David Copperfield – Day 249 of 331

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 uttered.

“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 my blood.”

“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.”

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