Книга Dombey and Son. Содержание - CHAPTER 28 Alterations
God, that I have lived for this, and that I feel it!'
Compress into one handsome face the conscious self-abasement, and the burning indignation of a hundred women, strong in passion and in pride; and there it hid itself with two white shuddering arms.
'What do you mean?' returned the angry mother. 'Haven't you from a child — '
'A child!' said Edith, looking at her, 'when was I a child? What childhood did you ever leave to me? I was a woman — artful, designing, mercenary, laying snares for men — before I knew myself, or you, or even understood the base and wretched aim of every new display I learnt You gave birth to a woman. Look upon her. She is in her pride tonight'
And as she spoke, she struck her hand upon her beautiful bosom, as though she would have beaten down herself 'Look at me,' she said, 'who have never known what it is to have an honest heart, and love. Look at me, taught to scheme and plot when children play; and married in my youth — an old age of design — to one for whom I had no feeling but indifference. Look at me, whom he left a widow, dying before his inheritance descended to him — a judgment on you! well deserved! — and tell me what has been my life for ten years since.'
'We have been making every effort to endeavour to secure to you a good establishment,' rejoined her mother. 'That has been your life.
And now you have got it.'
'There is no slave in a market: there is no horse in a fair: so shown and offered and examined and paraded, Mother, as I have been, for ten shameful years,' cried Edith, with a burning brow, and the same bitter emphasis on the one word. 'Is it not so? Have I been made the bye-word of all kinds of men? Have fools, have profligates, have boys, have dotards, dangled after me, and one by one rejected me, and fallen off, because you were too plain with all your cunning: yes, and too true, with all those false pretences: until we have almost come to be notorious? The licence of look and touch,' she said, with flashing eyes, 'have I submitted to it, in half the places of resort upon the map of England? Have I been hawked and vended here and there, until the last grain of self-respect is dead within me, and I loathe myself?
Has been my late childhood? I had none before. Do not tell me that I had, tonight of all nights in my life!'
'You might have been well married,' said her mother, 'twenty times at least, Edith, if you had given encouragement enough.'
'No! Who takes me, refuse that I am, and as I well deserve to be,' she answered, raising her head, and trembling in her energy of shame and stormy pride, 'shall take me, as this man does, with no art of mine put forth to lure him. He sees me at the auction, and he thinks it well to buy me. Let him! When he came to view me — perhaps to bid — he required to see the roll of my accomplishments. I gave it to him.
When he would have me show one of them, to justify his purchase to his men, I require of him to say which he demands, and I exhibit it. I will do no more. He makes the purchase of his own will, and with his own sense of its worth, and the power of his money; and I hope it may never disappoint him. I have not vaunted and pressed the bargain; neither have you, so far as I have been able to prevent you.
'You talk strangely to-night, Edith, to your own Mother.'
'It seems so to me; stranger to me than you,' said Edith. 'But my education was completed long ago. I am too old now, and have fallen too low, by degrees, to take a new course, and to stop yours, and to help myself. The germ of all that purifies a woman's breast, and makes it true and good, has never stirred in mine, and I have nothing else to sustain me when I despise myself.' There had been a touching sadness in her voice, but it was gone, when she went on to say, with a curled lip, 'So, as we are genteel and poor, I am content that we should be made rich by these means; all I say is, I have kept the only purpose I have had the strength to form — I had almost said the power, with you at my side, Mother — and have not tempted this man on.'
'This man! You speak,' said her mother, 'as if you hated him.'
'And you thought I loved him, did you not?' she answered, stopping on her way across the room, and looking round. 'Shall I tell you,' she continued, with her eyes fixed on her mother, 'who already knows us thoroughly, and reads us right, and before whom I have even less of self-respect or confidence than before my own inward self; being so much degraded by his knowledge of me?'
'This is an attack, I suppose,' returned her mother coldly, 'on poor, unfortunate what's-his-name — Mr Carker! Your want of self-respect and confidence, my dear, in reference to that person (who is very agreeable, it strikes me), is not likely to have much effect on your establishment. Why do you look at me so hard? Are you ill?'
Edith suddenly let fall her face, as if it had been stung, and while she pressed her hands upon it, a terrible tremble crept over her whole frame. It was quickly gone; and with her usual step, she passed out of the room.
The maid who should have been a skeleton, then reappeared, and giving one arm to her mistress, who appeared to have taken off her manner with her charms, and to have put on paralysis with her flannel gown, collected the ashes of Cleopatra, and carried them away in the other, ready for tomorrow's revivification.
'So the day has come at length, Susan,' said Florence to the excellent Nipper, 'when we are going back to our quiet home!'
Susan drew in her breath with an amount of expression not easily described, further relieving her feelings with a smart cough, answered, 'Very quiet indeed, Miss Floy, no doubt. Excessive so.'
'When I was a child,' said Florence, thoughtfully, and after musing for some moments, 'did you ever see that gentleman who has taken the trouble to ride down here to speak to me, now three times — three times, I think, Susan?'
'Three times, Miss,' returned the Nipper. 'Once when you was out a walking with them Sket— '
Florence gently looked at her, and Miss Nipper checked herself.
'With Sir Barnet and his lady, I mean to say, Miss, and the young gentleman. And two evenings since then.'
'When I was a child, and when company used to come to visit Papa, did you ever see that gentleman at home, Susan?' asked Florence.
'Well, Miss,' returned her maid, after considering, 'I really couldn't say I ever did. When your poor dear Ma died, Miss Floy, I was very new in the family, you see, and my element:' the Nipper bridled, as opining that her merits had been always designedly extinguished by Mr Dombey: 'was the floor below the attics.'
'To be sure,' said Florence, still thoughtfully; 'you are not likely to have known who came to the house. I quite forgot.'
'Not, Miss, but what we talked about the family and visitors,' said Susan, 'and but what I heard much said, although the nurse before Mrs Richards make unpleasant remarks when I was in company, and hint at little Pitchers, but that could only be attributed, poor thing,' observed Susan, with composed forbearance, 'to habits of intoxication, for which she was required to leave, and did.'
Florence, who was seated at her chamber window, with her face resting on her hand, sat looking out, and hardly seemed to hear what Susan said, she was so lost in thought.
'At all events, Miss,' said Susan, 'I remember very well that this same gentleman, Mr Carker, was almost, if not quite, as great a gentleman with your Papa then, as he is now. It used to be said in the house then, Miss, that he was at the head of all your Pa's affairs in the City, and managed the whole, and that your Pa minded him more than anybody, which, begging your pardon, Miss Floy, he might easy do, for he never minded anybody else. I knew that, Pitcher as I might have been.'