'When did she first hear of it?' I asked.
'I kep it from her arter I heerd on 't,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'going on nigh a year. We was living then in a solitary place, but among the beautifullest trees, and with the roses a-covering our Beein to the roof. Theer come along one day, when I was out a-working on the land, a traveller from our own Norfolk or Suffolk in England (I doen't rightly mind which), and of course we took him in, and giv him to eat and drink, and made him welcome. We all do that, all the colony over. He'd got an old newspaper with him, and some other account in print of the storm. That's how she know'd it. When I came home at night, I found she know'd it.'
He dropped his voice as he said these words, and the gravity I so well remembered overspread his face.
'Did it change her much?' we asked.
'Aye, for a good long time,' he said, shaking his head; 'if not to this present hour. But I think the solitoode done her good. And she had a deal to mind in the way of poultry and the like, and minded of it, and come through. I wonder,' he said thoughtfully, 'if you could see my Em'ly now, Mas'r Davy, whether you'd know her!'
'Is she so altered?' I inquired.
'I doen't know. I see her ev'ry day, and doen't know; But, odd-times, I have thowt so. A slight figure,' said Mr. Peggotty, looking at the fire, 'kiender worn; soft, sorrowful, blue eyes; a delicate face; a pritty head, leaning a little down; a quiet voice and way — timid a'most. That's Em'ly!'
We silently observed him as he sat, still looking at the fire.
'Some thinks,' he said, 'as her affection was ill-bestowed; some, as her marriage was broken off by death. No one knows how 'tis. She might have married well, a mort of times, "but, uncle," she says to me, "that's gone for ever." Cheerful along with me; retired when others is by; fond of going any distance fur to teach a child, or fur to tend a sick person, or fur to do some kindness tow'rds a young girl's wedding (and she's done a many, but has never seen one); fondly loving of her uncle; patient; liked by young and old; sowt out by all that has any trouble. That's Em'ly!'
He drew his hand across his face, and with a half-suppressed sigh looked up from the fire.
'Is Martha with you yet?' I asked.
'Martha,' he replied, 'got married, Mas'r Davy, in the second year. A young man, a farm-labourer, as come by us on his way to market with his mas'r's drays — a journey of over five hundred mile, theer and back — made offers fur to take her fur his wife (wives is very scarce theer), and then to set up fur their two selves in the Bush. She spoke to me fur to tell him her trew story. I did. They was married, and they live fower hundred mile away from any voices but their own and the singing birds.'
'Mrs. Gummidge?' I suggested.
It was a pleasant key to touch, for Mr. Peggotty suddenly burst into a roar of laughter, and rubbed his hands up and down his legs, as he had been accustomed to do when he enjoyed himself in the long-shipwrecked boat.
'Would you believe it!' he said. 'Why, someun even made offer fur to marry her! If a ship's cook that was turning settler, Mas'r Davy, didn't make offers fur to marry Missis Gummidge, I'm Gormed — and I can't say no fairer than that!'
I never saw Agnes laugh so. This sudden ecstasy on the part of Mr. Peggotty was so delightful to her, that she could not leave off laughing; and the more she laughed the more she made me laugh, and the greater Mr. Peggotty's ecstasy became, and the more he rubbed his legs.
'And what did Mrs. Gummidge say?' I asked, when I was grave enough.
'If you'll believe me,' returned Mr. Peggotty, 'Missis Gummidge, 'stead of saying "thank you, I'm much obleeged to you, I ain't a-going fur to change my condition at my time of life," up'd with a bucket as was standing by, and laid it over that theer ship's cook's head 'till he sung out fur help, and I went in and reskied of him.'
Mr. Peggotty burst into a great roar of laughter, and Agnes and I both kept him company.
'But I must say this, for the good creetur,' he resumed, wiping his face, when we were quite exhausted; 'she has been all she said she'd be to us, and more. She's the willingest, the trewest, the honestest-helping woman, Mas'r Davy, as ever draw'd the breath of life. I have never know'd her to be lone and lorn, for a single minute, not even when the colony was all afore us, and we was new to it. And thinking of the old 'un is a thing she never done, I do assure you, since she left England!'
'Now, last, not least, Mr. Micawber,' said I. 'He has paid off every obligation he incurred here — even to Traddles's bill, you remember my dear Agnes — and therefore we may take it for granted that he is doing well. But what is the latest news of him?'