was that in her wild manner which gave me no assurance but that she would sink before my eyes, until I had her arm within my grasp.
At the same moment I said Martha!
She uttered a terrified scream, and struggled with me with such strength that I doubt if I could have held her alone. But a stronger hand than mine was laid upon her; and when she raised her frightened eyes and saw whose it was, she made but one more effort, and dropped down between us. We carried her away from the water to where there were some dry stones, and there laid her down, crying and moaning. In a little while she sat among the stones, holding her wretched head with both her hands.
Oh, the river! she cried, passionately. Oh, the river!
Hush, hush! said I. Calm yourself.
But she still repeated the same words, continually exclaiming, Oh, the river! over and over again.
I know its like me! she exclaimed. I know that I belong to it. I know that its the natural company of such as I am! It comes from country places, where there was once no harm in itand it creeps through the dismal streets, defiled and miserableand it goes away, like my life, to a great sea, that is always troubledand I feel that I must go with it!
I have never known what despair was, except in the tone of those words.
I cant keep away from it. I cant forget it. It haunts me day and night. Its the only thing in all the world that I am fit for, or thats fit for me. Oh, the dreadful river!
The thought passed through my mind that in the face of my companion, as he looked upon her without speech or motion, I might have read his nieces history, if I had known nothing of it. I never saw, in any painting or reality, horror and compassion so impressively blended. He shook as if he would have fallen; and his handI touched it with my own, for his appearance alarmed mewas deadly cold.
She is in a state of frenzy, I whispered to him. She will speak differently in a little time.
I dont 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 riseshe 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 to-night?
She shook her head. She looked neither at him nor at me, but stood in a humbled 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 youI hope Heaven may remember it!that snowy night?
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