Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 25 of 27)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 25 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


our firm, Master Copperfield, except in raising up the umble,
namely, mother and self — and in developing," he added
as an after-thought, "the beautiful, namely Miss Agnes."

He jerked himself about, after this compliment, in such an
intolerable manner, that my aunt, who had sat looking straight
at him, lost all patience.

"Deuce take the man!" said my aunt, sternly, "what's
he about? Don't be galvanic. Sir! "

"I ask your pardon. Miss Trotwood," returned Uriah;
" I *m aware you 're nervous."

"Go along with you. Sir!" said my aunt, anything but
appeased. "Don't presume to say so! I am nothing of the
sort. If you *re an eel. Sir, conduct yourself like one. If
you're a man, control your limbs. Sir! Good God!" said
my aunt, with great indignation, "I am not going to be ser-
pentined and corkscrewed out of my senses ! "

Mr. Heep was rather abashed, as most people might have
been, by this explosion ; which derived great additional force
from the indignant manner in which my aunt afterwards moved
in her chair, and shook her head as if she were making snaps
or bounces at him. But, he said to me aside in a meek
voice:

"I am well aware. Master Copperfield, that Miss Trotwood,
though an excellent lady, has a quick temper (indeed I think
I had the pleasure of knowing her, when I was a numble clerk,
before you did, Master Copperfield), and it's only natural,
I am sure, that it should be made quicker by present circum-
stances. The wonder is, that it isn't much worse! I only



352



called to say that if there was anything we could do, in present
circumstances, mother or self, or Wickfield and Heep, we
should be really glad. I may go so far? " said Uriah, with a
sickly smile at his partner.

"Uriah Heep," said Mr. Wickfield, in a monotonous forced
way, "is active in the business, Trotwood. What he says,
I quite concur in. You know 1 had an old interest in you.
Apart from that, what Uriah says I quite concur in ! "

"Oh, what a reward it is," said Uriah, drawing up one
leg, at the risk of bringing down upon himself another visita-
tion from my aunt, "to be so trusted in ! But I hope I am able
to do something to relieve him from the fatigues of business,
Master Copperfieldl"

"Uriah Heep is a great relief to me," said Mr. Wickfield,
in the same dull voice. "It 's a load ofi* my mind, Trotwood,
to have such a partner."

The red fox made him say all this, I knew, to exhibit him
to me in the light he had indicated on the night when he
poisoned my rest. I saw the same ill-favoured smile upon his
face again , and saw how he watched me.

"You are not going, Papa?" said Agnes, anxiously.
"Will you not walk back with Trotwood and me?"

He would have looked to Uriah, I believe, before replying,
if that worthy had not anticipated him.

"I am bespoke myself," said Uriah, "on business; other-
wise I should have been appy to have kept with my friends.
But I leave my partner to represent the firm. Miss Agnes,
ever yours I 1 wish you good-day, Master Copperfield, and
leave my umble respects for Miss Betsey Trotwood."

With those words , he retired, kissing his great hand , and
leering at us like a mask.

We sat there, talking about our pleasant old Canterbury
days, an hour or two. Mr. Wickfield, left to Agnes, soon be-



353



-came more like his former self; though there was a settled
depression upon him, which he never shook off. For all that,
he brightened; and had an evident pleasure in hearing us
recall the little incidents of our old life, many of which he re-
membered very well. He said it was like those times, to be
alone with Agnes and me again; and he wished to Heaven they
had never changed. I am sure there was an influence in the
placid face of Agnes , and in the very touch of her hand upon
his arm, that did wonders for him.

My aunt (who was busy nearly all this while with Peggotty,
in the inner room) would not accompany us to the place where
they were staying, but insisted on my going : and I went. We
dined together. After dinner, Agnes sat beside him, as of old,
and poured out his wine. He took what she gave him, and no
more — like a child — and we all three sat together at a win-
dow as the evening gathered in. When it was almost dark,
he lay down on a sofa, Agnes pillowing his head and bending
over him a little while; and when she came back to the win-
dow, it was not so dark but I could see tears glittering in her
eyes.

I pray Heaven that I never may forget the dear girl in her
love and truth , at that time of my life ; for if I should , I must
be drawing near the end, and then I would desire to remember
her bestl She filled my heart with such good resolutions,
strengthened my weakness so , by her example , so directed —
I know not how, she was too modest and gentle to advise me in
many words — the wandering ardour and unsettled purpose
within me, that all the little good I have done, and all the harm
I have forborne, I solemnly believe I may refer to her.

And how she spoke to me of Dora, sitting at the window in

the dark; listened to my praises of her; praised again; and

round the little fairy-figure shed some glimpses of her own

pure light, that made it yet more precious and more innocent

David Copperfield. II. 23



354



to me! Oh, Agnes, sister of my boyhood, if I had known
then, what I knew long afterwards 1 —

There was a beggar in the street, when I went down ; and
as I turned my head towards the window, thinking of her calm,
seraphic eyes , he made me start by muttering, as if he were an
echo of the morning:

^* Blind I Blind! Blind!"



CHAPTER XX,

Enthusiasm.

I BEGA2S' the next day with another dive into the Roman

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

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

I got into such a transport, that I felt quite sorry my coat
was not a little shabby already. I wanted to be cutting at
those trees in the forest of difficulty, under circumstances that
should prove my strength. I had a good mind to a?k an old
man, in wire spectacles, who was breaking stones upon the
road, to lend me his hammer for a little while, and let me begin

23 *



356



to beat a path to Dora out of granite. 1 stimulated myself into
such a heat, and got so out of breath, that I felt as if I had been
earning I don't know how much. In this state , I went into a
cottage that I saw was to let, and examined it narrowly, — for
I felt it necessary to be practical. It would do for me and
Dora admirably: with a little front garden for Jip to run
about in, and bark at the tradespeople through the railings,
and a capital room up-stairs for my aunt. I came out again,
hotter and faster than ever, and dashed up to Highgate, at
Fuch a rate that I was there an hour too early ; and, though I
had not been, should have been obliged to stroll about to cool
myself, before I was at all presentable.

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

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



357



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

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

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

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

"Oh dear, yes!" said the Doctor; "Annie 's quite well,
and she '11 be delighted to see you. You were always her
favourite. She said so, last night, when I showed her your
letter. And — yes to be sure — you recollect Mr. Jack
Maldon, Copperfield?"

"Perfectly, Sir."

"Of course," said the Doctor. "To be sure, //e '* pretty
well, too."

"Has he come home. Sir?" I inquired.

"From India?" said the Doctor. "Yes. Mr. Jack Mai-



358



don couldn't bear the climate, my dear. Mrs. Markleham —
you have not forgotten Mrs. Markleham?"

Forgotten the Old Soldier ! And in that short time !

"Mrs. Markleham," said the Doctor, "was quite vexed
about him , poor thing ; so we have got him at home again ; and
we have bought him a little Patent place, which agrees with
him much better."

I knew enough of Mr. Jack Maldon to suspect from this
account that it was a place where there was not much to do,
and which was pretty well paid. The Doctor , walking up and
down with his hand on my shoulder, and his kind face turned
encouragingly to mine, went on :

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

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

"Well, well," returned the Doctor, "that's true. Cer-
tainly, your having a profession , and being actually engaged in
studying it, makes a difference. But, my good young friend,
what 's seventy pounds a-year?"

"It doubles our income. Doctor Strong," said I.

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



359



on my shoulder, " I have always taken an annual present into
account."

"My dear tutor," said I (now, really, without any non-
sense), "to whom I owe more obligations already than I ever
can acknowledge — "

"No, no," interposed the Doctor. "Pardon me!"

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

"Dear me 1" said the Doctor, innocently. "To think that
so little should go for so much ! Dear, dear I And when you
can do better, you will? On your word, now?" said the
Doctor, — which he had always made a very grave appeal to
the honour of us boys.

"On my word. Sir!" - I returned, answering in our old
school manner.

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

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

The Doctor stopped, smilingly clapped me on the shoulder
again, and exclaimed, with a triumph most delightful to be-
hold, as if I had penetrated to the profoundest depths of mor-
tal sagacity, "My dear young friend, you have hit it. It is
the Dictionary!"

How could it be anything else ! His pockets were as full
of it as his head. It was sticking out of him in all directions.
He told me that since his retirement from scholastic life, he
had been advancing with it wonderfully; and that nothing
could suit him better than the proposed arrangements for
morning and evening work, as it was his custom to walk about



360



in the day-time with his considering cap on. His papers wer&
in a little confusion, in consequence of Mr. Jack Maldon.
having lately proffered his occasional services as an amanuen-
sis, and not being accustomed to th-at occupation; but we
should soon put right what was amiss, and go on swimmingly.
Afterwards, when we were fairly at our work, I found Mr.
Jack Maldon's efforts more troublesome to me than I had ex-
pected, as he had not confined himself to making numerous
mistakes, but had sketched so many soldiers, and ladies*
heads, over the Doctor's manuscript, that I often became in-
volved in labyrinths of obscurity.

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

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

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



361



-who were not cutting down the trees in the forest of difficulty ;
and my impression must be received with due allowance.

"Mr. Jack!" said the Doctor, "Copperfieldl"

Mr. Jack Maldon shook hands with me; but not very
warmly, I believed; and with an air of languid patronage, at
which I secretly took great umbrage. But his languor alto-
gether was quite a wonderful sight ; except when he addressed
himself to his cousin Annie.

"Have you breakfasted this morning, Mr. Jack?*' said the
Doctor.

"I hardly ever take breakfast, Sir," he replied, with his
head thrown back in an easy chair. "I find it bores me."

"Is there any news to-day?" inquired the Doctor.

"Nothing at all, Sir," replied Mr. Maldon. "There 's
an account about the people being hungry and discontented
down in the North , but they are always being hungry and dis-
contented somewhere."

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

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

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



362



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

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

"You must go, Annie. You must go."

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

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

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

I was curious to find out next morning, whether she had
been. She had not, but had sent into London to put her
cousin off; and had gone out in the afternoon to see Agnes,
and had prevailed upon the Doctor to go with her; and they
had walked home by the fields, the Doctor told me, the
evening being delightful. I wondered then, whether she
would have gone if Agnes had not been in town, and whether
Agnes had some good influence over her too 1



363



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

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

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

I took Mr. Dick with me, because, actutely sensitive to
my aunt's revers'es, and sincerely believing that no galley-
slave or convict worked as I did, he had begun to fret and



I



"worry himself out of spirits and appetite, as having nothing
useful to do. In this condition, he felt more incapable of
finishing the Memorial than ever; and the harder he worked
at it, the oftener that unlucky head of King Charles the First
got into it. Seriously apprehending that his malady would
increase, unless we put some innocent deception upon him and
caused him to believe that he was useful, or unless we could
put him in the way of being really useful (which would be
better), I made up my mind to try if Traddles could help us.
Before we went, I wrote Traddles a full statement of all that
had happened, and Traddles wrote me back a capital answer,
expressive of his sympathy and friendship.

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

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



365



to be hewn down, immediately resolved to work my way on to
Dora through this thicket, axe in hand.

"I am very much obliged to you, my dear TraddlesI"
said I. "I '11 begin to-morrow."

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

"I '11 buy a book," said I, "with a good scheme of this art
in it; I '11 work at it at the Commons, where I haven't half
enough to do; I '11 take down the speeches in our court for
practice — Traddles , my dear fellow, I '11 master it ! "

"Dear me," said Traddles, opening his eyes, *'I had no
idea you were such a determined character, Copperfield 1 "

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

"You see," said Mr. Dick, wistfully, "if I could exert
myself, Mr. Traddles — if I could beat a drum — or blow any-
thing!"

Poor fellow 1 I have little doubt he would have preferred
such an employment in his heart to all others. Traddles, who
would not have smiled for the world, replied composedly:


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 25 27

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 25 of 27)