‘Don’t you remember Traddles? Traddles in our room at Salem House?’
‘Oh! That fellow!’ said Steerforth, beating a lump of coal on the top of the fire, with the poker. ‘Is he as soft as ever? And where the deuce did you pick him up?’
I extolled Traddles in reply, as highly as I could; for I felt that Steerforth rather slighted him. Steerforth, dismissing the subject with a light nod, and a smile, and the remark that he would be glad to see the old fellow too, for he had always been an odd fish, inquired if I could give him anything to eat? During most of this short dialogue, when he had not been speaking in a wild vivacious manner, he had sat idly beating on the lump of coal with the poker. I observed that he did the same thing while I was getting out the remains of the pigeon-pie, and so forth.
‘Why, Daisy, here’s a supper for a king!’ he exclaimed, starting out of his silence with a burst, and taking his seat at the table. ‘I shall do it justice, for I have come from Yarmouth.’
‘I thought you came from Oxford?’ I returned.
‘Not I,’ said Steerforth. ‘I have been seafaring—better employed.’
‘Littimer was here today, to inquire for you,’ I remarked, ‘and I understood him that you were at Oxford; though, now I think of it, he certainly did not say so.’
‘Littimer is a greater fool than I thought him, to have been inquiring for me at all,’ said Steerforth, jovially pouring out a glass of wine, and drinking to me. ‘As to understanding him, you are a cleverer fellow than most of us, Daisy, if you can do that.’
‘That’s true, indeed,’ said I, moving my chair to the table. ‘So you have been at Yarmouth, Steerforth!’ interested to know all about it. ‘Have you been there long?’
‘No,’ he returned. ‘An escapade of a week or so.’
‘And how are they all? Of course, little Emily is not married yet?’
‘Not yet. Going to be, I believe—in so many weeks, or months, or something or other. I have not seen much of ’em. By the by’; he laid down his knife and fork, which he had been using with great diligence, and began feeling in his pockets; ‘I have a letter for you.’
‘Why, from your old nurse,’ he returned, taking some papers out of his breast pocket. “‘J. Steerforth, Esquire, debtor, to The Willing Mind”; that’s not it. Patience, and we’ll find it presently. Old what’s-his-name’s in a bad way, and it’s about that, I believe.’
‘Barkis, do you mean?’
‘Yes!’ still feeling in his pockets, and looking over their contents: ‘it’s all over with poor Barkis, I am afraid. I saw a little apothecary there—surgeon, or whatever he is—who brought your worship into the world. He was mighty learned about the case, to me; but the upshot of his opinion was, that the carrier was making his last journey rather fast.—-Put your hand into the breast pocket of my great-coat on the chair yonder, and I think you’ll find the letter. Is it there?’
‘Here it is!’ said I.
It was from Peggotty; something less legible than usual, and brief. It informed me of her husband’s hopeless state, and hinted at his being ‘a little nearer’ than heretofore, and consequently more difficult to manage for his own comfort. It said nothing of her weariness and watching, and praised him highly. It was written with a plain, unaffected, homely piety that I knew to be genuine, and ended with ‘my duty to my ever darling’—meaning myself.
While I deciphered it, Steerforth continued to eat and drink.
‘It’s a bad job,’ he said, when I had done; ‘but the sun sets every day, and people die every minute, and we mustn’t be scared by the common lot. If we failed to hold our own, because that equal foot at all men’s doors was heard knocking somewhere, every object in this world would slip from us. No! Ride on! Rough-shod if need be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!’
‘And win what race?’ said I.
‘The race that one has started in,’ said he. ‘Ride on!’
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