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Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 55

Dombey And Son

Chapter 55

Rob the Grinder loses his Place

The Porter at the iron gate which shut the court-yard from the
street, had left the little wicket of his house open, and was gone
away; no doubt to mingle in the distant noise at the door of the great
staircase. Lifting the latch softly, Carker crept out, and shutting
the jangling gate after him with as little noise as possible, hurried

In the fever of his mortification and unavailing rage, the panic
that had seized upon him mastered him completely. It rose to such a
height that he would have blindly encountered almost any risk, rather
than meet the man of whom, two hours ago, he had been utterly
regardless. His fierce arrival, which he had never expected; the sound
of his voice; their having been so near a meeting, face to face; he
would have braved out this, after the first momentary shock of alarm,
and would have put as bold a front upon his guilt as any villain. But
the springing of his mine upon himself, seemed to have rent and
shivered all his hardihood and self-reliance. Spurned like any
reptile; entrapped and mocked; turned upon, and trodden down by the
proud woman whose mind he had slowly poisoned, as he thought, until
she had sunk into the mere creature of his pleasure; undeceived in his
deceit, and with his fox's hide stripped off, he sneaked away,
abashed, degraded, and afraid.

Some other terror came upon hIm quite removed from this of being
pursued, suddenly, like an electric shock, as he was creeping through
the streets Some visionary terror, unintelligible and inexplicable,
asssociated with a trembling of the ground, - a rush and sweep of
something through the air, like Death upon the wing. He shrunk, as if
to let the thing go by. It was not gone, it never had been there, yet
what a startling horror it had left behind.

He raised his wicked face so full of trouble, to the night sky,
where the stars, so full of peace, were shining on him as they had
been when he first stole out into the air; and stopped to think what
he should do. The dread of being hunted in a strange remote place,
where the laws might not protect him - the novelty of the feeling that
it was strange and remote, originating in his being left alone so
suddenly amid the ruins of his plans - his greater dread of seeking
refuge now, in Italy or in Sicily, where men might be hired to
assissinate him, he thought, at any dark street corner-the waywardness
of guilt and fear - perhaps some sympathy of action with the turning
back of all his schemes - impelled him to turn back too, and go to

'I am safer there, in any case. If I should not decide,' he
thought, 'to give this fool a meeting, I am less likely to be traced
there, than abroad here, now. And if I should (this cursed fit being
over), at least I shall not be alone, with out a soul to speak to, or
advise with, or stand by me. I shall not be run in upon and worried
like a rat.'

He muttered Edith's name, and clenched his hand. As he crept along,
in the shadow of the massive buildings, he set his teeth, and muttered
dreadful imprecations on her head, and looked from side to side, as if
in search of her. Thus, he stole on to the gate of an inn-yard. The
people were a-bed; but his ringing at the bell soon produced a man
with a lantern, in company with whom he was presently in a dim
coach-house, bargaining for the hire of an old phaeton, to Paris.

The bargain was a short one; and the horses were soon sent for.
Leaving word that the carriage was to follow him when they came, he
stole away again, beyond the town, past the old ramparts, out on the
open road, which seemed to glide away along the dark plain, like a

Whither did it flow? What was the end of it? As he paused, with
some such suggestion within him, looking over the gloomy flat where
the slender trees marked out the way, again that flight of Death came
rushing up, again went on, impetuous and resistless, again was nothing
but a horror in his mind, dark as the scene and undefined as its
remotest verge.

There was no wind; there was no passing shadow on the deep shade of
the night; there was no noise. The city lay behind hIm, lighted here
and there, and starry worlds were hidden by the masonry of spire and
roof that hardly made out any shapes against the sky. Dark and lonely
distance lay around him everywhere, and the clocks were faintly
striking two.

He went forward for what appeared a long time, and a long way;
often stopping to listen. At last the ringing of horses' bells greeted
his anxious ears. Now softer, and now louder, now inaudible, now
ringing very slowly over bad ground, now brisk and merry, it came on;
until with a loud shouting and lashing, a shadowy postillion muffled
to the eyes, checked his four struggling horses at his side.

'Who goes there! Monsieur?'


'Monsieur has walked a long way in the dark midnight.'

'No matter. Everyone to his task. Were there any other horses
ordered at the Post-house?'

'A thousand devils! - and pardons! other horses? at this hour? No.'

'Listen, my friend. I am much hurried. Let us see how fast we can
travel! The faster, the more money there will be to drink. Off we go
then! Quick!'

'Halloa! whoop! Halloa! Hi!' Away, at a gallop, over the black
landscape, scattering the dust and dirt like spray!

The clatter and commotion echoed to the hurry and discordance of
the fugitive's ideas. Nothing clear without, and nothing clear within.
Objects flitting past, merging into one another, dimly descried,
confusedly lost sight of, gone! Beyond the changing scraps of fence
and cottage immediately upon the road, a lowering waste. Beyond the
shifting images that rose up in his mind and vanished as they showed
themselves, a black expanse of dread and rage and baffled villainy.
Occasionally, a sigh of mountain air came from the distant Jura,
fading along the plain. Sometimes that rush which was so furious and
horrible, again came sweeping through his fancy, passed away, and left
a chill upon his blood.

The lamps, gleaming on the medley of horses' heads, jumbled with
the shadowy driver, and the fluttering of his cloak, made a thousand
indistinct shapes, answering to his thoughts. Shadows of familiar
people, stooping at their desks and books, in their remembered
attitudes; strange apparitions of the man whom he was flying from, or
of Edith; repetitions in the ringing bells and rolling wheels, of
words that had been spoken; confusions of time and place, making last
night a month ago, a month ago last night - home now distant beyond
hope, now instantly accessible; commotion, discord, hurry, darkness,
and confusion in his mind, and all around him. - Hallo! Hi! away at a
gallop over the black landscape; dust and dirt flying like spray, the
smoking horses snorting and plunging as if each of them were ridden by
a demon, away in a frantic triumph on the dark road - whither?

Again the nameless shock comes speeding up, and as it passes, the
bells ring in his ears 'whither?' The wheels roar in his ears
'whither?' All the noise and rattle shapes itself into that cry. The
lights and shadows dance upon the horses' heads like imps. No stopping
now: no slackening! On, on Away with him upon the dark road wildly!

He could not think to any purpose. He could not separate one
subject of reflection from another, sufficiently to dwell upon it, by
itself, for a minute at a time. The crash of his project for the
gaining of a voluptuous compensation for past restraint; the overthrow
of his treachery to one who had been true and generous to him, but
whose least proud word and look he had treasured up, at interest, for
years - for false and subtle men will always secretly despise and
dislike the object upon which they fawn and always resent the payment
and receipt of homage that they know to be worthless; these were the
themes uppermost in his mind. A lurking rage against the woman who had
so entrapped him and avenged herself was always there; crude and
misshapen schemes of retaliation upon her, floated in his brain; but
nothing was distinct. A hurry and contradiction pervaded all his
thoughts. Even while he was so busy with this fevered, ineffectual
thinking, his one constant idea was, that he would postpone reflection
until some indefinite time.

Then, the old days before the second marriage rose up in his
remembrance. He thought how jealous he had been of the boy, how
jealous he had been of the girl, how artfully he had kept intruders at
a distance, and drawn a circle round his dupe that none but himself
should cross; and then he thought, had he done all this to be flying
now, like a scared thief, from only the poor dupe?

He could have laid hands upon himself for his cowardice, but it was
the very shadow of his defeat, and could not be separated from it. To
have his confidence in his own knavery so shattered at a blow - to be
within his own knowledge such a miserable tool - was like being
paralysed. With an impotent ferocity he raged at Edith, and hated Mr
Dombey and hated himself, but still he fled, and could do nothing

Again and again he listened for the sound of wheels behind. Again
and again his fancy heard it, coming on louder and louder. At last he
was so persuaded of this, that he cried out, 'Stop' preferring even
the loss of ground to such uncertainty.

The word soon brought carriage, horses, driver, all in a heap
together, across the road.

'The devil!' cried the driver, looking over his shoulder, 'what's
the matter?'

'Hark! What's that?'


'That noise?'

'Ah Heaven, be quiet, cursed brigand!' to a horse who shook his
bells 'What noise?'

'Behind. Is it not another carriage at a gallop? There! what's
that?' Miscreant with a Pig's head, stand still!' to another horse,
who bit another, who frightened the other two, who plunged and backed.
'There is nothing coming.'


'No, nothing but the day yonder.'

'You are right, I think. I hear nothing now, indeed. Go on!'

The entangled equipage, half hidden in the reeking cloud from the
horses, goes on slowly at first, for the driver, checked unnecessarily
in his progress, sulkily takes out a pocket-knife, and puts a new lash
to his whip. Then 'Hallo, whoop! Hallo, hi!' Away once more, savagely.

And now the stars faded, and the day glimmered, and standing in the
carriage, looking back, he could discern the track by which he had
come, and see that there was no traveller within view, on all the
heavy expanse. And soon it was broad day, and the sun began to shine
on cornfields and vineyards; and solitary labourers, risen from little
temporary huts by heaps of stones upon the road, were, here and there,
at work repairing the highway, or eating bread. By and by, there were
peasants going to their daily labour, or to market, or lounging at the
doors of poor cottages, gazing idly at him as he passed. And then
there was a postyard, ankle-deep in mud, with steaming dunghills and
vast outhouses half ruined; and looking on this dainty prospect, an
immense, old, shadeless, glaring, stone chateau, with half its windows
blinded, and green damp crawling lazily over it, from the balustraded
terrace to the taper tips of the extinguishers upon the turrets.

Gathered up moodily in a corner of the carriage, and only intent on
going fast - except when he stood up, for a mile together, and looked
back; which he would do whenever there was a piece of open country -
he went on, still postponing thought indefinitely, and still always
tormented with thinking to no purpose.

Shame, disappointment, and discomfiture gnawed at his heart; a
constant apprehension of being overtaken, or met - for he was
groundlessly afraid even of travellers, who came towards him by the
way he was going - oppressed him heavily. The same intolerable awe and
dread that had come upon him in the night, returned unweakened in the
day. The monotonous ringing of the bells and tramping of the horses;
the monotony of his anxiety, and useless rage; the monotonous wheel of
fear, regret, and passion, he kept turning round and round; made the
journey like a vision, in which nothing was quite real but his own

It was a vision of long roads, that stretched away to an horizon,
always receding and never gained; of ill-paved towns, up hill and
down, where faces came to dark doors and ill-glazed windows, and where
rows of mudbespattered cows and oxen were tied up for sale in the long
narrow streets, butting and lowing, and receiving blows on their blunt
heads from bludgeons that might have beaten them in; of bridges,
crosses, churches, postyards, new horses being put in against their
wills, and the horses of the last stage reeking, panting, and laying
their drooping heads together dolefully at stable doors; of little
cemeteries with black crosses settled sideways in the graves, and
withered wreaths upon them dropping away; again of long, long roads,
dragging themselves out, up hill and down, to the treacherous horizon.

Of morning, noon, and sunset; night, and the rising of an early
moon. Of long roads temporarily left behind, and a rough pavement
reached; of battering and clattering over it, and looking up, among
house-roofs, at a great church-tower; of getting out and eating
hastily, and drinking draughts of wine that had no cheering influence;
of coming forth afoot, among a host of beggars - blind men with
quivering eyelids, led by old women holding candles to their faces;
idiot girls; the lame, the epileptic, and the palsied - of passing
through the clamour, and looking from his seat at the upturned
countenances and outstretched hands, with a hurried dread of
recognising some pursuer pressing forward - of galloping away again,
upon the long, long road, gathered up, dull and stunned, in his
corner, or rising to see where the moon shone faintly on a patch of
the same endless road miles away, or looking back to see who followed.

Of never sleeping, but sometimes dozing with unclosed eyes, and
springing up with a start, and a reply aloud to an imaginary voice. Of
cursing himself for being there, for having fled, for having let her
go, for not having confronted and defied him. Of having a deadly
quarrel with the whole world, but chiefly with himself. Of blighting
everything with his black mood as he was carried on and away.

It was a fevered vision of things past and present all confounded
together; of his life and journey blended into one. Of being madly
hurried somewhere, whither he must go. Of old scenes starting up among
the novelties through which he travelled. Of musing and brooding over
what was past and distant, and seeming to take no notice of the actual
objects he encountered, but with a wearisome exhausting consciousness
of being bewildered by them, and having their images all crowded in
his hot brain after they were gone.

A vision of change upon change, and still the same monotony of
bells and wheels, and horses' feet, and no rest. Of town and country,
postyards, horses, drivers, hill and valley, light and darkness, road
and pavement, height and hollow, wet weather and dry, and still the
same monotony of bells and wheels, and horses' feet, and no rest. A
vision of tending on at last, towards the distant capital, by busier
roads, and sweeping round, by old cathedrals, and dashing through
small towns and villages, less thinly scattered on the road than
formerly, and sitting shrouded in his corner, with his cloak up to his
face, as people passing by looked at him.

Of rolling on and on, always postponing thought, and always racked
with thinking; of being unable to reckon up the hours he had been upon
the road, or to comprehend the points of time and place in his
journey. Of being parched and giddy, and half mad. Of pressing on, in
spite of all, as if he could not stop, and coming into Paris, where
the turbid river held its swift course undisturbed, between two
brawling streams of life and motion.

A troubled vision, then, of bridges, quays, interminable streets;
of wine-shops, water-carriers, great crowds of people, soldiers,
coaches, military drums, arcades. Of the monotony of bells and wheels
and horses' feet being at length lost in the universal din and uproar.
Of the gradual subsidence of that noise as he passed out in another
carriage by a different barrier from that by which he had entered. Of
the restoration, as he travelled on towards the seacoast, of the
monotony of bells and wheels, and horses' feet, and no rest.

Of sunset once again, and nightfall. Of long roads again, and dead
of night, and feeble lights in windows by the roadside; and still the
old monotony of bells and wheels, and horses' feet, and no rest. Of
dawn, and daybreak, and the rising of the sun. Of tolling slowly up a
hill, and feeling on its top the fresh sea-breeze; and seeing the
morning light upon the edges of the distant waves. Of coming down into
a harbour when the tide was at its full, and seeing fishing-boats
float on, and glad women and children waiting for them. Of nets and
seamen's clothes spread out to dry upon the shore; of busy saIlors,
and their voices high among ships' masts and rigging; of the buoyancy
and brightness of the water, and the universal sparkling.

Of receding from the coast, and looking back upon it from the deck
when it was a haze upon the water, with here and there a little
opening of bright land where the Sun struck. Of the swell, and flash,
and murmur of the calm sea. Of another grey line on the ocean, on the
vessel's track, fast growing clearer and higher. Of cliffs and
buildings, and a windmill, and a church, becoming more and more
visible upon it. Of steaming on at last into smooth water, and mooring
to a pier whence groups of people looked down, greeting friends on
board. Of disembarking, passing among them quickly, shunning every
one; and of being at last again in England.

He had thought, in his dream, of going down into a remote
country-place he knew, and lying quiet there, while he secretly
informed himself of what transpired, and determined how to act, Still
in the same stunned condition, he remembered a certain station on the
railway, where he would have to branch off to his place of
destination, and where there was a quiet Inn. Here, he indistinctly
resolved to tarry and rest.

With this purpose he slunk into a railway carriage as quickly as he
could, and lying there wrapped in his cloak as if he were asleep, was
soon borne far away from the sea, and deep into the inland green.
Arrived at his destination he looked out, and surveyed it carefully.
He was not mistaken in his impression of the place. It was a retired
spot, on the borders of a little wood. Only one house, newly-built or
altered for the purpose, stood there, surrounded by its neat garden;
the small town that was nearest, was some miles away. Here he alighted
then; and going straight into the tavern, unobserved by anyone,
secured two rooms upstairs communicating with each other, and
sufficiently retired.

His object was to rest, and recover the command of himself, and the
balance of his mind. Imbecile discomfiture and rage - so that, as he
walked about his room, he ground his teeth - had complete possession
of him. His thoughts, not to be stopped or directed, still wandered
where they would, and dragged him after them. He was stupefied, and he
was wearied to death.

But, as if there were a curse upon him that he should never rest
again, his drowsy senses would not lose their consciousness. He had no
more influence with them, in this regard, than if they had been
another man's. It was not that they forced him to take note of present
sounds and objects, but that they would not be diverted from the whole
hurried vision of his journey. It was constantly before him all at
once. She stood there, with her dark disdainful eyes again upon him;
and he was riding on nevertheless, through town and country, light and
darkness, wet weather and dry, over road and pavement, hill and
valley, height and hollow, jaded and scared by the monotony of bells
and wheels, and horses' feet, and no rest.

'What day is this?' he asked of the waiter, who was making
preparations for his dinner.

'Day, Sir?'

'Is it Wednesday?'

'Wednesday, Sir? No, Sir. Thursday, Sir.'

'I forgot. How goes the time? My watch is unwound.'

'Wants a few minutes of five o'clock, Sir. Been travelling a long
time, Sir, perhaps?'


'By rail, Sir?'


'Very confusing, Sir. Not much in the habit of travelling by rail
myself, Sir, but gentlemen frequently say so.'

'Do many gentlemen come here?

'Pretty well, Sir, in general. Nobody here at present. Rather slack
just now, Sir. Everything is slack, Sir.'

He made no answer; but had risen into a sitting posture on the sofa
where he had been lying, and leaned forward with an arm on each knee,
staring at the ground. He could not master his own attention for a
minute together. It rushed away where it would, but it never, for an
instant, lost itself in sleep.

He drank a quantity of wine after dinner, in vain. No such
artificial means would bring sleep to his eyes. His thoughts, more
incoherent, dragged him more unmercifully after them - as if a wretch,
condemned to such expiation, were drawn at the heels of wild horses.
No oblivion, and no rest.

How long he sat, drinking and brooding, and being dragged in
imagination hither and thither, no one could have told less correctly
than he. But he knew that he had been sitting a long time by
candle-light, when he started up and listened, in a sudden terror.

For now, indeed, it was no fancy. The ground shook, the house
rattled, the fierce impetuous rush was in the air! He felt it come up,
and go darting by; and even when he had hurried to the window, and saw
what it was, he stood, shrinking from it, as if it were not safe to

A curse upon the fiery devil, thundering along so smoothly, tracked
through the distant valley by a glare of light and lurid smoke, and
gone! He felt as if he had been plucked out of its path, and saved
from being torn asunder. It made him shrink and shudder even now, when
its faintest hum was hushed, and when the lines of iron road he could
trace in the moonlight, running to a point, were as empty and as
silent as a desert.

Unable to rest, and irresistibly attracted - or he thought so - to
this road, he went out, and lounged on the brink of it, marking the
way the train had gone, by the yet smoking cinders that were lying in
its track. After a lounge of some half hour in the direction by which
it had disappeared, he turned and walked the other way - still keeping
to the brink of the road - past the inn garden, and a long way down;
looking curiously at the bridges, signals, lamps, and wondering when
another Devil would come by.

A trembling of the ground, and quick vibration in his ears; a
distant shriek; a dull light advancing, quickly changed to two red
eyes, and a fierce fire, dropping glowing coals; an irresistible
bearing on of a great roaring and dilating mass; a high wind, and a
rattle - another come and gone, and he holding to a gate, as if to
save himself!

He waited for another, and for another. He walked back to his
former point, and back again to that, and still, through the wearisome
vision of his journey, looked for these approaching monsters. He
loitered about the station, waiting until one should stay to call
there; and when one did, and was detached for water, he stood parallel
with it, watching its heavy wheels and brazen front, and thinking what
a cruel power and might it had. Ugh! To see the great wheels slowly
turning, and to think of being run down and crushed!

Disordered with wine and want of rest - that want which nothing,
although he was so weary, would appease - these ideas and objects
assumed a diseased importance in his thoughts. When he went back to
his room, which was not until near midnight, they still haunted him,
and he sat listening for the coming of another.

So in his bed, whither he repaired with no hope of sleep. He still
lay listening; and when he felt the trembling and vibration, got up
and went to the window, to watch (as he could from its position) the
dull light changing to the two red eyes, and the fierce fire dropping
glowing coals, and the rush of the giant as it fled past, and the
track of glare and smoke along the valley. Then he would glance in the
direction by which he intended to depart at sunrise, as there was no
rest for him there; and would lie down again, to be troubled by the
vision of his journey, and the old monotony of bells and wheels and
horses' feet, until another came. This lasted all night. So far from
resuming the mastery of himself, he seemed, if possible, to lose it
more and more, as the night crept on. When the dawn appeared, he was
still tormented with thinking, still postponing thought until he
should be in a better state; the past, present, and future all floated
confusedly before him, and he had lost all power of looking steadily
at any one of them.

'At what time,' he asked the man who had waited on hIm over-night,
now entering with a candle, 'do I leave here, did you say?'

'About a quarter after four, Sir. Express comes through at four,
Sir. - It don't stop.

He passed his hand across his throbbing head, and looked at his
watch. Nearly half-past three.

'Nobody going with you, Sir, probably,' observed the man. 'Two
gentlemen here, Sir, but they're waiting for the train to London.'

'I thought you said there was nobody here,' said Carker, turning
upon him with the ghost of his old smile, when he was angry or

'Not then, sir. Two gentlemen came in the night by the short train
that stops here, Sir. Warm water, Sir?'

'No; and take away the candle. There's day enough for me.'

Having thrown himself upon the bed, half-dressed he was at the
window as the man left the room. The cold light of morning had
succeeded to night and there was already, in the sky, the red
suffusion of the coming sun. He bathed his head and face with water -
there was no cooling influence in it for him - hurriedly put on his
clothes, paid what he owed, and went out.

The air struck chill and comfortless as it breathed upon him. There
was a heavy dew; and, hot as he was, it made him shiver. After a
glance at the place where he had walked last night, and at the
signal-lights burning in the morning, and bereft of their
significance, he turned to where the sun was rising, and beheld it, in
its glory, as it broke upon the scene.

So awful, so transcendent in its beauty, so divinely solemn. As he
cast his faded eyes upon it, where it rose, tranquil and serene,
unmoved by all the wrong and wickedness on which its beams had shone
since the beginning of the world, who shall say that some weak sense
of virtue upon Earth, and its in Heaven, did not manifest itself, even
to him? If ever he remembered sister or brother with a touch of
tenderness and remorse, who shall say it was not then?

He needed some such touch then. Death was on him. He was marked off
- the living world, and going down into his grave.

He paid the money for his journey to the country-place he had
thought of; and was walking to and fro, alone, looking along the lines
of iron, across the valley in one direction, and towards a dark bridge
near at hand in the other; when, turning in his walk, where it was
bounded by one end of the wooden stage on which he paced up and down,
he saw the man from whom he had fled, emerging from the door by which
he himself had entered

And their eyes met.

In the quick unsteadiness of the surprise, he staggered, and
slipped on to the road below him. But recovering his feet immediately,
he stepped back a pace or two upon that road, to interpose some wider
space between them, and looked at his pursuer, breathing short and

He heard a shout - another - saw the face change from its
vindictive passion to a faint sickness and terror - felt the earth
tremble - knew in a moment that the rush was come - uttered a shriek -
looked round - saw the red eyes, bleared and dim, in the daylight,
close upon him - was beaten down, caught up, and whirled away upon a
jagged mill, that spun him round and round, and struck him limb from
limb, and licked his stream of life up with its fiery heat, and cast
his mutilated fragments in the air.

When the traveller, who had been recognised, recovered from a
swoon, he saw them bringing from a distance something covered, that
lay heavy and still, upon a board, between four men, and saw that
others drove some dogs away that sniffed upon the road, and soaked his
blood up, with a train of ashes.

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