'I dare not think of that,' said Florence, 'I am come from Papa's sick bed. We are never asunder now; we never shall be' any more. If you would have me ask his pardon, I will do it, Mama. I am almost sure he will grant it now, if I ask him. May Heaven grant it to you, too, and comfort you!'
She answered not a word.
'Walter - I am married to him, and we have a son,' said Florence, timidly - 'is at the door, and has brought me here. I will tell him that you are repentant; that you are changed,' said Florence, looking mournfully upon her; 'and he will speak to Papa with me, I know. Is there anything but this that I can do?'
Edith, breaking her silence, without moving eye or limb, answered slowly:
'The stain upon your name, upon your husband's, on your child's. Will that ever be forgiven, Florence?'
'Will it ever be, Mama? It is! Freely, freely, both by Walter and by me. If that is any consolation to you, there is nothing that you may believe more certainly. You do not - you do not,' faltered Florence, 'speak of Papa; but I am sure you wish that I should ask him for his forgiveness. I am sure you do.'
She answered not a word.
'I will!' said Florence. 'I will bring it you, if you will let me; and then, perhaps, we may take leave of each other, more like what we used to be to one another. I have not,' said Florence very gently, and drawing nearer to her, 'I have not shrunk back from you, Mama, because I fear you, or because I dread to be disgraced by you. I only wish to do my duty to Papa. I am very dear to him, and he is very dear to me. But I never can forget that you were very good to me. Oh, pray to Heaven,' cried Florence, falling on her bosom, 'pray to Heaven, Mama, to forgive you all this sin and shame, and to forgive me if I cannot help doing this (if it is wrong), when I remember what you used to be!'
Edith, as if she fell beneath her touch, sunk down on her knees, and caught her round the neck.
'Florence!' she cried. 'My better angel! Before I am mad again, before my stubbornness comes back and strikes me dumb, believe me, upon my soul I am innocent!'
'Guilty of much! Guilty of that which sets a waste between us evermore. Guilty of what must separate me, through the whole remainder of my life, from purity and innocence - from you, of all the earth. Guilty of a blind and passionate resentment, of which I do not, cannot, will not, even now, repent; but not guilty with that dead man. Before God!'
Upon her knees upon the ground, she held up both her hands, and swore it.
'Florence!' she said, 'purest and best of natures, - whom I love - who might have changed me long ago, and did for a time work some change even in the woman that I am, - believe me, I am innocent of that; and once more, on my desolate heart, let me lay this dear head, for the last time!'
She was moved and weeping. Had she been oftener thus in older days, she had been happier now.
'There is nothing else in all the world,' she said, 'that would have wrung denial from me. No love, no hatred, no hope, no threat. I said that I would die, and make no sign. I could have done so, and I would, if we had never met, Florence.
'I trust,' said Cousin Feenix, ambling in at the door, and speaking, half in the room, and half out of it, 'that my lovely and accomplished relative will excuse my having, by a little stratagem, effected this meeting.