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'Remember my words, Miss Berry,' said Mrs Wickam, 'and be thankful that Master Paul is not too fond of you. I am, that he's not too fond of me, I assure you; though there isn't much to live for - you'll excuse my being so free - in this jail of a house!'
Miss Berry's emotion might have led to her patting Paul too hard on the back, or might have produced a cessation of that soothing monotony, but he turned in his bed just now, and, presently awaking, sat up in it with his hair hot and wet from the effects of some childish dream, and asked for Florence.
She was out of her own bed at the first sound of his voice; and bending over his pillow immediately, sang him to sleep again. Mrs Wickam shaking her head, and letting fall several tears, pointed out the little group to Berry, and turned her eyes up to the ceiling.
'He's asleep now, my dear,' said Mrs Wickam after a pause, 'you'd better go to bed again. Don't you feel cold?'
'No, nurse,' said Florence, laughing. 'Not at all.'
'Ah!' sighed Mrs Wickam, and she shook her head again, expressing to the watchful Berry, 'we shall be cold enough, some of us, by and by!'
Berry took the frugal supper-tray, with which Mrs Wickam had by this time done, and bade her good-night.
'Good-night, Miss!' returned Wickam softly. 'Good-night! Your aunt is an old lady, Miss Berry, and it's what you must have looked for, often.'
This consolatory farewell, Mrs Wickam accompanied with a look of heartfelt anguish; and being left alone with the two children again, and becoming conscious that the wind was blowing mournfully, she indulged in melancholy - that cheapest and most accessible of luxuries - until she was overpowered by slumber.
Although the niece of Mrs Pipchin did not expect to find that exemplary dragon prostrate on the hearth-rug when she went downstairs, she was relieved to find her unusually fractious and severe, and with every present appearance of intending to live a long time to be a comfort to all who knew her. Nor had she any symptoms of declining, in the course of the ensuing week, when the constitutional viands still continued to disappear in regular succession, notwithstanding that Paul studied her as attentively as ever, and occupied his usual seat between the black skirts and the fender, with unwavering constancy.
But as Paul himself was no stronger at the expiration of that time than he had been on his first arrival, though he looked much healthier in the face, a little carriage was got for him, in which he could lie at his ease, with an alphabet and other elementary works of reference, and be wheeled down to the sea-side. Consistent in his odd tastes, the child set aside a ruddy-faced lad who was proposed as the drawer of this carriage, and selected, instead, his grandfather - a weazen, old, crab-faced man, in a suit of battered oilskin, who had got tough and stringy from long pickling in salt water, and who smelt like a weedy sea-beach when the tide is out.
With this notable attendant to pull him along, and Florence always walking by his side, and the despondent Wickam bringing up the rear, he went down to the margin of the ocean every day; and there he would sit or lie in his carriage for hours together: never so distressed as by the company of children - Florence alone excepted, always.
'Go away, if you please,' he would say to any child who came to bear him company. Thank you, but I don't want you.'
Some small voice, near his ear, would ask him how he was, perhaps.
'I am very well, I thank you,' he would answer. 'But you had better go and play, if you please.'
Then he would turn his head, and watch the child away, and say to Florence, 'We don't want any others, do we? Kiss me, Floy.'
He had even a dislike, at such times, to the company of Wickam, and was well pleased when she strolled away, as she generally did, to pick up shells and acquaintances. His favourite spot was quite a lonely one, far away from most loungers; and with Florence sitting by his side at work, or reading to him, or talking to him, and the wind blowing on his face, and the water coming up among the wheels of his bed, he wanted nothing more.
'Floy,' he said one day, 'where's India, where that boy's friends live?'
'Oh, it's a long, long distance off,' said Florence, raising her eyes from her work.
'Weeks off?' asked Paul.
'Yes dear. Many weeks' journey, night and day.'
'If you were in India, Floy,' said Paul, after being silent for a minute, 'I should - what is it that Mama did? I forget.'
'Loved me!' answered Florence.
'No, no. Don't I love you now, Floy? What is it? - Died. in you were in India, I should die, Floy.'
She hurriedly put her work aside, and laid her head down on his pillow, caressing him. And so would she, she said, if he were there. He would be better soon.
'Oh! I am a great deal better now!' he answered. 'I don't mean that. I mean that I should die of being so sorry and so lonely, Floy!'
Another time, in the same place, he fell asleep, and slept quietly for a long time. Awaking suddenly, he listened, started up, and sat listening.
Florence asked him what he thought he heard.
'I want to know what it says,' he answered, looking steadily in her face. 'The sea' Floy, what is it that it keeps on saying?'
She told him that it was only the noise of the rolling waves.
'Yes, yes,' he said. 'But I know that they are always saying something. Always the same thing. What place is over there?' He rose up, looking eagerly at the horizon.
She told him that there was another country opposite, but he said he didn't mean that: he meant further away - farther away!
Very often afterwards, in the midst of their talk, he would break off, to try to understand what it was that the waves were always saying; and would rise up in his couch to look towards that invisible region, far away.
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Dombey and Son - by Charles Dickens