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Dombey and Son

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CHAPTER XXVI. 
Shadows of the Past and Future

Your most obedient, Sir,” said the Major. “Damme, Sir, a friend of my friend Dombey’s is a friend of mine, and I’m glad to see you!”

“I am infinitely obliged, Carker,” explained Mr Dombey, “to Major Bagstock, for his company and conversation. Major Bagstock has rendered me great service, Carker.”

Mr Carker the Manager, hat in hand, just arrived at Leamington, and just introduced to the Major, showed the Major his whole double range of teeth, and trusted he might take the liberty of thanking him with all his heart for having effected so great an Improvement in Mr Dombey’s looks and spirits.

“By Gad, Sir,” said the Major, in reply, “there are no thanks due to me, for it’s a give and take affair. A great creature like our friend Dombey, Sir,” said the Major, lowering his voice, but not lowering it so much as to render it inaudible to that gentleman, “cannot help improving and exalting his friends. He strengthens and invigorates a man, Sir, does Dombey, in his moral nature.”

Mr Carker snapped at the expression. In his moral nature. Exactly. The very words he had been on the point of suggesting.

“But when my friend Dombey, Sir,” added the Major, “talks to you of Major Bagstock, I must crave leave to set him and you right. He means plain Joe, Sir—Joey B.—Josh. Bagstock—Joseph—rough and tough Old J., Sir. At your service.”

Mr Carker’s excessively friendly inclinations towards the Major, and Mr Carker’s admiration of his roughness, toughness, and plainness, gleamed out of every tooth in Mr Carker’s head.

“And now, Sir,” said the Major, “you and Dombey have the devil’s own amount of business to talk over.”

“By no means, Major,” observed Mr Dombey.

“Dombey,” said the Major, defiantly, “I know better; a man of your mark—the Colossus of commerce—is not to be interrupted. Your moments are precious. We shall meet at dinner-time. In the interval, old Joseph will be scarce. The dinner-hour is a sharp seven, Mr Carker.”

With that, the Major, greatly swollen as to his face, withdrew; but immediately putting in his head at the door again, said:

“I beg your pardon. Dombey, have you any message to ’em?”

Mr Dombey in some embarrassment, and not without a glance at the courteous keeper of his business confidence, entrusted the Major with his compliments.

“By the Lord, Sir,” said the Major, “you must make it something warmer than that, or old Joe will be far from welcome.”

“Regards then, if you will, Major,” returned Mr Dombey.

“Damme, Sir,” said the Major, shaking his shoulders and his great cheeks jocularly: “make it something warmer than that.”

“What you please, then, Major,” observed Mr Dombey.

“Our friend is sly, Sir, sly, Sir, de-vilish sly,” said the Major, staring round the door at Carker. “So is Bagstock.” But stopping in the midst of a chuckle, and drawing himself up to his full height, the Major solemnly exclaimed, as he struck himself on the chest, “Dombey! I envy your feelings. God bless you!” and withdrew.

“You must have found the gentleman a great resource,” said Carker, following him with his teeth.

“Very great indeed,” said Mr Dombey.

“He has friends here, no doubt,” pursued Carker. “I perceive, from what he has said, that you go into society here. Do you know,” smiling horribly, “I am so very glad that you go into society!”

Mr Dombey acknowledged this display of interest on the part of his second in command, by twirling his watch-chain, and slightly moving his head.

“You were formed for society,” said Carker. “Of all the men I know, you are the best adapted, by nature and by position, for society. Do you know I have been frequently amazed that you should have held it at arm’s length so long!”

“I have had my reasons, Carker. I have been alone, and indifferent to it. But you have great social qualifications yourself, and are the more likely to have been surprised.”

“Oh! I!” returned the other, with ready self-disparagement. “It’s quite another matter in the case of a man like me. I don’t come into comparison with you.”

Mr Dombey put his hand to his neckcloth, settled his chin in it, coughed, and stood looking at his faithful friend and servant for a few moments in silence.

“I shall have the pleasure, Carker,” said Mr Dombey at length: making as if he swallowed something a little too large for his throat: “to present you to my—to the Major’s friends. Highly agreeable people.”

“Ladies among them, I presume?” insinuated the smooth Manager.

“They are all—that is to say, they are both—ladies,” replied Mr Dombey.

“Only two?” smiled Carker.

“They are only two. I have confined my visits to their residence, and have made no other acquaintance here.”

“Sisters, perhaps?” quoth Carker.

“Mother and daughter,” replied Mr Dombey.

As Mr Dombey dropped his eyes, and adjusted his neckcloth again, the smiling face of Mr Carker the Manager became in a moment, and without any stage of transition, transformed into a most intent and frowning face, scanning his closely, and with an ugly sneer. As Mr Dombey raised his eyes, it changed back, no less quickly, to its old expression, and showed him every gum of which it stood possessed.

“You are very kind,” said Carker, “I shall be delighted to know them. Speaking of daughters, I have seen Miss Dombey.”

There was a sudden rush of blood to Mr Dombey’s face.

“I took the liberty of waiting on her,” said Carker, “to inquire if she could charge me with any little commission. I am not so fortunate as to be the bearer of any but her—but her dear love.”

Wolf’s face that it was then, with even the hot tongue revealing itself through the stretched mouth, as the eyes encountered Mr Dombey’s!

“What business intelligence is there?” inquired the latter gentleman, after a silence, during which Mr Carker had produced some memoranda and other papers.

“There is very little,” returned Carker. “Upon the whole we have not had our usual good fortune of late, but that is of little moment to you. At Lloyd’s, they give up the Son and Heir for lost. Well, she was insured, from her keel to her masthead.”

“Carker,” said Mr Dombey, taking a chair near him, “I cannot say that young man, Gay, ever impressed me favourably—”

“Nor me,” interposed the Manager.

“—But I wish,” said Mr Dombey, without heeding the interruption, “he had never gone on board that ship. I wish he had never been sent out.

“It is a pity you didn’t say so, in good time, is it not?” retorted Carker, coolly. “However, I think it’s all for the best. I really, think it’s all for the best. Did I mention that there was something like a little confidence between Miss Dombey and myself?”

“No,” said Mr Dombey, sternly.

“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 Cleopatra.

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 evergreen.”

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 before.

“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 engaged.”

As Withers disappeared, Mrs Skewton turned her head languidly towards the Major, without otherwise moving, and asked him how his friend was.

“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 conceive.”

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 imputation justly.”

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 refreshing.”

“There is devilish little heart in Dombey now, Ma’am,” said the Major.

“Wretched man!” cried Mrs Skewton, looking at him languidly, “pray be silent.”

“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 Bagstock.”

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 child.”

“J. B.“s own sentiment,” observed the Major, “expressed by J. B. fifty thousand times!”

“Do not interrupt, rude man!” said Cleopatra. “What are my feelings, then, when I find that there is one subject avoided by us! That there is a what’s-his-name—a gulf—opened between us. That my own artless Edith is changed to me! They are of the most poignant description, of course.”

The Major left his chair, and took one nearer to the little table.

“From day to day I see this, my dear Major,” proceeded Mrs Skewton. “From day to day I feel this. From hour to hour I reproach myself for that excess of faith and trustfulness which has led to such distressing consequences; and almost from minute to minute, I hope that Mr Dombey may explain himself, and relieve the torture I undergo, which is extremely wearing. But nothing happens, my dear Major; I am the slave of remorse—take care of the coffee-cup: you are so very awkward—my darling Edith is an altered being; and I really don’t see what is to be done, or what good creature I can advise with.”

Major Bagstock, encouraged perhaps by the softened and confidential tone into which Mrs Skewton, after several times lapsing into it for a moment, seemed now to have subsided for good, stretched out his hand across the little table, and said with a leer,

“Advise with Joe, Ma’am.”

“Then, you aggravating monster,” said Cleopatra, giving one hand to the Major, and tapping his knuckles with her fan, which she held in the other: “why don’t you talk to me? you know what I mean. Why don’t you tell me something to the purpose?”

The Major laughed, and kissed the hand she had bestowed upon him, and laughed again immensely.

“Is there as much Heart in Mr Dombey as I gave him credit for?” languished Cleopatra tenderly. “Do you think he is in earnest, my dear Major? Would you recommend his being spoken to, or his being left alone? Now tell me, like a dear man, what would you advise.”

“Shall we marry him to Edith Granger, Ma’am?” chuckled the Major, hoarsely.

“Mysterious creature!” returned Cleopatra, bringing her fan to bear upon the Major’s nose. “How can we marry him?”

“Shall we marry him to Edith Granger, Ma’am, I say?” chuckled the Major again.

Mrs Skewton returned no answer in words, but smiled upon the Major with so much archness and vivacity, that that gallant officer considering himself challenged, would have imprinted a kiss on her exceedingly red lips, but for her interposing the fan with a very winning and juvenile dexterity. It might have been in modesty; it might have been in apprehension of some danger to their bloom.

“Dombey, Ma’am,” said the Major, “is a great catch.”

“Oh, mercenary wretch!” cried Cleopatra, with a little shriek, “I am shocked.”

“And Dombey, Ma’am,” pursued the Major, thrusting forward his head, and distending his eyes, “is in earnest. Joseph says it; Bagstock knows it; J. B. keeps him to the mark. Leave Dombey to himself, Ma’am. Dombey is safe, Ma’am. Do as you have done; do no more; and trust to J. B. for the end.”

“You really think so, my dear Major?” returned Cleopatra, who had eyed him very cautiously, and very searchingly, in spite of her listless bearing.

“Sure of it, Ma’am,” rejoined the Major. “Cleopatra the peerless, and her Antony Bagstock, will often speak of this, triumphantly, when sharing the elegance and wealth of Edith Dombey’s establishment. Dombey’s right-hand man, Ma’am,” said the Major, stopping abruptly in a chuckle, and becoming serious, “has arrived.”

“This morning?” said Cleopatra.

“This morning, Ma’am,” returned the Major. “And Dombey’s anxiety for his arrival, Ma’am, is to be referred—take J. B.“s word for this; for Joe is devilish sly”—the Major tapped his nose, and screwed up one of his eyes tight: which did not enhance his native beauty—“to his desire that what is in the wind should become known to him” without Dombey’s telling and consulting him. For Dombey is as proud, Ma’am,” said the Major, “as Lucifer.”

“A charming quality,” lisped Mrs Skewton; “reminding one of dearest Edith.”

“Well, Ma’am,” said the Major. “I have thrown out hints already, and the right-hand man understands ’em; and I’ll throw out more, before the day is done. Dombey projected this morning a ride to Warwick Castle, and to Kenilworth, to-morrow, to be preceded by a breakfast with us. I undertook the delivery of this invitation. Will you honour us so far, Ma’am?” said the Major, swelling with shortness of breath and slyness, as he produced a note, addressed to the Honourable Mrs Skewton, by favour of Major Bagstock, wherein hers ever faithfully, Paul Dombey, besought her and her amiable and accomplished daughter to consent to the proposed excursion; and in a postscript unto which, the same ever faithfully Paul Dombey entreated to be recalled to the remembrance of Mrs Granger.

“Hush!” said Cleopatra, suddenly, “Edith!”

The loving mother can scarcely be described as resuming her insipid and affected air when she made this exclamation; for she had never cast it off; nor was it likely that she ever would or could, in any other place than in the grave. But hurriedly dismissing whatever shadow of earnestness, or faint confession of a purpose, laudable or wicked, that her face, or voice, or manner: had, for the moment, betrayed, she lounged upon the couch, her most insipid and most languid self again, as Edith entered the room.

Edith, so beautiful and stately, but so cold and so repelling. Who, slightly acknowledging the presence of Major Bagstock, and directing a keen glance at her mother, drew back from a window, and sat down there, looking out.

“My dearest Edith,” said Mrs Skewton, “where on earth have you been? I have wanted you, my love, most sadly.”

“You said you were engaged, and I stayed away,” she answered, without turning her head.

“It was cruel to Old Joe, Ma’am,” said the Major in his gallantry.

“It was very cruel, I know,” she said, still looking out—and said with such calm disdain, that the Major was discomfited, and could think of nothing in reply.

“Major Bagstock, my darling Edith,” drawled her mother, “who is generally the most useless and disagreeable creature in the world: as you know—”

“It is surely not worthwhile, Mama,” said Edith, looking round, “to observe these forms of speech. We are quite alone. We know each other.”

The quiet scorn that sat upon her handsome face—a scorn that evidently lighted on herself, no less than them—was so intense and deep, that her mother’s simper, for the instant, though of a hardy constitution, drooped before it.

“My darling girl,” she began again.

“Not woman yet?” said Edith, with a smile.

“How very odd you are today, my dear! Pray let me say, my love, that Major Bagstock has brought the kindest of notes from Mr Dombey, proposing that we should breakfast with him to-morrow, and ride to Warwick and Kenilworth. Will you go, Edith?”

“Will I go!” she repeated, turning very red, and breathing quickly as she looked round at her mother.

“I knew you would, my own, observed the latter carelessly. “It is, as you say, quite a form to ask. Here is Mr Dombey’s letter, Edith.”

“Thank you. I have no desire to read it,” was her answer.

“Then perhaps I had better answer it myself,” said Mrs Skewton, “though I had thought of asking you to be my secretary, darling.” As Edith made no movement, and no answer, Mrs Skewton begged the Major to wheel her little table nearer, and to set open the desk it contained, and to take out pen and paper for her; all which congenial offices of gallantry the Major discharged, with much submission and devotion.

“Your regards, Edith, my dear?” said Mrs Skewton, pausing, pen in hand, at the postscript.

“What you will, Mama,” she answered, without turning her head, and with supreme indifference.

Mrs Skewton wrote what she would, without seeking for any more explicit directions, and handed her letter to the Major, who receiving it as a precious charge, made a show of laying it near his heart, but was fain to put it in the pocket of his pantaloons on account of the insecurity of his waistcoat. The Major then took a very polished and chivalrous farewell of both ladies, which the elder one acknowledged in her usual manner, while the younger, sitting with her face addressed to the window, bent her head so slightly that it would have been a greater compliment to the Major to have made no sign at all, and to have left him to infer that he had not been heard or thought of.

“As to alteration in her, Sir,” mused the Major on his way back; on which expedition—the afternoon being sunny and hot—he ordered the Native and the light baggage to the front, and walked in the shadow of that expatriated prince: “as to alteration, Sir, and pining, and so forth, that won’t go down with Joseph Bagstock, None of that, Sir. It won’t do here. But as to there being something of a division between ’em—or a gulf as the mother calls it—damme, Sir, that seems true enough. And it’s odd enough! Well, Sir!” panted the Major, “Edith Granger and Dombey are well matched; let ’em fight it out! Bagstock backs the winner!”

The Major, by saying these latter words aloud, in the vigour of his thoughts, caused the unhappy Native to stop, and turn round, in the 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 hotel.

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 Bagstock.”

“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 today 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 here!”

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 upon him.

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 chess.

“Yes, I play chess a little,” answered Carker. “I have sometimes played, and won a game—it’s a mere trick—without seeing the board.”

“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 you.”

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 speech, a something like a snarl; and, for a moment, one might have thought that the white teeth were prone to bite the hand they fawned upon. But the Major thought nothing about it; and Mr Dombey lay meditating with his eyes half shut, during the whole of the play, which lasted until bed-time.

By that time, Mr Carker, though the winner, had mounted high into the Major’s good opinion, insomuch that when he left the Major at his own room before going to bed, the Major as a special attention, sent the Native—who always rested on a mattress spread upon the ground at his master’s door—along the gallery, to light him to his room in state.

There was a faint blur on the surface of the mirror in Mr Carker’s chamber, and its reflection was, perhaps, a false one. But it showed, that night, the image of a man, who saw, in his fancy, a crowd of people slumbering on the ground at his feet, like the poor Native at his master’s door: who picked his way among them: looking down, maliciously enough: but trod upon no upturned face—as yet.

CHAPTER XXVII. 
Deeper Shadows

Mr Carker the Manager rose with the lark, and went out, walking in the summer day. His meditations—and he meditated with contracted brows while he strolled along—hardly seemed to soar as high as the lark, or to mount in that direction; rather they kept close to their nest upon the earth, and looked about, among the dust and worms. But there was not a bird in the air, singing unseen, farther beyond the reach of human eye than Mr Carker’s thoughts. He had his face so perfectly under control, that few could say more, in distinct terms, of its expression, than that it smiled or that it pondered. It pondered now, intently. As the lark rose higher, he sank deeper in thought. As the lark poured out her melody clearer and stronger, he fell into a graver and profounder silence. At length, when the lark came headlong down, with an accumulating stream of song, and dropped among the green wheat near him, rippling in the breath of the morning like a river, he sprang up from his reverie, and looked round with a sudden smile, as courteous and as soft as if he had had numerous observers to propitiate; nor did he relapse, after being thus awakened; but clearing his face, like one who bethought himself that it might otherwise wrinkle and tell tales, went smiling on, as if for practice.

Perhaps with an eye to first impressions, Mr Carker was very carefully and trimly dressed, that morning. Though always somewhat formal, in his dress, in imitation of the great man whom he served, he stopped short of the extent of Mr Dombey’s stiffness: at once perhaps because he knew it to be ludicrous, and because in doing so he found another means of expressing his sense of the difference and distance between them. Some people quoted him indeed, in this respect, as a pointed commentary, and not a flattering one, on his icy patron—but the world is prone to misconstruction, and Mr Carker was not accountable for its bad propensity.

Clean and florid: with his light complexion, fading as it were, in the sun, and his dainty step enhancing the softness of the turf: Mr Carker the Manager strolled about meadows, and green lanes, and glided among avenues of trees, until it was time to return to breakfast. Taking a nearer way back, Mr Carker pursued it, airing his teeth, and said aloud as he did so, “Now to see the second Mrs Dombey!”

He had strolled beyond the town, and re-entered it by a pleasant walk, where there was a deep shade of leafy trees, and where there were a few benches here and there for those who chose to rest. It not being a place of general resort at any hour, and wearing at that time of the still morning the air of being quite deserted and retired, Mr Carker had it, or thought he had it, all to himself. So, with the whim of an idle man, to whom there yet remained twenty minutes for reaching a destination easily able in ten, Mr Carker threaded the great boles of the trees, and went passing in and out, before this one and behind that, weaving a chain of footsteps on the dewy ground.

But he found he was mistaken in supposing there was no one in the grove, for as he softly rounded the trunk of one large tree, on which the obdurate bark was knotted and overlapped like the hide of a rhinoceros or some kindred monster of the ancient days before the Flood, he saw an unexpected figure sitting on a bench near at hand, about which, in another moment, he would have wound the chain he was making.

It was that of a lady, elegantly dressed and very handsome, whose dark proud eyes were fixed upon the ground, and in whom some passion or struggle was raging. For as she sat looking down, she held a corner of her under lip within her mouth, her bosom heaved, her nostril quivered, her head trembled, indignant tears were on her cheek, and her foot was set upon the moss as though she would have crushed it into nothing. And yet almost the self-same glance that showed him this, showed him the self-same lady rising with a scornful air of weariness and lassitude, and turning away with nothing expressed in face or figure but careless beauty and imperious disdain.

A withered and very ugly old woman, dressed not so much like a gipsy as like any of that medley race of vagabonds who tramp about the country, begging, and stealing, and tinkering, and weaving rushes, by turns, or all together, had been observing the lady, too; for, as she rose, this second figure strangely confronting the first, scrambled up from the ground—out of it, it almost appeared—and stood in the way.

“Let me tell your fortune, my pretty lady,” said the old woman, munching with her jaws, as if the Death’s Head beneath her yellow skin were impatient to get out.

“I can tell it for myself,” was the reply.

“Ay, ay, pretty lady; but not right. You didn’t tell it right when you were sitting there. I see you! Give me a piece of silver, pretty lady, and I’ll tell your fortune true. There’s riches, pretty lady, in your face.”

“I know,” returned the lady, passing her with a dark smile, and a proud step. “I knew it before.

“What! You won’t give me nothing?” cried the old woman. “You won’t give me nothing to tell your fortune, pretty lady? How much will you give me to tell it, then? Give me something, or I’ll call it after you!” croaked the old woman, passionately.

Mr Carker, whom the lady was about to pass close, slinking against his tree as she crossed to gain the path, advanced so as to meet her, and pulling off his hat as she went by, bade the old woman hold her peace. The lady acknowledged his interference with an inclination of the head, and went her way.

“You give me something then, or I’ll call it after her!” screamed the old woman, throwing up her arms, and pressing forward against his outstretched hand. “Or come,” she added, dropping her voice suddenly, looking at him earnestly, and seeming in a moment to forget the object of her wrath, “give me something, or I’ll call it after you!”

“After me, old lady!” returned the Manager, putting his hand in his pocket.

“Yes,” said the woman, steadfast in her scrutiny, and holding out her shrivelled hand. “I know!”

“What do you know?” demanded Carker, throwing her a shilling. “Do you know who the handsome lady is?”

Munching like that sailor’s wife of yore, who had chestnuts in her lap, and scowling like the witch who asked for some in vain, the old woman picked the shilling up, and going backwards, like a crab, or like a heap of crabs: for her alternately expanding and contracting hands might have represented two of that species, and her creeping face, some half-a-dozen more: crouched on the veinous root of an old tree, pulled out a short black pipe from within the crown of her bonnet, lighted it with a match, and smoked in silence, looking fixedly at her questioner.

Mr Carker laughed, and turned upon his heel.

“Good!” said the old woman. “One child dead, and one child living: one wife dead, and one wife coming. Go and meet her!”

In spite of himself, the Manager looked round again, and stopped. The old woman, who had not removed her pipe, and was munching and mumbling while she smoked, as if in conversation with an invisible familiar, pointed with her finger in the direction he was going, and laughed.

“What was that you said, Bedlamite?” he demanded.

The woman mumbled, and chattered, and smoked, and still pointed before him; but remained silent Muttering a farewell that was not complimentary, Mr Carker pursued his way; but as he turned out of that place, and looked over his shoulder at the root of the old tree, he could yet see the finger pointing before him, and thought he heard the woman screaming, “Go and meet her!”

Preparations for a choice repast were completed, he found, at the hotel; and Mr Dombey, and the Major, and the breakfast, were awaiting the ladies. Individual constitution has much to do with the development of such facts, no doubt; but in this case, appetite carried it hollow over the tender passion; Mr Dombey being very cool and collected, and the Major fretting and fuming in a state of violent heat and irritation. At length the door was thrown open by the Native, and, after a pause, occupied by her languishing along the gallery, a very blooming, but not very youthful lady, appeared.

“My dear Mr Dombey,” said the lady, “I am afraid we are late, but Edith has been out already looking for a favourable point of view for a sketch, and kept me waiting for her. Falsest of Majors,” giving him her little finger, “how do you do?”

“Mrs Skewton,” said Mr Dombey, “let me gratify my friend Carker:” Mr Dombey unconsciously emphasised the word friend, as saying ‘no really; I do allow him to take credit for that distinction:’ “by presenting him to you. You have heard me mention Mr Carker.”

“I am charmed, I am sure,” said Mrs Skewton, graciously.

Mr Carker was charmed, of course. Would he have been more charmed on Mr Dombey’s behalf, if Mrs Skewton had been (as he at first supposed her) the Edith whom they had toasted overnight?

“Why, where, for Heaven’s sake, is Edith?” exclaimed Mrs Skewton, looking round. “Still at the door, giving Withers orders about the mounting of those drawings! My dear Mr Dombey, will you have the kindness”—

Mr Dombey was already gone to seek her. Next moment he returned, bearing on his arm the same elegantly dressed and very handsome lady whom Mr Carker had encountered underneath the trees.

“Carker—” began Mr Dombey. But their recognition of each other was so manifest, that Mr Dombey stopped surprised.

“I am obliged to the gentleman,” said Edith, with a stately bend, “for sparing me some annoyance from an importunate beggar just now.”

“I am obliged to my good fortune,” said Mr Carker, bowing low, “for the opportunity of rendering so slight a service to one whose servant I am proud to be.”

As her eye rested on him for an instant, and then lighted on the ground, he saw in its bright and searching glance a suspicion that he had not come up at the moment of his interference, but had secretly observed her sooner. As he saw that, she saw in his eye that her distrust was not without foundation.

“Really,” cried Mrs Skewton, who had taken this opportunity of inspecting Mr Carker through her glass, and satisfying herself (as she lisped audibly to the Major) that he was all heart; “really now, this is one of the most enchanting coincidences that I ever heard of. The idea! My dearest Edith, there is such an obvious destiny in it, that really one might almost be induced to cross one’s arms upon one’s frock, and say, like those wicked Turks, there is no What’s-his-name but Thingummy, and What-you-may-call-it is his prophet!”

Edith designed no revision of this extraordinary quotation from the Koran, but Mr Dombey felt it necessary to offer a few polite remarks.

“It gives me great pleasure,” said Mr Dombey, with cumbrous gallantry, “that a gentleman so nearly connected with myself as Carker is, should have had the honour and happiness of rendering the least assistance to Mrs Granger.” Mr Dombey bowed to her. “But it gives me some pain, and it occasions me to be really envious of Carker;” he unconsciously laid stress on these words, as sensible that they must appear to involve a very surprising proposition; “envious of Carker, that I had not that honour and that happiness myself.” Mr Dombey bowed again. Edith, saving for a curl of her lip, was motionless.

“By the Lord, Sir,” cried the Major, bursting into speech at sight of the waiter, who was come to announce breakfast, “it’s an extraordinary thing to me that no one can have the honour and happiness of shooting all such beggars through the head without being brought to book for it. But here’s an arm for Mrs Granger if she’ll do J. B. the honour to accept it; and the greatest service Joe can render you, Ma’am, just now, is, to lead you into table!”

With this, the Major gave his arm to Edith; Mr Dombey led the way with Mrs Skewton; Mr Carker went last, smiling on the party.

“I am quite rejoiced, Mr Carker,” said the lady-mother, at breakfast, after another approving survey of him through her glass, “that you have timed your visit so happily, as to go with us today. It is the most enchanting expedition!”

“Any expedition would be enchanting in such society,” returned Carker; “but I believe it is, in itself, full of interest.”

“Oh!” cried Mrs Skewton, with a faded little scream of rapture, “the Castle is charming!—associations of the Middle Ages—and all that—which is so truly exquisite. Don’t you dote upon the Middle Ages, Mr Carker?”

“Very much, indeed,” said Mr Carker.

“Such charming times!” cried Cleopatra. “So full of faith! So vigorous and forcible! So picturesque! So perfectly removed from commonplace! Oh dear! If they would only leave us a little more of the poetry of existence in these terrible days!”

Mrs Skewton was looking sharp after Mr Dombey all the time she said this, who was looking at Edith: who was listening, but who never lifted up her eyes.

“We are dreadfully real, Mr Carker,” said Mrs Skewton; “are we not?”

Few people had less reason to complain of their reality than Cleopatra, who had as much that was false about her as could well go to the composition of anybody with a real individual existence. But Mr Carker commiserated our reality nevertheless, and agreed that we were very hardly used in that regard.

“Pictures at the Castle, quite divine!” said Cleopatra. “I hope you dote upon pictures?”

“I assure you, Mrs Skewton,” said Mr Dombey, with solemn encouragement of his Manager, “that Carker has a very good taste for pictures; quite a natural power of appreciating them. He is a very creditable artist himself. He will be delighted, I am sure, with Mrs Granger’s taste and skill.”

“Damme, Sir!” cried Major Bagstock, “my opinion is, that you’re the admirable Carker, and can do anything.”

“Oh!” smiled Carker, with humility, “you are much too sanguine, Major Bagstock. I can do very little. But Mr Dombey is so generous in his estimation of any trivial accomplishment a man like myself may find it almost necessary to acquire, and to which, in his very different sphere, he is far superior, that—” Mr Carker shrugged his shoulders, deprecating further praise, and said no more.

All this time, Edith never raised her eyes, unless to glance towards her mother when that lady’s fervent spirit shone forth in words. But as Carker ceased, she looked at Mr Dombey for a moment. For a moment only; but with a transient gleam of scornful wonder on her face, not lost on one observer, who was smiling round the board.

Mr Dombey caught the dark eyelash in its descent, and took the opportunity of arresting it.

“You have been to Warwick often, unfortunately?” said Mr Dombey.

“Several times.”

“The visit will be tedious to you, I am afraid.”

“Oh no; not at all.”

“Ah! You are like your cousin Feenix, my dearest Edith,” said Mrs Skewton. “He has been to Warwick Castle fifty times, if he has been there once; yet if he came to Leamington to-morrow—I wish he would, dear angel!—he would make his fifty-second visit next day.”

“We are all enthusiastic, are we not, Mama?” said Edith, with a cold smile.

“Too much so, for our peace, perhaps, my dear,” returned her mother; “but we won’t complain. Our own emotions are our recompense. If, as your cousin Feenix says, the sword wears out the what’s-its-name—”

“The scabbard, perhaps,” said Edith.

“Exactly—a little too fast, it is because it is bright and glowing, you know, my dearest love.”

Mrs Skewton heaved a gentle sigh, supposed to cast a shadow on the surface of that dagger of lath, whereof her susceptible bosom was the sheath: and leaning her head on one side, in the Cleopatra manner, looked with pensive affection on her darling child.

Edith had turned her face towards Mr Dombey when he first addressed her, and had remained in that attitude, while speaking to her mother, and while her mother spoke to her, as though offering him her attention, if he had anything more to say. There was something in the manner of this simple courtesy: almost defiant, and giving it the character of being rendered on compulsion, or as a matter of traffic to which she was a reluctant party again not lost upon that same observer who was smiling round the board. It set him thinking of her as he had first seen her, when she had believed herself to be alone among the trees.

Mr Dombey having nothing else to say, proposed—the breakfast being now finished, and the Major gorged, like any Boa Constrictor—that they should start. A barouche being in waiting, according to the orders of that gentleman, the two ladies, the Major and himself, took their seats in it; the Native and the wan page mounted the box, Mr Towlinson being left behind; and Mr Carker, on horseback, brought up the rear.

Mr Carker cantered behind the carriage at the distance of a hundred yards or so, and watched it, during all the ride, as if he were a cat, indeed, and its four occupants, mice. Whether he looked to one side of the road, or to the other—over distant landscape, with its smooth undulations, wind-mills, corn, grass, bean fields, wild-flowers, farm-yards, hayricks, and the spire among the wood—or upwards in the sunny air, where butterflies were sporting round his head, and birds were pouring out their songs—or downward, where the shadows of the branches interlaced, and made a trembling carpet on the road—or onward, where the overhanging trees formed aisles and arches, dim with the softened light that steeped through leaves—one corner of his eye was ever on the formal head of Mr Dombey, addressed towards him, and the feather in the bonnet, drooping so neglectfully and scornfully between them; much as he had seen the haughty eyelids droop; not least so, when the face met that now fronting it. Once, and once only, did his wary glance release these objects; and that was, when a leap over a low hedge, and a gallop across a field, enabled him to anticipate the carriage coming by the road, and to be standing ready, at the journey’s end, to hand the ladies out. Then, and but then, he met her glance for an instant in her first surprise; but when he touched her, in alighting, with his soft white hand, it overlooked him altogether as before.

Mrs Skewton was bent on taking charge of Mr Carker herself, and showing him the beauties of the Castle. She was determined to have his arm, and the Major’s too. It would do that incorrigible creature: who was the most barbarous infidel in point of poetry: good to be in such company. This chance arrangement left Mr Dombey at liberty to escort Edith: which he did: stalking before them through the apartments with a gentlemanly solemnity.

“Those darling byegone times, Mr Carker,” said Cleopatra, “with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!”

“Yes, we have fallen off deplorably,” said Mr Carker.

The peculiarity of their conversation was, that Mrs Skewton, in spite of her ecstasies, and Mr Carker, in spite of his urbanity, were both intent on watching Mr Dombey and Edith. With all their conversational endowments, they spoke somewhat distractedly, and at random, in consequence.

“We have no Faith left, positively,” said Mrs Skewton, advancing her shrivelled ear; for Mr Dombey was saying something to Edith. “We have no Faith in the dear old Barons, who were the most delightful creatures—or in the dear old Priests, who were the most warlike of men—or even in the days of that inestimable Queen Bess, upon the wall there, which were so extremely golden. Dear creature! She was all Heart And that charming father of hers! I hope you dote on Harry the Eighth!”

“I admire him very much,” said Carker.

“So bluff!” cried Mrs Skewton, “wasn’t he? So burly. So truly English. Such a picture, too, he makes, with his dear little peepy eyes, and his benevolent chin!”

“Ah, Ma’am!” said Carker, stopping short; “but if you speak of pictures, there’s a composition! What gallery in the world can produce the counterpart of that?”

As the smiling gentleman thus spake, he pointed through a doorway to where Mr Dombey and Edith were standing alone in the centre of another room.

They were not interchanging a word or a look. Standing together, arm in arm, they had the appearance of being more divided than if seas had rolled between them. There was a difference even in the pride of the two, that removed them farther from each other, than if one had been the proudest and the other the humblest specimen of humanity in all creation. He, self-important, unbending, formal, austere. She, lovely and graceful, in an uncommon degree, but totally regardless of herself and him and everything around, and spurning her own attractions with her haughty brow and lip, as if they were a badge or livery she hated. So unmatched were they, and opposed, so forced and linked together by a chain which adverse hazard and mischance had forged: that fancy might have imagined the pictures on the walls around them, startled by the unnatural conjunction, and observant of it in their several expressions. Grim knights and warriors looked scowling on them. A churchman, with his hand upraised, denounced the mockery of such a couple coming to God’s altar. Quiet waters in landscapes, with the sun reflected in their depths, asked, if better means of escape were not at hand, was there no drowning left? Ruins cried, “Look here, and see what We are, wedded to uncongenial Time!” Animals, opposed by nature, worried one another, as a moral to them. Loves and Cupids took to flight afraid, and Martyrdom had no such torment in its painted history of suffering.

Nevertheless, Mrs Skewton was so charmed by the sight to which Mr Carker invoked her attention, that she could not refrain from saying, half aloud, how sweet, how very full of soul it was! Edith, overhearing, looked round, and flushed indignant scarlet to her hair.

“My dearest Edith knows I was admiring her!” said Cleopatra, tapping her, almost timidly, on the back with her parasol. “Sweet pet!”

Again Mr Carker saw the strife he had witnessed so unexpectedly among the trees. Again he saw the haughty languor and indifference come over it, and hide it like a cloud.

She did not raise her eyes to him; but with a slight peremptory motion of them, seemed to bid her mother come near. Mrs Skewton thought it expedient to understand the hint, and advancing quickly, with her two cavaliers, kept near her daughter from that time.

Mr Carker now, having nothing to distract his attention, began to discourse upon the pictures and to select the best, and point them out to Mr Dombey: speaking with his usual familiar recognition of Mr Dombey’s greatness, and rendering homage by adjusting his eye-glass for him, or finding out the right place in his catalogue, or holding his stick, or the like. These services did not so much originate with Mr Carker, in truth, as with Mr Dombey himself, who was apt to assert his chieftainship by saying, with subdued authority, and in an easy way—for him—“Here, Carker, have the goodness to assist me, will you?” which the smiling gentleman always did with pleasure.

They made the tour of the pictures, the walls, crow’s nest, and so forth; and as they were still one little party, and the Major was rather in the shade: being sleepy during the process of digestion: Mr Carker became communicative and agreeable. At first, he addressed himself for the most part to Mrs Skewton; but as that sensitive lady was in such ecstasies with the works of art, after the first quarter of an hour, that she could do nothing but yawn (they were such perfect inspirations, she observed as a reason for that mark of rapture), he transferred his attentions to Mr Dombey. Mr Dombey said little beyond an occasional “Very true, Carker,” or “Indeed, Carker,” but he tacitly encouraged Carker to proceed, and inwardly approved of his behaviour very much: deeming it as well that somebody should talk, and thinking that his remarks, which were, as one might say, a branch of the parent establishment, might amuse Mrs Granger. Mr Carker, who possessed an excellent discretion, never took the liberty of addressing that lady, direct; but she seemed to listen, though she never looked at him; and once or twice, when he was emphatic in his peculiar humility, the twilight smile stole over her face, not as a light, but as a deep black shadow.

Warwick Castle being at length pretty well exhausted, and the Major very much so: to say nothing of Mrs Skewton, whose peculiar demonstrations of delight had become very frequent Indeed: the carriage was again put in requisition, and they rode to several admired points of view in the neighbourhood. Mr Dombey ceremoniously observed of one of these, that a sketch, however slight, from the fair hand of Mrs Granger, would be a remembrance to him of that agreeable day: though he wanted no artificial remembrance, he was sure (here Mr Dombey made another of his bows), which he must always highly value. Withers the lean having Edith’s sketch-book under his arm, was immediately called upon by Mrs Skewton to produce the same: and the carriage stopped, that Edith might make the drawing, which Mr Dombey was to put away among his treasures.

“But I am afraid I trouble you too much,” said Mr Dombey.

“By no means. Where would you wish it taken from?” she answered, turning to him with the same enforced attention as before.

Mr Dombey, with another bow, which cracked the starch in his cravat, would beg to leave that to the Artist.

“I would rather you chose for yourself,” said Edith.

“Suppose then,” said Mr Dombey, “we say from here. It appears a good spot for the purpose, or—Carker, what do you think?”

There happened to be in the foreground, at some little distance, a grove of trees, not unlike that in which Mr Carker had made his chain of footsteps in the morning, and with a seat under one tree, greatly resembling, in the general character of its situation, the point where his chain had broken.

“Might I venture to suggest to Mrs Granger,” said Carker, “that that is an interesting—almost a curious—point of view?”

She followed the direction of his riding-whip with her eyes, and raised them quickly to his face. It was the second glance they had exchanged since their introduction; and would have been exactly like the first, but that its expression was plainer.

“Will you like that?” said Edith to Mr Dombey.

“I shall be charmed,” said Mr Dombey to Edith.

Therefore the carriage was driven to the spot where Mr Dombey was to be charmed; and Edith, without moving from her seat, and opening her sketch-book with her usual proud indifference, began to sketch.

“My pencils are all pointless,” she said, stopping and turning them over.

“Pray allow me,” said Mr Dombey. “Or Carker will do it better, as he understands these things. Carker, have the goodness to see to these pencils for Mrs Granger.”

Mr Carker rode up close to the carriage-door on Mrs Granger’s side, and letting the rein fall on his horse’s neck, took the pencils from her hand with a smile and a bow, and sat in the saddle leisurely mending them. Having done so, he begged to be allowed to hold them, and to hand them to her as they were required; and thus Mr Carker, with many commendations of Mrs Granger’s extraordinary skill—especially in trees—remained—close at her side, looking over the drawing as she made it. Mr Dombey in the meantime stood bolt upright in the carriage like a highly respectable ghost, looking on too; while Cleopatra and the Major dallied as two ancient doves might do.

“Are you satisfied with that, or shall I finish it a little more?” said Edith, showing the sketch to Mr Dombey.

Mr Dombey begged that it might not be touched; it was perfection.

“It is most extraordinary,” said Carker, bringing every one of his red gums to bear upon his praise. “I was not prepared for anything so beautiful, and so unusual altogether.”

This might have applied to the sketcher no less than to the sketch; but Mr Carker’s manner was openness itself—not as to his mouth alone, but as to his whole spirit. So it continued to be while the drawing was laid aside for Mr Dombey, and while the sketching materials were put up; then he handed in the pencils (which were received with a distant acknowledgment of his help, but without a look), and tightening his rein, fell back, and followed the carriage again.

Thinking, perhaps, as he rode, that even this trivial sketch had been made and delivered to its owner, as if it had been bargained for and bought. Thinking, perhaps, that although she had assented with such perfect readiness to his request, her haughty face, bent over the drawing, or glancing at the distant objects represented in it, had been the face of a proud woman, engaged in a sordid and miserable transaction. Thinking, perhaps, of such things: but smiling certainly, and while he seemed to look about him freely, in enjoyment of the air and exercise, keeping always that sharp corner of his eye upon the carriage.

A stroll among the haunted ruins of Kenilworth, and more rides to more points of view: most of which, Mrs Skewton reminded Mr Dombey, Edith had already sketched, as he had seen in looking over her drawings: brought the day’s expedition to a close. Mrs Skewton and Edith were driven to their own lodgings; Mr Carker was graciously invited by Cleopatra to return thither with Mr Dombey and the Major, in the evening, to hear some of Edith’s music; and the three gentlemen repaired to their hotel to dinner.

The dinner was the counterpart of yesterday’s, except that the Major was twenty-four hours more triumphant and less mysterious. Edith was toasted again. Mr Dombey was again agreeably embarrassed. And Mr Carker was full of interest and praise.

There were no other visitors at Mrs Skewton’s. Edith’s drawings were strewn about the room, a little more abundantly than usual perhaps; and Withers, the wan page, handed round a little stronger tea. The harp was there; the piano was there; and Edith sang and played. But even the music was played by Edith to Mr Dombey’s order, as it were, in the same uncompromising way. As thus.

“Edith, my dearest love,” said Mrs Skewton, half an hour after tea, “Mr Dombey is dying to hear you, I know.”

“Mr Dombey has life enough left to say so for himself, Mama, I have no doubt.”

“I shall be immensely obliged,” said Mr Dombey.

“What do you wish?”

“Piano?” hesitated Mr Dombey.

“Whatever you please. You have only to choose.”

Accordingly, she began with the piano. It was the same with the harp; the same with her singing; the same with the selection of the pieces that she sang and played. Such frigid and constrained, yet prompt and pointed acquiescence with the wishes he imposed upon her, and on no one else, was sufficiently remarkable to penetrate through all the mysteries of picquet, and impress itself on Mr Carker’s keen attention. Nor did he lose sight of the fact that Mr Dombey was evidently proud of his power, and liked to show it.

Nevertheless, Mr Carker played so well—some games with the Major, and some with Cleopatra, whose vigilance of eye in respect of Mr Dombey and Edith no lynx could have surpassed—that he even heightened his position in the lady-mother’s good graces; and when on taking leave he regretted that he would be obliged to return to London next morning, Cleopatra trusted: community of feeling not being met with every day: that it was far from being the last time they would meet.

“I hope so,” said Mr Carker, with an expressive look at the couple in the distance, as he drew towards the door, following the Major. “I think so.”

Mr Dombey, who had taken a stately leave of Edith, bent, or made some approach to a bend, over Cleopatra’s couch, and said, in a low voice:

“I have requested Mrs Granger’s permission to call on her to-morrow morning—for a purpose—and she has appointed twelve o’clock. May I hope to have the pleasure of finding you at home, Madam, afterwards?”

Cleopatra was so much fluttered and moved, by hearing this, of course, incomprehensible speech, that she could only shut her eyes, and shake her head, and give Mr Dombey her hand; which Mr Dombey, not exactly knowing what to do with, dropped.

“Dombey, come along!” cried the Major, looking in at the door. “Damme, Sir, old Joe has a great mind to propose an alteration in the name of the Royal Hotel, and that it should be called the Three Jolly Bachelors, in honour of ourselves and Carker.” With this, the Major slapped Mr Dombey on the back, and winking over his shoulder at the ladies, with a frightful tendency of blood to the head, carried him off.

Mrs Skewton reposed on her sofa, and Edith sat apart, by her harp, in silence. The mother, trifling with her fan, looked stealthily at the daughter more than once, but the daughter, brooding gloomily with downcast eyes, was not to be disturbed.

Thus they remained for a long hour, without a word, until Mrs Skewton’s maid appeared, according to custom, to prepare her gradually for night. At night, she should have been a skeleton, with dart and hour-glass, rather than a woman, this attendant; for her touch was as the touch of Death. The painted object shrivelled underneath her hand; the form collapsed, the hair dropped off, the arched dark eyebrows changed to scanty tufts of grey; the pale lips shrunk, the skin became cadaverous and loose; an old, worn, yellow, nodding woman, with red eyes, alone remained in Cleopatra’s place, huddled up, like a slovenly bundle, in a greasy flannel gown.

The very voice was changed, as it addressed Edith, when they were alone again.

“Why don’t you tell me,” it said sharply, “that he is coming here to-morrow by appointment?”

“Because you know it,” returned Edith, “Mother.”

The mocking emphasis she laid on that one word!

“You know he has bought me,” she resumed. “Or that he will, to-morrow. He has considered of his bargain; he has shown it to his friend; he is even rather proud of it; he thinks that it will suit him, and may be had sufficiently cheap; and he will buy to-morrow. God, that I have lived for this, and that I feel it!”

Compress into one handsome face the conscious self-abasement, and the burning indignation of a hundred women, strong in passion and in pride; and there it hid itself with two white shuddering arms.

“What do you mean?” returned the angry mother. “Haven’t you from a child—”

“A child!” said Edith, looking at her, “when was I a child? What childhood did you ever leave to me? I was a woman—artful, designing, mercenary, laying snares for men—before I knew myself, or you, or even understood the base and wretched aim of every new display I learnt You gave birth to a woman. Look upon her. She is in her pride tonight.”

And as she spoke, she struck her hand upon her beautiful bosom, as though she would have beaten down herself.

“Look at me,” she said, “who have never known what it is to have an honest heart, and love. Look at me, taught to scheme and plot when children play; and married in my youth—an old age of design—to one for whom I had no feeling but indifference. Look at me, whom he left a widow, dying before his inheritance descended to him—a judgment on you! well deserved!—and tell me what has been my life for ten years since.”

“We have been making every effort to endeavour to secure to you a good establishment,” rejoined her mother. “That has been your life. And now you have got it.”

“There is no slave in a market: there is no horse in a fair: so shown and offered and examined and paraded, Mother, as I have been, for ten shameful years,” cried Edith, with a burning brow, and the same bitter emphasis on the one word. “Is it not so? Have I been made the bye-word of all kinds of men? Have fools, have profligates, have boys, have dotards, dangled after me, and one by one rejected me, and fallen off, because you were too plain with all your cunning: yes, and too true, with all those false pretences: until we have almost come to be notorious? The licence of look and touch,” she said, with flashing eyes, “have I submitted to it, in half the places of resort upon the map of England? Have I been hawked and vended here and there, until the last grain of self-respect is dead within me, and I loathe myself? Has been my late childhood? I had none before. Do not tell me that I had, tonight of all nights in my life!”

“You might have been well married,” said her mother, “twenty times at least, Edith, if you had given encouragement enough.”

“No! Who takes me, refuse that I am, and as I well deserve to be,” she answered, raising her head, and trembling in her energy of shame and stormy pride, “shall take me, as this man does, with no art of mine put forth to lure him. He sees me at the auction, and he thinks it well to buy me. Let him! When he came to view me—perhaps to bid—he required to see the roll of my accomplishments. I gave it to him. When he would have me show one of them, to justify his purchase to his men, I require of him to say which he demands, and I exhibit it. I will do no more. He makes the purchase of his own will, and with his own sense of its worth, and the power of his money; and I hope it may never disappoint him. I have not vaunted and pressed the bargain; neither have you, so far as I have been able to prevent you.

“You talk strangely tonight, Edith, to your own Mother.”

“It seems so to me; stranger to me than you,” said Edith. “But my education was completed long ago. I am too old now, and have fallen too low, by degrees, to take a new course, and to stop yours, and to help myself. The germ of all that purifies a woman’s breast, and makes it true and good, has never stirred in mine, and I have nothing else to sustain me when I despise myself.” There had been a touching sadness in her voice, but it was gone, when she went on to say, with a curled lip, “So, as we are genteel and poor, I am content that we should be made rich by these means; all I say is, I have kept the only purpose I have had the strength to form—I had almost said the power, with you at my side, Mother—and have not tempted this man on.”

“This man! You speak,” said her mother, “as if you hated him.”

“And you thought I loved him, did you not?” she answered, stopping on her way across the room, and looking round. “Shall I tell you,” she continued, with her eyes fixed on her mother, “who already knows us thoroughly, and reads us right, and before whom I have even less of self-respect or confidence than before my own inward self; being so much degraded by his knowledge of me?”

“This is an attack, I suppose,” returned her mother coldly, “on poor, unfortunate what’s-his-name—Mr Carker! Your want of self-respect and confidence, my dear, in reference to that person (who is very agreeable, it strikes me), is not likely to have much effect on your establishment. Why do you look at me so hard? Are you ill?”

Edith suddenly let fall her face, as if it had been stung, and while she pressed her hands upon it, a terrible tremble crept over her whole frame. It was quickly gone; and with her usual step, she passed out of the room.

The maid who should have been a skeleton, then reappeared, and giving one arm to her mistress, who appeared to have taken off her manner with her charms, and to have put on paralysis with her flannel gown, collected the ashes of Cleopatra, and carried them away in the other, ready for tomorrow’s revivification.

CHAPTER XXVIII. 
Alterations

So the day has come at length, Susan,” said Florence to the excellent Nipper, “when we are going back to our quiet home!”

Susan drew in her breath with an amount of expression not easily described, further relieving her feelings with a smart cough, answered, “Very quiet indeed, Miss Floy, no doubt. Excessive so.”

“When I was a child,” said Florence, thoughtfully, and after musing for some moments, “did you ever see that gentleman who has taken the trouble to ride down here to speak to me, now three times—three times, I think, Susan?”

“Three times, Miss,” returned the Nipper. “Once when you was out a walking with them Sket—”

Florence gently looked at her, and Miss Nipper checked herself.

“With Sir Barnet and his lady, I mean to say, Miss, and the young gentleman. And two evenings since then.”

“When I was a child, and when company used to come to visit Papa, did you ever see that gentleman at home, Susan?” asked Florence.

“Well, Miss,” returned her maid, after considering, “I really couldn’t say I ever did. When your poor dear Ma died, Miss Floy, I was very new in the family, you see, and my element:” the Nipper bridled, as opining that her merits had been always designedly extinguished by Mr Dombey: “was the floor below the attics.”

“To be sure,” said Florence, still thoughtfully; “you are not likely to have known who came to the house. I quite forgot.”

“Not, Miss, but what we talked about the family and visitors,” said Susan, “and but what I heard much said, although the nurse before Mrs Richards make unpleasant remarks when I was in company, and hint at little Pitchers, but that could only be attributed, poor thing,” observed Susan, with composed forbearance, “to habits of intoxication, for which she was required to leave, and did.”

Florence, who was seated at her chamber window, with her face resting on her hand, sat looking out, and hardly seemed to hear what Susan said, she was so lost in thought.

“At all events, Miss,” said Susan, “I remember very well that this same gentleman, Mr Carker, was almost, if not quite, as great a gentleman with your Papa then, as he is now. It used to be said in the house then, Miss, that he was at the head of all your Pa’s affairs in the City, and managed the whole, and that your Pa minded him more than anybody, which, begging your pardon, Miss Floy, he might easy do, for he never minded anybody else. I knew that, Pitcher as I might have been.”

Susan Nipper, with an injured remembrance of the nurse before Mrs Richards, emphasised “Pitcher” strongly.

“And that Mr Carker has not fallen off, Miss,” she pursued, “but has stood his ground, and kept his credit with your Pa, I know from what is always said among our people by that Perch, whenever he comes to the house; and though he’s the weakest weed in the world, Miss Floy, and no one can have a moment’s patience with the man, he knows what goes on in the City tolerable well, and says that your Pa does nothing without Mr Carker, and leaves all to Mr Carker, and acts according to Mr Carker, and has Mr Carker always at his elbow, and I do believe that he believes (that washiest of Perches!) that after your Pa, the Emperor of India is the child unborn to Mr Carker.”

Not a word of this was lost on Florence, who, with an awakened interest in Susan’s speech, no longer gazed abstractedly on the prospect without, but looked at her, and listened with attention.

“Yes, Susan,” she said, when that young lady had concluded. “He is in Papa’s confidence, and is his friend, I am sure.”

Florence’s mind ran high on this theme, and had done for some days. Mr Carker, in the two visits with which he had followed up his first one, had assumed a confidence between himself and her—a right on his part to be mysterious and stealthy, in telling her that the ship was still unheard of—a kind of mildly restrained power and authority over her—that made her wonder, and caused her great uneasiness. She had no means of repelling it, or of freeing herself from the web he was gradually winding about her; for that would have required some art and knowledge of the world, opposed to such address as his; and Florence had none. True, he had said no more to her than that there was no news of the ship, and that he feared the worst; but how he came to know that she was interested in the ship, and why he had the right to signify his knowledge to her, so insidiously and darkly, troubled Florence very much.

This conduct on the part of Mr Carker, and her habit of often considering it with wonder and uneasiness, began to invest him with an uncomfortable fascination in Florence’s thoughts. A more distinct remembrance of his features, voice, and manner: which she sometimes courted, as a means of reducing him to the level of a real personage, capable of exerting no greater charm over her than another: did not remove the vague impression. And yet he never frowned, or looked upon her with an air of dislike or animosity, but was always smiling and serene.

Again, Florence, in pursuit of her strong purpose with reference to her father, and her steady resolution to believe that she was herself unwittingly to blame for their so cold and distant relations, would recall to mind that this gentleman was his confidential friend, and would think, with an anxious heart, could her struggling tendency to dislike and fear him be a part of that misfortune in her, which had turned her father’s love adrift, and left her so alone? She dreaded that it might be; sometimes believed it was: then she resolved that she would try to conquer this wrong feeling; persuaded herself that she was honoured and encouraged by the notice of her father’s friend; and hoped that patient observation of him and trust in him would lead her bleeding feet along that stony road which ended in her father’s heart.

Thus, with no one to advise her—for she could advise with no one without seeming to complain against him—gentle Florence tossed on an uneasy sea of doubt and hope; and Mr Carker, like a scaly monster of the deep, swam down below, and kept his shining eye upon her.

Florence had a new reason in all this for wishing to be at home again. Her lonely life was better suited to her course of timid hope and doubt; and she feared sometimes, that in her absence she might miss some hopeful chance of testifying her affection for her father. Heaven knows, she might have set her mind at rest, poor child! on this last point; but her slighted love was fluttering within her, and, even in her sleep, it flew away in dreams, and nestled, like a wandering bird come home, upon her father’s neck.

Of Walter she thought often. Ah! how often, when the night was gloomy, and the wind was blowing round the house! But hope was strong in her breast. It is so difficult for the young and ardent, even with such experience as hers, to imagine youth and ardour quenched like a weak flame, and the bright day of life merging into night, at noon, that hope was strong yet. Her tears fell frequently for Walter’s sufferings; but rarely for his supposed death, and never long.

She had written to the old Instrument-maker, but had received no answer to her note: which indeed required none. Thus matters stood with Florence on the morning when she was going home, gladly, to her old secluded life.

Doctor and Mrs Blimber, accompanied (much against his will) by their valued charge, Master Barnet, were already gone back to Brighton, where that young gentleman and his fellow-pilgrims to Parnassus were then, no doubt, in the continual resumption of their studies. The holiday time was past and over; most of the juvenile guests at the villa had taken their departure; and Florence’s long visit was come to an end.

There was one guest, however, albeit not resident within the house, who had been very constant in his attentions to the family, and who still remained devoted to them. This was Mr Toots, who after renewing, some weeks ago, the acquaintance he had had the happiness of forming with Skettles Junior, on the night when he burst the Blimberian bonds and soared into freedom with his ring on, called regularly every other day, and left a perfect pack of cards at the hall-door; so many indeed, that the ceremony was quite a deal on the part of Mr Toots, and a hand at whist on the part of the servant.

Mr Toots, likewise, with the bold and happy idea of preventing the family from forgetting him (but there is reason to suppose that this expedient originated in the teeming brain of the Chicken), had established a six-oared cutter, manned by aquatic friends of the Chicken’s and steered by that illustrious character in person, who wore a bright red fireman’s coat for the purpose, and concealed the perpetual black eye with which he was afflicted, beneath a green shade. Previous to the institution of this equipage, Mr Toots sounded the Chicken on a hypothetical case, as, supposing the Chicken to be enamoured of a young lady named Mary, and to have conceived the intention of starting a boat of his own, what would he call that boat? The Chicken replied, with divers strong asseverations, that he would either christen it Poll or The Chicken’s Delight. Improving on this idea, Mr Toots, after deep study and the exercise of much invention, resolved to call his boat The Toots’s Joy, as a delicate compliment to Florence, of which no man knowing the parties, could possibly miss the appreciation.

Stretched on a crimson cushion in his gallant bark, with his shoes in the air, Mr Toots, in the exercise of his project, had come up the river, day after day, and week after week, and had flitted to and fro, near Sir Barnet’s garden, and had caused his crew to cut across and across the river at sharp angles, for his better exhibition to any lookers-out from Sir Barnet’s windows, and had had such evolutions performed by the Toots’s Joy as had filled all the neighbouring part of the water-side with astonishment. But whenever he saw anyone in Sir Barnet’s garden on the brink of the river, Mr Toots always feigned to be passing there, by a combination of coincidences of the most singular and unlikely description.

“How are you, Toots?” Sir Barnet would say, waving his hand from the lawn, while the artful Chicken steered close in shore.

“How de do, Sir Barnet?” Mr Toots would answer, “What a surprising thing that I should see you here!”

Mr Toots, in his sagacity, always said this, as if, instead of that being Sir Barnet’s house, it were some deserted edifice on the banks of the Nile, or Ganges.

“I never was so surprised!” Mr Toots would exclaim.—“Is Miss Dombey there?”

Whereupon Florence would appear, perhaps.

“Oh, Diogenes is quite well, Miss Dombey,” Toots would cry. “I called to ask this morning.”

“Thank you very much!” the pleasant voice of Florence would reply.

“Won’t you come ashore, Toots?” Sir Barnet would say then. “Come! you’re in no hurry. Come and see us.”

“Oh, it’s of no consequence, thank you!” Mr Toots would blushingly rejoin. “I thought Miss Dombey might like to know, that’s all. Good-bye!” And poor Mr Toots, who was dying to accept the invitation, but hadn’t the courage to do it, signed to the Chicken, with an aching heart, and away went the Joy, cleaving the water like an arrow.

The Joy was lying in a state of extraordinary splendour, at the garden steps, on the morning of Florence’s departure. When she went downstairs to take leave, after her talk with Susan, she found Mr Toots awaiting her in the drawing-room.

“Oh, how de do, Miss Dombey?” said the stricken Toots, always dreadfully disconcerted when the desire of his heart was gained, and he was speaking to her; “thank you, I’m very well indeed, I hope you’re the same, so was Diogenes yesterday.”

“You are very kind,” said Florence.

“Thank you, it’s of no consequence,” retorted Mr Toots. “I thought perhaps you wouldn’t mind, in this fine weather, coming home by water, Miss Dombey. There’s plenty of room in the boat for your maid.”

“I am very much obliged to you,” said Florence, hesitating. “I really am—but I would rather not.”

“Oh, it’s of no consequence,” retorted Mr Toots. “Good morning.”

“Won’t you wait and see Lady Skettles?” asked Florence, kindly.

“Oh no, thank you,” returned Mr Toots, “it’s of no consequence at all.”

So shy was Mr Toots on such occasions, and so flurried! But Lady Skettles entering at the moment, Mr Toots was suddenly seized with a passion for asking her how she did, and hoping she was very well; nor could Mr Toots by any possibility leave off shaking hands with her, until Sir Barnet appeared: to whom he immediately clung with the tenacity of desperation.

“We are losing, today, Toots,” said Sir Barnet, turning towards Florence, “the light of our house, I assure you”

“Oh, it’s of no conseq—I mean yes, to be sure,” faltered the embarrassed Mr Toots. “Good morning!”

Notwithstanding the emphatic nature of this farewell, Mr Toots, instead of going away, stood leering about him, vacantly. Florence, to relieve him, bade adieu, with many thanks, to Lady Skettles, and gave her arm to Sir Barnet.

“May I beg of you, my dear Miss Dombey,” said her host, as he conducted her to the carriage, “to present my best compliments to your dear Papa?”

It was distressing to Florence to receive the commission, for she felt as if she were imposing on Sir Barnet by allowing him to believe that a kindness rendered to her, was rendered to her father. As she could not explain, however, she bowed her head and thanked him; and again she thought that the dull home, free from such embarrassments, and such reminders of her sorrow, was her natural and best retreat.

Such of her late friends and companions as were yet remaining at the villa, came running from within, and from the garden, to say good-bye. They were all attached to her, and very earnest in taking leave of her. Even the household were sorry for her going, and the servants came nodding and curtseying round the carriage door. As Florence looked round on the kind faces, and saw among them those of Sir Barnet and his lady, and of Mr Toots, who was chuckling and staring at her from a distance, she was reminded of the night when Paul and she had come from Doctor Blimber’s: and when the carriage drove away, her face was wet with tears.

Sorrowful tears, but tears of consolation, too; for all the softer memories connected with the dull old house to which she was returning made it dear to her, as they rose up. How long it seemed since she had wandered through the silent rooms: since she had last crept, softly and afraid, into those her father occupied: since she had felt the solemn but yet soothing influence of the beloved dead in every action of her daily life! This new farewell reminded her, besides, of her parting with poor Walter: of his looks and words that night: and of the gracious blending she had noticed in him, of tenderness for those he left behind, with courage and high spirit. His little history was associated with the old house too, and gave it a new claim and hold upon her heart.

Even Susan Nipper softened towards the home of so many years, as they were on their way towards it. Gloomy as it was, and rigid justice as she rendered to its gloom, she forgave it a great deal. “I shall be glad to see it again, I don’t deny, Miss,” said the Nipper. “There ain’t much in it to boast of, but I wouldn’t have it burnt or pulled down, neither!”

“You’ll be glad to go through the old rooms, won’t you, Susan?” said Florence, smiling.

“Well, Miss,” returned the Nipper, softening more and more towards the house, as they approached it nearer, “I won’t deny but what I shall, though I shall hate ’em again, to-morrow, very likely.”

Florence felt that, for her, there was greater peace within it than elsewhere. It was better and easier to keep her secret shut up there, among the tall dark walls, than to carry it abroad into the light, and try to hide it from a crowd of happy eyes. It was better to pursue the study of her loving heart, alone, and find no new discouragements in loving hearts about her. It was easier to hope, and pray, and love on, all uncared for, yet with constancy and patience, in the tranquil sanctuary of such remembrances: although it mouldered, rusted, and decayed about her: than in a new scene, let its gaiety be what it would. She welcomed back her old enchanted dream of life, and longed for the old dark door to close upon her, once again.

Full of such thoughts, they turned into the long and sombre street. Florence was not on that side of the carriage which was nearest to her home, and as the distance lessened between them and it, she looked out of her window for the children over the way.

She was thus engaged, when an exclamation from Susan caused her to turn quickly round.

“Why, Gracious me!” cried Susan, breathless, “where’s our house!”

“Our house!” said Florence.

Susan, drawing in her head from the window, thrust it out again, drew it in again as the carriage stopped, and stared at her mistress in amazement.

There was a labyrinth of scaffolding raised all round the house, from the basement to the roof. Loads of bricks and stones, and heaps of mortar, and piles of wood, blocked up half the width and length of the broad street at the side. Ladders were raised against the walls; labourers were climbing up and down; men were at work upon the steps of the scaffolding; painters and decorators were busy inside; great rolls of ornamental paper were being delivered from a cart at the door; an upholsterer’s waggon also stopped the way; no furniture was to be seen through the gaping and broken windows in any of the rooms; nothing but workmen, and the implements of their several trades, swarming from the kitchens to the garrets. Inside and outside alike: bricklayers, painters, carpenters, masons: hammer, hod, brush, pickaxe, saw, and trowel: all at work together, in full chorus!

Florence descended from the coach, half doubting if it were, or could be the right house, until she recognised Towlinson, with a sun-burnt face, standing at the door to receive her.

“There is nothing the matter?” inquired Florence.

“Oh no, Miss.”

“There are great alterations going on.”

“Yes, Miss, great alterations,” said Towlinson.

Florence passed him as if she were in a dream, and hurried upstairs. The garish light was in the long-darkened drawing-room and there were steps and platforms, and men in paper caps, in the high places. Her mother’s picture was gone with the rest of the moveables, and on the mark where it had been, was scrawled in chalk, “this room in panel. Green and gold.” The staircase was a labyrinth of posts and planks like the outside of the house, and a whole Olympus of plumbers and glaziers was reclining in various attitudes, on the skylight. Her own room was not yet touched within, but there were beams and boards raised against it without, baulking the daylight. She went up swiftly to that other bedroom, where the little bed was; and a dark giant of a man with a pipe in his mouth, and his head tied up in a pocket-handkerchief, was staring in at the window.

It was here that Susan Nipper, who had been in quest of Florence, found her, and said, would she go downstairs to her Papa, who wished to speak to her.

“At home! and wishing to speak to me!” cried Florence, trembling.

Susan, who was infinitely more distraught than Florence herself, repeated her errand; and Florence, pale and agitated, hurried down again, without a moment’s hesitation. She thought upon the way down, would she dare to kiss him? The longing of her heart resolved her, and she thought she would.

Her father might have heard that heart beat, when it came into his presence. One instant, and it would have beat against his breast.

But he was not alone. There were two ladies there; and Florence stopped. Striving so hard with her emotion, that if her brute friend Di had not burst in and overwhelmed her with his caresses as a welcome home—at which one of the ladies gave a little scream, and that diverted her attention from herself—she would have swooned upon the floor.

“Florence,” said her father, putting out his hand: so stiffly that it held her off: “how do you do?”

Florence took the hand between her own, and putting it timidly to her lips, yielded to its withdrawal. It touched the door in shutting it, with quite as much endearment as it had touched her.

“What dog is that?” said Mr Dombey, displeased.

“It is a dog, Papa—from Brighton.”

“Well!” said Mr Dombey; and a cloud passed over his face, for he understood her.

“He is very good-tempered,” said Florence, addressing herself with her natural grace and sweetness to the two lady strangers. “He is only glad to see me. Pray forgive him.”

She saw in the glance they interchanged, that the lady who had screamed, and who was seated, was old; and that the other lady, who stood near her Papa, was very beautiful, and of an elegant figure.

“Mrs Skewton,” said her father, turning to the first, and holding out his hand, “this is my daughter Florence.”

“Charming, I am sure,” observed the lady, putting up her glass. “So natural! My darling Florence, you must kiss me, if you please.”

Florence having done so, turned towards the other lady, by whom her father stood waiting.

“Edith,” said Mr Dombey, “this is my daughter Florence. Florence, this lady will soon be your Mama.”

Florence started, and looked up at the beautiful face in a conflict of emotions, among which the tears that name awakened, struggled for a moment with surprise, interest, admiration, and an indefinable sort of fear. Then she cried out, “Oh, Papa, may you be happy! may you be very, very happy all your life!” and then fell weeping on the lady’s bosom.

There was a short silence. The beautiful lady, who at first had seemed to hesitate whether or no she should advance to Florence, held her to her breast, and pressed the hand with which she clasped her, close about her waist, as if to reassure her and comfort her. Not one word passed the lady’s lips. She bent her head down over Florence, and she kissed her on the cheek, but she said no word.

“Shall we go on through the rooms,” said Mr Dombey, “and see how our workmen are doing? Pray allow me, my dear madam.”

He said this in offering his arm to Mrs Skewton, who had been looking at Florence through her glass, as though picturing to herself what she might be made, by the infusion—from her own copious storehouse, no doubt—of a little more Heart and Nature. Florence was still sobbing on the lady’s breast, and holding to her, when Mr Dombey was heard to say from the Conservatory:

“Let us ask Edith. Dear me, where is she?”

“Edith, my dear!” cried Mrs Skewton, “where are you? Looking for Mr Dombey somewhere, I know. We are here, my love.”

The beautiful lady released her hold of Florence, and pressing her lips once more upon her face, withdrew hurriedly, and joined them. Florence remained standing in the same place: happy, sorry, joyful, and in tears, she knew not how, or how long, but all at once: when her new Mama came back, and took her in her arms again.

“Florence,” said the lady, hurriedly, and looking into her face with great earnestness. “You will not begin by hating me?”

“By hating you, Mama?” cried Florence, winding her arm round her neck, and returning the look.

“Hush! Begin by thinking well of me,” said the beautiful lady. “Begin by believing that I will try to make you happy, and that I am prepared to love you, Florence. Good-bye. We shall meet again soon. Good-bye! Don’t stay here, now.”

Again she pressed her to her breast she had spoken in a rapid manner, but firmly—and Florence saw her rejoin them in the other room.

And now Florence began to hope that she would learn from her new and beautiful Mama, how to gain her father’s love; and in her sleep that night, in her lost old home, her own Mama smiled radiantly upon the hope, and blessed it. Dreaming Florence!

CHAPTER XXIX. 
The Opening of the Eyes of Mrs Chick

Miss Tox, all unconscious of any such rare appearances in connexion with Mr Dombey’s house, as scaffoldings and ladders, and men with their heads tied up in pocket-handkerchiefs, glaring in at the windows like flying genii or strange birds,—having breakfasted one morning at about this eventful period of time, on her customary viands; to wit, one French roll rasped, one egg new laid (or warranted to be), and one little pot of tea, wherein was infused one little silver scoopful of that herb on behalf of Miss Tox, and one little silver scoopful on behalf of the teapot—a flight of fancy in which good housekeepers delight; went upstairs to set forth the bird waltz on the harpsichord, to water and arrange the plants, to dust the nick-nacks, and, according to her daily custom, to make her little drawing-room the garland of Princess’s Place.

Miss Tox endued herself with a pair of ancient gloves, like dead leaves, in which she was accustomed to perform these avocations—hidden from human sight at other times in a table drawer—and went methodically to work; beginning with the bird waltz; passing, by a natural association of ideas, to her bird—a very high-shouldered canary, stricken in years, and much rumpled, but a piercing singer, as Princess’s Place well knew; taking, next in order, the little china ornaments, paper fly-cages, and so forth; and coming round, in good time, to the plants, which generally required to be snipped here and there with a pair of scissors, for some botanical reason that was very powerful with Miss Tox.

Miss Tox was slow in coming to the plants, this morning. The weather was warm, the wind southerly; and there was a sigh of the summer-time in Princess’s Place, that turned Miss Tox’s thoughts upon the country. The pot-boy attached to the Princess’s Arms had come out with a can and trickled water, in a flowering pattern, all over Princess’s Place, and it gave the weedy ground a fresh scent—quite a growing scent, Miss Tox said. There was a tiny blink of sun peeping in from the great street round the corner, and the smoky sparrows hopped over it and back again, brightening as they passed: or bathed in it, like a stream, and became glorified sparrows, unconnected with chimneys. Legends in praise of Ginger-Beer, with pictorial representations of thirsty customers submerged in the effervescence, or stunned by the flying corks, were conspicuous in the window of the Princess’s Arms. They were making late hay, somewhere out of town; and though the fragrance had a long way to come, and many counter fragrances to contend with among the dwellings of the poor (may God reward the worthy gentlemen who stickle for the Plague as part and parcel of the wisdom of our ancestors, and who do their little best to keep those dwellings miserable!), yet it was wafted faintly into Princess’s Place, whispering of Nature and her wholesome air, as such things will, even unto prisoners and captives, and those who are desolate and oppressed, in very spite of aldermen and knights to boot: at whose sage nod—and how they nod!—the rolling world stands still!

Miss Tox sat down upon the window-seat, and thought of her good Papa deceased—Mr Tox, of the Customs Department of the public service; and of her childhood, passed at a seaport, among a considerable quantity of cold tar, and some rusticity. She fell into a softened remembrance of meadows, in old time, gleaming with buttercups, like so many inverted firmaments of golden stars; and how she had made chains of dandelion-stalks for youthful vowers of eternal constancy, dressed chiefly in nankeen; and how soon those fetters had withered and broken.

Sitting on the window-seat, and looking out upon the sparrows and the blink of sun, Miss Tox thought likewise of her good Mama deceased—sister to the owner of the powdered head and pigtail—of her virtues and her rheumatism. And when a man with bulgy legs, and a rough voice, and a heavy basket on his head that crushed his hat into a mere black muffin, came crying flowers down Princess’s Place, making his timid little roots of daisies shudder in the vibration of every yell he gave, as though he had been an ogre, hawking little children, summer recollections were so strong upon Miss Tox, that she shook her head, and murmured she would be comparatively old before she knew it—which seemed likely.

In her pensive mood, Miss Tox’s thoughts went wandering on Mr Dombey’s track; probably because the Major had returned home to his lodgings opposite, and had just bowed to her from his window. What other reason could Miss Tox have for connecting Mr Dombey with her summer days and dandelion fetters? Was he more cheerful? thought Miss Tox. Was he reconciled to the decrees of fate? Would he ever marry again? and if yes, whom? What sort of person now!

A flush—it was warm weather—overspread Miss Tox’s face, as, while entertaining these meditations, she turned her head, and was surprised by the reflection of her thoughtful image in the chimney-glass. Another flush succeeded when she saw a little carriage drive into Princess’s Place, and make straight for her own door. Miss Tox arose, took up her scissors hastily, and so coming, at last, to the plants, was very busy with them when Mrs Chick entered the room.

“How is my sweetest friend!” exclaimed Miss Tox, with open arms.

A little stateliness was mingled with Miss Tox’s sweetest friend’s demeanour, but she kissed Miss Tox, and said, “Lucretia, thank you, I am pretty well. I hope you are the same. Hem!”

Mrs Chick was labouring under a peculiar little monosyllabic cough; a sort of primer, or easy introduction to the art of coughing.

“You call very early, and how kind that is, my dear!” pursued Miss Tox. “Now, have you breakfasted?”

“Thank you, Lucretia,” said Mrs Chick, “I have. I took an early breakfast”—the good lady seemed curious on the subject of Princess’s Place, and looked all round it as she spoke—“with my brother, who has come home.”

“He is better, I trust, my love,” faltered Miss Tox.

“He is greatly better, thank you. Hem!”

“My dear Louisa must be careful of that cough” remarked Miss Tox.

“It’s nothing,” returned Mrs Chic “It’s merely change of weather. We must expect change.”

“Of weather?” asked Miss Tox, in her simplicity.

“Of everything,” returned Mrs Chick. “Of course we must. It’s a world of change. Anyone would surprise me very much, Lucretia, and would greatly alter my opinion of their understanding, if they attempted to contradict or evade what is so perfectly evident. Change!” exclaimed Mrs Chick, with severe philosophy. “Why, my gracious me, what is there that does not change! even the silkworm, who I am sure might be supposed not to trouble itself about such subjects, changes into all sorts of unexpected things continually.”

“My Louisa,” said the mild Miss Tox, “is ever happy in her illustrations.”

“You are so kind, Lucretia,” returned Mrs Chick, a little softened, “as to say so, and to think so, I believe. I hope neither of us may ever have any cause to lessen our opinion of the other, Lucretia.”

“I am sure of it,” returned Miss Tox.

Mrs Chick coughed as before, and drew lines on the carpet with the ivory end of her parasol. Miss Tox, who had experience of her fair friend, and knew that under the pressure of any slight fatigue or vexation she was prone to a discursive kind of irritability, availed herself of the pause, to change the subject.

“Pardon me, my dear Louisa,” said Miss Tox, “but have I caught sight of the manly form of Mr Chick in the carriage?”

“He is there,” said Mrs Chick, “but pray leave him there. He has his newspaper, and would be quite contented for the next two hours. Go on with your flowers, Lucretia, and allow me to sit here and rest.”

“My Louisa knows,” observed Miss Tox, “that between friends like ourselves, any approach to ceremony would be out of the question. Therefore—” Therefore Miss Tox finished the sentence, not in words but action; and putting on her gloves again, which she had taken off, and arming herself once more with her scissors, began to snip and clip among the leaves with microscopic industry.

“Florence has returned home also,” said Mrs Chick, after sitting silent for some time, with her head on one side, and her parasol sketching on the floor; “and really Florence is a great deal too old now, to continue to lead that solitary life to which she has been accustomed. Of course she is. There can be no doubt about it. I should have very little respect, indeed, for anybody who could advocate a different opinion. Whatever my wishes might be, I could not respect them. We cannot command our feelings to such an extent as that.”

Miss Tox assented, without being particular as to the intelligibility of the proposition.

“If she’s a strange girl,” said Mrs Chick, “and if my brother Paul cannot feel perfectly comfortable in her society, after all the sad things that have happened, and all the terrible disappointments that have been undergone, then, what is the reply? That he must make an effort. That he is bound to make an effort. We have always been a family remarkable for effort. Paul is at the head of the family; almost the only representative of it left—for what am I—I am of no consequence—”

“My dearest love,” remonstrated Miss Tox.

Mrs Chick dried her eyes, which were, for the moment, overflowing; and proceeded:

“And consequently he is more than ever bound to make an effort. And though his having done so, comes upon me with a sort of shock—for mine is a very weak and foolish nature; which is anything but a blessing I am sure; I often wish my heart was a marble slab, or a paving-stone—”

“My sweet Louisa,” remonstrated Miss Tox again.

“Still, it is a triumph to me to know that he is so true to himself, and to his name of Dombey; although, of course, I always knew he would be. I only hope,” said Mrs Chick, after a pause, “that she may be worthy of the name too.”

Miss Tox filled a little green watering-pot from a jug, and happening to look up when she had done so, was so surprised by the amount of expression Mrs Chick had conveyed into her face, and was bestowing upon her, that she put the little watering-pot on the table for the present, and sat down near it.

“My dear Louisa,” said Miss Tox, “will it be the least satisfaction to you, if I venture to observe in reference to that remark, that I, as a humble individual, think your sweet niece in every way most promising?”

“What do you mean, Lucretia?” returned Mrs Chick, with increased stateliness of manner. “To what remark of mine, my dear, do you refer?”

“Her being worthy of her name, my love,” replied Miss Tox.

“If,” said Mrs Chick, with solemn patience, “I have not expressed myself with clearness, Lucretia, the fault of course is mine. There is, perhaps, no reason why I should express myself at all, except the intimacy that has subsisted between us, and which I very much hope, Lucretia—confidently hope—nothing will occur to disturb. Because, why should I do anything else? There is no reason; it would be absurd. But I wish to express myself clearly, Lucretia; and therefore to go back to that remark, I must beg to say that it was not intended to relate to Florence, in any way.”

“Indeed!” returned Miss Tox.

“No,” said Mrs Chick shortly and decisively.

“Pardon me, my dear,” rejoined her meek friend; “but I cannot have understood it. I fear I am dull.”

Mrs Chick looked round the room and over the way; at the plants, at the bird, at the watering-pot, at almost everything within view, except Miss Tox; and finally dropping her glance upon Miss Tox, for a moment, on its way to the ground, said, looking meanwhile with elevated eyebrows at the carpet:

“When I speak, Lucretia, of her being worthy of the name, I speak of my brother Paul’s second wife. I believe I have already said, in effect, if not in the very words I now use, that it is his intention to marry a second wife.”

Miss Tox left her seat in a hurry, and returned to her plants; clipping among the stems and leaves, with as little favour as a barber working at so many pauper heads of hair.

“Whether she will be fully sensible of the distinction conferred upon her,” said Mrs Chick, in a lofty tone, “is quite another question. I hope she may be. We are bound to think well of one another in this world, and I hope she may be. I have not been advised with myself. If I had been advised with, I have no doubt my advice would have been cavalierly received, and therefore it is infinitely better as it is. I much prefer it as it is.”

Miss Tox, with head bent down, still clipped among the plants. Mrs Chick, with energetic shakings of her own head from time to time, continued to hold forth, as if in defiance of somebody.

“If my brother Paul had consulted with me, which he sometimes does—or rather, sometimes used to do; for he will naturally do that no more now, and this is a circumstance which I regard as a relief from responsibility,” said Mrs Chick, hysterically, “for I thank Heaven I am not jealous—” here Mrs Chick again shed tears: “if my brother Paul had come to me, and had said, ‘Louisa, what kind of qualities would you advise me to look out for, in a wife?’ I should certainly have answered, ‘Paul, you must have family, you must have beauty, you must have dignity, you must have connexion.’ Those are the words I should have used. You might have led me to the block immediately afterwards,” said Mrs Chick, as if that consequence were highly probable, “but I should have used them. I should have said, ‘Paul! You to marry a second time without family! You to marry without beauty! You to marry without dignity! You to marry without connexion! There is nobody in the world, not mad, who could dream of daring to entertain such a preposterous idea!’”

Miss Tox stopped clipping; and with her head among the plants, listened attentively. Perhaps Miss Tox thought there was hope in this exordium, and the warmth of Mrs Chick.

“I should have adopted this course of argument,” pursued the discreet lady, “because I trust I am not a fool. I make no claim to be considered a person of superior intellect—though I believe some people have been extraordinary enough to consider me so; one so little humoured as I am, would very soon be disabused of any such notion; but I trust I am not a downright fool. And to tell ME,” said Mrs Chick with ineffable disdain, “that my brother Paul Dombey could ever contemplate the possibility of uniting himself to anybody—I don’t care who”—she was more sharp and emphatic in that short clause than in any other part of her discourse—“not possessing these requisites, would be to insult what understanding I have got, as much as if I was to be told that I was born and bred an elephant, which I may be told next,” said Mrs Chick, with resignation. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all. I expect it.”

In the moment’s silence that ensued, Miss Tox’s scissors gave a feeble clip or two; but Miss Tox’s face was still invisible, and Miss Tox’s morning gown was agitated. Mrs Chick looked sideways at her, through the intervening plants, and went on to say, in a tone of bland conviction, and as one dwelling on a point of fact that hardly required to be stated:

“Therefore, of course my brother Paul has done what was to be expected of him, and what anybody might have foreseen he would do, if he entered the marriage state again. I confess it takes me rather by surprise, however gratifying; because when Paul went out of town I had no idea at all that he would form any attachment out of town, and he certainly had no attachment when he left here. However, it seems to be extremely desirable in every point of view. I have no doubt the mother is a most genteel and elegant creature, and I have no right whatever to dispute the policy of her living with them: which is Paul’s affair, not mine—and as to Paul’s choice, herself, I have only seen her picture yet, but that is beautiful indeed. Her name is beautiful too,” said Mrs Chick, shaking her head with energy, and arranging herself in her chair; “Edith is at once uncommon, as it strikes me, and distinguished. Consequently, Lucretia, I have no doubt you will be happy to hear that the marriage is to take place immediately—of course, you will:” great emphasis again: “and that you are delighted with this change in the condition of my brother, who has shown you a great deal of pleasant attention at various times.”

Miss Tox made no verbal answer, but took up the little watering-pot with a trembling hand, and looked vacantly round as if considering what article of furniture would be improved by the contents. The room door opening at this crisis of Miss Tox’s feelings, she started, laughed aloud, and fell into the arms of the person entering; happily insensible alike of Mrs Chick’s indignant countenance and of the Major at his window over the way, who had his double-barrelled eye-glass in full action, and whose face and figure were dilated with Mephistophelean joy.

Not so the expatriated Native, amazed supporter of Miss Tox’s swooning form, who, coming straight upstairs, with a polite inquiry touching Miss Tox’s health (in exact pursuance of the Major’s malicious instructions), had accidentally arrived in the very nick of time to catch the delicate burden in his arms, and to receive the contents of the little watering-pot in his shoe; both of which circumstances, coupled with his consciousness of being closely watched by the wrathful Major, who had threatened the usual penalty in regard of every bone in his skin in case of any failure, combined to render him a moving spectacle of mental and bodily distress.

For some moments, this afflicted foreigner remained clasping Miss Tox to his heart, with an energy of action in remarkable opposition to his disconcerted face, while that poor lady trickled slowly down upon him the very last sprinklings of the little watering-pot, as if he were a delicate exotic (which indeed he was), and might be almost expected to blow while the gentle rain descended. Mrs Chick, at length recovering sufficient presence of mind to interpose, commanded him to drop Miss Tox upon the sofa and withdraw; and the exile promptly obeying, she applied herself to promote Miss Tox’s recovery.

But none of that gentle concern which usually characterises the daughters of Eve in their tending of each other; none of that freemasonry in fainting, by which they are generally bound together in a mysterious bond of sisterhood; was visible in Mrs Chick’s demeanour. Rather like the executioner who restores the victim to sensation previous to proceeding with the torture (or was wont to do so, in the good old times for which all true men wear perpetual mourning), did Mrs Chick administer the smelling-bottle, the slapping on the hands, the dashing of cold water on the face, and the other proved remedies. And when, at length, Miss Tox opened her eyes, and gradually became restored to animation and consciousness, Mrs Chick drew off as from a criminal, and reversing the precedent of the murdered king of Denmark, regarded her more in anger than in sorrow.”

“Lucretia!” said Mrs Chick “I will not attempt to disguise what I feel. My eyes are opened, all at once. I wouldn’t have believed this, if a Saint had told it to me.”

“I am foolish to give way to faintness,” Miss Tox faltered. “I shall be better presently.”

“You will be better presently, Lucretia!” repeated Mrs Chick, with exceeding scorn. “Do you suppose I am blind? Do you imagine I am in my second childhood? No, Lucretia! I am obliged to you!”

Miss Tox directed an imploring, helpless kind of look towards her friend, and put her handkerchief before her face.

“If anyone had told me this yesterday,” said Mrs Chick, with majesty, “or even half-an-hour ago, I should have been tempted, I almost believe, to strike them to the earth. Lucretia Tox, my eyes are opened to you all at once. The scales:” here Mrs Chick cast down an imaginary pair, such as are commonly used in grocers” shops: “have fallen from my sight. The blindness of my confidence is past, Lucretia. It has been abused and played, upon, and evasion is quite out of the question now, I assure you.”

“Oh! to what do you allude so cruelly, my love?” asked Miss Tox, through her tears.

“Lucretia,” said Mrs Chick, “ask your own heart. I must entreat you not to address me by any such familiar term as you have just used, if you please. I have some self-respect left, though you may think otherwise.”

“Oh, Louisa!” cried Miss Tox. “How can you speak to me like that?”

“How can I speak to you like that?” retorted Mrs Chick, who, in default of having any particular argument to sustain herself upon, relied principally on such repetitions for her most withering effects. “Like that! You may well say like that, indeed!”

Miss Tox sobbed pitifully.

“The idea!” said Mrs Chick, “of your having basked at my brother’s fireside, like a serpent, and wound yourself, through me, almost into his confidence, Lucretia, that you might, in secret, entertain designs upon him, and dare to aspire to contemplate the possibility of his uniting himself to you! Why, it is an idea,” said Mrs Chick, with sarcastic dignity, “the absurdity of which almost relieves its treachery.”

“Pray, Louisa,” urged Miss Tox, “do not say such dreadful things.”

“Dreadful things!” repeated Mrs Chick. “Dreadful things! Is it not a fact, Lucretia, that you have just now been unable to command your feelings even before me, whose eyes you had so completely closed?”

“I have made no complaint,” sobbed Miss Tox. “I have said nothing. If I have been a little overpowered by your news, Louisa, and have ever had any lingering thought that Mr Dombey was inclined to be particular towards me, surely you will not condemn me.”

“She is going to say,” said Mrs Chick, addressing herself to the whole of the furniture, in a comprehensive glance of resignation and appeal, “She is going to say—I know it—that I have encouraged her!”

“I don’t wish to exchange reproaches, dear Louisa,” sobbed Miss Tox. “Nor do I wish to complain. But, in my own defence—”

“Yes,” cried Mrs Chick, looking round the room with a prophetic smile, “that’s what she’s going to say. I knew it. You had better say it. Say it openly! Be open, Lucretia Tox,” said Mrs Chick, with desperate sternness, “whatever you are.”

“In my own defence,” faltered Miss Tox, “and only in my own defence against your unkind words, my dear Louisa, I would merely ask you if you haven’t often favoured such a fancy, and even said it might happen, for anything we could tell?”

“There is a point,” said Mrs Chick, rising, not as if she were going to stop at the floor, but as if she were about to soar up, high, into her native skies, “beyond which endurance becomes ridiculous, if not culpable. I can bear much; but not too much. What spell was on me when I came into this house this day, I don’t know; but I had a presentiment—a dark presentiment,” said Mrs Chick, with a shiver, “that something was going to happen. Well may I have had that foreboding, Lucretia, when my confidence of many years is destroyed in an instant, when my eyes are opened all at once, and when I find you revealed in your true colours. Lucretia, I have been mistaken in you. It is better for us both that this subject should end here. I wish you well, and I shall ever wish you well. But, as an individual who desires to be true to herself in her own poor position, whatever that position may be, or may not be—and as the sister of my brother—and as the sister-in-law of my brother’s wife—and as a connexion by marriage of my brother’s wife’s mother—may I be permitted to add, as a Dombey?—I can wish you nothing else but good morning.”

These words, delivered with cutting suavity, tempered and chastened by a lofty air of moral rectitude, carried the speaker to the door. There she inclined her head in a ghostly and statue-like manner, and so withdrew to her carriage, to seek comfort and consolation in the arms of Mr Chick, her lord.

Figuratively speaking, that is to say; for the arms of Mr Chick were full of his newspaper. Neither did that gentleman address his eyes towards his wife otherwise than by stealth. Neither did he offer any consolation whatever. In short, he sat reading, and humming fag ends of tunes, and sometimes glancing furtively at her without delivering himself of a word, good, bad, or indifferent.

In the meantime Mrs Chick sat swelling and bridling, and tossing her head, as if she were still repeating that solemn formula of farewell to Lucretia Tox. At length, she said aloud, “Oh the extent to which her eyes had been opened that day!”

“To which your eyes have been opened, my dear!” repeated Mr Chick.

“Oh, don’t talk to me!” said Mrs Chic “if you can bear to see me in this state, and not ask me what the matter is, you had better hold your tongue for ever.”

“What is the matter, my dear?” asked Mr Chick

“To think,” said Mrs Chick, in a state of soliloquy, “that she should ever have conceived the base idea of connecting herself with our family by a marriage with Paul! To think that when she was playing at horses with that dear child who is now in his grave—I never liked it at the time—she should have been hiding such a double-faced design! I wonder she was never afraid that something would happen to her. She is fortunate if nothing does.”

“I really thought, my dear,” said Mr Chick slowly, after rubbing the bridge of his nose for some time with his newspaper, “that you had gone on the same tack yourself, all along, until this morning; and had thought it would be a convenient thing enough, if it could have been brought about.”

Mrs Chick instantly burst into tears, and told Mr Chick that if he wished to trample upon her with his boots, he had better do It.

“But with Lucretia Tox I have done,” said Mrs Chick, after abandoning herself to her feelings for some minutes, to Mr Chick’s great terror. “I can bear to resign Paul’s confidence in favour of one who, I hope and trust, may be deserving of it, and with whom he has a perfect right to replace poor Fanny if he chooses; I can bear to be informed, in Paul’s cool manner, of such a change in his plans, and never to be consulted until all is settled and determined; but deceit I can not bear, and with Lucretia Tox I have done. It is better as it is,” said Mrs Chick, piously; “much better. It would have been a long time before I could have accommodated myself comfortably with her, after this; and I really don’t know, as Paul is going to be very grand, and these are people of condition, that she would have been quite presentable, and might not have compromised myself. There’s a providence in everything; everything works for the best; I have been tried today but on the whole I do not regret it.”

In which Christian spirit, Mrs Chick dried her eyes and smoothed her lap, and sat as became a person calm under a great wrong. Mr Chick feeling his unworthiness no doubt, took an early opportunity of being set down at a street corner and walking away whistling, with his shoulders very much raised, and his hands in his pockets.

While poor excommunicated Miss Tox, who, if she were a fawner and toad-eater, was at least an honest and a constant one, and had ever borne a faithful friendship towards her impeacher and had been truly absorbed and swallowed up in devotion to the magnificence of Mr Dombey—while poor excommunicated Miss Tox watered her plants with her tears, and felt that it was winter in Princess’s Place.

CHAPTER XXX. 
The interval before the Marriage

Although the enchanted house was no more, and the working world had broken into it, and was hammering and crashing and tramping up and down stairs all day long keeping Diogenes in an incessant paroxysm of barking, from sunrise to sunset—evidently convinced that his enemy had got the better of him at last, and was then sacking the premises in triumphant defiance—there was, at first, no other great change in the method of Florence’s life. At night, when the workpeople went away, the house was dreary and deserted again; and Florence, listening to their voices echoing through the hall and staircase as they departed, pictured to herself the cheerful homes to which they were returning, and the children who were waiting for them, and was glad to think that they were merry and well pleased to go.

She welcomed back the evening silence as an old friend, but it came now with an altered face, and looked more kindly on her. Fresh hope was in it. The beautiful lady who had soothed and carressed her, in the very room in which her heart had been so wrung, was a spirit of promise to her. Soft shadows of the bright life dawning, when her father’s affection should be gradually won, and all, or much should be restored, of what she had lost on the dark day when a mother’s love had faded with a mother’s last breath on her cheek, moved about her in the twilight and were welcome company. Peeping at the rosy children her neighbours, it was a new and precious sensation to think that they might soon speak together and know each other; when she would not fear, as of old, to show herself before them, lest they should be grieved to see her in her black dress sitting there alone!

In her thoughts of her new mother, and in the love and trust overflowing her pure heart towards her, Florence loved her own dead mother more and more. She had no fear of setting up a rival in her breast. The new flower sprang from the deep-planted and long-cherished root, she knew. Every gentle word that had fallen from the lips of the beautiful lady, sounded to Florence like an echo of the voice long hushed and silent. How could she love that memory less for living tenderness, when it was her memory of all parental tenderness and love!

Florence was, one day, sitting reading in her room, and thinking of the lady and her promised visit soon—for her book turned on a kindred subject—when, raising her eyes, she saw her standing in the doorway.

“Mama!” cried Florence, joyfully meeting her. “Come again!”

“Not Mama yet,” returned the lady, with a serious smile, as she encircled Florence’s neck with her arm.

“But very soon to be,” cried Florence.

“Very soon now, Florence: very soon.”

Edith bent her head a little, so as to press the blooming cheek of Florence against her own, and for some few moments remained thus silent. There was something so very tender in her manner, that Florence was even more sensible of it than on the first occasion of their meeting.

She led Florence to a chair beside her, and sat down: Florence looking in her face, quite wondering at its beauty, and willingly leaving her hand in hers.

“Have you been alone, Florence, since I was here last?”

“Oh yes!” smiled Florence, hastily.

She hesitated and cast down her eyes; for her new Mama was very earnest in her look, and the look was intently and thoughtfully fixed upon her face.

“I—I—am used to be alone,” said Florence. “I don’t mind it at all. Di and I pass whole days together, sometimes.” Florence might have said, whole weeks and months.

“Is Di your maid, love?”

“My dog, Mama,” said Florence, laughing. “Susan is my maid.”

“And these are your rooms,” said Edith, looking round. “I was not shown these rooms the other day. We must have them improved, Florence. They shall be made the prettiest in the house.”

“If I might change them, Mama,” returned Florence; “there is one upstairs I should like much better.”

“Is this not high enough, dear girl?” asked Edith, smiling.

“The other was my brother’s room,” said Florence, “and I am very fond of it. I would have spoken to Papa about it when I came home, and found the workmen here, and everything changing; but—”

Florence dropped her eyes, lest the same look should make her falter again.

“but I was afraid it might distress him; and as you said you would be here again soon, Mama, and are the mistress of everything, I determined to take courage and ask you.”

Edith sat looking at her, with her brilliant eyes intent upon her face, until Florence raising her own, she, in her turn, withdrew her gaze, and turned it on the ground. It was then that Florence thought how different this lady’s beauty was, from what she had supposed. She had thought it of a proud and lofty kind; yet her manner was so subdued and gentle, that if she had been of Florence’s own age and character, it scarcely could have invited confidence more.

Except when a constrained and singular reserve crept over her; and then she seemed (but Florence hardly understood this, though she could not choose but notice it, and think about it) as if she were humbled before Florence, and ill at ease. When she had said that she was not her Mama yet, and when Florence had called her the mistress of everything there, this change in her was quick and startling; and now, while the eyes of Florence rested on her face, she sat as though she would have shrunk and hidden from her, rather than as one about to love and cherish her, in right of such a near connexion.

She gave Florence her ready promise, about her new room, and said she would give directions about it herself. She then asked some questions concerning poor Paul; and when they had sat in conversation for some time, told Florence she had come to take her to her own home.

“We have come to London now, my mother and I,” said Edith, “and you shall stay with us until I am married. I wish that we should know and trust each other, Florence.”

“You are very kind to me,” said Florence, “dear Mama. How much I thank you!”

“Let me say now, for it may be the best opportunity,” continued Edith, looking round to see that they were quite alone, and speaking in a lower voice, “that when I am married, and have gone away for some weeks, I shall be easier at heart if you will come home here. No matter who invites you to stay elsewhere. Come home here. It is better to be alone than—what I would say is,” she added, checking herself, “that I know well you are best at home, dear Florence.”

“I will come home on the very day, Mama”

“Do so. I rely on that promise. Now, prepare to come with me, dear girl. You will find me downstairs when you are ready.”

Slowly and thoughtfully did Edith wander alone through the mansion of which she was so soon to be the lady: and little heed took she of all the elegance and splendour it began to display. The same indomitable haughtiness of soul, the same proud scorn expressed in eye and lip, the same fierce beauty, only tamed by a sense of its own little worth, and of the little worth of everything around it, went through the grand saloons and halls, that had got loose among the shady trees, and raged and rent themselves. The mimic roses on the walls and floors were set round with sharp thorns, that tore her breast; in every scrap of gold so dazzling to the eye, she saw some hateful atom of her purchase-money; the broad high mirrors showed her, at full length, a woman with a noble quality yet dwelling in her nature, who was too false to her better self, and too debased and lost, to save herself. She believed that all this was so plain, more or less, to all eyes, that she had no resource or power of self-assertion but in pride: and with this pride, which tortured her own heart night and day, she fought her fate out, braved it, and defied it.

Was this the woman whom Florence—an innocent girl, strong only in her earnestness and simple truth—could so impress and quell, that by her side she was another creature, with her tempest of passion hushed, and her very pride itself subdued? Was this the woman who now sat beside her in a carriage, with her arms entwined, and who, while she courted and entreated her to love and trust her, drew her fair head to nestle on her breast, and would have laid down life to shield it from wrong or harm?

Oh, Edith! it were well to die, indeed, at such a time! Better and happier far, perhaps, to die so, Edith, than to live on to the end!

The Honourable Mrs Skewton, who was thinking of anything rather than of such sentiments—for, like many genteel persons who have existed at various times, she set her face against death altogether, and objected to the mention of any such low and levelling upstart—had borrowed a house in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, from a stately relative (one of the Feenix brood), who was out of town, and who did not object to lending it, in the handsomest manner, for nuptial purposes, as the loan implied his final release and acquittance from all further loans and gifts to Mrs Skewton and her daughter. It being necessary for the credit of the family to make a handsome appearance at such a time, Mrs Skewton, with the assistance of an accommodating tradesman resident in the parish of Mary-le-bone, who lent out all sorts of articles to the nobility and gentry, from a service of plate to an army of footmen, clapped into this house a silver-headed butler (who was charged extra on that account, as having the appearance of an ancient family retainer), two very tall young men in livery, and a select staff of kitchen-servants; so that a legend arose, downstairs, that Withers the page, released at once from his numerous household duties, and from the propulsion of the wheeled-chair (inconsistent with the metropolis), had been several times observed to rub his eyes and pinch his limbs, as if he misdoubted his having overslept himself at the Leamington milkman’s, and being still in a celestial dream. A variety of requisites in plate and china being also conveyed to the same establishment from the same convenient source, with several miscellaneous articles, including a neat chariot and a pair of bays, Mrs Skewton cushioned herself on the principal sofa, in the Cleopatra attitude, and held her court in fair state.

“And how,” said Mrs Skewton, on the entrance of her daughter and her charge, “is my charming Florence? You must come and kiss me, Florence, if you please, my love.”

Florence was timidly stooping to pick out a place in the white part of Mrs Skewton’s face, when that lady presented her ear, and relieved her of her difficulty.

“Edith, my dear,” said Mrs Skewton, “positively, I—stand a little more in the light, my sweetest Florence, for a moment.”

Florence blushingly complied.

“You don’t remember, dearest Edith,” said her mother, “what you were when you were about the same age as our exceedingly precious Florence, or a few years younger?”

“I have long forgotten, mother.”

“For positively, my dear,” said Mrs Skewton, “I do think that I see a decided resemblance to what you were then, in our extremely fascinating young friend. And it shows,” said Mrs Skewton, in a lower voice, which conveyed her opinion that Florence was in a very unfinished state, “what cultivation will do.”

“It does, indeed,” was Edith’s stern reply.

Her mother eyed her sharply for a moment, and feeling herself on unsafe ground, said, as a diversion:

“My charming Florence, you must come and kiss me once more, if you please, my love.”

Florence complied, of course, and again imprinted her lips on Mrs Skewton’s ear.

“And you have heard, no doubt, my darling pet,” said Mrs Skewton, detaining her hand, “that your Papa, whom we all perfectly adore and dote upon, is to be married to my dearest Edith this day week.”

“I knew it would be very soon,” returned Florence, “but not exactly when.”

“My darling Edith,” urged her mother, gaily, “is it possible you have not told Florence?”

“Why should I tell Florence?” she returned, so suddenly and harshly, that Florence could scarcely believe it was the same voice.

Mrs Skewton then told Florence, as another and safer diversion, that her father was coming to dinner, and that he would no doubt be charmingly surprised to see her; as he had spoken last night of dressing in the City, and had known nothing of Edith’s design, the execution of which, according to Mrs Skewton’s expectation, would throw him into a perfect ecstasy. Florence was troubled to hear this; and her distress became so keen, as the dinner-hour approached, that if she had known how to frame an entreaty to be suffered to return home, without involving her father in her explanation, she would have hurried back on foot, bareheaded, breathless, and alone, rather than incur the risk of meeting his displeasure.

As the time drew nearer, she could hardly breathe. She dared not approach a window, lest he should see her from the street. She dared not go upstairs to hide her emotion, lest, in passing out at the door, she should meet him unexpectedly; besides which dread, she felt as though she never could come back again if she were summoned to his presence. In this conflict of fears; she was sitting by Cleopatra’s couch, endeavouring to understand and to reply to the bald discourse of that lady, when she heard his foot upon the stair.

“I hear him now!” cried Florence, starting. “He is coming!”

Cleopatra, who in her juvenility was always playfully disposed, and who in her self-engrossment did not trouble herself about the nature of this agitation, pushed Florence behind her couch, and dropped a shawl over her, preparatory to giving Mr Dombey a rapture of surprise. It was so quickly done, that in a moment Florence heard his awful step in the room.

He saluted his intended mother-in-law, and his intended bride. The strange sound of his voice thrilled through the whole frame of his child.

“My dear Dombey,” said Cleopatra, “come here and tell me how your pretty Florence is.”

“Florence is very well,” said Mr Dombey, advancing towards the couch.

“At home?”

“At home,” said Mr Dombey.

“My dear Dombey,” returned Cleopatra, with bewitching vivacity; “now are you sure you are not deceiving me? I don’t know what my dearest Edith will say to me when I make such a declaration, but upon my honour I am afraid you are the falsest of men, my dear Dombey.”

Though he had been; and had been detected on the spot, in the most enormous falsehood that was ever said or done; he could hardly have been more disconcerted than he was, when Mrs Skewton plucked the shawl away, and Florence, pale and trembling, rose before him like a ghost. He had not yet recovered his presence of mind, when Florence had run up to him, clasped her hands round his neck, kissed his face, and hurried out of the room. He looked round as if to refer the matter to somebody else, but Edith had gone after Florence, instantly.

“Now, confess, my dear Dombey,” said Mrs Skewton, giving him her hand, “that you never were more surprised and pleased in your life.”

“I never was more surprised,” said Mr Dombey.

“Nor pleased, my dearest Dombey?” returned Mrs Skewton, holding up her fan.

“I—yes, I am exceedingly glad to meet Florence here,” said Mr Dombey. He appeared to consider gravely about it for a moment, and then said, more decidedly, “Yes, I really am very glad indeed to meet Florence here.”

“You wonder how she comes here?” said Mrs Skewton, “don’t you?”

“Edith, perhaps—” suggested Mr Dombey.

“Ah! wicked guesser!” replied Cleopatra, shaking her head. “Ah! cunning, cunning man! One shouldn’t tell these things; your sex, my dear Dombey, are so vain, and so apt to abuse our weakness; but you know my open soul—very well; immediately.”

This was addressed to one of the very tall young men who announced dinner.

“But Edith, my dear Dombey,” she continued in a whisper, “when she cannot have you near her—and as I tell her, she cannot expect that always—will at least have near her something or somebody belonging to you. Well, how extremely natural that is! And in this spirit, nothing would keep her from riding off today to fetch our darling Florence. Well, how excessively charming that is!”

As she waited for an answer, Mr Dombey answered, “Eminently so.”

“Bless you, my dear Dombey, for that proof of heart!” cried Cleopatra, squeezing his hand. “But I am growing too serious! Take me downstairs, like an angel, and let us see what these people intend to give us for dinner. Bless you, dear Dombey!”

Cleopatra skipping off her couch with tolerable briskness, after the last benediction, Mr Dombey took her arm in his and led her ceremoniously downstairs; one of the very tall young men on hire, whose organ of veneration was imperfectly developed, thrusting his tongue into his cheek, for the entertainment of the other very tall young man on hire, as the couple turned into the dining-room.

Florence and Edith were already there, and sitting side by side. Florence would have risen when her father entered, to resign her chair to him; but Edith openly put her hand upon her arm, and Mr Dombey took an opposite place at the round table.

The conversation was almost entirely sustained by Mrs Skewton. Florence hardly dared to raise her eyes, lest they should reveal the traces of tears; far less dared to speak; and Edith never uttered one word, unless in answer to a question. Verily, Cleopatra worked hard, for the establishment that was so nearly clutched; and verily it should have been a rich one to reward her!

“And so your preparations are nearly finished at last, my dear Dombey?” said Cleopatra, when the dessert was put upon the table, and the silver-headed butler had withdrawn. “Even the lawyers” preparations!”

“Yes, madam,” replied Mr Dombey; “the deed of settlement, the professional gentlemen inform me, is now ready, and as I was mentioning to you, Edith has only to do us the favour to suggest her own time for its execution.”

Edith sat like a handsome statue; as cold, as silent, and as still.

“My dearest love,” said Cleopatra, “do you hear what Mr Dombey says? Ah, my dear Dombey!” aside to that gentleman, “how her absence, as the time approaches, reminds me of the days, when that most agreeable of creatures, her Papa, was in your situation!”

“I have nothing to suggest. It shall be when you please,” said Edith, scarcely looking over the table at Mr Dombey.

“To-morrow?” suggested Mr Dombey.

“If you please.”

“Or would next day,” said Mr Dombey, “suit your engagements better?”

“I have no engagements. I am always at your disposal. Let it be when you like.”

“No engagements, my dear Edith!” remonstrated her mother, “when you are in a most terrible state of flurry all day long, and have a thousand and one appointments with all sorts of trades-people!”

“They are of your making,” returned Edith, turning on her with a slight contraction of her brow. “You and Mr Dombey can arrange between you.”

“Very true indeed, my love, and most considerate of you!” said Cleopatra. “My darling Florence, you must really come and kiss me once more, if you please, my dear!”

Singular coincidence, that these gushes of interest in Florence hurried Cleopatra away from almost every dialogue in which Edith had a share, however trifling! Florence had certainly never undergone so much embracing, and perhaps had never been, unconsciously, so useful in her life.

Mr Dombey was far from quarrelling, in his own breast, with the manner of his beautiful betrothed. He had that good reason for sympathy with haughtiness and coldness, which is found in a fellow-feeling. It flattered him to think how these deferred to him, in Edith’s case, and seemed to have no will apart from his. It flattered him to picture to himself, this proud and stately woman doing the honours of his house, and chilling his guests after his own manner. The dignity of Dombey and Son would be heightened and maintained, indeed, in such hands.

So thought Mr Dombey, when he was left alone at the dining-table, and mused upon his past and future fortunes: finding no uncongeniality in an air of scant and gloomy state that pervaded the room, in colour a dark brown, with black hatchments of pictures blotching the walls, and twenty-four black chairs, with almost as many nails in them as so many coffins, waiting like mutes, upon the threshold of the Turkey carpet; and two exhausted negroes holding up two withered branches of candelabra on the sideboard, and a musty smell prevailing as if the ashes of ten thousand dinners were entombed in the sarcophagus below it. The owner of the house lived much abroad; the air of England seldom agreed long with a member of the Feenix family; and the room had gradually put itself into deeper and still deeper mourning for him, until it was become so funereal as to want nothing but a body in it to be quite complete.

No bad representation of the body, for the nonce, in his unbending form, if not in his attitude, Mr Dombey looked down into the cold depths of the dead sea of mahogany on which the fruit dishes and decanters lay at anchor: as if the subjects of his thoughts were rising towards the surface one by one, and plunging down again. Edith was there in all her majesty of brow and figure; and close to her came Florence, with her timid head turned to him, as it had been, for an instant, when she left the room; and Edith’s eyes upon her, and Edith’s hand put out protectingly. A little figure in a low arm-chair came springing next into the light, and looked upon him wonderingly, with its bright eyes and its old-young face, gleaming as in the flickering of an evening fire. Again came Florence close upon it, and absorbed his whole attention. Whether as a fore-doomed difficulty and disappointment to him; whether as a rival who had crossed him in his way, and might again; whether as his child, of whom, in his successful wooing, he could stoop to think as claiming, at such a time, to be no more estranged; or whether as a hint to him that the mere appearance of caring for his own blood should be maintained in his new relations; he best knew. Indifferently well, perhaps, at best; for marriage company and marriage altars, and ambitious scenes—still blotted here and there with Florence—always Florence—turned up so fast, and so confusedly, that he rose, and went upstairs to escape them.

It was quite late at night before candles were brought; for at present they made Mrs Skewton’s head ache, she complained; and in the meantime Florence and Mrs Skewton talked together (Cleopatra being very anxious to keep her close to herself), or Florence touched the piano softly for Mrs Skewton’s delight; to make no mention of a few occasions in the course of the evening, when that affectionate lady was impelled to solicit another kiss, and which always happened after Edith had said anything. They were not many, however, for Edith sat apart by an open window during the whole time (in spite of her mother’s fears that she would take cold), and remained there until Mr Dombey took leave. He was serenely gracious to Florence when he did so; and Florence went to bed in a room within Edith’s, so happy and hopeful, that she thought of her late self as if it were some other poor deserted girl who was to be pitied for her sorrow; and in her pity, sobbed herself to sleep.

The week fled fast. There were drives to milliners, dressmakers, jewellers, lawyers, florists, pastry-cooks; and Florence was always of the party. Florence was to go to the wedding. Florence was to cast off her mourning, and to wear a brilliant dress on the occasion. The milliner’s intentions on the subject of this dress—the milliner was a Frenchwoman, and greatly resembled Mrs Skewton—were so chaste and elegant, that Mrs Skewton bespoke one like it for herself. The milliner said it would become her to admiration, and that all the world would take her for the young lady’s sister.

The week fled faster. Edith looked at nothing and cared for nothing. Her rich dresses came home, and were tried on, and were loudly commended by Mrs Skewton and the milliners, and were put away without a word from her. Mrs Skewton made their plans for every day, and executed them. Sometimes Edith sat in the carriage when they went to make purchases; sometimes, when it was absolutely necessary, she went into the shops. But Mrs Skewton conducted the whole business, whatever it happened to be; and Edith looked on as uninterested and with as much apparent indifference as if she had no concern in it. Florence might perhaps have thought she was haughty and listless, but that she was never so to her. So Florence quenched her wonder in her gratitude whenever it broke out, and soon subdued it.

The week fled faster. It had nearly winged its flight away. The last night of the week, the night before the marriage, was come. In the dark room—for Mrs Skewton’s head was no better yet, though she expected to recover permanently to-morrow—were that lady, Edith, and Mr Dombey. Edith was at her open window looking out into the street; Mr Dombey and Cleopatra were talking softly on the sofa. It was growing late; and Florence, being fatigued, had gone to bed.

“My dear Dombey,” said Cleopatra, “you will leave me Florence to-morrow, when you deprive me of my sweetest Edith.”

Mr Dombey said he would, with pleasure.

“To have her about me, here, while you are both at Paris, and to think at her age, I am assisting in the formation of her mind, my dear Dombey,” said Cleopatra, “will be a perfect balm to me in the extremely shattered state to which I shall be reduced.”

Edith turned her head suddenly. Her listless manner was exchanged, in a moment, to one of burning interest, and, unseen in the darkness, she attended closely to their conversation.

Mr Dombey would be delighted to leave Florence in such admirable guardianship.

“My dear Dombey,” returned Cleopatra, “a thousand thanks for your good opinion. I feared you were going, with malice aforethought, as the dreadful lawyers say—those horrid prosers!—to condemn me to utter solitude.”

“Why do me so great an injustice, my dear madam?” said Mr Dombey.

“Because my charming Florence tells me so positively she must go home tomorrow, returned Cleopatra, that I began to be afraid, my dearest Dombey, you were quite a Bashaw.”

“I assure you, madam!” said Mr Dombey, “I have laid no commands on Florence; and if I had, there are no commands like your wish.”

“My dear Dombey,” replied Cleopatra, what a courtier you are! Though I’ll not say so, either; for courtiers have no heart, and yours pervades your farming life and character. And are you really going so early, my dear Dombey!”

Oh, indeed! it was late, and Mr Dombey feared he must.

“Is this a fact, or is it all a dream!” lisped Cleopatra. “Can I believe, my dearest Dombey, that you are coming back tomorrow morning to deprive me of my sweet companion; my own Edith!”

Mr Dombey, who was accustomed to take things literally, reminded Mrs Skewton that they were to meet first at the church.

“The pang,” said Mrs Skewton, “of consigning a child, even to you, my dear Dombey, is one of the most excruciating imaginable, and combined with a naturally delicate constitution, and the extreme stupidity of the pastry-cook who has undertaken the breakfast, is almost too much for my poor strength. But I shall rally, my dear Dombey, in the morning; do not fear for me, or be uneasy on my account. Heaven bless you! My dearest Edith!” she cried archly. “Somebody is going, pet.”

Edith, who had turned her head again towards the window, and whose interest in their conversation had ceased, rose up in her place, but made no advance towards him, and said nothing. Mr Dombey, with a lofty gallantry adapted to his dignity and the occasion, betook his creaking boots towards her, put her hand to his lips, said, “Tomorrow morning I shall have the happiness of claiming this hand as Mrs Dombey’s,” and bowed himself solemnly out.

Mrs Skewton rang for candles as soon as the house-door had closed upon him. With the candles appeared her maid, with the juvenile dress that was to delude the world to-morrow. The dress had savage retribution in it, as such dresses ever have, and made her infinitely older and more hideous than her greasy flannel gown. But Mrs Skewton tried it on with mincing satisfaction; smirked at her cadaverous self in the glass, as she thought of its killing effect upon the Major; and suffering her maid to take it off again, and to prepare her for repose, tumbled into ruins like a house of painted cards.

All this time, Edith remained at the dark window looking out into the street. When she and her mother were at last left alone, she moved from it for the first time that evening, and came opposite to her. The yawning, shaking, peevish figure of the mother, with her eyes raised to confront the proud erect form of the daughter, whose glance of fire was bent downward upon her, had a conscious air upon it, that no levity or temper could conceal.

“I am tired to death,” said she. “You can’t be trusted for a moment. You are worse than a child. Child! No child would be half so obstinate and undutiful.”

“Listen to me, mother,” returned Edith, passing these words by with a scorn that would not descend to trifle with them. “You must remain alone here until I return.”

“Must remain alone here, Edith, until you return!” repeated her mother.

“Or in that name upon which I shall call to-morrow to witness what I do, so falsely: and so shamefully, I swear I will refuse the hand of this man in the church. If I do not, may I fall dead upon the pavement!”

The mother answered with a look of quick alarm, in no degree diminished by the look she met.

“It is enough,” said Edith, steadily, “that we are what we are. I will have no youth and truth dragged down to my level. I will have no guileless nature undermined, corrupted, and perverted, to amuse the leisure of a world of mothers. You know my meaning. Florence must go home.”

“You are an idiot, Edith,” cried her angry mother. “Do you expect there can ever be peace for you in that house, till she is married, and away?”

“Ask me, or ask yourself, if I ever expect peace in that house,” said her daughter, “and you know the answer.”

“And am I to be told tonight, after all my pains and labour, and when you are going, through me, to be rendered independent,” her mother almost shrieked in her passion, while her palsied head shook like a leaf, “that there is corruption and contagion in me, and that I am not fit company for a girl! What are you, pray? What are you?”

“I have put the question to myself,” said Edith, ashy pale, and pointing to the window, “more than once when I have been sitting there, and something in the faded likeness of my sex has wandered past outside; and God knows I have met with my reply. Oh mother, mother, if you had but left me to my natural heart when I too was a girl—a younger girl than Florence—how different I might have been!”

Sensible that any show of anger was useless here, her mother restrained herself, and fell a whimpering, and bewailed that she had lived too long, and that her only child had cast her off, and that duty towards parents was forgotten in these evil days, and that she had heard unnatural taunts, and cared for life no longer.

“If one is to go on living through continual scenes like this,” she whined, “I am sure it would be much better for me to think of some means of putting an end to my existence. Oh! The idea of your being my daughter, Edith, and addressing me in such a strain!”

“Between us, mother,” returned Edith, mournfully, “the time for mutual reproaches is past.”

“Then why do you revive it?” whimpered her mother. “You know that you are lacerating me in the cruellest manner. You know how sensitive I am to unkindness. At such a moment, too, when I have so much to think of, and am naturally anxious to appear to the best advantage! I wonder at you, Edith. To make your mother a fright upon your wedding-day!”

Edith bent the same fixed look upon her, as she sobbed and rubbed her eyes; and said in the same low steady voice, which had neither risen nor fallen since she first addressed her, “I have said that Florence must go home.”

“Let her go!” cried the afflicted and affrighted parent, hastily. “I am sure I am willing she should go. What is the girl to me?”

“She is so much to me, that rather than communicate, or suffer to be communicated to her, one grain of the evil that is in my breast, mother, I would renounce you, as I would (if you gave me cause) renounce him in the church to-morrow,” replied Edith. “Leave her alone. She shall not, while I can interpose, be tampered with and tainted by the lessons I have learned. This is no hard condition on this bitter night.”

“If you had proposed it in a filial manner, Edith,” whined her mother, “perhaps not; very likely not. But such extremely cutting words—”

“They are past and at an end between us now,” said Edith. “Take your own way, mother; share as you please in what you have gained; spend, enjoy, make much of it; and be as happy as you will. The object of our lives is won. Henceforth let us wear it silently. My lips are closed upon the past from this hour. I forgive you your part in to-morrow’s wickedness. May God forgive my own!”

Without a tremor in her voice, or frame, and passing onward with a foot that set itself upon the neck of every soft emotion, she bade her mother good-night, and repaired to her own room.

But not to rest; for there was no rest in the tumult of her agitation when alone to and fro, and to and fro, and to and fro again, five hundred times, among the splendid preparations for her adornment on the morrow; with her dark hair shaken down, her dark eyes flashing with a raging light, her broad white bosom red with the cruel grasp of the relentless hand with which she spurned it from her, pacing up and down with an averted head, as if she would avoid the sight of her own fair person, and divorce herself from its companionship. Thus, in the dead time of the night before her bridal, Edith Granger wrestled with her unquiet spirit, tearless, friendless, silent, proud, and uncomplaining.

At length it happened that she touched the open door which led into the room where Florence lay.

She started, stopped, and looked in.

A light was burning there, and showed her Florence in her bloom of innocence and beauty, fast asleep. Edith held her breath, and felt herself drawn on towards her.

Drawn nearer, nearer, nearer yet; at last, drawn so near, that stooping down, she pressed her lips to the gentle hand that lay outside the bed, and put it softly to her neck. Its touch was like the prophet’s rod of old upon the rock. Her tears sprung forth beneath it, as she sunk upon her knees, and laid her aching head and streaming hair upon the pillow by its side.

Thus Edith Granger passed the night before her bridal. Thus the sun found her on her bridal morning.