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
great an effort must be soon abandoned and the parasol dropped,
sauntered a much younger lady, very handsome, very haughty, very
wilful, who tossed her head and drooped her eyelids, as though, if
there were anything in all the world worth looking into, save a
mirror, it certainly was not the earth or sky.
'Why, what the devil have we here, Sir!' cried the Major, stopping
as this little cavalcade drew near.
'My dearest Edith!' drawled the lady in the chair, 'Major
The Major no sooner heard the voice, than he relinquished Mr
Dombey's arm, darted forward, took the hand of the lady in the chair
and pressed it to his lips. With no less gallantry, the Major folded
both his gloves upon his heart, and bowed low to the other lady. And
now, the chair having stopped, the motive power became visible in the
shape of a flushed page pushing behind, who seemed to have in part
outgrown and in part out-pushed his strength, for when he stood
upright he was tall, and wan, and thin, and his plight appeared the
more forlorn from his having injured the shape of his hat, by butting
at the carriage with his head to urge it forward, as is sometimes done
by elephants in Oriental countries.
'Joe Bagstock,' said the Major to both ladies, 'is a proud and
happy man for the rest of his life.'
'You false creature! said the old lady in the chair, insipidly.
'Where do you come from? I can't bear you.'
'Then suffer old Joe to present a friend, Ma'am,' said the Major,
promptly, 'as a reason for being tolerated. Mr Dombey, Mrs Skewton.'
The lady in the chair was gracious. 'Mr Dombey, Mrs Granger.' The lady
with the parasol was faintly conscious of Mr Dombey's taking off his
hat, and bowing low. 'I am delighted, Sir,' said the Major, 'to have
The Major seemed in earnest, for he looked at all the three, and
leered in his ugliest manner.
'Mrs Skewton, Dombey,' said the Major, 'makes havoc in the heart of
Mr Dombey signified that he didn't wonder at it.
'You perfidious goblin,' said the lady in the chair, 'have done!
How long have you been here, bad man?'
'One day,' replied the Major.
'And can you be a day, or even a minute,' returned the lady,
slightly settling her false curls and false eyebrows with her fan, and
showing her false teeth, set off by her false complexion, 'in the
garden of what's-its-name
'Eden, I suppose, Mama,' interrupted the younger lady, scornfully.
'My dear Edith,' said the other, 'I cannot help it. I never can
remember those frightful names - without having your whole Soul and
Being inspired by the sight of Nature; by the perfume,' said Mrs
Skewton, rustling a handkerchief that was faint and sickly with
essences, 'of her artless breath, you creature!'
The discrepancy between Mrs Skewton's fresh enthusiasm of words,
and forlornly faded manner, was hardly less observable than that
between her age, which was about seventy, and her dress, which would
have been youthful for twenty-seven. Her attitude in the wheeled chair
(which she never varied) was one in which she had been taken in a
barouche, some fifty years before, by a then fashionable artist who
had appended to his published sketch the name of Cleopatra: in
consequence of a discovery made by the critics of the time, that it
bore an exact resemblance to that Princess as she reclined on board
her galley. Mrs Skewton was a beauty then, and bucks threw
wine-glasses over their heads by dozens in her honour. The beauty and
the barouche had both passed away, but she still preserved the
attitude, and for this reason expressly, maintained the wheeled chair
and the butting page: there being nothing whatever, except the
attitude, to prevent her from walking.
'Mr Dombey is devoted to Nature, I trust?' said Mrs Skewton,
settling her diamond brooch. And by the way, she chiefly lived upon
the reputation of some diamonds, and her family connexions.
'My friend Dombey, Ma'am,' returned the Major, 'may be devoted to
her in secret, but a man who is paramount in the greatest city in the
'No one can be a stranger,' said Mrs Skewton, 'to Mr Dombey's
As Mr Dombey acknowledged the compliment with a bend of his head,
the younger lady glancing at him, met his eyes.
'You reside here, Madam?' said Mr Dombey, addressing her.
'No, we have been to a great many places. To Harrogate and
Scarborough, and into Devonshire. We have been visiting, and resting
here and there. Mama likes change.'
'Edith of course does not,' said Mrs Skewton, with a ghastly
'I have not found that there is any change in such places,' was the
answer, delivered with supreme indifference.
'They libel me. There is only one change, Mr Dombey,' observed Mrs
Skewton, with a mincing sigh, 'for which I really care, and that I
fear I shall never be permitted to enjoy. People cannot spare one. But
seclusion and contemplation are my what-his-name - '
'If you mean Paradise, Mama, you had better say so, to render
yourself intelligible,' said the younger lady.
'My dearest Edith,' returned Mrs Skewton, 'you know that I am
wholly dependent upon you for those odious names. I assure you, Mr
Dombey, Nature intended me for an Arcadian. I am thrown away in
society. Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for, has been to
retreat to a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows - and
This curious association of objects, suggesting a remembrance of
the celebrated bull who got by mistake into a crockery shop, was
received with perfect gravity by Mr Dombey, who intimated his opinion
that Nature was, no doubt, a very respectable institution.
'What I want,' drawled Mrs Skewton, pinching her shrivelled throat,
'is heart.' It was frightfully true in one sense, if not in that in
which she used the phrase. 'What I want, is frankness, confidence,
less conventionality, and freer play of soul. We are so dreadfully
We were, indeed.
'In short,' said Mrs Skewton, 'I want Nature everywhere. It would
be so extremely charming.'
'Nature is inviting us away now, Mama, if you are ready,' said the
younger lady, curling her handsome lip. At this hint, the wan page,
who had been surveying the party over the top of the chair, vanished
behind it, as if the ground had swallowed him up.
'Stop a moment, Withers!' said Mrs Skewton, as the chair began to
move; calling to the page with all the languid dignity with which she
had called in days of yore to a coachman with a wig, cauliflower
nosegay, and silk stockings. 'Where are you staying, abomination?' The
Major was staying at the Royal Hotel, with his friend Dombey.
'You may come and see us any evening when you are good,' lisped Mrs
Skewton. 'If Mr Dombey will honour us, we shall be happy. Withers, go
The Major again pressed to his blue lips the tips of the fingers
that were disposed on the ledge of the wheeled chair with careful
carelessness, after the Cleopatra model: and Mr Dombey bowed. The
elder lady honoured them both with a very gracious smile and a girlish
wave of her hand; the younger lady with the very slightest inclination
of her head that common courtesy allowed.
The last glimpse of the wrinkled face of the mother, with that
patched colour on it which the sun made infinitely more haggard and
dismal than any want of colour could have been, and of the proud
beauty of the daughter with her graceful figure and erect deportment,
engendered such an involuntary disposition on the part of both the
Major and Mr Dombey to look after them, that they both turned at the
same moment. The Page, nearly as much aslant as his own shadow, was
toiling after the chair, uphill, like a slow battering-ram; the top of
Cleopatra's bonnet was fluttering in exactly the same corner to the
inch as before; and the Beauty, loitering by herself a little in
advance, expressed in all her elegant form, from head to foot, the
same supreme disregard of everything and everybody.
'I tell you what, Sir,' said the Major, as they resumed their walk
again. 'If Joe Bagstock were a younger man, there's not a woman in the
world whom he'd prefer for Mrs Bagstock to that woman. By George,
Sir!' said the Major, 'she's superb!'
'Do you mean the daughter?' inquired Mr Dombey.
'Is Joey B. a turnip, Dombey,' said the Major, 'that he should mean
'You were complimentary to the mother,' returned Mr Dombey.
'An ancient flame, Sir,' chuckled Major Bagstock. 'Devilish
ancient. I humour her.'
'She impresses me as being perfectly genteel,' said Mr Dombey.
'Genteel, Sir,' said the Major, stopping short, and staring in his
companion's face. 'The Honourable Mrs Skewton, Sir, is sister to the
late Lord Feenix, and aunt to the present Lord. The family are not
wealthy - they're poor, indeed - and she lives upon a small jointure;
but if you come to blood, Sir!' The Major gave a flourish with his
stick and walked on again, in despair of being able to say what you
came to, if you came to that.
'You addressed the daughter, I observed,' said Mr Dombey, after a
short pause, 'as Mrs Granger.'
'Edith Skewton, Sir,' returned the Major, stopping short again, and