David Copperfield – Day 244 of 331

“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 to speak!”

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 description.

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 now.”

“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 all—“

(“Which you haven’t, you Marplot,” observed my aunt, in an indignant whisper.)

— “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.”

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