Книга Dombey and Son. Содержание - CHAPTER 21 New Faces
He not only rose next morning, however, like a giant refreshed, but conducted himself, at breakfast like a giant refreshing. At this meal they arranged their daily habits. The Major was to take the responsibility of ordering evrything to eat and drink; and they were to have a late breakfast together every morning, and a late dinner together every day. Mr Dombey would prefer remaining in his own room, or walking in the country by himself, on that first day of their sojourn at Leamington; but next morning he would be happy to accompany the Major to the Pump-room, and about the town. So they parted until dinner-time. Mr Dombey retired to nurse his wholesome thoughts in his own way. The Major, attended by the Native carrying a camp-stool, a great-coat, and an umbrella, swaggered up and down through all the public places: looking into subscription books to find out who was there, looking up old ladies by whom he was much admired, reporting J.
B. tougher than ever, and puffing his rich friend Dombey wherever he went. There never was a man who stood by a friend more staunchly than the Major, when in puffing him, he puffed himself.
It was surprising how much new conversation the Major had to let off at dinner-time, and what occasion he gave Mr Dombey to admire his social qualities. At breakfast next morning, he knew the contents of the latest newspapers received; and mentioned several subjects in connexion with them, on which his opinion had recently been sought by persons of such power and might, that they were only to be obscurely hinted at. Mr Dombey, who had been so long shut up within himself, and who had rarely, at any time, overstepped the enchanted circle within which the operations of Dombey and Son were conducted, began to think this an improvement on his solitary life; and in place of excusing himself for another day, as he had thought of doing when alone, walked out with the Major arm-in-arm.
The MAJOR, more blue-faced and staring — more over-ripe, as it were, than ever — and giving vent, every now and then, to one of the horse's coughs, not so much of necessity as in a spontaneous explosion of importance, walked arm-in-arm with Mr Dombey up the sunny side of the way, with his cheeks swelling over his tight stock, his legs majestically wide apart, and his great head wagging from side to side, as if he were remonstrating within himself for being such a captivating object. They had not walked many yards, before the Major encountered somebody he knew, nor many yards farther before the Major encountered somebody else he knew, but he merely shook his fingers at them as he passed, and led Mr Dombey on: pointing out the localities as they went, and enlivening the walk with any current scandal suggested by them.
In this manner the Major and Mr Dombey were walking arm-in-arm, much to their own satisfaction, when they beheld advancing towards them, a wheeled chair, in which a lady was seated, indolently steering her carriage by a kind of rudder in front, while it was propelled by some unseen power in the rear. Although the lady was not young, she was very blooming in the face — quite rosy— and her dress and attitude were perfectly juvenile. Walking by the side of the chair, and carrying her gossamer parasol with a proud and weary air, as if so great an effort must be soon abandoned and the parasol dropped, sauntered a much younger lady, very handsome, very haughty, very wilful, who tossed her head and drooped her eyelids, as though, if there were anything in all the world worth looking into, save a mirror, it certainly was not the earth or sky.
'Why, what the devil have we here, Sir!' cried the Major, stopping as this little cavalcade drew near.
'My dearest Edith!' drawled the lady in the chair, 'Major Bagstock!'
The Major no sooner heard the voice, than he relinquished Mr Dombey's arm, darted forward, took the hand of the lady in the chair and pressed it to his lips. With no less gallantry, the Major folded both his gloves upon his heart, and bowed low to the other lady. And now, the chair having stopped, the motive power became visible in the shape of a flushed page pushing behind, who seemed to have in part outgrown and in part out-pushed his strength, for when he stood upright he was tall, and wan, and thin, and his plight appeared the more forlorn from his having injured the shape of his hat, by butting at the carriage with his head to urge it forward, as is sometimes done by elephants in Oriental countries.
'Joe Bagstock,' said the Major to both ladies, 'is a proud and happy man for the rest of his life.'
'You false creature! said the old lady in the chair, insipidly.
'Where do you come from? I can't bear you.'
'Then suffer old Joe to present a friend, Ma'am,' said the Major, promptly, 'as a reason for being tolerated. Mr Dombey, Mrs Skewton.'
The lady in the chair was gracious. 'Mr Dombey, Mrs Granger.' The lady with the parasol was faintly conscious of Mr Dombey's taking off his hat, and bowing low. 'I am delighted, Sir,' said the Major, 'to have this opportunity.'
The Major seemed in earnest, for he looked at all the three, and leered in his ugliest manner.
'Mrs Skewton, Dombey,' said the Major, 'makes havoc in the heart of old Josh.'
Mr Dombey signified that he didn't wonder at it.
'You perfidious goblin,' said the lady in the chair, 'have done!
How long have you been here, bad man?'
'One day,' replied the Major.
'And can you be a day, or even a minute,' returned the lady, slightly settling her false curls and false eyebrows with her fan, and showing her false teeth, set off by her false complexion, 'in the garden of what's-its-name 'Eden, I suppose, Mama,' interrupted the younger lady, scornfully.
'My dear Edith,' said the other, 'I cannot help it. I never can remember those frightful names — without having your whole Soul and Being inspired by the sight of Nature; by the perfume,' said Mrs Skewton, rustling a handkerchief that was faint and sickly with essences, 'of her artless breath, you creature!'
The discrepancy between Mrs Skewton's fresh enthusiasm of words, and forlornly faded manner, was hardly less observable than that between her age, which was about seventy, and her dress, which would have been youthful for twenty-seven. Her attitude in the wheeled chair (which she never varied) was one in which she had been taken in a barouche, some fifty years before, by a then fashionable artist who had appended to his published sketch the name of Cleopatra: in consequence of a discovery made by the critics of the time, that it bore an exact resemblance to that Princess as she reclined on board her galley. Mrs Skewton was a beauty then, and bucks threw wine-glasses over their heads by dozens in her honour. The beauty and the barouche had both passed away, but she still preserved the attitude, and for this reason expressly, maintained the wheeled chair and the butting page: there being nothing whatever, except the attitude, to prevent her from walking.
'Mr Dombey is devoted to Nature, I trust?' said Mrs Skewton, settling her diamond brooch. And by the way, she chiefly lived upon the reputation of some diamonds, and her family connexions.
'My friend Dombey, Ma'am,' returned the Major, 'may be devoted to her in secret, but a man who is paramount in the greatest city in the universe — 'No one can be a stranger,' said Mrs Skewton, 'to Mr Dombey's immense influence.'
As Mr Dombey acknowledged the compliment with a bend of his head, the younger lady glancing at him, met his eyes.
'You reside here, Madam?' said Mr Dombey, addressing her.
'No, we have been to a great many places. To Harrogate and Scarborough, and into Devonshire. We have been visiting, and resting here and there. Mama likes change.'