The Major, like some other noble animals, exhibited himself to great advantage at feeding-time. On this occasion, he shone resplendent at one end of the table, supported by the milder lustre of Mr Dombey at the other; while Carker on one side lent his ray to either light, or suffered it to merge into both, as occasion arose.
During the first course or two, the Major was usually grave; for the Native, in obedience to general orders, secretly issued, collected every sauce and cruet round him, and gave him a great deal to do, in taking out the stoppers, and mixing up the contents in his plate. Besides which, the Native had private zests and flavours on a side-table, with which the Major daily scorched himself; to say nothing of strange machines out of which he spirited unknown liquids into the Major's drink. But on this occasion, Major Bagstock, even amidst these many occupations, found time to be social; and his sociality consisted in excessive slyness for the behoof of Mr Carker, and the betrayal of Mr Dombey's state of mind.
'Dombey,' said the Major, 'you don't eat; what's the matter?'
'Thank you,' returned the gentleman, 'I am doing very well; I have no great appetite today.'
'Why, Dombey, what's become of it?' asked the Major. 'Where's it gone? You haven't left it with our friends, I'll swear, for I can answer for their having none to-day at luncheon. I can answer for one of 'em, at least: I won't say which.'
Then the Major winked at Carker, and became so frightfully sly, that his dark attendant was obliged to pat him on the back, without orders, or he would probably have disappeared under the table.
In a later stage of the dinner: that is to say, when the Native stood at the Major's elbow ready to serve the first bottle of champagne: the Major became still slyer.
'Fill this to the brim, you scoundrel,' said the Major, holding up his glass. 'Fill Mr Carker's to the brim too. And Mr Dombey's too. By Gad, gentlemen,' said the Major, winking at his new friend, while Mr Dombey looked into his plate with a conscious air, 'we'll consecrate this glass of wine to a Divinity whom Joe is proud to know, and at a distance humbly and reverently to admire. Edith,' said the Major, 'is her name; angelic Edith!'
'To angelic Edith!' cried the smiling Carker.
'Edith, by all means,' said Mr Dombey.
The entrance of the waiters with new dishes caused the Major to be slyer yet, but in a more serious vein. 'For though among ourselves, Joe Bagstock mingles jest and earnest on this subject, Sir,' said the Major, laying his finger on his lips, and speaking half apart to Carker, 'he holds that name too sacred to be made the property of these fellows, or of any fellows. Not a word!, Sir' while they are here!'
This was respectful and becoming on the Major's part, and Mr Dombey plainly felt it so. Although embarrassed in his own frigid way, by the Major's allusions, Mr Dombey had no objection to such rallying, it was clear, but rather courted it. Perhaps the Major had been pretty near the truth, when he had divined that morning that the great man who was too haughty formally to consult with, or confide in his prime minister, on such a matter, yet wished him to be fully possessed of it. Let this be how it may, he often glanced at Mr Carker while the Major plied his light artillery, and seemed watchful of its effect upon him.
But the Major, having secured an attentive listener, and a smiler who had not his match in all the world - 'in short, a devilish intelligent and able fellow,' as he often afterwards declared - was not going to let him off with a little slyness personal to Mr Dombey. Therefore, on the removal of the cloth, the Major developed himself as a choice spirit in the broader and more comprehensive range of narrating regimental stories, and cracking regimental jokes, which he did with such prodigal exuberance, that Carker was (or feigned to be) quite exhausted with laughter and admiration: while Mr Dombey looked on over his starched cravat, like the Major's proprietor, or like a stately showman who was glad to see his bear dancing well.