I BECOME NEGLECTED, AND AM PROVIDED FOR.
The first act of business Miss Murdstone performed when the day of the solemnity was over, and light was freely admitted into the house, was to give Peggotty a month’s warning. Much as Peggotty would have disliked such a service, I believe she would have retained it, for my sake, in preference to the best upon earth. She told me we must part, and told me why; and we condoled with one another, in all sincerity.
As to me or my future, not a word was said, or a step taken. Happy they would have been, I dare say, if they could have dismissed me at a month’s warning too. I mustered courage once, to ask Miss Murdstone when I was going back to school; and she answered dryly, she believed I was not going back at all. I was told nothing more. I was very anxious to know what was going to be done with me, and so was Peggotty; but neither she nor I could pick up any information on the subject.
There was one change in my condition, which, while it relieved me of a great deal of present uneasiness, might have made me, if I had been capable of considering it closely, yet more uncomfortable about the future. It was this. The constraint that had been put upon me, was quite abandoned. I was so far from being required to keep my dull post in the parlour, that on several occasions, when I took my seat there, Miss Murdstone frowned to me to go away. I was so far from being warned off from Peggotty’s society, that, provided I was not in Mr. Murdstone’s, I was never sought out or inquired for. At first I was in daily dread of his taking my education in hand again, or of Miss Murdstone’s devoting herself to it; but I soon began to think that such fears were groundless, and that all I had to anticipate was neglect.
I do not conceive that this discovery gave me much pain then. I was still giddy with the shock of my mother’s death, and in a kind of stunned state as to all tributary things. I can recollect, indeed, to have speculated, at odd times, on the possibility of my not being taught any more, or cared for any more; and growing up to be a shabby, moody man, lounging an idle life away, about the village; as well as on the feasibility of my getting rid of this picture by going away somewhere, like the hero in a story, to seek my fortune: but these were transient visions, daydreams I sat looking at sometimes, as if they were faintly painted or written on the wall of my room, and which, as they melted away, left the wall blank again.
‘Peggotty,’ I said in a thoughtful whisper, one evening, when I was warming my hands at the kitchen fire, ‘Mr. Murdstone likes me less than he used to. He never liked me much, Peggotty; but he would rather not even see me now, if he can help it.’
‘Perhaps it’s his sorrow,’ said Peggotty, stroking my hair.
‘I am sure, Peggotty, I am sorry too. If I believed it was his sorrow, I should not think of it at all. But it’s not that; oh, no, it’s not that.’
‘How do you know it’s not that?’ said Peggotty, after a silence.
‘Oh, his sorrow is another and quite a different thing. He is sorry at this moment, sitting by the fireside with Miss Murdstone; but if I was to go in, Peggotty, he would be something besides.’
‘What would he be?’ said Peggotty.
‘Angry,’ I answered, with an involuntary imitation of his dark frown. ‘If he was only sorry, he wouldn’t look at me as he does. I am only sorry, and it makes me feel kinder.’
Peggotty said nothing for a little while; and I warmed my hands, as silent as she.
‘Davy,’ she said at length.
‘Yes, Peggotty?’ ‘I have tried, my dear, all ways I could think of—all the ways there are, and all the ways there ain’t, in short—to get a suitable service here, in Blunderstone; but there’s no such a thing, my love.’
‘And what do you mean to do, Peggotty,’ says I, wistfully. ‘Do you mean to go and seek your fortune?’
‘I expect I shall be forced to go to Yarmouth,’ replied Peggotty, ‘and live there.’
‘You might have gone farther off,’ I said, brightening a little, ‘and been as bad as lost. I shall see you sometimes, my dear old Peggotty, there. You won’t be quite at the other end of the world, will you?’
‘Contrary ways, please God!’ cried Peggotty, with great animation. ‘As long as you are here, my pet, I shall come over every week of my life to see you. One day, every week of my life!’
I felt a great weight taken off my mind by this promise: but even this was not all, for Peggotty went on to say:
‘I’m a-going, Davy, you see, to my brother’s, first, for another fortnight’s visit—just till I have had time to look about me, and get to be something like myself again. Now, I have been thinking that perhaps, as they don’t want you here at present, you might be let to go along with me.’
If anything, short of being in a different relation to every one about me, Peggotty excepted, could have given me a sense of pleasure at that time, it would have been this project of all others. The idea of being again surrounded by those honest faces, shining welcome on me; of renewing the peacefulness of the sweet Sunday morning, when the bells were ringing, the stones dropping in the water, and the shadowy ships breaking through the mist; of roaming up and down with little Em’ly, telling her my troubles, and finding charms against them in the shells and pebbles on the beach; made a calm in my heart. It was ruffled next moment, to be sure, by a doubt of Miss Murdstone’s giving her consent; but even that was set at rest soon, for she came out to take an evening grope in the store-closet while we were yet in conversation, and Peggotty, with a boldness that amazed me, broached the topic on the spot.
‘The boy will be idle there,’ said Miss Murdstone, looking into a pickle-jar, ‘and idleness is the root of all evil. But, to be sure, he would be idle here—or anywhere, in my opinion.’
Peggotty had an angry answer ready, I could see; but she swallowed it for my sake, and remained silent.
‘Humph!’ said Miss Murdstone, still keeping her eye on the pickles; ‘it is of more importance than anything else—it is of paramount importance—that my brother should not be disturbed or made uncomfortable. I suppose I had better say yes.’
I thanked her, without making any demonstration of joy, lest it should induce her to withdraw her assent. Nor could I help thinking this a prudent course, since she looked at me out of the pickle-jar, with as great an access of sourness as if her black eyes had absorbed its contents. However, the permission was given, and was never retracted; for when the month was out, Peggotty and I were ready to depart.
Mr. Barkis came into the house for Peggotty’s boxes. I had never known him to pass the garden-gate before, but on this occasion he came into the house. And he gave me a look as he shouldered the largest box and went out, which I thought had meaning in it, if meaning could ever be said to find its way into Mr. Barkis’s visage.
Peggotty was naturally in low spirits at leaving what had been her home so many years, and where the two strong attachments of her life—for my mother and myself—had been formed. She had been walking in the churchyard, too, very early; and she got into the cart, and sat in it with her handkerchief at her eyes.
So long as she remained in this condition, Mr. Barkis gave no sign of life whatever. He sat in his usual place and attitude like a great stuffed figure. But when she began to look about her, and to speak to me, he nodded his head and grinned several times. I have not the least notion at whom, or what he meant by it.
‘It’s a beautiful day, Mr. Barkis!’ I said, as an act of politeness.
‘It ain’t bad,’ said Mr. Barkis, who generally qualified his speech, and rarely committed himself.
‘Peggotty is quite comfortable now, Mr. Barkis,’ I remarked, for his satisfaction.
‘Is she, though?’ said Mr. Barkis.
After reflecting about it, with a sagacious air, Mr. Barkis eyed her, and said:
‘ARE you pretty comfortable?’
Peggotty laughed, and answered in the affirmative.
‘But really and truly, you know. Are you?’ growled Mr. Barkis, sliding nearer to her on the seat, and nudging her with his elbow. ‘Are you? Really and truly pretty comfortable? Are you? Eh?’
At each of these inquiries Mr. Barkis shuffled nearer to her, and gave her another nudge; so that at last we were all crowded together in the left-hand corner of the cart, and I was so squeezed that I could hardly bear it.
Peggotty calling his attention to my sufferings, Mr. Barkis gave me a little more room at once, and got away by degrees. But I could not help observing that he seemed to think he had hit upon a wonderful expedient for expressing himself in a neat, agreeable, and pointed manner, without the inconvenience of inventing conversation. He manifestly chuckled over it for some time. By and by he turned to Peggotty again, and repeating, ‘Are you pretty comfortable though?’ bore down upon us as before, until the breath was nearly edged out of my body. By and by he made another descent upon us with the same inquiry, and the same result. At length, I got up whenever I saw him coming, and standing on the foot-board, pretended to look at the prospect; after which I did very well.
He was so polite as to stop at a public-house, expressly on our account, and entertain us with broiled mutton and beer. Even when Peggotty was in the act of drinking, he was seized with one of those approaches, and almost choked her. But as we drew nearer to the end of our journey, he had more to do and less time for gallantry; and when we got on Yarmouth pavement, we were all too much shaken and jolted, I apprehend, to have any leisure for anything else.
Mr. Peggotty and Ham waited for us at the old place. They received me and Peggotty in an affectionate manner, and shook hands with Mr. Barkis, who, with his hat on the very back of his head, and a shame-faced leer upon his countenance, and pervading his very legs, presented but a vacant appearance, I thought. They each took one of Peggotty’s trunks, and we were going away, when Mr. Barkis solemnly made a sign to me with his forefinger to come under an archway.
‘I say,’ growled Mr. Barkis, ‘it was all right.’
I looked up into his face, and answered, with an attempt to be very profound: ‘Oh!’
‘It didn’t come to a end there,’ said Mr. Barkis, nodding confidentially. ‘It was all right.’
Again I answered, ‘Oh!’
‘You know who was willin’,’ said my friend. ‘It was Barkis, and Barkis only.’
I nodded assent.
‘It’s all right,’ said Mr. Barkis, shaking hands; ‘I’m a friend of your’n. You made it all right, first. It’s all right.’
In his attempts to be particularly lucid, Mr. Barkis was so extremely mysterious, that I might have stood looking in his face for an hour, and most assuredly should have got as much information out of it as out of the face of a clock that had stopped, but for Peggotty’s calling me away. As we were going along, she asked me what he had said; and I told her he had said it was all right.
‘Like his impudence,’ said Peggotty, ‘but I don’t mind that! Davy dear, what should you think if I was to think of being married?’
‘Why—I suppose you would like me as much then, Peggotty, as you do now?’ I returned, after a little consideration.
Greatly to the astonishment of the passengers in the street, as well as of her relations going on before, the good soul was obliged to stop and embrace me on the spot, with many protestations of her unalterable love.