“Biddy,” said I, “how do you manage it? Either I am very stupid, or you are very clever.”
“What is it that I manage? I don’t know,” returned Biddy, smiling.
She managed our whole domestic life, and wonderfully too; but I did not mean that, though that made what I did mean, more surprising.
“How do you manage, Biddy,” said I, “to learn everything that I learn, and always to keep up with me?” I was beginning to be rather vain of my knowledge, for I spent my birthday guineas on it, and set aside the greater part of my pocket-money for similar investment; though I have no doubt, now, that the little I knew was extremely dear at the price.
“I might as well ask you,” said Biddy, “how you manage?”
“No; because when I come in from the forge of a night, any one can see me turning to at it. But you never turn to at it, Biddy.”
“I suppose I must catch it — like a cough,” said Biddy, quietly; and went on with her sewing.
Pursuing my idea as I leaned back in my wooden chair and looked at Biddy sewing away with her head on one side, I began to think her rather an extraordinary girl. For, I called to mind now, that she was equally accomplished in the terms of our trade, and the names of our different sorts of work, and our various tools. In short, whatever I knew, Biddy knew. Theoretically, she was already as good a blacksmith as I, or better.
“You are one of those, Biddy,” said I, “who make the most of every chance. You never had a chance before you came here, and see how improved you are!”
Biddy looked at me for an instant, and went on with her sewing. “I was your first teacher though; wasn’t I?” said she, as she sewed.
“Biddy!” I exclaimed, in amazement. “Why, you are crying!”
“No I am not,” said Biddy, looking up and laughing. “What put that in your head?”
What could have put it in my head, but the glistening of a tear as it dropped on her work? I sat silent, recalling what a drudge she had been until Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt successfully overcame that bad habit of living, so highly desirable to be got rid of by some people. I recalled the hopeless circumstances by which she had been surrounded in the miserable little shop and the miserable little noisy evening school, with that miserable old bundle of incompetence always to be dragged and shouldered. I reflected that even in those untoward times there must have been latent in Biddy what was now developing, for, in my first uneasiness and discontent I had turned to her for help, as a matter of course. Biddy sat quietly sewing, shedding no more tears, and while I looked at her and thought about it all, it occurred to me that perhaps I had not been sufficiently grateful to Biddy. I might have been too reserved, and should have patronized her more (though I did not use that precise word in my meditations), with my confidence.
“Yes, Biddy,” I observed, when I had done turning it over, “you were my first teacher, and that at a time when we little thought of ever being together like this, in this kitchen.”