Part 19 out of 21
anything worth speaking of. And I think we ought to consider that
Mr. Micawber did right, for right's sake, when we reflect what
terms he might have made with Uriah Heep himself, for his silence.'
'I think so too,' said I.
'Now, what would you give him?' inquired my aunt.
'Oh! Before you come to that,' said Traddles, a little
disconcerted, 'I am afraid I thought it discreet to omit (not being
able to carry everything before me) two points, in making this
lawless adjustment - for it's perfectly lawless from beginning to
end - of a difficult affair. Those I.O.U.'s, and so forth, which
Mr. Micawber gave him for the advances he had -'
'Well! They must be paid,' said my aunt.
'Yes, but I don't know when they may be proceeded on, or where they
are,' rejoined Traddles, opening his eyes; 'and I anticipate, that,
between this time and his departure, Mr. Micawber will be
constantly arrested, or taken in execution.'
'Then he must be constantly set free again, and taken out of
execution,' said my aunt. 'What's the amount altogether?'
'Why, Mr. Micawber has entered the transactions - he calls them
transactions - with great form, in a book,' rejoined Traddles,
smiling; 'and he makes the amount a hundred and three pounds,
'Now, what shall we give him, that sum included?' said my aunt.
'Agnes, my dear, you and I can talk about division of it
afterwards. What should it be? Five hundred pounds?'
Upon this, Traddles and I both struck in at once. We both
recommended a small sum in money, and the payment, without
stipulation to Mr. Micawber, of the Uriah claims as they came in.
We proposed that the family should have their passage and their
outfit, and a hundred pounds; and that Mr. Micawber's arrangement
for the repayment of the advances should be gravely entered into,
as it might be wholesome for him to suppose himself under that
responsibility. To this, I added the suggestion, that I should
give some explanation of his character and history to Mr. Peggotty,
who I knew could be relied on; and that to Mr. Peggotty should be
quietly entrusted the discretion of advancing another hundred. I
further proposed to interest Mr. Micawber in Mr. Peggotty, by
confiding so much of Mr. Peggotty's story to him as I might feel
justified in relating, or might think expedient; and to endeavour
to bring each of them to bear upon the other, for the common
advantage. We all entered warmly into these views; and I may
mention at once, that the principals themselves did so, shortly
afterwards, with perfect good will and harmony.
Seeing that Traddles now glanced anxiously at my aunt again, I
reminded him of the second and last point to which he had adverted.
'You and your aunt will excuse me, Copperfield, if I touch upon a
painful theme, as I greatly fear I shall,' said Traddles,
hesitating; 'but I think it necessary to bring it to your
recollection. On the day of Mr. Micawber's memorable denunciation
a threatening allusion was made by Uriah Heep to your aunt's -
My aunt, retaining her stiff position, and apparent composure,
assented with a nod.
'Perhaps,' observed Traddles, 'it was mere purposeless
'No,' returned my aunt.
'There was - pardon me - really such a person, and at all in his
power?' hinted Traddles.
'Yes, my good friend,' said my aunt.
Traddles, with a perceptible lengthening of his face, explained
that he had not been able to approach this subject; that it had
shared the fate of Mr. Micawber's liabilities, in not being
comprehended in the terms he had made; that we were no longer of
any authority with Uriah Heep; and that if he could do us, or any
of us, any injury or annoyance, no doubt he would.
My aunt remained quiet; until again some stray tears found their
way to her cheeks.
'You are quite right,' she said. 'It was very thoughtful to
'Can I - or Copperfield - do anything?' asked Traddles, gently.
'Nothing,' said my aunt. 'I thank you many times. Trot, my dear,
a vain threat! Let us have Mr. and Mrs. Micawber back. And don't
any of you speak to me!' With that she smoothed her dress, and sat,
with her upright carriage, looking at the door.
'Well, Mr. and Mrs. Micawber!' said my aunt, when they entered.
'We have been discussing your emigration, with many apologies to
you for keeping you out of the room so long; and I'll tell you what
arrangements we propose.'
These she explained to the unbounded satisfaction of the family, -
children and all being then present, - and so much to the awakening
of Mr. Micawber's punctual habits in the opening stage of all bill
transactions, that he could not be dissuaded from immediately
rushing out, in the highest spirits, to buy the stamps for his
notes of hand. But, his joy received a sudden check; for within
five minutes, he returned in the custody of a sheriff 's officer,
informing us, in a flood of tears, that all was lost. We, being
quite prepared for this event, which was of course a proceeding of
Uriah Heep's, soon paid the money; and in five minutes more Mr.
Micawber was seated at the table, filling up the stamps with an
expression of perfect joy, which only that congenial employment, or
the making of punch, could impart in full completeness to his
shining face. To see him at work on the stamps, with the relish of
an artist, touching them like pictures, looking at them sideways,
taking weighty notes of dates and amounts in his pocket-book, and
contemplating them when finished, with a high sense of their
precious value, was a sight indeed.
'Now, the best thing you can do, sir, if you'll allow me to advise
you,' said my aunt, after silently observing him, 'is to abjure
that occupation for evermore.'
'Madam,' replied Mr. Micawber, 'it is my intention to register such
a vow on the virgin page of the future. Mrs. Micawber will attest
it. I trust,' said Mr. Micawber, solemnly, 'that my son Wilkins
will ever bear in mind, that he had infinitely better put his fist
in the fire, than use it to handle the serpents that have poisoned
the life-blood of his unhappy parent!' Deeply affected, and changed
in a moment to the image of despair, Mr. Micawber regarded the
serpents with a look of gloomy abhorrence (in which his late
admiration of them was not quite subdued), folded them up and put
them in his pocket.
This closed the proceedings of the evening. We were weary with
sorrow and fatigue, and my aunt and I were to return to London on
the morrow. It was arranged that the Micawbers should follow us,
after effecting a sale of their goods to a broker; that Mr.
Wickfield's affairs should be brought to a settlement, with all
convenient speed, under the direction of Traddles; and that Agnes
should also come to London, pending those arrangements. We passed
the night at the old house, which, freed from the presence of the
Heeps, seemed purged of a disease; and I lay in my old room, like
a shipwrecked wanderer come home.
We went back next day to my aunt's house - not to mine- and when
she and I sat alone, as of old, before going to bed, she said:
'Trot, do you really wish to know what I have had upon my mind
'Indeed I do, aunt. If there ever was a time when I felt unwilling
that you should have a sorrow or anxiety which I could not share,
it is now.'
'You have had sorrow enough, child,' said my aunt, affectionately,
'without the addition of my little miseries. I could have no other
motive, Trot, in keeping anything from you.'
'I know that well,' said I. 'But tell me now.'
'Would you ride with me a little way tomorrow morning?' asked my
'At nine,' said she. 'I'll tell you then, my dear.'
At nine, accordingly, we went out in a little chariot, and drove to
London. We drove a long way through the streets, until we came to
one of the large hospitals. Standing hard by the building was a
plain hearse. The driver recognized my aunt, and, in obedience to
a motion of her hand at the window, drove slowly off; we following.
'You understand it now, Trot,' said my aunt. 'He is gone!'
'Did he die in the hospital?'
She sat immovable beside me; but, again I saw the stray tears on
'He was there once before,' said my aunt presently. 'He was ailing
a long time - a shattered, broken man, these many years. When he
knew his state in this last illness, he asked them to send for me.
He was sorry then. Very sorry.'
'You went, I know, aunt.'
'I went. I was with him a good deal afterwards.'
'He died the night before we went to Canterbury?' said I.
My aunt nodded. 'No one can harm him now,' she said. 'It was a
We drove away, out of town, to the churchyard at Hornsey. 'Better
here than in the streets,' said my aunt. 'He was born here.'
We alighted; and followed the plain coffin to a corner I remember
well, where the service was read consigning it to the dust.
'Six-and-thirty years ago, this day, my dear,' said my aunt, as we
walked back to the chariot, 'I was married. God forgive us all!'
We took our seats in silence; and so she sat beside me for a long
time, holding my hand. At length she suddenly burst into tears,
'He was a fine-looking man when I married him, Trot - and he was
It did not last long. After the relief of tears, she soon became
composed, and even cheerful. Her nerves were a little shaken, she
said, or she would not have given way to it. God forgive us all!
So we rode back to her little cottage at Highgate, where we found
the following short note, which had arrived by that morning's post
from Mr. Micawber:
'My dear Madam, and Copperfield,
'The fair land of promise lately looming on the horizon is again
enveloped in impenetrable mists, and for ever withdrawn from the
eyes of a drifting wretch whose Doom is sealed!
'Another writ has been issued (in His Majesty's High Court of
King's Bench at Westminster), in another cause of HEEP V.
MICAWBER, and the defendant in that cause is the prey of the
sheriff having legal jurisdiction in this bailiwick.
'Now's the day, and now's the hour,
See the front of battle lower,
See approach proud EDWARD'S power -
Chains and slavery!
'Consigned to which, and to a speedy end (for mental torture is not
supportable beyond a certain point, and that point I feel I have
attained), my course is run. Bless you, bless you! Some future
traveller, visiting, from motives of curiosity, not unmingled, let
us hope, with sympathy, the place of confinement allotted to
debtors in this city, may, and I trust will, Ponder, as he traces
on its wall, inscribed with a rusty nail,
'The obscure initials,
'P.S. I re-open this to say that our common friend, Mr. Thomas
Traddles (who has not yet left us, and is looking extremely well),
has paid the debt and costs, in the noble name of Miss Trotwood;
and that myself and family are at the height of earthly bliss.'
I now approach an event in my life, so indelible, so awful, so
bound by an infinite variety of ties to all that has preceded it,
in these pages, that, from the beginning of my narrative, I have
seen it growing larger and larger as I advanced, like a great tower
in a plain, and throwing its fore-cast shadow even on the incidents
of my childish days.
For years after it occurred, I dreamed of it often. I have started
up so vividly impressed by it, that its fury has yet seemed raging
in my quiet room, in the still night. I dream of it sometimes,
though at lengthened and uncertain intervals, to this hour. I have
an association between it and a stormy wind, or the lightest
mention of a sea-shore, as strong as any of which my mind is
conscious. As plainly as I behold what happened, I will try to
write it down. I do not recall it, but see it done; for it happens
again before me.
The time drawing on rapidly for the sailing of the emigrant-ship,
my good old nurse (almost broken-hearted for me, when we first met)
came up to London. I was constantly with her, and her brother, and
the Micawbers (they being very much together); but Emily I never
One evening when the time was close at hand, I was alone with
Peggotty and her brother. Our conversation turned on Ham. She
described to us how tenderly he had taken leave of her, and how
manfully and quietly he had borne himself. Most of all, of late,
when she believed he was most tried. It was a subject of which the
affectionate creature never tired; and our interest in hearing the
many examples which she, who was so much with him, had to relate,
was equal to hers in relating them.
MY aunt and I were at that time vacating the two cottages at
Highgate; I intending to go abroad, and she to return to her house
at Dover. We had a temporary lodging in Covent Garden. As I
walked home to it, after this evening's conversation, reflecting on
what had passed between Ham and myself when I was last at Yarmouth,
I wavered in the original purpose I had formed, of leaving a letter
for Emily when I should take leave of her uncle on board the ship,
and thought it would be better to write to her now. She might
desire, I thought, after receiving my communication, to send some
parting word by me to her unhappy lover. I ought to give her the
I therefore sat down in my room, before going to bed, and wrote to
her. I told her that I had seen him, and that he had requested me
to tell her what I have already written in its place in these
sheets. I faithfully repeated it. I had no need to enlarge upon
it, if I had had the right. Its deep fidelity and goodness were
not to be adorned by me or any man. I left it out, to be sent
round in the morning; with a line to Mr. Peggotty, requesting him
to give it to her; and went to bed at daybreak.
I was weaker than I knew then; and, not falling asleep until the
sun was up, lay late, and unrefreshed, next day. I was roused by
the silent presence of my aunt at my bedside. I felt it in my
sleep, as I suppose we all do feel such things.
'Trot, my dear,' she said, when I opened my eyes, 'I couldn't make
up my mind to disturb you. Mr. Peggotty is here; shall he come
I replied yes, and he soon appeared.
'Mas'r Davy,' he said, when we had shaken hands, 'I giv Em'ly your
letter, sir, and she writ this heer; and begged of me fur to ask
you to read it, and if you see no hurt in't, to be so kind as take
'Have you read it?' said I.
He nodded sorrowfully. I opened it, and read as follows:
'I have got your message. Oh, what can I write, to thank you for
your good and blessed kindness to me!
'I have put the words close to my heart. I shall keep them till I
die. They are sharp thorns, but they are such comfort. I have
prayed over them, oh, I have prayed so much. When I find what you
are, and what uncle is, I think what God must be, and can cry to
'Good-bye for ever. Now, my dear, my friend, good-bye for ever in
this world. In another world, if I am forgiven, I may wake a child
and come to you. All thanks and blessings. Farewell, evermore.'
This, blotted with tears, was the letter.
'May I tell her as you doen't see no hurt in't, and as you'll be so
kind as take charge on't, Mas'r Davy?' said Mr. Peggotty, when I
had read it.
'Unquestionably,' said I - 'but I am thinking -'
'Yes, Mas'r Davy?'
'I am thinking,' said I, 'that I'll go down again to Yarmouth.
There's time, and to spare, for me to go and come back before the
ship sails. My mind is constantly running on him, in his solitude;
to put this letter of her writing in his hand at this time, and to
enable you to tell her, in the moment of parting, that he has got
it, will be a kindness to both of them. I solemnly accepted his
commission, dear good fellow, and cannot discharge it too
completely. The journey is nothing to me. I am restless, and
shall be better in motion. I'll go down tonight.'
Though he anxiously endeavoured to dissuade me, I saw that he was
of my mind; and this, if I had required to be confirmed in my
intention, would have had the effect. He went round to the coach
office, at my request, and took the box-seat for me on the mail.
In the evening I started, by that conveyance, down the road I had
traversed under so many vicissitudes.
'Don't you think that,' I asked the coachman, in the first stage
out of London, 'a very remarkable sky? I don't remember to have
seen one like it.'
'Nor I - not equal to it,' he replied. 'That's wind, sir.
There'll be mischief done at sea, I expect, before long.'
It was a murky confusion - here and there blotted with a colour
like the colour of the smoke from damp fuel - of flying clouds,
tossed up into most remarkable heaps, suggesting greater heights in
the clouds than there were depths below them to the bottom of the
deepest hollows in the earth, through which the wild moon seemed to
plunge headlong, as if, in a dread disturbance of the laws of
nature, she had lost her way and were frightened. There had been
a wind all day; and it was rising then, with an extraordinary great
sound. In another hour it had much increased, and the sky was more
overcast, and blew hard.
But, as the night advanced, the clouds closing in and densely
over-spreading the whole sky, then very dark, it came on to blow,
harder and harder. It still increased, until our horses could
scarcely face the wind. Many times, in the dark part of the night
(it was then late in September, when the nights were not short),
the leaders turned about, or came to a dead stop; and we were often
in serious apprehension that the coach would be blown over.
Sweeping gusts of rain came up before this storm, like showers of
steel; and, at those times, when there was any shelter of trees or
lee walls to be got, we were fain to stop, in a sheer impossibility
of continuing the struggle.
When the day broke, it blew harder and harder. I had been in
Yarmouth when the seamen said it blew great guns, but I had never
known the like of this, or anything approaching to it. We came to
Ipswich - very late, having had to fight every inch of ground since
we were ten miles out of London; and found a cluster of people in
the market-place, who had risen from their beds in the night,
fearful of falling chimneys. Some of these, congregating about the
inn-yard while we changed horses, told us of great sheets of lead
having been ripped off a high church-tower, and flung into a
by-street, which they then blocked up. Others had to tell of
country people, coming in from neighbouring villages, who had seen
great trees lying torn out of the earth, and whole ricks scattered
about the roads and fields. Still, there was no abatement in the
storm, but it blew harder.
As we struggled on, nearer and nearer to the sea, from which this
mighty wind was blowing dead on shore, its force became more and
more terrific. Long before we saw the sea, its spray was on our
lips, and showered salt rain upon us. The water was out, over
miles and miles of the flat country adjacent to Yarmouth; and every
sheet and puddle lashed its banks, and had its stress of little
breakers setting heavily towards us. When we came within sight of
the sea, the waves on the horizon, caught at intervals above the
rolling abyss, were like glimpses of another shore with towers and
buildings. When at last we got into the town, the people came out
to their doors, all aslant, and with streaming hair, making a
wonder of the mail that had come through such a night.
I put up at the old inn, and went down to look at the sea;
staggering along the street, which was strewn with sand and
seaweed, and with flying blotches of sea-foam; afraid of falling
slates and tiles; and holding by people I met, at angry corners.
Coming near the beach, I saw, not only the boatmen, but half the
people of the town, lurking behind buildings; some, now and then
braving the fury of the storm to look away to sea, and blown sheer
out of their course in trying to get zigzag back.
joining these groups, I found bewailing women whose husbands were
away in herring or oyster boats, which there was too much reason to
think might have foundered before they could run in anywhere for
safety. Grizzled old sailors were among the people, shaking their
heads, as they looked from water to sky, and muttering to one
another; ship-owners, excited and uneasy; children, huddling
together, and peering into older faces; even stout mariners,
disturbed and anxious, levelling their glasses at the sea from
behind places of shelter, as if they were surveying an enemy.
The tremendous sea itself, when I could find sufficient pause to
look at it, in the agitation of the blinding wind, the flying
stones and sand, and the awful noise, confounded me. As the high
watery walls came rolling in, and, at their highest, tumbled into
surf, they looked as if the least would engulf the town. As the
receding wave swept back with a hoarse roar, it seemed to scoop out
deep caves in the beach, as if its purpose were to undermine the
earth. When some white-headed billows thundered on, and dashed
themselves to pieces before they reached the land, every fragment
of the late whole seemed possessed by the full might of its wrath,
rushing to be gathered to the composition of another monster.
Undulating hills were changed to valleys, undulating valleys (with
a solitary storm-bird sometimes skimming through them) were lifted
up to hills; masses of water shivered and shook the beach with a
booming sound; every shape tumultuously rolled on, as soon as made,
to change its shape and place, and beat another shape and place
away; the ideal shore on the horizon, with its towers and
buildings, rose and fell; the clouds fell fast and thick; I seemed
to see a rending and upheaving of all nature.
Not finding Ham among the people whom this memorable wind - for it
is still remembered down there, as the greatest ever known to blow
upon that coast - had brought together, I made my way to his house.
It was shut; and as no one answered to my knocking, I went, by back
ways and by-lanes, to the yard where he worked. I learned, there,
that he had gone to Lowestoft, to meet some sudden exigency of
ship-repairing in which his skill was required; but that he would
be back tomorrow morning, in good time.
I went back to the inn; and when I had washed and dressed, and
tried to sleep, but in vain, it was five o'clock in the afternoon.
I had not sat five minutes by the coffee-room fire, when the
waiter, coming to stir it, as an excuse for talking, told me that
two colliers had gone down, with all hands, a few miles away; and
that some other ships had been seen labouring hard in the Roads,
and trying, in great distress, to keep off shore. Mercy on them,
and on all poor sailors, said he, if we had another night like the
I was very much depressed in spirits; very solitary; and felt an
uneasiness in Ham's not being there, disproportionate to the
occasion. I was seriously affected, without knowing how much, by
late events; and my long exposure to the fierce wind had confused
me. There was that jumble in my thoughts and recollections, that
I had lost the clear arrangement of time and distance. Thus, if I
had gone out into the town, I should not have been surprised, I
think, to encounter someone who I knew must be then in London. So
to speak, there was in these respects a curious inattention in my
mind. Yet it was busy, too, with all the remembrances the place
naturally awakened; and they were particularly distinct and vivid.
In this state, the waiter's dismal intelligence about the ships
immediately connected itself, without any effort of my volition,
with my uneasiness about Ham. I was persuaded that I had an
apprehension of his returning from Lowestoft by sea, and being
lost. This grew so strong with me, that I resolved to go back to
the yard before I took my dinner, and ask the boat-builder if he
thought his attempting to return by sea at all likely? If he gave
me the least reason to think so, I would go over to Lowestoft and
prevent it by bringing him with me.
I hastily ordered my dinner, and went back to the yard. I was none
too soon; for the boat-builder, with a lantern in his hand, was
locking the yard-gate. He quite laughed when I asked him the
question, and said there was no fear; no man in his senses, or out
of them, would put off in such a gale of wind, least of all Ham
Peggotty, who had been born to seafaring.
So sensible of this, beforehand, that I had really felt ashamed of
doing what I was nevertheless impelled to do, I went back to the
inn. If such a wind could rise, I think it was rising. The howl
and roar, the rattling of the doors and windows, the rumbling in
the chimneys, the apparent rocking of the very house that sheltered
me, and the prodigious tumult of the sea, were more fearful than in
the morning. But there was now a great darkness besides; and that
invested the storm with new terrors, real and fanciful.
I could not eat, I could not sit still, I could not continue
steadfast to anything. Something within me, faintly answering to
the storm without, tossed up the depths of my memory and made a
tumult in them. Yet, in all the hurry of my thoughts, wild running
with the thundering sea, - the storm, and my uneasiness regarding
Ham were always in the fore-ground.
My dinner went away almost untasted, and I tried to refresh myself
with a glass or two of wine. In vain. I fell into a dull slumber
before the fire, without losing my consciousness, either of the
uproar out of doors, or of the place in which I was. Both became
overshadowed by a new and indefinable horror; and when I awoke - or
rather when I shook off the lethargy that bound me in my chair- my
whole frame thrilled with objectless and unintelligible fear.
I walked to and fro, tried to read an old gazetteer, listened to
the awful noises: looked at faces, scenes, and figures in the fire.
At length, the steady ticking of the undisturbed clock on the wall
tormented me to that degree that I resolved to go to bed.
It was reassuring, on such a night, to be told that some of the
inn-servants had agreed together to sit up until morning. I went
to bed, exceedingly weary and heavy; but, on my lying down, all
such sensations vanished, as if by magic, and I was broad awake,
with every sense refined.
For hours I lay there, listening to the wind and water; imagining,
now, that I heard shrieks out at sea; now, that I distinctly heard
the firing of signal guns; and now, the fall of houses in the town.
I got up, several times, and looked out; but could see nothing,
except the reflection in the window-panes of the faint candle I had
left burning, and of my own haggard face looking in at me from the
At length, my restlessness attained to such a pitch, that I hurried
on my clothes, and went downstairs. In the large kitchen, where I
dimly saw bacon and ropes of onions hanging from the beams, the
watchers were clustered together, in various attitudes, about a
table, purposely moved away from the great chimney, and brought
near the door. A pretty girl, who had her ears stopped with her
apron, and her eyes upon the door, screamed when I appeared,
supposing me to be a spirit; but the others had more presence of
mind, and were glad of an addition to their company. One man,
referring to the topic they had been discussing, asked me whether
I thought the souls of the collier-crews who had gone down, were
out in the storm?
I remained there, I dare say, two hours. Once, I opened the
yard-gate, and looked into the empty street. The sand, the
sea-weed, and the flakes of foam, were driving by; and I was
obliged to call for assistance before I could shut the gate again,
and make it fast against the wind.
There was a dark gloom in my solitary chamber, when I at length
returned to it; but I was tired now, and, getting into bed again,
fell - off a tower and down a precipice - into the depths of sleep.
I have an impression that for a long time, though I dreamed of
being elsewhere and in a variety of scenes, it was always blowing
in my dream. At length, I lost that feeble hold upon reality, and
was engaged with two dear friends, but who they were I don't know,
at the siege of some town in a roar of cannonading.
The thunder of the cannon was so loud and incessant, that I could
not hear something I much desired to hear, until I made a great
exertion and awoke. It was broad day - eight or nine o'clock; the
storm raging, in lieu of the batteries; and someone knocking and
calling at my door.
'What is the matter?' I cried.
'A wreck! Close by!'
I sprung out of bed, and asked, what wreck?
'A schooner, from Spain or Portugal, laden with fruit and wine.
Make haste, sir, if you want to see her! It's thought, down on the
beach, she'll go to pieces every moment.'
The excited voice went clamouring along the staircase; and I
wrapped myself in my clothes as quickly as I could, and ran into
Numbers of people were there before me, all running in one
direction, to the beach. I ran the same way, outstripping a good
many, and soon came facing the wild sea.
The wind might by this time have lulled a little, though not more
sensibly than if the cannonading I had dreamed of, had been
diminished by the silencing of half-a-dozen guns out of hundreds.
But the sea, having upon it the additional agitation of the whole
night, was infinitely more terrific than when I had seen it last.
Every appearance it had then presented, bore the expression of
being swelled; and the height to which the breakers rose, and,
looking over one another, bore one another down, and rolled in, in
interminable hosts, was most appalling.
In the difficulty of hearing anything but wind and waves, and in
the crowd, and the unspeakable confusion, and my first breathless
efforts to stand against the weather, I was so confused that I
looked out to sea for the wreck, and saw nothing but the foaming
heads of the great waves. A half-dressed boatman, standing next
me, pointed with his bare arm (a tattoo'd arrow on it, pointing in
the same direction) to the left. Then, O great Heaven, I saw it,
close in upon us!
One mast was broken short off, six or eight feet from the deck, and
lay over the side, entangled in a maze of sail and rigging; and all
that ruin, as the ship rolled and beat - which she did without a
moment's pause, and with a violence quite inconceivable - beat the
side as if it would stave it in. Some efforts were even then being
made, to cut this portion of the wreck away; for, as the ship,
which was broadside on, turned towards us in her rolling, I plainly
descried her people at work with axes, especially one active figure
with long curling hair, conspicuous among the rest. But a great
cry, which was audible even above the wind and water, rose from the
shore at this moment; the sea, sweeping over the rolling wreck,
made a clean breach, and carried men, spars, casks, planks,
bulwarks, heaps of such toys, into the boiling surge.
The second mast was yet standing, with the rags of a rent sail, and
a wild confusion of broken cordage flapping to and fro. The ship
had struck once, the same boatman hoarsely said in my ear, and then
lifted in and struck again. I understood him to add that she was
parting amidships, and I could readily suppose so, for the rolling
and beating were too tremendous for any human work to suffer long.
As he spoke, there was another great cry of pity from the beach;
four men arose with the wreck out of the deep, clinging to the
rigging of the remaining mast; uppermost, the active figure with
the curling hair.
There was a bell on board; and as the ship rolled and dashed, like
a desperate creature driven mad, now showing us the whole sweep of
her deck, as she turned on her beam-ends towards the shore, now
nothing but her keel, as she sprung wildly over and turned towards
the sea, the bell rang; and its sound, the knell of those unhappy
men, was borne towards us on the wind. Again we lost her, and
again she rose. Two men were gone. The agony on the shore
increased. Men groaned, and clasped their hands; women shrieked,
and turned away their faces. Some ran wildly up and down along the
beach, crying for help where no help could be. I found myself one
of these, frantically imploring a knot of sailors whom I knew, not
to let those two lost creatures perish before our eyes.
They were making out to me, in an agitated way - I don't know how,
for the little I could hear I was scarcely composed enough to
understand - that the lifeboat had been bravely manned an hour ago,
and could do nothing; and that as no man would be so desperate as
to attempt to wade off with a rope, and establish a communication
with the shore, there was nothing left to try; when I noticed that
some new sensation moved the people on the beach, and saw them
part, and Ham come breaking through them to the front.
I ran to him - as well as I know, to repeat my appeal for help.
But, distracted though I was, by a sight so new to me and terrible,
the determination in his face, and his look out to sea - exactly
the same look as I remembered in connexion with the morning after
Emily's flight - awoke me to a knowledge of his danger. I held him
back with both arms; and implored the men with whom I had been
speaking, not to listen to him, not to do murder, not to let him
stir from off that sand!
Another cry arose on shore; and looking to the wreck, we saw the
cruel sail, with blow on blow, beat off the lower of the two men,
and fly up in triumph round the active figure left alone upon the
Against such a sight, and against such determination as that of the
calmly desperate man who was already accustomed to lead half the
people present, I might as hopefully have entreated the wind.
'Mas'r Davy,' he said, cheerily grasping me by both hands, 'if my
time is come, 'tis come. If 'tan't, I'll bide it. Lord above
bless you, and bless all! Mates, make me ready! I'm a-going off!'
I was swept away, but not unkindly, to some distance, where the
people around me made me stay; urging, as I confusedly perceived,
that he was bent on going, with help or without, and that I should
endanger the precautions for his safety by troubling those with
whom they rested. I don't know what I answered, or what they
rejoined; but I saw hurry on the beach, and men running with ropes
from a capstan that was there, and penetrating into a circle of
figures that hid him from me. Then, I saw him standing alone, in
a seaman's frock and trousers: a rope in his hand, or slung to his
wrist: another round his body: and several of the best men holding,
at a little distance, to the latter, which he laid out himself,
slack upon the shore, at his feet.
The wreck, even to my unpractised eye, was breaking up. I saw that
she was parting in the middle, and that the life of the solitary
man upon the mast hung by a thread. Still, he clung to it. He had
a singular red cap on, - not like a sailor's cap, but of a finer
colour; and as the few yielding planks between him and destruction
rolled and bulged, and his anticipative death-knell rung, he was
seen by all of us to wave it. I saw him do it now, and thought I
was going distracted, when his action brought an old remembrance to
my mind of a once dear friend.
Ham watched the sea, standing alone, with the silence of suspended
breath behind him, and the storm before, until there was a great
retiring wave, when, with a backward glance at those who held the
rope which was made fast round his body, he dashed in after it, and
in a moment was buffeting with the water; rising with the hills,
falling with the valleys, lost beneath the foam; then drawn again
to land. They hauled in hastily.
He was hurt. I saw blood on his face, from where I stood; but he
took no thought of that. He seemed hurriedly to give them some
directions for leaving him more free - or so I judged from the
motion of his arm - and was gone as before.
And now he made for the wreck, rising with the hills, falling with
the valleys, lost beneath the rugged foam, borne in towards the
shore, borne on towards the ship, striving hard and valiantly. The
distance was nothing, but the power of the sea and wind made the
strife deadly. At length he neared the wreck. He was so near,
that with one more of his vigorous strokes he would be clinging to
it, - when a high, green, vast hill-side of water, moving on
shoreward, from beyond the ship, he seemed to leap up into it with
a mighty bound, and the ship was gone!
Some eddying fragments I saw in the sea, as if a mere cask had been
broken, in running to the spot where they were hauling in.
Consternation was in every face. They drew him to my very feet -
insensible - dead. He was carried to the nearest house; and, no
one preventing me now, I remained near him, busy, while every means
of restoration were tried; but he had been beaten to death by the
great wave, and his generous heart was stilled for ever.
As I sat beside the bed, when hope was abandoned and all was done,
a fisherman, who had known me when Emily and I were children, and
ever since, whispered my name at the door.
'Sir,' said he, with tears starting to his weather-beaten face,
which, with his trembling lips, was ashy pale, 'will you come over
The old remembrance that had been recalled to me, was in his look.
I asked him, terror-stricken, leaning on the arm he held out to
'Has a body come ashore?'
He said, 'Yes.'
'Do I know it?' I asked then.
He answered nothing.
But he led me to the shore. And on that part of it where she and
I had looked for shells, two children - on that part of it where
some lighter fragments of the old boat, blown down last night, had
been scattered by the wind - among the ruins of the home he had
wronged - I saw him lying with his head upon his arm, as I had
often seen him lie at school.
THE NEW WOUND, AND THE OLD
No need, O Steerforth, to have said, when we last spoke together,
in that hour which I so little deemed to be our parting-hour - no
need to have said, 'Think of me at my best!' I had done that ever;
and could I change now, looking on this sight!
They brought a hand-bier, and laid him on it, and covered him with
a flag, and took him up and bore him on towards the houses. All
the men who carried him had known him, and gone sailing with him,
and seen him merry and bold. They carried him through the wild
roar, a hush in the midst of all the tumult; and took him to the
cottage where Death was already.
But when they set the bier down on the threshold, they looked at
one another, and at me, and whispered. I knew why. They felt as
if it were not right to lay him down in the same quiet room.
We went into the town, and took our burden to the inn. So soon as
I could at all collect my thoughts, I sent for Joram, and begged
him to provide me a conveyance in which it could be got to London
in the night. I knew that the care of it, and the hard duty of
preparing his mother to receive it, could only rest with me; and I
was anxious to discharge that duty as faithfully as I could.
I chose the night for the journey, that there might be less
curiosity when I left the town. But, although it was nearly
midnight when I came out of the yard in a chaise, followed by what
I had in charge, there were many people waiting. At intervals,
along the town, and even a little way out upon the road, I saw
more: but at length only the bleak night and the open country were
around me, and the ashes of my youthful friendship.
Upon a mellow autumn day, about noon, when the ground was perfumed
by fallen leaves, and many more, in beautiful tints of yellow, red,
and brown, yet hung upon the trees, through which the sun was
shining, I arrived at Highgate. I walked the last mile, thinking
as I went along of what I had to do; and left the carriage that had
followed me all through the night, awaiting orders to advance.
The house, when I came up to it, looked just the same. Not a blind
was raised; no sign of life was in the dull paved court, with its
covered way leading to the disused door. The wind had quite gone
down, and nothing moved.
I had not, at first, the courage to ring at the gate; and when I
did ring, my errand seemed to me to be expressed in the very sound
of the bell. The little parlour-maid came out, with the key in her
hand; and looking earnestly at me as she unlocked the gate, said:
'I beg your pardon, sir. Are you ill?'
'I have been much agitated, and am fatigued.'
'Is anything the matter, sir? - Mr. James? -'
'Hush!' said I. 'Yes, something has happened, that I have to break
to Mrs. Steerforth. She is at home?'
The girl anxiously replied that her mistress was very seldom out
now, even in a carriage; that she kept her room; that she saw no
company, but would see me. Her mistress was up, she said, and Miss
Dartle was with her. What message should she take upstairs?
Giving her a strict charge to be careful of her manner, and only to
carry in my card and say I waited, I sat down in the drawing-room
(which we had now reached) until she should come back. Its former
pleasant air of occupation was gone, and the shutters were half
closed. The harp had not been used for many and many a day. His
picture, as a boy, was there. The cabinet in which his mother had
kept his letters was there. I wondered if she ever read them now;
if she would ever read them more!
The house was so still that I heard the girl's light step upstairs.
On her return, she brought a message, to the effect that Mrs.
Steerforth was an invalid and could not come down; but that if I
would excuse her being in her chamber, she would be glad to see me.
In a few moments I stood before her.
She was in his room; not in her own. I felt, of course, that she
had taken to occupy it, in remembrance of him; and that the many
tokens of his old sports and accomplishments, by which she was
surrounded, remained there, just as he had left them, for the same
reason. She murmured, however, even in her reception of me, that
she was out of her own chamber because its aspect was unsuited to
her infirmity; and with her stately look repelled the least
suspicion of the truth.
At her chair, as usual, was Rosa Dartle. From the first moment of
her dark eyes resting on me, I saw she knew I was the bearer of
evil tidings. The scar sprung into view that instant. She
withdrew herself a step behind the chair, to keep her own face out
of Mrs. Steerforth's observation; and scrutinized me with a
piercing gaze that never faltered, never shrunk.
'I am sorry to observe you are in mourning, sir,' said Mrs.
'I am unhappily a widower,' said I.
'You are very young to know so great a loss,' she returned. 'I am
grieved to hear it. I am grieved to hear it. I hope Time will be
good to you.'
'I hope Time,' said I, looking at her, 'will be good to all of us.
Dear Mrs. Steerforth, we must all trust to that, in our heaviest
The earnestness of my manner, and the tears in my eyes, alarmed
her. The whole course of her thoughts appeared to stop, and
I tried to command my voice in gently saying his name, but it
trembled. She repeated it to herself, two or three times, in a low
tone. Then, addressing me, she said, with enforced calmness:
'My son is ill.'
'You have seen him?'
'Are you reconciled?'
I could not say Yes, I could not say No. She slightly turned her
head towards the spot where Rosa Dartle had been standing at her
elbow, and in that moment I said, by the motion of my lips, to
That Mrs. Steerforth might not be induced to look behind her, and
read, plainly written, what she was not yet prepared to know, I met
her look quickly; but I had seen Rosa Dartle throw her hands up in
the air with vehemence of despair and horror, and then clasp them
on her face.
The handsome lady - so like, oh so like! - regarded me with a fixed
look, and put her hand to her forehead. I besought her to be calm,
and prepare herself to bear what I had to tell; but I should rather
have entreated her to weep, for she sat like a stone figure.
'When I was last here,' I faltered, 'Miss Dartle told me he was
sailing here and there. The night before last was a dreadful one
at sea. If he were at sea that night, and near a dangerous coast,
as it is said he was; and if the vessel that was seen should really
be the ship which -'
'Rosa!' said Mrs. Steerforth, 'come to me!'
She came, but with no sympathy or gentleness. Her eyes gleamed
like fire as she confronted his mother, and broke into a frightful
'Now,' she said, 'is your pride appeased, you madwoman? Now has he
made atonement to you - with his life! Do you hear? - His life!'
Mrs. Steerforth, fallen back stiffly in her chair, and making no
sound but a moan, cast her eyes upon her with a wide stare.
'Aye!' cried Rosa, smiting herself passionately on the breast,
'look at me! Moan, and groan, and look at me! Look here!' striking
the scar, 'at your dead child's handiwork!'
The moan the mother uttered, from time to time, went to My heart.
Always the same. Always inarticulate and stifled. Always
accompanied with an incapable motion of the head, but with no
change of face. Always proceeding from a rigid mouth and closed
teeth, as if the jaw were locked and the face frozen up in pain.
'Do you remember when he did this?' she proceeded. 'Do you
remember when, in his inheritance of your nature, and in your
pampering of his pride and passion, he did this, and disfigured me
for life? Look at me, marked until I die with his high
displeasure; and moan and groan for what you made him!'
'Miss Dartle,' I entreated her. 'For Heaven's sake -'
'I WILL speak!' she said, turning on me with her lightning eyes.
'Be silent, you! Look at me, I say, proud mother of a proud, false
son! Moan for your nurture of him, moan for your corruption of him,
moan for your loss of him, moan for mine!'
She clenched her hand, and trembled through her spare, worn figure,
as if her passion were killing her by inches.
'You, resent his self-will!' she exclaimed. 'You, injured by his
haughty temper! You, who opposed to both, when your hair was grey,
the qualities which made both when you gave him birth! YOU, who
from his cradle reared him to be what he was, and stunted what he
should have been! Are you rewarded, now, for your years of
'Oh, Miss Dartle, shame! Oh cruel!'
'I tell you,' she returned, 'I WILL speak to her. No power on
earth should stop me, while I was standing here! Have I been silent
all these years, and shall I not speak now? I loved him better
than you ever loved him!' turning on her fiercely. 'I could have
loved him, and asked no return. If I had been his wife, I could
have been the slave of his caprices for a word of love a year. I
should have been. Who knows it better than I? You were exacting,
proud, punctilious, selfish. My love would have been devoted -
would have trod your paltry whimpering under foot!'
With flashing eyes, she stamped upon the ground as if she actually
'Look here!' she said, striking the scar again, with a relentless
hand. 'When he grew into the better understanding of what he had
done, he saw it, and repented of it! I could sing to him, and talk
to him, and show the ardour that I felt in all he did, and attain
with labour to such knowledge as most interested him; and I
attracted him. When he was freshest and truest, he loved me. Yes,
he did! Many a time, when you were put off with a slight word, he
has taken Me to his heart!'
She said it with a taunting pride in the midst of her frenzy - for
it was little less - yet with an eager remembrance of it, in which
the smouldering embers of a gentler feeling kindled for the moment.
'I descended - as I might have known I should, but that he
fascinated me with his boyish courtship - into a doll, a trifle for
the occupation of an idle hour, to be dropped, and taken up, and
trifled with, as the inconstant humour took him. When he grew
weary, I grew weary. As his fancy died out, I would no more have
tried to strengthen any power I had, than I would have married him
on his being forced to take me for his wife. We fell away from one
another without a word. Perhaps you saw it, and were not sorry.
Since then, I have been a mere disfigured piece of furniture
between you both; having no eyes, no ears, no feelings, no
remembrances. Moan? Moan for what you made him; not for your
love. I tell you that the time was, when I loved him better than
you ever did!'
She stood with her bright angry eyes confronting the wide stare,
and the set face; and softened no more, when the moaning was
repeated, than if the face had been a picture.
'Miss Dartle,' said I, 'if you can be so obdurate as not to feel
for this afflicted mother -'
'Who feels for me?' she sharply retorted. 'She has sown this. Let
her moan for the harvest that she reaps today!'
'And if his faults -' I began.
'Faults!' she cried, bursting into passionate tears. 'Who dares
malign him? He had a soul worth millions of the friends to whom he
'No one can have loved him better, no one can hold him in dearer
remembrance than I,' I replied. 'I meant to say, if you have no
compassion for his mother; or if his faults - you have been bitter
on them -'
'It's false,' she cried, tearing her black hair; 'I loved him!'
'- if his faults cannot,' I went on, 'be banished from your
remembrance, in such an hour; look at that figure, even as one you
have never seen before, and render it some help!'
All this time, the figure was unchanged, and looked unchangeable.
Motionless, rigid, staring; moaning in the same dumb way from time
to time, with the same helpless motion of the head; but giving no
other sign of life. Miss Dartle suddenly kneeled down before it,
and began to loosen the dress.
'A curse upon you!' she said, looking round at me, with a mingled
expression of rage and grief. 'It was in an evil hour that you
ever came here! A curse upon you! Go!'
After passing out of the room, I hurried back to ring the bell, the
sooner to alarm the servants. She had then taken the impassive
figure in her arms, and, still upon her knees, was weeping over it,
kissing it, calling to it, rocking it to and fro upon her bosom
like a child, and trying every tender means to rouse the dormant
senses. No longer afraid of leaving her, I noiselessly turned back
again; and alarmed the house as I went out.
Later in the day, I returned, and we laid him in his mother's room.
She was just the same, they told me; Miss Dartle never left her;
doctors were in attendance, many things had been tried; but she lay
like a statue, except for the low sound now and then.
I went through the dreary house, and darkened the windows. The
windows of the chamber where he lay, I darkened last. I lifted up
the leaden hand, and held it to my heart; and all the world seemed
death and silence, broken only by his mother's moaning.
One thing more, I had to do, before yielding myself to the shock of
these emotions. It was, to conceal what had occurred, from those
who were going away; and to dismiss them on their voyage in happy
ignorance. In this, no time was to be lost.
I took Mr. Micawber aside that same night, and confided to him the
task of standing between Mr. Peggotty and intelligence of the late
catastrophe. He zealously undertook to do so, and to intercept any
newspaper through which it might, without such precautions, reach
'If it penetrates to him, sir,' said Mr. Micawber, striking himself
on the breast, 'it shall first pass through this body!'
Mr. Micawber, I must observe, in his adaptation of himself to a new
state of society, had acquired a bold buccaneering air, not
absolutely lawless, but defensive and prompt. One might have
supposed him a child of the wilderness, long accustomed to live out
of the confines of civilization, and about to return to his native
He had provided himself, among other things, with a complete suit
of oilskin, and a straw hat with a very low crown, pitched or
caulked on the outside. In this rough clothing, with a common
mariner's telescope under his arm, and a shrewd trick of casting up
his eye at the sky as looking out for dirty weather, he was far
more nautical, after his manner, than Mr. Peggotty. His whole
family, if I may so express it, were cleared for action. I found
Mrs. Micawber in the closest and most uncompromising of bonnets,
made fast under the chin; and in a shawl which tied her up (as I
had been tied up, when my aunt first received me) like a bundle,
and was secured behind at the waist, in a strong knot. Miss
Micawber I found made snug for stormy weather, in the same manner;
with nothing superfluous about her. Master Micawber was hardly
visible in a Guernsey shirt, and the shaggiest suit of slops I ever
saw; and the children were done up, like preserved meats, in
impervious cases. Both Mr. Micawber and his eldest son wore their
sleeves loosely turned back at the wrists, as being ready to lend
a hand in any direction, and to 'tumble up', or sing out, 'Yeo -
Heave - Yeo!' on the shortest notice.
Thus Traddles and I found them at nightfall, assembled on the
wooden steps, at that time known as Hungerford Stairs, watching the
departure of a boat with some of their property on board. I had
told Traddles of the terrible event, and it had greatly shocked
him; but there could be no doubt of the kindness of keeping it a
secret, and he had come to help me in this last service. It was
here that I took Mr. Micawber aside, and received his promise.
The Micawber family were lodged in a little, dirty, tumble-down
public-house, which in those days was close to the stairs, and
whose protruding wooden rooms overhung the river. The family, as
emigrants, being objects of some interest in and about Hungerford,
attracted so many beholders, that we were glad to take refuge in
their room. It was one of the wooden chambers upstairs, with the
tide flowing underneath. My aunt and Agnes were there, busily
making some little extra comforts, in the way of dress, for the
children. Peggotty was quietly assisting, with the old insensible
work-box, yard-measure, and bit of wax-candle before her, that had
now outlived so much.
It was not easy to answer her inquiries; still less to whisper Mr.
Peggotty, when Mr. Micawber brought him in, that I had given the
letter, and all was well. But I did both, and made them happy. If
I showed any trace of what I felt, my own sorrows were sufficient
to account for it.
'And when does the ship sail, Mr. Micawber?' asked my aunt.
Mr. Micawber considered it necessary to prepare either my aunt or
his wife, by degrees, and said, sooner than he had expected
'The boat brought you word, I suppose?' said my aunt.
'It did, ma'am,' he returned.
'Well?' said my aunt. 'And she sails -'
'Madam,' he replied, 'I am informed that we must positively be on
board before seven tomorrow morning.'
'Heyday!' said my aunt, 'that's soon. Is it a sea-going fact, Mr.
''Tis so, ma'am. She'll drop down the river with that theer tide.
If Mas'r Davy and my sister comes aboard at Gravesen', arternoon o'
next day, they'll see the last on us.'
'And that we shall do,' said I, 'be sure!'
'Until then, and until we are at sea,' observed Mr. Micawber, with
a glance of intelligence at me, 'Mr. Peggotty and myself will
constantly keep a double look-out together, on our goods and
chattels. Emma, my love,' said Mr. Micawber, clearing his throat
in his magnificent way, 'my friend Mr. Thomas Traddles is so
obliging as to solicit, in my ear, that he should have the
privilege of ordering the ingredients necessary to the composition
of a moderate portion of that Beverage which is peculiarly
associated, in our minds, with the Roast Beef of Old England. I
allude to - in short, Punch. Under ordinary circumstances, I
should scruple to entreat the indulgence of Miss Trotwood and Miss
'I can only say for myself,' said my aunt, 'that I will drink all
happiness and success to you, Mr. Micawber, with the utmost
'And I too!' said Agnes, with a smile.
Mr. Micawber immediately descended to the bar, where he appeared to
be quite at home; and in due time returned with a steaming jug. I
could not but observe that he had been peeling the lemons with his
own clasp-knife, which, as became the knife of a practical settler,
was about a foot long; and which he wiped, not wholly without
ostentation, on the sleeve of his coat. Mrs. Micawber and the two
elder members of the family I now found to be provided with similar
formidable instruments, while every child had its own wooden spoon
attached to its body by a strong line. In a similar anticipation
of life afloat, and in the Bush, Mr. Micawber, instead of helping
Mrs. Micawber and his eldest son and daughter to punch, in
wine-glasses, which he might easily have done, for there was a
shelf-full in the room, served it out to them in a series of
villainous little tin pots; and I never saw him enjoy anything so
much as drinking out of his own particular pint pot, and putting it
in his pocket at the close of the evening.
'The luxuries of the old country,' said Mr. Micawber, with an
intense satisfaction in their renouncement, 'we abandon. The
denizens of the forest cannot, of course, expect to participate in
the refinements of the land of the Free.'
Here, a boy came in to say that Mr. Micawber was wanted downstairs.
'I have a presentiment,' said Mrs. Micawber, setting down her tin
pot, 'that it is a member of my family!'
'If so, my dear,' observed Mr. Micawber, with his usual suddenness
of warmth on that subject, 'as the member of your family - whoever
he, she, or it, may be - has kept us waiting for a considerable
period, perhaps the Member may now wait MY convenience.'
'Micawber,' said his wife, in a low tone, 'at such a time as
'"It is not meet,"' said Mr. Micawber, rising, '"that every nice
offence should bear its comment!" Emma, I stand reproved.'
'The loss, Micawber,' observed his wife, 'has been my family's, not
yours. If my family are at length sensible of the deprivation to
which their own conduct has, in the past, exposed them, and now
desire to extend the hand of fellowship, let it not be repulsed.'
'My dear,' he returned, 'so be it!'
'If not for their sakes; for mine, Micawber,' said his wife.
'Emma,' he returned, 'that view of the question is, at such a
moment, irresistible. I cannot, even now, distinctly pledge myself
to fall upon your family's neck; but the member of your family, who
is now in attendance, shall have no genial warmth frozen by me.'
Mr. Micawber withdrew, and was absent some little time; in the
course of which Mrs. Micawber was not wholly free from an
apprehension that words might have arisen between him and the
Member. At length the same boy reappeared, and presented me with
a note written in pencil, and headed, in a legal manner, 'Heep v.
Micawber'. From this document, I learned that Mr. Micawber being
again arrested, 'Was in a final paroxysm of despair; and that he
begged me to send him his knife and pint pot, by bearer, as they
might prove serviceable during the brief remainder of his
existence, in jail. He also requested, as a last act of
friendship, that I would see his family to the Parish Workhouse,
and forget that such a Being ever lived.
Of course I answered this note by going down with the boy to pay
the money, where I found Mr. Micawber sitting in a corner, looking
darkly at the Sheriff 's Officer who had effected the capture. On
his release, he embraced me with the utmost fervour; and made an
entry of the transaction in his pocket-book - being very
particular, I recollect, about a halfpenny I inadvertently omitted
from my statement of the total.
This momentous pocket-book was a timely reminder to him of another
transaction. On our return to the room upstairs (where he
accounted for his absence by saying that it had been occasioned by
circumstances over which he had no control), he took out of it a
large sheet of paper, folded small, and quite covered with long
sums, carefully worked. From the glimpse I had of them, I should
say that I never saw such sums out of a school ciphering-book.
These, it seemed, were calculations of compound interest on what he
called 'the principal amount of forty-one, ten, eleven and a half',
for various periods. After a careful consideration of these, and
an elaborate estimate of his resources, he had come to the
conclusion to select that sum which represented the amount with
compound interest to two years, fifteen calendar months, and
fourteen days, from that date. For this he had drawn a
note-of-hand with great neatness, which he handed over to Traddles
on the spot, a discharge of his debt in full (as between man and
man), with many acknowledgements.
'I have still a presentiment,' said Mrs. Micawber, pensively
shaking her head, 'that my family will appear on board, before we
Mr. Micawber evidently had his presentiment on the subject too, but
he put it in his tin pot and swallowed it.
'If you have any opportunity of sending letters home, on your
passage, Mrs. Micawber,' said my aunt, 'you must let us hear from
you, you know.'
'My dear Miss Trotwood,' she replied, 'I shall only be too happy to
think that anyone expects to hear from us. I shall not fail to
correspond. Mr. Copperfield, I trust, as an old and familiar
friend, will not object to receive occasional intelligence,
himself, from one who knew him when the twins were yet
I said that I should hope to hear, whenever she had an opportunity
'Please Heaven, there will be many such opportunities,' said Mr.
Micawber. 'The ocean, in these times, is a perfect fleet of ships;
and we can hardly fail to encounter many, in running over. It is
merely crossing,' said Mr. Micawber, trifling with his eye-glass,
'merely crossing. The distance is quite imaginary.'
I think, now, how odd it was, but how wonderfully like Mr.
Micawber, that, when he went from London to Canterbury, he should
have talked as if he were going to the farthest limits of the
earth; and, when he went from England to Australia, as if he were
going for a little trip across the channel.
'On the voyage, I shall endeavour,' said Mr. Micawber,
'occasionally to spin them a yarn; and the melody of my son Wilkins
will, I trust, be acceptable at the galley-fire. When Mrs.
Micawber has her sea-legs on - an expression in which I hope there
is no conventional impropriety - she will give them, I dare say,
"Little Tafflin". Porpoises and dolphins, I believe, will be
frequently observed athwart our Bows; and, either on the starboard
or the larboard quarter, objects of interest will be continually
descried. In short,' said Mr. Micawber, with the old genteel air,
'the probability is, all will be found so exciting, alow and aloft,
that when the lookout, stationed in the main-top, cries Land-oh! we
shall be very considerably astonished!'
With that he flourished off the contents of his little tin pot, as
if he had made the voyage, and had passed a first-class examination
before the highest naval authorities.
' What I chiefly hope, my dear Mr. Copperfield,' said Mrs.
Micawber, 'is, that in some branches of our family we may live
again in the old country. Do not frown, Micawber! I do not now
refer to my own family, but to our children's children. However
vigorous the sapling,' said Mrs. Micawber, shaking her head, 'I
cannot forget the parent-tree; and when our race attains to
eminence and fortune, I own I should wish that fortune to flow into
the coffers of Britannia.'
'My dear,' said Mr. Micawber, 'Britannia must take her chance. I
am bound to say that she has never done much for me, and that I
have no particular wish upon the subject.'
'Micawber,' returned Mrs. Micawber, 'there, you are wrong. You are
going out, Micawber, to this distant clime, to strengthen, not to
weaken, the connexion between yourself and Albion.'
'The connexion in question, my love,' rejoined Mr. Micawber, 'has
not laid me, I repeat, under that load of personal obligation, that
I am at all sensitive as to the formation of another connexion.'
'Micawber,' returned Mrs. Micawber. 'There, I again say, you are
wrong. You do not know your power, Micawber. It is that which
will strengthen, even in this step you are about to take, the
connexion between yourself and Albion.'
Mr. Micawber sat in his elbow-chair, with his eyebrows raised; half
receiving and half repudiating Mrs. Micawber's views as they were
stated, but very sensible of their foresight.
'My dear Mr. Copperfield,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'I wish Mr. Micawber
to feel his position. It appears to me highly important that Mr.
Micawber should, from the hour of his embarkation, feel his
position. Your old knowledge of me, my dear Mr. Copperfield, will
have told you that I have not the sanguine disposition of Mr.
Micawber. My disposition is, if I may say so, eminently practical.
I know that this is a long voyage. I know that it will involve
many privations and inconveniences. I cannot shut my eyes to those
facts. But I also know what Mr. Micawber is. I know the latent
power of Mr. Micawber. And therefore I consider it vitally
important that Mr. Micawber should feel his position.'
'My love,' he observed, 'perhaps you will allow me to remark that
it is barely possible that I DO feel my position at the present
'I think not, Micawber,' she rejoined. 'Not fully. My dear Mr.
Copperfield, Mr. Micawber's is not a common case. Mr. Micawber is
going to a distant country expressly in order that he may be fully
understood and appreciated for the first time. I wish Mr. Micawber
to take his stand upon that vessel's prow, and firmly say, "This
country I am come to conquer! Have you honours? Have you riches?
Have you posts of profitable pecuniary emolument? Let them be
brought forward. They are mine!"'
Mr. Micawber, glancing at us all, seemed to think there was a good
deal in this idea.
'I wish Mr. Micawber, if I make myself understood,' said Mrs.
Micawber, in her argumentative tone, 'to be the Caesar of his own
fortunes. That, my dear Mr. Copperfield, appears to me to be his
true position. From the first moment of this voyage, I wish Mr.
Micawber to stand upon that vessel's prow and say, "Enough of
delay: enough of disappointment: enough of limited means. That was
in the old country. This is the new. Produce your reparation.
Bring it forward!"'
Mr. Micawber folded his arms in a resolute manner, as if he were
then stationed on the figure-head.
'And doing that,' said Mrs. Micawber, '- feeling his position - am
I not right in saying that Mr. Micawber will strengthen, and not
weaken, his connexion with Britain? An important public character
arising in that hemisphere, shall I be told that its influence will
not be felt at home? Can I be so weak as to imagine that Mr.
Micawber, wielding the rod of talent and of power in Australia,
will be nothing in England? I am but a woman; but I should be
unworthy of myself and of my papa, if I were guilty of such absurd
Mrs. Micawber's conviction that her arguments were unanswerable,
gave a moral elevation to her tone which I think I had never heard
in it before.
'And therefore it is,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'that I the more wish,
that, at a future period, we may live again on the parent soil.
Mr. Micawber may be - I cannot disguise from myself that the
probability is, Mr. Micawber will be - a page of History; and he
ought then to be represented in the country which gave him birth,
and did NOT give him employment!'
'My love,' observed Mr. Micawber, 'it is impossible for me not to
be touched by your affection. I am always willing to defer to your
good sense. What will be - will be. Heaven forbid that I should
grudge my native country any portion of the wealth that may be
accumulated by our descendants!'
'That's well,' said my aunt, nodding towards Mr. Peggotty, 'and I
drink my love to you all, and every blessing and success attend
Mr. Peggotty put down the two children he had been nursing, one on
each knee, to join Mr. and Mrs. Micawber in drinking to all of us
in return; and when he and the Micawbers cordially shook hands as
comrades, and his brown face brightened with a smile, I felt that
he would make his way, establish a good name, and be beloved, go
where he would.
Even the children were instructed, each to dip a wooden spoon into
Mr. Micawber's pot, and pledge us in its contents. When this was
done, my aunt and Agnes rose, and parted from the emigrants. It
was a sorrowful farewell. They were all crying; the children hung
about Agnes to the last; and we left poor Mrs. Micawber in a very
distressed condition, sobbing and weeping by a dim candle, that
must have made the room look, from the river, like a miserable
I went down again next morning to see that they were away. They
had departed, in a boat, as early as five o'clock. It was a
wonderful instance to me of the gap such partings make, that
although my association of them with the tumble-down public-house
and the wooden stairs dated only from last night, both seemed
dreary and deserted, now that they were gone.
In the afternoon of the next day, my old nurse and I went down to
Gravesend. We found the ship in the river, surrounded by a crowd
of boats; a favourable wind blowing; the signal for sailing at her
mast-head. I hired a boat directly, and we put off to her; and
getting through the little vortex of confusion of which she was the
centre, went on board.
Mr. Peggotty was waiting for us on deck. He told me that Mr.
Micawber had just now been arrested again (and for the last time)
at the suit of Heep, and that, in compliance with a request I had
made to him, he had paid the money, which I repaid him. He then
took us down between decks; and there, any lingering fears I had of
his having heard any rumours of what had happened, were dispelled
by Mr. Micawber's coming out of the gloom, taking his arm with an
air of friendship and protection, and telling me that they had
scarcely been asunder for a moment, since the night before last.
It was such a strange scene to me, and so confined and dark, that,
at first, I could make out hardly anything; but, by degrees, it
cleared, as my eyes became more accustomed to the gloom, and I
seemed to stand in a picture by OSTADE. Among the great beams,
bulks, and ringbolts of the ship, and the emigrant-berths, and
chests, and bundles, and barrels, and heaps of miscellaneous
baggage -'lighted up, here and there, by dangling lanterns; and
elsewhere by the yellow daylight straying down a windsail or a
hatchway - were crowded groups of people, making new friendships,
taking leave of one another, talking, laughing, crying, eating and
drinking; some, already settled down into the possession of their
few feet of space, with their little households arranged, and tiny
children established on stools, or in dwarf elbow-chairs; others,
despairing of a resting-place, and wandering disconsolately. From
babies who had but a week or two of life behind them, to crooked
old men and women who seemed to have but a week or two of life
before them; and from ploughmen bodily carrying out soil of England
on their boots, to smiths taking away samples of its soot and smoke
upon their skins; every age and occupation appeared to be crammed
into the narrow compass of the 'tween decks.
As my eye glanced round this place, I thought I saw sitting, by an
open port, with one of the Micawber children near her, a figure
like Emily's; it first attracted my attention, by another figure
parting from it with a kiss; and as it glided calmly away through
the disorder, reminding me of - Agnes! But in the rapid motion and
confusion, and in the unsettlement of my own thoughts, I lost it
again; and only knew that the time was come when all visitors were
being warned to leave the ship; that my nurse was crying on a chest
beside me; and that Mrs. Gummidge, assisted by some younger
stooping woman in black, was busily arranging Mr. Peggotty's goods.
'Is there any last wured, Mas'r Davy?' said he. 'Is there any one
forgotten thing afore we parts?'
'One thing!' said I. 'Martha!'
He touched the younger woman I have mentioned on the shoulder, and
Martha stood before me.
'Heaven bless you, you good man!' cried I. 'You take her with
She answered for him, with a burst of tears. I could speak no more
at that time, but I wrung his hand; and if ever I have loved and
honoured any man, I loved and honoured that man in my soul.
The ship was clearing fast of strangers. The greatest trial that
I had, remained. I told him what the noble spirit that was gone,
had given me in charge to say at parting. It moved him deeply.
But when he charged me, in return, with many messages of affection
and regret for those deaf ears, he moved me more.
The time was come. I embraced him, took my weeping nurse upon my
arm, and hurried away. On deck, I took leave of poor Mrs.
Micawber. She was looking distractedly about for her family, even
then; and her last words to me were, that she never would desert
We went over the side into our boat, and lay at a little distance,
to see the ship wafted on her course. It was then calm, radiant
sunset. She lay between us, and the red light; and every taper
line and spar was visible against the glow. A sight at once so
beautiful, so mournful, and so hopeful, as the glorious ship,
lying, still, on the flushed water, with all the life on board her
crowded at the bulwarks, and there clustering, for a moment,
bare-headed and silent, I never saw.
Silent, only for a moment. As the sails rose to the wind, and the
ship began to move, there broke from all the boats three resounding
cheers, which those on board took up, and echoed back, and which
were echoed and re-echoed. My heart burst out when I heard the
sound, and beheld the waving of the hats and handkerchiefs - and
then I saw her!
Then I saw her, at her uncle's side, and trembling on his shoulder.
He pointed to us with an eager hand; and she saw us, and waved her
last good-bye to me. Aye, Emily, beautiful and drooping, cling to
him with the utmost trust of thy bruised heart; for he has clung to
thee, with all the might of his great love!
Surrounded by the rosy light, and standing high upon the deck,
apart together, she clinging to him, and he holding her, they
solemnly passed away. The night had fallen on the Kentish hills
when we were rowed ashore - and fallen darkly upon me.
It was a long and gloomy night that gathered on me, haunted by the
ghosts of many hopes, of many dear remembrances, many errors, many
unavailing sorrows and regrets.
I went away from England; not knowing, even then, how great the
shock was, that I had to bear. I left all who were dear to me, and
went away; and believed that I had borne it, and it was past. As
a man upon a field of battle will receive a mortal hurt, and
scarcely know that he is struck, so I, when I was left alone with
my undisciplined heart, had no conception of the wound with which
it had to strive.
The knowledge came upon me, not quickly, but little by little, and
grain by grain. The desolate feeling with which I went abroad,
deepened and widened hourly. At first it was a heavy sense of loss
and sorrow, wherein I could distinguish little else. By
imperceptible degrees, it became a hopeless consciousness of all
that I had lost - love, friendship, interest; of all that had been
shattered - my first trust, my first affection, the whole airy
castle of my life; of all that remained - a ruined blank and waste,
lying wide around me, unbroken, to the dark horizon.
If my grief were selfish, I did not know it to be so. I mourned
for my child-wife, taken from her blooming world, so young. I
mourned for him who might have won the love and admiration of
thousands, as he had won mine long ago. I mourned for the broken
heart that had found rest in the stormy sea; and for the wandering
remnants of the simple home, where I had heard the night-wind
blowing, when I was a child.
From the accumulated sadness into which I fell, I had at length no
hope of ever issuing again. I roamed from place to place, carrying
my burden with me everywhere. I felt its whole weight now; and I
drooped beneath it, and I said in my heart that it could never be
When this despondency was at its worst, I believed that I should
die. Sometimes, I thought that I would like to die at home; and
actually turned back on my road, that I might get there soon. At
other times, I passed on farther away, -from city to city, seeking
I know not what, and trying to leave I know not what behind.
It is not in my power to retrace, one by one, all the weary phases
of distress of mind through which I passed. There are some dreams
that can only be imperfectly and vaguely described; and when I
oblige myself to look back on this time of my life, I seem to be
recalling such a dream. I see myself passing on among the
novelties of foreign towns, palaces, cathedrals, temples, pictures,
castles, tombs, fantastic streets - the old abiding places of
History and Fancy - as a dreamer might; bearing my painful load
through all, and hardly conscious of the objects as they fade
before me. Listlessness to everything, but brooding sorrow, was
the night that fell on my undisciplined heart. Let me look up from
it - as at last I did, thank Heaven! - and from its long, sad,
wretched dream, to dawn.
For many months I travelled with this ever-darkening cloud upon my
mind. Some blind reasons that I had for not returning home -
reasons then struggling within me, vainly, for more distinct
expression - kept me on my pilgrimage. Sometimes, I had proceeded
restlessly from place to place, stopping nowhere; sometimes, I had
lingered long in one spot. I had had no purpose, no sustaining
soul within me, anywhere.
I was in Switzerland. I had come out of Italy, over one of the
great passes of the Alps, and had since wandered with a guide among
the by-ways of the mountains. If those awful solitudes had spoken
to my heart, I did not know it. I had found sublimity and wonder
in the dread heights and precipices, in the roaring torrents, and
the wastes of ice and snow; but as yet, they had taught me nothing
I came, one evening before sunset, down into a valley, where I was
to rest. In the course of my descent to it, by the winding track
along the mountain-side, from which I saw it shining far below, I
think some long-unwonted sense of beauty and tranquillity, some
softening influence awakened by its peace, moved faintly in my
breast. I remember pausing once, with a kind of sorrow that was
not all oppressive, not quite despairing. I remember almost hoping
that some better change was possible within me.
I came into the valley, as the evening sun was shining on the
remote heights of snow, that closed it in, like eternal clouds.
The bases of the mountains forming the gorge in which the little
village lay, were richly green; and high above this gentler
vegetation, grew forests of dark fir, cleaving the wintry
snow-drift, wedge-like, and stemming the avalanche. Above these,
were range upon range of craggy steeps, grey rock, bright ice, and
smooth verdure-specks of pasture, all gradually blending with the
crowning snow. Dotted here and there on the mountain's-side, each
tiny dot a home, were lonely wooden cottages, so dwarfed by the
towering heights that they appeared too small for toys. So did
even the clustered village in the valley, with its wooden bridge
across the stream, where the stream tumbled over broken rocks, and
roared away among the trees. In the quiet air, there was a sound
of distant singing - shepherd voices; but, as one bright evening
cloud floated midway along the mountain's-side, I could almost have
believed it came from there, and was not earthly music. All at
once, in this serenity, great Nature spoke to me; and soothed me to
lay down my weary head upon the grass, and weep as I had not wept
yet, since Dora died!
I had found a packet of letters awaiting me but a few minutes
before, and had strolled out of the village to read them while my
supper was making ready. Other packets had missed me, and I had
received none for a long time. Beyond a line or two, to say that
I was well, and had arrived at such a place, I had not had
fortitude or constancy to write a letter since I left home.
The packet was in my hand. I opened it, and read the writing of
She was happy and useful, was prospering as she had hoped. That
was all she told me of herself. The rest referred to me.
She gave me no advice; she urged no duty on me; she only told me,
in her own fervent manner, what her trust in me was. She knew (she
said) how such a nature as mine would turn affliction to good. She
knew how trial and emotion would exalt and strengthen it. She was
sure that in my every purpose I should gain a firmer and a higher
tendency, through the grief I had undergone. She, who so gloried
in my fame, and so looked forward to its augmentation, well knew
that I would labour on. She knew that in me, sorrow could not be
weakness, but must be strength. As the endurance of my childish
days had done its part to make me what I was, so greater calamities
would nerve me on, to be yet better than I was; and so, as they had
taught me, would I teach others. She commended me to God, who had
taken my innocent darling to His rest; and in her sisterly
affection cherished me always, and was always at my side go where
I would; proud of what I had done, but infinitely prouder yet of
what I was reserved to do.
I put the letter in my breast, and thought what had I been an hour
ago! When I heard the voices die away, and saw the quiet evening
cloud grow dim, and all the colours in the valley fade, and the
golden snow upon the mountain-tops become a remote part of the pale
night sky, yet felt that the night was passing from my mind, and
all its shadows clearing, there was no name for the love I bore
her, dearer to me, henceforward, than ever until then.
I read her letter many times. I wrote to her before I slept. I
told her that I had been in sore need of her help; that without her
I was not, and I never had been, what she thought me; but that she
inspired me to be that, and I would try.
I did try. In three months more, a year would have passed since
the beginning of my sorrow. I determined to make no resolutions
until the expiration of those three months, but to try. I lived in
that valley, and its neighbourhood, all the time.
The three months gone, I resolved to remain away from home for some
time longer; to settle myself for the present in Switzerland, which
was growing dear to me in the remembrance of that evening; to
resume my pen; to work.
I resorted humbly whither Agnes had commended me; I sought out
Nature, never sought in vain; and I admitted to my breast the human
interest I had lately shrunk from. It was not long, before I had
almost as many friends in the valley as in Yarmouth: and when I
left it, before the winter set in, for Geneva, and came back in the
spring, their cordial greetings had a homely sound to me, although
they were not conveyed in English words.
I worked early and late, patiently and hard. I wrote a Story, with
a purpose growing, not remotely, out of my experience, and sent it
to Traddles, and he arranged for its publication very
advantageously for me; and the tidings of my growing reputation
began to reach me from travellers whom I encountered by chance.
After some rest and change, I fell to work, in my old ardent way,
on a new fancy, which took strong possession of me. As I advanced
in the execution of this task, I felt it more and more, and roused
my utmost energies to do it well. This was my third work of
fiction. It was not half written, when, in an interval of rest, I
thought of returning home.
For a long time, though studying and working patiently, I had
accustomed myself to robust exercise. My health, severely impaired
when I left England, was quite restored. I had seen much. I had
been in many countries, and I hope I had improved my store of
I have now recalled all that I think it needful to recall here, of
this term of absence - with one reservation. I have made it, thus
far, with no purpose of suppressing any of my thoughts; for, as I
have elsewhere said, this narrative is my written memory. I have
desired to keep the most secret current of my mind apart, and to
the last. I enter on it now. I cannot so completely penetrate the
mystery of my own heart, as to know when I began to think that I
might have set its earliest and brightest hopes on Agnes. I cannot
say at what stage of my grief it first became associated with the
reflection, that, in my wayward boyhood, I had thrown away the
treasure of her love. I believe I may have heard some whisper of
that distant thought, in the old unhappy loss or want of something
never to be realized, of which I had been sensible. But the
thought came into my mind as a new reproach and new regret, when I
was left so sad and lonely in the world.
If, at that time, I had been much with her, I should, in the
weakness of my desolation, have betrayed this. It was what I
remotely dreaded when I was first impelled to stay away from
England. I could not have borne to lose the smallest portion of
her sisterly affection; yet, in that betrayal, I should have set a
constraint between us hitherto unknown.
I could not forget that the feeling with which she now regarded me
had grown up in my own free choice and course. That if she had
ever loved me with another love - and I sometimes thought the time
was when she might have done so - I had cast it away. It was
nothing, now, that I had accustomed myself to think of her, when we
were both mere children, as one who was far removed from my wild
fancies. I had bestowed my passionate tenderness upon another
object; and what I might have done, I had not done; and what Agnes
was to me, I and her own noble heart had made her.
In the beginning of the change that gradually worked in me, when I
tried to get a better understanding of myself and be a better man,
I did glance, through some indefinite probation, to a period when
I might possibly hope to cancel the mistaken past, and to be so
blessed as to marry her. But, as time wore on, this shadowy
prospect faded, and departed from me. If she had ever loved me,
then, I should hold her the more sacred; remembering the
confidences I had reposed in her, her knowledge of my errant heart,
the sacrifice she must have made to be my friend and sister, and
the victory she had won. If she had never loved me, could I
believe that she would love me now?
I had always felt my weakness, in comparison with her constancy and
fortitude; and now I felt it more and more. Whatever I might have
been to her, or she to me, if I had been more worthy of her long
ago, I was not now, and she was not. The time was past. I had let
it go by, and had deservedly lost her.
That I suffered much in these contentions, that they filled me with
unhappiness and remorse, and yet that I had a sustaining sense that
it was required of me, in right and honour, to keep away from
myself, with shame, the thought of turning to the dear girl in the
withering of my hopes, from whom I had frivolously turned when they
were bright and fresh - which consideration was at the root of
every thought I had concerning her - is all equally true. I made
no effort to conceal from myself, now, that I loved her, that I was
devoted to her; but I brought the assurance home to myself, that it
was now too late, and that our long-subsisting relation must be
I had thought, much and often, of my Dora's shadowing out to me
what might have happened, in those years that were destined not to
try us; I had considered how the things that never happen, are
often as much realities to us, in their effects, as those that are
accomplished. The very years she spoke of, were realities now, for
my correction; and would have been, one day, a little later
perhaps, though we had parted in our earliest folly. I endeavoured
to convert what might have been between myself and Agnes, into a
means of making me more self-denying, more resolved, more conscious
of myself, and my defects and errors. Thus, through the reflection
that it might have been, I arrived at the conviction that it could
These, with their perplexities and inconsistencies, were the
shifting quicksands of my mind, from the time of my departure to
the time of my return home, three years afterwards. Three years
had elapsed since the sailing of the emigrant ship; when, at that
same hour of sunset, and in the same place, I stood on the deck of
the packet vessel that brought me home, looking on the rosy water
where I had seen the image of that ship reflected.
Three years. Long in the aggregate, though short as they went by.
And home was very dear to me, and Agnes too - but she was not mine
- she was never to be mine. She might have been, but that was
I landed in London on a wintry autumn evening. It was dark and
raining, and I saw more fog and mud in a minute than I had seen in
a year. I walked from the Custom House to the Monument before I
found a coach; and although the very house-fronts, looking on the
swollen gutters, were like old friends to me, I could not but admit
that they were very dingy friends.
I have often remarked - I suppose everybody has - that one's going
away from a familiar place, would seem to be the signal for change
in it. As I looked out of the coach window, and observed that an
old house on Fish-street Hill, which had stood untouched by
painter, carpenter, or bricklayer, for a century, had been pulled
down in my absence; and that a neighbouring street, of
time-honoured insalubrity and inconvenience, was being drained and
widened; I half expected to find St. Paul's Cathedral looking
For some changes in the fortunes of my friends, I was prepared. My
aunt had long been re-established at Dover, and Traddles had begun
to get into some little practice at the Bar, in the very first term
after my departure. He had chambers in Gray's Inn, now; and had
told me, in his last letters, that he was not without hopes of
being soon united to the dearest girl in the world.
They expected me home before Christmas; but had no idea of my
returning so soon. I had purposely misled them, that I might have
the pleasure of taking them by surprise. And yet, I was perverse
enough to feel a chill and disappointment in receiving no welcome,
and rattling, alone and silent, through the misty streets.
The well-known shops, however, with their cheerful lights, did
something for me; and when I alighted at the door of the Gray's Inn
Coffee-house, I had recovered my spirits. It recalled, at first,
that so-different time when I had put up at the Golden Cross, and
reminded me of the changes that had come to pass since then; but
that was natural.
'Do you know where Mr. Traddles lives in the Inn?' I asked the
waiter, as I warmed myself by the coffee-room fire.
'Holborn Court, sir. Number two.'
'Mr. Traddles has a rising reputation among the lawyers, I
believe?' said I.
'Well, sir,' returned the waiter, 'probably he has, sir; but I am
not aware of it myself.'
This waiter, who was middle-aged and spare, looked for help to a
waiter of more authority - a stout, potential old man, with a
double chin, in black breeches and stockings, who came out of a
place like a churchwarden's pew, at the end of the coffee-room,
where he kept company with a cash-box, a Directory, a Law-list, and
other books and papers.
'Mr. Traddles,' said the spare waiter. 'Number two in the Court.'
The potential waiter waved him away, and turned, gravely, to me.
'I was inquiring,' said I, 'whether Mr. Traddles, at number two in
the Court, has not a rising reputation among the lawyers?'
'Never heard his name,' said the waiter, in a rich husky voice.
I felt quite apologetic for Traddles.
'He's a young man, sure?' said the portentous waiter, fixing his
eyes severely on me. 'How long has he been in the Inn?'
'Not above three years,' said I.
The waiter, who I supposed had lived in his churchwarden's pew for
forty years, could not pursue such an insignificant subject. He
asked me what I would have for dinner?
I felt I was in England again, and really was quite cast down on
Traddles's account. There seemed to be no hope for him. I meekly
ordered a bit of fish and a steak, and stood before the fire musing
on his obscurity.
As I followed the chief waiter with my eyes, I could not help
thinking that the garden in which he had gradually blown to be the
flower he was, was an arduous place to rise in. It had such a
prescriptive, stiff-necked, long-established, solemn, elderly air.
I glanced about the room, which had had its sanded floor sanded, no
doubt, in exactly the same manner when the chief waiter was a boy
- if he ever was a boy, which appeared improbable; and at the
shining tables, where I saw myself reflected, in unruffled depths
of old mahogany; and at the lamps, without a flaw in their trimming
or cleaning; and at the comfortable green curtains, with their pure
brass rods, snugly enclosing the boxes; and at the two large coal
fires, brightly burning; and at the rows of decanters, burly as if
with the consciousness of pipes of expensive old port wine below;
and both England, and the law, appeared to me to be very difficult
indeed to be taken by storm. I went up to my bedroom to change my
wet clothes; and the vast extent of that old wainscoted apartment
(which was over the archway leading to the Inn, I remember), and
the sedate immensity of the four-post bedstead, and the indomitable
gravity of the chests of drawers, all seemed to unite in sternly
frowning on the fortunes of Traddles, or on any such daring youth.
I came down again to my dinner; and even the slow comfort of the
meal, and the orderly silence of the place - which was bare of
guests, the Long Vacation not yet being over - were eloquent on the
audacity of Traddles, and his small hopes of a livelihood for
twenty years to come.
I had seen nothing like this since I went away, and it quite dashed
my hopes for my friend. The chief waiter had had enough of me. He
came near me no more; but devoted himself to an old gentleman in
long gaiters, to meet whom a pint of special port seemed to come
out of the cellar of its own accord, for he gave no order. The
second waiter informed me, in a whisper, that this old gentleman
was a retired conveyancer living in the Square, and worth a mint of
money, which it was expected he would leave to his laundress's
daughter; likewise that it was rumoured that he had a service of
plate in a bureau, all tarnished with lying by, though more than
one spoon and a fork had never yet been beheld in his chambers by
mortal vision. By this time, I quite gave Traddles up for lost;
and settled in my own mind that there was no hope for him.
Being very anxious to see the dear old fellow, nevertheless, I
dispatched my dinner, in a manner not at all calculated to raise me
in the opinion of the chief waiter, and hurried out by the back
way. Number two in the Court was soon reached; and an inscription
on the door-post informing me that Mr. Traddles occupied a set of
chambers on the top storey, I ascended the staircase. A crazy old
staircase I found it to be, feebly lighted on each landing by a
club- headed little oil wick, dying away in a little dungeon of
In the course of my stumbling upstairs, I fancied I heard a
pleasant sound of laughter; and not the laughter of an attorney or
barrister, or attorney's clerk or barrister's clerk, but of two or
three merry girls. Happening, however, as I stopped to listen, to
put my foot in a hole where the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn
had left a plank deficient, I fell down with some noise, and when
I recovered my footing all was silent.
Groping my way more carefully, for the rest of the journey, my
heart beat high when I found the outer door, which had Mr. TRADDLES
painted on it, open. I knocked. A considerable scuffling within
ensued, but nothing else. I therefore knocked again.
A small sharp-looking lad, half-footboy and half-clerk, who was
very much out of breath, but who looked at me as if he defied me to
prove it legally, presented himself.
'Is Mr. Traddles within?' I said.
'Yes, sir, but he's engaged.'
'I want to see him.'
After a moment's survey of me, the sharp-looking lad decided to let
me in; and opening the door wider for that purpose, admitted me,
first, into a little closet of a hall, and next into a little
sitting-room; where I came into the presence of my old friend (also
out of breath), seated at a table, and bending over papers.
'Good God!' cried Traddles, looking up. 'It's Copperfield!' and