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Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 45

Dombey And Son

Chapter 45

The Trusty Agent

Edith went out alone that day, and returned home early. It was but
a few minutes after ten o'clock, when her carriage rolled along the
street in which she lived.

There was the same enforced composure on her face, that there had
been when she was dressing; and the wreath upon her head encircled the
same cold and steady brow. But it would have been better to have seen
its leaves and flowers reft into fragments by her passionate hand, or
rendered shapeless by the fitful searches of a throbbing and
bewildered brain for any resting-place, than adorning such
tranquillity. So obdurate, so unapproachable, so unrelenting, one
would have thought that nothing could soften such a woman's nature,
and that everything in life had hardened it.

Arrived at her own door, she was alighting, when some one coming
quietly from the hall, and standing bareheaded, offered her his arm.
The servant being thrust aside, she had no choice but to touch it; and
she then knew whose arm it was.

'How is your patient, Sir?' she asked, with a curled lip.

'He is better,' returned Carker. 'He is doing very well. I have
left him for the night.'

She bent her head, and was passing up the staircase, when he
followed and said, speaking at the bottom:

'Madam! May I beg the favour of a minute's audience?'

She stopped and turned her eyes back 'It is an unseasonable time,
Sir, and I am fatigued. Is your business urgent?'

'It is very urgent, returned Carker. 'As I am so fortunate as to
have met you, let me press my petition.'

She looked down for a moment at his glistening mouth; and he looked
up at her, standing above him in her stately dress, and thought,
again, how beautiful she was.

'Where is Miss Dombey?' she asked the servant, aloud.

'In the morning room, Ma'am.'

'Show the way there!' Turning her eyes again on the attentive
gentleman at the bottom of the stairs, and informing him with a slight
motion of her head, that he was at liberty to follow, she passed on.

'I beg your pardon! Madam! Mrs Dombey!' cried the soft and nimble
Carker, at her side in a moment. 'May I be permitted to entreat that
Miss Dombey is not present?'

She confronted him, with a quick look, but with the same
self-possession and steadiness.

'I would spare Miss Dombey,' said Carker, in a low voice, 'the
knowledge of what I have to say. At least, Madam, I would leave it to
you to decide whether she shall know of it or not. I owe that to you.
It is my bounden duty to you. After our former interview, it would be
monstrous in me if I did otherwise.'

She slowly withdrew her eyes from his face, and turning to the
servant, said, 'Some other room.' He led the way to a drawing-room,
which he speedily lighted up and then left them. While he remained,
not a word was spoken. Edith enthroned herself upon a couch by the
fire; and Mr Carker, with his hat in his hand and his eyes bent upon
the carpet, stood before her, at some little distance.

'Before I hear you, Sir,' said Edith, when the door was closed, 'I
wish you to hear me.'

'To be addressed by Mrs Dombey,' he returned, 'even in accents of
unmerited reproach, is an honour I so greatly esteem, that although I
were not her servant in all things, I should defer to such a wish,
most readily.'

'If you are charged by the man whom you have just now left, Sir;'
Mr Carker raised his eyes, as if he were going to counterfeit
surprise, but she met them, and stopped him, if such were his
intention; 'with any message to me, do not attempt to deliver it, for
I will not receive it. I need scarcely ask you if you are come on such
an errand. I have expected you some time.

'It is my misfortune,' he replied, 'to be here, wholly against my
will, for such a purpose. Allow me to say that I am here for two
purposes. That is one.'

'That one, Sir,' she returned, 'is ended. Or, if you return to it -

'Can Mrs Dombey believe,' said Carker, coming nearer, 'that I would
return to it in the face of her prohibition? Is it possible that Mrs
Dombey, having no regard to my unfortunate position, is so determined
to consider me inseparable from my instructor as to do me great and
wilful injustice?'

'Sir,' returned Edith, bending her dark gaze full upon him, and
speaking with a rising passion that inflated her proud nostril and her
swelling neck, and stirred the delicate white down upon a robe she
wore, thrown loosely over shoulders that could hear its snowy
neighbourhood. 'Why do you present yourself to me, as you have done,
and speak to me of love and duty to my husband, and pretend to think
that I am happily married, and that I honour him? How dare you venture
so to affront me, when you know - I do not know better, Sir: I have
seen it in your every glance, and heard it in your every word - that
in place of affection between us there is aversion and contempt, and
that I despise him hardly less than I despise myself for being his!
Injustice! If I had done justice to the torment you have made me feel,
and to my sense of the insult you have put upon me, I should have
slain you!'

She had asked him why he did this. Had she not been blinded by her
pride and wrath, and self-humiliation, - which she was, fiercely as
she bent her gaze upon him, - she would have seen the answer in his
face. To bring her to this declaration.

She saw it not, and cared not whether it was there or no. She saw
only the indignities and struggles she had undergone and had to
undergo, and was writhing under them. As she sat looking fixedly at
them, rather than at him, she plucked the feathers from a pinion of
some rare and beautiful bird, which hung from her wrist by a golden
thread, to serve her as a fan, and rained them on the ground.

He did not shrink beneath her gaze, but stood, until such outward
signs of her anger as had escaped her control subsided, with the air
of a man who had his sufficient reply in reserve and would presently
deliver it. And he then spoke, looking straight into her kindling

'Madam,' he said, 'I know, and knew before to-day, that I have
found no favour with you; and I knew why. Yes. I knew why. You have
spoken so openly to me; I am so relieved by the possession of your
confidence - '

'Confidence!' she repeated, with disdain.

He passed it over.

' - that I will make no pretence of concealment. I did see from the
first, that there was no affection on your part for Mr Dombey - how
could it possibly exist between such different subjects? And I have
seen, since, that stronger feelings than indifference have been
engendered in your breast - how could that possibly be otherwise,
either, circumstanced as you have been? But was it for me to presume
to avow this knowledge to you in so many words?'

'Was it for you, Sir,' she replied, 'to feign that other belief,
and audaciously to thrust it on me day by day?'

'Madam, it was,' he eagerly retorted. 'If I had done less, if I had
done anything but that, I should not be speaking to you thus; and I
foresaw - who could better foresee, for who has had greater experience
of Mr Dombey than myself? - that unless your character should prove to
be as yielding and obedient as that of his first submissive lady,
which I did not believe - '

A haughty smile gave him reason to observe that he might repeat

'I say, which I did not believe, - the time was likely to come,
when such an understanding as we have now arrived at, would be

'Serviceable to whom, Sir?' she demanded scornfully.

'To you. I will not add to myself, as warning me to refrain even
from that limited commendation of Mr Dombey, in which I can honestly
indulge, in order that I may not have the misfortune of saying
anything distasteful to one whose aversion and contempt,' with great
expression, 'are so keen.'

'Is it honest in you, Sir,' said Edith, 'to confess to your
"limited commendation," and to speak in that tone of disparagement,
even of him: being his chief counsellor and flatterer!'

'Counsellor, - yes,' said Carker. 'Flatterer, - no. A little
reservation I fear I must confess to. But our interest and convenience
commonly oblige many of us to make professions that we cannot feel. We
have partnerships of interest and convenience, friendships of interest
and convenience, dealings of interest and convenience, marriages of
interest and convenience, every day.'

She bit her blood-red lip; but without wavering in the dark, stern
watch she kept upon him.

'Madam,' said Mr Carker, sitting down in a chair that was near her,
with an air of the most profound and most considerate respect, 'why
should I hesitate now, being altogether devoted to your service, to
speak plainly? It was natural that a lady, endowed as you are, should
think it feasible to change her husband's character in some respects,
and mould him to a better form.'

'It was not natural to me, Sir,' she rejoined. 'I had never any
expectation or intention of that kind.'

The proud undaunted face showed him it was resolute to wear no mask
he offered, but was set upon a reckless disclosure of itself,
indifferent to any aspect in which it might present itself to such as

'At least it was natural,' he resumed, 'that you should deem it
quite possible to live with Mr Dombey as his wife, at once without
submitting to him, and without coming into such violent collision with
him. But, Madam, you did not know Mr Dombey (as you have since
ascertained), when you thought that. You did not know how exacting and
how proud he is, or how he is, if I may say so, the slave of his own
greatness, and goes yoked to his own triumphal car like a beast of
burden, with no idea on earth but that it is behind him and is to be
drawn on, over everything and through everything.'

His teeth gleamed through his malicious relish of this conceit, as
he went on talking:

'Mr Dombey is really capable of no more true consideration for you,
Madam, than for me. The comparison is an extreme one; I intend it to
be so; but quite just. Mr Dombey, in the plenitude of his power, asked
me - I had it from his own lips yesterday morning - to be his
go-between to you, because he knows I am not agreeable to you, and
because he intends that I shall be a punishment for your contumacy;
and besides that, because he really does consider, that I, his paid
servant, am an ambassador whom it is derogatory to the dignity - not
of the lady to whom I have the happiness of speaking; she has no
existence in his mind - but of his wife, a part of himself, to
receive. You may imagine how regardless of me, how obtuse to the
possibility of my having any individual sentiment or opinion he is,
when he tells me, openly, that I am so employed. You know how
perfectly indifferent to your feelings he is, when he threatens you
with such a messenger. As you, of course, have not forgotten that he

She watched him still attentively. But he watched her too; and he
saw that this indication of a knowledge on his part, of something that
had passed between herself and her husband, rankled and smarted in her
haughty breast, like a poisoned arrow.

'I do not recall all this to widen the breach between yourself and
Mr Dombey, Madam - Heaven forbid! what would it profit me? - but as an
example of the hopelessness of impressing Mr Dombey with a sense that
anybody is to be considered when he is in question. We who are about
him, have, in our various positions, done our part, I daresay, to
confirm him in his way of thinking; but if we had not done so, others
would - or they would not have been about him; and it has always been,
from the beginning, the very staple of his life. Mr Dombey has had to
deal, in short, with none but submissive and dependent persons, who
have bowed the knee, and bent the neck, before him. He has never known
what it is to have angry pride and strong resentment opposed to him.'

'But he will know it now!' she seemed to say; though her lips did
not part, nor her eyes falter. He saw the soft down tremble once
again, and he saw her lay the plumage of the beautiful bird against
her bosom for a moment; and he unfolded one more ring of the coil into
which he had gathered himself.

'Mr Dombey, though a most honourable gentleman,' he said, 'is so
prone to pervert even facts to his own view, when he is at all
opposed, in consequence of the warp in his mind, that he - can I give
a better instance than this! - he sincerely believes (you will excuse
the folly of what I am about to say; it not being mine) that his
severe expression of opinion to his present wife, on a certain special
occasion she may remember, before the lamented death of Mrs Skewton,
produced a withering effect, and for the moment quite subdued her!'

Edith laughed. How harshly and unmusically need not be described.
It is enough that he was glad to hear her.

'Madam,' he resumed, 'I have done with this. Your own opinions are
so strong, and, I am persuaded, so unalterable,' he repeated those
words slowly and with great emphasis, 'that I am almost afraid to
incur your displeasure anew, when I say that in spite of these defects
and my full knowledge of them, I have become habituated to Mr Dombey,
and esteem him. But when I say so, it is not, believe me, for the mere
sake of vaunting a feeling that is so utterly at variance with your
own, and for which you can have no sympathy' - oh how distinct and
plain and emphasized this was! - 'but to give you an assurance of the
zeal with which, in this unhappy matter, I am yours, and the
indignation with which I regard the part I am to fill!'

She sat as if she were afraid to take her eyes from his face.

And now to unwind the last ring of the coil!

'It is growing late,' said Carker, after a pause, 'and you are, as
you said, fatigued. But the second object of this interview, I must
not forget. I must recommend you, I must entreat you in the most
earnest manner, for sufficient reasons that I have, to be cautious in
your demonstrations of regard for Miss Dombey.'

'Cautious! What do you mean?'

'To be careful how you exhibit too much affection for that young

'Too much affection, Sir!' said Edith, knitting her broad brow and
rising. 'Who judges my affection, or measures it out? You?'

'It is not I who do so.' He was, or feigned to be, perplexed.

'Who then?'

'Can you not guess who then?'

'I do not choose to guess,' she answered.

'Madam,' he said after a little hesitation; meantime they had been,
and still were, regarding each other as before; 'I am in a difficulty
here. You have told me you will receive no message, and you have
forbidden me to return to that subject; but the two subjects are so
closely entwined, I find, that unless you will accept this vague
caution from one who has now the honour to possess your confidence,
though the way to it has been through your displeasure, I must violate
the injunction you have laid upon me.'

'You know that you are free to do so, Sir,' said Edith. 'Do it.'

So pale, so trembling, so impassioned! He had not miscalculated the
effect then!

'His instructions were,' he said, in a low voice, 'that I should
inform you that your demeanour towards Miss Dombey is not agreeable to
him. That it suggests comparisons to him which are not favourable to
himself. That he desires it may be wholly changed; and that if you are
in earnest, he is confident it will be; for your continued show of
affection will not benefit its object.'

'That is a threat,' she said.

'That is a threat,' he answered, in his voiceless manner of assent:
adding aloud, 'but not directed against you.'

Proud, erect, and dignified, as she stood confronting him; and
looking through him as she did, with her full bright flashing eye; and
smiling, as she was, with scorn and bitterness; she sunk as if the
ground had dropped beneath her, and in an instant would have fallen on
the floor, but that he caught her in his arms. As instantaneously she
threw him off, the moment that he touched her, and, drawing back,
confronted him again, immoveable, with her hand stretched out.

'Please to leave me. Say no more to-night.'

'I feel the urgency of this,' said Mr Carker, 'because it is
impossible to say what unforeseen consequences might arise, or how
soon, from your being unacquainted with his state of mind. I
understand Miss Dombey is concerned, now, at the dismissal of her old
servant, which is likely to have been a minor consequence in itself.
You don't blame me for requesting that Miss Dombey might not be
present. May I hope so?'

'I do not. Please to leave me, Sir.'

'I knew that your regard for the young lady, which is very sincere
and strong, I am well persuaded, would render it a great unhappiness
to you, ever to be a prey to the reflection that you had injured her
position and ruined her future hopes,' said Carker hurriedly, but

'No more to-night. Leave me, if you please.'

'I shall be here constantly in my attendance upon him, and in the
transaction of business matters. You will allow me to see you again,
and to consult what should be done, and learn your wishes?'

She motioned him towards the door.

'I cannot even decide whether to tell him I have spoken to you yet;
or to lead him to suppose that I have deferred doing so, for want of
opportunity, or for any other reason. It will be necessary that you
should enable me to consult with you very soon.

'At any time but now,' she answered.

'You will understand, when I wish to see you, that Miss Dombey is
not to be present; and that I seek an interview as one who has the
happiness to possess your confidence, and who comes to render you
every assistance in his power, and, perhaps, on many occasions, to
ward off evil from her?'

Looking at him still with the same apparent dread of releasing him
for a moment from the influence of her steady gaze, whatever that
might be, she answered, 'Yes!' and once more bade him go.

He bowed, as if in compliance; but turning back, when he had nearly
reached the door, said:

'I am forgiven, and have explained my fault. May I - for Miss
Dombey's sake, and for my own - take your hand before I go?'

She gave him the gloved hand she had maimed last night. He took it
in one of his, and kissed it, and withdrew. And when he had closed the
door, he waved the hand with which he had taken hers, and thrust it in
his breast.

Edith saw no one that night, but locked her door, and kept herself


She did not weep; she showed no greater agitation, outwardly, than
when she was riding home. She laid as proud a head upon her pillow as
she had borne in her carriage; and her prayer ran thus:

'May this man be a liar! For if he has spoken truth, she is lost to
me, and I have no hope left!'

This man, meanwhile, went home musing to bed, thinking, with a
dainty pleasure, how imperious her passion was, how she had sat before
him in her beauty, with the dark eyes that had never turned away but
once; how the white down had fluttered; how the bird's feathers had
been strewn upon the ground.

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