He received me with absolute enthusiasm. He was too rheumatic to be shaken hands with, but he begged me to shake the tassel on the top of his nightcap, which I did most cordially. When I sat down by the side of the bed, he said that it did him a world of good to feel as if he was driving me on the Blunderstone road again. As he lay in bed, face upward, and so covered, with that exception, that he seemed to be nothing but a face — like a conventional cherubim — he looked the queerest object I ever beheld.
'What name was it, as I wrote up in the cart, sir?' said Mr. Barkis, with a slow rheumatic smile.
'Ah! Mr. Barkis, we had some grave talks about that matter, hadn't we?'
'I was willin' a long time, sir?' said Mr. Barkis.
'A long time,' said I.
'And I don't regret it,' said Mr. Barkis. 'Do you remember what you told me once, about her making all the apple parsties and doing all the cooking?'
'Yes, very well,' I returned.
'It was as true,' said Mr. Barkis, 'as turnips is. It was as true,' said Mr. Barkis, nodding his nightcap, which was his only means of emphasis, 'as taxes is. And nothing's truer than them.'
Mr. Barkis turned his eyes upon me, as if for my assent to this result of his reflections in bed; and I gave it.
'Nothing's truer than them,' repeated Mr. Barkis; 'a man as poor as I am, finds that out in his mind when he's laid up. I'm a very poor man, sir!'
'I am sorry to hear it, Mr. Barkis.'
'A very poor man, indeed I am,' said Mr. Barkis.
Here his right hand came slowly and feebly from under the bedclothes, and with a purposeless uncertain grasp took hold of a stick which was loosely tied to the side of the bed. After some poking about with this instrument, in the course of which his face assumed a variety of distracted expressions, Mr. Barkis poked it against a box, an end of which had been visible to me all the time. Then his face became composed.
'Old clothes,' said Mr. Barkis.
'Oh!' said I.
'I wish it was Money, sir,' said Mr. Barkis.
'I wish it was, indeed,' said I.
'But it AIN'T,' said Mr. Barkis, opening both his eyes as wide as he possibly could.
I expressed myself quite sure of that, and Mr. Barkis, turning his eyes more gently to his wife, said:
'She's the usefullest and best of women, C. P. Barkis. All the praise that anyone can give to C. P. Barkis, she deserves, and more! My dear, you'll get a dinner today, for company; something good to eat and drink, will you?'
I should have protested against this unnecessary demonstration in my honour, but that I saw Peggotty, on the opposite side of the bed, extremely anxious I should not. So I held my peace.
'I have got a trifle of money somewhere about me, my dear,' said Mr. Barkis, 'but I'm a little tired. If you and Mr. David will leave me for a short nap, I'll try and find it when I wake.'
We left the room, in compliance with this request. When we got outside the door, Peggotty informed me that Mr. Barkis, being now 'a little nearer' than he used to be, always resorted to this same device before producing a single coin from his store; and that he endured unheard-of agonies in crawling out of bed alone, and taking it from that unlucky box. In effect, we presently heard him uttering suppressed groans of the most dismal nature, as this magpie proceeding racked him in every joint; but while Peggotty's eyes were full of compassion for him, she said his generous impulse would do him good, and it was better not to check it. So he groaned on, until he had got into bed again, suffering, I have no doubt, a martyrdom; and then called us in, pretending to have just woke up from a refreshing sleep, and to produce a guinea from under his pillow. His satisfaction in which happy imposition on us, and in having preserved the impenetrable secret of the box, appeared to be a sufficient compensation to him for all his tortures.
I prepared Peggotty for Steerforth's arrival and it was not long before he came. I am persuaded she knew no difference between his having been a personal benefactor of hers, and a kind friend to me, and that she would have received him with the utmost gratitude and devotion in any case. But his easy, spirited good humour; his genial manner, his handsome looks, his natural gift of adapting himself to whomsoever he pleased, and making direct, when he cared to do it, to the main point of interest in anybody's heart; bound her to him wholly in five minutes. His manner to me, alone, would have won her. But, through all these causes combined, I sincerely believe she had a kind of adoration for him before he left the house that night.