Dombey and Son
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mentioning to you, Edith has only to do us the favour to suggest her
own time for its execution.'
Edith sat like a handsome statue; as cold, as silent, and as still.
'My dearest love,' said Cleopatra, 'do you hear what Mr Dombey
says? Ah, my dear Dombey!' aside to that gentleman, 'how her absence,
as the time approaches, reminds me of the days, when that most
agreeable of creatures, her Papa, was in your situation!'
'I have nothing to suggest. It shall be when you please,' said
Edith, scarcely looking over the table at Mr Dombey.
'To-morrow?' suggested Mr Dombey.
'If you please.'
'Or would next day,' said Mr Dombey, 'suit your engagements
'I have no engagements. I am always at your disposal. Let it be
when you like.'
'No engagements, my dear Edith!' remonstrated her mother, 'when you
are in a most terrible state of flurry all day long, and have a
thousand and one appointments with all sorts of trades-people!'
'They are of your making,' returned Edith, turning on her with a
slight contraction of her brow. 'You and Mr Dombey can arrange between
'Very true indeed, my love, and most considerate of you!' said
Cleopatra. 'My darling Florence, you must really come and kiss me once
more, if you please, my dear!'
Singular coincidence, that these gushes of interest In Florence
hurried Cleopatra away from almost every dialogue in which Edith had a
share, however trifling! Florence had certainly never undergone so
much embracing, and perhaps had never been, unconsciously, so useful
in her life.
Mr Dombey was far from quarrelling, in his own breast, with the
manner of his beautiful betrothed. He had that good reason for
sympathy with haughtiness and coldness, which is found In a
fellow-feeling. It flattered him to think how these deferred to him,
in Edith's case, and seemed to have no will apart from his. It
flattered him to picture to himself, this proud and stately woman
doing the honours of his house, and chilling his guests after his own
manner. The dignity of Dombey and Son would be heightened and
maintained, indeed, in such hands.
So thought Mr Dombey, when he was left alone at the dining-table,
and mused upon his past and future fortunes: finding no uncongeniality
in an air of scant and gloomy state that pervaded the room, in colour
a dark brown, with black hatchments of pictures blotching the walls,
and twenty-four black chairs, with almost as many nails in them as so
many coffins, waiting like mutes, upon the threshold of the Turkey
carpet; and two exhausted negroes holding up two withered branches of
candelabra on the sideboard, and a musty smell prevailing as if the
ashes of ten thousand dinners were entombed in the sarcophagus below
it. The owner of the house lived much abroad; the air of England
seldom agreed long with a member of the Feenix family; and the room
had gradually put itself into deeper and still deeper mourning for
him, until it was become so funereal as to want nothing but a body in
it to be quite complete.
No bad representation of the body, for the nonce, in his unbending
form, if not in his attitude, Mr Dombey looked down into the cold
depths of the dead sea of mahogany on which the fruit dishes and
decanters lay at anchor: as if the subjects of his thoughts were
rising towards the surface one by one, and plunging down again. Edith
was there In all her majesty of brow and figure; and close to her came
Florence, with her timid head turned to him, as it had been, for an
instant, when she left the room; and Edith's eyes upon her, and
Edith's hand put out protectingly. A little figure in a low arm-chair
came springing next into the light, and looked upon him wonderingly,
with its bright eyes and its old-young face, gleaming as in the
flickering of an evening fire. Again came Florence close upon it, and
absorbed his whole attention. Whether as a fore-doomed difficulty and
disappointment to him; whether as a rival who had crossed him in his
way, and might again; whether as his child, of whom, in his successful
wooing, he could stoop to think as claiming, at such a time, to be no
more estranged; or whether as a hint to him that the mere appearance
of caring for his own blood should be maintained in his new relations;
he best knew. Indifferently well, perhaps, at best; for marriage
company and marriage altars, and ambitious scenes - still blotted here
and there with Florence - always Florence - turned up so fast, and so
confusedly, that he rose, and went upstairs to escape them.
It was quite late at night before candles were brought; for at
present they made Mrs Skewton's head ache, she complained; and in the
meantime Florence and Mrs Skewton talked together (Cleopatra being
very anxious to keep her close to herself), or Florence touched the
piano softly for Mrs Skewton's delight; to make no mention of a few
occasions in the course of the evening, when that affectionate lady
was impelled to solicit another kiss, and which always happened after
Edith had said anything. They were not many, however, for Edith sat
apart by an open window during the whole time (in spite of her
mother's fears that she would take cold), and remained there until Mr
Dombey took leave. He was serenely gracious to Florence when he did
so; and Florence went to bed in a room within Edith's, so happy and
hopeful, that she thought of her late self as if it were some other
poor deserted girl who was to be pitied for her sorrow; and in her
pity, sobbed herself to sleep.
The week fled fast. There were drives to milliners, dressmakers,
jewellers, lawyers, florists, pastry-cooks; and Florence was always of
the party. Florence was to go to the wedding. Florence was to cast off
her mourning, and to wear a brilliant dress on the occasion. The
milliner's intentions on the subject of this dress - the milliner was
a Frenchwoman, and greatly resembled Mrs Skewton - were so chaste and
elegant, that Mrs Skewton bespoke one like it for herself. The
milliner said it would become her to admiration, and that all the
world would take her for the young lady's sister.
The week fled faster. Edith looked at nothing and cared for
nothing. Her rich dresses came home, and were tried on, and were
loudly commended by Mrs Skewton and the milliners, and were put away
without a word from her. Mrs Skewton made their plans for every day,
and executed them. Sometimes Edith sat in the carriage when they went
to make purchases; sometimes, when it was absolutely necessary, she
went into the shops. But Mrs Skewton conducted the whole business,
whatever it happened to be; and Edith looked on as uninterested and
with as much apparent indifference as if she had no concern in it.
Florence might perhaps have thought she was haughty and listless, but
that she was never so to her. So Florence quenched her wonder in her
gratitude whenever it broke out, and soon subdued it.
The week fled faster. It had nearly winged its flight away. The
last night of the week, the night before the marriage, was come. In
the dark room - for Mrs Skewton's head was no better yet, though she
expected to recover permanently to-morrow - were that lady, Edith, and
Mr Dombey. Edith was at her open window looking out into the street;
Mr Dombey and Cleopatra were talking softly on the sofa. It was
growing late; and Florence, being fatigued, had gone to bed.
'My dear Dombey,' said Cleopatra, 'you will leave me Florence
to-morrow, when you deprive me of my sweetest Edith.'
Mr Dombey said he would, with pleasure.
'To have her about me, here, while you are both at Paris, and to
think at her age, I am assisting in the formation of her mind, my dear
Dombey,' said Cleopatra, 'will be a perfect balm to me in the
extremely shattered state to which I shall be reduced.'
Edith turned her head suddenly. Her listless manner was exchanged,
in a moment, to one of burning interest, and, unseen in the darkness,
she attended closely to their conversation.
Mr Dombey would be delighted to leave Florence in such admirable
'My dear Dombey,' returned Cleopatra, 'a thousand thanks for your
good opinion. I feared you were going, with malice aforethought' as
the dreadful lawyers say - those horrid proses! - to condemn me to
'Why do me so great an injustice, my dear madam?' said Mr Dombey.
'Because my charming Florence tells me so positively she must go
home tomorrow, returned Cleopatra, that I began to be afraid, my
dearest Dombey, you were quite a Bashaw.'
'I assure you, madam!' said Mr Dombey, 'I have laid no commands on
Florence; and if I had, there are no commands like your wish.'
'My dear Dombey,' replied Cleopatra, what a courtier you are!
Though I'll not say so, either; for courtiers have no heart, and yours
pervades your farming life and character. And are you really going so
early, my dear Dombey!'
Oh, indeed! it was late, and Mr Dombey feared he must.
'Is this a fact, or is it all a dream!' lisped Cleopatra. 'Can I
believe, my dearest Dombey, that you are coming back tomorrow morning
to deprive me of my sweet companion; my own Edith!'
Mr Dombey, who was accustomed to take things literally, reminded
Mrs Skewton that they were to meet first at the church.
'The pang,' said Mrs Skewton, 'of consigning a child, even to you,
my dear Dombey, is one of the most excruciating imaginable, and
combined with a naturally delicate constitution, and the extreme
stupidity of the pastry-cook who has undertaken the breakfast, is
almost too much for my poor strength. But I shall rally, my dear
Dombey, In the morning; do not fear for me, or be uneasy on my
account. Heaven bless you! My dearest Edith!' she cried archly.
'Somebody is going, pet.'
Edith, who had turned her head again towards the window, and whose
interest in their conversation had ceased, rose up in her place, but
made no advance towards him, and said nothing. Mr Dombey, with a lofty
gallantry adapted to his dignity and the occasion, betook his creaking
boots towards her, put her hand to his lips, said, 'Tomorrow morning I
shall have the happiness of claiming this hand as Mrs Dombey's,' and
bowed himself solemnly out.
Mrs Skewton rang for candles as soon as the house-door had closed
upon him. With the candles appeared her maid, with the juvenile dress