Dombey and Son - 6

CHAPTER 37. More Warnings than One

Florence, Edith, and Mrs Skewton were together next day, and the carriage was waiting at the door to take them out. For Cleopatra had her galley again now, and Withers, no longer the-wan, stood upright in a pigeon-breasted jacket and military trousers, behind her wheel-less chair at dinner-time and butted no more. The hair of Withers was radiant with pomatum, in these days of down, and he wore kid gloves and smelt of the water of Cologne.

They were assembled in Cleopatra’s room. The Serpent of old Nile (not to mention her disrespectfully) was reposing on her sofa, sipping her morning chocolate at three o’clock in the afternoon, and Flowers the Maid was fastening on her youthful cuffs and frills, and performing a kind of private coronation ceremony on her, with a peach-coloured velvet bonnet; the artificial roses in which nodded to uncommon advantage, as the palsy trifled with them, like a breeze.

‘I think I am a little nervous this morning, Flowers,’ said Mrs Skewton. ‘My hand quite shakes.’

‘You were the life of the party last night, Ma’am, you know,’ returned Flowers, ‘and you suffer for it, to-day, you see.’

Edith, who had beckoned Florence to the window, and was looking out, with her back turned on the toilet of her esteemed mother, suddenly withdrew from it, as if it had lightened.

‘My darling child,’ cried Cleopatra, languidly, ‘you are not nervous? Don’t tell me, my dear Edith, that you, so enviably self-possessed, are beginning to be a martyr too, like your unfortunately constituted mother! Withers, someone at the door.’

‘Card, Ma’am,’ said Withers, taking it towards Mrs Dombey.

‘I am going out,’ she said without looking at it.

‘My dear love,’ drawled Mrs Skewton, ‘how very odd to send that message without seeing the name! Bring it here, Withers. Dear me, my love; Mr Carker, too! That very sensible person!’

‘I am going out,’ repeated Edith, in so imperious a tone that Withers, going to the door, imperiously informed the servant who was waiting, ‘Mrs Dombey is going out. Get along with you,’ and shut it on him.

But the servant came back after a short absence, and whispered to Withers again, who once more, and not very willingly, presented himself before Mrs Dombey.

‘If you please, Ma’am, Mr Carker sends his respectful compliments, and begs you would spare him one minute, if you could—for business, Ma’am, if you please.’

‘Really, my love,’ said Mrs Skewton in her mildest manner; for her daughter’s face was threatening; ‘if you would allow me to offer a word, I should recommend—’

‘Show him this way,’ said Edith. As Withers disappeared to execute the command, she added, frowning on her mother, ‘As he comes at your recommendation, let him come to your room.’

‘May I—shall I go away?’ asked Florence, hurriedly.

Edith nodded yes, but on her way to the door Florence met the visitor coming in. With the same disagreeable mixture of familiarity and forbearance, with which he had first addressed her, he addressed her now in his softest manner—hoped she was quite well—needed not to ask, with such looks to anticipate the answer—had scarcely had the honour to know her, last night, she was so greatly changed—and held the door open for her to pass out; with a secret sense of power in her shrinking from him, that all the deference and politeness of his manner could not quite conceal.

He then bowed himself for a moment over Mrs Skewton’s condescending hand, and lastly bowed to Edith. Coldly returning his salute without looking at him, and neither seating herself nor inviting him to be seated, she waited for him to speak.

Entrenched in her pride and power, and with all the obduracy of her spirit summoned about her, still her old conviction that she and her mother had been known by this man in their worst colours, from their first acquaintance; that every degradation she had suffered in her own eyes was as plain to him as to herself; that he read her life as though it were a vile book, and fluttered the leaves before her in slight looks and tones of voice which no one else could detect; weakened and undermined her. Proudly as she opposed herself to him, with her commanding face exacting his humility, her disdainful lip repulsing him, her bosom angry at his intrusion, and the dark lashes of her eyes sullenly veiling their light, that no ray of it might shine upon him—and submissively as he stood before her, with an entreating injured manner, but with complete submission to her will—she knew, in her own soul, that the cases were reversed, and that the triumph and superiority were his, and that he knew it full well.

‘I have presumed,’ said Mr Carker, ‘to solicit an interview, and I have ventured to describe it as being one of business, because—’

‘Perhaps you are charged by Mr Dombey with some message of reproof,’ said Edith ‘You possess Mr Dombey’s confidence in such an unusual degree, Sir, that you would scarcely surprise me if that were your business.’

‘I have no message to the lady who sheds a lustre upon his name,’ said Mr Carker. ‘But I entreat that lady, on my own behalf to be just to a very humble claimant for justice at her hands—a mere dependant of Mr Dombey’s—which is a position of humility; and to reflect upon my perfect helplessness last night, and the impossibility of my avoiding the share that was forced upon me in a very painful occasion.’

‘My dearest Edith,’ hinted Cleopatra in a low voice, as she held her eye-glass aside, ‘really very charming of Mr What’s-his-name. And full of heart!’

‘For I do,’ said Mr Carker, appealing to Mrs Skewton with a look of grateful deference,—‘I do venture to call it a painful occasion, though merely because it was so to me, who had the misfortune to be present. So slight a difference, as between the principals—between those who love each other with disinterested devotion, and would make any sacrifice of self in such a cause—is nothing. As Mrs Skewton herself expressed, with so much truth and feeling last night, it is nothing.’

Edith could not look at him, but she said after a few moments.

‘And your business, Sir—’

‘Edith, my pet,’ said Mrs Skewton, ‘all this time Mr Carker is standing! My dear Mr Carker, take a seat, I beg.’

He offered no reply to the mother, but fixed his eyes on the proud daughter, as though he would only be bidden by her, and was resolved to be bidden by her. Edith, in spite of herself sat down, and slightly motioned with her hand to him to be seated too. No action could be colder, haughtier, more insolent in its air of supremacy and disrespect, but she had struggled against even that concession ineffectually, and it was wrested from her. That was enough! Mr Carker sat down.

‘May I be allowed, Madam,’ said Carker, turning his white teeth on Mrs Skewton like a light—‘a lady of your excellent sense and quick feeling will give me credit, for good reason, I am sure—to address what I have to say, to Mrs Dombey, and to leave her to impart it to you who are her best and dearest friend—next to Mr Dombey?’

Mrs Skewton would have retired, but Edith stopped her. Edith would have stopped him too, and indignantly ordered him to speak openly or not at all, but that he said, in a low Voice—‘Miss Florence—the young lady who has just left the room—’

Edith suffered him to proceed. She looked at him now. As he bent forward, to be nearer, with the utmost show of delicacy and respect, and with his teeth persuasively arrayed, in a self-depreciating smile, she felt as if she could have struck him dead.

‘Miss Florence’s position,’ he began, ‘has been an unfortunate one. I have a difficulty in alluding to it to you, whose attachment to her father is naturally watchful and jealous of every word that applies to him.’ Always distinct and soft in speech, no language could describe the extent of his distinctness and softness, when he said these words, or came to any others of a similar import. ‘But, as one who is devoted to Mr Dombey in his different way, and whose life is passed in admiration of Mr Dombey’s character, may I say, without offence to your tenderness as a wife, that Miss Florence has unhappily been neglected—by her father. May I say by her father?’

Edith replied, ‘I know it.’

‘You know it!’ said Mr Carker, with a great appearance of relief. ‘It removes a mountain from my breast. May I hope you know how the neglect originated; in what an amiable phase of Mr Dombey’s pride—character I mean?’

‘You may pass that by, Sir,’ she returned, ‘and come the sooner to the end of what you have to say.’

‘Indeed, I am sensible, Madam,’ replied Carker,—‘trust me, I am deeply sensible, that Mr Dombey can require no justification in anything to you. But, kindly judge of my breast by your own, and you will forgive my interest in him, if in its excess, it goes at all astray.’

What a stab to her proud heart, to sit there, face to face with him, and have him tendering her false oath at the altar again and again for her acceptance, and pressing it upon her like the dregs of a sickening cup she could not own her loathing of, or turn away from! How shame, remorse, and passion raged within her, when, upright and majestic in her beauty before him, she knew that in her spirit she was down at his feet!

‘Miss Florence,’ said Carker, ‘left to the care—if one may call it care—of servants and mercenary people, in every way her inferiors, necessarily wanted some guide and compass in her younger days, and, naturally, for want of them, has been indiscreet, and has in some degree forgotten her station. There was some folly about one Walter, a common lad, who is fortunately dead now: and some very undesirable association, I regret to say, with certain coasting sailors, of anything but good repute, and a runaway old bankrupt.’

‘I have heard the circumstances, Sir,’ said Edith, flashing her disdainful glance upon him, ‘and I know that you pervert them. You may not know it. I hope so.’

‘Pardon me,’ said Mr Carker, ‘I believe that nobody knows them so well as I. Your generous and ardent nature, Madam—the same nature which is so nobly imperative in vindication of your beloved and honoured husband, and which has blessed him as even his merits deserve—I must respect, defer to, bow before. But, as regards the circumstances, which is indeed the business I presumed to solicit your attention to, I can have no doubt, since, in the execution of my trust as Mr Dombey’s confidential—I presume to say—friend, I have fully ascertained them. In my execution of that trust; in my deep concern, which you can so well understand, for everything relating to him, intensified, if you will (for I fear I labour under your displeasure), by the lower motive of desire to prove my diligence, and make myself the more acceptable; I have long pursued these circumstances by myself and trustworthy instruments, and have innumerable and most minute proofs.’

She raised her eyes no higher than his mouth, but she saw the means of mischief vaunted in every tooth it contained.

‘Pardon me, Madam,’ he continued, ‘if in my perplexity, I presume to take counsel with you, and to consult your pleasure. I think I have observed that you are greatly interested in Miss Florence?’

What was there in her he had not observed, and did not know? Humbled and yet maddened by the thought, in every new presentment of it, however faint, she pressed her teeth upon her quivering lip to force composure on it, and distantly inclined her head in reply.

‘This interest, Madam—so touching an evidence of everything associated with Mr Dombey being dear to you—induces me to pause before I make him acquainted with these circumstances, which, as yet, he does not know. It so shakes me, if I may make the confession, in my allegiance, that on the intimation of the least desire to that effect from you, I would suppress them.’

Edith raised her head quickly, and starting back, bent her dark glance upon him. He met it with his blandest and most deferential smile, and went on.

‘You say that as I describe them, they are perverted. I fear not—I fear not: but let us assume that they are. The uneasiness I have for some time felt on the subject, arises in this: that the mere circumstance of such association often repeated, on the part of Miss Florence, however innocently and confidingly, would be conclusive with Mr Dombey, already predisposed against her, and would lead him to take some step (I know he has occasionally contemplated it) of separation and alienation of her from his home. Madam, bear with me, and remember my intercourse with Mr Dombey, and my knowledge of him, and my reverence for him, almost from childhood, when I say that if he has a fault, it is a lofty stubbornness, rooted in that noble pride and sense of power which belong to him, and which we must all defer to; which is not assailable like the obstinacy of other characters; and which grows upon itself from day to day, and year to year.’

She bent her glance upon him still; but, look as steadfast as she would, her haughty nostrils dilated, and her breath came somewhat deeper, and her lip would slightly curl, as he described that in his patron to which they must all bow down. He saw it; and though his expression did not change, she knew he saw it.

‘Even so slight an incident as last night’s,’ he said, ‘if I might refer to it once more, would serve to illustrate my meaning, better than a greater one. Dombey and Son know neither time, nor place, nor season, but bear them all down. But I rejoice in its occurrence, for it has opened the way for me to approach Mrs Dombey with this subject to-day, even if it has entailed upon me the penalty of her temporary displeasure. Madam, in the midst of my uneasiness and apprehension on this subject, I was summoned by Mr Dombey to Leamington. There I saw you. There I could not help knowing what relation you would shortly occupy towards him—to his enduring happiness and yours. There I resolved to await the time of your establishment at home here, and to do as I have now done. I have, at heart, no fear that I shall be wanting in my duty to Mr Dombey, if I bury what I know in your breast; for where there is but one heart and mind between two persons—as in such a marriage—one almost represents the other. I can acquit my conscience therefore, almost equally, by confidence, on such a theme, in you or him. For the reasons I have mentioned I would select you. May I aspire to the distinction of believing that my confidence is accepted, and that I am relieved from my responsibility?’

He long remembered the look she gave him—who could see it, and forget it?—and the struggle that ensued within her. At last she said:

‘I accept it, Sir You will please to consider this matter at an end, and that it goes no farther.’

He bowed low, and rose. She rose too, and he took leave with all humility. But Withers, meeting him on the stairs, stood amazed at the beauty of his teeth, and at his brilliant smile; and as he rode away upon his white-legged horse, the people took him for a dentist, such was the dazzling show he made. The people took her, when she rode out in her carriage presently, for a great lady, as happy as she was rich and fine. But they had not seen her, just before, in her own room with no one by; and they had not heard her utterance of the three words, ‘Oh Florence, Florence!’

Mrs Skewton, reposing on her sofa, and sipping her chocolate, had heard nothing but the low word business, for which she had a mortal aversion, insomuch that she had long banished it from her vocabulary, and had gone nigh, in a charming manner and with an immense amount of heart, to say nothing of soul, to ruin divers milliners and others in consequence. Therefore Mrs Skewton asked no questions, and showed no curiosity. Indeed, the peach-velvet bonnet gave her sufficient occupation out of doors; for being perched on the back of her head, and the day being rather windy, it was frantic to escape from Mrs Skewton’s company, and would be coaxed into no sort of compromise. When the carriage was closed, and the wind shut out, the palsy played among the artificial roses again like an almshouse-full of superannuated zephyrs; and altogether Mrs Skewton had enough to do, and got on but indifferently.

She got on no better towards night; for when Mrs Dombey, in her dressing-room, had been dressed and waiting for her half an hour, and Mr Dombey, in the drawing-room, had paraded himself into a state of solemn fretfulness (they were all three going out to dinner), Flowers the Maid appeared with a pale face to Mrs Dombey, saying:

‘If you please, Ma’am, I beg your pardon, but I can’t do nothing with Missis!’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Edith.

‘Well, Ma’am,’ replied the frightened maid, ‘I hardly know. She’s making faces!’

Edith hurried with her to her mother’s room. Cleopatra was arrayed in full dress, with the diamonds, short sleeves, rouge, curls, teeth, and other juvenility all complete; but Paralysis was not to be deceived, had known her for the object of its errand, and had struck her at her glass, where she lay like a horrible doll that had tumbled down.

They took her to pieces in very shame, and put the little of her that was real on a bed. Doctors were sent for, and soon came. Powerful remedies were resorted to; opinions given that she would rally from this shock, but would not survive another; and there she lay speechless, and staring at the ceiling, for days; sometimes making inarticulate sounds in answer to such questions as did she know who were present, and the like: sometimes giving no reply either by sign or gesture, or in her unwinking eyes.

At length she began to recover consciousness, and in some degree the power of motion, though not yet of speech. One day the use of her right hand returned; and showing it to her maid who was in attendance on her, and appearing very uneasy in her mind, she made signs for a pencil and some paper. This the maid immediately provided, thinking she was going to make a will, or write some last request; and Mrs Dombey being from home, the maid awaited the result with solemn feelings.

After much painful scrawling and erasing, and putting in of wrong characters, which seemed to tumble out of the pencil of their own accord, the old woman produced this document:

              ‘Rose-coloured curtains.’ 

The maid being perfectly transfixed, and with tolerable reason, Cleopatra amended the manuscript by adding two words more, when it stood thus:

              ‘Rose-coloured curtains for doctors.’ 

The maid now perceived remotely that she wished these articles to be provided for the better presentation of her complexion to the faculty; and as those in the house who knew her best, had no doubt of the correctness of this opinion, which she was soon able to establish for herself the rose-coloured curtains were added to her bed, and she mended with increased rapidity from that hour. She was soon able to sit up, in curls and a laced cap and nightgown, and to have a little artificial bloom dropped into the hollow caverns of her cheeks.

It was a tremendous sight to see this old woman in her finery leering and mincing at Death, and playing off her youthful tricks upon him as if he had been the Major; but an alteration in her mind that ensued on the paralytic stroke was fraught with as much matter for reflection, and was quite as ghastly.

Whether the weakening of her intellect made her more cunning and false than before, or whether it confused her between what she had assumed to be and what she really had been, or whether it had awakened any glimmering of remorse, which could neither struggle into light nor get back into total darkness, or whether, in the jumble of her faculties, a combination of these effects had been shaken up, which is perhaps the more likely supposition, the result was this:—That she became hugely exacting in respect of Edith’s affection and gratitude and attention to her; highly laudatory of herself as a most inestimable parent; and very jealous of having any rival in Edith’s regard. Further, in place of remembering that compact made between them for an avoidance of the subject, she constantly alluded to her daughter’s marriage as a proof of her being an incomparable mother; and all this, with the weakness and peevishness of such a state, always serving for a sarcastic commentary on her levity and youthfulness.

‘Where is Mrs Dombey?’ she would say to her maid.

‘Gone out, Ma’am.’

‘Gone out! Does she go out to shun her Mama, Flowers?’

‘La bless you, no, Ma’am. Mrs Dombey has only gone out for a ride with Miss Florence.’

‘Miss Florence. Who’s Miss Florence? Don’t tell me about Miss Florence. What’s Miss Florence to her, compared to me?’

The apposite display of the diamonds, or the peach-velvet bonnet (she sat in the bonnet to receive visitors, weeks before she could stir out of doors), or the dressing of her up in some gaud or other, usually stopped the tears that began to flow hereabouts; and she would remain in a complacent state until Edith came to see her; when, at a glance of the proud face, she would relapse again.

‘Well, I am sure, Edith!’ she would cry, shaking her head.

‘What is the matter, mother?’

‘Matter! I really don’t know what is the matter. The world is coming to such an artificial and ungrateful state, that I begin to think there’s no Heart—or anything of that sort—left in it, positively. Withers is more a child to me than you are. He attends to me much more than my own daughter. I almost wish I didn’t look so young—and all that kind of thing—and then perhaps I should be more considered.’

‘What would you have, mother?’

‘Oh, a great deal, Edith,’ impatiently.

‘Is there anything you want that you have not? It is your own fault if there be.’

‘My own fault!’ beginning to whimper. ‘The parent I have been to you, Edith: making you a companion from your cradle! And when you neglect me, and have no more natural affection for me than if I was a stranger—not a twentieth part of the affection that you have for Florence—but I am only your mother, and should corrupt her in a day!—you reproach me with its being my own fault.’

‘Mother, mother, I reproach you with nothing. Why will you always dwell on this?’

‘Isn’t it natural that I should dwell on this, when I am all affection and sensitiveness, and am wounded in the cruellest way, whenever you look at me?’

‘I do not mean to wound you, mother. Have you no remembrance of what has been said between us? Let the Past rest.’

‘Yes, rest! And let gratitude to me rest; and let affection for me rest; and let me rest in my out-of-the-way room, with no society and no attention, while you find new relations to make much of, who have no earthly claim upon you! Good gracious, Edith, do you know what an elegant establishment you are at the head of?’

‘Yes. Hush!’

‘And that gentlemanly creature, Dombey? Do you know that you are married to him, Edith, and that you have a settlement and a position, and a carriage, and I don’t know what?’

‘Indeed, I know it, mother; well.’

‘As you would have had with that delightful good soul—what did they call him?—Granger—if he hadn’t died. And who have you to thank for all this, Edith?’

‘You, mother; you.’

‘Then put your arms round my neck, and kiss me; and show me, Edith, that you know there never was a better Mama than I have been to you. And don’t let me become a perfect fright with teasing and wearing myself at your ingratitude, or when I’m out again in society no soul will know me, not even that hateful animal, the Major.’

But, sometimes, when Edith went nearer to her, and bending down her stately head, put her cold cheek to hers, the mother would draw back as If she were afraid of her, and would fall into a fit of trembling, and cry       out that there was a wandering in her wits. And sometimes she would entreat her, with humility, to sit down on the chair beside her bed, and would look at her (as she sat there brooding) with a face that even the rose-coloured curtains could not make otherwise than scared and wild.

The rose-coloured curtains blushed, in course of time, on Cleopatra’s bodily recovery, and on her dress—more juvenile than ever, to repair the ravages of illness—and on the rouge, and on the teeth, and on the curls, and on the diamonds, and the short sleeves, and the whole wardrobe of the doll that had tumbled down before the mirror. They blushed, too, now and then, upon an indistinctness in her speech which she turned off with a girlish giggle, and on an occasional failing in her memory, that had no rule in it, but came and went fantastically, as if in mockery of her fantastic self.

But they never blushed upon a change in the new manner of her thought and speech towards her daughter. And though that daughter often came within their influence, they never blushed upon her loveliness irradiated by a smile, or softened by the light of filial love, in its stem beauty.

CHAPTER 38. Miss Tox improves an Old Acquaintance

The forlorn Miss Tox, abandoned by her friend Louisa Chick, and bereft of Mr Dombey’s countenance—for no delicate pair of wedding cards, united by a silver thread, graced the chimney-glass in Princess’s Place, or the harpsichord, or any of those little posts of display which Lucretia reserved for holiday occupation—became depressed in her spirits, and suffered much from melancholy. For a time the Bird Waltz was unheard in Princess’s Place, the plants were neglected, and dust collected on the miniature of Miss Tox’s ancestor with the powdered head and pigtail.

Miss Tox, however, was not of an age or of a disposition long to abandon herself to unavailing regrets. Only two notes of the harpsichord were dumb from disuse when the Bird Waltz again warbled and trilled in the crooked drawing-room: only one slip of geranium fell a victim to imperfect nursing, before she was gardening at her green baskets again, regularly every morning; the powdered-headed ancestor had not been under a cloud for more than six weeks, when Miss Tox breathed on his benignant visage, and polished him up with a piece of wash-leather.

Still, Miss Tox was lonely, and at a loss. Her attachments, however ludicrously shown, were real and strong; and she was, as she expressed it, ‘deeply hurt by the unmerited contumely she had met with from Louisa.’ But there was no such thing as anger in Miss Tox’s composition. If she had ambled on through life, in her soft spoken way, without any opinions, she had, at least, got so far without any harsh passions. The mere sight of Louisa Chick in the street one day, at a considerable distance, so overpowered her milky nature, that she was fain to seek immediate refuge in a pastrycook’s, and there, in a musty little back room usually devoted to the consumption of soups, and pervaded by an ox-tail atmosphere, relieve her feelings by weeping plentifully.

Against Mr Dombey Miss Tox hardly felt that she had any reason of complaint. Her sense of that gentleman’s magnificence was such, that once removed from him, she felt as if her distance always had been immeasurable, and as if he had greatly condescended in tolerating her at all. No wife could be too handsome or too stately for him, according to Miss Tox’s sincere opinion. It was perfectly natural that in looking for one, he should look high. Miss Tox with tears laid down this proposition, and fully admitted it, twenty times a day. She never recalled the lofty manner in which Mr Dombey had made her subservient to his convenience and caprices, and had graciously permitted her to be one of the nurses of his little son. She only thought, in her own words, ‘that she had passed a great many happy hours in that house, which she must ever remember with gratification, and that she could never cease to regard Mr Dombey as one of the most impressive and dignified of men.’

Cut off, however, from the implacable Louisa, and being shy of the Major (whom she viewed with some distrust now), Miss Tox found it very irksome to know nothing of what was going on in Mr Dombey’s establishment. And as she really had got into the habit of considering Dombey and Son as the pivot on which the world in general turned, she resolved, rather than be ignorant of intelligence which so strongly interested her, to cultivate her old acquaintance, Mrs Richards, who she knew, since her last memorable appearance before Mr Dombey, was in the habit of sometimes holding communication with his servants. Perhaps Miss Tox, in seeking out the Toodle family, had the tender motive hidden in her breast of having somebody to whom she could talk about Mr Dombey, no matter how humble that somebody might be.

At all events, towards the Toodle habitation Miss Tox directed her steps one evening, what time Mr Toodle, cindery and swart, was refreshing himself with tea, in the bosom of his family. Mr Toodle had only three stages of existence. He was either taking refreshment in the bosom just mentioned, or he was tearing through the country at from twenty-five to fifty miles an hour, or he was sleeping after his fatigues. He was always in a whirlwind or a calm, and a peaceable, contented, easy-going man Mr Toodle was in either state, who seemed to have made over all his own inheritance of fuming and fretting to the engines with which he was connected, which panted, and gasped, and chafed, and wore themselves out, in a most unsparing manner, while Mr Toodle led a mild and equable life.

‘Polly, my gal,’ said Mr Toodle, with a young Toodle on each knee, and two more making tea for him, and plenty more scattered about—Mr Toodle was never out of children, but always kept a good supply on hand—‘you ain’t seen our Biler lately, have you?’

‘No,’ replied Polly, ‘but he’s almost certain to look in tonight. It’s his right evening, and he’s very regular.’

‘I suppose,’ said Mr Toodle, relishing his meal infinitely, ‘as our Biler is a doin’ now about as well as a boy can do, eh, Polly?’

‘Oh! he’s a doing beautiful!’ responded Polly.

‘He ain’t got to be at all secret-like—has he, Polly?’ inquired Mr Toodle.

‘No!’ said Mrs Toodle, plumply.

‘I’m glad he ain’t got to be at all secret-like, Polly,’ observed Mr Toodle in his slow and measured way, and shovelling in his bread and butter with a clasp knife, as if he were stoking himself, ‘because that don’t look well; do it, Polly?’

‘Why, of course it don’t, father. How can you ask!’

‘You see, my boys and gals,’ said Mr Toodle, looking round upon his family, ‘wotever you’re up to in a honest way, it’s my opinion as you can’t do better than be open. If you find yourselves in cuttings or in tunnels, don’t you play no secret games. Keep your whistles going, and let’s know where you are.’

The rising Toodles set up a shrill murmur, expressive of their resolution to profit by the paternal advice.

‘But what makes you say this along of Rob, father?’ asked his wife, anxiously.

‘Polly, old ‘ooman,’ said Mr Toodle, ‘I don’t know as I said it partickler along o’ Rob, I’m sure. I starts light with Rob only; I comes to a branch; I takes on what I finds there; and a whole train of ideas gets coupled on to him, afore I knows where I am, or where they comes from. What a Junction a man’s thoughts is,’ said Mr Toodle, ‘to-be-sure!’

This profound reflection Mr Toodle washed down with a pint mug of tea, and proceeded to solidify with a great weight of bread and butter; charging his young daughters meanwhile, to keep plenty of hot water in the pot, as he was uncommon dry, and should take the indefinite quantity of ‘a sight of mugs,’ before his thirst was appeased.

In satisfying himself, however, Mr Toodle was not regardless of the younger branches about him, who, although they had made their own evening repast, were on the look-out for irregular morsels, as possessing a relish. These he distributed now and then to the expectant circle, by holding out great wedges of bread and butter, to be bitten at by the family in lawful succession, and by serving out small doses of tea in like manner with a spoon; which snacks had such a relish in the mouths of these young Toodles, that, after partaking of the same, they performed private dances of ecstasy among themselves, and stood on one leg apiece, and hopped, and indulged in other saltatory tokens of gladness. These vents       for their excitement found, they gradually closed about Mr Toodle again, and eyed him hard as he got through more bread and butter and tea; affecting, however, to have no further expectations of their own in reference to those viands, but to be conversing on foreign subjects, and whispering confidentially.

Mr Toodle, in the midst of this family group, and setting an awful example to his children in the way of appetite, was conveying the two young Toodles on his knees to Birmingham by special engine, and was contemplating the rest over a barrier of bread and butter, when Rob the Grinder, in his sou’wester hat and mourning slops, presented himself, and was received with a general rush of brothers and sisters.

‘Well, mother!’ said Rob, dutifully kissing her; ‘how are you, mother?’

‘There’s my boy!’ cried Polly, giving him a hug and a pat on the back. ‘Secret! Bless you, father, not he!’

This was intended for Mr Toodle’s private edification, but Rob the Grinder, whose withers were not unwrung, caught the words as they were spoken.

‘What! father’s been a saying something more again me, has he?’ cried the injured innocent. ‘Oh, what a hard thing it is that when a cove has once gone a little wrong, a cove’s own father should be always a throwing it in his face behind his back! It’s enough,’ cried Rob, resorting to his coat-cuff in anguish of spirit, ‘to make a cove go and do something, out of spite!’

‘My poor boy!’ cried Polly, ‘father didn’t mean anything.’

‘If father didn’t mean anything,’ blubbered the injured Grinder, ‘why did he go and say anything, mother? Nobody thinks half so bad of me as my own father does. What a unnatural thing! I wish somebody’d take and chop my head off. Father wouldn’t mind doing it, I believe, and I’d much rather he did that than t’other.’

At these desperate words all the young Toodles shrieked; a pathetic effect, which the Grinder improved by ironically adjuring them not to cry for him, for they ought to hate him, they ought, if they was good boys and girls; and this so touched the youngest Toodle but one, who was easily moved, that it touched him not only in his spirit but in his wind too; making him so purple that Mr Toodle in consternation carried him out to the water-butt, and would have put him under the tap, but for his being recovered by the sight of that instrument.

Matters having reached this point, Mr Toodle explained, and the virtuous feelings of his son being thereby calmed, they shook hands, and harmony reigned again.

‘Will you do as I do, Biler, my boy?’ inquired his father, returning to his tea with new strength.

‘No, thank’ee, father. Master and I had tea together.’

‘And how is master, Rob?’ said Polly.

‘Well, I don’t know, mother; not much to boast on. There ain’t no bis’ness done, you see. He don’t know anything about it—the Cap’en don’t. There was a man come into the shop this very day, and says, “I want a so-and-so,” he says—some hard name or another. “A which?” says the Cap’en. “A so-and-so,” says the man. “Brother,” says the Cap’en, “will you take a observation round the shop.” “Well,” says the man, “I’ve done.” “Do you see wot you want?” says the Cap’en “No, I don’t,” says the man. “Do you know it wen you do see it?” says the Cap’en. “No, I don’t,” says the man. “Why, then I tell you wot, my lad,” says the Cap’en, “you’d better go back and ask wot it’s like, outside, for no more don’t I!”’

‘That ain’t the way to make money, though, is it?’ said Polly.

‘Money, mother! He’ll never make money. He has such ways as I never see. He ain’t a bad master though, I’ll say that for him. But that ain’t much to me, for I don’t think I shall stop with him long.’

‘Not stop in your place, Rob!’ cried his mother; while Mr Toodle opened his eyes.

‘Not in that place, p’raps,’ returned the Grinder, with a wink. ‘I shouldn’t wonder—friends at court you know—but never you mind, mother, just now; I’m all right, that’s all.’

The indisputable proof afforded in these hints, and in the Grinder’s mysterious manner, of his not being subject to that failing which Mr Toodle had, by implication, attributed to him, might have led to a renewal of his wrongs, and of the sensation in the family, but for the opportune arrival of another visitor, who, to Polly’s great surprise, appeared at the door, smiling patronage and friendship on all there.

‘How do you do, Mrs Richards?’ said Miss Tox. ‘I have come to see you. May I come in?’

The cheery face of Mrs Richards shone with a hospitable reply, and Miss Tox, accepting the proffered chair, and grab fully recognising Mr Toodle on her way to it, untied her bonnet strings, and said that in the first place she must beg the dear children, one and all, to come and kiss her.

The ill-starred youngest Toodle but one, who would appear, from the frequency of his domestic troubles, to have been born under an unlucky planet, was prevented from performing his part in this general salutation       by having fixed the sou’wester hat (with which he had been previously trifling) deep on his head, hind side before, and being unable to get it off again; which accident presenting to his terrified imagination a dismal picture of his passing the rest of his days in darkness, and in hopeless seclusion from his friends and family, caused him to struggle with great violence, and to utter suffocating cries. Being released, his face was discovered to be very hot, and red, and damp; and Miss Tox took him on her lap, much exhausted.

‘You have almost forgotten me, Sir, I daresay,’ said Miss Tox to Mr Toodle.

‘No, Ma’am, no,’ said Toodle. ‘But we’ve all on us got a little older since then.’

‘And how do you find yourself, Sir?’ inquired Miss Tox, blandly.

‘Hearty, Ma’am, thank’ee,’ replied Toodle. ‘How do you find yourself, Ma’am? Do the rheumaticks keep off pretty well, Ma’am? We must all expect to grow into ‘em, as we gets on.’

‘Thank you,’ said Miss Tox. ‘I have not felt any inconvenience from that disorder yet.’

‘You’re wery fortunate, Ma’am,’ returned Mr Toodle. ‘Many people at your time of life, Ma’am, is martyrs to it. There was my mother—’ But catching his wife’s eye here, Mr Toodle judiciously buried the rest in another mug of tea.

‘You never mean to say, Mrs Richards,’ cried Miss Tox, looking at Rob, ‘that that is your—’

‘Eldest, Ma’am,’ said Polly. ‘Yes, indeed, it is. That’s the little fellow, Ma’am, that was the innocent cause of so much.’

‘This here, Ma’am,’ said Toodle, ‘is him with the short legs—and they was,’ said Mr Toodle, with a touch of poetry in his tone, ‘unusual short for leathers—as Mr Dombey made a Grinder on.’

The recollection almost overpowered Miss Tox. The subject of it had a peculiar interest for her directly. She asked him to shake hands, and congratulated his mother on his frank, ingenuous face. Rob, overhearing her, called up a look, to justify the eulogium, but it was hardly the right look.

‘And now, Mrs Richards,’ said Miss Tox,—‘and you too, Sir,’ addressing Toodle—‘I’ll tell you, plainly and truly, what I have come here for. You may be aware, Mrs Richards—and, possibly, you may be aware too, Sir—that a little distance has interposed itself between me and some of my friends, and that where I used to visit a good deal, I do not visit now.’

Polly, who, with a woman’s tact, understood this at once, expressed as much in a little look. Mr Toodle, who had not the faintest idea of what Miss Tox was talking about, expressed that also, in a stare.

‘Of course,’ said Miss Tox, ‘how our little coolness has arisen is of no moment, and does not require to be discussed. It is sufficient for me to say, that I have the greatest possible respect for, and interest in, Mr Dombey;’ Miss Tox’s voice faltered; ‘and everything that relates to him.’

Mr Toodle, enlightened, shook his head, and said he had heerd it said, and, for his own part, he did think, as Mr Dombey was a difficult subject.

‘Pray don’t say so, Sir, if you please,’ returned Miss Tox. ‘Let me entreat you not to say so, Sir, either now, or at any future time. Such observations cannot but be very painful to me; and to a gentleman, whose mind is constituted as, I am quite sure, yours is, can afford no permanent satisfaction.’

Mr Toodle, who had not entertained the least doubt of offering a remark that would be received with acquiescence, was greatly confounded.

‘All that I wish to say, Mrs Richards,’ resumed Miss Tox,—‘and I address myself to you too, Sir,—is this. That any intelligence of the proceedings of the family, of the welfare of the family, of the health of the family, that reaches you, will be always most acceptable to me. That I shall be always very glad to chat with Mrs Richards about the family, and about old time And as Mrs Richards and I never had the least difference (though I could wish now that we had been better acquainted, but I have no one but myself to blame for that), I hope she will not object to our being very good friends now, and to my coming backwards and forwards here, when I like, without being a stranger. Now, I really hope, Mrs Richards,’ said Miss Tox—earnestly, ‘that you will take this, as I mean it, like a good-humoured creature, as you always were.’

Polly was gratified, and showed it. Mr Toodle didn’t know whether he was gratified or not, and preserved a stolid calmness.

‘You see, Mrs Richards,’ said Miss Tox—‘and I hope you see too, Sir—there are many little ways in which I can be slightly useful to you, if you will make no stranger of me; and in which I shall be delighted to be so. For instance, I can teach your children something. I shall bring a few little books, if you’ll allow me, and some work, and of an evening now and then, they’ll learn—dear me, they’ll learn a great deal, I trust, and be a credit to their teacher.’

Mr Toodle, who had a great respect for learning, jerked his head approvingly at his wife, and moistened his hands with dawning satisfaction.

‘Then, not being a stranger, I shall be in nobody’s way,’ said Miss Tox, ‘and everything will go on just as if I were not here. Mrs Richards will do her mending, or her ironing, or her nursing, whatever it is, without minding me: and you’ll smoke your pipe, too, if you’re so disposed, Sir, won’t you?’

‘Thank’ee, Mum,’ said Mr Toodle. ‘Yes; I’ll take my bit of backer.’

‘Very good of you to say so, Sir,’ rejoined Miss Tox, ‘and I really do assure you now, unfeignedly, that it will be a great comfort to me, and that whatever good I may be fortunate enough to do the children, you will more than pay back to me, if you’ll enter into this little bargain comfortably, and easily, and good-naturedly, without another word about it.’

The bargain was ratified on the spot; and Miss Tox found herself so much at home already, that without delay she instituted a preliminary examination of the children all round—which Mr Toodle much admired—and booked their ages, names, and acquirements, on a piece of paper. This ceremony, and a little attendant gossip, prolonged the time until after their usual hour of going to bed, and detained Miss Tox at the Toodle fireside until it was too late for her to walk home alone. The gallant Grinder, however, being still there, politely offered to attend her to her own door; and as it was something to Miss Tox to be seen home by a youth whom Mr Dombey had first inducted into those manly garments which are rarely mentioned by name, she very readily accepted the proposal.

After shaking hands with Mr Toodle and Polly, and kissing all the children, Miss Tox left the house, therefore, with unlimited popularity, and carrying away with her so light a heart that it might have given Mrs       Chick offence if that good lady could have weighed it.

Rob the Grinder, in his modesty, would have walked behind, but Miss Tox desired him to keep beside her, for conversational purposes; and, as she afterwards expressed it to his mother, ‘drew him out,’ upon the road.

He drew out so bright, and clear, and shining, that Miss Tox was charmed with him. The more Miss Tox drew him out, the finer he came—like wire. There never was a better or more promising youth—a more affectionate, steady, prudent, sober, honest, meek, candid young man—than Rob drew out, that night.

‘I am quite glad,’ said Miss Tox, arrived at her own door, ‘to know you. I hope you’ll consider me your friend, and that you’ll come and see me as often as you like. Do you keep a money-box?’

‘Yes, Ma’am,’ returned Rob; ‘I’m saving up, against I’ve got enough to put in the Bank, Ma’am.

‘Very laudable indeed,’ said Miss Tox. ‘I’m glad to hear it. Put this half-crown into it, if you please.’

‘Oh thank you, Ma’am,’ replied Rob, ‘but really I couldn’t think of depriving you.’

‘I commend your independent spirit,’ said Miss Tox, ‘but it’s no deprivation, I assure you. I shall be offended if you don’t take it, as a mark of my good-will. Good-night, Robin.’

‘Good-night, Ma’am,’ said Rob, ‘and thank you!’

Who ran sniggering off to get change, and tossed it away with a pieman. But they never taught honour at the Grinders’ School, where the system that prevailed was particularly strong in the engendering of hypocrisy. Insomuch, that many of the friends and masters of past Grinders said, if this were what came of education for the common people, let us have none. Some more rational said, let us have a better one. But the governing powers of the Grinders’ Company were always ready for them, by picking out a few boys who had turned out well in spite of the system, and roundly asserting that they could have only turned out well because of it. Which settled the business of those objectors out of hand, and established the glory of the Grinders’ Institution.

CHAPTER 39. Further Adventures of Captain Edward Cuttle, Mariner

Time, sure of foot and strong of will, had so pressed onward, that the year enjoined by the old Instrument-maker, as the term during which his friend should refrain from opening the sealed packet accompanying the letter he had left for him, was now nearly expired, and Captain Cuttle began to look at it, of an evening, with feelings of mystery and uneasiness.

The Captain, in his honour, would as soon have thought of opening the parcel one hour before the expiration of the term, as he would have thought of opening himself, to study his own anatomy. He merely brought it out, at a certain stage of his first evening pipe, laid it on the table, and sat gazing at the outside of it, through the smoke, in silent gravity, for two or three hours at a spell. Sometimes, when he had contemplated it thus for a pretty long while, the Captain would hitch his chair, by degrees, farther and farther off, as if to get beyond the range of its fascination; but if this were his design, he never succeeded: for even when he was brought up by the parlour wall, the packet still attracted him; or if his eyes, in thoughtful wandering, roved to the ceiling or the fire, its image immediately followed, and posted itself conspicuously among the coals, or took up an advantageous position on the whitewash.

In respect of Heart’s Delight, the Captain’s parental and admiration knew no change. But since his last interview with Mr Carker, Captain Cuttle had come to entertain doubts whether his former intervention in behalf of that young lady and his dear boy Wal’r, had proved altogether so favourable as he could have wished, and as he at the time believed. The Captain was troubled with a serious misgiving that he had done more harm than good, in short; and in his remorse and modesty he made the best atonement he could think of, by putting himself out of the way of doing any harm to anyone, and, as it were, throwing himself overboard for a dangerous person.

Self-buried, therefore, among the instruments, the Captain never went near Mr Dombey’s house, or reported himself in any way to Florence or Miss Nipper. He even severed himself from Mr Perch, on the occasion of his next visit, by dryly informing that gentleman, that he thanked him for his company, but had cut himself adrift from all such acquaintance, as he didn’t know what magazine he mightn’t blow up, without meaning of it. In this self-imposed retirement, the Captain passed whole days and weeks without interchanging a word with anyone but Rob the Grinder, whom he esteemed as a pattern of disinterested attachment and fidelity. In this retirement, the Captain, gazing at the packet of an evening, would sit smoking, and thinking of Florence and poor Walter, until they both seemed to his homely fancy to be dead, and to have passed away into eternal youth, the beautiful and innocent children of his first remembrance.

The Captain did not, however, in his musings, neglect his own improvement, or the mental culture of Rob the Grinder. That young man was generally required to read out of some book to the Captain, for one hour, every evening; and as the Captain implicitly believed that all books were true, he accumulated, by this means, many remarkable facts. On Sunday nights, the Captain always read for himself, before going to bed, a certain Divine Sermon once delivered on a Mount; and although he was accustomed to quote the text, without book, after his own manner, he appeared to read it with as reverent an understanding of its heavenly spirit, as if he had got it all by heart in Greek, and had been able to write any number of fierce       theological disquisitions on its every phrase.

Rob the Grinder, whose reverence for the inspired writings, under the admirable system of the Grinders’ School, had been developed by a perpetual bruising of his intellectual shins against all the proper names of all the tribes of Judah, and by the monotonous repetition of hard verses, especially by way of punishment, and by the parading of him at six years old in leather breeches, three times a Sunday, very high up, in a very hot church, with a great organ buzzing against his drowsy head, like an exceedingly busy bee—Rob the Grinder made a mighty show of being edified when the Captain ceased to read, and generally yawned and nodded while the reading was in progress. The latter fact being never so much as suspected by the good Captain.

Captain Cuttle, also, as a man of business; took to keeping books. In these he entered observations on the weather, and on the currents of the waggons and other vehicles: which he observed, in that quarter, to set westward in the morning and during the greater part of the day, and eastward towards the evening. Two or three stragglers appearing in one week, who ‘spoke him’—so the Captain entered it—on the subject of spectacles, and who, without positively purchasing, said they would look in again, the Captain decided that the business was improving, and made an entry in the day-book to that effect: the wind then blowing (which he first recorded) pretty fresh, west and by north; having changed in the night.

One of the Captain’s chief difficulties was Mr Toots, who called frequently, and who without saying much seemed to have an idea that the little back parlour was an eligible room to chuckle in, as he would sit and avail himself of its accommodations in that regard by the half-hour together, without at all advancing in intimacy with the Captain. The Captain, rendered cautious by his late experience, was unable quite to satisfy his mind whether Mr Toots was the mild subject he appeared to be, or was a profoundly artful and dissimulating hypocrite. His frequent reference to Miss Dombey was suspicious; but the Captain had a secret kindness for Mr Toots’s apparent reliance on him, and forbore to decide against him for the present; merely eyeing him, with a sagacity not to be described, whenever he approached the subject that was nearest to his heart.

‘Captain Gills,’ blurted out Mr Toots, one day all at once, as his manner was, ‘do you think you could think favourably of that proposition of mine, and give me the pleasure of your acquaintance?’

‘Why, I tell you what it is, my lad,’ replied the Captain, who had at length concluded on a course of action; ‘I’ve been turning that there, over.’

‘Captain Gills, it’s very kind of you,’ retorted Mr Toots. ‘I’m much obliged to you. Upon my word and honour, Captain Gills, it would be a charity to give me the pleasure of your acquaintance. It really would.’

‘You see, brother,’ argued the Captain slowly, ‘I don’t know you.’

‘But you never can know me, Captain Gills,’ replied Mr Toots, steadfast to his point, ‘if you don’t give me the pleasure of your acquaintance.’

The Captain seemed struck by the originality and power of this remark, and looked at Mr Toots as if he thought there was a great deal more in him than he had expected.

‘Well said, my lad,’ observed the Captain, nodding his head thoughtfully; ‘and true. Now look’ee here: You’ve made some observations to me, which gives me to understand as you admire a certain sweet creetur. Hey?’

‘Captain Gills,’ said Mr Toots, gesticulating violently with the hand in which he held his hat, ‘Admiration is not the word. Upon my honour, you have no conception what my feelings are. If I could be dyed black, and       made Miss Dombey’s slave, I should consider it a compliment. If, at the sacrifice of all my property, I could get transmigrated into Miss Dombey’s dog—I—I really think I should never leave off wagging my tail. I should be so perfectly happy, Captain Gills!’

Mr Toots said it with watery eyes, and pressed his hat against his bosom with deep emotion.

‘My lad,’ returned the Captain, moved to compassion, ‘if you’re in arnest—’

‘Captain Gills,’ cried Mr Toots, ‘I’m in such a state of mind, and am so dreadfully in earnest, that if I could swear to it upon a hot piece of iron, or a live coal, or melted lead, or burning sealing-wax, Or anything of that sort, I should be glad to hurt myself, as a relief to my feelings.’ And Mr Toots looked hurriedly about the room, as if for some sufficiently painful means of accomplishing his dread purpose.

The Captain pushed his glazed hat back upon his head, stroked his face down with his heavy hand—making his nose more mottled in the process—and planting himself before Mr Toots, and hooking him by the lapel of his coat, addressed him in these words, while Mr Toots looked up into his face, with much attention and some wonder.

‘If you’re in arnest, you see, my lad,’ said the Captain, ‘you’re a object of clemency, and clemency is the brightest jewel in the crown of a Briton’s head, for which you’ll overhaul the constitution as laid down in Rule Britannia, and, when found, that is the charter as them garden angels was a singing of, so many times over. Stand by! This here proposal o’ you’rn takes me a little aback. And why? Because I holds my own only, you understand, in these here waters, and haven’t got no consort, and may be don’t wish for none. Steady! You hailed me first, along of a certain young lady, as you was chartered by. Now if you and me is to keep one another’s company at all, that there young creetur’s name must never be named nor referred to. I don’t know what harm mayn’t have been done by naming of it too free, afore now, and thereby I brings up short. D’ye make me out pretty clear, brother?’

‘Well, you’ll excuse me, Captain Gills,’ replied Mr Toots, ‘if I don’t quite follow you sometimes. But upon my word I—it’s a hard thing, Captain Gills, not to be able to mention Miss Dombey. I really have got such a dreadful load here!’—Mr Toots pathetically touched his shirt-front with both hands—‘that I feel night and day, exactly as if somebody was sitting upon me.’

‘Them,’ said the Captain, ‘is the terms I offer. If they’re hard upon you, brother, as mayhap they are, give ‘em a wide berth, sheer off, and part company cheerily!’

‘Captain Gills,’ returned Mr Toots, ‘I hardly know how it is, but after what you told me when I came here, for the first time, I—I feel that I’d rather think about Miss Dombey in your society than talk about her in almost anybody else’s. Therefore, Captain Gills, if you’ll give me the pleasure of your acquaintance, I shall be very happy to accept it on your own conditions. I wish to be honourable, Captain Gills,’ said Mr Toots, holding back his extended hand for a moment, ‘and therefore I am obliged to say that I can not help thinking about Miss Dombey. It’s impossible for me to make a promise not to think about her.’

‘My lad,’ said the Captain, whose opinion of Mr Toots was much improved by this candid avowal, ‘a man’s thoughts is like the winds, and nobody can’t answer for ‘em for certain, any length of time together. Is it a treaty as to words?’

‘As to words, Captain Gills,’ returned Mr Toots, ‘I think I can bind myself.’

Mr Toots gave Captain Cuttle his hand upon it, then and there; and the Captain with a pleasant and gracious show of condescension, bestowed his acquaintance upon him formally. Mr Toots seemed much relieved and gladdened by the acquisition, and chuckled rapturously during the remainder of his visit. The Captain, for his part, was not ill pleased to occupy that position of patronage, and was exceedingly well satisfied by his own prudence and foresight.

But rich as Captain Cuttle was in the latter quality, he received a surprise that same evening from a no less ingenuous and simple youth, than Rob the Grinder. That artless lad, drinking tea at the same table, and bending meekly over his cup and saucer, having taken sidelong observations of his master for some time, who was reading the newspaper with great difficulty, but much dignity, through his glasses, broke silence by saying—

‘Oh! I beg your pardon, Captain, but you mayn’t be in want of any pigeons, may you, Sir?’

‘No, my lad,’ replied the Captain.

‘Because I was wishing to dispose of mine, Captain,’ said Rob.

‘Ay, ay?’ cried the Captain, lifting up his bushy eyebrows a little.

‘Yes; I’m going, Captain, if you please,’ said Rob.

‘Going? Where are you going?’ asked the Captain, looking round at him over the glasses.

‘What? didn’t you know that I was going to leave you, Captain?’ asked Rob, with a sneaking smile.

The Captain put down the paper, took off his spectacles, and brought his eyes to bear on the deserter.

‘Oh yes, Captain, I am going to give you warning. I thought you’d have known that beforehand, perhaps,’ said Rob, rubbing his hands, and getting up. ‘If you could be so good as provide yourself soon, Captain, it would be a great convenience to me. You couldn’t provide yourself by to-morrow morning, I am afraid, Captain: could you, do you think?’

‘And you’re a going to desert your colours, are you, my lad?’ said the Captain, after a long examination of his face.

‘Oh, it’s very hard upon a cove, Captain,’ cried the tender Rob, injured and indignant in a moment, ‘that he can’t give lawful warning, without being frowned at in that way, and called a deserter. You haven’t any right       to call a poor cove names, Captain. It ain’t because I’m a servant and you’re a master, that you’re to go and libel me. What wrong have I done? Come, Captain, let me know what my crime is, will you?’

The stricken Grinder wept, and put his coat-cuff in his eye.

‘Come, Captain,’ cried the injured youth, ‘give my crime a name! What have I been and done? Have I stolen any of the property? have I set the house a-fire? If I have, why don’t you give me in charge, and try it? But to take away the character of a lad that’s been a good servant to you, because he can’t afford to stand in his own light for your good, what a injury it is, and what a bad return for faithful service! This is the way young coves is spiled and drove wrong. I wonder at you, Captain, I do.’

All of which the Grinder howled forth in a lachrymose whine, and backing carefully towards the door.

‘And so you’ve got another berth, have you, my lad?’ said the Captain, eyeing him intently.

‘Yes, Captain, since you put it in that shape, I have got another berth,’ cried Rob, backing more and more; ‘a better berth than I’ve got here, and one where I don’t so much as want your good word, Captain, which is fort’nate for me, after all the dirt you’ve throw’d at me, because I’m poor, and can’t afford to stand in my own light for your good. Yes, I have got another berth; and if it wasn’t for leaving you unprovided, Captain, I’d go to it now, sooner than I’d take them names from you, because I’m poor, and can’t afford to stand in my own light for your good. Why do you reproach me for being poor, and not standing in my own light for your good, Captain? How can you so demean yourself?’

‘Look ye here, my boy,’ replied the peaceful Captain. ‘Don’t you pay out no more of them words.’

‘Well, then, don’t you pay in no more of your words, Captain,’ retorted the roused innocent, getting louder in his whine, and backing into the shop. ‘I’d sooner you took my blood than my character.’

‘Because,’ pursued the Captain calmly, ‘you have heerd, may be, of such a thing as a rope’s end.’

‘Oh, have I though, Captain?’ cried the taunting Grinder. ‘No I haven’t. I never heerd of any such a article!’

‘Well,’ said the Captain, ‘it’s my belief as you’ll know more about it pretty soon, if you don’t keep a bright look-out. I can read your signals, my lad. You may go.’

‘Oh! I may go at once, may I, Captain?’ cried Rob, exulting in his success. ‘But mind! I never asked to go at once, Captain. You are not to take away my character again, because you send me off of your own accord. And you’re not to stop any of my wages, Captain!’

His employer settled the last point by producing the tin canister and telling the Grinder’s money out in full upon the table. Rob, snivelling and sobbing, and grievously wounded in his feelings, took up the pieces one by one, with a sob and a snivel for each, and tied them up separately in knots in his pockethandkerchief; then he ascended to the roof of the house and filled his hat and pockets with pigeons; then, came down to his bed under the counter and made up his bundle, snivelling and sobbing louder, as if he were cut to the heart by old associations; then he whined, ‘Good-night, Captain. I leave you without malice!’ and then, going out upon the door-step, pulled the little Midshipman’s nose as a parting indignity, and went away down the street grinning triumphantly.

The Captain, left to himself, resumed his perusal of the news as if nothing unusual or unexpected had taken place, and went reading on with the greatest assiduity. But never a word did Captain Cuttle understand, though he read a vast number, for Rob the Grinder was scampering up one column and down another all through the newspaper.

It is doubtful whether the worthy Captain had ever felt himself quite abandoned until now; but now, old Sol Gills, Walter, and Heart’s Delight were lost to him indeed, and now Mr Carker deceived and jeered him cruelly. They were all represented in the false Rob, to whom he had held forth many a time on the recollections that were warm within him; he had believed in the false Rob, and had been glad to believe in him; he had made a companion of him as the last of the old ship’s company; he had taken the command of the little Midshipman with him at his right hand; he had meant to do his duty by him, and had felt almost as kindly towards the boy as if they had been shipwrecked and cast upon a desert place together. And now, that the false Rob had brought distrust, treachery, and meanness into the very parlour, which was a kind of sacred place, Captain Cuttle felt as if the parlour might have gone down next, and not surprised him much by its sinking, or given him any very great concern.

Therefore Captain Cuttle read the newspaper with profound attention and no comprehension, and therefore Captain Cuttle said nothing whatever about Rob to himself, or admitted to himself that he was thinking about him, or would recognise in the most distant manner that Rob had anything to do with his feeling as lonely as Robinson Crusoe.

In the same composed, business-like way, the Captain stepped over to Leadenhall Market in the dusk, and effected an arrangement with a private watchman on duty there, to come and put up and take down the shutters of the wooden Midshipman every night and morning. He then called in at the eating-house to diminish by one half the daily rations theretofore supplied to the Midshipman, and at the public-house to stop the traitor’s beer. ‘My young man,’ said the Captain, in explanation to the young lady at the bar, ‘my young man having bettered himself, Miss.’ Lastly, the Captain resolved to take possession of the bed under the counter, and to turn in there o’ nights instead of upstairs, as sole guardian of the property.

From this bed Captain Cuttle daily rose thenceforth, and clapped on his glazed hat at six o’clock in the morning, with the solitary air of Crusoe finishing his toilet with his goat-skin cap; and although his fears of a visitation from the savage tribe, MacStinger, were somewhat cooled, as similar apprehensions on the part of that lone mariner used to be by the lapse of a long interval without any symptoms of the cannibals, he still observed a regular routine of defensive operations, and never encountered a bonnet without previous survey from his castle of retreat. In the meantime (during which he received no call from Mr Toots, who wrote to say he was out of town) his own voice began to have a strange sound in his ears; and he acquired such habits of profound meditation from much polishing and stowing away of the stock, and from much sitting behind the counter reading, or looking out of window, that the red rim made on his forehead by the hard glazed hat, sometimes ached again with excess of reflection.

The year being now expired, Captain Cuttle deemed it expedient to open the packet; but as he had always designed doing this in the presence of Rob the Grinder, who had brought it to him, and as he had an idea that it would be regular and ship-shape to open it in the presence of somebody, he was sadly put to it for want of a witness. In this difficulty, he hailed one day with unusual delight the announcement in the Shipping Intelligence of the arrival of the Cautious Clara, Captain John Bunsby, from a coasting voyage; and to that philosopher immediately dispatched a letter by post, enjoining inviolable secrecy as to his place of residence, and requesting to be favoured with an early visit, in the evening season.

Bunsby, who was one of those sages who act upon conviction, took some days to get the conviction thoroughly into his mind, that he had received a letter to this effect. But when he had grappled with the fact, and mastered it, he promptly sent his boy with the message, ‘He’s a coming to-night.’ Who being instructed to deliver those words and disappear, fulfilled his mission like a tarry spirit, charged with a mysterious warning.

The Captain, well pleased to receive it, made preparation of pipes and rum and water, and awaited his visitor in the back parlour. At the hour of eight, a deep lowing, as of a nautical Bull, outside the shop-door, succeeded by the knocking of a stick on the panel, announced to the listening ear of Captain Cuttle, that Bunsby was alongside; whom he instantly admitted, shaggy and loose, and with his stolid mahogany visage, as usual, appearing to have no consciousness of anything before it, but to be attentively observing something that was taking place in quite another part of the world.

‘Bunsby,’ said the Captain, grasping him by the hand, ‘what cheer, my lad, what cheer?’

‘Shipmet,’ replied the voice within Bunsby, unaccompanied by any sign on the part of the Commander himself, ‘hearty, hearty.’

‘Bunsby!’ said the Captain, rendering irrepressible homage to his genius, ‘here you are! a man as can give an opinion as is brighter than di’monds—and give me the lad with the tarry trousers as shines to me like di’monds bright, for which you’ll overhaul the Stanfell’s Budget, and when found make a note. Here you are, a man as gave an opinion in this here very place, that has come true, every letter on it,’ which the Captain sincerely believed.

‘Ay, ay?’ growled Bunsby.

‘Every letter,’ said the Captain.

‘For why?’ growled Bunsby, looking at his friend for the first time. ‘Which way? If so, why not? Therefore.’ With these oracular words—they seemed almost to make the Captain giddy; they launched him upon such a sea of speculation and conjecture—the sage submitted to be helped off with his pilot-coat, and accompanied his friend into the back parlour, where his hand presently alighted on the rum-bottle, from which he brewed a stiff glass of grog; and presently afterwards on a pipe, which he filled, lighted, and began to smoke.

Captain Cuttle, imitating his visitor in the matter of these particulars, though the rapt and imperturbable manner of the great Commander was far above his powers, sat in the opposite corner of the fireside, observing him respectfully, and as if he waited for some encouragement or expression of curiosity on Bunsby’s part which should lead him to his own affairs. But as the mahogany philosopher gave no evidence of being sentient of anything but warmth and tobacco, except once, when taking his pipe from his lips to make room for his glass, he incidentally remarked with exceeding gruffness, that his name was Jack Bunsby—a declaration that presented but small opening for conversation—the Captain bespeaking his attention in a short complimentary exordium, narrated the whole history of Uncle Sol’s departure, with the change it had produced in his own life and fortunes; and concluded by placing the packet on the table.

After a long pause, Mr Bunsby nodded his head.

‘Open?’ said the Captain.

Bunsby nodded again.

The Captain accordingly broke the seal, and disclosed to view two folded papers, of which he severally read the endorsements, thus: ‘Last Will and Testament of Solomon Gills.’ ‘Letter for Ned Cuttle.’

Bunsby, with his eye on the coast of Greenland, seemed to listen for the contents. The Captain therefore hemmed to clear his throat, and read the letter aloud.

‘“My dear Ned Cuttle. When I left home for the West Indies”—’

Here the Captain stopped, and looked hard at Bunsby, who looked fixedly at the coast of Greenland.

‘—“in forlorn search of intelligence of my dear boy, I knew that if you were acquainted with my design, you would thwart it, or accompany me; and therefore I kept it secret. If you ever read this letter, Ned, I am likely to be dead. You will easily forgive an old friend’s folly then, and will feel for the restlessness and uncertainty in which he wandered away on such a wild voyage. So no more of that. I have little hope that my poor boy will ever read these words, or gladden your eyes with the sight of his frank face any more.” No, no; no more,’ said Captain Cuttle, sorrowfully meditating; ‘no more. There he lays, all his days—’

Mr Bunsby, who had a musical ear, suddenly bellowed, ‘In the Bays of Biscay, O!’ which so affected the good Captain, as an appropriate tribute to departed worth, that he shook him by the hand in acknowledgment, and was fain to wipe his eyes.

‘Well, well!’ said the Captain with a sigh, as the Lament of Bunsby ceased to ring and vibrate in the skylight. ‘Affliction sore, long time he bore, and let us overhaul the wollume, and there find it.’

‘Physicians,’ observed Bunsby, ‘was in vain.’

‘Ay, ay, to be sure,’ said the Captain, ‘what’s the good o’ them in two or three hundred fathoms o’ water!’ Then, returning to the letter, he read on:—‘"But if he should be by, when it is opened;”’ the Captain involuntarily looked round, and shook his head; ‘“or should know of it at any other time;”’ the Captain shook his head again; ‘“my blessing on him! In case the accompanying paper is not legally written, it matters very little, for there is no one interested but you and he, and my plain wish is, that if he is living he should have what little there may be, and if (as I fear) otherwise, that you should have it, Ned. You will respect my wish, I know. God bless you for it, and for all your friendliness besides, to Solomon Gills.” Bunsby!’ said the Captain, appealing to him solemnly, ‘what do you make of this? There you sit, a man as has had his head broke from infancy up’ards, and has got a new opinion into it at every seam as has been opened. Now, what do you make o’ this?’

‘If so be,’ returned Bunsby, with unusual promptitude, ‘as he’s dead, my opinion is he won’t come back no more. If so be as he’s alive, my opinion is he will. Do I say he will? No. Why not? Because the bearings of this obserwation lays in the application on it.’

‘Bunsby!’ said Captain Cuttle, who would seem to have estimated the value of his distinguished friend’s opinions in proportion to the immensity of the difficulty he experienced in making anything out of them; ‘Bunsby,’ said the Captain, quite confounded by admiration, ‘you carry a weight of mind easy, as would swamp one of my tonnage soon. But in regard o’ this here will, I don’t mean to take no steps towards the property—Lord forbid!—except to keep it for a more rightful owner; and I hope yet as the rightful owner, Sol Gills, is living and’ll come back, strange as it is that he ain’t forwarded no dispatches. Now, what is your opinion, Bunsby, as to stowing of these here papers away again, and marking outside as they was opened, such a day, in the presence of John Bunsby and Ed’ard Cuttle?’

Bunsby, descrying no objection, on the coast of Greenland or elsewhere, to this proposal, it was carried into execution; and that great man, bringing his eye into the present for a moment, affixed his sign-manual to the cover, totally abstaining, with characteristic modesty, from the use of capital letters. Captain Cuttle, having attached his own left-handed signature, and locked up the packet in the iron safe, entreated his guest to mix another glass and smoke another pipe; and doing the like himself, fell a musing over the fire on the possible fortunes of the poor old Instrument-maker.

And now a surprise occurred, so overwhelming and terrific that Captain Cuttle, unsupported by the presence of Bunsby, must have sunk beneath it, and been a lost man from that fatal hour.

How the Captain, even in the satisfaction of admitting such a guest, could have only shut the door, and not locked it, of which negligence he was undoubtedly guilty, is one of those questions that must for ever remain mere points of speculation, or vague charges against destiny. But by that unlocked door, at this quiet moment, did the fell MacStinger dash into the parlour, bringing Alexander MacStinger in her parental arms, and confusion and vengeance (not to mention Juliana MacStinger, and the sweet child’s brother, Charles MacStinger, popularly known about the scenes of his youthful sports, as Chowley) in her train. She came so swiftly and so silently, like a rushing air from the neighbourhood of the East India Docks, that Captain Cuttle found himself in the very act of sitting looking at her, before the calm face with which he had been meditating, changed to one of horror and dismay.

But the moment Captain Cuttle understood the full extent of his misfortune, self-preservation dictated an attempt at flight. Darting at the little door which opened from the parlour on the steep little range of cellar-steps, the Captain made a rush, head-foremost, at the latter, like a man indifferent to bruises and contusions, who only sought to hide himself in the bowels of the earth. In this gallant effort he would probably have succeeded, but for the affectionate dispositions of Juliana and Chowley, who pinning him by the legs—one of those dear children holding on to each—claimed him as their friend, with lamentable cries. In the meantime, Mrs MacStinger, who never entered upon any action of importance without previously inverting Alexander MacStinger, to bring him within the range of a brisk battery of slaps, and then sitting him down to cool as the reader first beheld him, performed that solemn rite, as if on this occasion it were a sacrifice to the Furies; and having deposited the victim on the floor, made at the Captain with a strength of purpose that appeared to threaten scratches to the interposing Bunsby.

The cries of the two elder MacStingers, and the wailing of young Alexander, who may be said to have passed a piebald childhood, forasmuch as he was black in the face during one half of that fairy period of existence, combined to make this visitation the more awful. But when silence reigned again, and the Captain, in a violent perspiration, stood meekly looking at Mrs MacStinger, its terrors were at their height.

‘Oh, Cap’en Cuttle, Cap’en Cuttle!’ said Mrs MacStinger, making her chin rigid, and shaking it in unison with what, but for the weakness of her sex, might be described as her fist. ‘Oh, Cap’en Cuttle, Cap’en Cuttle, do you dare to look me in the face, and not be struck down in the berth!’

The Captain, who looked anything but daring, feebly muttered ‘Stand by!’

‘Oh I was a weak and trusting Fool when I took you under my roof, Cap’en Cuttle, I was!’ cried Mrs MacStinger. ‘To think of the benefits I’ve showered on that man, and the way in which I brought my children up to love and honour him as if he was a father to ‘em, when there ain’t a housekeeper, no nor a lodger in our street, don’t know that I lost money by that man, and by his guzzlings and his muzzlings’—Mrs MacStinger used the last word for the joint sake of alliteration and aggravation, rather than for the expression of any idea—‘and when they cried out one and all, shame upon him for putting upon an industrious woman, up early and late for the good of her young family, and keeping her poor place so clean that a individual might have ate his dinner, yes, and his tea too, if he was so disposed, off any one of the floors or stairs, in spite of all his guzzlings and his muzzlings, such was the care and pains bestowed upon him!’

Mrs MacStinger stopped to fetch her breath; and her face flushed with triumph in this second happy introduction of Captain Cuttle’s muzzlings.

‘And he runs awa-a-a-y!’ cried Mrs MacStinger, with a lengthening out of the last syllable that made the unfortunate Captain regard himself as the meanest of men; ‘and keeps away a twelve-month! From a woman! Such is his conscience! He hasn’t the courage to meet her hi-i-igh;’ long syllable again; ‘but steals away, like a fellon. Why, if that baby of mine,’ said Mrs MacStinger, with sudden rapidity, ‘was to offer to go and steal away, I’d do my duty as a mother by him, till he was covered with wales!’

The young Alexander, interpreting this into a positive promise, to be shortly redeemed, tumbled over with fear and grief, and lay upon the floor, exhibiting the soles of his shoes and making such a deafening outcry, that Mrs MacStinger found it necessary to take him up in her arms, where she quieted him, ever and anon, as he broke out again, by a shake that seemed enough to loosen his teeth.

‘A pretty sort of a man is Cap’en Cuttle,’ said Mrs MacStinger, with a sharp stress on the first syllable of the Captain’s name, ‘to take on for—and to lose sleep for—and to faint along of—and to think dead forsooth—and to go up and down the blessed town like a madwoman, asking questions after! Oh, a pretty sort of a man! Ha ha ha ha! He’s worth all that trouble and distress of mind, and much more. That’s nothing, bless you! Ha ha ha ha! Cap’en Cuttle,’ said Mrs MacStinger, with severe reaction in her voice and manner, ‘I wish to know if you’re a-coming home.’

The frightened Captain looked into his hat, as if he saw nothing for it but to put it on, and give himself up.

‘Cap’en Cuttle,’ repeated Mrs MacStinger, in the same determined manner, ‘I wish to know if you’re a-coming home, Sir.’

The Captain seemed quite ready to go, but faintly suggested something to the effect of ‘not making so much noise about it.’

‘Ay, ay, ay,’ said Bunsby, in a soothing tone. ‘Awast, my lass, awast!’

‘And who may you be, if you please!’ retorted Mrs MacStinger, with chaste loftiness. ‘Did you ever lodge at Number Nine, Brig Place, Sir? My memory may be bad, but not with me, I think. There was a Mrs Jollson lived at Number Nine before me, and perhaps you’re mistaking me for her. That is my only ways of accounting for your familiarity, Sir.’

‘Come, come, my lass, awast, awast!’ said Bunsby.

Captain Cuttle could hardly believe it, even of this great man, though he saw it done with his waking eyes; but Bunsby, advancing boldly, put his shaggy blue arm round Mrs MacStinger, and so softened her by his magic way of doing it, and by these few words—he said no more—that she melted into tears, after looking upon him for a few moments, and observed that a child might conquer her now, she was so low in her courage.

Speechless and utterly amazed, the Captain saw him gradually persuade this inexorable woman into the shop, return for rum and water and a candle, take them to her, and pacify her without appearing to utter one word. Presently he looked in with his pilot-coat on, and said, ‘Cuttle, I’m a-going to act as convoy home;’ and Captain Cuttle, more to his confusion than if he had been put in irons himself, for safe transport to Brig Place, saw the family pacifically filing off, with Mrs MacStinger at their head. He had scarcely time to take down his canister, and stealthily convey some money into the hands of Juliana MacStinger, his former favourite, and Chowley, who had the claim upon him that he was naturally of a maritime build, before the Midshipman was abandoned by them all; and Bunsby whispering that he’d carry on smart, and hail Ned Cuttle again before he went aboard, shut the door upon himself, as the last member of the party.

Some uneasy ideas that he must be walking in his sleep, or that he had been troubled with phantoms, and not a family of flesh and blood, beset the Captain at first, when he went back to the little parlour, and found       himself alone. Illimitable faith in, and immeasurable admiration of, the Commander of the Cautious Clara, succeeded, and threw the Captain into a wondering trance.

Still, as time wore on, and Bunsby failed to reappear, the Captain began to entertain uncomfortable doubts of another kind. Whether Bunsby had been artfully decoyed to Brig Place, and was there detained in safe custody as hostage for his friend; in which case it would become the Captain, as a man of honour, to release him, by the sacrifice of his own liberty. Whether he had been attacked and defeated by Mrs MacStinger, and was ashamed to show himself after his discomfiture. Whether Mrs MacStinger, thinking better of it, in the uncertainty of her temper, had turned back to board the Midshipman again, and Bunsby, pretending to conduct her by a short cut, was endeavouring to lose the family amid the wilds and savage places of the City. Above all, what it would behove him, Captain Cuttle, to do, in case of his hearing no more, either of the MacStingers or of Bunsby, which, in these wonderful and unforeseen conjunctions of events, might possibly happen.

He debated all this until he was tired; and still no Bunsby. He made up his bed under the counter, all ready for turning in; and still no Bunsby. At length, when the Captain had given him up, for that night at least, and       had begun to undress, the sound of approaching wheels was heard, and, stopping at the door, was succeeded by Bunsby’s hail.

The Captain trembled to think that Mrs MacStinger was not to be got rid of, and had been brought back in a coach.

But no. Bunsby was accompanied by nothing but a large box, which he hauled into the shop with his own hands, and as soon as he had hauled in, sat upon. Captain Cuttle knew it for the chest he had left at Mrs MacStinger’s house, and looking, candle in hand, at Bunsby more attentively, believed that he was three sheets in the wind, or, in plain words, drunk. It was difficult, however, to be sure of this; the Commander having no trace of expression in his face when sober.

‘Cuttle,’ said the Commander, getting off the chest, and opening the lid, ‘are these here your traps?’

Captain Cuttle looked in and identified his property.

‘Done pretty taut and trim, hey, shipmet?’ said Bunsby.

The grateful and bewildered Captain grasped him by the hand, and was launching into a reply expressive of his astonished feelings, when Bunsby disengaged himself by a jerk of his wrist, and seemed to make an effort to wink with his revolving eye, the only effect of which attempt, in his condition, was nearly to over-balance him. He then abruptly opened the door, and shot away to rejoin the Cautious Clara with all speed—supposed to be his invariable custom, whenever he considered he had made a point.

As it was not his humour to be often sought, Captain Cuttle decided not to go or send to him next day, or until he should make his gracious pleasure known in such wise, or failing that, until some little time should have lapsed. The Captain, therefore, renewed his solitary life next morning, and thought profoundly, many mornings, noons, and nights, of old Sol Gills, and Bunsby’s sentiments concerning him, and the hopes there were of his return. Much of such thinking strengthened Captain Cuttle’s hopes; and he humoured them and himself by watching for the Instrument-maker at the door—as he ventured to do now, in his strange liberty—and setting his chair in its place, and arranging the little parlour as it used to be, in case he should come home unexpectedly. He likewise, in his thoughtfulness, took down a certain little miniature of Walter as a schoolboy, from its accustomed nail, lest it should shock the old man on his return. The Captain had his presentiments, too, sometimes, that he would come on such a day; and one particular Sunday, even ordered a double allowance of dinner, he was so sanguine. But come, old Solomon did not; and still the neighbours noticed how the seafaring man in the glazed hat, stood at the shop-door of an evening, looking up and down the street.

CHAPTER 40. Domestic Relations

It was not in the nature of things that a man of Mr Dombey’s mood, opposed to such a spirit as he had raised against himself, should be softened in the imperious asperity of his temper; or that the cold hard armour of pride in which he lived encased, should be made more flexible by constant collision with haughty scorn and defiance. It is the curse of such a nature—it is a main part of the heavy retribution on itself it bears within itself—that while deference and concession swell its evil qualities, and are the food it grows upon, resistance and a questioning of its exacting claims, foster it too, no less. The evil that is in it finds equally its means of growth and propagation in opposites. It draws support and life from sweets and bitters; bowed down before, or unacknowledged, it still enslaves the breast in which it has its throne; and, worshipped or rejected, is as hard a master as the Devil in dark fables.

Towards his first wife, Mr Dombey, in his cold and lofty arrogance, had borne himself like the removed Being he almost conceived himself to be. He had been ‘Mr Dombey’ with her when she first saw him, and he was ‘Mr Dombey’ when she died. He had asserted his greatness during their whole married life, and she had meekly recognised it. He had kept his distant seat of state on the top of his throne, and she her humble station on its lowest step; and much good it had done him, so to live in solitary bondage to his one idea. He had imagined that the proud character of his second wife would have been added to his own—would have merged into it, and exalted his greatness. He had pictured himself haughtier than ever, with Edith’s haughtiness subservient to his. He had never entertained the possibility of its arraying itself against him. And now, when he found it rising in his path at every step and turn of his daily life, fixing its cold, defiant, and contemptuous face upon him, this pride of his, instead of withering, or hanging down its head beneath the shock, put forth new shoots, became more concentrated and intense, more gloomy, sullen, irksome, and unyielding, than it had ever been before.

Who wears such armour, too, bears with him ever another heavy retribution. It is of proof against conciliation, love, and confidence; against all gentle sympathy from without, all trust, all tenderness, all soft emotion; but to deep stabs in the self-love, it is as vulnerable as the bare breast to steel; and such tormenting festers rankle there, as follow on no other wounds, no, though dealt with the mailed hand of Pride itself, on weaker pride, disarmed and thrown down.

Such wounds were his. He felt them sharply, in the solitude of his old rooms; whither he now began often to retire again, and pass long solitary hours. It seemed his fate to be ever proud and powerful; ever humbled and powerless where he would be most strong. Who seemed fated to work out that doom?

Who? Who was it who could win his wife as she had won his boy? Who was it who had shown him that new victory, as he sat in the dark corner? Who was it whose least word did what his utmost means could not? Who was it who, unaided by his love, regard or notice, thrived and grew beautiful when those so aided died? Who could it be, but the same child at whom he had often glanced uneasily in her motherless infancy, with a kind of dread, lest he might come to hate her; and of whom his foreboding was fulfilled, for he DID hate her in his heart?

Yes, and he would have it hatred, and he made it hatred, though some sparkles of the light in which she had appeared before him on the memorable night of his return home with his Bride, occasionally hung about her still. He knew now that she was beautiful; he did not dispute that she was graceful and winning, and that in the bright dawn of her womanhood she had come upon him, a surprise. But he turned even this against her. In his sullen and unwholesome brooding, the unhappy man, with a dull perception of his alienation from all hearts, and a vague yearning for what he had all his life repelled, made a distorted picture of his rights and wrongs, and justified himself with it against her. The worthier she promised to be of him, the greater claim he was disposed to antedate upon her duty and submission. When had she ever shown him duty and submission? Did she grace his life—or Edith’s? Had her attractions been manifested first to him—or Edith? Why, he and she had never been, from her birth, like father and child! They had always been estranged. She had crossed him every way and everywhere. She was leagued against him now. Her very beauty softened natures that were obdurate to him, and insulted him with an unnatural triumph.

It may have been that in all this there were mutterings of an awakened feeling in his breast, however selfishly aroused by his position of disadvantage, in comparison with what she might have made his life. But he silenced the distant thunder with the rolling of his sea of pride. He would bear nothing but his pride. And in his pride, a heap of inconsistency, and misery, and self-inflicted torment, he hated her.

To the moody, stubborn, sullen demon, that possessed him, his wife opposed her different pride in its full force. They never could have led a happy life together; but nothing could have made it more unhappy, than the wilful and determined warfare of such elements. His pride was set upon maintaining his magnificent supremacy, and forcing recognition of it from her. She would have been racked to death, and turned but her haughty glance of calm inflexible disdain upon him, to the last. Such recognition from Edith! He little knew through what a storm and struggle she had been driven onward to the crowning honour of his hand. He little knew how much she thought she had conceded, when she suffered him to call her wife.

Mr Dombey was resolved to show her that he was supreme. There must be no will but his. Proud he desired that she should be, but she must be proud for, not against him. As he sat alone, hardening, he would often hear her go out and come home, treading the round of London life with no more heed of his liking or disliking, pleasure or displeasure, than if he had been her groom. Her cold supreme indifference—his own unquestioned attribute usurped—stung him more than any other kind of treatment could have done; and he determined to bend her to his magnificent and stately will.

He had been long communing with these thoughts, when one night he sought her in her own apartment, after he had heard her return home late. She was alone, in her brilliant dress, and had but that moment come from her mother’s room. Her face was melancholy and pensive, when he came upon her; but it marked him at the door; for, glancing at the mirror before it, he saw immediately, as in a picture-frame, the knitted brow, and darkened beauty that he knew so well.

‘Mrs Dombey,’ he said, entering, ‘I must beg leave to have a few words with you.’

‘To-morrow,’ she replied.

‘There is no time like the present, Madam,’ he returned. ‘You mistake your position. I am used to choose my own times; not to have them chosen for me. I think you scarcely understand who and what I am, Mrs Dombey.’

‘I think,’ she answered, ‘that I understand you very well.’

She looked upon him as she said so, and folding her white arms, sparkling with gold and gems, upon her swelling breast, turned away her eyes.

If she had been less handsome, and less stately in her cold composure, she might not have had the power of impressing him with the sense of disadvantage that penetrated through his utmost pride. But she had the power, and he felt it keenly. He glanced round the room: saw how the splendid means of personal adornment, and the luxuries of dress, were scattered here and there, and disregarded; not in mere caprice and carelessness (or so he thought), but in a steadfast haughty disregard of costly things: and felt it more and more. Chaplets of flowers, plumes of feathers, jewels, laces, silks and satins; look where he would, he saw riches, despised, poured out, and made of no account. The very diamonds—a marriage gift—that rose and fell impatiently upon her bosom, seemed to pant to break the chain that clasped them round her neck, and roll down on the floor where she might tread upon them.

He felt his disadvantage, and he showed it. Solemn and strange among this wealth of colour and voluptuous glitter, strange and constrained towards its haughty mistress, whose repellent beauty it repeated, and presented all around him, as in so many fragments of a mirror, he was conscious of embarrassment and awkwardness. Nothing that ministered to her disdainful self-possession could fail to gall him. Galled and irritated with himself, he sat down, and went on, in no improved humour:

‘Mrs Dombey, it is very necessary that there should be some understanding arrived at between us. Your conduct does not please me, Madam.’

She merely glanced at him again, and again averted her eyes; but she might have spoken for an hour, and expressed less.

‘I repeat, Mrs Dombey, does not please me. I have already taken occasion to request that it may be corrected. I now insist upon it.’

‘You chose a fitting occasion for your first remonstrance, Sir, and you adopt a fitting manner, and a fitting word for your second. You insist! To me!’

‘Madam,’ said Mr Dombey, with his most offensive air of state, ‘I have made you my wife. You bear my name. You are associated with my position and my reputation. I will not say that the world in general may be disposed to think you honoured by that association; but I will say that I am accustomed to “insist,” to my connexions and dependents.’

‘Which may you be pleased to consider me? she asked.

‘Possibly I may think that my wife should partake—or does partake, and cannot help herself—of both characters, Mrs Dombey.’

She bent her eyes upon him steadily, and set her trembling lips. He saw her bosom throb, and saw her face flush and turn white. All this he could know, and did: but he could not know that one word was whispering in the deep recesses of her heart, to keep her quiet; and that the word was Florence.

Blind idiot, rushing to a precipice! He thought she stood in awe of him.

‘You are too expensive, Madam,’ said Mr Dombey. ‘You are extravagant. You waste a great deal of money—or what would be a great deal in the pockets of most gentlemen—in cultivating a kind of society that is useless to me, and, indeed, that upon the whole is disagreeable to me. I have to insist upon a total change in all these respects. I know that in the novelty of possessing a tithe of such means as Fortune has placed at your disposal, ladies are apt to run into a sudden extreme. There has been more than enough of that extreme. I beg that Mrs Granger’s very different experiences may now come to the instruction of Mrs Dombey.’

Still the fixed look, the trembling lips, the throbbing breast, the face now crimson and now white; and still the deep whisper Florence, Florence, speaking to her in the beating of her heart.

His insolence of self-importance dilated as he saw this alteration in her. Swollen no less by her past scorn of him, and his so recent feeling of disadvantage, than by her present submission (as he took it to be), it became too mighty for his breast, and burst all bounds. Why, who could long resist his lofty will and pleasure! He had resolved to conquer her, and look here!

‘You will further please, Madam,’ said Mr Dombey, in a tone of sovereign command, ‘to understand distinctly, that I am to be deferred to and obeyed. That I must have a positive show and confession of deference before the world, Madam. I am used to this. I require it as my right. In short I will have it. I consider it no unreasonable return for the worldly advancement that has befallen you; and I believe nobody will be surprised, either at its being required from you, or at your making it.—To Me—To Me!’ he added, with emphasis.

No word from her. No change in her. Her eyes upon him.

‘I have learnt from your mother, Mrs Dombey,’ said Mr Dombey, with magisterial importance, ‘what no doubt you know, namely, that Brighton is recommended for her health. Mr Carker has been so good.’

She changed suddenly. Her face and bosom glowed as if the red light of an angry sunset had been flung upon them. Not unobservant of the change, and putting his own interpretation upon it, Mr Dombey resumed:

‘Mr Carker has been so good as to go down and secure a house there, for a time. On the return of the establishment to London, I shall take such steps for its better management as I consider necessary. One of these, will be the engagement at Brighton (if it is to be effected), of a very respectable reduced person there, a Mrs Pipchin, formerly employed in a situation of trust in my family, to act as housekeeper. An establishment like this, presided over but nominally, Mrs Dombey, requires a competent head.’

She had changed her attitude before he arrived at these words, and now sat—still looking at him fixedly—turning a bracelet round and round upon her arm; not winding it about with a light, womanly touch, but pressing and dragging it over the smooth skin, until the white limb showed a bar of red.

‘I observed,’ said Mr Dombey—‘and this concludes what I deem it necessary to say to you at present, Mrs Dombey—I observed a moment ago, Madam, that my allusion to Mr Carker was received in a peculiar manner. On the occasion of my happening to point out to you, before that confidential agent, the objection I had to your mode of receiving my visitors, you were pleased to object to his presence. You will have to get the better of that objection, Madam, and to accustom yourself to it very probably on many similar occasions; unless you adopt the remedy which is in your own hands, of giving me no cause of complaint. Mr Carker,’ said Mr Dombey, who, after the emotion he had just seen, set great store by this means of reducing his proud wife, and who was perhaps sufficiently willing to exhibit his power to that gentleman in a new and triumphant aspect, ‘Mr Carker being in my confidence, Mrs Dombey, may very well be in yours to such an extent. I hope, Mrs Dombey,’ he continued, after a few moments, during which, in his increasing haughtiness, he had improved on his idea, ‘I may not find it necessary ever to entrust Mr Carker with any message of objection or remonstrance to you; but as it would be derogatory to my position and reputation to be frequently holding trivial disputes with a lady upon whom I have conferred the highest distinction that it is in my power to bestow, I shall not scruple to avail myself of his services if I see occasion.’

‘And now,’ he thought, rising in his moral magnificence, and rising a stiffer and more impenetrable man than ever, ‘she knows me and my resolution.’

The hand that had so pressed the bracelet was laid heavily upon her breast, but she looked at him still, with an unaltered face, and said in a low voice:

‘Wait! For God’s sake! I must speak to you.’

Why did she not, and what was the inward struggle that rendered her incapable of doing so, for minutes, while, in the strong constraint she put upon her face, it was as fixed as any statue’s—looking upon him with neither yielding nor unyielding, liking nor hatred, pride not humility: nothing but a searching gaze?

‘Did I ever tempt you to seek my hand? Did I ever use any art to win you? Was I ever more conciliating to you when you pursued me, than I have been since our marriage? Was I ever other to you than I am?’

‘It is wholly unnecessary, Madam,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘to enter upon such discussions.’

‘Did you think I loved you? Did you know I did not? Did you ever care, Man! for my heart, or propose to yourself to win the worthless thing? Was there any poor pretence of any in our bargain? Upon your side, or on mine?’

‘These questions,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘are all wide of the purpose, Madam.’

She moved between him and the door to prevent his going away, and drawing her majestic figure to its height, looked steadily upon him still.

‘You answer each of them. You answer me before I speak, I see. How can you help it; you who know the miserable truth as well as I? Now, tell me. If I loved you to devotion, could I do more than render up my whole will and being to you, as you have just demanded? If my heart were pure and all untried, and you its idol, could you ask more; could you have more?’

‘Possibly not, Madam,’ he returned coolly.

‘You know how different I am. You see me looking on you now, and you can read the warmth of passion for you that is breathing in my face.’ Not a curl of the proud lip, not a flash of the dark eye, nothing but the same intent and searching look, accompanied these words. ‘You know my general history. You have spoken of my mother. Do you think you can degrade, or bend or break, me to submission and obedience?’      

Mr Dombey smiled, as he might have smiled at an inquiry whether he thought he could raise ten thousand pounds.

‘If there is anything unusual here,’ she said, with a slight motion of her hand before her brow, which did not for a moment flinch from its immovable and otherwise expressionless gaze, ‘as I know there are unusual feelings here,’ raising the hand she pressed upon her bosom, and heavily returning it, ‘consider that there is no common meaning in the appeal I am going to make you. Yes, for I am going;’ she said it as in prompt reply to something in his face; ‘to appeal to you.’

Mr Dombey, with a slightly condescending bend of his chin that rustled and crackled his stiff cravat, sat down on a sofa that was near him, to hear the appeal.

‘If you can believe that I am of such a nature now,’—he fancied he saw tears glistening in her eyes, and he thought, complacently, that he had forced them from her, though none fell on her cheek, and she regarded       him as steadily as ever,—‘as would make what I now say almost incredible to myself, said to any man who had become my husband, but, above all, said to you, you may, perhaps, attach the greater weight to it. In the dark end to which we are tending, and may come, we shall not involve ourselves alone (that might not be much) but others.’

Others! He knew at whom that word pointed, and frowned heavily.

‘I speak to you for the sake of others. Also your own sake; and for mine. Since our marriage, you have been arrogant to me; and I have repaid you in kind. You have shown to me and everyone around us, every day and hour, that you think I am graced and distinguished by your alliance. I do not think so, and have shown that too. It seems you do not understand, or (so far as your power can go) intend that each of us shall take a separate course; and you expect from me instead, a homage you will never have.’

Although her face was still the same, there was emphatic confirmation of this ‘Never’ in the very breath she drew.

‘I feel no tenderness towards you; that you know. You would care nothing for it, if I did or could. I know as well that you feel none towards me. But we are linked together; and in the knot that ties us, as I have said,       others are bound up. We must both die; we are both connected with the dead already, each by a little child. Let us forbear.’

Mr Dombey took a long respiration, as if he would have said, Oh! was this all!

‘There is no wealth,’ she went on, turning paler as she watched him, while her eyes grew yet more lustrous in their earnestness, ‘that could buy these words of me, and the meaning that belongs to them. Once cast away as idle breath, no wealth or power can bring them back. I mean them; I have weighed them; and I will be true to what I undertake. If you will promise to forbear on your part, I will promise to forbear on mine. We are a most unhappy pair, in whom, from different causes, every sentiment that blesses marriage, or justifies it, is rooted out; but in the course of time, some friendship, or some fitness for each other, may arise between us. I will try to hope so, if you will make the endeavour too; and I will look forward to a better and a happier use of age than I have made of youth or prime.’

Throughout she had spoken in a low plain voice, that neither rose nor fell; ceasing, she dropped the hand with which she had enforced herself to be so passionless and distinct, but not the eyes with which she had so steadily observed him.

‘Madam,’ said Mr Dombey, with his utmost dignity, ‘I cannot entertain any proposal of this extraordinary nature.’

She looked at him yet, without the least change.

‘I cannot,’ said Mr Dombey, rising as he spoke, ‘consent to temporise or treat with you, Mrs Dombey, upon a subject as to which you are in possession of my opinions and expectations. I have stated my ultimatum, Madam, and have only to request your very serious attention to it.’

To see the face change to its old expression, deepened in intensity! To see the eyes droop as from some mean and odious object! To see the lighting of the haughty brow! To see scorn, anger, indignation, and abhorrence starting into sight, and the pale blank earnestness vanish like a mist! He could not choose but look, although he looked to his dismay.

‘Go, Sir!’ she said, pointing with an imperious hand towards the door. ‘Our first and last confidence is at an end. Nothing can make us stranger to each other than we are henceforth.’

‘I shall take my rightful course, Madam,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘undeterred, you may be sure, by any general declamation.’

She turned her back upon him, and, without reply, sat down before her glass.

‘I place my reliance on your improved sense of duty, and more correct feeling, and better reflection, Madam,’ said Mr Dombey.

She answered not one word. He saw no more expression of any heed of him, in the mirror, than if he had been an unseen spider on the wall, or beetle on the floor, or rather, than if he had been the one or other, seen and crushed when she last turned from him, and forgotten among the ignominious and dead vermin of the ground.

He looked back, as he went out at the door, upon the well-lighted and luxurious room, the beautiful and glittering objects everywhere displayed, the shape of Edith in its rich dress seated before her glass, and the face of Edith as the glass presented it to him; and betook himself to his old chamber of cogitation, carrying away with him a vivid picture in his mind of all these things, and a rambling and unaccountable speculation (such as sometimes comes into a man’s head) how they would all look when he saw them next.

For the rest, Mr Dombey was very taciturn, and very dignified, and very confident of carrying out his purpose; and remained so.

He did not design accompanying the family to Brighton; but he graciously informed Cleopatra at breakfast, on the morning of departure, which arrived a day or two afterwards, that he might be expected down, soon. There was no time to be lost in getting Cleopatra to any place recommended as being salutary; for, indeed, she seemed upon the wane, and turning of the earth, earthy.

Without having undergone any decided second attack of her malady, the old woman seemed to have crawled backward in her recovery from the first. She was more lean and shrunken, more uncertain in her imbecility, and made stranger confusions in her mind and memory. Among other symptoms of this last affliction, she fell into the habit of confounding the names of her two sons-in-law, the living and the deceased; and in general called Mr Dombey, either ‘Grangeby,’ or ‘Domber,’ or indifferently, both.

But she was youthful, very youthful still; and in her youthfulness appeared at breakfast, before going away, in a new bonnet made express, and a travelling robe that was embroidered and braided like an old baby’s.       It was not easy to put her into a fly-away bonnet now, or to keep the bonnet in its place on the back of her poor nodding head, when it was got on. In this instance, it had not only the extraneous effect of being always on one side, but of being perpetually tapped on the crown by Flowers the maid, who attended in the background during breakfast to perform that duty.

‘Now, my dearest Grangeby,’ said Mrs Skewton, ‘you must posively prom,’ she cut some of her words short, and cut out others altogether, ‘come down very soon.’

‘I said just now, Madam,’ returned Mr Dombey, loudly and laboriously, ‘that I am coming in a day or two.’

‘Bless you, Domber!’

Here the Major, who was come to take leave of the ladies, and who was staring through his apoplectic eyes at Mrs Skewton’s face with the disinterested composure of an immortal being, said:

‘Begad, Ma’am, you don’t ask old Joe to come!’

‘Sterious wretch, who’s he?’ lisped Cleopatra. But a tap on the bonnet from Flowers seeming to jog her memory, she added, ‘Oh! You mean yourself, you naughty creature!’

‘Devilish queer, Sir,’ whispered the Major to Mr Dombey. ‘Bad case. Never did wrap up enough;’ the Major being buttoned to the chin. ‘Why who should J. B. mean by Joe, but old Joe Bagstock—Joseph—your slave—Joe, Ma’am? Here! Here’s the man! Here are the Bagstock bellows, Ma’am!’ cried the Major, striking himself a sounding blow on the chest.

‘My dearest Edith—Grangeby—it’s most trordinry thing,’ said Cleopatra, pettishly, ‘that Major—’

‘Bagstock! J. B.!’ cried the Major, seeing that she faltered for his name.

‘Well, it don’t matter,’ said Cleopatra. ‘Edith, my love, you know I never could remember names—what was it? oh!—most trordinry thing that so many people want to come down to see me. I’m not going for long. I’m coming back. Surely they can wait, till I come back!’

Cleopatra looked all round the table as she said it, and appeared very uneasy.

‘I won’t have visitors—really don’t want visitors,’ she said; ‘little repose—and all that sort of thing—is what I quire. No odious brutes must proach me till I’ve shaken off this numbness;’ and in a grisly resumption of her coquettish ways, she made a dab at the Major with her fan, but overset Mr Dombey’s breakfast cup instead, which was in quite a different direction.

Then she called for Withers, and charged him to see particularly that word was left about some trivial alterations in her room, which must be all made before she came back, and which must be set about immediately, as there was no saying how soon she might come back; for she had a great many engagements, and all sorts of people to call upon. Withers received these directions with becoming deference, and gave his guarantee for their execution; but when he withdrew a pace or two behind her, it appeared as if he couldn’t help looking strangely at the Major, who couldn’t help looking strangely at Mr Dombey, who couldn’t help looking strangely at Cleopatra, who couldn’t help nodding her bonnet over one eye, and rattling her knife and fork upon her plate in using them, as if she were playing castanets.

Edith alone never lifted her eyes to any face at the table, and never seemed dismayed by anything her mother said or did. She listened to her disjointed talk, or at least, turned her head towards her when addressed; replied in a few low words when necessary; and sometimes stopped her when she was rambling, or brought her thoughts back with a monosyllable, to the point from which they had strayed. The mother, however unsteady in other things, was constant in this—that she was always observant of her. She would look at the beautiful face, in its marble stillness and severity, now with a kind of fearful admiration; now in a giggling foolish effort to move it to a smile; now with capricious tears and jealous shakings of her head, as imagining herself neglected by it; always with an attraction towards it, that never fluctuated like her other ideas, but had constant possession of her. From Edith she would sometimes look at Florence, and back again at Edith, in a manner that was wild enough; and sometimes she would try to look elsewhere, as if to escape from her daughter’s face; but back to it she seemed forced to come, although it never sought hers unless sought, or troubled her with one single glance.

The breakfast concluded, Mrs Skewton, affecting to lean girlishly upon the Major’s arm, but heavily supported on the other side by Flowers the maid, and propped up behind by Withers the page, was conducted to the carriage, which was to take her, Florence, and Edith to Brighton.

‘And is Joseph absolutely banished?’ said the Major, thrusting in his purple face over the steps. ‘Damme, Ma’am, is Cleopatra so hard-hearted as to forbid her faithful Antony Bagstock to approach the presence?’

‘Go along!’ said Cleopatra, ‘I can’t bear you. You shall see me when I come back, if you are very good.’

‘Tell Joseph, he may live in hope, Ma’am,’ said the Major; ‘or he’ll die in despair.’

Cleopatra shuddered, and leaned back. ‘Edith, my dear,’ she said. ‘Tell him—’


‘Such dreadful words,’ said Cleopatra. ‘He uses such dreadful words!’

Edith signed to him to retire, gave the word to go on, and left the objectionable Major to Mr Dombey. To whom he returned, whistling.

‘I’ll tell you what, Sir,’ said the Major, with his hands behind him, and his legs very wide asunder, ‘a fair friend of ours has removed to Queer Street.’

‘What do you mean, Major?’ inquired Mr Dombey.

‘I mean to say, Dombey,’ returned the Major, ‘that you’ll soon be an orphan-in-law.’

Mr Dombey appeared to relish this waggish description of himself so very little, that the Major wound up with the horse’s cough, as an expression of gravity.

‘Damme, Sir,’ said the Major, ‘there is no use in disguising a fact. Joe is blunt, Sir. That’s his nature. If you take old Josh at all, you take him as you find him; and a devilish rusty, old rasper, of a close-toothed, J. B. file, you do find him. Dombey,’ said the Major, ‘your wife’s mother is on the move, Sir.’

‘I fear,’ returned Mr Dombey, with much philosophy, ‘that Mrs Skewton is shaken.’

‘Shaken, Dombey!’ said the Major. ‘Smashed!’

‘Change, however,’ pursued Mr Dombey, ‘and attention, may do much yet.’

‘Don’t believe it, Sir,’ returned the Major. ‘Damme, Sir, she never wrapped up enough. If a man don’t wrap up,’ said the Major, taking in another button of his buff waistcoat, ‘he has nothing to fall back upon. But some people will die. They will do it. Damme, they will. They’re obstinate. I tell you what, Dombey, it may not be ornamental; it may not be refined; it may be rough and tough; but a little of the genuine old English Bagstock stamina, Sir, would do all the good in the world to the human breed.’

After imparting this precious piece of information, the Major, who was certainly true-blue, whatever other endowments he may have had or wanted, coming within the ‘genuine old English’ classification, which has never been exactly ascertained, took his lobster-eyes and his apoplexy to the club, and choked there all day.

Cleopatra, at one time fretful, at another self-complacent, sometimes awake, sometimes asleep, and at all times juvenile, reached Brighton the same night, fell to pieces as usual, and was put away in bed; where a       gloomy fancy might have pictured a more potent skeleton than the maid, who should have been one, watching at the rose-coloured curtains, which were carried down to shed their bloom upon her.

It was settled in high council of medical authority that she should take a carriage airing every day, and that it was important she should get out every day, and walk if she could. Edith was ready to attend her—always ready to attend her, with the same mechanical attention and immovable beauty—and they drove out alone; for Edith had an uneasiness in the presence of Florence, now that her mother was worse, and told Florence, with a kiss, that she would rather they two went alone.

Mrs Skewton, on one particular day, was in the irresolute, exacting, jealous temper that had developed itself on her recovery from her first attack. After sitting silent in the carriage watching Edith for some time, she took her hand and kissed it passionately. The hand was neither given nor withdrawn, but simply yielded to her raising of it, and being released, dropped down again, almost as if it were insensible. At this she began to whimper and moan, and say what a mother she had been, and how she was forgotten! This she continued to do at capricious intervals, even when they had alighted: when she herself was halting along with the joint support of Withers and a stick, and Edith was walking by her side, and the carriage slowly following at a little distance.

It was a bleak, lowering, windy day, and they were out upon the Downs with nothing but a bare sweep of land between them and the sky. The mother, with a querulous satisfaction in the monotony of her complaint, was still repeating it in a low voice from time to time, and the proud form of her daughter moved beside her slowly, when there came advancing over a dark ridge before them, two other figures, which in the distance, were so like an exaggerated imitation of their own, that Edith stopped.

Almost as she stopped, the two figures stopped; and that one which to Edith’s thinking was like a distorted shadow of her mother, spoke to the other, earnestly, and with a pointing hand towards them. That one seemed inclined to turn back, but the other, in which Edith recognised enough that was like herself to strike her with an unusual feeling, not quite free from fear, came on; and then they came on together.

The greater part of this observation, she made while walking towards them, for her stoppage had been momentary. Nearer observation showed her that they were poorly dressed, as wanderers about the country; that the younger woman carried knitted work or some such goods for sale; and that the old one toiled on empty-handed.

And yet, however far removed she was in dress, in dignity, in beauty, Edith could not but compare the younger woman with herself, still. It may have been that she saw upon her face some traces which she knew were lingering in her own soul, if not yet written on that index; but, as the woman came on, returning her gaze, fixing her shining eyes upon her, undoubtedly presenting something of her own air and stature, and appearing to reciprocate her own thoughts, she felt a chill creep over her, as if the day were darkening, and the wind were colder.

They had now come up. The old woman, holding out her hand importunately, stopped to beg of Mrs Skewton. The younger one stopped too, and she and Edith looked in one another’s eyes.

‘What is it that you have to sell?’ said Edith.

‘Only this,’ returned the woman, holding out her wares, without looking at them. ‘I sold myself long ago.’

‘My Lady, don’t believe her,’ croaked the old woman to Mrs Skewton; ‘don’t believe what she says. She loves to talk like that. She’s my handsome and undutiful daughter. She gives me nothing but reproaches, my Lady, for all I have done for her. Look at her now, my Lady, how she turns upon her poor old mother with her looks.’

As Mrs Skewton drew her purse out with a trembling hand, and eagerly fumbled for some money, which the other old woman greedily watched for—their heads all but touching, in their hurry and decrepitude—Edith interposed:

‘I have seen you,’ addressing the old woman, ‘before.’

‘Yes, my Lady,’ with a curtsey. ‘Down in Warwickshire. The morning among the trees. When you wouldn’t give me nothing. But the gentleman, he give me something! Oh, bless him, bless him!’ mumbled the old woman, holding up her skinny hand, and grinning frightfully at her daughter.

‘It’s of no use attempting to stay me, Edith!’ said Mrs Skewton, angrily anticipating an objection from her. ‘You know nothing about it. I won’t be dissuaded. I am sure this is an excellent woman, and a good mother.’

‘Yes, my Lady, yes,’ chattered the old woman, holding out her avaricious hand. ‘Thankee, my Lady. Lord bless you, my Lady. Sixpence more, my pretty Lady, as a good mother yourself.’

‘And treated undutifully enough, too, my good old creature, sometimes, I assure you,’ said Mrs Skewton, whimpering. ‘There! Shake hands with me. You’re a very good old creature—full of what’s-his-name—and all that. You’re all affection and et cetera, ain’t you?’

‘Oh, yes, my Lady!’

‘Yes, I’m sure you are; and so’s that gentlemanly creature Grangeby. I must really shake hands with you again. And now you can go, you know; and I hope,’ addressing the daughter, ‘that you’ll show more gratitude, and natural what’s-its-name, and all the rest of it—but I never remember names—for there never was a better mother than the good old creature’s been to you. Come, Edith!’

As the ruin of Cleopatra tottered off whimpering, and wiping its eyes with a gingerly remembrance of rouge in their neighbourhood, the old woman hobbled another way, mumbling and counting her money. Not one word more, nor one other gesture, had been exchanged between Edith and the younger woman, but neither had removed her eyes from the other for a moment. They had remained confronted until now, when Edith, as awakening from a dream, passed slowly on.

‘You’re a handsome woman,’ muttered her shadow, looking after her; ‘but good looks won’t save us. And you’re a proud woman; but pride won’t save us. We had need to know each other when we meet again!’

CHAPTER 41. New Voices in the Waves

All is going on as it was wont. The waves are hoarse with repetition of their mystery; the dust lies piled upon the shore; the sea-birds soar and hover; the winds and clouds go forth upon their trackless flight; the white arms beckon, in the moonlight, to the invisible country far away.

With a tender melancholy pleasure, Florence finds herself again on the old ground so sadly trodden, yet so happily, and thinks of him in the quiet place, where he and she have many and many a time conversed together, with the water welling up about his couch. And now, as she sits pensive there, she hears in the wild low murmur of the sea, his little story told again, his very words repeated; and finds that all her life and hopes, and griefs, since—in the solitary house, and in the pageant it has changed to—have a portion in the burden of the marvellous song.

And gentle Mr Toots, who wanders at a distance, looking wistfully towards the figure that he dotes upon, and has followed there, but cannot in his delicacy disturb at such a time, likewise hears the requiem of little Dombey on the waters, rising and falling in the lulls of their eternal madrigal in praise of Florence. Yes! and he faintly understands, poor Mr Toots, that they are saying something of a time when he was sensible of being brighter and not addle-brained; and the tears rising in his eyes when he fears that he is dull and stupid now, and good for little but to be laughed at, diminish his satisfaction in their soothing reminder that he is relieved from present responsibility to the Chicken, by the absence of that game head of poultry in the country, training (at Toots’s cost) for his great mill with the Larkey Boy.

But Mr Toots takes courage, when they whisper a kind thought to him; and by slow degrees and with many indecisive stoppages on the way, approaches Florence. Stammering and blushing, Mr Toots affects amazement when he comes near her, and says (having followed close on the carriage in which she travelled, every inch of the way from London, loving even to be choked by the dust of its wheels) that he never was so surprised in all his life.

‘And you’ve brought Diogenes, too, Miss Dombey!’ says Mr Toots, thrilled through and through by the touch of the small hand so pleasantly and frankly given him.

No doubt Diogenes is there, and no doubt Mr Toots has reason to observe him, for he comes straightway at Mr Toots’s legs, and tumbles over himself in the desperation with which he makes at him, like a very dog of Montargis. But he is checked by his sweet mistress.

‘Down, Di, down. Don’t you remember who first made us friends, Di? For shame!’

Oh! Well may Di lay his loving cheek against her hand, and run off, and run back, and run round her, barking, and run headlong at anybody coming by, to show his devotion. Mr Toots would run headlong at anybody, too. A military gentleman goes past, and Mr Toots would like nothing better than to run at him, full tilt.

‘Diogenes is quite in his native air, isn’t he, Miss Dombey?’ says Mr Toots.

Florence assents, with a grateful smile.

‘Miss Dombey,’ says Mr Toots, ‘beg your pardon, but if you would like to walk to Blimber’s, I—I’m going there.’

Florence puts her arm in that of Mr Toots without a word, and they walk away together, with Diogenes going on before. Mr Toots’s legs shake under him; and though he is splendidly dressed, he feels misfits, and sees wrinkles, in the masterpieces of Burgess and Co., and wishes he had put on that brightest pair of boots.

Doctor Blimber’s house, outside, has as scholastic and studious an air as ever; and up there is the window where she used to look for the pale face, and where the pale face brightened when it saw her, and the wasted little hand waved kisses as she passed. The door is opened by the same weak-eyed young man, whose imbecility of grin at sight of Mr Toots is feebleness of character personified. They are shown into the Doctor’s study, where blind Homer and Minerva give them audience as of yore, to the sober ticking of the great clock in the hall; and where the globes stand still in their accustomed places, as if the world were stationary too, and nothing in it ever perished in obedience to the universal law, that, while it keeps it on the roll, calls everything to earth.

And here is Doctor Blimber, with his learned legs; and here is Mrs Blimber, with her sky-blue cap; and here Cornelia, with her sandy little row of curls, and her bright spectacles, still working like a sexton in the graves of languages. Here is the table upon which he sat forlorn and strange, the ‘new boy’ of the school; and hither comes the distant cooing of the old boys, at their old lives in the old room on the old principle!

‘Toots,’ says Doctor Blimber, ‘I am very glad to see you, Toots.’

Mr Toots chuckles in reply.

‘Also to see you, Toots, in such good company,’ says Doctor Blimber.

Mr Toots, with a scarlet visage, explains that he has met Miss Dombey by accident, and that Miss Dombey wishing, like himself, to see the old place, they have come together.

‘You will like,’ says Doctor Blimber, ‘to step among our young friends, Miss Dombey, no doubt. All fellow-students of yours, Toots, once. I think we have no new disciples in our little portico, my dear,’ says Doctor Blimber to Cornelia, ‘since Mr Toots left us.’

‘Except Bitherstone,’ returns Cornelia.

‘Ay, truly,’ says the Doctor. ‘Bitherstone is new to Mr Toots.’

New to Florence, too, almost; for, in the schoolroom, Bitherstone—no longer Master Bitherstone of Mrs Pipchin’s—shows in collars and a neckcloth, and wears a watch. But Bitherstone, born beneath some Bengal star of ill-omen, is extremely inky; and his Lexicon has got so dropsical from constant reference, that it won’t shut, and yawns as if it really could not bear to be so bothered. So does Bitherstone its master, forced at Doctor Blimber’s highest pressure; but in the yawn of Bitherstone there is malice and snarl, and he has been heard to say that he wishes he could catch ‘old Blimber’ in India. He’d precious soon find himself carried up the country by a few of his (Bitherstone’s) Coolies, and handed over to the Thugs; he can tell him that.

Briggs is still grinding in the mill of knowledge; and Tozer, too; and Johnson, too; and all the rest; the older pupils being principally engaged in forgetting, with prodigious labour, everything they knew when they were younger. All are as polite and as pale as ever; and among them, Mr Feeder, B.A., with his bony hand and bristly head, is still hard at it; with his Herodotus stop on just at present, and his other barrels on a shelf behind him.

A mighty sensation is created, even among these grave young gentlemen, by a visit from the emancipated Toots; who is regarded with a kind of awe, as one who has passed the Rubicon, and is pledged never to come back, and concerning the cut of whose clothes, and fashion of whose jewellery, whispers go about, behind hands; the bilious Bitherstone, who is not of Mr Toots’s time, affecting to despise the latter to the smaller boys, and saying he knows better, and that he should like to see him coming that sort of thing in Bengal, where his mother had got an emerald belonging to him that was taken out of the footstool of a Rajah. Come now!

Bewildering emotions are awakened also by the sight of Florence, with whom every young gentleman immediately falls in love, again; except, as aforesaid, the bilious Bitherstone, who declines to do so, out of contradiction. Black jealousies of Mr Toots arise, and Briggs is of opinion that he ain’t so very old after all. But this disparaging insinuation is speedily made nought by Mr Toots saying aloud to Mr Feeder, B.A., ‘How are you, Feeder?’ and asking him to come and dine with him to-day at the Bedford; in right of which feats he might set up as Old Parr, if he chose, unquestioned.

There is much shaking of hands, and much bowing, and a great desire on the part of each young gentleman to take Toots down in Miss Dombey’s good graces; and then, Mr Toots having bestowed a chuckle on his old desk, Florence and he withdraw with Mrs Blimber and Cornelia; and Doctor Blimber is heard to observe behind them as he comes out last, and shuts the door, ‘Gentlemen, we will now resume our studies,’ For that and little else is what the Doctor hears the sea say, or has heard it saying all his life.

Florence then steals away and goes upstairs to the old bedroom with Mrs Blimber and Cornelia; Mr Toots, who feels that neither he nor anybody else is wanted there, stands talking to the Doctor at the study-door, or rather hearing the Doctor talk to him, and wondering how he ever thought the study a great sanctuary, and the Doctor, with his round turned legs, like a clerical pianoforte, an awful man. Florence soon comes down and takes leave; Mr Toots takes leave; and Diogenes, who has been worrying the weak-eyed young man pitilessly all the time, shoots out at the door, and barks a glad defiance down the cliff; while Melia, and another of the Doctor’s female domestics, looks out of an upper window, laughing ‘at that there Toots,’ and saying of Miss Dombey, ‘But really though, now—ain’t she like her brother, only prettier?’

Mr Toots, who saw when Florence came down that there were tears upon her face, is desperately anxious and uneasy, and at first fears that he did wrong in proposing the visit. But he is soon relieved by her saying she is very glad to have been there again, and by her talking quite cheerfully about it all, as they walked on by the sea. What with the voices there, and her sweet voice, when they come near Mr Dombey’s house, and Mr Toots must leave her, he is so enslaved that he has not a scrap of free-will left; when she gives him her hand at parting, he cannot let it go.

‘Miss Dombey, I beg your pardon,’ says Mr Toots, in a sad fluster, ‘but if you would allow me to—to—’

The smiling and unconscious look of Florence brings him to a dead stop.

‘If you would allow me to—if you would not consider it a liberty, Miss Dombey, if I was to—without any encouragement at all, if I was to hope, you know,’ says Mr Toots.

Florence looks at him inquiringly.

‘Miss Dombey,’ says Mr Toots, who feels that he is in for it now, ‘I really am in that state of adoration of you that I don’t know what to do with myself. I am the most deplorable wretch. If it wasn’t at the corner of the Square at present, I should go down on my knees, and beg and entreat of you, without any encouragement at all, just to let me hope that I may—may think it possible that you—’

‘Oh, if you please, don’t!’ cries Florence, for the moment quite alarmed and distressed. ‘Oh, pray don’t, Mr Toots. Stop, if you please. Don’t say any more. As a kindness and a favour to me, don’t.’

Mr Toots is dreadfully abashed, and his mouth opens.

‘You have been so good to me,’ says Florence, ‘I am so grateful to you, I have such reason to like you for being a kind friend to me, and I do like you so much;’ and here the ingenuous face smiles upon him with the pleasantest look of honesty in the world; ‘that I am sure you are only going to say good-bye!’

‘Certainly, Miss Dombey,’ says Mr Toots, ‘I—I—that’s exactly what I mean. It’s of no consequence.’

‘Good-bye!’ cries Florence.

‘Good-bye, Miss Dombey!’ stammers Mr Toots. ‘I hope you won’t think anything about it. It’s—it’s of no consequence, thank you. It’s not of the least consequence in the world.’

Poor Mr Toots goes home to his hotel in a state of desperation, locks himself into his bedroom, flings himself upon his bed, and lies there for a long time; as if it were of the greatest consequence, nevertheless. But Mr Feeder, B.A., is coming to dinner, which happens well for Mr Toots, or there is no knowing when he might get up again. Mr Toots is obliged to get up to receive him, and to give him hospitable entertainment.

And the generous influence of that social virtue, hospitality (to make no mention of wine and good cheer), opens Mr Toots’s heart, and warms him to conversation. He does not tell Mr Feeder, B.A., what passed at the corner of the Square; but when Mr Feeder asks him ‘When it is to come off?’ Mr Toots replies, ‘that there are certain subjects’—which brings Mr Feeder down a peg or two immediately. Mr Toots adds, that he don’t know what right Blimber had to notice his being in Miss Dombey’s company, and that if he thought he meant impudence by it, he’d have him out, Doctor or no Doctor; but he supposes its only his ignorance. Mr Feeder says he has no doubt of it.

Mr Feeder, however, as an intimate friend, is not excluded from the subject. Mr Toots merely requires that it should be mentioned mysteriously, and with feeling. After a few glasses of wine, he gives Miss Dombey’s health, observing, ‘Feeder, you have no idea of the sentiments with which I propose that toast.’ Mr Feeder replies, ‘Oh, yes, I have, my dear Toots; and greatly they redound to your honour, old boy.’ Mr Feeder is then agitated by friendship, and shakes hands; and says, if ever Toots wants a brother, he knows where to find him, either by post or parcel. Mr Feeder like-wise says, that if he may advise, he would recommend Mr Toots to learn the guitar, or, at least the flute; for women like music, when you are paying your addresses to ‘em, and he has found the advantage of it himself.

This brings Mr Feeder, B.A., to the confession that he has his eye upon Cornelia Blimber. He informs Mr Toots that he don’t object to spectacles, and that if the Doctor were to do the handsome thing and give up the business, why, there they are—provided for. He says it’s his opinion that when a man has made a handsome sum by his business, he is bound to give it up; and that Cornelia would be an assistance in it which any man might be proud of. Mr Toots replies by launching wildly out into Miss Dombey’s praises, and by insinuations that sometimes he thinks he should like to blow his brains out. Mr Feeder strongly urges that it would be a rash attempt, and shows him, as a reconcilement to existence, Cornelia’s portrait, spectacles and all.

Thus these quiet spirits pass the evening; and when it has yielded place to night, Mr Toots walks home with Mr Feeder, and parts with him at Doctor Blimber’s door. But Mr Feeder only goes up the steps, and when Mr Toots is gone, comes down again, to stroll upon the beach alone, and think about his prospects. Mr Feeder plainly hears the waves informing him, as he loiters along, that Doctor Blimber will give up the business; and he feels a soft romantic pleasure in looking at the outside of the house, and thinking that the Doctor will first paint it, and put it into thorough repair.

Mr Toots is likewise roaming up and down, outside the casket that contains his jewel; and in a deplorable condition of mind, and not unsuspected by the police, gazes at a window where he sees a light, and which he has no doubt is Florence’s. But it is not, for that is Mrs Skewton’s room; and while Florence, sleeping in another chamber, dreams lovingly, in the midst of the old scenes, and their old associations live again, the figure which in grim reality is substituted for the patient boy’s on the same theatre, once more to connect it—but how differently!—with decay and death, is stretched there, wakeful and complaining. Ugly and haggard it lies upon its bed of unrest; and by it, in the terror of her unimpassioned loveliness—for it has terror in the sufferer’s failing eyes—sits Edith. What do the waves say, in the stillness of the night, to them?

‘Edith, what is that stone arm raised to strike me? Don’t you see it?’

‘There is nothing, mother, but your fancy.’

‘But my fancy! Everything is my fancy. Look! Is it possible that you don’t see it?’

‘Indeed, mother, there is nothing. Should I sit unmoved, if there were any such thing there?’

‘Unmoved?’ looking wildly at her—‘it’s gone now—and why are you so unmoved? That is not my fancy, Edith. It turns me cold to see you sitting at my side.’

‘I am sorry, mother.’

‘Sorry! You seem always sorry. But it is not for me!’

With that, she cries; and tossing her restless head from side to side upon her pillow, runs on about neglect, and the mother she has been, and the mother the good old creature was, whom they met, and the cold return the daughters of such mothers make. In the midst of her incoherence, she stops, looks at her daughter, cries out that her wits are going, and hides her face upon the bed.

Edith, in compassion, bends over her and speaks to her. The sick old woman clutches her round the neck, and says, with a look of horror,

‘Edith! we are going home soon; going back. You mean that I shall go home again?’

‘Yes, mother, yes.’

‘And what he said—what’s-his-name, I never could remember names—Major—that dreadful word, when we came away—it’s not true? Edith!’ with a shriek and a stare, ‘it’s not that that is the matter with me.’

Night after night, the lights burn in the window, and the figure lies upon the bed, and Edith sits beside it, and the restless waves are calling to them both the whole night long. Night after night, the waves are hoarse with repetition of their mystery; the dust lies piled upon the shore; the sea-birds soar and hover; the winds and clouds are on their trackless flight; the white arms beckon, in the moonlight, to the invisible country far away.

And still the sick old woman looks into the corner, where the stone arm—part of a figure of some tomb, she says—is raised to strike her. At last it falls; and then a dumb old woman lies upon the bed, and she is crooked and shrunk up, and half of her is dead.

Such is the figure, painted and patched for the sun to mock, that is drawn slowly through the crowd from day to day; looking, as it goes, for the good old creature who was such a mother, and making mouths as it peers among the crowd in vain. Such is the figure that is often wheeled down to the margin of the sea, and stationed there; but on which no wind can blow freshness, and for which the murmur of the ocean has no soothing word. She lies and listens to it by the hour; but its speech is dark and gloomy to her, and a dread is on her face, and when her eyes wander over the expanse, they see but a broad stretch of desolation between earth and heaven.

Florence she seldom sees, and when she does, is angry with and mows at. Edith is beside her always, and keeps Florence away; and Florence, in her bed at night, trembles at the thought of death in such a shape, and often wakes and listens, thinking it has come. No one attends on her but Edith. It is better that few eyes should see her; and her daughter watches alone by the bedside.

A shadow even on that shadowed face, a sharpening even of the sharpened features, and a thickening of the veil before the eyes into a pall that shuts out the dim world, is come. Her wandering hands upon the coverlet join feebly palm to palm, and move towards her daughter; and a voice not like hers, not like any voice that speaks our mortal language—says, ‘For I nursed you!’

Edith, without a tear, kneels down to bring her voice closer to the sinking head, and answers:

‘Mother, can you hear me?’

Staring wide, she tries to nod in answer.

‘Can you recollect the night before I married?’

The head is motionless, but it expresses somehow that she does.

‘I told you then that I forgave your part in it, and prayed God to forgive my own. I told you that time past was at an end between us. I say so now, again. Kiss me, mother.’

Edith touches the white lips, and for a moment all is still. A moment afterwards, her mother, with her girlish laugh, and the skeleton of the Cleopatra manner, rises in her bed.

Draw the rose-coloured curtains. There is something else upon its flight besides the wind and clouds. Draw the rose-coloured curtains close!

Intelligence of the event is sent to Mr Dombey in town, who waits upon Cousin Feenix (not yet able to make up his mind for Baden-Baden), who has just received it too. A good-natured creature like Cousin Feenix is the very man for a marriage or a funeral, and his position in the family renders it right that he should be consulted.

‘Dombey,’ said Cousin Feenix, ‘upon my soul, I am very much shocked to see you on such a melancholy occasion. My poor aunt! She was a devilish lively woman.’

Mr Dombey replies, ‘Very much so.’

‘And made up,’ says Cousin Feenix, ‘really young, you know, considering. I am sure, on the day of your marriage, I thought she was good for another twenty years. In point of fact, I said so to a man at Brooks’s—little Billy Joper—you know him, no doubt—man with a glass in his eye?’

Mr Dombey bows a negative. ‘In reference to the obsequies,’ he hints, ‘whether there is any suggestion—’      

‘Well, upon my life,’ says Cousin Feenix, stroking his chin, which he has just enough of hand below his wristbands to do; ‘I really don’t know. There’s a Mausoleum down at my place, in the park, but I’m afraid it’s in bad repair, and, in point of fact, in a devil of a state. But for being a little out at elbows, I should have had it put to rights; but I believe the people come and make pic-nic parties there inside the iron railings.’

Mr Dombey is clear that this won’t do.

‘There’s an uncommon good church in the village,’ says Cousin Feenix, thoughtfully; ‘pure specimen of the Anglo-Norman style, and admirably well sketched too by Lady Jane Finchbury—woman with tight stays—but they’ve spoilt it with whitewash, I understand, and it’s a long journey.’

‘Perhaps Brighton itself,’ Mr Dombey suggests.

‘Upon my honour, Dombey, I don’t think we could do better,’ says Cousin Feenix. ‘It’s on the spot, you see, and a very cheerful place.’

‘And when,’ hints Mr Dombey, ‘would it be convenient?’

‘I shall make a point,’ says Cousin Feenix, ‘of pledging myself for any day you think best. I shall have great pleasure (melancholy pleasure, of course) in following my poor aunt to the confines of the—in point of fact, to the grave,’ says Cousin Feenix, failing in the other turn of speech.

‘Would Monday do for leaving town?’ says Mr Dombey.

‘Monday would suit me to perfection,’ replies Cousin Feenix. Therefore Mr Dombey arranges to take Cousin Feenix down on that day, and presently takes his leave, attended to the stairs by Cousin Feenix, who says, at parting, ‘I’m really excessively sorry, Dombey, that you should have so much trouble about it;’ to which Mr Dombey answers, ‘Not at all.’

At the appointed time, Cousin Feenix and Mr Dombey meet, and go down to Brighton, and representing, in their two selves, all the other mourners for the deceased lady’s loss, attend her remains to their place of rest. Cousin Feenix, sitting in the mourning-coach, recognises innumerable acquaintances on the road, but takes no other notice of them, in decorum, than checking them off aloud, as they go by, for Mr Dombey’s information, as ‘Tom Johnson. Man with cork leg, from White’s. What, are you here, Tommy? Foley on a blood mare. The Smalder girls’—and so forth. At the ceremony Cousin Feenix is depressed, observing, that these are the occasions to make a man think, in point of fact, that he is getting shaky; and his eyes are really moistened, when it is over. But he soon recovers; and so do the rest of Mrs Skewton’s relatives and friends, of whom the Major continually tells the club that she never did wrap up enough; while the young lady with the back, who has so much trouble with her eyelids, says, with a little scream, that she must have been enormously old, and that she died of all kinds of horrors, and you mustn’t mention it.

So Edith’s mother lies unmentioned of her dear friends, who are deaf to the waves that are hoarse with repetition of their mystery, and blind to the dust that is piled upon the shore, and to the white arms that are beckoning, in the moonlight, to the invisible country far away. But all goes on, as it was wont, upon the margin of the unknown sea; and Edith standing there alone, and listening to its waves, has dank weed cast up at her feet, to strew her path in life withal.

CHAPTER 42. Confidential and Accidental

Attired no more in Captain Cuttle’s sable slops and sou’-wester hat, but dressed in a substantial suit of brown livery, which, while it affected to be a very sober and demure livery indeed, was really as self-satisfied and confident a one as tailor need desire to make, Rob the Grinder, thus transformed as to his outer man, and all regardless within of the Captain and the Midshipman, except when he devoted a few minutes of his leisure time to crowing over those inseparable worthies, and recalling, with much applauding music from that brazen instrument, his conscience, the triumphant manner in which he had disembarrassed himself of their company, now served his patron, Mr Carker. Inmate of Mr Carker’s house, and serving about his person, Rob kept his round eyes on the white teeth with fear and trembling, and felt that he had need to open them wider than ever.

He could not have quaked more, through his whole being, before the teeth, though he had come into the service of some powerful enchanter, and they had been his strongest spells. The boy had a sense of power and authority in this patron of his that engrossed his whole attention and exacted his most implicit submission and obedience. He hardly considered himself safe in thinking about him when he was absent, lest he should feel himself immediately taken by the throat again, as on the morning when he first became bound to him, and should see every one of the teeth finding him out, and taxing him with every fancy of his mind. Face to face with him, Rob had no more doubt that Mr Carker read his secret thoughts, or that he could read them by the least exertion of his will if he were so inclined, than he had that Mr Carker saw him when he looked at him. The ascendancy was so complete, and held him in such enthralment, that, hardly daring to think at all, but with his mind filled with a constantly dilating impression of his patron’s irresistible command over him, and power of doing anything with him, he would stand watching his pleasure, and trying to anticipate his orders, in a state of mental suspension, as to all other things.

Rob had not informed himself perhaps—in his then state of mind it would have been an act of no common temerity to inquire—whether he yielded so completely to this influence in any part, because he had floating suspicions of his patron’s being a master of certain treacherous arts in which he had himself been a poor scholar at the Grinders’ School. But certainly Rob admired him, as well as feared him. Mr Carker, perhaps, was better acquainted with the sources of his power, which lost nothing by his management of it.

On the very night when he left the Captain’s service, Rob, after disposing of his pigeons, and even making a bad bargain in his hurry, had gone straight down to Mr Carker’s house, and hotly presented himself before his new master with a glowing face that seemed to expect commendation.

‘What, scapegrace!’ said Mr Carker, glancing at his bundle ‘Have you left your situation and come to me?’

‘Oh if you please, Sir,’ faltered Rob, ‘you said, you know, when I come here last—’

‘I said,’ returned Mr Carker, ‘what did I say?’

‘If you please, Sir, you didn’t say nothing at all, Sir,’ returned Rob, warned by the manner of this inquiry, and very much disconcerted.

His patron looked at him with a wide display of gums, and shaking his forefinger, observed:

‘You’ll come to an evil end, my vagabond friend, I foresee. There’s ruin in store for you.

‘Oh if you please, don’t, Sir!’ cried Rob, with his legs trembling under him. ‘I’m sure, Sir, I only want to work for you, Sir, and to wait upon you, Sir, and to do faithful whatever I’m bid, Sir.’

‘You had better do faithfully whatever you are bid,’ returned his patron, ‘if you have anything to do with me.’

‘Yes, I know that, Sir,’ pleaded the submissive Rob; ‘I’m sure of that, SIr. If you’ll only be so good as try me, Sir! And if ever you find me out, Sir, doing anything against your wishes, I give you leave to kill me.’

‘You dog!’ said Mr Carker, leaning back in his chair, and smiling at him serenely. ‘That’s nothing to what I’d do to you, if you tried to deceive me.’

‘Yes, Sir,’ replied the abject Grinder, ‘I’m sure you would be down upon me dreadful, Sir. I wouldn’t attempt for to go and do it, Sir, not if I was bribed with golden guineas.’

Thoroughly checked in his expectations of commendation, the crestfallen Grinder stood looking at his patron, and vainly endeavouring not to look at him, with the uneasiness which a cur will often manifest in a similar situation.

‘So you have left your old service, and come here to ask me to take you into mine, eh?’ said Mr Carker.

‘Yes, if you please, Sir,’ returned Rob, who, in doing so, had acted on his patron’s own instructions, but dared not justify himself by the least insinuation to that effect.

‘Well!’ said Mr Carker. ‘You know me, boy?’

‘Please, Sir, yes, Sir,’ returned Rob, tumbling with his hat, and still fixed by Mr Carker’s eye, and fruitlessly endeavouring to unfix himself.

Mr Carker nodded. ‘Take care, then!’

Rob expressed in a number of short bows his lively understanding of this caution, and was bowing himself back to the door, greatly relieved by the prospect of getting on the outside of it, when his patron stopped him.

‘Halloa!’ he cried, calling him roughly back. ‘You have been—shut that door.’

Rob obeyed as if his life had depended on his alacrity.

‘You have been used to eaves-dropping. Do you know what that means?’

‘Listening, Sir?’ Rob hazarded, after some embarrassed reflection.

His patron nodded. ‘And watching, and so forth.’

‘I wouldn’t do such a thing here, Sir,’ answered Rob; ‘upon my word and honour, I wouldn’t, Sir, I wish I may die if I would, Sir, for anything that could be promised to me. I should consider it is as much as all the world was worth, to offer to do such a thing, unless I was ordered, Sir.’

‘You had better not’ You have been used, too, to babbling and tattling,’ said his patron with perfect coolness. ‘Beware of that here, or you’re a lost rascal,’ and he smiled again, and again cautioned him with his forefinger.

The Grinder’s breath came short and thick with consternation. He tried to protest the purity of his intentions, but could only stare at the smiling gentleman in a stupor of submission, with which the smiling gentleman seemed well enough satisfied, for he ordered him downstairs, after observing him for some moments in silence, and gave him to understand that he was retained in his employment.

This was the manner of Rob the Grinder’s engagement by Mr Carker, and his awe-stricken devotion to that gentleman had strengthened and increased, if possible, with every minute of his service.

It was a service of some months’ duration, when early one morning, Rob opened the garden gate to Mr Dombey, who was come to breakfast with his master, by appointment. At the same moment his master himself came, hurrying forth to receive the distinguished guest, and give him welcome with all his teeth.

‘I never thought,’ said Carker, when he had assisted him to alight from his horse, ‘to see you here, I’m sure. This is an extraordinary day in my calendar. No occasion is very special to a man like you, who may do anything; but to a man like me, the case is widely different.’

‘You have a tasteful place here, Carker,’ said Mr Dombey, condescending to stop upon the lawn, to look about him.

‘You can afford to say so,’ returned Carker. ‘Thank you.’

‘Indeed,’ said Mr Dombey, in his lofty patronage, ‘anyone might say so. As far as it goes, it is a very commodious and well-arranged place—quite elegant.’

‘As far as it goes, truly,’ returned Carker, with an air of disparagement. ‘It wants that qualification. Well! we have said enough about it; and though you can afford to praise it, I thank you nonetheless. Will you walk in?’

Mr Dombey, entering the house, noticed, as he had reason to do, the complete arrangement of the rooms, and the numerous contrivances for comfort and effect that abounded there. Mr Carker, in his ostentation of       humility, received this notice with a deferential smile, and said he understood its delicate meaning, and appreciated it, but in truth the cottage was good enough for one in his position—better, perhaps, than such a man should occupy, poor as it was.

‘But perhaps to you, who are so far removed, it really does look better than it is,’ he said, with his false mouth distended to its fullest stretch. ‘Just as monarchs imagine attractions in the lives of beggars.’

He directed a sharp glance and a sharp smile at Mr Dombey as he spoke, and a sharper glance, and a sharper smile yet, when Mr Dombey, drawing himself up before the fire, in the attitude so often copied by his second in command, looked round at the pictures on the walls. Cursorily as his cold eye wandered over them, Carker’s keen glance accompanied his, and kept pace with his, marking exactly where it went, and what it saw. As it rested on one picture in particular, Carker hardly seemed to breathe, his sidelong scrutiny was so cat-like and vigilant, but the eye of his great chief passed from that, as from the others, and appeared no more impressed by it than by the rest.

Carker looked at it—it was the picture that resembled Edith—as if it were a living thing; and with a wicked, silent laugh upon his face, that seemed in part addressed to it, though it was all derisive of the great man standing so unconscious beside him. Breakfast was soon set upon the table; and, inviting Mr Dombey to a chair which had its back towards this picture, he took his own seat opposite to it as usual.

Mr Dombey was even graver than it was his custom to be, and quite silent. The parrot, swinging in the gilded hoop within her gaudy cage, attempted in vain to attract notice, for Carker was too observant of his visitor to heed her; and the visitor, abstracted in meditation, looked fixedly, not to say sullenly, over his stiff neckcloth, without raising his eyes from the table-cloth. As to Rob, who was in attendance, all his faculties and energies were so locked up in observation of his master, that he scarcely ventured to give shelter to the thought that the visitor was the great gentleman before whom he had been carried as a certificate of the family health, in his childhood, and to whom he had been indebted for his leather smalls.

‘Allow me,’ said Carker suddenly, ‘to ask how Mrs Dombey is?’

He leaned forward obsequiously, as he made the inquiry, with his chin resting on his hand; and at the same time his eyes went up to the picture, as if he said to it, ‘Now, see, how I will lead him on!’

Mr Dombey reddened as he answered:

‘Mrs Dombey is quite well. You remind me, Carker, of some conversation that I wish to have with you.’

‘Robin, you can leave us,’ said his master, at whose mild tones Robin started and disappeared, with his eyes fixed on his patron to the last. ‘You don’t remember that boy, of course?’ he added, when the enmeshed Grinder was gone.

‘No,’ said Mr Dombey, with magnificent indifference.

‘Not likely that a man like you would. Hardly possible,’ murmured Carker. ‘But he is one of that family from whom you took a nurse. Perhaps you may remember having generously charged yourself with his education?’

‘Is it that boy?’ said Mr Dombey, with a frown. ‘He does little credit to his education, I believe.’

‘Why, he is a young rip, I am afraid,’ returned Carker, with a shrug. ‘He bears that character. But the truth is, I took him into my service because, being able to get no other employment, he conceived (had been taught at home, I daresay) that he had some sort of claim upon you, and was constantly trying to dog your heels with his petition. And although my defined and recognised connexion with your affairs is merely of a business character, still I have that spontaneous interest in everything belonging to you, that—’

He stopped again, as if to discover whether he had led Mr Dombey far enough yet. And again, with his chin resting on his hand, he leered at the picture.

‘Carker,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘I am sensible that you do not limit your—’

‘Service,’ suggested his smiling entertainer.

‘No; I prefer to say your regard,’ observed Mr Dombey; very sensible, as he said so, that he was paying him a handsome and flattering compliment, ‘to our mere business relations. Your consideration for my feelings, hopes, and disappointments, in the little instance you have just now mentioned, is an example in point. I am obliged to you, Carker.’

Mr Carker bent his head slowly, and very softly rubbed his hands, as if he were afraid by any action to disturb the current of Mr Dombey’s confidence.

‘Your allusion to it is opportune,’ said Mr Dombey, after a little hesitation; ‘for it prepares the way to what I was beginning to say to you, and reminds me that that involves no absolutely new relations between us, although it may involve more personal confidence on my part than I have hitherto—’

‘Distinguished me with,’ suggested Carker, bending his head again: ‘I will not say to you how honoured I am; for a man like you well knows how much honour he has in his power to bestow at pleasure.’

‘Mrs Dombey and myself,’ said Mr Dombey, passing this compliment with august self-denial, ‘are not quite agreed upon some points. We do not appear to understand each other yet. Mrs Dombey has something to learn.’

‘Mrs Dombey is distinguished by many rare attractions; and has been accustomed, no doubt, to receive much adulation,’ said the smooth, sleek watcher of his slightest look and tone. ‘But where there is affection, duty, and respect, any little mistakes engendered by such causes are soon set right.’

Mr Dombey’s thoughts instinctively flew back to the face that had looked at him in his wife’s dressing-room when an imperious hand was stretched towards the door; and remembering the affection, duty, and respect, expressed in it, he felt the blood rush to his own face quite as plainly as the watchful eyes upon him saw it there.

‘Mrs Dombey and myself,’ he went on to say, ‘had some discussion, before Mrs Skewton’s death, upon the causes of my dissatisfaction; of which you will have formed a general understanding from having been a witness of what passed between Mrs Dombey and myself on the evening when you were at our—at my house.’

‘When I so much regretted being present,’ said the smiling Carker. ‘Proud as a man in my position necessarily must be of your familiar notice—though I give you no credit for it; you may do anything you please without losing caste—and honoured as I was by an early presentation to Mrs Dombey, before she was made eminent by bearing your name, I almost regretted that night, I assure you, that I had been the object of such especial good fortune.’

That any man could, under any possible circumstances, regret the being distinguished by his condescension and patronage, was a moral phenomenon which Mr Dombey could not comprehend. He therefore responded, with a considerable accession of dignity. ‘Indeed! And why, Carker?’

‘I fear,’ returned the confidential agent, ‘that Mrs Dombey, never very much disposed to regard me with favourable interest—one in my position could not expect that, from a lady naturally proud, and whose pride becomes her so well—may not easily forgive my innocent part in that conversation. Your displeasure is no light matter, you must remember; and to be visited with it before a third party—’

‘Carker,’ said Mr Dombey, arrogantly; ‘I presume that I am the first consideration?’

‘Oh! Can there be a doubt about it?’ replied the other, with the impatience of a man admitting a notorious and incontrovertible fact.

‘Mrs Dombey becomes a secondary consideration, when we are both in question, I imagine,’ said Mr Dombey. ‘Is that so?’

‘Is it so?’ returned Carker. ‘Do you know better than anyone, that you have no need to ask?’

‘Then I hope, Carker,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘that your regret in the acquisition of Mrs Dombey’s displeasure, may be almost counterbalanced by your satisfaction in retaining my confidence and good opinion.’

‘I have the misfortune, I find,’ returned Carker, ‘to have incurred that displeasure. Mrs Dombey has expressed it to you?’

‘Mrs Dombey has expressed various opinions,’ said Mr Dombey, with majestic coldness and indifference, ‘in which I do not participate, and which I am not inclined to discuss, or to recall. I made Mrs Dombey acquainted, some time since, as I have already told you, with certain points of domestic deference and submission on which I felt it necessary to insist. I failed to convince Mrs Dombey of the expediency of her immediately altering her conduct in those respects, with a view to her own peace and welfare, and my dignity; and I informed Mrs Dombey that if I should find it necessary to object or remonstrate again, I should express my opinion to her through yourself, my confidential agent.’

Blended with the look that Carker bent upon him, was a devilish look at the picture over his head, that struck upon it like a flash of lightning.

‘Now, Carker,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘I do not hesitate to say to you that I will carry my point. I am not to be trifled with. Mrs Dombey must understand that my will is law, and that I cannot allow of one exception to the whole rule of my life. You will have the goodness to undertake this charge, which, coming from me, is not unacceptable to you, I hope, whatever regret you may politely profess—for which I am obliged to you on behalf of Mrs Dombey; and you will have the goodness, I am persuaded, to discharge it as exactly as any other commission.’

‘You know,’ said Mr Carker, ‘that you have only to command me.’

‘I know,’ said Mr Dombey, with a majestic indication of assent, ‘that I have only to command you. It is necessary that I should proceed in this. Mrs Dombey is a lady undoubtedly highly qualified, in many respects, to—’

‘To do credit even to your choice,’ suggested Carker, with a yawning show of teeth.

‘Yes; if you please to adopt that form of words,’ said Mr Dombey, in his tone of state; ‘and at present I do not conceive that Mrs Dombey does that credit to it, to which it is entitled. There is a principle of opposition       in Mrs Dombey that must be eradicated; that must be overcome: Mrs Dombey does not appear to understand,’ said Mr Dombey, forcibly, ‘that the idea of opposition to Me is monstrous and absurd.’

‘We, in the City, know you better,’ replied Carker, with a smile from ear to ear.

‘You know me better,’ said Mr Dombey. ‘I hope so. Though, indeed, I am bound to do Mrs Dombey the justice of saying, however inconsistent it may seem with her subsequent conduct (which remains unchanged), that on my expressing my disapprobation and determination to her, with some severity, on the occasion to which I have referred, my admonition appeared to produce a very powerful effect.’ Mr Dombey delivered himself of those words with most portentous stateliness. ‘I wish you to have the goodness, then, to inform Mrs Dombey, Carker, from me, that I must recall our former conversation to her remembrance, in some surprise that it has not yet had its effect. That I must insist upon her regulating her conduct by the injunctions laid upon her in that conversation. That I am not satisfied with her conduct. That I am greatly dissatisfied with it. And that I shall be under the very disagreeable necessity of making you the bearer of yet more unwelcome and explicit communications, if she has not the good sense and the proper feeling to adapt herself to my wishes, as the first Mrs Dombey did, and, I believe I may add, as any other lady in her place would.’

‘The first Mrs Dombey lived very happily,’ said Carker.

‘The first Mrs Dombey had great good sense,’ said Mr Dombey, in a gentlemanly toleration of the dead, ‘and very correct feeling.’

‘Is Miss Dombey like her mother, do you think?’ said Carker.

Swiftly and darkly, Mr Dombey’s face changed. His confidential agent eyed it keenly.

‘I have approached a painful subject,’ he said, in a soft regretful tone of voice, irreconcilable with his eager eye. ‘Pray forgive me. I forget these chains of association in the interest I have. Pray forgive me.’

But for all he said, his eager eye scanned Mr Dombey’s downcast face none the less closely; and then it shot a strange triumphant look at the picture, as appealing to it to bear witness how he led him on again, and what was coming.

‘Carker,’ said Mr Dombey, looking here and there upon the table, and saying in a somewhat altered and more hurried voice, and with a paler lip, ‘there is no occasion for apology. You mistake. The association is with the matter in hand, and not with any recollection, as you suppose. I do not approve of Mrs Dombey’s behaviour towards my daughter.’

‘Pardon me,’ said Mr Carker, ‘I don’t quite understand.’

‘Understand then,’ returned Mr Dombey, ‘that you may make that—that you will make that, if you please—matter of direct objection from me to Mrs Dombey. You will please to tell her that her show of devotion for my daughter is disagreeable to me. It is likely to be noticed. It is likely to induce people to contrast Mrs Dombey in her relation towards my daughter, with Mrs Dombey in her relation towards myself. You will have the goodness to let Mrs Dombey know, plainly, that I object to it; and that I expect her to defer, immediately, to my objection. Mrs Dombey may be in earnest, or she may be pursuing a whim, or she may be opposing me; but I object to it in any case, and in every case. If Mrs Dombey is in earnest, so much the less reluctant should she be to desist; for she will not serve my daughter by any such display. If my wife has any superfluous gentleness, and duty over and above her proper submission to me, she may bestow them where she pleases, perhaps; but I will have submission first!—Carker,’ said Mr Dombey, checking the unusual emotion with which he had spoken, and falling into a tone more like that in which he was accustomed to assert his greatness, ‘you will have the goodness not to omit or slur this point, but to consider it a very important part of your instructions.’

Mr Carker bowed his head, and rising from the table, and standing thoughtfully before the fire, with his hand to his smooth chin, looked down at Mr Dombey with the evil slyness of some monkish carving, half human and half brute; or like a leering face on an old water-spout. Mr Dombey, recovering his composure by degrees, or cooling his emotion in his sense of having taken a high position, sat gradually stiffening again, and looking at the parrot as she swung to and fro, in her great wedding ring.

‘I beg your pardon,’ said Carker, after a silence, suddenly resuming his chair, and drawing it opposite to Mr Dombey’s, ‘but let me understand. Mrs Dombey is aware of the probability of your making me the organ of your displeasure?’

‘Yes,’ replied Mr Dombey. ‘I have said so.’

‘Yes,’ rejoined Carker, quickly; ‘but why?’

‘Why!’ Mr Dombey repeated, not without hesitation. ‘Because I told her.’

‘Ay,’ replied Carker. ‘But why did you tell her? You see,’ he continued with a smile, and softly laying his velvet hand, as a cat might have laid its sheathed claws, on Mr Dombey’s arm; ‘if I perfectly understand what is in your mind, I am so much more likely to be useful, and to have the happiness of being effectually employed. I think I do understand. I have not the honour of Mrs Dombey’s good opinion. In my position, I have no reason to expect it; but I take the fact to be, that I have not got it?’

‘Possibly not,’ said Mr Dombey.

‘Consequently,’ pursued Carker, ‘your making the communications to Mrs Dombey through me, is sure to be particularly unpalatable to that lady?’

‘It appears to me,’ said Mr Dombey, with haughty reserve, and yet with some embarrassment, ‘that Mrs Dombey’s views upon the subject form no part of it as it presents itself to you and me, Carker. But it may be so.’

‘And—pardon me—do I misconceive you,’ said Carker, ‘when I think you descry in this, a likely means of humbling Mrs Dombey’s pride—I use the word as expressive of a quality which, kept within due bounds, adorns and graces a lady so distinguished for her beauty and accomplishments—and, not to say of punishing her, but of reducing her to the submission you so naturally and justly require?’

‘I am not accustomed, Carker, as you know,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘to give such close reasons for any course of conduct I think proper to adopt, but I will gainsay nothing of this. If you have any objection to found upon it, that is indeed another thing, and the mere statement that you have one will be sufficient. But I have not supposed, I confess, that any confidence I could entrust to you, would be likely to degrade you—’

‘Oh! I degraded!’ exclaimed Carker. ‘In your service!’

‘—or to place you,’ pursued Mr Dombey, ‘in a false position.’

‘I in a false position!’ exclaimed Carker. ‘I shall be proud—delighted—to execute your trust. I could have wished, I own, to have given the lady at whose feet I would lay my humble duty and devotion—for is she not your wife!—no new cause of dislike; but a wish from you is, of course, paramount to every other consideration on earth. Besides, when Mrs Dombey is converted from these little errors of judgment, incidental, I would presume to say, to the novelty of her situation, I shall hope that she will perceive in the slight part I take, only a grain—my removed and different sphere gives room for little more—of the respect for you, and sacrifice of all considerations to you, of which it will be her pleasure and privilege to garner up a great store every day.’

Mr Dombey seemed, at the moment, again to see her with her hand stretched out towards the door, and again to hear through the mild speech of his confidential agent an echo of the words, ‘Nothing can make us stranger to each other than we are henceforth!’ But he shook off the fancy, and did not shake in his resolution, and said, ‘Certainly, no doubt.’

‘There is nothing more,’ quoth Carker, drawing his chair back to its old place—for they had taken little breakfast as yet—and pausing for an answer before he sat down.

‘Nothing,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘but this. You will be good enough to observe, Carker, that no message to Mrs Dombey with which you are or may be charged, admits of reply. You will be good enough to bring me no reply. Mrs Dombey is informed that it does not become me to temporise or treat upon any matter that is at issue between us, and that what I say is final.’

Mr Carker signified his understanding of these credentials, and they fell to breakfast with what appetite they might. The Grinder also, in due time reappeared, keeping his eyes upon his master without a moment’s respite, and passing the time in a reverie of worshipful tenor. Breakfast concluded, Mr Dombey’s horse was ordered out again, and Mr Carker mounting his own, they rode off for the City together.

Mr Carker was in capital spirits, and talked much. Mr Dombey received his conversation with the sovereign air of a man who had a right to be talked to, and occasionally condescended to throw in a few words to carry on the conversation. So they rode on characteristically enough. But Mr Dombey, in his dignity, rode with very long stirrups, and a very loose rein, and very rarely deigned to look down to see where his horse went. In consequence of which it happened that Mr Dombey’s horse, while going at a round trot, stumbled on some loose stones, threw him, rolled over him, and lashing out with his iron-shod feet, in his struggles to get up, kicked him.

Mr Carker, quick of eye, steady of hand, and a good horseman, was afoot, and had the struggling animal upon his legs and by the bridle, in a moment. Otherwise that morning’s confidence would have been Mr Dombey’s last. Yet even with the flush and hurry of this action red upon him, he bent over his prostrate chief with every tooth disclosed, and muttered as he stooped down, ‘I have given good cause of offence to Mrs Dombey now, if she knew it!’

Mr Dombey being insensible, and bleeding from the head and face, was carried by certain menders of the road, under Carker’s direction, to the nearest public-house, which was not far off, and where he was soon attended by divers surgeons, who arrived in quick succession from all parts, and who seemed to come by some mysterious instinct, as vultures are said to gather about a camel who dies in the desert. After being at some pains to restore him to consciousness, these gentlemen examined into the nature of his injuries. One surgeon who lived hard by was strong for a compound fracture of the leg, which was the landlord’s opinion also; but two surgeons who lived at a distance, and were only in that neighbourhood by accident, combated this opinion so disinterestedly, that it was decided at last that the patient, though severely cut and bruised, had broken no bones but a lesser rib or so, and might be carefully taken home before night. His injuries being dressed and bandaged, which was a long operation, and he at length left to repose, Mr Carker mounted his horse again, and rode away to carry the intelligence home.

Crafty and cruel as his face was at the best of times, though it was a sufficiently fair face as to form and regularity of feature, it was at its worst when he set forth on this errand; animated by the craft and cruelty of thoughts within him, suggestions of remote possibility rather than of design or plot, that made him ride as if he hunted men and women. Drawing rein at length, and slackening in his speed, as he came into the more public roads, he checked his white-legged horse into picking his way along as usual, and hid himself beneath his sleek, hushed, crouched manner, and his ivory smile, as he best could.

He rode direct to Mr Dombey’s house, alighted at the door, and begged to see Mrs Dombey on an affair of importance. The servant who showed him to Mr Dombey’s own room, soon returned to say that it was not Mrs Dombey’s hour for receiving visitors, and that he begged pardon for not having mentioned it before.

Mr Carker, who was quite prepared for a cold reception, wrote upon a card that he must take the liberty of pressing for an interview, and that he would not be so bold as to do so, for the second time (this he underlined), if he were not equally sure of the occasion being sufficient for his justification. After a trifling delay, Mrs Dombey’s maid appeared, and conducted him to a morning room upstairs, where Edith and Florence were together.

He had never thought Edith half so beautiful before. Much as he admired the graces of her face and form, and freshly as they dwelt within his sensual remembrance, he had never thought her half so beautiful.

Her glance fell haughtily upon him in the doorway; but he looked at Florence—though only in the act of bending his head, as he came in—with some irrepressible expression of the new power he held; and it was his triumph to see the glance droop and falter, and to see that Edith half rose up to receive him.

He was very sorry, he was deeply grieved; he couldn’t say with what unwillingness he came to prepare her for the intelligence of a very slight accident. He entreated Mrs Dombey to compose herself. Upon his sacred word of honour, there was no cause of alarm. But Mr Dombey—

Florence uttered a sudden cry. He did not look at her, but at Edith. Edith composed and reassured her. She uttered no cry of distress. No, no.

Mr Dombey had met with an accident in riding. His horse had slipped, and he had been thrown.

Florence wildly exclaimed that he was badly hurt; that he was killed!

No. Upon his honour, Mr Dombey, though stunned at first, was soon recovered, and though certainly hurt was in no kind of danger. If this were not the truth, he, the distressed intruder, never could have had the courage to present himself before Mrs Dombey. It was the truth indeed, he solemnly assured her.

All this he said as if he were answering Edith, and not Florence, and with his eyes and his smile fastened on Edith.

He then went on to tell her where Mr Dombey was lying, and to request that a carriage might be placed at his disposal to bring him home.

‘Mama,’ faltered Florence in tears, ‘if I might venture to go!’

Mr Carker, having his eyes on Edith when he heard these words, gave her a secret look and slightly shook his head. He saw how she battled with herself before she answered him with her handsome eyes, but he wrested the answer from her—he showed her that he would have it, or that he would speak and cut Florence to the heart—and she gave it to him. As he had looked at the picture in the morning, so he looked at her afterwards, when she turned her eyes away.

‘I am directed to request,’ he said, ‘that the new housekeeper—Mrs Pipchin, I think, is the name—’

Nothing escaped him. He saw in an instant, that she was another slight of Mr Dombey’s on his wife.

‘—may be informed that Mr Dombey wishes to have his bed prepared in his own apartments downstairs, as he prefers those rooms to any other. I shall return to Mr Dombey almost immediately. That every possible attention has been paid to his comfort, and that he is the object of every possible solicitude, I need not assure you, Madam. Let me again say, there is no cause for the least alarm. Even you may be quite at ease, believe me.’

He bowed himself out, with his extremest show of deference and conciliation; and having returned to Mr Dombey’s room, and there arranged for a carriage being sent after him to the City, mounted his horse again, and rode slowly thither. He was very thoughtful as he went along, and very thoughtful there, and very thoughtful in the carriage on his way back to the place where Mr Dombey had been left. It was only when sitting by that gentleman’s couch that he was quite himself again, and conscious of his teeth.

About the time of twilight, Mr Dombey, grievously afflicted with aches and pains, was helped into his carriage, and propped with cloaks and pillows on one side of it, while his confidential agent bore him company upon the other. As he was not to be shaken, they moved at little more than a foot pace; and hence it was quite dark when he was brought home. Mrs Pipchin, bitter and grim, and not oblivious of the Peruvian mines, as the establishment in general had good reason to know, received him at the door, and freshened the domestics with several little sprinklings of wordy vinegar, while they assisted in conveying him to his room. Mr Carker remained in attendance until he was safe in bed, and then, as he declined to receive any female visitor, but the excellent Ogress who presided over his household, waited on Mrs Dombey once more, with his report on her lord’s condition.

He again found Edith alone with Florence, and he again addressed the whole of his soothing speech to Edith, as if she were a prey to the liveliest and most affectionate anxieties. So earnest he was in his respectful sympathy, that on taking leave, he ventured—with one more glance towards Florence at the moment—to take her hand, and bending over it, to touch it with his lips.

Edith did not withdraw the hand, nor did she strike his fair face with it, despite the flush upon her cheek, the bright light in her eyes, and the dilation of her whole form. But when she was alone in her own room, she struck it on the marble chimney-shelf, so that, at one blow, it was bruised, and bled; and held it from her, near the shining fire, as if she could have thrust it in and burned it.

Far into the night she sat alone, by the sinking blaze, in dark and threatening beauty, watching the murky shadows looming on the wall, as if her thoughts were tangible, and cast them there. Whatever shapes of outrage and affront, and black foreshadowings of things that might happen, flickered, indistinct and giant-like, before her, one resented figure marshalled them against her. And that figure was her husband.

CHAPTER 43. The Watches of the Night

Florence, long since awakened from her dream, mournfully observed the estrangement between her father and Edith, and saw it widen more and more, and knew that there was greater bitterness between them every day. Each day’s added knowledge deepened the shade upon her love and hope, roused up the old sorrow that had slumbered for a little time, and made it even heavier to bear than it had been before.

It had been hard—how hard may none but Florence ever know!—to have the natural affection of a true and earnest nature turned to agony; and slight, or stern repulse, substituted for the tenderest protection and the dearest care. It had been hard to feel in her deep heart what she had felt, and never know the happiness of one touch of response. But it was much more hard to be compelled to doubt either her father or Edith, so affectionate and dear to her, and to think of her love for each of them, by turns, with fear, distrust, and wonder.

Yet Florence now began to do so; and the doing of it was a task imposed upon her by the very purity of her soul, as one she could not fly from. She saw her father cold and obdurate to Edith, as to her; hard, inflexible, unyielding. Could it be, she asked herself with starting tears, that her own dear mother had been made unhappy by such treatment, and had pined away and died? Then she would think how proud and stately Edith was to everyone but her, with what disdain she treated him, how distantly she kept apart from him, and what she had said on the night when they came home; and quickly it would come on Florence, almost as a crime, that she loved one who was set in opposition to her father, and that her father knowing of it, must think of her in his solitary room as the unnatural child who added this wrong to the old fault, so much wept for, of never having won his fatherly affection from her birth. The next kind word from Edith, the next kind glance, would shake these thoughts again, and make them seem like black ingratitude; for who but she had cheered the drooping heart of Florence, so lonely and so hurt, and been its best of comforters! Thus, with her gentle nature yearning to them both, feeling for the misery of both, and whispering doubts of her own duty to both, Florence in her wider and expanded love, and by the side of Edith, endured more than when she had hoarded up her undivided secret in the mournful house, and her beautiful Mama had never dawned upon it.

One exquisite unhappiness that would have far outweighed this, Florence was spared. She never had the least suspicion that Edith by her tenderness for her widened the separation from her father, or gave him new cause of dislike. If Florence had conceived the possibility of such an effect being wrought by such a cause, what grief she would have felt, what sacrifice she would have tried to make, poor loving girl, how fast and sure her quiet passage might have been beneath it to the presence of that higher Father who does not reject his children’s love, or spurn their tried and broken hearts, Heaven knows! But it was otherwise, and that was well.

No word was ever spoken between Florence and Edith now, on these subjects. Edith had said there ought to be between them, in that wise, a division and a silence like the grave itself: and Florence felt she was right.

In this state of affairs her father was brought home, suffering and disabled; and gloomily retired to his own rooms, where he was tended by servants, not approached by Edith, and had no friend or companion but Mr Carker, who withdrew near midnight.

‘And nice company he is, Miss Floy,’ said Susan Nipper. ‘Oh, he’s a precious piece of goods! If ever he wants a character don’t let him come to me whatever he does, that’s all I tell him.’

‘Dear Susan,’ urged Florence, ‘don’t!’

‘Oh, it’s very well to say “don’t” Miss Floy,’ returned the Nipper, much exasperated; ‘but raly begging your pardon we’re coming to such passes that it turns all the blood in a person’s body into pins and needles, with their pints all ways. Don’t mistake me, Miss Floy, I don’t mean nothing again your ma-in-law who has always treated me as a lady should though she is rather high I must say not that I have any right to object to that particular, but when we come to Mrs Pipchinses and having them put over us and keeping guard at your Pa’s door like crocodiles (only make us thankful that they lay no eggs!) we are a growing too outrageous!’

‘Papa thinks well of Mrs Pipchin, Susan,’ returned Florence, ‘and has a right to choose his housekeeper, you know. Pray don’t!’

‘Well Miss Floy,’ returned the Nipper, ‘when you say don’t, I never do I hope but Mrs Pipchin acts like early gooseberries upon me Miss, and nothing less.’

Susan was unusually emphatic and destitute of punctuation in her discourse on this night, which was the night of Mr Dombey’s being brought home, because, having been sent downstairs by Florence to inquire after him, she had been obliged to deliver her message to her mortal enemy Mrs Pipchin; who, without carrying it in to Mr Dombey, had taken upon herself to return what Miss Nipper called a huffish answer, on her own responsibility. This, Susan Nipper construed into presumption on the part of that exemplary sufferer by the Peruvian mines, and a deed of disparagement upon her young lady, that was not to be forgiven; and so far her emphatic state was special. But she had been in a condition of greatly increased suspicion and distrust, ever since the marriage; for, like most persons of her quality of mind, who form a strong and sincere attachment to one in the different station which Florence occupied, Susan was very jealous, and her jealousy naturally attached to Edith, who divided her old empire, and came between them. Proud and glad as Susan Nipper truly was, that her young mistress should be advanced towards her proper place in the scene of her old neglect, and that she should have her father’s handsome wife for her companion and protectress, she could not relinquish any part of her own dominion to the handsome wife, without a grudge and a vague feeling of ill-will, for which she did not fail to find a disinterested justification in her sharp perception of the pride and passion of the lady’s character. From the background to which she had necessarily retired somewhat, since the marriage, Miss Nipper looked on, therefore, at domestic affairs in general, with a resolute conviction that no good would come of Mrs Dombey: always being very careful to publish on all possible occasions, that she had nothing to say against her.

‘Susan,’ said Florence, who was sitting thoughtfully at her table, ‘it is very late. I shall want nothing more to-night.’

‘Ah, Miss Floy!’ returned the Nipper, ‘I’m sure I often wish for them old times when I sat up with you hours later than this and fell asleep through being tired out when you was as broad awake as spectacles, but you’ve ma’s-in-law to come and sit with you now Miss Floy and I’m thankful for it I’m sure. I’ve not a word to say against ‘em.’

‘I shall not forget who was my old companion when I had none, Susan,’ returned Florence, gently, ‘never!’ And looking up, she put her arm round the neck of her humble friend, drew her face down to hers, and bidding her good-night, kissed it; which so mollified Miss Nipper, that she fell a sobbing.

‘Now my dear Miss Floy,’ said Susan, ‘let me go downstairs again and see how your Pa is, I know you’re wretched about him, do let me go downstairs again and knock at his door my own self.’

‘No,’ said Florence, ‘go to bed. We shall hear more in the morning. I will inquire myself in the morning. Mama has been down, I daresay;’ Florence blushed, for she had no such hope; ‘or is there now, perhaps. Good-night!’

Susan was too much softened to express her private opinion on the probability of Mrs Dombey’s being in attendance on her husband, and silently withdrew. Florence left alone, soon hid her head upon her hands as she had often done in other days, and did not restrain the tears from coursing down her face. The misery of this domestic discord and unhappiness; the withered hope she cherished now, if hope it could be       called, of ever being taken to her father’s heart; her doubts and fears between the two; the yearning of her innocent breast to both; the heavy disappointment and regret of such an end as this, to what had been a vision of bright hope and promise to her; all crowded on her mind and made her tears flow fast. Her mother and her brother dead, her father unmoved towards her, Edith opposed to him and casting him away, but loving her, and loved by her, it seemed as if her affection could never prosper, rest where it would. That weak thought was soon hushed, but the thoughts in which it had arisen were too true and strong to be dismissed with it; and they made the night desolate.

Among such reflections there rose up, as there had risen up all day, the image of her father, wounded and in pain, alone in his own room, untended by those who should be nearest to him, and passing the tardy hours in lonely suffering. A frightened thought which made her start and clasp her hands—though it was not a new one in her mind—that he might die, and never see her or pronounce her name, thrilled her whole frame. In her agitation she thought, and trembled while she thought, of once more stealing downstairs, and venturing to his door.

She listened at her own. The house was quiet, and all the lights were out. It was a long, long time, she thought, since she used to make her nightly pilgrimages to his door! It was a long, long time, she tried to think, since she had entered his room at midnight, and he had led her back to the stair-foot!

With the same child’s heart within her, as of old: even with the child’s sweet timid eyes and clustering hair: Florence, as strange to her father in her early maiden bloom, as in her nursery time, crept down the staircase listening as she went, and drew near to his room. No one was stirring in the house. The door was partly open to admit air; and all was so still within, that she could hear the burning of the fire, and count the ticking of the clock that stood upon the chimney-piece.

She looked in. In that room, the housekeeper wrapped in a blanket was fast asleep in an easy chair before the fire. The doors between it and the next were partly closed, and a screen was drawn before them; but there was a light there, and it shone upon the cornice of his bed. All was so very still that she could hear from his breathing that he was asleep. This gave her courage to pass round the screen, and look into his chamber.

It was as great a start to come upon his sleeping face as if she had not expected to see it. Florence stood arrested on the spot, and if he had awakened then, must have remained there.

There was a cut upon his forehead, and they had been wetting his hair, which lay bedabbled and entangled on the pillow. One of his arms, resting outside the bed, was bandaged up, and he was very white. But it was not this, that after the first quick glance, and first assurance of his sleeping quietly, held Florence rooted to the ground. It was something very different from this, and more than this, that made him look so solemn in her eye.

She had never seen his face in all her life, but there had been upon it—or she fancied so—some disturbing consciousness of her. She had never seen his face in all her life, but hope had sunk within her, and her timid glance had dropped before its stern, unloving, and repelling harshness. As she looked upon it now, she saw it, for the first time, free from the cloud that had darkened her childhood. Calm, tranquil night was reigning in its stead. He might have gone to sleep, for anything she saw there, blessing her.

Awake, unkind father! Awake, now, sullen man! The time is flitting by; the hour is coming with an angry tread. Awake!

There was no change upon his face; and as she watched it, awfully, its motionless response recalled the faces that were gone. So they looked, so would he; so she, his weeping child, who should say when! so all the world of love and hatred and indifference around them! When that time should come, it would not be the heavier to him, for this that she was going to do; and it might fall something lighter upon her.

She stole close to the bed, and drawing in her breath, bent down, and softly kissed him on the face, and laid her own for one brief moment by its side, and put the arm, with which she dared not touch him, round about him on the pillow.

Awake, doomed man, while she is near! The time is flitting by; the hour is coming with an angry tread; its foot is in the house. Awake!

In her mind, she prayed to God to bless her father, and to soften him towards her, if it might be so; and if not, to forgive him if he was wrong, and pardon her the prayer which almost seemed impiety. And doing so, and looking back at him with blinded eyes, and stealing timidly away, passed out of his room, and crossed the other, and was gone.

He may sleep on now. He may sleep on while he may. But let him look for that slight figure when he wakes, and find it near him when the hour is come!

Sad and grieving was the heart of Florence, as she crept upstairs. The quiet house had grown more dismal since she came down. The sleep she had been looking on, in the dead of night, had the solemnity to her of death and life in one. The secrecy and silence of her own proceeding made the night secret, silent, and oppressive. She felt unwilling, almost unable, to go on to her own chamber; and turning into the drawing-rooms, where the clouded moon was shining through the blinds, looked out into the empty streets.

The wind was blowing drearily. The lamps looked pale, and shook as if they were cold. There was a distant glimmer of something that was not quite darkness, rather than of light, in the sky; and foreboding night was shivering and restless, as the dying are who make a troubled end. Florence remembered how, as a watcher, by a sick-bed, she had noted this bleak time, and felt its influence, as if in some hidden natural antipathy to it; and now it was very, very gloomy.

Her Mama had not come to her room that night, which was one cause of her having sat late out of her bed. In her general uneasiness, no less than in her ardent longing to have somebody to speak to, and to break the spell of gloom and silence, Florence directed her steps towards the chamber where she slept.

The door was not fastened within, and yielded smoothly to her hesitating hand. She was surprised to find a bright light burning; still more surprised, on looking in, to see that her Mama, but partially undressed, was sitting near the ashes of the fire, which had crumbled and dropped away. Her eyes were intently bent upon the air; and in their light, and in her face, and in her form, and in the grasp with which she held the elbows of her chair as if about to start up, Florence saw such fierce emotion that it terrified her.

‘Mama!’ she cried, ‘what is the matter?’

Edith started; looking at her with such a strange dread in her face, that Florence was more frightened than before.

‘Mama!’ said Florence, hurriedly advancing. ‘Dear Mama! what is the matter?’

‘I have not been well,’ said Edith, shaking, and still looking at her in the same strange way. ‘I have had bad dreams, my love.’

‘And not yet been to bed, Mama?’

‘No,’ she returned. ‘Half-waking dreams.’

Her features gradually softened; and suffering Florence to come closer to her, within her embrace, she said in a tender manner, ‘But what does my bird do here? What does my bird do here?’

‘I have been uneasy, Mama, in not seeing you to-night, and in not knowing how Papa was; and I—’

Florence stopped there, and said no more.

‘Is it late?’ asked Edith, fondly putting back the curls that mingled with her own dark hair, and strayed upon her face.

‘Very late. Near day.’

‘Near day!’ she repeated in surprise.

‘Dear Mama, what have you done to your hand?’ said Florence.

Edith drew it suddenly away, and, for a moment, looked at her with the same strange dread (there was a sort of wild avoidance in it) as before; but she presently said, ‘Nothing, nothing. A blow.’ And then she said, ‘My Florence!’ and then her bosom heaved, and she was weeping passionately.

‘Mama!’ said Florence. ‘Oh Mama, what can I do, what should I do, to make us happier? Is there anything?’

‘Nothing,’ she replied.

‘Are you sure of that? Can it never be? If I speak now of what is in my thoughts, in spite of what we have agreed,’ said Florence, ‘you will not blame me, will you?’

‘It is useless,’ she replied, ‘useless. I have told you, dear, that I have had bad dreams. Nothing can change them, or prevent them coming back.’

‘I do not understand,’ said Florence, gazing on her agitated face which seemed to darken as she looked.

‘I have dreamed,’ said Edith in a low voice, ‘of a pride that is all powerless for good, all powerful for evil; of a pride that has been galled and goaded, through many shameful years, and has never recoiled except upon itself; a pride that has debased its owner with the consciousness of deep humiliation, and never helped its owner boldly to resent it or avoid it, or to say, “This shall not be!” a pride that, rightly guided, might have led perhaps to better things, but which, misdirected and perverted, like all else belonging to the same possessor, has been self-contempt, mere hardihood and ruin.’

She neither looked nor spoke to Florence now, but went on as if she were alone.

‘I have dreamed,’ she said, ‘of such indifference and callousness, arising from this self-contempt; this wretched, inefficient, miserable pride; that it has gone on with listless steps even to the altar, yielding to the old, familiar, beckoning finger,—oh mother, oh mother!—while it spurned it; and willing to be hateful to itself for once and for all, rather than to be stung daily in some new form. Mean, poor thing!’

And now with gathering and darkening emotion, she looked as she had looked when Florence entered.

‘And I have dreamed,’ she said, ‘that in a first late effort to achieve a purpose, it has been trodden on, and trodden down by a base foot, but turns and looks upon him. I have dreamed that it is wounded, hunted, set upon by dogs, but that it stands at bay, and will not yield; no, that it cannot if it would; but that it is urged on to hate.’

Her clenched hand tightened on the trembling arm she had in hers, and as she looked down on the alarmed and wondering face, frown subsided. ‘Oh Florence!’ she said, ‘I think I have been nearly mad to-night!’ and humbled her proud head upon her neck and wept again.

‘Don’t leave me! be near me! I have no hope but in you!’ These words she said a score of times.

Soon she grew calmer, and was full of pity for the tears of Florence, and for her waking at such untimely hours. And the day now dawning, with folded her in her arms and laid her down upon her bed, and, not lying down herself, sat by her, and bade her try to sleep.

‘For you are weary, dearest, and unhappy, and should rest.’

‘I am indeed unhappy, dear Mama, tonight,’ said Florence. ‘But you are weary and unhappy, too.’

‘Not when you lie asleep so near me, sweet.’

They kissed each other, and Florence, worn out, gradually fell into a gentle slumber; but as her eyes closed on the face beside her, it was so sad to think upon the face downstairs, that her hand drew closer to Edith for some comfort; yet, even in the act, it faltered, lest it should be deserting him. So, in her sleep, she tried to reconcile the two together, and to show them that she loved them both, but could not do it, and her waking grief was part of her dreams.

Edith, sitting by, looked down at the dark eyelashes lying wet on the flushed cheeks, and looked with gentleness and pity, for she knew the truth. But no sleep hung upon her own eyes. As the day came on she still sat watching and waking, with the placid hand in hers, and sometimes whispered, as she looked at the hushed face, ‘Be near me, Florence. I have no hope but in you!’

CHAPTER 44. A Separation

With the day, though not so early as the sun, uprose Miss Susan Nipper. There was a heaviness in this young maiden’s exceedingly sharp black eyes, that abated somewhat of their sparkling, and suggested—which was not their usual character—the possibility of their being sometimes shut. There was likewise a swollen look about them, as if they had been crying over-night. But the Nipper, so far from being cast down, was singularly brisk and bold, and all her energies appeared to be braced up for some great feat. This was noticeable even in her dress, which was much more tight and trim than usual; and in occasional twitches of her head as she went about the house, which were mightily expressive of determination.

In a word, she had formed a determination, and an aspiring one: it being nothing less than this—to penetrate to Mr Dombey’s presence, and have speech of that gentleman alone. ‘I have often said I would,’ she remarked, in a threatening manner, to herself, that morning, with many twitches of her head, ‘and now I will!’

Spurring herself on to the accomplishment of this desperate design, with a sharpness that was peculiar to herself, Susan Nipper haunted the hall and staircase during the whole forenoon, without finding a favourable opportunity for the assault. Not at all baffled by this discomfiture, which indeed had a stimulating effect, and put her on her mettle, she diminished nothing of her vigilance; and at last discovered, towards evening, that her sworn foe Mrs Pipchin, under pretence of having sat up all night, was dozing in her own room, and that Mr Dombey was lying on his sofa, unattended.

With a twitch—not of her head merely, this time, but of her whole self—the Nipper went on tiptoe to Mr Dombey’s door, and knocked. ‘Come in!’ said Mr Dombey. Susan encouraged herself with a final twitch, and went in.

Mr Dombey, who was eyeing the fire, gave an amazed look at his visitor, and raised himself a little on his arm. The Nipper dropped a curtsey.

‘What do you want?’ said Mr Dombey.

‘If you please, Sir, I wish to speak to you,’ said Susan.

Mr Dombey moved his lips as if he were repeating the words, but he seemed so lost in astonishment at the presumption of the young woman as to be incapable of giving them utterance.

‘I have been in your service, Sir,’ said Susan Nipper, with her usual rapidity, ‘now twelve ‘year a waiting on Miss Floy my own young lady who couldn’t speak plain when I first come here and I was old in this house when Mrs Richards was new, I may not be Meethosalem, but I am not a child in arms.’

Mr Dombey, raised upon his arm and looking at her, offered no comment on this preparatory statement of fact.

‘There never was a dearer or a blesseder young lady than is my young lady, Sir,’ said Susan, ‘and I ought to know a great deal better than some for I have seen her in her grief and I have seen her in her joy (there’s not been much of it) and I have seen her with her brother and I have seen her in her loneliness and some have never seen her, and I say to some and all—I do!’ and here the black-eyed shook her head, and slightly stamped her foot; ‘that she’s the blessedest and dearest angel is Miss Floy that ever drew the breath of life, the more that I was torn to pieces Sir the more I’d say it though I may not be a Fox’s Martyr.’

Mr Dombey turned yet paler than his fall had made him, with indignation and astonishment; and kept his eyes upon the speaker as if he accused them, and his ears too, of playing him false.

‘No one could be anything but true and faithful to Miss Floy, Sir,’ pursued Susan, ‘and I take no merit for my service of twelve year, for I love her—yes, I say to some and all I do!’—and here the black-eyed shook her head again, and slightly stamped her foot again, and checked a sob; ‘but true and faithful service gives me right to speak I hope, and speak I must and will now, right or wrong.’

‘What do you mean, woman?’ said Mr Dombey, glaring at her. ‘How do you dare?’

‘What I mean, Sir, is to speak respectful and without offence, but out, and how I dare I know not but I do!’ said Susan. ‘Oh! you don’t know my young lady Sir you don’t indeed, you’d never know so little of her, if you did.’

Mr Dombey, in a fury, put his hand out for the bell-rope; but there was no bell-rope on that side of the fire, and he could not rise and cross to the other without assistance. The quick eye of the Nipper detected his helplessness immediately, and now, as she afterwards observed, she felt she had got him.

‘Miss Floy,’ said Susan Nipper, ‘is the most devoted and most patient and most dutiful and beautiful of daughters, there ain’t no gentleman, no Sir, though as great and rich as all the greatest and richest of England put together, but might be proud of her and would and ought. If he knew her value right, he’d rather lose his greatness and his fortune piece by piece and beg his way in rags from door to door, I say to some and all, he would!’ cried Susan Nipper, bursting into tears, ‘than bring the sorrow on her tender heart that I have seen it suffer in this house!’

‘Woman,’ cried Mr Dombey, ‘leave the room.’

‘Begging your pardon, not even if I am to leave the situation, Sir,’ replied the steadfast Nipper, ‘in which I have been so many years and seen so much—although I hope you’d never have the heart to send me from Miss Floy for such a cause—will I go now till I have said the rest, I may not be a Indian widow Sir and I am not and I would not so become but if I once made up my mind to burn myself alive, I’d do it! And I’ve made my mind up to go on.’

Which was rendered no less clear by the expression of Susan Nipper’s countenance, than by her words.

‘There ain’t a person in your service, Sir,’ pursued the black-eyed, ‘that has always stood more in awe of you than me and you may think how true it is when I make so bold as say that I have hundreds and hundreds of times thought of speaking to you and never been able to make my mind up to it till last night, but last night decided of me.’

Mr Dombey, in a paroxysm of rage, made another grasp at the bell-rope that was not there, and, in its absence, pulled his hair rather than nothing.

‘I have seen,’ said Susan Nipper, ‘Miss Floy strive and strive when nothing but a child so sweet and patient that the best of women might have copied from her, I’ve seen her sitting nights together half the night through to help her delicate brother with his learning, I’ve seen her helping him and watching him at other times—some well know when—I’ve seen her, with no encouragement and no help, grow up to be a lady, thank God! that is the grace and pride of every company she goes in, and I’ve always seen her cruelly neglected and keenly feeling of it—I say to some and all, I have!—and never said one word, but ordering one’s self lowly and reverently towards one’s betters, is not to be a worshipper of graven images, and I will and must speak!’

‘Is there anybody there?’ cried Mr Dombey, calling out. ‘Where are the men? where are the women? Is there no one there?’

‘I left my dear young lady out of bed late last night,’ said Susan, nothing checked, ‘and I knew why, for you was ill Sir and she didn’t know how ill and that was enough to make her wretched as I saw it did. I may not be a Peacock; but I have my eyes—and I sat up a little in my own room thinking she might be lonesome and might want me, and I saw her steal downstairs and come to this door as if it was a guilty thing to look at her own Pa, and then steal back again and go into them lonely drawing-rooms, a-crying so, that I could hardly bear to hear it. I can not bear to hear it,’ said Susan Nipper, wiping her black eyes, and fixing them undauntingly on Mr Dombey’s infuriated face. ‘It’s not the first time I have heard it, not by many and many a time you don’t know your own daughter, Sir, you don’t know what you’re doing, Sir, I say to some and all,’ cried Susan Nipper, in a final burst, ‘that it’s a sinful shame!’

‘Why, hoity toity!’ cried the voice of Mrs Pipchin, as the black bombazeen garments of that fair Peruvian Miner swept into the room. ‘What’s this, indeed?’

Susan favoured Mrs Pipchin with a look she had invented expressly for her when they first became acquainted, and resigned the reply to Mr Dombey.

‘What’s this?’ repeated Mr Dombey, almost foaming. ‘What’s this, Madam? You who are at the head of this household, and bound to keep it in order, have reason to inquire. Do you know this woman?’

‘I know very little good of her, Sir,’ croaked Mrs Pipchin. ‘How dare you come here, you hussy? Go along with you!’

But the inflexible Nipper, merely honouring Mrs Pipchin with another look, remained.

‘Do you call it managing this establishment, Madam,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘to leave a person like this at liberty to come and talk to me! A gentleman—in his own house—in his own room—assailed with the impertinences of women-servants!’

‘Well, Sir,’ returned Mrs Pipchin, with vengeance in her hard grey eye, ‘I exceedingly deplore it; nothing can be more irregular; nothing can be more out of all bounds and reason; but I regret to say, Sir, that this young woman is quite beyond control. She has been spoiled by Miss Dombey, and is amenable to nobody. You know you’re not,’ said Mrs Pipchin, sharply, and shaking her head at Susan Nipper. ‘For shame, you hussy! Go along with you!’

‘If you find people in my service who are not to be controlled, Mrs Pipchin,’ said Mr Dombey, turning back towards the fire, ‘you know what to do with them, I presume. You know what you are here for? Take her away!’

‘Sir, I know what to do,’ retorted Mrs Pipchin, ‘and of course shall do it. Susan Nipper,’ snapping her up particularly short, ‘a month’s warning from this hour.’

‘Oh indeed!’ cried Susan, loftily.

‘Yes,’ returned Mrs Pipchin, ‘and don’t smile at me, you minx, or I’ll know the reason why! Go along with you this minute!’

‘I intend to go this minute, you may rely upon it,’ said the voluble Nipper. ‘I have been in this house waiting on my young lady a dozen year and I won’t stop in it one hour under notice from a person owning to the name of Pipchin trust me, Mrs P.’

‘A good riddance of bad rubbish!’ said that wrathful old lady. ‘Get along with you, or I’ll have you carried out!’

‘My comfort is,’ said Susan, looking back at Mr Dombey, ‘that I have told a piece of truth this day which ought to have been told long before and can’t be told too often or too plain and that no amount of Pipchinses—I hope the number of ‘em mayn’t be great’ (here Mrs Pipchin uttered a very sharp ‘Go along with you!’ and Miss Nipper repeated the look) ‘can unsay what I have said, though they gave a whole year full of warnings beginning at ten o’clock in the forenoon and never leaving off till twelve at night and died of the exhaustion which would be a Jubilee!’

With these words, Miss Nipper preceded her foe out of the room; and walking upstairs to her own apartments in great state, to the choking exasperation of the ireful Pipchin, sat down among her boxes and began to cry.

From this soft mood she was soon aroused, with a very wholesome and refreshing effect, by the voice of Mrs Pipchin outside the door.

‘Does that bold-faced slut,’ said the fell Pipchin, ‘intend to take her warning, or does she not?’

Miss Nipper replied from within that the person described did not inhabit that part of the house, but that her name was Pipchin, and she was to be found in the housekeeper’s room.

‘You saucy baggage!’ retorted Mrs Pipchin, rattling at the handle of the door. ‘Go along with you this minute. Pack up your things directly! How dare you talk in this way to a gentle-woman who has seen better days?’

To which Miss Nipper rejoined from her castle, that she pitied the better days that had seen Mrs Pipchin; and that for her part she considered the worst days in the year to be about that lady’s mark, except that they were much too good for her.

‘But you needn’t trouble yourself to make a noise at my door,’ said Susan Nipper, ‘nor to contaminate the key-hole with your eye, I’m packing up and going you may take your affidavit.’

The Dowager expressed her lively satisfaction at this intelligence, and with some general opinions upon young hussies as a race, and especially upon their demerits after being spoiled by Miss Dombey, withdrew to prepare the Nipper’s wages. Susan then bestirred herself to get her trunks in order, that she might take an immediate and dignified departure; sobbing heartily all the time, as she thought of Florence.

The object of her regret was not long in coming to her, for the news soon spread over the house that Susan Nipper had had a disturbance with Mrs Pipchin, and that they had both appealed to Mr Dombey, and that there had been an unprecedented piece of work in Mr Dombey’s room, and that Susan was going. The latter part of this confused rumour, Florence found to be so correct, that Susan had locked the last trunk and was sitting upon it with her bonnet on, when she came into her room.

‘Susan!’ cried Florence. ‘Going to leave me! You!’

‘Oh for goodness gracious sake, Miss Floy,’ said Susan, sobbing, ‘don’t speak a word to me or I shall demean myself before them Pi-i-pchinses, and I wouldn’t have ‘em see me cry Miss Floy for worlds!’

‘Susan!’ said Florence. ‘My dear girl, my old friend! What shall I do without you! Can you bear to go away so?’

‘No-n-o-o, my darling dear Miss Floy, I can’t indeed,’ sobbed Susan. ‘But it can’t be helped, I’ve done my duty, Miss, I have indeed. It’s no fault of mine. I am quite resigned. I couldn’t stay my month or I could never leave you then my darling and I must at last as well as at first, don’t speak to me Miss Floy, for though I’m pretty firm I’m not a marble doorpost, my own dear.’

‘What is it? Why is it?’ said Florence, ‘Won’t you tell me?’ For Susan was shaking her head.

‘No-n-no, my darling,’ returned Susan. ‘Don’t ask me, for I mustn’t, and whatever you do don’t put in a word for me to stop, for it couldn’t be and you’d only wrong yourself, and so God bless you my own precious and forgive me any harm I have done, or any temper I have showed in all these many years!’

With which entreaty, very heartily delivered, Susan hugged her mistress in her arms.

‘My darling there’s a many that may come to serve you and be glad to serve you and who’ll serve you well and true,’ said Susan, ‘but there can’t be one who’ll serve you so affectionate as me or love you half as dearly, that’s my comfort. Go-ood-bye, sweet Miss Floy!’

‘Where will you go, Susan?’ asked her weeping mistress.

‘I’ve got a brother down in the country Miss—a farmer in Essex,’ said the heart-broken Nipper, ‘that keeps ever so many co-o-ows and pigs and I shall go down there by the coach and sto-op with him, and don’t mind me, for I’ve got money in the Savings Banks my dear, and needn’t take another service just yet, which I couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t do, my heart’s own mistress!’ Susan finished with a burst of sorrow, which was opportunely broken by the voice of Mrs Pipchin talking downstairs; on hearing which, she dried her red and swollen eyes, and made a melancholy feint of calling jauntily to Mr Towlinson to fetch a cab and carry down her boxes.

Florence, pale and hurried and distressed, but withheld from useless interference even here, by her dread of causing any new division between her father and his wife (whose stern, indignant face had been a warning to her a few moments since), and by her apprehension of being in some way unconsciously connected already with the dismissal of her old servant and friend, followed, weeping, downstairs to Edith’s dressing-room, whither Susan betook herself to make her parting curtsey.

‘Now, here’s the cab, and here’s the boxes, get along with you, do!’ said Mrs Pipchin, presenting herself at the same moment. ‘I beg your pardon, Ma’am, but Mr Dombey’s orders are imperative.’

Edith, sitting under the hands of her maid—she was going out to dinner—preserved her haughty face, and took not the least notice.

‘There’s your money,’ said Mrs Pipchin, who in pursuance of her system, and in recollection of the Mines, was accustomed to rout the servants about, as she had routed her young Brighton boarders; to the everlasting acidulation of Master Bitherstone, ‘and the sooner this house sees your back the better.’

Susan had no spirits even for the look that belonged to Ma Pipchin by right; so she dropped her curtsey to Mrs Dombey (who inclined her head without one word, and whose eye avoided everyone but Florence), and gave one last parting hug to her young mistress, and received her parting embrace in return. Poor Susan’s face at this crisis, in the intensity of her feelings and the determined suffocation of her sobs, lest one should become audible and be a triumph to Mrs Pipchin, presented a series of the most extraordinary physiognomical phenomena ever witnessed.

‘I beg your pardon, Miss, I’m sure,’ said Towlinson, outside the door with the boxes, addressing Florence, ‘but Mr Toots is in the drawing-room, and sends his compliments, and begs to know how Diogenes and Master is.’

Quick as thought, Florence glided out and hastened downstairs, where Mr Toots, in the most splendid vestments, was breathing very hard with doubt and agitation on the subject of her coming.

‘Oh, how de do, Miss Dombey,’ said Mr Toots, ‘God bless my soul!’

This last ejaculation was occasioned by Mr Toots’s deep concern at the distress he saw in Florence’s face; which caused him to stop short in a fit of chuckles, and become an image of despair.

‘Dear Mr Toots,’ said Florence, ‘you are so friendly to me, and so honest, that I am sure I may ask a favour of you.’

‘Miss Dombey,’ returned Mr Toots, ‘if you’ll only name one, you’ll—you’ll give me an appetite. To which,’ said Mr Toots, with some sentiment, ‘I have long been a stranger.’

‘Susan, who is an old friend of mine, the oldest friend I have,’ said Florence, ‘is about to leave here suddenly, and quite alone, poor girl. She is going home, a little way into the country. Might I ask you to take care of her until she is in the coach?’

‘Miss Dombey,’ returned Mr Toots, ‘you really do me an honour and a kindness. This proof of your confidence, after the manner in which I was Beast enough to conduct myself at Brighton—’

‘Yes,’ said Florence, hurriedly—‘no—don’t think of that. Then would you have the kindness to—to go? and to be ready to meet her when she comes out? Thank you a thousand times! You ease my mind so much. She doesn’t seem so desolate. You cannot think how grateful I feel to you, or what a good friend I am sure you are!’ and Florence in her earnestness thanked him again and again; and Mr Toots, in his earnestness, hurried away—but backwards, that he might lose no glimpse of her.

Florence had not the courage to go out, when she saw poor Susan in the hall, with Mrs Pipchin driving her forth, and Diogenes jumping about her, and terrifying Mrs Pipchin to the last degree by making snaps at her bombazeen skirts, and howling with anguish at the sound of her voice—for the good duenna was the dearest and most cherished aversion of his breast. But she saw Susan shake hands with the servants all round, and turn once to look at her old home; and she saw Diogenes bound out after the cab, and want to follow it, and testify an impossibility of conviction that he had no longer any property in the fare; and the door was shut, and the hurry over, and her tears flowed fast for the loss of an old friend, whom no one could replace. No one. No one.

Mr Toots, like the leal and trusty soul he was, stopped the cabriolet in a twinkling, and told Susan Nipper of his commission, at which she cried more than before.

‘Upon my soul and body!’ said Mr Toots, taking his seat beside her. ‘I feel for you. Upon my word and honour I think you can hardly know your own feelings better than I imagine them. I can conceive nothing more dreadful than to have to leave Miss Dombey.’

Susan abandoned herself to her grief now, and it really was touching to see her.

‘I say,’ said Mr Toots, ‘now, don’t! at least I mean now do, you know!’

‘Do what, Mr Toots!’ cried Susan.

‘Why, come home to my place, and have some dinner before you start,’ said Mr Toots. ‘My cook’s a most respectable woman—one of the most motherly people I ever saw—and she’ll be delighted to make you comfortable. Her son,’ said Mr Toots, as an additional recommendation, ‘was educated in the Bluecoat School, and blown up in a powder-mill.’

Susan accepting this kind offer, Mr Toots conducted her to his dwelling, where they were received by the Matron in question who fully justified his character of her, and by the Chicken who at first supposed, on seeing a lady in the vehicle, that Mr Dombey had been doubled up, ably to his old recommendation, and Miss Dombey abducted. This gentleman awakened in Miss Nipper some considerable astonishment; for, having been defeated by the Larkey Boy, his visage was in a state of such great dilapidation, as to be hardly presentable in society with comfort to the beholders. The Chicken himself attributed this punishment to his having had the misfortune to get into Chancery early in the proceedings, when he was severely fibbed by the Larkey one, and heavily grassed. But it appeared from the published records of that great contest that the Larkey Boy had had it all his own way from the beginning, and that the Chicken had been tapped, and bunged, and had received pepper, and had been made groggy, and had come up piping, and had endured a complication of similar strange inconveniences, until he had been gone into and finished.

After a good repast, and much hospitality, Susan set out for the coach-office in another cabriolet, with Mr Toots inside, as before, and the Chicken on the box, who, whatever distinction he conferred on the little party by the moral weight and heroism of his character, was scarcely ornamental to it, physically speaking, on account of his plasters; which were numerous. But the Chicken had registered a vow, in secret, that he would never leave Mr Toots (who was secretly pining to get rid of him), for any less consideration than the good-will and fixtures of a public-house; and being ambitious to go into that line, and drink himself to death as soon as possible, he felt it his cue to make his company unacceptable.

The night-coach by which Susan was to go, was on the point of departure. Mr Toots having put her inside, lingered by the window, irresolutely, until the driver was about to mount; when, standing on the step, and putting in a face that by the light of the lamp was anxious and confused, he said abruptly:

‘I say, Susan! Miss Dombey, you know—’

‘Yes, Sir.’

‘Do you think she could—you know—eh?’

‘I beg your pardon, Mr Toots,’ said Susan, ‘but I don’t hear you.’

‘Do you think she could be brought, you know—not exactly at once, but in time—in a long time—to—to love me, you know? There!’ said poor Mr Toots.

‘Oh dear no!’ returned Susan, shaking her head. ‘I should say, never. Never!’

‘Thank’ee!’ said Mr Toots. ‘It’s of no consequence. Good-night. It’s of no consequence, thank’ee!’

CHAPTER 45. The Trusty Agent

Edith went out alone that day, and returned home early. It was but a few minutes after ten o’clock, when her carriage rolled along the street in which she lived.

There was the same enforced composure on her face, that there had been when she was dressing; and the wreath upon her head encircled the same cold and steady brow. But it would have been better to have seen its leaves and flowers reft into fragments by her passionate hand, or rendered shapeless by the fitful searches of a throbbing and bewildered brain for any resting-place, than adorning such tranquillity. So obdurate, so unapproachable, so unrelenting, one would have thought that nothing could soften such a woman’s nature, and that everything in life had hardened it.

Arrived at her own door, she was alighting, when some one coming quietly from the hall, and standing bareheaded, offered her his arm. The servant being thrust aside, she had no choice but to touch it; and she then knew whose arm it was.

‘How is your patient, Sir?’ she asked, with a curled lip.

‘He is better,’ returned Carker. ‘He is doing very well. I have left him for the night.’

She bent her head, and was passing up the staircase, when he followed and said, speaking at the bottom:     

‘Madam! May I beg the favour of a minute’s audience?’

She stopped and turned her eyes back ‘It is an unseasonable time, Sir, and I am fatigued. Is your business urgent?’

‘It is very urgent, returned Carker. ‘As I am so fortunate as to have met you, let me press my petition.’

She looked down for a moment at his glistening mouth; and he looked up at her, standing above him in her stately dress, and thought, again, how beautiful she was.

‘Where is Miss Dombey?’ she asked the servant, aloud.

‘In the morning room, Ma’am.’

‘Show the way there!’ Turning her eyes again on the attentive gentleman at the bottom of the stairs, and informing him with a slight motion of her head, that he was at liberty to follow, she passed on.

‘I beg your pardon! Madam! Mrs Dombey!’ cried the soft and nimble Carker, at her side in a moment. ‘May I be permitted to entreat that Miss Dombey is not present?’

She confronted him, with a quick look, but with the same self-possession and steadiness.

‘I would spare Miss Dombey,’ said Carker, in a low voice, ‘the knowledge of what I have to say. At least, Madam, I would leave it to you to decide whether she shall know of it or not. I owe that to you. It is my bounden duty to you. After our former interview, it would be monstrous in me if I did otherwise.’

She slowly withdrew her eyes from his face, and turning to the servant, said, ‘Some other room.’ He led the way to a drawing-room, which he speedily lighted up and then left them. While he remained, not a word was spoken. Edith enthroned herself upon a couch by the fire; and Mr Carker, with his hat in his hand and his eyes bent upon the carpet, stood before her, at some little distance.

‘Before I hear you, Sir,’ said Edith, when the door was closed, ‘I wish you to hear me.’

‘To be addressed by Mrs Dombey,’ he returned, ‘even in accents of unmerited reproach, is an honour I so greatly esteem, that although I were not her servant in all things, I should defer to such a wish, most readily.’

‘If you are charged by the man whom you have just now left, Sir;’ Mr Carker raised his eyes, as if he were going to counterfeit surprise, but she met them, and stopped him, if such were his intention; ‘with any message to me, do not attempt to deliver it, for I will not receive it. I need scarcely ask you if you are come on such an errand. I have expected you some time.’

‘It is my misfortune,’ he replied, ‘to be here, wholly against my will, for such a purpose. Allow me to say that I am here for two purposes. That is one.’

‘That one, Sir,’ she returned, ‘is ended. Or, if you return to it—’

‘Can Mrs Dombey believe,’ said Carker, coming nearer, ‘that I would return to it in the face of her prohibition? Is it possible that Mrs Dombey, having no regard to my unfortunate position, is so determined to consider me inseparable from my instructor as to do me great and wilful injustice?’

‘Sir,’ returned Edith, bending her dark gaze full upon him, and speaking with a rising passion that inflated her proud nostril and her swelling neck, and stirred the delicate white down upon a robe she wore, thrown loosely over shoulders that could hear its snowy neighbourhood. ‘Why do you present yourself to me, as you have done, and speak to me of love and duty to my husband, and pretend to think that I am happily married, and that I honour him? How dare you venture so to affront me, when you know—I do not know better, Sir: I have seen it in your every glance, and heard it in your every word—that in place of affection between us there is aversion and contempt, and that I despise him hardly less than I despise myself for being his! Injustice! If I had done justice to the torment you have made me feel, and to my sense of the insult you have put upon me, I should have slain you!’

She had asked him why he did this. Had she not been blinded by her pride and wrath, and self-humiliation,—which she was, fiercely as she bent her gaze upon him,—she would have seen the answer in his face. To bring her to this declaration.

She saw it not, and cared not whether it was there or no. She saw only the indignities and struggles she had undergone and had to undergo, and was writhing under them. As she sat looking fixedly at them, rather than at him, she plucked the feathers from a pinion of some rare and beautiful bird, which hung from her wrist by a golden thread, to serve her as a fan, and rained them on the ground.

He did not shrink beneath her gaze, but stood, until such outward signs of her anger as had escaped her control subsided, with the air of a man who had his sufficient reply in reserve and would presently deliver it. And he then spoke, looking straight into her kindling eyes.

‘Madam,’ he said, ‘I know, and knew before to-day, that I have found no favour with you; and I knew why. Yes. I knew why. You have spoken so openly to me; I am so relieved by the possession of your confidence—’

‘Confidence!’ she repeated, with disdain.

He passed it over.

‘—that I will make no pretence of concealment. I did see from the first, that there was no affection on your part for Mr Dombey—how could it possibly exist between such different subjects? And I have seen, since, that stronger feelings than indifference have been engendered in your breast—how could that possibly be otherwise, either, circumstanced as you have been? But was it for me to presume to avow this knowledge to you in so many words?’

‘Was it for you, Sir,’ she replied, ‘to feign that other belief, and audaciously to thrust it on me day by day?’

‘Madam, it was,’ he eagerly retorted. ‘If I had done less, if I had done anything but that, I should not be speaking to you thus; and I foresaw—who could better foresee, for who has had greater experience of Mr Dombey than myself?—that unless your character should prove to be as yielding and obedient as that of his first submissive lady, which I did not believe—’

A haughty smile gave him reason to observe that he might repeat this.

‘I say, which I did not believe,—the time was likely to come, when such an understanding as we have now arrived at, would be serviceable.’

‘Serviceable to whom, Sir?’ she demanded scornfully.

‘To you. I will not add to myself, as warning me to refrain even from that limited commendation of Mr Dombey, in which I can honestly indulge, in order that I may not have the misfortune of saying anything distasteful to one whose aversion and contempt,’ with great expression, ‘are so keen.’

‘Is it honest in you, Sir,’ said Edith, ‘to confess to your “limited commendation,” and to speak in that tone of disparagement, even of him: being his chief counsellor and flatterer!’

‘Counsellor,—yes,’ said Carker. ‘Flatterer,—no. A little reservation I fear I must confess to. But our interest and convenience commonly oblige many of us to make professions that we cannot feel. We have partnerships of interest and convenience, friendships of interest and convenience, dealings of interest and convenience, marriages of interest and convenience, every day.’

She bit her blood-red lip; but without wavering in the dark, stern watch she kept upon him.

‘Madam,’ said Mr Carker, sitting down in a chair that was near her, with an air of the most profound and most considerate respect, ‘why should I hesitate now, being altogether devoted to your service, to speak plainly? It was natural that a lady, endowed as you are, should think it feasible to change her husband’s character in some respects, and mould him to a better form.’

‘It was not natural to me, Sir,’ she rejoined. ‘I had never any expectation or intention of that kind.’

The proud undaunted face showed him it was resolute to wear no mask he offered, but was set upon a reckless disclosure of itself, indifferent to any aspect in which it might present itself to such as he.

‘At least it was natural,’ he resumed, ‘that you should deem it quite possible to live with Mr Dombey as his wife, at once without submitting to him, and without coming into such violent collision with him. But, Madam, you did not know Mr Dombey (as you have since ascertained), when you thought that. You did not know how exacting and how proud he is, or how he is, if I may say so, the slave of his own greatness, and goes yoked to his own triumphal car like a beast of burden, with no idea on earth but that it is behind him and is to be drawn on, over everything and through everything.’

His teeth gleamed through his malicious relish of this conceit, as he went on talking:

‘Mr Dombey is really capable of no more true consideration for you, Madam, than for me. The comparison is an extreme one; I intend it to be so; but quite just. Mr Dombey, in the plenitude of his power, asked me—I had it from his own lips yesterday morning—to be his go-between to you, because he knows I am not agreeable to you, and because he intends that I shall be a punishment for your contumacy; and besides that, because he really does consider, that I, his paid servant, am an ambassador whom it is derogatory to the dignity—not of the lady to whom I have the happiness of speaking; she has no existence in his mind—but of his wife, a part of himself, to receive. You may imagine how regardless of me, how obtuse to the possibility of my having any individual sentiment or opinion he is, when he tells me, openly, that I am so employed. You know how perfectly indifferent to your feelings he is, when he threatens you with such a messenger. As you, of course, have not forgotten that he did.’

She watched him still attentively. But he watched her too; and he saw that this indication of a knowledge on his part, of something that had passed between herself and her husband, rankled and smarted in her haughty breast, like a poisoned arrow.

‘I do not recall all this to widen the breach between yourself and Mr Dombey, Madam—Heaven forbid! what would it profit me?—but as an example of the hopelessness of impressing Mr Dombey with a sense that anybody is to be considered when he is in question. We who are about him, have, in our various positions, done our part, I daresay, to confirm him in his way of thinking; but if we had not done so, others would—or they would not have been about him; and it has always been, from the beginning, the very staple of his life. Mr Dombey has had to deal, in short, with none but submissive and dependent persons, who have bowed the knee, and bent the neck, before him. He has never known what it is to have angry pride and strong resentment opposed to him.’

‘But he will know it now!’ she seemed to say; though her lips did not part, nor her eyes falter. He saw the soft down tremble once again, and he saw her lay the plumage of the beautiful bird against her bosom for a moment; and he unfolded one more ring of the coil into which he had gathered himself.

‘Mr Dombey, though a most honourable gentleman,’ he said, ‘is so prone to pervert even facts to his own view, when he is at all opposed, in consequence of the warp in his mind, that he—can I give a better instance than this!—he sincerely believes (you will excuse the folly of what I am about to say; it not being mine) that his severe expression of opinion to his present wife, on a certain special occasion she may remember, before the lamented death of Mrs Skewton, produced a withering effect, and for the moment quite subdued her!’

Edith laughed. How harshly and unmusically need not be described. It is enough that he was glad to hear her.

‘Madam,’ he resumed, ‘I have done with this. Your own opinions are so strong, and, I am persuaded, so unalterable,’ he repeated those words slowly and with great emphasis, ‘that I am almost afraid to incur your displeasure anew, when I say that in spite of these defects and my full knowledge of them, I have become habituated to Mr Dombey, and esteem him. But when I say so, it is not, believe me, for the mere sake of vaunting a feeling that is so utterly at variance with your own, and for which you can have no sympathy’—oh how distinct and plain and emphasized this was!—‘but to give you an assurance of the zeal with which, in this unhappy matter, I am yours, and the indignation with which I regard the part I am to fill!’

She sat as if she were afraid to take her eyes from his face.

And now to unwind the last ring of the coil!

‘It is growing late,’ said Carker, after a pause, ‘and you are, as you said, fatigued. But the second object of this interview, I must not forget. I must recommend you, I must entreat you in the most earnest manner, for sufficient reasons that I have, to be cautious in your demonstrations of regard for Miss Dombey.’

‘Cautious! What do you mean?’

‘To be careful how you exhibit too much affection for that young lady.’

‘Too much affection, Sir!’ said Edith, knitting her broad brow and rising. ‘Who judges my affection, or measures it out? You?’

‘It is not I who do so.’ He was, or feigned to be, perplexed.

‘Who then?’

‘Can you not guess who then?’

‘I do not choose to guess,’ she answered.

‘Madam,’ he said after a little hesitation; meantime they had been, and still were, regarding each other as before; ‘I am in a difficulty here. You have told me you will receive no message, and you have forbidden me to return to that subject; but the two subjects are so closely entwined, I find, that unless you will accept this vague caution from one who has now the honour to possess your confidence, though the way to it has been through your displeasure, I must violate the injunction you have laid upon me.’

‘You know that you are free to do so, Sir,’ said Edith. ‘Do it.’

So pale, so trembling, so impassioned! He had not miscalculated the effect then!

‘His instructions were,’ he said, in a low voice, ‘that I should inform you that your demeanour towards Miss Dombey is not agreeable to him. That it suggests comparisons to him which are not favourable to himself. That he desires it may be wholly changed; and that if you are in earnest, he is confident it will be; for your continued show of affection will not benefit its object.’

‘That is a threat,’ she said.

‘That is a threat,’ he answered, in his voiceless manner of assent: adding aloud, ‘but not directed against you.’

Proud, erect, and dignified, as she stood confronting him; and looking through him as she did, with her full bright flashing eye; and smiling, as she was, with scorn and bitterness; she sunk as if the ground had dropped beneath her, and in an instant would have fallen on the floor, but that he caught her in his arms. As instantaneously she threw him off, the moment that he touched her, and, drawing back, confronted him again, immoveable, with her hand stretched out.

‘Please to leave me. Say no more to-night.’

‘I feel the urgency of this,’ said Mr Carker, ‘because it is impossible to say what unforeseen consequences might arise, or how soon, from your being unacquainted with his state of mind. I understand Miss Dombey is concerned, now, at the dismissal of her old servant, which is likely to have been a minor consequence in itself. You don’t blame me for requesting that Miss Dombey might not be present. May I hope so?’

‘I do not. Please to leave me, Sir.’

‘I knew that your regard for the young lady, which is very sincere and strong, I am well persuaded, would render it a great unhappiness to you, ever to be a prey to the reflection that you had injured her position and ruined her future hopes,’ said Carker hurriedly, but eagerly.

‘No more to-night. Leave me, if you please.’

‘I shall be here constantly in my attendance upon him, and in the transaction of business matters. You will allow me to see you again, and to consult what should be done, and learn your wishes?’

She motioned him towards the door.

‘I cannot even decide whether to tell him I have spoken to you yet; or to lead him to suppose that I have deferred doing so, for want of opportunity, or for any other reason. It will be necessary that you should enable me to consult with you very soon.’

‘At any time but now,’ she answered.

‘You will understand, when I wish to see you, that Miss Dombey is not to be present; and that I seek an interview as one who has the happiness to possess your confidence, and who comes to render you every assistance in his power, and, perhaps, on many occasions, to ward off evil from her?’

Looking at him still with the same apparent dread of releasing him for a moment from the influence of her steady gaze, whatever that might be, she answered, ‘Yes!’ and once more bade him go.

He bowed, as if in compliance; but turning back, when he had nearly reached the door, said:

‘I am forgiven, and have explained my fault. May I—for Miss Dombey’s sake, and for my own—take your hand before I go?’

She gave him the gloved hand she had maimed last night. He took it in one of his, and kissed it, and withdrew. And when he had closed the door, he waved the hand with which he had taken hers, and thrust it in his breast.

Edith saw no one that night, but locked her door, and kept herself alone.

She did not weep; she showed no greater agitation, outwardly, than when she was riding home. She laid as proud a head upon her pillow as she had borne in her carriage; and her prayer ran thus:

‘May this man be a liar! For if he has spoken truth, she is lost to me, and I have no hope left!’

This man, meanwhile, went home musing to bed, thinking, with a dainty pleasure, how imperious her passion was, how she had sat before him in her beauty, with the dark eyes that had never turned away but once; how the white down had fluttered; how the bird’s feathers had been strewn upon the ground.

CHAPTER 46. Recognizant and Reflective

Among sundry minor alterations in Mr Carker’s life and habits that began to take place at this time, none was more remarkable than the extraordinary diligence with which he applied himself to business, and the closeness with which he investigated every detail that the affairs of the House laid open to him. Always active and penetrating in such matters, his lynx-eyed vigilance now increased twenty-fold. Not only did his weary watch keep pace with every present point that every day presented to him in some new form, but in the midst of these engrossing occupations he found leisure—that is, he made it—to review the past transactions of the Firm, and his share in them, during a long series of years. Frequently when the clerks were all gone, the offices dark and empty, and all similar places of business shut up, Mr Carker, with the whole anatomy of the iron room laid bare before him, would explore the mysteries of books and papers, with the patient progress of a man who was dissecting the minutest nerves and fibres of his subject. Perch, the messenger, who usually remained on these occasions, to entertain himself with the perusal of the Price Current by the light of one candle, or to doze over the fire in the outer office, at the imminent risk every moment of diving head foremost into the coal-box, could not withhold the tribute of his admiration from this zealous conduct, although it much contracted his domestic enjoyments; and again, and again, expatiated to Mrs Perch (now nursing twins) on the industry and acuteness of their managing gentleman in the City.

The same increased and sharp attention that Mr Carker bestowed on the business of the House, he applied to his own personal affairs. Though not a partner in the concern—a distinction hitherto reserved solely to inheritors of the great name of Dombey—he was in the receipt of some percentage on its dealings; and, participating in all its facilities for the employment of money to advantage, was considered, by the minnows among the tritons of the East, a rich man. It began to be said, among these shrewd observers, that Jem Carker, of Dombey’s, was looking about him to see what he was worth; and that he was calling in his money at a good time, like the long-headed fellow he was; and bets were even offered on the Stock Exchange that Jem was going to marry a rich widow.

Yet these cares did not in the least interfere with Mr Carker’s watching of his chief, or with his cleanness, neatness, sleekness, or any cat-like quality he possessed. It was not so much that there was a change in him, in reference to any of his habits, as that the whole man was intensified. Everything that had been observable in him before, was observable now, but with a greater amount of concentration. He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else—a pretty certain indication in a man of that range of ability and purpose, that he is doing something which sharpens and keeps alive his keenest powers.

The only decided alteration in him was, that as he rode to and fro along the streets, he would fall into deep fits of musing, like that in which he had come away from Mr Dombey’s house, on the morning of that gentleman’s disaster. At such times, he would keep clear of the obstacles in his way, mechanically; and would appear to see and hear nothing until arrival at his destination, or some sudden chance or effort roused him.

Walking his white-legged horse thus, to the counting-house of Dombey and Son one day, he was as unconscious of the observation of two pairs of women’s eyes, as of the fascinated orbs of Rob the Grinder, who, in waiting a street’s length from the appointed place, as a demonstration of punctuality, vainly touched and retouched his hat to attract attention, and trotted along on foot, by his master’s side, prepared to hold his stirrup when he should alight.

‘See where he goes!’ cried one of these two women, an old creature, who stretched out her shrivelled arm to point him out to her companion, a young woman, who stood close beside her, withdrawn like herself into a gateway.

Mrs Brown’s daughter looked out, at this bidding on the part of Mrs Brown; and there were wrath and vengeance in her face.

‘I never thought to look at him again,’ she said, in a low voice; ‘but it’s well I should, perhaps. I see. I see!’

‘Not changed!’ said the old woman, with a look of eager malice.

‘He changed!’ returned the other. ‘What for? What has he suffered? There is change enough for twenty in me. Isn’t that enough?’

‘See where he goes!’ muttered the old woman, watching her daughter with her red eyes; ‘so easy and so trim a-horseback, while we are in the mud.’

‘And of it,’ said her daughter impatiently. ‘We are mud, underneath his horse’s feet. What should we be?’

In the intentness with which she looked after him again, she made a hasty gesture with her hand when the old woman began to reply, as if her view could be obstructed by mere sound. Her mother watching her, and not him, remained silent; until her kindling glance subsided, and she drew a long breath, as if in the relief of his being gone.

‘Deary!’ said the old woman then. ‘Alice! Handsome gall Ally!’ She gently shook her sleeve to arouse her attention. ‘Will you let him go like that, when you can wring money from him? Why, it’s a wickedness, my daughter.’

‘Haven’t I told you, that I will not have money from him?’ she returned. ‘And don’t you yet believe me? Did I take his sister’s money? Would I touch a penny, if I knew it, that had gone through his white hands—unless it was, indeed, that I could poison it, and send it back to him? Peace, mother, and come away.’

‘And him so rich?’ murmured the old woman. ‘And us so poor!’

‘Poor in not being able to pay him any of the harm we owe him,’ returned her daughter. ‘Let him give me that sort of riches, and I’ll take them from him, and use them. Come away. Its no good looking at his horse. Come away, mother!’

But the old woman, for whom the spectacle of Rob the Grinder returning down the street, leading the riderless horse, appeared to have some extraneous interest that it did not possess in itself, surveyed that young man with the utmost earnestness; and seeming to have whatever doubts she entertained, resolved as he drew nearer, glanced at her daughter with brightened eyes and with her finger on her lip, and emerging from the gateway at the moment of his passing, touched him on the shoulder.

‘Why, where’s my sprightly Rob been, all this time!’ she said, as he turned round.

The sprightly Rob, whose sprightliness was very much diminished by the salutation, looked exceedingly dismayed, and said, with the water rising in his eyes:

‘Oh! why can’t you leave a poor cove alone, Misses Brown, when he’s getting an honest livelihood and conducting himself respectable? What do you come and deprive a cove of his character for, by talking to him in the streets, when he’s taking his master’s horse to a honest stable—a horse you’d go and sell for cats’ and dogs’ meat if you had your way! Why, I thought,’ said the Grinder, producing his concluding remark as if it were the climax of all his injuries, ‘that you was dead long ago!’

‘This is the way,’ cried the old woman, appealing to her daughter, ‘that he talks to me, who knew him weeks and months together, my deary, and have stood his friend many and many a time among the pigeon-fancying tramps and bird-catchers.’

‘Let the birds be, will you, Misses Brown?’ retorted Rob, in a tone of the acutest anguish. ‘I think a cove had better have to do with lions than them little creeturs, for they’re always flying back in your face when you least expect it. Well, how d’ye do and what do you want?’ These polite inquiries the Grinder uttered, as it were under protest, and with great exasperation and vindictiveness.

‘Hark how he speaks to an old friend, my deary!’ said Mrs Brown, again appealing to her daughter. ‘But there’s some of his old friends not so patient as me. If I was to tell some that he knows, and has spotted and cheated with, where to find him—’

‘Will you hold your tongue, Misses Brown?’ interrupted the miserable Grinder, glancing quickly round, as though he expected to see his master’s teeth shining at his elbow. ‘What do you take a pleasure in ruining a cove for? At your time of life too! when you ought to be thinking of a variety of things!’

‘What a gallant horse!’ said the old woman, patting the animal’s neck.

‘Let him alone, will you, Misses Brown?’ cried Rob, pushing away her hand. ‘You’re enough to drive a penitent cove mad!’

‘Why, what hurt do I do him, child?’ returned the old woman.

‘Hurt?’ said Rob. ‘He’s got a master that would find it out if he was touched with a straw.’ And he blew upon the place where the old woman’s hand had rested for a moment, and smoothed it gently with his finger, as if he seriously believed what he said.

The old woman looking back to mumble and mouth at her daughter, who followed, kept close to Rob’s heels as he walked on with the bridle in his hand; and pursued the conversation.

‘A good place, Rob, eh?’ said she. ‘You’re in luck, my child.’

‘Oh don’t talk about luck, Misses Brown,’ returned the wretched Grinder, facing round and stopping. ‘If you’d never come, or if you’d go away, then indeed a cove might be considered tolerable lucky. Can’t you go along, Misses Brown, and not foller me!’ blubbered Rob, with sudden defiance. ‘If the young woman’s a friend of yours, why don’t she take you away, instead of letting you make yourself so disgraceful!’

‘What!’ croaked the old woman, putting her face close to his, with a malevolent grin upon it that puckered up the loose skin down in her very throat. ‘Do you deny your old chum! Have you lurked to my house fifty times, and slept sound in a corner when you had no other bed but the paving-stones, and do you talk to me like this! Have I bought and sold with you, and helped you in my way of business, schoolboy, sneak, and what not, and do you tell me to go along? Could I raise a crowd of old company about you to-morrow morning, that would follow you to ruin like copies of your own shadow, and do you turn on me with your bold looks! I’ll go. Come, Alice.’

‘Stop, Misses Brown!’ cried the distracted Grinder. ‘What are you doing of? Don’t put yourself in a passion! Don’t let her go, if you please. I haven’t meant any offence. I said “how d’ye do,” at first, didn’t I? But you wouldn’t answer. How you do? Besides,’ said Rob piteously, ‘look here! How can a cove stand talking in the street with his master’s prad a-wanting to be took to be rubbed down, and his master up to every individgle thing that happens!’

The old woman made a show of being partially appeased, but shook her head, and mouthed and muttered still.

‘Come along to the stables, and have a glass of something that’s good for you, Misses Brown, can’t you?’ said Rob, ‘instead of going on, like that, which is no good to you, nor anybody else. Come along with her, will you be so kind?’ said Rob. ‘I’m sure I’m delighted to see her, if it wasn’t for the horse!’

With this apology, Rob turned away, a rueful picture of despair, and walked his charge down a bye street’ The old woman, mouthing at her daughter, followed close upon him. The daughter followed.

Turning into a silent little square or court-yard that had a great church tower rising above it, and a packer’s warehouse, and a bottle-maker’s warehouse, for its places of business, Rob the Grinder delivered the white-legged horse to the hostler of a quaint stable at the corner; and inviting Mrs Brown and her daughter to seat themselves upon a stone bench at the gate of that establishment, soon reappeared from a neighbouring public-house with a pewter measure and a glass.

‘Here’s master—Mr Carker, child!’ said the old woman, slowly, as her sentiment before drinking. ‘Lord bless him!’

‘Why, I didn’t tell you who he was,’ observed Rob, with staring eyes.

‘We know him by sight,’ said Mrs Brown, whose working mouth and nodding head stopped for the moment, in the fixedness of her attention. ‘We saw him pass this morning, afore he got off his horse; when you were ready to take it.’

‘Ay, ay,’ returned Rob, appearing to wish that his readiness had carried him to any other place.—‘What’s the matter with her? Won’t she drink?’

This inquiry had reference to Alice, who, folded in her cloak, sat a little apart, profoundly inattentive to his offer of the replenished glass.

The old woman shook her head. ‘Don’t mind her,’ she said; ‘she’s a strange creetur, if you know’d her, Rob. But Mr Carker—’

‘Hush!’ said Rob, glancing cautiously up at the packer’s, and at the bottle-maker’s, as if, from any one of the tiers of warehouses, Mr Carker might be looking down. ‘Softly.’

‘Why, he ain’t here!’ cried Mrs Brown.

‘I don’t know that,’ muttered Rob, whose glance even wandered to the church tower, as if he might be there, with a supernatural power of hearing.

‘Good master?’ inquired Mrs Brown.

Rob nodded; and added, in a low voice, ‘precious sharp.’

‘Lives out of town, don’t he, lovey?’ said the old woman.

‘When he’s at home,’ returned Rob; ‘but we don’t live at home just now.’

‘Where then?’ asked the old woman.

‘Lodgings; up near Mr Dombey’s,’ returned Rob.

The younger woman fixed her eyes so searchingly upon him, and so suddenly, that Rob was quite confounded, and offered the glass again, but with no more effect upon her than before.

‘Mr Dombey—you and I used to talk about him, sometimes, you know,’ said Rob to Mrs Brown. ‘You used to get me to talk about him.’

The old woman nodded.

‘Well, Mr Dombey, he’s had a fall from his horse,’ said Rob, unwillingly; ‘and my master has to be up there, more than usual, either with him, or Mrs Dombey, or some of ‘em; and so we’ve come to town.’

‘Are they good friends, lovey?’ asked the old woman.

‘Who?’ retorted Rob.

‘He and she?’

‘What, Mr and Mrs Dombey?’ said Rob. ‘How should I know!’

‘Not them—Master and Mrs Dombey, chick,’ replied the old woman, coaxingly.

‘I don’t know,’ said Rob, looking round him again. ‘I suppose so. How curious you are, Misses Brown! Least said, soonest mended.’

‘Why there’s no harm in it!’ exclaimed the old woman, with a laugh, and a clap of her hands. ‘Sprightly Rob, has grown tame since he has been well off! There’s no harm in it.’

‘No, there’s no harm in it, I know,’ returned Rob, with the same distrustful glance at the packer’s and the bottle-maker’s, and the church; ‘but blabbing, if it’s only about the number of buttons on my master’s coat, won’t do. I tell you it won’t do with him. A cove had better drown himself. He says so. I shouldn’t have so much as told you what his name was, if you hadn’t known it. Talk about somebody else.’

As Rob took another cautious survey of the yard, the old woman made a secret motion to her daughter. It was momentary, but the daughter, with a slight look of intelligence, withdrew her eyes from the boy’s face, and sat folded in her cloak as before.

‘Rob, lovey!’ said the old woman, beckoning him to the other end of the bench. ‘You were always a pet and favourite of mine. Now, weren’t you? Don’t you know you were?’

‘Yes, Misses Brown,’ replied the Grinder, with a very bad grace.

‘And you could leave me!’ said the old woman, flinging her arms about his neck. ‘You could go away, and grow almost out of knowledge, and never come to tell your poor old friend how fortunate you were, proud lad! Oho, Oho!’

‘Oh here’s a dreadful go for a cove that’s got a master wide awake in the neighbourhood!’ exclaimed the wretched Grinder. ‘To be howled over like this here!’

‘Won’t you come and see me, Robby?’ cried Mrs Brown. ‘Oho, won’t you ever come and see me?’

‘Yes, I tell you! Yes, I will!’ returned the Grinder.

‘That’s my own Rob! That’s my lovey!’ said Mrs Brown, drying the tears upon her shrivelled face, and giving him a tender squeeze. ‘At the old place, Rob?’

‘Yes,’ replied the Grinder.

‘Soon, Robby dear?’ cried Mrs Brown; ‘and often?’

‘Yes. Yes. Yes,’ replied Rob. ‘I will indeed, upon my soul and body.’

‘And then,’ said Mrs Brown, with her arms uplifted towards the sky, and her head thrown back and shaking, ‘if he’s true to his word, I’ll never come a-near him though I know where he is, and never breathe a syllable about him! Never!’

This ejaculation seemed a drop of comfort to the miserable Grinder, who shook Mrs Brown by the hand upon it, and implored her with tears in his eyes, to leave a cove and not destroy his prospects. Mrs Brown, with another fond embrace, assented; but in the act of following her daughter, turned back, with her finger stealthily raised, and asked in a hoarse whisper for some money.

‘A shilling, dear!’ she said, with her eager avaricious face, ‘or sixpence! For old acquaintance sake. I’m so poor. And my handsome gal’—looking over her shoulder—‘she’s my gal, Rob—half starves me.’

But as the reluctant Grinder put it in her hand, her daughter, coming quietly back, caught the hand in hers, and twisted out the coin.

‘What,’ she said, ‘mother! always money! money from the first, and to the last. Do you mind so little what I said but now? Here. Take it!’

The old woman uttered a moan as the money was restored, but without in any other way opposing its restoration, hobbled at her daughter’s side out of the yard, and along the by-street upon which it opened. The astonished and dismayed Rob staring after them, saw that they stopped, and fell to earnest conversation very soon; and more than once observed a darkly threatening action of the younger woman’s hand (obviously having reference to someone of whom they spoke), and a crooning feeble imitation of it on the part of Mrs Brown, that made him earnestly hope he might not be the subject of their discourse.

With the present consolation that they were gone, and with the prospective comfort that Mrs Brown could not live for ever, and was not likely to live long to trouble him, the Grinder, not otherwise regretting his misdeeds than as they were attended with such disagreeable incidental consequences, composed his ruffled features to a more serene expression by thinking of the admirable manner in which he had disposed of Captain Cuttle (a reflection that seldom failed to put him in a flow of spirits), and went to the Dombey Counting House to receive his master’s orders.

There his master, so subtle and vigilant of eye, that Rob quaked before him, more than half expecting to be taxed with Mrs Brown, gave him the usual morning’s box of papers for Mr Dombey, and a note for Mrs Dombey: merely nodding his head as an enjoinder to be careful, and to use dispatch—a mysterious admonition, fraught in the Grinder’s imagination with dismal warnings and threats; and more powerful with him than any words.

Alone again, in his own room, Mr Carker applied himself to work, and worked all day. He saw many visitors; overlooked a number of documents; went in and out, to and from, sundry places of mercantile resort; and indulged in no more abstraction until the day’s business was done. But, when the usual clearance of papers from his table was made at last, he fell into his thoughtful mood once more.

He was standing in his accustomed place and attitude, with his eyes intently fixed upon the ground, when his brother entered to bring back some letters that had been taken out in the course of the day. He put them quietly on the table, and was going immediately, when Mr Carker the Manager, whose eyes had rested on him, on his entrance, as if they had all this time had him for the subject of their contemplation, instead of the office-floor, said:

‘Well, John Carker, and what brings you here?’

His brother pointed to the letters, and was again withdrawing.

‘I wonder,’ said the Manager, ‘that you can come and go, without inquiring how our master is’.

‘We had word this morning in the Counting House, that Mr Dombey was doing well,’ replied his brother.

‘You are such a meek fellow,’ said the Manager, with a smile,—‘but you have grown so, in the course of years—that if any harm came to him, you’d be miserable, I dare swear now.’

‘I should be truly sorry, James,’ returned the other.

‘He would be sorry!’ said the Manager, pointing at him, as if there were some other person present to whom he was appealing. ‘He would be truly sorry! This brother of mine! This junior of the place, this slighted piece of lumber, pushed aside with his face to the wall, like a rotten picture, and left so, for Heaven knows how many years he’s all gratitude and respect, and devotion too, he would have me believe!’

‘I would have you believe nothing, James,’ returned the other. ‘Be as just to me as you would to any other man below you. You ask a question, and I answer it.’

‘And have you nothing, Spaniel,’ said the Manager, with unusual irascibility, ‘to complain of in him? No proud treatment to resent, no insolence, no foolery of state, no exaction of any sort! What the devil! are you man or mouse?’

‘It would be strange if any two persons could be together for so many years, especially as superior and inferior, without each having something to complain of in the other—as he thought, at all events,’ replied John Carker. ‘But apart from my history here—’

‘His history here!’ exclaimed the Manager. ‘Why, there it is. The very fact that makes him an extreme case, puts him out of the whole chapter! Well?’

‘Apart from that, which, as you hint, gives me a reason to be thankful that I alone (happily for all the rest) possess, surely there is no one in the House who would not say and feel at least as much. You do not think that anybody here would be indifferent to a mischance or misfortune happening to the head of the House, or anything than truly sorry for it?’

‘You have good reason to be bound to him too!’ said the Manager, contemptuously. ‘Why, don’t you believe that you are kept here, as a cheap example, and a famous instance of the clemency of Dombey and Son, redounding to the credit of the illustrious House?’

‘No,’ replied his brother, mildly, ‘I have long believed that I am kept here for more kind and disinterested reasons.’

‘But you were going,’ said the Manager, with the snarl of a tiger-cat, ‘to recite some Christian precept, I observed.’

‘Nay, James,’ returned the other, ‘though the tie of brotherhood between us has been long broken and thrown away—’

‘Who broke it, good Sir?’ said the Manager.

‘I, by my misconduct. I do not charge it upon you.’

The Manager replied, with that mute action of his bristling mouth, ‘Oh, you don’t charge it upon me!’ and bade him go on.

‘I say, though there is not that tie between us, do not, I entreat, assail me with unnecessary taunts, or misinterpret what I say, or would say. I was only going to suggest to you that it would be a mistake to suppose that it is only you, who have been selected here, above all others, for advancement, confidence and distinction (selected, in the beginning, I know, for your great ability and trustfulness), and who communicate more freely with Mr Dombey than anyone, and stand, it may be said, on equal terms with him, and have been favoured and enriched by him—that it would be a mistake to suppose that it is only you who are tender of his welfare and reputation. There is no one in the House, from yourself down to the lowest, I sincerely believe, who does not participate in that feeling.’

‘You lie!’ said the Manager, red with sudden anger. ‘You’re a hypocrite, John Carker, and you lie.’

‘James!’ cried the other, flushing in his turn. ‘What do you mean by these insulting words? Why do you so basely use them to me, unprovoked?’

‘I tell you,’ said the Manager, ‘that your hypocrisy and meekness—that all the hypocrisy and meekness of this place—is not worth that to me,’ snapping his thumb and finger, ‘and that I see through it as if it were air! There is not a man employed here, standing between myself and the lowest in place (of whom you are very considerate, and with reason, for he is not far off), who wouldn’t be glad at heart to see his master humbled: who does not hate him, secretly: who does not wish him evil rather than good: and who would not turn upon him, if he had the power and boldness. The nearer to his favour, the nearer to his insolence; the closer to him, the farther from him. That’s the creed here!’

‘I don’t know,’ said his brother, whose roused feelings had soon yielded to surprise, ‘who may have abused your ear with such representations; or why you have chosen to try me, rather than another. But that you have been trying me, and tampering with me, I am now sure. You have a different manner and a different aspect from any that I ever saw in you. I will only say to you, once more, you are deceived.’

‘I know I am,’ said the Manager. ‘I have told you so.’

‘Not by me,’ returned his brother. ‘By your informant, if you have one. If not, by your own thoughts and suspicions.’

‘I have no suspicions,’ said the Manager. ‘Mine are certainties. You pusillanimous, abject, cringing dogs! All making the same show, all canting the same story, all whining the same professions, all harbouring the same transparent secret.’

His brother withdrew, without saying more, and shut the door as he concluded. Mr Carker the Manager drew a chair close before the fire, and fell to beating the coals softly with the poker.

‘The faint-hearted, fawning knaves,’ he muttered, with his two shining rows of teeth laid bare. ‘There’s not one among them, who wouldn’t feign to be so shocked and outraged—! Bah! There’s not one among them, but if he had at once the power, and the wit and daring to use it, would scatter Dombey’s pride and lay it low, as ruthlessly as I rake out these ashes.’

As he broke them up and strewed them in the grate, he looked on with a thoughtful smile at what he was doing. ‘Without the same queen beckoner too!’ he added presently; ‘and there is pride there, not to be forgotten—witness our own acquaintance!’ With that he fell into a deeper reverie, and sat pondering over the blackening grate, until he rose up like a man who had been absorbed in a book, and looking round him took his hat and gloves, went to where his horse was waiting, mounted, and rode away through the lighted streets, for it was evening.

He rode near Mr Dombey’s house; and falling into a walk as he approached it, looked up at the windows The window where he had once seen Florence sitting with her dog attracted his attention first, though there was no light in it; but he smiled as he carried his eyes up the tall front of the house, and seemed to leave that object superciliously behind.

‘Time was,’ he said, ‘when it was well to watch even your rising little star, and know in what quarter there were clouds, to shadow you if needful. But a planet has arisen, and you are lost in its light.’

He turned the white-legged horse round the street corner, and sought one shining window from among those at the back of the house. Associated with it was a certain stately presence, a gloved hand, the remembrance how the feathers of a beautiful bird’s wing had been showered down upon the floor, and how the light white down upon a robe had stirred and rustled, as in the rising of a distant storm. These were the things he carried with him as he turned away again, and rode through the darkening and deserted Parks at a quick rate.

In fatal truth, these were associated with a woman, a proud woman, who hated him, but who by slow and sure degrees had been led on by his craft, and her pride and resentment, to endure his company, and little by little to receive him as one who had the privilege to talk to her of her own defiant disregard of her own husband, and her abandonment of high consideration for herself. They were associated with a woman who hated him deeply, and who knew him, and who mistrusted him because she knew him, and because he knew her; but who fed her fierce resentment by suffering him to draw nearer and yet nearer to her every day, in spite of the hate she cherished for him. In spite of it! For that very reason; since in its depths, too far down for her threatening eye to pierce, though she could see into them dimly, lay the dark retaliation, whose faintest shadow seen once and shuddered at, and never seen again, would have been sufficient stain upon her soul.

Did the phantom of such a woman flit about him on his ride; true to the reality, and obvious to him?

Yes. He saw her in his mind, exactly as she was. She bore him company with her pride, resentment, hatred, all as plain to him as her beauty; with nothing plainer to him than her hatred of him. He saw her sometimes haughty and repellent at his side, and some times down among his horse’s feet, fallen and in the dust. But he always saw her as she was, without disguise, and watched her on the dangerous way that she was going.

And when his ride was over, and he was newly dressed, and came into the light of her bright room with his bent head, soft voice, and soothing smile, he saw her yet as plainly. He even suspected the mystery of the       gloved hand, and held it all the longer in his own for that suspicion. Upon the dangerous way that she was going, he was, still; and not a footprint did she mark upon it, but he set his own there, straight.