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Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 28

Dombey And Son

Chapter 28


'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

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

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

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

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

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

'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

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!

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