David Copperfield – Day 12 of 331

I was very sensible of my entertainer’s goodness, and listened to the women’s going to bed in another little crib like mine at the opposite end of the boat, and to him and Ham hanging up two hammocks for themselves on the hooks I had noticed in the roof, in a very luxurious state of mind, enhanced by my being sleepy. As slumber gradually stole upon me, I heard the wind howling out at sea and coming on across the flat so fiercely, that I had a lazy apprehension of the great deep rising in the night. But I bethought myself that I was in a boat, after all; and that a man like Mr. Peggotty was not a bad person to have on board if anything did happen.

Nothing happened, however, worse than morning. Almost as soon as it shone upon the oyster-shell frame of my mirror I was out of bed, and out with little Em’ly, picking up stones upon the beach.

“You’re quite a sailor, I suppose?” I said to Em’ly. I don’t know that I supposed anything of the kind, but I felt it an act of gallantry to say something; and a shining sail close to us made such a pretty little image of itself, at the moment, in her bright eye, that it came into my head to say this.

“No,” replied Em’ly, shaking her head, “I’m afraid of the sea.”

“Afraid!” I said, with a becoming air of boldness, and looking very big at the mighty ocean. “I an’t!”

“Ah! but it’s cruel,” said Em’ly. “I have seen it very cruel to some of our men. I have seen it tear a boat as big as our house, all to pieces.”

“I hope it wasn’t the boat that—”

“That father was drownded in?” said Em’ly. “No. Not that one, I never see that boat.”

“Nor him?” I asked her.

Little Em’ly shook her head. “Not to remember!”

Here was a coincidence! I immediately went into an explanation how I had never seen my own father; and how my mother and I had always lived by ourselves in the happiest state imaginable, and lived so then, and always meant to live so; and how my father’s grave was in the churchyard near our house, and shaded by a tree, beneath the boughs of which I had walked and heard the birds sing many a pleasant morning. But there were some differences between Em’ly’s orphanhood and mine, it appeared. She had lost her mother before her father; and where her father’s grave was no one knew, except that it was somewhere in the depths of the sea.

“Besides,” said Em’ly, as she looked about for shells and pebbles, “your father was a gentleman and your mother is a lady; and my father was a fisherman and my mother was a fisherman’s daughter, and my uncle Dan is a fisherman.”

“Dan is Mr. Peggotty, is he?” said I.

“Uncle Dan—yonder,” answered Em’ly, nodding at the boat-house.

“Yes. I mean him. He must be very good, I should think?”

“Good?” said Em’ly. “If I was ever to be a lady, I’d give him a sky-blue coat with diamond buttons, nankeen trousers, a red velvet waistcoat, a cocked hat, a large gold watch, a silver pipe, and a box of money.”

I said I had no doubt that Mr. Peggotty well deserved these treasures. I must acknowledge that I felt it difficult to picture him quite at his ease in the raiment proposed for him by his grateful little niece, and that I was particularly doubtful of the policy of the cocked hat; but I kept these sentiments to myself.

Little Em’ly had stopped and looked up at the sky in her enumeration of these articles, as if they were a glorious vision. We went on again, picking up shells and pebbles.

“You would like to be a lady?” I said.

Emily looked at me, and laughed and nodded “yes”.

“I should like it very much. We would all be gentlefolks together, then. Me, and uncle, and Ham, and Mrs. Gummidge. We wouldn’t mind then, when there comes stormy weather. —Not for our own sakes, I mean. We would for the poor fishermen’s, to be sure, and we’d help ’em with money when they come to any hurt.” This seemed to me to be a very satisfactory and therefore not at all improbable picture. I expressed my pleasure in the contemplation of it, and little Em’ly was emboldened to say, shyly,

“Don’t you think you are afraid of the sea, now?”

It was quiet enough to reassure me, but I have no doubt if I had seen a moderately large wave come tumbling in, I should have taken to my heels, with an awful recollection of her drowned relations. However, I said “No,” and I added, “You don’t seem to be either, though you say you are,”—for she was walking much too near the brink of a sort of old jetty or wooden causeway we had strolled upon, and I was afraid of her falling over.

“I’m not afraid in this way,” said little Em’ly. “But I wake when it blows, and tremble to think of Uncle Dan and Ham and believe I hear ’em crying out for help. That’s why I should like so much to be a lady. But I’m not afraid in this way. Not a bit. Look here!”

She started from my side, and ran along a jagged timber which protruded from the place we stood upon, and overhung the deep water at some height, without the least defence. The incident is so impressed on my remembrance, that if I were a draughtsman I could draw its form here, I dare say, accurately as it was that day, and little Em’ly springing forward to her destruction (as it appeared to me), with a look that I have never forgotten, directed far out to sea.

The light, bold, fluttering little figure turned and came back safe to me, and I soon laughed at my fears, and at the cry I had uttered; fruitlessly in any case, for there was no one near. But there have been times since, in my manhood, many times there have been, when I have thought, Is it possible, among the possibilities of hidden things, that in the sudden rashness of the child and her wild look so far off, there was any merciful attraction of her into danger, any tempting her towards him permitted on the part of her dead father, that her life might have a chance of ending that day? There has been a time since when I have wondered whether, if the life before her could have been revealed to me at a glance, and so revealed as that a child could fully comprehend it, and if her preservation could have depended on a motion of my hand, I ought to have held it up to save her. There has been a time since—I do not say it lasted long, but it has been—when I have asked myself the question, would it have been better for little Em’ly to have had the waters close above her head that morning in my sight; and when I have answered Yes, it would have been.

Comments

  1. ScottS-M Identicon Icon

    ScottS-M wrote:

    Geez that’s pretty cold. I guess there must be some really bad things coming.

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