Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 7 of 27)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"So th'are, so th'are!" cried Ham. "Well said I So
th' are. Mas'r Davy bor — gent'lmen growed — so th' are 1 "

"If you two gent'lmen, gent'lmen growed," said Mr.
Peggotty, "don't ex-cuse me for being in a state of mind,
when you understand matters, I '11 arks your pardon. Em'ly,
my dearl — She knows I 'm a goiag to tell," here his delight
broke out again, "and has made off. Would you be so good
as look arter her, Mawther, for a minute?"

Mrs. Gummidge nodded and disappeared.

"If this ain't," said ^Ir. Peggotty, sitting down among
as by the fire, "the brightest night o* my life, I 'm a shell-fish
— biled too — and more I can't say. This here little Em'ly,
Sir," in a low voice to Steerforth, "— her as you see a
blushing here just now — "

Steerforth only nodded; but with such a pleased ex-
pression of interest, and of participation in Mr. Peggotty's
feelings, that the latter answered him as if he had spoken.

"To be sure," said Mr. Peggotty. "That's her, and so
she is. Thankee, Sir."

Ham nodded to me several times, as if he would have said
so too.

"This here little Em'ly of ours," said Mr. Peggotty, "has
been, in our house, what I suppose (I 'm a ignorant man, but
that 's my belief) no one but a little bright-eyed creetur can
be in a house. She ain't my child; I never had one; but
I couldn't love her more. You understand! I couldn't
do itl"

"I quite understand," said Steerforth.

"I know you do. Sir," returned Mr. Peggotty, "and
thankee again. Mas'r Davy, he can remember what she
was ; you may judge for your own self what she is ; but neither


ol you can't fully know what she has been, i^, and will be,
to my loving art. I am rough, Sir," said Mr. Peggotty,
*'I am as rough as a Sea Porky pine; but no one, unless,
mayhap, it is a woman, can know, I think, what our little
Em'ly is to me. And betwixt ourselves," sinking his voice
lower yet, **that woman's name ain't Missis Gummidge
neither, though she has a world of merits."

Mr. Peggotty ruffled hfs hair again with both hands, as a
further preparation for what he was going to say, and went
on with a hand upon each of his knees.

"There was a certain person as had know'd our Em'ly,
from the time when her father was drownded ; as had seen her
constant; when a babby, when a young gal, when a woman.
Not much of a person to look at, he warn't," said Mr. Peg-
gotty, "something o* my own build — rough — a good deal
o' the sou'-wester In him — wery salt — but, on the whole, a
honest sort of a chap, with his art In the right place."

I thought I had never seen Ham grin to anything like the
extent to which he sat grinning at us now.

"What does this here blessed tarpaulin go and go," said
Mr. Peggotty, with his face one high noon of enjoyment, "but
he loses that there art of his to our little Em'ly. He follers
her about, he makes hisself a sort o' servant to her, he loses
in a great measure his relish for his wittles, and in the long
run he makes It clear to mc wot 's amiss. Now I could wish
myself, you see, that our little Em'ly was in a fair way of
being married. I could wish to see her, at all ewents, under
articles to a honest man as had a right to defend her. I don't
know how long I may live, or how soon I may die ; but I know
that if I was capsized, any night, in a gale of wind In Yar-
mouth Roads here, and was to see the town-lights shining for
the last time over the rollers as I couldn't make no head
against, I could go down nuieter for thinking 'There's a


man ashore there, iron-true to my little Em'ly, God bless
her, and no wrong can touch my Em'ly while so be as that
man lives!'"

Mr. Peggotty, in simple earnestness, waved his right arm,
as if he were waving it at the town-lights for the last time, and
then, exchanging a nod with Ham, whose eye he caught, pro-
ceeded as before.

"Well! I counsels him to speak to Em'ly. He's big
enough, but he's bashfuller than a little un, and he don't
like. So / speak. 'What! Him!' says Em'ly. 'Him that
I've know'd so intimate so many years, and like so much!
Oh, Uncle! I never can have him. He 's such a good
fellow!* I gives her a kiss, and I says no more to her than
'My dear, you 're right to speak out, you 're to choose for
yourself, you 're as free as a little bird.' Then I aways to him,
and I says, 'I wish it could have been so, but it can't. But
you can both be as you was, and wot I say to you is. Be as
you was with her, like a man.' He says to me, a shaking of
my hand, *I will!' he says. And he was — honourable and
manful — for two year going on, and we was just the same at
home here as afore."

Mr. Peggotty's face, which had varied in its expression
with the various stages of his narrative, now resumed all its
former triumphant delight, as he laid a hand upon my knee
and a hand upon Steerforth's (previously wetting them both,
for the greater emphasis of the action), and divided the
following speech between us :

"All of a sudden, one evening — as it might be to-night —
comes little Em'ly from her work, and him with her! There
ain't so much in that, you '11 say. No, because he takes care
on her, like a brother, arter dark, and indeed afore dark,
and at all times. But this tarpaulin chap, he takes hold of
her hand, and he cries out to me, joyful, 'Look here! This


is to be my little wife!' And she says, half bold and half
shy, and half a laughing and half a crying, *Yes, uncle I If
you please.' — If I please!" cried Mr. Peggotty, rolling his
head in an ecstacy at the idea; "Lord, as if I should do any-
think else! — 'If you please, I am steadier now, and I have
thought better of it, and I '11 be as good a little wife as I can
to him, for he's a dear, good fellow!' Then Missis Gum-
midge, she claps her hands like a play, and you come in.
There! the murder 's out!" said Mr. Peggotty — "You come
in ! It took place this here present hour; and here 's the man
that '11 marry her, the minute she 's out of her time."

Ham staggered, as well he might, under the blow Mr.
Peggotty dealt him in his unbounded joy, as a mark of
confidence and friendship; but feeling called upon to say
something to us, he said, with much faltering and great
difficulty :

"She warn't no higher than you was, Mas'r Davy —
when you first come — when I thought what she 'd grow
up to be. I see her grow up — gent'lmen — like a flower.
I 'd lay down my life for her — Mas'r Davy — Oh ! most con-
tent and cheerful ! She 's more to me — gent'lmen — than —
she 's all to me that ever I can want, and more than ever
I — than ever I could say. I — I love her true. There
ain't a gent'lman in all the land — nor yet sailing upon
ail the sea — that can love his lady more than I love her,
though there 's many a common man — would say better —
what he meant."

I thought it afi*ecting to see such a sturdy fellow as Ham
was now, trembling in the strength of what he felt for the
pretty little creature who had won his heart. I thought the
simple confidence reposed in us by Mr. Peggotty and by
himself, was, in itself, afl"ectlng. I was affected by the story
altogether. How far my emotions were Inlluenced by the


recollections of my childhood, I don't know. Whether I had
come there with any lingering fancy that I was still to love
little Em'ly, I don't know. I know that I was filled with
pleasure by all this; but, at first, with an indescribably
sensitive pleasure, that a very little would have changed
to pain.

Therefore, if it had depended upon me to touch the
prevailing chord among them with any skill, I should have
made a poor hand of it. But it depended upon Steerforth;
and he did it with such address, that in a few minutes we were
all as easy and as happy as it was possible to be.

"Mr. Peggotty," he said, "you are a thoroughly good
fellow, and deserve to be as happy as you are to-night. My
hand upon it I Ham, I give you joy, my boy. My hand upon
that, tool Daisy, stir the fire, and make it a brisk one!
and Mr. Peggotty, unless you can induce your gentle niece
to come back (for whom I vacate this seat in the corner),
I shall go. Any gap at your fireside on such a night — such
a gap least of all — I wouldn't make , for the wealth of the

So Mr. Peggotty went into my old room to fetch little
Em'ly. At first little Em'ly didn't like to come, and then
Ham went. Presently they brought her to the fireside, very
much confused, and very shy, — but she soon became more
assured when she found how gently and respectfully Steer-
forth spoke to her; how skilfully he avoided anything that
would embarrass her; how he talked to Mr. Peggotty of
boats, and ships, and tides, and fish; how he referred to me
about the time when he had seen Mr. Peggotty at Salem
House; how delighted he was with the boat and all belonging
to it; how lightly and easily he carried on, until he brought
us, by degrees, into a charmed circle, and we were all talking
away without any reserve.


Em'ly, indeed, said little all the evening; but she looked,
and listened, and her face got animated, and she was
charming. Steerforth told a story of a dismal shipwreck
(which arose out of his talk with Mr, Peggotty), as if he saw
it all before him — and little Em'ly's eyes were fastened on
him all the time, as if she saw it too. He told us a merry
adventure of his own, as a relief to that, with as much gaiety
as if the narrative were as fresh to him as it was to us — and
little Em'ly laughed until the boat rang with the musical
sounds, and we all laughed (Steerforth too), in irresistible
s}Tnpathy with what was so pleasant and light-hearted. He
got Mr. Peggotty to sing, or rather to roar, "When the
stormy winds do blow, do blow, do blow;" and he sang a
sailor's song himself, so pathetically and beautifully, that I
could have almost fancied that the real wind creeping sorrow-
fully round the house, and murmuring low through our un-
broken silence, was there to listen.

As to Mrs. Gummidge, he roused that victim of despon-
dency with a success never attained by any one else (so ^Mr.
Peggotty informed me) since the decease of the old one. He
left her so little leisure for being miserable that she said next
day she thought she must have been bewitched.

But he set up no monopoly of the general attention, or the
conversation. When little Em'ly grew more courageous, and
talked (but still bashfully) across the fire to me , of our old
wanderings upon the beach, to pickup shells and pebbles;
and when I asked her if she recollected how I used to be
devoted to her; and when we both laughed and reddened,
casting these looks back on the pleasant old times, so unreal
to look at now ; he was silent and attentive, and observed us
thoughtfully. She sat, at this time, and all the evening, on
the old locker in her old little corner by the fire — Ham
beside her, where I used to sit. I could not satisfy myself


whether it was in her own little tormenting way, or in a
maidenly reserve before us, that she kept quite close to the
wall, and away from him; but I observed that she did so, all
the evening.

As I remember, it was almost midnight when we took our
leave. We had had some biscuit and dried fish for supper,
and Steerforth had produced from his pocket a full flask of
Hollands, which we men (I may say we men, now, without
a blush) had emptied. We parted merrily; and as they all
stood crowded round the door to light us as far as they could
upon our road, I saw the sweet blue eyes of little Em'ly
peeping after us, from behind Ham, and heard her soft voice
calling to us to be careful how we went.

"A most engaging little Beauty I" said Steerforth, taking
my arm. "Weill It's a quaint place, and they are quaint
company, and it 's quite a new sensation to mix with

"How fortunate we are, too," I returned, "to have
arrived to witness their happiness in that intended marriage 1
I never saw people so happy. How delightful to see it,
and to be made the sharers in their honest joy, as we have

**That 's rather a chuckle-headed fellow for the girl ; isn't
he?" said Steerforth.

He had been so hearty with him, and with them all, that I
felt a shock in this unexpected and cold reply. But turning
quickly upon him, and seeing a laugh in his eyes, I answered,
much relieved :

•*Ah, Steerforthl It's well for you to joke about the
poor! You may skirmish with Miss Dartle, or try to hide
your sympathies in jest from me, but I know better. When
I see how perfectly you understand them, how exquisitely you
can enter into happiness like this plain fisherman's, or humour


a love like my old nurse's, I know that there is not a joy or
sorrow, not an emotion, of such people, that can be indif-
ferent to you. And I admire and love you for it, Steerforth,
twenty times the more ! "

He stopped, and, looking in my face, said, "Daisy, 1
believe you are in earnest, and are good, I wish we all
werel" Next moment he was gaily singing Mr. Peggotty's
song, as we walked at a round pace back to Yarmouth.


Some old scenes, and some new people.

Steerforth and I stayed for more than a fortnight in that
part of the country. We were very much together, I need not
say; but occasionally we were asunder for some hours at a
time. He was a good sailor, and T was but an indifferent one;
and when he went out boating with Mr. Peggotty, which was a
favourite amusement of his, I generally remained ashore. My
occupation of Peggotty's spare-room put a constraint upon me,
from which he was free : for, knowing how assiduously she at-
tended on Mr. Barkis all day, I did not like to remain out late
at night ; whereas Steerforth , lying at the Inn , had nothing to
consult but his own humour. Thus it came about, that I heard
of his making little treats for the fishermen at Mr. Peggotty's
house of call,"TheAVillingMind,"afterI was in bed, and of his
being afloat, wrapped in fisherman's clothes, whole moonlight
nights, and coming back when the morning tide was at flood.
By this time, however, I knew that his restless nature and bold
spirits delighted to find a vent in rough toil and hard weather,
as in any other means of excitement that presented itself
freshly to him ; so none of his proceedings surprised me.

Another cause of our being sometimes apart, was, that I
had naturally an interest in going over to Blunderstone, and
revisiting the old familiar scenes of my childhood; while
Steerforth, after being there once, had naturally no great in-
terest in going there again. Hence, on three or four days
that I can at once recall, we went our several ways after an early
breakfast, and met again at a late dinner. I had no idea how


he employed his time In the interval, beyond a general know-
ledge that he was very popular in the place, and had twenty
means of actively diverting himself where another man might
not have found one.

For my own part, my occupation in my solitary pilgrimages
was to recall every yard of the old road as I went along it, and
to haunt the old spots, of which I never tired. I haunted them,
as my memory had often done, and lingered among them as
my younger thoughts had lingered when I was far away. The
grave beneath the tree, where both my parents lay — on which
I had looked out, when it was my father's only, with such
curious feelings of compassion , and by which I had stood, so
desolate, when it was opened to receive my pretty mother and
her baby — the grave which Peggotty's own faithful care had
ever since kept neat, and made a garden of, I walked near, by
the hour. It lay a little off the church-yard path, in a quiet
comer, not so far removed but I could read the names upon
the stone as I walked to and fro, startled by the sound of the
church-bell when it struck the hour, for it was like a departed
voice to me. My reflections at these times were always asso-
ciated with the figure I was to make in life, and the dis-
tinguished things I was to do. My echoing footsteps went
to no other tune, but were as constant to that as if I had come
home to build my castles in the air at a living mother's side.

There were great changes in my old home. The ragged
nests, so long deserted by the rooks, were gone ; and the trees
were lopped and topped out of their remembered shapes.
The garden had run wild, and half the windows of the house
were shut up. It was occupied, but only by a poor lunatic
gentleman, and the people who took care of him. He was
always sitting at my little window, looking out into the church-
yard ; and I wondered whether his rambling thoughts ever
went upon any of the fancies that used to occupy mine, on the


rosy mornings when I peeped out of that same little window in
my night-clothes, and saw the sheep quietly feeding in the light
of the rising sun.

Our old neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Grayper, were gone to
South America, and the rain had made its way through the
roof of their empty house, and stained the outer walls. Mr.
Chillip was married again to a tall, raw-boned, high-nosed wife;
and they had a weazen little baby, with a heavy head that it
couldn't hold up, and two weak staring eyes, with which it
seemed to be always wondering why it had ever been born.

It was with a singular jumble of sadness and pleasure that
I used to linger about my native place, until the reddening
winter sun admonished me that it was time to start on my
returning walk. But, when the place was left behind, and
especially when Steerforth and I were happily seated over our
dinner by a blazing fire, it was delicious to think of having
been there. So it was, though in a softened degree, when I
went to my neat room at night ; and, turning over the leaves of
the crocodile-book (which was always there, upon a little
table), remembered with a grateful heart how blest I was in
having such a friend as Steerforth, such a friend as Peggotty,
and such a substitute for what I had lost as my excellent and
generous aunt.

My nearest way to Yarmouth, in coming back from these
long walks, was by a ferr)'. It landed me on the flat between
the town and the sea, which I could make straight across , and
so save myself a considerable circuit by the high road. Mr.
Peggotty's house being on that waste-place, and not a hundred
yards out of my track , I always looked in as I went by. Steer-
forth was pretty sure to be there expecting me, and we went
on together through the frosty air and gathering fog towards
the twinkling lights of the town.

One dark evening, when I was later than usual — for I had,


that day, been making ray parting visit to Blunderstone, as we
were now about to return home — I found him alone in Mr.
Peggotty's house, sitting thoughtfully before the fire. He was
so intent upon his own reflections that he was quite uncon-
scious of my approach. This, indeed, he might easily have
been if he had been less absorbed, for footsteps fell noiselessly
on the sandy ground outside ; but even my entrance failed to
rouse him. I was standing close to him, looking at him; and
still, with a heavy brow, he was lost in his meditations.

He gave such a start when 1 put my hand upon his shoulder,
that he made me start too.

"You come upon me," he said, almost angrily, "like a re-
proachful ghost I "

"I was obliged to announce myself somehow," I replied.
"Have I called you down from the stars? "

"No," he answered. "No."

"Up from anywhere, then?" said I, taking my seat near

"I was looking at the pictures in the fire," he returned.

"But you are spoiling them for me," said I, as he stirred it
quickly with a piece of burning wood, striking out of it a
train of red-hot sparks that went careering up the little chim-
ney, and roaring out into the air.

"You would not have seen them ," he returned. "I detest
this mongrel time, neither day nor night. How late you are I
Where have you been?"

"I have been taking leave of my usual walk," said I.

" And I have been sitting here ," said Steerforth , glancing
round the room, "thinking that all the people we found so
glad on the night of our coming down, might — to judge from
the present wasted air of the place — be dispersed, or dead,
or come to I don't know what harm. David, I wish to God I
had had a judicious father these last twenty yearsl "


"My dearSteerforth, what is the matter?"

"I wish with all my soul I had been better guided I" he
exclaimed. "I wish with all my soul I could guide myself
better I"

There was a passionate dejection in his manner that quite
amazed me. He was more unlike himself than I could have
supposed possible.

"It would be better to be this poor Peggotty, or his lout of
a nephew," he said, getting up and leaning moodily against
the chimney-piece, with his face towards the fire, "than to be
myself, twenty times richer and twenty times wiser, and be
the torment to myself that I have been, in this Devil's bark of
a boat, within the last half-hour I "

I was so confounded by the alteration in him, that at first
I could only observe him in silence, as he stood leaning his
head upon his hand, and looking gloomily down at the fire.
At length I begged him, with all the earnestess I felt, to
tell me what had occurred to cross him so unusually, and to
let me sympathise with him, if I could not hope to advise him.
Before I had well concluded , he began to laugh — fretfully at
first, but soon with returning gaiety.

"Tut, it *8 nothing, Daisy! nothing!" he replied. "1
told you, at the inn In London, I am heavy company for my-
self , sometimes. I have been a nightmare to myself, just now
— must have had one, I think. At odd dull times, nursery
tales come up into the memor}', unrecognised for what they
nre. I believe I have been confounding myself with the bad
boy who 'didn't care,' and became food for lions — a grander
kind of going to the dogs, I suppose. What old women call
the horrors, have been creeping over me from head to foot.
I have been afraid of myself."

"You are afraid of nothing else, I think," said I.

"Perhaps not, and yet may have enough to be afraid of
David Copperfield. //• •


too," lie axis weied. ''Well! So it goes by I I am not about to
be hipped again , David ; but I tell you , my good fellow, once
more, that it would have been well for me (and for more than
me) If I liad had a steadfast and judicious father! "

His face was always full of expression, but I never saw it
express such a dark kind of earnestness as when he said these
words, with his glance bent on the fire.

"So much for that! " he said, making as If he tossed some-
thing light into the air, with his hand.

"*Why, being gone, I am a man again,'

like Macbeth. And now for dinner ! If I have not (Macbeth-»
like) broken uj) the feast with most admired disorder, Daisy."

"But where are they all, I wonder! " said I.

"God knows," said Steerforth. "After strolling to the
ferry looking for you , I strolled in here and found the place
deserted. That set me thinking, and you found me thinking."

The advent of Mrs. Gummidge with a basket, explained
how the house had happened to be empty. She had hurried
out to buy something that was needed, against Mr. Peggotty's
return with the tide ; and had left the door open in the mean-
while, lest Ham and little Em'ly, with whom it was an early
night, should come home while she was gone. Steerforth,
after very much Improving Mrs. Gummidge's spirits by a
cheerful salutation, and a jocose embrace, took my arm, and
hurried me away.

He had improved his own spirits, no less than Mrs. Gum-
midge's, for they were again at their usual flow, and he was
full of vivacious conversation as we went along.

"And so," he said, gaily, "we abandon this buccaneer
life to-morrow, do we?"

"So we agreed," I returned. "And our places by the
coach are taken, you know."


"Ayl there 'b no liclp for it, I suppose," said Stecrfortli.
•*1 have almost forgotten that there is anything to do in the
world but to go out tossing on the sea here. I wish there was

"As long as the novelty should last," said I, laughing.

"Like enough," he returned; ''tliough there 's a sarcastic
meaning in that observation for an amiable piece of innocence
like my young friend. Well! I dare say I am a capricious fel-
low, David. I know I am; but while the iron is hot, I can
strike it vigorously too. I could pass a reasonably good ex-
amination already , as a pilot in these waters , I think."

"Mr. Peggotty says you are a wonder," I returned.

"A nautical phenomenon, eh?" laughed Steerforth.

"Indeed he does, and you know how truly ; knowing how

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 27)