After delivering this speech all in a breath, and with extraordinary animation and pleasure, Mr. Peggotty put one of his large hands rapturously on each side of his niece's face, and kissing it a dozen times, laid it with a gentle pride and love upon his broad chest, and patted it as if his hand had been a lady's. Then he let her go; and as she ran into the little chamber where I used to sleep, looked round upon us, quite hot and out of breath with his uncommon satisfaction.
'If you two gent'lmen — gent'lmen growed now, and such gent'lmen — ' said Mr. Peggotty.
'So th' are, so th' are!' cried Ham. 'Well said! So th' are. Mas'r Davy bor' — gent'lmen growed — so th' are!'
'If you two gent'lmen, gent'lmen growed,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'don't ex-cuse me for being in a state of mind, when you understand matters, I'll arks your pardon. Em'ly, my dear! — She knows I'm a going to tell,' here his delight broke out again, 'and has made off. Would you be so good as look arter her, Mawther, for a minute?'
Mrs. Gummidge nodded and disappeared.
'If this ain't,' said Mr. Peggotty, sitting down among us by the fire, 'the brightest night o' my life, I'm a shellfish — biled too — and more I can't say. This here little Em'ly, sir,' in a low voice to Steerforth, ' — her as you see a blushing here just now — '
Steerforth only nodded; but with such a pleased expression of interest, and of participation in Mr. Peggotty's feelings, that the latter answered him as if he had spoken.
'To be sure,' said Mr. Peggotty. 'That's her, and so she is. Thankee, sir.'
Ham nodded to me several times, as if he would have said so too.
'This here little Em'ly of ours,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'has been, in our house, what I suppose (I'm a ignorant man, but that's my belief) no one but a little bright-eyed creetur can be in a house. She ain't my child; I never had one; but I couldn't love her more. You understand! I couldn't do it!'
'I quite understand,' said Steerforth.
'I know you do, sir,' returned Mr. Peggotty, 'and thankee again. Mas'r Davy, he can remember what she was; you may judge for your own self what she is; but neither of you can't fully know what she has been, is, and will be, to my loving art. I am rough, sir,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'I am as rough as a Sea Porkypine; but no one, unless, mayhap, it is a woman, can know, I think, what our little Em'ly is to me. And betwixt ourselves,' sinking his voice lower yet, 'that woman's name ain't Missis Gummidge neither, though she has a world of merits.' Mr. Peggotty ruffled his hair again, with both hands, as a further preparation for what he was going to say, and went on, with a hand upon each of his knees:
'There was a certain person as had know'd our Em'ly, from the time when her father was drownded; as had seen her constant; when a babby, when a young gal, when a woman. Not much of a person to look at, he warn't,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'something o' my own build — rough — a good deal o' the sou'-wester in him — wery salt — but, on the whole, a honest sort of a chap, with his art in the right place.'
I thought I had never seen Ham grin to anything like the extent to which he sat grinning at us now.
'What does this here blessed tarpaulin go and do,' said Mr. Peggotty, with his face one high noon of enjoyment, 'but he loses that there art of his to our little Em'ly. He follers her about, he makes hisself a sort o' servant to her, he loses in a great measure his relish for his wittles, and in the long-run he makes it clear to me wot's amiss. Now I could wish myself, you see, that our little Em'ly was in a fair way of being married. I could wish to see her, at all ewents, under articles to a honest man as had a right to defend her. I don't know how long I may live, or how soon I may die; but I know that if I was capsized, any night, in a gale of wind in Yarmouth Roads here, and was to see the town-lights shining for the last time over the rollers as I couldn't make no head against, I could go down quieter for thinking "There's a man ashore there, iron-true to my little Em'ly, God bless her, and no wrong can touch my Em'ly while so be as that man lives."'
Mr. Peggotty, in simple earnestness, waved his right arm, as if he were waving it at the town-lights for the last time, and then, exchanging a nod with Ham, whose eye he caught, proceeded as before.
'Well! I counsels him to speak to Em'ly. He's big enough, but he's bashfuller than a little un, and he don't like. So I speak. "What! Him!" says Em'ly. "Him that I've know'd so intimate so many years, and like so much. Oh, Uncle! I never can have him. He's such a good fellow!" I gives her a kiss, and I says no more to her than, "My dear, you're right to speak out, you're to choose for yourself, you're as free as a little bird." Then I aways to him, and I says, "I wish it could have been so, but it can't. But you can both be as you was, and wot I say to you is, Be as you was with her, like a man." He says to me, a-shaking of my hand, "I will!" he says. And he was — honourable and manful — for two year going on, and we was just the same at home here as afore.'
Mr. Peggotty's face, which had varied in its expression with the various stages of his narrative, now resumed all its former triumphant delight, as he laid a hand upon my knee and a hand upon Steerforth's (previously wetting them both, for the greater emphasis of the action), and divided the following speech between us: