‘And Emily, Mr. Omer?’ I inquired. ‘Has she become more settled?’
‘Why that, you know,’ he returned, rubbing his double chin again, ‘can’t 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. Barkis’s death needn’t put it off much, but his lingering might. Anyway, it’s an uncertain state of matters, you see.’
‘I see,’ said I.
‘Consequently,’ pursued Mr. Omer, ‘Em’ly’s still a little down, and a little fluttered; perhaps, upon the whole, she’s 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 Minnie’s little girl, you’d never forget it. Bless my heart alive!’ said Mr. Omer, pondering, ‘how she loves that child!’
Having so favourable an opportunity, it occurred to me to ask Mr. Omer, before our conversation should be interrupted by the return of his daughter and her husband, whether he knew anything of Martha.
‘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 harm in the girl. I wouldn’t wish to mention it before my daughter Minnie—for she’d take me up directly—but I never did. None of us ever did.’
Mr. Omer, hearing his daughter’s footstep before I heard it, touched me with his pipe, and shut up one eye, as a caution. She and her husband came in immediately afterwards.
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, couldn’t 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.
I shook hands with Mr. Peggotty, and passed into the kitchen, while he softly closed the door. Little Emily was sitting by the fire, with her hands before her face. Ham was standing near her.
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!
‘This is very kind of you, Mas’r Davy,’ said Mr. Peggotty.
‘It’s oncommon kind,’ said Ham.
‘Em’ly, my dear,’ cried Mr. Peggotty. ‘See here! Here’s Mas’r Davy come! What, cheer up, pretty! Not a wured to Mas’r Davy?’
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.
‘It’s such a loving art,’ said Mr. Peggotty, smoothing her rich hair with his great hard hand, ‘that it can’t abear the sorrer of this. It’s nat’ral in young folk, Mas’r Davy, when they’re new to these here trials, and timid, like my little bird,—it’s nat’ral.’
She clung the closer to him, but neither lifted up her face, nor spoke a word.
‘It’s getting late, my dear,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘and here’s Ham come fur to take you home. Theer! Go along with t’other loving art! What’ Em’ly? Eh, my pretty?’