Part 16 out of 21
'And that's why I so much approve,' said Mrs. Markleham, tapping
him on the shoulder with her shut-up fan, 'of your thoughtfulness.
It shows that you don't expect, as many elderly people do expect,
old heads on young shoulders. You have studied Annie's character,
and you understand it. That's what I find so charming!'
Even the calm and patient face of Doctor Strong expressed some
little sense of pain, I thought, under the infliction of these
'Therefore, my dear Doctor,' said the Old Soldier, giving him
several affectionate taps, 'you may command me, at all times and
seasons. Now, do understand that I am entirely at your service.
I am ready to go with Annie to operas, concerts, exhibitions, all
kinds of places; and you shall never find that I am tired. Duty,
my dear Doctor, before every consideration in the universe!'
She was as good as her word. She was one of those people who can
bear a great deal of pleasure, and she never flinched in her
perseverance in the cause. She seldom got hold of the newspaper
(which she settled herself down in the softest chair in the house
to read through an eye-glass, every day, for two hours), but she
found out something that she was certain Annie would like to see.
It was in vain for Annie to protest that she was weary of such
things. Her mother's remonstrance always was, 'Now, my dear Annie,
I am sure you know better; and I must tell you, my love, that you
are not making a proper return for the kindness of Doctor Strong.'
This was usually said in the Doctor's presence, and appeared to me
to constitute Annie's principal inducement for withdrawing her
objections when she made any. But in general she resigned herself
to her mother, and went where the Old Soldier would.
It rarely happened now that Mr. Maldon accompanied them. Sometimes
my aunt and Dora were invited to do so, and accepted the
invitation. Sometimes Dora only was asked. The time had been,
when I should have been uneasy in her going; but reflection on what
had passed that former night in the Doctor's study, had made a
change in my mistrust. I believed that the Doctor was right, and
I had no worse suspicions.
My aunt rubbed her nose sometimes when she happened to be alone
with me, and said she couldn't make it out; she wished they were
happier; she didn't think our military friend (so she always called
the Old Soldier) mended the matter at all. My aunt further
expressed her opinion, 'that if our military friend would cut off
those butterflies, and give 'em to the chimney-sweepers for
May-day, it would look like the beginning of something sensible on
But her abiding reliance was on Mr. Dick. That man had evidently
an idea in his head, she said; and if he could only once pen it up
into a corner, which was his great difficulty, he would distinguish
himself in some extraordinary manner.
Unconscious of this prediction, Mr. Dick continued to occupy
precisely the same ground in reference to the Doctor and to Mrs.
Strong. He seemed neither to advance nor to recede. He appeared
to have settled into his original foundation, like a building; and
I must confess that my faith in his ever Moving, was not much
greater than if he had been a building.
But one night, when I had been married some months, Mr. Dick put
his head into the parlour, where I was writing alone (Dora having
gone out with my aunt to take tea with the two little birds), and
said, with a significant cough:
'You couldn't speak to me without inconveniencing yourself,
Trotwood, I am afraid?'
'Certainly, Mr. Dick,' said I; 'come in!'
'Trotwood,' said Mr. Dick, laying his finger on the side of his
nose, after he had shaken hands with me. 'Before I sit down, I
wish to make an observation. You know your aunt?'
'A little,' I replied.
'She is the most wonderful woman in the world, sir!'
After the delivery of this communication, which he shot out of
himself as if he were loaded with it, Mr. Dick sat down with
greater gravity than usual, and looked at me.
'Now, boy,' said Mr. Dick, 'I am going to put a question to you.'
'As many as you please,' said I.
'What do you consider me, sir?' asked Mr. Dick, folding his arms.
'A dear old friend,' said I.
'Thank you, Trotwood,' returned Mr. Dick, laughing, and reaching
across in high glee to shake hands with me. 'But I mean, boy,'
resuming his gravity, 'what do you consider me in this respect?'
touching his forehead.
I was puzzled how to answer, but he helped me with a word.
'Weak?' said Mr. Dick.
'Well,' I replied, dubiously. 'Rather so.'
'Exactly!' cried Mr. Dick, who seemed quite enchanted by my reply.
'That is, Trotwood, when they took some of the trouble out of
you-know-who's head, and put it you know where, there was a -' Mr.
Dick made his two hands revolve very fast about each other a great
number of times, and then brought them into collision, and rolled
them over and over one another, to express confusion. 'There was
that sort of thing done to me somehow. Eh?'
I nodded at him, and he nodded back again.
'In short, boy,' said Mr. Dick, dropping his voice to a whisper, 'I
I would have qualified that conclusion, but he stopped me.
'Yes, I am! She pretends I am not. She won't hear of it; but I
am. I know I am. If she hadn't stood my friend, sir, I should
have been shut up, to lead a dismal life these many years. But
I'll provide for her! I never spend the copying money. I put it
in a box. I have made a will. I'll leave it all to her. She
shall be rich - noble!'
Mr. Dick took out his pocket-handkerchief, and wiped his eyes. He
then folded it up with great care, pressed it smooth between his
two hands, put it in his pocket, and seemed to put my aunt away
'Now you are a scholar, Trotwood,' said Mr. Dick. 'You are a fine
scholar. You know what a learned man, what a great man, the Doctor
is. You know what honour he has always done me. Not proud in his
wisdom. Humble, humble - condescending even to poor Dick, who is
simple and knows nothing. I have sent his name up, on a scrap of
paper, to the kite, along the string, when it has been in the sky,
among the larks. The kite has been glad to receive it, sir, and
the sky has been brighter with it.'
I delighted him by saying, most heartily, that the Doctor was
deserving of our best respect and highest esteem.
'And his beautiful wife is a star,' said Mr. Dick. 'A shining
star. I have seen her shine, sir. But,' bringing his chair
nearer, and laying one hand upon my knee - 'clouds, sir - clouds.'
I answered the solicitude which his face expressed, by conveying
the same expression into my own, and shaking my head.
'What clouds?' said Mr. Dick.
He looked so wistfully into my face, and was so anxious to
understand, that I took great pains to answer him slowly and
distinctly, as I might have entered on an explanation to a child.
'There is some unfortunate division between them,' I replied.
'Some unhappy cause of separation. A secret. It may be
inseparable from the discrepancy in their years. It may have grown
up out of almost nothing.'
Mr. Dick, who had told off every sentence with a thoughtful nod,
paused when I had done, and sat considering, with his eyes upon my
face, and his hand upon my knee.
'Doctor not angry with her, Trotwood?' he said, after some time.
'No. Devoted to her.'
'Then, I have got it, boy!' said Mr. Dick.
The sudden exultation with which he slapped me on the knee, and
leaned back in his chair, with his eyebrows lifted up as high as he
could possibly lift them, made me think him farther out of his wits
than ever. He became as suddenly grave again, and leaning forward
as before, said - first respectfully taking out his
pocket-handkerchief, as if it really did represent my aunt:
'Most wonderful woman in the world, Trotwood. Why has she done
nothing to set things right?'
'Too delicate and difficult a subject for such interference,' I
'Fine scholar,' said Mr. Dick, touching me with his finger. 'Why
has HE done nothing?'
'For the same reason,' I returned.
'Then, I have got it, boy!' said Mr. Dick. And he stood up before
me, more exultingly than before, nodding his head, and striking
himself repeatedly upon the breast, until one might have supposed
that he had nearly nodded and struck all the breath out of his
'A poor fellow with a craze, sir,' said Mr. Dick, 'a simpleton, a
weak-minded person - present company, you know!' striking himself
again, 'may do what wonderful people may not do. I'll bring them
together, boy. I'll try. They'll not blame me. They'll not
object to me. They'll not mind what I do, if it's wrong. I'm only
Mr. Dick. And who minds Dick? Dick's nobody! Whoo!' He blew a
slight, contemptuous breath, as if he blew himself away.
It was fortunate he had proceeded so far with his mystery, for we
heard the coach stop at the little garden gate, which brought my
aunt and Dora home.
'Not a word, boy!' he pursued in a whisper; 'leave all the blame
with Dick - simple Dick - mad Dick. I have been thinking, sir, for
some time, that I was getting it, and now I have got it. After
what you have said to me, I am sure I have got it. All right!' Not
another word did Mr. Dick utter on the subject; but he made a very
telegraph of himself for the next half-hour (to the great
disturbance of my aunt's mind), to enjoin inviolable secrecy on me.
To my surprise, I heard no more about it for some two or three
weeks, though I was sufficiently interested in the result of his
endeavours; descrying a strange gleam of good sense - I say nothing
of good feeling, for that he always exhibited - in the conclusion
to which he had come. At last I began to believe, that, in the
flighty and unsettled state of his mind, he had either forgotten
his intention or abandoned it.
One fair evening, when Dora was not inclined to go out, my aunt and
I strolled up to the Doctor's cottage. It was autumn, when there
were no debates to vex the evening air; and I remember how the
leaves smelt like our garden at Blunderstone as we trod them under
foot, and how the old, unhappy feeling, seemed to go by, on the
It was twilight when we reached the cottage. Mrs. Strong was just
coming out of the garden, where Mr. Dick yet lingered, busy with
his knife, helping the gardener to point some stakes. The Doctor
was engaged with someone in his study; but the visitor would be
gone directly, Mrs. Strong said, and begged us to remain and see
him. We went into the drawing-room with her, and sat down by the
darkening window. There was never any ceremony about the visits of
such old friends and neighbours as we were.
We had not sat here many minutes, when Mrs. Markleham, who usually
contrived to be in a fuss about something, came bustling in, with
her newspaper in her hand, and said, out of breath, 'My goodness
gracious, Annie, why didn't you tell me there was someone in the
'My dear mama,' she quietly returned, 'how could I know that you
desired the information?'
'Desired the information!' said Mrs. Markleham, sinking on the
sofa. 'I never had such a turn in all my life!'
'Have you been to the Study, then, mama?' asked Annie.
'BEEN to the Study, my dear!' she returned emphatically. 'Indeed
I have! I came upon the amiable creature - if you'll imagine my
feelings, Miss Trotwood and David - in the act of making his will.'
Her daughter looked round from the window quickly.
'In the act, my dear Annie,' repeated Mrs. Markleham, spreading the
newspaper on her lap like a table-cloth, and patting her hands upon
it, 'of making his last Will and Testament. The foresight and
affection of the dear! I must tell you how it was. I really must,
in justice to the darling - for he is nothing less! - tell you how
it was. Perhaps you know, Miss Trotwood, that there is never a
candle lighted in this house, until one's eyes are literally
falling out of one's head with being stretched to read the paper.
And that there is not a chair in this house, in which a paper can
be what I call, read, except one in the Study. This took me to the
Study, where I saw a light. I opened the door. In company with
the dear Doctor were two professional people, evidently connected
with the law, and they were all three standing at the table: the
darling Doctor pen in hand. "This simply expresses then," said the
Doctor - Annie, my love, attend to the very words - "this simply
expresses then, gentlemen, the confidence I have in Mrs. Strong,
and gives her all unconditionally?" One of the professional people
replied, "And gives her all unconditionally." Upon that, with the
natural feelings of a mother, I said, "Good God, I beg your
pardon!" fell over the door-step, and came away through the little
back passage where the pantry is.'
Mrs. Strong opened the window, and went out into the verandah,
where she stood leaning against a pillar.
'But now isn't it, Miss Trotwood, isn't it, David, invigorating,'
said Mrs. Markleham, mechanically following her with her eyes, 'to
find a man at Doctor Strong's time of life, with the strength of
mind to do this kind of thing? It only shows how right I was. I
said to Annie, when Doctor Strong paid a very flattering visit to
myself, and made her the subject of a declaration and an offer, I
said, "My dear, there is no doubt whatever, in my opinion, with
reference to a suitable provision for you, that Doctor Strong will
do more than he binds himself to do."'
Here the bell rang, and we heard the sound of the visitors' feet as
they went out.
'It's all over, no doubt,' said the Old Soldier, after listening;
'the dear creature has signed, sealed, and delivered, and his
mind's at rest. Well it may be! What a mind! Annie, my love, I
am going to the Study with my paper, for I am a poor creature
without news. Miss Trotwood, David, pray come and see the Doctor.'
I was conscious of Mr. Dick's standing in the shadow of the room,
shutting up his knife, when we accompanied her to the Study; and of
my aunt's rubbing her nose violently, by the way, as a mild vent
for her intolerance of our military friend; but who got first into
the Study, or how Mrs. Markleham settled herself in a moment in her
easy-chair, or how my aunt and I came to be left together near the
door (unless her eyes were quicker than mine, and she held me
back), I have forgotten, if I ever knew. But this I know, - that
we saw the Doctor before he saw us, sitting at his table, among the
folio volumes in which he delighted, resting his head calmly on his
hand. That, in the same moment, we saw Mrs. Strong glide in, pale
and trembling. That Mr. Dick supported her on his arm. That he
laid his other hand upon the Doctor's arm, causing him to look up
with an abstracted air. That, as the Doctor moved his head, his
wife dropped down on one knee at his feet, and, with her hands
imploringly lifted, fixed upon his face the memorable look I had
never forgotten. That at this sight Mrs. Markleham dropped the
newspaper, and stared more like a figure-head intended for a ship
to be called The Astonishment, than anything else I can think of.
The gentleness of the Doctor's manner and surprise, the dignity
that mingled with the supplicating attitude of his wife, the
amiable concern of Mr. Dick, and the earnestness with which my aunt
said to herself, 'That man mad!' (triumphantly expressive of the
misery from which she had saved him) - I see and hear, rather than
remember, as I write about it.
'Doctor!' said Mr. Dick. 'What is it that's amiss? Look here!'
'Annie!' cried the Doctor. 'Not at my feet, my dear!'
'Yes!' she said. 'I beg and pray that no one will leave the room!
Oh, my husband and father, break this long silence. Let us both
know what it is that has come between us!'
Mrs. Markleham, by this time recovering the power of speech, and
seeming to swell with family pride and motherly indignation, here
exclaimed, 'Annie, get up immediately, and don't disgrace everybody
belonging to you by humbling yourself like that, unless you wish to
see me go out of my mind on the spot!'
'Mama!' returned Annie. 'Waste no words on me, for my appeal is to
my husband, and even you are nothing here.'
'Nothing!' exclaimed Mrs. Markleham. 'Me, nothing! The child has
taken leave of her senses. Please to get me a glass of water!'
I was too attentive to the Doctor and his wife, to give any heed to
this request; and it made no impression on anybody else; so Mrs.
Markleham panted, stared, and fanned herself.
'Annie!' said the Doctor, tenderly taking her in his hands. 'My
dear! If any unavoidable change has come, in the sequence of time,
upon our married life, you are not to blame. The fault is mine,
and only mine. There is no change in my affection, admiration, and
respect. I wish to make you happy. I truly love and honour you.
Rise, Annie, pray!'
But she did not rise. After looking at him for a little while, she
sank down closer to him, laid her arm across his knee, and dropping
her head upon it, said:
'If I have any friend here, who can speak one word for me, or for
my husband in this matter; if I have any friend here, who can give
a voice to any suspicion that my heart has sometimes whispered to
me; if I have any friend here, who honours my husband, or has ever
cared for me, and has anything within his knowledge, no matter what
it is, that may help to mediate between us, I implore that friend
There was a profound silence. After a few moments of painful
hesitation, I broke the silence.
'Mrs. Strong,' I said, 'there is something within my knowledge,
which I have been earnestly entreated by Doctor Strong to conceal,
and have concealed until tonight. But, I believe the time has come
when it would be mistaken faith and delicacy to conceal it any
longer, and when your appeal absolves me from his injunction.'
She turned her face towards me for a moment, and I knew that I was
right. I could not have resisted its entreaty, if the assurance
that it gave me had been less convincing.
'Our future peace,' she said, 'may be in your hands. I trust it
confidently to your not suppressing anything. I know beforehand
that nothing you, or anyone, can tell me, will show my husband's
noble heart in any other light than one. Howsoever it may seem to
you to touch me, disregard that. I will speak for myself, before
him, and before God afterwards.'
Thus earnestly besought, I made no reference to the Doctor for his
permission, but, without any other compromise of the truth than a
little softening of the coarseness of Uriah Heep, related plainly
what had passed in that same room that night. The staring of Mrs.
Markleham during the whole narration, and the shrill, sharp
interjections with which she occasionally interrupted it, defy
When I had finished, Annie remained, for some few moments, silent,
with her head bent down, as I have described. Then, she took the
Doctor's hand (he was sitting in the same attitude as when we had
entered the room), and pressed it to her breast, and kissed it.
Mr. Dick softly raised her; and she stood, when she began to speak,
leaning on him, and looking down upon her husband - from whom she
never turned her eyes.
'All that has ever been in my mind, since I was married,' she said
in a low, submissive, tender voice, 'I will lay bare before you.
I could not live and have one reservation, knowing what I know
'Nay, Annie,' said the Doctor, mildly, 'I have never doubted you,
my child. There is no need; indeed there is no need, my dear.'
'There is great need,' she answered, in the same way, 'that I
should open my whole heart before the soul of generosity and truth,
whom, year by year, and day by day, I have loved and venerated more
and more, as Heaven knows!'
'Really,' interrupted Mrs. Markleham, 'if I have any discretion at
('Which you haven't, you Marplot,' observed my aunt, in an
- 'I must be permitted to observe that it cannot be requisite to
enter into these details.'
'No one but my husband can judge of that, mama,' said Annie without
removing her eyes from his face, 'and he will hear me. If I say
anything to give you pain, mama, forgive me. I have borne pain
first, often and long, myself.'
'Upon my word!' gasped Mrs. Markleham.
'When I was very young,' said Annie, 'quite a little child, my
first associations with knowledge of any kind were inseparable from
a patient friend and teacher - the friend of my dead father - who
was always dear to me. I can remember nothing that I know, without
remembering him. He stored my mind with its first treasures, and
stamped his character upon them all. They never could have been,
I think, as good as they have been to me, if I had taken them from
any other hands.'
'Makes her mother nothing!' exclaimed Mrs. Markleham.
'Not so mama,' said Annie; 'but I make him what he was. I must do
that. As I grew up, he occupied the same place still. I was proud
of his interest: deeply, fondly, gratefully attached to him. I
looked up to him, I can hardly describe how - as a father, as a
guide, as one whose praise was different from all other praise, as
one in whom I could have trusted and confided, if I had doubted all
the world. You know, mama, how young and inexperienced I was, when
you presented him before me, of a sudden, as a lover.'
'I have mentioned the fact, fifty times at least, to everybody
here!' said Mrs. Markleham.
('Then hold your tongue, for the Lord's sake, and don't mention it
any more!' muttered my aunt.)
'It was so great a change: so great a loss, I felt it, at first,'
said Annie, still preserving the same look and tone, 'that I was
agitated and distressed. I was but a girl; and when so great a
change came in the character in which I had so long looked up to
him, I think I was sorry. But nothing could have made him what he
used to be again; and I was proud that he should think me so
worthy, and we were married.'
'- At Saint Alphage, Canterbury,' observed Mrs. Markleham.
('Confound the woman!' said my aunt, 'she WON'T be quiet!')
'I never thought,' proceeded Annie, with a heightened colour, 'of
any worldly gain that my husband would bring to me. My young heart
had no room in its homage for any such poor reference. Mama,
forgive me when I say that it was you who first presented to my
mind the thought that anyone could wrong me, and wrong him, by such
a cruel suspicion.'
'Me!' cried Mrs. Markleham.
('Ah! You, to be sure!' observed my aunt, 'and you can't fan it
away, my military friend!')
'It was the first unhappiness of my new life,' said Annie. 'It was
the first occasion of every unhappy moment I have known. These
moments have been more, of late, than I can count; but not - my
generous husband! - not for the reason you suppose; for in my heart
there is not a thought, a recollection, or a hope, that any power
could separate from you!'
She raised her eyes, and clasped her hands, and looked as beautiful
and true, I thought, as any Spirit. The Doctor looked on her,
henceforth, as steadfastly as she on him.
'Mama is blameless,' she went on, 'of having ever urged you for
herself, and she is blameless in intention every way, I am sure, -
but when I saw how many importunate claims were pressed upon you in
my name; how you were traded on in my name; how generous you were,
and how Mr. Wickfield, who had your welfare very much at heart,
resented it; the first sense of my exposure to the mean suspicion
that my tenderness was bought - and sold to you, of all men on
earth - fell upon me like unmerited disgrace, in which I forced you
to participate. I cannot tell you what it was - mama cannot
imagine what it was - to have this dread and trouble always on my
mind, yet know in my own soul that on my marriage-day I crowned the
love and honour of my life!'
'A specimen of the thanks one gets,' cried Mrs. Markleham, in
tears, 'for taking care of one's family! I wish I was a Turk!'
('I wish you were, with all my heart - and in your native country!'
said my aunt.)
'It was at that time that mama was most solicitous about my Cousin
Maldon. I had liked him': she spoke softly, but without any
hesitation: 'very much. We had been little lovers once. If
circumstances had not happened otherwise, I might have come to
persuade myself that I really loved him, and might have married
him, and been most wretched. There can be no disparity in marriage
like unsuitability of mind and purpose.'
I pondered on those words, even while I was studiously attending to
what followed, as if they had some particular interest, or some
strange application that I could not divine. 'There can be no
disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose' -'no
disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.'
'There is nothing,' said Annie, 'that we have in common. I have
long found that there is nothing. If I were thankful to my husband
for no more, instead of for so much, I should be thankful to him
for having saved me from the first mistaken impulse of my
She stood quite still, before the Doctor, and spoke with an
earnestness that thrilled me. Yet her voice was just as quiet as
'When he was waiting to be the object of your munificence, so
freely bestowed for my sake, and when I was unhappy in the
mercenary shape I was made to wear, I thought it would have become
him better to have worked his own way on. I thought that if I had
been he, I would have tried to do it, at the cost of almost any
hardship. But I thought no worse of him, until the night of his
departure for India. That night I knew he had a false and
thankless heart. I saw a double meaning, then, in Mr. Wickfield's
scrutiny of me. I perceived, for the first time, the dark
suspicion that shadowed my life.'
'Suspicion, Annie!' said the Doctor. 'No, no, no!'
'In your mind there was none, I know, my husband!' she returned.
'And when I came to you, that night, to lay down all my load of
shame and grief, and knew that I had to tell that, underneath your
roof, one of my own kindred, to whom you had been a benefactor, for
the love of me, had spoken to me words that should have found no
utterance, even if I had been the weak and mercenary wretch he
thought me - my mind revolted from the taint the very tale
conveyed. It died upon my lips, and from that hour till now has
never passed them.'
Mrs. Markleham, with a short groan, leaned back in her easy-chair;
and retired behind her fan, as if she were never coming out any
'I have never, but in your presence, interchanged a word with him
from that time; then, only when it has been necessary for the
avoidance of this explanation. Years have passed since he knew,
from me, what his situation here was. The kindnesses you have
secretly done for his advancement, and then disclosed to me, for my
surprise and pleasure, have been, you will believe, but
aggravations of the unhappiness and burden of my secret.'
She sunk down gently at the Doctor's feet, though he did his utmost
to prevent her; and said, looking up, tearfully, into his face:
'Do not speak to me yet! Let me say a little more! Right or
wrong, if this were to be done again, I think I should do just the
same. You never can know what it was to be devoted to you, with
those old associations; to find that anyone could be so hard as to
suppose that the truth of my heart was bartered away, and to be
surrounded by appearances confirming that belief. I was very
young, and had no adviser. Between mama and me, in all relating to
you, there was a wide division. If I shrunk into myself, hiding
the disrespect I had undergone, it was because I honoured you so
much, and so much wished that you should honour me!'
'Annie, my pure heart!' said the Doctor, 'my dear girl!'
'A little more! a very few words more! I used to think there were
so many whom you might have married, who would not have brought
such charge and trouble on you, and who would have made your home
a worthier home. I used to be afraid that I had better have
remained your pupil, and almost your child. I used to fear that I
was so unsuited to your learning and wisdom. If all this made me
shrink within myself (as indeed it did), when I had that to tell,
it was still because I honoured you so much, and hoped that you
might one day honour me.'
'That day has shone this long time, Annie,' said the Doctor, and
can have but one long night, my dear.'
'Another word! I afterwards meant - steadfastly meant, and
purposed to myself - to bear the whole weight of knowing the
unworthiness of one to whom you had been so good. And now a last
word, dearest and best of friends! The cause of the late change in
you, which I have seen with so much pain and sorrow, and have
sometimes referred to my old apprehension - at other times to
lingering suppositions nearer to the truth - has been made clear
tonight; and by an accident I have also come to know, tonight, the
full measure of your noble trust in me, even under that mistake.
I do not hope that any love and duty I may render in return, will
ever make me worthy of your priceless confidence; but with all this
knowledge fresh upon me, I can lift my eyes to this dear face,
revered as a father's, loved as a husband's, sacred to me in my
childhood as a friend's, and solemnly declare that in my lightest
thought I have never wronged you; never wavered in the love and the
fidelity I owe you!'
She had her arms around the Doctor's neck, and he leant his head
down over her, mingling his grey hair with her dark brown tresses.
'Oh, hold me to your heart, my husband! Never cast me out! Do not
think or speak of disparity between us, for there is none, except
in all my many imperfections. Every succeeding year I have known
this better, as I have esteemed you more and more. Oh, take me to
your heart, my husband, for my love was founded on a rock, and it
In the silence that ensued, my aunt walked gravely up to Mr. Dick,
without at all hurrying herself, and gave him a hug and a sounding
kiss. And it was very fortunate, with a view to his credit, that
she did so; for I am confident that I detected him at that moment
in the act of making preparations to stand on one leg, as an
appropriate expression of delight.
'You are a very remarkable man, Dick!' said my aunt, with an air of
unqualified approbation; 'and never pretend to be anything else,
for I know better!'
With that, my aunt pulled him by the sleeve, and nodded to me; and
we three stole quietly out of the room, and came away.
'That's a settler for our military friend, at any rate,' said my
aunt, on the way home. 'I should sleep the better for that, if
there was nothing else to be glad of!'
'She was quite overcome, I am afraid,' said Mr. Dick, with great
'What! Did you ever see a crocodile overcome?' inquired my aunt.
'I don't think I ever saw a crocodile,' returned Mr. Dick, mildly.
'There never would have been anything the matter, if it hadn't been
for that old Animal,' said my aunt, with strong emphasis. 'It's
very much to be wished that some mothers would leave their
daughters alone after marriage, and not be so violently
affectionate. They seem to think the only return that can be made
them for bringing an unfortunate young woman into the world - God
bless my soul, as if she asked to be brought, or wanted to come! -
is full liberty to worry her out of it again. What are you
thinking of, Trot?'
I was thinking of all that had been said. My mind was still
running on some of the expressions used. 'There can be no
disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.'
'The first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart.' 'My love
was founded on a rock.' But we were at home; and the trodden
leaves were lying under-foot, and the autumn wind was blowing.
I must have been married, if I may trust to my imperfect memory for
dates, about a year or so, when one evening, as I was returning
from a solitary walk, thinking of the book I was then writing - for
my success had steadily increased with my steady application, and
I was engaged at that time upon my first work of fiction - I came
past Mrs. Steerforth's house. I had often passed it before, during
my residence in that neighbourhood, though never when I could
choose another road. Howbeit, it did sometimes happen that it was
not easy to find another, without making a long circuit; and so I
had passed that way, upon the whole, pretty often.
I had never done more than glance at the house, as I went by with
a quickened step. It had been uniformly gloomy and dull. None of
the best rooms abutted on the road; and the narrow, heavily-framed
old-fashioned windows, never cheerful under any circumstances,
looked very dismal, close shut, and with their blinds always drawn
down. There was a covered way across a little paved court, to an
entrance that was never used; and there was one round staircase
window, at odds with all the rest, and the only one unshaded by a
blind, which had the same unoccupied blank look. I do not remember
that I ever saw a light in all the house. If I had been a casual
passer-by, I should have probably supposed that some childless
person lay dead in it. If I had happily possessed no knowledge of
the place, and had seen it often in that changeless state, I should
have pleased my fancy with many ingenious speculations, I dare say.
As it was, I thought as little of it as I might. But my mind could
not go by it and leave it, as my body did; and it usually awakened
a long train of meditations. Coming before me, on this particular
evening that I mention, mingled with the childish recollections and
later fancies, the ghosts of half-formed hopes, the broken shadows
of disappointments dimly seen and understood, the blending of
experience and imagination, incidental to the occupation with which
my thoughts had been busy, it was more than commonly suggestive.
I fell into a brown study as I walked on, and a voice at my side
made me start.
It was a woman's voice, too. I was not long in recollecting Mrs.
Steerforth's little parlour-maid, who had formerly worn blue
ribbons in her cap. She had taken them out now, to adapt herself,
I suppose, to the altered character of the house; and wore but one
or two disconsolate bows of sober brown.
'If you please, sir, would you have the goodness to walk in, and
speak to Miss Dartle?'
'Has Miss Dartle sent you for me?' I inquired.
'Not tonight, sir, but it's just the same. Miss Dartle saw you
a night or two ago; and I was to sit at work on the staircase, and
when I saw you pass again, to ask you to step in and speak to her.'
I turned back, and inquired of my conductor, as we went along, how
Mrs. Steerforth was. She said her lady was but poorly, and kept
her own room a good deal.
When we arrived at the house, I was directed to Miss Dartle in the
garden, and left to make my presence known to her myself. She was
sitting on a seat at one end of a kind of terrace, overlooking the
great city. It was a sombre evening, with a lurid light in the
sky; and as I saw the prospect scowling in the distance, with here
and there some larger object starting up into the sullen glare, I
fancied it was no inapt companion to the memory of this fierce
She saw me as I advanced, and rose for a moment to receive me. I
thought her, then, still more colourless and thin than when I had
seen her last; the flashing eyes still brighter, and the scar still
Our meeting was not cordial. We had parted angrily on the last
occasion; and there was an air of disdain about her, which she took
no pains to conceal.
'I am told you wish to speak to me, Miss Dartle,' said I, standing
near her, with my hand upon the back of the seat, and declining her
gesture of invitation to sit down.
'If you please,' said she. 'Pray has this girl been found?'
'And yet she has run away!'
I saw her thin lips working while she looked at me, as if they were
eager to load her with reproaches.
'Run away?' I repeated.
'Yes! From him,' she said, with a laugh. 'If she is not found,
perhaps she never will be found. She may be dead!'
The vaunting cruelty with which she met my glance, I never saw
expressed in any other face that ever I have seen.
'To wish her dead,' said I, 'may be the kindest wish that one of
her own sex could bestow upon her. I am glad that time has
softened you so much, Miss Dartle.'
She condescended to make no reply, but, turning on me with another
scornful laugh, said:
'The friends of this excellent and much-injured young lady are
friends of yours. You are their champion, and assert their rights.
Do you wish to know what is known of her?'
'Yes,' said I.
She rose with an ill-favoured smile, and taking a few steps towards
a wall of holly that was near at hand, dividing the lawn from a
kitchen-garden, said, in a louder voice, 'Come here!' - as if she
were calling to some unclean beast.
'You will restrain any demonstrative championship or vengeance in
this place, of course, Mr. Copperfield?' said she, looking over her
shoulder at me with the same expression.
I inclined my head, without knowing what she meant; and she said,
'Come here!' again; and returned, followed by the respectable Mr.
Littimer, who, with undiminished respectability, made me a bow, and
took up his position behind her. The air of wicked grace: of
triumph, in which, strange to say, there was yet something feminine
and alluring: with which she reclined upon the seat between us, and
looked at me, was worthy of a cruel Princess in a Legend.
'Now,' said she, imperiously, without glancing at him, and touching
the old wound as it throbbed: perhaps, in this instance, with
pleasure rather than pain. 'Tell Mr. Copperfield about the
'Mr. James and myself, ma'am -'
'Don't address yourself to me!' she interrupted with a frown.
'Mr. James and myself, sir -'
'Nor to me, if you please,' said I.
Mr. Littimer, without being at all discomposed, signified by a
slight obeisance, that anything that was most agreeable to us was
most agreeable to him; and began again.
'Mr. James and myself have been abroad with the young woman, ever
since she left Yarmouth under Mr. james's protection. We have been
in a variety of places, and seen a deal of foreign country. We
have been in France, Switzerland, Italy, in fact, almost all
He looked at the back of the seat, as if he were addressing himself
to that; and softly played upon it with his hands, as if he were
striking chords upon a dumb piano.
'Mr. James took quite uncommonly to the young woman; and was more
settled, for a length of time, than I have known him to be since I
have been in his service. The young woman was very improvable, and
spoke the languages; and wouldn't have been known for the same
country-person. I noticed that she was much admired wherever we
Miss Dartle put her hand upon her side. I saw him steal a glance
at her, and slightly smile to himself.
'Very much admired, indeed, the young woman was. What with her
dress; what with the air and sun; what with being made so much of;
what with this, that, and the other; her merits really attracted
He made a short pause. Her eyes wandered restlessly over the
distant prospect, and she bit her nether lip to stop that busy
Taking his hands from the seat, and placing one of them within the
other, as he settled himself on one leg, Mr. Littimer proceeded,
with his eyes cast down, and his respectable head a little
advanced, and a little on one side:
'The young woman went on in this manner for some time, being
occasionally low in her spirits, until I think she began to weary
Mr. James by giving way to her low spirits and tempers of that
kind; and things were not so comfortable. Mr. James he began to be
restless again. The more restless he got, the worse she got; and
I must say, for myself, that I had a very difficult time of it
indeed between the two. Still matters were patched up here, and
made good there, over and over again; and altogether lasted, I am
sure, for a longer time than anybody could have expected.'
Recalling her eyes from the distance, she looked at me again now,
with her former air. Mr. Littimer, clearing his throat behind his
hand with a respectable short cough, changed legs, and went on:
'At last, when there had been, upon the whole, a good many words
and reproaches, Mr. James he set off one morning, from the
neighbourhood of Naples, where we had a villa (the young woman
being very partial to the sea), and, under pretence of coming back
in a day or so, left it in charge with me to break it out, that,
for the general happiness of all concerned, he was' - here an
interruption of the short cough - 'gone. But Mr. James, I must
say, certainly did behave extremely honourable; for he proposed
that the young woman should marry a very respectable person, who
was fully prepared to overlook the past, and who was, at least, as
good as anybody the young woman could have aspired to in a regular
way: her connexions being very common.'
He changed legs again, and wetted his lips. I was convinced that
the scoundrel spoke of himself, and I saw my conviction reflected
in Miss Dartle's face.
'This I also had it in charge to communicate. I was willing to do
anything to relieve Mr. James from his difficulty, and to restore
harmony between himself and an affectionate parent, who has
undergone so much on his account. Therefore I undertook the
commission. The young woman's violence when she came to, after I
broke the fact of his departure, was beyond all expectations. She
was quite mad, and had to be held by force; or, if she couldn't
have got to a knife, or got to the sea, she'd have beaten her head
against the marble floor.'
Miss Dartle, leaning back upon the seat, with a light of exultation
in her face, seemed almost to caress the sounds this fellow had
'But when I came to the second part of what had been entrusted to
me,' said Mr. Littimer, rubbing his hands uneasily, 'which anybody
might have supposed would have been, at all events, appreciated as
a kind intention, then the young woman came out in her true
colours. A more outrageous person I never did see. Her conduct
was surprisingly bad. She had no more gratitude, no more feeling,
no more patience, no more reason in her, than a stock or a stone.
If I hadn't been upon my guard, I am convinced she would have had
'I think the better of her for it,' said I, indignantly.
Mr. Littimer bent his head, as much as to say, 'Indeed, sir? But
you're young!' and resumed his narrative.
'It was necessary, in short, for a time, to take away everything
nigh her, that she could do herself, or anybody else, an injury
with, and to shut her up close. Notwithstanding which, she got out
in the night; forced the lattice of a window, that I had nailed up
myself; dropped on a vine that was trailed below; and never has
been seen or heard of, to my knowledge, since.'
'She is dead, perhaps,' said Miss Dartle, with a smile, as if she
could have spurned the body of the ruined girl.
'She may have drowned herself, miss,' returned Mr. Littimer,
catching at an excuse for addressing himself to somebody. 'It's
very possible. Or, she may have had assistance from the boatmen,
and the boatmen's wives and children. Being given to low company,
she was very much in the habit of talking to them on the beach,
Miss Dartle, and sitting by their boats. I have known her do it,
when Mr. James has been away, whole days. Mr. James was far from
pleased to find out, once, that she had told the children she was
a boatman's daughter, and that in her own country, long ago, she
had roamed about the beach, like them.'
Oh, Emily! Unhappy beauty! What a picture rose before me of her
sitting on the far-off shore, among the children like herself when
she was innocent, listening to little voices such as might have
called her Mother had she been a poor man's wife; and to the great
voice of the sea, with its eternal 'Never more!'
'When it was clear that nothing could be done, Miss Dartle -'
'Did I tell you not to speak to me?' she said, with stern contempt.
'You spoke to me, miss,' he replied. 'I beg your pardon. But it
is my service to obey.'
'Do your service,' she returned. 'Finish your story, and go!'
'When it was clear,' he said, with infinite respectability and an
obedient bow, 'that she was not to be found, I went to Mr. James,
at the place where it had been agreed that I should write to him,
and informed him of what had occurred. Words passed between us in
consequence, and I felt it due to my character to leave him. I
could bear, and I have borne, a great deal from Mr. James; but he
insulted me too far. He hurt me. Knowing the unfortunate
difference between himself and his mother, and what her anxiety of
mind was likely to be, I took the liberty of coming home to
England, and relating -'
'For money which I paid him,' said Miss Dartle to me.
'Just so, ma'am - and relating what I knew. I am not aware,' said
Mr. Littimer, after a moment's reflection, 'that there is anything
else. I am at present out of employment, and should be happy to
meet with a respectable situation.'
Miss Dartle glanced at me, as though she would inquire if there
were anything that I desired to ask. As there was something which
had occurred to my mind, I said in reply:
'I could wish to know from this - creature,' I could not bring
myself to utter any more conciliatory word, 'whether they
intercepted a letter that was written to her from home, or whether
he supposes that she received it.'
He remained calm and silent, with his eyes fixed on the ground, and
the tip of every finger of his right hand delicately poised against
the tip of every finger of his left.
Miss Dartle turned her head disdainfully towards him.
'I beg your pardon, miss,' he said, awakening from his abstraction,
'but, however submissive to you, I have my position, though a
servant. Mr. Copperfield and you, miss, are different people. If
Mr. Copperfield wishes to know anything from me, I take the liberty
of reminding Mr. Copperfield that he can put a question to me. I
have a character to maintain.'
After a momentary struggle with myself, I turned my eyes upon him,
and said, 'You have heard my question. Consider it addressed to
yourself, if you choose. What answer do you make?'
'Sir,' he rejoined, with an occasional separation and reunion of
those delicate tips, 'my answer must be qualified; because, to
betray Mr. james's confidence to his mother, and to betray it to
you, are two different actions. It is not probable, I consider,
that Mr. James would encourage the receipt of letters likely to
increase low spirits and unpleasantness; but further than that,
sir, I should wish to avoid going.'
'Is that all?' inquired Miss Dartle of me.
I indicated that I had nothing more to say. 'Except,' I added, as
I saw him moving off, 'that I understand this fellow's part in the
wicked story, and that, as I shall make it known to the honest man
who has been her father from her childhood, I would recommend him
to avoid going too much into public.'
He had stopped the moment I began, and had listened with his usual
repose of manner.
'Thank you, sir. But you'll excuse me if I say, sir, that there
are neither slaves nor slave-drivers in this country, and that
people are not allowed to take the law into their own hands. If
they do, it is more to their own peril, I believe, than to other
people's. Consequently speaking, I am not at all afraid of going
wherever I may wish, sir.'
With that, he made a polite bow; and, with another to Miss Dartle,
went away through the arch in the wall of holly by which he had
come. Miss Dartle and I regarded each other for a little while in
silence; her manner being exactly what it was, when she had
produced the man.
'He says besides,' she observed, with a slow curling of her lip,
'that his master, as he hears, is coasting Spain; and this done, is
away to gratify his seafaring tastes till he is weary. But this is
of no interest to you. Between these two proud persons, mother and
son, there is a wider breach than before, and little hope of its
healing, for they are one at heart, and time makes each more
obstinate and imperious. Neither is this of any interest to you;
but it introduces what I wish to say. This devil whom you make an
angel of. I mean this low girl whom he picked out of the
tide-mud,' with her black eyes full upon me, and her passionate
finger up, 'may be alive, - for I believe some common things are
hard to die. If she is, you will desire to have a pearl of such
price found and taken care of. We desire that, too; that he may
not by any chance be made her prey again. So far, we are united in
one interest; and that is why I, who would do her any mischief that
so coarse a wretch is capable of feeling, have sent for you to hear
what you have heard.'
I saw, by the change in her face, that someone was advancing behind
me. It was Mrs. Steerforth, who gave me her hand more coldly than
of yore, and with an augmentation of her former stateliness of
manner, but still, I perceived - and I was touched by it - with an
ineffaceable remembrance of my old love for her son. She was
greatly altered. Her fine figure was far less upright, her
handsome face was deeply marked, and her hair was almost white.
But when she sat down on the seat, she was a handsome lady still;
and well I knew the bright eye with its lofty look, that had been
a light in my very dreams at school.
'Is Mr. Copperfield informed of everything, Rosa?'
'And has he heard Littimer himself?'
'Yes; I have told him why you wished it.'
'You are a good girl. I have had some slight correspondence with
your former friend, sir,' addressing me, 'but it has not restored
his sense of duty or natural obligation. Therefore I have no other
object in this, than what Rosa has mentioned. If, by the course
which may relieve the mind of the decent man you brought here (for
whom I am sorry - I can say no more), my son may be saved from
again falling into the snares of a designing enemy, well!'
She drew herself up, and sat looking straight before her, far away.
'Madam,' I said respectfully, 'I understand. I assure you I am in
no danger of putting any strained construction on your motives.
But I must say, even to you, having known this injured family from
childhood, that if you suppose the girl, so deeply wronged, has not
been cruelly deluded, and would not rather die a hundred deaths
than take a cup of water from your son's hand now, you cherish a
'Well, Rosa, well!' said Mrs. Steerforth, as the other was about to
interpose, 'it is no matter. Let it be. You are married, sir, I
I answered that I had been some time married.
'And are doing well? I hear little in the quiet life I lead, but
I understand you are beginning to be famous.'
'I have been very fortunate,' I said, 'and find my name connected
with some praise.'
'You have no mother?' - in a softened voice.
'It is a pity,' she returned. 'She would have been proud of you.
I took the hand she held out with a dignified, unbending air, and
it was as calm in mine as if her breast had been at peace. Her
pride could still its very pulses, it appeared, and draw the placid
veil before her face, through which she sat looking straight before
her on the far distance.
As I moved away from them along the terrace, I could not help
observing how steadily they both sat gazing on the prospect, and
how it thickened and closed around them. Here and there, some
early lamps were seen to twinkle in the distant city; and in the
eastern quarter of the sky the lurid light still hovered. But,
from the greater part of the broad valley interposed, a mist was
rising like a sea, which, mingling with the darkness, made it seem
as if the gathering waters would encompass them. I have reason to
remember this, and think of it with awe; for before I looked upon
those two again, a stormy sea had risen to their feet.
Reflecting on what had been thus told me, I felt it right that it
should be communicated to Mr. Peggotty. On the following evening
I went into London in quest of him. He was always wandering about
from place to place, with his one object of recovering his niece
before him; but was more in London than elsewhere. Often and
often, now, had I seen him in the dead of night passing along the
streets, searching, among the few who loitered out of doors at
those untimely hours, for what he dreaded to find.
He kept a lodging over the little chandler's shop in Hungerford
Market, which I have had occasion to mention more than once, and
from which he first went forth upon his errand of mercy. Hither I
directed my walk. On making inquiry for him, I learned from the
people of the house that he had not gone out yet, and I should find
him in his room upstairs.
He was sitting reading by a window in which he kept a few plants.
The room was very neat and orderly. I saw in a moment that it was
always kept prepared for her reception, and that he never went out
but he thought it possible he might bring her home. He had not
heard my tap at the door, and only raised his eyes when I laid my
hand upon his shoulder.
'Mas'r Davy! Thankee, sir! thankee hearty, for this visit! Sit ye
down. You're kindly welcome, sir!'
'Mr. Peggotty,' said I, taking the chair he handed me, 'don't
expect much! I have heard some news.'
He put his hand, in a nervous manner, on his mouth, and turned
pale, as he fixed his eyes on mine.
'It gives no clue to where she is; but she is not with him.'
He sat down, looking intently at me, and listened in profound
silence to all I had to tell. I well remember the sense of
dignity, beauty even, with which the patient gravity of his face
impressed me, when, having gradually removed his eyes from mine, he
sat looking downward, leaning his forehead on his hand. He offered
no interruption, but remained throughout perfectly still. He
seemed to pursue her figure through the narrative, and to let every
other shape go by him, as if it were nothing.
When I had done, he shaded his face, and continued silent. I
looked out of the window for a little while, and occupied myself
with the plants.
'How do you fare to feel about it, Mas'r Davy?' he inquired at
'I think that she is living,' I replied.
'I doen't know. Maybe the first shock was too rough, and in the
wildness of her art -! That there blue water as she used to speak
on. Could she have thowt o' that so many year, because it was to
be her grave!'
He said this, musing, in a low, frightened voice; and walked across
the little room.
'And yet,' he added, 'Mas'r Davy, I have felt so sure as she was
living - I have know'd, awake and sleeping, as it was so trew that
I should find her - I have been so led on by it, and held up by it
- that I doen't believe I can have been deceived. No! Em'ly's
He put his hand down firmly on the table, and set his sunburnt face
into a resolute expression.
'My niece, Em'ly, is alive, sir!' he said, steadfastly. 'I doen't
know wheer it comes from, or how 'tis, but I am told as she's
He looked almost like a man inspired, as he said it. I waited for
a few moments, until he could give me his undivided attention; and
then proceeded to explain the precaution, that, it had occurred to
me last night, it would be wise to take.
'Now, my dear friend -'I began.
'Thankee, thankee, kind sir,' he said, grasping my hand in both of
'If she should make her way to London, which is likely - for where
could she lose herself so readily as in this vast city; and what
would she wish to do, but lose and hide herself, if she does not go
'And she won't go home,' he interposed, shaking his head
mournfully. 'If she had left of her own accord, she might; not as
It was, sir.'
'If she should come here,' said I, 'I believe there is one person,
here, more likely to discover her than any other in the world. Do
you remember - hear what I say, with fortitude - think of your
great object! - do you remember Martha?'
'Of our town?'
I needed no other answer than his face.
'Do you know that she is in London?'
'I have seen her in the streets,' he answered, with a shiver.
'But you don't know,' said I, 'that Emily was charitable to her,
with Ham's help, long before she fled from home. Nor, that, when
we met one night, and spoke together in the room yonder, over the
way, she listened at the door.'
'Mas'r Davy!' he replied in astonishment. 'That night when it snew
'That night. I have never seen her since. I went back, after
parting from you, to speak to her, but she was gone. I was
unwilling to mention her to you then, and I am now; but she is the
person of whom I speak, and with whom I think we should
communicate. Do you understand?'
'Too well, sir,' he replied. We had sunk our voices, almost to a
whisper, and continued to speak in that tone.
'You say you have seen her. Do you think that you could find her?
I could only hope to do so by chance.'
'I think, Mas'r Davy, I know wheer to look.'
'It is dark. Being together, shall we go out now, and try to find
He assented, and prepared to accompany me. Without appearing to
observe what he was doing, I saw how carefully he adjusted the
little room, put a candle ready and the means of lighting it,
arranged the bed, and finally took out of a drawer one of her
dresses (I remember to have seen her wear it), neatly folded with
some other garments, and a bonnet, which he placed upon a chair.
He made no allusion to these clothes, neither did I. There they
had been waiting for her, many and many a night, no doubt.
'The time was, Mas'r Davy,' he said, as we came downstairs, 'when
I thowt this girl, Martha, a'most like the dirt underneath my
Em'ly's feet. God forgive me, theer's a difference now!'
As we went along, partly to hold him in conversation, and partly to
satisfy myself, I asked him about Ham. He said, almost in the same
words as formerly, that Ham was just the same, 'wearing away his
life with kiender no care nohow for 't; but never murmuring, and
liked by all'.
I asked him what he thought Ham's state of mind was, in reference
to the cause of their misfortunes? Whether he believed it was
dangerous? What he supposed, for example, Ham would do, if he and
Steerforth ever should encounter?
'I doen't know, sir,' he replied. 'I have thowt of it oftentimes,
but I can't awize myself of it, no matters.'
I recalled to his remembrance the morning after her departure, when
we were all three on the beach. 'Do you recollect,' said I, 'a
certain wild way in which he looked out to sea, and spoke about
"the end of it"?'
'Sure I do!' said he.
'What do you suppose he meant?'
'Mas'r Davy,' he replied, 'I've put the question to myself a mort
o' times, and never found no answer. And theer's one curious thing
- that, though he is so pleasant, I wouldn't fare to feel
comfortable to try and get his mind upon 't. He never said a wured
to me as warn't as dootiful as dootiful could be, and it ain't
likely as he'd begin to speak any other ways now; but it's fur from
being fleet water in his mind, where them thowts lays. It's deep,
sir, and I can't see down.'
'You are right,' said I, 'and that has sometimes made me anxious.'
'And me too, Mas'r Davy,' he rejoined. 'Even more so, I do assure
you, than his ventersome ways, though both belongs to the
alteration in him. I doen't know as he'd do violence under any
circumstances, but I hope as them two may be kep asunders.'
We had come, through Temple Bar, into the city. Conversing no more
now, and walking at my side, he yielded himself up to the one aim
of his devoted life, and went on, with that hushed concentration of
his faculties which would have made his figure solitary in a
multitude. We were not far from Blackfriars Bridge, when he turned
his head and pointed to a solitary female figure flitting along the
opposite side of the street. I knew it, readily, to be the figure
that we sought.
We crossed the road, and were pressing on towards her, when it
occurred to me that she might be more disposed to feel a woman's
interest in the lost girl, if we spoke to her in a quieter place,
aloof from the crowd, and where we should be less observed. I
advised my companion, therefore, that we should not address her
yet, but follow her; consulting in this, likewise, an indistinct
desire I had, to know where she went.
He acquiescing, we followed at a distance: never losing sight of
her, but never caring to come very near, as she frequently looked
about. Once, she stopped to listen to a band of music; and then we
She went on a long way. Still we went on. It was evident, from
the manner in which she held her course, that she was going to some
fixed destination; and this, and her keeping in the busy streets,
and I suppose the strange fascination in the secrecy and mystery of
so following anyone, made me adhere to my first purpose. At length
she turned into a dull, dark street, where the noise and crowd were
lost; and I said, 'We may speak to her now'; and, mending our pace,
we went after her.
We were now down in Westminster. We had turned back to follow her,
having encountered her coming towards us; and Westminster Abbey was
the point at which she passed from the lights and noise of the
leading streets. She proceeded so quickly, when she got free of
the two currents of passengers setting towards and from the bridge,
that, between this and the advance she had of us when she struck
off, we were in the narrow water-side street by Millbank before we
came up with her. At that moment she crossed the road, as if to
avoid the footsteps that she heard so close behind; and, without
looking back, passed on even more rapidly.
A glimpse of the river through a dull gateway, where some waggons
were housed for the night, seemed to arrest my feet. I touched my
companion without speaking, and we both forbore to cross after her,
and both followed on that opposite side of the way; keeping as
quietly as we could in the shadow of the houses, but keeping very
There was, and is when I write, at the end of that low-lying
street, a dilapidated little wooden building, probably an obsolete
old ferry-house. Its position is just at that point where the
street ceases, and the road begins to lie between a row of houses
and the river. As soon as she came here, and saw the water, she
stopped as if she had come to her destination; and presently went
slowly along by the brink of the river, looking intently at it.
All the way here, I had supposed that she was going to some house;
indeed, I had vaguely entertained the hope that the house might be
in some way associated with the lost girl. But that one dark
glimpse of the river, through the gateway, had instinctively
prepared me for her going no farther.
The neighbourhood was a dreary one at that time; as oppressive,
sad, and solitary by night, as any about London. There were
neither wharves nor houses on the melancholy waste of road near the
great blank Prison. A sluggish ditch deposited its mud at the
prison walls. Coarse grass and rank weeds straggled over all the
marshy land in the vicinity. In one part, carcases of houses,
inauspiciously begun and never finished, rotted away. In another,
the ground was cumbered with rusty iron monsters of steam-boilers,
wheels, cranks, pipes, furnaces, paddles, anchors, diving-bells,
windmill-sails, and I know not what strange objects, accumulated by
some speculator, and grovelling in the dust, underneath which -
having sunk into the soil of their own weight in wet weather - they
had the appearance of vainly trying to hide themselves. The clash
and glare of sundry fiery Works upon the river-side, arose by night
to disturb everything except the heavy and unbroken smoke that
poured out of their chimneys. Slimy gaps and causeways, winding
among old wooden piles, with a sickly substance clinging to the
latter, like green hair, and the rags of last year's handbills
offering rewards for drowned men fluttering above high-water mark,
led down through the ooze and slush to the ebb-tide. There was a
story that one of the pits dug for the dead in the time of the
Great Plague was hereabout; and a blighting influence seemed to
have proceeded from it over the whole place. Or else it looked as
if it had gradually decomposed into that nightmare condition, out
of the overflowings of the polluted stream.
As if she were a part of the refuse it had cast out, and left to
corruption and decay, the girl we had followed strayed down to the
river's brink, and stood in the midst of this night-picture, lonely
and still, looking at the water.
There were some boats and barges astrand in the mud, and these
enabled us to come within a few yards of her without being seen.
I then signed to Mr. Peggotty to remain where he was, and emerged
from their shade to speak to her. I did not approach her solitary
figure without trembling; for this gloomy end to her determined
walk, and the way in which she stood, almost within the cavernous
shadow of the iron bridge, looking at the lights crookedly
reflected in the strong tide, inspired a dread within me.
I think she was talking to herself. I am sure, although absorbed
in gazing at the water, that her shawl was off her shoulders, and
that she was muffling her hands in it, in an unsettled and
bewildered way, more like the action of a sleep-walker than a
waking person. I know, and never can forget, that there was that
in her wild manner which gave me no assurance but that she would
sink before my eyes, until I had her arm within my grasp.
At the same moment I said 'Martha!'
She uttered a terrified scream, and struggled with me with such
strength that I doubt if I could have held her alone. But a
stronger hand than mine was laid upon her; and when she raised her
frightened eyes and saw whose it was, she made but one more effort
and dropped down between us. We carried her away from the water to
where there were some dry stones, and there laid her down, crying
and moaning. In a little while she sat among the stones, holding
her wretched head with both her hands.
'Oh, the river!' she cried passionately. 'Oh, the river!'
'Hush, hush!' said I. 'Calm yourself.'
But she still repeated the same words, continually exclaiming, 'Oh,
the river!' over and over again.
'I know it's like me!' she exclaimed. 'I know that I belong to it.
I know that it's the natural company of such as I am! It comes from
country places, where there was once no harm in it - and it creeps
through the dismal streets, defiled and miserable - and it goes
away, like my life, to a great sea, that is always troubled - and
I feel that I must go with it!'
I have never known what despair was, except in the tone of those
'I can't keep away from it. I can't forget it. It haunts me day
and night. It's the only thing in all the world that I am fit for,
or that's fit for me. Oh, the dreadful river!'
The thought passed through my mind that in the face of my
companion, as he looked upon her without speech or motion, I might
have read his niece's history, if I had known nothing of it. I
never saw, in any painting or reality, horror and compassion so
impressively blended. He shook as if he would have fallen; and his
hand - I touched it with my own, for his appearance alarmed me -
was deadly cold.
'She is in a state of frenzy,' I whispered to him. 'She will speak
differently in a little time.'
I don't know what he would have said in answer. He made some
motion with his mouth, and seemed to think he had spoken; but he
had only pointed to her with his outstretched hand.
A new burst of crying came upon her now, in which she once more hid
her face among the stones, and lay before us, a prostrate image of
humiliation and ruin. Knowing that this state must pass, before we
could speak to her with any hope, I ventured to restrain him when
he would have raised her, and we stood by in silence until she
became more tranquil.
'Martha,' said I then, leaning down, and helping her to rise - she
seemed to want to rise as if with the intention of going away, but
she was weak, and leaned against a boat. 'Do you know who this is,
who is with me?'
She said faintly, 'Yes.'
'Do you know that we have followed you a long way tonight?'
She shook her head. She looked neither at him nor at me, but stood
in a humble attitude, holding her bonnet and shawl in one hand,
without appearing conscious of them, and pressing the other,
clenched, against her forehead.
'Are you composed enough,' said I, 'to speak on the subject which
so interested you - I hope Heaven may remember it! - that snowy
Her sobs broke out afresh, and she murmured some inarticulate
thanks to me for not having driven her away from the door.
'I want to say nothing for myself,' she said, after a few moments.
'I am bad, I am lost. I have no hope at all. But tell him, sir,'
she had shrunk away from him, 'if you don't feel too hard to me to
do it, that I never was in any way the cause of his misfortune.'
'It has never been attributed to you,' I returned, earnestly
responding to her earnestness.
'It was you, if I don't deceive myself,' she said, in a broken
voice, 'that came into the kitchen, the night she took such pity on
me; was so gentle to me; didn't shrink away from me like all the
rest, and gave me such kind help! Was it you, sir?'
'It was,' said I.
'I should have been in the river long ago,' she said, glancing at
it with a terrible expression, 'if any wrong to her had been upon
my mind. I never could have kept out of it a single winter's
night, if I had not been free of any share in that!'
'The cause of her flight is too well understood,' I said. 'You are
innocent of any part in it, we thoroughly believe, - we know.'
'Oh, I might have been much the better for her, if I had had a
better heart!' exclaimed the girl, with most forlorn regret; 'for
she was always good to me! She never spoke a word to me but what
was pleasant and right. Is it likely I would try to make her what
I am myself, knowing what I am myself, so well? When I lost
everything that makes life dear, the worst of all my thoughts was
that I was parted for ever from her!'
Mr. Peggotty, standing with one hand on the gunwale of the boat,
and his eyes cast down, put his disengaged hand before his face.
'And when I heard what had happened before that snowy night, from
some belonging to our town,' cried Martha, 'the bitterest thought
in all my mind was, that the people would remember she once kept
company with me, and would say I had corrupted her! When, Heaven
knows, I would have died to have brought back her good name!'
Long unused to any self-control, the piercing agony of her remorse
and grief was terrible.
'To have died, would not have been much - what can I say? - I
would have lived!' she cried. 'I would have lived to be old, in
the wretched streets - and to wander about, avoided, in the dark -
and to see the day break on the ghastly line of houses, and
remember how the same sun used to shine into my room, and wake me
once - I would have done even that, to save her!'
Sinking on the stones, she took some in each hand, and clenched
them up, as if she would have ground them. She writhed into some
new posture constantly: stiffening her arms, twisting them before
her face, as though to shut out from her eyes the little light
there was, and drooping her head, as if it were heavy with
'What shall I ever do!' she said, fighting thus with her despair.
'How can I go on as I am, a solitary curse to myself, a living
disgrace to everyone I come near!' Suddenly she turned to my
companion. 'Stamp upon me, kill me! When she was your pride, you
would have thought I had done her harm if I had brushed against her
in the street. You can't believe - why should you? - a syllable
that comes out of my lips. It would be a burning shame upon you,
even now, if she and I exchanged a word. I don't complain. I
don't say she and I are alike - I know there is a long, long way
between us. I only say, with all my guilt and wretchedness upon my
head, that I am grateful to her from my soul, and love her. Oh,
don't think that all the power I had of loving anything is quite
worn out! Throw me away, as all the world does. Kill me for being
what I am, and having ever known her; but don't think that of me!'
He looked upon her, while she made this supplication, in a wild
distracted manner; and, when she was silent, gently raised her.
'Martha,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'God forbid as I should judge you.
Forbid as I, of all men, should do that, my girl! You doen't know
half the change that's come, in course of time, upon me, when you
think it likely. Well!' he paused a moment, then went on. 'You
doen't understand how 'tis that this here gentleman and me has
wished to speak to you. You doen't understand what 'tis we has
afore us. Listen now!'
His influence upon her was complete. She stood, shrinkingly,
before him, as if she were afraid to meet his eyes; but her
passionate sorrow was quite hushed and mute.
'If you heerd,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'owt of what passed between
Mas'r Davy and me, th' night when it snew so hard, you know as I
have been - wheer not - fur to seek my dear niece. My dear niece,'
he repeated steadily. 'Fur she's more dear to me now, Martha, than
she was dear afore.'
She put her hands before her face; but otherwise remained quiet.
'I have heerd her tell,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'as you was early left
fatherless and motherless, with no friend fur to take, in a rough
seafaring-way, their place. Maybe you can guess that if you'd had
such a friend, you'd have got into a way of being fond of him in
course of time, and that my niece was kiender daughter-like to me.'
As she was silently trembling, he put her shawl carefully about
her, taking it up from the ground for that purpose.
'Whereby,' said he, 'I know, both as she would go to the wureld's
furdest end with me, if she could once see me again; and that she
would fly to the wureld's furdest end to keep off seeing me. For
though she ain't no call to doubt my love, and doen't - and
doen't,' he repeated, with a quiet assurance of the truth of what
he said, 'there's shame steps in, and keeps betwixt us.'
I read, in every word of his plain impressive way of delivering
himself, new evidence of his having thought of this one topic, in
every feature it presented.
'According to our reckoning,' he proceeded, 'Mas'r Davy's here, and
mine, she is like, one day, to make her own poor solitary course to
London. We believe - Mas'r Davy, me, and all of us - that you are
as innocent of everything that has befell her, as the unborn child.
You've spoke of her being pleasant, kind, and gentle to you. Bless
her, I knew she was! I knew she always was, to all. You're
thankful to her, and you love her. Help us all you can to find
her, and may Heaven reward you!'
She looked at him hastily, and for the first time, as if she were
doubtful of what he had said.
'Will you trust me?' she asked, in a low voice of astonishment.
'Full and free!' said Mr. Peggotty.
'To speak to her, if I should ever find her; shelter her, if I have
any shelter to divide with her; and then, without her knowledge,
come to you, and bring you to her?' she asked hurriedly.
We both replied together, 'Yes!'
She lifted up her eyes, and solemnly declared that she would devote
herself to this task, fervently and faithfully. That she would
never waver in it, never be diverted from it, never relinquish it,
while there was any chance of hope. If she were not true to it,
might the object she now had in life, which bound her to something
devoid of evil, in its passing away from her, leave her more
forlorn and more despairing, if that were possible, than she had
been upon the river's brink that night; and then might all help,
human and Divine, renounce her evermore!
She did not raise her voice above her breath, or address us, but
said this to the night sky; then stood profoundly quiet, looking at
the gloomy water.
We judged it expedient, now, to tell her all we knew; which I
recounted at length. She listened with great attention, and with
a face that often changed, but had the same purpose in all its
varying expressions. Her eyes occasionally filled with tears, but
those she repressed. It seemed as if her spirit were quite
altered, and she could not be too quiet.
She asked, when all was told, where we were to be communicated
with, if occasion should arise. Under a dull lamp in the road, I
wrote our two addresses on a leaf of my pocket-book, which I tore
out and gave to her, and which she put in her poor bosom. I asked
her where she lived herself. She said, after a pause, in no place
long. It were better not to know.
Mr. Peggotty suggesting to me, in a whisper, what had already
occurred to myself, I took out my purse; but I could not prevail
upon her to accept any money, nor could I exact any promise from
her that she would do so at another time. I represented to her
that Mr. Peggotty could not be called, for one in his condition,
poor; and that the idea of her engaging in this search, while
depending on her own resources, shocked us both. She continued
steadfast. In this particular, his influence upon her was equally
powerless with mine. She gratefully thanked him but remained
'There may be work to be got,' she said. 'I'll try.'
'At least take some assistance,' I returned, 'until you have
'I could not do what I have promised, for money,' she replied. 'I
could not take it, if I was starving. To give me money would be to
take away your trust, to take away the object that you have given
me, to take away the only certain thing that saves me from the
'In the name of the great judge,' said I, 'before whom you and all
of us must stand at His dread time, dismiss that terrible idea! We
can all do some good, if we will.'
She trembled, and her lip shook, and her face was paler, as she
'It has been put into your hearts, perhaps, to save a wretched
creature for repentance. I am afraid to think so; it seems too
bold. If any good should come of me, I might begin to hope; for
nothing but harm has ever come of my deeds yet. I am to be
trusted, for the first time in a long while, with my miserable
life, on account of what you have given me to try for. I know no
more, and I can say no more.'
Again she repressed the tears that had begun to flow; and, putting
out her trembling hand, and touching Mr. Peggotty, as if there was
some healing virtue in him, went away along the desolate road. She
had been ill, probably for a long time. I observed, upon that
closer opportunity of observation, that she was worn and haggard,
and that her sunken eyes expressed privation and endurance.
We followed her at a short distance, our way lying in the same
direction, until we came back into the lighted and populous
streets. I had such implicit confidence in her declaration, that
I then put it to Mr. Peggotty, whether it would not seem, in the
onset, like distrusting her, to follow her any farther. He being
of the same mind, and equally reliant on her, we suffered her to
take her own road, and took ours, which was towards Highgate. He
accompanied me a good part of the way; and when we parted, with a
prayer for the success of this fresh effort, there was a new and
thoughtful compassion in him that I was at no loss to interpret.
It was midnight when I arrived at home. I had reached my own gate,
and was standing listening for the deep bell of St. Paul's, the
sound of which I thought had been borne towards me among the
multitude of striking clocks, when I was rather surprised to see
that the door of my aunt's cottage was open, and that a faint light
in the entry was shining out across the road.
Thinking that my aunt might have relapsed into one of her old
alarms, and might be watching the progress of some imaginary
conflagration in the distance, I went to speak to her. It was with
very great surprise that I saw a man standing in her little garden.
He had a glass and bottle in his hand, and was in the act of
drinking. I stopped short, among the thick foliage outside, for
the moon was up now, though obscured; and I recognized the man whom
I had once supposed to be a delusion of Mr. Dick's, and had once
encountered with my aunt in the streets of the city.
He was eating as well as drinking, and seemed to eat with a hungry
appetite. He seemed curious regarding the cottage, too, as if it
were the first time he had seen it. After stooping to put the
bottle on the ground, he looked up at the windows, and looked
about; though with a covert and impatient air, as if he was anxious
to be gone.
The light in the passage was obscured for a moment, and my aunt
came out. She was agitated, and told some money into his hand. I
heard it chink.
'What's the use of this?' he demanded.
'I can spare no more,' returned my aunt.
'Then I can't go,' said he. 'Here! You may take it back!'
'You bad man,' returned my aunt, with great emotion; 'how can you
use me so? But why do I ask? It is because you know how weak I
am! What have I to do, to free myself for ever of your visits, but
to abandon you to your deserts?'
'And why don't you abandon me to my deserts?' said he.
'You ask me why!' returned my aunt. 'What a heart you must have!'
He stood moodily rattling the money, and shaking his head, until at
length he said:
'Is this all you mean to give me, then?'
'It is all I CAN give you,' said my aunt. 'You know I have had
losses, and am poorer than I used to be. I have told you so.
Having got it, why do you give me the pain of looking at you for
another moment, and seeing what you have become?'
'I have become shabby enough, if you mean that,' he said. 'I lead
the life of an owl.'
'You stripped me of the greater part of all I ever had,' said my
aunt. 'You closed my heart against the whole world, years and
years. You treated me falsely, ungratefully, and cruelly. Go, and
repent of it. Don't add new injuries to the long, long list of
injuries you have done me!'
'Aye!' he returned. 'It's all very fine - Well! I must do the best
I can, for the present, I suppose.'
In spite of himself, he appeared abashed by my aunt's indignant
tears, and came slouching out of the garden. Taking two or three
quick steps, as if I had just come up, I met him at the gate, and
went in as he came out. We eyed one another narrowly in passing,
and with no favour.
'Aunt,' said I, hurriedly. 'This man alarming you again! Let me
speak to him. Who is he?'
'Child,' returned my aunt, taking my arm, 'come in, and don't speak
to me for ten minutes.'
We sat down in her little parlour. My aunt retired behind the
round green fan of former days, which was screwed on the back of a
chair, and occasionally wiped her eyes, for about a quarter of an
hour. Then she came out, and took a seat beside me.
'Trot,' said my aunt, calmly, 'it's my husband.'
'Your husband, aunt? I thought he had been dead!'
'Dead to me,' returned my aunt, 'but living.'
I sat in silent amazement.
'Betsey Trotwood don't look a likely subject for the tender
passion,' said my aunt, composedly, 'but the time was, Trot, when
she believed in that man most entirely. When she loved him, Trot,
right well. When there was no proof of attachment and affection
that she would not have given him. He repaid her by breaking her
fortune, and nearly breaking her heart. So she put all that sort
of sentiment, once and for ever, in a grave, and filled it up, and
flattened it down.'
'My dear, good aunt!'
'I left him,' my aunt proceeded, laying her hand as usual on the
back of mine, 'generously. I may say at this distance of time,
Trot, that I left him generously. He had been so cruel to me, that
I might have effected a separation on easy terms for myself; but I
did not. He soon made ducks and drakes of what I gave him, sank
lower and lower, married another woman, I believe, became an
adventurer, a gambler, and a cheat. What he is now, you see. But
he was a fine-looking man when I married him,' said my aunt, with
an echo of her old pride and admiration in her tone; 'and I
believed him - I was a fool! - to be the soul of honour!'
She gave my hand a squeeze, and shook her head.
'He is nothing to me now, Trot- less than nothing. But, sooner
than have him punished for his offences (as he would be if he
prowled about in this country), I give him more money than I can
afford, at intervals when he reappears, to go away. I was a fool
when I married him; and I am so far an incurable fool on that
subject, that, for the sake of what I once believed him to be, I
wouldn't have even this shadow of my idle fancy hardly dealt with.
For I was in earnest, Trot, if ever a woman was.'
MY aunt dismissed the matter with a heavy sigh, and smoothed her
'There, my dear!' she said. 'Now you know the beginning, middle,
and end, and all about it. We won't mention the subject to one
another any more; neither, of course, will you mention it to
anybody else. This is my grumpy, frumpy story, and we'll keep it
to ourselves, Trot!'
I laboured hard at my book, without allowing it to interfere with
the punctual discharge of my newspaper duties; and it came out and
was very successful. I was not stunned by the praise which sounded
in my ears, notwithstanding that I was keenly alive to it, and
thought better of my own performance, I have little doubt, than
anybody else did. It has always been in my observation of human
nature, that a man who has any good reason to believe in himself
never flourishes himself before the faces of other people in order
that they may believe in him. For this reason, I retained my
modesty in very self-respect; and the more praise I got, the more
I tried to deserve.
It is not my purpose, in this record, though in all other
essentials it is my written memory, to pursue the history of my own
fictions. They express themselves, and I leave them to themselves.
When I refer to them, incidentally, it is only as a part of my
Having some foundation for believing, by this time, that nature and
accident had made me an author, I pursued my vocation with
confidence. Without such assurance I should certainly have left it
alone, and bestowed my energy on some other endeavour. I should
have tried to find out what nature and accident really had made me,
and to be that, and nothing else.
I had been writing, in the newspaper and elsewhere, so
prosperously, that when my new success was achieved, I considered
myself reasonably entitled to escape from the dreary debates. One
joyful night, therefore, I noted down the music of the
parliamentary bagpipes for the last time, and I have never heard it
since; though I still recognize the old drone in the newspapers,
without any substantial variation (except, perhaps, that there is
more of it), all the livelong session.
I now write of the time when I had been married, I suppose, about
a year and a half. After several varieties of experiment, we had
given up the housekeeping as a bad job. The house kept itself, and
we kept a page. The principal function of this retainer was to
quarrel with the cook; in which respect he was a perfect
Whittington, without his cat, or the remotest chance of being made
He appears to me to have lived in a hail of saucepan-lids. His
whole existence was a scuffle. He would shriek for help on the
most improper occasions, - as when we had a little dinner-party, or
a few friends in the evening, - and would come tumbling out of the
kitchen, with iron missiles flying after him. We wanted to get rid
of him, but he was very much attached to us, and wouldn't go. He
was a tearful boy, and broke into such deplorable lamentations,
when a cessation of our connexion was hinted at, that we were
obliged to keep him. He had no mother - no anything in the way of
a relative, that I could discover, except a sister, who fled to
America the moment we had taken him off her hands; and he became
quartered on us like a horrible young changeling. He had a lively
perception of his own unfortunate state, and was always rubbing his
eyes with the sleeve of his jacket, or stooping to blow his nose on
the extreme corner of a little pocket-handkerchief, which he never
would take completely out of his pocket, but always economized and
This unlucky page, engaged in an evil hour at six pounds ten per
annum, was a source of continual trouble to me. I watched him as
he grew - and he grew like scarlet beans - with painful
apprehensions of the time when he would begin to shave; even of the
days when he would be bald or grey. I saw no prospect of ever
getting rid of him; and, projecting myself into the future, used to
think what an inconvenience he would be when he was an old man.
I never expected anything less, than this unfortunate's manner of
getting me out of my difficulty. He stole Dora's watch, which,
like everything else belonging to us, had no particular place of
its own; and, converting it into money, spent the produce (he was
always a weak-minded boy) in incessantly riding up and down between
London and Uxbridge outside the coach. He was taken to Bow Street,
as well as I remember, on the completion of his fifteenth journey;
when four-and-sixpence, and a second-hand fife which he couldn't
play, were found upon his person.
The surprise and its consequences would have been much less
disagreeable to me if he had not been penitent. But he was very
penitent indeed, and in a peculiar way - not in the lump, but by
instalments. For example: the day after that on which I was
obliged to appear against him, he made certain revelations touching
a hamper in the cellar, which we believed to be full of wine, but
which had nothing in it except bottles and corks. We supposed he
had now eased his mind, and told the worst he knew of the cook;
but, a day or two afterwards, his conscience sustained a new
twinge, and he disclosed how she had a little girl, who, early
every morning, took away our bread; and also how he himself had
been suborned to maintain the milkman in coals. In two or three
days more, I was informed by the authorities of his having led to
the discovery of sirloins of beef among the kitchen-stuff, and
sheets in the rag-bag. A little while afterwards, he broke out in
an entirely new direction, and confessed to a knowledge of
burglarious intentions as to our premises, on the part of the
pot-boy, who was immediately taken up. I got to be so ashamed of
being such a victim, that I would have given him any money to hold
his tongue, or would have offered a round bribe for his being
permitted to run away. It was an aggravating circumstance in the
case that he had no idea of this, but conceived that he was making
me amends in every new discovery: not to say, heaping obligations
on my head.
At last I ran away myself, whenever I saw an emissary of the police
approaching with some new intelligence; and lived a stealthy life
until he was tried and ordered to be transported. Even then he
couldn't be quiet, but was always writing us letters; and wanted so
much to see Dora before he went away, that Dora went to visit him,
and fainted when she found herself inside the iron bars. In short,
I had no peace of my life until he was expatriated, and made (as I
afterwards heard) a shepherd of, 'up the country' somewhere; I have
no geographical idea where.
All this led me into some serious reflections, and presented our
mistakes in a new aspect; as I could not help communicating to Dora
one evening, in spite of my tenderness for her.
'My love,' said I, 'it is very painful to me to think that our want
of system and management, involves not only ourselves (which we
have got used to), but other people.'
'You have been silent for a long time, and now you are going to be
cross!' said Dora.
'No, my dear, indeed! Let me explain to you what I mean.'
'I think I don't want to know,' said Dora.
'But I want you to know, my love. Put Jip down.'
Dora put his nose to mine, and said 'Boh!' to drive my seriousness
away; but, not succeeding, ordered him into his Pagoda, and sat
looking at me, with her hands folded, and a most resigned little
expression of countenance.
'The fact is, my dear,' I began, 'there is contagion in us. We
infect everyone about us.'
I might have gone on in this figurative manner, if Dora's face had
not admonished me that she was wondering with all her might whether
I was going to propose any new kind of vaccination, or other
medical remedy, for this unwholesome state of ours. Therefore I
checked myself, and made my meaning plainer.
'It is not merely, my pet,' said I, 'that we lose money and
comfort, and even temper sometimes, by not learning to be more
careful; but that we incur the serious responsibility of spoiling
everyone who comes into our service, or has any dealings with us.
I begin to be afraid that the fault is not entirely on one side,
but that these people all turn out ill because we don't turn out
very well ourselves.'