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Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 41

Dombey And Son

Chapter 41

New Voices in the Waves

All is going on as it was wont. The waves are hoarse with
repetition of their mystery; the dust lies piled upon the shore; the
sea-birds soar and hover; the winds and clouds go forth upon their
trackless flight; the white arms beckon, in the moonlight, to the
invisible country far away.

With a tender melancholy pleasure, Florence finds herself again on
the old ground so sadly trodden, yet so happily, and thinks of him in
the quiet place, where he and she have many and many a time conversed
together, with the water welling up about his couch. And now, as she
sits pensive there, she hears in the wild low murmur of the sea, his
little story told again, his very words repeated; and finds that all
her life and hopes, and griefs, since - in the solitary house, and in
the pageant it has changed to - have a portion in the burden of the
marvellous song.

And gentle Mr Toots, who wanders at a distance, looking wistfully
towards the figure that he dotes upon, and has followed there, but
cannot in his delicacy disturb at such a time, likewise hears the
requiem of little Dombey on the waters, rising and falling in the
lulls of their eternal madrigal in praise of Florence. Yes! and he
faintly understands, poor Mr Toots, that they are saying something of
a time when he was sensible of being brighter and not addle-brained;
and the tears rising in his eyes when he fears that he is dull and
stupid now, and good for little but to be laughed at, diminish his
satisfaction in their soothing reminder that he is relieved from
present responsibility to the Chicken, by the absence of that game
head of poultry in the country, training (at Toots's cost) for his
great mill with the Larkey Boy.

But Mr Toots takes courage, when they whisper a kind thought to
him; and by slow degrees and with many indecisive stoppages on the
way, approaches Florence. Stammering and blushing, Mr Toots affects
amazement when he comes near her, and says (having followed close on
the carriage in which she travelled, every inch of the way from
London, loving even to be choked by the dust of its wheels) that he
never was so surprised in all his life.

'And you've brought Diogenes, too, Miss Dombey!' says Mr Toots,
thrilled through and through by the touch of the small hand so
pleasantly and frankly given him.

No doubt Diogenes is there, and no doubt Mr Toots has reason to
observe him, for he comes straightway at Mr Toots's legs, and tumbles
over himself in the desperation with which he makes at him, like a
very dog of Montargis. But he is checked by his sweet mistress.

'Down, Di, down. Don't you remember who first made us friends, Di?
For shame!'

Oh! Well may Di lay his loving cheek against her hand, and run off,
and run back, and run round her, barking, and run headlong at anybody
coming by, to show his devotion. Mr Toots would run headlong at
anybody, too. A military gentleman goes past, and Mr Toots would like
nothing better than to run at him, full tilt.

'Diogenes is quite in his native air, isn't he, Miss Dombey?' says
Mr Toots.

Florence assents, with a grateful smile.

'Miss Dombey,' says Mr Toots, 'beg your pardon, but if you would
like to walk to Blimber's, I - I'm going there.'

Florence puts her arm in that of Mr Toots without a word, and they
walk away together, with Diogenes going on before. Mr Toots's legs
shake under him; and though he is splendidly dressed, he feels
misfits, and sees wrinkles, in the masterpieces of Burgess and Co.,
and wishes he had put on that brightest pair of boots.

Doctor Blimber's house, outside, has as scholastic and studious an
air as ever; and up there is the window where she used to look for the
pale face, and where the pale face brightened when it saw her, and the
wasted little hand waved kisses as she passed. The door is opened by
the same weak-eyed young man, whose imbecility of grin at sight of Mr
Toots is feebleness of character personified. They are shown into the
Doctor's study, where blind Homer and Minerva give them audience as of
yore, to the sober ticking of the great clock in the hall; and where
the globes stand still in their accustomed places, as if the world
were stationary too, and nothing in it ever perished in obedience to
the universal law, that, while it keeps it on the roll, calls
everything to earth.

And here is Doctor Blimber, with his learned legs; and here is Mrs
Blimber, with her sky-blue cap; and here Cornelia, with her sandy
little row of curls, and her bright spectacles, still working like a
sexton in the graves of languages. Here is the table upon which he sat
forlorn and strange, the 'new boy' of the school; and hither comes the
distant cooing of the old boys, at their old lives in the old room on
the old principle!

'Toots,' says Doctor Blimber, 'I am very glad to see you, Toots.'

Mr Toots chuckles in reply.

'Also to see you, Toots, in such good company,' says Doctor

Mr Toots, with a scarlet visage, explains that he has met Miss
Dombey by accident, and that Miss Dombey wishing, like himself, to see
the old place, they have come together.

'You will like,' says Doctor Blimber, 'to step among our young
friends, Miss Dombey, no doubt. All fellow-students of yours, Toots,
once. I think we have no new disciples in our little portico, my
dear,' says Doctor Blimber to Cornelia, 'since Mr Toots left us.'

'Except Bitherstone,' returns Cornelia.

'Ay, truly,' says the Doctor. 'Bitherstone is new to Mr Toots.'

New to Florence, too, almost; for, in the schoolroom, Bitherstone -
no longer Master Bitherstone of Mrs Pipchin's - shows in collars and a
neckcloth, and wears a watch. But Bitherstone, born beneath some
Bengal star of ill-omen, is extremely inky; and his Lexicon has got so
dropsical from constant reference, that it won't shut, and yawns as if
it really could not bear to be so bothered. So does Bitherstone its
master, forced at Doctor Blimber's highest pressure; but in the yawn
of Bitherstone there is malice and snarl, and he has been heard to say
that he wishes he could catch 'old Blimber' in India. He'd precious
soon find himself carried up the country by a few of his
(Bitherstone's) Coolies, and handed over to the Thugs; he can tell him

Briggs is still grinding in the mill of knowledge; and Tozer, too;
and Johnson, too; and all the rest; the older pupils being principally
engaged in forgetting, with prodigious labour, everything they knew
when they were younger. All are as polite and as pale as ever; and
among them, Mr Feeder, B.A., with his bony hand and bristly head, is
still hard at it; with his Herodotus stop on just at present, and his
other barrels on a shelf behind him.

A mighty sensation is created, even among these grave young
gentlemen, by a visit from the emancipated Toots; who is regarded with
a kind of awe, as one who has passed the Rubicon, and is pledged never
to come back, and concerning the cut of whose clothes, and fashion of
whose jewellery, whispers go about, behind hands; the bilious
Bitherstone, who is not of Mr Toots's time, affecting to despise the
latter to the smaller boys, and saying he knows better, and that he
should like to see him coming that sort of thing in Bengal, where his
mother had got an emerald belonging to him that was taken out of the
footstool of a Rajah. Come now!

Bewildering emotions are awakened also by the sight of Florence,
with whom every young gentleman immediately falls in love, again;
except, as aforesaid, the bilious Bitherstone, who declines to do so,
out of contradiction. Black jealousies of Mr Toots arise, and Briggs
is of opinion that he ain't so very old after all. But this
disparaging insinuation is speedily made nought by Mr Toots saying
aloud to Mr Feeder, B.A., 'How are you, Feeder?' and asking him to
come and dine with him to-day at the Bedford; in right of which feats
he might set up as Old Parr, if he chose, unquestioned.

There is much shaking of hands, and much bowing, and a great desire
on the part of each young gentleman to take Toots down in Miss
Dombey's good graces; and then, Mr Toots having bestowed a chuckle on
his old desk, Florence and he withdraw with Mrs Blimber and Cornelia;
and Doctor Blimber is heard to observe behind them as he comes out
last, and shuts the door, 'Gentlemen, we will now resume our studies,'
For that and little else is what the Doctor hears the sea say, or has
heard it saying all his life.

Florence then steals away and goes upstairs to the old bedroom with
Mrs Blimber and Cornelia; Mr Toots, who feels that neither he nor
anybody else is wanted there, stands talking to the Doctor at the
study-door, or rather hearing the Doctor talk to him, and wondering
how he ever thought the study a great sanctuary, and the Doctor, with
his round turned legs, like a clerical pianoforte, an awful man.
Florence soon comes down and takes leave; Mr Toots takes leave; and
Diogenes, who has been worrying the weak-eyed young man pitilessly all
the time, shoots out at the door, and barks a glad defiance down the
cliff; while Melia, and another of the Doctor's female domestics,
looks out of an upper window, laughing 'at that there Toots,' and
saying of Miss Dombey, 'But really though, now - ain't she like her
brother, only prettier?'

Mr Toots, who saw when Florence came down that there were tears
upon her face, is desperately anxious and uneasy, and at first fears
that he did wrong in proposing the visit. But he is soon relieved by
her saying she is very glad to have been there again, and by her
talking quite cheerfully about it all, as they walked on by the sea.
What with the voices there, and her sweet voice, when they come near
Mr Dombey's house, and Mr Toots must leave her, he is so enslaved that
he has not a scrap of free-will left; when she gives him her hand at
parting, he cannot let it go.

'Miss Dombey, I beg your pardon,' says Mr Toots, in a sad fluster,
'but if you would allow me to - to -

The smiling and unconscious look of Florence brings him to a dead

'If you would allow me to - if you would not consider it a liberty,
Miss Dombey, if I was to - without any encouragement at all, if I was
to hope, you know,' says Mr Toots.

Florence looks at him inquiringly.

'Miss Dombey,' says Mr Toots, who feels that he is in for it now,
'I really am in that state of adoration of you that I don't know what
to do with myself. I am the most deplorable wretch. If it wasn't at
the corner of the Square at present, I should go down on my knees, and
beg and entreat of you, without any encouragement at all, just to let
me hope that I may - may think it possible that you -

'Oh, if you please, don't!' cries Florence, for the moment quite
alarmed and distressed. 'Oh, pray don't, Mr Toots. Stop, if you
please. Don't say any more. As a kindness and a favour to me, don't.'

Mr Toots is dreadfully abashed, and his mouth opens.

'You have been so good to me,' says Florence, 'I am so grateful to
you, I have such reason to like you for being a kind friend to me, and
I do like you so much;' and here the ingenuous face smiles upon him
with the pleasantest look of honesty in the world; 'that I am sure you
are only going to say good-bye!'

'Certainly, Miss Dombey,' says Mr Toots, 'I - I - that's exactly
what I mean. It's of no consequence.'

'Good-bye!' cries Florence.

'Good-bye, Miss Dombey!' stammers Mr Toots. 'I hope you won't think
anything about it. It's - it's of no consequence, thank you. It's not
of the least consequence in the world.'

Poor Mr Toots goes home to his hotel in a state of desperation,
locks himself into his bedroom, flings himself upon his bed, and lies
there for a long time; as if it were of the greatest consequence,
nevertheless. But Mr Feeder, B.A., is coming to dinner, which happens
well for Mr Toots, or there is no knowing when he might get up again.
Mr Toots is obliged to get up to receive him, and to give him
hospitable entertainment.

And the generous influence of that social virtue, hospitality (to
make no mention of wine and good cheer), opens Mr Toots's heart, and
warms him to conversation. He does not tell Mr Feeder, B.A., what
passed at the corner of the Square; but when Mr Feeder asks him 'When
it is to come off?' Mr Toots replies, 'that there are certain
subjects' - which brings Mr Feeder down a peg or two immediately. Mr
Toots adds, that he don't know what right Blimber had to notice his
being in Miss Dombey's company, and that if he thought he meant
impudence by it, he'd have him out, Doctor or no Doctor; but he
supposes its only his ignorance. Mr Feeder says he has no doubt of it.

Mr Feeder, however, as an intimate friend, is not excluded from the
subject. Mr Toots merely requires that it should be mentioned
mysteriously, and with feeling. After a few glasses of wine, he gives
Miss Dombey's health, observing, 'Feeder, you have no idea of the
sentiments with which I propose that toast.' Mr Feeder replies, 'Oh,
yes, I have, my dear Toots; and greatly they redound to your honour,
old boy.' Mr Feeder is then agitated by friendship, and shakes hands;
and says, if ever Toots wants a brother, he knows where to find him,
either by post or parcel. Mr Feeder like-wise says, that if he may
advise, he would recommend Mr Toots to learn the guitar, or, at least
the flute; for women like music, when you are paying your addresses to
'em, and he has found the advantage of it himself.

This brings Mr Feeder, B.A., to the confession that he has his eye
upon Cornelia Blimber. He informs Mr Toots that he don't object to
spectacles, and that if the Doctor were to do the handsome thing and
give up the business, why, there they are - provided for. He says it's
his opinion that when a man has made a handsome sum by his business,
he is bound to give it up; and that Cornelia would be an assistance in
it which any man might be proud of. Mr Toots replies by launching
wildly out into Miss Dombey's praises, and by insinuations that
sometimes he thinks he should like to blow his brains out. Mr Feeder
strongly urges that it would be a rash attempt, and shows him, as a
reconcilement to existence, Cornelia's portrait, spectacles and all.

Thus these quiet spirits pass the evening; and when it has yielded
place to night, Mr Toots walks home with Mr Feeder, and parts with him
at Doctor Blimber's door. But Mr Feeder only goes up the steps, and
when Mr Toots is gone, comes down again, to stroll upon the beach
alone, and think about his prospects. Mr Feeder plainly hears the
waves informing him, as he loiters along, that Doctor Blimber will
give up the business; and he feels a soft romantic pleasure in looking
at the outside of the house, and thinking that the Doctor will first
paint it, and put it into thorough repair.

Mr Toots is likewise roaming up and down, outside the casket that
contains his jewel; and in a deplorable condition of mind, and not
unsuspected by the police, gazes at a window where he sees a light,
and which he has no doubt is Florence's. But it is not, for that is
Mrs Skewton's room; and while Florence, sleeping in another chamber,
dreams lovingly, in the midst of the old scenes, and their old
associations live again, the figure which in grim reality is
substituted for the patient boy's on the same theatre, once more to
connect it - but how differently! - with decay and death, is stretched
there, wakeful and complaining. Ugly and haggard it lies upon its bed
of unrest; and by it, in the terror of her unimpassioned loveliness -
for it has terror in the sufferer's failing eyes - sits Edith. What do
the waves say, in the stillness of the night, to them?

'Edith, what is that stone arm raised to strike me? Don't you see

There is nothing, mother, but your fancy.'

'But my fancy! Everything is my fancy. Look! Is it possible that
you don't see it?'

'Indeed, mother, there is nothing. Should I sit unmoved, if there
were any such thing there?'

'Unmoved?' looking wildly at her - 'it's gone now - and why are you
so unmoved? That is not my fancy, Edith. It turns me cold to see you
sitting at my side.'

'I am sorry, mother.'

'Sorry! You seem always sorry. But it is not for me!'

With that, she cries; and tossing her restless head from side to
side upon her pillow, runs on about neglect, and the mother she has
been, and the mother the good old creature was, whom they met, and the
cold return the daughters of such mothers make. In the midst of her
incoherence, she stops, looks at her daughter, cries out that her wits
are going, and hides her face upon the bed.

Edith, in compassion, bends over her and speaks to her. The sick
old woman clutches her round the neck, and says, with a look of

'Edith! we are going home soon; going back. You mean that I shall
go home again?'

'Yes, mother, yes.'

'And what he said - what's-his-name, I never could remember names -
Major - that dreadful word, when we came away - it's not true? Edith!'
with a shriek and a stare, 'it's not that that is the matter with me.'

Night after night, the lights burn in the window, and the figure
lies upon the bed, and Edith sits beside it, and the restless waves
are calling to them both the whole night long. Night after night, the
waves are hoarse with repetition of their mystery; the dust lies piled
upon the shore; the sea-birds soar and hover; the winds and clouds are
on their trackless flight; the white arms beckon, in the moonlight, to
the invisible country far away.

And still the sick old woman looks into the corner, where the stone
arm - part of a figure of some tomb, she says - is raised to strike
her. At last it falls; and then a dumb old woman lies upon the the
bed, and she is crooked and shrunk up, and half of her is dead.

Such is the figure, painted and patched for the sun to mock, that
is drawn slowly through the crowd from day to day; looking, as it
goes, for the good old creature who was such a mother, and making
mouths as it peers among the crowd in vain. Such is the figure that is
often wheeled down to the margin of the sea, and stationed there; but
on which no wind can blow freshness, and for which the murmur of the
ocean has no soothing word. She lies and listens to it by the hour;
but its speech is dark and gloomy to her, and a dread is on her face,
and when her eyes wander over the expanse, they see but a broad
stretch of desolation between earth and heaven.

Florence she seldom sees, and when she does, is angry with and mows
at. Edith is beside her always, and keeps Florence away; and Florence,
in her bed at night, trembles at the thought of death in such a shape,
and often wakes and listens, thinking it has come. No one attends on
her but Edith. It is better that few eyes should see her; and her
daughter watches alone by the bedside.

A shadow even on that shadowed face, a sharpening even of the
sharpened features, and a thickening of the veil before the eyes into
a pall that shuts out the dim world, is come. Her wandering hands upon
the coverlet join feebly palm to palm, and move towards her daughter;
and a voice not like hers, not like any voice that speaks our mortal
language - says, 'For I nursed you!'

Edith, without a tear, kneels down to bring her voice closer to the
sinking head, and answers:

'Mother, can you hear me?'

Staring wide, she tries to nod in answer.

'Can you recollect the night before I married?'

The head is motionless, but it expresses somehow that she does.

'I told you then that I forgave your part in it, and prayed God to
forgive my own. I told you that time past was at an end between us. I
say so now, again. Kiss me, mother.'

Edith touches the white lips, and for a moment all is still. A
moment afterwards, her mother, with her girlish laugh, and the
skeleton of the Cleopatra manner, rises in her bed.

Draw the rose-coloured curtains. There is something else upon its
flight besides the wind and clouds. Draw the rose-coloured curtains

Intelligence of the event is sent to Mr Dombey in town, who waits
upon Cousin Feenix (not yet able to make up his mind for Baden-Baden),
who has just received it too. A good-natured creature like Cousin
Feenix is the very man for a marriage or a funeral, and his position
in the family renders it right that he should be consulted.

'Dombey,' said Cousin Feenix, 'upon my soul, I am very much shocked
to see you on such a melancholy occasion. My poor aunt! She was a
devilish lively woman.'

Mr Dombey replies, 'Very much so.'

'And made up,' says Cousin Feenix, 'really young, you know,
considering. I am sure, on the day of your marriage, I thought she was
good for another twenty years. In point of fact, I said so to a man at
Brooks's - little Billy Joper - you know him, no doubt - man with a
glass in his eye?'

Mr Dombey bows a negative. 'In reference to the obsequies,' he
hints, 'whether there is any suggestion - '

'Well, upon my life,' says Cousin Feenix, stroking his chin, which
he has just enough of hand below his wristbands to do; 'I really don't
know. There's a Mausoleum down at my place, in the park, but I'm
afraid it's in bad repair, and, in point of fact, in a devil of a
state. But for being a little out at elbows, I should have had it put
to rights; but I believe the people come and make pic-nic parties
there inside the iron railings.'

Mr Dombey is clear that this won't do.

'There's an uncommon good church in the village,' says Cousin
Feenix, thoughtfully; 'pure specimen of the Anglo-Norman style, and
admirably well sketched too by Lady Jane Finchbury - woman with tight
stays - but they've spoilt it with whitewash, I understand, and it's a
long journey.

'Perhaps Brighton itself,' Mr Dombey suggests.

'Upon my honour, Dombey, I don't think we could do better,' says
Cousin Feenix. 'It's on the spot, you see, and a very cheerful place.'

'And when,' hints Mr Dombey, 'would it be convenient?'

'I shall make a point,' says Cousin Feenix, 'of pledging myself for
any day you think best. I shall have great pleasure (melancholy
pleasure, of course) in following my poor aunt to the confines of the
- in point of fact, to the grave,' says Cousin Feenix, failing in the
other turn of speech.

'Would Monday do for leaving town?' says Mr Dombey.

'Monday would suit me to perfection,' replies Cousin Feenix.
Therefore Mr Dombey arranges to take Cousin Feenix down on that day,
and presently takes his leave, attended to the stairs by Cousin
Feenix, who says, at parting, 'I'm really excessively sorry, Dombey,
that you should have so much trouble about it;' to which Mr Dombey
answers, 'Not at all.'

At the appointed time, Cousin Feenix and Mr Dombey meet, and go
down to Brighton, and representing, in their two selves, all the other
mourners for the deceased lady's loss, attend her remains to their
place of rest. Cousin Feenix, sitting in the mourning-coach,
recognises innumerable acquaintances on the road, but takes no other
notice of them, in decorum, than checking them off aloud, as they go
by, for Mr Dombey's information, as 'Tom Johnson. Man with cork leg,
from White's. What, are you here, Tommy? Foley on a blood mare. The
Smalder girls' - and so forth. At the ceremony Cousin Feenix is
depressed, observing, that these are the occasions to make a man
think, in point of fact, that he is getting shaky; and his eyes are
really moistened, when it is over. But he soon recovers; and so do the
rest of Mrs Skewton's relatives and friends, of whom the Major
continually tells the club that she never did wrap up enough; while
the young lady with the back, who has so much trouble with her
eyelids, says, with a little scream, that she must have been
enormously old, and that she died of all kinds of horrors, and you
mustn't mention it.

So Edith's mother lies unmentioned of her dear friends, who are
deaf to the waves that are hoarse with repetition of their mystery,
and blind to the dust that is piled upon the shore, and to the white
arms that are beckoning, in the moonlight, to the invisible country
far away. But all goes on, as it was wont, upon the margin of the
unknown sea; and Edith standing there alone, and listening to its
waves, has dank weed cast up at her feet, to strew her path in life

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