David Copperfield – Day 123 of 331

When I heard these words, a light began to fall upon the figure I had seen following them, some hours ago.

“It’s a poor wurem, Mas’r Davy,” said Ham, “as is trod under foot by all the town. Up street and down street. The mowld o’ the churchyard don’t hold any that the folk shrink away from, more.”

“Did I see her tonight, Ham, on the sand, after we met you?”

“Keeping us in sight?” said Ham. “It’s like you did, Mas’r Davy. Not that I know’d then, she was theer, sir, but along of her creeping soon arterwards under Em’ly’s little winder, when she see the light come, and whispering ‘Em’ly, Em’ly, for Christ’s sake, have a woman’s heart towards me. I was once like you!’ Those was solemn words, Mas’r Davy, fur to hear!”

“They were indeed, Ham. What did Em’ly do?”

“Says Em’ly, ‘Martha, is it you? Oh, Martha, can it be you?’—for they had sat at work together, many a day, at Mr. Omer’s.”

“I recollect her now!” cried I, recalling one of the two girls I had seen when I first went there. “I recollect her quite well!”

“Martha Endell,” said Ham. “Two or three year older than Em’ly, but was at the school with her.”

“I never heard her name,” said I. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

“For the matter o’ that, Mas’r Davy,” replied Ham, “all’s told a’most in them words, ‘Em’ly, Em’ly, for Christ’s sake, have a woman’s heart towards me. I was once like you!’ She wanted to speak to Em’ly. Em’ly couldn’t speak to her theer, for her loving uncle was come home, and he wouldn’t—no, Mas’r Davy,” said Ham, with great earnestness, “he couldn’t, kind-natur’d, tender-hearted as he is, see them two together, side by side, for all the treasures that’s wrecked in the sea.”

I felt how true this was. I knew it, on the instant, quite as well as Ham.

“So Em’ly writes in pencil on a bit of paper,” he pursued, “and gives it to her out o’ winder to bring here. ‘Show that,’ she says, ‘to my aunt, Mrs. Barkis, and she’ll set you down by her fire, for the love of me, till uncle is gone out, and I can come.’ By and by she tells me what I tell you, Mas’r Davy, and asks me to bring her. What can I do? She doen’t ought to know any such, but I can’t deny her, when the tears is on her face.”

He put his hand into the breast of his shaggy jacket, and took out with great care a pretty little purse.

“And if I could deny her when the tears was on her face, Mas’r Davy,” said Ham, tenderly adjusting it on the rough palm of his hand, “how could I deny her when she give me this to carry for her — knowing what she brought it for? Such a toy as it is!” said Ham, thoughtfully looking on it. “With such a little money in it, Em’ly my dear.”

I shook him warmly by the hand when he had put it away again—for that was more satisfactory to me than saying anything—and we walked up and down, for a minute or two, in silence. The door opened then, and Peggotty appeared, beckoning to Ham to come in. I would have kept away, but she came after me, entreating me to come in too. Even then, I would have avoided the room where they all were, but for its being the neat-tiled kitchen I have mentioned more than once. The door opening immediately into it, I found myself among them before I considered whither I was going.

The girl—the same I had seen upon the sands—was near the fire. She was sitting on the ground, with her head and one arm lying on a chair. I fancied, from the disposition of her figure, that Em’ly had but newly risen from the chair, and that the forlorn head might perhaps have been lying on her lap. I saw but little of the girl’s face, over which her hair fell loose and scattered, as if she had been disordering it with her own hands; but I saw that she was young, and of a fair complexion. Peggotty had been crying. So had little Em’ly. Not a word was spoken when we first went in; and the Dutch clock by the dresser seemed, in the silence, to tick twice as loud as usual. Em’ly spoke first.

“Martha wants,” she said to Ham, “to go to London.”

“Why to London?” returned Ham.

He stood between them, looking on the prostrate girl with a mixture of compassion for her, and of jealousy of her holding any companionship with her whom he loved so well, which I have always remembered distinctly. They both spoke as if she were ill; in a soft, suppressed tone that was plainly heard, although it hardly rose above a whisper.

“Better there than here,” said a third voice aloud—Martha’s, though she did not move. “No one knows me there. Everybody knows me here.”

“What will she do there?” inquired Ham.

She lifted up her head, and looked darkly round at him for a moment; then laid it down again, and curved her right arm about her neck, as a woman in a fever, or in an agony of pain from a shot, might twist herself.

“She will try to do well,” said little Em’ly. “You don’t know what she has said to us. Does he—do they—aunt?”

Peggotty shook her head compassionately.

“I’ll try,” said Martha, “if you’ll help me away. I never can do worse than I have done here. I may do better. Oh!” with a dreadful shiver, “take me out of these streets, where the whole town knows me from a child!”

As Em’ly held out her hand to Ham, I saw him put in it a little canvas bag. She took it, as if she thought it were her purse, and made a step or two forward; but finding her mistake, came back to where he had retired near me, and showed it to him.

“It’s all yourn, Em’ly,” I could hear him say. “I haven’t nowt in all the wureld that ain’t yourn, my dear. It ain’t of no delight to me, except for you!”

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