David Copperfield – Day 122 of 331

The Elfin suddenness with which she pounced upon me with this question, and a searching look, quite disconcerted me for a moment.

“No, Miss Mowcher,” I replied. “Her name is Emily.”

“Aha?” she cried exactly as before. “Umph? What a rattle I am! Mr. Copperfield, ain’t I volatile?”

Her tone and look implied something that was not agreeable to me in connexion with the subject. So I said, in a graver manner than any of us had yet assumed: “She is as virtuous as she is pretty. She is engaged to be married to a most worthy and deserving man in her own station of life. I esteem her for her good sense, as much as I admire her for her good looks.”

“Well said!” cried Steerforth. “Hear, hear, hear! Now I’ll quench the curiosity of this little Fatima, my dear Daisy, by leaving her nothing to guess at. She is at present apprenticed, Miss Mowcher, or articled, or whatever it may be, to Omer and Joram, Haberdashers, Milliners, and so forth, in this town. Do you observe? Omer and Joram. The promise of which my friend has spoken, is made and entered into with her cousin; Christian name, Ham; surname, Peggotty; occupation, boat-builder; also of this town. She lives with a relative; Christian name, unknown; surname, Peggotty; occupation, seafaring; also of this town. She is the prettiest and most engaging little fairy in the world. I admire her—as my friend does—exceedingly. If it were not that I might appear to disparage her Intended, which I know my friend would not like, I would add, that to me she seems to be throwing herself away; that I am sure she might do better; and that I swear she was born to be a lady.”

Miss Mowcher listened to these words, which were very slowly and distinctly spoken, with her head on one side, and her eye in the air as if she were still looking for that answer. When he ceased she became brisk again in an instant, and rattled away with surprising volubility.

“Oh! And that’s all about it, is it?” she exclaimed, trimming his whiskers with a little restless pair of scissors, that went glancing round his head in all directions. “Very well: very well! Quite a long story. Ought to end ‘and they lived happy ever afterwards’; oughtn’t it? Ah! What’s that game at forfeits? I love my love with an E, because she’s enticing; I hate her with an E, because she’s engaged. I took her to the sign of the exquisite, and treated her with an elopement, her name’s Emily, and she lives in the east? Ha! ha! ha! Mr. Copperfield, ain’t I volatile?”

Merely looking at me with extravagant slyness, and not waiting for any reply, she continued, without drawing breath:

“There! If ever any scapegrace was trimmed and touched up to perfection, you are, Steerforth. If I understand any noddle in the world, I understand yours. Do you hear me when I tell you that, my darling? I understand yours,” peeping down into his face. “Now you may mizzle, jemmy (as we say at Court), and if Mr. Copperfield will take the chair I’ll operate on him.”

“What do you say, Daisy?” inquired Steerforth, laughing, and resigning his seat. “Will you be improved?”

“Thank you, Miss Mowcher, not this evening.”

“Don’t say no,” returned the little woman, looking at me with the aspect of a connoisseur; “a little bit more eyebrow?”

“Thank you,” I returned, “some other time.”

“Have it carried half a quarter of an inch towards the temple,” said Miss Mowcher. “We can do it in a fortnight.”

“No, I thank you. Not at present.”

“Go in for a tip,” she urged. “No? Let’s get the scaffolding up, then, for a pair of whiskers. Come!”

I could not help blushing as I declined, for I felt we were on my weak point, now. But Miss Mowcher, finding that I was not at present disposed for any decoration within the range of her art, and that I was, for the time being, proof against the blandishments of the small bottle which she held up before one eye to enforce her persuasions, said we would make a beginning on an early day, and requested the aid of my hand to descend from her elevated station. Thus assisted, she skipped down with much agility, and began to tie her double chin into her bonnet.

“The fee,” said Steerforth, “is—”

“Five bob,” replied Miss Mowcher, “and dirt cheap, my chicken. Ain’t I volatile, Mr. Copperfield?”

I replied politely: “Not at all.” But I thought she was rather so, when she tossed up his two half-crowns like a goblin pieman, caught them, dropped them in her pocket, and gave it a loud slap.

“That’s the Till!” observed Miss Mowcher, standing at the chair again, and replacing in the bag a miscellaneous collection of little objects she had emptied out of it. “Have I got all my traps? It seems so. It won’t do to be like long Ned Beadwood, when they took him to church ‘to marry him to somebody’, as he says, and left the bride behind. Ha! ha! ha! A wicked rascal, Ned, but droll! Now, I know I’m going to break your hearts, but I am forced to leave you. You must call up all your fortitude, and try to bear it. Good-bye, Mr. Copperfield! Take care of yourself, jockey of Norfolk! How I have been rattling on! It’s all the fault of you two wretches. I forgive you! ‘Bob swore!’—as the Englishman said for ‘Good night’, when he first learnt French, and thought it so like English. ‘Bob swore,’ my ducks!”

With the bag slung over her arm, and rattling as she waddled away, she waddled to the door, where she stopped to inquire if she should leave us a lock of her hair. “Ain’t I volatile?” she added, as a commentary on this offer, and, with her finger on her nose, departed.

Steerforth laughed to that degree, that it was impossible for me to help laughing too; though I am not sure I should have done so, but for this inducement. When we had had our laugh quite out, which was after some time, he told me that Miss Mowcher had quite an extensive connexion, and made herself useful to a variety of people in a variety of ways. Some people trifled with her as a mere oddity, he said; but she was as shrewdly and sharply observant as anyone he knew, and as long-headed as she was short-armed. He told me that what she had said of being here, and there, and everywhere, was true enough; for she made little darts into the provinces, and seemed to pick up customers everywhere, and to know everybody. I asked him what her disposition was: whether it was at all mischievous, and if her sympathies were generally on the right side of things: but, not succeeding in attracting his attention to these questions after two or three attempts, I forbore or forgot to repeat them. He told me instead, with much rapidity, a good deal about her skill, and her profits; and about her being a scientific cupper, if I should ever have occasion for her service in that capacity.

She was the principal theme of our conversation during the evening: and when we parted for the night Steerforth called after me over the banisters, “Bob swore!” as I went downstairs.

I was surprised, when I came to Mr. Barkis’s house, to find Ham walking up and down in front of it, and still more surprised to learn from him that little Em’ly was inside. I naturally inquired why he was not there too, instead of pacing the streets by himself?

“Why, you see, Mas’r Davy,” he rejoined, in a hesitating manner, “Em’ly, she’s talking to some ’un in here.”

“I should have thought,” said I, smiling, “that that was a reason for your being in here too, Ham.”

“Well, Mas’r Davy, in a general way, so ’t would be,” he returned; “but look’ee here, Mas’r Davy,” lowering his voice, and speaking very gravely. “It’s a young woman, sir—a young woman, that Em’ly knowed once, and doen’t ought to know no more.”

When I heard these words, a light began to fall upon the figure I had seen following them, some hours ago.

“It’s a poor wurem, Mas’r Davy,” said Ham, “as is trod under foot by all the town. Up street and down street. The mowld o’ the churchyard don’t hold any that the folk shrink away from, more.”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)