Charles Dickens.

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

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low can't live there, he can't live there. And if he can't live
there, he '11 die there, sooner than he '11 overturn the Doctor's
plans. I know him," said the Old Soldier, fanning herself, in
a sort of calm prophetic agony, "and I know he '11 die there,
sooner than he '11 overturn the Doctor's plans."

"Well, well. Ma'am," said the Doctor, cheerfully, "lam
not bigoted to my plans, and I can overturn them myself. I
can substitute some other plans. If Mr. Jack Maldon comes
liome on account of ill health, he must not be allowed to go
back, and we must endeavour to make some more suitable and
fortunate provision for him in this country."

Mrs. Markleham was so overcome by this generous speech
— which, I need not say, she had not at all expected or led up
to — that she could only tell the Doctor it was like himself,
and go several times through that operation of kissing the
sticks of her fan, and then tapping his hand with it. After
which she gently chid her daughter Annie, for not being more
demonstrative when such kindnesses were showered, for her
sake, on her old playfellow; and entertained us with some par-
ticulars concerning other deserving members of her family,
whom it was desirable to set on their deserving legs.

All this time, her daughter Annie never once spoke, or
lifted up her eyes. All this time, Mr. Wickfield had his glance
upon her as she sat by his own daughter's side. It appeared
to me that he never thought of being observed by any one;
but was so intent upon her, and upon his own thoughts in con-
nexion with her, as to be quite absorbed. He now asked what
Mr. Jack Maldon had actually written in reference to himself,
and to whom he had written it?

"Why, here," said Mrs. Markleham, taking a letter from
the chimney-piece above the Doctor's head, "the dear fellow
says to the Doctor himself — where is it? Oh I — * I am sorry



44



to Inform you that my health is suffering severely, and that I
fear I may be reduced to the necessity of returning home for a
time, as the only hope of restoration.' That 's pretty plain,
poor fellow 1 His only hope of restoration ! But Annie's let-
ter is plainer still. Annie, show me that letter again."
"Not now, Mamma," she pleaded in a low tone,
*'My dear, you absolutely are, on some subjects, one of the
most ridiculous persons in the world," returned her mother,
"and perhaps the most unnatural to the claims of your own
family. We never should have heard of the letter at all , I
believe, unless I had asked for it myself. Do you call that con-
fidence, my love, towards Doctor Strong? I am surprised.
You ought to know better."

The letter was reluctantly produced ; and as I handed it to
the old lady, I saw how the unwilling hand from which I took
it, trembled,

"Now let us see," said Mrs. Marklehara, putting her glass
to her eye, "where the passage is. *The remembrance of old
times, my dearest Annie' — and so forth — it 's not there.
'The amiable old Proctor' — who 's he? Dear me, Annie,
how illegibly your cousin Maldon writes, and how stupid I am!
'Doctor,' of course. Ah! amiable indeed!" Here she left
off, to kiss her fan again, and shake it at the Doctor, who was
looking at us in a state of placid satisfaction. "Now I have
found It. *You may not be surprised to hear, Annie' " — no,
to be sure, knowing that he never was really strong; what did
I say just now? — 'that I have undergone so much in this
distant place, as to have decided to leave it at all hazards; on
sick leave, if I can ; on total resignation, if that is not to be ob-
tained. What I have endured, and do endure here, is insup-
portable.' And but for the promptitude of that best of crea-
tures ," said Mrs. Markleham , telegraphing the Doctor as be-



45



fore, and refolding the letter, *'It would be insupportable to
me to think of."

Mr. Wickfield said not one word, though the old lady
looked to him as if for his commentary on this intelligence;
but sat severely silent, with his eyes fixed on the ground.
Long after the subject was dismissed, and other topics occu-
pied us, he remained so; seldom raising his eyes, unless to
rest them for a moment, with a thoughtful frown, upon the
Doctor, or his wife , or both.

The Doctor was very fond of music, Agnes sang with
great sweetness and expression, and so did Mrs. Strong. They
sang together, and played duets together, and we had quite a
little concert. But I remarked two things: first, that though
Annie soon recovered her composure, and was quite herself,
there was a blank between her and Mr. Wickfield which sepa-
rated them wholly from each other ; secondly, that Mr. Wick-
field seemed to dislike the Intimacy between her and Agnes,
and to watch it with uneasiness. And now, I must confess,
the recollection of what I had seen on that night when Mr.
Maldon went away, first began to return upon me with a
meaning it had never had, and to trouble me. The innocent
beauty of her face was not as Innocent to me as it had been;
I mistrusted the natural grace and charm of her manner; and
when I looked at Agnes by her side , and thought how good
and true Agnes was , suspicions arose within me that it was an
ill-assorted friendship.

She was so happy in it herself, however, and the other was
so happy too , that they made the evening fly away as if it were
but an hour. It closed in an incident which I well remember.
They were taking leave of each other, and Agnes was going to
embrace her and kiss her, when Mr. Wickfield stepped be-
tween them, as if by accident, and drew Agnes quickly away.
Then I saw, as though all the intervening time had been can-



46



celled, and I were still standing in the doorway on the night of
the departure, the expression of that night in the face of
Mrs. Strong, as it confronted his.

I cannot say what an impression this made upon me, or
how impossible I found it, when I thought of her afterwards,
to separate her from this look, and remember her face in its
innocent loveliness again. It haunted me when I got home.
I seemed to have left the Doctor's roof with a dark cloud
lowering on it. The reverence that I had for his grey head,
was mingled with commiseration for his faith in those who
were treacherous to him, and with resentment against those
who injured him. The impending shadow of a great affliction,
and a great disgrace that had no distinct form in it yet, fell
like a stain upon the quiet place where I had worked and
played as a boy , and did it a cruel wrong. I had no pleasure
in thinking, any more, of the grave old broad-leaved aloe-
trees which remained shut up in themselves a hundred years
together, and of the trim smooth grass-plot, and the stone
urns, and the Doctor's walk, and the congenial sound of the
Cathedral bell hovering above them all. It was as if the tran-
quil sanctuary of my boyhood had been sacked before myface,
and its peace and honour given to the winds.

But morning brought with it my parting from the old
house, which Agnes had tilled with her influence; and that
occupied my mind sufficiently. I should be there again soon,
no doubt; I might sleep again — perhaps often — in my old
room; but the days of my inhabiting there were gone, and the
old time was past. I was heavier at heart when I packed up
such of my books and clothes as still remained there to be sent
to Dover, than I cared to show to Uriah Heep: who was so
officious to help me, that I uncharitably thought him mighty
glad that I was going.

I got away from Agnes and her father, somehow, with an



47



indifferent show of being very manly, and took my seat upon
the box of the London coach. I was so softened and forgiving,
going through the town, that I had half a mind to nod to
my old enemy the butcher, and throw him five shillings to
drink. But he looked such a very obdurate butcher as he
stood scraping the great block in the shop, and moreover, his
appearance was so little improved by the loss of a front tooth
which I had knocked out, that I thought it best to make no
advances.

The main object on ray mind, I remember, when we got
fairly on the road, was to appear as old as possible to the
coachman, and to speak extremely gruff. The latter point I
achieved at great personal inconvenience; but I stuck to it,
because I felt it was a grown-up sort of thing.

"You are going through. Sir?" said the coachman.

"Yes, William," I said, condescendingly (I knew him);
" I am going to London. I shall go down into Suffolk after-
wards."

"Shooting, Sir?" said the coachman.

He knew as well as I did that it was just as likely, at that
time of year, I was going down there whaling; but I felt com-
plimented, too.

"I don't know," I said, pretending to be undecided,
"whether I shall take a shot or not."

"Birds is got wery shy, I'm told," said William.

"So I understand," saidL

"Is Suffolk your county. Sir?" asked William.

"Yes," I said, with some importance, "Suffolk's my
county."

"I 'm told the dumplings is uncommon fine down there,"
said William.

I was not aware of it myself, but I felt it necessary to up-
hold the institutions of my county, and to evince a familiarity



48



with them; so I shook my head, as much as to say "I believe
you!"

"And the Punches,'* said William. " There 's cattle I A
Suffolk Punch, when he 's a good un, is worth his weight in
gold. Did you ever breed any Suffolk Punches yourself, Sir? "

"N — no," I said, "not exactly."

"Here 's a gen'lm'n behind me, I *1I pound it," said Wil-
liam, "as has bred 'em by wholesale."

The gentleman spoken of was a gentleman with a very un-
promising squint, and a prominent chin, who had a tall white
hat on with a narrow flat brim, and whose close-fitting drab
trousers seemed to button all the way up outside his legs from
his boots to his hips. His chin was cocked over the coachman's
shoulder, so near to me, that his breath quite tickled the back
of my head; and as I looked round at him, he leered at the
leaders with the eye with which he didn't squint, in a very
knowing manner.

"Ain'tyou?" said William.

" Ain't I Avhat ? " asked the gentleman behind.

"Bred them Suffolk Punches by wholesale?"

"I should think so," said the gentleman. "There ain't
no sort of orse that I ain't bred , and no sort of dorg. Orses
and dorgs is some men's fancy. They 're wittles and drink
tome — lodging, wife, and children — reading, writing, and
'rithmetic — snuff, tobacker, and sleep."

"That ain't a sort of man to see sitting behind a coach-
box, is it though?" said William in my ear, as he handled
the reins.

I construed this remark into an indication of a wish
that he should have my place, so I blushingly offered to
resign it.

"Well, if you don't mind, Sir," said William, "I think it
would be more correct."



49



I have always considered this as the first fall I had in life.
When I booked my place at the coach-office, I had had "Box
Seat" written against the entry, and had given the book-
keeper half-a-crown. I was got up in a special great coat and
shawl, expressly to do honour to that distinguished eminence;
had glorified myself upon it a good deal; and had felt that I
was a credit to the coach. And here, in the verj' first stage, I
was supplanted by a shabby man with a squint, who had no
other merit than smelling like a livery-stables, and being able
to walk across me, more like a fly than a human being, while
the horses were at a canter I

A distrust of myself, which has often beset me in life on
small occasions, when it would have been better away, was
assuredly not stopped in its growth by this little incident out-
side the Canterbury coach. It was in vain to take refuge in
grufiness of speech. I spoke from the pit of my stomach for
the rest of the journey, but I felt completely extinguished,
and dreadfully young.

It was curious and interesting, nevertheless, to be sitting up
there, behind four horses: well educated, well dressed, and with
plenty of money in ray pocket : and to look out for the places
where I had slept on my weary journey. I had abundant occu-
pation for my thoughts, in every conspicuous landmark on the
road. When I looked down at the trampers whom we passed,
and saw that well-remembered style of face turned up, I felt as
if the tinker's blackened hand were in the bosom of my shirt
again. When we clattered through the narrow street of
Chatham, and I caught a glimpse, in passing, of the lane
where the old monster lived who had bought my jacket, I
stretched my neck eagerly to look for the place where I had
sat, in the sun and in the shade, waiting for my money. When
we came, at last, within a stage of London, and passed the
veritable Salem House where Mr. Creakle had laid about him
David Copperfield. II. 'i



50



with a lieavy hand, I would have given all I had , for lawful
permission to get down and thrash him, and let all the boys
out like so many caged sparrows.

We went to the Golden Cross at Charing Cross, then a
mouldy sort of establishment in a close neighbourhood. A
waiter showed me into the coffee-room ; and a chambermaid
introduced me to my small bed-chamber, which smelt like a
hackney-coach, and was shut up like a family vault. I was
still painfully conscious of my youth , for nobody stood in any
awe of me at all: the chambermaid being utterly indifferent to
my opinions on any subject, and the waiter being familiar
with me, and offering advice to my inexperience.

"Well now," said the waiter, in a tone of confidence,
"what would you like for dinner? Young gentlemen likes
poultry in general, have a fowl! "

I told him, as majestically as I could, that I wasn't in the
humour for a fowl.

"Ain't you!" said the waiter. "Young gentlemen is
generally tired of beef and mutton, have a weal cutlet 1"

I assented to this proposal, in default of being able to
suggest anything else.

"Do you care for taters?" said the waiter, with an insi-
nuating smile, and his head on one side. "Young gentle-
men generally has been overdosed with taters."

I commanded him, in my deepest voice, to order a veal
cutlet and potatoes, and all things fitting; and to inquire at
the bar if there were any letters for Trotwood Copperfield,
Esquire — which I knew there were not, and couldn't be,
but thought it manly to appear to expect.

He soon came back to say that there were none (at which
I was much surprised), and began to lay the cloth for my
dinner in a box by the fire. While he was so engaged, he
asked me what I would take with it; and on my replying



51



"Haifa pint of sherry," thought it a favourable opportunity,
I am afraid, to extract that measure of wine from the stale
leavings at the bottoms of several small decanters. I am of
this opinion, because, while I was reading the newspaper, I
observed him behind a low wooden partition, which was his
private apartment, very busy pouring out of a number of
those vessels into one, like a chemist and druggist making up
a prescription. When the wine came, too, I thought it flat ;
and it certainly had more English crumbs in it, than were to
be expected in a foreign wine in anything like a pure state ; but
I was bashful enough to drink it, and say nothing.

Being, then, in a pleasant frame of mind (from which I
infer that poisoning is not always disagreeable in some stages
of the process), I resolved to go to the play. It was Covent
Garden Theatre that I chose ; and there , from the back of a
centre box, I saw Julius Caesar and the new Pantomime. To
have all those noble Romans alive before me, and walking in
and out for my entertainment, instead of being the stern task-
masters they had been at school, was a most novel and delight-
ful effect. But the mingled reality and mystery of the whole
show, the influence upon me of the poetry, the lights, the
music, the company, the smooth stupendous changes of
glittering and brilliant scenery, were so dazzling, and opened
up such illimitable regions of delight, that when I came out
into the rainy street, at twelve o'clock at night, I felt as if 1
had come from the clouds, where I had been leading a roman-
tic life for ages, to a bawling, splashing, link- lighted, um-
brella-struggling, hackney-coach-jostling, patten- clinking,
muddy, miserable world.

I had emerged by another door, and stood In the street for
a little while, as if I really were a stranger upon earth : but
the unceremonious pushing and hustling that I received, soon
recalled me to myself, and put me in the road back to the

4*



52



hotel; whither I went, revolving the glorious vision all the
way ; and where, after some porter and oysters, I sat revolving
it still, at past one o'clock, with my eyes on the coffee-
room fire.

I was so filled with the play, and with the past, — for it
was, in a manner, like a shining transparency, through which
I saw my earlier life moving along' — that I don't know when
the figure of a handsome well-formed young man, dressed
with a tasteful easy negligence which I have reason to remem-
ber very well, became a real presence to me. But I recollect
being conscious of his company ■without having noticed
his coming in — and my still sitting , musing , over the coffee-
room fire.

At last I rose to go to bed, mucli to the relief of the sleepy
waiter, who had got the fidgets in his legs, and was twisting
them, and hitting them, and putting them through all kinds of
contortions in his small pantry. In going towards the door, 1
passed the person who had come in, and saw him plainly. I
turned directly, came back, and looked again. He did not
know me, but I knew him in a moment.

At another time I might have wanted the confidence or the
decision to speak to him, and might have put it off until next
day, and might have lost him. But, in the then condition of
my mind, where the play was still running high, his former
protection of me appeared so deserving of my gratitude, and
my old love for him overflowed my breast so freshly and spon-
taneously, that I went up to him at once, with a fast-beating
heart, and said:

"Steerforth! won't you speak to me?"

He looked at me — just as he used to look, sometimes —
but I saw no recognition in his face.

"You don't remember me, lam afraid," said I.



53



"My God!" he suddenly exclaimed. "It 's little Cop-
perfield!"

I grasped him by both hands , and could not let them go.
But for very shame, and the fear that it might displease him, I
could have held him round the neck and cried.

"I never, never, never was so glad! My dear Steerforth,
I am so overjoved to see you 1 "

"And I am rejoiced to see you, too! " he said, shaking my
hands heartily. "Why, Copperfield, old boy, don't be over-
powered ! " And yet he was glad, too , I thought , to see how
the delight I had in meeting him affected me.

I brushed away the tears that my utmost resolution had
not been able to keep back, and I made a clumsy laugh of it,
and we sat down together, side by side.

"Why, how do you come to be here?" said Steerforth,
clapping me on the shoulder.

"I came here by the Canterburj' coach, to-day. I have
been adopted by an aunt down in that part of the countrj-, and
have just finished my education there. How do you come to
be here, Steerforth?"

"Well, I am what they call an Oxford man," he returned-
"that is to say, I get bored to death down there, periodically
— and I am on my way now to my mother's. You 're a de-
vilish amiable-looking fellow, Copperfield. Just what you used
to be , now I look at you 1 Not altered in the least ! "

"I knew you immediately," I said; "but you are more
easily remembered."

He laughed as he ran his hand through the clustering curls
of his hair, and said gaily :

"Yes, I am on an expedition of duty. My mother lives a
little way out of town; and the roads being in a beastly con-
dition, and our house tedious enough, I remained here to-
night instead of going on. I have not been in town half-a-



54



dozen hours, and those I have been dozing nnd grumbling
away at the play."

"I have been at the play, too," said I. "At Covent Gar-
den. What a delightful and magnificent entertainment, Steer-
forth 1"

Steerforth laughed heartily.

— "My dear young Davy," he said, clapping me on the
shoulder again, "you are a very Daisy. The daisy of the field,
at sunrise, is not fresher than you are ! I have been at Covent
Garden, too, and there never was a more miserable business.
— Holloa, you Sir! "

This was addressed to the waiter, who had been very at-
tentive to our recognition, at a distance, and now came for-
ward deferentially.

"Where have you put my friend, Mr. Gopperfield .?* " said
Steerforth.

"Beg your pardon, Sir?"

"Where does he sleep? What 's his number? You know
what I mean," said Steerforth.

"Well, Sir," said the waiter, with an apologetic air. "Mr.
Copperfield is at present in forty-four. Sir."

"And what the devil do you mean," retorted Steerforth,
"by putting Mr. Copperfield into a little loft over a stable?"

"Why, you see we wasn't aware, Sir," returned the waiter,
still apologetically, "as Mr. Copperfield was anyways parti-
cular. We can give Mr. Copperfield seventy- two, Sir, if it
would be preferred. Next you, Sir."

"Of course it would be preferred," said Steerfoorth.
"And do it at once."

The waiter immediately withdrew to make the exchange.
Steerforth, very much amused at my having been put into
forty-four, laughed again, and clapped me on the shoulder
again, and invited me to breakfast with him next morning at



55



ten o' clock — an Invitation I was only too proud and happy
to accept. It being now pretty late , we took our candles and
went up-stairs, where we parted with friendly heartiness at his
door, and where I found my new room a great improvement
on my old one, it not being at all musty, and having an im-
mense four-post bedstead in it, which was quite a little landed
estate. Here , among pillows enough for six, I soon fell asleep
in a blissful condition, and dreamed of ancient Rome, Steer-
forth, and friendship, until the early morning coaches,
rumbling out of the archway underneath, made me dream of
thunder and the gods.



CHAPTER IV.

Sleerforlh's home.

When the chambermaid tapped at my door at eight o clock,
and informed me that my shaving-water was outside, I felt se-
verely the having no occasion for it, and blushed in my bed.
The suspicion that she laughed too, when she said it, preyed
upon my mind all the time I was dressing; and gave me, I was
conscious, a sneaking and guilty air when I passed her on the
staircase, as I was going down to breakfast. I was so sensi-
tively aware, indeed, of being younger than I could have wished,
that for some time I could not make up my mind to pass her at
all, under the ignoble circumstances of the case; but, hearing
her there with a broom, stood peeping out of window at King
Charles on horseback, surrounded by a maze of hackney-
coaches and looking anything but regal in a drizzling rain and
a dark-brown fog, until I was admonished by the waiter that
the gentleman was waiting for me.

It was not in the coffee-room that I found Steerforth ex-
pecting me, but in a snug private apartment, red-curtained and
Turkey-carpeted, where the fire burnt bright, and a fine hot
breakfast was set forth on a table covered with a clean cloth;
and a cheerful miniature of the room, the fire, the breakfast,
Steerforth , and all , was shining in the little round mirror over
the sideboard. I was rather bashful at first, Steerforth being
so self-possessed, and elegant, and superior to me in all re-
spects (age included) ; but his easy patronage soon put that to
rights, and made me quite at home. I could not enough ad-
mire the change he had wrought in the Golden Cross; or



57



S. compare the dull forlorn state I had held yesterday, -with this
morning's comfort and this morning's entertainment. As to
the waiter's familiarity , it was quenched as if it had never been.
He attended on us, as I may say, in sackcloth and ashes.

"Now, Copperfield, " said Steerforth, when we were alone,
"I should like to hear what you are doing, and where you
are going, and all about you. I feel as if you were my pro-
perty."

Glowing with pleasure to find that he had still this interest
in me, I told him how my aunt had proposed the little expe-
dition that I had before me, and whither it tended.

"As you are in no hurry, then," said Steerforth, "come
home with me to Highgate, and stay a day or two. You will
be pleased with my mother — she is a little vain and prosy
about me, but that you can forgive her — and she will be
pleased with you."

"I should like to be as sure of that, as you are kind enough



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 27)