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
well. Then, sometimes, when her thoughts reverted swiftly to the void
between herself and her father, Florence would tremble, and the tears
would start upon her face, as she pictured to herself her mother
living on, and coming also to dislike her, because of her wanting the
unknown grace that should conciliate that father naturally, and had
never done so from her cradle She knew that this imagination did wrong
to her mother's memory, and had no truth in it, or base to rest upon;
and yet she tried so hard to justify him, and to find the whole blame
in herself, that she could not resist its passing, like a wild cloud,
through the distance of her mind.
There came among the other visitors, soon after Florence, one
beautiful girl, three or four years younger than she, who was an
orphan child, and who was accompanied by her aunt, a grey-haired lady,
who spoke much to Florence, and who greatly liked (but that they all
did) to hear her sing of an evening, and would always sit near her at
that time, with motherly interest. They had only been two days in the
house, when Florence, being in an arbour in the garden one warm
morning, musingly observant of a youthful group upon the turf, through
some intervening boughs, - and wreathing flowers for the head of one
little creature among them who was the pet and plaything of the rest,
heard this same lady and her niece, in pacing up and down a sheltered
nook close by, speak of herself.
'Is Florence an orphan like me, aunt?' said the child.
'No, my love. She has no mother, but her father is living.'
'Is she in mourning for her poor Mama, now?' inquired the child
'No; for her only brother.'
'Has she no other brother?'
'I am very, very sorry!' said the little girL
As they stopped soon afterwards to watch some boats, and had been
silent in the meantime, Florence, who had risen when she heard her
name, and had gathered up her flowers to go and meet them, that they
might know of her being within hearing, resumed her seat and work,
expecting to hear no more; but the conversation recommenced next
'Florence is a favourite with everyone here, and deserves to be, I
am sure,' said the child, earnestly. 'Where is her Papa?'
The aunt replied, after a moment's pause, that she did not know.
Her tone of voice arrested Florence, who had started from her seat
again; and held her fastened to the spot, with her work hastily caught
up to her bosom, and her two hands saving it from being scattered on
'He is in England, I hope, aunt?' said the child.
'I believe so. Yes; I know he is, indeed.'
'Has he ever been here?'
'I believe not. No.'
'Is he coming here to see her?'
'I believe not.
'Is he lame, or blind, or ill, aunt?' asked the child.
The flowers that Florence held to her breast began to fall when she
heard those words, so wonderingly spoke She held them closer; and her
face hung down upon them'
'Kate,' said the lady, after another moment of silence, 'I will
tell you the whole truth about Florence as I have heard it, and
believe it to be. Tell no one else, my dear, because it may be little
known here, and your doing so would give her pain.'
'I never will!' exclaimed the child.
'I know you never will,' returned the lady. 'I can trust you as
myself. I fear then, Kate, that Florence's father cares little for
her, very seldom sees her, never was kind to her in her life, and now
quite shuns her and avoids her. She would love him dearly if he would
suffer her, but he will not - though for no fault of hers; and she is
greatly to be loved and pitied by all gentle hearts.'
More of the flowers that Florence held fell scattering on the
ground; those that remained were wet, but not with dew; and her face
dropped upon her laden hands.
'Poor Florence! Dear, good Florence!' cried the child.
'Do you know why I have told you this, Kate?' said the lady.
'That I may be very kind to her, and take great care to try to
please her. Is that the reason, aunt?'
'Partly,' said the lady, 'but not all. Though we see her so
cheerful; with a pleasant smile for everyone; ready to oblige us all,
and bearing her part in every amusement here: she can hardly be quite
happy, do you think she can, Kate?'
'I am afraid not,' said the little girl.
'And you can understand,' pursued the lady, 'why her observation of
children who have parents who are fond of them, and proud of them -
like many here, just now - should make her sorrowful in secret?'
'Yes, dear aunt,' said the child, 'I understand that very well.
More flowers strayed upon the ground, and those she yet held to her
breast trembled as if a wintry wind were rustling them.
'My Kate,' said the lady, whose voice was serious, but very calm
and sweet, and had so impressed Florence from the first moment of her
hearing it, 'of all the youthful people here, you are her natural and
harmless friend; you have not the innocent means, that happier
children have - '
'There are none happier, aunt!' exclaimed the child, who seemed to
cling about her.
'As other children have, dear Kate, of reminding her of her
misfortune. Therefore I would have you, when you try to be her little
friend, try all the more for that, and feel that the bereavement you
sustained - thank Heaven! before you knew its weight- gives you claim
and hold upon poor Florence.'
'But I am not without a parent's love, aunt, and I never have
been,' said the child, 'with you.'
'However that may be, my dear,' returned the lady, 'your misfortune
is a lighter one than Florence's; for not an orphan in the wide world
can be so deserted as the child who is an outcast from a living
The flowers were scattered on the ground like dust; the empty hands
were spread upon the face; and orphaned Florence, shrinking down upon
the ground, wept long and bitterly.
But true of heart and resolute in her good purpose, Florence held
to it as her dying mother held by her upon the day that gave Paul
life. He did not know how much she loved him. However long the time in
coming, and however slow the interval, she must try to bring that
knowledge to her father's heart one day or other. Meantime she must be
careful in no thoughtless word, or look, or burst of feeling awakened
by any chance circumstance, to complain against him, or to give
occasion for these whispers to his prejudice.
Even in the response she made the orphan child, to whom she was
attracted strongly, and whom she had such occasion to remember,
Florence was mindful of him' If she singled her out too plainly
(Florence thought) from among the rest, she would confirm - in one
mind certainly: perhaps in more - the belief that he was cruel and
unnatural. Her own delight was no set-off to this, 'What she had
overheard was a reason, not for soothing herself, but for saving him;
and Florence did it, in pursuance of the study of her heart.
She did so always. If a book were read aloud, and there were
anything in the story that pointed at an unkind father, she was in
pain for their application of it to him; not for herself. So with any
trifle of an interlude that was acted, or picture that was shown, or
game that was played, among them. The occasions for such tenderness
towards him were so many, that her mind misgave her often, it would
indeed be better to go back to the old house, and live again within
the shadow of its dull walls, undisturbed. How few who saw sweet
Florence, in her spring of womanhood, the modest little queen of those
small revels, imagined what a load of sacred care lay heavy in her
breast! How few of those who stiffened in her father's freezing
atmosphere, suspected what a heap of fiery coals was piled upon his
Florence pursued her study patiently, and, failing to acquire the
secret of the nameless grace she sought, among the youthful company
who were assembled in the house, often walked out alone, in the early
morning, among the children of the poor. But still she found them all
too far advanced to learn from. They had won their household places
long ago, and did not stand without, as she did, with a bar across the
There was one man whom she several times observed at work very
early, and often with a girl of about her own age seated near him' He
was a very poor man, who seemed to have no regular employment, but now
went roaming about the banks of the river when the tide was low,
looking out for bits and scraps in the mud; and now worked at the
unpromising little patch of garden-ground before his cottage; and now
tinkered up a miserable old boat that belonged to him; or did some job
of that kind for a neighbour, as chance occurred. Whatever the man's
labour, the girl was never employed; but sat, when she was with him,
in a listless, moping state, and idle.
Florence had often wished to speak to this man; yet she had never
taken courage to do so, as he made no movement towards her. But one
morning when she happened to come upon him suddenly, from a by-path