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
there, making them as common as the common street, there was not one,
he thought, but had seemed at the time to set itself upon his brain
while he had kept close, listening. He looked at their number, and
their hurry, and contention - foot treading foot out, and upward track
and downward jostling one another - and thought, with absolute dread
and wonder, how much he must have suffered during that trial, and what
a changed man he had cause to be. He thought, besides, oh was there,
somewhere in the world, a light footstep that might have worn out in a
moment half those marks! - and bent his head, and wept as he went up.
He almost saw it, going on before. He stopped, looking up towards
the skylight; and a figure, childish itself, but carrying a child, and
singing as it went, seemed to be there again. Anon, it was the same
figure, alone, stopping for an instant, with suspended breath; the
bright hair clustering loosely round its tearful face; and looking
back at him.
He wandered through the rooms: lately so luxurious; now so bare and
dismal and so changed, apparently, even in their shape and size. The
press of footsteps was as thick here; and the same consideration of
the suffering he had had, perplexed and terrified him. He began to
fear that all this intricacy in his brain would drive him mad; and
that his thoughts already lost coherence as the footprints did, and
were pieced on to one another, with the same trackless involutions,
and varieties of indistinct shapes.
He did not so much as know in which of these rooms she had lived,
when she was alone. He was glad to leave them, and go wandering higher
up. Abundance of associations were here, connected with his false
wife, his false friend and servant, his false grounds of pride; but he
put them all by now, and only recalled miserably, weakly, fondly, his
Everywhere, the footsteps! They had had no respect for the old room
high up, where the little bed had been; he could hardly find a clear
space there, to throw himself down, on the floor, against the wall,
poor broken man, and let his tears flow as they would. He had shed so
many tears here, long ago, that he was less ashamed of his weakness in
this place than in any other - perhaps, with that consciousness, had
made excuses to himself for coming here. Here, with stooping
shoulders, and his chin dropped on his breast, he had come. Here,
thrown upon the bare boards, in the dead of night, he wept, alone - a
proud man, even then; who, if a kind hand could have been stretched
out, or a kind face could have looked in, would have risen up, and
turned away, and gone down to his cell.
When the day broke he was shut up in his rooms again. He had meant
to go away to-day, but clung to this tie in the house as the last and
only thing left to him. He would go to-morrow. To-morrow came. He
would go to-morrow. Every night, within the knowledge of no human
creature, he came forth, and wandered through the despoiled house like
a ghost. Many a morning when the day broke, his altered face, drooping
behind the closed blind in his window, imperfectly transparent to the
light as yet, pondered on the loss of his two children. It was one
child no more. He reunited them in his thoughts, and they were never
asunder. Oh, that he could have united them in his past love, and in
death, and that one had not been so much worse than dead!
Strong mental agitation and disturbance was no novelty to him, even
before his late sufferings. It never is, to obstinate and sullen
natures; for they struggle hard to be such. Ground, long undermined,
will often fall down in a moment; what was undermined here in so many
ways, weakened, and crumbled, little by little, more and more, as the
hand moved on the dial.
At last he began to think he need not go at all. He might yet give
up what his creditors had spared him (that they had not spared him
more, was his own act), and only sever the tie between him and the
ruined house, by severing that other link -
It was then that his footfall was audible in the late housekeeper's
room, as he walked to and fro; but not audible in its true meaning, or
it would have had an appalling sound.
The world was very busy and restless about him. He became aware of
that again. It was whispering and babbling. It was never quiet. This,
and the intricacy and complication of the footsteps, harassed him to
death. Objects began to take a bleared and russet colour in his eyes.
Dombey and Son was no more - his children no more. This must be
thought of, well, to-morrow.
He thought of it to-morrow; and sitting thinking in his chair, saw
in the glass, from time to time, this picture:
A spectral, haggard, wasted likeness of himself, brooded and
brooded over the empty fireplace. Now it lifted up its head, examining
the lines and hollows in its face; now hung it down again, and brooded
afresh. Now it rose and walked about; now passed into the next room,
and came back with something from the dressing-table in its breast.
Now, it was looking at the bottom of the door, and thinking.
Hush! what? It was thinking that if blood were to trickle that way,
and to leak out into the hall, it must be a long time going so far. It
would move so stealthily and slowly, creeping on, with here a lazy
little pool, and there a start, and then another little pool, that a
desperately wounded man could only be discovered through its means,
either dead or dying. When it had thought of this a long while, it got
up again, and walked to and fro with its hand in its breast. He
glanced at it occasionally, very curious to watch its motions, and he
marked how wicked and murderous that hand looked.
Now it was thinking again! What was it thinking?
Whether they would tread in the blood when it crept so far, and
carry it about the house among those many prints of feet, or even out
into the street.
It sat down, with its eyes upon the empty fireplace, and as it lost
itself in thought there shone into the room a gleam of light; a ray of
sun. It was quite unmindful, and sat thinking. Suddenly it rose, with
a terrible face, and that guilty hand grasping what was in its breast.
Then it was arrested by a cry - a wild, loud, piercing, loving,
rapturous cry - and he only saw his own reflection in the glass, and
at his knees, his daughter!
Yes. His daughter! Look at her! Look here! Down upon the ground,
clinging to him, calling to him, folding her hands, praying to him.
'Papa! Dearest Papa! Pardon me, forgive me! I have come back to ask
forgiveness on my knees. I never can be happy more, without it!'
Unchanged still. Of all the world, unchanged. Raising the same face
to his, as on that miserable night. Asking his forgiveness!
'Dear Papa, oh don't look strangely on me! I never meant to leave
you. I never thought of it, before or afterwards. I was frightened
when I went away, and could not think. Papa, dear, I am changed. I am
penitent. I know my fault. I know my duty better now. Papa, don't cast
me off, or I shall die!'
He tottered to his chair. He felt her draw his arms about her neck;
he felt her put her own round his; he felt her kisses on his face; he
felt her wet cheek laid against his own; he felt - oh, how deeply! -
all that he had done.
Upon the breast that he had bruised, against the heart that he had
almost broken, she laid his face, now covered with his hands, and
'Papa, love, I am a mother. I have a child who will soon call
Walter by the name by which I call you. When it was born, and when I
knew how much I loved it, I knew what I had done in leaving you.
Forgive me, dear Papa! oh say God bless me, and my little child!'
He would have said it, if he could. He would have raised his hands
and besought her for pardon, but she caught them in her own, and put
them down, hurriedly.
'My little child was born at sea, Papa I prayed to God (and so did
Walter for me) to spare me, that I might come home. The moment I could
land, I came back to you. Never let us be parted any more, Papa. Never
let us be parted any more!'
His head, now grey, was encircled by her arm; and he groaned to
think that never, never, had it rested so before.
'You will come home with me, Papa, and see my baby. A boy, Papa.
His name is Paul. I think - I hope - he's like - '
Her tears stopped her.
'Dear Papa, for the sake of my child, for the sake of the name we
have given him, for my sake, pardon Walter. He is so kind and tender
to me. I am so happy with him. It was not his fault that we were
married. It was mine. I loved him so much.'
She clung closer to him, more endearing and more earnest.
'He is the darling of my heart, Papa I would die for him. He will
love and honour you as I will. We will teach our little child to love
and honour you; and we will tell him, when he can understand, that you
had a son of that name once, and that he died, and you were very
sorry; but that he is gone to Heaven, where we all hope to see him
when our time for resting comes. Kiss me, Papa, as a promise that you
will be reconciled to Walter - to my dearest husband - to the father
of the little child who taught me to come back, Papa Who taught me to
As she clung closer to him, in another burst of tears, he kissed
her on her lips, and, lifting up his eyes, said, 'Oh my God, forgive
me, for I need it very much!'
With that he dropped his head again, lamenting over and caressing
her, and there was not a sound in all the house for a long, long time;
they remaining clasped in one another's arms, in the glorious sunshine
that had crept in with Florence.
He dressed himself for going out, with a docile submission to her
entreaty; and walking with a feeble gait, and looking back, with a
tremble, at the room in which he had been so long shut up, and where
he had seen the picture in the glass, passed out with her into the
hall. Florence, hardly glancing round her, lest she should remind him
freshly of their last parting - for their feet were on the very stones
where he had struck her in his madness - and keeping close to him,
with her eyes upon his face, and his arm about her, led him out to a
coach that was waiting at the door, and carried him away.
Then, Miss Tox and Polly came out of their concealment, and exulted
tearfully. And then they packed his clothes, and books, and so forth,
with great care; and consigned them in due course to certain persons