Charles Dickens.

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

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a pair of dirty shoes and gaiters in connexion with my old
friend the Dolphin as we passed that door), and breakfasted
late in the morning. Steerforth, who was in great spirits, had
been strolling about the beach before I was up, and had made
acquaintance, he said, with half the boatmen in the place.
Moreover he had seen, in the distance, what he was sure must
be the identical house of Mr. Peggotty , with smoke coming
out of the chimney; and had had a great mind, he told
me, to walk in and swear he was myself grown out of know-
ledge.

"When do you propose to introduce me there, Daisy?"
he said. "I am at your disposal. Make your own arrange-
ments."

"Why, I was thinking that this evening would be a good
time, Steerforth, when they are all sitting round the fire.
I should like you to see it when it 's snug, it *s such a curious
place."

"So be it! " returned Steerforth. "This evening."

"I shall not give them any notice that we are here, you
know ," said I, delighted. " We must take them by surprise."

"Oh, of course 1 It's no fun," said Steerforth, "unless
we take them by surprise. Let us see the natives in their
aboriginal condition."

"Though they are that sort of people that you mentioned,"
I returned.

"Aha! What! you recollect my skirmishes with Rosa, do
you?" he exclaimed withaquick look. "Confound the girl,
lamhalf afraid of her. She 's like a goblin to me. But never
mind her. Now what are you going to do ? You are going to
see your nurse, I suppose?"



72



"Why, yes," I said, "I must seePeggotty first of all."

"Well," replied Steerforth, looking at his watch. "Sup-
pose I deliver you up to be cried over for a couple of hours.
Is that long enough? "

I answered, laughing, that I thought we might get through
it in that time, but that he must come also; for he would find
that his renown had preceded him, and that he was almost as
great a personage as I was.

"I'll come anywhere you like," said Steerforth, "or do
anything you like. Tell me where to come to; and in two
hours I '11 produce myself in any state you please, sentimental
or comical."

I gave him minute directions for finding the residence
of Mr. Barkis, carrier to Blunderstone and elsewhere, and,
on this understanding, went out alone. There was a sharp
bracing air; the ground was dry; the sea was crisp and
clear; the sun was difiusing abundance of light, if not much
warmth; and everything was fresh and lively. I was so fresh
and lively myself, in the pleasure of being there, that I could
have stopped the people In the streets and shaken hands with
them.

The streets looked small, of course. The streets that we
have only seen as children, always do, I believe, when we go
back to them. But I had forgotten nothing in them, and
found nothing changed, until I came to Mr. Omer's shop.
Omer and Joram was now written up, where Omer used to
be; but the inscription. Draper, Tailor, Haberdasher,
Funeral Furnisher, &c., remained as it was.

My footsteps seemed to tend so naturally to the shop-door,
after I had read these words from over the way, that I went
across the road and looked in. There was a pretty woman
at the back of the shop, dancing a little child in her arms,
while another little fellow clung to her apron. I had no diffi-



78



culty in recognising either Minnie or Minnie's children. The
glass-door of the parlour was not open ; but in the workshop
across the yard I could faintly hear the old tune placing, as
if it had never left off.

"Is Mr. Omer at home?" said I, entering. "I should
like to see him, for a moment, if he is."

"Oh yes, Sir, he is at home," said Minnie; "this weather
don't suit his asthma out of doors. Joe, call your grand-
father!"

The little fellow, who was holding her apron, gave such a
lusty shout, that the sound of it made him bashful, and he
buried his face in her skirts, to her great admiration. I heard
a heavy puffing and blowing coming towards us, and soon
Mr. Omer, shorter-winded than of yore, but not much older-
looking, stood before me.

"Servant, Sir," said Mr. Omer. "What can I do for
you. Sir?"

"You can shake hands with me, Mr. Omer, if you please,"
said I, putting out my own. "You were very good-natured
to me once, when I am afraid I didn't show that I thought
so."

"Was I though?" returned the old man. "I'm glad
to hear it, but I don't remember when. Are you sure it
was me?"

"Quite.'*

"I think my memory has got as short as my breath," said
Mr. Omer, looking at me and shaking his head; "for I don't
remember you."

"Don't you remember your coming to the coach to meet
me, and my having breakfast here, and our riding out to
Blunderstone together: you, and I, and Mrs. Joram, and
Mr. Joram too — who wasn't her husband then ? "

"Why, Lord bless my soull " exclaimed Iklr. Omer, after



74



being thrown by his surprise into a fit of coughing, "you don't
say sol Minnie, my dear, you recollect? Dear me, yes —
the party -was a lady , I think? '*

"My mother," I rejoined.

"To — be — sure," said Mr. Omer, touching my waist-
coat with his forefinger, "and there was a little child tool
There was two parties. The little party was laid along with
the other party. Over at Blunderstone it was, of course.
Dear me I And how have you been since? "

Very well, I thanked him, as I hoped he had been too.

"Ohl nothing to grumble at, you know," said Mr. Omer.
"I find my breath gets short, but it seldom gets longer as a
man gets older. I take it as it comes, andmake themost of it.
That 's the best way, ain't it?"

Mr. Omer coughed again, in consequence of laughing, and
was assisted out of his fit by his daughter, who now stood
close beside us , dancing her smallest child on the counter.

"Dear me 1" said Mr. Omer. "Yes, to be sure. Two
partiesl Why, in that very ride, if you '11 believe me, the
day was named for my Minnie to marry Joram. *Do name it.
Sir,' says Joram. *Yes, do, father,' says Minnie. And
now he's come into the business. And look herel The
youngest 1"

Minnie laughed, and stroked her banded hair upon her
temples, as her father put one of his fat fingers into the hand
of the child she was dancing on the counter.

"Two parties, of course 1" said Mr. Omer, nodding his
head retrospectively. "Ex-actly so 1 And Joram 's at work,
at this minute, on a grey one with silver nails, not this mea-
surement" — the measurement of the dancing child upon the
counter — "by a good two inches. — Will you take some-
thing?"

I thanked him , but declined.



75



"Let me see," said Mr. Omer. "Barkis 's the carrier's
■wife — Peggotty 's the boatman's sister — she had something
to do with your family ? She was in service there , sure ? "

My answering in the affirmative gave him great satis-
faction.

"I believe my breath will get long next, my memory's
getting so much so," said Mr. Omer. "Well, Sir, we 've got
a young relation of hers here, under articles to us, that has as
elegant a taste in the dress-making business — I assure you 1
don't believe there 's a Duchess in England can touch her."

"Not little Em'ly?" said I, involuntarily.

"Em'ly 's her name,*' said l^Ir. Omer, "and she 's little
too. But if you '11 believe me , she has such a face of her own
that half the women in this town are mad against her."

"Nonsense, father!" cried Minnie.

"My dear," said Mr. Omer, "I don't say it 's the case with
you," winking at me, "but I say that half the women in Yar-
mouth — ahl and in five mile round — are mad against that
girl."

"Then she should have kept to her own station in life,
father," said Minnie, "and not have given them any hold to
talk about her, and then they couldn't have done it."

"Couldn't have done it, my dearl" retorted Mr. Omer.
"Couldn't have done it! Is that your knowledge of life?
What is there that any woman couldn't do, that she shouldn't
do — especially on the subject of another woman's good
looks?"

I really thought it was all over with Mr. Omer, after he had
uttered this libellous pleasantry. He coughed to that extent,
and his breath eluded all his attempts to recover it with that
obstinacy, that I fully expected to see his head go down be-
hind the counter, and his little black breeches, with the rusty
little bunches of ribbons at the knees, come quivering up in a



76



last ineffectual struggle. At length, however, he got better,
though he still panted hard, and was so exhausted that he was
obliged to sit on the stool of the shop-desk.

"You see," he said, wiping his head, and breathing with
difBculty, "she hasn't taken much to any companions here;
she hasn't taken kindly to any particular acquaintances and
friends, not to mention sweethearts. Inconsequence, an ill-
natured story got about, that Em'ly wanted to be a lady.
Now my opinion is , that it came into circulation principally on
account of her sometimes saying, at the school, that if she was
a lady she would like to do so and so for her uncle — don't you
see? — and buy him such and such fine things.'*

"I assure you, Mr. Omer, she has said so to me," I re-
turned eagerly, "when we were both children."

Mr. Omer nodded his head and rubbed his chin. " Just so.
Then out of a very little, she could dress herself, you see,
better than most others could out of a deal, and that made
things unpleasant. Moreovei , she was rather what might be
called wayward — I '11 go so far as to say what I should call
wayward myself ," said Mr. Omer, " — didn't know her own
mind quite — a little spoiled — and couldn't, at first, exactly
bind herself down. No more than that was ever said against
her, Minnie?"

"No, father," said Mrs. Joram. "That's the worst, I
believe.'*

"So when she got a situation," saidMr. Omer, "to keep
a fractious old lady company, they didn't very well agree,
and she didn't stop. At last she came here , apprenticed for
three years. Nearly two of 'em are over, and she has been as
good a girl as ever was. Worth any six! Minnie, is she
worth any six, now? "

"Yes, father," replied Minnie. "Never say / detracted
from her!"



77



"Very good," saidMr. Omer. " That 's right. And so,
young gentleman," he added, after a few moments' further
rubbing of his chin, "that you may not consider me long-
winded as well as short-breathed, I believe that's all about it,"

As they had spoken in a subdued tone, while speaking of
Em'ly , I had no doubt that she was near. On my asking now,
if that were not so, Mr. Omer nodded yes, and nodded to-
wards the door of the parlour. My hurried inquiry if I might
peep in, was answered with a free permission; and, looking
through the glass, I saw her sitting at her work. I saw her,
a most beautiful little creature, with the cloudless blue eyes,
that had looked into my childish heart, turned laughingly
upon another child of Minnie's who was playing near her;
with enough of wilfulness in her bright face to justify what I
had heard; with much of the old capricious coyness lurking in
it; but with nothing in her pretty looks, I am sure, but what
was meant for goodness and for happiness, and what was on a
good and happy course.

The tune across the yard that seemed as if it never had left
off — alas ! it was the tune that never does leave off — was
beating, softly, all the while.

"Wouldn't you like to step in," said Mr. Omer, "and
speak to her? Walk in and speak to her, Sir I Make your-
self at homel"

I was too bashful to do so then — I was afraid of confusing
her, and I was no less afraid of confusing myself: but I in-
formed myself of the hour at which she left of an evening, in
order that our visit might be timed accordingly; and taking
leave of Mr. Omer, and his pretty daughter, and her little
children, went away to ray dear old Peggotty's.

Here she was, in the tiled kitchen, cooking dinner! The
moment I knocked at the door she opened it, and asked me
what I pleased to want. I looked at her with a smile, but she



78



gave me no smile in return. I had never ceased to write to
her, but it must have been seven years since we had met.

"Is Mr. Barkis at home, Ma'am?" I said, feigning to speak
roughly to her.

"He 's at home, Sir," returned Peggotty, "but he 's bad
abed with the rheumatics."

"Don't he go over to Blunderstone now?" I asked.

"When he 's well, he do," she answered.

"Doyo7/evergo there, Mrs. Barkis?"

She looked at me more attentively, and I noticed a quick
movement of her hands towards each other.

"Because I want to ask a question about a house there,
that they call the — what is it? — the Rookery," said I.

She took a step backward, and put out her hands in an
undecided frightened way, as if to keep me off.

"Peggotty!" I cried to her.

She cried, "My darling boy!" and we both burst into
tears, and were locked in one another's arms.

What extravagancies she committed ; what laughing and
crying over me; what pride she showed, what joy, what sorrow
that she whose pride and joy I might have been, could never
hold me in a fond embrace ; I have not the heart to tell. I was
troubled with no misgiving that it was young in me to respond
to her emotions. I had never laughed and cried in all ray life,
I dare say — not even to her — more freely than I did that
morning.

"Barkis will be so glad," said Peggotty, wiping her eyes
with her apron, "that it '11 do him more good than pints of
liniment. May I go and tell him you are here? Will you
come up and see him, my dear?"

Of course I would. But Peggotty could not get out of the
room as easily as she meant to , for as often as she got to the
door and looked round at me , she came back again to have



79



another laugh and another cry upon my shoulder. At last, to
make the matter easier, I went up-stairs with her ; and having
waited outside for a minute, while she said a word of prepa-
ration to Mr. Barkis, presented myself before that invalid.

He received me with absolute enthusiasm. He was too
rheumatic to be shaken hands with, but he begged me to
shake the tassel on the top of his nightcap, which I did most
cordially. When I sat down by the side of the bed, he said
that it did him a world of good to feel as if he was driving me
on the Blunderstone road again. As he lay in bed, face up-
ward, and so covered, with that exception, that he seemed to
be nothing but a face — like a conventional cherubim, — he
looked the queerest object I ever beheld.

"What name was it, as I wrote up, in the cart. Sir?" said
Mr. Barkis, with a slow rheumatic smile.

"Ah! Mr. Barkis, we had some grave talks about that
matter, hadn't we?"

"I was willin' a long time. Sir?" said Mr. Barkis.

"A long time," said I.

"And I don't regret it," said Mr. Barkis. "Do you re-
member what you told me once, about her making all the apple
parsties and doing all the cooking? "

"Yes, very well," I returned.

"It was as true," said Mr. Barkis, "as turnips is. It was
as true," said Mr. Barkis, nodding his nightcap, which was his
only means of emphasis, "as taxes is. And nothing 's truer
than them."

Mr. Barkis turned his eyes upon me, as if for my assent to
this result of his reflections in bed ; and I gave it.

"Nothing 's truer than them," repeated Mr. Barkis; "a
man as poor as I am finds that out in his mind when he 's laid
up. I 'm a very poor man, Sir."

"I am sorry to hear it, Mr. Barkis."



80



"A very poor man, indeed I am," said Mr. Barkis.

Here his right hand came slowly and feebly from under the
bed-clothes, and with a purposeless uncertain grasp took hold
of a stick which was loosely tied to the side of the bed. After
some poking about with this instrument, in the course of which
his face assumed a variety of distracted expressions, Mr. Bar-
kis poked it against a box, an end of which had been visible
to me all the time. Then his face became composed.

"Old clothes," said Mr. Barkis.

"Oh!" said I.

"I wish it was Money , Sir," said Mr. Barkis.

"I wish it was, indeed ," said I.

"But it ain't," said Mr. Barkis, opening both his eyes as
wide as he possibly could.

I expressed myself quite sure of that, and Mr. Barkis,
turning his eyes more gently to his wife , said:

"She 's the usefullest and best of women, C.P.Barkis,
All the praise that any one can give to C. P. Barkis, she de-
serves, and more! My dear, you '11 get a dinner to-day, for
company ; something good to eat and drink , will you ? "

I should have protested against this unnecessary demon-
stration in my honour, but that I sawPeggotty, on the oppo-
site side of the bed, extremely anxious I should not. So I held
my peace.

"I have got a trifle of money somewhere about me, my
dear, ' said Mr. Barkis, "but I 'm a little tired. If you and
Mr. David will leave me for a short nap , I '11 try and find it
when I wake."

We left the room , in compliance with this request. When
we got outside the door, Peggotty informed me that Mr. Bar-
kis, being now "a little nearer" than he used to be, always
resorted to this same device before producing a single coin
from his store; and that he endured unheard-of agonies in



81



crawling out of bed alone, and taking it from that unlucky box.
In effect, we presently heard him uttering suppressed groans
of the most dismal nature, as this magpie proceeding racked
him in every joint; but while Peggotty's eyes were full of com-
passion for him, she said his generous impulse would do him
good, and it was better not to check it. So he groaned on,
until he had got into bed again, suffering, I have no doubt, a
mart}Trdom; and then called us in, pretending to have just
woke up from a refreshing sleep, and to produce a guinea from
under his pillow. His satisfaction in which happy imposition
onus, and in having preserved the impenetrable secret of the
box, appeared to be a sufficient compensation to him for all
his tortures.

I prepared Peggotty for Steerforth's arrival, and it was not
long before he came. I am persuaded she knew no difference
between his having been a personalbenefactor of hers, and a
kind friend to me, and that she would have received him with
the utmost gratitude and devotion in any case. But his easy,
spirited, good humour; his genial manner, his handsome looks,
his natural gift of adapting himself to whomsoever he pleased,
and making direct, when he cared to do it, to the main point of
interest in anybody's heart; bound her to him wholly in five
minutes. His manner to me, alone, would have won her. But,
through all these causes combined, I sincerely believe she had
a kind of adoration for hira before he left the thouse that
night.

He stayed there with me to dinner — if I were to say will-
ingly, I should not half express how readily and gaily. He
went into Mr. Barkis's room like light and air, brightening and
refreshing it as if he were healthy weather. There was no
noise, no effort, no consciousness, in anything he did; but in
everything an indescribable lightness, a seeming impossibility
of doing anything else, or doing anything better, which was so
David Copperfield. II. 6



82



graceful, so natural, and agreeable, that it overcomes me, even
now, in the remembrance.

We made merry in the littleparlour, where theBook of Mar-
tyrs, unthumbed since my time, was laid out upon the desk as
of old, and where I now turned over its terrific pictures, re-
membering the old sensations they had awakened, but notfeel-
ing them. When Peggotty spoke of what she called my room,
and of Its being ready for me at night, and of her hoping I
would occupy it, before I could so much as look at Steerforth,
hesitating, he was possessed of the whole case.

"Of course," he said. "You *11 sleep here, while we stay,
and I shall sleep at the hotel."

"But to bring you so far," I returned, "and to separate,
seems bad companionship, Steerforth."

"Why, in the name of Heaven, where do you naturally be-
long!" he said. "What is 'seems,' compared to thatl" It
was settled at once.

He maintained all his delightful qualities to the last, until
we started forth, at eight o'clock, for Mr. Peggotty's boat. In-
deed, they were more and more brightly exhibited as the hours
went on; fori thought even then, and I have no doubt now,
that the consciousness of success in his determination to please,
inspired him with a new delicacy of perception, and made it,
subtle as it was, more easy to him. If any one had told me,
tlien, that all this was a brilliant game, played for the excite-
ment of the moment, for the employment of high spirits, in the
thoughtless love of superiority, in a mere wasteful careless
course of winning what was worthless to him, and next minute
thrown away — I say, if any one had told me such a lie that
night, I wonder in what manner of receiving it ray indignation
would have found a vent I

Probably only in an Increase, had that been possible, of the
romantic feelings of fidelity and friendship with which I walk-



83



cd beside him, over the dark wintry sands, towards the old
boat ; the wind sighing around us even more mournfully, than
it had sighed and moaned upon the night wheni first darkened
Mr. Peggotty's door.

'• This is a wild kind of place, Steerforth, is it not? "

" Dismal enough in the dark," he said ; "and the sea roars
as if it were hungry for us. Is that the boat, where I see a light
yonder?'*

" That 's the boat," said I.

"And it 's the same I saw this morning," he returned. "I
came straight to it, by instinct, I suppose."

We said no more as we approached the light, but made
softly for the door. I laid my hand upon the latch ; and whis-
pering Steerforth to keep close to me, went in.

A murmur of voices had been audible on the outside, and,
at the moment of our entrance, a clapping of hands: which lat-
ter noise, I was surprised to see, proceeded from the generally
disconsolate Mrs. Guramidge. But Mrs. Gummidge was not
the only person there, who was unusually excited. Mr. Peg-
gotty, his face lighted up with uncommon satisfaction, and
laughing with all his might, held his rough arms wide open, as
if for little Em'ly to run into them; Ham, with a mixed expres-
sion in his face of admiration, exultation, and a lumbering sort
of bashfulness that sat upon him very well, held little Em'ly by
the hand, as if he were presenting her to Mr. Peggotty; little
Em'ly herself, blushing and shy, but delighted with Mr. Peg-
gotty's delight, as her joyous eyes expressed, was stopped by
our entrance (for she saw us first) in the very act of springing
from Ham to nestle in Mr. Peggotty's embrace. In the first
glimpse we had of them all, and at the moment of our passing
from the dark cold night into the warm light room, this was the
way In which they were all employed: Mrs. Gummidge in the
back ground, clapping her hands like a madwoman.



84



The little picture was so instantaneously dissolved by our
going in, that one might have doubted whether it had ever
been. I was in the midst of the astonished family, face to face
with Mr. Peggotty, and holding out my hand to him, when
Ham shouted:

" Mas'r Davy ! It 's Mas'r Davy I '*

In a moment we were all shaking hands with one another,
and asking one another how we did, and telling one another
how glad we were to meet, and all talking at once. Mr. Peg-
gotty was so proud and overjoyed to see us, that he did not
know what to say or do, but kept over and over again shaking
hands with me, and then with Steerforth, and then with me,
and then ruffling his shaggy hair all over his head, and
laughing with such glee and triumph, that it was a treat to
see him.

"Why, that you two gent'lmen — gent'lmen growed —
should come to this here roof to-night, of all nights in my life,"
said Mr. Peggotty, "is such a thing as never happened afore,
I do rightly believe! Em'ly, my darling, come here! Come
here, my little witch ! There 's Mas'r Davy's friend, my dear !
There 's the gent'lman as you 've heerd on, Em'ly. He comes
to see you, along with Mas'r Davy, on the brightest night of
your uncle's life as ever was or will be, Gorra the t'other one,
and horroar for it ! "

After delivering this speech all in a breath, and with
extraordinary animation and pleasure, Mr. Peggotty put one
of his large hands rapturously on each side of his niece's
face, and kissing it a dozen times, laid it with a gentle pride
and love upon his broad chest, and patted it as if his hand
had been a lady's. Then he let her go; and as she ran
into the little chamber where I used to sleep, looked round
upon us, quite hot and out of breath with his uncommon satis-
faction.



85



*'If you two gent'lmen — gent'lmen growed now, and such
gent'lmen — " said Mr. Peggotty.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 27)