Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens

CHAPTER 1.

Dombey and Son

Dombey sat in the corner of the darkened room in the great arm-chair by the bedside, and Son lay tucked up warm in a little basket bedstead, carefully disposed on a low settee immediately in front of the fire and close to it, as if his constitution were analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown while he was very new.

Dombey was about eight-and-forty years of age. Son about eight-and-forty minutes. Dombey was rather bald, rather red, and though a handsome well-made man, too stern and pompous in appearance, to be prepossessing. Son was very bald, and very red, and though (of course) an undeniably fine infant, somewhat crushed and spotty in his general effect, as yet. On the brow of Dombey, Time and his brother Care had set some marks, as on a tree that was to come down in good time — remorseless twins they are for striding through their human forests, notching as they go — while the countenance of Son was crossed with a thousand little creases, which the same deceitful Time would take delight in smoothing out and wearing away with the flat part of his scythe, as a preparation of the surface for his deeper operations.

Dombey, exulting in the long-looked-for event, jingled and jingled the heavy gold watch-chain that depended from below his trim blue coat, whereof the buttons sparkled phosphorescently in the feeble rays of the distant fire. Son, with his little fists curled up and clenched, seemed, in his feeble way, to be squaring at existence for having come upon him so unexpectedly.

‘The House will once again, Mrs Dombey,’ said Mr Dombey, ‘be not only in name but in fact Dombey and Son;’ and he added, in a tone of luxurious satisfaction, with his eyes half-closed as if he were reading the name in a device of flowers, and inhaling their fragrance at the same time; ‘Dom-bey and Son!’

The words had such a softening influence, that he appended a term of endearment to Mrs Dombey’s name (though not without some hesitation, as being a man but little used to that form of address): and said, ‘Mrs Dombey, my — my dear.’

A transient flush of faint surprise overspread the sick lady’s face as she raised her eyes towards him.

‘He will be christened Paul, my — Mrs Dombey — of course.’

She feebly echoed, ‘Of course,’ or rather expressed it by the motion of her lips, and closed her eyes again.

‘His father’s name, Mrs Dombey, and his grandfather’s! I wish his grandfather were alive this day! There is some inconvenience in the necessity of writing Junior,’ said Mr Dombey, making a fictitious autograph on his knee; ‘but it is merely of a private and personal complexion. It doesn’t enter into the correspondence of the House. Its signature remains the same.’ And again he said ‘Dombey and Son, in exactly the same tone as before.

Those three words conveyed the one idea of Mr Dombey’s life. The earth was made for Dombey and Son to trade in, and the sun and moon were made to give them light. Rivers and seas were formed to float their ships; rainbows gave them promise of fair weather; winds blew for or against their enterprises; stars and planets circled in their orbits, to preserve inviolate a system of which they were the centre. Common abbreviations took new meanings in his eyes, and had sole reference to them. A. D. had no concern with Anno Domini, but stood for anno Dombey — and Son.

He had risen, as his father had before him, in the course of life and death, from Son to Dombey, and for nearly twenty years had been the sole representative of the Firm. Of those years he had been married, ten — married, as some said, to a lady with no heart to give him; whose happiness was in the past, and who was content to bind her broken spirit to the dutiful and meek endurance of the present. Such idle talk was little likely to reach the ears of Mr Dombey, whom it nearly concerned; and probably no one in the world would have received it with such utter incredulity as he, if it had reached him. Dombey and Son had often dealt in hides, but never in hearts. They left that fancy ware to boys and girls, and boarding-schools and books. Mr Dombey would have reasoned: That a matrimonial alliance with himself must, in the nature of things, be gratifying and honourable to any woman of common sense. That the hope of giving birth to a new partner in such a House, could not fail to awaken a glorious and stirring ambition in the breast of the least ambitious of her sex. That Mrs Dombey had entered on that social contract of matrimony: almost necessarily part of a genteel and wealthy station, even without reference to the perpetuation of family Firms: with her eyes fully open to these advantages. That Mrs Dombey had had daily practical knowledge of his position in society. That Mrs Dombey had always sat at the head of his table, and done the honours of his house in a remarkably lady-like and becoming manner. That Mrs Dombey must have been happy. That she couldn’t help it.

Or, at all events, with one drawback. Yes. That he would have allowed. With only one; but that one certainly involving much. With the drawback of hope deferred. That hope deferred, which, (as the Scripture very correctly tells us, Mr Dombey would have added in a patronising way; for his highest distinct idea even of Scripture, if examined, would have been found to be; that as forming part of a general whole, of which Dombey and Son formed another part, it was therefore to be commended and upheld) maketh the heart sick. They had been married ten years, and until this present day on which Mr Dombey sat jingling and jingling his heavy gold watch-chain in the great arm-chair by the side of the bed, had had no issue.

— To speak of; none worth mentioning. There had been a girl some six years before, and the child, who had stolen into the chamber unobserved, was now crouching timidly, in a corner whence she could see her mother’s face. But what was a girl to Dombey and Son! In the capital of the House’s name and dignity, such a child was merely a piece of base coin that couldn’t be invested — a bad Boy — nothing more.

Mr Dombey’s cup of satisfaction was so full at this moment, however, that he felt he could afford a drop or two of its contents, even to sprinkle on the dust in the by-path of his little daughter.

So he said, ‘Florence, you may go and look at your pretty brother, if you lIke, I daresay. Don’t touch him!’

The child glanced keenly at the blue coat and stiff white cravat, which, with a pair of creaking boots and a very loud ticking watch, embodied her idea of a father; but her eyes returned to her mother’s face immediately, and she neither moved nor answered.

‘Her insensibility is as proof against a brother as against every thing else,’ said Mr Dombey to himself He seemed so confirmed in a previous opinion by the discovery, as to be quite glad of it’

Next moment, the lady had opened her eyes and seen the child; and the child had run towards her; and, standing on tiptoe, the better to hide her face in her embrace, had clung about her with a desperate affection very much at variance with her years.

‘Oh Lord bless me!’ said Mr Dombey, rising testily. ‘A very illadvised and feverish proceeding this, I am sure. Please to ring there for Miss Florence’s nurse. Really the person should be more care–’

‘Wait! I— had better ask Doctor Peps if he’ll have the goodness to step upstairs again perhaps. I’ll go down. I’ll go down. I needn’t beg you,’ he added, pausing for a moment at the settee before the fire, ‘to take particular care of this young gentleman, Mrs —’

‘Blockitt, Sir?’ suggested the nurse, a simpering piece of faded gentility, who did not presume to state her name as a fact, but merely offered it as a mild suggestion.

‘Of this young gentleman, Mrs Blockitt.’

‘No, Sir, indeed. I remember when Miss Florence was born —’

‘Ay, ay, ay,’ said Mr Dombey, bending over the basket bedstead, and slightly bending his brows at the same time. ‘Miss Florence was all very well, but this is another matter. This young gentleman has to accomplish a destiny. A destiny, little fellow!’ As he thus apostrophised the infant he raised one of his hands to his lips, and kissed it; then, seeming to fear that the action involved some compromise of his dignity, went, awkwardly enough, away.

Doctor Parker Peps, one of the Court Physicians, and a man of immense reputation for assisting at the increase of great families, was walking up and down the drawing-room with his hands behind him, to the unspeakable admiration of the family Surgeon, who had regularly puffed the case for the last six weeks, among all his patients, friends, and acquaintances, as one to which he was in hourly expectation day and night of being summoned, in conjunction with Doctor Parker Pep.

‘Well, Sir,’ said Doctor Parker Peps in a round, deep, sonorous voice, muffled for the occasion, like the knocker; ‘do you find that your dear lady is at all roused by your visit?’

‘Stimulated as it were?’ said the family practitioner faintly: bowing at the same time to the Doctor, as much as to say, ‘Excuse my putting in a word, but this is a valuable connexion.’

Mr Dombey was quite discomfited by the question. He had thought so little of the patient, that he was not in a condition to answer it. He said that it would be a satisfaction to him, if Doctor Parker Peps would walk upstairs again.

‘Good! We must not disguise from you, Sir,’ said Doctor Parker Peps, ‘that there is a want of power in Her Grace the Duchess — I beg your pardon; I confound names; I should say, in your amiable lady. That there is a certain degree of languor, and a general absence of elasticity, which we would rather — not —

‘See,’ interposed the family practitioner with another inclination of the head.

‘Quite so,’ said Doctor Parker Peps,’ which we would rather not see. It would appear that the system of Lady Cankaby — excuse me: I should say of Mrs Dombey: I confuse the names of cases —’

‘So very numerous,’ murmured the family practitioner —‘can’t be expected I’m sure — quite wonderful if otherwise — Doctor Parker Peps’s West–End practice —’

‘Thank you,’ said the Doctor, ‘quite so. It would appear, I was observing, that the system of our patient has sustained a shock, from which it can only hope to rally by a great and strong —’

‘And vigorous,’ murmured the family practitioner.

‘Quite so,’ assented the Doctor —‘and vigorous effort. Mr Pilkins here, who from his position of medical adviser in this family — no one better qualified to fill that position, I am sure.’

‘Oh!’ murmured the family practitioner. ‘“Praise from Sir Hubert Stanley!”’

‘You are good enough,’ returned Doctor Parker Peps, ‘to say so. Mr Pilkins who, from his position, is best acquainted with the patient’s constitution in its normal state (an acquaintance very valuable to us in forming our opinions in these occasions), is of opinion, with me, that Nature must be called upon to make a vigorous effort in this instance; and that if our interesting friend the Countess of Dombey — I beg your pardon; Mrs Dombey — should not be —’

‘Able,’ said the family practitioner.

‘To make,’ said Doctor Parker Peps.

‘That effort,’ said the family practitioner.

‘Successfully,’ said they both together.

‘Then,’ added Doctor Parker Peps, alone and very gravely, a crisis might arise, which we should both sincerely deplore.’

With that, they stood for a few seconds looking at the ground. Then, on the motion — made in dumb show — of Doctor Parker Peps, they went upstairs; the family practitioner opening the room door for that distinguished professional, and following him out, with most obsequious politeness.

To record of Mr Dombey that he was not in his way affected by this intelligence, would be to do him an injustice. He was not a man of whom it could properly be said that he was ever startled, or shocked; but he certainly had a sense within him, that if his wife should sicken and decay, he would be very sorry, and that he would find a something gone from among his plate and furniture, and other household possessions, which was well worth the having, and could not be lost without sincere regret. Though it would be a cool,. business-like, gentlemanly, self-possessed regret, no doubt.

His meditations on the subject were soon interrupted, first by the rustling of garments on the staircase, and then by the sudden whisking into the room of a lady rather past the middle age than otherwise but dressed in a very juvenile manner, particularly as to the tightness of her bodice, who, running up to him with a kind of screw in her face and carriage, expressive of suppressed emotion, flung her arms around his neck, and said, in a choking voice,

‘My dear Paul! He’s quite a Dombey!’

‘Well, well!’ returned her brother — for Mr Dombey was her brother —‘I think he is like the family. Don’t agitate yourself, Louisa.’

‘It’s very foolish of me,’ said Louisa, sitting down, and taking out her pocket~handkerchief, ‘but he’s — he’s such a perfect Dombey!’

Mr Dombey coughed.

‘It’s so extraordinary,’ said Louisa; smiling through her tears, which indeed were not overpowering, ‘as to be perfectly ridiculous. So completely our family. I never saw anything like it in my life!’

‘But what is this about Fanny, herself?’ said Mr Dombey. ‘How is Fanny?’

‘My dear Paul,’ returned Louisa, ‘it’s nothing whatever. Take my word, it’s nothing whatever. There is exhaustion, certainly, but nothing like what I underwent myself, either with George or Frederick. An effort is necessary. That’s all. If dear Fanny were a Dombey! — But I daresay she’ll make it; I have no doubt she’ll make it. Knowing it to be required of her, as a duty, of course she’ll make it. My dear Paul, it’s very weak and silly of me, I know, to be so trembly and shaky from head to foot; but I am so very queer that I must ask you for a glass of wine and a morsel of that cake.’

Mr Dombey promptly supplied her with these refreshments from a tray on the table.

‘I shall not drink my love to you, Paul,’ said Louisa: ‘I shall drink to the little Dombey. Good gracious me! — it’s the most astonishing thing I ever knew in all my days, he’s such a perfect Dombey.’

Quenching this expression of opinion in a short hysterical laugh which terminated in tears, Louisa cast up her eyes, and emptied her glass.

‘I know it’s very weak and silly of me,’ she repeated, ‘to be so trembly and shaky from head to foot, and to allow my feelings so completely to get the better of me, but I cannot help it. I thought I should have fallen out of the staircase window as I came down from seeing dear Fanny, and that tiddy ickle sing.’ These last words originated in a sudden vivid reminiscence of the baby.

They were succeeded by a gentle tap at the door.

‘Mrs Chick,’ said a very bland female voice outside, ‘how are you now, my dear friend?’

‘My dear Paul,’ said Louisa in a low voice, as she rose from her seat, ‘it’s Miss Tox. The kindest creature! I never could have got here without her! Miss Tox, my brother Mr Dombey. Paul, my dear, my very particular friend Miss Tox.’

The lady thus specially presented, was a long lean figure, wearing such a faded air that she seemed not to have been made in what linen-drapers call ‘fast colours’ originally, and to have, by little and little, washed out. But for this she might have been described as the very pink of general propitiation and politeness. From a long habit of listening admiringly to everything that was said in her presence, and looking at the speakers as if she were mentally engaged in taking off impressions of their images upon her soul, never to part with the same but with life, her head had quite settled on one side. Her hands had contracted a spasmodic habit of raising themselves of their own accord as in involuntary admiration. Her eyes were liable to a similar affection. She had the softest voice that ever was heard; and her nose, stupendously aquiline, had a little knob in the very centre or key-stone of the bridge, whence it tended downwards towards her face, as in an invincible determination never to turn up at anything.

Miss Tox’s dress, though perfectly genteel and good, had a certain character of angularity and scantiness. She was accustomed to wear odd weedy little flowers in her bonnets and caps. Strange grasses were sometimes perceived in her hair; and it was observed by the curious, of all her collars, frills, tuckers, wristbands, and other gossamer articles — indeed of everything she wore which had two ends to it intended to unite — that the two ends were never on good terms, and wouldn’t quite meet without a struggle. She had furry articles for winter wear, as tippets, boas, and muffs, which stood up on end in rampant manner, and were not at all sleek. She was much given to the carrying about of small bags with snaps to them, that went off like little pistols when they were shut up; and when full-dressed, she wore round her neck the barrenest of lockets, representing a fishy old eye, with no approach to speculation in it. These and other appearances of a similar nature, had served to propagate the opinion, that Miss Tox was a lady of what is called a limited independence, which she turned to the best account. Possibly her mincing gait encouraged the belief, and suggested that her clipping a step of ordinary compass into two or three, originated in her habit of making the most of everything.

‘I am sure,’ said Miss Tox, with a prodigious curtsey, ‘that to have the honour of being presented to Mr Dombey is a distinction which I have long sought, but very little expected at the present moment. My dear Mrs Chick — may I say Louisa!’

Mrs Chick took Miss Tox’s hand in hers, rested the foot of her wine-glass upon it, repressed a tear, and said in a low voice, ‘God bless you!’

‘My dear Louisa then,’ said Miss Tox, ‘my sweet friend, how are you now?’

‘Better,’ Mrs Chick returned. ‘Take some wine. You have been almost as anxious as I have been, and must want it, I am sure.’

Mr Dombey of course officiated, and also refilled his sister’s glass, which she (looking another way, and unconscious of his intention) held straight and steady the while, and then regarded with great astonishment, saying, ‘My dear Paul, what have you been doing!’

‘Miss Tox, Paul,’ pursued Mrs Chick, still retaining her hand, ‘knowing how much I have been interested in the anticipation of the event of to-day, and how trembly and shaky I have been from head to foot in expectation of it, has been working at a little gift for Fanny, which I promised to present. Miss Tox is ingenuity itself.’

‘My dear Louisa,’ said Miss Tox. ‘Don’t say so.

‘It is only a pincushion for the toilette table, Paul,’ resumed his sister; ‘one of those trifles which are insignificant to your sex in general, as it’s very natural they should be — we have no business to expect they should be otherwise — but to which we attach some interest.

‘Miss Tox is very good,’ said Mr Dombey.

‘And I do say, and will say, and must say,’ pursued his sister, pressing the foot of the wine-glass on Miss Tox’s hand, at each of the three clauses, ‘that Miss Tox has very prettily adapted the sentiment to the occasion. I call “Welcome little Dombey” Poetry, myself!’

‘Is that the device?’ inquired her brother.

‘That is the device,’ returned Louisa.

‘But do me the justice to remember, my dear Louisa,’ said Miss Toxin a tone of low and earnest entreaty, ‘that nothing but the — I have some difficulty in expressing myself — the dubiousness of the result would have induced me to take so great a liberty: “Welcome, Master Dombey,” would have been much more congenial to my feelings, as I am sure you know. But the uncertainty attendant on angelic strangers, will, I hope, excuse what must otherwise appear an unwarrantable familiarity.’ Miss Tox made a graceful bend as she spoke, in favour of Mr Dombey, which that gentleman graciously acknowledged. Even the sort of recognition of Dombey and Son, conveyed in the foregoing conversation, was so palatable to him, that his sister, Mrs Chick — though he affected to consider her a weak good-natured person — had perhaps more influence over him than anybody else.

‘My dear Paul,’ that lady broke out afresh, after silently contemplating his features for a few moments, ‘I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I look at you, I declare, you do so remind me of that dear baby upstairs.’

‘Well!’ said Mrs Chick, with a sweet smile, ‘after this, I forgive Fanny everything!’

It was a declaration in a Christian spirit, and Mrs Chick felt that it did her good. Not that she had anything particular to forgive in her sister-in-law, nor indeed anything at all, except her having married her brother — in itself a species of audacity — and her having, in the course of events, given birth to a girl instead of a boy: which, as Mrs Chick had frequently observed, was not quite what she had expected of her, and was not a pleasant return for all the attention and distinction she had met with.

Mr Dombey being hastily summoned out of the room at this moment, the two ladies were left alone together. Miss Tox immediately became spasmodic.

‘I knew you would admire my brother. I told you so beforehand, my dear,’ said Louisa. Miss Tox’s hands and eyes expressed how much. ‘And as to his property, my dear!’

‘Ah!’ said Miss Tox, with deep feeling. ‘Im-mense!’

‘But his deportment, my dear Louisa!’ said Miss Tox. ‘His presence! His dignity! No portrait that I have ever seen of anyone has been half so replete with those qualities. Something so stately, you know: so uncompromising: so very wide across the chest: so upright! A pecuniary Duke of York, my love, and nothing short of it!’ said Miss Tox. ‘That’s what I should designate him.’

‘Why, my dear Paul!’ exclaimed his sister, as he returned, ‘you look quite pale! There’s nothing the matter?’

‘I am sorry to say, Louisa, that they tell me that Fanny —’

‘Now, my dear Paul,’ returned his sister rising, ‘don’t believe it. Do not allow yourself to receive a turn unnecessarily. Remember of what importance you are to society, and do not allow yourself to be worried by what is so very inconsiderately told you by people who ought to know better. Really I’m surprised at them.’

‘I hope I know, Louisa,’ said Mr Dombey, stiffly, ‘how to bear myself before the world.’

‘Nobody better, my dear Paul. Nobody half so well. They would be ignorant and base indeed who doubted it.’

‘Ignorant and base indeed!’ echoed Miss Tox softly.

‘But,’ pursued Louisa, ‘if you have any reliance on my experience, Paul, you may rest assured that there is nothing wanting but an effort on Fanny’s part. And that effort,’ she continued, taking off her bonnet, and adjusting her cap and gloves, in a business-like manner, ‘she must be encouraged, and really, if necessary, urged to make. Now, my dear Paul, come upstairs with me.’

Mr Dombey, who, besides being generally influenced by his sister for the reason already mentioned, had really faith in her as an experienced and bustling matron, acquiesced; and followed her, at once, to the sick chamber.

The lady lay upon her bed as he had left her, clasping her little daughter to her breast. The child clung close about her, with the same intensity as before, and never raised her head, or moved her soft cheek from her mother’s face, or looked on those who stood around, or spoke, or moved, or shed a tear.

‘Restless without the little girl,’ the Doctor whispered Mr Dombey. ‘We found it best to have her in again.’

‘Can nothing be done?’ asked Mr Dombey.

The Doctor shook his head. ‘We can do no more.’

The windows stood open, and the twilight was gathering without.

The scent of the restoratives that had been tried was pungent in the room, but had no fragrance in the dull and languid air the lady breathed.

There was such a solemn stillness round the bed; and the two medical attendants seemed to look on the impassive form with so much compassion and so little hope, that Mrs Chick was for the moment diverted from her purpose. But presently summoning courage, and what she called presence of mind, she sat down by the bedside, and said in the low precise tone of one who endeavours to awaken a sleeper:

‘Fanny! Fanny!’

There was no sound in answer but the loud ticking of Mr Dombey’s watch and Doctor Parker Peps’s watch, which seemed in the silence to be running a race.

‘Fanny, my dear,’ said Mrs Chick, with assumed lightness, ‘here’s Mr Dombey come to see you. Won’t you speak to him? They want to lay your little boy — the baby, Fanny, you know; you have hardly seen him yet, I think — in bed; but they can’t till you rouse yourself a little. Don’t you think it’s time you roused yourself a little? Eh?’

She bent her ear to the bed, and listened: at the same time looking round at the bystanders, and holding up her finger.

‘Eh?’ she repeated, ‘what was it you said, Fanny? I didn’t hear you.’

No word or sound in answer. Mr Dombey’s watch and Dr Parker Peps’s watch seemed to be racing faster.

‘Now, really, Fanny my dear,’ said the sister-in-law, altering her position, and speaking less confidently, and more earnestly, in spite of herself, ‘I shall have to be quite cross with you, if you don’t rouse yourself. It’s necessary for you to make an effort, and perhaps a very great and painful effort which you are not disposed to make; but this is a world of effort you know, Fanny, and we must never yield, when so much depends upon us. Come! Try! I must really scold you if you don’t!’

The race in the ensuing pause was fierce and furious. The watches seemed to jostle, and to trip each other up.

‘Fanny!’ said Louisa, glancing round, with a gathering alarm. ‘Only look at me. Only open your eyes to show me that you hear and understand me; will you? Good Heaven, gentlemen, what is to be done!’

The two medical attendants exchanged a look across the bed; and the Physician, stooping down, whispered in the child’s ear. Not having understood the purport of his whisper, the little creature turned her perfectly colourless face and deep dark eyes towards him; but without loosening her hold in the least

The whisper was repeated.

‘Mama!’ said the child.

The little voice, familiar and dearly loved, awakened some show of consciousness, even at that ebb. For a moment, the closed eye lids trembled, and the nostril quivered, and the faintest shadow of a smile was seen.

‘Mama!’ cried the child sobbing aloud. ‘Oh dear Mama! oh dear Mama!’

The Doctor gently brushed the scattered ringlets of the child, aside from the face and mouth of the mother. Alas how calm they lay there; how little breath there was to stir them!

Thus, clinging fast to that slight spar within her arms, the mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30