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Mr Dombey made a very gracious reply; and Major Bagstock, having patted Paul on the head, and said of Florence that her eyes would play the Devil with the youngsters before long - 'and the oldsters too, Sir, if you come to that,' added the Major, chuckling very much - stirred up Master Bitherstone with his walking-stick, and departed with that young gentleman, at a kind of half-trot; rolling his head and coughing with great dignity, as he staggered away, with his legs very wide asunder.
In fulfilment of his promise, the Major afterwards called on Mr Dombey; and Mr Dombey, having referred to the army list, afterwards called on the Major. Then the Major called at Mr Dombey's house in town; and came down again, in the same coach as Mr Dombey. In short, Mr Dombey and the Major got on uncommonly well together, and uncommonly fast: and Mr Dombey observed of the Major, to his sister, that besides being quite a military man he was really something more, as he had a very admirable idea of the importance of things unconnected with his own profession.
At length Mr Dombey, bringing down Miss Tox and Mrs Chick to see the children, and finding the Major again at Brighton, invited him to dinner at the Bedford, and complimented Miss Tox highly, beforehand, on her neighbour and acquaintance.
'My dearest Louisa,' said Miss Tox to Mrs Chick, when they were alone together, on the morning of the appointed day, 'if I should seem at all reserved to Major Bagstock, or under any constraint with him, promise me not to notice it.'
'My dear Lucretia,' returned Mrs Chick, 'what mystery is involved in this remarkable request? I must insist upon knowing.'
'Since you are resolved to extort a confession from me, Louisa,' said Miss Tox instantly, 'I have no alternative but to confide to you that the Major has been particular.'
'Particular!' repeated Mrs Chick.
'The Major has long been very particular indeed, my love, in his attentions,' said Miss Tox, 'occasionally they have been so very marked, that my position has been one of no common difficulty.'
'Is he in good circumstances?' inquired Mrs Chick.
'I have every reason to believe, my dear - indeed I may say I know,' returned Miss Tox, 'that he is wealthy. He is truly military, and full of anecdote. I have been informed that his valour, when he was in active service, knew no bounds. I am told that he did all sorts of things in the Peninsula, with every description of fire-arm; and in the East and West Indies, my love, I really couldn't undertake to say what he did not do.'
'Very creditable to him indeed,' said Mrs Chick, 'extremely so; and you have given him no encouragement, my dear?'
'If I were to say, Louisa,' replied Miss Tox, with every demonstration of making an effort that rent her soul, 'that I never encouraged Major Bagstock slightly, I should not do justice to the friendship which exists between you and me. It is, perhaps, hardly in the nature of woman to receive such attentions as the Major once lavished upon myself without betraying some sense of obligation. But that is past - long past. Between the Major and me there is now a yawning chasm, and I will not feign to give encouragement, Louisa, where I cannot give my heart. My affections,' said Miss Tox - 'but, Louisa, this is madness!' and departed from the room.
All this Mrs Chick communicated to her brother before dinner: and it by no means indisposed Mr Dombey to receive the Major with unwonted cordiality. The Major, for his part, was in a state of plethoric satisfaction that knew no bounds: and he coughed, and choked, and chuckled, and gasped, and swelled, until the waiters seemed positively afraid of him.
'Your family monopolises Joe's light, Sir,' said the Major, when he had saluted Miss Tox. 'Joe lives in darkness. Princess's Place is changed into Kamschatka in the winter time. There is no ray of sun, Sir, for Joey B., now.'
'Miss Tox is good enough to take a great deal of interest in Paul, Major,' returned Mr Dombey on behalf of that blushing virgin.
'Damme Sir,' said the Major, 'I'm jealous of my little friend. I'm pining away Sir. The Bagstock breed is degenerating in the forsaken person of old Joe.' And the Major, becoming bluer and bluer and puffing his cheeks further and further over the stiff ridge of his tight cravat, stared at Miss Tox, until his eyes seemed as if he were at that moment being overdone before the slow fire at the military college.
Notwithstanding the palpitation of the heart which these allusions occasioned her, they were anything but disagreeable to Miss Tox, as they enabled her to be extremely interesting, and to manifest an occasional incoherence and distraction which she was not at all unwilling to display. The Major gave her abundant opportunities of exhibiting this emotion: being profuse in his complaints, at dinner, of her desertion of him and Princess's Place: and as he appeared to derive great enjoyment from making them, they all got on very well.
None the worse on account of the Major taking charge of the whole conversation, and showing as great an appetite in that respect as in regard of the various dainties on the table, among which he may be almost said to have wallowed: greatly to the aggravation of his inflammatory tendencies. Mr Dombey's habitual silence and reserve yielding readily to this usurpation, the Major felt that he was coming out and shining: and in the flow of spirits thus engendered, rang such an infinite number of new changes on his own name that he quite astonished himself. In a word, they were all very well pleased. The Major was considered to possess an inexhaustible fund of conversation; and when he took a late farewell, after a long rubber, Mr Dombey again complimented the blushing Miss Tox on her neighbour and acquaintance.
But all the way home to his own hotel, the Major incessantly said to himself, and of himself, 'Sly, Sir - sly, Sir - de-vil-ish sly!' And when he got there, sat down in a chair, and fell into a silent fit of laughter, with which he was sometimes seized, and which was always particularly awful. It held him so long on this occasion that the dark servant, who stood watching him at a distance, but dared not for his life approach, twice or thrice gave him over for lost. His whole form, but especially his face and head, dilated beyond all former experience; and presented to the dark man's view, nothing but a heaving mass of indigo. At length he burst into a violent paroxysm of coughing, and when that was a little better burst into such ejaculations as the following:
'Would you, Ma'am, would you? Mrs Dombey, eh, Ma'am? I think not, Ma'am. Not while Joe B. can put a spoke in your wheel, Ma'am. J. B.'s even with you now, Ma'am. He isn't altogether bowled out, yet, Sir, isn't Bagstock. She's deep, Sir, deep, but Josh is deeper. Wide awake is old Joe - broad awake, and staring, Sir!' There was no doubt of this last assertion being true, and to a very fearful extent; as it continued to be during the greater part of that night, which the Major chiefly passed in similar exclamations, diversified with fits of coughing and choking that startled the whole house.
It was on the day after this occasion (being Sunday) when, as Mr Dombey, Mrs Chick, and Miss Tox were sitting at breakfast, still eulogising the Major, Florence came running in: her face suffused with a bright colour, and her eyes sparkling joyfully: and cried,
'Papa! Papa! Here's Walter! and he won't come in.'
'Who?' cried Mr Dombey. 'What does she mean? What is this?'
'Walter, Papa!' said Florence timidly; sensible of having approached the presence with too much familiarity. 'Who found me when I was lost.'
'Does she mean young Gay, Louisa?' inquired Mr Dombey, knitting his brows. 'Really, this child's manners have become very boisterous. She cannot mean young Gay, I think. See what it is, will you?'
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Dombey and Son - by Charles Dickens