Dombey and Son
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'I say,' he at length repeated, putting down the lamp, and smiling
his most courtly smile, 'how strange to come here alone! It was
unnecessarty caution surely, and might have defeated itself. You were
to have engaged an attendant at Havre or Rouen, and have had abundance
of time for the purpose, though you had been the most capricious and
difficult (as you are the most beautiful, my love) of women.'
Her eyes gleamed strangely on him, but she stood with her hand
resting on the chair, and said not a word.
'I have never,' resumed Carker, 'seen you look so handsome, as you
do to-night. Even the picture I have carried in my mind during this
cruel probation, and which I have contemplated night and day, is
exceeded by the reality.'
Not a word. Not a look Her eyes completely hidden by their drooping
lashes, but her head held up.
'Hard, unrelenting terms they were!' said Carker, with a smile,
'but they are all fulfilled and passed, and make the present more
delicious and more safe. Sicily shall be the Place of our retreat. In
the idlest and easiest part of the world, my soul, we'll both seek
compensation for old slavery.'
He was coming gaily towards her, when, in an instant, she caught
the knife up from the table, and started one pace back.
'Stand still!' she said, 'or I shall murder you!'
The sudden change in her, the towering fury and intense abhorrence
sparkling in her eyes and lighting up her brow, made him stop as if a
fire had stopped him.
'Stand still!' she said, 'come no nearer me, upon your life!'
They both stood looking at each other. Rage and astonishment were
in his face, but he controlled them, and said lightly,
'Come, come! Tush, we are alone, and out of everybody's sight and
hearing. Do you think to frighten me with these tricks of virtue?'
'Do you think to frighten me,' she answered fiercely, 'from any
purpose that I have, and any course I am resolved upon, by reminding
me of the solitude of this place, and there being no help near? Me,
who am here alone, designedly? If I feared you, should I not have
avoided you? If I feared you, should I be here, in the dead of night,
telling you to your face what I am going to tell?'
'And what is that,' he said, 'you handsome shrew? Handsomer so,
than any other woman in her best humour?'
'I tell you nothing,' she returned, until you go back to that chair
- except this, once again - Don't come near me! Not a step nearer. I
tell you, if you do, as Heaven sees us, I shall murder you!'
'Do you mistake me for your husband?' he retorted, with a grin.
Disdaining to reply, she stretched her arm out, pointing to the
chair. He bit his lip, frowned, laughed, and sat down in it, with a
baffled, irresolute, impatient air, he was unable to conceal; and
biting his nail nervously, and looking at her sideways, with bitter
discomfiture, even while he feigned to be amused by her caprice.
She put the knife down upon the table, and touching her bosom wIth
her hand, said:
'I have something lying here that is no love trinket, and sooner
than endure your touch once more, I would use it on you - and you know
it, while I speak - with less reluctance than I would on any other
creeping thing that lives.'
He affected to laugh jestingly, and entreated her to act her play
out quickly, for the supper was growing cold. But the secret look with
which he regarded her, was more sullen and lowering, and he struck his
foot once upon the floor with a muttered oath.
'How many times,' said Edith, bending her darkest glance upon him'
'has your bold knavery assailed me with outrage and insult? How many
times in your smooth manner, and mocking words and looks, have I been
twitted with my courtship and my marriage? How many times have you
laid bare my wound of love for that sweet, injured girl and lacerated
it? How often have you fanned the fire on which, for two years, I have
writhed; and tempted me to take a desperate revenge, when it has most
'I have no doubt, Ma'am,' he replied, 'that you have kept a good
account, and that it's pretty accurate. Come, Edith. To your husband,
poor wretch, this was well enough - '
'Why, if,' she said, surveying him with a haughty contempt and
disgust, that he shrunk under, let him brave it as he would, 'if all
my other reasons for despising him could have been blown away like
feathers, his having you for his counsellor and favourite, would have
almost been enough to hold their place.'
'Is that a reason why you have run away with me?' he asked her,
'Yes, and why we are face to face for the last time. Wretch! We
meet tonight, and part tonight. For not one moment after I have ceased
to speak, will I stay here!'
He turned upon her with his ugliest look, and gripped the table
with his hand; but neither rose, nor otherwise answered or threatened
'I am a woman,' she said, confronting him steadfastly, 'who from
her childhood has been shamed and steeled. I have been offered and
rejected, put up and appraised, until my very soul has sickened. I
have not had an accomplishment or grace that might have been a
resource to me, but it has been paraded and vended to enhance my
value, as if the common crier had called it through the streets. My
poor, proud friends, have looked on and approved; and every tie
between us has been deadened in my breast. There is not one of them
for whom I care, as I could care for a pet dog. I stand alone in the
world, remembering well what a hollow world it has been to me, and
what a hollow part of it I have been myself. You know this, and you
know that my fame with it is worthless to me.'
'Yes; I imagined that,' he said.
'And calculated on it,' she rejoined, 'and so pursued me. Grown too
indifferent for any opposition but indifference, to the daily working
of the hands that had moulded me to this; and knowing that my marriage
would at least prevent their hawking of me up and down; I suffered
myself to be sold, as infamously as any woman with a halter round her
neck is sold in any market-place. You know that.'
'Yes,' he said, showing all his teeth 'I know that.'
'And calculated on it,' she rejoined once more, 'and so pursued me.
From my marriage day, I found myself exposed to such new shame - to
such solicitation and pursuit (expressed as clearly as if it had been
written in the coarsest words, and thrust into my hand at every turn)
from one mean villain, that I felt as if I had never known humiliation
till that time. This shame my husband fixed upon me; hemmed me round
with, himself; steeped me in, with his own hands, and of his own act,
repeated hundreds of times. And thus - forced by the two from every
point of rest I had - forced by the two to yield up the last retreat
of love and gentleness within me, or to be a new misfortune on its
innocent object - driven from each to each, and beset by one when I
escaped the other - my anger rose almost to distraction against both I
do not know against which it rose higher - the master or the man!'
He watched her closely, as she stood before him in the very triumph
of her indignant beauty. She was resolute, he saw; undauntable; with
no more fear of him than of a worm.
'What should I say of honour or of chastity to you!' she went on.
'What meaning would it have to you; what meaning would it have from
me! But if I tell you that the lightest touch of your hand makes my
blood cold with antipathy; that from the hour when I first saw and
hated you, to now, when my instinctive repugnance is enhanced by every
minute's knowledge of you I have since had, you have been a loathsome
creature to me which has not its like on earth; how then?'
He answered with a faint laugh, 'Ay! How then, my queen?'
'On that night, when, emboldened by the scene you had assisted at,
you dared come to my room and speak to me,' she said, 'what passed?'
He shrugged his shoulders, and laughed
'What passed?' she said.
'Your memory is so distinct,' he said, 'that I have no doubt you
can recall it.'
'I can,' she said. 'Hear it! Proposing then, this flight - not this
flight, but the flight you thought it - you told me that in the having
given you that meeting, and leaving you to be discovered there, if you
so thought fit; and in the having suffered you to be alone with me
many times before, - and having made the opportunities, you said, -
and in the having openly avowed to you that I had no feeling for my
husband but aversion, and no care for myself - I was lost; I had given
you the power to traduce my name; and I lived, in virtuous reputation,
at the pleasure of your breath'
'All stratagems in love - ' he interrupted, smiling. 'The old
adage - '
'On that night,' said Edith, 'and then, the struggle that I long
had had with something that was not respect for my good fame - that
was I know not what - perhaps the clinging to that last retreat- was
ended. On that night, and then, I turned from everything but passion
and resentment. I struck a blow that laid your lofty master in the
dust, and set you there, before me, looking at me now, and knowing
what I mean.'
He sprung up from his chair with a great oath. She put her hand
into her bosom, and not a finger trembled, not a hair upon her head
was stirred. He stood still: she too: the table and chair between
'When I forget that this man put his lips to mine that night, and
held me in his arms as he has done again to-night,' said Edith,
pointing at him; 'when I forget the taint of his kiss upon my cheek -
the cheek that Florence would have laid her guiltless face against -
when I forget my meeting with her, while that taint was hot upon me,
and in what a flood the knowledge rushed upon me when I saw her, that