The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 40

Dombey And Son

Chapter 40

Domestic Relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'To-morrow,' she replied.

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

'I think,' she answered, 'that I understand you very well.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Wait! For God's sake! I must speak to you.'

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

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

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

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

'These questions,' said Mr Dombey, 'are all wide of the purpose,

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

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

'Possibly not, Madam,' he returned coolly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looked at him yet, without the least change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Bless you, Domber!'

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

'Begad, Ma'am, you don't ask old Joe to come!'

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

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

'My dearest Edith - Grangeby - it's most trordinry thing,' said
Cleopatra, pettishly, 'that Major - '

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleopatra shuddered, and leaned back. 'Edith, my dear,' she said.
'Tell him - '


'Such dreadful words,' said Cleopatra. 'He uses such dreadful

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

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

'What do you mean, Major?' inquired Mr Dombey.

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

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

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

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

'Shaken, Dombey!' said the Major. 'Smashed!'

'Change, however,' pursued Mr Dombey, 'and attention, may do much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I have seen you,' addressing the old woman, 'before.'

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

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

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

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

'Oh, yes, my Lady!'

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

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

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

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

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