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'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 supper.
'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 Wickam.
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 please.'
'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 Berry.'
'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.
Mrs Wickam shook her left fore-finger stealthily towards the bed where Florence lay; then turned it upside down, and made several emphatic points at the floor; immediately below which was the parlour in which Mrs Pipchin habitually consumed the toast.
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Dombey and Son - by Charles Dickens