Charles Dickens.

The personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) online

. (page 2 of 27)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


glass, and his walking-stick, and his shirt-collar, and his gen-
teel air, and the condescending roll in his voice, all complete !

"My dear Copperfield," said Mr. Micawber, putting out
his hand, "this is indeed a meeting which is calculated to im-
press the mind with a sense of the instability and uncertainty
of all human — in short, it is a most extraordinary meeting.
Walking along the street, reflecting upon the probability of
something turning up (of which I am at present rather san-
guine) , I find a young, but valued friend turn up, who is con-
nected with the most eventful period of my life ; I may say,
with the turning point of my existence. Copperfield, my dear
fellow, how do you do?"

I cannot say — I really cannot say — that I was glad to see
Mr. Micawber there ; but I was glad to see him too, and shook
hands with him heartily, inquiring how Mrs. Micawber was.

"Thank you," said Mr. Micawber, waving his hand as of
old, and settling his chin in his shirt-collar. " She is tolerably
convalescent. The twins no longer derive their sustenance
from Nature's founts — in short," said Mr. Micawber, in one
of his bursts of confidence, "they are weaned — and Mrs.
Micawber is , at present , my travelling companion. She will
be rejoiced, Copperfield, to renew her acquaintance with one
who has proved himself in all respects a worthy minister at the
sacred altar of friendship."



15



I said I should be delighted to see her.

" You are very good," said Mr. Micawber.

Mr. Micawber then smiled, settled his chin again, and
looked about him.

"I have discovered my friend Copperfield," said Mr. Mi-
cawber genteelly, and without addressing himself particu-
larly to any one, "not in solitude, but partaking of asocial
meal in company with a widow lady, and one who is apparently
her offspring — in short," said Mr. Micawber, in another of
his bursts of confidence, "her son. I shall esteem it an honour
to be presented."

I could do no less, under these circumstances, than make
Mr. Micawber known to Uriah Heep and his mother; which I
accordingly did. As they abased themselves before him, INIr.
Micawber took a seat , and waved his hand in his most courtly
manner.

"Any friend of my friend Copperfield's," said Mr. Micaw-
ber, "has a personal claim upon myself."

"We are tooumble, Sir," said ^Irs. Heep, "my son and
me, to be the friends of Master Copperfield. He has been so
good as take his tea with us, and we are thankful to him for
his company; also to you. Sir, for your notice."

"Ma'am," returned Mr. Micawber, with a bow, "you
are very obliging: and what are you doing, Copperfield?
Still in the wine trade ? "

I was excessively anxious to get Mr. Micawber away ; and
replied, with my hat in my hand, and a very red face I have
no doubt, that I was a pupil at Doctor Strong's.

"A pupil?" said ISIr. Micawber, raising his eyebrows,
"I am extremely happy to hear it. Although a mind like my
friend Copperfield's " — to Uriah and Mrs. Heep — " does not
require that cultivation which, without his knowledge of men
and things , it would require , still it is a rich soil teeming with



16



latent vegetation — in short," said Mr. Micawber, smiling,
in another burst of confidence, "it is an intellect capable of
getting up the classics to any extent."

Uriah, with his long hands slowly twining over one another,
made a ghastly writhe from the waist upwards, to express his
concurrence in this estimation of me.

"Shall we go and see Mrs. Micawber, Sir?" I said, to
get Mr. Micawber away.

"If you will do her that favour, Copperfield," replied Mr.
Micawber, rising. "I have no scruple in saying, in the pre-
sence of our friends here, that I am a man who has , for some
years, contended against the pressure of pecuniary difficul-
ties," I knew he was certain to say something of this kind; he
always would be so boastful about his difficulties. "Some-
times I have risen superior to my difficulties. Sometimes my
difficulties have — in short, have floored me. There have
been times when I have administered a succession of facers to
them; there have been times when they have been too many
forme, and I have given in, and said to Mrs. Micawber in the
words of Cato , * Plato , thou reasonest well. It 's all up now.
I can show fight no more.' But at no time of my life," said
Mr. Micawber, "have I enjoyed a higher degree of satisfaction
than in pouring my griefs (if I may describe difficulties, chiefly
arising out of warrants of attorney and promissory notes at
two and four months, by that word) into the bosom of my
friend Copperfield."

Mr. Micawber closed this handsome tribute by saying,
"Mr. Heep! Good evening. Mrs. Heep! Your servant," and
then walking out with me in his most fashionable manner,
making a good deal of noise on the pavement with his shoes,
and humming a tune as we went.

It was a little inn where Mr. Micawber put up , and he oc-
cupied a little room in it, partitioned off from the commercial



17



room, and strongly flavoured with tobacco smoke. I think it
was over the kitchen, because a warm greasy smell appeared
to tome up through the chinks in the floor, and there was a
flabby perspiration on the walls. I know it was near the bar,
on account of the smell of spirits and gingling of glasses.
Here, recumbent on a small sofa, underneath a picture of a
race-horse, with her head close to the fire, and her feet push-
ing the mustard off the dumb-waiter at the other end of the
room, was Mrs. Micawber, to whom Mr. I»licawber entered
first, saying, "My dear, allow me to introduce to you a pupil
of Doctor Strong's."

I noticed, by-the-by , that although Mr. Micawber was just
as much confused as ever about my age and standing, he al-
ways remembered, as a genteel thing, that I was a pupil of
Doctor Strong's.

Mrs. Micawber was amazed, but very glad to see me. I
was very glad to see her too, and after an affectionate greeting
on both sides , sat down on the small sofa near her.

"My dear," said Mr. Micawber, "if you will mention to
Copperfield what our present position is, which I have no
doubt he will like to know , I will go and look at the paper the
while , and see whether any thing turns up among the adver-
tisements."

"I thought you were at PljTQOuth, Ma'am," I said to Mrs.
Micawber, as he went out.

"My dear Master Copperfield," she replied, "wewentto
Plymouth."

"To be on the spot," I hinted.

"Just so," said Mrs. Micawber. "To be on the spot.
But, the truth is, talent is not wanted in the Custom House.
The local influence of ray family was quite unavailing to ob-
tain any emplojTnent in that department, for a man of Mr.
Micawber's abilities. They would rather not have a man of
David Copperfield. II. 2



18



Mr. Micawber's abilities. He would only show the deficiency
of the others. Apart from which," said Mrs. Micawber, "I
will not disguise from you, my dear Master Copperfield, that
when that branch of my family which is settled in Plymouth
became aware that Mr. Micawber was accompanied by myself,
and by little Wilkins and his sister, and by the twins, they did
not receive him with that ardour which he might have expected,
being so newly released from captivity. In fact," said Mrs.
Micawber, lowering her voice, — "this is between ourselves
— our reception was cool."

"Dear me!" I said.

"Yes," said Mrs. Micawber. "It Is truly painful to con-
template mankind in such an aspect, Master Copperfield, but
our reception was, decidedly, cool. There Is no doubt about it.
In fact, that branch of my family which Is settled in Plymouth
became quite personal to Mr. Micawber, before we had been
there a week."

I said, and thought, that they ought to be ashamed of
themselves.

"Still, so It was," continued Mrs Micawber. "Under such
circumstances, what could a man of Mr. Micawber's spirit do?
But one obvious course was left. To borrow, of that branch
of my family, the money to return to London, and to return at
any sacrifice."

"Then you all came back again, Ma'am?" I said.

"We all came back again," replied Mrs. Micawber. "Since
then, I have consulted other branches of my family on the
course which It is most expedient for Mr. Micawber to take —
for I maintain that he must take some course. Master Copper-
field ," said Mrs. Micawber, argumentatively. " It is clear that
a family of six, not including a domestic, cannot live uponalr."

"Certainly, Ma'am," said I.

"The opinion of those other branches of my family," pur-



19



sued Mrs. Micawber, *'is, that Mr. Mlcawber should imme-
diately turn his attention to coals."

"To what, Ma'am?"

"To coals," said Mrs. Micawber. "To the coal trade. Mr.
Micawber was induced to think, on inquiry, that there might
be an opening for a man of his talentintheMedway Coal Trade.
Then, as Mr. Micawber ver}- properly said, the first step to be
taken clearly was, to come and see the Medway. "Which we
came and saw. I say 'we,' Master Copperfield; for I never
will," said Mrs. Micawber with emotion, "I never will desert
Mr. ^Micawber."

I murmured my admiration and approbation.

"We came," repeated Mrs. Micawber, "and saw the Med-
way. My opinion of the coal trade on that river, is, that it may
require talent, but that it certainly requires capital. Talent,
Mr. Micawber has ; capital, Mr. ^licawber has not. We saw,
I think, the greater part of the Medway; and that is my indi-
vidual conclusion. Being so near here, Mr. Micawber was of
opinion that it would be rash not to come on, and see the Ca-
thedral. Firstly, on account of its being so well worth seeing,
and our never having seen it; and secondly, on account of the
great probability of something turning up in a cathedral town.
We have been here," said Mrs. Micawber, " three days. No-
thing has, as yet, turned up; and it may not surprise you, my
dear Master Copperfield, so much as it would a stranger, to
know that we are at present waiting for a remittance from Lon-
don, to discharge our pecuniar^' obligations at this hotel. Until
the arrival of that remittance," said Mrs. Micawber, with much
feeling, "I am cut off from my home (I allude to lodgings in
Pentonville), from my boy and girl, and from my twins."

I felt the utmost sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Micawber in
this anxious extremity, and said as much to ^Ir. Micawber,
who now returned: adding that I only wished I had money



20



enough, to lend them the amount they needed. Mr. Micaw-
ber's answer expressed the disturbance of his mind. He said,
shaking hands with me, "Copperfield, you are a true friend;
but when the worst comes to the worst, no man is without a
friend who is possessed of shaving materials." At this dread-
ful hint Mrs. Micawber threw her arms round Mr. MIcawber's
neck and entreated him to be calm. He wept; but so far re-
covered, almost immediately, as to ring the bell for the waiter,
and bespeak a hot kidney pudding and a plate of shrimps for
breakfast in the morning.

When I took my leave of them, they both pressed me so
much to come and dine before they went away, that I could not
refuse. But, as I knew I could not come next day, when I
should have a good deal to prepare in the evening, Mr. Mi-
cawber arranged that he would call at Doctor Strong's in the
course of the morning (having a presentiment that the remit-
tance would arrive by that post), and propose the day after, if
it would suit me better. Accordingly I was called out of school
next forenoon, and found Mr. Micawber in the parlour; who
had called to say that the dinner would take place as proposed.
When I asked him if the remittance had come, he pressed my
hand and departed.

As I was looking out of window that same evening, it sur-
prised me, and made me rather uneasy, to see Mr. Micawber
and Uriah Heep walk past, arm in arm : Uriah humbly sensible
of the honour that was done him, and Mr. Micawber taking a
bland delight in extending his patronage to Uriah. But I was
still more surprised, when I went to the little hotel next day at
the appointed dinner hour, which was four o'clock, to find,
from what Mr. Micawber said, that he had gone home with
Uriah, and had drunk brandy-and- water at Mrs. Heep's.

"And I '11 tell you what, my dear Copperfield," said Mr.
Micawber, "your friend Heep is a young fellow who might be



2t



attorney-general. If I had known that young man, at the pe-
riod when my difficulties came to a crisis, all I can say is, that
I believe my creditors would have been a great deal better
managed than they were."

T hardly understood how this could have been, seeing that
Mr. Micawber had paid them nothing at all as it was ; but I did
not like to ask. Neither did I like to say, that I hoped he had
not been too communicative to Uriah; or to inquire if they had
talked much about me. I was afraid of hurting Mr. Micaw-
ber's feelings, or, at all events, Mrs. Micawber's, she being
very sensitive; butlwas uncomfortable about it, too, and often
thought about it afterwards.

We had a beautiful little dinner. Quite an elegant dish of
fish; the kidney-end of a loin of veal, roasted; fried sausage-
meat; a partridge, and a pudding. There was wine, and there
was strong ale; and after dinner Mrs. Micawber made us a
bowl of hot punch with her own hands.

Mr. Micawber was uncommonly convivial. I never saw
him such good company. He made his face shine with the
punch, so that it looked as if it had been varnished all over.
He got cheerfully sentimental about the town, and proposed
success to it; observing, that Mrs. Micawber and himself had
been made extremely snug and comfortable there, and that he
never should forget the agreeable hours they had passed in
Canterbury'. He proposed me afterwards; and he, and Mrs.
Micawber, and I, took a review of our past acquaintance, in
the course of which we sold the property all over again. Then
I proposed Mrs. Micawber; or, at least, said, modestly, "If
you '11 allow me, Mrs. Micawber, I shall now have the pleasure
of drinking your health, Ma'am." On which Mr. Micawber
delivered an eulogium on Mrs. MIcawber's character, and said
she had ever been his guide, philosopher, and friend, and that
he would recommend me, when I came to a marrying time of



22



life, to marry such another woman, if such another woman
could be found.

As the punch disappeared, Mr. Micawber became still
more friendly and convivial. Mrs.Micawber's spirits becoming
elevated, too, we sang "AuldLang Syne." When we came
to "Here's a hand, my trusty frere," we all joined hands
round the table; and when we declared we would "take a
right gude Willie Waught," and hadn't the least idea what it
meant, we were really affected.

In a word, I never saw any body so thoroughly jovial as
Mr. Micawber was, down to the very last moment of the
evening, when I took a hearty farewell of himself and his
amiable wife. Consequently, I was not prepared, at seven
o'clock next morning, to receive the following communica-
tion, dated half-past nine in the evening; a quarter of an
hour after I had left him.

"My dear Young Friend,

"The die is cast — all is over. Hiding the ravages of care
with a sickly mask of mirth, I have not informed you, this
evening, that there is no hope of the remittance! Under
these circumstances, alike humiliating to endure, humiliating
to contemplate^ and humiliating to relate, I have discharged
the pecuniary liability contracted at this establishment, by
giving a note of hand, made payable fourteen days after date,
at my residence, Pentonville, London. When it becomes
due, it will not be taken up. The result is destruction. The
bolt is impending, and the tree must fall.

" Let the wretched man who now addresses you, my dear
Copperfield, be a beacon to you through life. He writes with
that intention, and in that hope. If he could think himself
of so much use, one gleam of day might, by possibility, pene-
trate into the cheerless dungeon of his remaining existence —



23



though his longevity is, at present (to say tluj least of it),
extremely problematical.

"This is the last communication, my dear Copperfield,
you will ever receive

"From
"The
"Beggared Outcast,

"WiLKINS MiCAWBER."

I was so shocked by the contents of this heart-rending
letter, that I ran off directly towards the little hotel with the
intention of taking it on my way to Doctor Strong's, and
trying to soothe Mr. Micawber with a word of comfort. But,
half-way there, I met the London coach with Mr. and^Irs.
Micawber up behind; Mr. Micawber, the verj' picture of
tranquil enjoyment, smiling at Mrs. Micawber's conversation,
eating walnuts out of a paper bag, with a bottle sticking out
of his breast pocket. As they did not see me, I thought it
best, all things considered, not to see them. So, with a
great weight taken off my mind, I turned into a by-street that
was the nearest way to school, and felt, upon the whole,
relieved that they were gone; though I still liked them very
much, nevertheless.



CHAPTER II.

A retrospect.

My school-days ! The silent gliding on of my existence
— the unseen, unfelt progress of my life — from childhood
op to youth ! Let me think, as I look back upon that flowing
water, now a dry channel overgrown with leaves, whether
there are any marks along its course, by which I can remember
how it ran.

A moment, and I occupy my place in the Cathedral, where
we all went together, every Sunday morning, assembling first
at school for that purpose. The earthy smell, the sunless
air, the sensation of the world being shut out, the resounding
of the organ through the black and white arched galleries
and aisles, are wings that take me back, and hold me
hovering above those days, in a half-sleeping and half-waking
dream.

I am not the last boy in the school. I have risen, in a few
months, over several heads. But the first boy seems to me a
mighty creature, dwelling afar off, whose giddy height is
unattainable. Agnes says "No," but I say "Yes," and tell
her that she little thinks what stores of knowledge have been
mastered by the wonderful Being, at whose place she thinks I,
even I, weak aspirant, may arrive in time. He is not my
private friend and public patron, as Steerforth was, but I hold
him in a reverential respect. I chiefly wonder what he '11 be,
when he leaves Doctor Strong's, and what mankind will do to
maintain any place against him.

But who is this that breaks upon me ? This is Miss
Shepherd, whom I love.



25



Miss Shepherd is a boarder at the Misses Nettingalls'
establishment. I adore Miss Shepherd. She is a little girl,
in a spencer, with a round face and curly flaxen hair. The
Misses Nettingalls' young ladies come to the Cathedral too.
I cannot look upon my book, for I must look upon Miss
Shepherd. When the choristers chaunt, I hear Miss Shepherd.
In the service I mentally insert Miss Shepherd's name — I put
her In among the Royal Family. At home, in my own room,
I am sometimes moved to cry out, "Oh, Miss Shepherd!"
in a transport of love.

For some time, I am doubtful of Miss Shepherd's feelings,
but, at length. Fate being propitious, we meet at the dancing-
school. I have Miss Shepherd for my partner. I touch Miss
Shepherd's glove, and feel a thrill go up the right arm of my
jacket, and come out at my hair. I say nothing tender to Miss
Shepherd, but we understand each other. Miss Shepherd
and myself live but to be united.

Why do I secretly give Miss Shepherd twelve Brazil nuts
for a present, I wonder? They are not expressive of afi'ection,
they are difficult to pack into a parcel of any regular shape,
they are hard to crack, even in room doors, and they are
oily when cracked; yet I feel that they are appropriate to
Miss Shepherd. Soft, seedy biscuits, also, I bestow upon
Miss Shepherd; and oranges innumerable. Once, I kiss Miss
Shepherd In the cloak room. Ecstacy! What are my agony
and indignation next day, when I hear a flying rumour that the
Misses Nettingall have stood Miss Shepherd in the stocks for
turning in her toes 1

Miss Shepherd being the one pervading theme and vision
of my life, how do I ever come to break with her? I can't
conceive. And yet a coolness grows between Miss Shepherd
and myself. Whispers reach me of Miss Shepherd having
said she wished I wouldn't stare so, and having avowed a



26



preference for Master Jones — for Jones ! a boy of no merit
whatever! The gulf between me and Miss Shepherd widens.
At last, one day, I meet the Misses Nettingalls' establishment
out walking. Miss Shepherd makes a face as she goes by,
and laughs to her companion. All is over. The devotion
of a life — It seems a life, It is all the same — Is at an end; Miss
Shepherd comes out of the morning service, and the Royal
Family know her no more.

lamhigher in the school, and no one breaks my peace. I
am not at all polite, now, to the Misses Nettingalls' young
ladies, and shouldn't dote on any of them, if they were twice
as many and twenty times as beautiful. I think the dancing-
school a tiresome affair, and wonder why the girls can't dance
by themselves and leave us alone. I am growing great In
Latin verses, and neglect the laces of my boots. Doctor
Strong refers to me in public as a promising young scholar.
Mr. Dick Is wild with joy, and my aunt remits me a guinea by
the next post.

The shade of a young butcher rises , like the apparition of
an armed head in Macbeth. Who is this young butcher? He
is the terror of the youth of Canterbury. There is a vague
belief abroad, that the beef suet with which he anoints his hair
gives him unnatural strength, and that he is a match for a man.
He is a broad-faced, bull-necked young butcher, with rough
red cheeks, an ill-conditioned mind, and an injurious tongue.
His main use of this tongue, Is, to disparage Doctor Strong's
young gentlemen. He says, publicly, that If they want any-
thing he '11 give it 'em. He names individuals among them
(myself Included), whom he could undertake to settle with
one hand, and the other tied behind him. He waylays the
smaller boys to punch their unprotected heads , and calls chal-
lenges after me In the open streets. For these sufficient
reasons I resolve to fight the butcher.



27



It is a summer evening, down in a green hollow, at the
corner of a wall. I meet the butcher by appointment. I am
attended by a select body of our boys; the butcher, by two
other butchers , a young publican , and a sweep. The prelimi-
naries are adjusted, and the butcher and myself stand face to
face. In a moment the butcher lights ten thousand candles
out Qf my left eyebrow. In another moment, I don't know
where the wall is, or where I am, or where anybody is. I
hardly know which is myself and which the butcher, we are
always in such a tangle and tustle, knocking about upon the
trodden grass. Sometimes I see the butcher, bloody but con-
fident; sometimes I see nothing, and sit gasping on my se-
cond's knee; sometimes I go in at the butcher madly, and cut
my knuckles open against his face, without appearing to dis-
compose him at all. At last I awake, very queer about the
head, as from a giddy sleep, and see the butcher walking off,
congratulated by the two other butchers and the sweep and
publican, and putting on his coat as he goes; from which I
augur, justly, that the victory is his.

I am taken home in a sad plight, and I have beef-steaks put
to my eyes , and am rubbed with vinegar and brandy , and find
a great white puffy place bursting out on my upper lip, which
swells immoderately. For three or four days I remain at
home, a very ill-looking subject, with a green shade over my
eyes ; and I should be verj' dull, but that Agnes is a sister to
me, and condoles with me, and reads to me, and makes the
time light and happy. Agnes has my confidence completely,
always; I tell her all about the butcher, and the wrongs he has
heaped upon me; and she thinks I couldn't have done other-
wise than fight the butcher, while she shrinks and trembles at
my having fought him.

Time has stolen on unobserved, for Adams is not the head-
boy in the days that are come now, nor has he been this many



28



and many a day. Adams has left the school so long, that when
he comes back, on a visit to Doctor Strong, there are not many
tliere, besides myself, who know him. Adams is going to be
called to the bar almost directly, and is to be an advocate, and
to wear a wig. I am surprised to find him a meeker man than
I had thought, and less imposing in appearance. He has not
staggered the world yet, either; for it goes on (as well as I can
make out) pretty much the same as if he had never joined it.

A blank, through which the warriors of poetry and history



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 27)