were walking arm-in-arm, much to their own satisfaction, when they beheld advancing towards them, a wheeled chair, in which a lady was seated, indolently steering her carriage by a kind of rudder in front, while it was propelled by some unseen power in the rear. Although the lady was not young, she was very blooming in the face - quite rosy- and her dress and attitude were perfectly juvenile. Walking by the side of the chair, and carrying her gossamer parasol with a proud and weary air, as if so great an effort must be soon abandoned and the parasol dropped, sauntered a much younger lady, very handsome, very haughty, very wilful, who tossed her head and drooped her eyelids, as though, if there were anything in all the world worth looking into, save a mirror, it certainly was not the earth or sky.'Why, what the devil have we here, Sir!' cried the Major, stopping as this little cavalcade drew near. 'My dearest Edith!' drawled the lady in the chair, 'Major Bagstock!'
The Major no sooner heard the voice, than he relinquished Mr Dombey's arm, darted forward, took the hand of the lady in the chair and pressed it to his lips. With no less gallantry, the Major folded both his gloves upon his heart, and bowed low to the other lady. And now, the chair having stopped, the motive power became visible in the shape of a flushed page pushing behind, who seemed to have in part outgrown and in part outpushed his strength, for when he stood upright he was tall, and wan, and thin, and his plight appeared the more forlorn from his having injured the shape of his hat, by butting at the carriage with his head to urge it forward, as is sometimes done by elephants in Oriental countries.'Joe Bagstock,' said the Major to both ladies, 'is a proud and happy man for the rest of his life.'
'You false creature! said the old lady in the chair, insipidly. 'Where do you come from? I can't bear you.'
'Then suffer old Joe to present a friend, Ma'am,' said the Major, promptly, 'as a reason for being tolerated. Mr Dombey, Mrs Skewton.' The lady in the chair was gracious. 'Mr Dombey, Mrs Granger.' The lady with the parasol was faintly conscious of Mr Dombey's taking off his hat, and bowing low. 'I am delighted, Sir,' said the Major, 'to have this opportunity.'
'And can you be a day, or even a minute,' returned the lady, slightly settling her false curls and false eyebrows with her fan, and showing her false teeth, set off by her false complexion, 'in the garden of what's-its-name'Eden, I suppose, Mama,' interrupted the younger lady, scornfully.
'My dear Edith,' said the other, 'I cannot help it. I never can remember those frightful names - without having your whole Soul and Being inspired by the sight of Nature; by the perfume,' said Mrs Skewton, rustling a handkerchief that was faint and sickly with essences, 'of her artless breath, you creature!'
The discrepancy between Mrs Skewton's fresh enthusiasm of words, and forlornly faded manner, was hardly less observable than that between her age, which was about seventy, and her dress, which would have been youthful for twenty-seven. Her attitude in the wheeled chair (which she never varied) was one in which she had been taken in a barouche, some fifty years before, by a then fashionable artist who had appended to his published sketch the name of Cleopatra: in consequence of a discovery made by the critics of the time, that it bore an exact resemblance to that Princess as she reclined on board her galley. Mrs Skewton was a beauty then, and bucks threw wine-glasses over their heads by dozens in her honour. The beauty and the barouche had both passed away, but she still preserved the attitude, and for this reason expressly, maintained the wheeled chair and the butting page: there being nothing whatever, except the attitude, to prevent her from walking.
'Mr Dombey is devoted to Nature, I trust?' said Mrs Skewton, settling her diamond brooch. And by the way, she chiefly lived upon the reputation of some diamonds, and her family connexions.
'My friend Dombey, Ma'am,' returned the Major, 'may be devoted to her in secret, but a man who is paramount in the greatest city in the universe -
'They libel me. There is only one change, Mr Dombey,' observed Mrs Skewton, with a mincing sigh, 'for which I really care, and that I fear I shall never be permitted to enjoy. People cannot spare one. But seclusion and contemplation are my what-his-name - ''If you mean Paradise, Mama, you had better say so, to render yourself intelligible,' said the younger lady.
'My dearest Edith,' returned Mrs Skewton, 'you know that I am wholly dependent upon you for those odious names. I assure you, Mr Dombey, Nature intended me for an Arcadian. I am thrown away in society. Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for, has been to retreat to a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows - and china.'
This curious association of objects, suggesting a remembrance of the celebrated bull who got by mistake into a crockery shop, was received with perfect gravity by Mr Dombey, who intimated his opinion that Nature was, no doubt, a very respectable institution.
'What I want,' drawled Mrs Skewton, pinching her shrivelled throat, 'is heart.' It was frightfully true in one sense, if not in that in which she used the phrase. 'What I want, is frankness, confidence, less conventionality, and freer play of soul. We are so dreadfully artificial.'We were, indeed.
'In short,' said Mrs Skewton, 'I want Nature everywhere. It would be so extremely charming.'
'Nature is inviting us away now, Mama, if you are ready,' said the younger lady, curling her handsome lip. At this hint, the wan page, who had been surveying the party over the top of the chair, vanished behind it, as if the ground had swallowed him up.
'Stop a moment, Withers!' said Mrs Skewton, as the chair began to move; calling to the page with all the languid dignity with which she had called in days of yore to a coachman with a wig, cauliflower nosegay, and silk stockings. 'Where are you staying, abomination?' The Major was staying at the Royal Hotel, with his friend Dombey.'You may come and see us any evening when you are good,' lisped Mrs Skewton. 'If Mr Dombey will honour us, we shall be happy. Withers, go on!'
The Major again pressed to his blue lips the tips of the fingers that were disposed on the ledge of the wheeled chair with careful carelessness, after the Cleopatra model: and Mr Dombey bowed. The elder lady honoured them both with a very gracious smile and a girlish wave of her hand; the younger lady with the very slightest inclination of her head that common courtesy allowed.
The last glimpse of the wrinkled face of the mother, with that patched colour on it which the sun made infinitely more haggard and dismal than any want of colour could have been, and of the proud beauty of the daughter with her graceful figure and erect deportment, engendered such an involuntary disposition on the part of both the Major and Mr Dombey to look after them, that they both turned at the same moment. The Page, nearly as much aslant as his own shadow, was toiling after the chair, uphill, like a slow battering-ram; the top of Cleopatra's bonnet was fluttering in exactly the same corner to the inch as before; and the Beauty, loitering by herself a little in advance, expressed in all her elegant form, from head to foot, the same supreme disregard of everything and everybody.
'I tell you what, Sir,' said the Major, as they resumed their walk again. 'If Joe Bagstock were a younger man, there's not a woman in the world whom he'd prefer for Mrs Bagstock to that woman. By George, Sir!' said the Major, 'she's superb!''Do you mean the daughter?' inquired Mr Dombey. 'Is Joey B. a turnip, Dombey,' said the Major, 'that he should mean the mother?' 'You were complimentary to the mother,' returned Mr Dombey. 'An ancient flame, Sir,' chuckled Major Bagstock. 'Devilish ancient. I humour her.' 'She impresses me as being perfectly genteel,' said Mr Dombey.
'Genteel, Sir,' said the Major, stopping short, and staring in his companion's face. 'The Honourable Mrs Skewton, Sir, is sister to the late Lord Feenix, and aunt to the present Lord. The family are not wealthy - they're poor, indeed - and she lives upon a small jointure; but if you come to blood, Sir!' The Major gave a flourish with his stick and walked on again, in despair of being able to say what you came to, if you came to that.'You addressed the daughter, I observed,' said Mr Dombey, after a short pause, 'as Mrs Granger.'
'Edith Skewton, Sir,' returned the Major, stopping short again, and punching a mark in the ground with his cane, to represent her, 'married (at eighteen) Granger of Ours;' whom the Major indicated by another punch. 'Granger, Sir,' said the Major, tapping the last ideal portrait, and rolling his head emphatically, 'was Colonel of Ours; a de-vilish handsome fellow, Sir, of forty-one. He died, Sir, in the second year of his marriage.' The Major ran the representative of the deceased Granger through and through the body with his walking-stick, and went on again, carrying his stick over his shoulder.'How long is this ago?' asked Mr Dombey, making another halt.
'Edith Granger, Sir,' replied the Major, shutting one eye, putting his head on one side, passing his cane into his left hand, and smoothing his shirt-frill with his right, 'is, at this present time, not quite thirty. And damme, Sir,' said the Major, shouldering his stick once more, and walking on again, 'she's a peerless woman!''Was there any family?' asked Mr Dombey presently. 'Yes, Sir,' said the Major. 'There was a boy.' Mr Dombey's eyes sought the ground, and a shade came over his face. 'Who was drowned, Sir,' pursued the Major. 'When a child of four or five years old.' 'Indeed?' said Mr Dombey, raising his head.
'By the upsetting of a boat in which his nurse had no business to have put him,' said the Major. 'That's his history. Edith Granger is Edith Granger still; but if tough old Joey B., Sir, were a little younger and a little richer, the name of that immortal paragon should be Bagstock.'The Major heaved his shoulders, and his cheeks, and laughed more like an over-fed Mephistopheles than ever, as he said the words. 'Provided the lady made no objection, I suppose?' said Mr Dombey coldly.
'By Gad, Sir,' said the Major, 'the Bagstock breed are not accustomed to that sort of obstacle. Though it's true enough that Edith might have married twenty times, but for being proud, Sir, proud.'
Mr Dombey seemed, by his face, to think no worse of her for that. 'It's a great quality after all,' said the Major. 'By the Lord, it's a high quality! Dombey! You are proud yourself, and your friend, Old Joe, respects you for it, Sir.'
With this tribute to the character of his ally, which seemed to be wrung from him by the force of circumstances and the irresistible tendency of their conversation, the Major closed the subject, and glided into a general exposition of the extent to which he had been beloved and doted on by splendid women and brilliant creatures.
On the next day but one, Mr Dombey and the Major encountered the Honourable Mrs Skewton and her daughter in the Pump-room; on the day after, they met them again very near the place where they had met them first. After meeting them thus, three or four times in all, it became a point of mere civility to old acquaintances that the Major should go there one evening. Mr Dombey had not originally intended to pay visits, but on the Major announcing this intention, he said he would have the pleasure of accompanying him. So the Major told the Native to go round before dinner, and say, with his and Mr Dombey's compliments, that they would have the honour of visiting the ladies that same evening, if the ladies were alone. In answer to which message, the Native brought back a very small note with a very large quantity of scent about it, indited by the Honourable Mrs Skewton to Major Bagstock, and briefly saying, 'You are a shocking bear and I have a great mind not to forgive you, but if you are very good indeed,' which was underlined, 'you may come. Compliments (in which Edith unites) to Mr Dombey.'
The Honourable Mrs Skewton and her daughter, Mrs Granger, resided, while at Leamington, in lodgings that were fashionable enough and dear enough, but rather limited in point of space and conveniences; so that the Honourable Mrs Skewton, being in bed, had her feet in the window and her head in the fireplace, while the Honourable Mrs Skewton's maid was quartered in a closet within the drawing-room, so extremely small, that, to avoid developing the whole of its accommodations, she was obliged to writhe in and out of the door like a beautiful serpent. Withers, the wan page, slept out of the house immediately under the tiles at a neighbouring milk-shop; and the wheeled chair, which was the stone of that young Sisyphus, passed the night in a shed belonging to the same dairy, where new-laid eggs were produced by the poultry connected with the establishment, who roosted on a broken donkey-cart, persuaded, to all appearance, that it grew there, and was a species of tree.
Mr Dombey and the Major found Mrs Skewton arranged, as Cleopatra, among the cushions of a sofa: very airily dressed; and certainly not resembling Shakespeare's Cleopatra, whom age could not wither. On their way upstairs they had heard the sound of a harp, but it had ceased on their being announced, and Edith now stood beside it handsomer and haughtier than ever. It was a remarkable characteristic of this lady's beauty that it appeared to vaunt and assert itself without her aid, and against her will. She knew that she was beautiful: it was impossible that it could be otherwise: but she seemed with her own pride to defy her very self.
Whether she held cheap attractions that could only call forth admiration that was worthless to her, or whether she designed to render them more precious to admirers by this usage of them, those to whom they were precious seldom paused to consider.
The exquisite indifference of her manner in saying this: an indifference quite removed from dulness or insensibility, for it was pointed with proud purpose: was well set off by the carelessness with which she drew her hand across the strings, and came from that part of the room.'Do you know, Mr Dombey,' said her languishing mother, playing with a hand-screen, 'that occasionally my dearest Edith and myself actually almost differ - ' 'Not quite, sometimes, Mama?' said Edith.
'Oh never quite, my darling! Fie, fie, it would break my heart,' returned her mother, making a faint attempt to pat her with the screen, which Edith made no movement to meet, ' - about these old conventionalities of manner that are observed in little things? Why are we not more natural? Dear me! With all those yearnings, and gushings, and impulsive throbbings that we have implanted in our souls, and which are so very charming, why are we not more natural?'Mr Dombey said it was very true, very true. 'We could be more natural I suppose if we tried?' said Mrs Skewton. Mr Dombey thought it possible.
'Devil a bit, Ma'am,' said the Major. 'We couldn't afford it. Unless the world was peopled with J.B.'s - tough and blunt old Joes, Ma'am, plain red herrings with hard roes, Sir - we couldn't afford it. It wouldn't do.''You naughty Infidel,' said Mrs Skewton, 'be mute.'
'Cleopatra commands,' returned the Major, kissing his hand, 'and Antony Bagstock obeys.'
'The man has no sensitiveness,' said Mrs Skewton, cruelly holding up the hand-screen so as to shut the Major out. 'No sympathy. And what do we live for but sympathy! What else is so extremely charming! Without that gleam of sunshine on our cold cold earth,' said Mrs Skewton, arranging her lace tucker, and complacently observing the effect of her bare lean arm, looking upward from the wrist, 'how could we possibly bear it? In short, obdurate man!' glancing at the Major, round the screen, 'I would have my world all heart; and Faith is so excessively charming, that I won't allow you to disturb it, do you hear?'
The Major replied that it was hard in Cleopatra to require the world to be all heart, and yet to appropriate to herself the hearts of all the world; which obliged Cleopatra to remind him that flattery was insupportable to her, and that if he had the boldness to address her in that strain any more, she would positively send him home.Withers the Wan, at this period, handing round the tea, Mr Dombey again addressed himself to Edith. 'There is not much company here, it would seem?' said Mr Dombey, in his own portentous gentlemanly way. 'I believe not. We see none.' 'Why really,' observed Mrs Skewton fom her couch, 'there are no people here just now with whom we care to associate.' 'They have not enough heart,' said Edith, with a smile. The very twilight of a smile: so singularly were its light and darkness blended.
'My dearest Edith rallies me, you see!' said her mother, shaking her head: which shook a little of itself sometimes, as if the palsy Bed now and then in opposition to the diamonds. 'Wicked one!''You have been here before, if I am not mistaken?' said Mr Dombey. Still to Edith. 'Oh, several times. I think we have been everywhere.' 'A beautiful country!' 'I suppose it is. Everybody says so.' 'Your cousin Feenix raves about it, Edith,' interposed her mother from her couch.
The daughter slightly turned her graceful head, and raising her eyebrows by a hair'sbreadth, as if her cousin Feenix were of all the mortal world the least to be regarded, turned her eyes again towards Mr Dombey.
'I hope, for the credit of my good taste, that I am tired of the neighbourhood,' she said.
'You have almost reason to be, Madam,' he replied, glancing at a variety of landscape drawings, of which he had already recognised several as representing neighbouring points of view, and which were strewn abundantly about the room, 'if these beautiful productions are from your hand.'She gave him no reply, but sat in a disdainful beauty, quite amazing. 'Have they that interest?' said Mr Dombey. 'Are they yours?' 'Yes.' 'And you play, I already know.' 'Yes.' 'And sing?' 'Yes.'
She answered all these questions with a strange reluctance; and with that remarkable air of opposition to herself, already noticed as belonging to her beauty. Yet she was not embarrassed, but wholly self-possessed. Neither did she seem to wish to avoid the conversation, for she addressed her face, and - so far as she could - her manner also, to him; and continued to do so, when he was silent.'You have many resources against weariness at least,' said Mr Dombey. 'Whatever their efficiency may be,' she returned, 'you know them all now. I have no more. 'May I hope to prove them all?' said Mr Dombey, with solemn gallantry, laying down a drawing he had held, and motioning towards the harp. 'Oh certainly] If you desire it!'
She rose as she spoke, and crossing by her mother's couch, and directing a stately look towards her, which was instantaneous in its duration, but inclusive (if anyone had seen it) of a multitude of expressions, among which that of the twilight smile, without the smile itself, overshadowed all the rest, went out of the room.
The Major, who was quite forgiven by this time, had wheeled a little table up to Cleopatra, and was sitting down to play picquet with her. Mr Dombey, not knowing the game, sat down to watch them for his edification until Edith should return. 'We are going to have some music, Mr Dombey, I hope?' said Cleopatra.'Mrs Granger has been kind enough to promise so,' said Mr Dombey. 'Ah! That's very nice. Do you propose, Major?' 'No, Ma'am,' said the Major. 'Couldn't do it.' 'You're a barbarous being,' replied the lady, 'and my hand's destroyed. You are fond of music, Mr Dombey?' 'Eminently so,' was Mr Dombey's answer.
'Yes. It's very nice,' said Cleopatra, looking at her cards. 'So much heart in it - undeveloped recollections of a previous state of existence' - and all that - which is so truly charming. Do you know,' simpered Cleopatra, reversing the knave of clubs, who had come into her game with his heels uppermost, 'that if anything could tempt me to put a period to my life, it would be curiosity to find out what it's all about, and what it means; there are so many provoking mysteries, really, that are hidden from us. Major, you to play.'
The Major played; and Mr Dombey, looking on for his instruction, would soon have been in a state of dire confusion, but that he gave no attention to the game whatever, and sat wondering instead when Edith would come back.
She came at last, and sat down to her harp, and Mr Dombey rose and stood beside her, listening. He had little taste for music, and no knowledge of the strain she played, but he saw her bending over it, and perhaps he heard among the sounding strings some distant music of his own, that tamed the monster of the iron road, and made it less inexorable.
Cleopatra had a sharp eye, verily, at picquet. It glistened like a bird's, and did not fix itself upon the game, but pierced the room from end to end, and gleamed on harp, performer, listener, everything.
When the haughty beauty had concluded, she arose, and receiving Mr Dombey's thanks and compliments in exactly the same manner as before, went with scarcely any pause to the piano, and began there.
Edith Granger, any song but that! Edith Granger, you are very handsome, and your touch upon the keys is brilliant, and your voice is deep and rich; but not the air that his neglected daughter sang to his dead son]
Alas, he knows it not; and if he did, what air of hers would stir him, rigid man! Sleep, lonely Florence, sleep! Peace in thy dreams, although the night has turned dark, and the clouds are gathering, and threaten to discharge themselves in hail!