'Put this and that together, my tender pupil,' returned the wary Mowcher, touching her nose, 'work it by the rule of Secrets in all trades, and the product will give you the desired result. I say I do a little in that way myself. One Dowager, SHE calls it lip-salve. Another, SHE calls it gloves. Another, SHE calls it tucker-edging. Another, SHE calls it a fan. I call it whatever THEY call it. I supply it for 'em, but we keep up the trick so, to one another, and make believe with such a face, that they'd as soon think of laying it on, before a whole drawing-room, as before me. And when I wait upon 'em, they'll say to me sometimes — WITH IT ON — thick, and no mistake — "How am I looking, Mowcher? Am I pale?" Ha! ha! ha! ha! Isn't THAT refreshing, my young friend!'
I never did in my days behold anything like Mowcher as she stood upon the dining table, intensely enjoying this refreshment, rubbing busily at Steerforth's head, and winking at me over it.
'Ah!' she said. 'Such things are not much in demand hereabouts. That sets me off again! I haven't seen a pretty woman since I've been here, jemmy.'
'No?' said Steerforth.
'Not the ghost of one,' replied Miss Mowcher.
'We could show her the substance of one, I think?' said Steerforth, addressing his eyes to mine. 'Eh, Daisy?'
'Yes, indeed,' said I.
'Aha?' cried the little creature, glancing sharply at my face, and then peeping round at Steerforth's. 'Umph?'
The first exclamation sounded like a question put to both of us, and the second like a question put to Steerforth only. She seemed to have found no answer to either, but continued to rub, with her head on one side and her eye turned up, as if she were looking for an answer in the air and were confident of its appearing presently.
'A sister of yours, Mr. Copperfield?' she cried, after a pause, and still keeping the same look-out. 'Aye, aye?'
'No,' said Steerforth, before I could reply. 'Nothing of the sort. On the contrary, Mr. Copperfield used — or I am much mistaken — to have a great admiration for her.'
'Why, hasn't he now?' returned Miss Mowcher. 'Is he fickle? Oh, for shame! Did he sip every flower, and change every hour, until Polly his passion requited? — Is her name Polly?'
The Elfin suddenness with which she pounced upon me with this question, and a searching look, quite disconcerted me for a moment.
'No, Miss Mowcher,' I replied. 'Her name is Emily.'
'Aha?' she cried exactly as before. 'Umph? What a rattle I am! Mr. Copperfield, ain't I volatile?'
Her tone and look implied something that was not agreeable to me in connexion with the subject. So I said, in a graver manner than any of us had yet assumed: 'She is as virtuous as she is pretty. She is engaged to be married to a most worthy and deserving man in her own station of life. I esteem her for her good sense, as much as I admire her for her good looks.'
'Well said!' cried Steerforth. 'Hear, hear, hear! Now I'll quench the curiosity of this little Fatima, my dear Daisy, by leaving her nothing to guess at. She is at present apprenticed, Miss Mowcher, or articled, or whatever it may be, to Omer and Joram, Haberdashers, Milliners, and so forth, in this town. Do you observe? Omer and Joram. The promise of which my friend has spoken, is made and entered into with her cousin; Christian name, Ham; surname, Peggotty; occupation, boat-builder; also of this town. She lives with a relative; Christian name, unknown; surname, Peggotty; occupation, seafaring; also of this town. She is the prettiest and most engaging little fairy in the world. I admire her — as my friend does — exceedingly. If it were not that I might appear to disparage her Intended, which I know my friend would not like, I would add, that to me she seems to be throwing herself away; that I am sure she might do better; and that I swear she was born to be a lady.'
Miss Mowcher listened to these words, which were very slowly and distinctly spoken, with her head on one side, and her eye in the air as if she were still looking for that answer. When he ceased she became brisk again in an instant, and rattled away with surprising volubility.
'Oh! And that's all about it, is it?' she exclaimed, trimming his whiskers with a little restless pair of scissors, that went glancing round his head in all directions. 'Very well: very well! Quite a long story. Ought to end "and they lived happy ever afterwards"; oughtn't it? Ah! What's that game at forfeits? I love my love with an E, because she's enticing; I hate her with an E, because she's engaged. I took her to the sign of the exquisite, and treated her with an elopement, her name's Emily, and she lives in the east? Ha! ha! ha! Mr. Copperfield, ain't I volatile?'
Merely looking at me with extravagant slyness, and not waiting for any reply, she continued, without drawing breath:
'There! If ever any scapegrace was trimmed and touched up to perfection, you are, Steerforth. If I understand any noddle in the world, I understand yours. Do you hear me when I tell you that, my darling? I understand yours,' peeping down into his face. 'Now you may mizzle, jemmy (as we say at Court), and if Mr. Copperfield will take the chair I'll operate on him.'