Page:Dombey and Son.djvu/488

This page needs to be proofread.
407
DOMBEY AND SON.

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 de-vilish 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 yet."

"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 alone.

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