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CHAPTER 30
A LOSS


I got down to Yarmouth in the evening, and went to the inn. I knew
that Peggotty's spare room - my room - was likely to have
occupation enough in a little while, if that great Visitor, before
whose presence all the living must give place, were not already in
the house; so I betook myself to the inn, and dined there, and
engaged my bed.

It was ten o'clock when I went out. Many of the shops were shut,
and the town was dull. When I came to Omer and Joram's, I found
the shutters up, but the shop door standing open. As I could
obtain a perspective view of Mr. Omer inside, smoking his pipe by
the parlour door, I entered, and asked him how he was.

'Why, bless my life and soul!' said Mr. Omer, 'how do you find
yourself? Take a seat. - Smoke not disagreeable, I hope?'

'By no means,' said I. 'I like it - in somebody else's pipe.'

'What, not in your own, eh?' Mr. Omer returned, laughing. 'All the
better, sir. Bad habit for a young man. Take a seat. I smoke,
myself, for the asthma.'

Mr. Omer had made room for me, and placed a chair. He now sat down
again very much out of breath, gasping at his pipe as if it
contained a supply of that necessary, without which he must perish.

'I am sorry to have heard bad news of Mr. Barkis,' said I.

Mr. Omer looked at me, with a steady countenance, and shook his
head.

'Do you know how he is tonight?' I asked.

'The very question I should have put to you, sir,' returned Mr.
Omer, 'but on account of delicacy. It's one of the drawbacks of
our line of business. When a party's ill, we can't ask how the
party is.'

The difficulty had not occurred to me; though I had had my
apprehensions too, when I went in, of hearing the old tune. On its
being mentioned, I recognized it, however, and said as much.

'Yes, yes, you understand,' said Mr. Omer, nodding his head. 'We
dursn't do it. Bless you, it would be a shock that the generality
of parties mightn't recover, to say "Omer and Joram's compliments,
and how do you find yourself this morning?" - or this afternoon -
as it may be.'

Mr. Omer and I nodded at each other, and Mr. Omer recruited his
wind by the aid of his pipe.

'It's one of the things that cut the trade off from attentions they
could often wish to show,' said Mr. Omer. 'Take myself. If I have
known Barkis a year, to move to as he went by, I have known him
forty years. But I can't go and say, "how is he?"'

I felt it was rather hard on Mr. Omer, and I told him so.

'I'm not more self-interested, I hope, than another man,' said Mr.
Omer. 'Look at me! My wind may fail me at any moment, and it
ain't likely that, to my own knowledge, I'd be self-interested
under such circumstances. I say it ain't likely, in a man who
knows his wind will go, when it DOES go, as if a pair of bellows
was cut open; and that man a grandfather,' said Mr. Omer.

I said, 'Not at all.'

'It ain't that I complain of my line of business,' said Mr. Omer.
'It ain't that. Some good and some bad goes, no doubt, to all
callings. What I wish is, that parties was brought up
stronger-minded.'

Mr. Omer, with a very complacent and amiable face, took several
puffs in silence; and then said, resuming his first point:

'Accordingly we're obleeged, in ascertaining how Barkis goes on, to
limit ourselves to Em'ly. She knows what our real objects are, and
she don't have any more alarms or suspicions about us, than if we
was so many lambs. Minnie and Joram have just stepped down to the
house, in fact (she's there, after hours, helping her aunt a bit),
to ask her how he is tonight; and if you was to please to wait till
they come back, they'd give you full partic'lers. Will you take
something? A glass of srub and water, now? I smoke on srub and
water, myself,' said Mr. Omer, taking up his glass, 'because it's
considered softening to the passages, by which this troublesome
breath of mine gets into action. But, Lord bless you,' said Mr.
Omer, huskily, 'it ain't the passages that's out of order! "Give
me breath enough," said I to my daughter Minnie, "and I'll find
passages, my dear."'

He really had no breath to spare, and it was very alarming to see
him laugh. When he was again in a condition to be talked to, I
thanked him for the proffered refreshment, which I declined, as I
had just had dinner; and, observing that I would wait, since he was
so good as to invite me, until his daughter and his son-in-law came
back, I inquired how little Emily was?

'Well, sir,' said Mr. Omer, removing his pipe, that he might rub
his chin: 'I tell you truly, I shall be glad when her marriage has
taken place.'

'Why so?' I inquired.

'Well, she's unsettled at present,' said Mr. Omer. 'It ain't that
she's not as pretty as ever, for she's prettier - I do assure you,
she is prettier. It ain't that she don't work as well as ever, for
she does. She WAS worth any six, and she IS worth any six. But
somehow she wants heart. If you understand,' said Mr. Omer, after
rubbing his chin again, and smoking a little, 'what I mean in a
general way by the expression, "A long pull, and a strong pull, and
a pull altogether, my hearties, hurrah!" I should say to you, that
that was - in a general way - what I miss in Em'ly.'

Mr. Omer's face and manner went for so much, that I could
conscientiously nod my head, as divining his meaning. My quickness
of apprehension seemed to please him, and he went on:
'Now I consider this is principally on account of her being in an
unsettled state, you see. We have talked it over a good deal, her
uncle and myself, and her sweetheart and myself, after business;
and I consider it is principally on account of her being unsettled.
You must always recollect of Em'ly,' said Mr. Omer, shaking his
head gently, 'that she's a most extraordinary affectionate little
thing. The proverb says, "You can't make a silk purse out of a
sow's ear." Well, I don't know about that. I rather think you may,
if you begin early in life. She has made a home out of that old
boat, sir, that stone and marble couldn't beat.'

'I am sure she has!' said I.

'To see the clinging of that pretty little thing to her uncle,'
said Mr. Omer; 'to see the way she holds on to him, tighter and
tighter, and closer and closer, every day, is to see a sight. Now,
you know, there's a struggle going on when that's the case. Why
should it be made a longer one than is needful?'

I listened attentively to the good old fellow, and acquiesced, with
all my heart, in what he said.

'Therefore, I mentioned to them,' said Mr. Omer, in a comfortable,
easy-going tone, 'this. I said, "Now, don't consider Em'ly nailed
down in point of time, at all. Make it your own time. Her
services have been more valuable than was supposed; her learning
has been quicker than was supposed; Omer and Joram can run their
pen through what remains; and she's free when you wish. If she
likes to make any little arrangement, afterwards, in the way of
doing any little thing for us at home, very well. If she don't,
very well still. We're no losers, anyhow." For - don't you see,'
said Mr. Omer, touching me with his pipe, 'it ain't likely that a
man so short of breath as myself, and a grandfather too, would go
and strain points with a little bit of a blue-eyed blossom, like
her?'

'Not at all, I am certain,' said I.

'Not at all! You're right!' said Mr. Omer. 'Well, sir, her cousin
- you know it's a cousin she's going to be married to?'

'Oh yes,' I replied. 'I know him well.'

'Of course you do,' said Mr. Omer. 'Well, sir! Her cousin being,
as it appears, in good work, and well to do, thanked me in a very
manly sort of manner for this (conducting himself altogether, I
must say, in a way that gives me a high opinion of him), and went
and took as comfortable a little house as you or I could wish to
clap eyes on. That little house is now furnished right through, as
neat and complete as a doll's parlour; and but for Barkis's illness
having taken this bad turn, poor fellow, they would have been man
and wife - I dare say, by this time. As it is, there's a
postponement.'

'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?'

The sound of her voice had not reached me, but he bent his head as
if he listened to her, and then said:

'Let you stay with your uncle? Why, you doen't mean to ask me
that! Stay with your uncle, Moppet? When your husband that'll be
so soon, is here fur to take you home? Now a person wouldn't think
it, fur to see this little thing alongside a rough-weather chap
like me,' said Mr. Peggotty, looking round at both of us, with
infinite pride; 'but the sea ain't more salt in it than she has
fondness in her for her uncle - a foolish little Em'ly!'

'Em'ly's in the right in that, Mas'r Davy!' said Ham. 'Lookee
here! As Em'ly wishes of it, and as she's hurried and frightened,
like, besides, I'll leave her till morning. Let me stay too!'

'No, no,' said Mr. Peggotty. 'You doen't ought - a married man
like you - or what's as good - to take and hull away a day's work.
And you doen't ought to watch and work both. That won't do. You
go home and turn in. You ain't afeerd of Em'ly not being took good
care on, I know.'
Ham yielded to this persuasion, and took his hat to go. Even when
he kissed her. - and I never saw him approach her, but I felt that
nature had given him the soul of a gentleman - she seemed to cling
closer to her uncle, even to the avoidance of her chosen husband.
I shut the door after him, that it might cause no disturbance of
the quiet that prevailed; and when I turned back, I found Mr.
Peggotty still talking to her.

'Now, I'm a going upstairs to tell your aunt as Mas'r Davy's here,
and that'll cheer her up a bit,' he said. 'Sit ye down by the
fire, the while, my dear, and warm those mortal cold hands. You
doen't need to be so fearsome, and take on so much. What? You'll
go along with me? - Well! come along with me - come! If her uncle
was turned out of house and home, and forced to lay down in a dyke,
Mas'r Davy,' said Mr. Peggotty, with no less pride than before,
'it's my belief she'd go along with him, now! But there'll be
someone else, soon, - someone else, soon, Em'ly!'

Afterwards, when I went upstairs, as I passed the door of my little
chamber, which was dark, I had an indistinct impression of her
being within it, cast down upon the floor. But, whether it was
really she, or whether it was a confusion of the shadows in the
room, I don't know now.

I had leisure to think, before the kitchen fire, of pretty little
Emily's dread of death - which, added to what Mr. Omer had told me,
I took to be the cause of her being so unlike herself - and I had
leisure, before Peggotty came down, even to think more leniently of
the weakness of it: as I sat counting the ticking of the clock, and
deepening my sense of the solemn hush around me. Peggotty took me
in her arms, and blessed and thanked me over and over again for
being such a comfort to her (that was what she said) in her
distress. She then entreated me to come upstairs, sobbing that Mr.
Barkis had always liked me and admired me; that he had often talked
of me, before he fell into a stupor; and that she believed, in case
of his coming to himself again, he would brighten up at sight of
me, if he could brighten up at any earthly thing.

The probability of his ever doing so, appeared to me, when I saw
him, to be very small. He was lying with his head and shoulders
out of bed, in an uncomfortable attitude, half resting on the box
which had cost him so much pain and trouble. I learned, that, when
he was past creeping out of bed to open it, and past assuring
himself of its safety by means of the divining rod I had seen him
use, he had required to have it placed on the chair at the
bed-side, where he had ever since embraced it, night and day. His
arm lay on it now. Time and the world were slipping from beneath
him, but the box was there; and the last words he had uttered were
(in an explanatory tone) 'Old clothes!'

'Barkis, my dear!' said Peggotty, almost cheerfully: bending over
him, while her brother and I stood at the bed's foot. 'Here's my
dear boy - my dear boy, Master Davy, who brought us together,
Barkis! That you sent messages by, you know! Won't you speak to
Master Davy?'

He was as mute and senseless as the box, from which his form
derived the only expression it had.

'He's a going out with the tide,' said Mr. Peggotty to me, behind
his hand.

My eyes were dim and so were Mr. Peggotty's; but I repeated in a
whisper, 'With the tide?'

'People can't die, along the coast,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'except
when the tide's pretty nigh out. They can't be born, unless it's
pretty nigh in - not properly born, till flood. He's a going out
with the tide. It's ebb at half-arter three, slack water half an
hour. If he lives till it turns, he'll hold his own till past the
flood, and go out with the next tide.'

We remained there, watching him, a long time - hours. What
mysterious influence my presence had upon him in that state of his
senses, I shall not pretend to say; but when he at last began to
wander feebly, it is certain he was muttering about driving me to
school.

'He's coming to himself,' said Peggotty.

Mr. Peggotty touched me, and whispered with much awe and reverence.
'They are both a-going out fast.'

'Barkis, my dear!' said Peggotty.

'C. P. Barkis,' he cried faintly. 'No better woman anywhere!'

'Look! Here's Master Davy!' said Peggotty. For he now opened his
eyes.

I was on the point of asking him if he knew me, when he tried to
stretch out his arm, and said to me, distinctly, with a pleasant
smile:

'Barkis is willin'!'

And, it being low water, he went out with the tide.





David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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