Yet it inspired him with an inward fortitude, that rose with his love. And how dearly he loved her now, what words can tell!
As they sat side by side in the shadow of the wall, the shadow fell like light upon him. She would not let him speak much, and he lay back in his chair, looking at her. Now and again she would rise and give him the glass that he might drink, or would smooth the resting-place of his head; then she would gently resume her seat by him, and bend over her work again.
The shadow moved with the sun, but she never moved from his side, except to wait upon him. The sun went down and she was still there. She had done her work now, and her hand, faltering on the arm of his chair since its last tending of him, was hesitating there yet. He laid his hand upon it, and it clasped him with a trembling supplication.
'Dear Mr Clennam, I must say something to you before I go. I have put it off from hour to hour, but I must say it.'
'I too, dear Little Dorrit. I have put off what I must say.' She nervously moved her hand towards his lips as if to stop him; then it dropped, trembling, into its former place.
'I am not going abroad again. My brother is, but I am not. He was always attached to me, and he is so grateful to me now--so much too grateful, for it is only because I happened to be with him in his illness--that he says I shall be free to stay where I like best, and to do what I like best. He only wishes me to be happy, he says.'
There was one bright star shining in the sky. She looked up at it While she spoke, as if it were the fervent purpose of her own heart shining above her.
'You will understand, I dare say, without my telling you, that my brother has come home to find my dear father's will, and to take possession of his property. He says, if there is a will, he is sure i shall be left rich; and if there is none, that he will make me so.'
He would have spoken; but she put up her trembling hand again, and he stopped.
'I have no use for money, I have no wish for it. It would be of no value at all to me but for your sake. I could not be rich, and you here. I must always be much worse than poor, with you distressed. Will you let me lend you all I have? Will you let me give it you? Will you let me show you that I have never forgotten, that I never can forget, your protection of me when this was my home? Dear Mr Clennam, make me of all the world the happiest, by saying Yes. Make me as happy as I can be in leaving you here, by saying nothing to-night, and letting me go away with the hope that you will think of it kindly; and that for my sake--not for yours, for mine, for nobody's but mine!--you will give me the greatest joy I can experience on earth, the joy of knowing that I have been serviceable to you, and that I have paid some little of the great debt of my affection and gratitude. I can't say what I wish to say. I can't visit you here where I have lived so long, I can't think of you here where I have seen so much, and be as calm and comforting as I ought. My tears will make their way. I cannot keep them back. But pray, pray, pray, do not turn from your Little Dorrit, now, in your affliction! Pray, pray, pray, I beg you and implore you with all my grieving heart, my friend--my dear!--take all I have, and make it a Blessing to me!'
The star had shone on her face until now, when her face sank upon his hand and her own.
It had grown darker when he raised her in his encircling arm, and softly answered her.
'No, darling Little Dorrit. No, my child. I must not hear of such a sacrifice. Liberty and hope would be so dear, bought at such a price, that I could never support their weight, never bear the reproach of possessing them. But with what ardent thankfulness and love I say this, I may call Heaven to witness!'
'And yet you will not let me be faithful to you in your affliction?'
'Say, dearest Little Dorrit, and yet I will try to be faithful to you. If, in the bygone days when this was your home and when this was your dress, I had understood myself (I speak only of myself) better, and had read the secrets of my own breast more distinctly; if, through my reserve and self-mistrust, I had discerned a light that I see brightly now when it has passed far away, and my weak footsteps can never overtake it; if I had then known, and told you that I loved and honoured you, not as the poor child I used to call you, but as a woman whose true hand would raise me high above myself and make me a far happier and better man; if I had so used the opportunity there is no recalling--as I wish I had, O I wish I had!--and if something had kept us apart then, when I was moderately thriving, and when you were poor; I might have met your noble offer of your fortune, dearest girl, with other words than these, and still have blushed to touch it.