Paul Dombey and his Sister
As Mrs. Dombey died when little Paul was born, upon Mr. Dombey—the pompous head of the great firm Dombey and Son—fell the entire responsibility of bringing up his two children, Florence, then eight years of age, and the tiny boy, Paul. Of Florence he took little notice; girls never seemed to him to be of any special use in the world, but Paul was the light of his eyes, his pride and joy, and in the delicate child with his refined features and dreamy eyes, Mr. Dombey saw the future representative of the firm, and his heir as well; and he could not do enough for the boy who was to perpetuate the name of Dombey after him. It seemed to Mr. Dombey that any one so fortunate as to be born his son could not but thrive in return for so great a favour. So it was a blow to him that Paul did not grow into a burly, hearty fellow. All their vigilance and care could not make him a sturdy boy.
He was a pretty little fellow, though there was something wan and wistful in his small face. His temper gave abundant promise of being imperious in after life; and he had as hopeful an apprehension of his own importance, and the rightful subservience of all other things and persons to it as heart could wish. He was childish and sportive enough at times, and not of a sullen disposition; but he had a strange, old-fashioned, thoughtful way, at other times of sitting brooding in his miniature arm-chair. At no time did he fall into it so surely as when after dinner he sat with his father by the fire. They were the strangest pair at such a time that ever fire-light shone upon. Dombey so erect and solemn, gazing at the blaze; Paul with an old, old face peering into the red perspective with the fixed and rapt attention of a sage, the two so much alike and yet so monstrously contrasted. On one of these occasions, when they had both been perfectly quiet for a long time, little Paul broke the silence thus:
"Papa, what's money?"
The abrupt question took Mr. Dombey by surprise.
"What is money, Paul?" he answered, "Money?"
"Yes," said the child, laying his hands upon the elbows of his little chair, and turning his face up towards Mr. Dombey. "What is money?"
Mr. Dombey was in a difficulty. He would have liked to give him some explanation, involving the terms, currency, bullion, rates of exchange, etc., but he feared he might not be understood, so he answered:
"Gold and silver and copper. Guineas, shillings, halfpence. You know what they are?"
"Oh yes, I know what they are," said Paul. "I don't mean that, papa. I mean what is money after all?"
"What is money after all!"—said Mr. Dombey, backing his chair a little, that he might the better gaze at the presumptuous atom who propounded such an inquiry.
"I mean, papa, what can it do?" returned Paul.
Mr. Dombey patted him on the head. "You'll know better by-and-by, my man," he said. "Money, Paul, can do anything."
"Yes, anything—almost," said Mr. Dombey.
"Why didn't money save me my mama?" returned the child. "It isn't cruel, is it?"
"Cruel?" said Mr. Dombey. "No. A good thing can't be cruel."
"If it's a good thing and can do anything," said the little fellow, thoughtfully, as he looked back at the fire, "I wonder why it didn't save me my mama."
He didn't ask the question of his father this time. Perhaps he had seen, with a child's quickness, that it had already made his father uncomfortable. But he repeated the thought aloud, as if it was quite an old one to him, and had troubled him very much.
"It can't make me strong and quite well, either, papa; can it?" asked Paul, after a short silence; rubbing his tiny hands.
"You are as strong and well as such little people usually are? Eh?" said Mr. Dombey.
"Florence is older than I am, but I'm not as strong and well as Florence, I know," returned the child; "I am so tired sometimes," said little Paul, "and my bones ache so that I don't know what to do."
The unusual tone of that conversation so alarmed Mr. Dombey that the very next day he began to inquire into the real state of Paul's health; and as the doctor suggested that sea-air might be of benefit to the child, to Brighton he was promptly sent, to remain until he should seem benefited. He refused to go without Florence to whom he clung with a passion of devotion which made Mr. Dombey both irritated and jealous to see, wishing himself to absorb the boy's entire affection.
So to Brighton Paul and Florence went, in charge of Paul's nurse, Wickam. They found board in the house of an old lady, Mrs. Pipchin by name, whose temper was not of the best and whose methods of managing children were rather peculiar.
At this exemplary old lady, Paul would sit staring in his little armchair for any length of time. He never seemed to know what weariness was when he was looking fixedly at Mrs. Pipchin. He was not fond of her, he was not afraid of her, but she seemed to have a grotesque attraction for him.
Once she asked him, when they were alone, what he was thinking about.
"You," said Paul, without the least reserve.
"And what are you thinking about me?" asked Mrs. Pipchin.
"I'm thinking how old you must be," said Paul.
"You mustn't say such things as that, young gentleman," returned the dame.
"Why not?" asked Paul.
"Because it's not polite," said Mrs. Pipchin, snappishly.
"Not polite?" said Paul.
"It's not polite," said Paul innocently, "to eat all the mutton-chops and toast, Wickam says."
"Wickam," retorted Mrs. Pipchin colouring, "is a wicked, impudent, bold-faced hussy."
"What's that?" inquired Paul.
"Never you mind, sir," retorted Mrs. Pipchin. "Remember the story of the little boy that was gored to death by a mad bull for asking questions."
"If the bull was mad," said Paul, "how did he know that the boy had asked questions? Nobody can go and whisper secrets to a mad bull. I don't believe that story."
"You don't believe it, sir?" repeated Mrs. Pipchin, amazed.
"No," said Paul.
"Not if it should happen to have been a tame bull, you little infidel?" said Mrs. Pipchin.
As Paul had not considered the subject in that light, he allowed himself to be put down for the present. But he sat turning it over in his mind with such an obvious intention of fixing Mrs. Pipchin presently, that even that hardy old lady deemed it prudent to retreat until he should have forgotten the subject.
From that time Mrs. Pipchin appeared to have something of the same odd kind of an attraction towards Paul as Paul had towards her. She would make him move his chair to her side of the fire, instead of sitting opposite, and there he would remain studying every line of Mrs. Pipchin's face, while the old black cat lay coiled up on the fender purring and winking at the fire, and Paul went on studying Mrs, Pipchin and the cat and the fire, night after night, as if they were a history of necromancy in three volumes.
At the end of a week, as Paul was no stronger, though he looked much healthier in the face, a little carriage was got for him, in which he could be wheeled down to the seaside. Consistent in his odd tastes, the child set aside a ruddy faced lad, who was proposed as the drawer of this carriage, and selected instead, his grandfather, Glubb by name, a weazen, old, crab-faced man, in a suit of battered oilskins, who smelt like a weedy sea-beach when the tide is out. With this notable attendant to pull him along and Florence always by his side, he went down to the margin of the ocean every day; and there he would sit or lie in his carriage for hours together, never so distressed as at the company of children.
He had even a dislike at such times to the company of nurse Wickham, and was well pleased when she strolled away. His favourite spot was quite a lonely one, far away from most loungers, and with Florence sitting by his side at work, or reading to him, and the wind blowing on his face, and the water coming up among the wheels of his bed, he wanted nothing more.
For a year the children stayed at Brighton, going home but twice during that time for a few days, but every Sunday Mr. Dombey spent with them at the Brighton Hotel.
During the year Paul had grown strong enough to give up his carriage, though he still looked thin and delicate, and still remained the same dreamy, quiet child that he had been when consigned to Mrs. Pipchin's care.
At length, on a Saturday afternoon, Mr. Dombey appeared with the news that he was thinking of removing Paul to the school of one Doctor Blimber, also at Brighton.
"I have had some communication with the doctor, Mrs. Pipchin," said Mr. Dombey, "and he does not think Paul at all too young for his purposes. My son is getting on, Mrs. Pipchin, really he is getting on."
"Six years old!" said Mr. Dombey, settling his neckcloth. "Dear me! six will be changed to sixteen before we have time to look about us; and there is no doubt, I fear, that in his studies he is behind many children of his age—or his youth," said Mr. Dombey—"his youth is a more appropriate expression.
"Now, Mrs. Pipchin, instead of being behind his peers, my son ought to be before them, far before them. There is an eminence ready for him to mount on. There is nothing of chance or doubt before my son. The education of such a young gentleman must not be delayed. It must not be left imperfect. It must be very steadily and seriously undertaken, Mrs. Pipchin."
"Well, sir," said Mrs. Pipchin, "I can say nothing to the contrary." And so to Doctor Blimber's Paul was sent.
The doctor's was a mighty fine house fronting the sea. Upon its doorstep one day Paul stood with a fluttering heart, and with his small right hand in his father's. His other hand was locked in that of Florence. The doctor was sitting in his portentous study, with a globe at each knee, books all round him, Homer over the door and Minerva on the mantel-shelf.
Paul being somewhat too small to be seen from where the doctor sat, over the books on his table, the doctor made several futile attempts to get a view of him round the legs; which Mr. Dombey perceiving, relieved the doctor from his embarrassment by taking Paul up in his arms, and sitting him on another little table in the middle of the room.
"Ha!" said the doctor, leaning back in his chair. "Now I see my little friend. How do you do, my little friend?"
"V-ery well, I thank you, sir," returned Paul.
"Ha!" said Doctor Blimber. "Shall we make a man of him?"
"Do you hear, Paul?" added Mr. Dombey, Paul being silent.
"I had rather be a child," replied Paul.
"Indeed!" said the doctor. "Why?"
The child made no audible answer, and Doctor Blimber continued, "You would wish my little friend to acquire——?"
"Everything, if you please, doctor," returned Mr. Dombey, firmly.
"Yes," said the doctor. "Yes, exactly. Ha! We shall impart a great variety of information to our little friend, and bring him quickly forward."
At this moment Mrs. Blimber entered, followed by her daughter, and they were duly presented to the Dombeys. There was no light nonsense about Miss Blimber. She kept her hair short and crisp and wore spectacles.
Mrs. Blimber, her mama, was not learned herself, but she pretended to be, and that did quite as well. She said at evening parties, that if she could have known Cicero, she thought she could have died content. It was the steady joy of her life to see the doctor's young gentlemen go out walking, in the largest possible shirt-collars and the stiffest possible cravats. It was so classical, she said.
After the introductions were accomplished, Mrs. Blimber took Mr. Dombey upstairs to inspect the dormitories. While they were gone Paul sat upon the table, holding Florence by the hand, and glancing timidly from the doctor round and round the room, while the doctor held a book from him at arm's length and read.
Presently Mr. Dombey and Mrs. Blimber returned.
"I hope, Mr. Dombey," said the doctor laying down his book, "that the arrangements meet with your approval?"
"They are excellent, sir," said Mr. Dombey, and added, "I think I have given all the trouble I need, and may now take my leave. Paul my child, good-bye."
The limp and careless little hand, that Mr. Dombey took in his, was singularly out of keeping with the wistful little face. But he had no part in its sorrowful expression. It was not addressed to him. No, no! To Florence, all to Florence.
"I shall see you soon, Paul," said Mr. Dombey, bending over to kiss the child. "You are free on Saturdays and Sundays, you know."
"Yes, papa," returned Paul, looking at his sister. "On Saturdays and Sundays."
"And you'll try and learn a great deal here and be a clever man," said Mr. Dombey; "won't you?"
"I'll try," said the boy, wearily, and then after his father had patted him on the head, and pressed his small hand again, and after he had one last long hug from Florence, he was left with the globes, the books, blind Homer and Minerva, while Doctor Blimber saw Mr. Dombey to the door.
After the lapse of some minutes, Doctor Blimber came back, and the doctor lifting his new pupil off the table delivered him over to Miss Blimber's care. Miss Blimber received his young ward from the doctor's hands; and Paul, feeling that the spectacles were surveying him, cast down his eyes.
"How much of your Latin Grammar do you know, Dombey?" said Miss Blimber.
"None of it," answered Paul. Feeling that the answer was a shock to Miss Blimber's sensibility he added:
"I haven't been well. I have been a weak child. I couldn't learn a Latin Grammar when I was out every day with old Glubb. I wish you would tell old Glubb to come and see me, if you please."
"What a dreadful low name," said Mrs. Blimber. "Unclassical to a degree! Who is the monster, child?"
"What monster!" inquired Paul.
"Glubb," said Mrs. Blimber.
"He's no more a monster than you are," returned Paul.
"What!" cried the doctor, in a terrible voice. "Aye, aye, aye? Aha! What's that?"
Paul was dreadfully frightened, but still he made a stand for the absent Glubb, though he did it trembling.
"He's a very nice old man, ma'am," he said. "He used to draw my couch; he knows all about the deep sea and the fish that are in it, and though old Glubb don't know why the sea should make me think of my mama that's dead, or what it is that it is always saying,—always saying, he knows a great deal about it."
"Ha!" said the doctor, shaking his head: "this is bad, but study will do much. Take him round the house, Cornelia, and familiarise him with his new sphere. Go with that young lady, Dombey."
Dombey obeyed, giving his hand to Cornelia, who took him first to the school-room. Here were eight young gentlemen in various stages of mental prostration, all very hard at work and very grave indeed. Toots, the oldest boy in the school, to whom Paul had previously been introduced, had a desk to himself in one corner, and a magnificent man of immense age, he looked in Paul's eyes behind it.
The appearance of a new boy did not create the sensation that might have been expected. Mr. Feeder, B.A., gave him a bony hand and told him he was glad to see him, and then Paul, instructed by Miss Blimber shook hands with all the eight young gentlemen, at work against time. Then Cornelia led Paul upstairs to the top of the house: and there, in a front room looking over the wild sea, Cornelia showed him a nice little white bed with white hangings, close to the window, on which there was already written on a card in round text Dombey; while two other little bedsteads in the same room, were announced through the same means as belonging to Briggs and Tozer.
Then Miss Blimber said to Dombey that dinner would be ready in a quarter of an hour, and perhaps he had better go into the school-room among his "friends." So Dombey opened the school-room door a very little way and strayed in like a lost boy.
His "friends," were all dispersed about the room. All the boys (Toots excepted) were getting ready for dinner—some newly tying their neckcloths, and others washing their hands or brushing their hair in an adjoining room. Young Toots, who was ready beforehand, and had therefore leisure to bestow upon Dombey, said with heavy good-nature,——
"Sit down, Dombey."
"Thank you, sir," said Paul.
His endeavouring to hoist himself on to a very high window-seat, and his slipping down again, prepared Toots' mind for the reception of a discovery.
"You're a very small chap," said Mr. Toots.
"Yes, sir, I'm small," returned Paul. "Thank you, sir." For Toots had lifted him into the seat, and done it kindly too.
"Who's your tailor?" inquired Toots, after looking at him for some moments.
"It's a woman that has made my clothes as yet," said Paul "My sister's dressmaker."
"My tailor's Burgess and Co.," said Toots. "Fash'nable but very dear."
Paul had wit enough to shake his head, as if he would have said it was easy to see that.
"Your father's regularly rich, ain't he?" inquired Mr. Toots.
"Yes, sir," said Paul. "He's Dombey and Son."
"And which?" demanded Toots.
"And son, sir," replied Paul.
By this time the other pupils had gathered round, and after a few minutes of general conversation the gong sounded, which caused a general move towards the dining-room. Paul's chair at the table was next to Miss Blimber, but it being found, when he sat in it, that his eyebrows were not much above the level of the table-cloth, some books were brought, on which he was elevated, and on which he always sat from that time, carrying them in and out himself on after occasions, like a little elephant and castle.
Grace having been said by the doctor, dinner began. There was some nice soup, also roast meat, boiled meat, vegetables, pie, and cheese. Every young gentleman had a massive silver fork and a napkin, and all the arrangements were stately and handsome. There was a butler too, in a blue coat and brass buttons.
Nobody spoke unless spoken to, except Doctor Blimber, Mrs. Blimber, and Miss Blimber. Only once during dinner was there any conversation that included the young gentlemen. It happened when the doctor, having hemmed twice or thrice; said:——
"It is remarkable, Mr. Feeder, that the Romans——"
At this mention of this terrible people, their implacable enemies, every young gentleman fastened his gaze upon the doctor, with an assumption of the deepest interest. One of the number happened to be drinking, and when he caught the doctor's eye glaring at him through the side of his tumbler, he left off so hastily that he was convulsed for some moments, and in the sequel ruined Doctor Blimber's point, for at the critical part of the Roman tale, Johnson, unable to suppress it any longer, burst into such an overwhelming fit of coughing that, although both his immediate neighbours thumped him on the back, and Mr. Feeder himself held a glass of water to his lips, and the butler walked him up and down several times between his own chair and the sideboard, like a sentry, it was full five minutes before he was moderately composed, and then there was a profound silence.
"Gentlemen," said Doctor Blimber, "rise for Grace! Cornelia, lift Dombey down. Johnson will repeat to me to-morrow morning before breakfast, without book, and from the Greek Testament, the first chapter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians. We will resume our studies, Mr. Feeder, in half-an-hour."
The young gentlemen bowed and withdrew. Through the rest of the day's routine of work Paul sat in a corner wondering whether Florence was thinking of him and what they were about at Mrs. Pipchin's.
In the confidence of their own room that night Briggs said his head ached ready to split. Tozer didn't say much, but he sighed a good deal, and told Paul to look out for his turn would come to-morrow. And Tozer was right. The next morning Miss Blimber called Dombey to her and gave him a great pile of books.
"These are yours, Dombey," said Miss Blimber.
"All of 'em, ma'am?" said Paul.
"Yes," returned Miss Blimber; "and Mr. Feeder will look you out some more very soon if you are as studious as I expect you will be, Dombey."
"Thank you, ma'am," said Paul.
"Now, don't lose time, Dombey," continued Miss Blimber, "for you have none to spare, but take them downstairs and begin directly."
"Yes, ma'am," answered Paul.
There were so many of them that, although Paul put one hand under the bottom book and his other hand and his chin on the top book and hugged them all closely, the middle book slipped out before he reached the door, and then they all tumbled down on the floor. Miss Blimber said, "Oh, Dombey, Dombey, this is really very careless," and piled them up afresh for him; and this time by dint of balancing them with great nicety, Paul got out of the room and down a few stairs before two of them escaped again. But he held the rest so tight that he only left one more on the first floor and one in the passage; and when he had got the main body down into the school-room, he set off upstairs again to collect the stragglers. Having at last amassed the whole library and climbed into his place he fell to work, encouraged by a remark from Tozer to the effect that he was in for it now; which was the only interruption he received until breakfast time, for which meal he had no appetite, and when it was finished, he followed Miss Blimber upstairs.
"Now, Dombey, how have you got on with those books?" asked Miss Blimber.
They comprised a little English, and a deal of Latin, names of things, declensions of articles and nouns, exercises thereon, and preliminary rules; a trifle of orthography, a glance at ancient history, a wink or two at modern ditto, a few tables, two or three weights and measures, and a little general information. When poor Paul had spelt out number two, he found he had no idea of number one, fragments whereof obtruded themselves into number three, which slided into number four, which grafted itself on to number two. So that whether twenty Romuluses made a Remus, or hic, haec, hoc, was troy weight, or a verb always agreed with an ancient Briton, or three times four was Taurus, a bull, were open questions with him.
"Oh, Dombey, Dombey!" said Miss Blimber, "this is very shocking!"
"If you please," said Paul, "I think if I might sometimes talk a little with old Glubb, I should be able to do better."
"Nonsense, Dombey," said Miss Blimber, "I couldn't hear of it; and now take away the top book, if you please, Dombey, and return when you are master of the theme."
From that time Paul gave his whole mind to the pursuit of knowledge and acquitted himself very well, but it was hard work, and only on Saturdays did he have time to draw a free breath.
Oh Saturdays, happy Saturdays, when Florence, still at Mrs. Pipchin's, came at noon; they made up for all the other days!
It did not take long for the loving sister to discover that Paul needed help with the lessons over which he plodded so patiently, and so, procuring the books which he used, she kept pace with him in his studies, and every Saturday was able to assist him with his next week's work, and thus he was kept from sinking underneath the burden which Cornelia Blimber piled upon his back.
It was not that Miss Blimber meant to be too hard upon him, or that Doctor Blimber meant to bear too heavily upon the young gentlemen in general, but comforted by the applause of the young gentlemen's nearest relatives, and urged on by their blind vanity and ill-considered haste, it would have been strange if Doctor Blimber had discovered his mistake. Thus in the case of Paul. When Doctor Blimber said he made great progress and was naturally clever, Mr. Dombey was more bent than ever on his being forced and crammed.
Such spirits as he had in the outset Paul soon lost. But he retained all that was strange and old and thoughtful in his character. The only difference was that he kept his character to himself. He grew more thoughtful and reserved every day. He loved to be alone; and in those short intervals when he was not occupied with his books, he liked nothing so well as wandering about the house by himself, or sitting on the stairs listening to the great clock in the hall.
They were within some two or three weeks of the holidays when one day Cornelia called Dombey to her to hear the analysis of his character that she was about to send to his father.
"Analysis," said Miss Blimber, "of the character of P. Dombey. It may be generally observed of Dombey," said Miss Blimber, reading in a loud voice, and at every second word directing her spectacles towards the little figure before her, "that his abilities and inclinations are good, and that he has made as much progress as under the circumstances could have been expected. But it is to be lamented of this young gentleman that he is singular (what is usually termed old-fashioned) in his character and conduct, and that he is often very unlike other young gentlemen of his age and social position. Now, Dombey," said Miss Blimber, laying down the paper, "do you understand? This analysis, you see, Dombey," Miss Blimber continued, "is going to be sent home to your respected parent. It will naturally be very painful to him to find that you are singular in your character and conduct. It is naturally very painful to us, for we can't like you, you know, Dombey, as well as we could wish."
She touched the child upon a tender point. He had secretly become more solicitous from day to day that all the house should like him. He could not bear to think that they would be quite indifferent to him when he was gone, and he had even made it his business to conciliate a great, hoarse, shaggy dog, who had previously been the terror of his life, that even he might miss him.
This poor tiny Paul set forth to Miss Blimber as well as he could and begged her, in spite of the official analysis, to have the goodness to try to like him. To Mrs. Blimber, who had joined them, he preferred the same petition; and when she gave her oft-repeated opinion that he was an odd child, Paul told her that he was sure that she was quite right; that he thought it must be his bones, but he didn't know, and he hoped she would overlook it, for he was fond of them all.
"Not so fond," said Paul, with a mixture of frankness and timidity which was one of the most peculiar and engaging qualities of his, "not so fond as I am of Florence, of course; that could never be. You couldn't expect that, could you, ma'am?"
"Oh, the old-fashioned little soul!" cried Mrs. Blimber, in a whisper.
"But I like everybody here very much," pursued Paul, "and I should grieve to go away and think that any one was glad I had gone, or didn't care."
Mrs. Blimber was now sure that Paul was the oddest child in the world, and when she told the doctor what had passed, he did not controvert his wife's opinion.
And Paul's wish was gratified. His purpose was to be a gentle, helpful, quiet little fellow, and though he was often to be seen at his old post on the stairs, or watching the waves or the clouds from his solitary window, he was oftener found too, among the other boys, modestly rendering them some little voluntary service. Thus it came to pass that Paul was an object of general interest: a fragile little plaything that they all liked, and that no one would have thought of treating roughly. But he could not change his nature, and so they all agreed that Dombey was old-fashioned.
There were some immunities, however, attaching to the character enjoyed by no one else. They could have better spared a newer-fashioned child, and that alone was much. When the others only bowed to Doctor Blimber and family when retiring, Paul would stretch his morsel of a hand, and boldly shake the doctor's, also Mrs. Blimber's, also Cornelia's; and if any one was to be begged off from impending punishment, Paul was always the delegate.
One evening, when the holidays were very near, Paul was in Toots' room watching Mr. Feeder and Toots fold, seal, and direct, the invitations for the evening party with which the term was to close. Paul's head, which had long been ailing more or less, and was sometimes very heavy and painful, felt so uneasy that night that he was obliged to support it on his hand. And it dropped so that by little and little it sunk on Mr. Toots' knee, and rested there.
That was no reason why he should be deaf; but he must have been, he thought, for by and by he heard Mr. Feeder calling in his ear, and gently shaking him to rouse his attention. And when he raised his head, quite scared, he found that Doctor Blimber had come into the room, and that the window was open, and that his forehead was wet with sprinkled water.
"Ah! Come, come, that's well. How is my little friend now?" said Doctor Blimber.
"Oh, quite well, thank you, sir," said Paul.
But there seemed to be something the matter with the floor, for he couldn't stand upon it steadily; and with the walls too, for they were inclined to turn round and round.
It was very kind of Mr. Toots to carry him to the top of the house so tenderly, and Paul told him that it was. But Mr. Toots said he would do a great deal more than that if he could; and, indeed, he did more as it was, for he helped Paul to undress and helped him to bed in the kindest manner possible, and then sat down by the bedside and chuckled very much, while Mr. Feeder leaning over the bottom of the bedstead set all the little bristles on his head, bolt upright with his bony hands, and then made believe to spar at Paul, with great science, on account of his being all right again, which was so funny and kind, too, in Mr. Feeder, that Paul, not being able to make up his mind whether to laugh or cry, did both at once.
Everything that could minister to Paul's comfort was done for him, and in those days just before the holidays when the other young gentlemen were labouring for dear life, Paul was such a privileged pupil as had never been seen in that house before. He could hardly believe it himself, but his liberty lasted from hour to hour, from day to day; and little Dombey was caressed by every one.
At last, the great night of the reception arrived.
When Paul was dressed, which was very soon done, for he felt unwell and drowsy and not able to stand about it very long, he went down into the drawing-room. Shortly afterwards Mrs. Blimber appeared, looking lovely, Paul thought, and Miss Blimber came down soon after her mama. Mr. Toots and Mr. Feeder were the next arrivals. Each of these gentlemen brought his hat in his hand as if he lived somewhere else; and when they were announced by the butler. Doctor Blimber said, "Aye, aye, aye! God bless my soul!" and seemed extremely glad to see them. Mr. Toots was one blaze of jewellery and buttons, and all the other young gentlemen were tightly cravatted, curled, and pumped, and all came in with their hats in their hands at separate times and were announced and introduced. Soon Paul slipped down from the cushioned corner of a sofa, and went downstairs into the tearoom to be ready for Florence. Presently she came; looking so beautiful in her simple ball-dress, with her fresh flowers in her hand, that when she knelt down, to take Paul round the neck and kiss him, he could hardly make up his mind to let her go again, or to take away her bright and loving eyes from his face.
"But what is the matter, Floy?" asked Paul, almost sure that he saw a tear there.
"Nothing, darling, nothing," returned Florence.
Paul touched her cheek gently with his finger, and it was a tear.
"We'll go home together, and I'll nurse you, love," said Florence.
"Nurse me?" echoed Paul.
"Floy," said Paul, holding a ringlet of her dark hair in his hand. "Tell me, dear. Do you think I have grown old-fashioned?"
His sister laughed, and fondled him and told him, "No."
Through the evening Paul sat in his corner watching the dancing and beaming with pride as he heard praise showered on Dombey's sister. They all loved her—how could they help it, Paul had known beforehand that they must and would, and few would have thought with what triumph and delight he watched her. Thus little Paul sat musing, listening, looking on and dreaming; and was very happy. Until the time came for taking leave, and then indeed there was a sensation in the party. Every one took the heartiest sort of leave of him.
"Good-bye, Doctor Blimber," said Paul, stretching out his hand.
"Good-bye, my little friend," returned the doctor.
"I'm very much obliged to you, sir," said Paul, looking innocently up into his awful face. "Ask them to take care of Diogenes, if you please."
Diogenes was the dog who had never received a friend into his confidence, before Paul. The doctor promised that every attention should be paid to Diogenes in Paul's absence, and Paul having again thanked him, and shaken hands with him, bade adieu to Mrs. Blimber and Cornelia. Cornelia, taking both Paul's hands in hers said,—"Dombey, Dombey, you have always been my favourite pupil. God bless you!" And it showed, Paul thought, how easily one might do injustice to a person; for Miss Blimber meant it—although she was a Forcer.
A buzz then went round among the young gentlemen, of "Dombey's going! little Dombey's going!" and there was a general move after Paul and Florence down the staircase and into the hall, in which the whole Blimber family were included. The servants with the butler at their head had all an interest in seeing Little Dombey go, and even the young man taking out his books and trunks to the coach melted visibly. Nothing could restrain them from taking quite a noisy leave of Paul; waving hats after him, pressing downstairs to shake hands with him, crying individually "Dombey! don't forget me!" Paul whispered to Florence, as she wrapped him up before the door was opened. Did she hear them? Would she ever forget it? Was she glad to know it? And a lively delight was in his eyes as he spoke to her.
Once for a last look he turned and gazed upon the faces thus addressed to him, surprised to see how shining and how bright and how numerous they were. They swam before him, as he looked, and next moment he was in the dark coach outside holding close to Florence. From that time, whenever he thought of Doctor Blimber's it came back as he had seen it in this last view; and it never seemed a real place again, but always a dream, full of eyes.
And so ended little Paul's school days at Doctor Blimber's, for once at home again he never rose from his little bed. He lay there (listening to the noises in the street), quite tranquilly, not caring much how the time went, but watching it and everything about him with observing eyes. When the sunbeams struck into his room through the rustling blinds, and quivered on the opposite wall like golden water, he knew that evening was coming on, and that the sky was red and beautiful. As the reflection died away, and a gloom went creeping up the wall, he watched it deepen—deepen, into night. Then he thought how the long streets were dotted with lamps, and how the peaceful stars were shining overhead. His fancy had a strange tendency to wander to the river, which he knew was flowing through the great city; and now he thought how black it was and how deep it would look reflecting the hosts of stars—and more than all, how steadily it rolled away to meet the sea.
As it grew later in the night, and footsteps in the street became so rare that he could hear their coming, count them as they passed, and lose them in the hollow distance, he would lie and watch the many-coloured ring about the candle, and wait patiently for day. When day began to dawn again, he watched for the sun and when its cheerful light began to sparkle in the room, he pictured to himself—pictured! he saw—the high church towers rising up into the morning sky, the town reviving, waking, starting into life once more, the river glistening as it rolled (but rolling fast as ever), and the country bright with dew. Familiar sounds came by degrees into the street below; the servants in the house were roused and busy; faces looked in at the door, and voices asked his attendants softly how he was. Paul always answered for himself, "I am better. I am a great deal better, thank you. Tell papa so."
By little and little he got tired of the bustle of the day, the noise of carriages and carts, and people passing and re-passing; and would fall asleep, or be troubled with a restless, and uneasy sense again—the child could hardly tell whether this were in his sleeping or his waking moments—of that rushing river.
"Why will it never stop, Floy?" he would sometimes ask her. "It is bearing me away I think."
But Floy could always soothe and reassure him: and it was his daily delight to make her lay her head down on his pillow, and take some rest.
"You are always watching me, Floy, let me watch you now." They would prop him up with cushions in a corner of his bed, and there he would recline the while she lay beside him, bending forwards oftentimes to kiss her.
Thus the flush of the day in its heat and light, would gradually decline; and again the golden water would be dancing on the wall.
He was visited by as many as three grave doctors—they used to assemble downstairs and come up together—and the room was so quiet and Paul was so observant of them (though he never asked of anybody what they said) that he even knew the difference in the sound of their watches.
The people round him changed as unaccountably as on that first night at Doctor Blimber's—except Florence; Florence never changed. Old Mrs. Pipchin dozing in an easy chair, often changed to someone else and Paul was quite content to shut his eyes again and see what happened next, without emotion. But one figure with its head upon its hand returned so often and remained so long, and sat so still and solemn, never speaking, never being spoken to, and rarely lifting up its face, that Paul began to wonder languidly if it were real.
"Floy," he said, "what is that?"
"There, at the bottom of the bed."
"There's nothing there except papa."
The figure lifted up its head, and rose, and coming to the bedside said: "My own boy! Don't you know me?"
Paul looked it in the face and thought, was this his father? But the face so altered to his thinking, thrilled while he gazed, as if it were in pain; and before he could reach out both his hands to take it between them and draw it towards him, the figure turned away quickly from the little bed, and went out at the door. The next time he observed the figure sitting at the bottom of the bed, he called to it:
"Don't be so sorry for me, dear papa. Indeed, I am quite happy."
His father coming and bending down to him, which he did quickly, Paul held him round the neck and repeated those words to him several times and very earnestly. This was the beginning of his always saying in the morning that he was a great deal better, and that they were to tell his father so.
How many times the golden water danced on the wall; how many nights the dark, dark river rolled away towards the sea in spite of him, Paul never counted, never sought to know. If their kindness could have increased, or his sense of it, they were more kind, and he more grateful every day; but whether they were many days or few appeared of little moment now to the gentle boy.
One night he had been thinking of his mother and her picture in the drawing-room downstairs. The train of thought suggested to him to inquire if he had ever seen his mother; for he could not remember whether they had told him yes or no, the river running very fast and confusing his mind.
"Floy, did I ever see mama?"
"No, darling; why?"
"Did I ever see any kind face like mama's looking at me when I was a baby, Floy?"
"Oh yes, dear."
"Your old nurse's, often."
"And where is my old nurse?" said Paul. "Is she dead, too? Floy are we all dead except you?"
There was a hurry in the room for an instant—longer perhaps—then all was still again, and Florence, with her face quite colourless but smiling, held his head upon her arm. Her arm trembled very much.
"Show me that old nurse, Floy, if you please."
"She is not here, darling; she shall come to-morrow."
"Thank you, Floy."
Paul closed his eyes with these words and fell asleep. When he awoke the sun was high and the broad day was clear and warm. He lay a little, looking at the windows, which were open, and the curtains rustling in the air, and waving to and fro, then he said, "Floy, is it to-morrow? Is she come?" The next thing that happened was a noise of footsteps on the stairs, and then Paul woke—woke mind and body—and sat upright in his bed. He saw them now about him. There was no gray mist before them as there had been some time in the night. He knew them every one and called them by their names.
"And who is this? Is this my old nurse?" said the child, regarding with a radiant smile a figure coming in.
Yes, yes. No other stranger would have shed those tears at sight of him, and called him her dear boy, her pretty boy, her own poor blighted child. No other woman would have stooped down by his bed, and taken up his wasted hand, and put it to her lips and breast, as one who had some right to fondle it.
"Floy, this is a kind, good face," said Paul. "I am glad to see it again. Don't go away, old nurse. Stay here."
"Good-bye, my child," cried Mrs. Pipchin, hurrying to his bed's head. "Not good-bye?"
For an instant Paul looked at her with the wistful face with which he had so often gazed upon her in his corner by the fire.
"Ah, yes," he said, placidly, "good-bye. Where is papa?"
He felt his father's breath upon his cheek before the words had parted from his lips.
"Now lay me down," he said, "and, Floy, come close to me, and let me see you."
Sister and brother wound their arms around each other, and the golden light came streaming in, and fell upon them, locked together.
"How fast the river runs, between its green banks and the rushes, Floy. But it's very near the sea. I hear the waves."
Presently he told her that the motion of the boat upon the stream was lulling him to rest. How near the banks were now. How bright the flowers growing on them, and how tall the rushes. Now the boat was out at sea but gliding smoothly on. And now there was a shore before him. Who stood on the bank?
He put his hands together as he had been used to do at his prayers. He did not remove his arms to do it, but they saw him fold them so, behind her neck,
"Mama is like you, Floy. I know her by the face. But tell them that the print upon the stairs at school is not divine enough. The light about the head is shining on me as I go."
The golden ripple on the wall came back again, and nothing else stirred in the room. The old, old fashion. The fashion that came in with our first garments, and will last unchanged until our race has run its course, and the wide firmament is rolled up like a scroll. The old, old fashion—Death.
Oh, thank God for that older fashion yet,—of Immortality!