Chillip, looking mildly at my aunt with his head on one side, and making her a little bow, said, in allusion to the jewellers′ cotton, as he softly touched his left ear:
′Some local irritation, ma′am?′
′What!′ replied my aunt, pulling the cotton out of one ear like a cork.
Mr. Chillip was so alarmed by her abruptness - as he told my mother afterwards - that it was a mercy he didn′t lose his presence of mind. But he repeated sweetly:
′Some local irritation, ma′am?′
′Nonsense!′ replied my aunt, and corked herself again, at one blow.
Mr. Chillip could do nothing after this, but sit and look at her feebly, as she sat and looked at the fire, until he was called upstairs again. After some quarter of an hour′s absence, he returned.
′Well?′ said my aunt, taking the cotton out of the ear nearest to him.
′Well, ma′am,′ returned Mr. Chillip, ′we are- we are progressing slowly, ma′am.′
′Ba—a—ah!′ said my aunt, with a perfect shake on the contemptuous interjection. And corked herself as before.
Really - really - as Mr. Chillip told my mother, he was almost shocked; speaking in a professional point of view alone, he was almost shocked. But he sat and looked at her, notwithstanding, for nearly two hours, as she sat looking at the fire, until he was again called out. After another absence, he again returned.
′Well?′ said my aunt, taking out the cotton on that side again.
′Well, ma′am,′ returned Mr. Chillip, ′we are - we are progressing slowly, ma′am.′
′Ya—a—ah!′ said my aunt. With such a snarl at him, that Mr. Chillip absolutely could not bear it. It was really calculated to break his spirit, he said afterwards. He preferred to go and sit upon the stairs, in the dark and a strong draught, until he was again sent for.
Ham Peggotty, who went to the national school, and was a very dragon at his catechism, and who may therefore be regarded as a credible witness, reported next day, that happening to peep in at the parlour-door an hour after this, he was instantly descried by Miss Betsey, then walking to and fro in a state of agitation, and pounced upon before he could make his escape. That there were now occasional sounds of feet and voices overhead which he inferred the cotton did not exclude, from the circumstance of his evidently being clutched by the lady as a victim on whom to expend her superabundant agitation when the sounds were loudest. That, marching him constantly up and down by the collar (as if he had been taking too much laudanum), she, at those times, shook him, rumpled his hair, made light of his linen, stopped his ears as if she confounded them with her own, and otherwise tousled and maltreated him. This was in part confirmed by his aunt, who saw him at half past twelve o′clock, soon after his release, and affirmed that he was then as red as I was.
The mild Mr. Chillip could not possibly bear malice at such a time, if at any time. He sidled into the parlour as soon as he was at liberty, and said to my aunt in his meekest manner:
′Well, ma′am, I am happy to congratulate you.′
′What upon?′ said my aunt, sharply.
Mr. Chillip was fluttered again, by the extreme severity of my aunt′s manner; so he made her a little bow and gave her a little smile, to mollify her.
′Mercy on the man, what′s he doing!′ cried my aunt, impatiently.
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