Part 12 out of 21
Turn we our eyes upon two homes; not lying side by side, but wide
apart, though both within easy range and reach of the great city of
The first is situated in the green and wooded country near Norwood.
It is not a mansion; it is of no pretensions as to size; but it is
beautifully arranged, and tastefully kept. The lawn, the soft, smooth
slope, the flower-garden, the clumps of trees where graceful forms of
ash and willow are not wanting, the conservatory, the rustic verandah
with sweet-smelling creeping plants entwined about the pillars, the
simple exterior of the house, the well-ordered offices, though all
upon the diminutive scale proper to a mere cottage, bespeak an amount
of elegant comfort within, that might serve for a palace. This
indication is not without warrant; for, within, it is a house of
refinement and luxury. Rich colours, excellently blended, meet the eye
at every turn; in the furniture - its proportions admirably devised to
suit the shapes and sizes of the small rooms; on the walls; upon the
floors; tingeing and subduing the light that comes in through the odd
glass doors and windows here and there. There are a few choice prints
and pictures too; in quaint nooks and recesses there is no want of
books; and there are games of skill and chance set forth on tables -
fantastic chessmen, dice, backgammon, cards, and billiards.
And yet amidst this opulence of comfort, there is something in the
general air that is not well. Is it that the carpets and the cushions
are too soft and noiseless, so that those who move or repose among
them seem to act by stealth? Is it that the prints and pictures do not
commemorate great thoughts or deeds, or render nature in the Poetry of
landscape, hall, or hut, but are of one voluptuous cast - mere shows
of form and colour - and no more? Is it that the books have all their
gold outside, and that the titles of the greater part qualify them to
be companions of the prints and pictures? Is it that the completeness
and the beauty of the place are here and there belied by an
affectation of humility, in some unimportant and inexpensive regard,
which is as false as the face of the too truly painted portrait
hanging yonder, or its original at breakfast in his easy chair below
it? Or is it that, with the daily breath of that original and master
of all here, there issues forth some subtle portion of himself, which
gives a vague expression of himself to everything about him?
It is Mr Carker the Manager who sits in the easy chair. A gaudy
parrot in a burnished cage upon the table tears at the wires with her
beak, and goes walking, upside down, in its dome-top, shaking her
house and screeching; but Mr Carker is indifferent to the bird, and
looks with a musing smile at a picture on the opposite wall.
'A most extraordinary accidental likeness, certainly,' says he.
Perhaps it is a Juno; perhaps a Potiphar's Wife'; perhaps some
scornful Nymph - according as the Picture Dealers found the market,
when they christened it. It is the figure of a woman, supremely
handsome, who, turning away, but with her face addressed to the
spectator, flashes her proud glance upon him.
It is like Edith.
With a passing gesture of his hand at the picture - what! a menace?
No; yet something like it. A wave as of triumph? No; yet more like
that. An insolent salute wafted from his lips? No; yet like that too -
he resumes his breakfast, and calls to the chafing and imprisoned
bird, who coming down into a pendant gilded hoop within the cage, like
a great wedding-ring, swings in it, for his delight.
The second home is on the other side of London, near to where the
busy great north road of bygone days is silent and almost deserted,
except by wayfarers who toil along on foot. It is a poor small house,
barely and sparely furnished, but very clean; and there is even an
attempt to decorate it, shown in the homely flowers trained about the
porch and in the narrow garden. The neighbourhood in which it stands
has as little of the country to recommend'it, as it has of the town.
It is neither of the town nor country. The former, like the giant in
his travelling boots, has made a stride and passed it, and has set his
brick-and-mortar heel a long way in advance; but the intermediate
space between the giant's feet, as yet, is only blighted country, and
not town; and, here, among a few tall chimneys belching smoke all day
and night, and among the brick-fields and the lanes where turf is cut,
and where the fences tumble down, and where the dusty nettles grow,
and where a scrap or two of hedge may yet be seen, and where the
bird-catcher still comes occasionally, though he swears every time to
come no more - this second home is to be found.'
She who inhabits it, is she who left the first in her devotion to
an outcast brother. She withdrew from that home its redeeming spirit,
and from its master's breast his solitary angel: but though his liking
for her is gone, after this ungrateful slight as he considers it; and
though he abandons her altogether in return, an old idea of her is not
quite forgotten even by him. Let her flower-garden, in which he never
sets his foot, but which is yet maintained, among all his costly
alterations, as if she had quitted it but yesterday, bear witness!
Harriet Carker has changed since then, and on her beauty there has
fallen a heavier shade than Time of his unassisted self can cast,
all-potent as he is - the shadow of anxiety and sorrow, and the daily
struggle of a poor existence. But it is beauty still; and still a
gentle, quiet, and retiring beauty that must be sought out, for it
cannot vaunt itself; if it could, it would be what it is, no more.
Yes. This slight, small, patient figure, neatly dressed in homely
stuffs, and indicating nothing but the dull, household virtues, that
have so little in common with the received idea of heroism and
greatness, unless, indeed, any ray of them should shine through the
lives of the great ones of the earth, when it becomes a constellation
and is tracked in Heaven straightway - this slight, small, patient
figure, leaning on the man still young but worn and grey, is she, his
sister, who, of all the world, went over to him in his shame and put
her hand in his, and with a sweet composure and determination, led him
hopefully upon his barren way.
'It is early, John,' she said. 'Why do you go so early?'
'Not many minutes earlier than usual, Harriet. If I have the time
to spare, I should like, I think - it's a fancy - to walk once by the
house where I took leave of him.'
'I wish I had ever seen or known him, John.'
'It is better as it is, my dear, remembering his fate.'
'But I could not regret it more, though I had known him. Is not
your sorrow mine? And if I had, perhaps you would feel that I was a
better companion to you in speaking about him, than I may seem now.
'My dearest sister! Is there anything within the range of rejoicing
or regret, in which I am not sure of your companionship?'
'I hope you think not, John, for surely there is nothing!'
'How could you be better to me, or nearer to me then, than you are
in this, or anything?' said her brother. 'I feel that you did know
him, Harriet, and that you shared my feelings towards him.'
She drew the hand which had been resting on his shoulder, round his
neck, and answered, with some hesitation:
'No, not quite.'
'True, true!' he said; 'you think I might have done him no harm if
I had allowed myself to know him better?'
'Think! I know it.'
'Designedly, Heaven knows I would not,' he replied, shaking his
head mournfully; 'but his reputation was too precious to be perilled
by such association. Whether you share that knowledge, or do not, my
dear - '
'I do not,' she said quietly.
'It is still the truth, Harriet, and my mind is lighter when I
think of him for that which made it so much heavier then.' He checked
himself in his tone of melancholy, and smiled upon her as he said
'Good-bye, dear John! In the evening, at the old time and place, I
shall meet you as usual on your way home. Good-bye.'
The cordial face she lifted up to his to kiss him, was his home,
his life, his universe, and yet it was a portion of his punishment and
grief; for in the cloud he saw upon it - though serene and calm as any
radiant cloud at sunset - and in the constancy and devotion of her
life, and in the sacrifice she had made of ease, enjoyment, and hope,
he saw the bitter fruits of his old crime, for ever ripe and fresh.
She stood at the door looking after him, with her hands loosely
clasped in each other, as he made his way over the frowzy and uneven
patch of ground which lay before their house, which had once (and not
long ago) been a pleasant meadow, and was now a very waste, with a
disorderly crop of beginnings of mean houses, rising out of the
rubbish, as if they had been unskilfully sown there. Whenever he
looked back - as once or twice he did - her cordial face shone like a
light upon his heart; but when he plodded on his way, and saw her not,
the tears were in her eyes as she stood watching him.
Her pensive form was not long idle at the door. There was daily
duty to discharge, and daily work to do - for such commonplace spirits
that are not heroic, often work hard with their hands - and Harriet
was soon busy with her household tasks. These discharged, and the poor
house made quite neat and orderly, she counted her little stock of
money, with an anxious face, and went out thoughtfully to buy some
necessaries for their table, planning and conniving, as she went, how
to save. So sordid are the lives of such lo natures, who are not only
not heroic to their valets and waiting-women, but have neither valets
nor waiting-women to be heroic to withal!
While she was absent, and there was no one in the house, there
approached it by a different way from that the brother had taken, a
gentleman, a very little past his prime of life perhaps, but of a
healthy florid hue, an upright presence, and a bright clear aspect,
that was gracious and good-humoured. His eyebrows were still black,
and so was much of his hair; the sprinkling of grey observable among
the latter, graced the former very much, and showed his broad frank
brow and honest eyes to great advantage.
After knocking once at the door, and obtaining no response, this
gentleman sat down on a bench in the little porch to wait. A certain
skilful action of his fingers as he hummed some bars, and beat time on
the seat beside him, seemed to denote the musician; and the
extraordinary satisfaction he derived from humming something very slow
and long, which had no recognisable tune, seemed to denote that he was
a scientific one.
The gentleman was still twirlIng a theme, which seemed to go round
and round and round, and in and in and in, and to involve itself like
a corkscrew twirled upon a table, without getting any nearer to
anything, when Harriet appeared returning. He rose up as she advanced,
and stood with his head uncovered.
'You are come again, Sir!' she said, faltering.
'I take that liberty,' he answered. 'May I ask for five minutes of
After a moment's hesitation, she opened the door, and gave him
admission to the little parlour. The gentleman sat down there, drew
his chair to the table over against her, and said, in a voice that
perfectly corresponded to his appearance, and with a simplicity that
was very engaging:
'Miss Harriet, you cannot be proud. You signified to me, when I
called t'other morning, that you were. Pardon me if I say that I
looked into your face while you spoke, and that it contradicted you. I
look into it again,' he added, laying his hand gently on her arm, for
an instant, 'and it contradicts you more and more.'
She was somewhat confused and agitated, and could make no ready
'It is the mirror of truth,' said her visitor, 'and gentleness.
Excuse my trusting to it, and returning.'
His manner of saying these words, divested them entirely of the
character of compliments. It was so plain, grave, unaffected, and
sincere, that she bent her head, as if at once to thank him, and
acknowledge his sincerity.
'The disparity between our ages,' said the gentleman, 'and the
plainness of my purpose, empower me, I am glad to think, to speak my
mind. That is my mind; and so you see me for the second time.'
'There is a kind of pride, Sir,' she returned, after a moment's
silence, 'or what may be supposed to be pride, which is mere duty. I
hope I cherish no other.'
'For yourself,' he said.
'But - pardon me - ' suggested the gentleman. 'For your brother
'Proud of his love, I am,' said Harriet, looking full upon her
visitor, and changing her manner on the instant - not that it was less
composed and quiet, but that there was a deep impassioned earnestness
in it that made the very tremble in her voice a part of her firmness,
'and proud of him. Sir, you who strangely know the story of his life,
and repeated it to me when you were here last - '
'Merely to make my way into your confidence,' interposed the
gentleman. 'For heaven's sake, don't suppose - '
'I am sure,' she said, 'you revived it, in my hearing, with a kind
and good purpose. I am quite sure of it.'
'I thank you,' returned her visitor, pressing her hand hastily. 'I
am much obliged to you. You do me justice, I assure you. You were
going to say, that I, who know the story of John Carker's life - '
'May think it pride in me,' she continued, 'when I say that I am
proud of him! I am. You know the time was, when I was not - when I
could not be - but that is past. The humility of many years, the
uncomplaining expiation, the true repentance, the terrible regret, the
pain I know he has even in my affection, which he thinks has cost me
dear, though Heaven knows I am happy, but for his sorrow I - oh, Sir,
after what I have seen, let me conjure you, if you are in any place of
power, and are ever wronged, never, for any wrong, inflict a
punishment that cannot be recalled; while there is a GOD above us to
work changes in the hearts He made.'
'Your brother is an altered man,' returned the gentleman,
compassionately. 'I assure you I don't doubt it.'
'He was an altered man when he did wrong,' said Harriet. 'He is an
altered man again, and is his true self now, believe me, Sir.'
'But we go on, said her visitor, rubbing his forehead, in an absent
manner, with his hand, and then drumming thoughtfully on the table,
'we go on in our clockwork routine, from day to day, and can't make
out, or follow, these changes. They - they're a metaphysical sort of
thing. We - we haven't leisure for it. We - we haven't courage.
They're not taught at schools or colleges, and we don't know how to
set about it. In short, we are so d-------d business-like,' said the
gentleman, walking to the window, and back, and sitting down again, in
a state of extreme dissatisfaction and vexation.
'I am sure,' said the gentleman, rubbing his forehead again; and
drumming on the table as before, 'I have good reason to believe that a
jog-trot life, the same from day to day, would reconcile one to
anything. One don't see anything, one don't hear anything, one don't
know anything; that's the fact. We go on taking everything for
granted, and so we go on, until whatever we do, good, bad, or
indifferent, we do from habit. Habit is all I shall have to report,
when I am called upon to plead to my conscience, on my death-bed.
''Habit," says I; ''I was deaf, dumb, blind, and paralytic, to a
million things, from habit." ''Very business-like indeed, Mr
What's-your-name,' says Conscience, ''but it won't do here!"'
The gentleman got up and walked to the window again and back:
seriously uneasy, though giving his uneasiness this peculiar
'Miss Harriet,' he said, resuming his chair, 'I wish you would let
me serve you. Look at me; I ought to look honest, for I know I am so,
at present. Do I?'
'Yes,' she answered with a smile.
'I believe every word you have said,' he returned. 'I am full of
self-reproach that I might have known this and seen this, and known
you and seen you, any time these dozen years, and that I never have. I
hardly know how I ever got here - creature that I am, not only of my
own habit, but of other people'sl But having done so, let me do
something. I ask it in all honour and respect. You inspire me with
both, in the highest degree. Let me do something.'
'We are contented, Sir.'
'No, no, not quite,' returned the gentleman. 'I think not quite.
There are some little comforts that might smooth your life, and his.
And his!' he repeated, fancying that had made some impression on her.
'I have been in the habit of thinking that there was nothing wanting
to be done for him; that it was all settled and over; in short, of not
thinking at all about it. I am different now. Let me do something for
him. You too,' said the visitor, with careful delicacy, 'have need to
watch your health closely, for his sake, and I fear it fails.'
'Whoever you may be, Sir,' answered Harriet, raising her eyes to
his face, 'I am deeply grateful to you. I feel certain that in all you
say, you have no object in the world but kindness to us. But years
have passed since we began this life; and to take from my brother any
part of what has so endeared him to me, and so proved his better
resolution - any fragment of the merit of his unassisted, obscure, and
forgotten reparation - would be to diminish the comfort it will be to
him and me, when that time comes to each of us, of which you spoke
just now. I thank you better with these tears than any words. Believe
The gentleman was moved, and put the hand she held out, to his
lips, much as a tender father might kiss the hand of a dutiful child.
But more reverently.
'If the day should ever come, said Harriet, 'when he is restored,
in part, to the position he lost - '
'Restored!' cried the gentleman, quickly. 'How can that be hoped
for? In whose hands does the power of any restoration lie? It is no
mistake of mine, surely, to suppose that his having gained the
priceless blessing of his life, is one cause of the animosity shown to
him by his brother.'
'You touch upon a subject that is never breathed between us; not
even between us,' said Harriet.
'I beg your forgiveness,' said the visitor. 'I should have known
it. I entreat you to forget that I have done so, inadvertently. And
now, as I dare urge no more - as I am not sure that I have a right to
do so - though Heaven knows, even that doubt may be habit,' said the
gentleman, rubbing his head, as despondently as before, 'let me;
though a stranger, yet no stranger; ask two favours.'
'What are they?' she inquired.
'The first, that if you should see cause to change your resolution,
you will suffer me to be as your right hand. My name shall then be at
your service; it is useless now, and always insignificant.'
'Our choice of friends,' she answered, smiling faintly, 'is not so
great, that I need any time for consideration. I can promise that.'
'The second, that you will allow me sometimes, say every Monday
morning, at nine o'clock - habit again - I must be businesslike,' said
the gentleman, with a whimsical inclination to quarrel with himself on
that head, 'in walking past, to see you at the door or window. I don't
ask to come in, as your brother will be gone out at that hour. I don't
ask to speak to you. I merely ask to see, for the satisfaction of my
own mind, that you are well, and without intrusion to remind you, by
the sight of me, that you have a friend - an elderly friend,
grey-haired already, and fast growing greyer - whom you may ever
The cordial face looked up in his; confided in it; and promised.
'I understand, as before,' said the gentleman, rising, 'that you
purpose not to mention my visit to John Carker, lest he should be at
all distressed by my acquaintance with his history. I am glad of it,
for it is out of the ordinary course of things, and - habit again!'
said the gentleman, checking himself impatiently, 'as if there were no
better course than the ordinary course!'
With that he turned to go, and walking, bareheaded, to the outside
of the little porch, took leave of her with such a happy mixture of
unconstrained respect and unaffected interest, as no breeding could
have taught, no truth mistrusted, and nothing but a pure and single
Many half-forgotten emotions were awakened in the sister's mind by
this visit. It was so very long since any other visitor had crossed
their threshold; it was so very long since any voice of apathy had
made sad music in her ears; that the stranger's figure remained
present to her, hours afterwards, when she sat at the window, plying
her needle; and his words seemed newly spoken, again and again. He had
touched the spring that opened her whole life; and if she lost him for
a short space, it was only among the many shapes of the one great
recollection of which that life was made.
Musing and working by turns; now constraining herself to be steady
at her needle for a long time together, and now letting her work fall,
unregarded, on her lap, and straying wheresoever her busier thoughts
led, Harriet Carker found the hours glide by her, and the day steal
on. The morning, which had been bright and clear, gradually became
overcast; a sharp wind set in; the rain fell heavily; and a dark mist
drooping over the distant town, hid it from the view.
She often looked with compassion, at such a time, upon the
stragglers who came wandering into London, by the great highway hard
by, and who, footsore and weary, and gazing fearfully at the huge town
before them, as if foreboding that their misery there would be but as
a drop of water in the sea, or as a grain of sea-sand on the shore,
went shrinking on, cowering before the angry weather, and looking as
if the very elements rejected them. Day after day, such travellers
crept past, but always, as she thought, In one direction - always
towards the town. Swallowed up in one phase or other of its immensity,
towards which they seemed impelled by a desperate fascination, they
never returned. Food for the hospitals, the churchyards, the prisons,
the river, fever, madness, vice, and death, - they passed on to the
monster, roaring in the distance, and were lost.
The chill wind was howling, and the rain was falling, and the day
was darkening moodily, when Harriet, raising her eyes from the work on
which she had long since been engaged with unremitting constancy, saw
one of these travellers approaching.
A woman. A solitary woman of some thirty years of age; tall;
well-formed; handsome; miserably dressed; the soil of many country
roads in varied weather - dust, chalk, clay, gravel - clotted on her
grey cloak by the streaming wet; no bonnet on her head, nothing to
defend her rich black hair from the rain, but a torn handkerchief;
with the fluttering ends of which, and with her hair, the wind blinded
her so that she often stopped to push them back, and look upon the way
she was going.
She was in the act of doing so, when Harriet observed her. As her
hands, parting on her sunburnt forehead, swept across her face, and
threw aside the hindrances that encroached upon it, there was a
reckless and regardless beauty in it: a dauntless and depraved
indifference to more than weather: a carelessness of what was cast
upon her bare head from Heaven or earth: that, coupled with her misery
and loneliness, touched the heart of her fellow-woman. She thought of
all that was perverted and debased within her, no less than without:
of modest graces of the mind, hardened and steeled, like these
attractions of the person; of the many gifts of the Creator flung to
the winds like the wild hair; of all the beautiful ruin upon which the
storm was beating and the night was coming.
Thinking of this, she did not turn away with a delicate indignation
- too many of her own compassionate and tender sex too often do - but
Her fallen sister came on, looking far before her, trying with her
eager eyes to pierce the mist in which the city was enshrouded, and
glancing, now and then, from side to side, with the bewildered - and
uncertain aspect of a stranger. Though her tread was bold and
courageous, she was fatigued, and after a moment of irresolution, -
sat down upon a heap of stones; seeking no shelter from the rain, but
letting it rain on her as it would.
She was now opposite the house; raising her head after resting it
for a moment on both hands, her eyes met those of Harriet.
In a moment, Harriet was at the door; and the other, rising from
her seat at her beck, came slowly, and with no conciliatory look,
'Why do you rest in the rain?' said Harriet, gently.
'Because I have no other resting-place,' was the reply.
'But there are many places of shelter near here. This,' referring
to the little porch, 'is better than where you were. You are very
welcome to rest here.'
The wanderer looked at her, in doubt and surprise, but without any
expression of thankfulness; and sitting down, and taking off one of
her worn shoes to beat out the fragments of stone and dust that were
inside, showed that her foot was cut and bleeding.
Harriet uttering an expression of pity, the traveller looked up
with a contemptuous and incredulous smile.
'Why, what's a torn foot to such as me?' she said. 'And what's a
torn foot in such as me, to such as you?'
'Come in and wash it,' answered Harriet, mildly, 'and let me give
you something to bind it up.'
The woman caught her arm, and drawing it before her own eyes, hid
them against it, and wept. Not like a woman, but like a stern man
surprised into that weakness; with a violent heaving of her breast,
and struggle for recovery, that showed how unusual the emotion was
She submitted to be led into the house, and, evidently more in
gratitude than in any care for herself, washed and bound the injured
place. Harriet then put before her fragments of her own frugal dinner,
and when she had eaten of them, though sparingly, besought her, before
resuming her road (which she showed her anxiety to do), to dry her
clothes before the fire. Again, more in gratitude than with any
evidence of concern in her own behalf, she sat down in front of it,
and unbinding the handkerchief about her head, and letting her thick
wet hair fall down below her waist, sat drying it with the palms of
her hands, and looking at the blaze.
'I daresay you are thinking,' she said, lifting her head suddenly,
'that I used to be handsome, once. I believe I was - I know I was -
Look here!' She held up her hair roughly with both hands; seizing it
as if she would have torn it out; then, threw it down again, and flung
it back as though it were a heap of serpents.
'Are you a stranger in this place?' asked Harriet.
'A stranger!' she returned, stopping between each short reply, and
looking at the fire. 'Yes. Ten or a dozen years a stranger. I have had
no almanack where I have been. Ten or a dozen years. I don't know this
part. It's much altered since I went away.'
'Have you been far?'
'Very far. Months upon months over the sea, and far away even then.
I have been where convicts go,' she added, looking full upon her
entertainer. 'I have been one myself.'
'Heaven help you and forgive you!' was the gentle answer.
'Ah! Heaven help me and forgive me!' she returned, nodding her head
at the fire. 'If man would help some of us a little more, God would
forgive us all the sooner perhaps.'
But she was softened by the earnest manner, and the cordial face so
full of mildness and so free from judgment, of her, and said, less
'We may be about the same age, you and me. If I am older, it is not
above a year or two. Oh think of that!'
She opened her arms, as though the exhibition of her outward form
would show the moral wretch she was; and letting them drop at her
sides, hung down her head.
'There is nothing we may not hope to repair; it is never too late
to amend,' said Harriet. 'You are penitent
'No,' she answered. 'I am not! I can't be. I am no such thing. Why
should I be penitent, and all the world go free? They talk to me of my
penitence. Who's penitent for the wrongs that have been done to me?'
She rose up, bound her handkerchief about her head, and turned to
'Where are you going?' said Harriet.
'Yonder,' she answered, pointing with her hand. 'To London.'
'Have you any home to go to?'
'I think I have a mother. She's as much a mother, as her dwelling
is a home,' she answered with a bitter laugh.
'Take this,' cried Harriet, putting money in her hand. 'Try to do
well. It is very little, but for one day it may keep you from harm.'
'Are you married?' said the other, faintly, as she took it.
'No. I live here with my brother. We have not much to spare, or I
would give you more.'
'Will you let me kiss you?'
Seeing no scorn or repugnance in her face, the object of her
charity bent over her as she asked the question, and pressed her lips
against her cheek. Once more she caught her arm, and covered her eyes
with it; and then was gone.
Gone into the deepening night, and howling wind, and pelting rain;
urging her way on towards the mist-enshrouded city where the blurred
lights gleamed; and with her black hair, and disordered head-gear,
fluttering round her reckless face.
Another Mother and Daughter
In an ugly and dark room, an old woman, ugly and dark too, sat
listening to the wind and rain, and crouching over a meagre fire. More
constant to the last-named occupation than the first, she never
changed her attitude, unless, when any stray drops of rain fell
hissing on the smouldering embers, to raise her head with an awakened
attention to the whistling and pattering outside, and gradually to let
it fall again lower and lower and lower as she sunk into a brooding
state of thought, in which the noises of the night were as
indistinctly regarded as is the monotonous rolling of a sea by one who
sits in contemplation on its shore.
There was no light in the room save that which the fire afforded.
Glaring sullenly from time to time like the eye of a fierce beast half
asleep, it revealed no objects that needed to be jealous of a better
display. A heap of rags, a heap of bones, a wretched bed, two or three
mutilated chairs or stools, the black walls and blacker ceiling, were
all its winking brightness shone upon. As the old woman, with a
gigantic and distorted image of herself thrown half upon the wall
behind her, half upon the roof above, sat bending over the few loose
bricks within which it was pent, on the damp hearth of the chimney -
for there was no stove - she looked as if she were watching at some
witch's altar for a favourable token; and but that the movement of her
chattering jaws and trembling chin was too frequent and too fast for
the slow flickering of the fire, it would have seemed an illusion
wrought by the light, as it came and went, upon a face as motionless
as the form to which it belonged.
If Florence could have stood within the room and looked upon the
original of the shadow thrown upon the wall and roof as it cowered
thus over the fire, a glance might have sufficed to recall the figure
of Good Mrs Brown; notwithstanding that her childish recollection of
that terrible old woman was as grotesque and exaggerated a presentment
of the truth, perhaps, as the shadow on the wall. But Florence was not
there to look on; and Good Mrs Brown remained unrecognised, and sat
staring at her fire, unobserved.
Attracted by a louder sputtering than usual, as the rain came
hissing down the chimney in a little stream, the old woman raised her
head, impatiently, to listen afresh. And this time she did not drop it
again; for there was a hand upon the door, and a footstep in the room.
'Who's that?' she said, looking over her shoulder.
'One who brings you news, was the answer, in a woman's voice.
'News? Where from?'
'From beyond seas?' cried the old woman, starting up.
'Ay, from beyond seas.'
The old woman raked the fire together, hurriedly, and going close
to her visitor who had entered, and shut the door, and who now stood
in the middle of the room, put her hand upon the drenched cloak, and
turned the unresisting figure, so as to have it in the full light of
the fire. She did not find what she had expected, whatever that might
be; for she let the cloak go again, and uttered a querulous cry of
disappointment and misery.
'What is the matter?' asked her visitor.
'Oho! Oho!' cried the old woman, turning her face upward, with a
'What is the matter?' asked the visitor again.
'It's not my gal!' cried the old woman, tossing up her arms, and
clasping her hands above her head. 'Where's my Alice? Where's my
handsome daughter? They've been the death of her!'
'They've not been the death of her yet, if your name's Marwood,'
said the visitor.
'Have you seen my gal, then?' cried the old woman. 'Has she wrote
'She said you couldn't read,' returned the other.
'No more I can!' exclaimed the old woman, wringing her hands.
'Have you no light here?' said the other, looking round the room.
The old woman, mumbling and shaking her head, and muttering to
herself about her handsome daughter, brought a candle from a cupboard
in the corner, and thrusting it into the fire with a trembling hand,
lighted it with some difficulty and set it on the table. Its dirty
wick burnt dimly at first, being choked in its own grease; and when
the bleared eyes and failing sight of the old woman could distinguish
anything by its light, her visitor was sitting with her arms folded,
her eyes turned downwards, and a handkerchief she had worn upon her
head lying on the table by her side.
'She sent to me by word of mouth then, my gal, Alice?' mumbled the
old woman, after waiting for some moments. 'What did she say?'
'Look,' returned the visitor.
The old woman repeated the word in a scared uncertain way; and,
shading her eyes, looked at the speaker, round the room, and at the
speaker once again.
'Alice said look again, mother;' and the speaker fixed her eyes
Again the old woman looked round the room, and at her visitor, and
round the room once more. Hastily seizing the candle, and rising from
her seat, she held it to the visitor's face, uttered a loud cry, set
down the light, and fell upon her neck!
'It's my gal! It's my Alice! It's my handsome daughter, living and
come back!' screamed the old woman, rocking herself to and fro upon
the breast that coldly suffered her embrace. 'It's my gal! It's my
Alice! It's my handsome daughter, living and come back!' she screamed
again, dropping on the floor before her, clasping her knees, laying
her head against them, and still rocking herself to and fro with every
frantic demonstration of which her vitality was capable.
'Yes, mother,' returned Alice, stooping forward for a moment and
kissing her, but endeavouring, even in the act, to disengage herself
from her embrace. 'I am here, at last. Let go, mother; let go. Get up,
and sit in your chair. What good does this do?'
'She's come back harder than she went!' cried the mother, looking
up in her face, and still holding to her knees. 'She don't care for
me! after all these years, and all the wretched life I've led!'
'Why> mother!' said Alice, shaking her ragged skirts to detach the
old woman from them: 'there are two sides to that. There have been
years for me as well as you, and there has been wretchedness for me as
well as you. Get up, get up!'
Her mother rose, and cried, and wrung her hands, and stood at a
little distance gazing on her. Then she took the candle again, and
going round her, surveyed her from head to foot, making a low moaning
all the time. Then she put the candle down, resumed her chair, and
beating her hands together to a kind of weary tune, and rolling
herself from side to side, continued moaning and wailing to herself.
Alice got up, took off her wet cloak, and laid it aside. That done,
she sat down as before, and with her arms folded, and her eyes gazing
at the fire, remained silently listening with a contemptuous face to
her old mother's inarticulate complainings.
'Did you expect to see me return as youthful as I went away,
mother?' she said at length, turning her eyes upon the old woman. 'Did
you think a foreign life, like mine, was good for good looks? One
would believe so, to hear you!'
'It ain't that!' cried the mother. 'She knows it!'
'What is it then?' returned the daughter. 'It had best be something
that don't last, mother, or my way out is easier than my way in.
'Hear that!' exclaimed the mother. 'After all these years she
threatens to desert me in the moment of her coming back again!'
'I tell you, mother, for the second time, there have been years for
me as well as you,' said Alice. 'Come back harder? Of course I have
come back harder. What else did you expect?'
'Harder to me! To her own dear mother!' cried the old woman
'I don't know who began to harden me, if my own dear mother
didn't,' she returned, sitting with her folded arms, and knitted
brows, and compressed lips as if she were bent on excluding, by force,
every softer feeling from her breast. 'Listen, mother, to a word or
two. If we understand each other now, we shall not fall out any more,
perhaps. I went away a girl, and have come back a woman. I went away
undutiful enough, and have come back no better, you may swear. But
have you been very dutiful to me?'
'I!' cried the old woman. 'To my gal! A mother dutiful to her own
'It sounds unnatural, don't it?' returned the daughter, looking
coldly on her with her stern, regardless, hardy, beautiful face; 'but
I have thought of it sometimes, in the course of my lone years, till I
have got used to it. I have heard some talk about duty first and last;
but it has always been of my duty to other people. I have wondered now
and then - to pass away the time - whether no one ever owed any duty
Her mother sat mowing, and mumbling, and shaking her head, but
whether angrily or remorsefully, or in denial, or only in her physical
infirmity, did not appear.
'There was a child called Alice Marwood,' said the daughter, with a
laugh, and looking down at herself in terrible derision of herself,
'born, among poverty and neglect, and nursed in it. Nobody taught her,
nobody stepped forward to help her, nobody cared for her.'
'Nobody!' echoed the mother, pointing to herself, and striking her
'The only care she knew,' returned the daughter, 'was to be beaten,
and stinted, and abused sometimes; and she might have done better
without that. She lived in homes like this, and in the streets, with a
crowd of little wretches like herself; and yet she brought good looks
out of this childhood. So much the worse for her. She had better have
been hunted and worried to death for ugliness.'
'Go on! go on!' exclaimed the mother.
'I am going on,' returned the daughter. 'There was a girl called
Alice Marwood. She was handsome. She was taught too late, and taught
all wrong. She was too well cared for, too well trained, too well
helped on, too much looked after. You were very fond of her - you were
better off then. What came to that girl comes to thousands every year.
It was only ruin, and she was born to it.'
'After all these years!' whined the old woman. 'My gal begins with
'She'll soon have ended,' said the daughter. 'There was a criminal
called Alice Marwood - a girl still, but deserted and an outcast. And
she was tried, and she was sentenced. And lord, how the gentlemen in
the Court talked about it! and how grave the judge was on her duty,
and on her having perverted the gifts of nature - as if he didn't know
better than anybody there, that they had been made curses to her! -
and how he preached about the strong arm of the Law - so very strong
to save her, when she was an innocent and helpless little wretch! -
and how solemn and religious it all was! I have thought of that, many
times since, to be sure!'
She folded her arms tightly on her breast, and laughed in a tone
that made the howl of the old woman musical.
'So Alice Marwood was transported, mother,' she pursued, 'and was
sent to learn her duty, where there was twenty times less duty, and
more wickedness, and wrong, and infamy, than here. And Alice Marwood
is come back a woman. Such a woman as she ought to be, after all this.
In good time, there will be more solemnity, and more fine talk, and
more strong arm, most likely, and there will be an end of her; but the
gentlemen needn't be afraid of being thrown out of work. There's
crowds of little wretches, boy and girl, growing up in any of the
streets they live in, that'll keep them to it till they've made their
The old woman leaned her elbows on the table, and resting her face
upon her two hands, made a show of being in great distress - or really
'There! I have done, mother,' said the daughter, with a motion of
her head, as if in dismissal of the subject. 'I have said enough.
Don't let you and I talk of being dutiful, whatever we do. Your
childhood was like mine, I suppose. So much the worse for both of us.
I don't want to blame you, or to defend myself; why should I? That's
all over long ago. But I am a woman - not a girl, now - and you and I
needn't make a show of our history, like the gentlemen in the Court.
We know all about it, well enough.'
Lost and degraded as she was, there was a beauty in her, both of
face and form, which, even in its worst expression, could not but be
recognised as such by anyone regarding her with the least attention.
As she subsided into silence, and her face which had been harshly
agitated, quieted down; while her dark eyes, fixed upon the fire,
exchanged the reckless light that had animated them, for one that was
softened by something like sorrow; there shone through all her wayworn
misery and fatigue, a ray of the departed radiance of the fallen
Her mother, after watching her for some time without speaking,
ventured to steal her withered hand a little nearer to her across the
table; and finding that she permitted this, to touch her face, and
smooth her hair. With the feeling, as it seemed, that the old woman
was at least sincere in this show of interest, Alice made no movement
to check her; so, advancing by degrees, she bound up her daughter's
hair afresh, took off her wet shoes, if they deserved the name, spread
something dry upon her shoulders, and hovered humbly about her,
muttering to herself, as she recognised her old features and
expression more and more.
'You are very poor, mother, I see,' said Alice, looking round, when
she had sat thus for some time.
'Bitter poor, my deary,' replied the old woman.
She admired her daughter, and was afraid of her. Perhaps her
admiration, such as it was, had originated long ago, when she first
found anything that was beautiful appearing in the midst of the
squalid fight of her existence. Perhaps her fear was referable, in
some sort, to the retrospect she had so lately heard. Be this as it
might, she stood, submissively and deferentially, before her child,
and inclined her head, as if in a pitiful entreaty to be spared any
'How have you lived?'
'By begging, my deary.
'And pilfering, mother?'
'Sometimes, Ally - in a very small way. I am old and timid. I have
taken trifles from children now and then, my deary, but not often. I
have tramped about the country, pet, and I know what I know. I have
'Watched?' returned the daughter, looking at her.
'I have hung about a family, my deary,' said the mother, even more
humbly and submissively than before.
'Hush, darling. Don't be angry with me. I did it for the love of
you. In memory of my poor gal beyond seas.' She put out her hand
deprecatingly, and drawing it back again, laid it on her lips.
'Years ago, my deary,' she pursued, glancing timidly at the
attentive and stem face opposed to her, 'I came across his little
child, by chance.'
'Not his, Alice deary; don't look at me like that; not his. How
could it be his? You know he has none.'
'Whose then?' returned the daughter. 'You said his.'
'Hush, Ally; you frighten me, deary. Mr Dombey's - only Mr
Dombey's. Since then, darling, I have seen them often. I have seen
In uttering this last word, the old woman shrunk and recoiled, as
if with sudden fear that her daughter would strike her. But though the
daughter's face was fixed upon her, and expressed the most vehement
passion, she remained still: except that she clenched her arms tighter
and tighter within each other, on her bosom, as if to restrain them by
that means from doing an injury to herself, or someone else, in the
blind fury of the wrath that suddenly possessed her.
'Little he thought who I was!' said the old woman, shaking her
'And little he cared!' muttered her daughter, between her teeth.
'But there we were, said the old woman, 'face to face. I spoke to
him, and he spoke to me. I sat and watched him as he went away down a
long grove of trees: and at every step he took, I cursed him soul and
'He will thrive in spite of that,' returned the daughter
'Ay, he is thriving,' said the mother.
She held her peace; for the face and form before her were unshaped
by rage. It seemed as if the bosom would burst with the emotions that
strove within it. The effort that constrained and held it pent up, was
no less formidable than the rage itself: no less bespeaking the
violent and dangerous character of the woman who made it. But it
succeeded, and she asked, after a silence:
'Is he married?'
'No, deary,' said the mother.
'Going to be?'
'Not that I know of, deary. But his master and friend is married.
Oh, we may give him joy! We may give 'em all joy!' cried the old
woman, hugging herself with her lean arms in her exultation. 'Nothing
but joy to us will come of that marriage. Mind met'
The daughter looked at her for an explanation.
'But you are wet and tired; hungry and thirsty,' said the old
woman, hobbling to the cupboard; 'and there's little here, and little'
- diving down into her pocket, and jingling a few half- pence on the
table - 'little here. Have you any money, Alice, deary?'
The covetous, sharp, eager face, with which she 'asked the question
and looked on, as her daughter took out of her bosom the little gift
she had so lately received, told almost as much of the history of this
parent and child as the child herself had told in words.
'Is that all?' said the mother.
'I have no more. I should not have this, but for charity.'
'But for charity, eh, deary?' said the old woman, bending greedily
over the table to look at the money, which she appeared distrustful of
her daughter's still retaining in her hand, and gazing on. 'Humph! six
and six is twelve, and six eighteen - so - we must make the most of
it. I'll go buy something to eat and drink.'
With greater alacrity than might have been expected in one of her
appearance - for age and misery seemed to have made her as decrepit as
ugly - she began to occupy her trembling hands in tying an old bonnet
on her head, and folding a torn shawl about herself: still eyeing the
money in her daughter's hand, with the same sharp desire.
'What joy is to come to us of this marriage, mother?' asked the
daughter. 'You have not told me that.'
'The joy,' she replied, attiring herself, with fumbling fingers,
'of no love at all, and much pride and hate, my deary. The joy of
confusion and strife among 'em, proud as they are, and of danger -
'I have seen what I have seen. I know what I know!' chuckled the
mother. 'Let some look to it. Let some be upon their guard. My gal may
keep good company yet!'
Then, seeing that in the wondering earnestness with which her
daughter regarded her, her hand involuntarily closed upon the money,
the old woman made more speed to secure it, and hurriedly added, 'but
I'll go buy something; I'll go buy something.'
As she stood with her hand stretched out before her daughter, her
daughter, glancing again at the money, put it to her lips before
parting with it.
'What, Ally! Do you kiss it?' chuckled the old woman. 'That's like
me - I often do. Oh, it's so good to us!' squeezing her own tarnished
halfpence up to her bag of a throat, 'so good to us in everything but
not coming in heaps!'
'I kiss it, mother,' said the daughter, 'or I did then - I don't
know that I ever did before - for the giver's sake.'
'The giver, eh, deary?' retorted the old woman, whose dimmed eyes
glistened as she took it. 'Ay! I'll kiss it for the giver's sake, too,
when the giver can make it go farther. But I'll go spend it, deary.
I'll be back directly.'
'You seem to say you know a great deal, mother,' said the daughter,
following her to the door with her eyes. 'You have grown very wise
since we parted.'
'Know!' croaked the old woman, coming back a step or two, 'I know
more than you think I know more than he thinks, deary, as I'll tell
you by and bye. I know all'
The daughter smiled incredulously.
'I know of his brother, Alice,' said the old woman, stretching out
her neck with a leer of malice absolutely frightful, 'who might have
been where you have been - for stealing money - and who lives with his
sister, over yonder, by the north road out of London.'
'By the north road out of London, deary. You shall see the house if
you like. It ain't much to boast of, genteel as his own is. No, no,
no,' cried the old woman, shaking her head and laughing; for her
daughter had started up, 'not now; it's too far off; it's by the
milestone, where the stones are heaped; - to-morrow, deary, if it's
fine, and you are in the humour. But I'll go spend - '
'Stop!' and the daughter flung herself upon her, with her former
passion raging like a fire. 'The sister is a fair-faced Devil, with
The old woman, amazed and terrified, nodded her head.
'I see the shadow of him in her face! It's a red house standing by
itself. Before the door there is a small green porch.'
Again the old woman nodded.
'In which I sat to-day! Give me back the money.'
'Give me back the money, or you'll be hurt.'
She forced it from the old woman's hand as she spoke, and utterly
indifferent to her complainings and entreaties, threw on the garments
she had taken off, and hurried out, with headlong speed.
The mother followed, limping after her as she could, and
expostulating with no more effect upon her than upon the wind and rain
and darkness that encompassed them. Obdurate and fierce in her own
purpose, and indifferent to all besides, the daughter defied the
weather and the distance, as if she had known no travel or fatigue,
and made for the house where she had been relieved. After some quarter
of an hour's walking, the old woman, spent and out of breath, ventured
to hold by her skirts; but she ventured no more, and they travelled on
in silence through the wet and gloom. If the mother now and then
uttered a word of complaint, she stifled it lest her daughter should
break away from her and leave her behind; and the daughter was dumb.
It was within an hour or so of midnight, when they left the regular
streets behind them, and entered on the deeper gloom of that neutral
ground where the house was situated. The town lay in the distance,
lurid and lowering; the bleak wind howled over the open space; all
around was black, wild, desolate.
'This is a fit place for me!' said the daughter, stopping to look
back. 'I thought so, when I was here before, to-day.'
'Alice, my deary,' cried the mother, pulling her gently by the
'What now, mother?'
'Don't give the money back, my darling; please don't. We can't
afford it. We want supper, deary. Money is money, whoever gives it.
Say what you will, but keep the money.'
'See there!' was all the daughter's answer. 'That is the house I
mean. Is that it?'
The old woman nodded in the affirmative; and a few more paces
brought them to the threshold. There was the light of fire and candle
in the room where Alice had sat to dry her clothes; and on her
knocking at the door, John Carker appeared from that room.
He was surprised to see such visitors at such an hour, and asked
Alice what she wanted.
'I want your sister,' she said. 'The woman who gave me money
At the sound of her raised voice, Harriet came out.
'Oh!' said Alice. 'You are here! Do you remember me?'
'Yes,' she answered, wondering.
The face that had humbled itself before her, looked on her now with
such invincible hatred and defiance; and the hand that had gently
touched her arm, was clenched with such a show of evil purpose, as if
it would gladly strangle her; that she drew close to her brother for
'That I could speak with you, and not know you! That I could come
near you, and not feel what blood was running in your veins, by the
tingling of my own!' said Alice, with a menacing gesture.
'What do you mean? What have I done?'
'Done!' returned the other. 'You have sat me by your fire; you have
given me food and money; you have bestowed your compassion on me! You!
whose name I spit upon!'
The old woman, with a malevolence that made her uglIness quite
awful, shook her withered hand at the brother and sister in
confirmation of her daughter, but plucked her by the skirts again,
nevertheless, imploring her to keep the money.
'If I dropped a tear upon your hand, may it wither it up! If I
spoke a gentle word in your hearing, may it deafen you! If I touched
you with my lips, may the touch be poison to you! A curse upon this
roof that gave me shelter! Sorrow and shame upon your head! Ruin upon
all belonging to you!'
As she said the words, she threw the money down upon the ground,
and spurned it with her foot.
'I tread it in the dust: I wouldn't take it if it paved my way to
Heaven! I would the bleeding foot that brought me here to-day, had
rotted off, before it led me to your house!'
Harriet, pale and trembling, restrained her brother, and suffered
her to go on uninterrupted.
'It was well that I should be pitied and forgiven by you, or anyone
of your name, in the first hour of my return! It was well that you
should act the kind good lady to me! I'll thank you when I die; I'll
pray for you, and all your race, you may be sure!'
With a fierce action of her hand, as if she sprinkled hatred on the
ground, and with it devoted those who were standing there to
destruction, she looked up once at the black sky, and strode out into
the wild night.
The mother, who had plucked at her skirts again and again in vain,
and had eyed the money lying on the threshold with an absorbing greed
that seemed to concentrate her faculties upon it, would have prowled
about, until the house was dark, and then groped in the mire on the
chance of repossessing herself of it. But the daughter drew her away,
and they set forth, straight, on their return to their dwelling; the
old woman whimpering and bemoaning their loss upon the road, and
fretfully bewailing, as openly as she dared, the undutiful conduct of
her handsome girl in depriving her of a supper, on the very first
night of their reunion.
Supperless to bed she went, saving for a few coarse fragments; and
those she sat mumbling and munching over a scrap of fire, long after
her undutiful daughter lay asleep.
Were this miserable mother, and this miserable daughter, only the
reduction to their lowest grade, of certain social vices sometimes
prevailing higher up? In this round world of many circles within
circles, do we make a weary journey from the high grade to the low, to
find at last that they lie close together, that the two extremes
touch, and that our journey's end is but our starting-place? Allowing
for great difference of stuff and texture, was the pattern of this
woof repeated among gentle blood at all?
Say, Edith Dombey! And Cleopatra, best of mothers, let us have your
The Happy Pair
The dark blot on the street is gone. Mr Dombey's mansion, if it be
a gap among the other houses any longer, is only so because it is not
to be vied with in its brightness, and haughtily casts them off. The
saying is, that home is home, be it never so homely. If it hold good
in the opposite contingency, and home is home be it never so stately,
what an altar to the Household Gods is raised up here!
Lights are sparkling in the windows this evening, and the ruddy
glow of fires is warm and bright upon the hangings and soft carpets,
and the dinner waits to be served, and the dinner-table is handsomely
set forth, though only for four persons, and the side board is
cumbrous with plate. It is the first time that the house has been
arranged for occupation since its late changes, and the happy pair are
looked for every minute.
Only second to the wedding morning, in the interest and expectation
it engenders among the household, is this evening of the coming home.
Mrs Perch is in the kitchen taking tea; and has made the tour of the
establishment, and priced the silks and damasks by the yard, and
exhausted every interjection in the dictionary and out of it
expressive of admiration and wonder. The upholsterer's foreman, who
has left his hat, with a pocket-handkerchief in it, both smelling
strongly of varnish, under a chair in the hall, lurks about the house,
gazing upwards at the cornices, and downward at the carpets, and
occasionally, in a silent transport of enjoyment, taking a rule out of
his pocket, and skirmishingly measuring expensive objects, with
unutterable feelings. Cook is in high spirits, and says give her a
place where there's plenty of company (as she'll bet you sixpence
there will be now), for she is of a lively disposition, and she always
was from a child, and she don't mind who knows it; which sentiment
elicits from the breast of Mrs Perch a responsive murmur of support
and approbation. All the housemaid hopes is, happiness for 'em - but
marriage is a lottery, and the more she thinks about it, the more she
feels the independence and the safety of a single life. Mr Towlinson
is saturnine and grim' and says that's his opinion too, and give him
War besides, and down with the French - for this young man has a
general impression that every foreigner is a Frenchman, and must be by
the laws of nature.
At each new sound of wheels, they all stop> whatever they are
saying, and listen; and more than once there is a general starting up
and a cry of 'Here they are!' But here they are not yet; and Cook
begins to mourn over the dinner, which has been put back twice, and
the upholsterer's foreman still goes lurking about the rooms,
undisturbed in his blissful reverie!
Florence is ready to receive her father and her new Mama Whether
the emotions that are throbbing in her breast originate In pleasure or
in pain, she hardly knows. But the fluttering heart sends added colour
to her cheeks, and brightness to her eyes; and they say downstairs,
drawing their heads together - for they always speak softly when they
speak of her - how beautiful Miss Florence looks to-night, and what a
sweet young lady she has grown, poor dear! A pause succeeds; and then
Cook, feeling, as president, that her sentiments are waited for,
wonders whether - and there stops. The housemaid wonders too, and so
does Mrs Perch, who has the happy social faculty of always wondering
when other people wonder, without being at all particular what she
wonders at. Mr Towlinson, who now descries an opportunity of bringing
down the spirits of the ladies to his own level, says wait and see; he
wishes some people were well out of this. Cook leads a sigh then, and
a murmur of 'Ah, it's a strange world, it is indeed!' and when it has
gone round the table, adds persuasively, 'but Miss Florence can't well
be the worse for any change, Tom.' Mr Towlinson's rejoinder, pregnant
with frightful meaning, is 'Oh, can't she though!' and sensible that a
mere man can scarcely be more prophetic, or improve upon that, he
holds his peace.
Mrs Skewton, prepared to greet her darling daughter and dear
son-in-law with open arms, is appropriately attired for that purpose
in a very youthful costume, with short sleeves. At present, however,
her ripe charms are blooming in the shade of her own apartments,
whence she had not emerged since she took possession of them a few
hours ago, and where she is fast growing fretful, on account of the
postponement of dinner. The maid who ought to be a skeleton, but is in
truth a buxom damsel, is, on the other hand, In a most amiable state:
considering her quarterly stipend much safer than heretofore, and
foreseeing a great improvement in her board and lodging.
Where are the happy pair, for whom this brave home is waiting? Do
steam, tide, wind, and horses, all abate their speed, to linger on
such happiness? Does the swarm of loves and graces hovering about them
retard their progress by its numbers? Are there so many flowers in
their happy path, that they can scarcely move along, without
entanglement in thornless roses, and sweetest briar?
They are here at last! The noise of wheels is heard, grows louder,
and a carriage drives up to the door! A thundering knock from the
obnoxious foreigner anticipates the rush of Mr Towlinson and party to
open it; and Mr Dombey and his bride alight, and walk in arm in arm.
'My sweetest Edith!' cries an agitated voice upon the stairs. 'My
dearest Dombey!' and the short sleeves wreath themselves about the
happy couple in turn, and embrace them.
Florence had come down to the hall too, but did not advance:
reserving her timid welcome until these nearer and dearer transports
should subside. But the eyes of Edith sought her out, upon the
threshold; and dismissing her sensitive parent with a slight kiss on
the cheek, she hurried on to Florence and embraced her.
'How do you do, Florence?' said Mr Dombey, putting out his hand.
As Florence, trembling, raised it to her lips, she met his glance.
The look was cold and distant enough, but it stirred her heart to
think that she observed in it something more of interest than he had
ever shown before. It even expressed a kind of faint surprise, and not
a disagreeable surprise, at sight of her. She dared not raise her eyes
to his any more; but she felt that he looked at her once again, and
not less favourably. Oh what a thrill of joy shot through her,
awakened by even this intangible and baseless confirmation of her hope
that she would learn to win him, through her new and beautiful Mama!
'You will not be long dressing, Mrs Dombey, I presume?' said Mr
'I shall be ready immediately.'
'Let them send up dinner in a quarter of an hour.'
With that Mr Dombey stalked away to his own dressing-room, and Mrs
Dombey went upstairs to hers. Mrs Skewton and Florence repaired to the
drawing-room, where that excellent mother considered it incumbent on
her to shed a few irrepressible tears, supposed to be forced from her
by her daughter's felicity; and which she was still drying, very
gingerly, with a laced corner of her pocket-handkerchief, when her
'And how, my dearest Dombey, did you find that delightfullest of
cities, Paris?' she asked, subduing her emotion.
'It was cold,' returned Mr Dombey.
'Gay as ever,' said Mrs Skewton, 'of course.
'Not particularly. I thought it dull,' said Mr Dombey.
'Fie, my dearest Dombey!' archly; 'dull!'
'It made that impression upon me, Madam,' said Mr Dombey, with
grave politeness. 'I believe Mrs Dombey found it dull too. She
mentioned once or twice that she thought it so.'
'Why, you naughty girl!' cried Mrs Skewton, rallying her dear
child, who now entered, 'what dreadfully heretical things have you
been saying about Paris?'
Edith raised her eyebrows with an air of weariness; and passing the
folding-doors which were thrown open to display the suite of rooms in
their new and handsome garniture, and barely glancing at them as she
passed, sat down by Florence.
'My dear Dombey,' said Mrs Skewton, 'how charmingly these people
have carried out every idea that we hinted. They have made a perfect
palace of the house, positively.'
'It is handsome,' said Mr Dombey, looking round. 'I directed that
no expense should be spared; and all that money could do, has been
done, I believe.'
'And what can it not do, dear Dombey?' observed Cleopatra.
'It is powerful, Madam,' said Mr Dombey.
He looked in his solemn way towards his wife, but not a word said
'I hope, Mrs Dombey,' addressing her after a moment's silence, with
especial distinctness; 'that these alterations meet with your
'They are as handsome as they can be,' she returned, with haughty
carelessness. 'They should be so, of' course. And I suppose they are.'
An expression of scorn was habitual to the proud face, and seemed
inseparable from it; but the contempt with which it received any
appeal to admiration, respect, or consideration on the ground of his
riches, no matter how slight or ordinary in itself, was a new and
different expression, unequalled in intensity by any other of which it
was capable. Whether Mr Dombey, wrapped in his own greatness, was at
all aware of this, or no, there had not been wanting opportunities
already for his complete enlightenment; and at that moment it might
have been effected by the one glance of the dark eye that lighted on
him, after it had rapidly and scornfully surveyed the theme of his
self-glorification. He might have read in that one glance that nothing
that his wealth could do, though it were increased ten thousand fold,
could win him for its own sake, one look of softened recognition from
the defiant woman, linked to him, but arrayed with her whole soul
against him. He might have read in that one glance that even for its
sordid and mercenary influence upon herself, she spurned it, while she
claimed its utmost power as her right, her bargain - as the base and
worthless recompense for which she had become his wife. He might have
read in it that, ever baring her own head for the lightning of her own
contempt and pride to strike, the most innocent allusion to the power
of his riches degraded her anew, sunk her deeper in her own respect,
and made the blight and waste within her more complete.
But dinner was announced, and Mr Dombey led down Cleopatra; Edith
and his daughter following. Sweeping past the gold and silver
demonstration on the sideboard as if it were heaped-up dirt, and
deigning to bestow no look upon the elegancies around her, she took
her place at his board for the first time, and sat, like a statue, at
Mr Dombey, being a good deal in the statue way himself, was well
enough pleased to see his handsome wife immovable and proud and cold.
Her deportment being always elegant and graceful, this as a general
behaviour was agreeable and congenial to him. Presiding, therefore,
with his accustomed dignity, and not at all reflecting on his wife by
any warmth or hilarity of his own, he performed his share of the
honours of the table with a cool satisfaction; and the installation
dinner, though not regarded downstairs as a great success, or very
promising beginning, passed oil, above, in a sufficiently polite,
genteel, and frosty manner.
Soon after tea' Mrs Skewton, who affected to be quite overcome and
worn Out by her emotions of happiness, arising in the contemplation of
her dear child united to the man of her heart, but who, there is
reason to suppose, found this family party somewhat dull, as she
yawned for one hour continually behind her fan, retired to bed. Edith,
also, silently withdrew and came back' no more. Thus, it happened that
Florence, who had been upstairs to have some conversation with
Diogenes, returning to the drawing-room with her little work-basket,
found no one there but her father, who was walking to and fro, in
'I beg your pardon. Shall I go away, Papa?' said Florence faintly,
hesitating at the door.
'No,' returned Mr Dombey, looking round over his shoulder; you can
come and go here, Florence, as you please. This is not my private
Florence entered, and sat down at a distant little table with her
work: finding herself for the first time in her life - for the very
first time within her memory from her infancy to that hour - alone
with her father, as his companion. She, his natural companion, his
only child, who in her lonely life and grief had known the suffering
of a breaking heart; who, in her rejected love, had never breathed his
name to God at night, but with a tearful blessing, heavier on him than
a curse; who had prayed to die young, so she might only die in his
arms; who had, all through, repaid the agony of slight and coldness,
and dislike, with patient unexacting love, excusing him, and pleading
for him, like his better angel!
She trembled, and her eyes were dim. His figure seemed to grow in
height and bulk before her as he paced the room: now it was all
blurred and indistinct; now clear again, and plain; and now she seemed
to think that this had happened, just the same, a multitude of years
ago. She yearned towards him, and yet shrunk from his approach.
Unnatural emotion in a child, innocent of wrong! Unnatural the hand
that had directed the sharp plough, which furrowed up her gentle
nature for the sowing of its seeds!
Bent upon not distressing or offending him by her distress,
Florence controlled herself, and sat quietly at her work. After a few
more turns across and across the room, he left off pacing it; and
withdrawing into a shadowy corner at some distance, where there was an
easy chair, covered his head with a handkerchief, and composed himself
It was enough for Florence to sit there watching him; turning her
eyes towards his chair from time to time; watching him with her
thoughts, when her face was intent upon her work; and sorrowfully glad
to think that he could sleep, while she was there, and that he was not
made restless by her strange and long-forbidden presence.
What would have been her thoughts if she had known that he was
steadily regarding her; that the veil upon his face, by accident or by
design, was so adjusted that his sight was free, and that itnever
wandered from her face face an instant That when she looked towards
him' In the obscure dark corner, her speaking eyes, more earnest and
pathetic in their voiceless speech than all the orators of all the
world, and impeaching him more nearly in their mute address, met his,
and did not know it! That when she bent her head again over her work,
he drew his breath more easily, but with the same attention looked
upon her still - upon her white brow and her falling hair, and busy
hands; and once attracted, seemed to have no power to turn his eyes
And what were his thoughts meanwhile? With what emotions did he
prolong the attentive gaze covertly directed on his unknown daughter?
Was there reproach to him in the quiet figure and the mild eyes? Had
he begun to her disregarded claims and did they touch him home at
last, and waken him to some sense of his cruel injustice?
There are yielding moments in the lives of the sternest and
harshest men, though such men often keep their secret well. The sight
ofher in her beauty, almost changed into a woman without his
knowledge, may have struck out some such moments even In his life of
pride. Some passing thought that he had had a happy home within his
reach-had had a household spirit bending at has feet - had overlooked
it in his stiffnecked sullen arrogance, and wandered away and lost
himself, may have engendered them. Some simple eloquence distinctly
heard, though only uttered in her eyes, unconscious that he read them'
as'By the death-beds I have tended, by the childhood I have suffered,
by our meeting in this dreary house at midnight, by the cry wrung from
me in the anguish of my heart, oh, father, turn to me and seek a
refuge in my love before it is too late!' may have arrested them.
Meaner and lower thoughts, as that his dead boy was now superseded by
new ties, and he could forgive the having been supplanted in his
affection, may have occasioned them. The mere association of her as an
ornament, with all the ornament and pomp about him, may have been
sufficient. But as he looked, he softened to her, more and more. As he
looked, she became blended with the child he had loved, and he could
hardly separate the two. As he looked, he saw her for an instant by a
clearer and a brighter light, not bending over that child's pillow as
his rival - monstrous thought - but as the spirit of his home, and in
the action tending himself no less, as he sat once more with his
bowed-down head upon his hand at the foot of the little bed. He felt
inclined to speak to her, and call her to him. The words 'Florence,
come here!' were rising to his lips - but slowly and with difficulty,
they were so very strange - when they were checked and stifled by a
footstep on the stair.
It was his wife's. She had exchanged her dinner dress for a loose
robe, and unbound her hair, which fell freely about her neck. But this
was not the change in her that startled him.
'Florence, dear,' she said, 'I have been looking for you
As she sat down by the side of Florence, she stooped and kissed her
hand. He hardly knew his wife. She was so changed. It was not merely
that her smile was new to him - though that he had never seen; but her
manner, the tone of her voice, the light of her eyes, the interest,
and confidence, and winning wish to please, expressed in all-this was
'Softly, dear Mama. Papa is asleep.'
It was Edith now. She looked towards the corner where he was, and
he knew that face and manner very well.
'I scarcely thought you could be here, Florence.'
Again, how altered and how softened, in an instant!
'I left here early,' pursued Edith, 'purposely to sit upstairs and
talk with you. But, going to your room, I found my bird was flown, and
I have been waiting there ever since, expecting its return.
If it had been a bird, indeed, she could not have taken it more
tenderly and gently to her breast, than she did Florence.
'Papa will not expect to find me, I suppose, when he wakes,'
'Do you think he will, Florence?' said Edith, looking full upon
Florence drooped her head, and rose, and put up her work-basket
Edith drew her hand through her arm, and they went out of the room
like sisters. Her very step was different and new to him' Mr Dombey
thought, as his eyes followed her to the door.
He sat in his shadowy corner so long, that the church clocks struck
the hour three times before he moved that night. All that while his
face was still intent upon the spot where Florence had been seated.
The room grew darker, as the candles waned and went out; but a
darkness gathered on his face, exceeding any that the night could
cast, and rested there.
Florence and Edith, seated before the fire in the remote room where
little Paul had died, talked together for a long time. Diogenes, who
was of the party, had at first objected to the admission of Edith,
and, even In deference to his mistress's wish, had only permitted it
under growling protest. But, emerging by little and little from the
ante-room, whither he had retired in dudgeon, he soon appeared to
comprehend, that with the most amiable intentions he had made one of
those mistakes which will occasionally arise in the best-regulated
dogs' minds; as a friendly apology for which he stuck himself up on
end between the two, in a very hot place in front of the fire, and sat
panting at it, with his tongue out, and a most imbecile expression of
countenance, listening to the conversation.
It turned, at first, on Florence's books and favourite pursuits,
and on the manner in which she had beguiled the interval since the
marriage. The last theme opened up to her a subject which lay very
near her heart, and she said, with the tears starting to her eyes:
'Oh, Mama! I have had a great sorrow since that day.'
'You a great sorrow, Florence!'
'Yes. Poor Walter is drowned.'
Florence spread her hands before her face, and wept with all her
heart. Many as were the secret tears which Walter's fate had cost her,
they flowed yet, when she thought or spoke of him.
'But tell me, dear,' said Edith, soothing her. 'Who was Walter?
What was he to you?'
'He was my brother, Mama. After dear Paul died, we said we would be
brother and sister. I had known him a long time - from a little child.
He knew Paul, who liked him very much; Paul said, almost at the last,
"Take care of Walter, dear Papa! I was fond of him!" Walter had been
brought in to see him, and was there then - in this room.
'And did he take care of Walter?' inquired Edith, sternly.
'Papa? He appointed him to go abroad. He was drowned in shipwreck
on his voyage,' said Florence, sobbing.
'Does he know that he is dead?' asked Edith.
'I cannot tell, Mama. I have no means of knowing. Dear Mama!' cried
Florence, clinging to her as for help, and hiding her face upon her
bosom, 'I know that you have seen - '
'Stay! Stop, Florence.' Edith turned so pale, and spoke so
earnestly, that Florence did not need her restraining hand upon her
lips. 'Tell me all about Walter first; let me understand this history
Florence related it, and everything belonging to it, even down to
the friendship of Mr Toots, of whom she could hardly speak in her
distress without a tearful smile, although she was deeply grateful to
him. When she had concluded her account, to the whole of which Edith,
holding her hand, listened with close attention, and when a silence
had succeeded, Edith said:
'What is it that you know I have seen, Florence?'
'That I am not,' said Florence, with the same mute appeal, and the
same quick concealment of her face as before, 'that I am not a
favourite child, Mama. I never have been. I have never known how to
be. I have missed the way, and had no one to show it to me. Oh, let me
learn from you how to become dearer to Papa Teach me! you, who can so
well!' and clinging closer to her, with some broken fervent words of
gratitude and endearment, Florence, relieved of her sad secret, wept
long, but not as painfully as of yore, within the encircling arms of
her new mother.
Pale even to her lips, and with a face that strove for composure
until its proud beauty was as fixed as death, Edith looked down upon
the weeping girl, and once kissed her. Then gradually disengaging
herself, and putting Florence away, she said, stately, and quiet as a
marble image, and in a voice that deepened as she spoke, but had no
other token of emotion in it:
'Florence, you do not know me! Heaven forbid that you should learn
'Not learn from you?' repeated Florence, in surprise.
'That I should teach you how to love, or be loved, Heaven forbid!'
said Edith. 'If you could teach me, that were better; but it is too
late. You are dear to me, Florence. I did not think that anything
could ever be so dear to me, as you are in this little time.'
She saw that Florence would have spoken here, so checked her with
her hand, and went on.
'I will be your true friend always. I will cherish you, as much, if
not as well as anyone in this world could. You may trust in me - I
know it and I say it, dear, - with the whole confidence even of your
pure heart. There are hosts of women whom he might have married,
better and truer in all other respects than I am, Florence; but there
is not one who could come here, his wife, whose heart could beat with
greater truth to you than mine does.'
'I know it, dear Mama!' cried Florence. 'From that first most happy
day I have known it.'
'Most happy day!' Edith seemed to repeat the words involuntarily,
and went on. 'Though the merit is not mine, for I thought little of
you until I saw you, let the undeserved reward be mine in your trust
and love. And in this - in this, Florence; on the first night of my
taking up my abode here; I am led on as it is best I should be, to say
it for the first and last time.'
Florence, without knowing why, felt almost afraid to hear her
proceed, but kept her eyes riveted on the beautiful face so fixed upon
'Never seek to find in me,' said Edith, laying her hand upon her
breast, 'what is not here. Never if you can help it, Florence, fall
off from me because it is not here. Little by little you will know me
better, and the time will come when you will know me, as I know
myself. Then, be as lenient to me as you can, and do not turn to
bitterness the only sweet remembrance I shall have.
The tears that were visible in her eyes as she kept them fixed on
Florence, showed that the composed face was but as a handsome mask;
but she preserved it, and continued:
'I have seen what you say, and know how true it is. But believe me
- you will soon, if you cannot now - there is no one on this earth
less qualified to set it right or help you, Florence, than I. Never
ask me why, or speak to me about it or of my husband, more. There
should be, so far, a division, and a silence between us two, like the
She sat for some time silent; Florence scarcely venturing to
breathe meanwhile, as dim and imperfect shadows of the truth, and all
its daily consequences, chased each other through her terrified, yet
incredulous imagination. Almost as soon as she had ceased to speak,
Edith's face began to subside from its set composure to that quieter
and more relenting aspect, which it usually wore when she and Florence
were alone together. She shaded it, after this change, with her hands;
and when she arose, and with an affectionate embrace bade Florence
good-night, went quickly, and without looking round.
But when Florence was in bed, and the room was dark except for the
glow of the fire, Edith returned, and saying that she could not sleep,
and that her dressing-room was lonely, drew a chair upon the hearth,
and watched the embers as they died away. Florence watched them too
from her bed, until they, and the noble figure before them, crowned
with its flowing hair, and in its thoughtful eyes reflecting back
their light, became confused and indistinct, and finally were lost in
In her sleep, however, Florence could not lose an undefined
impression of what had so recently passed. It formed the subject of
her dreams, and haunted her; now in one shape, now in another; but
always oppressively; and with a sense of fear. She dreamed of seeking
her father in wildernesses, of following his track up fearful heights,
and down into deep mines and caverns; of being charged with something
that would release him from extraordinary suffering - she knew not
what, or why - yet never being able to attain the goal and set him
free. Then she saw him dead, upon that very bed, and in that very
room, and knew that he had never loved her to the last, and fell upon
his cold breast, passionately weeping. Then a prospect opened, and a
river flowed, and a plaintive voice she knew, cried, 'It is running
on, Floy! It has never stopped! You are moving with it!' And she saw
him at a distance stretching out his arms towards her, while a figure
such as Walter's used to be, stood near him, awfully serene and still.
In every vision, Edith came and went, sometimes to her joy, sometimes
to her sorrow, until they were alone upon the brink of a dark grave,
and Edith pointing down, she looked and saw - what! - another Edith
lying at the bottom.
In the terror of this dream, she cried out and awoke, she thought.
A soft voice seemed to whisper in her ear, 'Florence, dear Florence,
it is nothing but a dream!' and stretching out her arms, she returned
the caress of her new Mama, who then went out at the door in the light
of the grey morning. In a moment, Florence sat up wondering whether
this had really taken place or not; but she was only certain that it
was grey morning indeed, and that the blackened ashes of the fire were
on the hearth, and that she was alone.
So passed the night on which the happy pair came home.
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
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
'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
'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
'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.