Saturday, October 13, 2007



I. I Am Born
II. I Observe
III. I Have a Change
IV. I Fall into Disgrace
V. I Am Sent Away
VI. I Enlarge My Circle of Acquaintance
VII. My 'First Half' at Salem House
VIII. My Holidays. Especially One Happy Afternoon
IX. I Have a Memorable Birthday
X. I Become Neglected, and Am Provided For
XI. I Begin Life on My Own Account, and Don't Like It
XII. Liking Life on My Own Account No Better, I Form a Great Resolution
XIII. The Sequel of My Resolution
XIV. My Aunt Makes up Her Mind About Me
XV. I Make Another Beginning
XVI. I Am a New Boy in More Senses Than One
XVII. Somebody Turns Up
XVIII. A Retrospect
XIX. I Look About Me and Make a Discovery
XX. Steerforth's Home
XXI. Little Em'ly
XXII. Some Old Scenes, and Some New People
XXIII. I Corroborate Mr. Dick, and Choose a Profession
XXIV. My First Dissipation
XXV. Good and Bad Angels
XXVI. I Fall into Captivity
XXVII. Tommy Traddles
XXVIII. Mr. Micawber's Gauntlet
XXIX. I Visit Steerforth at His Home, Again
XXX. A Loss
XXXI. A Greater Loss
XXXII. The Beginning of a Long Journey
XXXIII. Blissful
XXXIV. My Aunt Astonishes Me
XXXV. Depression
XXXVI. Enthusiasm
XXXVII. A Little Cold Water
XXXVIII. A Dissolution of Partnership
XXXIX. Wickfield and Heep
XL. The Wanderer
XLI. Dora's Aunts
XLII. Mischief
XLIII. Another Retrospect
XLIV. Our Housekeeping
XLV. Mr. Dick Fulfils My Aunt's Predictions
XLVI. Intelligence
XLVII. Martha
XLVIII. Domestic
XLIX. I Am Involved in Mystery
L. Mr. Peggotty's Dream Comes True
LI. The Beginning of a Longer Journey
LII. I Assist at an Explosion
LIII. Another Retrospect
LIV. Mr. Micawber's Transactions
LV. Tempest
LVI. The New Wound, and the Old
LVII. The Emigrants
LVIII. Absence
LIX. Return
LX. Agnes
LXI. I Am Shown Two Interesting Penitents
LXII. A Light Shines on My Way
LXIII. A Visitor
LXIV. A Last Retrospect
I do not find it easy to get sufficiently far away from this Book,
in the first sensations of having finished it, to refer to it with
the composure which this formal heading would seem to require. My
interest in it, is so recent and strong; and my mind is so divided
between pleasure and regret - pleasure in the achievement of a long
design, regret in the separation from many companions - that I am
in danger of wearying the reader whom I love, with personal
confidences, and private emotions.
Besides which, all that I could say of the Story, to any purpose,
I have endeavoured to say in it.
It would concern the reader little, perhaps, to know, how
sorrowfully the pen is laid down at the close of a two-years'
imaginative task; or how an Author feels as if he were dismissing
some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the
creatures of his brain are going from him for ever. Yet, I have
nothing else to tell; unless, indeed, I were to confess (which
might be of less moment still) that no one can ever believe this
Narrative, in the reading, more than I have believed it in the
Instead of looking back, therefore, I will look forward. I cannot
close this Volume more agreeably to myself, than with a hopeful
glance towards the time when I shall again put forth my two green
leaves once a month, and with a faithful remembrance of the genial
sun and showers that have fallen on these leaves of David
Copperfield, and made me happy.
London, October, 1850.
I REMARKED in the original Preface to this Book, that I did not
find it easy to get sufficiently far away from it, in the first
sensations of having finished it, to refer to it with the composure
which this formal heading would seem to require. My interest in it
was so recent and strong, and my mind was so divided between
pleasure and regret - pleasure in the achievement of a long design,
regret in the separation from many companions - that I was in
danger of wearying the reader with personal confidences and private
Besides which, all that I could have said of the Story to any
purpose, I had endeavoured to say in it.
It would concern the reader little, perhaps, to know how
sorrowfully the pen is laid down at the close of a two-years'
imaginative task; or how an Author feels as if he were dismissing
some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the
creatures of his brain are going from him for ever. Yet, I had
nothing else to tell; unless, indeed, I were to confess (which
might be of less moment still), that no one can ever believe this
Narrative, in the reading, more than I believed it in the writing.
So true are these avowals at the present day, that I can now only
take the reader into one confidence more. Of all my books, I like
this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent
to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that
family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I
have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether
that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was
born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve
o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike,
and I began to cry, simultaneously.
In consideration of the day and hour of my birth, it was declared
by the nurse, and by some sage women in the neighbourhood who had
taken a lively interest in me several months before there was any
possibility of our becoming personally acquainted, first, that I
was destined to be unlucky in life; and secondly, that I was
privileged to see ghosts and spirits; both these gifts inevitably
attaching, as they believed, to all unlucky infants of either
gender, born towards the small hours on a Friday night.
I need say nothing here, on the first head, because nothing can
show better than my history whether that prediction was verified or
falsified by the result. On the second branch of the question, I
will only remark, that unless I ran through that part of my
inheritance while I was still a baby, I have not come into it yet.
But I do not at all complain of having been kept out of this
property; and if anybody else should be in the present enjoyment of
it, he is heartily welcome to keep it.
I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the
newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas. Whether sea-going
people were short of money about that time, or were short of faith
and preferred cork jackets, I don't know; all I know is, that there
was but one solitary bidding, and that was from an attorney
connected with the bill-broking business, who offered two pounds in
cash, and the balance in sherry, but declined to be guaranteed from
drowning on any higher bargain. Consequently the advertisement was
withdrawn at a dead loss - for as to sherry, my poor dear mother's
own sherry was in the market then - and ten years afterwards, the
caul was put up in a raffle down in our part of the country, to
fifty members at half-a-crown a head, the winner to spend five
shillings. I was present myself, and I remember to have felt quite
uncomfortable and confused, at a part of myself being disposed of
in that way. The caul was won, I recollect, by an old lady with a
hand-basket, who, very reluctantly, produced from it the stipulated
five shillings, all in halfpence, and twopence halfpenny short - as
it took an immense time and a great waste of arithmetic, to
endeavour without any effect to prove to her. It is a fact which
will be long remembered as remarkable down there, that she was
never drowned, but died triumphantly in bed, at ninety-two. I have
understood that it was, to the last, her proudest boast, that she
never had been on the water in her life, except upon a bridge; and
that over her tea (to which she was extremely partial) she, to the
last, expressed her indignation at the impiety of mariners and
others, who had the presumption to go 'meandering' about the world.
It was in vain to represent to her that some conveniences, tea
perhaps included, resulted from this objectionable practice. She
always returned, with greater emphasis and with an instinctive
knowledge of the strength of her objection, 'Let us have no
Not to meander myself, at present, I will go back to my birth.
I was born at Blunderstone, in Suffolk, or 'there by', as they say
in Scotland. I was a posthumous child. My father's eyes had
closed upon the light of this world six months, when mine opened on
it. There is something strange to me, even now, in the reflection
that he never saw me; and something stranger yet in the shadowy
remembrance that I have of my first childish associations with his
white grave-stone in the churchyard, and of the indefinable
compassion I used to feel for it lying out alone there in the dark
night, when our little parlour was warm and bright with fire and
candle, and the doors of our house were - almost cruelly, it seemed
to me sometimes - bolted and locked against it.
An aunt of my father's, and consequently a great-aunt of mine, of
whom I shall have more to relate by and by, was the principal
magnate of our family. Miss Trotwood, or Miss Betsey, as my poor
mother always called her, when she sufficiently overcame her dread
of this formidable personage to mention her at all (which was
seldom), had been married to a husband younger than herself, who
was very handsome, except in the sense of the homely adage,
'handsome is, that handsome does' - for he was strongly suspected
of having beaten Miss Betsey, and even of having once, on a
disputed question of supplies, made some hasty but determined
arrangements to throw her out of a two pair of stairs' window.
These evidences of an incompatibility of temper induced Miss Betsey
to pay him off, and effect a separation by mutual consent. He went
to India with his capital, and there, according to a wild legend in
our family, he was once seen riding on an elephant, in company with
a Baboon; but I think it must have been a Baboo - or a Begum.
Anyhow, from India tidings of his death reached home, within ten
years. How they affected my aunt, nobody knew; for immediately
upon the separation, she took her maiden name again, bought a
cottage in a hamlet on the sea-coast a long way off, established
herself there as a single woman with one servant, and was
understood to live secluded, ever afterwards, in an inflexible
My father had once been a favourite of hers, I believe; but she was
mortally affronted by his marriage, on the ground that my mother
was 'a wax doll'. She had never seen my mother, but she knew her
to be not yet twenty. My father and Miss Betsey never met again.
He was double my mother's age when he married, and of but a
delicate constitution. He died a year afterwards, and, as I have
said, six months before I came into the world.
This was the state of matters, on the afternoon of, what I may be
excused for calling, that eventful and important Friday. I can
make no claim therefore to have known, at that time, how matters
stood; or to have any remembrance, founded on the evidence of my
own senses, of what follows.
My mother was sitting by the fire, but poorly in health, and very
low in spirits, looking at it through her tears, and desponding
heavily about herself and the fatherless little stranger, who was
already welcomed by some grosses of prophetic pins, in a drawer
upstairs, to a world not at all excited on the subject of his
arrival; my mother, I say, was sitting by the fire, that bright,
windy March afternoon, very timid and sad, and very doubtful of
ever coming alive out of the trial that was before her, when,
lifting her eyes as she dried them, to the window opposite, she saw
a strange lady coming up the garden.
MY mother had a sure foreboding at the second glance, that it was
Miss Betsey. The setting sun was glowing on the strange lady, over
the garden-fence, and she came walking up to the door with a fell
rigidity of figure and composure of countenance that could have
belonged to nobody else.
When she reached the house, she gave another proof of her identity.
My father had often hinted that she seldom conducted herself like
any ordinary Christian; and now, instead of ringing the bell, she
came and looked in at that identical window, pressing the end of
her nose against the glass to that extent, that my poor dear mother
used to say it became perfectly flat and white in a moment.
She gave my mother such a turn, that I have always been convinced
I am indebted to Miss Betsey for having been born on a Friday.
My mother had left her chair in her agitation, and gone behind it
in the corner. Miss Betsey, looking round the room, slowly and
inquiringly, began on the other side, and carried her eyes on, like
a Saracen's Head in a Dutch clock, until they reached my mother.
Then she made a frown and a gesture to my mother, like one who was
accustomed to be obeyed, to come and open the door. My mother
'Mrs. David Copperfield, I think,' said Miss Betsey; the emphasis
referring, perhaps, to my mother's mourning weeds, and her
'Yes,' said my mother, faintly.
'Miss Trotwood,' said the visitor. 'You have heard of her, I dare
My mother answered she had had that pleasure. And she had a
disagreeable consciousness of not appearing to imply that it had
been an overpowering pleasure.
'Now you see her,' said Miss Betsey. My mother bent her head, and
begged her to walk in.
They went into the parlour my mother had come from, the fire in the
best room on the other side of the passage not being lighted - not
having been lighted, indeed, since my father's funeral; and when
they were both seated, and Miss Betsey said nothing, my mother,
after vainly trying to restrain herself, began to cry.
'Oh tut, tut, tut!' said Miss Betsey, in a hurry. 'Don't do that!
Come, come!'
My mother couldn't help it notwithstanding, so she cried until she
had had her cry out.
'Take off your cap, child,' said Miss Betsey, 'and let me see you.'
MY mother was too much afraid of her to refuse compliance with this
odd request, if she had any disposition to do so. Therefore she
did as she was told, and did it with such nervous hands that her
hair (which was luxuriant and beautiful) fell all about her face.
'Why, bless my heart!' exclaimed Miss Betsey. 'You are a very
My mother was, no doubt, unusually youthful in appearance even for
her years; she hung her head, as if it were her fault, poor thing,
and said, sobbing, that indeed she was afraid she was but a
childish widow, and would be but a childish mother if she lived.
In a short pause which ensued, she had a fancy that she felt Miss
Betsey touch her hair, and that with no ungentle hand; but, looking
at her, in her timid hope, she found that lady sitting with the
skirt of her dress tucked up, her hands folded on one knee, and her
feet upon the fender, frowning at the fire.
'In the name of Heaven,' said Miss Betsey, suddenly, 'why Rookery?'
'Do you mean the house, ma'am?' asked my mother.
'Why Rookery?' said Miss Betsey. 'Cookery would have been more to
the purpose, if you had had any practical ideas of life, either of
'The name was Mr. Copperfield's choice,' returned my mother. 'When
he bought the house, he liked to think that there were rooks about
The evening wind made such a disturbance just now, among some tall
old elm-trees at the bottom of the garden, that neither my mother
nor Miss Betsey could forbear glancing that way. As the elms bent
to one another, like giants who were whispering secrets, and after
a few seconds of such repose, fell into a violent flurry, tossing
their wild arms about, as if their late confidences were really too
wicked for their peace of mind, some weatherbeaten ragged old
rooks'-nests, burdening their higher branches, swung like wrecks
upon a stormy sea.
'Where are the birds?' asked Miss Betsey.
'The -? ' My mother had been thinking of something else.
'The rooks - what has become of them?' asked Miss Betsey.
'There have not been any since we have lived here,' said my mother.
'We thought - Mr. Copperfield thought - it was quite a large
rookery; but the nests were very old ones, and the birds have
deserted them a long while.'
'David Copperfield all over!' cried Miss Betsey. 'David
Copperfield from head to foot! Calls a house a rookery when
there's not a rook near it, and takes the birds on trust, because
he sees the nests!'
'Mr. Copperfield,' returned my mother, 'is dead, and if you dare to
speak unkindly of him to me -'
My poor dear mother, I suppose, had some momentary intention of
committing an assault and battery upon my aunt, who could easily
have settled her with one hand, even if my mother had been in far
better training for such an encounter than she was that evening.
But it passed with the action of rising from her chair; and she sat
down again very meekly, and fainted.
When she came to herself, or when Miss Betsey had restored her,
whichever it was, she found the latter standing at the window. The
twilight was by this time shading down into darkness; and dimly as
they saw each other, they could not have done that without the aid
of the fire.
'Well?' said Miss Betsey, coming back to her chair, as if she had
only been taking a casual look at the prospect; 'and when do you
expect -'
'I am all in a tremble,' faltered my mother. 'I don't know what's
the matter. I shall die, I am sure!'
'No, no, no,' said Miss Betsey. 'Have some tea.'
'Oh dear me, dear me, do you think it will do me any good?' cried
my mother in a helpless manner.
'Of course it will,' said Miss Betsey. 'It's nothing but fancy.
What do you call your girl?'
'I don't know that it will be a girl, yet, ma'am,' said my mother
'Bless the Baby!' exclaimed Miss Betsey, unconsciously quoting the
second sentiment of the pincushion in the drawer upstairs, but
applying it to my mother instead of me, 'I don't mean that. I mean
your servant-girl.'
'Peggotty,' said my mother.
'Peggotty!' repeated Miss Betsey, with some indignation. 'Do you
mean to say, child, that any human being has gone into a Christian
church, and got herself named Peggotty?'
'It's her surname,' said my mother, faintly. 'Mr. Copperfield
called her by it, because her Christian name was the same as mine.'
'Here! Peggotty!' cried Miss Betsey, opening the parlour door.
'Tea. Your mistress is a little unwell. Don't dawdle.'
Having issued this mandate with as much potentiality as if she had
been a recognized authority in the house ever since it had been a
house, and having looked out to confront the amazed Peggotty coming
along the passage with a candle at the sound of a strange voice,
Miss Betsey shut the door again, and sat down as before: with her
feet on the fender, the skirt of her dress tucked up, and her hands
folded on one knee.
'You were speaking about its being a girl,' said Miss Betsey. 'I
have no doubt it will be a girl. I have a presentiment that it
must be a girl. Now child, from the moment of the birth of this
girl -'
'Perhaps boy,' my mother took the liberty of putting in.
'I tell you I have a presentiment that it must be a girl,' returned
Miss Betsey. 'Don't contradict. From the moment of this girl's
birth, child, I intend to be her friend. I intend to be her
godmother, and I beg you'll call her Betsey Trotwood Copperfield.
There must be no mistakes in life with THIS Betsey Trotwood. There
must be no trifling with HER affections, poor dear. She must be
well brought up, and well guarded from reposing any foolish
confidences where they are not deserved. I must make that MY
There was a twitch of Miss Betsey's head, after each of these
sentences, as if her own old wrongs were working within her, and
she repressed any plainer reference to them by strong constraint.
So my mother suspected, at least, as she observed her by the low
glimmer of the fire: too much scared by Miss Betsey, too uneasy in
herself, and too subdued and bewildered altogether, to observe
anything very clearly, or to know what to say.
'And was David good to you, child?' asked Miss Betsey, when she had
been silent for a little while, and these motions of her head had
gradually ceased. 'Were you comfortable together?'
'We were very happy,' said my mother. 'Mr. Copperfield was only
too good to me.'
'What, he spoilt you, I suppose?' returned Miss Betsey.
'For being quite alone and dependent on myself in this rough world
again, yes, I fear he did indeed,' sobbed my mother.
'Well! Don't cry!' said Miss Betsey. 'You were not equally
matched, child - if any two people can be equally matched - and so
I asked the question. You were an orphan, weren't you?'
'And a governess?'
'I was nursery-governess in a family where Mr. Copperfield came to
visit. Mr. Copperfield was very kind to me, and took a great deal
of notice of me, and paid me a good deal of attention, and at last
proposed to me. And I accepted him. And so we were married,' said
my mother simply.
'Ha! Poor Baby!' mused Miss Betsey, with her frown still bent upon
the fire. 'Do you know anything?'
'I beg your pardon, ma'am,' faltered my mother.
'About keeping house, for instance,' said Miss Betsey.
'Not much, I fear,' returned my mother. 'Not so much as I could
wish. But Mr. Copperfield was teaching me -'
('Much he knew about it himself!') said Miss Betsey in a
- 'And I hope I should have improved, being very anxious to learn,
and he very patient to teach me, if the great misfortune of his
death' - my mother broke down again here, and could get no farther.
'Well, well!' said Miss Betsey.
-'I kept my housekeeping-book regularly, and balanced it with Mr.
Copperfield every night,' cried my mother in another burst of
distress, and breaking down again.
'Well, well!' said Miss Betsey. 'Don't cry any more.'
- 'And I am sure we never had a word of difference respecting it,
except when Mr. Copperfield objected to my threes and fives being
too much like each other, or to my putting curly tails to my sevens
and nines,' resumed my mother in another burst, and breaking down
'You'll make yourself ill,' said Miss Betsey, 'and you know that
will not be good either for you or for my god-daughter. Come! You
mustn't do it!'
This argument had some share in quieting my mother, though her
increasing indisposition had a larger one. There was an interval
of silence, only broken by Miss Betsey's occasionally ejaculating
'Ha!' as she sat with her feet upon the fender.
'David had bought an annuity for himself with his money, I know,'
said she, by and by. 'What did he do for you?'
'Mr. Copperfield,' said my mother, answering with some difficulty,
'was so considerate and good as to secure the reversion of a part
of it to me.'
'How much?' asked Miss Betsey.
'A hundred and five pounds a year,' said my mother.
'He might have done worse,' said my aunt.
The word was appropriate to the moment. My mother was so much
worse that Peggotty, coming in with the teaboard and candles, and
seeing at a glance how ill she was, - as Miss Betsey might have
done sooner if there had been light enough, - conveyed her upstairs
to her own room with all speed; and immediately dispatched Ham
Peggotty, her nephew, who had been for some days past secreted in
the house, unknown to my mother, as a special messenger in case of
emergency, to fetch the nurse and doctor.
Those allied powers were considerably astonished, when they arrived
within a few minutes of each other, to find an unknown lady of
portentous appearance, sitting before the fire, with her bonnet
tied over her left arm, stopping her ears with jewellers' cotton.
Peggotty knowing nothing about her, and my mother saying nothing
about her, she was quite a mystery in the parlour; and the fact of
her having a magazine of jewellers' cotton in her pocket, and
sticking the article in her ears in that way, did not detract from
the solemnity of her presence.
The doctor having been upstairs and come down again, and having
satisfied himself, I suppose, that there was a probability of this
unknown lady and himself having to sit there, face to face, for
some hours, laid himself out to be polite and social. He was the
meekest of his sex, the mildest of little men. He sidled in and
out of a room, to take up the less space. He walked as softly as
the Ghost in Hamlet, and more slowly. He carried his head on one
side, partly in modest depreciation of himself, partly in modest
propitiation of everybody else. It is nothing to say that he
hadn't a word to throw at a dog. He couldn't have thrown a word at
a mad dog. He might have offered him one gently, or half a one, or
a fragment of one; for he spoke as slowly as he walked; but he
wouldn't have been rude to him, and he couldn't have been quick
with him, for any earthly consideration.
Mr. 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
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
'Well?' said my aunt, taking the cotton out of the ear nearest to
'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.
'Can't he speak?'
'Be calm, my dear ma'am,' said Mr. Chillip, in his softest accents.
'There is no longer any occasion for uneasiness, ma'am. Be calm.'
It has since been considered almost a miracle that my aunt didn't
shake him, and shake what he had to say, out of him. She only
shook her own head at him, but in a way that made him quail.
'Well, ma'am,' resumed Mr. Chillip, as soon as he had courage, 'I
am happy to congratulate you. All is now over, ma'am, and well
During the five minutes or so that Mr. Chillip devoted to the
delivery of this oration, my aunt eyed him narrowly.
'How is she?' said my aunt, folding her arms with her bonnet still
tied on one of them.
'Well, ma'am, she will soon be quite comfortable, I hope,' returned
Mr. Chillip. 'Quite as comfortable as we can expect a young mother
to be, under these melancholy domestic circumstances. There cannot
be any objection to your seeing her presently, ma'am. It may do
her good.'
'And SHE. How is SHE?' said my aunt, sharply.
Mr. Chillip laid his head a little more on one side, and looked at
my aunt like an amiable bird.
'The baby,' said my aunt. 'How is she?'
'Ma'am,' returned Mr. Chillip, 'I apprehended you had known. It's
a boy.'
My aunt said never a word, but took her bonnet by the strings, in
the manner of a sling, aimed a blow at Mr. Chillip's head with it,
put it on bent, walked out, and never came back. She vanished like
a discontented fairy; or like one of those supernatural beings,
whom it was popularly supposed I was entitled to see; and never
came back any more.
No. I lay in my basket, and my mother lay in her bed; but Betsey
Trotwood Copperfield was for ever in the land of dreams and
shadows, the tremendous region whence I had so lately travelled;
and the light upon the window of our room shone out upon the
earthly bourne of all such travellers, and the mound above the
ashes and the dust that once was he, without whom I had never been.
The first objects that assume a distinct presence before me, as I
look far back, into the blank of my infancy, are my mother with her
pretty hair and youthful shape, and Peggotty with no shape at all,
and eyes so dark that they seemed to darken their whole
neighbourhood in her face, and cheeks and arms so hard and red that
I wondered the birds didn't peck her in preference to apples.
I believe I can remember these two at a little distance apart,
dwarfed to my sight by stooping down or kneeling on the floor, and
I going unsteadily from the one to the other. I have an impression
on my mind which I cannot distinguish from actual remembrance, of
the touch of Peggotty's forefinger as she used to hold it out to
me, and of its being roughened by needlework, like a pocket
This may be fancy, though I think the memory of most of us can go
farther back into such times than many of us suppose; just as I
believe the power of observation in numbers of very young children
to be quite wonderful for its closeness and accuracy. Indeed, I
think that most grown men who are remarkable in this respect, may
with greater propriety be said not to have lost the faculty, than
to have acquired it; the rather, as I generally observe such men to
retain a certain freshness, and gentleness, and capacity of being
pleased, which are also an inheritance they have preserved from
their childhood.
I might have a misgiving that I am 'meandering' in stopping to say
this, but that it brings me to remark that I build these
conclusions, in part upon my own experience of myself; and if it
should appear from anything I may set down in this narrative that
I was a child of close observation, or that as a man I have a
strong memory of my childhood, I undoubtedly lay claim to both of
these characteristics.
Looking back, as I was saying, into the blank of my infancy, the
first objects I can remember as standing out by themselves from a
confusion of things, are my mother and Peggotty. What else do I
remember? Let me see.
There comes out of the cloud, our house - not new to me, but quite
familiar, in its earliest remembrance. On the ground-floor is
Peggotty's kitchen, opening into a back yard; with a pigeon-house
on a pole, in the centre, without any pigeons in it; a great dogkennel
in a corner, without any dog; and a quantity of fowls that
look terribly tall to me, walking about, in a menacing and
ferocious manner. There is one cock who gets upon a post to crow,
and seems to take particular notice of me as I look at him through
the kitchen window, who makes me shiver, he is so fierce. Of the
geese outside the side-gate who come waddling after me with their
long necks stretched out when I go that way, I dream at night: as
a man environed by wild beasts might dream of lions.
Here is a long passage - what an enormous perspective I make of it!
- leading from Peggotty's kitchen to the front door. A dark
store-room opens out of it, and that is a place to be run past at
night; for I don't know what may be among those tubs and jars and
old tea-chests, when there is nobody in there with a dimly-burning
light, letting a mouldy air come out of the door, in which there is
the smell of soap, pickles, pepper, candles, and coffee, all at one
whiff. Then there are the two parlours: the parlour in which we
sit of an evening, my mother and I and Peggotty - for Peggotty is
quite our companion, when her work is done and we are alone - and
the best parlour where we sit on a Sunday; grandly, but not so
comfortably. There is something of a doleful air about that room
to me, for Peggotty has told me - I don't know when, but apparently
ages ago - about my father's funeral, and the company having their
black cloaks put on. One Sunday night my mother reads to Peggotty
and me in there, how Lazarus was raised up from the dead. And I am
so frightened that they are afterwards obliged to take me out of
bed, and show me the quiet churchyard out of the bedroom window,
with the dead all lying in their graves at rest, below the solemn
There is nothing half so green that I know anywhere, as the grass
of that churchyard; nothing half so shady as its trees; nothing
half so quiet as its tombstones. The sheep are feeding there, when
I kneel up, early in the morning, in my little bed in a closet
within my mother's room, to look out at it; and I see the red light
shining on the sun-dial, and think within myself, 'Is the sun-dial
glad, I wonder, that it can tell the time again?'
Here is our pew in the church. What a high-backed pew! With a
window near it, out of which our house can be seen, and IS seen
many times during the morning's service, by Peggotty, who likes to
make herself as sure as she can that it's not being robbed, or is
not in flames. But though Peggotty's eye wanders, she is much
offended if mine does, and frowns to me, as I stand upon the seat,
that I am to look at the clergyman. But I can't always look at him
- I know him without that white thing on, and I am afraid of his
wondering why I stare so, and perhaps stopping the service to
inquire - and what am I to do? It's a dreadful thing to gape, but
I must do something. I look at my mother, but she pretends not to
see me. I look at a boy in the aisle, and he makes faces at me.
I look at the sunlight coming in at the open door through the
porch, and there I see a stray sheep - I don't mean a sinner, but
mutton - half making up his mind to come into the church. I feel
that if I looked at him any longer, I might be tempted to say
something out loud; and what would become of me then! I look up at
the monumental tablets on the wall, and try to think of Mr. Bodgers
late of this parish, and what the feelings of Mrs. Bodgers must
have been, when affliction sore, long time Mr. Bodgers bore, and
physicians were in vain. I wonder whether they called in Mr.
Chillip, and he was in vain; and if so, how he likes to be reminded
of it once a week. I look from Mr. Chillip, in his Sunday
neckcloth, to the pulpit; and think what a good place it would be
to play in, and what a castle it would make, with another boy
coming up the stairs to attack it, and having the velvet cushion
with the tassels thrown down on his head. In time my eyes
gradually shut up; and, from seeming to hear the clergyman singing
a drowsy song in the heat, I hear nothing, until I fall off the
seat with a crash, and am taken out, more dead than alive, by
And now I see the outside of our house, with the latticed
bedroom-windows standing open to let in the sweet-smelling air, and
the ragged old rooks'-nests still dangling in the elm-trees at the
bottom of the front garden. Now I am in the garden at the back,
beyond the yard where the empty pigeon-house and dog-kennel are -
a very preserve of butterflies, as I remember it, with a high
fence, and a gate and padlock; where the fruit clusters on the
trees, riper and richer than fruit has ever been since, in any
other garden, and where my mother gathers some in a basket, while
I stand by, bolting furtive gooseberries, and trying to look
unmoved. A great wind rises, and the summer is gone in a moment.
We are playing in the winter twilight, dancing about the parlour.
When my mother is out of breath and rests herself in an
elbow-chair, I watch her winding her bright curls round her
fingers, and straitening her waist, and nobody knows better than I
do that she likes to look so well, and is proud of being so pretty.
That is among my very earliest impressions. That, and a sense that
we were both a little afraid of Peggotty, and submitted ourselves
in most things to her direction, were among the first opinions - if
they may be so called - that I ever derived from what I saw.
Peggotty and I were sitting one night by the parlour fire, alone.
I had been reading to Peggotty about crocodiles. I must have read
very perspicuously, or the poor soul must have been deeply
interested, for I remember she had a cloudy impression, after I had
done, that they were a sort of vegetable. I was tired of reading,
and dead sleepy; but having leave, as a high treat, to sit up until
my mother came home from spending the evening at a neighbour's, I
would rather have died upon my post (of course) than have gone to
bed. I had reached that stage of sleepiness when Peggotty seemed
to swell and grow immensely large. I propped my eyelids open with
my two forefingers, and looked perseveringly at her as she sat at
work; at the little bit of wax-candle she kept for her thread - how
old it looked, being so wrinkled in all directions! - at the little
house with a thatched roof, where the yard-measure lived; at her
work-box with a sliding lid, with a view of St. Paul's Cathedral
(with a pink dome) painted on the top; at the brass thimble on her
finger; at herself, whom I thought lovely. I felt so sleepy, that
I knew if I lost sight of anything for a moment, I was gone.
'Peggotty,' says I, suddenly, 'were you ever married?'
'Lord, Master Davy,' replied Peggotty. 'What's put marriage in
your head?'
She answered with such a start, that it quite awoke me. And then
she stopped in her work, and looked at me, with her needle drawn
out to its thread's length.
'But WERE you ever married, Peggotty?' says I. 'You are a very
handsome woman, an't you?'
I thought her in a different style from my mother, certainly; but
of another school of beauty, I considered her a perfect example.
There was a red velvet footstool in the best parlour, on which my
mother had painted a nosegay. The ground-work of that stool, and
Peggotty's complexion appeared to me to be one and the same thing.
The stool was smooth, and Peggotty was rough, but that made no
'Me handsome, Davy!' said Peggotty. 'Lawk, no, my dear! But what
put marriage in your head?'
'I don't know! - You mustn't marry more than one person at a time,
may you, Peggotty?'
'Certainly not,' says Peggotty, with the promptest decision.
'But if you marry a person, and the person dies, why then you may
marry another person, mayn't you, Peggotty?'
'YOU MAY,' says Peggotty, 'if you choose, my dear. That's a matter
of opinion.'
'But what is your opinion, Peggotty?' said I.
I asked her, and looked curiously at her, because she looked so
curiously at me.
'My opinion is,' said Peggotty, taking her eyes from me, after a
little indecision and going on with her work, 'that I never was
married myself, Master Davy, and that I don't expect to be. That's
all I know about the subject.'
'You an't cross, I suppose, Peggotty, are you?' said I, after
sitting quiet for a minute.
I really thought she was, she had been so short with me; but I was
quite mistaken: for she laid aside her work (which was a stocking
of her own), and opening her arms wide, took my curly head within
them, and gave it a good squeeze. I know it was a good squeeze,
because, being very plump, whenever she made any little exertion
after she was dressed, some of the buttons on the back of her gown
flew off. And I recollect two bursting to the opposite side of the
parlour, while she was hugging me.
'Now let me hear some more about the Crorkindills,' said Peggotty,
who was not quite right in the name yet, 'for I an't heard half
I couldn't quite understand why Peggotty looked so queer, or why
she was so ready to go back to the crocodiles. However, we
returned to those monsters, with fresh wakefulness on my part, and
we left their eggs in the sand for the sun to hatch; and we ran
away from them, and baffled them by constantly turning, which they
were unable to do quickly, on account of their unwieldy make; and
we went into the water after them, as natives, and put sharp pieces
of timber down their throats; and in short we ran the whole
crocodile gauntlet. I did, at least; but I had my doubts of
Peggotty, who was thoughtfully sticking her needle into various
parts of her face and arms, all the time.
We had exhausted the crocodiles, and begun with the alligators,
when the garden-bell rang. We went out to the door; and there was
my mother, looking unusually pretty, I thought, and with her a
gentleman with beautiful black hair and whiskers, who had walked
home with us from church last Sunday.
As my mother stooped down on the threshold to take me in her arms
and kiss me, the gentleman said I was a more highly privileged
little fellow than a monarch - or something like that; for my later
understanding comes, I am sensible, to my aid here.
'What does that mean?' I asked him, over her shoulder.
He patted me on the head; but somehow, I didn't like him or his
deep voice, and I was jealous that his hand should touch my
mother's in touching me - which it did. I put it away, as well as
I could.
'Oh, Davy!' remonstrated my mother.
'Dear boy!' said the gentleman. 'I cannot wonder at his devotion!'
I never saw such a beautiful colour on my mother's face before.
She gently chid me for being rude; and, keeping me close to her
shawl, turned to thank the gentleman for taking so much trouble as
to bring her home. She put out her hand to him as she spoke, and,
as he met it with his own, she glanced, I thought, at me.
'Let us say "good night", my fine boy,' said the gentleman, when he
had bent his head - I saw him! - over my mother's little glove.
'Good night!' said I.
'Come! Let us be the best friends in the world!' said the
gentleman, laughing. 'Shake hands!'
My right hand was in my mother's left, so I gave him the other.
'Why, that's the Wrong hand, Davy!' laughed the gentleman.
MY mother drew my right hand forward, but I was resolved, for my
former reason, not to give it him, and I did not. I gave him the
other, and he shook it heartily, and said I was a brave fellow, and
went away.
At this minute I see him turn round in the garden, and give us a
last look with his ill-omened black eyes, before the door was shut.
Peggotty, who had not said a word or moved a finger, secured the
fastenings instantly, and we all went into the parlour. My mother,
contrary to her usual habit, instead of coming to the elbow-chair
by the fire, remained at the other end of the room, and sat singing
to herself.
- 'Hope you have had a pleasant evening, ma'am,' said Peggotty,
standing as stiff as a barrel in the centre of the room, with a
candlestick in her hand.
'Much obliged to you, Peggotty,' returned my mother, in a cheerful
voice, 'I have had a VERY pleasant evening.'
'A stranger or so makes an agreeable change,' suggested Peggotty.
'A very agreeable change, indeed,' returned my mother.
Peggotty continuing to stand motionless in the middle of the room,
and my mother resuming her singing, I fell asleep, though I was not
so sound asleep but that I could hear voices, without hearing what
they said. When I half awoke from this uncomfortable doze, I found
Peggotty and my mother both in tears, and both talking.
'Not such a one as this, Mr. Copperfield wouldn't have liked,' said
Peggotty. 'That I say, and that I swear!'
'Good Heavens!' cried my mother, 'you'll drive me mad! Was ever
any poor girl so ill-used by her servants as I am! Why do I do
myself the injustice of calling myself a girl? Have I never been
married, Peggotty?'
'God knows you have, ma'am,' returned Peggotty.
'Then, how can you dare,' said my mother - 'you know I don't mean
how can you dare, Peggotty, but how can you have the heart - to
make me so uncomfortable and say such bitter things to me, when you
are well aware that I haven't, out of this place, a single friend
to turn to?'
'The more's the reason,' returned Peggotty, 'for saying that it
won't do. No! That it won't do. No! No price could make it do.
No!' - I thought Peggotty would have thrown the candlestick away,
she was so emphatic with it.
'How can you be so aggravating,' said my mother, shedding more
tears than before, 'as to talk in such an unjust manner! How can
you go on as if it was all settled and arranged, Peggotty, when I
tell you over and over again, you cruel thing, that beyond the
commonest civilities nothing has passed! You talk of admiration.
What am I to do? If people are so silly as to indulge the
sentiment, is it my fault? What am I to do, I ask you? Would you
wish me to shave my head and black my face, or disfigure myself
with a burn, or a scald, or something of that sort? I dare say you
would, Peggotty. I dare say you'd quite enjoy it.'
Peggotty seemed to take this aspersion very much to heart, I
'And my dear boy,' cried my mother, coming to the elbow-chair in
which I was, and caressing me, 'my own little Davy! Is it to be
hinted to me that I am wanting in affection for my precious
treasure, the dearest little fellow that ever was!'
'Nobody never went and hinted no such a thing,' said Peggotty.
'You did, Peggotty!' returned my mother. 'You know you did. What
else was it possible to infer from what you said, you unkind
creature, when you know as well as I do, that on his account only
last quarter I wouldn't buy myself a new parasol, though that old
green one is frayed the whole way up, and the fringe is perfectly
mangy? You know it is, Peggotty. You can't deny it.' Then,
turning affectionately to me, with her cheek against mine, 'Am I a
naughty mama to you, Davy? Am I a nasty, cruel, selfish, bad mama?
Say I am, my child; say "yes", dear boy, and Peggotty will love
you; and Peggotty's love is a great deal better than mine, Davy.
I don't love you at all, do I?'
At this, we all fell a-crying together. I think I was the loudest
of the party, but I am sure we were all sincere about it. I was
quite heart-broken myself, and am afraid that in the first
transports of wounded tenderness I called Peggotty a 'Beast'. That
honest creature was in deep affliction, I remember, and must have
become quite buttonless on the occasion; for a little volley of
those explosives went off, when, after having made it up with my
mother, she kneeled down by the elbow-chair, and made it up with
We went to bed greatly dejected. My sobs kept waking me, for a
long time; and when one very strong sob quite hoisted me up in bed,
I found my mother sitting on the coverlet, and leaning over me. I
fell asleep in her arms, after that, and slept soundly.
Whether it was the following Sunday when I saw the gentleman again,
or whether there was any greater lapse of time before he
reappeared, I cannot recall. I don't profess to be clear about
dates. But there he was, in church, and he walked home with us
afterwards. He came in, too, to look at a famous geranium we had,
in the parlour-window. It did not appear to me that he took much
notice of it, but before he went he asked my mother to give him a
bit of the blossom. She begged him to choose it for himself, but
he refused to do that - I could not understand why - so she plucked
it for him, and gave it into his hand. He said he would never,
never part with it any more; and I thought he must be quite a fool
not to know that it would fall to pieces in a day or two.
Peggotty began to be less with us, of an evening, than she had
always been. My mother deferred to her very much - more than
usual, it occurred to me - and we were all three excellent friends;
still we were different from what we used to be, and were not so
comfortable among ourselves. Sometimes I fancied that Peggotty
perhaps objected to my mother's wearing all the pretty dresses she
had in her drawers, or to her going so often to visit at that
neighbour's; but I couldn't, to my satisfaction, make out how it
Gradually, I became used to seeing the gentleman with the black
whiskers. I liked him no better than at first, and had the same
uneasy jealousy of him; but if I had any reason for it beyond a
child's instinctive dislike, and a general idea that Peggotty and
I could make much of my mother without any help, it certainly was
not THE reason that I might have found if I had been older. No
such thing came into my mind, or near it. I could observe, in
little pieces, as it were; but as to making a net of a number of
these pieces, and catching anybody in it, that was, as yet, beyond
One autumn morning I was with my mother in the front garden, when
Mr. Murdstone - I knew him by that name now - came by, on
horseback. He reined up his horse to salute my mother, and said he
was going to Lowestoft to see some friends who were there with a
yacht, and merrily proposed to take me on the saddle before him if
I would like the ride.
The air was so clear and pleasant, and the horse seemed to like the
idea of the ride so much himself, as he stood snorting and pawing
at the garden-gate, that I had a great desire to go. So I was sent
upstairs to Peggotty to be made spruce; and in the meantime Mr.
Murdstone dismounted, and, with his horse's bridle drawn over his
arm, walked slowly up and down on the outer side of the sweetbriar
fence, while my mother walked slowly up and down on the inner to
keep him company. I recollect Peggotty and I peeping out at them
from my little window; I recollect how closely they seemed to be
examining the sweetbriar between them, as they strolled along; and
how, from being in a perfectly angelic temper, Peggotty turned
cross in a moment, and brushed my hair the wrong way, excessively
Mr. Murdstone and I were soon off, and trotting along on the green
turf by the side of the road. He held me quite easily with one
arm, and I don't think I was restless usually; but I could not make
up my mind to sit in front of him without turning my head
sometimes, and looking up in his face. He had that kind of shallow
black eye - I want a better word to express an eye that has no
depth in it to be looked into - which, when it is abstracted, seems
from some peculiarity of light to be disfigured, for a moment at a
time, by a cast. Several times when I glanced at him, I observed
that appearance with a sort of awe, and wondered what he was
thinking about so closely. His hair and whiskers were blacker and
thicker, looked at so near, than even I had given them credit for
being. A squareness about the lower part of his face, and the
dotted indication of the strong black beard he shaved close every
day, reminded me of the wax-work that had travelled into our
neighbourhood some half-a-year before. This, his regular eyebrows,
and the rich white, and black, and brown, of his complexion -
confound his complexion, and his memory! - made me think him, in
spite of my misgivings, a very handsome man. I have no doubt that
my poor dear mother thought him so too.
We went to an hotel by the sea, where two gentlemen were smoking
cigars in a room by themselves. Each of them was lying on at least
four chairs, and had a large rough jacket on. In a corner was a
heap of coats and boat-cloaks, and a flag, all bundled up together.
They both rolled on to their feet in an untidy sort of manner, when
we came in, and said, 'Halloa, Murdstone! We thought you were
'Not yet,' said Mr. Murdstone.
'And who's this shaver?' said one of the gentlemen, taking hold of
'That's Davy,' returned Mr. Murdstone.
'Davy who?' said the gentleman. 'Jones?'
'Copperfield,' said Mr. Murdstone.
'What! Bewitching Mrs. Copperfield's encumbrance?' cried the
gentleman. 'The pretty little widow?'
'Quinion,' said Mr. Murdstone, 'take care, if you please.
Somebody's sharp.'
'Who is?' asked the gentleman, laughing.
I looked up, quickly; being curious to know.
'Only Brooks of Sheffield,' said Mr. Murdstone.
I was quite relieved to find that it was only Brooks of Sheffield;
for, at first, I really thought it was I.
There seemed to be something very comical in the reputation of Mr.
Brooks of Sheffield, for both the gentlemen laughed heartily when
he was mentioned, and Mr. Murdstone was a good deal amused also.
After some laughing, the gentleman whom he had called Quinion,
'And what is the opinion of Brooks of Sheffield, in reference to
the projected business?'
'Why, I don't know that Brooks understands much about it at
present,' replied Mr. Murdstone; 'but he is not generally
favourable, I believe.'
There was more laughter at this, and Mr. Quinion said he would ring
the bell for some sherry in which to drink to Brooks. This he did;
and when the wine came, he made me have a little, with a biscuit,
and, before I drank it, stand up and say, 'Confusion to Brooks of
Sheffield!' The toast was received with great applause, and such
hearty laughter that it made me laugh too; at which they laughed
the more. In short, we quite enjoyed ourselves.
We walked about on the cliff after that, and sat on the grass, and
looked at things through a telescope - I could make out nothing
myself when it was put to my eye, but I pretended I could - and
then we came back to the hotel to an early dinner. All the time we
were out, the two gentlemen smoked incessantly - which, I thought,
if I might judge from the smell of their rough coats, they must
have been doing, ever since the coats had first come home from the
tailor's. I must not forget that we went on board the yacht, where
they all three descended into the cabin, and were busy with some
papers. I saw them quite hard at work, when I looked down through
the open skylight. They left me, during this time, with a very
nice man with a very large head of red hair and a very small shiny
hat upon it, who had got a cross-barred shirt or waistcoat on, with
'Skylark' in capital letters across the chest. I thought it was
his name; and that as he lived on board ship and hadn't a street
door to put his name on, he put it there instead; but when I called
him Mr. Skylark, he said it meant the vessel.
I observed all day that Mr. Murdstone was graver and steadier than
the two gentlemen. They were very gay and careless. They joked
freely with one another, but seldom with him. It appeared to me
that he was more clever and cold than they were, and that they
regarded him with something of my own feeling. I remarked that,
once or twice when Mr. Quinion was talking, he looked at Mr.
Murdstone sideways, as if to make sure of his not being displeased;
and that once when Mr. Passnidge (the other gentleman) was in high
spirits, he trod upon his foot, and gave him a secret caution with
his eyes, to observe Mr. Murdstone, who was sitting stern and
silent. Nor do I recollect that Mr. Murdstone laughed at all that
day, except at the Sheffield joke - and that, by the by, was his
We went home early in the evening. It was a very fine evening, and
my mother and he had another stroll by the sweetbriar, while I was
sent in to get my tea. When he was gone, my mother asked me all
about the day I had had, and what they had said and done. I
mentioned what they had said about her, and she laughed, and told
me they were impudent fellows who talked nonsense - but I knew it
pleased her. I knew it quite as well as I know it now. I took the
opportunity of asking if she was at all acquainted with Mr. Brooks
of Sheffield, but she answered No, only she supposed he must be a
manufacturer in the knife and fork way.
Can I say of her face - altered as I have reason to remember it,
perished as I know it is - that it is gone, when here it comes
before me at this instant, as distinct as any face that I may
choose to look on in a crowded street? Can I say of her innocent
and girlish beauty, that it faded, and was no more, when its breath
falls on my cheek now, as it fell that night? Can I say she ever
changed, when my remembrance brings her back to life, thus only;
and, truer to its loving youth than I have been, or man ever is,
still holds fast what it cherished then?
I write of her just as she was when I had gone to bed after this
talk, and she came to bid me good night. She kneeled down
playfully by the side of the bed, and laying her chin upon her
hands, and laughing, said:
'What was it they said, Davy? Tell me again. I can't believe it.'
'"Bewitching -"' I began.
My mother put her hands upon my lips to stop me.
'It was never bewitching,' she said, laughing. 'It never could
have been bewitching, Davy. Now I know it wasn't!'
'Yes, it was. "Bewitching Mrs. Copperfield",' I repeated stoutly.
'And, "pretty."'
'No, no, it was never pretty. Not pretty,' interposed my mother,
laying her fingers on my lips again.
'Yes it was. "Pretty little widow."'
'What foolish, impudent creatures!' cried my mother, laughing and
covering her face. 'What ridiculous men! An't they? Davy dear -'
'Well, Ma.'
'Don't tell Peggotty; she might be angry with them. I am
dreadfully angry with them myself; but I would rather Peggotty
didn't know.'
I promised, of course; and we kissed one another over and over
again, and I soon fell fast asleep.
It seems to me, at this distance of time, as if it were the next
day when Peggotty broached the striking and adventurous proposition
I am about to mention; but it was probably about two months
We were sitting as before, one evening (when my mother was out as
before), in company with the stocking and the yard-measure, and the
bit of wax, and the box with St. Paul's on the lid, and the
crocodile book, when Peggotty, after looking at me several times,
and opening her mouth as if she were going to speak, without doing
it - which I thought was merely gaping, or I should have been
rather alarmed - said coaxingly:
'Master Davy, how should you like to go along with me and spend a
fortnight at my brother's at Yarmouth? Wouldn't that be a treat?'
'Is your brother an agreeable man, Peggotty?' I inquired,
'Oh, what an agreeable man he is!' cried Peggotty, holding up her
hands. 'Then there's the sea; and the boats and ships; and the
fishermen; and the beach; and Am to play with -'
Peggotty meant her nephew Ham, mentioned in my first chapter; but
she spoke of him as a morsel of English Grammar.
I was flushed by her summary of delights, and replied that it would
indeed be a treat, but what would my mother say?
'Why then I'll as good as bet a guinea,' said Peggotty, intent upon
my face, 'that she'll let us go. I'll ask her, if you like, as
soon as ever she comes home. There now!'
'But what's she to do while we're away?' said I, putting my small
elbows on the table to argue the point. 'She can't live by
If Peggotty were looking for a hole, all of a sudden, in the heel
of that stocking, it must have been a very little one indeed, and
not worth darning.
'I say! Peggotty! She can't live by herself, you know.'
'Oh, bless you!' said Peggotty, looking at me again at last.
'Don't you know? She's going to stay for a fortnight with Mrs.
Grayper. Mrs. Grayper's going to have a lot of company.'
Oh! If that was it, I was quite ready to go. I waited, in the
utmost impatience, until my mother came home from Mrs. Grayper's
(for it was that identical neighbour), to ascertain if we could get
leave to carry out this great idea. Without being nearly so much
surprised as I had expected, my mother entered into it readily; and
it was all arranged that night, and my board and lodging during the
visit were to be paid for.
The day soon came for our going. It was such an early day that it
came soon, even to me, who was in a fever of expectation, and half
afraid that an earthquake or a fiery mountain, or some other great
convulsion of nature, might interpose to stop the expedition. We
were to go in a carrier's cart, which departed in the morning after
breakfast. I would have given any money to have been allowed to
wrap myself up over-night, and sleep in my hat and boots.
It touches me nearly now, although I tell it lightly, to recollect
how eager I was to leave my happy home; to think how little I
suspected what I did leave for ever.
I am glad to recollect that when the carrier's cart was at the
gate, and my mother stood there kissing me, a grateful fondness for
her and for the old place I had never turned my back upon before,
made me cry. I am glad to know that my mother cried too, and that
I felt her heart beat against mine.
I am glad to recollect that when the carrier began to move, my
mother ran out at the gate, and called to him to stop, that she
might kiss me once more. I am glad to dwell upon the earnestness
and love with which she lifted up her face to mine, and did so.
As we left her standing in the road, Mr. Murdstone came up to where
she was, and seemed to expostulate with her for being so moved. I
was looking back round the awning of the cart, and wondered what
business it was of his. Peggotty, who was also looking back on the
other side, seemed anything but satisfied; as the face she brought
back in the cart denoted.
I sat looking at Peggotty for some time, in a reverie on this
supposititious case: whether, if she were employed to lose me like
the boy in the fairy tale, I should be able to track my way home
again by the buttons she would shed.
The carrier's horse was the laziest horse in the world, I should
hope, and shuffled along, with his head down, as if he liked to
keep people waiting to whom the packages were directed. I fancied,
indeed, that he sometimes chuckled audibly over this reflection,
but the carrier said he was only troubled with a cough.
The carrier had a way of keeping his head down, like his horse, and
of drooping sleepily forward as he drove, with one of his arms on
each of his knees. I say 'drove', but it struck me that the cart
would have gone to Yarmouth quite as well without him, for the
horse did all that; and as to conversation, he had no idea of it
but whistling.
Peggotty had a basket of refreshments on her knee, which would have
lasted us out handsomely, if we had been going to London by the
same conveyance. We ate a good deal, and slept a good deal.
Peggotty always went to sleep with her chin upon the handle of the
basket, her hold of which never relaxed; and I could not have
believed unless I had heard her do it, that one defenceless woman
could have snored so much.
We made so many deviations up and down lanes, and were such a long
time delivering a bedstead at a public-house, and calling at other
places, that I was quite tired, and very glad, when we saw
Yarmouth. It looked rather spongy and soppy, I thought, as I
carried my eye over the great dull waste that lay across the river;
and I could not help wondering, if the world were really as round
as my geography book said, how any part of it came to be so flat.
But I reflected that Yarmouth might be situated at one of the
poles; which would account for it.
As we drew a little nearer, and saw the whole adjacent prospect
lying a straight low line under the sky, I hinted to Peggotty that
a mound or so might have improved it; and also that if the land had
been a little more separated from the sea, and the town and the
tide had not been quite so much mixed up, like toast and water, it
would have been nicer. But Peggotty said, with greater emphasis
than usual, that we must take things as we found them, and that,
for her part, she was proud to call herself a Yarmouth Bloater.
When we got into the street (which was strange enough to me) and
smelt the fish, and pitch, and oakum, and tar, and saw the sailors
walking about, and the carts jingling up and down over the stones,
I felt that I had done so busy a place an injustice; and said as
much to Peggotty, who heard my expressions of delight with great
complacency, and told me it was well known (I suppose to those who
had the good fortune to be born Bloaters) that Yarmouth was, upon
the whole, the finest place in the universe.
'Here's my Am!' screamed Peggotty, 'growed out of knowledge!'
He was waiting for us, in fact, at the public-house; and asked me
how I found myself, like an old acquaintance. I did not feel, at
first, that I knew him as well as he knew me, because he had never
come to our house since the night I was born, and naturally he had
the advantage of me. But our intimacy was much advanced by his
taking me on his back to carry me home. He was, now, a huge,
strong fellow of six feet high, broad in proportion, and
round-shouldered; but with a simpering boy's face and curly light
hair that gave him quite a sheepish look. He was dressed in a
canvas jacket, and a pair of such very stiff trousers that they
would have stood quite as well alone, without any legs in them.
And you couldn't so properly have said he wore a hat, as that he
was covered in a-top, like an old building, with something pitchy.
Ham carrying me on his back and a small box of ours under his arm,
and Peggotty carrying another small box of ours, we turned down
lanes bestrewn with bits of chips and little hillocks of sand, and
went past gas-works, rope-walks, boat-builders' yards, shipwrights'
yards, ship-breakers' yards, caulkers' yards, riggers' lofts,
smiths' forges, and a great litter of such places, until we came
out upon the dull waste I had already seen at a distance; when Ham
'Yon's our house, Mas'r Davy!'
I looked in all directions, as far as I could stare over the
wilderness, and away at the sea, and away at the river, but no
house could I make out. There was a black barge, or some other
kind of superannuated boat, not far off, high and dry on the
ground, with an iron funnel sticking out of it for a chimney and
smoking very cosily; but nothing else in the way of a habitation
that was visible to me.
'That's not it?' said I. 'That ship-looking thing?'
'That's it, Mas'r Davy,' returned Ham.
If it had been Aladdin's palace, roc's egg and all, I suppose I
could not have been more charmed with the romantic idea of living
in it. There was a delightful door cut in the side, and it was
roofed in, and there were little windows in it; but the wonderful
charm of it was, that it was a real boat which had no doubt been
upon the water hundreds of times, and which had never been intended
to be lived in, on dry land. That was the captivation of it to me.
If it had ever been meant to be lived in, I might have thought it
small, or inconvenient, or lonely; but never having been designed
for any such use, it became a perfect abode.
It was beautifully clean inside, and as tidy as possible. There
was a table, and a Dutch clock, and a chest of drawers, and on the
chest of drawers there was a tea-tray with a painting on it of a
lady with a parasol, taking a walk with a military-looking child
who was trundling a hoop. The tray was kept from tumbling down, by
a bible; and the tray, if it had tumbled down, would have smashed
a quantity of cups and saucers and a teapot that were grouped
around the book. On the walls there were some common coloured
pictures, framed and glazed, of scripture subjects; such as I have
never seen since in the hands of pedlars, without seeing the whole
interior of Peggotty's brother's house again, at one view. Abraham
in red going to sacrifice Isaac in blue, and Daniel in yellow cast
into a den of green lions, were the most prominent of these. Over
the little mantelshelf, was a picture of the 'Sarah Jane' lugger,
built at Sunderland, with a real little wooden stern stuck on to
it; a work of art, combining composition with carpentry, which I
considered to be one of the most enviable possessions that the
world could afford. There were some hooks in the beams of the
ceiling, the use of which I did not divine then; and some lockers
and boxes and conveniences of that sort, which served for seats and
eked out the chairs.
All this I saw in the first glance after I crossed the threshold -
child-like, according to my theory - and then Peggotty opened a
little door and showed me my bedroom. It was the completest and
most desirable bedroom ever seen - in the stern of the vessel; with
a little window, where the rudder used to go through; a little
looking-glass, just the right height for me, nailed against the
wall, and framed with oyster-shells; a little bed, which there was
just room enough to get into; and a nosegay of seaweed in a blue
mug on the table. The walls were whitewashed as white as milk, and
the patchwork counterpane made my eyes quite ache with its
brightness. One thing I particularly noticed in this delightful
house, was the smell of fish; which was so searching, that when I
took out my pocket-handkerchief to wipe my nose, I found it smelt
exactly as if it had wrapped up a lobster. On my imparting this
discovery in confidence to Peggotty, she informed me that her
brother dealt in lobsters, crabs, and crawfish; and I afterwards
found that a heap of these creatures, in a state of wonderful
conglomeration with one another, and never leaving off pinching
whatever they laid hold of, were usually to be found in a little
wooden outhouse where the pots and kettles were kept.
We were welcomed by a very civil woman in a white apron, whom I had
seen curtseying at the door when I was on Ham's back, about a
quarter of a mile off. Likewise by a most beautiful little girl
(or I thought her so) with a necklace of blue beads on, who
wouldn't let me kiss her when I offered to, but ran away and hid
herself. By and by, when we had dined in a sumptuous manner off
boiled dabs, melted butter, and potatoes, with a chop for me, a
hairy man with a very good-natured face came home. As he called
Peggotty 'Lass', and gave her a hearty smack on the cheek, I had no
doubt, from the general propriety of her conduct, that he was her
brother; and so he turned out - being presently introduced to me as
Mr. Peggotty, the master of the house.
'Glad to see you, sir,' said Mr. Peggotty. 'You'll find us rough,
sir, but you'll find us ready.'
I thanked him, and replied that I was sure I should be happy in
such a delightful place.
'How's your Ma, sir?' said Mr. Peggotty. 'Did you leave her pretty
I gave Mr. Peggotty to understand that she was as jolly as I could
wish, and that she desired her compliments - which was a polite
fiction on my part.
'I'm much obleeged to her, I'm sure,' said Mr. Peggotty. 'Well,
sir, if you can make out here, fur a fortnut, 'long wi' her,'
nodding at his sister, 'and Ham, and little Em'ly, we shall be
proud of your company.'
Having done the honours of his house in this hospitable manner, Mr.
Peggotty went out to wash himself in a kettleful of hot water,
remarking that 'cold would never get his muck off'. He soon
returned, greatly improved in appearance; but so rubicund, that I
couldn't help thinking his face had this in common with the
lobsters, crabs, and crawfish, - that it went into the hot water
very black, and came out very red.
After tea, when the door was shut and all was made snug (the nights
being cold and misty now), it seemed to me the most delicious
retreat that the imagination of man could conceive. To hear the
wind getting up out at sea, to know that the fog was creeping over
the desolate flat outside, and to look at the fire, and think that
there was no house near but this one, and this one a boat, was like
enchantment. Little Em'ly had overcome her shyness, and was
sitting by my side upon the lowest and least of the lockers, which
was just large enough for us two, and just fitted into the chimney
corner. Mrs. Peggotty with the white apron, was knitting on the
opposite side of the fire. Peggotty at her needlework was as much
at home with St. Paul's and the bit of wax-candle, as if they had
never known any other roof. Ham, who had been giving me my first
lesson in all-fours, was trying to recollect a scheme of telling
fortunes with the dirty cards, and was printing off fishy
impressions of his thumb on all the cards he turned. Mr. Peggotty
was smoking his pipe. I felt it was a time for conversation and
'Mr. Peggotty!' says I.
'Sir,' says he.
'Did you give your son the name of Ham, because you lived in a sort
of ark?'
Mr. Peggotty seemed to think it a deep idea, but answered:
'No, sir. I never giv him no name.'
'Who gave him that name, then?' said I, putting question number two
of the catechism to Mr. Peggotty.
'Why, sir, his father giv it him,' said Mr. Peggotty.
'I thought you were his father!'
'My brother Joe was his father,' said Mr. Peggotty.
'Dead, Mr. Peggotty?' I hinted, after a respectful pause.
'Drowndead,' said Mr. Peggotty.
I was very much surprised that Mr. Peggotty was not Ham's father,
and began to wonder whether I was mistaken about his relationship
to anybody else there. I was so curious to know, that I made up my
mind to have it out with Mr. Peggotty.
'Little Em'ly,' I said, glancing at her. 'She is your daughter,
isn't she, Mr. Peggotty?'
'No, sir. My brother-in-law, Tom, was her father.'
I couldn't help it. '- Dead, Mr. Peggotty?' I hinted, after
another respectful silence.
'Drowndead,' said Mr. Peggotty.
I felt the difficulty of resuming the subject, but had not got to
the bottom of it yet, and must get to the bottom somehow. So I
'Haven't you ANY children, Mr. Peggotty?'
'No, master,' he answered with a short laugh. 'I'm a bacheldore.'
'A bachelor!' I said, astonished. 'Why, who's that, Mr. Peggotty?'
pointing to the person in the apron who was knitting.
'That's Missis Gummidge,' said Mr. Peggotty.
'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. But there were some differences between Em'ly's
orphanhood and mine, it appeared. She had lost her mother before
her father; and where her father's grave was no one knew, except
that it was somewhere in the depths of the sea.
'Besides,' said Em'ly, as she looked about for shells and pebbles,
'your father was a gentleman and your mother is a lady; and my
father was a fisherman and my mother was a fisherman's daughter,
and my uncle Dan is a fisherman.'
'Dan is Mr. Peggotty, is he?' said I.
'Uncle Dan - yonder,' answered Em'ly, nodding at the boat-house.
'Yes. I mean him. He must be very good, I should think?'
'Good?' said Em'ly. 'If I was ever to be a lady, I'd give him a
sky-blue coat with diamond buttons, nankeen trousers, a red velvet
waistcoat, a cocked hat, a large gold watch, a silver pipe, and a
box of money.'
I said I had no doubt that Mr. Peggotty well deserved these
treasures. I must acknowledge that I felt it difficult to picture
him quite at his ease in the raiment proposed for him by his
grateful little niece, and that I was particularly doubtful of the
policy of the cocked hat; but I kept these sentiments to myself.
Little Em'ly had stopped and looked up at the sky in her
enumeration of these articles, as if they were a glorious vision.
We went on again, picking up shells and pebbles.
'You would like to be a lady?' I said.
Emily looked at me, and laughed and nodded 'yes'.
'I should like it very much. We would all be gentlefolks together,
then. Me, and uncle, and Ham, and Mrs. Gummidge. We wouldn't mind
then, when there comes stormy weather. - Not for our own sakes, I
mean. We would for the poor fishermen's, to be sure, and we'd help
'em with money when they come to any hurt.' This seemed to me to
be a very satisfactory and therefore not at all improbable picture.
I expressed my pleasure in the contemplation of it, and little
Em'ly was emboldened to say, shyly,
'Don't you think you are afraid of the sea, now?'
It was quiet enough to reassure me, but I have no doubt if I had
seen a moderately large wave come tumbling in, I should have taken
to my heels, with an awful recollection of her drowned relations.
However, I said 'No,' and I added, 'You don't seem to be either,
though you say you are,' - for she was walking much too near the
brink of a sort of old jetty or wooden causeway we had strolled
upon, and I was afraid of her falling over.
'I'm not afraid in this way,' said little Em'ly. 'But I wake when
it blows, and tremble to think of Uncle Dan and Ham and believe I
hear 'em crying out for help. That's why I should like so much to
be a lady. But I'm not afraid in this way. Not a bit. Look
She started from my side, and ran along a jagged timber which
protruded from the place we stood upon, and overhung the deep water
at some height, without the least defence. The incident is so
impressed on my remembrance, that if I were a draughtsman I could
draw its form here, I dare say, accurately as it was that day, and
little Em'ly springing forward to her destruction (as it appeared
to me), with a look that I have never forgotten, directed far out
to sea.
The light, bold, fluttering little figure turned and came back safe
to me, and I soon laughed at my fears, and at the cry I had
uttered; fruitlessly in any case, for there was no one near. But
there have been times since, in my manhood, many times there have
been, when I have thought, Is it possible, among the possibilities
of hidden things, that in the sudden rashness of the child and her
wild look so far off, there was any merciful attraction of her into
danger, any tempting her towards him permitted on the part of her
dead father, that her life might have a chance of ending that day?
There has been a time since when I have wondered whether, if the
life before her could have been revealed to me at a glance, and so
revealed as that a child could fully comprehend it, and if her
preservation could have depended on a motion of my hand, I ought to
have held it up to save her. There has been a time since - I do
not say it lasted long, but it has been - when I have asked myself
the question, would it have been better for little Em'ly to have
had the waters close above her head that morning in my sight; and
when I have answered Yes, it would have been.
This may be premature. I have set it down too soon, perhaps. But
let it stand.
We strolled a long way, and loaded ourselves with things that we
thought curious, and put some stranded starfish carefully back into
the water - I hardly know enough of the race at this moment to be
quite certain whether they had reason to feel obliged to us for
doing so, or the reverse - and then made our way home to Mr.
Peggotty's dwelling. We stopped under the lee of the
lobster-outhouse to exchange an innocent kiss, and went in to
breakfast glowing with health and pleasure.
'Like two young mavishes,' Mr. Peggotty said. I knew this meant,
in our local dialect, like two young thrushes, and received it as
a compliment.
Of course I was in love with little Em'ly. I am sure I loved that
baby quite as truly, quite as tenderly, with greater purity and
more disinterestedness, than can enter into the best love of a
later time of life, high and ennobling as it is. I am sure my
fancy raised up something round that blue-eyed mite of a child,
which etherealized, and made a very angel of her. If, any sunny
forenoon, she had spread a little pair of wings and flown away
before my eyes, I don't think I should have regarded it as much
more than I had had reason to expect.
We used to walk about that dim old flat at Yarmouth in a loving
manner, hours and hours. The days sported by us, as if Time had
not grown up himself yet, but were a child too, and always at play.
I told Em'ly I adored her, and that unless she confessed she adored
me I should be reduced to the necessity of killing myself with a
sword. She said she did, and I have no doubt she did.
As to any sense of inequality, or youthfulness, or other difficulty
in our way, little Em'ly and I had no such trouble, because we had
no future. We made no more provision for growing older, than we
did for growing younger. We were the admiration of Mrs. Gummidge
and Peggotty, who used to whisper of an evening when we sat,
lovingly, on our little locker side by side, 'Lor! wasn't it
beautiful!' Mr. Peggotty smiled at us from behind his pipe, and
Ham grinned all the evening and did nothing else. They had
something of the sort of pleasure in us, I suppose, that they might
have had in a pretty toy, or a pocket model of the Colosseum.
I soon found out that Mrs. Gummidge did not always make herself so
agreeable as she might have been expected to do, under the
circumstances of her residence with Mr. Peggotty. Mrs. Gummidge's
was rather a fretful disposition, and she whimpered more sometimes
than was comfortable for other parties in so small an
establishment. I was very sorry for her; but there were moments
when it would have been more agreeable, I thought, if Mrs. Gummidge
had had a convenient apartment of her own to retire to, and had
stopped there until her spirits revived.
Mr. Peggotty went occasionally to a public-house called The Willing
Mind. I discovered this, by his being out on the second or third
evening of our visit, and by Mrs. Gummidge's looking up at the
Dutch clock, between eight and nine, and saying he was there, and
that, what was more, she had known in the morning he would go
Mrs. Gummidge had been in a low state all day, and had burst into
tears in the forenoon, when the fire smoked. 'I am a lone lorn
creetur',' were Mrs. Gummidge's words, when that unpleasant
occurrence took place, 'and everythink goes contrary with me.'
'Oh, it'll soon leave off,' said Peggotty - I again mean our
Peggotty - 'and besides, you know, it's not more disagreeable to
you than to us.'
'I feel it more,' said Mrs. Gummidge.
It was a very cold day, with cutting blasts of wind. Mrs.
Gummidge's peculiar corner of the fireside seemed to me to be the
warmest and snuggest in the place, as her chair was certainly the
easiest, but it didn't suit her that day at all. She was
constantly complaining of the cold, and of its occasioning a
visitation in her back which she called 'the creeps'. At last she
shed tears on that subject, and said again that she was 'a lone
lorn creetur' and everythink went contrary with her'.
'It is certainly very cold,' said Peggotty. 'Everybody must feel
it so.'
'I feel it more than other people,' said Mrs. Gummidge.
So at dinner; when Mrs. Gummidge was always helped immediately
after me, to whom the preference was given as a visitor of
distinction. The fish were small and bony, and the potatoes were
a little burnt. We all acknowledged that we felt this something of
a disappointment; but Mrs. Gummidge said she felt it more than we
did, and shed tears again, and made that former declaration with
great bitterness.
Accordingly, when Mr. Peggotty came home about nine o'clock, this
unfortunate Mrs. Gummidge was knitting in her corner, in a very
wretched and miserable condition. Peggotty had been working
cheerfully. Ham had been patching up a great pair of waterboots;
and I, with little Em'ly by my side, had been reading to them.
Mrs. Gummidge had never made any other remark than a forlorn sigh,
and had never raised her eyes since tea.
'Well, Mates,' said Mr. Peggotty, taking his seat, 'and how are
We all said something, or looked something, to welcome him, except
Mrs. Gummidge, who only shook her head over her knitting.
'What's amiss?' said Mr. Peggotty, with a clap of his hands.
'Cheer up, old Mawther!' (Mr. Peggotty meant old girl.)
Mrs. Gummidge did not appear to be able to cheer up. She took out
an old black silk handkerchief and wiped her eyes; but instead of
putting it in her pocket, kept it out, and wiped them again, and
still kept it out, ready for use.
'What's amiss, dame?' said Mr. Peggotty.
'Nothing,' returned Mrs. Gummidge. 'You've come from The Willing
Mind, Dan'l?'
'Why yes, I've took a short spell at The Willing Mind tonight,'
said Mr. Peggotty.
'I'm sorry I should drive you there,' said Mrs. Gummidge.
'Drive! I don't want no driving,' returned Mr. Peggotty with an
honest laugh. 'I only go too ready.'
'Very ready,' said Mrs. Gummidge, shaking her head, and wiping her
eyes. 'Yes, yes, very ready. I am sorry it should be along of me
that you're so ready.'
'Along o' you! It an't along o' you!' said Mr. Peggotty. 'Don't
ye believe a bit on it.'
'Yes, yes, it is,' cried Mrs. Gummidge. 'I know what I am. I know
that I am a lone lorn creetur', and not only that everythink goes
contrary with me, but that I go contrary with everybody. Yes, yes.
I feel more than other people do, and I show it more. It's my
I really couldn't help thinking, as I sat taking in all this, that
the misfortune extended to some other members of that family
besides Mrs. Gummidge. But Mr. Peggotty made no such retort, only
answering with another entreaty to Mrs. Gummidge to cheer up.
'I an't what I could wish myself to be,' said Mrs. Gummidge. 'I am
far from it. I know what I am. My troubles has made me contrary.
I feel my troubles, and they make me contrary. I wish I didn't
feel 'em, but I do. I wish I could be hardened to 'em, but I an't.
I make the house uncomfortable. I don't wonder at it. I've made
your sister so all day, and Master Davy.'
Here I was suddenly melted, and roared out, 'No, you haven't, Mrs.
Gummidge,' in great mental distress.
'It's far from right that I should do it,' said Mrs. Gummidge. 'It
an't a fit return. I had better go into the house and die. I am
a lone lorn creetur', and had much better not make myself contrary
here. If thinks must go contrary with me, and I must go contrary
myself, let me go contrary in my parish. Dan'l, I'd better go into
the house, and die and be a riddance!'
Mrs. Gummidge retired with these words, and betook herself to bed.
When she was gone, Mr. Peggotty, who had not exhibited a trace of
any feeling but the profoundest sympathy, looked round upon us, and
nodding his head with a lively expression of that sentiment still
animating his face, said in a whisper:
'She's been thinking of the old 'un!'
I did not quite understand what old one Mrs. Gummidge was supposed
to have fixed her mind upon, until Peggotty, on seeing me to bed,
explained that it was the late Mr. Gummidge; and that her brother
always took that for a received truth on such occasions, and that
it always had a moving effect upon him. Some time after he was in
his hammock that night, I heard him myself repeat to Ham, 'Poor
thing! She's been thinking of the old 'un!' And whenever Mrs.
Gummidge was overcome in a similar manner during the remainder of
our stay (which happened some few times), he always said the same
thing in extenuation of the circumstance, and always with the
tenderest commiseration.
So the fortnight slipped away, varied by nothing but the variation
of the tide, which altered Mr. Peggotty's times of going out and
coming in, and altered Ham's engagements also. When the latter was
unemployed, he sometimes walked with us to show us the boats and
ships, and once or twice he took us for a row. I don't know why
one slight set of impressions should be more particularly
associated with a place than another, though I believe this obtains
with most people, in reference especially to the associations of
their childhood. I never hear the name, or read the name, of
Yarmouth, but I am reminded of a certain Sunday morning on the
beach, the bells ringing for church, little Em'ly leaning on my
shoulder, Ham lazily dropping stones into the water, and the sun,
away at sea, just breaking through the heavy mist, and showing us
the ships, like their own shadows.
At last the day came for going home. I bore up against the
separation from Mr. Peggotty and Mrs. Gummidge, but my agony of
mind at leaving little Em'ly was piercing. We went arm-in-arm to
the public-house where the carrier put up, and I promised, on the
road, to write to her. (I redeemed that promise afterwards, in
characters larger than those in which apartments are usually
announced in manuscript, as being to let.) We were greatly overcome
at parting; and if ever, in my life, I have had a void made in my
heart, I had one made that day.
Now, all the time I had been on my visit, I had been ungrateful to
my home again, and had thought little or nothing about it. But I
was no sooner turned towards it, than my reproachful young
conscience seemed to point that way with a ready finger; and I
felt, all the more for the sinking of my spirits, that it was my
nest, and that my mother was my comforter and friend.
This gained upon me as we went along; so that the nearer we drew,
the more familiar the objects became that we passed, the more
excited I was to get there, and to run into her arms. But
Peggotty, instead of sharing in those transports, tried to check
them (though very kindly), and looked confused and out of sorts.
Blunderstone Rookery would come, however, in spite of her, when the
carrier's horse pleased - and did. How well I recollect it, on a
cold grey afternoon, with a dull sky, threatening rain!
The door opened, and I looked, half laughing and half crying in my
pleasant agitation, for my mother. It was not she, but a strange
'Why, Peggotty!' I said, ruefully, 'isn't she come home?'
'Yes, yes, Master Davy,' said Peggotty. 'She's come home. Wait a
bit, Master Davy, and I'll - I'll tell you something.'
Between her agitation, and her natural awkwardness in getting out
of the cart, Peggotty was making a most extraordinary festoon of
herself, but I felt too blank and strange to tell her so. When she
had got down, she took me by the hand; led me, wondering, into the
kitchen; and shut the door.
'Peggotty!' said I, quite frightened. 'What's the matter?'
'Nothing's the matter, bless you, Master Davy dear!' she answered,
assuming an air of sprightliness.
'Something's the matter, I'm sure. Where's mama?'
'Where's mama, Master Davy?' repeated Peggotty.
'Yes. Why hasn't she come out to the gate, and what have we come
in here for? Oh, Peggotty!' My eyes were full, and I felt as if
I were going to tumble down.
'Bless the precious boy!' cried Peggotty, taking hold of me. 'What
is it? Speak, my pet!'
'Not dead, too! Oh, she's not dead, Peggotty?'
Peggotty cried out No! with an astonishing volume of voice; and
then sat down, and began to pant, and said I had given her a turn.
I gave her a hug to take away the turn, or to give her another turn
in the right direction, and then stood before her, looking at her
in anxious inquiry.
'You see, dear, I should have told you before now,' said Peggotty,
'but I hadn't an opportunity. I ought to have made it, perhaps,
but I couldn't azackly' - that was always the substitute for
exactly, in Peggotty's militia of words - 'bring my mind to it.'
'Go on, Peggotty,' said I, more frightened than before.
'Master Davy,' said Peggotty, untying her bonnet with a shaking
hand, and speaking in a breathless sort of way. 'What do you
think? You have got a Pa!'
I trembled, and turned white. Something - I don't know what, or
how - connected with the grave in the churchyard, and the raising
of the dead, seemed to strike me like an unwholesome wind.
'A new one,' said Peggotty.
'A new one?' I repeated.
Peggotty gave a gasp, as if she were swallowing something that was
very hard, and, putting out her hand, said:
'Come and see him.'
'I don't want to see him.'
- 'And your mama,' said Peggotty.
I ceased to draw back, and we went straight to the best parlour,
where she left me. On one side of the fire, sat my mother; on the
other, Mr. Murdstone. My mother dropped her work, and arose
hurriedly, but timidly I thought.
'Now, Clara my dear,' said Mr. Murdstone. 'Recollect! control
yourself, always control yourself! Davy boy, how do you do?'
I gave him my hand. After a moment of suspense, I went and kissed
my mother: she kissed me, patted me gently on the shoulder, and sat
down again to her work. I could not look at her, I could not look
at him, I knew quite well that he was looking at us both; and I
turned to the window and looked out there, at some shrubs that were
drooping their heads in the cold.
As soon as I could creep away, I crept upstairs. My old dear
bedroom was changed, and I was to lie a long way off. I rambled
downstairs to find anything that was like itself, so altered it all
seemed; and roamed into the yard. I very soon started back from
there, for the empty dog-kennel was filled up with a great dog -
deep mouthed and black-haired like Him - and he was very angry at
the sight of me, and sprang out to get at me.
If the room to which my bed was removed were a sentient thing that
could give evidence, I might appeal to it at this day - who sleeps
there now, I wonder! - to bear witness for me what a heavy heart I
carried to it. I went up there, hearing the dog in the yard bark
after me all the way while I climbed the stairs; and, looking as
blank and strange upon the room as the room looked upon me, sat
down with my small hands crossed, and thought.
I thought of the oddest things. Of the shape of the room, of the
cracks in the ceiling, of the paper on the walls, of the flaws in
the window-glass making ripples and dimples on the prospect, of the
washing-stand being rickety on its three legs, and having a
discontented something about it, which reminded me of Mrs. Gummidge
under the influence of the old one. I was crying all the time,
but, except that I was conscious of being cold and dejected, I am
sure I never thought why I cried. At last in my desolation I began
to consider that I was dreadfully in love with little Em'ly, and
had been torn away from her to come here where no one seemed to
want me, or to care about me, half as much as she did. This made
such a very miserable piece of business of it, that I rolled myself
up in a corner of the counterpane, and cried myself to sleep.
I was awoke by somebody saying 'Here he is!' and uncovering my hot
head. My mother and Peggotty had come to look for me, and it was
one of them who had done it.
'Davy,' said my mother. 'What's the matter?'
I thought it was very strange that she should ask me, and answered,
'Nothing.' I turned over on my face, I recollect, to hide my
trembling lip, which answered her with greater truth.
'Davy,' said my mother. 'Davy, my child!'
I dare say no words she could have uttered would have affected me
so much, then, as her calling me her child. I hid my tears in the
bedclothes, and pressed her from me with my hand, when she would
have raised me up.
'This is your doing, Peggotty, you cruel thing!' said my mother.
'I have no doubt at all about it. How can you reconcile it to your
conscience, I wonder, to prejudice my own boy against me, or
against anybody who is dear to me? What do you mean by it,
Poor Peggotty lifted up her hands and eyes, and only answered, in
a sort of paraphrase of the grace I usually repeated after dinner,
'Lord forgive you, Mrs. Copperfield, and for what you have said
this minute, may you never be truly sorry!'
'It's enough to distract me,' cried my mother. 'In my honeymoon,
too, when my most inveterate enemy might relent, one would think,
and not envy me a little peace of mind and happiness. Davy, you
naughty boy! Peggotty, you savage creature! Oh, dear me!' cried
my mother, turning from one of us to the other, in her pettish
wilful manner, 'what a troublesome world this is, when one has the
most right to expect it to be as agreeable as possible!'
I felt the touch of a hand that I knew was neither hers nor
Peggotty's, and slipped to my feet at the bed-side. It was Mr.
Murdstone's hand, and he kept it on my arm as he said:
'What's this? Clara, my love, have you forgotten? - Firmness, my
'I am very sorry, Edward,' said my mother. 'I meant to be very
good, but I am so uncomfortable.'
'Indeed!' he answered. 'That's a bad hearing, so soon, Clara.'
'I say it's very hard I should be made so now,' returned my mother,
pouting; 'and it is - very hard - isn't it?'
He drew her to him, whispered in her ear, and kissed her. I knew
as well, when I saw my mother's head lean down upon his shoulder,
and her arm touch his neck - I knew as well that he could mould her
pliant nature into any form he chose, as I know, now, that he did
'Go you below, my love,' said Mr. Murdstone. 'David and I will
come down, together. My friend,' turning a darkening face on
Peggotty, when he had watched my mother out, and dismissed her with
a nod and a smile; 'do you know your mistress's name?'
'She has been my mistress a long time, sir,' answered Peggotty, 'I
ought to know it.'
'That's true,' he answered. 'But I thought I heard you, as I came
upstairs, address her by a name that is not hers. She has taken
mine, you know. Will you remember that?'
Peggotty, with some uneasy glances at me, curtseyed herself out of
the room without replying; seeing, I suppose, that she was expected
to go, and had no excuse for remaining. When we two were left
alone, he shut the door, and sitting on a chair, and holding me
standing before him, looked steadily into my eyes. I felt my own
attracted, no less steadily, to his. As I recall our being opposed
thus, face to face, I seem again to hear my heart beat fast and
'David,' he said, making his lips thin, by pressing them together,
'if I have an obstinate horse or dog to deal with, what do you
think I do?'
'I don't know.'
'I beat him.'
I had answered in a kind of breathless whisper, but I felt, in my
silence, that my breath was shorter now.
'I make him wince, and smart. I say to myself, "I'll conquer that
fellow"; and if it were to cost him all the blood he had, I should
do it. What is that upon your face?'
'Dirt,' I said.
He knew it was the mark of tears as well as I. But if he had asked
the question twenty times, each time with twenty blows, I believe
my baby heart would have burst before I would have told him so.
'You have a good deal of intelligence for a little fellow,' he
said, with a grave smile that belonged to him, 'and you understood
me very well, I see. Wash that face, sir, and come down with me.'
He pointed to the washing-stand, which I had made out to be like
Mrs. Gummidge, and motioned me with his head to obey him directly.
I had little doubt then, and I have less doubt now, that he would
have knocked me down without the least compunction, if I had
'Clara, my dear,' he said, when I had done his bidding, and he
walked me into the parlour, with his hand still on my arm; 'you
will not be made uncomfortable any more, I hope. We shall soon
improve our youthful humours.'
God help me, I might have been improved for my whole life, I might
have been made another creature perhaps, for life, by a kind word
at that season. A word of encouragement and explanation, of pity
for my childish ignorance, of welcome home, of reassurance to me
that it was home, might have made me dutiful to him in my heart
henceforth, instead of in my hypocritical outside, and might have
made me respect instead of hate him. I thought my mother was sorry
to see me standing in the room so scared and strange, and that,
presently, when I stole to a chair, she followed me with her eyes
more sorrowfully still - missing, perhaps, some freedom in my
childish tread - but the word was not spoken, and the time for it
was gone.
We dined alone, we three together. He seemed to be very fond of my
mother - I am afraid I liked him none the better for that - and she
was very fond of him. I gathered from what they said, that an
elder sister of his was coming to stay with them, and that she was
expected that evening. I am not certain whether I found out then,
or afterwards, that, without being actively concerned in any
business, he had some share in, or some annual charge upon the
profits of, a wine-merchant's house in London, with which his
family had been connected from his great-grandfather's time, and in
which his sister had a similar interest; but I may mention it in
this place, whether or no.
After dinner, when we were sitting by the fire, and I was
meditating an escape to Peggotty without having the hardihood to
slip away, lest it should offend the master of the house, a coach
drove up to the garden-gate and he went out to receive the visitor.
My mother followed him. I was timidly following her, when she
turned round at the parlour door, in the dusk, and taking me in her
embrace as she had been used to do, whispered me to love my new
father and be obedient to him. She did this hurriedly and
secretly, as if it were wrong, but tenderly; and, putting out her
hand behind her, held mine in it, until we came near to where he
was standing in the garden, where she let mine go, and drew hers
through his arm.
It was Miss Murdstone who was arrived, and a gloomy-looking lady
she was; dark, like her brother, whom she greatly resembled in face
and voice; and with very heavy eyebrows, nearly meeting over her
large nose, as if, being disabled by the wrongs of her sex from
wearing whiskers, she had carried them to that account. She
brought with her two uncompromising hard black boxes, with her
initials on the lids in hard brass nails. When she paid the
coachman she took her money out of a hard steel purse, and she kept
the purse in a very jail of a bag which hung upon her arm by a
heavy chain, and shut up like a bite. I had never, at that time,
seen such a metallic lady altogether as Miss Murdstone was.
She was brought into the parlour with many tokens of welcome, and
there formally recognized my mother as a new and near relation.
Then she looked at me, and said:
'Is that your boy, sister-in-law?'
My mother acknowledged me.
'Generally speaking,' said Miss Murdstone, 'I don't like boys. How
d'ye do, boy?'
Under these encouraging circumstances, I replied that I was very
well, and that I hoped she was the same; with such an indifferent
grace, that Miss Murdstone disposed of me in two words:
'Wants manner!'
Having uttered which, with great distinctness, she begged the
favour of being shown to her room, which became to me from that
time forth a place of awe and dread, wherein the two black boxes
were never seen open or known to be left unlocked, and where (for
I peeped in once or twice when she was out) numerous little steel
fetters and rivets, with which Miss Murdstone embellished herself
when she was dressed, generally hung upon the looking-glass in
formidable array.
As well as I could make out, she had come for good, and had no
intention of ever going again. She began to 'help' my mother next
morning, and was in and out of the store-closet all day, putting
things to rights, and making havoc in the old arrangements. Almost
the first remarkable thing I observed in Miss Murdstone was, her
being constantly haunted by a suspicion that the servants had a man
secreted somewhere on the premises. Under the influence of this
delusion, she dived into the coal-cellar at the most untimely
hours, and scarcely ever opened the door of a dark cupboard without
clapping it to again, in the belief that she had got him.
Though there was nothing very airy about Miss Murdstone, she was a
perfect Lark in point of getting up. She was up (and, as I believe
to this hour, looking for that man) before anybody in the house was
stirring. Peggotty gave it as her opinion that she even slept with
one eye open; but I could not concur in this idea; for I tried it
myself after hearing the suggestion thrown out, and found it
couldn't be done.
On the very first morning after her arrival she was up and ringing
her bell at cock-crow. When my mother came down to breakfast and
was going to make the tea, Miss Murdstone gave her a kind of peck
on the cheek, which was her nearest approach to a kiss, and said:
'Now, Clara, my dear, I am come here, you know, to relieve you of
all the trouble I can. You're much too pretty and thoughtless' -
my mother blushed but laughed, and seemed not to dislike this
character - 'to have any duties imposed upon you that can be
undertaken by me. If you'll be so good as give me your keys, my
dear, I'll attend to all this sort of thing in future.'
From that time, Miss Murdstone kept the keys in her own little jail
all day, and under her pillow all night, and my mother had no more
to do with them than I had.
My mother did not suffer her authority to pass from her without a
shadow of protest. One night when Miss Murdstone had been
developing certain household plans to her brother, of which he
signified his approbation, my mother suddenly began to cry, and
said she thought she might have been consulted.
'Clara!' said Mr. Murdstone sternly. 'Clara! I wonder at you.'
'Oh, it's very well to say you wonder, Edward!' cried my mother,
'and it's very well for you to talk about firmness, but you
wouldn't like it yourself.'
Firmness, I may observe, was the grand quality on which both Mr.
and Miss Murdstone took their stand. However I might have
expressed my comprehension of it at that time, if I had been called
upon, I nevertheless did clearly comprehend in my own way, that it
was another name for tyranny; and for a certain gloomy, arrogant,
devil's humour, that was in them both. The creed, as I should
state it now, was this. Mr. Murdstone was firm; nobody in his
world was to be so firm as Mr. Murdstone; nobody else in his world
was to be firm at all, for everybody was to be bent to his
firmness. Miss Murdstone was an exception. She might be firm, but
only by relationship, and in an inferior and tributary degree. My
mother was another exception. She might be firm, and must be; but
only in bearing their firmness, and firmly believing there was no
other firmness upon earth.
'It's very hard,' said my mother, 'that in my own house -'
'My own house?' repeated Mr. Murdstone. 'Clara!'
'OUR own house, I mean,' faltered my mother, evidently frightened
- 'I hope you must know what I mean, Edward - it's very hard that
in YOUR own house I may not have a word to say about domestic
matters. I am sure I managed very well before we were married.
There's evidence,' said my mother, sobbing; 'ask Peggotty if I
didn't do very well when I wasn't interfered with!'
'Edward,' said Miss Murdstone, 'let there be an end of this. I go
'Jane Murdstone,' said her brother, 'be silent! How dare you to
insinuate that you don't know my character better than your words
'I am sure,' my poor mother went on, at a grievous disadvantage,
and with many tears, 'I don't want anybody to go. I should be very
miserable and unhappy if anybody was to go. I don't ask much. I
am not unreasonable. I only want to be consulted sometimes. I am
very much obliged to anybody who assists me, and I only want to be
consulted as a mere form, sometimes. I thought you were pleased,
once, with my being a little inexperienced and girlish, Edward - I
am sure you said so - but you seem to hate me for it now, you are
so severe.'
'Edward,' said Miss Murdstone, again, 'let there be an end of this.
I go tomorrow.'
'Jane Murdstone,' thundered Mr. Murdstone. 'Will you be silent?
How dare you?'
Miss Murdstone made a jail-delivery of her pocket-handkerchief, and
held it before her eyes.
'Clara,' he continued, looking at my mother, 'you surprise me! You
astound me! Yes, I had a satisfaction in the thought of marrying
an inexperienced and artless person, and forming her character, and
infusing into it some amount of that firmness and decision of which
it stood in need. But when Jane Murdstone is kind enough to come
to my assistance in this endeavour, and to assume, for my sake, a
condition something like a housekeeper's, and when she meets with
a base return -'
'Oh, pray, pray, Edward,' cried my mother, 'don't accuse me of
being ungrateful. I am sure I am not ungrateful. No one ever said
I was before. I have many faults, but not that. Oh, don't, my
'When Jane Murdstone meets, I say,' he went on, after waiting until
my mother was silent, 'with a base return, that feeling of mine is
chilled and altered.'
'Don't, my love, say that!' implored my mother very piteously.
'Oh, don't, Edward! I can't bear to hear it. Whatever I am, I am
affectionate. I know I am affectionate. I wouldn't say it, if I
wasn't sure that I am. Ask Peggotty. I am sure she'll tell you
I'm affectionate.'
'There is no extent of mere weakness, Clara,' said Mr. Murdstone in
reply, 'that can have the least weight with me. You lose breath.'
'Pray let us be friends,' said my mother, 'I couldn't live under
coldness or unkindness. I am so sorry. I have a great many
defects, I know, and it's very good of you, Edward, with your
strength of mind, to endeavour to correct them for me. Jane, I
don't object to anything. I should be quite broken-hearted if you
thought of leaving -' My mother was too much overcome to go on.
'Jane Murdstone,' said Mr. Murdstone to his sister, 'any harsh
words between us are, I hope, uncommon. It is not my fault that so
unusual an occurrence has taken place tonight. I was betrayed into
it by another. Nor is it your fault. You were betrayed into it by
another. Let us both try to forget it. And as this,' he added,
after these magnanimous words, 'is not a fit scene for the boy -
David, go to bed!'
I could hardly find the door, through the tears that stood in my
eyes. I was so sorry for my mother's distress; but I groped my way
out, and groped my way up to my room in the dark, without even
having the heart to say good night to Peggotty, or to get a candle
from her. When her coming up to look for me, an hour or so
afterwards, awoke me, she said that my mother had gone to bed
poorly, and that Mr. and Miss Murdstone were sitting alone.
Going down next morning rather earlier than usual, I paused outside
the parlour door, on hearing my mother's voice. She was very
earnestly and humbly entreating Miss Murdstone's pardon, which that
lady granted, and a perfect reconciliation took place. I never
knew my mother afterwards to give an opinion on any matter, without
first appealing to Miss Murdstone, or without having first
ascertained by some sure means, what Miss Murdstone's opinion was;
and I never saw Miss Murdstone, when out of temper (she was infirm
that way), move her hand towards her bag as if she were going to
take out the keys and offer to resign them to my mother, without
seeing that my mother was in a terrible fright.
The gloomy taint that was in the Murdstone blood, darkened the
Murdstone religion, which was austere and wrathful. I have
thought, since, that its assuming that character was a necessary
consequence of Mr. Murdstone's firmness, which wouldn't allow him
to let anybody off from the utmost weight of the severest penalties
he could find any excuse for. Be this as it may, I well remember
the tremendous visages with which we used to go to church, and the
changed air of the place. Again, the dreaded Sunday comes round,
and I file into the old pew first, like a guarded captive brought
to a condemned service. Again, Miss Murdstone, in a black velvet
gown, that looks as if it had been made out of a pall, follows
close upon me; then my mother; then her husband. There is no
Peggotty now, as in the old time. Again, I listen to Miss
Murdstone mumbling the responses, and emphasizing all the dread
words with a cruel relish. Again, I see her dark eyes roll round
the church when she says 'miserable sinners', as if she were
calling all the congregation names. Again, I catch rare glimpses
of my mother, moving her lips timidly between the two, with one of
them muttering at each ear like low thunder. Again, I wonder with
a sudden fear whether it is likely that our good old clergyman can
be wrong, and Mr. and Miss Murdstone right, and that all the angels
in Heaven can be destroying angels. Again, if I move a finger or
relax a muscle of my face, Miss Murdstone pokes me with her
prayer-book, and makes my side ache.
Yes, and again, as we walk home, I note some neighbours looking at
my mother and at me, and whispering. Again, as the three go on
arm-in-arm, and I linger behind alone, I follow some of those
looks, and wonder if my mother's step be really not so light as I
have seen it, and if the gaiety of her beauty be really almost
worried away. Again, I wonder whether any of the neighbours call
to mind, as I do, how we used to walk home together, she and I; and
I wonder stupidly about that, all the dreary dismal day.
There had been some talk on occasions of my going to boardingschool.
Mr. and Miss Murdstone had originated it, and my mother
had of course agreed with them. Nothing, however, was concluded on
the subject yet. In the meantime, I learnt lessons at home.
Shall I ever forget those lessons! They were presided over
nominally by my mother, but really by Mr. Murdstone and his sister,
who were always present, and found them a favourable occasion for
giving my mother lessons in that miscalled firmness, which was the
bane of both our lives. I believe I was kept at home for that
purpose. I had been apt enough to learn, and willing enough, when
my mother and I had lived alone together. I can faintly remember
learning the alphabet at her knee. To this day, when I look upon
the fat black letters in the primer, the puzzling novelty of their
shapes, and the easy good-nature of O and Q and S, seem to present
themselves again before me as they used to do. But they recall no
feeling of disgust or reluctance. On the contrary, I seem to have
walked along a path of flowers as far as the crocodile-book, and to
have been cheered by the gentleness of my mother's voice and manner
all the way. But these solemn lessons which succeeded those, I
remember as the death-blow of my peace, and a grievous daily
drudgery and misery. They were very long, very numerous, very hard
- perfectly unintelligible, some of them, to me - and I was
generally as much bewildered by them as I believe my poor mother
was herself.
Let me remember how it used to be, and bring one morning back
I come into the second-best parlour after breakfast, with my books,
and an exercise-book, and a slate. My mother is ready for me at
her writing-desk, but not half so ready as Mr. Murdstone in his
easy-chair by the window (though he pretends to be reading a book),
or as Miss Murdstone, sitting near my mother stringing steel beads.
The very sight of these two has such an influence over me, that I
begin to feel the words I have been at infinite pains to get into
my head, all sliding away, and going I don't know where. I wonder
where they do go, by the by?
I hand the first book to my mother. Perhaps it is a grammar,
perhaps a history, or geography. I take a last drowning look at
the page as I give it into her hand, and start off aloud at a
racing pace while I have got it fresh. I trip over a word. Mr.
Murdstone looks up. I trip over another word. Miss Murdstone
looks up. I redden, tumble over half-a-dozen words, and stop. I
think my mother would show me the book if she dared, but she does
not dare, and she says softly:
'Oh, Davy, Davy!'
'Now, Clara,' says Mr. Murdstone, 'be firm with the boy. Don't
say, "Oh, Davy, Davy!" That's childish. He knows his lesson, or
he does not know it.'
'He does NOT know it,' Miss Murdstone interposes awfully.
'I am really afraid he does not,' says my mother.
'Then, you see, Clara,' returns Miss Murdstone, 'you should just
give him the book back, and make him know it.'
'Yes, certainly,' says my mother; 'that is what I intend to do, my
dear Jane. Now, Davy, try once more, and don't be stupid.'
I obey the first clause of the injunction by trying once more, but
am not so successful with the second, for I am very stupid. I
tumble down before I get to the old place, at a point where I was
all right before, and stop to think. But I can't think about the
lesson. I think of the number of yards of net in Miss Murdstone's
cap, or of the price of Mr. Murdstone's dressing-gown, or any such
ridiculous problem that I have no business with, and don't want to
have anything at all to do with. Mr. Murdstone makes a movement of
impatience which I have been expecting for a long time. Miss
Murdstone does the same. My mother glances submissively at them,
shuts the book, and lays it by as an arrear to be worked out when
my other tasks are done.
There is a pile of these arrears very soon, and it swells like a
rolling snowball. The bigger it gets, the more stupid I get. The
case is so hopeless, and I feel that I am wallowing in such a bog
of nonsense, that I give up all idea of getting out, and abandon
myself to my fate. The despairing way in which my mother and I
look at each other, as I blunder on, is truly melancholy. But the
greatest effect in these miserable lessons is when my mother
(thinking nobody is observing her) tries to give me the cue by the
motion of her lips. At that instant, Miss Murdstone, who has been
lying in wait for nothing else all along, says in a deep warning
My mother starts, colours, and smiles faintly. Mr. Murdstone comes
out of his chair, takes the book, throws it at me or boxes my ears
with it, and turns me out of the room by the shoulders.
Even when the lessons are done, the worst is yet to happen, in the
shape of an appalling sum. This is invented for me, and delivered
to me orally by Mr. Murdstone, and begins, 'If I go into a
cheesemonger's shop, and buy five thousand double-Gloucester
cheeses at fourpence-halfpenny each, present payment' - at which I
see Miss Murdstone secretly overjoyed. I pore over these cheeses
without any result or enlightenment until dinner-time, when, having
made a Mulatto of myself by getting the dirt of the slate into the
pores of my skin, I have a slice of bread to help me out with the
cheeses, and am considered in disgrace for the rest of the evening.
It seems to me, at this distance of time, as if my unfortunate
studies generally took this course. I could have done very well if
I had been without the Murdstones; but the influence of the
Murdstones upon me was like the fascination of two snakes on a
wretched young bird. Even when I did get through the morning with
tolerable credit, there was not much gained but dinner; for Miss
Murdstone never could endure to see me untasked, and if I rashly
made any show of being unemployed, called her brother's attention
to me by saying, 'Clara, my dear, there's nothing like work - give
your boy an exercise'; which caused me to be clapped down to some
new labour, there and then. As to any recreation with other
children of my age, I had very little of that; for the gloomy
theology of the Murdstones made all children out to be a swarm of
little vipers (though there WAS a child once set in the midst of
the Disciples), and held that they contaminated one another.
The natural result of this treatment, continued, I suppose, for
some six months or more, was to make me sullen, dull, and dogged.
I was not made the less so by my sense of being daily more and more
shut out and alienated from my mother. I believe I should have
been almost stupefied but for one circumstance.
It was this. My father had left a small collection of books in a
little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my
own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that
blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey
Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas,
and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company.
They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that
place and time, - they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of
the Genii, - and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of
them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it. It is astonishing
to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and
blunderings over heavier themes, to read those books as I did. It
is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my
small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating
my favourite characters in them - as I did - and by putting Mr. and
Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones - which I did too. I have
been Tom Jones (a child's Tom Jones, a harmless creature) for a
week together. I have sustained my own idea of Roderick Random for
a month at a stretch, I verily believe. I had a greedy relish for
a few volumes of Voyages and Travels - I forget what, now - that
were on those shelves; and for days and days I can remember to have
gone about my region of our house, armed with the centre-piece out
of an old set of boot-trees - the perfect realization of Captain
Somebody, of the Royal British Navy, in danger of being beset by
savages, and resolved to sell his life at a great price. The
Captain never lost dignity, from having his ears boxed with the
Latin Grammar. I did; but the Captain was a Captain and a hero, in
despite of all the grammars of all the languages in the world, dead
or alive.
This was my only and my constant comfort. When I think of it, the
picture always rises in my mind, of a summer evening, the boys at
play in the churchyard, and I sitting on my bed, reading as if for
life. Every barn in the neighbourhood, every stone in the church,
and every foot of the churchyard, had some association of its own,
in my mind, connected with these books, and stood for some locality
made famous in them. I have seen Tom Pipes go climbing up the
church-steeple; I have watched Strap, with the knapsack on his
back, stopping to rest himself upon the wicket-gate; and I know
that Commodore Trunnion held that club with Mr. Pickle, in the
parlour of our little village alehouse.
The reader now understands, as well as I do, what I was when I came
to that point of my youthful history to which I am now coming
One morning when I went into the parlour with my books, I found my
mother looking anxious, Miss Murdstone looking firm, and Mr.
Murdstone binding something round the bottom of a cane - a lithe
and limber cane, which he left off binding when I came in, and
poised and switched in the air.
'I tell you, Clara,' said Mr. Murdstone, 'I have been often flogged
'To be sure; of course,' said Miss Murdstone.
'Certainly, my dear Jane,' faltered my mother, meekly. 'But - but
do you think it did Edward good?'
'Do you think it did Edward harm, Clara?' asked Mr. Murdstone,
'That's the point,' said his sister.
To this my mother returned, 'Certainly, my dear Jane,' and said no
I felt apprehensive that I was personally interested in this
dialogue, and sought Mr. Murdstone's eye as it lighted on mine.
'Now, David,' he said - and I saw that cast again as he said it -
'you must be far more careful today than usual.' He gave the cane
another poise, and another switch; and having finished his
preparation of it, laid it down beside him, with an impressive
look, and took up his book.
This was a good freshener to my presence of mind, as a beginning.
I felt the words of my lessons slipping off, not one by one, or
line by line, but by the entire page; I tried to lay hold of them;
but they seemed, if I may so express it, to have put skates on, and
to skim away from me with a smoothness there was no checking.
We began badly, and went on worse. I had come in with an idea of
distinguishing myself rather, conceiving that I was very well
prepared; but it turned out to be quite a mistake. Book after book
was added to the heap of failures, Miss Murdstone being firmly
watchful of us all the time. And when we came at last to the five
thousand cheeses (canes he made it that day, I remember), my mother
burst out crying.
'Clara!' said Miss Murdstone, in her warning voice.
'I am not quite well, my dear Jane, I think,' said my mother.
I saw him wink, solemnly, at his sister, as he rose and said,
taking up the cane:
'Why, Jane, we can hardly expect Clara to bear, with perfect
firmness, the worry and torment that David has occasioned her
today. That would be stoical. Clara is greatly strengthened and
improved, but we can hardly expect so much from her. David, you
and I will go upstairs, boy.'
As he took me out at the door, my mother ran towards us. Miss
Murdstone said, 'Clara! are you a perfect fool?' and interfered.
I saw my mother stop her ears then, and I heard her crying.
He walked me up to my room slowly and gravely - I am certain he had
a delight in that formal parade of executing justice - and when we
got there, suddenly twisted my head under his arm.
'Mr. Murdstone! Sir!' I cried to him. 'Don't! Pray don't beat
me! I have tried to learn, sir, but I can't learn while you and
Miss Murdstone are by. I can't indeed!'
'Can't you, indeed, David?' he said. 'We'll try that.'
He had my head as in a vice, but I twined round him somehow, and
stopped him for a moment, entreating him not to beat me. It was
only a moment that I stopped him, for he cut me heavily an instant
afterwards, and in the same instant I caught the hand with which he
held me in my mouth, between my teeth, and bit it through. It sets
my teeth on edge to think of it.
He beat me then, as if he would have beaten me to death. Above all
the noise we made, I heard them running up the stairs, and crying
out - I heard my mother crying out - and Peggotty. Then he was
gone; and the door was locked outside; and I was lying, fevered and
hot, and torn, and sore, and raging in my puny way, upon the floor.
How well I recollect, when I became quiet, what an unnatural
stillness seemed to reign through the whole house! How well I
remember, when my smart and passion began to cool, how wicked I
began to feel!
I sat listening for a long while, but there was not a sound. I
crawled up from the floor, and saw my face in the glass, so
swollen, red, and ugly that it almost frightened me. My stripes
were sore and stiff, and made me cry afresh, when I moved; but they
were nothing to the guilt I felt. It lay heavier on my breast than
if I had been a most atrocious criminal, I dare say.
It had begun to grow dark, and I had shut the window (I had been
lying, for the most part, with my head upon the sill, by turns
crying, dozing, and looking listlessly out), when the key was
turned, and Miss Murdstone came in with some bread and meat, and
milk. These she put down upon the table without a word, glaring at
me the while with exemplary firmness, and then retired, locking the
door after her.
Long after it was dark I sat there, wondering whether anybody else
would come. When this appeared improbable for that night, I
undressed, and went to bed; and, there, I began to wonder fearfully
what would be done to me. Whether it was a criminal act that I had
committed? Whether I should be taken into custody, and sent to
prison? Whether I was at all in danger of being hanged?
I never shall forget the waking, next morning; the being cheerful
and fresh for the first moment, and then the being weighed down by
the stale and dismal oppression of remembrance. Miss Murdstone
reappeared before I was out of bed; told me, in so many words, that
I was free to walk in the garden for half an hour and no longer;
and retired, leaving the door open, that I might avail myself of
that permission.
I did so, and did so every morning of my imprisonment, which lasted
five days. If I could have seen my mother alone, I should have
gone down on my knees to her and besought her forgiveness; but I
saw no one, Miss Murdstone excepted, during the whole time - except
at evening prayers in the parlour; to which I was escorted by Miss
Murdstone after everybody else was placed; where I was stationed,
a young outlaw, all alone by myself near the door; and whence I was
solemnly conducted by my jailer, before any one arose from the
devotional posture. I only observed that my mother was as far off
from me as she could be, and kept her face another way so that I
never saw it; and that Mr. Murdstone's hand was bound up in a large
linen wrapper.
The length of those five days I can convey no idea of to any one.
They occupy the place of years in my remembrance. The way in which
I listened to all the incidents of the house that made themselves
audible to me; the ringing of bells, the opening and shutting of
doors, the murmuring of voices, the footsteps on the stairs; to any
laughing, whistling, or singing, outside, which seemed more dismal
than anything else to me in my solitude and disgrace - the
uncertain pace of the hours, especially at night, when I would wake
thinking it was morning, and find that the family were not yet gone
to bed, and that all the length of night had yet to come - the
depressed dreams and nightmares I had - the return of day, noon,
afternoon, evening, when the boys played in the churchyard, and I
watched them from a distance within the room, being ashamed to show
myself at the window lest they should know I was a prisoner - the
strange sensation of never hearing myself speak - the fleeting
intervals of something like cheerfulness, which came with eating
and drinking, and went away with it - the setting in of rain one
evening, with a fresh smell, and its coming down faster and faster
between me and the church, until it and gathering night seemed to
quench me in gloom, and fear, and remorse - all this appears to
have gone round and round for years instead of days, it is so
vividly and strongly stamped on my remembrance.
On the last night of my restraint, I was awakened by hearing my own
name spoken in a whisper. I started up in bed, and putting out my
arms in the dark, said:
'Is that you, Peggotty?'
There was no immediate answer, but presently I heard my name again,
in a tone so very mysterious and awful, that I think I should have
gone into a fit, if it had not occurred to me that it must have
come through the keyhole.
I groped my way to the door, and putting my own lips to the
keyhole, whispered: 'Is that you, Peggotty dear?'
'Yes, my own precious Davy,' she replied. 'Be as soft as a mouse,
or the Cat'll hear us.'
I understood this to mean Miss Murdstone, and was sensible of the
urgency of the case; her room being close by.
'How's mama, dear Peggotty? Is she very angry with me?'
I could hear Peggotty crying softly on her side of the keyhole, as
I was doing on mine, before she answered. 'No. Not very.'
'What is going to be done with me, Peggotty dear? Do you know?'
'School. Near London,' was Peggotty's answer. I was obliged to
get her to repeat it, for she spoke it the first time quite down my
throat, in consequence of my having forgotten to take my mouth away
from the keyhole and put my ear there; and though her words tickled
me a good deal, I didn't hear them.
'When, Peggotty?'
'Is that the reason why Miss Murdstone took the clothes out of my
drawers?' which she had done, though I have forgotten to mention
'Yes,' said Peggotty. 'Box.'
'Shan't I see mama?'
'Yes,' said Peggotty. 'Morning.'
Then Peggotty fitted her mouth close to the keyhole, and delivered
these words through it with as much feeling and earnestness as a
keyhole has ever been the medium of communicating, I will venture
to assert: shooting in each broken little sentence in a convulsive
little burst of its own.
'Davy, dear. If I ain't been azackly as intimate with you.
Lately, as I used to be. It ain't because I don't love you. just
as well and more, my pretty poppet. It's because I thought it
better for you. And for someone else besides. Davy, my darling,
are you listening? Can you hear?'
'Ye-ye-ye-yes, Peggotty!' I sobbed.
'My own!' said Peggotty, with infinite compassion. 'What I want to
say, is. That you must never forget me. For I'll never forget
you. And I'll take as much care of your mama, Davy. As ever I
took of you. And I won't leave her. The day may come when she'll
be glad to lay her poor head. On her stupid, cross old Peggotty's
arm again. And I'll write to you, my dear. Though I ain't no
scholar. And I'll - I'll -' Peggotty fell to kissing the keyhole,
as she couldn't kiss me.
'Thank you, dear Peggotty!' said I. 'Oh, thank you! Thank you!
Will you promise me one thing, Peggotty? Will you write and tell
Mr. Peggotty and little Em'ly, and Mrs. Gummidge and Ham, that I am
not so bad as they might suppose, and that I sent 'em all my love
- especially to little Em'ly? Will you, if you please, Peggotty?'
The kind soul promised, and we both of us kissed the keyhole with
the greatest affection - I patted it with my hand, I recollect, as
if it had been her honest face - and parted. From that night there
grew up in my breast a feeling for Peggotty which I cannot very
well define. She did not replace my mother; no one could do that;
but she came into a vacancy in my heart, which closed upon her, and
I felt towards her something I have never felt for any other human
being. It was a sort of comical affection, too; and yet if she had
died, I cannot think what I should have done, or how I should have
acted out the tragedy it would have been to me.
In the morning Miss Murdstone appeared as usual, and told me I was
going to school; which was not altogether such news to me as she
supposed. She also informed me that when I was dressed, I was to
come downstairs into the parlour, and have my breakfast. There, I
found my mother, very pale and with red eyes: into whose arms I
ran, and begged her pardon from my suffering soul.
'Oh, Davy!' she said. 'That you could hurt anyone I love! Try to
be better, pray to be better! I forgive you; but I am so grieved,
Davy, that you should have such bad passions in your heart.'
They had persuaded her that I was a wicked fellow, and she was more
sorry for that than for my going away. I felt it sorely. I tried
to eat my parting breakfast, but my tears dropped upon my breadand-
butter, and trickled into my tea. I saw my mother look at me
sometimes, and then glance at the watchful Miss Murdstone, and than
look down, or look away.
'Master Copperfield's box there!' said Miss Murdstone, when wheels
were heard at the gate.
I looked for Peggotty, but it was not she; neither she nor Mr.
Murdstone appeared. My former acquaintance, the carrier, was at
the door. the box was taken out to his cart, and lifted in.
'Clara!' said Miss Murdstone, in her warning note.
'Ready, my dear Jane,' returned my mother. 'Good-bye, Davy. You
are going for your own good. Good-bye, my child. You will come
home in the holidays, and be a better boy.'
'Clara!' Miss Murdstone repeated.
'Certainly, my dear Jane,' replied my mother, who was holding me.
'I forgive you, my dear boy. God bless you!'
'Clara!' Miss Murdstone repeated.
Miss Murdstone was good enough to take me out to the cart, and to
say on the way that she hoped I would repent, before I came to a
bad end; and then I got into the cart, and the lazy horse walked
off with it.
We might have gone about half a mile, and my pocket-handkerchief
was quite wet through, when the carrier stopped short. Looking out
to ascertain for what, I saw, to MY amazement, Peggotty burst from
a hedge and climb into the cart. She took me in both her arms, and
squeezed me to her stays until the pressure on my nose was
extremely painful, though I never thought of that till afterwards
when I found it very tender. Not a single word did Peggotty speak.
Releasing one of her arms, she put it down in her pocket to the
elbow, and brought out some paper bags of cakes which she crammed
into my pockets, and a purse which she put into my hand, but not
one word did she say. After another and a final squeeze with both
arms, she got down from the cart and ran away; and, my belief is,
and has always been, without a solitary button on her gown. I
picked up one, of several that were rolling about, and treasured it
as a keepsake for a long time.
The carrier looked at me, as if to inquire if she were coming back.
I shook my head, and said I thought not. 'Then come up,' said the
carrier to the lazy horse; who came up accordingly.
Having by this time cried as much as I possibly could, I began to
think it was of no use crying any more, especially as neither
Roderick Random, nor that Captain in the Royal British Navy, had
ever cried, that I could remember, in trying situations. The
carrier, seeing me in this resolution, proposed that my pockethandkerchief
should be spread upon the horse's back to dry. I
thanked him, and assented; and particularly small it looked, under
those circumstances.
I had now leisure to examine the purse. It was a stiff leather
purse, with a snap, and had three bright shillings in it, which
Peggotty had evidently polished up with whitening, for my greater
delight. But its most precious contents were two half-crowns
folded together in a bit of paper, on which was written, in my
mother's hand, 'For Davy. With my love.' I was so overcome by
this, that I asked the carrier to be so good as to reach me my
pocket-handkerchief again; but he said he thought I had better do
without it, and I thought I really had, so I wiped my eyes on my
sleeve and stopped myself.
For good, too; though, in consequence of my previous emotions, I
was still occasionally seized with a stormy sob. After we had
jogged on for some little time, I asked the carrier if he was going
all the way.
'All the way where?' inquired the carrier.
'There,' I said.
'Where's there?' inquired the carrier.
'Near London,' I said.
'Why that horse,' said the carrier, jerking the rein to point him
out, 'would be deader than pork afore he got over half the ground.'
'Are you only going to Yarmouth then?' I asked.
'That's about it,' said the carrier. 'And there I shall take you
to the stage-cutch, and the stage-cutch that'll take you to -
wherever it is.'
As this was a great deal for the carrier (whose name was Mr.
Barkis) to say - he being, as I observed in a former chapter, of a
phlegmatic temperament, and not at all conversational - I offered
him a cake as a mark of attention, which he ate at one gulp,
exactly like an elephant, and which made no more impression on his
big face than it would have done on an elephant's.
'Did SHE make 'em, now?' said Mr. Barkis, always leaning forward,
in his slouching way, on the footboard of the cart with an arm on
each knee.
'Peggotty, do you mean, sir?'
'Ah!' said Mr. Barkis. 'Her.'
'Yes. She makes all our pastry, and does all our cooking.'
'Do she though?' said Mr. Barkis.
He made up his mouth as if to whistle, but he didn't whistle. He
sat looking at the horse's ears, as if he saw something new there;
and sat so, for a considerable time. By and by, he said:
'No sweethearts, I b'lieve?'
'Sweetmeats did you say, Mr. Barkis?' For I thought he wanted
something else to eat, and had pointedly alluded to that
description of refreshment.
'Hearts,' said Mr. Barkis. 'Sweet hearts; no person walks with
'With Peggotty?'
'Ah!' he said. 'Her.'
'Oh, no. She never had a sweetheart.'
'Didn't she, though!' said Mr. Barkis.
Again he made up his mouth to whistle, and again he didn't whistle,
but sat looking at the horse's ears.
'So she makes,' said Mr. Barkis, after a long interval of
reflection, 'all the apple parsties, and doos all the cooking, do
I replied that such was the fact.
'Well. I'll tell you what,' said Mr. Barkis. 'P'raps you might be
writin' to her?'
'I shall certainly write to her,' I rejoined.
'Ah!' he said, slowly turning his eyes towards me. 'Well! If you
was writin' to her, p'raps you'd recollect to say that Barkis was
willin'; would you?'
'That Barkis is willing,' I repeated, innocently. 'Is that all the
'Ye-es,' he said, considering. 'Ye-es. Barkis is willin'.'
'But you will be at Blunderstone again tomorrow, Mr. Barkis,' I
said, faltering a little at the idea of my being far away from it
then, and could give your own message so much better.'
As he repudiated this suggestion, however, with a jerk of his head,
and once more confirmed his previous request by saying, with
profound gravity, 'Barkis is willin'. That's the message,' I
readily undertook its transmission. While I was waiting for the
coach in the hotel at Yarmouth that very afternoon, I procured a
sheet of paper and an inkstand, and wrote a note to Peggotty, which
ran thus: 'My dear Peggotty. I have come here safe. Barkis is
willing. My love to mama. Yours affectionately. P.S. He says he
particularly wants you to know - BARKIS IS WILLING.'
When I had taken this commission on myself prospectively, Mr.
Barkis relapsed into perfect silence; and I, feeling quite worn out
by all that had happened lately, lay down on a sack in the cart and
fell asleep. I slept soundly until we got to Yarmouth; which was
so entirely new and strange to me in the inn-yard to which we
drove, that I at once abandoned a latent hope I had had of meeting
with some of Mr. Peggotty's family there, perhaps even with little
Em'ly herself.
The coach was in the yard, shining very much all over, but without
any horses to it as yet; and it looked in that state as if nothing
was more unlikely than its ever going to London. I was thinking
this, and wondering what would ultimately become of my box, which
Mr. Barkis had put down on the yard-pavement by the pole (he having
driven up the yard to turn his cart), and also what would
ultimately become of me, when a lady looked out of a bow-window
where some fowls and joints of meat were hanging up, and said:
'Is that the little gentleman from Blunderstone?'
'Yes, ma'am,' I said.
'What name?' inquired the lady.
'Copperfield, ma'am,' I said.
'That won't do,' returned the lady. 'Nobody's dinner is paid for
here, in that name.'
'Is it Murdstone, ma'am?' I said.
'If you're Master Murdstone,' said the lady, 'why do you go and
give another name, first?'
I explained to the lady how it was, who than rang a bell, and
called out, 'William! show the coffee-room!' upon which a waiter
came running out of a kitchen on the opposite side of the yard to
show it, and seemed a good deal surprised when he was only to show
it to me.
It was a large long room with some large maps in it. I doubt if I
could have felt much stranger if the maps had been real foreign
countries, and I cast away in the middle of them. I felt it was
taking a liberty to sit down, with my cap in my hand, on the corner
of the chair nearest the door; and when the waiter laid a cloth on
purpose for me, and put a set of castors on it, I think I must have
turned red all over with modesty.
He brought me some chops, and vegetables, and took the covers off
in such a bouncing manner that I was afraid I must have given him
some offence. But he greatly relieved my mind by putting a chair
for me at the table, and saying, very affably, 'Now, six-foot! come
I thanked him, and took my seat at the board; but found it
extremely difficult to handle my knife and fork with anything like
dexterity, or to avoid splashing myself with the gravy, while he
was standing opposite, staring so hard, and making me blush in the
most dreadful manner every time I caught his eye. After watching
me into the second chop, he said:
'There's half a pint of ale for you. Will you have it now?'
I thanked him and said, 'Yes.' Upon which he poured it out of a
jug into a large tumbler, and held it up against the light, and
made it look beautiful.
'My eye!' he said. 'It seems a good deal, don't it?'
'It does seem a good deal,' I answered with a smile. For it was
quite delightful to me, to find him so pleasant. He was a
twinkling-eyed, pimple-faced man, with his hair standing upright
all over his head; and as he stood with one arm a-kimbo, holding up
the glass to the light with the other hand, he looked quite
'There was a gentleman here, yesterday,' he said - 'a stout
gentleman, by the name of Topsawyer - perhaps you know him?'
'No,' I said, 'I don't think -'
'In breeches and gaiters, broad-brimmed hat, grey coat, speckled
choker,' said the waiter.
'No,' I said bashfully, 'I haven't the pleasure -'
'He came in here,' said the waiter, looking at the light through
the tumbler, 'ordered a glass of this ale - WOULD order it - I told
him not - drank it, and fell dead. It was too old for him. It
oughtn't to be drawn; that's the fact.'
I was very much shocked to hear of this melancholy accident, and
said I thought I had better have some water.
'Why you see,' said the waiter, still looking at the light through
the tumbler, with one of his eyes shut up, 'our people don't like
things being ordered and left. It offends 'em. But I'll drink it,
if you like. I'm used to it, and use is everything. I don't think
it'll hurt me, if I throw my head back, and take it off quick.
Shall I?'
I replied that he would much oblige me by drinking it, if he
thought he could do it safely, but by no means otherwise. When he
did throw his head back, and take it off quick, I had a horrible
fear, I confess, of seeing him meet the fate of the lamented Mr.
Topsawyer, and fall lifeless on the carpet. But it didn't hurt
him. On the contrary, I thought he seemed the fresher for it.
'What have we got here?' he said, putting a fork into my dish.
'Not chops?'
'Chops,' I said.
'Lord bless my soul!' he exclaimed, 'I didn't know they were chops.
Why, a chop's the very thing to take off the bad effects of that
beer! Ain't it lucky?'
So he took a chop by the bone in one hand, and a potato in the
other, and ate away with a very good appetite, to my extreme
satisfaction. He afterwards took another chop, and another potato;
and after that, another chop and another potato. When we had done,
he brought me a pudding, and having set it before me, seemed to
ruminate, and to become absent in his mind for some moments.
'How's the pie?' he said, rousing himself.
'It's a pudding,' I made answer.
'Pudding!' he exclaimed. 'Why, bless me, so it is! What!' looking
at it nearer. 'You don't mean to say it's a batter-pudding!'
'Yes, it is indeed.'
'Why, a batter-pudding,' he said, taking up a table-spoon, 'is my
favourite pudding! Ain't that lucky? Come on, little 'un, and
let's see who'll get most.'
The waiter certainly got most. He entreated me more than once to
come in and win, but what with his table-spoon to my tea-spoon, his
dispatch to my dispatch, and his appetite to my appetite, I was
left far behind at the first mouthful, and had no chance with him.
I never saw anyone enjoy a pudding so much, I think; and he
laughed, when it was all gone, as if his enjoyment of it lasted
Finding him so very friendly and companionable, it was then that I
asked for the pen and ink and paper, to write to Peggotty. He not
only brought it immediately, but was good enough to look over me
while I wrote the letter. When I had finished it, he asked me
where I was going to school.
I said, 'Near London,' which was all I knew.
'Oh! my eye!' he said, looking very low-spirited, 'I am sorry for
'Why?' I asked him.
'Oh, Lord!' he said, shaking his head, 'that's the school where
they broke the boy's ribs - two ribs - a little boy he was. I
should say he was - let me see - how old are you, about?'
I told him between eight and nine.
'That's just his age,' he said. 'He was eight years and six months
old when they broke his first rib; eight years and eight months old
when they broke his second, and did for him.'
I could not disguise from myself, or from the waiter, that this was
an uncomfortable coincidence, and inquired how it was done. His
answer was not cheering to my spirits, for it consisted of two
dismal words, 'With whopping.'
The blowing of the coach-horn in the yard was a seasonable
diversion, which made me get up and hesitatingly inquire, in the
mingled pride and diffidence of having a purse (which I took out of
my pocket), if there were anything to pay.
'There's a sheet of letter-paper,' he returned. 'Did you ever buy
a sheet of letter-paper?'
I could not remember that I ever had.
'It's dear,' he said, 'on account of the duty. Threepence. That's
the way we're taxed in this country. There's nothing else, except
the waiter. Never mind the ink. I lose by that.'
'What should you - what should I - how much ought I to - what would
it be right to pay the waiter, if you please?' I stammered,
'If I hadn't a family, and that family hadn't the cowpock,' said
the waiter, 'I wouldn't take a sixpence. If I didn't support a
aged pairint, and a lovely sister,' - here the waiter was greatly
agitated - 'I wouldn't take a farthing. If I had a good place, and
was treated well here, I should beg acceptance of a trifle, instead
of taking of it. But I live on broken wittles - and I sleep on the
coals' - here the waiter burst into tears.
I was very much concerned for his misfortunes, and felt that any
recognition short of ninepence would be mere brutality and hardness
of heart. Therefore I gave him one of my three bright shillings,
which he received with much humility and veneration, and spun up
with his thumb, directly afterwards, to try the goodness of.
It was a little disconcerting to me, to find, when I was being
helped up behind the coach, that I was supposed to have eaten all
the dinner without any assistance. I discovered this, from
overhearing the lady in the bow-window say to the guard, 'Take care
of that child, George, or he'll burst!' and from observing that the
women-servants who were about the place came out to look and giggle
at me as a young phenomenon. My unfortunate friend the waiter, who
had quite recovered his spirits, did not appear to be disturbed by
this, but joined in the general admiration without being at all
confused. If I had any doubt of him, I suppose this half awakened
it; but I am inclined to believe that with the simple confidence of
a child, and the natural reliance of a child upon superior years
(qualities I am very sorry any children should prematurely change
for worldly wisdom), I had no serious mistrust of him on the whole,
even then.
I felt it rather hard, I must own, to be made, without deserving
it, the subject of jokes between the coachman and guard as to the
coach drawing heavy behind, on account of my sitting there, and as
to the greater expediency of my travelling by waggon. The story of
my supposed appetite getting wind among the outside passengers,
they were merry upon it likewise; and asked me whether I was going
to be paid for, at school, as two brothers or three, and whether I
was contracted for, or went upon the regular terms; with other
pleasant questions. But the worst of it was, that I knew I should
be ashamed to eat anything, when an opportunity offered, and that,
after a rather light dinner, I should remain hungry all night - for
I had left my cakes behind, at the hotel, in my hurry. My
apprehensions were realized. When we stopped for supper I couldn't
muster courage to take any, though I should have liked it very
much, but sat by the fire and said I didn't want anything. This
did not save me from more jokes, either; for a husky-voiced
gentleman with a rough face, who had been eating out of a
sandwich-box nearly all the way, except when he had been drinking
out of a bottle, said I was like a boa-constrictor who took enough
at one meal to last him a long time; after which, he actually
brought a rash out upon himself with boiled beef.
We had started from Yarmouth at three o'clock in the afternoon, and
we were due in London about eight next morning. It was Mid-summer
weather, and the evening was very pleasant. When we passed through
a village, I pictured to myself what the insides of the houses were
like, and what the inhabitants were about; and when boys came
running after us, and got up behind and swung there for a little
way, I wondered whether their fathers were alive, and whether they
Were happy at home. I had plenty to think of, therefore, besides
my mind running continually on the kind of place I was going to -
which was an awful speculation. Sometimes, I remember, I resigned
myself to thoughts of home and Peggotty; and to endeavouring, in a
confused blind way, to recall how I had felt, and what sort of boy
I used to be, before I bit Mr. Murdstone: which I couldn't satisfy
myself about by any means, I seemed to have bitten him in such a
remote antiquity.
The night was not so pleasant as the evening, for it got chilly;
and being put between two gentlemen (the rough-faced one and
another) to prevent my tumbling off the coach, I was nearly
smothered by their falling asleep, and completely blocking me up.
They squeezed me so hard sometimes, that I could not help crying
out, 'Oh! If you please!' - which they didn't like at all, because
it woke them. Opposite me was an elderly lady in a great fur
cloak, who looked in the dark more like a haystack than a lady, she
was wrapped up to such a degree. This lady had a basket with her,
and she hadn't known what to do with it, for a long time, until she
found that on account of my legs being short, it could go
underneath me. It cramped and hurt me so, that it made me
perfectly miserable; but if I moved in the least, and made a glass
that was in the basket rattle against something else (as it was
sure to do), she gave me the cruellest poke with her foot, and
said, 'Come, don't YOU fidget. YOUR bones are young enough, I'm
At last the sun rose, and then my companions seemed to sleep
easier. The difficulties under which they had laboured all night,
and which had found utterance in the most terrific gasps and
snorts, are not to be conceived. As the sun got higher, their
sleep became lighter, and so they gradually one by one awoke. I
recollect being very much surprised by the feint everybody made,
then, of not having been to sleep at all, and by the uncommon
indignation with which everyone repelled the charge. I labour
under the same kind of astonishment to this day, having invariably
observed that of all human weaknesses, the one to which our common
nature is the least disposed to confess (I cannot imagine why) is
the weakness of having gone to sleep in a coach.
What an amazing place London was to me when I saw it in the
distance, and how I believed all the adventures of all my favourite
heroes to be constantly enacting and re-enacting there, and how I
vaguely made it out in my own mind to be fuller of wonders and
wickedness than all the cities of the earth, I need not stop here
to relate. We approached it by degrees, and got, in due time, to
the inn in the Whitechapel district, for which we were bound. I
forget whether it was the Blue Bull, or the Blue Boar; but I know
it was the Blue Something, and that its likeness was painted up on
the back of the coach.
The guard's eye lighted on me as he was getting down, and he said
at the booking-office door:
'Is there anybody here for a yoongster booked in the name of
Murdstone, from Bloonderstone, Sooffolk, to be left till called
Nobody answered.
'Try Copperfield, if you please, sir,' said I, looking helplessly
'Is there anybody here for a yoongster, booked in the name of
Murdstone, from Bloonderstone, Sooffolk, but owning to the name of
Copperfield, to be left till called for?' said the guard. 'Come!
IS there anybody?'
No. There was nobody. I looked anxiously around; but the inquiry
made no impression on any of the bystanders, if I except a man in
gaiters, with one eye, who suggested that they had better put a
brass collar round my neck, and tie me up in the stable.
A ladder was brought, and I got down after the lady, who was like
a haystack: not daring to stir, until her basket was removed. The
coach was clear of passengers by that time, the luggage was very
soon cleared out, the horses had been taken out before the luggage,
and now the coach itself was wheeled and backed off by some
hostlers, out of the way. Still, nobody appeared, to claim the
dusty youngster from Blunderstone, Suffolk.
More solitary than Robinson Crusoe, who had nobody to look at him
and see that he was solitary, I went into the booking-office, and,
by invitation of the clerk on duty, passed behind the counter, and
sat down on the scale at which they weighed the luggage. Here, as
I sat looking at the parcels, packages, and books, and inhaling the
smell of stables (ever since associated with that morning), a
procession of most tremendous considerations began to march through
my mind. Supposing nobody should ever fetch me, how long would
they consent to keep me there? Would they keep me long enough to
spend seven shillings? Should I sleep at night in one of those
wooden bins, with the other luggage, and wash myself at the pump in
the yard in the morning; or should I be turned out every night, and
expected to come again to be left till called for, when the office
opened next day? Supposing there was no mistake in the case, and
Mr. Murdstone had devised this plan to get rid of me, what should
I do? If they allowed me to remain there until my seven shillings
were spent, I couldn't hope to remain there when I began to starve.
That would obviously be inconvenient and unpleasant to the
customers, besides entailing on the Blue Whatever-it-was, the risk
of funeral expenses. If I started off at once, and tried to walk
back home, how could I ever find my way, how could I ever hope to
walk so far, how could I make sure of anyone but Peggotty, even if
I got back? If I found out the nearest proper authorities, and
offered myself to go for a soldier, or a sailor, I was such a
little fellow that it was most likely they wouldn't take me in.
These thoughts, and a hundred other such thoughts, turned me
burning hot, and made me giddy with apprehension and dismay. I was
in the height of my fever when a man entered and whispered to the
clerk, who presently slanted me off the scale, and pushed me over
to him, as if I were weighed, bought, delivered, and paid for.
As I went out of the office, hand in hand with this new
acquaintance, I stole a look at him. He was a gaunt, sallow young
man, with hollow cheeks, and a chin almost as black as Mr.
Murdstone's; but there the likeness ended, for his whiskers were
shaved off, and his hair, instead of being glossy, was rusty and
dry. He was dressed in a suit of black clothes which were rather
rusty and dry too, and rather short in the sleeves and legs; and he
had a white neck-kerchief on, that was not over-clean. I did not,
and do not, suppose that this neck-kerchief was all the linen he
wore, but it was all he showed or gave any hint of.
'You're the new boy?' he said.
'Yes, sir,' I said.
I supposed I was. I didn't know.
'I'm one of the masters at Salem House,' he said.
I made him a bow and felt very much overawed. I was so ashamed to
allude to a commonplace thing like my box, to a scholar and a
master at Salem House, that we had gone some little distance from
the yard before I had the hardihood to mention it. We turned back,
on my humbly insinuating that it might be useful to me hereafter;
and he told the clerk that the carrier had instructions to call for
it at noon.
'If you please, sir,' I said, when we had accomplished about the
same distance as before, 'is it far?'
'It's down by Blackheath,' he said.
'Is that far, sir?' I diffidently asked.
'It's a good step,' he said. 'We shall go by the stage-coach.
It's about six miles.'
I was so faint and tired, that the idea of holding out for six
miles more, was too much for me. I took heart to tell him that I
had had nothing all night, and that if he would allow me to buy
something to eat, I should be very much obliged to him. He
appeared surprised at this - I see him stop and look at me now -
and after considering for a few moments, said he wanted to call on
an old person who lived not far off, and that the best way would be
for me to buy some bread, or whatever I liked best that was
wholesome, and make my breakfast at her house, where we could get
some milk.
Accordingly we looked in at a baker's window, and after I had made
a series of proposals to buy everything that was bilious in the
shop, and he had rejected them one by one, we decided in favour of
a nice little loaf of brown bread, which cost me threepence. Then,
at a grocer's shop, we bought an egg and a slice of streaky bacon;
which still left what I thought a good deal of change, out of the
second of the bright shillings, and made me consider London a very
cheap place. These provisions laid in, we went on through a great
noise and uproar that confused my weary head beyond description,
and over a bridge which, no doubt, was London Bridge (indeed I
think he told me so, but I was half asleep), until we came to the
poor person's house, which was a part of some alms-houses, as I
knew by their look, and by an inscription on a stone over the gate
which said they were established for twenty-five poor women.
The Master at Salem House lifted the latch of one of a number of
little black doors that were all alike, and had each a little
diamond-paned window on one side, and another little diamond- paned
window above; and we went into the little house of one of these
poor old women, who was blowing a fire to make a little saucepan
boil. On seeing the master enter, the old woman stopped with the
bellows on her knee, and said something that I thought sounded like
'My Charley!' but on seeing me come in too, she got up, and rubbing
her hands made a confused sort of half curtsey.
'Can you cook this young gentleman's breakfast for him, if you
please?' said the Master at Salem House.
'Can I?' said the old woman. 'Yes can I, sure!'
'How's Mrs. Fibbitson today?' said the Master, looking at another
old woman in a large chair by the fire, who was such a bundle of
clothes that I feel grateful to this hour for not having sat upon
her by mistake.
'Ah, she's poorly,' said the first old woman. 'It's one of her bad
days. If the fire was to go out, through any accident, I verily
believe she'd go out too, and never come to life again.'
As they looked at her, I looked at her also. Although it was a
warm day, she seemed to think of nothing but the fire. I fancied
she was jealous even of the saucepan on it; and I have reason to
know that she took its impressment into the service of boiling my
egg and broiling my bacon, in dudgeon; for I saw her, with my own
discomfited eyes, shake her fist at me once, when those culinary
operations were going on, and no one else was looking. The sun
streamed in at the little window, but she sat with her own back and
the back of the large chair towards it, screening the fire as if
she were sedulously keeping IT warm, instead of it keeping her
warm, and watching it in a most distrustful manner. The completion
of the preparations for my breakfast, by relieving the fire, gave
her such extreme joy that she laughed aloud - and a very
unmelodious laugh she had, I must say.
I sat down to my brown loaf, my egg, and my rasher of bacon, with
a basin of milk besides, and made a most delicious meal. While I
was yet in the full enjoyment of it, the old woman of the house
said to the Master:
'Have you got your flute with you?'
'Yes,' he returned.
'Have a blow at it,' said the old woman, coaxingly. 'Do!'
The Master, upon this, put his hand underneath the skirts of his
coat, and brought out his flute in three pieces, which he screwed
together, and began immediately to play. My impression is, after
many years of consideration, that there never can have been anybody
in the world who played worse. He made the most dismal sounds I
have ever heard produced by any means, natural or artificial. I
don't know what the tunes were - if there were such things in the
performance at all, which I doubt - but the influence of the strain
upon me was, first, to make me think of all my sorrows until I
could hardly keep my tears back; then to take away my appetite; and
lastly, to make me so sleepy that I couldn't keep my eyes open.
They begin to close again, and I begin to nod, as the recollection
rises fresh upon me. Once more the little room, with its open
corner cupboard, and its square-backed chairs, and its angular
little staircase leading to the room above, and its three peacock's
feathers displayed over the mantelpiece - I remember wondering when
I first went in, what that peacock would have thought if he had
known what his finery was doomed to come to - fades from before me,
and I nod, and sleep. The flute becomes inaudible, the wheels of
the coach are heard instead, and I am on my journey. The coach
jolts, I wake with a start, and the flute has come back again, and
the Master at Salem House is sitting with his legs crossed, playing
it dolefully, while the old woman of the house looks on delighted.
She fades in her turn, and he fades, and all fades, and there is no
flute, no Master, no Salem House, no David Copperfield, no anything
but heavy sleep.
I dreamed, I thought, that once while he was blowing into this
dismal flute, the old woman of the house, who had gone nearer and
nearer to him in her ecstatic admiration, leaned over the back of
his chair and gave him an affectionate squeeze round the neck,
which stopped his playing for a moment. I was in the middle state
between sleeping and waking, either then or immediately afterwards;
for, as he resumed - it was a real fact that he had stopped playing
- I saw and heard the same old woman ask Mrs. Fibbitson if it
wasn't delicious (meaning the flute), to which Mrs. Fibbitson
replied, 'Ay, ay! yes!' and nodded at the fire: to which, I am
persuaded, she gave the credit of the whole performance.
When I seemed to have been dozing a long while, the Master at Salem
House unscrewed his flute into the three pieces, put them up as
before, and took me away. We found the coach very near at hand,
and got upon the roof; but I was so dead sleepy, that when we
stopped on the road to take up somebody else, they put me inside
where there were no passengers, and where I slept profoundly, until
I found the coach going at a footpace up a steep hill among green
leaves. Presently, it stopped, and had come to its destination.
A short walk brought us - I mean the Master and me - to Salem
House, which was enclosed with a high brick wall, and looked very
dull. Over a door in this wall was a board with SALEM HousE upon
it; and through a grating in this door we were surveyed when we
rang the bell by a surly face, which I found, on the door being
opened, belonged to a stout man with a bull-neck, a wooden leg,
overhanging temples, and his hair cut close all round his head.
'The new boy,' said the Master.
The man with the wooden leg eyed me all over - it didn't take long,
for there was not much of me - and locked the gate behind us, and
took out the key. We were going up to the house, among some dark
heavy trees, when he called after my conductor.
We looked back, and he was standing at the door of a little lodge,
where he lived, with a pair of boots in his hand.
'Here! The cobbler's been,' he said, 'since you've been out, Mr.
Mell, and he says he can't mend 'em any more. He says there ain't
a bit of the original boot left, and he wonders you expect it.'
With these words he threw the boots towards Mr. Mell, who went back
a few paces to pick them up, and looked at them (very
disconsolately, I was afraid), as we went on together. I observed
then, for the first time, that the boots he had on were a good deal
the worse for wear, and that his stocking was just breaking out in
one place, like a bud.
Salem House was a square brick building with wings; of a bare and
unfurnished appearance. All about it was so very quiet, that I
said to Mr. Mell I supposed the boys were out; but he seemed
surprised at my not knowing that it was holiday-time. That all the
boys were at their several homes. That Mr. Creakle, the
proprietor, was down by the sea-side with Mrs. and Miss Creakle;
and that I was sent in holiday-time as a punishment for my
misdoing, all of which he explained to me as we went along.
I gazed upon the schoolroom into which he took me, as the most
forlorn and desolate place I had ever seen. I see it now. A long
room with three long rows of desks, and six of forms, and bristling
all round with pegs for hats and slates. Scraps of old copy-books
and exercises litter the dirty floor. Some silkworms' houses, made
of the same materials, are scattered over the desks. Two miserable
little white mice, left behind by their owner, are running up and
down in a fusty castle made of pasteboard and wire, looking in all
the corners with their red eyes for anything to eat. A bird, in a
cage very little bigger than himself, makes a mournful rattle now
and then in hopping on his perch, two inches high, or dropping from
it; but neither sings nor chirps. There is a strange unwholesome
smell upon the room, like mildewed corduroys, sweet apples wanting
air, and rotten books. There could not well be more ink splashed
about it, if it had been roofless from its first construction, and
the skies had rained, snowed, hailed, and blown ink through the
varying seasons of the year.
Mr. Mell having left me while he took his irreparable boots
upstairs, I went softly to the upper end of the room, observing all
this as I crept along. Suddenly I came upon a pasteboard placard,
beautifully written, which was lying on the desk, and bore these
I got upon the desk immediately, apprehensive of at least a great
dog underneath. But, though I looked all round with anxious eyes,
I could see nothing of him. I was still engaged in peering about,
when Mr. Mell came back, and asked me what I did up there?
'I beg your pardon, sir,' says I, 'if you please, I'm looking for
the dog.'
'Dog?' he says. 'What dog?'
'Isn't it a dog, sir?'
'Isn't what a dog?'
'That's to be taken care of, sir; that bites.'
'No, Copperfield,' says he, gravely, 'that's not a dog. That's a
boy. My instructions are, Copperfield, to put this placard on your
back. I am sorry to make such a beginning with you, but I must do
it.' With that he took me down, and tied the placard, which was
neatly constructed for the purpose, on my shoulders like a
knapsack; and wherever I went, afterwards, I had the consolation of
carrying it.
What I suffered from that placard, nobody can imagine. Whether it
was possible for people to see me or not, I always fancied that
somebody was reading it. It was no relief to turn round and find
nobody; for wherever my back was, there I imagined somebody always
to be. That cruel man with the wooden leg aggravated my
sufferings. He was in authority; and if he ever saw me leaning
against a tree, or a wall, or the house, he roared out from his
lodge door in a stupendous voice, 'Hallo, you sir! You
Copperfield! Show that badge conspicuous, or I'll report you!'
The playground was a bare gravelled yard, open to all the back of
the house and the offices; and I knew that the servants read it,
and the butcher read it, and the baker read it; that everybody, in
a word, who came backwards and forwards to the house, of a morning
when I was ordered to walk there, read that I was to be taken care
of, for I bit, I recollect that I positively began to have a dread
of myself, as a kind of wild boy who did bite.
There was an old door in this playground, on which the boys had a
custom of carving their names. It was completely covered with such
inscriptions. In my dread of the end of the vacation and their
coming back, I could not read a boy's name, without inquiring in
what tone and with what emphasis HE would read, 'Take care of him.
He bites.' There was one boy - a certain J. Steerforth - who cut
his name very deep and very often, who, I conceived, would read it
in a rather strong voice, and afterwards pull my hair. There was
another boy, one Tommy Traddles, who I dreaded would make game of
it, and pretend to be dreadfully frightened of me. There was a
third, George Demple, who I fancied would sing it. I have looked,
a little shrinking creature, at that door, until the owners of all
the names - there were five-and-forty of them in the school then,
Mr. Mell said - seemed to send me to Coventry by general
acclamation, and to cry out, each in his own way, 'Take care of
him. He bites!'
It was the same with the places at the desks and forms. It was the
same with the groves of deserted bedsteads I peeped at, on my way
to, and when I was in, my own bed. I remember dreaming night after
night, of being with my mother as she used to be, or of going to a
party at Mr. Peggotty's, or of travelling outside the stage-coach,
or of dining again with my unfortunate friend the waiter, and in
all these circumstances making people scream and stare, by the
unhappy disclosure that I had nothing on but my little night-shirt,
and that placard.
In the monotony of my life, and in my constant apprehension of the
re-opening of the school, it was such an insupportable affliction!
I had long tasks every day to do with Mr. Mell; but I did them,
there being no Mr. and Miss Murdstone here, and got through them
without disgrace. Before, and after them, I walked about -
supervised, as I have mentioned, by the man with the wooden leg.
How vividly I call to mind the damp about the house, the green
cracked flagstones in the court, an old leaky water-butt, and the
discoloured trunks of some of the grim trees, which seemed to have
dripped more in the rain than other trees, and to have blown less
in the sun! At one we dined, Mr. Mell and I, at the upper end of
a long bare dining-room, full of deal tables, and smelling of fat.
Then, we had more tasks until tea, which Mr. Mell drank out of a
blue teacup, and I out of a tin pot. All day long, and until seven
or eight in the evening, Mr. Mell, at his own detached desk in the
schoolroom, worked hard with pen, ink, ruler, books, and writingpaper,
making out the bills (as I found) for last half-year. When
he had put up his things for the night he took out his flute, and
blew at it, until I almost thought he would gradually blow his
whole being into the large hole at the top, and ooze away at the
I picture my small self in the dimly-lighted rooms, sitting with my
head upon my hand, listening to the doleful performance of Mr.
Mell, and conning tomorrow's lessons. I picture myself with my
books shut up, still listening to the doleful performance of Mr.
Mell, and listening through it to what used to be at home, and to
the blowing of the wind on Yarmouth flats, and feeling very sad and
solitary. I picture myself going up to bed, among the unused
rooms, and sitting on my bed-side crying for a comfortable word
from Peggotty. I picture myself coming downstairs in the morning,
and looking through a long ghastly gash of a staircase window at
the school-bell hanging on the top of an out-house with a
weathercock above it; and dreading the time when it shall ring J.
Steerforth and the rest to work: which is only second, in my
foreboding apprehensions, to the time when the man with the wooden
leg shall unlock the rusty gate to give admission to the awful Mr.
Creakle. I cannot think I was a very dangerous character in any of
these aspects, but in all of them I carried the same warning on my
Mr. Mell never said much to me, but he was never harsh to me. I
suppose we were company to each other, without talking. I forgot
to mention that he would talk to himself sometimes, and grin, and
clench his fist, and grind his teeth, and pull his hair in an
unaccountable manner. But he had these peculiarities: and at first
they frightened me, though I soon got used to them.
I HAD led this life about a month, when the man with the wooden leg
began to stump about with a mop and a bucket of water, from which
I inferred that preparations were making to receive Mr. Creakle and
the boys. I was not mistaken; for the mop came into the schoolroom
before long, and turned out Mr. Mell and me, who lived where we
could, and got on how we could, for some days, during which we were
always in the way of two or three young women, who had rarely shown
themselves before, and were so continually in the midst of dust
that I sneezed almost as much as if Salem House had been a great
One day I was informed by Mr. Mell that Mr. Creakle would be home
that evening. In the evening, after tea, I heard that he was come.
Before bedtime, I was fetched by the man with the wooden leg to
appear before him.
Mr. Creakle's part of the house was a good deal more comfortable
than ours, and he had a snug bit of garden that looked pleasant
after the dusty playground, which was such a desert in miniature,
that I thought no one but a camel, or a dromedary, could have felt
at home in it. It seemed to me a bold thing even to take notice
that the passage looked comfortable, as I went on my way,
trembling, to Mr. Creakle's presence: which so abashed me, when I
was ushered into it, that I hardly saw Mrs. Creakle or Miss Creakle
(who were both there, in the parlour), or anything but Mr. Creakle,
a stout gentleman with a bunch of watch-chain and seals, in an
arm-chair, with a tumbler and bottle beside him.
'So!' said Mr. Creakle. 'This is the young gentleman whose teeth
are to be filed! Turn him round.'
The wooden-legged man turned me about so as to exhibit the placard;
and having afforded time for a full survey of it, turned me about
again, with my face to Mr. Creakle, and posted himself at Mr.
Creakle's side. Mr. Creakle's face was fiery, and his eyes were
small, and deep in his head; he had thick veins in his forehead, a
little nose, and a large chin. He was bald on the top of his head;
and had some thin wet-looking hair that was just turning grey,
brushed across each temple, so that the two sides interlaced on his
forehead. But the circumstance about him which impressed me most,
was, that he had no voice, but spoke in a whisper. The exertion
this cost him, or the consciousness of talking in that feeble way,
made his angry face so much more angry, and his thick veins so much
thicker, when he spoke, that I am not surprised, on looking back,
at this peculiarity striking me as his chief one.
'Now,' said Mr. Creakle. 'What's the report of this boy?'
'There's nothing against him yet,' returned the man with the wooden
leg. 'There has been no opportunity.'
I thought Mr. Creakle was disappointed. I thought Mrs. and Miss
Creakle (at whom I now glanced for the first time, and who were,
both, thin and quiet) were not disappointed.
'Come here, sir!' said Mr. Creakle, beckoning to me.
'Come here!' said the man with the wooden leg, repeating the
'I have the happiness of knowing your father-in-law,' whispered Mr.
Creakle, taking me by the ear; 'and a worthy man he is, and a man
of a strong character. He knows me, and I know him. Do YOU know
me? Hey?' said Mr. Creakle, pinching my ear with ferocious
'Not yet, sir,' I said, flinching with the pain.
'Not yet? Hey?' repeated Mr. Creakle. 'But you will soon. Hey?'
'You will soon. Hey?' repeated the man with the wooden leg. I
afterwards found that he generally acted, with his strong voice, as
Mr. Creakle's interpreter to the boys.
I was very much frightened, and said, I hoped so, if he pleased.
I felt, all this while, as if my ear were blazing; he pinched it so
'I'll tell you what I am,' whispered Mr. Creakle, letting it go at
last, with a screw at parting that brought the water into my eyes.
'I'm a Tartar.'
'A Tartar,' said the man with the wooden leg.
'When I say I'll do a thing, I do it,' said Mr. Creakle; 'and when
I say I will have a thing done, I will have it done.'
'- Will have a thing done, I will have it done,' repeated the man
with the wooden leg.
'I am a determined character,' said Mr. Creakle. 'That's what I
am. I do my duty. That's what I do. My flesh and blood' - he
looked at Mrs. Creakle as he said this - 'when it rises against me,
is not my flesh and blood. I discard it. Has that fellow' - to
the man with the wooden leg -'been here again?'
'No,' was the answer.
'No,' said Mr. Creakle. 'He knows better. He knows me. Let him
keep away. I say let him keep away,' said Mr. Creakle, striking
his hand upon the table, and looking at Mrs. Creakle, 'for he knows
me. Now you have begun to know me too, my young friend, and you
may go. Take him away.'
I was very glad to be ordered away, for Mrs. and Miss Creakle were
both wiping their eyes, and I felt as uncomfortable for them as I
did for myself. But I had a petition on my mind which concerned me
so nearly, that I couldn't help saying, though I wondered at my own
'If you please, sir -'
Mr. Creakle whispered, 'Hah! What's this?' and bent his eyes upon
me, as if he would have burnt me up with them.
'If you please, sir,' I faltered, 'if I might be allowed (I am very
sorry indeed, sir, for what I did) to take this writing off, before
the boys come back -'
Whether Mr. Creakle was in earnest, or whether he only did it to
frighten me, I don't know, but he made a burst out of his chair,
before which I precipitately retreated, without waiting for the
escort Of the man with the wooden leg, and never once stopped until
I reached my own bedroom, where, finding I was not pursued, I went
to bed, as it was time, and lay quaking, for a couple of hours.
Next morning Mr. Sharp came back. Mr. Sharp was the first master,
and superior to Mr. Mell. Mr. Mell took his meals with the boys,
but Mr. Sharp dined and supped at Mr. Creakle's table. He was a
limp, delicate-looking gentleman, I thought, with a good deal of
nose, and a way of carrying his head on one side, as if it were a
little too heavy for him. His hair was very smooth and wavy; but
I was informed by the very first boy who came back that it was a
wig (a second-hand one HE said), and that Mr. Sharp went out every
Saturday afternoon to get it curled.
It was no other than Tommy Traddles who gave me this piece of
intelligence. He was the first boy who returned. He introduced
himself by informing me that I should find his name on the righthand
corner of the gate, over the top-bolt; upon that I said,
'Traddles?' to which he replied, 'The same,' and then he asked me
for a full account of myself and family.
It was a happy circumstance for me that Traddles came back first.
He enjoyed my placard so much, that he saved me from the
embarrassment of either disclosure or concealment, by presenting me
to every other boy who came back, great or small, immediately on
his arrival, in this form of introduction, 'Look here! Here's a
game!' Happily, too, the greater part of the boys came back
low-spirited, and were not so boisterous at my expense as I had
expected. Some of them certainly did dance about me like wild
Indians, and the greater part could not resist the temptation of
pretending that I was a dog, and patting and soothing me, lest I
should bite, and saying, 'Lie down, sir!' and calling me Towzer.
This was naturally confusing, among so many strangers, and cost me
some tears, but on the whole it was much better than I had
I was not considered as being formally received into the school,
however, until J. Steerforth arrived. Before this boy, who was
reputed to be a great scholar, and was very good-looking, and at
least half-a-dozen years my senior, I was carried as before a
magistrate. He inquired, under a shed in the playground, into the
particulars of my punishment, and was pleased to express his
opinion that it was 'a jolly shame'; for which I became bound to
him ever afterwards.
'What money have you got, Copperfield?' he said, walking aside with
me when he had disposed of my affair in these terms. I told him
seven shillings.
'You had better give it to me to take care of,' he said. 'At
least, you can if you like. You needn't if you don't like.'
I hastened to comply with his friendly suggestion, and opening
Peggotty's purse, turned it upside down into his hand.
'Do you want to spend anything now?' he asked me.
'No thank you,' I replied.
'You can, if you like, you know,' said Steerforth. 'Say the word.'
'No, thank you, sir,' I repeated.
'Perhaps you'd like to spend a couple of shillings or so, in a
bottle of currant wine by and by, up in the bedroom?' said
Steerforth. 'You belong to my bedroom, I find.'
It certainly had not occurred to me before, but I said, Yes, I
should like that.
'Very good,' said Steerforth. 'You'll be glad to spend another
shilling or so, in almond cakes, I dare say?'
I said, Yes, I should like that, too.
'And another shilling or so in biscuits, and another in fruit, eh?'
said Steerforth. 'I say, young Copperfield, you're going it!'
I smiled because he smiled, but I was a little troubled in my mind,
'Well!' said Steerforth. 'We must make it stretch as far as we
can; that's all. I'll do the best in my power for you. I can go
out when I like, and I'll smuggle the prog in.' With these words
he put the money in his pocket, and kindly told me not to make
myself uneasy; he would take care it should be all right.
He was as good as his word, if that were all right which I had a
secret misgiving was nearly all wrong - for I feared it was a waste
of my mother's two half-crowns - though I had preserved the piece
of paper they were wrapped in: which was a precious saving. When
we went upstairs to bed, he produced the whole seven
shillings'worth, and laid it out on my bed in the moonlight,
'There you are, young Copperfield, and a royal spread you've got.'
I couldn't think of doing the honours of the feast, at my time of
life, while he was by; my hand shook at the very thought of it. I
begged him to do me the favour of presiding; and my request being
seconded by the other boys who were in that room, he acceded to it,
and sat upon my pillow, handing round the viands - with perfect
fairness, I must say - and dispensing the currant wine in a little
glass without a foot, which was his own property. As to me, I sat
on his left hand, and the rest were grouped about us, on the
nearest beds and on the floor.
How well I recollect our sitting there, talking in whispers; or
their talking, and my respectfully listening, I ought rather to
say; the moonlight falling a little way into the room, through the
window, painting a pale window on the floor, and the greater part
of us in shadow, except when Steerforth dipped a match into a
phosphorus-box, when he wanted to look for anything on the board,
and shed a blue glare over us that was gone directly! A certain
mysterious feeling, consequent on the darkness, the secrecy of the
revel, and the whisper in which everything was said, steals over me
again, and I listen to all they tell me with a vague feeling of
solemnity and awe, which makes me glad that they are all so near,
and frightens me (though I feign to laugh) when Traddles pretends
to see a ghost in the corner.
I heard all kinds of things about the school and all belonging to
it. I heard that Mr. Creakle had not preferred his claim to being
a Tartar without reason; that he was the sternest and most severe
of masters; that he laid about him, right and left, every day of
his life, charging in among the boys like a trooper, and slashing
away, unmercifully. That he knew nothing himself, but the art of
slashing, being more ignorant (J. Steerforth said) than the lowest
boy in the school; that he had been, a good many years ago, a small
hop-dealer in the Borough, and had taken to the schooling business
after being bankrupt in hops, and making away with Mrs. Creakle's
money. With a good deal more of that sort, which I wondered how
they knew.
I heard that the man with the wooden leg, whose name was Tungay,
was an obstinate barbarian who had formerly assisted in the hop
business, but had come into the scholastic line with Mr. Creakle,
in consequence, as was supposed among the boys, of his having
broken his leg in Mr. Creakle's service, and having done a deal of
dishonest work for him, and knowing his secrets. I heard that with
the single exception of Mr. Creakle, Tungay considered the whole
establishment, masters and boys, as his natural enemies, and that
the only delight of his life was to be sour and malicious. I heard
that Mr. Creakle had a son, who had not been Tungay's friend, and
who, assisting in the school, had once held some remonstrance with
his father on an occasion when its discipline was very cruelly
exercised, and was supposed, besides, to have protested against his
father's usage of his mother. I heard that Mr. Creakle had turned
him out of doors, in consequence; and that Mrs. and Miss Creakle
had been in a sad way, ever since.
But the greatest wonder that I heard of Mr. Creakle was, there
being one boy in the school on whom he never ventured to lay a
hand, and that boy being J. Steerforth. Steerforth himself
confirmed this when it was stated, and said that he should like to
begin to see him do it. On being asked by a mild boy (not me) how
he would proceed if he did begin to see him do it, he dipped a
match into his phosphorus-box on purpose to shed a glare over his
reply, and said he would commence by knocking him down with a blow
on the forehead from the seven-and-sixpenny ink-bottle that was
always on the mantelpiece. We sat in the dark for some time,
I heard that Mr. Sharp and Mr. Mell were both supposed to be
wretchedly paid; and that when there was hot and cold meat for
dinner at Mr. Creakle's table, Mr. Sharp was always expected to say
he preferred cold; which was again corroborated by J. Steerforth,
the only parlour-boarder. I heard that Mr. Sharp's wig didn't fit
him; and that he needn't be so 'bounceable' - somebody else said
'bumptious' - about it, because his own red hair was very plainly
to be seen behind.
I heard that one boy, who was a coal-merchant's son, came as a
set-off against the coal-bill, and was called, on that account,
'Exchange or Barter' - a name selected from the arithmetic book as
expressing this arrangement. I heard that the table beer was a
robbery of parents, and the pudding an imposition. I heard that
Miss Creakle was regarded by the school in general as being in love
with Steerforth; and I am sure, as I sat in the dark, thinking of
his nice voice, and his fine face, and his easy manner, and his
curling hair, I thought it very likely. I heard that Mr. Mell was
not a bad sort of fellow, but hadn't a sixpence to bless himself
with; and that there was no doubt that old Mrs. Mell, his mother,
was as poor as job. I thought of my breakfast then, and what had
sounded like 'My Charley!' but I was, I am glad to remember, as
mute as a mouse about it.
The hearing of all this, and a good deal more, outlasted the
banquet some time. The greater part of the guests had gone to bed
as soon as the eating and drinking were over; and we, who had
remained whispering and listening half-undressed, at last betook
ourselves to bed, too.
'Good night, young Copperfield,' said Steerforth. 'I'll take care
of you.'
'You're very kind,' I gratefully returned. 'I am very much obliged
to you.'
'You haven't got a sister, have you?' said Steerforth, yawning.
'No,' I answered.
'That's a pity,' said Steerforth. 'If you had had one, I should
think she would have been a pretty, timid, little, bright-eyed sort
of girl. I should have liked to know her. Good night, young
'Good night, sir,' I replied.
I thought of him very much after I went to bed, and raised myself,
I recollect, to look at him where he lay in the moonlight, with his
handsome face turned up, and his head reclining easily on his arm.
He was a person of great power in my eyes; that was, of course, the
reason of my mind running on him. No veiled future dimly glanced
upon him in the moonbeams. There was no shadowy picture of his
footsteps, in the garden that I dreamed of walking in all night.
School began in earnest next day. A profound impression was made
upon me, I remember, by the roar of voices in the schoolroom
suddenly becoming hushed as death when Mr. Creakle entered after
breakfast, and stood in the doorway looking round upon us like a
giant in a story-book surveying his captives.
Tungay stood at Mr. Creakle's elbow. He had no occasion, I
thought, to cry out 'Silence!' so ferociously, for the boys were
all struck speechless and motionless.
Mr. Creakle was seen to speak, and Tungay was heard, to this
'Now, boys, this is a new half. Take care what you're about, in
this new half. Come fresh up to the lessons, I advise you, for I
come fresh up to the punishment. I won't flinch. It will be of no
use your rubbing yourselves; you won't rub the marks out that I
shall give you. Now get to work, every boy!'
When this dreadful exordium was over, and Tungay had stumped out
again, Mr. Creakle came to where I sat, and told me that if I were
famous for biting, he was famous for biting, too. He then showed
me the cane, and asked me what I thought of THAT, for a tooth? Was
it a sharp tooth, hey? Was it a double tooth, hey? Had it a deep
prong, hey? Did it bite, hey? Did it bite? At every question he
gave me a fleshy cut with it that made me writhe; so I was very
soon made free of Salem House (as Steerforth said), and was very
soon in tears also.
Not that I mean to say these were special marks of distinction,
which only I received. On the contrary, a large majority of the
boys (especially the smaller ones) were visited with similar
instances of notice, as Mr. Creakle made the round of the
schoolroom. Half the establishment was writhing and crying, before
the day's work began; and how much of it had writhed and cried
before the day's work was over, I am really afraid to recollect,
lest I should seem to exaggerate.
I should think there never can have been a man who enjoyed his
profession more than Mr. Creakle did. He had a delight in cutting
at the boys, which was like the satisfaction of a craving appetite.
I am confident that he couldn't resist a chubby boy, especially;
that there was a fascination in such a subject, which made him
restless in his mind, until he had scored and marked him for the
day. I was chubby myself, and ought to know. I am sure when I
think of the fellow now, my blood rises against him with the
disinterested indignation I should feel if I could have known all
about him without having ever been in his power; but it rises
hotly, because I know him to have been an incapable brute, who had
no more right to be possessed of the great trust he held, than to
be Lord High Admiral, or Commander-in-Chief - in either of which
capacities it is probable that he would have done infinitely less
Miserable little propitiators of a remorseless Idol, how abject we
were to him! What a launch in life I think it now, on looking
back, to be so mean and servile to a man of such parts and
Here I sit at the desk again, watching his eye - humbly watching
his eye, as he rules a ciphering-book for another victim whose
hands have just been flattened by that identical ruler, and who is
trying to wipe the sting out with a pocket-handkerchief. I have
plenty to do. I don't watch his eye in idleness, but because I am
morbidly attracted to it, in a dread desire to know what he will do
next, and whether it will be my turn to suffer, or somebody else's.
A lane of small boys beyond me, with the same interest in his eye,
watch it too. I think he knows it, though he pretends he don't.
He makes dreadful mouths as he rules the ciphering-book; and now he
throws his eye sideways down our lane, and we all droop over our
books and tremble. A moment afterwards we are again eyeing him.
An unhappy culprit, found guilty of imperfect exercise, approaches
at his command. The culprit falters excuses, and professes a
determination to do better tomorrow. Mr. Creakle cuts a joke
before he beats him, and we laugh at it, - miserable little dogs,
we laugh, with our visages as white as ashes, and our hearts
sinking into our boots.
Here I sit at the desk again, on a drowsy summer afternoon. A buzz
and hum go up around me, as if the boys were so many bluebottles.
A cloggy sensation of the lukewarm fat of meat is upon me (we dined
an hour or two ago), and my head is as heavy as so much lead. I
would give the world to go to sleep. I sit with my eye on Mr.
Creakle, blinking at him like a young owl; when sleep overpowers me
for a minute, he still looms through my slumber, ruling those
ciphering-books, until he softly comes behind me and wakes me to
plainer perception of him, with a red ridge across my back.
Here I am in the playground, with my eye still fascinated by him,
though I can't see him. The window at a little distance from which
I know he is having his dinner, stands for him, and I eye that
instead. If he shows his face near it, mine assumes an imploring
and submissive expression. If he looks out through the glass, the
boldest boy (Steerforth excepted) stops in the middle of a shout or
yell, and becomes contemplative. One day, Traddles (the most
unfortunate boy in the world) breaks that window accidentally, with
a ball. I shudder at this moment with the tremendous sensation of
seeing it done, and feeling that the ball has bounded on to Mr.
Creakle's sacred head.
Poor Traddles! In a tight sky-blue suit that made his arms and
legs like German sausages, or roly-poly puddings, he was the
merriest and most miserable of all the boys. He was always being
caned - I think he was caned every day that half-year, except one
holiday Monday when he was only ruler'd on both hands - and was
always going to write to his uncle about it, and never did. After
laying his head on the desk for a little while, he would cheer up,
somehow, begin to laugh again, and draw skeletons all over his
slate, before his eyes were dry. I used at first to wonder what
comfort Traddles found in drawing skeletons; and for some time
looked upon him as a sort of hermit, who reminded himself by those
symbols of mortality that caning couldn't last for ever. But I
believe he only did it because they were easy, and didn't want any
He was very honourable, Traddles was, and held it as a solemn duty
in the boys to stand by one another. He suffered for this on
several occasions; and particularly once, when Steerforth laughed
in church, and the Beadle thought it was Traddles, and took him
out. I see him now, going away in custody, despised by the
congregation. He never said who was the real offender, though he
smarted for it next day, and was imprisoned so many hours that he
came forth with a whole churchyard-full of skeletons swarming all
over his Latin Dictionary. But he had his reward. Steerforth said
there was nothing of the sneak in Traddles, and we all felt that to
be the highest praise. For my part, I could have gone through a
good deal (though I was much less brave than Traddles, and nothing
like so old) to have won such a recompense.
To see Steerforth walk to church before us, arm-in-arm with Miss
Creakle, was one of the great sights of my life. I didn't think
Miss Creakle equal to little Em'ly in point of beauty, and I didn't
love her (I didn't dare); but I thought her a young lady of
extraordinary attractions, and in point of gentility not to be
surpassed. When Steerforth, in white trousers, carried her parasol
for her, I felt proud to know him; and believed that she could not
choose but adore him with all her heart. Mr. Sharp and Mr. Mell
were both notable personages in my eyes; but Steerforth was to them
what the sun was to two stars.
Steerforth continued his protection of me, and proved a very useful
friend; since nobody dared to annoy one whom he honoured with his
countenance. He couldn't - or at all events he didn't - defend me
from Mr. Creakle, who was very severe with me; but whenever I had
been treated worse than usual, he always told me that I wanted a
little of his pluck, and that he wouldn't have stood it himself;
which I felt he intended for encouragement, and considered to be
very kind of him. There was one advantage, and only one that I
know of, in Mr. Creakle's severity. He found my placard in his way
when he came up or down behind the form on which I sat, and wanted
to make a cut at me in passing; for this reason it was soon taken
off, and I saw it no more.
An accidental circumstance cemented the intimacy between Steerforth
and me, in a manner that inspired me with great pride and
satisfaction, though it sometimes led to inconvenience. It
happened on one occasion, when he was doing me the honour of
talking to me in the playground, that I hazarded the observation
that something or somebody - I forget what now - was like something
or somebody in Peregrine Pickle. He said nothing at the time; but
when I was going to bed at night, asked me if I had got that book?
I told him no, and explained how it was that I had read it, and all
those other books of which I have made mention.
'And do you recollect them?' Steerforth said.
'Oh yes,' I replied; I had a good memory, and I believed I
recollected them very well.
'Then I tell you what, young Copperfield,' said Steerforth, 'you
shall tell 'em to me. I can't get to sleep very early at night,
and I generally wake rather early in the morning. We'll go over
'em one after another. We'll make some regular Arabian Nights of
I felt extremely flattered by this arrangement, and we commenced
carrying it into execution that very evening. What ravages I
committed on my favourite authors in the course of my
interpretation of them, I am not in a condition to say, and should
be very unwilling to know; but I had a profound faith in them, and
I had, to the best of my belief, a simple, earnest manner of
narrating what I did narrate; and these qualities went a long way.
The drawback was, that I was often sleepy at night, or out of
spirits and indisposed to resume the story; and then it was rather
hard work, and it must be done; for to disappoint or to displease
Steerforth was of course out of the question. In the morning, too,
when I felt weary, and should have enjoyed another hour's repose
very much, it was a tiresome thing to be roused, like the Sultana
Scheherazade, and forced into a long story before the getting-up
bell rang; but Steerforth was resolute; and as he explained to me,
in return, my sums and exercises, and anything in my tasks that was
too hard for me, I was no loser by the transaction. Let me do
myself justice, however. I was moved by no interested or selfish
motive, nor was I moved by fear of him. I admired and loved him,
and his approval was return enough. It was so precious to me that
I look back on these trifles, now, with an aching heart.
Steerforth was considerate, too; and showed his consideration, in
one particular instance, in an unflinching manner that was a little
tantalizing, I suspect, to poor Traddles and the rest. Peggotty's
promised letter - what a comfortable letter it was! - arrived
before 'the half' was many weeks old; and with it a cake in a
perfect nest of oranges, and two bottles of cowslip wine. This
treasure, as in duty bound, I laid at the feet of Steerforth, and
begged him to dispense.
'Now, I'll tell you what, young Copperfield,' said he: 'the wine
shall be kept to wet your whistle when you are story-telling.'
I blushed at the idea, and begged him, in my modesty, not to think
of it. But he said he had observed I was sometimes hoarse - a
little roopy was his exact expression - and it should be, every
drop, devoted to the purpose he had mentioned. Accordingly, it was
locked up in his box, and drawn off by himself in a phial, and
administered to me through a piece of quill in the cork, when I was
supposed to be in want of a restorative. Sometimes, to make it a
more sovereign specific, he was so kind as to squeeze orange juice
into it, or to stir it up with ginger, or dissolve a peppermint
drop in it; and although I cannot assert that the flavour was
improved by these experiments, or that it was exactly the compound
one would have chosen for a stomachic, the last thing at night and
the first thing in the morning, I drank it gratefully and was very
sensible of his attention.
We seem, to me, to have been months over Peregrine, and months more
over the other stories. The institution never flagged for want of
a story, I am certain; and the wine lasted out almost as well as
the matter. Poor Traddles - I never think of that boy but with a
strange disposition to laugh, and with tears in my eyes - was a
sort of chorus, in general; and affected to be convulsed with mirth
at the comic parts, and to be overcome with fear when there was any
passage of an alarming character in the narrative. This rather put
me out, very often. It was a great jest of his, I recollect, to
pretend that he couldn't keep his teeth from chattering, whenever
mention was made of an Alguazill in connexion with the adventures
of Gil Blas; and I remember that when Gil Blas met the captain of
the robbers in Madrid, this unlucky joker counterfeited such an
ague of terror, that he was overheard by Mr. Creakle, who was
prowling about the passage, and handsomely flogged for disorderly
conduct in the bedroom.
Whatever I had within me that was romantic and dreamy, was
encouraged by so much story-telling in the dark; and in that
respect the pursuit may not have been very profitable to me. But
the being cherished as a kind of plaything in my room, and the
consciousness that this accomplishment of mine was bruited about
among the boys, and attracted a good deal of notice to me though I
was the youngest there, stimulated me to exertion. In a school
carried on by sheer cruelty, whether it is presided over by a dunce
or not, there is not likely to be much learnt. I believe our boys
were, generally, as ignorant a set as any schoolboys in existence;
they were too much troubled and knocked about to learn; they could
no more do that to advantage, than any one can do anything to
advantage in a life of constant misfortune, torment, and worry.
But my little vanity, and Steerforth's help, urged me on somehow;
and without saving me from much, if anything, in the way of
punishment, made me, for the time I was there, an exception to the
general body, insomuch that I did steadily pick up some crumbs of
In this I was much assisted by Mr. Mell, who had a liking for me
that I am grateful to remember. It always gave me pain to observe
that Steerforth treated him with systematic disparagement, and
seldom lost an occasion of wounding his feelings, or inducing
others to do so. This troubled me the more for a long time,
because I had soon told Steerforth, from whom I could no more keep
such a secret, than I could keep a cake or any other tangible
possession, about the two old women Mr. Mell had taken me to see;
and I was always afraid that Steerforth would let it out, and twit
him with it.
We little thought, any one of us, I dare say, when I ate my
breakfast that first morning, and went to sleep under the shadow of
the peacock's feathers to the sound of the flute, what consequences
would come of the introduction into those alms-houses of my
insignificant person. But the visit had its unforeseen
consequences; and of a serious sort, too, in their way.
One day when Mr. Creakle kept the house from indisposition, which
naturally diffused a lively joy through the school, there was a
good deal of noise in the course of the morning's work. The great
relief and satisfaction experienced by the boys made them difficult
to manage; and though the dreaded Tungay brought his wooden leg in
twice or thrice, and took notes of the principal offenders' names,
no great impression was made by it, as they were pretty sure of
getting into trouble tomorrow, do what they would, and thought it
wise, no doubt, to enjoy themselves today.
It was, properly, a half-holiday; being Saturday. But as the noise
in the playground would have disturbed Mr. Creakle, and the weather
was not favourable for going out walking, we were ordered into
school in the afternoon, and set some lighter tasks than usual,
which were made for the occasion. It was the day of the week on
which Mr. Sharp went out to get his wig curled; so Mr. Mell, who
always did the drudgery, whatever it was, kept school by himself.
If I could associate the idea of a bull or a bear with anyone so
mild as Mr. Mell, I should think of him, in connexion with that
afternoon when the uproar was at its height, as of one of those
animals, baited by a thousand dogs. I recall him bending his
aching head, supported on his bony hand, over the book on his desk,
and wretchedly endeavouring to get on with his tiresome work,
amidst an uproar that might have made the Speaker of the House of
Commons giddy. Boys started in and out of their places, playing at
puss in the corner with other boys; there were laughing boys,
singing boys, talking boys, dancing boys, howling boys; boys
shuffled with their feet, boys whirled about him, grinning, making
faces, mimicking him behind his back and before his eyes; mimicking
his poverty, his boots, his coat, his mother, everything belonging
to him that they should have had consideration for.
'Silence!' cried Mr. Mell, suddenly rising up, and striking his
desk with the book. 'What does this mean! It's impossible to bear
it. It's maddening. How can you do it to me, boys?'
It was my book that he struck his desk with; and as I stood beside
him, following his eye as it glanced round the room, I saw the boys
all stop, some suddenly surprised, some half afraid, and some sorry
Steerforth's place was at the bottom of the school, at the opposite
end of the long room. He was lounging with his back against the
wall, and his hands in his pockets, and looked at Mr. Mell with his
mouth shut up as if he were whistling, when Mr. Mell looked at him.
'Silence, Mr. Steerforth!' said Mr. Mell.
'Silence yourself,' said Steerforth, turning red. 'Whom are you
talking to?'
'Sit down,' said Mr. Mell.
'Sit down yourself,' said Steerforth, 'and mind your business.'
There was a titter, and some applause; but Mr. Mell was so white,
that silence immediately succeeded; and one boy, who had darted out
behind him to imitate his mother again, changed his mind, and
pretended to want a pen mended.
'If you think, Steerforth,' said Mr. Mell, 'that I am not
acquainted with the power you can establish over any mind here' -
he laid his hand, without considering what he did (as I supposed),
upon my head - 'or that I have not observed you, within a few
minutes, urging your juniors on to every sort of outrage against
me, you are mistaken.'
'I don't give myself the trouble of thinking at all about you,'
said Steerforth, coolly; 'so I'm not mistaken, as it happens.'
'And when you make use of your position of favouritism here, sir,'
pursued Mr. Mell, with his lip trembling very much, 'to insult a
gentleman -'
'A what? - where is he?' said Steerforth.
Here somebody cried out, 'Shame, J. Steerforth! Too bad!' It was
Traddles; whom Mr. Mell instantly discomfited by bidding him hold
his tongue.
- 'To insult one who is not fortunate in life, sir, and who never
gave you the least offence, and the many reasons for not insulting
whom you are old enough and wise enough to understand,' said Mr.
Mell, with his lips trembling more and more, 'you commit a mean and
base action. You can sit down or stand up as you please, sir.
Copperfield, go on.'
'Young Copperfield,' said Steerforth, coming forward up the room,
'stop a bit. I tell you what, Mr. Mell, once for all. When you
take the liberty of calling me mean or base, or anything of that
sort, you are an impudent beggar. You are always a beggar, you
know; but when you do that, you are an impudent beggar.'
I am not clear whether he was going to strike Mr. Mell, or Mr. Mell
was going to strike him, or there was any such intention on either
side. I saw a rigidity come upon the whole school as if they had
been turned into stone, and found Mr. Creakle in the midst of us,
with Tungay at his side, and Mrs. and Miss Creakle looking in at
the door as if they were frightened. Mr. Mell, with his elbows on
his desk and his face in his hands, sat, for some moments, quite
'Mr. Mell,' said Mr. Creakle, shaking him by the arm; and his
whisper was so audible now, that Tungay felt it unnecessary to
repeat his words; 'you have not forgotten yourself, I hope?'
'No, sir, no,' returned the Master, showing his face, and shaking
his head, and rubbing his hands in great agitation. 'No, sir. No.
I have remembered myself, I - no, Mr. Creakle, I have not forgotten
myself, I - I have remembered myself, sir. I - I - could wish you
had remembered me a little sooner, Mr. Creakle. It - it - would
have been more kind, sir, more just, sir. It would have saved me
something, sir.'
Mr. Creakle, looking hard at Mr. Mell, put his hand on Tungay's
shoulder, and got his feet upon the form close by, and sat upon the
desk. After still looking hard at Mr. Mell from his throne, as he
shook his head, and rubbed his hands, and remained in the same
state of agitation, Mr. Creakle turned to Steerforth, and said:
'Now, sir, as he don't condescend to tell me, what is this?'
Steerforth evaded the question for a little while; looking in scorn
and anger on his opponent, and remaining silent. I could not help
thinking even in that interval, I remember, what a noble fellow he
was in appearance, and how homely and plain Mr. Mell looked opposed
to him.
'What did he mean by talking about favourites, then?' said
Steerforth at length.
'Favourites?' repeated Mr. Creakle, with the veins in his forehead
swelling quickly. 'Who talked about favourites?'
'He did,' said Steerforth.
'And pray, what did you mean by that, sir?' demanded Mr. Creakle,
turning angrily on his assistant.
'I meant, Mr. Creakle,' he returned in a low voice, 'as I said;
that no pupil had a right to avail himself of his position of
favouritism to degrade me.'
'To degrade YOU?' said Mr. Creakle. 'My stars! But give me leave
to ask you, Mr. What's-your-name'; and here Mr. Creakle folded his
arms, cane and all, upon his chest, and made such a knot of his
brows that his little eyes were hardly visible below them;
'whether, when you talk about favourites, you showed proper respect
to me? To me, sir,' said Mr. Creakle, darting his head at him
suddenly, and drawing it back again, 'the principal of this
establishment, and your employer.'
'It was not judicious, sir, I am willing to admit,' said Mr. Mell.
'I should not have done so, if I had been cool.'
Here Steerforth struck in.
'Then he said I was mean, and then he said I was base, and then I
called him a beggar. If I had been cool, perhaps I shouldn't have
called him a beggar. But I did, and I am ready to take the
consequences of it.'
Without considering, perhaps, whether there were any consequences
to be taken, I felt quite in a glow at this gallant speech. It
made an impression on the boys too, for there was a low stir among
them, though no one spoke a word.
'I am surprised, Steerforth - although your candour does you
honour,' said Mr. Creakle, 'does you honour, certainly - I am
surprised, Steerforth, I must say, that you should attach such an
epithet to any person employed and paid in Salem House, sir.'
Steerforth gave a short laugh.
'That's not an answer, sir,' said Mr. Creakle, 'to my remark. I
expect more than that from you, Steerforth.'
If Mr. Mell looked homely, in my eyes, before the handsome boy, it
would be quite impossible to say how homely Mr. Creakle looked.
'Let him deny it,' said Steerforth.
'Deny that he is a beggar, Steerforth?' cried Mr. Creakle. 'Why,
where does he go a-begging?'
'If he is not a beggar himself, his near relation's one,' said
Steerforth. 'It's all the same.'
He glanced at me, and Mr. Mell's hand gently patted me upon the
shoulder. I looked up with a flush upon my face and remorse in my
heart, but Mr. Mell's eyes were fixed on Steerforth. He continued
to pat me kindly on the shoulder, but he looked at him.
'Since you expect me, Mr. Creakle, to justify myself,' said
Steerforth, 'and to say what I mean, - what I have to say is, that
his mother lives on charity in an alms-house.'
Mr. Mell still looked at him, and still patted me kindly on the
shoulder, and said to himself, in a whisper, if I heard right:
'Yes, I thought so.'
Mr. Creakle turned to his assistant, with a severe frown and
laboured politeness:
'Now, you hear what this gentleman says, Mr. Mell. Have the
goodness, if you please, to set him right before the assembled
'He is right, sir, without correction,' returned Mr. Mell, in the
midst of a dead silence; 'what he has said is true.'
'Be so good then as declare publicly, will you,' said Mr. Creakle,
putting his head on one side, and rolling his eyes round the
school, 'whether it ever came to my knowledge until this moment?'
'I believe not directly,' he returned.
'Why, you know not,' said Mr. Creakle. 'Don't you, man?'
'I apprehend you never supposed my worldly circumstances to be very
good,' replied the assistant. 'You know what my position is, and
always has been, here.'
'I apprehend, if you come to that,' said Mr. Creakle, with his
veins swelling again bigger than ever, 'that you've been in a wrong
position altogether, and mistook this for a charity school. Mr.
Mell, we'll part, if you please. The sooner the better.'
'There is no time,' answered Mr. Mell, rising, 'like the present.'
'Sir, to you!' said Mr. Creakle.
'I take my leave of you, Mr. Creakle, and all of you,' said Mr.
Mell, glancing round the room, and again patting me gently on the
shoulders. 'James Steerforth, the best wish I can leave you is
that you may come to be ashamed of what you have done today. At
present I would prefer to see you anything rather than a friend, to
me, or to anyone in whom I feel an interest.'
Once more he laid his hand upon my shoulder; and then taking his
flute and a few books from his desk, and leaving the key in it for
his successor, he went out of the school, with his property under
his arm. Mr. Creakle then made a speech, through Tungay, in which
he thanked Steerforth for asserting (though perhaps too warmly) the
independence and respectability of Salem House; and which he wound
up by shaking hands with Steerforth, while we gave three cheers -
I did not quite know what for, but I supposed for Steerforth, and
so joined in them ardently, though I felt miserable. Mr. Creakle
then caned Tommy Traddles for being discovered in tears, instead of
cheers, on account of Mr. Mell's departure; and went back to his
sofa, or his bed, or wherever he had come from.
We were left to ourselves now, and looked very blank, I recollect,
on one another. For myself, I felt so much self-reproach and
contrition for my part in what had happened, that nothing would
have enabled me to keep back my tears but the fear that Steerforth,
who often looked at me, I saw, might think it unfriendly - or, I
should rather say, considering our relative ages, and the feeling
with which I regarded him, undutiful - if I showed the emotion
which distressed me. He was very angry with Traddles, and said he
was glad he had caught it.
Poor Traddles, who had passed the stage of lying with his head upon
the desk, and was relieving himself as usual with a burst of
skeletons, said he didn't care. Mr. Mell was ill-used.
'Who has ill-used him, you girl?' said Steerforth.
'Why, you have,' returned Traddles.
'What have I done?' said Steerforth.
'What have you done?' retorted Traddles. 'Hurt his feelings, and
lost him his situation.'
'His feelings?' repeated Steerforth disdainfully. 'His feelings
will soon get the better of it, I'll be bound. His feelings are
not like yours, Miss Traddles. As to his situation - which was a
precious one, wasn't it? - do you suppose I am not going to write
home, and take care that he gets some money? Polly?'
We thought this intention very noble in Steerforth, whose mother
was a widow, and rich, and would do almost anything, it was said,
that he asked her. We were all extremely glad to see Traddles so
put down, and exalted Steerforth to the skies: especially when he
told us, as he condescended to do, that what he had done had been
done expressly for us, and for our cause; and that he had conferred
a great boon upon us by unselfishly doing it.
But I must say that when I was going on with a story in the dark
that night, Mr. Mell's old flute seemed more than once to sound
mournfully in my ears; and that when at last Steerforth was tired,
and I lay down in my bed, I fancied it playing so sorrowfully
somewhere, that I was quite wretched.
I soon forgot him in the contemplation of Steerforth, who, in an
easy amateur way, and without any book (he seemed to me to know
everything by heart), took some of his classes until a new master
was found. The new master came from a grammar school; and before
he entered on his duties, dined in the parlour one day, to be
introduced to Steerforth. Steerforth approved of him highly, and
told us he was a Brick. Without exactly understanding what learned
distinction was meant by this, I respected him greatly for it, and
had no doubt whatever of his superior knowledge: though he never
took the pains with me - not that I was anybody - that Mr. Mell had
There was only one other event in this half-year, out of the daily
school-life, that made an impression upon me which still survives.
It survives for many reasons.
One afternoon, when we were all harassed into a state of dire
confusion, and Mr. Creakle was laying about him dreadfully, Tungay
came in, and called out in his usual strong way: 'Visitors for
A few words were interchanged between him and Mr. Creakle, as, who
the visitors were, and what room they were to be shown into; and
then I, who had, according to custom, stood up on the announcement
being made, and felt quite faint with astonishment, was told to go
by the back stairs and get a clean frill on, before I repaired to
the dining-room. These orders I obeyed, in such a flutter and
hurry of my young spirits as I had never known before; and when I
got to the parlour door, and the thought came into my head that it
might be my mother - I had only thought of Mr. or Miss Murdstone
until then - I drew back my hand from the lock, and stopped to have
a sob before I went in.
At first I saw nobody; but feeling a pressure against the door, I
looked round it, and there, to my amazement, were Mr. Peggotty and
Ham, ducking at me with their hats, and squeezing one another
against the wall. I could not help laughing; but it was much more
in the pleasure of seeing them, than at the appearance they made.
We shook hands in a very cordial way; and I laughed and laughed,
until I pulled out my pocket-handkerchief and wiped my eyes.
Mr. Peggotty (who never shut his mouth once, I remember, during the
visit) showed great concern when he saw me do this, and nudged Ham
to say something.
'Cheer up, Mas'r Davy bor'!' said Ham, in his simpering way. 'Why,
how you have growed!'
'Am I grown?' I said, drying my eyes. I was not crying at anything
in particular that I know of; but somehow it made me cry, to see
old friends.
'Growed, Mas'r Davy bor'? Ain't he growed!' said Ham.
'Ain't he growed!' said Mr. Peggotty.
They made me laugh again by laughing at each other, and then we all
three laughed until I was in danger of crying again.
'Do you know how mama is, Mr. Peggotty?' I said. 'And how my dear,
dear, old Peggotty is?'
'Oncommon,' said Mr. Peggotty.
'And little Em'ly, and Mrs. Gummidge?'
'On - common,' said Mr. Peggotty.
There was a silence. Mr. Peggotty, to relieve it, took two
prodigious lobsters, and an enormous crab, and a large canvas bag
of shrimps, out of his pockets, and piled them up in Ham's arms.
'You see,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'knowing as you was partial to a
little relish with your wittles when you was along with us, we took
the liberty. The old Mawther biled 'em, she did. Mrs. Gummidge
biled 'em. Yes,' said Mr. Peggotty, slowly, who I thought appeared
to stick to the subject on account of having no other subject
ready, 'Mrs. Gummidge, I do assure you, she biled 'em.'
I expressed my thanks; and Mr. Peggotty, after looking at Ham, who
stood smiling sheepishly over the shellfish, without making any
attempt to help him, said:
'We come, you see, the wind and tide making in our favour, in one
of our Yarmouth lugs to Gravesen'. My sister she wrote to me the
name of this here place, and wrote to me as if ever I chanced to
come to Gravesen', I was to come over and inquire for Mas'r Davy
and give her dooty, humbly wishing him well and reporting of the
fam'ly as they was oncommon toe-be-sure. Little Em'ly, you see,
she'll write to my sister when I go back, as I see you and as you
was similarly oncommon, and so we make it quite a merrygo-
I was obliged to consider a little before I understood what Mr.
Peggotty meant by this figure, expressive of a complete circle of
intelligence. I then thanked him heartily; and said, with a
consciousness of reddening, that I supposed little Em'ly was
altered too, since we used to pick up shells and pebbles on the
'She's getting to be a woman, that's wot she's getting to be,' said
Mr. Peggotty. 'Ask HIM.'
He meant Ham, who beamed with delight and assent over the bag of
'Her pretty face!' said Mr. Peggotty, with his own shining like a
'Her learning!' said Ham.
'Her writing!' said Mr. Peggotty. 'Why it's as black as jet! And
so large it is, you might see it anywheres.'
It was perfectly delightful to behold with what enthusiasm Mr.
Peggotty became inspired when he thought of his little favourite.
He stands before me again, his bluff hairy face irradiating with a
joyful love and pride, for which I can find no description. His
honest eyes fire up, and sparkle, as if their depths were stirred
by something bright. His broad chest heaves with pleasure. His
strong loose hands clench themselves, in his earnestness; and he
emphasizes what he says with a right arm that shows, in my pigmy
view, like a sledge-hammer.
Ham was quite as earnest as he. I dare say they would have said
much more about her, if they had not been abashed by the unexpected
coming in of Steerforth, who, seeing me in a corner speaking with
two strangers, stopped in a song he was singing, and said: 'I
didn't know you were here, young Copperfield!' (for it was not the
usual visiting room) and crossed by us on his way out.
I am not sure whether it was in the pride of having such a friend
as Steerforth, or in the desire to explain to him how I came to
have such a friend as Mr. Peggotty, that I called to him as he was
going away. But I said, modestly - Good Heaven, how it all comes
back to me this long time afterwards! -
'Don't go, Steerforth, if you please. These are two Yarmouth
boatmen - very kind, good people - who are relations of my nurse,
and have come from Gravesend to see me.'
'Aye, aye?' said Steerforth, returning. 'I am glad to see them.
How are you both?'
There was an ease in his manner - a gay and light manner it was,
but not swaggering - which I still believe to have borne a kind of
enchantment with it. I still believe him, in virtue of this
carriage, his animal spirits, his delightful voice, his handsome
face and figure, and, for aught I know, of some inborn power of
attraction besides (which I think a few people possess), to have
carried a spell with him to which it was a natural weakness to
yield, and which not many persons could withstand. I could not but
see how pleased they were with him, and how they seemed to open
their hearts to him in a moment.
'You must let them know at home, if you please, Mr. Peggotty,' I
said, 'when that letter is sent, that Mr. Steerforth is very kind
to me, and that I don't know what I should ever do here without
'Nonsense!' said Steerforth, laughing. 'You mustn't tell them
anything of the sort.'
'And if Mr. Steerforth ever comes into Norfolk or Suffolk, Mr.
Peggotty,' I said, 'while I am there, you may depend upon it I
shall bring him to Yarmouth, if he will let me, to see your house.
You never saw such a good house, Steerforth. It's made out of a
'Made out of a boat, is it?' said Steerforth. 'It's the right sort
of a house for such a thorough-built boatman.'
'So 'tis, sir, so 'tis, sir,' said Ham, grinning. 'You're right,
young gen'l'm'n! Mas'r Davy bor', gen'l'm'n's right. A thoroughbuilt
boatman! Hor, hor! That's what he is, too!'
Mr. Peggotty was no less pleased than his nephew, though his
modesty forbade him to claim a personal compliment so vociferously.
'Well, sir,' he said, bowing and chuckling, and tucking in the ends
of his neckerchief at his breast: 'I thankee, sir, I thankee! I do
my endeavours in my line of life, sir.'
'The best of men can do no more, Mr. Peggotty,' said Steerforth.
He had got his name already.
'I'll pound it, it's wot you do yourself, sir,' said Mr. Peggotty,
shaking his head, 'and wot you do well - right well! I thankee,
sir. I'm obleeged to you, sir, for your welcoming manner of me.
I'm rough, sir, but I'm ready - least ways, I hope I'm ready, you
unnerstand. My house ain't much for to see, sir, but it's hearty
at your service if ever you should come along with Mas'r Davy to
see it. I'm a reg'lar Dodman, I am,' said Mr. Peggotty, by which
he meant snail, and this was in allusion to his being slow to go,
for he had attempted to go after every sentence, and had somehow or
other come back again; 'but I wish you both well, and I wish you
Ham echoed this sentiment, and we parted with them in the heartiest
manner. I was almost tempted that evening to tell Steerforth about
pretty little Em'ly, but I was too timid of mentioning her name,
and too much afraid of his laughing at me. I remember that I
thought a good deal, and in an uneasy sort of way, about Mr.
Peggotty having said that she was getting on to be a woman; but I
decided that was nonsense.
We transported the shellfish, or the 'relish' as Mr. Peggotty had
modestly called it, up into our room unobserved, and made a great
supper that evening. But Traddles couldn't get happily out of it.
He was too unfortunate even to come through a supper like anybody
else. He was taken ill in the night - quite prostrate he was - in
consequence of Crab; and after being drugged with black draughts
and blue pills, to an extent which Demple (whose father was a
doctor) said was enough to undermine a horse's constitution,
received a caning and six chapters of Greek Testament for refusing
to confess.
The rest of the half-year is a jumble in my recollection of the
daily strife and struggle of our lives; of the waning summer and
the changing season; of the frosty mornings when we were rung out
of bed, and the cold, cold smell of the dark nights when we were
rung into bed again; of the evening schoolroom dimly lighted and
indifferently warmed, and the morning schoolroom which was nothing
but a great shivering-machine; of the alternation of boiled beef
with roast beef, and boiled mutton with roast mutton; of clods of
bread-and-butter, dog's-eared lesson-books, cracked slates,
tear-blotted copy-books, canings, rulerings, hair-cuttings, rainy
Sundays, suet-puddings, and a dirty atmosphere of ink, surrounding
I well remember though, how the distant idea of the holidays, after
seeming for an immense time to be a stationary speck, began to come
towards us, and to grow and grow. How from counting months, we
came to weeks, and then to days; and how I then began to be afraid
that I should not be sent for and when I learnt from Steerforth
that I had been sent for, and was certainly to go home, had dim
forebodings that I might break my leg first. How the breaking-up
day changed its place fast, at last, from the week after next to
next week, this week, the day after tomorrow, tomorrow, today,
tonight - when I was inside the Yarmouth mail, and going home.
I had many a broken sleep inside the Yarmouth mail, and many an
incoherent dream of all these things. But when I awoke at
intervals, the ground outside the window was not the playground of
Salem House, and the sound in my ears was not the sound of Mr.
Creakle giving it to Traddles, but the sound of the coachman
touching up the horses.
When we arrived before day at the inn where the mail stopped, which
was not the inn where my friend the waiter lived, I was shown up to
a nice little bedroom, with DOLPHIN painted on the door. Very cold
I was, I know, notwithstanding the hot tea they had given me before
a large fire downstairs; and very glad I was to turn into the
Dolphin's bed, pull the Dolphin's blankets round my head, and go to
Mr. Barkis the carrier was to call for me in the morning at nine
o'clock. I got up at eight, a little giddy from the shortness of
my night's rest, and was ready for him before the appointed time.
He received me exactly as if not five minutes had elapsed since we
were last together, and I had only been into the hotel to get
change for sixpence, or something of that sort.
As soon as I and my box were in the cart, and the carrier seated,
the lazy horse walked away with us all at his accustomed pace.
'You look very well, Mr. Barkis,' I said, thinking he would like to
know it.
Mr. Barkis rubbed his cheek with his cuff, and then looked at his
cuff as if he expected to find some of the bloom upon it; but made
no other acknowledgement of the compliment.
'I gave your message, Mr. Barkis,' I said: 'I wrote to Peggotty.'
'Ah!' said Mr. Barkis.
Mr. Barkis seemed gruff, and answered drily.
'Wasn't it right, Mr. Barkis?' I asked, after a little hesitation.
'Why, no,' said Mr. Barkis.
'Not the message?'
'The message was right enough, perhaps,' said Mr. Barkis; 'but it
come to an end there.'
Not understanding what he meant, I repeated inquisitively: 'Came to
an end, Mr. Barkis?'
'Nothing come of it,' he explained, looking at me sideways. 'No
'There was an answer expected, was there, Mr. Barkis?' said I,
opening my eyes. For this was a new light to me.
'When a man says he's willin',' said Mr. Barkis, turning his glance
slowly on me again, 'it's as much as to say, that man's a-waitin'
for a answer.'
'Well, Mr. Barkis?'
'Well,' said Mr. Barkis, carrying his eyes back to his horse's
ears; 'that man's been a-waitin' for a answer ever since.'
'Have you told her so, Mr. Barkis?'
'No - no,' growled Mr. Barkis, reflecting about it. 'I ain't got
no call to go and tell her so. I never said six words to her
myself, I ain't a-goin' to tell her so.'
'Would you like me to do it, Mr. Barkis?' said I, doubtfully.
'You might tell her, if you would,' said Mr. Barkis, with another
slow look at me, 'that Barkis was a-waitin' for a answer. Says you
- what name is it?'
'Her name?'
'Ah!' said Mr. Barkis, with a nod of his head.
'Chrisen name? Or nat'ral name?' said Mr. Barkis.
'Oh, it's not her Christian name. Her Christian name is Clara.'
'Is it though?' said Mr. Barkis.
He seemed to find an immense fund of reflection in this
circumstance, and sat pondering and inwardly whistling for some
'Well!' he resumed at length. 'Says you, "Peggotty! Barkis is
waitin' for a answer." Says she, perhaps, "Answer to what?" Says
you, "To what I told you." "What is that?" says she. "Barkis is
willin'," says you.'
This extremely artful suggestion Mr. Barkis accompanied with a
nudge of his elbow that gave me quite a stitch in my side. After
that, he slouched over his horse in his usual manner; and made no
other reference to the subject except, half an hour afterwards,
taking a piece of chalk from his pocket, and writing up, inside the
tilt of the cart, 'Clara Peggotty' - apparently as a private
Ah, what a strange feeling it was to be going home when it was not
home, and to find that every object I looked at, reminded me of the
happy old home, which was like a dream I could never dream again!
The days when my mother and I and Peggotty were all in all to one
another, and there was no one to come between us, rose up before me
so sorrowfully on the road, that I am not sure I was glad to be
there - not sure but that I would rather have remained away, and
forgotten it in Steerforth's company. But there I was; and soon I
was at our house, where the bare old elm-trees wrung their many
hands in the bleak wintry air, and shreds of the old rooks'-nests
drifted away upon the wind.
The carrier put my box down at the garden-gate, and left me. I
walked along the path towards the house, glancing at the windows,
and fearing at every step to see Mr. Murdstone or Miss Murdstone
lowering out of one of them. No face appeared, however; and being
come to the house, and knowing how to open the door, before dark,
without knocking, I went in with a quiet, timid step.
God knows how infantine the memory may have been, that was awakened
within me by the sound of my mother's voice in the old parlour,
when I set foot in the hall. She was singing in a low tone. I
think I must have lain in her arms, and heard her singing so to me
when I was but a baby. The strain was new to me, and yet it was so
old that it filled my heart brim-full; like a friend come back from
a long absence.
I believed, from the solitary and thoughtful way in which my mother
murmured her song, that she was alone. And I went softly into the
room. She was sitting by the fire, suckling an infant, whose tiny
hand she held against her neck. Her eyes were looking down upon
its face, and she sat singing to it. I was so far right, that she
had no other companion.
I spoke to her, and she started, and cried out. But seeing me, she
called me her dear Davy, her own boy! and coming half across the
room to meet me, kneeled down upon the ground and kissed me, and
laid my head down on her bosom near the little creature that was
nestling there, and put its hand to my lips.
I wish I had died. I wish I had died then, with that feeling in my
heart! I should have been more fit for Heaven than I ever have
been since.
'He is your brother,' said my mother, fondling me. 'Davy, my
pretty boy! My poor child!' Then she kissed me more and more, and
clasped me round the neck. This she was doing when Peggotty came
running in, and bounced down on the ground beside us, and went mad
about us both for a quarter of an hour.
It seemed that I had not been expected so soon, the carrier being
much before his usual time. It seemed, too, that Mr. and Miss
Murdstone had gone out upon a visit in the neighbourhood, and would
not return before night. I had never hoped for this. I had never
thought it possible that we three could be together undisturbed,
once more; and I felt, for the time, as if the old days were come
We dined together by the fireside. Peggotty was in attendance to
wait upon us, but my mother wouldn't let her do it, and made her
dine with us. I had my own old plate, with a brown view of a
man-of-war in full sail upon it, which Peggotty had hoarded
somewhere all the time I had been away, and would not have had
broken, she said, for a hundred pounds. I had my own old mug with
David on it, and my own old little knife and fork that wouldn't
While we were at table, I thought it a favourable occasion to tell
Peggotty about Mr. Barkis, who, before I had finished what I had to
tell her, began to laugh, and throw her apron over her face.
'Peggotty,' said my mother. 'What's the matter?'
Peggotty only laughed the more, and held her apron tight over her
face when my mother tried to pull it away, and sat as if her head
were in a bag.
'What are you doing, you stupid creature?' said my mother,
'Oh, drat the man!' cried Peggotty. 'He wants to marry me.'
'It would be a very good match for you; wouldn't it?' said my
'Oh! I don't know,' said Peggotty. 'Don't ask me. I wouldn't
have him if he was made of gold. Nor I wouldn't have anybody.'
'Then, why don't you tell him so, you ridiculous thing?' said my
'Tell him so,' retorted Peggotty, looking out of her apron. 'He
has never said a word to me about it. He knows better. If he was
to make so bold as say a word to me, I should slap his face.'
Her own was as red as ever I saw it, or any other face, I think;
but she only covered it again, for a few moments at a time, when
she was taken with a violent fit of laughter; and after two or
three of those attacks, went on with her dinner.
I remarked that my mother, though she smiled when Peggotty looked
at her, became more serious and thoughtful. I had seen at first
that she was changed. Her face was very pretty still, but it
looked careworn, and too delicate; and her hand was so thin and
white that it seemed to me to be almost transparent. But the
change to which I now refer was superadded to this: it was in her
manner, which became anxious and fluttered. At last she said,
putting out her hand, and laying it affectionately on the hand of
her old servant,
'Peggotty, dear, you are not going to be married?'
'Me, ma'am?' returned Peggotty, staring. 'Lord bless you, no!'
'Not just yet?' said my mother, tenderly.
'Never!' cried Peggotty.
My mother took her hand, and said:
'Don't leave me, Peggotty. Stay with me. It will not be for long,
perhaps. What should I ever do without you!'
'Me leave you, my precious!' cried Peggotty. 'Not for all the
world and his wife. Why, what's put that in your silly little
head?' - For Peggotty had been used of old to talk to my mother
sometimes like a child.
But my mother made no answer, except to thank her, and Peggotty
went running on in her own fashion.
'Me leave you? I think I see myself. Peggotty go away from you?
I should like to catch her at it! No, no, no,' said Peggotty,
shaking her head, and folding her arms; 'not she, my dear. It
isn't that there ain't some Cats that would be well enough pleased
if she did, but they sha'n't be pleased. They shall be aggravated.
I'll stay with you till I am a cross cranky old woman. And when
I'm too deaf, and too lame, and too blind, and too mumbly for want
of teeth, to be of any use at all, even to be found fault with,
than I shall go to my Davy, and ask him to take me in.'
'And, Peggotty,' says I, 'I shall be glad to see you, and I'll make
you as welcome as a queen.'
'Bless your dear heart!' cried Peggotty. 'I know you will!' And
she kissed me beforehand, in grateful acknowledgement of my
hospitality. After that, she covered her head up with her apron
again and had another laugh about Mr. Barkis. After that, she took
the baby out of its little cradle, and nursed it. After that, she
cleared the dinner table; after that, came in with another cap on,
and her work-box, and the yard-measure, and the bit of wax-candle,
all just the same as ever.
We sat round the fire, and talked delightfully. I told them what
a hard master Mr. Creakle was, and they pitied me very much. I
told them what a fine fellow Steerforth was, and what a patron of
mine, and Peggotty said she would walk a score of miles to see him.
I took the little baby in my arms when it was awake, and nursed it
lovingly. When it was asleep again, I crept close to my mother's
side according to my old custom, broken now a long time, and sat
with my arms embracing her waist, and my little red cheek on her
shoulder, and once more felt her beautiful hair drooping over me -
like an angel's wing as I used to think, I recollect - and was very
happy indeed.
While I sat thus, looking at the fire, and seeing pictures in the
red-hot coals, I almost believed that I had never been away; that
Mr. and Miss Murdstone were such pictures, and would vanish when
the fire got low; and that there was nothing real in all that I
remembered, save my mother, Peggotty, and I.
Peggotty darned away at a stocking as long as she could see, and
then sat with it drawn on her left hand like a glove, and her
needle in her right, ready to take another stitch whenever there
was a blaze. I cannot conceive whose stockings they can have been
that Peggotty was always darning, or where such an unfailing supply
of stockings in want of darning can have come from. From my
earliest infancy she seems to have been always employed in that
class of needlework, and never by any chance in any other.
'I wonder,' said Peggotty, who was sometimes seized with a fit of
wondering on some most unexpected topic, 'what's become of Davy's
'Lor, Peggotty!' observed my mother, rousing herself from a
reverie, 'what nonsense you talk!'
'Well, but I really do wonder, ma'am,' said Peggotty.
'What can have put such a person in your head?' inquired my mother.
'Is there nobody else in the world to come there?'
'I don't know how it is,' said Peggotty, 'unless it's on account of
being stupid, but my head never can pick and choose its people.
They come and they go, and they don't come and they don't go, just
as they like. I wonder what's become of her?'
'How absurd you are, Peggotty!' returned my mother. 'One would
suppose you wanted a second visit from her.'
'Lord forbid!' cried Peggotty.
'Well then, don't talk about such uncomfortable things, there's a
good soul,' said my mother. 'Miss Betsey is shut up in her cottage
by the sea, no doubt, and will remain there. At all events, she is
not likely ever to trouble us again.'
'No!' mused Peggotty. 'No, that ain't likely at all. - I wonder,
if she was to die, whether she'd leave Davy anything?'
'Good gracious me, Peggotty,' returned my mother, 'what a
nonsensical woman you are! when you know that she took offence at
the poor dear boy's ever being born at all.'
'I suppose she wouldn't be inclined to forgive him now,' hinted
'Why should she be inclined to forgive him now?' said my mother,
rather sharply.
'Now that he's got a brother, I mean,' said Peggotty.
MY mother immediately began to cry, and wondered how Peggotty dared
to say such a thing.
'As if this poor little innocent in its cradle had ever done any
harm to you or anybody else, you jealous thing!' said she. 'You
had much better go and marry Mr. Barkis, the carrier. Why don't
'I should make Miss Murdstone happy, if I was to,' said Peggotty.
'What a bad disposition you have, Peggotty!' returned my mother.
'You are as jealous of Miss Murdstone as it is possible for a
ridiculous creature to be. You want to keep the keys yourself, and
give out all the things, I suppose? I shouldn't be surprised if
you did. When you know that she only does it out of kindness and
the best intentions! You know she does, Peggotty - you know it
Peggotty muttered something to the effect of 'Bother the best
intentions!' and something else to the effect that there was a
little too much of the best intentions going on.
'I know what you mean, you cross thing,' said my mother. 'I
understand you, Peggotty, perfectly. You know I do, and I wonder
you don't colour up like fire. But one point at a time. Miss
Murdstone is the point now, Peggotty, and you sha'n't escape from
it. Haven't you heard her say, over and over again, that she
thinks I am too thoughtless and too - a - a -'
'Pretty,' suggested Peggotty.
'Well,' returned my mother, half laughing, 'and if she is so silly
as to say so, can I be blamed for it?'
'No one says you can,' said Peggotty.
'No, I should hope not, indeed!' returned my mother. 'Haven't you
heard her say, over and over again, that on this account she wished
to spare me a great deal of trouble, which she thinks I am not
suited for, and which I really don't know myself that I AM suited
for; and isn't she up early and late, and going to and fro
continually - and doesn't she do all sorts of things, and grope
into all sorts of places, coal-holes and pantries and I don't know
where, that can't be very agreeable - and do you mean to insinuate
that there is not a sort of devotion in that?'
'I don't insinuate at all,' said Peggotty.
'You do, Peggotty,' returned my mother. 'You never do anything
else, except your work. You are always insinuating. You revel in
it. And when you talk of Mr. Murdstone's good intentions -'
'I never talked of 'em,' said Peggotty.
'No, Peggotty,' returned my mother, 'but you insinuated. That's
what I told you just now. That's the worst of you. You WILL
insinuate. I said, at the moment, that I understood you, and you
see I did. When you talk of Mr. Murdstone's good intentions, and
pretend to slight them (for I don't believe you really do, in your
heart, Peggotty), you must be as well convinced as I am how good
they are, and how they actuate him in everything. If he seems to
have been at all stern with a certain person, Peggotty - you
understand, and so I am sure does Davy, that I am not alluding to
anybody present - it is solely because he is satisfied that it is
for a certain person's benefit. He naturally loves a certain
person, on my account; and acts solely for a certain person's good.
He is better able to judge of it than I am; for I very well know
that I am a weak, light, girlish creature, and that he is a firm,
grave, serious man. And he takes,' said my mother, with the tears
which were engendered in her affectionate nature, stealing down her
face, 'he takes great pains with me; and I ought to be very
thankful to him, and very submissive to him even in my thoughts;
and when I am not, Peggotty, I worry and condemn myself, and feel
doubtful of my own heart, and don't know what to do.'
Peggotty sat with her chin on the foot of the stocking, looking
silently at the fire.
'There, Peggotty,' said my mother, changing her tone, 'don't let us
fall out with one another, for I couldn't bear it. You are my true
friend, I know, if I have any in the world. When I call you a
ridiculous creature, or a vexatious thing, or anything of that
sort, Peggotty, I only mean that you are my true friend, and always
have been, ever since the night when Mr. Copperfield first brought
me home here, and you came out to the gate to meet me.'
Peggotty was not slow to respond, and ratify the treaty of
friendship by giving me one of her best hugs. I think I had some
glimpses of the real character of this conversation at the time;
but I am sure, now, that the good creature originated it, and took
her part in it, merely that my mother might comfort herself with
the little contradictory summary in which she had indulged. The
design was efficacious; for I remember that my mother seemed more
at ease during the rest of the evening, and that Peggotty observed
her less.
When we had had our tea, and the ashes were thrown up, and the
candles snuffed, I read Peggotty a chapter out of the Crocodile
Book, in remembrance of old times - she took it out of her pocket:
I don't know whether she had kept it there ever since - and then we
talked about Salem House, which brought me round again to
Steerforth, who was my great subject. We were very happy; and that
evening, as the last of its race, and destined evermore to close
that volume of my life, will never pass out of my memory.
It was almost ten o'clock before we heard the sound of wheels. We
all got up then; and my mother said hurriedly that, as it was so
late, and Mr. and Miss Murdstone approved of early hours for young
people, perhaps I had better go to bed. I kissed her, and went
upstairs with my candle directly, before they came in. It appeared
to my childish fancy, as I ascended to the bedroom where I had been
imprisoned, that they brought a cold blast of air into the house
which blew away the old familiar feeling like a feather.
I felt uncomfortable about going down to breakfast in the morning,
as I had never set eyes on Mr. Murdstone since the day when I
committed my memorable offence. However, as it must be done, I
went down, after two or three false starts half-way, and as many
runs back on tiptoe to my own room, and presented myself in the
He was standing before the fire with his back to it, while Miss
Murdstone made the tea. He looked at me steadily as I entered, but
made no sign of recognition whatever.
I went up to him, after a moment of confusion, and said: 'I beg
your pardon, sir. I am very sorry for what I did, and I hope you
will forgive me.'
'I am glad to hear you are sorry, David,' he replied.
The hand he gave me was the hand I had bitten. I could not
restrain my eye from resting for an instant on a red spot upon it;
but it was not so red as I turned, when I met that sinister
expression in his face.
'How do you do, ma'am?' I said to Miss Murdstone.
'Ah, dear me!' sighed Miss Murdstone, giving me the tea-caddy scoop
instead of her fingers. 'How long are the holidays?'
'A month, ma'am.'
'Counting from when?'
'From today, ma'am.'
'Oh!' said Miss Murdstone. 'Then here's one day off.'
She kept a calendar of the holidays in this way, and every morning
checked a day off in exactly the same manner. She did it gloomily
until she came to ten, but when she got into two figures she became
more hopeful, and, as the time advanced, even jocular.
It was on this very first day that I had the misfortune to throw
her, though she was not subject to such weakness in general, into
a state of violent consternation. I came into the room where she
and my mother were sitting; and the baby (who was only a few weeks
old) being on my mother's lap, I took it very carefully in my arms.
Suddenly Miss Murdstone gave such a scream that I all but dropped
'My dear Jane!' cried my mother.
'Good heavens, Clara, do you see?' exclaimed Miss Murdstone.
'See what, my dear Jane?' said my mother; 'where?'
'He's got it!' cried Miss Murdstone. 'The boy has got the baby!'
She was limp with horror; but stiffened herself to make a dart at
me, and take it out of my arms. Then, she turned faint; and was so
very ill that they were obliged to give her cherry brandy. I was
solemnly interdicted by her, on her recovery, from touching my
brother any more on any pretence whatever; and my poor mother, who,
I could see, wished otherwise, meekly confirmed the interdict, by
saying: 'No doubt you are right, my dear Jane.'
On another occasion, when we three were together, this same dear
baby - it was truly dear to me, for our mother's sake - was the
innocent occasion of Miss Murdstone's going into a passion. My
mother, who had been looking at its eyes as it lay upon her lap,
'Davy! come here!' and looked at mine.
I saw Miss Murdstone lay her beads down.
'I declare,' said my mother, gently, 'they are exactly alike. I
suppose they are mine. I think they are the colour of mine. But
they are wonderfully alike.'
'What are you talking about, Clara?' said Miss Murdstone.
'My dear Jane,' faltered my mother, a little abashed by the harsh
tone of this inquiry, 'I find that the baby's eyes and Davy's are
exactly alike.'
'Clara!' said Miss Murdstone, rising angrily, 'you are a positive
fool sometimes.'
'My dear Jane,' remonstrated my mother.
'A positive fool,' said Miss Murdstone. 'Who else could compare my
brother's baby with your boy? They are not at all alike. They are
exactly unlike. They are utterly dissimilar in all respects. I
hope they will ever remain so. I will not sit here, and hear such
comparisons made.' With that she stalked out, and made the door
bang after her.
In short, I was not a favourite with Miss Murdstone. In short, I
was not a favourite there with anybody, not even with myself; for
those who did like me could not show it, and those who did not,
showed it so plainly that I had a sensitive consciousness of always
appearing constrained, boorish, and dull.
I felt that I made them as uncomfortable as they made me. If I
came into the room where they were, and they were talking together
and my mother seemed cheerful, an anxious cloud would steal over
her face from the moment of my entrance. If Mr. Murdstone were in
his best humour, I checked him. If Miss Murdstone were in her
worst, I intensified it. I had perception enough to know that my
mother was the victim always; that she was afraid to speak to me or
to be kind to me, lest she should give them some offence by her
manner of doing so, and receive a lecture afterwards; that she was
not only ceaselessly afraid of her own offending, but of my
offending, and uneasily watched their looks if I only moved.
Therefore I resolved to keep myself as much out of their way as I
could; and many a wintry hour did I hear the church clock strike,
when I was sitting in my cheerless bedroom, wrapped in my little
great-coat, poring over a book.
In the evening, sometimes, I went and sat with Peggotty in the
kitchen. There I was comfortable, and not afraid of being myself.
But neither of these resources was approved of in the parlour. The
tormenting humour which was dominant there stopped them both. I
was still held to be necessary to my poor mother's training, and,
as one of her trials, could not be suffered to absent myself.
'David,' said Mr. Murdstone, one day after dinner when I was going
to leave the room as usual; 'I am sorry to observe that you are of
a sullen disposition.'
'As sulky as a bear!' said Miss Murdstone.
I stood still, and hung my head.
'Now, David,' said Mr. Murdstone, 'a sullen obdurate disposition
is, of all tempers, the worst.'
'And the boy's is, of all such dispositions that ever I have seen,'
remarked his sister, 'the most confirmed and stubborn. I think, my
dear Clara, even you must observe it?'
'I beg your pardon, my dear Jane,' said my mother, 'but are you
quite sure - I am certain you'll excuse me, my dear Jane - that you
understand Davy?'
'I should be somewhat ashamed of myself, Clara,' returned Miss
Murdstone, 'if I could not understand the boy, or any boy. I don't
profess to be profound; but I do lay claim to common sense.'
'No doubt, my dear Jane,' returned my mother, 'your understanding
is very vigorous -'
'Oh dear, no! Pray don't say that, Clara,' interposed Miss
Murdstone, angrily.
'But I am sure it is,' resumed my mother; 'and everybody knows it
is. I profit so much by it myself, in many ways - at least I ought
to - that no one can be more convinced of it than myself; and
therefore I speak with great diffidence, my dear Jane, I assure
'We'll say I don't understand the boy, Clara,' returned Miss
Murdstone, arranging the little fetters on her wrists. 'We'll
agree, if you please, that I don't understand him at all. He is
much too deep for me. But perhaps my brother's penetration may
enable him to have some insight into his character. And I believe
my brother was speaking on the subject when we - not very decently
- interrupted him.'
'I think, Clara,' said Mr. Murdstone, in a low grave voice, 'that
there may be better and more dispassionate judges of such a
question than you.'
'Edward,' replied my mother, timidly, 'you are a far better judge
of all questions than I pretend to be. Both you and Jane are. I
only said -'
'You only said something weak and inconsiderate,' he replied. 'Try
not to do it again, my dear Clara, and keep a watch upon yourself.'
MY mother's lips moved, as if she answered 'Yes, my dear Edward,'
but she said nothing aloud.
'I was sorry, David, I remarked,' said Mr. Murdstone, turning his
head and his eyes stiffly towards me, 'to observe that you are of
a sullen disposition. This is not a character that I can suffer to
develop itself beneath my eyes without an effort at improvement.
You must endeavour, sir, to change it. We must endeavour to change
it for you.'
'I beg your pardon, sir,' I faltered. 'I have never meant to be
sullen since I came back.'
'Don't take refuge in a lie, sir!' he returned so fiercely, that I
saw my mother involuntarily put out her trembling hand as if to
interpose between us. 'You have withdrawn yourself in your
sullenness to your own room. You have kept your own room when you
ought to have been here. You know now, once for all, that I
require you to be here, and not there. Further, that I require you
to bring obedience here. You know me, David. I will have it
Miss Murdstone gave a hoarse chuckle.
'I will have a respectful, prompt, and ready bearing towards
myself,' he continued, 'and towards Jane Murdstone, and towards
your mother. I will not have this room shunned as if it were
infected, at the pleasure of a child. Sit down.'
He ordered me like a dog, and I obeyed like a dog.
'One thing more,' he said. 'I observe that you have an attachment
to low and common company. You are not to associate with servants.
The kitchen will not improve you, in the many respects in which you
need improvement. Of the woman who abets you, I say nothing -
since you, Clara,' addressing my mother in a lower voice, 'from old
associations and long-established fancies, have a weakness
respecting her which is not yet overcome.'
'A most unaccountable delusion it is!' cried Miss Murdstone.
'I only say,' he resumed, addressing me, 'that I disapprove of your
preferring such company as Mistress Peggotty, and that it is to be
abandoned. Now, David, you understand me, and you know what will
be the consequence if you fail to obey me to the letter.'
I knew well - better perhaps than he thought, as far as my poor
mother was concerned - and I obeyed him to the letter. I retreated
to my own room no more; I took refuge with Peggotty no more; but
sat wearily in the parlour day after day, looking forward to night,
and bedtime.
What irksome constraint I underwent, sitting in the same attitude
hours upon hours, afraid to move an arm or a leg lest Miss
Murdstone should complain (as she did on the least pretence) of my
restlessness, and afraid to move an eye lest she should light on
some look of dislike or scrutiny that would find new cause for
complaint in mine! What intolerable dulness to sit listening to
the ticking of the clock; and watching Miss Murdstone's little
shiny steel beads as she strung them; and wondering whether she
would ever be married, and if so, to what sort of unhappy man; and
counting the divisions in the moulding of the chimney-piece; and
wandering away, with my eyes, to the ceiling, among the curls and
corkscrews in the paper on the wall!
What walks I took alone, down muddy lanes, in the bad winter
weather, carrying that parlour, and Mr. and Miss Murdstone in it,
everywhere: a monstrous load that I was obliged to bear, a daymare
that there was no possibility of breaking in, a weight that brooded
on my wits, and blunted them!
What meals I had in silence and embarrassment, always feeling that
there were a knife and fork too many, and that mine; an appetite
too many, and that mine; a plate and chair too many, and those
mine; a somebody too many, and that I!
What evenings, when the candles came, and I was expected to employ
myself, but, not daring to read an entertaining book, pored over
some hard-headed, harder-hearted treatise on arithmetic; when the
tables of weights and measures set themselves to tunes, as 'Rule
Britannia', or 'Away with Melancholy'; when they wouldn't stand
still to be learnt, but would go threading my grandmother's needle
through my unfortunate head, in at one ear and out at the other!
What yawns and dozes I lapsed into, in spite of all my care; what
starts I came out of concealed sleeps with; what answers I never
got, to little observations that I rarely made; what a blank space
I seemed, which everybody overlooked, and yet was in everybody's
way; what a heavy relief it was to hear Miss Murdstone hail the
first stroke of nine at night, and order me to bed!
Thus the holidays lagged away, until the morning came when Miss
Murdstone said: 'Here's the last day off!' and gave me the closing
cup of tea of the vacation.
I was not sorry to go. I had lapsed into a stupid state; but I was
recovering a little and looking forward to Steerforth, albeit Mr.
Creakle loomed behind him. Again Mr. Barkis appeared at the gate,
and again Miss Murdstone in her warning voice, said: 'Clara!' when
my mother bent over me, to bid me farewell.
I kissed her, and my baby brother, and was very sorry then; but not
sorry to go away, for the gulf between us was there, and the
parting was there, every day. And it is not so much the embrace
she gave me, that lives in my mind, though it was as fervent as
could be, as what followed the embrace.
I was in the carrier's cart when I heard her calling to me. I
looked out, and she stood at the garden-gate alone, holding her
baby up in her arms for me to see. It was cold still weather; and
not a hair of her head, nor a fold of her dress, was stirred, as
she looked intently at me, holding up her child.
So I lost her. So I saw her afterwards, in my sleep at school - a
silent presence near my bed - looking at me with the same intent
face - holding up her baby in her arms.
I PASS over all that happened at school, until the anniversary of
my birthday came round in March. Except that Steerforth was more
to be admired than ever, I remember nothing. He was going away at
the end of the half-year, if not sooner, and was more spirited and
independent than before in my eyes, and therefore more engaging
than before; but beyond this I remember nothing. The great
remembrance by which that time is marked in my mind, seems to have
swallowed up all lesser recollections, and to exist alone.
It is even difficult for me to believe that there was a gap of full
two months between my return to Salem House and the arrival of that
birthday. I can only understand that the fact was so, because I
know it must have been so; otherwise I should feel convinced that
there was no interval, and that the one occasion trod upon the
other's heels.
How well I recollect the kind of day it was! I smell the fog that
hung about the place; I see the hoar frost, ghostly, through it; I
feel my rimy hair fall clammy on my cheek; I look along the dim
perspective of the schoolroom, with a sputtering candle here and
there to light up the foggy morning, and the breath of the boys
wreathing and smoking in the raw cold as they blow upon their
fingers, and tap their feet upon the floor. It was after
breakfast, and we had been summoned in from the playground, when
Mr. Sharp entered and said:
'David Copperfield is to go into the parlour.'
I expected a hamper from Peggotty, and brightened at the order.
Some of the boys about me put in their claim not to be forgotten in
the distribution of the good things, as I got out of my seat with
great alacrity.
'Don't hurry, David,' said Mr. Sharp. 'There's time enough, my
boy, don't hurry.'
I might have been surprised by the feeling tone in which he spoke,
if I had given it a thought; but I gave it none until afterwards.
I hurried away to the parlour; and there I found Mr. Creakle,
sitting at his breakfast with the cane and a newspaper before him,
and Mrs. Creakle with an opened letter in her hand. But no hamper.
'David Copperfield,' said Mrs. Creakle, leading me to a sofa, and
sitting down beside me. 'I want to speak to you very particularly.
I have something to tell you, my child.'
Mr. Creakle, at whom of course I looked, shook his head without
looking at me, and stopped up a sigh with a very large piece of
buttered toast.
'You are too young to know how the world changes every day,' said
Mrs. Creakle, 'and how the people in it pass away. But we all have
to learn it, David; some of us when we are young, some of us when
we are old, some of us at all times of our lives.'
I looked at her earnestly.
'When you came away from home at the end of the vacation,' said
Mrs. Creakle, after a pause, 'were they all well?' After another
pause, 'Was your mama well?'
I trembled without distinctly knowing why, and still looked at her
earnestly, making no attempt to answer.
'Because,' said she, 'I grieve to tell you that I hear this morning
your mama is very ill.'
A mist rose between Mrs. Creakle and me, and her figure seemed to
move in it for an instant. Then I felt the burning tears run down
my face, and it was steady again.
'She is very dangerously ill,' she added.
I knew all now.
'She is dead.'
There was no need to tell me so. I had already broken out into a
desolate cry, and felt an orphan in the wide world.
She was very kind to me. She kept me there all day, and left me
alone sometimes; and I cried, and wore myself to sleep, and awoke
and cried again. When I could cry no more, I began to think; and
then the oppression on my breast was heaviest, and my grief a dull
pain that there was no ease for.
And yet my thoughts were idle; not intent on the calamity that
weighed upon my heart, but idly loitering near it. I thought of
our house shut up and hushed. I thought of the little baby, who,
Mrs. Creakle said, had been pining away for some time, and who,
they believed, would die too. I thought of my father's grave in
the churchyard, by our house, and of my mother lying there beneath
the tree I knew so well. I stood upon a chair when I was left
alone, and looked into the glass to see how red my eyes were, and
how sorrowful my face. I considered, after some hours were gone,
if my tears were really hard to flow now, as they seemed to be,
what, in connexion with my loss, it would affect me most to think
of when I drew near home - for I was going home to the funeral. I
am sensible of having felt that a dignity attached to me among the
rest of the boys, and that I was important in my affliction.
If ever child were stricken with sincere grief, I was. But I
remember that this importance was a kind of satisfaction to me,
when I walked in the playground that afternoon while the boys were
in school. When I saw them glancing at me out of the windows, as
they went up to their classes, I felt distinguished, and looked
more melancholy, and walked slower. When school was over, and they
came out and spoke to me, I felt it rather good in myself not to be
proud to any of them, and to take exactly the same notice of them
all, as before.
I was to go home next night; not by the mail, but by the heavy
night-coach, which was called the Farmer, and was principally used
by country-people travelling short intermediate distances upon the
road. We had no story-telling that evening, and Traddles insisted
on lending me his pillow. I don't know what good he thought it
would do me, for I had one of my own: but it was all he had to
lend, poor fellow, except a sheet of letter-paper full of
skeletons; and that he gave me at parting, as a soother of my
sorrows and a contribution to my peace of mind.
I left Salem House upon the morrow afternoon. I little thought
then that I left it, never to return. We travelled very slowly all
night, and did not get into Yarmouth before nine or ten o'clock in
the morning. I looked out for Mr. Barkis, but he was not there;
and instead of him a fat, short-winded, merry-looking, little old
man in black, with rusty little bunches of ribbons at the knees of
his breeches, black stockings, and a broad-brimmed hat, came
puffing up to the coach window, and said:
'Master Copperfield?'
'Yes, sir.'
'Will you come with me, young sir, if you please,' he said, opening
the door, 'and I shall have the pleasure of taking you home.'
I put my hand in his, wondering who he was, and we walked away to
a shop in a narrow street, on which was written OMER, DRAPER,
stifling little shop; full of all sorts of clothing, made and
unmade, including one window full of beaver-hats and bonnets. We
went into a little back-parlour behind the shop, where we found
three young women at work on a quantity of black materials, which
were heaped upon the table, and little bits and cuttings of which
were littered all over the floor. There was a good fire in the
room, and a breathless smell of warm black crape - I did not know
what the smell was then, but I know now.
The three young women, who appeared to be very industrious and
comfortable, raised their heads to look at me, and then went on
with their work. Stitch, stitch, stitch. At the same time there
came from a workshop across a little yard outside the window, a
regular sound of hammering that kept a kind of tune: RAT - tat-tat,
RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat, without any variation.
'Well,' said my conductor to one of the three young women. 'How do
you get on, Minnie?'
'We shall be ready by the trying-on time,' she replied gaily,
without looking up. 'Don't you be afraid, father.'
Mr. Omer took off his broad-brimmed hat, and sat down and panted.
He was so fat that he was obliged to pant some time before he could
'That's right.'
'Father!' said Minnie, playfully. 'What a porpoise you do grow!'
'Well, I don't know how it is, my dear,' he replied, considering
about it. 'I am rather so.'
'You are such a comfortable man, you see,' said Minnie. 'You take
things so easy.'
'No use taking 'em otherwise, my dear,' said Mr. Omer.
'No, indeed,' returned his daughter. 'We are all pretty gay here,
thank Heaven! Ain't we, father?'
'I hope so, my dear,' said Mr. Omer. 'As I have got my breath now,
I think I'll measure this young scholar. Would you walk into the
shop, Master Copperfield?'
I preceded Mr. Omer, in compliance with his request; and after
showing me a roll of cloth which he said was extra super, and too
good mourning for anything short of parents, he took my various
dimensions, and put them down in a book. While he was recording
them he called my attention to his stock in trade, and to certain
fashions which he said had 'just come up', and to certain other
fashions which he said had 'just gone out'.
'And by that sort of thing we very often lose a little mint of
money,' said Mr. Omer. 'But fashions are like human beings. They
come in, nobody knows when, why, or how; and they go out, nobody
knows when, why, or how. Everything is like life, in my opinion,
if you look at it in that point of view.'
I was too sorrowful to discuss the question, which would possibly
have been beyond me under any circumstances; and Mr. Omer took me
back into the parlour, breathing with some difficulty on the way.
He then called down a little break-neck range of steps behind a
door: 'Bring up that tea and bread-and-butter!' which, after some
time, during which I sat looking about me and thinking, and
listening to the stitching in the room and the tune that was being
hammered across the yard, appeared on a tray, and turned out to be
for me.
'I have been acquainted with you,' said Mr. Omer, after watching me
for some minutes, during which I had not made much impression on
the breakfast, for the black things destroyed my appetite, 'I have
been acquainted with you a long time, my young friend.'
'Have you, sir?'
'All your life,' said Mr. Omer. 'I may say before it. I knew your
father before you. He was five foot nine and a half, and he lays
in five-and-twen-ty foot of ground.'
'RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat,' across the yard.
'He lays in five and twen-ty foot of ground, if he lays in a
fraction,' said Mr. Omer, pleasantly. 'It was either his request
or her direction, I forget which.'
'Do you know how my little brother is, sir?' I inquired.
Mr. Omer shook his head.
'RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat.'
'He is in his mother's arms,' said he.
'Oh, poor little fellow! Is he dead?'
'Don't mind it more than you can help,' said Mr. Omer. 'Yes. The
baby's dead.'
My wounds broke out afresh at this intelligence. I left the
scarcely-tasted breakfast, and went and rested my head on another
table, in a corner of the little room, which Minnie hastily
cleared, lest I should spot the mourning that was lying there with
my tears. She was a pretty, good-natured girl, and put my hair
away from my eyes with a soft, kind touch; but she was very
cheerful at having nearly finished her work and being in good time,
and was so different from me!
Presently the tune left off, and a good-looking young fellow came
across the yard into the room. He had a hammer in his hand, and
his mouth was full of little nails, which he was obliged to take
out before he could speak.
'Well, Joram!' said Mr. Omer. 'How do you get on?'
'All right,' said Joram. 'Done, sir.'
Minnie coloured a little, and the other two girls smiled at one
'What! you were at it by candle-light last night, when I was at the
club, then? Were you?' said Mr. Omer, shutting up one eye.
'Yes,' said Joram. 'As you said we could make a little trip of it,
and go over together, if it was done, Minnie and me - and you.'
'Oh! I thought you were going to leave me out altogether,' said
Mr. Omer, laughing till he coughed.
'- As you was so good as to say that,' resumed the young man, 'why
I turned to with a will, you see. Will you give me your opinion of
'I will,' said Mr. Omer, rising. 'My dear'; and he stopped and
turned to me: 'would you like to see your -'
'No, father,' Minnie interposed.
'I thought it might be agreeable, my dear,' said Mr. Omer. 'But
perhaps you're right.'
I can't say how I knew it was my dear, dear mother's coffin that
they went to look at. I had never heard one making; I had never
seen one that I know of.- but it came into my mind what the noise
was, while it was going on; and when the young man entered, I am
sure I knew what he had been doing.
The work being now finished, the two girls, whose names I had not
heard, brushed the shreds and threads from their dresses, and went
into the shop to put that to rights, and wait for customers.
Minnie stayed behind to fold up what they had made, and pack it in
two baskets. This she did upon her knees, humming a lively little
tune the while. Joram, who I had no doubt was her lover, came in
and stole a kiss from her while she was busy (he didn't appear to
mind me, at all), and said her father was gone for the chaise, and
he must make haste and get himself ready. Then he went out again;
and then she put her thimble and scissors in her pocket, and stuck
a needle threaded with black thread neatly in the bosom of her
gown, and put on her outer clothing smartly, at a little glass
behind the door, in which I saw the reflection of her pleased face.
All this I observed, sitting at the table in the corner with my
head leaning on my hand, and my thoughts running on very different
things. The chaise soon came round to the front of the shop, and
the baskets being put in first, I was put in next, and those three
followed. I remember it as a kind of half chaise-cart, half
pianoforte-van, painted of a sombre colour, and drawn by a black
horse with a long tail. There was plenty of room for us all.
I do not think I have ever experienced so strange a feeling in my
life (I am wiser now, perhaps) as that of being with them,
remembering how they had been employed, and seeing them enjoy the
ride. I was not angry with them; I was more afraid of them, as if
I were cast away among creatures with whom I had no community of
nature. They were very cheerful. The old man sat in front to
drive, and the two young people sat behind him, and whenever he
spoke to them leaned forward, the one on one side of his chubby
face and the other on the other, and made a great deal of him.
They would have talked to me too, but I held back, and moped in my
corner; scared by their love-making and hilarity, though it was far
from boisterous, and almost wondering that no judgement came upon
them for their hardness of heart.
So, when they stopped to bait the horse, and ate and drank and
enjoyed themselves, I could touch nothing that they touched, but
kept my fast unbroken. So, when we reached home, I dropped out of
the chaise behind, as quickly as possible, that I might not be in
their company before those solemn windows, looking blindly on me
like closed eyes once bright. And oh, how little need I had had to
think what would move me to tears when I came back - seeing the
window of my mother's room, and next it that which, in the better
time, was mine!
I was in Peggotty's arms before I got to the door, and she took me
into the house. Her grief burst out when she first saw me; but she
controlled it soon, and spoke in whispers, and walked softly, as if
the dead could be disturbed. She had not been in bed, I found, for
a long time. She sat up at night still, and watched. As long as
her poor dear pretty was above the ground, she said, she would
never desert her.
Mr. Murdstone took no heed of me when I went into the parlour where
he was, but sat by the fireside, weeping silently, and pondering in
his elbow-chair. Miss Murdstone, who was busy at her writing-desk,
which was covered with letters and papers, gave me her cold
finger-nails, and asked me, in an iron whisper, if I had been
measured for my mourning.
I said: 'Yes.'
'And your shirts,' said Miss Murdstone; 'have you brought 'em
'Yes, ma'am. I have brought home all my clothes.'
This was all the consolation that her firmness administered to me.
I do not doubt that she had a choice pleasure in exhibiting what
she called her self-command, and her firmness, and her strength of
mind, and her common sense, and the whole diabolical catalogue of
her unamiable qualities, on such an occasion. She was particularly
proud of her turn for business; and she showed it now in reducing
everything to pen and ink, and being moved by nothing. All the
rest of that day, and from morning to night afterwards, she sat at
that desk, scratching composedly with a hard pen, speaking in the
same imperturbable whisper to everybody; never relaxing a muscle of
her face, or softening a tone of her voice, or appearing with an
atom of her dress astray.
Her brother took a book sometimes, but never read it that I saw.
He would open it and look at it as if he were reading, but would
remain for a whole hour without turning the leaf, and then put it
down and walk to and fro in the room. I used to sit with folded
hands watching him, and counting his footsteps, hour after hour.
He very seldom spoke to her, and never to me. He seemed to be the
only restless thing, except the clocks, in the whole motionless
In these days before the funeral, I saw but little of Peggotty,
except that, in passing up or down stairs, I always found her close
to the room where my mother and her baby lay, and except that she
came to me every night, and sat by my bed's head while I went to
sleep. A day or two before the burial - I think it was a day or
two before, but I am conscious of confusion in my mind about that
heavy time, with nothing to mark its progress - she took me into
the room. I only recollect that underneath some white covering on
the bed, with a beautiful cleanliness and freshness all around it,
there seemed to me to lie embodied the solemn stillness that was in
the house; and that when she would have turned the cover gently
back, I cried: 'Oh no! oh no!' and held her hand.
If the funeral had been yesterday, I could not recollect it better.
The very air of the best parlour, when I went in at the door, the
bright condition of the fire, the shining of the wine in the
decanters, the patterns of the glasses and plates, the faint sweet
smell of cake, the odour of Miss Murdstone's dress, and our black
clothes. Mr. Chillip is in the room, and comes to speak to me.
'And how is Master David?' he says, kindly.
I cannot tell him very well. I give him my hand, which he holds in
'Dear me!' says Mr. Chillip, meekly smiling, with something shining
in his eye. 'Our little friends grow up around us. They grow out
of our knowledge, ma'am?' This is to Miss Murdstone, who makes no
'There is a great improvement here, ma'am?' says Mr. Chillip.
Miss Murdstone merely answers with a frown and a formal bend: Mr.
Chillip, discomfited, goes into a corner, keeping me with him, and
opens his mouth no more.
I remark this, because I remark everything that happens, not
because I care about myself, or have done since I came home. And
now the bell begins to sound, and Mr. Omer and another come to make
us ready. As Peggotty was wont to tell me, long ago, the followers
of my father to the same grave were made ready in the same room.
There are Mr. Murdstone, our neighbour Mr. Grayper, Mr. Chillip,
and I. When we go out to the door, the Bearers and their load are
in the garden; and they move before us down the path, and past the
elms, and through the gate, and into the churchyard, where I have
so often heard the birds sing on a summer morning.
We stand around the grave. The day seems different to me from
every other day, and the light not of the same colour - of a sadder
colour. Now there is a solemn hush, which we have brought from
home with what is resting in the mould; and while we stand
bareheaded, I hear the voice of the clergyman, sounding remote in
the open air, and yet distinct and plain, saying: 'I am the
Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord!' Then I hear sobs; and,
standing apart among the lookers-on, I see that good and faithful
servant, whom of all the people upon earth I love the best, and
unto whom my childish heart is certain that the Lord will one day
say: 'Well done.'
There are many faces that I know, among the little crowd; faces
that I knew in church, when mine was always wondering there; faces
that first saw my mother, when she came to the village in her
youthful bloom. I do not mind them - I mind nothing but my grief
- and yet I see and know them all; and even in the background, far
away, see Minnie looking on, and her eye glancing on her
sweetheart, who is near me.
It is over, and the earth is filled in, and we turn to come away.
Before us stands our house, so pretty and unchanged, so linked in
my mind with the young idea of what is gone, that all my sorrow has
been nothing to the sorrow it calls forth. But they take me on;
and Mr. Chillip talks to me; and when we get home, puts some water
to my lips; and when I ask his leave to go up to my room, dismisses
me with the gentleness of a woman.
All this, I say, is yesterday's event. Events of later date have
floated from me to the shore where all forgotten things will
reappear, but this stands like a high rock in the ocean.
I knew that Peggotty would come to me in my room. The Sabbath
stillness of the time (the day was so like Sunday! I have
forgotten that) was suited to us both. She sat down by my side
upon my little bed; and holding my hand, and sometimes putting it
to her lips, and sometimes smoothing it with hers, as she might
have comforted my little brother, told me, in her way, all that she
had to tell concerning what had happened.
'She was never well,' said Peggotty, 'for a long time. She was
uncertain in her mind, and not happy. When her baby was born, I
thought at first she would get better, but she was more delicate,
and sunk a little every day. She used to like to sit alone before
her baby came, and then she cried; but afterwards she used to sing
to it - so soft, that I once thought, when I heard her, it was like
a voice up in the air, that was rising away.
'I think she got to be more timid, and more frightened-like, of
late; and that a hard word was like a blow to her. But she was
always the same to me. She never changed to her foolish Peggotty,
didn't my sweet girl.'
Here Peggotty stopped, and softly beat upon my hand a little while.
'The last time that I saw her like her own old self, was the night
when you came home, my dear. The day you went away, she said to
me, "I never shall see my pretty darling again. Something tells me
so, that tells the truth, I know."
'She tried to hold up after that; and many a time, when they told
her she was thoughtless and light-hearted, made believe to be so;
but it was all a bygone then. She never told her husband what she
had told me - she was afraid of saying it to anybody else - till
one night, a little more than a week before it happened, when she
said to him: "My dear, I think I am dying."
'"It's off my mind now, Peggotty," she told me, when I laid her in
her bed that night. "He will believe it more and more, poor
fellow, every day for a few days to come; and then it will be past.
I am very tired. If this is sleep, sit by me while I sleep: don't
leave me. God bless both my children! God protect and keep my
fatherless boy!"
'I never left her afterwards,' said Peggotty. 'She often talked to
them two downstairs - for she loved them; she couldn't bear not to
love anyone who was about her - but when they went away from her
bed-side, she always turned to me, as if there was rest where
Peggotty was, and never fell asleep in any other way.
'On the last night, in the evening, she kissed me, and said: "If my
baby should die too, Peggotty, please let them lay him in my arms,
and bury us together." (It was done; for the poor lamb lived but
a day beyond her.) "Let my dearest boy go with us to our
resting-place," she said, "and tell him that his mother, when she
lay here, blessed him not once, but a thousand times."'
Another silence followed this, and another gentle beating on my
'It was pretty far in the night,' said Peggotty, 'when she asked me
for some drink; and when she had taken it, gave me such a patient
smile, the dear! - so beautiful!
'Daybreak had come, and the sun was rising, when she said to me,
how kind and considerate Mr. Copperfield had always been to her,
and how he had borne with her, and told her, when she doubted
herself, that a loving heart was better and stronger than wisdom,
and that he was a happy man in hers. "Peggotty, my dear," she said
then, "put me nearer to you," for she was very weak. "Lay your
good arm underneath my neck," she said, "and turn me to you, for
your face is going far off, and I want it to be near." I put it as
she asked; and oh Davy! the time had come when my first parting
words to you were true - when she was glad to lay her poor head on
her stupid cross old Peggotty's arm - and she died like a child
that had gone to sleep!'
Thus ended Peggotty's narration. From the moment of my knowing of
the death of my mother, the idea of her as she had been of late had
vanished from me. I remembered her, from that instant, only as the
young mother of my earliest impressions, who had been used to wind
her bright curls round and round her finger, and to dance with me
at twilight in the parlour. What Peggotty had told me now, was so
far from bringing me back to the later period, that it rooted the
earlier image in my mind. It may be curious, but it is true. In
her death she winged her way back to her calm untroubled youth, and
cancelled all the rest.
The mother who lay in the grave, was the mother of my infancy; the
little creature in her arms, was myself, as I had once been, hushed
for ever on her bosom.
The first act of business Miss Murdstone performed when the day of
the solemnity was over, and light was freely admitted into the
house, was to give Peggotty a month's warning. Much as Peggotty
would have disliked such a service, I believe she would have
retained it, for my sake, in preference to the best upon earth.
She told me we must part, and told me why; and we condoled with one
another, in all sincerity.
As to me or my future, not a word was said, or a step taken. Happy
they would have been, I dare say, if they could have dismissed me
at a month's warning too. I mustered courage once, to ask Miss
Murdstone when I was going back to school; and she answered dryly,
she believed I was not going back at all. I was told nothing more.
I was very anxious to know what was going to be done with me, and
so was Peggotty; but neither she nor I could pick up any
information on the subject.
There was one change in my condition, which, while it relieved me
of a great deal of present uneasiness, might have made me, if I had
been capable of considering it closely, yet more uncomfortable
about the future. It was this. The constraint that had been put
upon me, was quite abandoned. I was so far from being required to
keep my dull post in the parlour, that on several occasions, when
I took my seat there, Miss Murdstone frowned to me to go away. I
was so far from being warned off from Peggotty's society, that,
provided I was not in Mr. Murdstone's, I was never sought out or
inquired for. At first I was in daily dread of his taking my
education in hand again, or of Miss Murdstone's devoting herself to
it; but I soon began to think that such fears were groundless, and
that all I had to anticipate was neglect.
I do not conceive that this discovery gave me much pain then. I
was still giddy with the shock of my mother's death, and in a kind
of stunned state as to all tributary things. I can recollect,
indeed, to have speculated, at odd times, on the possibility of my
not being taught any more, or cared for any more; and growing up to
be a shabby, moody man, lounging an idle life away, about the
village; as well as on the feasibility of my getting rid of this
picture by going away somewhere, like the hero in a story, to seek
my fortune: but these were transient visions, daydreams I sat
looking at sometimes, as if they were faintly painted or written on
the wall of my room, and which, as they melted away, left the wall
blank again.
'Peggotty,' I said in a thoughtful whisper, one evening, when I was
warming my hands at the kitchen fire, 'Mr. Murdstone likes me less
than he used to. He never liked me much, Peggotty; but he would
rather not even see me now, if he can help it.'
'Perhaps it's his sorrow,' said Peggotty, stroking my hair.
'I am sure, Peggotty, I am sorry too. If I believed it was his
sorrow, I should not think of it at all. But it's not that; oh,
no, it's not that.'
'How do you know it's not that?' said Peggotty, after a silence.
'Oh, his sorrow is another and quite a different thing. He is
sorry at this moment, sitting by the fireside with Miss Murdstone;
but if I was to go in, Peggotty, he would be something besides.'
'What would he be?' said Peggotty.
'Angry,' I answered, with an involuntary imitation of his dark
frown. 'If he was only sorry, he wouldn't look at me as he does.
I am only sorry, and it makes me feel kinder.'
Peggotty said nothing for a little while; and I warmed my hands, as
silent as she.
'Davy,' she said at length.
'Yes, Peggotty?'
'I have tried, my dear, all ways I could think of - all the ways
there are, and all the ways there ain't, in short - to get a
suitable service here, in Blunderstone; but there's no such a
thing, my love.'
'And what do you mean to do, Peggotty,' says I, wistfully. 'Do you
mean to go and seek your fortune?'
'I expect I shall be forced to go to Yarmouth,' replied Peggotty,
'and live there.'
'You might have gone farther off,' I said, brightening a little,
'and been as bad as lost. I shall see you sometimes, my dear old
Peggotty, there. You won't be quite at the other end of the world,
will you?'
'Contrary ways, please God!' cried Peggotty, with great animation.
'As long as you are here, my pet, I shall come over every week of
my life to see you. One day, every week of my life!'
I felt a great weight taken off my mind by this promise: but even
this was not all, for Peggotty went on to say:
'I'm a-going, Davy, you see, to my brother's, first, for another
fortnight's visit - just till I have had time to look about me, and
get to be something like myself again. Now, I have been thinking
that perhaps, as they don't want you here at present, you might be
let to go along with me.'
If anything, short of being in a different relation to every one
about me, Peggotty excepted, could have given me a sense of
pleasure at that time, it would have been this project of all
others. The idea of being again surrounded by those honest faces,
shining welcome on me; of renewing the peacefulness of the sweet
Sunday morning, when the bells were ringing, the stones dropping in
the water, and the shadowy ships breaking through the mist; of
roaming up and down with little Em'ly, telling her my troubles, and
finding charms against them in the shells and pebbles on the beach;
made a calm in my heart. It was ruffled next moment, to be sure,
by a doubt of Miss Murdstone's giving her consent; but even that
was set at rest soon, for she came out to take an evening grope in
the store-closet while we were yet in conversation, and Peggotty,
with a boldness that amazed me, broached the topic on the spot.
'The boy will be idle there,' said Miss Murdstone, looking into a
pickle-jar, 'and idleness is the root of all evil. But, to be
sure, he would be idle here - or anywhere, in my opinion.'
Peggotty had an angry answer ready, I could see; but she swallowed
it for my sake, and remained silent.
'Humph!' said Miss Murdstone, still keeping her eye on the pickles;
'it is of more importance than anything else - it is of paramount
importance - that my brother should not be disturbed or made
uncomfortable. I suppose I had better say yes.'
I thanked her, without making any demonstration of joy, lest it
should induce her to withdraw her assent. Nor could I help
thinking this a prudent course, since she looked at me out of the
pickle-jar, with as great an access of sourness as if her black
eyes had absorbed its contents. However, the permission was given,
and was never retracted; for when the month was out, Peggotty and
I were ready to depart.
Mr. Barkis came into the house for Peggotty's boxes. I had never
known him to pass the garden-gate before, but on this occasion he
came into the house. And he gave me a look as he shouldered the
largest box and went out, which I thought had meaning in it, if
meaning could ever be said to find its way into Mr. Barkis's
Peggotty was naturally in low spirits at leaving what had been her
home so many years, and where the two strong attachments of her
life - for my mother and myself - had been formed. She had been
walking in the churchyard, too, very early; and she got into the
cart, and sat in it with her handkerchief at her eyes.
So long as she remained in this condition, Mr. Barkis gave no sign
of life whatever. He sat in his usual place and attitude like a
great stuffed figure. But when she began to look about her, and to
speak to me, he nodded his head and grinned several times. I have
not the least notion at whom, or what he meant by it.
'It's a beautiful day, Mr. Barkis!' I said, as an act of
'It ain't bad,' said Mr. Barkis, who generally qualified his
speech, and rarely committed himself.
'Peggotty is quite comfortable now, Mr. Barkis,' I remarked, for
his satisfaction.
'Is she, though?' said Mr. Barkis.
After reflecting about it, with a sagacious air, Mr. Barkis eyed
her, and said:
'ARE you pretty comfortable?'
Peggotty laughed, and answered in the affirmative.
'But really and truly, you know. Are you?' growled Mr. Barkis,
sliding nearer to her on the seat, and nudging her with his elbow.
'Are you? Really and truly pretty comfortable? Are you? Eh?'
At each of these inquiries Mr. Barkis shuffled nearer to her, and
gave her another nudge; so that at last we were all crowded
together in the left-hand corner of the cart, and I was so squeezed
that I could hardly bear it.
Peggotty calling his attention to my sufferings, Mr. Barkis gave me
a little more room at once, and got away by degrees. But I could
not help observing that he seemed to think he had hit upon a
wonderful expedient for expressing himself in a neat, agreeable,
and pointed manner, without the inconvenience of inventing
conversation. He manifestly chuckled over it for some time. By
and by he turned to Peggotty again, and repeating, 'Are you pretty
comfortable though?' bore down upon us as before, until the breath
was nearly edged out of my body. By and by he made another descent
upon us with the same inquiry, and the same result. At length, I
got up whenever I saw him coming, and standing on the foot-board,
pretended to look at the prospect; after which I did very well.
He was so polite as to stop at a public-house, expressly on our
account, and entertain us with broiled mutton and beer. Even when
Peggotty was in the act of drinking, he was seized with one of
those approaches, and almost choked her. But as we drew nearer to
the end of our journey, he had more to do and less time for
gallantry; and when we got on Yarmouth pavement, we were all too
much shaken and jolted, I apprehend, to have any leisure for
anything else.
Mr. Peggotty and Ham waited for us at the old place. They received
me and Peggotty in an affectionate manner, and shook hands with Mr.
Barkis, who, with his hat on the very back of his head, and a
shame-faced leer upon his countenance, and pervading his very legs,
presented but a vacant appearance, I thought. They each took one
of Peggotty's trunks, and we were going away, when Mr. Barkis
solemnly made a sign to me with his forefinger to come under an
'I say,' growled Mr. Barkis, 'it was all right.'
I looked up into his face, and answered, with an attempt to be very
profound: 'Oh!'
'It didn't come to a end there,' said Mr. Barkis, nodding
confidentially. 'It was all right.'
Again I answered, 'Oh!'
'You know who was willin',' said my friend. 'It was Barkis, and
Barkis only.'
I nodded assent.
'It's all right,' said Mr. Barkis, shaking hands; 'I'm a friend of
your'n. You made it all right, first. It's all right.'
In his attempts to be particularly lucid, Mr. Barkis was so
extremely mysterious, that I might have stood looking in his face
for an hour, and most assuredly should have got as much information
out of it as out of the face of a clock that had stopped, but for
Peggotty's calling me away. As we were going along, she asked me
what he had said; and I told her he had said it was all right.
'Like his impudence,' said Peggotty, 'but I don't mind that! Davy
dear, what should you think if I was to think of being married?'
'Why - I suppose you would like me as much then, Peggotty, as you
do now?' I returned, after a little consideration.
Greatly to the astonishment of the passengers in the street, as
well as of her relations going on before, the good soul was obliged
to stop and embrace me on the spot, with many protestations of her
unalterable love.
'Tell me what should you say, darling?' she asked again, when this
was over, and we were walking on.
'If you were thinking of being married - to Mr. Barkis, Peggotty?'
'Yes,' said Peggotty.
'I should think it would be a very good thing. For then you know,
Peggotty, you would always have the horse and cart to bring you
over to see me, and could come for nothing, and be sure of coming.'
'The sense of the dear!' cried Peggotty. 'What I have been
thinking of, this month back! Yes, my precious; and I think I
should be more independent altogether, you see; let alone my
working with a better heart in my own house, than I could in
anybody else's now. I don't know what I might be fit for, now, as
a servant to a stranger. And I shall be always near my pretty's
resting-place,' said Peggotty, musing, 'and be able to see it when
I like; and when I lie down to rest, I may be laid not far off from
my darling girl!'
We neither of us said anything for a little while.
'But I wouldn't so much as give it another thought,' said Peggotty,
cheerily 'if my Davy was anyways against it - not if I had been
asked in church thirty times three times over, and was wearing out
the ring in my pocket.'
'Look at me, Peggotty,' I replied; 'and see if I am not really
glad, and don't truly wish it!' As indeed I did, with all my
'Well, my life,' said Peggotty, giving me a squeeze, 'I have
thought of it night and day, every way I can, and I hope the right
way; but I'll think of it again, and speak to my brother about it,
and in the meantime we'll keep it to ourselves, Davy, you and me.
Barkis is a good plain creature,' said Peggotty, 'and if I tried to
do my duty by him, I think it would be my fault if I wasn't - if I
wasn't pretty comfortable,' said Peggotty, laughing heartily.
This quotation from Mr. Barkis was so appropriate, and tickled us
both so much, that we laughed again and again, and were quite in a
pleasant humour when we came within view of Mr. Peggotty's cottage.
It looked just the same, except that it may, perhaps, have shrunk
a little in my eyes; and Mrs. Gummidge was waiting at the door as
if she had stood there ever since. All within was the same, down
to the seaweed in the blue mug in my bedroom. I went into the
out-house to look about me; and the very same lobsters, crabs, and
crawfish possessed by the same desire to pinch the world in
general, appeared to be in the same state of conglomeration in the
same old corner.
But there was no little Em'ly to be seen, so I asked Mr. Peggotty
where she was.
'She's at school, sir,' said Mr. Peggotty, wiping the heat
consequent on the porterage of Peggotty's box from his forehead;
'she'll be home,' looking at the Dutch clock, 'in from twenty
minutes to half-an-hour's time. We all on us feel the loss of her,
bless ye!'
Mrs. Gummidge moaned.
'Cheer up, Mawther!' cried Mr. Peggotty.
'I feel it more than anybody else,' said Mrs. Gummidge; 'I'm a lone
lorn creetur', and she used to be a'most the only thing that didn't
go contrary with me.'
Mrs. Gummidge, whimpering and shaking her head, applied herself to
blowing the fire. Mr. Peggotty, looking round upon us while she
was so engaged, said in a low voice, which he shaded with his hand:
'The old 'un!' From this I rightly conjectured that no improvement
had taken place since my last visit in the state of Mrs. Gummidge's
Now, the whole place was, or it should have been, quite as
delightful a place as ever; and yet it did not impress me in the
same way. I felt rather disappointed with it. Perhaps it was
because little Em'ly was not at home. I knew the way by which she
would come, and presently found myself strolling along the path to
meet her.
A figure appeared in the distance before long, and I soon knew it
to be Em'ly, who was a little creature still in stature, though she
was grown. But when she drew nearer, and I saw her blue eyes
looking bluer, and her dimpled face looking brighter, and her whole
self prettier and gayer, a curious feeling came over me that made
me pretend not to know her, and pass by as if I were looking at
something a long way off. I have done such a thing since in later
life, or I am mistaken.
Little Em'ly didn't care a bit. She saw me well enough; but
instead of turning round and calling after me, ran away laughing.
This obliged me to run after her, and she ran so fast that we were
very near the cottage before I caught her.
'Oh, it's you, is it?' said little Em'ly.
'Why, you knew who it was, Em'ly,' said I.
'And didn't YOU know who it was?' said Em'ly. I was going to kiss
her, but she covered her cherry lips with her hands, and said she
wasn't a baby now, and ran away, laughing more than ever, into the
She seemed to delight in teasing me, which was a change in her I
wondered at very much. The tea table was ready, and our little
locker was put out in its old place, but instead of coming to sit
by me, she went and bestowed her company upon that grumbling Mrs.
Gummidge: and on Mr. Peggotty's inquiring why, rumpled her hair all
over her face to hide it, and could do nothing but laugh.
'A little puss, it is!' said Mr. Peggotty, patting her with his
great hand.
'So sh' is! so sh' is!' cried Ham. 'Mas'r Davy bor', so sh' is!'
and he sat and chuckled at her for some time, in a state of mingled
admiration and delight, that made his face a burning red.
Little Em'ly was spoiled by them all, in fact; and by no one more
than Mr. Peggotty himself, whom she could have coaxed into
anything, by only going and laying her cheek against his rough
whisker. That was my opinion, at least, when I saw her do it; and
I held Mr. Peggotty to be thoroughly in the right. But she was so
affectionate and sweet-natured, and had such a pleasant manner of
being both sly and shy at once, that she captivated me more than
She was tender-hearted, too; for when, as we sat round the fire
after tea, an allusion was made by Mr. Peggotty over his pipe to
the loss I had sustained, the tears stood in her eyes, and she
looked at me so kindly across the table, that I felt quite thankful
to her.
'Ah!' said Mr. Peggotty, taking up her curls, and running them over
his hand like water, 'here's another orphan, you see, sir. And
here,' said Mr. Peggotty, giving Ham a backhanded knock in the
chest, 'is another of 'em, though he don't look much like it.'
'If I had you for my guardian, Mr. Peggotty,' said I, shaking my
head, 'I don't think I should FEEL much like it.'
'Well said, Mas'r Davy bor'!' cried Ham, in an ecstasy. 'Hoorah!
Well said! Nor more you wouldn't! Hor! Hor!' - Here he returned
Mr. Peggotty's back-hander, and little Em'ly got up and kissed Mr.
Peggotty. 'And how's your friend, sir?' said Mr. Peggotty to me.
'Steerforth?' said I.
'That's the name!' cried Mr. Peggotty, turning to Ham. 'I knowed
it was something in our way.'
'You said it was Rudderford,' observed Ham, laughing.
'Well!' retorted Mr. Peggotty. 'And ye steer with a rudder, don't
ye? It ain't fur off. How is he, sir?'
'He was very well indeed when I came away, Mr. Peggotty.'
'There's a friend!' said Mr. Peggotty, stretching out his pipe.
'There's a friend, if you talk of friends! Why, Lord love my heart
alive, if it ain't a treat to look at him!'
'He is very handsome, is he not?' said I, my heart warming with
this praise.
'Handsome!' cried Mr. Peggotty. 'He stands up to you like - like
a - why I don't know what he don't stand up to you like. He's so
'Yes! That's just his character,' said I. 'He's as brave as a
lion, and you can't think how frank he is, Mr. Peggotty.'
'And I do suppose, now,' said Mr. Peggotty, looking at me through
the smoke of his pipe, 'that in the way of book-larning he'd take
the wind out of a'most anything.'
'Yes,' said I, delighted; 'he knows everything. He is
astonishingly clever.'
'There's a friend!' murmured Mr. Peggotty, with a grave toss of his
'Nothing seems to cost him any trouble,' said I. 'He knows a task
if he only looks at it. He is the best cricketer you ever saw. He
will give you almost as many men as you like at draughts, and beat
you easily.'
Mr. Peggotty gave his head another toss, as much as to say: 'Of
course he will.'
'He is such a speaker,' I pursued, 'that he can win anybody over;
and I don't know what you'd say if you were to hear him sing, Mr.
Mr. Peggotty gave his head another toss, as much as to say: 'I have
no doubt of it.'
'Then, he's such a generous, fine, noble fellow,' said I, quite
carried away by my favourite theme, 'that it's hardly possible to
give him as much praise as he deserves. I am sure I can never feel
thankful enough for the generosity with which he has protected me,
so much younger and lower in the school than himself.'
I was running on, very fast indeed, when my eyes rested on little
Em'ly's face, which was bent forward over the table, listening with
the deepest attention, her breath held, her blue eyes sparkling
like jewels, and the colour mantling in her cheeks. She looked so
extraordinarily earnest and pretty, that I stopped in a sort of
wonder; and they all observed her at the same time, for as I
stopped, they laughed and looked at her.
'Em'ly is like me,' said Peggotty, 'and would like to see him.'
Em'ly was confused by our all observing her, and hung down her
head, and her face was covered with blushes. Glancing up presently
through her stray curls, and seeing that we were all looking at her
still (I am sure I, for one, could have looked at her for hours),
she ran away, and kept away till it was nearly bedtime.
I lay down in the old little bed in the stern of the boat, and the
wind came moaning on across the flat as it had done before. But I
could not help fancying, now, that it moaned of those who were
gone; and instead of thinking that the sea might rise in the night
and float the boat away, I thought of the sea that had risen, since
I last heard those sounds, and drowned my happy home. I recollect,
as the wind and water began to sound fainter in my ears, putting a
short clause into my prayers, petitioning that I might grow up to
marry little Em'ly, and so dropping lovingly asleep.
The days passed pretty much as they had passed before, except - it
was a great exception- that little Em'ly and I seldom wandered on
the beach now. She had tasks to learn, and needle-work to do; and
was absent during a great part of each day. But I felt that we
should not have had those old wanderings, even if it had been
otherwise. Wild and full of childish whims as Em'ly was, she was
more of a little woman than I had supposed. She seemed to have got
a great distance away from me, in little more than a year. She
liked me, but she laughed at me, and tormented me; and when I went
to meet her, stole home another way, and was laughing at the door
when I came back, disappointed. The best times were when she sat
quietly at work in the doorway, and I sat on the wooden step at her
feet, reading to her. It seems to me, at this hour, that I have
never seen such sunlight as on those bright April afternoons; that
I have never seen such a sunny little figure as I used to see,
sitting in the doorway of the old boat; that I have never beheld
such sky, such water, such glorified ships sailing away into golden
On the very first evening after our arrival, Mr. Barkis appeared in
an exceedingly vacant and awkward condition, and with a bundle of
oranges tied up in a handkerchief. As he made no allusion of any
kind to this property, he was supposed to have left it behind him
by accident when he went away; until Ham, running after him to
restore it, came back with the information that it was intended for
Peggotty. After that occasion he appeared every evening at exactly
the same hour, and always with a little bundle, to which he never
alluded, and which he regularly put behind the door and left there.
These offerings of affection were of a most various and eccentric
description. Among them I remember a double set of pigs' trotters,
a huge pin-cushion, half a bushel or so of apples, a pair of jet
earrings, some Spanish onions, a box of dominoes, a canary bird and
cage, and a leg of pickled pork.
Mr. Barkis's wooing, as I remember it, was altogether of a peculiar
kind. He very seldom said anything; but would sit by the fire in
much the same attitude as he sat in his cart, and stare heavily at
Peggotty, who was opposite. One night, being, as I suppose,
inspired by love, he made a dart at the bit of wax-candle she kept
for her thread, and put it in his waistcoat-pocket and carried it
off. After that, his great delight was to produce it when it was
wanted, sticking to the lining of his pocket, in a partially melted
state, and pocket it again when it was done with. He seemed to
enjoy himself very much, and not to feel at all called upon to
talk. Even when he took Peggotty out for a walk on the flats, he
had no uneasiness on that head, I believe; contenting himself with
now and then asking her if she was pretty comfortable; and I
remember that sometimes, after he was gone, Peggotty would throw
her apron over her face, and laugh for half-an-hour. Indeed, we
were all more or less amused, except that miserable Mrs. Gummidge,
whose courtship would appear to have been of an exactly parallel
nature, she was so continually reminded by these transactions of
the old one.
At length, when the term of my visit was nearly expired, it was
given out that Peggotty and Mr. Barkis were going to make a day's
holiday together, and that little Em'ly and I were to accompany
them. I had but a broken sleep the night before, in anticipation
of the pleasure of a whole day with Em'ly. We were all astir
betimes in the morning; and while we were yet at breakfast, Mr.
Barkis appeared in the distance, driving a chaise-cart towards the
object of his affections.
Peggotty was dressed as usual, in her neat and quiet mourning; but
Mr. Barkis bloomed in a new blue coat, of which the tailor had
given him such good measure, that the cuffs would have rendered
gloves unnecessary in the coldest weather, while the collar was so
high that it pushed his hair up on end on the top of his head. His
bright buttons, too, were of the largest size. Rendered complete
by drab pantaloons and a buff waistcoat, I thought Mr. Barkis a
phenomenon of respectability.
When we were all in a bustle outside the door, I found that Mr.
Peggotty was prepared with an old shoe, which was to be thrown
after us for luck, and which he offered to Mrs. Gummidge for that
'No. It had better be done by somebody else, Dan'l,' said Mrs.
Gummidge. 'I'm a lone lorn creetur' myself, and everythink that
reminds me of creetur's that ain't lone and lorn, goes contrary
with me.'
'Come, old gal!' cried Mr. Peggotty. 'Take and heave it.'
'No, Dan'l,' returned Mrs. Gummidge, whimpering and shaking her
head. 'If I felt less, I could do more. You don't feel like me,
Dan'l; thinks don't go contrary with you, nor you with them; you
had better do it yourself.'
But here Peggotty, who had been going about from one to another in
a hurried way, kissing everybody, called out from the cart, in
which we all were by this time (Em'ly and I on two little chairs,
side by side), that Mrs. Gummidge must do it. So Mrs. Gummidge did
it; and, I am sorry to relate, cast a damp upon the festive
character of our departure, by immediately bursting into tears, and
sinking subdued into the arms of Ham, with the declaration that she
knowed she was a burden, and had better be carried to the House at
once. Which I really thought was a sensible idea, that Ham might
have acted on.
Away we went, however, on our holiday excursion; and the first
thing we did was to stop at a church, where Mr. Barkis tied the
horse to some rails, and went in with Peggotty, leaving little
Em'ly and me alone in the chaise. I took that occasion to put my
arm round Em'ly's waist, and propose that as I was going away so
very soon now, we should determine to be very affectionate to one
another, and very happy, all day. Little Em'ly consenting, and
allowing me to kiss her, I became desperate; informing her, I
recollect, that I never could love another, and that I was prepared
to shed the blood of anybody who should aspire to her affections.
How merry little Em'ly made herself about it! With what a demure
assumption of being immensely older and wiser than I, the fairy
little woman said I was 'a silly boy'; and then laughed so
charmingly that I forgot the pain of being called by that
disparaging name, in the pleasure of looking at her.
Mr. Barkis and Peggotty were a good while in the church, but came
out at last, and then we drove away into the country. As we were
going along, Mr. Barkis turned to me, and said, with a wink, - by
the by, I should hardly have thought, before, that he could wink:
'What name was it as I wrote up in the cart?'
'Clara Peggotty,' I answered.
'What name would it be as I should write up now, if there was a
tilt here?'
'Clara Peggotty, again?' I suggested.
'Clara Peggotty BARKIS!' he returned, and burst into a roar of
laughter that shook the chaise.
In a word, they were married, and had gone into the church for no
other purpose. Peggotty was resolved that it should be quietly
done; and the clerk had given her away, and there had been no
witnesses of the ceremony. She was a little confused when Mr.
Barkis made this abrupt announcement of their union, and could not
hug me enough in token of her unimpaired affection; but she soon
became herself again, and said she was very glad it was over.
We drove to a little inn in a by-road, where we were expected, and
where we had a very comfortable dinner, and passed the day with
great satisfaction. If Peggotty had been married every day for the
last ten years, she could hardly have been more at her ease about
it; it made no sort of difference in her: she was just the same as
ever, and went out for a stroll with little Em'ly and me before
tea, while Mr. Barkis philosophically smoked his pipe, and enjoyed
himself, I suppose, with the contemplation of his happiness. If
so, it sharpened his appetite; for I distinctly call to mind that,
although he had eaten a good deal of pork and greens at dinner, and
had finished off with a fowl or two, he was obliged to have cold
boiled bacon for tea, and disposed of a large quantity without any
I have often thought, since, what an odd, innocent, out-of-the-way
kind of wedding it must have been! We got into the chaise again
soon after dark, and drove cosily back, looking up at the stars,
and talking about them. I was their chief exponent, and opened Mr.
Barkis's mind to an amazing extent. I told him all I knew, but he
would have believed anything I might have taken it into my head to
impart to him; for he had a profound veneration for my abilities,
and informed his wife in my hearing, on that very occasion, that I
was 'a young Roeshus' - by which I think he meant prodigy.
When we had exhausted the subject of the stars, or rather when I
had exhausted the mental faculties of Mr. Barkis, little Em'ly and
I made a cloak of an old wrapper, and sat under it for the rest of
the journey. Ah, how I loved her! What happiness (I thought) if
we were married, and were going away anywhere to live among the
trees and in the fields, never growing older, never growing wiser,
children ever, rambling hand in hand through sunshine and among
flowery meadows, laying down our heads on moss at night, in a sweet
sleep of purity and peace, and buried by the birds when we were
dead! Some such picture, with no real world in it, bright with the
light of our innocence, and vague as the stars afar off, was in my
mind all the way. I am glad to think there were two such guileless
hearts at Peggotty's marriage as little Em'ly's and mine. I am
glad to think the Loves and Graces took such airy forms in its
homely procession.
Well, we came to the old boat again in good time at night; and
there Mr. and Mrs. Barkis bade us good-bye, and drove away snugly
to their own home. I felt then, for the first time, that I had
lost Peggotty. I should have gone to bed with a sore heart indeed
under any other roof but that which sheltered little Em'ly's head.
Mr. Peggotty and Ham knew what was in my thoughts as well as I did,
and were ready with some supper and their hospitable faces to drive
it away. Little Em'ly came and sat beside me on the locker for the
only time in all that visit; and it was altogether a wonderful
close to a wonderful day.
It was a night tide; and soon after we went to bed, Mr. Peggotty
and Ham went out to fish. I felt very brave at being left alone in
the solitary house, the protector of Em'ly and Mrs. Gummidge, and
only wished that a lion or a serpent, or any ill-disposed monster,
would make an attack upon us, that I might destroy him, and cover
myself with glory. But as nothing of the sort happened to be
walking about on Yarmouth flats that night, I provided the best
substitute I could by dreaming of dragons until morning.
With morning came Peggotty; who called to me, as usual, under my
window as if Mr. Barkis the carrier had been from first to last a
dream too. After breakfast she took me to her own home, and a
beautiful little home it was. Of all the moveables in it, I must
have been impressed by a certain old bureau of some dark wood in
the parlour (the tile-floored kitchen was the general
sitting-room), with a retreating top which opened, let down, and
became a desk, within which was a large quarto edition of Foxe's
Book of Martyrs. This precious volume, of which I do not recollect
one word, I immediately discovered and immediately applied myself
to; and I never visited the house afterwards, but I kneeled on a
chair, opened the casket where this gem was enshrined, spread my
arms over the desk, and fell to devouring the book afresh. I was
chiefly edified, I am afraid, by the pictures, which were numerous,
and represented all kinds of dismal horrors; but the Martyrs and
Peggotty's house have been inseparable in my mind ever since, and
are now.
I took leave of Mr. Peggotty, and Ham, and Mrs. Gummidge, and
little Em'ly, that day; and passed the night at Peggotty's, in a
little room in the roof (with the Crocodile Book on a shelf by the
bed's head) which was to be always mine, Peggotty said, and should
always be kept for me in exactly the same state.
'Young or old, Davy dear, as long as I am alive and have this house
over my head,' said Peggotty, 'you shall find it as if I expected
you here directly minute. I shall keep it every day, as I used to
keep your old little room, my darling; and if you was to go to
China, you might think of it as being kept just the same, all the
time you were away.'
I felt the truth and constancy of my dear old nurse, with all my
heart, and thanked her as well as I could. That was not very well,
for she spoke to me thus, with her arms round my neck, in the
morning, and I was going home in the morning, and I went home in
the morning, with herself and Mr. Barkis in the cart. They left me
at the gate, not easily or lightly; and it was a strange sight to
me to see the cart go on, taking Peggotty away, and leaving me
under the old elm-trees looking at the house, in which there was no
face to look on mine with love or liking any more.
And now I fell into a state of neglect, which I cannot look back
upon without compassion. I fell at once into a solitary condition,
- apart from all friendly notice, apart from the society of all
other boys of my own age, apart from all companionship but my own
spiritless thoughts, - which seems to cast its gloom upon this
paper as I write.
What would I have given, to have been sent to the hardest school
that ever was kept! - to have been taught something, anyhow,
anywhere! No such hope dawned upon me. They disliked me; and they
sullenly, sternly, steadily, overlooked me. I think Mr.
Murdstone's means were straitened at about this time; but it is
little to the purpose. He could not bear me; and in putting me
from him he tried, as I believe, to put away the notion that I had
any claim upon him - and succeeded.
I was not actively ill-used. I was not beaten, or starved; but the
wrong that was done to me had no intervals of relenting, and was
done in a systematic, passionless manner. Day after day, week
after week, month after month, I was coldly neglected. I wonder
sometimes, when I think of it, what they would have done if I had
been taken with an illness; whether I should have lain down in my
lonely room, and languished through it in my usual solitary way, or
whether anybody would have helped me out.
When Mr. and Miss Murdstone were at home, I took my meals with
them; in their absence, I ate and drank by myself. At all times I
lounged about the house and neighbourhood quite disregarded, except
that they were jealous of my making any friends: thinking, perhaps,
that if I did, I might complain to someone. For this reason,
though Mr. Chillip often asked me to go and see him (he was a
widower, having, some years before that, lost a little small
light-haired wife, whom I can just remember connecting in my own
thoughts with a pale tortoise-shell cat), it was but seldom that I
enjoyed the happiness of passing an afternoon in his closet of a
surgery; reading some book that was new to me, with the smell of
the whole Pharmacopoeia coming up my nose, or pounding something in
a mortar under his mild directions.
For the same reason, added no doubt to the old dislike of her, I
was seldom allowed to visit Peggotty. Faithful to her promise, she
either came to see me, or met me somewhere near, once every week,
and never empty-handed; but many and bitter were the
disappointments I had, in being refused permission to pay a visit
to her at her house. Some few times, however, at long intervals,
I was allowed to go there; and then I found out that Mr. Barkis was
something of a miser, or as Peggotty dutifully expressed it, was 'a
little near', and kept a heap of money in a box under his bed,
which he pretended was only full of coats and trousers. In this
coffer, his riches hid themselves with such a tenacious modesty,
that the smallest instalments could only be tempted out by
artifice; so that Peggotty had to prepare a long and elaborate
scheme, a very Gunpowder Plot, for every Saturday's expenses.
All this time I was so conscious of the waste of any promise I had
given, and of my being utterly neglected, that I should have been
perfectly miserable, I have no doubt, but for the old books. They
were my only comfort; and I was as true to them as they were to me,
and read them over and over I don't know how many times more.
I now approach a period of my life, which I can never lose the
remembrance of, while I remember anything: and the recollection of
which has often, without my invocation, come before me like a
ghost, and haunted happier times.
I had been out, one day, loitering somewhere, in the listless,
meditative manner that my way of life engendered, when, turning the
corner of a lane near our house, I came upon Mr. Murdstone walking
with a gentleman. I was confused, and was going by them, when the
gentleman cried:
'What! Brooks!'
'No, sir, David Copperfield,' I said.
'Don't tell me. You are Brooks,' said the gentleman. 'You are
Brooks of Sheffield. That's your name.'
At these words, I observed the gentleman more attentively. His
laugh coming to my remembrance too, I knew him to be Mr. Quinion,
whom I had gone over to Lowestoft with Mr. Murdstone to see, before
- it is no matter - I need not recall when.
'And how do you get on, and where are you being educated, Brooks?'
said Mr. Quinion.
He had put his hand upon my shoulder, and turned me about, to walk
with them. I did not know what to reply, and glanced dubiously at
Mr. Murdstone.
'He is at home at present,' said the latter. 'He is not being
educated anywhere. I don't know what to do with him. He is a
difficult subject.'
That old, double look was on me for a moment; and then his eyes
darkened with a frown, as it turned, in its aversion, elsewhere.
'Humph!' said Mr. Quinion, looking at us both, I thought. 'Fine
Silence ensued, and I was considering how I could best disengage my
shoulder from his hand, and go away, when he said:
'I suppose you are a pretty sharp fellow still? Eh, Brooks?'
'Aye! He is sharp enough,' said Mr. Murdstone, impatiently. 'You
had better let him go. He will not thank you for troubling him.'
On this hint, Mr. Quinion released me, and I made the best of my
way home. Looking back as I turned into the front garden, I saw
Mr. Murdstone leaning against the wicket of the churchyard, and Mr.
Quinion talking to him. They were both looking after me, and I
felt that they were speaking of me.
Mr. Quinion lay at our house that night. After breakfast, the next
morning, I had put my chair away, and was going out of the room,
when Mr. Murdstone called me back. He then gravely repaired to
another table, where his sister sat herself at her desk. Mr.
Quinion, with his hands in his pockets, stood looking out of
window; and I stood looking at them all.
'David,' said Mr. Murdstone, 'to the young this is a world for
action; not for moping and droning in.'
- 'As you do,' added his sister.
'Jane Murdstone, leave it to me, if you please. I say, David, to
the young this is a world for action, and not for moping and
droning in. It is especially so for a young boy of your
disposition, which requires a great deal of correcting; and to
which no greater service can be done than to force it to conform to
the ways of the working world, and to bend it and break it.'
'For stubbornness won't do here,' said his sister 'What it wants
is, to be crushed. And crushed it must be. Shall be, too!'
He gave her a look, half in remonstrance, half in approval, and
went on:
'I suppose you know, David, that I am not rich. At any rate, you
know it now. You have received some considerable education
already. Education is costly; and even if it were not, and I could
afford it, I am of opinion that it would not be at all advantageous
to you to be kept at school. What is before you, is a fight with
the world; and the sooner you begin it, the better.'
I think it occurred to me that I had already begun it, in my poor
way: but it occurs to me now, whether or no.
'You have heard the "counting-house" mentioned sometimes,' said Mr.
'The counting-house, sir?' I repeated.
'Of Murdstone and Grinby, in the wine trade,' he replied.
I suppose I looked uncertain, for he went on hastily:
'You have heard the "counting-house" mentioned, or the business, or
the cellars, or the wharf, or something about it.'
'I think I have heard the business mentioned, sir,' I said,
remembering what I vaguely knew of his and his sister's resources.
'But I don't know when.'
'It does not matter when,' he returned. 'Mr. Quinion manages that
I glanced at the latter deferentially as he stood looking out of
'Mr. Quinion suggests that it gives employment to some other boys,
and that he sees no reason why it shouldn't, on the same terms,
give employment to you.'
'He having,' Mr. Quinion observed in a low voice, and half turning
round, 'no other prospect, Murdstone.'
Mr. Murdstone, with an impatient, even an angry gesture, resumed,
without noticing what he had said:
'Those terms are, that you will earn enough for yourself to provide
for your eating and drinking, and pocket-money. Your lodging
(which I have arranged for) will be paid by me. So will your
washing -'
'- Which will be kept down to my estimate,' said his sister.
'Your clothes will be looked after for you, too,' said Mr.
Murdstone; 'as you will not be able, yet awhile, to get them for
yourself. So you are now going to London, David, with Mr. Quinion,
to begin the world on your own account.'
'In short, you are provided for,' observed his sister; 'and will
please to do your duty.'
Though I quite understood that the purpose of this announcement was
to get rid of me, I have no distinct remembrance whether it pleased
or frightened me. My impression is, that I was in a state of
confusion about it, and, oscillating between the two points,
touched neither. Nor had I much time for the clearing of my
thoughts, as Mr. Quinion was to go upon the morrow.
Behold me, on the morrow, in a much-worn little white hat, with a
black crape round it for my mother, a black jacket, and a pair of
hard, stiff corduroy trousers - which Miss Murdstone considered the
best armour for the legs in that fight with the world which was now
to come off. behold me so attired, and with my little worldly all
before me in a small trunk, sitting, a lone lorn child (as Mrs.
Gummidge might have said), in the post-chaise that was carrying Mr.
Quinion to the London coach at Yarmouth! See, how our house and
church are lessening in the distance; how the grave beneath the
tree is blotted out by intervening objects; how the spire points
upwards from my old playground no more, and the sky is empty!
I know enough of the world now, to have almost lost the capacity of
being much surprised by anything; but it is matter of some surprise
to me, even now, that I can have been so easily thrown away at such
an age. A child of excellent abilities, and with strong powers of
observation, quick, eager, delicate, and soon hurt bodily or
mentally, it seems wonderful to me that nobody should have made any
sign in my behalf. But none was made; and I became, at ten years
old, a little labouring hind in the service of Murdstone and
Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse was at the waterside. It was down
in Blackfriars. Modern improvements have altered the place; but it
was the last house at the bottom of a narrow street, curving down
hill to the river, with some stairs at the end, where people took
boat. It was a crazy old house with a wharf of its own, abutting
on the water when the tide was in, and on the mud when the tide was
out, and literally overrun with rats. Its panelled rooms,
discoloured with the dirt and smoke of a hundred years, I dare say;
its decaying floors and staircase; the squeaking and scuffling of
the old grey rats down in the cellars; and the dirt and rottenness
of the place; are things, not of many years ago, in my mind, but of
the present instant. They are all before me, just as they were in
the evil hour when I went among them for the first time, with my
trembling hand in Mr. Quinion's.
Murdstone and Grinby's trade was among a good many kinds of people,
but an important branch of it was the supply of wines and spirits
to certain packet ships. I forget now where they chiefly went, but
I think there were some among them that made voyages both to the
East and West Indies. I know that a great many empty bottles were
one of the consequences of this traffic, and that certain men and
boys were employed to examine them against the light, and reject
those that were flawed, and to rinse and wash them. When the empty
bottles ran short, there were labels to be pasted on full ones, or
corks to be fitted to them, or seals to be put upon the corks, or
finished bottles to be packed in casks. All this work was my work,
and of the boys employed upon it I was one.
There were three or four of us, counting me. My working place was
established in a corner of the warehouse, where Mr. Quinion could
see me, when he chose to stand up on the bottom rail of his stool
in the counting-house, and look at me through a window above the
desk. Hither, on the first morning of my so auspiciously beginning
life on my own account, the oldest of the regular boys was summoned
to show me my business. His name was Mick Walker, and he wore a
ragged apron and a paper cap. He informed me that his father was
a bargeman, and walked, in a black velvet head-dress, in the Lord
Mayor's Show. He also informed me that our principal associate
would be another boy whom he introduced by the - to me -
extraordinary name of Mealy Potatoes. I discovered, however, that
this youth had not been christened by that name, but that it had
been bestowed upon him in the warehouse, on account of his
complexion, which was pale or mealy. Mealy's father was a
waterman, who had the additional distinction of being a fireman,
and was engaged as such at one of the large theatres; where some
young relation of Mealy's - I think his little sister - did Imps in
the Pantomimes.
No words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into
this companionship; compared these henceforth everyday associates
with those of my happier childhood - not to say with Steerforth,
Traddles, and the rest of those boys; and felt my hopes of growing
up to be a learned and distinguished man, crushed in my bosom. The
deep remembrance of the sense I had, of being utterly without hope
now; of the shame I felt in my position; of the misery it was to my
young heart to believe that day by day what I had learned, and
thought, and delighted in, and raised my fancy and my emulation up
by, would pass away from me, little by little, never to be brought
back any more; cannot be written. As often as Mick Walker went
away in the course of that forenoon, I mingled my tears with the
water in which I was washing the bottles; and sobbed as if there
were a flaw in my own breast, and it were in danger of bursting.
The counting-house clock was at half past twelve, and there was
general preparation for going to dinner, when Mr. Quinion tapped at
the counting-house window, and beckoned to me to go in. I went in,
and found there a stoutish, middle-aged person, in a brown surtout
and black tights and shoes, with no more hair upon his head (which
was a large one, and very shining) than there is upon an egg, and
with a very extensive face, which he turned full upon me. His
clothes were shabby, but he had an imposing shirt-collar on. He
carried a jaunty sort of a stick, with a large pair of rusty
tassels to it; and a quizzing-glass hung outside his coat, - for
ornament, I afterwards found, as he very seldom looked through it,
and couldn't see anything when he did.
'This,' said Mr. Quinion, in allusion to myself, 'is he.'
'This,' said the stranger, with a certain condescending roll in his
voice, and a certain indescribable air of doing something genteel,
which impressed me very much, 'is Master Copperfield. I hope I see
you well, sir?'
I said I was very well, and hoped he was. I was sufficiently ill
at ease, Heaven knows; but it was not in my nature to complain much
at that time of my life, so I said I was very well, and hoped he
'I am,' said the stranger, 'thank Heaven, quite well. I have
received a letter from Mr. Murdstone, in which he mentions that he
would desire me to receive into an apartment in the rear of my
house, which is at present unoccupied - and is, in short, to be let
as a - in short,' said the stranger, with a smile and in a burst of
confidence, 'as a bedroom - the young beginner whom I have now the
pleasure to -' and the stranger waved his hand, and settled his
chin in his shirt-collar.
'This is Mr. Micawber,' said Mr. Quinion to me.
'Ahem!' said the stranger, 'that is my name.'
'Mr. Micawber,' said Mr. Quinion, 'is known to Mr. Murdstone. He
takes orders for us on commission, when he can get any. He has
been written to by Mr. Murdstone, on the subject of your lodgings,
and he will receive you as a lodger.'
'My address,' said Mr. Micawber, 'is Windsor Terrace, City Road.
I - in short,' said Mr. Micawber, with the same genteel air, and in
another burst of confidence - 'I live there.'
I made him a bow.
'Under the impression,' said Mr. Micawber, 'that your
peregrinations in this metropolis have not as yet been extensive,
and that you might have some difficulty in penetrating the arcana
of the Modern Babylon in the direction of the City Road, - in
short,' said Mr. Micawber, in another burst of confidence, 'that
you might lose yourself - I shall be happy to call this evening,
and install you in the knowledge of the nearest way.'
I thanked him with all my heart, for it was friendly in him to
offer to take that trouble.
'At what hour,' said Mr. Micawber, 'shall I -'
'At about eight,' said Mr. Quinion.
'At about eight,' said Mr. Micawber. 'I beg to wish you good day,
Mr. Quinion. I will intrude no longer.'
So he put on his hat, and went out with his cane under his arm:
very upright, and humming a tune when he was clear of the
Mr. Quinion then formally engaged me to be as useful as I could in
the warehouse of Murdstone and Grinby, at a salary, I think, of six
shillings a week. I am not clear whether it was six or seven. I
am inclined to believe, from my uncertainty on this head, that it
was six at first and seven afterwards. He paid me a week down
(from his own pocket, I believe), and I gave Mealy sixpence out of
it to get my trunk carried to Windsor Terrace that night: it being
too heavy for my strength, small as it was. I paid sixpence more
for my dinner, which was a meat pie and a turn at a neighbouring
pump; and passed the hour which was allowed for that meal, in
walking about the streets.
At the appointed time in the evening, Mr. Micawber reappeared. I
washed my hands and face, to do the greater honour to his
gentility, and we walked to our house, as I suppose I must now call
it, together; Mr. Micawber impressing the name of streets, and the
shapes of corner houses upon me, as we went along, that I might
find my way back, easily, in the morning.
Arrived at this house in Windsor Terrace (which I noticed was
shabby like himself, but also, like himself, made all the show it
could), he presented me to Mrs. Micawber, a thin and faded lady,
not at all young, who was sitting in the parlour (the first floor
was altogether unfurnished, and the blinds were kept down to delude
the neighbours), with a baby at her breast. This baby was one of
twins; and I may remark here that I hardly ever, in all my
experience of the family, saw both the twins detached from Mrs.
Micawber at the same time. One of them was always taking
There were two other children; Master Micawber, aged about four,
and Miss Micawber, aged about three. These, and a
dark-complexioned young woman, with a habit of snorting, who was
servant to the family, and informed me, before half an hour had
expired, that she was 'a Orfling', and came from St. Luke's
workhouse, in the neighbourhood, completed the establishment. My
room was at the top of the house, at the back: a close chamber;
stencilled all over with an ornament which my young imagination
represented as a blue muffin; and very scantily furnished.
'I never thought,' said Mrs. Micawber, when she came up, twin and
all, to show me the apartment, and sat down to take breath, 'before
I was married, when I lived with papa and mama, that I should ever
find it necessary to take a lodger. But Mr. Micawber being in
difficulties, all considerations of private feeling must give way.'
I said: 'Yes, ma'am.'
'Mr. Micawber's difficulties are almost overwhelming just at
present,' said Mrs. Micawber; 'and whether it is possible to bring
him through them, I don't know. When I lived at home with papa and
mama, I really should have hardly understood what the word meant,
in the sense in which I now employ it, but experientia does it, -
as papa used to say.'
I cannot satisfy myself whether she told me that Mr. Micawber had
been an officer in the Marines, or whether I have imagined it. I
only know that I believe to this hour that he WAS in the Marines
once upon a time, without knowing why. He was a sort of town
traveller for a number of miscellaneous houses, now; but made
little or nothing of it, I am afraid.
'If Mr. Micawber's creditors will not give him time,' said Mrs.
Micawber, 'they must take the consequences; and the sooner they
bring it to an issue the better. Blood cannot be obtained from a
stone, neither can anything on account be obtained at present (not
to mention law expenses) from Mr. Micawber.'
I never can quite understand whether my precocious self-dependence
confused Mrs. Micawber in reference to my age, or whether she was
so full of the subject that she would have talked about it to the
very twins if there had been nobody else to communicate with, but
this was the strain in which she began, and she went on accordingly
all the time I knew her.
Poor Mrs. Micawber! She said she had tried to exert herself, and
so, I have no doubt, she had. The centre of the street door was
perfectly covered with a great brass-plate, on which was engraved
'Mrs. Micawber's Boarding Establishment for Young Ladies': but I
never found that any young lady had ever been to school there; or
that any young lady ever came, or proposed to come; or that the
least preparation was ever made to receive any young lady. The
only visitors I ever saw, or heard of, were creditors. THEY used
to come at all hours, and some of them were quite ferocious. One
dirty-faced man, I think he was a boot-maker, used to edge himself
into the passage as early as seven o'clock in the morning, and call
up the stairs to Mr. Micawber - 'Come! You ain't out yet, you
know. Pay us, will you? Don't hide, you know; that's mean. I
wouldn't be mean if I was you. Pay us, will you? You just pay us,
d'ye hear? Come!' Receiving no answer to these taunts, he would
mount in his wrath to the words 'swindlers' and 'robbers'; and
these being ineffectual too, would sometimes go to the extremity of
crossing the street, and roaring up at the windows of the second
floor, where he knew Mr. Micawber was. At these times, Mr.
Micawber would be transported with grief and mortification, even to
the length (as I was once made aware by a scream from his wife) of
making motions at himself with a razor; but within half-an-hour
afterwards, he would polish up his shoes with extraordinary pains,
and go out, humming a tune with a greater air of gentility than
ever. Mrs. Micawber was quite as elastic. I have known her to be
thrown into fainting fits by the king's taxes at three o'clock, and
to eat lamb chops, breaded, and drink warm ale (paid for with two
tea-spoons that had gone to the pawnbroker's) at four. On one
occasion, when an execution had just been put in, coming home
through some chance as early as six o'clock, I saw her lying (of
course with a twin) under the grate in a swoon, with her hair all
torn about her face; but I never knew her more cheerful than she
was, that very same night, over a veal cutlet before the kitchen
fire, telling me stories about her papa and mama, and the company
they used to keep.
In this house, and with this family, I passed my leisure time. My
own exclusive breakfast of a penny loaf and a pennyworth of milk,
I provided myself. I kept another small loaf, and a modicum of
cheese, on a particular shelf of a particular cupboard, to make my
supper on when I came back at night. This made a hole in the six
or seven shillings, I know well; and I was out at the warehouse all
day, and had to support myself on that money all the week. From
Monday morning until Saturday night, I had no advice, no counsel,
no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support, of any
kind, from anyone, that I can call to mind, as I hope to go to
I was so young and childish, and so little qualified - how could I
be otherwise? - to undertake the whole charge of my own existence,
that often, in going to Murdstone and Grinby's, of a morning, I
could not resist the stale pastry put out for sale at half-price at
the pastrycooks' doors, and spent in that the money I should have
kept for my dinner. Then, I went without my dinner, or bought a
roll or a slice of pudding. I remember two pudding shops, between
which I was divided, according to my finances. One was in a court
close to St. Martin's Church - at the back of the church, - which
is now removed altogether. The pudding at that shop was made of
currants, and was rather a special pudding, but was dear,
twopennyworth not being larger than a pennyworth of more ordinary
pudding. A good shop for the latter was in the Strand - somewhere
in that part which has been rebuilt since. It was a stout pale
pudding, heavy and flabby, and with great flat raisins in it, stuck
in whole at wide distances apart. It came up hot at about my time
every day, and many a day did I dine off it. When I dined
regularly and handsomely, I had a saveloy and a penny loaf, or a
fourpenny plate of red beef from a cook's shop; or a plate of bread
and cheese and a glass of beer, from a miserable old public-house
opposite our place of business, called the Lion, or the Lion and
something else that I have forgotten. Once, I remember carrying my
own bread (which I had brought from home in the morning) under my
arm, wrapped in a piece of paper, like a book, and going to a
famous alamode beef-house near Drury Lane, and ordering a 'small
plate' of that delicacy to eat with it. What the waiter thought of
such a strange little apparition coming in all alone, I don't know;
but I can see him now, staring at me as I ate my dinner, and
bringing up the other waiter to look. I gave him a halfpenny for
himself, and I wish he hadn't taken it.
We had half-an-hour, I think, for tea. When I had money enough, I
used to get half-a-pint of ready-made coffee and a slice of bread
and butter. When I had none, I used to look at a venison shop in
Fleet Street; or I have strolled, at such a time, as far as Covent
Garden Market, and stared at the pineapples. I was fond of
wandering about the Adelphi, because it was a mysterious place,
with those dark arches. I see myself emerging one evening from
some of these arches, on a little public-house close to the river,
with an open space before it, where some coal-heavers were dancing;
to look at whom I sat down upon a bench. I wonder what they
thought of me!
I was such a child, and so little, that frequently when I went into
the bar of a strange public-house for a glass of ale or porter, to
moisten what I had had for dinner, they were afraid to give it me.
I remember one hot evening I went into the bar of a public-house,
and said to the landlord:
'What is your best - your very best - ale a glass?' For it was a
special occasion. I don't know what. It may have been my
'Twopence-halfpenny,' says the landlord, 'is the price of the
Genuine Stunning ale.'
'Then,' says I, producing the money, 'just draw me a glass of the
Genuine Stunning, if you please, with a good head to it.'
The landlord looked at me in return over the bar, from head to
foot, with a strange smile on his face; and instead of drawing the
beer, looked round the screen and said something to his wife. She
came out from behind it, with her work in her hand, and joined him
in surveying me. Here we stand, all three, before me now. The
landlord in his shirt-sleeves, leaning against the bar
window-frame; his wife looking over the little half-door; and I, in
some confusion, looking up at them from outside the partition.
They asked me a good many questions; as, what my name was, how old
I was, where I lived, how I was employed, and how I came there. To
all of which, that I might commit nobody, I invented, I am afraid,
appropriate answers. They served me with the ale, though I suspect
it was not the Genuine Stunning; and the landlord's wife, opening
the little half-door of the bar, and bending down, gave me my money
back, and gave me a kiss that was half admiring and half
compassionate, but all womanly and good, I am sure.
I know I do not exaggerate, unconsciously and unintentionally, the
scantiness of my resources or the difficulties of my life. I know
that if a shilling were given me by Mr. Quinion at any time, I
spent it in a dinner or a tea. I know that I worked, from morning
until night, with common men and boys, a shabby child. I know that
I lounged about the streets, insufficiently and unsatisfactorily
fed. I know that, but for the mercy of God, I might easily have
been, for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a
little vagabond.
Yet I held some station at Murdstone and Grinby's too. Besides
that Mr. Quinion did what a careless man so occupied, and dealing
with a thing so anomalous, could, to treat me as one upon a
different footing from the rest, I never said, to man or boy, how
it was that I came to be there, or gave the least indication of
being sorry that I was there. That I suffered in secret, and that
I suffered exquisitely, no one ever knew but I. How much I
suffered, it is, as I have said already, utterly beyond my power to
tell. But I kept my own counsel, and I did my work. I knew from
the first, that, if I could not do my work as well as any of the
rest, I could not hold myself above slight and contempt. I soon
became at least as expeditious and as skilful as either of the
other boys. Though perfectly familiar with them, my conduct and
manner were different enough from theirs to place a space between
us. They and the men generally spoke of me as 'the little gent',
or 'the young Suffolker.' A certain man named Gregory, who was
foreman of the packers, and another named Tipp, who was the carman,
and wore a red jacket, used to address me sometimes as 'David': but
I think it was mostly when we were very confidential, and when I
had made some efforts to entertain them, over our work, with some
results of the old readings; which were fast perishing out of my
remembrance. Mealy Potatoes uprose once, and rebelled against my
being so distinguished; but Mick Walker settled him in no time.
My rescue from this kind of existence I considered quite hopeless,
and abandoned, as such, altogether. I am solemnly convinced that
I never for one hour was reconciled to it, or was otherwise than
miserably unhappy; but I bore it; and even to Peggotty, partly for
the love of her and partly for shame, never in any letter (though
many passed between us) revealed the truth.
Mr. Micawber's difficulties were an addition to the distressed
state of my mind. In my forlorn state I became quite attached to
the family, and used to walk about, busy with Mrs. Micawber's
calculations of ways and means, and heavy with the weight of Mr.
Micawber's debts. On a Saturday night, which was my grand treat,
- partly because it was a great thing to walk home with six or
seven shillings in my pocket, looking into the shops and thinking
what such a sum would buy, and partly because I went home early, -
Mrs. Micawber would make the most heart-rending confidences to me;
also on a Sunday morning, when I mixed the portion of tea or coffee
I had bought over-night, in a little shaving-pot, and sat late at
my breakfast. It was nothing at all unusual for Mr. Micawber to
sob violently at the beginning of one of these Saturday night
conversations, and sing about jack's delight being his lovely Nan,
towards the end of it. I have known him come home to supper with
a flood of tears, and a declaration that nothing was now left but
a jail; and go to bed making a calculation of the expense of
putting bow-windows to the house, 'in case anything turned up',
which was his favourite expression. And Mrs. Micawber was just the
A curious equality of friendship, originating, I suppose, in our
respective circumstances, sprung up between me and these people,
notwithstanding the ludicrous disparity in our years. But I never
allowed myself to be prevailed upon to accept any invitation to eat
and drink with them out of their stock (knowing that they got on
badly with the butcher and baker, and had often not too much for
themselves), until Mrs. Micawber took me into her entire
confidence. This she did one evening as follows:
'Master Copperfield,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'I make no stranger of
you, and therefore do not hesitate to say that Mr. Micawber's
difficulties are coming to a crisis.'
It made me very miserable to hear it, and I looked at Mrs.
Micawber's red eyes with the utmost sympathy.
'With the exception of the heel of a Dutch cheese - which is not
adapted to the wants of a young family' - said Mrs. Micawber,
'there is really not a scrap of anything in the larder. I was
accustomed to speak of the larder when I lived with papa and mama,
and I use the word almost unconsciously. What I mean to express
is, that there is nothing to eat in the house.'
'Dear me!' I said, in great concern.
I had two or three shillings of my week's money in my pocket - from
which I presume that it must have been on a Wednesday night when we
held this conversation - and I hastily produced them, and with
heartfelt emotion begged Mrs. Micawber to accept of them as a loan.
But that lady, kissing me, and making me put them back in my
pocket, replied that she couldn't think of it.
'No, my dear Master Copperfield,' said she, 'far be it from my
thoughts! But you have a discretion beyond your years, and can
render me another kind of service, if you will; and a service I
will thankfully accept of.'
I begged Mrs. Micawber to name it.
'I have parted with the plate myself,' said Mrs. Micawber. 'Six
tea, two salt, and a pair of sugars, I have at different times
borrowed money on, in secret, with my own hands. But the twins are
a great tie; and to me, with my recollections, of papa and mama,
these transactions are very painful. There are still a few trifles
that we could part with. Mr. Micawber's feelings would never allow
him to dispose of them; and Clickett' - this was the girl from the
workhouse - 'being of a vulgar mind, would take painful liberties
if so much confidence was reposed in her. Master Copperfield, if
I might ask you -'
I understood Mrs. Micawber now, and begged her to make use of me to
any extent. I began to dispose of the more portable articles of
property that very evening; and went out on a similar expedition
almost every morning, before I went to Murdstone and Grinby's.
Mr. Micawber had a few books on a little chiffonier, which he
called the library; and those went first. I carried them, one
after another, to a bookstall in the City Road - one part of which,
near our house, was almost all bookstalls and bird shops then - and
sold them for whatever they would bring. The keeper of this
bookstall, who lived in a little house behind it, used to get tipsy
every night, and to be violently scolded by his wife every morning.
More than once, when I went there early, I had audience of him in
a turn-up bedstead, with a cut in his forehead or a black eye,
bearing witness to his excesses over-night (I am afraid he was
quarrelsome in his drink), and he, with a shaking hand,
endeavouring to find the needful shillings in one or other of the
pockets of his clothes, which lay upon the floor, while his wife,
with a baby in her arms and her shoes down at heel, never left off
rating him. Sometimes he had lost his money, and then he would ask
me to call again; but his wife had always got some - had taken his,
I dare say, while he was drunk - and secretly completed the bargain
on the stairs, as we went down together.
At the pawnbroker's shop, too, I began to be very well known. The
principal gentleman who officiated behind the counter, took a good
deal of notice of me; and often got me, I recollect, to decline a
Latin noun or adjective, or to conjugate a Latin verb, in his ear,
while he transacted my business. After all these occasions Mrs.
Micawber made a little treat, which was generally a supper; and
there was a peculiar relish in these meals which I well remember.
At last Mr. Micawber's difficulties came to a crisis, and he was
arrested early one morning, and carried over to the King's Bench
Prison in the Borough. He told me, as he went out of the house,
that the God of day had now gone down upon him - and I really
thought his heart was broken and mine too. But I heard,
afterwards, that he was seen to play a lively game at skittles,
before noon.
On the first Sunday after he was taken there, I was to go and see
him, and have dinner with him. I was to ask my way to such a
place, and just short of that place I should see such another
place, and just short of that I should see a yard, which I was to
cross, and keep straight on until I saw a turnkey. All this I did;
and when at last I did see a turnkey (poor little fellow that I
was!), and thought how, when Roderick Random was in a debtors'
prison, there was a man there with nothing on him but an old rug,
the turnkey swam before my dimmed eyes and my beating heart.
Mr. Micawber was waiting for me within the gate, and we went up to
his room (top story but one), and cried very much. He solemnly
conjured me, I remember, to take warning by his fate; and to
observe that if a man had twenty pounds a-year for his income, and
spent nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence, he would be
happy, but that if he spent twenty pounds one he would be
miserable. After which he borrowed a shilling of me for porter,
gave me a written order on Mrs. Micawber for the amount, and put
away his pocket-handkerchief, and cheered up.
We sat before a little fire, with two bricks put within the rusted
grate, one on each side, to prevent its burning too many coals;
until another debtor, who shared the room with Mr. Micawber, came
in from the bakehouse with the loin of mutton which was our
joint-stock repast. Then I was sent up to 'Captain Hopkins' in the
room overhead, with Mr. Micawber's compliments, and I was his young
friend, and would Captain Hopkins lend me a knife and fork.
Captain Hopkins lent me the knife and fork, with his compliments to
Mr. Micawber. There was a very dirty lady in his little room, and
two wan girls, his daughters, with shock heads of hair. I thought
it was better to borrow Captain Hopkins's knife and fork, than
Captain Hopkins's comb. The Captain himself was in the last
extremity of shabbiness, with large whiskers, and an old, old brown
great-coat with no other coat below it. I saw his bed rolled up in
a corner; and what plates and dishes and pots he had, on a shelf;
and I divined (God knows how) that though the two girls with the
shock heads of hair were Captain Hopkins's children, the dirty lady
was not married to Captain Hopkins. My timid station on his
threshold was not occupied more than a couple of minutes at most;
but I came down again with all this in my knowledge, as surely as
the knife and fork were in my hand.
There was something gipsy-like and agreeable in the dinner, after
all. I took back Captain Hopkins's knife and fork early in the
afternoon, and went home to comfort Mrs. Micawber with an account
of my visit. She fainted when she saw me return, and made a little
jug of egg-hot afterwards to console us while we talked it over.
I don't know how the household furniture came to be sold for the
family benefit, or who sold it, except that I did not. Sold it
was, however, and carried away in a van; except the bed, a few
chairs, and the kitchen table. With these possessions we encamped,
as it were, in the two parlours of the emptied house in Windsor
Terrace; Mrs. Micawber, the children, the Orfling, and myself; and
lived in those rooms night and day. I have no idea for how long,
though it seems to me for a long time. At last Mrs. Micawber
resolved to move into the prison, where Mr. Micawber had now
secured a room to himself. So I took the key of the house to the
landlord, who was very glad to get it; and the beds were sent over
to the King's Bench, except mine, for which a little room was hired
outside the walls in the neighbourhood of that Institution, very
much to my satisfaction, since the Micawbers and I had become too
used to one another, in our troubles, to part. The Orfling was
likewise accommodated with an inexpensive lodging in the same
neighbourhood. Mine was a quiet back-garret with a sloping roof,
commanding a pleasant prospect of a timberyard; and when I took
possession of it, with the reflection that Mr. Micawber's troubles
had come to a crisis at last, I thought it quite a paradise.
All this time I was working at Murdstone and Grinby's in the same
common way, and with the same common companions, and with the same
sense of unmerited degradation as at first. But I never, happily
for me no doubt, made a single acquaintance, or spoke to any of the
many boys whom I saw daily in going to the warehouse, in coming
from it, and in prowling about the streets at meal-times. I led
the same secretly unhappy life; but I led it in the same lonely,
self-reliant manner. The only changes I am conscious of are,
firstly, that I had grown more shabby, and secondly, that I was now
relieved of much of the weight of Mr. and Mrs. Micawber's cares;
for some relatives or friends had engaged to help them at their
present pass, and they lived more comfortably in the prison than
they had lived for a long while out of it. I used to breakfast
with them now, in virtue of some arrangement, of which I have
forgotten the details. I forget, too, at what hour the gates were
opened in the morning, admitting of my going in; but I know that I
was often up at six o'clock, and that my favourite lounging-place
in the interval was old London Bridge, where I was wont to sit in
one of the stone recesses, watching the people going by, or to look
over the balustrades at the sun shining in the water, and lighting
up the golden flame on the top of the Monument. The Orfling met me
here sometimes, to be told some astonishing fictions respecting the
wharves and the Tower; of which I can say no more than that I hope
I believed them myself. In the evening I used to go back to the
prison, and walk up and down the parade with Mr. Micawber; or play
casino with Mrs. Micawber, and hear reminiscences of her papa and
mama. Whether Mr. Murdstone knew where I was, I am unable to say.
I never told them at Murdstone and Grinby's.
Mr. Micawber's affairs, although past their crisis, were very much
involved by reason of a certain 'Deed', of which I used to hear a
great deal, and which I suppose, now, to have been some former
composition with his creditors, though I was so far from being
clear about it then, that I am conscious of having confounded it
with those demoniacal parchments which are held to have, once upon
a time, obtained to a great extent in Germany. At last this
document appeared to be got out of the way, somehow; at all events
it ceased to be the rock-ahead it had been; and Mrs. Micawber
informed me that 'her family' had decided that Mr. Micawber should
apply for his release under the Insolvent Debtors Act, which would
set him free, she expected, in about six weeks.
'And then,' said Mr. Micawber, who was present, 'I have no doubt I
shall, please Heaven, begin to be beforehand with the world, and to
live in a perfectly new manner, if - in short, if anything turns
By way of going in for anything that might be on the cards, I call
to mind that Mr. Micawber, about this time, composed a petition to
the House of Commons, praying for an alteration in the law of
imprisonment for debt. I set down this remembrance here, because
it is an instance to myself of the manner in which I fitted my old
books to my altered life, and made stories for myself, out of the
streets, and out of men and women; and how some main points in the
character I shall unconsciously develop, I suppose, in writing my
life, were gradually forming all this while.
There was a club in the prison, in which Mr. Micawber, as a
gentleman, was a great authority. Mr. Micawber had stated his idea
of this petition to the club, and the club had strongly approved of
the same. Wherefore Mr. Micawber (who was a thoroughly
good-natured man, and as active a creature about everything but his
own affairs as ever existed, and never so happy as when he was busy
about something that could never be of any profit to him) set to
work at the petition, invented it, engrossed it on an immense sheet
of paper, spread it out on a table, and appointed a time for all
the club, and all within the walls if they chose, to come up to his
room and sign it.
When I heard of this approaching ceremony, I was so anxious to see
them all come in, one after another, though I knew the greater part
of them already, and they me, that I got an hour's leave of absence
from Murdstone and Grinby's, and established myself in a corner for
that purpose. As many of the principal members of the club as
could be got into the small room without filling it, supported Mr.
Micawber in front of the petition, while my old friend Captain
Hopkins (who had washed himself, to do honour to so solemn an
occasion) stationed himself close to it, to read it to all who were
unacquainted with its contents. The door was then thrown open, and
the general population began to come in, in a long file: several
waiting outside, while one entered, affixed his signature, and went
out. To everybody in succession, Captain Hopkins said: 'Have you
read it?' - 'No.' - 'Would you like to hear it read?' If he
weakly showed the least disposition to hear it, Captain Hopkins, in
a loud sonorous voice, gave him every word of it. The Captain
would have read it twenty thousand times, if twenty thousand people
would have heard him, one by one. I remember a certain luscious
roll he gave to such phrases as 'The people's representatives in
Parliament assembled,' 'Your petitioners therefore humbly approach
your honourable house,' 'His gracious Majesty's unfortunate
subjects,' as if the words were something real in his mouth, and
delicious to taste; Mr. Micawber, meanwhile, listening with a
little of an author's vanity, and contemplating (not severely) the
spikes on the opposite wall.
As I walked to and fro daily between Southwark and Blackfriars, and
lounged about at meal-times in obscure streets, the stones of which
may, for anything I know, be worn at this moment by my childish
feet, I wonder how many of these people were wanting in the crowd
that used to come filing before me in review again, to the echo of
Captain Hopkins's voice! When my thoughts go back, now, to that
slow agony of my youth, I wonder how much of the histories I
invented for such people hangs like a mist of fancy over
well-remembered facts! When I tread the old ground, I do not
wonder that I seem to see and pity, going on before me, an innocent
romantic boy, making his imaginative world out of such strange
experiences and sordid things!
In due time, Mr. Micawber's petition was ripe for hearing; and that
gentleman was ordered to be discharged under the Act, to my great
joy. His creditors were not implacable; and Mrs. Micawber informed
me that even the revengeful boot-maker had declared in open court
that he bore him no malice, but that when money was owing to him he
liked to be paid. He said he thought it was human nature.
M r Micawber returned to the King's Bench when his case was over,
as some fees were to be settled, and some formalities observed,
before he could be actually released. The club received him with
transport, and held an harmonic meeting that evening in his honour;
while Mrs. Micawber and I had a lamb's fry in private, surrounded
by the sleeping family.
'On such an occasion I will give you, Master Copperfield,' said
Mrs. Micawber, 'in a little more flip,' for we had been having some
already, 'the memory of my papa and mama.'
'Are they dead, ma'am?' I inquired, after drinking the toast in a
'My mama departed this life,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'before Mr.
Micawber's difficulties commenced, or at least before they became
pressing. My papa lived to bail Mr. Micawber several times, and
then expired, regretted by a numerous circle.'
Mrs. Micawber shook her head, and dropped a pious tear upon the
twin who happened to be in hand.
As I could hardly hope for a more favourable opportunity of putting
a question in which I had a near interest, I said to Mrs. Micawber:
'May I ask, ma'am, what you and Mr. Micawber intend to do, now that
Mr. Micawber is out of his difficulties, and at liberty? Have you
settled yet?'
'My family,' said Mrs. Micawber, who always said those two words
with an air, though I never could discover who came under the
denomination, 'my family are of opinion that Mr. Micawber should
quit London, and exert his talents in the country. Mr. Micawber is
a man of great talent, Master Copperfield.'
I said I was sure of that.
'Of great talent,' repeated Mrs. Micawber. 'My family are of
opinion, that, with a little interest, something might be done for
a man of his ability in the Custom House. The influence of my
family being local, it is their wish that Mr. Micawber should go
down to Plymouth. They think it indispensable that he should be
upon the spot.'
'That he may be ready?' I suggested.
'Exactly,' returned Mrs. Micawber. 'That he may be ready - in case
of anything turning up.'
'And do you go too, ma'am?'
The events of the day, in combination with the twins, if not with
the flip, had made Mrs. Micawber hysterical, and she shed tears as
she replied:
'I never will desert Mr. Micawber. Mr. Micawber may have concealed
his difficulties from me in the first instance, but his sanguine
temper may have led him to expect that he would overcome them. The
pearl necklace and bracelets which I inherited from mama, have been
disposed of for less than half their value; and the set of coral,
which was the wedding gift of my papa, has been actually thrown
away for nothing. But I never will desert Mr. Micawber. No!'
cried Mrs. Micawber, more affected than before, 'I never will do
it! It's of no use asking me!'
I felt quite uncomfortable - as if Mrs. Micawber supposed I had
asked her to do anything of the sort! - and sat looking at her in
'Mr. Micawber has his faults. I do not deny that he is
improvident. I do not deny that he has kept me in the dark as to
his resources and his liabilities both,' she went on, looking at
the wall; 'but I never will desert Mr. Micawber!'
Mrs. Micawber having now raised her voice into a perfect scream, I
was so frightened that I ran off to the club-room, and disturbed
Mr. Micawber in the act of presiding at a long table, and leading
the chorus of
Gee up, Dobbin,
Gee ho, Dobbin,
Gee up, Dobbin,
Gee up, and gee ho - o - o!
with the tidings that Mrs. Micawber was in an alarming state, upon
which he immediately burst into tears, and came away with me with
his waistcoat full of the heads and tails of shrimps, of which he
had been partaking.
'Emma, my angel!' cried Mr. Micawber, running into the room; 'what
is the matter?'
'I never will desert you, Micawber!' she exclaimed.
'My life!' said Mr. Micawber, taking her in his arms. 'I am
perfectly aware of it.'
'He is the parent of my children! He is the father of my twins!
He is the husband of my affections,' cried Mrs. Micawber,
struggling; 'and I ne - ver - will - desert Mr. Micawber!'
Mr. Micawber was so deeply affected by this proof of her devotion
(as to me, I was dissolved in tears), that he hung over her in a
passionate manner, imploring her to look up, and to be calm. But
the more he asked Mrs. Micawber to look up, the more she fixed her
eyes on nothing; and the more he asked her to compose herself, the
more she wouldn't. Consequently Mr. Micawber was soon so overcome,
that he mingled his tears with hers and mine; until he begged me to
do him the favour of taking a chair on the staircase, while he got
her into bed. I would have taken my leave for the night, but he
would not hear of my doing that until the strangers' bell should
ring. So I sat at the staircase window, until he came out with
another chair and joined me.
'How is Mrs. Micawber now, sir?' I said.
'Very low,' said Mr. Micawber, shaking his head; 'reaction. Ah,
this has been a dreadful day! We stand alone now - everything is
gone from us!'
Mr. Micawber pressed my hand, and groaned, and afterwards shed
tears. I was greatly touched, and disappointed too, for I had
expected that we should be quite gay on this happy and
long-looked-for occasion. But Mr. and Mrs. Micawber were so used
to their old difficulties, I think, that they felt quite
shipwrecked when they came to consider that they were released from
them. All their elasticity was departed, and I never saw them half
so wretched as on this night; insomuch that when the bell rang, and
Mr. Micawber walked with me to the lodge, and parted from me there
with a blessing, I felt quite afraid to leave him by himself, he
was so profoundly miserable.
But through all the confusion and lowness of spirits in which we
had been, so unexpectedly to me, involved, I plainly discerned that
Mr. and Mrs. Micawber and their family were going away from London,
and that a parting between us was near at hand. It was in my walk
home that night, and in the sleepless hours which followed when I
lay in bed, that the thought first occurred to me - though I don't
know how it came into my head - which afterwards shaped itself into
a settled resolution.
I had grown to be so accustomed to the Micawbers, and had been so
intimate with them in their distresses, and was so utterly
friendless without them, that the prospect of being thrown upon
some new shift for a lodging, and going once more among unknown
people, was like being that moment turned adrift into my present
life, with such a knowledge of it ready made as experience had
given me. All the sensitive feelings it wounded so cruelly, all
the shame and misery it kept alive within my breast, became more
poignant as I thought of this; and I determined that the life was
That there was no hope of escape from it, unless the escape was my
own act, I knew quite well. I rarely heard from Miss Murdstone,
and never from Mr. Murdstone: but two or three parcels of made or
mended clothes had come up for me, consigned to Mr. Quinion, and in
each there was a scrap of paper to the effect that J. M. trusted D.
C. was applying himself to business, and devoting himself wholly to
his duties - not the least hint of my ever being anything else than
the common drudge into which I was fast settling down.
The very next day showed me, while my mind was in the first
agitation of what it had conceived, that Mrs. Micawber had not
spoken of their going away without warrant. They took a lodging in
the house where I lived, for a week; at the expiration of which
time they were to start for Plymouth. Mr. Micawber himself came
down to the counting-house, in the afternoon, to tell Mr. Quinion
that he must relinquish me on the day of his departure, and to give
me a high character, which I am sure I deserved. And Mr. Quinion,
calling in Tipp the carman, who was a married man, and had a room
to let, quartered me prospectively on him - by our mutual consent,
as he had every reason to think; for I said nothing, though my
resolution was now taken.
I passed my evenings with Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, during the
remaining term of our residence under the same roof; and I think we
became fonder of one another as the time went on. On the last
Sunday, they invited me to dinner; and we had a loin of pork and
apple sauce, and a pudding. I had bought a spotted wooden horse
over-night as a parting gift to little Wilkins Micawber - that was
the boy - and a doll for little Emma. I had also bestowed a
shilling on the Orfling, who was about to be disbanded.
We had a very pleasant day, though we were all in a tender state
about our approaching separation.
'I shall never, Master Copperfield,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'revert to
the period when Mr. Micawber was in difficulties, without thinking
of you. Your conduct has always been of the most delicate and
obliging description. You have never been a lodger. You have been
a friend.'
'My dear,' said Mr. Micawber; 'Copperfield,' for so he had been
accustomed to call me, of late, 'has a heart to feel for the
distresses of his fellow-creatures when they are behind a cloud,
and a head to plan, and a hand to - in short, a general ability to
dispose of such available property as could be made away with.'
I expressed my sense of this commendation, and said I was very
sorry we were going to lose one another.
'My dear young friend,' said Mr. Micawber, 'I am older than you; a
man of some experience in life, and - and of some experience, in
short, in difficulties, generally speaking. At present, and until
something turns up (which I am, I may say, hourly expecting), I
have nothing to bestow but advice. Still my advice is so far worth
taking, that - in short, that I have never taken it myself, and am
the' - here Mr. Micawber, who had been beaming and smiling, all
over his head and face, up to the present moment, checked himself
and frowned - 'the miserable wretch you behold.'
'My dear Micawber!' urged his wife.
'I say,' returned Mr. Micawber, quite forgetting himself, and
smiling again, 'the miserable wretch you behold. My advice is,
never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the
thief of time. Collar him!'
'My poor papa's maxim,' Mrs. Micawber observed.
'My dear,' said Mr. Micawber, 'your papa was very well in his way,
and Heaven forbid that I should disparage him. Take him for all in
all, we ne'er shall - in short, make the acquaintance, probably, of
anybody else possessing, at his time of life, the same legs for
gaiters, and able to read the same description of print, without
spectacles. But he applied that maxim to our marriage, my dear;
and that was so far prematurely entered into, in consequence, that
I never recovered the expense.' Mr. Micawber looked aside at Mrs.
Micawber, and added: 'Not that I am sorry for it. Quite the
contrary, my love.' After which, he was grave for a minute or so.
'My other piece of advice, Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'you
know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen
nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds,
annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The
blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down
upon the dreary scene, and - and in short you are for ever floored.
As I am!'
To make his example the more impressive, Mr. Micawber drank a glass
of punch with an air of great enjoyment and satisfaction, and
whistled the College Hornpipe.
I did not fail to assure him that I would store these precepts in
my mind, though indeed I had no need to do so, for, at the time,
they affected me visibly. Next morning I met the whole family at
the coach office, and saw them, with a desolate heart, take their
places outside, at the back.
'Master Copperfield,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'God bless you! I never
can forget all that, you know, and I never would if I could.'
'Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'farewell! Every happiness and
prosperity! If, in the progress of revolving years, I could
persuade myself that my blighted destiny had been a warning to you,
I should feel that I had not occupied another man's place in
existence altogether in vain. In case of anything turning up (of
which I am rather confident), I shall be extremely happy if it
should be in my power to improve your prospects.'
I think, as Mrs. Micawber sat at the back of the coach, with the
children, and I stood in the road looking wistfully at them, a mist
cleared from her eyes, and she saw what a little creature I really
was. I think so, because she beckoned to me to climb up, with
quite a new and motherly expression in her face, and put her arm
round my neck, and gave me just such a kiss as she might have given
to her own boy. I had barely time to get down again before the
coach started, and I could hardly see the family for the
handkerchiefs they waved. It was gone in a minute. The Orfling
and I stood looking vacantly at each other in the middle of the
road, and then shook hands and said good-bye; she going back, I
suppose, to St. Luke's workhouse, as I went to begin my weary day
at Murdstone and Grinby's.
But with no intention of passing many more weary days there. No.
I had resolved to run away. - To go, by some means or other, down
into the country, to the only relation I had in the world, and tell
my story to my aunt, Miss Betsey.
I have already observed that I don't know how this desperate idea
came into my brain. But, once there, it remained there; and
hardened into a purpose than which I have never entertained a more
determined purpose in my life. I am far from sure that I believed
there was anything hopeful in it, but my mind was thoroughly made
up that it must be carried into execution.
Again, and again, and a hundred times again, since the night when
the thought had first occurred to me and banished sleep, I had gone
over that old story of my poor mother's about my birth, which it
had been one of my great delights in the old time to hear her tell,
and which I knew by heart. My aunt walked into that story, and
walked out of it, a dread and awful personage; but there was one
little trait in her behaviour which I liked to dwell on, and which
gave me some faint shadow of encouragement. I could not forget how
my mother had thought that she felt her touch her pretty hair with
no ungentle hand; and though it might have been altogether my
mother's fancy, and might have had no foundation whatever in fact,
I made a little picture, out of it, of my terrible aunt relenting
towards the girlish beauty that I recollected so well and loved so
much, which softened the whole narrative. It is very possible that
it had been in my mind a long time, and had gradually engendered my
As I did not even know where Miss Betsey lived, I wrote a long
letter to Peggotty, and asked her, incidentally, if she remembered;
pretending that I had heard of such a lady living at a certain
place I named at random, and had a curiosity to know if it were the
same. In the course of that letter, I told Peggotty that I had a
particular occasion for half a guinea; and that if she could lend
me that sum until I could repay it, I should be very much obliged
to her, and would tell her afterwards what I had wanted it for.
Peggotty's answer soon arrived, and was, as usual, full of
affectionate devotion. She enclosed the half guinea (I was afraid
she must have had a world of trouble to get it out of Mr. Barkis's
box), and told me that Miss Betsey lived near Dover, but whether at
Dover itself, at Hythe, Sandgate, or Folkestone, she could not say.
One of our men, however, informing me on my asking him about these
places, that they were all close together, I deemed this enough for
my object, and resolved to set out at the end of that week.
Being a very honest little creature, and unwilling to disgrace the
memory I was going to leave behind me at Murdstone and Grinby's, I
considered myself bound to remain until Saturday night; and, as I
had been paid a week's wages in advance when I first came there,
not to present myself in the counting-house at the usual hour, to
receive my stipend. For this express reason, I had borrowed the
half-guinea, that I might not be without a fund for my
travelling-expenses. Accordingly, when the Saturday night came,
and we were all waiting in the warehouse to be paid, and Tipp the
carman, who always took precedence, went in first to draw his
money, I shook Mick Walker by the hand; asked him, when it came to
his turn to be paid, to say to Mr. Quinion that I had gone to move
my box to Tipp's; and, bidding a last good night to Mealy Potatoes,
ran away.
My box was at my old lodging, over the water, and I had written a
direction for it on the back of one of our address cards that we
nailed on the casks: 'Master David, to be left till called for, at
the Coach Office, Dover.' This I had in my pocket ready to put on
the box, after I should have got it out of the house; and as I went
towards my lodging, I looked about me for someone who would help me
to carry it to the booking-office.
There was a long-legged young man with a very little empty
donkey-cart, standing near the Obelisk, in the Blackfriars Road,
whose eye I caught as I was going by, and who, addressing me as
'Sixpenn'orth of bad ha'pence,' hoped 'I should know him agin to
swear to' - in allusion, I have no doubt, to my staring at him. I
stopped to assure him that I had not done so in bad manners, but
uncertain whether he might or might not like a job.
'Wot job?' said the long-legged young man.
'To move a box,' I answered.
'Wot box?' said the long-legged young man.
I told him mine, which was down that street there, and which I
wanted him to take to the Dover coach office for sixpence.
'Done with you for a tanner!' said the long-legged young man, and
directly got upon his cart, which was nothing but a large wooden
tray on wheels, and rattled away at such a rate, that it was as
much as I could do to keep pace with the donkey.
There was a defiant manner about this young man, and particularly
about the way in which he chewed straw as he spoke to me, that I
did not much like; as the bargain was made, however, I took him
upstairs to the room I was leaving, and we brought the box down,
and put it on his cart. Now, I was unwilling to put the
direction-card on there, lest any of my landlord's family should
fathom what I was doing, and detain me; so I said to the young man
that I would be glad if he would stop for a minute, when he came to
the dead-wall of the King's Bench prison. The words were no sooner
out of my mouth, than he rattled away as if he, my box, the cart,
and the donkey, were all equally mad; and I was quite out of breath
with running and calling after him, when I caught him at the place
Being much flushed and excited, I tumbled my half-guinea out of my
pocket in pulling the card out. I put it in my mouth for safety,
and though my hands trembled a good deal, had just tied the card on
very much to my satisfaction, when I felt myself violently chucked
under the chin by the long-legged young man, and saw my half-guinea
fly out of my mouth into his hand.
'Wot!' said the young man, seizing me by my jacket collar, with a
frightful grin. 'This is a pollis case, is it? You're a-going to
bolt, are you? Come to the pollis, you young warmin, come to the
'You give me my money back, if you please,' said I, very much
frightened; 'and leave me alone.'
'Come to the pollis!' said the young man. 'You shall prove it
yourn to the pollis.'
'Give me my box and money, will you,' I cried, bursting into tears.
The young man still replied: 'Come to the pollis!' and was dragging
me against the donkey in a violent manner, as if there were any
affinity between that animal and a magistrate, when he changed his
mind, jumped into the cart, sat upon my box, and, exclaiming that
he would drive to the pollis straight, rattled away harder than
I ran after him as fast as I could, but I had no breath to call out
with, and should not have dared to call out, now, if I had. I
narrowly escaped being run over, twenty times at least, in half a
mile. Now I lost him, now I saw him, now I lost him, now I was cut
at with a whip, now shouted at, now down in the mud, now up again,
now running into somebody's arms, now running headlong at a post.
At length, confused by fright and heat, and doubting whether half
London might not by this time be turning out for my apprehension,
I left the young man to go where he would with my box and money;
and, panting and crying, but never stopping, faced about for
Greenwich, which I had understood was on the Dover Road: taking
very little more out of the world, towards the retreat of my aunt,
Miss Betsey, than I had brought into it, on the night when my
arrival gave her so much umbrage.
For anything I know, I may have had some wild idea of running all
the way to Dover, when I gave up the pursuit of the young man with
the donkey-cart, and started for Greenwich. My scattered senses
were soon collected as to that point, if I had; for I came to a
stop in the Kent Road, at a terrace with a piece of water before
it, and a great foolish image in the middle, blowing a dry shell.
Here I sat down on a doorstep, quite spent and exhausted with the
efforts I had already made, and with hardly breath enough to cry
for the loss of my box and half-guinea.
It was by this time dark; I heard the clocks strike ten, as I sat
resting. But it was a summer night, fortunately, and fine weather.
When I had recovered my breath, and had got rid of a stifling
sensation in my throat, I rose up and went on. In the midst of my
distress, I had no notion of going back. I doubt if I should have
had any, though there had been a Swiss snow-drift in the Kent Road.
But my standing possessed of only three-halfpence in the world (and
I am sure I wonder how they came to be left in my pocket on a
Saturday night!) troubled me none the less because I went on. I
began to picture to myself, as a scrap of newspaper intelligence,
my being found dead in a day or two, under some hedge; and I
trudged on miserably, though as fast as I could, until I happened
to pass a little shop, where it was written up that ladies' and
gentlemen's wardrobes were bought, and that the best price was
given for rags, bones, and kitchen-stuff. The master of this shop
was sitting at the door in his shirt-sleeves, smoking; and as there
were a great many coats and pairs of trousers dangling from the low
ceiling, and only two feeble candles burning inside to show what
they were, I fancied that he looked like a man of a revengeful
disposition, who had hung all his enemies, and was enjoying
My late experiences with Mr. and Mrs. Micawber suggested to me that
here might be a means of keeping off the wolf for a little while.
I went up the next by-street, took off my waistcoat, rolled it
neatly under my arm, and came back to the shop door.
'If you please, sir,' I said, 'I am to sell this for a fair price.'
Mr. Dolloby - Dolloby was the name over the shop door, at least -
took the waistcoat, stood his pipe on its head, against the
door-post, went into the shop, followed by me, snuffed the two
candles with his fingers, spread the waistcoat on the counter, and
looked at it there, held it up against the light, and looked at it
there, and ultimately said:
'What do you call a price, now, for this here little weskit?'
'Oh! you know best, sir,' I returned modestly.
'I can't be buyer and seller too,' said Mr. Dolloby. 'Put a price
on this here little weskit.'
'Would eighteenpence be?'- I hinted, after some hesitation.
Mr. Dolloby rolled it up again, and gave it me back. 'I should rob
my family,' he said, 'if I was to offer ninepence for it.'
This was a disagreeable way of putting the business; because it
imposed upon me, a perfect stranger, the unpleasantness of asking
Mr. Dolloby to rob his family on my account. My circumstances
being so very pressing, however, I said I would take ninepence for
it, if he pleased. Mr. Dolloby, not without some grumbling, gave
ninepence. I wished him good night, and walked out of the shop the
richer by that sum, and the poorer by a waistcoat. But when I
buttoned my jacket, that was not much.
Indeed, I foresaw pretty clearly that my jacket would go next, and
that I should have to make the best of my way to Dover in a shirt
and a pair of trousers, and might deem myself lucky if I got there
even in that trim. But my mind did not run so much on this as
might be supposed. Beyond a general impression of the distance
before me, and of the young man with the donkey-cart having used me
cruelly, I think I had no very urgent sense of my difficulties when
I once again set off with my ninepence in my pocket.
A plan had occurred to me for passing the night, which I was going
to carry into execution. This was, to lie behind the wall at the
back of my old school, in a corner where there used to be a
haystack. I imagined it would be a kind of company to have the
boys, and the bedroom where I used to tell the stories, so near me:
although the boys would know nothing of my being there, and the
bedroom would yield me no shelter.
I had had a hard day's work, and was pretty well jaded when I came
climbing out, at last, upon the level of Blackheath. It cost me
some trouble to find out Salem House; but I found it, and I found
a haystack in the corner, and I lay down by it; having first walked
round the wall, and looked up at the windows, and seen that all was
dark and silent within. Never shall I forget the lonely sensation
of first lying down, without a roof above my head!
Sleep came upon me as it came on many other outcasts, against whom
house-doors were locked, and house-dogs barked, that night - and I
dreamed of lying on my old school-bed, talking to the boys in my
room; and found myself sitting upright, with Steerforth's name upon
my lips, looking wildly at the stars that were glistening and
glimmering above me. When I remembered where I was at that
untimely hour, a feeling stole upon me that made me get up, afraid
of I don't know what, and walk about. But the fainter glimmering
of the stars, and the pale light in the sky where the day was
coming, reassured me: and my eyes being very heavy, I lay down
again and slept - though with a knowledge in my sleep that it was
cold - until the warm beams of the sun, and the ringing of the
getting-up bell at Salem House, awoke me. If I could have hoped
that Steerforth was there, I would have lurked about until he came
out alone; but I knew he must have left long since. Traddles still
remained, perhaps, but it was very doubtful; and I had not
sufficient confidence in his discretion or good luck, however
strong my reliance was on his good nature, to wish to trust him
with my situation. So I crept away from the wall as Mr. Creakle's
boys were getting up, and struck into the long dusty track which I
had first known to be the Dover Road when I was one of them, and
when I little expected that any eyes would ever see me the wayfarer
I was now, upon it.
What a different Sunday morning from the old Sunday morning at
Yarmouth! In due time I heard the church-bells ringing, as I
plodded on; and I met people who were going to church; and I passed
a church or two where the congregation were inside, and the sound
of singing came out into the sunshine, while the beadle sat and
cooled himself in the shade of the porch, or stood beneath the
yew-tree, with his hand to his forehead, glowering at me going by.
But the peace and rest of the old Sunday morning were on
everything, except me. That was the difference. I felt quite
wicked in my dirt and dust, with my tangled hair. But for the
quiet picture I had conjured up, of my mother in her youth and
beauty, weeping by the fire, and my aunt relenting to her, I hardly
think I should have had the courage to go on until next day. But
it always went before me, and I followed.
I got, that Sunday, through three-and-twenty miles on the straight
road, though not very easily, for I was new to that kind of toil.
I see myself, as evening closes in, coming over the bridge at
Rochester, footsore and tired, and eating bread that I had bought
for supper. One or two little houses, with the notice, 'Lodgings
for Travellers', hanging out, had tempted me; but I was afraid of
spending the few pence I had, and was even more afraid of the
vicious looks of the trampers I had met or overtaken. I sought no
shelter, therefore, but the sky; and toiling into Chatham, - which,
in that night's aspect, is a mere dream of chalk, and drawbridges,
and mastless ships in a muddy river, roofed like Noah's arks, -
crept, at last, upon a sort of grass-grown battery overhanging a
lane, where a sentry was walking to and fro. Here I lay down, near
a cannon; and, happy in the society of the sentry's footsteps,
though he knew no more of my being above him than the boys at Salem
House had known of my lying by the wall, slept soundly until
Very stiff and sore of foot I was in the morning, and quite dazed
by the beating of drums and marching of troops, which seemed to hem
me in on every side when I went down towards the long narrow
street. Feeling that I could go but a very little way that day, if
I were to reserve any strength for getting to my journey's end, I
resolved to make the sale of my jacket its principal business.
Accordingly, I took the jacket off, that I might learn to do
without it; and carrying it under my arm, began a tour of
inspection of the various slop-shops.
It was a likely place to sell a jacket in; for the dealers in
second-hand clothes were numerous, and were, generally speaking, on
the look-out for customers at their shop doors. But as most of
them had, hanging up among their stock, an officer's coat or two,
epaulettes and all, I was rendered timid by the costly nature of
their dealings, and walked about for a long time without offering
my merchandise to anyone.
This modesty of mine directed my attention to the marine-store
shops, and such shops as Mr. Dolloby's, in preference to the
regular dealers. At last I found one that I thought looked
promising, at the corner of a dirty lane, ending in an enclosure
full of stinging-nettles, against the palings of which some
second-hand sailors' clothes, that seemed to have overflowed the
shop, were fluttering among some cots, and rusty guns, and oilskin
hats, and certain trays full of so many old rusty keys of so many
sizes that they seemed various enough to open all the doors in the
Into this shop, which was low and small, and which was darkened
rather than lighted by a little window, overhung with clothes, and
was descended into by some steps, I went with a palpitating heart;
which was not relieved when an ugly old man, with the lower part of
his face all covered with a stubbly grey beard, rushed out of a
dirty den behind it, and seized me by the hair of my head. He was
a dreadful old man to look at, in a filthy flannel waistcoat, and
smelling terribly of rum. His bedstead, covered with a tumbled and
ragged piece of patchwork, was in the den he had come from, where
another little window showed a prospect of more stinging-nettles,
and a lame donkey.
'Oh, what do you want?' grinned this old man, in a fierce,
monotonous whine. 'Oh, my eyes and limbs, what do you want? Oh,
my lungs and liver, what do you want? Oh, goroo, goroo!'
I was so much dismayed by these words, and particularly by the
repetition of the last unknown one, which was a kind of rattle in
his throat, that I could make no answer; hereupon the old man,
still holding me by the hair, repeated:
'Oh, what do you want? Oh, my eyes and limbs, what do you want?
Oh, my lungs and liver, what do you want? Oh, goroo!' - which he
screwed out of himself, with an energy that made his eyes start in
his head.
'I wanted to know,' I said, trembling, 'if you would buy a jacket.'
'Oh, let's see the jacket!' cried the old man. 'Oh, my heart on
fire, show the jacket to us! Oh, my eyes and limbs, bring the
jacket out!'
With that he took his trembling hands, which were like the claws of
a great bird, out of my hair; and put on a pair of spectacles, not
at all ornamental to his inflamed eyes.
'Oh, how much for the jacket?' cried the old man, after examining
it. 'Oh - goroo! - how much for the jacket?'
'Half-a-crown,' I answered, recovering myself.
'Oh, my lungs and liver,' cried the old man, 'no! Oh, my eyes, no!
Oh, my limbs, no! Eighteenpence. Goroo!'
Every time he uttered this ejaculation, his eyes seemed to be in
danger of starting out; and every sentence he spoke, he delivered
in a sort of tune, always exactly the same, and more like a gust of
wind, which begins low, mounts up high, and falls again, than any
other comparison I can find for it.
'Well,' said I, glad to have closed the bargain, 'I'll take
'Oh, my liver!' cried the old man, throwing the jacket on a shelf.
'Get out of the shop! Oh, my lungs, get out of the shop! Oh, my
eyes and limbs - goroo! - don't ask for money; make it an
exchange.' I never was so frightened in my life, before or since;
but I told him humbly that I wanted money, and that nothing else
was of any use to me, but that I would wait for it, as he desired,
outside, and had no wish to hurry him. So I went outside, and sat
down in the shade in a corner. And I sat there so many hours, that
the shade became sunlight, and the sunlight became shade again, and
still I sat there waiting for the money.
There never was such another drunken madman in that line of
business, I hope. That he was well known in the neighbourhood, and
enjoyed the reputation of having sold himself to the devil, I soon
understood from the visits he received from the boys, who
continually came skirmishing about the shop, shouting that legend,
and calling to him to bring out his gold. 'You ain't poor, you
know, Charley, as you pretend. Bring out your gold. Bring out
some of the gold you sold yourself to the devil for. Come! It's
in the lining of the mattress, Charley. Rip it open and let's have
some!' This, and many offers to lend him a knife for the purpose,
exasperated him to such a degree, that the whole day was a
succession of rushes on his part, and flights on the part of the
boys. Sometimes in his rage he would take me for one of them, and
come at me, mouthing as if he were going to tear me in pieces;
then, remembering me, just in time, would dive into the shop, and
lie upon his bed, as I thought from the sound of his voice, yelling
in a frantic way, to his own windy tune, the 'Death of Nelson';
with an Oh! before every line, and innumerable Goroos interspersed.
As if this were not bad enough for me, the boys, connecting me with
the establishment, on account of the patience and perseverance with
which I sat outside, half-dressed, pelted me, and used me very ill
all day.
He made many attempts to induce me to consent to an exchange; at
one time coming out with a fishing-rod, at another with a fiddle,
at another with a cocked hat, at another with a flute. But I
resisted all these overtures, and sat there in desperation; each
time asking him, with tears in my eyes, for my money or my jacket.
At last he began to pay me in halfpence at a time; and was full two
hours getting by easy stages to a shilling.
'Oh, my eyes and limbs!' he then cried, peeping hideously out of
the shop, after a long pause, 'will you go for twopence more?'
'I can't,' I said; 'I shall be starved.'
'Oh, my lungs and liver, will you go for threepence?'
'I would go for nothing, if I could,' I said, 'but I want the money
'Oh, go-roo!' (it is really impossible to express how he twisted
this ejaculation out of himself, as he peeped round the door-post
at me, showing nothing but his crafty old head); 'will you go for
I was so faint and weary that I closed with this offer; and taking
the money out of his claw, not without trembling, went away more
hungry and thirsty than I had ever been, a little before sunset.
But at an expense of threepence I soon refreshed myself completely;
and, being in better spirits then, limped seven miles upon my road.
My bed at night was under another haystack, where I rested
comfortably, after having washed my blistered feet in a stream, and
dressed them as well as I was able, with some cool leaves. When I
took the road again next morning, I found that it lay through a
succession of hop-grounds and orchards. It was sufficiently late
in the year for the orchards to be ruddy with ripe apples; and in
a few places the hop-pickers were already at work. I thought it
all extremely beautiful, and made up my mind to sleep among the
hops that night: imagining some cheerful companionship in the long
perspectives of poles, with the graceful leaves twining round them.
The trampers were worse than ever that day, and inspired me with a
dread that is yet quite fresh in my mind. Some of them were most
ferocious-looking ruffians, who stared at me as I went by; and
stopped, perhaps, and called after me to come back and speak to
them, and when I took to my heels, stoned me. I recollect one
young fellow - a tinker, I suppose, from his wallet and brazier -
who had a woman with him, and who faced about and stared at me
thus; and then roared to me in such a tremendous voice to come
back, that I halted and looked round.
'Come here, when you're called,' said the tinker, 'or I'll rip your
young body open.'
I thought it best to go back. As I drew nearer to them, trying to
propitiate the tinker by my looks, I observed that the woman had a
black eye.
'Where are you going?' said the tinker, gripping the bosom of my
shirt with his blackened hand.
'I am going to Dover,' I said.
'Where do you come from?' asked the tinker, giving his hand another
turn in my shirt, to hold me more securely.
'I come from London,' I said.
'What lay are you upon?' asked the tinker. 'Are you a prig?'
'N-no,' I said.
'Ain't you, by G--? If you make a brag of your honesty to me,'
said the tinker, 'I'll knock your brains out.'
With his disengaged hand he made a menace of striking me, and then
looked at me from head to foot.
'Have you got the price of a pint of beer about you?' said the
tinker. 'If you have, out with it, afore I take it away!'
I should certainly have produced it, but that I met the woman's
look, and saw her very slightly shake her head, and form 'No!' with
her lips.
'I am very poor,' I said, attempting to smile, 'and have got no
'Why, what do you mean?' said the tinker, looking so sternly at me,
that I almost feared he saw the money in my pocket.
'Sir!' I stammered.
'What do you mean,' said the tinker, 'by wearing my brother's silk
handkerchief! Give it over here!' And he had mine off my neck in
a moment, and tossed it to the woman.
The woman burst into a fit of laughter, as if she thought this a
joke, and tossed it back to me, nodded once, as slightly as before,
and made the word 'Go!' with her lips. Before I could obey,
however, the tinker seized the handkerchief out of my hand with a
roughness that threw me away like a feather, and putting it loosely
round his own neck, turned upon the woman with an oath, and knocked
her down. I never shall forget seeing her fall backward on the
hard road, and lie there with her bonnet tumbled off, and her hair
all whitened in the dust; nor, when I looked back from a distance,
seeing her sitting on the pathway, which was a bank by the
roadside, wiping the blood from her face with a corner of her
shawl, while he went on ahead.
This adventure frightened me so, that, afterwards, when I saw any
of these people coming, I turned back until I could find a
hiding-place, where I remained until they had gone out of sight;
which happened so often, that I was very seriously delayed. But
under this difficulty, as under all the other difficulties of my
journey, I seemed to be sustained and led on by my fanciful picture
of my mother in her youth, before I came into the world. It always
kept me company. It was there, among the hops, when I lay down to
sleep; it was with me on my waking in the morning; it went before
me all day. I have associated it, ever since, with the sunny
street of Canterbury, dozing as it were in the hot light; and with
the sight of its old houses and gateways, and the stately, grey
Cathedral, with the rooks sailing round the towers. When I came,
at last, upon the bare, wide downs near Dover, it relieved the
solitary aspect of the scene with hope; and not until I reached
that first great aim of my journey, and actually set foot in the
town itself, on the sixth day of my flight, did it desert me. But
then, strange to say, when I stood with my ragged shoes, and my
dusty, sunburnt, half-clothed figure, in the place so long desired,
it seemed to vanish like a dream, and to leave me helpless and
I inquired about my aunt among the boatmen first, and received
various answers. One said she lived in the South Foreland Light,
and had singed her whiskers by doing so; another, that she was made
fast to the great buoy outside the harbour, and could only be
visited at half-tide; a third, that she was locked up in Maidstone
jail for child-stealing; a fourth, that she was seen to mount a
broom in the last high wind, and make direct for Calais. The
fly-drivers, among whom I inquired next, were equally jocose and
equally disrespectful; and the shopkeepers, not liking my
appearance, generally replied, without hearing what I had to say,
that they had got nothing for me. I felt more miserable and
destitute than I had done at any period of my running away. My
money was all gone, I had nothing left to dispose of; I was hungry,
thirsty, and worn out; and seemed as distant from my end as if I
had remained in London.
The morning had worn away in these inquiries, and I was sitting on
the step of an empty shop at a street corner, near the
market-place, deliberating upon wandering towards those other
places which had been mentioned, when a fly-driver, coming by with
his carriage, dropped a horsecloth. Something good-natured in the
man's face, as I handed it up, encouraged me to ask him if he could
tell me where Miss Trotwood lived; though I had asked the question
so often, that it almost died upon my lips.
'Trotwood,' said he. 'Let me see. I know the name, too. Old
'Yes,' I said, 'rather.'
'Pretty stiff in the back?' said he, making himself upright.
'Yes,' I said. 'I should think it very likely.'
'Carries a bag?' said he - 'bag with a good deal of room in it - is
gruffish, and comes down upon you, sharp?'
My heart sank within me as I acknowledged the undoubted accuracy of
this description.
'Why then, I tell you what,' said he. 'If you go up there,'
pointing with his whip towards the heights, 'and keep right on till
you come to some houses facing the sea, I think you'll hear of her.
My opinion is she won't stand anything, so here's a penny for you.'
I accepted the gift thankfully, and bought a loaf with it.
Dispatching this refreshment by the way, I went in the direction my
friend had indicated, and walked on a good distance without coming
to the houses he had mentioned. At length I saw some before me;
and approaching them, went into a little shop (it was what we used
to call a general shop, at home), and inquired if they could have
the goodness to tell me where Miss Trotwood lived. I addressed
myself to a man behind the counter, who was weighing some rice for
a young woman; but the latter, taking the inquiry to herself,
turned round quickly.
'My mistress?' she said. 'What do you want with her, boy?'
'I want,' I replied, 'to speak to her, if you please.'
'To beg of her, you mean,' retorted the damsel.
'No,' I said, 'indeed.' But suddenly remembering that in truth I
came for no other purpose, I held my peace in confusion, and felt
my face burn.
MY aunt's handmaid, as I supposed she was from what she had said,
put her rice in a little basket and walked out of the shop; telling
me that I could follow her, if I wanted to know where Miss Trotwood
lived. I needed no second permission; though I was by this time in
such a state of consternation and agitation, that my legs shook
under me. I followed the young woman, and we soon came to a very
neat little cottage with cheerful bow-windows: in front of it, a
small square gravelled court or garden full of flowers, carefully
tended, and smelling deliciously.
'This is Miss Trotwood's,' said the young woman. 'Now you know;
and that's all I have got to say.' With which words she hurried
into the house, as if to shake off the responsibility of my
appearance; and left me standing at the garden-gate, looking
disconsolately over the top of it towards the parlour window, where
a muslin curtain partly undrawn in the middle, a large round green
screen or fan fastened on to the windowsill, a small table, and a
great chair, suggested to me that my aunt might be at that moment
seated in awful state.
My shoes were by this time in a woeful condition. The soles had
shed themselves bit by bit, and the upper leathers had broken and
burst until the very shape and form of shoes had departed from
them. My hat (which had served me for a night-cap, too) was so
crushed and bent, that no old battered handleless saucepan on a
dunghill need have been ashamed to vie with it. My shirt and
trousers, stained with heat, dew, grass, and the Kentish soil on
which I had slept - and torn besides - might have frightened the
birds from my aunt's garden, as I stood at the gate. My hair had
known no comb or brush since I left London. My face, neck, and
hands, from unaccustomed exposure to the air and sun, were burnt to
a berry-brown. From head to foot I was powdered almost as white
with chalk and dust, as if I had come out of a lime-kiln. In this
plight, and with a strong consciousness of it, I waited to
introduce myself to, and make my first impression on, my formidable
The unbroken stillness of the parlour window leading me to infer,
after a while, that she was not there, I lifted up my eyes to the
window above it, where I saw a florid, pleasant-looking gentleman,
with a grey head, who shut up one eye in a grotesque manner, nodded
his head at me several times, shook it at me as often, laughed, and
went away.
I had been discomposed enough before; but I was so much the more
discomposed by this unexpected behaviour, that I was on the point
of slinking off, to think how I had best proceed, when there came
out of the house a lady with her handkerchief tied over her cap,
and a pair of gardening gloves on her hands, wearing a gardening
pocket like a toll-man's apron, and carrying a great knife. I knew
her immediately to be Miss Betsey, for she came stalking out of the
house exactly as my poor mother had so often described her stalking
up our garden at Blunderstone Rookery.
'Go away!' said Miss Betsey, shaking her head, and making a distant
chop in the air with her knife. 'Go along! No boys here!'
I watched her, with my heart at my lips, as she marched to a corner
of her garden, and stooped to dig up some little root there. Then,
without a scrap of courage, but with a great deal of desperation,
I went softly in and stood beside her, touching her with my finger.
'If you please, ma'am,' I began.
She started and looked up.
'If you please, aunt.'
'EH?' exclaimed Miss Betsey, in a tone of amazement I have never
heard approached.
'If you please, aunt, I am your nephew.'
'Oh, Lord!' said my aunt. And sat flat down in the garden-path.
'I am David Copperfield, of Blunderstone, in Suffolk - where you
came, on the night when I was born, and saw my dear mama. I have
been very unhappy since she died. I have been slighted, and taught
nothing, and thrown upon myself, and put to work not fit for me.
It made me run away to you. I was robbed at first setting out, and
have walked all the way, and have never slept in a bed since I
began the journey.' Here my self-support gave way all at once; and
with a movement of my hands, intended to show her my ragged state,
and call it to witness that I had suffered something, I broke into
a passion of crying, which I suppose had been pent up within me all
the week.
My aunt, with every sort of expression but wonder discharged from
her countenance, sat on the gravel, staring at me, until I began to
cry; when she got up in a great hurry, collared me, and took me
into the parlour. Her first proceeding there was to unlock a tall
press, bring out several bottles, and pour some of the contents of
each into my mouth. I think they must have been taken out at
random, for I am sure I tasted aniseed water, anchovy sauce, and
salad dressing. When she had administered these restoratives, as
I was still quite hysterical, and unable to control my sobs, she
put me on the sofa, with a shawl under my head, and the
handkerchief from her own head under my feet, lest I should sully
the cover; and then, sitting herself down behind the green fan or
screen I have already mentioned, so that I could not see her face,
ejaculated at intervals, 'Mercy on us!' letting those exclamations
off like minute guns.
After a time she rang the bell. 'Janet,' said my aunt, when her
servant came in. 'Go upstairs, give my compliments to Mr. Dick,
and say I wish to speak to him.'
Janet looked a little surprised to see me lying stiffly on the sofa
(I was afraid to move lest it should be displeasing to my aunt),
but went on her errand. My aunt, with her hands behind her, walked
up and down the room, until the gentleman who had squinted at me
from the upper window came in laughing.
'Mr. Dick,' said my aunt, 'don't be a fool, because nobody can be
more discreet than you can, when you choose. We all know that. So
don't be a fool, whatever you are.'
The gentleman was serious immediately, and looked at me, I thought,
as if he would entreat me to say nothing about the window.
'Mr. Dick,' said my aunt, 'you have heard me mention David
Copperfield? Now don't pretend not to have a memory, because you
and I know better.'
'David Copperfield?' said Mr. Dick, who did not appear to me to
remember much about it. 'David Copperfield? Oh yes, to be sure.
David, certainly.'
'Well,' said my aunt, 'this is his boy - his son. He would be as
like his father as it's possible to be, if he was not so like his
mother, too.'
'His son?' said Mr. Dick. 'David's son? Indeed!'
'Yes,' pursued my aunt, 'and he has done a pretty piece of
business. He has run away. Ah! His sister, Betsey Trotwood,
never would have run away.' My aunt shook her head firmly,
confident in the character and behaviour of the girl who never was
'Oh! you think she wouldn't have run away?' said Mr. Dick.
'Bless and save the man,' exclaimed my aunt, sharply, 'how he
talks! Don't I know she wouldn't? She would have lived with her
god-mother, and we should have been devoted to one another. Where,
in the name of wonder, should his sister, Betsey Trotwood, have run
from, or to?'
'Nowhere,' said Mr. Dick.
'Well then,' returned my aunt, softened by the reply, 'how can you
pretend to be wool-gathering, Dick, when you are as sharp as a
surgeon's lancet? Now, here you see young David Copperfield, and
the question I put to you is, what shall I do with him?'
'What shall you do with him?' said Mr. Dick, feebly, scratching his
head. 'Oh! do with him?'
'Yes,' said my aunt, with a grave look, and her forefinger held up.
'Come! I want some very sound advice.'
'Why, if I was you,' said Mr. Dick, considering, and looking
vacantly at me, 'I should -' The contemplation of me seemed to
inspire him with a sudden idea, and he added, briskly, 'I should
wash him!'
'Janet,' said my aunt, turning round with a quiet triumph, which I
did not then understand, 'Mr. Dick sets us all right. Heat the
Although I was deeply interested in this dialogue, I could not help
observing my aunt, Mr. Dick, and Janet, while it was in progress,
and completing a survey I had already been engaged in making of the
MY aunt was a tall, hard-featured lady, but by no means
ill-looking. There was an inflexibility in her face, in her voice,
in her gait and carriage, amply sufficient to account for the
effect she had made upon a gentle creature like my mother; but her
features were rather handsome than otherwise, though unbending and
austere. I particularly noticed that she had a very quick, bright
eye. Her hair, which was grey, was arranged in two plain
divisions, under what I believe would be called a mob-cap; I mean
a cap, much more common then than now, with side-pieces fastening
under the chin. Her dress was of a lavender colour, and perfectly
neat; but scantily made, as if she desired to be as little
encumbered as possible. I remember that I thought it, in form,
more like a riding-habit with the superfluous skirt cut off, than
anything else. She wore at her side a gentleman's gold watch, if
I might judge from its size and make, with an appropriate chain and
seals; she had some linen at her throat not unlike a shirt-collar,
and things at her wrists like little shirt-wristbands.
Mr. Dick, as I have already said, was grey-headed, and florid: I
should have said all about him, in saying so, had not his head been
curiously bowed - not by age; it reminded me of one of Mr.
Creakle's boys' heads after a beating - and his grey eyes prominent
and large, with a strange kind of watery brightness in them that
made me, in combination with his vacant manner, his submission to
my aunt, and his childish delight when she praised him, suspect him
of being a little mad; though, if he were mad, how he came to be
there puzzled me extremely. He was dressed like any other ordinary
gentleman, in a loose grey morning coat and waistcoat, and white
trousers; and had his watch in his fob, and his money in his
pockets: which he rattled as if he were very proud of it.
Janet was a pretty blooming girl, of about nineteen or twenty, and
a perfect picture of neatness. Though I made no further
observation of her at the moment, I may mention here what I did not
discover until afterwards, namely, that she was one of a series of
protegees whom my aunt had taken into her service expressly to
educate in a renouncement of mankind, and who had generally
completed their abjuration by marrying the baker.
The room was as neat as Janet or my aunt. As I laid down my pen,
a moment since, to think of it, the air from the sea came blowing
in again, mixed with the perfume of the flowers; and I saw the
old-fashioned furniture brightly rubbed and polished, my aunt's
inviolable chair and table by the round green fan in the
bow-window, the drugget-covered carpet, the cat, the kettle-holder,
the two canaries, the old china, the punchbowl full of dried
rose-leaves, the tall press guarding all sorts of bottles and pots,
and, wonderfully out of keeping with the rest, my dusty self upon
the sofa, taking note of everything.
Janet had gone away to get the bath ready, when my aunt, to my
great alarm, became in one moment rigid with indignation, and had
hardly voice to cry out, 'Janet! Donkeys!'
Upon which, Janet came running up the stairs as if the house were
in flames, darted out on a little piece of green in front, and
warned off two saddle-donkeys, lady-ridden, that had presumed to
set hoof upon it; while my aunt, rushing out of the house, seized
the bridle of a third animal laden with a bestriding child, turned
him, led him forth from those sacred precincts, and boxed the ears
of the unlucky urchin in attendance who had dared to profane that
hallowed ground.
To this hour I don't know whether my aunt had any lawful right of
way over that patch of green; but she had settled it in her own
mind that she had, and it was all the same to her. The one great
outrage of her life, demanding to be constantly avenged, was the
passage of a donkey over that immaculate spot. In whatever
occupation she was engaged, however interesting to her the
conversation in which she was taking part, a donkey turned the
current of her ideas in a moment, and she was upon him straight.
Jugs of water, and watering-pots, were kept in secret places ready
to be discharged on the offending boys; sticks were laid in ambush
behind the door; sallies were made at all hours; and incessant war
prevailed. Perhaps this was an agreeable excitement to the
donkey-boys; or perhaps the more sagacious of the donkeys,
understanding how the case stood, delighted with constitutional
obstinacy in coming that way. I only know that there were three
alarms before the bath was ready; and that on the occasion of the
last and most desperate of all, I saw my aunt engage,
single-handed, with a sandy-headed lad of fifteen, and bump his
sandy head against her own gate, before he seemed to comprehend
what was the matter. These interruptions were of the more
ridiculous to me, because she was giving me broth out of a
table-spoon at the time (having firmly persuaded herself that I was
actually starving, and must receive nourishment at first in very
small quantities), and, while my mouth was yet open to receive the
spoon, she would put it back into the basin, cry 'Janet! Donkeys!'
and go out to the assault.
The bath was a great comfort. For I began to be sensible of acute
pains in my limbs from lying out in the fields, and was now so
tired and low that I could hardly keep myself awake for five
minutes together. When I had bathed, they (I mean my aunt and
Janet) enrobed me in a shirt and a pair of trousers belonging to
Mr. Dick, and tied me up in two or three great shawls. What sort
of bundle I looked like, I don't know, but I felt a very hot one.
Feeling also very faint and drowsy, I soon lay down on the sofa
again and fell asleep.
It might have been a dream, originating in the fancy which had
occupied my mind so long, but I awoke with the impression that my
aunt had come and bent over me, and had put my hair away from my
face, and laid my head more comfortably, and had then stood looking
at me. The words, 'Pretty fellow,' or 'Poor fellow,' seemed to be
in my ears, too; but certainly there was nothing else, when I
awoke, to lead me to believe that they had been uttered by my aunt,
who sat in the bow-window gazing at the sea from behind the green
fan, which was mounted on a kind of swivel, and turned any way.
We dined soon after I awoke, off a roast fowl and a pudding; I
sitting at table, not unlike a trussed bird myself, and moving my
arms with considerable difficulty. But as my aunt had swathed me
up, I made no complaint of being inconvenienced. All this time I
was deeply anxious to know what she was going to do with me; but
she took her dinner in profound silence, except when she
occasionally fixed her eyes on me sitting opposite, and said,
'Mercy upon us!' which did not by any means relieve my anxiety.
The cloth being drawn, and some sherry put upon the table (of which
I had a glass), my aunt sent up for Mr. Dick again, who joined us,
and looked as wise as he could when she requested him to attend to
my story, which she elicited from me, gradually, by a course of
questions. During my recital, she kept her eyes on Mr. Dick, who
I thought would have gone to sleep but for that, and who,
whensoever he lapsed into a smile, was checked by a frown from my
'Whatever possessed that poor unfortunate Baby, that she must go
and be married again,' said my aunt, when I had finished, 'I can't
'Perhaps she fell in love with her second husband,' Mr. Dick
'Fell in love!' repeated my aunt. 'What do you mean? What
business had she to do it?'
'Perhaps,' Mr. Dick simpered, after thinking a little, 'she did it
for pleasure.'
'Pleasure, indeed!' replied my aunt. 'A mighty pleasure for the
poor Baby to fix her simple faith upon any dog of a fellow, certain
to ill-use her in some way or other. What did she propose to
herself, I should like to know! She had had one husband. She had
seen David Copperfield out of the world, who was always running
after wax dolls from his cradle. She had got a baby - oh, there
were a pair of babies when she gave birth to this child sitting
here, that Friday night! - and what more did she want?'
Mr. Dick secretly shook his head at me, as if he thought there was
no getting over this.
'She couldn't even have a baby like anybody else,' said my aunt.
'Where was this child's sister, Betsey Trotwood? Not forthcoming.
Don't tell me!'
Mr. Dick seemed quite frightened.
'That little man of a doctor, with his head on one side,' said my
aunt, 'Jellips, or whatever his name was, what was he about? All
he could do, was to say to me, like a robin redbreast - as he is -
"It's a boy." A boy! Yah, the imbecility of the whole set of
The heartiness of the ejaculation startled Mr. Dick exceedingly;
and me, too, if I am to tell the truth.
'And then, as if this was not enough, and she had not stood
sufficiently in the light of this child's sister, Betsey Trotwood,'
said my aunt, 'she marries a second time - goes and marries a
Murderer - or a man with a name like it - and stands in THIS
child's light! And the natural consequence is, as anybody but a
baby might have foreseen, that he prowls and wanders. He's as like
Cain before he was grown up, as he can be.'
Mr. Dick looked hard at me, as if to identify me in this character.
'And then there's that woman with the Pagan name,' said my aunt,
'that Peggotty, she goes and gets married next. Because she has
not seen enough of the evil attending such things, she goes and
gets married next, as the child relates. I only hope,' said my
aunt, shaking her head, 'that her husband is one of those Poker
husbands who abound in the newspapers, and will beat her well with
I could not bear to hear my old nurse so decried, and made the
subject of such a wish. I told my aunt that indeed she was
mistaken. That Peggotty was the best, the truest, the most
faithful, most devoted, and most self-denying friend and servant in
the world; who had ever loved me dearly, who had ever loved my
mother dearly; who had held my mother's dying head upon her arm, on
whose face my mother had imprinted her last grateful kiss. And my
remembrance of them both, choking me, I broke down as I was trying
to say that her home was my home, and that all she had was mine,
and that I would have gone to her for shelter, but for her humble
station, which made me fear that I might bring some trouble on her
- I broke down, I say, as I was trying to say so, and laid my face
in my hands upon the table.
'Well, well!' said my aunt, 'the child is right to stand by those
who have stood by him - Janet! Donkeys!'
I thoroughly believe that but for those unfortunate donkeys, we
should have come to a good understanding; for my aunt had laid her
hand on my shoulder, and the impulse was upon me, thus emboldened,
to embrace her and beseech her protection. But the interruption,
and the disorder she was thrown into by the struggle outside, put
an end to all softer ideas for the present, and kept my aunt
indignantly declaiming to Mr. Dick about her determination to
appeal for redress to the laws of her country, and to bring actions
for trespass against the whole donkey proprietorship of Dover,
until tea-time.
After tea, we sat at the window - on the look-out, as I imagined,
from my aunt's sharp expression of face, for more invaders - until
dusk, when Janet set candles, and a backgammon-board, on the table,
and pulled down the blinds.
'Now, Mr. Dick,' said my aunt, with her grave look, and her
forefinger up as before, 'I am going to ask you another question.
Look at this child.'
'David's son?' said Mr. Dick, with an attentive, puzzled face.
'Exactly so,' returned my aunt. 'What would you do with him, now?'
'Do with David's son?' said Mr. Dick.
'Ay,' replied my aunt, 'with David's son.'
'Oh!' said Mr. Dick. 'Yes. Do with - I should put him to bed.'
'Janet!' cried my aunt, with the same complacent triumph that I had
remarked before. 'Mr. Dick sets us all right. If the bed is
ready, we'll take him up to it.'
Janet reporting it to be quite ready, I was taken up to it; kindly,
but in some sort like a prisoner; my aunt going in front and Janet
bringing up the rear. The only circumstance which gave me any new
hope, was my aunt's stopping on the stairs to inquire about a smell
of fire that was prevalent there; and janet's replying that she had
been making tinder down in the kitchen, of my old shirt. But there
were no other clothes in my room than the odd heap of things I
wore; and when I was left there, with a little taper which my aunt
forewarned me would burn exactly five minutes, I heard them lock my
door on the outside. Turning these things over in my mind I deemed
it possible that my aunt, who could know nothing of me, might
suspect I had a habit of running away, and took precautions, on
that account, to have me in safe keeping.
The room was a pleasant one, at the top of the house, overlooking
the sea, on which the moon was shining brilliantly. After I had
said my prayers, and the candle had burnt out, I remember how I
still sat looking at the moonlight on the water, as if I could hope
to read my fortune in it, as in a bright book; or to see my mother
with her child, coming from Heaven, along that shining path, to
look upon me as she had looked when I last saw her sweet face. I
remember how the solemn feeling with which at length I turned my
eyes away, yielded to the sensation of gratitude and rest which the
sight of the white-curtained bed - and how much more the lying
softly down upon it, nestling in the snow-white sheets! - inspired.
I remember how I thought of all the solitary places under the night
sky where I had slept, and how I prayed that I never might be
houseless any more, and never might forget the houseless. I
remember how I seemed to float, then, down the melancholy glory of
that track upon the sea, away into the world of dreams.
On going down in the morning, I found my aunt musing so profoundly
over the breakfast table, with her elbow on the tray, that the
contents of the urn had overflowed the teapot and were laying the
whole table-cloth under water, when my entrance put her meditations
to flight. I felt sure that I had been the subject of her
reflections, and was more than ever anxious to know her intentions
towards me. Yet I dared not express my anxiety, lest it should
give her offence.
My eyes, however, not being so much under control as my tongue,
were attracted towards my aunt very often during breakfast. I
never could look at her for a few moments together but I found her
looking at me - in an odd thoughtful manner, as if I were an
immense way off, instead of being on the other side of the small
round table. When she had finished her breakfast, my aunt very
deliberately leaned back in her chair, knitted her brows, folded
her arms, and contemplated me at her leisure, with such a fixedness
of attention that I was quite overpowered by embarrassment. Not
having as yet finished my own breakfast, I attempted to hide my
confusion by proceeding with it; but my knife tumbled over my fork,
my fork tripped up my knife, I chipped bits of bacon a surprising
height into the air instead of cutting them for my own eating, and
choked myself with my tea, which persisted in going the wrong way
instead of the right one, until I gave in altogether, and sat
blushing under my aunt's close scrutiny.
'Hallo!' said my aunt, after a long time.
I looked up, and met her sharp bright glance respectfully.
'I have written to him,' said my aunt.
'To -?'
'To your father-in-law,' said my aunt. 'I have sent him a letter
that I'll trouble him to attend to, or he and I will fall out, I
can tell him!'
'Does he know where I am, aunt?' I inquired, alarmed.
'I have told him,' said my aunt, with a nod.
'Shall I - be - given up to him?' I faltered.
'I don't know,' said my aunt. 'We shall see.'
'Oh! I can't think what I shall do,' I exclaimed, 'if I have to go
back to Mr. Murdstone!'
'I don't know anything about it,' said my aunt, shaking her head.
'I can't say, I am sure. We shall see.'
My spirits sank under these words, and I became very downcast and
heavy of heart. My aunt, without appearing to take much heed of
me, put on a coarse apron with a bib, which she took out of the
press; washed up the teacups with her own hands; and, when
everything was washed and set in the tray again, and the cloth
folded and put on the top of the whole, rang for Janet to remove
it. She next swept up the crumbs with a little broom (putting on
a pair of gloves first), until there did not appear to be one
microscopic speck left on the carpet; next dusted and arranged the
room, which was dusted and arranged to a hair'sbreadth already.
When all these tasks were performed to her satisfaction, she took
off the gloves and apron, folded them up, put them in the
particular corner of the press from which they had been taken,
brought out her work-box to her own table in the open window, and
sat down, with the green fan between her and the light, to work.
'I wish you'd go upstairs,' said my aunt, as she threaded her
needle, 'and give my compliments to Mr. Dick, and I'll be glad to
know how he gets on with his Memorial.'
I rose with all alacrity, to acquit myself of this commission.
'I suppose,' said my aunt, eyeing me as narrowly as she had eyed
the needle in threading it, 'you think Mr. Dick a short name, eh?'
'I thought it was rather a short name, yesterday,' I confessed.
'You are not to suppose that he hasn't got a longer name, if he
chose to use it,' said my aunt, with a loftier air. 'Babley - Mr.
Richard Babley - that's the gentleman's true name.'
I was going to suggest, with a modest sense of my youth and the
familiarity I had been already guilty of, that I had better give
him the full benefit of that name, when my aunt went on to say:
'But don't you call him by it, whatever you do. He can't bear his
name. That's a peculiarity of his. Though I don't know that it's
much of a peculiarity, either; for he has been ill-used enough, by
some that bear it, to have a mortal antipathy for it, Heaven knows.
Mr. Dick is his name here, and everywhere else, now - if he ever
went anywhere else, which he don't. So take care, child, you don't
call him anything BUT Mr. Dick.'
I promised to obey, and went upstairs with my message; thinking, as
I went, that if Mr. Dick had been working at his Memorial long, at
the same rate as I had seen him working at it, through the open
door, when I came down, he was probably getting on very well
indeed. I found him still driving at it with a long pen, and his
head almost laid upon the paper. He was so intent upon it, that I
had ample leisure to observe the large paper kite in a corner, the
confusion of bundles of manuscript, the number of pens, and, above
all, the quantity of ink (which he seemed to have in, in
half-gallon jars by the dozen), before he observed my being
'Ha! Phoebus!' said Mr. Dick, laying down his pen. 'How does the
world go? I'll tell you what,' he added, in a lower tone, 'I
shouldn't wish it to be mentioned, but it's a -' here he beckoned
to me, and put his lips close to my ear - 'it's a mad world. Mad
as Bedlam, boy!' said Mr. Dick, taking snuff from a round box on
the table, and laughing heartily.
Without presuming to give my opinion on this question, I delivered
my message.
'Well,' said Mr. Dick, in answer, 'my compliments to her, and I -
I believe I have made a start. I think I have made a start,' said
Mr. Dick, passing his hand among his grey hair, and casting
anything but a confident look at his manuscript. 'You have been to
'Yes, sir,' I answered; 'for a short time.'
'Do you recollect the date,' said Mr. Dick, looking earnestly at
me, and taking up his pen to note it down, 'when King Charles the
First had his head cut off?'
I said I believed it happened in the year sixteen hundred and
'Well,' returned Mr. Dick, scratching his ear with his pen, and
looking dubiously at me. 'So the books say; but I don't see how
that can be. Because, if it was so long ago, how could the people
about him have made that mistake of putting some of the trouble out
of his head, after it was taken off, into mine?'
I was very much surprised by the inquiry; but could give no
information on this point.
'It's very strange,' said Mr. Dick, with a despondent look upon his
papers, and with his hand among his hair again, 'that I never can
get that quite right. I never can make that perfectly clear. But
no matter, no matter!' he said cheerfully, and rousing himself,
'there's time enough! My compliments to Miss Trotwood, I am
getting on very well indeed.'
I was going away, when he directed my attention to the kite.
'What do you think of that for a kite?' he said.
I answered that it was a beautiful one. I should think it must
have been as much as seven feet high.
'I made it. We'll go and fly it, you and I,' said Mr. Dick. 'Do
you see this?'
He showed me that it was covered with manuscript, very closely and
laboriously written; but so plainly, that as I looked along the
lines, I thought I saw some allusion to King Charles the First's
head again, in one or two places.
'There's plenty of string,' said Mr. Dick, 'and when it flies high,
it takes the facts a long way. That's my manner of diffusing 'em.
I don't know where they may come down. It's according to
circumstances, and the wind, and so forth; but I take my chance of
His face was so very mild and pleasant, and had something so
reverend in it, though it was hale and hearty, that I was not sure
but that he was having a good-humoured jest with me. So I laughed,
and he laughed, and we parted the best friends possible.
'Well, child,' said my aunt, when I went downstairs. 'And what of
Mr. Dick, this morning?'
I informed her that he sent his compliments, and was getting on
very well indeed.
'What do you think of him?' said my aunt.
I had some shadowy idea of endeavouring to evade the question, by
replying that I thought him a very nice gentleman; but my aunt was
not to be so put off, for she laid her work down in her lap, and
said, folding her hands upon it:
'Come! Your sister Betsey Trotwood would have told me what she
thought of anyone, directly. Be as like your sister as you can,
and speak out!'
'Is he - is Mr. Dick - I ask because I don't know, aunt - is he at
all out of his mind, then?' I stammered; for I felt I was on
dangerous ground.
'Not a morsel,' said my aunt.
'Oh, indeed!' I observed faintly.
'If there is anything in the world,' said my aunt, with great
decision and force of manner, 'that Mr. Dick is not, it's that.'
I had nothing better to offer, than another timid, 'Oh, indeed!'
'He has been CALLED mad,' said my aunt. 'I have a selfish pleasure
in saying he has been called mad, or I should not have had the
benefit of his society and advice for these last ten years and
upwards - in fact, ever since your sister, Betsey Trotwood,
disappointed me.'
'So long as that?' I said.
'And nice people they were, who had the audacity to call him mad,'
pursued my aunt. 'Mr. Dick is a sort of distant connexion of mine
- it doesn't matter how; I needn't enter into that. If it hadn't
been for me, his own brother would have shut him up for life.
That's all.'
I am afraid it was hypocritical in me, but seeing that my aunt felt
strongly on the subject, I tried to look as if I felt strongly too.
'A proud fool!' said my aunt. 'Because his brother was a little
eccentric - though he is not half so eccentric as a good many
people - he didn't like to have him visible about his house, and
sent him away to some private asylum-place: though he had been left
to his particular care by their deceased father, who thought him
almost a natural. And a wise man he must have been to think so!
Mad himself, no doubt.'
Again, as my aunt looked quite convinced, I endeavoured to look
quite convinced also.
'So I stepped in,' said my aunt, 'and made him an offer. I said,
"Your brother's sane - a great deal more sane than you are, or ever
will be, it is to be hoped. Let him have his little income, and
come and live with me. I am not afraid of him, I am not proud, I
am ready to take care of him, and shall not ill-treat him as some
people (besides the asylum-folks) have done." After a good deal of
squabbling,' said my aunt, 'I got him; and he has been here ever
since. He is the most friendly and amenable creature in existence;
and as for advice! - But nobody knows what that man's mind is,
except myself.'
My aunt smoothed her dress and shook her head, as if she smoothed
defiance of the whole world out of the one, and shook it out of the
'He had a favourite sister,' said my aunt, 'a good creature, and
very kind to him. But she did what they all do - took a husband.
And HE did what they all do - made her wretched. It had such an
effect upon the mind of Mr. Dick (that's not madness, I hope!)
that, combined with his fear of his brother, and his sense of his
unkindness, it threw him into a fever. That was before he came to
me, but the recollection of it is oppressive to him even now. Did
he say anything to you about King Charles the First, child?'
'Yes, aunt.'
'Ah!' said my aunt, rubbing her nose as if she were a little vexed.
'That's his allegorical way of expressing it. He connects his
illness with great disturbance and agitation, naturally, and that's
the figure, or the simile, or whatever it's called, which he
chooses to use. And why shouldn't he, if he thinks proper!'
I said: 'Certainly, aunt.'
'It's not a business-like way of speaking,' said my aunt, 'nor a
worldly way. I am aware of that; and that's the reason why I
insist upon it, that there shan't be a word about it in his
'Is it a Memorial about his own history that he is writing, aunt?'
'Yes, child,' said my aunt, rubbing her nose again. 'He is
memorializing the Lord Chancellor, or the Lord Somebody or other -
one of those people, at all events, who are paid to be memorialized
- about his affairs. I suppose it will go in, one of these days.
He hasn't been able to draw it up yet, without introducing that
mode of expressing himself; but it don't signify; it keeps him
In fact, I found out afterwards that Mr. Dick had been for upwards
of ten years endeavouring to keep King Charles the First out of the
Memorial; but he had been constantly getting into it, and was there
'I say again,' said my aunt, 'nobody knows what that man's mind is
except myself; and he's the most amenable and friendly creature in
existence. If he likes to fly a kite sometimes, what of that!
Franklin used to fly a kite. He was a Quaker, or something of that
sort, if I am not mistaken. And a Quaker flying a kite is a much
more ridiculous object than anybody else.'
If I could have supposed that my aunt had recounted these
particulars for my especial behoof, and as a piece of confidence in
me, I should have felt very much distinguished, and should have
augured favourably from such a mark of her good opinion. But I
could hardly help observing that she had launched into them,
chiefly because the question was raised in her own mind, and with
very little reference to me, though she had addressed herself to me
in the absence of anybody else.
At the same time, I must say that the generosity of her
championship of poor harmless Mr. Dick, not only inspired my young
breast with some selfish hope for myself, but warmed it unselfishly
towards her. I believe that I began to know that there was
something about my aunt, notwithstanding her many eccentricities
and odd humours, to be honoured and trusted in. Though she was
just as sharp that day as on the day before, and was in and out
about the donkeys just as often, and was thrown into a tremendous
state of indignation, when a young man, going by, ogled Janet at a
window (which was one of the gravest misdemeanours that could be
committed against my aunt's dignity), she seemed to me to command
more of my respect, if not less of my fear.
The anxiety I underwent, in the interval which necessarily elapsed
before a reply could be received to her letter to Mr. Murdstone,
was extreme; but I made an endeavour to suppress it, and to be as
agreeable as I could in a quiet way, both to my aunt and Mr. Dick.
The latter and I would have gone out to fly the great kite; but
that I had still no other clothes than the anything but ornamental
garments with which I had been decorated on the first day, and
which confined me to the house, except for an hour after dark, when
my aunt, for my health's sake, paraded me up and down on the cliff
outside, before going to bed. At length the reply from Mr.
Murdstone came, and my aunt informed me, to my infinite terror,
that he was coming to speak to her herself on the next day. On the
next day, still bundled up in my curious habiliments, I sat
counting the time, flushed and heated by the conflict of sinking
hopes and rising fears within me; and waiting to be startled by the
sight of the gloomy face, whose non-arrival startled me every
MY aunt was a little more imperious and stern than usual, but I
observed no other token of her preparing herself to receive the
visitor so much dreaded by me. She sat at work in the window, and
I sat by, with my thoughts running astray on all possible and
impossible results of Mr. Murdstone's visit, until pretty late in
the afternoon. Our dinner had been indefinitely postponed; but it
was growing so late, that my aunt had ordered it to be got ready,
when she gave a sudden alarm of donkeys, and to my consternation
and amazement, I beheld Miss Murdstone, on a side-saddle, ride
deliberately over the sacred piece of green, and stop in front of
the house, looking about her.
'Go along with you!' cried my aunt, shaking her head and her fist
at the window. 'You have no business there. How dare you
trespass? Go along! Oh! you bold-faced thing!'
MY aunt was so exasperated by the coolness with which Miss
Murdstone looked about her, that I really believe she was
motionless, and unable for the moment to dart out according to
custom. I seized the opportunity to inform her who it was; and
that the gentleman now coming near the offender (for the way up was
very steep, and he had dropped behind), was Mr. Murdstone himself.
'I don't care who it is!' cried my aunt, still shaking her head and
gesticulating anything but welcome from the bow-window. 'I won't
be trespassed upon. I won't allow it. Go away! Janet, turn him
round. Lead him off!' and I saw, from behind my aunt, a sort of
hurried battle-piece, in which the donkey stood resisting
everybody, with all his four legs planted different ways, while
Janet tried to pull him round by the bridle, Mr. Murdstone tried to
lead him on, Miss Murdstone struck at Janet with a parasol, and
several boys, who had come to see the engagement, shouted
vigorously. But my aunt, suddenly descrying among them the young
malefactor who was the donkey's guardian, and who was one of the
most inveterate offenders against her, though hardly in his teens,
rushed out to the scene of action, pounced upon him, captured him,
dragged him, with his jacket over his head, and his heels grinding
the ground, into the garden, and, calling upon Janet to fetch the
constables and justices, that he might be taken, tried, and
executed on the spot, held him at bay there. This part of the
business, however, did not last long; for the young rascal, being
expert at a variety of feints and dodges, of which my aunt had no
conception, soon went whooping away, leaving some deep impressions
of his nailed boots in the flower-beds, and taking his donkey in
triumph with him.
Miss Murdstone, during the latter portion of the contest, had
dismounted, and was now waiting with her brother at the bottom of
the steps, until my aunt should be at leisure to receive them. My
aunt, a little ruffled by the combat, marched past them into the
house, with great dignity, and took no notice of their presence,
until they were announced by Janet.
'Shall I go away, aunt?' I asked, trembling.
'No, sir,' said my aunt. 'Certainly not!' With which she pushed
me into a corner near her, and fenced Me in with a chair, as if it
were a prison or a bar of justice. This position I continued to
occupy during the whole interview, and from it I now saw Mr. and
Miss Murdstone enter the room.
'Oh!' said my aunt, 'I was not aware at first to whom I had the
pleasure of objecting. But I don't allow anybody to ride over that
turf. I make no exceptions. I don't allow anybody to do it.'
'Your regulation is rather awkward to strangers,' said Miss
'Is it!' said my aunt.
Mr. Murdstone seemed afraid of a renewal of hostilities, and
interposing began:
'Miss Trotwood!'
'I beg your pardon,' observed my aunt with a keen look. 'You are
the Mr. Murdstone who married the widow of my late nephew, David
Copperfield, of Blunderstone Rookery! - Though why Rookery, I don't
'I am,' said Mr. Murdstone.
'You'll excuse my saying, sir,' returned my aunt, 'that I think it
would have been a much better and happier thing if you had left
that poor child alone.'
'I so far agree with what Miss Trotwood has remarked,' observed
Miss Murdstone, bridling, 'that I consider our lamented Clara to
have been, in all essential respects, a mere child.'
'It is a comfort to you and me, ma'am,' said my aunt, 'who are
getting on in life, and are not likely to be made unhappy by our
personal attractions, that nobody can say the same of us.'
'No doubt!' returned Miss Murdstone, though, I thought, not with a
very ready or gracious assent. 'And it certainly might have been,
as you say, a better and happier thing for my brother if he had
never entered into such a marriage. I have always been of that
'I have no doubt you have,' said my aunt. 'Janet,' ringing the
bell, 'my compliments to Mr. Dick, and beg him to come down.'
Until he came, my aunt sat perfectly upright and stiff, frowning at
the wall. When he came, my aunt performed the ceremony of
'Mr. Dick. An old and intimate friend. On whose judgement,' said
my aunt, with emphasis, as an admonition to Mr. Dick, who was
biting his forefinger and looking rather foolish, 'I rely.'
Mr. Dick took his finger out of his mouth, on this hint, and stood
among the group, with a grave and attentive expression of face.
My aunt inclined her head to Mr. Murdstone, who went on:
'Miss Trotwood: on the receipt of your letter, I considered it an
act of greater justice to myself, and perhaps of more respect to
'Thank you,' said my aunt, still eyeing him keenly. 'You needn't
mind me.'
'To answer it in person, however inconvenient the journey,' pursued
Mr. Murdstone, 'rather than by letter. This unhappy boy who has
run away from his friends and his occupation -'
'And whose appearance,' interposed his sister, directing general
attention to me in my indefinable costume, 'is perfectly scandalous
and disgraceful.'
'Jane Murdstone,' said her brother, 'have the goodness not to
interrupt me. This unhappy boy, Miss Trotwood, has been the
occasion of much domestic trouble and uneasiness; both during the
lifetime of my late dear wife, and since. He has a sullen,
rebellious spirit; a violent temper; and an untoward, intractable
disposition. Both my sister and myself have endeavoured to correct
his vices, but ineffectually. And I have felt - we both have felt,
I may say; my sister being fully in my confidence - that it is
right you should receive this grave and dispassionate assurance
from our lips.'
'It can hardly be necessary for me to confirm anything stated by my
brother,' said Miss Murdstone; 'but I beg to observe, that, of all
the boys in the world, I believe this is the worst boy.'
'Strong!' said my aunt, shortly.
'But not at all too strong for the facts,' returned Miss Murdstone.
'Ha!' said my aunt. 'Well, sir?'
'I have my own opinions,' resumed Mr. Murdstone, whose face
darkened more and more, the more he and my aunt observed each
other, which they did very narrowly, 'as to the best mode of
bringing him up; they are founded, in part, on my knowledge of him,
and in part on my knowledge of my own means and resources. I am
responsible for them to myself, I act upon them, and I say no more
about them. It is enough that I place this boy under the eye of a
friend of my own, in a respectable business; that it does not
please him; that he runs away from it; makes himself a common
vagabond about the country; and comes here, in rags, to appeal to
you, Miss Trotwood. I wish to set before you, honourably, the
exact consequences - so far as they are within my knowledge - of
your abetting him in this appeal.'
'But about the respectable business first,' said my aunt. 'If he
had been your own boy, you would have put him to it, just the same,
I suppose?'
'If he had been my brother's own boy,' returned Miss Murdstone,
striking in, 'his character, I trust, would have been altogether
'Or if the poor child, his mother, had been alive, he would still
have gone into the respectable business, would he?' said my aunt.
'I believe,' said Mr. Murdstone, with an inclination of his head,
'that Clara would have disputed nothing which myself and my sister
Jane Murdstone were agreed was for the best.'
Miss Murdstone confirmed this with an audible murmur.
'Humph!' said my aunt. 'Unfortunate baby!'
Mr. Dick, who had been rattling his money all this time, was
rattling it so loudly now, that my aunt felt it necessary to check
him with a look, before saying:
'The poor child's annuity died with her?'
'Died with her,' replied Mr. Murdstone.
'And there was no settlement of the little property - the house and
garden - the what's-its-name Rookery without any rooks in it - upon
her boy?'
'It had been left to her, unconditionally, by her first husband,'
Mr. Murdstone began, when my aunt caught him up with the greatest
irascibility and impatience.
'Good Lord, man, there's no occasion to say that. Left to her
unconditionally! I think I see David Copperfield looking forward
to any condition of any sort or kind, though it stared him
point-blank in the face! Of course it was left to her
unconditionally. But when she married again - when she took that
most disastrous step of marrying you, in short,' said my aunt, 'to
be plain - did no one put in a word for the boy at that time?'
'My late wife loved her second husband, ma'am,' said Mr. Murdstone,
'and trusted implicitly in him.'
'Your late wife, sir, was a most unworldly, most unhappy, most
unfortunate baby,' returned my aunt, shaking her head at him.
'That's what she was. And now, what have you got to say next?'
'Merely this, Miss Trotwood,' he returned. 'I am here to take
David back - to take him back unconditionally, to dispose of him as
I think proper, and to deal with him as I think right. I am not
here to make any promise, or give any pledge to anybody. You may
possibly have some idea, Miss Trotwood, of abetting him in his
running away, and in his complaints to you. Your manner, which I
must say does not seem intended to propitiate, induces me to think
it possible. Now I must caution you that if you abet him once, you
abet him for good and all; if you step in between him and me, now,
you must step in, Miss Trotwood, for ever. I cannot trifle, or be
trifled with. I am here, for the first and last time, to take him
away. Is he ready to go? If he is not - and you tell me he is
not; on any pretence; it is indifferent to me what - my doors are
shut against him henceforth, and yours, I take it for granted, are
open to him.'
To this address, my aunt had listened with the closest attention,
sitting perfectly upright, with her hands folded on one knee, and
looking grimly on the speaker. When he had finished, she turned
her eyes so as to command Miss Murdstone, without otherwise
disturbing her attitude, and said:
'Well, ma'am, have YOU got anything to remark?'
'Indeed, Miss Trotwood,' said Miss Murdstone, 'all that I could say
has been so well said by my brother, and all that I know to be the
fact has been so plainly stated by him, that I have nothing to add
except my thanks for your politeness. For your very great
politeness, I am sure,' said Miss Murdstone; with an irony which no
more affected my aunt, than it discomposed the cannon I had slept
by at Chatham.
'And what does the boy say?' said my aunt. 'Are you ready to go,
I answered no, and entreated her not to let me go. I said that
neither Mr. nor Miss Murdstone had ever liked me, or had ever been
kind to me. That they had made my mama, who always loved me
dearly, unhappy about me, and that I knew it well, and that
Peggotty knew it. I said that I had been more miserable than I
thought anybody could believe, who only knew how young I was. And
I begged and prayed my aunt - I forget in what terms now, but I
remember that they affected me very much then - to befriend and
protect me, for my father's sake.
'Mr. Dick,' said my aunt, 'what shall I do with this child?'
Mr. Dick considered, hesitated, brightened, and rejoined, 'Have him
measured for a suit of clothes directly.'
'Mr. Dick,' said my aunt triumphantly, 'give me your hand, for your
common sense is invaluable.' Having shaken it with great
cordiality, she pulled me towards her and said to Mr. Murdstone:
'You can go when you like; I'll take my chance with the boy. If
he's all you say he is, at least I can do as much for him then, as
you have done. But I don't believe a word of it.'
'Miss Trotwood,' rejoined Mr. Murdstone, shrugging his shoulders,
as he rose, 'if you were a gentleman -'
'Bah! Stuff and nonsense!' said my aunt. 'Don't talk to me!'
'How exquisitely polite!' exclaimed Miss Murdstone, rising.
'Overpowering, really!'
'Do you think I don't know,' said my aunt, turning a deaf ear to
the sister, and continuing to address the brother, and to shake her
head at him with infinite expression, 'what kind of life you must
have led that poor, unhappy, misdirected baby? Do you think I
don't know what a woeful day it was for the soft little creature
when you first came in her way - smirking and making great eyes at
her, I'll be bound, as if you couldn't say boh! to a goose!'
'I never heard anything so elegant!' said Miss Murdstone.
'Do you think I can't understand you as well as if I had seen you,'
pursued my aunt, 'now that I DO see and hear you - which, I tell
you candidly, is anything but a pleasure to me? Oh yes, bless us!
who so smooth and silky as Mr. Murdstone at first! The poor,
benighted innocent had never seen such a man. He was made of
sweetness. He worshipped her. He doted on her boy - tenderly
doted on him! He was to be another father to him, and they were
all to live together in a garden of roses, weren't they? Ugh! Get
along with you, do!' said my aunt.
'I never heard anything like this person in my life!' exclaimed
Miss Murdstone.
'And when you had made sure of the poor little fool,' said my aunt
- 'God forgive me that I should call her so, and she gone where YOU
won't go in a hurry - because you had not done wrong enough to her
and hers, you must begin to train her, must you? begin to break
her, like a poor caged bird, and wear her deluded life away, in
teaching her to sing YOUR notes?'
'This is either insanity or intoxication,' said Miss Murdstone, in
a perfect agony at not being able to turn the current of my aunt's
address towards herself; 'and my suspicion is that it's
Miss Betsey, without taking the least notice of the interruption,
continued to address herself to Mr. Murdstone as if there had been
no such thing.
'Mr. Murdstone,' she said, shaking her finger at him, 'you were a
tyrant to the simple baby, and you broke her heart. She was a
loving baby - I know that; I knew it, years before you ever saw her
- and through the best part of her weakness you gave her the wounds
she died of. There is the truth for your comfort, however you like
it. And you and your instruments may make the most of it.'
'Allow me to inquire, Miss Trotwood,' interposed Miss Murdstone,
'whom you are pleased to call, in a choice of words in which I am
not experienced, my brother's instruments?'
'It was clear enough, as I have told you, years before YOU ever saw
her - and why, in the mysterious dispensations of Providence, you
ever did see her, is more than humanity can comprehend - it was
clear enough that the poor soft little thing would marry somebody,
at some time or other; but I did hope it wouldn't have been as bad
as it has turned out. That was the time, Mr. Murdstone, when she
gave birth to her boy here,' said my aunt; 'to the poor child you
sometimes tormented her through afterwards, which is a disagreeable
remembrance and makes the sight of him odious now. Aye, aye! you
needn't wince!' said my aunt. 'I know it's true without that.'
He had stood by the door, all this while, observant of her with a
smile upon his face, though his black eyebrows were heavily
contracted. I remarked now, that, though the smile was on his face
still, his colour had gone in a moment, and he seemed to breathe as
if he had been running.
'Good day, sir,' said my aunt, 'and good-bye! Good day to you,
too, ma'am,' said my aunt, turning suddenly upon his sister. 'Let
me see you ride a donkey over my green again, and as sure as you
have a head upon your shoulders, I'll knock your bonnet off, and
tread upon it!'
It would require a painter, and no common painter too, to depict my
aunt's face as she delivered herself of this very unexpected
sentiment, and Miss Murdstone's face as she heard it. But the
manner of the speech, no less than the matter, was so fiery, that
Miss Murdstone, without a word in answer, discreetly put her arm
through her brother's, and walked haughtily out of the cottage; my
aunt remaining in the window looking after them; prepared, I have
no doubt, in case of the donkey's reappearance, to carry her threat
into instant execution.
No attempt at defiance being made, however, her face gradually
relaxed, and became so pleasant, that I was emboldened to kiss and
thank her; which I did with great heartiness, and with both my arms
clasped round her neck. I then shook hands with Mr. Dick, who
shook hands with me a great many times, and hailed this happy close
of the proceedings with repeated bursts of laughter.
'You'll consider yourself guardian, jointly with me, of this child,
Mr. Dick,' said my aunt.
'I shall be delighted,' said Mr. Dick, 'to be the guardian of
David's son.'
'Very good,' returned my aunt, 'that's settled. I have been
thinking, do you know, Mr. Dick, that I might call him Trotwood?'
'Certainly, certainly. Call him Trotwood, certainly,' said Mr.
Dick. 'David's son's Trotwood.'
'Trotwood Copperfield, you mean,' returned my aunt.
'Yes, to be sure. Yes. Trotwood Copperfield,' said Mr. Dick, a
little abashed.
My aunt took so kindly to the notion, that some ready-made clothes,
which were purchased for me that afternoon, were marked 'Trotwood
Copperfield', in her own handwriting, and in indelible marking-ink,
before I put them on; and it was settled that all the other clothes
which were ordered to be made for me (a complete outfit was bespoke
that afternoon) should be marked in the same way.
Thus I began my new life, in a new name, and with everything new
about me. Now that the state of doubt was over, I felt, for many
days, like one in a dream. I never thought that I had a curious
couple of guardians, in my aunt and Mr. Dick. I never thought of
anything about myself, distinctly. The two things clearest in my
mind were, that a remoteness had come upon the old Blunderstone
life - which seemed to lie in the haze of an immeasurable distance;
and that a curtain had for ever fallen on my life at Murdstone and
Grinby's. No one has ever raised that curtain since. I have
lifted it for a moment, even in this narrative, with a reluctant
hand, and dropped it gladly. The remembrance of that life is
fraught with so much pain to me, with so much mental suffering and
want of hope, that I have never had the courage even to examine how
long I was doomed to lead it. Whether it lasted for a year, or
more, or less, I do not know. I only know that it was, and ceased
to be; and that I have written, and there I leave it.
Mr. Dick and I soon became the best of friends, and very often,
when his day's work was done, went out together to fly the great
kite. Every day of his life he had a long sitting at the Memorial,
which never made the least progress, however hard he laboured, for
King Charles the First always strayed into it, sooner or later, and
then it was thrown aside, and another one begun. The patience and
hope with which he bore these perpetual disappointments, the mild
perception he had that there was something wrong about King Charles
the First, the feeble efforts he made to keep him out, and the
certainty with which he came in, and tumbled the Memorial out of
all shape, made a deep impression on me. What Mr. Dick supposed
would come of the Memorial, if it were completed; where he thought
it was to go, or what he thought it was to do; he knew no more than
anybody else, I believe. Nor was it at all necessary that he
should trouble himself with such questions, for if anything were
certain under the sun, it was certain that the Memorial never would
be finished. It was quite an affecting sight, I used to think, to
see him with the kite when it was up a great height in the air.
What he had told me, in his room, about his belief in its
disseminating the statements pasted on it, which were nothing but
old leaves of abortive Memorials, might have been a fancy with him
sometimes; but not when he was out, looking up at the kite in the
sky, and feeling it pull and tug at his hand. He never looked so
serene as he did then. I used to fancy, as I sat by him of an
evening, on a green slope, and saw him watch the kite high in the
quiet air, that it lifted his mind out of its confusion, and bore
it (such was my boyish thought) into the skies. As he wound the
string in and it came lower and lower down out of the beautiful
light, until it fluttered to the ground, and lay there like a dead
thing, he seemed to wake gradually out of a dream; and I remember
to have seen him take it up, and look about him in a lost way, as
if they had both come down together, so that I pitied him with all
my heart.
While I advanced in friendship and intimacy with Mr. Dick, I did
not go backward in the favour of his staunch friend, my aunt. She
took so kindly to me, that, in the course of a few weeks, she
shortened my adopted name of Trotwood into Trot; and even
encouraged me to hope, that if I went on as I had begun, I might
take equal rank in her affections with my sister Betsey Trotwood.
'Trot,' said my aunt one evening, when the backgammon-board was
placed as usual for herself and Mr. Dick, 'we must not forget your
This was my only subject of anxiety, and I felt quite delighted by
her referring to it.
'Should you like to go to school at Canterbury?' said my aunt.
I replied that I should like it very much, as it was so near her.
'Good,' said my aunt. 'Should you like to go tomorrow?'
Being already no stranger to the general rapidity of my aunt's
evolutions, I was not surprised by the suddenness of the proposal,
and said: 'Yes.'
'Good,' said my aunt again. 'Janet, hire the grey pony and chaise
tomorrow morning at ten o'clock, and pack up Master Trotwood's
clothes tonight.'
I was greatly elated by these orders; but my heart smote me for my
selfishness, when I witnessed their effect on Mr. Dick, who was so
low-spirited at the prospect of our separation, and played so ill
in consequence, that my aunt, after giving him several admonitory
raps on the knuckles with her dice-box, shut up the board, and
declined to play with him any more. But, on hearing from my aunt
that I should sometimes come over on a Saturday, and that he could
sometimes come and see me on a Wednesday, he revived; and vowed to
make another kite for those occasions, of proportions greatly
surpassing the present one. In the morning he was downhearted
again, and would have sustained himself by giving me all the money
he had in his possession, gold and silver too, if my aunt had not
interposed, and limited the gift to five shillings, which, at his
earnest petition, were afterwards increased to ten. We parted at
the garden-gate in a most affectionate manner, and Mr. Dick did not
go into the house until my aunt had driven me out of sight of it.
My aunt, who was perfectly indifferent to public opinion, drove the
grey pony through Dover in a masterly manner; sitting high and
stiff like a state coachman, keeping a steady eye upon him wherever
he went, and making a point of not letting him have his own way in
any respect. When we came into the country road, she permitted him
to relax a little, however; and looking at me down in a valley of
cushion by her side, asked me whether I was happy?
'Very happy indeed, thank you, aunt,' I said.
She was much gratified; and both her hands being occupied, patted
me on the head with her whip.
'Is it a large school, aunt?' I asked.
'Why, I don't know,' said my aunt. 'We are going to Mr.
Wickfield's first.'
'Does he keep a school?' I asked.
'No, Trot,' said my aunt. 'He keeps an office.'
I asked for no more information about Mr. Wickfield, as she offered
none, and we conversed on other subjects until we came to
Canterbury, where, as it was market-day, my aunt had a great
opportunity of insinuating the grey pony among carts, baskets,
vegetables, and huckster's goods. The hair-breadth turns and
twists we made, drew down upon us a variety of speeches from the
people standing about, which were not always complimentary; but my
aunt drove on with perfect indifference, and I dare say would have
taken her own way with as much coolness through an enemy's country.
At length we stopped before a very old house bulging out over the
road; a house with long low lattice-windows bulging out still
farther, and beams with carved heads on the ends bulging out too,
so that I fancied the whole house was leaning forward, trying to
see who was passing on the narrow pavement below. It was quite
spotless in its cleanliness. The old-fashioned brass knocker on
the low arched door, ornamented with carved garlands of fruit and
flowers, twinkled like a star; the two stone steps descending to
the door were as white as if they had been covered with fair linen;
and all the angles and corners, and carvings and mouldings, and
quaint little panes of glass, and quainter little windows, though
as old as the hills, were as pure as any snow that ever fell upon
the hills.
When the pony-chaise stopped at the door, and my eyes were intent
upon the house, I saw a cadaverous face appear at a small window on
the ground floor (in a little round tower that formed one side of
the house), and quickly disappear. The low arched door then
opened, and the face came out. It was quite as cadaverous as it
had looked in the window, though in the grain of it there was that
tinge of red which is sometimes to be observed in the skins of
red-haired people. It belonged to a red-haired person - a youth of
fifteen, as I take it now, but looking much older - whose hair was
cropped as close as the closest stubble; who had hardly any
eyebrows, and no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered
and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep. He
was high-shouldered and bony; dressed in decent black, with a white
wisp of a neckcloth; buttoned up to the throat; and had a long,
lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention, as
he stood at the pony's head, rubbing his chin with it, and looking
up at us in the chaise.
'Is Mr. Wickfield at home, Uriah Heep?' said my aunt.
'Mr. Wickfield's at home, ma'am,' said Uriah Heep, 'if you'll
please to walk in there' - pointing with his long hand to the room
he meant.
We got out; and leaving him to hold the pony, went into a long low
parlour looking towards the street, from the window of which I
caught a glimpse, as I went in, of Uriah Heep breathing into the
pony's nostrils, and immediately covering them with his hand, as if
he were putting some spell upon him. Opposite to the tall old
chimney-piece were two portraits: one of a gentleman with grey hair
(though not by any means an old man) and black eyebrows, who was
looking over some papers tied together with red tape; the other, of
a lady, with a very placid and sweet expression of face, who was
looking at me.
I believe I was turning about in search of Uriah's picture, when,
a door at the farther end of the room opening, a gentleman entered,
at sight of whom I turned to the first-mentioned portrait again, to
make quite sure that it had not come out of its frame. But it was
stationary; and as the gentleman advanced into the light, I saw
that he was some years older than when he had had his picture
'Miss Betsey Trotwood,' said the gentleman, 'pray walk in. I was
engaged for a moment, but you'll excuse my being busy. You know my
motive. I have but one in life.'
Miss Betsey thanked him, and we went into his room, which was
furnished as an office, with books, papers, tin boxes, and so
forth. It looked into a garden, and had an iron safe let into the
wall; so immediately over the mantelshelf, that I wondered, as I
sat down, how the sweeps got round it when they swept the chimney.
'Well, Miss Trotwood,' said Mr. Wickfield; for I soon found that it
was he, and that he was a lawyer, and steward of the estates of a
rich gentleman of the county; 'what wind blows you here? Not an
ill wind, I hope?'
'No,' replied my aunt. 'I have not come for any law.'
'That's right, ma'am,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'You had better come
for anything else.'
His hair was quite white now, though his eyebrows were still black.
He had a very agreeable face, and, I thought, was handsome. There
was a certain richness in his complexion, which I had been long
accustomed, under Peggotty's tuition, to connect with port wine;
and I fancied it was in his voice too, and referred his growing
corpulency to the same cause. He was very cleanly dressed, in a
blue coat, striped waistcoat, and nankeen trousers; and his fine
frilled shirt and cambric neckcloth looked unusually soft and
white, reminding my strolling fancy (I call to mind) of the plumage
on the breast of a swan.
'This is my nephew,' said my aunt.
'Wasn't aware you had one, Miss Trotwood,' said Mr. Wickfield.
'My grand-nephew, that is to say,' observed my aunt.
'Wasn't aware you had a grand-nephew, I give you my word,' said Mr.
'I have adopted him,' said my aunt, with a wave of her hand,
importing that his knowledge and his ignorance were all one to her,
'and I have brought him here, to put to a school where he may be
thoroughly well taught, and well treated. Now tell me where that
school is, and what it is, and all about it.'
'Before I can advise you properly,' said Mr. Wickfield - 'the old
question, you know. What's your motive in this?'
'Deuce take the man!' exclaimed my aunt. 'Always fishing for
motives, when they're on the surface! Why, to make the child happy
and useful.'
'It must be a mixed motive, I think,' said Mr. Wickfield, shaking
his head and smiling incredulously.
'A mixed fiddlestick,' returned my aunt. 'You claim to have one
plain motive in all you do yourself. You don't suppose, I hope,
that you are the only plain dealer in the world?'
'Ay, but I have only one motive in life, Miss Trotwood,' he
rejoined, smiling. 'Other people have dozens, scores, hundreds.
I have only one. There's the difference. However, that's beside
the question. The best school? Whatever the motive, you want the
My aunt nodded assent.
'At the best we have,' said Mr. Wickfield, considering, 'your
nephew couldn't board just now.'
'But he could board somewhere else, I suppose?' suggested my aunt.
Mr. Wickfield thought I could. After a little discussion, he
proposed to take my aunt to the school, that she might see it and
judge for herself; also, to take her, with the same object, to two
or three houses where he thought I could be boarded. My aunt
embracing the proposal, we were all three going out together, when
he stopped and said:
'Our little friend here might have some motive, perhaps, for
objecting to the arrangements. I think we had better leave him
My aunt seemed disposed to contest the point; but to facilitate
matters I said I would gladly remain behind, if they pleased; and
returned into Mr. Wickfield's office, where I sat down again, in
the chair I had first occupied, to await their return.
It so happened that this chair was opposite a narrow passage, which
ended in the little circular room where I had seen Uriah Heep's
pale face looking out of the window. Uriah, having taken the pony
to a neighbouring stable, was at work at a desk in this room, which
had a brass frame on the top to hang paper upon, and on which the
writing he was making a copy of was then hanging. Though his face
was towards me, I thought, for some time, the writing being between
us, that he could not see me; but looking that way more
attentively, it made me uncomfortable to observe that, every now
and then, his sleepless eyes would come below the writing, like two
red suns, and stealthily stare at me for I dare say a whole minute
at a time, during which his pen went, or pretended to go, as
cleverly as ever. I made several attempts to get out of their way
- such as standing on a chair to look at a map on the other side of
the room, and poring over the columns of a Kentish newspaper - but
they always attracted me back again; and whenever I looked towards
those two red suns, I was sure to find them, either just rising or
just setting.
At length, much to my relief, my aunt and Mr. Wickfield came back,
after a pretty long absence. They were not so successful as I
could have wished; for though the advantages of the school were
undeniable, my aunt had not approved of any of the boarding-houses
proposed for me.
'It's very unfortunate,' said my aunt. 'I don't know what to do,
'It does happen unfortunately,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'But I'll tell
you what you can do, Miss Trotwood.'
'What's that?' inquired my aunt.
'Leave your nephew here, for the present. He's a quiet fellow. He
won't disturb me at all. It's a capital house for study. As quiet
as a monastery, and almost as roomy. Leave him here.'
My aunt evidently liked the offer, though she was delicate of
accepting it. So did I.
'Come, Miss Trotwood,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'This is the way out of
the difficulty. It's only a temporary arrangement, you know. If
it don't act well, or don't quite accord with our mutual
convenience, he can easily go to the right-about. There will be
time to find some better place for him in the meanwhile. You had
better determine to leave him here for the present!'
'I am very much obliged to you,' said my aunt; 'and so is he, I
see; but -'
'Come! I know what you mean,' cried Mr. Wickfield. 'You shall not
be oppressed by the receipt of favours, Miss Trotwood. You may pay
for him, if you like. We won't be hard about terms, but you shall
pay if you will.'
'On that understanding,' said my aunt, 'though it doesn't lessen
the real obligation, I shall be very glad to leave him.'
'Then come and see my little housekeeper,' said Mr. Wickfield.
We accordingly went up a wonderful old staircase; with a balustrade
so broad that we might have gone up that, almost as easily; and
into a shady old drawing-room, lighted by some three or four of the
quaint windows I had looked up at from the street: which had old
oak seats in them, that seemed to have come of the same trees as
the shining oak floor, and the great beams in the ceiling. It was
a prettily furnished room, with a piano and some lively furniture
in red and green, and some flowers. It seemed to be all old nooks
and corners; and in every nook and corner there was some queer
little table, or cupboard, or bookcase, or seat, or something or
other, that made me think there was not such another good corner in
the room; until I looked at the next one, and found it equal to it,
if not better. On everything there was the same air of retirement
and cleanliness that marked the house outside.
Mr. Wickfield tapped at a door in a corner of the panelled wall,
and a girl of about my own age came quickly out and kissed him. On
her face, I saw immediately the placid and sweet expression of the
lady whose picture had looked at me downstairs. It seemed to my
imagination as if the portrait had grown womanly, and the original
remained a child. Although her face was quite bright and happy,
there was a tranquillity about it, and about her - a quiet, good,
calm spirit - that I never have forgotten; that I shall never
forget. This was his little housekeeper, his daughter Agnes, Mr.
Wickfield said. When I heard how he said it, and saw how he held
her hand, I guessed what the one motive of his life was.
She had a little basket-trifle hanging at her side, with keys in
it; and she looked as staid and as discreet a housekeeper as the
old house could have. She listened to her father as he told her
about me, with a pleasant face; and when he had concluded, proposed
to my aunt that we should go upstairs and see my room. We all went
together, she before us: and a glorious old room it was, with more
oak beams, and diamond panes; and the broad balustrade going all
the way up to it.
I cannot call to mind where or when, in my childhood, I had seen a
stained glass window in a church. Nor do I recollect its subject.
But I know that when I saw her turn round, in the grave light of
the old staircase, and wait for us, above, I thought of that
window; and I associated something of its tranquil brightness with
Agnes Wickfield ever afterwards.
My aunt was as happy as I was, in the arrangement made for me; and
we went down to the drawing-room again, well pleased and gratified.
As she would not hear of staying to dinner, lest she should by any
chance fail to arrive at home with the grey pony before dark; and
as I apprehend Mr. Wickfield knew her too well to argue any point
with her; some lunch was provided for her there, and Agnes went
back to her governess, and Mr. Wickfield to his office. So we were
left to take leave of one another without any restraint.
She told me that everything would be arranged for me by Mr.
Wickfield, and that I should want for nothing, and gave me the
kindest words and the best advice.
'Trot,' said my aunt in conclusion, 'be a credit to yourself, to
me, and Mr. Dick, and Heaven be with you!'
I was greatly overcome, and could only thank her, again and again,
and send my love to Mr. Dick.
'Never,' said my aunt, 'be mean in anything; never be false; never
be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be
hopeful of you.'
I promised, as well as I could, that I would not abuse her kindness
or forget her admonition.
'The pony's at the door,' said my aunt, 'and I am off! Stay here.'
With these words she embraced me hastily, and went out of the room,
shutting the door after her. At first I was startled by so abrupt
a departure, and almost feared I had displeased her; but when I
looked into the street, and saw how dejectedly she got into the
chaise, and drove away without looking up, I understood her better
and did not do her that injustice.
By five o'clock, which was Mr. Wickfield's dinner-hour, I had
mustered up my spirits again, and was ready for my knife and fork.
The cloth was only laid for us two; but Agnes was waiting in the
drawing-room before dinner, went down with her father, and sat
opposite to him at table. I doubted whether he could have dined
without her.
We did not stay there, after dinner, but came upstairs into the
drawing-room again: in one snug corner of which, Agnes set glasses
for her father, and a decanter of port wine. I thought he would
have missed its usual flavour, if it had been put there for him by
any other hands.
There he sat, taking his wine, and taking a good deal of it, for
two hours; while Agnes played on the piano, worked, and talked to
him and me. He was, for the most part, gay and cheerful with us;
but sometimes his eyes rested on her, and he fell into a brooding
state, and was silent. She always observed this quickly, I
thought, and always roused him with a question or caress. Then he
came out of his meditation, and drank more wine.
Agnes made the tea, and presided over it; and the time passed away
after it, as after dinner, until she went to bed; when her father
took her in his arms and kissed her, and, she being gone, ordered
candles in his office. Then I went to bed too.
But in the course of the evening I had rambled down to the door,
and a little way along the street, that I might have another peep
at the old houses, and the grey Cathedral; and might think of my
coming through that old city on my journey, and of my passing the
very house I lived in, without knowing it. As I came back, I saw
Uriah Heep shutting up the office; and feeling friendly towards
everybody, went in and spoke to him, and at parting, gave him my
hand. But oh, what a clammy hand his was! as ghostly to the touch
as to the sight! I rubbed mine afterwards, to warm it, AND TO RUB
It was such an uncomfortable hand, that, when I went to my room, it
was still cold and wet upon my memory. Leaning out of the window,
and seeing one of the faces on the beam-ends looking at me
sideways, I fancied it was Uriah Heep got up there somehow, and
shut him out in a hurry.
Next morning, after breakfast, I entered on school life again. I
went, accompanied by Mr. Wickfield, to the scene of my future
studies - a grave building in a courtyard, with a learned air about
it that seemed very well suited to the stray rooks and jackdaws who
came down from the Cathedral towers to walk with a clerkly bearing
on the grass-plot - and was introduced to my new master, Doctor
Doctor Strong looked almost as rusty, to my thinking, as the tall
iron rails and gates outside the house; and almost as stiff and
heavy as the great stone urns that flanked them, and were set up,
on the top of the red-brick wall, at regular distances all round
the court, like sublimated skittles, for Time to play at. He was
in his library (I mean Doctor Strong was), with his clothes not
particularly well brushed, and his hair not particularly well
combed; his knee-smalls unbraced; his long black gaiters
unbuttoned; and his shoes yawning like two caverns on the
hearth-rug. Turning upon me a lustreless eye, that reminded me of
a long-forgotten blind old horse who once used to crop the grass,
and tumble over the graves, in Blunderstone churchyard, he said he
was glad to see me: and then he gave me his hand; which I didn't
know what to do with, as it did nothing for itself.
But, sitting at work, not far from Doctor Strong, was a very pretty
young lady - whom he called Annie, and who was his daughter, I
supposed - who got me out of my difficulty by kneeling down to put
Doctor Strong's shoes on, and button his gaiters, which she did
with great cheerfulness and quickness. When she had finished, and
we were going out to the schoolroom, I was much surprised to hear
Mr. Wickfield, in bidding her good morning, address her as 'Mrs.
Strong'; and I was wondering could she be Doctor Strong's son's
wife, or could she be Mrs. Doctor Strong, when Doctor Strong
himself unconsciously enlightened me.
'By the by, Wickfield,' he said, stopping in a passage with his
hand on my shoulder; 'you have not found any suitable provision for
my wife's cousin yet?'
'No,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'No. Not yet.'
'I could wish it done as soon as it can be done, Wickfield,' said
Doctor Strong, 'for Jack Maldon is needy, and idle; and of those
two bad things, worse things sometimes come. What does Doctor
Watts say,' he added, looking at me, and moving his head to the
time of his quotation, '"Satan finds some mischief still, for idle
hands to do."'
'Egad, Doctor,' returned Mr. Wickfield, 'if Doctor Watts knew
mankind, he might have written, with as much truth, "Satan finds
some mischief still, for busy hands to do." The busy people achieve
their full share of mischief in the world, you may rely upon it.
What have the people been about, who have been the busiest in
getting money, and in getting power, this century or two? No
'Jack Maldon will never be very busy in getting either, I expect,'
said Doctor Strong, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
'Perhaps not,' said Mr. Wickfield; 'and you bring me back to the
question, with an apology for digressing. No, I have not been able
to dispose of Mr. Jack Maldon yet. I believe,' he said this with
some hesitation, 'I penetrate your motive, and it makes the thing
more difficult.'
'My motive,' returned Doctor Strong, 'is to make some suitable
provision for a cousin, and an old playfellow, of Annie's.'
'Yes, I know,' said Mr. Wickfield; 'at home or abroad.'
'Aye!' replied the Doctor, apparently wondering why he emphasized
those words so much. 'At home or abroad.'
'Your own expression, you know,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'Or abroad.'
'Surely,' the Doctor answered. 'Surely. One or other.'
'One or other? Have you no choice?' asked Mr. Wickfield.
'No,' returned the Doctor.
'No?' with astonishment.
'Not the least.'
'No motive,' said Mr. Wickfield, 'for meaning abroad, and not at
'No,' returned the Doctor.
'I am bound to believe you, and of course I do believe you,' said
Mr. Wickfield. 'It might have simplified my office very much, if
I had known it before. But I confess I entertained another
Doctor Strong regarded him with a puzzled and doubting look, which
almost immediately subsided into a smile that gave me great
encouragement; for it was full of amiability and sweetness, and
there was a simplicity in it, and indeed in his whole manner, when
the studious, pondering frost upon it was got through, very
attractive and hopeful to a young scholar like me. Repeating 'no',
and 'not the least', and other short assurances to the same
purport, Doctor Strong jogged on before us, at a queer, uneven
pace; and we followed: Mr. Wickfield, looking grave, I observed,
and shaking his head to himself, without knowing that I saw him.
The schoolroom was a pretty large hall, on the quietest side of the
house, confronted by the stately stare of some half-dozen of the
great urns, and commanding a peep of an old secluded garden
belonging to the Doctor, where the peaches were ripening on the
sunny south wall. There were two great aloes, in tubs, on the turf
outside the windows; the broad hard leaves of which plant (looking
as if they were made of painted tin) have ever since, by
association, been symbolical to me of silence and retirement.
About five-and-twenty boys were studiously engaged at their books
when we went in, but they rose to give the Doctor good morning, and
remained standing when they saw Mr. Wickfield and me.
'A new boy, young gentlemen,' said the Doctor; 'Trotwood
One Adams, who was the head-boy, then stepped out of his place and
welcomed me. He looked like a young clergyman, in his white
cravat, but he was very affable and good-humoured; and he showed me
my place, and presented me to the masters, in a gentlemanly way
that would have put me at my ease, if anything could.
It seemed to me so long, however, since I had been among such boys,
or among any companions of my own age, except Mick Walker and Mealy
Potatoes, that I felt as strange as ever I have done in my life.
I was so conscious of having passed through scenes of which they
could have no knowledge, and of having acquired experiences foreign
to my age, appearance, and condition as one of them, that I half
believed it was an imposture to come there as an ordinary little
schoolboy. I had become, in the Murdstone and Grinby time, however
short or long it may have been, so unused to the sports and games
of boys, that I knew I was awkward and inexperienced in the
commonest things belonging to them. Whatever I had learnt, had so
slipped away from me in the sordid cares of my life from day to
night, that now, when I was examined about what I knew, I knew
nothing, and was put into the lowest form of the school. But,
troubled as I was, by my want of boyish skill, and of book-learning
too, I was made infinitely more uncomfortable by the consideration,
that, in what I did know, I was much farther removed from my
companions than in what I did not. My mind ran upon what they
would think, if they knew of my familiar acquaintance with the
King's Bench Prison? Was there anything about me which would
reveal my proceedings in connexion with the Micawber family - all
those pawnings, and sellings, and suppers - in spite of myself?
Suppose some of the boys had seen me coming through Canterbury,
wayworn and ragged, and should find me out? What would they say,
who made so light of money, if they could know how I had scraped my
halfpence together, for the purchase of my daily saveloy and beer,
or my slices of pudding? How would it affect them, who were so
innocent of London life, and London streets, to discover how
knowing I was (and was ashamed to be) in some of the meanest phases
of both? All this ran in my head so much, on that first day at
Doctor Strong's, that I felt distrustful of my slightest look and
gesture; shrunk within myself whensoever I was approached by one of
my new schoolfellows; and hurried off the minute school was over,
afraid of committing myself in my response to any friendly notice
or advance.
But there was such an influence in Mr. Wickfield's old house, that
when I knocked at it, with my new school-books under my arm, I
began to feel my uneasiness softening away. As I went up to my
airy old room, the grave shadow of the staircase seemed to fall
upon my doubts and fears, and to make the past more indistinct. I
sat there, sturdily conning my books, until dinner-time (we were
out of school for good at three); and went down, hopeful of
becoming a passable sort of boy yet.
Agnes was in the drawing-room, waiting for her father, who was
detained by someone in his office. She met me with her pleasant
smile, and asked me how I liked the school. I told her I should
like it very much, I hoped; but I was a little strange to it at
'You have never been to school,' I said, 'have you?'
'Oh yes! Every day.'
'Ah, but you mean here, at your own home?'
'Papa couldn't spare me to go anywhere else,' she answered, smiling
and shaking her head. 'His housekeeper must be in his house, you
'He is very fond of you, I am sure,' I said.
She nodded 'Yes,' and went to the door to listen for his coming up,
that she might meet him on the stairs. But, as he was not there,
she came back again.
'Mama has been dead ever since I was born,' she said, in her quiet
way. 'I only know her picture, downstairs. I saw you looking at
it yesterday. Did you think whose it was?'
I told her yes, because it was so like herself.
'Papa says so, too,' said Agnes, pleased. 'Hark! That's papa
Her bright calm face lighted up with pleasure as she went to meet
him, and as they came in, hand in hand. He greeted me cordially;
and told me I should certainly be happy under Doctor Strong, who
was one of the gentlest of men.
'There may be some, perhaps - I don't know that there are - who
abuse his kindness,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'Never be one of those,
Trotwood, in anything. He is the least suspicious of mankind; and
whether that's a merit, or whether it's a blemish, it deserves
consideration in all dealings with the Doctor, great or small.'
He spoke, I thought, as if he were weary, or dissatisfied with
something; but I did not pursue the question in my mind, for dinner
was just then announced, and we went down and took the same seats
as before.
We had scarcely done so, when Uriah Heep put in his red head and
his lank hand at the door, and said:
'Here's Mr. Maldon begs the favour of a word, sir.'
'I am but this moment quit of Mr. Maldon,' said his master.
'Yes, sir,' returned Uriah; 'but Mr. Maldon has come back, and he
begs the favour of a word.'
As he held the door open with his hand, Uriah looked at me, and
looked at Agnes, and looked at the dishes, and looked at the
plates, and looked at every object in the room, I thought, - yet
seemed to look at nothing; he made such an appearance all the while
of keeping his red eyes dutifully on his master.
'I beg your pardon. It's only to say, on reflection,' observed a
voice behind Uriah, as Uriah's head was pushed away, and the
speaker's substituted - 'pray excuse me for this intrusion - that
as it seems I have no choice in the matter, the sooner I go abroad
the better. My cousin Annie did say, when we talked of it, that
she liked to have her friends within reach rather than to have them
banished, and the old Doctor -'
'Doctor Strong, was that?' Mr. Wickfield interposed, gravely.
'Doctor Strong, of course,' returned the other; 'I call him the old
Doctor; it's all the same, you know.'
'I don't know,' returned Mr. Wickfield.
'Well, Doctor Strong,' said the other - 'Doctor Strong was of the
same mind, I believed. But as it appears from the course you take
with me he has changed his mind, why there's no more to be said,
except that the sooner I am off, the better. Therefore, I thought
I'd come back and say, that the sooner I am off the better. When
a plunge is to be made into the water, it's of no use lingering on
the bank.'
'There shall be as little lingering as possible, in your case, Mr.
Maldon, you may depend upon it,' said Mr. Wickfield.
'Thank'ee,' said the other. 'Much obliged. I don't want to look
a gift-horse in the mouth, which is not a gracious thing to do;
otherwise, I dare say, my cousin Annie could easily arrange it in
her own way. I suppose Annie would only have to say to the old
Doctor -'
'Meaning that Mrs. Strong would only have to say to her husband -
do I follow you?' said Mr. Wickfield.
'Quite so,' returned the other, '- would only have to say, that she
wanted such and such a thing to be so and so; and it would be so
and so, as a matter of course.'
'And why as a matter of course, Mr. Maldon?' asked Mr. Wickfield,
sedately eating his dinner.
'Why, because Annie's a charming young girl, and the old Doctor -
Doctor Strong, I mean - is not quite a charming young boy,' said
Mr. Jack Maldon, laughing. 'No offence to anybody, Mr. Wickfield.
I only mean that I suppose some compensation is fair and reasonable
in that sort of marriage.'
'Compensation to the lady, sir?' asked Mr. Wickfield gravely.
'To the lady, sir,' Mr. Jack Maldon answered, laughing. But
appearing to remark that Mr. Wickfield went on with his dinner in
the same sedate, immovable manner, and that there was no hope of
making him relax a muscle of his face, he added:
'However, I have said what I came to say, and, with another apology
for this intrusion, I may take myself off. Of course I shall
observe your directions, in considering the matter as one to be
arranged between you and me solely, and not to be referred to, up
at the Doctor's.'
'Have you dined?' asked Mr. Wickfield, with a motion of his hand
towards the table.
'Thank'ee. I am going to dine,' said Mr. Maldon, 'with my cousin
Annie. Good-bye!'
Mr. Wickfield, without rising, looked after him thoughtfully as he
went out. He was rather a shallow sort of young gentleman, I
thought, with a handsome face, a rapid utterance, and a confident,
bold air. And this was the first I ever saw of Mr. Jack Maldon;
whom I had not expected to see so soon, when I heard the Doctor
speak of him that morning.
When we had dined, we went upstairs again, where everything went on
exactly as on the previous day. Agnes set the glasses and
decanters in the same corner, and Mr. Wickfield sat down to drink,
and drank a good deal. Agnes played the piano to him, sat by him,
and worked and talked, and played some games at dominoes with me.
In good time she made tea; and afterwards, when I brought down my
books, looked into them, and showed me what she knew of them (which
was no slight matter, though she said it was), and what was the
best way to learn and understand them. I see her, with her modest,
orderly, placid manner, and I hear her beautiful calm voice, as I
write these words. The influence for all good, which she came to
exercise over me at a later time, begins already to descend upon my
breast. I love little Em'ly, and I don't love Agnes - no, not at
all in that way - but I feel that there are goodness, peace, and
truth, wherever Agnes is; and that the soft light of the coloured
window in the church, seen long ago, falls on her always, and on me
when I am near her, and on everything around.
The time having come for her withdrawal for the night, and she
having left us, I gave Mr. Wickfield my hand, preparatory to going
away myself. But he checked me and said: 'Should you like to stay
with us, Trotwood, or to go elsewhere?'
'To stay,' I answered, quickly.
'You are sure?'

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