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The interval before the Marriage
Although the enchanted house was no more, and the working world had
broken into it, and was hammering and crashing and tramping up and
down stairs all day long keeping Diogenes in an incessant paroxysm of
barking, from sunrise to sunset - evidently convinced that his enemy
had got the better of him at last, and was then sacking the premises
in triumphant defiance - there was, at first, no other great change in
the method of Florence's life. At night, when the workpeople went
away, the house was dreary and deserted again; and Florence, listening
to their voices echoing through the hall and staircase as they
departed, pictured to herself the cheerful homes to which the were
returning, and the children who were waiting for them, and was glad to
think that they were merry and well pleased to go.
She welcomed back the evening silence as an old friend, but it came
now with an altered face, and looked more kindly on her. Fresh hope
was in it. The beautiful lady who had soothed and carressed her, in
the very room in which her heart had been so wrung, was a spirit of
promise to her. Soft shadows of the bright life dawning, when her
father's affection should be gradually won, and all, or much should be
restored, of what she had lost on the dark day when a mother's love
had faded with a mother's last breath on her cheek, moved about her in
the twilight and were welcome company. Peeping at the rosy children
her neighbours, it was a new and precious sensation to think that they
might soon speak together and know each other; when she would not
fear, as of old, to show herself before them, lest they should be
grieved to see her in her black dress sitting there alone!
In her thoughts of her new mother, and in the love and trust
overflowing her pure heart towards her, Florence loved her own dead
mother more and more. She had no fear of setting up a rival in her
breast. The new flower sprang from the deep-planted and long-cherished
root, she knew. Every gentle word that had fallen from the lips of the
beautiful lady, sounded to Florence like an echo of the voice long
hushed and silent. How could she love that memory less for living
tenderness, when it was her memory of all parental tenderness and
Florence was, one day, sitting reading in her room, and thinking of
the lady and her promised visit soon - for her book turned on a
kindred subject - when, raising her eyes, she saw her standing in the
'Mama!' cried Florence, joyfully meeting her. 'Come again!'
'Not Mama yet,' returned the lady, with a serious smile, as she
encircled Florence's neck with her arm.
'But very soon to be,' cried Florence.
'Very soon now, Florence: very soon.
Edith bent her head a little, so as to press the blooming cheek of
Florence against her own, and for some few moments remained thus
silent. There was something so very tender in her manner, that
Florence was even more sensible of it than on the first occasion of
She led Florence to a chair beside her, and sat down: Florence
looking in her face, quite wondering at its beauty, and willingly
leaving her hand In hers.
'Have you been alone, Florence, since I was here last?'
'Oh yes!' smiled Florence, hastily.
She hesitated and cast down her eyes; for her new Mama was very
earnest in her look, and the look was intently and thoughtfully fixed
upon her face.
'I - I- am used to be alone,' said Florence. 'I don't mind it at
all. Di and I pass whole days together, sometimes.' Florence might
have said, whole weeks and months.
'Is Di your maid, love?'
'My dog, Mama,' said Florence, laughing. 'Susan is my maid.'
'And these are your rooms,' said Edith, looking round. 'I was not
shown these rooms the other day. We must have them improved, Florence.
They shall be made the prettiest in the house.'
'If I might change them, Mama,' returned Florence; 'there is one
upstairs I should like much better.'
'Is this not high enough, dear girl?' asked Edith, smiling.
'The other was my brother's room,' said Florence, 'and I am very
fond of it. I would have spoken to Papa about it when I came home, and
found the workmen here, and everything changing; but - '
Florence dropped her eyes, lest the same look should make her
'but I was afraid it might distress him; and as you said you would
be here again soon, Mama, and are the mistress of everything, I
determined to take courage and ask you.'
Edith sat looking at her, with her brilliant eyes intent upon her
face, until Florence raising her own, she, in her turn, withdrew her
gaze, and turned it on the ground. It was then that Florence thought
how different this lady's beauty was, from what she had supposed. She
had thought it of a proud and lofty kind; yet her manner was so
subdued and gentle, that if she had been of Florence's own age and
character, it scarcely could have invited confidence more.
Except when a constrained and singular reserve crept over her; and
then she seemed (but Florence hardly understood this, though she could
not choose but notice it, and think about it) as if she were humbled
before Florence, and ill at ease. When she had said that she was not
her Mama yet, and when Florence had called her the mistress of
everything there, this change in her was quick and startling; and now,
while the eyes of Florence rested on her face, she sat as though she
would have shrunk and hidden from her, rather than as one about to
love and cherish her, in right of such a near connexion.
She gave Florence her ready promise, about her new room, and said
she would give directions about it herself. She then asked some
questions concerning poor Paul; and when they had sat in conversation
for some time, told Florence she had come to take her to her own home.
'We have come to London now, my mother and I,' said Edith, 'and you
shall stay with us until I am married. I wish that we should know and
trust each other, Florence.'
'You are very kind to me,' said Florence, 'dear Mama. How much I
'Let me say now, for it may be the best opportunity,' continued
Edith, looking round to see that they were quite alone, and speaking
in a lower voice, 'that when I am married, and have gone away for some
weeks, I shall be easier at heart if you will come home here. No
matter who invites you to stay elsewhere. Come home here. It is better
to be alone than - what I would say is,' she added, checking herself,
'that I know well you are best at home, dear Florence.'
'I will come home on the very day, Mama'
'Do so. I rely on that promise. Now, prepare to come with me, dear
girl. You will find me downstairs when you are ready.'
Slowly and thoughtfully did Edith wander alone through the mansion
of which she was so soon to be the lady: and little heed took she of
all the elegance and splendour it began to display. The same
indomitable haughtiness of soul, the same proud scorn expressed in eye
and lip, the same fierce beauty, only tamed by a sense of its own
little worth, and of the little worth of everything around it, went
through the grand saloons and halls, that had got loose among the
shady trees, and raged and rent themselves. The mimic roses on the
walls and floors were set round with sharp thorns, that tore her
breast; in every scrap of gold so dazzling to the eye, she saw some
hateful atom of her purchase-money; the broad high mirrors showed her,
at full length, a woman with a noble quality yet dwelling in her
nature, who was too false to her better self, and too debased and
lost, to save herself. She believed that all this was so plain, more
or less, to all eyes, that she had no resource or power of
self-assertion but in pride: and with this pride, which tortured her
own heart night and day, she fought her fate out, braved it, and
Was this the woman whom Florence - an innocent girl, strong only in
her earnestness and simple truth - could so impress and quell, that by
her side she was another creature, with her tempest of passion hushed,
and her very pride itself subdued? Was this the woman who now sat
beside her in a carriage, with her arms entwined, and who, while she
courted and entreated her to love and trust her, drew her fair head to
nestle on her breast, and would have laid down life to shield it from
wrong or harm?
Oh, Edith! it were well to die, indeed, at such a time! Better and
happier far, perhaps, to die so, Edith, than to live on to the end!
The Honourable Mrs Skewton, who was thinking of anything rather
than of such sentiments - for, like many genteel persons who have
existed at various times, she set her face against death altogether,
and objected to the mention of any such low and levelling upstart -
had borrowed a house in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, from a stately
relative (one of the Feenix brood), who was out of town, and who did
not object to lending it, in the handsomest manner, for nuptial
purposes, as the loan implied his final release and acquittance from
all further loans and gifts to Mrs Skewton and her daughter. It being
necessary for the credit of the family to make a handsome appearance
at such a time, Mrs Skewton, with the assistance of an accommodating
tradesman resident In the parish of Mary-le-bone, who lent out all
sorts of articles to the nobility and gentry, from a service of plate
to an army of footmen, clapped into this house a silver-headed butler
(who was charged extra on that account, as having the appearnce of an
ancient family retainer), two very tall young men in livery, and a
select staff of kitchen-servants; so that a legend arose, downstairs,
that Withers the page, released at once from his numerous household
duties, and from the propulsion of the wheeled-chair (inconsistent
with the metropolis), had been several times observed to rub his eyes
and pinch his limbs, as if he misdoubted his having overslept himself
at the Leamington milkman's, and being still in a celestial dream. A
variety of requisites in plate and china being also conveyed to the
same establishment from the same convenient source, with several
miscellaneous articles, including a neat chariot and a pair of bays,
Mrs Skewton cushioned herself on the principal sofa, in the Cleopatra
attitude, and held her court in fair state.
'And how,' said Mrs Skewton, on the entrance of her daughter and
her charge, 'is my charming Florence? You must come and kiss me,
Florence, if you please, my love.'
Florence was timidly stooping to pick out a place In the white part
of Mrs Skewton's face, when that lady presented her ear, and relieved
her of her difficulty.
'Edith, my dear,' said Mrs Skewton, 'positively, I - stand a little
more in the light, my sweetest Florence, for a moment.
Florence blushingly complied.
'You don't remember, dearest Edith,' said her mother, 'what you
were when you were about the same age as our exceedingly precious
Florence, or a few years younger?'
'I have long forgotten, mother.'
'For positively, my dear,' said Mrs Skewton, 'I do think that I see
a decided resemblance to what you were then, in our extremely
fascinating young friend. And it shows,' said Mrs Skewton, in a lower
voice, which conveyed her opinion that Florence was in a very
unfinished state, 'what cultivation will do.'
'It does, indeed,' was Edith's stern reply.
Her mother eyed her sharply for a moment, and feeling herself on
unsafe ground, said, as a diversion:
'My charming Florence, you must come and kiss me once more, if you
please, my love.'
Florence complied, of course, and again imprinted her lips on Mrs
'And you have heard, no doubt, my darling pet,' said Mrs Skewton,
detaining her hand, 'that your Papa, whom we all perfectly adore and
dote upon, is to be married to my dearest Edith this day week.'
'I knew it would be very soon,' returned Florence, 'but not exactly
'My darling Edith,' urged her mother, gaily, 'is it possible you
have not told Florence?'
'Why should I tell Florence?' she returned, so suddenly and
harshly, that Florence could scarcely believe it was the same voice.
Mrs Skewton then told Florence, as another and safer diversion,
that her father was coming to dinner, and that he would no doubt be
charmingly surprised to see her; as he had spoken last night of
dressing in the City, and had known nothing of Edith's design, the
execution of which, according to Mrs Skewton's expectation, would
throw him into a perfect ecstasy. Florence was troubled to hear this;
and her distress became so keen, as the dinner-hour approached, that
if she had known how to frame an entreaty to be suffered to return
home, without involving her father in her explanation, she would have
hurried back on foot, bareheaded, breathless, and alone, rather than
incur the risk of meeting his displeasure.
As the time drew nearer, she could hardly breathe. She dared not
approach a window, lest he should see her from the street. She dared
not go upstairs to hide her emotion, lest, in passing out at the door,
she should meet him unexpectedly; besides which dread, she felt as
though she never could come back again if she were summoned to his
presence. In this conflict of fears; she was sitting by Cleopatra's
couch, endeavouring to understand and to reply to the bald discourse
of that lady, when she heard his foot upon the stair.
'I hear him now!' cried Florence, starting. 'He is coming!'
Cleopatra, who in her juvenility was always playfully disposed, and
who in her self-engrossment did not trouble herself about the nature
of this agitation, pushed Florence behind her couch, and dropped a
shawl over her, preparatory to giving Mr Dombey a rapture of surprise.
It was so quickly done, that in a moment Florence heard his awful step
in the room.
He saluted his intended mother-in-law, and his intended bride. The
strange sound of his voice thrilled through the whole frame of his
'My dear Dombey,' said Cleopatra, 'come here and tell me how your
pretty Florence is.'
'Florence is very well,' said Mr Dombey, advancing towards the
'At home,' said Mr Dombey.
'My dear Dombey,' returned Cleopatra, with bewitching vivacity;
'now are you sure you are not deceiving me? I don't know what my
dearest Edith will say to me when I make such a declaration, but upon
my honour I am afraid you are the falsest of men, my dear Dombey.'
Though he had been; and had been detected on the spot, in the most
enormous falsehood that was ever said or done; he could hardly have
been more disconcerted than he was, when Mrs Skewton plucked the shawl
away, and Florence, pale and trembling, rose before him like a ghost.
He had not yet recovered his presence of mind, when Florence had run
up to him, clasped her hands round his neck, kissed his face, and
hurried out of the room. He looked round as if to refer the matter to
somebody else, but Edith had gone after Florence, instantly.
'Now, confess, my dear Dombey,' said Mrs Skewton, giving him her
hand, 'that you never were more surprised and pleased in your life.'
'I never was more surprised,' said Mr Dombey.
'Nor pleased, my dearest Dombey?' returned Mrs Skewton, holding up
'I - yes, I am exceedingly glad to meet Florence here,' said Mr
Dombey. He appeared to consider gravely about it for a moment, and
then said, more decidedly, 'Yes, I really am very glad indeed to meet
'You wonder how she comes here?' said Mrs Skewton, 'don't you?'
'Edith, perhaps - ' suggested Mr Dombey.
'Ah! wicked guesser!' replied Cleopatra, shaking her head. 'Ah!
cunning, cunning man! One shouldn't tell these things; your sex, my
dear Dombey, are so vain, and so apt to abuse our weakness; but you
know my open soul - very well; immediately.'
This was addressed to one of the very tall young men who announced
'But Edith, my dear Dombey,' she continued in a whisper, when she
cannot have you near her - and as I tell her, she cannot expect that
always - will at least have near her something or somebody belonging
to you. Well, how extremely natural that is! And in this spirit,
nothing would keep her from riding off to-day to fetch our darling
Florence. Well, how excessively charming that is!'
As she waited for an answer, Mr Dombey answered, 'Eminently so.
'Bless you, my dear Dombey, for that proof of heart!' cried
Cleopatra, squeezing his hand. 'But I am growing too serious! Take me
downstairs, like an angel, and let us see what these people intend to
give us for dinner. Bless you, dear Dombey!'
Cleopatra skipping off her couch with tolerable briskness, after
the last benediction, Mr Dombey took her arm in his and led her
ceremoniously downstairs; one of the very tall young men on hire,
whose organ of veneration was imperfectly developed, thrusting his
tongue into his cheek, for the entertainment of the other very tall
young man on hire, as the couple turned into the dining-room.
Florence and Edith were already there, and sitting side by side.
Florence would have risen when her father entered, to resign her chair
to him; but Edith openly put her hand upon her arm, and Mr Dombey took
an opposite place at the round table.
The conversation was almost entirely sustained by Mrs Skewton.
Florence hardly dared to raise her eyes, lest they should reveal the
traces of tears; far less dared to speak; and Edith never uttered one
word, unless in answer to a question. Verily, Cleopatra worked hard,
for the establishment that was so nearly clutched; and verily it
should have been a rich one to reward her!
And so your preparations are nearly finished at last, my dear
Dombey?' said Cleopatra, when the dessert was put upon the table, and
the silver-headed butler had withdrawn. 'Even the lawyers'
'Yes, madam,' replied Mr Dombey; 'the deed of settlement, the
professional gentlemen inform me, is now ready, and as I was
mentioning to you, Edith has only to do us the favour to suggest her
own time for its execution.'
Edith sat like a handsome statue; as cold, as silent, and as still.
'My dearest love,' said Cleopatra, 'do you hear what Mr Dombey
says? Ah, my dear Dombey!' aside to that gentleman, 'how her absence,
as the time approaches, reminds me of the days, when that most
agreeable of creatures, her Papa, was in your situation!'
'I have nothing to suggest. It shall be when you please,' said
Edith, scarcely looking over the table at Mr Dombey.
'To-morrow?' suggested Mr Dombey.
'If you please.'
'Or would next day,' said Mr Dombey, 'suit your engagements
'I have no engagements. I am always at your disposal. Let it be
when you like.'
'No engagements, my dear Edith!' remonstrated her mother, 'when you
are in a most terrible state of flurry all day long, and have a
thousand and one appointments with all sorts of trades-people!'
'They are of your making,' returned Edith, turning on her with a
slight contraction of her brow. 'You and Mr Dombey can arrange between
'Very true indeed, my love, and most considerate of you!' said
Cleopatra. 'My darling Florence, you must really come and kiss me once
more, if you please, my dear!'
Singular coincidence, that these gushes of interest In Florence
hurried Cleopatra away from almost every dialogue in which Edith had a
share, however trifling! Florence had certainly never undergone so
much embracing, and perhaps had never been, unconsciously, so useful
in her life.
Mr Dombey was far from quarrelling, in his own breast, with the
manner of his beautiful betrothed. He had that good reason for
sympathy with haughtiness and coldness, which is found In a
fellow-feeling. It flattered him to think how these deferred to him,
in Edith's case, and seemed to have no will apart from his. It
flattered him to picture to himself, this proud and stately woman
doing the honours of his house, and chilling his guests after his own
manner. The dignity of Dombey and Son would be heightened and
maintained, indeed, in such hands.
So thought Mr Dombey, when he was left alone at the dining-table,
and mused upon his past and future fortunes: finding no uncongeniality
in an air of scant and gloomy state that pervaded the room, in colour
a dark brown, with black hatchments of pictures blotching the walls,
and twenty-four black chairs, with almost as many nails in them as so
many coffins, waiting like mutes, upon the threshold of the Turkey
carpet; and two exhausted negroes holding up two withered branches of
candelabra on the sideboard, and a musty smell prevailing as if the
ashes of ten thousand dinners were entombed in the sarcophagus below
it. The owner of the house lived much abroad; the air of England
seldom agreed long with a member of the Feenix family; and the room
had gradually put itself into deeper and still deeper mourning for
him, until it was become so funereal as to want nothing but a body in
it to be quite complete.
No bad representation of the body, for the nonce, in his unbending
form, if not in his attitude, Mr Dombey looked down into the cold
depths of the dead sea of mahogany on which the fruit dishes and
decanters lay at anchor: as if the subjects of his thoughts were
rising towards the surface one by one, and plunging down again. Edith
was there In all her majesty of brow and figure; and close to her came
Florence, with her timid head turned to him, as it had been, for an
instant, when she left the room; and Edith's eyes upon her, and
Edith's hand put out protectingly. A little figure in a low arm-chair
came springing next into the light, and looked upon him wonderingly,
with its bright eyes and its old-young face, gleaming as in the
flickering of an evening fire. Again came Florence close upon it, and
absorbed his whole attention. Whether as a fore-doomed difficulty and
disappointment to him; whether as a rival who had crossed him in his
way, and might again; whether as his child, of whom, in his successful
wooing, he could stoop to think as claiming, at such a time, to be no
more estranged; or whether as a hint to him that the mere appearance
of caring for his own blood should be maintained in his new relations;
he best knew. Indifferently well, perhaps, at best; for marriage
company and marriage altars, and ambitious scenes - still blotted here
and there with Florence - always Florence - turned up so fast, and so
confusedly, that he rose, and went upstairs to escape them.
It was quite late at night before candles were brought; for at
present they made Mrs Skewton's head ache, she complained; and in the
meantime Florence and Mrs Skewton talked together (Cleopatra being
very anxious to keep her close to herself), or Florence touched the
piano softly for Mrs Skewton's delight; to make no mention of a few
occasions in the course of the evening, when that affectionate lady
was impelled to solicit another kiss, and which always happened after
Edith had said anything. They were not many, however, for Edith sat
apart by an open window during the whole time (in spite of her
mother's fears that she would take cold), and remained there until Mr
Dombey took leave. He was serenely gracious to Florence when he did
so; and Florence went to bed in a room within Edith's, so happy and
hopeful, that she thought of her late self as if it were some other
poor deserted girl who was to be pitied for her sorrow; and in her
pity, sobbed herself to sleep.
The week fled fast. There were drives to milliners, dressmakers,
jewellers, lawyers, florists, pastry-cooks; and Florence was always of
the party. Florence was to go to the wedding. Florence was to cast off
her mourning, and to wear a brilliant dress on the occasion. The
milliner's intentions on the subject of this dress - the milliner was
a Frenchwoman, and greatly resembled Mrs Skewton - were so chaste and
elegant, that Mrs Skewton bespoke one like it for herself. The
milliner said it would become her to admiration, and that all the
world would take her for the young lady's sister.
The week fled faster. Edith looked at nothing and cared for
nothing. Her rich dresses came home, and were tried on, and were
loudly commended by Mrs Skewton and the milliners, and were put away
without a word from her. Mrs Skewton made their plans for every day,
and executed them. Sometimes Edith sat in the carriage when they went
to make purchases; sometimes, when it was absolutely necessary, she
went into the shops. But Mrs Skewton conducted the whole business,
whatever it happened to be; and Edith looked on as uninterested and
with as much apparent indifference as if she had no concern in it.
Florence might perhaps have thought she was haughty and listless, but
that she was never so to her. So Florence quenched her wonder in her
gratitude whenever it broke out, and soon subdued it.
The week fled faster. It had nearly winged its flight away. The
last night of the week, the night before the marriage, was come. In
the dark room - for Mrs Skewton's head was no better yet, though she
expected to recover permanently to-morrow - were that lady, Edith, and
Mr Dombey. Edith was at her open window looking out into the street;
Mr Dombey and Cleopatra were talking softly on the sofa. It was
growing late; and Florence, being fatigued, had gone to bed.
'My dear Dombey,' said Cleopatra, 'you will leave me Florence
to-morrow, when you deprive me of my sweetest Edith.'
Mr Dombey said he would, with pleasure.
'To have her about me, here, while you are both at Paris, and to
think at her age, I am assisting in the formation of her mind, my dear
Dombey,' said Cleopatra, 'will be a perfect balm to me in the
extremely shattered state to which I shall be reduced.'
Edith turned her head suddenly. Her listless manner was exchanged,
in a moment, to one of burning interest, and, unseen in the darkness,
she attended closely to their conversation.
Mr Dombey would be delighted to leave Florence in such admirable
'My dear Dombey,' returned Cleopatra, 'a thousand thanks for your
good opinion. I feared you were going, with malice aforethought' as
the dreadful lawyers say - those horrid proses! - to condemn me to
'Why do me so great an injustice, my dear madam?' said Mr Dombey.
'Because my charming Florence tells me so positively she must go
home tomorrow, returned Cleopatra, that I began to be afraid, my
dearest Dombey, you were quite a Bashaw.'
'I assure you, madam!' said Mr Dombey, 'I have laid no commands on
Florence; and if I had, there are no commands like your wish.'
'My dear Dombey,' replied Cleopatra, what a courtier you are!
Though I'll not say so, either; for courtiers have no heart, and yours
pervades your farming life and character. And are you really going so
early, my dear Dombey!'
Oh, indeed! it was late, and Mr Dombey feared he must.
'Is this a fact, or is it all a dream!' lisped Cleopatra. 'Can I
believe, my dearest Dombey, that you are coming back tomorrow morning
to deprive me of my sweet companion; my own Edith!'
Mr Dombey, who was accustomed to take things literally, reminded
Mrs Skewton that they were to meet first at the church.
'The pang,' said Mrs Skewton, 'of consigning a child, even to you,
my dear Dombey, is one of the most excruciating imaginable, and
combined with a naturally delicate constitution, and the extreme
stupidity of the pastry-cook who has undertaken the breakfast, is
almost too much for my poor strength. But I shall rally, my dear
Dombey, In the morning; do not fear for me, or be uneasy on my
account. Heaven bless you! My dearest Edith!' she cried archly.
'Somebody is going, pet.'
Edith, who had turned her head again towards the window, and whose
interest in their conversation had ceased, rose up in her place, but
made no advance towards him, and said nothing. Mr Dombey, with a lofty
gallantry adapted to his dignity and the occasion, betook his creaking
boots towards her, put her hand to his lips, said, 'Tomorrow morning I
shall have the happiness of claiming this hand as Mrs Dombey's,' and
bowed himself solemnly out.
Mrs Skewton rang for candles as soon as the house-door had closed
upon him. With the candles appeared her maid, with the juvenile dress
that was to delude the world to-morrow. The dress had savage
retribution in it, as such dresses ever have, and made her infinitely
older and more hideous than her greasy flannel gown. But Mrs Skewton
tried it on with mincing satisfaction; smirked at her cadaverous self
in the glass, as she thought of its killing effect upon the Major; and
suffering her maid to take it off again, and to prepare her for
repose, tumbled into ruins like a house of painted cards.
All this time, Edith remained at the dark window looking out into
the street. When she and her mother were at last left alone, she moved
from it for the first time that evening, and came opposite to her. The
yawning, shaking, peevish figure of the mother, with her eyes raised
to confront the proud erect form of the daughter, whose glance of fire
was bent downward upon her, had a conscious air upon it, that no
levity or temper could conceal.
'I am tired to death,' said she. 'You can't be trusted for a
moment. You are worse than a child. Child! No child would be half so
obstinate and undutiful.'
'Listen to me, mother,' returned Edith, passing these words by with
a scorn that would not descend to trifle with them. 'You must remain
alone here until I return.'
'Must remain alone here, Edith, until you return!' repeated her
'Or in that name upon which I shall call to-morrow to witness what
I do, so falsely: and so shamefully, I swear I will refuse the hand of
this man in the church. If I do not, may I fall dead upon the
The mother answered with a look of quick alarm, in no degree
diminished by the look she met.
'It is enough,' said Edith, steadily, 'that we are what we are. I
will have no youth and truth dragged down to my level. I will have no
guileless nature undermined, corrupted, and perverted, to amuse the
leisure of a world of mothers. You know my meaning. Florence must go
'You are an idiot, Edith,' cried her angry mother. 'Do you expect
there can ever be peace for you in that house, till she is married,
'Ask me, or ask yourself, if I ever expect peace in that house,'
said her daughter, 'and you know the answer.
'And am I to be told to-night, after all my pains and labour, and
when you are going, through me, to be rendered independent,' her
mother almost shrieked in her passion, while her palsied head shook
like a leaf, 'that there is corruption and contagion in me, and that I
am not fit company for a girl! What are you, pray? What are you?'
'I have put the question to myself,' said Edith, ashy pale, and
pointing to the window, 'more than once when I have been sitting
there, and something in the faded likeness of my sex has wandered past
outside; and God knows I have met with my reply. Oh mother, mother, if
you had but left me to my natural heart when I too was a girl - a
younger girl than Florence - how different I might have been!'
Sensible that any show of anger was useless here, her mother
restrained herself, and fell a whimpering, and bewailed that she had
lived too long, and that her only child had cast her off, and that
duty towards parents was forgotten in these evil days, and that she
had heard unnatural taunts, and cared for life no longer.
'If one is to go on living through continual scenes like this,' she
whined,'I am sure it would be much better for me to think of some
means of putting an end to my existence. Oh! The idea of your being my
daughter, Edith, and addressing me in such a strain!'
'Between us, mother,' returned Edith, mournfully, 'the time for
mutual reproaches is past.
'Then why do you revive it?' whimpered her mother. 'You know that
you are lacerating me in the cruellest manner. You know how sensitive
I am to unkindness. At such a moment, too, when I have so much to
think of, and am naturally anxious to appear to the best advantage! I
wonder at you, Edith. To make your mother a fright upon your
Edith bent the same fixed look upon her, as she sobbed and rubbed
her eyes; and said in the same low steady voice, which had neither
risen nor fallen since she first addressed her, 'I have said that
Florence must go home.'
'Let her go!' cried the afflicted and affrighted parent, hastily.
'I am sure I am willing she should go. What is the girl to me?'
'She is so much to me, that rather than communicate, or suffer to
be communicated to her, one grain of the evil that is in my breast,
mother, I would renounce you, as I would (if you gave me cause)
renounce him in the church to-morrow,' replied Edith. 'Leave her
alone. She shall not, while I can interpose, be tampered with and
tainted by the lessons I have learned. This is no hard condition on
this bitter night.'
'If you had proposed it in a filial manner, Edith,' whined her
mother, 'perhaps not; very likely not. But such extremely cutting
words - '
'They are past and at an end between us now,' said Edith. 'Take
your own way, mother; share as you please in what you have gained;
spend, enjoy, make much of it; and be as happy as you will. The object
of our lives is won. Henceforth let us wear it silently. My lips are
closed upon the past from this hour. I forgive you your part in
to-morrow's wickedness. May God forgive my own!'
Without a tremor in her voice, or frame, and passing onward with a
foot that set itself upon the neck of every soft emotion, she bade her
mother good-night, and repaired to her own room.
But not to rest; for there was no rest in the tumult of her
agitation when alone to and fro, and to and fro, and to and fro again,
five hundred times, among the splendid preparations for her adornment
on the morrow; with her dark hair shaken down, her dark eyes flashing
with a raging light, her broad white bosom red with the cruel grasp of
the relentless hand with which she spurned it from her, pacing up and
down with an averted head, as if she would avoid the sight of her own
fair person, and divorce herself from its companionship. Thus, In the
dead time of the night before her bridal, Edith Granger wrestled with
her unquiet spirit, tearless, friendless, silent, proud, and
At length it happened that she touched the open door which led into
the room where Florence lay.
She started, stopped, and looked in.
A light was burning there, and showed her Florence in her bloom of
innocence and beauty, fast asleep. Edith held her breath, and felt
herself drawn on towards her.
Drawn nearer, nearer, nearer yet; at last, drawn so near, that
stooping down, she pressed her lips to the gentle hand that lay
outside the bed, and put it softly to her neck. Its touch was like the
prophet's rod of old upon the rock. Her tears sprung forth beneath it,
as she sunk upon her knees, and laid her aching head and streaming
hair upon the pillow by its side.
Thus Edith Granger passed the night before her bridal. Thus the sun
found her on her bridal morning.