David Copperfield – Day 165 of 331

It was only Ham. The night should have turned more wet since I came in, for he had a large sou’wester hat on, slouched over his face.

“Wheer’s Em’ly?” said Mr. Peggotty.

Ham made a motion with his head, as if she were outside. Mr. Peggotty took the light from the window, trimmed it, put it on the table, and was busily stirring the fire, when Ham, who had not moved, said:

“Mas’r Davy, will you come out a minute, and see what Em’ly and me has got to show you?”

We went out. As I passed him at the door, I saw, to my astonishment and fright, that he was deadly pale. He pushed me hastily into the open air, and closed the door upon us. Only upon us two.

“Ham! what’s the matter?”

“Mas’r Davy!—” Oh, for his broken heart, how dreadfully he wept!

I was paralysed by the sight of such grief. I don’t know what I thought, or what I dreaded. I could only look at him.

“Ham! Poor good fellow! For Heaven’s sake, tell me what’s the matter!”

“My love, Mas’r Davy—the pride and hope of my art—her that I’d have died for, and would die for now—she’s gone!”

“Gone!”

“Em’ly’s run away! Oh, Mas’r Davy, think how she’s run away, when I pray my good and gracious God to kill her (her that is so dear above all things) sooner than let her come to ruin and disgrace!”

The face he turned up to the troubled sky, the quivering of his clasped hands, the agony of his figure, remain associated with the lonely waste, in my remembrance, to this hour. It is always night there, and he is the only object in the scene.

“You’re a scholar,” he said, hurriedly, “and know what’s right and best. What am I to say, indoors? How am I ever to break it to him, Mas’r Davy?”

I saw the door move, and instinctively tried to hold the latch on the outside, to gain a moment’s time. It was too late. Mr. Peggotty thrust forth his face; and never could I forget the change that came upon it when he saw us, if I were to live five hundred years.

I remember a great wail and cry, and the women hanging about him, and we all standing in the room; I with a paper in my hand, which Ham had given me; Mr. Peggotty, with his vest torn open, his hair wild, his face and lips quite white, and blood trickling down his bosom (it had sprung from his mouth, I think), looking fixedly at me.

“Read it, sir,” he said, in a low shivering voice. “Slow, please. I doen’t know as I can understand.”

In the midst of the silence of death, I read thus, from a blotted letter:

“‘When you, who love me so much better than I ever have deserved, even when my mind was innocent, see this, I shall be far away.’”

“I shall be fur away,” he repeated slowly. “Stop! Em’ly fur away. Well!”

“‘When I leave my dear home—my dear home—oh, my dear home!—in the morning,’”

the letter bore date on the previous night:

“‘—it will be never to come back, unless he brings me back a lady. This will be found at night, many hours after, instead of me. Oh, if you knew how my heart is torn. If even you, that I have wronged so much, that never can forgive me, could only know what I suffer! I am too wicked to write about myself! Oh, take comfort in thinking that I am so bad. Oh, for mercy’s sake, tell uncle that I never loved him half so dear as now. Oh, don’t remember how affectionate and kind you have all been to me—don’t remember we were ever to be married—but try to think as if I died when I was little, and was buried somewhere. Pray Heaven that I am going away from, have compassion on my uncle! Tell him that I never loved him half so dear. Be his comfort. Love some good girl that will be what I was once to uncle, and be true to you, and worthy of you, and know no shame but me. God bless all! I’ll pray for all, often, on my knees. If he don’t bring me back a lady, and I don’t pray for my own self, I’ll pray for all. My parting love to uncle. My last tears, and my last thanks, for uncle!’”

That was all.

He stood, long after I had ceased to read, still looking at me. At length I ventured to take his hand, and to entreat him, as well as I could, to endeavour to get some command of himself. He replied, “I thankee, sir, I thankee!” without moving.

Ham spoke to him. Mr. Peggotty was so far sensible of his affliction, that he wrung his hand; but, otherwise, he remained in the same state, and no one dared to disturb him.

Slowly, at last, he moved his eyes from my face, as if he were waking from a vision, and cast them round the room. Then he said, in a low voice:

“Who’s the man? I want to know his name.”

Ham glanced at me, and suddenly I felt a shock that struck me back.

“There’s a man suspected,” said Mr. Peggotty. “Who is it?”

“Mas’r Davy!” implored Ham. “Go out a bit, and let me tell him what I must. You doen’t ought to hear it, sir.”

I felt the shock again. I sank down in a chair, and tried to utter some reply; but my tongue was fettered, and my sight was weak.

“I want to know his name!” I heard said once more.

“For some time past,” Ham faltered, “there’s been a servant about here, at odd times. There’s been a gen’lm’n too. Both of ’em belonged to one another.”

Mr. Peggotty stood fixed as before, but now looking at him.

“The servant,” pursued Ham, “was seen along with—our poor girl — last night. He’s been in hiding about here, this week or over. He was thought to have gone, but he was hiding. Doen’t stay, Mas’r Davy, doen’t!”

I felt Peggotty’s arm round my neck, but I could not have moved if the house had been about to fall upon me.

“A strange chay and hosses was outside town, this morning, on the Norwich road, a’most afore the day broke,” Ham went on. “The servant went to it, and come from it, and went to it again. When he went to it again, Em’ly was nigh him. The t’other was inside. He’s the man.”

“For the Lord’s love,” said Mr. Peggotty, falling back, and putting out his hand, as if to keep off what he dreaded. “Doen’t tell me his name’s Steerforth!”

“Mas’r Davy,” exclaimed Ham, in a broken voice, “it ain’t no fault of yourn—and I am far from laying of it to you—but his name is Steerforth, and he’s a damned villain!”

Mr. Peggotty uttered no cry, and shed no tear, and moved no more, until he seemed to wake again, all at once, and pulled down his rough coat from its peg in a corner.

“Bear a hand with this! I’m struck of a heap, and can’t do it,” he said, impatiently. “Bear a hand and help me. Well!” when somebody had done so. “Now give me that theer hat!”

Ham asked him whither he was going.

“I’m a going to seek my niece. I’m a going to seek my Em’ly. I’m a going, first, to stave in that theer boat, and sink it where I would have drownded him, as I’m a living soul, if I had had one thought of what was in him! As he sat afore me,” he said, wildly, holding out his clenched right hand, “as he sat afore me, face to face, strike me down dead, but I’d have drownded him, and thought it right!—I’m a going to seek my niece.”

“Where?” cried Ham, interposing himself before the door.

“Anywhere! I’m a going to seek my niece through the wureld. I’m a going to find my poor niece in her shame, and bring her back. No one stop me! I tell you I’m a going to seek my niece!”

“No, no!” cried Mrs. Gummidge, coming between them, in a fit of crying. “No, no, Dan’l, not as you are now. Seek her in a little while, my lone lorn Dan’l, and that’ll be but right! but not as you are now. Sit ye down, and give me your forgiveness for having ever been a worrit to you, Dan’l—what have my contraries ever been to this!—and let us speak a word about them times when she was first an orphan, and when Ham was too, and when I was a poor widder woman, and you took me in. It’ll soften your poor heart, Dan’l,” laying her head upon his shoulder, “and you’ll bear your sorrow better; for you know the promise, Dan’l, ‘As you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me’,—and that can never fail under this roof, that’s been our shelter for so many, many year!”

He was quite passive now; and when I heard him crying, the impulse that had been upon me to go down upon my knees, and ask their pardon for the desolation I had caused, and curse Steerforth, yielded to a better feeling, My overcharged heart found the same relief, and I cried too.

Comments

  1. ScottS-M Identicon Icon

    ScottS-M wrote:

    Wow. That’s a bit of a surprise. I was betting on something related to that girl that wanted money. I wonder what all that was about.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)