Dombey and Son
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 Next page
you think a foreign life, like mine, was good for good looks? One
would believe so, to hear you!'
'It ain't that!' cried the mother. 'She knows it!'
'What is it then?' returned the daughter. 'It had best be something
that don't last, mother, or my way out is easier than my way in.
'Hear that!' exclaimed the mother. 'After all these years she
threatens to desert me in the moment of her coming back again!'
'I tell you, mother, for the second time, there have been years for
me as well as you,' said Alice. 'Come back harder? Of course I have
come back harder. What else did you expect?'
'Harder to me! To her own dear mother!' cried the old woman
'I don't know who began to harden me, if my own dear mother
didn't,' she returned, sitting with her folded arms, and knitted
brows, and compressed lips as if she were bent on excluding, by force,
every softer feeling from her breast. 'Listen, mother, to a word or
two. If we understand each other now, we shall not fall out any more,
perhaps. I went away a girl, and have come back a woman. I went away
undutiful enough, and have come back no better, you may swear. But
have you been very dutiful to me?'
'I!' cried the old woman. 'To my gal! A mother dutiful to her own
'It sounds unnatural, don't it?' returned the daughter, looking
coldly on her with her stern, regardless, hardy, beautiful face; 'but
I have thought of it sometimes, in the course of my lone years, till I
have got used to it. I have heard some talk about duty first and last;
but it has always been of my duty to other people. I have wondered now
and then - to pass away the time - whether no one ever owed any duty
Her mother sat mowing, and mumbling, and shaking her head, but
whether angrily or remorsefully, or in denial, or only in her physical
infirmity, did not appear.
'There was a child called Alice Marwood,' said the daughter, with a
laugh, and looking down at herself in terrible derision of herself,
'born, among poverty and neglect, and nursed in it. Nobody taught her,
nobody stepped forward to help her, nobody cared for her.'
'Nobody!' echoed the mother, pointing to herself, and striking her
'The only care she knew,' returned the daughter, 'was to be beaten,
and stinted, and abused sometimes; and she might have done better
without that. She lived in homes like this, and in the streets, with a
crowd of little wretches like herself; and yet she brought good looks
out of this childhood. So much the worse for her. She had better have
been hunted and worried to death for ugliness.'
'Go on! go on!' exclaimed the mother.
'I am going on,' returned the daughter. 'There was a girl called
Alice Marwood. She was handsome. She was taught too late, and taught
all wrong. She was too well cared for, too well trained, too well
helped on, too much looked after. You were very fond of her - you were
better off then. What came to that girl comes to thousands every year.
It was only ruin, and she was born to it.'
'After all these years!' whined the old woman. 'My gal begins with
'She'll soon have ended,' said the daughter. 'There was a criminal
called Alice Marwood - a girl still, but deserted and an outcast. And
she was tried, and she was sentenced. And lord, how the gentlemen in
the Court talked about it! and how grave the judge was on her duty,
and on her having perverted the gifts of nature - as if he didn't know
better than anybody there, that they had been made curses to her! -
and how he preached about the strong arm of the Law - so very strong
to save her, when she was an innocent and helpless little wretch! -
and how solemn and religious it all was! I have thought of that, many
times since, to be sure!'
She folded her arms tightly on her breast, and laughed in a tone
that made the howl of the old woman musical.
'So Alice Marwood was transported, mother,' she pursued, 'and was
sent to learn her duty, where there was twenty times less duty, and
more wickedness, and wrong, and infamy, than here. And Alice Marwood
is come back a woman. Such a woman as she ought to be, after all this.
In good time, there will be more solemnity, and more fine talk, and
more strong arm, most likely, and there will be an end of her; but the
gentlemen needn't be afraid of being thrown out of work. There's
crowds of little wretches, boy and girl, growing up in any of the
streets they live in, that'll keep them to it till they've made their
The old woman leaned her elbows on the table, and resting her face
upon her two hands, made a show of being in great distress - or really
'There! I have done, mother,' said the daughter, with a motion of
her head, as if in dismissal of the subject. 'I have said enough.
Don't let you and I talk of being dutiful, whatever we do. Your
childhood was like mine, I suppose. So much the worse for both of us.
I don't want to blame you, or to defend myself; why should I? That's
all over long ago. But I am a woman - not a girl, now - and you and I
needn't make a show of our history, like the gentlemen in the Court.
We know all about it, well enough.'
Lost and degraded as she was, there was a beauty in her, both of
face and form, which, even in its worst expression, could not but be
recognised as such by anyone regarding her with the least attention.
As she subsided into silence, and her face which had been harshly
agitated, quieted down; while her dark eyes, fixed upon the fire,
exchanged the reckless light that had animated them, for one that was
softened by something like sorrow; there shone through all her wayworn
misery and fatigue, a ray of the departed radiance of the fallen
Her mother, after watching her for some time without speaking,
ventured to steal her withered hand a little nearer to her across the
table; and finding that she permitted this, to touch her face, and
smooth her hair. With the feeling, as it seemed, that the old woman
was at least sincere in this show of interest, Alice made no movement
to check her; so, advancing by degrees, she bound up her daughter's
hair afresh, took off her wet shoes, if they deserved the name, spread
something dry upon her shoulders, and hovered humbly about her,
muttering to herself, as she recognised her old features and
expression more and more.
'You are very poor, mother, I see,' said Alice, looking round, when
she had sat thus for some time.
'Bitter poor, my deary,' replied the old woman.
She admired her daughter, and was afraid of her. Perhaps her
admiration, such as it was, had originated long ago, when she first
found anything that was beautiful appearing in the midst of the
squalid fight of her existence. Perhaps her fear was referable, in
some sort, to the retrospect she had so lately heard. Be this as it
might, she stood, submissively and deferentially, before her child,
and inclined her head, as if in a pitiful entreaty to be spared any
'How have you lived?'
'By begging, my deary.
'And pilfering, mother?'
'Sometimes, Ally - in a very small way. I am old and timid. I have
taken trifles from children now and then, my deary, but not often. I
have tramped about the country, pet, and I know what I know. I have
'Watched?' returned the daughter, looking at her.
'I have hung about a family, my deary,' said the mother, even more
humbly and submissively than before.
'Hush, darling. Don't be angry with me. I did it for the love of
you. In memory of my poor gal beyond seas.' She put out her hand
deprecatingly, and drawing it back again, laid it on her lips.
'Years ago, my deary,' she pursued, glancing timidly at the
attentive and stem face opposed to her, 'I came across his little
child, by chance.'
'Not his, Alice deary; don't look at me like that; not his. How
could it be his? You know he has none.'
'Whose then?' returned the daughter. 'You said his.'
'Hush, Ally; you frighten me, deary. Mr Dombey's - only Mr
Dombey's. Since then, darling, I have seen them often. I have seen
In uttering this last word, the old woman shrunk and recoiled, as
if with sudden fear that her daughter would strike her. But though the
daughter's face was fixed upon her, and expressed the most vehement
passion, she remained still: except that she clenched her arms tighter
and tighter within each other, on her bosom, as if to restrain them by
that means from doing an injury to herself, or someone else, in the
blind fury of the wrath that suddenly possessed her.
'Little he thought who I was!' said the old woman, shaking her
'And little he cared!' muttered her daughter, between her teeth.
'But there we were, said the old woman, 'face to face. I spoke to
him, and he spoke to me. I sat and watched him as he went away down a
long grove of trees: and at every step he took, I cursed him soul and
'He will thrive in spite of that,' returned the daughter
'Ay, he is thriving,' said the mother.