′Gummidge, Mr. Peggotty?′
But at this point Peggotty - I mean my own peculiar Peggotty - made such impressive motions to me not to ask any more questions, that I could only sit and look at all the silent company, until it was time to go to bed. Then, in the privacy of my own little cabin, she informed me that Ham and Em′ly were an orphan nephew and niece, whom my host had at different times adopted in their childhood, when they were left destitute: and that Mrs. Gummidge was the widow of his partner in a boat, who had died very poor. He was but a poor man himself, said Peggotty, but as good as gold and as true as steel - those were her similes. The only subject, she informed me, on which he ever showed a violent temper or swore an oath, was this generosity of his; and if it were ever referred to, by any one of them, he struck the table a heavy blow with his right hand (had split it on one such occasion), and swore a dreadful oath that he would be ′Gormed′ if he didn′t cut and run for good, if it was ever mentioned again. It appeared, in answer to my inquiries, that nobody had the least idea of the etymology of this terrible verb passive to be gormed; but that they all regarded it as constituting a most solemn imprecation.
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.
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