David Copperfield – Day 112 of 331

“No, father,” said Mrs. Joram. “That’s the worst, I believe.”

“So when she got a situation,” said Mr. Omer, “to keep a fractious old lady company, they didn’t very well agree, and she didn’t 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?”

“Yes, father,” replied Minnie. “Never say I detracted from her!”

“Very good,” said Mr. Omer. “That’s right. And so, young gentleman,” he added, after a few moments’ further rubbing of his chin, “that you may not consider me long-winded as well as short-breathed, I believe that’s all about it.”

As they had spoken in a subdued tone, while speaking of Em’ly, 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 Minnie’s 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.

The tune across the yard that seemed as if it never had left off— alas! it was the tune that never does leave off—was beating, softly, all the while.

“Wouldn’t you like to step in,” said Mr. Omer, “and speak to her? Walk in and speak to her, sir! Make yourself at home!”

I was too bashful to do so then—I 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 Peggotty’s.

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.

“Is Mr. Barkis at home, ma’am?” I said, feigning to speak roughly to her.

“He’s at home, sir,” returned Peggotty, “but he’s bad abed with the rheumatics.”

“Don’t he go over to Blunderstone now?” I asked.

“When he’s well he do,” she answered.

“Do you ever go there, Mrs. Barkis?”

She looked at me more attentively, and I noticed a quick movement of her hands towards each other.

“Because I want to ask a question about a house there, that they call the—what is it?—the Rookery,” said I.

She took a step backward, and put out her hands in an undecided frightened way, as if to keep me off.

“Peggotty!” I cried to her.

She cried, “My darling boy!” and we both burst into tears, and were locked in one another’s arms.

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 say—not even to her — more freely than I did that morning.

“Barkis will be so glad,” said Peggotty, wiping her eyes with her apron, “that it’ll 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. At last, to make the matter easier, I went upstairs with her; and having waited outside for a minute, while she said a word of preparation to Mr. Barkis, presented myself before that invalid.

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 face—like a conventional cherubim — he looked the queerest object I ever beheld.

“What name was it, as I wrote up in the cart, sir?” said Mr. Barkis, with a slow rheumatic smile.

“Ah! Mr. Barkis, we had some grave talks about that matter, hadn’t we?”

“I was willin’ a long time, sir?” said Mr. Barkis.

“A long time,” said I.

“And I don’t regret it,” said Mr. Barkis. “Do you remember what you told me once, about her making all the apple parsties and doing all the cooking?”

“Yes, very well,” I returned.

“It was as true,” said Mr. Barkis, “as turnips is. It was as true,” said Mr. Barkis, nodding his nightcap, which was his only means of emphasis, “as taxes is. And nothing’s truer than them.”

Mr. Barkis turned his eyes upon me, as if for my assent to this result of his reflections in bed; and I gave it.

“Nothing’s truer than them,” repeated Mr. Barkis; “a man as poor as I am, finds that out in his mind when he’s laid up. I’m a very poor man, sir!”

“I am sorry to hear it, Mr. Barkis.”

“A very poor man, indeed I am,” said Mr. Barkis.

Here his right hand came slowly and feebly from under the bedclothes, 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.

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