Charles Dickens.

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

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ardent you are in any pursuit you follow, and how easily you
can master it. And that amazes me most in you, Steerforth
— that you should be contented with such fitful uses of your
powers,"

"Contented?" he answered, merrily. "lam never con-
tented, except with your freshness, my gentle Daisy. As to
fitfulnoss, I have never learnt the art of binding myself to any
of the wheels on which the Ixions of these days are turning
round and round. I missed it somehow in a bad apprentice-
ship, and now don't care about it. — You know I have bought
a boat down here?"

"What an extraordinary fellow you are, Steerforth!" 1
exclaimed, stopping — for this was the first I had heard of it.
"When you may never care to come near the place again! "

"I don't know that," he returned. "I have taken a fancy
to the place. At all events," walking me briskly on , "Ihave
bouglit a boat that was for sale — a clipper, Mr. Peggotty
says; and so she is — and Mr. Peggotty will be master of her
in my absence."

7*



too



"Now I understand you, Steerforth!" said I, exultlngly.
"You pretend to have bought it for yourself, but you have
really done so to confer a benefit on him. I might have known
as much at first, knowing you. My deaf kind Steerforth, how
can I tell you what I think of your generosity?"

"Tush!" he answered, turning red. "The less said, the
better."

"Didn't I know?" cried I, "didn't I say that there was not
a joy, or sorrow, or any emotion of such honest hearts that was
indifi*erent to you? "

"Aye, aye," he answered, "you told me all that. There
let it rest. We have said enough 1 "

Afraid of offending him by pursuing the subject when he
made so light of it, I only pursued it in my thoughts as we went
on at even a quicker pace than before.

" She must be newly rigged," said Steerforth, "and I shall
leave Littimer behind to see it done, that I may know
she is quite complete. Did I tell you Littimer had come
down?"

"No.'

" Oh, yes I came down this morning, with a letter from my
mother."

As our looks met, I observed that he was pale even to his
lips, though he looked very steadily at me. I feared that some
difference between him and his mother might have led to his
being in the frame of mind in which I had found him at the so-
litary fireside. I hinted so.

"Oh no I" he said, shaking his head, and giving a slight
laugh. " Nothing of the sort I Yes. He is come down, that
man of mine."

" The same as ever? " said I.

"The same as ever," said Steerforth. "Distant and quiet
as the North Pole. He shall see to the boat being fresh named.



101



She's the Stormy Petrel now. What does Mr. Peggotty care
for Stormy Petrels ! I '11 have her christened again."

"By what name?" I asked.

"The Little Em'ly."

As he had continued to look steadily at me, I took it as a
reminder that he objected to being extolled for his considera-
tion. I could not help showing in my face how much it pleased
me, but I said little, and he resumed his usual smile, and seem-
ed relieved.

"But see here," he said, looking before us, "where the ori-
ginal little Em'ly comes! And that fellow with her, eh? Upon
my soul, he 's a true knight. He never leaves her! "

Ham was a boat-builder in these days, having improved a
natural ingenuity in that handicraft, until he had become a
skilled workman. He was in his working-dress, and looked
rugged enough, but manly withal, and a very fit protector for
the blooming little creature at his side. Indeed, there was a
frankness in his face, an honesty, and an undisguised show of
his pride in her, and his love for her, which were, to me, the
best of good looks. I thought, as they came towards us, that
they were well matched even in that particular.

She withdrew her hand timidly from his arm as we stopped
to speak to them, and blushed as she gave it to Steerforth and
to me. When they passed on, after we had exchanged a few
words, she did not like to replace that hand, but, still appear-
ing timid and constrained, walked by lierself. I thought all
this very pretty and engaging, and Steerforth seemed to think
so too, as we looked after them fading away in the light of a
young moon.

Suddenly there passed us — evidently following them — a
young woman whose approach we had not observed, but whose
face I saw as she went by, and thought I liad a faint remem-
brance of. She was lightly dressed; looked bold, and hag-



102



gard, and flaunting, and poor; but seemed, for the time, to
have given all that to the wind which was blowing, and to have
nothing in her mind but going after them. As the dark distant
level, absorbing their figures into itself, left but itself visible
between us and the sea and clouds, her figure disappeared in
like manner, still no nearer to them than before.

"That is a black shadow to be following the girl,'' said
Steerforth, standing still; "what does it mean? "

He spoke in a low voice that sounded almost strange to me.

"She must have it in her mind to beg of them, I think,"
said I.

"A beggar would be no novelty," said Steerforth, ''but it
is a strange thing that the beggar should take that shape to-
night."

"Why?" I asked him.

"For no better reason, truly, than because I was thinking,"
he said, after a pause, "of something like it, when it came by.
Where the Devil did it come from, I wonder! "

"From the shadow of this wall, I think," said I, as wc
emerged upon a road on which a wall abutted.

"It 's gone!" he returned, looking over his shoulder,
" And all ill go with it. Now for our dinner 1 "

But, he looked again over his shoulder towards the sea-line
glimmering afar off; and yet again. And he wondered about
it, in some broken expressions, several times, in the short re-
mainder of our walk; and only seemed to forget it when the
light of fire and candle shone upon us, seated warm and merry,
at table.

Littimer was there , and had his usual effect upon me.
When I said to him that I hoped Mrs. Steerforth and Miss
Dartle were well, he answered respectfully (and of course re-
spectably), that they were tolerably well, he thanked me, and
had sent their compliments. This was all, nnd yet he seemed



i06



to me to say as plainly as a man couhi say: '-You are ver)
young, Sir; you are exceedingly young."

We had almost finished dinner, when taking a ste}) or two
towards the table, from the corner where he kept watch upon
us, or rather upon me, as I felt, he said to his master:

'*I beg your pardon, Sir. Miss Mowcher is down here."

"Who?" cried Steerforth, much astonished.

"Miss Mowcher, Sir."

"Why, what on earth docs she do here? " said Steerforth.

"It appears to be her native part of the country. Sir. She
informs me that she makes one of her professional visits here,
every year, Sir. I met her in the street this afternoon, and
she wished to know If she might have the honour of waiting on
you after dinner, Sir."

"Do you know the Giantess in question, Daisy?" inquired
Steerforth.

I was obliged to confess — I felt ashamed, even of being at
this disadvantage before Littimer — that Miss Mowcher and 1
were wholly unacquainted.

"Then you shall know her," said Steerforth, "for she is
one of the seven wonders of the world. When Miss Mowcher
comes, show her in."

I felt some curiosity and excitement about this lady, espe-
cially as Steerforth burst into a fit of laughing when I referred
to her, and positively refused to answer any question of which
I made her the subject. I remained, therefore, in a state of
considerable expectation until the cloth had been removed
some half an hour, and we were sitting over our decanter of
wine before the fire, when the door opened, and Littimer,
with his habitual serenity quite undisturbed, announced:

"Miss Mowcher I"

I looked at the doorway and saw nothing. I was still
looking at the doorv/ny, thinking that Miss Mowcher was ?\



104



long while making her appearance, when, to my Infinite
astonishment, there came waddling round a sofa which stood
between me and It, a pursy dwarf, of about forty or forty-five,
with a very large head and face, a pair of roguish grey eyes,
and such extremely little arms, that, to enable herself to lay
a finger archly against her snub nose, as she ogled Steerforth,
she was obliged to meet the finger half-way, and lay her nose
against It. Her chin, which was what is called a double-chin,
was so fat that it entirely swallowed up the strings of her bon-
net, bow and all. Throat she had none ; waist she had none;
legs she had none, worth mentioning; for though she was
more than full- sized down to where her waist would have
been, If she had had any, and though she terminated, as
human beings generally do, in a pair of feet, she was so short
that she stood at a common-sized chair as at a table , resting
a bag she carried on the seat. This lady; dressed In an
off-hand, easy style; bringing her nose and her forefinger
together, with the difficulty I have described; standing with
her head necessarily on one side, and, with one of her sharp
eyes shut up, making an uncommonly knowing face; after
ogling Steerforth for a few moments, broke Into a torrent
of words.

"What! Myflowerl" she pleasantly began, shaking her
large head at him. "You 're there, are youl Oh, you
naughty boy, fie for shame , what do you do so far away from
home? Up to mischief, I '11 be bound. Oh, you 're a downy
fellow, Steerforth, so you are, and I 'm another, ain't I?
Ha, ha, ha I You 'd have betted a hundred pound to five,
now, that you wouldn't have seen me here, wouldn't you?
Bless you, man alive, I 'm everj^iere. I 'm here and
there, and where not, like the conjuror's half-crown in the
lady's hankercher. Talking of hankerchers — and talking of
ladies — what a comfort you are to your blessed mother, ain't



105



you, my dear boy, over one of my shoulders, and I don't say
which I"

Miss Mowcher untied her bonnet, at this passage of her
discourse, threw back the strings, and sat down, panting, on
a footstool in front of the fire — making a kind of arbor of
the dining-table , which spread its mahogany shelter above
her head.

"Oh my stars and what 's- their -names!" she went on,
clapping a hand on each of her little knees, and glancing
shrewdly at me, "I 'm of too full a habit, that 's the fact,
Steerforth. After a flight of stairs, it gives rae as much
trouble to draw every breath I want, as if it was a bucket of
water. If you saw me looking out of an upper window, you'd
think I was a fine woman, wouldn't you?"

"I should think tliat, wherever I saw you," replied Steer-
forth.

"Go along, you dog, do!" cried the little creature, ma-
king a whisk at him with the handkerchief with which she was
wiping her face, " and don't be impudent ! But I give you my
word and honour I was at Lady Mithers's last week — there 's
a woman! How she wears! — and Mithers himself came into
the room where I was waiting for her — there 's a man ! How
he wears! and his wig too, for he 's had it these ten years —
and he went on at that rate in the complimentary line, that I
began to think I should be obliged to ring the bell. Ha! ha!
ha! He 's a pleasant wretch, but he wants principle."

"What were you doing for Lady Mithers?" asked Steer-
forth.

" That *8 tellings, my blessed infant," she retorted, tapping
her nose again, screwing up her face, and twinkling her eyes
like an imp of supernatural intelligence. "Never ?/ow mind!
You 'd like to know whether I stop her hair from falling off,
or dye it, or touch up her complexion, or improve her eye-



100



brows, wouldn't you? Ami so you shall , my darling — when
1 tell you I Do you know what my great grand falher's name
was?"

"No," said Steerforth.

"It was Walker, my sweet pet," replied Miss Mowcher,
"and he came of a long line of Walkers, that I inherit all the
Hookey estates from."

I never beheld anything approaching to Miss Mowcher's
wink, except Miss Mowcher's self-possession. She had a
wonderful way too, when listening to what was said to her,
or when waiting for an answer to what she had said herself,
of pausing with her head cunningly on one side, and one eye
turned up Uke a magpie's. Altogether I was lost in amaze-
ment, and sat staring at her, quite oblivious , I am afraid, of
the laws of politeness.

She had by this time drawn the chair to her side, and was
busily engaged in producing from the bag (plunging in her
short arm to the shoulder, at every dive) a number of small
bottles, sponges, combs, brushes, bits of flannel, little pairs
of curling irons , and other instruments, which she tumbled
in a heap upon the chair. From this employment she sud-
denly desisted, and said to Steerforth, much to my confusion:

"Who's your friend?"

"iMr. Copperfield," said Steerforth; "he wants to know
you."

"Well, then, he shall! I thought he looked as if he
did!" returned Miss Mowcher, waddling up to me, bag in
liand, and laughing on me as she came. "Face like a peach! "
standing on tiptoe to pinch my cheek as I sat. " Quite tempt-
ing! I 'm very fond of peaches. Happy to make your acquain-
tance, Mr. Copperfield, I 'm sure."

I said that I congratulated myself on having the honour to
make hers , and that the happiness was mutual.



I



107



"Oh my goodness, bow polite we are!" exclaimed Miss
Mowcher, making a preposterous attempt to cover her large
face with her morsel of a hand. "What a world of gammon
and spinnage it is , though , ain't it 1 "

This was addressed confidentially to both of us, as the
morsel of a hand came away from the face, and buried itself,
arm and all, in the bag again.

" What do you mean, Miss Mowcher? " said Steerforth.

"Hal hal ha! What a refreshing set of humbugs we are,
to be sure, ain't we, my sweet child?" replied that morsel of
a woman, feeling in the bag with lier head on one side, and
her eye in the air. "Look here!" taking something out.
"Scraps of the Russian Prince's nails ! Prince Alphabet turned
topsy-turvy, /call hira, for his name's got all the letters in it,
higgledy-piggledy."

"Tlie Russian Prince is a cHent of yours, is he?" said
Steerforth.

"I believe you, my pet," replied Miss Mowcher. "I keep
his nails in order for him. Twiceaweek! Fingers anrf toes I"

"He pays well, I hope?" said Steerforth.

"Pays as he speaks, my dear child — through the nose,"
replied Miss Mowcher. "None of your close shavers the
Prince ain't. You 'd say so , if you saw his moustachios. Red
by nature , black by art."

"By your art, of course," said Steerforth.

Miss Mowcher winked assent. "Forced to send for me.
Couldn't help it. The climate affected his dye; it did very
well in Russia, but it was no go here. You never saw such a
rusty Prince in all your born days as he was. Like old iron !"

"Is that why you called him a humbug, just now?" in-
quired Steerforth.

"Oh, you 're a broth of a boy, ain't you?" returned Miss
Mowcher, shaking her head violently. "I said, what a set of



108



humbugs we were in general, and I showed you the scraps of
the Prince's nails to prove it. The Prince's nails do more for
me, in private families of the genteel sort, than all my talents
put together. I always carry 'era about. They 're the best
introduction. If Miss Mowcher cuts the Prince's nails, she
must be all right. I give 'em away to the young ladies. They
put 'em in albums, I believe. Ha! hal hal Upon my life,
'the whole social system' (as the men call it when they make
speeches in Parliament) is a system of Prince's nails!" said
this least of women, trying to fold her short arms, and nod-
ding her large head.

Steerforth laughed heartily, and I laughed too. Miss
Mowcher continuing all the time to shake her head (which was
very much on one side), and to look into the air with one eye,
and to wink with the other.

"Well, well!" she said, smiting her small knees, and
rising, "this Is not business. Come, Steerforth, let 's explore
the polar regions, and have it over."

She then selected two or three of the little instruments, and
a little bottle , and asked (to my surprise) if the table would
bear. On Steerforth's replying in the affirmative, she pushed
a chair against it, and begging the assistance of my hand,
mounted up, pretty nimbly, to the top, as if it were a stage.

"If either of you saw my ankles," she said, when she
was safely elevated, "say so, and I '11 go home and destroy
myself."

"/ did not," said Steerforth.

"/did not," said I.

"Well then," cried Miss Mowcher, "I '11 consent to live.
Now, ducky, ducky, ducky, come to Mrs. Bond and be
killed!"

This was an invocation to Steerforth to place himself under
her hands; who, accordingly, sat himself down, with his back



109



to the table, and his laughing face towards me, and submitted
his head to her inspection, evidently for no other purpose than
our entertainment. To see Miss Mowcher standing over him,
looking at his rich profusion of bro-wn hair through a large
round magnifying glass, which she took out of her pocket, was
a most amazing spectacle.

" You 're a pretty fellow 1 " said Miss Mowcher, after a brief
inspection. "You 'd be as bald as a friar on the top of your
head in twelve months, but forme. Just half-a-minute , my
young friend, and we '11 give you a polishing that shall keep
your curls on for the next ten years ! "

With this, she tilted some of the contents of the little bottle
on to one of the little bits of flannel, and, again imparting some
of the virtues of that preparation to one of the little brushes,
began rubbing and scraping away with both on the crown of
Steerforth's head in the busiest manner I ever witnessed, talk-
ing all the time.

"There *s Charley Pyegrave, the duke's son," she said.
"You know Charley?'* peeping round into his face.

"A little," said Steerforth.

"What a man he is! There 's a whisker! As to Charley's
legs, if they were only a pair (which they ain't), they 'd defy
competition. Would you believe he tried to do without me —
in the Life- Guards, too?"

"Mad!" said Steerforth.

"It looks like it. However, mad or sane, he tried," re-
turned Miss Mowcher. " What does he do, but , lo and behold
you , he goes into a perfumer's shop, and wants to buy a bottle
of the Madagascar Liquid."

"Charley does?" said Steerforth.

"Charley does. But they haven't got any of the Mada-
gascar Liquid."

"What is it? Something to drink?" asked Steerforth.



110



"'To drinkV" returned Miss Mowcher, stoppinjj; to slap
his cheek. "To doctor his own moustachlos with, you know.
There was a woman in the shop — elderly female — quite a
Griffin — who had never even heard of it by name. * Begging
pardon, Sir,' said the Griffin to Charley, *it 's not — not — not
KOUGE , is it? ' * Rouge ,' said Charley to the Griffin. * What
the unmentionable to ears polite, do you think I want with
rouge?' 'No offence. Sir,' said the Griffin; 'we have it asked
for by so many names, I thought it might be.' Now that, my
child," continued Miss Mowclicr, rubbing all the time as
busily as ever, "isanotlier instance of the refreshing humbug
I was speaking of. / do something in that way myself — per-
haps a good deal — perhaps a little — sliarp 's the word , my
dear boy — never mind I "

"In what way do you mean? In the rouge way?" said
Steerforth.

"Put this and that together, my tender pupil," returned
the wary Mowcher, touching her nose, "work it by the rule of
Secrets in all trades, and the product will give you the desired
result. I say / do a little in that way myself. One Dowager,
.9^6' calls it lip-salve. Another, she calls it gloves. Another,
she calls it tucker-edging. Another, she calls it a fan. / call
it whatever they call it. I supply it for 'em, but we keep up
the trick so, to one another, and make believe with such a
face, that they 'd as soon think of laying it on, before a whole
drawing-room, as before me. And when I wait upon 'em,
they '11 say to me sometimes — luith it on ■ — thick , and no
mistake — ' How am I looking, Mowcher? Am I pale ? ' Ha I
ha! ha! ha! Isn't that refreshing, my young friend! "

I never did in my days behold anything like Mowcher as
she stood upon the dining-table, intensely enjoying this re-
freshment, rubbing busily at Steerforth's head, and winking
at me over it.



til



"Ah I" bhe sdlJ. "Such things are not much in demand
lioreabouts. That sets me off again! I havn't seen a pretty
woman since I 've been here, Jemmy."

"No?" said Steerforth.

"Not the ghost of one," replied Miss Mowcher.

" We could show her the substance of one , I thinkV " said
Steerforth, addressing his eyes to mine. "Eh , Daisy? "

"Yes, indeed," said I.

"Aha?" cried the little creature, glancing sharply at my
face , and then peeping round at Steerforth's. " Umph ? "

The first exclamation sounded hke a question put to both
of us, and the second like a question put to Steerforth only.
She seemed to have found no answer to either, but continued
to rub , with her head on one side and her eye turned up , as if
^he were looking for an answer in the air, and were confident
of its appearing presently.

"A sister of yours, Mr. Copperfield?" she cried, after a
pause, and still keeping the same look out. "Aye, aye?"

"No," said Steerforth, before I could reply. "Nothing
of the sort. On the contrary-, Mr. Copperfield used —
or I am much mistaken — to have a great admiration fur
her."

"\Vhy, hasn't he now?" returned Miss Mowcher. "Is he
fickle? oh, for shame! Did he sip every flower, and change
every hour, until Polly his passion requited? — Is her name
PoUy?"

The Elfin suddenness with which she pounced upon me
with this question, and a searching look, quite disconcerted
me for a moment.

"No, Miss Mowcher," I replied. "Her name is Emily."

"Aha?" she cried exactly as before. "Umph? What a
rattle I am! Mr. Copperfield, ain't I volatile?"

Her tone and look implied something that was not agree-



112



able to me in connexion with the subject. So I said, In a
gi^aver manner than any of us had yet assumed:

" She is as virtuous as she is pretty. She is engaged to be
married to a most worthy and deserving man in her own
station of life. I esteem her for her good sense, as much as I
admire her for her good looks."

"Well said 1" cried Steerforth. *'Hear,hear, hear! Now,
1 '11 quench the curiosity of this little Fatima, my dear Daisy,
by leaving her nothing to guess at. She is at present appren-
ticed, MissMowcher, or articled, or whatever it may be, to
Omer and Joram, Haberdashers, Milliners, and so forth, in
this town. Do you observe? Omer and Joram. The pro-
mise of which my friend has spoken, is made and entered into
with her cousin ; Christian name. Ham; surname, Peggotty;
occupation, boat-builder; also of this town. She lives with a
relative; Christian name, unknown; surname, Peggotty; oc-
cupation, seafaring; also of this town. She is the prettiest
and most engaging little fairy in the world. I admire her —
as my friend does — exceedingly. If it were not that I might
appear to disparage her Intended, which I know my friend
would not like, I would add, that to me she seems to be throw-
ing herself away ; that I am sure she might do better; and
that I swear she was born to be a lady."

Miss Mowcher listened to these words, which were very
slowly and distinctly spoken, with her head on one side, and
her eye in the air as if she were still looking for that answer.
When he ceased, she became brisk again in an instant, and
rattled away with surprising volubility.

"Oh! And that 's all about it, is it?" she exclaimed , trim-
ming his whiskers with a little restless pair of scissors, that
went glancing round his head in all directions. "Very well:
very well ! Quite a long story. Ought to end , * and they lived
happy ever afterwards ; ' oughtn't it? Ah I What *e that game



113



at forfeits? I love my love -with an E, because she 's enticinDj;
I hate her with an E, because she 's engaged. I took her to
the sign of the exquisite, and treated her with an elopement,
her name 's Emily, and she lives in the east? Ha! hal ha!
Mr. Copperfield, ain't I volatile? "

Merely looking at me with extravagant slj-ness, and not
waiting for any reply, she continued, without drawing breath :

" There ! If ever any scapegrace was trimmed and touched
up to perfection, you are, Steerforth. If I understand any
noddle In the world, I understand yours. Do you hear me
when I tell you that, my darling? I understand yours,"
peeping down into his face. "Now you may mizzle, Jemmy
(as we say at Court), and if Mr. Copperfield will take the
chair I '11 operate on him."



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