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
'I have no doubt,' returned Mr Carker, after an impressive pause,
'that wherever Gay is, he is much better where he is, than at home
here. If I were, or could be, in your place, I should be satisfied of
that. I am quite satisfied of it myself. Miss Dombey is confiding and
young - perhaps hardly proud enough, for your daughter - if she have a
fault. Not that that is much though, I am sure. Will you check these
balances with me?'
Mr Dombey leaned back in his chair, instead of bending over the
papers that were laid before him, and looked the Manager steadily in
the face. The Manager, with his eyelids slightly raised, affected to
be glancing at his figures, and to await the leisure of his principal.
He showed that he affected this, as if from great delicacy, and with a
design to spare Mr Dombey's feelings; and the latter, as he looked at
him, was cognizant of his intended consideration, and felt that but
for it, this confidential Carker would have said a great deal more,
which he, Mr Dombey, was too proud to ask for. It was his way in
business, often. Little by little, Mr Dombey's gaze relaxed, and his
attention became diverted to the papers before him; but while busy
with the occupation they afforded him, he frequently stopped, and
looked at Mr Carker again. Whenever he did so, Mr Carker was
demonstrative, as before, in his delicacy, and impressed it on his
great chief more and more.
While they were thus engaged; and under the skilful culture of the
Manager, angry thoughts in reference to poor Florence brooded and bred
in Mr Dombey's breast, usurping the place of the cold dislike that
generally reigned there; Major Bagstock, much admired by the old
ladies of Leamington, and followed by the Native, carrying the usual
amount of light baggage, straddled along the shady side of the way, to
make a morning call on Mrs Skewton. It being midday when the Major
reached the bower of Cleopatra, he had the good fortune to find his
Princess on her usual sofa, languishing over a cup of coffee, with the
room so darkened and shaded for her more luxurious repose, that
Withers, who was in attendance on her, loomed like a phantom page.
'What insupportable creature is this, coming in?' said Mrs Skewton,
'I cannot hear it. Go away, whoever you are!'
'You have not the heart to banish J. B., Ma'am!' said the Major
halting midway, to remonstrate, with his cane over his shoulder.
'Oh it's you, is it? On second thoughts, you may enter,' observed
The Major entered accordingly, and advancing to the sofa pressed
her charming hand to his lips.
'Sit down,' said Cleopatra, listlessly waving her fan, 'a long way
off. Don't come too near me, for I am frightfully faint and sensitive
this morning, and you smell of the Sun. You are absolutely tropical.'
'By George, Ma'am,' said the Major, 'the time has been when Joseph
Bagstock has been grilled and blistered by the Sun; then time was,
when he was forced, Ma'am, into such full blow, by high hothouse heat
in the West Indies, that he was known as the Flower. A man never heard
of Bagstock, Ma'am, in those days; he heard of the Flower - the Flower
of Ours. The Flower may have faded, more or less, Ma'am,' observed the
Major, dropping into a much nearer chair than had been indicated by
his cruel Divinity, 'but it is a tough plant yet, and constant as the
Here the Major, under cover of the dark room, shut up one eye,
rolled his head like a Harlequin, and, in his great self-satisfaction,
perhaps went nearer to the confines of apoplexy than he had ever gone
'Where is Mrs Granger?' inquired Cleopatra of her page.
Withers believed she was in her own room.
'Very well,' said Mrs Skewton. 'Go away, and shut the door. I am
As Withers disappeared, Mrs Skewton turned her head languidly
towards the Major, without otherwise moving, and asked him how his
'Dombey, Ma'am,' returned the Major, with a facetious gurgling in
his throat, 'is as well as a man in his condition can be. His
condition is a desperate one, Ma'am. He is touched, is Dombey!
Touched!' cried the Major. 'He is bayonetted through the body.'
Cleopatra cast a sharp look at the Major, that contrasted forcibly
with the affected drawl in which she presently said:
'Major Bagstock, although I know but little of the world, - nor can
I really regret my experience, for I fear it is a false place, full of
withering conventionalities: where Nature is but little regarded, and
where the music of the heart, and the gushing of the soul, and all
that sort of thing, which is so truly poetical, is seldom heard, - I
cannot misunderstand your meaning. There is an allusion to Edith - to
my extremely dear child,' said Mrs Skewton, tracing the outline of her
eyebrows with her forefinger, 'in your words, to which the tenderest
of chords vibrates excessively.'
'Bluntness, Ma'am,' returned the Major, 'has ever been the
characteristic of the Bagstock breed. You are right. Joe admits it.'
'And that allusion,' pursued Cleopatra, 'would involve one of the
most - if not positively the most - touching, and thrilling, and
sacred emotions of which our sadly-fallen nature is susceptible, I
The Major laid his hand upon his lips, and wafted a kiss to
Cleopatra, as if to identify the emotion in question.
'I feel that I am weak. I feel that I am wanting in that energy,
which should sustain a Mama: not to say a parent: on such a subject,'
said Mrs Skewton, trimming her lips with the laced edge of her
pocket-handkerchief; 'but I can hardly approach a topic so excessively
momentous to my dearest Edith without a feeling of faintness.
Nevertheless, bad man, as you have boldly remarked upon it, and as it
has occasioned me great anguish:' Mrs Skewton touched her left side
with her fan: 'I will not shrink from my duty.'
The Major, under cover of the dimness, swelled, and swelled, and
rolled his purple face about, and winked his lobster eye, until he
fell into a fit of wheezing, which obliged him to rise and take a turn
or two about the room, before his fair friend could proceed.
'Mr Dombey,' said Mrs Skewton, when she at length resumed, 'was
obliging enough, now many weeks ago, to do us the honour of visiting
us here; in company, my dear Major, with yourself. I acknowledge - let
me be open - that it is my failing to be the creature of impulse, and
to wear my heart as it were, outside. I know my failing full well. My
enemy cannot know it better. But I am not penitent; I would rather not
be frozen by the heartless world, and am content to bear this
Mrs Skewton arranged her tucker, pinched her wiry throat to give it
a soft surface, and went on, with great complacency.
'It gave me (my dearest Edith too, I am sure) infinite pleasure to
receive Mr Dombey. As a friend of yours, my dear Major, we were
naturally disposed to be prepossessed in his favour; and I fancied
that I observed an amount of Heart in Mr Dombey, that was excessively
'There is devilish little heart in Dombey now, Ma'am,' said the
'Wretched man!' cried Mrs Skewton, looking at him languidly, 'pray
'J. B. is dumb, Ma'am,' said the Major.
'Mr Dombey,' pursued Cleopatra, smoothing the rosy hue upon her
cheeks, 'accordingly repeated his visit; and possibly finding some
attraction in the simplicity and primitiveness of our tastes - for
there is always a charm in nature - it is so very sweet - became one
of our little circle every evening. Little did I think of the awful
responsibility into which I plunged when I encouraged Mr Dombey - to -
'To beat up these quarters, Ma'am,' suggested Major Bagstock.
'Coarse person! 'said Mrs Skewton, 'you anticipate my meaning,
though in odious language.
Here Mrs Skewton rested her elbow on the little table at her side,
and suffering her wrist to droop in what she considered a graceful and
becoming manner, dangled her fan to and fro, and lazily admired her
hand while speaking.
'The agony I have endured,' she said mincingly, 'as the truth has
by degrees dawned upon me, has been too exceedingly terrific to dilate
upon. My whole existence is bound up in my sweetest Edith; and to see
her change from day to day - my beautiful pet, who has positively
garnered up her heart since the death of that most delightful
creature, Granger - is the most affecting thing in the world.'
Mrs Skewton's world was not a very trying one, if one might judge
of it by the influence of its most affecting circumstance upon her;
but this by the way.
'Edith,' simpered Mrs Skewton, 'who is the perfect pearl of my
life, is said to resemble me. I believe we are alike.'
'There is one man in the world who never will admit that anyone
resembles you, Ma'am,' said the Major; 'and that man's name is Old Joe
Cleopatra made as if she would brain the flatterer with her fan,
but relenting, smiled upon him and proceeded:
'If my charming girl inherits any advantages from me, wicked one!':
the Major was the wicked one: 'she inherits also my foolish nature.
She has great force of character - mine has been said to be immense,
though I don't believe it - but once moved, she is susceptible and
sensitive to the last extent. What are my feelings when I see her
pining! They destroy me.
The Major advancing his double chin, and pursing up his blue lips
into a soothing expression, affected the profoundest sympathy.
'The confidence,' said Mrs Skewton, 'that has subsisted between us
- the free development of soul, and openness of sentiment - is
touching to think of. We have been more like sisters than Mama and