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CHAPTER 45
Mr. Dick fulfils my aunt's Predictions


It was some time now, since I had left the Doctor. Living in his
neighbourhood, I saw him frequently; and we all went to his house
on two or three occasions to dinner or tea. The Old Soldier was in
permanent quarters under the Doctor's roof. She was exactly the
same as ever, and the same immortal butterflies hovered over her
cap.

Like some other mothers, whom I have known in the course of my
life, Mrs. Markleham was far more fond of pleasure than her
daughter was. She required a great deal of amusement, and, like a
deep old soldier, pretended, in consulting her own inclinations, to
be devoting herself to her child. The Doctor's desire that Annie
should be entertained, was therefore particularly acceptable to
this excellent parent; who expressed unqualified approval of his
discretion.

I have no doubt, indeed, that she probed the Doctor's wound without
knowing it. Meaning nothing but a certain matured frivolity and
selfishness, not always inseparable from full-blown years, I think
she confirmed him in his fear that he was a constraint upon his
young wife, and that there was no congeniality of feeling between
them, by so strongly commending his design of lightening the load
of her life.

'My dear soul,' she said to him one day when I was present, 'you
know there is no doubt it would be a little pokey for Annie to be
always shut up here.'

The Doctor nodded his benevolent head. 'When she comes to her
mother's age,' said Mrs. Markleham, with a flourish of her fan,
'then it'll be another thing. You might put ME into a Jail, with
genteel society and a rubber, and I should never care to come out.
But I am not Annie, you know; and Annie is not her mother.'

'Surely, surely,' said the Doctor.

'You are the best of creatures - no, I beg your pardon!' for the
Doctor made a gesture of deprecation, 'I must say before your face,
as I always say behind your back, you are the best of creatures;
but of course you don't - now do you? - enter into the same
pursuits and fancies as Annie?'

'No,' said the Doctor, in a sorrowful tone.

'No, of course not,' retorted the Old Soldier. 'Take your
Dictionary, for example. What a useful work a Dictionary is! What
a necessary work! The meanings of words! Without Doctor Johnson,
or somebody of that sort, we might have been at this present moment
calling an Italian-iron, a bedstead. But we can't expect a
Dictionary - especially when it's making - to interest Annie, can
we?'

The Doctor shook his head.

'And that's why I so much approve,' said Mrs. Markleham, tapping
him on the shoulder with her shut-up fan, 'of your thoughtfulness.
It shows that you don't expect, as many elderly people do expect,
old heads on young shoulders. You have studied Annie's character,
and you understand it. That's what I find so charming!'

Even the calm and patient face of Doctor Strong expressed some
little sense of pain, I thought, under the infliction of these
compliments.

'Therefore, my dear Doctor,' said the Old Soldier, giving him
several affectionate taps, 'you may command me, at all times and
seasons. Now, do understand that I am entirely at your service.
I am ready to go with Annie to operas, concerts, exhibitions, all
kinds of places; and you shall never find that I am tired. Duty,
my dear Doctor, before every consideration in the universe!'

She was as good as her word. She was one of those people who can
bear a great deal of pleasure, and she never flinched in her
perseverance in the cause. She seldom got hold of the newspaper
(which she settled herself down in the softest chair in the house
to read through an eye-glass, every day, for two hours), but she
found out something that she was certain Annie would like to see.
It was in vain for Annie to protest that she was weary of such
things. Her mother's remonstrance always was, 'Now, my dear Annie,
I am sure you know better; and I must tell you, my love, that you
are not making a proper return for the kindness of Doctor Strong.'

This was usually said in the Doctor's presence, and appeared to me
to constitute Annie's principal inducement for withdrawing her
objections when she made any. But in general she resigned herself
to her mother, and went where the Old Soldier would.

It rarely happened now that Mr. Maldon accompanied them. Sometimes
my aunt and Dora were invited to do so, and accepted the
invitation. Sometimes Dora only was asked. The time had been,
when I should have been uneasy in her going; but reflection on what
had passed that former night in the Doctor's study, had made a
change in my mistrust. I believed that the Doctor was right, and
I had no worse suspicions.

My aunt rubbed her nose sometimes when she happened to be alone
with me, and said she couldn't make it out; she wished they were
happier; she didn't think our military friend (so she always called
the Old Soldier) mended the matter at all. My aunt further
expressed her opinion, 'that if our military friend would cut off
those butterflies, and give 'em to the chimney-sweepers for
May-day, it would look like the beginning of something sensible on
her part.'

But her abiding reliance was on Mr. Dick. That man had evidently
an idea in his head, she said; and if he could only once pen it up
into a corner, which was his great difficulty, he would distinguish
himself in some extraordinary manner.

Unconscious of this prediction, Mr. Dick continued to occupy
precisely the same ground in reference to the Doctor and to Mrs.
Strong. He seemed neither to advance nor to recede. He appeared
to have settled into his original foundation, like a building; and
I must confess that my faith in his ever Moving, was not much
greater than if he had been a building.

But one night, when I had been married some months, Mr. Dick put
his head into the parlour, where I was writing alone (Dora having
gone out with my aunt to take tea with the two little birds), and
said, with a significant cough:

'You couldn't speak to me without inconveniencing yourself,
Trotwood, I am afraid?'

'Certainly, Mr. Dick,' said I; 'come in!'

'Trotwood,' said Mr. Dick, laying his finger on the side of his
nose, after he had shaken hands with me. 'Before I sit down, I
wish to make an observation. You know your aunt?'

'A little,' I replied.

'She is the most wonderful woman in the world, sir!'

After the delivery of this communication, which he shot out of
himself as if he were loaded with it, Mr. Dick sat down with
greater gravity than usual, and looked at me.

'Now, boy,' said Mr. Dick, 'I am going to put a question to you.'

'As many as you please,' said I.

'What do you consider me, sir?' asked Mr. Dick, folding his arms.

'A dear old friend,' said I.
'Thank you, Trotwood,' returned Mr. Dick, laughing, and reaching
across in high glee to shake hands with me. 'But I mean, boy,'
resuming his gravity, 'what do you consider me in this respect?'
touching his forehead.

I was puzzled how to answer, but he helped me with a word.

'Weak?' said Mr. Dick.

'Well,' I replied, dubiously. 'Rather so.'

'Exactly!' cried Mr. Dick, who seemed quite enchanted by my reply.
'That is, Trotwood, when they took some of the trouble out of
you-know-who's head, and put it you know where, there was a -' Mr.
Dick made his two hands revolve very fast about each other a great
number of times, and then brought them into collision, and rolled
them over and over one another, to express confusion. 'There was
that sort of thing done to me somehow. Eh?'

I nodded at him, and he nodded back again.

'In short, boy,' said Mr. Dick, dropping his voice to a whisper, 'I
am simple.'

I would have qualified that conclusion, but he stopped me.

'Yes, I am! She pretends I am not. She won't hear of it; but I
am. I know I am. If she hadn't stood my friend, sir, I should
have been shut up, to lead a dismal life these many years. But
I'll provide for her! I never spend the copying money. I put it
in a box. I have made a will. I'll leave it all to her. She
shall be rich - noble!'

Mr. Dick took out his pocket-handkerchief, and wiped his eyes. He
then folded it up with great care, pressed it smooth between his
two hands, put it in his pocket, and seemed to put my aunt away
with it.

'Now you are a scholar, Trotwood,' said Mr. Dick. 'You are a fine
scholar. You know what a learned man, what a great man, the Doctor
is. You know what honour he has always done me. Not proud in his
wisdom. Humble, humble - condescending even to poor Dick, who is
simple and knows nothing. I have sent his name up, on a scrap of
paper, to the kite, along the string, when it has been in the sky,
among the larks. The kite has been glad to receive it, sir, and
the sky has been brighter with it.'

I delighted him by saying, most heartily, that the Doctor was
deserving of our best respect and highest esteem.

'And his beautiful wife is a star,' said Mr. Dick. 'A shining
star. I have seen her shine, sir. But,' bringing his chair
nearer, and laying one hand upon my knee - 'clouds, sir - clouds.'

I answered the solicitude which his face expressed, by conveying
the same expression into my own, and shaking my head.

'What clouds?' said Mr. Dick.

He looked so wistfully into my face, and was so anxious to
understand, that I took great pains to answer him slowly and
distinctly, as I might have entered on an explanation to a child.

'There is some unfortunate division between them,' I replied.
'Some unhappy cause of separation. A secret. It may be
inseparable from the discrepancy in their years. It may have grown
up out of almost nothing.'

Mr. Dick, who had told off every sentence with a thoughtful nod,
paused when I had done, and sat considering, with his eyes upon my
face, and his hand upon my knee.

'Doctor not angry with her, Trotwood?' he said, after some time.

'No. Devoted to her.'

'Then, I have got it, boy!' said Mr. Dick.

The sudden exultation with which he slapped me on the knee, and
leaned back in his chair, with his eyebrows lifted up as high as he
could possibly lift them, made me think him farther out of his wits
than ever. He became as suddenly grave again, and leaning forward
as before, said - first respectfully taking out his
pocket-handkerchief, as if it really did represent my aunt:

'Most wonderful woman in the world, Trotwood. Why has she done
nothing to set things right?'

'Too delicate and difficult a subject for such interference,' I
replied.

'Fine scholar,' said Mr. Dick, touching me with his finger. 'Why
has HE done nothing?'

'For the same reason,' I returned.

'Then, I have got it, boy!' said Mr. Dick. And he stood up before
me, more exultingly than before, nodding his head, and striking
himself repeatedly upon the breast, until one might have supposed
that he had nearly nodded and struck all the breath out of his
body.

'A poor fellow with a craze, sir,' said Mr. Dick, 'a simpleton, a
weak-minded person - present company, you know!' striking himself
again, 'may do what wonderful people may not do. I'll bring them
together, boy. I'll try. They'll not blame me. They'll not
object to me. They'll not mind what I do, if it's wrong. I'm only
Mr. Dick. And who minds Dick? Dick's nobody! Whoo!' He blew a
slight, contemptuous breath, as if he blew himself away.

It was fortunate he had proceeded so far with his mystery, for we
heard the coach stop at the little garden gate, which brought my
aunt and Dora home.

'Not a word, boy!' he pursued in a whisper; 'leave all the blame
with Dick - simple Dick - mad Dick. I have been thinking, sir, for
some time, that I was getting it, and now I have got it. After
what you have said to me, I am sure I have got it. All right!' Not
another word did Mr. Dick utter on the subject; but he made a very
telegraph of himself for the next half-hour (to the great
disturbance of my aunt's mind), to enjoin inviolable secrecy on me.

To my surprise, I heard no more about it for some two or three
weeks, though I was sufficiently interested in the result of his
endeavours; descrying a strange gleam of good sense - I say nothing
of good feeling, for that he always exhibited - in the conclusion
to which he had come. At last I began to believe, that, in the
flighty and unsettled state of his mind, he had either forgotten
his intention or abandoned it.

One fair evening, when Dora was not inclined to go out, my aunt and
I strolled up to the Doctor's cottage. It was autumn, when there
were no debates to vex the evening air; and I remember how the
leaves smelt like our garden at Blunderstone as we trod them under
foot, and how the old, unhappy feeling, seemed to go by, on the
sighing wind.

It was twilight when we reached the cottage. Mrs. Strong was just
coming out of the garden, where Mr. Dick yet lingered, busy with
his knife, helping the gardener to point some stakes. The Doctor
was engaged with someone in his study; but the visitor would be
gone directly, Mrs. Strong said, and begged us to remain and see
him. We went into the drawing-room with her, and sat down by the
darkening window. There was never any ceremony about the visits of
such old friends and neighbours as we were.

We had not sat here many minutes, when Mrs. Markleham, who usually
contrived to be in a fuss about something, came bustling in, with
her newspaper in her hand, and said, out of breath, 'My goodness
gracious, Annie, why didn't you tell me there was someone in the
Study!'

'My dear mama,' she quietly returned, 'how could I know that you
desired the information?'

'Desired the information!' said Mrs. Markleham, sinking on the
sofa. 'I never had such a turn in all my life!'

'Have you been to the Study, then, mama?' asked Annie.

'BEEN to the Study, my dear!' she returned emphatically. 'Indeed
I have! I came upon the amiable creature - if you'll imagine my
feelings, Miss Trotwood and David - in the act of making his will.'

Her daughter looked round from the window quickly.

'In the act, my dear Annie,' repeated Mrs. Markleham, spreading the
newspaper on her lap like a table-cloth, and patting her hands upon
it, 'of making his last Will and Testament. The foresight and
affection of the dear! I must tell you how it was. I really must,
in justice to the darling - for he is nothing less! - tell you how
it was. Perhaps you know, Miss Trotwood, that there is never a
candle lighted in this house, until one's eyes are literally
falling out of one's head with being stretched to read the paper.
And that there is not a chair in this house, in which a paper can
be what I call, read, except one in the Study. This took me to the
Study, where I saw a light. I opened the door. In company with
the dear Doctor were two professional people, evidently connected
with the law, and they were all three standing at the table: the
darling Doctor pen in hand. "This simply expresses then," said the
Doctor - Annie, my love, attend to the very words - "this simply
expresses then, gentlemen, the confidence I have in Mrs. Strong,
and gives her all unconditionally?" One of the professional people
replied, "And gives her all unconditionally." Upon that, with the
natural feelings of a mother, I said, "Good God, I beg your
pardon!" fell over the door-step, and came away through the little
back passage where the pantry is.'

Mrs. Strong opened the window, and went out into the verandah,
where she stood leaning against a pillar.

'But now isn't it, Miss Trotwood, isn't it, David, invigorating,'
said Mrs. Markleham, mechanically following her with her eyes, 'to
find a man at Doctor Strong's time of life, with the strength of
mind to do this kind of thing? It only shows how right I was. I
said to Annie, when Doctor Strong paid a very flattering visit to
myself, and made her the subject of a declaration and an offer, I
said, "My dear, there is no doubt whatever, in my opinion, with
reference to a suitable provision for you, that Doctor Strong will
do more than he binds himself to do."'

Here the bell rang, and we heard the sound of the visitors' feet as
they went out.

'It's all over, no doubt,' said the Old Soldier, after listening;
'the dear creature has signed, sealed, and delivered, and his
mind's at rest. Well it may be! What a mind! Annie, my love, I
am going to the Study with my paper, for I am a poor creature
without news. Miss Trotwood, David, pray come and see the Doctor.'

I was conscious of Mr. Dick's standing in the shadow of the room,
shutting up his knife, when we accompanied her to the Study; and of
my aunt's rubbing her nose violently, by the way, as a mild vent
for her intolerance of our military friend; but who got first into
the Study, or how Mrs. Markleham settled herself in a moment in her
easy-chair, or how my aunt and I came to be left together near the
door (unless her eyes were quicker than mine, and she held me
back), I have forgotten, if I ever knew. But this I know, - that
we saw the Doctor before he saw us, sitting at his table, among the
folio volumes in which he delighted, resting his head calmly on his
hand. That, in the same moment, we saw Mrs. Strong glide in, pale
and trembling. That Mr. Dick supported her on his arm. That he
laid his other hand upon the Doctor's arm, causing him to look up
with an abstracted air. That, as the Doctor moved his head, his
wife dropped down on one knee at his feet, and, with her hands
imploringly lifted, fixed upon his face the memorable look I had
never forgotten. That at this sight Mrs. Markleham dropped the
newspaper, and stared more like a figure-head intended for a ship
to be called The Astonishment, than anything else I can think of.

The gentleness of the Doctor's manner and surprise, the dignity
that mingled with the supplicating attitude of his wife, the
amiable concern of Mr. Dick, and the earnestness with which my aunt
said to herself, 'That man mad!' (triumphantly expressive of the
misery from which she had saved him) - I see and hear, rather than
remember, as I write about it.

'Doctor!' said Mr. Dick. 'What is it that's amiss? Look here!'

'Annie!' cried the Doctor. 'Not at my feet, my dear!'

'Yes!' she said. 'I beg and pray that no one will leave the room!
Oh, my husband and father, break this long silence. Let us both
know what it is that has come between us!'

Mrs. Markleham, by this time recovering the power of speech, and
seeming to swell with family pride and motherly indignation, here
exclaimed, 'Annie, get up immediately, and don't disgrace everybody
belonging to you by humbling yourself like that, unless you wish to
see me go out of my mind on the spot!'

'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.'

'Makes her mother nothing!' exclaimed Mrs. Markleham.

'Not so mama,' said Annie; 'but I make him what he was. I must do
that. As I grew up, he occupied the same place still. I was proud
of his interest: deeply, fondly, gratefully attached to him. I
looked up to him, I can hardly describe how - as a father, as a
guide, as one whose praise was different from all other praise, as
one in whom I could have trusted and confided, if I had doubted all
the world. You know, mama, how young and inexperienced I was, when
you presented him before me, of a sudden, as a lover.'

'I have mentioned the fact, fifty times at least, to everybody
here!' said Mrs. Markleham.

('Then hold your tongue, for the Lord's sake, and don't mention it
any more!' muttered my aunt.)

'It was so great a change: so great a loss, I felt it, at first,'
said Annie, still preserving the same look and tone, 'that I was
agitated and distressed. I was but a girl; and when so great a
change came in the character in which I had so long looked up to
him, I think I was sorry. But nothing could have made him what he
used to be again; and I was proud that he should think me so
worthy, and we were married.'
'- At Saint Alphage, Canterbury,' observed Mrs. Markleham.

('Confound the woman!' said my aunt, 'she WON'T be quiet!')

'I never thought,' proceeded Annie, with a heightened colour, 'of
any worldly gain that my husband would bring to me. My young heart
had no room in its homage for any such poor reference. Mama,
forgive me when I say that it was you who first presented to my
mind the thought that anyone could wrong me, and wrong him, by such
a cruel suspicion.'

'Me!' cried Mrs. Markleham.

('Ah! You, to be sure!' observed my aunt, 'and you can't fan it
away, my military friend!')

'It was the first unhappiness of my new life,' said Annie. 'It was
the first occasion of every unhappy moment I have known. These
moments have been more, of late, than I can count; but not - my
generous husband! - not for the reason you suppose; for in my heart
there is not a thought, a recollection, or a hope, that any power
could separate from you!'

She raised her eyes, and clasped her hands, and looked as beautiful
and true, I thought, as any Spirit. The Doctor looked on her,
henceforth, as steadfastly as she on him.

'Mama is blameless,' she went on, 'of having ever urged you for
herself, and she is blameless in intention every way, I am sure, -
but when I saw how many importunate claims were pressed upon you in
my name; how you were traded on in my name; how generous you were,
and how Mr. Wickfield, who had your welfare very much at heart,
resented it; the first sense of my exposure to the mean suspicion
that my tenderness was bought - and sold to you, of all men on
earth - fell upon me like unmerited disgrace, in which I forced you
to participate. I cannot tell you what it was - mama cannot
imagine what it was - to have this dread and trouble always on my
mind, yet know in my own soul that on my marriage-day I crowned the
love and honour of my life!'

'A specimen of the thanks one gets,' cried Mrs. Markleham, in
tears, 'for taking care of one's family! I wish I was a Turk!'

('I wish you were, with all my heart - and in your native country!'
said my aunt.)

'It was at that time that mama was most solicitous about my Cousin
Maldon. I had liked him': she spoke softly, but without any
hesitation: 'very much. We had been little lovers once. If
circumstances had not happened otherwise, I might have come to
persuade myself that I really loved him, and might have married
him, and been most wretched. There can be no disparity in marriage
like unsuitability of mind and purpose.'

I pondered on those words, even while I was studiously attending to
what followed, as if they had some particular interest, or some
strange application that I could not divine. 'There can be no
disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose' -'no
disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.'

'There is nothing,' said Annie, 'that we have in common. I have
long found that there is nothing. If I were thankful to my husband
for no more, instead of for so much, I should be thankful to him
for having saved me from the first mistaken impulse of my
undisciplined heart.'

She stood quite still, before the Doctor, and spoke with an
earnestness that thrilled me. Yet her voice was just as quiet as
before.

'When he was waiting to be the object of your munificence, so
freely bestowed for my sake, and when I was unhappy in the
mercenary shape I was made to wear, I thought it would have become
him better to have worked his own way on. I thought that if I had
been he, I would have tried to do it, at the cost of almost any
hardship. But I thought no worse of him, until the night of his
departure for India. That night I knew he had a false and
thankless heart. I saw a double meaning, then, in Mr. Wickfield's
scrutiny of me. I perceived, for the first time, the dark
suspicion that shadowed my life.'

'Suspicion, Annie!' said the Doctor. 'No, no, no!'

'In your mind there was none, I know, my husband!' she returned.
'And when I came to you, that night, to lay down all my load of
shame and grief, and knew that I had to tell that, underneath your
roof, one of my own kindred, to whom you had been a benefactor, for
the love of me, had spoken to me words that should have found no
utterance, even if I had been the weak and mercenary wretch he
thought me - my mind revolted from the taint the very tale
conveyed. It died upon my lips, and from that hour till now has
never passed them.'

Mrs. Markleham, with a short groan, leaned back in her easy-chair;
and retired behind her fan, as if she were never coming out any
more.

'I have never, but in your presence, interchanged a word with him
from that time; then, only when it has been necessary for the
avoidance of this explanation. Years have passed since he knew,
from me, what his situation here was. The kindnesses you have
secretly done for his advancement, and then disclosed to me, for my
surprise and pleasure, have been, you will believe, but
aggravations of the unhappiness and burden of my secret.'

She sunk down gently at the Doctor's feet, though he did his utmost
to prevent her; and said, looking up, tearfully, into his face:

'Do not speak to me yet! Let me say a little more! Right or
wrong, if this were to be done again, I think I should do just the
same. You never can know what it was to be devoted to you, with
those old associations; to find that anyone could be so hard as to
suppose that the truth of my heart was bartered away, and to be
surrounded by appearances confirming that belief. I was very
young, and had no adviser. Between mama and me, in all relating to
you, there was a wide division. If I shrunk into myself, hiding
the disrespect I had undergone, it was because I honoured you so
much, and so much wished that you should honour me!'

'Annie, my pure heart!' said the Doctor, 'my dear girl!'

'A little more! a very few words more! I used to think there were
so many whom you might have married, who would not have brought
such charge and trouble on you, and who would have made your home
a worthier home. I used to be afraid that I had better have
remained your pupil, and almost your child. I used to fear that I
was so unsuited to your learning and wisdom. If all this made me
shrink within myself (as indeed it did), when I had that to tell,
it was still because I honoured you so much, and hoped that you
might one day honour me.'

'That day has shone this long time, Annie,' said the Doctor, and
can have but one long night, my dear.'

'Another word! I afterwards meant - steadfastly meant, and
purposed to myself - to bear the whole weight of knowing the
unworthiness of one to whom you had been so good. And now a last
word, dearest and best of friends! The cause of the late change in
you, which I have seen with so much pain and sorrow, and have
sometimes referred to my old apprehension - at other times to
lingering suppositions nearer to the truth - has been made clear
tonight; and by an accident I have also come to know, tonight, the
full measure of your noble trust in me, even under that mistake.
I do not hope that any love and duty I may render in return, will
ever make me worthy of your priceless confidence; but with all this
knowledge fresh upon me, I can lift my eyes to this dear face,
revered as a father's, loved as a husband's, sacred to me in my
childhood as a friend's, and solemnly declare that in my lightest
thought I have never wronged you; never wavered in the love and the
fidelity I owe you!'

She had her arms around the Doctor's neck, and he leant his head
down over her, mingling his grey hair with her dark brown tresses.

'Oh, hold me to your heart, my husband! Never cast me out! Do not
think or speak of disparity between us, for there is none, except
in all my many imperfections. Every succeeding year I have known
this better, as I have esteemed you more and more. Oh, take me to
your heart, my husband, for my love was founded on a rock, and it
endures!'

In the silence that ensued, my aunt walked gravely up to Mr. Dick,
without at all hurrying herself, and gave him a hug and a sounding
kiss. And it was very fortunate, with a view to his credit, that
she did so; for I am confident that I detected him at that moment
in the act of making preparations to stand on one leg, as an
appropriate expression of delight.

'You are a very remarkable man, Dick!' said my aunt, with an air of
unqualified approbation; 'and never pretend to be anything else,
for I know better!'

With that, my aunt pulled him by the sleeve, and nodded to me; and
we three stole quietly out of the room, and came away.

'That's a settler for our military friend, at any rate,' said my
aunt, on the way home. 'I should sleep the better for that, if
there was nothing else to be glad of!'

'She was quite overcome, I am afraid,' said Mr. Dick, with great
commiseration.

'What! Did you ever see a crocodile overcome?' inquired my aunt.

'I don't think I ever saw a crocodile,' returned Mr. Dick, mildly.

'There never would have been anything the matter, if it hadn't been
for that old Animal,' said my aunt, with strong emphasis. 'It's
very much to be wished that some mothers would leave their
daughters alone after marriage, and not be so violently
affectionate. They seem to think the only return that can be made
them for bringing an unfortunate young woman into the world - God
bless my soul, as if she asked to be brought, or wanted to come! -
is full liberty to worry her out of it again. What are you
thinking of, Trot?'

I was thinking of all that had been said. My mind was still
running on some of the expressions used. 'There can be no
disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.'
'The first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart.' 'My love
was founded on a rock.' But we were at home; and the trodden
leaves were lying under-foot, and the autumn wind was blowing.





David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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