Part 3 out of 21
embarrassment of either disclosure or concealment, by presenting me
to every other boy who came back, great or small, immediately on
his arrival, in this form of introduction, 'Look here! Here's a
game!' Happily, too, the greater part of the boys came back
low-spirited, and were not so boisterous at my expense as I had
expected. Some of them certainly did dance about me like wild
Indians, and the greater part could not resist the temptation of
pretending that I was a dog, and patting and soothing me, lest I
should bite, and saying, 'Lie down, sir!' and calling me Towzer.
This was naturally confusing, among so many strangers, and cost me
some tears, but on the whole it was much better than I had
I was not considered as being formally received into the school,
however, until J. Steerforth arrived. Before this boy, who was
reputed to be a great scholar, and was very good-looking, and at
least half-a-dozen years my senior, I was carried as before a
magistrate. He inquired, under a shed in the playground, into the
particulars of my punishment, and was pleased to express his
opinion that it was 'a jolly shame'; for which I became bound to
him ever afterwards.
'What money have you got, Copperfield?' he said, walking aside with
me when he had disposed of my affair in these terms. I told him
'You had better give it to me to take care of,' he said. 'At
least, you can if you like. You needn't if you don't like.'
I hastened to comply with his friendly suggestion, and opening
Peggotty's purse, turned it upside down into his hand.
'Do you want to spend anything now?' he asked me.
'No thank you,' I replied.
'You can, if you like, you know,' said Steerforth. 'Say the word.'
'No, thank you, sir,' I repeated.
'Perhaps you'd like to spend a couple of shillings or so, in a
bottle of currant wine by and by, up in the bedroom?' said
Steerforth. 'You belong to my bedroom, I find.'
It certainly had not occurred to me before, but I said, Yes, I
should like that.
'Very good,' said Steerforth. 'You'll be glad to spend another
shilling or so, in almond cakes, I dare say?'
I said, Yes, I should like that, too.
'And another shilling or so in biscuits, and another in fruit, eh?'
said Steerforth. 'I say, young Copperfield, you're going it!'
I smiled because he smiled, but I was a little troubled in my mind,
'Well!' said Steerforth. 'We must make it stretch as far as we
can; that's all. I'll do the best in my power for you. I can go
out when I like, and I'll smuggle the prog in.' With these words
he put the money in his pocket, and kindly told me not to make
myself uneasy; he would take care it should be all right.
He was as good as his word, if that were all right which I had a
secret misgiving was nearly all wrong - for I feared it was a waste
of my mother's two half-crowns - though I had preserved the piece
of paper they were wrapped in: which was a precious saving. When
we went upstairs to bed, he produced the whole seven
shillings'worth, and laid it out on my bed in the moonlight,
'There you are, young Copperfield, and a royal spread you've got.'
I couldn't think of doing the honours of the feast, at my time of
life, while he was by; my hand shook at the very thought of it. I
begged him to do me the favour of presiding; and my request being
seconded by the other boys who were in that room, he acceded to it,
and sat upon my pillow, handing round the viands - with perfect
fairness, I must say - and dispensing the currant wine in a little
glass without a foot, which was his own property. As to me, I sat
on his left hand, and the rest were grouped about us, on the
nearest beds and on the floor.
How well I recollect our sitting there, talking in whispers; or
their talking, and my respectfully listening, I ought rather to
say; the moonlight falling a little way into the room, through the
window, painting a pale window on the floor, and the greater part
of us in shadow, except when Steerforth dipped a match into a
phosphorus-box, when he wanted to look for anything on the board,
and shed a blue glare over us that was gone directly! A certain
mysterious feeling, consequent on the darkness, the secrecy of the
revel, and the whisper in which everything was said, steals over me
again, and I listen to all they tell me with a vague feeling of
solemnity and awe, which makes me glad that they are all so near,
and frightens me (though I feign to laugh) when Traddles pretends
to see a ghost in the corner.
I heard all kinds of things about the school and all belonging to
it. I heard that Mr. Creakle had not preferred his claim to being
a Tartar without reason; that he was the sternest and most severe
of masters; that he laid about him, right and left, every day of
his life, charging in among the boys like a trooper, and slashing
away, unmercifully. That he knew nothing himself, but the art of
slashing, being more ignorant (J. Steerforth said) than the lowest
boy in the school; that he had been, a good many years ago, a small
hop-dealer in the Borough, and had taken to the schooling business
after being bankrupt in hops, and making away with Mrs. Creakle's
money. With a good deal more of that sort, which I wondered how
I heard that the man with the wooden leg, whose name was Tungay,
was an obstinate barbarian who had formerly assisted in the hop
business, but had come into the scholastic line with Mr. Creakle,
in consequence, as was supposed among the boys, of his having
broken his leg in Mr. Creakle's service, and having done a deal of
dishonest work for him, and knowing his secrets. I heard that with
the single exception of Mr. Creakle, Tungay considered the whole
establishment, masters and boys, as his natural enemies, and that
the only delight of his life was to be sour and malicious. I heard
that Mr. Creakle had a son, who had not been Tungay's friend, and
who, assisting in the school, had once held some remonstrance with
his father on an occasion when its discipline was very cruelly
exercised, and was supposed, besides, to have protested against his
father's usage of his mother. I heard that Mr. Creakle had turned
him out of doors, in consequence; and that Mrs. and Miss Creakle
had been in a sad way, ever since.
But the greatest wonder that I heard of Mr. Creakle was, there
being one boy in the school on whom he never ventured to lay a
hand, and that boy being J. Steerforth. Steerforth himself
confirmed this when it was stated, and said that he should like to
begin to see him do it. On being asked by a mild boy (not me) how
he would proceed if he did begin to see him do it, he dipped a
match into his phosphorus-box on purpose to shed a glare over his
reply, and said he would commence by knocking him down with a blow
on the forehead from the seven-and-sixpenny ink-bottle that was
always on the mantelpiece. We sat in the dark for some time,
I heard that Mr. Sharp and Mr. Mell were both supposed to be
wretchedly paid; and that when there was hot and cold meat for
dinner at Mr. Creakle's table, Mr. Sharp was always expected to say
he preferred cold; which was again corroborated by J. Steerforth,
the only parlour-boarder. I heard that Mr. Sharp's wig didn't fit
him; and that he needn't be so 'bounceable' - somebody else said
'bumptious' - about it, because his own red hair was very plainly
to be seen behind.
I heard that one boy, who was a coal-merchant's son, came as a
set-off against the coal-bill, and was called, on that account,
'Exchange or Barter' - a name selected from the arithmetic book as
expressing this arrangement. I heard that the table beer was a
robbery of parents, and the pudding an imposition. I heard that
Miss Creakle was regarded by the school in general as being in love
with Steerforth; and I am sure, as I sat in the dark, thinking of
his nice voice, and his fine face, and his easy manner, and his
curling hair, I thought it very likely. I heard that Mr. Mell was
not a bad sort of fellow, but hadn't a sixpence to bless himself
with; and that there was no doubt that old Mrs. Mell, his mother,
was as poor as job. I thought of my breakfast then, and what had
sounded like 'My Charley!' but I was, I am glad to remember, as
mute as a mouse about it.
The hearing of all this, and a good deal more, outlasted the
banquet some time. The greater part of the guests had gone to bed
as soon as the eating and drinking were over; and we, who had
remained whispering and listening half-undressed, at last betook
ourselves to bed, too.
'Good night, young Copperfield,' said Steerforth. 'I'll take care
'You're very kind,' I gratefully returned. 'I am very much obliged
'You haven't got a sister, have you?' said Steerforth, yawning.
'No,' I answered.
'That's a pity,' said Steerforth. 'If you had had one, I should
think she would have been a pretty, timid, little, bright-eyed sort
of girl. I should have liked to know her. Good night, young
'Good night, sir,' I replied.
I thought of him very much after I went to bed, and raised myself,
I recollect, to look at him where he lay in the moonlight, with his
handsome face turned up, and his head reclining easily on his arm.
He was a person of great power in my eyes; that was, of course, the
reason of my mind running on him. No veiled future dimly glanced
upon him in the moonbeams. There was no shadowy picture of his
footsteps, in the garden that I dreamed of walking in all night.
MY 'FIRST HALF' AT SALEM HOUSE
School began in earnest next day. A profound impression was made
upon me, I remember, by the roar of voices in the schoolroom
suddenly becoming hushed as death when Mr. Creakle entered after
breakfast, and stood in the doorway looking round upon us like a
giant in a story-book surveying his captives.
Tungay stood at Mr. Creakle's elbow. He had no occasion, I
thought, to cry out 'Silence!' so ferociously, for the boys were
all struck speechless and motionless.
Mr. Creakle was seen to speak, and Tungay was heard, to this
'Now, boys, this is a new half. Take care what you're about, in
this new half. Come fresh up to the lessons, I advise you, for I
come fresh up to the punishment. I won't flinch. It will be of no
use your rubbing yourselves; you won't rub the marks out that I
shall give you. Now get to work, every boy!'
When this dreadful exordium was over, and Tungay had stumped out
again, Mr. Creakle came to where I sat, and told me that if I were
famous for biting, he was famous for biting, too. He then showed
me the cane, and asked me what I thought of THAT, for a tooth? Was
it a sharp tooth, hey? Was it a double tooth, hey? Had it a deep
prong, hey? Did it bite, hey? Did it bite? At every question he
gave me a fleshy cut with it that made me writhe; so I was very
soon made free of Salem House (as Steerforth said), and was very
soon in tears also.
Not that I mean to say these were special marks of distinction,
which only I received. On the contrary, a large majority of the
boys (especially the smaller ones) were visited with similar
instances of notice, as Mr. Creakle made the round of the
schoolroom. Half the establishment was writhing and crying, before
the day's work began; and how much of it had writhed and cried
before the day's work was over, I am really afraid to recollect,
lest I should seem to exaggerate.
I should think there never can have been a man who enjoyed his
profession more than Mr. Creakle did. He had a delight in cutting
at the boys, which was like the satisfaction of a craving appetite.
I am confident that he couldn't resist a chubby boy, especially;
that there was a fascination in such a subject, which made him
restless in his mind, until he had scored and marked him for the
day. I was chubby myself, and ought to know. I am sure when I
think of the fellow now, my blood rises against him with the
disinterested indignation I should feel if I could have known all
about him without having ever been in his power; but it rises
hotly, because I know him to have been an incapable brute, who had
no more right to be possessed of the great trust he held, than to
be Lord High Admiral, or Commander-in-Chief - in either of which
capacities it is probable that he would have done infinitely less
Miserable little propitiators of a remorseless Idol, how abject we
were to him! What a launch in life I think it now, on looking
back, to be so mean and servile to a man of such parts and
Here I sit at the desk again, watching his eye - humbly watching
his eye, as he rules a ciphering-book for another victim whose
hands have just been flattened by that identical ruler, and who is
trying to wipe the sting out with a pocket-handkerchief. I have
plenty to do. I don't watch his eye in idleness, but because I am
morbidly attracted to it, in a dread desire to know what he will do
next, and whether it will be my turn to suffer, or somebody else's.
A lane of small boys beyond me, with the same interest in his eye,
watch it too. I think he knows it, though he pretends he don't.
He makes dreadful mouths as he rules the ciphering-book; and now he
throws his eye sideways down our lane, and we all droop over our
books and tremble. A moment afterwards we are again eyeing him.
An unhappy culprit, found guilty of imperfect exercise, approaches
at his command. The culprit falters excuses, and professes a
determination to do better tomorrow. Mr. Creakle cuts a joke
before he beats him, and we laugh at it, - miserable little dogs,
we laugh, with our visages as white as ashes, and our hearts
sinking into our boots.
Here I sit at the desk again, on a drowsy summer afternoon. A buzz
and hum go up around me, as if the boys were so many bluebottles.
A cloggy sensation of the lukewarm fat of meat is upon me (we dined
an hour or two ago), and my head is as heavy as so much lead. I
would give the world to go to sleep. I sit with my eye on Mr.
Creakle, blinking at him like a young owl; when sleep overpowers me
for a minute, he still looms through my slumber, ruling those
ciphering-books, until he softly comes behind me and wakes me to
plainer perception of him, with a red ridge across my back.
Here I am in the playground, with my eye still fascinated by him,
though I can't see him. The window at a little distance from which
I know he is having his dinner, stands for him, and I eye that
instead. If he shows his face near it, mine assumes an imploring
and submissive expression. If he looks out through the glass, the
boldest boy (Steerforth excepted) stops in the middle of a shout or
yell, and becomes contemplative. One day, Traddles (the most
unfortunate boy in the world) breaks that window accidentally, with
a ball. I shudder at this moment with the tremendous sensation of
seeing it done, and feeling that the ball has bounded on to Mr.
Creakle's sacred head.
Poor Traddles! In a tight sky-blue suit that made his arms and
legs like German sausages, or roly-poly puddings, he was the
merriest and most miserable of all the boys. He was always being
caned - I think he was caned every day that half-year, except one
holiday Monday when he was only ruler'd on both hands - and was
always going to write to his uncle about it, and never did. After
laying his head on the desk for a little while, he would cheer up,
somehow, begin to laugh again, and draw skeletons all over his
slate, before his eyes were dry. I used at first to wonder what
comfort Traddles found in drawing skeletons; and for some time
looked upon him as a sort of hermit, who reminded himself by those
symbols of mortality that caning couldn't last for ever. But I
believe he only did it because they were easy, and didn't want any
He was very honourable, Traddles was, and held it as a solemn duty
in the boys to stand by one another. He suffered for this on
several occasions; and particularly once, when Steerforth laughed
in church, and the Beadle thought it was Traddles, and took him
out. I see him now, going away in custody, despised by the
congregation. He never said who was the real offender, though he
smarted for it next day, and was imprisoned so many hours that he
came forth with a whole churchyard-full of skeletons swarming all
over his Latin Dictionary. But he had his reward. Steerforth said
there was nothing of the sneak in Traddles, and we all felt that to
be the highest praise. For my part, I could have gone through a
good deal (though I was much less brave than Traddles, and nothing
like so old) to have won such a recompense.
To see Steerforth walk to church before us, arm-in-arm with Miss
Creakle, was one of the great sights of my life. I didn't think
Miss Creakle equal to little Em'ly in point of beauty, and I didn't
love her (I didn't dare); but I thought her a young lady of
extraordinary attractions, and in point of gentility not to be
surpassed. When Steerforth, in white trousers, carried her parasol
for her, I felt proud to know him; and believed that she could not
choose but adore him with all her heart. Mr. Sharp and Mr. Mell
were both notable personages in my eyes; but Steerforth was to them
what the sun was to two stars.
Steerforth continued his protection of me, and proved a very useful
friend; since nobody dared to annoy one whom he honoured with his
countenance. He couldn't - or at all events he didn't - defend me
from Mr. Creakle, who was very severe with me; but whenever I had
been treated worse than usual, he always told me that I wanted a
little of his pluck, and that he wouldn't have stood it himself;
which I felt he intended for encouragement, and considered to be
very kind of him. There was one advantage, and only one that I
know of, in Mr. Creakle's severity. He found my placard in his way
when he came up or down behind the form on which I sat, and wanted
to make a cut at me in passing; for this reason it was soon taken
off, and I saw it no more.
An accidental circumstance cemented the intimacy between Steerforth
and me, in a manner that inspired me with great pride and
satisfaction, though it sometimes led to inconvenience. It
happened on one occasion, when he was doing me the honour of
talking to me in the playground, that I hazarded the observation
that something or somebody - I forget what now - was like something
or somebody in Peregrine Pickle. He said nothing at the time; but
when I was going to bed at night, asked me if I had got that book?
I told him no, and explained how it was that I had read it, and all
those other books of which I have made mention.
'And do you recollect them?' Steerforth said.
'Oh yes,' I replied; I had a good memory, and I believed I
recollected them very well.
'Then I tell you what, young Copperfield,' said Steerforth, 'you
shall tell 'em to me. I can't get to sleep very early at night,
and I generally wake rather early in the morning. We'll go over
'em one after another. We'll make some regular Arabian Nights of
I felt extremely flattered by this arrangement, and we commenced
carrying it into execution that very evening. What ravages I
committed on my favourite authors in the course of my
interpretation of them, I am not in a condition to say, and should
be very unwilling to know; but I had a profound faith in them, and
I had, to the best of my belief, a simple, earnest manner of
narrating what I did narrate; and these qualities went a long way.
The drawback was, that I was often sleepy at night, or out of
spirits and indisposed to resume the story; and then it was rather
hard work, and it must be done; for to disappoint or to displease
Steerforth was of course out of the question. In the morning, too,
when I felt weary, and should have enjoyed another hour's repose
very much, it was a tiresome thing to be roused, like the Sultana
Scheherazade, and forced into a long story before the getting-up
bell rang; but Steerforth was resolute; and as he explained to me,
in return, my sums and exercises, and anything in my tasks that was
too hard for me, I was no loser by the transaction. Let me do
myself justice, however. I was moved by no interested or selfish
motive, nor was I moved by fear of him. I admired and loved him,
and his approval was return enough. It was so precious to me that
I look back on these trifles, now, with an aching heart.
Steerforth was considerate, too; and showed his consideration, in
one particular instance, in an unflinching manner that was a little
tantalizing, I suspect, to poor Traddles and the rest. Peggotty's
promised letter - what a comfortable letter it was! - arrived
before 'the half' was many weeks old; and with it a cake in a
perfect nest of oranges, and two bottles of cowslip wine. This
treasure, as in duty bound, I laid at the feet of Steerforth, and
begged him to dispense.
'Now, I'll tell you what, young Copperfield,' said he: 'the wine
shall be kept to wet your whistle when you are story-telling.'
I blushed at the idea, and begged him, in my modesty, not to think
of it. But he said he had observed I was sometimes hoarse - a
little roopy was his exact expression - and it should be, every
drop, devoted to the purpose he had mentioned. Accordingly, it was
locked up in his box, and drawn off by himself in a phial, and
administered to me through a piece of quill in the cork, when I was
supposed to be in want of a restorative. Sometimes, to make it a
more sovereign specific, he was so kind as to squeeze orange juice
into it, or to stir it up with ginger, or dissolve a peppermint
drop in it; and although I cannot assert that the flavour was
improved by these experiments, or that it was exactly the compound
one would have chosen for a stomachic, the last thing at night and
the first thing in the morning, I drank it gratefully and was very
sensible of his attention.
We seem, to me, to have been months over Peregrine, and months more
over the other stories. The institution never flagged for want of
a story, I am certain; and the wine lasted out almost as well as
the matter. Poor Traddles - I never think of that boy but with a
strange disposition to laugh, and with tears in my eyes - was a
sort of chorus, in general; and affected to be convulsed with mirth
at the comic parts, and to be overcome with fear when there was any
passage of an alarming character in the narrative. This rather put
me out, very often. It was a great jest of his, I recollect, to
pretend that he couldn't keep his teeth from chattering, whenever
mention was made of an Alguazill in connexion with the adventures
of Gil Blas; and I remember that when Gil Blas met the captain of
the robbers in Madrid, this unlucky joker counterfeited such an
ague of terror, that he was overheard by Mr. Creakle, who was
prowling about the passage, and handsomely flogged for disorderly
conduct in the bedroom.
Whatever I had within me that was romantic and dreamy, was
encouraged by so much story-telling in the dark; and in that
respect the pursuit may not have been very profitable to me. But
the being cherished as a kind of plaything in my room, and the
consciousness that this accomplishment of mine was bruited about
among the boys, and attracted a good deal of notice to me though I
was the youngest there, stimulated me to exertion. In a school
carried on by sheer cruelty, whether it is presided over by a dunce
or not, there is not likely to be much learnt. I believe our boys
were, generally, as ignorant a set as any schoolboys in existence;
they were too much troubled and knocked about to learn; they could
no more do that to advantage, than any one can do anything to
advantage in a life of constant misfortune, torment, and worry.
But my little vanity, and Steerforth's help, urged me on somehow;
and without saving me from much, if anything, in the way of
punishment, made me, for the time I was there, an exception to the
general body, insomuch that I did steadily pick up some crumbs of
In this I was much assisted by Mr. Mell, who had a liking for me
that I am grateful to remember. It always gave me pain to observe
that Steerforth treated him with systematic disparagement, and
seldom lost an occasion of wounding his feelings, or inducing
others to do so. This troubled me the more for a long time,
because I had soon told Steerforth, from whom I could no more keep
such a secret, than I could keep a cake or any other tangible
possession, about the two old women Mr. Mell had taken me to see;
and I was always afraid that Steerforth would let it out, and twit
him with it.
We little thought, any one of us, I dare say, when I ate my
breakfast that first morning, and went to sleep under the shadow of
the peacock's feathers to the sound of the flute, what consequences
would come of the introduction into those alms-houses of my
insignificant person. But the visit had its unforeseen
consequences; and of a serious sort, too, in their way.
One day when Mr. Creakle kept the house from indisposition, which
naturally diffused a lively joy through the school, there was a
good deal of noise in the course of the morning's work. The great
relief and satisfaction experienced by the boys made them difficult
to manage; and though the dreaded Tungay brought his wooden leg in
twice or thrice, and took notes of the principal offenders' names,
no great impression was made by it, as they were pretty sure of
getting into trouble tomorrow, do what they would, and thought it
wise, no doubt, to enjoy themselves today.
It was, properly, a half-holiday; being Saturday. But as the noise
in the playground would have disturbed Mr. Creakle, and the weather
was not favourable for going out walking, we were ordered into
school in the afternoon, and set some lighter tasks than usual,
which were made for the occasion. It was the day of the week on
which Mr. Sharp went out to get his wig curled; so Mr. Mell, who
always did the drudgery, whatever it was, kept school by himself.
If I could associate the idea of a bull or a bear with anyone so
mild as Mr. Mell, I should think of him, in connexion with that
afternoon when the uproar was at its height, as of one of those
animals, baited by a thousand dogs. I recall him bending his
aching head, supported on his bony hand, over the book on his desk,
and wretchedly endeavouring to get on with his tiresome work,
amidst an uproar that might have made the Speaker of the House of
Commons giddy. Boys started in and out of their places, playing at
puss in the corner with other boys; there were laughing boys,
singing boys, talking boys, dancing boys, howling boys; boys
shuffled with their feet, boys whirled about him, grinning, making
faces, mimicking him behind his back and before his eyes; mimicking
his poverty, his boots, his coat, his mother, everything belonging
to him that they should have had consideration for.
'Silence!' cried Mr. Mell, suddenly rising up, and striking his
desk with the book. 'What does this mean! It's impossible to bear
it. It's maddening. How can you do it to me, boys?'
It was my book that he struck his desk with; and as I stood beside
him, following his eye as it glanced round the room, I saw the boys
all stop, some suddenly surprised, some half afraid, and some sorry
Steerforth's place was at the bottom of the school, at the opposite
end of the long room. He was lounging with his back against the
wall, and his hands in his pockets, and looked at Mr. Mell with his
mouth shut up as if he were whistling, when Mr. Mell looked at him.
'Silence, Mr. Steerforth!' said Mr. Mell.
'Silence yourself,' said Steerforth, turning red. 'Whom are you
'Sit down,' said Mr. Mell.
'Sit down yourself,' said Steerforth, 'and mind your business.'
There was a titter, and some applause; but Mr. Mell was so white,
that silence immediately succeeded; and one boy, who had darted out
behind him to imitate his mother again, changed his mind, and
pretended to want a pen mended.
'If you think, Steerforth,' said Mr. Mell, 'that I am not
acquainted with the power you can establish over any mind here' -
he laid his hand, without considering what he did (as I supposed),
upon my head - 'or that I have not observed you, within a few
minutes, urging your juniors on to every sort of outrage against
me, you are mistaken.'
'I don't give myself the trouble of thinking at all about you,'
said Steerforth, coolly; 'so I'm not mistaken, as it happens.'
'And when you make use of your position of favouritism here, sir,'
pursued Mr. Mell, with his lip trembling very much, 'to insult a
'A what? - where is he?' said Steerforth.
Here somebody cried out, 'Shame, J. Steerforth! Too bad!' It was
Traddles; whom Mr. Mell instantly discomfited by bidding him hold
- 'To insult one who is not fortunate in life, sir, and who never
gave you the least offence, and the many reasons for not insulting
whom you are old enough and wise enough to understand,' said Mr.
Mell, with his lips trembling more and more, 'you commit a mean and
base action. You can sit down or stand up as you please, sir.
Copperfield, go on.'
'Young Copperfield,' said Steerforth, coming forward up the room,
'stop a bit. I tell you what, Mr. Mell, once for all. When you
take the liberty of calling me mean or base, or anything of that
sort, you are an impudent beggar. You are always a beggar, you
know; but when you do that, you are an impudent beggar.'
I am not clear whether he was going to strike Mr. Mell, or Mr. Mell
was going to strike him, or there was any such intention on either
side. I saw a rigidity come upon the whole school as if they had
been turned into stone, and found Mr. Creakle in the midst of us,
with Tungay at his side, and Mrs. and Miss Creakle looking in at
the door as if they were frightened. Mr. Mell, with his elbows on
his desk and his face in his hands, sat, for some moments, quite
'Mr. Mell,' said Mr. Creakle, shaking him by the arm; and his
whisper was so audible now, that Tungay felt it unnecessary to
repeat his words; 'you have not forgotten yourself, I hope?'
'No, sir, no,' returned the Master, showing his face, and shaking
his head, and rubbing his hands in great agitation. 'No, sir. No.
I have remembered myself, I - no, Mr. Creakle, I have not forgotten
myself, I - I have remembered myself, sir. I - I - could wish you
had remembered me a little sooner, Mr. Creakle. It - it - would
have been more kind, sir, more just, sir. It would have saved me
Mr. Creakle, looking hard at Mr. Mell, put his hand on Tungay's
shoulder, and got his feet upon the form close by, and sat upon the
desk. After still looking hard at Mr. Mell from his throne, as he
shook his head, and rubbed his hands, and remained in the same
state of agitation, Mr. Creakle turned to Steerforth, and said:
'Now, sir, as he don't condescend to tell me, what is this?'
Steerforth evaded the question for a little while; looking in scorn
and anger on his opponent, and remaining silent. I could not help
thinking even in that interval, I remember, what a noble fellow he
was in appearance, and how homely and plain Mr. Mell looked opposed
'What did he mean by talking about favourites, then?' said
Steerforth at length.
'Favourites?' repeated Mr. Creakle, with the veins in his forehead
swelling quickly. 'Who talked about favourites?'
'He did,' said Steerforth.
'And pray, what did you mean by that, sir?' demanded Mr. Creakle,
turning angrily on his assistant.
'I meant, Mr. Creakle,' he returned in a low voice, 'as I said;
that no pupil had a right to avail himself of his position of
favouritism to degrade me.'
'To degrade YOU?' said Mr. Creakle. 'My stars! But give me leave
to ask you, Mr. What's-your-name'; and here Mr. Creakle folded his
arms, cane and all, upon his chest, and made such a knot of his
brows that his little eyes were hardly visible below them;
'whether, when you talk about favourites, you showed proper respect
to me? To me, sir,' said Mr. Creakle, darting his head at him
suddenly, and drawing it back again, 'the principal of this
establishment, and your employer.'
'It was not judicious, sir, I am willing to admit,' said Mr. Mell.
'I should not have done so, if I had been cool.'
Here Steerforth struck in.
'Then he said I was mean, and then he said I was base, and then I
called him a beggar. If I had been cool, perhaps I shouldn't have
called him a beggar. But I did, and I am ready to take the
consequences of it.'
Without considering, perhaps, whether there were any consequences
to be taken, I felt quite in a glow at this gallant speech. It
made an impression on the boys too, for there was a low stir among
them, though no one spoke a word.
'I am surprised, Steerforth - although your candour does you
honour,' said Mr. Creakle, 'does you honour, certainly - I am
surprised, Steerforth, I must say, that you should attach such an
epithet to any person employed and paid in Salem House, sir.'
Steerforth gave a short laugh.
'That's not an answer, sir,' said Mr. Creakle, 'to my remark. I
expect more than that from you, Steerforth.'
If Mr. Mell looked homely, in my eyes, before the handsome boy, it
would be quite impossible to say how homely Mr. Creakle looked.
'Let him deny it,' said Steerforth.
'Deny that he is a beggar, Steerforth?' cried Mr. Creakle. 'Why,
where does he go a-begging?'
'If he is not a beggar himself, his near relation's one,' said
Steerforth. 'It's all the same.'
He glanced at me, and Mr. Mell's hand gently patted me upon the
shoulder. I looked up with a flush upon my face and remorse in my
heart, but Mr. Mell's eyes were fixed on Steerforth. He continued
to pat me kindly on the shoulder, but he looked at him.
'Since you expect me, Mr. Creakle, to justify myself,' said
Steerforth, 'and to say what I mean, - what I have to say is, that
his mother lives on charity in an alms-house.'
Mr. Mell still looked at him, and still patted me kindly on the
shoulder, and said to himself, in a whisper, if I heard right:
'Yes, I thought so.'
Mr. Creakle turned to his assistant, with a severe frown and
'Now, you hear what this gentleman says, Mr. Mell. Have the
goodness, if you please, to set him right before the assembled
'He is right, sir, without correction,' returned Mr. Mell, in the
midst of a dead silence; 'what he has said is true.'
'Be so good then as declare publicly, will you,' said Mr. Creakle,
putting his head on one side, and rolling his eyes round the
school, 'whether it ever came to my knowledge until this moment?'
'I believe not directly,' he returned.
'Why, you know not,' said Mr. Creakle. 'Don't you, man?'
'I apprehend you never supposed my worldly circumstances to be very
good,' replied the assistant. 'You know what my position is, and
always has been, here.'
'I apprehend, if you come to that,' said Mr. Creakle, with his
veins swelling again bigger than ever, 'that you've been in a wrong
position altogether, and mistook this for a charity school. Mr.
Mell, we'll part, if you please. The sooner the better.'
'There is no time,' answered Mr. Mell, rising, 'like the present.'
'Sir, to you!' said Mr. Creakle.
'I take my leave of you, Mr. Creakle, and all of you,' said Mr.
Mell, glancing round the room, and again patting me gently on the
shoulders. 'James Steerforth, the best wish I can leave you is
that you may come to be ashamed of what you have done today. At
present I would prefer to see you anything rather than a friend, to
me, or to anyone in whom I feel an interest.'
Once more he laid his hand upon my shoulder; and then taking his
flute and a few books from his desk, and leaving the key in it for
his successor, he went out of the school, with his property under
his arm. Mr. Creakle then made a speech, through Tungay, in which
he thanked Steerforth for asserting (though perhaps too warmly) the
independence and respectability of Salem House; and which he wound
up by shaking hands with Steerforth, while we gave three cheers -
I did not quite know what for, but I supposed for Steerforth, and
so joined in them ardently, though I felt miserable. Mr. Creakle
then caned Tommy Traddles for being discovered in tears, instead of
cheers, on account of Mr. Mell's departure; and went back to his
sofa, or his bed, or wherever he had come from.
We were left to ourselves now, and looked very blank, I recollect,
on one another. For myself, I felt so much self-reproach and
contrition for my part in what had happened, that nothing would
have enabled me to keep back my tears but the fear that Steerforth,
who often looked at me, I saw, might think it unfriendly - or, I
should rather say, considering our relative ages, and the feeling
with which I regarded him, undutiful - if I showed the emotion
which distressed me. He was very angry with Traddles, and said he
was glad he had caught it.
Poor Traddles, who had passed the stage of lying with his head upon
the desk, and was relieving himself as usual with a burst of
skeletons, said he didn't care. Mr. Mell was ill-used.
'Who has ill-used him, you girl?' said Steerforth.
'Why, you have,' returned Traddles.
'What have I done?' said Steerforth.
'What have you done?' retorted Traddles. 'Hurt his feelings, and
lost him his situation.'
'His feelings?' repeated Steerforth disdainfully. 'His feelings
will soon get the better of it, I'll be bound. His feelings are
not like yours, Miss Traddles. As to his situation - which was a
precious one, wasn't it? - do you suppose I am not going to write
home, and take care that he gets some money? Polly?'
We thought this intention very noble in Steerforth, whose mother
was a widow, and rich, and would do almost anything, it was said,
that he asked her. We were all extremely glad to see Traddles so
put down, and exalted Steerforth to the skies: especially when he
told us, as he condescended to do, that what he had done had been
done expressly for us, and for our cause; and that he had conferred
a great boon upon us by unselfishly doing it.
But I must say that when I was going on with a story in the dark
that night, Mr. Mell's old flute seemed more than once to sound
mournfully in my ears; and that when at last Steerforth was tired,
and I lay down in my bed, I fancied it playing so sorrowfully
somewhere, that I was quite wretched.
I soon forgot him in the contemplation of Steerforth, who, in an
easy amateur way, and without any book (he seemed to me to know
everything by heart), took some of his classes until a new master
was found. The new master came from a grammar school; and before
he entered on his duties, dined in the parlour one day, to be
introduced to Steerforth. Steerforth approved of him highly, and
told us he was a Brick. Without exactly understanding what learned
distinction was meant by this, I respected him greatly for it, and
had no doubt whatever of his superior knowledge: though he never
took the pains with me - not that I was anybody - that Mr. Mell had
There was only one other event in this half-year, out of the daily
school-life, that made an impression upon me which still survives.
It survives for many reasons.
One afternoon, when we were all harassed into a state of dire
confusion, and Mr. Creakle was laying about him dreadfully, Tungay
came in, and called out in his usual strong way: 'Visitors for
A few words were interchanged between him and Mr. Creakle, as, who
the visitors were, and what room they were to be shown into; and
then I, who had, according to custom, stood up on the announcement
being made, and felt quite faint with astonishment, was told to go
by the back stairs and get a clean frill on, before I repaired to
the dining-room. These orders I obeyed, in such a flutter and
hurry of my young spirits as I had never known before; and when I
got to the parlour door, and the thought came into my head that it
might be my mother - I had only thought of Mr. or Miss Murdstone
until then - I drew back my hand from the lock, and stopped to have
a sob before I went in.
At first I saw nobody; but feeling a pressure against the door, I
looked round it, and there, to my amazement, were Mr. Peggotty and
Ham, ducking at me with their hats, and squeezing one another
against the wall. I could not help laughing; but it was much more
in the pleasure of seeing them, than at the appearance they made.
We shook hands in a very cordial way; and I laughed and laughed,
until I pulled out my pocket-handkerchief and wiped my eyes.
Mr. Peggotty (who never shut his mouth once, I remember, during the
visit) showed great concern when he saw me do this, and nudged Ham
to say something.
'Cheer up, Mas'r Davy bor'!' said Ham, in his simpering way. 'Why,
how you have growed!'
'Am I grown?' I said, drying my eyes. I was not crying at anything
in particular that I know of; but somehow it made me cry, to see
'Growed, Mas'r Davy bor'? Ain't he growed!' said Ham.
'Ain't he growed!' said Mr. Peggotty.
They made me laugh again by laughing at each other, and then we all
three laughed until I was in danger of crying again.
'Do you know how mama is, Mr. Peggotty?' I said. 'And how my dear,
dear, old Peggotty is?'
'Oncommon,' said Mr. Peggotty.
'And little Em'ly, and Mrs. Gummidge?'
'On - common,' said Mr. Peggotty.
There was a silence. Mr. Peggotty, to relieve it, took two
prodigious lobsters, and an enormous crab, and a large canvas bag
of shrimps, out of his pockets, and piled them up in Ham's arms.
'You see,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'knowing as you was partial to a
little relish with your wittles when you was along with us, we took
the liberty. The old Mawther biled 'em, she did. Mrs. Gummidge
biled 'em. Yes,' said Mr. Peggotty, slowly, who I thought appeared
to stick to the subject on account of having no other subject
ready, 'Mrs. Gummidge, I do assure you, she biled 'em.'
I expressed my thanks; and Mr. Peggotty, after looking at Ham, who
stood smiling sheepishly over the shellfish, without making any
attempt to help him, said:
'We come, you see, the wind and tide making in our favour, in one
of our Yarmouth lugs to Gravesen'. My sister she wrote to me the
name of this here place, and wrote to me as if ever I chanced to
come to Gravesen', I was to come over and inquire for Mas'r Davy
and give her dooty, humbly wishing him well and reporting of the
fam'ly as they was oncommon toe-be-sure. Little Em'ly, you see,
she'll write to my sister when I go back, as I see you and as you
was similarly oncommon, and so we make it quite a merry-
I was obliged to consider a little before I understood what Mr.
Peggotty meant by this figure, expressive of a complete circle of
intelligence. I then thanked him heartily; and said, with a
consciousness of reddening, that I supposed little Em'ly was
altered too, since we used to pick up shells and pebbles on the
'She's getting to be a woman, that's wot she's getting to be,' said
Mr. Peggotty. 'Ask HIM.'
He meant Ham, who beamed with delight and assent over the bag of
'Her pretty face!' said Mr. Peggotty, with his own shining like a
'Her learning!' said Ham.
'Her writing!' said Mr. Peggotty. 'Why it's as black as jet! And
so large it is, you might see it anywheres.'
It was perfectly delightful to behold with what enthusiasm Mr.
Peggotty became inspired when he thought of his little favourite.
He stands before me again, his bluff hairy face irradiating with a
joyful love and pride, for which I can find no description. His
honest eyes fire up, and sparkle, as if their depths were stirred
by something bright. His broad chest heaves with pleasure. His
strong loose hands clench themselves, in his earnestness; and he
emphasizes what he says with a right arm that shows, in my pigmy
view, like a sledge-hammer.
Ham was quite as earnest as he. I dare say they would have said
much more about her, if they had not been abashed by the unexpected
coming in of Steerforth, who, seeing me in a corner speaking with
two strangers, stopped in a song he was singing, and said: 'I
didn't know you were here, young Copperfield!' (for it was not the
usual visiting room) and crossed by us on his way out.
I am not sure whether it was in the pride of having such a friend
as Steerforth, or in the desire to explain to him how I came to
have such a friend as Mr. Peggotty, that I called to him as he was
going away. But I said, modestly - Good Heaven, how it all comes
back to me this long time afterwards! -
'Don't go, Steerforth, if you please. These are two Yarmouth
boatmen - very kind, good people - who are relations of my nurse,
and have come from Gravesend to see me.'
'Aye, aye?' said Steerforth, returning. 'I am glad to see them.
How are you both?'
There was an ease in his manner - a gay and light manner it was,
but not swaggering - which I still believe to have borne a kind of
enchantment with it. I still believe him, in virtue of this
carriage, his animal spirits, his delightful voice, his handsome
face and figure, and, for aught I know, of some inborn power of
attraction besides (which I think a few people possess), to have
carried a spell with him to which it was a natural weakness to
yield, and which not many persons could withstand. I could not but
see how pleased they were with him, and how they seemed to open
their hearts to him in a moment.
'You must let them know at home, if you please, Mr. Peggotty,' I
said, 'when that letter is sent, that Mr. Steerforth is very kind
to me, and that I don't know what I should ever do here without
'Nonsense!' said Steerforth, laughing. 'You mustn't tell them
anything of the sort.'
'And if Mr. Steerforth ever comes into Norfolk or Suffolk, Mr.
Peggotty,' I said, 'while I am there, you may depend upon it I
shall bring him to Yarmouth, if he will let me, to see your house.
You never saw such a good house, Steerforth. It's made out of a
'Made out of a boat, is it?' said Steerforth. 'It's the right sort
of a house for such a thorough-built boatman.'
'So 'tis, sir, so 'tis, sir,' said Ham, grinning. 'You're right,
young gen'l'm'n! Mas'r Davy bor', gen'l'm'n's right. A thorough-
built boatman! Hor, hor! That's what he is, too!'
Mr. Peggotty was no less pleased than his nephew, though his
modesty forbade him to claim a personal compliment so vociferously.
'Well, sir,' he said, bowing and chuckling, and tucking in the ends
of his neckerchief at his breast: 'I thankee, sir, I thankee! I do
my endeavours in my line of life, sir.'
'The best of men can do no more, Mr. Peggotty,' said Steerforth.
He had got his name already.
'I'll pound it, it's wot you do yourself, sir,' said Mr. Peggotty,
shaking his head, 'and wot you do well - right well! I thankee,
sir. I'm obleeged to you, sir, for your welcoming manner of me.
I'm rough, sir, but I'm ready - least ways, I hope I'm ready, you
unnerstand. My house ain't much for to see, sir, but it's hearty
at your service if ever you should come along with Mas'r Davy to
see it. I'm a reg'lar Dodman, I am,' said Mr. Peggotty, by which
he meant snail, and this was in allusion to his being slow to go,
for he had attempted to go after every sentence, and had somehow or
other come back again; 'but I wish you both well, and I wish you
Ham echoed this sentiment, and we parted with them in the heartiest
manner. I was almost tempted that evening to tell Steerforth about
pretty little Em'ly, but I was too timid of mentioning her name,
and too much afraid of his laughing at me. I remember that I
thought a good deal, and in an uneasy sort of way, about Mr.
Peggotty having said that she was getting on to be a woman; but I
decided that was nonsense.
We transported the shellfish, or the 'relish' as Mr. Peggotty had
modestly called it, up into our room unobserved, and made a great
supper that evening. But Traddles couldn't get happily out of it.
He was too unfortunate even to come through a supper like anybody
else. He was taken ill in the night - quite prostrate he was - in
consequence of Crab; and after being drugged with black draughts
and blue pills, to an extent which Demple (whose father was a
doctor) said was enough to undermine a horse's constitution,
received a caning and six chapters of Greek Testament for refusing
The rest of the half-year is a jumble in my recollection of the
daily strife and struggle of our lives; of the waning summer and
the changing season; of the frosty mornings when we were rung out
of bed, and the cold, cold smell of the dark nights when we were
rung into bed again; of the evening schoolroom dimly lighted and
indifferently warmed, and the morning schoolroom which was nothing
but a great shivering-machine; of the alternation of boiled beef
with roast beef, and boiled mutton with roast mutton; of clods of
bread-and-butter, dog's-eared lesson-books, cracked slates,
tear-blotted copy-books, canings, rulerings, hair-cuttings, rainy
Sundays, suet-puddings, and a dirty atmosphere of ink, surrounding
I well remember though, how the distant idea of the holidays, after
seeming for an immense time to be a stationary speck, began to come
towards us, and to grow and grow. How from counting months, we
came to weeks, and then to days; and how I then began to be afraid
that I should not be sent for and when I learnt from Steerforth
that I had been sent for, and was certainly to go home, had dim
forebodings that I might break my leg first. How the breaking-up
day changed its place fast, at last, from the week after next to
next week, this week, the day after tomorrow, tomorrow, today,
tonight - when I was inside the Yarmouth mail, and going home.
I had many a broken sleep inside the Yarmouth mail, and many an
incoherent dream of all these things. But when I awoke at
intervals, the ground outside the window was not the playground of
Salem House, and the sound in my ears was not the sound of Mr.
Creakle giving it to Traddles, but the sound of the coachman
touching up the horses.
MY HOLIDAYS. ESPECIALLY ONE HAPPY AFTERNOON
When we arrived before day at the inn where the mail stopped, which
was not the inn where my friend the waiter lived, I was shown up to
a nice little bedroom, with DOLPHIN painted on the door. Very cold
I was, I know, notwithstanding the hot tea they had given me before
a large fire downstairs; and very glad I was to turn into the
Dolphin's bed, pull the Dolphin's blankets round my head, and go to
Mr. Barkis the carrier was to call for me in the morning at nine
o'clock. I got up at eight, a little giddy from the shortness of
my night's rest, and was ready for him before the appointed time.
He received me exactly as if not five minutes had elapsed since we
were last together, and I had only been into the hotel to get
change for sixpence, or something of that sort.
As soon as I and my box were in the cart, and the carrier seated,
the lazy horse walked away with us all at his accustomed pace.
'You look very well, Mr. Barkis,' I said, thinking he would like to
Mr. Barkis rubbed his cheek with his cuff, and then looked at his
cuff as if he expected to find some of the bloom upon it; but made
no other acknowledgement of the compliment.
'I gave your message, Mr. Barkis,' I said: 'I wrote to Peggotty.'
'Ah!' said Mr. Barkis.
Mr. Barkis seemed gruff, and answered drily.
'Wasn't it right, Mr. Barkis?' I asked, after a little hesitation.
'Why, no,' said Mr. Barkis.
'Not the message?'
'The message was right enough, perhaps,' said Mr. Barkis; 'but it
come to an end there.'
Not understanding what he meant, I repeated inquisitively: 'Came to
an end, Mr. Barkis?'
'Nothing come of it,' he explained, looking at me sideways. 'No
'There was an answer expected, was there, Mr. Barkis?' said I,
opening my eyes. For this was a new light to me.
'When a man says he's willin',' said Mr. Barkis, turning his glance
slowly on me again, 'it's as much as to say, that man's a-waitin'
for a answer.'
'Well, Mr. Barkis?'
'Well,' said Mr. Barkis, carrying his eyes back to his horse's
ears; 'that man's been a-waitin' for a answer ever since.'
'Have you told her so, Mr. Barkis?'
'No - no,' growled Mr. Barkis, reflecting about it. 'I ain't got
no call to go and tell her so. I never said six words to her
myself, I ain't a-goin' to tell her so.'
'Would you like me to do it, Mr. Barkis?' said I, doubtfully.
'You might tell her, if you would,' said Mr. Barkis, with another
slow look at me, 'that Barkis was a-waitin' for a answer. Says you
- what name is it?'
'Ah!' said Mr. Barkis, with a nod of his head.
'Chrisen name? Or nat'ral name?' said Mr. Barkis.
'Oh, it's not her Christian name. Her Christian name is Clara.'
'Is it though?' said Mr. Barkis.
He seemed to find an immense fund of reflection in this
circumstance, and sat pondering and inwardly whistling for some
'Well!' he resumed at length. 'Says you, "Peggotty! Barkis is
waitin' for a answer." Says she, perhaps, "Answer to what?" Says
you, "To what I told you." "What is that?" says she. "Barkis is
willin'," says you.'
This extremely artful suggestion Mr. Barkis accompanied with a
nudge of his elbow that gave me quite a stitch in my side. After
that, he slouched over his horse in his usual manner; and made no
other reference to the subject except, half an hour afterwards,
taking a piece of chalk from his pocket, and writing up, inside the
tilt of the cart, 'Clara Peggotty' - apparently as a private
Ah, what a strange feeling it was to be going home when it was not
home, and to find that every object I looked at, reminded me of the
happy old home, which was like a dream I could never dream again!
The days when my mother and I and Peggotty were all in all to one
another, and there was no one to come between us, rose up before me
so sorrowfully on the road, that I am not sure I was glad to be
there - not sure but that I would rather have remained away, and
forgotten it in Steerforth's company. But there I was; and soon I
was at our house, where the bare old elm-trees wrung their many
hands in the bleak wintry air, and shreds of the old rooks'-nests
drifted away upon the wind.
The carrier put my box down at the garden-gate, and left me. I
walked along the path towards the house, glancing at the windows,
and fearing at every step to see Mr. Murdstone or Miss Murdstone
lowering out of one of them. No face appeared, however; and being
come to the house, and knowing how to open the door, before dark,
without knocking, I went in with a quiet, timid step.
God knows how infantine the memory may have been, that was awakened
within me by the sound of my mother's voice in the old parlour,
when I set foot in the hall. She was singing in a low tone. I
think I must have lain in her arms, and heard her singing so to me
when I was but a baby. The strain was new to me, and yet it was so
old that it filled my heart brim-full; like a friend come back from
a long absence.
I believed, from the solitary and thoughtful way in which my mother
murmured her song, that she was alone. And I went softly into the
room. She was sitting by the fire, suckling an infant, whose tiny
hand she held against her neck. Her eyes were looking down upon
its face, and she sat singing to it. I was so far right, that she
had no other companion.
I spoke to her, and she started, and cried out. But seeing me, she
called me her dear Davy, her own boy! and coming half across the
room to meet me, kneeled down upon the ground and kissed me, and
laid my head down on her bosom near the little creature that was
nestling there, and put its hand to my lips.
I wish I had died. I wish I had died then, with that feeling in my
heart! I should have been more fit for Heaven than I ever have
'He is your brother,' said my mother, fondling me. 'Davy, my
pretty boy! My poor child!' Then she kissed me more and more, and
clasped me round the neck. This she was doing when Peggotty came
running in, and bounced down on the ground beside us, and went mad
about us both for a quarter of an hour.
It seemed that I had not been expected so soon, the carrier being
much before his usual time. It seemed, too, that Mr. and Miss
Murdstone had gone out upon a visit in the neighbourhood, and would
not return before night. I had never hoped for this. I had never
thought it possible that we three could be together undisturbed,
once more; and I felt, for the time, as if the old days were come
We dined together by the fireside. Peggotty was in attendance to
wait upon us, but my mother wouldn't let her do it, and made her
dine with us. I had my own old plate, with a brown view of a
man-of-war in full sail upon it, which Peggotty had hoarded
somewhere all the time I had been away, and would not have had
broken, she said, for a hundred pounds. I had my own old mug with
David on it, and my own old little knife and fork that wouldn't
While we were at table, I thought it a favourable occasion to tell
Peggotty about Mr. Barkis, who, before I had finished what I had to
tell her, began to laugh, and throw her apron over her face.
'Peggotty,' said my mother. 'What's the matter?'
Peggotty only laughed the more, and held her apron tight over her
face when my mother tried to pull it away, and sat as if her head
were in a bag.
'What are you doing, you stupid creature?' said my mother,
'Oh, drat the man!' cried Peggotty. 'He wants to marry me.'
'It would be a very good match for you; wouldn't it?' said my
'Oh! I don't know,' said Peggotty. 'Don't ask me. I wouldn't
have him if he was made of gold. Nor I wouldn't have anybody.'
'Then, why don't you tell him so, you ridiculous thing?' said my
'Tell him so,' retorted Peggotty, looking out of her apron. 'He
has never said a word to me about it. He knows better. If he was
to make so bold as say a word to me, I should slap his face.'
Her own was as red as ever I saw it, or any other face, I think;
but she only covered it again, for a few moments at a time, when
she was taken with a violent fit of laughter; and after two or
three of those attacks, went on with her dinner.
I remarked that my mother, though she smiled when Peggotty looked
at her, became more serious and thoughtful. I had seen at first
that she was changed. Her face was very pretty still, but it
looked careworn, and too delicate; and her hand was so thin and
white that it seemed to me to be almost transparent. But the
change to which I now refer was superadded to this: it was in her
manner, which became anxious and fluttered. At last she said,
putting out her hand, and laying it affectionately on the hand of
her old servant,
'Peggotty, dear, you are not going to be married?'
'Me, ma'am?' returned Peggotty, staring. 'Lord bless you, no!'
'Not just yet?' said my mother, tenderly.
'Never!' cried Peggotty.
My mother took her hand, and said:
'Don't leave me, Peggotty. Stay with me. It will not be for long,
perhaps. What should I ever do without you!'
'Me leave you, my precious!' cried Peggotty. 'Not for all the
world and his wife. Why, what's put that in your silly little
head?' - For Peggotty had been used of old to talk to my mother
sometimes like a child.
But my mother made no answer, except to thank her, and Peggotty
went running on in her own fashion.
'Me leave you? I think I see myself. Peggotty go away from you?
I should like to catch her at it! No, no, no,' said Peggotty,
shaking her head, and folding her arms; 'not she, my dear. It
isn't that there ain't some Cats that would be well enough pleased
if she did, but they sha'n't be pleased. They shall be aggravated.
I'll stay with you till I am a cross cranky old woman. And when
I'm too deaf, and too lame, and too blind, and too mumbly for want
of teeth, to be of any use at all, even to be found fault with,
than I shall go to my Davy, and ask him to take me in.'
'And, Peggotty,' says I, 'I shall be glad to see you, and I'll make
you as welcome as a queen.'
'Bless your dear heart!' cried Peggotty. 'I know you will!' And
she kissed me beforehand, in grateful acknowledgement of my
hospitality. After that, she covered her head up with her apron
again and had another laugh about Mr. Barkis. After that, she took
the baby out of its little cradle, and nursed it. After that, she
cleared the dinner table; after that, came in with another cap on,
and her work-box, and the yard-measure, and the bit of wax-candle,
all just the same as ever.
We sat round the fire, and talked delightfully. I told them what
a hard master Mr. Creakle was, and they pitied me very much. I
told them what a fine fellow Steerforth was, and what a patron of
mine, and Peggotty said she would walk a score of miles to see him.
I took the little baby in my arms when it was awake, and nursed it
lovingly. When it was asleep again, I crept close to my mother's
side according to my old custom, broken now a long time, and sat
with my arms embracing her waist, and my little red cheek on her
shoulder, and once more felt her beautiful hair drooping over me -
like an angel's wing as I used to think, I recollect - and was very
While I sat thus, looking at the fire, and seeing pictures in the
red-hot coals, I almost believed that I had never been away; that
Mr. and Miss Murdstone were such pictures, and would vanish when
the fire got low; and that there was nothing real in all that I
remembered, save my mother, Peggotty, and I.
Peggotty darned away at a stocking as long as she could see, and
then sat with it drawn on her left hand like a glove, and her
needle in her right, ready to take another stitch whenever there
was a blaze. I cannot conceive whose stockings they can have been
that Peggotty was always darning, or where such an unfailing supply
of stockings in want of darning can have come from. From my
earliest infancy she seems to have been always employed in that
class of needlework, and never by any chance in any other.
'I wonder,' said Peggotty, who was sometimes seized with a fit of
wondering on some most unexpected topic, 'what's become of Davy's
'Lor, Peggotty!' observed my mother, rousing herself from a
reverie, 'what nonsense you talk!'
'Well, but I really do wonder, ma'am,' said Peggotty.
'What can have put such a person in your head?' inquired my mother.
'Is there nobody else in the world to come there?'
'I don't know how it is,' said Peggotty, 'unless it's on account of
being stupid, but my head never can pick and choose its people.
They come and they go, and they don't come and they don't go, just
as they like. I wonder what's become of her?'
'How absurd you are, Peggotty!' returned my mother. 'One would
suppose you wanted a second visit from her.'
'Lord forbid!' cried Peggotty.
'Well then, don't talk about such uncomfortable things, there's a
good soul,' said my mother. 'Miss Betsey is shut up in her cottage
by the sea, no doubt, and will remain there. At all events, she is
not likely ever to trouble us again.'
'No!' mused Peggotty. 'No, that ain't likely at all. - I wonder,
if she was to die, whether she'd leave Davy anything?'
'Good gracious me, Peggotty,' returned my mother, 'what a
nonsensical woman you are! when you know that she took offence at
the poor dear boy's ever being born at all.'
'I suppose she wouldn't be inclined to forgive him now,' hinted
'Why should she be inclined to forgive him now?' said my mother,
'Now that he's got a brother, I mean,' said Peggotty.
MY mother immediately began to cry, and wondered how Peggotty dared
to say such a thing.
'As if this poor little innocent in its cradle had ever done any
harm to you or anybody else, you jealous thing!' said she. 'You
had much better go and marry Mr. Barkis, the carrier. Why don't
'I should make Miss Murdstone happy, if I was to,' said Peggotty.
'What a bad disposition you have, Peggotty!' returned my mother.
'You are as jealous of Miss Murdstone as it is possible for a
ridiculous creature to be. You want to keep the keys yourself, and
give out all the things, I suppose? I shouldn't be surprised if
you did. When you know that she only does it out of kindness and
the best intentions! You know she does, Peggotty - you know it
Peggotty muttered something to the effect of 'Bother the best
intentions!' and something else to the effect that there was a
little too much of the best intentions going on.
'I know what you mean, you cross thing,' said my mother. 'I
understand you, Peggotty, perfectly. You know I do, and I wonder
you don't colour up like fire. But one point at a time. Miss
Murdstone is the point now, Peggotty, and you sha'n't escape from
it. Haven't you heard her say, over and over again, that she
thinks I am too thoughtless and too - a - a -'
'Pretty,' suggested Peggotty.
'Well,' returned my mother, half laughing, 'and if she is so silly
as to say so, can I be blamed for it?'
'No one says you can,' said Peggotty.
'No, I should hope not, indeed!' returned my mother. 'Haven't you
heard her say, over and over again, that on this account she wished
to spare me a great deal of trouble, which she thinks I am not
suited for, and which I really don't know myself that I AM suited
for; and isn't she up early and late, and going to and fro
continually - and doesn't she do all sorts of things, and grope
into all sorts of places, coal-holes and pantries and I don't know
where, that can't be very agreeable - and do you mean to insinuate
that there is not a sort of devotion in that?'
'I don't insinuate at all,' said Peggotty.
'You do, Peggotty,' returned my mother. 'You never do anything
else, except your work. You are always insinuating. You revel in
it. And when you talk of Mr. Murdstone's good intentions -'
'I never talked of 'em,' said Peggotty.
'No, Peggotty,' returned my mother, 'but you insinuated. That's
what I told you just now. That's the worst of you. You WILL
insinuate. I said, at the moment, that I understood you, and you
see I did. When you talk of Mr. Murdstone's good intentions, and
pretend to slight them (for I don't believe you really do, in your
heart, Peggotty), you must be as well convinced as I am how good
they are, and how they actuate him in everything. If he seems to
have been at all stern with a certain person, Peggotty - you
understand, and so I am sure does Davy, that I am not alluding to
anybody present - it is solely because he is satisfied that it is
for a certain person's benefit. He naturally loves a certain
person, on my account; and acts solely for a certain person's good.
He is better able to judge of it than I am; for I very well know
that I am a weak, light, girlish creature, and that he is a firm,
grave, serious man. And he takes,' said my mother, with the tears
which were engendered in her affectionate nature, stealing down her
face, 'he takes great pains with me; and I ought to be very
thankful to him, and very submissive to him even in my thoughts;
and when I am not, Peggotty, I worry and condemn myself, and feel
doubtful of my own heart, and don't know what to do.'
Peggotty sat with her chin on the foot of the stocking, looking
silently at the fire.
'There, Peggotty,' said my mother, changing her tone, 'don't let us
fall out with one another, for I couldn't bear it. You are my true
friend, I know, if I have any in the world. When I call you a
ridiculous creature, or a vexatious thing, or anything of that
sort, Peggotty, I only mean that you are my true friend, and always
have been, ever since the night when Mr. Copperfield first brought
me home here, and you came out to the gate to meet me.'
Peggotty was not slow to respond, and ratify the treaty of
friendship by giving me one of her best hugs. I think I had some
glimpses of the real character of this conversation at the time;
but I am sure, now, that the good creature originated it, and took
her part in it, merely that my mother might comfort herself with
the little contradictory summary in which she had indulged. The
design was efficacious; for I remember that my mother seemed more
at ease during the rest of the evening, and that Peggotty observed
When we had had our tea, and the ashes were thrown up, and the
candles snuffed, I read Peggotty a chapter out of the Crocodile
Book, in remembrance of old times - she took it out of her pocket:
I don't know whether she had kept it there ever since - and then we
talked about Salem House, which brought me round again to
Steerforth, who was my great subject. We were very happy; and that
evening, as the last of its race, and destined evermore to close
that volume of my life, will never pass out of my memory.
It was almost ten o'clock before we heard the sound of wheels. We
all got up then; and my mother said hurriedly that, as it was so
late, and Mr. and Miss Murdstone approved of early hours for young
people, perhaps I had better go to bed. I kissed her, and went
upstairs with my candle directly, before they came in. It appeared
to my childish fancy, as I ascended to the bedroom where I had been
imprisoned, that they brought a cold blast of air into the house
which blew away the old familiar feeling like a feather.
I felt uncomfortable about going down to breakfast in the morning,
as I had never set eyes on Mr. Murdstone since the day when I
committed my memorable offence. However, as it must be done, I
went down, after two or three false starts half-way, and as many
runs back on tiptoe to my own room, and presented myself in the
He was standing before the fire with his back to it, while Miss
Murdstone made the tea. He looked at me steadily as I entered, but
made no sign of recognition whatever.
I went up to him, after a moment of confusion, and said: 'I beg
your pardon, sir. I am very sorry for what I did, and I hope you
will forgive me.'
'I am glad to hear you are sorry, David,' he replied.
The hand he gave me was the hand I had bitten. I could not
restrain my eye from resting for an instant on a red spot upon it;
but it was not so red as I turned, when I met that sinister
expression in his face.
'How do you do, ma'am?' I said to Miss Murdstone.
'Ah, dear me!' sighed Miss Murdstone, giving me the tea-caddy scoop
instead of her fingers. 'How long are the holidays?'
'A month, ma'am.'
'Counting from when?'
'From today, ma'am.'
'Oh!' said Miss Murdstone. 'Then here's one day off.'
She kept a calendar of the holidays in this way, and every morning
checked a day off in exactly the same manner. She did it gloomily
until she came to ten, but when she got into two figures she became
more hopeful, and, as the time advanced, even jocular.
It was on this very first day that I had the misfortune to throw
her, though she was not subject to such weakness in general, into
a state of violent consternation. I came into the room where she
and my mother were sitting; and the baby (who was only a few weeks
old) being on my mother's lap, I took it very carefully in my arms.
Suddenly Miss Murdstone gave such a scream that I all but dropped
'My dear Jane!' cried my mother.
'Good heavens, Clara, do you see?' exclaimed Miss Murdstone.
'See what, my dear Jane?' said my mother; 'where?'
'He's got it!' cried Miss Murdstone. 'The boy has got the baby!'
She was limp with horror; but stiffened herself to make a dart at
me, and take it out of my arms. Then, she turned faint; and was so
very ill that they were obliged to give her cherry brandy. I was
solemnly interdicted by her, on her recovery, from touching my
brother any more on any pretence whatever; and my poor mother, who,
I could see, wished otherwise, meekly confirmed the interdict, by
saying: 'No doubt you are right, my dear Jane.'
On another occasion, when we three were together, this same dear
baby - it was truly dear to me, for our mother's sake - was the
innocent occasion of Miss Murdstone's going into a passion. My
mother, who had been looking at its eyes as it lay upon her lap,
'Davy! come here!' and looked at mine.
I saw Miss Murdstone lay her beads down.
'I declare,' said my mother, gently, 'they are exactly alike. I
suppose they are mine. I think they are the colour of mine. But
they are wonderfully alike.'
'What are you talking about, Clara?' said Miss Murdstone.
'My dear Jane,' faltered my mother, a little abashed by the harsh
tone of this inquiry, 'I find that the baby's eyes and Davy's are
'Clara!' said Miss Murdstone, rising angrily, 'you are a positive
'My dear Jane,' remonstrated my mother.
'A positive fool,' said Miss Murdstone. 'Who else could compare my
brother's baby with your boy? They are not at all alike. They are
exactly unlike. They are utterly dissimilar in all respects. I
hope they will ever remain so. I will not sit here, and hear such
comparisons made.' With that she stalked out, and made the door
bang after her.
In short, I was not a favourite with Miss Murdstone. In short, I
was not a favourite there with anybody, not even with myself; for
those who did like me could not show it, and those who did not,
showed it so plainly that I had a sensitive consciousness of always
appearing constrained, boorish, and dull.
I felt that I made them as uncomfortable as they made me. If I
came into the room where they were, and they were talking together
and my mother seemed cheerful, an anxious cloud would steal over
her face from the moment of my entrance. If Mr. Murdstone were in
his best humour, I checked him. If Miss Murdstone were in her
worst, I intensified it. I had perception enough to know that my
mother was the victim always; that she was afraid to speak to me or
to be kind to me, lest she should give them some offence by her
manner of doing so, and receive a lecture afterwards; that she was
not only ceaselessly afraid of her own offending, but of my
offending, and uneasily watched their looks if I only moved.
Therefore I resolved to keep myself as much out of their way as I
could; and many a wintry hour did I hear the church clock strike,
when I was sitting in my cheerless bedroom, wrapped in my little
great-coat, poring over a book.
In the evening, sometimes, I went and sat with Peggotty in the
kitchen. There I was comfortable, and not afraid of being myself.
But neither of these resources was approved of in the parlour. The
tormenting humour which was dominant there stopped them both. I
was still held to be necessary to my poor mother's training, and,
as one of her trials, could not be suffered to absent myself.
'David,' said Mr. Murdstone, one day after dinner when I was going
to leave the room as usual; 'I am sorry to observe that you are of
a sullen disposition.'
'As sulky as a bear!' said Miss Murdstone.
I stood still, and hung my head.
'Now, David,' said Mr. Murdstone, 'a sullen obdurate disposition
is, of all tempers, the worst.'
'And the boy's is, of all such dispositions that ever I have seen,'
remarked his sister, 'the most confirmed and stubborn. I think, my
dear Clara, even you must observe it?'
'I beg your pardon, my dear Jane,' said my mother, 'but are you
quite sure - I am certain you'll excuse me, my dear Jane - that you
'I should be somewhat ashamed of myself, Clara,' returned Miss
Murdstone, 'if I could not understand the boy, or any boy. I don't
profess to be profound; but I do lay claim to common sense.'
'No doubt, my dear Jane,' returned my mother, 'your understanding
is very vigorous -'
'Oh dear, no! Pray don't say that, Clara,' interposed Miss
'But I am sure it is,' resumed my mother; 'and everybody knows it
is. I profit so much by it myself, in many ways - at least I ought
to - that no one can be more convinced of it than myself; and
therefore I speak with great diffidence, my dear Jane, I assure
'We'll say I don't understand the boy, Clara,' returned Miss
Murdstone, arranging the little fetters on her wrists. 'We'll
agree, if you please, that I don't understand him at all. He is
much too deep for me. But perhaps my brother's penetration may
enable him to have some insight into his character. And I believe
my brother was speaking on the subject when we - not very decently
- interrupted him.'
'I think, Clara,' said Mr. Murdstone, in a low grave voice, 'that
there may be better and more dispassionate judges of such a
question than you.'
'Edward,' replied my mother, timidly, 'you are a far better judge
of all questions than I pretend to be. Both you and Jane are. I
only said -'
'You only said something weak and inconsiderate,' he replied. 'Try
not to do it again, my dear Clara, and keep a watch upon yourself.'
MY mother's lips moved, as if she answered 'Yes, my dear Edward,'
but she said nothing aloud.
'I was sorry, David, I remarked,' said Mr. Murdstone, turning his
head and his eyes stiffly towards me, 'to observe that you are of
a sullen disposition. This is not a character that I can suffer to
develop itself beneath my eyes without an effort at improvement.
You must endeavour, sir, to change it. We must endeavour to change
it for you.'
'I beg your pardon, sir,' I faltered. 'I have never meant to be
sullen since I came back.'
'Don't take refuge in a lie, sir!' he returned so fiercely, that I
saw my mother involuntarily put out her trembling hand as if to
interpose between us. 'You have withdrawn yourself in your
sullenness to your own room. You have kept your own room when you
ought to have been here. You know now, once for all, that I
require you to be here, and not there. Further, that I require you
to bring obedience here. You know me, David. I will have it
Miss Murdstone gave a hoarse chuckle.
'I will have a respectful, prompt, and ready bearing towards
myself,' he continued, 'and towards Jane Murdstone, and towards
your mother. I will not have this room shunned as if it were
infected, at the pleasure of a child. Sit down.'
He ordered me like a dog, and I obeyed like a dog.
'One thing more,' he said. 'I observe that you have an attachment
to low and common company. You are not to associate with servants.
The kitchen will not improve you, in the many respects in which you
need improvement. Of the woman who abets you, I say nothing -
since you, Clara,' addressing my mother in a lower voice, 'from old
associations and long-established fancies, have a weakness
respecting her which is not yet overcome.'
'A most unaccountable delusion it is!' cried Miss Murdstone.
'I only say,' he resumed, addressing me, 'that I disapprove of your
preferring such company as Mistress Peggotty, and that it is to be
abandoned. Now, David, you understand me, and you know what will
be the consequence if you fail to obey me to the letter.'
I knew well - better perhaps than he thought, as far as my poor
mother was concerned - and I obeyed him to the letter. I retreated
to my own room no more; I took refuge with Peggotty no more; but
sat wearily in the parlour day after day, looking forward to night,
What irksome constraint I underwent, sitting in the same attitude
hours upon hours, afraid to move an arm or a leg lest Miss
Murdstone should complain (as she did on the least pretence) of my
restlessness, and afraid to move an eye lest she should light on
some look of dislike or scrutiny that would find new cause for
complaint in mine! What intolerable dulness to sit listening to
the ticking of the clock; and watching Miss Murdstone's little
shiny steel beads as she strung them; and wondering whether she
would ever be married, and if so, to what sort of unhappy man; and
counting the divisions in the moulding of the chimney-piece; and
wandering away, with my eyes, to the ceiling, among the curls and
corkscrews in the paper on the wall!
What walks I took alone, down muddy lanes, in the bad winter
weather, carrying that parlour, and Mr. and Miss Murdstone in it,
everywhere: a monstrous load that I was obliged to bear, a daymare
that there was no possibility of breaking in, a weight that brooded
on my wits, and blunted them!
What meals I had in silence and embarrassment, always feeling that
there were a knife and fork too many, and that mine; an appetite
too many, and that mine; a plate and chair too many, and those
mine; a somebody too many, and that I!
What evenings, when the candles came, and I was expected to employ
myself, but, not daring to read an entertaining book, pored over
some hard-headed, harder-hearted treatise on arithmetic; when the
tables of weights and measures set themselves to tunes, as 'Rule
Britannia', or 'Away with Melancholy'; when they wouldn't stand
still to be learnt, but would go threading my grandmother's needle
through my unfortunate head, in at one ear and out at the other!
What yawns and dozes I lapsed into, in spite of all my care; what
starts I came out of concealed sleeps with; what answers I never
got, to little observations that I rarely made; what a blank space
I seemed, which everybody overlooked, and yet was in everybody's
way; what a heavy relief it was to hear Miss Murdstone hail the
first stroke of nine at night, and order me to bed!
Thus the holidays lagged away, until the morning came when Miss
Murdstone said: 'Here's the last day off!' and gave me the closing
cup of tea of the vacation.
I was not sorry to go. I had lapsed into a stupid state; but I was
recovering a little and looking forward to Steerforth, albeit Mr.
Creakle loomed behind him. Again Mr. Barkis appeared at the gate,
and again Miss Murdstone in her warning voice, said: 'Clara!' when
my mother bent over me, to bid me farewell.
I kissed her, and my baby brother, and was very sorry then; but not
sorry to go away, for the gulf between us was there, and the
parting was there, every day. And it is not so much the embrace
she gave me, that lives in my mind, though it was as fervent as
could be, as what followed the embrace.
I was in the carrier's cart when I heard her calling to me. I
looked out, and she stood at the garden-gate alone, holding her
baby up in her arms for me to see. It was cold still weather; and
not a hair of her head, nor a fold of her dress, was stirred, as
she looked intently at me, holding up her child.
So I lost her. So I saw her afterwards, in my sleep at school - a
silent presence near my bed - looking at me with the same intent
face - holding up her baby in her arms.
I HAVE A MEMORABLE BIRTHDAY
I PASS over all that happened at school, until the anniversary of
my birthday came round in March. Except that Steerforth was more
to be admired than ever, I remember nothing. He was going away at
the end of the half-year, if not sooner, and was more spirited and
independent than before in my eyes, and therefore more engaging
than before; but beyond this I remember nothing. The great
remembrance by which that time is marked in my mind, seems to have
swallowed up all lesser recollections, and to exist alone.
It is even difficult for me to believe that there was a gap of full
two months between my return to Salem House and the arrival of that
birthday. I can only understand that the fact was so, because I
know it must have been so; otherwise I should feel convinced that
there was no interval, and that the one occasion trod upon the
How well I recollect the kind of day it was! I smell the fog that
hung about the place; I see the hoar frost, ghostly, through it; I
feel my rimy hair fall clammy on my cheek; I look along the dim
perspective of the schoolroom, with a sputtering candle here and
there to light up the foggy morning, and the breath of the boys
wreathing and smoking in the raw cold as they blow upon their
fingers, and tap their feet upon the floor. It was after
breakfast, and we had been summoned in from the playground, when
Mr. Sharp entered and said:
'David Copperfield is to go into the parlour.'
I expected a hamper from Peggotty, and brightened at the order.
Some of the boys about me put in their claim not to be forgotten in
the distribution of the good things, as I got out of my seat with
'Don't hurry, David,' said Mr. Sharp. 'There's time enough, my
boy, don't hurry.'
I might have been surprised by the feeling tone in which he spoke,
if I had given it a thought; but I gave it none until afterwards.
I hurried away to the parlour; and there I found Mr. Creakle,
sitting at his breakfast with the cane and a newspaper before him,
and Mrs. Creakle with an opened letter in her hand. But no hamper.
'David Copperfield,' said Mrs. Creakle, leading me to a sofa, and
sitting down beside me. 'I want to speak to you very particularly.
I have something to tell you, my child.'
Mr. Creakle, at whom of course I looked, shook his head without
looking at me, and stopped up a sigh with a very large piece of
'You are too young to know how the world changes every day,' said
Mrs. Creakle, 'and how the people in it pass away. But we all have
to learn it, David; some of us when we are young, some of us when
we are old, some of us at all times of our lives.'
I looked at her earnestly.
'When you came away from home at the end of the vacation,' said
Mrs. Creakle, after a pause, 'were they all well?' After another
pause, 'Was your mama well?'
I trembled without distinctly knowing why, and still looked at her
earnestly, making no attempt to answer.
'Because,' said she, 'I grieve to tell you that I hear this morning
your mama is very ill.'
A mist rose between Mrs. Creakle and me, and her figure seemed to
move in it for an instant. Then I felt the burning tears run down
my face, and it was steady again.
'She is very dangerously ill,' she added.
I knew all now.
'She is dead.'
There was no need to tell me so. I had already broken out into a
desolate cry, and felt an orphan in the wide world.
She was very kind to me. She kept me there all day, and left me
alone sometimes; and I cried, and wore myself to sleep, and awoke
and cried again. When I could cry no more, I began to think; and
then the oppression on my breast was heaviest, and my grief a dull
pain that there was no ease for.
And yet my thoughts were idle; not intent on the calamity that
weighed upon my heart, but idly loitering near it. I thought of
our house shut up and hushed. I thought of the little baby, who,
Mrs. Creakle said, had been pining away for some time, and who,
they believed, would die too. I thought of my father's grave in
the churchyard, by our house, and of my mother lying there beneath
the tree I knew so well. I stood upon a chair when I was left
alone, and looked into the glass to see how red my eyes were, and
how sorrowful my face. I considered, after some hours were gone,
if my tears were really hard to flow now, as they seemed to be,
what, in connexion with my loss, it would affect me most to think
of when I drew near home - for I was going home to the funeral. I
am sensible of having felt that a dignity attached to me among the
rest of the boys, and that I was important in my affliction.
If ever child were stricken with sincere grief, I was. But I
remember that this importance was a kind of satisfaction to me,
when I walked in the playground that afternoon while the boys were
in school. When I saw them glancing at me out of the windows, as
they went up to their classes, I felt distinguished, and looked
more melancholy, and walked slower. When school was over, and they
came out and spoke to me, I felt it rather good in myself not to be
proud to any of them, and to take exactly the same notice of them
all, as before.
I was to go home next night; not by the mail, but by the heavy
night-coach, which was called the Farmer, and was principally used
by country-people travelling short intermediate distances upon the
road. We had no story-telling that evening, and Traddles insisted
on lending me his pillow. I don't know what good he thought it
would do me, for I had one of my own: but it was all he had to
lend, poor fellow, except a sheet of letter-paper full of
skeletons; and that he gave me at parting, as a soother of my
sorrows and a contribution to my peace of mind.
I left Salem House upon the morrow afternoon. I little thought
then that I left it, never to return. We travelled very slowly all
night, and did not get into Yarmouth before nine or ten o'clock in
the morning. I looked out for Mr. Barkis, but he was not there;
and instead of him a fat, short-winded, merry-looking, little old
man in black, with rusty little bunches of ribbons at the knees of
his breeches, black stockings, and a broad-brimmed hat, came
puffing up to the coach window, and said:
'Will you come with me, young sir, if you please,' he said, opening
the door, 'and I shall have the pleasure of taking you home.'
I put my hand in his, wondering who he was, and we walked away to
a shop in a narrow street, on which was written OMER, DRAPER,
TAILOR, HABERDASHER, FUNERAL FURNISHER, &c. It was a close and
stifling little shop; full of all sorts of clothing, made and
unmade, including one window full of beaver-hats and bonnets. We
went into a little back-parlour behind the shop, where we found
three young women at work on a quantity of black materials, which
were heaped upon the table, and little bits and cuttings of which
were littered all over the floor. There was a good fire in the
room, and a breathless smell of warm black crape - I did not know
what the smell was then, but I know now.
The three young women, who appeared to be very industrious and
comfortable, raised their heads to look at me, and then went on
with their work. Stitch, stitch, stitch. At the same time there
came from a workshop across a little yard outside the window, a
regular sound of hammering that kept a kind of tune: RAT - tat-tat,
RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat, without any variation.
'Well,' said my conductor to one of the three young women. 'How do
you get on, Minnie?'
'We shall be ready by the trying-on time,' she replied gaily,
without looking up. 'Don't you be afraid, father.'
Mr. Omer took off his broad-brimmed hat, and sat down and panted.
He was so fat that he was obliged to pant some time before he could
'Father!' said Minnie, playfully. 'What a porpoise you do grow!'
'Well, I don't know how it is, my dear,' he replied, considering
about it. 'I am rather so.'
'You are such a comfortable man, you see,' said Minnie. 'You take
things so easy.'
'No use taking 'em otherwise, my dear,' said Mr. Omer.
'No, indeed,' returned his daughter. 'We are all pretty gay here,
thank Heaven! Ain't we, father?'
'I hope so, my dear,' said Mr. Omer. 'As I have got my breath now,
I think I'll measure this young scholar. Would you walk into the
shop, Master Copperfield?'
I preceded Mr. Omer, in compliance with his request; and after
showing me a roll of cloth which he said was extra super, and too
good mourning for anything short of parents, he took my various
dimensions, and put them down in a book. While he was recording
them he called my attention to his stock in trade, and to certain
fashions which he said had 'just come up', and to certain other
fashions which he said had 'just gone out'.
'And by that sort of thing we very often lose a little mint of
money,' said Mr. Omer. 'But fashions are like human beings. They
come in, nobody knows when, why, or how; and they go out, nobody
knows when, why, or how. Everything is like life, in my opinion,
if you look at it in that point of view.'
I was too sorrowful to discuss the question, which would possibly
have been beyond me under any circumstances; and Mr. Omer took me
back into the parlour, breathing with some difficulty on the way.
He then called down a little break-neck range of steps behind a
door: 'Bring up that tea and bread-and-butter!' which, after some
time, during which I sat looking about me and thinking, and
listening to the stitching in the room and the tune that was being
hammered across the yard, appeared on a tray, and turned out to be
'I have been acquainted with you,' said Mr. Omer, after watching me
for some minutes, during which I had not made much impression on
the breakfast, for the black things destroyed my appetite, 'I have
been acquainted with you a long time, my young friend.'
'Have you, sir?'
'All your life,' said Mr. Omer. 'I may say before it. I knew your
father before you. He was five foot nine and a half, and he lays
in five-and-twen-ty foot of ground.'
'RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat,' across the yard.
'He lays in five and twen-ty foot of ground, if he lays in a
fraction,' said Mr. Omer, pleasantly. 'It was either his request
or her direction, I forget which.'
'Do you know how my little brother is, sir?' I inquired.
Mr. Omer shook his head.
'RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat, RAT - tat-tat.'
'He is in his mother's arms,' said he.
'Oh, poor little fellow! Is he dead?'
'Don't mind it more than you can help,' said Mr. Omer. 'Yes. The
My wounds broke out afresh at this intelligence. I left the
scarcely-tasted breakfast, and went and rested my head on another
table, in a corner of the little room, which Minnie hastily