THERE was a servant in that house, a man who, I understood, was usually with Steerforth, and had come into his service at the University, who was in appearance a pattern of respectability. I believe there never existed in his station a more respectable-looking man. He was taciturn, soft-footed, very quiet in his manner, deferential, observant, always at hand when wanted, and never near when not wanted; but his great claim to consideration was his respectability. He had not a pliant face, he had rather a stiff neck, rather a tight smooth head with short hair clinging to it at the sides, a soft way of speaking, with a peculiar habit of whispering the letter S so distinctly, that he seemed to use it oftener than any other man: but every peculiarity that he had he made respectable. If his nose had been upside-down, he would have made that respectable. He surrounded himself with an atmosphere of respectability, and walked secure in it. It would have been next to impossible to suspect him of anything wrong, he was so thoroughly respectable. Nobody could have thought of putting him in a livery, he was so highly respectable. To have imposed any derogatory work upon him, would have been to inflict a wanton insult on the feelings of a most respectable man. And of this, I noticed the womenservants in the household were so intuitively conscious, that they always did such work themselves, and generally while he read the paper by the pantry fire.
Such a self-contained man I never saw. But in that quality, as in every other he possessed, he only seemed to be the more respectable. Even the fact that no one knew his Christian name, seemed to form a part of his respectability. Nothing could be objected against his surname Littimer, by which he was known. Peter might have been hanged, or Tom transported; but Littimer was perfectly respectable.
It was occasioned, I suppose, by the reverend nature of respectability in the abstract, but I felt particularly young in this mans presence. How old he was himself, I could not guessand that again went to his credit on the same score; for in the calmness of respectability he might have numbered fifty years as well as thirty.
Littimer was in my room in the morning before I was up, to bring me that reproachful shaving-water, and to put out my clothes. When I undrew the curtains an looked out of bed, I saw him, in an equable temperature of respectability, unaffected by the east wind of January, and not even breathing frostily, standing my boots right and left in the first dancing position, and blowing specks of dust off my coat as he laid it down like a baby.
I gave him good morning, and asked him what oclock it was. He took out of his pocket the most respectable hunting-watch I ever saw, and preventing the spring with his thumb from opening far, looked in at the face as if he were consulting an oracular oyster, shut it up again, and said, if I pleased, it was half-past eight.
I thank you, Sir, if you please; and with that, and with a little inclination of his head when he passed the bedside, as an apology for correcting me, he went out, shutting the door as delicately as if I had just fallen into a sweet sleep on which my life depended.
Every morning we held exactly this conversation: never any more, and never any less; and yet, invariably, however ever far I might have been lifted out of myself overnight, and advanced towards maturer years, by Steerforths companionship, or Mrs. Steerforths confidence, or Miss Dartles conversation, in the presence of this most respectable man I became, as our smaller poets sing a boy again.
He got horses for us; and Steerforth, who knew everything, gave me lessons in riding. He provided foils for us, and Steerforth gave me lessons in fencinggloves, and I began, of the same master, to improve in boxing. It gave me no manner of concern that Steerforth should find me a novice in these sciences, but I never could bear to show my want of skill before the respectable Littimer. I had no reason to believe that Littimer understood such arts himself; he never led me to suppose anything of the kind, by so much as the vibration of one of his respectable eyelashes; yet whenever he was by, while we were practising, I felt myself the greenest and most inexperienced of mortals.
The week passed away in a most delightful manner. It passed rapidly, as may be supposed, to one entranced as I was; and yet it gave me so many occasions for knowing Steerforth better, and admiring him more in a thousand respects, that at its close I seemed to have been with him for a much longer time. A dashing way he had of treating me like a plaything, was more agreeable to me than any behaviour he could have adopted. It reminded me of our old acquaintance; it seemed the natural sequel of it; it showed me that he was unchanged; it relieved me of any uneasiness I might have felt, in comparing my merits with his, and measuring my claims upon his friendship by any equal standard; above all, it was a familiar, unrestrained, affectionate demeanour that he used towards no one else. As he had treated me at school differently from all the rest, I joyfully believed that he treated me in life unlike any other friend he had. I believed that I was nearer to his heart than any other friend, and my own heart warmed with attachment to him.
He made up his mind to go with me into the country, and the day arrived for our departure. He had been doubtful at first whether to take Littimer or not, but decided to leave him at home. The respectable creature, satisfied with his lot whatever it was, arranged our portmanteaus on the little carriage that was to take us into London, as if they were intended to defy the shocks of ages; and received my modestly proffered donation with perfect tranquillity.
What I felt, in returning so auspiciously to the old familiar places, I shall not endeavour to describe. We went down by the Mail. I was so concerned, I recollect, even for the honour of Yarmouth, that when Steerforth said, as we drove through its dark streets to the inn, that, as well as he could make out, it was a good, queer, out-of-the-way kind of hole, I was highly pleased. We went to bed on our arrival (I observed a pair of dirty shoes and gaiters in connexion with my old friend the Dolphin as we passed that door), and breakfasted late in the morning. Steerforth, who was in great spirits, had been strolling about the beach before I was up, and had made acquaintance, he said, with half the boatmen in the place. Moreover he had seen, in the distance, what he was sure must be the identical house of Mr. Peggotty, with smoke coming out of the chimney; and had had a great mind, he told me, to walk in and swear he was myself grown out of knowledge.
Aha! What! you recollect my skirmishes with Rosa, do you? he exclaimed with a quick look. Confound the girl, I am half afraid of her. Shes like a goblin to me. But never mind her. Now what are you going to do? You are going to see your nurse, I suppose?
I answered, laughing, that I thought we might get through it in that time, but that he must come also; for he would find that his renown had preceded him, and that he was almost as great a personage as I was.
I gave him minute directions for finding the residence of Mr. Barkis, carrier to Blunderstone and elsewhere; and, on this understanding, went out alone. There was a sharp bracing air; the ground was dry; the sea was crisp and clear; the sun was diffusing abundance of light, if not much warmth; and everything was fresh and lively. I was so fresh and lively myself, in the pleasure of being there, that I could have stopped the people in the streets and shaken hands with them.
The streets looked small, of course. The streets that we have only seen as children always do, I believe, when we go back to them. But I had forgotten nothing in them, and found nothing changed, until I came to Mr. Omers shop. OMER AND JORAM was now written up, where OMER used to be; but the inscription, DRAPER, TAILOR, HABERDASHER, FURNISHER, &C., remained as it was.
My footsteps seemed to tend so naturally to the shopdoor, after I had read these words from over the way, that I went across the road and looked in. There was a pretty woman at the back of the shop, dancing a little child in her arms, while another little fellow clung to her apron. I had no difficulty in recognizing either Minnie or Minnies children. The glass door of the parlour was not open; but in the workshop across the yard I could faintly hear the old tune playing, as if it had never left off.
The little fellow, who was holding her apron, gave such a lusty shout, that the sound of it made him bashful, and he buried his face in her skirts, to her great admiration. I heard a heavy puffing and blowing coming towards us, and soon Mr. Omer, shorter-winded than of yore, but not much older-looking, stood before me.
Dont you remember your coming to the coach to meet me, and my having breakfast here, and our riding out to Blunderstone together: you, and I, and Mrs. Joram, and Mr. Joram toowho wasnt her husband then?
Tobesure, said Mr. Omer, touching my waistcoat with his forefinger, and there was a little child too! There was two parties. The little party was laid along with the other party. Over at Blunderstone it was, of course. Dear me! And how have you been since?
Oh! nothing to grumble at, you know, said Mr. Omer. I find my breath gets short but it seldom gets longer as a man gets older. I take it as it comes, and make the most of it. Thats the best way, aint it?
Dear me! said Mr. Omer. Yes, to be sure. Two parties! Why, in that very ride, if youll believe me, the day was named for my Minnie to marry Joram. Do name it, Sir, says Joram. Yes, do, father, says Minnie. And now hes come into the business. And look here! The youngest!
Two parties, of course! said Mr. Omer, nodding his head retrospectively. Exactly so! And Jorams at work, at this minute, on a grey one with silver nails, not this measurementthe measurement of the dancing child upon the counterby a good two inches. Will you take something?
I believe my breath will get long next, my memorys getting so much so, said Mr. Omer. Well, Sir, weve got a young relation of hers here, under articles to us, that has as elegant a taste in the dressmaking businessI assure you I dont believe theres a duchess in England can touch her.
Couldnt have done it, my dear! retorted Mr. Omer. Couldnt have done it! Is that your knowledge of life? What is there that any woman couldnt do, that she shouldnt doespecially on the subject of another womans good looks?
I really thought it was all over with Mr. Omer, after he had uttered this libellous pleasantry. He coughed to that extent, and his breath eluded all his attempts to recover it with that obstinacy, that I fully expected to see his head go down behind the counter, and his little black breeches, with the rusty little bunches of ribbons at the knees, come quivering up in a last ineffectual struggle. At length, however, he got better, though he still panted hard, and was so exhausted that he was obliged to sit on the stool of the shopdesk.
You see, he said, wiping his head, and breathing with difficulty, she hasnt taken much to any companions here; she hasnt taken kindly to any particular acquaintances and friends, not to mention sweethearts. In consequence, an ill-natured story got about, that Emly wanted to be a lady. Now, my opinion is, that it came into circulation principally on account of her sometimes saying, at the school, that if she was a lady she would like to do so and so for her uncledont you see?and buy him such and such fine things.
Mr. Omer nodded his head and rubbed his chin. Just so. Then out of a very little, she could dress herself, you see, better than most others could out of a deal, and that made things unpleasant. Moreover, she was rather what might be called waywardIll go so far as to say what I should call wayward myself, said Mr. Omerdidnt know her own mind quitea little spoiledand couldnt at first, exactly bind herself down. No more than that was ever said against her, Minnie?
So when she got a situation, said Mr. Omer, to keep a fractious old lady company, they didnt very well agree, and she didnt stop. At last she came here, apprenticed for three years. Nearly two of em are over, and she has been as good a girl as ever was. Worth any six! Minnie, is she worth any six, now?
Very good, said Mr. Omer. Thats right. And so, young gentleman, he added, after a few moments further rubbing of his chin, that you may not consider me longwinded as well as short-breathed, I believe thats all about it.
As they had spoken in a subdued tone, while speaking of Emly, I had no doubt that she was near. On my asking now, if that were not so, Mr. Omer nodded yes, and nodded towards the door of the parlour. My hurried inquiry if I might peep in, was answered with a free permission; and, looking through the glass, I saw her sitting at her work. I saw her, a most beautiful little creature, with the cloudless blue eyes, that had looked into my childish heart, turned laughingly upon another child of Minnies who was playing near her; with enough of wilfulness in her bright face to justify what I had heard; with much of the old capricious coyness lurking in it; but with nothing in her pretty looks, I am sure, but what was meant for goodness and for happiness, and what was on a good and happy course.
I was too bashful to do so thenI was afraid of confusing her, and I was no less afraid of confusing myself: but I informed myself of the hour at which she left of an evening, in order that our visit might be timed accordingly; and taking leave of Mr. Omer, and his pretty daughter, and her little children, went away to my dear old Peggottys.
Here she was, in the tiled kitchen, cooking dinner! The moment I knocked at the door she opened it, and asked me what I pleased to want. I looked at her with a smile, but she gave me no smile in return. I had never ceased to write to her, but it must have been seven years since we had met.
What extravagances she committed; what laughing and crying over me; what pride she showed, what joy, what sorrow that she whose pride and joy I might have been, could never hold me in a fond embrace; I have not the heart to tell. I was troubled with no misgiving that it was young in me to respond to her emotions. I had never laughed and cried in all my life, I dare saynot even to hermore freely than I did that morning.
Barkis will be so glad, said Peggotty, wiping her eyes with her apron, that itll do him more good than pints of liniment. May I go and tell him you are here? Will you come up and see him, my dear?
Of course I would. But Peggotty could not get out of the room as easily as she meant to, for as often as she got to the door and looked round at me, she came back again to have another laugh and another cry upon my shoulder.
He received me with absolute enthusiasm. He was too rheumatic to be shaken hands with, but he begged me to shake the tassel on the top of his nightcap, which I did most cordially. When I sat down by the side of the bed, he said that it did him a world of good to feel as if he was driving me on the Blunderstone road again. As he lay in bed, face upward, and so covered, with that exception, that he seemed to be nothing but a facelike a conventional cherubimhe looked the queerest object I ever beheld.
Here his right hand came slowly and feebly from under the bed-clothes, and with a purposeless uncertain grasp took hold of a stick which was loosely tied to the side of the bed. After some poking about with this instrument, in the course of which his face assumed a variety of distracted expressions, Mr. Barkis poked it against a box, an end of which had been visible to me all the time. Then his face became composed.
I expressed myself quite sure of that, and Mr. Barkis, turning his eyes more gently to his wife, said: Shes the usefullest and best of women, C. P. Barkis. All the praise that any one can give to C. P. Barkis, she deserves, and more! My dear, youll get a dinner to-day, for company; something good to eat and drink, will you?
We left the room, in compliance with this request. When we got outside the door, Peggotty informed me that Mr. Barkis, being now a little nearer than he used to be, always resorted to this same device before producing a single coin from his store; and that he endured unheard-of agonies in crawling out of bed alone, and taking it from that unlucky box. In effect, we presently heard him uttering suppressed groans of the most dismal nature, as this magpie proceeding racked him in every joint; but while Peggottys eyes were full of compassion for him, she said his generous impulse would do him good, and it was better not to check it. So he groaned on, until he had got into bed again, suffering, I have no doubt, a martyrdom; and then called us in, pretending to have just woke up from a refreshing sleep, and to produce a guinea from under his pillow. His satisfaction in which happy imposition on us, and in having preserved the impenetrable secret of the box, appeared to be a sufficient compensation to him for all his tortures.
I prepared Peggotty for Steerforths arrival, and it was not long before he came. I am persuaded she knew no difference between his having been a personal benefactor of hers and a kind friend to me, and that she would have received him with the utmost gratitude and devotion in any case. But his easy, spirited good-humour; his genial manner, his handsome looks, his natural gift of adapting himself to whomsover he pleased, and making direct, when he cared to do it, to the main point of interest in anybodys heart; bound her to him wholly in five minutes. His manner to me, alone, would have won her. But, through all these causes combined, I sincerely believe she had a kind of adoration for him before he left the house that night.
He stayed there with me to dinnerif I were to say willingly, I should not half express how readily and gaily. He went into Mr. Barkiss room like light and air, brightening and refreshing it as if it were healthy weather. There was no noise, no effort, no consciousness, in anything he did; but in everything an indescribable lightness, a seeming impossibility of doing anything else, or doing anything better, which was so graceful, so natural, and agreeable, that it overcomes me, even now, in the remembrance.
We made merry in the little parlour, where the Book of Martyrs, unthumbed since my time, was laid out upon the desk as of old, and where I now turned over its terrific pictures, remembering the old sensations they had awakened, but not feeling them. When Peggotty spoke of what she called my room, and of its being ready for me at night, and of her hoping I would occupy it, before I could so much as look at Steerforth, hesitating, he was possessed of the whole case.
He maintained all his delightful qualities to the last, until we started forth, at eight oclock, for Mr. Peggottys boat. Indeed, they were more and more brightly exhibited as the hours went on; for I thought even then, and I have no doubt now, that the consciousness of success in his determination to please, inspired him with a new delicacy of perception, and made it, subtle as it was, more easy to him. If any one had told me, then, that all this was a brilliant game, played for the excitement of the moment, for the employment of high spirits, in the thoughtless love of superiority, in a mere wasteful careless course of winning what was worthless to him, and next minute thrown awayI say, if any one had told me such a lie that night, I wonder in what manner of receiving it my indignation would have found a vent!
Probably only in an increase, had that been possible, of the romantic feelings of fidelity and friendship with which I walked beside him, over the dark wintry sands, towards the old boat; the wind sighing around us even more mournfully than it had sighed and moaned upon the night when I first darkened Mr. Peggottys door.
A murmur of voices had been audible on the outside, and, at the moment of our entrance, a clapping of hands, which latter noise, I was surprised to see, proceeded from the generally disconsolate Mrs. Gummidge. But Mrs. Gummidge was not the only person there who was unusually excited. Mr. Peggotty, his face lighted up with uncommon satisfaction, and laughing with all his might, held his rough arms wide open, as if for little Emly to run into them; Ham, with a mixed expression in his face of admiration, exultation, and a lumbering sort of bashfulness that sat upon him very well, held little Emly by the hand, as if he were presenting her to Mr. Peggotty; little Emly herself, blushing and shy, but delighted with Mr. Peggottys delight, as her joyous eyes expressed, was stopped by our entrance (for she saw us first) in the very act of springing from Ham to nestle in Mr. Peggottys embrace. In the first glimpse we had of them all, and at the moment of our passing from the dark cold night into the warm light room, this was the way in which they were all employed: Mrs. Gummidge in the background, clapping her hands like a madwoman.
The little picture was so instantaneously dissolved by our going in, that one might have doubted whether it had ever been. I was in the midst of the astonished family, face to face with Mr. Peggotty, and holding out my hand to him, when Ham shouted:
In a moment we were all shaking hands with one another, and asking one another how we did, and telling one another how glad we were to meet, and all talking at once. Mr. Peggotty was so proud and overjoyed to see us, that he did not know what to say or do, but kept over and over again shaking hands with me, and then with Steerforth, and then with me, and then ruffling his shaggy hair all over his head and laughing with such glee and triumph, that it was a treat to see him.
Why, that you two gentlmengentlmen growedshould come to this here roof to-night, of all nights in my life, said Mr. Peggotty, is such a thing as never happened afore, I do rightly believe! Emly, my darling, come here! Come here, my little witch! Theres Masr Davys friend, my dear! Theres the gentlman as youve heerd on, Emly. He comes to see you, along with Masr Davy, on the brightest night of your uncles life as ever was or will be, Gorm the tother one, and horroar for it!
After delivering this speech all in a breath, and with extraordinary animation and pleasure, Mr. Peggotty put one of his large hands rapturously on each side of his nieces face, and kissing it a dozen times, laid it with a gentle pride and love upon his broad chest, and patted it as if his hand had been a ladys. Then he let her go; and as she ran into the little chamber where I used to sleep, looked around upon us, quite hot and out of breath with his uncommon satisfaction.
If you two gentlmen, gentlmen growed, said Mr. Peggotty, dont excuse me for being in a state of mind, when you understand matters, Ill arks your pardon. Emly, my dear!She knows Im a going to tell, here his delight broke out again, and has made off. Would you be so good as look arter her, Mawther, for a minute?
If this aint, said Mr. Peggotty, sitting down among us by the fire, the brightest night o my life, Im a shell-fishbiled tooand more I cant say. This here little Emly, Sir, in a low voice to Steerforth,her as you see a blushing here just now
This here little Emly of ours, said Mr. Peggotty, has been, in our house, what I suppose (Im a ignorant man, but thats my belief) no one but a little bright-eyed creetur can be in a house. She aint my child; I never had one; but I couldnt love her more. You understand! I couldnt do it!
I know you do, Sir, returned Mr. Peggotty, and thankee again. Masr Davy, he can remember what she was; you may judge for your own self what she is; but neither of you cant fully know what she has been, is, and will be, to my lovingart. I am rough, Sir, said Mr. Peggotty, I am as rough as a Sea Porkypine; but no one, unless, mayhap, it is a woman, can know, I think, what our little Emly is to me. And betwixt ourselves, sinking his voice lower yet, that womans name aint Missis Gummidge neither, though she has a world of merits.
Mr. Peggotty ruffled his hair again with both hands, as a further preparation for what he was going to say, and went on, with a hand upon each of his knees: There was a certain person as had knowd our Emly, from the time when her father was drownded; as had seen her constant; when a babby, when a young gal, when a woman. Not much of a person to look at, he warnt, said Mr. Peggotty, something omy own buildrougha good deal o the sou-wester in himwery saltbut, on the whole, a honest sort of a chap, with his art in the right place.
What does this here blessed tarpaulin go and do, said Mr. Peggotty, with his face one high moon of enjoyment, but he loses that there art of his to our little Emly. He follers her about, he makes hisself a sort o sarvant to her, he loses in a great measure his relish for his wittles, and in the long run he makes it clear to me wots amiss. Now I could wish myself, you see, that our little Emly was in a fair way of being married. I could wish to see her, at all ewents, under articles to a honest man as had a right to defend her. I dont know how long I may live, or how soon I may die; but I know that if I was capsized, any night, in a gale of wind in Yarmouth Roads here, and was to see the town-lights shining for the last time over the rollers as I couldnt make no head aginst, I could go down quieter for thinking Theres a man ashore there, iron-true to my little Emly, God bless her, and no wrong can touch my Emly while so be as that man lives.
Mr. Peggotty, in simple earnestness, waved his right arm, as if he were waving it at the town-lights for the last time, and then, exchanging a nod with Ham, whose eye he caught, proceeded as before: Well! I counsels him to speak to Emly. Hes big enough, but hes bashfuller than a little un, and he dont like. So I speak. What! Him? says Emly. Him that Ive knowed so intimate so many years, and like so much! Oh, uncle! I never can have him. Hes such a good fellow! I gives her a kiss, and I says no more to her than My dear, youre right to speak out, youre to choose for yourself, youre as free as a little bird. Then I aways to him, and I says, I wish it could have been so, but it cant. But you can both be as you was, and wot I say to you is, Be as you was with her, like a man. He says to me, a shaking of my hand, I will! he says. And he washonourable and manfulfor two year going on, and we was just the same at home here as afore.
Mr. Peggottys face, which had varied in its expression with the various stages of his narrative, now resumed all its former triumphant delight, as he laid a hand upon my knee and a hand upon Steerforths (previously wetting them both, for the greater emphasis of the action), and divided the following speech between us: All of a sudden, one eveningas it might be to-nightcomes little Emly from her work, and him with her! There aint so much in that, youll say. No, because he takes care on her, like a brother, arter dark, and indeed afore dark, and at all times. But this tarpaulin chap, he takes hold of her hand, and he cries out to me, joyful, Look here! This is to be my little wife! And she says, half bold and half shy, and half a laughing and half a crying, Yes, uncle! If you please.If I please! cried Mr. Peggotty, rolling his head in an ecstasy at the idea; Lord, as if I should do anythink else!If you please, I am steadier now, and I have thought better of it, and Ill be as good a little wife as I can to him, for hes a dear, good fellow! Then Missis Gummidge, she claps her hands like a play, and you come in. Theer! the murders out! said Mr. PeggottyYou come in! It took place this here present hour; and heres the man thatll marry her, the minute shes out of her time.
Ham staggered, as well he might, under the blow Mr. Peggotty dealt him in his unbounded joy, as a mark of confidence and friendship; but feeling called upon to say something to us, he said, with much faltering and great difficulty: She warnt no higher than you was, Masr Davywhen you first comewhen I thought what shed grow up to be. I see her grow upgentlmenlike a flower. Id lay down my life for herMasr DavyOh! most content and cheerful! Shes more to megentlmenthanshes all to me that ever I can want, and more than ever Ithan ever I could say. II love her true. There aint a gentlman in all the landnor yet sailing upon all the seathat can love his lady more than I love her, though theres many a common manwould say betterwhat he meant.
I thought it affecting to see such a sturdy fellow as Ham was now, trembling in the strength of what he felt for the pretty little creature who had won his heart. I thought the simple confidence reposed in us by Mr. Peggotty and by himself, was, in itself, affecting. I was affected by the story altogether. How far my emotions were influenced by the recollections of my childhood, I dont know. Whether I had come there with any lingering fancy that I was still to love little Emly, I dont know. I know that I was filled with pleasure by all this; but, at first, with an indescribably sensitive pleasure, that a very little would have changed to pain.
Therefore, if it had depended upon me to touch the prevailing chord among them with any skill, I should have made a poor hand of it. But it depended upon Steerforth; and he did it with such address, that in a few minutes we were all as easy and as happy as it was possible to be.
Mr. Peggotty, he said, you are a thoroughly good fellow, and deserve to be as happy as you are to-night. My hand upon it! Ham, I give you joy, my boy. My hand upon that, too! Daisy, stir the fire, and make it a brisk one! and Mr. Peggotty, unless you can induce your gentle niece to come back (for whom I vacate this seat in the corner), I shall go. Any gap at your fireside on such a nightsuch a gap least of allI wouldnt make, for the wealth of the Indies!
So Mr. Peggotty went into my old room to fetch little Emly. At first, little Emly didnt like to come, and then Ham went. Presently they brought her to the fireside, very much confused, and very shy,but she soon became more assured when she found how gently and respectfully Steerforth spoke to her; how skilfully he avoided anything that would embarrass her; how he talked to Mr. Peggotty of boats, and ships, and tides, and fish; how he referred to me about the time when he had seen Mr. Peggotty at Salem House; how delighted he was with the boat and all belonging to it; how lightly and easily he carried on, until he brought us, by degrees, into a charmed circle, and we were all talking away without any reserve.
Emly, indeed, said little all the evening; but she looked, and listened, and her face got animated, and she was charming. Steerforth told a story of a dismal shipwreck (which arose out of his talk with Mr. Peggotty), as if he saw it all before himand little Emlys eyes were fastened on him all the time, as if she saw it too. He told us a merry adventure of his own, as a relief to that, with as much gaiety as if the narrative were as fresh to him as it was to usand little Emly laughed until the boat rang with the musical sounds, and we all laughed (Steerforth too), in irresistible sympathy with what was so pleasant and light-hearted. He got Mr. Peggotty to sing, or rather to roar, When the stormy winds do blow, do blow, do blow; and he sang a sailors song himself, so pathetically and beautifully, that I could have almost fancied that the real wind creeping sorrowfully round the house, and murmuring low through our unbroken silence, was there to listen.
As to Mrs. Gummidge, he roused that victim of despondency with a success never attained by anyone else (so Mr. Peggotty informed me), since the decease of the old one. He left her so little leisure for being miserable, that she said next day she thought she must have been bewitched.
But he set up no monopoly of the general attention, or the conversation. When little Emly grew more courageous, and talked (but still bashfully) across the fire to me, of our old wanderings upon the beach, to pick up shells and pebbles; and when I asked her if she recollected how I used to be devoted to her; and when we both laughed and reddened, casting these looks back on the pleasant old times, so unreal to look at now; he was silent and attentive, and observed us thoughtfully. She sat, at this time, and all the evening, on the old locker in her old little corner by the fireHam beside her, where I used to sit. I could not satisfy myself whether it was in her own little tormenting way, or in a maidenly reserve before us, that she kept quite close to the wall, and away from him; but I observed that she did so, all the evening.
As I remember, it was almost midnight when we took our leave. We had had some biscuit and dried fish for supper, and Steerforth had produced from his pocket a full flask of Hollands, which we men (I may say we men, now, without a blush) had emptied. We parted merrily; and as they all stood crowded round the door to light us as far as they could upon our road, I saw the sweet blue eyes of little Emly peeping after us, from behind Ham, and heard her soft voice calling to us to be careful how we went.
How fortunate we are, too, I returned, to have arrived to witness their happiness in that intended marriage! I never saw people so happy. How delightful to see it, and to be made the sharers in their honest joy, as we have been!
He had been so hearty with him, and with them all, that I felt a shock in this unexpected and cold reply. But turning quickly upon him, and seeing a laugh in his eyes, I answered, much relieved: Ah, Steerforth! Its well for you to joke about the poor! You may skirmish with Miss Dartle, or try to hide your sympathies in jest from me, but I know better. When I see how perfectly you understand them, how exquisitely you can enter into happiness like this plain fishermans, or humour a love like my old nurses, I know that there is not a joy or sorrow, not an emotion, of such people, that can be indifferent to you. And I admire and love you for it, Steerforth, twenty times the more.
He stopped, and looking in my face, said, Daisy, I believe you are in earnest, and are good. I wish we all were! Next moment he was gaily singing Mr. Peggottys song, as we walked at a round pace back to Yarmouth.