Dombey and Son
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seals to his watch, which shocked her very much, as an exploded
superstition. This youthful fascinator considered a daughter-in-law
objectionable in principle; otherwise, she had nothing to say against
Florence, but that she sadly wanted 'style' - which might mean back,
perhaps. Many, who only came to the house on state occasions, hardly
knew who Florence was, and said, going home, 'Indeed, was that Miss
Dombey, in the corner? Very pretty, but a little delicate and
thoughtful in appearance!'
None the less so, certainly, for her life of the last six months.
Florence took her seat at the dinner-table, on the day before the
second anniversary of her father's marriage to Edith (Mrs Skewton had
been lying stricken with paralysis when the first came round), with an
uneasiness, amounting to dread. She had no other warrant for it, than
the occasion, the expression of her father's face, in the hasty glance
she caught of it, and the presence of Mr Carker, which, always
unpleasant to her, was more so on this day, than she had ever felt it
Edith was richly dressed, for she and Mr Dombey were engaged in the
evening to some large assembly, and the dinner-hour that day was late.
She did not appear until they were seated at table, when Mr Carker
rose and led her to her chair. Beautiful and lustrous as she was,
there was that in her face and air which seemed to separate her
hopelessly from Florence, and from everyone, for ever more. And yet,
for an instant, Florence saw a beam of kindness in her eyes, when they
were turned on her, that made the distance to which she had withdrawn
herself, a greater cause of sorrow and regret than ever.
There was very little said at dinner. Florence heard her father
speak to Mr Carker sometimes on business matters, and heard him softly
reply, but she paid little attention to what they said, and only
wished the dinner at an end. When the dessert was placed upon the
table, and they were left alone, with no servant in attendance, Mr
Dombey, who had been several times clearing his throat in a manner
that augured no good, said:
'Mrs Dombey, you know, I suppose, that I have instructed the
housekeeper that there will be some company to dinner here to-morrow.
'I do not dine at home,' she answered.
'Not a large party,' pursued Mr Dombey, with an indifferent
assumption of not having heard her; 'merely some twelve or fourteen.
My sister, Major Bagstock, and some others whom you know but
I do not dine at home,' she repeated.
'However doubtful reason I may have, Mrs Dombey,' said Mr Dombey,
still going majestically on, as if she had not spoken, 'to hold the
occasion in very pleasant remembrance just now, there are appearances
in these things which must be maintained before the world. If you have
no respect for yourself, Mrs Dombey - '
'I have none,' she said.
'Madam,' cried Mr Dombey, striking his hand upon the table, 'hear
me if you please. I say, if you have no respect for yourself - '
'And I say I have none,' she answered.
He looked at her; but the face she showed him in return would not
have changed, if death itself had looked.
'Carker,' said Mr Dombey, turning more quietly to that gentleman,
'as you have been my medium of communication with Mrs Dombey on former
occasions, and as I choose to preserve the decencies of life, so far
as I am individually concerned, I will trouble you to have the
goodness to inform Mrs Dombey that if she has no respect for herself,
I have some respect for myself, and therefore insist on my
arrangements for to-morrow.
'Tell your sovereign master, Sir,' said Edith, 'that I will take
leave to speak to him on this subject by-and-bye, and that I will
speak to him alone.'
'Mr Carker, Madam,' said her husband, 'being in possession of the
reason which obliges me to refuse you that privilege, shall be
absolved from the delivery of any such message.' He saw her eyes move,
while he spoke, and followed them with his own.
'Your daughter is present, Sir,' said Edith.
'My daughter will remain present,' said Mr Dombey.
Florence, who had risen, sat down again, hiding her face in her
hands, and trembling.
'My daughter, Madam' - began Mr Dombey.
But Edith stopped him, in a voice which, although not raised in the
least, was so clear, emphatic, and distinct, that it might have been
heard in a whirlwind.
'I tell you I will speak to you alone,' she said. 'If you are not
mad, heed what I say.'
'I have authority to speak to you, Madam,' returned her husband,
'when and where I please; and it is my pleasure to speak here and
She rose up as if to leave the room; but sat down again, and
looking at him with all outward composure, said, in the same voice:
'I must tell you first, that there is a threatening appearance in
your manner, Madam,' said Mr Dombey, 'which does not become you.
She laughed. The shaken diamonds in her hair started and trembled.
There are fables of precious stones that would turn pale, their wearer
being in danger. Had these been such, their imprisoned rays of light
would have taken flight that moment, and they would have been as dull
Carker listened, with his eyes cast down.
'As to my daughter, Madam,' said Mr Dombey, resuming the thread of
his discourse, 'it is by no means inconsistent with her duty to me,
that she should know what conduct to avoid. At present you are a very
strong example to her of this kind, and I hope she may profit by it.'
'I would not stop you now,' returned his wife, immoveable in eye,
and voice, and attitude; 'I would not rise and go away, and save you
the utterance of one word, if the room were burning.'
Mr Dombey moved his head, as if in a sarcastic acknowledgment of
the attention, and resumed. But not with so much self-possession as
before; for Edith's quick uneasiness in reference to Florence, and
Edith's indifference to him and his censure, chafed and galled him
like a stiffening wound.
'Mrs Dombey,' said he, 'it may not be inconsistent with my
daughter's improvement to know how very much to be lamented, and how
necessary to be corrected, a stubborn disposition is, especially when
it is indulged in - unthankfully indulged in, I will add - after the
gratification of ambition and interest. Both of which, I believe, had
some share in inducing you to occupy your present station at this
'No! I would not rise, and go away, and save you the utterance of
one word,' she repeated, exactly as before, 'if the room were
'It may be natural enough, Mrs Dombey,' he pursued, 'that you
should be uneasy in the presence of any auditors of these disagreeable
truths; though why' - he could not hide his real feeling here, or keep
his eyes from glancing gloomily at Florence - 'why anyone can give
them greater force and point than myself, whom they so nearly concern,
I do not pretend to understand. It may be natural enough that you
should object to hear, in anybody's presence, that there is a
rebellious principle within you which you cannot curb too soon; which
you must curb, Mrs Dombey; and which, I regret to say, I remember to
have seen manifested - with some doubt and displeasure, on more than
one occasion before our marriage - towards your deceased mother. But
you have the remedy in your own hands. I by no means forgot, when I
began, that my daughter was present, Mrs Dombey. I beg you will not
forget, to-morrow, that there are several persons present; and that,
with some regard to appearances, you will receive your company in a
'So it is not enough,' said Edith, 'that you know what has passed
between yourself and me; it is not enough that you can look here,'
pointing at Carker, who still listened, with his eyes cast down, 'and
be reminded of the affronts you have put upon me; it is not enough
that you can look here,' pointing to Florence with a hand that
slightly trembled for the first and only time, 'and think of what you
have done, and of the ingenious agony, daily, hourly, constant, you
have made me feel in doing it; it is not enough that this day, of all
others in the year, is memorable to me for a struggle (well-deserved,
but not conceivable by such as you) in which I wish I had died! You
add to all this, do you, the last crowning meanness of making her a
witness of the depth to which I have fallen; when you know that you
have made me sacrifice to her peace, the only gentle feeling and
interest of my life, when you know that for her sake, I would now if I
could - but I can not, my soul recoils from you too much - submit
myself wholly to your will, and be the meekest vassal that you have!'
This was not the way to minister to Mr Dombey's greatness. The old
feeling was roused by what she said, into a stronger and fiercer
existence than it had ever had. Again, his neglected child, at this
rough passage of his life, put forth by even this rebellious woman, as
powerful where he was powerless, and everything where he was nothing!
He turned on Florence, as if it were she who had spoken, and bade
her leave the room. Florence with her covered face obeyed, trembling
and weeping as she went.
'I understand, Madam,' said Mr Dombey, with an angry flush of
triumph, 'the spirit of opposition that turned your affections in that
channel, but they have been met, Mrs Dombey; they have been met, and
'The worse for you!' she answered, with her voice and manner still
unchanged. 'Ay!' for he turned sharply when she said so, 'what is the
worse for me, is twenty million times the worse for you. Heed that, if
you heed nothing else.'
The arch of diamonds spanning her dark hair, flashed and glittered