Dombey and Son
13. Shipping Intelligence and Office Business
Mr Dombey's offices were in a court where there was an old-established stall of choice
fruit at the corner: where perambulating merchants, of both sexes, offered for sale at
any time between the hours of ten and five, slippers, pocket-books, sponges, dogs'
collars, and Windsor soap; and sometimes a pointer or an oil-painting.
The pointer always came that way, with a view to the Stock Exchange, where a sporting
taste (originating generally in bets of new hats) is much in vogue. The other
commodities were addressed to the general public; but they were never offered by the
vendors to Mr Dombey. When he appeared, the dealers in those wares fell off
respectfully. The principal slipper and dogs' collar man - who considered himself a
public character, and whose portrait was screwed on to an artist's door in Cheapside -
threw up his forefinger to the brim of his hat as Mr Dombey went by. The ticket-porter, if
he were not absent on a job, always ran officiously before, to open Mr Dombey's office
door as wide as possible, and hold it open, with his hat off, while he entered.
The clerks within were not a whit behind-hand in their demonstrations of respect. A
solemn hush prevailed, as Mr Dombey passed through the outer office. The wit of the
Counting-House became in a moment as mute as the row of leathern fire-buckets
hanging up behind him. Such vapid and flat daylight as filtered through the ground-glass
windows and skylights, leaving a black sediment upon the panes, showed the books
and papers, and the figures bending over them, enveloped in a studious gloom, and as
much abstracted in appearance, from the world without, as if they were assembled at
the bottom of the sea; while a mouldy little strong room in the obscure perspective,
where a shaded lamp was always burning, might have represented the cavern of some
ocean monster, looking on with a red eye at these mysteries of the deep.
When Perch the messenger, whose place was on a little bracket, like a timepiece, saw
Mr Dombey come in - or rather when he felt that he was coming, for he had usually an
instinctive sense of his approach - he hurried into Mr Dombey's room, stirred the fire,
carried fresh coals from the bowels of the coal-box, hung the newspaper to air upon the
fender, put the chair ready, and the screen in its place, and was round upon his heel on
the instant of Mr Dombey's entrance, to take his great-coat and hat, and hang them up.
Then Perch took the newspaper, and gave it a turn or two in his hands before the fire,
and laid it, deferentially, at Mr Dombey's elbow. And so little objection had Perch to
being deferential in the last degree, that if he might have laid himself at Mr Dombey's
feet, or might have called him by some such title as used to be bestowed upon the
Caliph Haroun Alraschid, he would have been all the better pleased.
As this honour would have been an innovation and an experiment, Perch was fain to
content himself by expressing as well as he could, in his manner, You are the light of
my Eyes. You are the Breath of my Soul. You are the commander of the Faithful Perch!
With this imperfect happiness to cheer him, he would shut the door softly, walk away on