Dombey and Son
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belief that he was personally addressed. Exasperated to the last
degree by this act of insubordination, the Major (though he was
swelling with enjoyment of his own humour, at the moment of its
occurrence instantly thrust his cane among the Native's ribs, and
continued to stir him up, at short intervals, all the way to the
Nor was the Major less exasperated as he dressed for dinner, during
which operation the dark servant underwent the pelting of a shower of
miscellaneous objects, varying in size from a boot to a hairbrush, and
including everything that came within his master's reach. For the
Major plumed himself on having the Native in a perfect state of drill,
and visited the least departure from strict discipline with this kind
of fatigue duty. Add to this, that he maintained the Native about his
person as a counter-irritant against the gout, and all other
vexations, mental as well as bodily; and the Native would appear to
have earned his pay - which was not large.
At length, the Major having disposed of all the missiles that were
convenient to his hand, and having called the Native so many new names
as must have given him great occasion to marvel at the resources of
the English language, submitted to have his cravat put on; and being
dressed, and finding himself in a brisk flow of spirits after this
exercise, went downstairs to enliven 'Dombey' and his right-hand man.
Dombey was not yet in the room, but the right-hand man was there,
and his dental treasures were, as usual, ready for the Major.
'Well, Sir!' said the Major. 'How have you passed the time since I
had the happiness of meeting you? Have you walked at all?'
'A saunter of barely half an hour's duration,' returned Carker. 'We
have been so much occupied.'
'Business, eh?' said the Major.
'A variety of little matters necessary to be gone through,' replied
Carker. 'But do you know - this is quite unusual with me, educated in
a distrustful school, and who am not generally disposed to be
communicative,' he said, breaking off, and speaking in a charming tone
of frankness - 'but I feel quite confidential with you, Major
'You do me honour, Sir,' returned the Major. 'You may be.'
'Do you know, then,' pursued Carker, 'that I have not found my
friend - our friend, I ought rather to call him - '
'Meaning Dombey, Sir?' cried the Major. 'You see me, Mr Carker,
standing here! J. B.?'
He was puffy enough to see, and blue enough; and Mr Carker
intimated the he had that pleasure.
'Then you see a man, Sir, who would go through fire and water to
serve Dombey,' returned Major Bagstock.
Mr Carker smiled, and said he was sure of it. 'Do you know, Major,'
he proceeded: 'to resume where I left off' that I have not found our
friend so attentive to business today, as usual?'
'No?' observed the delighted Major.
'I have found him a little abstracted, and with his attention
disposed to wander,' said Carker.
'By Jove, Sir,' cried the Major, 'there's a lady in the case.'
'Indeed, I begin to believe there really is,' returned Carker; 'I
thought you might be jesting when you seemed to hint at it; for I know
you military men -
The Major gave the horse's cough, and shook his head and shoulders,
as much as to say, 'Well! we are gay dogs, there's no denying.' He
then seized Mr Carker by the button-hole, and with starting eyes
whispered in his ear, that she was a woman of extraordinary charms,
Sir. That she was a young widow, Sir. That she was of a fine family,
Sir. That Dombey was over head and ears in love with her, Sir, and
that it would be a good match on both sides; for she had beauty,
blood, and talent, and Dombey had fortune; and what more could any
couple have? Hearing Mr Dombey's footsteps without, the Major cut
himself short by saying, that Mr Carker would see her tomorrow
morning, and would judge for himself; and between his mental
excitement, and the exertion of saying all this in wheezy whispers,
the Major sat gurgling in the throat and watering at the eyes, until
dinner was ready.
The Major, like some other noble animals, exhibited himself to
great advantage at feeding-time. On this occasion, he shone
resplendent at one end of the table, supported by the milder lustre of
Mr Dombey at the other; while Carker on one side lent his ray to
either light, or suffered it to merge into both, as occasion arose.
During the first course or two, the Major was usually grave; for
the Native, in obedience to general orders, secretly issued, collected
every sauce and cruet round him, and gave him a great deal to do, in
taking out the stoppers, and mixing up the contents in his plate.
Besides which, the Native had private zests and flavours on a
side-table, with which the Major daily scorched himself; to say
nothing of strange machines out of which he spirited unknown liquids
into the Major's drink. But on this occasion, Major Bagstock, even
amidst these many occupations, found time to be social; and his
sociality consisted in excessive slyness for the behoof of Mr Carker,
and the betrayal of Mr Dombey's state of mind.
'Dombey,' said the Major, 'you don't eat; what's the matter?'
'Thank you,' returned the gentleman, 'I am doing very well; I have
no great appetite today.'
'Why, Dombey, what's become of it?' asked the Major. 'Where's it
gone? You haven't left it with our friends, I'll swear, for I can
answer for their having none to-day at luncheon. I can answer for one
of 'em, at least: I won't say which.'
Then the Major winked at Carker, and became so frightfully sly,
that his dark attendant was obliged to pat him on the back, without
orders, or he would probably have disappeared under the table.
In a later stage of the dinner: that is to say, when the Native
stood at the Major's elbow ready to serve the first bottle of
champagne: the Major became still slyer.
'Fill this to the brim, you scoundrel,' said the Major, holding up
his glass. 'Fill Mr Carker's to the brim too. And Mr Dombey's too. By
Gad, gentlemen,' said the Major, winking at his new friend, while Mr
Dombey looked into his plate with a conscious air, 'we'll consecrate
this glass of wine to a Divinity whom Joe is proud to know, and at a
distance humbly and reverently to admire. Edith,' said the Major, 'is
her name; angelic Edith!'
'To angelic Edith!' cried the smiling Carker.
'Edith, by all means,' said Mr Dombey.
The entrance of the waiters with new dishes caused the Major to be
slyer yet, but in a more serious vein. 'For though among ourselves,
Joe Bagstock mingles jest and earnest on this subject, Sir,' said the
Major, laying his finger on his lips, and speaking half apart to
Carker, 'he holds that name too sacred to be made the property of
these fellows, or of any fellows. Not a word!, Sir' while they are
This was respectful and becoming on the Major's part, and Mr Dombey
plainly felt it so. Although embarrassed in his own frigid way, by the
Major's allusions, Mr Dombey had no objection to such rallying, it was
clear, but rather courted it. Perhaps the Major had been pretty near
the truth, when he had divined that morning that the great man who was
too haughty formally to consult with, or confide in his prime
minister, on such a matter, yet wished him to be fully possessed of
it. Let this be how it may, he often glanced at Mr Carker while the
Major plied his light artillery, and seemed watchful of its effect
But the Major, having secured an attentive listener, and a smiler
who had not his match in all the world - 'in short, a devilish
intelligent and able fellow,' as he often afterwards declared - was
not going to let him off with a little slyness personal to Mr Dombey.
Therefore, on the removal of the cloth, the Major developed himself as
a choice spirit in the broader and more comprehensive range of
narrating regimental stories, and cracking regimental jokes, which he
did with such prodigal exuberance, that Carker was (or feigned to be)
quite exhausted with laughter and admiration: while Mr Dombey looked
on over his starched cravat, like the Major's proprietor, or like a
stately showman who was glad to see his bear dancing well.
When the Major was too hoarse with meat and drink, and the display
of his social powers, to render himself intelligible any longer, they
adjourned to coffee. After which, the Major inquired of Mr Carker the
Manager, with little apparent hope of an answer in the affirmative, if
he played picquet.
'Yes, I play picquet a little,' said Mr Carker.
'Backgammon, perhaps?' observed the Major, hesitating.
'Yes, I play backgammon a little too,' replied the man of teeth.
'Carker plays at all games, I believe,' said Mr Dombey, laying
himself on a sofa like a man of wood, without a hinge or a joint in
him; 'and plays them well.'
In sooth, he played the two in question, to such perfection, that
the Major was astonished, and asked him, at random, if he played
'Yes, I play chess a little,' answered Carker. 'I have sometimes
played, and won a game - it's a mere trick - without seeing the
'By Gad, Sir!' said the Major, staring, 'you are a contrast to
Dombey, who plays nothing.'
'Oh! He!' returned the Manager. 'He has never had occasion to
acquire such little arts. To men like me, they are sometimes useful.
As at present, Major Bagstock, when they enable me to take a hand with
It might be only the false mouth, so smooth and wide; and yet there
seemed to lurk beneath the humility and subserviency of this short