Dombey and Son
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'A moment yet. Lay your head so, dear, that as you read I may see
the words in your kind face.'
Harriet complied and read - read the eternal book for all the
weary, and the heavy-laden; for all the wretched, fallen, and
neglected of this earth - read the blessed history, in which the blind
lame palsied beggar, the criminal, the woman stained with shame, the
shunned of all our dainty clay, has each a portion, that no human
pride, indifference, or sophistry, through all the ages that this
world shall last, can take away, or by the thousandth atom of a grain
reduce - read the ministry of Him who, through the round of human
life, and all its hopes and griefs, from birth to death, from infancy
to age, had sweet compassion for, and interest in, its every scene and
stage, its every suffering and sorrow.
'I shall come,' said Harriet, when she shut the book, 'very early
in the morning.'
The lustrous eyes, yet fixed upon her face, closed for a moment,
then opened; and Alice kissed and blest her.
The same eyes followed her to the door; and in their light, and on
the tranquil face, there was a smile when it was closed.
They never turned away. She laid her hand upon her breast,
murmuring the sacred name that had been read to her; and life passed
from her face, like light removed.
Nothing lay there, any longer, but the ruin of the mortal house on
which the rain had beaten, and the black hair that had fluttered in
the wintry wind.
Changes have come again upon the great house in the long dull
street, once the scene of Florence's childhood and loneliness. It is a
great house still, proof against wind and weather, without breaches in
the roof, or shattered windows, or dilapidated walls; but it is a ruin
none the less, and the rats fly from it.
Mr Towlinson and company are, at first, incredulous in respect of
the shapeless rumours that they hear. Cook says our people's credit
ain't so easy shook as that comes to, thank God; and Mr Towlinson
expects to hear it reported next, that the Bank of England's a-going
to break, or the jewels in the Tower to be sold up. But, next come the
Gazette, and Mr Perch; and Mr Perch brings Mrs Perch to talk it over
in the kitchen, and to spend a pleasant evening.
As soon as there is no doubt about it, Mr Towlinson's main anxiety
is that the failure should be a good round one - not less than a
hundred thousand pound. Mr Perch don't think himself that a hundred
thousand pound will nearly cover it. The women, led by Mrs Perch and
Cook, often repeat 'a hun-dred thou-sand pound!' with awful
satisfaction - as if handling the words were like handling the money;
and the housemaid, who has her eye on Mr Towlinson, wishes she had
only a hundredth part of the sum to bestow on the man of her choice.
Mr Towlinson, still mindful of his old wrong, opines that a foreigner
would hardly know what to do with so much money, unless he spent it on
his whiskers; which bitter sarcasm causes the housemaid to withdraw in
But not to remain long absent; for Cook, who has the reputation of
being extremely good-hearted, says, whatever they do, let 'em stand by
one another now, Towlinson, for there's no telling how soon they may
be divided. They have been in that house (says Cook) through a
funeral, a wedding, and a running-away; and let it not be said that
they couldn't agree among themselves at such a time as the present.
Mrs Perch is immensely affected by this moving address, and openly
remarks that Cook is an angel. Mr Towlinson replies to Cook, far be it
from him to stand in the way of that good feeling which he could wish
to see; and adjourning in quest of the housemaid, and presently
returning with that young lady on his arm, informs the kitchen that
foreigners is only his fun, and that him and Anne have now resolved to
take one another for better for worse, and to settle in Oxford Market
in the general greengrocery and herb and leech line, where your kind
favours is particular requested. This announcement is received with
acclamation; and Mrs Perch, projecting her soul into futurity, says,
'girls,' in Cook's ear, in a solemn whisper.
Misfortune in the family without feasting, in these lower regions,
couldn't be. Therefore Cook tosses up a hot dish or two for supper,
and Mr Towlinson compounds a lobster salad to be devoted to the same
hospitable purpose. Even Mrs Pipchin, agitated by the occasion, rings
her bell, and sends down word that she requests to have that little
bit of sweetbread that was left, warmed up for her supper, and sent to
her on a tray with about a quarter of a tumbler-full of mulled sherry;
for she feels poorly.
There is a little talk about Mr Dombey, but very little. It is
chiefly speculation as to how long he has known that this was going to
happen. Cook says shrewdly, 'Oh a long time, bless you! Take your oath
of that.' And reference being made to Mr Perch, he confirms her view
of the case. Somebody wonders what he'll do, and whether he'll go out
in any situation. Mr Towlinson thinks not, and hints at a refuge in
one of them genteel almshouses of the better kind. 'Ah, where he'll
have his little garden, you know,' says Cook plaintively, 'and bring
up sweet peas in the spring.' 'Exactly so,' says Mr Towlinson, 'and be
one of the Brethren of something or another.' 'We are all brethren,'
says Mrs Perch, in a pause of her drink. 'Except the sisters,' says Mr
Perch. 'How are the mighty fallen!' remarks Cook. 'Pride shall have a
fall, and it always was and will be so!' observes the housemaid.
It is wonderful how good they feel, in making these reflections;
and what a Christian unanimity they are sensible of, in bearing the
common shock with resignation. There is only one interruption to this
excellent state of mind, which is occasioned by a young kitchen-maid
of inferior rank - in black stockings - who, having sat with her mouth
open for a long time, unexpectedly discharges from it words to this
effect, 'Suppose the wages shouldn't be paid!' The company sit for a
moment speechless; but Cook recovering first, turns upon the young
woman, and requests to know how she dares insult the family, whose
bread she eats, by such a dishonest supposition, and whether she
thinks that anybody, with a scrap of honour left, could deprive poor
servants of their pittance? 'Because if that is your religious
feelings, Mary Daws,' says Cook warmly, 'I don't know where you mean
to go to.
Mr Towlinson don't know either; nor anybody; and the young
kitchen-maid, appearing not to know exactly, herself, and scouted by
the general voice, is covered with confusion, as with a garment.
After a few days, strange people begin to call at the house, and to
make appointments with one another in the dining-room, as if they
lived there. Especially, there is a gentleman, of a Mosaic Arabian
cast of countenance, with a very massive watch-guard, who whistles in
the drawing-room, and, while he is waiting for the other gentleman,
who always has pen and ink in his pocket, asks Mr Towlinson (by the
easy name of 'Old Cock,') if he happens to know what the figure of
them crimson and gold hangings might have been, when new bought. The
callers and appointments in the dining-room become more numerous every
day, and every gentleman seems to have pen and ink in his pocket, and
to have some occasion to use it. At last it is said that there is
going to be a Sale; and then more people arrive, with pen and ink in
their pockets, commanding a detachment of men with carpet caps, who
immediately begin to pull up the carpets, and knock the furniture
about, and to print off thousands of impressions of their shoes upon
the hall and staircase.
The council downstairs are in full conclave all this time, and,
having nothing to do, perform perfect feats of eating. At length, they
are one day summoned in a body to Mrs Pipchin's room, and thus
addressed by the fair Peruvian:
'Your master's in difficulties,' says Mrs Pipchin, tartly. 'You
know that, I suppose?'
Mr Towlinson, as spokesman, admits a general knowledge of the fact.
'And you're all on the look-out for yourselves, I warrant you, says
Mrs Pipchin, shaking her head at them.
A shrill voice from the rear exclaims, 'No more than yourself!'
'That's your opinion, Mrs Impudence, is it?' says the ireful
Pipchin, looking with a fiery eye over the intermediate heads.
'Yes, Mrs Pipchin, it is,' replies Cook, advancing. 'And what then,
'Why, then you may go as soon as you like,' says Mrs Pipchin. 'The
sooner the better; and I hope I shall never see your face again.'
With this the doughty Pipchin produces a canvas bag; and tells her
wages out to that day, and a month beyond it; and clutches the money
tight, until a receipt for the same is duly signed, to the last
upstroke; when she grudgingly lets it go. This form of proceeding Mrs
Pipchin repeats with every member of the household, until all are
'Now those that choose, can go about their business,' says Mrs
Pipchin, 'and those that choose can stay here on board wages for a
week or so, and make themselves useful. Except,' says the inflammable
Pipchin, 'that slut of a cook, who'll go immediately.'
'That,' says Cook, 'she certainly will! I wish you good day, Mrs
Pipchin, and sincerely wish I could compliment you on the sweetness of
'Get along with you,' says Mrs Pipchin, stamping her foot.
Cook sails off with an air of beneficent dignity, highly
exasperating to Mrs Pipchin, and is shortly joined below stairs by the
rest of the confederation.
Mr Towlinson then says that, in the first place, he would beg to
propose a little snack of something to eat; and over that snack would
desire to offer a suggestion which he thinks will meet the position in
which they find themselves. The refreshment being produced, and very
heartily partaken of, Mr Towlinson's suggestion is, in effect, that
Cook is going, and that if we are not true to ourselves, nobody will
be true to us. That they have lived in that house a long time, and
exerted themselves very much to be sociable together. (At this, Cook
says, with emotion, 'Hear, hear!' and Mrs Perch, who is there again,
and full to the throat, sheds tears.) And that he thinks, at the
present time, the feeling ought to be 'Go one, go all!' The housemaid
is much affected by this generous sentiment, and warmly seconds it.