David Copperfield – Day 272 of 331

“As Em’ly’s eyes—which was heavy—see this woman better,” Mr. Peggotty went on, “she know’d as she was one of them as she had often talked to on the beach. Fur, though she had run (as I have said) ever so fur in the night, she had oftentimes wandered long ways, partly afoot, partly in boats and carriages, and know’d all that country, ’long the coast, miles and miles. She hadn’t no children of her own, this woman, being a young wife; but she was a— looking to have one afore long. And may my prayers go up to Heaven that ’twill be a happiness to her, and a comfort, and a honour, all her life! May it love her and be dootiful to her, in her old age; helpful of her at the last; a Angel to her heer, and heerafter!”

“Amen!” said my aunt.

“She had been summat timorous and down,” said Mr. Peggotty, and had sat, at first, a little way off, at her spinning, or such work as it was, when Em’ly talked to the children. But Em’ly had took notice of her, and had gone and spoke to her; and as the young woman was partial to the children herself, they had soon made friends. Sermuchser, that when Em’ly went that way, she always giv Em’ly flowers. This was her as now asked what it was that had gone so much amiss. Em’ly told her, and she—took her home. She did indeed. She took her home,” said Mr. Peggotty, covering his face.

He was more affected by this act of kindness, than I had ever seen him affected by anything since the night she went away. My aunt and I did not attempt to disturb him.

“It was a little cottage, you may suppose,” he said, presently, “but she found space for Em’ly in it,—her husband was away at sea,—and she kep it secret, and prevailed upon such neighbours as she had (they was not many near) to keep it secret too. Em’ly was took bad with fever, and, what is very strange to me is,—maybe ’yis not so strange to scholars,—the language of that country went out of her head, and she could only speak her own, that no one unnerstood. She recollects, as if she had dreamed it, that she lay there always a-talking her own tongue, always believing as the old boat was round the next pint in the bay, and begging and imploring of ’em to send theer and tell how she was dying, and bring back a message of forgiveness, if it was on’y a wured. A’most the whole time, she thowt,—now, that him as I made mention on just now was lurking for her unnerneath the winder; now that him as had brought her to this was in the room,—and cried to the good young woman not to give her up, and know’d, at the same time, that she couldn’t unnerstand, and dreaded that she must be took away. Likewise the fire was afore her eyes, and the roarings in her ears; and theer was no today, nor yesterday, nor yet tomorrow; but everything in her life as ever had been, or as ever could be, and everything as never had been, and as never could be, was a crowding on her all at once, and nothing clear nor welcome, and yet she sang and laughed about it! How long this lasted, I doen’t know; but then theer come a sleep; and in that sleep, from being a many times stronger than her own self, she fell into the weakness of the littlest child.”

Here he stopped, as if for relief from the terrors of his own description. After being silent for a few moments, he pursued his story.

“It was a pleasant arternoon when she awoke; and so quiet, that there warn’t a sound but the rippling of that blue sea without a tide, upon the shore. It was her belief, at first, that she was at home upon a Sunday morning; but the vine leaves as she see at the winder, and the hills beyond, warn’t home, and contradicted of her. Then, come in her friend to watch alongside of her bed; and then she know’d as the old boat warn’t round that next pint in the bay no more, but was fur off; and know’d where she was, and why; and broke out a-crying on that good young woman’s bosom, wheer I hope her baby is a-lying now, a-cheering of her with its pretty eyes!”

He could not speak of this good friend of Emily’s without a flow of tears. It was in vain to try. He broke down again, endeavouring to bless her!

“That done my Em’ly good,” he resumed, after such emotion as I could not behold without sharing in; and as to my aunt, she wept with all her heart; “that done Em’ly good, and she begun to mend. But, the language of that country was quite gone from her, and she was forced to make signs. So she went on, getting better from day to day, slow, but sure, and trying to learn the names of common things—names as she seemed never to have heerd in all her life — till one evening come, when she was a-setting at her window, looking at a little girl at play upon the beach. And of a sudden this child held out her hand, and said, what would be in English, ‘Fisherman’s daughter, here’s a shell!’—for you are to unnerstand that they used at first to call her ‘Pretty lady’, as the general way in that country is, and that she had taught ’em to call her ‘Fisherman’s daughter’ instead. The child says of a sudden, ‘Fisherman’s daughter, here’s a shell!’ Then Em’ly unnerstands her; and she answers, bursting out a-crying; and it all comes back!

“When Em’ly got strong again,” said Mr. Peggotty, after another short interval of silence, “she cast about to leave that good young creetur, and get to her own country. The husband was come home, then; and the two together put her aboard a small trader bound to Leghorn, and from that to France. She had a little money, but it was less than little as they would take for all they done. I’m a’most glad on it, though they was so poor! What they done, is laid up wheer neither moth or rust doth corrupt, and wheer thieves do not break through nor steal. Mas’r Davy, it’ll outlast all the treasure in the wureld.

“Em’ly got to France, and took service to wait on travelling ladies at a inn in the port. Theer, theer come, one day, that snake. — Let him never come nigh me. I doen’t know what hurt I might do him!—Soon as she see him, without him seeing her, all her fear and wildness returned upon her, and she fled afore the very breath he draw’d. She come to England, and was set ashore at Dover.

“I doen’t know,” said Mr. Peggotty, “for sure, when her ’art begun to fail her; but all the way to England she had thowt to come to her dear home. Soon as she got to England she turned her face tow’rds it. But, fear of not being forgiv, fear of being pinted at, fear of some of us being dead along of her, fear of many things, turned her from it, kiender by force, upon the road: ‘Uncle, uncle,’ she says to me, ‘the fear of not being worthy to do what my torn and bleeding breast so longed to do, was the most fright’ning fear of all! I turned back, when my ’art was full of prayers that I might crawl to the old door-step, in the night, kiss it, lay my wicked face upon it, and theer be found dead in the morning.’”

“She come,” said Mr. Peggotty, dropping his voice to an awe-stricken whisper, “to London. She—as had never seen it in her life—alone—without a penny—young—so pretty—come to London. A’most the moment as she lighted heer, all so desolate, she found (as she believed) a friend; a decent woman as spoke to her about the needle-work as she had been brought up to do, about finding plenty of it fur her, about a lodging fur the night, and making secret inquiration concerning of me and all at home, tomorrow. When my child,” he said aloud, and with an energy of gratitude that shook him from head to foot, “stood upon the brink of more than I can say or think on—Martha, trew to her promise, saved her.”

I could not repress a cry of joy.

“Mas’r Davy!” said he, gripping my hand in that strong hand of his, “it was you as first made mention of her to me. I thankee, sir! She was arnest. She had know’d of her bitter knowledge wheer to watch and what to do. She had done it. And the Lord was above all! She come, white and hurried, upon Em’ly in her sleep. She says to her, ‘Rise up from worse than death, and come with me!’ Them belonging to the house would have stopped her, but they might as soon have stopped the sea. ‘Stand away from me,’ she says, ‘I am a ghost that calls her from beside her open grave!’ She told Em’ly she had seen me, and know’d I loved her, and forgive her. She wrapped her, hasty, in her clothes. She took her, faint and trembling, on her arm. She heeded no more what they said, than if she had had no ears. She walked among ’em with my child, minding only her; and brought her safe out, in the dead of the night, from that black pit of ruin!

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