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Charles Dickens > Dombey And Son > Chapter 38

Dombey And Son

Chapter 38

Miss Tox improves an Old Acquaintance

The forlorn Miss Tox, abandoned by her friend Louisa Chick, and
bereft of Mr Dombey's countenance - for no delicate pair of wedding
cards, united by a silver thread, graced the chimney-glass in
Princess's Place, or the harpsichord, or any of those little posts of
display which Lucretia reserved for holiday occupation - became
depressed in her spirits, and suffered much from melancholy. For a
time the Bird Waltz was unheard in Princess's Place, the plants were
neglected, and dust collected on the miniature of Miss Tox's ancestor
with the powdered head and pigtail.

Miss Tox, however, was not of an age or of a disposition long to
abandon herself to unavailing regrets. Only two notes of the
harpsichord were dumb from disuse when the Bird Waltz again warbled
and trilled in the crooked drawing-room: only one slip of geranium
fell a victim to imperfect nursing, before she was gardening at her
green baskets again, regularly every morning; the powdered-headed
ancestor had not been under a cloud for more than six weeks, when Miss
Tox breathed on his benignant visage, and polished him up with a piece
of wash-leather.

Still, Miss Tox was lonely, and at a loss. Her attachments, however
ludicrously shown, were real and strong; and she was, as she expressed
it, 'deeply hurt by the unmerited contumely she had met with from
Louisa.' But there was no such thing as anger in Miss Tox's
composition. If she had ambled on through life, in her soft spoken
way, without any opinions, she had, at least, got so far without any
harsh passions. The mere sight of Louisa Chick in the street one day,
at a considerable distance, so overpowered her milky nature, that she
was fain to seek immediate refuge in a pastrycook's, and there, in a
musty little back room usually devoted to the consumption of soups,
and pervaded by an ox-tail atmosphere, relieve her feelings by weeping

Against Mr Dombey Miss Tox hardly felt that she had any reason of
complaint. Her sense of that gentleman's magnificence was such, that
once removed from him, she felt as if her distance always had been
immeasurable, and as if he had greatly condescended in tolerating her
at all. No wife could be too handsome or too stately for him,
according to Miss Tox's sincere opinion. It was perfectly natural that
in looking for one, he should look high. Miss Tox with tears laid down
this proposition, and fully admitted it, twenty times a day. She never
recalled the lofty manner in which Mr Dombey had made her subservient
to his convenience and caprices, and had graciously permitted her to
be one of the nurses of his little son. She only thought, in her own
words, 'that she had passed a great many happy hours in that house,
which she must ever remember with gratification, and that she could
never cease to regard Mr Dombey as one of the most impressive and
dignified of men.'

Cut off, however, from the implacable Louisa, and being shy of the
Major (whom she viewed with some distrust now), Miss Tox found it very
irksome to know nothing of what was going on in Mr Dombey's
establishment. And as she really had got into the habit of considering
Dombey and Son as the pivot on which the world in general turned, she
resolved, rather than be ignorant of intelligence which so strongly
interested her, to cultivate her old acquaintance, Mrs Richards, who
she knew, since her last memorable appearance before Mr Dombey, was in
the habit of sometimes holding communication with his servants.
Perhaps Miss Tox, in seeking out the Toodle family, had the tender
motive hidden in her breast of having somebody to whom she could talk
about Mr Dombey, no matter how humble that somebody might be.

At all events, towards the Toodle habitation Miss Tox directed her
steps one evening, what time Mr Toodle, cindery and swart, was
refreshing himself with tea, in the bosom of his family. Mr Toodle had
only three stages of existence. He was either taking refreshment in
the bosom just mentioned, or he was tearing through the country at
from twenty-five to fifty miles an hour, or he was sleeping after his
fatigues. He was always in a whirlwind or a calm, and a peaceable,
contented, easy-going man Mr Toodle was in either state, who seemed to
have made over all his own inheritance of fuming and fretting to the
engines with which he was connected, which panted, and gasped, and
chafed, and wore themselves out, in a most unsparing manner, while Mr
Toodle led a mild and equable life.

'Polly, my gal,' said Mr Toodle, with a young Toodle on each knee,
and two more making tea for him, and plenty more scattered about - Mr
Toodle was never out of children, but always kept a good supply on
hand - 'you ain't seen our Biler lately, have you?'

'No,' replied Polly, 'but he's almost certain to look in tonight.
It's his right evening, and he's very regular.'

'I suppose,' said Mr Toodle, relishing his meal infinitely, 'as our
Biler is a doin' now about as well as a boy can do, eh, Polly?'

'Oh! he's a doing beautiful!' responded Polly.

'He ain't got to be at all secret-like - has he, Polly?' inquired
Mr Toodle.

'No!' said Mrs Toodle, plumply.

'I'm glad he ain't got to be at all secret-like, Polly,' observed
Mr Toodle in his slow and measured way, and shovelling in his bread
and butter with a clasp knife, as if he were stoking himself, 'because
that don't look well; do it, Polly?'

'Why, of course it don't, father. How can you ask!'

'You see, my boys and gals,' said Mr Toodle, looking round upon his
family, 'wotever you're up to in a honest way, it's my opinion as you
can't do better than be open. If you find yourselves in cuttings or in
tunnels, don't you play no secret games. Keep your whistles going, and
let's know where you are.

The rising Toodles set up a shrill murmur, expressive of their
resolution to profit by the paternal advice.

'But what makes you say this along of Rob, father?' asked his wife,

'Polly, old ooman,' said Mr Toodle, 'I don't know as I said it
partickler along o' Rob, I'm sure. I starts light with Rob only; I
comes to a branch; I takes on what I finds there; and a whole train of
ideas gets coupled on to him, afore I knows where I am, or where they
comes from. What a Junction a man's thoughts is,' said Mr Toodle,

This profound reflection Mr Toodle washed down with a pint mug of
tea, and proceeded to solidify with a great weight of bread and
butter; charging his young daughters meanwhile, to keep plenty of hot
water in the pot, as he was uncommon dry, and should take the
indefinite quantity of 'a sight of mugs,' before his thirst was

In satisfying himself, however, Mr Toodle was not regardless of the
younger branches about him, who, although they had made their own
evening repast, were on the look-out for irregular morsels, as
possessing a relish. These he distributed now and then to the
expectant circle, by holding out great wedges of bread and butter, to
be bitten at by the family in lawful succession, and by serving out
small doses of tea in like manner with a spoon; which snacks had such
a relish in the mouths of these young Toodles, that, after partaking
of the same, they performed private dances of ecstasy among
themselves, and stood on one leg apiece, and hopped, and indulged in
other saltatory tokens of gladness. These vents for their excitement
found, they gradually closed about Mr Toodle again, and eyed him hard
as he got through more bread and butter and tea; affecting, however,
to have no further expectations of their own in reference to those
viands, but to be conversing on foreign subjects, and whispering

Mr Toodle, in the midst of this family group, and setting an awful
example to his children in the way of appetite, was conveying the two
young Toodles on his knees to Birmingham by special engine, and was
contemplating the rest over a barrier of bread and butter, when Rob
the Grinder, in his sou'wester hat and mourning slops, presented
himself, and was received with a general rush of brothers and sisters.

'Well, mother!' said Rob, dutifully kissing her; 'how are you,

'There's my boy!' cried Polly, giving him a hug and a pat on the
back. 'Secret! Bless you, father, not he!'

This was intended for Mr Toodle's private edification, but Rob the
Grinder, whose withers were not unwrung, caught the words as they were

'What! father's been a saying something more again me, has he?'
cried the injured innocent. 'Oh, what a hard thing it is that when a
cove has once gone a little wrong, a cove's own father should be
always a throwing it in his face behind his back! It's enough,' cried
Rob, resorting to his coat-cuff in anguish of spirit, 'to make a cove
go and do something, out of spite!'

'My poor boy!' cried Polly, 'father didn't mean anything.'

'If father didn't mean anything,' blubbered the injured Grinder,
'why did he go and say anything, mother? Nobody thinks half so bad of
me as my own father does. What a unnatural thing! I wish somebody'd
take and chop my head off. Father wouldn't mind doing it, I believe,
and I'd much rather he did that than t'other.'

At these desperate words all the young Toodles shrieked; a pathetic
effect, which the Grinder improved by ironically adjuring them not to
cry for him, for they ought to hate him, they ought, if they was good
boys and girls; and this so touched the youngest Toodle but one, who
was easily moved, that it touched him not only in his spirit but in
his wind too; making him so purple that Mr Toodle in consternation
carried him out to the water-butt, and would have put him under the
tap, but for his being recovered by the sight of that instrument.

Matters having reached this point, Mr Toodle explained, and the
virtuous feelings of his son being thereby calmed, they shook hands,
and harmony reigned again.

'Will you do as I do, Biler, my boy?' inquired his father,
returning to his tea with new strength.

'No, thank'ee, father. Master and I had tea together.'

'And how is master, Rob?' said Polly.

'Well, I don't know, mother; not much to boast on. There ain't no
bis'ness done, you see. He don't know anything about it - the Cap'en
don't. There was a man come into the shop this very day, and says, "I
want a so-and-so," he says - some hard name or another. "A which?"
says the Cap'en. "A so-and-so," says the man. "Brother," says the
Cap'en, "will you take a observation round the shop." "Well," says the
man, "I've done" "Do you see wot you want?" says the Cap'en "No, I
don't," says the man. "Do you know it wen you do see it?" says the
Cap'en. "No, I don't," says the man. "Why, then I tell you wot, my
lad," says the Cap'en, "you'd better go back and ask wot it's like,
outside, for no more don't I!"'

'That ain't the way to make money, though, is it?' said Polly.

'Money, mother! He'll never make money. He has such ways as I never
see. He ain't a bad master though, I'll say that for him. But that
ain't much to me, for I don't think I shall stop with him long.'

'Not stop in your place, Rob!' cried his mother; while Mr Toodle
opened his eyes.

'Not in that place, p'raps,' returned the Grinder, with a wink. 'I
shouldn't wonder - friends at court you know - but never you mind,
mother, just now; I'm all right, that's all.'

The indisputable proof afforded in these hints, and in the
Grinder's mysterious manner, of his not being subject to that failing
which Mr Toodle had, by implication, attributed to him, might have led
to a renewal of his wrongs, and of the sensation in the family, but
for the opportune arrival of another visitor, who, to Polly's great
surprise, appeared at the door, smiling patronage and friendship on
all there.

'How do you do, Mrs Richards?' said Miss Tox. 'I have come to see
you. May I come in?'

The cheery face of Mrs Richards shone with a hospitable reply, and
Miss Tox, accepting the proffered chair, and grab fully recognising Mr
Toodle on her way to it, untied her bonnet strings, and said that in
the first place she must beg the dear children, one and all, to come
and kiss her.

The ill-starred youngest Toodle but one, who would appear, from the
frequency of his domestic troubles, to have been born under an unlucky
planet, was prevented from performing his part in this general
salutation by having fixed the sou'wester hat (with which he had been
previously trifling) deep on his head, hind side before, and being
unable to get it off again; which accident presenting to his terrified
imagination a dismal picture of his passing the rest of his days in
darkness, and in hopeless seclusion from his friends and family,
caused him to struggle with great violence, and to utter suffocating
cries. Being released, his face was discovered to be very hot, and
red, and damp; and Miss Tox took him on her lap, much exhausted.

'You have almost forgotten me, Sir, I daresay,' said Miss Tox to Mr

'No, Ma'am, no,' said Toodle. 'But we've all on us got a little
older since then.'

'And how do you find yourself, Sir?' inquired Miss Tox, blandly.

'Hearty, Ma'am, thank'ee,' replied Toodle. 'How do you find
yourself, Ma'am? Do the rheumaticks keep off pretty well, Ma'am? We
must all expect to grow into 'em, as we gets on.'

'Thank you,' said Miss Tox. 'I have not felt any inconvenience from
that disorder yet.'

'You're wery fortunate, Ma'am,' returned Mr Toodle. 'Many people at
your time of life, Ma'am, is martyrs to it. There was my mother - '
But catching his wife's eye here, Mr Toodle judiciously buried the
rest in another mug of tea

'You never mean to say, Mrs Richards,' cried Miss Tox, looking at
Rob, 'that that is your - '

'Eldest, Ma'am,' said Polly. 'Yes, indeed, it is. That's the little
fellow, Ma'am, that was the innocent cause of so much.'

'This here, Ma'am,' said Toodle, 'is him with the short legs - and
they was,' said Mr Toodle, with a touch of poetry in his tone,
'unusual short for leathers - as Mr Dombey made a Grinder on.'

The recollection almost overpowered Miss Tox. The subject of it had
a peculiar interest for her directly. She asked him to shake hands,
and congratulated his mother on his frank, ingenuous face. Rob,
overhearing her, called up a look, to justify the eulogium, but it was
hardly the right look.

'And now, Mrs Richards,' said Miss Tox, - 'and you too, Sir,'
addressing Toodle - 'I'll tell you, plainly and truly, what I have
come here for. You may be aware, Mrs Richards - and, possibly, you may
be aware too, Sir - that a little distance has interposed itself
between me and some of my friends, and that where I used to visit a
good deal, I do not visit now.'

Polly, who, with a woman's tact, understood this at once, expressed
as much in a little look. Mr Toodle, who had not the faintest idea of
what Miss Tox was talking about, expressed that also, in a stare.

'Of course,' said Miss Tox, 'how our little coolness has arisen is
of no moment, and does not require to be discussed. It is sufficient
for me to say, that I have the greatest possible respect for, and
interest in, Mr Dombey;' Miss Tox's voice faltered; 'and everything
that relates to him.'

Mr Toodle, enlightened, shook his head, and said he had heerd it
said, and, for his own part, he did think, as Mr Dombey was a
difficult subject.

'Pray don't say so, Sir, if you please,' returned Miss Tox. 'Let me
entreat you not to say so, Sir, either now, or at any future time.
Such observations cannot but be very painful to me; and to a
gentleman, whose mind is constituted as, I am quite sure, yours is,
can afford no permanent satisfaction.'

Mr Toodle, who had not entertained the least doubt of offering a
remark that would be received with acquiescence, was greatly

'All that I wish to say, Mrs Richards,' resumed Miss Tox, - 'and I
address myself to you too, Sir, - is this. That any intelligence of
the proceedings of the family, of the welfare of the family, of the
health of the family, that reaches you, will be always most acceptable
to me. That I shall be always very glad to chat with Mrs Richards
about the family, and about old time And as Mrs Richards and I never
had the least difference (though I could wish now that we had been
better acquainted, but I have no one but myself to blame for that), I
hope she will not object to our being very good friends now, and to my
coming backwards and forwards here, when I like, without being a
stranger. Now, I really hope, Mrs Richards,' said Miss Tox -
earnestly, 'that you will take this, as I mean it, like a
good-humoured creature, as you always were.'

Polly was gratified, and showed it. Mr Toodle didn't know whether
he was gratified or not, and preserved a stolid calmness.

'You see, Mrs Richards,' said Miss Tox - 'and I hope you see too,
Sir - there are many little ways in which I can be slightly useful to
you, if you will make no stranger of me; and in which I shall be
delighted to be so. For instance, I can teach your children something.
I shall bring a few little books, if you'll allow me, and some work,
and of an evening now and then, they'll learn - dear me, they'll learn
a great deal, I trust, and be a credit to their teacher.'

Mr Toodle, who had a great respect for learning, jerked his head
approvingly at his wife, and moistened his hands with dawning

'Then, not being a stranger, I shall be in nobody's way,' said Miss
Tox, 'and everything will go on just as if I were not here. Mrs
Richards will do her mending, or her ironing, or her nursing, whatever
it is, without minding me: and you'll smoke your pipe, too, if you're
so disposed, Sir, won't you?'

'Thank'ee, Mum,' said Mr Toodle. 'Yes; I'll take my bit of backer.'

'Very good of you to say so, Sir,' rejoined Miss Tox, 'and I really
do assure you now, unfeignedly, that it will be a great comfort to me,
and that whatever good I may be fortunate enough to do the children,
you will more than pay back to me, if you'll enter into this little
bargain comfortably, and easily, and good-naturedly, without another
word about it.'

The bargain was ratified on the spot; and Miss Tox found herself so
much at home already, that without delay she instituted a preliminary
examination of the children all round - which Mr Toodle much admired -
and booked their ages, names, and acquirements, on a piece of paper.
This ceremony, and a little attendant gossip, prolonged the time until
after their usual hour of going to bed, and detained Miss Tox at the
Toodle fireside until it was too late for her to walk home alone. The
gallant Grinder, however, being still there, politely offered to
attend her to her own door; and as it was something to Miss Tox to be
seen home by a youth whom Mr Dombey had first inducted into those
manly garments which are rarely mentioned by name,' she very readily
accepted the proposal.

After shaking hands with Mr Toodle and Polly, and kissing all the
children, Miss Tox left the house, therefore, with unlimited
popularity, and carrying away with her so light a heart that it might
have given Mrs Chick offence if that good lady could have weighed it.

Rob the Grinder, in his modesty, would have walked behind, but Miss
Tox desired him to keep beside her, for conversational purposes; and,
as she afterwards expressed it to his mother, 'drew him out,' upon the

He drew out so bright, and clear, and shining, that Miss Tox was
charmed with him. The more Miss Tox drew him out, the finer he came -
like wire. There never was a better or more promising youth - a more
affectionate, steady, prudent, sober, honest, meek, candid young man -
than Rob drew out, that night.

'I am quite glad,' said Miss Tox, arrived at her own door, 'to know
you. I hope you'll consider me your friend, and that you'll come and
see me as often as you like. Do you keep a money-box?'

'Yes, Ma'am,' returned Rob; 'I'm saving up, against I've got enough
to put in the Bank, Ma'am.

'Very laudable indeed,' said Miss Tox. 'I'm glad to hear it. Put
this half-crown into it, if you please.'

'Oh thank you, Ma'am,' replied Rob, 'but really I couldn't think of
depriving you.'

'I commend your independent spirit,' said Miss Tox, 'but it's no
deprivation, I assure you. I shall be offended if you don't take it,
as a mark of my good-will. Good-night, Robin.'

'Good-night, Ma'am,' said Rob, 'and thank you!'

Who ran sniggering off to get change, and tossed it away with a
pieman. But they never taught honour at the Grinders' School, where
the system that prevailed was particularly strong in the engendering
of hypocrisy. Insomuch, that many of the friends and masters of past
Grinders said, if this were what came of education for the common
people, let us have none. Some more rational said, let us have a
better one. But the governing powers of the Grinders' Company were
always ready for them, by picking out a few boys who had turned out
well in spite of the system, and roundly asserting that they could
have only turned out well because of it. Which settled the business of
those objectors out of hand, and established the glory of the
Grinders' Institution.

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