Steerforth, such a friend as Peggotty, and such a substitute for what I had lost as my excellent and generous aunt.
My nearest way to Yarmouth, in coming back from these long walks, was by a ferry. It landed me on the flat between the town and the sea, which I could make straight across, and so save myself a considerable circuit by the high-road. Mr. Peggottys house being on that waste-place, and not a hundred yards out of my track, I always looked in as I went by. Steerforth was pretty sure to be there expecting me, and we went on together through the frosty air and gathering fog towards the twinkling lights of the town.
One dark evening, when I was later than usualfor I had, that day, been making my parting visit to Blunderstone, as we were now about to return homeI found him alone in Mr. Peggottys house, sitting thoughtfully before the fire. He was so intent upon his own reflections that he was quite unconscious of my approach. This, indeed, he might easily have been if he had been less absorbed, for footsteps fell noiselessly on the sandy ground outside; but even my entrance failed to rouse him. I was standing close to him, looking at him; and still, with a heavy brow, he was lost in his meditations.
He gave such a start when I put my hand upon his shoulder, that he made me start too.
You come upon me, he said, almost angrily, like a reproachful ghost!
I was obliged to announce myself somehow, I replied. Have I called you down from the stars?
No, he answered. No.
Up from anywhere, then? said I, taking my seat near him.
I was looking at the pictures in the fire, he returned.
But you are spoiling them for me, said I, as he stirred it quickly with a piece of burning wood, striking out of it a train of red-hot sparks that went careering up the little chimney, and roaring out into the air.
You would not have seen them, he returned. I detest this mongrel time, neither day nor night. How late you are! Where have you been?
I have been taking leave of my usual walk, said I.
And I have been sitting here, said Steerforth, glancing round the room, thinking that all the people we found so glad on the night of our coming down, mightto judge from the present wasted air of the placebe dispersed, or dead, or come to I dont know what harm. David, I wish to God I had had a judicious father these last twenty years!
My dear Steerforth, what is the matter?
I wish with all my soul I had been better guided! he exclaimed. I wish with all my soul I could guide myself better!
There was a passionate dejection in his manner that quite amazed me. He was more unlike himself than I could have supposed possible.
It would be better to be this poor Peggotty, or his lout of a nephew, he said, getting up and leaning moodily against the chimney-piece, with his face towards the fire, than to be myself, twenty times richer and twenty times wiser, and be the torment to myself that I have been, in this devils bark of a boat, within the last half-hour!
I was so confounded by the alteration in him, that at first I could only observe him in silence, as he stood leaning his head upon his hand, and looking gloomily down at the fire. At length I begged him, with all
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