Dombey and Son
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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.
Dawn with its passionless blank face, steals shivering to the
church beneath which lies the dust of little Paul and his mother, and
looks in at the windows. It is cold and dark. Night crouches yet, upon
the pavement, and broods, sombre and heavy, in nooks and corners of
the building. The steeple-clock, perched up above the houses, emerging
from beneath another of the countless ripples in the tide of time that
regularly roll and break on the eternal shore, is greyly visible, like
a stone beacon, recording how the sea flows on; but within doors,
dawn, at first, can only peep at night, and see that it is there.
Hovering feebly round the church, and looking in, dawn moans and
weeps for its short reign, and its tears trickle on the window-glass,
and the trees against the church-wall bow their heads, and wring their
many hands in sympathy. Night, growing pale before it, gradually fades
out of the church, but lingers in the vaults below, and sits upon the
coffins. And now comes bright day, burnishing the steeple-clock, and
reddening the spire, and drying up the tears of dawn, and stifling its
complaining; and the dawn, following the night, and chasing it from
its last refuge, shrinks into the vaults itself and hides, with a
frightened face, among the dead, until night returns, refreshed, to
drive it out.
And now, the mice, who have been busier with the prayer-books than
their proper owners, and with the hassocks, more worn by their little
teeth than by human knees, hide their bright eyes in their holes, and
gather close together in affright at the resounding clashing of the
church-door. For the beadle, that man of power, comes early this
morning with the sexton; and Mrs Miff, the wheezy little pew-opener -
a mighty dry old lady, sparely dressed, with not an inch of fulness
anywhere about her - is also here, and has been waiting at the
church-gate half-an-hour, as her place is, for the beadle.
A vinegary face has Mrs Miff, and a mortified bonnet, and eke a
thirsty soul for sixpences and shillings. Beckoning to stray people to
come into pews, has given Mrs Miff an air of mystery; and there is
reservation in the eye of Mrs Miff, as always knowing of a softer
seat, but having her suspicions of the fee. There is no such fact as
Mr Miff, nor has there been, these twenty years, and Mrs Miff would
rather not allude to him. He held some bad opinions, it would seem,
about free seats; and though Mrs Miff hopes he may be gone upwards,
she couldn't positively undertake to say so.
Busy is Mrs Miff this morning at the church-door, beating and
dusting the altar-cloth, the carpet, and the cushions; and much has
Mrs Miff to say, about the wedding they are going to have. Mrs Miff is
told, that the new furniture and alterations in the house cost full
five thousand pound if they cost a penny; and Mrs Miff has heard, upon
the best authority, that the lady hasn't got a sixpence wherewithal to
bless herself. Mrs Miff remembers, like wise, as if it had happened
yesterday, the first wife's funeral, and then the christening, and
then the other funeral; and Mrs Miff says, by-the-bye she'll
soap-and-water that 'ere tablet presently, against the company arrive.