Dombey and Son
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He may sleep on now. He may sleep on while he may. But let him look
for that slight figure when he wakes, and find it near him when the
hour is come!
Sad and grieving was the heart of Florence, as she crept upstairs.
The quiet house had grown more dismal since she came down. The sleep
she had been looking on, in the dead of night, had the solemnity to
her of death and life in one. The secrecy and silence of her own
proceeding made the night secret, silent, and oppressive. She felt
unwilling, almost unable, to go on to her own chamber; and turnIng
into the drawing-rooms, where the clouded moon was shining through the
blinds, looked out into the empty streets.
The wind was blowing drearily. The lamps looked pale, and shook as
if they were cold. There was a distant glimmer of something that was
not quite darkness, rather than of light, in the sky; and foreboding
night was shivering and restless, as the dying are who make a troubled
end. Florence remembered how, as a watcher, by a sick-bed, she had
noted this bleak time, and felt its influence, as if in some hidden
natural antipathy to it; and now it was very, very gloomy.
Her Mama had not come to her room that night, which was one cause
of her having sat late out of her bed. In her general uneasiness, no
less than in her ardent longing to have somebody to speak to, and to
break the spell of gloom and silence, Florence directed her steps
towards the chamber where she slept.
The door was not fastened within, and yielded smoothly to her
hesitating hand. She was surprised to find a bright light burning;
still more surprised, on looking in, to see that her Mama, but
partially undressed, was sitting near the ashes of the fire, which had
crumbled and dropped away. Her eyes were intently bent upon the air;
and in their light, and in her face, and in her form, and in the grasp
with which she held the elbows of her chair as if about to start up,
Florence saw such fierce emotion that it terrified her.
'Mama!' she cried, 'what is the matter?'
Edith started; looking at her with such a strange dread in her
face, that Florence was more frightened than before.
'Mama!' said Florence, hurriedly advancing. 'Dear Mama! what is the
'I have not been well,' said Edith, shaking, and still looking at
her in the same strange way. 'I have had had dreams, my love.'
'And not yet been to bed, Mama?'
'No,' she returned. 'Half-waking dreams.'
Her features gradually softened; and suffering Florence to come
closer to her, within her embrace, she said in a tender manner, 'But
what does my bird do here? What does my bird do here?'
'I have been uneasy, Mama, in not seeing you to-night, and in not
knowing how Papa was; and I - '
Florence stopped there, and said no more.
'Is it late?' asked Edith, fondly putting back the curls that
mingled with her own dark hair, and strayed upon her face.
'Very late. Near day.'
'Near day!' she repeated in surprise.
'Dear Mama, what have you done to your hand?' said Florence.
Edith drew it suddenly away, and, for a moment, looked at her with
the same strange dread (there was a sort of wild avoidance in it) as
before; but she presently said, 'Nothing, nothing. A blow.' And then
she said, 'My Florence!' and then her bosom heaved, and she was
'Mama!' said Florence. 'Oh Mama, what can I do, what should I do,
to make us happier? Is there anything?'
'Nothing,' she replied.
'Are you sure of that? Can it never be? If I speak now of what is
in my thoughts, in spite of what we have agreed,' said Florence, 'you
will not blame me, will you?'
'It is useless,' she replied, 'useless. I have told you, dear, that
I have had bad dreams. Nothing can change them, or prevent them coming
'I do not understand,' said Florence, gazing on her agitated face
which seemed to darken as she looked.
'I have dreamed,' said Edith in a low voice, 'of a pride that is
all powerless for good, all powerful for evil; of a pride that has
been galled and goaded, through many shameful years, and has never
recoiled except upon itself; a pride that has debased its owner with
the consciousness of deep humiliation, and never helped its owner
boldly to resent it or avoid it, or to say, "This shall not be!" a
pride that, rightly guided, might have led perhaps to better things,
but which, misdirected and perverted, like all else belonging to the
same possessor, has been self-contempt, mere hardihood and ruin.'
She neither looked nor spoke to Florence now, but went on as if she
'I have dreamed,' she said, 'of such indifference and callousness,
arising from this self-contempt; this wretched, inefficient, miserable
pride; that it has gone on with listless steps even to the altar,
yielding to the old, familiar, beckoning finger, - oh mother, oh
mother! - while it spurned it; and willing to be hateful to itself for
once and for all, rather than to be stung daily in some new form.
Mean, poor thing!'
And now with gathering and darkening emotion, she looked as she had
looked when Florence entered.
'And I have dreamed,' she said, 'that in a first late effort to
achieve a purpose, it has been trodden on, and trodden down by a base
foot, but turns and looks upon him. I have dreamed that it is wounded,
hunted, set upon by dogs, but that it stands at hay, and will not
yield; no, that it cannot if it would; but that it is urged on to hate
Her clenched hand tightened on the trembling arm she had in hers,
and as she looked down on the alarmed and wondering face, frown
subsided. 'Oh Florence!' she said, 'I think I have been nearly mad
to-night!' and humbled her proud head upon her neck and wept again.
'Don't leave me! be near me! I have no hope but in you! These words
she said a score of times.
Soon she grew calmer, and was full of pity for the tears of
Florence, and for her waking at such untimely hours. And the day now
dawning, with folded her in her arms and laid her down upon her bed,
and, not lying down herself, sat by her, and bade her try to sleep.
'For you are weary, dearest, and unhappy, and should rest.'
'I am indeed unhappy, dear Mama, tonight,' said Florence. 'But you
are weary and unhappy, too.'
'Not when you lie asleep so near me, sweet.'
They kissed each other, and Florence, worn out, gradually fell into
a gentle slumber; but as her eyes closed on the face beside her, it
was so sad to think upon the face downstairs, that her hand drew
closer to Edith for some comfort; yet, even in the act, it faltered,
lest it should be deserting him. So, in her sleep, she tried to
reconcile the two together, and to show them that she loved them both,
but could not do it, and her waking grief was part of her dreams.
Edith, sitting by, looked down at the dark eyelashes lying wet on
the flushed cheeks, and looked with gentleness and pity, for she knew
the truth. But no sleep hung upon her own eyes. As the day came on she
still sat watching and waking, with the placid hand in hers, and
sometimes whispered, as she looked at the hushed face, 'Be near me,
Florence. I have no hope but in you!'
With the day, though not so early as the sun, uprose Miss Susan
Nipper. There was a heaviness in this young maiden's exceedingly sharp
black eyes, that abated somewhat of their sparkling, and suggested -
which was not their usual character - the possibility of their being
sometimes shut. There was likewise a swollen look about them, as if
they had been crying over-night. But the Nipper, so far from being
cast down, was singularly brisk and bold, and all her energies
appeared to be braced up for some great feat. This was noticeable even
in her dress, which was much more tight and trim than usual; and in
occasional twitches of her head as she went about the house, which
were mightily expressive of determination.
In a word, she had formed a determination, and an aspiring one: it
being nothing less than this - to penetrate to Mr Dombey's presence,
and have speech of that gentleman alone. 'I have often said I would,'
she remarked, in a threatening manner, to herself, that morning, with
many twitches of her head, 'and now I will!'
Spurring herself on to the accomplishment of this desperate design,
with a sharpness that was peculiar to herself, Susan Nipper haunted
the hall and staircase during the whole forenoon, without finding a
favourable opportunity for the assault. Not at all baffled by this
discomfiture, which indeed had a stimulating effect, and put her on
her mettle, she diminished nothing of her vigilance; and at last
discovered, towards evening, that her sworn foe Mrs Pipchin, under
pretence of having sat up all night, was dozing in her own room, and
that Mr Dombey was lying on his sofa, unattended.
With a twitch - not of her head merely, this time, but of her whole
self - the Nipper went on tiptoe to Mr Dombey's door, and knocked.
'Come in!' said Mr Dombey. Susan encouraged herself with a final
twitch, and went in.
Mr Dombey, who was eyeing the fire, gave an amazed look at his
visitor, and raised himself a little on his arm. The Nipper dropped a
'What do you want?' said Mr Dombey.