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David Copperfield

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CHAPTER 31. A GREATER LOSS

It was not difficult for me, on Peggotty’s solicitation, to resolve to stay where I was, until after the remains of the poor carrier should have made their last journey to Blunderstone. She had long ago bought, out of her own savings, a little piece of ground in our old churchyard near the grave of ‘her sweet girl’, as she always called my mother; and there they were to rest.

In keeping Peggotty company, and doing all I could for her (little enough at the utmost), I was as grateful, I rejoice to think, as even now I could wish myself to have been. But I am afraid I had a supreme satisfaction, of a personal and professional nature, in taking charge of Mr. Barkis’s will, and expounding its contents.

I may claim the merit of having originated the suggestion that the will should be looked for in the box. After some search, it was found in the box, at the bottom of a horse’s nose-bag; wherein (besides hay) there was discovered an old gold watch, with chain and seals, which Mr. Barkis had worn on his wedding-day, and which had never been seen before or since; a silver tobacco-stopper, in the form of a leg; an imitation lemon, full of minute cups and saucers, which I have some idea Mr. Barkis must have purchased to present to me when I was a child, and afterwards found himself unable to part with; eighty-seven guineas and a half, in guineas and half-guineas; two hundred and ten pounds, in perfectly clean Bank notes; certain receipts for Bank of England stock; an old horseshoe, a bad shilling, a piece of camphor, and an oyster-shell. From the circumstance of the latter article having been much polished, and displaying prismatic colours on the inside, I conclude that Mr. Barkis had some general ideas about pearls, which never resolved themselves into anything definite.

For years and years, Mr. Barkis had carried this box, on all his journeys, every day. That it might the better escape notice, he had invented a fiction that it belonged to ‘Mr. Blackboy’, and was ‘to be left with Barkis till called for’; a fable he had elaborately written on the lid, in characters now scarcely legible.

He had hoarded, all these years, I found, to good purpose. His property in money amounted to nearly three thousand pounds. Of this he bequeathed the interest of one thousand to Mr. Peggotty for his life; on his decease, the principal to be equally divided between Peggotty, little Emily, and me, or the survivor or survivors of us, share and share alike. All the rest he died possessed of, he bequeathed to Peggotty; whom he left residuary legatee, and sole executrix of that his last will and testament.

I felt myself quite a proctor when I read this document aloud with all possible ceremony, and set forth its provisions, any number of times, to those whom they concerned. I began to think there was more in the Commons than I had supposed. I examined the will with the deepest attention, pronounced it perfectly formal in all respects, made a pencil-mark or so in the margin, and thought it rather extraordinary that I knew so much.

In this abstruse pursuit; in making an account for Peggotty, of all the property into which she had come; in arranging all the affairs in an orderly manner; and in being her referee and adviser on every point, to our joint delight; I passed the week before the funeral. I did not see little Emily in that interval, but they told me she was to be quietly married in a fortnight.

I did not attend the funeral in character, if I may venture to say so. I mean I was not dressed up in a black coat and a streamer, to frighten the birds; but I walked over to Blunderstone early in the morning, and was in the churchyard when it came, attended only by Peggotty and her brother. The mad gentleman looked on, out of my little window; Mr. Chillip’s baby wagged its heavy head, and rolled its goggle eyes, at the clergyman, over its nurse’s shoulder; Mr. Omer breathed short in the background; no one else was there; and it was very quiet. We walked about the churchyard for an hour, after all was over; and pulled some young leaves from the tree above my mother’s grave.

A dread falls on me here. A cloud is lowering on the distant town, towards which I retraced my solitary steps. I fear to approach it. I cannot bear to think of what did come, upon that memorable night; of what must come again, if I go on.

It is no worse, because I write of it. It would be no better, if I stopped my most unwilling hand. It is done. Nothing can undo it; nothing can make it otherwise than as it was.

My old nurse was to go to London with me next day, on the business of the will. Little Emily was passing that day at Mr. Omer’s. We were all to meet in the old boathouse that night. Ham would bring Emily at the usual hour. I would walk back at my leisure. The brother and sister would return as they had come, and be expecting us, when the day closed in, at the fireside.

I parted from them at the wicket-gate, where visionary Strap had rested with Roderick Random’s knapsack in the days of yore; and, instead of going straight back, walked a little distance on the road to Lowestoft. Then I turned, and walked back towards Yarmouth. I stayed to dine at a decent alehouse, some mile or two from the Ferry I have mentioned before; and thus the day wore away, and it was evening when I reached it. Rain was falling heavily by that time, and it was a wild night; but there was a moon behind the clouds, and it was not dark.

I was soon within sight of Mr. Peggotty’s house, and of the light within it shining through the window. A little floundering across the sand, which was heavy, brought me to the door, and I went in.

It looked very comfortable indeed. Mr. Peggotty had smoked his evening pipe and there were preparations for some supper by and by. The fire was bright, the ashes were thrown up, the locker was ready for little Emily in her old place. In her own old place sat Peggotty, once more, looking (but for her dress) as if she had never left it. She had fallen back, already, on the society of the work-box with St. Paul’s upon the lid, the yard-measure in the cottage, and the bit of wax-candle; and there they all were, just as if they had never been disturbed. Mrs. Gummidge appeared to be fretting a little, in her old corner; and consequently looked quite natural, too.

‘You’re first of the lot, Mas’r Davy!’ said Mr. Peggotty with a happy face. ‘Doen’t keep in that coat, sir, if it’s wet.’

‘Thank you, Mr. Peggotty,’ said I, giving him my outer coat to hang up. ‘It’s quite dry.’

‘So ‘tis!’ said Mr. Peggotty, feeling my shoulders. ‘As a chip! Sit ye down, sir. It ain’t o’ no use saying welcome to you, but you’re welcome, kind and hearty.’

‘Thank you, Mr. Peggotty, I am sure of that. Well, Peggotty!’ said I, giving her a kiss. ‘And how are you, old woman?’

‘Ha, ha!’ laughed Mr. Peggotty, sitting down beside us, and rubbing his hands in his sense of relief from recent trouble, and in the genuine heartiness of his nature; ‘there’s not a woman in the wureld, sir—as I tell her—that need to feel more easy in her mind than her! She done her dooty by the departed, and the departed know’d it; and the departed done what was right by her, as she done what was right by the departed;—and—and—and it’s all right!’

Mrs. Gummidge groaned.

‘Cheer up, my pritty mawther!’ said Mr. Peggotty. (But he shook his head aside at us, evidently sensible of the tendency of the late occurrences to recall the memory of the old one.) ‘Doen’t be down! Cheer up, for your own self, on’y a little bit, and see if a good deal more doen’t come nat’ral!’

‘Not to me, Dan’l,’ returned Mrs. Gummidge. ‘Nothink’s nat’ral to me but to be lone and lorn.’

‘No, no,’ said Mr. Peggotty, soothing her sorrows.

‘Yes, yes, Dan’l!’ said Mrs. Gummidge. ‘I ain’t a person to live with them as has had money left. Things go too contrary with me. I had better be a riddance.’

‘Why, how should I ever spend it without you?’ said Mr. Peggotty, with an air of serious remonstrance. ‘What are you a talking on? Doen’t I want you more now, than ever I did?’

‘I know’d I was never wanted before!’ cried Mrs. Gummidge, with a pitiable whimper, ‘and now I’m told so! How could I expect to be wanted, being so lone and lorn, and so contrary!’

Mr. Peggotty seemed very much shocked at himself for having made a speech capable of this unfeeling construction, but was prevented from replying, by Peggotty’s pulling his sleeve, and shaking her head. After looking at Mrs. Gummidge for some moments, in sore distress of mind, he glanced at the Dutch clock, rose, snuffed the candle, and put it in the window.

‘Theer!’ said Mr. Peggotty, cheerily. ‘Theer we are, Missis Gummidge!’ Mrs. Gummidge slightly groaned. ‘Lighted up, accordin’ to custom! You’re a wonderin’ what that’s fur, sir! Well, it’s fur our little Em’ly. You see, the path ain’t over light or cheerful arter dark; and when I’m here at the hour as she’s a comin’ home, I puts the light in the winder. That, you see,’ said Mr. Peggotty, bending over me with great glee, ‘meets two objects. She says, says Em’ly, “Theer’s home!” she says. And likewise, says Em’ly, “My uncle’s theer!” Fur if I ain’t theer, I never have no light showed.’

‘You’re a baby!’ said Peggotty; very fond of him for it, if she thought so.

‘Well,’ returned Mr. Peggotty, standing with his legs pretty wide apart, and rubbing his hands up and down them in his comfortable satisfaction, as he looked alternately at us and at the fire. ‘I doen’t know but I am. Not, you see, to look at.’

‘Not azackly,’ observed Peggotty.

‘No,’ laughed Mr. Peggotty, ‘not to look at, but to—to consider on, you know. I doen’t care, bless you! Now I tell you. When I go a looking and looking about that theer pritty house of our Em’ly’s, I’m—I’m Gormed,’ said Mr. Peggotty, with sudden emphasis—‘theer! I can’t say more—if I doen’t feel as if the littlest things was her, a’most. I takes ‘em up and I put ‘em down, and I touches of ‘em as delicate as if they was our Em’ly. So ‘tis with her little bonnets and that. I couldn’t see one on ‘em rough used a purpose—not fur the whole wureld. There’s a babby fur you, in the form of a great Sea Porkypine!’ said Mr. Peggotty, relieving his earnestness with a roar of laughter.

Peggotty and I both laughed, but not so loud.

‘It’s my opinion, you see,’ said Mr. Peggotty, with a delighted face, after some further rubbing of his legs, ‘as this is along of my havin’ played with her so much, and made believe as we was Turks, and French, and sharks, and every wariety of forinners—bless you, yes; and lions and whales, and I doen’t know what all!—when she warn’t no higher than my knee. I’ve got into the way on it, you know. Why, this here candle, now!’ said Mr. Peggotty, gleefully holding out his hand towards it, ‘I know wery well that arter she’s married and gone, I shall put that candle theer, just the same as now. I know wery well that when I’m here o’ nights (and where else should I live, bless your arts, whatever fortun’ I come into!) and she ain’t here or I ain’t theer, I shall put the candle in the winder, and sit afore the fire, pretending I’m expecting of her, like I’m a doing now. THERE’S a babby for you,’ said Mr. Peggotty, with another roar, ‘in the form of a Sea Porkypine! Why, at the present minute, when I see the candle sparkle up, I says to myself, “She’s a looking at it! Em’ly’s a coming!” THERE’S a babby for you, in the form of a Sea Porkypine! Right for all that,’ said Mr. Peggotty, stopping in his roar, and smiting his hands together; ‘fur here she is!’

It was only Ham. The night should have turned more wet since I came in, for he had a large sou’wester hat on, slouched over his face.

‘Wheer’s Em’ly?’ said Mr. Peggotty.

Ham made a motion with his head, as if she were outside. Mr. Peggotty took the light from the window, trimmed it, put it on the table, and was busily stirring the fire, when Ham, who had not moved, said:

‘Mas’r Davy, will you come out a minute, and see what Em’ly and me has got to show you?’

We went out. As I passed him at the door, I saw, to my astonishment and fright, that he was deadly pale. He pushed me hastily into the open air, and closed the door upon us. Only upon us two.

‘Ham! what’s the matter?’

‘Mas’r Davy!—’ Oh, for his broken heart, how dreadfully he wept!

I was paralysed by the sight of such grief. I don’t know what I thought, or what I dreaded. I could only look at him.

‘Ham! Poor good fellow! For Heaven’s sake, tell me what’s the matter!’

‘My love, Mas’r Davy—the pride and hope of my art—her that I’d have died for, and would die for now—she’s gone!’

‘Gone!’

‘Em’ly’s run away! Oh, Mas’r Davy, think HOW she’s run away, when I pray my good and gracious God to kill her (her that is so dear above all things) sooner than let her come to ruin and disgrace!’

The face he turned up to the troubled sky, the quivering of his clasped hands, the agony of his figure, remain associated with the lonely waste, in my remembrance, to this hour. It is always night there, and he is the only object in the scene.

‘You’re a scholar,’ he said, hurriedly, ‘and know what’s right and best. What am I to say, indoors? How am I ever to break it to him, Mas’r Davy?’

I saw the door move, and instinctively tried to hold the latch on the outside, to gain a moment’s time. It was too late. Mr. Peggotty thrust forth his face; and never could I forget the change that came upon it when he saw us, if I were to live five hundred years.

I remember a great wail and cry, and the women hanging about him, and we all standing in the room; I with a paper in my hand, which Ham had given me; Mr. Peggotty, with his vest torn open, his hair wild, his face and lips quite white, and blood trickling down his bosom (it had sprung from his mouth, I think), looking fixedly at me.

‘Read it, sir,’ he said, in a low shivering voice. ‘Slow, please. I doen’t know as I can understand.’

In the midst of the silence of death, I read thus, from a blotted letter:

‘“When you, who love me so much better than I ever have deserved, even when my mind was innocent, see this, I shall be far away.”’

‘I shall be fur away,’ he repeated slowly. ‘Stop! Em’ly fur away. Well!’

‘“When I leave my dear home—my dear home—oh, my dear home!—in the morning,”’

the letter bore date on the previous night:

‘“—it will be never to come back, unless he brings me back a lady. This will be found at night, many hours after, instead of me. Oh, if you knew how my heart is torn. If even you, that I have wronged so much, that never can forgive me, could only know what I suffer! I am too wicked to write about myself! Oh, take comfort in thinking that I am so bad. Oh, for mercy’s sake, tell uncle that I never loved him half so dear as now. Oh, don’t remember how affectionate and kind you have all been to me—don’t remember we were ever to be married—but try to think as if I died when I was little, and was buried somewhere. Pray Heaven that I am going away from, have compassion on my uncle! Tell him that I never loved him half so dear. Be his comfort. Love some good girl that will be what I was once to uncle, and be true to you, and worthy of you, and know no shame but me. God bless all! I’ll pray for all, often, on my knees. If he don’t bring me back a lady, and I don’t pray for my own self, I’ll pray for all. My parting love to uncle. My last tears, and my last thanks, for uncle!”’

That was all.

He stood, long after I had ceased to read, still looking at me. At length I ventured to take his hand, and to entreat him, as well as I could, to endeavour to get some command of himself. He replied, ‘I thankee, sir, I thankee!’ without moving.

Ham spoke to him. Mr. Peggotty was so far sensible of HIS affliction, that he wrung his hand; but, otherwise, he remained in the same state, and no one dared to disturb him.

Slowly, at last, he moved his eyes from my face, as if he were waking from a vision, and cast them round the room. Then he said, in a low voice:

‘Who’s the man? I want to know his name.’

Ham glanced at me, and suddenly I felt a shock that struck me back.

‘There’s a man suspected,’ said Mr. Peggotty. ‘Who is it?’

‘Mas’r Davy!’ implored Ham. ‘Go out a bit, and let me tell him what I must. You doen’t ought to hear it, sir.’

I felt the shock again. I sank down in a chair, and tried to utter some reply; but my tongue was fettered, and my sight was weak.

‘I want to know his name!’ I heard said once more.

‘For some time past,’ Ham faltered, ‘there’s been a servant about here, at odd times. There’s been a gen’lm’n too. Both of ‘em belonged to one another.’

Mr. Peggotty stood fixed as before, but now looking at him.

‘The servant,’ pursued Ham, ‘was seen along with—our poor girl—last night. He’s been in hiding about here, this week or over. He was thought to have gone, but he was hiding. Doen’t stay, Mas’r Davy, doen’t!’

I felt Peggotty’s arm round my neck, but I could not have moved if the house had been about to fall upon me.

‘A strange chay and hosses was outside town, this morning, on the Norwich road, a’most afore the day broke,’ Ham went on. ‘The servant went to it, and come from it, and went to it again. When he went to it again, Em’ly was nigh him. The t’other was inside. He’s the man.’

‘For the Lord’s love,’ said Mr. Peggotty, falling back, and putting out his hand, as if to keep off what he dreaded. ‘Doen’t tell me his name’s Steerforth!’

‘Mas’r Davy,’ exclaimed Ham, in a broken voice, ‘it ain’t no fault of yourn—and I am far from laying of it to you—but his name is Steerforth, and he’s a damned villain!’

Mr. Peggotty uttered no cry, and shed no tear, and moved no more, until he seemed to wake again, all at once, and pulled down his rough coat from its peg in a corner.

‘Bear a hand with this! I’m struck of a heap, and can’t do it,’ he said, impatiently. ‘Bear a hand and help me. Well!’ when somebody had done so. ‘Now give me that theer hat!’

Ham asked him whither he was going.

‘I’m a going to seek my niece. I’m a going to seek my Em’ly. I’m a going, first, to stave in that theer boat, and sink it where I would have drownded him, as I’m a living soul, if I had had one thought of what was in him! As he sat afore me,’ he said, wildly, holding out his clenched right hand, ‘as he sat afore me, face to face, strike me down dead, but I’d have drownded him, and thought it right!—I’m a going to seek my niece.’

‘Where?’ cried Ham, interposing himself before the door.

‘Anywhere! I’m a going to seek my niece through the wureld. I’m a going to find my poor niece in her shame, and bring her back. No one stop me! I tell you I’m a going to seek my niece!’

‘No, no!’ cried Mrs. Gummidge, coming between them, in a fit of crying. ‘No, no, Dan’l, not as you are now. Seek her in a little while, my lone lorn Dan’l, and that’ll be but right! but not as you are now. Sit ye down, and give me your forgiveness for having ever been a worrit to you, Dan’l—what have my contraries ever been to this!—and let us speak a word about them times when she was first an orphan, and when Ham was too, and when I was a poor widder woman, and you took me in. It’ll soften your poor heart, Dan’l,’ laying her head upon his shoulder, ‘and you’ll bear your sorrow better; for you know the promise, Dan’l, “As you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me”,—and that can never fail under this roof, that’s been our shelter for so many, many year!’

He was quite passive now; and when I heard him crying, the impulse that had been upon me to go down upon my knees, and ask their pardon for the desolation I had caused, and curse Steerforth, yielded to a better feeling. My overcharged heart found the same relief, and I cried too.






CHAPTER 32. THE BEGINNING OF A LONG JOURNEY

What is natural in me, is natural in many other men, I infer, and so I am not afraid to write that I never had loved Steerforth better than when the ties that bound me to him were broken. In the keen distress of the discovery of his unworthiness, I thought more of all that was brilliant in him, I softened more towards all that was good in him, I did more justice to the qualities that might have made him a man of a noble nature and a great name, than ever I had done in the height of my devotion to him. Deeply as I felt my own unconscious part in his pollution of an honest home, I believed that if I had been brought face to face with him, I could not have uttered one reproach. I should have loved him so well still—though he fascinated me no longer—I should have held in so much tenderness the memory of my affection for him, that I think I should have been as weak as a spirit-wounded child, in all but the entertainment of a thought that we could ever be re-united. That thought I never had. I felt, as he had felt, that all was at an end between us. What his remembrances of me were, I have never known—they were light enough, perhaps, and easily dismissed—but mine of him were as the remembrances of a cherished friend, who was dead.

Yes, Steerforth, long removed from the scenes of this poor history! My sorrow may bear involuntary witness against you at the judgement Throne; but my angry thoughts or my reproaches never will, I know!

The news of what had happened soon spread through the town; insomuch that as I passed along the streets next morning, I overheard the people speaking of it at their doors. Many were hard upon her, some few were hard upon him, but towards her second father and her lover there was but one sentiment. Among all kinds of people a respect for them in their distress prevailed, which was full of gentleness and delicacy. The seafaring men kept apart, when those two were seen early, walking with slow steps on the beach; and stood in knots, talking compassionately among themselves.

It was on the beach, close down by the sea, that I found them. It would have been easy to perceive that they had not slept all last night, even if Peggotty had failed to tell me of their still sitting just as I left them, when it was broad day. They looked worn; and I thought Mr. Peggotty’s head was bowed in one night more than in all the years I had known him. But they were both as grave and steady as the sea itself, then lying beneath a dark sky, waveless—yet with a heavy roll upon it, as if it breathed in its rest—and touched, on the horizon, with a strip of silvery light from the unseen sun.

‘We have had a mort of talk, sir,’ said Mr. Peggotty to me, when we had all three walked a little while in silence, ‘of what we ought and doen’t ought to do. But we see our course now.’

I happened to glance at Ham, then looking out to sea upon the distant light, and a frightful thought came into my mind—not that his face was angry, for it was not; I recall nothing but an expression of stern determination in it—that if ever he encountered Steerforth, he would kill him.

‘My dooty here, sir,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘is done. I’m a going to seek my—’ he stopped, and went on in a firmer voice: ‘I’m a going to seek her. That’s my dooty evermore.’

He shook his head when I asked him where he would seek her, and inquired if I were going to London tomorrow? I told him I had not gone today, fearing to lose the chance of being of any service to him; but that I was ready to go when he would.

‘I’ll go along with you, sir,’ he rejoined, ‘if you’re agreeable, tomorrow.’

We walked again, for a while, in silence.

‘Ham,’ he presently resumed, ‘he’ll hold to his present work, and go and live along with my sister. The old boat yonder—’

‘Will you desert the old boat, Mr. Peggotty?’ I gently interposed.

‘My station, Mas’r Davy,’ he returned, ‘ain’t there no longer; and if ever a boat foundered, since there was darkness on the face of the deep, that one’s gone down. But no, sir, no; I doen’t mean as it should be deserted. Fur from that.’

We walked again for a while, as before, until he explained:

‘My wishes is, sir, as it shall look, day and night, winter and summer, as it has always looked, since she fust know’d it. If ever she should come a wandering back, I wouldn’t have the old place seem to cast her off, you understand, but seem to tempt her to draw nigher to ‘t, and to peep in, maybe, like a ghost, out of the wind and rain, through the old winder, at the old seat by the fire. Then, maybe, Mas’r Davy, seein’ none but Missis Gummidge there, she might take heart to creep in, trembling; and might come to be laid down in her old bed, and rest her weary head where it was once so gay.’

I could not speak to him in reply, though I tried.

‘Every night,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘as reg’lar as the night comes, the candle must be stood in its old pane of glass, that if ever she should see it, it may seem to say “Come back, my child, come back!” If ever there’s a knock, Ham (partic’ler a soft knock), arter dark, at your aunt’s door, doen’t you go nigh it. Let it be her—not you—that sees my fallen child!’

He walked a little in front of us, and kept before us for some minutes. During this interval, I glanced at Ham again, and observing the same expression on his face, and his eyes still directed to the distant light, I touched his arm.

Twice I called him by his name, in the tone in which I might have tried to rouse a sleeper, before he heeded me. When I at last inquired on what his thoughts were so bent, he replied:

‘On what’s afore me, Mas’r Davy; and over yon.’ ‘On the life before you, do you mean?’ He had pointed confusedly out to sea.

‘Ay, Mas’r Davy. I doen’t rightly know how ‘tis, but from over yon there seemed to me to come—the end of it like,’ looking at me as if he were waking, but with the same determined face.

‘What end?’ I asked, possessed by my former fear.

‘I doen’t know, ’he said, thoughtfully; ‘I was calling to mind that the beginning of it all did take place here—and then the end come. But it’s gone! Mas’r Davy,’ he added; answering, as I think, my look; ‘you han’t no call to be afeerd of me: but I’m kiender muddled; I don’t fare to feel no matters,’—which was as much as to say that he was not himself, and quite confounded.

Mr. Peggotty stopping for us to join him: we did so, and said no more. The remembrance of this, in connexion with my former thought, however, haunted me at intervals, even until the inexorable end came at its appointed time.

We insensibly approached the old boat, and entered. Mrs. Gummidge, no longer moping in her especial corner, was busy preparing breakfast. She took Mr. Peggotty’s hat, and placed his seat for him, and spoke so comfortably and softly, that I hardly knew her.

‘Dan’l, my good man,’ said she, ‘you must eat and drink, and keep up your strength, for without it you’ll do nowt. Try, that’s a dear soul! An if I disturb you with my clicketten,’ she meant her chattering, ‘tell me so, Dan’l, and I won’t.’

When she had served us all, she withdrew to the window, where she sedulously employed herself in repairing some shirts and other clothes belonging to Mr. Peggotty, and neatly folding and packing them in an old oilskin bag, such as sailors carry. Meanwhile, she continued talking, in the same quiet manner:

‘All times and seasons, you know, Dan’l,’ said Mrs. Gummidge, ‘I shall be allus here, and everythink will look accordin’ to your wishes. I’m a poor scholar, but I shall write to you, odd times, when you’re away, and send my letters to Mas’r Davy. Maybe you’ll write to me too, Dan’l, odd times, and tell me how you fare to feel upon your lone lorn journies.’

‘You’ll be a solitary woman heer, I’m afeerd!’ said Mr. Peggotty.

‘No, no, Dan’l,’ she returned, ‘I shan’t be that. Doen’t you mind me. I shall have enough to do to keep a Beein for you’ (Mrs. Gummidge meant a home), ‘again you come back—to keep a Beein here for any that may hap to come back, Dan’l. In the fine time, I shall set outside the door as I used to do. If any should come nigh, they shall see the old widder woman true to ‘em, a long way off.’

What a change in Mrs. Gummidge in a little time! She was another woman. She was so devoted, she had such a quick perception of what it would be well to say, and what it would be well to leave unsaid; she was so forgetful of herself, and so regardful of the sorrow about her, that I held her in a sort of veneration. The work she did that day! There were many things to be brought up from the beach and stored in the outhouse—as oars, nets, sails, cordage, spars, lobster-pots, bags of ballast, and the like; and though there was abundance of assistance rendered, there being not a pair of working hands on all that shore but would have laboured hard for Mr. Peggotty, and been well paid in being asked to do it, yet she persisted, all day long, in toiling under weights that she was quite unequal to, and fagging to and fro on all sorts of unnecessary errands. As to deploring her misfortunes, she appeared to have entirely lost the recollection of ever having had any. She preserved an equable cheerfulness in the midst of her sympathy, which was not the least astonishing part of the change that had come over her. Querulousness was out of the question. I did not even observe her voice to falter, or a tear to escape from her eyes, the whole day through, until twilight; when she and I and Mr. Peggotty being alone together, and he having fallen asleep in perfect exhaustion, she broke into a half-suppressed fit of sobbing and crying, and taking me to the door, said, ‘Ever bless you, Mas’r Davy, be a friend to him, poor dear!’ Then, she immediately ran out of the house to wash her face, in order that she might sit quietly beside him, and be found at work there, when he should awake. In short I left her, when I went away at night, the prop and staff of Mr. Peggotty’s affliction; and I could not meditate enough upon the lesson that I read in Mrs. Gummidge, and the new experience she unfolded to me.

It was between nine and ten o’clock when, strolling in a melancholy manner through the town, I stopped at Mr. Omer’s door. Mr. Omer had taken it so much to heart, his daughter told me, that he had been very low and poorly all day, and had gone to bed without his pipe.

‘A deceitful, bad-hearted girl,’ said Mrs. Joram. ‘There was no good in her, ever!’

‘Don’t say so,’ I returned. ‘You don’t think so.’

‘Yes, I do!’ cried Mrs. Joram, angrily.

‘No, no,’ said I.

Mrs. Joram tossed her head, endeavouring to be very stern and cross; but she could not command her softer self, and began to cry. I was young, to be sure; but I thought much the better of her for this sympathy, and fancied it became her, as a virtuous wife and mother, very well indeed.

‘What will she ever do!’ sobbed Minnie. ‘Where will she go! What will become of her! Oh, how could she be so cruel, to herself and him!’

I remembered the time when Minnie was a young and pretty girl; and I was glad she remembered it too, so feelingly.

‘My little Minnie,’ said Mrs. Joram, ‘has only just now been got to sleep. Even in her sleep she is sobbing for Em’ly. All day long, little Minnie has cried for her, and asked me, over and over again, whether Em’ly was wicked? What can I say to her, when Em’ly tied a ribbon off her own neck round little Minnie’s the last night she was here, and laid her head down on the pillow beside her till she was fast asleep! The ribbon’s round my little Minnie’s neck now. It ought not to be, perhaps, but what can I do? Em’ly is very bad, but they were fond of one another. And the child knows nothing!’

Mrs. Joram was so unhappy that her husband came out to take care of her. Leaving them together, I went home to Peggotty’s; more melancholy myself, if possible, than I had been yet.

That good creature—I mean Peggotty—all untired by her late anxieties and sleepless nights, was at her brother’s, where she meant to stay till morning. An old woman, who had been employed about the house for some weeks past, while Peggotty had been unable to attend to it, was the house’s only other occupant besides myself. As I had no occasion for her services, I sent her to bed, by no means against her will, and sat down before the kitchen fire a little while, to think about all this.

I was blending it with the deathbed of the late Mr. Barkis, and was driving out with the tide towards the distance at which Ham had looked so singularly in the morning, when I was recalled from my wanderings by a knock at the door. There was a knocker upon the door, but it was not that which made the sound. The tap was from a hand, and low down upon the door, as if it were given by a child.

It made me start as much as if it had been the knock of a footman to a person of distinction. I opened the door; and at first looked down, to my amazement, on nothing but a great umbrella that appeared to be walking about of itself. But presently I discovered underneath it, Miss Mowcher.

I might not have been prepared to give the little creature a very kind reception, if, on her removing the umbrella, which her utmost efforts were unable to shut up, she had shown me the ‘volatile’ expression of face which had made so great an impression on me at our first and last meeting. But her face, as she turned it up to mine, was so earnest; and when I relieved her of the umbrella (which would have been an inconvenient one for the Irish Giant), she wrung her little hands in such an afflicted manner; that I rather inclined towards her.

‘Miss Mowcher!’ said I, after glancing up and down the empty street, without distinctly knowing what I expected to see besides; ‘how do you come here? What is the matter?’ She motioned to me with her short right arm, to shut the umbrella for her; and passing me hurriedly, went into the kitchen. When I had closed the door, and followed, with the umbrella in my hand, I found her sitting on the corner of the fender—it was a low iron one, with two flat bars at top to stand plates upon—in the shadow of the boiler, swaying herself backwards and forwards, and chafing her hands upon her knees like a person in pain.

Quite alarmed at being the only recipient of this untimely visit, and the only spectator of this portentous behaviour, I exclaimed again, ‘Pray tell me, Miss Mowcher, what is the matter! are you ill?’

‘My dear young soul,’ returned Miss Mowcher, squeezing her hands upon her heart one over the other. ‘I am ill here, I am very ill. To think that it should come to this, when I might have known it and perhaps prevented it, if I hadn’t been a thoughtless fool!’

Again her large bonnet (very disproportionate to the figure) went backwards and forwards, in her swaying of her little body to and fro; while a most gigantic bonnet rocked, in unison with it, upon the wall.

‘I am surprised,’ I began, ‘to see you so distressed and serious’—when she interrupted me.

‘Yes, it’s always so!’ she said. ‘They are all surprised, these inconsiderate young people, fairly and full grown, to see any natural feeling in a little thing like me! They make a plaything of me, use me for their amusement, throw me away when they are tired, and wonder that I feel more than a toy horse or a wooden soldier! Yes, yes, that’s the way. The old way!’

‘It may be, with others,’ I returned, ‘but I do assure you it is not with me. Perhaps I ought not to be at all surprised to see you as you are now: I know so little of you. I said, without consideration, what I thought.’

‘What can I do?’ returned the little woman, standing up, and holding out her arms to show herself. ‘See! What I am, my father was; and my sister is; and my brother is. I have worked for sister and brother these many years—hard, Mr. Copperfield—all day. I must live. I do no harm. If there are people so unreflecting or so cruel, as to make a jest of me, what is left for me to do but to make a jest of myself, them, and everything? If I do so, for the time, whose fault is that? Mine?’

No. Not Miss Mowcher’s, I perceived.

‘If I had shown myself a sensitive dwarf to your false friend,’ pursued the little woman, shaking her head at me, with reproachful earnestness, ‘how much of his help or good will do you think I should ever have had? If little Mowcher (who had no hand, young gentleman, in the making of herself) addressed herself to him, or the like of him, because of her misfortunes, when do you suppose her small voice would have been heard? Little Mowcher would have as much need to live, if she was the bitterest and dullest of pigmies; but she couldn’t do it. No. She might whistle for her bread and butter till she died of Air.’

Miss Mowcher sat down on the fender again, and took out her handkerchief, and wiped her eyes.

‘Be thankful for me, if you have a kind heart, as I think you have,’ she said, ‘that while I know well what I am, I can be cheerful and endure it all. I am thankful for myself, at any rate, that I can find my tiny way through the world, without being beholden to anyone; and that in return for all that is thrown at me, in folly or vanity, as I go along, I can throw bubbles back. If I don’t brood over all I want, it is the better for me, and not the worse for anyone. If I am a plaything for you giants, be gentle with me.’

Miss Mowcher replaced her handkerchief in her pocket, looking at me with very intent expression all the while, and pursued:

‘I saw you in the street just now. You may suppose I am not able to walk as fast as you, with my short legs and short breath, and I couldn’t overtake you; but I guessed where you came, and came after you. I have been here before, today, but the good woman wasn’t at home.’

‘Do you know her?’ I demanded.

‘I know of her, and about her,’ she replied, ‘from Omer and Joram. I was there at seven o’clock this morning. Do you remember what Steerforth said to me about this unfortunate girl, that time when I saw you both at the inn?’

The great bonnet on Miss Mowcher’s head, and the greater bonnet on the wall, began to go backwards and forwards again when she asked this question.

I remembered very well what she referred to, having had it in my thoughts many times that day. I told her so.

‘May the Father of all Evil confound him,’ said the little woman, holding up her forefinger between me and her sparkling eyes, ‘and ten times more confound that wicked servant; but I believed it was YOU who had a boyish passion for her!’

‘I?’ I repeated.

‘Child, child! In the name of blind ill-fortune,’ cried Miss Mowcher, wringing her hands impatiently, as she went to and fro again upon the fender, ‘why did you praise her so, and blush, and look disturbed?’

I could not conceal from myself that I had done this, though for a reason very different from her supposition.

‘What did I know?’ said Miss Mowcher, taking out her handkerchief again, and giving one little stamp on the ground whenever, at short intervals, she applied it to her eyes with both hands at once. ‘He was crossing you and wheedling you, I saw; and you were soft wax in his hands, I saw. Had I left the room a minute, when his man told me that “Young Innocence” (so he called you, and you may call him “Old Guilt” all the days of your life) had set his heart upon her, and she was giddy and liked him, but his master was resolved that no harm should come of it—more for your sake than for hers—and that that was their business here? How could I BUT believe him? I saw Steerforth soothe and please you by his praise of her! You were the first to mention her name. You owned to an old admiration of her. You were hot and cold, and red and white, all at once when I spoke to you of her. What could I think—what DID I think—but that you were a young libertine in everything but experience, and had fallen into hands that had experience enough, and could manage you (having the fancy) for your own good? Oh! oh! oh! They were afraid of my finding out the truth,’ exclaimed Miss Mowcher, getting off the fender, and trotting up and down the kitchen with her two short arms distressfully lifted up, ‘because I am a sharp little thing—I need be, to get through the world at all!—and they deceived me altogether, and I gave the poor unfortunate girl a letter, which I fully believe was the beginning of her ever speaking to Littimer, who was left behind on purpose!’

I stood amazed at the revelation of all this perfidy, looking at Miss Mowcher as she walked up and down the kitchen until she was out of breath: when she sat upon the fender again, and, drying her face with her handkerchief, shook her head for a long time, without otherwise moving, and without breaking silence.

‘My country rounds,’ she added at length, ‘brought me to Norwich, Mr. Copperfield, the night before last. What I happened to find there, about their secret way of coming and going, without you—which was strange—led to my suspecting something wrong. I got into the coach from London last night, as it came through Norwich, and was here this morning. Oh, oh, oh! too late!’

Poor little Mowcher turned so chilly after all her crying and fretting, that she turned round on the fender, putting her poor little wet feet in among the ashes to warm them, and sat looking at the fire, like a large doll. I sat in a chair on the other side of the hearth, lost in unhappy reflections, and looking at the fire too, and sometimes at her.

‘I must go,’ she said at last, rising as she spoke. ‘It’s late. You don’t mistrust me?’

Meeting her sharp glance, which was as sharp as ever when she asked me, I could not on that short challenge answer no, quite frankly.

‘Come!’ said she, accepting the offer of my hand to help her over the fender, and looking wistfully up into my face, ‘you know you wouldn’t mistrust me, if I was a full-sized woman!’

I felt that there was much truth in this; and I felt rather ashamed of myself.

‘You are a young man,’ she said, nodding. ‘Take a word of advice, even from three foot nothing. Try not to associate bodily defects with mental, my good friend, except for a solid reason.’

She had got over the fender now, and I had got over my suspicion. I told her that I believed she had given me a faithful account of herself, and that we had both been hapless instruments in designing hands. She thanked me, and said I was a good fellow.

‘Now, mind!’ she exclaimed, turning back on her way to the door, and looking shrewdly at me, with her forefinger up again.—‘I have some reason to suspect, from what I have heard—my ears are always open; I can’t afford to spare what powers I have—that they are gone abroad. But if ever they return, if ever any one of them returns, while I am alive, I am more likely than another, going about as I do, to find it out soon. Whatever I know, you shall know. If ever I can do anything to serve the poor betrayed girl, I will do it faithfully, please Heaven! And Littimer had better have a bloodhound at his back, than little Mowcher!’

I placed implicit faith in this last statement, when I marked the look with which it was accompanied.

‘Trust me no more, but trust me no less, than you would trust a full-sized woman,’ said the little creature, touching me appealingly on the wrist. ‘If ever you see me again, unlike what I am now, and like what I was when you first saw me, observe what company I am in. Call to mind that I am a very helpless and defenceless little thing. Think of me at home with my brother like myself and sister like myself, when my day’s work is done. Perhaps you won’t, then, be very hard upon me, or surprised if I can be distressed and serious. Good night!’

I gave Miss Mowcher my hand, with a very different opinion of her from that which I had hitherto entertained, and opened the door to let her out. It was not a trifling business to get the great umbrella up, and properly balanced in her grasp; but at last I successfully accomplished this, and saw it go bobbing down the street through the rain, without the least appearance of having anybody underneath it, except when a heavier fall than usual from some over-charged water-spout sent it toppling over, on one side, and discovered Miss Mowcher struggling violently to get it right. After making one or two sallies to her relief, which were rendered futile by the umbrella’s hopping on again, like an immense bird, before I could reach it, I came in, went to bed, and slept till morning.

In the morning I was joined by Mr. Peggotty and by my old nurse, and we went at an early hour to the coach office, where Mrs. Gummidge and Ham were waiting to take leave of us.

‘Mas’r Davy,’ Ham whispered, drawing me aside, while Mr. Peggotty was stowing his bag among the luggage, ‘his life is quite broke up. He doen’t know wheer he’s going; he doen’t know—what’s afore him; he’s bound upon a voyage that’ll last, on and off, all the rest of his days, take my wured for ‘t, unless he finds what he’s a seeking of. I am sure you’ll be a friend to him, Mas’r Davy?’

‘Trust me, I will indeed,’ said I, shaking hands with Ham earnestly.

‘Thankee. Thankee, very kind, sir. One thing furder. I’m in good employ, you know, Mas’r Davy, and I han’t no way now of spending what I gets. Money’s of no use to me no more, except to live. If you can lay it out for him, I shall do my work with a better art. Though as to that, sir,’ and he spoke very steadily and mildly, ‘you’re not to think but I shall work at all times, like a man, and act the best that lays in my power!’

I told him I was well convinced of it; and I hinted that I hoped the time might even come, when he would cease to lead the lonely life he naturally contemplated now.

‘No, sir,’ he said, shaking his head, ‘all that’s past and over with me, sir. No one can never fill the place that’s empty. But you’ll bear in mind about the money, as theer’s at all times some laying by for him?’

Reminding him of the fact, that Mr. Peggotty derived a steady, though certainly a very moderate income from the bequest of his late brother-in-law, I promised to do so. We then took leave of each other. I cannot leave him even now, without remembering with a pang, at once his modest fortitude and his great sorrow.

As to Mrs. Gummidge, if I were to endeavour to describe how she ran down the street by the side of the coach, seeing nothing but Mr. Peggotty on the roof, through the tears she tried to repress, and dashing herself against the people who were coming in the opposite direction, I should enter on a task of some difficulty. Therefore I had better leave her sitting on a baker’s door-step, out of breath, with no shape at all remaining in her bonnet, and one of her shoes off, lying on the pavement at a considerable distance.

When we got to our journey’s end, our first pursuit was to look about for a little lodging for Peggotty, where her brother could have a bed. We were so fortunate as to find one, of a very clean and cheap description, over a chandler’s shop, only two streets removed from me. When we had engaged this domicile, I bought some cold meat at an eating-house, and took my fellow-travellers home to tea; a proceeding, I regret to state, which did not meet with Mrs. Crupp’s approval, but quite the contrary. I ought to observe, however, in explanation of that lady’s state of mind, that she was much offended by Peggotty’s tucking up her widow’s gown before she had been ten minutes in the place, and setting to work to dust my bedroom. This Mrs. Crupp regarded in the light of a liberty, and a liberty, she said, was a thing she never allowed.

Mr. Peggotty had made a communication to me on the way to London for which I was not unprepared. It was, that he purposed first seeing Mrs. Steerforth. As I felt bound to assist him in this, and also to mediate between them; with the view of sparing the mother’s feelings as much as possible, I wrote to her that night. I told her as mildly as I could what his wrong was, and what my own share in his injury. I said he was a man in very common life, but of a most gentle and upright character; and that I ventured to express a hope that she would not refuse to see him in his heavy trouble. I mentioned two o’clock in the afternoon as the hour of our coming, and I sent the letter myself by the first coach in the morning.

At the appointed time, we stood at the door—the door of that house where I had been, a few days since, so happy: where my youthful confidence and warmth of heart had been yielded up so freely: which was closed against me henceforth: which was now a waste, a ruin.

No Littimer appeared. The pleasanter face which had replaced his, on the occasion of my last visit, answered to our summons, and went before us to the drawing-room. Mrs. Steerforth was sitting there. Rosa Dartle glided, as we went in, from another part of the room and stood behind her chair.

I saw, directly, in his mother’s face, that she knew from himself what he had done. It was very pale; and bore the traces of deeper emotion than my letter alone, weakened by the doubts her fondness would have raised upon it, would have been likely to create. I thought her more like him than ever I had thought her; and I felt, rather than saw, that the resemblance was not lost on my companion.

She sat upright in her arm-chair, with a stately, immovable, passionless air, that it seemed as if nothing could disturb. She looked very steadfastly at Mr. Peggotty when he stood before her; and he looked quite as steadfastly at her. Rosa Dartle’s keen glance comprehended all of us. For some moments not a word was spoken.

She motioned to Mr. Peggotty to be seated. He said, in a low voice, ‘I shouldn’t feel it nat’ral, ma’am, to sit down in this house. I’d sooner stand.’ And this was succeeded by another silence, which she broke thus:

‘I know, with deep regret, what has brought you here. What do you want of me? What do you ask me to do?’

He put his hat under his arm, and feeling in his breast for Emily’s letter, took it out, unfolded it, and gave it to her. ‘Please to read that, ma’am. That’s my niece’s hand!’

She read it, in the same stately and impassive way,—untouched by its contents, as far as I could see,—and returned it to him.

‘“Unless he brings me back a lady,”’ said Mr. Peggotty, tracing out that part with his finger. ‘I come to know, ma’am, whether he will keep his wured?’

‘No,’ she returned.

‘Why not?’ said Mr. Peggotty.

‘It is impossible. He would disgrace himself. You cannot fail to know that she is far below him.’

‘Raise her up!’ said Mr. Peggotty.

‘She is uneducated and ignorant.’

‘Maybe she’s not; maybe she is,’ said Mr. Peggotty. ‘I think not, ma’am; but I’m no judge of them things. Teach her better!’

‘Since you oblige me to speak more plainly, which I am very unwilling to do, her humble connexions would render such a thing impossible, if nothing else did.’

‘Hark to this, ma’am,’ he returned, slowly and quietly. ‘You know what it is to love your child. So do I. If she was a hundred times my child, I couldn’t love her more. You doen’t know what it is to lose your child. I do. All the heaps of riches in the wureld would be nowt to me (if they was mine) to buy her back! But, save her from this disgrace, and she shall never be disgraced by us. Not one of us that she’s growed up among, not one of us that’s lived along with her and had her for their all in all, these many year, will ever look upon her pritty face again. We’ll be content to let her be; we’ll be content to think of her, far off, as if she was underneath another sun and sky; we’ll be content to trust her to her husband,—to her little children, p’raps,—and bide the time when all of us shall be alike in quality afore our God!’

The rugged eloquence with which he spoke, was not devoid of all effect. She still preserved her proud manner, but there was a touch of softness in her voice, as she answered:

‘I justify nothing. I make no counter-accusations. But I am sorry to repeat, it is impossible. Such a marriage would irretrievably blight my son’s career, and ruin his prospects. Nothing is more certain than that it never can take place, and never will. If there is any other compensation—’

‘I am looking at the likeness of the face,’ interrupted Mr. Peggotty, with a steady but a kindling eye, ‘that has looked at me, in my home, at my fireside, in my boat—wheer not?—-smiling and friendly, when it was so treacherous, that I go half wild when I think of it. If the likeness of that face don’t turn to burning fire, at the thought of offering money to me for my child’s blight and ruin, it’s as bad. I doen’t know, being a lady’s, but what it’s worse.’

She changed now, in a moment. An angry flush overspread her features; and she said, in an intolerant manner, grasping the arm-chair tightly with her hands:

‘What compensation can you make to ME for opening such a pit between me and my son? What is your love to mine? What is your separation to ours?’

Miss Dartle softly touched her, and bent down her head to whisper, but she would not hear a word.

‘No, Rosa, not a word! Let the man listen to what I say! My son, who has been the object of my life, to whom its every thought has been devoted, whom I have gratified from a child in every wish, from whom I have had no separate existence since his birth,—to take up in a moment with a miserable girl, and avoid me! To repay my confidence with systematic deception, for her sake, and quit me for her! To set this wretched fancy, against his mother’s claims upon his duty, love, respect, gratitude—claims that every day and hour of his life should have strengthened into ties that nothing could be proof against! Is this no injury?’

Again Rosa Dartle tried to soothe her; again ineffectually.

‘I say, Rosa, not a word! If he can stake his all upon the lightest object, I can stake my all upon a greater purpose. Let him go where he will, with the means that my love has secured to him! Does he think to reduce me by long absence? He knows his mother very little if he does. Let him put away his whim now, and he is welcome back. Let him not put her away now, and he never shall come near me, living or dying, while I can raise my hand to make a sign against it, unless, being rid of her for ever, he comes humbly to me and begs for my forgiveness. This is my right. This is the acknowledgement I WILL HAVE. This is the separation that there is between us! And is this,’ she added, looking at her visitor with the proud intolerant air with which she had begun, ‘no injury?’

While I heard and saw the mother as she said these words, I seemed to hear and see the son, defying them. All that I had ever seen in him of an unyielding, wilful spirit, I saw in her. All the understanding that I had now of his misdirected energy, became an understanding of her character too, and a perception that it was, in its strongest springs, the same.

She now observed to me, aloud, resuming her former restraint, that it was useless to hear more, or to say more, and that she begged to put an end to the interview. She rose with an air of dignity to leave the room, when Mr. Peggotty signified that it was needless.

‘Doen’t fear me being any hindrance to you, I have no more to say, ma’am,’ he remarked, as he moved towards the door. ‘I come heer with no hope, and I take away no hope. I have done what I thowt should be done, but I never looked fur any good to come of my stan’ning where I do. This has been too evil a house fur me and mine, fur me to be in my right senses and expect it.’

With this, we departed; leaving her standing by her elbow-chair, a picture of a noble presence and a handsome face.

We had, on our way out, to cross a paved hall, with glass sides and roof, over which a vine was trained. Its leaves and shoots were green then, and the day being sunny, a pair of glass doors leading to the garden were thrown open. Rosa Dartle, entering this way with a noiseless step, when we were close to them, addressed herself to me:

‘You do well,’ she said, ‘indeed, to bring this fellow here!’

Such a concentration of rage and scorn as darkened her face, and flashed in her jet-black eyes, I could not have thought compressible even into that face. The scar made by the hammer was, as usual in this excited state of her features, strongly marked. When the throbbing I had seen before, came into it as I looked at her, she absolutely lifted up her hand, and struck it.

‘This is a fellow,’ she said, ‘to champion and bring here, is he not? You are a true man!’

‘Miss Dartle,’ I returned, ‘you are surely not so unjust as to condemn ME!’

‘Why do you bring division between these two mad creatures?’ she returned. ‘Don’t you know that they are both mad with their own self-will and pride?’

‘Is it my doing?’ I returned.

‘Is it your doing!’ she retorted. ‘Why do you bring this man here?’

‘He is a deeply-injured man, Miss Dartle,’ I replied. ‘You may not know it.’

‘I know that James Steerforth,’ she said, with her hand on her bosom, as if to prevent the storm that was raging there, from being loud, ‘has a false, corrupt heart, and is a traitor. But what need I know or care about this fellow, and his common niece?’

‘Miss Dartle,’ I returned, ‘you deepen the injury. It is sufficient already. I will only say, at parting, that you do him a great wrong.’

‘I do him no wrong,’ she returned. ‘They are a depraved, worthless set. I would have her whipped!’

Mr. Peggotty passed on, without a word, and went out at the door.

‘Oh, shame, Miss Dartle! shame!’ I said indignantly. ‘How can you bear to trample on his undeserved affliction!’

‘I would trample on them all,’ she answered. ‘I would have his house pulled down. I would have her branded on the face, dressed in rags, and cast out in the streets to starve. If I had the power to sit in judgement on her, I would see it done. See it done? I would do it! I detest her. If I ever could reproach her with her infamous condition, I would go anywhere to do so. If I could hunt her to her grave, I would. If there was any word of comfort that would be a solace to her in her dying hour, and only I possessed it, I wouldn’t part with it for Life itself.’

The mere vehemence of her words can convey, I am sensible, but a weak impression of the passion by which she was possessed, and which made itself articulate in her whole figure, though her voice, instead of being raised, was lower than usual. No description I could give of her would do justice to my recollection of her, or to her entire deliverance of herself to her anger. I have seen passion in many forms, but I have never seen it in such a form as that.

When I joined Mr. Peggotty, he was walking slowly and thoughtfully down the hill. He told me, as soon as I came up with him, that having now discharged his mind of what he had purposed doing in London, he meant ‘to set out on his travels’, that night. I asked him where he meant to go? He only answered, ‘I’m a going, sir, to seek my niece.’

We went back to the little lodging over the chandler’s shop, and there I found an opportunity of repeating to Peggotty what he had said to me. She informed me, in return, that he had said the same to her that morning. She knew no more than I did, where he was going, but she thought he had some project shaped out in his mind.

I did not like to leave him, under such circumstances, and we all three dined together off a beefsteak pie—which was one of the many good things for which Peggotty was famous—and which was curiously flavoured on this occasion, I recollect well, by a miscellaneous taste of tea, coffee, butter, bacon, cheese, new loaves, firewood, candles, and walnut ketchup, continually ascending from the shop. After dinner we sat for an hour or so near the window, without talking much; and then Mr. Peggotty got up, and brought his oilskin bag and his stout stick, and laid them on the table.

He accepted, from his sister’s stock of ready money, a small sum on account of his legacy; barely enough, I should have thought, to keep him for a month. He promised to communicate with me, when anything befell him; and he slung his bag about him, took his hat and stick, and bade us both ‘Good-bye!’

‘All good attend you, dear old woman,’ he said, embracing Peggotty, ‘and you too, Mas’r Davy!’ shaking hands with me. ‘I’m a-going to seek her, fur and wide. If she should come home while I’m away—but ah, that ain’t like to be!—or if I should bring her back, my meaning is, that she and me shall live and die where no one can’t reproach her. If any hurt should come to me, remember that the last words I left for her was, “My unchanged love is with my darling child, and I forgive her!”’

He said this solemnly, bare-headed; then, putting on his hat, he went down the stairs, and away. We followed to the door. It was a warm, dusty evening, just the time when, in the great main thoroughfare out of which that by-way turned, there was a temporary lull in the eternal tread of feet upon the pavement, and a strong red sunshine. He turned, alone, at the corner of our shady street, into a glow of light, in which we lost him.

Rarely did that hour of the evening come, rarely did I wake at night, rarely did I look up at the moon, or stars, or watch the falling rain, or hear the wind, but I thought of his solitary figure toiling on, poor pilgrim, and recalled the words:

‘I’m a going to seek her, fur and wide. If any hurt should come to me, remember that the last words I left for her was, “My unchanged love is with my darling child, and I forgive her!”’






CHAPTER 33. BLISSFUL

All this time, I had gone on loving Dora, harder than ever. Her idea was my refuge in disappointment and distress, and made some amends to me, even for the loss of my friend. The more I pitied myself, or pitied others, the more I sought for consolation in the image of Dora. The greater the accumulation of deceit and trouble in the world, the brighter and the purer shone the star of Dora high above the world. I don’t think I had any definite idea where Dora came from, or in what degree she was related to a higher order of beings; but I am quite sure I should have scouted the notion of her being simply human, like any other young lady, with indignation and contempt.

If I may so express it, I was steeped in Dora. I was not merely over head and ears in love with her, but I was saturated through and through. Enough love might have been wrung out of me, metaphorically speaking, to drown anybody in; and yet there would have remained enough within me, and all over me, to pervade my entire existence.

The first thing I did, on my own account, when I came back, was to take a night-walk to Norwood, and, like the subject of a venerable riddle of my childhood, to go ‘round and round the house, without ever touching the house’, thinking about Dora. I believe the theme of this incomprehensible conundrum was the moon. No matter what it was, I, the moon-struck slave of Dora, perambulated round and round the house and garden for two hours, looking through crevices in the palings, getting my chin by dint of violent exertion above the rusty nails on the top, blowing kisses at the lights in the windows, and romantically calling on the night, at intervals, to shield my Dora—I don’t exactly know what from, I suppose from fire. Perhaps from mice, to which she had a great objection.

My love was so much in my mind and it was so natural to me to confide in Peggotty, when I found her again by my side of an evening with the old set of industrial implements, busily making the tour of my wardrobe, that I imparted to her, in a sufficiently roundabout way, my great secret. Peggotty was strongly interested, but I could not get her into my view of the case at all. She was audaciously prejudiced in my favour, and quite unable to understand why I should have any misgivings, or be low-spirited about it. ‘The young lady might think herself well off,’ she observed, ‘to have such a beau. And as to her Pa,’ she said, ‘what did the gentleman expect, for gracious sake!’

I observed, however, that Mr. Spenlow’s proctorial gown and stiff cravat took Peggotty down a little, and inspired her with a greater reverence for the man who was gradually becoming more and more etherealized in my eyes every day, and about whom a reflected radiance seemed to me to beam when he sat erect in Court among his papers, like a little lighthouse in a sea of stationery. And by the by, it used to be uncommonly strange to me to consider, I remember, as I sat in Court too, how those dim old judges and doctors wouldn’t have cared for Dora, if they had known her; how they wouldn’t have gone out of their senses with rapture, if marriage with Dora had been proposed to them; how Dora might have sung, and played upon that glorified guitar, until she led me to the verge of madness, yet not have tempted one of those slow-goers an inch out of his road!

I despised them, to a man. Frozen-out old gardeners in the flower-beds of the heart, I took a personal offence against them all. The Bench was nothing to me but an insensible blunderer. The Bar had no more tenderness or poetry in it, than the bar of a public-house.

Taking the management of Peggotty’s affairs into my own hands, with no little pride, I proved the will, and came to a settlement with the Legacy Duty-office, and took her to the Bank, and soon got everything into an orderly train. We varied the legal character of these proceedings by going to see some perspiring Wax-work, in Fleet Street (melted, I should hope, these twenty years); and by visiting Miss Linwood’s Exhibition, which I remember as a Mausoleum of needlework, favourable to self-examination and repentance; and by inspecting the Tower of London; and going to the top of St. Paul’s. All these wonders afforded Peggotty as much pleasure as she was able to enjoy, under existing circumstances: except, I think, St. Paul’s, which, from her long attachment to her work-box, became a rival of the picture on the lid, and was, in some particulars, vanquished, she considered, by that work of art.

Peggotty’s business, which was what we used to call ‘common-form business’ in the Commons (and very light and lucrative the common-form business was), being settled, I took her down to the office one morning to pay her bill. Mr. Spenlow had stepped out, old Tiffey said, to get a gentleman sworn for a marriage licence; but as I knew he would be back directly, our place lying close to the Surrogate’s, and to the Vicar-General’s office too, I told Peggotty to wait.

We were a little like undertakers, in the Commons, as regarded Probate transactions; generally making it a rule to look more or less cut up, when we had to deal with clients in mourning. In a similar feeling of delicacy, we were always blithe and light-hearted with the licence clients. Therefore I hinted to Peggotty that she would find Mr. Spenlow much recovered from the shock of Mr. Barkis’s decease; and indeed he came in like a bridegroom.

But neither Peggotty nor I had eyes for him, when we saw, in company with him, Mr. Murdstone. He was very little changed. His hair looked as thick, and was certainly as black, as ever; and his glance was as little to be trusted as of old.

‘Ah, Copperfield?’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘You know this gentleman, I believe?’

I made my gentleman a distant bow, and Peggotty barely recognized him. He was, at first, somewhat disconcerted to meet us two together; but quickly decided what to do, and came up to me.

‘I hope,’ he said, ‘that you are doing well?’

‘It can hardly be interesting to you,’ said I. ‘Yes, if you wish to know.’

We looked at each other, and he addressed himself to Peggotty.

‘And you,’ said he. ‘I am sorry to observe that you have lost your husband.’

‘It’s not the first loss I have had in my life, Mr. Murdstone,’ replied Peggotty, trembling from head to foot. ‘I am glad to hope that there is nobody to blame for this one,—nobody to answer for it.’

‘Ha!’ said he; ‘that’s a comfortable reflection. You have done your duty?’

‘I have not worn anybody’s life away,’ said Peggotty, ‘I am thankful to think! No, Mr. Murdstone, I have not worrited and frightened any sweet creetur to an early grave!’

He eyed her gloomily—remorsefully I thought—for an instant; and said, turning his head towards me, but looking at my feet instead of my face:

‘We are not likely to encounter soon again;—a source of satisfaction to us both, no doubt, for such meetings as this can never be agreeable. I do not expect that you, who always rebelled against my just authority, exerted for your benefit and reformation, should owe me any good-will now. There is an antipathy between us—’

‘An old one, I believe?’ said I, interrupting him.

He smiled, and shot as evil a glance at me as could come from his dark eyes.

‘It rankled in your baby breast,’ he said. ‘It embittered the life of your poor mother. You are right. I hope you may do better, yet; I hope you may correct yourself.’

Here he ended the dialogue, which had been carried on in a low voice, in a corner of the outer office, by passing into Mr. Spenlow’s room, and saying aloud, in his smoothest manner:

‘Gentlemen of Mr. Spenlow’s profession are accustomed to family differences, and know how complicated and difficult they always are!’ With that, he paid the money for his licence; and, receiving it neatly folded from Mr. Spenlow, together with a shake of the hand, and a polite wish for his happiness and the lady’s, went out of the office.

I might have had more difficulty in constraining myself to be silent under his words, if I had had less difficulty in impressing upon Peggotty (who was only angry on my account, good creature!) that we were not in a place for recrimination, and that I besought her to hold her peace. She was so unusually roused, that I was glad to compound for an affectionate hug, elicited by this revival in her mind of our old injuries, and to make the best I could of it, before Mr. Spenlow and the clerks.

Mr. Spenlow did not appear to know what the connexion between Mr. Murdstone and myself was; which I was glad of, for I could not bear to acknowledge him, even in my own breast, remembering what I did of the history of my poor mother. Mr. Spenlow seemed to think, if he thought anything about the matter, that my aunt was the leader of the state party in our family, and that there was a rebel party commanded by somebody else—so I gathered at least from what he said, while we were waiting for Mr. Tiffey to make out Peggotty’s bill of costs.

‘Miss Trotwood,’ he remarked, ‘is very firm, no doubt, and not likely to give way to opposition. I have an admiration for her character, and I may congratulate you, Copperfield, on being on the right side. Differences between relations are much to be deplored—but they are extremely general—and the great thing is, to be on the right side’: meaning, I take it, on the side of the moneyed interest.

‘Rather a good marriage this, I believe?’ said Mr. Spenlow.

I explained that I knew nothing about it.

‘Indeed!’ he said. ‘Speaking from the few words Mr. Murdstone dropped—as a man frequently does on these occasions—and from what Miss Murdstone let fall, I should say it was rather a good marriage.’

‘Do you mean that there is money, sir?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Spenlow, ‘I understand there’s money. Beauty too, I am told.’

‘Indeed! Is his new wife young?’

‘Just of age,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘So lately, that I should think they had been waiting for that.’

‘Lord deliver her!’ said Peggotty. So very emphatically and unexpectedly, that we were all three discomposed; until Tiffey came in with the bill.

Old Tiffey soon appeared, however, and handed it to Mr. Spenlow, to look over. Mr. Spenlow, settling his chin in his cravat and rubbing it softly, went over the items with a deprecatory air—as if it were all Jorkins’s doing—and handed it back to Tiffey with a bland sigh.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That’s right. Quite right. I should have been extremely happy, Copperfield, to have limited these charges to the actual expenditure out of pocket, but it is an irksome incident in my professional life, that I am not at liberty to consult my own wishes. I have a partner—Mr. Jorkins.’

As he said this with a gentle melancholy, which was the next thing to making no charge at all, I expressed my acknowledgements on Peggotty’s behalf, and paid Tiffey in banknotes. Peggotty then retired to her lodging, and Mr. Spenlow and I went into Court, where we had a divorce-suit coming on, under an ingenious little statute (repealed now, I believe, but in virtue of which I have seen several marriages annulled), of which the merits were these. The husband, whose name was Thomas Benjamin, had taken out his marriage licence as Thomas only; suppressing the Benjamin, in case he should not find himself as comfortable as he expected. NOT finding himself as comfortable as he expected, or being a little fatigued with his wife, poor fellow, he now came forward, by a friend, after being married a year or two, and declared that his name was Thomas Benjamin, and therefore he was not married at all. Which the Court confirmed, to his great satisfaction.

I must say that I had my doubts about the strict justice of this, and was not even frightened out of them by the bushel of wheat which reconciles all anomalies. But Mr. Spenlow argued the matter with me. He said, Look at the world, there was good and evil in that; look at the ecclesiastical law, there was good and evil in THAT. It was all part of a system. Very good. There you were!

I had not the hardihood to suggest to Dora’s father that possibly we might even improve the world a little, if we got up early in the morning, and took off our coats to the work; but I confessed that I thought we might improve the Commons. Mr. Spenlow replied that he would particularly advise me to dismiss that idea from my mind, as not being worthy of my gentlemanly character; but that he would be glad to hear from me of what improvement I thought the Commons susceptible?

Taking that part of the Commons which happened to be nearest to us—for our man was unmarried by this time, and we were out of Court, and strolling past the Prerogative Office—I submitted that I thought the Prerogative Office rather a queerly managed institution. Mr. Spenlow inquired in what respect? I replied, with all due deference to his experience (but with more deference, I am afraid, to his being Dora’s father), that perhaps it was a little nonsensical that the Registry of that Court, containing the original wills of all persons leaving effects within the immense province of Canterbury, for three whole centuries, should be an accidental building, never designed for the purpose, leased by the registrars for their Own private emolument, unsafe, not even ascertained to be fire-proof, choked with the important documents it held, and positively, from the roof to the basement, a mercenary speculation of the registrars, who took great fees from the public, and crammed the public’s wills away anyhow and anywhere, having no other object than to get rid of them cheaply. That, perhaps, it was a little unreasonable that these registrars in the receipt of profits amounting to eight or nine thousand pounds a year (to say nothing of the profits of the deputy registrars, and clerks of seats), should not be obliged to spend a little of that money, in finding a reasonably safe place for the important documents which all classes of people were compelled to hand over to them, whether they would or no. That, perhaps, it was a little unjust, that all the great offices in this great office should be magnificent sinecures, while the unfortunate working-clerks in the cold dark room upstairs were the worst rewarded, and the least considered men, doing important services, in London. That perhaps it was a little indecent that the principal registrar of all, whose duty it was to find the public, constantly resorting to this place, all needful accommodation, should be an enormous sinecurist in virtue of that post (and might be, besides, a clergyman, a pluralist, the holder of a staff in a cathedral, and what not),—while the public was put to the inconvenience of which we had a specimen every afternoon when the office was busy, and which we knew to be quite monstrous. That, perhaps, in short, this Prerogative Office of the diocese of Canterbury was altogether such a pestilent job, and such a pernicious absurdity, that but for its being squeezed away in a corner of St. Paul’s Churchyard, which few people knew, it must have been turned completely inside out, and upside down, long ago.

Mr. Spenlow smiled as I became modestly warm on the subject, and then argued this question with me as he had argued the other. He said, what was it after all? It was a question of feeling. If the public felt that their wills were in safe keeping, and took it for granted that the office was not to be made better, who was the worse for it? Nobody. Who was the better for it? All the Sinecurists. Very well. Then the good predominated. It might not be a perfect system; nothing was perfect; but what he objected to, was, the insertion of the wedge. Under the Prerogative Office, the country had been glorious. Insert the wedge into the Prerogative Office, and the country would cease to be glorious. He considered it the principle of a gentleman to take things as he found them; and he had no doubt the Prerogative Office would last our time. I deferred to his opinion, though I had great doubts of it myself. I find he was right, however; for it has not only lasted to the present moment, but has done so in the teeth of a great parliamentary report made (not too willingly) eighteen years ago, when all these objections of mine were set forth in detail, and when the existing stowage for wills was described as equal to the accumulation of only two years and a half more. What they have done with them since; whether they have lost many, or whether they sell any, now and then, to the butter shops; I don’t know. I am glad mine is not there, and I hope it may not go there, yet awhile.

I have set all this down, in my present blissful chapter, because here it comes into its natural place. Mr. Spenlow and I falling into this conversation, prolonged it and our saunter to and fro, until we diverged into general topics. And so it came about, in the end, that Mr. Spenlow told me this day week was Dora’s birthday, and he would be glad if I would come down and join a little picnic on the occasion. I went out of my senses immediately; became a mere driveller next day, on receipt of a little lace-edged sheet of note-paper, ‘Favoured by papa. To remind’; and passed the intervening period in a state of dotage.

I think I committed every possible absurdity in the way of preparation for this blessed event. I turn hot when I remember the cravat I bought. My boots might be placed in any collection of instruments of torture. I provided, and sent down by the Norwood coach the night before, a delicate little hamper, amounting in itself, I thought, almost to a declaration. There were crackers in it with the tenderest mottoes that could be got for money. At six in the morning, I was in Covent Garden Market, buying a bouquet for Dora. At ten I was on horseback (I hired a gallant grey, for the occasion), with the bouquet in my hat, to keep it fresh, trotting down to Norwood.

I suppose that when I saw Dora in the garden and pretended not to see her, and rode past the house pretending to be anxiously looking for it, I committed two small fooleries which other young gentlemen in my circumstances might have committed—because they came so very natural to me. But oh! when I DID find the house, and DID dismount at the garden-gate, and drag those stony-hearted boots across the lawn to Dora sitting on a garden-seat under a lilac tree, what a spectacle she was, upon that beautiful morning, among the butterflies, in a white chip bonnet and a dress of celestial blue! There was a young lady with her—comparatively stricken in years—almost twenty, I should say. Her name was Miss Mills. And Dora called her Julia. She was the bosom friend of Dora. Happy Miss Mills!

Jip was there, and Jip WOULD bark at me again. When I presented my bouquet, he gnashed his teeth with jealousy. Well he might. If he had the least idea how I adored his mistress, well he might!

‘Oh, thank you, Mr. Copperfield! What dear flowers!’ said Dora.

I had had an intention of saying (and had been studying the best form of words for three miles) that I thought them beautiful before I saw them so near HER. But I couldn’t manage it. She was too bewildering. To see her lay the flowers against her little dimpled chin, was to lose all presence of mind and power of language in a feeble ecstasy. I wonder I didn’t say, ‘Kill me, if you have a heart, Miss Mills. Let me die here!’

Then Dora held my flowers to Jip to smell. Then Jip growled, and wouldn’t smell them. Then Dora laughed, and held them a little closer to Jip, to make him. Then Jip laid hold of a bit of geranium with his teeth, and worried imaginary cats in it. Then Dora beat him, and pouted, and said, ‘My poor beautiful flowers!’ as compassionately, I thought, as if Jip had laid hold of me. I wished he had!

‘You’ll be so glad to hear, Mr. Copperfield,’ said Dora, ‘that that cross Miss Murdstone is not here. She has gone to her brother’s marriage, and will be away at least three weeks. Isn’t that delightful?’

I said I was sure it must be delightful to her, and all that was delightful to her was delightful to me. Miss Mills, with an air of superior wisdom and benevolence, smiled upon us.

‘She is the most disagreeable thing I ever saw,’ said Dora. ‘You can’t believe how ill-tempered and shocking she is, Julia.’

‘Yes, I can, my dear!’ said Julia.

‘YOU can, perhaps, love,’ returned Dora, with her hand on Julia’s. ‘Forgive my not excepting you, my dear, at first.’

I learnt, from this, that Miss Mills had had her trials in the course of a chequered existence; and that to these, perhaps, I might refer that wise benignity of manner which I had already noticed. I found, in the course of the day, that this was the case: Miss Mills having been unhappy in a misplaced affection, and being understood to have retired from the world on her awful stock of experience, but still to take a calm interest in the unblighted hopes and loves of youth.

But now Mr. Spenlow came out of the house, and Dora went to him, saying, ‘Look, papa, what beautiful flowers!’ And Miss Mills smiled thoughtfully, as who should say, ‘Ye Mayflies, enjoy your brief existence in the bright morning of life!’ And we all walked from the lawn towards the carriage, which was getting ready.

I shall never have such a ride again. I have never had such another. There were only those three, their hamper, my hamper, and the guitar-case, in the phaeton; and, of course, the phaeton was open; and I rode behind it, and Dora sat with her back to the horses, looking towards me. She kept the bouquet close to her on the cushion, and wouldn’t allow Jip to sit on that side of her at all, for fear he should crush it. She often carried it in her hand, often refreshed herself with its fragrance. Our eyes at those times often met; and my great astonishment is that I didn’t go over the head of my gallant grey into the carriage.

There was dust, I believe. There was a good deal of dust, I believe. I have a faint impression that Mr. Spenlow remonstrated with me for riding in it; but I knew of none. I was sensible of a mist of love and beauty about Dora, but of nothing else. He stood up sometimes, and asked me what I thought of the prospect. I said it was delightful, and I dare say it was; but it was all Dora to me. The sun shone Dora, and the birds sang Dora. The south wind blew Dora, and the wild flowers in the hedges were all Doras, to a bud. My comfort is, Miss Mills understood me. Miss Mills alone could enter into my feelings thoroughly.

I don’t know how long we were going, and to this hour I know as little where we went. Perhaps it was near Guildford. Perhaps some Arabian-night magician, opened up the place for the day, and shut it up for ever when we came away. It was a green spot, on a hill, carpeted with soft turf. There were shady trees, and heather, and, as far as the eye could see, a rich landscape.

It was a trying thing to find people here, waiting for us; and my jealousy, even of the ladies, knew no bounds. But all of my own sex—especially one impostor, three or four years my elder, with a red whisker, on which he established an amount of presumption not to be endured—were my mortal foes.

We all unpacked our baskets, and employed ourselves in getting dinner ready. Red Whisker pretended he could make a salad (which I don’t believe), and obtruded himself on public notice. Some of the young ladies washed the lettuces for him, and sliced them under his directions. Dora was among these. I felt that fate had pitted me against this man, and one of us must fall.

Red Whisker made his salad (I wondered how they could eat it. Nothing should have induced ME to touch it!) and voted himself into the charge of the wine-cellar, which he constructed, being an ingenious beast, in the hollow trunk of a tree. By and by, I saw him, with the majority of a lobster on his plate, eating his dinner at the feet of Dora!

I have but an indistinct idea of what happened for some time after this baleful object presented itself to my view. I was very merry, I know; but it was hollow merriment. I attached myself to a young creature in pink, with little eyes, and flirted with her desperately. She received my attentions with favour; but whether on my account solely, or because she had any designs on Red Whisker, I can’t say. Dora’s health was drunk. When I drank it, I affected to interrupt my conversation for that purpose, and to resume it immediately afterwards. I caught Dora’s eye as I bowed to her, and I thought it looked appealing. But it looked at me over the head of Red Whisker, and I was adamant.

The young creature in pink had a mother in green; and I rather think the latter separated us from motives of policy. Howbeit, there was a general breaking up of the party, while the remnants of the dinner were being put away; and I strolled off by myself among the trees, in a raging and remorseful state. I was debating whether I should pretend that I was not well, and fly—I don’t know where—upon my gallant grey, when Dora and Miss Mills met me.

‘Mr. Copperfield,’ said Miss Mills, ‘you are dull.’

I begged her pardon. Not at all.

‘And Dora,’ said Miss Mills, ‘YOU are dull.’

Oh dear no! Not in the least.

‘Mr. Copperfield and Dora,’ said Miss Mills, with an almost venerable air. ‘Enough of this. Do not allow a trivial misunderstanding to wither the blossoms of spring, which, once put forth and blighted, cannot be renewed. I speak,’ said Miss Mills, ‘from experience of the past—the remote, irrevocable past. The gushing fountains which sparkle in the sun, must not be stopped in mere caprice; the oasis in the desert of Sahara must not be plucked up idly.’

I hardly knew what I did, I was burning all over to that extraordinary extent; but I took Dora’s little hand and kissed it—and she let me! I kissed Miss Mills’s hand; and we all seemed, to my thinking, to go straight up to the seventh heaven. We did not come down again. We stayed up there all the evening. At first we strayed to and fro among the trees: I with Dora’s shy arm drawn through mine: and Heaven knows, folly as it all was, it would have been a happy fate to have been struck immortal with those foolish feelings, and have stayed among the trees for ever!

But, much too soon, we heard the others laughing and talking, and calling ‘where’s Dora?’ So we went back, and they wanted Dora to sing. Red Whisker would have got the guitar-case out of the carriage, but Dora told him nobody knew where it was, but I. So Red Whisker was done for in a moment; and I got it, and I unlocked it, and I took the guitar out, and I sat by her, and I held her handkerchief and gloves, and I drank in every note of her dear voice, and she sang to ME who loved her, and all the others might applaud as much as they liked, but they had nothing to do with it!

I was intoxicated with joy. I was afraid it was too happy to be real, and that I should wake in Buckingham Street presently, and hear Mrs. Crupp clinking the teacups in getting breakfast ready. But Dora sang, and others sang, and Miss Mills sang—about the slumbering echoes in the caverns of Memory; as if she were a hundred years old—and the evening came on; and we had tea, with the kettle boiling gipsy-fashion; and I was still as happy as ever.

I was happier than ever when the party broke up, and the other people, defeated Red Whisker and all, went their several ways, and we went ours through the still evening and the dying light, with sweet scents rising up around us. Mr. Spenlow being a little drowsy after the champagne—honour to the soil that grew the grape, to the grape that made the wine, to the sun that ripened it, and to the merchant who adulterated it!—and being fast asleep in a corner of the carriage, I rode by the side and talked to Dora. She admired my horse and patted him—oh, what a dear little hand it looked upon a horse!—and her shawl would not keep right, and now and then I drew it round her with my arm; and I even fancied that Jip began to see how it was, and to understand that he must make up his mind to be friends with me.

That sagacious Miss Mills, too; that amiable, though quite used up, recluse; that little patriarch of something less than twenty, who had done with the world, and mustn’t on any account have the slumbering echoes in the caverns of Memory awakened; what a kind thing she did!

‘Mr. Copperfield,’ said Miss Mills, ‘come to this side of the carriage a moment—if you can spare a moment. I want to speak to you.’

Behold me, on my gallant grey, bending at the side of Miss Mills, with my hand upon the carriage door!

‘Dora is coming to stay with me. She is coming home with me the day after tomorrow. If you would like to call, I am sure papa would be happy to see you.’ What could I do but invoke a silent blessing on Miss Mills’s head, and store Miss Mills’s address in the securest corner of my memory! What could I do but tell Miss Mills, with grateful looks and fervent words, how much I appreciated her good offices, and what an inestimable value I set upon her friendship!

Then Miss Mills benignantly dismissed me, saying, ‘Go back to Dora!’ and I went; and Dora leaned out of the carriage to talk to me, and we talked all the rest of the way; and I rode my gallant grey so close to the wheel that I grazed his near fore leg against it, and ‘took the bark off’, as his owner told me, ‘to the tune of three pun’ sivin’—which I paid, and thought extremely cheap for so much joy. What time Miss Mills sat looking at the moon, murmuring verses—and recalling, I suppose, the ancient days when she and earth had anything in common.

Norwood was many miles too near, and we reached it many hours too soon; but Mr. Spenlow came to himself a little short of it, and said, ‘You must come in, Copperfield, and rest!’ and I consenting, we had sandwiches and wine-and-water. In the light room, Dora blushing looked so lovely, that I could not tear myself away, but sat there staring, in a dream, until the snoring of Mr. Spenlow inspired me with sufficient consciousness to take my leave. So we parted; I riding all the way to London with the farewell touch of Dora’s hand still light on mine, recalling every incident and word ten thousand times; lying down in my own bed at last, as enraptured a young noodle as ever was carried out of his five wits by love.

When I awoke next morning, I was resolute to declare my passion to Dora, and know my fate. Happiness or misery was now the question. There was no other question that I knew of in the world, and only Dora could give the answer to it. I passed three days in a luxury of wretchedness, torturing myself by putting every conceivable variety of discouraging construction on all that ever had taken place between Dora and me. At last, arrayed for the purpose at a vast expense, I went to Miss Mills’s, fraught with a declaration.

How many times I went up and down the street, and round the square—painfully aware of being a much better answer to the old riddle than the original one—before I could persuade myself to go up the steps and knock, is no matter now. Even when, at last, I had knocked, and was waiting at the door, I had some flurried thought of asking if that were Mr. Blackboy’s (in imitation of poor Barkis), begging pardon, and retreating. But I kept my ground.

Mr. Mills was not at home. I did not expect he would be. Nobody wanted HIM. Miss Mills was at home. Miss Mills would do.

I was shown into a room upstairs, where Miss Mills and Dora were. Jip was there. Miss Mills was copying music (I recollect, it was a new song, called ‘Affection’s Dirge’), and Dora was painting flowers. What were my feelings, when I recognized my own flowers; the identical Covent Garden Market purchase! I cannot say that they were very like, or that they particularly resembled any flowers that have ever come under my observation; but I knew from the paper round them which was accurately copied, what the composition was.

Miss Mills was very glad to see me, and very sorry her papa was not at home: though I thought we all bore that with fortitude. Miss Mills was conversational for a few minutes, and then, laying down her pen upon ‘Affection’s Dirge’, got up, and left the room.

I began to think I would put it off till tomorrow.

‘I hope your poor horse was not tired, when he got home at night,’ said Dora, lifting up her beautiful eyes. ‘It was a long way for him.’

I began to think I would do it today.

‘It was a long way for him,’ said I, ‘for he had nothing to uphold him on the journey.’

‘Wasn’t he fed, poor thing?’ asked Dora.

I began to think I would put it off till tomorrow.

‘Ye-yes,’ I said, ‘he was well taken care of. I mean he had not the unutterable happiness that I had in being so near you.’

Dora bent her head over her drawing and said, after a little while—I had sat, in the interval, in a burning fever, and with my legs in a very rigid state—

‘You didn’t seem to be sensible of that happiness yourself, at one time of the day.’

I saw now that I was in for it, and it must be done on the spot.

‘You didn’t care for that happiness in the least,’ said Dora, slightly raising her eyebrows, and shaking her head, ‘when you were sitting by Miss Kitt.’

Kitt, I should observe, was the name of the creature in pink, with the little eyes.

‘Though certainly I don’t know why you should,’ said Dora, ‘or why you should call it a happiness at all. But of course you don’t mean what you say. And I am sure no one doubts your being at liberty to do whatever you like. Jip, you naughty boy, come here!’

I don’t know how I did it. I did it in a moment. I intercepted Jip. I had Dora in my arms. I was full of eloquence. I never stopped for a word. I told her how I loved her. I told her I should die without her. I told her that I idolized and worshipped her. Jip barked madly all the time.

When Dora hung her head and cried, and trembled, my eloquence increased so much the more. If she would like me to die for her, she had but to say the word, and I was ready. Life without Dora’s love was not a thing to have on any terms. I couldn’t bear it, and I wouldn’t. I had loved her every minute, day and night, since I first saw her. I loved her at that minute to distraction. I should always love her, every minute, to distraction. Lovers had loved before, and lovers would love again; but no lover had loved, might, could, would, or should ever love, as I loved Dora. The more I raved, the more Jip barked. Each of us, in his own way, got more mad every moment.

Well, well! Dora and I were sitting on the sofa by and by, quiet enough, and Jip was lying in her lap, winking peacefully at me. It was off my mind. I was in a state of perfect rapture. Dora and I were engaged.

I suppose we had some notion that this was to end in marriage. We must have had some, because Dora stipulated that we were never to be married without her papa’s consent. But, in our youthful ecstasy, I don’t think that we really looked before us or behind us; or had any aspiration beyond the ignorant present. We were to keep our secret from Mr. Spenlow; but I am sure the idea never entered my head, then, that there was anything dishonourable in that.

Miss Mills was more than usually pensive when Dora, going to find her, brought her back;—I apprehend, because there was a tendency in what had passed to awaken the slumbering echoes in the caverns of Memory. But she gave us her blessing, and the assurance of her lasting friendship, and spoke to us, generally, as became a Voice from the Cloister.

What an idle time it was! What an insubstantial, happy, foolish time it was!

When I measured Dora’s finger for a ring that was to be made of Forget-me-nots, and when the jeweller, to whom I took the measure, found me out, and laughed over his order-book, and charged me anything he liked for the pretty little toy, with its blue stones—so associated in my remembrance with Dora’s hand, that yesterday, when I saw such another, by chance, on the finger of my own daughter, there was a momentary stirring in my heart, like pain!

When I walked about, exalted with my secret, and full of my own interest, and felt the dignity of loving Dora, and of being beloved, so much, that if I had walked the air, I could not have been more above the people not so situated, who were creeping on the earth!

When we had those meetings in the garden of the square, and sat within the dingy summer-house, so happy, that I love the London sparrows to this hour, for nothing else, and see the plumage of the tropics in their smoky feathers! When we had our first great quarrel (within a week of our betrothal), and when Dora sent me back the ring, enclosed in a despairing cocked-hat note, wherein she used the terrible expression that ‘our love had begun in folly, and ended in madness!’ which dreadful words occasioned me to tear my hair, and cry that all was over!

When, under cover of the night, I flew to Miss Mills, whom I saw by stealth in a back kitchen where there was a mangle, and implored Miss Mills to interpose between us and avert insanity. When Miss Mills undertook the office and returned with Dora, exhorting us, from the pulpit of her own bitter youth, to mutual concession, and the avoidance of the Desert of Sahara!

When we cried, and made it up, and were so blest again, that the back kitchen, mangle and all, changed to Love’s own temple, where we arranged a plan of correspondence through Miss Mills, always to comprehend at least one letter on each side every day!

What an idle time! What an insubstantial, happy, foolish time! Of all the times of mine that Time has in his grip, there is none that in one retrospect I can smile at half so much, and think of half so tenderly.






CHAPTER 34. MY AUNT ASTONISHES ME

I wrote to Agnes as soon as Dora and I were engaged. I wrote her a long letter, in which I tried to make her comprehend how blest I was, and what a darling Dora was. I entreated Agnes not to regard this as a thoughtless passion which could ever yield to any other, or had the least resemblance to the boyish fancies that we used to joke about. I assured her that its profundity was quite unfathomable, and expressed my belief that nothing like it had ever been known.

Somehow, as I wrote to Agnes on a fine evening by my open window, and the remembrance of her clear calm eyes and gentle face came stealing over me, it shed such a peaceful influence upon the hurry and agitation in which I had been living lately, and of which my very happiness partook in some degree, that it soothed me into tears. I remember that I sat resting my head upon my hand, when the letter was half done, cherishing a general fancy as if Agnes were one of the elements of my natural home. As if, in the retirement of the house made almost sacred to me by her presence, Dora and I must be happier than anywhere. As if, in love, joy, sorrow, hope, or disappointment; in all emotions; my heart turned naturally there, and found its refuge and best friend.

Of Steerforth I said nothing. I only told her there had been sad grief at Yarmouth, on account of Emily’s flight; and that on me it made a double wound, by reason of the circumstances attending it. I knew how quick she always was to divine the truth, and that she would never be the first to breathe his name.

To this letter, I received an answer by return of post. As I read it, I seemed to hear Agnes speaking to me. It was like her cordial voice in my ears. What can I say more!

While I had been away from home lately, Traddles had called twice or thrice. Finding Peggotty within, and being informed by Peggotty (who always volunteered that information to whomsoever would receive it), that she was my old nurse, he had established a good-humoured acquaintance with her, and had stayed to have a little chat with her about me. So Peggotty said; but I am afraid the chat was all on her own side, and of immoderate length, as she was very difficult indeed to stop, God bless her! when she had me for her theme.

This reminds me, not only that I expected Traddles on a certain afternoon of his own appointing, which was now come, but that Mrs. Crupp had resigned everything appertaining to her office (the salary excepted) until Peggotty should cease to present herself. Mrs. Crupp, after holding divers conversations respecting Peggotty, in a very high-pitched voice, on the staircase—with some invisible Familiar it would appear, for corporeally speaking she was quite alone at those times—addressed a letter to me, developing her views. Beginning it with that statement of universal application, which fitted every occurrence of her life, namely, that she was a mother herself, she went on to inform me that she had once seen very different days, but that at all periods of her existence she had had a constitutional objection to spies, intruders, and informers. She named no names, she said; let them the cap fitted, wear it; but spies, intruders, and informers, especially in widders’ weeds (this clause was underlined), she had ever accustomed herself to look down upon. If a gentleman was the victim of spies, intruders, and informers (but still naming no names), that was his own pleasure. He had a right to please himself; so let him do. All that she, Mrs. Crupp, stipulated for, was, that she should not be ‘brought in contract’ with such persons. Therefore she begged to be excused from any further attendance on the top set, until things were as they formerly was, and as they could be wished to be; and further mentioned that her little book would be found upon the breakfast-table every Saturday morning, when she requested an immediate settlement of the same, with the benevolent view of saving trouble ‘and an ill-conwenience’ to all parties.

After this, Mrs. Crupp confined herself to making pitfalls on the stairs, principally with pitchers, and endeavouring to delude Peggotty into breaking her legs. I found it rather harassing to live in this state of siege, but was too much afraid of Mrs. Crupp to see any way out of it.

‘My dear Copperfield,’ cried Traddles, punctually appearing at my door, in spite of all these obstacles, ‘how do you do?’

‘My dear Traddles,’ said I, ‘I am delighted to see you at last, and very sorry I have not been at home before. But I have been so much engaged—’

‘Yes, yes, I know,’ said Traddles, ‘of course. Yours lives in London, I think.’

‘What did you say?’

‘She—excuse me—Miss D., you know,’ said Traddles, colouring in his great delicacy, ‘lives in London, I believe?’

‘Oh yes. Near London.’

‘Mine, perhaps you recollect,’ said Traddles, with a serious look, ‘lives down in Devonshire—one of ten. Consequently, I am not so much engaged as you—in that sense.’

‘I wonder you can bear,’ I returned, ‘to see her so seldom.’

‘Hah!’ said Traddles, thoughtfully. ‘It does seem a wonder. I suppose it is, Copperfield, because there is no help for it?’

‘I suppose so,’ I replied with a smile, and not without a blush. ‘And because you have so much constancy and patience, Traddles.’

‘Dear me!’ said Traddles, considering about it, ‘do I strike you in that way, Copperfield? Really I didn’t know that I had. But she is such an extraordinarily dear girl herself, that it’s possible she may have imparted something of those virtues to me. Now you mention it, Copperfield, I shouldn’t wonder at all. I assure you she is always forgetting herself, and taking care of the other nine.’

‘Is she the eldest?’ I inquired.

‘Oh dear, no,’ said Traddles. ‘The eldest is a Beauty.’

He saw, I suppose, that I could not help smiling at the simplicity of this reply; and added, with a smile upon his own ingenuous face:

‘Not, of course, but that my Sophy—pretty name, Copperfield, I always think?’

‘Very pretty!’ said I.

‘Not, of course, but that Sophy is beautiful too in my eyes, and would be one of the dearest girls that ever was, in anybody’s eyes (I should think). But when I say the eldest is a Beauty, I mean she really is a—’ he seemed to be describing clouds about himself, with both hands: ‘Splendid, you know,’ said Traddles, energetically. ‘Indeed!’ said I.

‘Oh, I assure you,’ said Traddles, ‘something very uncommon, indeed! Then, you know, being formed for society and admiration, and not being able to enjoy much of it in consequence of their limited means, she naturally gets a little irritable and exacting, sometimes. Sophy puts her in good humour!’

‘Is Sophy the youngest?’ I hazarded.

‘Oh dear, no!’ said Traddles, stroking his chin. ‘The two youngest are only nine and ten. Sophy educates ‘em.’

‘The second daughter, perhaps?’ I hazarded.

‘No,’ said Traddles. ‘Sarah’s the second. Sarah has something the matter with her spine, poor girl. The malady will wear out by and by, the doctors say, but in the meantime she has to lie down for a twelvemonth. Sophy nurses her. Sophy’s the fourth.’

‘Is the mother living?’ I inquired.

‘Oh yes,’ said Traddles, ‘she is alive. She is a very superior woman indeed, but the damp country is not adapted to her constitution, and—in fact, she has lost the use of her limbs.’

‘Dear me!’ said I.

‘Very sad, is it not?’ returned Traddles. ‘But in a merely domestic view it is not so bad as it might be, because Sophy takes her place. She is quite as much a mother to her mother, as she is to the other nine.’

I felt the greatest admiration for the virtues of this young lady; and, honestly with the view of doing my best to prevent the good-nature of Traddles from being imposed upon, to the detriment of their joint prospects in life, inquired how Mr. Micawber was?

‘He is quite well, Copperfield, thank you,’ said Traddles. ‘I am not living with him at present.’

‘No?’

‘No. You see the truth is,’ said Traddles, in a whisper, ‘he had changed his name to Mortimer, in consequence of his temporary embarrassments; and he don’t come out till after dark—and then in spectacles. There was an execution put into our house, for rent. Mrs. Micawber was in such a dreadful state that I really couldn’t resist giving my name to that second bill we spoke of here. You may imagine how delightful it was to my feelings, Copperfield, to see the matter settled with it, and Mrs. Micawber recover her spirits.’

‘Hum!’ said I. ‘Not that her happiness was of long duration,’ pursued Traddles, ‘for, unfortunately, within a week another execution came in. It broke up the establishment. I have been living in a furnished apartment since then, and the Mortimers have been very private indeed. I hope you won’t think it selfish, Copperfield, if I mention that the broker carried off my little round table with the marble top, and Sophy’s flower-pot and stand?’

‘What a hard thing!’ I exclaimed indignantly.

‘It was a—it was a pull,’ said Traddles, with his usual wince at that expression. ‘I don’t mention it reproachfully, however, but with a motive. The fact is, Copperfield, I was unable to repurchase them at the time of their seizure; in the first place, because the broker, having an idea that I wanted them, ran the price up to an extravagant extent; and, in the second place, because I—hadn’t any money. Now, I have kept my eye since, upon the broker’s shop,’ said Traddles, with a great enjoyment of his mystery, ‘which is up at the top of Tottenham Court Road, and, at last, today I find them put out for sale. I have only noticed them from over the way, because if the broker saw me, bless you, he’d ask any price for them! What has occurred to me, having now the money, is, that perhaps you wouldn’t object to ask that good nurse of yours to come with me to the shop—I can show it her from round the corner of the next street—and make the best bargain for them, as if they were for herself, that she can!’

The delight with which Traddles propounded this plan to me, and the sense he had of its uncommon artfulness, are among the freshest things in my remembrance.

I told him that my old nurse would be delighted to assist him, and that we would all three take the field together, but on one condition. That condition was, that he should make a solemn resolution to grant no more loans of his name, or anything else, to Mr. Micawber.

‘My dear Copperfield,’ said Traddles, ‘I have already done so, because I begin to feel that I have not only been inconsiderate, but that I have been positively unjust to Sophy. My word being passed to myself, there is no longer any apprehension; but I pledge it to you, too, with the greatest readiness. That first unlucky obligation, I have paid. I have no doubt Mr. Micawber would have paid it if he could, but he could not. One thing I ought to mention, which I like very much in Mr. Micawber, Copperfield. It refers to the second obligation, which is not yet due. He don’t tell me that it is provided for, but he says it WILL BE. Now, I think there is something very fair and honest about that!’

I was unwilling to damp my good friend’s confidence, and therefore assented. After a little further conversation, we went round to the chandler’s shop, to enlist Peggotty; Traddles declining to pass the evening with me, both because he endured the liveliest apprehensions that his property would be bought by somebody else before he could re-purchase it, and because it was the evening he always devoted to writing to the dearest girl in the world.

I never shall forget him peeping round the corner of the street in Tottenham Court Road, while Peggotty was bargaining for the precious articles; or his agitation when she came slowly towards us after vainly offering a price, and was hailed by the relenting broker, and went back again. The end of the negotiation was, that she bought the property on tolerably easy terms, and Traddles was transported with pleasure.

‘I am very much obliged to you, indeed,’ said Traddles, on hearing it was to be sent to where he lived, that night. ‘If I might ask one other favour, I hope you would not think it absurd, Copperfield?’

I said beforehand, certainly not.

‘Then if you WOULD be good enough,’ said Traddles to Peggotty, ‘to get the flower-pot now, I think I should like (it being Sophy’s, Copperfield) to carry it home myself!’

Peggotty was glad to get it for him, and he overwhelmed her with thanks, and went his way up Tottenham Court Road, carrying the flower-pot affectionately in his arms, with one of the most delighted expressions of countenance I ever saw.

We then turned back towards my chambers. As the shops had charms for Peggotty which I never knew them possess in the same degree for anybody else, I sauntered easily along, amused by her staring in at the windows, and waiting for her as often as she chose. We were thus a good while in getting to the Adelphi.

On our way upstairs, I called her attention to the sudden disappearance of Mrs. Crupp’s pitfalls, and also to the prints of recent footsteps. We were both very much surprised, coming higher up, to find my outer door standing open (which I had shut) and to hear voices inside.

We looked at one another, without knowing what to make of this, and went into the sitting-room. What was my amazement to find, of all people upon earth, my aunt there, and Mr. Dick! My aunt sitting on a quantity of luggage, with her two birds before her, and her cat on her knee, like a female Robinson Crusoe, drinking tea. Mr. Dick leaning thoughtfully on a great kite, such as we had often been out together to fly, with more luggage piled about him!

‘My dear aunt!’ cried I. ‘Why, what an unexpected pleasure!’

We cordially embraced; and Mr. Dick and I cordially shook hands; and Mrs. Crupp, who was busy making tea, and could not be too attentive, cordially said she had knowed well as Mr. Copperfull would have his heart in his mouth, when he see his dear relations.

‘Holloa!’ said my aunt to Peggotty, who quailed before her awful presence. ‘How are YOU?’

‘You remember my aunt, Peggotty?’ said I.

‘For the love of goodness, child,’ exclaimed my aunt, ‘don’t call the woman by that South Sea Island name! If she married and got rid of it, which was the best thing she could do, why don’t you give her the benefit of the change? What’s your name now,—P?’ said my aunt, as a compromise for the obnoxious appellation.

‘Barkis, ma’am,’ said Peggotty, with a curtsey.

‘Well! That’s human,’ said my aunt. ‘It sounds less as if you wanted a missionary. How d’ye do, Barkis? I hope you’re well?’

Encouraged by these gracious words, and by my aunt’s extending her hand, Barkis came forward, and took the hand, and curtseyed her acknowledgements.

‘We are older than we were, I see,’ said my aunt. ‘We have only met each other once before, you know. A nice business we made of it then! Trot, my dear, another cup.’

I handed it dutifully to my aunt, who was in her usual inflexible state of figure; and ventured a remonstrance with her on the subject of her sitting on a box.

‘Let me draw the sofa here, or the easy-chair, aunt,’ said I. ‘Why should you be so uncomfortable?’

‘Thank you, Trot,’ replied my aunt, ‘I prefer to sit upon my property.’ Here my aunt looked hard at Mrs. Crupp, and observed, ‘We needn’t trouble you to wait, ma’am.’

‘Shall I put a little more tea in the pot afore I go, ma’am?’ said Mrs. Crupp.

‘No, I thank you, ma’am,’ replied my aunt.

‘Would you let me fetch another pat of butter, ma’am?’ said Mrs. Crupp. ‘Or would you be persuaded to try a new-laid hegg? or should I brile a rasher? Ain’t there nothing I could do for your dear aunt, Mr. Copperfull?’

‘Nothing, ma’am,’ returned my aunt. ‘I shall do very well, I thank you.’

Mrs. Crupp, who had been incessantly smiling to express sweet temper, and incessantly holding her head on one side, to express a general feebleness of constitution, and incessantly rubbing her hands, to express a desire to be of service to all deserving objects, gradually smiled herself, one-sided herself, and rubbed herself, out of the room. ‘Dick!’ said my aunt. ‘You know what I told you about time-servers and wealth-worshippers?’

Mr. Dick—with rather a scared look, as if he had forgotten it—returned a hasty answer in the affirmative.

‘Mrs. Crupp is one of them,’ said my aunt. ‘Barkis, I’ll trouble you to look after the tea, and let me have another cup, for I don’t fancy that woman’s pouring-out!’

I knew my aunt sufficiently well to know that she had something of importance on her mind, and that there was far more matter in this arrival than a stranger might have supposed. I noticed how her eye lighted on me, when she thought my attention otherwise occupied; and what a curious process of hesitation appeared to be going on within her, while she preserved her outward stiffness and composure. I began to reflect whether I had done anything to offend her; and my conscience whispered me that I had not yet told her about Dora. Could it by any means be that, I wondered!

As I knew she would only speak in her own good time, I sat down near her, and spoke to the birds, and played with the cat, and was as easy as I could be. But I was very far from being really easy; and I should still have been so, even if Mr. Dick, leaning over the great kite behind my aunt, had not taken every secret opportunity of shaking his head darkly at me, and pointing at her.

‘Trot,’ said my aunt at last, when she had finished her tea, and carefully smoothed down her dress, and wiped her lips—‘you needn’t go, Barkis!—Trot, have you got to be firm and self-reliant?’

‘I hope so, aunt.’

‘What do you think?’ inquired Miss Betsey.

‘I think so, aunt.’

‘Then why, my love,’ said my aunt, looking earnestly at me, ‘why do you think I prefer to sit upon this property of mine tonight?’

I shook my head, unable to guess.

‘Because,’ said my aunt, ‘it’s all I have. Because I’m ruined, my dear!’

If the house, and every one of us, had tumbled out into the river together, I could hardly have received a greater shock.

‘Dick knows it,’ said my aunt, laying her hand calmly on my shoulder. ‘I am ruined, my dear Trot! All I have in the world is in this room, except the cottage; and that I have left Janet to let. Barkis, I want to get a bed for this gentleman tonight. To save expense, perhaps you can make up something here for myself. Anything will do. It’s only for tonight. We’ll talk about this, more, tomorrow.’

I was roused from my amazement, and concern for her—I am sure, for her—by her falling on my neck, for a moment, and crying that she only grieved for me. In another moment she suppressed this emotion; and said with an aspect more triumphant than dejected:

‘We must meet reverses boldly, and not suffer them to frighten us, my dear. We must learn to act the play out. We must live misfortune down, Trot!’






CHAPTER 35. DEPRESSION

As soon as I could recover my presence of mind, which quite deserted me in the first overpowering shock of my aunt’s intelligence, I proposed to Mr. Dick to come round to the chandler’s shop, and take possession of the bed which Mr. Peggotty had lately vacated. The chandler’s shop being in Hungerford Market, and Hungerford Market being a very different place in those days, there was a low wooden colonnade before the door (not very unlike that before the house where the little man and woman used to live, in the old weather-glass), which pleased Mr. Dick mightily. The glory of lodging over this structure would have compensated him, I dare say, for many inconveniences; but, as there were really few to bear, beyond the compound of flavours I have already mentioned, and perhaps the want of a little more elbow-room, he was perfectly charmed with his accommodation. Mrs. Crupp had indignantly assured him that there wasn’t room to swing a cat there; but, as Mr. Dick justly observed to me, sitting down on the foot of the bed, nursing his leg, ‘You know, Trotwood, I don’t want to swing a cat. I never do swing a cat. Therefore, what does that signify to ME!’

I tried to ascertain whether Mr. Dick had any understanding of the causes of this sudden and great change in my aunt’s affairs. As I might have expected, he had none at all. The only account he could give of it was, that my aunt had said to him, the day before yesterday, ‘Now, Dick, are you really and truly the philosopher I take you for?’ That then he had said, Yes, he hoped so. That then my aunt had said, ‘Dick, I am ruined.’ That then he had said, ‘Oh, indeed!’ That then my aunt had praised him highly, which he was glad of. And that then they had come to me, and had had bottled porter and sandwiches on the road.

Mr. Dick was so very complacent, sitting on the foot of the bed, nursing his leg, and telling me this, with his eyes wide open and a surprised smile, that I am sorry to say I was provoked into explaining to him that ruin meant distress, want, and starvation; but I was soon bitterly reproved for this harshness, by seeing his face turn pale, and tears course down his lengthened cheeks, while he fixed upon me a look of such unutterable woe, that it might have softened a far harder heart than mine. I took infinitely greater pains to cheer him up again than I had taken to depress him; and I soon understood (as I ought to have known at first) that he had been so confident, merely because of his faith in the wisest and most wonderful of women, and his unbounded reliance on my intellectual resources. The latter, I believe, he considered a match for any kind of disaster not absolutely mortal.

‘What can we do, Trotwood?’ said Mr. Dick. ‘There’s the Memorial-’

‘To be sure there is,’ said I. ‘But all we can do just now, Mr. Dick, is to keep a cheerful countenance, and not let my aunt see that we are thinking about it.’

He assented to this in the most earnest manner; and implored me, if I should see him wandering an inch out of the right course, to recall him by some of those superior methods which were always at my command. But I regret to state that the fright I had given him proved too much for his best attempts at concealment. All the evening his eyes wandered to my aunt’s face, with an expression of the most dismal apprehension, as if he saw her growing thin on the spot. He was conscious of this, and put a constraint upon his head; but his keeping that immovable, and sitting rolling his eyes like a piece of machinery, did not mend the matter at all. I saw him look at the loaf at supper (which happened to be a small one), as if nothing else stood between us and famine; and when my aunt insisted on his making his customary repast, I detected him in the act of pocketing fragments of his bread and cheese; I have no doubt for the purpose of reviving us with those savings, when we should have reached an advanced stage of attenuation.

My aunt, on the other hand, was in a composed frame of mind, which was a lesson to all of us—to me, I am sure. She was extremely gracious to Peggotty, except when I inadvertently called her by that name; and, strange as I knew she felt in London, appeared quite at home. She was to have my bed, and I was to lie in the sitting-room, to keep guard over her. She made a great point of being so near the river, in case of a conflagration; and I suppose really did find some satisfaction in that circumstance.

‘Trot, my dear,’ said my aunt, when she saw me making preparations for compounding her usual night-draught, ‘No!’

‘Nothing, aunt?’

‘Not wine, my dear. Ale.’

‘But there is wine here, aunt. And you always have it made of wine.’

‘Keep that, in case of sickness,’ said my aunt. ‘We mustn’t use it carelessly, Trot. Ale for me. Half a pint.’

I thought Mr. Dick would have fallen, insensible. My aunt being resolute, I went out and got the ale myself. As it was growing late, Peggotty and Mr. Dick took that opportunity of repairing to the chandler’s shop together. I parted from him, poor fellow, at the corner of the street, with his great kite at his back, a very monument of human misery.

My aunt was walking up and down the room when I returned, crimping the borders of her nightcap with her fingers. I warmed the ale and made the toast on the usual infallible principles. When it was ready for her, she was ready for it, with her nightcap on, and the skirt of her gown turned back on her knees.

‘My dear,’ said my aunt, after taking a spoonful of it; ‘it’s a great deal better than wine. Not half so bilious.’

I suppose I looked doubtful, for she added:

‘Tut, tut, child. If nothing worse than Ale happens to us, we are well off.’

‘I should think so myself, aunt, I am sure,’ said I.

‘Well, then, why DON’T you think so?’ said my aunt.

‘Because you and I are very different people,’ I returned.

‘Stuff and nonsense, Trot!’ replied my aunt.

My aunt went on with a quiet enjoyment, in which there was very little affectation, if any; drinking the warm ale with a tea-spoon, and soaking her strips of toast in it.

‘Trot,’ said she, ‘I don’t care for strange faces in general, but I rather like that Barkis of yours, do you know!’

‘It’s better than a hundred pounds to hear you say so!’ said I.

‘It’s a most extraordinary world,’ observed my aunt, rubbing her nose; ‘how that woman ever got into it with that name, is unaccountable to me. It would be much more easy to be born a Jackson, or something of that sort, one would think.’

‘Perhaps she thinks so, too; it’s not her fault,’ said I.

‘I suppose not,’ returned my aunt, rather grudging the admission; ‘but it’s very aggravating. However, she’s Barkis now. That’s some comfort. Barkis is uncommonly fond of you, Trot.’

‘There is nothing she would leave undone to prove it,’ said I.

‘Nothing, I believe,’ returned my aunt. ‘Here, the poor fool has been begging and praying about handing over some of her money—because she has got too much of it. A simpleton!’

My aunt’s tears of pleasure were positively trickling down into the warm ale.

‘She’s the most ridiculous creature that ever was born,’ said my aunt. ‘I knew, from the first moment when I saw her with that poor dear blessed baby of a mother of yours, that she was the most ridiculous of mortals. But there are good points in Barkis!’

Affecting to laugh, she got an opportunity of putting her hand to her eyes. Having availed herself of it, she resumed her toast and her discourse together.

‘Ah! Mercy upon us!’ sighed my aunt. ‘I know all about it, Trot! Barkis and myself had quite a gossip while you were out with Dick. I know all about it. I don’t know where these wretched girls expect to go to, for my part. I wonder they don’t knock out their brains against—against mantelpieces,’ said my aunt; an idea which was probably suggested to her by her contemplation of mine.

‘Poor Emily!’ said I.

‘Oh, don’t talk to me about poor,’ returned my aunt. ‘She should have thought of that, before she caused so much misery! Give me a kiss, Trot. I am sorry for your early experience.’

As I bent forward, she put her tumbler on my knee to detain me, and said:

‘Oh, Trot, Trot! And so you fancy yourself in love! Do you?’

‘Fancy, aunt!’ I exclaimed, as red as I could be. ‘I adore her with my whole soul!’

‘Dora, indeed!’ returned my aunt. ‘And you mean to say the little thing is very fascinating, I suppose?’

‘My dear aunt,’ I replied, ‘no one can form the least idea what she is!’

‘Ah! And not silly?’ said my aunt.

‘Silly, aunt!’

I seriously believe it had never once entered my head for a single moment, to consider whether she was or not. I resented the idea, of course; but I was in a manner struck by it, as a new one altogether.

‘Not light-headed?’ said my aunt.

‘Light-headed, aunt!’ I could only repeat this daring speculation with the same kind of feeling with which I had repeated the preceding question.

‘Well, well!’ said my aunt. ‘I only ask. I don’t depreciate her. Poor little couple! And so you think you were formed for one another, and are to go through a party-supper-table kind of life, like two pretty pieces of confectionery, do you, Trot?’

She asked me this so kindly, and with such a gentle air, half playful and half sorrowful, that I was quite touched.

‘We are young and inexperienced, aunt, I know,’ I replied; ‘and I dare say we say and think a good deal that is rather foolish. But we love one another truly, I am sure. If I thought Dora could ever love anybody else, or cease to love me; or that I could ever love anybody else, or cease to love her; I don’t know what I should do—go out of my mind, I think!’

‘Ah, Trot!’ said my aunt, shaking her head, and smiling gravely; ‘blind, blind, blind!’

‘Someone that I know, Trot,’ my aunt pursued, after a pause, ‘though of a very pliant disposition, has an earnestness of affection in him that reminds me of poor Baby. Earnestness is what that Somebody must look for, to sustain him and improve him, Trot. Deep, downright, faithful earnestness.’

‘If you only knew the earnestness of Dora, aunt!’ I cried.

‘Oh, Trot!’ she said again; ‘blind, blind!’ and without knowing why, I felt a vague unhappy loss or want of something overshadow me like a cloud.

‘However,’ said my aunt, ‘I don’t want to put two young creatures out of conceit with themselves, or to make them unhappy; so, though it is a girl and boy attachment, and girl and boy attachments very often—mind! I don’t say always!—come to nothing, still we’ll be serious about it, and hope for a prosperous issue one of these days. There’s time enough for it to come to anything!’

This was not upon the whole very comforting to a rapturous lover; but I was glad to have my aunt in my confidence, and I was mindful of her being fatigued. So I thanked her ardently for this mark of her affection, and for all her other kindnesses towards me; and after a tender good night, she took her nightcap into my bedroom.

How miserable I was, when I lay down! How I thought and thought about my being poor, in Mr. Spenlow’s eyes; about my not being what I thought I was, when I proposed to Dora; about the chivalrous necessity of telling Dora what my worldly condition was, and releasing her from her engagement if she thought fit; about how I should contrive to live, during the long term of my articles, when I was earning nothing; about doing something to assist my aunt, and seeing no way of doing anything; about coming down to have no money in my pocket, and to wear a shabby coat, and to be able to carry Dora no little presents, and to ride no gallant greys, and to show myself in no agreeable light! Sordid and selfish as I knew it was, and as I tortured myself by knowing that it was, to let my mind run on my own distress so much, I was so devoted to Dora that I could not help it. I knew that it was base in me not to think more of my aunt, and less of myself; but, so far, selfishness was inseparable from Dora, and I could not put Dora on one side for any mortal creature. How exceedingly miserable I was, that night!

As to sleep, I had dreams of poverty in all sorts of shapes, but I seemed to dream without the previous ceremony of going to sleep. Now I was ragged, wanting to sell Dora matches, six bundles for a halfpenny; now I was at the office in a nightgown and boots, remonstrated with by Mr. Spenlow on appearing before the clients in that airy attire; now I was hungrily picking up the crumbs that fell from old Tiffey’s daily biscuit, regularly eaten when St. Paul’s struck one; now I was hopelessly endeavouring to get a licence to marry Dora, having nothing but one of Uriah Heep’s gloves to offer in exchange, which the whole Commons rejected; and still, more or less conscious of my own room, I was always tossing about like a distressed ship in a sea of bed-clothes.

My aunt was restless, too, for I frequently heard her walking to and fro. Two or three times in the course of the night, attired in a long flannel wrapper in which she looked seven feet high, she appeared, like a disturbed ghost, in my room, and came to the side of the sofa on which I lay. On the first occasion I started up in alarm, to learn that she inferred from a particular light in the sky, that Westminster Abbey was on fire; and to be consulted in reference to the probability of its igniting Buckingham Street, in case the wind changed. Lying still, after that, I found that she sat down near me, whispering to herself ‘Poor boy!’ And then it made me twenty times more wretched, to know how unselfishly mindful she was of me, and how selfishly mindful I was of myself.

It was difficult to believe that a night so long to me, could be short to anybody else. This consideration set me thinking and thinking of an imaginary party where people were dancing the hours away, until that became a dream too, and I heard the music incessantly playing one tune, and saw Dora incessantly dancing one dance, without taking the least notice of me. The man who had been playing the harp all night, was trying in vain to cover it with an ordinary-sized nightcap, when I awoke; or I should rather say, when I left off trying to go to sleep, and saw the sun shining in through the window at last.

There was an old Roman bath in those days at the bottom of one of the streets out of the Strand—it may be there still—in which I have had many a cold plunge. Dressing myself as quietly as I could, and leaving Peggotty to look after my aunt, I tumbled head foremost into it, and then went for a walk to Hampstead. I had a hope that this brisk treatment might freshen my wits a little; and I think it did them good, for I soon came to the conclusion that the first step I ought to take was, to try if my articles could be cancelled and the premium recovered. I got some breakfast on the Heath, and walked back to Doctors’ Commons, along the watered roads and through a pleasant smell of summer flowers, growing in gardens and carried into town on hucksters’ heads, intent on this first effort to meet our altered circumstances.

I arrived at the office so soon, after all, that I had half an hour’s loitering about the Commons, before old Tiffey, who was always first, appeared with his key. Then I sat down in my shady corner, looking up at the sunlight on the opposite chimney-pots, and thinking about Dora; until Mr. Spenlow came in, crisp and curly.

‘How are you, Copperfield?’ said he. ‘Fine morning!’

‘Beautiful morning, sir,’ said I. ‘Could I say a word to you before you go into Court?’

‘By all means,’ said he. ‘Come into my room.’

I followed him into his room, and he began putting on his gown, and touching himself up before a little glass he had, hanging inside a closet door.

‘I am sorry to say,’ said I, ‘that I have some rather disheartening intelligence from my aunt.’

‘No!’ said he. ‘Dear me! Not paralysis, I hope?’

‘It has no reference to her health, sir,’ I replied. ‘She has met with some large losses. In fact, she has very little left, indeed.’

‘You as-tound me, Copperfield!’ cried Mr. Spenlow.

I shook my head. ‘Indeed, sir,’ said I, ‘her affairs are so changed, that I wished to ask you whether it would be possible—at a sacrifice on our part of some portion of the premium, of course,’ I put in this, on the spur of the moment, warned by the blank expression of his face—‘to cancel my articles?’

What it cost me to make this proposal, nobody knows. It was like asking, as a favour, to be sentenced to transportation from Dora.

‘To cancel your articles, Copperfield? Cancel?’

I explained with tolerable firmness, that I really did not know where my means of subsistence were to come from, unless I could earn them for myself. I had no fear for the future, I said—and I laid great emphasis on that, as if to imply that I should still be decidedly eligible for a son-in-law one of these days—but, for the present, I was thrown upon my own resources. ‘I am extremely sorry to hear this, Copperfield,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘Extremely sorry. It is not usual to cancel articles for any such reason. It is not a professional course of proceeding. It is not a convenient precedent at all. Far from it. At the same time—’

‘You are very good, sir,’ I murmured, anticipating a concession.

‘Not at all. Don’t mention it,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘At the same time, I was going to say, if it had been my lot to have my hands unfettered—if I had not a partner—Mr. Jorkins—’

My hopes were dashed in a moment, but I made another effort.

‘Do you think, sir,’ said I, ‘if I were to mention it to Mr. Jorkins—’

Mr. Spenlow shook his head discouragingly. ‘Heaven forbid, Copperfield,’ he replied, ‘that I should do any man an injustice: still less, Mr. Jorkins. But I know my partner, Copperfield. Mr. Jorkins is not a man to respond to a proposition of this peculiar nature. Mr. Jorkins is very difficult to move from the beaten track. You know what he is!’

I am sure I knew nothing about him, except that he had originally been alone in the business, and now lived by himself in a house near Montagu Square, which was fearfully in want of painting; that he came very late of a day, and went away very early; that he never appeared to be consulted about anything; and that he had a dingy little black-hole of his own upstairs, where no business was ever done, and where there was a yellow old cartridge-paper pad upon his desk, unsoiled by ink, and reported to be twenty years of age.

‘Would you object to my mentioning it to him, sir?’ I asked.

‘By no means,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘But I have some experience of Mr. Jorkins, Copperfield. I wish it were otherwise, for I should be happy to meet your views in any respect. I cannot have the objection to your mentioning it to Mr. Jorkins, Copperfield, if you think it worth while.’

Availing myself of this permission, which was given with a warm shake of the hand, I sat thinking about Dora, and looking at the sunlight stealing from the chimney-pots down the wall of the opposite house, until Mr. Jorkins came. I then went up to Mr. Jorkins’s room, and evidently astonished Mr. Jorkins very much by making my appearance there.

‘Come in, Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mr. Jorkins. ‘Come in!’

I went in, and sat down; and stated my case to Mr. Jorkins pretty much as I had stated it to Mr. Spenlow. Mr. Jorkins was not by any means the awful creature one might have expected, but a large, mild, smooth-faced man of sixty, who took so much snuff that there was a tradition in the Commons that he lived principally on that stimulant, having little room in his system for any other article of diet.

‘You have mentioned this to Mr. Spenlow, I suppose?’ said Mr. Jorkins; when he had heard me, very restlessly, to an end.

I answered Yes, and told him that Mr. Spenlow had introduced his name.

‘He said I should object?’ asked Mr. Jorkins.

I was obliged to admit that Mr. Spenlow had considered it probable.

‘I am sorry to say, Mr. Copperfield, I can’t advance your object,’ said Mr. Jorkins, nervously. ‘The fact is—but I have an appointment at the Bank, if you’ll have the goodness to excuse me.’

With that he rose in a great hurry, and was going out of the room, when I made bold to say that I feared, then, there was no way of arranging the matter?

‘No!’ said Mr. Jorkins, stopping at the door to shake his head. ‘Oh, no! I object, you know,’ which he said very rapidly, and went out. ‘You must be aware, Mr. Copperfield,’ he added, looking restlessly in at the door again, ‘if Mr. Spenlow objects—’

‘Personally, he does not object, sir,’ said I.

‘Oh! Personally!’ repeated Mr. Jorkins, in an impatient manner. ‘I assure you there’s an objection, Mr. Copperfield. Hopeless! What you wish to be done, can’t be done. I—I really have got an appointment at the Bank.’ With that he fairly ran away; and to the best of my knowledge, it was three days before he showed himself in the Commons again.

Being very anxious to leave no stone unturned, I waited until Mr. Spenlow came in, and then described what had passed; giving him to understand that I was not hopeless of his being able to soften the adamantine Jorkins, if he would undertake the task.

‘Copperfield,’ returned Mr. Spenlow, with a gracious smile, ‘you have not known my partner, Mr. Jorkins, as long as I have. Nothing is farther from my thoughts than to attribute any degree of artifice to Mr. Jorkins. But Mr. Jorkins has a way of stating his objections which often deceives people. No, Copperfield!’ shaking his head. ‘Mr. Jorkins is not to be moved, believe me!’

I was completely bewildered between Mr. Spenlow and Mr. Jorkins, as to which of them really was the objecting partner; but I saw with sufficient clearness that there was obduracy somewhere in the firm, and that the recovery of my aunt’s thousand pounds was out of the question. In a state of despondency, which I remember with anything but satisfaction, for I know it still had too much reference to myself (though always in connexion with Dora), I left the office, and went homeward.

I was trying to familiarize my mind with the worst, and to present to myself the arrangements we should have to make for the future in their sternest aspect, when a hackney-chariot coming after me, and stopping at my very feet, occasioned me to look up. A fair hand was stretched forth to me from the window; and the face I had never seen without a feeling of serenity and happiness, from the moment when it first turned back on the old oak staircase with the great broad balustrade, and when I associated its softened beauty with the stained-glass window in the church, was smiling on me.

‘Agnes!’ I joyfully exclaimed. ‘Oh, my dear Agnes, of all people in the world, what a pleasure to see you!’

‘Is it, indeed?’ she said, in her cordial voice.

‘I want to talk to you so much!’ said I. ‘It’s such a lightening of my heart, only to look at you! If I had had a conjuror’s cap, there is no one I should have wished for but you!’

‘What?’ returned Agnes.

‘Well! perhaps Dora first,’ I admitted, with a blush.

‘Certainly, Dora first, I hope,’ said Agnes, laughing.

‘But you next!’ said I. ‘Where are you going?’

She was going to my rooms to see my aunt. The day being very fine, she was glad to come out of the chariot, which smelt (I had my head in it all this time) like a stable put under a cucumber-frame. I dismissed the coachman, and she took my arm, and we walked on together. She was like Hope embodied, to me. How different I felt in one short minute, having Agnes at my side!

My aunt had written her one of the odd, abrupt notes—very little longer than a Bank note—to which her epistolary efforts were usually limited. She had stated therein that she had fallen into adversity, and was leaving Dover for good, but had quite made up her mind to it, and was so well that nobody need be uncomfortable about her. Agnes had come to London to see my aunt, between whom and herself there had been a mutual liking these many years: indeed, it dated from the time of my taking up my residence in Mr. Wickfield’s house. She was not alone, she said. Her papa was with her—and Uriah Heep.

‘And now they are partners,’ said I. ‘Confound him!’

‘Yes,’ said Agnes. ‘They have some business here; and I took advantage of their coming, to come too. You must not think my visit all friendly and disinterested, Trotwood, for—I am afraid I may be cruelly prejudiced—I do not like to let papa go away alone, with him.’ ‘Does he exercise the same influence over Mr. Wickfield still, Agnes?’

Agnes shook her head. ‘There is such a change at home,’ said she, ‘that you would scarcely know the dear old house. They live with us now.’

‘They?’ said I.

‘Mr. Heep and his mother. He sleeps in your old room,’ said Agnes, looking up into my face.

‘I wish I had the ordering of his dreams,’ said I. ‘He wouldn’t sleep there long.’

‘I keep my own little room,’ said Agnes, ‘where I used to learn my lessons. How the time goes! You remember? The little panelled room that opens from the drawing-room?’

‘Remember, Agnes? When I saw you, for the first time, coming out at the door, with your quaint little basket of keys hanging at your side?’

‘It is just the same,’ said Agnes, smiling. ‘I am glad you think of it so pleasantly. We were very happy.’

‘We were, indeed,’ said I.

‘I keep that room to myself still; but I cannot always desert Mrs. Heep, you know. And so,’ said Agnes, quietly, ‘I feel obliged to bear her company, when I might prefer to be alone. But I have no other reason to complain of her. If she tires me, sometimes, by her praises of her son, it is only natural in a mother. He is a very good son to her.’

I looked at Agnes when she said these words, without detecting in her any consciousness of Uriah’s design. Her mild but earnest eyes met mine with their own beautiful frankness, and there was no change in her gentle face.

‘The chief evil of their presence in the house,’ said Agnes, ‘is that I cannot be as near papa as I could wish—Uriah Heep being so much between us—and cannot watch over him, if that is not too bold a thing to say, as closely as I would. But if any fraud or treachery is practising against him, I hope that simple love and truth will be strong in the end. I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.’

A certain bright smile, which I never saw on any other face, died away, even while I thought how good it was, and how familiar it had once been to me; and she asked me, with a quick change of expression (we were drawing very near my street), if I knew how the reverse in my aunt’s circumstances had been brought about. On my replying no, she had not told me yet, Agnes became thoughtful, and I fancied I felt her arm tremble in mine.

We found my aunt alone, in a state of some excitement. A difference of opinion had arisen between herself and Mrs. Crupp, on an abstract question (the propriety of chambers being inhabited by the gentler sex); and my aunt, utterly indifferent to spasms on the part of Mrs. Crupp, had cut the dispute short, by informing that lady that she smelt of my brandy, and that she would trouble her to walk out. Both of these expressions Mrs. Crupp considered actionable, and had expressed her intention of bringing before a ‘British Judy’—meaning, it was supposed, the bulwark of our national liberties.

My aunt, however, having had time to cool, while Peggotty was out showing Mr. Dick the soldiers at the Horse Guards—and being, besides, greatly pleased to see Agnes—rather plumed herself on the affair than otherwise, and received us with unimpaired good humour. When Agnes laid her bonnet on the table, and sat down beside her, I could not but think, looking on her mild eyes and her radiant forehead, how natural it seemed to have her there; how trustfully, although she was so young and inexperienced, my aunt confided in her; how strong she was, indeed, in simple love and truth.

We began to talk about my aunt’s losses, and I told them what I had tried to do that morning.

‘Which was injudicious, Trot,’ said my aunt, ‘but well meant. You are a generous boy—I suppose I must say, young man, now—and I am proud of you, my dear. So far, so good. Now, Trot and Agnes, let us look the case of Betsey Trotwood in the face, and see how it stands.’

I observed Agnes turn pale, as she looked very attentively at my aunt. My aunt, patting her cat, looked very attentively at Agnes.

‘Betsey Trotwood,’ said my aunt, who had always kept her money matters to herself. ‘—I don’t mean your sister, Trot, my dear, but myself—had a certain property. It don’t matter how much; enough to live on. More; for she had saved a little, and added to it. Betsey funded her property for some time, and then, by the advice of her man of business, laid it out on landed security. That did very well, and returned very good interest, till Betsey was paid off. I am talking of Betsey as if she was a man-of-war. Well! Then, Betsey had to look about her, for a new investment. She thought she was wiser, now, than her man of business, who was not such a good man of business by this time, as he used to be—I am alluding to your father, Agnes—and she took it into her head to lay it out for herself. So she took her pigs,’ said my aunt, ‘to a foreign market; and a very bad market it turned out to be. First, she lost in the mining way, and then she lost in the diving way—fishing up treasure, or some such Tom Tiddler nonsense,’ explained my aunt, rubbing her nose; ‘and then she lost in the mining way again, and, last of all, to set the thing entirely to rights, she lost in the banking way. I don’t know what the Bank shares were worth for a little while,’ said my aunt; ‘cent per cent was the lowest of it, I believe; but the Bank was at the other end of the world, and tumbled into space, for what I know; anyhow, it fell to pieces, and never will and never can pay sixpence; and Betsey’s sixpences were all there, and there’s an end of them. Least said, soonest mended!’

My aunt concluded this philosophical summary, by fixing her eyes with a kind of triumph on Agnes, whose colour was gradually returning.

‘Dear Miss Trotwood, is that all the history?’ said Agnes.

‘I hope it’s enough, child,’ said my aunt. ‘If there had been more money to lose, it wouldn’t have been all, I dare say. Betsey would have contrived to throw that after the rest, and make another chapter, I have little doubt. But there was no more money, and there’s no more story.’

Agnes had listened at first with suspended breath. Her colour still came and went, but she breathed more freely. I thought I knew why. I thought she had had some fear that her unhappy father might be in some way to blame for what had happened. My aunt took her hand in hers, and laughed.

‘Is that all?’ repeated my aunt. ‘Why, yes, that’s all, except, “And she lived happy ever afterwards.” Perhaps I may add that of Betsey yet, one of these days. Now, Agnes, you have a wise head. So have you, Trot, in some things, though I can’t compliment you always’; and here my aunt shook her own at me, with an energy peculiar to herself. ‘What’s to be done? Here’s the cottage, taking one time with another, will produce say seventy pounds a year. I think we may safely put it down at that. Well!—That’s all we’ve got,’ said my aunt; with whom it was an idiosyncrasy, as it is with some horses, to stop very short when she appeared to be in a fair way of going on for a long while.

‘Then,’ said my aunt, after a rest, ‘there’s Dick. He’s good for a hundred a-year, but of course that must be expended on himself. I would sooner send him away, though I know I am the only person who appreciates him, than have him, and not spend his money on himself. How can Trot and I do best, upon our means? What do you say, Agnes?’

‘I say, aunt,’ I interposed, ‘that I must do something!’

‘Go for a soldier, do you mean?’ returned my aunt, alarmed; ‘or go to sea? I won’t hear of it. You are to be a proctor. We’re not going to have any knockings on the head in THIS family, if you please, sir.’

I was about to explain that I was not desirous of introducing that mode of provision into the family, when Agnes inquired if my rooms were held for any long term?

‘You come to the point, my dear,’ said my aunt. ‘They are not to be got rid of, for six months at least, unless they could be underlet, and that I don’t believe. The last man died here. Five people out of six would die—of course—of that woman in nankeen with the flannel petticoat. I have a little ready money; and I agree with you, the best thing we can do, is, to live the term out here, and get a bedroom hard by.’

I thought it my duty to hint at the discomfort my aunt would sustain, from living in a continual state of guerilla warfare with Mrs. Crupp; but she disposed of that objection summarily by declaring that, on the first demonstration of hostilities, she was prepared to astonish Mrs. Crupp for the whole remainder of her natural life.

‘I have been thinking, Trotwood,’ said Agnes, diffidently, ‘that if you had time—’

‘I have a good deal of time, Agnes. I am always disengaged after four or five o’clock, and I have time early in the morning. In one way and another,’ said I, conscious of reddening a little as I thought of the hours and hours I had devoted to fagging about town, and to and fro upon the Norwood Road, ‘I have abundance of time.’

‘I know you would not mind,’ said Agnes, coming to me, and speaking in a low voice, so full of sweet and hopeful consideration that I hear it now, ‘the duties of a secretary.’

‘Mind, my dear Agnes?’

‘Because,’ continued Agnes, ‘Doctor Strong has acted on his intention of retiring, and has come to live in London; and he asked papa, I know, if he could recommend him one. Don’t you think he would rather have his favourite old pupil near him, than anybody else?’

‘Dear Agnes!’ said I. ‘What should I do without you! You are always my good angel. I told you so. I never think of you in any other light.’

Agnes answered with her pleasant laugh, that one good Angel (meaning Dora) was enough; and went on to remind me that the Doctor had been used to occupy himself in his study, early in the morning, and in the evening—and that probably my leisure would suit his requirements very well. I was scarcely more delighted with the prospect of earning my own bread, than with the hope of earning it under my old master; in short, acting on the advice of Agnes, I sat down and wrote a letter to the Doctor, stating my object, and appointing to call on him next day at ten in the forenoon. This I addressed to Highgate—for in that place, so memorable to me, he lived—and went and posted, myself, without losing a minute.

Wherever Agnes was, some agreeable token of her noiseless presence seemed inseparable from the place. When I came back, I found my aunt’s birds hanging, just as they had hung so long in the parlour window of the cottage; and my easy-chair imitating my aunt’s much easier chair in its position at the open window; and even the round green fan, which my aunt had brought away with her, screwed on to the window-sill. I knew who had done all this, by its seeming to have quietly done itself; and I should have known in a moment who had arranged my neglected books in the old order of my school days, even if I had supposed Agnes to be miles away, instead of seeing her busy with them, and smiling at the disorder into which they had fallen.

My aunt was quite gracious on the subject of the Thames (it really did look very well with the sun upon it, though not like the sea before the cottage), but she could not relent towards the London smoke, which, she said, ‘peppered everything’. A complete revolution, in which Peggotty bore a prominent part, was being effected in every corner of my rooms, in regard of this pepper; and I was looking on, thinking how little even Peggotty seemed to do with a good deal of bustle, and how much Agnes did without any bustle at all, when a knock came at the door.

‘I think,’ said Agnes, turning pale, ‘it’s papa. He promised me that he would come.’

I opened the door, and admitted, not only Mr. Wickfield, but Uriah Heep. I had not seen Mr. Wickfield for some time. I was prepared for a great change in him, after what I had heard from Agnes, but his appearance shocked me.

It was not that he looked many years older, though still dressed with the old scrupulous cleanliness; or that there was an unwholesome ruddiness upon his face; or that his eyes were full and bloodshot; or that there was a nervous trembling in his hand, the cause of which I knew, and had for some years seen at work. It was not that he had lost his good looks, or his old bearing of a gentleman—for that he had not—but the thing that struck me most, was, that with the evidences of his native superiority still upon him, he should submit himself to that crawling impersonation of meanness, Uriah Heep. The reversal of the two natures, in their relative positions, Uriah’s of power and Mr. Wickfield’s of dependence, was a sight more painful to me than I can express. If I had seen an Ape taking command of a Man, I should hardly have thought it a more degrading spectacle.

He appeared to be only too conscious of it himself. When he came in, he stood still; and with his head bowed, as if he felt it. This was only for a moment; for Agnes softly said to him, ‘Papa! Here is Miss Trotwood—and Trotwood, whom you have not seen for a long while!’ and then he approached, and constrainedly gave my aunt his hand, and shook hands more cordially with me. In the moment’s pause I speak of, I saw Uriah’s countenance form itself into a most ill-favoured smile. Agnes saw it too, I think, for she shrank from him.

What my aunt saw, or did not see, I defy the science of physiognomy to have made out, without her own consent. I believe there never was anybody with such an imperturbable countenance when she chose. Her face might have been a dead-wall on the occasion in question, for any light it threw upon her thoughts; until she broke silence with her usual abruptness.

‘Well, Wickfield!’ said my aunt; and he looked up at her for the first time. ‘I have been telling your daughter how well I have been disposing of my money for myself, because I couldn’t trust it to you, as you were growing rusty in business matters. We have been taking counsel together, and getting on very well, all things considered. Agnes is worth the whole firm, in my opinion.’

‘If I may umbly make the remark,’ said Uriah Heep, with a writhe, ‘I fully agree with Miss Betsey Trotwood, and should be only too appy if Miss Agnes was a partner.’

‘You’re a partner yourself, you know,’ returned my aunt, ‘and that’s about enough for you, I expect. How do you find yourself, sir?’

In acknowledgement of this question, addressed to him with extraordinary curtness, Mr. Heep, uncomfortably clutching the blue bag he carried, replied that he was pretty well, he thanked my aunt, and hoped she was the same.

‘And you, Master—I should say, Mister Copperfield,’ pursued Uriah. ‘I hope I see you well! I am rejoiced to see you, Mister Copperfield, even under present circumstances.’ I believed that; for he seemed to relish them very much. ‘Present circumstances is not what your friends would wish for you, Mister Copperfield, but it isn’t money makes the man: it’s—I am really unequal with my umble powers to express what it is,’ said Uriah, with a fawning jerk, ‘but it isn’t money!’

Here he shook hands with me: not in the common way, but standing at a good distance from me, and lifting my hand up and down like a pump handle, that he was a little afraid of.

‘And how do you think we are looking, Master Copperfield,—I should say, Mister?’ fawned Uriah. ‘Don’t you find Mr. Wickfield blooming, sir? Years don’t tell much in our firm, Master Copperfield, except in raising up the umble, namely, mother and self—and in developing,’ he added, as an afterthought, ‘the beautiful, namely, Miss Agnes.’

He jerked himself about, after this compliment, in such an intolerable manner, that my aunt, who had sat looking straight at him, lost all patience.

‘Deuce take the man!’ said my aunt, sternly, ‘what’s he about? Don’t be galvanic, sir!’

‘I ask your pardon, Miss Trotwood,’ returned Uriah; ‘I’m aware you’re nervous.’

‘Go along with you, sir!’ said my aunt, anything but appeased. ‘Don’t presume to say so! I am nothing of the sort. If you’re an eel, sir, conduct yourself like one. If you’re a man, control your limbs, sir! Good God!’ said my aunt, with great indignation, ‘I am not going to be serpentined and corkscrewed out of my senses!’

Mr. Heep was rather abashed, as most people might have been, by this explosion; which derived great additional force from the indignant manner in which my aunt afterwards moved in her chair, and shook her head as if she were making snaps or bounces at him. But he said to me aside in a meek voice:

‘I am well aware, Master Copperfield, that Miss Trotwood, though an excellent lady, has a quick temper (indeed I think I had the pleasure of knowing her, when I was a numble clerk, before you did, Master Copperfield), and it’s only natural, I am sure, that it should be made quicker by present circumstances. The wonder is, that it isn’t much worse! I only called to say that if there was anything we could do, in present circumstances, mother or self, or Wickfield and Heep,—we should be really glad. I may go so far?’ said Uriah, with a sickly smile at his partner.

‘Uriah Heep,’ said Mr. Wickfield, in a monotonous forced way, ‘is active in the business, Trotwood. What he says, I quite concur in. You know I had an old interest in you. Apart from that, what Uriah says I quite concur in!’

‘Oh, what a reward it is,’ said Uriah, drawing up one leg, at the risk of bringing down upon himself another visitation from my aunt, ‘to be so trusted in! But I hope I am able to do something to relieve him from the fatigues of business, Master Copperfield!’

‘Uriah Heep is a great relief to me,’ said Mr. Wickfield, in the same dull voice. ‘It’s a load off my mind, Trotwood, to have such a partner.’

The red fox made him say all this, I knew, to exhibit him to me in the light he had indicated on the night when he poisoned my rest. I saw the same ill-favoured smile upon his face again, and saw how he watched me.

‘You are not going, papa?’ said Agnes, anxiously. ‘Will you not walk back with Trotwood and me?’

He would have looked to Uriah, I believe, before replying, if that worthy had not anticipated him.

‘I am bespoke myself,’ said Uriah, ‘on business; otherwise I should have been appy to have kept with my friends. But I leave my partner to represent the firm. Miss Agnes, ever yours! I wish you good-day, Master Copperfield, and leave my umble respects for Miss Betsey Trotwood.’

With those words, he retired, kissing his great hand, and leering at us like a mask.

We sat there, talking about our pleasant old Canterbury days, an hour or two. Mr. Wickfield, left to Agnes, soon became more like his former self; though there was a settled depression upon him, which he never shook off. For all that, he brightened; and had an evident pleasure in hearing us recall the little incidents of our old life, many of which he remembered very well. He said it was like those times, to be alone with Agnes and me again; and he wished to Heaven they had never changed. I am sure there was an influence in the placid face of Agnes, and in the very touch of her hand upon his arm, that did wonders for him.

My aunt (who was busy nearly all this while with Peggotty, in the inner room) would not accompany us to the place where they were staying, but insisted on my going; and I went. We dined together. After dinner, Agnes sat beside him, as of old, and poured out his wine. He took what she gave him, and no more—like a child—and we all three sat together at a window as the evening gathered in. When it was almost dark, he lay down on a sofa, Agnes pillowing his head and bending over him a little while; and when she came back to the window, it was not so dark but I could see tears glittering in her eyes.

I pray Heaven that I never may forget the dear girl in her love and truth, at that time of my life; for if I should, I must be drawing near the end, and then I would desire to remember her best! She filled my heart with such good resolutions, strengthened my weakness so, by her example, so directed—I know not how, she was too modest and gentle to advise me in many words—the wandering ardour and unsettled purpose within me, that all the little good I have done, and all the harm I have forborne, I solemnly believe I may refer to her.

And how she spoke to me of Dora, sitting at the window in the dark; listened to my praises of her; praised again; and round the little fairy-figure shed some glimpses of her own pure light, that made it yet more precious and more innocent to me! Oh, Agnes, sister of my boyhood, if I had known then, what I knew long afterwards—!

There was a beggar in the street, when I went down; and as I turned my head towards the window, thinking of her calm seraphic eyes, he made me start by muttering, as if he were an echo of the morning: ‘Blind! Blind! Blind!’