Dombey and Son
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and looked earnestly for it. So earnestly, that Cousin Feenix
answered, as if she had spoken.
'The fact is,' said Cousin Feenix, 'that my friend Gay and myself
have been discussing the propriety of entreating a favour at your
hands; and that I have the consent of my friend Gay - who has met me
in an exceedingly kind and open manner, for which I am very much
indebted to him - to solicit it. I am sensible that so amiable a lady
as the lovely and accomplished daughter of my friend Dombey will not
require much urging; but I am happy to know, that I am supported by my
friend Gay's influence and approval. As in my parliamentary time, when
a man had a motion to make of any sort - which happened seldom in
those days, for we were kept very tight in hand, the leaders on both
sides being regular Martinets, which was a devilish good thing for the
rank and file, like myself, and prevented our exposing ourselves
continually, as a great many of us had a feverish anxiety to do - as'
in my parliamentary time, I was about to say, when a man had leave to
let off any little private popgun, it was always considered a great
point for him to say that he had the happiness of believing that his
sentiments were not without an echo in the breast of Mr Pitt; the
pilot, in point of fact, who had weathered the storm. Upon which, a
devilish large number of fellows immediately cheered, and put him in
spirits. Though the fact is, that these fellows, being under orders to
cheer most excessively whenever Mr Pitt's name was mentioned, became
so proficient that it always woke 'em. And they were so entirely
innocent of what was going on, otherwise, that it used to be commonly
said by Conversation Brown - four-bottle man at the Treasury Board,
with whom the father of my friend Gay was probably acquainted, for it
was before my friend Gay's time - that if a man had risen in his
place, and said that he regretted to inform the house that there was
an Honourable Member in the last stage of convulsions in the Lobby,
and that the Honourable Member's name was Pitt, the approbation would
have been vociferous.'
This postponement of the point, put Florence in a flutter; and she
looked from Cousin Feenix to Walter, in increasing agitatioN
'My love,' said Walter, 'there is nothing the matter.
'There is nothing the matter, upon my honour,' said Cousin Feenix;
'and I am deeply distressed at being the means of causing you a
moment's uneasiness. I beg to assure you that there is nothing the
matter. The favour that I have to ask is, simply - but it really does
seem so exceedingly singular, that I should be in the last degree
obliged to my friend Gay if he would have the goodness to break the -
in point of fact, the ice,' said Cousin Feenix.
Walter thus appealed to, and appealed to no less in the look that
Florence turned towards him, said:
'My dearest, it is no more than this. That you will ride to London
with this gentleman, whom you know.
'And my friend Gay, also - I beg your pardon!' interrupted Cousin
And with me - and make a visit somewhere.'
'To whom?' asked Florence, looking from one to the other.
'If I might entreat,' said Cousin Feenix, 'that you would not press
for an answer to that question, I would venture to take the liberty of
making the request.'
'Do you know, Walter?'
'And think it right?'
'Yes. Only because I am sure that you would too. Though there may
be reasons I very well understand, which make it better that nothing
more should be said beforehand.'
'If Papa is still asleep, or can spare me if he is awake, I will go
immediately,' said Florence. And rising quietly, and glancing at them
with a look that was a little alarmed but perfectly confiding, left
When she came back, ready to bear them company, they were talking
together, gravely, at the window; and Florence could not but wonder
what the topic was, that had made them so well acquainted in so short
a time. She did not wonder at the look of pride and love with which
her husband broke off as she entered; for she never saw him, but that
rested on her.
'I will leave,' said Cousin Feenix, 'a card for my friend Dombey,
sincerely trusting that he will pick up health and strength with every
returning hour. And I hope my friend Dombey will do me the favour to
consider me a man who has a devilish warm admiration of his character,
as, in point of fact, a British merchant and a devilish upright
gentleman. My place in the country is in a most confounded state of
dilapidation, but if my friend Dombey should require a change of air,
and would take up his quarters there, he would find it a remarkably
healthy spot - as it need be, for it's amazingly dull. If my friend
Dombey suffers from bodily weakness, and would allow me to recommend
what has frequently done myself good, as a man who has been extremely
queer at times, and who lived pretty freely in the days when men lived
very freely, I should say, let it be in point of fact the yolk of an
egg, beat up with sugar and nutmeg, in a glass of sherry, and taken in
the morning with a slice of dry toast. Jackson, who kept the
boxing-rooms in Bond Street - man of very superior qualifications,
with whose reputation my friend Gay is no doubt acquainted - used to
mention that in training for the ring they substituted rum for sherry.
I should recommend sherry in this case, on account of my friend Dombey
being in an invalided condition; which might occasion rum to fly - in
point of fact to his head - and throw him into a devil of a state.'
Of all this, Cousin Feenix delivered himself with an obviously
nervous and discomposed air. Then, giving his arm to Florence, and
putting the strongest possible constraint upon his wilful legs, which
seemed determined to go out into the garden, he led her to the door,
and handed her into a carriage that was ready for her reception.
Walter entered after him, and they drove away.
Their ride was six or eight miles long. When they drove through
certain dull and stately streets, lying westward in London, it was
growing dusk. Florence had, by this time, put her hand in Walter's;
and was looking very earnestly, and with increasing agitation, into
every new street into which they turned.
When the carriage stopped, at last, before that house in Brook
Street, where her father's unhappy marriage had been celebrated,
Florence said, 'Walter, what is this? Who is here?' Walter cheering
her, and not replying, she glanced up at the house-front, and saw that
all the windows were shut, as if it were uninhabited. Cousin Feenix
had by this time alighted, and was offering his hand.
'Are you not coming, Walter?'
'No, I will remain here. Don't tremble there is nothing to fear,
'I know that, Walter, with you so near. I am sure of that, but - '
The door was softly opened, without any knock, and Cousin Feenix
led her out of the summer evening air into the close dull house. More
sombre and brown than ever, it seemed to have been shut up from the
wedding-day, and to have hoarded darkness and sadness ever since.
Florence ascended the dusky staircase, trembling; and stopped, with
her conductor, at the drawing-room door. He opened it, without
speaking, and signed an entreaty to her to advance into the inner
room, while he remained there. Florence, after hesitating an instant,
Sitting by the window at a table, where she seemed to have been
writing or drawing, was a lady, whose head, turned away towards the
dying light, was resting on her hand. Florence advancing, doubtfully,
all at once stood still, as if she had lost the power of motion. The
lady turned her head.
'Great Heaven!' she said, 'what is this?'
'No, no!' cried Florence, shrinking back as she rose up and putting
out her hands to keep her off. 'Mama!'
They stood looking at each other. Passion and pride had worn it,
but it was the face of Edith, and beautiful and stately yet. It was
the face of Florence, and through all the terrified avoidance it
expressed, there was pity in it, sorrow, a grateful tender memory. On
each face, wonder and fear were painted vividly; each so still and
silent, looking at the other over the black gulf of the irrevocable past.
Florence was the first to change. Bursting into tears, she said
from her full heart, 'Oh, Mama, Mama! why do we meet like this? Why
were you ever kind to me when there was no one else, that we should
meet like this?'
Edith stood before her, dumb and motionless. Her eyes were fixed
upon her face.
'I dare not think of that,' said Florence, 'I am come from Papa's
sick bed. We are never asunder now; we never shall be' any more. If
you would have me ask his pardon, I will do it, Mama. I am almost sure
he will grant it now, if I ask him. May Heaven grant it to you, too,
and comfort you!'
She answered not a word.
'Walter - I am married to him, and we have a son,' said Florence,
timidly - 'is at the door, and has brought me here. I will tell him
that you are repentant; that you are changed,' said Florence, looking
mournfully upon her; 'and he will speak to Papa with me, I know. Is
there anything but this that I can do?'
Edith, breaking her silence, without moving eye or limb, answered
'The stain upon your name, upon your husband's, on your child's.
Will that ever be forgiven, Florence?'
'Will it ever be, Mama? It is! Freely, freely, both by Walter and
by me. If that is any consolation to you, there is nothing that you
may believe more certainly. You do not - you do not,' faltered
Florence, 'speak of Papa; but I am sure you wish that I should ask him
for his forgiveness. I am sure you do.'
She answered not a word.