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velvet bonnet gave her sufficient occupation out of doors; for being perched on the back of her head, and the day being rather windy, it was frantic to escape from Mrs. Skewton's company, and would be coaxed into no sort of compromise. When the carriage was closed, and the wind shut out, the palsy played among the artificial roses again like an alms-house-full of superannuated zephyrs; and altogether Mrs. Skewton had enough to do, and got on but indifferently.
She got on no better towards night; for when Mrs. Dombey, in her dressing-room, had been dressed and waiting for her half an hour, and Mr. Dombey, in the drawing-room, had paraded himself into a state of solemn fretfulness (they were all three going out to dinner), Flowers the Maid appeared with a pale face to Mrs. Dombey, saying:
"If you please, Ma'am, I beg your pardon, but I can't do nothing with Missis !"
"What do you mean?" asked Edith.
"Well, Ma'am," replied the frightened maid, "I hardly know. She's making faces!"
Edith hurried with her to her mother's room. Cleopatra was arrayed in full dress, with the diamonds, short sleeves, rouge, curls, teeth, and other juvenility all complete; but Paralysis was not to be deceived, had known her for the object of its errand, and had struck her at her glass, where she lay like a horrible doll that had tumbled down.
They took her to pieces in very shame, and put the little of her that was real on a bed. Doctors were sent for, and soon came. Powerful remedies were resorted to; opinions given that she would rally from this shock, but would not survive another; and there she lay speechless, and staring at the ceiling, for days: sometimes making inarticulate sounds in answer to such questions as did she know who were present, and the like: some times giving no reply either by sign or gesture, or in her unwinking eyes.
At length she began to recover consciousness, and in some degree the power of motion, though not yet of speech. One day the use of her right hand returned; and showing it to her maid who was in attendance on her, and appearing very uneasy in her mind, she made signs for a pencil and some paper. This the
maid immediately provided, thinking she was going to make a will, or write some last request; and Mrs. Dombey being from home, the maid awaited the result with solemn feelings.
After much painful scrawling and erasing, and putting in of wrong characters, which seemed to tumble out of the pencil of their own accord, the old woman produced this document: "Rose-colored curtains."
The maid being perfectly transfixed, and with tolerable reason, Cleopatra amended the manuscript by adding two words more,
when it stood thus:
"Rose-colored curtains for doctors. "
The maid now perceived remotely that she wished these articles to be provided for the better presentation of her complexion to the faculty; and as those in the house who knew her best, had no doubt of the correctness of this opinion, which she was soon able to establish for herself, the rose-colored curtains were added to her bed, and she mended with increased rapidity from that hour. She was soon able to sit up, in curls, and a laced cap and night-gown, and to have a little artificial bloom dropped into the hollow caverns of her cheeks.
It was a terrible sight to see this old woman in her finery leering and mincing at Death, and playing off her youthful tricks upon him as if he had been the Major; but an alteration in her mind that ensued on the paralytic stroke, was fraught with as much matter for reflection, and was quite as ghastly.
Whether the weakening of her intellect made her more cunning and false than before, or whether it confused her between what she had assumed to be and what she really had been, or whether it had awakened any glimmering of remorse, which could neither struggle into light nor get back into total darkness, or whether, in the jumble of her faculties, a combination of these effects had been shaken up, which is perhaps the more likely supposition, the result was this ;-That she became hugely exacting in respect of Edith's affection and gratitude and attention to her; highly laudatory of herself as a most inestimable parent; and very jealous of having any rival in Edith's regard. Further, in place of remembering that compact made between them for an avoidance of the subject, she constantly alluded to her daughter's marriage as a proof of her being an in incomparable
mother; and all this with the weakness and peevishness of such a state, always serving for a sarcastic commentary on her levity and youthfulness.
"Where is Mrs. Dombey?" she would say to her maid.
"Gone out, Ma'am.”
"Gone out! Does she go out to shun her mama, Flowers?” "La bless you, no, Ma'am. Mrs. Dombey has only gone out for a ride with Miss Florence."
"Miss Florence. Who's Miss Florence ?" Don't tell me about Miss Florence. What's Miss Florence to her, compared to me?"
The apposite display of the diamonds, or the peach-velvet bonnet (she sat in the bonnet to receive visitors weeks before she could stir out of doors), or the dressing of her up in some gaud or other, usually stopped the tears that began to flow hereabouts; and she would remain in a complacent state until Edith came to see her; when, at a glance of the proud face, she would relapse again.
"Well, I am sure, Edith!" she would cry, shaking her head.
"What is the matter, Mother?”
"Matter! I really don't know what is the matter. The world is coming to such an artificial and ungrateful state, that I begin to think there's no Heart-or anything of that sort―left in it, positively. Withers is more a child to me than you are. He attends to me much more than my own daughter. I almost wish I didn't look so young--and all that kind of thing-and then perhaps I should be more considered."
"What would you have, mother?"
"Oh, a great deal, Edith," impatiently.
It is your
"Is there anything you want that you have not? own fault if there be."
"My own fault!" beginning to whimper. "The parent I have been to you, Edith: making you a companion from your cradle! And when you neglect me, and have no more natural affection for me than if I was a stranger-not a twentieth part of the affection that you have for Florence-but I am only your mother and should corrupt her in a day!-you reproach me with its being my own fault."
"Mother, mother, I reproach you with nothing. Why will you always dwell on this?"
"Isn't it natural that I should dwell on this, when I'm all affection and sensitiveness, and am wounded in the cruellest way, whenever you look at me?”
"I do not mean to wound you, mother. Have you no remembrance of what has been said between us? Let the Past rest." "Yes, rest! And let gratitude to me rest; and let affection for me rest; and let me rest in my out-of-the-way room, with no society and no attention, while you find new relations to make much of, who have no earthly claim upon you! Good gracious, Edith, do you know what an elegant establishment you are at the head of?"
"And that gentlemanly creature, Dombey? do you know that you are married to him, Edith, and that you have a settlement, and a position, and a carriage, and I don't know what?"
"Indeed, I know it, mother; well."
"As you would have had with that delightful good soul-what did they call him?-Granger-if he hadn't died. And who have you to thank for all this, Edith ?"
"You, mother, you."
"Then put your arms round my neck, and kiss me; and show me, Edith, that you know there never was a better mama than I have been to you. And don't let me become a perfect fright with teazing and wearing myself at your ingratitude, or when I'm out again in society no soul will know me, not even that hateful animal, the Major."
But, sometimes, when Edith went nearer to her, and bending down her stately head, put her cold cheek to hers, the mother would draw back as if she were afraid of her, and would fall into a fit of trembling, and cry out that there was a wandering in her wits. And sometimes she would entreat her, with humility, to sit down on the chair beside her bed, and would look at her (as she sat there brooding) with a face that even the rose-colored curtains could not make otherwise than scared and wild.
The rose-colored curtains blushed, in course of time, on Cleopatra's bodily recovery, and on her dress-more juvenile than
ever, to repair the ravages of illness-and on the rouge, and on the teeth, and on the curls, and on the diamonds, and the short sleeves, and the whole wardrobe of the doll that had tumbled down before the mirror. They blushed, too, now and then, upon an indistinctness in her speech, which she turned off with a girlish giggle, and on an occasional failing in her memory, that had no rule in it, but came and went fantastically; as if in mockery of her fantastic self.
But they never blushed upon a change in the new manner of her thought and speech towards her daughter. And though that daughter often came within their influence, they never blushed upon her loveliness irradiated by a smile, or softened by the light of filial love, in its stern beauty.
Miss Tox improves an old Acquaintance.
THE forlorn Miss Tox, abandoned by her friend, Louisa Chick, and bereft of Mr. Dombey's countenance-for no delicate pair of wedding cards, united by a silver thread, graced the chimneyglass in Princess's Place, or the harpsichord, or any of those little posts of display which Lucretia reserved for holiday occupa tion-became depressed in her spirits, and suffered much from melancholy. For a time the Bird Waltz was unheard in Princess's Place, the plants were neglected, and dust collected on the miniature of Miss Tox's ancestor with the powdered head and pigtail.
Miss Tox, however, was not of an age or of a disposition long to abandon herself to unavailing regrets. Only two notes of the harpsichord were dumb from disuse when the Bird Waltz again warbled and trilled in the crooked drawing-room; only one slip of geranium fell a victim to imperfect nursing, before she was gardening at her green baskets again, regularly every morning; the powdered-headed ancestor had not been under a cloud for