He gave such a start when I put my hand upon his shoulder, that he made me start too.
'You come upon me,' he said, almost angrily, 'like a reproachful ghost!'
'I was obliged to announce myself, somehow,' I replied. 'Have I called you down from the stars?'
'No,' he answered. 'No.'
'Up from anywhere, then?' said I, taking my seat near him.
'I was looking at the pictures in the fire,' he returned.
'But you are spoiling them for me,' said I, as he stirred it quickly with a piece of burning wood, striking out of it a train of red-hot sparks that went careering up the little chimney, and roaring out into the air.
'You would not have seen them,' he returned. 'I detest this mongrel time, neither day nor night. How late you are! Where have you been?'
'I have been taking leave of my usual walk,' said I.
'And I have been sitting here,' said Steerforth, glancing round the room, 'thinking that all the people we found so glad on the night of our coming down, might — to judge from the present wasted air of the place — be dispersed, or dead, or come to I don't know what harm. David, I wish to God I had had a judicious father these last twenty years!'
'My dear Steerforth, what is the matter?'
'I wish with all my soul I had been better guided!' he exclaimed. 'I wish with all my soul I could guide myself better!'
There was a passionate dejection in his manner that quite amazed me. He was more unlike himself than I could have supposed possible.
'It would be better to be this poor Peggotty, or his lout of a nephew,' he said, getting up and leaning moodily against the chimney-piece, with his face towards the fire, 'than to be myself, twenty times richer and twenty times wiser, and be the torment to myself that I have been, in this Devil's bark of a boat, within the last half-hour!'
I was so confounded by the alteration in him, that at first I could only observe him in silence, as he stood leaning his head upon his hand, and looking gloomily down at the fire. At length I begged him, with all the earnestness I felt, to tell me what had occurred to cross him so unusually, and to let me sympathize with him, if I could not hope to advise him. Before I had well concluded, he began to laugh — fretfully at first, but soon with returning gaiety.
'Tut, it's nothing, Daisy! nothing!' he replied. 'I told you at the inn in London, I am heavy company for myself, sometimes. I have been a nightmare to myself, just now — must have had one, I think. At odd dull times, nursery tales come up into the memory, unrecognized for what they are. I believe I have been confounding myself with the bad boy who "didn't care", and became food for lions — a grander kind of going to the dogs, I suppose. What old women call the horrors, have been creeping over me from head to foot. I have been afraid of myself.'
'You are afraid of nothing else, I think,' said I.
'Perhaps not, and yet may have enough to be afraid of too,' he answered. 'Well! So it goes by! I am not about to be hipped again, David; but I tell you, my good fellow, once more, that it would have been well for me (and for more than me) if I had had a steadfast and judicious father!'
His face was always full of expression, but I never saw it express such a dark kind of earnestness as when he said these words, with his glance bent on the fire.
'So much for that!' he said, making as if he tossed something light into the air, with his hand. "'Why, being gone, I am a man again," like Macbeth. And now for dinner! If I have not (Macbeth-like) broken up the feast with most admired disorder, Daisy.'
'But where are they all, I wonder!' said I.
'God knows,' said Steerforth. 'After strolling to the ferry looking for you, I strolled in here and found the place deserted. That set me thinking, and you found me thinking.'
The advent of Mrs. Gummidge with a basket, explained how the house had happened to be empty. She had hurried out to buy something that was needed, against Mr. Peggotty's return with the tide; and had left the door open in the meanwhile, lest Ham and little Em'ly, with whom it was an early night, should come home while she was gone. Steerforth, after very much improving Mrs. Gummidge's spirits by a cheerful salutation and a jocose embrace, took my arm, and hurried me away.
He had improved his own spirits, no less than Mrs. Gummidge's, for they were again at their usual flow, and he was full of vivacious conversation as we went along.
'And so,' he said, gaily, 'we abandon this buccaneer life tomorrow, do we?'