'So we agreed,' I returned. 'And our places by the coach are taken, you know.'
'Ay! there's no help for it, I suppose,' said Steerforth. 'I have almost forgotten that there is anything to do in the world but to go out tossing on the sea here. I wish there was not.'
'As long as the novelty should last,' said I, laughing.
'Like enough,' he returned; 'though there's a sarcastic meaning in that observation for an amiable piece of innocence like my young friend. Well! I dare say I am a capricious fellow, David. I know I am; but while the iron is hot, I can strike it vigorously too. I could pass a reasonably good examination already, as a pilot in these waters, I think.'
'Mr. Peggotty says you are a wonder,' I returned.
'A nautical phenomenon, eh?' laughed Steerforth.
'Indeed he does, and you know how truly; I know how ardent you are in any pursuit you follow, and how easily you can master it. And that amazes me most in you, Steerforth — that you should be contented with such fitful uses of your powers.'
'Contented?' he answered, merrily. 'I am never contented, except with your freshness, my gentle Daisy. As to fitfulness, I have never learnt the art of binding myself to any of the wheels on which the Ixions of these days are turning round and round. I missed it somehow in a bad apprenticeship, and now don't care about it. — -You know I have bought a boat down here?'
'What an extraordinary fellow you are, Steerforth!' I exclaimed, stopping — for this was the first I had heard of it. 'When you may never care to come near the place again!'
'I don't know that,' he returned. 'I have taken a fancy to the place. At all events,' walking me briskly on, 'I have bought a boat that was for sale — a clipper, Mr. Peggotty says; and so she is — and Mr. Peggotty will be master of her in my absence.'
'Now I understand you, Steerforth!' said I, exultingly. 'You pretend to have bought it for yourself, but you have really done so to confer a benefit on him. I might have known as much at first, knowing you. My dear kind Steerforth, how can I tell you what I think of your generosity?'
'Tush!' he answered, turning red. 'The less said, the better.'
'Didn't I know?' cried I, 'didn't I say that there was not a joy, or sorrow, or any emotion of such honest hearts that was indifferent to you?'
'Aye, aye,' he answered, 'you told me all that. There let it rest. We have said enough!'
Afraid of offending him by pursuing the subject when he made so light of it, I only pursued it in my thoughts as we went on at even a quicker pace than before.
'She must be newly rigged,' said Steerforth, 'and I shall leave Littimer behind to see it done, that I may know she is quite complete. Did I tell you Littimer had come down?'
'Oh yes! came down this morning, with a letter from my mother.'
As our looks met, I observed that he was pale even to his lips, though he looked very steadily at me. I feared that some difference between him and his mother might have led to his being in the frame of mind in which I had found him at the solitary fireside. I hinted so.
'Oh no!' he said, shaking his head, and giving a slight laugh. 'Nothing of the sort! Yes. He is come down, that man of mine.'
'The same as ever?' said I.
'The same as ever,' said Steerforth. 'Distant and quiet as the North Pole. He shall see to the boat being fresh named. She's the "Stormy Petrel" now. What does Mr. Peggotty care for Stormy Petrels! I'll have her christened again.'
'By what name?' I asked.
'The "Little Em'ly".'
As he had continued to look steadily at me, I took it as a reminder that he objected to being extolled for his consideration. I could not help showing in my face how much it pleased me, but I said little, and he resumed his usual smile, and seemed relieved.
'But see here,' he said, looking before us, 'where the original little Em'ly comes! And that fellow with her, eh? Upon my soul, he's a true knight. He never leaves her!'
Ham was a boat-builder in these days, having improved a natural ingenuity in that handicraft, until he had become a skilled workman. He was in his working-dress, and looked rugged enough, but manly withal, and a very fit protector for the blooming little creature at his side. Indeed, there was a frankness in his face, an honesty, and an undisguised show of his pride in her, and his love for her, which were, to me, the best of good looks. I thought, as they came towards us, that they were well matched even in that particular.