Charles Dickens.

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

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sentiment. Among all kinds of people a respect for them in
their distress prevailed, which was full of gentleness and de-
licacy. The seafaring men kept apart, when those two were
seen early, walking with slow steps on the beach ; and stood in
knots, talking compassionately among themselves.

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

"We have had a mort of talk, Sir," said Mr. Peggotty to
me, when we had all three walked a little while in silence, "of
what we ought and doen't ought to do. But we see ourconrse
now.*'

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

"My dooty here. Sir,*' said Mr. Peggotty, "is done.
I 'm a going to seek my — " he stopped, and went on in a



272



firmer voice: "I'm a going to seek her. That's my dooty
evermore."

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

"I'll go along with you. Sir," he rejoined, "if you 're
agreeable, to-morrow."

We walked again, for a while, in silence.

"Ham," he presently resumed, "he'll hold to his pre-
sent work, and go and live along with my sister. The old
boat yonder — "

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

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

We walked again for a while, as before, until he ex-
plained:

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

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



273



"Every night," said Mr. Peggotty, " as reg'lar as the night
comes, the candle must be stood in its old pane of glass, that
if ever she should see it, it may seem to say 'Comeback, ray
child, come back! ' If ever there 's a knock, Ham (partic'ler
a soft knock), arter dark, at your aunt's door, doen't you
go nigh it. Let it be her — not you — that sees my fallen
child 1"

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

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

"On what's afore me, Mas'rDavy; and over yon."

"On the life before you, do you mean?" He had pointed
confusedly out to sea.

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

"What end?" lasked, possessed by my former fear.

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

Mr. Peggotty stopping for us to join him: we did so, and
said no more. The remembrance of this, in connexion with
David Coppcrfield. II. 18



274



my former thought, however, haunted me at intervals, even
until the inexorable end came at its appointed time.

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

"Dan'l, my good man," said she, "you must eat and
drink, and keep up your strength, for without it you '11 do
nowt. Try, that 's a dear soull And if I disturb you with
my clicketten," she meant her chattering, "tell me so, Dan'l,
and I won't."

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

"All times and seasons, you know, Dan'l," said Mrs.
Gummidge, "I shall be alius here, and every think will look
accordin' to your wishes. I 'm a poor scholar, but I shall write
to you , odd times , when you 're away, and send my letters to
Mas'r Davy. Maybe you '11 write to me too, Dan'l, odd
times , and tell me how you fare to feel upon your lone lorn
journies."

"You '11 be a solitary woman heer, I 'm afeerdi" said
Mr. Peggotty.

"No, no, Dan'l," she returned, "I shan't be that. Doen't
you mind me. I shall have enough to do to keep a Beein for
you" (Mrs. Gummidge meant a home), "again you come
back — to keep a Beein here for any that may hap to come
back, Dan'l. In the fine time, I shall set outside the door as I



275



used to do. If any should come nigh, they shall seethe old
widder woman true to 'em, a long way off."

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

18*



276



Mrs. Gummidge, and the new experience she unfoMed
to me.

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

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

"Don't say so," I returned. "You don't think so."

"Yes, Idol" cried Mrs. Jorara , angrily.

"No, no," said I.

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

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

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

"My little Minnie," said Mrs. Joram, "has only just now
been got to sleep. Even in her sleep she is sobbing for Em'ly.
All day long, little Minnie has cried for her, and asked me,
over and over again, whether Em'ly was wicked? Wliat can
I say to her, when Em'ly tied a ribbon off her own neck round
little Minnie's the last night she was here, and laid her head
down on the pillow beside her till she was fast asleep 1 The
ribbon 's round my little Minnie's neck now. It ought not to
be, perhaps, but what can I do? Em'ly is very bad, but they
were fond of one another. And the child knows nothing I '*



277



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

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

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

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

I might not have been prepared to give the little creature a
very kind reception, if, on her removing the umbrella, which
her utmost efforts were unable to shut up, she had shown me
the "volatile" expression of face which had made so great an
impression on me at our first and last meeting. But her face,
as she turned it up to mine, was so earnest; and when I re-
lieved her of the umbrella (which would have been an incon-
venient one for the Irish Giant), she wrung her little hands



278



in such an afllicted maiinfr; that I rather inclined towards
her.

"Miss Mowcher! " said I. after glancing up and down the
empty street, without distinctly knowing what I expected to
see besides; "how do you come here? What is the matter?"

She motioned tome, with her short right arm, to shut the
umbrella for her; and passing me hurriedly, went into the
kitchen. When I had closed the door, and followed, with the
umbrella in my hand, I found her sitting on the corner of the
fender — it was a low iron one , with two flat bars at top to
stand plates upon — in the shadow of the boiler, swaying her-
self backwards and forwards, and chafing her hands upon her
knees like a person in pain.

Quite alarmed at being the only recipient of this untimely ^
visit, and the only spectator of this portentous behaviour, I ex- ■
claimed again: "Pray tell me. Miss Mowcher, what is the mat-
ter 1 are you ill?"

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

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

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

"Yes, it 's always so I" she said. " They are all surprised,
these inconsiderate young people, fairly and full grown, to see
any natural feeling in a little thing like me I They make a
plaything of me, use me for their amusement, throw me away
when they are tired, and wonder that I feel more than a toy



279



horse or a wooden soldier I Yes, yes, that 's the way. The
old way 1"

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

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

No. Not Miss Mowcher's, I perceived.

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

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

"Be thankful for me, if you have a kind heart as I think
you have , " she said , " that while I know well what I am, I can
be cheerful and endure it all. I am thankful for myself, at any
rate, that I can find my tiny way througli the world, witliout
being beholden to any one ; and that in return for all that is



280



thrown at me, in folly or vanity, as I go along, I can throw
bubbles back. If I don't brood over all I want, it is the better
forme, and not the worse for any one. If I am a plaything
for you giants, be gentle with me."

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

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

"Do you know her?" I demanded.

"I know q/'her, and about her," she replied, '*from Omer
andJoram. I was there at seven o'clock this morning. Do
you remember what Steerforth said to me about this unfortu-
nate girl, that time when I saw you both at the inn? "

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

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

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

"I?" I repeated.

"Child, child 1 In the name of blind ill-fortune," cried
Miss Mowcher, wringing her hands impatiently, as she went to
and fro again upon the fender, "why did you praise her so,
and blush, and look disturbed? "

I could not conceal from myself thatlhad done this, though
for a reason very difi'erent from her supposition.



281



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

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



282



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

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

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

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

"Gomel" said she, accepting the ofi'er of my hand to help
her over the fender, and looking wistfully up into my face,
"you know you wouldn't mistrust me, if I was a full-sized
woman!"

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

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

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



283



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

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

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

I gave Miss Mowcher my hand, with a very different opinion
of her from that which I had hitherto entertained, and opened
the door to let her out. It was not a trifling business to get
the great umbrella up, and properly balanced in her grasp;
but at last I successfully accomplished this, and saw it go bob-
bing down the street through the rain, withoutthe least appear-
ance of having anybody underneath it, except when a heavier
fall than usual from some overcharged water -spout sent it
toppling over, on one side, and discoverod Miss Mowcher
struggling violently to get it r\<^hf. After making one or two



284



sallies to her relief, which -were rendered fctile by the um-
brella's hopping on again, like an immense bird, before I
could reach it, I came in, v?ent to bed, and slept till morning.

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

"Mas'rDavy," Ham whispered, drawing me aside, while
Mr. Peggotty was stowing his bag among the luggage, "his
life is quite broke up. He doen't know wheer he 's going;
he doen't know what 's afore him; he's bound upon a voyage
that '11 last, on and off, all the rest of his days, takemywured
for 't, unless he finds what he 's a seeking of. I am sure you '11
be a friend to him , Mas'rDavy?'*

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

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

I told him I was well convinced of it ; and I hinted that 1
hoped the time might even come, when he would cease to
lead the lonely life he naturally contemplated now.

"No, Sir," he said, shaking his head, " all that 's past and
over with me. Sir. No one can never fill the place that's
empty. But you '11 bear in mind about the money, as theer 's


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Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 20 of 27)