It was yet early in the morning of the following day, when, as I was walking in my garden with my aunt (who took little other exercise now, being so much in attendance on my dear Dora), I was told that Mr. Peggotty desired to speak with me. He came into the garden to meet me half-way, on my going towards the gate; and bared his head, as it was always his custom to do when he saw my aunt, for whom he had a high respect. I had been telling her all that had happened overnight. Without saying a word, she walked up with a cordial face, shook hands with him, and patted him on the arm. It was so expressively done, that she had no need to say a word. Mr. Peggotty understood her quite as well as if she had said a thousand.
‘I’ll go in now, Trot,’ said my aunt, ‘and look after Little Blossom, who will be getting up presently.’
‘Not along of my being heer, ma’am, I hope?’ said Mr. Peggotty. ‘Unless my wits is gone a bahd’s neezing’—by which Mr. Peggotty meant to say, bird’s-nesting—‘this morning, ‘tis along of me as you’re a-going to quit us?’
‘You have something to say, my good friend,’ returned my aunt, ‘and will do better without me.’
‘By your leave, ma’am,’ returned Mr. Peggotty, ‘I should take it kind, pervising you doen’t mind my clicketten, if you’d bide heer.’
‘Would you?’ said my aunt, with short good-nature. ‘Then I am sure I will!’
So, she drew her arm through Mr. Peggotty’s, and walked with him to a leafy little summer-house there was at the bottom of the garden, where she sat down on a bench, and I beside her. There was a seat for Mr. Peggotty too, but he preferred to stand, leaning his hand on the small rustic table. As he stood, looking at his cap for a little while before beginning to speak, I could not help observing what power and force of character his sinewy hand expressed, and what a good and trusty companion it was to his honest brow and iron-grey hair.
‘I took my dear child away last night,’ Mr. Peggotty began, as he raised his eyes to ours, ‘to my lodging, wheer I have a long time been expecting of her and preparing fur her. It was hours afore she knowed me right; and when she did, she kneeled down at my feet, and kiender said to me, as if it was her prayers, how it all come to be. You may believe me, when I heerd her voice, as I had heerd at home so playful—and see her humbled, as it might be in the dust our Saviour wrote in with his blessed hand—I felt a wownd go to my ‘art, in the midst of all its thankfulness.’
He drew his sleeve across his face, without any pretence of concealing why; and then cleared his voice.
‘It warn’t for long as I felt that; for she was found. I had on’y to think as she was found, and it was gone. I doen’t know why I do so much as mention of it now, I’m sure. I didn’t have it in my mind a minute ago, to say a word about myself; but it come up so nat’ral, that I yielded to it afore I was aweer.’
‘You are a self-denying soul,’ said my aunt, ‘and will have your reward.’
Mr. Peggotty, with the shadows of the leaves playing athwart his face, made a surprised inclination of the head towards my aunt, as an acknowledgement of her good opinion; then took up the thread he had relinquished.
‘When my Em’ly took flight,’ he said, in stern wrath for the moment, ‘from the house wheer she was made a prisoner by that theer spotted snake as Mas’r Davy see,—and his story’s trew, and may GOD confound him!—she took flight in the night. It was a dark night, with a many stars a-shining. She was wild. She ran along the sea beach, believing the old boat was theer; and calling out to us to turn away our faces, for she was a-coming by. She heerd herself a-crying out, like as if it was another person; and cut herself on them sharp-pinted stones and rocks, and felt it no more than if she had been rock herself. Ever so fur she run, and there was fire afore her eyes, and roarings in her ears. Of a sudden—or so she thowt, you unnerstand—the day broke, wet and windy, and she was lying b’low a heap of stone upon the shore, and a woman was a-speaking to her, saying, in the language of that country, what was it as had gone so much amiss?’