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
'em. We must have our national schools to walk at the head of, and we
must have our standing armies. We must marry 'em, Ma'am,' says Mr
Sownds, 'and keep the country going.'
Mr Sownds is sitting on the steps and Mrs Miff is dusting in the
church, when a young couple, plainly dressed, come in. The mortified
bonnet of Mrs Miff is sharply turned towards them, for she espies in
this early visit indications of a runaway match. But they don't want
to be married - 'Only,' says the gentleman, 'to walk round the
church.' And as he slips a genteel compliment into the palm of Mrs
Miff, her vinegary face relaxes, and her mortified bonnet and her
spare dry figure dip and crackle.
Mrs Miff resumes her dusting and plumps up her cushions - for the
yellow-faced old gentleman is reported to have tender knees - but
keeps her glazed, pew-opening eye on the young couple who are walking
round the church. 'Ahem,' coughs Mrs Miff whose cough is drier than
the hay in any hassock in her charge, 'you'll come to us one of these
mornings, my dears, unless I'm much mistaken!'
They are looking at a tablet on the wall, erected to the memory of
someone dead. They are a long way off from Mrs Miff, but Mrs Miff can
see with half an eye how she is leaning on his arm, and how his head
is bent down over her. 'Well, well,' says Mrs Miff, 'you might do
worse. For you're a tidy pair!'
There is nothing personal in Mrs Miff's remark. She merely speaks
of stock-in-trade. She is hardly more curious in couples than in
coffins. She is such a spare, straight, dry old lady - such a pew of a
woman - that you should find as many individual sympathies in a chip.
Mr Sownds, now, who is fleshy, and has scarlet in his coat, is of a
different temperament. He says, as they stand upon the steps watching
the young couple away, that she has a pretty figure, hasn't she, and
as well as he could see (for she held her head down coming out), an
uncommon pretty face. 'Altogether, Mrs Miff,' says Mr Sownds with a
relish, 'she is what you may call a rose-bud.'
Mrs Miff assents with a spare nod of her mortified bonnet; but
approves of this so little, that she inwardly resolves she wouldn't be
the wife of Mr Sownds for any money he could give her, Beadle as he
And what are the young couple saying as they leave the church, and
go out at the gate?
'Dear Walter, thank you! I can go away, now, happy.'
'And when we come back, Florence, we will come and see his grave
Florence lifts her eyes, so bright with tears, to his kind face;
and clasps her disengaged hand on that other modest little hand which
clasps his arm.
'It is very early, Walter, and the streets are almost empty yet.
Let us walk.'
'But you will be so tired, my love.'
'Oh no! I was very tired the first time that we ever walked
together, but I shall not be so to-day.' And thus - not much changed -
she, as innocent and earnest-hearted - he, as frank, as hopeful, and
more proud of her - Florence and Walter, on their bridal morning, walk
through the streets together.
Not even in that childish walk of long ago, were they so far
removed from all the world about them as to-day. The childish feet of
long ago, did not tread such enchanted ground as theirs do now. The
confidence and love of children may be given many times, and will
spring up in many places; but the woman's heart of Florence, with its
undivided treasure, can be yielded only once, and under slight or
change, can only droop and die.
They take the streets that are the quietest, and do not go near
that in which her old home stands. It is a fair, warm summer morning,
and the sun shines on them, as they walk towards the darkening mist
that overspreads the City. Riches are uncovering in shops; jewels,
gold, and silver flash in the goldsmith's sunny windows; and great
houses cast a stately shade upon them as they pass. But through the
light, and through the shade, they go on lovingly together, lost to
everything around; thinking of no other riches, and no prouder home,
than they have now in one another.
Gradually they come into the darker, narrower streets, where the
sun, now yellow, and now red, is seen through the mist, only at street
corners, and in small open spaces where there is a tree, or one of the
innumerable churches, or a paved way and a flight of steps, or a
curious little patch of garden, or a burying-ground, where the few
tombs and tombstones are almost black. Lovingly and trustfully,
through all the narrow yards and alleys and the shady streets,
Florence goes, clinging to his arm, to be his wife.
Her heart beats quicker now, for Walter tells her that their church
is very near. They pass a few great stacks of warehouses, with waggons
at the doors, and busy carmen stopping up the way - but Florence does
not see or hear them - and then the air is quiet, and the day is
darkened, and she is trembling in a church which has a strange smell
like a cellar.
The shabby little old man, ringer of the disappointed bell, is
standing in the porch, and has put his hat in the font - for he is
quite at home there, being sexton. He ushers them into an old brown,
panelled, dusty vestry, like a corner-cupboard with the shelves taken
out; where the wormy registers diffuse a smell like faded snuff, which
has set the tearful Nipper sneezing.
Youthful, and how beautiful, the young bride looks, in this old
dusty place, with no kindred object near her but her husband. There is
a dusty old clerk, who keeps a sort of evaporated news shop underneath
an archway opposite, behind a perfect fortification of posts. There is
a dusty old pew-opener who only keeps herself, and finds that quite
enough to do. There is a dusty old beadle (these are Mr Toots's beadle
and pew-opener of last Sunday), who has something to do with a
Worshipful Company who have got a Hall in the next yard, with a
stained-glass window in it that no mortal ever saw. There are dusty
wooden ledges and cornices poked in and out over the altar, and over
the screen and round the gallery, and over the inscription about what
the Master and Wardens of the Worshipful Company did in one thousand
six hundred and ninety-four. There are dusty old sounding-boards over
the pulpit and reading-desk, looking like lids to be let down on the
officiating ministers in case of their giving offence. There is every
possible provision for the accommodation of dust, except in the
churchyard, where the facilities in that respect are very limited. The
Captain, Uncle Sol, and Mr Toots are come; the clergyman is putting on
his surplice in the vestry, while the clerk walks round him, blowing
the dust off it; and the bride and bridegroom stand before the altar.
There is no bridesmaid, unless Susan Nipper is one; and no better
father than Captain Cuttle. A man with a wooden leg, chewing a faint
apple and carrying a blue bag in has hand, looks in to see what is
going on; but finding it nothing entertaining, stumps off again, and
pegs his way among the echoes out of doors.
No gracious ray of light is seen to fall on Florence, kneeling at
the altar with her timid head bowed down. The morning luminary is
built out, and don't shine there. There is a meagre tree outside,
where the sparrows are chirping a little; and there is a blackbird in
an eyelet-hole of sun in a dyer's garret, over against the window, who
whistles loudly whilst the service is performing; and there is the man
with the wooden leg stumping away. The amens of the dusty clerk
appear, like Macbeth's, to stick in his throat a little'; but Captain
Cuttle helps him out, and does it with so much goodwill that he
interpolates three entirely new responses of that word, never
introduced into the service before.
They are married, and have signed their names in one of the old
sneezy registers, and the clergyman's surplice is restored to the
dust, and the clergymam is gone home. In a dark corner of the dark
church, Florence has turned to Susan Nipper, and is weeping in her
arms. Mr Toots's eyes are red. The Captain lubricates his nose. Uncle
Sol has pulled down his spectacles from his forehead, and walked out
to the door.
'God bless you, Susan; dearest Susan! If you ever can bear witness
to the love I have for Walter, and the reason that I have to love him,
do it for his sake. Good-bye! Good-bye!'
They have thought it better not to go back to the Midshipman, but
to part so; a coach is waiting for them, near at hand.
Miss Nipper cannot speak; she only sobs and chokes, and hugs her
mistress. Mr Toots advances, urges her to cheer up, and takes charge
of her. Florence gives him her hand - gives him, in the fulness of her
heart, her lips - kisses Uncle Sol, and Captain Cuttle, and is borne
away by her young husband.
But Susan cannot bear that Florence should go away with a mournful
recollection of her. She had meant to be so different, that she
reproaches herself bitterly. Intent on making one last effort to
redeem her character, she breaks from Mr Toots and runs away to find
the coach, and show a parting smile. The Captain, divining her object,
sets off after her; for he feels it his duty also to dismiss them with
a cheer, if possible. Uncle Sol and Mr Toots are left behind together,
outside the church, to wait for them.
The coach is gone, but the street is steep, and narrow, and blocked
up, and Susan can see it at a stand-still in the distance, she is
sure. Captain Cuttle follows her as she flies down the hill, and waves
his glazed hat as a general signal, which may attract the right coach
and which may not.
Susan outstrips the Captain, and comes up with it. She looks in at
the window, sees Walter, with the gentle face beside him, and claps
her hands and screams:
'Miss Floy, my darling! look at me! We are all so happy now, dear!
One more good-bye, my precious, one more!'
How Susan does it, she don't know, but she reaches to the window,
kisses her, and has her arms about her neck, in a moment.
We are all so happy now, my dear Miss Floy!' says Susan, with a
suspicious catching in her breath. 'You, you won't be angry with me
now. Now will you?'
'No, no; I am sure you won't. I say you won't, my pet, my dearest!'
exclaims Susan; 'and here's the Captain too - your friend the Captain,
you know - to say good-bye once more!'