Dombey and Son - 8
CHAPTER 54. The Fugitives
Tea-time, an hour short of midnight; the place, a French apartment, comprising some half-dozen rooms;—a dull cold hall or corridor, a dining-room, a drawing-room, a bed-room, and an inner drawingroom, or boudoir, smaller and more retired than the rest. All these shut in by one large pair of doors on the main staircase, but each room provided with two or three pairs of doors of its own, establishing several means of communication with the remaining portion of the apartment, or with certain small passages within the wall, leading, as is not unusual in such houses, to some back stairs with an obscure outlet below. The whole situated on the first floor of so large an Hotel, that it did not absorb one entire row of windows upon one side of the square court-yard in the centre, upon which the whole four sides of the mansion looked.
An air of splendour, sufficiently faded to be melancholy, and sufficiently dazzling to clog and embarrass the details of life with a show of state, reigned in these rooms The walls and ceilings were gilded and painted; the floors were waxed and polished; crimson drapery hung in festoons from window, door, and mirror; and candelabra, gnarled and intertwisted like the branches of trees, or horns of animals, stuck out from the panels of the wall. But in the day-time, when the lattice-blinds (now closely shut) were opened, and the light let in, traces were discernible among this finery, of wear and tear and dust, of sun and damp and smoke, and lengthened intervals of want of use and habitation, when such shows and toys of life seem sensitive like life, and waste as men shut up in prison do. Even night, and clusters of burning candles, could not wholly efface them, though the general glitter threw them in the shade.
The glitter of bright tapers, and their reflection in looking-glasses, scraps of gilding and gay colours, were confined, on this night, to one room—that smaller room within the rest, just now enumerated. Seen from the hall, where a lamp was feebly burning, through the dark perspective of open doors, it looked as shining and precious as a gem. In the heart of its radiance sat a beautiful woman—Edith.
She was alone. The same defiant, scornful woman still. The cheek a little worn, the eye a little larger in appearance, and more lustrous, but the haughty bearing just the same. No shame upon her brow; no late repentance bending her disdainful neck. Imperious and stately yet, and yet regardless of herself and of all else, she sat with her dark eyes cast down, waiting for someone.
No book, no work, no occupation of any kind but her own thought, beguiled the tardy time. Some purpose, strong enough to fill up any pause, possessed her. With her lips pressed together, and quivering if for a moment she released them from her control; with her nostril inflated; her hands clasped in one another; and her purpose swelling in her breast; she sat, and waited.
At the sound of a key in the outer door, and a footstep in the hall, she started up, and cried ‘Who’s that?’ The answer was in French, and two men came in with jingling trays, to make preparation for supper.
‘Who had bade them to do so?’ she asked.
‘Monsieur had commanded it, when it was his pleasure to take the apartment. Monsieur had said, when he stayed there for an hour, en route, and left the letter for Madame—Madame had received it surely?’
‘A thousand pardons! The sudden apprehension that it might have been forgotten had struck him;’ a bald man, with a large beard from a neighbouring restaurant; ‘with despair! Monsieur had said that supper was to be ready at that hour: also that he had forewarned Madame of the commands he had given, in his letter. Monsieur had done the Golden Head the honour to request that the supper should be choice and delicate. Monsieur would find that his confidence in the Golden Head was not misplaced.’
Edith said no more, but looked on thoughtfully while they prepared the table for two persons, and set the wine upon it. She arose before they had finished, and taking a lamp, passed into the bed-chamber and into the drawing-room, where she hurriedly but narrowly examined all the doors; particularly one in the former room that opened on the passage in the wall. From this she took the key, and put it on the outer side. She then came back.
The men—the second of whom was a dark, bilious subject, in a jacket, close shaved, and with a black head of hair close cropped—had completed their preparation of the table, and were standing looking at it. He who had spoken before, inquired whether Madame thought it would be long before Monsieur arrived?
‘She couldn’t say. It was all one.’
‘Pardon! There was the supper! It should be eaten on the instant. Monsieur (who spoke French like an Angel—or a Frenchman—it was all the same) had spoken with great emphasis of his punctuality. But the English nation had so grand a genius for punctuality. Ah! what noise! Great Heaven, here was Monsieur. Behold him!’
In effect, Monsieur, admitted by the other of the two, came, with his gleaming teeth, through the dark rooms, like a mouth; and arriving in that sanctuary of light and colour, a figure at full length, embraced Madame, and addressed her in the French tongue as his charming wife.
‘My God! Madame is going to faint. Madame is overcome with joy!’ The bald man with the beard observed it, and cried out.
Madame had only shrunk and shivered. Before the words were spoken, she was standing with her hand upon the velvet back of a great chair; her figure drawn up to its full height, and her face immoveable.
‘Francois has flown over to the Golden Head for supper. He flies on these occasions like an angel or a bird. The baggage of Monsieur is in his room. All is arranged. The supper will be here this moment.’ These facts the bald man notified with bows and smiles, and presently the supper came.
The hot dishes were on a chafing-dish; the cold already set forth, with the change of service on a sideboard. Monsieur was satisfied with this arrangement. The supper table being small, it pleased him very well. Let them set the chafing-dish upon the floor, and go. He would remove the dishes with his own hands.
‘Pardon!’ said the bald man, politely. ‘It was impossible!’
Monsieur was of another opinion. He required no further attendance that night.
‘But Madame—’ the bald man hinted.
‘Madame,’ replied Monsieur, ‘had her own maid. It was enough.’
‘A million pardons! No! Madame had no maid!’
‘I came here alone,’ said Edith ‘It was my choice to do so. I am well used to travelling; I want no attendance. They need send nobody to me.
Monsieur accordingly, persevering in his first proposed impossibility, proceeded to follow the two attendants to the outer door, and secure it after them for the night. The bald man turning round to bow, as he went out, observed that Madame still stood with her hand upon the velvet back of the great chair, and that her face was quite regardless of him, though she was looking straight before her.
As the sound of Carker’s fastening the door resounded through the intermediate rooms, and seemed to come hushed and stilled into that last distant one, the sound of the Cathedral clock striking twelve mingled with it, in Edith’s ears She heard him pause, as if he heard it too and listened; and then came back towards her, laying a long train of footsteps through the silence, and shutting all the doors behind him as he came along. Her hand, for a moment, left the velvet chair to bring a knife within her reach upon the table; then she stood as she had stood before.
‘How strange to come here by yourself, my love!’ he said as he entered.
‘What?’ she returned.
Her tone was so harsh; the quick turn of her head so fierce; her attitude so repellent; and her frown so black; that he stood, with the lamp in his hand, looking at her, as if she had struck him motionless.
‘I say,’ he at length repeated, putting down the lamp, and smiling his most courtly smile, ‘how strange to come here alone! It was unnecessary caution surely, and might have defeated itself. You were to have engaged an attendant at Havre or Rouen, and have had abundance of time for the purpose, though you had been the most capricious and difficult (as you are the most beautiful, my love) of women.’
Her eyes gleamed strangely on him, but she stood with her hand resting on the chair, and said not a word.
‘I have never,’ resumed Carker, ‘seen you look so handsome, as you do to-night. Even the picture I have carried in my mind during this cruel probation, and which I have contemplated night and day, is exceeded by the reality.’
Not a word. Not a look Her eyes completely hidden by their drooping lashes, but her head held up.
‘Hard, unrelenting terms they were!’ said Carker, with a smile, ‘but they are all fulfilled and passed, and make the present more delicious and more safe. Sicily shall be the place of our retreat. In the idlest and easiest part of the world, my soul, we’ll both seek compensation for old slavery.’
He was coming gaily towards her, when, in an instant, she caught the knife up from the table, and started one pace back.
‘Stand still!’ she said, ‘or I shall murder you!’
The sudden change in her, the towering fury and intense abhorrence sparkling in her eyes and lighting up her brow, made him stop as if a fire had stopped him.
‘Stand still!’ she said, ‘come no nearer me, upon your life!’
They both stood looking at each other. Rage and astonishment were in his face, but he controlled them, and said lightly,
‘Come, come! Tush, we are alone, and out of everybody’s sight and hearing. Do you think to frighten me with these tricks of virtue?’
‘Do you think to frighten me,’ she answered fiercely, ‘from any purpose that I have, and any course I am resolved upon, by reminding me of the solitude of this place, and there being no help near? Me, who am here alone, designedly? If I feared you, should I not have avoided you? If I feared you, should I be here, in the dead of night, telling you to your face what I am going to tell?’
‘And what is that,’ he said, ‘you handsome shrew? Handsomer so, than any other woman in her best humour?’
‘I tell you nothing,’ she returned, until you go back to that chair—except this, once again—Don’t come near me! Not a step nearer. I tell you, if you do, as Heaven sees us, I shall murder you!’
‘Do you mistake me for your husband?’ he retorted, with a grin.
Disdaining to reply, she stretched her arm out, pointing to the chair. He bit his lip, frowned, laughed, and sat down in it, with a baffled, irresolute, impatient air, he was unable to conceal; and biting his nail nervously, and looking at her sideways, with bitter discomfiture, even while he feigned to be amused by her caprice.
She put the knife down upon the table, and touching her bosom with her hand, said:
‘I have something lying here that is no love trinket, and sooner than endure your touch once more, I would use it on you—and you know it, while I speak—with less reluctance than I would on any other creeping thing that lives.’
He affected to laugh jestingly, and entreated her to act her play out quickly, for the supper was growing cold. But the secret look with which he regarded her, was more sullen and lowering, and he struck his foot once upon the floor with a muttered oath.
‘How many times,’ said Edith, bending her darkest glance upon him, ‘has your bold knavery assailed me with outrage and insult? How many times in your smooth manner, and mocking words and looks, have I been twitted with my courtship and my marriage? How many times have you laid bare my wound of love for that sweet, injured girl and lacerated it? How often have you fanned the fire on which, for two years, I have writhed; and tempted me to take a desperate revenge, when it has most tortured me?’
‘I have no doubt, Ma’am,’ he replied, ‘that you have kept a good account, and that it’s pretty accurate. Come, Edith. To your husband, poor wretch, this was well enough—’
‘Why, if,’ she said, surveying him with a haughty contempt and disgust, that he shrunk under, let him brave it as he would, ‘if all my other reasons for despising him could have been blown away like feathers, his having you for his counsellor and favourite, would have almost been enough to hold their place.’
‘Is that a reason why you have run away with me?’ he asked her, tauntingly.
‘Yes, and why we are face to face for the last time. Wretch! We meet tonight, and part tonight. For not one moment after I have ceased to speak, will I stay here!’
He turned upon her with his ugliest look, and gripped the table with his hand; but neither rose, nor otherwise answered or threatened her.
‘I am a woman,’ she said, confronting him steadfastly, ‘who from her childhood has been shamed and steeled. I have been offered and rejected, put up and appraised, until my very soul has sickened. I have not had an accomplishment or grace that might have been a resource to me, but it has been paraded and vended to enhance my value, as if the common crier had called it through the streets. My poor, proud friends, have looked on and approved; and every tie between us has been deadened in my breast. There is not one of them for whom I care, as I could care for a pet dog. I stand alone in the world, remembering well what a hollow world it has been to me, and what a hollow part of it I have been myself. You know this, and you know that my fame with it is worthless to me.’
‘Yes; I imagined that,’ he said.
‘And calculated on it,’ she rejoined, ‘and so pursued me. Grown too indifferent for any opposition but indifference, to the daily working of the hands that had moulded me to this; and knowing that my marriage would at least prevent their hawking of me up and down; I suffered myself to be sold, as infamously as any woman with a halter round her neck is sold in any market-place. You know that.’
‘Yes,’ he said, showing all his teeth ‘I know that.’
‘And calculated on it,’ she rejoined once more, ‘and so pursued me. From my marriage day, I found myself exposed to such new shame—to such solicitation and pursuit (expressed as clearly as if it had been written in the coarsest words, and thrust into my hand at every turn) from one mean villain, that I felt as if I had never known humiliation till that time. This shame my husband fixed upon me; hemmed me round with, himself; steeped me in, with his own hands, and of his own act, repeated hundreds of times. And thus—forced by the two from every point of rest I had—forced by the two to yield up the last retreat of love and gentleness within me, or to be a new misfortune on its innocent object—driven from each to each, and beset by one when I escaped the other—my anger rose almost to distraction against both. I do not know against which it rose higher—the master or the man!’
He watched her closely, as she stood before him in the very triumph of her indignant beauty. She was resolute, he saw; undauntable; with no more fear of him than of a worm.
‘What should I say of honour or of chastity to you!’ she went on. ‘What meaning would it have to you; what meaning would it have from me! But if I tell you that the lightest touch of your hand makes my blood cold with antipathy; that from the hour when I first saw and hated you, to now, when my instinctive repugnance is enhanced by every minute’s knowledge of you I have since had, you have been a loathsome creature to me which has not its like on earth; how then?’
He answered with a faint laugh, ‘Ay! How then, my queen?’
‘On that night, when, emboldened by the scene you had assisted at, you dared come to my room and speak to me,’ she said, ‘what passed?’
He shrugged his shoulders, and laughed
‘What passed?’ she said.
‘Your memory is so distinct,’ he said, ‘that I have no doubt you can recall it.’
‘I can,’ she said. ‘Hear it! Proposing then, this flight—not this flight, but the flight you thought it—you told me that in the having given you that meeting, and leaving you to be discovered there, if you so thought fit; and in the having suffered you to be alone with me many times before,—and having made the opportunities, you said,—and in the having openly avowed to you that I had no feeling for my husband but aversion, and no care for myself—I was lost; I had given you the power to traduce my name; and I lived, in virtuous reputation, at the pleasure of your breath.’
‘All stratagems in love—-’ he interrupted, smiling. ‘The old adage—’
‘On that night,’ said Edith, ‘and then, the struggle that I long had had with something that was not respect for my good fame—that was I know not what—perhaps the clinging to that last retreat—was ended. On that night, and then, I turned from everything but passion and resentment. I struck a blow that laid your lofty master in the dust, and set you there, before me, looking at me now, and knowing what I mean.’
He sprung up from his chair with a great oath. She put her hand into her bosom, and not a finger trembled, not a hair upon her head was stirred. He stood still: she too: the table and chair between them.
‘When I forget that this man put his lips to mine that night, and held me in his arms as he has done again to-night,’ said Edith, pointing at him; ‘when I forget the taint of his kiss upon my cheek—the cheek that Florence would have laid her guiltless face against—when I forget my meeting with her, while that taint was hot upon me, and in what a flood the knowledge rushed upon me when I saw her, that in releasing her from the persecution I had caused by my love, I brought a shame and degradation on her name through mine, and in all time to come should be the solitary figure representing in her mind her first avoidance of a guilty creature—then, Husband, from whom I stand divorced henceforth, I will forget these last two years, and undo what I have done, and undeceive you!’
Her flashing eyes, uplifted for a moment, lighted again on Carker, and she held some letters out in her left hand.
‘See these!’ she said, contemptuously. ‘You have addressed these to me in the false name you go by; one here, some elsewhere on my road. The seals are unbroken. Take them back!’
She crunched them in her hand, and tossed them to his feet. And as she looked upon him now, a smile was on her face.
‘We meet and part to-night,’ she said. ‘You have fallen on Sicilian days and sensual rest, too soon. You might have cajoled, and fawned, and played your traitor’s part, a little longer, and grown richer. You purchase your voluptuous retirement dear!’
‘Edith!’ he retorted, menacing her with his hand. ‘Sit down! Have done with this! What devil possesses you?’
‘Their name is Legion,’ she replied, uprearing her proud form as if she would have crushed him; ‘you and your master have raised them in a fruitful house, and they shall tear you both. False to him, false to his innocent child, false every way and everywhere, go forth and boast of me, and gnash your teeth, for once, to know that you are lying!’
He stood before her, muttering and menacing, and scowling round as if for something that would help him to conquer her; but with the same indomitable spirit she opposed him, without faltering.
‘In every vaunt you make,’ she said, ‘I have my triumph. I single out in you the meanest man I know, the parasite and tool of the proud tyrant, that his wound may go the deeper, and may rankle more. Boast, and revenge me on him! You know how you came here to-night; you know how you stand cowering there; you see yourself in colours quite as despicable, if not as odious, as those in which I see you. Boast then, and revenge me on yourself.’
The foam was on his lips; the wet stood on his forehead. If she would have faltered once for only one half-moment, he would have pinioned her; but she was as firm as rock, and her searching eyes never left him.
‘We don’t part so,’ he said. ‘Do you think I am drivelling, to let you go in your mad temper?’
‘Do you think,’ she answered, ‘that I am to be stayed?’
‘I’ll try, my dear,’ he said with a ferocious gesture of his head.
‘God’s mercy on you, if you try by coming near me!’ she replied.
‘And what,’ he said, ‘if there are none of these same boasts and vaunts on my part? What if I were to turn too? Come!’ and his teeth fairly shone again. ‘We must make a treaty of this, or I may take some unexpected course. Sit down, sit down!’
‘Too late!’ she cried, with eyes that seemed to sparkle fire. ‘I have thrown my fame and good name to the winds! I have resolved to bear the shame that will attach to me—resolved to know that it attaches falsely—that you know it too—and that he does not, never can, and never shall. I’ll die, and make no sign. For this, I am here alone with you, at the dead of night. For this, I have met you here, in a false name, as your wife. For this, I have been seen here by those men, and left here. Nothing can save you now.’
He would have sold his soul to root her, in her beauty, to the floor, and make her arms drop at her sides, and have her at his mercy. But he could not look at her, and not be afraid of her. He saw a strength within her that was resistless. He saw that she was desperate, and that her unquenchable hatred of him would stop at nothing. His eyes followed the hand that was put with such rugged uncongenial purpose into her white bosom, and he thought that if it struck at him, and failed, it would strike there, just as soon.
He did not venture, therefore, to advance towards her; but the door by which he had entered was behind him, and he stepped back to lock it.
‘Lastly, take my warning! Look to yourself!’ she said, and smiled again. ‘You have been betrayed, as all betrayers are. It has been made known that you are in this place, or were to be, or have been. If I live, I saw my husband in a carriage in the street to-night!’
‘Strumpet, it’s false!’ cried Carker.
At the moment, the bell rang loudly in the hall. He turned white, as she held her hand up like an enchantress, at whose invocation the sound had come.
‘Hark! do you hear it?’
He set his back against the door; for he saw a change in her, and fancied she was coming on to pass him. But, in a moment, she was gone through the opposite doors communicating with the bed-chamber, and they shut upon her.
Once turned, once changed in her inflexible unyielding look, he felt that he could cope with her. He thought a sudden terror, occasioned by this night-alarm, had subdued her; not the less readily, for her overwrought condition. Throwing open the doors, he followed, almost instantly.
But the room was dark; and as she made no answer to his call, he was fain to go back for the lamp. He held it up, and looked round, everywhere, expecting to see her crouching in some corner; but the room was empty. So, into the drawing-room and dining-room he went, in succession, with the uncertain steps of a man in a strange place; looking fearfully about, and prying behind screens and couches; but she was not there. No, nor in the hall, which was so bare that he could see that, at a glance.
All this time, the ringing at the bell was constantly renewed, and those without were beating at the door. He put his lamp down at a distance, and going near it, listened. There were several voices talking together: at least two of them in English; and though the door was thick, and there was great confusion, he knew one of these too well to doubt whose voice it was.
He took up his lamp again, and came back quickly through all the rooms, stopping as he quitted each, and looking round for her, with the light raised above his head. He was standing thus in the bed-chamber, when the door, leading to the little passage in the wall, caught his eye. He went to it, and found it fastened on the other side; but she had dropped a veil in going through, and shut it in the door.
All this time the people on the stairs were ringing at the bell, and knocking with their hands and feet.
He was not a coward: but these sounds; what had gone before; the strangeness of the place, which had confused him, even in his return from the hall; the frustration of his schemes (for, strange to say, he would have been much bolder, if they had succeeded); the unseasonable time; the recollection of having no one near to whom he could appeal for any friendly office; above all, the sudden sense, which made even his heart beat like lead, that the man whose confidence he had outraged, and whom he had so treacherously deceived, was there to recognise and challenge him with his mask plucked off his face; struck a panic through him. He tried the door in which the veil was shut, but couldn’t force it. He opened one of the windows, and looked down through the lattice of the blind, into the court-yard; but it was a high leap, and the stones were pitiless.
The ringing and knocking still continuing—his panic too—he went back to the door in the bed-chamber, and with some new efforts, each more stubborn than the last, wrenched it open. Seeing the little staircase not far off, and feeling the night-air coming up, he stole back for his hat and coat, made the door as secure after him as he could, crept down lamp in hand, extinguished it on seeing the street, and having put it in a corner, went out where the stars were shining.
CHAPTER 55. Rob the Grinder loses his Place
The Porter at the iron gate which shut the court-yard from the street, had left the little wicket of his house open, and was gone away; no doubt to mingle in the distant noise at the door of the great staircase. Lifting the latch softly, Carker crept out, and shutting the jangling gate after him with as little noise as possible, hurried off.
In the fever of his mortification and unavailing rage, the panic that had seized upon him mastered him completely. It rose to such a height that he would have blindly encountered almost any risk, rather than meet the man of whom, two hours ago, he had been utterly regardless. His fierce arrival, which he had never expected; the sound of his voice; their having been so near a meeting, face to face; he would have braved out this, after the first momentary shock of alarm, and would have put as bold a front upon his guilt as any villain. But the springing of his mine upon himself, seemed to have rent and shivered all his hardihood and self-reliance. Spurned like any reptile; entrapped and mocked; turned upon, and trodden down by the proud woman whose mind he had slowly poisoned, as he thought, until she had sunk into the mere creature of his pleasure; undeceived in his deceit, and with his fox’s hide stripped off, he sneaked away, abashed, degraded, and afraid.
Some other terror came upon him quite removed from this of being pursued, suddenly, like an electric shock, as he was creeping through the streets Some visionary terror, unintelligible and inexplicable, associated with a trembling of the ground,—a rush and sweep of something through the air, like Death upon the wing. He shrunk, as if to let the thing go by. It was not gone, it never had been there, yet what a startling horror it had left behind.
He raised his wicked face so full of trouble, to the night sky, where the stars, so full of peace, were shining on him as they had been when he first stole out into the air; and stopped to think what he should do. The dread of being hunted in a strange remote place, where the laws might not protect him—the novelty of the feeling that it was strange and remote, originating in his being left alone so suddenly amid the ruins of his plans—his greater dread of seeking refuge now, in Italy or in Sicily, where men might be hired to assassinate him, he thought, at any dark street corner—the waywardness of guilt and fear—perhaps some sympathy of action with the turning back of all his schemes—impelled him to turn back too, and go to England.
‘I am safer there, in any case. If I should not decide,’ he thought, ‘to give this fool a meeting, I am less likely to be traced there, than abroad here, now. And if I should (this cursed fit being over), at least I shall not be alone, without a soul to speak to, or advise with, or stand by me. I shall not be run in upon and worried like a rat.’
He muttered Edith’s name, and clenched his hand. As he crept along, in the shadow of the massive buildings, he set his teeth, and muttered dreadful imprecations on her head, and looked from side to side, as if in search of her. Thus, he stole on to the gate of an inn-yard. The people were a-bed; but his ringing at the bell soon produced a man with a lantern, in company with whom he was presently in a dim coach-house, bargaining for the hire of an old phaeton, to Paris.
The bargain was a short one; and the horses were soon sent for. Leaving word that the carriage was to follow him when they came, he stole away again, beyond the town, past the old ramparts, out on the open road, which seemed to glide away along the dark plain, like a stream.
Whither did it flow? What was the end of it? As he paused, with some such suggestion within him, looking over the gloomy flat where the slender trees marked out the way, again that flight of Death came rushing up, again went on, impetuous and resistless, again was nothing but a horror in his mind, dark as the scene and undefined as its remotest verge.
There was no wind; there was no passing shadow on the deep shade of the night; there was no noise. The city lay behind him, lighted here and there, and starry worlds were hidden by the masonry of spire and roof that hardly made out any shapes against the sky. Dark and lonely distance lay around him everywhere, and the clocks were faintly striking two.
He went forward for what appeared a long time, and a long way; often stopping to listen. At last the ringing of horses’ bells greeted his anxious ears. Now softer, and now louder, now inaudible, now ringing very slowly over bad ground, now brisk and merry, it came on; until with a loud shouting and lashing, a shadowy postillion muffled to the eyes, checked his four struggling horses at his side.
‘Who goes there! Monsieur?’
‘Monsieur has walked a long way in the dark midnight.’
‘No matter. Everyone to his task. Were there any other horses ordered at the Post-house?’
‘A thousand devils!—and pardons! other horses? at this hour? No.’
‘Listen, my friend. I am much hurried. Let us see how fast we can travel! The faster, the more money there will be to drink. Off we go then! Quick!’
‘Halloa! whoop! Halloa! Hi!’ Away, at a gallop, over the black landscape, scattering the dust and dirt like spray!
The clatter and commotion echoed to the hurry and discordance of the fugitive’s ideas. Nothing clear without, and nothing clear within. Objects flitting past, merging into one another, dimly descried, confusedly lost sight of, gone! Beyond the changing scraps of fence and cottage immediately upon the road, a lowering waste. Beyond the shifting images that rose up in his mind and vanished as they showed themselves, a black expanse of dread and rage and baffled villainy. Occasionally, a sigh of mountain air came from the distant Jura, fading along the plain. Sometimes that rush which was so furious and horrible, again came sweeping through his fancy, passed away, and left a chill upon his blood.
The lamps, gleaming on the medley of horses’ heads, jumbled with the shadowy driver, and the fluttering of his cloak, made a thousand indistinct shapes, answering to his thoughts. Shadows of familiar people, stooping at their desks and books, in their remembered attitudes; strange apparitions of the man whom he was flying from, or of Edith; repetitions in the ringing bells and rolling wheels, of words that had been spoken; confusions of time and place, making last night a month ago, a month ago last night—home now distant beyond hope, now instantly accessible; commotion, discord, hurry, darkness, and confusion in his mind, and all around him.—Hallo! Hi! away at a gallop over the black landscape; dust and dirt flying like spray, the smoking horses snorting and plunging as if each of them were ridden by a demon, away in a frantic triumph on the dark road—whither?
Again the nameless shock comes speeding up, and as it passes, the bells ring in his ears ‘whither?’ The wheels roar in his ears ‘whither?’ All the noise and rattle shapes itself into that cry. The lights and shadows dance upon the horses’ heads like imps. No stopping now: no slackening! On, on! Away with him upon the dark road wildly!
He could not think to any purpose. He could not separate one subject of reflection from another, sufficiently to dwell upon it, by itself, for a minute at a time. The crash of his project for the gaining of a voluptuous compensation for past restraint; the overthrow of his treachery to one who had been true and generous to him, but whose least proud word and look he had treasured up, at interest, for years—for false and subtle men will always secretly despise and dislike the object upon which they fawn and always resent the payment and receipt of homage that they know to be worthless; these were the themes uppermost in his mind. A lurking rage against the woman who had so entrapped him and avenged herself was always there; crude and misshapen schemes of retaliation upon her, floated in his brain; but nothing was distinct. A hurry and contradiction pervaded all his thoughts. Even while he was so busy with this fevered, ineffectual thinking, his one constant idea was, that he would postpone reflection until some indefinite time.
Then, the old days before the second marriage rose up in his remembrance. He thought how jealous he had been of the boy, how jealous he had been of the girl, how artfully he had kept intruders at a distance, and drawn a circle round his dupe that none but himself should cross; and then he thought, had he done all this to be flying now, like a scared thief, from only the poor dupe?
He could have laid hands upon himself for his cowardice, but it was the very shadow of his defeat, and could not be separated from it. To have his confidence in his own knavery so shattered at a blow—to be within his own knowledge such a miserable tool—was like being paralysed. With an impotent ferocity he raged at Edith, and hated Mr Dombey and hated himself, but still he fled, and could do nothing else.
Again and again he listened for the sound of wheels behind. Again and again his fancy heard it, coming on louder and louder. At last he was so persuaded of this, that he cried out, ‘Stop’ preferring even the loss of ground to such uncertainty.
The word soon brought carriage, horses, driver, all in a heap together, across the road.
‘The devil!’ cried the driver, looking over his shoulder, ‘what’s the matter?’
‘Hark! What’s that?’
‘Ah Heaven, be quiet, cursed brigand!’ to a horse who shook his bells ‘What noise?’
‘Behind. Is it not another carriage at a gallop? There! what’s that?’
‘Miscreant with a Pig’s head, stand still!’ to another horse, who bit another, who frightened the other two, who plunged and backed. ‘There is nothing coming.’
‘No, nothing but the day yonder.’
‘You are right, I think. I hear nothing now, indeed. Go on!’
The entangled equipage, half hidden in the reeking cloud from the horses, goes on slowly at first, for the driver, checked unnecessarily in his progress, sulkily takes out a pocket-knife, and puts a new lash to his whip. Then ‘Hallo, whoop! Hallo, hi!’ Away once more, savagely.
And now the stars faded, and the day glimmered, and standing in the carriage, looking back, he could discern the track by which he had come, and see that there was no traveller within view, on all the heavy expanse. And soon it was broad day, and the sun began to shine on cornfields and vineyards; and solitary labourers, risen from little temporary huts by heaps of stones upon the road, were, here and there, at work repairing the highway, or eating bread. By and by, there were peasants going to their daily labour, or to market, or lounging at the doors of poor cottages, gazing idly at him as he passed. And then there was a postyard, ankle-deep in mud, with steaming dunghills and vast outhouses half ruined; and looking on this dainty prospect, an immense, old, shadeless, glaring, stone chateau, with half its windows blinded, and green damp crawling lazily over it, from the balustraded terrace to the taper tips of the extinguishers upon the turrets.
Gathered up moodily in a corner of the carriage, and only intent on going fast—except when he stood up, for a mile together, and looked back; which he would do whenever there was a piece of open country—he went on, still postponing thought indefinitely, and still always tormented with thinking to no purpose.
Shame, disappointment, and discomfiture gnawed at his heart; a constant apprehension of being overtaken, or met—for he was groundlessly afraid even of travellers, who came towards him by the way he was going—oppressed him heavily. The same intolerable awe and dread that had come upon him in the night, returned unweakened in the day. The monotonous ringing of the bells and tramping of the horses; the monotony of his anxiety, and useless rage; the monotonous wheel of fear, regret, and passion, he kept turning round and round; made the journey like a vision, in which nothing was quite real but his own torment.
It was a vision of long roads, that stretched away to an horizon, always receding and never gained; of ill-paved towns, up hill and down, where faces came to dark doors and ill-glazed windows, and where rows of mudbespattered cows and oxen were tied up for sale in the long narrow streets, butting and lowing, and receiving blows on their blunt heads from bludgeons that might have beaten them in; of bridges, crosses, churches, postyards, new horses being put in against their wills, and the horses of the last stage reeking, panting, and laying their drooping heads together dolefully at stable doors; of little cemeteries with black crosses settled sideways in the graves, and withered wreaths upon them dropping away; again of long, long roads, dragging themselves out, up hill and down, to the treacherous horizon.
Of morning, noon, and sunset; night, and the rising of an early moon. Of long roads temporarily left behind, and a rough pavement reached; of battering and clattering over it, and looking up, among house-roofs, at a great church-tower; of getting out and eating hastily, and drinking draughts of wine that had no cheering influence; of coming forth afoot, among a host of beggars—blind men with quivering eyelids, led by old women holding candles to their faces; idiot girls; the lame, the epileptic, and the palsied—of passing through the clamour, and looking from his seat at the upturned countenances and outstretched hands, with a hurried dread of recognising some pursuer pressing forward—of galloping away again, upon the long, long road, gathered up, dull and stunned, in his corner, or rising to see where the moon shone faintly on a patch of the same endless road miles away, or looking back to see who followed.
Of never sleeping, but sometimes dozing with unclosed eyes, and springing up with a start, and a reply aloud to an imaginary voice. Of cursing himself for being there, for having fled, for having let her go, for not having confronted and defied him. Of having a deadly quarrel with the whole world, but chiefly with himself. Of blighting everything with his black mood as he was carried on and away.
It was a fevered vision of things past and present all confounded together; of his life and journey blended into one. Of being madly hurried somewhere, whither he must go. Of old scenes starting up among the novelties through which he travelled. Of musing and brooding over what was past and distant, and seeming to take no notice of the actual objects he encountered, but with a wearisome exhausting consciousness of being bewildered by them, and having their images all crowded in his hot brain after they were gone.
A vision of change upon change, and still the same monotony of bells and wheels, and horses’ feet, and no rest. Of town and country, postyards, horses, drivers, hill and valley, light and darkness, road and pavement, height and hollow, wet weather and dry, and still the same monotony of bells and wheels, and horses’ feet, and no rest. A vision of tending on at last, towards the distant capital, by busier roads, and sweeping round, by old cathedrals, and dashing through small towns and villages, less thinly scattered on the road than formerly, and sitting shrouded in his corner, with his cloak up to his face, as people passing by looked at him.
Of rolling on and on, always postponing thought, and always racked with thinking; of being unable to reckon up the hours he had been upon the road, or to comprehend the points of time and place in his journey. Of being parched and giddy, and half mad. Of pressing on, in spite of all, as if he could not stop, and coming into Paris, where the turbid river held its swift course undisturbed, between two brawling streams of life and motion.
A troubled vision, then, of bridges, quays, interminable streets; of wine-shops, water-carriers, great crowds of people, soldiers, coaches, military drums, arcades. Of the monotony of bells and wheels and horses’ feet being at length lost in the universal din and uproar. Of the gradual subsidence of that noise as he passed out in another carriage by a different barrier from that by which he had entered. Of the restoration, as he travelled on towards the seacoast, of the monotony of bells and wheels, and horses’ feet, and no rest.
Of sunset once again, and nightfall. Of long roads again, and dead of night, and feeble lights in windows by the roadside; and still the old monotony of bells and wheels, and horses’ feet, and no rest. Of dawn, and daybreak, and the rising of the sun. Of tolling slowly up a hill, and feeling on its top the fresh sea-breeze; and seeing the morning light upon the edges of the distant waves. Of coming down into a harbour when the tide was at its full, and seeing fishing-boats float on, and glad women and children waiting for them. Of nets and seamen’s clothes spread out to dry upon the shore; of busy sailors, and their voices high among ships’ masts and rigging; of the buoyancy and brightness of the water, and the universal sparkling.
Of receding from the coast, and looking back upon it from the deck when it was a haze upon the water, with here and there a little opening of bright land where the Sun struck. Of the swell, and flash, and murmur of the calm sea. Of another grey line on the ocean, on the vessel’s track, fast growing clearer and higher. Of cliffs and buildings, and a windmill, and a church, becoming more and more visible upon it. Of steaming on at last into smooth water, and mooring to a pier whence groups of people looked down, greeting friends on board. Of disembarking, passing among them quickly, shunning every one; and of being at last again in England.
He had thought, in his dream, of going down into a remote country-place he knew, and lying quiet there, while he secretly informed himself of what transpired, and determined how to act, Still in the same stunned condition, he remembered a certain station on the railway, where he would have to branch off to his place of destination, and where there was a quiet Inn. Here, he indistinctly resolved to tarry and rest.
With this purpose he slunk into a railway carriage as quickly as he could, and lying there wrapped in his cloak as if he were asleep, was soon borne far away from the sea, and deep into the inland green. Arrived at his destination he looked out, and surveyed it carefully. He was not mistaken in his impression of the place. It was a retired spot, on the borders of a little wood. Only one house, newly-built or altered for the purpose, stood there, surrounded by its neat garden; the small town that was nearest, was some miles away. Here he alighted then; and going straight into the tavern, unobserved by anyone, secured two rooms upstairs communicating with each other, and sufficiently retired.
His object was to rest, and recover the command of himself, and the balance of his mind. Imbecile discomfiture and rage—so that, as he walked about his room, he ground his teeth—had complete possession of him. His thoughts, not to be stopped or directed, still wandered where they would, and dragged him after them. He was stupefied, and he was wearied to death.
But, as if there were a curse upon him that he should never rest again, his drowsy senses would not lose their consciousness. He had no more influence with them, in this regard, than if they had been another man’s. It was not that they forced him to take note of present sounds and objects, but that they would not be diverted from the whole hurried vision of his journey. It was constantly before him all at once. She stood there, with her dark disdainful eyes again upon him; and he was riding on nevertheless, through town and country, light and darkness, wet weather and dry, over road and pavement, hill and valley, height and hollow, jaded and scared by the monotony of bells and wheels, and horses’ feet, and no rest.
‘What day is this?’ he asked of the waiter, who was making preparations for his dinner.
‘Is it Wednesday?’
‘Wednesday, Sir? No, Sir. Thursday, Sir.’
‘I forgot. How goes the time? My watch is unwound.’
‘Wants a few minutes of five o’clock, Sir. Been travelling a long time, Sir, perhaps?’
‘By rail, Sir?’
‘Very confusing, Sir. Not much in the habit of travelling by rail myself, Sir, but gentlemen frequently say so.’
‘Do many gentlemen come here?
‘Pretty well, Sir, in general. Nobody here at present. Rather slack just now, Sir. Everything is slack, Sir.’
He made no answer; but had risen into a sitting posture on the sofa where he had been lying, and leaned forward with an arm on each knee, staring at the ground. He could not master his own attention for a minute together. It rushed away where it would, but it never, for an instant, lost itself in sleep.
He drank a quantity of wine after dinner, in vain. No such artificial means would bring sleep to his eyes. His thoughts, more incoherent, dragged him more unmercifully after them—as if a wretch, condemned to such expiation, were drawn at the heels of wild horses. No oblivion, and no rest.
How long he sat, drinking and brooding, and being dragged in imagination hither and thither, no one could have told less correctly than he. But he knew that he had been sitting a long time by candle-light, when he started up and listened, in a sudden terror.
For now, indeed, it was no fancy. The ground shook, the house rattled, the fierce impetuous rush was in the air! He felt it come up, and go darting by; and even when he had hurried to the window, and saw what it was, he stood, shrinking from it, as if it were not safe to look.
A curse upon the fiery devil, thundering along so smoothly, tracked through the distant valley by a glare of light and lurid smoke, and gone! He felt as if he had been plucked out of its path, and saved from being torn asunder. It made him shrink and shudder even now, when its faintest hum was hushed, and when the lines of iron road he could trace in the moonlight, running to a point, were as empty and as silent as a desert.
Unable to rest, and irresistibly attracted—or he thought so—to this road, he went out, and lounged on the brink of it, marking the way the train had gone, by the yet smoking cinders that were lying in its track. After a lounge of some half hour in the direction by which it had disappeared, he turned and walked the other way—still keeping to the brink of the road—past the inn garden, and a long way down; looking curiously at the bridges, signals, lamps, and wondering when another Devil would come by.
A trembling of the ground, and quick vibration in his ears; a distant shriek; a dull light advancing, quickly changed to two red eyes, and a fierce fire, dropping glowing coals; an irresistible bearing on of a great roaring and dilating mass; a high wind, and a rattle—another come and gone, and he holding to a gate, as if to save himself!
He waited for another, and for another. He walked back to his former point, and back again to that, and still, through the wearisome vision of his journey, looked for these approaching monsters. He loitered about the station, waiting until one should stay to call there; and when one did, and was detached for water, he stood parallel with it, watching its heavy wheels and brazen front, and thinking what a cruel power and might it had. Ugh! To see the great wheels slowly turning, and to think of being run down and crushed!
Disordered with wine and want of rest—that want which nothing, although he was so weary, would appease—these ideas and objects assumed a diseased importance in his thoughts. When he went back to his room, which was not until near midnight, they still haunted him, and he sat listening for the coming of another.
So in his bed, whither he repaired with no hope of sleep. He still lay listening; and when he felt the trembling and vibration, got up and went to the window, to watch (as he could from its position) the dull light changing to the two red eyes, and the fierce fire dropping glowing coals, and the rush of the giant as it fled past, and the track of glare and smoke along the valley. Then he would glance in the direction by which he intended to depart at sunrise, as there was no rest for him there; and would lie down again, to be troubled by the vision of his journey, and the old monotony of bells and wheels and horses’ feet, until another came. This lasted all night. So far from resuming the mastery of himself, he seemed, if possible, to lose it more and more, as the night crept on. When the dawn appeared, he was still tormented with thinking, still postponing thought until he should be in a better state; the past, present, and future all floated confusedly before him, and he had lost all power of looking steadily at any one of them.
‘At what time,’ he asked the man who had waited on him over-night, now entering with a candle, ‘do I leave here, did you say?’
‘About a quarter after four, Sir. Express comes through at four, Sir.—It don’t stop.’
He passed his hand across his throbbing head, and looked at his watch. Nearly half-past three.
‘Nobody going with you, Sir, probably,’ observed the man. ‘Two gentlemen here, Sir, but they’re waiting for the train to London.’
‘I thought you said there was nobody here,’ said Carker, turning upon him with the ghost of his old smile, when he was angry or suspicious.
‘Not then, sir. Two gentlemen came in the night by the short train that stops here, Sir. Warm water, Sir?’
‘No; and take away the candle. There’s day enough for me.’
Having thrown himself upon the bed, half-dressed he was at the window as the man left the room. The cold light of morning had succeeded to night and there was already, in the sky, the red suffusion of the coming sun. He bathed his head and face with water—there was no cooling influence in it for him—hurriedly put on his clothes, paid what he owed, and went out.
The air struck chill and comfortless as it breathed upon him. There was a heavy dew; and, hot as he was, it made him shiver. After a glance at the place where he had walked last night, and at the signal-lights burning in the morning, and bereft of their significance, he turned to where the sun was rising, and beheld it, in its glory, as it broke upon the scene.
So awful, so transcendent in its beauty, so divinely solemn. As he cast his faded eyes upon it, where it rose, tranquil and serene, unmoved by all the wrong and wickedness on which its beams had shone since the beginning of the world, who shall say that some weak sense of virtue upon Earth, and its in Heaven, did not manifest itself, even to him? If ever he remembered sister or brother with a touch of tenderness and remorse, who shall say it was not then?
He needed some such touch then. Death was on him. He was marked off—the living world, and going down into his grave.
He paid the money for his journey to the country-place he had thought of; and was walking to and fro, alone, looking along the lines of iron, across the valley in one direction, and towards a dark bridge near at hand in the other; when, turning in his walk, where it was bounded by one end of the wooden stage on which he paced up and down, he saw the man from whom he had fled, emerging from the door by which he himself had entered. And their eyes met.
In the quick unsteadiness of the surprise, he staggered, and slipped on to the road below him. But recovering his feet immediately, he stepped back a pace or two upon that road, to interpose some wider space between them, and looked at his pursuer, breathing short and quick.
He heard a shout—another—saw the face change from its vindictive passion to a faint sickness and terror—felt the earth tremble—knew in a moment that the rush was come—uttered a shriek—looked round—saw the red eyes, bleared and dim, in the daylight, close upon him—was beaten down, caught up, and whirled away upon a jagged mill, that spun him round and round, and struck him limb from limb, and licked his stream of life up with its fiery heat, and cast his mutilated fragments in the air.
When the traveller, who had been recognised, recovered from a swoon, he saw them bringing from a distance something covered, that lay heavy and still, upon a board, between four men, and saw that others drove some dogs away that sniffed upon the road, and soaked his blood up, with a train of ashes.
CHAPTER 56. Several People delighted, and the Game Chicken disgusted
The Midshipman was all alive. Mr Toots and Susan had arrived at last. Susan had run upstairs like a young woman bereft of her senses, and Mr Toots and the Chicken had gone into the Parlour.
‘Oh my own pretty darling sweet Miss Floy!’ cried the Nipper, running into Florence’s room, ‘to think that it should come to this and I should find you here my own dear dove with nobody to wait upon you and no home to call your own but never never will I go away again Miss Floy for though I may not gather moss I’m not a rolling stone nor is my heart a stone or else it wouldn’t bust as it is busting now oh dear oh dear!’
Pouring out these words, without the faintest indication of a stop, of any sort, Miss Nipper, on her knees beside her mistress, hugged her close.
‘Oh love!’ cried Susan, ‘I know all that’s past I know it all my tender pet and I’m a choking give me air!’
‘Susan, dear good Susan!’ said Florence.
‘Oh bless her! I that was her little maid when she was a little child! and is she really, really truly going to be married?’ exclaimed Susan, in a burst of pain and pleasure, pride and grief, and Heaven knows how many other conflicting feelings.
‘Who told you so?’ said Florence.
‘Oh gracious me! that innocentest creetur Toots,’ returned Susan hysterically. ‘I knew he must be right my dear, because he took on so. He’s the devotedest and innocentest infant! And is my darling,’ pursued Susan, with another close embrace and burst of tears, ‘really really going to be married!’
The mixture of compassion, pleasure, tenderness, protection, and regret with which the Nipper constantly recurred to this subject, and at every such once, raised her head to look in the young face and kiss it, and then laid her head again upon her mistress’s shoulder, caressing her and sobbing, was as womanly and good a thing, in its way, as ever was seen in the world.
‘There, there!’ said the soothing voice of Florence presently. ‘Now you’re quite yourself, dear Susan!’
Miss Nipper, sitting down upon the floor, at her mistress’s feet, laughing and sobbing, holding her pocket-handkerchief to her eyes with one hand, and patting Diogenes with the other as he licked her face, confessed to being more composed, and laughed and cried a little more in proof of it.
‘I-I-I never did see such a creetur as that Toots,’ said Susan, ‘in all my born days never!’
‘So kind,’ suggested Florence.
‘And so comic!’ Susan sobbed. ‘The way he’s been going on inside with me with that disrespectable Chicken on the box!’
‘About what, Susan?’ inquired Florence, timidly.
‘Oh about Lieutenant Walters, and Captain Gills, and you my dear Miss Floy, and the silent tomb,’ said Susan.
‘The silent tomb!’ repeated Florence.
‘He says,’ here Susan burst into a violent hysterical laugh, ‘that he’ll go down into it now immediately and quite comfortable, but bless your heart my dear Miss Floy he won’t, he’s a great deal too happy in seeing other people happy for that, he may not be a Solomon,’ pursued the Nipper, with her usual volubility, ‘nor do I say he is but this I do say a less selfish human creature human nature never knew!’
Miss Nipper being still hysterical, laughed immoderately after making this energetic declaration, and then informed Florence that he was waiting below to see her; which would be a rich repayment for the trouble he had had in his late expedition.
Florence entreated Susan to beg of Mr Toots as a favour that she might have the pleasure of thanking him for his kindness; and Susan, in a few moments, produced that young gentleman, still very much dishevelled in appearance, and stammering exceedingly.
‘Miss Dombey,’ said Mr Toots. ‘To be again permitted to—to—gaze—at least, not to gaze, but—I don’t exactly know what I was going to say, but it’s of no consequence.’
‘I have to thank you so often,’ returned Florence, giving him both her hands, with all her innocent gratitude beaming in her face, ‘that I have no words left, and don’t know how to do it.’
‘Miss Dombey,’ said Mr Toots, in an awful voice, ‘if it was possible that you could, consistently with your angelic nature, Curse me, you would—if I may be allowed to say so—floor me infinitely less, than by these undeserved expressions of kindness Their effect upon me—is—but,’ said Mr Toots, abruptly, ‘this is a digression, and of no consequence at all.’
As there seemed to be no means of replying to this, but by thanking him again, Florence thanked him again.
‘I could wish,’ said Mr Toots, ‘to take this opportunity, Miss Dombey, if I might, of entering into a word of explanation. I should have had the pleasure of—of returning with Susan at an earlier period; but, in the first place, we didn’t know the name of the relation to whose house she had gone, and, in the second, as she had left that relation’s and gone to another at a distance, I think that scarcely anything short of the sagacity of the Chicken, would have found her out in the time.’
Florence was sure of it.
‘This, however,’ said Mr Toots, ‘is not the point. The company of Susan has been, I assure you, Miss Dombey, a consolation and satisfaction to me, in my state of mind, more easily conceived than described. The journey has been its own reward. That, however, still, is not the point. Miss Dombey, I have before observed that I know I am not what is considered a quick person. I am perfectly aware of that. I don’t think anybody could be better acquainted with his own—if it was not too strong an expression, I should say with the thickness of his own head—than myself. But, Miss Dombey, I do, notwithstanding, perceive the state of—of things—with Lieutenant Walters. Whatever agony that state of things may have caused me (which is of no consequence at all), I am bound to say, that Lieutenant Walters is a person who appears to be worthy of the blessing that has fallen on his—on his brow. May he wear it long, and appreciate it, as a very different, and very unworthy individual, that it is of no consequence to name, would have done! That, however, still, is not the point. Miss Dombey, Captain Gills is a friend of mine; and during the interval that is now elapsing, I believe it would afford Captain Gills pleasure to see me occasionally coming backwards and forwards here. It would afford me pleasure so to come. But I cannot forget that I once committed myself, fatally, at the corner of the Square at Brighton; and if my presence will be, in the least degree, unpleasant to you, I only ask you to name it to me now, and assure you that I shall perfectly understand you. I shall not consider it at all unkind, and shall only be too delighted and happy to be honoured with your confidence.’
‘Mr Toots,’ returned Florence, ‘if you, who are so old and true a friend of mine, were to stay away from this house now, you would make me very unhappy. It can never, never, give me any feeling but pleasure to see you.
‘Miss Dombey,’ said Mr Toots, taking out his pocket-handkerchief, ‘if I shed a tear, it is a tear of joy. It is of no consequence, and I am very much obliged to you. I may be allowed to remark, after what you have so kindly said, that it is not my intention to neglect my person any longer.’
Florence received this intimation with the prettiest expression of perplexity possible.
‘I mean,’ said Mr Toots, ‘that I shall consider it my duty as a fellow-creature generally, until I am claimed by the silent tomb, to make the best of myself, and to—to have my boots as brightly polished, as—as—circumstances will admit of. This is the last time, Miss Dombey, of my intruding any observation of a private and personal nature. I thank you very much indeed. If I am not, in a general way, as sensible as my friends could wish me to be, or as I could wish myself, I really am, upon my word and honour, particularly sensible of what is considerate and kind. I feel,’ said Mr Toots, in an impassioned tone, ‘as if I could express my feelings, at the present moment, in a most remarkable manner, if—if—I could only get a start.’
Appearing not to get it, after waiting a minute or two to see if it would come, Mr Toots took a hasty leave, and went below to seek the Captain, whom he found in the shop.
‘Captain Gills,’ said Mr Toots, ‘what is now to take place between us, takes place under the sacred seal of confidence. It is the sequel, Captain Gills, of what has taken place between myself and Miss Dombey, upstairs.’
‘Alow and aloft, eh, my lad?’ murmured the Captain.
‘Exactly so, Captain Gills,’ said Mr Toots, whose fervour of acquiescence was greatly heightened by his entire ignorance of the Captain’s meaning. ‘Miss Dombey, I believe, Captain Gills, is to be shortly united to Lieutenant Walters?’
‘Why, ay, my lad. We’re all shipmets here,—Wal’r and sweet—heart will be jined together in the house of bondage, as soon as the askings is over,’ whispered Captain Cuttle, in his ear.
‘The askings, Captain Gills!’ repeated Mr Toots.
‘In the church, down yonder,’ said the Captain, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.
‘Oh! Yes!’ returned Mr Toots.
‘And then,’ said the Captain, in his hoarse whisper, and tapping Mr Toots on the chest with the back of his hand, and falling from him with a look of infinite admiration, ‘what follers? That there pretty creetur, as delicately brought up as a foreign bird, goes away upon the roaring main with Wal’r on a woyage to China!’
‘Lord, Captain Gills!’ said Mr Toots.
‘Ay!’ nodded the Captain. ‘The ship as took him up, when he was wrecked in the hurricane that had drove her clean out of her course, was a China trader, and Wal’r made the woyage, and got into favour, aboard and ashore—being as smart and good a lad as ever stepped—and so, the supercargo dying at Canton, he got made (having acted as clerk afore), and now he’s supercargo aboard another ship, same owners. And so, you see,’ repeated the Captain, thoughtfully, ‘the pretty creetur goes away upon the roaring main with Wal’r, on a woyage to China.’
Mr Toots and Captain Cuttle heaved a sigh in concert. ‘What then?’ said the Captain. ‘She loves him true. He loves her true. Them as should have loved and tended of her, treated of her like the beasts as perish. When she, cast out of home, come here to me, and dropped upon them planks, her wownded heart was broke. I know it. I, Ed’ard Cuttle, see it. There’s nowt but true, kind, steady love, as can ever piece it up again. If so be I didn’t know that, and didn’t know as Wal’r was her true love, brother, and she his, I’d have these here blue arms and legs chopped off, afore I’d let her go. But I know it, and what then! Why, then, I say, Heaven go with ‘em both, and so it will! Amen!’
‘Captain Gills,’ said Mr Toots, ‘let me have the pleasure of shaking hands You’ve a way of saying things, that gives me an agreeable warmth, all up my back. I say Amen. You are aware, Captain Gills, that I, too, have adored Miss Dombey.’
‘Cheer up!’ said the Captain, laying his hand on Mr Toots’s shoulder. ‘Stand by, boy!’
‘It is my intention, Captain Gills,’ returned the spirited Mr Toots, ‘to cheer up. Also to standby, as much as possible. When the silent tomb shall yawn, Captain Gills, I shall be ready for burial; not before. But not being certain, just at present, of my power over myself, what I wish to say to you, and what I shall take it as a particular favour if you will mention to Lieutenant Walters, is as follows.’
‘Is as follers,’ echoed the Captain. ‘Steady!’
‘Miss Dombey being so inexpressably kind,’ continued Mr Toots with watery eyes, ‘as to say that my presence is the reverse of disagreeable to her, and you and everybody here being no less forbearing and tolerant towards one who—who certainly,’ said Mr Toots, with momentary dejection, ‘would appear to have been born by mistake, I shall come backwards and forwards of an evening, during the short time we can all be together. But what I ask is this. If, at any moment, I find that I cannot endure the contemplation of Lieutenant Walters’s bliss, and should rush out, I hope, Captain Gills, that you and he will both consider it as my misfortune and not my fault, or the want of inward conflict. That you’ll feel convinced I bear no malice to any living creature-least of all to Lieutenant Walters himself—and that you’ll casually remark that I have gone out for a walk, or probably to see what o’clock it is by the Royal Exchange. Captain Gills, if you could enter into this arrangement, and could answer for Lieutenant Walters, it would be a relief to my feelings that I should think cheap at the sacrifice of a considerable portion of my property.’
‘My lad,’ returned the Captain, ‘say no more. There ain’t a colour you can run up, as won’t be made out, and answered to, by Wal’r and self.’
‘Captain Gills,’ said Mr Toots, ‘my mind is greatly relieved. I wish to preserve the good opinion of all here. I—I—mean well, upon my honour, however badly I may show it. You know,’ said Mr Toots, ‘it’s as exactly as Burgess and Co. wished to oblige a customer with a most extraordinary pair of trousers, and could not cut out what they had in their minds.’
With this apposite illustration, of which he seemed a little Proud, Mr Toots gave Captain Cuttle his blessing and departed.
The honest Captain, with his Heart’s Delight in the house, and Susan tending her, was a beaming and a happy man. As the days flew by, he grew more beaming and more happy, every day. After some conferences with Susan (for whose wisdom the Captain had a profound respect, and whose valiant precipitation of herself on Mrs MacStinger he could never forget), he proposed to Florence that the daughter of the elderly lady who usually sat under the blue umbrella in Leadenhall Market, should, for prudential reasons and considerations of privacy, be superseded in the temporary discharge of the household duties, by someone who was not unknown to them, and in whom they could safely confide. Susan, being present, then named, in furtherance of a suggestion she had previously offered to the Captain, Mrs Richards. Florence brightened at the name. And Susan, setting off that very afternoon to the Toodle domicile, to sound Mrs Richards, returned in triumph the same evening, accompanied by the identical rosy-cheeked apple-faced Polly, whose demonstrations, when brought into Florence’s presence, were hardly less affectionate than those of Susan Nipper herself.
This piece of generalship accomplished; from which the Captain derived uncommon satisfaction, as he did, indeed, from everything else that was done, whatever it happened to be; Florence had next to prepare Susan for their approaching separation. This was a much more difficult task, as Miss Nipper was of a resolute disposition, and had fully made up her mind that she had come back never to be parted from her old mistress any more.
‘As to wages dear Miss Floy,’ she said, ‘you wouldn’t hint and wrong me so as think of naming them, for I’ve put money by and wouldn’t sell my love and duty at a time like this even if the Savings’ Banks and me were total strangers or the Banks were broke to pieces, but you’ve never been without me darling from the time your poor dear Ma was took away, and though I’m nothing to be boasted of you’re used to me and oh my own dear mistress through so many years don’t think of going anywhere without me, for it mustn’t and can’t be!’
‘Dear Susan, I am going on a long, long voyage.’
‘Well Miss Floy, and what of that? the more you’ll want me. Lengths of voyages ain’t an object in my eyes, thank God!’ said the impetuous Susan Nipper.
‘But, Susan, I am going with Walter, and I would go with Walter anywhere—everywhere! Walter is poor, and I am very poor, and I must learn, now, both to help myself, and help him.’
‘Dear Miss Floy!’ cried Susan, bursting out afresh, and shaking her head violently, ‘it’s nothing new to you to help yourself and others too and be the patientest and truest of noble hearts, but let me talk to Mr Walter Gay and settle it with him, for suffer you to go away across the world alone I cannot, and I won’t.’
‘Alone, Susan?’ returned Florence. ‘Alone? and Walter taking me with him!’ Ah, what a bright, amazed, enraptured smile was on her face!—He should have seen it. ‘I am sure you will not speak to Walter if I ask you not,’ she added tenderly; ‘and pray don’t, dear.’
Susan sobbed ‘Why not, Miss Floy?’
‘Because,’ said Florence, ‘I am going to be his wife, to give him up my whole heart, and to live with him and die with him. He might think, if you said to him what you have said to me, that I am afraid of what is before me, or that you have some cause to be afraid for me. Why, Susan, dear, I love him!’
Miss Nipper was so much affected by the quiet fervour of these words, and the simple, heartfelt, all-pervading earnestness expressed in them, and making the speaker’s face more beautiful and pure than ever, that she could only cling to her again, crying. Was her little mistress really, really going to be married, and pitying, caressing, and protecting her, as she had done before.
But the Nipper, though susceptible of womanly weaknesses, was almost as capable of putting constraint upon herself as of attacking the redoubtable MacStinger. From that time, she never returned to the subject, but was always cheerful, active, bustling, and hopeful. She did, indeed, inform Mr Toots privately, that she was only ‘keeping up’ for the time, and that when it was all over, and Miss Dombey was gone, she might be expected to become a spectacle distressful; and Mr Toots did also express that it was his case too, and that they would mingle their tears together; but she never otherwise indulged her private feelings in the presence of Florence or within the precincts of the Midshipman.
Limited and plain as Florence’s wardrobe was—what a contrast to that prepared for the last marriage in which she had taken part!—there was a good deal to do in getting it ready, and Susan Nipper worked away at her side, all day, with the concentrated zeal of fifty sempstresses. The wonderful contributions Captain Cuttle would have made to this branch of the outfit, if he had been permitted—as pink parasols, tinted silk stockings, blue shoes, and other articles no less necessary on shipboard—would occupy some space in the recital. He was induced, however, by various fraudulent representations, to limit his contributions to a work-box and dressing case, of each of which he purchased the very largest specimen that could be got for money. For ten days or a fortnight afterwards, he generally sat, during the greater part of the day, gazing at these boxes; divided between extreme admiration of them, and dejected misgivings that they were not gorgeous enough, and frequently diving out into the street to purchase some wild article that he deemed necessary to their completeness. But his master-stroke was, the bearing of them both off, suddenly, one morning, and getting the two words FLORENCE GAY engraved upon a brass heart inlaid over the lid of each. After this, he smoked four pipes successively in the little parlour by himself, and was discovered chuckling, at the expiration of as many hours.
Walter was busy and away all day, but came there every morning early to see Florence, and always passed the evening with her. Florence never left her high rooms but to steal downstairs to wait for him when it was his time to come, or, sheltered by his proud, encircling arm, to bear him company to the door again, and sometimes peep into the street. In the twilight they were always together. Oh blessed time! Oh wandering heart at rest! Oh deep, exhaustless, mighty well of love, in which so much was sunk!
The cruel mark was on her bosom yet. It rose against her father with the breath she drew, it lay between her and her lover when he pressed her to his heart. But she forgot it. In the beating of that heart for her, and in the beating of her own for him, all harsher music was unheard, all stern unloving hearts forgotten. Fragile and delicate she was, but with a might of love within her that could, and did, create a world to fly to, and to rest in, out of his one image.
How often did the great house, and the old days, come before her in the twilight time, when she was sheltered by the arm, so proud, so fond, and, creeping closer to him, shrunk within it at the recollection! How often, from remembering the night when she went down to that room and met the never-to-be forgotten look, did she raise her eyes to those that watched her with such loving earnestness, and weep with happiness in such a refuge! The more she clung to it, the more the dear dead child was in her thoughts: but as if the last time she had seen her father, had been when he was sleeping and she kissed his face, she always left him so, and never, in her fancy, passed that hour.
‘Walter, dear,’ said Florence, one evening, when it was almost dark. ‘Do you know what I have been thinking to-day?’
‘Thinking how the time is flying on, and how soon we shall be upon the sea, sweet Florence?’
‘I don’t mean that, Walter, though I think of that too. I have been thinking what a charge I am to you.’
‘A precious, sacred charge, dear heart! Why, I think that sometimes.’
‘You are laughing, Walter. I know that’s much more in your thoughts than mine. But I mean a cost.
‘A cost, my own?’
‘In money, dear. All these preparations that Susan and I are so busy with—I have been able to purchase very little for myself. You were poor before. But how much poorer I shall make you, Walter!’
‘And how much richer, Florence!’
Florence laughed, and shook her head.
‘Besides,’ said Walter, ‘long ago—before I went to sea—I had a little purse presented to me, dearest, which had money in it.’
‘Ah!’ returned Florence, laughing sorrowfully, ‘very little! very little, Walter! But, you must not think,’ and here she laid her light hand on his shoulder, and looked into his face, ‘that I regret to be this burden on you. No, dear love, I am glad of it. I am happy in it. I wouldn’t have it otherwise for all the world!’
‘Nor I, indeed, dear Florence.’
‘Ay! but, Walter, you can never feel it as I do. I am so proud of you! It makes my heart swell with such delight to know that those who speak of you must say you married a poor disowned girl, who had taken shelter here; who had no other home, no other friends; who had nothing—nothing! Oh, Walter, if I could have brought you millions, I never could have been so happy for your sake, as I am!’
‘And you, dear Florence? are you nothing?’ he returned.
‘No, nothing, Walter. Nothing but your wife.’ The light hand stole about his neck, and the voice came nearer—nearer. ‘I am nothing any more, that is not you. I have no earthly hope any more, that is not you. I have nothing dear to me any more, that is not you.’
Oh! well might Mr Toots leave the little company that evening, and twice go out to correct his watch by the Royal Exchange, and once to keep an appointment with a banker which he suddenly remembered, and once to take a little turn to Aldgate Pump and back!
But before he went upon these expeditions, or indeed before he came, and before lights were brought, Walter said:
‘Florence, love, the lading of our ship is nearly finished, and probably on the very day of our marriage she will drop down the river. Shall we go away that morning, and stay in Kent until we go on board at Gravesend within a week?’
‘If you please, Walter. I shall be happy anywhere. But—’
‘Yes, my life?’
‘You know,’ said Florence, ‘that we shall have no marriage party, and that nobody will distinguish us by our dress from other people. As we leave the same day, will you—will you take me somewhere that morning, Walter—early—before we go to church?’
Walter seemed to understand her, as so true a lover so truly loved should, and confirmed his ready promise with a kiss—with more than one perhaps, or two or three, or five or six; and in the grave, peaceful evening, Florence was very happy.
Then into the quiet room came Susan Nipper and the candles; shortly afterwards, the tea, the Captain, and the excursive Mr Toots, who, as above mentioned, was frequently on the move afterwards, and passed but a restless evening. This, however, was not his habit: for he generally got on very well, by dint of playing at cribbage with the Captain under the advice and guidance of Miss Nipper, and distracting his mind with the calculations incidental to the game; which he found to be a very effectual means of utterly confounding himself.
The Captain’s visage on these occasions presented one of the finest examples of combination and succession of expression ever observed. His instinctive delicacy and his chivalrous feeling towards Florence, taught him that it was not a time for any boisterous jollity, or violent display of satisfaction; floating reminiscences of Lovely Peg, on the other hand, were constantly struggling for a vent, and urging the Captain to commit himself by some irreparable demonstration. Anon, his admiration of Florence and Walter—well-matched, truly, and full of grace and interest in their youth, and love, and good looks, as they sat apart—would take such complete possession of him, that he would lay down his cards, and beam upon them, dabbing his head all over with his pocket-handkerchief; until warned, perhaps, by the sudden rushing forth of Mr Toots, that he had unconsciously been very instrumental, indeed, in making that gentleman miserable. This reflection would make the Captain profoundly melancholy, until the return of Mr Toots; when he would fall to his cards again, with many side winks and nods, and polite waves of his hook at Miss Nipper, importing that he wasn’t going to do so any more. The state that ensued on this, was, perhaps, his best; for then, endeavouring to discharge all expression from his face, he would sit staring round the room, with all these expressions conveyed into it at once, and each wrestling with the other. Delighted admiration of Florence and Walter always overthrew the rest, and remained victorious and undisguised, unless Mr Toots made another rush into the air, and then the Captain would sit, like a remorseful culprit, until he came back again, occasionally calling upon himself, in a low reproachful voice, to ‘Stand by!’ or growling some remonstrance to ‘Ed’ard Cuttle, my lad,’ on the want of caution observable in his behaviour.
One of Mr Toots’s hardest trials, however, was of his own seeking. On the approach of the Sunday which was to witness the last of those askings in church of which the Captain had spoken, Mr Toots thus stated his feelings to Susan Nipper.
‘Susan,’ said Mr Toots, ‘I am drawn towards the building. The words which cut me off from Miss Dombey for ever, will strike upon my ears like a knell you know, but upon my word and honour, I feel that I must hear them. Therefore,’ said Mr Toots, ‘will you accompany me to-morrow, to the sacred edifice?’
Miss Nipper expressed her readiness to do so, if that would be any satisfaction to Mr Toots, but besought him to abandon his idea of going.
‘Susan,’ returned Mr Toots, with much solemnity, ‘before my whiskers began to be observed by anybody but myself, I adored Miss Dombey. While yet a victim to the thraldom of Blimber, I adored Miss Dombey. When I could no longer be kept out of my property, in a legal point of view, and—and accordingly came into it—I adored Miss Dombey. The banns which consign her to Lieutenant Walters, and me to—to Gloom, you know,’ said Mr Toots, after hesitating for a strong expression, ‘may be dreadful, will be dreadful; but I feel that I should wish to hear them spoken. I feel that I should wish to know that the ground was certainly cut from under me, and that I hadn’t a hope to cherish, or a—or a leg, in short, to—to go upon.’
Susan Nipper could only commiserate Mr Toots’s unfortunate condition, and agree, under these circumstances, to accompany him; which she did next morning.
The church Walter had chosen for the purpose, was a mouldy old church in a yard, hemmed in by a labyrinth of back streets and courts, with a little burying-ground round it, and itself buried in a kind of vault, formed by the neighbouring houses, and paved with echoing stones. It was a great dim, shabby pile, with high old oaken pews, among which about a score of people lost themselves every Sunday; while the clergyman’s voice drowsily resounded through the emptiness, and the organ rumbled and rolled as if the church had got the colic, for want of a congregation to keep the wind and damp out. But so far was this city church from languishing for the company of other churches, that spires were clustered round it, as the masts of shipping cluster on the river. It would have been hard to count them from its steeple-top, they were so many. In almost every yard and blind-place near, there was a church. The confusion of bells when Susan and Mr Toots betook themselves towards it on the Sunday morning, was deafening. There were twenty churches close together, clamouring for people to come in.
The two stray sheep in question were penned by a beadle in a commodious pew, and, being early, sat for some time counting the congregation, listening to the disappointed bell high up in the tower, or looking at a shabby little old man in the porch behind the screen, who was ringing the same, like the Bull in Cock Robin, with his foot in a stirrup. Mr Toots, after a lengthened survey of the large books on the reading-desk, whispered Miss Nipper that he wondered where the banns were kept, but that young lady merely shook her head and frowned; repelling for the time all approaches of a temporal nature.
Mr Toots, however, appearing unable to keep his thoughts from the banns, was evidently looking out for them during the whole preliminary portion of the service. As the time for reading them approached, the poor young gentleman manifested great anxiety and trepidation, which was not diminished by the unexpected apparition of the Captain in the front row of the gallery. When the clerk handed up a list to the clergyman, Mr Toots, being then seated, held on by the seat of the pew; but when the names of Walter Gay and Florence Dombey were read aloud as being in the third and last stage of that association, he was so entirley conquered by his feelings as to rush from the church without his hat, followed by the beadle and pew-opener, and two gentlemen of the medical profeesion, who happened to be present; of whom the first-named presently returned for that article, informing Miss Nipper in a whisper that she was not to make herself uneasy about the gentleman, as the gentleman said his indisposition was of no consequence.
Miss Nipper, feeling that the eyes of that integral portion of Europe which lost itself weekly among the high-backed pews, were upon her, would have been sufficient embarrassed by this incident, though it had terminated here; the more so, as the Captain in the front row of the gallery, was in a state of unmitigated consciousness which could hardly fail to express to the congregation that he had some mysterious connection with it. But the extreme restlessness of Mr Toots painfully increased and protracted the delicacy of her situation. That young gentleman, incapable, in his state of mind, of remaining alone in the churchyard, a prey to solitary meditation, and also desirous, no doubt, of testifying his respect for the offices he had in some measure interrupted, suddenly returned—not coming back to the pew, but stationing himself on a free seat in the aisle, between two elderly females who were in the habit of receiving their portion of a weekly dole of bread then set forth on a shelf in the porch. In this conjunction Mr Toots remained, greatly disturbing the congregation, who felt it impossible to avoid looking at him, until his feelings overcame him again, when he departed silently and suddenly. Not venturing to trust himself in the church any more, and yet wishing to have some social participation in what was going on there, Mr Toots was, after this, seen from time to time, looking in, with a lorn aspect, at one or other of the windows; and as there were several windows accessible to him from without, and as his restlessness was very great, it not only became difficult to conceive at which window he would appear next, but likewise became necessary, as it were, for the whole congregation to speculate upon the chances of the different windows, during the comparative leisure afforded them by the sermon. Mr Toots’s movements in the churchyard were so eccentric, that he seemed generally to defeat all calculation, and to appear, like the conjuror’s figure, where he was least expected; and the effect of these mysterious presentations was much increased by its being difficult to him to see in, and easy to everybody else to see out: which occasioned his remaining, every time, longer than might have been expected, with his face close to the glass, until he all at once became aware that all eyes were upon him, and vanished.
These proceedings on the part of Mr Toots, and the strong individual consciousness of them that was exhibited by the Captain, rendered Miss Nipper’s position so responsible a one, that she was mightily relieved by the conclusion of the service; and was hardly so affable to Mr Toots as usual, when he informed her and the Captain, on the way back, that now he was sure he had no hope, you know, he felt more comfortable—at least not exactly more comfortable, but more comfortably and completely miserable.
Swiftly now, indeed, the time flew by until it was the evening before the day appointed for the marriage. They were all assembled in the upper room at the Midshipman’s, and had no fear of interruption; for there were no lodgers in the house now, and the Midshipman had it all to himself. They were grave and quiet in the prospect of to-morrow, but moderately cheerful too. Florence, with Walter close beside her, was finishing a little piece of work intended as a parting gift to the Captain. The Captain was playing cribbage with Mr Toots. Mr Toots was taking counsel as to his hand, of Susan Nipper. Miss Nipper was giving it, with all due secrecy and circumspection. Diogenes was listening, and occasionally breaking out into a gruff half-smothered fragment of a bark, of which he afterwards seemed half-ashamed, as if he doubted having any reason for it.
‘Steady, steady!’ said the Captain to Diogenes, ‘what’s amiss with you? You don’t seem easy in your mind to-night, my boy!’
Diogenes wagged his tail, but pricked up his ears immediately afterwards, and gave utterance to another fragment of a bark; for which he apologised to the Captain, by again wagging his tail.
‘It’s my opinion, Di,’ said the Captain, looking thoughtfully at his cards, and stroking his chin with his hook, ‘as you have your doubts of Mrs Richards; but if you’re the animal I take you to be, you’ll think better o’ that; for her looks is her commission. Now, Brother:’ to Mr Toots: ‘if so be as you’re ready, heave ahead.’
The Captain spoke with all composure and attention to the game, but suddenly his cards dropped out of his hand, his mouth and eyes opened wide, his legs drew themselves up and stuck out in front of his chair, and he sat staring at the door with blank amazement. Looking round upon the company, and seeing that none of them observed him or the cause of his astonishment, the Captain recovered himself with a great gasp, struck the table a tremendous blow, cried in a stentorian roar, ‘Sol Gills ahoy!’ and tumbled into the arms of a weather-beaten pea-coat that had come with Polly into the room.
In another moment, Walter was in the arms of the weather-beaten pea-coat. In another moment, Florence was in the arms of the weather-beaten pea-coat. In another moment, Captain Cuttle had embraced Mrs Richards and Miss Nipper, and was violently shaking hands with Mr Toots, exclaiming, as he waved his hook above his head, ‘Hooroar, my lad, hooroar!’ To which Mr Toots, wholly at a loss to account for these proceedings, replied with great politeness, ‘Certainly, Captain Gills, whatever you think proper!’
The weather-beaten pea-coat, and a no less weather-beaten cap and comforter belonging to it, turned from the Captain and from Florence back to Walter, and sounds came from the weather-beaten pea-coat, cap, and comforter, as of an old man sobbing underneath them; while the shaggy sleeves clasped Walter tight. During this pause, there was an universal silence, and the Captain polished his nose with great diligence. But when the pea-coat, cap, and comforter lifted themselves up again, Florence gently moved towards them; and she and Walter taking them off, disclosed the old Instrument-maker, a little thinner and more careworn than of old, in his old Welsh wig and his old coffee-coloured coat and basket buttons, with his old infallible chronometer ticking away in his pocket.
‘Chock full o’ science,’ said the radiant Captain, ‘as ever he was! Sol Gills, Sol Gills, what have you been up to, for this many a long day, my ould boy?’
‘I’m half blind, Ned,’ said the old man, ‘and almost deaf and dumb with joy.’
‘His wery woice,’ said the Captain, looking round with an exultation to which even his face could hardly render justice—‘his wery woice as chock full o’ science as ever it was! Sol Gills, lay to, my lad, upon your own wines and fig-trees like a taut ould patriark as you are, and overhaul them there adwentures o’ yourn, in your own formilior woice. ‘Tis the woice,’ said the Captain, impressively, and announcing a quotation with his hook, ‘of the sluggard, I heerd him complain, you have woke me too soon, I must slumber again. Scatter his ene-mies, and make ‘em fall!’
The Captain sat down with the air of a man who had happily expressed the feeling of everybody present, and immediately rose again to present Mr Toots, who was much disconcerted by the arrival of anybody, appearing to prefer a claim to the name of Gills.
‘Although,’ stammered Mr Toots, ‘I had not the pleasure of your acquaintance, Sir, before you were—you were—’
‘Lost to sight, to memory dear,’ suggested the Captain, in a low voice.
‘Exactly so, Captain Gills!’ assented Mr Toots. ‘Although I had not the pleasure of your acquaintance, Mr—Mr Sols,’ said Toots, hitting on that name in the inspiration of a bright idea, ‘before that happened, I have the greatest pleasure, I assure you, in—you know, in knowing you. I hope,’ said Mr Toots, ‘that you’re as well as can be expected.’
With these courteous words, Mr Toots sat down blushing and chuckling.
The old Instrument-maker, seated in a corner between Walter and Florence, and nodding at Polly, who was looking on, all smiles and delight, answered the Captain thus:
‘Ned Cuttle, my dear boy, although I have heard something of the changes of events here, from my pleasant friend there—what a pleasant face she has to be sure, to welcome a wanderer home!’ said the old man, breaking off, and rubbing his hands in his old dreamy way.
‘Hear him!’ cried the Captain gravely. ‘’Tis woman as seduces all mankind. For which,’ aside to Mr Toots, ‘you’ll overhaul your Adam and Eve, brother.’
‘I shall make a point of doing so, Captain Gills,’ said Mr Toots.
‘Although I have heard something of the changes of events, from her,’ resumed the Instrument-maker, taking his old spectacles from his pocket, and putting them on his forehead in his old manner, ‘they are so great and unexpected, and I am so overpowered by the sight of my dear boy, and by the,’—glancing at the downcast eyes of Florence, and not attempting to finish the sentence—‘that I—I can’t say much to-night. But my dear Ned Cuttle, why didn’t you write?’
The astonishment depicted in the Captain’s features positively frightened Mr Toots, whose eyes were quite fixed by it, so that he could not withdraw them from his face.
‘Write!’ echoed the Captain. ‘Write, Sol Gills?’
‘Ay,’ said the old man, ‘either to Barbados, or Jamaica, or Demerara, that was what I asked.’
‘What you asked, Sol Gills?’ repeated the Captain.
‘Ay,’ said the old man. ‘Don’t you know, Ned? Sure you have not forgotten? Every time I wrote to you.’
The Captain took off his glazed hat, hung it on his hook, and smoothing his hair from behind with his hand, sat gazing at the group around him: a perfect image of wondering resignation.
‘You don’t appear to understand me, Ned!’ observed old Sol.
‘Sol Gills,’ returned the Captain, after staring at him and the rest for a long time, without speaking, ‘I’m gone about and adrift. Pay out a word or two respecting them adwenturs, will you! Can’t I bring up, nohows? Nohows?’ said the Captain, ruminating, and staring all round.
‘You know, Ned,’ said Sol Gills, ‘why I left here. Did you open my packet, Ned?’
‘Why, ay, ay,’ said the Captain. ‘To be sure, I opened the packet.’
‘And read it?’ said the old man.
‘And read it,’ answered the Captain, eyeing him attentively, and proceeding to quote it from memory. ‘“My dear Ned Cuttle, when I left home for the West Indies in forlorn search of intelligence of my dear-” There he sits! There’s Wal’r!’ said the Captain, as if he were relieved by getting hold of anything that was real and indisputable.
‘Well, Ned. Now attend a moment!’ said the old man. ‘When I wrote first—that was from Barbados—I said that though you would receive that letter long before the year was out, I should be glad if you would open the packet, as it explained the reason of my going away. Very good, Ned. When I wrote the second, third, and perhaps the fourth times—that was from Jamaica—I said I was in just the same state, couldn’t rest, and couldn’t come away from that part of the world, without knowing that my boy was lost or saved. When I wrote next—that, I think, was from Demerara, wasn’t it?’
‘That he thinks was from Demerara, warn’t it!’ said the Captain, looking hopelessly round.
‘—I said,’ proceeded old Sol, ‘that still there was no certain information got yet. That I found many captains and others, in that part of the world, who had known me for years, and who assisted me with a passage here and there, and for whom I was able, now and then, to do a little in return, in my own craft. That everyone was sorry for me, and seemed to take a sort of interest in my wanderings; and that I began to think it would be my fate to cruise about in search of tidings of my boy, until I died.’
‘Began to think as how he was a scientific Flying Dutchman!’ said the Captain, as before, and with great seriousness.
‘But when the news come one day, Ned,—that was to Barbados, after I got back there,—that a China trader home’ard bound had been spoke, that had my boy aboard, then, Ned, I took passage in the next ship and came home; arrived at home to-night to find it true, thank God!’ said the old man, devoutly.
The Captain, after bowing his head with great reverence, stared all round the circle, beginning with Mr Toots, and ending with the Instrument-maker; then gravely said:
‘Sol Gills! The observation as I’m a-going to make is calc’lated to blow every stitch of sail as you can carry, clean out of the bolt-ropes, and bring you on your beam ends with a lurch. Not one of them letters was ever delivered to Ed’ard Cuttle. Not one o’ them letters,’ repeated the Captain, to make his declaration the more solemn and impressive, ‘was ever delivered unto Ed’ard Cuttle, Mariner, of England, as lives at home at ease, and doth improve each shining hour!’
‘And posted by my own hand! And directed by my own hand, Number nine Brig Place!’ exclaimed old Sol.
The colour all went out of the Captain’s face and all came back again in a glow.
‘What do you mean, Sol Gills, my friend, by Number nine Brig Place?’ inquired the Captain.
‘Mean? Your lodgings, Ned,’ returned the old man. ‘Mrs What’s-her-name! I shall forget my own name next, but I am behind the present time—I always was, you recollect—and very much confused. Mrs—’
‘Sol Gills!’ said the Captain, as if he were putting the most improbable case in the world, ‘it ain’t the name of MacStinger as you’re a trying to remember?’
‘Of course it is!’ exclaimed the Instrument-maker. ‘To be sure Ned. Mrs MacStinger!’
Captain Cuttle, whose eyes were now as wide open as they would be, and the knobs upon whose face were perfectly luminous, gave a long shrill whistle of a most melancholy sound, and stood gazing at everybody in a state of speechlessness.
‘Overhaul that there again, Sol Gills, will you be so kind?’ he said at last.
‘All these letters,’ returned Uncle Sol, beating time with the forefinger of his right hand upon the palm of his left, with a steadiness and distinctness that might have done honour, even to the infallible chronometer in his pocket, ‘I posted with my own hand, and directed with my own hand, to Captain Cuttle, at Mrs MacStinger’s, Number nine Brig Place.’
The Captain took his glazed hat off his hook, looked into it, put it on, and sat down.
‘Why, friends all,’ said the Captain, staring round in the last state of discomfiture, ‘I cut and run from there!’
‘And no one knew where you were gone, Captain Cuttle?’ cried Walter hastily.
‘Bless your heart, Wal’r,’ said the Captain, shaking his head, ‘she’d never have allowed o’ my coming to take charge o’ this here property. Nothing could be done but cut and run. Lord love you, Wal’r!’ said the Captain, ‘you’ve only seen her in a calm! But see her when her angry passions rise—and make a note on!’
‘I’d give it her!’ remarked the Nipper, softly.
‘Would you, do you think, my dear?’ returned the Captain, with feeble admiration. ‘Well, my dear, it does you credit. But there ain’t no wild animal I wouldn’t sooner face myself. I only got my chest away by means of a friend as nobody’s a match for. It was no good sending any letter there. She wouldn’t take in any letter, bless you,’ said the Captain, ‘under them circumstances! Why, you could hardly make it worth a man’s while to be the postman!’
‘Then it’s pretty clear, Captain Cuttle, that all of us, and you and Uncle Sol especially,’ said Walter, ‘may thank Mrs MacStinger for no small anxiety.’
The general obligation in this wise to the determined relict of the late Mr MacStinger, was so apparent, that the Captain did not contest the point; but being in some measure ashamed of his position, though nobody dwelt upon the subject, and Walter especially avoided it, remembering the last conversation he and the Captain had held together respecting it, he remained under a cloud for nearly five minutes—an extraordinary period for him when that sun, his face, broke out once more, shining on all beholders with extraordinary brilliancy; and he fell into a fit of shaking hands with everybody over and over again.
At an early hour, but not before Uncle Sol and Walter had questioned each other at some length about their voyages and dangers, they all, except Walter, vacated Florence’s room, and went down to the parlour. Here they were soon afterwards joined by Walter, who told them Florence was a little sorrowful and heavy-hearted, and had gone to bed. Though they could not have disturbed her with their voices down there, they all spoke in a whisper after this: and each, in his different way, felt very lovingly and gently towards Walter’s fair young bride: and a long explanation there was of everything relating to her, for the satisfaction of Uncle Sol; and very sensible Mr Toots was of the delicacy with which Walter made his name and services important, and his presence necessary to their little council.
‘Mr Toots,’ said Walter, on parting with him at the house door, ‘we shall see each other to-morrow morning?’
‘Lieutenant Walters,’ returned Mr Toots, grasping his hand fervently, ‘I shall certainly be present.’
‘This is the last night we shall meet for a long time—the last night we may ever meet,’ said Walter. ‘Such a noble heart as yours, must feel, I think, when another heart is bound to it. I hope you know that I am very grateful to you?’
‘Walters,’ replied Mr Toots, quite touched, ‘I should be glad to feel that you had reason to be so.’
‘Florence,’ said Walter, ‘on this last night of her bearing her own name, has made me promise—it was only just now, when you left us together—that I would tell you—with her dear love—’
Mr Toots laid his hand upon the doorpost, and his eyes upon his hand.
‘—With her dear love,’ said Walter, ‘that she can never have a friend whom she will value above you. That the recollection of your true consideration for her always, can never be forgotten by her. That she remembers you in her prayers to-night, and hopes that you will think of her when she is far away. Shall I say anything for you?’
‘Say, Walter,’ replied Mr Toots indistinctly, ‘that I shall think of her every day, but never without feeling happy to know that she is married to the man she loves, and who loves her. Say, if you please, that I am sure her husband deserves her—even her!—and that I am glad of her choice.’
Mr Toots got more distinct as he came to these last words, and raising his eyes from the doorpost, said them stoutly. He then shook Walter’s hand again with a fervour that Walter was not slow to return and started homeward.
Mr Toots was accompanied by the Chicken, whom he had of late brought with him every evening, and left in the shop, with an idea that unforeseen circumstances might arise from without, in which the prowess of that distinguished character would be of service to the Midshipman. The Chicken did not appear to be in a particularly good humour on this occasion. Either the gas-lamps were treacherous, or he cocked his eye in a hideous manner, and likewise distorted his nose, when Mr Toots, crossing the road, looked back over his shoulder at the room where Florence slept. On the road home, he was more demonstrative of aggressive intentions against the other foot-passengers, than comported with a professor of the peaceful art of self-defence. Arrived at home, instead of leaving Mr Toots in his apartments when he had escorted him thither, he remained before him weighing his white hat in both hands by the brim, and twitching his head and nose (both of which had been many times broken, and but indifferently repaired), with an air of decided disrespect.
His patron being much engaged with his own thoughts, did not observe this for some time, nor indeed until the Chicken, determined not to be overlooked, had made divers clicking sounds with his tongue and teeth, to attract attention.
‘Now, Master,’ said the Chicken, doggedly, when he, at length, caught Mr Toots’s eye, ‘I want to know whether this here gammon is to finish it, or whether you’re a going in to win?’
‘Chicken,’ returned Mr Toots, ‘explain yourself.’
‘Why then, here’s all about it, Master,’ said the Chicken. ‘I ain’t a cove to chuck a word away. Here’s wot it is. Are any on ‘em to be doubled up?’
When the Chicken put this question he dropped his hat, made a dodge and a feint with his left hand, hit a supposed enemy a violent blow with his right, shook his head smartly, and recovered himself.
‘Come, Master,’ said the Chicken. ‘Is it to be gammon or pluck? Which?’
‘Chicken,’ returned Mr Toots, ‘your expressions are coarse, and your meaning is obscure.’
‘Why, then, I tell you what, Master,’ said the Chicken. ‘This is where it is. It’s mean.’
‘What is mean, Chicken?’ asked Mr Toots.
‘It is,’ said the Chicken, with a frightful corrugation of his broken nose. ‘There! Now, Master! Wot! When you could go and blow on this here match to the stiff’un;’ by which depreciatory appellation it has been since supposed that the Game One intended to signify Mr Dombey; ‘and when you could knock the winner and all the kit of ‘em dead out o’ wind and time, are you going to give in? To give in?’ said the Chicken, with contemptuous emphasis. ‘Wy, it’s mean!’
‘Chicken,’ said Mr Toots, severely, ‘you’re a perfect Vulture! Your sentiments are atrocious.’
‘My sentiments is Game and Fancy, Master,’ returned the Chicken. ‘That’s wot my sentiments is. I can’t abear a meanness. I’m afore the public, I’m to be heerd on at the bar of the Little Helephant, and no Gov’ner o’ mine mustn’t go and do what’s mean. Wy, it’s mean,’ said the Chicken, with increased expression. ‘That’s where it is. It’s mean.’
‘Chicken,’ said Mr Toots, ‘you disgust me.’
‘Master,’ returned the Chicken, putting on his hat, ‘there’s a pair on us, then. Come! Here’s a offer! You’ve spoke to me more than once’t or twice’t about the public line. Never mind! Give me a fi’typunnote to-morrow, and let me go.’
‘Chicken,’ returned Mr Toots, ‘after the odious sentiments you have expressed, I shall be glad to part on such terms.’
‘Done then,’ said the Chicken. ‘It’s a bargain. This here conduct of yourn won’t suit my book, Master. Wy, it’s mean,’ said the Chicken; who seemed equally unable to get beyond that point, and to stop short of it. ‘That’s where it is; it’s mean!’
So Mr Toots and the Chicken agreed to part on this incompatibility of moral perception; and Mr Toots lying down to sleep, dreamed happily of Florence, who had thought of him as her friend upon the last night of her maiden life, and who had sent him her dear love.
CHAPTER 57. Another Wedding
Mr Sownds the beadle, and Mrs Miff the pew-opener, are early at their posts in the fine church where Mr Dombey was married. A yellow-faced old gentleman from India, is going to take unto himself a young wife this morning, and six carriages full of company are expected, and Mrs Miff has been informed that the yellow-faced old gentleman could pave the road to church with diamonds and hardly miss them.
The nuptial benediction is to be a superior one, proceeding from a very reverend, a dean, and the lady is to be given away, as an extraordinary present, by somebody who comes express from the Horse Guards.
Mrs Miff is more intolerant of common people this morning, than she generally is; and she has always strong opinions on that subject, for it is associated with free sittings. Mrs Miff is not a student of political economy (she thinks the science is connected with dissenters; ‘Baptists or Wesleyans, or some o’ them,’ she says), but she can never understand what business your common folks have to be married. ‘Drat ‘em,’ says Mrs Miff ‘you read the same things over ‘em and instead of sovereigns get sixpences!’
Mr Sownds the beadle is more liberal than Mrs Miff—but then he is not a pew-opener. ‘It must be done, Ma’am,’ he says. ‘We must marry ‘em. We must have our national schools to walk at the head of, and we must have our standing armies. We must marry ‘em, Ma’am,’ says Mr Sownds, ‘and keep the country going.’
Mr Sownds is sitting on the steps and Mrs Miff is dusting in the church, when a young couple, plainly dressed, come in. The mortified bonnet of Mrs Miff is sharply turned towards them, for she espies in this early visit indications of a runaway match. But they don’t want to be married—‘Only,’ says the gentleman, ‘to walk round the church.’ And as he slips a genteel compliment into the palm of Mrs Miff, her vinegary face relaxes, and her mortified bonnet and her spare dry figure dip and crackle.
Mrs Miff resumes her dusting and plumps up her cushions—for the yellow-faced old gentleman is reported to have tender knees—but keeps her glazed, pew-opening eye on the young couple who are walking round the church. ‘Ahem,’ coughs Mrs Miff whose cough is drier than the hay in any hassock in her charge, ‘you’ll come to us one of these mornings, my dears, unless I’m much mistaken!’
They are looking at a tablet on the wall, erected to the memory of someone dead. They are a long way off from Mrs Miff, but Mrs Miff can see with half an eye how she is leaning on his arm, and how his head is bent down over her. ‘Well, well,’ says Mrs Miff, ‘you might do worse. For you’re a tidy pair!’
There is nothing personal in Mrs Miff’s remark. She merely speaks of stock-in-trade. She is hardly more curious in couples than in coffins. She is such a spare, straight, dry old lady—such a pew of a woman—that you should find as many individual sympathies in a chip. Mr Sownds, now, who is fleshy, and has scarlet in his coat, is of a different temperament. He says, as they stand upon the steps watching the young couple away, that she has a pretty figure, hasn’t she, and as well as he could see (for she held her head down coming out), an uncommon pretty face. ‘Altogether, Mrs Miff,’ says Mr Sownds with a relish, ‘she is what you may call a rose-bud.’
Mrs Miff assents with a spare nod of her mortified bonnet; but approves of this so little, that she inwardly resolves she wouldn’t be the wife of Mr Sownds for any money he could give her, Beadle as he is.
And what are the young couple saying as they leave the church, and go out at the gate?
‘Dear Walter, thank you! I can go away, now, happy.’
‘And when we come back, Florence, we will come and see his grave again.’
Florence lifts her eyes, so bright with tears, to his kind face; and clasps her disengaged hand on that other modest little hand which clasps his arm.
‘It is very early, Walter, and the streets are almost empty yet. Let us walk.’
‘But you will be so tired, my love.’
‘Oh no! I was very tired the first time that we ever walked together, but I shall not be so to-day.’
And thus—not much changed—she, as innocent and earnest-hearted—he, as frank, as hopeful, and more proud of her—Florence and Walter, on their bridal morning, walk through the streets together.
Not even in that childish walk of long ago, were they so far removed from all the world about them as to-day. The childish feet of long ago, did not tread such enchanted ground as theirs do now. The confidence and love of children may be given many times, and will spring up in many places; but the woman’s heart of Florence, with its undivided treasure, can be yielded only once, and under slight or change, can only droop and die.
They take the streets that are the quietest, and do not go near that in which her old home stands. It is a fair, warm summer morning, and the sun shines on them, as they walk towards the darkening mist that overspreads the City. Riches are uncovering in shops; jewels, gold, and silver flash in the goldsmith’s sunny windows; and great houses cast a stately shade upon them as they pass. But through the light, and through the shade, they go on lovingly together, lost to everything around; thinking of no other riches, and no prouder home, than they have now in one another.
Gradually they come into the darker, narrower streets, where the sun, now yellow, and now red, is seen through the mist, only at street corners, and in small open spaces where there is a tree, or one of the innumerable churches, or a paved way and a flight of steps, or a curious little patch of garden, or a burying-ground, where the few tombs and tombstones are almost black. Lovingly and trustfully, through all the narrow yards and alleys and the shady streets, Florence goes, clinging to his arm, to be his wife.
Her heart beats quicker now, for Walter tells her that their church is very near. They pass a few great stacks of warehouses, with waggons at the doors, and busy carmen stopping up the way—but Florence does not see or hear them—and then the air is quiet, and the day is darkened, and she is trembling in a church which has a strange smell like a cellar.
The shabby little old man, ringer of the disappointed bell, is standing in the porch, and has put his hat in the font—for he is quite at home there, being sexton. He ushers them into an old brown, panelled, dusty vestry, like a corner-cupboard with the shelves taken out; where the wormy registers diffuse a smell like faded snuff, which has set the tearful Nipper sneezing.
Youthful, and how beautiful, the young bride looks, in this old dusty place, with no kindred object near her but her husband. There is a dusty old clerk, who keeps a sort of evaporated news shop underneath an archway opposite, behind a perfect fortification of posts. There is a dusty old pew-opener who only keeps herself, and finds that quite enough to do. There is a dusty old beadle (these are Mr Toots’s beadle and pew-opener of last Sunday), who has something to do with a Worshipful Company who have got a Hall in the next yard, with a stained-glass window in it that no mortal ever saw. There are dusty wooden ledges and cornices poked in and out over the altar, and over the screen and round the gallery, and over the inscription about what the Master and Wardens of the Worshipful Company did in one thousand six hundred and ninety-four. There are dusty old sounding-boards over the pulpit and reading-desk, looking like lids to be let down on the officiating ministers in case of their giving offence. There is every possible provision for the accommodation of dust, except in the churchyard, where the facilities in that respect are very limited.
The Captain, Uncle Sol, and Mr Toots are come; the clergyman is putting on his surplice in the vestry, while the clerk walks round him, blowing the dust off it; and the bride and bridegroom stand before the altar. There is no bridesmaid, unless Susan Nipper is one; and no better father than Captain Cuttle. A man with a wooden leg, chewing a faint apple and carrying a blue bag in has hand, looks in to see what is going on; but finding it nothing entertaining, stumps off again, and pegs his way among the echoes out of doors.
No gracious ray of light is seen to fall on Florence, kneeling at the altar with her timid head bowed down. The morning luminary is built out, and don’t shine there. There is a meagre tree outside, where the sparrows are chirping a little; and there is a blackbird in an eyelet-hole of sun in a dyer’s garret, over against the window, who whistles loudly whilst the service is performing; and there is the man with the wooden leg stumping away. The amens of the dusty clerk appear, like Macbeth’s, to stick in his throat a little; but Captain Cuttle helps him out, and does it with so much goodwill that he interpolates three entirely new responses of that word, never introduced into the service before.
They are married, and have signed their names in one of the old sneezy registers, and the clergyman’s surplice is restored to the dust, and the clergyman is gone home. In a dark corner of the dark church, Florence has turned to Susan Nipper, and is weeping in her arms. Mr Toots’s eyes are red. The Captain lubricates his nose. Uncle Sol has pulled down his spectacles from his forehead, and walked out to the door.
‘God bless you, Susan; dearest Susan! If you ever can bear witness to the love I have for Walter, and the reason that I have to love him, do it for his sake. Good-bye! Good-bye!’
They have thought it better not to go back to the Midshipman, but to part so; a coach is waiting for them, near at hand.
Miss Nipper cannot speak; she only sobs and chokes, and hugs her mistress. Mr Toots advances, urges her to cheer up, and takes charge of her. Florence gives him her hand—gives him, in the fulness of her heart, her lips—kisses Uncle Sol, and Captain Cuttle, and is borne away by her young husband.
But Susan cannot bear that Florence should go away with a mournful recollection of her. She had meant to be so different, that she reproaches herself bitterly. Intent on making one last effort to redeem her character, she breaks from Mr Toots and runs away to find the coach, and show a parting smile. The Captain, divining her object, sets off after her; for he feels it his duty also to dismiss them with a cheer, if possible. Uncle Sol and Mr Toots are left behind together, outside the church, to wait for them.
The coach is gone, but the street is steep, and narrow, and blocked up, and Susan can see it at a stand-still in the distance, she is sure. Captain Cuttle follows her as she flies down the hill, and waves his glazed hat as a general signal, which may attract the right coach and which may not.
Susan outstrips the Captain, and comes up with it. She looks in at the window, sees Walter, with the gentle face beside him, and claps her hands and screams:
‘Miss Floy, my darling! look at me! We are all so happy now, dear! One more good-bye, my precious, one more!’
How Susan does it, she don’t know, but she reaches to the window, kisses her, and has her arms about her neck, in a moment.
‘We are all so—so happy now, my dear Miss Floy!’ says Susan, with a suspicious catching in her breath. ‘You, you won’t be angry with me now. Now will you?’
‘No, no; I am sure you won’t. I say you won’t, my pet, my dearest!’ exclaims Susan; ‘and here’s the Captain too—your friend the Captain, you know—to say good-bye once more!’
‘Hooroar, my Heart’s Delight!’ vociferates the Captain, with a countenance of strong emotion. ‘Hooroar, Wal’r my lad. Hooroar! Hooroar!’
What with the young husband at one window, and the young wife at the other; the Captain hanging on at this door, and Susan Nipper holding fast by that; the coach obliged to go on whether it will or no, and all the other carts and coaches turbulent because it hesitates; there never was so much confusion on four wheels. But Susan Nipper gallantly maintains her point. She keeps a smiling face upon her mistress, smiling through her tears, until the last. Even when she is left behind, the Captain continues to appear and disappear at the door, crying ‘Hooroar, my lad! Hooroar, my Heart’s Delight!’ with his shirt-collar in a violent state of agitation, until it is hopeless to attempt to keep up with the coach any longer. Finally, when the coach is gone, Susan Nipper, being rejoined by the Captain, falls into a state of insensibility, and is taken into a baker’s shop to recover.
Uncle Sol and Mr Toots wait patiently in the churchyard, sitting on the coping-stone of the railings, until Captain Cuttle and Susan come back. Neither being at all desirous to speak, or to be spoken to, they are excellent company, and quite satisfied. When they all arrive again at the little Midshipman, and sit down to breakfast, nobody can touch a morsel. Captain Cuttle makes a feint of being voracious about toast, but gives it up as a swindle. Mr Toots says, after breakfast, he will come back in the evening; and goes wandering about the town all day, with a vague sensation upon him as if he hadn’t been to bed for a fortnight.
There is a strange charm in the house, and in the room, in which they have been used to be together, and out of which so much is gone. It aggravates, and yet it soothes, the sorrow of the separation. Mr Toots tells Susan Nipper when he comes at night, that he hasn’t been so wretched all day long, and yet he likes it. He confides in Susan Nipper, being alone with her, and tells her what his feelings were when she gave him that candid opinion as to the probability of Miss Dombey’s ever loving him. In the vein of confidence engendered by these common recollections, and their tears, Mr Toots proposes that they shall go out together, and buy something for supper. Miss Nipper assenting, they buy a good many little things; and, with the aid of Mrs Richards, set the supper out quite showily before the Captain and old Sol came home.
The Captain and old Sol have been on board the ship, and have established Di there, and have seen the chests put aboard. They have much to tell about the popularity of Walter, and the comforts he will have about him, and the quiet way in which it seems he has been working early and late, to make his cabin what the Captain calls ‘a picter,’ to surprise his little wife. ‘A admiral’s cabin, mind you,’ says the Captain, ‘ain’t more trim.’
But one of the Captain’s chief delights is, that he knows the big watch, and the sugar-tongs, and tea-spoons, are on board: and again and again he murmurs to himself, ‘Ed’ard Cuttle, my lad, you never shaped a better course in your life than when you made that there little property over jintly. You see how the land bore, Ed’ard,’ says the Captain, ‘and it does you credit, my lad.’
The old Instrument-maker is more distraught and misty than he used to be, and takes the marriage and the parting very much to heart. But he is greatly comforted by having his old ally, Ned Cuttle, at his side; and he sits down to supper with a grateful and contented face.
‘My boy has been preserved and thrives,’ says old Sol Gills, rubbing his hands. ‘What right have I to be otherwise than thankful and happy!’
The Captain, who has not yet taken his seat at the table, but who has been fidgeting about for some time, and now stands hesitating in his place, looks doubtfully at Mr Gills, and says:
‘Sol! There’s the last bottle of the old Madeira down below. Would you wish to have it up to-night, my boy, and drink to Wal’r and his wife?’
The Instrument-maker, looking wistfully at the Captain, puts his hand into the breast-pocket of his coffee-coloured coat, brings forth his pocket-book, and takes a letter out.
‘To Mr Dombey,’ says the old man. ‘From Walter. To be sent in three weeks’ time. I’ll read it.’
‘“Sir. I am married to your daughter. She is gone with me upon a distant voyage. To be devoted to her is to have no claim on her or you, but God knows that I am.
‘“Why, loving her beyond all earthly things, I have yet, without remorse, united her to the uncertainties and dangers of my life, I will not say to you. You know why, and you are her father.
‘“Do not reproach her. She has never reproached you.
‘“I do not think or hope that you will ever forgive me. There is nothing I expect less. But if an hour should come when it will comfort you to believe that Florence has someone ever near her, the great charge of whose life is to cancel her remembrance of past sorrow, I solemnly assure you, you may, in that hour, rest in that belief.”’
Solomon puts back the letter carefully in his pocket-book, and puts back his pocket-book in his coat.
‘We won’t drink the last bottle of the old Madeira yet, Ned,’ says the old man thoughtfully. ‘Not yet.
‘Not yet,’ assents the Captain. ‘No. Not yet.’
Susan and Mr Toots are of the same opinion. After a silence they all sit down to supper, and drink to the young husband and wife in something else; and the last bottle of the old Madeira still remains among its dust and cobwebs, undisturbed.
A few days have elapsed, and a stately ship is out at sea, spreading its white wings to the favouring wind.
Upon the deck, image to the roughest man on board of something that is graceful, beautiful, and harmless—something that it is good and pleasant to have there, and that should make the voyage prosperous—is Florence. It is night, and she and Walter sit alone, watching the solemn path of light upon the sea between them and the moon.
At length she cannot see it plainly, for the tears that fill her eyes; and then she lays her head down on his breast, and puts her arms around his neck, saying, ‘Oh Walter, dearest love, I am so happy!’
Her husband holds her to his heart, and they are very quiet, and the stately ship goes on serenely.
‘As I hear the sea,’ says Florence, ‘and sit watching it, it brings so many days into my mind. It makes me think so much—’
‘Of Paul, my love. I know it does.’
Of Paul and Walter. And the voices in the waves are always whispering to Florence, in their ceaseless murmuring, of love—of love, eternal and illimitable, not bounded by the confines of this world, or by the end of time, but ranging still, beyond the sea, beyond the sky, to the invisible country far away!
CHAPTER 58. After a Lapse
The sea had ebbed and flowed, through a whole year. Through a whole year, the winds and clouds had come and gone; the ceaseless work of Time had been performed, in storm and sunshine. Through a whole year, the tides of human chance and change had set in their allotted courses. Through a whole year, the famous House of Dombey and Son had fought a fight for life, against cross accidents, doubtful rumours, unsuccessful ventures, unpropitious times, and most of all, against the infatuation of its head, who would not contract its enterprises by a hair’s breadth, and would not listen to a word of warning that the ship he strained so hard against the storm, was weak, and could not bear it.
The year was out, and the great House was down.
One summer afternoon; a year, wanting some odd days, after the marriage in the City church; there was a buzz and whisper upon ‘Change of a great failure. A certain cold proud man, well known there, was not there, nor was he represented there. Next day it was noised abroad that Dombey and Son had stopped, and next night there was a List of Bankrupts published, headed by that name.
The world was very busy now, in sooth, and had a deal to say. It was an innocently credulous and a much ill-used world. It was a world in which there was no other sort of bankruptcy whatever. There were no conspicuous people in it, trading far and wide on rotten banks of religion, patriotism, virtue, honour. There was no amount worth mentioning of mere paper in circulation, on which anybody lived pretty handsomely, promising to pay great sums of goodness with no effects. There were no shortcomings anywhere, in anything but money. The world was very angry indeed; and the people especially, who, in a worse world, might have been supposed to be apt traders themselves in shows and pretences, were observed to be mightily indignant.
Here was a new inducement to dissipation, presented to that sport of circumstances, Mr Perch the Messenger! It was apparently the fate of Mr Perch to be always waking up, and finding himself famous. He had but yesterday, as one might say, subsided into private life from the celebrity of the elopement and the events that followed it; and now he was made a more important man than ever, by the bankruptcy. Gliding from his bracket in the outer office where he now sat, watching the strange faces of accountants and others, who quickly superseded nearly all the old clerks, Mr Perch had but to show himself in the court outside, or, at farthest, in the bar of the King’s Arms, to be asked a multitude of questions, almost certain to include that interesting question, what would he take to drink? Then would Mr Perch descant upon the hours of acute uneasiness he and Mrs Perch had suffered out at Balls Pond, when they first suspected ‘things was going wrong.’ Then would Mr Perch relate to gaping listeners, in a low voice, as if the corpse of the deceased House were lying unburied in the next room, how Mrs Perch had first come to surmise that things was going wrong by hearing him (Perch) moaning in his sleep, ‘twelve and ninepence in the pound, twelve and ninepence in the pound!’ Which act of somnambulism he supposed to have originated in the impression made upon him by the change in Mr Dombey’s face. Then would he inform them how he had once said, ‘Might I make so bold as ask, Sir, are you unhappy in your mind?’ and how Mr Dombey had replied, ‘My faithful Perch—but no, it cannot be!’ and with that had struck his hand upon his forehead, and said, ‘Leave me, Perch!’ Then, in short, would Mr Perch, a victim to his position, tell all manner of lies; affecting himself to tears by those that were of a moving nature, and really believing that the inventions of yesterday had, on repetition, a sort of truth about them to-day.
Mr Perch always closed these conferences by meekly remarking, That, of course, whatever his suspicions might have been (as if he had ever had any!) it wasn’t for him to betray his trust, was it? Which sentiment (there never being any creditors present) was received as doing great honour to his feelings. Thus, he generally brought away a soothed conscience and left an agreeable impression behind him, when he returned to his bracket: again to sit watching the strange faces of the accountants and others, making so free with the great mysteries, the Books; or now and then to go on tiptoe into Mr Dombey’s empty room, and stir the fire; or to take an airing at the door, and have a little more doleful chat with any straggler whom he knew; or to propitiate, with various small attentions, the head accountant: from whom Mr Perch had expectations of a messengership in a Fire Office, when the affairs of the House should be wound up.
To Major Bagstock, the bankruptcy was quite a calamity. The Major was not a sympathetic character—his attention being wholly concentrated on J. B.—nor was he a man subject to lively emotions, except in the physical regards of gasping and choking. But he had so paraded his friend Dombey at the club; had so flourished him at the heads of the members in general, and so put them down by continual assertion of his riches; that the club, being but human, was delighted to retort upon the Major, by asking him, with a show of great concern, whether this tremendous smash had been at all expected, and how his friend Dombey bore it. To such questions, the Major, waxing very purple, would reply that it was a bad world, Sir, altogether; that Joey knew a thing or two, but had been done, Sir, done like an infant; that if you had foretold this, Sir, to J. Bagstock, when he went abroad with Dombey and was chasing that vagabond up and down France, J. Bagstock would have pooh-pooh’d you—would have pooh-pooh’d you, Sir, by the Lord! That Joe had been deceived, Sir, taken in, hoodwinked, blindfolded, but was broad awake again and staring; insomuch, Sir, that if Joe’s father were to rise up from the grave to-morrow, he wouldn’t trust the old blade with a penny piece, but would tell him that his son Josh was too old a soldier to be done again, Sir. That he was a suspicious, crabbed, cranky, used-up, J. B. infidel, Sir; and that if it were consistent with the dignity of a rough and tough old Major, of the old school, who had had the honour of being personally known to, and commended by, their late Royal Highnesses the Dukes of Kent and York, to retire to a tub and live in it, by Gad! Sir, he’d have a tub in Pall Mall to-morrow, to show his contempt for mankind!
Of all this, and many variations of the same tune, the Major would deliver himself with so many apoplectic symptoms, such rollings of his head, and such violent growls of ill usage and resentment, that the younger members of the club surmised he had invested money in his friend Dombey’s House, and lost it; though the older soldiers and deeper dogs, who knew Joe better, wouldn’t hear of such a thing. The unfortunate Native, expressing no opinion, suffered dreadfully; not merely in his moral feelings, which were regularly fusilladed by the Major every hour in the day, and riddled through and through, but in his sensitiveness to bodily knocks and bumps, which was kept continually on the stretch. For six entire weeks after the bankruptcy, this miserable foreigner lived in a rainy season of boot-jacks and brushes.
Mrs Chick had three ideas upon the subject of the terrible reverse. The first was that she could not understand it. The second, that her brother had not made an effort. The third, that if she had been invited to dinner on the day of that first party, it never would have happened; and that she had said so, at the time.
Nobody’s opinion stayed the misfortune, lightened it, or made it heavier. It was understood that the affairs of the House were to be wound up as they best could be; that Mr Dombey freely resigned everything he had, and asked for no favour from anyone. That any resumption of the business was out of the question, as he would listen to no friendly negotiation having that compromise in view; that he had relinquished every post of trust or distinction he had held, as a man respected among merchants; that he was dying, according to some; that he was going melancholy mad, according to others; that he was a broken man, according to all.
The clerks dispersed after holding a little dinner of condolence among themselves, which was enlivened by comic singing, and went off admirably. Some took places abroad, and some engaged in other Houses at home; some looked up relations in the country, for whom they suddenly remembered they had a particular affection; and some advertised for employment in the newspapers. Mr Perch alone remained of all the late establishment, sitting on his bracket looking at the accountants, or starting off it, to propitiate the head accountant, who was to get him into the Fire Office. The Counting House soon got to be dirty and neglected. The principal slipper and dogs’ collar seller, at the corner of the court, would have doubted the propriety of throwing up his forefinger to the brim of his hat, any more, if Mr Dombey had appeared there now; and the ticket porter, with his hands under his white apron, moralised good sound morality about ambition, which (he observed) was not, in his opinion, made to rhyme to perdition, for nothing.
Mr Morfin, the hazel-eyed bachelor, with the hair and whiskers sprinkled with grey, was perhaps the only person within the atmosphere of the House—its head, of course, excepted—who was heartily and deeply affected by the disaster that had befallen it. He had treated Mr Dombey with due respect and deference through many years, but he had never disguised his natural character, or meanly truckled to him, or pampered his master passion for the advancement of his own purposes. He had, therefore, no self-disrespect to avenge; no long-tightened springs to release with a quick recoil. He worked early and late to unravel whatever was complicated or difficult in the records of the transactions of the House; was always in attendance to explain whatever required explanation; sat in his old room sometimes very late at night, studying points by his mastery of which he could spare Mr Dombey the pain of being personally referred to; and then would go home to Islington, and calm his mind by producing the most dismal and forlorn sounds out of his violoncello before going to bed.
He was solacing himself with this melodious grumbler one evening, and, having been much dispirited by the proceedings of the day, was scraping consolation out of its deepest notes, when his landlady (who was fortunately deaf, and had no other consciousness of these performances than a sensation of something rumbling in her bones) announced a lady.
‘In mourning,’ she said.
The violoncello stopped immediately; and the performer, laying it on the sofa with great tenderness and care, made a sign that the lady was to come in. He followed directly, and met Harriet Carker on the stair.
‘Alone!’ he said, ‘and John here this morning! Is there anything the matter, my dear? But no,’ he added, ‘your face tells quite another story.’
‘I am afraid it is a selfish revelation that you see there, then,’ she answered.
‘It is a very pleasant one,’ said he; ‘and, if selfish, a novelty too, worth seeing in you. But I don’t believe that.’
He had placed a chair for her by this time, and sat down opposite; the violoncello lying snugly on the sofa between them.
‘You will not be surprised at my coming alone, or at John’s not having told you I was coming,’ said Harriet; ‘and you will believe that, when I tell you why I have come. May I do so now?’
‘You can do nothing better.’
‘You were not busy?’
He pointed to the violoncello lying on the sofa, and said ‘I have been, all day. Here’s my witness. I have been confiding all my cares to it. I wish I had none but my own to tell.’
‘Is the House at an end?’ said Harriet, earnestly.
‘Completely at an end.’
‘Will it never be resumed?’
The bright expression of her face was not overshadowed as her lips silently repeated the word. He seemed to observe this with some little involuntary surprise: and said again:
‘Never. You remember what I told you. It has been, all along, impossible to convince him; impossible to reason with him; sometimes, impossible even to approach him. The worst has happened; and the House has fallen, never to be built up any more.’
‘And Mr Dombey, is he personally ruined?’
‘Will he have no private fortune left? Nothing?’
A certain eagerness in her voice, and something that was almost joyful in her look, seemed to surprise him more and more; to disappoint him too, and jar discordantly against his own emotions. He drummed with the fingers of one hand on the table, looking wistfully at her, and shaking his head, said, after a pause:
‘The extent of Mr Dombey’s resources is not accurately within my knowledge; but though they are doubtless very large, his obligations are enormous. He is a gentleman of high honour and integrity. Any man in his position could, and many a man in his position would, have saved himself, by making terms which would have very slightly, almost insensibly, increased the losses of those who had had dealings with him, and left him a remnant to live upon. But he is resolved on payment to the last farthing of his means. His own words are, that they will clear, or nearly clear, the House, and that no one can lose much. Ah, Miss Harriet, it would do us no harm to remember oftener than we do, that vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess! His pride shows well in this.’
She heard him with little or no change in her expression, and with a divided attention that showed her to be busy with something in her own mind. When he was silent, she asked him hurriedly:
‘Have you seen him lately?’
‘No one sees him. When this crisis of his affairs renders it necessary for him to come out of his house, he comes out for the occasion, and again goes home, and shuts himself up, and will see no one. He has written me a letter, acknowledging our past connexion in higher terms than it deserved, and parting from me. I am delicate of obtruding myself upon him now, never having had much intercourse with him in better times; but I have tried to do so. I have written, gone there, entreated. Quite in vain.’
He watched her, as in the hope that she would testify some greater concern than she had yet shown; and spoke gravely and feelingly, as if to impress her the more; but there was no change in her.
‘Well, well, Miss Harriet,’ he said, with a disappointed air, ‘this is not to the purpose. You have not come here to hear this. Some other and pleasanter theme is in your mind. Let it be in mine, too, and we shall talk upon more equal terms. Come!’
‘No, it is the same theme,’ returned Harriet, with frank and quick surprise. ‘Is it not likely that it should be? Is it not natural that John and I should have been thinking and speaking very much of late of these great changes? Mr Dombey, whom he served so many years—you know upon what terms—reduced, as you describe; and we quite rich!’
Good, true face, as that face of hers was, and pleasant as it had been to him, Mr Morfin, the hazel-eyed bachelor, since the first time he had ever looked upon it, it pleased him less at that moment, lighted with a ray of exultation, than it had ever pleased him before.
‘I need not remind you,’ said Harriet, casting down her eyes upon her black dress, ‘through what means our circumstances changed. You have not forgotten that our brother James, upon that dreadful day, left no will, no relations but ourselves.’
The face was pleasanter to him now, though it was pale and melancholy, than it had been a moment since. He seemed to breathe more cheerily.
‘You know,’ she said, ‘our history, the history of both my brothers, in connexion with the unfortunate, unhappy gentleman, of whom you have spoken so truly. You know how few our wants are—John’s and mine—and what little use we have for money, after the life we have led together for so many years; and now that he is earning an income that is ample for us, through your kindness. You are not unprepared to hear what favour I have come to ask of you?’
‘I hardly know. I was, a minute ago. Now, I think, I am not.’
‘Of my dead brother I say nothing. If the dead know what we do—but you understand me. Of my living brother I could say much; but what need I say more, than that this act of duty, in which I have come to ask your indispensable assistance, is his own, and that he cannot rest until it is performed!’
She raised her eyes again; and the light of exultation in her face began to appear beautiful, in the observant eyes that watched her.
‘Dear Sir,’ she went on to say, ‘it must be done very quietly and secretly. Your experience and knowledge will point out a way of doing it. Mr Dombey may, perhaps, be led to believe that it is something saved, unexpectedly, from the wreck of his fortunes; or that it is a voluntary tribute to his honourable and upright character, from some of those with whom he has had great dealings; or that it is some old lost debt repaid. There must be many ways of doing it. I know you will choose the best. The favour I have come to ask is, that you will do it for us in your own kind, generous, considerate manner. That you will never speak of it to John, whose chief happiness in this act of restitution is to do it secretly, unknown, and unapproved of: that only a very small part of the inheritance may be reserved to us, until Mr Dombey shall have possessed the interest of the rest for the remainder of his life; that you will keep our secret, faithfully—but that I am sure you will; and that, from this time, it may seldom be whispered, even between you and me, but may live in my thoughts only as a new reason for thankfulness to Heaven, and joy and pride in my brother.’
Such a look of exultation there may be on Angels’ faces when the one repentant sinner enters Heaven, among ninety-nine just men. It was not dimmed or tarnished by the joyful tears that filled her eyes, but was the brighter for them.
‘My dear Harriet,’ said Mr Morfin, after a silence, ‘I was not prepared for this. Do I understand you that you wish to make your own part in the inheritance available for your good purpose, as well as John’s?’
‘Oh, yes,’ she returned ‘When we have shared everything together for so long a time, and have had no care, hope, or purpose apart, could I bear to be excluded from my share in this? May I not urge a claim to be my brother’s partner and companion to the last?’
‘Heaven forbid that I should dispute it!’ he replied.
‘We may rely on your friendly help?’ she said. ‘I knew we might!’
‘I should be a worse man than,—than I hope I am, or would willingly believe myself, if I could not give you that assurance from my heart and soul. You may, implicitly. Upon my honour, I will keep your secret. And if it should be found that Mr Dombey is so reduced as I fear he will be, acting on a determination that there seem to be no means of influencing, I will assist you to accomplish the design, on which you and John are jointly resolved.’
She gave him her hand, and thanked him with a cordial, happy face.
‘Harriet,’ he said, detaining it in his. ‘To speak to you of the worth of any sacrifice that you can make now—above all, of any sacrifice of mere money—would be idle and presumptuous. To put before you any appeal to reconsider your purpose or to set narrow limits to it, would be, I feel, not less so. I have no right to mar the great end of a great history, by any obtrusion of my own weak self. I have every right to bend my head before what you confide to me, satisfied that it comes from a higher and better source of inspiration than my poor worldly knowledge. I will say only this: I am your faithful steward; and I would rather be so, and your chosen friend, than I would be anybody in the world, except yourself.’
She thanked him again, cordially, and wished him good-night.
‘Are you going home?’ he said. ‘Let me go with you.’
‘Not to-night. I am not going home now; I have a visit to make alone. Will you come to-morrow?’
‘Well, well,’ said he, ‘I’ll come to-morrow. In the meantime, I’ll think of this, and how we can best proceed. And perhaps I’ll think of it, dear Harriet, and—and—think of me a little in connexion with it.’
He handed her down to a coach she had in waiting at the door; and if his landlady had not been deaf, she would have heard him muttering as he went back upstairs, when the coach had driven off, that we were creatures of habit, and it was a sorrowful habit to be an old bachelor.
The violoncello lying on the sofa between the two chairs, he took it up, without putting away the vacant chair, and sat droning on it, and slowly shaking his head at the vacant chair, for a long, long time. The expression he communicated to the instrument at first, though monstrously pathetic and bland, was nothing to the expression he communicated to his own face, and bestowed upon the empty chair: which was so sincere, that he was obliged to have recourse to Captain Cuttle’s remedy more than once, and to rub his face with his sleeve. By degrees, however, the violoncello, in unison with his own frame of mind, glided melodiously into the Harmonious Blacksmith, which he played over and over again, until his ruddy and serene face gleamed like true metal on the anvil of a veritable blacksmith. In fine, the violoncello and the empty chair were the companions of his bachelorhood until nearly midnight; and when he took his supper, the violoncello set up on end in the sofa corner, big with the latent harmony of a whole foundry full of harmonious blacksmiths, seemed to ogle the empty chair out of its crooked eyes, with unutterable intelligence.
When Harriet left the house, the driver of her hired coach, taking a course that was evidently no new one to him, went in and out by bye-ways, through that part of the suburbs, until he arrived at some open ground, where there were a few quiet little old houses standing among gardens. At the garden-gate of one of these he stopped, and Harriet alighted.
Her gentle ringing at the bell was responded to by a dolorous-looking woman, of light complexion, with raised eyebrows, and head drooping on one side, who curtseyed at sight of her, and conducted her across the garden to the house.
‘How is your patient, nurse, to-night?’ said Harriet.
‘In a poor way, Miss, I am afraid. Oh how she do remind me, sometimes, of my Uncle’s Betsey Jane!’ returned the woman of the light complexion, in a sort of doleful rapture.
‘In what respect?’ asked Harriet.
‘Miss, in all respects,’ replied the other, ‘except that she’s grown up, and Betsey Jane, when at death’s door, was but a child.’
‘But you have told me she recovered,’ observed Harriet mildly; ‘so there is the more reason for hope, Mrs Wickam.’
‘Ah, Miss, hope is an excellent thing for such as has the spirits to bear it!’ said Mrs Wickam, shaking her head. ‘My own spirits is not equal to it, but I don’t owe it any grudge. I envys them that is so blest!’
‘You should try to be more cheerful,’ remarked Harriet.
‘Thank you, Miss, I’m sure,’ said Mrs Wickam grimly. ‘If I was so inclined, the loneliness of this situation—you’ll excuse my speaking so free—would put it out of my power, in four and twenty hours; but I ain’t at all. I’d rather not. The little spirits that I ever had, I was bereaved of at Brighton some few years ago, and I think I feel myself the better for it.’
In truth, this was the very Mrs Wickam who had superseded Mrs Richards as the nurse of little Paul, and who considered herself to have gained the loss in question, under the roof of the amiable Pipchin. The excellent and thoughtful old system, hallowed by long prescription, which has usually picked out from the rest of mankind the most dreary and uncomfortable people that could possibly be laid hold of, to act as instructors of youth, finger-posts to the virtues, matrons, monitors, attendants on sick beds, and the like, had established Mrs Wickam in very good business as a nurse, and had led to her serious qualities being particularly commended by an admiring and numerous connexion.
Mrs Wickam, with her eyebrows elevated, and her head on one side, lighted the way upstairs to a clean, neat chamber, opening on another chamber dimly lighted, where there was a bed. In the first room, an old woman sat mechanically staring out at the open window, on the darkness. In the second, stretched upon the bed, lay the shadow of a figure that had spurned the wind and rain, one wintry night; hardly to be recognised now, but by the long black hair that showed so very black against the colourless face, and all the white things about it.
Oh, the strong eyes, and the weak frame! The eyes that turned so eagerly and brightly to the door when Harriet came in; the feeble head that could not raise itself, and moved so slowly round upon its pillow!
‘Alice!’ said the visitor’s mild voice, ‘am I late to-night?’
‘You always seem late, but are always early.’
Harriet had sat down by the bedside now, and put her hand upon the thin hand lying there.
‘You are better?’
Mrs Wickam, standing at the foot of the bed, like a disconsolate spectre, most decidedly and forcibly shook her head to negative this position.
‘It matters very little!’ said Alice, with a faint smile. ‘Better or worse to-day, is but a day’s difference—perhaps not so much.’
Mrs Wickam, as a serious character, expressed her approval with a groan; and having made some cold dabs at the bottom of the bedclothes, as feeling for the patient’s feet and expecting to find them stony; went clinking among the medicine bottles on the table, as who should say, ‘while we are here, let us repeat the mixture as before.’
‘No,’ said Alice, whispering to her visitor, ‘evil courses, and remorse, travel, want, and weather, storm within, and storm without, have worn my life away. It will not last much longer.
She drew the hand up as she spoke, and laid her face against it.
‘I lie here, sometimes, thinking I should like to live until I had had a little time to show you how grateful I could be! It is a weakness, and soon passes. Better for you as it is. Better for me!’
How different her hold upon the hand, from what it had been when she took it by the fireside on the bleak winter evening! Scorn, rage, defiance, recklessness, look here! This is the end.
Mrs Wickam having clinked sufficiently among the bottles, now produced the mixture. Mrs Wickam looked hard at her patient in the act of drinking, screwed her mouth up tight, her eyebrows also, and shook her head, expressing that tortures shouldn’t make her say it was a hopeless case. Mrs Wickam then sprinkled a little cooling-stuff about the room, with the air of a female grave-digger, who was strewing ashes on ashes, dust on dust—for she was a serious character—and withdrew to partake of certain funeral baked meats downstairs.
‘How long is it,’ asked Alice, ‘since I went to you and told you what I had done, and when you were advised it was too late for anyone to follow?’
‘It is a year and more,’ said Harriet.
‘A year and more,’ said Alice, thoughtfully intent upon her face. ‘Months upon months since you brought me here!’
Harriet answered ‘Yes.’
‘Brought me here, by force of gentleness and kindness. Me!’ said Alice, shrinking with her face behind her hand, ‘and made me human by woman’s looks and words, and angel’s deeds!’
Harriet bending over her, composed and soothed her. By and bye, Alice lying as before, with the hand against her face, asked to have her mother called.
Harriet called to her more than once, but the old woman was so absorbed looking out at the open window on the darkness, that she did not hear. It was not until Harriet went to her and touched her, that she rose up, and came.
‘Mother,’ said Alice, taking the hand again, and fixing her lustrous eyes lovingly upon her visitor, while she merely addressed a motion of her finger to the old woman, ‘tell her what you know.’
‘To-night, my deary?’
‘Ay, mother,’ answered Alice, faintly and solemnly, ‘to-night!’
The old woman, whose wits appeared disorderly by alarm, remorse, or grief, came creeping along the side of the bed, opposite to that on which Harriet sat; and kneeling down, so as to bring her withered face upon a level with the coverlet, and stretching out her hand, so as to touch her daughter’s arm, began:
‘My handsome gal—’
Heaven, what a cry was that, with which she stopped there, gazing at the poor form lying on the bed!
‘Changed, long ago, mother! Withered, long ago,’ said Alice, without looking at her. ‘Don’t grieve for that now.’
‘—My daughter,’ faltered the old woman, ‘my gal who’ll soon get better, and shame ‘em all with her good looks.’
Alice smiled mournfully at Harriet, and fondled her hand a little closer, but said nothing.
‘Who’ll soon get better, I say,’ repeated the old woman, menacing the vacant air with her shrivelled fist, ‘and who’ll shame ‘em all with her good looks—she will. I say she will! she shall!’—as if she were in passionate contention with some unseen opponent at the bedside, who contradicted her—‘my daughter has been turned away from, and cast out, but she could boast relationship to proud folks too, if she chose. Ah! To proud folks! There’s relationship without your clergy and your wedding rings—they may make it, but they can’t break it—and my daughter’s well related. Show me Mrs Dombey, and I’ll show you my Alice’s first cousin.’
Harriet glanced from the old woman to the lustrous eyes intent upon her face, and derived corroboration from them.
‘What!’ cried the old woman, her nodding head bridling with a ghastly vanity. ‘Though I am old and ugly now,—much older by life and habit than years though,—I was once as young as any. Ah! as pretty too, as many! I was a fresh country wench in my time, darling,’ stretching out her arm to Harriet, across the bed, ‘and looked it, too. Down in my country, Mrs Dombey’s father and his brother were the gayest gentlemen and the best-liked that came a visiting from London—they have long been dead, though! Lord, Lord, this long while! The brother, who was my Ally’s father, longest of the two.’
She raised her head a little, and peered at her daughter’s face; as if from the remembrance of her own youth, she had flown to the remembrance of her child’s. Then, suddenly, she laid her face down on the bed, and shut her head up in her hands and arms.
‘They were as like,’ said the old woman, without looking up, as you could see two brothers, so near an age—there wasn’t much more than a year between them, as I recollect—and if you could have seen my gal, as I have seen her once, side by side with the other’s daughter, you’d have seen, for all the difference of dress and life, that they were like each other. Oh! is the likeness gone, and is it my gal—only my gal—that’s to change so!’
‘We shall all change, mother, in our turn,’ said Alice.
‘Turn!’ cried the old woman, ‘but why not hers as soon as my gal’s! The mother must have changed—she looked as old as me, and full as wrinkled through her paint—but she was handsome. What have I done, I, what have I done worse than her, that only my gal is to lie there fading!’
With another of those wild cries, she went running out into the room from which she had come; but immediately, in her uncertain mood, returned, and creeping up to Harriet, said:
‘That’s what Alice bade me tell you, deary. That’s all. I found it out when I began to ask who she was, and all about her, away in Warwickshire there, one summer-time. Such relations was no good to me, then. They wouldn’t have owned me, and had nothing to give me. I should have asked ‘em, maybe, for a little money, afterwards, if it hadn’t been for my Alice; she’d a’most have killed me, if I had, I think. She was as proud as t’other in her way,’ said the old woman, touching the face of her daughter fearfully, and withdrawing her hand, ‘for all she’s so quiet now; but she’ll shame ‘em with her good looks yet. Ha, ha! She’ll shame ‘em, will my handsome daughter!’
Her laugh, as she retreated, was worse than her cry; worse than the burst of imbecile lamentation in which it ended; worse than the doting air with which she sat down in her old seat, and stared out at the darkness.
The eyes of Alice had all this time been fixed on Harriet, whose hand she had never released. She said now:
‘I have felt, lying here, that I should like you to know this. It might explain, I have thought, something that used to help to harden me. I had heard so much, in my wrongdoing, of my neglected duty, that I took up with the belief that duty had not been done to me, and that as the seed was sown, the harvest grew. I somehow made it out that when ladies had bad homes and mothers, they went wrong in their way, too; but that their way was not so foul a one as mine, and they had need to bless God for it. That is all past. It is like a dream, now, which I cannot quite remember or understand. It has been more and more like a dream, every day, since you began to sit here, and to read to me. I only tell it you, as I can recollect it. Will you read to me a little more?’
Harriet was withdrawing her hand to open the book, when Alice detained it for a moment.
‘You will not forget my mother? I forgive her, if I have any cause. I know that she forgives me, and is sorry in her heart. You will not forget her?’
‘A moment yet. Lay your head so, dear, that as you read I may see the words in your kind face.’
Harriet complied and read—read the eternal book for all the weary, and the heavy-laden; for all the wretched, fallen, and neglected of this earth—read the blessed history, in which the blind lame palsied beggar, the criminal, the woman stained with shame, the shunned of all our dainty clay, has each a portion, that no human pride, indifference, or sophistry, through all the ages that this world shall last, can take away, or by the thousandth atom of a grain reduce—read the ministry of Him who, through the round of human life, and all its hopes and griefs, from birth to death, from infancy to age, had sweet compassion for, and interest in, its every scene and stage, its every suffering and sorrow.
‘I shall come,’ said Harriet, when she shut the book, ‘very early in the morning.’
The lustrous eyes, yet fixed upon her face, closed for a moment, then opened; and Alice kissed and blest her.
The same eyes followed her to the door; and in their light, and on the tranquil face, there was a smile when it was closed.
They never turned away. She laid her hand upon her breast, murmuring the sacred name that had been read to her; and life passed from her face, like light removed.
Nothing lay there, any longer, but the ruin of the mortal house on which the rain had beaten, and the black hair that had fluttered in the wintry wind.
CHAPTER 59. Retribution
Changes have come again upon the great house in the long dull street, once the scene of Florence’s childhood and loneliness. It is a great house still, proof against wind and weather, without breaches in the roof, or shattered windows, or dilapidated walls; but it is a ruin none the less, and the rats fly from it.
Mr Towlinson and company are, at first, incredulous in respect of the shapeless rumours that they hear. Cook says our people’s credit ain’t so easy shook as that comes to, thank God; and Mr Towlinson expects to hear it reported next, that the Bank of England’s a-going to break, or the jewels in the Tower to be sold up. But, next come the Gazette, and Mr Perch; and Mr Perch brings Mrs Perch to talk it over in the kitchen, and to spend a pleasant evening.
As soon as there is no doubt about it, Mr Towlinson’s main anxiety is that the failure should be a good round one—not less than a hundred thousand pound. Mr Perch don’t think himself that a hundred thousand pound will nearly cover it. The women, led by Mrs Perch and Cook, often repeat ‘a hun-dred thou-sand pound!’ with awful satisfaction—as if handling the words were like handling the money; and the housemaid, who has her eye on Mr Towlinson, wishes she had only a hundredth part of the sum to bestow on the man of her choice. Mr Towlinson, still mindful of his old wrong, opines that a foreigner would hardly know what to do with so much money, unless he spent it on his whiskers; which bitter sarcasm causes the housemaid to withdraw in tears.
But not to remain long absent; for Cook, who has the reputation of being extremely good-hearted, says, whatever they do, let ‘em stand by one another now, Towlinson, for there’s no telling how soon they may be divided. They have been in that house (says Cook) through a funeral, a wedding, and a running-away; and let it not be said that they couldn’t agree among themselves at such a time as the present. Mrs Perch is immensely affected by this moving address, and openly remarks that Cook is an angel. Mr Towlinson replies to Cook, far be it from him to stand in the way of that good feeling which he could wish to see; and adjourning in quest of the housemaid, and presently returning with that young lady on his arm, informs the kitchen that foreigners is only his fun, and that him and Anne have now resolved to take one another for better for worse, and to settle in Oxford Market in the general greengrocery and herb and leech line, where your kind favours is particular requested. This announcement is received with acclamation; and Mrs Perch, projecting her soul into futurity, says, ‘girls,’ in Cook’s ear, in a solemn whisper.
Misfortune in the family without feasting, in these lower regions, couldn’t be. Therefore Cook tosses up a hot dish or two for supper, and Mr Towlinson compounds a lobster salad to be devoted to the same hospitable purpose. Even Mrs Pipchin, agitated by the occasion, rings her bell, and sends down word that she requests to have that little bit of sweetbread that was left, warmed up for her supper, and sent to her on a tray with about a quarter of a tumbler-full of mulled sherry; for she feels poorly.
There is a little talk about Mr Dombey, but very little. It is chiefly speculation as to how long he has known that this was going to happen. Cook says shrewdly, ‘Oh a long time, bless you! Take your oath of that.’ And reference being made to Mr Perch, he confirms her view of the case. Somebody wonders what he’ll do, and whether he’ll go out in any situation. Mr Towlinson thinks not, and hints at a refuge in one of them genteel almshouses of the better kind. ‘Ah, where he’ll have his little garden, you know,’ says Cook plaintively, ‘and bring up sweet peas in the spring.’ ‘Exactly so,’ says Mr Towlinson, ‘and be one of the Brethren of something or another.’ ‘We are all brethren,’ says Mrs Perch, in a pause of her drink. ‘Except the sisters,’ says Mr Perch. ‘How are the mighty fallen!’ remarks Cook. ‘Pride shall have a fall, and it always was and will be so!’ observes the housemaid.
It is wonderful how good they feel, in making these reflections; and what a Christian unanimity they are sensible of, in bearing the common shock with resignation. There is only one interruption to this excellent state of mind, which is occasioned by a young kitchen-maid of inferior rank—in black stockings—who, having sat with her mouth open for a long time, unexpectedly discharges from it words to this effect, ‘Suppose the wages shouldn’t be paid!’ The company sit for a moment speechless; but Cook recovering first, turns upon the young woman, and requests to know how she dares insult the family, whose bread she eats, by such a dishonest supposition, and whether she thinks that anybody, with a scrap of honour left, could deprive poor servants of their pittance? ‘Because if that is your religious feelings, Mary Daws,’ says Cook warmly, ‘I don’t know where you mean to go to.’
Mr Towlinson don’t know either; nor anybody; and the young kitchen-maid, appearing not to know exactly, herself, and scouted by the general voice, is covered with confusion, as with a garment.
After a few days, strange people begin to call at the house, and to make appointments with one another in the dining-room, as if they lived there. Especially, there is a gentleman, of a Mosaic Arabian cast of countenance, with a very massive watch-guard, who whistles in the drawing-room, and, while he is waiting for the other gentleman, who always has pen and ink in his pocket, asks Mr Towlinson (by the easy name of ‘Old Cock,’) if he happens to know what the figure of them crimson and gold hangings might have been, when new bought. The callers and appointments in the dining-room become more numerous every day, and every gentleman seems to have pen and ink in his pocket, and to have some occasion to use it. At last it is said that there is going to be a Sale; and then more people arrive, with pen and ink in their pockets, commanding a detachment of men with carpet caps, who immediately begin to pull up the carpets, and knock the furniture about, and to print off thousands of impressions of their shoes upon the hall and staircase.
The council downstairs are in full conclave all this time, and, having nothing to do, perform perfect feats of eating. At length, they are one day summoned in a body to Mrs Pipchin’s room, and thus addressed by the fair Peruvian:
‘Your master’s in difficulties,’ says Mrs Pipchin, tartly. ‘You know that, I suppose?’
Mr Towlinson, as spokesman, admits a general knowledge of the fact.
‘And you’re all on the look-out for yourselves, I warrant you,’ says Mrs Pipchin, shaking her head at them.
A shrill voice from the rear exclaims, ‘No more than yourself!’
‘That’s your opinion, Mrs Impudence, is it?’ says the ireful Pipchin, looking with a fiery eye over the intermediate heads.
‘Yes, Mrs Pipchin, it is,’ replies Cook, advancing. ‘And what then, pray?’
‘Why, then you may go as soon as you like,’ says Mrs Pipchin. ‘The sooner the better; and I hope I shall never see your face again.’
With this the doughty Pipchin produces a canvas bag; and tells her wages out to that day, and a month beyond it; and clutches the money tight, until a receipt for the same is duly signed, to the last upstroke; when she grudgingly lets it go. This form of proceeding Mrs Pipchin repeats with every member of the household, until all are paid.
‘Now those that choose, can go about their business,’ says Mrs Pipchin, ‘and those that choose can stay here on board wages for a week or so, and make themselves useful. Except,’ says the inflammable Pipchin, ‘that slut of a cook, who’ll go immediately.’
‘That,’ says Cook, ‘she certainly will! I wish you good day, Mrs Pipchin, and sincerely wish I could compliment you on the sweetness of your appearance!’
‘Get along with you,’ says Mrs Pipchin, stamping her foot.
Cook sails off with an air of beneficent dignity, highly exasperating to Mrs Pipchin, and is shortly joined below stairs by the rest of the confederation.
Mr Towlinson then says that, in the first place, he would beg to propose a little snack of something to eat; and over that snack would desire to offer a suggestion which he thinks will meet the position in which they find themselves. The refreshment being produced, and very heartily partaken of, Mr Towlinson’s suggestion is, in effect, that Cook is going, and that if we are not true to ourselves, nobody will be true to us. That they have lived in that house a long time, and exerted themselves very much to be sociable together. (At this, Cook says, with emotion, ‘Hear, hear!’ and Mrs Perch, who is there again, and full to the throat, sheds tears.) And that he thinks, at the present time, the feeling ought to be ‘Go one, go all!’ The housemaid is much affected by this generous sentiment, and warmly seconds it. Cook says she feels it’s right, and only hopes it’s not done as a compliment to her, but from a sense of duty. Mr Towlinson replies, from a sense of duty; and that now he is driven to express his opinions, he will openly say, that he does not think it over-respectable to remain in a house where Sales and such-like are carrying forwards. The housemaid is sure of it; and relates, in confirmation, that a strange man, in a carpet cap, offered, this very morning, to kiss her on the stairs. Hereupon, Mr Towlinson is starting from his chair, to seek and ‘smash’ the offender; when he is laid hold on by the ladies, who beseech him to calm himself, and to reflect that it is easier and wiser to leave the scene of such indecencies at once. Mrs Perch, presenting the case in a new light, even shows that delicacy towards Mr Dombey, shut up in his own rooms, imperatively demands precipitate retreat. ‘For what,’ says the good woman, ‘must his feelings be, if he was to come upon any of the poor servants that he once deceived into thinking him immensely rich!’ Cook is so struck by this moral consideration, that Mrs Perch improves it with several pious axioms, original and selected. It becomes a clear case that they must all go. Boxes are packed, cabs fetched, and at dusk that evening there is not one member of the party left.
The house stands, large and weather-proof, in the long dull street; but it is a ruin, and the rats fly from it.
The men in the carpet caps go on tumbling the furniture about; and the gentlemen with the pens and ink make out inventories of it, and sit upon pieces of furniture never made to be sat upon, and eat bread and cheese from the public-house on other pieces of furniture never made to be eaten on, and seem to have a delight in appropriating precious articles to strange uses. Chaotic combinations of furniture also take place. Mattresses and bedding appear in the dining-room; the glass and china get into the conservatory; the great dinner service is set out in heaps on the long divan in the large drawing-room; and the stair-wires, made into fasces, decorate the marble chimneypieces. Finally, a rug, with a printed bill upon it, is hung out from the balcony; and a similar appendage graces either side of the hall door.
Then, all day long, there is a retinue of mouldy gigs and chaise-carts in the street; and herds of shabby vampires, Jew and Christian, over-run the house, sounding the plate-glass mirrors with their knuckles, striking discordant octaves on the Grand Piano, drawing wet forefingers over the pictures, breathing on the blades of the best dinner-knives, punching the squabs of chairs and sofas with their dirty fists, touzling the feather beds, opening and shutting all the drawers, balancing the silver spoons and forks, looking into the very threads of the drapery and linen, and disparaging everything. There is not a secret place in the whole house. Fluffy and snuffy strangers stare into the kitchen-range as curiously as into the attic clothes-press. Stout men with napless hats on, look out of the bedroom windows, and cut jokes with friends in the street. Quiet, calculating spirits withdraw into the dressing-rooms with catalogues, and make marginal notes thereon, with stumps of pencils. Two brokers invade the very fire-escape, and take a panoramic survey of the neighbourhood from the top of the house. The swarm and buzz, and going up and down, endure for days. The Capital Modern Household Furniture, &c., is on view.
Then there is a palisade of tables made in the best drawing-room; and on the capital, french-polished, extending, telescopic range of Spanish mahogany dining-tables with turned legs, the pulpit of the Auctioneer is erected; and the herds of shabby vampires, Jew and Christian, the strangers fluffy and snuffy, and the stout men with the napless hats, congregate about it and sit upon everything within reach, mantel-pieces included, and begin to bid. Hot, humming, and dusty are the rooms all day; and—high above the heat, hum, and dust—the head and shoulders, voice and hammer, of the Auctioneer, are ever at work. The men in the carpet caps get flustered and vicious with tumbling the Lots about, and still the Lots are going, going, gone; still coming on. Sometimes there is joking and a general roar. This lasts all day and three days following. The Capital Modern Household Furniture, &c., is on sale.
Then the mouldy gigs and chaise-carts reappear; and with them come spring-vans and waggons, and an army of porters with knots. All day long, the men with carpet caps are screwing at screw-drivers and bed-winches, or staggering by the dozen together on the staircase under heavy burdens, or upheaving perfect rocks of Spanish mahogany, best rose-wood, or plate-glass, into the gigs and chaise-carts, vans and waggons. All sorts of vehicles of burden are in attendance, from a tilted waggon to a wheelbarrow. Poor Paul’s little bedstead is carried off in a donkey-tandem. For nearly a whole week, the Capital Modern Household Furniture, & c., is in course of removal.
At last it is all gone. Nothing is left about the house but scattered leaves of catalogues, littered scraps of straw and hay, and a battery of pewter pots behind the hall-door. The men with the carpet-caps gather up their screw-drivers and bed-winches into bags, shoulder them, and walk off. One of the pen-and-ink gentlemen goes over the house as a last attention; sticking up bills in the windows respecting the lease of this desirable family mansion, and shutting the shutters. At length he follows the men with the carpet caps. None of the invaders remain. The house is a ruin, and the rats fly from it.
Mrs Pipchin’s apartments, together with those locked rooms on the ground-floor where the window-blinds are drawn down close, have been spared the general devastation. Mrs Pipchin has remained austere and stony during the proceedings, in her own room; or has occasionally looked in at the sale to see what the goods are fetching, and to bid for one particular easy chair. Mrs Pipchin has been the highest bidder for the easy chair, and sits upon her property when Mrs Chick comes to see her.
‘How is my brother, Mrs Pipchin?’ says Mrs Chick.
‘I don’t know any more than the deuce,’ says Mrs Pipchin. ‘He never does me the honour to speak to me. He has his meat and drink put in the next room to his own; and what he takes, he comes out and takes when there’s nobody there. It’s no use asking me. I know no more about him than the man in the south who burnt his mouth by eating cold plum porridge.’
This the acrimonious Pipchin says with a flounce.
‘But good gracious me!’ cries Mrs Chick blandly. ‘How long is this to last! If my brother will not make an effort, Mrs Pipchin, what is to become of him? I am sure I should have thought he had seen enough of the consequences of not making an effort, by this time, to be warned against that fatal error.’
‘Hoity toity!’ says Mrs Pipchin, rubbing her nose. ‘There’s a great fuss, I think, about it. It ain’t so wonderful a case. People have had misfortunes before now, and been obliged to part with their furniture. I’m sure I have!’
‘My brother,’ pursues Mrs Chick profoundly, ‘is so peculiar—so strange a man. He is the most peculiar man I ever saw. Would anyone believe that when he received news of the marriage and emigration of that unnatural child—it’s a comfort to me, now, to remember that I always said there was something extraordinary about that child: but nobody minds me—would anybody believe, I say, that he should then turn round upon me and say he had supposed, from my manner, that she had come to my house? Why, my gracious! And would anybody believe that when I merely say to him, “Paul, I may be very foolish, and I have no doubt I am, but I cannot understand how your affairs can have got into this state,” he should actually fly at me, and request that I will come to see him no more until he asks me! Why, my goodness!’
‘Ah!’ says Mrs Pipchin. ‘It’s a pity he hadn’t a little more to do with mines. They’d have tried his temper for him.’
‘And what,’ resumes Mrs Chick, quite regardless of Mrs Pipchin’s observations, ‘is it to end in? That’s what I want to know. What does my brother mean to do? He must do something. It’s of no use remaining shut up in his own rooms. Business won’t come to him. No. He must go to it. Then why don’t he go? He knows where to go, I suppose, having been a man of business all his life. Very good. Then why not go there?’
Mrs Chick, after forging this powerful chain of reasoning, remains silent for a minute to admire it.
‘Besides,’ says the discreet lady, with an argumentative air, ‘who ever heard of such obstinacy as his staying shut up here through all these dreadful disagreeables? It’s not as if there was no place for him to go to. Of course he could have come to our house. He knows he is at home there, I suppose? Mr Chick has perfectly bored about it, and I said with my own lips, “Why surely, Paul, you don’t imagine that because your affairs have got into this state, you are the less at home to such near relatives as ourselves? You don’t imagine that we are like the rest of the world?” But no; here he stays all through, and here he is. Why, good gracious me, suppose the house was to be let! What would he do then? He couldn’t remain here then. If he attempted to do so, there would be an ejectment, an action for Doe, and all sorts of things; and then he must go. Then why not go at first instead of at last? And that brings me back to what I said just now, and I naturally ask what is to be the end of it?’
‘I know what’s to be the end of it, as far as I am concerned,’ replies Mrs Pipchin, ‘and that’s enough for me. I’m going to take myself off in a jiffy.’
‘In a which, Mrs Pipchin,’ says Mrs Chick.
‘In a jiffy,’ retorts Mrs Pipchin sharply.
‘Ah, well! really I can’t blame you, Mrs Pipchin,’ says Mrs Chick, with frankness.
‘It would be pretty much the same to me, if you could,’ replies the sardonic Pipchin. ‘At any rate I’m going. I can’t stop here. I should be dead in a week. I had to cook my own pork chop yesterday, and I’m not used to it. My constitution will be giving way next. Besides, I had a very fair connexion at Brighton when I came here—little Pankey’s folks alone were worth a good eighty pounds a-year to me—and I can’t afford to throw it away. I’ve written to my niece, and she expects me by this time.’
‘Have you spoken to my brother?’ inquires Mrs Chick
‘Oh, yes, it’s very easy to say speak to him,’ retorts Mrs Pipchin. ‘How is it done? I called out to him yesterday, that I was no use here, and that he had better let me send for Mrs Richards. He grunted something or other that meant yes, and I sent. Grunt indeed! If he had been Mr Pipchin, he’d have had some reason to grunt. Yah! I’ve no patience with it!’
Here this exemplary female, who has pumped up so much fortitude and virtue from the depths of the Peruvian mines, rises from her cushioned property to see Mrs Chick to the door. Mrs Chick, deploring to the last the peculiar character of her brother, noiselessly retires, much occupied with her own sagacity and clearness of head.
In the dusk of the evening Mr Toodle, being off duty, arrives with Polly and a box, and leaves them, with a sounding kiss, in the hall of the empty house, the retired character of which affects Mr Toodle’s spirits strongly.
‘I tell you what, Polly, me dear,’ says Mr Toodle, ‘being now an ingine-driver, and well to do in the world, I shouldn’t allow of your coming here, to be made dull-like, if it warn’t for favours past. But favours past, Polly, is never to be forgot. To them which is in adversity, besides, your face is a cord’l. So let’s have another kiss on it, my dear. You wish no better than to do a right act, I know; and my views is, that it’s right and dutiful to do this. Good-night, Polly!’
Mrs Pipchin by this time looms dark in her black bombazeen skirts, black bonnet, and shawl; and has her personal property packed up; and has her chair (late a favourite chair of Mr Dombey’s and the dead bargain of the sale) ready near the street door; and is only waiting for a fly-van, going to-night to Brighton on private service, which is to call for her, by private contract, and convey her home.
Presently it comes. Mrs Pipchin’s wardrobe being handed in and stowed away, Mrs Pipchin’s chair is next handed in, and placed in a convenient corner among certain trusses of hay; it being the intention of the amiable woman to occupy the chair during her journey. Mrs Pipchin herself is next handed in, and grimly takes her seat. There is a snaky gleam in her hard grey eye, as of anticipated rounds of buttered toast, relays of hot chops, worryings and quellings of young children, sharp snappings at poor Berry, and all the other delights of her Ogress’s castle. Mrs Pipchin almost laughs as the fly-van drives off, and she composes her black bombazeen skirts, and settles herself among the cushions of her easy chair.
The house is such a ruin that the rats have fled, and there is not one left.
But Polly, though alone in the deserted mansion—for there is no companionship in the shut-up rooms in which its late master hides his head—is not alone long. It is night; and she is sitting at work in the housekeeper’s room, trying to forget what a lonely house it is, and what a history belongs to it; when there is a knock at the hall door, as loud sounding as any knock can be, striking into such an empty place. Opening it, she returns across the echoing hall, accompanied by a female figure in a close black bonnet. It is Miss Tox, and Miss Tox’s eyes are red.
‘Oh, Polly,’ says Miss Tox, ‘when I looked in to have a little lesson with the children just now, I got the message that you left for me; and as soon as I could recover my spirits at all, I came on after you. Is there no one here but you?’
‘Ah! not a soul,’ says Polly.
‘Have you seen him?’ whispers Miss Tox.
‘Bless you,’ returns Polly, ‘no; he has not been seen this many a day. They tell me he never leaves his room.’
‘Is he said to be ill?’ inquires Miss Tox.
‘No, Ma’am, not that I know of,’ returns Polly, ‘except in his mind. He must be very bad there, poor gentleman!’
Miss Tox’s sympathy is such that she can scarcely speak. She is no chicken, but she has not grown tough with age and celibacy. Her heart is very tender, her compassion very genuine, her homage very real. Beneath the locket with the fishy eye in it, Miss Tox bears better qualities than many a less whimsical outside; such qualities as will outlive, by many courses of the sun, the best outsides and brightest husks that fall in the harvest of the great reaper.
It is long before Miss Tox goes away, and before Polly, with a candle flaring on the blank stairs, looks after her, for company, down the street, and feels unwilling to go back into the dreary house, and jar its emptiness with the heavy fastenings of the door, and glide away to bed. But all this Polly does; and in the morning sets in one of those darkened rooms such matters as she has been advised to prepare, and then retires and enters them no more until next morning at the same hour. There are bells there, but they never ring; and though she can sometimes hear a footfall going to and fro, it never comes out.
Miss Tox returns early in the day. It then begins to be Miss Tox’s occupation to prepare little dainties—or what are such to her—to be carried into these rooms next morning. She derives so much satisfaction from the pursuit, that she enters on it regularly from that time; and brings daily in her little basket, various choice condiments selected from the scanty stores of the deceased owner of the powdered head and pigtail. She likewise brings, in sheets of curl-paper, morsels of cold meats, tongues of sheep, halves of fowls, for her own dinner; and sharing these collations with Polly, passes the greater part of her time in the ruined house that the rats have fled from: hiding, in a fright at every sound, stealing in and out like a criminal; only desiring to be true to the fallen object of her admiration, unknown to him, unknown to all the world but one poor simple woman.
The Major knows it; but no one is the wiser for that, though the Major is much the merrier. The Major, in a fit of curiosity, has charged the Native to watch the house sometimes, and find out what becomes of Dombey. The Native has reported Miss Tox’s fidelity, and the Major has nearly choked himself dead with laughter. He is permanently bluer from that hour, and constantly wheezes to himself, his lobster eyes starting out of his head, ‘Damme, Sir, the woman’s a born idiot!’
And the ruined man. How does he pass the hours, alone?
‘Let him remember it in that room, years to come!’ He did remember it. It was heavy on his mind now; heavier than all the rest.
‘Let him remember it in that room, years to come! The rain that falls upon the roof, the wind that mourns outside the door, may have foreknowledge in their melancholy sound. Let him remember it in that room, years to come!’
He did remember it. In the miserable night he thought of it; in the dreary day, the wretched dawn, the ghostly, memory-haunted twilight. He did remember it. In agony, in sorrow, in remorse, in despair! ‘Papa! Papa! Speak to me, dear Papa!’ He heard the words again, and saw the face. He saw it fall upon the trembling hands, and heard the one prolonged low cry go upward.
He was fallen, never to be raised up any more. For the night of his worldly ruin there was no to-morrow’s sun; for the stain of his domestic shame there was no purification; nothing, thank Heaven, could bring his dead child back to life. But that which he might have made so different in all the Past—which might have made the Past itself so different, though this he hardly thought of now—that which was his own work, that which he could so easily have wrought into a blessing, and had set himself so steadily for years to form into a curse: that was the sharp grief of his soul.
Oh! He did remember it! The rain that fell upon the roof, the wind that mourned outside the door that night, had had foreknowledge in their melancholy sound. He knew, now, what he had done. He knew, now, that he had called down that upon his head, which bowed it lower than the heaviest stroke of fortune. He knew, now, what it was to be rejected and deserted; now, when every loving blossom he had withered in his innocent daughter’s heart was snowing down in ashes on him.
He thought of her, as she had been that night when he and his bride came home. He thought of her as she had been, in all the home-events of the abandoned house. He thought, now, that of all around him, she alone had never changed. His boy had faded into dust, his proud wife had sunk into a polluted creature, his flatterer and friend had been transformed into the worst of villains, his riches had melted away, the very walls that sheltered him looked on him as a stranger; she alone had turned the same mild gentle look upon him always. Yes, to the latest and the last. She had never changed to him—nor had he ever changed to her—and she was lost.
As, one by one, they fell away before his mind—his baby—hope, his wife, his friend, his fortune—oh how the mist, through which he had seen her, cleared, and showed him her true self! Oh, how much better than this that he had loved her as he had his boy, and lost her as he had his boy, and laid them in their early grave together!
In his pride—for he was proud yet—he let the world go from him freely. As it fell away, he shook it off. Whether he imagined its face as expressing pity for him, or indifference to him, he shunned it alike. It was in the same degree to be avoided, in either aspect. He had no idea of any one companion in his misery, but the one he had driven away. What he would have said to her, or what consolation submitted to receive from her, he never pictured to himself. But he always knew she would have been true to him, if he had suffered her. He always knew she would have loved him better now, than at any other time; he was as certain that it was in her nature, as he was that there was a sky above him; and he sat thinking so, in his loneliness, from hour to hour. Day after day uttered this speech; night after night showed him this knowledge.
It began, beyond all doubt (however slow it advanced for some time), in the receipt of her young husband’s letter, and the certainty that she was gone. And yet—so proud he was in his ruin, or so reminiscent of her only as something that might have been his, but was lost beyond redemption—that if he could have heard her voice in an adjoining room, he would not have gone to her. If he could have seen her in the street, and she had done no more than look at him as she had been used to look, he would have passed on with his old cold unforgiving face, and not addressed her, or relaxed it, though his heart should have broken soon afterwards. However turbulent his thoughts, or harsh his anger had been, at first, concerning her marriage, or her husband, that was all past now. He chiefly thought of what might have been, and what was not. What was, was all summed up in this: that she was lost, and he bowed down with sorrow and remorse.
And now he felt that he had had two children born to him in that house, and that between him and the bare wide empty walls there was a tie, mournful, but hard to rend asunder, connected with a double childhood, and a double loss. He had thought to leave the house—knowing he must go, not knowing whither—upon the evening of the day on which this feeling first struck root in his breast; but he resolved to stay another night, and in the night to ramble through the rooms once more.
He came out of his solitude when it was the dead of night, and with a candle in his hand went softly up the stairs. Of all the footmarks there, making them as common as the common street, there was not one, he thought, but had seemed at the time to set itself upon his brain while he had kept close, listening. He looked at their number, and their hurry, and contention—foot treading foot out, and upward track and downward jostling one another—and thought, with absolute dread and wonder, how much he must have suffered during that trial, and what a changed man he had cause to be. He thought, besides, oh was there, somewhere in the world, a light footstep that might have worn out in a moment half those marks!—and bent his head, and wept as he went up.
He almost saw it, going on before. He stopped, looking up towards the skylight; and a figure, childish itself, but carrying a child, and singing as it went, seemed to be there again. Anon, it was the same figure, alone, stopping for an instant, with suspended breath; the bright hair clustering loosely round its tearful face; and looking back at him.
He wandered through the rooms: lately so luxurious; now so bare and dismal and so changed, apparently, even in their shape and size. The press of footsteps was as thick here; and the same consideration of the suffering he had had, perplexed and terrified him. He began to fear that all this intricacy in his brain would drive him mad; and that his thoughts already lost coherence as the footprints did, and were pieced on to one another, with the same trackless involutions, and varieties of indistinct shapes.
He did not so much as know in which of these rooms she had lived, when she was alone. He was glad to leave them, and go wandering higher up. Abundance of associations were here, connected with his false wife, his false friend and servant, his false grounds of pride; but he put them all by now, and only recalled miserably, weakly, fondly, his two children.
Everywhere, the footsteps! They had had no respect for the old room high up, where the little bed had been; he could hardly find a clear space there, to throw himself down, on the floor, against the wall, poor broken man, and let his tears flow as they would. He had shed so many tears here, long ago, that he was less ashamed of his weakness in this place than in any other—perhaps, with that consciousness, had made excuses to himself for coming here. Here, with stooping shoulders, and his chin dropped on his breast, he had come. Here, thrown upon the bare boards, in the dead of night, he wept, alone—a proud man, even then; who, if a kind hand could have been stretched out, or a kind face could have looked in, would have risen up, and turned away, and gone down to his cell.
When the day broke he was shut up in his rooms again. He had meant to go away to-day, but clung to this tie in the house as the last and only thing left to him. He would go to-morrow. To-morrow came. He would go to-morrow. Every night, within the knowledge of no human creature, he came forth, and wandered through the despoiled house like a ghost. Many a morning when the day broke, his altered face, drooping behind the closed blind in his window, imperfectly transparent to the light as yet, pondered on the loss of his two children. It was one child no more. He reunited them in his thoughts, and they were never asunder. Oh, that he could have united them in his past love, and in death, and that one had not been so much worse than dead!
Strong mental agitation and disturbance was no novelty to him, even before his late sufferings. It never is, to obstinate and sullen natures; for they struggle hard to be such. Ground, long undermined, will often fall down in a moment; what was undermined here in so many ways, weakened, and crumbled, little by little, more and more, as the hand moved on the dial.
At last he began to think he need not go at all. He might yet give up what his creditors had spared him (that they had not spared him more, was his own act), and only sever the tie between him and the ruined house, by severing that other link—
It was then that his footfall was audible in the late housekeeper’s room, as he walked to and fro; but not audible in its true meaning, or it would have had an appalling sound.
The world was very busy and restless about him. He became aware of that again. It was whispering and babbling. It was never quiet. This, and the intricacy and complication of the footsteps, harassed him to death. Objects began to take a bleared and russet colour in his eyes. Dombey and Son was no more—his children no more. This must be thought of, well, to-morrow.
He thought of it to-morrow; and sitting thinking in his chair, saw in the glass, from time to time, this picture:
A spectral, haggard, wasted likeness of himself, brooded and brooded over the empty fireplace. Now it lifted up its head, examining the lines and hollows in its face; now hung it down again, and brooded afresh. Now it rose and walked about; now passed into the next room, and came back with something from the dressing-table in its breast. Now, it was looking at the bottom of the door, and thinking.
It was thinking that if blood were to trickle that way, and to leak out into the hall, it must be a long time going so far. It would move so stealthily and slowly, creeping on, with here a lazy little pool, and there a start, and then another little pool, that a desperately wounded man could only be discovered through its means, either dead or dying. When it had thought of this a long while, it got up again, and walked to and fro with its hand in its breast. He glanced at it occasionally, very curious to watch its motions, and he marked how wicked and murderous that hand looked.
Now it was thinking again! What was it thinking?
Whether they would tread in the blood when it crept so far, and carry it about the house among those many prints of feet, or even out into the street.
It sat down, with its eyes upon the empty fireplace, and as it lost itself in thought there shone into the room a gleam of light; a ray of sun. It was quite unmindful, and sat thinking. Suddenly it rose, with a terrible face, and that guilty hand grasping what was in its breast. Then it was arrested by a cry—a wild, loud, piercing, loving, rapturous cry—and he only saw his own reflection in the glass, and at his knees, his daughter!
Yes. His daughter! Look at her! Look here! Down upon the ground, clinging to him, calling to him, folding her hands, praying to him.
‘Papa! Dearest Papa! Pardon me, forgive me! I have come back to ask forgiveness on my knees. I never can be happy more, without it!’
Unchanged still. Of all the world, unchanged. Raising the same face to his, as on that miserable night. Asking his forgiveness!
‘Dear Papa, oh don’t look strangely on me! I never meant to leave you. I never thought of it, before or afterwards. I was frightened when I went away, and could not think. Papa, dear, I am changed. I am penitent. I know my fault. I know my duty better now. Papa, don’t cast me off, or I shall die!’
He tottered to his chair. He felt her draw his arms about her neck; he felt her put her own round his; he felt her kisses on his face; he felt her wet cheek laid against his own; he felt—oh, how deeply!—all that he had done.
Upon the breast that he had bruised, against the heart that he had almost broken, she laid his face, now covered with his hands, and said, sobbing:
‘Papa, love, I am a mother. I have a child who will soon call Walter by the name by which I call you. When it was born, and when I knew how much I loved it, I knew what I had done in leaving you. Forgive me, dear Papa! oh say God bless me, and my little child!’
He would have said it, if he could. He would have raised his hands and besought her for pardon, but she caught them in her own, and put them down, hurriedly.
‘My little child was born at sea, Papa I prayed to God (and so did Walter for me) to spare me, that I might come home. The moment I could land, I came back to you. Never let us be parted any more, Papa. Never let us be parted any more!’
His head, now grey, was encircled by her arm; and he groaned to think that never, never, had it rested so before.
‘You will come home with me, Papa, and see my baby. A boy, Papa. His name is Paul. I think—I hope—he’s like—’
Her tears stopped her.
‘Dear Papa, for the sake of my child, for the sake of the name we have given him, for my sake, pardon Walter. He is so kind and tender to me. I am so happy with him. It was not his fault that we were married. It was mine. I loved him so much.’
She clung closer to him, more endearing and more earnest.
‘He is the darling of my heart, Papa I would die for him. He will love and honour you as I will. We will teach our little child to love and honour you; and we will tell him, when he can understand, that you had a son of that name once, and that he died, and you were very sorry; but that he is gone to Heaven, where we all hope to see him when our time for resting comes. Kiss me, Papa, as a promise that you will be reconciled to Walter—to my dearest husband—to the father of the little child who taught me to come back, Papa Who taught me to come back!’
As she clung closer to him, in another burst of tears, he kissed her on her lips, and, lifting up his eyes, said, ‘Oh my God, forgive me, for I need it very much!’
With that he dropped his head again, lamenting over and caressing her, and there was not a sound in all the house for a long, long time; they remaining clasped in one another’s arms, in the glorious sunshine that had crept in with Florence.
He dressed himself for going out, with a docile submission to her entreaty; and walking with a feeble gait, and looking back, with a tremble, at the room in which he had been so long shut up, and where he had seen the picture in the glass, passed out with her into the hall. Florence, hardly glancing round her, lest she should remind him freshly of their last parting—for their feet were on the very stones where he had struck her in his madness—and keeping close to him, with her eyes upon his face, and his arm about her, led him out to a coach that was waiting at the door, and carried him away.
Then, Miss Tox and Polly came out of their concealment, and exulted tearfully. And then they packed his clothes, and books, and so forth, with great care; and consigned them in due course to certain persons sent by Florence, in the evening, to fetch them. And then they took a last cup of tea in the lonely house.
‘And so Dombey and Son, as I observed upon a certain sad occasion,’ said Miss Tox, winding up a host of recollections, ‘is indeed a daughter, Polly, after all.’
‘And a good one!’ exclaimed Polly.
‘You are right,’ said Miss Tox; ‘and it’s a credit to you, Polly, that you were always her friend when she was a little child. You were her friend long before I was, Polly,’ said Miss Tox; ‘and you’re a good creature. Robin!’
Miss Tox addressed herself to a bullet-headed young man, who appeared to be in but indifferent circumstances, and in depressed spirits, and who was sitting in a remote corner. Rising, he disclosed to view the form and features of the Grinder.
‘Robin,’ said Miss Tox, ‘I have just observed to your mother, as you may have heard, that she is a good creature.’
‘And so she is, Miss,’ quoth the Grinder, with some feeling.
‘Very well, Robin,’ said Miss Tox, ‘I am glad to hear you say so. Now, Robin, as I am going to give you a trial, at your urgent request, as my domestic, with a view to your restoration to respectability, I will take this impressive occasion of remarking that I hope you will never forget that you have, and have always had, a good mother, and that you will endeavour so to conduct yourself as to be a comfort to her.’
‘Upon my soul I will, Miss,’ returned the Grinder. ‘I have come through a good deal, and my intentions is now as straightfor’ard, Miss, as a cove’s—’
‘I must get you to break yourself of that word, Robin, if you please,’ interposed Miss Tox, politely.
‘If you please, Miss, as a chap’s—’
‘Thankee, Robin, no,’ returned Miss Tox, ‘I should prefer individual.’
‘As a indiwiddle’s—,’ said the Grinder.
‘Much better,’ remarked Miss Tox, complacently; ‘infinitely more expressive!’
‘—can be,’ pursued Rob. ‘If I hadn’t been and got made a Grinder on, Miss and Mother, which was a most unfortunate circumstance for a young co—indiwiddle—’
‘Very good indeed,’ observed Miss Tox, approvingly.
‘—and if I hadn’t been led away by birds, and then fallen into a bad service,’ said the Grinder, ‘I hope I might have done better. But it’s never too late for a—’
‘Indi—’ suggested Miss Tox.
‘—widdle,’ said the Grinder, ‘to mend; and I hope to mend, Miss, with your kind trial; and wishing, Mother, my love to father, and brothers and sisters, and saying of it.’
‘I am very glad indeed to hear it,’ observed Miss Tox. ‘Will you take a little bread and butter, and a cup of tea, before we go, Robin?’
‘Thankee, Miss,’ returned the Grinder; who immediately began to use his own personal grinders in a most remarkable manner, as if he had been on very short allowance for a considerable period.
Miss Tox, being, in good time, bonneted and shawled, and Polly too, Rob hugged his mother, and followed his new mistress away; so much to the hopeful admiration of Polly, that something in her eyes made luminous rings round the gas-lamps as she looked after him. Polly then put out her light, locked the house-door, delivered the key at an agent’s hard by, and went home as fast as she could go; rejoicing in the shrill delight that her unexpected arrival would occasion there. The great house, dumb as to all that had been suffered in it, and the changes it had witnessed, stood frowning like a dark mute on the street; baulking any nearer inquiries with the staring announcement that the lease of this desirable Family Mansion was to be disposed of.
CHAPTER 60. Chiefly Matrimonial
The grand half-yearly festival holden by Doctor and Mrs Blimber, on which occasion they requested the pleasure of the company of every young gentleman pursuing his studies in that genteel establishment, at an early party, when the hour was half-past seven o’clock, and when the object was quadrilles, had duly taken place, about this time; and the young gentlemen, with no unbecoming demonstrations of levity, had betaken themselves, in a state of scholastic repletion, to their own homes. Mr Skettles had repaired abroad, permanently to grace the establishment of his father Sir Barnet Skettles, whose popular manners had obtained him a diplomatic appointment, the honours of which were discharged by himself and Lady Skettles, to the satisfaction even of their own countrymen and countrywomen: which was considered almost miraculous. Mr Tozer, now a young man of lofty stature, in Wellington boots, was so extremely full of antiquity as to be nearly on a par with a genuine ancient Roman in his knowledge of English: a triumph that affected his good parents with the tenderest emotions, and caused the father and mother of Mr Briggs (whose learning, like ill-arranged luggage, was so tightly packed that he couldn’t get at anything he wanted) to hide their diminished heads. The fruit laboriously gathered from the tree of knowledge by this latter young gentleman, in fact, had been subjected to so much pressure, that it had become a kind of intellectual Norfolk Biffin, and had nothing of its original form or flavour remaining. Master Bitherstone now, on whom the forcing system had the happier and not uncommon effect of leaving no impression whatever, when the forcing apparatus ceased to work, was in a much more comfortable plight; and being then on shipboard, bound for Bengal, found himself forgetting, with such admirable rapidity, that it was doubtful whether his declensions of noun-substantives would hold out to the end of the voyage.
When Doctor Blimber, in pursuance of the usual course, would have said to the young gentlemen, on the morning of the party, ‘Gentlemen, we will resume our studies on the twenty-fifth of next month,’ he departed from the usual course, and said, ‘Gentlemen, when our friend Cincinnatus retired to his farm, he did not present to the senate any Roman who he sought to nominate as his successor. But there is a Roman here,’ said Doctor Blimber, laying his hand on the shoulder of Mr Feeder, B.A., ‘adolescens imprimis gravis et doctus, gentlemen, whom I, a retiring Cincinnatus, wish to present to my little senate, as their future Dictator. Gentlemen, we will resume our studies on the twenty-fifth of next month, under the auspices of Mr Feeder, B.A.’ At this (which Doctor Blimber had previously called upon all the parents, and urbanely explained), the young gentlemen cheered; and Mr Tozer, on behalf of the rest, instantly presented the Doctor with a silver inkstand, in a speech containing very little of the mother-tongue, but fifteen quotations from the Latin, and seven from the Greek, which moved the younger of the young gentlemen to discontent and envy: they remarking, ‘Oh, ah. It was all very well for old Tozer, but they didn’t subscribe money for old Tozer to show off with, they supposed; did they? What business was it of old Tozer’s more than anybody else’s? It wasn’t his inkstand. Why couldn’t he leave the boys’ property alone?’ and murmuring other expressions of their dissatisfaction, which seemed to find a greater relief in calling him old Tozer, than in any other available vent.
Not a word had been said to the young gentlemen, nor a hint dropped, of anything like a contemplated marriage between Mr Feeder, B.A., and the fair Cornelia Blimber. Doctor Blimber, especially, seemed to take pains to look as if nothing would surprise him more; but it was perfectly well known to all the young gentlemen nevertheless, and when they departed for the society of their relations and friends, they took leave of Mr Feeder with awe.
Mr Feeder’s most romantic visions were fulfilled. The Doctor had determined to paint the house outside, and put it in thorough repair; and to give up the business, and to give up Cornelia. The painting and repairing began upon the very day of the young gentlemen’s departure, and now behold! the wedding morning was come, and Cornelia, in a new pair of spectacles, was waiting to be led to the hymeneal altar.
The Doctor with his learned legs, and Mrs Blimber in a lilac bonnet, and Mr Feeder, B.A., with his long knuckles and his bristly head of hair, and Mr Feeder’s brother, the Reverend Alfred Feeder, M.A., who was to perform the ceremony, were all assembled in the drawing-room, and Cornelia with her orange-flowers and bridesmaids had just come down, and looked, as of old, a little squeezed in appearance, but very charming, when the door opened, and the weak-eyed young man, in a loud voice, made the following proclamation:
‘MR AND MRS TOOTS!’
Upon which there entered Mr Toots, grown extremely stout, and on his arm a lady very handsomely and becomingly dressed, with very bright black eyes.
‘Mrs Blimber,’ said Mr Toots, ‘allow me to present my wife.’
Mrs Blimber was delighted to receive her. Mrs Blimber was a little condescending, but extremely kind.
‘And as you’ve known me for a long time, you know,’ said Mr Toots, ‘let me assure you that she is one of the most remarkable women that ever lived.’
‘My dear!’ remonstrated Mrs Toots.
‘Upon my word and honour she is,’ said Mr Toots. ‘I—I assure you, Mrs Blimber, she’s a most extraordinary woman.’
Mrs Toots laughed merrily, and Mrs Blimber led her to Cornelia. Mr Toots having paid his respects in that direction and having saluted his old preceptor, who said, in allusion to his conjugal state, ‘Well, Toots, well, Toots! So you are one of us, are you, Toots?’—retired with Mr Feeder, B.A., into a window.
Mr Feeder, B.A., being in great spirits, made a spar at Mr Toots, and tapped him skilfully with the back of his hand on the breastbone.
‘Well, old Buck!’ said Mr Feeder with a laugh. ‘Well! Here we are! Taken in and done for. Eh?’
‘Feeder,’ returned Mr Toots. ‘I give you joy. If you’re as—as—as perfectly blissful in a matrimonial life, as I am myself, you’ll have nothing to desire.’
‘I don’t forget my old friends, you see,’ said Mr Feeder. ‘I ask em to my wedding, Toots.’
‘Feeder,’ replied Mr Toots gravely, ‘the fact is, that there were several circumstances which prevented me from communicating with you until after my marriage had been solemnised. In the first place, I had made a perfect brute of myself to you, on the subject of Miss Dombey; and I felt that if you were asked to any wedding of mine, you would naturally expect that it was with Miss Dombey, which involved explanations, that upon my word and honour, at that crisis, would have knocked me completely over. In the second place, our wedding was strictly private; there being nobody present but one friend of myself and Mrs Toots’s, who is a Captain in—I don’t exactly know in what,’ said Mr Toots, ‘but it’s of no consequence. I hope, Feeder, that in writing a statement of what had occurred before Mrs Toots and myself went abroad upon our foreign tour, I fully discharged the offices of friendship.’
‘Toots, my boy,’ said Mr Feeder, shaking his hands, ‘I was joking.’
‘And now, Feeder,’ said Mr Toots, ‘I should be glad to know what you think of my union.’
‘Capital!’ returned Mr Feeder.
‘You think it’s capital, do you, Feeder?’ said Mr Toots solemnly. ‘Then how capital must it be to Me! For you can never know what an extraordinary woman that is.’
Mr Feeder was willing to take it for granted. But Mr Toots shook his head, and wouldn’t hear of that being possible.
‘You see,’ said Mr Toots, ‘what I wanted in a wife was—in short, was sense. Money, Feeder, I had. Sense I—I had not, particularly.’
Mr Feeder murmured, ‘Oh, yes, you had, Toots!’ But Mr Toots said:
‘No, Feeder, I had not. Why should I disguise it? I had not. I knew that sense was There,’ said Mr Toots, stretching out his hand towards his wife, ‘in perfect heaps. I had no relation to object or be offended, on the score of station; for I had no relation. I have never had anybody belonging to me but my guardian, and him, Feeder, I have always considered as a Pirate and a Corsair. Therefore, you know it was not likely,’ said Mr Toots, ‘that I should take his opinion.’
‘No,’ said Mr Feeder.
‘Accordingly,’ resumed Mr Toots, ‘I acted on my own. Bright was the day on which I did so! Feeder! Nobody but myself can tell what the capacity of that woman’s mind is. If ever the Rights of Women, and all that kind of thing, are properly attended to, it will be through her powerful intellect—Susan, my dear!’ said Mr Toots, looking abruptly out of the windows ‘pray do not exert yourself!’
‘My dear,’ said Mrs Toots, ‘I was only talking.’
‘But, my love,’ said Mr Toots, ‘pray do not exert yourself. You really must be careful. Do not, my dear Susan, exert yourself. She’s so easily excited,’ said Mr Toots, apart to Mrs Blimber, ‘and then she forgets the medical man altogether.’
Mrs Blimber was impressing on Mrs Toots the necessity of caution, when Mr Feeder, B.A., offered her his arm, and led her down to the carriages that were waiting to go to church. Doctor Blimber escorted Mrs Toots. Mr Toots escorted the fair bride, around whose lambent spectacles two gauzy little bridesmaids fluttered like moths. Mr Feeder’s brother, Mr Alfred Feeder, M.A., had already gone on, in advance, to assume his official functions.
The ceremony was performed in an admirable manner. Cornelia, with her crisp little curls, ‘went in,’ as the Chicken might have said, with great composure; and Doctor Blimber gave her away, like a man who had quite made up his mind to it. The gauzy little bridesmaids appeared to suffer most. Mrs Blimber was affected, but gently so; and told the Reverend Mr Alfred Feeder, M.A., on the way home, that if she could only have seen Cicero in his retirement at Tusculum, she would not have had a wish, now, ungratified.
There was a breakfast afterwards, limited to the same small party; at which the spirits of Mr Feeder, B.A., were tremendous, and so communicated themselves to Mrs Toots that Mr Toots was several times heard to observe, across the table, ‘My dear Susan, don’t exert yourself!’ The best of it was, that Mr Toots felt it incumbent on him to make a speech; and in spite of a whole code of telegraphic dissuasions from Mrs Toots, appeared on his legs for the first time in his life.
‘I really,’ said Mr Toots, ‘in this house, where whatever was done to me in the way of—of any mental confusion sometimes—which is of no consequence and I impute to nobody—I was always treated like one of Doctor Blimber’s family, and had a desk to myself for a considerable period—can—not—allow—my friend Feeder to be—’
Mrs Toots suggested ‘married.’
‘It may not be inappropriate to the occasion, or altogether uninteresting,’ said Mr Toots with a delighted face, ‘to observe that my wife is a most extraordinary woman, and would do this much better than myself—allow my friend Feeder to be married—especially to—’
Mrs Toots suggested ‘to Miss Blimber.’
‘To Mrs Feeder, my love!’ said Mr Toots, in a subdued tone of private discussion: “‘whom God hath joined,” you know, “let no man”—don’t you know? I cannot allow my friend Feeder to be married—especially to Mrs Feeder—without proposing their—their—Toasts; and may,’ said Mr Toots, fixing his eyes on his wife, as if for inspiration in a high flight, ‘may the torch of Hymen be the beacon of joy, and may the flowers we have this day strewed in their path, be the—the banishers of—of gloom!’
Doctor Blimber, who had a taste for metaphor, was pleased with this, and said, ‘Very good, Toots! Very well said, indeed, Toots!’ and nodded his head and patted his hands. Mr Feeder made in reply, a comic speech chequered with sentiment. Mr Alfred Feeder, M.A., was afterwards very happy on Doctor and Mrs Blimber; Mr Feeder, B.A., scarcely less so, on the gauzy little bridesmaids. Doctor Blimber then, in a sonorous voice, delivered a few thoughts in the pastoral style, relative to the rushes among which it was the intention of himself and Mrs Blimber to dwell, and the bee that would hum around their cot. Shortly after which, as the Doctor’s eyes were twinkling in a remarkable manner, and his son-in-law had already observed that time was made for slaves, and had inquired whether Mrs Toots sang, the discreet Mrs Blimber dissolved the sitting, and sent Cornelia away, very cool and comfortable, in a post-chaise, with the man of her heart.
Mr and Mrs Toots withdrew to the Bedford (Mrs Toots had been there before in old times, under her maiden name of Nipper), and there found a letter, which it took Mr Toots such an enormous time to read, that Mrs Toots was frightened.
‘My dear Susan,’ said Mr Toots, ‘fright is worse than exertion. Pray be calm!’
‘Who is it from?’ asked Mrs Toots.
‘Why, my love,’ said Mr Toots, ‘it’s from Captain Gills. Do not excite yourself. Walters and Miss Dombey are expected home!’
‘My dear,’ said Mrs Toots, raising herself quickly from the sofa, very pale, ‘don’t try to deceive me, for it’s no use, they’re come home—I see it plainly in your face!’
‘She’s a most extraordinary woman!’ exclaimed Mr Toots, in rapturous admiration. ‘You’re perfectly right, my love, they have come home. Miss Dombey has seen her father, and they are reconciled!’
‘Reconciled!’ cried Mrs Toots, clapping her hands.
‘My dear,’ said Mr Toots; ‘pray do not exert yourself. Do remember the medical man! Captain Gills says—at least he don’t say, but I imagine, from what I can make out, he means—that Miss Dombey has brought her unfortunate father away from his old house, to one where she and Walters are living; that he is lying very ill there—supposed to be dying; and that she attends upon him night and day.’
Mrs Toots began to cry quite bitterly.
‘My dearest Susan,’ replied Mr Toots, ‘do, do, if you possibly can, remember the medical man! If you can’t, it’s of no consequence—but do endeavour to!’
His wife, with her old manner suddenly restored, so pathetically entreated him to take her to her precious pet, her little mistress, her own darling, and the like, that Mr Toots, whose sympathy and admiration were of the strongest kind, consented from his very heart of hearts; and they agreed to depart immediately, and present themselves in answer to the Captain’s letter.
Now some hidden sympathies of things, or some coincidences, had that day brought the Captain himself (toward whom Mr and Mrs Toots were soon journeying) into the flowery train of wedlock; not as a principal, but as an accessory. It happened accidentally, and thus:
The Captain, having seen Florence and her baby for a moment, to his unbounded content, and having had a long talk with Walter, turned out for a walk; feeling it necessary to have some solitary meditation on the changes of human affairs, and to shake his glazed hat profoundly over the fall of Mr Dombey, for whom the generosity and simplicity of his nature were awakened in a lively manner. The Captain would have been very low, indeed, on the unhappy gentleman’s account, but for the recollection of the baby; which afforded him such intense satisfaction whenever it arose, that he laughed aloud as he went along the street, and, indeed, more than once, in a sudden impulse of joy, threw up his glazed hat and caught it again; much to the amazement of the spectators. The rapid alternations of light and shade to which these two conflicting subjects of reflection exposed the Captain, were so very trying to his spirits, that he felt a long walk necessary to his composure; and as there is a great deal in the influence of harmonious associations, he chose, for the scene of this walk, his old neighbourhood, down among the mast, oar, and block makers, ship-biscuit bakers, coal-whippers, pitch-kettles, sailors, canals, docks, swing-bridges, and other soothing objects.
These peaceful scenes, and particularly the region of Limehouse Hole and thereabouts, were so influential in calming the Captain, that he walked on with restored tranquillity, and was, in fact, regaling himself, under his breath, with the ballad of Lovely Peg, when, on turning a corner, he was suddenly transfixed and rendered speechless by a triumphant procession that he beheld advancing towards him.
This awful demonstration was headed by that determined woman Mrs MacStinger, who, preserving a countenance of inexorable resolution, and wearing conspicuously attached to her obdurate bosom a stupendous watch and appendages, which the Captain recognised at a glance as the property of Bunsby, conducted under her arm no other than that sagacious mariner; he, with the distraught and melancholy visage of a captive borne into a foreign land, meekly resigning himself to her will. Behind them appeared the young MacStingers, in a body, exulting. Behind them, two ladies of a terrible and steadfast aspect, leading between them a short gentleman in a tall hat, who likewise exulted. In the wake, appeared Bunsby’s boy, bearing umbrellas. The whole were in good marching order; and a dreadful smartness that pervaded the party would have sufficiently announced, if the intrepid countenances of the ladies had been wanting, that it was a procession of sacrifice, and that the victim was Bunsby.
The first impulse of the Captain was to run away. This also appeared to be the first impulse of Bunsby, hopeless as its execution must have proved. But a cry of recognition proceeding from the party, and Alexander MacStinger running up to the Captain with open arms, the Captain struck.
‘Well, Cap’en Cuttle!’ said Mrs MacStinger. ‘This is indeed a meeting! I bear no malice now, Cap’en Cuttle—you needn’t fear that I’m a going to cast any reflections. I hope to go to the altar in another spirit.’ Here Mrs MacStinger paused, and drawing herself up, and inflating her bosom with a long breath, said, in allusion to the victim, ‘My ‘usband, Cap’en Cuttle!’
The abject Bunsby looked neither to the right nor to the left, nor at his bride, nor at his friend, but straight before him at nothing. The Captain putting out his hand, Bunsby put out his; but, in answer to the Captain’s greeting, spake no word.
‘Cap’en Cuttle,’ said Mrs MacStinger, ‘if you would wish to heal up past animosities, and to see the last of your friend, my ‘usband, as a single person, we should be ‘appy of your company to chapel. Here is a lady here,’ said Mrs MacStinger, turning round to the more intrepid of the two, ‘my bridesmaid, that will be glad of your protection, Cap’en Cuttle.’
The short gentleman in the tall hat, who it appeared was the husband of the other lady, and who evidently exulted at the reduction of a fellow creature to his own condition, gave place at this, and resigned the lady to Captain Cuttle. The lady immediately seized him, and, observing that there was no time to lose, gave the word, in a strong voice, to advance.
The Captain’s concern for his friend, not unmingled, at first, with some concern for himself—for a shadowy terror that he might be married by violence, possessed him, until his knowledge of the service came to his relief, and remembering the legal obligation of saying, ‘I will,’ he felt himself personally safe so long as he resolved, if asked any question, distinctly to reply ‘I won’t’—threw him into a profuse perspiration; and rendered him, for a time, insensible to the movements of the procession, of which he now formed a feature, and to the conversation of his fair companion. But as he became less agitated, he learnt from this lady that she was the widow of a Mr Bokum, who had held an employment in the Custom House; that she was the dearest friend of Mrs MacStinger, whom she considered a pattern for her sex; that she had often heard of the Captain, and now hoped he had repented of his past life; that she trusted Mr Bunsby knew what a blessing he had gained, but that she feared men seldom did know what such blessings were, until they had lost them; with more to the same purpose.
All this time, the Captain could not but observe that Mrs Bokum kept her eyes steadily on the bridegroom, and that whenever they came near a court or other narrow turning which appeared favourable for flight, she was on the alert to cut him off if he attempted escape. The other lady, too, as well as her husband, the short gentleman with the tall hat, were plainly on guard, according to a preconcerted plan; and the wretched man was so secured by Mrs MacStinger, that any effort at self-preservation by flight was rendered futile. This, indeed, was apparent to the mere populace, who expressed their perception of the fact by jeers and cries; to all of which, the dread MacStinger was inflexibly indifferent, while Bunsby himself appeared in a state of unconsciousness.
The Captain made many attempts to accost the philosopher, if only in a monosyllable or a signal; but always failed, in consequence of the vigilance of the guard, and the difficulty, at all times peculiar to Bunsby’s constitution, of having his attention aroused by any outward and visible sign whatever. Thus they approached the chapel, a neat whitewashed edifice, recently engaged by the Reverend Melchisedech Howler, who had consented, on very urgent solicitation, to give the world another two years of existence, but had informed his followers that, then, it must positively go.
While the Reverend Melchisedech was offering up some extemporary orisons, the Captain found an opportunity of growling in the bridegroom’s ear:
‘What cheer, my lad, what cheer?’
To which Bunsby replied, with a forgetfulness of the Reverend Melchisedech, which nothing but his desperate circumstances could have excused:
‘Jack Bunsby,’ whispered the Captain, ‘do you do this here, of your own free will?’
Mr Bunsby answered ‘No.’
‘Why do you do it, then, my lad?’ inquired the Captain, not unnaturally.
Bunsby, still looking, and always looking with an immovable countenance, at the opposite side of the world, made no reply.
‘Why not sheer off?’ said the Captain. ‘Eh?’ whispered Bunsby, with a momentary gleam of hope.
‘Sheer off,’ said the Captain.
‘Where’s the good?’ retorted the forlorn sage. ‘She’d capter me agen.’
‘Try!’ replied the Captain. ‘Cheer up! Come! Now’s your time. Sheer off, Jack Bunsby!’
Jack Bunsby, however, instead of profiting by the advice, said in a doleful whisper:
‘It all began in that there chest o’ yourn. Why did I ever conwoy her into port that night?’
‘My lad,’ faltered the Captain, ‘I thought as you had come over her; not as she had come over you. A man as has got such opinions as you have!’
Mr Bunsby merely uttered a suppressed groan.
‘Come!’ said the Captain, nudging him with his elbow, ‘now’s your time! Sheer off! I’ll cover your retreat. The time’s a flying. Bunsby! It’s for liberty. Will you once?’
Bunsby was immovable.
‘Bunsby!’ whispered the Captain, ‘will you twice?’
Bunsby wouldn’t twice.
‘Bunsby!’ urged the Captain, ‘it’s for liberty; will you three times? Now or never!’
Bunsby didn’t then, and didn’t ever; for Mrs MacStinger immediately afterwards married him.
One of the most frightful circumstances of the ceremony to the Captain, was the deadly interest exhibited therein by Juliana MacStinger; and the fatal concentration of her faculties, with which that promising child, already the image of her parent, observed the whole proceedings. The Captain saw in this a succession of man-traps stretching out infinitely; a series of ages of oppression and coercion, through which the seafaring line was doomed. It was a more memorable sight than the unflinching steadiness of Mrs Bokum and the other lady, the exultation of the short gentleman in the tall hat, or even the fell inflexibility of Mrs MacStinger. The Master MacStingers understood little of what was going on, and cared less; being chiefly engaged, during the ceremony, in treading on one another’s half-boots; but the contrast afforded by those wretched infants only set off and adorned the precocious woman in Juliana. Another year or two, the Captain thought, and to lodge where that child was, would be destruction.
The ceremony was concluded by a general spring of the young family on Mr Bunsby, whom they hailed by the endearing name of father, and from whom they solicited half-pence. These gushes of affection over, the procession was about to issue forth again, when it was delayed for some little time by an unexpected transport on the part of Alexander MacStinger. That dear child, it seemed, connecting a chapel with tombstones, when it was entered for any purpose apart from the ordinary religious exercises, could not be persuaded but that his mother was now to be decently interred, and lost to him for ever. In the anguish of this conviction, he screamed with astonishing force, and turned black in the face. However touching these marks of a tender disposition were to his mother, it was not in the character of that remarkable woman to permit her recognition of them to degenerate into weakness. Therefore, after vainly endeavouring to convince his reason by shakes, pokes, bawlings-out, and similar applications to his head, she led him into the air, and tried another method; which was manifested to the marriage party by a quick succession of sharp sounds, resembling applause, and subsequently, by their seeing Alexander in contact with the coolest paving-stone in the court, greatly flushed, and loudly lamenting.
The procession being then in a condition to form itself once more, and repair to Brig Place, where a marriage feast was in readiness, returned as it had come; not without the receipt, by Bunsby, of many humorous congratulations from the populace on his recently-acquired happiness. The Captain accompanied it as far as the house-door, but, being made uneasy by the gentler manner of Mrs Bokum, who, now that she was relieved from her engrossing duty—for the watchfulness and alacrity of the ladies sensibly diminished when the bridegroom was safely married—had greater leisure to show an interest in his behalf, there left it and the captive; faintly pleading an appointment, and promising to return presently. The Captain had another cause for uneasiness, in remorsefully reflecting that he had been the first means of Bunsby’s entrapment, though certainly without intending it, and through his unbounded faith in the resources of that philosopher.
To go back to old Sol Gills at the wooden Midshipman’s, and not first go round to ask how Mr Dombey was—albeit the house where he lay was out of London, and away on the borders of a fresh heath—was quite out of the Captain’s course. So he got a lift when he was tired, and made out the journey gaily.
The blinds were pulled down, and the house so quiet, that the Captain was almost afraid to knock; but listening at the door, he heard low voices within, very near it, and, knocking softly, was admitted by Mr Toots. Mr Toots and his wife had, in fact, just arrived there; having been at the Midshipman’s to seek him, and having there obtained the address.
They were not so recently arrived, but that Mrs Toots had caught the baby from somebody, taken it in her arms, and sat down on the stairs, hugging and fondling it. Florence was stooping down beside her; and no one could have said which Mrs Toots was hugging and fondling most, the mother or the child, or which was the tenderer, Florence of Mrs Toots, or Mrs Toots of her, or both of the baby; it was such a little group of love and agitation.
‘And is your Pa very ill, my darling dear Miss Floy?’ asked Susan.
‘He is very, very ill,’ said Florence. ‘But, Susan, dear, you must not speak to me as you used to speak. And what’s this?’ said Florence, touching her clothes, in amazement. ‘Your old dress, dear? Your old cap, curls, and all?’
Susan burst into tears, and showered kisses on the little hand that had touched her so wonderingly.
‘My dear Miss Dombey,’ said Mr Toots, stepping forward, ‘I’ll explain. She’s the most extraordinary woman. There are not many to equal her! She has always said—she said before we were married, and has said to this day—that whenever you came home, she’d come to you in no dress but the dress she used to serve you in, for fear she might seem strange to you, and you might like her less. I admire the dress myself,’ said Mr Toots, ‘of all things. I adore her in it! My dear Miss Dombey, she’ll be your maid again, your nurse, all that she ever was, and more. There’s no change in her. But, Susan, my dear,’ said Mr Toots, who had spoken with great feeling and high admiration, ‘all I ask is, that you’ll remember the medical man, and not exert yourself too much!’
CHAPTER 61. Relenting
Florence had need of help. Her father’s need of it was sore, and made the aid of her old friend invaluable. Death stood at his pillow. A shade, already, of what he had been, shattered in mind, and perilously sick in body, he laid his weary head down on the bed his daughter’s hands prepared for him, and had never raised it since.
She was always with him. He knew her, generally; though, in the wandering of his brain, he often confused the circumstances under which he spoke to her. Thus he would address her, sometimes, as if his boy were newly dead; and would tell her, that although he had said nothing of her ministering at the little bedside, yet he had seen it—he had seen it; and then would hide his face and sob, and put out his worn hand. Sometimes he would ask her for herself. ‘Where is Florence?’ ‘I am here, Papa, I am here.’ ‘I don’t know her!’ he would cry. ‘We have been parted so long, that I don’t know her!’ and then a staring dread would be upon him, until she could soothe his perturbation; and recall the tears she tried so hard, at other times, to dry.
He rambled through the scenes of his old pursuits—through many where Florence lost him as she listened—sometimes for hours. He would repeat that childish question, ‘What is money?’ and ponder on it, and think about it, and reason with himself, more or less connectedly, for a good answer; as if it had never been proposed to him until that moment. He would go on with a musing repetition of the title of his old firm twenty thousand times, and at every one of them, would turn his head upon his pillow. He would count his children—one—two—stop, and go back, and begin again in the same way.
But this was when his mind was in its most distracted state. In all the other phases of its illness, and in those to which it was most constant, it always turned on Florence. What he would oftenest do was this: he would recall that night he had so recently remembered, the night on which she came down to his room, and would imagine that his heart smote him, and that he went out after her, and up the stairs to seek her. Then, confounding that time with the later days of the many footsteps, he would be amazed at their number, and begin to count them as he followed her. Here, of a sudden, was a bloody footstep going on among the others; and after it there began to be, at intervals, doors standing open, through which certain terrible pictures were seen, in mirrors, of haggard men, concealing something in their breasts. Still, among the many footsteps and the bloody footsteps here and there, was the step of Florence. Still she was going on before. Still the restless mind went, following and counting, ever farther, ever higher, as to the summit of a mighty tower that it took years to climb.
One day he inquired if that were not Susan who had spoken a long while ago.
Florence said ‘Yes, dear Papa;’ and asked him would he like to see her?
He said ‘very much.’ And Susan, with no little trepidation, showed herself at his bedside.
It seemed a great relief to him. He begged her not to go; to understand that he forgave her what she had said; and that she was to stay. Florence and he were very different now, he said, and very happy. Let her look at this! He meant his drawing the gentle head down to his pillow, and laying it beside him.
He remained like this for days and weeks. At length, lying, the faint feeble semblance of a man, upon his bed, and speaking in a voice so low that they could only hear him by listening very near to his lips, he became quiet. It was dimly pleasant to him now, to lie there, with the window open, looking out at the summer sky and the trees: and, in the evening, at the sunset. To watch the shadows of the clouds and leaves, and seem to feel a sympathy with shadows. It was natural that he should. To him, life and the world were nothing else.
He began to show now that he thought of Florence’s fatigue: and often taxed his weakness to whisper to her, ‘Go and walk, my dearest, in the sweet air. Go to your good husband!’ One time when Walter was in his room, he beckoned him to come near, and to stoop down; and pressing his hand, whispered an assurance to him that he knew he could trust him with his child when he was dead.
It chanced one evening, towards sunset, when Florence and Walter were sitting in his room together, as he liked to see them, that Florence, having her baby in her arms, began in a low voice to sing to the little fellow, and sang the old tune she had so often sung to the dead child: He could not bear it at the time; he held up his trembling hand, imploring her to stop; but next day he asked her to repeat it, and to do so often of an evening: which she did. He listening, with his face turned away.
Florence was sitting on a certain time by his window, with her work-basket between her and her old attendant, who was still her faithful companion. He had fallen into a doze. It was a beautiful evening, with two hours of light to come yet; and the tranquillity and quiet made Florence very thoughtful. She was lost to everything for the moment, but the occasion when the so altered figure on the bed had first presented her to her beautiful Mama; when a touch from Walter leaning on the back of her chair, made her start.
‘My dear,’ said Walter, ‘there is someone downstairs who wishes to speak to you.’
She fancied Walter looked grave, and asked him if anything had happened.
‘No, no, my love!’ said Walter. ‘I have seen the gentleman myself, and spoken with him. Nothing has happened. Will you come?’
Florence put her arm through his; and confiding her father to the black-eyed Mrs Toots, who sat as brisk and smart at her work as black-eyed woman could, accompanied her husband downstairs. In the pleasant little parlour opening on the garden, sat a gentleman, who rose to advance towards her when she came in, but turned off, by reason of some peculiarity in his legs, and was only stopped by the table.
Florence then remembered Cousin Feenix, whom she had not at first recognised in the shade of the leaves. Cousin Feenix took her hand, and congratulated her upon her marriage.
‘I could have wished, I am sure,’ said Cousin Feenix, sitting down as Florence sat, ‘to have had an earlier opportunity of offering my congratulations; but, in point of fact, so many painful occurrences have happened, treading, as a man may say, on one another’s heels, that I have been in a devil of a state myself, and perfectly unfit for every description of society. The only description of society I have kept, has been my own; and it certainly is anything but flattering to a man’s good opinion of his own sources, to know that, in point of fact, he has the capacity of boring himself to a perfectly unlimited extent.’
Florence divined, from some indefinable constraint and anxiety in this gentleman’s manner—which was always a gentleman’s, in spite of the harmless little eccentricities that attached to it—and from Walter’s manner no less, that something more immediately tending to some object was to follow this.
‘I have been mentioning to my friend Mr Gay, if I may be allowed to have the honour of calling him so,’ said Cousin Feenix, ‘that I am rejoiced to hear that my friend Dombey is very decidedly mending. I trust my friend Dombey will not allow his mind to be too much preyed upon, by any mere loss of fortune. I cannot say that I have ever experienced any very great loss of fortune myself: never having had, in point of fact, any great amount of fortune to lose. But as much as I could lose, I have lost; and I don’t find that I particularly care about it. I know my friend Dombey to be a devilish honourable man; and it’s calculated to console my friend Dombey very much, to know, that this is the universal sentiment. Even Tommy Screwzer,—a man of an extremely bilious habit, with whom my friend Gay is probably acquainted—cannot say a syllable in disputation of the fact.’
Florence felt, more than ever, that there was something to come; and looked earnestly for it. So earnestly, that Cousin Feenix answered, as if she had spoken.
‘The fact is,’ said Cousin Feenix, ‘that my friend Gay and myself have been discussing the propriety of entreating a favour at your hands; and that I have the consent of my friend Gay—who has met me in an exceedingly kind and open manner, for which I am very much indebted to him—to solicit it. I am sensible that so amiable a lady as the lovely and accomplished daughter of my friend Dombey will not require much urging; but I am happy to know, that I am supported by my friend Gay’s influence and approval. As in my parliamentary time, when a man had a motion to make of any sort—which happened seldom in those days, for we were kept very tight in hand, the leaders on both sides being regular Martinets, which was a devilish good thing for the rank and file, like myself, and prevented our exposing ourselves continually, as a great many of us had a feverish anxiety to do—as, in my parliamentary time, I was about to say, when a man had leave to let off any little private popgun, it was always considered a great point for him to say that he had the happiness of believing that his sentiments were not without an echo in the breast of Mr Pitt; the pilot, in point of fact, who had weathered the storm. Upon which, a devilish large number of fellows immediately cheered, and put him in spirits. Though the fact is, that these fellows, being under orders to cheer most excessively whenever Mr Pitt’s name was mentioned, became so proficient that it always woke ‘em. And they were so entirely innocent of what was going on, otherwise, that it used to be commonly said by Conversation Brown—four-bottle man at the Treasury Board, with whom the father of my friend Gay was probably acquainted, for it was before my friend Gay’s time—that if a man had risen in his place, and said that he regretted to inform the house that there was an Honourable Member in the last stage of convulsions in the Lobby, and that the Honourable Member’s name was Pitt, the approbation would have been vociferous.’
This postponement of the point, put Florence in a flutter; and she looked from Cousin Feenix to Walter, in increasing agitation.
‘My love,’ said Walter, ‘there is nothing the matter.’
‘There is nothing the matter, upon my honour,’ said Cousin Feenix; ‘and I am deeply distressed at being the means of causing you a moment’s uneasiness. I beg to assure you that there is nothing the matter. The favour that I have to ask is, simply—but it really does seem so exceedingly singular, that I should be in the last degree obliged to my friend Gay if he would have the goodness to break the—in point of fact, the ice,’ said Cousin Feenix.
Walter thus appealed to, and appealed to no less in the look that Florence turned towards him, said:
‘My dearest, it is no more than this. That you will ride to London with this gentleman, whom you know.’
‘And my friend Gay, also—I beg your pardon!’ interrupted Cousin Feenix.
‘—And with me—and make a visit somewhere.’
‘To whom?’ asked Florence, looking from one to the other.
‘If I might entreat,’ said Cousin Feenix, ‘that you would not press for an answer to that question, I would venture to take the liberty of making the request.’
‘Do you know, Walter?’
‘And think it right?’
‘Yes. Only because I am sure that you would too. Though there may be reasons I very well understand, which make it better that nothing more should be said beforehand.’
‘If Papa is still asleep, or can spare me if he is awake, I will go immediately,’ said Florence. And rising quietly, and glancing at them with a look that was a little alarmed but perfectly confiding, left the room.
When she came back, ready to bear them company, they were talking together, gravely, at the window; and Florence could not but wonder what the topic was, that had made them so well acquainted in so short a time. She did not wonder at the look of pride and love with which her husband broke off as she entered; for she never saw him, but that rested on her.
‘I will leave,’ said Cousin Feenix, ‘a card for my friend Dombey, sincerely trusting that he will pick up health and strength with every returning hour. And I hope my friend Dombey will do me the favour to consider me a man who has a devilish warm admiration of his character, as, in point of fact, a British merchant and a devilish upright gentleman. My place in the country is in a most confounded state of dilapidation, but if my friend Dombey should require a change of air, and would take up his quarters there, he would find it a remarkably healthy spot—as it need be, for it’s amazingly dull. If my friend Dombey suffers from bodily weakness, and would allow me to recommend what has frequently done myself good, as a man who has been extremely queer at times, and who lived pretty freely in the days when men lived very freely, I should say, let it be in point of fact the yolk of an egg, beat up with sugar and nutmeg, in a glass of sherry, and taken in the morning with a slice of dry toast. Jackson, who kept the boxing-rooms in Bond Street—man of very superior qualifications, with whose reputation my friend Gay is no doubt acquainted—used to mention that in training for the ring they substituted rum for sherry. I should recommend sherry in this case, on account of my friend Dombey being in an invalided condition; which might occasion rum to fly—in point of fact to his head—and throw him into a devil of a state.’
Of all this, Cousin Feenix delivered himself with an obviously nervous and discomposed air. Then, giving his arm to Florence, and putting the strongest possible constraint upon his wilful legs, which seemed determined to go out into the garden, he led her to the door, and handed her into a carriage that was ready for her reception.
Walter entered after him, and they drove away.
Their ride was six or eight miles long. When they drove through certain dull and stately streets, lying westward in London, it was growing dusk. Florence had, by this time, put her hand in Walter’s; and was looking very earnestly, and with increasing agitation, into every new street into which they turned.
When the carriage stopped, at last, before that house in Brook Street, where her father’s unhappy marriage had been celebrated, Florence said, ‘Walter, what is this? Who is here?’ Walter cheering her, and not replying, she glanced up at the house-front, and saw that all the windows were shut, as if it were uninhabited. Cousin Feenix had by this time alighted, and was offering his hand.
‘Are you not coming, Walter?’
‘No, I will remain here. Don’t tremble there is nothing to fear, dearest Florence.’
‘I know that, Walter, with you so near. I am sure of that, but—’
The door was softly opened, without any knock, and Cousin Feenix led her out of the summer evening air into the close dull house. More sombre and brown than ever, it seemed to have been shut up from the wedding-day, and to have hoarded darkness and sadness ever since.
Florence ascended the dusky staircase, trembling; and stopped, with her conductor, at the drawing-room door. He opened it, without speaking, and signed an entreaty to her to advance into the inner room, while he remained there. Florence, after hesitating an instant, complied.
Sitting by the window at a table, where she seemed to have been writing or drawing, was a lady, whose head, turned away towards the dying light, was resting on her hand. Florence advancing, doubtfully, all at once stood still, as if she had lost the power of motion. The lady turned her head.
‘Great Heaven!’ she said, ‘what is this?’
‘No, no!’ cried Florence, shrinking back as she rose up and putting out her hands to keep her off. ‘Mama!’
They stood looking at each other. Passion and pride had worn it, but it was the face of Edith, and beautiful and stately yet. It was the face of Florence, and through all the terrified avoidance it expressed, there was pity in it, sorrow, a grateful tender memory. On each face, wonder and fear were painted vividly; each so still and silent, looking at the other over the black gulf of the irrevocable past.
Florence was the first to change. Bursting into tears, she said from her full heart, ‘Oh, Mama, Mama! why do we meet like this? Why were you ever kind to me when there was no one else, that we should meet like this?’
Edith stood before her, dumb and motionless. Her eyes were fixed upon her face.
‘I dare not think of that,’ said Florence, ‘I am come from Papa’s sick bed. We are never asunder now; we never shall be’ any more. If you would have me ask his pardon, I will do it, Mama. I am almost sure he will grant it now, if I ask him. May Heaven grant it to you, too, and comfort you!’
She answered not a word.
‘Walter—I am married to him, and we have a son,’ said Florence, timidly—‘is at the door, and has brought me here. I will tell him that you are repentant; that you are changed,’ said Florence, looking mournfully upon her; ‘and he will speak to Papa with me, I know. Is there anything but this that I can do?’
Edith, breaking her silence, without moving eye or limb, answered slowly:
‘The stain upon your name, upon your husband’s, on your child’s. Will that ever be forgiven, Florence?’
‘Will it ever be, Mama? It is! Freely, freely, both by Walter and by me. If that is any consolation to you, there is nothing that you may believe more certainly. You do not—you do not,’ faltered Florence, ‘speak of Papa; but I am sure you wish that I should ask him for his forgiveness. I am sure you do.’
She answered not a word.
‘I will!’ said Florence. ‘I will bring it you, if you will let me; and then, perhaps, we may take leave of each other, more like what we used to be to one another. I have not,’ said Florence very gently, and drawing nearer to her, ‘I have not shrunk back from you, Mama, because I fear you, or because I dread to be disgraced by you. I only wish to do my duty to Papa. I am very dear to him, and he is very dear to me. But I never can forget that you were very good to me. Oh, pray to Heaven,’ cried Florence, falling on her bosom, ‘pray to Heaven, Mama, to forgive you all this sin and shame, and to forgive me if I cannot help doing this (if it is wrong), when I remember what you used to be!’
Edith, as if she fell beneath her touch, sunk down on her knees, and caught her round the neck.
‘Florence!’ she cried. ‘My better angel! Before I am mad again, before my stubbornness comes back and strikes me dumb, believe me, upon my soul I am innocent!’
‘Guilty of much! Guilty of that which sets a waste between us evermore. Guilty of what must separate me, through the whole remainder of my life, from purity and innocence—from you, of all the earth. Guilty of a blind and passionate resentment, of which I do not, cannot, will not, even now, repent; but not guilty with that dead man. Before God!’
Upon her knees upon the ground, she held up both her hands, and swore it.
‘Florence!’ she said, ‘purest and best of natures,—whom I love—who might have changed me long ago, and did for a time work some change even in the woman that I am,—believe me, I am innocent of that; and once more, on my desolate heart, let me lay this dear head, for the last time!’
She was moved and weeping. Had she been oftener thus in older days, she had been happier now.
‘There is nothing else in all the world,’ she said, ‘that would have wrung denial from me. No love, no hatred, no hope, no threat. I said that I would die, and make no sign. I could have done so, and I would, if we had never met, Florence.’
‘I trust,’ said Cousin Feenix, ambling in at the door, and speaking, half in the room, and half out of it, ‘that my lovely and accomplished relative will excuse my having, by a little stratagem, effected this meeting. I cannot say that I was, at first, wholly incredulous as to the possibility of my lovely and accomplished relative having, very unfortunately, committed herself with the deceased person with white teeth; because in point of fact, one does see, in this world—which is remarkable for devilish strange arrangements, and for being decidedly the most unintelligible thing within a man’s experience—very odd conjunctions of that sort. But as I mentioned to my friend Dombey, I could not admit the criminality of my lovely and accomplished relative until it was perfectly established. And feeling, when the deceased person was, in point of fact, destroyed in a devilish horrible manner, that her position was a very painful one—and feeling besides that our family had been a little to blame in not paying more attention to her, and that we are a careless family—and also that my aunt, though a devilish lively woman, had perhaps not been the very best of mothers—I took the liberty of seeking her in France, and offering her such protection as a man very much out at elbows could offer. Upon which occasion, my lovely and accomplished relative did me the honour to express that she believed I was, in my way, a devilish good sort of fellow; and that therefore she put herself under my protection. Which in point of fact I understood to be a kind thing on the part of my lovely and accomplished relative, as I am getting extremely shaky, and have derived great comfort from her solicitude.’
Edith, who had taken Florence to a sofa, made a gesture with her hand as if she would have begged him to say no more.
‘My lovely and accomplished relative,’ resumed Cousin Feenix, still ambling about at the door, ‘will excuse me, if, for her satisfaction, and my own, and that of my friend Dombey, whose lovely and accomplished daughter we so much admire, I complete the thread of my observations. She will remember that, from the first, she and I never alluded to the subject of her elopement. My impression, certainly, has always been, that there was a mystery in the affair which she could explain if so inclined. But my lovely and accomplished relative being a devilish resolute woman, I knew that she was not, in point of fact, to be trifled with, and therefore did not involve myself in any discussions. But, observing lately, that her accessible point did appear to be a very strong description of tenderness for the daughter of my friend Dombey, it occurred to me that if I could bring about a meeting, unexpected on both sides, it might lead to beneficial results. Therefore, we being in London, in the present private way, before going to the South of Italy, there to establish ourselves, in point of fact, until we go to our long homes, which is a devilish disagreeable reflection for a man, I applied myself to the discovery of the residence of my friend Gay—handsome man of an uncommonly frank disposition, who is probably known to my lovely and accomplished relative—and had the happiness of bringing his amiable wife to the present place. And now,’ said Cousin Feenix, with a real and genuine earnestness shining through the levity of his manner and his slipshod speech, ‘I do conjure my relative, not to stop half way, but to set right, as far as she can, whatever she has done wrong—not for the honour of her family, not for her own fame, not for any of those considerations which unfortunate circumstances have induced her to regard as hollow, and in point of fact, as approaching to humbug—but because it is wrong, and not right.’
Cousin Feenix’s legs consented to take him away after this; and leaving them alone together, he shut the door.
Edith remained silent for some minutes, with Florence sitting close beside her. Then she took from her bosom a sealed paper.
‘I debated with myself a long time,’ she said in a low voice, ‘whether to write this at all, in case of dying suddenly or by accident, and feeling the want of it upon me. I have deliberated, ever since, when and how to destroy it. Take it, Florence. The truth is written in it.’
‘Is it for Papa?’ asked Florence.
‘It is for whom you will,’ she answered. ‘It is given to you, and is obtained by you. He never could have had it otherwise.’
Again they sat silent, in the deepening darkness.
‘Mama,’ said Florence, ‘he has lost his fortune; he has been at the point of death; he may not recover, even now. Is there any word that I shall say to him from you?’
‘Did you tell me,’ asked Edith, ‘that you were very dear to him?’
‘Yes!’ said Florence, in a thrilling voice.
‘Tell him I am sorry that we ever met.’
‘No more?’ said Florence after a pause.
‘Tell him, if he asks, that I do not repent of what I have done—not yet—for if it were to do again to-morrow, I should do it. But if he is a changed man—-’
She stopped. There was something in the silent touch of Florence’s hand that stopped her.
‘—But that being a changed man, he knows, now, it would never be. Tell him I wish it never had been.’
‘May I say,’ said Florence, ‘that you grieved to hear of the afflictions he has suffered?’
‘Not,’ she replied, ‘if they have taught him that his daughter is very dear to him. He will not grieve for them himself, one day, if they have brought that lesson, Florence.’
‘You wish well to him, and would have him happy. I am sure you would!’ said Florence. ‘Oh! let me be able, if I have the occasion at some future time, to say so?’
Edith sat with her dark eyes gazing steadfastly before her, and did not reply until Florence had repeated her entreaty; when she drew her hand within her arm, and said, with the same thoughtful gaze upon the night outside:
‘Tell him that if, in his own present, he can find any reason to compassionate my past, I sent word that I asked him to do so. Tell him that if, in his own present, he can find a reason to think less bitterly of me, I asked him to do so. Tell him, that, dead as we are to one another, never more to meet on this side of eternity, he knows there is one feeling in common between us now, that there never was before.’
Her sternness seemed to yield, and there were tears in her dark eyes.
‘I trust myself to that,’ she said, ‘for his better thoughts of me, and mine of him. When he loves his Florence most, he will hate me least. When he is most proud and happy in her and her children, he will be most repentant of his own part in the dark vision of our married life. At that time, I will be repentant too—let him know it then—and think that when I thought so much of all the causes that had made me what I was, I needed to have allowed more for the causes that had made him what he was. I will try, then, to forgive him his share of blame. Let him try to forgive me mine!’
‘Oh Mama!’ said Florence. ‘How it lightens my heart, even in such a strange meeting and parting, to hear this!’
‘Strange words in my own ears,’ said Edith, ‘and foreign to the sound of my own voice! But even if I had been the wretched creature I have given him occasion to believe me, I think I could have said them still, hearing that you and he were very dear to one another. Let him, when you are dearest, ever feel that he is most forbearing in his thoughts of me—that I am most forbearing in my thoughts of him! Those are the last words I send him! Now, goodbye, my life!’
She clasped her in her arms, and seemed to pour out all her woman’s soul of love and tenderness at once.
‘This kiss for your child! These kisses for a blessing on your head! My own dear Florence, my sweet girl, farewell!’
‘To meet again!’ cried Florence.
‘Never again! Never again! When you leave me in this dark room, think that you have left me in the grave. Remember only that I was once, and that I loved you!’
And Florence left her, seeing her face no more, but accompanied by her embraces and caresses to the last.
Cousin Feenix met her at the door, and took her down to Walter in the dingy dining room, upon whose shoulder she laid her head weeping.
‘I am devilish sorry,’ said Cousin Feenix, lifting his wristbands to his eyes in the simplest manner possible, and without the least concealment, ‘that the lovely and accomplished daughter of my friend Dombey and amiable wife of my friend Gay, should have had her sensitive nature so very much distressed and cut up by the interview which is just concluded. But I hope and trust I have acted for the best, and that my honourable friend Dombey will find his mind relieved by the disclosures which have taken place. I exceedingly lament that my friend Dombey should have got himself, in point of fact, into the devil’s own state of conglomeration by an alliance with our family; but am strongly of opinion that if it hadn’t been for the infernal scoundrel Barker—man with white teeth—everything would have gone on pretty smoothly. In regard to my relative who does me the honour to have formed an uncommonly good opinion of myself, I can assure the amiable wife of my friend Gay, that she may rely on my being, in point of fact, a father to her. And in regard to the changes of human life, and the extraordinary manner in which we are perpetually conducting ourselves, all I can say is, with my friend Shakespeare—man who wasn’t for an age but for all time, and with whom my friend Gay is no doubt acquainted—that its like the shadow of a dream.’
CHAPTER 62. Final
A bottle that has been long excluded from the light of day, and is hoary with dust and cobwebs, has been brought into the sunshine; and the golden wine within it sheds a lustre on the table.
It is the last bottle of the old Madiera.
‘You are quite right, Mr Gills,’ says Mr Dombey. ‘This is a very rare and most delicious wine.’
The Captain, who is of the party, beams with joy. There is a very halo of delight round his glowing forehead.
‘We always promised ourselves, Sir,’ observes Mr Gills,’ Ned and myself, I mean—’
Mr Dombey nods at the Captain, who shines more and more with speechless gratification.
‘—that we would drink this, one day or other, to Walter safe at home: though such a home we never thought of. If you don’t object to our old whim, Sir, let us devote this first glass to Walter and his wife.’
‘To Walter and his wife!’ says Mr Dombey. ‘Florence, my child’—and turns to kiss her.
‘To Walter and his wife!’ says Mr Toots.
‘To Wal’r and his wife!’ exclaims the Captain. ‘Hooroar!’ and the Captain exhibiting a strong desire to clink his glass against some other glass, Mr Dombey, with a ready hand, holds out his. The others follow; and there is a blithe and merry ringing, as of a little peal of marriage bells.
Other buried wine grows older, as the old Madeira did in its time; and dust and cobwebs thicken on the bottles.
Mr Dombey is a white-haired gentleman, whose face bears heavy marks of care and suffering; but they are traces of a storm that has passed on for ever, and left a clear evening in its track.
Ambitious projects trouble him no more. His only pride is in his daughter and her husband. He has a silent, thoughtful, quiet manner, and is always with his daughter. Miss Tox is not infrequently of the family party, and is quite devoted to it, and a great favourite. Her admiration of her once stately patron is, and has been ever since the morning of her shock in Princess’s Place, platonic, but not weakened in the least.
Nothing has drifted to him from the wreck of his fortunes, but a certain annual sum that comes he knows not how, with an earnest entreaty that he will not seek to discover, and with the assurance that it is a debt, and an act of reparation. He has consulted with his old clerk about this, who is clear it may be honourably accepted, and has no doubt it arises out of some forgotten transaction in the times of the old House.
That hazel-eyed bachelor, a bachelor no more, is married now, and to the sister of the grey-haired Junior. He visits his old chief sometimes, but seldom. There is a reason in the greyhaired Junior’s history, and yet a stronger reason in his name, why he should keep retired from his old employer; and as he lives with his sister and her husband, they participate in that retirement. Walter sees them sometimes—Florence too—and the pleasant house resounds with profound duets arranged for the Piano-Forte and Violoncello, and with the labours of Harmonious Blacksmiths.
And how goes the wooden Midshipman in these changed days? Why, here he still is, right leg foremost, hard at work upon the hackney coaches, and more on the alert than ever, being newly painted from his cocked hat to his buckled shoes; and up above him, in golden characters, these names shine refulgent, GILLS AND CUTTLE.
Not another stroke of business does the Midshipman achieve beyond his usual easy trade. But they do say, in a circuit of some half-mile round the blue umbrella in Leadenhall Market, that some of Mr Gills’s old investments are coming out wonderfully well; and that instead of being behind the time in those respects, as he supposed, he was, in truth, a little before it, and had to wait the fulness of the time and the design. The whisper is that Mr Gills’s money has begun to turn itself, and that it is turning itself over and over pretty briskly. Certain it is that, standing at his shop-door, in his coffee-coloured suit, with his chronometer in his pocket, and his spectacles on his forehead, he don’t appear to break his heart at customers not coming, but looks very jovial and contented, though full as misty as of yore.
As to his partner, Captain Cuttle, there is a fiction of a business in the Captain’s mind which is better than any reality. The Captain is as satisfied of the Midshipman’s importance to the commerce and navigation of the country, as he could possibly be, if no ship left the Port of London without the Midshipman’s assistance. His delight in his own name over the door, is inexhaustible. He crosses the street, twenty times a day, to look at it from the other side of the way; and invariably says, on these occasions, ‘Ed’ard Cuttle, my lad, if your mother could ha’ know’d as you would ever be a man o’ science, the good old creetur would ha’ been took aback in-deed!’
But here is Mr Toots descending on the Midshipman with violent rapidity, and Mr Toots’s face is very red as he bursts into the little parlour.
‘Captain Gills,’ says Mr Toots, ‘and Mr Sols, I am happy to inform you that Mrs Toots has had an increase to her family.’
‘And it does her credit!’ cries the Captain.
‘I give you joy, Mr Toots!’ says old Sol.
‘Thank’ee,’ chuckles Mr Toots, ‘I’m very much obliged to you. I knew that you’d be glad to hear, and so I came down myself. We’re positively getting on, you know. There’s Florence, and Susan, and now here’s another little stranger.’
‘A female stranger?’ inquires the Captain.
‘Yes, Captain Gills,’ says Mr Toots, ‘and I’m glad of it. The oftener we can repeat that most extraordinary woman, my opinion is, the better!’
‘Stand by!’ says the Captain, turning to the old case-bottle with no throat—for it is evening, and the Midshipman’s usual moderate provision of pipes and glasses is on the board. ‘Here’s to her, and may she have ever so many more!’
‘Thank’ee, Captain Gills,’ says the delighted Mr Toots. ‘I echo the sentiment. If you’ll allow me, as my so doing cannot be unpleasant to anybody, under the circumstances, I think I’ll take a pipe.’
Mr Toots begins to smoke, accordingly, and in the openness of his heart is very loquacious.
‘Of all the remarkable instances that that delightful woman has given of her excellent sense, Captain Gills and Mr Sols,’ said Mr Toots, ‘I think none is more remarkable than the perfection with which she has understood my devotion to Miss Dombey.’
Both his auditors assent.
‘Because you know,’ says Mr Toots, ‘I have never changed my sentiments towards Miss Dombey. They are the same as ever. She is the same bright vision to me, at present, that she was before I made Walters’s acquaintance. When Mrs Toots and myself first began to talk of—in short, of the tender passion, you know, Captain Gills.’
‘Ay, ay, my lad,’ says the Captain, ‘as makes us all slue round—for which you’ll overhaul the book—’
‘I shall certainly do so, Captain Gills,’ says Mr Toots, with great earnestness; ‘when we first began to mention such subjects, I explained that I was what you may call a Blighted Flower, you know.’
The Captain approves of this figure greatly; and murmurs that no flower as blows, is like the rose.
‘But Lord bless me,’ pursues Mr Toots, ‘she was as entirely conscious of the state of my feelings as I was myself. There was nothing I could tell her. She was the only person who could have stood between me and the silent Tomb, and she did it, in a manner to command my everlasting admiration. She knows that there’s nobody in the world I look up to, as I do to Miss Dombey. Knows that there’s nothing on earth I wouldn’t do for Miss Dombey. She knows that I consider Miss Dombey the most beautiful, the most amiable, the most angelic of her sex. What is her observation upon that? The perfection of sense. “My dear, you’re right. I think so too.”’
‘And so do I!’ says the Captain.
‘So do I,’ says Sol Gills.
‘Then,’ resumes Mr Toots, after some contemplative pulling at his pipe, during which his visage has expressed the most contented reflection, ‘what an observant woman my wife is! What sagacity she possesses! What remarks she makes! It was only last night, when we were sitting in the enjoyment of connubial bliss—which, upon my word and honour, is a feeble term to express my feelings in the society of my wife—that she said how remarkable it was to consider the present position of our friend Walters. “Here,” observes my wife, “he is, released from sea-going, after that first long voyage with his young bride”—as you know he was, Mr Sols.’
‘Quite true,’ says the old Instrument-maker, rubbing his hands.
‘“Here he is,” says my wife, “released from that, immediately; appointed by the same establishment to a post of great trust and confidence at home; showing himself again worthy; mounting up the ladder with the greatest expedition; beloved by everybody; assisted by his uncle at the very best possible time of his fortunes”—which I think is the case, Mr Sols? My wife is always correct.’
‘Why yes, yes—some of our lost ships, freighted with gold, have come home, truly,’ returns old Sol, laughing. ‘Small craft, Mr Toots, but serviceable to my boy!’
‘Exactly so,’ says Mr Toots. ‘You’ll never find my wife wrong. “Here he is,” says that most remarkable woman, “so situated,—and what follows? What follows?” observed Mrs Toots. Now pray remark, Captain Gills, and Mr Sols, the depth of my wife’s penetration. “Why that, under the very eye of Mr Dombey, there is a foundation going on, upon which a—an Edifice;” that was Mrs Toots’s word,’ says Mr Toots exultingly, “‘is gradually rising, perhaps to equal, perhaps excel, that of which he was once the head, and the small beginnings of which (a common fault, but a bad one, Mrs Toots said) escaped his memory. Thus,” said my wife, “from his daughter, after all, another Dombey and Son will ascend”—no “rise;” that was Mrs Toots’s word—“triumphant!”’
Mr Toots, with the assistance of his pipe—which he is extremely glad to devote to oratorical purposes, as its proper use affects him with a very uncomfortable sensation—does such grand justice to this prophetic sentence of his wife’s, that the Captain, throwing away his glazed hat in a state of the greatest excitement, cries:
‘Sol Gills, you man of science and my ould pardner, what did I tell Wal’r to overhaul on that there night when he first took to business? Was it this here quotation, “Turn again Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, and when you are old you will never depart from it.” Was it them words, Sol Gills?’
‘It certainly was, Ned,’ replied the old Instrument-maker. ‘I remember well.’
‘Then I tell you what,’ says the Captain, leaning back in his chair, and composing his chest for a prodigious roar. ‘I’ll give you Lovely Peg right through; and stand by, both on you, for the chorus!’
Buried wine grows older, as the old Madeira did, in its time; and dust and cobwebs thicken on the bottles.
Autumn days are shining, and on the sea-beach there are often a young lady, and a white-haired gentleman. With them, or near them, are two children: boy and girl. And an old dog is generally in their company.
The white-haired gentleman walks with the little boy, talks with him, helps him in his play, attends upon him, watches him as if he were the object of his life. If he be thoughtful, the white-haired gentleman is thoughtful too; and sometimes when the child is sitting by his side, and looks up in his face, asking him questions, he takes the tiny hand in his, and holding it, forgets to answer. Then the child says:
‘What, grandpa! Am I so like my poor little Uncle again?’
‘Yes, Paul. But he was weak, and you are very strong.’
‘Oh yes, I am very strong.’
‘And he lay on a little bed beside the sea, and you can run about.’
And so they range away again, busily, for the white-haired gentleman likes best to see the child free and stirring; and as they go about together, the story of the bond between them goes about, and follows them.
But no one, except Florence, knows the measure of the white-haired gentleman’s affection for the girl. That story never goes about. The child herself almost wonders at a certain secrecy he keeps in it. He hoards her in his heart. He cannot bear to see a cloud upon her face. He cannot bear to see her sit apart. He fancies that she feels a slight, when there is none. He steals away to look at her, in her sleep. It pleases him to have her come, and wake him in the morning. He is fondest of her and most loving to her, when there is no creature by. The child says then, sometimes:
‘Dear grandpapa, why do you cry when you kiss me?’
He only answers, ‘Little Florence! little Florence!’ and smooths away the curls that shade her earnest eyes.
The voices in the waves speak low to him of Florence, day and night—plainest when he, his blooming daughter, and her husband, beside them in the evening, or sit at an open window, listening to their roar. They speak to him of Florence and his altered heart; of Florence and their ceaseless murmuring to her of the love, eternal and illimitable, extending still, beyond the sea, beyond the sky, to the invisible country far away.
Never from the mighty sea may voices rise too late, to come between us and the unseen region on the other shore! Better, far better, that they whispered of that region in our childish ears, and the swift river hurried us away!
PREFACE OF 1848
I cannot forego my usual opportunity of saying farewell to my readers in this greeting-place, though I have only to acknowledge the unbounded warmth and earnestness of their sympathy in every stage of the journey we have just concluded.
If any of them have felt a sorrow in one of the principal incidents on which this fiction turns, I hope it may be a sorrow of that sort which endears the sharers in it, one to another. This is not unselfish in me. I may claim to have felt it, at least as much as anybody else; and I would fain be remembered kindly for my part in the experience.
DEVONSHIRE TERRACE, Twenty-Fourth March, 1848.
PREFACE OF 1867
I make so bold as to believe that the faculty (or the habit) of correctly observing the characters of men, is a rare one. I have not even found, within my experience, that the faculty (or the habit) of correctly observing so much as the faces of men, is a general one by any means. The two commonest mistakes in judgement that I suppose to arise from the former default, are, the confounding of shyness with arrogance—a very common mistake indeed—and the not understanding that an obstinate nature exists in a perpetual struggle with itself.
Mr Dombey undergoes no violent change, either in this book, or in real life. A sense of his injustice is within him, all along. The more he represses it, the more unjust he necessarily is. Internal shame and external circumstances may bring the contest to a close in a week, or a day; but, it has been a contest for years, and is only fought out after a long balance of victory.
I began this book by the Lake of Geneva, and went on with it for some months in France, before pursuing it in England. The association between the writing and the place of writing is so curiously strong in my mind, that at this day, although I know, in my fancy, every stair in the little midshipman’s house, and could swear to every pew in the church in which Florence was married, or to every young gentleman’s bedstead in Doctor Blimber’s establishment, I yet confusedly imagine Captain Cuttle as secluding himself from Mrs MacStinger among the mountains of Switzerland. Similarly, when I am reminded by any chance of what it was that the waves were always saying, my remembrance wanders for a whole winter night about the streets of Paris—as I restlessly did with a heavy heart, on the night when I had written the chapter in which my little friend and I parted company.