`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 honor. 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 Irrigate and Scarborough, and into Devonshire. We have been visiting, and resting here and there. Mama likes change.'
`Edith of course does not,' said Mrs. Skewton, with a ghastly archness.
`I have not found that there is any change in such places,' was the answer, delivered with supreme indifference.
`They libel me. There is only one change, Mr. Dombey,' observed Mrs. Skewton, with a mincing sigh, `for which I really care, and that I fear I shall never be permitted to enjoy. People cannot spare one. But seclusion and contemplation are my what-his-name--'
`If you mean Paradise, Mama, you had better say so, to render yourself intelligible,' said the younger lady.
`My dearest Edith,' returned Mrs. Skewton, `you know that I am wholly dependent upon you for those odious names. I assure you, Mr. Dombey, Nature intended me for an Arcadian. I am thrown away in society. Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for, has been to retreat to a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows--and china.'
This curious association of objects, suggesting a remembrance of the celebrated bull who got by mistake into a crockery shop, was received with perfect gravity by Mr. Dombey, who intimated his opinion that Nature was, no doubt, a very respectable institution.
`What I want,' drawled Mrs. Skewton, pinching her shrivelled throat, `is heart.' It was frightfully true in one sense, if not in that in which she used the phrase. `What I want, is frankness, confidence, less conventionality, and freer play of soul. We are so dreadfully artificial.'
We were, indeed.
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