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Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

Part 10 out of 21

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the obdurate bark was knotted and overlapped like the hide of a
rhinoceros or some kindred monster of the ancient days before the
Flood, he saw an unexpected figure sitting on a bench near at hand,
about which, in another moment, he would have wound the chain he was
making.

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

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

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

'I can tell it for myself,' was the reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Carker laughed, and turned upon his heel.

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

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

'What was that you said, Beldamite?' he demanded.

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

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

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

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

'I am charmed, I am sure,' said Mrs Skewton, graciously.

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

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

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

'Carker - ' began Mr Dombey. But their recognition of each other
was so manifest, that Mr Dombey stopped surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Very much, indeed,' said Mr Carker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Several times.'

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

'Oh no; not at all.'

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

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

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

'The scabbard, perhaps,' said Edith.

'Exactly - a little too fast, it is because it is bright and
glowing, you know, my dearest love.'

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

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

Mr Dombey having nothing else to say, proposed - the breakfast
being now finished, and the Major gorged, like any Boa Constrictor -
that they should start. A barouche being in waiting, according to the
orders of that gentleman, the two ladies, the Major and himself, took
their seats in it; the Native and the wan page mounted the box, Mr
Towlinson being left behind; and Mr Carker, on horseback, brought up
the rear. Mr Carker cantered behind the carriage. at the distance of a
hundred yards or so, and watched it, during all the ride, as if he
were a cat, indeed, and its four occupants, mice. Whether he looked to
one side of the road, or to the other - over distant landscape, with
its smooth undulations, wind-mills, corn, grass, bean fields,
wild-flowers, farm-yards, hayricks, and the spire among the wood - or
upwards in the sunny air, where butterflies were sporting round his
head, and birds were pouring out their songs - or downward, where the
shadows of the branches interlaced, and made a trembling carpet on the
road - or onward, where the overhanging trees formed aisles and
arches, dim with the softened light that steeped through leaves - one
corner of his eye was ever on the formal head of Mr Dombey, addressed
towards him, and the feather in the bonnet, drooping so neglectfully
and scornfully between them; much as he had seen the haughty eyelids
droop; not least so, when the face met that now fronting it. Once, and
once only, did his wary glance release these objects; and that was,
when a leap over a low hedge, and a gallop across a field, enabled him
to anticipate the carriage coming by the road, and to be standing
ready, at the journey's end, to hand the ladies out. Then, and but
then, he met her glance for an instant in her first surprise; but when
he touched her, in alighting, with his soft white hand, it overlooked
him altogether as before.

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

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

'Yes, we have fallen off deplorably,' said Mr Carker.

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

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

'I admire him very much,' said Carker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I would rather you chose for yourself,' said Edith.

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

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

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

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

'Will you like that?' said Edith to Mr Dombey.

'I shall be charmed,' said Mr Dombey to Edith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I shall be immensely obliged,' said Mr Dombey.

'What do you wish?'

'Piano?' hesitated Mr Dombey.

'Whatever you please. You have only to choose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Because you know it,' returned Edith, 'Mother.'

The mocking emphasis she laid on that one word!

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

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

'What do you mean?' returned the angry mother. 'Haven't you from a
child - '

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'You talk strangely to-night, Edith, to your own Mother.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 28.

Alterations

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

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

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

'Three times, Miss,' returned the Nipper. 'Once when you was out a
walking with them Sket- '

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, with no one to advise her - for she could advise with no one
without seeming to complain against him - gentle Florence tossed on an
uneasy sea of doubt and hope; and Mr Carker, like a scaly monster of
the deep, swam down below, and kept his shining eye upon her. Florence
had a new reason in all this for wishing to be at home again. Her
lonely life was better suited to her course of timid hope and doubt;
and she feared sometimes, that in her absence she might miss some
hopeful chance of testifying her affection for her father. Heaven
knows, she might have set her mind at rest, poor child! on this last
point; but her slighted love was fluttering within her, and, even in
her sleep, it flew away in dreams, and nestled, like a wandering bird
come home, upon her father's neck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I never was so surprised!' Mr Toots would exclaim. - 'Is Miss
Dombey there?'

Whereupon Florence would appear, perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

'You are very kind,' said Florence.

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

'I am very much obliged to you,' said Florence, hesitating. 'I
really am - but I would rather not.'

'Oh, it's of no consequence,' retorted Mr Toots. 'Good morning.'

'Won't you wait and see Lady Skettles?' asked Florence, kindly.

'Oh no, thank you,' returned Mr Toots, 'it's of no consequence at
all.'

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

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

'Oh, it's of no conseq - I mean yes, to be sure,' faltered the
embarrassed Mr Toots. 'Good morning!'

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

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

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

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

Sorrowful tears, but tears of consolation, too; for all the softer
memories connected with the dull old house to which she was returning
made it dear to her, as they rose up. How long it seemed since she had
wandered through the silent rooms: since she had last crept, softly
and afraid, into those her father occupied: since she had felt the
solemn but yet soothing influence of the beloved dead in every action
of her daily life! This new farewell reminded her, besides, of her
parting with poor Walter: of his looks and words that night: and of
the gracious blending she had noticed in him, of tenderness for those
he left behind, with courage and high spirit. His little history was
associated with the old house too, and gave it a new claim and hold
upon her heart. Even Susan Nipper softened towards the home of so many
years, as they were on their way towards it. Gloomy as it was, and
rigid justice as she rendered to its gloom, she forgave it a great
deal. 'I shall be glad to see it again, I don't deny, Miss,' said the
Nipper. 'There ain't much in it to boast of, but I wouldn't have it
burnt or pulled down, neither!'

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

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

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

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

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

'Why, Gracious me!' cried Susan, breathless, 'where's our house!'

'Our house!' said Florence.

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

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

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

'There is nothing the matter?' inquired Florence.

'Oh no, Miss.'

'There are great alterations going on.'

'Yes, Miss, great alterations,' said Towlinson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'What dog is that?' said Mr Dombey, displeased.

'It is a dog, Papa - from Brighton.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again she pressed her to her breast she had spoken in a rapid
manner, but firmly - and Florence saw her rejoin them in the other
room. And now Florence began to hope that she would learn from her new
and beautiful Mama, how to gaIn her father's love; and in her sleep
that night, in her lost old home, her own Mama smiled radiantly upon
the hope, and blessed it. Dreaming Florence!

CHAPTER 29.

The Opening of the Eyes of Mrs Chick

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

Miss Tox endued herself with a pair of ancient gloves, like dead
leaves, in which she was accustomed to perform these avocations -
hidden from human sight at other times in a table drawer - and went
methodically to work; beginning with the bird waltz; passing, by a
natural association of ideas, to her bird - a very high-shouldered
canary, stricken in years, and much rumpled, but a piercing singer, as
Princess's Place well knew; taking, next in order, the little china
ornaments, paper fly-cages, and so forth; and coming round, in good
time, to the plants, which generally required to be snipped here and
there with a pair of scissors, for some botanical reason that was very
powerful with Miss Tox. Miss Tox was slow in coming to the plants,
this morning. The weather was warm, the wind southerly; and there was
a sigh of the summer-time In Princess's Place, that turned Miss Tox's
thoughts upon the country. The pot-boy attached to the Princess's Arms
had come out with a can and trickled water, in a flowering pattern,
all over Princess's Place, and it gave the weedy ground a fresh scent
- quite a growing scent, Miss Tox said. There was a tiny blink of sun
peeping in from the great street round the corner, and the smoky
sparrows hopped over it and back again, brightening as they passed: or
bathed in it, like a stream, and became glorified sparrows,
unconnected with chimneys. Legends in praise of Ginger-Beer, with
pictorial representations of thirsty customers submerged in the
effervescence, or stunned by the flying corks, were conspicuous in the
window of the Princess's Arms. They were making late hay, somewhere
out of town; and though the fragrance had a long way to come, and many
counter fragrances to contend with among the dwellings of the poor
(may God reward the worthy gentlemen who stickle for the Plague as
part and parcel of the wisdom of our ancestors, and who do their
little best to keep those dwellings miserable!), yet it was wafted
faintly into Princess's Place, whispering of Nature and her wholesome
air, as such things will, even unto prisoners and captives, and those
who are desolate and oppressed, in very spite of aldermen and knights
to boot: at whose sage nod - and how they nod! - the rolling world
stands still!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'He is greatly better, thank you. Hem!'

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

'It's nothing,' returned Mrs Chic 'It's merely change of weather.
We must expect change.'

'Of weather?' asked Miss Tox, in her simplicity.

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

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

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

'I am sure of it,' returned Miss Tox.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'My dearest love,' remonstrated Miss Tox.

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

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

'My sweet Louisa,' remonstrated Miss Tox again.

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

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

'My dear Louisa,' said Miss Tox, 'will it be the least satisfaction
to you, if I venture to observe in reference to that remark, that I,
as a humble individual, think your sweet niece in every way most
promising?~ 'What do you mean, Lucretia?' returned Mrs Chick, with
increased stateliness of manner. 'To what remark of mine, my dear, do
you refer?'

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

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

'Indeed!' returned Miss Tox.

'No,' said Mrs Chick shortly and decisively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Tox sobbed pitifully.

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

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

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

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

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

'I don't wish to exchange reproaches, dear Louisa,' sobbed Miss Tox
'Nor do I wish to complain. But, in my own defence - '

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'What is the matter, my dear?' asked Mr Chick

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER 30.

The interval before the Marriage

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

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

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

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

'Mama!' cried Florence, joyfully meeting her. 'Come again!'

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

'But very soon to be,' cried Florence.

'Very soon now, Florence: very soon.

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

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

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

'Oh yes!' smiled Florence, hastily.

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

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

'Is Di your maid, love?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I will come home on the very day, Mama'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence blushingly complied.

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

'I have long forgotten, mother.'

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

'It does, indeed,' was Edith's stern reply.

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

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

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

'And you have heard, no doubt, my darling pet,' said Mrs Skewton,

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