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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. It merely relates to the Bulbul.'
Mr Dombey bent his head in stately recognition of the Bulbuls as an old-established body.
'With your usual happy discrimination, my dear Paul,' resumed Mrs Chick, 'you have hit the point at once. Our darling is altogether as stout as we could wish. The fact is, that his mind is too much for him. His soul is a great deal too large for his frame. I am sure the way in which that dear child talks!'said Mrs Chick, shaking her head; 'no one would believe. His expressions, Lucretia, only yesterday upon the subject of Funerals!
'I am afraid,' said Mr Dombey, interrupting her testily, 'that some of those persons upstairs suggest improper subjects to the child. He was speaking to me last night about his - about his Bones,' said Mr Dombey, laying an irritated stress upon the word. 'What on earth has anybody to do with the - with the - Bones of my son? He is not a living skeleton, I suppose.
'Very far from it,' said Mrs Chick, with unspeakable expression.
'I hope so,' returned her brother. 'Funerals again! who talks to the child of funerals? We are not undertakers, or mutes, or grave-diggers, I believe.'
'Very far from it,' interposed Mrs Chick, with the same profound expression as before.
'Then who puts such things into his head?' said Mr Dombey. 'Really I was quite dismayed and shocked last night. Who puts such things into his head, Louisa?'
'My dear Paul,' said Mrs Chick, after a moment's silence, 'it is of no use inquiring. I do not think, I will tell you candidly that Wickam is a person of very cheerful spirit, or what one would call a - '
'A daughter of Momus,' Miss Tox softly suggested.
'Exactly so,' said Mrs Chick; 'but she is exceedingly attentive and useful, and not at all presumptuous; indeed I never saw a more biddable woman. I would say that for her, if I was put upon my trial before a Court of Justice.'
'Well! you are not put upon your trial before a Court of Justice, at present, Louisa,' returned Mr Dombey, chafing,' and therefore it don't matter.
'My dear Paul,' said Mrs Chick, in a warning voice, 'I must be spoken to kindly, or there is an end of me,' at the same time a premonitory redness developed itself in Mrs Chick's eyelids which was an invariable sign of rain, unless the weather changed directly.
'I was inquiring, Louisa,' observed Mr Dombey, in an altered voice, and after a decent interval, 'about Paul's health and actual state.
'If the dear child,' said Mrs Chick, in the tone of one who was summing up what had been previously quite agreed upon, instead of saying it all for the first time, 'is a little weakened by that last attack, and is not in quite such vigorous health as we could wish; and if he has some temporary weakness in his system, and does occasionally seem about to lose, for the moment, the use of his - '
Mrs Chick was afraid to say limbs, after Mr Dombey's recent objection to bones, and therefore waited for a suggestion from Miss Tox, who, true to her office, hazarded 'members.'
'Members!' repeated Mr Dombey.
'I think the medical gentleman mentioned legs this morning, my dear Louisa, did he not?' said Miss Tox.
'Why, of course he did, my love,' retorted Mrs Chick, mildly reproachful. 'How can you ask me? You heard him. I say, if our dear Paul should lose, for the moment, the use of his legs, these are casualties common to many children at his time of life, and not to be prevented by any care or caution. The sooner you understand that, Paul, and admit that, the better. If you have any doubt as to the amount of care, and caution, and affection, and self-sacrifice, that has been bestowed upon little Paul, I should wish to refer the question to your medical attendant, or to any of your dependants in this house. Call Towlinson,' said Mrs Chick, 'I believe he has no prejudice in our favour; quite the contrary. I should wish to hear what accusation Towlinson can make!'
'Surely you must know, Louisa,' observed Mr Dombey, 'that I don't question your natural devotion to, and regard for, the future head of my house.'
'I am glad to hear it, Paul,' said Mrs Chick; 'but really you are very odd, and sometimes talk very strangely, though without meaning it, I know. If your dear boy's soul is too much for his body, Paul, you should remember whose fault that is - who he takes after, I mean - and make the best of it. He's as like his Papa as he can be. People have noticed it in the streets. The very beadle, I am informed, observed it, so long ago as at his christening. He's a very respectable man, with children of his own. He ought to know.'
'Mr Pilkins saw Paul this morning, I believe?' said Mr Dombey.
'Yes, he did,' returned his sister. 'Miss Tox and myself were present. Miss Tox and myself are always present. We make a point of it. Mr Pilkins has seen him for some days past, and a very clever man I believe him to be. He says it is nothing to speak of; which I can confirm, if that is any consolation; but he recommended, to-day, sea-air. Very wisely, Paul, I feel convinced.'
'Sea-air,' repeated Mr Dombey, looking at his sister.
'There is nothing to be made uneasy by, in that,'said Mrs Chick. 'My George and Frederick were both ordered sea-air, when they were about his age; and I have been ordered it myself a great many times. I quite agree with you, Paul, that perhaps topics may be incautiously mentioned upstairs before him, which it would be as well for his little mind not to expatiate upon; but I really don't see how that is to be helped, in the case of a child of his quickness. If he were a common child, there would be nothing in it. I must say I think, with Miss Tox, that a short absence from this house, the air of Brighton, and the bodily and mental training of so judicious a person as Mrs Pipchin for instance - '
'Who is Mrs Pipchin, Louisa?' asked Mr Dombey; aghast at this familiar introduction of a name he had never heard before.
'Mrs Pipchin, my dear Paul,' returned his sister, 'is an elderly lady - Miss Tox knows her whole history - who has for some time devoted all the energies of her mind, with the greatest success, to the study and treatment of infancy, and who has been extremely well connected. Her husband broke his heart in - how did you say her husband broke his heart, my dear? I forget the precise circumstances.
'In pumping water out of the Peruvian Mines,' replied Miss Tox.
'Not being a Pumper himself, of course,' said Mrs Chick, glancing at her brother; and it really did seem necessary to offer the explanation, for Miss Tox had spoken of him as if he had died at the handle; 'but having invested money in the speculation, which failed. I believe that Mrs Pipchin's management of children is quite astonishing. I have heard it commended in private circles ever since I was - dear me - how high!' Mrs Chick's eye wandered about the bookcase near the bust of Mr Pitt, which was about ten feet from the ground.
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Dombey and Son - by Charles Dickens