The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 34

Dombey And Son

Chapter 34

Another Mother and Daughter

In an ugly and dark room, an old woman, ugly and dark too, sat
listening to the wind and rain, and crouching over a meagre fire. More
constant to the last-named occupation than the first, she never
changed her attitude, unless, when any stray drops of rain fell
hissing on the smouldering embers, to raise her head with an awakened
attention to the whistling and pattering outside, and gradually to let
it fall again lower and lower and lower as she sunk into a brooding
state of thought, in which the noises of the night were as
indistinctly regarded as is the monotonous rolling of a sea by one who
sits in contemplation on its shore.

There was no light in the room save that which the fire afforded.
Glaring sullenly from time to time like the eye of a fierce beast half
asleep, it revealed no objects that needed to be jealous of a better
display. A heap of rags, a heap of bones, a wretched bed, two or three
mutilated chairs or stools, the black walls and blacker ceiling, were
all its winking brightness shone upon. As the old woman, with a
gigantic and distorted image of herself thrown half upon the wall
behind her, half upon the roof above, sat bending over the few loose
bricks within which it was pent, on the damp hearth of the chimney -
for there was no stove - she looked as if she were watching at some
witch's altar for a favourable token; and but that the movement of her
chattering jaws and trembling chin was too frequent and too fast for
the slow flickering of the fire, it would have seemed an illusion
wrought by the light, as it came and went, upon a face as motionless
as the form to which it belonged.

If Florence could have stood within the room and looked upon the
original of the shadow thrown upon the wall and roof as it cowered
thus over the fire, a glance might have sufficed to recall the figure
of Good Mrs Brown; notwithstanding that her childish recollection of
that terrible old woman was as grotesque and exaggerated a presentment
of the truth, perhaps, as the shadow on the wall. But Florence was not
there to look on; and Good Mrs Brown remained unrecognised, and sat
staring at her fire, unobserved.

Attracted by a louder sputtering than usual, as the rain came
hissing down the chimney in a little stream, the old woman raised her
head, impatiently, to listen afresh. And this time she did not drop it
again; for there was a hand upon the door, and a footstep in the room.

'Who's that?' she said, looking over her shoulder.

'One who brings you news, was the answer, in a woman's voice.

'News? Where from?'

'From abroad.'

'From beyond seas?' cried the old woman, starting up.

'Ay, from beyond seas.'

The old woman raked the fire together, hurriedly, and going close
to her visitor who had entered, and shut the door, and who now stood
in the middle of the room, put her hand upon the drenched cloak, and
turned the unresisting figure, so as to have it in the full light of
the fire. She did not find what she had expected, whatever that might
be; for she let the cloak go again, and uttered a querulous cry of
disappointment and misery.

'What is the matter?' asked her visitor.

'Oho! Oho!' cried the old woman, turning her face upward, with a
terrible howl.

'What is the matter?' asked the visitor again.

'It's not my gal!' cried the old woman, tossing up her arms, and
clasping her hands above her head. 'Where's my Alice? Where's my
handsome daughter? They've been the death of her!'

'They've not been the death of her yet, if your name's Marwood,'
said the visitor.

'Have you seen my gal, then?' cried the old woman. 'Has she wrote
to me?'

'She said you couldn't read,' returned the other.

'No more I can!' exclaimed the old woman, wringing her hands.

'Have you no light here?' said the other, looking round the room.

The old woman, mumbling and shaking her head, and muttering to
herself about her handsome daughter, brought a candle from a cupboard
in the corner, and thrusting it into the fire with a trembling hand,
lighted it with some difficulty and set it on the table. Its dirty
wick burnt dimly at first, being choked in its own grease; and when
the bleared eyes and failing sight of the old woman could distinguish
anything by its light, her visitor was sitting with her arms folded,
her eyes turned downwards, and a handkerchief she had worn upon her
head lying on the table by her side.

'She sent to me by word of mouth then, my gal, Alice?' mumbled the
old woman, after waiting for some moments. 'What did she say?'

'Look,' returned the visitor.

The old woman repeated the word in a scared uncertain way; and,
shading her eyes, looked at the speaker, round the room, and at the
speaker once again.

'Alice said look again, mother;' and the speaker fixed her eyes
upon her.

Again the old woman looked round the room, and at her visitor, and
round the room once more. Hastily seizing the candle, and rising from
her seat, she held it to the visitor's face, uttered a loud cry, set
down the light, and fell upon her neck!

'It's my gal! It's my Alice! It's my handsome daughter, living and
come back!' screamed the old woman, rocking herself to and fro upon
the breast that coldly suffered her embrace. 'It's my gal! It's my
Alice! It's my handsome daughter, living and come back!' she screamed
again, dropping on the floor before her, clasping her knees, laying
her head against them, and still rocking herself to and fro with every
frantic demonstration of which her vitality was capable.

'Yes, mother,' returned Alice, stooping forward for a moment and
kissing her, but endeavouring, even in the act, to disengage herself
from her embrace. 'I am here, at last. Let go, mother; let go. Get up,
and sit in your chair. What good does this do?'

'She's come back harder than she went!' cried the mother, looking
up in her face, and still holding to her knees. 'She don't care for
me! after all these years, and all the wretched life I've led!'

'Why> mother!' said Alice, shaking her ragged skirts to detach the
old woman from them: 'there are two sides to that. There have been
years for me as well as you, and there has been wretchedness for me as
well as you. Get up, get up!'

Her mother rose, and cried, and wrung her hands, and stood at a
little distance gazing on her. Then she took the candle again, and
going round her, surveyed her from head to foot, making a low moaning
all the time. Then she put the candle down, resumed her chair, and
beating her hands together to a kind of weary tune, and rolling
herself from side to side, continued moaning and wailing to herself.

Alice got up, took off her wet cloak, and laid it aside. That done,
she sat down as before, and with her arms folded, and her eyes gazing
at the fire, remained silently listening with a contemptuous face to
her old mother's inarticulate complainings.

'Did you expect to see me return as youthful as I went away,
mother?' she said at length, turning her eyes upon the old woman. 'Did
you think a foreign life, like mine, was good for good looks? One
would believe so, to hear you!'

'It ain't that!' cried the mother. 'She knows it!'

'What is it then?' returned the daughter. 'It had best be something
that don't last, mother, or my way out is easier than my way in.

'Hear that!' exclaimed the mother. 'After all these years she
threatens to desert me in the moment of her coming back again!'

'I tell you, mother, for the second time, there have been years for
me as well as you,' said Alice. 'Come back harder? Of course I have
come back harder. What else did you expect?'

'Harder to me! To her own dear mother!' cried the old woman

'I don't know who began to harden me, if my own dear mother
didn't,' she returned, sitting with her folded arms, and knitted
brows, and compressed lips as if she were bent on excluding, by force,
every softer feeling from her breast. 'Listen, mother, to a word or
two. If we understand each other now, we shall not fall out any more,
perhaps. I went away a girl, and have come back a woman. I went away
undutiful enough, and have come back no better, you may swear. But
have you been very dutiful to me?'

'I!' cried the old woman. 'To my gal! A mother dutiful to her own

'It sounds unnatural, don't it?' returned the daughter, looking
coldly on her with her stern, regardless, hardy, beautiful face; 'but
I have thought of it sometimes, in the course of my lone years, till I
have got used to it. I have heard some talk about duty first and last;
but it has always been of my duty to other people. I have wondered now
and then - to pass away the time - whether no one ever owed any duty
to me.

Her mother sat mowing, and mumbling, and shaking her head, but
whether angrily or remorsefully, or in denial, or only in her physical
infirmity, did not appear.

'There was a child called Alice Marwood,' said the daughter, with a
laugh, and looking down at herself in terrible derision of herself,
'born, among poverty and neglect, and nursed in it. Nobody taught her,
nobody stepped forward to help her, nobody cared for her.'

'Nobody!' echoed the mother, pointing to herself, and striking her

'The only care she knew,' returned the daughter, 'was to be beaten,
and stinted, and abused sometimes; and she might have done better
without that. She lived in homes like this, and in the streets, with a
crowd of little wretches like herself; and yet she brought good looks
out of this childhood. So much the worse for her. She had better have
been hunted and worried to death for ugliness.'

'Go on! go on!' exclaimed the mother.

'I am going on,' returned the daughter. 'There was a girl called
Alice Marwood. She was handsome. She was taught too late, and taught
all wrong. She was too well cared for, too well trained, too well
helped on, too much looked after. You were very fond of her - you were
better off then. What came to that girl comes to thousands every year.
It was only ruin, and she was born to it.'

'After all these years!' whined the old woman. 'My gal begins with

'She'll soon have ended,' said the daughter. 'There was a criminal
called Alice Marwood - a girl still, but deserted and an outcast. And
she was tried, and she was sentenced. And lord, how the gentlemen in
the Court talked about it! and how grave the judge was on her duty,
and on her having perverted the gifts of nature - as if he didn't know
better than anybody there, that they had been made curses to her! -
and how he preached about the strong arm of the Law - so very strong
to save her, when she was an innocent and helpless little wretch! -
and how solemn and religious it all was! I have thought of that, many
times since, to be sure!'

She folded her arms tightly on her breast, and laughed in a tone
that made the howl of the old woman musical.

'So Alice Marwood was transported, mother,' she pursued, 'and was
sent to learn her duty, where there was twenty times less duty, and
more wickedness, and wrong, and infamy, than here. And Alice Marwood
is come back a woman. Such a woman as she ought to be, after all this.
In good time, there will be more solemnity, and more fine talk, and
more strong arm, most likely, and there will be an end of her; but the
gentlemen needn't be afraid of being thrown out of work. There's
crowds of little wretches, boy and girl, growing up in any of the
streets they live in, that'll keep them to it till they've made their

The old woman leaned her elbows on the table, and resting her face
upon her two hands, made a show of being in great distress - or really
was, perhaps.

'There! I have done, mother,' said the daughter, with a motion of
her head, as if in dismissal of the subject. 'I have said enough.
Don't let you and I talk of being dutiful, whatever we do. Your
childhood was like mine, I suppose. So much the worse for both of us.
I don't want to blame you, or to defend myself; why should I? That's
all over long ago. But I am a woman - not a girl, now - and you and I
needn't make a show of our history, like the gentlemen in the Court.
We know all about it, well enough.'

Lost and degraded as she was, there was a beauty in her, both of
face and form, which, even in its worst expression, could not but be
recognised as such by anyone regarding her with the least attention.
As she subsided into silence, and her face which had been harshly
agitated, quieted down; while her dark eyes, fixed upon the fire,
exchanged the reckless light that had animated them, for one that was
softened by something like sorrow; there shone through all her wayworn
misery and fatigue, a ray of the departed radiance of the fallen

Her mother, after watching her for some time without speaking,
ventured to steal her withered hand a little nearer to her across the
table; and finding that she permitted this, to touch her face, and
smooth her hair. With the feeling, as it seemed, that the old woman
was at least sincere in this show of interest, Alice made no movement
to check her; so, advancing by degrees, she bound up her daughter's
hair afresh, took off her wet shoes, if they deserved the name, spread
something dry upon her shoulders, and hovered humbly about her,
muttering to herself, as she recognised her old features and
expression more and more.

'You are very poor, mother, I see,' said Alice, looking round, when
she had sat thus for some time.

'Bitter poor, my deary,' replied the old woman.

She admired her daughter, and was afraid of her. Perhaps her
admiration, such as it was, had originated long ago, when she first
found anything that was beautiful appearing in the midst of the
squalid fight of her existence. Perhaps her fear was referable, in
some sort, to the retrospect she had so lately heard. Be this as it
might, she stood, submissively and deferentially, before her child,
and inclined her head, as if in a pitiful entreaty to be spared any
further reproach.

'How have you lived?'

'By begging, my deary.

'And pilfering, mother?'

'Sometimes, Ally - in a very small way. I am old and timid. I have
taken trifles from children now and then, my deary, but not often. I
have tramped about the country, pet, and I know what I know. I have

'Watched?' returned the daughter, looking at her.

'I have hung about a family, my deary,' said the mother, even more
humbly and submissively than before.

'What family?'

'Hush, darling. Don't be angry with me. I did it for the love of
you. In memory of my poor gal beyond seas.' She put out her hand
deprecatingly, and drawing it back again, laid it on her lips.

'Years ago, my deary,' she pursued, glancing timidly at the
attentive and stem face opposed to her, 'I came across his little
child, by chance.'

'Whose child?'

'Not his, Alice deary; don't look at me like that; not his. How
could it be his? You know he has none.'

'Whose then?' returned the daughter. 'You said his.'

'Hush, Ally; you frighten me, deary. Mr Dombey's - only Mr
Dombey's. Since then, darling, I have seen them often. I have seen

In uttering this last word, the old woman shrunk and recoiled, as
if with sudden fear that her daughter would strike her. But though the
daughter's face was fixed upon her, and expressed the most vehement
passion, she remained still: except that she clenched her arms tighter
and tighter within each other, on her bosom, as if to restrain them by
that means from doing an injury to herself, or someone else, in the
blind fury of the wrath that suddenly possessed her.

'Little he thought who I was!' said the old woman, shaking her
clenched hand.

'And little he cared!' muttered her daughter, between her teeth.

'But there we were, said the old woman, 'face to face. I spoke to
him, and he spoke to me. I sat and watched him as he went away down a
long grove of trees: and at every step he took, I cursed him soul and

'He will thrive in spite of that,' returned the daughter

'Ay, he is thriving,' said the mother.

She held her peace; for the face and form before her were unshaped
by rage. It seemed as if the bosom would burst with the emotions that
strove within it. The effort that constrained and held it pent up, was
no less formidable than the rage itself: no less bespeaking the
violent and dangerous character of the woman who made it. But it
succeeded, and she asked, after a silence:

'Is he married?'

'No, deary,' said the mother.

'Going to be?'

'Not that I know of, deary. But his master and friend is married.
Oh, we may give him joy! We may give 'em all joy!' cried the old
woman, hugging herself with her lean arms in her exultation. 'Nothing
but joy to us will come of that marriage. Mind met'

The daughter looked at her for an explanation.

'But you are wet and tired; hungry and thirsty,' said the old
woman, hobbling to the cupboard; 'and there's little here, and little'
- diving down into her pocket, and jingling a few half- pence on the
table - 'little here. Have you any money, Alice, deary?'

The covetous, sharp, eager face, with which she 'asked the question
and looked on, as her daughter took out of her bosom the little gift
she had so lately received, told almost as much of the history of this
parent and child as the child herself had told in words.

'Is that all?' said the mother.

'I have no more. I should not have this, but for charity.'

'But for charity, eh, deary?' said the old woman, bending greedily
over the table to look at the money, which she appeared distrustful of
her daughter's still retaining in her hand, and gazing on. 'Humph! six
and six is twelve, and six eighteen - so - we must make the most of
it. I'll go buy something to eat and drink.'

With greater alacrity than might have been expected in one of her
appearance - for age and misery seemed to have made her as decrepit as
ugly - she began to occupy her trembling hands in tying an old bonnet
on her head, and folding a torn shawl about herself: still eyeing the
money in her daughter's hand, with the same sharp desire.

'What joy is to come to us of this marriage, mother?' asked the
daughter. 'You have not told me that.'

'The joy,' she replied, attiring herself, with fumbling fingers,
'of no love at all, and much pride and hate, my deary. The joy of
confusion and strife among 'em, proud as they are, and of danger -
danger, Alice!'

'What danger?'

'I have seen what I have seen. I know what I know!' chuckled the
mother. 'Let some look to it. Let some be upon their guard. My gal may
keep good company yet!'

Then, seeing that in the wondering earnestness with which her
daughter regarded her, her hand involuntarily closed upon the money,
the old woman made more speed to secure it, and hurriedly added, 'but
I'll go buy something; I'll go buy something.'

As she stood with her hand stretched out before her daughter, her
daughter, glancing again at the money, put it to her lips before
parting with it.

'What, Ally! Do you kiss it?' chuckled the old woman. 'That's like
me - I often do. Oh, it's so good to us!' squeezing her own tarnished
halfpence up to her bag of a throat, 'so good to us in everything but
not coming in heaps!'

'I kiss it, mother,' said the daughter, 'or I did then - I don't
know that I ever did before - for the giver's sake.'

'The giver, eh, deary?' retorted the old woman, whose dimmed eyes
glistened as she took it. 'Ay! I'll kiss it for the giver's sake, too,
when the giver can make it go farther. But I'll go spend it, deary.
I'll be back directly.'

'You seem to say you know a great deal, mother,' said the daughter,
following her to the door with her eyes. 'You have grown very wise
since we parted.'

'Know!' croaked the old woman, coming back a step or two, 'I know
more than you think I know more than he thinks, deary, as I'll tell
you by and bye. I know all'

The daughter smiled incredulously.

'I know of his brother, Alice,' said the old woman, stretching out
her neck with a leer of malice absolutely frightful, 'who might have
been where you have been - for stealing money - and who lives with his
sister, over yonder, by the north road out of London.'


'By the north road out of London, deary. You shall see the house if
you like. It ain't much to boast of, genteel as his own is. No, no,
no,' cried the old woman, shaking her head and laughing; for her
daughter had started up, 'not now; it's too far off; it's by the
milestone, where the stones are heaped; - to-morrow, deary, if it's
fine, and you are in the humour. But I'll go spend - '

'Stop!' and the daughter flung herself upon her, with her former
passion raging like a fire. 'The sister is a fair-faced Devil, with
brown hair?'

The old woman, amazed and terrified, nodded her head.

'I see the shadow of him in her face! It's a red house standing by
itself. Before the door there is a small green porch.'

Again the old woman nodded.

'In which I sat to-day! Give me back the money.'

'Alice! Deary!'

'Give me back the money, or you'll be hurt.'

She forced it from the old woman's hand as she spoke, and utterly
indifferent to her complainings and entreaties, threw on the garments
she had taken off, and hurried out, with headlong speed.

The mother followed, limping after her as she could, and
expostulating with no more effect upon her than upon the wind and rain
and darkness that encompassed them. Obdurate and fierce in her own
purpose, and indifferent to all besides, the daughter defied the
weather and the distance, as if she had known no travel or fatigue,
and made for the house where she had been relieved. After some quarter
of an hour's walking, the old woman, spent and out of breath, ventured
to hold by her skirts; but she ventured no more, and they travelled on
in silence through the wet and gloom. If the mother now and then
uttered a word of complaint, she stifled it lest her daughter should
break away from her and leave her behind; and the daughter was dumb.

It was within an hour or so of midnight, when they left the regular
streets behind them, and entered on the deeper gloom of that neutral
ground where the house was situated. The town lay in the distance,
lurid and lowering; the bleak wind howled over the open space; all
around was black, wild, desolate.

'This is a fit place for me!' said the daughter, stopping to look
back. 'I thought so, when I was here before, to-day.'

'Alice, my deary,' cried the mother, pulling her gently by the
skirt. 'Alice!'

'What now, mother?'

'Don't give the money back, my darling; please don't. We can't
afford it. We want supper, deary. Money is money, whoever gives it.
Say what you will, but keep the money.'

'See there!' was all the daughter's answer. 'That is the house I
mean. Is that it?'

The old woman nodded in the affirmative; and a few more paces
brought them to the threshold. There was the light of fire and candle
in the room where Alice had sat to dry her clothes; and on her
knocking at the door, John Carker appeared from that room.

He was surprised to see such visitors at such an hour, and asked
Alice what she wanted.

'I want your sister,' she said. 'The woman who gave me money

At the sound of her raised voice, Harriet came out.

'Oh!' said Alice. 'You are here! Do you remember me?'

'Yes,' she answered, wondering.

The face that had humbled itself before her, looked on her now with
such invincible hatred and defiance; and the hand that had gently
touched her arm, was clenched with such a show of evil purpose, as if
it would gladly strangle her; that she drew close to her brother for

'That I could speak with you, and not know you! That I could come
near you, and not feel what blood was running in your veins, by the
tingling of my own!' said Alice, with a menacing gesture.

'What do you mean? What have I done?'

'Done!' returned the other. 'You have sat me by your fire; you have
given me food and money; you have bestowed your compassion on me! You!
whose name I spit upon!'

The old woman, with a malevolence that made her uglIness quite
awful, shook her withered hand at the brother and sister in
confirmation of her daughter, but plucked her by the skirts again,
nevertheless, imploring her to keep the money.

'If I dropped a tear upon your hand, may it wither it up! If I
spoke a gentle word in your hearing, may it deafen you! If I touched
you with my lips, may the touch be poison to you! A curse upon this
roof that gave me shelter! Sorrow and shame upon your head! Ruin upon
all belonging to you!'

As she said the words, she threw the money down upon the ground,
and spurned it with her foot.

'I tread it in the dust: I wouldn't take it if it paved my way to
Heaven! I would the bleeding foot that brought me here to-day, had
rotted off, before it led me to your house!'

Harriet, pale and trembling, restrained her brother, and suffered
her to go on uninterrupted.

'It was well that I should be pitied and forgiven by you, or anyone
of your name, in the first hour of my return! It was well that you
should act the kind good lady to me! I'll thank you when I die; I'll
pray for you, and all your race, you may be sure!'

With a fierce action of her hand, as if she sprinkled hatred on the
ground, and with it devoted those who were standing there to
destruction, she looked up once at the black sky, and strode out into
the wild night.

The mother, who had plucked at her skirts again and again in vain,
and had eyed the money lying on the threshold with an absorbing greed
that seemed to concentrate her faculties upon it, would have prowled
about, until the house was dark, and then groped in the mire on the
chance of repossessing herself of it. But the daughter drew her away,
and they set forth, straight, on their return to their dwelling; the
old woman whimpering and bemoaning their loss upon the road, and
fretfully bewailing, as openly as she dared, the undutiful conduct of
her handsome girl in depriving her of a supper, on the very first
night of their reunion.

Supperless to bed she went, saving for a few coarse fragments; and
those she sat mumbling and munching over a scrap of fire, long after
her undutiful daughter lay asleep.

Were this miserable mother, and this miserable daughter, only the
reduction to their lowest grade, of certain social vices sometimes
prevailing higher up? In this round world of many circles within
circles, do we make a weary journey from the high grade to the low, to
find at last that they lie close together, that the two extremes
touch, and that our journey's end is but our starting-place? Allowing
for great difference of stuff and texture, was the pattern of this
woof repeated among gentle blood at all?

Say, Edith Dombey! And Cleopatra, best of mothers, let us have your

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.