WE had a very serious conversation in Buckingham Street that night, about the domestic occurrences I have detailed in the last chapter. My aunt was deeply interested in them, and walked up and down the room with her arms folded, for more than two hours afterwards. Whenever she was particularly discomposed, she always performed one of these pedestrian feats; and the amount of her discomposure might always be estimated by the duration of her walk.
On this occasion she was so much disturbed in mind as to find it necessary to open the bedroom door, and make a course for herself, comprising the full extent of the bedrooms from wall to wall; and while Mr. Dick and I sat quietly by the fire, she kept passing in and out, along this measured track, at un unchanging pace, with the regularity of a clock pendulum.
When my aunt and I were left to ourselves by Mr. Dicks going out to bed, I sat down to write my letter to the two old ladies. By that time she was tired of walking, and sat by the fire with her dress tucked up as usual. But instead of sitting in her usual manner, holding her glass upon her knee, she suffered it to stand neglected on the chimneypiece; and, resting her left elbow on her right arm, and her chin on her left hand, looked thoughtfully at me. As often as I raised my eyes from what I was about, I met hers. I am in the lovingest of tempers, my dear, she would assure me with a nod, but I am fidgetted and sorry!
I had been too busy to observe, until after she was gone to bed, that she had left her night-mixture, as she always called it, untasted on the chimney-piece. She came to her door, with even more than her usual affection of manner, when I knocked to acquaint her with this discovery; but only said, I have not the heart to take it, Trot, to-night, and shook her head, and went in again.
She read my letter to the two old ladies, in the morning, and approved of it. I posted it, and had nothing to do then, but wait, as patiently as I could, for the reply. I was still in this state of expectation, and had been, for nearly a week; when I left the Doctors one snowy night, to walk home.
It had been a bitter day, and a cutting north-east wind had blown for some time. The wind had gone down with the light, and so the snow had come on. It was a heavy, settled fall, I recollect, in great flakes; and it lay thick. The noise of wheels and tread of people were as hushed, as if the streets had been strewn that depth with feathers.
My shortest way home,and I naturally took the shortest way on such a nightwas through Saint Martins Lane. Now, the church which gives its name to the lane, stood in a less free situation at that time; there being no open space before it, and the lane winding down to the Strand. As I passed the steps of the portico, I encountered, at the corner, a womans face. It looked in mine, passed across the narrow lane, and disappeared. I knew it. I had seen it somewhere. But I could not remember where. I had some association with it, that struck upon my heart directly; but I was thinking of anything else when it came upon me, and was confused.
On the steps of the church, there was the stooping figure of a man, who had put down some burden on the smooth snow, to adjust it; my seeing the face, and my seeing him, were simultaneous. I dont think I had stopped in my surprise; but, in any case, as I went on, he rose, turned, and came down towards me. I stood face to face with Mr. Peggotty!
Then I remembered the woman. It was Martha, to whom Emily had given the money that night in the kitchen. Martha Endellside by side with whom, he would not have seen his dear niece, Ham had told me, for all the treasures wrecked in the sea.
I had my thowts o coming to make inquiration for you, Sir, to-night, he said, but knowing as your aunt was living along wi youfor Ive been down yonderYarmouth wayI was afeerd it was too late. I should have come early in the morning, Sir, afore going away.
In those days there was a side-entrance to the stableyard of the Golden Cross, the inn so memorable to me in connexion with his misfortune, nearly opposite to where we stood. I pointed out the gateway, put my arm through his, and we went across. Two or three public-rooms opened out of the stable-yard; and looking into one of them, and finding it empty, and a good fire burning. I took him in there.
When I saw him in the light, I observed, not only that his hair was long and ragged, but that his face was burnt dark by the sun. He was greyer, the lines in his face and forehead were deeper, and he had every appearance of having toiled and wandered through all varieties of weather; but he looked very strong, and like a man upheld by steadfastness of purpose, whom nothing could tire out. He shook the snow from his hat and clothes, and brushed it away from his face, while I was inwardly making these remarks. As he sat down opposite to me at a table, with his back to the door by which we had entered, he put out his rough hand again, and grasped mine warmly.
When she was a child, he said, lifting up his head soon after we were left alone, she used to talk to me a deal about the sea, and about them coasts where the sea got to be dark blue, and to lay a shining and a shining in the sun. I thowt, odd times, as her father being drownded made her think on it so much. I doent know, you see, but maybe she believedor hopedhe had drifted out of them parts, where the flowers is always a blowing, and the country bright.
When she waslost, said Mr. Peggotty, I knowd in my mind, as he would take her to them countries. I knowd in my mind, as hed have told her wonders of em, and how she was to be a lady theer, and how he got her listen to him fust, along o sech like. When we see his mother, I knowd quite well as I was right. I went across-Channel to France, and landed theer, as if Id fell down from the sky.
I found out a English gentleman as was in authority, said Mr. Peggotty, and told him I was a going to seek my niece. He got me them papers as I wanted fur to carry me throughI doent rightly know how theyre calledand he would have given me money, but that I was thankful to have no need on. I thank him kind, for all he done, Im sure! Ive wrote afore you, he says to me, and I shall speak to many as will come that way, and many will know you, for distant from here, when youre a travelling alone. I told him, best as I was able, what my gratitoode was, and went away through France.
Mostly afoot, he rejoined; sometimes in carts along with people going to market; sometimes in empty coaches. Many mile a day afoot, and often with some poor soldier or another, travelling to see his friends. I couldnt talk to him, said Mr. Peggotty, nor he to me; but we was company for one another, too, along the dusty roads.
When I come to any town, he pursued, I found the inn, and waited about the yard till some one turned up (some one mostly did) as knowd English. Then I told how that I was on my way to seek my niece, and they told me what manner of gentlefolks was in the house, and I waited to see any as seemed like her, going in or out. When it warnt Emly, I went on agen. By little and little, when I come to a new village or that, among the poor people, I found they knowd about me. They would set me down at their cottage doors, and give me what-not fur to eat and drink, and show me where to sleep; and many a woman, Masr Davy, as has had a daughter of about Emlys age, Ive found a waiting for me, at Our Saviours Cross outside the village, fur to do me simlar kindnesses. Some has had daughters as was dead. And God only knows how good them mothers was to me!
They would often put their childrenparticlar their little girls, said Mr. Peggotty, upon my knee; and many a time you might have seen me sitting at their doors, when night was coming on, amost as if theyd been my darlings children. Oh, my darling!
They often walked with me, he said, in the morning, maybe a mile or two upon my road; and when we parted, and I said, Im very thankful to you! God bless you! they always seemed to understand, and answered pleasant. At last I come to the sea. It warnt hard, you may suppose, for a seafaring man like me to work his way over to Italy. When I got theer, I wandered on as I had done afore. The people was just as good to me, and I should have gone from town to town, maybe the country through, but that I got news of her being seen among them Swiss mountains yonder. One as knowd his servant see em there, all three, and told me how they travelled, and where they was. I made for them mountains, Masr Davy, day and night. Ever so fur as I went, ever so fur the mountains seemed to shift away from me. But I come up with em, and I crossed em. When I got nigh the place as I had been told of, I began to think within my own self, What shall I do when I see her?
I never doubted her, said Mr. Peggotty. No! Not a bit! Ony let her see my faceony let her heer my voiceony let my stanning still afore fore her bring to her thoughts the home she had fled away from, and the child she had beenand if she had growed to be a royal lady, shed have fell down at my feet! I knowd it well. Many a time in my sleep had I heerd her cry out, Uncle! and seen her fall like death afore me. Many a time in my sleep had I raised her up, and whispered to her, Emly, my dear, I am come fur to bring forgiveness, and to take you home!
He was nowt to me now. Emly was all. I bought a country dress to put upon her; and I knowd that, once found, she would walk beside me over them stony roads, go where I would, and never, never, leave me more. To put that dress upon her, and to cast off what she woreto take her on my arm again, and wander towards hometo stop sometimes upon the road, and heal her bruised feet and her worse-bruised heartwas all that I thowt of now. I doent believe I should have done so much as look at him. But, Masr Davy, it warnt to benot yet! I was too late, and they was gone. Wheer, I couldnt learn. Some said heer, some said theer. I travelled heer, and I travelled theer, but I found no Emly, and I travelled home.
A matter ofower days, said Mr. Peggotty. I sighted the old boat arter dark, and the light a shining in the winder. When I come nigh and looked in through the glass, I see the faithful creetur Missis Gummidge sittin by the fire, as we had fixed upon, alone. I called out, Doent be afeerd! Its Danl! and I went in. I never could have thowt the old boat would have been so strange!
This fust one come, he said, selecting it from the rest, afore I had been gone a week. A fifty pound bank-note, in a sheet of paper, directed to me, and put underneath the door in the night. She tried to hide her writing, but she couldnt hide it from Me!
Oh, what will you feel when you see this writing, and know it comes from my wicked hand! But try, trynot for my sake, but for uncles goodness, try to let your heart soften to me, only for a little little time! Try, pray do, to relent towards a miserable girl, and write down on a bit of paper whether he is well, and what he said about me before you left off ever naming me among yourselvesand whether, of a night, when it is my old time of coming home, you ever see him look as if he thought of one he used to love so dear. Oh, my heart is breaking when I think about it! I am kneeling down to you, begging and praying you not to be as hard with me as I deserveas I well, well know I deservebut to be so gentle and so good, as to write down something of him, and to send it to me. You need not call me Little, you need not call me by the name I have disgraced; but oh, listen to my agony, and have mercy on me so far as to write me some word of uncle, never, never to be seen in this world by eyes again!
Dear, if your heart is hard towards mejustly hard, I knowbut, Listen, if it is hard, dear, ask him I have wronged the mosthim whose wife I was to have beenbefore you quite decide against my poor poor prayer! If he should be so compassionate as to say that you might write something for me to readI think he would, oh, I think he would, if you would only ask him, for he always was so brave and so forgivingtell him then (but not else), that when I hear the wind blowing at night, I feel as if it was passing angrily from seeing him and uncle, and was going up to God against me. Tell him that if I was to die to-morrow (and oh, if I was fit, I would be so glad to die!) I would bless him and uncle with my last words, and pray for his happy home with my last breath!
Some money was enclosed in this letter also. Five pounds. It was untouched like the previous sum, and he refolded it in the same way. Detailed instructions were added relative to the address of a reply, which, although they betrayed the intervention of several hands, and made it difficult to arrive at any very probable conclusion in reference to her place of concealment, made it at least not unlikely that she had written from that spot where she was stated to have been seen.
Its money, Sir, said Mr. Peggotty, unfolding it a little way. Ten pound, you see. And wrote inside, From a true friend, like the fust. But the fust was put underneath the door, and this come by the post, day afore yesterday. Im a going to seek her at the post-mark.
He showed it to me. It was a town on the Upper Rhine. He had found out, at Yarmouth, some foreign dealers who knew that country, and they had drawn him a rude map on paper, which he could very well understand.
He works, he said, as bold as a man can. His names as good, in all that part, as any mans is, anywheres in the wureld. Anyones hand is ready to help him, you understand, and his is ready to help them. Hes never been heerd fur to complain. But my sisters belief is (twixt ourselves) as it has cut him deep.
He aint no care, Masr Davy, said Mr. Peggotty in a solemn whisperkeinder no care no-how for his life. When a mans wanted for rough sarvice in rough weather, hes theer. When theres hard duty to be done with danger in it, he steps forard afore all his mates. And yet hes as gentle as any child. There aint a in Yarmouth that doent know him.
He gathered up the letters thoughtfully, smoothing them with his hand; put them into their little bundle; and placed it tenderly in his breast again. The face was gone from the door. I still saw the snow drifting in; but nothing else was there.
Well! he said, looking to his bag, having seen you tonight, Masr Davy (and that does me good!) I shall away betimes to-morrow morning. You have seen what Ive got heer; putting his hand on where the little packet lay; all that troubles me is, to think that any harm might come to me, afore that money was give back. If I was to die, and it was lost, or stole, or elseways made away with, and it was never knowd by him but what Id took it. I believe the tother wureld wouldnt hold me! I believe I must come back!
Id go ten thousand mile, he said, Id go till I dropped dead, to lay that money down afore him. If I do that, and find my Emly, Im content. If I doent find her, maybe shell come to hear, sometime, as her loving uncle only ended his search for her when he ended his life; and if I know her, even that will turn her home at last!
He spoke of a travellers house on the Dover road, where he knew he could find a clean, plain lodging for the night. I went with him over Westminster Bridge, and parted from him on the Surrey shore. Everything seemed, to my imagination, to be hushed in reverence for him, as he resumed his solitary journey through the snow.
I returned to the inn yard, and, impressed by my remembrance of the face looked awfully around for it. It was not there. The snow had covered our late footprints; my new track was the only one to be seen; and even that began to die away (it snowed so fast) as I looked back over my shoulder.