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Dombey and Son

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CHAPTER XXXVI. 
Housewarming

Many succeeding days passed in like manner; except that there were numerous visits received and paid, and that Mrs Skewton held little levees in her own apartments, at which Major Bagstock was a frequent attendant, and that Florence encountered no second look from her father, although she saw him every day. Nor had she much communication in words with her new Mama, who was imperious and proud to all the house but her—Florence could not but observe that—and who, although she always sent for her or went to her when she came home from visiting, and would always go into her room at night, before retiring to rest, however late the hour, and never lost an opportunity of being with her, was often her silent and thoughtful companion for a long time together.

Florence, who had hoped for so much from this marriage, could not help sometimes comparing the bright house with the faded dreary place out of which it had arisen, and wondering when, in any shape, it would begin to be a home; for that it was no home then, for anyone, though everything went on luxuriously and regularly, she had always a secret misgiving. Many an hour of sorrowful reflection by day and night, and many a tear of blighted hope, Florence bestowed upon the assurance her new Mama had given her so strongly, that there was no one on the earth more powerless than herself to teach her how to win her father’s heart. And soon Florence began to think—resolved to think would be the truer phrase—that as no one knew so well, how hopeless of being subdued or changed her father’s coldness to her was, so she had given her this warning, and forbidden the subject in very compassion. Unselfish here, as in her every act and fancy, Florence preferred to bear the pain of this new wound, rather than encourage any faint foreshadowings of the truth as it concerned her father; tender of him, even in her wandering thoughts. As for his home, she hoped it would become a better one, when its state of novelty and transition should be over; and for herself, thought little and lamented less.

If none of the new family were particularly at home in private, it was resolved that Mrs Dombey at least should be at home in public, without delay. A series of entertainments in celebration of the late nuptials, and in cultivation of society, were arranged, chiefly by Mr Dombey and Mrs Skewton; and it was settled that the festive proceedings should commence by Mrs Dombey’s being at home upon a certain evening, and by Mr and Mrs Dombey’s requesting the honour of the company of a great many incongruous people to dinner on the same day.

Accordingly, Mr Dombey produced a list of sundry eastern magnates who were to be bidden to this feast on his behalf; to which Mrs Skewton, acting for her dearest child, who was haughtily careless on the subject, subjoined a western list, comprising Cousin Feenix, not yet returned to Baden-Baden, greatly to the detriment of his personal estate; and a variety of moths of various degrees and ages, who had, at various times, fluttered round the light of her fair daughter, or herself, without any lasting injury to their wings. Florence was enrolled as a member of the dinner-party, by Edith’s command—elicited by a moment’s doubt and hesitation on the part of Mrs Skewton; and Florence, with a wondering heart, and with a quick instinctive sense of everything that grated on her father in the least, took her silent share in the proceedings of the day.

The proceedings commenced by Mr Dombey, in a cravat of extraordinary height and stiffness, walking restlessly about the drawing-room until the hour appointed for dinner; punctual to which, an East India Director, of immense wealth, in a waistcoat apparently constructed in serviceable deal by some plain carpenter, but really engendered in the tailor’s art, and composed of the material called nankeen, arrived and was received by Mr Dombey alone. The next stage of the proceedings was Mr Dombey’s sending his compliments to Mrs Dombey, with a correct statement of the time; and the next, the East India Director’s falling prostrate, in a conversational point of view, and as Mr Dombey was not the man to pick him up, staring at the fire until rescue appeared in the shape of Mrs Skewton; whom the director, as a pleasant start in life for the evening, mistook for Mrs Dombey, and greeted with enthusiasm.

The next arrival was a Bank Director, reputed to be able to buy up anything—human Nature generally, if he should take it in his head to influence the money market in that direction—but who was a wonderfully modest-spoken man, almost boastfully so, and mentioned his “little place” at Kingston-upon-Thames, and its just being barely equal to giving Dombey a bed and a chop, if he would come and visit it. Ladies, he said, it was not for a man who lived in his quiet way to take upon himself to invite—but if Mrs Skewton and her daughter, Mrs Dombey, should ever find themselves in that direction, and would do him the honour to look at a little bit of a shrubbery they would find there, and a poor little flower-bed or so, and a humble apology for a pinery, and two or three little attempts of that sort without any pretension, they would distinguish him very much. Carrying out his character, this gentleman was very plainly dressed, in a wisp of cambric for a neckcloth, big shoes, a coat that was too loose for him, and a pair of trousers that were too spare; and mention being made of the Opera by Mrs Skewton, he said he very seldom went there, for he couldn’t afford it. It seemed greatly to delight and exhilarate him to say so: and he beamed on his audience afterwards, with his hands in his pockets, and excessive satisfaction twinkling in his eyes.

Now Mrs Dombey appeared, beautiful and proud, and as disdainful and defiant of them all as if the bridal wreath upon her head had been a garland of steel spikes put on to force concession from her which she would die sooner than yield. With her was Florence. When they entered together, the shadow of the night of the return again darkened Mr Dombey’s face. But unobserved; for Florence did not venture to raise her eyes to his, and Edith’s indifference was too supreme to take the least heed of him.

The arrivals quickly became numerous. More directors, chairmen of public companies, elderly ladies carrying burdens on their heads for full dress, Cousin Feenix, Major Bagstock, friends of Mrs Skewton, with the same bright bloom on their complexion, and very precious necklaces on very withered necks. Among these, a young lady of sixty-five, remarkably coolly dressed as to her back and shoulders, who spoke with an engaging lisp, and whose eyelids wouldn’t keep up well, without a great deal of trouble on her part, and whose manners had that indefinable charm which so frequently attaches to the giddiness of youth. As the greater part of Mr Dombey’s list were disposed to be taciturn, and the greater part of Mrs Dombey’s list were disposed to be talkative, and there was no sympathy between them, Mrs Dombey’s list, by magnetic agreement, entered into a bond of union against Mr Dombey’s list, who, wandering about the rooms in a desolate manner, or seeking refuge in corners, entangled themselves with company coming in, and became barricaded behind sofas, and had doors opened smartly from without against their heads, and underwent every sort of discomfiture.

When dinner was announced, Mr Dombey took down an old lady like a crimson velvet pincushion stuffed with bank notes, who might have been the identical old lady of Threadneedle Street, she was so rich, and looked so unaccommodating; Cousin Feenix took down Mrs Dombey; Major Bagstock took down Mrs Skewton; the young thing with the shoulders was bestowed, as an extinguisher, upon the East India Director; and the remaining ladies were left on view in the drawing-room by the remaining gentlemen, until a forlorn hope volunteered to conduct them downstairs, and those brave spirits with their captives blocked up the dining-room door, shutting out seven mild men in the stony-hearted hall. When all the rest were got in and were seated, one of these mild men still appeared, in smiling confusion, totally destitute and unprovided for, and, escorted by the butler, made the complete circuit of the table twice before his chair could be found, which it finally was, on Mrs Dombey’s left hand; after which the mild man never held up his head again.

Now, the spacious dining-room, with the company seated round the glittering table, busy with their glittering spoons, and knives and forks, and plates, might have been taken for a grown-up exposition of Tom Tiddler’s ground, where children pick up gold and silver. Mr Dombey, as Tiddler, looked his character to admiration; and the long plateau of precious metal frosted, separating him from Mrs Dombey, whereon frosted Cupids offered scentless flowers to each of them, was allegorical to see.

Cousin Feenix was in great force, and looked astonishingly young. But he was sometimes thoughtless in his good humour—his memory occasionally wandering like his legs—and on this occasion caused the company to shudder. It happened thus. The young lady with the back, who regarded Cousin Feenix with sentiments of tenderness, had entrapped the East India Director into leading her to the chair next him; in return for which good office, she immediately abandoned the Director, who, being shaded on the other side by a gloomy black velvet hat surmounting a bony and speechless female with a fan, yielded to a depression of spirits and withdrew into himself. Cousin Feenix and the young lady were very lively and humorous, and the young lady laughed so much at something Cousin Feenix related to her, that Major Bagstock begged leave to inquire on behalf of Mrs Skewton (they were sitting opposite, a little lower down), whether that might not be considered public property.

“Why, upon my life,” said Cousin Feenix, “there’s nothing in it; it really is not worth repeating: in point of fact, it’s merely an anecdote of Jack Adams. I dare say my friend Dombey;” for the general attention was concentrated on Cousin Feenix; “may remember Jack Adams, Jack Adams, not Joe; that was his brother. Jack—little Jack—man with a cast in his eye, and slight impediment in his speech—man who sat for somebody’s borough. We used to call him in my parliamentary time W. P. Adams, in consequence of his being Warming Pan for a young fellow who was in his minority. Perhaps my friend Dombey may have known the man?”

Mr Dombey, who was as likely to have known Guy Fawkes, replied in the negative. But one of the seven mild men unexpectedly leaped into distinction, by saying he had known him, and adding—“always wore Hessian boots!”

“Exactly,” said Cousin Feenix, bending forward to see the mild man, and smile encouragement at him down the table. “That was Jack. Joe wore—”

“Tops!” cried the mild man, rising in public estimation every Instant.

“Of course,” said Cousin Feenix, “you were intimate with em?”

“I knew them both,” said the mild man. With whom Mr Dombey immediately took wine.

“Devilish good fellow, Jack!” said Cousin Feenix, again bending forward, and smiling.

“Excellent,” returned the mild man, becoming bold on his success. “One of the best fellows I ever knew.”

“No doubt you have heard the story?” said Cousin Feenix.

“I shall know,” replied the bold mild man, “when I have heard your Ludship tell it.” With that, he leaned back in his chair and smiled at the ceiling, as knowing it by heart, and being already tickled.

“In point of fact, it’s nothing of a story in itself,” said Cousin Feenix, addressing the table with a smile, and a gay shake of his head, “and not worth a word of preface. But it’s illustrative of the neatness of Jack’s humour. The fact is, that Jack was invited down to a marriage—which I think took place in Berkshire?”

“Shropshire,” said the bold mild man, finding himself appealed to.

“Was it? Well! In point of fact it might have been in any shire,” said Cousin Feenix. “So my friend being invited down to this marriage in Anyshire,” with a pleasant sense of the readiness of this joke, “goes. Just as some of us, having had the honour of being invited to the marriage of my lovely and accomplished relative with my friend Dombey, didn’t require to be asked twice, and were devilish glad to be present on so interesting an occasion.—Goes—Jack goes. Now, this marriage was, in point of fact, the marriage of an uncommonly fine girl with a man for whom she didn’t care a button, but whom she accepted on account of his property, which was immense. When Jack returned to town, after the nuptials, a man he knew, meeting him in the lobby of the House of Commons, says, ‘Well, Jack, how are the ill-matched couple?’ ‘Ill-matched,’ says Jack ‘Not at all. It’s a perfectly and equal transaction. She is regularly bought, and you may take your oath he is as regularly sold!’”

In his full enjoyment of this culminating point of his story, the shudder, which had gone all round the table like an electric spark, struck Cousin Feenix, and he stopped. Not a smile occasioned by the only general topic of conversation broached that day, appeared on any face. A profound silence ensued; and the wretched mild man, who had been as innocent of any real foreknowledge of the story as the child unborn, had the exquisite misery of reading in every eye that he was regarded as the prime mover of the mischief.

Mr Dombey’s face was not a changeful one, and being cast in its mould of state that day, showed little other apprehension of the story, if any, than that which he expressed when he said solemnly, amidst the silence, that it was “Very good.” There was a rapid glance from Edith towards Florence, but otherwise she remained, externally, impassive and unconscious.

Through the various stages of rich meats and wines, continual gold and silver, dainties of earth, air, fire, and water, heaped-up fruits, and that unnecessary article in Mr Dombey’s banquets—ice—the dinner slowly made its way: the later stages being achieved to the sonorous music of incessant double knocks, announcing the arrival of visitors, whose portion of the feast was limited to the smell thereof. When Mrs Dombey rose, it was a sight to see her lord, with stiff throat and erect head, hold the door open for the withdrawal of the ladies; and to see how she swept past him with his daughter on her arm.

Mr Dombey was a grave sight, behind the decanters, in a state of dignity; and the East India Director was a forlorn sight near the unoccupied end of the table, in a state of solitude; and the Major was a military sight, relating stories of the Duke of York to six of the seven mild men (the ambitious one was utterly quenched); and the Bank Director was a lowly sight, making a plan of his little attempt at a pinery, with dessert-knives, for a group of admirers; and Cousin Feenix was a thoughtful sight, as he smoothed his long wristbands and stealthily adjusted his wig. But all these sights were of short duration, being speedily broken up by coffee, and the desertion of the room.

There was a throng in the state-rooms upstairs, increasing every minute; but still Mr Dombey’s list of visitors appeared to have some native impossibility of amalgamation with Mrs Dombey’s list, and no one could have doubted which was which. The single exception to this rule perhaps was Mr Carker, who now smiled among the company, and who, as he stood in the circle that was gathered about Mrs Dombey—watchful of her, of them, his chief, Cleopatra and the Major, Florence, and everything around—appeared at ease with both divisions of guests, and not marked as exclusively belonging to either.

Florence had a dread of him, which made his presence in the room a nightmare to her. She could not avoid the recollection of it, for her eyes were drawn towards him every now and then, by an attraction of dislike and distrust that she could not resist. Yet her thoughts were busy with other things; for as she sat apart—not unadmired or unsought, but in the gentleness of her quiet spirit—she felt how little part her father had in what was going on, and saw, with pain, how ill at ease he seemed to be, and how little regarded he was as he lingered about near the door, for those visitors whom he wished to distinguish with particular attention, and took them up to introduce them to his wife, who received them with proud coldness, but showed no interest or wish to please, and never, after the bare ceremony of reception, in consultation of his wishes, or in welcome of his friends, opened her lips. It was not the less perplexing or painful to Florence, that she who acted thus, treated her so kindly and with such loving consideration, that it almost seemed an ungrateful return on her part even to know of what was passing before her eyes.

Happy Florence would have been, might she have ventured to bear her father company, by so much as a look; and happy Florence was, in little suspecting the main cause of his uneasiness. But afraid of seeming to know that he was placed at any disadvantage, lest he should be resentful of that knowledge; and divided between her impulse towards him, and her grateful affection for Edith; she scarcely dared to raise her eyes towards either. Anxious and unhappy for them both, the thought stole on her through the crowd, that it might have been better for them if this noise of tongues and tread of feet had never come there,—if the old dulness and decay had never been replaced by novelty and splendour,—if the neglected child had found no friend in Edith, but had lived her solitary life, unpitied and forgotten.

Mrs Chick had some such thoughts too, but they were not so quietly developed in her mind. This good matron had been outraged in the first instance by not receiving an invitation to dinner. That blow partially recovered, she had gone to a vast expense to make such a figure before Mrs Dombey at home, as should dazzle the senses of that lady, and heap mortification, mountains high, on the head of Mrs Skewton.

“But I am made,” said Mrs Chick to Mr Chick, “of no more account than Florence! Who takes the smallest notice of me? No one!”

“No one, my dear,” assented Mr Chick, who was seated by the side of Mrs Chick against the wall, and could console himself, even there, by softly whistling.

“Does it at all appear as if I was wanted here?” exclaimed Mrs Chick, with flashing eyes.

“No, my dear, I don’t think it does,” said Mr Chick.

“Paul’s mad!” said Mrs Chick.

Mr Chick whistled.

“Unless you are a monster, which I sometimes think you are,” said Mrs Chick with candour, “don’t sit there humming tunes. How anyone with the most distant feelings of a man, can see that mother-in-law of Paul’s, dressed as she is, going on like that, with Major Bagstock, for whom, among other precious things, we are indebted to your Lucretia Tox.”

“My Lucretia Tox, my dear!” said Mr Chick, astounded.

“Yes,” retorted Mrs Chick, with great severity, “your Lucretia Tox—I say how anybody can see that mother-in-law of Paul’s, and that haughty wife of Paul’s, and these indecent old frights with their backs and shoulders, and in short this at home generally, and hum—” on which word Mrs Chick laid a scornful emphasis that made Mr Chick start, “is, I thank Heaven, a mystery to me!”

Mr Chick screwed his mouth into a form irreconcilable with humming or whistling, and looked very contemplative.

“But I hope I know what is due to myself,” said Mrs Chick, swelling with indignation, “though Paul has forgotten what is due to me. I am not going to sit here, a member of this family, to be taken no notice of. I am not the dirt under Mrs Dombey’s feet, yet—not quite yet,” said Mrs Chick, as if she expected to become so, about the day after to-morrow. “And I shall go. I will not say (whatever I may think) that this affair has been got up solely to degrade and insult me. I shall merely go. I shall not be missed!”

Mrs Chick rose erect with these words, and took the arm of Mr Chick, who escorted her from the room, after half an hour’s shady sojourn there. And it is due to her penetration to observe that she certainly was not missed at all.

But she was not the only indignant guest; for Mr Dombey’s list (still constantly in difficulties) were, as a body, indignant with Mrs Dombey’s list, for looking at them through eyeglasses, and audibly wondering who all those people were; while Mrs Dombey’s list complained of weariness, and the young thing with the shoulders, deprived of the attentions of that gay youth Cousin Feenix (who went away from the dinner-table), confidentially alleged to thirty or forty friends that she was bored to death. All the old ladies with the burdens on their heads, had greater or less cause of complaint against Mr Dombey; and the Directors and Chairmen coincided in thinking that if Dombey must marry, he had better have married somebody nearer his own age, not quite so handsome, and a little better off. The general opinion among this class of gentlemen was, that it was a weak thing in Dombey, and he’d live to repent it. Hardly anybody there, except the mild men, stayed, or went away, without considering himself or herself neglected and aggrieved by Mr Dombey or Mrs Dombey; and the speechless female in the black velvet hat was found to have been stricken mute, because the lady in the crimson velvet had been handed down before her. The nature even of the mild men got corrupted, either from their curdling it with too much lemonade, or from the general inoculation that prevailed; and they made sarcastic jokes to one another, and whispered disparagement on stairs and in bye-places. The general dissatisfaction and discomfort so diffused itself, that the assembled footmen in the hall were as well acquainted with it as the company above. Nay, the very linkmen outside got hold of it, and compared the party to a funeral out of mourning, with none of the company remembered in the will.

At last, the guests were all gone, and the linkmen too; and the street, crowded so long with carriages, was clear; and the dying lights showed no one in the rooms, but Mr Dombey and Mr Carker, who were talking together apart, and Mrs Dombey and her mother: the former seated on an ottoman; the latter reclining in the Cleopatra attitude, awaiting the arrival of her maid. Mr Dombey having finished his communication to Carker, the latter advanced obsequiously to take leave.

“I trust,” he said, “that the fatigues of this delightful evening will not inconvenience Mrs Dombey to-morrow.”

“Mrs Dombey,” said Mr Dombey, advancing, “has sufficiently spared herself fatigue, to relieve you from any anxiety of that kind. I regret to say, Mrs Dombey, that I could have wished you had fatigued yourself a little more on this occasion.

She looked at him with a supercilious glance, that it seemed not worth her while to protract, and turned away her eyes without speaking.

“I am sorry, Madam,” said Mr Dombey, “that you should not have thought it your duty—”

She looked at him again.

“Your duty, Madam,” pursued Mr Dombey, “to have received my friends with a little more deference. Some of those whom you have been pleased to slight tonight in a very marked manner, Mrs Dombey, confer a distinction upon you, I must tell you, in any visit they pay you.”

“Do you know that there is someone here?” she returned, now looking at him steadily.

“No! Carker! I beg that you do not. I insist that you do not,” cried Mr Dombey, stopping that noiseless gentleman in his withdrawal. “Mr Carker, Madam, as you know, possesses my confidence. He is as well acquainted as myself with the subject on which I speak. I beg to tell you, for your information, Mrs Dombey, that I consider these wealthy and important persons confer a distinction upon me:” and Mr Dombey drew himself up, as having now rendered them of the highest possible importance.

“I ask you,” she repeated, bending her disdainful, steady gaze upon him, “do you know that there is someone here, Sir?”

“I must entreat,” said Mr Carker, stepping forward, “I must beg, I must demand, to be released. Slight and unimportant as this difference is—”

Mrs Skewton, who had been intent upon her daughter’s face, took him up here.

“My sweetest Edith,” she said, “and my dearest Dombey; our excellent friend Mr Carker, for so I am sure I ought to mention him—”

Mr Carker murmured, “Too much honour.”

“—has used the very words that were in my mind, and that I have been dying, these ages, for an opportunity of introducing. Slight and unimportant! My sweetest Edith, and my dearest Dombey, do we not know that any difference between you two—No, Flowers; not now.”

Flowers was the maid, who, finding gentlemen present, retreated with precipitation.

“That any difference between you two,” resumed Mrs Skewton, “with the Heart you possess in common, and the excessively charming bond of feeling that there is between you, must be slight and unimportant? What words could better define the fact? None. Therefore I am glad to take this slight occasion—this trifling occasion, that is so replete with Nature, and your individual characters, and all that—so truly calculated to bring the tears into a parent’s eyes—to say that I attach no importance to them in the least, except as developing these minor elements of Soul; and that, unlike most Mamas-in-law (that odious phrase, dear Dombey!) as they have been represented to me to exist in this I fear too artificial world, I never shall attempt to interpose between you, at such a time, and never can much regret, after all, such little flashes of the torch of What’s-his-name—not Cupid, but the other delightful creature.”

There was a sharpness in the good mother’s glance at both her children as she spoke, that may have been expressive of a direct and well-considered purpose hidden between these rambling words. That purpose, providently to detach herself in the beginning from all the clankings of their chain that were to come, and to shelter herself with the fiction of her innocent belief in their mutual affection, and their adaptation to each other.

“I have pointed out to Mrs Dombey,” said Mr Dombey, in his most stately manner, “that in her conduct thus early in our married life, to which I object, and which, I request, may be corrected. Carker,” with a nod of dismissal, “good-night to you!”

Mr Carker bowed to the imperious form of the Bride, whose sparkling eye was fixed upon her husband; and stopping at Cleopatra’s couch on his way out, raised to his lips the hand she graciously extended to him, in lowly and admiring homage.

If his handsome wife had reproached him, or even changed countenance, or broken the silence in which she remained, by one word, now that they were alone (for Cleopatra made off with all speed), Mr Dombey would have been equal to some assertion of his case against her. But the intense, unutterable, withering scorn, with which, after looking upon him, she dropped her eyes, as if he were too worthless and indifferent to her to be challenged with a syllable—the ineffable disdain and haughtiness in which she sat before him—the cold inflexible resolve with which her every feature seemed to bear him down, and put him by—these, he had no resource against; and he left her, with her whole overbearing beauty concentrated on despising him.

Was he coward enough to watch her, an hour afterwards, on the old well staircase, where he had once seen Florence in the moonlight, toiling up with Paul? Or was he in the dark by accident, when, looking up, he saw her coming, with a light, from the room where Florence lay, and marked again the face so changed, which he could not subdue?

But it could never alter as his own did. It never, in its uttermost pride and passion, knew the shadow that had fallen on his, in the dark corner, on the night of the return; and often since; and which deepened on it now, as he looked up.

CHAPTER XXXVII. 
More Warnings than One

Florence, Edith, and Mrs Skewton were together next day, and the carriage was waiting at the door to take them out. For Cleopatra had her galley again now, and Withers, no longer the wan, stood upright in a pigeon-breasted jacket and military trousers, behind her wheel-less chair at dinner-time and butted no more. The hair of Withers was radiant with pomatum, in these days of down, and he wore kid gloves and smelt of the water of Cologne.

They were assembled in Cleopatra’s room. The Serpent of old Nile (not to mention her disrespectfully) was reposing on her sofa, sipping her morning chocolate at three o’clock in the afternoon, and Flowers the Maid was fastening on her youthful cuffs and frills, and performing a kind of private coronation ceremony on her, with a peach-coloured velvet bonnet; the artificial roses in which nodded to uncommon advantage, as the palsy trifled with them, like a breeze.

“I think I am a little nervous this morning, Flowers,” said Mrs Skewton. “My hand quite shakes.”

“You were the life of the party last night, Ma’am, you know,” returned Flowers, “and you suffer for it today, you see.”

Edith, who had beckoned Florence to the window, and was looking out, with her back turned on the toilet of her esteemed mother, suddenly withdrew from it, as if it had lightened.

“My darling child,” cried Cleopatra, languidly, “you are not nervous? Don’t tell me, my dear Edith, that you, so enviably self-possessed, are beginning to be a martyr too, like your unfortunately constituted mother! Withers, someone at the door.”

“Card, Ma’am,” said Withers, taking it towards Mrs Dombey.

“I am going out,” she said without looking at it.

“My dear love,” drawled Mrs Skewton, “how very odd to send that message without seeing the name! Bring it here, Withers. Dear me, my love; Mr Carker, too! That very sensible person!”

“I am going out,” repeated Edith, in so imperious a tone that Withers, going to the door, imperiously informed the servant who was waiting, “Mrs Dombey is going out. Get along with you,” and shut it on him.

But the servant came back after a short absence, and whispered to Withers again, who once more, and not very willingly, presented himself before Mrs Dombey.

“If you please, Ma’am, Mr Carker sends his respectful compliments, and begs you would spare him one minute, if you could—for business, Ma’am, if you please.”

“Really, my love,” said Mrs Skewton in her mildest manner; for her daughter’s face was threatening; “if you would allow me to offer a word, I should recommend—”

“Show him this way,” said Edith. As Withers disappeared to execute the command, she added, frowning on her mother, “As he comes at your recommendation, let him come to your room.”

“May I—shall I go away?” asked Florence, hurriedly.

Edith nodded yes, but on her way to the door Florence met the visitor coming in. With the same disagreeable mixture of familiarity and forbearance, with which he had first addressed her, he addressed her now in his softest manner—hoped she was quite well—needed not to ask, with such looks to anticipate the answer—had scarcely had the honour to know her, last night, she was so greatly changed—and held the door open for her to pass out; with a secret sense of power in her shrinking from him, that all the deference and politeness of his manner could not quite conceal.

He then bowed himself for a moment over Mrs Skewton’s condescending hand, and lastly bowed to Edith. Coldly returning his salute without looking at him, and neither seating herself nor inviting him to be seated, she waited for him to speak.

Entrenched in her pride and power, and with all the obduracy of her spirit summoned about her, still her old conviction that she and her mother had been known by this man in their worst colours, from their first acquaintance; that every degradation she had suffered in her own eyes was as plain to him as to herself; that he read her life as though it were a vile book, and fluttered the leaves before her in slight looks and tones of voice which no one else could detect; weakened and undermined her. Proudly as she opposed herself to him, with her commanding face exacting his humility, her disdainful lip repulsing him, her bosom angry at his intrusion, and the dark lashes of her eyes sullenly veiling their light, that no ray of it might shine upon him—and submissively as he stood before her, with an entreating injured manner, but with complete submission to her will—she knew, in her own soul, that the cases were reversed, and that the triumph and superiority were his, and that he knew it full well.

“I have presumed,” said Mr Carker, “to solicit an interview, and I have ventured to describe it as being one of business, because—”

“Perhaps you are charged by Mr Dombey with some message of reproof,” said Edith “You possess Mr Dombey’s confidence in such an unusual degree, Sir, that you would scarcely surprise me if that were your business.”

“I have no message to the lady who sheds a lustre upon his name,” said Mr Carker. “But I entreat that lady, on my own behalf, to be just to a very humble claimant for justice at her hands—a mere dependant of Mr Dombey’s—which is a position of humility; and to reflect upon my perfect helplessness last night, and the impossibility of my avoiding the share that was forced upon me in a very painful occasion.”

“My dearest Edith,” hinted Cleopatra in a low voice, as she held her eye-glass aside, “really very charming of Mr What’s-his-name. And full of heart!”

“For I do,” said Mr Carker, appealing to Mrs Skewton with a look of grateful deference,—“I do venture to call it a painful occasion, though merely because it was so to me, who had the misfortune to be present. So slight a difference, as between the principals—between those who love each other with disinterested devotion, and would make any sacrifice of self in such a cause—is nothing. As Mrs Skewton herself expressed, with so much truth and feeling last night, it is nothing.”

Edith could not look at him, but she said after a few moments.

“And your business, Sir—”

“Edith, my pet,” said Mrs Skewton, “all this time Mr Carker is standing! My dear Mr Carker, take a seat, I beg.”

He offered no reply to the mother, but fixed his eyes on the proud daughter, as though he would only be bidden by her, and was resolved to be bidden by her. Edith, in spite of herself, sat down, and slightly motioned with her hand to him to be seated too. No action could be colder, haughtier, more insolent in its air of supremacy and disrespect, but she had struggled against even that concession ineffectually, and it was wrested from her. That was enough! Mr Carker sat down.

“May I be allowed, Madam,” said Carker, turning his white teeth on Mrs Skewton like a light—“a lady of your excellent sense and quick feeling will give me credit, for good reason, I am sure—to address what I have to say, to Mrs Dombey, and to leave her to impart it to you who are her best and dearest friend—next to Mr Dombey?”

Mrs Skewton would have retired, but Edith stopped her. Edith would have stopped him too, and indignantly ordered him to speak openly or not at all, but that he said, in a low Voice—“Miss Florence—the young lady who has just left the room—”

Edith suffered him to proceed. She looked at him now. As he bent forward, to be nearer, with the utmost show of delicacy and respect, and with his teeth persuasively arrayed, in a self-depreciating smile, she felt as if she could have struck him dead.

“Miss Florence’s position,” he began, “has been an unfortunate one. I have a difficulty in alluding to it to you, whose attachment to her father is naturally watchful and jealous of every word that applies to him.” Always distinct and soft in speech, no language could describe the extent of his distinctness and softness, when he said these words, or came to any others of a similar import. “But, as one who is devoted to Mr Dombey in his different way, and whose life is passed in admiration of Mr Dombey’s character, may I say, without offence to your tenderness as a wife, that Miss Florence has unhappily been neglected—by her father. May I say by her father?”

Edith replied, “I know it.”

“You know it!” said Mr Carker, with a great appearance of relief. “It removes a mountain from my breast. May I hope you know how the neglect originated; in what an amiable phase of Mr Dombey’s pride—character I mean?”

“You may pass that by, Sir,” she returned, “and come the sooner to the end of what you have to say.”

“Indeed, I am sensible, Madam,” replied Carker,—“trust me, I am deeply sensible, that Mr Dombey can require no justification in anything to you. But, kindly judge of my breast by your own, and you will forgive my interest in him, if in its excess, it goes at all astray.”

What a stab to her proud heart, to sit there, face to face with him, and have him tendering her false oath at the altar again and again for her acceptance, and pressing it upon her like the dregs of a sickening cup she could not own her loathing of, or turn away from! How shame, remorse, and passion raged within her, when, upright and majestic in her beauty before him, she knew that in her spirit she was down at his feet!

“Miss Florence,” said Carker, “left to the care—if one may call it care—of servants and mercenary people, in every way her inferiors, necessarily wanted some guide and compass in her younger days, and, naturally, for want of them, has been indiscreet, and has in some degree forgotten her station. There was some folly about one Walter, a common lad, who is fortunately dead now: and some very undesirable association, I regret to say, with certain coasting sailors, of anything but good repute, and a runaway old bankrupt.”

“I have heard the circumstances, Sir,” said Edith, flashing her disdainful glance upon him, “and I know that you pervert them. You may not know it. I hope so.”

“Pardon me,” said Mr Carker, “I believe that nobody knows them so well as I. Your generous and ardent nature, Madam—the same nature which is so nobly imperative in vindication of your beloved and honoured husband, and which has blessed him as even his merits deserve—I must respect, defer to, bow before. But, as regards the circumstances, which is indeed the business I presumed to solicit your attention to, I can have no doubt, since, in the execution of my trust as Mr Dombey’s confidential—I presume to say—friend, I have fully ascertained them. In my execution of that trust; in my deep concern, which you can so well understand, for everything relating to him, intensified, if you will (for I fear I labour under your displeasure), by the lower motive of desire to prove my diligence, and make myself the more acceptable; I have long pursued these circumstances by myself and trustworthy instruments, and have innumerable and most minute proofs.”

She raised her eyes no higher than his mouth, but she saw the means of mischief vaunted in every tooth it contained.

“Pardon me, Madam,” he continued, “if in my perplexity, I presume to take counsel with you, and to consult your pleasure. I think I have observed that you are greatly interested in Miss Florence?”

What was there in her he had not observed, and did not know? Humbled and yet maddened by the thought, in every new presentment of it, however faint, she pressed her teeth upon her quivering lip to force composure on it, and distantly inclined her head in reply.

“This interest, Madam—so touching an evidence of everything associated with Mr Dombey being dear to you—induces me to pause before I make him acquainted with these circumstances, which, as yet, he does not know. It so shakes me, if I may make the confession, in my allegiance, that on the intimation of the least desire to that effect from you, I would suppress them.”

Edith raised her head quickly, and starting back, bent her dark glance upon him. He met it with his blandest and most deferential smile, and went on.

“You say that as I describe them, they are perverted. I fear not—I fear not: but let us assume that they are. The uneasiness I have for some time felt on the subject, arises in this: that the mere circumstance of such association often repeated, on the part of Miss Florence, however innocently and confidingly, would be conclusive with Mr Dombey, already predisposed against her, and would lead him to take some step (I know he has occasionally contemplated it) of separation and alienation of her from his home. Madam, bear with me, and remember my intercourse with Mr Dombey, and my knowledge of him, and my reverence for him, almost from childhood, when I say that if he has a fault, it is a lofty stubbornness, rooted in that noble pride and sense of power which belong to him, and which we must all defer to; which is not assailable like the obstinacy of other characters; and which grows upon itself from day to day, and year to year.”

She bent her glance upon him still; but, look as steadfast as she would, her haughty nostrils dilated, and her breath came somewhat deeper, and her lip would slightly curl, as he described that in his patron to which they must all bow down. He saw it; and though his expression did not change, she knew he saw it.

“Even so slight an incident as last night’s,” he said, “if I might refer to it once more, would serve to illustrate my meaning, better than a greater one. Dombey and Son know neither time, nor place, nor season, but bear them all down. But I rejoice in its occurrence, for it has opened the way for me to approach Mrs Dombey with this subject today, even if it has entailed upon me the penalty of her temporary displeasure. Madam, in the midst of my uneasiness and apprehension on this subject, I was summoned by Mr Dombey to Leamington. There I saw you. There I could not help knowing what relation you would shortly occupy towards him—to his enduring happiness and yours. There I resolved to await the time of your establishment at home here, and to do as I have now done. I have, at heart, no fear that I shall be wanting in my duty to Mr Dombey, if I bury what I know in your breast; for where there is but one heart and mind between two persons—as in such a marriage—one almost represents the other. I can acquit my conscience therefore, almost equally, by confidence, on such a theme, in you or him. For the reasons I have mentioned I would select you. May I aspire to the distinction of believing that my confidence is accepted, and that I am relieved from my responsibility?”

He long remembered the look she gave him—who could see it, and forget it?—and the struggle that ensued within her. At last she said:

“I accept it, Sir You will please to consider this matter at an end, and that it goes no farther.”

He bowed low, and rose. She rose too, and he took leave with all humility. But Withers, meeting him on the stairs, stood amazed at the beauty of his teeth, and at his brilliant smile; and as he rode away upon his white-legged horse, the people took him for a dentist, such was the dazzling show he made. The people took her, when she rode out in her carriage presently, for a great lady, as happy as she was rich and fine. But they had not seen her, just before, in her own room with no one by; and they had not heard her utterance of the three words, “Oh Florence, Florence!”

Mrs Skewton, reposing on her sofa, and sipping her chocolate, had heard nothing but the low word business, for which she had a mortal aversion, insomuch that she had long banished it from her vocabulary, and had gone nigh, in a charming manner and with an immense amount of heart, to say nothing of soul, to ruin divers milliners and others in consequence. Therefore Mrs Skewton asked no questions, and showed no curiosity. Indeed, the peach-velvet bonnet gave her sufficient occupation out of doors; for being perched on the back of her head, and the day being rather windy, it was frantic to escape from Mrs Skewton’s company, and would be coaxed into no sort of compromise. When the carriage was closed, and the wind shut out, the palsy played among the artificial roses again like an almshouse-full of superannuated zephyrs; and altogether Mrs Skewton had enough to do, and got on but indifferently.

She got on no better towards night; for when Mrs Dombey, in her dressing-room, had been dressed and waiting for her half an hour, and Mr Dombey, in the drawing-room, had paraded himself into a state of solemn fretfulness (they were all three going out to dinner), Flowers the Maid appeared with a pale face to Mrs Dombey, saying:

“If you please, Ma’am, I beg your pardon, but I can’t do nothing with Missis!”

“What do you mean?” asked Edith.

“Well, Ma’am,” replied the frightened maid, “I hardly know. She’s making faces!”

Edith hurried with her to her mother’s room. Cleopatra was arrayed in full dress, with the diamonds, short sleeves, rouge, curls, teeth, and other juvenility all complete; but Paralysis was not to be deceived, had known her for the object of its errand, and had struck her at her glass, where she lay like a horrible doll that had tumbled down.

They took her to pieces in very shame, and put the little of her that was real on a bed. Doctors were sent for, and soon came. Powerful remedies were resorted to; opinions given that she would rally from this shock, but would not survive another; and there she lay speechless, and staring at the ceiling, for days; sometimes making inarticulate sounds in answer to such questions as did she know who were present, and the like: sometimes giving no reply either by sign or gesture, or in her unwinking eyes.

At length she began to recover consciousness, and in some degree the power of motion, though not yet of speech. One day the use of her right hand returned; and showing it to her maid who was in attendance on her, and appearing very uneasy in her mind, she made signs for a pencil and some paper. This the maid immediately provided, thinking she was going to make a will, or write some last request; and Mrs Dombey being from home, the maid awaited the result with solemn feelings.

After much painful scrawling and erasing, and putting in of wrong characters, which seemed to tumble out of the pencil of their own accord, the old woman produced this document:

“Rose-coloured curtains.”

The maid being perfectly transfixed, and with tolerable reason, Cleopatra amended the manuscript by adding two words more, when it stood thus:

“Rose-coloured curtains for doctors.”

The maid now perceived remotely that she wished these articles to be provided for the better presentation of her complexion to the faculty; and as those in the house who knew her best, had no doubt of the correctness of this opinion, which she was soon able to establish for herself, the rose-coloured curtains were added to her bed, and she mended with increased rapidity from that hour. She was soon able to sit up, in curls and a laced cap and nightgown, and to have a little artificial bloom dropped into the hollow caverns of her cheeks.

It was a tremendous sight to see this old woman in her finery leering and mincing at Death, and playing off her youthful tricks upon him as if he had been the Major; but an alteration in her mind that ensued on the paralytic stroke was fraught with as much matter for reflection, and was quite as ghastly.

Whether the weakening of her intellect made her more cunning and false than before, or whether it confused her between what she had assumed to be and what she really had been, or whether it had awakened any glimmering of remorse, which could neither struggle into light nor get back into total darkness, or whether, in the jumble of her faculties, a combination of these effects had been shaken up, which is perhaps the more likely supposition, the result was this:—That she became hugely exacting in respect of Edith’s affection and gratitude and attention to her; highly laudatory of herself as a most inestimable parent; and very jealous of having any rival in Edith’s regard. Further, in place of remembering that compact made between them for an avoidance of the subject, she constantly alluded to her daughter’s marriage as a proof of her being an incomparable mother; and all this, with the weakness and peevishness of such a state, always serving for a sarcastic commentary on her levity and youthfulness.

“Where is Mrs Dombey?” she would say to her maid.

“Gone out, Ma’am.”

“Gone out! Does she go out to shun her Mama, Flowers?”

“La bless you, no, Ma’am. Mrs Dombey has only gone out for a ride with Miss Florence.”

“Miss Florence. Who’s Miss Florence? Don’t tell me about Miss Florence. What’s Miss Florence to her, compared to me?”

The apposite display of the diamonds, or the peach-velvet bonnet (she sat in the bonnet to receive visitors, weeks before she could stir out of doors), or the dressing of her up in some gaud or other, usually stopped the tears that began to flow hereabouts; and she would remain in a complacent state until Edith came to see her; when, at a glance of the proud face, she would relapse again.

“Well, I am sure, Edith!” she would cry, shaking her head.

“What is the matter, mother?”

“Matter! I really don’t know what is the matter. The world is coming to such an artificial and ungrateful state, that I begin to think there’s no Heart—or anything of that sort—left in it, positively. Withers is more a child to me than you are. He attends to me much more than my own daughter. I almost wish I didn’t look so young—and all that kind of thing—and then perhaps I should be more considered.”

“What would you have, mother?”

“Oh, a great deal, Edith,” impatiently.

“Is there anything you want that you have not? It is your own fault if there be.”

“My own fault!” beginning to whimper. “The parent I have been to you, Edith: making you a companion from your cradle! And when you neglect me, and have no more natural affection for me than if I was a stranger—not a twentieth part of the affection that you have for Florence—but I am only your mother, and should corrupt her in a day!—you reproach me with its being my own fault.”

“Mother, mother, I reproach you with nothing. Why will you always dwell on this?”

“Isn’t it natural that I should dwell on this, when I am all affection and sensitiveness, and am wounded in the cruellest way, whenever you look at me?”

“I do not mean to wound you, mother. Have you no remembrance of what has been said between us? Let the Past rest.”

“Yes, rest! And let gratitude to me rest; and let affection for me rest; and let me rest in my out-of-the-way room, with no society and no attention, while you find new relations to make much of, who have no earthly claim upon you! Good gracious, Edith, do you know what an elegant establishment you are at the head of?”

“Yes. Hush!”

“And that gentlemanly creature, Dombey? Do you know that you are married to him, Edith, and that you have a settlement and a position, and a carriage, and I don’t know what?”

“Indeed, I know it, mother; well.”

“As you would have had with that delightful good soul—what did they call him?—Granger—if he hadn’t died. And who have you to thank for all this, Edith?”

“You, mother; you.”

“Then put your arms round my neck, and kiss me; and show me, Edith, that you know there never was a better Mama than I have been to you. And don’t let me become a perfect fright with teasing and wearing myself at your ingratitude, or when I’m out again in society no soul will know me, not even that hateful animal, the Major.”

But, sometimes, when Edith went nearer to her, and bending down her stately head, put her cold cheek to hers, the mother would draw back as If she were afraid of her, and would fall into a fit of trembling, and cry out that there was a wandering in her wits. And sometimes she would entreat her, with humility, to sit down on the chair beside her bed, and would look at her (as she sat there brooding) with a face that even the rose-coloured curtains could not make otherwise than scared and wild.

The rose-coloured curtains blushed, in course of time, on Cleopatra’s bodily recovery, and on her dress—more juvenile than ever, to repair the ravages of illness—and on the rouge, and on the teeth, and on the curls, and on the diamonds, and the short sleeves, and the whole wardrobe of the doll that had tumbled down before the mirror. They blushed, too, now and then, upon an indistinctness in her speech which she turned off with a girlish giggle, and on an occasional failing in her memory, that had no rule in it, but came and went fantastically, as if in mockery of her fantastic self.

But they never blushed upon a change in the new manner of her thought and speech towards her daughter. And though that daughter often came within their influence, they never blushed upon her loveliness irradiated by a smile, or softened by the light of filial love, in its stern beauty.

CHAPTER XXXVIII. 
Miss Tox improves an Old Acquaintance

The forlorn Miss Tox, abandoned by her friend Louisa Chick, and bereft of Mr Dombey’s countenance—for no delicate pair of wedding cards, united by a silver thread, graced the chimney-glass in Princess’s Place, or the harpsichord, or any of those little posts of display which Lucretia reserved for holiday occupation—became depressed in her spirits, and suffered much from melancholy. For a time the Bird Waltz was unheard in Princess’s Place, the plants were neglected, and dust collected on the miniature of Miss Tox’s ancestor with the powdered head and pigtail.

Miss Tox, however, was not of an age or of a disposition long to abandon herself to unavailing regrets. Only two notes of the harpsichord were dumb from disuse when the Bird Waltz again warbled and trilled in the crooked drawing-room: only one slip of geranium fell a victim to imperfect nursing, before she was gardening at her green baskets again, regularly every morning; the powdered-headed ancestor had not been under a cloud for more than six weeks, when Miss Tox breathed on his benignant visage, and polished him up with a piece of wash-leather.

Still, Miss Tox was lonely, and at a loss. Her attachments, however ludicrously shown, were real and strong; and she was, as she expressed it, “deeply hurt by the unmerited contumely she had met with from Louisa.” But there was no such thing as anger in Miss Tox’s composition. If she had ambled on through life, in her soft spoken way, without any opinions, she had, at least, got so far without any harsh passions. The mere sight of Louisa Chick in the street one day, at a considerable distance, so overpowered her milky nature, that she was fain to seek immediate refuge in a pastrycook’s, and there, in a musty little back room usually devoted to the consumption of soups, and pervaded by an ox-tail atmosphere, relieve her feelings by weeping plentifully.

Against Mr Dombey Miss Tox hardly felt that she had any reason of complaint. Her sense of that gentleman’s magnificence was such, that once removed from him, she felt as if her distance always had been immeasurable, and as if he had greatly condescended in tolerating her at all. No wife could be too handsome or too stately for him, according to Miss Tox’s sincere opinion. It was perfectly natural that in looking for one, he should look high. Miss Tox with tears laid down this proposition, and fully admitted it, twenty times a day. She never recalled the lofty manner in which Mr Dombey had made her subservient to his convenience and caprices, and had graciously permitted her to be one of the nurses of his little son. She only thought, in her own words, “that she had passed a great many happy hours in that house, which she must ever remember with gratification, and that she could never cease to regard Mr Dombey as one of the most impressive and dignified of men.”

Cut off, however, from the implacable Louisa, and being shy of the Major (whom she viewed with some distrust now), Miss Tox found it very irksome to know nothing of what was going on in Mr Dombey’s establishment. And as she really had got into the habit of considering Dombey and Son as the pivot on which the world in general turned, she resolved, rather than be ignorant of intelligence which so strongly interested her, to cultivate her old acquaintance, Mrs Richards, who she knew, since her last memorable appearance before Mr Dombey, was in the habit of sometimes holding communication with his servants. Perhaps Miss Tox, in seeking out the Toodle family, had the tender motive hidden in her breast of having somebody to whom she could talk about Mr Dombey, no matter how humble that somebody might be.

At all events, towards the Toodle habitation Miss Tox directed her steps one evening, what time Mr Toodle, cindery and swart, was refreshing himself with tea, in the bosom of his family. Mr Toodle had only three stages of existence. He was either taking refreshment in the bosom just mentioned, or he was tearing through the country at from twenty-five to fifty miles an hour, or he was sleeping after his fatigues. He was always in a whirlwind or a calm, and a peaceable, contented, easy-going man Mr Toodle was in either state, who seemed to have made over all his own inheritance of fuming and fretting to the engines with which he was connected, which panted, and gasped, and chafed, and wore themselves out, in a most unsparing manner, while Mr Toodle led a mild and equable life.

“Polly, my gal,” said Mr Toodle, with a young Toodle on each knee, and two more making tea for him, and plenty more scattered about—Mr Toodle was never out of children, but always kept a good supply on hand—“you ain’t seen our Biler lately, have you?”

“No,” replied Polly, “but he’s almost certain to look in tonight. It’s his right evening, and he’s very regular.”

“I suppose,” said Mr Toodle, relishing his meal infinitely, “as our Biler is a doin’ now about as well as a boy can do, eh, Polly?”

“Oh! he’s a doing beautiful!” responded Polly.

“He ain’t got to be at all secret-like—has he, Polly?” inquired Mr Toodle.

“No!” said Mrs Toodle, plumply.

“I’m glad he ain’t got to be at all secret-like, Polly,” observed Mr Toodle in his slow and measured way, and shovelling in his bread and butter with a clasp knife, as if he were stoking himself, “because that don’t look well; do it, Polly?”

“Why, of course it don’t, father. How can you ask!”

“You see, my boys and gals,” said Mr Toodle, looking round upon his family, “wotever you’re up to in a honest way, it’s my opinion as you can’t do better than be open. If you find yourselves in cuttings or in tunnels, don’t you play no secret games. Keep your whistles going, and let’s know where you are.”

The rising Toodles set up a shrill murmur, expressive of their resolution to profit by the paternal advice.

“But what makes you say this along of Rob, father?” asked his wife, anxiously.

“Polly, old “ooman,” said Mr Toodle, “I don’t know as I said it partickler along o’ Rob, I’m sure. I starts light with Rob only; I comes to a branch; I takes on what I finds there; and a whole train of ideas gets coupled on to him, afore I knows where I am, or where they comes from. What a Junction a man’s thoughts is,” said Mr Toodle, “to-be-sure!”

This profound reflection Mr Toodle washed down with a pint mug of tea, and proceeded to solidify with a great weight of bread and butter; charging his young daughters meanwhile, to keep plenty of hot water in the pot, as he was uncommon dry, and should take the indefinite quantity of “a sight of mugs,” before his thirst was appeased.

In satisfying himself, however, Mr Toodle was not regardless of the younger branches about him, who, although they had made their own evening repast, were on the look-out for irregular morsels, as possessing a relish. These he distributed now and then to the expectant circle, by holding out great wedges of bread and butter, to be bitten at by the family in lawful succession, and by serving out small doses of tea in like manner with a spoon; which snacks had such a relish in the mouths of these young Toodles, that, after partaking of the same, they performed private dances of ecstasy among themselves, and stood on one leg apiece, and hopped, and indulged in other saltatory tokens of gladness. These vents for their excitement found, they gradually closed about Mr Toodle again, and eyed him hard as he got through more bread and butter and tea; affecting, however, to have no further expectations of their own in reference to those viands, but to be conversing on foreign subjects, and whispering confidentially.

Mr Toodle, in the midst of this family group, and setting an awful example to his children in the way of appetite, was conveying the two young Toodles on his knees to Birmingham by special engine, and was contemplating the rest over a barrier of bread and butter, when Rob the Grinder, in his sou’wester hat and mourning slops, presented himself, and was received with a general rush of brothers and sisters.

“Well, mother!” said Rob, dutifully kissing her; “how are you, mother?”

“There’s my boy!” cried Polly, giving him a hug and a pat on the back. “Secret! Bless you, father, not he!”

This was intended for Mr Toodle’s private edification, but Rob the Grinder, whose withers were not unwrung, caught the words as they were spoken.

“What! father’s been a saying something more again me, has he?” cried the injured innocent. “Oh, what a hard thing it is that when a cove has once gone a little wrong, a cove’s own father should be always a throwing it in his face behind his back! It’s enough,” cried Rob, resorting to his coat-cuff in anguish of spirit, “to make a cove go and do something, out of spite!”

“My poor boy!” cried Polly, “father didn’t mean anything.”

“If father didn’t mean anything,” blubbered the injured Grinder, “why did he go and say anything, mother? Nobody thinks half so bad of me as my own father does. What a unnatural thing! I wish somebody’d take and chop my head off. Father wouldn’t mind doing it, I believe, and I’d much rather he did that than t’other.”

At these desperate words all the young Toodles shrieked; a pathetic effect, which the Grinder improved by ironically adjuring them not to cry for him, for they ought to hate him, they ought, if they was good boys and girls; and this so touched the youngest Toodle but one, who was easily moved, that it touched him not only in his spirit but in his wind too; making him so purple that Mr Toodle in consternation carried him out to the water-butt, and would have put him under the tap, but for his being recovered by the sight of that instrument.

Matters having reached this point, Mr Toodle explained, and the virtuous feelings of his son being thereby calmed, they shook hands, and harmony reigned again.

“Will you do as I do, Biler, my boy?” inquired his father, returning to his tea with new strength.

“No, thank’ee, father. Master and I had tea together.”

“And how is master, Rob?” said Polly.

“Well, I don’t know, mother; not much to boast on. There ain’t no bis’ness done, you see. He don’t know anything about it—the Cap’en don’t. There was a man come into the shop this very day, and says, ‘I want a so-and-so,’ he says—some hard name or another. ‘A which?’ says the Cap’en. ‘A so-and-so,’ says the man. ‘Brother,’ says the Cap’en, ‘will you take a observation round the shop.’ ‘Well,’ says the man, ‘I’ve done.’ ‘Do you see wot you want?’ says the Cap’en ‘No, I don’t,’ says the man. ‘Do you know it wen you do see it?’ says the Cap’en. ‘No, I don’t,’ says the man. ‘Why, then I tell you wot, my lad,’ says the Cap’en, ‘you’d better go back and ask wot it’s like, outside, for no more don’t I!’”

“That ain’t the way to make money, though, is it?” said Polly.

“Money, mother! He’ll never make money. He has such ways as I never see. He ain’t a bad master though, I’ll say that for him. But that ain’t much to me, for I don’t think I shall stop with him long.”

“Not stop in your place, Rob!” cried his mother; while Mr Toodle opened his eyes.

“Not in that place, p’raps,” returned the Grinder, with a wink. “I shouldn’t wonder—friends at court you know—but never you mind, mother, just now; I’m all right, that’s all.”

The indisputable proof afforded in these hints, and in the Grinder’s mysterious manner, of his not being subject to that failing which Mr Toodle had, by implication, attributed to him, might have led to a renewal of his wrongs, and of the sensation in the family, but for the opportune arrival of another visitor, who, to Polly’s great surprise, appeared at the door, smiling patronage and friendship on all there.

“How do you do, Mrs Richards?” said Miss Tox. “I have come to see you. May I come in?”

The cheery face of Mrs Richards shone with a hospitable reply, and Miss Tox, accepting the proffered chair, and gracefully recognising Mr Toodle on her way to it, untied her bonnet strings, and said that in the first place she must beg the dear children, one and all, to come and kiss her.

The ill-starred youngest Toodle but one, who would appear, from the frequency of his domestic troubles, to have been born under an unlucky planet, was prevented from performing his part in this general salutation by having fixed the sou’wester hat (with which he had been previously trifling) deep on his head, hind side before, and being unable to get it off again; which accident presenting to his terrified imagination a dismal picture of his passing the rest of his days in darkness, and in hopeless seclusion from his friends and family, caused him to struggle with great violence, and to utter suffocating cries. Being released, his face was discovered to be very hot, and red, and damp; and Miss Tox took him on her lap, much exhausted.

“You have almost forgotten me, Sir, I daresay,” said Miss Tox to Mr Toodle.

“No, Ma’am, no,” said Toodle. “But we’ve all on us got a little older since then.”

“And how do you find yourself, Sir?” inquired Miss Tox, blandly.

“Hearty, Ma’am, thank’ee,” replied Toodle. “How do you find yourself, Ma’am? Do the rheumaticks keep off pretty well, Ma’am? We must all expect to grow into ’em, as we gets on.”

“Thank you,” said Miss Tox. “I have not felt any inconvenience from that disorder yet.”

“You’re wery fortunate, Ma’am,” returned Mr Toodle. “Many people at your time of life, Ma’am, is martyrs to it. There was my mother—” But catching his wife’s eye here, Mr Toodle judiciously buried the rest in another mug of tea.

“You never mean to say, Mrs Richards,” cried Miss Tox, looking at Rob, “that that is your—”

“Eldest, Ma’am,” said Polly. “Yes, indeed, it is. That’s the little fellow, Ma’am, that was the innocent cause of so much.”

“This here, Ma’am,” said Toodle, “is him with the short legs—and they was,” said Mr Toodle, with a touch of poetry in his tone, “unusual short for leathers—as Mr Dombey made a Grinder on.”

The recollection almost overpowered Miss Tox. The subject of it had a peculiar interest for her directly. She asked him to shake hands, and congratulated his mother on his frank, ingenuous face. Rob, overhearing her, called up a look, to justify the eulogium, but it was hardly the right look.

“And now, Mrs Richards,” said Miss Tox,—“and you too, Sir,” addressing Toodle—“I’ll tell you, plainly and truly, what I have come here for. You may be aware, Mrs Richards—and, possibly, you may be aware too, Sir—that a little distance has interposed itself between me and some of my friends, and that where I used to visit a good deal, I do not visit now.”

Polly, who, with a woman’s tact, understood this at once, expressed as much in a little look. Mr Toodle, who had not the faintest idea of what Miss Tox was talking about, expressed that also, in a stare.

“Of course,” said Miss Tox, “how our little coolness has arisen is of no moment, and does not require to be discussed. It is sufficient for me to say, that I have the greatest possible respect for, and interest in, Mr Dombey;” Miss Tox’s voice faltered; “and everything that relates to him.”

Mr Toodle, enlightened, shook his head, and said he had heerd it said, and, for his own part, he did think, as Mr Dombey was a difficult subject.

“Pray don’t say so, Sir, if you please,” returned Miss Tox. “Let me entreat you not to say so, Sir, either now, or at any future time. Such observations cannot but be very painful to me; and to a gentleman, whose mind is constituted as, I am quite sure, yours is, can afford no permanent satisfaction.”

Mr Toodle, who had not entertained the least doubt of offering a remark that would be received with acquiescence, was greatly confounded.

“All that I wish to say, Mrs Richards,” resumed Miss Tox,—“and I address myself to you too, Sir,—is this. That any intelligence of the proceedings of the family, of the welfare of the family, of the health of the family, that reaches you, will be always most acceptable to me. That I shall be always very glad to chat with Mrs Richards about the family, and about old time. And as Mrs Richards and I never had the least difference (though I could wish now that we had been better acquainted, but I have no one but myself to blame for that), I hope she will not object to our being very good friends now, and to my coming backwards and forwards here, when I like, without being a stranger. Now, I really hope, Mrs Richards,” said Miss Tox, earnestly, “that you will take this, as I mean it, like a good-humoured creature, as you always were.”

Polly was gratified, and showed it. Mr Toodle didn’t know whether he was gratified or not, and preserved a stolid calmness.

“You see, Mrs Richards,” said Miss Tox—“and I hope you see too, Sir—there are many little ways in which I can be slightly useful to you, if you will make no stranger of me; and in which I shall be delighted to be so. For instance, I can teach your children something. I shall bring a few little books, if you’ll allow me, and some work, and of an evening now and then, they’ll learn—dear me, they’ll learn a great deal, I trust, and be a credit to their teacher.”

Mr Toodle, who had a great respect for learning, jerked his head approvingly at his wife, and moistened his hands with dawning satisfaction.

“Then, not being a stranger, I shall be in nobody’s way,” said Miss Tox, “and everything will go on just as if I were not here. Mrs Richards will do her mending, or her ironing, or her nursing, whatever it is, without minding me: and you’ll smoke your pipe, too, if you’re so disposed, Sir, won’t you?”

“Thank’ee, Mum,” said Mr Toodle. “Yes; I’ll take my bit of backer.”

“Very good of you to say so, Sir,” rejoined Miss Tox, “and I really do assure you now, unfeignedly, that it will be a great comfort to me, and that whatever good I may be fortunate enough to do the children, you will more than pay back to me, if you’ll enter into this little bargain comfortably, and easily, and good-naturedly, without another word about it.”

The bargain was ratified on the spot; and Miss Tox found herself so much at home already, that without delay she instituted a preliminary examination of the children all round—which Mr Toodle much admired—and booked their ages, names, and acquirements, on a piece of paper. This ceremony, and a little attendant gossip, prolonged the time until after their usual hour of going to bed, and detained Miss Tox at the Toodle fireside until it was too late for her to walk home alone. The gallant Grinder, however, being still there, politely offered to attend her to her own door; and as it was something to Miss Tox to be seen home by a youth whom Mr Dombey had first inducted into those manly garments which are rarely mentioned by name, she very readily accepted the proposal.

After shaking hands with Mr Toodle and Polly, and kissing all the children, Miss Tox left the house, therefore, with unlimited popularity, and carrying away with her so light a heart that it might have given Mrs Chick offence if that good lady could have weighed it.

Rob the Grinder, in his modesty, would have walked behind, but Miss Tox desired him to keep beside her, for conversational purposes; and, as she afterwards expressed it to his mother, “drew him out,” upon the road.

He drew out so bright, and clear, and shining, that Miss Tox was charmed with him. The more Miss Tox drew him out, the finer he came—like wire. There never was a better or more promising youth—a more affectionate, steady, prudent, sober, honest, meek, candid young man—than Rob drew out, that night.

“I am quite glad,” said Miss Tox, arrived at her own door, “to know you. I hope you’ll consider me your friend, and that you’ll come and see me as often as you like. Do you keep a money-box?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” returned Rob; “I’m saving up, against I’ve got enough to put in the Bank, Ma’am.

“Very laudable indeed,” said Miss Tox. “I’m glad to hear it. Put this half-crown into it, if you please.”

“Oh thank you, Ma’am,” replied Rob, “but really I couldn’t think of depriving you.”

“I commend your independent spirit,” said Miss Tox, “but it’s no deprivation, I assure you. I shall be offended if you don’t take it, as a mark of my good-will. Good-night, Robin.”

“Good-night, Ma’am,” said Rob, “and thank you!”

Who ran sniggering off to get change, and tossed it away with a pieman. But they never taught honour at the Grinders’ School, where the system that prevailed was particularly strong in the engendering of hypocrisy. Insomuch, that many of the friends and masters of past Grinders said, if this were what came of education for the common people, let us have none. Some more rational said, let us have a better one. But the governing powers of the Grinders’ Company were always ready for them, by picking out a few boys who had turned out well in spite of the system, and roundly asserting that they could have only turned out well because of it. Which settled the business of those objectors out of hand, and established the glory of the Grinders’ Institution.

CHAPTER XXXIX. 
Further Adventures of Captain Edward Cuttle, Mariner

Time, sure of foot and strong of will, had so pressed onward, that the year enjoined by the old Instrument-maker, as the term during which his friend should refrain from opening the sealed packet accompanying the letter he had left for him, was now nearly expired, and Captain Cuttle began to look at it, of an evening, with feelings of mystery and uneasiness.

The Captain, in his honour, would as soon have thought of opening the parcel one hour before the expiration of the term, as he would have thought of opening himself, to study his own anatomy. He merely brought it out, at a certain stage of his first evening pipe, laid it on the table, and sat gazing at the outside of it, through the smoke, in silent gravity, for two or three hours at a spell. Sometimes, when he had contemplated it thus for a pretty long while, the Captain would hitch his chair, by degrees, farther and farther off, as if to get beyond the range of its fascination; but if this were his design, he never succeeded: for even when he was brought up by the parlour wall, the packet still attracted him; or if his eyes, in thoughtful wandering, roved to the ceiling or the fire, its image immediately followed, and posted itself conspicuously among the coals, or took up an advantageous position on the whitewash.

In respect of Heart’s Delight, the Captain’s parental and admiration knew no change. But since his last interview with Mr Carker, Captain Cuttle had come to entertain doubts whether his former intervention in behalf of that young lady and his dear boy Wal”r, had proved altogether so favourable as he could have wished, and as he at the time believed. The Captain was troubled with a serious misgiving that he had done more harm than good, in short; and in his remorse and modesty he made the best atonement he could think of, by putting himself out of the way of doing any harm to anyone, and, as it were, throwing himself overboard for a dangerous person.

Self-buried, therefore, among the instruments, the Captain never went near Mr Dombey’s house, or reported himself in any way to Florence or Miss Nipper. He even severed himself from Mr Perch, on the occasion of his next visit, by dryly informing that gentleman, that he thanked him for his company, but had cut himself adrift from all such acquaintance, as he didn’t know what magazine he mightn’t blow up, without meaning of it. In this self-imposed retirement, the Captain passed whole days and weeks without interchanging a word with anyone but Rob the Grinder, whom he esteemed as a pattern of disinterested attachment and fidelity. In this retirement, the Captain, gazing at the packet of an evening, would sit smoking, and thinking of Florence and poor Walter, until they both seemed to his homely fancy to be dead, and to have passed away into eternal youth, the beautiful and innocent children of his first remembrance.

The Captain did not, however, in his musings, neglect his own improvement, or the mental culture of Rob the Grinder. That young man was generally required to read out of some book to the Captain, for one hour, every evening; and as the Captain implicitly believed that all books were true, he accumulated, by this means, many remarkable facts. On Sunday nights, the Captain always read for himself, before going to bed, a certain Divine Sermon once delivered on a Mount; and although he was accustomed to quote the text, without book, after his own manner, he appeared to read it with as reverent an understanding of its heavenly spirit, as if he had got it all by heart in Greek, and had been able to write any number of fierce theological disquisitions on its every phrase.

Rob the Grinder, whose reverence for the inspired writings, under the admirable system of the Grinders’ School, had been developed by a perpetual bruising of his intellectual shins against all the proper names of all the tribes of Judah, and by the monotonous repetition of hard verses, especially by way of punishment, and by the parading of him at six years old in leather breeches, three times a Sunday, very high up, in a very hot church, with a great organ buzzing against his drowsy head, like an exceedingly busy bee—Rob the Grinder made a mighty show of being edified when the Captain ceased to read, and generally yawned and nodded while the reading was in progress. The latter fact being never so much as suspected by the good Captain.

Captain Cuttle, also, as a man of business; took to keeping books. In these he entered observations on the weather, and on the currents of the waggons and other vehicles: which he observed, in that quarter, to set westward in the morning and during the greater part of the day, and eastward towards the evening. Two or three stragglers appearing in one week, who “spoke him”—so the Captain entered it—on the subject of spectacles, and who, without positively purchasing, said they would look in again, the Captain decided that the business was improving, and made an entry in the day-book to that effect: the wind then blowing (which he first recorded) pretty fresh, west and by north; having changed in the night.

One of the Captain’s chief difficulties was Mr Toots, who called frequently, and who without saying much seemed to have an idea that the little back parlour was an eligible room to chuckle in, as he would sit and avail himself of its accommodations in that regard by the half-hour together, without at all advancing in intimacy with the Captain. The Captain, rendered cautious by his late experience, was unable quite to satisfy his mind whether Mr Toots was the mild subject he appeared to be, or was a profoundly artful and dissimulating hypocrite. His frequent reference to Miss Dombey was suspicious; but the Captain had a secret kindness for Mr Toots’s apparent reliance on him, and forbore to decide against him for the present; merely eyeing him, with a sagacity not to be described, whenever he approached the subject that was nearest to his heart.

“Captain Gills,” blurted out Mr Toots, one day all at once, as his manner was, “do you think you could think favourably of that proposition of mine, and give me the pleasure of your acquaintance?”

“Why, I tell you what it is, my lad,” replied the Captain, who had at length concluded on a course of action; “I’ve been turning that there, over.”

“Captain Gills, it’s very kind of you,” retorted Mr Toots. “I’m much obliged to you. Upon my word and honour, Captain Gills, it would be a charity to give me the pleasure of your acquaintance. It really would.”

“You see, brother,” argued the Captain slowly, “I don’t know you.”

“But you never can know me, Captain Gills,” replied Mr Toots, steadfast to his point, “if you don’t give me the pleasure of your acquaintance.”

The Captain seemed struck by the originality and power of this remark, and looked at Mr Toots as if he thought there was a great deal more in him than he had expected.

“Well said, my lad,” observed the Captain, nodding his head thoughtfully; “and true. Now look’ee here: You’ve made some observations to me, which gives me to understand as you admire a certain sweet creetur. Hey?”

“Captain Gills,” said Mr Toots, gesticulating violently with the hand in which he held his hat, “Admiration is not the word. Upon my honour, you have no conception what my feelings are. If I could be dyed black, and made Miss Dombey’s slave, I should consider it a compliment. If, at the sacrifice of all my property, I could get transmigrated into Miss Dombey’s dog—I—I really think I should never leave off wagging my tail. I should be so perfectly happy, Captain Gills!”

Mr Toots said it with watery eyes, and pressed his hat against his bosom with deep emotion.

“My lad,” returned the Captain, moved to compassion, “if you’re in arnest—”

“Captain Gills,” cried Mr Toots, “I’m in such a state of mind, and am so dreadfully in earnest, that if I could swear to it upon a hot piece of iron, or a live coal, or melted lead, or burning sealing-wax, Or anything of that sort, I should be glad to hurt myself, as a relief to my feelings.” And Mr Toots looked hurriedly about the room, as if for some sufficiently painful means of accomplishing his dread purpose.

The Captain pushed his glazed hat back upon his head, stroked his face down with his heavy hand—making his nose more mottled in the process—and planting himself before Mr Toots, and hooking him by the lapel of his coat, addressed him in these words, while Mr Toots looked up into his face, with much attention and some wonder.

“If you’re in arnest, you see, my lad,” said the Captain, “you’re a object of clemency, and clemency is the brightest jewel in the crown of a Briton’s head, for which you’ll overhaul the constitution as laid down in Rule Britannia, and, when found, that is the charter as them garden angels was a singing of, so many times over. Stand by! This here proposal o’ you’rn takes me a little aback. And why? Because I holds my own only, you understand, in these here waters, and haven’t got no consort, and may be don’t wish for none. Steady! You hailed me first, along of a certain young lady, as you was chartered by. Now if you and me is to keep one another’s company at all, that there young creetur’s name must never be named nor referred to. I don’t know what harm mayn’t have been done by naming of it too free, afore now, and thereby I brings up short. D’ye make me out pretty clear, brother?”

“Well, you’ll excuse me, Captain Gills,” replied Mr Toots, “if I don’t quite follow you sometimes. But upon my word I—it’s a hard thing, Captain Gills, not to be able to mention Miss Dombey. I really have got such a dreadful load here!”—Mr Toots pathetically touched his shirt-front with both hands—“that I feel night and day, exactly as if somebody was sitting upon me.”

“Them,” said the Captain, “is the terms I offer. If they’re hard upon you, brother, as mayhap they are, give ’em a wide berth, sheer off, and part company cheerily!”

“Captain Gills,” returned Mr Toots, “I hardly know how it is, but after what you told me when I came here, for the first time, I—I feel that I’d rather think about Miss Dombey in your society than talk about her in almost anybody else’s. Therefore, Captain Gills, if you’ll give me the pleasure of your acquaintance, I shall be very happy to accept it on your own conditions. I wish to be honourable, Captain Gills,” said Mr Toots, holding back his extended hand for a moment, “and therefore I am obliged to say that I can not help thinking about Miss Dombey. It’s impossible for me to make a promise not to think about her.”

“My lad,” said the Captain, whose opinion of Mr Toots was much improved by this candid avowal, “a man’s thoughts is like the winds, and nobody can’t answer for ’em for certain, any length of time together. Is it a treaty as to words?”

“As to words, Captain Gills,” returned Mr Toots, “I think I can bind myself.”

Mr Toots gave Captain Cuttle his hand upon it, then and there; and the Captain with a pleasant and gracious show of condescension, bestowed his acquaintance upon him formally. Mr Toots seemed much relieved and gladdened by the acquisition, and chuckled rapturously during the remainder of his visit. The Captain, for his part, was not ill pleased to occupy that position of patronage, and was exceedingly well satisfied by his own prudence and foresight.

But rich as Captain Cuttle was in the latter quality, he received a surprise that same evening from a no less ingenuous and simple youth, than Rob the Grinder. That artless lad, drinking tea at the same table, and bending meekly over his cup and saucer, having taken sidelong observations of his master for some time, who was reading the newspaper with great difficulty, but much dignity, through his glasses, broke silence by saying—

“Oh! I beg your pardon, Captain, but you mayn’t be in want of any pigeons, may you, Sir?”

“No, my lad,” replied the Captain.

“Because I was wishing to dispose of mine, Captain,” said Rob.

“Ay, ay?” cried the Captain, lifting up his bushy eyebrows a little.

“Yes; I’m going, Captain, if you please,” said Rob.

“Going? Where are you going?” asked the Captain, looking round at him over the glasses.

“What? didn’t you know that I was going to leave you, Captain?” asked Rob, with a sneaking smile.

The Captain put down the paper, took off his spectacles, and brought his eyes to bear on the deserter.

“Oh yes, Captain, I am going to give you warning. I thought you’d have known that beforehand, perhaps,” said Rob, rubbing his hands, and getting up. “If you could be so good as provide yourself soon, Captain, it would be a great convenience to me. You couldn’t provide yourself by to-morrow morning, I am afraid, Captain: could you, do you think?”

“And you’re a going to desert your colours, are you, my lad?” said the Captain, after a long examination of his face.

“Oh, it’s very hard upon a cove, Captain,” cried the tender Rob, injured and indignant in a moment, “that he can’t give lawful warning, without being frowned at in that way, and called a deserter. You haven’t any right to call a poor cove names, Captain. It ain’t because I’m a servant and you’re a master, that you’re to go and libel me. What wrong have I done? Come, Captain, let me know what my crime is, will you?”

The stricken Grinder wept, and put his coat-cuff in his eye.

“Come, Captain,” cried the injured youth, “give my crime a name! What have I been and done? Have I stolen any of the property? have I set the house a-fire? If I have, why don’t you give me in charge, and try it? But to take away the character of a lad that’s been a good servant to you, because he can’t afford to stand in his own light for your good, what a injury it is, and what a bad return for faithful service! This is the way young coves is spiled and drove wrong. I wonder at you, Captain, I do.”

All of which the Grinder howled forth in a lachrymose whine, and backing carefully towards the door.

“And so you’ve got another berth, have you, my lad?” said the Captain, eyeing him intently.

“Yes, Captain, since you put it in that shape, I have got another berth,” cried Rob, backing more and more; “a better berth than I’ve got here, and one where I don’t so much as want your good word, Captain, which is fort’nate for me, after all the dirt you’ve throw’d at me, because I’m poor, and can’t afford to stand in my own light for your good. Yes, I have got another berth; and if it wasn’t for leaving you unprovided, Captain, I’d go to it now, sooner than I’d take them names from you, because I’m poor, and can’t afford to stand in my own light for your good. Why do you reproach me for being poor, and not standing in my own light for your good, Captain? How can you so demean yourself?”

“Look ye here, my boy,” replied the peaceful Captain. “Don’t you pay out no more of them words.”

“Well, then, don’t you pay in no more of your words, Captain,” retorted the roused innocent, getting louder in his whine, and backing into the shop. “I’d sooner you took my blood than my character.”

“Because,” pursued the Captain calmly, “you have heerd, may be, of such a thing as a rope’s end.”

“Oh, have I though, Captain?” cried the taunting Grinder. “No I haven’t. I never heerd of any such a article!”

“Well,” said the Captain, “it’s my belief as you’ll know more about it pretty soon, if you don’t keep a bright look-out. I can read your signals, my lad. You may go.”

“Oh! I may go at once, may I, Captain?” cried Rob, exulting in his success. “But mind! I never asked to go at once, Captain. You are not to take away my character again, because you send me off of your own accord. And you’re not to stop any of my wages, Captain!”

His employer settled the last point by producing the tin canister and telling the Grinder’s money out in full upon the table. Rob, snivelling and sobbing, and grievously wounded in his feelings, took up the pieces one by one, with a sob and a snivel for each, and tied them up separately in knots in his pockethandkerchief; then he ascended to the roof of the house and filled his hat and pockets with pigeons; then, came down to his bed under the counter and made up his bundle, snivelling and sobbing louder, as if he were cut to the heart by old associations; then he whined, “Good-night, Captain. I leave you without malice!” and then, going out upon the door-step, pulled the little Midshipman’s nose as a parting indignity, and went away down the street grinning triumphantly.

The Captain, left to himself, resumed his perusal of the news as if nothing unusual or unexpected had taken place, and went reading on with the greatest assiduity. But never a word did Captain Cuttle understand, though he read a vast number, for Rob the Grinder was scampering up one column and down another all through the newspaper.

It is doubtful whether the worthy Captain had ever felt himself quite abandoned until now; but now, old Sol Gills, Walter, and Heart’s Delight were lost to him indeed, and now Mr Carker deceived and jeered him cruelly. They were all represented in the false Rob, to whom he had held forth many a time on the recollections that were warm within him; he had believed in the false Rob, and had been glad to believe in him; he had made a companion of him as the last of the old ship’s company; he had taken the command of the little Midshipman with him at his right hand; he had meant to do his duty by him, and had felt almost as kindly towards the boy as if they had been shipwrecked and cast upon a desert place together. And now, that the false Rob had brought distrust, treachery, and meanness into the very parlour, which was a kind of sacred place, Captain Cuttle felt as if the parlour might have gone down next, and not surprised him much by its sinking, or given him any very great concern.

Therefore Captain Cuttle read the newspaper with profound attention and no comprehension, and therefore Captain Cuttle said nothing whatever about Rob to himself, or admitted to himself that he was thinking about him, or would recognise in the most distant manner that Rob had anything to do with his feeling as lonely as Robinson Crusoe.

In the same composed, business-like way, the Captain stepped over to Leadenhall Market in the dusk, and effected an arrangement with a private watchman on duty there, to come and put up and take down the shutters of the wooden Midshipman every night and morning. He then called in at the eating-house to diminish by one half the daily rations theretofore supplied to the Midshipman, and at the public-house to stop the traitor’s beer. “My young man,” said the Captain, in explanation to the young lady at the bar, “my young man having bettered himself, Miss.” Lastly, the Captain resolved to take possession of the bed under the counter, and to turn in there o’ nights instead of upstairs, as sole guardian of the property.

From this bed Captain Cuttle daily rose thenceforth, and clapped on his glazed hat at six o’clock in the morning, with the solitary air of Crusoe finishing his toilet with his goat-skin cap; and although his fears of a visitation from the savage tribe, MacStinger, were somewhat cooled, as similar apprehensions on the part of that lone mariner used to be by the lapse of a long interval without any symptoms of the cannibals, he still observed a regular routine of defensive operations, and never encountered a bonnet without previous survey from his castle of retreat. In the meantime (during which he received no call from Mr Toots, who wrote to say he was out of town) his own voice began to have a strange sound in his ears; and he acquired such habits of profound meditation from much polishing and stowing away of the stock, and from much sitting behind the counter reading, or looking out of window, that the red rim made on his forehead by the hard glazed hat, sometimes ached again with excess of reflection.

The year being now expired, Captain Cuttle deemed it expedient to open the packet; but as he had always designed doing this in the presence of Rob the Grinder, who had brought it to him, and as he had an idea that it would be regular and ship-shape to open it in the presence of somebody, he was sadly put to it for want of a witness. In this difficulty, he hailed one day with unusual delight the announcement in the Shipping Intelligence of the arrival of the Cautious Clara, Captain John Bunsby, from a coasting voyage; and to that philosopher immediately dispatched a letter by post, enjoining inviolable secrecy as to his place of residence, and requesting to be favoured with an early visit, in the evening season.

Bunsby, who was one of those sages who act upon conviction, took some days to get the conviction thoroughly into his mind, that he had received a letter to this effect. But when he had grappled with the fact, and mastered it, he promptly sent his boy with the message, “He’s a coming tonight.” Who being instructed to deliver those words and disappear, fulfilled his mission like a tarry spirit, charged with a mysterious warning.

The Captain, well pleased to receive it, made preparation of pipes and rum and water, and awaited his visitor in the back parlour. At the hour of eight, a deep lowing, as of a nautical Bull, outside the shop-door, succeeded by the knocking of a stick on the panel, announced to the listening ear of Captain Cuttle, that Bunsby was alongside; whom he instantly admitted, shaggy and loose, and with his stolid mahogany visage, as usual, appearing to have no consciousness of anything before it, but to be attentively observing something that was taking place in quite another part of the world.

“Bunsby,” said the Captain, grasping him by the hand, “what cheer, my lad, what cheer?”

“Shipmet,” replied the voice within Bunsby, unaccompanied by any sign on the part of the Commander himself, “hearty, hearty.”

“Bunsby!” said the Captain, rendering irrepressible homage to his genius, “here you are! a man as can give an opinion as is brighter than di’monds—and give me the lad with the tarry trousers as shines to me like di’monds bright, for which you’ll overhaul the Stanfell’s Budget, and when found make a note. Here you are, a man as gave an opinion in this here very place, that has come true, every letter on it,” which the Captain sincerely believed.

“Ay, ay?” growled Bunsby.

“Every letter,” said the Captain.

“For why?” growled Bunsby, looking at his friend for the first time. “Which way? If so, why not? Therefore.” With these oracular words—they seemed almost to make the Captain giddy; they launched him upon such a sea of speculation and conjecture—the sage submitted to be helped off with his pilot-coat, and accompanied his friend into the back parlour, where his hand presently alighted on the rum-bottle, from which he brewed a stiff glass of grog; and presently afterwards on a pipe, which he filled, lighted, and began to smoke.

Captain Cuttle, imitating his visitor in the matter of these particulars, though the rapt and imperturbable manner of the great Commander was far above his powers, sat in the opposite corner of the fireside, observing him respectfully, and as if he waited for some encouragement or expression of curiosity on Bunsby’s part which should lead him to his own affairs. But as the mahogany philosopher gave no evidence of being sentient of anything but warmth and tobacco, except once, when taking his pipe from his lips to make room for his glass, he incidentally remarked with exceeding gruffness, that his name was Jack Bunsby—a declaration that presented but small opening for conversation—the Captain bespeaking his attention in a short complimentary exordium, narrated the whole history of Uncle Sol’s departure, with the change it had produced in his own life and fortunes; and concluded by placing the packet on the table.

After a long pause, Mr Bunsby nodded his head.

“Open?” said the Captain.

Bunsby nodded again.

The Captain accordingly broke the seal, and disclosed to view two folded papers, of which he severally read the endorsements, thus: “Last Will and Testament of Solomon Gills.” “Letter for Ned Cuttle.”

Bunsby, with his eye on the coast of Greenland, seemed to listen for the contents. The Captain therefore hemmed to clear his throat, and read the letter aloud.

“‘My dear Ned Cuttle. When I left home for the West Indies’—”

Here the Captain stopped, and looked hard at Bunsby, who looked fixedly at the coast of Greenland.

“—‘in forlorn search of intelligence of my dear boy, I knew that if you were acquainted with my design, you would thwart it, or accompany me; and therefore I kept it secret. If you ever read this letter, Ned, I am likely to be dead. You will easily forgive an old friend’s folly then, and will feel for the restlessness and uncertainty in which he wandered away on such a wild voyage. So no more of that. I have little hope that my poor boy will ever read these words, or gladden your eyes with the sight of his frank face any more.’ No, no; no more,” said Captain Cuttle, sorrowfully meditating; “no more. There he lays, all his days—”

Mr Bunsby, who had a musical ear, suddenly bellowed, “In the Bays of Biscay, O!” which so affected the good Captain, as an appropriate tribute to departed worth, that he shook him by the hand in acknowledgment, and was fain to wipe his eyes.

“Well, well!” said the Captain with a sigh, as the Lament of Bunsby ceased to ring and vibrate in the skylight. “Affliction sore, long time he bore, and let us overhaul the wollume, and there find it.”

“Physicians,” observed Bunsby, “was in vain.”

“Ay, ay, to be sure,” said the Captain, “what’s the good o’ them in two or three hundred fathoms o’ water!” Then, returning to the letter, he read on:—“"But if he should be by, when it is opened;’” the Captain involuntarily looked round, and shook his head; “‘or should know of it at any other time;’” the Captain shook his head again; “‘my blessing on him! In case the accompanying paper is not legally written, it matters very little, for there is no one interested but you and he, and my plain wish is, that if he is living he should have what little there may be, and if (as I fear) otherwise, that you should have it, Ned. You will respect my wish, I know. God bless you for it, and for all your friendliness besides, to Solomon Gills.’ Bunsby!” said the Captain, appealing to him solemnly, “what do you make of this? There you sit, a man as has had his head broke from infancy up’ards, and has got a new opinion into it at every seam as has been opened. Now, what do you make o’ this?”

“If so be,” returned Bunsby, with unusual promptitude, “as he’s dead, my opinion is he won’t come back no more. If so be as he’s alive, my opinion is he will. Do I say he will? No. Why not? Because the bearings of this obserwation lays in the application on it.”

“Bunsby!” said Captain Cuttle, who would seem to have estimated the value of his distinguished friend’s opinions in proportion to the immensity of the difficulty he experienced in making anything out of them; “Bunsby,” said the Captain, quite confounded by admiration, “you carry a weight of mind easy, as would swamp one of my tonnage soon. But in regard o’ this here will, I don’t mean to take no steps towards the property—Lord forbid!—except to keep it for a more rightful owner; and I hope yet as the rightful owner, Sol Gills, is living and’ll come back, strange as it is that he ain’t forwarded no dispatches. Now, what is your opinion, Bunsby, as to stowing of these here papers away again, and marking outside as they was opened, such a day, in the presence of John Bunsby and Ed’ard Cuttle?”

Bunsby, descrying no objection, on the coast of Greenland or elsewhere, to this proposal, it was carried into execution; and that great man, bringing his eye into the present for a moment, affixed his sign-manual to the cover, totally abstaining, with characteristic modesty, from the use of capital letters. Captain Cuttle, having attached his own left-handed signature, and locked up the packet in the iron safe, entreated his guest to mix another glass and smoke another pipe; and doing the like himself, fell a musing over the fire on the possible fortunes of the poor old Instrument-maker.

And now a surprise occurred, so overwhelming and terrific that Captain Cuttle, unsupported by the presence of Bunsby, must have sunk beneath it, and been a lost man from that fatal hour.

How the Captain, even in the satisfaction of admitting such a guest, could have only shut the door, and not locked it, of which negligence he was undoubtedly guilty, is one of those questions that must for ever remain mere points of speculation, or vague charges against destiny. But by that unlocked door, at this quiet moment, did the fell MacStinger dash into the parlour, bringing Alexander MacStinger in her parental arms, and confusion and vengeance (not to mention Juliana MacStinger, and the sweet child’s brother, Charles MacStinger, popularly known about the scenes of his youthful sports, as Chowley) in her train. She came so swiftly and so silently, like a rushing air from the neighbourhood of the East India Docks, that Captain Cuttle found himself in the very act of sitting looking at her, before the calm face with which he had been meditating, changed to one of horror and dismay.

But the moment Captain Cuttle understood the full extent of his misfortune, self-preservation dictated an attempt at flight. Darting at the little door which opened from the parlour on the steep little range of cellar-steps, the Captain made a rush, head-foremost, at the latter, like a man indifferent to bruises and contusions, who only sought to hide himself in the bowels of the earth. In this gallant effort he would probably have succeeded, but for the affectionate dispositions of Juliana and Chowley, who pinning him by the legs—one of those dear children holding on to each—claimed him as their friend, with lamentable cries. In the meantime, Mrs MacStinger, who never entered upon any action of importance without previously inverting Alexander MacStinger, to bring him within the range of a brisk battery of slaps, and then sitting him down to cool as the reader first beheld him, performed that solemn rite, as if on this occasion it were a sacrifice to the Furies; and having deposited the victim on the floor, made at the Captain with a strength of purpose that appeared to threaten scratches to the interposing Bunsby.

The cries of the two elder MacStingers, and the wailing of young Alexander, who may be said to have passed a piebald childhood, forasmuch as he was black in the face during one half of that fairy period of existence, combined to make this visitation the more awful. But when silence reigned again, and the Captain, in a violent perspiration, stood meekly looking at Mrs MacStinger, its terrors were at their height.

“Oh, Cap’en Cuttle, Cap’en Cuttle!” said Mrs MacStinger, making her chin rigid, and shaking it in unison with what, but for the weakness of her sex, might be described as her fist. “Oh, Cap’en Cuttle, Cap’en Cuttle, do you dare to look me in the face, and not be struck down in the berth!”

The Captain, who looked anything but daring, feebly muttered “Stand by!”

“Oh I was a weak and trusting Fool when I took you under my roof, Cap’en Cuttle, I was!” cried Mrs MacStinger. “To think of the benefits I’ve showered on that man, and the way in which I brought my children up to love and honour him as if he was a father to ’em, when there ain’t a housekeeper, no nor a lodger in our street, don’t know that I lost money by that man, and by his guzzlings and his muzzlings”—Mrs MacStinger used the last word for the joint sake of alliteration and aggravation, rather than for the expression of any idea—“and when they cried out one and all, shame upon him for putting upon an industrious woman, up early and late for the good of her young family, and keeping her poor place so clean that a individual might have ate his dinner, yes, and his tea too, if he was so disposed, off any one of the floors or stairs, in spite of all his guzzlings and his muzzlings, such was the care and pains bestowed upon him!”

Mrs MacStinger stopped to fetch her breath; and her face flushed with triumph in this second happy introduction of Captain Cuttle’s muzzlings.

“And he runs awa-a-a-y!” cried Mrs MacStinger, with a lengthening out of the last syllable that made the unfortunate Captain regard himself as the meanest of men; “and keeps away a twelve-month! From a woman! Such is his conscience! He hasn’t the courage to meet her hi-i-igh;” long syllable again; “but steals away, like a fellon. Why, if that baby of mine,” said Mrs MacStinger, with sudden rapidity, “was to offer to go and steal away, I’d do my duty as a mother by him, till he was covered with wales!”

The young Alexander, interpreting this into a positive promise, to be shortly redeemed, tumbled over with fear and grief, and lay upon the floor, exhibiting the soles of his shoes and making such a deafening outcry, that Mrs MacStinger found it necessary to take him up in her arms, where she quieted him, ever and anon, as he broke out again, by a shake that seemed enough to loosen his teeth.

“A pretty sort of a man is Cap’en Cuttle,” said Mrs MacStinger, with a sharp stress on the first syllable of the Captain’s name, “to take on for—and to lose sleep for—and to faint along of—and to think dead forsooth—and to go up and down the blessed town like a madwoman, asking questions after! Oh, a pretty sort of a man! Ha ha ha ha! He’s worth all that trouble and distress of mind, and much more. That’s nothing, bless you! Ha ha ha ha! Cap’en Cuttle,” said Mrs MacStinger, with severe reaction in her voice and manner, “I wish to know if you’re a-coming home.”

The frightened Captain looked into his hat, as if he saw nothing for it but to put it on, and give himself up.

“Cap’en Cuttle,” repeated Mrs MacStinger, in the same determined manner, “I wish to know if you’re a-coming home, Sir.”

The Captain seemed quite ready to go, but faintly suggested something to the effect of “not making so much noise about it.”

“Ay, ay, ay,” said Bunsby, in a soothing tone. “Awast, my lass, awast!”

“And who may you be, if you please!” retorted Mrs MacStinger, with chaste loftiness. “Did you ever lodge at Number Nine, Brig Place, Sir? My memory may be bad, but not with me, I think. There was a Mrs Jollson lived at Number Nine before me, and perhaps you’re mistaking me for her. That is my only ways of accounting for your familiarity, Sir.”

“Come, come, my lass, awast, awast!” said Bunsby.

Captain Cuttle could hardly believe it, even of this great man, though he saw it done with his waking eyes; but Bunsby, advancing boldly, put his shaggy blue arm round Mrs MacStinger, and so softened her by his magic way of doing it, and by these few words—he said no more—that she melted into tears, after looking upon him for a few moments, and observed that a child might conquer her now, she was so low in her courage.

Speechless and utterly amazed, the Captain saw him gradually persuade this inexorable woman into the shop, return for rum and water and a candle, take them to her, and pacify her without appearing to utter one word. Presently he looked in with his pilot-coat on, and said, “Cuttle, I’m a-going to act as convoy home;” and Captain Cuttle, more to his confusion than if he had been put in irons himself, for safe transport to Brig Place, saw the family pacifically filing off, with Mrs MacStinger at their head. He had scarcely time to take down his canister, and stealthily convey some money into the hands of Juliana MacStinger, his former favourite, and Chowley, who had the claim upon him that he was naturally of a maritime build, before the Midshipman was abandoned by them all; and Bunsby whispering that he’d carry on smart, and hail Ned Cuttle again before he went aboard, shut the door upon himself, as the last member of the party.

Some uneasy ideas that he must be walking in his sleep, or that he had been troubled with phantoms, and not a family of flesh and blood, beset the Captain at first, when he went back to the little parlour, and found himself alone. Illimitable faith in, and immeasurable admiration of, the Commander of the Cautious Clara, succeeded, and threw the Captain into a wondering trance.

Still, as time wore on, and Bunsby failed to reappear, the Captain began to entertain uncomfortable doubts of another kind. Whether Bunsby had been artfully decoyed to Brig Place, and was there detained in safe custody as hostage for his friend; in which case it would become the Captain, as a man of honour, to release him, by the sacrifice of his own liberty. Whether he had been attacked and defeated by Mrs MacStinger, and was ashamed to show himself after his discomfiture. Whether Mrs MacStinger, thinking better of it, in the uncertainty of her temper, had turned back to board the Midshipman again, and Bunsby, pretending to conduct her by a short cut, was endeavouring to lose the family amid the wilds and savage places of the City. Above all, what it would behove him, Captain Cuttle, to do, in case of his hearing no more, either of the MacStingers or of Bunsby, which, in these wonderful and unforeseen conjunctions of events, might possibly happen.

He debated all this until he was tired; and still no Bunsby. He made up his bed under the counter, all ready for turning in; and still no Bunsby. At length, when the Captain had given him up, for that night at least, and had begun to undress, the sound of approaching wheels was heard, and, stopping at the door, was succeeded by Bunsby’s hail.

The Captain trembled to think that Mrs MacStinger was not to be got rid of, and had been brought back in a coach.

But no. Bunsby was accompanied by nothing but a large box, which he hauled into the shop with his own hands, and as soon as he had hauled in, sat upon. Captain Cuttle knew it for the chest he had left at Mrs MacStinger’s house, and looking, candle in hand, at Bunsby more attentively, believed that he was three sheets in the wind, or, in plain words, drunk. It was difficult, however, to be sure of this; the Commander having no trace of expression in his face when sober.

“Cuttle,” said the Commander, getting off the chest, and opening the lid, “are these here your traps?”

Captain Cuttle looked in and identified his property.

“Done pretty taut and trim, hey, shipmet?” said Bunsby.

The grateful and bewildered Captain grasped him by the hand, and was launching into a reply expressive of his astonished feelings, when Bunsby disengaged himself by a jerk of his wrist, and seemed to make an effort to wink with his revolving eye, the only effect of which attempt, in his condition, was nearly to over-balance him. He then abruptly opened the door, and shot away to rejoin the Cautious Clara with all speed—supposed to be his invariable custom, whenever he considered he had made a point.

As it was not his humour to be often sought, Captain Cuttle decided not to go or send to him next day, or until he should make his gracious pleasure known in such wise, or failing that, until some little time should have lapsed. The Captain, therefore, renewed his solitary life next morning, and thought profoundly, many mornings, noons, and nights, of old Sol Gills, and Bunsby’s sentiments concerning him, and the hopes there were of his return. Much of such thinking strengthened Captain Cuttle’s hopes; and he humoured them and himself by watching for the Instrument-maker at the door—as he ventured to do now, in his strange liberty—and setting his chair in its place, and arranging the little parlour as it used to be, in case he should come home unexpectedly. He likewise, in his thoughtfulness, took down a certain little miniature of Walter as a schoolboy, from its accustomed nail, lest it should shock the old man on his return. The Captain had his presentiments, too, sometimes, that he would come on such a day; and one particular Sunday, even ordered a double allowance of dinner, he was so sanguine. But come, old Solomon did not; and still the neighbours noticed how the seafaring man in the glazed hat, stood at the shop-door of an evening, looking up and down the street.

CHAPTER XL. 
Domestic Relations

It was not in the nature of things that a man of Mr Dombey’s mood, opposed to such a spirit as he had raised against himself, should be softened in the imperious asperity of his temper; or that the cold hard armour of pride in which he lived encased, should be made more flexible by constant collision with haughty scorn and defiance. It is the curse of such a nature—it is a main part of the heavy retribution on itself it bears within itself—that while deference and concession swell its evil qualities, and are the food it grows upon, resistance and a questioning of its exacting claims, foster it too, no less. The evil that is in it finds equally its means of growth and propagation in opposites. It draws support and life from sweets and bitters; bowed down before, or unacknowledged, it still enslaves the breast in which it has its throne; and, worshipped or rejected, is as hard a master as the Devil in dark fables.

Towards his first wife, Mr Dombey, in his cold and lofty arrogance, had borne himself like the removed Being he almost conceived himself to be. He had been “Mr Dombey” with her when she first saw him, and he was “Mr Dombey” when she died. He had asserted his greatness during their whole married life, and she had meekly recognised it. He had kept his distant seat of state on the top of his throne, and she her humble station on its lowest step; and much good it had done him, so to live in solitary bondage to his one idea. He had imagined that the proud character of his second wife would have been added to his own—would have merged into it, and exalted his greatness. He had pictured himself haughtier than ever, with Edith’s haughtiness subservient to his. He had never entertained the possibility of its arraying itself against him. And now, when he found it rising in his path at every step and turn of his daily life, fixing its cold, defiant, and contemptuous face upon him, this pride of his, instead of withering, or hanging down its head beneath the shock, put forth new shoots, became more concentrated and intense, more gloomy, sullen, irksome, and unyielding, than it had ever been before.

Who wears such armour, too, bears with him ever another heavy retribution. It is of proof against conciliation, love, and confidence; against all gentle sympathy from without, all trust, all tenderness, all soft emotion; but to deep stabs in the self-love, it is as vulnerable as the bare breast to steel; and such tormenting festers rankle there, as follow on no other wounds, no, though dealt with the mailed hand of Pride itself, on weaker pride, disarmed and thrown down.

Such wounds were his. He felt them sharply, in the solitude of his old rooms; whither he now began often to retire again, and pass long solitary hours. It seemed his fate to be ever proud and powerful; ever humbled and powerless where he would be most strong. Who seemed fated to work out that doom?

Who? Who was it who could win his wife as she had won his boy? Who was it who had shown him that new victory, as he sat in the dark corner? Who was it whose least word did what his utmost means could not? Who was it who, unaided by his love, regard or notice, thrived and grew beautiful when those so aided died? Who could it be, but the same child at whom he had often glanced uneasily in her motherless infancy, with a kind of dread, lest he might come to hate her; and of whom his foreboding was fulfilled, for he DID hate her in his heart?

Yes, and he would have it hatred, and he made it hatred, though some sparkles of the light in which she had appeared before him on the memorable night of his return home with his Bride, occasionally hung about her still. He knew now that she was beautiful; he did not dispute that she was graceful and winning, and that in the bright dawn of her womanhood she had come upon him, a surprise. But he turned even this against her. In his sullen and unwholesome brooding, the unhappy man, with a dull perception of his alienation from all hearts, and a vague yearning for what he had all his life repelled, made a distorted picture of his rights and wrongs, and justified himself with it against her. The worthier she promised to be of him, the greater claim he was disposed to antedate upon her duty and submission. When had she ever shown him duty and submission? Did she grace his life—or Edith’s? Had her attractions been manifested first to him—or Edith? Why, he and she had never been, from her birth, like father and child! They had always been estranged. She had crossed him every way and everywhere. She was leagued against him now. Her very beauty softened natures that were obdurate to him, and insulted him with an unnatural triumph.

It may have been that in all this there were mutterings of an awakened feeling in his breast, however selfishly aroused by his position of disadvantage, in comparison with what she might have made his life. But he silenced the distant thunder with the rolling of his sea of pride. He would bear nothing but his pride. And in his pride, a heap of inconsistency, and misery, and self-inflicted torment, he hated her.

To the moody, stubborn, sullen demon, that possessed him, his wife opposed her different pride in its full force. They never could have led a happy life together; but nothing could have made it more unhappy, than the wilful and determined warfare of such elements. His pride was set upon maintaining his magnificent supremacy, and forcing recognition of it from her. She would have been racked to death, and turned but her haughty glance of calm inflexible disdain upon him, to the last. Such recognition from Edith! He little knew through what a storm and struggle she had been driven onward to the crowning honour of his hand. He little knew how much she thought she had conceded, when she suffered him to call her wife.

Mr Dombey was resolved to show her that he was supreme. There must be no will but his. Proud he desired that she should be, but she must be proud for, not against him. As he sat alone, hardening, he would often hear her go out and come home, treading the round of London life with no more heed of his liking or disliking, pleasure or displeasure, than if he had been her groom. Her cold supreme indifference—his own unquestioned attribute usurped—stung him more than any other kind of treatment could have done; and he determined to bend her to his magnificent and stately will.

He had been long communing with these thoughts, when one night he sought her in her own apartment, after he had heard her return home late. She was alone, in her brilliant dress, and had but that moment come from her mother’s room. Her face was melancholy and pensive, when he came upon her; but it marked him at the door; for, glancing at the mirror before it, he saw immediately, as in a picture-frame, the knitted brow, and darkened beauty that he knew so well.

“Mrs Dombey,” he said, entering, “I must beg leave to have a few words with you.”

“To-morrow,” she replied.

“There is no time like the present, Madam,” he returned. “You mistake your position. I am used to choose my own times; not to have them chosen for me. I think you scarcely understand who and what I am, Mrs Dombey.”

“I think,” she answered, “that I understand you very well.”

She looked upon him as she said so, and folding her white arms, sparkling with gold and gems, upon her swelling breast, turned away her eyes.

If she had been less handsome, and less stately in her cold composure, she might not have had the power of impressing him with the sense of disadvantage that penetrated through his utmost pride. But she had the power, and he felt it keenly. He glanced round the room: saw how the splendid means of personal adornment, and the luxuries of dress, were scattered here and there, and disregarded; not in mere caprice and carelessness (or so he thought), but in a steadfast haughty disregard of costly things: and felt it more and more. Chaplets of flowers, plumes of feathers, jewels, laces, silks and satins; look where he would, he saw riches, despised, poured out, and made of no account. The very diamonds—a marriage gift—that rose and fell impatiently upon her bosom, seemed to pant to break the chain that clasped them round her neck, and roll down on the floor where she might tread upon them.

He felt his disadvantage, and he showed it. Solemn and strange among this wealth of colour and voluptuous glitter, strange and constrained towards its haughty mistress, whose repellent beauty it repeated, and presented all around him, as in so many fragments of a mirror, he was conscious of embarrassment and awkwardness. Nothing that ministered to her disdainful self-possession could fail to gall him. Galled and irritated with himself, he sat down, and went on, in no improved humour:

“Mrs Dombey, it is very necessary that there should be some understanding arrived at between us. Your conduct does not please me, Madam.”

She merely glanced at him again, and again averted her eyes; but she might have spoken for an hour, and expressed less.

“I repeat, Mrs Dombey, does not please me. I have already taken occasion to request that it may be corrected. I now insist upon it.”

“You chose a fitting occasion for your first remonstrance, Sir, and you adopt a fitting manner, and a fitting word for your second. You insist! To me!”

“Madam,” said Mr Dombey, with his most offensive air of state, “I have made you my wife. You bear my name. You are associated with my position and my reputation. I will not say that the world in general may be disposed to think you honoured by that association; but I will say that I am accustomed to ‘insist,’ to my connexions and dependents.”

“Which may you be pleased to consider me? she asked.

“Possibly I may think that my wife should partake—or does partake, and cannot help herself—of both characters, Mrs Dombey.”

She bent her eyes upon him steadily, and set her trembling lips. He saw her bosom throb, and saw her face flush and turn white. All this he could know, and did: but he could not know that one word was whispering in the deep recesses of her heart, to keep her quiet; and that the word was Florence.

Blind idiot, rushing to a precipice! He thought she stood in awe of him.

“You are too expensive, Madam,” said Mr Dombey. “You are extravagant. You waste a great deal of money—or what would be a great deal in the pockets of most gentlemen—in cultivating a kind of society that is useless to me, and, indeed, that upon the whole is disagreeable to me. I have to insist upon a total change in all these respects. I know that in the novelty of possessing a tithe of such means as Fortune has placed at your disposal, ladies are apt to run into a sudden extreme. There has been more than enough of that extreme. I beg that Mrs Granger’s very different experiences may now come to the instruction of Mrs Dombey.”

Still the fixed look, the trembling lips, the throbbing breast, the face now crimson and now white; and still the deep whisper Florence, Florence, speaking to her in the beating of her heart.

His insolence of self-importance dilated as he saw this alteration in her. Swollen no less by her past scorn of him, and his so recent feeling of disadvantage, than by her present submission (as he took it to be), it became too mighty for his breast, and burst all bounds. Why, who could long resist his lofty will and pleasure! He had resolved to conquer her, and look here!

“You will further please, Madam,” said Mr Dombey, in a tone of sovereign command, “to understand distinctly, that I am to be deferred to and obeyed. That I must have a positive show and confession of deference before the world, Madam. I am used to this. I require it as my right. In short I will have it. I consider it no unreasonable return for the worldly advancement that has befallen you; and I believe nobody will be surprised, either at its being required from you, or at your making it.—To Me—To Me!” he added, with emphasis.

No word from her. No change in her. Her eyes upon him.

“I have learnt from your mother, Mrs Dombey,” said Mr Dombey, with magisterial importance, “what no doubt you know, namely, that Brighton is recommended for her health. Mr Carker has been so good.”

She changed suddenly. Her face and bosom glowed as if the red light of an angry sunset had been flung upon them. Not unobservant of the change, and putting his own interpretation upon it, Mr Dombey resumed:

“Mr Carker has been so good as to go down and secure a house there, for a time. On the return of the establishment to London, I shall take such steps for its better management as I consider necessary. One of these, will be the engagement at Brighton (if it is to be effected), of a very respectable reduced person there, a Mrs Pipchin, formerly employed in a situation of trust in my family, to act as housekeeper. An establishment like this, presided over but nominally, Mrs Dombey, requires a competent head.”

She had changed her attitude before he arrived at these words, and now sat—still looking at him fixedly—turning a bracelet round and round upon her arm; not winding it about with a light, womanly touch, but pressing and dragging it over the smooth skin, until the white limb showed a bar of red.

“I observed,” said Mr Dombey—“and this concludes what I deem it necessary to say to you at present, Mrs Dombey—I observed a moment ago, Madam, that my allusion to Mr Carker was received in a peculiar manner. On the occasion of my happening to point out to you, before that confidential agent, the objection I had to your mode of receiving my visitors, you were pleased to object to his presence. You will have to get the better of that objection, Madam, and to accustom yourself to it very probably on many similar occasions; unless you adopt the remedy which is in your own hands, of giving me no cause of complaint. Mr Carker,” said Mr Dombey, who, after the emotion he had just seen, set great store by this means of reducing his proud wife, and who was perhaps sufficiently willing to exhibit his power to that gentleman in a new and triumphant aspect, “Mr Carker being in my confidence, Mrs Dombey, may very well be in yours to such an extent. I hope, Mrs Dombey,” he continued, after a few moments, during which, in his increasing haughtiness, he had improved on his idea, “I may not find it necessary ever to entrust Mr Carker with any message of objection or remonstrance to you; but as it would be derogatory to my position and reputation to be frequently holding trivial disputes with a lady upon whom I have conferred the highest distinction that it is in my power to bestow, I shall not scruple to avail myself of his services if I see occasion.”

“And now,” he thought, rising in his moral magnificence, and rising a stiffer and more impenetrable man than ever, “she knows me and my resolution.”

The hand that had so pressed the bracelet was laid heavily upon her breast, but she looked at him still, with an unaltered face, and said in a low voice:

“Wait! For God’s sake! I must speak to you.”

Why did she not, and what was the inward struggle that rendered her incapable of doing so, for minutes, while, in the strong constraint she put upon her face, it was as fixed as any statue’s—looking upon him with neither yielding nor unyielding, liking nor hatred, pride not humility: nothing but a searching gaze?

“Did I ever tempt you to seek my hand? Did I ever use any art to win you? Was I ever more conciliating to you when you pursued me, than I have been since our marriage? Was I ever other to you than I am?”

“It is wholly unnecessary, Madam,” said Mr Dombey, “to enter upon such discussions.”

“Did you think I loved you? Did you know I did not? Did you ever care, Man! for my heart, or propose to yourself to win the worthless thing? Was there any poor pretence of any in our bargain? Upon your side, or on mine?”

“These questions,” said Mr Dombey, “are all wide of the purpose, Madam.”

She moved between him and the door to prevent his going away, and drawing her majestic figure to its height, looked steadily upon him still.

“You answer each of them. You answer me before I speak, I see. How can you help it; you who know the miserable truth as well as I? Now, tell me. If I loved you to devotion, could I do more than render up my whole will and being to you, as you have just demanded? If my heart were pure and all untried, and you its idol, could you ask more; could you have more?”

“Possibly not, Madam,” he returned coolly.

“You know how different I am. You see me looking on you now, and you can read the warmth of passion for you that is breathing in my face.” Not a curl of the proud lip, not a flash of the dark eye, nothing but the same intent and searching look, accompanied these words. “You know my general history. You have spoken of my mother. Do you think you can degrade, or bend or break, me to submission and obedience?”

Mr Dombey smiled, as he might have smiled at an inquiry whether he thought he could raise ten thousand pounds.

“If there is anything unusual here,” she said, with a slight motion of her hand before her brow, which did not for a moment flinch from its immovable and otherwise expressionless gaze, “as I know there are unusual feelings here,” raising the hand she pressed upon her bosom, and heavily returning it, “consider that there is no common meaning in the appeal I am going to make you. Yes, for I am going;” she said it as in prompt reply to something in his face; “to appeal to you.”

Mr Dombey, with a slightly condescending bend of his chin that rustled and crackled his stiff cravat, sat down on a sofa that was near him, to hear the appeal.

“If you can believe that I am of such a nature now,”—he fancied he saw tears glistening in her eyes, and he thought, complacently, that he had forced them from her, though none fell on her cheek, and she regarded him as steadily as ever,—“as would make what I now say almost incredible to myself, said to any man who had become my husband, but, above all, said to you, you may, perhaps, attach the greater weight to it. In the dark end to which we are tending, and may come, we shall not involve ourselves alone (that might not be much) but others.”

Others! He knew at whom that word pointed, and frowned heavily.

“I speak to you for the sake of others. Also your own sake; and for mine. Since our marriage, you have been arrogant to me; and I have repaid you in kind. You have shown to me and everyone around us, every day and hour, that you think I am graced and distinguished by your alliance. I do not think so, and have shown that too. It seems you do not understand, or (so far as your power can go) intend that each of us shall take a separate course; and you expect from me instead, a homage you will never have.”

Although her face was still the same, there was emphatic confirmation of this “Never” in the very breath she drew.

“I feel no tenderness towards you; that you know. You would care nothing for it, if I did or could. I know as well that you feel none towards me. But we are linked together; and in the knot that ties us, as I have said, others are bound up. We must both die; we are both connected with the dead already, each by a little child. Let us forbear.”

Mr Dombey took a long respiration, as if he would have said, Oh! was this all!

“There is no wealth,” she went on, turning paler as she watched him, while her eyes grew yet more lustrous in their earnestness, “that could buy these words of me, and the meaning that belongs to them. Once cast away as idle breath, no wealth or power can bring them back. I mean them; I have weighed them; and I will be true to what I undertake. If you will promise to forbear on your part, I will promise to forbear on mine. We are a most unhappy pair, in whom, from different causes, every sentiment that blesses marriage, or justifies it, is rooted out; but in the course of time, some friendship, or some fitness for each other, may arise between us. I will try to hope so, if you will make the endeavour too; and I will look forward to a better and a happier use of age than I have made of youth or prime.”

Throughout she had spoken in a low plain voice, that neither rose nor fell; ceasing, she dropped the hand with which she had enforced herself to be so passionless and distinct, but not the eyes with which she had so steadily observed him.

“Madam,” said Mr Dombey, with his utmost dignity, “I cannot entertain any proposal of this extraordinary nature.”

She looked at him yet, without the least change.

“I cannot,” said Mr Dombey, rising as he spoke, “consent to temporise or treat with you, Mrs Dombey, upon a subject as to which you are in possession of my opinions and expectations. I have stated my ultimatum, Madam, and have only to request your very serious attention to it.”

To see the face change to its old expression, deepened in intensity! To see the eyes droop as from some mean and odious object! To see the lighting of the haughty brow! To see scorn, anger, indignation, and abhorrence starting into sight, and the pale blank earnestness vanish like a mist! He could not choose but look, although he looked to his dismay.

“Go, Sir!” she said, pointing with an imperious hand towards the door. “Our first and last confidence is at an end. Nothing can make us stranger to each other than we are henceforth.”

“I shall take my rightful course, Madam,” said Mr Dombey, “undeterred, you may be sure, by any general declamation.”

She turned her back upon him, and, without reply, sat down before her glass.

“I place my reliance on your improved sense of duty, and more correct feeling, and better reflection, Madam,” said Mr Dombey.

She answered not one word. He saw no more expression of any heed of him, in the mirror, than if he had been an unseen spider on the wall, or beetle on the floor, or rather, than if he had been the one or other, seen and crushed when she last turned from him, and forgotten among the ignominious and dead vermin of the ground.

He looked back, as he went out at the door, upon the well-lighted and luxurious room, the beautiful and glittering objects everywhere displayed, the shape of Edith in its rich dress seated before her glass, and the face of Edith as the glass presented it to him; and betook himself to his old chamber of cogitation, carrying away with him a vivid picture in his mind of all these things, and a rambling and unaccountable speculation (such as sometimes comes into a man’s head) how they would all look when he saw them next.

For the rest, Mr Dombey was very taciturn, and very dignified, and very confident of carrying out his purpose; and remained so.

He did not design accompanying the family to Brighton; but he graciously informed Cleopatra at breakfast, on the morning of departure, which arrived a day or two afterwards, that he might be expected down, soon. There was no time to be lost in getting Cleopatra to any place recommended as being salutary; for, indeed, she seemed upon the wane, and turning of the earth, earthy.

Without having undergone any decided second attack of her malady, the old woman seemed to have crawled backward in her recovery from the first. She was more lean and shrunken, more uncertain in her imbecility, and made stranger confusions in her mind and memory. Among other symptoms of this last affliction, she fell into the habit of confounding the names of her two sons-in-law, the living and the deceased; and in general called Mr Dombey, either “Grangeby,” or “Domber,” or indifferently, both.

But she was youthful, very youthful still; and in her youthfulness appeared at breakfast, before going away, in a new bonnet made express, and a travelling robe that was embroidered and braided like an old baby’s. It was not easy to put her into a fly-away bonnet now, or to keep the bonnet in its place on the back of her poor nodding head, when it was got on. In this instance, it had not only the extraneous effect of being always on one side, but of being perpetually tapped on the crown by Flowers the maid, who attended in the background during breakfast to perform that duty.

“Now, my dearest Grangeby,” said Mrs Skewton, “you must posively prom,” she cut some of her words short, and cut out others altogether, “come down very soon.”

“I said just now, Madam,” returned Mr Dombey, loudly and laboriously, “that I am coming in a day or two.”

“Bless you, Domber!”

Here the Major, who was come to take leave of the ladies, and who was staring through his apoplectic eyes at Mrs Skewton’s face with the disinterested composure of an immortal being, said:

“Begad, Ma’am, you don’t ask old Joe to come!”

“Sterious wretch, who’s he?” lisped Cleopatra. But a tap on the bonnet from Flowers seeming to jog her memory, she added, “Oh! You mean yourself, you naughty creature!”

“Devilish queer, Sir,” whispered the Major to Mr Dombey. “Bad case. Never did wrap up enough;” the Major being buttoned to the chin. “Why who should J. B. mean by Joe, but old Joe Bagstock—Joseph—your slave—Joe, Ma’am? Here! Here’s the man! Here are the Bagstock bellows, Ma’am!” cried the Major, striking himself a sounding blow on the chest.

“My dearest Edith—Grangeby—it’s most trordinry thing,” said Cleopatra, pettishly, “that Major—”

“Bagstock! J. B.!” cried the Major, seeing that she faltered for his name.

“Well, it don’t matter,” said Cleopatra. “Edith, my love, you know I never could remember names—what was it? oh!—most trordinry thing that so many people want to come down to see me. I’m not going for long. I’m coming back. Surely they can wait, till I come back!”

Cleopatra looked all round the table as she said it, and appeared very uneasy.

“I won’t have visitors—really don’t want visitors,” she said; “little repose—and all that sort of thing—is what I quire. No odious brutes must proach me till I’ve shaken off this numbness;” and in a grisly resumption of her coquettish ways, she made a dab at the Major with her fan, but overset Mr Dombey’s breakfast cup instead, which was in quite a different direction.

Then she called for Withers, and charged him to see particularly that word was left about some trivial alterations in her room, which must be all made before she came back, and which must be set about immediately, as there was no saying how soon she might come back; for she had a great many engagements, and all sorts of people to call upon. Withers received these directions with becoming deference, and gave his guarantee for their execution; but when he withdrew a pace or two behind her, it appeared as if he couldn’t help looking strangely at the Major, who couldn’t help looking strangely at Mr Dombey, who couldn’t help looking strangely at Cleopatra, who couldn’t help nodding her bonnet over one eye, and rattling her knife and fork upon her plate in using them, as if she were playing castanets.

Edith alone never lifted her eyes to any face at the table, and never seemed dismayed by anything her mother said or did. She listened to her disjointed talk, or at least, turned her head towards her when addressed; replied in a few low words when necessary; and sometimes stopped her when she was rambling, or brought her thoughts back with a monosyllable, to the point from which they had strayed. The mother, however unsteady in other things, was constant in this—that she was always observant of her. She would look at the beautiful face, in its marble stillness and severity, now with a kind of fearful admiration; now in a giggling foolish effort to move it to a smile; now with capricious tears and jealous shakings of her head, as imagining herself neglected by it; always with an attraction towards it, that never fluctuated like her other ideas, but had constant possession of her. From Edith she would sometimes look at Florence, and back again at Edith, in a manner that was wild enough; and sometimes she would try to look elsewhere, as if to escape from her daughter’s face; but back to it she seemed forced to come, although it never sought hers unless sought, or troubled her with one single glance.

The breakfast concluded, Mrs Skewton, affecting to lean girlishly upon the Major’s arm, but heavily supported on the other side by Flowers the maid, and propped up behind by Withers the page, was conducted to the carriage, which was to take her, Florence, and Edith to Brighton.

“And is Joseph absolutely banished?” said the Major, thrusting in his purple face over the steps. “Damme, Ma’am, is Cleopatra so hard-hearted as to forbid her faithful Antony Bagstock to approach the presence?”

“Go along!” said Cleopatra, “I can’t bear you. You shall see me when I come back, if you are very good.”

“Tell Joseph, he may live in hope, Ma’am,” said the Major; “or he’ll die in despair.”

Cleopatra shuddered, and leaned back. “Edith, my dear,” she said. “Tell him—”

“What?”

“Such dreadful words,” said Cleopatra. “He uses such dreadful words!”

Edith signed to him to retire, gave the word to go on, and left the objectionable Major to Mr Dombey. To whom he returned, whistling.

“I’ll tell you what, Sir,” said the Major, with his hands behind him, and his legs very wide asunder, “a fair friend of ours has removed to Queer Street.”

“What do you mean, Major?” inquired Mr Dombey.

“I mean to say, Dombey,” returned the Major, “that you’ll soon be an orphan-in-law.”

Mr Dombey appeared to relish this waggish description of himself so very little, that the Major wound up with the horse’s cough, as an expression of gravity.

“Damme, Sir,” said the Major, “there is no use in disguising a fact. Joe is blunt, Sir. That’s his nature. If you take old Josh at all, you take him as you find him; and a devilish rusty, old rasper, of a close-toothed, J. B. file, you do find him. Dombey,” said the Major, “your wife’s mother is on the move, Sir.”

“I fear,” returned Mr Dombey, with much philosophy, “that Mrs Skewton is shaken.”

“Shaken, Dombey!” said the Major. “Smashed!”

“Change, however,” pursued Mr Dombey, “and attention, may do much yet.”

“Don’t believe it, Sir,” returned the Major. “Damme, Sir, she never wrapped up enough. If a man don’t wrap up,” said the Major, taking in another button of his buff waistcoat, “he has nothing to fall back upon. But some people will die. They will do it. Damme, they will. They’re obstinate. I tell you what, Dombey, it may not be ornamental; it may not be refined; it may be rough and tough; but a little of the genuine old English Bagstock stamina, Sir, would do all the good in the world to the human breed.”

After imparting this precious piece of information, the Major, who was certainly true-blue, whatever other endowments he may have had or wanted, coming within the “genuine old English” classification, which has never been exactly ascertained, took his lobster-eyes and his apoplexy to the club, and choked there all day.

Cleopatra, at one time fretful, at another self-complacent, sometimes awake, sometimes asleep, and at all times juvenile, reached Brighton the same night, fell to pieces as usual, and was put away in bed; where a gloomy fancy might have pictured a more potent skeleton than the maid, who should have been one, watching at the rose-coloured curtains, which were carried down to shed their bloom upon her.

It was settled in high council of medical authority that she should take a carriage airing every day, and that it was important she should get out every day, and walk if she could. Edith was ready to attend her—always ready to attend her, with the same mechanical attention and immovable beauty—and they drove out alone; for Edith had an uneasiness in the presence of Florence, now that her mother was worse, and told Florence, with a kiss, that she would rather they two went alone.

Mrs Skewton, on one particular day, was in the irresolute, exacting, jealous temper that had developed itself on her recovery from her first attack. After sitting silent in the carriage watching Edith for some time, she took her hand and kissed it passionately. The hand was neither given nor withdrawn, but simply yielded to her raising of it, and being released, dropped down again, almost as if it were insensible. At this she began to whimper and moan, and say what a mother she had been, and how she was forgotten! This she continued to do at capricious intervals, even when they had alighted: when she herself was halting along with the joint support of Withers and a stick, and Edith was walking by her side, and the carriage slowly following at a little distance.

It was a bleak, lowering, windy day, and they were out upon the Downs with nothing but a bare sweep of land between them and the sky. The mother, with a querulous satisfaction in the monotony of her complaint, was still repeating it in a low voice from time to time, and the proud form of her daughter moved beside her slowly, when there came advancing over a dark ridge before them, two other figures, which in the distance, were so like an exaggerated imitation of their own, that Edith stopped.

Almost as she stopped, the two figures stopped; and that one which to Edith’s thinking was like a distorted shadow of her mother, spoke to the other, earnestly, and with a pointing hand towards them. That one seemed inclined to turn back, but the other, in which Edith recognised enough that was like herself to strike her with an unusual feeling, not quite free from fear, came on; and then they came on together.

The greater part of this observation, she made while walking towards them, for her stoppage had been momentary. Nearer observation showed her that they were poorly dressed, as wanderers about the country; that the younger woman carried knitted work or some such goods for sale; and that the old one toiled on empty-handed.

And yet, however far removed she was in dress, in dignity, in beauty, Edith could not but compare the younger woman with herself, still. It may have been that she saw upon her face some traces which she knew were lingering in her own soul, if not yet written on that index; but, as the woman came on, returning her gaze, fixing her shining eyes upon her, undoubtedly presenting something of her own air and stature, and appearing to reciprocate her own thoughts, she felt a chill creep over her, as if the day were darkening, and the wind were colder.

They had now come up. The old woman, holding out her hand importunately, stopped to beg of Mrs Skewton. The younger one stopped too, and she and Edith looked in one another’s eyes.

“What is it that you have to sell?” said Edith.

“Only this,” returned the woman, holding out her wares, without looking at them. “I sold myself long ago.”

“My Lady, don’t believe her,” croaked the old woman to Mrs Skewton; “don’t believe what she says. She loves to talk like that. She’s my handsome and undutiful daughter. She gives me nothing but reproaches, my Lady, for all I have done for her. Look at her now, my Lady, how she turns upon her poor old mother with her looks.”

As Mrs Skewton drew her purse out with a trembling hand, and eagerly fumbled for some money, which the other old woman greedily watched for—their heads all but touching, in their hurry and decrepitude—Edith interposed:

“I have seen you,” addressing the old woman, “before.”

“Yes, my Lady,” with a curtsey. “Down in Warwickshire. The morning among the trees. When you wouldn’t give me nothing. But the gentleman, he give me something! Oh, bless him, bless him!” mumbled the old woman, holding up her skinny hand, and grinning frightfully at her daughter.

“It’s of no use attempting to stay me, Edith!” said Mrs Skewton, angrily anticipating an objection from her. “You know nothing about it. I won’t be dissuaded. I am sure this is an excellent woman, and a good mother.”

“Yes, my Lady, yes,” chattered the old woman, holding out her avaricious hand. “Thankee, my Lady. Lord bless you, my Lady. Sixpence more, my pretty Lady, as a good mother yourself.”

“And treated undutifully enough, too, my good old creature, sometimes, I assure you,” said Mrs Skewton, whimpering. “There! Shake hands with me. You’re a very good old creature—full of what’s-his-name—and all that. You’re all affection and et cetera, ain’t you?”

“Oh, yes, my Lady!”

“Yes, I’m sure you are; and so’s that gentlemanly creature Grangeby. I must really shake hands with you again. And now you can go, you know; and I hope,” addressing the daughter, “that you’ll show more gratitude, and natural what’s-its-name, and all the rest of it—but I never remember names—for there never was a better mother than the good old creature’s been to you. Come, Edith!”

As the ruin of Cleopatra tottered off whimpering, and wiping its eyes with a gingerly remembrance of rouge in their neighbourhood, the old woman hobbled another way, mumbling and counting her money. Not one word more, nor one other gesture, had been exchanged between Edith and the younger woman, but neither had removed her eyes from the other for a moment. They had remained confronted until now, when Edith, as awakening from a dream, passed slowly on.

“You’re a handsome woman,” muttered her shadow, looking after her; “but good looks won’t save us. And you’re a proud woman; but pride won’t save us. We had need to know each other when we meet again!”