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'She is in a state of frenzy,' I whispered to him. 'She will speak differently in a little time.'
I don't know what he would have said in answer. He made some motion with his mouth, and seemed to think he had spoken; but he had only pointed to her with his outstretched hand.
A new burst of crying came upon her now, in which she once more hid her face among the stones, and lay before us, a prostrate image of humiliation and ruin. Knowing that this state must pass, before we could speak to her with any hope, I ventured to restrain him when he would have raised her, and we stood by in silence until she became more tranquil.
'Martha,' said I then, leaning down, and helping her to rise - she seemed to want to rise as if with the intention of going away, but she was weak, and leaned against a boat. 'Do you know who this is, who is with me?'
She said faintly, 'Yes.'
'Do you know that we have followed you a long way tonight?'
She shook her head. She looked neither at him nor at me, but stood in a humble attitude, holding her bonnet and shawl in one hand, without appearing conscious of them, and pressing the other, clenched, against her forehead.
'Are you composed enough,' said I, 'to speak on the subject which so interested you - I hope Heaven may remember it! - that snowy night?'
Her sobs broke out afresh, and she murmured some inarticulate thanks to me for not having driven her away from the door.
'I want to say nothing for myself,' she said, after a few moments. 'I am bad, I am lost. I have no hope at all. But tell him, sir,' she had shrunk away from him, 'if you don't feel too hard to me to do it, that I never was in any way the cause of his misfortune.' 'It has never been attributed to you,' I returned, earnestly responding to her earnestness.
'It was you, if I don't deceive myself,' she said, in a broken voice, 'that came into the kitchen, the night she took such pity on me; was so gentle to me; didn't shrink away from me like all the rest, and gave me such kind help! Was it you, sir?'
'It was,' said I.
'I should have been in the river long ago,' she said, glancing at it with a terrible expression, 'if any wrong to her had been upon my mind. I never could have kept out of it a single winter's night, if I had not been free of any share in that!'
'The cause of her flight is too well understood,' I said. 'You are innocent of any part in it, we thoroughly believe, - we know.'
'Oh, I might have been much the better for her, if I had had a better heart!' exclaimed the girl, with most forlorn regret; 'for she was always good to me! She never spoke a word to me but what was pleasant and right. Is it likely I would try to make her what I am myself, knowing what I am myself, so well? When I lost everything that makes life dear, the worst of all my thoughts was that I was parted for ever from her!'
Mr. Peggotty, standing with one hand on the gunwale of the boat, and his eyes cast down, put his disengaged hand before his face.
'And when I heard what had happened before that snowy night, from some belonging to our town,' cried Martha, 'the bitterest thought in all my mind was, that the people would remember she once kept company with me, and would say I had corrupted her! When, Heaven knows, I would have died to have brought back her good name!'
Long unused to any self-control, the piercing agony of her remorse and grief was terrible.
'To have died, would not have been much - what can I say? - I would have lived!' she cried. 'I would have lived to be old, in the wretched streets - and to wander about, avoided, in the dark - and to see the day break on the ghastly line of houses, and remember how the same sun used to shine into my room, and wake me once - I would have done even that, to save her!'
Sinking on the stones, she took some in each hand, and clenched them up, as if she would have ground them. She writhed into some new posture constantly: stiffening her arms, twisting them before her face, as though to shut out from her eyes the little light there was, and drooping her head, as if it were heavy with insupportable recollections.
'What shall I ever do!' she said, fighting thus with her despair. 'How can I go on as I am, a solitary curse to myself, a living disgrace to everyone I come near!' Suddenly she turned to my companion. 'Stamp upon me, kill me! When she was your pride, you would have thought I had done her harm if I had brushed against her in the street. You can't believe - why should you? - a syllable that comes out of my lips. It would be a burning shame upon you, even now, if she and I exchanged a word. I don't complain. I don't say she and I are alike - I know there is a long, long way between us. I only say, with all my guilt and wretchedness upon my head, that I am grateful to her from my soul, and love her. Oh, don't think that all the power I had of loving anything is quite worn out! Throw me away, as all the world does. Kill me for being what I am, and having ever known her; but don't think that of me!'
He looked upon her, while she made this supplication, in a wild distracted manner; and, when she was silent, gently raised her.
'Martha,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'God forbid as I should judge you. Forbid as I, of all men, should do that, my girl! You doen't know half the change that's come, in course of time, upon me, when you think it likely. Well!' he paused a moment, then went on. 'You doen't understand how 'tis that this here gentleman and me has wished to speak to you. You doen't understand what 'tis we has afore us. Listen now!'
His influence upon her was complete. She stood, shrinkingly, before him, as if she were afraid to meet his eyes; but her passionate sorrow was quite hushed and mute.
'If you heerd,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'owt of what passed between Mas'r Davy and me, th' night when it snew so hard, you know as I have been - wheer not - fur to seek my dear niece. My dear niece,' he repeated steadily. 'Fur she's more dear to me now, Martha, than she was dear afore.'
She put her hands before her face; but otherwise remained quiet.
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David Copperfield - by Charles Dickens