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David Copperfield

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CHAPTER 21. LITTLE EM’LY

There was a servant in that house, a man who, I understood, was usually with Steerforth, and had come into his service at the University, who was in appearance a pattern of respectability. I believe there never existed in his station a more respectable-looking man. He was taciturn, soft-footed, very quiet in his manner, deferential, observant, always at hand when wanted, and never near when not wanted; but his great claim to consideration was his respectability. He had not a pliant face, he had rather a stiff neck, rather a tight smooth head with short hair clinging to it at the sides, a soft way of speaking, with a peculiar habit of whispering the letter S so distinctly, that he seemed to use it oftener than any other man; but every peculiarity that he had he made respectable. If his nose had been upside-down, he would have made that respectable. He surrounded himself with an atmosphere of respectability, and walked secure in it. It would have been next to impossible to suspect him of anything wrong, he was so thoroughly respectable. Nobody could have thought of putting him in a livery, he was so highly respectable. To have imposed any derogatory work upon him, would have been to inflict a wanton insult on the feelings of a most respectable man. And of this, I noticed—the women-servants in the household were so intuitively conscious, that they always did such work themselves, and generally while he read the paper by the pantry fire.

Such a self-contained man I never saw. But in that quality, as in every other he possessed, he only seemed to be the more respectable. Even the fact that no one knew his Christian name, seemed to form a part of his respectability. Nothing could be objected against his surname, Littimer, by which he was known. Peter might have been hanged, or Tom transported; but Littimer was perfectly respectable.

It was occasioned, I suppose, by the reverend nature of respectability in the abstract, but I felt particularly young in this man’s presence. How old he was himself, I could not guess—and that again went to his credit on the same score; for in the calmness of respectability he might have numbered fifty years as well as thirty.

Littimer was in my room in the morning before I was up, to bring me that reproachful shaving-water, and to put out my clothes. When I undrew the curtains and looked out of bed, I saw him, in an equable temperature of respectability, unaffected by the east wind of January, and not even breathing frostily, standing my boots right and left in the first dancing position, and blowing specks of dust off my coat as he laid it down like a baby.

I gave him good morning, and asked him what o’clock it was. He took out of his pocket the most respectable hunting-watch I ever saw, and preventing the spring with his thumb from opening far, looked in at the face as if he were consulting an oracular oyster, shut it up again, and said, if I pleased, it was half past eight.

‘Mr. Steerforth will be glad to hear how you have rested, sir.’

‘Thank you,’ said I, ‘very well indeed. Is Mr. Steerforth quite well?’

‘Thank you, sir, Mr. Steerforth is tolerably well.’ Another of his characteristics—no use of superlatives. A cool calm medium always.

‘Is there anything more I can have the honour of doing for you, sir? The warning-bell will ring at nine; the family take breakfast at half past nine.’

‘Nothing, I thank you.’

‘I thank YOU, sir, if you please’; and with that, and with a little inclination of his head when he passed the bed-side, as an apology for correcting me, he went out, shutting the door as delicately as if I had just fallen into a sweet sleep on which my life depended.

Every morning we held exactly this conversation: never any more, and never any less: and yet, invariably, however far I might have been lifted out of myself over-night, and advanced towards maturer years, by Steerforth’s companionship, or Mrs. Steerforth’s confidence, or Miss Dartle’s conversation, in the presence of this most respectable man I became, as our smaller poets sing, ‘a boy again’.

He got horses for us; and Steerforth, who knew everything, gave me lessons in riding. He provided foils for us, and Steerforth gave me lessons in fencing—gloves, and I began, of the same master, to improve in boxing. It gave me no manner of concern that Steerforth should find me a novice in these sciences, but I never could bear to show my want of skill before the respectable Littimer. I had no reason to believe that Littimer understood such arts himself; he never led me to suppose anything of the kind, by so much as the vibration of one of his respectable eyelashes; yet whenever he was by, while we were practising, I felt myself the greenest and most inexperienced of mortals.

I am particular about this man, because he made a particular effect on me at that time, and because of what took place thereafter.

The week passed away in a most delightful manner. It passed rapidly, as may be supposed, to one entranced as I was; and yet it gave me so many occasions for knowing Steerforth better, and admiring him more in a thousand respects, that at its close I seemed to have been with him for a much longer time. A dashing way he had of treating me like a plaything, was more agreeable to me than any behaviour he could have adopted. It reminded me of our old acquaintance; it seemed the natural sequel of it; it showed me that he was unchanged; it relieved me of any uneasiness I might have felt, in comparing my merits with his, and measuring my claims upon his friendship by any equal standard; above all, it was a familiar, unrestrained, affectionate demeanour that he used towards no one else. As he had treated me at school differently from all the rest, I joyfully believed that he treated me in life unlike any other friend he had. I believed that I was nearer to his heart than any other friend, and my own heart warmed with attachment to him. He made up his mind to go with me into the country, and the day arrived for our departure. He had been doubtful at first whether to take Littimer or not, but decided to leave him at home. The respectable creature, satisfied with his lot whatever it was, arranged our portmanteaux on the little carriage that was to take us into London, as if they were intended to defy the shocks of ages, and received my modestly proffered donation with perfect tranquillity.

We bade adieu to Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle, with many thanks on my part, and much kindness on the devoted mother’s. The last thing I saw was Littimer’s unruffled eye; fraught, as I fancied, with the silent conviction that I was very young indeed.

What I felt, in returning so auspiciously to the old familiar places, I shall not endeavour to describe. We went down by the Mail. I was so concerned, I recollect, even for the honour of Yarmouth, that when Steerforth said, as we drove through its dark streets to the inn, that, as well as he could make out, it was a good, queer, out-of-the-way kind of hole, I was highly pleased. We went to bed on our arrival (I observed a pair of dirty shoes and gaiters in connexion with my old friend the Dolphin as we passed that door), and breakfasted late in the morning. Steerforth, who was in great spirits, had been strolling about the beach before I was up, and had made acquaintance, he said, with half the boatmen in the place. Moreover, he had seen, in the distance, what he was sure must be the identical house of Mr. Peggotty, with smoke coming out of the chimney; and had had a great mind, he told me, to walk in and swear he was myself grown out of knowledge.

‘When do you propose to introduce me there, Daisy?’ he said. ‘I am at your disposal. Make your own arrangements.’

‘Why, I was thinking that this evening would be a good time, Steerforth, when they are all sitting round the fire. I should like you to see it when it’s snug, it’s such a curious place.’

‘So be it!’ returned Steerforth. ‘This evening.’

‘I shall not give them any notice that we are here, you know,’ said I, delighted. ‘We must take them by surprise.’

‘Oh, of course! It’s no fun,’ said Steerforth, ‘unless we take them by surprise. Let us see the natives in their aboriginal condition.’

‘Though they ARE that sort of people that you mentioned,’ I returned.

‘Aha! What! you recollect my skirmishes with Rosa, do you?’ he exclaimed with a quick look. ‘Confound the girl, I am half afraid of her. She’s like a goblin to me. But never mind her. Now what are you going to do? You are going to see your nurse, I suppose?’

‘Why, yes,’ I said, ‘I must see Peggotty first of all.’

‘Well,’ replied Steerforth, looking at his watch. ‘Suppose I deliver you up to be cried over for a couple of hours. Is that long enough?’

I answered, laughing, that I thought we might get through it in that time, but that he must come also; for he would find that his renown had preceded him, and that he was almost as great a personage as I was.

‘I’ll come anywhere you like,’ said Steerforth, ‘or do anything you like. Tell me where to come to; and in two hours I’ll produce myself in any state you please, sentimental or comical.’

I gave him minute directions for finding the residence of Mr. Barkis, carrier to Blunderstone and elsewhere; and, on this understanding, went out alone. There was a sharp bracing air; the ground was dry; the sea was crisp and clear; the sun was diffusing abundance of light, if not much warmth; and everything was fresh and lively. I was so fresh and lively myself, in the pleasure of being there, that I could have stopped the people in the streets and shaken hands with them.

The streets looked small, of course. The streets that we have only seen as children always do, I believe, when we go back to them. But I had forgotten nothing in them, and found nothing changed, until I came to Mr. Omer’s shop. OMER AND Joram was now written up, where OMER used to be; but the inscription, DRAPER, TAILOR, HABERDASHER, FUNERAL FURNISHER, &c., remained as it was.

My footsteps seemed to tend so naturally to the shop door, after I had read these words from over the way, that I went across the road and looked in. There was a pretty woman at the back of the shop, dancing a little child in her arms, while another little fellow clung to her apron. I had no difficulty in recognizing either Minnie or Minnie’s children. The glass door of the parlour was not open; but in the workshop across the yard I could faintly hear the old tune playing, as if it had never left off.

‘Is Mr. Omer at home?’ said I, entering. ‘I should like to see him, for a moment, if he is.’

‘Oh yes, sir, he is at home,’ said Minnie; ‘the weather don’t suit his asthma out of doors. Joe, call your grandfather!’

The little fellow, who was holding her apron, gave such a lusty shout, that the sound of it made him bashful, and he buried his face in her skirts, to her great admiration. I heard a heavy puffing and blowing coming towards us, and soon Mr. Omer, shorter-winded than of yore, but not much older-looking, stood before me.

‘Servant, sir,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘What can I do for you, sir?’ ‘You can shake hands with me, Mr. Omer, if you please,’ said I, putting out my own. ‘You were very good-natured to me once, when I am afraid I didn’t show that I thought so.’

‘Was I though?’ returned the old man. ‘I’m glad to hear it, but I don’t remember when. Are you sure it was me?’

‘Quite.’

‘I think my memory has got as short as my breath,’ said Mr. Omer, looking at me and shaking his head; ‘for I don’t remember you.’

‘Don’t you remember your coming to the coach to meet me, and my having breakfast here, and our riding out to Blunderstone together: you, and I, and Mrs. Joram, and Mr. Joram too—who wasn’t her husband then?’

‘Why, Lord bless my soul!’ exclaimed Mr. Omer, after being thrown by his surprise into a fit of coughing, ‘you don’t say so! Minnie, my dear, you recollect? Dear me, yes; the party was a lady, I think?’

‘My mother,’ I rejoined.

‘To—be—sure,’ said Mr. Omer, touching my waistcoat with his forefinger, ‘and there was a little child too! There was two parties. The little party was laid along with the other party. Over at Blunderstone it was, of course. Dear me! And how have you been since?’

Very well, I thanked him, as I hoped he had been too.

‘Oh! nothing to grumble at, you know,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘I find my breath gets short, but it seldom gets longer as a man gets older. I take it as it comes, and make the most of it. That’s the best way, ain’t it?’

Mr. Omer coughed again, in consequence of laughing, and was assisted out of his fit by his daughter, who now stood close beside us, dancing her smallest child on the counter.

‘Dear me!’ said Mr. Omer. ‘Yes, to be sure. Two parties! Why, in that very ride, if you’ll believe me, the day was named for my Minnie to marry Joram. “Do name it, sir,” says Joram. “Yes, do, father,” says Minnie. And now he’s come into the business. And look here! The youngest!’

Minnie laughed, and stroked her banded hair upon her temples, as her father put one of his fat fingers into the hand of the child she was dancing on the counter.

‘Two parties, of course!’ said Mr. Omer, nodding his head retrospectively. ‘Ex-actly so! And Joram’s at work, at this minute, on a grey one with silver nails, not this measurement’—the measurement of the dancing child upon the counter—‘by a good two inches.—-Will you take something?’

I thanked him, but declined.

‘Let me see,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘Barkis’s the carrier’s wife—Peggotty’s the boatman’s sister—she had something to do with your family? She was in service there, sure?’

My answering in the affirmative gave him great satisfaction.

‘I believe my breath will get long next, my memory’s getting so much so,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘Well, sir, we’ve got a young relation of hers here, under articles to us, that has as elegant a taste in the dress-making business—I assure you I don’t believe there’s a Duchess in England can touch her.’

‘Not little Em’ly?’ said I, involuntarily.

‘Em’ly’s her name,’ said Mr. Omer, ‘and she’s little too. But if you’ll believe me, she has such a face of her own that half the women in this town are mad against her.’

‘Nonsense, father!’ cried Minnie.

‘My dear,’ said Mr. Omer, ‘I don’t say it’s the case with you,’ winking at me, ‘but I say that half the women in Yarmouth—ah! and in five mile round—are mad against that girl.’

‘Then she should have kept to her own station in life, father,’ said Minnie, ‘and not have given them any hold to talk about her, and then they couldn’t have done it.’

‘Couldn’t have done it, my dear!’ retorted Mr. Omer. ‘Couldn’t have done it! Is that YOUR knowledge of life? What is there that any woman couldn’t do, that she shouldn’t do—especially on the subject of another woman’s good looks?’

I really thought it was all over with Mr. Omer, after he had uttered this libellous pleasantry. He coughed to that extent, and his breath eluded all his attempts to recover it with that obstinacy, that I fully expected to see his head go down behind the counter, and his little black breeches, with the rusty little bunches of ribbons at the knees, come quivering up in a last ineffectual struggle. At length, however, he got better, though he still panted hard, and was so exhausted that he was obliged to sit on the stool of the shop-desk.

‘You see,’ he said, wiping his head, and breathing with difficulty, ‘she hasn’t taken much to any companions here; she hasn’t taken kindly to any particular acquaintances and friends, not to mention sweethearts. In consequence, an ill-natured story got about, that Em’ly wanted to be a lady. Now my opinion is, that it came into circulation principally on account of her sometimes saying, at the school, that if she was a lady she would like to do so-and-so for her uncle—don’t you see?—and buy him such-and-such fine things.’

‘I assure you, Mr. Omer, she has said so to me,’ I returned eagerly, ‘when we were both children.’

Mr. Omer nodded his head and rubbed his chin. ‘Just so. Then out of a very little, she could dress herself, you see, better than most others could out of a deal, and that made things unpleasant. Moreover, she was rather what might be called wayward—I’ll go so far as to say what I should call wayward myself,’ said Mr. Omer; ‘didn’t know her own mind quite—a little spoiled—and couldn’t, at first, exactly bind herself down. No more than that was ever said against her, Minnie?’

‘No, father,’ said Mrs. Joram. ‘That’s the worst, I believe.’

‘So when she got a situation,’ said Mr. Omer, ‘to keep a fractious old lady company, they didn’t very well agree, and she didn’t stop. At last she came here, apprenticed for three years. Nearly two of ‘em are over, and she has been as good a girl as ever was. Worth any six! Minnie, is she worth any six, now?’

‘Yes, father,’ replied Minnie. ‘Never say I detracted from her!’

‘Very good,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘That’s right. And so, young gentleman,’ he added, after a few moments’ further rubbing of his chin, ‘that you may not consider me long-winded as well as short-breathed, I believe that’s all about it.’

As they had spoken in a subdued tone, while speaking of Em’ly, I had no doubt that she was near. On my asking now, if that were not so, Mr. Omer nodded yes, and nodded towards the door of the parlour. My hurried inquiry if I might peep in, was answered with a free permission; and, looking through the glass, I saw her sitting at her work. I saw her, a most beautiful little creature, with the cloudless blue eyes, that had looked into my childish heart, turned laughingly upon another child of Minnie’s who was playing near her; with enough of wilfulness in her bright face to justify what I had heard; with much of the old capricious coyness lurking in it; but with nothing in her pretty looks, I am sure, but what was meant for goodness and for happiness, and what was on a good and happy course.

The tune across the yard that seemed as if it never had left off—alas! it was the tune that never DOES leave off—was beating, softly, all the while.

‘Wouldn’t you like to step in,’ said Mr. Omer, ‘and speak to her? Walk in and speak to her, sir! Make yourself at home!’

I was too bashful to do so then—I was afraid of confusing her, and I was no less afraid of confusing myself.—but I informed myself of the hour at which she left of an evening, in order that our visit might be timed accordingly; and taking leave of Mr. Omer, and his pretty daughter, and her little children, went away to my dear old Peggotty’s.

Here she was, in the tiled kitchen, cooking dinner! The moment I knocked at the door she opened it, and asked me what I pleased to want. I looked at her with a smile, but she gave me no smile in return. I had never ceased to write to her, but it must have been seven years since we had met.

‘Is Mr. Barkis at home, ma’am?’ I said, feigning to speak roughly to her.

‘He’s at home, sir,’ returned Peggotty, ‘but he’s bad abed with the rheumatics.’

‘Don’t he go over to Blunderstone now?’ I asked.

‘When he’s well he do,’ she answered.

‘Do YOU ever go there, Mrs. Barkis?’

She looked at me more attentively, and I noticed a quick movement of her hands towards each other.

‘Because I want to ask a question about a house there, that they call the—what is it?—the Rookery,’ said I.

She took a step backward, and put out her hands in an undecided frightened way, as if to keep me off.

‘Peggotty!’ I cried to her.

She cried, ‘My darling boy!’ and we both burst into tears, and were locked in one another’s arms.

What extravagances she committed; what laughing and crying over me; what pride she showed, what joy, what sorrow that she whose pride and joy I might have been, could never hold me in a fond embrace; I have not the heart to tell. I was troubled with no misgiving that it was young in me to respond to her emotions. I had never laughed and cried in all my life, I dare say—not even to her—more freely than I did that morning.

‘Barkis will be so glad,’ said Peggotty, wiping her eyes with her apron, ‘that it’ll do him more good than pints of liniment. May I go and tell him you are here? Will you come up and see him, my dear?’

Of course I would. But Peggotty could not get out of the room as easily as she meant to, for as often as she got to the door and looked round at me, she came back again to have another laugh and another cry upon my shoulder. At last, to make the matter easier, I went upstairs with her; and having waited outside for a minute, while she said a word of preparation to Mr. Barkis, presented myself before that invalid.

He received me with absolute enthusiasm. He was too rheumatic to be shaken hands with, but he begged me to shake the tassel on the top of his nightcap, which I did most cordially. When I sat down by the side of the bed, he said that it did him a world of good to feel as if he was driving me on the Blunderstone road again. As he lay in bed, face upward, and so covered, with that exception, that he seemed to be nothing but a face—like a conventional cherubim—he looked the queerest object I ever beheld.

‘What name was it, as I wrote up in the cart, sir?’ said Mr. Barkis, with a slow rheumatic smile.

‘Ah! Mr. Barkis, we had some grave talks about that matter, hadn’t we?’

‘I was willin’ a long time, sir?’ said Mr. Barkis.

‘A long time,’ said I.

‘And I don’t regret it,’ said Mr. Barkis. ‘Do you remember what you told me once, about her making all the apple parsties and doing all the cooking?’

‘Yes, very well,’ I returned.

‘It was as true,’ said Mr. Barkis, ‘as turnips is. It was as true,’ said Mr. Barkis, nodding his nightcap, which was his only means of emphasis, ‘as taxes is. And nothing’s truer than them.’

Mr. Barkis turned his eyes upon me, as if for my assent to this result of his reflections in bed; and I gave it.

‘Nothing’s truer than them,’ repeated Mr. Barkis; ‘a man as poor as I am, finds that out in his mind when he’s laid up. I’m a very poor man, sir!’

‘I am sorry to hear it, Mr. Barkis.’

‘A very poor man, indeed I am,’ said Mr. Barkis.

Here his right hand came slowly and feebly from under the bedclothes, and with a purposeless uncertain grasp took hold of a stick which was loosely tied to the side of the bed. After some poking about with this instrument, in the course of which his face assumed a variety of distracted expressions, Mr. Barkis poked it against a box, an end of which had been visible to me all the time. Then his face became composed.

‘Old clothes,’ said Mr. Barkis.

‘Oh!’ said I.

‘I wish it was Money, sir,’ said Mr. Barkis.

‘I wish it was, indeed,’ said I.

‘But it AIN’T,’ said Mr. Barkis, opening both his eyes as wide as he possibly could.

I expressed myself quite sure of that, and Mr. Barkis, turning his eyes more gently to his wife, said:

‘She’s the usefullest and best of women, C. P. Barkis. All the praise that anyone can give to C. P. Barkis, she deserves, and more! My dear, you’ll get a dinner today, for company; something good to eat and drink, will you?’

I should have protested against this unnecessary demonstration in my honour, but that I saw Peggotty, on the opposite side of the bed, extremely anxious I should not. So I held my peace.

‘I have got a trifle of money somewhere about me, my dear,’ said Mr. Barkis, ‘but I’m a little tired. If you and Mr. David will leave me for a short nap, I’ll try and find it when I wake.’

We left the room, in compliance with this request. When we got outside the door, Peggotty informed me that Mr. Barkis, being now ‘a little nearer’ than he used to be, always resorted to this same device before producing a single coin from his store; and that he endured unheard-of agonies in crawling out of bed alone, and taking it from that unlucky box. In effect, we presently heard him uttering suppressed groans of the most dismal nature, as this magpie proceeding racked him in every joint; but while Peggotty’s eyes were full of compassion for him, she said his generous impulse would do him good, and it was better not to check it. So he groaned on, until he had got into bed again, suffering, I have no doubt, a martyrdom; and then called us in, pretending to have just woke up from a refreshing sleep, and to produce a guinea from under his pillow. His satisfaction in which happy imposition on us, and in having preserved the impenetrable secret of the box, appeared to be a sufficient compensation to him for all his tortures.

I prepared Peggotty for Steerforth’s arrival and it was not long before he came. I am persuaded she knew no difference between his having been a personal benefactor of hers, and a kind friend to me, and that she would have received him with the utmost gratitude and devotion in any case. But his easy, spirited good humour; his genial manner, his handsome looks, his natural gift of adapting himself to whomsoever he pleased, and making direct, when he cared to do it, to the main point of interest in anybody’s heart; bound her to him wholly in five minutes. His manner to me, alone, would have won her. But, through all these causes combined, I sincerely believe she had a kind of adoration for him before he left the house that night.

He stayed there with me to dinner—if I were to say willingly, I should not half express how readily and gaily. He went into Mr. Barkis’s room like light and air, brightening and refreshing it as if he were healthy weather. There was no noise, no effort, no consciousness, in anything he did; but in everything an indescribable lightness, a seeming impossibility of doing anything else, or doing anything better, which was so graceful, so natural, and agreeable, that it overcomes me, even now, in the remembrance.

We made merry in the little parlour, where the Book of Martyrs, unthumbed since my time, was laid out upon the desk as of old, and where I now turned over its terrific pictures, remembering the old sensations they had awakened, but not feeling them. When Peggotty spoke of what she called my room, and of its being ready for me at night, and of her hoping I would occupy it, before I could so much as look at Steerforth, hesitating, he was possessed of the whole case.

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘You’ll sleep here, while we stay, and I shall sleep at the hotel.’

‘But to bring you so far,’ I returned, ‘and to separate, seems bad companionship, Steerforth.’

‘Why, in the name of Heaven, where do you naturally belong?’ he said. ‘What is “seems”, compared to that?’ It was settled at once.

He maintained all his delightful qualities to the last, until we started forth, at eight o’clock, for Mr. Peggotty’s boat. Indeed, they were more and more brightly exhibited as the hours went on; for I thought even then, and I have no doubt now, that the consciousness of success in his determination to please, inspired him with a new delicacy of perception, and made it, subtle as it was, more easy to him. If anyone had told me, then, that all this was a brilliant game, played for the excitement of the moment, for the employment of high spirits, in the thoughtless love of superiority, in a mere wasteful careless course of winning what was worthless to him, and next minute thrown away—I say, if anyone had told me such a lie that night, I wonder in what manner of receiving it my indignation would have found a vent! Probably only in an increase, had that been possible, of the romantic feelings of fidelity and friendship with which I walked beside him, over the dark wintry sands towards the old boat; the wind sighing around us even more mournfully, than it had sighed and moaned upon the night when I first darkened Mr. Peggotty’s door.

‘This is a wild kind of place, Steerforth, is it not?’

‘Dismal enough in the dark,’ he said: ‘and the sea roars as if it were hungry for us. Is that the boat, where I see a light yonder?’ ‘That’s the boat,’ said I.

‘And it’s the same I saw this morning,’ he returned. ‘I came straight to it, by instinct, I suppose.’

We said no more as we approached the light, but made softly for the door. I laid my hand upon the latch; and whispering Steerforth to keep close to me, went in.

A murmur of voices had been audible on the outside, and, at the moment of our entrance, a clapping of hands: which latter noise, I was surprised to see, proceeded from the generally disconsolate Mrs. Gummidge. But Mrs. Gummidge was not the only person there who was unusually excited. Mr. Peggotty, his face lighted up with uncommon satisfaction, and laughing with all his might, held his rough arms wide open, as if for little Em’ly to run into them; Ham, with a mixed expression in his face of admiration, exultation, and a lumbering sort of bashfulness that sat upon him very well, held little Em’ly by the hand, as if he were presenting her to Mr. Peggotty; little Em’ly herself, blushing and shy, but delighted with Mr. Peggotty’s delight, as her joyous eyes expressed, was stopped by our entrance (for she saw us first) in the very act of springing from Ham to nestle in Mr. Peggotty’s embrace. In the first glimpse we had of them all, and at the moment of our passing from the dark cold night into the warm light room, this was the way in which they were all employed: Mrs. Gummidge in the background, clapping her hands like a madwoman.

The little picture was so instantaneously dissolved by our going in, that one might have doubted whether it had ever been. I was in the midst of the astonished family, face to face with Mr. Peggotty, and holding out my hand to him, when Ham shouted:

‘Mas’r Davy! It’s Mas’r Davy!’

In a moment we were all shaking hands with one another, and asking one another how we did, and telling one another how glad we were to meet, and all talking at once. Mr. Peggotty was so proud and overjoyed to see us, that he did not know what to say or do, but kept over and over again shaking hands with me, and then with Steerforth, and then with me, and then ruffling his shaggy hair all over his head, and laughing with such glee and triumph, that it was a treat to see him.

‘Why, that you two gent’lmen—gent’lmen growed—should come to this here roof tonight, of all nights in my life,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘is such a thing as never happened afore, I do rightly believe! Em’ly, my darling, come here! Come here, my little witch! There’s Mas’r Davy’s friend, my dear! There’s the gent’lman as you’ve heerd on, Em’ly. He comes to see you, along with Mas’r Davy, on the brightest night of your uncle’s life as ever was or will be, Gorm the t’other one, and horroar for it!’

After delivering this speech all in a breath, and with extraordinary animation and pleasure, Mr. Peggotty put one of his large hands rapturously on each side of his niece’s face, and kissing it a dozen times, laid it with a gentle pride and love upon his broad chest, and patted it as if his hand had been a lady’s. Then he let her go; and as she ran into the little chamber where I used to sleep, looked round upon us, quite hot and out of breath with his uncommon satisfaction.

‘If you two gent’lmen—gent’lmen growed now, and such gent’lmen—’ said Mr. Peggotty.

‘So th’ are, so th’ are!’ cried Ham. ‘Well said! So th’ are. Mas’r Davy bor’—gent’lmen growed—so th’ are!’

‘If you two gent’lmen, gent’lmen growed,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘don’t ex-cuse me for being in a state of mind, when you understand matters, I’ll arks your pardon. Em’ly, my dear!—She knows I’m a going to tell,’ here his delight broke out again, ‘and has made off. Would you be so good as look arter her, Mawther, for a minute?’

Mrs. Gummidge nodded and disappeared.

‘If this ain’t,’ said Mr. Peggotty, sitting down among us by the fire, ‘the brightest night o’ my life, I’m a shellfish—biled too—and more I can’t say. This here little Em’ly, sir,’ in a low voice to Steerforth, ‘—her as you see a blushing here just now—’

Steerforth only nodded; but with such a pleased expression of interest, and of participation in Mr. Peggotty’s feelings, that the latter answered him as if he had spoken.

‘To be sure,’ said Mr. Peggotty. ‘That’s her, and so she is. Thankee, sir.’

Ham nodded to me several times, as if he would have said so too.

‘This here little Em’ly of ours,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘has been, in our house, what I suppose (I’m a ignorant man, but that’s my belief) no one but a little bright-eyed creetur can be in a house. She ain’t my child; I never had one; but I couldn’t love her more. You understand! I couldn’t do it!’

‘I quite understand,’ said Steerforth.

‘I know you do, sir,’ returned Mr. Peggotty, ‘and thankee again. Mas’r Davy, he can remember what she was; you may judge for your own self what she is; but neither of you can’t fully know what she has been, is, and will be, to my loving art. I am rough, sir,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘I am as rough as a Sea Porkypine; but no one, unless, mayhap, it is a woman, can know, I think, what our little Em’ly is to me. And betwixt ourselves,’ sinking his voice lower yet, ‘that woman’s name ain’t Missis Gummidge neither, though she has a world of merits.’ Mr. Peggotty ruffled his hair again, with both hands, as a further preparation for what he was going to say, and went on, with a hand upon each of his knees:

‘There was a certain person as had know’d our Em’ly, from the time when her father was drownded; as had seen her constant; when a babby, when a young gal, when a woman. Not much of a person to look at, he warn’t,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘something o’ my own build—rough—a good deal o’ the sou’-wester in him—wery salt—but, on the whole, a honest sort of a chap, with his art in the right place.’

I thought I had never seen Ham grin to anything like the extent to which he sat grinning at us now.

‘What does this here blessed tarpaulin go and do,’ said Mr. Peggotty, with his face one high noon of enjoyment, ‘but he loses that there art of his to our little Em’ly. He follers her about, he makes hisself a sort o’ servant to her, he loses in a great measure his relish for his wittles, and in the long-run he makes it clear to me wot’s amiss. Now I could wish myself, you see, that our little Em’ly was in a fair way of being married. I could wish to see her, at all ewents, under articles to a honest man as had a right to defend her. I don’t know how long I may live, or how soon I may die; but I know that if I was capsized, any night, in a gale of wind in Yarmouth Roads here, and was to see the town-lights shining for the last time over the rollers as I couldn’t make no head against, I could go down quieter for thinking “There’s a man ashore there, iron-true to my little Em’ly, God bless her, and no wrong can touch my Em’ly while so be as that man lives.”’

Mr. Peggotty, in simple earnestness, waved his right arm, as if he were waving it at the town-lights for the last time, and then, exchanging a nod with Ham, whose eye he caught, proceeded as before.

‘Well! I counsels him to speak to Em’ly. He’s big enough, but he’s bashfuller than a little un, and he don’t like. So I speak. “What! Him!” says Em’ly. “Him that I’ve know’d so intimate so many years, and like so much. Oh, Uncle! I never can have him. He’s such a good fellow!” I gives her a kiss, and I says no more to her than, “My dear, you’re right to speak out, you’re to choose for yourself, you’re as free as a little bird.” Then I aways to him, and I says, “I wish it could have been so, but it can’t. But you can both be as you was, and wot I say to you is, Be as you was with her, like a man.” He says to me, a-shaking of my hand, “I will!” he says. And he was—honourable and manful—for two year going on, and we was just the same at home here as afore.’

Mr. Peggotty’s face, which had varied in its expression with the various stages of his narrative, now resumed all its former triumphant delight, as he laid a hand upon my knee and a hand upon Steerforth’s (previously wetting them both, for the greater emphasis of the action), and divided the following speech between us:

‘All of a sudden, one evening—as it might be tonight—comes little Em’ly from her work, and him with her! There ain’t so much in that, you’ll say. No, because he takes care on her, like a brother, arter dark, and indeed afore dark, and at all times. But this tarpaulin chap, he takes hold of her hand, and he cries out to me, joyful, “Look here! This is to be my little wife!” And she says, half bold and half shy, and half a laughing and half a crying, “Yes, Uncle! If you please.”—If I please!’ cried Mr. Peggotty, rolling his head in an ecstasy at the idea; ‘Lord, as if I should do anythink else!—“If you please, I am steadier now, and I have thought better of it, and I’ll be as good a little wife as I can to him, for he’s a dear, good fellow!” Then Missis Gummidge, she claps her hands like a play, and you come in. Theer! the murder’s out!’ said Mr. Peggotty—‘You come in! It took place this here present hour; and here’s the man that’ll marry her, the minute she’s out of her time.’

Ham staggered, as well he might, under the blow Mr. Peggotty dealt him in his unbounded joy, as a mark of confidence and friendship; but feeling called upon to say something to us, he said, with much faltering and great difficulty:

‘She warn’t no higher than you was, Mas’r Davy—when you first come—when I thought what she’d grow up to be. I see her grown up—gent’lmen—like a flower. I’d lay down my life for her—Mas’r Davy—Oh! most content and cheerful! She’s more to me—gent’lmen—than—she’s all to me that ever I can want, and more than ever I—than ever I could say. I—I love her true. There ain’t a gent’lman in all the land—nor yet sailing upon all the sea—that can love his lady more than I love her, though there’s many a common man—would say better—what he meant.’

I thought it affecting to see such a sturdy fellow as Ham was now, trembling in the strength of what he felt for the pretty little creature who had won his heart. I thought the simple confidence reposed in us by Mr. Peggotty and by himself, was, in itself, affecting. I was affected by the story altogether. How far my emotions were influenced by the recollections of my childhood, I don’t know. Whether I had come there with any lingering fancy that I was still to love little Em’ly, I don’t know. I know that I was filled with pleasure by all this; but, at first, with an indescribably sensitive pleasure, that a very little would have changed to pain.

Therefore, if it had depended upon me to touch the prevailing chord among them with any skill, I should have made a poor hand of it. But it depended upon Steerforth; and he did it with such address, that in a few minutes we were all as easy and as happy as it was possible to be.

‘Mr. Peggotty,’ he said, ‘you are a thoroughly good fellow, and deserve to be as happy as you are tonight. My hand upon it! Ham, I give you joy, my boy. My hand upon that, too! Daisy, stir the fire, and make it a brisk one! and Mr. Peggotty, unless you can induce your gentle niece to come back (for whom I vacate this seat in the corner), I shall go. Any gap at your fireside on such a night—such a gap least of all—I wouldn’t make, for the wealth of the Indies!’

So Mr. Peggotty went into my old room to fetch little Em’ly. At first little Em’ly didn’t like to come, and then Ham went. Presently they brought her to the fireside, very much confused, and very shy,—but she soon became more assured when she found how gently and respectfully Steerforth spoke to her; how skilfully he avoided anything that would embarrass her; how he talked to Mr. Peggotty of boats, and ships, and tides, and fish; how he referred to me about the time when he had seen Mr. Peggotty at Salem House; how delighted he was with the boat and all belonging to it; how lightly and easily he carried on, until he brought us, by degrees, into a charmed circle, and we were all talking away without any reserve.

Em’ly, indeed, said little all the evening; but she looked, and listened, and her face got animated, and she was charming. Steerforth told a story of a dismal shipwreck (which arose out of his talk with Mr. Peggotty), as if he saw it all before him—and little Em’ly’s eyes were fastened on him all the time, as if she saw it too. He told us a merry adventure of his own, as a relief to that, with as much gaiety as if the narrative were as fresh to him as it was to us—and little Em’ly laughed until the boat rang with the musical sounds, and we all laughed (Steerforth too), in irresistible sympathy with what was so pleasant and light-hearted. He got Mr. Peggotty to sing, or rather to roar, ‘When the stormy winds do blow, do blow, do blow’; and he sang a sailor’s song himself, so pathetically and beautifully, that I could have almost fancied that the real wind creeping sorrowfully round the house, and murmuring low through our unbroken silence, was there to listen.

As to Mrs. Gummidge, he roused that victim of despondency with a success never attained by anyone else (so Mr. Peggotty informed me), since the decease of the old one. He left her so little leisure for being miserable, that she said next day she thought she must have been bewitched.

But he set up no monopoly of the general attention, or the conversation. When little Em’ly grew more courageous, and talked (but still bashfully) across the fire to me, of our old wanderings upon the beach, to pick up shells and pebbles; and when I asked her if she recollected how I used to be devoted to her; and when we both laughed and reddened, casting these looks back on the pleasant old times, so unreal to look at now; he was silent and attentive, and observed us thoughtfully. She sat, at this time, and all the evening, on the old locker in her old little corner by the fire—Ham beside her, where I used to sit. I could not satisfy myself whether it was in her own little tormenting way, or in a maidenly reserve before us, that she kept quite close to the wall, and away from him; but I observed that she did so, all the evening.

As I remember, it was almost midnight when we took our leave. We had had some biscuit and dried fish for supper, and Steerforth had produced from his pocket a full flask of Hollands, which we men (I may say we men, now, without a blush) had emptied. We parted merrily; and as they all stood crowded round the door to light us as far as they could upon our road, I saw the sweet blue eyes of little Em’ly peeping after us, from behind Ham, and heard her soft voice calling to us to be careful how we went.

‘A most engaging little Beauty!’ said Steerforth, taking my arm. ‘Well! It’s a quaint place, and they are quaint company, and it’s quite a new sensation to mix with them.’

‘How fortunate we are, too,’ I returned, ‘to have arrived to witness their happiness in that intended marriage! I never saw people so happy. How delightful to see it, and to be made the sharers in their honest joy, as we have been!’

‘That’s rather a chuckle-headed fellow for the girl; isn’t he?’ said Steerforth.

He had been so hearty with him, and with them all, that I felt a shock in this unexpected and cold reply. But turning quickly upon him, and seeing a laugh in his eyes, I answered, much relieved:

‘Ah, Steerforth! It’s well for you to joke about the poor! You may skirmish with Miss Dartle, or try to hide your sympathies in jest from me, but I know better. When I see how perfectly you understand them, how exquisitely you can enter into happiness like this plain fisherman’s, or humour a love like my old nurse’s, I know that there is not a joy or sorrow, not an emotion, of such people, that can be indifferent to you. And I admire and love you for it, Steerforth, twenty times the more!’

He stopped, and, looking in my face, said, ‘Daisy, I believe you are in earnest, and are good. I wish we all were!’ Next moment he was gaily singing Mr. Peggotty’s song, as we walked at a round pace back to Yarmouth.






CHAPTER 22. SOME OLD SCENES, AND SOME NEW PEOPLE

Steerforth and I stayed for more than a fortnight in that part of the country. We were very much together, I need not say; but occasionally we were asunder for some hours at a time. He was a good sailor, and I was but an indifferent one; and when he went out boating with Mr. Peggotty, which was a favourite amusement of his, I generally remained ashore. My occupation of Peggotty’s spare-room put a constraint upon me, from which he was free: for, knowing how assiduously she attended on Mr. Barkis all day, I did not like to remain out late at night; whereas Steerforth, lying at the Inn, had nothing to consult but his own humour. Thus it came about, that I heard of his making little treats for the fishermen at Mr. Peggotty’s house of call, ‘The Willing Mind’, after I was in bed, and of his being afloat, wrapped in fishermen’s clothes, whole moonlight nights, and coming back when the morning tide was at flood. By this time, however, I knew that his restless nature and bold spirits delighted to find a vent in rough toil and hard weather, as in any other means of excitement that presented itself freshly to him; so none of his proceedings surprised me.

Another cause of our being sometimes apart, was, that I had naturally an interest in going over to Blunderstone, and revisiting the old familiar scenes of my childhood; while Steerforth, after being there once, had naturally no great interest in going there again. Hence, on three or four days that I can at once recall, we went our several ways after an early breakfast, and met again at a late dinner. I had no idea how he employed his time in the interval, beyond a general knowledge that he was very popular in the place, and had twenty means of actively diverting himself where another man might not have found one.

For my own part, my occupation in my solitary pilgrimages was to recall every yard of the old road as I went along it, and to haunt the old spots, of which I never tired. I haunted them, as my memory had often done, and lingered among them as my younger thoughts had lingered when I was far away. The grave beneath the tree, where both my parents lay—on which I had looked out, when it was my father’s only, with such curious feelings of compassion, and by which I had stood, so desolate, when it was opened to receive my pretty mother and her baby—the grave which Peggotty’s own faithful care had ever since kept neat, and made a garden of, I walked near, by the hour. It lay a little off the churchyard path, in a quiet corner, not so far removed but I could read the names upon the stone as I walked to and fro, startled by the sound of the church-bell when it struck the hour, for it was like a departed voice to me. My reflections at these times were always associated with the figure I was to make in life, and the distinguished things I was to do. My echoing footsteps went to no other tune, but were as constant to that as if I had come home to build my castles in the air at a living mother’s side.

There were great changes in my old home. The ragged nests, so long deserted by the rooks, were gone; and the trees were lopped and topped out of their remembered shapes. The garden had run wild, and half the windows of the house were shut up. It was occupied, but only by a poor lunatic gentleman, and the people who took care of him. He was always sitting at my little window, looking out into the churchyard; and I wondered whether his rambling thoughts ever went upon any of the fancies that used to occupy mine, on the rosy mornings when I peeped out of that same little window in my night-clothes, and saw the sheep quietly feeding in the light of the rising sun.

Our old neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Grayper, were gone to South America, and the rain had made its way through the roof of their empty house, and stained the outer walls. Mr. Chillip was married again to a tall, raw-boned, high-nosed wife; and they had a weazen little baby, with a heavy head that it couldn’t hold up, and two weak staring eyes, with which it seemed to be always wondering why it had ever been born.

It was with a singular jumble of sadness and pleasure that I used to linger about my native place, until the reddening winter sun admonished me that it was time to start on my returning walk. But, when the place was left behind, and especially when Steerforth and I were happily seated over our dinner by a blazing fire, it was delicious to think of having been there. So it was, though in a softened degree, when I went to my neat room at night; and, turning over the leaves of the crocodile-book (which was always there, upon a little table), remembered with a grateful heart how blest I was in having such a friend as Steerforth, such a friend as Peggotty, and such a substitute for what I had lost as my excellent and generous aunt.

MY nearest way to Yarmouth, in coming back from these long walks, was by a ferry. It landed me on the flat between the town and the sea, which I could make straight across, and so save myself a considerable circuit by the high road. Mr. Peggotty’s house being on that waste-place, and not a hundred yards out of my track, I always looked in as I went by. Steerforth was pretty sure to be there expecting me, and we went on together through the frosty air and gathering fog towards the twinkling lights of the town.

One dark evening, when I was later than usual—for I had, that day, been making my parting visit to Blunderstone, as we were now about to return home—I found him alone in Mr. Peggotty’s house, sitting thoughtfully before the fire. He was so intent upon his own reflections that he was quite unconscious of my approach. This, indeed, he might easily have been if he had been less absorbed, for footsteps fell noiselessly on the sandy ground outside; but even my entrance failed to rouse him. I was standing close to him, looking at him; and still, with a heavy brow, he was lost in his meditations.

He gave such a start when I put my hand upon his shoulder, that he made me start too.

‘You come upon me,’ he said, almost angrily, ‘like a reproachful ghost!’

‘I was obliged to announce myself, somehow,’ I replied. ‘Have I called you down from the stars?’

‘No,’ he answered. ‘No.’

‘Up from anywhere, then?’ said I, taking my seat near him.

‘I was looking at the pictures in the fire,’ he returned.

‘But you are spoiling them for me,’ said I, as he stirred it quickly with a piece of burning wood, striking out of it a train of red-hot sparks that went careering up the little chimney, and roaring out into the air.

‘You would not have seen them,’ he returned. ‘I detest this mongrel time, neither day nor night. How late you are! Where have you been?’

‘I have been taking leave of my usual walk,’ said I.

‘And I have been sitting here,’ said Steerforth, glancing round the room, ‘thinking that all the people we found so glad on the night of our coming down, might—to judge from the present wasted air of the place—be dispersed, or dead, or come to I don’t know what harm. David, I wish to God I had had a judicious father these last twenty years!’

‘My dear Steerforth, what is the matter?’

‘I wish with all my soul I had been better guided!’ he exclaimed. ‘I wish with all my soul I could guide myself better!’

There was a passionate dejection in his manner that quite amazed me. He was more unlike himself than I could have supposed possible.

‘It would be better to be this poor Peggotty, or his lout of a nephew,’ he said, getting up and leaning moodily against the chimney-piece, with his face towards the fire, ‘than to be myself, twenty times richer and twenty times wiser, and be the torment to myself that I have been, in this Devil’s bark of a boat, within the last half-hour!’

I was so confounded by the alteration in him, that at first I could only observe him in silence, as he stood leaning his head upon his hand, and looking gloomily down at the fire. At length I begged him, with all the earnestness I felt, to tell me what had occurred to cross him so unusually, and to let me sympathize with him, if I could not hope to advise him. Before I had well concluded, he began to laugh—fretfully at first, but soon with returning gaiety.

‘Tut, it’s nothing, Daisy! nothing!’ he replied. ‘I told you at the inn in London, I am heavy company for myself, sometimes. I have been a nightmare to myself, just now—must have had one, I think. At odd dull times, nursery tales come up into the memory, unrecognized for what they are. I believe I have been confounding myself with the bad boy who “didn’t care”, and became food for lions—a grander kind of going to the dogs, I suppose. What old women call the horrors, have been creeping over me from head to foot. I have been afraid of myself.’

‘You are afraid of nothing else, I think,’ said I.

‘Perhaps not, and yet may have enough to be afraid of too,’ he answered. ‘Well! So it goes by! I am not about to be hipped again, David; but I tell you, my good fellow, once more, that it would have been well for me (and for more than me) if I had had a steadfast and judicious father!’

His face was always full of expression, but I never saw it express such a dark kind of earnestness as when he said these words, with his glance bent on the fire.

‘So much for that!’ he said, making as if he tossed something light into the air, with his hand. “‘Why, being gone, I am a man again,” like Macbeth. And now for dinner! If I have not (Macbeth-like) broken up the feast with most admired disorder, Daisy.’

‘But where are they all, I wonder!’ said I.

‘God knows,’ said Steerforth. ‘After strolling to the ferry looking for you, I strolled in here and found the place deserted. That set me thinking, and you found me thinking.’

The advent of Mrs. Gummidge with a basket, explained how the house had happened to be empty. She had hurried out to buy something that was needed, against Mr. Peggotty’s return with the tide; and had left the door open in the meanwhile, lest Ham and little Em’ly, with whom it was an early night, should come home while she was gone. Steerforth, after very much improving Mrs. Gummidge’s spirits by a cheerful salutation and a jocose embrace, took my arm, and hurried me away.

He had improved his own spirits, no less than Mrs. Gummidge’s, for they were again at their usual flow, and he was full of vivacious conversation as we went along.

‘And so,’ he said, gaily, ‘we abandon this buccaneer life tomorrow, do we?’

‘So we agreed,’ I returned. ‘And our places by the coach are taken, you know.’

‘Ay! there’s no help for it, I suppose,’ said Steerforth. ‘I have almost forgotten that there is anything to do in the world but to go out tossing on the sea here. I wish there was not.’

‘As long as the novelty should last,’ said I, laughing.

‘Like enough,’ he returned; ‘though there’s a sarcastic meaning in that observation for an amiable piece of innocence like my young friend. Well! I dare say I am a capricious fellow, David. I know I am; but while the iron is hot, I can strike it vigorously too. I could pass a reasonably good examination already, as a pilot in these waters, I think.’

‘Mr. Peggotty says you are a wonder,’ I returned.

‘A nautical phenomenon, eh?’ laughed Steerforth.

‘Indeed he does, and you know how truly; I know how ardent you are in any pursuit you follow, and how easily you can master it. And that amazes me most in you, Steerforth—that you should be contented with such fitful uses of your powers.’

‘Contented?’ he answered, merrily. ‘I am never contented, except with your freshness, my gentle Daisy. As to fitfulness, I have never learnt the art of binding myself to any of the wheels on which the Ixions of these days are turning round and round. I missed it somehow in a bad apprenticeship, and now don’t care about it.—-You know I have bought a boat down here?’

‘What an extraordinary fellow you are, Steerforth!’ I exclaimed, stopping—for this was the first I had heard of it. ‘When you may never care to come near the place again!’

‘I don’t know that,’ he returned. ‘I have taken a fancy to the place. At all events,’ walking me briskly on, ‘I have bought a boat that was for sale—a clipper, Mr. Peggotty says; and so she is—and Mr. Peggotty will be master of her in my absence.’

‘Now I understand you, Steerforth!’ said I, exultingly. ‘You pretend to have bought it for yourself, but you have really done so to confer a benefit on him. I might have known as much at first, knowing you. My dear kind Steerforth, how can I tell you what I think of your generosity?’

‘Tush!’ he answered, turning red. ‘The less said, the better.’

‘Didn’t I know?’ cried I, ‘didn’t I say that there was not a joy, or sorrow, or any emotion of such honest hearts that was indifferent to you?’

‘Aye, aye,’ he answered, ‘you told me all that. There let it rest. We have said enough!’

Afraid of offending him by pursuing the subject when he made so light of it, I only pursued it in my thoughts as we went on at even a quicker pace than before.

‘She must be newly rigged,’ said Steerforth, ‘and I shall leave Littimer behind to see it done, that I may know she is quite complete. Did I tell you Littimer had come down?’

‘No.’

‘Oh yes! came down this morning, with a letter from my mother.’

As our looks met, I observed that he was pale even to his lips, though he looked very steadily at me. I feared that some difference between him and his mother might have led to his being in the frame of mind in which I had found him at the solitary fireside. I hinted so.

‘Oh no!’ he said, shaking his head, and giving a slight laugh. ‘Nothing of the sort! Yes. He is come down, that man of mine.’

‘The same as ever?’ said I.

‘The same as ever,’ said Steerforth. ‘Distant and quiet as the North Pole. He shall see to the boat being fresh named. She’s the “Stormy Petrel” now. What does Mr. Peggotty care for Stormy Petrels! I’ll have her christened again.’

‘By what name?’ I asked.

‘The “Little Em’ly”.’

As he had continued to look steadily at me, I took it as a reminder that he objected to being extolled for his consideration. I could not help showing in my face how much it pleased me, but I said little, and he resumed his usual smile, and seemed relieved.

‘But see here,’ he said, looking before us, ‘where the original little Em’ly comes! And that fellow with her, eh? Upon my soul, he’s a true knight. He never leaves her!’

Ham was a boat-builder in these days, having improved a natural ingenuity in that handicraft, until he had become a skilled workman. He was in his working-dress, and looked rugged enough, but manly withal, and a very fit protector for the blooming little creature at his side. Indeed, there was a frankness in his face, an honesty, and an undisguised show of his pride in her, and his love for her, which were, to me, the best of good looks. I thought, as they came towards us, that they were well matched even in that particular.

She withdrew her hand timidly from his arm as we stopped to speak to them, and blushed as she gave it to Steerforth and to me. When they passed on, after we had exchanged a few words, she did not like to replace that hand, but, still appearing timid and constrained, walked by herself. I thought all this very pretty and engaging, and Steerforth seemed to think so too, as we looked after them fading away in the light of a young moon.

Suddenly there passed us—evidently following them—a young woman whose approach we had not observed, but whose face I saw as she went by, and thought I had a faint remembrance of. She was lightly dressed; looked bold, and haggard, and flaunting, and poor; but seemed, for the time, to have given all that to the wind which was blowing, and to have nothing in her mind but going after them. As the dark distant level, absorbing their figures into itself, left but itself visible between us and the sea and clouds, her figure disappeared in like manner, still no nearer to them than before.

‘That is a black shadow to be following the girl,’ said Steerforth, standing still; ‘what does it mean?’

He spoke in a low voice that sounded almost strange to Me.

‘She must have it in her mind to beg of them, I think,’ said I.

‘A beggar would be no novelty,’ said Steerforth; ‘but it is a strange thing that the beggar should take that shape tonight.’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘For no better reason, truly, than because I was thinking,’ he said, after a pause, ‘of something like it, when it came by. Where the Devil did it come from, I wonder!’

‘From the shadow of this wall, I think,’ said I, as we emerged upon a road on which a wall abutted.

‘It’s gone!’ he returned, looking over his shoulder. ‘And all ill go with it. Now for our dinner!’

But he looked again over his shoulder towards the sea-line glimmering afar off, and yet again. And he wondered about it, in some broken expressions, several times, in the short remainder of our walk; and only seemed to forget it when the light of fire and candle shone upon us, seated warm and merry, at table.

Littimer was there, and had his usual effect upon me. When I said to him that I hoped Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle were well, he answered respectfully (and of course respectably), that they were tolerably well, he thanked me, and had sent their compliments. This was all, and yet he seemed to me to say as plainly as a man could say: ‘You are very young, sir; you are exceedingly young.’

We had almost finished dinner, when taking a step or two towards the table, from the corner where he kept watch upon us, or rather upon me, as I felt, he said to his master:

‘I beg your pardon, sir. Miss Mowcher is down here.’

‘Who?’ cried Steerforth, much astonished.

‘Miss Mowcher, sir.’

‘Why, what on earth does she do here?’ said Steerforth.

‘It appears to be her native part of the country, sir. She informs me that she makes one of her professional visits here, every year, sir. I met her in the street this afternoon, and she wished to know if she might have the honour of waiting on you after dinner, sir.’

‘Do you know the Giantess in question, Daisy?’ inquired Steerforth.

I was obliged to confess—I felt ashamed, even of being at this disadvantage before Littimer—that Miss Mowcher and I were wholly unacquainted.

‘Then you shall know her,’ said Steerforth, ‘for she is one of the seven wonders of the world. When Miss Mowcher comes, show her in.’

I felt some curiosity and excitement about this lady, especially as Steerforth burst into a fit of laughing when I referred to her, and positively refused to answer any question of which I made her the subject. I remained, therefore, in a state of considerable expectation until the cloth had been removed some half an hour, and we were sitting over our decanter of wine before the fire, when the door opened, and Littimer, with his habitual serenity quite undisturbed, announced:

‘Miss Mowcher!’

I looked at the doorway and saw nothing. I was still looking at the doorway, thinking that Miss Mowcher was a long while making her appearance, when, to my infinite astonishment, there came waddling round a sofa which stood between me and it, a pursy dwarf, of about forty or forty-five, with a very large head and face, a pair of roguish grey eyes, and such extremely little arms, that, to enable herself to lay a finger archly against her snub nose, as she ogled Steerforth, she was obliged to meet the finger half-way, and lay her nose against it. Her chin, which was what is called a double chin, was so fat that it entirely swallowed up the strings of her bonnet, bow and all. Throat she had none; waist she had none; legs she had none, worth mentioning; for though she was more than full-sized down to where her waist would have been, if she had had any, and though she terminated, as human beings generally do, in a pair of feet, she was so short that she stood at a common-sized chair as at a table, resting a bag she carried on the seat. This lady—dressed in an off-hand, easy style; bringing her nose and her forefinger together, with the difficulty I have described; standing with her head necessarily on one side, and, with one of her sharp eyes shut up, making an uncommonly knowing face—after ogling Steerforth for a few moments, broke into a torrent of words.

‘What! My flower!’ she pleasantly began, shaking her large head at him. ‘You’re there, are you! Oh, you naughty boy, fie for shame, what do you do so far away from home? Up to mischief, I’ll be bound. Oh, you’re a downy fellow, Steerforth, so you are, and I’m another, ain’t I? Ha, ha, ha! You’d have betted a hundred pound to five, now, that you wouldn’t have seen me here, wouldn’t you? Bless you, man alive, I’m everywhere. I’m here and there, and where not, like the conjurer’s half-crown in the lady’s handkercher. Talking of handkerchers—and talking of ladies—what a comfort you are to your blessed mother, ain’t you, my dear boy, over one of my shoulders, and I don’t say which!’

Miss Mowcher untied her bonnet, at this passage of her discourse, threw back the strings, and sat down, panting, on a footstool in front of the fire—making a kind of arbour of the dining table, which spread its mahogany shelter above her head.

‘Oh my stars and what’s-their-names!’ she went on, clapping a hand on each of her little knees, and glancing shrewdly at me, ‘I’m of too full a habit, that’s the fact, Steerforth. After a flight of stairs, it gives me as much trouble to draw every breath I want, as if it was a bucket of water. If you saw me looking out of an upper window, you’d think I was a fine woman, wouldn’t you?’

‘I should think that, wherever I saw you,’ replied Steerforth.

‘Go along, you dog, do!’ cried the little creature, making a whisk at him with the handkerchief with which she was wiping her face, ‘and don’t be impudent! But I give you my word and honour I was at Lady Mithers’s last week—THERE’S a woman! How SHE wears!—and Mithers himself came into the room where I was waiting for her—THERE’S a man! How HE wears! and his wig too, for he’s had it these ten years—and he went on at that rate in the complimentary line, that I began to think I should be obliged to ring the bell. Ha! ha! ha! He’s a pleasant wretch, but he wants principle.’

‘What were you doing for Lady Mithers?’ asked Steerforth.

‘That’s tellings, my blessed infant,’ she retorted, tapping her nose again, screwing up her face, and twinkling her eyes like an imp of supernatural intelligence. ‘Never YOU mind! You’d like to know whether I stop her hair from falling off, or dye it, or touch up her complexion, or improve her eyebrows, wouldn’t you? And so you shall, my darling—when I tell you! Do you know what my great grandfather’s name was?’

‘No,’ said Steerforth.

‘It was Walker, my sweet pet,’ replied Miss Mowcher, ‘and he came of a long line of Walkers, that I inherit all the Hookey estates from.’

I never beheld anything approaching to Miss Mowcher’s wink except Miss Mowcher’s self-possession. She had a wonderful way too, when listening to what was said to her, or when waiting for an answer to what she had said herself, of pausing with her head cunningly on one side, and one eye turned up like a magpie’s. Altogether I was lost in amazement, and sat staring at her, quite oblivious, I am afraid, of the laws of politeness.

She had by this time drawn the chair to her side, and was busily engaged in producing from the bag (plunging in her short arm to the shoulder, at every dive) a number of small bottles, sponges, combs, brushes, bits of flannel, little pairs of curling-irons, and other instruments, which she tumbled in a heap upon the chair. From this employment she suddenly desisted, and said to Steerforth, much to my confusion:

‘Who’s your friend?’

‘Mr. Copperfield,’ said Steerforth; ‘he wants to know you.’

‘Well, then, he shall! I thought he looked as if he did!’ returned Miss Mowcher, waddling up to me, bag in hand, and laughing on me as she came. ‘Face like a peach!’ standing on tiptoe to pinch my cheek as I sat. ‘Quite tempting! I’m very fond of peaches. Happy to make your acquaintance, Mr. Copperfield, I’m sure.’

I said that I congratulated myself on having the honour to make hers, and that the happiness was mutual.

‘Oh, my goodness, how polite we are!’ exclaimed Miss Mowcher, making a preposterous attempt to cover her large face with her morsel of a hand. ‘What a world of gammon and spinnage it is, though, ain’t it!’

This was addressed confidentially to both of us, as the morsel of a hand came away from the face, and buried itself, arm and all, in the bag again.

‘What do you mean, Miss Mowcher?’ said Steerforth.

‘Ha! ha! ha! What a refreshing set of humbugs we are, to be sure, ain’t we, my sweet child?’ replied that morsel of a woman, feeling in the bag with her head on one side and her eye in the air. ‘Look here!’ taking something out. ‘Scraps of the Russian Prince’s nails. Prince Alphabet turned topsy-turvy, I call him, for his name’s got all the letters in it, higgledy-piggledy.’

‘The Russian Prince is a client of yours, is he?’ said Steerforth.

‘I believe you, my pet,’ replied Miss Mowcher. ‘I keep his nails in order for him. Twice a week! Fingers and toes.’

‘He pays well, I hope?’ said Steerforth.

‘Pays, as he speaks, my dear child—through the nose,’ replied Miss Mowcher. ‘None of your close shavers the Prince ain’t. You’d say so, if you saw his moustachios. Red by nature, black by art.’

‘By your art, of course,’ said Steerforth.

Miss Mowcher winked assent. ‘Forced to send for me. Couldn’t help it. The climate affected his dye; it did very well in Russia, but it was no go here. You never saw such a rusty Prince in all your born days as he was. Like old iron!’ ‘Is that why you called him a humbug, just now?’ inquired Steerforth.

‘Oh, you’re a broth of a boy, ain’t you?’ returned Miss Mowcher, shaking her head violently. ‘I said, what a set of humbugs we were in general, and I showed you the scraps of the Prince’s nails to prove it. The Prince’s nails do more for me in private families of the genteel sort, than all my talents put together. I always carry ‘em about. They’re the best introduction. If Miss Mowcher cuts the Prince’s nails, she must be all right. I give ‘em away to the young ladies. They put ‘em in albums, I believe. Ha! ha! ha! Upon my life, “the whole social system” (as the men call it when they make speeches in Parliament) is a system of Prince’s nails!’ said this least of women, trying to fold her short arms, and nodding her large head.

Steerforth laughed heartily, and I laughed too. Miss Mowcher continuing all the time to shake her head (which was very much on one side), and to look into the air with one eye, and to wink with the other.

‘Well, well!’ she said, smiting her small knees, and rising, ‘this is not business. Come, Steerforth, let’s explore the polar regions, and have it over.’

She then selected two or three of the little instruments, and a little bottle, and asked (to my surprise) if the table would bear. On Steerforth’s replying in the affirmative, she pushed a chair against it, and begging the assistance of my hand, mounted up, pretty nimbly, to the top, as if it were a stage.

‘If either of you saw my ankles,’ she said, when she was safely elevated, ‘say so, and I’ll go home and destroy myself!’

‘I did not,’ said Steerforth.

‘I did not,’ said I.

‘Well then,’ cried Miss Mowcher, ‘I’ll consent to live. Now, ducky, ducky, ducky, come to Mrs. Bond and be killed.’

This was an invitation to Steerforth to place himself under her hands; who, accordingly, sat himself down, with his back to the table, and his laughing face towards me, and submitted his head to her inspection, evidently for no other purpose than our entertainment. To see Miss Mowcher standing over him, looking at his rich profusion of brown hair through a large round magnifying glass, which she took out of her pocket, was a most amazing spectacle.

‘You’re a pretty fellow!’ said Miss Mowcher, after a brief inspection. ‘You’d be as bald as a friar on the top of your head in twelve months, but for me. Just half a minute, my young friend, and we’ll give you a polishing that shall keep your curls on for the next ten years!’

0401 

With this, she tilted some of the contents of the little bottle on to one of the little bits of flannel, and, again imparting some of the virtues of that preparation to one of the little brushes, began rubbing and scraping away with both on the crown of Steerforth’s head in the busiest manner I ever witnessed, talking all the time.

‘There’s Charley Pyegrave, the duke’s son,’ she said. ‘You know Charley?’ peeping round into his face.

‘A little,’ said Steerforth.

‘What a man HE is! THERE’S a whisker! As to Charley’s legs, if they were only a pair (which they ain’t), they’d defy competition. Would you believe he tried to do without me—in the Life-Guards, too?’

‘Mad!’ said Steerforth.

‘It looks like it. However, mad or sane, he tried,’ returned Miss Mowcher. ‘What does he do, but, lo and behold you, he goes into a perfumer’s shop, and wants to buy a bottle of the Madagascar Liquid.’

‘Charley does?’ said Steerforth.

‘Charley does. But they haven’t got any of the Madagascar Liquid.’

‘What is it? Something to drink?’ asked Steerforth.

‘To drink?’ returned Miss Mowcher, stopping to slap his cheek. ‘To doctor his own moustachios with, you know. There was a woman in the shop—elderly female—quite a Griffin—who had never even heard of it by name. “Begging pardon, sir,” said the Griffin to Charley, “it’s not—not—not ROUGE, is it?” “Rouge,” said Charley to the Griffin. “What the unmentionable to ears polite, do you think I want with rouge?” “No offence, sir,” said the Griffin; “we have it asked for by so many names, I thought it might be.” Now that, my child,’ continued Miss Mowcher, rubbing all the time as busily as ever, ‘is another instance of the refreshing humbug I was speaking of. I do something in that way myself—perhaps a good deal—perhaps a little—sharp’s the word, my dear boy—never mind!’

‘In what way do you mean? In the rouge way?’ said Steerforth.

‘Put this and that together, my tender pupil,’ returned the wary Mowcher, touching her nose, ‘work it by the rule of Secrets in all trades, and the product will give you the desired result. I say I do a little in that way myself. One Dowager, SHE calls it lip-salve. Another, SHE calls it gloves. Another, SHE calls it tucker-edging. Another, SHE calls it a fan. I call it whatever THEY call it. I supply it for ‘em, but we keep up the trick so, to one another, and make believe with such a face, that they’d as soon think of laying it on, before a whole drawing-room, as before me. And when I wait upon ‘em, they’ll say to me sometimes—WITH IT ON—thick, and no mistake—“How am I looking, Mowcher? Am I pale?” Ha! ha! ha! ha! Isn’t THAT refreshing, my young friend!’

I never did in my days behold anything like Mowcher as she stood upon the dining table, intensely enjoying this refreshment, rubbing busily at Steerforth’s head, and winking at me over it.

‘Ah!’ she said. ‘Such things are not much in demand hereabouts. That sets me off again! I haven’t seen a pretty woman since I’ve been here, jemmy.’

‘No?’ said Steerforth.

‘Not the ghost of one,’ replied Miss Mowcher.

‘We could show her the substance of one, I think?’ said Steerforth, addressing his eyes to mine. ‘Eh, Daisy?’

‘Yes, indeed,’ said I.

‘Aha?’ cried the little creature, glancing sharply at my face, and then peeping round at Steerforth’s. ‘Umph?’

The first exclamation sounded like a question put to both of us, and the second like a question put to Steerforth only. She seemed to have found no answer to either, but continued to rub, with her head on one side and her eye turned up, as if she were looking for an answer in the air and were confident of its appearing presently.

‘A sister of yours, Mr. Copperfield?’ she cried, after a pause, and still keeping the same look-out. ‘Aye, aye?’

‘No,’ said Steerforth, before I could reply. ‘Nothing of the sort. On the contrary, Mr. Copperfield used—or I am much mistaken—to have a great admiration for her.’

‘Why, hasn’t he now?’ returned Miss Mowcher. ‘Is he fickle? Oh, for shame! Did he sip every flower, and change every hour, until Polly his passion requited?—Is her name Polly?’

The Elfin suddenness with which she pounced upon me with this question, and a searching look, quite disconcerted me for a moment.

‘No, Miss Mowcher,’ I replied. ‘Her name is Emily.’

‘Aha?’ she cried exactly as before. ‘Umph? What a rattle I am! Mr. Copperfield, ain’t I volatile?’

Her tone and look implied something that was not agreeable to me in connexion with the subject. So I said, in a graver manner than any of us had yet assumed: ‘She is as virtuous as she is pretty. She is engaged to be married to a most worthy and deserving man in her own station of life. I esteem her for her good sense, as much as I admire her for her good looks.’

‘Well said!’ cried Steerforth. ‘Hear, hear, hear! Now I’ll quench the curiosity of this little Fatima, my dear Daisy, by leaving her nothing to guess at. She is at present apprenticed, Miss Mowcher, or articled, or whatever it may be, to Omer and Joram, Haberdashers, Milliners, and so forth, in this town. Do you observe? Omer and Joram. The promise of which my friend has spoken, is made and entered into with her cousin; Christian name, Ham; surname, Peggotty; occupation, boat-builder; also of this town. She lives with a relative; Christian name, unknown; surname, Peggotty; occupation, seafaring; also of this town. She is the prettiest and most engaging little fairy in the world. I admire her—as my friend does—exceedingly. If it were not that I might appear to disparage her Intended, which I know my friend would not like, I would add, that to me she seems to be throwing herself away; that I am sure she might do better; and that I swear she was born to be a lady.’

Miss Mowcher listened to these words, which were very slowly and distinctly spoken, with her head on one side, and her eye in the air as if she were still looking for that answer. When he ceased she became brisk again in an instant, and rattled away with surprising volubility.

‘Oh! And that’s all about it, is it?’ she exclaimed, trimming his whiskers with a little restless pair of scissors, that went glancing round his head in all directions. ‘Very well: very well! Quite a long story. Ought to end “and they lived happy ever afterwards”; oughtn’t it? Ah! What’s that game at forfeits? I love my love with an E, because she’s enticing; I hate her with an E, because she’s engaged. I took her to the sign of the exquisite, and treated her with an elopement, her name’s Emily, and she lives in the east? Ha! ha! ha! Mr. Copperfield, ain’t I volatile?’

Merely looking at me with extravagant slyness, and not waiting for any reply, she continued, without drawing breath:

‘There! If ever any scapegrace was trimmed and touched up to perfection, you are, Steerforth. If I understand any noddle in the world, I understand yours. Do you hear me when I tell you that, my darling? I understand yours,’ peeping down into his face. ‘Now you may mizzle, jemmy (as we say at Court), and if Mr. Copperfield will take the chair I’ll operate on him.’

‘What do you say, Daisy?’ inquired Steerforth, laughing, and resigning his seat. ‘Will you be improved?’

‘Thank you, Miss Mowcher, not this evening.’

‘Don’t say no,’ returned the little woman, looking at me with the aspect of a connoisseur; ‘a little bit more eyebrow?’

‘Thank you,’ I returned, ‘some other time.’

‘Have it carried half a quarter of an inch towards the temple,’ said Miss Mowcher. ‘We can do it in a fortnight.’

‘No, I thank you. Not at present.’

‘Go in for a tip,’ she urged. ‘No? Let’s get the scaffolding up, then, for a pair of whiskers. Come!’

I could not help blushing as I declined, for I felt we were on my weak point, now. But Miss Mowcher, finding that I was not at present disposed for any decoration within the range of her art, and that I was, for the time being, proof against the blandishments of the small bottle which she held up before one eye to enforce her persuasions, said we would make a beginning on an early day, and requested the aid of my hand to descend from her elevated station. Thus assisted, she skipped down with much agility, and began to tie her double chin into her bonnet.

‘The fee,’ said Steerforth, ‘is—’

‘Five bob,’ replied Miss Mowcher, ‘and dirt cheap, my chicken. Ain’t I volatile, Mr. Copperfield?’

I replied politely: ‘Not at all.’ But I thought she was rather so, when she tossed up his two half-crowns like a goblin pieman, caught them, dropped them in her pocket, and gave it a loud slap.

‘That’s the Till!’ observed Miss Mowcher, standing at the chair again, and replacing in the bag a miscellaneous collection of little objects she had emptied out of it. ‘Have I got all my traps? It seems so. It won’t do to be like long Ned Beadwood, when they took him to church “to marry him to somebody”, as he says, and left the bride behind. Ha! ha! ha! A wicked rascal, Ned, but droll! Now, I know I’m going to break your hearts, but I am forced to leave you. You must call up all your fortitude, and try to bear it. Good-bye, Mr. Copperfield! Take care of yourself, jockey of Norfolk! How I have been rattling on! It’s all the fault of you two wretches. I forgive you! “Bob swore!”—as the Englishman said for “Good night”, when he first learnt French, and thought it so like English. “Bob swore,” my ducks!’

With the bag slung over her arm, and rattling as she waddled away, she waddled to the door, where she stopped to inquire if she should leave us a lock of her hair. ‘Ain’t I volatile?’ she added, as a commentary on this offer, and, with her finger on her nose, departed.

Steerforth laughed to that degree, that it was impossible for me to help laughing too; though I am not sure I should have done so, but for this inducement. When we had had our laugh quite out, which was after some time, he told me that Miss Mowcher had quite an extensive connexion, and made herself useful to a variety of people in a variety of ways. Some people trifled with her as a mere oddity, he said; but she was as shrewdly and sharply observant as anyone he knew, and as long-headed as she was short-armed. He told me that what she had said of being here, and there, and everywhere, was true enough; for she made little darts into the provinces, and seemed to pick up customers everywhere, and to know everybody. I asked him what her disposition was: whether it was at all mischievous, and if her sympathies were generally on the right side of things: but, not succeeding in attracting his attention to these questions after two or three attempts, I forbore or forgot to repeat them. He told me instead, with much rapidity, a good deal about her skill, and her profits; and about her being a scientific cupper, if I should ever have occasion for her service in that capacity.

She was the principal theme of our conversation during the evening: and when we parted for the night Steerforth called after me over the banisters, ‘Bob swore!’ as I went downstairs.

I was surprised, when I came to Mr. Barkis’s house, to find Ham walking up and down in front of it, and still more surprised to learn from him that little Em’ly was inside. I naturally inquired why he was not there too, instead of pacing the streets by himself?

‘Why, you see, Mas’r Davy,’ he rejoined, in a hesitating manner, ‘Em’ly, she’s talking to some ‘un in here.’

‘I should have thought,’ said I, smiling, ‘that that was a reason for your being in here too, Ham.’

‘Well, Mas’r Davy, in a general way, so ‘t would be,’ he returned; ‘but look’ee here, Mas’r Davy,’ lowering his voice, and speaking very gravely. ‘It’s a young woman, sir—a young woman, that Em’ly knowed once, and doen’t ought to know no more.’

When I heard these words, a light began to fall upon the figure I had seen following them, some hours ago.

‘It’s a poor wurem, Mas’r Davy,’ said Ham, ‘as is trod under foot by all the town. Up street and down street. The mowld o’ the churchyard don’t hold any that the folk shrink away from, more.’

‘Did I see her tonight, Ham, on the sand, after we met you?’

‘Keeping us in sight?’ said Ham. ‘It’s like you did, Mas’r Davy. Not that I know’d then, she was theer, sir, but along of her creeping soon arterwards under Em’ly’s little winder, when she see the light come, and whispering “Em’ly, Em’ly, for Christ’s sake, have a woman’s heart towards me. I was once like you!” Those was solemn words, Mas’r Davy, fur to hear!’

‘They were indeed, Ham. What did Em’ly do?’ ‘Says Em’ly, “Martha, is it you? Oh, Martha, can it be you?”—for they had sat at work together, many a day, at Mr. Omer’s.’

‘I recollect her now!’ cried I, recalling one of the two girls I had seen when I first went there. ‘I recollect her quite well!’

‘Martha Endell,’ said Ham. ‘Two or three year older than Em’ly, but was at the school with her.’

‘I never heard her name,’ said I. ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt you.’

‘For the matter o’ that, Mas’r Davy,’ replied Ham, ‘all’s told a’most in them words, “Em’ly, Em’ly, for Christ’s sake, have a woman’s heart towards me. I was once like you!” She wanted to speak to Em’ly. Em’ly couldn’t speak to her theer, for her loving uncle was come home, and he wouldn’t—no, Mas’r Davy,’ said Ham, with great earnestness, ‘he couldn’t, kind-natur’d, tender-hearted as he is, see them two together, side by side, for all the treasures that’s wrecked in the sea.’

I felt how true this was. I knew it, on the instant, quite as well as Ham.

‘So Em’ly writes in pencil on a bit of paper,’ he pursued, ‘and gives it to her out o’ winder to bring here. “Show that,” she says, “to my aunt, Mrs. Barkis, and she’ll set you down by her fire, for the love of me, till uncle is gone out, and I can come.” By and by she tells me what I tell you, Mas’r Davy, and asks me to bring her. What can I do? She doen’t ought to know any such, but I can’t deny her, when the tears is on her face.’

He put his hand into the breast of his shaggy jacket, and took out with great care a pretty little purse.

‘And if I could deny her when the tears was on her face, Mas’r Davy,’ said Ham, tenderly adjusting it on the rough palm of his hand, ‘how could I deny her when she give me this to carry for her—knowing what she brought it for? Such a toy as it is!’ said Ham, thoughtfully looking on it. ‘With such a little money in it, Em’ly my dear.’

I shook him warmly by the hand when he had put it away again—for that was more satisfactory to me than saying anything—and we walked up and down, for a minute or two, in silence. The door opened then, and Peggotty appeared, beckoning to Ham to come in. I would have kept away, but she came after me, entreating me to come in too. Even then, I would have avoided the room where they all were, but for its being the neat-tiled kitchen I have mentioned more than once. The door opening immediately into it, I found myself among them before I considered whither I was going.

The girl—the same I had seen upon the sands—was near the fire. She was sitting on the ground, with her head and one arm lying on a chair. I fancied, from the disposition of her figure, that Em’ly had but newly risen from the chair, and that the forlorn head might perhaps have been lying on her lap. I saw but little of the girl’s face, over which her hair fell loose and scattered, as if she had been disordering it with her own hands; but I saw that she was young, and of a fair complexion. Peggotty had been crying. So had little Em’ly. Not a word was spoken when we first went in; and the Dutch clock by the dresser seemed, in the silence, to tick twice as loud as usual. Em’ly spoke first.

‘Martha wants,’ she said to Ham, ‘to go to London.’

‘Why to London?’ returned Ham.

He stood between them, looking on the prostrate girl with a mixture of compassion for her, and of jealousy of her holding any companionship with her whom he loved so well, which I have always remembered distinctly. They both spoke as if she were ill; in a soft, suppressed tone that was plainly heard, although it hardly rose above a whisper.

‘Better there than here,’ said a third voice aloud—Martha’s, though she did not move. ‘No one knows me there. Everybody knows me here.’

‘What will she do there?’ inquired Ham.

She lifted up her head, and looked darkly round at him for a moment; then laid it down again, and curved her right arm about her neck, as a woman in a fever, or in an agony of pain from a shot, might twist herself.

0411 

‘She will try to do well,’ said little Em’ly. ‘You don’t know what she has said to us. Does he—do they—aunt?’

Peggotty shook her head compassionately.

‘I’ll try,’ said Martha, ‘if you’ll help me away. I never can do worse than I have done here. I may do better. Oh!’ with a dreadful shiver, ‘take me out of these streets, where the whole town knows me from a child!’

As Em’ly held out her hand to Ham, I saw him put in it a little canvas bag. She took it, as if she thought it were her purse, and made a step or two forward; but finding her mistake, came back to where he had retired near me, and showed it to him.

‘It’s all yourn, Em’ly,’ I could hear him say. ‘I haven’t nowt in all the wureld that ain’t yourn, my dear. It ain’t of no delight to me, except for you!’

The tears rose freshly in her eyes, but she turned away and went to Martha. What she gave her, I don’t know. I saw her stooping over her, and putting money in her bosom. She whispered something, as she asked was that enough? ‘More than enough,’ the other said, and took her hand and kissed it.

Then Martha arose, and gathering her shawl about her, covering her face with it, and weeping aloud, went slowly to the door. She stopped a moment before going out, as if she would have uttered something or turned back; but no word passed her lips. Making the same low, dreary, wretched moaning in her shawl, she went away.

As the door closed, little Em’ly looked at us three in a hurried manner and then hid her face in her hands, and fell to sobbing.

‘Doen’t, Em’ly!’ said Ham, tapping her gently on the shoulder. ‘Doen’t, my dear! You doen’t ought to cry so, pretty!’

‘Oh, Ham!’ she exclaimed, still weeping pitifully, ‘I am not so good a girl as I ought to be! I know I have not the thankful heart, sometimes, I ought to have!’

‘Yes, yes, you have, I’m sure,’ said Ham.

‘No! no! no!’ cried little Em’ly, sobbing, and shaking her head. ‘I am not as good a girl as I ought to be. Not near! not near!’ And still she cried, as if her heart would break.

‘I try your love too much. I know I do!’ she sobbed. ‘I’m often cross to you, and changeable with you, when I ought to be far different. You are never so to me. Why am I ever so to you, when I should think of nothing but how to be grateful, and to make you happy!’

‘You always make me so,’ said Ham, ‘my dear! I am happy in the sight of you. I am happy, all day long, in the thoughts of you.’

‘Ah! that’s not enough!’ she cried. ‘That is because you are good; not because I am! Oh, my dear, it might have been a better fortune for you, if you had been fond of someone else—of someone steadier and much worthier than me, who was all bound up in you, and never vain and changeable like me!’

‘Poor little tender-heart,’ said Ham, in a low voice. ‘Martha has overset her, altogether.’

‘Please, aunt,’ sobbed Em’ly, ‘come here, and let me lay my head upon you. Oh, I am very miserable tonight, aunt! Oh, I am not as good a girl as I ought to be. I am not, I know!’

Peggotty had hastened to the chair before the fire. Em’ly, with her arms around her neck, kneeled by her, looking up most earnestly into her face.

‘Oh, pray, aunt, try to help me! Ham, dear, try to help me! Mr. David, for the sake of old times, do, please, try to help me! I want to be a better girl than I am. I want to feel a hundred times more thankful than I do. I want to feel more, what a blessed thing it is to be the wife of a good man, and to lead a peaceful life. Oh me, oh me! Oh my heart, my heart!’

She dropped her face on my old nurse’s breast, and, ceasing this supplication, which in its agony and grief was half a woman’s, half a child’s, as all her manner was (being, in that, more natural, and better suited to her beauty, as I thought, than any other manner could have been), wept silently, while my old nurse hushed her like an infant.

She got calmer by degrees, and then we soothed her; now talking encouragingly, and now jesting a little with her, until she began to raise her head and speak to us. So we got on, until she was able to smile, and then to laugh, and then to sit up, half ashamed; while Peggotty recalled her stray ringlets, dried her eyes, and made her neat again, lest her uncle should wonder, when she got home, why his darling had been crying.

I saw her do, that night, what I had never seen her do before. I saw her innocently kiss her chosen husband on the cheek, and creep close to his bluff form as if it were her best support. When they went away together, in the waning moonlight, and I looked after them, comparing their departure in my mind with Martha’s, I saw that she held his arm with both her hands, and still kept close to him.






CHAPTER 23. I CORROBORATE Mr. DICK, AND CHOOSE A PROFESSION

When I awoke in the morning I thought very much of little Em’ly, and her emotion last night, after Martha had left. I felt as if I had come into the knowledge of those domestic weaknesses and tendernesses in a sacred confidence, and that to disclose them, even to Steerforth, would be wrong. I had no gentler feeling towards anyone than towards the pretty creature who had been my playmate, and whom I have always been persuaded, and shall always be persuaded, to my dying day, I then devotedly loved. The repetition to any ears—even to Steerforth’s—of what she had been unable to repress when her heart lay open to me by an accident, I felt would be a rough deed, unworthy of myself, unworthy of the light of our pure childhood, which I always saw encircling her head. I made a resolution, therefore, to keep it in my own breast; and there it gave her image a new grace.

While we were at breakfast, a letter was delivered to me from my aunt. As it contained matter on which I thought Steerforth could advise me as well as anyone, and on which I knew I should be delighted to consult him, I resolved to make it a subject of discussion on our journey home. For the present we had enough to do, in taking leave of all our friends. Mr. Barkis was far from being the last among them, in his regret at our departure; and I believe would even have opened the box again, and sacrificed another guinea, if it would have kept us eight-and-forty hours in Yarmouth. Peggotty and all her family were full of grief at our going. The whole house of Omer and Joram turned out to bid us good-bye; and there were so many seafaring volunteers in attendance on Steerforth, when our portmanteaux went to the coach, that if we had had the baggage of a regiment with us, we should hardly have wanted porters to carry it. In a word, we departed to the regret and admiration of all concerned, and left a great many people very sorry behind US.

Do you stay long here, Littimer?’ said I, as he stood waiting to see the coach start.

‘No, sir,’ he replied; ‘probably not very long, sir.’

‘He can hardly say, just now,’ observed Steerforth, carelessly. ‘He knows what he has to do, and he’ll do it.’

‘That I am sure he will,’ said I.

Littimer touched his hat in acknowledgement of my good opinion, and I felt about eight years old. He touched it once more, wishing us a good journey; and we left him standing on the pavement, as respectable a mystery as any pyramid in Egypt.

For some little time we held no conversation, Steerforth being unusually silent, and I being sufficiently engaged in wondering, within myself, when I should see the old places again, and what new changes might happen to me or them in the meanwhile. At length Steerforth, becoming gay and talkative in a moment, as he could become anything he liked at any moment, pulled me by the arm:

‘Find a voice, David. What about that letter you were speaking of at breakfast?’

‘Oh!’ said I, taking it out of my pocket. ‘It’s from my aunt.’

‘And what does she say, requiring consideration?’

‘Why, she reminds me, Steerforth,’ said I, ‘that I came out on this expedition to look about me, and to think a little.’

‘Which, of course, you have done?’

‘Indeed I can’t say I have, particularly. To tell you the truth, I am afraid I have forgotten it.’

‘Well! look about you now, and make up for your negligence,’ said Steerforth. ‘Look to the right, and you’ll see a flat country, with a good deal of marsh in it; look to the left, and you’ll see the same. Look to the front, and you’ll find no difference; look to the rear, and there it is still.’ I laughed, and replied that I saw no suitable profession in the whole prospect; which was perhaps to be attributed to its flatness.

‘What says our aunt on the subject?’ inquired Steerforth, glancing at the letter in my hand. ‘Does she suggest anything?’

‘Why, yes,’ said I. ‘She asks me, here, if I think I should like to be a proctor? What do you think of it?’

‘Well, I don’t know,’ replied Steerforth, coolly. ‘You may as well do that as anything else, I suppose?’

I could not help laughing again, at his balancing all callings and professions so equally; and I told him so.

‘What is a proctor, Steerforth?’ said I.

‘Why, he is a sort of monkish attorney,’ replied Steerforth. ‘He is, to some faded courts held in Doctors’ Commons,—a lazy old nook near St. Paul’s Churchyard—what solicitors are to the courts of law and equity. He is a functionary whose existence, in the natural course of things, would have terminated about two hundred years ago. I can tell you best what he is, by telling you what Doctors’ Commons is. It’s a little out-of-the-way place, where they administer what is called ecclesiastical law, and play all kinds of tricks with obsolete old monsters of acts of Parliament, which three-fourths of the world know nothing about, and the other fourth supposes to have been dug up, in a fossil state, in the days of the Edwards. It’s a place that has an ancient monopoly in suits about people’s wills and people’s marriages, and disputes among ships and boats.’

‘Nonsense, Steerforth!’ I exclaimed. ‘You don’t mean to say that there is any affinity between nautical matters and ecclesiastical matters?’

‘I don’t, indeed, my dear boy,’ he returned; ‘but I mean to say that they are managed and decided by the same set of people, down in that same Doctors’ Commons. You shall go there one day, and find them blundering through half the nautical terms in Young’s Dictionary, apropos of the “Nancy” having run down the “Sarah Jane”, or Mr. Peggotty and the Yarmouth boatmen having put off in a gale of wind with an anchor and cable to the “Nelson” Indiaman in distress; and you shall go there another day, and find them deep in the evidence, pro and con, respecting a clergyman who has misbehaved himself; and you shall find the judge in the nautical case, the advocate in the clergyman’s case, or contrariwise. They are like actors: now a man’s a judge, and now he is not a judge; now he’s one thing, now he’s another; now he’s something else, change and change about; but it’s always a very pleasant, profitable little affair of private theatricals, presented to an uncommonly select audience.’

‘But advocates and proctors are not one and the same?’ said I, a little puzzled. ‘Are they?’

‘No,’ returned Steerforth, ‘the advocates are civilians—men who have taken a doctor’s degree at college—which is the first reason of my knowing anything about it. The proctors employ the advocates. Both get very comfortable fees, and altogether they make a mighty snug little party. On the whole, I would recommend you to take to Doctors’ Commons kindly, David. They plume themselves on their gentility there, I can tell you, if that’s any satisfaction.’

I made allowance for Steerforth’s light way of treating the subject, and, considering it with reference to the staid air of gravity and antiquity which I associated with that ‘lazy old nook near St. Paul’s Churchyard’, did not feel indisposed towards my aunt’s suggestion; which she left to my free decision, making no scruple of telling me that it had occurred to her, on her lately visiting her own proctor in Doctors’ Commons for the purpose of settling her will in my favour.

‘That’s a laudable proceeding on the part of our aunt, at all events,’ said Steerforth, when I mentioned it; ‘and one deserving of all encouragement. Daisy, my advice is that you take kindly to Doctors’ Commons.’

I quite made up my mind to do so. I then told Steerforth that my aunt was in town awaiting me (as I found from her letter), and that she had taken lodgings for a week at a kind of private hotel at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where there was a stone staircase, and a convenient door in the roof; my aunt being firmly persuaded that every house in London was going to be burnt down every night.

We achieved the rest of our journey pleasantly, sometimes recurring to Doctors’ Commons, and anticipating the distant days when I should be a proctor there, which Steerforth pictured in a variety of humorous and whimsical lights, that made us both merry. When we came to our journey’s end, he went home, engaging to call upon me next day but one; and I drove to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where I found my aunt up, and waiting supper.

If I had been round the world since we parted, we could hardly have been better pleased to meet again. My aunt cried outright as she embraced me; and said, pretending to laugh, that if my poor mother had been alive, that silly little creature would have shed tears, she had no doubt.

‘So you have left Mr. Dick behind, aunt?’ said I. ‘I am sorry for that. Ah, Janet, how do you do?’

As Janet curtsied, hoping I was well, I observed my aunt’s visage lengthen very much.

‘I am sorry for it, too,’ said my aunt, rubbing her nose. ‘I have had no peace of mind, Trot, since I have been here.’ Before I could ask why, she told me.

‘I am convinced,’ said my aunt, laying her hand with melancholy firmness on the table, ‘that Dick’s character is not a character to keep the donkeys off. I am confident he wants strength of purpose. I ought to have left Janet at home, instead, and then my mind might perhaps have been at ease. If ever there was a donkey trespassing on my green,’ said my aunt, with emphasis, ‘there was one this afternoon at four o’clock. A cold feeling came over me from head to foot, and I know it was a donkey!’

I tried to comfort her on this point, but she rejected consolation.

‘It was a donkey,’ said my aunt; ‘and it was the one with the stumpy tail which that Murdering sister of a woman rode, when she came to my house.’ This had been, ever since, the only name my aunt knew for Miss Murdstone. ‘If there is any Donkey in Dover, whose audacity it is harder to me to bear than another’s, that,’ said my aunt, striking the table, ‘is the animal!’

Janet ventured to suggest that my aunt might be disturbing herself unnecessarily, and that she believed the donkey in question was then engaged in the sand-and-gravel line of business, and was not available for purposes of trespass. But my aunt wouldn’t hear of it.

Supper was comfortably served and hot, though my aunt’s rooms were very high up—whether that she might have more stone stairs for her money, or might be nearer to the door in the roof, I don’t know—and consisted of a roast fowl, a steak, and some vegetables, to all of which I did ample justice, and which were all excellent. But my aunt had her own ideas concerning London provision, and ate but little.

‘I suppose this unfortunate fowl was born and brought up in a cellar,’ said my aunt, ‘and never took the air except on a hackney coach-stand. I hope the steak may be beef, but I don’t believe it. Nothing’s genuine in the place, in my opinion, but the dirt.’

‘Don’t you think the fowl may have come out of the country, aunt?’ I hinted.

‘Certainly not,’ returned my aunt. ‘It would be no pleasure to a London tradesman to sell anything which was what he pretended it was.’

I did not venture to controvert this opinion, but I made a good supper, which it greatly satisfied her to see me do. When the table was cleared, Janet assisted her to arrange her hair, to put on her nightcap, which was of a smarter construction than usual (‘in case of fire’, my aunt said), and to fold her gown back over her knees, these being her usual preparations for warming herself before going to bed. I then made her, according to certain established regulations from which no deviation, however slight, could ever be permitted, a glass of hot wine and water, and a slice of toast cut into long thin strips. With these accompaniments we were left alone to finish the evening, my aunt sitting opposite to me drinking her wine and water; soaking her strips of toast in it, one by one, before eating them; and looking benignantly on me, from among the borders of her nightcap.

‘Well, Trot,’ she began, ‘what do you think of the proctor plan? Or have you not begun to think about it yet?’

‘I have thought a good deal about it, my dear aunt, and I have talked a good deal about it with Steerforth. I like it very much indeed. I like it exceedingly.’

‘Come!’ said my aunt. ‘That’s cheering!’

‘I have only one difficulty, aunt.’

‘Say what it is, Trot,’ she returned.

‘Why, I want to ask, aunt, as this seems, from what I understand, to be a limited profession, whether my entrance into it would not be very expensive?’

‘It will cost,’ returned my aunt, ‘to article you, just a thousand pounds.’

‘Now, my dear aunt,’ said I, drawing my chair nearer, ‘I am uneasy in my mind about that. It’s a large sum of money. You have expended a great deal on my education, and have always been as liberal to me in all things as it was possible to be. You have been the soul of generosity. Surely there are some ways in which I might begin life with hardly any outlay, and yet begin with a good hope of getting on by resolution and exertion. Are you sure that it would not be better to try that course? Are you certain that you can afford to part with so much money, and that it is right that it should be so expended? I only ask you, my second mother, to consider. Are you certain?’

My aunt finished eating the piece of toast on which she was then engaged, looking me full in the face all the while; and then setting her glass on the chimney-piece, and folding her hands upon her folded skirts, replied as follows:

‘Trot, my child, if I have any object in life, it is to provide for your being a good, a sensible, and a happy man. I am bent upon it—so is Dick. I should like some people that I know to hear Dick’s conversation on the subject. Its sagacity is wonderful. But no one knows the resources of that man’s intellect, except myself!’

She stopped for a moment to take my hand between hers, and went on:

‘It’s in vain, Trot, to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present. Perhaps I might have been better friends with your poor father. Perhaps I might have been better friends with that poor child your mother, even after your sister Betsey Trotwood disappointed me. When you came to me, a little runaway boy, all dusty and way-worn, perhaps I thought so. From that time until now, Trot, you have ever been a credit to me and a pride and a pleasure. I have no other claim upon my means; at least’—here to my surprise she hesitated, and was confused—‘no, I have no other claim upon my means—and you are my adopted child. Only be a loving child to me in my age, and bear with my whims and fancies; and you will do more for an old woman whose prime of life was not so happy or conciliating as it might have been, than ever that old woman did for you.’

It was the first time I had heard my aunt refer to her past history. There was a magnanimity in her quiet way of doing so, and of dismissing it, which would have exalted her in my respect and affection, if anything could.

‘All is agreed and understood between us, now, Trot,’ said my aunt, ‘and we need talk of this no more. Give me a kiss, and we’ll go to the Commons after breakfast tomorrow.’

We had a long chat by the fire before we went to bed. I slept in a room on the same floor with my aunt’s, and was a little disturbed in the course of the night by her knocking at my door as often as she was agitated by a distant sound of hackney-coaches or market-carts, and inquiring, ‘if I heard the engines?’ But towards morning she slept better, and suffered me to do so too.

At about mid-day, we set out for the office of Messrs Spenlow and Jorkins, in Doctors’ Commons. My aunt, who had this other general opinion in reference to London, that every man she saw was a pickpocket, gave me her purse to carry for her, which had ten guineas in it and some silver.

We made a pause at the toy shop in Fleet Street, to see the giants of Saint Dunstan’s strike upon the bells—we had timed our going, so as to catch them at it, at twelve o’clock—and then went on towards Ludgate Hill, and St. Paul’s Churchyard. We were crossing to the former place, when I found that my aunt greatly accelerated her speed, and looked frightened. I observed, at the same time, that a lowering ill-dressed man who had stopped and stared at us in passing, a little before, was coming so close after us as to brush against her.

‘Trot! My dear Trot!’ cried my aunt, in a terrified whisper, and pressing my arm. ‘I don’t know what I am to do.’

‘Don’t be alarmed,’ said I. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of. Step into a shop, and I’ll soon get rid of this fellow.’

‘No, no, child!’ she returned. ‘Don’t speak to him for the world. I entreat, I order you!’

‘Good Heaven, aunt!’ said I. ‘He is nothing but a sturdy beggar.’

‘You don’t know what he is!’ replied my aunt. ‘You don’t know who he is! You don’t know what you say!’

We had stopped in an empty door-way, while this was passing, and he had stopped too.

‘Don’t look at him!’ said my aunt, as I turned my head indignantly, ‘but get me a coach, my dear, and wait for me in St. Paul’s Churchyard.’

‘Wait for you?’ I replied.

‘Yes,’ rejoined my aunt. ‘I must go alone. I must go with him.’

‘With him, aunt? This man?’

‘I am in my senses,’ she replied, ‘and I tell you I must. Get me a coach!’

However much astonished I might be, I was sensible that I had no right to refuse compliance with such a peremptory command. I hurried away a few paces, and called a hackney-chariot which was passing empty. Almost before I could let down the steps, my aunt sprang in, I don’t know how, and the man followed. She waved her hand to me to go away, so earnestly, that, all confounded as I was, I turned from them at once. In doing so, I heard her say to the coachman, ‘Drive anywhere! Drive straight on!’ and presently the chariot passed me, going up the hill.

What Mr. Dick had told me, and what I had supposed to be a delusion of his, now came into my mind. I could not doubt that this person was the person of whom he had made such mysterious mention, though what the nature of his hold upon my aunt could possibly be, I was quite unable to imagine. After half an hour’s cooling in the churchyard, I saw the chariot coming back. The driver stopped beside me, and my aunt was sitting in it alone.

She had not yet sufficiently recovered from her agitation to be quite prepared for the visit we had to make. She desired me to get into the chariot, and to tell the coachman to drive slowly up and down a little while. She said no more, except, ‘My dear child, never ask me what it was, and don’t refer to it,’ until she had perfectly regained her composure, when she told me she was quite herself now, and we might get out. On her giving me her purse to pay the driver, I found that all the guineas were gone, and only the loose silver remained.

Doctors’ Commons was approached by a little low archway. Before we had taken many paces down the street beyond it, the noise of the city seemed to melt, as if by magic, into a softened distance. A few dull courts and narrow ways brought us to the sky-lighted offices of Spenlow and Jorkins; in the vestibule of which temple, accessible to pilgrims without the ceremony of knocking, three or four clerks were at work as copyists. One of these, a little dry man, sitting by himself, who wore a stiff brown wig that looked as if it were made of gingerbread, rose to receive my aunt, and show us into Mr. Spenlow’s room.

‘Mr. Spenlow’s in Court, ma’am,’ said the dry man; ‘it’s an Arches day; but it’s close by, and I’ll send for him directly.’

As we were left to look about us while Mr. Spenlow was fetched, I availed myself of the opportunity. The furniture of the room was old-fashioned and dusty; and the green baize on the top of the writing-table had lost all its colour, and was as withered and pale as an old pauper. There were a great many bundles of papers on it, some endorsed as Allegations, and some (to my surprise) as Libels, and some as being in the Consistory Court, and some in the Arches Court, and some in the Prerogative Court, and some in the Admiralty Court, and some in the Delegates’ Court; giving me occasion to wonder much, how many Courts there might be in the gross, and how long it would take to understand them all. Besides these, there were sundry immense manuscript Books of Evidence taken on affidavit, strongly bound, and tied together in massive sets, a set to each cause, as if every cause were a history in ten or twenty volumes. All this looked tolerably expensive, I thought, and gave me an agreeable notion of a proctor’s business. I was casting my eyes with increasing complacency over these and many similar objects, when hasty footsteps were heard in the room outside, and Mr. Spenlow, in a black gown trimmed with white fur, came hurrying in, taking off his hat as he came.

He was a little light-haired gentleman, with undeniable boots, and the stiffest of white cravats and shirt-collars. He was buttoned up, mighty trim and tight, and must have taken a great deal of pains with his whiskers, which were accurately curled. His gold watch-chain was so massive, that a fancy came across me, that he ought to have a sinewy golden arm, to draw it out with, like those which are put up over the goldbeaters’ shops. He was got up with such care, and was so stiff, that he could hardly bend himself; being obliged, when he glanced at some papers on his desk, after sitting down in his chair, to move his whole body, from the bottom of his spine, like Punch.

I had previously been presented by my aunt, and had been courteously received. He now said:

‘And so, Mr. Copperfield, you think of entering into our profession? I casually mentioned to Miss Trotwood, when I had the pleasure of an interview with her the other day,’—with another inclination of his body—Punch again—‘that there was a vacancy here. Miss Trotwood was good enough to mention that she had a nephew who was her peculiar care, and for whom she was seeking to provide genteelly in life. That nephew, I believe, I have now the pleasure of’—Punch again. I bowed my acknowledgements, and said, my aunt had mentioned to me that there was that opening, and that I believed I should like it very much. That I was strongly inclined to like it, and had taken immediately to the proposal. That I could not absolutely pledge myself to like it, until I knew something more about it. That although it was little else than a matter of form, I presumed I should have an opportunity of trying how I liked it, before I bound myself to it irrevocably.

‘Oh surely! surely!’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘We always, in this house, propose a month—an initiatory month. I should be happy, myself, to propose two months—three—an indefinite period, in fact—but I have a partner. Mr. Jorkins.’

‘And the premium, sir,’ I returned, ‘is a thousand pounds?’

‘And the premium, Stamp included, is a thousand pounds,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘As I have mentioned to Miss Trotwood, I am actuated by no mercenary considerations; few men are less so, I believe; but Mr. Jorkins has his opinions on these subjects, and I am bound to respect Mr. Jorkins’s opinions. Mr. Jorkins thinks a thousand pounds too little, in short.’

‘I suppose, sir,’ said I, still desiring to spare my aunt, ‘that it is not the custom here, if an articled clerk were particularly useful, and made himself a perfect master of his profession’—I could not help blushing, this looked so like praising myself—‘I suppose it is not the custom, in the later years of his time, to allow him any—’

Mr. Spenlow, by a great effort, just lifted his head far enough out of his cravat to shake it, and answered, anticipating the word ‘salary’:

‘No. I will not say what consideration I might give to that point myself, Mr. Copperfield, if I were unfettered. Mr. Jorkins is immovable.’

I was quite dismayed by the idea of this terrible Jorkins. But I found out afterwards that he was a mild man of a heavy temperament, whose place in the business was to keep himself in the background, and be constantly exhibited by name as the most obdurate and ruthless of men. If a clerk wanted his salary raised, Mr. Jorkins wouldn’t listen to such a proposition. If a client were slow to settle his bill of costs, Mr. Jorkins was resolved to have it paid; and however painful these things might be (and always were) to the feelings of Mr. Spenlow, Mr. Jorkins would have his bond. The heart and hand of the good angel Spenlow would have been always open, but for the restraining demon Jorkins. As I have grown older, I think I have had experience of some other houses doing business on the principle of Spenlow and Jorkins!

It was settled that I should begin my month’s probation as soon as I pleased, and that my aunt need neither remain in town nor return at its expiration, as the articles of agreement, of which I was to be the subject, could easily be sent to her at home for her signature. When we had got so far, Mr. Spenlow offered to take me into Court then and there, and show me what sort of place it was. As I was willing enough to know, we went out with this object, leaving my aunt behind; who would trust herself, she said, in no such place, and who, I think, regarded all Courts of Law as a sort of powder-mills that might blow up at any time.

Mr. Spenlow conducted me through a paved courtyard formed of grave brick houses, which I inferred, from the Doctors’ names upon the doors, to be the official abiding-places of the learned advocates of whom Steerforth had told me; and into a large dull room, not unlike a chapel to my thinking, on the left hand. The upper part of this room was fenced off from the rest; and there, on the two sides of a raised platform of the horse-shoe form, sitting on easy old-fashioned dining-room chairs, were sundry gentlemen in red gowns and grey wigs, whom I found to be the Doctors aforesaid. Blinking over a little desk like a pulpit-desk, in the curve of the horse-shoe, was an old gentleman, whom, if I had seen him in an aviary, I should certainly have taken for an owl, but who, I learned, was the presiding judge. In the space within the horse-shoe, lower than these, that is to say, on about the level of the floor, were sundry other gentlemen, of Mr. Spenlow’s rank, and dressed like him in black gowns with white fur upon them, sitting at a long green table. Their cravats were in general stiff, I thought, and their looks haughty; but in this last respect I presently conceived I had done them an injustice, for when two or three of them had to rise and answer a question of the presiding dignitary, I never saw anything more sheepish. The public, represented by a boy with a comforter, and a shabby-genteel man secretly eating crumbs out of his coat pockets, was warming itself at a stove in the centre of the Court. The languid stillness of the place was only broken by the chirping of this fire and by the voice of one of the Doctors, who was wandering slowly through a perfect library of evidence, and stopping to put up, from time to time, at little roadside inns of argument on the journey. Altogether, I have never, on any occasion, made one at such a cosey, dosey, old-fashioned, time-forgotten, sleepy-headed little family-party in all my life; and I felt it would be quite a soothing opiate to belong to it in any character—except perhaps as a suitor.

Very well satisfied with the dreamy nature of this retreat, I informed Mr. Spenlow that I had seen enough for that time, and we rejoined my aunt; in company with whom I presently departed from the Commons, feeling very young when I went out of Spenlow and Jorkins’s, on account of the clerks poking one another with their pens to point me out.

We arrived at Lincoln’s Inn Fields without any new adventures, except encountering an unlucky donkey in a costermonger’s cart, who suggested painful associations to my aunt. We had another long talk about my plans, when we were safely housed; and as I knew she was anxious to get home, and, between fire, food, and pickpockets, could never be considered at her ease for half-an-hour in London, I urged her not to be uncomfortable on my account, but to leave me to take care of myself.

‘I have not been here a week tomorrow, without considering that too, my dear,’ she returned. ‘There is a furnished little set of chambers to be let in the Adelphi, Trot, which ought to suit you to a marvel.’

With this brief introduction, she produced from her pocket an advertisement, carefully cut out of a newspaper, setting forth that in Buckingham Street in the Adelphi there was to be let furnished, with a view of the river, a singularly desirable, and compact set of chambers, forming a genteel residence for a young gentleman, a member of one of the Inns of Court, or otherwise, with immediate possession. Terms moderate, and could be taken for a month only, if required.

‘Why, this is the very thing, aunt!’ said I, flushed with the possible dignity of living in chambers.

‘Then come,’ replied my aunt, immediately resuming the bonnet she had a minute before laid aside. ‘We’ll go and look at ‘em.’

Away we went. The advertisement directed us to apply to Mrs. Crupp on the premises, and we rung the area bell, which we supposed to communicate with Mrs. Crupp. It was not until we had rung three or four times that we could prevail on Mrs. Crupp to communicate with us, but at last she appeared, being a stout lady with a flounce of flannel petticoat below a nankeen gown.

‘Let us see these chambers of yours, if you please, ma’am,’ said my aunt.

‘For this gentleman?’ said Mrs. Crupp, feeling in her pocket for her keys.

‘Yes, for my nephew,’ said my aunt.

‘And a sweet set they is for sich!’ said Mrs. Crupp.

So we went upstairs.

They were on the top of the house—a great point with my aunt, being near the fire-escape—and consisted of a little half-blind entry where you could see hardly anything, a little stone-blind pantry where you could see nothing at all, a sitting-room, and a bedroom. The furniture was rather faded, but quite good enough for me; and, sure enough, the river was outside the windows.

As I was delighted with the place, my aunt and Mrs. Crupp withdrew into the pantry to discuss the terms, while I remained on the sitting-room sofa, hardly daring to think it possible that I could be destined to live in such a noble residence. After a single combat of some duration they returned, and I saw, to my joy, both in Mrs. Crupp’s countenance and in my aunt’s, that the deed was done.

‘Is it the last occupant’s furniture?’ inquired my aunt.

‘Yes, it is, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Crupp.

‘What’s become of him?’ asked my aunt.

Mrs. Crupp was taken with a troublesome cough, in the midst of which she articulated with much difficulty. ‘He was took ill here, ma’am, and—ugh! ugh! ugh! dear me!—and he died!’

‘Hey! What did he die of?’ asked my aunt.

‘Well, ma’am, he died of drink,’ said Mrs. Crupp, in confidence. ‘And smoke.’

‘Smoke? You don’t mean chimneys?’ said my aunt.

‘No, ma’am,’ returned Mrs. Crupp. ‘Cigars and pipes.’

‘That’s not catching, Trot, at any rate,’ remarked my aunt, turning to me.

‘No, indeed,’ said I.

In short, my aunt, seeing how enraptured I was with the premises, took them for a month, with leave to remain for twelve months when that time was out. Mrs. Crupp was to find linen, and to cook; every other necessary was already provided; and Mrs. Crupp expressly intimated that she should always yearn towards me as a son. I was to take possession the day after tomorrow, and Mrs. Crupp said, thank Heaven she had now found summun she could care for!

On our way back, my aunt informed me how she confidently trusted that the life I was now to lead would make me firm and self-reliant, which was all I wanted. She repeated this several times next day, in the intervals of our arranging for the transmission of my clothes and books from Mr. Wickfield’s; relative to which, and to all my late holiday, I wrote a long letter to Agnes, of which my aunt took charge, as she was to leave on the succeeding day. Not to lengthen these particulars, I need only add, that she made a handsome provision for all my possible wants during my month of trial; that Steerforth, to my great disappointment and hers too, did not make his appearance before she went away; that I saw her safely seated in the Dover coach, exulting in the coming discomfiture of the vagrant donkeys, with Janet at her side; and that when the coach was gone, I turned my face to the Adelphi, pondering on the old days when I used to roam about its subterranean arches, and on the happy changes which had brought me to the surface.






CHAPTER 24. MY FIRST DISSIPATION

It was a wonderfully fine thing to have that lofty castle to myself, and to feel, when I shut my outer door, like Robinson Crusoe, when he had got into his fortification, and pulled his ladder up after him. It was a wonderfully fine thing to walk about town with the key of my house in my pocket, and to know that I could ask any fellow to come home, and make quite sure of its being inconvenient to nobody, if it were not so to me. It was a wonderfully fine thing to let myself in and out, and to come and go without a word to anyone, and to ring Mrs. Crupp up, gasping, from the depths of the earth, when I wanted her—and when she was disposed to come. All this, I say, was wonderfully fine; but I must say, too, that there were times when it was very dreary.

It was fine in the morning, particularly in the fine mornings. It looked a very fresh, free life, by daylight: still fresher, and more free, by sunlight. But as the day declined, the life seemed to go down too. I don’t know how it was; it seldom looked well by candle-light. I wanted somebody to talk to, then. I missed Agnes. I found a tremendous blank, in the place of that smiling repository of my confidence. Mrs. Crupp appeared to be a long way off. I thought about my predecessor, who had died of drink and smoke; and I could have wished he had been so good as to live, and not bother me with his decease.

After two days and nights, I felt as if I had lived there for a year, and yet I was not an hour older, but was quite as much tormented by my own youthfulness as ever.

Steerforth not yet appearing, which induced me to apprehend that he must be ill, I left the Commons early on the third day, and walked out to Highgate. Mrs. Steerforth was very glad to see me, and said that he had gone away with one of his Oxford friends to see another who lived near St. Albans, but that she expected him to return tomorrow. I was so fond of him, that I felt quite jealous of his Oxford friends.

As she pressed me to stay to dinner, I remained, and I believe we talked about nothing but him all day. I told her how much the people liked him at Yarmouth, and what a delightful companion he had been. Miss Dartle was full of hints and mysterious questions, but took a great interest in all our proceedings there, and said, ‘Was it really though?’ and so forth, so often, that she got everything out of me she wanted to know. Her appearance was exactly what I have described it, when I first saw her; but the society of the two ladies was so agreeable, and came so natural to me, that I felt myself falling a little in love with her. I could not help thinking, several times in the course of the evening, and particularly when I walked home at night, what delightful company she would be in Buckingham Street.

I was taking my coffee and roll in the morning, before going to the Commons—and I may observe in this place that it is surprising how much coffee Mrs. Crupp used, and how weak it was, considering—when Steerforth himself walked in, to my unbounded joy.

‘My dear Steerforth,’ cried I, ‘I began to think I should never see you again!’

‘I was carried off, by force of arms,’ said Steerforth, ‘the very next morning after I got home. Why, Daisy, what a rare old bachelor you are here!’

I showed him over the establishment, not omitting the pantry, with no little pride, and he commended it highly. ‘I tell you what, old boy,’ he added, ‘I shall make quite a town-house of this place, unless you give me notice to quit.’

This was a delightful hearing. I told him if he waited for that, he would have to wait till doomsday.

‘But you shall have some breakfast!’ said I, with my hand on the bell-rope, ‘and Mrs. Crupp shall make you some fresh coffee, and I’ll toast you some bacon in a bachelor’s Dutch-oven, that I have got here.’

‘No, no!’ said Steerforth. ‘Don’t ring! I can’t! I am going to breakfast with one of these fellows who is at the Piazza Hotel, in Covent Garden.’

‘But you’ll come back to dinner?’ said I.

‘I can’t, upon my life. There’s nothing I should like better, but I must remain with these two fellows. We are all three off together tomorrow morning.’

‘Then bring them here to dinner,’ I returned. ‘Do you think they would come?’

‘Oh! they would come fast enough,’ said Steerforth; ‘but we should inconvenience you. You had better come and dine with us somewhere.’

I would not by any means consent to this, for it occurred to me that I really ought to have a little house-warming, and that there never could be a better opportunity. I had a new pride in my rooms after his approval of them, and burned with a desire to develop their utmost resources. I therefore made him promise positively in the names of his two friends, and we appointed six o’clock as the dinner-hour.

When he was gone, I rang for Mrs. Crupp, and acquainted her with my desperate design. Mrs. Crupp said, in the first place, of course it was well known she couldn’t be expected to wait, but she knew a handy young man, who she thought could be prevailed upon to do it, and whose terms would be five shillings, and what I pleased. I said, certainly we would have him. Next Mrs. Crupp said it was clear she couldn’t be in two places at once (which I felt to be reasonable), and that ‘a young gal’ stationed in the pantry with a bedroom candle, there never to desist from washing plates, would be indispensable. I said, what would be the expense of this young female? and Mrs. Crupp said she supposed eighteenpence would neither make me nor break me. I said I supposed not; and THAT was settled. Then Mrs. Crupp said, Now about the dinner.

It was a remarkable instance of want of forethought on the part of the ironmonger who had made Mrs. Crupp’s kitchen fireplace, that it was capable of cooking nothing but chops and mashed potatoes. As to a fish-kittle, Mrs. Crupp said, well! would I only come and look at the range? She couldn’t say fairer than that. Would I come and look at it? As I should not have been much the wiser if I HAD looked at it, I declined, and said, ‘Never mind fish.’ But Mrs. Crupp said, Don’t say that; oysters was in, why not them? So THAT was settled. Mrs. Crupp then said what she would recommend would be this. A pair of hot roast fowls—from the pastry-cook’s; a dish of stewed beef, with vegetables—from the pastry-cook’s; two little corner things, as a raised pie and a dish of kidneys—from the pastrycook’s; a tart, and (if I liked) a shape of jelly—from the pastrycook’s. This, Mrs. Crupp said, would leave her at full liberty to concentrate her mind on the potatoes, and to serve up the cheese and celery as she could wish to see it done.

I acted on Mrs. Crupp’s opinion, and gave the order at the pastry-cook’s myself. Walking along the Strand, afterwards, and observing a hard mottled substance in the window of a ham and beef shop, which resembled marble, but was labelled ‘Mock Turtle’, I went in and bought a slab of it, which I have since seen reason to believe would have sufficed for fifteen people. This preparation, Mrs. Crupp, after some difficulty, consented to warm up; and it shrunk so much in a liquid state, that we found it what Steerforth called ‘rather a tight fit’ for four.

These preparations happily completed, I bought a little dessert in Covent Garden Market, and gave a rather extensive order at a retail wine-merchant’s in that vicinity. When I came home in the afternoon, and saw the bottles drawn up in a square on the pantry floor, they looked so numerous (though there were two missing, which made Mrs. Crupp very uncomfortable), that I was absolutely frightened at them.

One of Steerforth’s friends was named Grainger, and the other Markham. They were both very gay and lively fellows; Grainger, something older than Steerforth; Markham, youthful-looking, and I should say not more than twenty. I observed that the latter always spoke of himself indefinitely, as ‘a man’, and seldom or never in the first person singular.

‘A man might get on very well here, Mr. Copperfield,’ said Markham—meaning himself.

‘It’s not a bad situation,’ said I, ‘and the rooms are really commodious.’

‘I hope you have both brought appetites with you?’ said Steerforth.

‘Upon my honour,’ returned Markham, ‘town seems to sharpen a man’s appetite. A man is hungry all day long. A man is perpetually eating.’

Being a little embarrassed at first, and feeling much too young to preside, I made Steerforth take the head of the table when dinner was announced, and seated myself opposite to him. Everything was very good; we did not spare the wine; and he exerted himself so brilliantly to make the thing pass off well, that there was no pause in our festivity. I was not quite such good company during dinner as I could have wished to be, for my chair was opposite the door, and my attention was distracted by observing that the handy young man went out of the room very often, and that his shadow always presented itself, immediately afterwards, on the wall of the entry, with a bottle at its mouth. The ‘young gal’ likewise occasioned me some uneasiness: not so much by neglecting to wash the plates, as by breaking them. For being of an inquisitive disposition, and unable to confine herself (as her positive instructions were) to the pantry, she was constantly peering in at us, and constantly imagining herself detected; in which belief, she several times retired upon the plates (with which she had carefully paved the floor), and did a great deal of destruction.

These, however, were small drawbacks, and easily forgotten when the cloth was cleared, and the dessert put on the table; at which period of the entertainment the handy young man was discovered to be speechless. Giving him private directions to seek the society of Mrs. Crupp, and to remove the ‘young gal’ to the basement also, I abandoned myself to enjoyment.

I began, by being singularly cheerful and light-hearted; all sorts of half-forgotten things to talk about, came rushing into my mind, and made me hold forth in a most unwonted manner. I laughed heartily at my own jokes, and everybody else’s; called Steerforth to order for not passing the wine; made several engagements to go to Oxford; announced that I meant to have a dinner-party exactly like that, once a week, until further notice; and madly took so much snuff out of Grainger’s box, that I was obliged to go into the pantry, and have a private fit of sneezing ten minutes long.

I went on, by passing the wine faster and faster yet, and continually starting up with a corkscrew to open more wine, long before any was needed. I proposed Steerforth’s health. I said he was my dearest friend, the protector of my boyhood, and the companion of my prime. I said I was delighted to propose his health. I said I owed him more obligations than I could ever repay, and held him in a higher admiration than I could ever express. I finished by saying, ‘I’ll give you Steerforth! God bless him! Hurrah!’ We gave him three times three, and another, and a good one to finish with. I broke my glass in going round the table to shake hands with him, and I said (in two words)

‘Steerforth—you’retheguidingstarofmyexistence.’

I went on, by finding suddenly that somebody was in the middle of a song. Markham was the singer, and he sang ‘When the heart of a man is depressed with care’. He said, when he had sung it, he would give us ‘Woman!’ I took objection to that, and I couldn’t allow it. I said it was not a respectful way of proposing the toast, and I would never permit that toast to be drunk in my house otherwise than as ‘The Ladies!’ I was very high with him, mainly I think because I saw Steerforth and Grainger laughing at me—or at him—or at both of us. He said a man was not to be dictated to. I said a man was. He said a man was not to be insulted, then. I said he was right there—never under my roof, where the Lares were sacred, and the laws of hospitality paramount. He said it was no derogation from a man’s dignity to confess that I was a devilish good fellow. I instantly proposed his health.

Somebody was smoking. We were all smoking. I was smoking, and trying to suppress a rising tendency to shudder. Steerforth had made a speech about me, in the course of which I had been affected almost to tears. I returned thanks, and hoped the present company would dine with me tomorrow, and the day after—each day at five o’clock, that we might enjoy the pleasures of conversation and society through a long evening. I felt called upon to propose an individual. I would give them my aunt. Miss Betsey Trotwood, the best of her sex!

Somebody was leaning out of my bedroom window, refreshing his forehead against the cool stone of the parapet, and feeling the air upon his face. It was myself. I was addressing myself as ‘Copperfield’, and saying, ‘Why did you try to smoke? You might have known you couldn’t do it.’ Now, somebody was unsteadily contemplating his features in the looking-glass. That was I too. I was very pale in the looking-glass; my eyes had a vacant appearance; and my hair—only my hair, nothing else—looked drunk.

Somebody said to me, ‘Let us go to the theatre, Copperfield!’ There was no bedroom before me, but again the jingling table covered with glasses; the lamp; Grainger on my right hand, Markham on my left, and Steerforth opposite—all sitting in a mist, and a long way off. The theatre? To be sure. The very thing. Come along! But they must excuse me if I saw everybody out first, and turned the lamp off—in case of fire.

Owing to some confusion in the dark, the door was gone. I was feeling for it in the window-curtains, when Steerforth, laughing, took me by the arm and led me out. We went downstairs, one behind another. Near the bottom, somebody fell, and rolled down. Somebody else said it was Copperfield. I was angry at that false report, until, finding myself on my back in the passage, I began to think there might be some foundation for it.

A very foggy night, with great rings round the lamps in the streets! There was an indistinct talk of its being wet. I considered it frosty. Steerforth dusted me under a lamp-post, and put my hat into shape, which somebody produced from somewhere in a most extraordinary manner, for I hadn’t had it on before. Steerforth then said, ‘You are all right, Copperfield, are you not?’ and I told him, ‘Neverberrer.’

A man, sitting in a pigeon-hole-place, looked out of the fog, and took money from somebody, inquiring if I was one of the gentlemen paid for, and appearing rather doubtful (as I remember in the glimpse I had of him) whether to take the money for me or not. Shortly afterwards, we were very high up in a very hot theatre, looking down into a large pit, that seemed to me to smoke; the people with whom it was crammed were so indistinct. There was a great stage, too, looking very clean and smooth after the streets; and there were people upon it, talking about something or other, but not at all intelligibly. There was an abundance of bright lights, and there was music, and there were ladies down in the boxes, and I don’t know what more. The whole building looked to me as if it were learning to swim; it conducted itself in such an unaccountable manner, when I tried to steady it.

On somebody’s motion, we resolved to go downstairs to the dress-boxes, where the ladies were. A gentleman lounging, full dressed, on a sofa, with an opera-glass in his hand, passed before my view, and also my own figure at full length in a glass. Then I was being ushered into one of these boxes, and found myself saying something as I sat down, and people about me crying ‘Silence!’ to somebody, and ladies casting indignant glances at me, and—what! yes!—Agnes, sitting on the seat before me, in the same box, with a lady and gentleman beside her, whom I didn’t know. I see her face now, better than I did then, I dare say, with its indelible look of regret and wonder turned upon me.

‘Agnes!’ I said, thickly, ‘Lorblessmer! Agnes!’

‘Hush! Pray!’ she answered, I could not conceive why. ‘You disturb the company. Look at the stage!’

I tried, on her injunction, to fix it, and to hear something of what was going on there, but quite in vain. I looked at her again by and by, and saw her shrink into her corner, and put her gloved hand to her forehead.

‘Agnes!’ I said. ‘I’mafraidyou’renorwell.’

‘Yes, yes. Do not mind me, Trotwood,’ she returned. ‘Listen! Are you going away soon?’

‘Amigoarawaysoo?’ I repeated.

‘Yes.’

I had a stupid intention of replying that I was going to wait, to hand her downstairs. I suppose I expressed it, somehow; for after she had looked at me attentively for a little while, she appeared to understand, and replied in a low tone:

‘I know you will do as I ask you, if I tell you I am very earnest in it. Go away now, Trotwood, for my sake, and ask your friends to take you home.’

She had so far improved me, for the time, that though I was angry with her, I felt ashamed, and with a short ‘Goori!’ (which I intended for ‘Good night!’) got up and went away. They followed, and I stepped at once out of the box-door into my bedroom, where only Steerforth was with me, helping me to undress, and where I was by turns telling him that Agnes was my sister, and adjuring him to bring the corkscrew, that I might open another bottle of wine.

How somebody, lying in my bed, lay saying and doing all this over again, at cross purposes, in a feverish dream all night—the bed a rocking sea that was never still! How, as that somebody slowly settled down into myself, did I begin to parch, and feel as if my outer covering of skin were a hard board; my tongue the bottom of an empty kettle, furred with long service, and burning up over a slow fire; the palms of my hands, hot plates of metal which no ice could cool!

But the agony of mind, the remorse, and shame I felt when I became conscious next day! My horror of having committed a thousand offences I had forgotten, and which nothing could ever expiate—my recollection of that indelible look which Agnes had given me—the torturing impossibility of communicating with her, not knowing, Beast that I was, how she came to be in London, or where she stayed—my disgust of the very sight of the room where the revel had been held—my racking head—the smell of smoke, the sight of glasses, the impossibility of going out, or even getting up! Oh, what a day it was!

Oh, what an evening, when I sat down by my fire to a basin of mutton broth, dimpled all over with fat, and thought I was going the way of my predecessor, and should succeed to his dismal story as well as to his chambers, and had half a mind to rush express to Dover and reveal all! What an evening, when Mrs. Crupp, coming in to take away the broth-basin, produced one kidney on a cheese-plate as the entire remains of yesterday’s feast, and I was really inclined to fall upon her nankeen breast and say, in heartfelt penitence, ‘Oh, Mrs. Crupp, Mrs. Crupp, never mind the broken meats! I am very miserable!’—only that I doubted, even at that pass, if Mrs. Crupp were quite the sort of woman to confide in!






CHAPTER 25. GOOD AND BAD ANGELS

I was going out at my door on the morning after that deplorable day of headache, sickness, and repentance, with an odd confusion in my mind relative to the date of my dinner-party, as if a body of Titans had taken an enormous lever and pushed the day before yesterday some months back, when I saw a ticket-porter coming upstairs, with a letter in his hand. He was taking his time about his errand, then; but when he saw me on the top of the staircase, looking at him over the banisters, he swung into a trot, and came up panting as if he had run himself into a state of exhaustion.

‘T. Copperfield, Esquire,’ said the ticket-porter, touching his hat with his little cane.

I could scarcely lay claim to the name: I was so disturbed by the conviction that the letter came from Agnes. However, I told him I was T. Copperfield, Esquire, and he believed it, and gave me the letter, which he said required an answer. I shut him out on the landing to wait for the answer, and went into my chambers again, in such a nervous state that I was fain to lay the letter down on my breakfast table, and familiarize myself with the outside of it a little, before I could resolve to break the seal.

I found, when I did open it, that it was a very kind note, containing no reference to my condition at the theatre. All it said was, ‘My dear Trotwood. I am staying at the house of papa’s agent, Mr. Waterbrook, in Ely Place, Holborn. Will you come and see me today, at any time you like to appoint? Ever yours affectionately, AGNES.’

It took me such a long time to write an answer at all to my satisfaction, that I don’t know what the ticket-porter can have thought, unless he thought I was learning to write. I must have written half-a-dozen answers at least. I began one, ‘How can I ever hope, my dear Agnes, to efface from your remembrance the disgusting impression’—there I didn’t like it, and then I tore it up. I began another, ‘Shakespeare has observed, my dear Agnes, how strange it is that a man should put an enemy into his mouth’—that reminded me of Markham, and it got no farther. I even tried poetry. I began one note, in a six-syllable line, ‘Oh, do not remember’—but that associated itself with the fifth of November, and became an absurdity. After many attempts, I wrote, ‘My dear Agnes. Your letter is like you, and what could I say of it that would be higher praise than that? I will come at four o’clock. Affectionately and sorrowfully, T.C.’ With this missive (which I was in twenty minds at once about recalling, as soon as it was out of my hands), the ticket-porter at last departed.

If the day were half as tremendous to any other professional gentleman in Doctors’ Commons as it was to me, I sincerely believe he made some expiation for his share in that rotten old ecclesiastical cheese. Although I left the office at half past three, and was prowling about the place of appointment within a few minutes afterwards, the appointed time was exceeded by a full quarter of an hour, according to the clock of St. Andrew’s, Holborn, before I could muster up sufficient desperation to pull the private bell-handle let into the left-hand door-post of Mr. Waterbrook’s house.

The professional business of Mr. Waterbrook’s establishment was done on the ground-floor, and the genteel business (of which there was a good deal) in the upper part of the building. I was shown into a pretty but rather close drawing-room, and there sat Agnes, netting a purse.

She looked so quiet and good, and reminded me so strongly of my airy fresh school days at Canterbury, and the sodden, smoky, stupid wretch I had been the other night, that, nobody being by, I yielded to my self-reproach and shame, and—in short, made a fool of myself. I cannot deny that I shed tears. To this hour I am undecided whether it was upon the whole the wisest thing I could have done, or the most ridiculous.

‘If it had been anyone but you, Agnes,’ said I, turning away my head, ‘I should not have minded it half so much. But that it should have been you who saw me! I almost wish I had been dead, first.’

She put her hand—its touch was like no other hand—upon my arm for a moment; and I felt so befriended and comforted, that I could not help moving it to my lips, and gratefully kissing it.

‘Sit down,’ said Agnes, cheerfully. ‘Don’t be unhappy, Trotwood. If you cannot confidently trust me, whom will you trust?’

‘Ah, Agnes!’ I returned. ‘You are my good Angel!’

She smiled rather sadly, I thought, and shook her head.

‘Yes, Agnes, my good Angel! Always my good Angel!’

‘If I were, indeed, Trotwood,’ she returned, ‘there is one thing that I should set my heart on very much.’

I looked at her inquiringly; but already with a foreknowledge of her meaning.

‘On warning you,’ said Agnes, with a steady glance, ‘against your bad Angel.’

‘My dear Agnes,’ I began, ‘if you mean Steerforth—’

‘I do, Trotwood,’ she returned. ‘Then, Agnes, you wrong him very much. He my bad Angel, or anyone’s! He, anything but a guide, a support, and a friend to me! My dear Agnes! Now, is it not unjust, and unlike you, to judge him from what you saw of me the other night?’

‘I do not judge him from what I saw of you the other night,’ she quietly replied.

‘From what, then?’

‘From many things—trifles in themselves, but they do not seem to me to be so, when they are put together. I judge him, partly from your account of him, Trotwood, and your character, and the influence he has over you.’

There was always something in her modest voice that seemed to touch a chord within me, answering to that sound alone. It was always earnest; but when it was very earnest, as it was now, there was a thrill in it that quite subdued me. I sat looking at her as she cast her eyes down on her work; I sat seeming still to listen to her; and Steerforth, in spite of all my attachment to him, darkened in that tone.

‘It is very bold in me,’ said Agnes, looking up again, ‘who have lived in such seclusion, and can know so little of the world, to give you my advice so confidently, or even to have this strong opinion. But I know in what it is engendered, Trotwood,—in how true a remembrance of our having grown up together, and in how true an interest in all relating to you. It is that which makes me bold. I am certain that what I say is right. I am quite sure it is. I feel as if it were someone else speaking to you, and not I, when I caution you that you have made a dangerous friend.’

Again I looked at her, again I listened to her after she was silent, and again his image, though it was still fixed in my heart, darkened.

‘I am not so unreasonable as to expect,’ said Agnes, resuming her usual tone, after a little while, ‘that you will, or that you can, at once, change any sentiment that has become a conviction to you; least of all a sentiment that is rooted in your trusting disposition. You ought not hastily to do that. I only ask you, Trotwood, if you ever think of me—I mean,’ with a quiet smile, for I was going to interrupt her, and she knew why, ‘as often as you think of me—to think of what I have said. Do you forgive me for all this?’

‘I will forgive you, Agnes,’ I replied, ‘when you come to do Steerforth justice, and to like him as well as I do.’

‘Not until then?’ said Agnes.

I saw a passing shadow on her face when I made this mention of him, but she returned my smile, and we were again as unreserved in our mutual confidence as of old.

‘And when, Agnes,’ said I, ‘will you forgive me the other night?’

‘When I recall it,’ said Agnes.

She would have dismissed the subject so, but I was too full of it to allow that, and insisted on telling her how it happened that I had disgraced myself, and what chain of accidental circumstances had had the theatre for its final link. It was a great relief to me to do this, and to enlarge on the obligation that I owed to Steerforth for his care of me when I was unable to take care of myself.

‘You must not forget,’ said Agnes, calmly changing the conversation as soon as I had concluded, ‘that you are always to tell me, not only when you fall into trouble, but when you fall in love. Who has succeeded to Miss Larkins, Trotwood?’

‘No one, Agnes.’

‘Someone, Trotwood,’ said Agnes, laughing, and holding up her finger.

‘No, Agnes, upon my word! There is a lady, certainly, at Mrs. Steerforth’s house, who is very clever, and whom I like to talk to—Miss Dartle—but I don’t adore her.’

Agnes laughed again at her own penetration, and told me that if I were faithful to her in my confidence she thought she should keep a little register of my violent attachments, with the date, duration, and termination of each, like the table of the reigns of the kings and queens, in the History of England. Then she asked me if I had seen Uriah.

‘Uriah Heep?’ said I. ‘No. Is he in London?’

‘He comes to the office downstairs, every day,’ returned Agnes. ‘He was in London a week before me. I am afraid on disagreeable business, Trotwood.’

‘On some business that makes you uneasy, Agnes, I see,’ said I. ‘What can that be?’

Agnes laid aside her work, and replied, folding her hands upon one another, and looking pensively at me out of those beautiful soft eyes of hers:

‘I believe he is going to enter into partnership with papa.’

‘What? Uriah? That mean, fawning fellow, worm himself into such promotion!’ I cried, indignantly. ‘Have you made no remonstrance about it, Agnes? Consider what a connexion it is likely to be. You must speak out. You must not allow your father to take such a mad step. You must prevent it, Agnes, while there’s time.’

Still looking at me, Agnes shook her head while I was speaking, with a faint smile at my warmth: and then replied:

‘You remember our last conversation about papa? It was not long after that—not more than two or three days—when he gave me the first intimation of what I tell you. It was sad to see him struggling between his desire to represent it to me as a matter of choice on his part, and his inability to conceal that it was forced upon him. I felt very sorry.’

‘Forced upon him, Agnes! Who forces it upon him?’

‘Uriah,’ she replied, after a moment’s hesitation, ‘has made himself indispensable to papa. He is subtle and watchful. He has mastered papa’s weaknesses, fostered them, and taken advantage of them, until—to say all that I mean in a word, Trotwood,—until papa is afraid of him.’

There was more that she might have said; more that she knew, or that she suspected; I clearly saw. I could not give her pain by asking what it was, for I knew that she withheld it from me, to spare her father. It had long been going on to this, I was sensible: yes, I could not but feel, on the least reflection, that it had been going on to this for a long time. I remained silent.

‘His ascendancy over papa,’ said Agnes, ‘is very great. He professes humility and gratitude—with truth, perhaps: I hope so—but his position is really one of power, and I fear he makes a hard use of his power.’

I said he was a hound, which, at the moment, was a great satisfaction to me.

‘At the time I speak of, as the time when papa spoke to me,’ pursued Agnes, ‘he had told papa that he was going away; that he was very sorry, and unwilling to leave, but that he had better prospects. Papa was very much depressed then, and more bowed down by care than ever you or I have seen him; but he seemed relieved by this expedient of the partnership, though at the same time he seemed hurt by it and ashamed of it.’

‘And how did you receive it, Agnes?’

‘I did, Trotwood,’ she replied, ‘what I hope was right. Feeling sure that it was necessary for papa’s peace that the sacrifice should be made, I entreated him to make it. I said it would lighten the load of his life—I hope it will!—and that it would give me increased opportunities of being his companion. Oh, Trotwood!’ cried Agnes, putting her hands before her face, as her tears started on it, ‘I almost feel as if I had been papa’s enemy, instead of his loving child. For I know how he has altered, in his devotion to me. I know how he has narrowed the circle of his sympathies and duties, in the concentration of his whole mind upon me. I know what a multitude of things he has shut out for my sake, and how his anxious thoughts of me have shadowed his life, and weakened his strength and energy, by turning them always upon one idea. If I could ever set this right! If I could ever work out his restoration, as I have so innocently been the cause of his decline!’

I had never before seen Agnes cry. I had seen tears in her eyes when I had brought new honours home from school, and I had seen them there when we last spoke about her father, and I had seen her turn her gentle head aside when we took leave of one another; but I had never seen her grieve like this. It made me so sorry that I could only say, in a foolish, helpless manner, ‘Pray, Agnes, don’t! Don’t, my dear sister!’

But Agnes was too superior to me in character and purpose, as I know well now, whatever I might know or not know then, to be long in need of my entreaties. The beautiful, calm manner, which makes her so different in my remembrance from everybody else, came back again, as if a cloud had passed from a serene sky.

‘We are not likely to remain alone much longer,’ said Agnes, ‘and while I have an opportunity, let me earnestly entreat you, Trotwood, to be friendly to Uriah. Don’t repel him. Don’t resent (as I think you have a general disposition to do) what may be uncongenial to you in him. He may not deserve it, for we know no certain ill of him. In any case, think first of papa and me!’

Agnes had no time to say more, for the room door opened, and Mrs. Waterbrook, who was a large lady—or who wore a large dress: I don’t exactly know which, for I don’t know which was dress and which was lady—came sailing in. I had a dim recollection of having seen her at the theatre, as if I had seen her in a pale magic lantern; but she appeared to remember me perfectly, and still to suspect me of being in a state of intoxication.

Finding by degrees, however, that I was sober, and (I hope) that I was a modest young gentleman, Mrs. Waterbrook softened towards me considerably, and inquired, firstly, if I went much into the parks, and secondly, if I went much into society. On my replying to both these questions in the negative, it occurred to me that I fell again in her good opinion; but she concealed the fact gracefully, and invited me to dinner next day. I accepted the invitation, and took my leave, making a call on Uriah in the office as I went out, and leaving a card for him in his absence.

When I went to dinner next day, and on the street door being opened, plunged into a vapour-bath of haunch of mutton, I divined that I was not the only guest, for I immediately identified the ticket-porter in disguise, assisting the family servant, and waiting at the foot of the stairs to carry up my name. He looked, to the best of his ability, when he asked me for it confidentially, as if he had never seen me before; but well did I know him, and well did he know me. Conscience made cowards of us both.

I found Mr. Waterbrook to be a middle-aged gentleman, with a short throat, and a good deal of shirt-collar, who only wanted a black nose to be the portrait of a pug-dog. He told me he was happy to have the honour of making my acquaintance; and when I had paid my homage to Mrs. Waterbrook, presented me, with much ceremony, to a very awful lady in a black velvet dress, and a great black velvet hat, whom I remember as looking like a near relation of Hamlet’s—say his aunt.

Mrs. Henry Spiker was this lady’s name; and her husband was there too: so cold a man, that his head, instead of being grey, seemed to be sprinkled with hoar-frost. Immense deference was shown to the Henry Spikers, male and female; which Agnes told me was on account of Mr. Henry Spiker being solicitor to something or to somebody, I forget what or which, remotely connected with the Treasury.

I found Uriah Heep among the company, in a suit of black, and in deep humility. He told me, when I shook hands with him, that he was proud to be noticed by me, and that he really felt obliged to me for my condescension. I could have wished he had been less obliged to me, for he hovered about me in his gratitude all the rest of the evening; and whenever I said a word to Agnes, was sure, with his shadowless eyes and cadaverous face, to be looking gauntly down upon us from behind.

There were other guests—all iced for the occasion, as it struck me, like the wine. But there was one who attracted my attention before he came in, on account of my hearing him announced as Mr. Traddles! My mind flew back to Salem House; and could it be Tommy, I thought, who used to draw the skeletons!

I looked for Mr. Traddles with unusual interest. He was a sober, steady-looking young man of retiring manners, with a comic head of hair, and eyes that were rather wide open; and he got into an obscure corner so soon, that I had some difficulty in making him out. At length I had a good view of him, and either my vision deceived me, or it was the old unfortunate Tommy.

I made my way to Mr. Waterbrook, and said, that I believed I had the pleasure of seeing an old schoolfellow there.

‘Indeed!’ said Mr. Waterbrook, surprised. ‘You are too young to have been at school with Mr. Henry Spiker?’

‘Oh, I don’t mean him!’ I returned. ‘I mean the gentleman named Traddles.’

‘Oh! Aye, aye! Indeed!’ said my host, with much diminished interest. ‘Possibly.’

‘If it’s really the same person,’ said I, glancing towards him, ‘it was at a place called Salem House where we were together, and he was an excellent fellow.’

‘Oh yes. Traddles is a good fellow,’ returned my host nodding his head with an air of toleration. ‘Traddles is quite a good fellow.’

‘It’s a curious coincidence,’ said I.

‘It is really,’ returned my host, ‘quite a coincidence, that Traddles should be here at all: as Traddles was only invited this morning, when the place at table, intended to be occupied by Mrs. Henry Spiker’s brother, became vacant, in consequence of his indisposition. A very gentlemanly man, Mrs. Henry Spiker’s brother, Mr. Copperfield.’

I murmured an assent, which was full of feeling, considering that I knew nothing at all about him; and I inquired what Mr. Traddles was by profession.

‘Traddles,’ returned Mr. Waterbrook, ‘is a young man reading for the bar. Yes. He is quite a good fellow—nobody’s enemy but his own.’

‘Is he his own enemy?’ said I, sorry to hear this.

‘Well,’ returned Mr. Waterbrook, pursing up his mouth, and playing with his watch-chain, in a comfortable, prosperous sort of way. ‘I should say he was one of those men who stand in their own light. Yes, I should say he would never, for example, be worth five hundred pound. Traddles was recommended to me by a professional friend. Oh yes. Yes. He has a kind of talent for drawing briefs, and stating a case in writing, plainly. I am able to throw something in Traddles’s way, in the course of the year; something—for him—considerable. Oh yes. Yes.’

I was much impressed by the extremely comfortable and satisfied manner in which Mr. Waterbrook delivered himself of this little word ‘Yes’, every now and then. There was wonderful expression in it. It completely conveyed the idea of a man who had been born, not to say with a silver spoon, but with a scaling-ladder, and had gone on mounting all the heights of life one after another, until now he looked, from the top of the fortifications, with the eye of a philosopher and a patron, on the people down in the trenches.

My reflections on this theme were still in progress when dinner was announced. Mr. Waterbrook went down with Hamlet’s aunt. Mr. Henry Spiker took Mrs. Waterbrook. Agnes, whom I should have liked to take myself, was given to a simpering fellow with weak legs. Uriah, Traddles, and I, as the junior part of the company, went down last, how we could. I was not so vexed at losing Agnes as I might have been, since it gave me an opportunity of making myself known to Traddles on the stairs, who greeted me with great fervour; while Uriah writhed with such obtrusive satisfaction and self-abasement, that I could gladly have pitched him over the banisters. Traddles and I were separated at table, being billeted in two remote corners: he in the glare of a red velvet lady; I, in the gloom of Hamlet’s aunt. The dinner was very long, and the conversation was about the Aristocracy—and Blood. Mrs. Waterbrook repeatedly told us, that if she had a weakness, it was Blood.

It occurred to me several times that we should have got on better, if we had not been quite so genteel. We were so exceedingly genteel, that our scope was very limited. A Mr. and Mrs. Gulpidge were of the party, who had something to do at second-hand (at least, Mr. Gulpidge had) with the law business of the Bank; and what with the Bank, and what with the Treasury, we were as exclusive as the Court Circular. To mend the matter, Hamlet’s aunt had the family failing of indulging in soliloquy, and held forth in a desultory manner, by herself, on every topic that was introduced. These were few enough, to be sure; but as we always fell back upon Blood, she had as wide a field for abstract speculation as her nephew himself.

We might have been a party of Ogres, the conversation assumed such a sanguine complexion.

‘I confess I am of Mrs. Waterbrook’s opinion,’ said Mr. Waterbrook, with his wine-glass at his eye. ‘Other things are all very well in their way, but give me Blood!’

‘Oh! There is nothing,’ observed Hamlet’s aunt, ‘so satisfactory to one! There is nothing that is so much one’s beau-ideal of—of all that sort of thing, speaking generally. There are some low minds (not many, I am happy to believe, but there are some) that would prefer to do what I should call bow down before idols. Positively Idols! Before service, intellect, and so on. But these are intangible points. Blood is not so. We see Blood in a nose, and we know it. We meet with it in a chin, and we say, “There it is! That’s Blood!” It is an actual matter of fact. We point it out. It admits of no doubt.’

The simpering fellow with the weak legs, who had taken Agnes down, stated the question more decisively yet, I thought.

‘Oh, you know, deuce take it,’ said this gentleman, looking round the board with an imbecile smile, ‘we can’t forego Blood, you know. We must have Blood, you know. Some young fellows, you know, may be a little behind their station, perhaps, in point of education and behaviour, and may go a little wrong, you know, and get themselves and other people into a variety of fixes—and all that—but deuce take it, it’s delightful to reflect that they’ve got Blood in ‘em! Myself, I’d rather at any time be knocked down by a man who had got Blood in him, than I’d be picked up by a man who hadn’t!’

This sentiment, as compressing the general question into a nutshell, gave the utmost satisfaction, and brought the gentleman into great notice until the ladies retired. After that, I observed that Mr. Gulpidge and Mr. Henry Spiker, who had hitherto been very distant, entered into a defensive alliance against us, the common enemy, and exchanged a mysterious dialogue across the table for our defeat and overthrow.

‘That affair of the first bond for four thousand five hundred pounds has not taken the course that was expected, Spiker,’ said Mr. Gulpidge.

‘Do you mean the D. of A.‘s?’ said Mr. Spiker.

‘The C. of B.‘s!’ said Mr. Gulpidge.

Mr. Spiker raised his eyebrows, and looked much concerned.

‘When the question was referred to Lord—I needn’t name him,’ said Mr. Gulpidge, checking himself—

‘I understand,’ said Mr. Spiker, ‘N.’

Mr. Gulpidge darkly nodded—‘was referred to him, his answer was, “Money, or no release.”’

‘Lord bless my soul!’ cried Mr. Spiker.

“‘Money, or no release,”’ repeated Mr. Gulpidge, firmly. ‘The next in reversion—you understand me?’

‘K.,’ said Mr. Spiker, with an ominous look.

‘—K. then positively refused to sign. He was attended at Newmarket for that purpose, and he point-blank refused to do it.’

Mr. Spiker was so interested, that he became quite stony.

‘So the matter rests at this hour,’ said Mr. Gulpidge, throwing himself back in his chair. ‘Our friend Waterbrook will excuse me if I forbear to explain myself generally, on account of the magnitude of the interests involved.’

Mr. Waterbrook was only too happy, as it appeared to me, to have such interests, and such names, even hinted at, across his table. He assumed an expression of gloomy intelligence (though I am persuaded he knew no more about the discussion than I did), and highly approved of the discretion that had been observed. Mr. Spiker, after the receipt of such a confidence, naturally desired to favour his friend with a confidence of his own; therefore the foregoing dialogue was succeeded by another, in which it was Mr. Gulpidge’s turn to be surprised, and that by another in which the surprise came round to Mr. Spiker’s turn again, and so on, turn and turn about. All this time we, the outsiders, remained oppressed by the tremendous interests involved in the conversation; and our host regarded us with pride, as the victims of a salutary awe and astonishment. I was very glad indeed to get upstairs to Agnes, and to talk with her in a corner, and to introduce Traddles to her, who was shy, but agreeable, and the same good-natured creature still. As he was obliged to leave early, on account of going away next morning for a month, I had not nearly so much conversation with him as I could have wished; but we exchanged addresses, and promised ourselves the pleasure of another meeting when he should come back to town. He was greatly interested to hear that I knew Steerforth, and spoke of him with such warmth that I made him tell Agnes what he thought of him. But Agnes only looked at me the while, and very slightly shook her head when only I observed her.

As she was not among people with whom I believed she could be very much at home, I was almost glad to hear that she was going away within a few days, though I was sorry at the prospect of parting from her again so soon. This caused me to remain until all the company were gone. Conversing with her, and hearing her sing, was such a delightful reminder to me of my happy life in the grave old house she had made so beautiful, that I could have remained there half the night; but, having no excuse for staying any longer, when the lights of Mr. Waterbrook’s society were all snuffed out, I took my leave very much against my inclination. I felt then, more than ever, that she was my better Angel; and if I thought of her sweet face and placid smile, as though they had shone on me from some removed being, like an Angel, I hope I thought no harm.

I have said that the company were all gone; but I ought to have excepted Uriah, whom I don’t include in that denomination, and who had never ceased to hover near us. He was close behind me when I went downstairs. He was close beside me, when I walked away from the house, slowly fitting his long skeleton fingers into the still longer fingers of a great Guy Fawkes pair of gloves.

It was in no disposition for Uriah’s company, but in remembrance of the entreaty Agnes had made to me, that I asked him if he would come home to my rooms, and have some coffee.

‘Oh, really, Master Copperfield,’ he rejoined—‘I beg your pardon, Mister Copperfield, but the other comes so natural, I don’t like that you should put a constraint upon yourself to ask a numble person like me to your ouse.’

‘There is no constraint in the case,’ said I. ‘Will you come?’

‘I should like to, very much,’ replied Uriah, with a writhe.

‘Well, then, come along!’ said I.

I could not help being rather short with him, but he appeared not to mind it. We went the nearest way, without conversing much upon the road; and he was so humble in respect of those scarecrow gloves, that he was still putting them on, and seemed to have made no advance in that labour, when we got to my place.

I led him up the dark stairs, to prevent his knocking his head against anything, and really his damp cold hand felt so like a frog in mine, that I was tempted to drop it and run away. Agnes and hospitality prevailed, however, and I conducted him to my fireside. When I lighted my candles, he fell into meek transports with the room that was revealed to him; and when I heated the coffee in an unassuming block-tin vessel in which Mrs. Crupp delighted to prepare it (chiefly, I believe, because it was not intended for the purpose, being a shaving-pot, and because there was a patent invention of great price mouldering away in the pantry), he professed so much emotion, that I could joyfully have scalded him.

‘Oh, really, Master Copperfield,—I mean Mister Copperfield,’ said Uriah, ‘to see you waiting upon me is what I never could have expected! But, one way and another, so many things happen to me which I never could have expected, I am sure, in my umble station, that it seems to rain blessings on my ed. You have heard something, I des-say, of a change in my expectations, Master Copperfield,—I should say, Mister Copperfield?’

As he sat on my sofa, with his long knees drawn up under his coffee-cup, his hat and gloves upon the ground close to him, his spoon going softly round and round, his shadowless red eyes, which looked as if they had scorched their lashes off, turned towards me without looking at me, the disagreeable dints I have formerly described in his nostrils coming and going with his breath, and a snaky undulation pervading his frame from his chin to his boots, I decided in my own mind that I disliked him intensely. It made me very uncomfortable to have him for a guest, for I was young then, and unused to disguise what I so strongly felt.

‘You have heard something, I des-say, of a change in my expectations, Master Copperfield,—I should say, Mister Copperfield?’ observed Uriah.

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘something.’

‘Ah! I thought Miss Agnes would know of it!’ he quietly returned. ‘I’m glad to find Miss Agnes knows of it. Oh, thank you, Master—Mister Copperfield!’

I could have thrown my bootjack at him (it lay ready on the rug), for having entrapped me into the disclosure of anything concerning Agnes, however immaterial. But I only drank my coffee.

‘What a prophet you have shown yourself, Mister Copperfield!’ pursued Uriah. ‘Dear me, what a prophet you have proved yourself to be! Don’t you remember saying to me once, that perhaps I should be a partner in Mr. Wickfield’s business, and perhaps it might be Wickfield and Heep? You may not recollect it; but when a person is umble, Master Copperfield, a person treasures such things up!’

‘I recollect talking about it,’ said I, ‘though I certainly did not think it very likely then.’ ‘Oh! who would have thought it likely, Mister Copperfield!’ returned Uriah, enthusiastically. ‘I am sure I didn’t myself. I recollect saying with my own lips that I was much too umble. So I considered myself really and truly.’

He sat, with that carved grin on his face, looking at the fire, as I looked at him.

‘But the umblest persons, Master Copperfield,’ he presently resumed, ‘may be the instruments of good. I am glad to think I have been the instrument of good to Mr. Wickfield, and that I may be more so. Oh what a worthy man he is, Mister Copperfield, but how imprudent he has been!’

‘I am sorry to hear it,’ said I. I could not help adding, rather pointedly, ‘on all accounts.’

‘Decidedly so, Mister Copperfield,’ replied Uriah. ‘On all accounts. Miss Agnes’s above all! You don’t remember your own eloquent expressions, Master Copperfield; but I remember how you said one day that everybody must admire her, and how I thanked you for it! You have forgot that, I have no doubt, Master Copperfield?’

‘No,’ said I, drily.

‘Oh how glad I am you have not!’ exclaimed Uriah. ‘To think that you should be the first to kindle the sparks of ambition in my umble breast, and that you’ve not forgot it! Oh!—Would you excuse me asking for a cup more coffee?’

Something in the emphasis he laid upon the kindling of those sparks, and something in the glance he directed at me as he said it, had made me start as if I had seen him illuminated by a blaze of light. Recalled by his request, preferred in quite another tone of voice, I did the honours of the shaving-pot; but I did them with an unsteadiness of hand, a sudden sense of being no match for him, and a perplexed suspicious anxiety as to what he might be going to say next, which I felt could not escape his observation.

He said nothing at all. He stirred his coffee round and round, he sipped it, he felt his chin softly with his grisly hand, he looked at the fire, he looked about the room, he gasped rather than smiled at me, he writhed and undulated about, in his deferential servility, he stirred and sipped again, but he left the renewal of the conversation to me.

‘So, Mr. Wickfield,’ said I, at last, ‘who is worth five hundred of you—or me’; for my life, I think, I could not have helped dividing that part of the sentence with an awkward jerk; ‘has been imprudent, has he, Mr. Heep?’

‘Oh, very imprudent indeed, Master Copperfield,’ returned Uriah, sighing modestly. ‘Oh, very much so! But I wish you’d call me Uriah, if you please. It’s like old times.’

‘Well! Uriah,’ said I, bolting it out with some difficulty.

‘Thank you,’ he returned, with fervour. ‘Thank you, Master Copperfield! It’s like the blowing of old breezes or the ringing of old bellses to hear YOU say Uriah. I beg your pardon. Was I making any observation?’

‘About Mr. Wickfield,’ I suggested.

‘Oh! Yes, truly,’ said Uriah. ‘Ah! Great imprudence, Master Copperfield. It’s a topic that I wouldn’t touch upon, to any soul but you. Even to you I can only touch upon it, and no more. If anyone else had been in my place during the last few years, by this time he would have had Mr. Wickfield (oh, what a worthy man he is, Master Copperfield, too!) under his thumb. Un—der—his thumb,’ said Uriah, very slowly, as he stretched out his cruel-looking hand above my table, and pressed his own thumb upon it, until it shook, and shook the room.

If I had been obliged to look at him with him splay foot on Mr. Wickfield’s head, I think I could scarcely have hated him more.

‘Oh, dear, yes, Master Copperfield,’ he proceeded, in a soft voice, most remarkably contrasting with the action of his thumb, which did not diminish its hard pressure in the least degree, ‘there’s no doubt of it. There would have been loss, disgrace, I don’t know what at all. Mr. Wickfield knows it. I am the umble instrument of umbly serving him, and he puts me on an eminence I hardly could have hoped to reach. How thankful should I be!’ With his face turned towards me, as he finished, but without looking at me, he took his crooked thumb off the spot where he had planted it, and slowly and thoughtfully scraped his lank jaw with it, as if he were shaving himself.

I recollect well how indignantly my heart beat, as I saw his crafty face, with the appropriately red light of the fire upon it, preparing for something else.

‘Master Copperfield,’ he began—‘but am I keeping you up?’

‘You are not keeping me up. I generally go to bed late.’

‘Thank you, Master Copperfield! I have risen from my umble station since first you used to address me, it is true; but I am umble still. I hope I never shall be otherwise than umble. You will not think the worse of my umbleness, if I make a little confidence to you, Master Copperfield? Will you?’

‘Oh no,’ said I, with an effort.

‘Thank you!’ He took out his pocket-handkerchief, and began wiping the palms of his hands. ‘Miss Agnes, Master Copperfield—’ ‘Well, Uriah?’

‘Oh, how pleasant to be called Uriah, spontaneously!’ he cried; and gave himself a jerk, like a convulsive fish. ‘You thought her looking very beautiful tonight, Master Copperfield?’

‘I thought her looking as she always does: superior, in all respects, to everyone around her,’ I returned.

‘Oh, thank you! It’s so true!’ he cried. ‘Oh, thank you very much for that!’

‘Not at all,’ I said, loftily. ‘There is no reason why you should thank me.’

‘Why that, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah, ‘is, in fact, the confidence that I am going to take the liberty of reposing. Umble as I am,’ he wiped his hands harder, and looked at them and at the fire by turns, ‘umble as my mother is, and lowly as our poor but honest roof has ever been, the image of Miss Agnes (I don’t mind trusting you with my secret, Master Copperfield, for I have always overflowed towards you since the first moment I had the pleasure of beholding you in a pony-shay) has been in my breast for years. Oh, Master Copperfield, with what a pure affection do I love the ground my Agnes walks on!’

I believe I had a delirious idea of seizing the red-hot poker out of the fire, and running him through with it. It went from me with a shock, like a ball fired from a rifle: but the image of Agnes, outraged by so much as a thought of this red-headed animal’s, remained in my mind when I looked at him, sitting all awry as if his mean soul griped his body, and made me giddy. He seemed to swell and grow before my eyes; the room seemed full of the echoes of his voice; and the strange feeling (to which, perhaps, no one is quite a stranger) that all this had occurred before, at some indefinite time, and that I knew what he was going to say next, took possession of me.

A timely observation of the sense of power that there was in his face, did more to bring back to my remembrance the entreaty of Agnes, in its full force, than any effort I could have made. I asked him, with a better appearance of composure than I could have thought possible a minute before, whether he had made his feelings known to Agnes.

‘Oh no, Master Copperfield!’ he returned; ‘oh dear, no! Not to anyone but you. You see I am only just emerging from my lowly station. I rest a good deal of hope on her observing how useful I am to her father (for I trust to be very useful to him indeed, Master Copperfield), and how I smooth the way for him, and keep him straight. She’s so much attached to her father, Master Copperfield (oh, what a lovely thing it is in a daughter!), that I think she may come, on his account, to be kind to me.’

I fathomed the depth of the rascal’s whole scheme, and understood why he laid it bare.

‘If you’ll have the goodness to keep my secret, Master Copperfield,’ he pursued, ‘and not, in general, to go against me, I shall take it as a particular favour. You wouldn’t wish to make unpleasantness. I know what a friendly heart you’ve got; but having only known me on my umble footing (on my umblest I should say, for I am very umble still), you might, unbeknown, go against me rather, with my Agnes. I call her mine, you see, Master Copperfield. There’s a song that says, “I’d crowns resign, to call her mine!” I hope to do it, one of these days.’

Dear Agnes! So much too loving and too good for anyone that I could think of, was it possible that she was reserved to be the wife of such a wretch as this!

‘There’s no hurry at present, you know, Master Copperfield,’ Uriah proceeded, in his slimy way, as I sat gazing at him, with this thought in my mind. ‘My Agnes is very young still; and mother and me will have to work our way upwards, and make a good many new arrangements, before it would be quite convenient. So I shall have time gradually to make her familiar with my hopes, as opportunities offer. Oh, I’m so much obliged to you for this confidence! Oh, it’s such a relief, you can’t think, to know that you understand our situation, and are certain (as you wouldn’t wish to make unpleasantness in the family) not to go against me!’

He took the hand which I dared not withhold, and having given it a damp squeeze, referred to his pale-faced watch.

‘Dear me!’ he said, ‘it’s past one. The moments slip away so, in the confidence of old times, Master Copperfield, that it’s almost half past one!’

I answered that I had thought it was later. Not that I had really thought so, but because my conversational powers were effectually scattered.

‘Dear me!’ he said, considering. ‘The ouse that I am stopping at—a sort of a private hotel and boarding ouse, Master Copperfield, near the New River ed—will have gone to bed these two hours.’

‘I am sorry,’ I returned, ‘that there is only one bed here, and that I—’

‘Oh, don’t think of mentioning beds, Master Copperfield!’ he rejoined ecstatically, drawing up one leg. ‘But would you have any objections to my laying down before the fire?’

‘If it comes to that,’ I said, ‘pray take my bed, and I’ll lie down before the fire.’

His repudiation of this offer was almost shrill enough, in the excess of its surprise and humility, to have penetrated to the ears of Mrs. Crupp, then sleeping, I suppose, in a distant chamber, situated at about the level of low-water mark, soothed in her slumbers by the ticking of an incorrigible clock, to which she always referred me when we had any little difference on the score of punctuality, and which was never less than three-quarters of an hour too slow, and had always been put right in the morning by the best authorities. As no arguments I could urge, in my bewildered condition, had the least effect upon his modesty in inducing him to accept my bedroom, I was obliged to make the best arrangements I could, for his repose before the fire. The mattress of the sofa (which was a great deal too short for his lank figure), the sofa pillows, a blanket, the table-cover, a clean breakfast-cloth, and a great-coat, made him a bed and covering, for which he was more than thankful. Having lent him a night-cap, which he put on at once, and in which he made such an awful figure, that I have never worn one since, I left him to his rest.

I never shall forget that night. I never shall forget how I turned and tumbled; how I wearied myself with thinking about Agnes and this creature; how I considered what could I do, and what ought I to do; how I could come to no other conclusion than that the best course for her peace was to do nothing, and to keep to myself what I had heard. If I went to sleep for a few moments, the image of Agnes with her tender eyes, and of her father looking fondly on her, as I had so often seen him look, arose before me with appealing faces, and filled me with vague terrors. When I awoke, the recollection that Uriah was lying in the next room, sat heavy on me like a waking nightmare; and oppressed me with a leaden dread, as if I had had some meaner quality of devil for a lodger.

The poker got into my dozing thoughts besides, and wouldn’t come out. I thought, between sleeping and waking, that it was still red hot, and I had snatched it out of the fire, and run him through the body. I was so haunted at last by the idea, though I knew there was nothing in it, that I stole into the next room to look at him. There I saw him, lying on his back, with his legs extending to I don’t know where, gurglings taking place in his throat, stoppages in his nose, and his mouth open like a post-office. He was so much worse in reality than in my distempered fancy, that afterwards I was attracted to him in very repulsion, and could not help wandering in and out every half-hour or so, and taking another look at him. Still, the long, long night seemed heavy and hopeless as ever, and no promise of day was in the murky sky.

When I saw him going downstairs early in the morning (for, thank Heaven! he would not stay to breakfast), it appeared to me as if the night was going away in his person. When I went out to the Commons, I charged Mrs. Crupp with particular directions to leave the windows open, that my sitting-room might be aired, and purged of his presence.