A figure appeared in the distance before long, and I soon knew it to be Em'ly, who was a little creature still in stature, though she was grown. But when she drew nearer, and I saw her blue eyes looking bluer, and her dimpled face looking brighter, and her whole self prettier and gayer, a curious feeling came over me that made me pretend not to know her, and pass by as if I were looking at something a long way off. I have done such a thing since in later life, or I am mistaken.
Little Em'ly didn't care a bit. She saw me well enough; but instead of turning round and calling after me, ran away laughing. This obliged me to run after her, and she ran so fast that we were very near the cottage before I caught her.
'Oh, it's you, is it?' said little Em'ly.
'Why, you knew who it was, Em'ly,' said I.
'And didn't YOU know who it was?' said Em'ly. I was going to kiss her, but she covered her cherry lips with her hands, and said she wasn't a baby now, and ran away, laughing more than ever, into the house.
She seemed to delight in teasing me, which was a change in her I wondered at very much. The tea table was ready, and our little locker was put out in its old place, but instead of coming to sit by me, she went and bestowed her company upon that grumbling Mrs. Gummidge: and on Mr. Peggotty's inquiring why, rumpled her hair all over her face to hide it, and could do nothing but laugh.
'A little puss, it is!' said Mr. Peggotty, patting her with his great hand.
'So sh' is! so sh' is!' cried Ham. 'Mas'r Davy bor', so sh' is!' and he sat and chuckled at her for some time, in a state of mingled admiration and delight, that made his face a burning red.
Little Em'ly was spoiled by them all, in fact; and by no one more than Mr. Peggotty himself, whom she could have coaxed into anything, by only going and laying her cheek against his rough whisker. That was my opinion, at least, when I saw her do it; and I held Mr. Peggotty to be thoroughly in the right. But she was so affectionate and sweet-natured, and had such a pleasant manner of being both sly and shy at once, that she captivated me more than ever.
She was tender-hearted, too; for when, as we sat round the fire after tea, an allusion was made by Mr. Peggotty over his pipe to the loss I had sustained, the tears stood in her eyes, and she looked at me so kindly across the table, that I felt quite thankful to her.
'Ah!' said Mr. Peggotty, taking up her curls, and running them over his hand like water, 'here's another orphan, you see, sir. And here,' said Mr. Peggotty, giving Ham a backhanded knock in the chest, 'is another of 'em, though he don't look much like it.'
'If I had you for my guardian, Mr. Peggotty,' said I, shaking my head, 'I don't think I should FEEL much like it.'
'Well said, Mas'r Davy bor'!' cried Ham, in an ecstasy. 'Hoorah! Well said! Nor more you wouldn't! Hor! Hor!' — Here he returned Mr. Peggotty's back-hander, and little Em'ly got up and kissed Mr. Peggotty. 'And how's your friend, sir?' said Mr. Peggotty to me.
'Steerforth?' said I.
'That's the name!' cried Mr. Peggotty, turning to Ham. 'I knowed it was something in our way.'
'You said it was Rudderford,' observed Ham, laughing.
'Well!' retorted Mr. Peggotty. 'And ye steer with a rudder, don't ye? It ain't fur off. How is he, sir?'
'He was very well indeed when I came away, Mr. Peggotty.'
'There's a friend!' said Mr. Peggotty, stretching out his pipe. 'There's a friend, if you talk of friends! Why, Lord love my heart alive, if it ain't a treat to look at him!'
'He is very handsome, is he not?' said I, my heart warming with this praise.
'Handsome!' cried Mr. Peggotty. 'He stands up to you like — like a — why I don't know what he don't stand up to you like. He's so bold!'
'Yes! That's just his character,' said I. 'He's as brave as a lion, and you can't think how frank he is, Mr. Peggotty.'
'And I do suppose, now,' said Mr. Peggotty, looking at me through the smoke of his pipe, 'that in the way of book-larning he'd take the wind out of a'most anything.'
'Yes,' said I, delighted; 'he knows everything. He is astonishingly clever.'
'There's a friend!' murmured Mr. Peggotty, with a grave toss of his head.
'Nothing seems to cost him any trouble,' said I. 'He knows a task if he only looks at it. He is the best cricketer you ever saw. He will give you almost as many men as you like at draughts, and beat you easily.'
Mr. Peggotty gave his head another toss, as much as to say: 'Of course he will.'
'He is such a speaker,' I pursued, 'that he can win anybody over; and I don't know what you'd say if you were to hear him sing, Mr. Peggotty.'