'The boy will be idle there,' said Miss Murdstone, looking into a pickle-jar, 'and idleness is the root of all evil. But, to be sure, he would be idle here — or anywhere, in my opinion.'
Peggotty had an angry answer ready, I could see; but she swallowed it for my sake, and remained silent.
'Humph!' said Miss Murdstone, still keeping her eye on the pickles; 'it is of more importance than anything else — it is of paramount importance — that my brother should not be disturbed or made uncomfortable. I suppose I had better say yes.'
I thanked her, without making any demonstration of joy, lest it should induce her to withdraw her assent. Nor could I help thinking this a prudent course, since she looked at me out of the pickle-jar, with as great an access of sourness as if her black eyes had absorbed its contents. However, the permission was given, and was never retracted; for when the month was out, Peggotty and I were ready to depart.
Mr. Barkis came into the house for Peggotty's boxes. I had never known him to pass the garden-gate before, but on this occasion he came into the house. And he gave me a look as he shouldered the largest box and went out, which I thought had meaning in it, if meaning could ever be said to find its way into Mr. Barkis's visage.
Peggotty was naturally in low spirits at leaving what had been her home so many years, and where the two strong attachments of her life — for my mother and myself — had been formed. She had been walking in the churchyard, too, very early; and she got into the cart, and sat in it with her handkerchief at her eyes.
So long as she remained in this condition, Mr. Barkis gave no sign of life whatever. He sat in his usual place and attitude like a great stuffed figure. But when she began to look about her, and to speak to me, he nodded his head and grinned several times. I have not the least notion at whom, or what he meant by it.
'It's a beautiful day, Mr. Barkis!' I said, as an act of politeness.
'It ain't bad,' said Mr. Barkis, who generally qualified his speech, and rarely committed himself.
'Peggotty is quite comfortable now, Mr. Barkis,' I remarked, for his satisfaction.
'Is she, though?' said Mr. Barkis.
After reflecting about it, with a sagacious air, Mr. Barkis eyed her, and said:
'ARE you pretty comfortable?'
Peggotty laughed, and answered in the affirmative.
'But really and truly, you know. Are you?' growled Mr. Barkis, sliding nearer to her on the seat, and nudging her with his elbow. 'Are you? Really and truly pretty comfortable? Are you? Eh?'
At each of these inquiries Mr. Barkis shuffled nearer to her, and gave her another nudge; so that at last we were all crowded together in the left-hand corner of the cart, and I was so squeezed that I could hardly bear it.
Peggotty calling his attention to my sufferings, Mr. Barkis gave me a little more room at once, and got away by degrees. But I could not help observing that he seemed to think he had hit upon a wonderful expedient for expressing himself in a neat, agreeable, and pointed manner, without the inconvenience of inventing conversation. He manifestly chuckled over it for some time. By and by he turned to Peggotty again, and repeating, 'Are you pretty comfortable though?' bore down upon us as before, until the breath was nearly edged out of my body. By and by he made another descent upon us with the same inquiry, and the same result. At length, I got up whenever I saw him coming, and standing on the foot-board, pretended to look at the prospect; after which I did very well.
He was so polite as to stop at a public-house, expressly on our account, and entertain us with broiled mutton and beer. Even when Peggotty was in the act of drinking, he was seized with one of those approaches, and almost choked her. But as we drew nearer to the end of our journey, he had more to do and less time for gallantry; and when we got on Yarmouth pavement, we were all too much shaken and jolted, I apprehend, to have any leisure for anything else.
Mr. Peggotty and Ham waited for us at the old place. They received me and Peggotty in an affectionate manner, and shook hands with Mr. Barkis, who, with his hat on the very back of his head, and a shame-faced leer upon his countenance, and pervading his very legs, presented but a vacant appearance, I thought. They each took one of Peggotty's trunks, and we were going away, when Mr. Barkis solemnly made a sign to me with his forefinger to come under an archway.
'I say,' growled Mr. Barkis, 'it was all right.'
I looked up into his face, and answered, with an attempt to be very profound: 'Oh!'
'It didn't come to a end there,' said Mr. Barkis, nodding confidentially. 'It was all right.'
Again I answered, 'Oh!'