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David Copperfield

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CHAPTER 36. ENTHUSIASM

I began the next day with another dive into the Roman bath, and then started for Highgate. I was not dispirited now. I was not afraid of the shabby coat, and had no yearnings after gallant greys. My whole manner of thinking of our late misfortune was changed. What I had to do, was, to show my aunt that her past goodness to me had not been thrown away on an insensible, ungrateful object. What I had to do, was, to turn the painful discipline of my younger days to account, by going to work with a resolute and steady heart. What I had to do, was, to take my woodman’s axe in my hand, and clear my own way through the forest of difficulty, by cutting down the trees until I came to Dora. And I went on at a mighty rate, as if it could be done by walking.

When I found myself on the familiar Highgate road, pursuing such a different errand from that old one of pleasure, with which it was associated, it seemed as if a complete change had come on my whole life. But that did not discourage me. With the new life, came new purpose, new intention. Great was the labour; priceless the reward. Dora was the reward, and Dora must be won.

I got into such a transport, that I felt quite sorry my coat was not a little shabby already. I wanted to be cutting at those trees in the forest of difficulty, under circumstances that should prove my strength. I had a good mind to ask an old man, in wire spectacles, who was breaking stones upon the road, to lend me his hammer for a little while, and let me begin to beat a path to Dora out of granite. I stimulated myself into such a heat, and got so out of breath, that I felt as if I had been earning I don’t know how much.

In this state, I went into a cottage that I saw was to let, and examined it narrowly,—for I felt it necessary to be practical. It would do for me and Dora admirably: with a little front garden for Jip to run about in, and bark at the tradespeople through the railings, and a capital room upstairs for my aunt. I came out again, hotter and faster than ever, and dashed up to Highgate, at such a rate that I was there an hour too early; and, though I had not been, should have been obliged to stroll about to cool myself, before I was at all presentable.

My first care, after putting myself under this necessary course of preparation, was to find the Doctor’s house. It was not in that part of Highgate where Mrs. Steerforth lived, but quite on the opposite side of the little town. When I had made this discovery, I went back, in an attraction I could not resist, to a lane by Mrs. Steerforth’s, and looked over the corner of the garden wall. His room was shut up close. The conservatory doors were standing open, and Rosa Dartle was walking, bareheaded, with a quick, impetuous step, up and down a gravel walk on one side of the lawn. She gave me the idea of some fierce thing, that was dragging the length of its chain to and fro upon a beaten track, and wearing its heart out.

I came softly away from my place of observation, and avoiding that part of the neighbourhood, and wishing I had not gone near it, strolled about until it was ten o’clock. The church with the slender spire, that stands on the top of the hill now, was not there then to tell me the time. An old red-brick mansion, used as a school, was in its place; and a fine old house it must have been to go to school at, as I recollect it.

When I approached the Doctor’s cottage—a pretty old place, on which he seemed to have expended some money, if I might judge from the embellishments and repairs that had the look of being just completed—I saw him walking in the garden at the side, gaiters and all, as if he had never left off walking since the days of my pupilage. He had his old companions about him, too; for there were plenty of high trees in the neighbourhood, and two or three rooks were on the grass, looking after him, as if they had been written to about him by the Canterbury rooks, and were observing him closely in consequence.

Knowing the utter hopelessness of attracting his attention from that distance, I made bold to open the gate, and walk after him, so as to meet him when he should turn round. When he did, and came towards me, he looked at me thoughtfully for a few moments, evidently without thinking about me at all; and then his benevolent face expressed extraordinary pleasure, and he took me by both hands.

‘Why, my dear Copperfield,’ said the Doctor, ‘you are a man! How do you do? I am delighted to see you. My dear Copperfield, how very much you have improved! You are quite—yes—dear me!’

I hoped he was well, and Mrs. Strong too.

‘Oh dear, yes!’ said the Doctor; ‘Annie’s quite well, and she’ll be delighted to see you. You were always her favourite. She said so, last night, when I showed her your letter. And—yes, to be sure—you recollect Mr. Jack Maldon, Copperfield?’

‘Perfectly, sir.’

‘Of course,’ said the Doctor. ‘To be sure. He’s pretty well, too.’

‘Has he come home, sir?’ I inquired.

‘From India?’ said the Doctor. ‘Yes. Mr. Jack Maldon couldn’t bear the climate, my dear. Mrs. Markleham—you have not forgotten Mrs. Markleham?’

Forgotten the Old Soldier! And in that short time!

‘Mrs. Markleham,’ said the Doctor, ‘was quite vexed about him, poor thing; so we have got him at home again; and we have bought him a little Patent place, which agrees with him much better.’ I knew enough of Mr. Jack Maldon to suspect from this account that it was a place where there was not much to do, and which was pretty well paid. The Doctor, walking up and down with his hand on my shoulder, and his kind face turned encouragingly to mine, went on:

‘Now, my dear Copperfield, in reference to this proposal of yours. It’s very gratifying and agreeable to me, I am sure; but don’t you think you could do better? You achieved distinction, you know, when you were with us. You are qualified for many good things. You have laid a foundation that any edifice may be raised upon; and is it not a pity that you should devote the spring-time of your life to such a poor pursuit as I can offer?’

I became very glowing again, and, expressing myself in a rhapsodical style, I am afraid, urged my request strongly; reminding the Doctor that I had already a profession.

‘Well, well,’ said the Doctor, ‘that’s true. Certainly, your having a profession, and being actually engaged in studying it, makes a difference. But, my good young friend, what’s seventy pounds a year?’

‘It doubles our income, Doctor Strong,’ said I.

‘Dear me!’ replied the Doctor. ‘To think of that! Not that I mean to say it’s rigidly limited to seventy pounds a-year, because I have always contemplated making any young friend I might thus employ, a present too. Undoubtedly,’ said the Doctor, still walking me up and down with his hand on my shoulder. ‘I have always taken an annual present into account.’

‘My dear tutor,’ said I (now, really, without any nonsense), ‘to whom I owe more obligations already than I ever can acknowledge—’

‘No, no,’ interposed the Doctor. ‘Pardon me!’

‘If you will take such time as I have, and that is my mornings and evenings, and can think it worth seventy pounds a year, you will do me such a service as I cannot express.’

‘Dear me!’ said the Doctor, innocently. ‘To think that so little should go for so much! Dear, dear! And when you can do better, you will? On your word, now?’ said the Doctor,—which he had always made a very grave appeal to the honour of us boys.

‘On my word, sir!’ I returned, answering in our old school manner.

‘Then be it so,’ said the Doctor, clapping me on the shoulder, and still keeping his hand there, as we still walked up and down.

‘And I shall be twenty times happier, sir,’ said I, with a little—I hope innocent—flattery, ‘if my employment is to be on the Dictionary.’

The Doctor stopped, smilingly clapped me on the shoulder again, and exclaimed, with a triumph most delightful to behold, as if I had penetrated to the profoundest depths of mortal sagacity, ‘My dear young friend, you have hit it. It IS the Dictionary!’

How could it be anything else! His pockets were as full of it as his head. It was sticking out of him in all directions. He told me that since his retirement from scholastic life, he had been advancing with it wonderfully; and that nothing could suit him better than the proposed arrangements for morning and evening work, as it was his custom to walk about in the daytime with his considering cap on. His papers were in a little confusion, in consequence of Mr. Jack Maldon having lately proffered his occasional services as an amanuensis, and not being accustomed to that occupation; but we should soon put right what was amiss, and go on swimmingly. Afterwards, when we were fairly at our work, I found Mr. Jack Maldon’s efforts more troublesome to me than I had expected, as he had not confined himself to making numerous mistakes, but had sketched so many soldiers, and ladies’ heads, over the Doctor’s manuscript, that I often became involved in labyrinths of obscurity.

The Doctor was quite happy in the prospect of our going to work together on that wonderful performance, and we settled to begin next morning at seven o’clock. We were to work two hours every morning, and two or three hours every night, except on Saturdays, when I was to rest. On Sundays, of course, I was to rest also, and I considered these very easy terms.

Our plans being thus arranged to our mutual satisfaction, the Doctor took me into the house to present me to Mrs. Strong, whom we found in the Doctor’s new study, dusting his books,—a freedom which he never permitted anybody else to take with those sacred favourites.

They had postponed their breakfast on my account, and we sat down to table together. We had not been seated long, when I saw an approaching arrival in Mrs. Strong’s face, before I heard any sound of it. A gentleman on horseback came to the gate, and leading his horse into the little court, with the bridle over his arm, as if he were quite at home, tied him to a ring in the empty coach-house wall, and came into the breakfast parlour, whip in hand. It was Mr. Jack Maldon; and Mr. Jack Maldon was not at all improved by India, I thought. I was in a state of ferocious virtue, however, as to young men who were not cutting down trees in the forest of difficulty; and my impression must be received with due allowance.

‘Mr. Jack!’ said the Doctor. ‘Copperfield!’

Mr. Jack Maldon shook hands with me; but not very warmly, I believed; and with an air of languid patronage, at which I secretly took great umbrage. But his languor altogether was quite a wonderful sight; except when he addressed himself to his cousin Annie. ‘Have you breakfasted this morning, Mr. Jack?’ said the Doctor.

‘I hardly ever take breakfast, sir,’ he replied, with his head thrown back in an easy-chair. ‘I find it bores me.’

‘Is there any news today?’ inquired the Doctor.

‘Nothing at all, sir,’ replied Mr. Maldon. ‘There’s an account about the people being hungry and discontented down in the North, but they are always being hungry and discontented somewhere.’

The Doctor looked grave, and said, as though he wished to change the subject, ‘Then there’s no news at all; and no news, they say, is good news.’

‘There’s a long statement in the papers, sir, about a murder,’ observed Mr. Maldon. ‘But somebody is always being murdered, and I didn’t read it.’

A display of indifference to all the actions and passions of mankind was not supposed to be such a distinguished quality at that time, I think, as I have observed it to be considered since. I have known it very fashionable indeed. I have seen it displayed with such success, that I have encountered some fine ladies and gentlemen who might as well have been born caterpillars. Perhaps it impressed me the more then, because it was new to me, but it certainly did not tend to exalt my opinion of, or to strengthen my confidence in, Mr. Jack Maldon.

‘I came out to inquire whether Annie would like to go to the opera tonight,’ said Mr. Maldon, turning to her. ‘It’s the last good night there will be, this season; and there’s a singer there, whom she really ought to hear. She is perfectly exquisite. Besides which, she is so charmingly ugly,’ relapsing into languor.

The Doctor, ever pleased with what was likely to please his young wife, turned to her and said:

‘You must go, Annie. You must go.’

‘I would rather not,’ she said to the Doctor. ‘I prefer to remain at home. I would much rather remain at home.’

Without looking at her cousin, she then addressed me, and asked me about Agnes, and whether she should see her, and whether she was not likely to come that day; and was so much disturbed, that I wondered how even the Doctor, buttering his toast, could be blind to what was so obvious.

But he saw nothing. He told her, good-naturedly, that she was young and ought to be amused and entertained, and must not allow herself to be made dull by a dull old fellow. Moreover, he said, he wanted to hear her sing all the new singer’s songs to him; and how could she do that well, unless she went? So the Doctor persisted in making the engagement for her, and Mr. Jack Maldon was to come back to dinner. This concluded, he went to his Patent place, I suppose; but at all events went away on his horse, looking very idle.

I was curious to find out next morning, whether she had been. She had not, but had sent into London to put her cousin off; and had gone out in the afternoon to see Agnes, and had prevailed upon the Doctor to go with her; and they had walked home by the fields, the Doctor told me, the evening being delightful. I wondered then, whether she would have gone if Agnes had not been in town, and whether Agnes had some good influence over her too!

She did not look very happy, I thought; but it was a good face, or a very false one. I often glanced at it, for she sat in the window all the time we were at work; and made our breakfast, which we took by snatches as we were employed. When I left, at nine o’clock, she was kneeling on the ground at the Doctor’s feet, putting on his shoes and gaiters for him. There was a softened shade upon her face, thrown from some green leaves overhanging the open window of the low room; and I thought all the way to Doctors’ Commons, of the night when I had seen it looking at him as he read.

I was pretty busy now; up at five in the morning, and home at nine or ten at night. But I had infinite satisfaction in being so closely engaged, and never walked slowly on any account, and felt enthusiastically that the more I tired myself, the more I was doing to deserve Dora. I had not revealed myself in my altered character to Dora yet, because she was coming to see Miss Mills in a few days, and I deferred all I had to tell her until then; merely informing her in my letters (all our communications were secretly forwarded through Miss Mills), that I had much to tell her. In the meantime, I put myself on a short allowance of bear’s grease, wholly abandoned scented soap and lavender water, and sold off three waistcoats at a prodigious sacrifice, as being too luxurious for my stern career.

Not satisfied with all these proceedings, but burning with impatience to do something more, I went to see Traddles, now lodging up behind the parapet of a house in Castle Street, Holborn. Mr. Dick, who had been with me to Highgate twice already, and had resumed his companionship with the Doctor, I took with me.

I took Mr. Dick with me, because, acutely sensitive to my aunt’s reverses, and sincerely believing that no galley-slave or convict worked as I did, he had begun to fret and worry himself out of spirits and appetite, as having nothing useful to do. In this condition, he felt more incapable of finishing the Memorial than ever; and the harder he worked at it, the oftener that unlucky head of King Charles the First got into it. Seriously apprehending that his malady would increase, unless we put some innocent deception upon him and caused him to believe that he was useful, or unless we could put him in the way of being really useful (which would be better), I made up my mind to try if Traddles could help us. Before we went, I wrote Traddles a full statement of all that had happened, and Traddles wrote me back a capital answer, expressive of his sympathy and friendship.

We found him hard at work with his inkstand and papers, refreshed by the sight of the flower-pot stand and the little round table in a corner of the small apartment. He received us cordially, and made friends with Mr. Dick in a moment. Mr. Dick professed an absolute certainty of having seen him before, and we both said, ‘Very likely.’

The first subject on which I had to consult Traddles was this,—I had heard that many men distinguished in various pursuits had begun life by reporting the debates in Parliament. Traddles having mentioned newspapers to me, as one of his hopes, I had put the two things together, and told Traddles in my letter that I wished to know how I could qualify myself for this pursuit. Traddles now informed me, as the result of his inquiries, that the mere mechanical acquisition necessary, except in rare cases, for thorough excellence in it, that is to say, a perfect and entire command of the mystery of short-hand writing and reading, was about equal in difficulty to the mastery of six languages; and that it might perhaps be attained, by dint of perseverance, in the course of a few years. Traddles reasonably supposed that this would settle the business; but I, only feeling that here indeed were a few tall trees to be hewn down, immediately resolved to work my way on to Dora through this thicket, axe in hand.

‘I am very much obliged to you, my dear Traddles!’ said I. ‘I’ll begin tomorrow.’

Traddles looked astonished, as he well might; but he had no notion as yet of my rapturous condition.

‘I’ll buy a book,’ said I, ‘with a good scheme of this art in it; I’ll work at it at the Commons, where I haven’t half enough to do; I’ll take down the speeches in our court for practice—Traddles, my dear fellow, I’ll master it!’

‘Dear me,’ said Traddles, opening his eyes, ‘I had no idea you were such a determined character, Copperfield!’

I don’t know how he should have had, for it was new enough to me. I passed that off, and brought Mr. Dick on the carpet.

‘You see,’ said Mr. Dick, wistfully, ‘if I could exert myself, Mr. Traddles—if I could beat a drum—or blow anything!’

Poor fellow! I have little doubt he would have preferred such an employment in his heart to all others. Traddles, who would not have smiled for the world, replied composedly:

‘But you are a very good penman, sir. You told me so, Copperfield?’ ‘Excellent!’ said I. And indeed he was. He wrote with extraordinary neatness.

‘Don’t you think,’ said Traddles, ‘you could copy writings, sir, if I got them for you?’

Mr. Dick looked doubtfully at me. ‘Eh, Trotwood?’

I shook my head. Mr. Dick shook his, and sighed. ‘Tell him about the Memorial,’ said Mr. Dick.

I explained to Traddles that there was a difficulty in keeping King Charles the First out of Mr. Dick’s manuscripts; Mr. Dick in the meanwhile looking very deferentially and seriously at Traddles, and sucking his thumb.

‘But these writings, you know, that I speak of, are already drawn up and finished,’ said Traddles after a little consideration. ‘Mr. Dick has nothing to do with them. Wouldn’t that make a difference, Copperfield? At all events, wouldn’t it be well to try?’

This gave us new hope. Traddles and I laying our heads together apart, while Mr. Dick anxiously watched us from his chair, we concocted a scheme in virtue of which we got him to work next day, with triumphant success.

On a table by the window in Buckingham Street, we set out the work Traddles procured for him—which was to make, I forget how many copies of a legal document about some right of way—and on another table we spread the last unfinished original of the great Memorial. Our instructions to Mr. Dick were that he should copy exactly what he had before him, without the least departure from the original; and that when he felt it necessary to make the slightest allusion to King Charles the First, he should fly to the Memorial. We exhorted him to be resolute in this, and left my aunt to observe him. My aunt reported to us, afterwards, that, at first, he was like a man playing the kettle-drums, and constantly divided his attentions between the two; but that, finding this confuse and fatigue him, and having his copy there, plainly before his eyes, he soon sat at it in an orderly business-like manner, and postponed the Memorial to a more convenient time. In a word, although we took great care that he should have no more to do than was good for him, and although he did not begin with the beginning of a week, he earned by the following Saturday night ten shillings and nine-pence; and never, while I live, shall I forget his going about to all the shops in the neighbourhood to change this treasure into sixpences, or his bringing them to my aunt arranged in the form of a heart upon a waiter, with tears of joy and pride in his eyes. He was like one under the propitious influence of a charm, from the moment of his being usefully employed; and if there were a happy man in the world, that Saturday night, it was the grateful creature who thought my aunt the most wonderful woman in existence, and me the most wonderful young man.

‘No starving now, Trotwood,’ said Mr. Dick, shaking hands with me in a corner. ‘I’ll provide for her, Sir!’ and he flourished his ten fingers in the air, as if they were ten banks.

I hardly know which was the better pleased, Traddles or I. ‘It really,’ said Traddles, suddenly, taking a letter out of his pocket, and giving it to me, ‘put Mr. Micawber quite out of my head!’

The letter (Mr. Micawber never missed any possible opportunity of writing a letter) was addressed to me, ‘By the kindness of T. Traddles, Esquire, of the Inner Temple.’ It ran thus:—

‘MY DEAR COPPERFIELD,

‘You may possibly not be unprepared to receive the intimation that something has turned up. I may have mentioned to you on a former occasion that I was in expectation of such an event.

‘I am about to establish myself in one of the provincial towns of our favoured island (where the society may be described as a happy admixture of the agricultural and the clerical), in immediate connexion with one of the learned professions. Mrs. Micawber and our offspring will accompany me. Our ashes, at a future period, will probably be found commingled in the cemetery attached to a venerable pile, for which the spot to which I refer has acquired a reputation, shall I say from China to Peru?

‘In bidding adieu to the modern Babylon, where we have undergone many vicissitudes, I trust not ignobly, Mrs. Micawber and myself cannot disguise from our minds that we part, it may be for years and it may be for ever, with an individual linked by strong associations to the altar of our domestic life. If, on the eve of such a departure, you will accompany our mutual friend, Mr. Thomas Traddles, to our present abode, and there reciprocate the wishes natural to the occasion, you will confer a Boon

‘On
    ‘One
        ‘Who
            ‘Is
                ‘Ever yours,
                    ‘WILKINS MICAWBER.’

I was glad to find that Mr. Micawber had got rid of his dust and ashes, and that something really had turned up at last. Learning from Traddles that the invitation referred to the evening then wearing away, I expressed my readiness to do honour to it; and we went off together to the lodging which Mr. Micawber occupied as Mr. Mortimer, and which was situated near the top of the Gray’s Inn Road.

The resources of this lodging were so limited, that we found the twins, now some eight or nine years old, reposing in a turn-up bedstead in the family sitting-room, where Mr. Micawber had prepared, in a wash-hand-stand jug, what he called ‘a Brew’ of the agreeable beverage for which he was famous. I had the pleasure, on this occasion, of renewing the acquaintance of Master Micawber, whom I found a promising boy of about twelve or thirteen, very subject to that restlessness of limb which is not an unfrequent phenomenon in youths of his age. I also became once more known to his sister, Miss Micawber, in whom, as Mr. Micawber told us, ‘her mother renewed her youth, like the Phoenix’.

‘My dear Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘yourself and Mr. Traddles find us on the brink of migration, and will excuse any little discomforts incidental to that position.’

Glancing round as I made a suitable reply, I observed that the family effects were already packed, and that the amount of luggage was by no means overwhelming. I congratulated Mrs. Micawber on the approaching change.

‘My dear Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘of your friendly interest in all our affairs, I am well assured. My family may consider it banishment, if they please; but I am a wife and mother, and I never will desert Mr. Micawber.’

Traddles, appealed to by Mrs. Micawber’s eye, feelingly acquiesced.

‘That,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘that, at least, is my view, my dear Mr. Copperfield and Mr. Traddles, of the obligation which I took upon myself when I repeated the irrevocable words, “I, Emma, take thee, Wilkins.” I read the service over with a flat-candle on the previous night, and the conclusion I derived from it was, that I never could desert Mr. Micawber. And,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘though it is possible I may be mistaken in my view of the ceremony, I never will!’

‘My dear,’ said Mr. Micawber, a little impatiently, ‘I am not conscious that you are expected to do anything of the sort.’

‘I am aware, my dear Mr. Copperfield,’ pursued Mrs. Micawber, ‘that I am now about to cast my lot among strangers; and I am also aware that the various members of my family, to whom Mr. Micawber has written in the most gentlemanly terms, announcing that fact, have not taken the least notice of Mr. Micawber’s communication. Indeed I may be superstitious,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘but it appears to me that Mr. Micawber is destined never to receive any answers whatever to the great majority of the communications he writes. I may augur, from the silence of my family, that they object to the resolution I have taken; but I should not allow myself to be swerved from the path of duty, Mr. Copperfield, even by my papa and mama, were they still living.’

I expressed my opinion that this was going in the right direction. ‘It may be a sacrifice,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘to immure one’s-self in a Cathedral town; but surely, Mr. Copperfield, if it is a sacrifice in me, it is much more a sacrifice in a man of Mr. Micawber’s abilities.’

‘Oh! You are going to a Cathedral town?’ said I.

Mr. Micawber, who had been helping us all, out of the wash-hand-stand jug, replied:

‘To Canterbury. In fact, my dear Copperfield, I have entered into arrangements, by virtue of which I stand pledged and contracted to our friend Heep, to assist and serve him in the capacity of—and to be—his confidential clerk.’

I stared at Mr. Micawber, who greatly enjoyed my surprise.

‘I am bound to state to you,’ he said, with an official air, ‘that the business habits, and the prudent suggestions, of Mrs. Micawber, have in a great measure conduced to this result. The gauntlet, to which Mrs. Micawber referred upon a former occasion, being thrown down in the form of an advertisement, was taken up by my friend Heep, and led to a mutual recognition. Of my friend Heep,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘who is a man of remarkable shrewdness, I desire to speak with all possible respect. My friend Heep has not fixed the positive remuneration at too high a figure, but he has made a great deal, in the way of extrication from the pressure of pecuniary difficulties, contingent on the value of my services; and on the value of those services I pin my faith. Such address and intelligence as I chance to possess,’ said Mr. Micawber, boastfully disparaging himself, with the old genteel air, ‘will be devoted to my friend Heep’s service. I have already some acquaintance with the law—as a defendant on civil process—and I shall immediately apply myself to the Commentaries of one of the most eminent and remarkable of our English jurists. I believe it is unnecessary to add that I allude to Mr. justice Blackstone.’

These observations, and indeed the greater part of the observations made that evening, were interrupted by Mrs. Micawber’s discovering that Master Micawber was sitting on his boots, or holding his head on with both arms as if he felt it loose, or accidentally kicking Traddles under the table, or shuffling his feet over one another, or producing them at distances from himself apparently outrageous to nature, or lying sideways with his hair among the wine-glasses, or developing his restlessness of limb in some other form incompatible with the general interests of society; and by Master Micawber’s receiving those discoveries in a resentful spirit. I sat all the while, amazed by Mr. Micawber’s disclosure, and wondering what it meant; until Mrs. Micawber resumed the thread of the discourse, and claimed my attention.

‘What I particularly request Mr. Micawber to be careful of, is,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘that he does not, my dear Mr. Copperfield, in applying himself to this subordinate branch of the law, place it out of his power to rise, ultimately, to the top of the tree. I am convinced that Mr. Micawber, giving his mind to a profession so adapted to his fertile resources, and his flow of language, must distinguish himself. Now, for example, Mr. Traddles,’ said Mrs. Micawber, assuming a profound air, ‘a judge, or even say a Chancellor. Does an individual place himself beyond the pale of those preferments by entering on such an office as Mr. Micawber has accepted?’

‘My dear,’ observed Mr. Micawber—but glancing inquisitively at Traddles, too; ‘we have time enough before us, for the consideration of those questions.’

‘Micawber,’ she returned, ‘no! Your mistake in life is, that you do not look forward far enough. You are bound, in justice to your family, if not to yourself, to take in at a comprehensive glance the extremest point in the horizon to which your abilities may lead you.’

Mr. Micawber coughed, and drank his punch with an air of exceeding satisfaction—still glancing at Traddles, as if he desired to have his opinion.

‘Why, the plain state of the case, Mrs. Micawber,’ said Traddles, mildly breaking the truth to her. ‘I mean the real prosaic fact, you know—’

‘Just so,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘my dear Mr. Traddles, I wish to be as prosaic and literal as possible on a subject of so much importance.’

‘—Is,’ said Traddles, ‘that this branch of the law, even if Mr. Micawber were a regular solicitor—’

‘Exactly so,’ returned Mrs. Micawber. (‘Wilkins, you are squinting, and will not be able to get your eyes back.’)

‘—Has nothing,’ pursued Traddles, ‘to do with that. Only a barrister is eligible for such preferments; and Mr. Micawber could not be a barrister, without being entered at an inn of court as a student, for five years.’

‘Do I follow you?’ said Mrs. Micawber, with her most affable air of business. ‘Do I understand, my dear Mr. Traddles, that, at the expiration of that period, Mr. Micawber would be eligible as a Judge or Chancellor?’

‘He would be ELIGIBLE,’ returned Traddles, with a strong emphasis on that word.

‘Thank you,’ said Mrs. Micawber. ‘That is quite sufficient. If such is the case, and Mr. Micawber forfeits no privilege by entering on these duties, my anxiety is set at rest. I speak,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘as a female, necessarily; but I have always been of opinion that Mr. Micawber possesses what I have heard my papa call, when I lived at home, the judicial mind; and I hope Mr. Micawber is now entering on a field where that mind will develop itself, and take a commanding station.’

I quite believe that Mr. Micawber saw himself, in his judicial mind’s eye, on the woolsack. He passed his hand complacently over his bald head, and said with ostentatious resignation:

‘My dear, we will not anticipate the decrees of fortune. If I am reserved to wear a wig, I am at least prepared, externally,’ in allusion to his baldness, ‘for that distinction. I do not,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘regret my hair, and I may have been deprived of it for a specific purpose. I cannot say. It is my intention, my dear Copperfield, to educate my son for the Church; I will not deny that I should be happy, on his account, to attain to eminence.’

‘For the Church?’ said I, still pondering, between whiles, on Uriah Heep.

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Micawber. ‘He has a remarkable head-voice, and will commence as a chorister. Our residence at Canterbury, and our local connexion, will, no doubt, enable him to take advantage of any vacancy that may arise in the Cathedral corps.’

On looking at Master Micawber again, I saw that he had a certain expression of face, as if his voice were behind his eyebrows; where it presently appeared to be, on his singing us (as an alternative between that and bed) ‘The Wood-Pecker tapping’. After many compliments on this performance, we fell into some general conversation; and as I was too full of my desperate intentions to keep my altered circumstances to myself, I made them known to Mr. and Mrs. Micawber. I cannot express how extremely delighted they both were, by the idea of my aunt’s being in difficulties; and how comfortable and friendly it made them.

When we were nearly come to the last round of the punch, I addressed myself to Traddles, and reminded him that we must not separate, without wishing our friends health, happiness, and success in their new career. I begged Mr. Micawber to fill us bumpers, and proposed the toast in due form: shaking hands with him across the table, and kissing Mrs. Micawber, to commemorate that eventful occasion. Traddles imitated me in the first particular, but did not consider himself a sufficiently old friend to venture on the second.

‘My dear Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, rising with one of his thumbs in each of his waistcoat pockets, ‘the companion of my youth: if I may be allowed the expression—and my esteemed friend Traddles: if I may be permitted to call him so—will allow me, on the part of Mrs. Micawber, myself, and our offspring, to thank them in the warmest and most uncompromising terms for their good wishes. It may be expected that on the eve of a migration which will consign us to a perfectly new existence,’ Mr. Micawber spoke as if they were going five hundred thousand miles, ‘I should offer a few valedictory remarks to two such friends as I see before me. But all that I have to say in this way, I have said. Whatever station in society I may attain, through the medium of the learned profession of which I am about to become an unworthy member, I shall endeavour not to disgrace, and Mrs. Micawber will be safe to adorn. Under the temporary pressure of pecuniary liabilities, contracted with a view to their immediate liquidation, but remaining unliquidated through a combination of circumstances, I have been under the necessity of assuming a garb from which my natural instincts recoil—I allude to spectacles—and possessing myself of a cognomen, to which I can establish no legitimate pretensions. All I have to say on that score is, that the cloud has passed from the dreary scene, and the God of Day is once more high upon the mountain tops. On Monday next, on the arrival of the four o’clock afternoon coach at Canterbury, my foot will be on my native heath—my name, Micawber!’

Mr. Micawber resumed his seat on the close of these remarks, and drank two glasses of punch in grave succession. He then said with much solemnity:

‘One thing more I have to do, before this separation is complete, and that is to perform an act of justice. My friend Mr. Thomas Traddles has, on two several occasions, “put his name”, if I may use a common expression, to bills of exchange for my accommodation. On the first occasion Mr. Thomas Traddles was left—let me say, in short, in the lurch. The fulfilment of the second has not yet arrived. The amount of the first obligation,’ here Mr. Micawber carefully referred to papers, ‘was, I believe, twenty-three, four, nine and a half, of the second, according to my entry of that transaction, eighteen, six, two. These sums, united, make a total, if my calculation is correct, amounting to forty-one, ten, eleven and a half. My friend Copperfield will perhaps do me the favour to check that total?’

I did so and found it correct.

‘To leave this metropolis,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘and my friend Mr. Thomas Traddles, without acquitting myself of the pecuniary part of this obligation, would weigh upon my mind to an insupportable extent. I have, therefore, prepared for my friend Mr. Thomas Traddles, and I now hold in my hand, a document, which accomplishes the desired object. I beg to hand to my friend Mr. Thomas Traddles my I.O.U. for forty-one, ten, eleven and a half, and I am happy to recover my moral dignity, and to know that I can once more walk erect before my fellow man!’

With this introduction (which greatly affected him), Mr. Micawber placed his I.O.U. in the hands of Traddles, and said he wished him well in every relation of life. I am persuaded, not only that this was quite the same to Mr. Micawber as paying the money, but that Traddles himself hardly knew the difference until he had had time to think about it. Mr. Micawber walked so erect before his fellow man, on the strength of this virtuous action, that his chest looked half as broad again when he lighted us downstairs. We parted with great heartiness on both sides; and when I had seen Traddles to his own door, and was going home alone, I thought, among the other odd and contradictory things I mused upon, that, slippery as Mr. Micawber was, I was probably indebted to some compassionate recollection he retained of me as his boy-lodger, for never having been asked by him for money. I certainly should not have had the moral courage to refuse it; and I have no doubt he knew that (to his credit be it written), quite as well as I did.






CHAPTER 37. A LITTLE COLD WATER

My new life had lasted for more than a week, and I was stronger than ever in those tremendous practical resolutions that I felt the crisis required. I continued to walk extremely fast, and to have a general idea that I was getting on. I made it a rule to take as much out of myself as I possibly could, in my way of doing everything to which I applied my energies. I made a perfect victim of myself. I even entertained some idea of putting myself on a vegetable diet, vaguely conceiving that, in becoming a graminivorous animal, I should sacrifice to Dora.

As yet, little Dora was quite unconscious of my desperate firmness, otherwise than as my letters darkly shadowed it forth. But another Saturday came, and on that Saturday evening she was to be at Miss Mills’s; and when Mr. Mills had gone to his whist-club (telegraphed to me in the street, by a bird-cage in the drawing-room middle window), I was to go there to tea.

By this time, we were quite settled down in Buckingham Street, where Mr. Dick continued his copying in a state of absolute felicity. My aunt had obtained a signal victory over Mrs. Crupp, by paying her off, throwing the first pitcher she planted on the stairs out of window, and protecting in person, up and down the staircase, a supernumerary whom she engaged from the outer world. These vigorous measures struck such terror to the breast of Mrs. Crupp, that she subsided into her own kitchen, under the impression that my aunt was mad. My aunt being supremely indifferent to Mrs. Crupp’s opinion and everybody else’s, and rather favouring than discouraging the idea, Mrs. Crupp, of late the bold, became within a few days so faint-hearted, that rather than encounter my aunt upon the staircase, she would endeavour to hide her portly form behind doors—leaving visible, however, a wide margin of flannel petticoat—or would shrink into dark corners. This gave my aunt such unspeakable satisfaction, that I believe she took a delight in prowling up and down, with her bonnet insanely perched on the top of her head, at times when Mrs. Crupp was likely to be in the way.

My aunt, being uncommonly neat and ingenious, made so many little improvements in our domestic arrangements, that I seemed to be richer instead of poorer. Among the rest, she converted the pantry into a dressing-room for me; and purchased and embellished a bedstead for my occupation, which looked as like a bookcase in the daytime as a bedstead could. I was the object of her constant solicitude; and my poor mother herself could not have loved me better, or studied more how to make me happy.

Peggotty had considered herself highly privileged in being allowed to participate in these labours; and, although she still retained something of her old sentiment of awe in reference to my aunt, had received so many marks of encouragement and confidence, that they were the best friends possible. But the time had now come (I am speaking of the Saturday when I was to take tea at Miss Mills’s) when it was necessary for her to return home, and enter on the discharge of the duties she had undertaken in behalf of Ham. ‘So good-bye, Barkis,’ said my aunt, ‘and take care of yourself! I am sure I never thought I could be sorry to lose you!’

I took Peggotty to the coach office and saw her off. She cried at parting, and confided her brother to my friendship as Ham had done. We had heard nothing of him since he went away, that sunny afternoon.

‘And now, my own dear Davy,’ said Peggotty, ‘if, while you’re a prentice, you should want any money to spend; or if, when you’re out of your time, my dear, you should want any to set you up (and you must do one or other, or both, my darling); who has such a good right to ask leave to lend it you, as my sweet girl’s own old stupid me!’

I was not so savagely independent as to say anything in reply, but that if ever I borrowed money of anyone, I would borrow it of her. Next to accepting a large sum on the spot, I believe this gave Peggotty more comfort than anything I could have done.

‘And, my dear!’ whispered Peggotty, ‘tell the pretty little angel that I should so have liked to see her, only for a minute! And tell her that before she marries my boy, I’ll come and make your house so beautiful for you, if you’ll let me!’

I declared that nobody else should touch it; and this gave Peggotty such delight that she went away in good spirits.

I fatigued myself as much as I possibly could in the Commons all day, by a variety of devices, and at the appointed time in the evening repaired to Mr. Mills’s street. Mr. Mills, who was a terrible fellow to fall asleep after dinner, had not yet gone out, and there was no bird-cage in the middle window.

He kept me waiting so long, that I fervently hoped the Club would fine him for being late. At last he came out; and then I saw my own Dora hang up the bird-cage, and peep into the balcony to look for me, and run in again when she saw I was there, while Jip remained behind, to bark injuriously at an immense butcher’s dog in the street, who could have taken him like a pill.

Dora came to the drawing-room door to meet me; and Jip came scrambling out, tumbling over his own growls, under the impression that I was a Bandit; and we all three went in, as happy and loving as could be. I soon carried desolation into the bosom of our joys—not that I meant to do it, but that I was so full of the subject—by asking Dora, without the smallest preparation, if she could love a beggar?

My pretty, little, startled Dora! Her only association with the word was a yellow face and a nightcap, or a pair of crutches, or a wooden leg, or a dog with a decanter-stand in his mouth, or something of that kind; and she stared at me with the most delightful wonder.

‘How can you ask me anything so foolish?’ pouted Dora. ‘Love a beggar!’

‘Dora, my own dearest!’ said I. ‘I am a beggar!’

‘How can you be such a silly thing,’ replied Dora, slapping my hand, ‘as to sit there, telling such stories? I’ll make Jip bite you!’

Her childish way was the most delicious way in the world to me, but it was necessary to be explicit, and I solemnly repeated:

‘Dora, my own life, I am your ruined David!’

‘I declare I’ll make Jip bite you!’ said Dora, shaking her curls, ‘if you are so ridiculous.’

But I looked so serious, that Dora left off shaking her curls, and laid her trembling little hand upon my shoulder, and first looked scared and anxious, then began to cry. That was dreadful. I fell upon my knees before the sofa, caressing her, and imploring her not to rend my heart; but, for some time, poor little Dora did nothing but exclaim Oh dear! Oh dear! And oh, she was so frightened! And where was Julia Mills! And oh, take her to Julia Mills, and go away, please! until I was almost beside myself.

At last, after an agony of supplication and protestation, I got Dora to look at me, with a horrified expression of face, which I gradually soothed until it was only loving, and her soft, pretty cheek was lying against mine. Then I told her, with my arms clasped round her, how I loved her, so dearly, and so dearly; how I felt it right to offer to release her from her engagement, because now I was poor; how I never could bear it, or recover it, if I lost her; how I had no fears of poverty, if she had none, my arm being nerved and my heart inspired by her; how I was already working with a courage such as none but lovers knew; how I had begun to be practical, and look into the future; how a crust well earned was sweeter far than a feast inherited; and much more to the same purpose, which I delivered in a burst of passionate eloquence quite surprising to myself, though I had been thinking about it, day and night, ever since my aunt had astonished me.

‘Is your heart mine still, dear Dora?’ said I, rapturously, for I knew by her clinging to me that it was.

‘Oh, yes!’ cried Dora. ‘Oh, yes, it’s all yours. Oh, don’t be dreadful!’

I dreadful! To Dora!

‘Don’t talk about being poor, and working hard!’ said Dora, nestling closer to me. ‘Oh, don’t, don’t!’

‘My dearest love,’ said I, ‘the crust well-earned—’

‘Oh, yes; but I don’t want to hear any more about crusts!’ said Dora. ‘And Jip must have a mutton-chop every day at twelve, or he’ll die.’

I was charmed with her childish, winning way. I fondly explained to Dora that Jip should have his mutton-chop with his accustomed regularity. I drew a picture of our frugal home, made independent by my labour—sketching in the little house I had seen at Highgate, and my aunt in her room upstairs.

‘I am not dreadful now, Dora?’ said I, tenderly.

‘Oh, no, no!’ cried Dora. ‘But I hope your aunt will keep in her own room a good deal. And I hope she’s not a scolding old thing!’

If it were possible for me to love Dora more than ever, I am sure I did. But I felt she was a little impracticable. It damped my new-born ardour, to find that ardour so difficult of communication to her. I made another trial. When she was quite herself again, and was curling Jip’s ears, as he lay upon her lap, I became grave, and said:

‘My own! May I mention something?’

‘Oh, please don’t be practical!’ said Dora, coaxingly. ‘Because it frightens me so!’

‘Sweetheart!’ I returned; ‘there is nothing to alarm you in all this. I want you to think of it quite differently. I want to make it nerve you, and inspire you, Dora!’

‘Oh, but that’s so shocking!’ cried Dora.

‘My love, no. Perseverance and strength of character will enable us to bear much worse things.’ ‘But I haven’t got any strength at all,’ said Dora, shaking her curls. ‘Have I, Jip? Oh, do kiss Jip, and be agreeable!’

It was impossible to resist kissing Jip, when she held him up to me for that purpose, putting her own bright, rosy little mouth into kissing form, as she directed the operation, which she insisted should be performed symmetrically, on the centre of his nose. I did as she bade me—rewarding myself afterwards for my obedience—and she charmed me out of my graver character for I don’t know how long.

‘But, Dora, my beloved!’ said I, at last resuming it; ‘I was going to mention something.’

The judge of the Prerogative Court might have fallen in love with her, to see her fold her little hands and hold them up, begging and praying me not to be dreadful any more.

‘Indeed I am not going to be, my darling!’ I assured her. ‘But, Dora, my love, if you will sometimes think,—not despondingly, you know; far from that!—but if you will sometimes think—just to encourage yourself—that you are engaged to a poor man—’

‘Don’t, don’t! Pray don’t!’ cried Dora. ‘It’s so very dreadful!’

‘My soul, not at all!’ said I, cheerfully. ‘If you will sometimes think of that, and look about now and then at your papa’s housekeeping, and endeavour to acquire a little habit—of accounts, for instance—’

Poor little Dora received this suggestion with something that was half a sob and half a scream.

‘—It would be so useful to us afterwards,’ I went on. ‘And if you would promise me to read a little—a little Cookery Book that I would send you, it would be so excellent for both of us. For our path in life, my Dora,’ said I, warming with the subject, ‘is stony and rugged now, and it rests with us to smooth it. We must fight our way onward. We must be brave. There are obstacles to be met, and we must meet, and crush them!’

I was going on at a great rate, with a clenched hand, and a most enthusiastic countenance; but it was quite unnecessary to proceed. I had said enough. I had done it again. Oh, she was so frightened! Oh, where was Julia Mills! Oh, take her to Julia Mills, and go away, please! So that, in short, I was quite distracted, and raved about the drawing-room.

I thought I had killed her, this time. I sprinkled water on her face. I went down on my knees. I plucked at my hair. I denounced myself as a remorseless brute and a ruthless beast. I implored her forgiveness. I besought her to look up. I ravaged Miss Mills’s work-box for a smelling-bottle, and in my agony of mind applied an ivory needle-case instead, and dropped all the needles over Dora. I shook my fists at Jip, who was as frantic as myself. I did every wild extravagance that could be done, and was a long way beyond the end of my wits when Miss Mills came into the room.

‘Who has done this?’ exclaimed Miss Mills, succouring her friend.

I replied, ‘I, Miss Mills! I have done it! Behold the destroyer!’—or words to that effect—and hid my face from the light, in the sofa cushion.

At first Miss Mills thought it was a quarrel, and that we were verging on the Desert of Sahara; but she soon found out how matters stood, for my dear affectionate little Dora, embracing her, began exclaiming that I was ‘a poor labourer’; and then cried for me, and embraced me, and asked me would I let her give me all her money to keep, and then fell on Miss Mills’s neck, sobbing as if her tender heart were broken.

Miss Mills must have been born to be a blessing to us. She ascertained from me in a few words what it was all about, comforted Dora, and gradually convinced her that I was not a labourer—from my manner of stating the case I believe Dora concluded that I was a navigator, and went balancing myself up and down a plank all day with a wheelbarrow—and so brought us together in peace. When we were quite composed, and Dora had gone up-stairs to put some rose-water to her eyes, Miss Mills rang for tea. In the ensuing interval, I told Miss Mills that she was evermore my friend, and that my heart must cease to vibrate ere I could forget her sympathy.

I then expounded to Miss Mills what I had endeavoured, so very unsuccessfully, to expound to Dora. Miss Mills replied, on general principles, that the Cottage of content was better than the Palace of cold splendour, and that where love was, all was.

I said to Miss Mills that this was very true, and who should know it better than I, who loved Dora with a love that never mortal had experienced yet? But on Miss Mills observing, with despondency, that it were well indeed for some hearts if this were so, I explained that I begged leave to restrict the observation to mortals of the masculine gender.

I then put it to Miss Mills, to say whether she considered that there was or was not any practical merit in the suggestion I had been anxious to make, concerning the accounts, the housekeeping, and the Cookery Book?

Miss Mills, after some consideration, thus replied:

‘Mr. Copperfield, I will be plain with you. Mental suffering and trial supply, in some natures, the place of years, and I will be as plain with you as if I were a Lady Abbess. No. The suggestion is not appropriate to our Dora. Our dearest Dora is a favourite child of nature. She is a thing of light, and airiness, and joy. I am free to confess that if it could be done, it might be well, but—’ And Miss Mills shook her head.

I was encouraged by this closing admission on the part of Miss Mills to ask her, whether, for Dora’s sake, if she had any opportunity of luring her attention to such preparations for an earnest life, she would avail herself of it? Miss Mills replied in the affirmative so readily, that I further asked her if she would take charge of the Cookery Book; and, if she ever could insinuate it upon Dora’s acceptance, without frightening her, undertake to do me that crowning service. Miss Mills accepted this trust, too; but was not sanguine.

And Dora returned, looking such a lovely little creature, that I really doubted whether she ought to be troubled with anything so ordinary. And she loved me so much, and was so captivating (particularly when she made Jip stand on his hind legs for toast, and when she pretended to hold that nose of his against the hot teapot for punishment because he wouldn’t), that I felt like a sort of Monster who had got into a Fairy’s bower, when I thought of having frightened her, and made her cry.

After tea we had the guitar; and Dora sang those same dear old French songs about the impossibility of ever on any account leaving off dancing, La ra la, La ra la, until I felt a much greater Monster than before.

We had only one check to our pleasure, and that happened a little while before I took my leave, when, Miss Mills chancing to make some allusion to tomorrow morning, I unluckily let out that, being obliged to exert myself now, I got up at five o’clock. Whether Dora had any idea that I was a Private Watchman, I am unable to say; but it made a great impression on her, and she neither played nor sang any more.

It was still on her mind when I bade her adieu; and she said to me, in her pretty coaxing way—as if I were a doll, I used to think:

‘Now don’t get up at five o’clock, you naughty boy. It’s so nonsensical!’

‘My love,’ said I, ‘I have work to do.’

‘But don’t do it!’ returned Dora. ‘Why should you?’

It was impossible to say to that sweet little surprised face, otherwise than lightly and playfully, that we must work to live.

‘Oh! How ridiculous!’ cried Dora.

‘How shall we live without, Dora?’ said I.

‘How? Any how!’ said Dora.

She seemed to think she had quite settled the question, and gave me such a triumphant little kiss, direct from her innocent heart, that I would hardly have put her out of conceit with her answer, for a fortune.

Well! I loved her, and I went on loving her, most absorbingly, entirely, and completely. But going on, too, working pretty hard, and busily keeping red-hot all the irons I now had in the fire, I would sit sometimes of a night, opposite my aunt, thinking how I had frightened Dora that time, and how I could best make my way with a guitar-case through the forest of difficulty, until I used to fancy that my head was turning quite grey.






CHAPTER 38. A DISSOLUTION OF PARTNERSHIP

I did not allow my resolution, with respect to the Parliamentary Debates, to cool. It was one of the irons I began to heat immediately, and one of the irons I kept hot, and hammered at, with a perseverance I may honestly admire. I bought an approved scheme of the noble art and mystery of stenography (which cost me ten and sixpence); and plunged into a sea of perplexity that brought me, in a few weeks, to the confines of distraction. The changes that were rung upon dots, which in such a position meant such a thing, and in such another position something else, entirely different; the wonderful vagaries that were played by circles; the unaccountable consequences that resulted from marks like flies’ legs; the tremendous effects of a curve in a wrong place; not only troubled my waking hours, but reappeared before me in my sleep. When I had groped my way, blindly, through these difficulties, and had mastered the alphabet, which was an Egyptian Temple in itself, there then appeared a procession of new horrors, called arbitrary characters; the most despotic characters I have ever known; who insisted, for instance, that a thing like the beginning of a cobweb, meant expectation, and that a pen-and-ink sky-rocket, stood for disadvantageous. When I had fixed these wretches in my mind, I found that they had driven everything else out of it; then, beginning again, I forgot them; while I was picking them up, I dropped the other fragments of the system; in short, it was almost heart-breaking.

It might have been quite heart-breaking, but for Dora, who was the stay and anchor of my tempest-driven bark. Every scratch in the scheme was a gnarled oak in the forest of difficulty, and I went on cutting them down, one after another, with such vigour, that in three or four months I was in a condition to make an experiment on one of our crack speakers in the Commons. Shall I ever forget how the crack speaker walked off from me before I began, and left my imbecile pencil staggering about the paper as if it were in a fit!

This would not do, it was quite clear. I was flying too high, and should never get on, so. I resorted to Traddles for advice; who suggested that he should dictate speeches to me, at a pace, and with occasional stoppages, adapted to my weakness. Very grateful for this friendly aid, I accepted the proposal; and night after night, almost every night, for a long time, we had a sort of Private Parliament in Buckingham Street, after I came home from the Doctor’s.

I should like to see such a Parliament anywhere else! My aunt and Mr. Dick represented the Government or the Opposition (as the case might be), and Traddles, with the assistance of Enfield’s Speakers, or a volume of parliamentary orations, thundered astonishing invectives against them. Standing by the table, with his finger in the page to keep the place, and his right arm flourishing above his head, Traddles, as Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Burke, Lord Castlereagh, Viscount Sidmouth, or Mr. Canning, would work himself into the most violent heats, and deliver the most withering denunciations of the profligacy and corruption of my aunt and Mr. Dick; while I used to sit, at a little distance, with my notebook on my knee, fagging after him with all my might and main. The inconsistency and recklessness of Traddles were not to be exceeded by any real politician. He was for any description of policy, in the compass of a week; and nailed all sorts of colours to every denomination of mast. My aunt, looking very like an immovable Chancellor of the Exchequer, would occasionally throw in an interruption or two, as ‘Hear!’ or ‘No!’ or ‘Oh!’ when the text seemed to require it: which was always a signal to Mr. Dick (a perfect country gentleman) to follow lustily with the same cry. But Mr. Dick got taxed with such things in the course of his Parliamentary career, and was made responsible for such awful consequences, that he became uncomfortable in his mind sometimes. I believe he actually began to be afraid he really had been doing something, tending to the annihilation of the British constitution, and the ruin of the country.

Often and often we pursued these debates until the clock pointed to midnight, and the candles were burning down. The result of so much good practice was, that by and by I began to keep pace with Traddles pretty well, and should have been quite triumphant if I had had the least idea what my notes were about. But, as to reading them after I had got them, I might as well have copied the Chinese inscriptions of an immense collection of tea-chests, or the golden characters on all the great red and green bottles in the chemists’ shops!

There was nothing for it, but to turn back and begin all over again. It was very hard, but I turned back, though with a heavy heart, and began laboriously and methodically to plod over the same tedious ground at a snail’s pace; stopping to examine minutely every speck in the way, on all sides, and making the most desperate efforts to know these elusive characters by sight wherever I met them. I was always punctual at the office; at the Doctor’s too: and I really did work, as the common expression is, like a cart-horse. One day, when I went to the Commons as usual, I found Mr. Spenlow in the doorway looking extremely grave, and talking to himself. As he was in the habit of complaining of pains in his head—he had naturally a short throat, and I do seriously believe he over-starched himself—I was at first alarmed by the idea that he was not quite right in that direction; but he soon relieved my uneasiness.

Instead of returning my ‘Good morning’ with his usual affability, he looked at me in a distant, ceremonious manner, and coldly requested me to accompany him to a certain coffee-house, which, in those days, had a door opening into the Commons, just within the little archway in St. Paul’s Churchyard. I complied, in a very uncomfortable state, and with a warm shooting all over me, as if my apprehensions were breaking out into buds. When I allowed him to go on a little before, on account of the narrowness of the way, I observed that he carried his head with a lofty air that was particularly unpromising; and my mind misgave me that he had found out about my darling Dora.

If I had not guessed this, on the way to the coffee-house, I could hardly have failed to know what was the matter when I followed him into an upstairs room, and found Miss Murdstone there, supported by a background of sideboard, on which were several inverted tumblers sustaining lemons, and two of those extraordinary boxes, all corners and flutings, for sticking knives and forks in, which, happily for mankind, are now obsolete.

Miss Murdstone gave me her chilly finger-nails, and sat severely rigid. Mr. Spenlow shut the door, motioned me to a chair, and stood on the hearth-rug in front of the fireplace.

‘Have the goodness to show Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mr. Spenlow, what you have in your reticule, Miss Murdstone.’

I believe it was the old identical steel-clasped reticule of my childhood, that shut up like a bite. Compressing her lips, in sympathy with the snap, Miss Murdstone opened it—opening her mouth a little at the same time—and produced my last letter to Dora, teeming with expressions of devoted affection.

‘I believe that is your writing, Mr. Copperfield?’ said Mr. Spenlow.

I was very hot, and the voice I heard was very unlike mine, when I said, ‘It is, sir!’

‘If I am not mistaken,’ said Mr. Spenlow, as Miss Murdstone brought a parcel of letters out of her reticule, tied round with the dearest bit of blue ribbon, ‘those are also from your pen, Mr. Copperfield?’

I took them from her with a most desolate sensation; and, glancing at such phrases at the top, as ‘My ever dearest and own Dora,’ ‘My best beloved angel,’ ‘My blessed one for ever,’ and the like, blushed deeply, and inclined my head.

‘No, thank you!’ said Mr. Spenlow, coldly, as I mechanically offered them back to him. ‘I will not deprive you of them. Miss Murdstone, be so good as to proceed!’

That gentle creature, after a moment’s thoughtful survey of the carpet, delivered herself with much dry unction as follows.

‘I must confess to having entertained my suspicions of Miss Spenlow, in reference to David Copperfield, for some time. I observed Miss Spenlow and David Copperfield, when they first met; and the impression made upon me then was not agreeable. The depravity of the human heart is such—’

‘You will oblige me, ma’am,’ interrupted Mr. Spenlow, ‘by confining yourself to facts.’

Miss Murdstone cast down her eyes, shook her head as if protesting against this unseemly interruption, and with frowning dignity resumed:

‘Since I am to confine myself to facts, I will state them as dryly as I can. Perhaps that will be considered an acceptable course of proceeding. I have already said, sir, that I have had my suspicions of Miss Spenlow, in reference to David Copperfield, for some time. I have frequently endeavoured to find decisive corroboration of those suspicions, but without effect. I have therefore forborne to mention them to Miss Spenlow’s father’; looking severely at him—‘knowing how little disposition there usually is in such cases, to acknowledge the conscientious discharge of duty.’

Mr. Spenlow seemed quite cowed by the gentlemanly sternness of Miss Murdstone’s manner, and deprecated her severity with a conciliatory little wave of his hand.

‘On my return to Norwood, after the period of absence occasioned by my brother’s marriage,’ pursued Miss Murdstone in a disdainful voice, ‘and on the return of Miss Spenlow from her visit to her friend Miss Mills, I imagined that the manner of Miss Spenlow gave me greater occasion for suspicion than before. Therefore I watched Miss Spenlow closely.’

Dear, tender little Dora, so unconscious of this Dragon’s eye!

‘Still,’ resumed Miss Murdstone, ‘I found no proof until last night. It appeared to me that Miss Spenlow received too many letters from her friend Miss Mills; but Miss Mills being her friend with her father’s full concurrence,’ another telling blow at Mr. Spenlow, ‘it was not for me to interfere. If I may not be permitted to allude to the natural depravity of the human heart, at least I may—I must—be permitted, so far to refer to misplaced confidence.’

Mr. Spenlow apologetically murmured his assent.

‘Last evening after tea,’ pursued Miss Murdstone, ‘I observed the little dog starting, rolling, and growling about the drawing-room, worrying something. I said to Miss Spenlow, “Dora, what is that the dog has in his mouth? It’s paper.” Miss Spenlow immediately put her hand to her frock, gave a sudden cry, and ran to the dog. I interposed, and said, “Dora, my love, you must permit me.”’

Oh Jip, miserable Spaniel, this wretchedness, then, was your work!

‘Miss Spenlow endeavoured,’ said Miss Murdstone, ‘to bribe me with kisses, work-boxes, and small articles of jewellery—that, of course, I pass over. The little dog retreated under the sofa on my approaching him, and was with great difficulty dislodged by the fire-irons. Even when dislodged, he still kept the letter in his mouth; and on my endeavouring to take it from him, at the imminent risk of being bitten, he kept it between his teeth so pertinaciously as to suffer himself to be held suspended in the air by means of the document. At length I obtained possession of it. After perusing it, I taxed Miss Spenlow with having many such letters in her possession; and ultimately obtained from her the packet which is now in David Copperfield’s hand.’

Here she ceased; and snapping her reticule again, and shutting her mouth, looked as if she might be broken, but could never be bent.

‘You have heard Miss Murdstone,’ said Mr. Spenlow, turning to me. ‘I beg to ask, Mr. Copperfield, if you have anything to say in reply?’

The picture I had before me, of the beautiful little treasure of my heart, sobbing and crying all night—of her being alone, frightened, and wretched, then—of her having so piteously begged and prayed that stony-hearted woman to forgive her—of her having vainly offered her those kisses, work-boxes, and trinkets—of her being in such grievous distress, and all for me—very much impaired the little dignity I had been able to muster. I am afraid I was in a tremulous state for a minute or so, though I did my best to disguise it.

‘There is nothing I can say, sir,’ I returned, ‘except that all the blame is mine. Dora—’

‘Miss Spenlow, if you please,’ said her father, majestically.

‘—was induced and persuaded by me,’ I went on, swallowing that colder designation, ‘to consent to this concealment, and I bitterly regret it.’

‘You are very much to blame, sir,’ said Mr. Spenlow, walking to and fro upon the hearth-rug, and emphasizing what he said with his whole body instead of his head, on account of the stiffness of his cravat and spine. ‘You have done a stealthy and unbecoming action, Mr. Copperfield. When I take a gentleman to my house, no matter whether he is nineteen, twenty-nine, or ninety, I take him there in a spirit of confidence. If he abuses my confidence, he commits a dishonourable action, Mr. Copperfield.’

‘I feel it, sir, I assure you,’ I returned. ‘But I never thought so, before. Sincerely, honestly, indeed, Mr. Spenlow, I never thought so, before. I love Miss Spenlow to that extent—’

‘Pooh! nonsense!’ said Mr. Spenlow, reddening. ‘Pray don’t tell me to my face that you love my daughter, Mr. Copperfield!’

‘Could I defend my conduct if I did not, sir?’ I returned, with all humility.

‘Can you defend your conduct if you do, sir?’ said Mr. Spenlow, stopping short upon the hearth-rug. ‘Have you considered your years, and my daughter’s years, Mr. Copperfield? Have you considered what it is to undermine the confidence that should subsist between my daughter and myself? Have you considered my daughter’s station in life, the projects I may contemplate for her advancement, the testamentary intentions I may have with reference to her? Have you considered anything, Mr. Copperfield?’

‘Very little, sir, I am afraid;’ I answered, speaking to him as respectfully and sorrowfully as I felt; ‘but pray believe me, I have considered my own worldly position. When I explained it to you, we were already engaged—’

‘I BEG,’ said Mr. Spenlow, more like Punch than I had ever seen him, as he energetically struck one hand upon the other—I could not help noticing that even in my despair; ‘that YOU Will NOT talk to me of engagements, Mr. Copperfield!’

The otherwise immovable Miss Murdstone laughed contemptuously in one short syllable.

‘When I explained my altered position to you, sir,’ I began again, substituting a new form of expression for what was so unpalatable to him, ‘this concealment, into which I am so unhappy as to have led Miss Spenlow, had begun. Since I have been in that altered position, I have strained every nerve, I have exerted every energy, to improve it. I am sure I shall improve it in time. Will you grant me time—any length of time? We are both so young, sir,—’

‘You are right,’ interrupted Mr. Spenlow, nodding his head a great many times, and frowning very much, ‘you are both very young. It’s all nonsense. Let there be an end of the nonsense. Take away those letters, and throw them in the fire. Give me Miss Spenlow’s letters to throw in the fire; and although our future intercourse must, you are aware, be restricted to the Commons here, we will agree to make no further mention of the past. Come, Mr. Copperfield, you don’t want sense; and this is the sensible course.’

No. I couldn’t think of agreeing to it. I was very sorry, but there was a higher consideration than sense. Love was above all earthly considerations, and I loved Dora to idolatry, and Dora loved me. I didn’t exactly say so; I softened it down as much as I could; but I implied it, and I was resolute upon it. I don’t think I made myself very ridiculous, but I know I was resolute.

‘Very well, Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mr. Spenlow, ‘I must try my influence with my daughter.’

Miss Murdstone, by an expressive sound, a long drawn respiration, which was neither a sigh nor a moan, but was like both, gave it as her opinion that he should have done this at first.

‘I must try,’ said Mr. Spenlow, confirmed by this support, ‘my influence with my daughter. Do you decline to take those letters, Mr. Copperfield?’ For I had laid them on the table.

Yes. I told him I hoped he would not think it wrong, but I couldn’t possibly take them from Miss Murdstone.

‘Nor from me?’ said Mr. Spenlow.

No, I replied with the profoundest respect; nor from him.

‘Very well!’ said Mr. Spenlow.

A silence succeeding, I was undecided whether to go or stay. At length I was moving quietly towards the door, with the intention of saying that perhaps I should consult his feelings best by withdrawing: when he said, with his hands in his coat pockets, into which it was as much as he could do to get them; and with what I should call, upon the whole, a decidedly pious air:

‘You are probably aware, Mr. Copperfield, that I am not altogether destitute of worldly possessions, and that my daughter is my nearest and dearest relative?’

I hurriedly made him a reply to the effect, that I hoped the error into which I had been betrayed by the desperate nature of my love, did not induce him to think me mercenary too?

‘I don’t allude to the matter in that light,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘It would be better for yourself, and all of us, if you WERE mercenary, Mr. Copperfield—I mean, if you were more discreet and less influenced by all this youthful nonsense. No. I merely say, with quite another view, you are probably aware I have some property to bequeath to my child?’

I certainly supposed so.

‘And you can hardly think,’ said Mr. Spenlow, ‘having experience of what we see, in the Commons here, every day, of the various unaccountable and negligent proceedings of men, in respect of their testamentary arrangements—of all subjects, the one on which perhaps the strangest revelations of human inconsistency are to be met with—but that mine are made?’

I inclined my head in acquiescence.

‘I should not allow,’ said Mr. Spenlow, with an evident increase of pious sentiment, and slowly shaking his head as he poised himself upon his toes and heels alternately, ‘my suitable provision for my child to be influenced by a piece of youthful folly like the present. It is mere folly. Mere nonsense. In a little while, it will weigh lighter than any feather. But I might—I might—if this silly business were not completely relinquished altogether, be induced in some anxious moment to guard her from, and surround her with protections against, the consequences of any foolish step in the way of marriage. Now, Mr. Copperfield, I hope that you will not render it necessary for me to open, even for a quarter of an hour, that closed page in the book of life, and unsettle, even for a quarter of an hour, grave affairs long since composed.’

There was a serenity, a tranquillity, a calm sunset air about him, which quite affected me. He was so peaceful and resigned—clearly had his affairs in such perfect train, and so systematically wound up—that he was a man to feel touched in the contemplation of. I really think I saw tears rise to his eyes, from the depth of his own feeling of all this.

But what could I do? I could not deny Dora and my own heart. When he told me I had better take a week to consider of what he had said, how could I say I wouldn’t take a week, yet how could I fail to know that no amount of weeks could influence such love as mine?

‘In the meantime, confer with Miss Trotwood, or with any person with any knowledge of life,’ said Mr. Spenlow, adjusting his cravat with both hands. ‘Take a week, Mr. Copperfield.’

I submitted; and, with a countenance as expressive as I was able to make it of dejected and despairing constancy, came out of the room. Miss Murdstone’s heavy eyebrows followed me to the door—I say her eyebrows rather than her eyes, because they were much more important in her face—and she looked so exactly as she used to look, at about that hour of the morning, in our parlour at Blunderstone, that I could have fancied I had been breaking down in my lessons again, and that the dead weight on my mind was that horrible old spelling-book, with oval woodcuts, shaped, to my youthful fancy, like the glasses out of spectacles.

When I got to the office, and, shutting out old Tiffey and the rest of them with my hands, sat at my desk, in my own particular nook, thinking of this earthquake that had taken place so unexpectedly, and in the bitterness of my spirit cursing Jip, I fell into such a state of torment about Dora, that I wonder I did not take up my hat and rush insanely to Norwood. The idea of their frightening her, and making her cry, and of my not being there to comfort her, was so excruciating, that it impelled me to write a wild letter to Mr. Spenlow, beseeching him not to visit upon her the consequences of my awful destiny. I implored him to spare her gentle nature—not to crush a fragile flower—and addressed him generally, to the best of my remembrance, as if, instead of being her father, he had been an Ogre, or the Dragon of Wantley. This letter I sealed and laid upon his desk before he returned; and when he came in, I saw him, through the half-opened door of his room, take it up and read it.

He said nothing about it all the morning; but before he went away in the afternoon he called me in, and told me that I need not make myself at all uneasy about his daughter’s happiness. He had assured her, he said, that it was all nonsense; and he had nothing more to say to her. He believed he was an indulgent father (as indeed he was), and I might spare myself any solicitude on her account.

‘You may make it necessary, if you are foolish or obstinate, Mr. Copperfield,’ he observed, ‘for me to send my daughter abroad again, for a term; but I have a better opinion of you. I hope you will be wiser than that, in a few days. As to Miss Murdstone,’ for I had alluded to her in the letter, ‘I respect that lady’s vigilance, and feel obliged to her; but she has strict charge to avoid the subject. All I desire, Mr. Copperfield, is, that it should be forgotten. All you have got to do, Mr. Copperfield, is to forget it.’

All! In the note I wrote to Miss Mills, I bitterly quoted this sentiment. All I had to do, I said, with gloomy sarcasm, was to forget Dora. That was all, and what was that! I entreated Miss Mills to see me, that evening. If it could not be done with Mr. Mills’s sanction and concurrence, I besought a clandestine interview in the back kitchen where the Mangle was. I informed her that my reason was tottering on its throne, and only she, Miss Mills, could prevent its being deposed. I signed myself, hers distractedly; and I couldn’t help feeling, while I read this composition over, before sending it by a porter, that it was something in the style of Mr. Micawber.

However, I sent it. At night I repaired to Miss Mills’s street, and walked up and down, until I was stealthily fetched in by Miss Mills’s maid, and taken the area way to the back kitchen. I have since seen reason to believe that there was nothing on earth to prevent my going in at the front door, and being shown up into the drawing-room, except Miss Mills’s love of the romantic and mysterious.

In the back kitchen, I raved as became me. I went there, I suppose, to make a fool of myself, and I am quite sure I did it. Miss Mills had received a hasty note from Dora, telling her that all was discovered, and saying. ‘Oh pray come to me, Julia, do, do!’ But Miss Mills, mistrusting the acceptability of her presence to the higher powers, had not yet gone; and we were all benighted in the Desert of Sahara.

Miss Mills had a wonderful flow of words, and liked to pour them out. I could not help feeling, though she mingled her tears with mine, that she had a dreadful luxury in our afflictions. She petted them, as I may say, and made the most of them. A deep gulf, she observed, had opened between Dora and me, and Love could only span it with its rainbow. Love must suffer in this stern world; it ever had been so, it ever would be so. No matter, Miss Mills remarked. Hearts confined by cobwebs would burst at last, and then Love was avenged.

This was small consolation, but Miss Mills wouldn’t encourage fallacious hopes. She made me much more wretched than I was before, and I felt (and told her with the deepest gratitude) that she was indeed a friend. We resolved that she should go to Dora the first thing in the morning, and find some means of assuring her, either by looks or words, of my devotion and misery. We parted, overwhelmed with grief; and I think Miss Mills enjoyed herself completely.

I confided all to my aunt when I got home; and in spite of all she could say to me, went to bed despairing. I got up despairing, and went out despairing. It was Saturday morning, and I went straight to the Commons.

I was surprised, when I came within sight of our office-door, to see the ticket-porters standing outside talking together, and some half-dozen stragglers gazing at the windows which were shut up. I quickened my pace, and, passing among them, wondering at their looks, went hurriedly in.

The clerks were there, but nobody was doing anything. Old Tiffey, for the first time in his life I should think, was sitting on somebody else’s stool, and had not hung up his hat.

‘This is a dreadful calamity, Mr. Copperfield,’ said he, as I entered.

‘What is?’ I exclaimed. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Don’t you know?’ cried Tiffey, and all the rest of them, coming round me.

‘No!’ said I, looking from face to face.

‘Mr. Spenlow,’ said Tiffey.

‘What about him!’

‘Dead!’ I thought it was the office reeling, and not I, as one of the clerks caught hold of me. They sat me down in a chair, untied my neck-cloth, and brought me some water. I have no idea whether this took any time.

‘Dead?’ said I.

‘He dined in town yesterday, and drove down in the phaeton by himself,’ said Tiffey, ‘having sent his own groom home by the coach, as he sometimes did, you know—’

‘Well?’

‘The phaeton went home without him. The horses stopped at the stable-gate. The man went out with a lantern. Nobody in the carriage.’

‘Had they run away?’

‘They were not hot,’ said Tiffey, putting on his glasses; ‘no hotter, I understand, than they would have been, going down at the usual pace. The reins were broken, but they had been dragging on the ground. The house was roused up directly, and three of them went out along the road. They found him a mile off.’

‘More than a mile off, Mr. Tiffey,’ interposed a junior.

‘Was it? I believe you are right,’ said Tiffey,—‘more than a mile off—not far from the church—lying partly on the roadside, and partly on the path, upon his face. Whether he fell out in a fit, or got out, feeling ill before the fit came on—or even whether he was quite dead then, though there is no doubt he was quite insensible—no one appears to know. If he breathed, certainly he never spoke. Medical assistance was got as soon as possible, but it was quite useless.’

I cannot describe the state of mind into which I was thrown by this intelligence. The shock of such an event happening so suddenly, and happening to one with whom I had been in any respect at variance—the appalling vacancy in the room he had occupied so lately, where his chair and table seemed to wait for him, and his handwriting of yesterday was like a ghost—the indefinable impossibility of separating him from the place, and feeling, when the door opened, as if he might come in—the lazy hush and rest there was in the office, and the insatiable relish with which our people talked about it, and other people came in and out all day, and gorged themselves with the subject—this is easily intelligible to anyone. What I cannot describe is, how, in the innermost recesses of my own heart, I had a lurking jealousy even of Death. How I felt as if its might would push me from my ground in Dora’s thoughts. How I was, in a grudging way I have no words for, envious of her grief. How it made me restless to think of her weeping to others, or being consoled by others. How I had a grasping, avaricious wish to shut out everybody from her but myself, and to be all in all to her, at that unseasonable time of all times.

In the trouble of this state of mind—not exclusively my own, I hope, but known to others—I went down to Norwood that night; and finding from one of the servants, when I made my inquiries at the door, that Miss Mills was there, got my aunt to direct a letter to her, which I wrote. I deplored the untimely death of Mr. Spenlow, most sincerely, and shed tears in doing so. I entreated her to tell Dora, if Dora were in a state to hear it, that he had spoken to me with the utmost kindness and consideration; and had coupled nothing but tenderness, not a single or reproachful word, with her name. I know I did this selfishly, to have my name brought before her; but I tried to believe it was an act of justice to his memory. Perhaps I did believe it.

My aunt received a few lines next day in reply; addressed, outside, to her; within, to me. Dora was overcome by grief; and when her friend had asked her should she send her love to me, had only cried, as she was always crying, ‘Oh, dear papa! oh, poor papa!’ But she had not said No, and that I made the most of.

Mr. Jorkins, who had been at Norwood since the occurrence, came to the office a few days afterwards. He and Tiffey were closeted together for some few moments, and then Tiffey looked out at the door and beckoned me in.

‘Oh!’ said Mr. Jorkins. ‘Mr. Tiffey and myself, Mr. Copperfield, are about to examine the desks, the drawers, and other such repositories of the deceased, with the view of sealing up his private papers, and searching for a Will. There is no trace of any, elsewhere. It may be as well for you to assist us, if you please.’

I had been in agony to obtain some knowledge of the circumstances in which my Dora would be placed—as, in whose guardianship, and so forth—and this was something towards it. We began the search at once; Mr. Jorkins unlocking the drawers and desks, and we all taking out the papers. The office-papers we placed on one side, and the private papers (which were not numerous) on the other. We were very grave; and when we came to a stray seal, or pencil-case, or ring, or any little article of that kind which we associated personally with him, we spoke very low.

We had sealed up several packets; and were still going on dustily and quietly, when Mr. Jorkins said to us, applying exactly the same words to his late partner as his late partner had applied to him:

‘Mr. Spenlow was very difficult to move from the beaten track. You know what he was! I am disposed to think he had made no will.’

‘Oh, I know he had!’ said I.

They both stopped and looked at me. ‘On the very day when I last saw him,’ said I, ‘he told me that he had, and that his affairs were long since settled.’

Mr. Jorkins and old Tiffey shook their heads with one accord.

‘That looks unpromising,’ said Tiffey.

‘Very unpromising,’ said Mr. Jorkins.

‘Surely you don’t doubt—’ I began.

‘My good Mr. Copperfield!’ said Tiffey, laying his hand upon my arm, and shutting up both his eyes as he shook his head: ‘if you had been in the Commons as long as I have, you would know that there is no subject on which men are so inconsistent, and so little to be trusted.’

‘Why, bless my soul, he made that very remark!’ I replied persistently.

‘I should call that almost final,’ observed Tiffey. ‘My opinion is—no will.’

It appeared a wonderful thing to me, but it turned out that there was no will. He had never so much as thought of making one, so far as his papers afforded any evidence; for there was no kind of hint, sketch, or memorandum, of any testamentary intention whatever. What was scarcely less astonishing to me, was, that his affairs were in a most disordered state. It was extremely difficult, I heard, to make out what he owed, or what he had paid, or of what he died possessed. It was considered likely that for years he could have had no clear opinion on these subjects himself. By little and little it came out, that, in the competition on all points of appearance and gentility then running high in the Commons, he had spent more than his professional income, which was not a very large one, and had reduced his private means, if they ever had been great (which was exceedingly doubtful), to a very low ebb indeed. There was a sale of the furniture and lease, at Norwood; and Tiffey told me, little thinking how interested I was in the story, that, paying all the just debts of the deceased, and deducting his share of outstanding bad and doubtful debts due to the firm, he wouldn’t give a thousand pounds for all the assets remaining.

This was at the expiration of about six weeks. I had suffered tortures all the time; and thought I really must have laid violent hands upon myself, when Miss Mills still reported to me, that my broken-hearted little Dora would say nothing, when I was mentioned, but ‘Oh, poor papa! Oh, dear papa!’ Also, that she had no other relations than two aunts, maiden sisters of Mr. Spenlow, who lived at Putney, and who had not held any other than chance communication with their brother for many years. Not that they had ever quarrelled (Miss Mills informed me); but that having been, on the occasion of Dora’s christening, invited to tea, when they considered themselves privileged to be invited to dinner, they had expressed their opinion in writing, that it was ‘better for the happiness of all parties’ that they should stay away. Since which they had gone their road, and their brother had gone his.

These two ladies now emerged from their retirement, and proposed to take Dora to live at Putney. Dora, clinging to them both, and weeping, exclaimed, ‘O yes, aunts! Please take Julia Mills and me and Jip to Putney!’ So they went, very soon after the funeral.

How I found time to haunt Putney, I am sure I don’t know; but I contrived, by some means or other, to prowl about the neighbourhood pretty often. Miss Mills, for the more exact discharge of the duties of friendship, kept a journal; and she used to meet me sometimes, on the Common, and read it, or (if she had not time to do that) lend it to me. How I treasured up the entries, of which I subjoin a sample—!

‘Monday. My sweet D. still much depressed. Headache. Called attention to J. as being beautifully sleek. D. fondled J. Associations thus awakened, opened floodgates of sorrow. Rush of grief admitted. (Are tears the dewdrops of the heart? J. M.)

‘Tuesday. D. weak and nervous. Beautiful in pallor. (Do we not remark this in moon likewise? J. M.) D., J. M. and J. took airing in carriage. J. looking out of window, and barking violently at dustman, occasioned smile to overspread features of D. (Of such slight links is chain of life composed! J. M.)

‘Wednesday. D. comparatively cheerful. Sang to her, as congenial melody, “Evening Bells”. Effect not soothing, but reverse. D. inexpressibly affected. Found sobbing afterwards, in own room. Quoted verses respecting self and young Gazelle. Ineffectually. Also referred to Patience on Monument. (Qy. Why on monument? J. M.)

‘Thursday. D. certainly improved. Better night. Slight tinge of damask revisiting cheek. Resolved to mention name of D. C. Introduced same, cautiously, in course of airing. D. immediately overcome. “Oh, dear, dear Julia! Oh, I have been a naughty and undutiful child!” Soothed and caressed. Drew ideal picture of D. C. on verge of tomb. D. again overcome. “Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do? Oh, take me somewhere!” Much alarmed. Fainting of D. and glass of water from public-house. (Poetical affinity. Chequered sign on door-post; chequered human life. Alas! J. M.)

‘Friday. Day of incident. Man appears in kitchen, with blue bag, “for lady’s boots left out to heel”. Cook replies, “No such orders.” Man argues point. Cook withdraws to inquire, leaving man alone with J. On Cook’s return, man still argues point, but ultimately goes. J. missing. D. distracted. Information sent to police. Man to be identified by broad nose, and legs like balustrades of bridge. Search made in every direction. No J. D. weeping bitterly, and inconsolable. Renewed reference to young Gazelle. Appropriate, but unavailing. Towards evening, strange boy calls. Brought into parlour. Broad nose, but no balustrades. Says he wants a pound, and knows a dog. Declines to explain further, though much pressed. Pound being produced by D. takes Cook to little house, where J. alone tied up to leg of table. Joy of D. who dances round J. while he eats his supper. Emboldened by this happy change, mention D. C. upstairs. D. weeps afresh, cries piteously, “Oh, don’t, don’t, don’t! It is so wicked to think of anything but poor papa!”—embraces J. and sobs herself to sleep. (Must not D. C. confine himself to the broad pinions of Time? J. M.)’

Miss Mills and her journal were my sole consolation at this period. To see her, who had seen Dora but a little while before—to trace the initial letter of Dora’s name through her sympathetic pages—to be made more and more miserable by her—were my only comforts. I felt as if I had been living in a palace of cards, which had tumbled down, leaving only Miss Mills and me among the ruins; I felt as if some grim enchanter had drawn a magic circle round the innocent goddess of my heart, which nothing indeed but those same strong pinions, capable of carrying so many people over so much, would enable me to enter!






CHAPTER 39. WICKFIELD AND HEEP

My aunt, beginning, I imagine, to be made seriously uncomfortable by my prolonged dejection, made a pretence of being anxious that I should go to Dover, to see that all was working well at the cottage, which was let; and to conclude an agreement, with the same tenant, for a longer term of occupation. Janet was drafted into the service of Mrs. Strong, where I saw her every day. She had been undecided, on leaving Dover, whether or not to give the finishing touch to that renunciation of mankind in which she had been educated, by marrying a pilot; but she decided against that venture. Not so much for the sake of principle, I believe, as because she happened not to like him.

Although it required an effort to leave Miss Mills, I fell rather willingly into my aunt’s pretence, as a means of enabling me to pass a few tranquil hours with Agnes. I consulted the good Doctor relative to an absence of three days; and the Doctor wishing me to take that relaxation,—he wished me to take more; but my energy could not bear that,—I made up my mind to go.

As to the Commons, I had no great occasion to be particular about my duties in that quarter. To say the truth, we were getting in no very good odour among the tip-top proctors, and were rapidly sliding down to but a doubtful position. The business had been indifferent under Mr. Jorkins, before Mr. Spenlow’s time; and although it had been quickened by the infusion of new blood, and by the display which Mr. Spenlow made, still it was not established on a sufficiently strong basis to bear, without being shaken, such a blow as the sudden loss of its active manager. It fell off very much. Mr. Jorkins, notwithstanding his reputation in the firm, was an easy-going, incapable sort of man, whose reputation out of doors was not calculated to back it up. I was turned over to him now, and when I saw him take his snuff and let the business go, I regretted my aunt’s thousand pounds more than ever.

But this was not the worst of it. There were a number of hangers-on and outsiders about the Commons, who, without being proctors themselves, dabbled in common-form business, and got it done by real proctors, who lent their names in consideration of a share in the spoil;—and there were a good many of these too. As our house now wanted business on any terms, we joined this noble band; and threw out lures to the hangers-on and outsiders, to bring their business to us. Marriage licences and small probates were what we all looked for, and what paid us best; and the competition for these ran very high indeed. Kidnappers and inveiglers were planted in all the avenues of entrance to the Commons, with instructions to do their utmost to cut off all persons in mourning, and all gentlemen with anything bashful in their appearance, and entice them to the offices in which their respective employers were interested; which instructions were so well observed, that I myself, before I was known by sight, was twice hustled into the premises of our principal opponent. The conflicting interests of these touting gentlemen being of a nature to irritate their feelings, personal collisions took place; and the Commons was even scandalized by our principal inveigler (who had formerly been in the wine trade, and afterwards in the sworn brokery line) walking about for some days with a black eye. Any one of these scouts used to think nothing of politely assisting an old lady in black out of a vehicle, killing any proctor whom she inquired for, representing his employer as the lawful successor and representative of that proctor, and bearing the old lady off (sometimes greatly affected) to his employer’s office. Many captives were brought to me in this way. As to marriage licences, the competition rose to such a pitch, that a shy gentleman in want of one, had nothing to do but submit himself to the first inveigler, or be fought for, and become the prey of the strongest. One of our clerks, who was an outsider, used, in the height of this contest, to sit with his hat on, that he might be ready to rush out and swear before a surrogate any victim who was brought in. The system of inveigling continues, I believe, to this day. The last time I was in the Commons, a civil able-bodied person in a white apron pounced out upon me from a doorway, and whispering the word ‘Marriage-licence’ in my ear, was with great difficulty prevented from taking me up in his arms and lifting me into a proctor’s. From this digression, let me proceed to Dover.

I found everything in a satisfactory state at the cottage; and was enabled to gratify my aunt exceedingly by reporting that the tenant inherited her feud, and waged incessant war against donkeys. Having settled the little business I had to transact there, and slept there one night, I walked on to Canterbury early in the morning. It was now winter again; and the fresh, cold windy day, and the sweeping downland, brightened up my hopes a little.

Coming into Canterbury, I loitered through the old streets with a sober pleasure that calmed my spirits, and eased my heart. There were the old signs, the old names over the shops, the old people serving in them. It appeared so long, since I had been a schoolboy there, that I wondered the place was so little changed, until I reflected how little I was changed myself. Strange to say, that quiet influence which was inseparable in my mind from Agnes, seemed to pervade even the city where she dwelt. The venerable cathedral towers, and the old jackdaws and rooks whose airy voices made them more retired than perfect silence would have done; the battered gateways, one stuck full with statues, long thrown down, and crumbled away, like the reverential pilgrims who had gazed upon them; the still nooks, where the ivied growth of centuries crept over gabled ends and ruined walls; the ancient houses, the pastoral landscape of field, orchard, and garden; everywhere—on everything—I felt the same serener air, the same calm, thoughtful, softening spirit.

Arrived at Mr. Wickfield’s house, I found, in the little lower room on the ground floor, where Uriah Heep had been of old accustomed to sit, Mr. Micawber plying his pen with great assiduity. He was dressed in a legal-looking suit of black, and loomed, burly and large, in that small office.

Mr. Micawber was extremely glad to see me, but a little confused too. He would have conducted me immediately into the presence of Uriah, but I declined.

‘I know the house of old, you recollect,’ said I, ‘and will find my way upstairs. How do you like the law, Mr. Micawber?’

‘My dear Copperfield,’ he replied. ‘To a man possessed of the higher imaginative powers, the objection to legal studies is the amount of detail which they involve. Even in our professional correspondence,’ said Mr. Micawber, glancing at some letters he was writing, ‘the mind is not at liberty to soar to any exalted form of expression. Still, it is a great pursuit. A great pursuit!’

He then told me that he had become the tenant of Uriah Heep’s old house; and that Mrs. Micawber would be delighted to receive me, once more, under her own roof.

‘It is humble,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘—to quote a favourite expression of my friend Heep; but it may prove the stepping-stone to more ambitious domiciliary accommodation.’

I asked him whether he had reason, so far, to be satisfied with his friend Heep’s treatment of him? He got up to ascertain if the door were close shut, before he replied, in a lower voice:

‘My dear Copperfield, a man who labours under the pressure of pecuniary embarrassments, is, with the generality of people, at a disadvantage. That disadvantage is not diminished, when that pressure necessitates the drawing of stipendiary emoluments, before those emoluments are strictly due and payable. All I can say is, that my friend Heep has responded to appeals to which I need not more particularly refer, in a manner calculated to redound equally to the honour of his head, and of his heart.’

‘I should not have supposed him to be very free with his money either,’ I observed.

‘Pardon me!’ said Mr. Micawber, with an air of constraint, ‘I speak of my friend Heep as I have experience.’

‘I am glad your experience is so favourable,’ I returned.

‘You are very obliging, my dear Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber; and hummed a tune.

‘Do you see much of Mr. Wickfield?’ I asked, to change the subject.

‘Not much,’ said Mr. Micawber, slightingly. ‘Mr. Wickfield is, I dare say, a man of very excellent intentions; but he is—in short, he is obsolete.’

‘I am afraid his partner seeks to make him so,’ said I.

‘My dear Copperfield!’ returned Mr. Micawber, after some uneasy evolutions on his stool, ‘allow me to offer a remark! I am here, in a capacity of confidence. I am here, in a position of trust. The discussion of some topics, even with Mrs. Micawber herself (so long the partner of my various vicissitudes, and a woman of a remarkable lucidity of intellect), is, I am led to consider, incompatible with the functions now devolving on me. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that in our friendly intercourse—which I trust will never be disturbed!—we draw a line. On one side of this line,’ said Mr. Micawber, representing it on the desk with the office ruler, ‘is the whole range of the human intellect, with a trifling exception; on the other, IS that exception; that is to say, the affairs of Messrs Wickfield and Heep, with all belonging and appertaining thereunto. I trust I give no offence to the companion of my youth, in submitting this proposition to his cooler judgement?’

Though I saw an uneasy change in Mr. Micawber, which sat tightly on him, as if his new duties were a misfit, I felt I had no right to be offended. My telling him so, appeared to relieve him; and he shook hands with me.

‘I am charmed, Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘let me assure you, with Miss Wickfield. She is a very superior young lady, of very remarkable attractions, graces, and virtues. Upon my honour,’ said Mr. Micawber, indefinitely kissing his hand and bowing with his genteelest air, ‘I do Homage to Miss Wickfield! Hem!’ ‘I am glad of that, at least,’ said I.

‘If you had not assured us, my dear Copperfield, on the occasion of that agreeable afternoon we had the happiness of passing with you, that D. was your favourite letter,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘I should unquestionably have supposed that A. had been so.’

We have all some experience of a feeling, that comes over us occasionally, of what we are saying and doing having been said and done before, in a remote time—of our having been surrounded, dim ages ago, by the same faces, objects, and circumstances—of our knowing perfectly what will be said next, as if we suddenly remembered it! I never had this mysterious impression more strongly in my life, than before he uttered those words.

I took my leave of Mr. Micawber, for the time, charging him with my best remembrances to all at home. As I left him, resuming his stool and his pen, and rolling his head in his stock, to get it into easier writing order, I clearly perceived that there was something interposed between him and me, since he had come into his new functions, which prevented our getting at each other as we used to do, and quite altered the character of our intercourse.

There was no one in the quaint old drawing-room, though it presented tokens of Mrs. Heep’s whereabouts. I looked into the room still belonging to Agnes, and saw her sitting by the fire, at a pretty old-fashioned desk she had, writing.

My darkening the light made her look up. What a pleasure to be the cause of that bright change in her attentive face, and the object of that sweet regard and welcome!

‘Ah, Agnes!’ said I, when we were sitting together, side by side; ‘I have missed you so much, lately!’

‘Indeed?’ she replied. ‘Again! And so soon?’

I shook my head.

‘I don’t know how it is, Agnes; I seem to want some faculty of mind that I ought to have. You were so much in the habit of thinking for me, in the happy old days here, and I came so naturally to you for counsel and support, that I really think I have missed acquiring it.’

‘And what is it?’ said Agnes, cheerfully.

‘I don’t know what to call it,’ I replied. ‘I think I am earnest and persevering?’

‘I am sure of it,’ said Agnes.

‘And patient, Agnes?’ I inquired, with a little hesitation.

‘Yes,’ returned Agnes, laughing. ‘Pretty well.’

‘And yet,’ said I, ‘I get so miserable and worried, and am so unsteady and irresolute in my power of assuring myself, that I know I must want—shall I call it—reliance, of some kind?’

‘Call it so, if you will,’ said Agnes.

‘Well!’ I returned. ‘See here! You come to London, I rely on you, and I have an object and a course at once. I am driven out of it, I come here, and in a moment I feel an altered person. The circumstances that distressed me are not changed, since I came into this room; but an influence comes over me in that short interval that alters me, oh, how much for the better! What is it? What is your secret, Agnes?’

Her head was bent down, looking at the fire.

‘It’s the old story,’ said I. ‘Don’t laugh, when I say it was always the same in little things as it is in greater ones. My old troubles were nonsense, and now they are serious; but whenever I have gone away from my adopted sister—’

Agnes looked up—with such a Heavenly face!—and gave me her hand, which I kissed.

‘Whenever I have not had you, Agnes, to advise and approve in the beginning, I have seemed to go wild, and to get into all sorts of difficulty. When I have come to you, at last (as I have always done), I have come to peace and happiness. I come home, now, like a tired traveller, and find such a blessed sense of rest!’

I felt so deeply what I said, it affected me so sincerely, that my voice failed, and I covered my face with my hand, and broke into tears. I write the truth. Whatever contradictions and inconsistencies there were within me, as there are within so many of us; whatever might have been so different, and so much better; whatever I had done, in which I had perversely wandered away from the voice of my own heart; I knew nothing of. I only knew that I was fervently in earnest, when I felt the rest and peace of having Agnes near me.

In her placid sisterly manner; with her beaming eyes; with her tender voice; and with that sweet composure, which had long ago made the house that held her quite a sacred place to me; she soon won me from this weakness, and led me on to tell all that had happened since our last meeting.

‘And there is not another word to tell, Agnes,’ said I, when I had made an end of my confidence. ‘Now, my reliance is on you.’

‘But it must not be on me, Trotwood,’ returned Agnes, with a pleasant smile. ‘It must be on someone else.’

‘On Dora?’ said I.

‘Assuredly.’

‘Why, I have not mentioned, Agnes,’ said I, a little embarrassed, ‘that Dora is rather difficult to—I would not, for the world, say, to rely upon, because she is the soul of purity and truth—but rather difficult to—I hardly know how to express it, really, Agnes. She is a timid little thing, and easily disturbed and frightened. Some time ago, before her father’s death, when I thought it right to mention to her—but I’ll tell you, if you will bear with me, how it was.’

Accordingly, I told Agnes about my declaration of poverty, about the cookery-book, the housekeeping accounts, and all the rest of it.

‘Oh, Trotwood!’ she remonstrated, with a smile. ‘Just your old headlong way! You might have been in earnest in striving to get on in the world, without being so very sudden with a timid, loving, inexperienced girl. Poor Dora!’

I never heard such sweet forbearing kindness expressed in a voice, as she expressed in making this reply. It was as if I had seen her admiringly and tenderly embracing Dora, and tacitly reproving me, by her considerate protection, for my hot haste in fluttering that little heart. It was as if I had seen Dora, in all her fascinating artlessness, caressing Agnes, and thanking her, and coaxingly appealing against me, and loving me with all her childish innocence.

I felt so grateful to Agnes, and admired her so! I saw those two together, in a bright perspective, such well-associated friends, each adorning the other so much!

‘What ought I to do then, Agnes?’ I inquired, after looking at the fire a little while. ‘What would it be right to do?’

‘I think,’ said Agnes, ‘that the honourable course to take, would be to write to those two ladies. Don’t you think that any secret course is an unworthy one?’

‘Yes. If YOU think so,’ said I.

‘I am poorly qualified to judge of such matters,’ replied Agnes, with a modest hesitation, ‘but I certainly feel—in short, I feel that your being secret and clandestine, is not being like yourself.’

‘Like myself, in the too high opinion you have of me, Agnes, I am afraid,’ said I.

‘Like yourself, in the candour of your nature,’ she returned; ‘and therefore I would write to those two ladies. I would relate, as plainly and as openly as possible, all that has taken place; and I would ask their permission to visit sometimes, at their house. Considering that you are young, and striving for a place in life, I think it would be well to say that you would readily abide by any conditions they might impose upon you. I would entreat them not to dismiss your request, without a reference to Dora; and to discuss it with her when they should think the time suitable. I would not be too vehement,’ said Agnes, gently, ‘or propose too much. I would trust to my fidelity and perseverance—and to Dora.’

‘But if they were to frighten Dora again, Agnes, by speaking to her,’ said I. ‘And if Dora were to cry, and say nothing about me!’

‘Is that likely?’ inquired Agnes, with the same sweet consideration in her face.

‘God bless her, she is as easily scared as a bird,’ said I. ‘It might be! Or if the two Miss Spenlows (elderly ladies of that sort are odd characters sometimes) should not be likely persons to address in that way!’

‘I don’t think, Trotwood,’ returned Agnes, raising her soft eyes to mine, ‘I would consider that. Perhaps it would be better only to consider whether it is right to do this; and, if it is, to do it.’

I had no longer any doubt on the subject. With a lightened heart, though with a profound sense of the weighty importance of my task, I devoted the whole afternoon to the composition of the draft of this letter; for which great purpose, Agnes relinquished her desk to me. But first I went downstairs to see Mr. Wickfield and Uriah Heep.

I found Uriah in possession of a new, plaster-smelling office, built out in the garden; looking extraordinarily mean, in the midst of a quantity of books and papers. He received me in his usual fawning way, and pretended not to have heard of my arrival from Mr. Micawber; a pretence I took the liberty of disbelieving. He accompanied me into Mr. Wickfield’s room, which was the shadow of its former self—having been divested of a variety of conveniences, for the accommodation of the new partner—and stood before the fire, warming his back, and shaving his chin with his bony hand, while Mr. Wickfield and I exchanged greetings.

‘You stay with us, Trotwood, while you remain in Canterbury?’ said Mr. Wickfield, not without a glance at Uriah for his approval.

‘Is there room for me?’ said I.

‘I am sure, Master Copperfield—I should say Mister, but the other comes so natural,’ said Uriah,—‘I would turn out of your old room with pleasure, if it would be agreeable.’

‘No, no,’ said Mr. Wickfield. ‘Why should you be inconvenienced? There’s another room. There’s another room.’ ‘Oh, but you know,’ returned Uriah, with a grin, ‘I should really be delighted!’

To cut the matter short, I said I would have the other room or none at all; so it was settled that I should have the other room; and, taking my leave of the firm until dinner, I went upstairs again.

I had hoped to have no other companion than Agnes. But Mrs. Heep had asked permission to bring herself and her knitting near the fire, in that room; on pretence of its having an aspect more favourable for her rheumatics, as the wind then was, than the drawing-room or dining-parlour. Though I could almost have consigned her to the mercies of the wind on the topmost pinnacle of the Cathedral, without remorse, I made a virtue of necessity, and gave her a friendly salutation.

‘I’m umbly thankful to you, sir,’ said Mrs. Heep, in acknowledgement of my inquiries concerning her health, ‘but I’m only pretty well. I haven’t much to boast of. If I could see my Uriah well settled in life, I couldn’t expect much more I think. How do you think my Ury looking, sir?’

I thought him looking as villainous as ever, and I replied that I saw no change in him.

‘Oh, don’t you think he’s changed?’ said Mrs. Heep. ‘There I must umbly beg leave to differ from you. Don’t you see a thinness in him?’

‘Not more than usual,’ I replied.

‘Don’t you though!’ said Mrs. Heep. ‘But you don’t take notice of him with a mother’s eye!’

His mother’s eye was an evil eye to the rest of the world, I thought as it met mine, howsoever affectionate to him; and I believe she and her son were devoted to one another. It passed me, and went on to Agnes.

‘Don’t YOU see a wasting and a wearing in him, Miss Wickfield?’ inquired Mrs. Heep.

‘No,’ said Agnes, quietly pursuing the work on which she was engaged. ‘You are too solicitous about him. He is very well.’

Mrs. Heep, with a prodigious sniff, resumed her knitting.

She never left off, or left us for a moment. I had arrived early in the day, and we had still three or four hours before dinner; but she sat there, plying her knitting-needles as monotonously as an hour-glass might have poured out its sands. She sat on one side of the fire; I sat at the desk in front of it; a little beyond me, on the other side, sat Agnes. Whensoever, slowly pondering over my letter, I lifted up my eyes, and meeting the thoughtful face of Agnes, saw it clear, and beam encouragement upon me, with its own angelic expression, I was conscious presently of the evil eye passing me, and going on to her, and coming back to me again, and dropping furtively upon the knitting. What the knitting was, I don’t know, not being learned in that art; but it looked like a net; and as she worked away with those Chinese chopsticks of knitting-needles, she showed in the firelight like an ill-looking enchantress, baulked as yet by the radiant goodness opposite, but getting ready for a cast of her net by and by.

At dinner she maintained her watch, with the same unwinking eyes. After dinner, her son took his turn; and when Mr. Wickfield, himself, and I were left alone together, leered at me, and writhed until I could hardly bear it. In the drawing-room, there was the mother knitting and watching again. All the time that Agnes sang and played, the mother sat at the piano. Once she asked for a particular ballad, which she said her Ury (who was yawning in a great chair) doted on; and at intervals she looked round at him, and reported to Agnes that he was in raptures with the music. But she hardly ever spoke—I question if she ever did—without making some mention of him. It was evident to me that this was the duty assigned to her.

This lasted until bedtime. To have seen the mother and son, like two great bats hanging over the whole house, and darkening it with their ugly forms, made me so uncomfortable, that I would rather have remained downstairs, knitting and all, than gone to bed. I hardly got any sleep. Next day the knitting and watching began again, and lasted all day.

I had not an opportunity of speaking to Agnes, for ten minutes. I could barely show her my letter. I proposed to her to walk out with me; but Mrs. Heep repeatedly complaining that she was worse, Agnes charitably remained within, to bear her company. Towards the twilight I went out by myself, musing on what I ought to do, and whether I was justified in withholding from Agnes, any longer, what Uriah Heep had told me in London; for that began to trouble me again, very much.

I had not walked out far enough to be quite clear of the town, upon the Ramsgate road, where there was a good path, when I was hailed, through the dust, by somebody behind me. The shambling figure, and the scanty great-coat, were not to be mistaken. I stopped, and Uriah Heep came up.

‘Well?’ said I.

‘How fast you walk!’ said he. ‘My legs are pretty long, but you’ve given ‘em quite a job.’

‘Where are you going?’ said I.

‘I am going with you, Master Copperfield, if you’ll allow me the pleasure of a walk with an old acquaintance.’ Saying this, with a jerk of his body, which might have been either propitiatory or derisive, he fell into step beside me.

‘Uriah!’ said I, as civilly as I could, after a silence.

‘Master Copperfield!’ said Uriah.

‘To tell you the truth (at which you will not be offended), I came Out to walk alone, because I have had so much company.’

He looked at me sideways, and said with his hardest grin, ‘You mean mother.’

‘Why yes, I do,’ said I.

‘Ah! But you know we’re so very umble,’ he returned. ‘And having such a knowledge of our own umbleness, we must really take care that we’re not pushed to the wall by them as isn’t umble. All stratagems are fair in love, sir.’

Raising his great hands until they touched his chin, he rubbed them softly, and softly chuckled; looking as like a malevolent baboon, I thought, as anything human could look.

‘You see,’ he said, still hugging himself in that unpleasant way, and shaking his head at me, ‘you’re quite a dangerous rival, Master Copperfield. You always was, you know.’

‘Do you set a watch upon Miss Wickfield, and make her home no home, because of me?’ said I.

‘Oh! Master Copperfield! Those are very arsh words,’ he replied.

‘Put my meaning into any words you like,’ said I. ‘You know what it is, Uriah, as well as I do.’

‘Oh no! You must put it into words,’ he said. ‘Oh, really! I couldn’t myself.’

‘Do you suppose,’ said I, constraining myself to be very temperate and quiet with him, on account of Agnes, ‘that I regard Miss Wickfield otherwise than as a very dear sister?’

‘Well, Master Copperfield,’ he replied, ‘you perceive I am not bound to answer that question. You may not, you know. But then, you see, you may!’

Anything to equal the low cunning of his visage, and of his shadowless eyes without the ghost of an eyelash, I never saw.

‘Come then!’ said I. ‘For the sake of Miss Wickfield—’

‘My Agnes!’ he exclaimed, with a sickly, angular contortion of himself. ‘Would you be so good as call her Agnes, Master Copperfield!’

‘For the sake of Agnes Wickfield—Heaven bless her!’

‘Thank you for that blessing, Master Copperfield!’ he interposed.

‘I will tell you what I should, under any other circumstances, as soon have thought of telling to—Jack Ketch.’

‘To who, sir?’ said Uriah, stretching out his neck, and shading his ear with his hand.

‘To the hangman,’ I returned. ‘The most unlikely person I could think of,’—though his own face had suggested the allusion quite as a natural sequence. ‘I am engaged to another young lady. I hope that contents you.’

‘Upon your soul?’ said Uriah.

I was about indignantly to give my assertion the confirmation he required, when he caught hold of my hand, and gave it a squeeze.

‘Oh, Master Copperfield!’ he said. ‘If you had only had the condescension to return my confidence when I poured out the fulness of my art, the night I put you so much out of the way by sleeping before your sitting-room fire, I never should have doubted you. As it is, I’m sure I’ll take off mother directly, and only too appy. I know you’ll excuse the precautions of affection, won’t you? What a pity, Master Copperfield, that you didn’t condescend to return my confidence! I’m sure I gave you every opportunity. But you never have condescended to me, as much as I could have wished. I know you have never liked me, as I have liked you!’

All this time he was squeezing my hand with his damp fishy fingers, while I made every effort I decently could to get it away. But I was quite unsuccessful. He drew it under the sleeve of his mulberry-coloured great-coat, and I walked on, almost upon compulsion, arm-in-arm with him.

‘Shall we turn?’ said Uriah, by and by wheeling me face about towards the town, on which the early moon was now shining, silvering the distant windows.

‘Before we leave the subject, you ought to understand,’ said I, breaking a pretty long silence, ‘that I believe Agnes Wickfield to be as far above you, and as far removed from all your aspirations, as that moon herself!’

‘Peaceful! Ain’t she!’ said Uriah. ‘Very! Now confess, Master Copperfield, that you haven’t liked me quite as I have liked you. All along you’ve thought me too umble now, I shouldn’t wonder?’

‘I am not fond of professions of humility,’ I returned, ‘or professions of anything else.’ ‘There now!’ said Uriah, looking flabby and lead-coloured in the moonlight. ‘Didn’t I know it! But how little you think of the rightful umbleness of a person in my station, Master Copperfield! Father and me was both brought up at a foundation school for boys; and mother, she was likewise brought up at a public, sort of charitable, establishment. They taught us all a deal of umbleness—not much else that I know of, from morning to night. We was to be umble to this person, and umble to that; and to pull off our caps here, and to make bows there; and always to know our place, and abase ourselves before our betters. And we had such a lot of betters! Father got the monitor-medal by being umble. So did I. Father got made a sexton by being umble. He had the character, among the gentlefolks, of being such a well-behaved man, that they were determined to bring him in. “Be umble, Uriah,” says father to me, “and you’ll get on. It was what was always being dinned into you and me at school; it’s what goes down best. Be umble,” says father, “and you’ll do!” And really it ain’t done bad!’

It was the first time it had ever occurred to me, that this detestable cant of false humility might have originated out of the Heep family. I had seen the harvest, but had never thought of the seed.

‘When I was quite a young boy,’ said Uriah, ‘I got to know what umbleness did, and I took to it. I ate umble pie with an appetite. I stopped at the umble point of my learning, and says I, “Hold hard!” When you offered to teach me Latin, I knew better. “People like to be above you,” says father, “keep yourself down.” I am very umble to the present moment, Master Copperfield, but I’ve got a little power!’

And he said all this—I knew, as I saw his face in the moonlight—that I might understand he was resolved to recompense himself by using his power. I had never doubted his meanness, his craft and malice; but I fully comprehended now, for the first time, what a base, unrelenting, and revengeful spirit, must have been engendered by this early, and this long, suppression.

His account of himself was so far attended with an agreeable result, that it led to his withdrawing his hand in order that he might have another hug of himself under the chin. Once apart from him, I was determined to keep apart; and we walked back, side by side, saying very little more by the way. Whether his spirits were elevated by the communication I had made to him, or by his having indulged in this retrospect, I don’t know; but they were raised by some influence. He talked more at dinner than was usual with him; asked his mother (off duty, from the moment of our re-entering the house) whether he was not growing too old for a bachelor; and once looked at Agnes so, that I would have given all I had, for leave to knock him down.

When we three males were left alone after dinner, he got into a more adventurous state. He had taken little or no wine; and I presume it was the mere insolence of triumph that was upon him, flushed perhaps by the temptation my presence furnished to its exhibition.

I had observed yesterday, that he tried to entice Mr. Wickfield to drink; and, interpreting the look which Agnes had given me as she went out, had limited myself to one glass, and then proposed that we should follow her. I would have done so again today; but Uriah was too quick for me.

‘We seldom see our present visitor, sir,’ he said, addressing Mr. Wickfield, sitting, such a contrast to him, at the end of the table, ‘and I should propose to give him welcome in another glass or two of wine, if you have no objections. Mr. Copperfield, your elth and appiness!’

I was obliged to make a show of taking the hand he stretched across to me; and then, with very different emotions, I took the hand of the broken gentleman, his partner.

‘Come, fellow-partner,’ said Uriah, ‘if I may take the liberty,—now, suppose you give us something or another appropriate to Copperfield!’

I pass over Mr. Wickfield’s proposing my aunt, his proposing Mr. Dick, his proposing Doctors’ Commons, his proposing Uriah, his drinking everything twice; his consciousness of his own weakness, the ineffectual effort that he made against it; the struggle between his shame in Uriah’s deportment, and his desire to conciliate him; the manifest exultation with which Uriah twisted and turned, and held him up before me. It made me sick at heart to see, and my hand recoils from writing it.

‘Come, fellow-partner!’ said Uriah, at last, ‘I’ll give you another one, and I umbly ask for bumpers, seeing I intend to make it the divinest of her sex.’

Her father had his empty glass in his hand. I saw him set it down, look at the picture she was so like, put his hand to his forehead, and shrink back in his elbow-chair.

‘I’m an umble individual to give you her elth,’ proceeded Uriah, ‘but I admire—adore her.’

No physical pain that her father’s grey head could have borne, I think, could have been more terrible to me, than the mental endurance I saw compressed now within both his hands.

‘Agnes,’ said Uriah, either not regarding him, or not knowing what the nature of his action was, ‘Agnes Wickfield is, I am safe to say, the divinest of her sex. May I speak out, among friends? To be her father is a proud distinction, but to be her usband—’

Spare me from ever again hearing such a cry, as that with which her father rose up from the table! ‘What’s the matter?’ said Uriah, turning of a deadly colour. ‘You are not gone mad, after all, Mr. Wickfield, I hope? If I say I’ve an ambition to make your Agnes my Agnes, I have as good a right to it as another man. I have a better right to it than any other man!’

I had my arms round Mr. Wickfield, imploring him by everything that I could think of, oftenest of all by his love for Agnes, to calm himself a little. He was mad for the moment; tearing out his hair, beating his head, trying to force me from him, and to force himself from me, not answering a word, not looking at or seeing anyone; blindly striving for he knew not what, his face all staring and distorted—a frightful spectacle.

I conjured him, incoherently, but in the most impassioned manner, not to abandon himself to this wildness, but to hear me. I besought him to think of Agnes, to connect me with Agnes, to recollect how Agnes and I had grown up together, how I honoured her and loved her, how she was his pride and joy. I tried to bring her idea before him in any form; I even reproached him with not having firmness to spare her the knowledge of such a scene as this. I may have effected something, or his wildness may have spent itself; but by degrees he struggled less, and began to look at me—strangely at first, then with recognition in his eyes. At length he said, ‘I know, Trotwood! My darling child and you—I know! But look at him!’

He pointed to Uriah, pale and glowering in a corner, evidently very much out in his calculations, and taken by surprise.

‘Look at my torturer,’ he replied. ‘Before him I have step by step abandoned name and reputation, peace and quiet, house and home.’

‘I have kept your name and reputation for you, and your peace and quiet, and your house and home too,’ said Uriah, with a sulky, hurried, defeated air of compromise. ‘Don’t be foolish, Mr. Wickfield. If I have gone a little beyond what you were prepared for, I can go back, I suppose? There’s no harm done.’

‘I looked for single motives in everyone,’ said Mr. Wickfield, ‘and I was satisfied I had bound him to me by motives of interest. But see what he is—oh, see what he is!’

‘You had better stop him, Copperfield, if you can,’ cried Uriah, with his long forefinger pointing towards me. ‘He’ll say something presently—mind you!—he’ll be sorry to have said afterwards, and you’ll be sorry to have heard!’

‘I’ll say anything!’ cried Mr. Wickfield, with a desperate air. ‘Why should I not be in all the world’s power if I am in yours?’

‘Mind! I tell you!’ said Uriah, continuing to warn me. ‘If you don’t stop his mouth, you’re not his friend! Why shouldn’t you be in all the world’s power, Mr. Wickfield? Because you have got a daughter. You and me know what we know, don’t we? Let sleeping dogs lie—who wants to rouse ‘em? I don’t. Can’t you see I am as umble as I can be? I tell you, if I’ve gone too far, I’m sorry. What would you have, sir?’

‘Oh, Trotwood, Trotwood!’ exclaimed Mr. Wickfield, wringing his hands. ‘What I have come down to be, since I first saw you in this house! I was on my downward way then, but the dreary, dreary road I have traversed since! Weak indulgence has ruined me. Indulgence in remembrance, and indulgence in forgetfulness. My natural grief for my child’s mother turned to disease; my natural love for my child turned to disease. I have infected everything I touched. I have brought misery on what I dearly love, I know—you know! I thought it possible that I could truly love one creature in the world, and not love the rest; I thought it possible that I could truly mourn for one creature gone out of the world, and not have some part in the grief of all who mourned. Thus the lessons of my life have been perverted! I have preyed on my own morbid coward heart, and it has preyed on me. Sordid in my grief, sordid in my love, sordid in my miserable escape from the darker side of both, oh see the ruin I am, and hate me, shun me!’

He dropped into a chair, and weakly sobbed. The excitement into which he had been roused was leaving him. Uriah came out of his corner.

‘I don’t know all I have done, in my fatuity,’ said Mr. Wickfield, putting out his hands, as if to deprecate my condemnation. ‘He knows best,’ meaning Uriah Heep, ‘for he has always been at my elbow, whispering me. You see the millstone that he is about my neck. You find him in my house, you find him in my business. You heard him, but a little time ago. What need have I to say more!’

‘You haven’t need to say so much, nor half so much, nor anything at all,’ observed Uriah, half defiant, and half fawning. ‘You wouldn’t have took it up so, if it hadn’t been for the wine. You’ll think better of it tomorrow, sir. If I have said too much, or more than I meant, what of it? I haven’t stood by it!’

The door opened, and Agnes, gliding in, without a vestige of colour in her face, put her arm round his neck, and steadily said, ‘Papa, you are not well. Come with me!’

He laid his head upon her shoulder, as if he were oppressed with heavy shame, and went out with her. Her eyes met mine for but an instant, yet I saw how much she knew of what had passed.

‘I didn’t expect he’d cut up so rough, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah. ‘But it’s nothing. I’ll be friends with him tomorrow. It’s for his good. I’m umbly anxious for his good.’

I gave him no answer, and went upstairs into the quiet room where Agnes had so often sat beside me at my books. Nobody came near me until late at night. I took up a book, and tried to read. I heard the clocks strike twelve, and was still reading, without knowing what I read, when Agnes touched me.

‘You will be going early in the morning, Trotwood! Let us say good-bye, now!’

She had been weeping, but her face then was so calm and beautiful!

‘Heaven bless you!’ she said, giving me her hand.

‘Dearest Agnes!’ I returned, ‘I see you ask me not to speak of tonight—but is there nothing to be done?’

‘There is God to trust in!’ she replied.

‘Can I do nothing—I, who come to you with my poor sorrows?’

‘And make mine so much lighter,’ she replied. ‘Dear Trotwood, no!’

‘Dear Agnes,’ I said, ‘it is presumptuous for me, who am so poor in all in which you are so rich—goodness, resolution, all noble qualities—to doubt or direct you; but you know how much I love you, and how much I owe you. You will never sacrifice yourself to a mistaken sense of duty, Agnes?’

More agitated for a moment than I had ever seen her, she took her hands from me, and moved a step back.

‘Say you have no such thought, dear Agnes! Much more than sister! Think of the priceless gift of such a heart as yours, of such a love as yours!’

Oh! long, long afterwards, I saw that face rise up before me, with its momentary look, not wondering, not accusing, not regretting. Oh, long, long afterwards, I saw that look subside, as it did now, into the lovely smile, with which she told me she had no fear for herself—I need have none for her—and parted from me by the name of Brother, and was gone!

It was dark in the morning, when I got upon the coach at the inn door. The day was just breaking when we were about to start, and then, as I sat thinking of her, came struggling up the coach side, through the mingled day and night, Uriah’s head.

‘Copperfield!’ said he, in a croaking whisper, as he hung by the iron on the roof, ‘I thought you’d be glad to hear before you went off, that there are no squares broke between us. I’ve been into his room already, and we’ve made it all smooth. Why, though I’m umble, I’m useful to him, you know; and he understands his interest when he isn’t in liquor! What an agreeable man he is, after all, Master Copperfield!’

I obliged myself to say that I was glad he had made his apology.

‘Oh, to be sure!’ said Uriah. ‘When a person’s umble, you know, what’s an apology? So easy! I say! I suppose,’ with a jerk, ‘you have sometimes plucked a pear before it was ripe, Master Copperfield?’

‘I suppose I have,’ I replied.

‘I did that last night,’ said Uriah; ‘but it’ll ripen yet! It only wants attending to. I can wait!’

Profuse in his farewells, he got down again as the coachman got up. For anything I know, he was eating something to keep the raw morning air out; but he made motions with his mouth as if the pear were ripe already, and he were smacking his lips over it.






CHAPTER 40. THE WANDERER

We had a very serious conversation in Buckingham Street that night, about the domestic occurrences I have detailed in the last chapter. My aunt was deeply interested in them, and walked up and down the room with her arms folded, for more than two hours afterwards. Whenever she was particularly discomposed, she always performed one of these pedestrian feats; and the amount of her discomposure might always be estimated by the duration of her walk. On this occasion she was so much disturbed in mind as to find it necessary to open the bedroom door, and make a course for herself, comprising the full extent of the bedrooms from wall to wall; and while Mr. Dick and I sat quietly by the fire, she kept passing in and out, along this measured track, at an unchanging pace, with the regularity of a clock-pendulum.

When my aunt and I were left to ourselves by Mr. Dick’s going out to bed, I sat down to write my letter to the two old ladies. By that time she was tired of walking, and sat by the fire with her dress tucked up as usual. But instead of sitting in her usual manner, holding her glass upon her knee, she suffered it to stand neglected on the chimney-piece; and, resting her left elbow on her right arm, and her chin on her left hand, looked thoughtfully at me. As often as I raised my eyes from what I was about, I met hers. ‘I am in the lovingest of tempers, my dear,’ she would assure me with a nod, ‘but I am fidgeted and sorry!’

I had been too busy to observe, until after she was gone to bed, that she had left her night-mixture, as she always called it, untasted on the chimney-piece. She came to her door, with even more than her usual affection of manner, when I knocked to acquaint her with this discovery; but only said, ‘I have not the heart to take it, Trot, tonight,’ and shook her head, and went in again.

She read my letter to the two old ladies, in the morning, and approved of it. I posted it, and had nothing to do then, but wait, as patiently as I could, for the reply. I was still in this state of expectation, and had been, for nearly a week; when I left the Doctor’s one snowy night, to walk home.

It had been a bitter day, and a cutting north-east wind had blown for some time. The wind had gone down with the light, and so the snow had come on. It was a heavy, settled fall, I recollect, in great flakes; and it lay thick. The noise of wheels and tread of people were as hushed, as if the streets had been strewn that depth with feathers.

My shortest way home,—and I naturally took the shortest way on such a night—was through St. Martin’s Lane. Now, the church which gives its name to the lane, stood in a less free situation at that time; there being no open space before it, and the lane winding down to the Strand. As I passed the steps of the portico, I encountered, at the corner, a woman’s face. It looked in mine, passed across the narrow lane, and disappeared. I knew it. I had seen it somewhere. But I could not remember where. I had some association with it, that struck upon my heart directly; but I was thinking of anything else when it came upon me, and was confused.

On the steps of the church, there was the stooping figure of a man, who had put down some burden on the smooth snow, to adjust it; my seeing the face, and my seeing him, were simultaneous. I don’t think I had stopped in my surprise; but, in any case, as I went on, he rose, turned, and came down towards me. I stood face to face with Mr. Peggotty!

Then I remembered the woman. It was Martha, to whom Emily had given the money that night in the kitchen. Martha Endell—side by side with whom, he would not have seen his dear niece, Ham had told me, for all the treasures wrecked in the sea.

We shook hands heartily. At first, neither of us could speak a word.

‘Mas’r Davy!’ he said, gripping me tight, ‘it do my art good to see you, sir. Well met, well met!’

‘Well met, my dear old friend!’ said I.

‘I had my thowts o’ coming to make inquiration for you, sir, tonight,’ he said, ‘but knowing as your aunt was living along wi’ you—fur I’ve been down yonder—Yarmouth way—I was afeerd it was too late. I should have come early in the morning, sir, afore going away.’

‘Again?’ said I.

‘Yes, sir,’ he replied, patiently shaking his head, ‘I’m away tomorrow.’

‘Where were you going now?’ I asked.

‘Well!’ he replied, shaking the snow out of his long hair, ‘I was a-going to turn in somewheers.’

In those days there was a side-entrance to the stable-yard of the Golden Cross, the inn so memorable to me in connexion with his misfortune, nearly opposite to where we stood. I pointed out the gateway, put my arm through his, and we went across. Two or three public-rooms opened out of the stable-yard; and looking into one of them, and finding it empty, and a good fire burning, I took him in there.

When I saw him in the light, I observed, not only that his hair was long and ragged, but that his face was burnt dark by the sun. He was greyer, the lines in his face and forehead were deeper, and he had every appearance of having toiled and wandered through all varieties of weather; but he looked very strong, and like a man upheld by steadfastness of purpose, whom nothing could tire out. He shook the snow from his hat and clothes, and brushed it away from his face, while I was inwardly making these remarks. As he sat down opposite to me at a table, with his back to the door by which we had entered, he put out his rough hand again, and grasped mine warmly.

‘I’ll tell you, Mas’r Davy,’ he said,—‘wheer all I’ve been, and what-all we’ve heerd. I’ve been fur, and we’ve heerd little; but I’ll tell you!’

I rang the bell for something hot to drink. He would have nothing stronger than ale; and while it was being brought, and being warmed at the fire, he sat thinking. There was a fine, massive gravity in his face, I did not venture to disturb.

‘When she was a child,’ he said, lifting up his head soon after we were left alone, ‘she used to talk to me a deal about the sea, and about them coasts where the sea got to be dark blue, and to lay a-shining and a-shining in the sun. I thowt, odd times, as her father being drownded made her think on it so much. I doen’t know, you see, but maybe she believed—or hoped—he had drifted out to them parts, where the flowers is always a-blowing, and the country bright.’

‘It is likely to have been a childish fancy,’ I replied.

‘When she was—lost,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘I know’d in my mind, as he would take her to them countries. I know’d in my mind, as he’d have told her wonders of ‘em, and how she was to be a lady theer, and how he got her to listen to him fust, along o’ sech like. When we see his mother, I know’d quite well as I was right. I went across-channel to France, and landed theer, as if I’d fell down from the sky.’

I saw the door move, and the snow drift in. I saw it move a little more, and a hand softly interpose to keep it open.

‘I found out an English gen’leman as was in authority,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘and told him I was a-going to seek my niece. He got me them papers as I wanted fur to carry me through—I doen’t rightly know how they’re called—and he would have give me money, but that I was thankful to have no need on. I thank him kind, for all he done, I’m sure! “I’ve wrote afore you,” he says to me, “and I shall speak to many as will come that way, and many will know you, fur distant from here, when you’re a-travelling alone.” I told him, best as I was able, what my gratitoode was, and went away through France.’

‘Alone, and on foot?’ said I.

‘Mostly a-foot,’ he rejoined; ‘sometimes in carts along with people going to market; sometimes in empty coaches. Many mile a day a-foot, and often with some poor soldier or another, travelling to see his friends. I couldn’t talk to him,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘nor he to me; but we was company for one another, too, along the dusty roads.’

I should have known that by his friendly tone.

‘When I come to any town,’ he pursued, ‘I found the inn, and waited about the yard till someone turned up (someone mostly did) as know’d English. Then I told how that I was on my way to seek my niece, and they told me what manner of gentlefolks was in the house, and I waited to see any as seemed like her, going in or out. When it warn’t Em’ly, I went on agen. By little and little, when I come to a new village or that, among the poor people, I found they know’d about me. They would set me down at their cottage doors, and give me what-not fur to eat and drink, and show me where to sleep; and many a woman, Mas’r Davy, as has had a daughter of about Em’ly’s age, I’ve found a-waiting fur me, at Our Saviour’s Cross outside the village, fur to do me sim’lar kindnesses. Some has had daughters as was dead. And God only knows how good them mothers was to me!’

It was Martha at the door. I saw her haggard, listening face distinctly. My dread was lest he should turn his head, and see her too.

‘They would often put their children—particular their little girls,’ said Mr. Peggotty, ‘upon my knee; and many a time you might have seen me sitting at their doors, when night was coming in, a’most as if they’d been my Darling’s children. Oh, my Darling!’

Overpowered by sudden grief, he sobbed aloud. I laid my trembling hand upon the hand he put before his face. ‘Thankee, sir,’ he said, ‘doen’t take no notice.’

In a very little while he took his hand away and put it on his breast, and went on with his story. ‘They often walked with me,’ he said, ‘in the morning, maybe a mile or two upon my road; and when we parted, and I said, “I’m very thankful to you! God bless you!” they always seemed to understand, and answered pleasant. At last I come to the sea. It warn’t hard, you may suppose, for a seafaring man like me to work his way over to Italy. When I got theer, I wandered on as I had done afore. The people was just as good to me, and I should have gone from town to town, maybe the country through, but that I got news of her being seen among them Swiss mountains yonder. One as know’d his servant see ‘em there, all three, and told me how they travelled, and where they was. I made fur them mountains, Mas’r Davy, day and night. Ever so fur as I went, ever so fur the mountains seemed to shift away from me. But I come up with ‘em, and I crossed ‘em. When I got nigh the place as I had been told of, I began to think within my own self, “What shall I do when I see her?”’

The listening face, insensible to the inclement night, still drooped at the door, and the hands begged me—prayed me—not to cast it forth.

‘I never doubted her,’ said Mr. Peggotty. ‘No! Not a bit! On’y let her see my face—on’y let her heer my voice—on’y let my stanning still afore her bring to her thoughts the home she had fled away from, and the child she had been—and if she had growed to be a royal lady, she’d have fell down at my feet! I know’d it well! Many a time in my sleep had I heerd her cry out, “Uncle!” and seen her fall like death afore me. Many a time in my sleep had I raised her up, and whispered to her, “Em’ly, my dear, I am come fur to bring forgiveness, and to take you home!”’

He stopped and shook his head, and went on with a sigh.

‘He was nowt to me now. Em’ly was all. I bought a country dress to put upon her; and I know’d that, once found, she would walk beside me over them stony roads, go where I would, and never, never, leave me more. To put that dress upon her, and to cast off what she wore—to take her on my arm again, and wander towards home—to stop sometimes upon the road, and heal her bruised feet and her worse-bruised heart—was all that I thowt of now. I doen’t believe I should have done so much as look at him. But, Mas’r Davy, it warn’t to be—not yet! I was too late, and they was gone. Wheer, I couldn’t learn. Some said heer, some said theer. I travelled heer, and I travelled theer, but I found no Em’ly, and I travelled home.’

‘How long ago?’ I asked.

‘A matter o’ fower days,’ said Mr. Peggotty. ‘I sighted the old boat arter dark, and the light a-shining in the winder. When I come nigh and looked in through the glass, I see the faithful creetur Missis Gummidge sittin’ by the fire, as we had fixed upon, alone. I called out, “Doen’t be afeerd! It’s Dan’l!” and I went in. I never could have thowt the old boat would have been so strange!’ From some pocket in his breast, he took out, with a very careful hand a small paper bundle containing two or three letters or little packets, which he laid upon the table.

‘This fust one come,’ he said, selecting it from the rest, ‘afore I had been gone a week. A fifty pound Bank note, in a sheet of paper, directed to me, and put underneath the door in the night. She tried to hide her writing, but she couldn’t hide it from Me!’

He folded up the note again, with great patience and care, in exactly the same form, and laid it on one side.

‘This come to Missis Gummidge,’ he said, opening another, ‘two or three months ago.’ After looking at it for some moments, he gave it to me, and added in a low voice, ‘Be so good as read it, sir.’

I read as follows:

‘Oh what will you feel when you see this writing, and know it comes from my wicked hand! But try, try—not for my sake, but for uncle’s goodness, try to let your heart soften to me, only for a little little time! Try, pray do, to relent towards a miserable girl, and write down on a bit of paper whether he is well, and what he said about me before you left off ever naming me among yourselves—and whether, of a night, when it is my old time of coming home, you ever see him look as if he thought of one he used to love so dear. Oh, my heart is breaking when I think about it! I am kneeling down to you, begging and praying you not to be as hard with me as I deserve—as I well, well, know I deserve—but to be so gentle and so good, as to write down something of him, and to send it to me. You need not call me Little, you need not call me by the name I have disgraced; but oh, listen to my agony, and have mercy on me so far as to write me some word of uncle, never, never to be seen in this world by my eyes again!

‘Dear, if your heart is hard towards me—justly hard, I know—but, listen, if it is hard, dear, ask him I have wronged the most—him whose wife I was to have been—before you quite decide against my poor poor prayer! If he should be so compassionate as to say that you might write something for me to read—I think he would, oh, I think he would, if you would only ask him, for he always was so brave and so forgiving—tell him then (but not else), that when I hear the wind blowing at night, I feel as if it was passing angrily from seeing him and uncle, and was going up to God against me. Tell him that if I was to die tomorrow (and oh, if I was fit, I would be so glad to die!) I would bless him and uncle with my last words, and pray for his happy home with my last breath!’

Some money was enclosed in this letter also. Five pounds. It was untouched like the previous sum, and he refolded it in the same way. Detailed instructions were added relative to the address of a reply, which, although they betrayed the intervention of several hands, and made it difficult to arrive at any very probable conclusion in reference to her place of concealment, made it at least not unlikely that she had written from that spot where she was stated to have been seen.

‘What answer was sent?’ I inquired of Mr. Peggotty.

‘Missis Gummidge,’ he returned, ‘not being a good scholar, sir, Ham kindly drawed it out, and she made a copy on it. They told her I was gone to seek her, and what my parting words was.’

‘Is that another letter in your hand?’ said I.

‘It’s money, sir,’ said Mr. Peggotty, unfolding it a little way. ‘Ten pound, you see. And wrote inside, “From a true friend,” like the fust. But the fust was put underneath the door, and this come by the post, day afore yesterday. I’m a-going to seek her at the post-mark.’

He showed it to me. It was a town on the Upper Rhine. He had found out, at Yarmouth, some foreign dealers who knew that country, and they had drawn him a rude map on paper, which he could very well understand. He laid it between us on the table; and, with his chin resting on one hand, tracked his course upon it with the other.

I asked him how Ham was? He shook his head.

‘He works,’ he said, ‘as bold as a man can. His name’s as good, in all that part, as any man’s is, anywheres in the wureld. Anyone’s hand is ready to help him, you understand, and his is ready to help them. He’s never been heerd fur to complain. But my sister’s belief is (‘twixt ourselves) as it has cut him deep.’

‘Poor fellow, I can believe it!’

‘He ain’t no care, Mas’r Davy,’ said Mr. Peggotty in a solemn whisper—‘kinder no care no-how for his life. When a man’s wanted for rough sarvice in rough weather, he’s theer. When there’s hard duty to be done with danger in it, he steps for’ard afore all his mates. And yet he’s as gentle as any child. There ain’t a child in Yarmouth that doen’t know him.’

He gathered up the letters thoughtfully, smoothing them with his hand; put them into their little bundle; and placed it tenderly in his breast again. The face was gone from the door. I still saw the snow drifting in; but nothing else was there.

‘Well!’ he said, looking to his bag, ‘having seen you tonight, Mas’r Davy (and that doos me good!), I shall away betimes tomorrow morning. You have seen what I’ve got heer’; putting his hand on where the little packet lay; ‘all that troubles me is, to think that any harm might come to me, afore that money was give back. If I was to die, and it was lost, or stole, or elseways made away with, and it was never know’d by him but what I’d took it, I believe the t’other wureld wouldn’t hold me! I believe I must come back!’

He rose, and I rose too; we grasped each other by the hand again, before going out.

‘I’d go ten thousand mile,’ he said, ‘I’d go till I dropped dead, to lay that money down afore him. If I do that, and find my Em’ly, I’m content. If I doen’t find her, maybe she’ll come to hear, sometime, as her loving uncle only ended his search for her when he ended his life; and if I know her, even that will turn her home at last!’

As he went out into the rigorous night, I saw the lonely figure flit away before us. I turned him hastily on some pretence, and held him in conversation until it was gone.

He spoke of a traveller’s house on the Dover Road, where he knew he could find a clean, plain lodging for the night. I went with him over Westminster Bridge, and parted from him on the Surrey shore. Everything seemed, to my imagination, to be hushed in reverence for him, as he resumed his solitary journey through the snow.

I returned to the inn yard, and, impressed by my remembrance of the face, looked awfully around for it. It was not there. The snow had covered our late footprints; my new track was the only one to be seen; and even that began to die away (it snowed so fast) as I looked back over my shoulder.