I GOT down to Yarmouth in the evening, and went to the inn. I knew that Peggottys spare roommy roomwas likely to have occupation enough in a little while if that great Visitor, before whose presence all the living must give place, were not already in the house; so I betook myself to the inn, and dined there, and engaged my bed.
It was ten oclock when I went out. Many of the shops were shut, and the town was dull. When I came to Omer and Jorams, I found the shutters up, but the shop-door standing open. As I could obtain a perspective view of Mr. Omer inside, smoking his pipe by the parlour-door, I entered, and asked him how he was.
The very question I should have put to you, Sir, returned Mr. Omer, but on account of delicacy. Its one of the drawbacks of our line of business. When a partys ill, we cant ask how the party is.
Yes, yes, you understand, said Mr. Omer, nodding his head. We dursnt do it. Bless you, it would be a shock that the generality of parties mightnt recover, to say Omer and Jorams compliments, and how do you find yourself this morning?or this afternoonas it may be.
Its one of the things that cut the trade off from attentions they could often wish to show, said Mr. Omer. Take myself. If I have known Barkis a year, to move to as he went by, I have known him forty year. But I cant go and say, How is he?
Im not more self-interested, I hope, than another man, said Mr. Omer. Look at me! My wind may fail me at any moment, and it aint likely that, to my own knowledge, Id be self-interested under such circumstances. I say it aint likely, in a man who knows his wind will go, when it does go, as if a pair of bellows was cut open; and that man a grandfather, said Mr. Omer.
Accordingly were obleeged, in ascertaining how Barkis goes on, to limit ourselves to Emly. She knows what our real objects are, and she dont have any more alarms or suspicions about us, than if we was so many lambs. Minnie and Joram have just stepped down to the house, in fact (shes there, after hours, helping her aunt a bit), to ask her how he is to-night; and if you was to please to wait till they come back, theyd give you full particulars. Will you take something? A glass of srub and water, now? I smoke on srub and water, myself, said Mr. Omer, taking up his glass, because its considered softening to the passages, by which this troublesome breath of mine gets into action. But, Lord bless you, said Mr. Omer, huskily, it aint the passages thats out of order! Give me breath enough, says I to my daughter Minnie, and Ill find passages, my dear.
He really had no breath to spare, and it was very alarming to see him laugh. When he was again in a condition to be talked to, I thanked him for the proffered refreshment, which I declined, as I had just had dinner; and, observing that I would wait, since he was so good as to invite me, until his daughter and his son-in-law came back, I inquired how little Emily was?
Well, shes unsettled at present, said Mr. Omer. It aint that shes not as pretty as ever, for shes prettierI do assure you, she is prettier. It aint that she dont work as well as ever, for she does. She was worth any six, and she is worth any six. But somehow she wants heart. If you understand, said Mr. Omer, after rubbing his chin again, and smoking a little, what I mean in a general way by the expression, A long pull, and a strong pull, altogether, my hearties, hurrah! I should say to you, that that wasin a general waywhat I miss in Emly.
Now, I consider this is principally on account of her being in an unsettled state, you see. We have talked it over a good deal, her uncle and myself, and her sweetheart and myself, after business; and I consider it is principally on account of her being unsettled. You must always recollect of Emly, said Mr. Omer, shaking his head gently, that shes a most extraordinary affectionate little thing. The proverb says, You cant make a silk purse out of a sows ear. Well, I dont know about that. I rather think you may, if you begin early in life. She has made a home out of that old boat, Sir, that stone and marble couldnt beat.
To see the clinging of that pretty little thing to her uncle, said Mr. Omer; to see the way she holds on to him, tighter and tighter, and closer and closer, every day, is to see a sight. Now, you know, theres a struggle going on when thats the case. Why should it be made a longer one than is needful?
Therefore, I mentioned to them, said Mr. Omer, in a comfortable, easy-going tone, this. I said, Now, dont consider Emly nailed down in point of time, at all. Make it your own time. Her services have been more valuable than was supposed; her learning has been quicker than was supposed; Omer and Joram can run their pen through what remains; and shes free when you wish. If she likes to make any little arrangement, afterwards, in the way of doing any little thing for us at home, very well. If she dont, very well still. Were no losers, anyhow, Fordont you see, said Mr. Omer, touching me with his pipe, it aint likely that a man so short of breath as myself, and a grandfather too, would go and strain points with a little bit of a blue-eyed blossom, like her?
Of course you do, said Mr. Omer. Well, Sir! Her cousin being, as it appears, in good work, and well to do, thanked me in a very manly sort of manner for this (conducting himself altogether, I must say, in a way that gives me a high opinion of him), and went and took as comfortable a little house as you or I could wish to clap eyes on. That little house is now furnished, right through, as neat and complete as a dolls parlour; and but for Barkiss illness having taken this bad turn, poor fellow, they would have been man and wifeI dare say, by this time. As it is, theres a postponement.
Why that, you know, he returned, rubbing his doublechin again, cant naturally be expected. The prospect of the change and separation, and all that, is, as one may say, close to her and far away from her, both at once. Barkiss death neednt put it off much, but his lingering might, Anyway, its an uncertain state of matters, you see.
Consequently, pursued Mr. Omer, Emlys still a little down and a little fluttered; perhaps, upon the whole, shes more so than she was. Every day she seems to get fonder and fonder of her uncle, and more loth to part from all of us. A kind word from me brings the tears into her eyes; and if you was to see her with my daughter Minnies little girl, youd never forget it. Bless my heart alive! said Mr. Omer, pondering, how she loves that child!
Ah! he rejoined, shaking his head, and looking very much dejected. No good. A sad story, Sir, however you come to know it. I never thought there was any harm in the girl. I wouldnt wish to mention it before my daughter Minniefor shed take me up directlybut I never did. None of us ever did.
Their report was, that Mr. Barkis was as bad as bad could be; that he was quite unconscious; and that Mr. Chillip had mournfully said in the kitchen, on going away just now, that the College of Physicians, the College of Surgeons, and Apothecaries Hall, if they were all called in together, couldnt help him. He was past both Colleges, Mr. Chillip said, and the Hall could only poison him.
Hearing this, and learning that Mr. Peggotty was there, I determined to go to the house at once. I bade good night to Mr. Omer, and to Mr. and Mrs. Joram; and directed my steps thither, with a solemn feeling, which made Mr. Barkis quite a new and different creature.
My low tap at the door was answered by Mr. Peggotty. He was not so much surprised to see me as I had expected. I remarked this in Peggotty, too, when she came down; and I have seen it since; and I think, in the expectation of that dread surprise, all other changes and surprises dwindle into nothing.
We spoke in whispers; listening, between whiles, for any sound in the room above. I had not thought of it on the occasion of my last visit, but how strange it was to me now, to miss Mr. Barkis out of the kitchen!
There was a trembling upon her, that I can see now. The coldness of her hand when I touched it, I can feel yet. Its only sign of animation was to shrink from mine; and then she glided from the chair, and, creeping to the other side of her uncle, bowed herself, silently and trembling still, upon his breast.
Its such a loving art, said Mr. Peggotty, smoothing her rich hair with his great hard hand, that it cant abear the sorrer of this. Its natral in young folk, Masr Davy, when theyre new to these here trials, and timid, like my little bird,its natral.
Let you stay with your uncle? Why, you doent mean to ask me that! Stay with your uncle, Moppet? When your husband thatll be so soon, is here fur to take you home? Now a person wouldnt think it, fur to see this little thing alongside a rough-weather chap like me, said Mr. Peggotty, looking round at both of us, with infinite pride; but the sea aint more salt in it than she has fondness in her for her unclea foolish little Emly!
No, no, said Mr. Peggotty. You doent oughta married man like youor whats as goodto take and hull away a days work. And you doent ought to watch and work both. That wont do. You go home and turn in. You aint afeerd of Emly not being took good care on, I know.
Ham yielded to this persuasion, and took his hat to go. Even when he kissed her,and I never saw him approach her, but I felt that nature had given him the soul of a gentleman,she seemed to cling closer to her uncle, even to the avoidance of her chosen husband. I shut the door after him, that it might cause no disturbance of the quiet that prevailed; and when I turned back, I found Mr. Peggotty still talking to her.
Now, Im a going up-stairs to tell your aunt as Masr Davys here, and thatll cheer her up a bit, he said. Sit ye down by the fire, the while, my dear, and warm these mortal cold hands. You doent need to be so fearsome, and take on so much. What? Youll go along with me?Well! come along with mecome! If her uncle was turned out of house and home, and forced to lay down in a dyke, Masr Davy, said Mr. Peggotty, with no less pride than before, its my belief shed go along with him, now! But therell be some one else, soon,some one else, soon, Emly!
Afterwards, when I went up-stairs, as I passed the door of my little chamber, which was dark, I had an indistinct impression of her being within it, cast down upon the floor. But, whether it was really she, or whether it was a confusion of the shadows in the room, I dont know now.
I had leisure to think, before the kitchen-fire, of pretty little Emlys dread of deathwhich, added to what Mr. Omer had told me, I took to be the cause of her being so unlike herselfand I had leisure, before Peggotty came down, even to think more leniently of the weakness of it: as I sat counting the ticking of the clock, and deepening my sense of the solemn hush around me. Peggotty took me in her arms, and blessed and thanked me over and over again for being such a comfort to her (that was what she said) in her distress. She then entreated me to come upstairs, sobbing that Mr. Barkis had always like me and admired me; that he had often talked of me, before he fell into a stupor; and that she believed, in case of his coming to himself again, he would brighten up at sight of me, if he could brighten up at any earthly thing.
The probability of his ever doing so, appeared to me, when I saw him, to be very small. He was lying with his head and shoulders out of bed, in an uncomfortable attitude, half resting on the box which had cost him so much pain and trouble. I learned that, when he was past creeping out of bed to open it, and past assuring himself of its safety by means of the divining-rod I had seen him use, he had required to have it placed on the chair at the bedside, where he had ever since embraced it, night and day. His arm lay on it now. Time and the world were slipping from beneath him, but the box was there; and the last words he had uttered were (in an explanatory tone) Old clothes!
Barkis, my dear! said Peggotty, almost cheerfully: bending over him while her brother and I stood at the beds foot. Heres my dear boymy dear boy, Master Davy, who brought us together, Barkis! That you sent messages by, you know! Wont you speak to Master Davy?
People cant die, along the coast, said Mr. Peggotty, except when the tides pretty nigh out. They cant be born, unless its pretty nigh innot properly born, till flood. Hes a going out with the tide. Its ebb at half-arter three, slack water half-an-hour. If he lives till it turns, hell hold his own till past the flood, and go out with the next tide.
We remained there, watching him, a long timehours. What mysterious influence my presence had upon him in that state of his senses, I shall not pretend to say; but when he at last began to wander feebly, it is certain he was muttering about driving me to school.