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Paul Dombey
by [?]

As Mrs. Dombey died when little Paul was born, upon Mr. Dombey–the pompous head of the great firm Dombey and Son–fell the entire responsibility of bringing up his two children, Florence, then eight years of age, and the tiny boy, Paul. Of Florence he took little notice; girls never seemed to him to be of any special use in the world, but Paul was the light of his eyes, his pride and joy, and in the delicate child with his refined features and dreamy eyes, Mr. Dombey saw the future representative of the firm, and his heir as well; and he could not do enough for the boy who was to perpetuate the name of Dombey after him. It seemed to Mr. Dombey that any one so fortunate as to be born his son could not but thrive in return for so great a favour. So it was a blow to him that Paul did not grow into a burly, hearty fellow. All their vigilance and care could not make him a sturdy boy.

He was a pretty little fellow, though there was something wan and wistful in his small face. His temper gave abundant promise of being imperious in after life; and he had as hopeful an apprehension of his own importance, and the rightful subservience of all other things and persons to it as heart could wish. He was childish and sportive enough at times, and not of a sullen disposition; but he had a strange, old-fashioned, thoughtful way, at other times of sitting brooding in his miniature arm-chair. At no time did he fall into it so surely as when after dinner he sat with his father by the fire. They were the strangest pair at such a time that ever fire-light shone upon. Dombey so erect and solemn, gazing at the blaze; Paul with an old, old face peering into the red perspective with the fixed and rapt attention of a sage, the two so much alike and yet so monstrously contrasted. On one of these occasions, when they had both been perfectly quiet for a long time, little Paul broke the silence thus:

“Papa, what’s money?”

The abrupt question took Mr. Dombey by surprise.

“What is money, Paul?” he answered, “Money?”

“Yes,” said the child, laying his hands upon the elbows of his little chair, and turning his face up towards Mr. Dombey. “What is money?”

Mr. Dombey was in a difficulty. He would have liked to give him some explanation, involving the terms, currency, bullion, rates of exchange, etc., but he feared he might not be understood, so he answered:

“Gold and silver and copper. Guineas, shillings, halfpence. You know what they are?”

“Oh yes, I know what they are,” said Paul. “I don’t mean that, papa. I mean what is money after all?”

“What is money after all!”–said Mr. Dombey, backing his chair a little, that he might the better gaze at the presumptuous atom who propounded such an inquiry.

“I mean, papa, what can it do?” returned Paul.

Mr. Dombey patted him on the head. “You’ll know better by-and-by, my man,” he said. “Money, Paul, can do anything.”

“Anything, papa?”

“Yes, anything–almost,” said Mr. Dombey.

“Why didn’t money save me my mama?” returned the child. “It isn’t cruel, is it?”

“Cruel?” said Mr. Dombey. “No. A good thing can’t be cruel.”

“If it’s a good thing and can do anything,” said the little fellow, thoughtfully, as he looked back at the fire, “I wonder why it didn’t save me my mama.”

He didn’t ask the question of his father this time. Perhaps he had seen, with a child’s quickness, that it had already made his father uncomfortable. But he repeated the thought aloud, as if it was quite an old one to him, and had troubled him very much.

“It can’t make me strong and quite well, either, papa; can it?” asked Paul, after a short silence; rubbing his tiny hands.