We shook hands heartily. At first, neither of us could speak a word.
‘Mas’r Davy!’ he said, gripping me tight, ‘it do my art good to see you, sir. Well met, well met!’
‘Well met, my dear old friend!’ said I.
‘I had my thowts o’ coming to make inquiration for you, sir, tonight,’ he said, ‘but knowing as your aunt was living along wi’ you—fur I’ve been down yonder—Yarmouth way—I was afeerd it was too late. I should have come early in the morning, sir, afore going away.’
‘Again?’ said I.
‘Yes, sir,’ he replied, patiently shaking his head, ‘I’m away tomorrow.’
‘Where were you going now?’ I asked.
‘Well!’ he replied, shaking the snow out of his long hair, ‘I was a-going to turn in somewheers.’
In those days there was a side-entrance to the stable-yard of the Golden Cross, the inn so memorable to me in connexion with his misfortune, nearly opposite to where we stood. I pointed out the gateway, put my arm through his, and we went across. Two or three public-rooms opened out of the stable-yard; and looking into one of them, and finding it empty, and a good fire burning, I took him in there.
When I saw him in the light, I observed, not only that his hair was long and ragged, but that his face was burnt dark by the sun. He was greyer, the lines in his face and forehead were deeper, and he had every appearance of having toiled and wandered through all varieties of weather; but he looked very strong, and like a man upheld by steadfastness of purpose, whom nothing could tire out. He shook the snow from his hat and clothes, and brushed it away from his face, while I was inwardly making these remarks. As he sat down opposite to me at a table, with his back to the door by which we had entered, he put out his rough hand again, and grasped mine warmly.
‘I’ll tell you, Mas’r Davy,’ he said,—‘wheer all I’ve been, and what-all we’ve heerd. I’ve been fur, and we’ve heerd little; but I’ll tell you!’
I rang the bell for something hot to drink. He would have nothing stronger than ale; and while it was being brought, and being warmed at the fire, he sat thinking. There was a fine, massive gravity in his face, I did not venture to disturb.
‘When she was a child,’ he said, lifting up his head soon after we were left alone, ‘she used to talk to me a deal about the sea, and about them coasts where the sea got to be dark blue, and to lay a-shining and a-shining in the sun. I thowt, odd times, as her father being drownded made her think on it so much. I doen’t know, you see, but maybe she believed—or hoped—he had drifted out to them parts, where the flowers is always a-blowing, and the country bright.’
‘It is likely to have been a childish fancy,’ I replied.
‘When she was—lost,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘I know’d in my mind, as he would take her to them countries. I know’d in my mind, as he’d have told her wonders of ‘em, and how she was to be a lady theer, and how he got her to listen to him fust, along o’ sech like. When we see his mother, I know’d quite well as I was right. I went across-channel to France, and landed theer, as if I’d fell down from the sky.’
I saw the door move, and the snow drift in. I saw it move a little more, and a hand softly interpose to keep it open.
‘I found out an English gen’leman as was in authority,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘and told him I was a-going to seek my niece. He got me them papers as I wanted fur to carry me through—I doen’t rightly know how they’re called—and he would have give me money, but that I was thankful to have no need on. I thank him kind, for all he done, I’m sure! “I’ve wrote afore you,” he says to me, “and I shall speak to many as will come that way, and many will know you, fur distant from here, when you’re a-travelling alone.” I told him, best as I was able, what my gratitoode was, and went away through France.’