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
to her serious qualities being particularly commended by an admiring
and numerous connexion.
Mrs Wickam, with her eyebrows elevated, and her head on one side,
lighted the way upstairs to a clean, neat chamber, opening on another
chamber dimly lighted, where there was a bed. In the first room, an
old woman sat mechanically staring out at the open window, on the
darkness. In the second, stretched upon the bed, lay the shadow of a
figure that had spurned the wind and rain, one wintry night; hardly to
be recognised now, but by the long black hair that showed so very
black against the colourless face, and all the white things about it.
Oh, the strong eyes, and the weak frame! The eyes that turned so
eagerly and brightly to the door when Harriet came in; the feeble head
that could not raise itself, and moved so slowly round upon its
'Alice!' said the visitor's mild voice, 'am I late to-night?'
'You always seem late, but are always early.'
Harriet had sat down by the bedside now, and put her hand upon the
thin hand lying there.
'You are better?'
Mrs Wickam, standing at the foot of the bed, like a disconsolate
spectre, most decidedly and forcibly shook her head to negative this
'It matters very little!' said Alice, with a faint smile. 'Better
or worse to-day, is but a day's difference - perhaps not so much.'
Mrs Wickam, as a serious character, expressed her approval with a
groan; and having made some cold dabs at the bottom of the bedclothes,
as feeling for the patient's feet and expecting to find them stony;
went clinking among the medicine bottles on the table, as who should
say, 'while we are here, let us repeat the mixture as before.'
'No,' said Alice, whispering to her visitor, 'evil courses, and
remorse, travel, want, and weather, storm within, and storm without,
have worn my life away. It will not last much longer.
She drew the hand up as she spoke, and laid her face against it.
'I lie here, sometimes, thinking I should like to live until I had
had a little time to show you how grateful I could be! It is a
weakness, and soon passes. Better for you as it is. Better for me!'
How different her hold upon the hand, from what it had been when
she took it by the fireside on the bleak winter evening! Scorn, rage,
defiance, recklessness, look here! This is the end.
Mrs Wickam having clinked sufficiently among the bottles, now
produced the mixture. Mrs Wickam looked hard at her patient in the act
of drinking, screwed her mouth up tight, her eyebrows also, and shook
her head, expressing that tortures shouldn't make her say it was a
hopeless case. Mrs Wickam then sprinkled a little cooling-stuff about
the room, with the air of a female grave-digger, who was strewing
ashes on ashes, dust on dust - for she was a serious character - and
withdrew to partake of certain funeral baked meats downstairs.
'How long is it,' asked Alice, 'since I went to you and told you
what I had done, and when you were advised it was too late for anyone
'It is a year and more,' said Harriet.
'A year and more,' said Alice, thoughtfully intent upon her face.
'Months upon months since you brought me here!'
Harriet answered 'Yes.'
'Brought me here, by force of gentleness and kindness. Me!' said
Alice, shrinking with her face behind her hand, 'and made me human by
woman's looks and words, and angel's deeds!'
Harriet bending over her, composed and soothed her. By and bye,
Alice lying as before, with the hand against her face, asked to have
her mother called.
Harriet called to her more than once, but the old woman was so
absorbed looking out at the open window on the darkness, that she did
not hear. It was not until Harriet went to her and touched her, that
she rose up, and came.
'Mother,' said Alice, taking the hand again, and fixing her
lustrous eyes lovingly upon her visitor, while she merely addressed a
motion of her finger to the old woman, 'tell her what you know.'
'To-night, my deary?'
'Ay, mother,' answered Alice, faintly and solemnly, 'to-night!'
The old woman, whose wits appeared disorderly by alarm, remorse, or
grief, came creeping along the side of the bed, opposite to that on
which Harriet sat; and kneeling down, so as to bring her withered face
upon a level with the coverlet, and stretching out her hand, so as to
touch her daughter's arm, began:
'My handsome gal - '
Heaven, what a cry was that, with which she stopped there, gazing
at the poor form lying on the bed!
'Changed, long ago, mother! Withered, long ago,' said Alice,
without looking at her. 'Don't grieve for that now.
'My daughter,' faltered the old woman, 'my gal who'll soon get
better, and shame 'em all with her good looks.'
Alice smiled mournfully at Harriet, and fondled her hand a little
closer, but said nothing.
'Who'll soon get better, I say,' repeated the old woman, menacing
the vacant air with her shrivelled fist, 'and who'll shame 'em all
with her good looks - she will. I say she will! she shall!' - as if
she were in passionate contention with some unseen opponent at the
bedside, who contradicted her - 'my daughter has been turned away
from, and cast out, but she could boast relationship to proud folks
too, if she chose. Ah! To proud folks! There's relationship without
your clergy and your wedding rings - they may make it, but they can't
break it - and my daughter's well related. Show me Mrs Dombey, and
I'll show you my Alice's first cousin.'
Harriet glanced from the old woman to the lustrous eyes intent upon
her face, and derived corroboration from them.
'What!' cried the old woman, her nodding head bridling with a
ghastly vanity. 'Though I am old and ugly now, - much older by life
and habit than years though, - I was once as young as any. Ah! as
pretty too, as many! I was a fresh country wench in my time, darling,'
stretching out her arm to Harriet, across the bed, 'and looked it,
too. Down in my country, Mrs Dombey's father and his brother were the
gayest gentlemen and the best-liked that came a visiting from London -
they have long been dead, though! Lord, Lord, this long while! The
brother, who was my Ally's father, longest of the two.'
She raised her head a little, and peered at her daughter's face; as
if from the remembrance of her own youth, she had flown to the
remembrance of her child's. Then, suddenly, she laid her face down on
the bed, and shut her head up in her hands and arms.
'They were as like,' said the old woman, without looking up, as you
could see two brothers, so near an age - there wasn't much more than a
year between them, as I recollect - and if you could have seen my gal,
as I have seen her once, side by side with the other's daughter, you'd
have seen, for all the difference of dress and life, that they were
like each other. Oh! is the likeness gone, and is it my gal - only my
gal - that's to change so!'
'We shall all change, mother, in our turn,' said Alice.
'Turn!' cried the old woman, 'but why not hers as soon as my gal's!
The mother must have changed - she looked as old as me, and full as
wrinkled through her paint - but she was handsome. What have I done,
I, what have I done worse than her, that only my gal is to lie there
fading!' With another of those wild cries, she went running out into
the room from which she had come; but immediately, in her uncertain
mood, returned, and creeping up to Harriet, said:
'That's what Alice bade me tell you, deary. That's all. I found it
out when I began to ask who she was, and all about her, away in
Warwickshire there, one summer-time. Such relations was no good to me,
then. They wouldn't have owned me, and had nothing to give me. I
should have asked 'em, maybe, for a little money, afterwards, if it
hadn't been for my Alice; she'd a'most have killed me, if I had, I
think She was as proud as t'other in her way,' said the old woman,
touching the face of her daughter fearfully, and withdrawing her hand,
'for all she's so quiet now; but she'll shame 'em with her good looks
yet. Ha, ha! She'll shame 'em, will my handsome daughter!'
Her laugh, as she retreated, was worse than her cry; worse than the
burst of imbecile lamentation in which it ended; worse than the doting
air with which she sat down in her old seat, and stared out at the
The eyes of Alice had all this time been fixed on Harriet, whose
hand she had never released. She said now:
'I have felt, lying here, that I should like you to know this. It
might explain, I have thought, something that used to help to harden
me. I had heard so much, in my wrongdoing, of my neglected duty, that
I took up with the belief that duty had not been done to me, and that
as the seed was sown, the harvest grew. I somehow made it out that
when ladies had bad homes and mothers, they went wrong in their way,
too; but that their way was not so foul a one as mine, and they had
need to bless God for it.' That is all past. It is like a dream, now,
which I cannot quite remember or understand. It has been more and more
like a dream, every day, since you began to sit here, and to read to
me. I only tell it you, as I can recollect it. Will you read to me a
Harriet was withdrawing her hand to open the book, when Alice
detained it for a moment.
'You will not forget my mother? I forgive her, if I have any cause.
I know that she forgives me, and is sorry in her heart. You will not