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David Copperfield

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CHAPTER 26. I FALL INTO CAPTIVITY

I saw no more of Uriah Heep, until the day when Agnes left town. I was at the coach office to take leave of her and see her go; and there was he, returning to Canterbury by the same conveyance. It was some small satisfaction to me to observe his spare, short-waisted, high-shouldered, mulberry-coloured great-coat perched up, in company with an umbrella like a small tent, on the edge of the back seat on the roof, while Agnes was, of course, inside; but what I underwent in my efforts to be friendly with him, while Agnes looked on, perhaps deserved that little recompense. At the coach window, as at the dinner-party, he hovered about us without a moment’s intermission, like a great vulture: gorging himself on every syllable that I said to Agnes, or Agnes said to me.

In the state of trouble into which his disclosure by my fire had thrown me, I had thought very much of the words Agnes had used in reference to the partnership. ‘I did 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.’ A miserable foreboding that she would yield to, and sustain herself by, the same feeling in reference to any sacrifice for his sake, had oppressed me ever since. I knew how she loved him. I knew what the devotion of her nature was. I knew from her own lips that she regarded herself as the innocent cause of his errors, and as owing him a great debt she ardently desired to pay. I had no consolation in seeing how different she was from this detestable Rufus with the mulberry-coloured great-coat, for I felt that in the very difference between them, in the self-denial of her pure soul and the sordid baseness of his, the greatest danger lay. All this, doubtless, he knew thoroughly, and had, in his cunning, considered well.

Yet I was so certain that the prospect of such a sacrifice afar off, must destroy the happiness of Agnes; and I was so sure, from her manner, of its being unseen by her then, and having cast no shadow on her yet; that I could as soon have injured her, as given her any warning of what impended. Thus it was that we parted without explanation: she waving her hand and smiling farewell from the coach window; her evil genius writhing on the roof, as if he had her in his clutches and triumphed.

I could not get over this farewell glimpse of them for a long time. When Agnes wrote to tell me of her safe arrival, I was as miserable as when I saw her going away. Whenever I fell into a thoughtful state, this subject was sure to present itself, and all my uneasiness was sure to be redoubled. Hardly a night passed without my dreaming of it. It became a part of my life, and as inseparable from my life as my own head.

I had ample leisure to refine upon my uneasiness: for Steerforth was at Oxford, as he wrote to me, and when I was not at the Commons, I was very much alone. I believe I had at this time some lurking distrust of Steerforth. I wrote to him most affectionately in reply to his, but I think I was glad, upon the whole, that he could not come to London just then. I suspect the truth to be, that the influence of Agnes was upon me, undisturbed by the sight of him; and that it was the more powerful with me, because she had so large a share in my thoughts and interest.

In the meantime, days and weeks slipped away. I was articled to Spenlow and Jorkins. I had ninety pounds a year (exclusive of my house-rent and sundry collateral matters) from my aunt. My rooms were engaged for twelve months certain: and though I still found them dreary of an evening, and the evenings long, I could settle down into a state of equable low spirits, and resign myself to coffee; which I seem, on looking back, to have taken by the gallon at about this period of my existence. At about this time, too, I made three discoveries: first, that Mrs. Crupp was a martyr to a curious disorder called ‘the spazzums’, which was generally accompanied with inflammation of the nose, and required to be constantly treated with peppermint; secondly, that something peculiar in the temperature of my pantry, made the brandy-bottles burst; thirdly, that I was alone in the world, and much given to record that circumstance in fragments of English versification.

On the day when I was articled, no festivity took place, beyond my having sandwiches and sherry into the office for the clerks, and going alone to the theatre at night. I went to see The Stranger, as a Doctors’ Commons sort of play, and was so dreadfully cut up, that I hardly knew myself in my own glass when I got home. Mr. Spenlow remarked, on this occasion, when we concluded our business, that he should have been happy to have seen me at his house at Norwood to celebrate our becoming connected, but for his domestic arrangements being in some disorder, on account of the expected return of his daughter from finishing her education at Paris. But, he intimated that when she came home he should hope to have the pleasure of entertaining me. I knew that he was a widower with one daughter, and expressed my acknowledgements.

Mr. Spenlow was as good as his word. In a week or two, he referred to this engagement, and said, that if I would do him the favour to come down next Saturday, and stay till Monday, he would be extremely happy. Of course I said I would do him the favour; and he was to drive me down in his phaeton, and to bring me back.

When the day arrived, my very carpet-bag was an object of veneration to the stipendiary clerks, to whom the house at Norwood was a sacred mystery. One of them informed me that he had heard that Mr. Spenlow ate entirely off plate and china; and another hinted at champagne being constantly on draught, after the usual custom of table-beer. The old clerk with the wig, whose name was Mr. Tiffey, had been down on business several times in the course of his career, and had on each occasion penetrated to the breakfast-parlour. He described it as an apartment of the most sumptuous nature, and said that he had drunk brown East India sherry there, of a quality so precious as to make a man wink. We had an adjourned cause in the Consistory that day—about excommunicating a baker who had been objecting in a vestry to a paving-rate—and as the evidence was just twice the length of Robinson Crusoe, according to a calculation I made, it was rather late in the day before we finished. However, we got him excommunicated for six weeks, and sentenced in no end of costs; and then the baker’s proctor, and the judge, and the advocates on both sides (who were all nearly related), went out of town together, and Mr. Spenlow and I drove away in the phaeton.

The phaeton was a very handsome affair; the horses arched their necks and lifted up their legs as if they knew they belonged to Doctors’ Commons. There was a good deal of competition in the Commons on all points of display, and it turned out some very choice equipages then; though I always have considered, and always shall consider, that in my time the great article of competition there was starch: which I think was worn among the proctors to as great an extent as it is in the nature of man to bear.

We were very pleasant, going down, and Mr. Spenlow gave me some hints in reference to my profession. He said it was the genteelest profession in the world, and must on no account be confounded with the profession of a solicitor: being quite another sort of thing, infinitely more exclusive, less mechanical, and more profitable. We took things much more easily in the Commons than they could be taken anywhere else, he observed, and that set us, as a privileged class, apart. He said it was impossible to conceal the disagreeable fact, that we were chiefly employed by solicitors; but he gave me to understand that they were an inferior race of men, universally looked down upon by all proctors of any pretensions.

I asked Mr. Spenlow what he considered the best sort of professional business? He replied, that a good case of a disputed will, where there was a neat little estate of thirty or forty thousand pounds, was, perhaps, the best of all. In such a case, he said, not only were there very pretty pickings, in the way of arguments at every stage of the proceedings, and mountains upon mountains of evidence on interrogatory and counter-interrogatory (to say nothing of an appeal lying, first to the Delegates, and then to the Lords), but, the costs being pretty sure to come out of the estate at last, both sides went at it in a lively and spirited manner, and expense was no consideration. Then, he launched into a general eulogium on the Commons. What was to be particularly admired (he said) in the Commons, was its compactness. It was the most conveniently organized place in the world. It was the complete idea of snugness. It lay in a nutshell. For example: You brought a divorce case, or a restitution case, into the Consistory. Very good. You tried it in the Consistory. You made a quiet little round game of it, among a family group, and you played it out at leisure. Suppose you were not satisfied with the Consistory, what did you do then? Why, you went into the Arches. What was the Arches? The same court, in the same room, with the same bar, and the same practitioners, but another judge, for there the Consistory judge could plead any court-day as an advocate. Well, you played your round game out again. Still you were not satisfied. Very good. What did you do then? Why, you went to the Delegates. Who were the Delegates? Why, the Ecclesiastical Delegates were the advocates without any business, who had looked on at the round game when it was playing in both courts, and had seen the cards shuffled, and cut, and played, and had talked to all the players about it, and now came fresh, as judges, to settle the matter to the satisfaction of everybody! Discontented people might talk of corruption in the Commons, closeness in the Commons, and the necessity of reforming the Commons, said Mr. Spenlow solemnly, in conclusion; but when the price of wheat per bushel had been highest, the Commons had been busiest; and a man might lay his hand upon his heart, and say this to the whole world,—‘Touch the Commons, and down comes the country!’

I listened to all this with attention; and though, I must say, I had my doubts whether the country was quite as much obliged to the Commons as Mr. Spenlow made out, I respectfully deferred to his opinion. That about the price of wheat per bushel, I modestly felt was too much for my strength, and quite settled the question. I have never, to this hour, got the better of that bushel of wheat. It has reappeared to annihilate me, all through my life, in connexion with all kinds of subjects. I don’t know now, exactly, what it has to do with me, or what right it has to crush me, on an infinite variety of occasions; but whenever I see my old friend the bushel brought in by the head and shoulders (as he always is, I observe), I give up a subject for lost.

This is a digression. I was not the man to touch the Commons, and bring down the country. I submissively expressed, by my silence, my acquiescence in all I had heard from my superior in years and knowledge; and we talked about The Stranger and the Drama, and the pairs of horses, until we came to Mr. Spenlow’s gate.

There was a lovely garden to Mr. Spenlow’s house; and though that was not the best time of the year for seeing a garden, it was so beautifully kept, that I was quite enchanted. There was a charming lawn, there were clusters of trees, and there were perspective walks that I could just distinguish in the dark, arched over with trellis-work, on which shrubs and flowers grew in the growing season. ‘Here Miss Spenlow walks by herself,’ I thought. ‘Dear me!’

We went into the house, which was cheerfully lighted up, and into a hall where there were all sorts of hats, caps, great-coats, plaids, gloves, whips, and walking-sticks. ‘Where is Miss Dora?’ said Mr. Spenlow to the servant. ‘Dora!’ I thought. ‘What a beautiful name!’

We turned into a room near at hand (I think it was the identical breakfast-room, made memorable by the brown East Indian sherry), and I heard a voice say, ‘Mr. Copperfield, my daughter Dora, and my daughter Dora’s confidential friend!’ It was, no doubt, Mr. Spenlow’s voice, but I didn’t know it, and I didn’t care whose it was. All was over in a moment. I had fulfilled my destiny. I was a captive and a slave. I loved Dora Spenlow to distraction!

She was more than human to me. She was a Fairy, a Sylph, I don’t know what she was—anything that no one ever saw, and everything that everybody ever wanted. I was swallowed up in an abyss of love in an instant. There was no pausing on the brink; no looking down, or looking back; I was gone, headlong, before I had sense to say a word to her.

‘I,’ observed a well-remembered voice, when I had bowed and murmured something, ‘have seen Mr. Copperfield before.’

The speaker was not Dora. No; the confidential friend, Miss Murdstone!

I don’t think I was much astonished. To the best of my judgement, no capacity of astonishment was left in me. There was nothing worth mentioning in the material world, but Dora Spenlow, to be astonished about. I said, ‘How do you do, Miss Murdstone? I hope you are well.’ She answered, ‘Very well.’ I said, ‘How is Mr. Murdstone?’ She replied, ‘My brother is robust, I am obliged to you.’

Mr. Spenlow, who, I suppose, had been surprised to see us recognize each other, then put in his word.

‘I am glad to find,’ he said, ‘Copperfield, that you and Miss Murdstone are already acquainted.’

‘Mr. Copperfield and myself,’ said Miss Murdstone, with severe composure, ‘are connexions. We were once slightly acquainted. It was in his childish days. Circumstances have separated us since. I should not have known him.’

I replied that I should have known her, anywhere. Which was true enough.

‘Miss Murdstone has had the goodness,’ said Mr. Spenlow to me, ‘to accept the office—if I may so describe it—of my daughter Dora’s confidential friend. My daughter Dora having, unhappily, no mother, Miss Murdstone is obliging enough to become her companion and protector.’

A passing thought occurred to me that Miss Murdstone, like the pocket instrument called a life-preserver, was not so much designed for purposes of protection as of assault. But as I had none but passing thoughts for any subject save Dora, I glanced at her, directly afterwards, and was thinking that I saw, in her prettily pettish manner, that she was not very much inclined to be particularly confidential to her companion and protector, when a bell rang, which Mr. Spenlow said was the first dinner-bell, and so carried me off to dress.

The idea of dressing one’s self, or doing anything in the way of action, in that state of love, was a little too ridiculous. I could only sit down before my fire, biting the key of my carpet-bag, and think of the captivating, girlish, bright-eyed lovely Dora. What a form she had, what a face she had, what a graceful, variable, enchanting manner!

The bell rang again so soon that I made a mere scramble of my dressing, instead of the careful operation I could have wished under the circumstances, and went downstairs. There was some company. Dora was talking to an old gentleman with a grey head. Grey as he was—and a great-grandfather into the bargain, for he said so—I was madly jealous of him.

What a state of mind I was in! I was jealous of everybody. I couldn’t bear the idea of anybody knowing Mr. Spenlow better than I did. It was torturing to me to hear them talk of occurrences in which I had had no share. When a most amiable person, with a highly polished bald head, asked me across the dinner table, if that were the first occasion of my seeing the grounds, I could have done anything to him that was savage and revengeful.

I don’t remember who was there, except Dora. I have not the least idea what we had for dinner, besides Dora. My impression is, that I dined off Dora, entirely, and sent away half-a-dozen plates untouched. I sat next to her. I talked to her. She had the most delightful little voice, the gayest little laugh, the pleasantest and most fascinating little ways, that ever led a lost youth into hopeless slavery. She was rather diminutive altogether. So much the more precious, I thought.

When she went out of the room with Miss Murdstone (no other ladies were of the party), I fell into a reverie, only disturbed by the cruel apprehension that Miss Murdstone would disparage me to her. The amiable creature with the polished head told me a long story, which I think was about gardening. I think I heard him say, ‘my gardener’, several times. I seemed to pay the deepest attention to him, but I was wandering in a garden of Eden all the while, with Dora.

My apprehensions of being disparaged to the object of my engrossing affection were revived when we went into the drawing-room, by the grim and distant aspect of Miss Murdstone. But I was relieved of them in an unexpected manner.

‘David Copperfield,’ said Miss Murdstone, beckoning me aside into a window. ‘A word.’

I confronted Miss Murdstone alone.

‘David Copperfield,’ said Miss Murdstone, ‘I need not enlarge upon family circumstances. They are not a tempting subject.’ ‘Far from it, ma’am,’ I returned.

‘Far from it,’ assented Miss Murdstone. ‘I do not wish to revive the memory of past differences, or of past outrages. I have received outrages from a person—a female I am sorry to say, for the credit of my sex—who is not to be mentioned without scorn and disgust; and therefore I would rather not mention her.’

I felt very fiery on my aunt’s account; but I said it would certainly be better, if Miss Murdstone pleased, not to mention her. I could not hear her disrespectfully mentioned, I added, without expressing my opinion in a decided tone.

Miss Murdstone shut her eyes, and disdainfully inclined her head; then, slowly opening her eyes, resumed:

‘David Copperfield, I shall not attempt to disguise the fact, that I formed an unfavourable opinion of you in your childhood. It may have been a mistaken one, or you may have ceased to justify it. That is not in question between us now. I belong to a family remarkable, I believe, for some firmness; and I am not the creature of circumstance or change. I may have my opinion of you. You may have your opinion of me.’

I inclined my head, in my turn.

‘But it is not necessary,’ said Miss Murdstone, ‘that these opinions should come into collision here. Under existing circumstances, it is as well on all accounts that they should not. As the chances of life have brought us together again, and may bring us together on other occasions, I would say, let us meet here as distant acquaintances. Family circumstances are a sufficient reason for our only meeting on that footing, and it is quite unnecessary that either of us should make the other the subject of remark. Do you approve of this?’

‘Miss Murdstone,’ I returned, ‘I think you and Mr. Murdstone used me very cruelly, and treated my mother with great unkindness. I shall always think so, as long as I live. But I quite agree in what you propose.’

Miss Murdstone shut her eyes again, and bent her head. Then, just touching the back of my hand with the tips of her cold, stiff fingers, she walked away, arranging the little fetters on her wrists and round her neck; which seemed to be the same set, in exactly the same state, as when I had seen her last. These reminded me, in reference to Miss Murdstone’s nature, of the fetters over a jail door; suggesting on the outside, to all beholders, what was to be expected within.

All I know of the rest of the evening is, that I heard the empress of my heart sing enchanted ballads in the French language, generally to the effect that, whatever was the matter, we ought always to dance, Ta ra la, Ta ra la! accompanying herself on a glorified instrument, resembling a guitar. That I was lost in blissful delirium. That I refused refreshment. That my soul recoiled from punch particularly. That when Miss Murdstone took her into custody and led her away, she smiled and gave me her delicious hand. That I caught a view of myself in a mirror, looking perfectly imbecile and idiotic. That I retired to bed in a most maudlin state of mind, and got up in a crisis of feeble infatuation.

It was a fine morning, and early, and I thought I would go and take a stroll down one of those wire-arched walks, and indulge my passion by dwelling on her image. On my way through the hall, I encountered her little dog, who was called Jip—short for Gipsy. I approached him tenderly, for I loved even him; but he showed his whole set of teeth, got under a chair expressly to snarl, and wouldn’t hear of the least familiarity.

The garden was cool and solitary. I walked about, wondering what my feelings of happiness would be, if I could ever become engaged to this dear wonder. As to marriage, and fortune, and all that, I believe I was almost as innocently undesigning then, as when I loved little Em’ly. To be allowed to call her ‘Dora’, to write to her, to dote upon and worship her, to have reason to think that when she was with other people she was yet mindful of me, seemed to me the summit of human ambition—I am sure it was the summit of mine. There is no doubt whatever that I was a lackadaisical young spooney; but there was a purity of heart in all this, that prevents my having quite a contemptuous recollection of it, let me laugh as I may.

I had not been walking long, when I turned a corner, and met her. I tingle again from head to foot as my recollection turns that corner, and my pen shakes in my hand.

‘You—are—out early, Miss Spenlow,’ said I.

‘It’s so stupid at home,’ she replied, ‘and Miss Murdstone is so absurd! She talks such nonsense about its being necessary for the day to be aired, before I come out. Aired!’ (She laughed, here, in the most melodious manner.) ‘On a Sunday morning, when I don’t practise, I must do something. So I told papa last night I must come out. Besides, it’s the brightest time of the whole day. Don’t you think so?’

I hazarded a bold flight, and said (not without stammering) that it was very bright to me then, though it had been very dark to me a minute before.

‘Do you mean a compliment?’ said Dora, ‘or that the weather has really changed?’

I stammered worse than before, in replying that I meant no compliment, but the plain truth; though I was not aware of any change having taken place in the weather. It was in the state of my own feelings, I added bashfully: to clench the explanation.

I never saw such curls—how could I, for there never were such curls!—as those she shook out to hide her blushes. As to the straw hat and blue ribbons which was on the top of the curls, if I could only have hung it up in my room in Buckingham Street, what a priceless possession it would have been!

‘You have just come home from Paris,’ said I.

‘Yes,’ said she. ‘Have you ever been there?’

‘No.’

‘Oh! I hope you’ll go soon! You would like it so much!’

Traces of deep-seated anguish appeared in my countenance. That she should hope I would go, that she should think it possible I could go, was insupportable. I depreciated Paris; I depreciated France. I said I wouldn’t leave England, under existing circumstances, for any earthly consideration. Nothing should induce me. In short, she was shaking the curls again, when the little dog came running along the walk to our relief.

He was mortally jealous of me, and persisted in barking at me. She took him up in her arms—oh my goodness!—and caressed him, but he persisted upon barking still. He wouldn’t let me touch him, when I tried; and then she beat him. It increased my sufferings greatly to see the pats she gave him for punishment on the bridge of his blunt nose, while he winked his eyes, and licked her hand, and still growled within himself like a little double-bass. At length he was quiet—well he might be with her dimpled chin upon his head!—and we walked away to look at a greenhouse.

‘You are not very intimate with Miss Murdstone, are you?’ said Dora. —‘My pet.’

(The two last words were to the dog. Oh, if they had only been to me!)

‘No,’ I replied. ‘Not at all so.’

‘She is a tiresome creature,’ said Dora, pouting. ‘I can’t think what papa can have been about, when he chose such a vexatious thing to be my companion. Who wants a protector? I am sure I don’t want a protector. Jip can protect me a great deal better than Miss Murdstone,—can’t you, Jip, dear?’

He only winked lazily, when she kissed his ball of a head.

‘Papa calls her my confidential friend, but I am sure she is no such thing—is she, Jip? We are not going to confide in any such cross people, Jip and I. We mean to bestow our confidence where we like, and to find out our own friends, instead of having them found out for us—don’t we, Jip?’

Jip made a comfortable noise, in answer, a little like a tea-kettle when it sings. As for me, every word was a new heap of fetters, riveted above the last.

‘It is very hard, because we have not a kind Mama, that we are to have, instead, a sulky, gloomy old thing like Miss Murdstone, always following us about—isn’t it, Jip? Never mind, Jip. We won’t be confidential, and we’ll make ourselves as happy as we can in spite of her, and we’ll tease her, and not please her—won’t we, Jip?’

If it had lasted any longer, I think I must have gone down on my knees on the gravel, with the probability before me of grazing them, and of being presently ejected from the premises besides. But, by good fortune the greenhouse was not far off, and these words brought us to it.

It contained quite a show of beautiful geraniums. We loitered along in front of them, and Dora often stopped to admire this one or that one, and I stopped to admire the same one, and Dora, laughing, held the dog up childishly, to smell the flowers; and if we were not all three in Fairyland, certainly I was. The scent of a geranium leaf, at this day, strikes me with a half comical half serious wonder as to what change has come over me in a moment; and then I see a straw hat and blue ribbons, and a quantity of curls, and a little black dog being held up, in two slender arms, against a bank of blossoms and bright leaves.

Miss Murdstone had been looking for us. She found us here; and presented her uncongenial cheek, the little wrinkles in it filled with hair powder, to Dora to be kissed. Then she took Dora’s arm in hers, and marched us into breakfast as if it were a soldier’s funeral.

How many cups of tea I drank, because Dora made it, I don’t know. But, I perfectly remember that I sat swilling tea until my whole nervous system, if I had had any in those days, must have gone by the board. By and by we went to church. Miss Murdstone was between Dora and me in the pew; but I heard her sing, and the congregation vanished. A sermon was delivered—about Dora, of course—and I am afraid that is all I know of the service.

We had a quiet day. No company, a walk, a family dinner of four, and an evening of looking over books and pictures; Miss Murdstone with a homily before her, and her eye upon us, keeping guard vigilantly. Ah! little did Mr. Spenlow imagine, when he sat opposite to me after dinner that day, with his pocket-handkerchief over his head, how fervently I was embracing him, in my fancy, as his son-in-law! Little did he think, when I took leave of him at night, that he had just given his full consent to my being engaged to Dora, and that I was invoking blessings on his head!

We departed early in the morning, for we had a Salvage case coming on in the Admiralty Court, requiring a rather accurate knowledge of the whole science of navigation, in which (as we couldn’t be expected to know much about those matters in the Commons) the judge had entreated two old Trinity Masters, for charity’s sake, to come and help him out. Dora was at the breakfast-table to make the tea again, however; and I had the melancholy pleasure of taking off my hat to her in the phaeton, as she stood on the door-step with Jip in her arms.

What the Admiralty was to me that day; what nonsense I made of our case in my mind, as I listened to it; how I saw ‘DORA’ engraved upon the blade of the silver oar which they lay upon the table, as the emblem of that high jurisdiction; and how I felt when Mr. Spenlow went home without me (I had had an insane hope that he might take me back again), as if I were a mariner myself, and the ship to which I belonged had sailed away and left me on a desert island; I shall make no fruitless effort to describe. If that sleepy old court could rouse itself, and present in any visible form the daydreams I have had in it about Dora, it would reveal my truth.

I don’t mean the dreams that I dreamed on that day alone, but day after day, from week to week, and term to term. I went there, not to attend to what was going on, but to think about Dora. If ever I bestowed a thought upon the cases, as they dragged their slow length before me, it was only to wonder, in the matrimonial cases (remembering Dora), how it was that married people could ever be otherwise than happy; and, in the Prerogative cases, to consider, if the money in question had been left to me, what were the foremost steps I should immediately have taken in regard to Dora. Within the first week of my passion, I bought four sumptuous waistcoats—not for myself; I had no pride in them; for Dora—and took to wearing straw-coloured kid gloves in the streets, and laid the foundations of all the corns I have ever had. If the boots I wore at that period could only be produced and compared with the natural size of my feet, they would show what the state of my heart was, in a most affecting manner.

And yet, wretched cripple as I made myself by this act of homage to Dora, I walked miles upon miles daily in the hope of seeing her. Not only was I soon as well known on the Norwood Road as the postmen on that beat, but I pervaded London likewise. I walked about the streets where the best shops for ladies were, I haunted the Bazaar like an unquiet spirit, I fagged through the Park again and again, long after I was quite knocked up. Sometimes, at long intervals and on rare occasions, I saw her. Perhaps I saw her glove waved in a carriage window; perhaps I met her, walked with her and Miss Murdstone a little way, and spoke to her. In the latter case I was always very miserable afterwards, to think that I had said nothing to the purpose; or that she had no idea of the extent of my devotion, or that she cared nothing about me. I was always looking out, as may be supposed, for another invitation to Mr. Spenlow’s house. I was always being disappointed, for I got none.

Mrs. Crupp must have been a woman of penetration; for when this attachment was but a few weeks old, and I had not had the courage to write more explicitly even to Agnes, than that I had been to Mr. Spenlow’s house, ‘whose family,’ I added, ‘consists of one daughter’;—I say Mrs. Crupp must have been a woman of penetration, for, even in that early stage, she found it out. She came up to me one evening, when I was very low, to ask (she being then afflicted with the disorder I have mentioned) if I could oblige her with a little tincture of cardamums mixed with rhubarb, and flavoured with seven drops of the essence of cloves, which was the best remedy for her complaint;—or, if I had not such a thing by me, with a little brandy, which was the next best. It was not, she remarked, so palatable to her, but it was the next best. As I had never even heard of the first remedy, and always had the second in the closet, I gave Mrs. Crupp a glass of the second, which (that I might have no suspicion of its being devoted to any improper use) she began to take in my presence.

‘Cheer up, sir,’ said Mrs. Crupp. ‘I can’t abear to see you so, sir: I’m a mother myself.’

I did not quite perceive the application of this fact to myself, but I smiled on Mrs. Crupp, as benignly as was in my power.

‘Come, sir,’ said Mrs. Crupp. ‘Excuse me. I know what it is, sir. There’s a lady in the case.’

‘Mrs. Crupp?’ I returned, reddening.

‘Oh, bless you! Keep a good heart, sir!’ said Mrs. Crupp, nodding encouragement. ‘Never say die, sir! If She don’t smile upon you, there’s a many as will. You are a young gentleman to be smiled on, Mr. Copperfull, and you must learn your walue, sir.’

Mrs. Crupp always called me Mr. Copperfull: firstly, no doubt, because it was not my name; and secondly, I am inclined to think, in some indistinct association with a washing-day.

‘What makes you suppose there is any young lady in the case, Mrs. Crupp?’ said I.

‘Mr. Copperfull,’ said Mrs. Crupp, with a great deal of feeling, ‘I’m a mother myself.’

For some time Mrs. Crupp could only lay her hand upon her nankeen bosom, and fortify herself against returning pain with sips of her medicine. At length she spoke again.

‘When the present set were took for you by your dear aunt, Mr. Copperfull,’ said Mrs. Crupp, ‘my remark were, I had now found summun I could care for. “Thank Ev’in!” were the expression, “I have now found summun I can care for!”—You don’t eat enough, sir, nor yet drink.’

‘Is that what you found your supposition on, Mrs. Crupp?’ said I.

‘Sir,’ said Mrs. Crupp, in a tone approaching to severity, ‘I’ve laundressed other young gentlemen besides yourself. A young gentleman may be over-careful of himself, or he may be under-careful of himself. He may brush his hair too regular, or too un-regular. He may wear his boots much too large for him, or much too small. That is according as the young gentleman has his original character formed. But let him go to which extreme he may, sir, there’s a young lady in both of ‘em.’

Mrs. Crupp shook her head in such a determined manner, that I had not an inch of vantage-ground left.

‘It was but the gentleman which died here before yourself,’ said Mrs. Crupp, ‘that fell in love—with a barmaid—and had his waistcoats took in directly, though much swelled by drinking.’

‘Mrs. Crupp,’ said I, ‘I must beg you not to connect the young lady in my case with a barmaid, or anything of that sort, if you please.’

‘Mr. Copperfull,’ returned Mrs. Crupp, ‘I’m a mother myself, and not likely. I ask your pardon, sir, if I intrude. I should never wish to intrude where I were not welcome. But you are a young gentleman, Mr. Copperfull, and my adwice to you is, to cheer up, sir, to keep a good heart, and to know your own walue. If you was to take to something, sir,’ said Mrs. Crupp, ‘if you was to take to skittles, now, which is healthy, you might find it divert your mind, and do you good.’

With these words, Mrs. Crupp, affecting to be very careful of the brandy—which was all gone—thanked me with a majestic curtsey, and retired. As her figure disappeared into the gloom of the entry, this counsel certainly presented itself to my mind in the light of a slight liberty on Mrs. Crupp’s part; but, at the same time, I was content to receive it, in another point of view, as a word to the wise, and a warning in future to keep my secret better.






CHAPTER 27. TOMMY TRADDLES

It may have been in consequence of Mrs. Crupp’s advice, and, perhaps, for no better reason than because there was a certain similarity in the sound of the word skittles and Traddles, that it came into my head, next day, to go and look after Traddles. The time he had mentioned was more than out, and he lived in a little street near the Veterinary College at Camden Town, which was principally tenanted, as one of our clerks who lived in that direction informed me, by gentlemen students, who bought live donkeys, and made experiments on those quadrupeds in their private apartments. Having obtained from this clerk a direction to the academic grove in question, I set out, the same afternoon, to visit my old schoolfellow.

I found that the street was not as desirable a one as I could have wished it to be, for the sake of Traddles. The inhabitants appeared to have a propensity to throw any little trifles they were not in want of, into the road: which not only made it rank and sloppy, but untidy too, on account of the cabbage-leaves. The refuse was not wholly vegetable either, for I myself saw a shoe, a doubled-up saucepan, a black bonnet, and an umbrella, in various stages of decomposition, as I was looking out for the number I wanted.

The general air of the place reminded me forcibly of the days when I lived with Mr. and Mrs. Micawber. An indescribable character of faded gentility that attached to the house I sought, and made it unlike all the other houses in the street—though they were all built on one monotonous pattern, and looked like the early copies of a blundering boy who was learning to make houses, and had not yet got out of his cramped brick-and-mortar pothooks—reminded me still more of Mr. and Mrs. Micawber. Happening to arrive at the door as it was opened to the afternoon milkman, I was reminded of Mr. and Mrs. Micawber more forcibly yet.

‘Now,’ said the milkman to a very youthful servant girl. ‘Has that there little bill of mine been heerd on?’

‘Oh, master says he’ll attend to it immediate,’ was the reply.

‘Because,’ said the milkman, going on as if he had received no answer, and speaking, as I judged from his tone, rather for the edification of somebody within the house, than of the youthful servant—an impression which was strengthened by his manner of glaring down the passage—‘because that there little bill has been running so long, that I begin to believe it’s run away altogether, and never won’t be heerd of. Now, I’m not a going to stand it, you know!’ said the milkman, still throwing his voice into the house, and glaring down the passage.

As to his dealing in the mild article of milk, by the by, there never was a greater anomaly. His deportment would have been fierce in a butcher or a brandy-merchant.

The voice of the youthful servant became faint, but she seemed to me, from the action of her lips, again to murmur that it would be attended to immediate.

‘I tell you what,’ said the milkman, looking hard at her for the first time, and taking her by the chin, ‘are you fond of milk?’

‘Yes, I likes it,’ she replied. ‘Good,’ said the milkman. ‘Then you won’t have none tomorrow. D’ye hear? Not a fragment of milk you won’t have tomorrow.’

I thought she seemed, upon the whole, relieved by the prospect of having any today. The milkman, after shaking his head at her darkly, released her chin, and with anything rather than good-will opened his can, and deposited the usual quantity in the family jug. This done, he went away, muttering, and uttered the cry of his trade next door, in a vindictive shriek.

‘Does Mr. Traddles live here?’ I then inquired.

A mysterious voice from the end of the passage replied ‘Yes.’ Upon which the youthful servant replied ‘Yes.’

‘Is he at home?’ said I.

Again the mysterious voice replied in the affirmative, and again the servant echoed it. Upon this, I walked in, and in pursuance of the servant’s directions walked upstairs; conscious, as I passed the back parlour-door, that I was surveyed by a mysterious eye, probably belonging to the mysterious voice.

When I got to the top of the stairs—the house was only a story high above the ground floor—Traddles was on the landing to meet me. He was delighted to see me, and gave me welcome, with great heartiness, to his little room. It was in the front of the house, and extremely neat, though sparely furnished. It was his only room, I saw; for there was a sofa-bedstead in it, and his blacking-brushes and blacking were among his books—on the top shelf, behind a dictionary. His table was covered with papers, and he was hard at work in an old coat. I looked at nothing, that I know of, but I saw everything, even to the prospect of a church upon his china inkstand, as I sat down—and this, too, was a faculty confirmed in me in the old Micawber times. Various ingenious arrangements he had made, for the disguise of his chest of drawers, and the accommodation of his boots, his shaving-glass, and so forth, particularly impressed themselves upon me, as evidences of the same Traddles who used to make models of elephants’ dens in writing-paper to put flies in; and to comfort himself under ill usage, with the memorable works of art I have so often mentioned.

In a corner of the room was something neatly covered up with a large white cloth. I could not make out what that was.

‘Traddles,’ said I, shaking hands with him again, after I had sat down, ‘I am delighted to see you.’

‘I am delighted to see YOU, Copperfield,’ he returned. ‘I am very glad indeed to see you. It was because I was thoroughly glad to see you when we met in Ely Place, and was sure you were thoroughly glad to see me, that I gave you this address instead of my address at chambers.’ ‘Oh! You have chambers?’ said I.

‘Why, I have the fourth of a room and a passage, and the fourth of a clerk,’ returned Traddles. ‘Three others and myself unite to have a set of chambers—to look business-like—and we quarter the clerk too. Half-a-crown a week he costs me.’

His old simple character and good temper, and something of his old unlucky fortune also, I thought, smiled at me in the smile with which he made this explanation.

‘It’s not because I have the least pride, Copperfield, you understand,’ said Traddles, ‘that I don’t usually give my address here. It’s only on account of those who come to me, who might not like to come here. For myself, I am fighting my way on in the world against difficulties, and it would be ridiculous if I made a pretence of doing anything else.’

‘You are reading for the bar, Mr. Waterbrook informed me?’ said I.

‘Why, yes,’ said Traddles, rubbing his hands slowly over one another. ‘I am reading for the bar. The fact is, I have just begun to keep my terms, after rather a long delay. It’s some time since I was articled, but the payment of that hundred pounds was a great pull. A great pull!’ said Traddles, with a wince, as if he had had a tooth out.

‘Do you know what I can’t help thinking of, Traddles, as I sit here looking at you?’ I asked him.

‘No,’ said he.

‘That sky-blue suit you used to wear.’

‘Lord, to be sure!’ cried Traddles, laughing. ‘Tight in the arms and legs, you know? Dear me! Well! Those were happy times, weren’t they?’

‘I think our schoolmaster might have made them happier, without doing any harm to any of us, I acknowledge,’ I returned.

‘Perhaps he might,’ said Traddles. ‘But dear me, there was a good deal of fun going on. Do you remember the nights in the bedroom? When we used to have the suppers? And when you used to tell the stories? Ha, ha, ha! And do you remember when I got caned for crying about Mr. Mell? Old Creakle! I should like to see him again, too!’

‘He was a brute to you, Traddles,’ said I, indignantly; for his good humour made me feel as if I had seen him beaten but yesterday.

‘Do you think so?’ returned Traddles. ‘Really? Perhaps he was rather. But it’s all over, a long while. Old Creakle!’

‘You were brought up by an uncle, then?’ said I.

‘Of course I was!’ said Traddles. ‘The one I was always going to write to. And always didn’t, eh! Ha, ha, ha! Yes, I had an uncle then. He died soon after I left school.’

‘Indeed!’

‘Yes. He was a retired—what do you call it!—draper—cloth-merchant—and had made me his heir. But he didn’t like me when I grew up.’

‘Do you really mean that?’ said I. He was so composed, that I fancied he must have some other meaning.

‘Oh dear, yes, Copperfield! I mean it,’ replied Traddles. ‘It was an unfortunate thing, but he didn’t like me at all. He said I wasn’t at all what he expected, and so he married his housekeeper.’

‘And what did you do?’ I asked.

‘I didn’t do anything in particular,’ said Traddles. ‘I lived with them, waiting to be put out in the world, until his gout unfortunately flew to his stomach—and so he died, and so she married a young man, and so I wasn’t provided for.’

‘Did you get nothing, Traddles, after all?’

‘Oh dear, yes!’ said Traddles. ‘I got fifty pounds. I had never been brought up to any profession, and at first I was at a loss what to do for myself. However, I began, with the assistance of the son of a professional man, who had been to Salem House—Yawler, with his nose on one side. Do you recollect him?’

No. He had not been there with me; all the noses were straight in my day.

‘It don’t matter,’ said Traddles. ‘I began, by means of his assistance, to copy law writings. That didn’t answer very well; and then I began to state cases for them, and make abstracts, and that sort of work. For I am a plodding kind of fellow, Copperfield, and had learnt the way of doing such things pithily. Well! That put it in my head to enter myself as a law student; and that ran away with all that was left of the fifty pounds. Yawler recommended me to one or two other offices, however—Mr. Waterbrook’s for one—and I got a good many jobs. I was fortunate enough, too, to become acquainted with a person in the publishing way, who was getting up an Encyclopaedia, and he set me to work; and, indeed’ (glancing at his table), ‘I am at work for him at this minute. I am not a bad compiler, Copperfield,’ said Traddles, preserving the same air of cheerful confidence in all he said, ‘but I have no invention at all; not a particle. I suppose there never was a young man with less originality than I have.’

As Traddles seemed to expect that I should assent to this as a matter of course, I nodded; and he went on, with the same sprightly patience—I can find no better expression—as before.

‘So, by little and little, and not living high, I managed to scrape up the hundred pounds at last,’ said Traddles; ‘and thank Heaven that’s paid—though it was—though it certainly was,’ said Traddles, wincing again as if he had had another tooth out, ‘a pull. I am living by the sort of work I have mentioned, still, and I hope, one of these days, to get connected with some newspaper: which would almost be the making of my fortune. Now, Copperfield, you are so exactly what you used to be, with that agreeable face, and it’s so pleasant to see you, that I sha’n’t conceal anything. Therefore you must know that I am engaged.’

Engaged! Oh, Dora!

‘She is a curate’s daughter,’ said Traddles; ‘one of ten, down in Devonshire. Yes!’ For he saw me glance, involuntarily, at the prospect on the inkstand. ‘That’s the church! You come round here to the left, out of this gate,’ tracing his finger along the inkstand, ‘and exactly where I hold this pen, there stands the house—facing, you understand, towards the church.’

The delight with which he entered into these particulars, did not fully present itself to me until afterwards; for my selfish thoughts were making a ground-plan of Mr. Spenlow’s house and garden at the same moment.

‘She is such a dear girl!’ said Traddles; ‘a little older than me, but the dearest girl! I told you I was going out of town? I have been down there. I walked there, and I walked back, and I had the most delightful time! I dare say ours is likely to be a rather long engagement, but our motto is “Wait and hope!” We always say that. “Wait and hope,” we always say. And she would wait, Copperfield, till she was sixty—any age you can mention—for me!’

Traddles rose from his chair, and, with a triumphant smile, put his hand upon the white cloth I had observed.

‘However,’ he said, ‘it’s not that we haven’t made a beginning towards housekeeping. No, no; we have begun. We must get on by degrees, but we have begun. Here,’ drawing the cloth off with great pride and care, ‘are two pieces of furniture to commence with. This flower-pot and stand, she bought herself. You put that in a parlour window,’ said Traddles, falling a little back from it to survey it with the greater admiration, ‘with a plant in it, and—and there you are! This little round table with the marble top (it’s two feet ten in circumference), I bought. You want to lay a book down, you know, or somebody comes to see you or your wife, and wants a place to stand a cup of tea upon, and—and there you are again!’ said Traddles. ‘It’s an admirable piece of workmanship—firm as a rock!’ I praised them both, highly, and Traddles replaced the covering as carefully as he had removed it.

‘It’s not a great deal towards the furnishing,’ said Traddles, ‘but it’s something. The table-cloths, and pillow-cases, and articles of that kind, are what discourage me most, Copperfield. So does the ironmongery—candle-boxes, and gridirons, and that sort of necessaries—because those things tell, and mount up. However, “wait and hope!” And I assure you she’s the dearest girl!’

‘I am quite certain of it,’ said I.

‘In the meantime,’ said Traddles, coming back to his chair; ‘and this is the end of my prosing about myself, I get on as well as I can. I don’t make much, but I don’t spend much. In general, I board with the people downstairs, who are very agreeable people indeed. Both Mr. and Mrs. Micawber have seen a good deal of life, and are excellent company.’

‘My dear Traddles!’ I quickly exclaimed. ‘What are you talking about?’

Traddles looked at me, as if he wondered what I was talking about.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Micawber!’ I repeated. ‘Why, I am intimately acquainted with them!’

An opportune double knock at the door, which I knew well from old experience in Windsor Terrace, and which nobody but Mr. Micawber could ever have knocked at that door, resolved any doubt in my mind as to their being my old friends. I begged Traddles to ask his landlord to walk up. Traddles accordingly did so, over the banister; and Mr. Micawber, not a bit changed—his tights, his stick, his shirt-collar, and his eye-glass, all the same as ever—came into the room with a genteel and youthful air.

‘I beg your pardon, Mr. Traddles,’ said Mr. Micawber, with the old roll in his voice, as he checked himself in humming a soft tune. ‘I was not aware that there was any individual, alien to this tenement, in your sanctum.’

Mr. Micawber slightly bowed to me, and pulled up his shirt-collar.

‘How do you do, Mr. Micawber?’ said I.

‘Sir,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘you are exceedingly obliging. I am in statu quo.’

‘And Mrs. Micawber?’ I pursued.

‘Sir,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘she is also, thank God, in statu quo.’

‘And the children, Mr. Micawber?’

‘Sir,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘I rejoice to reply that they are, likewise, in the enjoyment of salubrity.’

All this time, Mr. Micawber had not known me in the least, though he had stood face to face with me. But now, seeing me smile, he examined my features with more attention, fell back, cried, ‘Is it possible! Have I the pleasure of again beholding Copperfield!’ and shook me by both hands with the utmost fervour.

‘Good Heaven, Mr. Traddles!’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘to think that I should find you acquainted with the friend of my youth, the companion of earlier days! My dear!’ calling over the banisters to Mrs. Micawber, while Traddles looked (with reason) not a little amazed at this description of me. ‘Here is a gentleman in Mr. Traddles’s apartment, whom he wishes to have the pleasure of presenting to you, my love!’

Mr. Micawber immediately reappeared, and shook hands with me again.

‘And how is our good friend the Doctor, Copperfield?’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘and all the circle at Canterbury?’

‘I have none but good accounts of them,’ said I.

‘I am most delighted to hear it,’ said Mr. Micawber. ‘It was at Canterbury where we last met. Within the shadow, I may figuratively say, of that religious edifice immortalized by Chaucer, which was anciently the resort of Pilgrims from the remotest corners of—in short,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘in the immediate neighbourhood of the Cathedral.’

I replied that it was. Mr. Micawber continued talking as volubly as he could; but not, I thought, without showing, by some marks of concern in his countenance, that he was sensible of sounds in the next room, as of Mrs. Micawber washing her hands, and hurriedly opening and shutting drawers that were uneasy in their action.

‘You find us, Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, with one eye on Traddles, ‘at present established, on what may be designated as a small and unassuming scale; but, you are aware that I have, in the course of my career, surmounted difficulties, and conquered obstacles. You are no stranger to the fact, that there have been periods of my life, when it has been requisite that I should pause, until certain expected events should turn up; when it has been necessary that I should fall back, before making what I trust I shall not be accused of presumption in terming—a spring. The present is one of those momentous stages in the life of man. You find me, fallen back, FOR a spring; and I have every reason to believe that a vigorous leap will shortly be the result.’

I was expressing my satisfaction, when Mrs. Micawber came in; a little more slatternly than she used to be, or so she seemed now, to my unaccustomed eyes, but still with some preparation of herself for company, and with a pair of brown gloves on.

‘My dear,’ said Mr. Micawber, leading her towards me, ‘here is a gentleman of the name of Copperfield, who wishes to renew his acquaintance with you.’

It would have been better, as it turned out, to have led gently up to this announcement, for Mrs. Micawber, being in a delicate state of health, was overcome by it, and was taken so unwell, that Mr. Micawber was obliged, in great trepidation, to run down to the water-butt in the backyard, and draw a basinful to lave her brow with. She presently revived, however, and was really pleased to see me. We had half-an-hour’s talk, all together; and I asked her about the twins, who, she said, were ‘grown great creatures’; and after Master and Miss Micawber, whom she described as ‘absolute giants’, but they were not produced on that occasion.

Mr. Micawber was very anxious that I should stay to dinner. I should not have been averse to do so, but that I imagined I detected trouble, and calculation relative to the extent of the cold meat, in Mrs. Micawber’s eye. I therefore pleaded another engagement; and observing that Mrs. Micawber’s spirits were immediately lightened, I resisted all persuasion to forego it.

But I told Traddles, and Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, that before I could think of leaving, they must appoint a day when they would come and dine with me. The occupations to which Traddles stood pledged, rendered it necessary to fix a somewhat distant one; but an appointment was made for the purpose, that suited us all, and then I took my leave.

Mr. Micawber, under pretence of showing me a nearer way than that by which I had come, accompanied me to the corner of the street; being anxious (he explained to me) to say a few words to an old friend, in confidence.

‘My dear Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘I need hardly tell you that to have beneath our roof, under existing circumstances, a mind like that which gleams—if I may be allowed the expression—which gleams—in your friend Traddles, is an unspeakable comfort. With a washerwoman, who exposes hard-bake for sale in her parlour-window, dwelling next door, and a Bow-street officer residing over the way, you may imagine that his society is a source of consolation to myself and to Mrs. Micawber. I am at present, my dear Copperfield, engaged in the sale of corn upon commission. It is not an avocation of a remunerative description—in other words, it does not pay—and some temporary embarrassments of a pecuniary nature have been the consequence. I am, however, delighted to add that I have now an immediate prospect of something turning up (I am not at liberty to say in what direction), which I trust will enable me to provide, permanently, both for myself and for your friend Traddles, in whom I have an unaffected interest. You may, perhaps, be prepared to hear that Mrs. Micawber is in a state of health which renders it not wholly improbable that an addition may be ultimately made to those pledges of affection which—in short, to the infantine group. Mrs. Micawber’s family have been so good as to express their dissatisfaction at this state of things. I have merely to observe, that I am not aware that it is any business of theirs, and that I repel that exhibition of feeling with scorn, and with defiance!’

Mr. Micawber then shook hands with me again, and left me.






CHAPTER 28. Mr. MICAWBER’S GAUNTLET

Until the day arrived on which I was to entertain my newly-found old friends, I lived principally on Dora and coffee. In my love-lorn condition, my appetite languished; and I was glad of it, for I felt as though it would have been an act of perfidy towards Dora to have a natural relish for my dinner. The quantity of walking exercise I took, was not in this respect attended with its usual consequence, as the disappointment counteracted the fresh air. I have my doubts, too, founded on the acute experience acquired at this period of my life, whether a sound enjoyment of animal food can develop itself freely in any human subject who is always in torment from tight boots. I think the extremities require to be at peace before the stomach will conduct itself with vigour.

On the occasion of this domestic little party, I did not repeat my former extensive preparations. I merely provided a pair of soles, a small leg of mutton, and a pigeon-pie. Mrs. Crupp broke out into rebellion on my first bashful hint in reference to the cooking of the fish and joint, and said, with a dignified sense of injury, ‘No! No, sir! You will not ask me sich a thing, for you are better acquainted with me than to suppose me capable of doing what I cannot do with ampial satisfaction to my own feelings!’ But, in the end, a compromise was effected; and Mrs. Crupp consented to achieve this feat, on condition that I dined from home for a fortnight afterwards.

And here I may remark, that what I underwent from Mrs. Crupp, in consequence of the tyranny she established over me, was dreadful. I never was so much afraid of anyone. We made a compromise of everything. If I hesitated, she was taken with that wonderful disorder which was always lying in ambush in her system, ready, at the shortest notice, to prey upon her vitals. If I rang the bell impatiently, after half-a-dozen unavailing modest pulls, and she appeared at last—which was not by any means to be relied upon—she would appear with a reproachful aspect, sink breathless on a chair near the door, lay her hand upon her nankeen bosom, and become so ill, that I was glad, at any sacrifice of brandy or anything else, to get rid of her. If I objected to having my bed made at five o’clock in the afternoon—which I do still think an uncomfortable arrangement—one motion of her hand towards the same nankeen region of wounded sensibility was enough to make me falter an apology. In short, I would have done anything in an honourable way rather than give Mrs. Crupp offence; and she was the terror of my life.

I bought a second-hand dumb-waiter for this dinner-party, in preference to re-engaging the handy young man; against whom I had conceived a prejudice, in consequence of meeting him in the Strand, one Sunday morning, in a waistcoat remarkably like one of mine, which had been missing since the former occasion. The ‘young gal’ was re-engaged; but on the stipulation that she should only bring in the dishes, and then withdraw to the landing-place, beyond the outer door; where a habit of sniffing she had contracted would be lost upon the guests, and where her retiring on the plates would be a physical impossibility.

Having laid in the materials for a bowl of punch, to be compounded by Mr. Micawber; having provided a bottle of lavender-water, two wax-candles, a paper of mixed pins, and a pincushion, to assist Mrs. Micawber in her toilette at my dressing-table; having also caused the fire in my bedroom to be lighted for Mrs. Micawber’s convenience; and having laid the cloth with my own hands, I awaited the result with composure.

At the appointed time, my three visitors arrived together. Mr. Micawber with more shirt-collar than usual, and a new ribbon to his eye-glass; Mrs. Micawber with her cap in a whitey-brown paper parcel; Traddles carrying the parcel, and supporting Mrs. Micawber on his arm. They were all delighted with my residence. When I conducted Mrs. Micawber to my dressing-table, and she saw the scale on which it was prepared for her, she was in such raptures, that she called Mr. Micawber to come in and look.

‘My dear Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘this is luxurious. This is a way of life which reminds me of the period when I was myself in a state of celibacy, and Mrs. Micawber had not yet been solicited to plight her faith at the Hymeneal altar.’

‘He means, solicited by him, Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mrs. Micawber, archly. ‘He cannot answer for others.’

‘My dear,’ returned Mr. Micawber with sudden seriousness, ‘I have no desire to answer for others. I am too well aware that when, in the inscrutable decrees of Fate, you were reserved for me, it is possible you may have been reserved for one, destined, after a protracted struggle, at length to fall a victim to pecuniary involvements of a complicated nature. I understand your allusion, my love. I regret it, but I can bear it.’

‘Micawber!’ exclaimed Mrs. Micawber, in tears. ‘Have I deserved this! I, who never have deserted you; who never WILL desert you, Micawber!’ ‘My love,’ said Mr. Micawber, much affected, ‘you will forgive, and our old and tried friend Copperfield will, I am sure, forgive, the momentary laceration of a wounded spirit, made sensitive by a recent collision with the Minion of Power—in other words, with a ribald Turncock attached to the water-works—and will pity, not condemn, its excesses.’

Mr. Micawber then embraced Mrs. Micawber, and pressed my hand; leaving me to infer from this broken allusion that his domestic supply of water had been cut off that afternoon, in consequence of default in the payment of the company’s rates.

To divert his thoughts from this melancholy subject, I informed Mr. Micawber that I relied upon him for a bowl of punch, and led him to the lemons. His recent despondency, not to say despair, was gone in a moment. I never saw a man so thoroughly enjoy himself amid the fragrance of lemon-peel and sugar, the odour of burning rum, and the steam of boiling water, as Mr. Micawber did that afternoon. It was wonderful to see his face shining at us out of a thin cloud of these delicate fumes, as he stirred, and mixed, and tasted, and looked as if he were making, instead of punch, a fortune for his family down to the latest posterity. As to Mrs. Micawber, I don’t know whether it was the effect of the cap, or the lavender-water, or the pins, or the fire, or the wax-candles, but she came out of my room, comparatively speaking, lovely. And the lark was never gayer than that excellent woman.

I suppose—I never ventured to inquire, but I suppose—that Mrs. Crupp, after frying the soles, was taken ill. Because we broke down at that point. The leg of mutton came up very red within, and very pale without: besides having a foreign substance of a gritty nature sprinkled over it, as if if had had a fall into the ashes of that remarkable kitchen fireplace. But we were not in condition to judge of this fact from the appearance of the gravy, forasmuch as the ‘young gal’ had dropped it all upon the stairs—where it remained, by the by, in a long train, until it was worn out. The pigeon-pie was not bad, but it was a delusive pie: the crust being like a disappointing head, phrenologically speaking: full of lumps and bumps, with nothing particular underneath. In short, the banquet was such a failure that I should have been quite unhappy—about the failure, I mean, for I was always unhappy about Dora—if I had not been relieved by the great good humour of my company, and by a bright suggestion from Mr. Micawber.

‘My dear friend Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘accidents will occur in the best-regulated families; and in families not regulated by that pervading influence which sanctifies while it enhances the—a—I would say, in short, by the influence of Woman, in the lofty character of Wife, they may be expected with confidence, and must be borne with philosophy. If you will allow me to take the liberty of remarking that there are few comestibles better, in their way, than a Devil, and that I believe, with a little division of labour, we could accomplish a good one if the young person in attendance could produce a gridiron, I would put it to you, that this little misfortune may be easily repaired.’

There was a gridiron in the pantry, on which my morning rasher of bacon was cooked. We had it in, in a twinkling, and immediately applied ourselves to carrying Mr. Micawber’s idea into effect. The division of labour to which he had referred was this:—Traddles cut the mutton into slices; Mr. Micawber (who could do anything of this sort to perfection) covered them with pepper, mustard, salt, and cayenne; I put them on the gridiron, turned them with a fork, and took them off, under Mr. Micawber’s direction; and Mrs. Micawber heated, and continually stirred, some mushroom ketchup in a little saucepan. When we had slices enough done to begin upon, we fell-to, with our sleeves still tucked up at the wrist, more slices sputtering and blazing on the fire, and our attention divided between the mutton on our plates, and the mutton then preparing.

What with the novelty of this cookery, the excellence of it, the bustle of it, the frequent starting up to look after it, the frequent sitting down to dispose of it as the crisp slices came off the gridiron hot and hot, the being so busy, so flushed with the fire, so amused, and in the midst of such a tempting noise and savour, we reduced the leg of mutton to the bone. My own appetite came back miraculously. I am ashamed to record it, but I really believe I forgot Dora for a little while. I am satisfied that Mr. and Mrs. Micawber could not have enjoyed the feast more, if they had sold a bed to provide it. Traddles laughed as heartily, almost the whole time, as he ate and worked. Indeed we all did, all at once; and I dare say there was never a greater success.

We were at the height of our enjoyment, and were all busily engaged, in our several departments, endeavouring to bring the last batch of slices to a state of perfection that should crown the feast, when I was aware of a strange presence in the room, and my eyes encountered those of the staid Littimer, standing hat in hand before me.

‘What’s the matter?’ I involuntarily asked.

‘I beg your pardon, sir, I was directed to come in. Is my master not here, sir?’

‘No.’

‘Have you not seen him, sir?’

‘No; don’t you come from him?’

‘Not immediately so, sir.’

‘Did he tell you you would find him here?’

‘Not exactly so, sir. But I should think he might be here tomorrow, as he has not been here today.’ ‘Is he coming up from Oxford?’

‘I beg, sir,’ he returned respectfully, ‘that you will be seated, and allow me to do this.’ With which he took the fork from my unresisting hand, and bent over the gridiron, as if his whole attention were concentrated on it.

We should not have been much discomposed, I dare say, by the appearance of Steerforth himself, but we became in a moment the meekest of the meek before his respectable serving-man. Mr. Micawber, humming a tune, to show that he was quite at ease, subsided into his chair, with the handle of a hastily concealed fork sticking out of the bosom of his coat, as if he had stabbed himself. Mrs. Micawber put on her brown gloves, and assumed a genteel languor. Traddles ran his greasy hands through his hair, and stood it bolt upright, and stared in confusion on the table-cloth. As for me, I was a mere infant at the head of my own table; and hardly ventured to glance at the respectable phenomenon, who had come from Heaven knows where, to put my establishment to rights.

Meanwhile he took the mutton off the gridiron, and gravely handed it round. We all took some, but our appreciation of it was gone, and we merely made a show of eating it. As we severally pushed away our plates, he noiselessly removed them, and set on the cheese. He took that off, too, when it was done with; cleared the table; piled everything on the dumb-waiter; gave us our wine-glasses; and, of his own accord, wheeled the dumb-waiter into the pantry. All this was done in a perfect manner, and he never raised his eyes from what he was about. Yet his very elbows, when he had his back towards me, seemed to teem with the expression of his fixed opinion that I was extremely young.

‘Can I do anything more, sir?’

I thanked him and said, No; but would he take no dinner himself?

‘None, I am obliged to you, sir.’

‘Is Mr. Steerforth coming from Oxford?’

‘I beg your pardon, sir?’

‘Is Mr. Steerforth coming from Oxford?’

‘I should imagine that he might be here tomorrow, sir. I rather thought he might have been here today, sir. The mistake is mine, no doubt, sir.’

‘If you should see him first—’ said I.

‘If you’ll excuse me, sir, I don’t think I shall see him first.’

‘In case you do,’ said I, ‘pray say that I am sorry he was not here today, as an old schoolfellow of his was here.’

‘Indeed, sir!’ and he divided a bow between me and Traddles, with a glance at the latter.

He was moving softly to the door, when, in a forlorn hope of saying something naturally—which I never could, to this man—I said:

‘Oh! Littimer!’

‘Sir!’

‘Did you remain long at Yarmouth, that time?’

‘Not particularly so, sir.’

‘You saw the boat completed?’

‘Yes, sir. I remained behind on purpose to see the boat completed.’

‘I know!’ He raised his eyes to mine respectfully.

‘Mr. Steerforth has not seen it yet, I suppose?’

‘I really can’t say, sir. I think—but I really can’t say, sir. I wish you good night, sir.’

He comprehended everybody present, in the respectful bow with which he followed these words, and disappeared. My visitors seemed to breathe more freely when he was gone; but my own relief was very great, for besides the constraint, arising from that extraordinary sense of being at a disadvantage which I always had in this man’s presence, my conscience had embarrassed me with whispers that I had mistrusted his master, and I could not repress a vague uneasy dread that he might find it out. How was it, having so little in reality to conceal, that I always DID feel as if this man were finding me out?

Mr. Micawber roused me from this reflection, which was blended with a certain remorseful apprehension of seeing Steerforth himself, by bestowing many encomiums on the absent Littimer as a most respectable fellow, and a thoroughly admirable servant. Mr. Micawber, I may remark, had taken his full share of the general bow, and had received it with infinite condescension.

‘But punch, my dear Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, tasting it, ‘like time and tide, waits for no man. Ah! it is at the present moment in high flavour. My love, will you give me your opinion?’

Mrs. Micawber pronounced it excellent.

‘Then I will drink,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘if my friend Copperfield will permit me to take that social liberty, to the days when my friend Copperfield and myself were younger, and fought our way in the world side by side. I may say, of myself and Copperfield, in words we have sung together before now, that

    We twa hae run about the braes,  And pu’d the gowans’ fine—in a figurative point of view—on several occasions. I am not exactly aware,’ said Mr. Micawber, with the old roll in his voice, and the old indescribable air of saying something genteel, ‘what gowans may be, but I have no doubt that Copperfield and myself would frequently have taken a pull at them, if it had been feasible.’

Mr. Micawber, at the then present moment, took a pull at his punch. So we all did: Traddles evidently lost in wondering at what distant time Mr. Micawber and I could have been comrades in the battle of the world.

‘Ahem!’ said Mr. Micawber, clearing his throat, and warming with the punch and with the fire. ‘My dear, another glass?’

Mrs. Micawber said it must be very little; but we couldn’t allow that, so it was a glassful.

‘As we are quite confidential here, Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mrs. Micawber, sipping her punch, ‘Mr. Traddles being a part of our domesticity, I should much like to have your opinion on Mr. Micawber’s prospects. For corn,’ said Mrs. Micawber argumentatively, ‘as I have repeatedly said to Mr. Micawber, may be gentlemanly, but it is not remunerative. Commission to the extent of two and ninepence in a fortnight cannot, however limited our ideas, be considered remunerative.’

We were all agreed upon that.

‘Then,’ said Mrs. Micawber, who prided herself on taking a clear view of things, and keeping Mr. Micawber straight by her woman’s wisdom, when he might otherwise go a little crooked, ‘then I ask myself this question. If corn is not to be relied upon, what is? Are coals to be relied upon? Not at all. We have turned our attention to that experiment, on the suggestion of my family, and we find it fallacious.’

Mr. Micawber, leaning back in his chair with his hands in his pockets, eyed us aside, and nodded his head, as much as to say that the case was very clearly put.

‘The articles of corn and coals,’ said Mrs. Micawber, still more argumentatively, ‘being equally out of the question, Mr. Copperfield, I naturally look round the world, and say, “What is there in which a person of Mr. Micawber’s talent is likely to succeed?” And I exclude the doing anything on commission, because commission is not a certainty. What is best suited to a person of Mr. Micawber’s peculiar temperament is, I am convinced, a certainty.’

Traddles and I both expressed, by a feeling murmur, that this great discovery was no doubt true of Mr. Micawber, and that it did him much credit.

‘I will not conceal from you, my dear Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘that I have long felt the Brewing business to be particularly adapted to Mr. Micawber. Look at Barclay and Perkins! Look at Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton! It is on that extensive footing that Mr. Micawber, I know from my own knowledge of him, is calculated to shine; and the profits, I am told, are e-NOR-MOUS! But if Mr. Micawber cannot get into those firms—which decline to answer his letters, when he offers his services even in an inferior capacity—what is the use of dwelling upon that idea? None. I may have a conviction that Mr. Micawber’s manners—’

‘Hem! Really, my dear,’ interposed Mr. Micawber.

‘My love, be silent,’ said Mrs. Micawber, laying her brown glove on his hand. ‘I may have a conviction, Mr. Copperfield, that Mr. Micawber’s manners peculiarly qualify him for the Banking business. I may argue within myself, that if I had a deposit at a banking-house, the manners of Mr. Micawber, as representing that banking-house, would inspire confidence, and must extend the connexion. But if the various banking-houses refuse to avail themselves of Mr. Micawber’s abilities, or receive the offer of them with contumely, what is the use of dwelling upon THAT idea? None. As to originating a banking-business, I may know that there are members of my family who, if they chose to place their money in Mr. Micawber’s hands, might found an establishment of that description. But if they do NOT choose to place their money in Mr. Micawber’s hands—which they don’t—what is the use of that? Again I contend that we are no farther advanced than we were before.’

I shook my head, and said, ‘Not a bit.’ Traddles also shook his head, and said, ‘Not a bit.’

‘What do I deduce from this?’ Mrs. Micawber went on to say, still with the same air of putting a case lucidly. ‘What is the conclusion, my dear Mr. Copperfield, to which I am irresistibly brought? Am I wrong in saying, it is clear that we must live?’

I answered ‘Not at all!’ and Traddles answered ‘Not at all!’ and I found myself afterwards sagely adding, alone, that a person must either live or die.

‘Just so,’ returned Mrs. Micawber, ‘It is precisely that. And the fact is, my dear Mr. Copperfield, that we can not live without something widely different from existing circumstances shortly turning up. Now I am convinced, myself, and this I have pointed out to Mr. Micawber several times of late, that things cannot be expected to turn up of themselves. We must, in a measure, assist to turn them up. I may be wrong, but I have formed that opinion.’

Both Traddles and I applauded it highly.

‘Very well,’ said Mrs. Micawber. ‘Then what do I recommend? Here is Mr. Micawber with a variety of qualifications—with great talent—’

‘Really, my love,’ said Mr. Micawber.

‘Pray, my dear, allow me to conclude. Here is Mr. Micawber, with a variety of qualifications, with great talent—I should say, with genius, but that may be the partiality of a wife—’

Traddles and I both murmured ‘No.’

‘And here is Mr. Micawber without any suitable position or employment. Where does that responsibility rest? Clearly on society. Then I would make a fact so disgraceful known, and boldly challenge society to set it right. It appears to me, my dear Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mrs. Micawber, forcibly, ‘that what Mr. Micawber has to do, is to throw down the gauntlet to society, and say, in effect, “Show me who will take that up. Let the party immediately step forward.”’

I ventured to ask Mrs. Micawber how this was to be done.

‘By advertising,’ said Mrs. Micawber—‘in all the papers. It appears to me, that what Mr. Micawber has to do, in justice to himself, in justice to his family, and I will even go so far as to say in justice to society, by which he has been hitherto overlooked, is to advertise in all the papers; to describe himself plainly as so-and-so, with such and such qualifications and to put it thus: “Now employ me, on remunerative terms, and address, post-paid, to W. M., Post Office, Camden Town.”’

‘This idea of Mrs. Micawber’s, my dear Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, making his shirt-collar meet in front of his chin, and glancing at me sideways, ‘is, in fact, the Leap to which I alluded, when I last had the pleasure of seeing you.’

‘Advertising is rather expensive,’ I remarked, dubiously.

‘Exactly so!’ said Mrs. Micawber, preserving the same logical air. ‘Quite true, my dear Mr. Copperfield! I have made the identical observation to Mr. Micawber. It is for that reason especially, that I think Mr. Micawber ought (as I have already said, in justice to himself, in justice to his family, and in justice to society) to raise a certain sum of money—on a bill.’

Mr. Micawber, leaning back in his chair, trifled with his eye-glass and cast his eyes up at the ceiling; but I thought him observant of Traddles, too, who was looking at the fire.

‘If no member of my family,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘is possessed of sufficient natural feeling to negotiate that bill—I believe there is a better business-term to express what I mean—’

Mr. Micawber, with his eyes still cast up at the ceiling, suggested ‘Discount.’

‘To discount that bill,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘then my opinion is, that Mr. Micawber should go into the City, should take that bill into the Money Market, and should dispose of it for what he can get. If the individuals in the Money Market oblige Mr. Micawber to sustain a great sacrifice, that is between themselves and their consciences. I view it, steadily, as an investment. I recommend Mr. Micawber, my dear Mr. Copperfield, to do the same; to regard it as an investment which is sure of return, and to make up his mind to any sacrifice.’

I felt, but I am sure I don’t know why, that this was self-denying and devoted in Mrs. Micawber, and I uttered a murmur to that effect. Traddles, who took his tone from me, did likewise, still looking at the fire.

‘I will not,’ said Mrs. Micawber, finishing her punch, and gathering her scarf about her shoulders, preparatory to her withdrawal to my bedroom: ‘I will not protract these remarks on the subject of Mr. Micawber’s pecuniary affairs. At your fireside, my dear Mr. Copperfield, and in the presence of Mr. Traddles, who, though not so old a friend, is quite one of ourselves, I could not refrain from making you acquainted with the course I advise Mr. Micawber to take. I feel that the time is arrived when Mr. Micawber should exert himself and—I will add—assert himself, and it appears to me that these are the means. I am aware that I am merely a female, and that a masculine judgement is usually considered more competent to the discussion of such questions; still I must not forget that, when I lived at home with my papa and mama, my papa was in the habit of saying, “Emma’s form is fragile, but her grasp of a subject is inferior to none.” That my papa was too partial, I well know; but that he was an observer of character in some degree, my duty and my reason equally forbid me to doubt.’

With these words, and resisting our entreaties that she would grace the remaining circulation of the punch with her presence, Mrs. Micawber retired to my bedroom. And really I felt that she was a noble woman—the sort of woman who might have been a Roman matron, and done all manner of heroic things, in times of public trouble.

In the fervour of this impression, I congratulated Mr. Micawber on the treasure he possessed. So did Traddles. Mr. Micawber extended his hand to each of us in succession, and then covered his face with his pocket-handkerchief, which I think had more snuff upon it than he was aware of. He then returned to the punch, in the highest state of exhilaration.

He was full of eloquence. He gave us to understand that in our children we lived again, and that, under the pressure of pecuniary difficulties, any accession to their number was doubly welcome. He said that Mrs. Micawber had latterly had her doubts on this point, but that he had dispelled them, and reassured her. As to her family, they were totally unworthy of her, and their sentiments were utterly indifferent to him, and they might—I quote his own expression—go to the Devil.

Mr. Micawber then delivered a warm eulogy on Traddles. He said Traddles’s was a character, to the steady virtues of which he (Mr. Micawber) could lay no claim, but which, he thanked Heaven, he could admire. He feelingly alluded to the young lady, unknown, whom Traddles had honoured with his affection, and who had reciprocated that affection by honouring and blessing Traddles with her affection. Mr. Micawber pledged her. So did I. Traddles thanked us both, by saying, with a simplicity and honesty I had sense enough to be quite charmed with, ‘I am very much obliged to you indeed. And I do assure you, she’s the dearest girl!—’

Mr. Micawber took an early opportunity, after that, of hinting, with the utmost delicacy and ceremony, at the state of my affections. Nothing but the serious assurance of his friend Copperfield to the contrary, he observed, could deprive him of the impression that his friend Copperfield loved and was beloved. After feeling very hot and uncomfortable for some time, and after a good deal of blushing, stammering, and denying, I said, having my glass in my hand, ‘Well! I would give them D.!’ which so excited and gratified Mr. Micawber, that he ran with a glass of punch into my bedroom, in order that Mrs. Micawber might drink D., who drank it with enthusiasm, crying from within, in a shrill voice, ‘Hear, hear! My dear Mr. Copperfield, I am delighted. Hear!’ and tapping at the wall, by way of applause.

Our conversation, afterwards, took a more worldly turn; Mr. Micawber telling us that he found Camden Town inconvenient, and that the first thing he contemplated doing, when the advertisement should have been the cause of something satisfactory turning up, was to move. He mentioned a terrace at the western end of Oxford Street, fronting Hyde Park, on which he had always had his eye, but which he did not expect to attain immediately, as it would require a large establishment. There would probably be an interval, he explained, in which he should content himself with the upper part of a house, over some respectable place of business—say in Piccadilly,—which would be a cheerful situation for Mrs. Micawber; and where, by throwing out a bow-window, or carrying up the roof another story, or making some little alteration of that sort, they might live, comfortably and reputably, for a few years. Whatever was reserved for him, he expressly said, or wherever his abode might be, we might rely on this—there would always be a room for Traddles, and a knife and fork for me. We acknowledged his kindness; and he begged us to forgive his having launched into these practical and business-like details, and to excuse it as natural in one who was making entirely new arrangements in life.

Mrs. Micawber, tapping at the wall again to know if tea were ready, broke up this particular phase of our friendly conversation. She made tea for us in a most agreeable manner; and, whenever I went near her, in handing about the tea-cups and bread-and-butter, asked me, in a whisper, whether D. was fair, or dark, or whether she was short, or tall: or something of that kind; which I think I liked. After tea, we discussed a variety of topics before the fire; and Mrs. Micawber was good enough to sing us (in a small, thin, flat voice, which I remembered to have considered, when I first knew her, the very table-beer of acoustics) the favourite ballads of ‘The Dashing White Sergeant’, and ‘Little Tafflin’. For both of these songs Mrs. Micawber had been famous when she lived at home with her papa and mama. Mr. Micawber told us, that when he heard her sing the first one, on the first occasion of his seeing her beneath the parental roof, she had attracted his attention in an extraordinary degree; but that when it came to Little Tafflin, he had resolved to win that woman or perish in the attempt.

It was between ten and eleven o’clock when Mrs. Micawber rose to replace her cap in the whitey-brown paper parcel, and to put on her bonnet. Mr. Micawber took the opportunity of Traddles putting on his great-coat, to slip a letter into my hand, with a whispered request that I would read it at my leisure. I also took the opportunity of my holding a candle over the banisters to light them down, when Mr. Micawber was going first, leading Mrs. Micawber, and Traddles was following with the cap, to detain Traddles for a moment on the top of the stairs.

‘Traddles,’ said I, ‘Mr. Micawber don’t mean any harm, poor fellow: but, if I were you, I wouldn’t lend him anything.’

‘My dear Copperfield,’ returned Traddles, smiling, ‘I haven’t got anything to lend.’

‘You have got a name, you know,’ said I.

‘Oh! You call THAT something to lend?’ returned Traddles, with a thoughtful look.

‘Certainly.’

‘Oh!’ said Traddles. ‘Yes, to be sure! I am very much obliged to you, Copperfield; but—I am afraid I have lent him that already.’

‘For the bill that is to be a certain investment?’ I inquired.

‘No,’ said Traddles. ‘Not for that one. This is the first I have heard of that one. I have been thinking that he will most likely propose that one, on the way home. Mine’s another.’

‘I hope there will be nothing wrong about it,’ said I. ‘I hope not,’ said Traddles. ‘I should think not, though, because he told me, only the other day, that it was provided for. That was Mr. Micawber’s expression, “Provided for.”’

Mr. Micawber looking up at this juncture to where we were standing, I had only time to repeat my caution. Traddles thanked me, and descended. But I was much afraid, when I observed the good-natured manner in which he went down with the cap in his hand, and gave Mrs. Micawber his arm, that he would be carried into the Money Market neck and heels.

I returned to my fireside, and was musing, half gravely and half laughing, on the character of Mr. Micawber and the old relations between us, when I heard a quick step ascending the stairs. At first, I thought it was Traddles coming back for something Mrs. Micawber had left behind; but as the step approached, I knew it, and felt my heart beat high, and the blood rush to my face, for it was Steerforth’s.

I was never unmindful of Agnes, and she never left that sanctuary in my thoughts—if I may call it so—where I had placed her from the first. But when he entered, and stood before me with his hand out, the darkness that had fallen on him changed to light, and I felt confounded and ashamed of having doubted one I loved so heartily. I loved her none the less; I thought of her as the same benignant, gentle angel in my life; I reproached myself, not her, with having done him an injury; and I would have made him any atonement if I had known what to make, and how to make it.

‘Why, Daisy, old boy, dumb-foundered!’ laughed Steerforth, shaking my hand heartily, and throwing it gaily away. ‘Have I detected you in another feast, you Sybarite! These Doctors’ Commons fellows are the gayest men in town, I believe, and beat us sober Oxford people all to nothing!’ His bright glance went merrily round the room, as he took the seat on the sofa opposite to me, which Mrs. Micawber had recently vacated, and stirred the fire into a blaze.

‘I was so surprised at first,’ said I, giving him welcome with all the cordiality I felt, ‘that I had hardly breath to greet you with, Steerforth.’

‘Well, the sight of me is good for sore eyes, as the Scotch say,’ replied Steerforth, ‘and so is the sight of you, Daisy, in full bloom. How are you, my Bacchanal?’

‘I am very well,’ said I; ‘and not at all Bacchanalian tonight, though I confess to another party of three.’

‘All of whom I met in the street, talking loud in your praise,’ returned Steerforth. ‘Who’s our friend in the tights?’

I gave him the best idea I could, in a few words, of Mr. Micawber. He laughed heartily at my feeble portrait of that gentleman, and said he was a man to know, and he must know him. ‘But who do you suppose our other friend is?’ said I, in my turn.

‘Heaven knows,’ said Steerforth. ‘Not a bore, I hope? I thought he looked a little like one.’

‘Traddles!’ I replied, triumphantly.

‘Who’s he?’ asked Steerforth, in his careless way.

‘Don’t you remember Traddles? Traddles in our room at Salem House?’

‘Oh! That fellow!’ said Steerforth, beating a lump of coal on the top of the fire, with the poker. ‘Is he as soft as ever? And where the deuce did you pick him up?’

I extolled Traddles in reply, as highly as I could; for I felt that Steerforth rather slighted him. Steerforth, dismissing the subject with a light nod, and a smile, and the remark that he would be glad to see the old fellow too, for he had always been an odd fish, inquired if I could give him anything to eat? During most of this short dialogue, when he had not been speaking in a wild vivacious manner, he had sat idly beating on the lump of coal with the poker. I observed that he did the same thing while I was getting out the remains of the pigeon-pie, and so forth.

‘Why, Daisy, here’s a supper for a king!’ he exclaimed, starting out of his silence with a burst, and taking his seat at the table. ‘I shall do it justice, for I have come from Yarmouth.’

‘I thought you came from Oxford?’ I returned.

‘Not I,’ said Steerforth. ‘I have been seafaring—better employed.’

‘Littimer was here today, to inquire for you,’ I remarked, ‘and I understood him that you were at Oxford; though, now I think of it, he certainly did not say so.’

‘Littimer is a greater fool than I thought him, to have been inquiring for me at all,’ said Steerforth, jovially pouring out a glass of wine, and drinking to me. ‘As to understanding him, you are a cleverer fellow than most of us, Daisy, if you can do that.’

‘That’s true, indeed,’ said I, moving my chair to the table. ‘So you have been at Yarmouth, Steerforth!’ interested to know all about it. ‘Have you been there long?’

‘No,’ he returned. ‘An escapade of a week or so.’

‘And how are they all? Of course, little Emily is not married yet?’

‘Not yet. Going to be, I believe—in so many weeks, or months, or something or other. I have not seen much of ‘em. By the by’; he laid down his knife and fork, which he had been using with great diligence, and began feeling in his pockets; ‘I have a letter for you.’

‘From whom?’

‘Why, from your old nurse,’ he returned, taking some papers out of his breast pocket. “‘J. Steerforth, Esquire, debtor, to The Willing Mind”; that’s not it. Patience, and we’ll find it presently. Old what’s-his-name’s in a bad way, and it’s about that, I believe.’

‘Barkis, do you mean?’

‘Yes!’ still feeling in his pockets, and looking over their contents: ‘it’s all over with poor Barkis, I am afraid. I saw a little apothecary there—surgeon, or whatever he is—who brought your worship into the world. He was mighty learned about the case, to me; but the upshot of his opinion was, that the carrier was making his last journey rather fast.—-Put your hand into the breast pocket of my great-coat on the chair yonder, and I think you’ll find the letter. Is it there?’

‘Here it is!’ said I.

‘That’s right!’

It was from Peggotty; something less legible than usual, and brief. It informed me of her husband’s hopeless state, and hinted at his being ‘a little nearer’ than heretofore, and consequently more difficult to manage for his own comfort. It said nothing of her weariness and watching, and praised him highly. It was written with a plain, unaffected, homely piety that I knew to be genuine, and ended with ‘my duty to my ever darling’—meaning myself.

While I deciphered it, Steerforth continued to eat and drink.

‘It’s a bad job,’ he said, when I had done; ‘but the sun sets every day, and people die every minute, and we mustn’t be scared by the common lot. If we failed to hold our own, because that equal foot at all men’s doors was heard knocking somewhere, every object in this world would slip from us. No! Ride on! Rough-shod if need be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!’

‘And win what race?’ said I.

‘The race that one has started in,’ said he. ‘Ride on!’

I noticed, I remember, as he paused, looking at me with his handsome head a little thrown back, and his glass raised in his hand, that, though the freshness of the sea-wind was on his face, and it was ruddy, there were traces in it, made since I last saw it, as if he had applied himself to some habitual strain of the fervent energy which, when roused, was so passionately roused within him. I had it in my thoughts to remonstrate with him upon his desperate way of pursuing any fancy that he took—such as this buffeting of rough seas, and braving of hard weather, for example—when my mind glanced off to the immediate subject of our conversation again, and pursued that instead.

‘I tell you what, Steerforth,’ said I, ‘if your high spirits will listen to me—’

‘They are potent spirits, and will do whatever you like,’ he answered, moving from the table to the fireside again.

‘Then I tell you what, Steerforth. I think I will go down and see my old nurse. It is not that I can do her any good, or render her any real service; but she is so attached to me that my visit will have as much effect on her, as if I could do both. She will take it so kindly that it will be a comfort and support to her. It is no great effort to make, I am sure, for such a friend as she has been to me. Wouldn’t you go a day’s journey, if you were in my place?’

His face was thoughtful, and he sat considering a little before he answered, in a low voice, ‘Well! Go. You can do no harm.’

‘You have just come back,’ said I, ‘and it would be in vain to ask you to go with me?’

‘Quite,’ he returned. ‘I am for Highgate tonight. I have not seen my mother this long time, and it lies upon my conscience, for it’s something to be loved as she loves her prodigal son.—-Bah! Nonsense!—You mean to go tomorrow, I suppose?’ he said, holding me out at arm’s length, with a hand on each of my shoulders.

‘Yes, I think so.’

‘Well, then, don’t go till next day. I wanted you to come and stay a few days with us. Here I am, on purpose to bid you, and you fly off to Yarmouth!’

‘You are a nice fellow to talk of flying off, Steerforth, who are always running wild on some unknown expedition or other!’

He looked at me for a moment without speaking, and then rejoined, still holding me as before, and giving me a shake:

‘Come! Say the next day, and pass as much of tomorrow as you can with us! Who knows when we may meet again, else? Come! Say the next day! I want you to stand between Rosa Dartle and me, and keep us asunder.’

‘Would you love each other too much, without me?’

‘Yes; or hate,’ laughed Steerforth; ‘no matter which. Come! Say the next day!’

I said the next day; and he put on his great-coat and lighted his cigar, and set off to walk home. Finding him in this intention, I put on my own great-coat (but did not light my own cigar, having had enough of that for one while) and walked with him as far as the open road: a dull road, then, at night. He was in great spirits all the way; and when we parted, and I looked after him going so gallantly and airily homeward, I thought of his saying, ‘Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!’ and wished, for the first time, that he had some worthy race to run.

I was undressing in my own room, when Mr. Micawber’s letter tumbled on the floor. Thus reminded of it, I broke the seal and read as follows. It was dated an hour and a half before dinner. I am not sure whether I have mentioned that, when Mr. Micawber was at any particularly desperate crisis, he used a sort of legal phraseology, which he seemed to think equivalent to winding up his affairs.

‘SIR—for I dare not say my dear Copperfield,

‘It is expedient that I should inform you that the undersigned is Crushed. Some flickering efforts to spare you the premature knowledge of his calamitous position, you may observe in him this day; but hope has sunk beneath the horizon, and the undersigned is Crushed.

‘The present communication is penned within the personal range (I cannot call it the society) of an individual, in a state closely bordering on intoxication, employed by a broker. That individual is in legal possession of the premises, under a distress for rent. His inventory includes, not only the chattels and effects of every description belonging to the undersigned, as yearly tenant of this habitation, but also those appertaining to Mr. Thomas Traddles, lodger, a member of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.

‘If any drop of gloom were wanting in the overflowing cup, which is now “commended” (in the language of an immortal Writer) to the lips of the undersigned, it would be found in the fact, that a friendly acceptance granted to the undersigned, by the before-mentioned Mr. Thomas Traddles, for the sum Of 23l 4s 9 1/2d is over due, and is NOT provided for. Also, in the fact that the living responsibilities clinging to the undersigned will, in the course of nature, be increased by the sum of one more helpless victim; whose miserable appearance may be looked for—in round numbers—at the expiration of a period not exceeding six lunar months from the present date.

‘After premising thus much, it would be a work of supererogation to add, that dust and ashes are for ever scattered

‘On
    ‘The
        ‘Head
             ‘Of
                 ‘WILKINS MICAWBER.’

Poor Traddles! I knew enough of Mr. Micawber by this time, to foresee that he might be expected to recover the blow; but my night’s rest was sorely distressed by thoughts of Traddles, and of the curate’s daughter, who was one of ten, down in Devonshire, and who was such a dear girl, and who would wait for Traddles (ominous praise!) until she was sixty, or any age that could be mentioned.






CHAPTER 29. I VISIT STEERFORTH AT HIS HOME, AGAIN

I mentioned to Mr. Spenlow in the morning, that I wanted leave of absence for a short time; and as I was not in the receipt of any salary, and consequently was not obnoxious to the implacable Jorkins, there was no difficulty about it. I took that opportunity, with my voice sticking in my throat, and my sight failing as I uttered the words, to express my hope that Miss Spenlow was quite well; to which Mr. Spenlow replied, with no more emotion than if he had been speaking of an ordinary human being, that he was much obliged to me, and she was very well.

We articled clerks, as germs of the patrician order of proctors, were treated with so much consideration, that I was almost my own master at all times. As I did not care, however, to get to Highgate before one or two o’clock in the day, and as we had another little excommunication case in court that morning, which was called The office of the judge promoted by Tipkins against Bullock for his soul’s correction, I passed an hour or two in attendance on it with Mr. Spenlow very agreeably. It arose out of a scuffle between two churchwardens, one of whom was alleged to have pushed the other against a pump; the handle of which pump projecting into a school-house, which school-house was under a gable of the church-roof, made the push an ecclesiastical offence. It was an amusing case; and sent me up to Highgate, on the box of the stage-coach, thinking about the Commons, and what Mr. Spenlow had said about touching the Commons and bringing down the country.

Mrs. Steerforth was pleased to see me, and so was Rosa Dartle. I was agreeably surprised to find that Littimer was not there, and that we were attended by a modest little parlour-maid, with blue ribbons in her cap, whose eye it was much more pleasant, and much less disconcerting, to catch by accident, than the eye of that respectable man. But what I particularly observed, before I had been half-an-hour in the house, was the close and attentive watch Miss Dartle kept upon me; and the lurking manner in which she seemed to compare my face with Steerforth’s, and Steerforth’s with mine, and to lie in wait for something to come out between the two. So surely as I looked towards her, did I see that eager visage, with its gaunt black eyes and searching brow, intent on mine; or passing suddenly from mine to Steerforth’s; or comprehending both of us at once. In this lynx-like scrutiny she was so far from faltering when she saw I observed it, that at such a time she only fixed her piercing look upon me with a more intent expression still. Blameless as I was, and knew that I was, in reference to any wrong she could possibly suspect me of, I shrunk before her strange eyes, quite unable to endure their hungry lustre.

All day, she seemed to pervade the whole house. If I talked to Steerforth in his room, I heard her dress rustle in the little gallery outside. When he and I engaged in some of our old exercises on the lawn behind the house, I saw her face pass from window to window, like a wandering light, until it fixed itself in one, and watched us. When we all four went out walking in the afternoon, she closed her thin hand on my arm like a spring, to keep me back, while Steerforth and his mother went on out of hearing: and then spoke to me.

‘You have been a long time,’ she said, ‘without coming here. Is your profession really so engaging and interesting as to absorb your whole attention? I ask because I always want to be informed, when I am ignorant. Is it really, though?’

I replied that I liked it well enough, but that I certainly could not claim so much for it.

‘Oh! I am glad to know that, because I always like to be put right when I am wrong,’ said Rosa Dartle. ‘You mean it is a little dry, perhaps?’

‘Well,’ I replied; ‘perhaps it was a little dry.’

‘Oh! and that’s a reason why you want relief and change—excitement and all that?’ said she. ‘Ah! very true! But isn’t it a little—Eh?—for him; I don’t mean you?’

A quick glance of her eye towards the spot where Steerforth was walking, with his mother leaning on his arm, showed me whom she meant; but beyond that, I was quite lost. And I looked so, I have no doubt.

‘Don’t it—I don’t say that it does, mind I want to know—don’t it rather engross him? Don’t it make him, perhaps, a little more remiss than usual in his visits to his blindly-doting—eh?’ With another quick glance at them, and such a glance at me as seemed to look into my innermost thoughts.

‘Miss Dartle,’ I returned, ‘pray do not think—’

‘I don’t!’ she said. ‘Oh dear me, don’t suppose that I think anything! I am not suspicious. I only ask a question. I don’t state any opinion. I want to found an opinion on what you tell me. Then, it’s not so? Well! I am very glad to know it.’

‘It certainly is not the fact,’ said I, perplexed, ‘that I am accountable for Steerforth’s having been away from home longer than usual—if he has been: which I really don’t know at this moment, unless I understand it from you. I have not seen him this long while, until last night.’

‘No?’

‘Indeed, Miss Dartle, no!’

As she looked full at me, I saw her face grow sharper and paler, and the marks of the old wound lengthen out until it cut through the disfigured lip, and deep into the nether lip, and slanted down the face. There was something positively awful to me in this, and in the brightness of her eyes, as she said, looking fixedly at me:

‘What is he doing?’

I repeated the words, more to myself than her, being so amazed.

‘What is he doing?’ she said, with an eagerness that seemed enough to consume her like a fire. ‘In what is that man assisting him, who never looks at me without an inscrutable falsehood in his eyes? If you are honourable and faithful, I don’t ask you to betray your friend. I ask you only to tell me, is it anger, is it hatred, is it pride, is it restlessness, is it some wild fancy, is it love, what is it, that is leading him?’

‘Miss Dartle,’ I returned, ‘how shall I tell you, so that you will believe me, that I know of nothing in Steerforth different from what there was when I first came here? I can think of nothing. I firmly believe there is nothing. I hardly understand even what you mean.’

As she still stood looking fixedly at me, a twitching or throbbing, from which I could not dissociate the idea of pain, came into that cruel mark; and lifted up the corner of her lip as if with scorn, or with a pity that despised its object. She put her hand upon it hurriedly—a hand so thin and delicate, that when I had seen her hold it up before the fire to shade her face, I had compared it in my thoughts to fine porcelain—and saying, in a quick, fierce, passionate way, ‘I swear you to secrecy about this!’ said not a word more.

Mrs. Steerforth was particularly happy in her son’s society, and Steerforth was, on this occasion, particularly attentive and respectful to her. It was very interesting to me to see them together, not only on account of their mutual affection, but because of the strong personal resemblance between them, and the manner in which what was haughty or impetuous in him was softened by age and sex, in her, to a gracious dignity. I thought, more than once, that it was well no serious cause of division had ever come between them; or two such natures—I ought rather to express it, two such shades of the same nature—might have been harder to reconcile than the two extremest opposites in creation. The idea did not originate in my own discernment, I am bound to confess, but in a speech of Rosa Dartle’s.

She said at dinner:

‘Oh, but do tell me, though, somebody, because I have been thinking about it all day, and I want to know.’

‘You want to know what, Rosa?’ returned Mrs. Steerforth. ‘Pray, pray, Rosa, do not be mysterious.’

‘Mysterious!’ she cried. ‘Oh! really? Do you consider me so?’

‘Do I constantly entreat you,’ said Mrs. Steerforth, ‘to speak plainly, in your own natural manner?’

‘Oh! then this is not my natural manner?’ she rejoined. ‘Now you must really bear with me, because I ask for information. We never know ourselves.’

‘It has become a second nature,’ said Mrs. Steerforth, without any displeasure; ‘but I remember,—and so must you, I think,—when your manner was different, Rosa; when it was not so guarded, and was more trustful.’

‘I am sure you are right,’ she returned; ‘and so it is that bad habits grow upon one! Really? Less guarded and more trustful? How can I, imperceptibly, have changed, I wonder! Well, that’s very odd! I must study to regain my former self.’

‘I wish you would,’ said Mrs. Steerforth, with a smile.

‘Oh! I really will, you know!’ she answered. ‘I will learn frankness from—let me see—from James.’

‘You cannot learn frankness, Rosa,’ said Mrs. Steerforth quickly—for there was always some effect of sarcasm in what Rosa Dartle said, though it was said, as this was, in the most unconscious manner in the world—‘in a better school.’

‘That I am sure of,’ she answered, with uncommon fervour. ‘If I am sure of anything, of course, you know, I am sure of that.’

Mrs. Steerforth appeared to me to regret having been a little nettled; for she presently said, in a kind tone:

‘Well, my dear Rosa, we have not heard what it is that you want to be satisfied about?’

‘That I want to be satisfied about?’ she replied, with provoking coldness. ‘Oh! It was only whether people, who are like each other in their moral constitution—is that the phrase?’

‘It’s as good a phrase as another,’ said Steerforth.

‘Thank you:—whether people, who are like each other in their moral constitution, are in greater danger than people not so circumstanced, supposing any serious cause of variance to arise between them, of being divided angrily and deeply?’

‘I should say yes,’ said Steerforth.

‘Should you?’ she retorted. ‘Dear me! Supposing then, for instance—any unlikely thing will do for a supposition—that you and your mother were to have a serious quarrel.’

‘My dear Rosa,’ interposed Mrs. Steerforth, laughing good-naturedly, ‘suggest some other supposition! James and I know our duty to each other better, I pray Heaven!’

‘Oh!’ said Miss Dartle, nodding her head thoughtfully. ‘To be sure. That would prevent it? Why, of course it would. Exactly. Now, I am glad I have been so foolish as to put the case, for it is so very good to know that your duty to each other would prevent it! Thank you very much.’

One other little circumstance connected with Miss Dartle I must not omit; for I had reason to remember it thereafter, when all the irremediable past was rendered plain. During the whole of this day, but especially from this period of it, Steerforth exerted himself with his utmost skill, and that was with his utmost ease, to charm this singular creature into a pleasant and pleased companion. That he should succeed, was no matter of surprise to me. That she should struggle against the fascinating influence of his delightful art—delightful nature I thought it then—did not surprise me either; for I knew that she was sometimes jaundiced and perverse. I saw her features and her manner slowly change; I saw her look at him with growing admiration; I saw her try, more and more faintly, but always angrily, as if she condemned a weakness in herself, to resist the captivating power that he possessed; and finally, I saw her sharp glance soften, and her smile become quite gentle, and I ceased to be afraid of her as I had really been all day, and we all sat about the fire, talking and laughing together, with as little reserve as if we had been children.

Whether it was because we had sat there so long, or because Steerforth was resolved not to lose the advantage he had gained, I do not know; but we did not remain in the dining-room more than five minutes after her departure. ‘She is playing her harp,’ said Steerforth, softly, at the drawing-room door, ‘and nobody but my mother has heard her do that, I believe, these three years.’ He said it with a curious smile, which was gone directly; and we went into the room and found her alone.

‘Don’t get up,’ said Steerforth (which she had already done)’ my dear Rosa, don’t! Be kind for once, and sing us an Irish song.’

‘What do you care for an Irish song?’ she returned.

‘Much!’ said Steerforth. ‘Much more than for any other. Here is Daisy, too, loves music from his soul. Sing us an Irish song, Rosa! and let me sit and listen as I used to do.’

He did not touch her, or the chair from which she had risen, but sat himself near the harp. She stood beside it for some little while, in a curious way, going through the motion of playing it with her right hand, but not sounding it. At length she sat down, and drew it to her with one sudden action, and played and sang.

I don’t know what it was, in her touch or voice, that made that song the most unearthly I have ever heard in my life, or can imagine. There was something fearful in the reality of it. It was as if it had never been written, or set to music, but sprung out of passion within her; which found imperfect utterance in the low sounds of her voice, and crouched again when all was still. I was dumb when she leaned beside the harp again, playing it, but not sounding it, with her right hand.

A minute more, and this had roused me from my trance:—Steerforth had left his seat, and gone to her, and had put his arm laughingly about her, and had said, ‘Come, Rosa, for the future we will love each other very much!’ And she had struck him, and had thrown him off with the fury of a wild cat, and had burst out of the room.

‘What is the matter with Rosa?’ said Mrs. Steerforth, coming in.

‘She has been an angel, mother,’ returned Steerforth, ‘for a little while; and has run into the opposite extreme, since, by way of compensation.’

‘You should be careful not to irritate her, James. Her temper has been soured, remember, and ought not to be tried.’

Rosa did not come back; and no other mention was made of her, until I went with Steerforth into his room to say Good night. Then he laughed about her, and asked me if I had ever seen such a fierce little piece of incomprehensibility.

I expressed as much of my astonishment as was then capable of expression, and asked if he could guess what it was that she had taken so much amiss, so suddenly.

‘Oh, Heaven knows,’ said Steerforth. ‘Anything you like—or nothing! I told you she took everything, herself included, to a grindstone, and sharpened it. She is an edge-tool, and requires great care in dealing with. She is always dangerous. Good night!’

‘Good night!’ said I, ‘my dear Steerforth! I shall be gone before you wake in the morning. Good night!’

He was unwilling to let me go; and stood, holding me out, with a hand on each of my shoulders, as he had done in my own room.

‘Daisy,’ he said, with a smile—‘for though that’s not the name your godfathers and godmothers gave you, it’s the name I like best to call you by—and I wish, I wish, I wish, you could give it to me!’

‘Why so I can, if I choose,’ said I.

‘Daisy, if anything should ever separate us, you must think of me at my best, old boy. Come! Let us make that bargain. Think of me at my best, if circumstances should ever part us!’

‘You have no best to me, Steerforth,’ said I, ‘and no worst. You are always equally loved, and cherished in my heart.’

So much compunction for having ever wronged him, even by a shapeless thought, did I feel within me, that the confession of having done so was rising to my lips. But for the reluctance I had to betray the confidence of Agnes, but for my uncertainty how to approach the subject with no risk of doing so, it would have reached them before he said, ‘God bless you, Daisy, and good night!’ In my doubt, it did NOT reach them; and we shook hands, and we parted.

I was up with the dull dawn, and, having dressed as quietly as I could, looked into his room. He was fast asleep; lying, easily, with his head upon his arm, as I had often seen him lie at school.

The time came in its season, and that was very soon, when I almost wondered that nothing troubled his repose, as I looked at him. But he slept—let me think of him so again—as I had often seen him sleep at school; and thus, in this silent hour, I left him. —Never more, oh God forgive you, Steerforth! to touch that passive hand in love and friendship. Never, never more!






CHAPTER 30. A LOSS

I got down to Yarmouth in the evening, and went to the inn. I knew that Peggotty’s spare room—my room—was likely to have occupation enough in a little while, if that great Visitor, before whose presence all the living must give place, were not already in the house; so I betook myself to the inn, and dined there, and engaged my bed.

It was ten o’clock when I went out. Many of the shops were shut, and the town was dull. When I came to Omer and Joram’s, I found the shutters up, but the shop door standing open. As I could obtain a perspective view of Mr. Omer inside, smoking his pipe by the parlour door, I entered, and asked him how he was.

‘Why, bless my life and soul!’ said Mr. Omer, ‘how do you find yourself? Take a seat.—-Smoke not disagreeable, I hope?’

‘By no means,’ said I. ‘I like it—in somebody else’s pipe.’

‘What, not in your own, eh?’ Mr. Omer returned, laughing. ‘All the better, sir. Bad habit for a young man. Take a seat. I smoke, myself, for the asthma.’

Mr. Omer had made room for me, and placed a chair. He now sat down again very much out of breath, gasping at his pipe as if it contained a supply of that necessary, without which he must perish.

‘I am sorry to have heard bad news of Mr. Barkis,’ said I.

Mr. Omer looked at me, with a steady countenance, and shook his head.

‘Do you know how he is tonight?’ I asked.

‘The very question I should have put to you, sir,’ returned Mr. Omer, ‘but on account of delicacy. It’s one of the drawbacks of our line of business. When a party’s ill, we can’t ask how the party is.’

The difficulty had not occurred to me; though I had had my apprehensions too, when I went in, of hearing the old tune. On its being mentioned, I recognized it, however, and said as much.

‘Yes, yes, you understand,’ said Mr. Omer, nodding his head. ‘We dursn’t do it. Bless you, it would be a shock that the generality of parties mightn’t recover, to say “Omer and Joram’s compliments, and how do you find yourself this morning?”—or this afternoon—as it may be.’

Mr. Omer and I nodded at each other, and Mr. Omer recruited his wind by the aid of his pipe.

‘It’s one of the things that cut the trade off from attentions they could often wish to show,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘Take myself. If I have known Barkis a year, to move to as he went by, I have known him forty years. But I can’t go and say, “how is he?”’

I felt it was rather hard on Mr. Omer, and I told him so.

‘I’m not more self-interested, I hope, than another man,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘Look at me! My wind may fail me at any moment, and it ain’t likely that, to my own knowledge, I’d be self-interested under such circumstances. I say it ain’t likely, in a man who knows his wind will go, when it DOES go, as if a pair of bellows was cut open; and that man a grandfather,’ said Mr. Omer.

I said, ‘Not at all.’

‘It ain’t that I complain of my line of business,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘It ain’t that. Some good and some bad goes, no doubt, to all callings. What I wish is, that parties was brought up stronger-minded.’

Mr. Omer, with a very complacent and amiable face, took several puffs in silence; and then said, resuming his first point:

‘Accordingly we’re obleeged, in ascertaining how Barkis goes on, to limit ourselves to Em’ly. She knows what our real objects are, and she don’t have any more alarms or suspicions about us, than if we was so many lambs. Minnie and Joram have just stepped down to the house, in fact (she’s there, after hours, helping her aunt a bit), to ask her how he is tonight; and if you was to please to wait till they come back, they’d give you full partic’lers. Will you take something? A glass of srub and water, now? I smoke on srub and water, myself,’ said Mr. Omer, taking up his glass, ‘because it’s considered softening to the passages, by which this troublesome breath of mine gets into action. But, Lord bless you,’ said Mr. Omer, huskily, ‘it ain’t the passages that’s out of order! “Give me breath enough,” said I to my daughter Minnie, “and I’ll find passages, my dear.”’

He really had no breath to spare, and it was very alarming to see him laugh. When he was again in a condition to be talked to, I thanked him for the proffered refreshment, which I declined, as I had just had dinner; and, observing that I would wait, since he was so good as to invite me, until his daughter and his son-in-law came back, I inquired how little Emily was?

‘Well, sir,’ said Mr. Omer, removing his pipe, that he might rub his chin: ‘I tell you truly, I shall be glad when her marriage has taken place.’

‘Why so?’ I inquired.

‘Well, she’s unsettled at present,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘It ain’t that she’s not as pretty as ever, for she’s prettier—I do assure you, she is prettier. It ain’t that she don’t work as well as ever, for she does. She WAS worth any six, and she IS worth any six. But somehow she wants heart. If you understand,’ said Mr. Omer, after rubbing his chin again, and smoking a little, ‘what I mean in a general way by the expression, “A long pull, and a strong pull, and a pull altogether, my hearties, hurrah!” I should say to you, that that was—in a general way—what I miss in Em’ly.’

Mr. Omer’s face and manner went for so much, that I could conscientiously nod my head, as divining his meaning. My quickness of apprehension seemed to please him, and he went on: ‘Now I consider this is principally on account of her being in an unsettled state, you see. We have talked it over a good deal, her uncle and myself, and her sweetheart and myself, after business; and I consider it is principally on account of her being unsettled. You must always recollect of Em’ly,’ said Mr. Omer, shaking his head gently, ‘that she’s a most extraordinary affectionate little thing. The proverb says, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Well, I don’t know about that. I rather think you may, if you begin early in life. She has made a home out of that old boat, sir, that stone and marble couldn’t beat.’

‘I am sure she has!’ said I.

‘To see the clinging of that pretty little thing to her uncle,’ said Mr. Omer; ‘to see the way she holds on to him, tighter and tighter, and closer and closer, every day, is to see a sight. Now, you know, there’s a struggle going on when that’s the case. Why should it be made a longer one than is needful?’

I listened attentively to the good old fellow, and acquiesced, with all my heart, in what he said.

‘Therefore, I mentioned to them,’ said Mr. Omer, in a comfortable, easy-going tone, ‘this. I said, “Now, don’t consider Em’ly nailed down in point of time, at all. Make it your own time. Her services have been more valuable than was supposed; her learning has been quicker than was supposed; Omer and Joram can run their pen through what remains; and she’s free when you wish. If she likes to make any little arrangement, afterwards, in the way of doing any little thing for us at home, very well. If she don’t, very well still. We’re no losers, anyhow.” For—don’t you see,’ said Mr. Omer, touching me with his pipe, ‘it ain’t likely that a man so short of breath as myself, and a grandfather too, would go and strain points with a little bit of a blue-eyed blossom, like her?’

‘Not at all, I am certain,’ said I.

‘Not at all! You’re right!’ said Mr. Omer. ‘Well, sir, her cousin—you know it’s a cousin she’s going to be married to?’

‘Oh yes,’ I replied. ‘I know him well.’

‘Of course you do,’ said Mr. Omer. ‘Well, sir! Her cousin being, as it appears, in good work, and well to do, thanked me in a very manly sort of manner for this (conducting himself altogether, I must say, in a way that gives me a high opinion of him), and went and took as comfortable a little house as you or I could wish to clap eyes on. That little house is now furnished right through, as neat and complete as a doll’s parlour; and but for Barkis’s illness having taken this bad turn, poor fellow, they would have been man and wife—I dare say, by this time. As it is, there’s a postponement.’

‘And Emily, Mr. Omer?’ I inquired. ‘Has she become more settled?’

‘Why that, you know,’ he returned, rubbing his double chin again, ‘can’t naturally be expected. The prospect of the change and separation, and all that, is, as one may say, close to her and far away from her, both at once. Barkis’s death needn’t put it off much, but his lingering might. Anyway, it’s an uncertain state of matters, you see.’

‘I see,’ said I.

‘Consequently,’ pursued Mr. Omer, ‘Em’ly’s still a little down, and a little fluttered; perhaps, upon the whole, she’s more so than she was. Every day she seems to get fonder and fonder of her uncle, and more loth to part from all of us. A kind word from me brings the tears into her eyes; and if you was to see her with my daughter Minnie’s little girl, you’d never forget it. Bless my heart alive!’ said Mr. Omer, pondering, ‘how she loves that child!’

Having so favourable an opportunity, it occurred to me to ask Mr. Omer, before our conversation should be interrupted by the return of his daughter and her husband, whether he knew anything of Martha.

‘Ah!’ he rejoined, shaking his head, and looking very much dejected. ‘No good. A sad story, sir, however you come to know it. I never thought there was harm in the girl. I wouldn’t wish to mention it before my daughter Minnie—for she’d take me up directly—but I never did. None of us ever did.’

Mr. Omer, hearing his daughter’s footstep before I heard it, touched me with his pipe, and shut up one eye, as a caution. She and her husband came in immediately afterwards.

Their report was, that Mr. Barkis was ‘as bad as bad could be’; that he was quite unconscious; and that Mr. Chillip had mournfully said in the kitchen, on going away just now, that the College of Physicians, the College of Surgeons, and Apothecaries’ Hall, if they were all called in together, couldn’t help him. He was past both Colleges, Mr. Chillip said, and the Hall could only poison him.

Hearing this, and learning that Mr. Peggotty was there, I determined to go to the house at once. I bade good night to Mr. Omer, and to Mr. and Mrs. Joram; and directed my steps thither, with a solemn feeling, which made Mr. Barkis quite a new and different creature.

My low tap at the door was answered by Mr. Peggotty. He was not so much surprised to see me as I had expected. I remarked this in Peggotty, too, when she came down; and I have seen it since; and I think, in the expectation of that dread surprise, all other changes and surprises dwindle into nothing.

I shook hands with Mr. Peggotty, and passed into the kitchen, while he softly closed the door. Little Emily was sitting by the fire, with her hands before her face. Ham was standing near her.

We spoke in whispers; listening, between whiles, for any sound in the room above. I had not thought of it on the occasion of my last visit, but how strange it was to me, now, to miss Mr. Barkis out of the kitchen!

‘This is very kind of you, Mas’r Davy,’ said Mr. Peggotty.

‘It’s oncommon kind,’ said Ham.

‘Em’ly, my dear,’ cried Mr. Peggotty. ‘See here! Here’s Mas’r Davy come! What, cheer up, pretty! Not a wured to Mas’r Davy?’

There was a trembling upon her, that I can see now. The coldness of her hand when I touched it, I can feel yet. Its only sign of animation was to shrink from mine; and then she glided from the chair, and creeping to the other side of her uncle, bowed herself, silently and trembling still, upon his breast.

‘It’s such a loving art,’ said Mr. Peggotty, smoothing her rich hair with his great hard hand, ‘that it can’t abear the sorrer of this. It’s nat’ral in young folk, Mas’r Davy, when they’re new to these here trials, and timid, like my little bird,—it’s nat’ral.’

She clung the closer to him, but neither lifted up her face, nor spoke a word.

‘It’s getting late, my dear,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘and here’s Ham come fur to take you home. Theer! Go along with t’other loving art! What’ Em’ly? Eh, my pretty?’

The sound of her voice had not reached me, but he bent his head as if he listened to her, and then said:

‘Let you stay with your uncle? Why, you doen’t mean to ask me that! Stay with your uncle, Moppet? When your husband that’ll be so soon, is here fur to take you home? Now a person wouldn’t think it, fur to see this little thing alongside a rough-weather chap like me,’ said Mr. Peggotty, looking round at both of us, with infinite pride; ‘but the sea ain’t more salt in it than she has fondness in her for her uncle—a foolish little Em’ly!’

‘Em’ly’s in the right in that, Mas’r Davy!’ said Ham. ‘Lookee here! As Em’ly wishes of it, and as she’s hurried and frightened, like, besides, I’ll leave her till morning. Let me stay too!’

‘No, no,’ said Mr. Peggotty. ‘You doen’t ought—a married man like you—or what’s as good—to take and hull away a day’s work. And you doen’t ought to watch and work both. That won’t do. You go home and turn in. You ain’t afeerd of Em’ly not being took good care on, I know.’

Ham yielded to this persuasion, and took his hat to go. Even when he kissed her—and I never saw him approach her, but I felt that nature had given him the soul of a gentleman—she seemed to cling closer to her uncle, even to the avoidance of her chosen husband. I shut the door after him, that it might cause no disturbance of the quiet that prevailed; and when I turned back, I found Mr. Peggotty still talking to her.

‘Now, I’m a going upstairs to tell your aunt as Mas’r Davy’s here, and that’ll cheer her up a bit,’ he said. ‘Sit ye down by the fire, the while, my dear, and warm those mortal cold hands. You doen’t need to be so fearsome, and take on so much. What? You’ll go along with me?—Well! come along with me—come! If her uncle was turned out of house and home, and forced to lay down in a dyke, Mas’r Davy,’ said Mr. Peggotty, with no less pride than before, ‘it’s my belief she’d go along with him, now! But there’ll be someone else, soon,—someone else, soon, Em’ly!’

Afterwards, when I went upstairs, as I passed the door of my little chamber, which was dark, I had an indistinct impression of her being within it, cast down upon the floor. But, whether it was really she, or whether it was a confusion of the shadows in the room, I don’t know now.

I had leisure to think, before the kitchen fire, of pretty little Emily’s dread of death—which, added to what Mr. Omer had told me, I took to be the cause of her being so unlike herself—and I had leisure, before Peggotty came down, even to think more leniently of the weakness of it: as I sat counting the ticking of the clock, and deepening my sense of the solemn hush around me. Peggotty took me in her arms, and blessed and thanked me over and over again for being such a comfort to her (that was what she said) in her distress. She then entreated me to come upstairs, sobbing that Mr. Barkis had always liked me and admired me; that he had often talked of me, before he fell into a stupor; and that she believed, in case of his coming to himself again, he would brighten up at sight of me, if he could brighten up at any earthly thing.

The probability of his ever doing so, appeared to me, when I saw him, to be very small. He was lying with his head and shoulders out of bed, in an uncomfortable attitude, half resting on the box which had cost him so much pain and trouble. I learned, that, when he was past creeping out of bed to open it, and past assuring himself of its safety by means of the divining rod I had seen him use, he had required to have it placed on the chair at the bed-side, where he had ever since embraced it, night and day. His arm lay on it now. Time and the world were slipping from beneath him, but the box was there; and the last words he had uttered were (in an explanatory tone) ‘Old clothes!’

‘Barkis, my dear!’ said Peggotty, almost cheerfully: bending over him, while her brother and I stood at the bed’s foot. ‘Here’s my dear boy—my dear boy, Master Davy, who brought us together, Barkis! That you sent messages by, you know! Won’t you speak to Master Davy?’

He was as mute and senseless as the box, from which his form derived the only expression it had.

‘He’s a going out with the tide,’ said Mr. Peggotty to me, behind his hand.

My eyes were dim and so were Mr. Peggotty’s; but I repeated in a whisper, ‘With the tide?’

‘People can’t die, along the coast,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘except when the tide’s pretty nigh out. They can’t be born, unless it’s pretty nigh in—not properly born, till flood. He’s a going out with the tide. It’s ebb at half-arter three, slack water half an hour. If he lives till it turns, he’ll hold his own till past the flood, and go out with the next tide.’

We remained there, watching him, a long time—hours. What mysterious influence my presence had upon him in that state of his senses, I shall not pretend to say; but when he at last began to wander feebly, it is certain he was muttering about driving me to school.

‘He’s coming to himself,’ said Peggotty.

Mr. Peggotty touched me, and whispered with much awe and reverence. ‘They are both a-going out fast.’

‘Barkis, my dear!’ said Peggotty.

‘C. P. Barkis,’ he cried faintly. ‘No better woman anywhere!’

‘Look! Here’s Master Davy!’ said Peggotty. For he now opened his eyes.

I was on the point of asking him if he knew me, when he tried to stretch out his arm, and said to me, distinctly, with a pleasant smile:

‘Barkis is willin’!’

And, it being low water, he went out with the tide.