Dombey and Son
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inventions of yesterday had, on repetition, a sort of truth about them
Mr Perch always closed these conferences by meekly remarking, That,
of course, whatever his suspicions might have been (as if he had ever
had any!) it wasn't for him to betray his trust, was it? Which
sentiment (there never being any creditors present) was received as
doing great honour to his feelings. Thus, he generally brought away a
soothed conscience and left an agreeable impression behind him, when
he returned to his bracket: again to sit watching the strange faces of
the accountants and others, making so free with the great mysteries,
the Books; or now and then to go on tiptoe into Mr Dombey's empty
room, and stir the fire; or to take an airing at the door, and have a
little more doleful chat with any straggler whom he knew; or to
propitiate, with various small attentions, the head accountant: from
whom Mr Perch had expectations of a messengership in a Fire Office,
when the affairs of the House should be wound up.
To Major Bagstock, the bankruptcy was quite a calamity. The Major
was not a sympathetic character - his attention being wholly
concentrated on J. B. - nor was he a man subject to lively emotions,
except in the physical regards of gasping and choking. But he had so
paraded his friend Dombey at the club; had so flourished him at the
heads of the members in general, and so put them down by continual
assertion of his riches; that the club, being but human, was delighted
to retort upon the Major, by asking him, with a show of great concern,
whether this tremendous smash had been at all expected, and how his
friend Dombey bore it. To such questions, the Major, waxing very
purple, would reply that it was a bad world, Sir, altogether; that
Joey knew a thing or two, but had been done, Sir, done like an infant;
that if you had foretold this, Sir, to J. Bagstock, when he went
abroad with Dombey and was chasing that vagabond up and down France,
J. Bagstock would have pooh-pooh'd you - would have pooh- pooh'd you,
Sir, by the Lord! That Joe had been deceived, Sir, taken in,
hoodwinked, blindfolded, but was broad awake again and staring;
insomuch, Sir, that if Joe's father were to rise up from the grave
to-morrow, he wouldn't trust the old blade with a penny piece, but
would tell him that his son Josh was too old a soldier to be done
again, Sir. That he was a suspicious, crabbed, cranky, used-up, J. B.
infidel, Sir; and that if it were consistent with the dignity of a
rough and tough old Major, of the old school, who had had the honour
of being personally known to, and commended by, their late Royal
Highnesses the Dukes of Kent and York, to retire to a tub and live in
it, by Gad! Sir, he'd have a tub in Pall Mall to-morrow, to show his
contempt for mankind!'
Of all this, and many variations of the same tune, the Major would
deliver himself with so many apoplectic symptoms, such rollings of his
head, and such violent growls of ill usage and resentment, that the
younger members of the club surmised he had invested money in his
friend Dombey's House, and lost it; though the older soldiers and
deeper dogs, who knew Joe better, wouldn't hear of such a thing. The
unfortunate Native, expressing no opinion, suffered dreadfully; not
merely in his moral feelings, which were regularly fusilladed by the
Major every hour in the day, and riddled through and through, but in
his sensitiveness to bodily knocks and bumps, which was kept
continually on the stretch. For six entire weeks after the bankruptcy,
this miserable foreigner lived in a rainy season of boot-jacks and
Mrs Chick had three ideas upon the subject of the terrible reverse.
The first was that she could not understand it. The second, that her
brother had not made an effort. The third, that if she had been
invited to dinner on the day of that first party, it never would have
happened; and that she had said so, at the time.
Nobody's opinion stayed the misfortune, lightened it, or made it
heavier. It was understood that the affairs of the House were to be
wound up as they best could be; that Mr Dombey freely resigned
everything he had, and asked for no favour from anyone. That any
resumption of the business was out of the question, as he would listen
to no friendly negotiation having that compromise in view; that he had
relinquished every post of trust or distinction he had held, as a man
respected among merchants; that he was dying, according to some; that
he was going melancholy mad, according to others; that he was a broken
man, according to all.
The clerks dispersed after holding a little dinner of condolence
among themselves, which was enlivened by comic singing, and went off
admirably. Some took places abroad, and some engaged in other Houses
at home; some looked up relations in the country, for whom they
suddenly remembered they had a particular affection; and some
advertised for employment in the newspapers. Mr Perch alone remained
of all the late establishment, sitting on his bracket looking at the
accountants, or starting off it, to propitiate the head accountant,
who was to get him into the Fire Office. The Counting House soon got
to be dirty and neglected. The principal slipper and dogs' collar
seller, at the corner of the court, would have doubted the propriety
of throwing up his forefinger to the brim of his hat, any more, if Mr
Dombey had appeared there now; and the ticket porter, with his hands
under his white apron, moralised good sound morality about ambition,
which (he observed) was not, in his opinion, made to rhyme to
perdition, for nothing.
Mr Morfin, the hazel-eyed bachelor, with the hair and whiskers
sprinkled with grey, was perhaps the only person within the atmosphere
of the House - its head, of course, excepted - who was heartily and
deeply affected by the disaster that had befallen it. He had treated
Mr Dombey with due respect and deference through many years, but he
had never disguised his natural character, or meanly truckled to him,
or pampered his master passion for the advancement of his own
purposes. He had, therefore, no self-disrespect to avenge; no
long-tightened springs to release with a quick recoil. He worked early
and late to unravel whatever was complicated or difficult in the
records of the transactions of the House; was always in attendance to
explain whatever required explanation; sat in his old room sometimes
very late at night, studying points by his mastery of which he could
spare Mr Dombey the pain of being personally referred to; and then
would go home to Islington, and calm his mind by producing the most
dismal and forlorn sounds out of his violoncello before going to bed.
He was solacing himself with this melodious grumbler one evening,
and, having been much dispirited by the proceedings of the day, was
scraping consolation out of its deepest notes, when his landlady (who
was fortunately deaf, and had no other consciousness of these
performances than a sensation of something rumbling in her bones)
announced a lady.
'In mourning,' she said.
The violoncello stopped immediately; and the performer, laying it
on the sofa with great tenderness and care, made a sign that the lady
was to come in. He followed directly, and met Harriet Carker on the
'Alone!' he said, 'and John here this morning! Is there anything
the matter, my dear? But no,' he added, 'your face tells quite another
'I am afraid it is a selfish revelation that you see there, then,'
'It is a very pleasant one,' said he; 'and, if selfish, a novelty
too, worth seeing in you. But I don't believe that.'
He had placed a chair for her by this time, and sat down opposite;
the violoncello lying snugly on the sofa between them.
'You will not be surprised at my coming alone, or at John's not
having told you I was coming,' said Harriet; 'and you will believe
that, when I tell you why I have come. May I do so now?'
'You can do nothing better.'
'You were not busy?'
He pointed to the violoncello lying on the sofa, and said 'I have
been, all day. Here's my witness. I have been confiding all my cares
to it. I wish I had none but my own to tell.'
'Is the House at an end?' said Harriet, earnestly.
'Completely at an end.'
'Will it never be resumed?'
The bright expression of her face was not overshadowed as her lips
silently repeated the word. He seemed to observe this with some little
involuntary surprise: and said again:
'Never. You remember what I told you. It has been, all along,
impossible to convince him; impossible to reason with him; sometimes,
impossible even to approach him. The worst has happened; and the House
has fallen, never to be built up any more.'
'And Mr Dombey, is he personally ruined?'
'Will he have no private fortune left? Nothing?'
A certain eagerness in her voice, and something that was almost
joyful in her look, seemed to surprise him more and more; to
disappoint him too, and jar discordantly against his own emotions. He
drummed with the fingers of one hand on the table, looking wistfully
at her, and shaking his head, said, after a pause:
'The extent of Mr Dombey's resources is not accurately within my
knowledge; but though they are doubtless very large, his obligations
are enormous. He is a gentleman of high honour and integrity. Any man
in his position could, and many a man in his position would, have
saved himself, by making terms which would have very slightly, almost
insensibly, increased the losses of those who had had dealings with
him, and left him a remnant to live upon. But he is resolved on
payment to the last farthing of his means. His own words are, that
they will clear, or nearly clear, the House, and that no one can lose
much. Ah, Miss Harriet, it would do us no harm to remember oftener
than we do, that vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!
His pride shows well in this.'
She heard him with little or no change in her expression, and with
a divided attention that showed her to be busy with something in her
own mind. When he was silent, she asked him hurriedly:
'Have you seen him lately?'
'No one sees him. When this crisis of his affairs renders it
necessary for him to come out of his house, he comes out for the