'I think my memory has got as short as my breath,' said Mr. Omer, looking at me and shaking his head; 'for I don't remember you.'
'Don't you remember your coming to the coach to meet me, and my having breakfast here, and our riding out to Blunderstone together: you, and I, and Mrs. Joram, and Mr. Joram too — who wasn't her husband then?'
'Why, Lord bless my soul!' exclaimed Mr. Omer, after being thrown by his surprise into a fit of coughing, 'you don't say so! Minnie, my dear, you recollect? Dear me, yes; the party was a lady, I think?'
'My mother,' I rejoined.
'To — be — sure,' said Mr. Omer, touching my waistcoat with his forefinger, 'and there was a little child too! There was two parties. The little party was laid along with the other party. Over at Blunderstone it was, of course. Dear me! And how have you been since?'
Very well, I thanked him, as I hoped he had been too.
'Oh! nothing to grumble at, you know,' said Mr. Omer. 'I find my breath gets short, but it seldom gets longer as a man gets older. I take it as it comes, and make the most of it. That's the best way, ain't it?'
Mr. Omer coughed again, in consequence of laughing, and was assisted out of his fit by his daughter, who now stood close beside us, dancing her smallest child on the counter.
'Dear me!' said Mr. Omer. 'Yes, to be sure. Two parties! Why, in that very ride, if you'll believe me, the day was named for my Minnie to marry Joram. "Do name it, sir," says Joram. "Yes, do, father," says Minnie. And now he's come into the business. And look here! The youngest!'
Minnie laughed, and stroked her banded hair upon her temples, as her father put one of his fat fingers into the hand of the child she was dancing on the counter.
'Two parties, of course!' said Mr. Omer, nodding his head retrospectively. 'Ex-actly so! And Joram's at work, at this minute, on a grey one with silver nails, not this measurement' — the measurement of the dancing child upon the counter — 'by a good two inches. — -Will you take something?'
I thanked him, but declined.
'Let me see,' said Mr. Omer. 'Barkis's the carrier's wife — Peggotty's the boatman's sister — she had something to do with your family? She was in service there, sure?'
My answering in the affirmative gave him great satisfaction.
'I believe my breath will get long next, my memory's getting so much so,' said Mr. Omer. 'Well, sir, we've got a young relation of hers here, under articles to us, that has as elegant a taste in the dress-making business — I assure you I don't believe there's a Duchess in England can touch her.'
'Not little Em'ly?' said I, involuntarily.
'Em'ly's her name,' said Mr. Omer, 'and she's little too. But if you'll believe me, she has such a face of her own that half the women in this town are mad against her.'
'Nonsense, father!' cried Minnie.
'My dear,' said Mr. Omer, 'I don't say it's the case with you,' winking at me, 'but I say that half the women in Yarmouth — ah! and in five mile round — are mad against that girl.'
'Then she should have kept to her own station in life, father,' said Minnie, 'and not have given them any hold to talk about her, and then they couldn't have done it.'
'Couldn't have done it, my dear!' retorted Mr. Omer. 'Couldn't have done it! Is that YOUR knowledge of life? What is there that any woman couldn't do, that she shouldn't do — especially on the subject of another woman's good looks?'
I really thought it was all over with Mr. Omer, after he had uttered this libellous pleasantry. He coughed to that extent, and his breath eluded all his attempts to recover it with that obstinacy, that I fully expected to see his head go down behind the counter, and his little black breeches, with the rusty little bunches of ribbons at the knees, come quivering up in a last ineffectual struggle. At length, however, he got better, though he still panted hard, and was so exhausted that he was obliged to sit on the stool of the shop-desk.
'You see,' he said, wiping his head, and breathing with difficulty, 'she hasn't taken much to any companions here; she hasn't taken kindly to any particular acquaintances and friends, not to mention sweethearts. In consequence, an ill-natured story got about, that Em'ly wanted to be a lady. Now my opinion is, that it came into circulation principally on account of her sometimes saying, at the school, that if she was a lady she would like to do so-and-so for her uncle — don't you see? — and buy him such-and-such fine things.'