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
'I fear,' returned Mr Dombey, with much philosophy, 'that Mrs
Skewton is shaken.'
'Shaken, Dombey!' said the Major. 'Smashed!'
'Change, however,' pursued Mr Dombey, 'and attention, may do much
'Don't believe it, Sir,' returned the Major. 'Damme, Sir, she never
wrapped up enough. If a man don't wrap up,' said the Major, taking in
another button of his buff waistcoat, 'he has nothing to fall back
upon. But some people will die. They will do it. Damme, they will.
They're obstinate. I tell you what, Dombey, it may not be ornamental;
it may not be refined; it may be rough and tough; but a little of the
genuine old English Bagstock stamina, Sir, would do all the good in
the world to the human breed.'
After imparting this precious piece of information, the Major, who
was certainly true-blue, whatever other endowments he may have had or
wanted, coming within the 'genuine old English' classification, which
has never been exactly ascertained, took his lobster-eyes and his
apoplexy to the club, and choked there all day.
Cleopatra, at one time fretful, at another self-complacent,
sometimes awake, sometimes asleep, and at all times juvenile, reached
Brighton the same night, fell to pieces as usual, and was put away in
bed; where a gloomy fancy might have pictured a more potent skeleton
than the maid, who should have been one, watching at the rose-coloured
curtains, which were carried down to shed their bloom upon her.
It was settled in high council of medical authority that she should
take a carriage airing every day, and that it was important she should
get out every day, and walk if she could. Edith was ready to attend
her - always ready to attend her, with the same mechanical attention
and immovable beauty - and they drove out alone; for Edith had an
uneasiness in the presence of Florence, now that her mother was worse,
and told Florence, with a kiss, that she would rather they two went
Mrs Skewton, on one particular day, was in the irresolute,
exacting, jealous temper that had developed itself on her recovery
from her first attack. After sitting silent in the carriage watching
Edith for some time, she took her hand and kissed it passionately. The
hand was neither given nor withdrawn, but simply yielded to her
raising of it, and being released, dropped down again, almost as if it
were insensible. At this she began to whimper and moan, and say what a
mother she had been, and how she was forgotten! This she continued to
do at capricious intervals, even when they had alighted: when she
herself was halting along with the joint support of Withers and a
stick, and Edith was walking by her side, and the carriage slowly
following at a little distance.
It was a bleak, lowering, windy day, and they were out upon the
Downs with nothing but a bare sweep of land between them and the sky.
The mother, with a querulous satisfaction in the monotony of her
complaint, was still repeating it in a low voice from time to time,
and the proud form of her daughter moved beside her slowly, when there
came advancing over a dark ridge before them, two other figures, which
in the distance, were so like an exaggerated imitation of their own,
that Edith stopped.
Almost as she stopped, the two figures stopped; and that one which
to Edith's thinking was like a distorted shadow of her mother, spoke
to the other, earnestly, and with a pointing hand towards them. That
one seemed inclined to turn back, but the other, in which Edith
recognised enough that was like herself to strike her with an unusual
feeling, not quite free from fear, came on; and then they came on
The greater part of this observation, she made while walking
towards them, for her stoppage had been momentary. Nearer observation
showed her that they were poorly dressed, as wanderers about the
country; that the younger woman carried knitted work or some such
goods for sale; and that the old one toiled on empty-handed.
And yet, however far removed she was in dress, in dignity, in
beauty, Edith could not but compare the younger woman with herself,
still. It may have been that she saw upon her face some traces which
she knew were lingering in her own soul, if not yet written on that
index; but, as the woman came on, returning her gaze, fixing her
shining eyes upon her, undoubtedly presenting something of her own air
and stature, and appearing to reciprocate her own thoughts, she felt a
chill creep over her, as if the day were darkening, and the wind were
They had now come up. The old woman, holding out her hand
importunately, stopped to beg of Mrs Skewton. The younger one stopped
too, and she and Edith looked in one another's eyes.
'What is it that you have to sell?' said Edith.
'Only this,' returned the woman, holding out her wares, without
looking at them. 'I sold myself long ago.'
'My Lady, don't believe her,' croaked the old woman to Mrs Skewton;
'don't believe what she says. She loves to talk like that. She's my
handsome and undutiful daughter. She gives me nothing but reproaches,
my Lady, for all I have done for her. Look at her now, my Lady, how
she turns upon her poor old mother with her looks.'
As Mrs Skewton drew her purse out with a trembling hand, and
eagerly fumbled for some money, which the other old woman greedily
watched for - their heads all but touching, in their hurry and
decrepitude - Edith interposed:
'I have seen you,' addressing the old woman, 'before.'
'Yes, my Lady,' with a curtsey. 'Down in Warwickshire. The morning
among the trees. When you wouldn't give me nothing. But the gentleman,
he give me something! Oh, bless him, bless him!' mumbled the old
woman, holding up her skinny hand, and grinning frightfully at her
'It's of no use attempting to stay me, Edith!' said Mrs Skewton,
angrily anticipating an objection from her. 'You know nothing about
it. I won't be dissuaded. I am sure this is an excellent woman, and a
'Yes, my Lady, yes,' chattered the old woman, holding out her
avaricious hand. 'Thankee, my Lady. Lord bless you, my Lady. Sixpence
more, my pretty Lady, as a good mother yourself.'
'And treated undutifully enough, too, my good old creature,
sometimes, I assure you,' said Mrs Skewton, whimpering. 'There! Shake
hands with me. You're a very good old creature - full of
what's-his-name - and all that. You're all affection and et cetera,
'Oh, yes, my Lady!'
'Yes, I'm sure you are; and so's that gentlemanly creature
Grangeby. I must really shake hands with you again. And now you can
go, you know; and I hope,' addressing the daughter, 'that you'll show
more gratitude, and natural what's-its-name, and all the rest of it -
but I never remember names - for there never was a better mother than
the good old creature's been to you. Come, Edith!'
As the ruin of Cleopatra tottered off whimpering, and wiping its
eyes with a gingerly remembrance of rouge in their neighbourhood, the
old woman hobbled another way, mumbling and counting her money. Not
one word more, nor one other gesture, had been exchanged between Edith
and the younger woman, but neither had removed her eyes from the other
for a moment. They had remained confronted until now, when Edith, as
awakening from a dream, passed slowly on.
'You're a handsome woman,' muttered her shadow, looking after her;
'but good looks won't save us. And you're a proud woman; but pride
won't save us. We had need to know each other when we meet again!'
New Voices in the Waves
All is going on as it was wont. The waves are hoarse with
repetition of their mystery; the dust lies piled upon the shore; the
sea-birds soar and hover; the winds and clouds go forth upon their
trackless flight; the white arms beckon, in the moonlight, to the
invisible country far away.
With a tender melancholy pleasure, Florence finds herself again on
the old ground so sadly trodden, yet so happily, and thinks of him in
the quiet place, where he and she have many and many a time conversed
together, with the water welling up about his couch. And now, as she
sits pensive there, she hears in the wild low murmur of the sea, his
little story told again, his very words repeated; and finds that all
her life and hopes, and griefs, since - in the solitary house, and in
the pageant it has changed to - have a portion in the burden of the
And gentle Mr Toots, who wanders at a distance, looking wistfully
towards the figure that he dotes upon, and has followed there, but
cannot in his delicacy disturb at such a time, likewise hears the
requiem of little Dombey on the waters, rising and falling in the
lulls of their eternal madrigal in praise of Florence. Yes! and he
faintly understands, poor Mr Toots, that they are saying something of
a time when he was sensible of being brighter and not addle-brained;
and the tears rising in his eyes when he fears that he is dull and
stupid now, and good for little but to be laughed at, diminish his
satisfaction in their soothing reminder that he is relieved from
present responsibility to the Chicken, by the absence of that game
head of poultry in the country, training (at Toots's cost) for his
great mill with the Larkey Boy.
But Mr Toots takes courage, when they whisper a kind thought to
him; and by slow degrees and with many indecisive stoppages on the
way, approaches Florence. Stammering and blushing, Mr Toots affects
amazement when he comes near her, and says (having followed close on
the carriage in which she travelled, every inch of the way from
London, loving even to be choked by the dust of its wheels) that he
never was so surprised in all his life.
'And you've brought Diogenes, too, Miss Dombey!' says Mr Toots,
thrilled through and through by the touch of the small hand so
pleasantly and frankly given him.
No doubt Diogenes is there, and no doubt Mr Toots has reason to
observe him, for he comes straightway at Mr Toots's legs, and tumbles
over himself in the desperation with which he makes at him, like a
very dog of Montargis. But he is checked by his sweet mistress.