Dombey and Son
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increasing in it as Paul grew older, was impatience. Impatience for
the time to come, when his visions of their united consequence and
grandeur would be triumphantly realized.
Some philosophers tell us that selfishness is at the root of our
best loves and affections.' Mr Dombey's young child was, from the
beginning, so distinctly important to him as a part of his own
greatness, or (which is the same thing) of the greatness of Dombey and
Son, that there is no doubt his parental affection might have been
easily traced, like many a goodly superstructure of fair fame, to a
very low foundation. But he loved his son with all the love he had. If
there were a warm place in his frosty heart, his son occupied it; if
its very hard surface could receive the impression of any image, the
image of that son was there; though not so much as an infant, or as a
boy, but as a grown man - the 'Son' of the Firm. Therefore he was
impatient to advance into the future, and to hurry over the
intervening passages of his history. Therefore he had little or no
anxiety' about them, in spite of his love; feeling as if the boy had a
charmed life, and must become the man with whom he held such constant
communication in his thoughts, and for whom he planned and projected,
as for an existing reality, every day.
Thus Paul grew to be nearly five years old. He was a pretty little
fellow; though there was something wan and wistful in his small face,
that gave occasion to many significant shakes of Mrs Wickam's head,
and many long-drawn inspirations of Mrs Wickam's breath. 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
desire. 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,
when he looked (and talked) like one of those terrible little Beings
in the Fairy tales, who, at a hundred and fifty or two hundred years
of age, fantastically represent the children for whom they have been
substituted. He would frequently be stricken with this precocious mood
upstairs in the nursery; and would sometimes lapse into it suddenly,
exclaiming that he was tired: even while playing with Florence, or
driving Miss Tox in single harness. But at no time did he fall into it
so surely, as when, his little chair being carried down into his
father's room, he sat there with him after dinner, by the fire. They
were the strangest pair at such a time that ever firelight shone upon.
Mr Dombey so erect and solemn, gazing at the blare; his little image,
with an old, old face, peering into the red perspective with the fixed
and rapt attention of a sage. Mr Dombey entertaining complicated
worldly schemes and plans; the little image entertaining Heaven knows
what wild fancies, half-formed thoughts, and wandering speculations.
Mr Dombey stiff with starch and arrogance; the little image by
inheritance, and in unconscious imitation. The two so very much alike,
and yet so monstrously contrasted.
On one of these occasions, when they had both been perfectly quiet
for a long time, and Mr Dombey only knew that the child was awake by
occasionally glancing at his eye, where the bright fire was sparkling
like a jewel, little Paul broke silence thus:
'Papa! what's money?'
The abrupt question had such immediate reference to the subject of
Mr Dombey's thoughts, that Mr Dombey was quite disconcerted.
'What is money, Paul?' he answered. 'Money?'
'Yes,' said the child, laying his hands upon the elbows of his
little chair, and turning the old face up towards Mr Dombey's; 'what
Mr Dombey was in a difficulty. He would have liked to give him some
explanation involving the terms circulating-medium, currency,
depreciation of currency', paper, bullion, rates of exchange, value of
precious metals in the market, and so forth; but looking down at the
little chair, and seeing what a long way down it was, he answered:
'Gold, and silver, and copper. Guineas, shillings, half-pence. You
know what they are?'
'Oh yes, I know what they are,' said Paul. 'I don't mean that,
Papa. I mean what's money after all?'
Heaven and Earth, how old his face was as he turned it up again
towards his father's!
'What is money after all!' said Mr Dombey, backing his chair a
little, that he might the better gaze in sheer amazement at the
presumptuous atom that propounded such an inquiry.
'I mean, Papa, what can it do?' returned Paul, folding his arms
(they were hardly long enough to fold), and looking at the fire, and
up at him, and at the fire, and up at him again.
Mr Dombey drew his chair back to its former place, and patted him
on the head. 'You'll know better by-and-by, my man,' he said. 'Money,
Paul, can do anything.' He took hold of the little hand, and beat it
softly against one of his own, as he said so.
But Paul got his hand free as soon as he could; and rubbing it
gently to and fro on the elbow of his chair, as if his wit were in the
palm, and he were sharpening it - and looking at the fire again, as
though the fire had been his adviser and prompter - repeated, after a
'Yes. Anything - almost,' said Mr Dombey.
'Anything means everything, don't it, Papa?' asked his son: not
observing, or possibly not understanding, the qualification.
'It includes it: yes,' said Mr Dombey.
'Why didn't money save me my Mama?' returned the child. 'It isn't
cruel, is it?'
'Cruel!' said Mr Dombey, settling his neckcloth, and seeming to
resent the idea. '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 were quite
an old one to him, and had troubled him very much; and sat with his
chin resting on his hand, still cogitating and looking for an
explanation in the fire.
Mr Dombey having recovered from his surprise, not to say his alarm
(for it was the very first occasion on which the child had ever
broached the subject of his mother to him, though he had had him
sitting by his side, in this same manner, evening after evening),
expounded to him how that money, though a very potent spirit, never to
be disparaged on any account whatever, could not keep people alive
whose time was come to die; and how that we must all die,
unfortunately, even in the City, though we were never so rich. But how
that money caused us to be honoured, feared, respected, courted, and
admired, and made us powerful and glorious in the eyes of all men; and
how that it could, very often, even keep off death, for a long time
together. How, for example, it had secured to his Mama the services of
Mr Pilkins, by which be, Paul, had often profited himself; likewise of
the great Doctor Parker Peps, whom he had never known. And how it
could do all, that could be done. This, with more to the same purpose,
Mr Dombey instilled into the mind of his son, who listened
attentively, and seemed to understand the greater part of what was
said to him.
'It can't make me strong and quite well, either, Papa; can it?'
asked Paul, after a short silence; rubbing his tiny hands.
'Why, you are strong and quite well,' returned Mr Dombey. 'Are you
Oh! the age of the face that was turned up again, with an
expression, half of melancholy, half of slyness, on it!
'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; 'and I believe that when
Florence was as little as me, she could play a great deal longer at a
time without tiring herself. I am so tired sometimes,' said little
Paul, warming his hands, and looking in between the bars of the grate,
as if some ghostly puppet-show were performing there, 'and my bones
ache so (Wickam says it's my bones), that I don't know what to do.'
'Ay! But that's at night,' said Mr Dombey, drawing his own chair
closer to his son's, and laying his hand gently on his back; 'little
people should be tired at night, for then they sleep well.'
'Oh, it's not at night, Papa,' returned the child, 'it's in the
day; and I lie down in Florence's lap, and she sings to me. At night I
dream about such cu-ri-ous things!'
And he went on, warming his hands again, and thinking about them,
like an old man or a young goblin.
Mr Dombey was so astonished, and so uncomfortable, and so perfectly
at a loss how to pursue the conversation, that he could only sit
looking at his son by the light of the fire, with his hand resting on
his back, as if it were detained there by some magnetic attraction.
Once he advanced his other hand, and turned the contemplative face
towards his own for a moment. But it sought the fire again as soon as
he released it; and remained, addressed towards the flickering blaze,
until the nurse appeared, to summon him to bed.
'I want Florence to come for me,' said Paul.
'Won't you come with your poor Nurse Wickam, Master Paul?' inquired
that attendant, with great pathos.
'No, I won't,' replied Paul, composing himself in his arm-chair
again, like the master of the house.
Invoking a blessing upon his innocence, Mrs Wickam withdrew, and
presently Florence appeared in her stead. The child immediately
started up with sudden readiness and animation, and raised towards his
father in bidding him good-night, a countenance so much brighter, so
much younger, and so much more child-like altogether, that Mr Dombey,
while he felt greatly reassured by the change, was quite amazed at it.