Charles Dickens.

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

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to say you are," I answered, smiling.

"Oh!" said Steerforth, "every one who likes me, has a
claim on her that is sure to be acknowledged."

"Then I think I shall be a favourite," said I,

"Goodl" said Steerforth. "Come and prove it. We
will go and see the lions for an hour or two — it 's something
to have a fresh fellow like you to show them to, Copperfield —
and then we '11 journey out to Highgate by the coach."

I could hardly believe but that I was in a dream , and that I
should wake presently in number forty-four, to the solitary
box in the cofi*ee-room and the familiar waiter again. After I
had written to my aunt and told her of my fortunate meeting
with my admired old school- fellow, and my acceptance of his
invitation, we went out in a hackney-chariot, and saw a Pano-
rama and some other sights, and took a walk through the
Museum, where I could not help observing how much Steer-



58



forth knew, on an infinite variety of subjects, and of how little
account he seemed to make his knowledge.

"You '11 take a high degree at college, Steerforth, " said I,
"if you have not done so already; and they will have good
reason to be proud of you."

"/ take a degree ! " cried Steerforth. "Not I! my dear
Daisy — will you mind my calling you Daisy?"

"Not at all 1" said I.

"That's a good fellow! My dear Daisy," said Steerforth,
laughing, "I have not the least desire or intention to dis-
tinguish myself in that way. I have done quite sufficient for
my purpose. I find that I am heavy company enough for my-
self, as I am."

" But the fame — "I was beginning.

"You romantic Daisy!" said Steerforth, laughing still
more heartily; "why should I trouble myself, that a parcel of
heavy-headed fellows may gape and hold up their hands ? Let
them do it at some other man. There 's fame for him , and
he's welcome to it."

I was abashed at having made so great a mistake, and was
glad to change the subject. Fortunately it was not difficult
to do, for Steerforth could always pass from one subject
to another with a carelessness and lightness that were his
own.

Lunch succeeded to our sight-seeing, and the short winter
day wore away so fast, that it was dusk when the stage-coach
stopped with us at an old brick house at Highgate on the
summit of the hill. An elderly lady, though not very far ad-
vanced in years, with a proud carriage and a handsome face,
was in the doorway as we alighted ; and greeting Steerforth as
"My dearest James," folded him in her arms. To this lady
he presented me as his mother, and she gave me a stately
welcome.



59



It was a genteel old-fashioned house, very quiet and or-
derly. From the windows of my room I saw all London lying
in the distance like a great vapour, with here and there some
lights twinkling through it. I had only time, in dressing, to
glance at the solid furniture, the framed pieces of work (done,
I supposed, by Steerforth's mother when she was a girl), and
some pictures in crayons of ladies with powdered hair and
boddices, coming and going on the walls, as the newly-
kindled fire crackled and sputtered, when I was called to
dinner.

There was a second lady in the dining-room, of a slight
short figure, dark, and not agreeable to look at, but with some
appearance of good looks too, who attracted my attention:
perhaps because I had not expected to see her; perhaps be-
cause I found myself sitting opposite to her ; perhaps because
of something really remarkable in her. She had black hair
and eager black eyes, and was thin, and had a scar upon her
lip. It was an old scar — I should rather call it, seam, for it
was not discoloured, and had healed years ago — which had
once cut through her mouth , downward towards the chin, but
was now barely visible across the table, except above and on
her upper lip, the shape of which it had altered. I concluded
in my own mind that she was about thirty years of age, and
that she wished to be married. She was a little dilapidated —
like a house — with having been so long to let ; yet had , as I
have said, an appearance of good looks. Her thinness seemed
to be the effect of some wasting fire within her, which found
a vent in her gaunt eyes.

She was introduced as Miss Dartle, and both Steerforth
and his mother called her Rosa. I found that she lived there,
and had been for a long time Mrs. Steerforth's companion.
It appeared to me that she never said anything she wanted to
say, outright; but hinted it, and made a great deal more of



60



it by this practice. For example, v/hen Mrs. Steerforth ob-
served, more in jest than earnest, that she feared her son led
but a wild life at college, Miss Dartle put in thus :

"Oh, really? You know how ignorant I am, and that I
only ask for information, but isn't it always so? I thought
that kind of life was on all hands understood to be — eh?"

"It is education for a very grave profession, if you mean
that, Rosa,'* Mrs. Steerforth answered with some coldness.

"Oh I Yes I That 's very true," returned Miss Dartle. "But
isn't it, though? — I want to be put right if I am wrong —
isn't It really?"

"Really what? " said Mrs. Steerforth.

"Oh! You mean it 's«o;/" returned Miss Dartle. "Well,
I 'm very glad to hear It! Now, I know what to do. That's
the advantage of asking. I shall never allow people to talk
before me about wastefulness and profligacy, and so forth,
in connection with that life, any more."

"And you will be right," said Mrs. Steerforth. "My son's
tutor is a conscientious gentleman; and if I had not implicit
reliance on my son , I should have reliance on him."

"Should you?" said !MIss Dartle. "Dear me! Conscien-
tious, is he? Really conscientious, now?"

"Yes, I am convinced of it," said Mrs. Steerforth.

"How very nice!" exclaimed Miss Dartle. "What a
comfort! Really conscientious? Then he 's not — but of
course he can't be, if he 's really conscientious. Well, I shall
be quite happy in my opinion of him, from this time. You
can't think how It elevates him in my opinion, to know for
certain that he's really conscientious ! "

Her own views of every question, and her correction of
everything that was said to which she was opposed, Miss
Dartle insinuated In the same way: sometimes, I could not
conceal from myself, with great power, though in contradic-



61



tion even of Steerforth. An instance happened before dinner
was done. Mrs. Steerforth speaking to me about my intention
of going down into Suffolk, I said at hazard how glad I should
be, if Steerforth would only go there with me ; and explaining
to him that I was going to see my old nurse, and Mr. Peg-
gotty's family, I reminded him of the boatman whom he had
seen at school.

"Oh! That bluff fellow!" said Steerforth. "He had a
son with him, hadn't he?"

"No. That was his nephew," I replied; "whom he
adopted, though, as a son. He has a very pretty little niece
too, whom he adopted as a daughter. In short, his house
(or rather his boat, for he lives in one, on dry land) is full of
people who are objects of his generosity and kindness. You
would be delighted to see that household."

"Should I?" said Steerforth. "Well, I think I should.
I must see what can be done. It would be worth a journey —
not to mention the pleasure of a journey with you, Daisy, —
to see that sort of people together, and to make one of 'em."

My heart leaped with a new hope of pleasure. But it was
in reference to the tone in which he had spoken of "that sort
of people," that Miss Dartle, whose sparkling eyes had been
watchful of us , now broke in again.

"Oh, but, really? Dotellme. Are they, though?" she
said.

"Are they what? And are who what?" said Steerforth.
" That sort of people. — Are they really animals and clod?,
and beings of another order? I want to know so much."

"Why, there 's a pretty wide separation between them and
us," said Steerforth, with indifference. "They are not to
be expected to be as sensitive as we are. Their delicacy is
not to be shocked, or hurt very easily. They are wonderfully
virtuous, I dare say — some people contend for that, at least;



62



and I am sure I don't want to contradict them — but they have
not very fine natures, and they may be thankful that, like
their coarse rough skins, they are not easily wounded."

"Really!" said Miss Dartle. "Well, Idon'tknow, now,
when I have been better pleased than to hear that. It 's so
consoling! It 's such a delight to know that, when they suffer,
they don't feel! Sometimes I have been quite uneasy for that
sort of people ; but now I shall just dismiss the idea of them,
altogether. Live and learn. I had my doubts, I confess, but
now they 're cleared up. I didn't know, and now I do know ;
and that shows the advantage of asking — don't it? "

I believed that Steerforth had said what he had, in jest, or
to draw Miss Dartle out; and I expected him to say as much
when she was gone, and we two were sitting before the fire.
But he merely asked me what I thought of her.

"Sheis very clever, is she not?" I asked.

"Clever! She brings everything to a grindstone," said
Steerforth, "and sharpens it, as she has sharpened her own
face and figure these years past. She has worn herself away
by constant sharpening. She is all edge."

" What a remarkable scar that is upon her lip ! " I said.

Steerforth's face fell, and he paused a moment.

"Why, the fact is," he returned, " — /did that."

"By an unfortunate accident I "

"No. I was a young boy, and she exasperated me, and
I threw a hammer at her. A promising young angel I must
have been!"

I was deeply sorry to have touched on such a painful
theme, but that was useless now.

"She has borne the mark ever since, as you see," said
Steerforth; "and she '11 bear it to her grave, if she ever rests
in one — though I can hardly believe she will ever rest any-
where. She was the motherless child of a sort of cousin of mv



63



father's. He died one day. My mother, who was then a
widow, brought her here to be company to her. She has a
couple of thousand pounds of her own, and saves the interest
of it every year, to add to the principal. There 's the history
of Miss Rosa Dartle for you."

"And I have no doubt she loves you like a brother?"
said I.

*• Humph ! " retorted Steerforth, looking at the fire. " Some
brothers are not loved over much; and some love — but help
yourself, Copperfield ! We '11 drink the daisies of the field, in
compliment to you ; and the lilies of the valley that toil not,
neither do they spin, in compliment to me — the more shame
for me!" A moody smile that had overspread his features
cleared off as he said this merrily, and he was his own frank,
winning self again.

I could not help glancing at the scar with a painful interest
when we went in to tea. It was not long before I observed
that it was the most susceptible part of her face, and that, when
she turned pale, that mark altered first, and became a dull,
lead-coloured streak, lengthening out to its full extent, like a
mark in invisible ink brought to the fire. There was a little
altercation between her and Steerforth about a cast of the dice
at backgammon — when I thought her, for one moment, in a
storm of rage ; and then I saw it start forth like the old writing
on the wall.

It was no matter of wonder to me to find Mrs. Steerforth
devoted to her son. She seemed to be able to speak or think
about nothing else. She showed me his picture as an infant,
in a locket, with some of his baby-hair in it; she showed me his
picture as he had been when I first knew him ; and she wore at
her breast his picture as he was now. All the letters he had
ever written to her, she kept in a cabinet near her own chair
by the fire; and she would have read me some of them, and 1



64



should have been very glad to hear them too, if he had not in-
terposed, and coaxed her out of the design.

"It was at Mr. Creakle's, my son tells me, that you first be-
came acquainted," said Mrs. Steerforth, as she and I were talk-
ing at one table, while they played backgammon at another.
"Indeed, I recollect his speaking, at that time, of a pupil
younger than himself who had taken his fancy there ; but your
name, as you may suppose, has not lived in my memory."

"He was very generous and noble to me in those days, I
assure you, Ma'am," said I, "and I stood In need of such a
friend. I should have been quite crushed without him."

"He is always generous and noble," said Mrs. Steerforth,
proudly.

I subscribed to this with all my heart, God knows. She
knew I did; for the stateliness of her manner already abated
towards me, except when she spoke In praise of him, and then
her air was always lofty.

"It was not a fit school generally for ray son," said she;
"far from it; but there were particular circumstances to be
considered at the time, of more importance even than that se-
lection. My son's high spirit made it desirable that he should
be placed with some man who felt its superiority, and would be
content to bow himself before it; and we found such a man
there."

I knew that, knowing the fellow. And yet I did not de-
spise him the more for it, but thought it a redeeming quality in
him — if he could be allowed any grace for not resisting one
so Irresistible as Steerforth.

"My son's great capacity was tempted on, there, by a feel-
ing of voluntary emulation and conscious pride," the fond lady
went on to say. "He would have risen against all constraint;
but he found himself the monarch of the place, and he haugh-
tily determined to beworthy of his station. It was like himself."



65



I echoed, with all my heart and soul, that It was like himself.

"So my son took, of his own will, and on no compulsion, to
the course in which he can always, when it is his pleasure, out-
strip every competitor," she pursued. "My son Informs me,
Mr. Copperfield, that you were quite devoted to him, and that
when you met yesterday you made yourself known to him with
tears of joy. I should be an alfected woman if I made any
pretence of being surprised by my son's inspiring such emo-
tions ; but I cannot be IndifTerent to any one who is so sensible
of his merit, and I am very glad to see you here, and can assure
you that he feels an unusual friendship for you, and that you
may rely on his protection."

Miss Dartle plyed backgammon as eagerly as she did
everything else. If I had seen her, first, at the board, I should
have fancied that her figure had got thin, and her eyes had
got large, over that pursuit, and no other In the world. But I
am very much mistaken if she missed a word of this, or lost a
look of mine as I received it with the utmost pleasure, and,
honoured by Mrs. Steerforth's confidence, felt older than I had
done since I left Canterburj'.

When the evening was pretty far spent, and a tray of glass-
es and decanters came In, Steerforth promised, over the fire,
that he would seriously think of going down into the country
with me. There was no hurrj', he said; a week hence would
do ; and his mother hospitably said the same. While we were
talking, he more than once called me Daisy; which brought
Miss Dartle out again.

"But really, Mr. Copperfield," she asked, "Is it a nick-
name? And why does he give It you? Is It — eh? — because he
thinks you young and innocent? lamso stupid in these things."

I coloured in replying that I believed it was.

"Oh!" said Miss Dartle. "Now I am glad to know that!
I ask for information, and I am glad to know it. He thinks you
David Copperfield. II. 5



66



young and innocent; and so you are his friend. Well, that 's
quite delightful!"

She went to bed soon after this, and Mrs. Steerforth re-
tired too. Steerforth and I, after lingering for half an hour
over the fire, talking about Traddles and all the rest of them
at old Salem House, went up -stairs together. Steerforth's
room was next to mine, and I went in to look at it. It was a
picture of comfort, full of easy chairs, cushions and footstools,
worked by his mother's hand, and with no sort of thing omitted
that could help to render it complete. Finally, her handsome
features looked down on her darling from a portrait on the
wall, as if it were even something to her that her likeness
should watch him while he slept.

I found the fire burning clear enough in my room by this
time, and the curtains drawn before the windows and round
the bed, giving it a very snug appearance. I sat down in a
great chair upon the hearth to meditate on my happiness ; and
had enjoyed the contemplation of it for some time, when I
found a likeness of Miss Dartle looking eagerly at me from
above the chimney-piece.

It was a startling likeness, and necessarily had a startling
look. The painter hadn't made the scar, but / made it; and
there it was, coming and going : now confined to the upper lip
as I had seen it at dinner, and now showing the whole extent
of the wound inflicted by the hammer, as I had seen it when
she was passionate.

I wondered peevishly why they couldn't put her anywhere
else instead of quartering her on me. To get rid of her, I
undressed quickly, extinguished my light, and went to bed.
But, as I fell asleep, I could not forget that she was still there
looking, "Is it really, though? I want to know;" and when
I awoke in the night, I found that I was uneasily asking all
sorts of people in my dreams whether it really was or not —
without knowing what I meant.



CHAPTER V.

Litlle Em'ly.

There was a servant in that house, a man who, I under-
stood, was usually with Steerforth, and had come into his
service at the University, who was in appearance a pattern
of respectability. I believe there never existed in his station
a more respectable -looking man. He was taciturn, soft-
footed, very quiet in his manner, deferential, observant,
always at hand when wanted, and never near when not
wanted; but his great claim to consideration was his re-
spectability. He had not a pliant face, he had rather a stiff
neck, rather a tight smooth head with short hair clinging to
it at the sides, a soft way of speaking, with a peculiar habit
of whispering the letter S so distinctly, that he seemed to use
it oftener than any other man; but every peculiarity that he
had he made respectable. If his nose had been upside-down,
he would have made that respectable. He surrounded him-
self with an atmosphere of respectability, and walked secure
in it. It would have been next to impossible to suspect him
of anything wrong, he was so thoroughly respectable.
Nobody could have thought of putting him in a livery, he
was so highly respectable. To have imposed any derogatory'
work upon him, would have been to inflict a wanton insult
on the feelings of a most respectable man. And of this, I
noticed the women-servants in the household were so intui-
tively conscious, that they always did such work themselves,
and generally while he read the paper by the pantry fire.

Such a self-contained man I never saw. But in thatqua-

5*



68



lity, as in every other he possessed, he only seemed to be
the more respectable. Even the fact that no one knew his
Christian name, seemed to form a part of his respectability.
Nothing could be objected against his surname Littimer,
by which he was known. Peter might habe been hanged, or
Tom transported ; but Littimer was perfectly respectable.

It was occasioned, I suppose, by the reverend nature of
respectability in the abstract, but I felt particularly young in
this man's presence. How old he was himself I could not
guess — and that again went to his credit on the same score ;
for in the calmness of respectability he might have numbered
fifty years as well as thirty.

Littimer was in my room in the morning before I was up,
to bring me that reproachful shaving- water, and to put out
my clothes. When I undrew the curtains and looked out of
bed, I saw him, in an equable temperature of respectability,
unaffected by the east wind of January, and not even brea-
thing frostily, standing my boots right and left in the first
dancing position, and blowing specks of dust off my coat as
he laid it down like a baby.

I gave him good morning, and asked him what o'clock
it was. He took out of his pocket the most respectable
hunting-watch I ever saw, and preventing the spring with his
thumb from opening far, looked in at the face as if he were
consulting an oracular oyster, shut it up again, and said, if I
pleased, it was halfpast eight.

"Mr. Steerforth will be glad to hear how you have rested,
Sir."

"Thank you," said I, "very well indeed. Is Mr. Steer-
forth quite well?"

"Thank you, Sir, Mr, Steerforth is tolerably well."
Another of his characteristics, — no use of superlatives. A
cool calm medium always.



69



"Is there anything more I can have the honour of doing for
you, Sir? The warning-bell will ring at nine ; the family take
breakfast at halfpast nine."

"Nothing, I thank you."

"I thank you^ Sir, if you please;" and with that, and
with a little inclination of his head when he passed the bed-
side, as an apology for correcting me, he went out, shutting
the door as delicately as if I had just fallen into a sweet sleep
on which my life depended.

Ever)' morning we held exactly this conversation: never
any more, and never any less: and yet. Invariably, however
far I might have been lifted out of myself over-night, and
advanced towards maturer years, by Steerforth's compa-
nionship, or Mrs. Steerforth's confidence, or Miss Dartle's
conversation. In the presence of this most respectable man
I became, as our smaller poets sing, "a boy again."

He got horses for us; and Steerforth, who knew every
thing, gave me lessons in riding. He provided foils for us,
and Steerforth gave me lessons in fencing — gloves, and I
began, of the same master, to improve in boxing. It gave
me no manner of concern that Steerforth should find me a
novice in these sciences, but I never could bear to show my
want of skill before the respectable Littimer. I had no reason
to believe that Littimer understood such arts himself; he
never led me to suppose anything of the kind, by so much as
the vibration of one of his respectable eyelashes; yet when-
ever he was by, while we were practising, I felt myself the
greenest and most inexperienced of mortals.

I am particular about this man, because he made a parti-
cular effect on me at that time, and because of what took
place thereafter.

The week passed away in a most delightful manner. It
passed rapidly, as may be supposed, to one entranced as I



70



was ; and yet it gave me so many occasions for knowing Steer-
forth better, and admiring him more in a thousand respects,
that at its close I seemed to have been with him for a much
longer time. A dashing way he had of treating me like a
plaything, was more agreeable to me than any behaviour he
could have adopted. It reminded me of our old acquaintance ;
it seemed the natural sequel of it; it showed me that he was
unchanged; it relieved me of any uneasiness I might have
felt, in comparing my merits with his, and measuring my
claims upon his friendship by any equal standard; above all,
it was a familiar, unrestrained, atfectionate demeanour that he
used towards no one else. As he had treated me at school
differently from all the rest, I joyfully believed that he treated
me in life unlike any other friend he had. I believed that I
was nearer to his heart than any other friend, and my own
heart warmed with attachment to him.

He made up his mind to go with me into the country, and
the day arrived for our departure. He had been doubtful
at first whether to take Littimer or not, but decided to leave
him at home. The respectable creature, satisfied with his
lot whatever it was, arranged our portmanteaus on the little
carriage that was to take us into London, as if they were
intended to defy the shocks of ages; and received my modestly
proffered donation with perfect tranquility.

We bade adieu to Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle, with
many thanks on my part, and much kindness on the devoted
mother's. The last thing I saw was Littimer's unruffled eye;
fraught, as I fancied, with the silent conviction that I was very
young indeed.

What I felt, in returning so auspiciously to the old familiar
places, I shall not endeavour to describe. We went down by
the Mail. I was so concerned, I recollect, even for the honour
of Yarmouth, that when Steerforth said, as we drove through



71



its dark streets to the inn, that, as well as he could make out,
it was a good, queer, out-of-the-way kind of hole, I was
highly pleased. We went to bed on our arrival (I observed



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 27)