Dombey and Son
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spirit summoned about her, still her old conviction that she and her
mother had been known by this man in their worst colours, from their
first acquaintance; that every degradation she had suffered in her own
eyes was as plain to him as to herself; that he read her life as
though it were a vile book, and fluttered the leaves before her in
slight looks and tones of voice which no one else could detect;
weakened and undermined her. Proudly as she opposed herself to him,
with her commanding face exacting his humility, her disdainful lip
repulsing him, her bosom angry at his intrusion, and the dark lashes
of her eyes sullenly veiling their light, that no ray of it might
shine upon him - and submissively as he stood before her, with an
entreating injured manner, but with complete submission to her will -
she knew, in her own soul, that the cases were reversed, and that the
triumph and superiority were his, and that he knew it full well.
'I have presumed,' said Mr Carker, 'to solicit an interview, and I
have ventured to describe it as being one of business, because - '
'Perhaps you are charged by Mr Dombey with some message of
reproof,' said Edit 'You possess Mr Dombey's confidence in such an
unusual degree, Sir, that you would scarcely surprise me if that were
'I have no message to the lady who sheds a lustre upon his name,'
said Mr Carker. 'But I entreat that lady, on my own behalf to be just
to a very humble claimant for justice at her hands - a mere dependant
of Mr Dombey's - which is a position of humility; and to reflect upon
my perfect helplessness last night, and the impossibility of my
avoiding the share that was forced upon me in a very painful
'My dearest Edith,' hinted Cleopatra in a low voice, as she held
her eye-glass aside, 'really very charming of Mr What's-his-name. And
full of heart!'
'For I do,' said Mr Carker, appealing to Mrs Skewton with a look of
grateful deference, - 'I do venture to call it a painful occasion,
though merely because it was so to me, who had the misfortune to be
present. So slight a difference, as between the principals - between
those who love each other with disinterested devotion, and would make
any sacrifice of self in such a cause - is nothing. As Mrs Skewton
herself expressed, with so much truth and feeling last night, it is
Edith could not look at him, but she said after a few moments,
'And your business, Sir - '
'Edith, my pet,' said Mrs Skewton, 'all this time Mr Carker is
standing! My dear Mr Carker, take a seat, I beg.'
He offered no reply to the mother, but fixed his eyes on the proud
daughter, as though he would only be bidden by her, and was resolved
to he bidden by her. Edith, in spite of herself sat down, and slightly
motioned with her hand to him to be seated too. No action could be
colder, haughtier, more insolent in its air of supremacy and
disrespect, but she had struggled against even that concession
ineffectually, and it was wrested from her. That was enough! Mr Carker
'May I be allowed, Madam,' said Carker, turning his white teeth on
Mrs Skewton like a light - 'a lady of your excellent sense and quick
feeling will give me credit, for good reason, I am sure - to address
what I have to say, to Mrs Dombey, and to leave her to impart it to
you who are her best and dearest friend - next to Mr Dombey?'
Mrs Skewton would have retired, but Edith stopped her. Edith would
have stopped him too, and indignantly ordered him to speak openly or
not at all, but that he said, in a low Voice - 'Miss Florence - the
young lady who has just left the room - '
Edith suffered him to proceed. She looked at him now. As he bent
forward, to be nearer, with the utmost show of delicacy and respect,
and with his teeth persuasively arrayed, in a self-depreciating smile,
she felt as if she could have struck him dead.
'Miss Florence's position,' he began, 'has been an unfortunate one.
I have a difficulty in alluding to it to you, whose attachment to her
father is naturally watchful and jealous of every word that applies to
him.' Always distinct and soft in speech, no language could describe
the extent of his distinctness and softness, when he said these words,
or came to any others of a similar import. 'But, as one who is devoted
to Mr Dombey in his different way, and whose life is passed in
admiration of Mr Dombey's character, may I say, without offence to
your tenderness as a wife, that Miss Florence has unhappily been
neglected - by her father. May I say by her father?'
Edith replied, 'I know it.'
'You know it!' said Mr Carker, with a great appearance of relief.
'It removes a mountain from my breast. May I hope you know how the
neglect originated; in what an amiable phase of Mr Dombey's pride -
character I mean?'
'You may pass that by, Sir,' she returned, 'and come the sooner to
the end of what you have to say.'
'Indeed, I am sensible, Madam,' replied Carker, - 'trust me, I am
deeply sensible, that Mr Dombey can require no justification in
anything to you. But, kindly judge of my breast by your own, and you
will forgive my interest in him, if in its excess, it goes at all
What a stab to her proud heart, to sit there, face to face with
him, and have him tendering her false oath at the altar again and
again for her acceptance, and pressing it upon her like the dregs of a
sickening cup she could not own her loathing of or turn away from'.
How shame, remorse, and passion raged within her, when, upright and
majestic in her beauty before him, she knew that in her spirit she was
down at his feet!
'Miss Florence,' said Carker, 'left to the care - if one may call
it care - of servants and mercenary people, in every way her
inferiors, necessarily wanted some guide and compass in her younger
days, and, naturally, for want of them, has been indiscreet, and has
in some degree forgotten her station. There was some folly about one
Walter, a common lad, who is fortunately dead now: and some very
undesirable association, I regret to say, with certain coasting
sailors, of anything but good repute, and a runaway old bankrupt.'
'I have heard the circumstances, Sir,' said Edith, flashing her
disdainful glance upon him, 'and I know that you pervert them. You may
not know it. I hope so.'
'Pardon me,' said Mr Carker, 'I believe that nobody knows them so
well as I. Your generous and ardent nature, Madam - the same nature
which is so nobly imperative in vindication of your beloved and
honoured husband, and which has blessed him as even his merits deserve
- I must respect, defer to, bow before. But, as regards the
circumstances, which is indeed the business I presumed to solicit your
attention to, I can have no doubt, since, in the execution of my trust
as Mr Dombey's confidential - I presume to say - friend, I have fully
ascertained them. In my execution of that trust; in my deep concern,
which you can so well understand, for everything relating to him,
intensified, if you will (for I fear I labour under your displeasure),
by the lower motive of desire to prove my diligence, and make myself
the more acceptable; I have long pursued these circumstances by myself
and trustworthy instruments, and have innumerable and most minute
She raised her eyes no higher than his mouth, but she saw the means
of mischief vaunted in every tooth it contained.
'Pardon me, Madam,' he continued, 'if in my perplexity, I presume
to take counsel with you, and to consult your pleasure. I think I have
observed that you are greatly interested in Miss Florence?'
What was there in her he had not observed, and did not know?
Humbled and yet maddened by the thought, in every new presentment of
it, however faint, she pressed her teeth upon her quivering lip to
force composure on it, and distantly inclined her head in reply.
'This interest, Madam - so touching an evidence of everything
associated with Mr Dombey being dear to you - induces me to pause
before I make him acquainted with these circumstances, which, as yet,
he does not know. It so shakes me, if I may make the confession, in my
allegiance, that on the intimation of the least desire to that effect
from you, I would suppress them.'
Edith raised her head quickly, and starting back, bent her dark
glance upon him. He met it with his blandest and most deferential
smile, and went on.
'You say that as I describe them, they are perverted. I fear not -
I fear not: but let us assume that they are. The uneasiness I have for
some time felt on the subject, arises in this: that the mere
circumstance of such association often repeated, on the part of Miss
Florence, however innocently and confidingly, would be conclusive with
Mr Dombey, already predisposed against her, and would lead him to take
some step (I know he has occasionally contemplated it) of separation
and alienation of her from his home. Madam, bear with me, and remember
my intercourse with Mr Dombey, and my knowledge of him, and my
reverence for him, almost from childhood, when I say that if he has a
fault, it is a lofty stubbornness, rooted in that noble pride and
sense of power which belong to him, and which we must all defer to;
which is not assailable like the obstinacy of other characters; and
which grows upon itself from day to day, and year to year.
She bent her glance upon him still; but, look as steadfast as she
would, her haughty nostrils dilated, and her breath came somewhat
deeper, and her lip would slightly curl, as he described that in his
patron to which they must all bow down. He saw it; and though his
expression did not change, she knew he saw it.
'Even so slight an incident as last night's,' he said, 'if I might
refer to it once more, would serve to illustrate my meaning, better
than a greater one. Dombey and Son know neither time, nor place, nor
season, but bear them all down. But I rejoice in its occurrence, for
it has opened the way for me to approach Mrs Dombey with this subject
to-day, even if it has entailed upon me the penalty of her temporary
displeasure. Madam, in the midst of my uneasiness and apprehension on
this subject, I was summoned by Mr Dombey to Leamington. There I saw
you. There I could not help knowing what relation you would shortly
occupy towards him - to his enduring happiness and yours. There I
resolved to await the time of your establishment at home here, and to
do as I have now done. I have, at heart, no fear that I shall be
wanting in my duty to Mr Dombey, if I bury what I know in your breast;
for where there is but one heart and mind between two persons - as in
such a marriage - one almost represents the other. I can acquit my
conscience therefore, almost equally, by confidence, on such a theme,