Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

at her in the same strange way. love."

"I have had bad dreams, my

"And not yet been to bed, mamma?” "No," she returned. "Half-waking dreams." Her features gradually softened; and suffering Florence to come close to her, within her embrace, she said in a tender manner, "But what does my bird do here? What does my bird

do here?"

"I have been uneasy, Mamma, in not seeing you to-night, and in not knowing how Papa was; and I—————”

""

Florence stopped there, and said no more.

Is it late?" asked Edith, fondly putting back the curls that mingled with her own dark hair, and strayed upon her face. Near day."

Very late. "Near day!" she repeated, in surprise.

"Dear Mamma, what have you done to your hand?" said Florence.

Edith drew it suddenly away, and, for a moment, looked at her with the same strange dread (there was a sort of wild avoidance in it) as before; but she presently said, "Nothing, nothing. A blow." And then she said, "My Florence!" And then her bosom heaved, and she was weeping passionately. "Mamma!" said Florence, "Oh Mamma, what can I do, what should I do, to make us happier! Is there anything?" "Nothing," she replied.

"Are you sure of that? Can it never be? If I speak now of what is in my thoughts, in spite of what we have agreed,” said Florence, "you will not blame me, will you?”

"It is useless," she replied, "useless. I have told you, dear, that I have had bad dreams. Nothing can change them, or prevent their coming back."

"I do not understand," said Florence, gazing on her agitated face, which seemed to darken as she looked.

"I have dreamed," said Edith in a low voice, "of a pride that is all powerless for good, all powerful for evil; of a pride that has been galled and goaded, through many shameful years, and has never recoiled except upon itself; a pride that has debased its owner with the consciousness of deep humiliation, and never helped its owner boldly to resent it or avoid it, or to say This

6

shall not be a pride that, rightly guided, might have led perhaps to better things, but which, misdirected and perverted, like all else belonging to the same possessor, has been self-contempt, mere hardihood and ruin."

She neither looked nor spoke to Florence now, but went on as if she were alone.

"I have dreamed," she said, "of such indifference and callousness, arising from this self-contempt; this wretched, ineffi. cient, miserable pride; that it has gone on with listless steps even to the altar, yielding to the old, familiar, beckoning finger,-oh, mother, oh, mother!-while it spurned it; and willing to be hateful to itself for once and for all, rather than to be stung daily in some new form. Mean, poor thing!"

And now, with gathering and darkening emotion, she looked as she had looked when Florence entered.

"And I have dreamed," she said, "that in a first late effort to achieve a purpose, it has been trodden on, and trodden down by a base foot, but turns and looks upon him. I have dreamed that it is wounded, hunted, set upon by dogs, but that it stands at bay, and will not yield; no, that it cannot, if it would, but that it is urged on to hate him, rise against him, and defy him!"

Her clenched hand tightened on the trembling arm she had in hers, and as she looked down on the alarmed and wondering face, her own subsided. "Oh Florence!" she said, "I think I have been nearly mad to-night!" and humbled her proud head upon her neck, and wept again.

"Don't leave me! be near me! I have no hope but in you!" These words she said a score of times.

Soon she grew calmer, and was full of pity for the tears of Florence, and for her waking at such untimely hours. And the day now dawning, Edith folded her in her arms and laid her down upon her bed, and, not lying down herself, sat by her, and bade her try to sleep.

"For you are weary, dearest, and unhappy, and should rest."

"I am indeed unhappy, dear Mamma, to-night," said Florence. "But you are weary and unhappy, too."

"Not when you lie asleep so near me, sweet."

They kissed each other, and Florence, worn out, gradually

fell into a gentle slumber; but as her eyes closed on the face beside her, it was so sad to think upon the face down stairs, that her hand drew closer to Edith for some comfort; yet, even in the act, it faltered, lest it should be deserting him. So, in her sleep, she tried to reconcile the two together, and to show them that she loved them both, but could not do it, and her waking grief was part of her dreams.

Edith, sitting by, looked down at the dark eyelashes lying wet on the flushed cheeks, and looked with gentleness and pity, for she knew the truth. But no sleep hung upon her own eyes. As the day came on she still sat watching and waking, with the placid hand in hers, and sometimes whispered, as she looked at the hushed face, "Be near me, Florence. I have no hope but in you!"

CHAPTER XLIV.

A Separation.

WITH the day, though not so early as the sun, uprose Miss Susan Nipper. There was a heaviness in this young maiden's exceedingly sharp black eyes, that abated somewhat of their sparkling, and suggested-which was not their usual character -the possibility of their being sometimes shut. There was likewise a swollen look about them, as if they had been crying overnight. But the Nipper, so far from being cast down, was singularly brisk and bold, and all her energies appeared to be braced up for some great feat. This was noticeable even in her dress, which was much more tight and trim than usual; and in occasional twitches of her head as she went about the house, which were mightily expressive of determination.

In a word, she had formed a determination, and an aspiring one it being nothing less than this-to penetrate to Mr. Dombey's presence, and have speech of that gentleman alone. "I have often said I would," she remarked, in a threatening manner,

to herself, that morning, with many twitches of her head, "and now I will!"

Spurring herself on to the accomplishment of this desperate design, with a sharpness that was peculiar to herself, Susan Nipper haunted the hall and staircase during the whole forenoon, without finding a favorable opportunity for the assault. Not at all baffled by this discomfiture, which indeed had a stimulating effect, and put her on her mettle, she diminished nothing of her vigilance; and at last discovered, towards evening, that her sworn foe Mrs. Pipchin, under pretence of having sat up all night, was dozing in her own room, and that Mr. Dombey was lying on his sofa, unattended.

With a twitch-not of her head merely, this time, but of her whole self-the Nipper went on tiptoe to Mr. Dombey's door, and knocked. "Come in!" said Mr. Dombey. Susan encouraged herself with a final twitch, and went in.

Mr. Dombey, who was at his visitor, and raised per dropped a curtsey.

eyeing the fire, gave an amazed look himself a little on his arm. The Nip

"What do you want?" said Mr. Dombey.

"If you please, Sir, I wish to speak to you," said Susan.

Mr. Dombey moved his lips as if he were repeating the words, but he seemed so lost in astonishment at the presumption of the young woman as to be incapable of giving them utterance.

"I have been in your service, Sir," said Susan Nipper, with her usual rapidity, "now twelve year a waiting on Miss Floy my own young lady who couldn't speak plain when I first come here and I was old in this house when Mrs. Richards was new, I may not be Meethosalem, but I am not a child in arms.”

Mr. Dombey, raised upon his arm and looking at her, offered no comment on this preparatory statement of facts.

"There never was a dearer or a blesseder young lady than is my young lady, Sir," said Susan, " and I ought to know a great deal better than some for I have seen her in her grief and I have seen her in her joy (there 's not been much of it) and I have seen her with her brother and I have seen her in her loneliness and some have never seen her, and I say to some and all—I do!” and here the black-eyed shook her head, and slightly stamped her foot; "that she 's the blessedest and dearest angel is Miss

Floy that ever drew the breath of life, the more that I was torn to pieces Sir the more I'd say it though I may not be a Fox's Martyr."

Mr. Dombey turned yet paler than his fall had made him, with indignation and astonishment; and kept his eyes upon the speaker as if he accused them, and his ears too, of playing him false.

"No one could be anything but true and faithful to Miss Floy, Sir," pursued Susan, "and I take no merit for my service of twelve year, for I love her-yes, I say to some and all I do!" -and here the black-eyed shook her head again, and slightly stamped her foot again, and checked a sob; "but true and faithful service gives me a right to speak I hope and speak I must and will now, right or wrong."

"What do you mean, woman!" said Mr. Dombey, glaring at her. "How do you dare?"

"What I mean, Sir, is to speak respectful and without offence, but out, and how I dare I know not but I do!" said Susan. "Oh! you don't know my young lady Sir you don't indeed, you'd never know so little of her, if you did."

Mr. Dombey, in a fury, put his hand out for the bell-rope; but there was no bell-rope on that side of the fire, and he could not rise and cross to the other without assistance. The quick eye of the Nipper detected his helplessness immediately, and now, as she afterwards observed, she felt she had got him.

"Miss Floy," said Susan Nipper, "is the most devoted and most patient and most dutiful and beautiful of daughters, there an't no gentleman, no, Sir, though as great and rich as all the greatest and richest of England put together, but might be proud of her and would and ought. If he knew her value right, he'd rather lose his greatness and his fortune piece by piece and beg his way in rags from door to door, I say to some and all, he would!" cried Susan Nipper, bursting into tears, "than bring the sorrow on her tender heart that I have seen it suffer in this house!"

66

"Woman," cried Mr. Dombey, "leave the room.”

Begging your pardon, not even if I ar am to leave the situation, Sir," replied the steadfast Nipper," in which I have been so many years and seen so much-although I hope you'd never have the Iheart to send me from Miss Floy for such a cause-will I go now

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »