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Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 1

Dombey And Son

Chapter 1

Dombey and Son

Dombey sat in the corner of the darkened room in the great
arm-chair by the bedside, and Son lay tucked up warm in a little
basket bedstead, carefully disposed on a low settee immediately in
front of the fire and close to it, as if his constitution were
analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown
while he was very new.

Dombey was about eight-and-forty years of age. Son about
eight-and-forty minutes. Dombey was rather bald, rather red, and
though a handsome well-made man, too stern and pompous in appearance,
to be prepossessing. Son was very bald, and very red, and though (of
course) an undeniably fine infant, somewhat crushed and spotty in his
general effect, as yet. On the brow of Dombey, Time and his brother
Care had set some marks, as on a tree that was to come down in good
time - remorseless twins they are for striding through their human
forests, notching as they go - while the countenance of Son was
crossed with a thousand little creases, which the same deceitful Time
would take delight in smoothing out and wearing away with the flat
part of his scythe, as a preparation of the surface for his deeper

Dombey, exulting in the long-looked-for event, jingled and jingled
the heavy gold watch-chain that depended from below his trim blue
coat, whereof the buttons sparkled phosphorescently in the feeble rays
of the distant fire. Son, with his little fists curled up and
clenched, seemed, in his feeble way, to be squaring at existence for
having come upon him so unexpectedly.

'The House will once again, Mrs Dombey,' said Mr Dombey, 'be not
only in name but in fact Dombey and Son;' and he added, in a tone of
luxurious satisfaction, with his eyes half-closed as if he were
reading the name in a device of flowers, and inhaling their fragrance
at the same time; 'Dom-bey and Son!'

The words had such a softening influence, that he appended a term
of endearment to Mrs Dombey's name (though not without some
hesitation, as being a man but little used to that form of address):
and said, 'Mrs Dombey, my - my dear.'

A transient flush of faint surprise overspread the sick lady's face
as she raised her eyes towards him.

'He will be christened Paul, my - Mrs Dombey - of course.'

She feebly echoed, 'Of course,' or rather expressed it by the
motion of her lips, and closed her eyes again.

'His father's name, Mrs Dombey, and his grandfather's! I wish his
grandfather were alive this day! There is some inconvenience in the
necessity of writing Junior,' said Mr Dombey, making a fictitious
autograph on his knee; 'but it is merely of a private and personal
complexion. It doesn't enter into the correspondence of the House. Its
signature remains the same.' And again he said 'Dombey and Son, in
exactly the same tone as before.

Those three words conveyed the one idea of Mr Dombey's life. The
earth was made for Dombey and Son to trade in, and the sun and moon
were made to give them light. Rivers and seas were formed to float
their ships; rainbows gave them promise of fair weather; winds blew
for or against their enterprises; stars and planets circled in their
orbits, to preserve inviolate a system of which they were the centre.
Common abbreviations took new meanings in his eyes, and had sole
reference to them. A. D. had no concern with Anno Domini, but stood
for anno Dombei - and Son.

He had risen, as his father had before him, in the course of life
and death, from Son to Dombey, and for nearly twenty years had been
the sole representative of the Firm. Of those years he had been
married, ten - married, as some said, to a lady with no heart to give
him; whose happiness was in the past, and who was content to bind her
broken spirit to the dutiful and meek endurance of the present. Such
idle talk was little likely to reach the ears of Mr Dombey, whom it
nearly concerned; and probably no one in the world would have received
it with such utter incredulity as he, if it had reached him. Dombey
and Son had often dealt in hides, but never in hearts. They left that
fancy ware to boys and girls, and boarding-schools and books. Mr
Dombey would have reasoned: That a matrimonial alliance with himself
must, in the nature of things, be gratifying and honourable to any
woman of common sense. That the hope of giving birth to a new partner
in such a House, could not fail to awaken a glorious and stirring
ambition in the breast of the least ambitious of her sex. That Mrs
Dombey had entered on that social contract of matrimony: almost
necessarily part of a genteel and wealthy station, even without
reference to the perpetuation of family Firms: with her eyes fully
open to these advantages. That Mrs Dombey had had daily practical
knowledge of his position in society. That Mrs Dombey had always sat
at the head of his table, and done the honours of his house in a
remarkably lady-like and becoming manner. That Mrs Dombey must have
been happy. That she couldn't help it.

Or, at all events, with one drawback. Yes. That he would have
allowed. With only one; but that one certainly involving much. With
the drawback of hope deferred. That hope deferred, which, (as the
Scripture very correctly tells us, Mr Dombey would have added in a
patronising way; for his highest distinct idea even of Scripture, if
examined, would have been found to be; that as forming part of a
general whole, of which Dombey and Son formed another part, it was
therefore to be commended and upheld) maketh the heart sick. They had
been married ten years, and until this present day on which Mr Dombey
sat jingling and jingling his heavy gold watch-chain in the great
arm-chair by the side of the bed, had had no issue.

- To speak of; none worth mentioning. There had been a girl some
six years before, and the child, who had stolen into the chamber
unobserved, was now crouching timidly, in a corner whence she could
see her mother's face. But what was a girl to Dombey and Son! In the
capital of the House's name and dignity, such a child was merely a
piece of base coin that couldn't be invested - a bad Boy - nothing

Mr Dombey's cup of satisfaction was so full at this moment,
however, that he felt he could afford a drop or two of its contents,
even to sprinkle on the dust in the by-path of his little daughter.

So he said, 'Florence, you may go and look at your pretty brother,
if you lIke, I daresay. Don't touch him!'

The child glanced keenly at the blue coat and stiff white cravat,
which, with a pair of creaking boots and a very loud ticking watch,
embodied her idea of a father; but her eyes returned to her mother's
face immediately, and she neither moved nor answered.

'Her insensibility is as proof against a brother as against every
thing else,' said Mr Dombey to himself He seemed so confirmed in a
previous opinion by the discovery, as to be quite glad of it'

Next moment, the lady had opened her eyes and seen the child; and
the child had run towards her; and, standing on tiptoe, the better to
hide her face in her embrace, had clung about her with a desperate
affection very much at variance with her years.

'Oh Lord bless me!' said Mr Dombey, rising testily. 'A very
illadvised and feverish proceeding this, I am sure. Please to ring
there for Miss Florence's nurse. Really the person should be more

'Wait! I - had better ask Doctor Peps if he'll have the goodness to
step upstairs again perhaps. I'll go down. I'll go down. I needn't beg
you,' he added, pausing for a moment at the settee before the fire,
'to take particular care of this young gentleman, Mrs - '

'Blockitt, Sir?' suggested the nurse, a simpering piece of faded
gentility, who did not presume to state her name as a fact, but merely
offered it as a mild suggestion.

'Of this young gentleman, Mrs Blockitt.'

'No, Sir, indeed. I remember when Miss Florence was born - '

'Ay, ay, ay,' said Mr Dombey, bending over the basket bedstead, and
slightly bending his brows at the same time. 'Miss Florence was all
very well, but this is another matter. This young gentleman has to
accomplish a destiny. A destiny, little fellow!' As he thus
apostrophised the infant he raised one of his hands to his lips, and
kissed it; then, seeming to fear that the action involved some
compromise of his dignity, went, awkwardly enough, away.

Doctor Parker Peps, one of the Court Physicians, and a man of
immense reputation for assisting at the increase of great families,
was walking up and down the drawing-room with his hands behind him, to
the unspeakable admiration of the family Surgeon, who had regularly
puffed the case for the last six weeks, among all his patients,
friends, and acquaintances, as one to which he was in hourly
expectation day and night of being summoned, in conjunction with
Doctor Parker Pep.

'Well, Sir,' said Doctor Parker Peps in a round, deep, sonorous
voice, muffled for the occasion, like the knocker; 'do you find that
your dear lady is at all roused by your visit?'

'Stimulated as it were?' said the family practitioner faintly:
bowing at the same time to the Doctor, as much as to say, 'Excuse my
putting in a word, but this is a valuable connexion.'

Mr Dombey was quite discomfited by the question. He had thought so
little of the patient, that he was not in a condition to answer it. He
said that it would be a satisfaction to him, if Doctor Parker Peps
would walk upstairs again.

'Good! We must not disguise from you, Sir,' said Doctor Parker
Peps, 'that there is a want of power in Her Grace the Duchess - I beg
your pardon; I confound names; I should say, in your amiable lady.
That there is a certain degree of languor, and a general absence of
elasticity, which we would rather - not -

'See,' interposed the family practitioner with another inclination
of the head.

'Quite so,' said Doctor Parker Peps,' which we would rather not
see. It would appear that the system of Lady Cankaby - excuse me: I
should say of Mrs Dombey: I confuse the names of cases - '

'So very numerous,' murmured the family practitioner - 'can't be
expected I'm sure - quite wonderful if otherwise - Doctor Parker
Peps's West-End practice - '

'Thank you,' said the Doctor, 'quite so. It would appear, I was
observing, that the system of our patient has sustained a shock, from
which it can only hope to rally by a great and strong - '

'And vigorous,' murmured the family practitioner.

'Quite so,' assented the Doctor - 'and vigorous effort. Mr Pilkins
here, who from his position of medical adviser in this family - no one
better qualified to fill that position, I am sure.'

'Oh!' murmured the family practitioner. '"Praise from Sir Hubert

'You are good enough,' returned Doctor Parker Peps, 'to say so. Mr
Pilkins who, from his position, is best acquainted with the patient's
constitution in its normal state (an acquaintance very valuable to us
in forming our opinions in these occasions), is of opinion, with me,
that Nature must be called upon to make a vigorous effort in this
instance; and that if our interesting friend the Countess of Dombey -
I beg your pardon; Mrs Dombey - should not be - '

'Able,' said the family practitioner.

'To make,' said Doctor Parker Peps.

'That effort,' said the family practitioner.

'Successfully,' said they both together.

'Then,' added Doctor Parker Peps, alone and very gravely, a crisis
might arise, which we should both sincerely deplore.'

With that, they stood for a few seconds looking at the ground.
Then, on the motion - made in dumb show - of Doctor Parker Peps, they
went upstairs; the family practitioner opening the room door for that
distinguished professional, and following him out, with most
obsequious politeness.

To record of Mr Dombey that he was not in his way affected by this
intelligence, would be to do him an injustice. He was not a man of
whom it could properly be said that he was ever startled, or shocked;
but he certainly had a sense within him, that if his wife should
sicken and decay, he would be very sorry, and that he would find a
something gone from among his plate and furniture, and other household
possessions, which was well worth the having, and could not be lost
without sincere regret. Though it would be a cool,. business-like,
gentlemanly, self-possessed regret, no doubt.

His meditations on the subject were soon interrupted, first by the
rustling of garments on the staircase, and then by the sudden whisking
into the room of a lady rather past the middle age than otherwise but
dressed in a very juvenile manner, particularly as to the tightness of
her bodice, who, running up to him with a kind of screw in her face
and carriage, expressive of suppressed emotion, flung her arms around
his neck, and said, in a choking voice,

'My dear Paul! He's quite a Dombey!'

'Well, well!' returned her brother - for Mr Dombey was her brother
- 'I think he is like the family. Don't agitate yourself, Louisa.'

'It's very foolish of me,' said Louisa, sitting down, and taking
out her pocket~handkerchief, 'but he's - he's such a perfect Dombey!'

Mr Dombey coughed.

'It's so extraordinary,' said Louisa; smiling through her tears,
which indeed were not overpowering, 'as to be perfectly ridiculous. So
completely our family. I never saw anything like it in my life!'

'But what is this about Fanny, herself?' said Mr Dombey. 'How is

'My dear Paul,' returned Louisa, 'it's nothing whatever. Take my
word, it's nothing whatever. There is exhaustion, certainly, but
nothing like what I underwent myself, either with George or Frederick.
An effort is necessary. That's all. If dear Fanny were a Dombey! - But
I daresay she'll make it; I have no doubt she'll make it. Knowing it
to be required of her, as a duty, of course she'll make it. My dear
Paul, it's very weak and silly of me, I know, to be so trembly and
shaky from head to foot; but I am so very queer that I must ask you
for a glass of wine and a morsel of that cake.'

Mr Dombey promptly supplied her with these refreshments from a tray
on the table.

'I shall not drink my love to you, Paul,' said Louisa: 'I shall
drink to the little Dombey. Good gracious me! - it's the most
astonishing thing I ever knew in all my days, he's such a perfect

Quenching this expression of opinion in a short hysterical laugh
which terminated in tears, Louisa cast up her eyes, and emptied her

'I know it's very weak and silly of me,' she repeated, 'to be so
trembly and shaky from head to foot, and to allow my feelings so
completely to get the better of me, but I cannot help it. I thought I
should have fallen out of the staircase window as I came down from
seeing dear Fanny, and that tiddy ickle sing.' These last words
originated in a sudden vivid reminiscence of the baby.

They were succeeded by a gentle tap at the door.

'Mrs Chick,' said a very bland female voice outside, 'how are you
now, my dear friend?'

'My dear Paul,' said Louisa in a low voice, as she rose from her
seat, 'it's Miss Tox. The kindest creature! I never could have got
here without her! Miss Tox, my brother Mr Dombey. Paul, my dear, my
very particular friend Miss Tox.'

The lady thus specially presented, was a long lean figure, wearing
such a faded air that she seemed not to have been made in what
linen-drapers call 'fast colours' originally, and to have, by little
and little, washed out. But for this she might have been described as
the very pink of general propitiation and politeness. From a long
habit of listening admiringly to everything that was said in her
presence, and looking at the speakers as if she were mentally engaged
in taking off impressions of their images upon her soul, never to part
with the same but with life, her head had quite settled on one side.
Her hands had contracted a spasmodic habit of raising themselves of
their own accord as in involuntary admiration. Her eyes were liable to
a similar affection. She had the softest voice that ever was heard;
and her nose, stupendously aquiline, had a little knob in the very
centre or key-stone of the bridge, whence it tended downwards towards
her face, as in an invincible determination never to turn up at

Miss Tox's dress, though perfectly genteel and good, had a certain
character of angularity and scantiness. She was accustomed to wear odd
weedy little flowers in her bonnets and caps. Strange grasses were
sometimes perceived in her hair; and it was observed by the curious,
of all her collars, frills, tuckers, wristbands, and other gossamer
articles - indeed of everything she wore which had two ends to it
intended to unite - that the two ends were never on good terms, and
wouldn't quite meet without a struggle. She had furry articles for
winter wear, as tippets, boas, and muffs, which stood up on end in
rampant manner, and were not at all sleek. She was much given to the
carrying about of small bags with snaps to them, that went off like
little pistols when they were shut up; and when full-dressed, she wore
round her neck the barrenest of lockets, representing a fishy old eye,
with no approach to speculation in it. These and other appearances of
a similar nature, had served to propagate the opinion, that Miss Tox
was a lady of what is called a limited independence, which she turned
to the best account. Possibly her mincing gait encouraged the belief,
and suggested that her clipping a step of ordinary compass into two or
three, originated in her habit of making the most of everything.

'I am sure,' said Miss Tox, with a prodigious curtsey, 'that to
have the honour of being presented to Mr Dombey is a distinction which
I have long sought, but very little expected at the present moment. My
dear Mrs Chick - may I say Louisa!'

Mrs Chick took Miss Tox's hand in hers, rested the foot of her
wine-glass upon it, repressed a tear, and said in a low voice, 'God
bless you!'

'My dear Louisa then,' said Miss Tox, 'my sweet friend, how are you

'Better,' Mrs Chick returned. 'Take some wine. You have been almost
as anxious as I have been, and must want it, I am sure.'

Mr Dombey of course officiated, and also refilled his sister's
glass, which she (looking another way, and unconscious of his
intention) held straight and steady the while, and then regarded with
great astonishment, saying, 'My dear Paul, what have you been doing!'

'Miss Tox, Paul,' pursued Mrs Chick, still retaining her hand,
'knowing how much I have been interested in the anticipation of the
event of to-day, and how trembly and shaky I have been from head to
foot in expectation of it, has been working at a little gift for
Fanny, which I promised to present. Miss Tox is ingenuity itself.'

'My dear Louisa,' said Miss Tox. 'Don't say so.

'It is only a pincushion for the toilette table, Paul,' resumed his
sister; 'one of those trifles which are insignificant to your sex in
general, as it's very natural they should be - we have no business to
expect they should be otherwise - but to which we attach some

'Miss Tox is very good,' said Mr Dombey.

'And I do say, and will say, and must say,' pursued his sister,
pressing the foot of the wine-glass on Miss Tox's hand, at each of the
three clauses, 'that Miss Tox has very prettily adapted the sentiment
to the occasion. I call "Welcome little Dombey" Poetry, myself!'

'Is that the device?' inquired her brother.

'That is the device,' returned Louisa.

'But do me the justice to remember, my dear Louisa,' said Miss
Toxin a tone of low and earnest entreaty, 'that nothing but the - I
have some difficulty in expressing myself - the dubiousness of the
result would have induced me to take so great a liberty: "Welcome,
Master Dombey," would have been much more congenial to my feelings, as
I am sure you know. But the uncertainty attendant on angelic
strangers, will, I hope, excuse what must otherwise appear an
unwarrantable familiarity.' Miss Tox made a graceful bend as she
spoke, in favour of Mr Dombey, which that gentleman graciously
acknowledged. Even the sort of recognition of Dombey and Son, conveyed
in the foregoing conversation, was so palatable to him, that his
sister, Mrs Chick - though he affected to consider her a weak
good-natured person - had perhaps more influence over him than anybody

'My dear Paul,' that lady broke out afresh, after silently
contemplating his features for a few moments, 'I don't know whether to
laugh or cry when I look at you, I declare, you do so remind me of
that dear baby upstairs.'

'Well!' said Mrs Chick, with a sweet smile, 'after this, I forgive
Fanny everything!'

It was a declaration in a Christian spirit, and Mrs Chick felt that
it did her good. Not that she had anything particular to forgive in
her sister-in-law, nor indeed anything at all, except her having
married her brother - in itself a species of audacity - and her
having, in the course of events, given birth to a girl instead of a
boy: which, as Mrs Chick had frequently observed, was not quite what
she had expected of her, and was not a pleasant return for all the
attention and distinction she had met with.

Mr Dombey being hastily summoned out of the room at this moment,
the two ladies were left alone together. Miss Tox immediately became

'I knew you would admire my brother. I told you so beforehand, my
dear,' said Louisa. Miss Tox's hands and eyes expressed how much. 'And
as to his property, my dear!'

'Ah!' said Miss Tox, with deep feeling. 'Im-mense!'

'But his deportment, my dear Louisa!' said Miss Tox. 'His presence!
His dignity! No portrait that I have ever seen of anyone has been half
so replete with those qualities. Something so stately, you know: so
uncompromising: so very wide across the chest: so upright! A pecuniary
Duke of York, my love, and nothing short of it!' said Miss Tox.
'That's what I should designate him.'

'Why, my dear Paul!' exclaimed his sister, as he returned, 'you
look quite pale! There's nothing the matter?'

'I am sorry to say, Louisa, that they tell me that Fanny - '

'Now, my dear Paul,' returned his sister rising, 'don't believe it.
Do not allow yourself to receive a turn unnecessarily. Remember of
what importance you are to society, and do not allow yourself to be
worried by what is so very inconsiderately told you by people who
ought to know better. Really I'm surprised at them.'

'I hope I know, Louisa,' said Mr Dombey, stiffly, 'how to bear
myself before the world.'

'Nobody better, my dear Paul. Nobody half so well. They would be
ignorant and base indeed who doubted it.'

'Ignorant and base indeed!' echoed Miss Tox softly.

'But,' pursued Louisa, 'if you have any reliance on my experience,
Paul, you may rest assured that there is nothing wanting but an effort
on Fanny's part. And that effort,' she continued, taking off her
bonnet, and adjusting her cap and gloves, in a business-like manner,
'she must be encouraged, and really, if necessary, urged to make. Now,
my dear Paul, come upstairs with me.'

Mr Dombey, who, besides being generally influenced by his sister
for the reason already mentioned, had really faith in her as an
experienced and bustling matron, acquiesced; and followed her, at
once, to the sick chamber.

The lady lay upon her bed as he had left her, clasping her little
daughter to her breast. The child clung close about her, with the same
intensity as before, and never raised her head, or moved her soft
cheek from her mother's face, or looked on those who stood around, or
spoke, or moved, or shed a tear.

'Restless without the little girl,' the Doctor whispered Mr Dombey.
'We found it best to have her in again.'

'Can nothing be done?' asked Mr Dombey.

The Doctor shook his head. 'We can do no more.'

The windows stood open, and the twilight was gathering without.

The scent of the restoratives that had been tried was pungent in
the room, but had no fragrance in the dull and languid air the lady

There was such a solemn stillness round the bed; and the two
medical attendants seemed to look on the impassive form with so much
compassion and so little hope, that Mrs Chick was for the moment
diverted from her purpose. But presently summoning courage, and what
she called presence of mind, she sat down by the bedside, and said in
the low precise tone of one who endeavours to awaken a sleeper:

'Fanny! Fanny!'

There was no sound in answer but the loud ticking of Mr Dombey's
watch and Doctor Parker Peps's watch, which seemed in the silence to
be running a race.

'Fanny, my dear,' said Mrs Chick, with assumed lightness, 'here's
Mr Dombey come to see you. Won't you speak to him? They want to lay
your little boy - the baby, Fanny, you know; you have hardly seen him
yet, I think - in bed; but they can't till you rouse yourself a
little. Don't you think it's time you roused yourself a little? Eh?'

She bent her ear to the bed, and listened: at the same time looking
round at the bystanders, and holding up her finger.

'Eh?' she repeated, 'what was it you said, Fanny? I didn't hear

No word or sound in answer. Mr Dombey's watch and Dr Parker Peps's
watch seemed to be racing faster.

'Now, really, Fanny my dear,' said the sister-in-law, altering her
position, and speaking less confidently, and more earnestly, in spite
of herself, 'I shall have to be quite cross with you, if you don't
rouse yourself. It's necessary for you to make an effort, and perhaps
a very great and painful effort which you are not disposed to make;
but this is a world of effort you know, Fanny, and we must never
yield, when so much depends upon us. Come! Try! I must really scold
you if you don't!'

The race in the ensuing pause was fierce and furious. The watches
seemed to jostle, and to trip each other up.

'Fanny!' said Louisa, glancing round, with a gathering alarm. 'Only
look at me. Only open your eyes to show me that you hear and
understand me; will you? Good Heaven, gentlemen, what is to be done!'

The two medical attendants exchanged a look across the bed; and the
Physician, stooping down, whispered in the child's ear. Not having
understood the purport of his whisper, the little creature turned her
perfectly colourless face and deep dark eyes towards him; but without
loosening her hold in the least

The whisper was repeated.

'Mama!' said the child.

The little voice, familiar and dearly loved, awakened some show of
consciousness, even at that ebb. For a moment, the closed eye lids
trembled, and the nostril quivered, and the faintest shadow of a smile
was seen.

'Mama!' cried the child sobbing aloud. 'Oh dear Mama! oh dear

The Doctor gently brushed the scattered ringlets of the child,
aside from the face and mouth of the mother. Alas how calm they lay
there; how little breath there was to stir them!

Thus, clinging fast to that slight spar within her arms, the mother
drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the

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