Dombey and Son
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But it was generally said that Mrs Pipchin was a woman of system
with children; and no doubt she was. Certainly the wild ones went home
tame enough, after sojourning for a few months beneath her hospitable
roof. It was generally said, too, that it was highly creditable of Mrs
Pipchin to have devoted herself to this way of life, and to have made
such a sacrifice of her feelings, and such a resolute stand against
her troubles, when Mr Pipchin broke his heart in the Peruvian mines.
At this exemplary old lady, Paul would sit staring in his little
arm-chair by the fire, 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 in those old, old moods
of his, she seemed to have a grotesque attraction for him. There he
would sit, looking at her, and warming his hands, and looking at her,
until he sometimes quite confounded Mrs Pipchin, Ogress as she was.
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. 'That'll never do.'
'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,
'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
'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, and had
founded his conclusions on the alleged lunacy of the bull, 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 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 in a nook between Mrs
Pipchin and the fender, with all the light of his little face absorbed
into the black bombazeen drapery, studying every line and wrinkle of
her countenance, and peering at the hard grey eye, until Mrs Pipchin
was sometimes fain to shut it, on pretence of dozing. Mrs Pipchin had
an old black cat, who generally lay coiled upon the centre foot of the
fender, purring egotistically, and winking at the fire until the
contracted pupils of his eyes were like two notes of admiration. The
good old lady might have been - not to record it disrespectfully - a
witch, and Paul and the cat her two familiars, as they all sat by the
fire together. It would have been quite in keeping with the appearance
of the party if they had all sprung up the chimney in a high wind one
night, and never been heard of any more.
This, however, never came to pass. The cat, and Paul, and Mrs
Pipchin, were constantly to be found in their usual places after dark;
and Paul, eschewing the companionship of Master Bitherstone, went on
studying Mrs Pipchin, and the cat, and the fire, night after night, as
if they were a book of necromancy, in three volumes.
Mrs Wickam put her own construction on Paul's eccentricities; and
being confirmed in her low spirits by a perplexed view of chimneys
from the room where she was accustomed to sit, and by the noise of the
wind, and by the general dulness (gashliness was Mrs Wickam's strong
expression) of her present life, deduced the most dismal reflections
from the foregoing premises. It was a part of Mrs Pipchin's policy to
prevent her own 'young hussy' - that was Mrs Pipchin's generic name
for female servant - from communicating with Mrs Wickam: to which end
she devoted much of her time to concealing herself behind doors, and
springing out on that devoted maiden, whenever she made an approach
towards Mrs Wickam's apartment. But Berry was free to hold what
converse she could in that quarter, consistently with the discharge of
the multifarious duties at which she toiled incessantly from morning
to night; and to Berry Mrs Wickam unburdened her mind.
'What a pretty fellow he is when he's asleep!' said Berry, stopping
to look at Paul in bed, one night when she took up Mrs Wickam's
'Ah!' sighed Mrs Wickam. 'He need be.'
'Why, he's not ugly when he's awake,' observed Berry.
'No, Ma'am. Oh, no. No more was my Uncle's Betsey Jane,' said Mrs
Berry looked as if she would like to trace the connexion of ideas
between Paul Dombey and Mrs Wickam's Uncle's Betsey Jane
'My Uncle's wife,' Mrs Wickam went on to say, 'died just like his
Mama. My Uncle's child took on just as Master Paul do.'
'Took on! You don't think he grieves for his Mama, sure?' argued
Berry, sitting down on the side of the bed. 'He can't remember
anything about her, you know, Mrs Wickam. It's not possible.'
'No, Ma'am,' said Mrs Wickam 'No more did my Uncle's child. But my
Uncle's child said very strange things sometimes, and looked very
strange, and went on very strange, and was very strange altogether. My
Uncle's child made people's blood run cold, some times, she did!'
'How?' asked Berry.
'I wouldn't have sat up all night alone with Betsey Jane!' said Mrs
Wickam, 'not if you'd have put Wickam into business next morning for
himself. I couldn't have done it, Miss Berry.
Miss Berry naturally asked why not? But Mrs Wickam, agreeably to
the usage of some ladies in her condition, pursued her own branch of
the subject, without any compunction.
'Betsey Jane,' said Mrs Wickam, 'was as sweet a child as I could
wish to see. I couldn't wish to see a sweeter. Everything that a child
could have in the way of illnesses, Betsey Jane had come through. The
cramps was as common to her,' said Mrs Wickam, 'as biles is to
yourself, Miss Berry.' Miss Berry involuntarily wrinkled her nose.
'But Betsey Jane,' said Mrs Wickam, lowering her voice, and looking
round the room, and towards Paul in bed, 'had been minded, in her
cradle, by her departed mother. I couldn't say how, nor I couldn't say
when, nor I couldn't say whether the dear child knew it or not, but
Betsey Jane had been watched by her mother, Miss Berry!' and Mrs
Wickam, with a very white face, and with watery eyes, and with a
tremulous voice, again looked fearfully round the room, and towards
Paul in bed.
'Nonsense!' cried Miss Berry - somewhat resentful of the idea.
'You may say nonsense! I ain't offended, Miss. I hope you may be
able to think in your own conscience that it is nonsense; you'll find
your spirits all the better for it in this - you'll excuse my being so
free - in this burying-ground of a place; which is wearing of me down.
Master Paul's a little restless in his sleep. Pat his back, if you
'Of course you think,' said Berry, gently doing what she was asked,
'that he has been nursed by his mother, too?'
'Betsey Jane,' returned Mrs Wickam in her most solemn tones, 'was
put upon as that child has been put upon, and changed as that child
has changed. I have seen her sit, often and often, think, think,
thinking, like him. I have seen her look, often and often, old, old,
old, like him. I have heard her, many a time, talk just like him. I
consider that child and Betsey Jane on the same footing entirely, Miss
'Is your Uncle's child alive?' asked Berry.
'Yes, Miss, she is alive,' returned Mrs Wickam with an air of
triumph, for it was evident. Miss Berry expected the reverse; 'and is
married to a silver-chaser. Oh yes, Miss, SHE is alive,' said Mrs
Wickam, laying strong stress on her nominative case.
It being clear that somebody was dead, Mrs Pipchin's niece inquired
who it was.
'I wouldn't wish to make you uneasy,' returned Mrs Wickam, pursuing
her supper. Don't ask me.'
This was the surest way of being asked again. Miss Berry repeated
her question, therefore; and after some resistance, and reluctance,
Mrs Wickam laid down her knife, and again glancing round the room and
at Paul in bed, replied:
'She took fancies to people; whimsical fancies, some of them;
others, affections that one might expect to see - only stronger than
common. They all died.'
This was so very unexpected and awful to Mrs Pipchin's niece, that
she sat upright on the hard edge of the bedstead, breathing short, and
surveying her informant with looks of undisguised alarm.