Dombey and Son

Page 56

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 not?'

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.

After they had left the room together, he thought he heard a soft voice singing; and remembering that Paul had said his sister sung to him, he had the curiosity to open the door and listen, and look after them. She was toiling up the great, wide, vacant staircase, with him in her arms; his head was lying on her shoulder, one of his arms thrown negligently round her neck. So they went, toiling up; she singing all the way, and Paul sometimes crooning out a feeble accompaniment. Mr Dombey looked after them until they reached the top of the staircase - not without halting to rest by the way - and passed out of his sight; and then he still stood gazing upwards, until the dull rays of the moon, glimmering in a melancholy manner through the dim skylight, sent him back to his room.

Mrs Chick and Miss Tox were convoked in council at dinner next day; and when the cloth was removed, Mr Dombey opened the proceedings by requiring to be informed, without any gloss or reservation, whether there was anything the matter with Paul, and what Mr Pilkins said about him.

'For the child is hardly,' said Mr Dombey, 'as stout as I could wish.'

'My dear Paul,' returned Mrs Chick, 'with your usual happy discrimination, which I am weak enough to envy you, every time I am in your company; and so I think is Miss Tox

'Oh my dear!' said Miss Tox, softly, 'how could it be otherwise? Presumptuous as it is to aspire to such a level; still, if the bird of night may - but I'll not trouble Mr Dombey with the sentiment.

Charles Dickens
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