Part 2 out of 21
thing in extenuation of the circumstance, and always with the
So the fortnight slipped away, varied by nothing but the variation
of the tide, which altered Mr. Peggotty's times of going out and
coming in, and altered Ham's engagements also. When the latter was
unemployed, he sometimes walked with us to show us the boats and
ships, and once or twice he took us for a row. I don't know why
one slight set of impressions should be more particularly
associated with a place than another, though I believe this obtains
with most people, in reference especially to the associations of
their childhood. I never hear the name, or read the name, of
Yarmouth, but I am reminded of a certain Sunday morning on the
beach, the bells ringing for church, little Em'ly leaning on my
shoulder, Ham lazily dropping stones into the water, and the sun,
away at sea, just breaking through the heavy mist, and showing us
the ships, like their own shadows.
At last the day came for going home. I bore up against the
separation from Mr. Peggotty and Mrs. Gummidge, but my agony of
mind at leaving little Em'ly was piercing. We went arm-in-arm to
the public-house where the carrier put up, and I promised, on the
road, to write to her. (I redeemed that promise afterwards, in
characters larger than those in which apartments are usually
announced in manuscript, as being to let.) We were greatly overcome
at parting; and if ever, in my life, I have had a void made in my
heart, I had one made that day.
Now, all the time I had been on my visit, I had been ungrateful to
my home again, and had thought little or nothing about it. But I
was no sooner turned towards it, than my reproachful young
conscience seemed to point that way with a ready finger; and I
felt, all the more for the sinking of my spirits, that it was my
nest, and that my mother was my comforter and friend.
This gained upon me as we went along; so that the nearer we drew,
the more familiar the objects became that we passed, the more
excited I was to get there, and to run into her arms. But
Peggotty, instead of sharing in those transports, tried to check
them (though very kindly), and looked confused and out of sorts.
Blunderstone Rookery would come, however, in spite of her, when the
carrier's horse pleased - and did. How well I recollect it, on a
cold grey afternoon, with a dull sky, threatening rain!
The door opened, and I looked, half laughing and half crying in my
pleasant agitation, for my mother. It was not she, but a strange
'Why, Peggotty!' I said, ruefully, 'isn't she come home?'
'Yes, yes, Master Davy,' said Peggotty. 'She's come home. Wait a
bit, Master Davy, and I'll - I'll tell you something.'
Between her agitation, and her natural awkwardness in getting out
of the cart, Peggotty was making a most extraordinary festoon of
herself, but I felt too blank and strange to tell her so. When she
had got down, she took me by the hand; led me, wondering, into the
kitchen; and shut the door.
'Peggotty!' said I, quite frightened. 'What's the matter?'
'Nothing's the matter, bless you, Master Davy dear!' she answered,
assuming an air of sprightliness.
'Something's the matter, I'm sure. Where's mama?'
'Where's mama, Master Davy?' repeated Peggotty.
'Yes. Why hasn't she come out to the gate, and what have we come
in here for? Oh, Peggotty!' My eyes were full, and I felt as if
I were going to tumble down.
'Bless the precious boy!' cried Peggotty, taking hold of me. 'What
is it? Speak, my pet!'
'Not dead, too! Oh, she's not dead, Peggotty?'
Peggotty cried out No! with an astonishing volume of voice; and
then sat down, and began to pant, and said I had given her a turn.
I gave her a hug to take away the turn, or to give her another turn
in the right direction, and then stood before her, looking at her
in anxious inquiry.
'You see, dear, I should have told you before now,' said Peggotty,
'but I hadn't an opportunity. I ought to have made it, perhaps,
but I couldn't azackly' - that was always the substitute for
exactly, in Peggotty's militia of words - 'bring my mind to it.'
'Go on, Peggotty,' said I, more frightened than before.
'Master Davy,' said Peggotty, untying her bonnet with a shaking
hand, and speaking in a breathless sort of way. 'What do you
think? You have got a Pa!'
I trembled, and turned white. Something - I don't know what, or
how - connected with the grave in the churchyard, and the raising
of the dead, seemed to strike me like an unwholesome wind.
'A new one,' said Peggotty.
'A new one?' I repeated.
Peggotty gave a gasp, as if she were swallowing something that was
very hard, and, putting out her hand, said:
'Come and see him.'
'I don't want to see him.'
- 'And your mama,' said Peggotty.
I ceased to draw back, and we went straight to the best parlour,
where she left me. On one side of the fire, sat my mother; on the
other, Mr. Murdstone. My mother dropped her work, and arose
hurriedly, but timidly I thought.
'Now, Clara my dear,' said Mr. Murdstone. 'Recollect! control
yourself, always control yourself! Davy boy, how do you do?'
I gave him my hand. After a moment of suspense, I went and kissed
my mother: she kissed me, patted me gently on the shoulder, and sat
down again to her work. I could not look at her, I could not look
at him, I knew quite well that he was looking at us both; and I
turned to the window and looked out there, at some shrubs that were
drooping their heads in the cold.
As soon as I could creep away, I crept upstairs. My old dear
bedroom was changed, and I was to lie a long way off. I rambled
downstairs to find anything that was like itself, so altered it all
seemed; and roamed into the yard. I very soon started back from
there, for the empty dog-kennel was filled up with a great dog -
deep mouthed and black-haired like Him - and he was very angry at
the sight of me, and sprang out to get at me.
I FALL INTO DISGRACE
If the room to which my bed was removed were a sentient thing that
could give evidence, I might appeal to it at this day - who sleeps
there now, I wonder! - to bear witness for me what a heavy heart I
carried to it. I went up there, hearing the dog in the yard bark
after me all the way while I climbed the stairs; and, looking as
blank and strange upon the room as the room looked upon me, sat
down with my small hands crossed, and thought.
I thought of the oddest things. Of the shape of the room, of the
cracks in the ceiling, of the paper on the walls, of the flaws in
the window-glass making ripples and dimples on the prospect, of the
washing-stand being rickety on its three legs, and having a
discontented something about it, which reminded me of Mrs. Gummidge
under the influence of the old one. I was crying all the time,
but, except that I was conscious of being cold and dejected, I am
sure I never thought why I cried. At last in my desolation I began
to consider that I was dreadfully in love with little Em'ly, and
had been torn away from her to come here where no one seemed to
want me, or to care about me, half as much as she did. This made
such a very miserable piece of business of it, that I rolled myself
up in a corner of the counterpane, and cried myself to sleep.
I was awoke by somebody saying 'Here he is!' and uncovering my hot
head. My mother and Peggotty had come to look for me, and it was
one of them who had done it.
'Davy,' said my mother. 'What's the matter?'
I thought it was very strange that she should ask me, and answered,
'Nothing.' I turned over on my face, I recollect, to hide my
trembling lip, which answered her with greater truth.
'Davy,' said my mother. 'Davy, my child!'
I dare say no words she could have uttered would have affected me
so much, then, as her calling me her child. I hid my tears in the
bedclothes, and pressed her from me with my hand, when she would
have raised me up.
'This is your doing, Peggotty, you cruel thing!' said my mother.
'I have no doubt at all about it. How can you reconcile it to your
conscience, I wonder, to prejudice my own boy against me, or
against anybody who is dear to me? What do you mean by it,
Poor Peggotty lifted up her hands and eyes, and only answered, in
a sort of paraphrase of the grace I usually repeated after dinner,
'Lord forgive you, Mrs. Copperfield, and for what you have said
this minute, may you never be truly sorry!'
'It's enough to distract me,' cried my mother. 'In my honeymoon,
too, when my most inveterate enemy might relent, one would think,
and not envy me a little peace of mind and happiness. Davy, you
naughty boy! Peggotty, you savage creature! Oh, dear me!' cried
my mother, turning from one of us to the other, in her pettish
wilful manner, 'what a troublesome world this is, when one has the
most right to expect it to be as agreeable as possible!'
I felt the touch of a hand that I knew was neither hers nor
Peggotty's, and slipped to my feet at the bed-side. It was Mr.
Murdstone's hand, and he kept it on my arm as he said:
'What's this? Clara, my love, have you forgotten? - Firmness, my
'I am very sorry, Edward,' said my mother. 'I meant to be very
good, but I am so uncomfortable.'
'Indeed!' he answered. 'That's a bad hearing, so soon, Clara.'
'I say it's very hard I should be made so now,' returned my mother,
pouting; 'and it is - very hard - isn't it?'
He drew her to him, whispered in her ear, and kissed her. I knew
as well, when I saw my mother's head lean down upon his shoulder,
and her arm touch his neck - I knew as well that he could mould her
pliant nature into any form he chose, as I know, now, that he did
'Go you below, my love,' said Mr. Murdstone. 'David and I will
come down, together. My friend,' turning a darkening face on
Peggotty, when he had watched my mother out, and dismissed her with
a nod and a smile; 'do you know your mistress's name?'
'She has been my mistress a long time, sir,' answered Peggotty, 'I
ought to know it.'
'That's true,' he answered. 'But I thought I heard you, as I came
upstairs, address her by a name that is not hers. She has taken
mine, you know. Will you remember that?'
Peggotty, with some uneasy glances at me, curtseyed herself out of
the room without replying; seeing, I suppose, that she was expected
to go, and had no excuse for remaining. When we two were left
alone, he shut the door, and sitting on a chair, and holding me
standing before him, looked steadily into my eyes. I felt my own
attracted, no less steadily, to his. As I recall our being opposed
thus, face to face, I seem again to hear my heart beat fast and
'David,' he said, making his lips thin, by pressing them together,
'if I have an obstinate horse or dog to deal with, what do you
think I do?'
'I don't know.'
'I beat him.'
I had answered in a kind of breathless whisper, but I felt, in my
silence, that my breath was shorter now.
'I make him wince, and smart. I say to myself, "I'll conquer that
fellow"; and if it were to cost him all the blood he had, I should
do it. What is that upon your face?'
'Dirt,' I said.
He knew it was the mark of tears as well as I. But if he had asked
the question twenty times, each time with twenty blows, I believe
my baby heart would have burst before I would have told him so.
'You have a good deal of intelligence for a little fellow,' he
said, with a grave smile that belonged to him, 'and you understood
me very well, I see. Wash that face, sir, and come down with me.'
He pointed to the washing-stand, which I had made out to be like
Mrs. Gummidge, and motioned me with his head to obey him directly.
I had little doubt then, and I have less doubt now, that he would
have knocked me down without the least compunction, if I had
'Clara, my dear,' he said, when I had done his bidding, and he
walked me into the parlour, with his hand still on my arm; 'you
will not be made uncomfortable any more, I hope. We shall soon
improve our youthful humours.'
God help me, I might have been improved for my whole life, I might
have been made another creature perhaps, for life, by a kind word
at that season. A word of encouragement and explanation, of pity
for my childish ignorance, of welcome home, of reassurance to me
that it was home, might have made me dutiful to him in my heart
henceforth, instead of in my hypocritical outside, and might have
made me respect instead of hate him. I thought my mother was sorry
to see me standing in the room so scared and strange, and that,
presently, when I stole to a chair, she followed me with her eyes
more sorrowfully still - missing, perhaps, some freedom in my
childish tread - but the word was not spoken, and the time for it
We dined alone, we three together. He seemed to be very fond of my
mother - I am afraid I liked him none the better for that - and she
was very fond of him. I gathered from what they said, that an
elder sister of his was coming to stay with them, and that she was
expected that evening. I am not certain whether I found out then,
or afterwards, that, without being actively concerned in any
business, he had some share in, or some annual charge upon the
profits of, a wine-merchant's house in London, with which his
family had been connected from his great-grandfather's time, and in
which his sister had a similar interest; but I may mention it in
this place, whether or no.
After dinner, when we were sitting by the fire, and I was
meditating an escape to Peggotty without having the hardihood to
slip away, lest it should offend the master of the house, a coach
drove up to the garden-gate and he went out to receive the visitor.
My mother followed him. I was timidly following her, when she
turned round at the parlour door, in the dusk, and taking me in her
embrace as she had been used to do, whispered me to love my new
father and be obedient to him. She did this hurriedly and
secretly, as if it were wrong, but tenderly; and, putting out her
hand behind her, held mine in it, until we came near to where he
was standing in the garden, where she let mine go, and drew hers
through his arm.
It was Miss Murdstone who was arrived, and a gloomy-looking lady
she was; dark, like her brother, whom she greatly resembled in face
and voice; and with very heavy eyebrows, nearly meeting over her
large nose, as if, being disabled by the wrongs of her sex from
wearing whiskers, she had carried them to that account. She
brought with her two uncompromising hard black boxes, with her
initials on the lids in hard brass nails. When she paid the
coachman she took her money out of a hard steel purse, and she kept
the purse in a very jail of a bag which hung upon her arm by a
heavy chain, and shut up like a bite. I had never, at that time,
seen such a metallic lady altogether as Miss Murdstone was.
She was brought into the parlour with many tokens of welcome, and
there formally recognized my mother as a new and near relation.
Then she looked at me, and said:
'Is that your boy, sister-in-law?'
My mother acknowledged me.
'Generally speaking,' said Miss Murdstone, 'I don't like boys. How
d'ye do, boy?'
Under these encouraging circumstances, I replied that I was very
well, and that I hoped she was the same; with such an indifferent
grace, that Miss Murdstone disposed of me in two words:
Having uttered which, with great distinctness, she begged the
favour of being shown to her room, which became to me from that
time forth a place of awe and dread, wherein the two black boxes
were never seen open or known to be left unlocked, and where (for
I peeped in once or twice when she was out) numerous little steel
fetters and rivets, with which Miss Murdstone embellished herself
when she was dressed, generally hung upon the looking-glass in
As well as I could make out, she had come for good, and had no
intention of ever going again. She began to 'help' my mother next
morning, and was in and out of the store-closet all day, putting
things to rights, and making havoc in the old arrangements. Almost
the first remarkable thing I observed in Miss Murdstone was, her
being constantly haunted by a suspicion that the servants had a man
secreted somewhere on the premises. Under the influence of this
delusion, she dived into the coal-cellar at the most untimely
hours, and scarcely ever opened the door of a dark cupboard without
clapping it to again, in the belief that she had got him.
Though there was nothing very airy about Miss Murdstone, she was a
perfect Lark in point of getting up. She was up (and, as I believe
to this hour, looking for that man) before anybody in the house was
stirring. Peggotty gave it as her opinion that she even slept with
one eye open; but I could not concur in this idea; for I tried it
myself after hearing the suggestion thrown out, and found it
couldn't be done.
On the very first morning after her arrival she was up and ringing
her bell at cock-crow. When my mother came down to breakfast and
was going to make the tea, Miss Murdstone gave her a kind of peck
on the cheek, which was her nearest approach to a kiss, and said:
'Now, Clara, my dear, I am come here, you know, to relieve you of
all the trouble I can. You're much too pretty and thoughtless' -
my mother blushed but laughed, and seemed not to dislike this
character - 'to have any duties imposed upon you that can be
undertaken by me. If you'll be so good as give me your keys, my
dear, I'll attend to all this sort of thing in future.'
From that time, Miss Murdstone kept the keys in her own little jail
all day, and under her pillow all night, and my mother had no more
to do with them than I had.
My mother did not suffer her authority to pass from her without a
shadow of protest. One night when Miss Murdstone had been
developing certain household plans to her brother, of which he
signified his approbation, my mother suddenly began to cry, and
said she thought she might have been consulted.
'Clara!' said Mr. Murdstone sternly. 'Clara! I wonder at you.'
'Oh, it's very well to say you wonder, Edward!' cried my mother,
'and it's very well for you to talk about firmness, but you
wouldn't like it yourself.'
Firmness, I may observe, was the grand quality on which both Mr.
and Miss Murdstone took their stand. However I might have
expressed my comprehension of it at that time, if I had been called
upon, I nevertheless did clearly comprehend in my own way, that it
was another name for tyranny; and for a certain gloomy, arrogant,
devil's humour, that was in them both. The creed, as I should
state it now, was this. Mr. Murdstone was firm; nobody in his
world was to be so firm as Mr. Murdstone; nobody else in his world
was to be firm at all, for everybody was to be bent to his
firmness. Miss Murdstone was an exception. She might be firm, but
only by relationship, and in an inferior and tributary degree. My
mother was another exception. She might be firm, and must be; but
only in bearing their firmness, and firmly believing there was no
other firmness upon earth.
'It's very hard,' said my mother, 'that in my own house -'
'My own house?' repeated Mr. Murdstone. 'Clara!'
'OUR own house, I mean,' faltered my mother, evidently frightened
- 'I hope you must know what I mean, Edward - it's very hard that
in YOUR own house I may not have a word to say about domestic
matters. I am sure I managed very well before we were married.
There's evidence,' said my mother, sobbing; 'ask Peggotty if I
didn't do very well when I wasn't interfered with!'
'Edward,' said Miss Murdstone, 'let there be an end of this. I go
'Jane Murdstone,' said her brother, 'be silent! How dare you to
insinuate that you don't know my character better than your words
'I am sure,' my poor mother went on, at a grievous disadvantage,
and with many tears, 'I don't want anybody to go. I should be very
miserable and unhappy if anybody was to go. I don't ask much. I
am not unreasonable. I only want to be consulted sometimes. I am
very much obliged to anybody who assists me, and I only want to be
consulted as a mere form, sometimes. I thought you were pleased,
once, with my being a little inexperienced and girlish, Edward - I
am sure you said so - but you seem to hate me for it now, you are
'Edward,' said Miss Murdstone, again, 'let there be an end of this.
I go tomorrow.'
'Jane Murdstone,' thundered Mr. Murdstone. 'Will you be silent?
How dare you?'
Miss Murdstone made a jail-delivery of her pocket-handkerchief, and
held it before her eyes.
'Clara,' he continued, looking at my mother, 'you surprise me! You
astound me! Yes, I had a satisfaction in the thought of marrying
an inexperienced and artless person, and forming her character, and
infusing into it some amount of that firmness and decision of which
it stood in need. But when Jane Murdstone is kind enough to come
to my assistance in this endeavour, and to assume, for my sake, a
condition something like a housekeeper's, and when she meets with
a base return -'
'Oh, pray, pray, Edward,' cried my mother, 'don't accuse me of
being ungrateful. I am sure I am not ungrateful. No one ever said
I was before. I have many faults, but not that. Oh, don't, my
'When Jane Murdstone meets, I say,' he went on, after waiting until
my mother was silent, 'with a base return, that feeling of mine is
chilled and altered.'
'Don't, my love, say that!' implored my mother very piteously.
'Oh, don't, Edward! I can't bear to hear it. Whatever I am, I am
affectionate. I know I am affectionate. I wouldn't say it, if I
wasn't sure that I am. Ask Peggotty. I am sure she'll tell you
'There is no extent of mere weakness, Clara,' said Mr. Murdstone in
reply, 'that can have the least weight with me. You lose breath.'
'Pray let us be friends,' said my mother, 'I couldn't live under
coldness or unkindness. I am so sorry. I have a great many
defects, I know, and it's very good of you, Edward, with your
strength of mind, to endeavour to correct them for me. Jane, I
don't object to anything. I should be quite broken-hearted if you
thought of leaving -' My mother was too much overcome to go on.
'Jane Murdstone,' said Mr. Murdstone to his sister, 'any harsh
words between us are, I hope, uncommon. It is not my fault that so
unusual an occurrence has taken place tonight. I was betrayed into
it by another. Nor is it your fault. You were betrayed into it by
another. Let us both try to forget it. And as this,' he added,
after these magnanimous words, 'is not a fit scene for the boy -
David, go to bed!'
I could hardly find the door, through the tears that stood in my
eyes. I was so sorry for my mother's distress; but I groped my way
out, and groped my way up to my room in the dark, without even
having the heart to say good night to Peggotty, or to get a candle
from her. When her coming up to look for me, an hour or so
afterwards, awoke me, she said that my mother had gone to bed
poorly, and that Mr. and Miss Murdstone were sitting alone.
Going down next morning rather earlier than usual, I paused outside
the parlour door, on hearing my mother's voice. She was very
earnestly and humbly entreating Miss Murdstone's pardon, which that
lady granted, and a perfect reconciliation took place. I never
knew my mother afterwards to give an opinion on any matter, without
first appealing to Miss Murdstone, or without having first
ascertained by some sure means, what Miss Murdstone's opinion was;
and I never saw Miss Murdstone, when out of temper (she was infirm
that way), move her hand towards her bag as if she were going to
take out the keys and offer to resign them to my mother, without
seeing that my mother was in a terrible fright.
The gloomy taint that was in the Murdstone blood, darkened the
Murdstone religion, which was austere and wrathful. I have
thought, since, that its assuming that character was a necessary
consequence of Mr. Murdstone's firmness, which wouldn't allow him
to let anybody off from the utmost weight of the severest penalties
he could find any excuse for. Be this as it may, I well remember
the tremendous visages with which we used to go to church, and the
changed air of the place. Again, the dreaded Sunday comes round,
and I file into the old pew first, like a guarded captive brought
to a condemned service. Again, Miss Murdstone, in a black velvet
gown, that looks as if it had been made out of a pall, follows
close upon me; then my mother; then her husband. There is no
Peggotty now, as in the old time. Again, I listen to Miss
Murdstone mumbling the responses, and emphasizing all the dread
words with a cruel relish. Again, I see her dark eyes roll round
the church when she says 'miserable sinners', as if she were
calling all the congregation names. Again, I catch rare glimpses
of my mother, moving her lips timidly between the two, with one of
them muttering at each ear like low thunder. Again, I wonder with
a sudden fear whether it is likely that our good old clergyman can
be wrong, and Mr. and Miss Murdstone right, and that all the angels
in Heaven can be destroying angels. Again, if I move a finger or
relax a muscle of my face, Miss Murdstone pokes me with her
prayer-book, and makes my side ache.
Yes, and again, as we walk home, I note some neighbours looking at
my mother and at me, and whispering. Again, as the three go on
arm-in-arm, and I linger behind alone, I follow some of those
looks, and wonder if my mother's step be really not so light as I
have seen it, and if the gaiety of her beauty be really almost
worried away. Again, I wonder whether any of the neighbours call
to mind, as I do, how we used to walk home together, she and I; and
I wonder stupidly about that, all the dreary dismal day.
There had been some talk on occasions of my going to boarding-
school. Mr. and Miss Murdstone had originated it, and my mother
had of course agreed with them. Nothing, however, was concluded on
the subject yet. In the meantime, I learnt lessons at home.
Shall I ever forget those lessons! They were presided over
nominally by my mother, but really by Mr. Murdstone and his sister,
who were always present, and found them a favourable occasion for
giving my mother lessons in that miscalled firmness, which was the
bane of both our lives. I believe I was kept at home for that
purpose. I had been apt enough to learn, and willing enough, when
my mother and I had lived alone together. I can faintly remember
learning the alphabet at her knee. To this day, when I look upon
the fat black letters in the primer, the puzzling novelty of their
shapes, and the easy good-nature of O and Q and S, seem to present
themselves again before me as they used to do. But they recall no
feeling of disgust or reluctance. On the contrary, I seem to have
walked along a path of flowers as far as the crocodile-book, and to
have been cheered by the gentleness of my mother's voice and manner
all the way. But these solemn lessons which succeeded those, I
remember as the death-blow of my peace, and a grievous daily
drudgery and misery. They were very long, very numerous, very hard
- perfectly unintelligible, some of them, to me - and I was
generally as much bewildered by them as I believe my poor mother
Let me remember how it used to be, and bring one morning back
I come into the second-best parlour after breakfast, with my books,
and an exercise-book, and a slate. My mother is ready for me at
her writing-desk, but not half so ready as Mr. Murdstone in his
easy-chair by the window (though he pretends to be reading a book),
or as Miss Murdstone, sitting near my mother stringing steel beads.
The very sight of these two has such an influence over me, that I
begin to feel the words I have been at infinite pains to get into
my head, all sliding away, and going I don't know where. I wonder
where they do go, by the by?
I hand the first book to my mother. Perhaps it is a grammar,
perhaps a history, or geography. I take a last drowning look at
the page as I give it into her hand, and start off aloud at a
racing pace while I have got it fresh. I trip over a word. Mr.
Murdstone looks up. I trip over another word. Miss Murdstone
looks up. I redden, tumble over half-a-dozen words, and stop. I
think my mother would show me the book if she dared, but she does
not dare, and she says softly:
'Oh, Davy, Davy!'
'Now, Clara,' says Mr. Murdstone, 'be firm with the boy. Don't
say, "Oh, Davy, Davy!" That's childish. He knows his lesson, or
he does not know it.'
'He does NOT know it,' Miss Murdstone interposes awfully.
'I am really afraid he does not,' says my mother.
'Then, you see, Clara,' returns Miss Murdstone, 'you should just
give him the book back, and make him know it.'
'Yes, certainly,' says my mother; 'that is what I intend to do, my
dear Jane. Now, Davy, try once more, and don't be stupid.'
I obey the first clause of the injunction by trying once more, but
am not so successful with the second, for I am very stupid. I
tumble down before I get to the old place, at a point where I was
all right before, and stop to think. But I can't think about the
lesson. I think of the number of yards of net in Miss Murdstone's
cap, or of the price of Mr. Murdstone's dressing-gown, or any such
ridiculous problem that I have no business with, and don't want to
have anything at all to do with. Mr. Murdstone makes a movement of
impatience which I have been expecting for a long time. Miss
Murdstone does the same. My mother glances submissively at them,
shuts the book, and lays it by as an arrear to be worked out when
my other tasks are done.
There is a pile of these arrears very soon, and it swells like a
rolling snowball. The bigger it gets, the more stupid I get. The
case is so hopeless, and I feel that I am wallowing in such a bog
of nonsense, that I give up all idea of getting out, and abandon
myself to my fate. The despairing way in which my mother and I
look at each other, as I blunder on, is truly melancholy. But the
greatest effect in these miserable lessons is when my mother
(thinking nobody is observing her) tries to give me the cue by the
motion of her lips. At that instant, Miss Murdstone, who has been
lying in wait for nothing else all along, says in a deep warning
My mother starts, colours, and smiles faintly. Mr. Murdstone comes
out of his chair, takes the book, throws it at me or boxes my ears
with it, and turns me out of the room by the shoulders.
Even when the lessons are done, the worst is yet to happen, in the
shape of an appalling sum. This is invented for me, and delivered
to me orally by Mr. Murdstone, and begins, 'If I go into a
cheesemonger's shop, and buy five thousand double-Gloucester
cheeses at fourpence-halfpenny each, present payment' - at which I
see Miss Murdstone secretly overjoyed. I pore over these cheeses
without any result or enlightenment until dinner-time, when, having
made a Mulatto of myself by getting the dirt of the slate into the
pores of my skin, I have a slice of bread to help me out with the
cheeses, and am considered in disgrace for the rest of the evening.
It seems to me, at this distance of time, as if my unfortunate
studies generally took this course. I could have done very well if
I had been without the Murdstones; but the influence of the
Murdstones upon me was like the fascination of two snakes on a
wretched young bird. Even when I did get through the morning with
tolerable credit, there was not much gained but dinner; for Miss
Murdstone never could endure to see me untasked, and if I rashly
made any show of being unemployed, called her brother's attention
to me by saying, 'Clara, my dear, there's nothing like work - give
your boy an exercise'; which caused me to be clapped down to some
new labour, there and then. As to any recreation with other
children of my age, I had very little of that; for the gloomy
theology of the Murdstones made all children out to be a swarm of
little vipers (though there WAS a child once set in the midst of
the Disciples), and held that they contaminated one another.
The natural result of this treatment, continued, I suppose, for
some six months or more, was to make me sullen, dull, and dogged.
I was not made the less so by my sense of being daily more and more
shut out and alienated from my mother. I believe I should have
been almost stupefied but for one circumstance.
It was this. My father had left a small collection of books in a
little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my
own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that
blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey
Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas,
and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company.
They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that
place and time, - they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of
the Genii, - and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of
them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it. It is astonishing
to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and
blunderings over heavier themes, to read those books as I did. It
is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my
small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating
my favourite characters in them - as I did - and by putting Mr. and
Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones - which I did too. I have
been Tom Jones (a child's Tom Jones, a harmless creature) for a
week together. I have sustained my own idea of Roderick Random for
a month at a stretch, I verily believe. I had a greedy relish for
a few volumes of Voyages and Travels - I forget what, now - that
were on those shelves; and for days and days I can remember to have
gone about my region of our house, armed with the centre-piece out
of an old set of boot-trees - the perfect realization of Captain
Somebody, of the Royal British Navy, in danger of being beset by
savages, and resolved to sell his life at a great price. The
Captain never lost dignity, from having his ears boxed with the
Latin Grammar. I did; but the Captain was a Captain and a hero, in
despite of all the grammars of all the languages in the world, dead
This was my only and my constant comfort. When I think of it, the
picture always rises in my mind, of a summer evening, the boys at
play in the churchyard, and I sitting on my bed, reading as if for
life. Every barn in the neighbourhood, every stone in the church,
and every foot of the churchyard, had some association of its own,
in my mind, connected with these books, and stood for some locality
made famous in them. I have seen Tom Pipes go climbing up the
church-steeple; I have watched Strap, with the knapsack on his
back, stopping to rest himself upon the wicket-gate; and I know
that Commodore Trunnion held that club with Mr. Pickle, in the
parlour of our little village alehouse.
The reader now understands, as well as I do, what I was when I came
to that point of my youthful history to which I am now coming
One morning when I went into the parlour with my books, I found my
mother looking anxious, Miss Murdstone looking firm, and Mr.
Murdstone binding something round the bottom of a cane - a lithe
and limber cane, which he left off binding when I came in, and
poised and switched in the air.
'I tell you, Clara,' said Mr. Murdstone, 'I have been often flogged
'To be sure; of course,' said Miss Murdstone.
'Certainly, my dear Jane,' faltered my mother, meekly. 'But - but
do you think it did Edward good?'
'Do you think it did Edward harm, Clara?' asked Mr. Murdstone,
'That's the point,' said his sister.
To this my mother returned, 'Certainly, my dear Jane,' and said no
I felt apprehensive that I was personally interested in this
dialogue, and sought Mr. Murdstone's eye as it lighted on mine.
'Now, David,' he said - and I saw that cast again as he said it -
'you must be far more careful today than usual.' He gave the cane
another poise, and another switch; and having finished his
preparation of it, laid it down beside him, with an impressive
look, and took up his book.
This was a good freshener to my presence of mind, as a beginning.
I felt the words of my lessons slipping off, not one by one, or
line by line, but by the entire page; I tried to lay hold of them;
but they seemed, if I may so express it, to have put skates on, and
to skim away from me with a smoothness there was no checking.
We began badly, and went on worse. I had come in with an idea of
distinguishing myself rather, conceiving that I was very well
prepared; but it turned out to be quite a mistake. Book after book
was added to the heap of failures, Miss Murdstone being firmly
watchful of us all the time. And when we came at last to the five
thousand cheeses (canes he made it that day, I remember), my mother
burst out crying.
'Clara!' said Miss Murdstone, in her warning voice.
'I am not quite well, my dear Jane, I think,' said my mother.
I saw him wink, solemnly, at his sister, as he rose and said,
taking up the cane:
'Why, Jane, we can hardly expect Clara to bear, with perfect
firmness, the worry and torment that David has occasioned her
today. That would be stoical. Clara is greatly strengthened and
improved, but we can hardly expect so much from her. David, you
and I will go upstairs, boy.'
As he took me out at the door, my mother ran towards us. Miss
Murdstone said, 'Clara! are you a perfect fool?' and interfered.
I saw my mother stop her ears then, and I heard her crying.
He walked me up to my room slowly and gravely - I am certain he had
a delight in that formal parade of executing justice - and when we
got there, suddenly twisted my head under his arm.
'Mr. Murdstone! Sir!' I cried to him. 'Don't! Pray don't beat
me! I have tried to learn, sir, but I can't learn while you and
Miss Murdstone are by. I can't indeed!'
'Can't you, indeed, David?' he said. 'We'll try that.'
He had my head as in a vice, but I twined round him somehow, and
stopped him for a moment, entreating him not to beat me. It was
only a moment that I stopped him, for he cut me heavily an instant
afterwards, and in the same instant I caught the hand with which he
held me in my mouth, between my teeth, and bit it through. It sets
my teeth on edge to think of it.
He beat me then, as if he would have beaten me to death. Above all
the noise we made, I heard them running up the stairs, and crying
out - I heard my mother crying out - and Peggotty. Then he was
gone; and the door was locked outside; and I was lying, fevered and
hot, and torn, and sore, and raging in my puny way, upon the floor.
How well I recollect, when I became quiet, what an unnatural
stillness seemed to reign through the whole house! How well I
remember, when my smart and passion began to cool, how wicked I
began to feel!
I sat listening for a long while, but there was not a sound. I
crawled up from the floor, and saw my face in the glass, so
swollen, red, and ugly that it almost frightened me. My stripes
were sore and stiff, and made me cry afresh, when I moved; but they
were nothing to the guilt I felt. It lay heavier on my breast than
if I had been a most atrocious criminal, I dare say.
It had begun to grow dark, and I had shut the window (I had been
lying, for the most part, with my head upon the sill, by turns
crying, dozing, and looking listlessly out), when the key was
turned, and Miss Murdstone came in with some bread and meat, and
milk. These she put down upon the table without a word, glaring at
me the while with exemplary firmness, and then retired, locking the
door after her.
Long after it was dark I sat there, wondering whether anybody else
would come. When this appeared improbable for that night, I
undressed, and went to bed; and, there, I began to wonder fearfully
what would be done to me. Whether it was a criminal act that I had
committed? Whether I should be taken into custody, and sent to
prison? Whether I was at all in danger of being hanged?
I never shall forget the waking, next morning; the being cheerful
and fresh for the first moment, and then the being weighed down by
the stale and dismal oppression of remembrance. Miss Murdstone
reappeared before I was out of bed; told me, in so many words, that
I was free to walk in the garden for half an hour and no longer;
and retired, leaving the door open, that I might avail myself of
I did so, and did so every morning of my imprisonment, which lasted
five days. If I could have seen my mother alone, I should have
gone down on my knees to her and besought her forgiveness; but I
saw no one, Miss Murdstone excepted, during the whole time - except
at evening prayers in the parlour; to which I was escorted by Miss
Murdstone after everybody else was placed; where I was stationed,
a young outlaw, all alone by myself near the door; and whence I was
solemnly conducted by my jailer, before any one arose from the
devotional posture. I only observed that my mother was as far off
from me as she could be, and kept her face another way so that I
never saw it; and that Mr. Murdstone's hand was bound up in a large
The length of those five days I can convey no idea of to any one.
They occupy the place of years in my remembrance. The way in which
I listened to all the incidents of the house that made themselves
audible to me; the ringing of bells, the opening and shutting of
doors, the murmuring of voices, the footsteps on the stairs; to any
laughing, whistling, or singing, outside, which seemed more dismal
than anything else to me in my solitude and disgrace - the
uncertain pace of the hours, especially at night, when I would wake
thinking it was morning, and find that the family were not yet gone
to bed, and that all the length of night had yet to come - the
depressed dreams and nightmares I had - the return of day, noon,
afternoon, evening, when the boys played in the churchyard, and I
watched them from a distance within the room, being ashamed to show
myself at the window lest they should know I was a prisoner - the
strange sensation of never hearing myself speak - the fleeting
intervals of something like cheerfulness, which came with eating
and drinking, and went away with it - the setting in of rain one
evening, with a fresh smell, and its coming down faster and faster
between me and the church, until it and gathering night seemed to
quench me in gloom, and fear, and remorse - all this appears to
have gone round and round for years instead of days, it is so
vividly and strongly stamped on my remembrance.
On the last night of my restraint, I was awakened by hearing my own
name spoken in a whisper. I started up in bed, and putting out my
arms in the dark, said:
'Is that you, Peggotty?'
There was no immediate answer, but presently I heard my name again,
in a tone so very mysterious and awful, that I think I should have
gone into a fit, if it had not occurred to me that it must have
come through the keyhole.
I groped my way to the door, and putting my own lips to the
keyhole, whispered: 'Is that you, Peggotty dear?'
'Yes, my own precious Davy,' she replied. 'Be as soft as a mouse,
or the Cat'll hear us.'
I understood this to mean Miss Murdstone, and was sensible of the
urgency of the case; her room being close by.
'How's mama, dear Peggotty? Is she very angry with me?'
I could hear Peggotty crying softly on her side of the keyhole, as
I was doing on mine, before she answered. 'No. Not very.'
'What is going to be done with me, Peggotty dear? Do you know?'
'School. Near London,' was Peggotty's answer. I was obliged to
get her to repeat it, for she spoke it the first time quite down my
throat, in consequence of my having forgotten to take my mouth away
from the keyhole and put my ear there; and though her words tickled
me a good deal, I didn't hear them.
'Is that the reason why Miss Murdstone took the clothes out of my
drawers?' which she had done, though I have forgotten to mention
'Yes,' said Peggotty. 'Box.'
'Shan't I see mama?'
'Yes,' said Peggotty. 'Morning.'
Then Peggotty fitted her mouth close to the keyhole, and delivered
these words through it with as much feeling and earnestness as a
keyhole has ever been the medium of communicating, I will venture
to assert: shooting in each broken little sentence in a convulsive
little burst of its own.
'Davy, dear. If I ain't been azackly as intimate with you.
Lately, as I used to be. It ain't because I don't love you. just
as well and more, my pretty poppet. It's because I thought it
better for you. And for someone else besides. Davy, my darling,
are you listening? Can you hear?'
'Ye-ye-ye-yes, Peggotty!' I sobbed.
'My own!' said Peggotty, with infinite compassion. 'What I want to
say, is. That you must never forget me. For I'll never forget
you. And I'll take as much care of your mama, Davy. As ever I
took of you. And I won't leave her. The day may come when she'll
be glad to lay her poor head. On her stupid, cross old Peggotty's
arm again. And I'll write to you, my dear. Though I ain't no
scholar. And I'll - I'll -' Peggotty fell to kissing the keyhole,
as she couldn't kiss me.
'Thank you, dear Peggotty!' said I. 'Oh, thank you! Thank you!
Will you promise me one thing, Peggotty? Will you write and tell
Mr. Peggotty and little Em'ly, and Mrs. Gummidge and Ham, that I am
not so bad as they might suppose, and that I sent 'em all my love
- especially to little Em'ly? Will you, if you please, Peggotty?'
The kind soul promised, and we both of us kissed the keyhole with
the greatest affection - I patted it with my hand, I recollect, as
if it had been her honest face - and parted. From that night there
grew up in my breast a feeling for Peggotty which I cannot very
well define. She did not replace my mother; no one could do that;
but she came into a vacancy in my heart, which closed upon her, and
I felt towards her something I have never felt for any other human
being. It was a sort of comical affection, too; and yet if she had
died, I cannot think what I should have done, or how I should have
acted out the tragedy it would have been to me.
In the morning Miss Murdstone appeared as usual, and told me I was
going to school; which was not altogether such news to me as she
supposed. She also informed me that when I was dressed, I was to
come downstairs into the parlour, and have my breakfast. There, I
found my mother, very pale and with red eyes: into whose arms I
ran, and begged her pardon from my suffering soul.
'Oh, Davy!' she said. 'That you could hurt anyone I love! Try to
be better, pray to be better! I forgive you; but I am so grieved,
Davy, that you should have such bad passions in your heart.'
They had persuaded her that I was a wicked fellow, and she was more
sorry for that than for my going away. I felt it sorely. I tried
to eat my parting breakfast, but my tears dropped upon my bread-
and-butter, and trickled into my tea. I saw my mother look at me
sometimes, and then glance at the watchful Miss Murdstone, and than
look down, or look away.
'Master Copperfield's box there!' said Miss Murdstone, when wheels
were heard at the gate.
I looked for Peggotty, but it was not she; neither she nor Mr.
Murdstone appeared. My former acquaintance, the carrier, was at
the door. the box was taken out to his cart, and lifted in.
'Clara!' said Miss Murdstone, in her warning note.
'Ready, my dear Jane,' returned my mother. 'Good-bye, Davy. You
are going for your own good. Good-bye, my child. You will come
home in the holidays, and be a better boy.'
'Clara!' Miss Murdstone repeated.
'Certainly, my dear Jane,' replied my mother, who was holding me.
'I forgive you, my dear boy. God bless you!'
'Clara!' Miss Murdstone repeated.
Miss Murdstone was good enough to take me out to the cart, and to
say on the way that she hoped I would repent, before I came to a
bad end; and then I got into the cart, and the lazy horse walked
off with it.
I AM SENT AWAY FROM HOME
We might have gone about half a mile, and my pocket-handkerchief
was quite wet through, when the carrier stopped short. Looking out
to ascertain for what, I saw, to MY amazement, Peggotty burst from
a hedge and climb into the cart. She took me in both her arms, and
squeezed me to her stays until the pressure on my nose was
extremely painful, though I never thought of that till afterwards
when I found it very tender. Not a single word did Peggotty speak.
Releasing one of her arms, she put it down in her pocket to the
elbow, and brought out some paper bags of cakes which she crammed
into my pockets, and a purse which she put into my hand, but not
one word did she say. After another and a final squeeze with both
arms, she got down from the cart and ran away; and, my belief is,
and has always been, without a solitary button on her gown. I
picked up one, of several that were rolling about, and treasured it
as a keepsake for a long time.
The carrier looked at me, as if to inquire if she were coming back.
I shook my head, and said I thought not. 'Then come up,' said the
carrier to the lazy horse; who came up accordingly.
Having by this time cried as much as I possibly could, I began to
think it was of no use crying any more, especially as neither
Roderick Random, nor that Captain in the Royal British Navy, had
ever cried, that I could remember, in trying situations. The
carrier, seeing me in this resolution, proposed that my pocket-
handkerchief should be spread upon the horse's back to dry. I
thanked him, and assented; and particularly small it looked, under
I had now leisure to examine the purse. It was a stiff leather
purse, with a snap, and had three bright shillings in it, which
Peggotty had evidently polished up with whitening, for my greater
delight. But its most precious contents were two half-crowns
folded together in a bit of paper, on which was written, in my
mother's hand, 'For Davy. With my love.' I was so overcome by
this, that I asked the carrier to be so good as to reach me my
pocket-handkerchief again; but he said he thought I had better do
without it, and I thought I really had, so I wiped my eyes on my
sleeve and stopped myself.
For good, too; though, in consequence of my previous emotions, I
was still occasionally seized with a stormy sob. After we had
jogged on for some little time, I asked the carrier if he was going
all the way.
'All the way where?' inquired the carrier.
'There,' I said.
'Where's there?' inquired the carrier.
'Near London,' I said.
'Why that horse,' said the carrier, jerking the rein to point him
out, 'would be deader than pork afore he got over half the ground.'
'Are you only going to Yarmouth then?' I asked.
'That's about it,' said the carrier. 'And there I shall take you
to the stage-cutch, and the stage-cutch that'll take you to -
wherever it is.'
As this was a great deal for the carrier (whose name was Mr.
Barkis) to say - he being, as I observed in a former chapter, of a
phlegmatic temperament, and not at all conversational - I offered
him a cake as a mark of attention, which he ate at one gulp,
exactly like an elephant, and which made no more impression on his
big face than it would have done on an elephant's.
'Did SHE make 'em, now?' said Mr. Barkis, always leaning forward,
in his slouching way, on the footboard of the cart with an arm on
'Peggotty, do you mean, sir?'
'Ah!' said Mr. Barkis. 'Her.'
'Yes. She makes all our pastry, and does all our cooking.'
'Do she though?' said Mr. Barkis.
He made up his mouth as if to whistle, but he didn't whistle. He
sat looking at the horse's ears, as if he saw something new there;
and sat so, for a considerable time. By and by, he said:
'No sweethearts, I b'lieve?'
'Sweetmeats did you say, Mr. Barkis?' For I thought he wanted
something else to eat, and had pointedly alluded to that
description of refreshment.
'Hearts,' said Mr. Barkis. 'Sweet hearts; no person walks with
'Ah!' he said. 'Her.'
'Oh, no. She never had a sweetheart.'
'Didn't she, though!' said Mr. Barkis.
Again he made up his mouth to whistle, and again he didn't whistle,
but sat looking at the horse's ears.
'So she makes,' said Mr. Barkis, after a long interval of
reflection, 'all the apple parsties, and doos all the cooking, do
I replied that such was the fact.
'Well. I'll tell you what,' said Mr. Barkis. 'P'raps you might be
writin' to her?'
'I shall certainly write to her,' I rejoined.
'Ah!' he said, slowly turning his eyes towards me. 'Well! If you
was writin' to her, p'raps you'd recollect to say that Barkis was
willin'; would you?'
'That Barkis is willing,' I repeated, innocently. 'Is that all the
'Ye-es,' he said, considering. 'Ye-es. Barkis is willin'.'
'But you will be at Blunderstone again tomorrow, Mr. Barkis,' I
said, faltering a little at the idea of my being far away from it
then, and could give your own message so much better.'
As he repudiated this suggestion, however, with a jerk of his head,
and once more confirmed his previous request by saying, with
profound gravity, 'Barkis is willin'. That's the message,' I
readily undertook its transmission. While I was waiting for the
coach in the hotel at Yarmouth that very afternoon, I procured a
sheet of paper and an inkstand, and wrote a note to Peggotty, which
ran thus: 'My dear Peggotty. I have come here safe. Barkis is
willing. My love to mama. Yours affectionately. P.S. He says he
particularly wants you to know - BARKIS IS WILLING.'
When I had taken this commission on myself prospectively, Mr.
Barkis relapsed into perfect silence; and I, feeling quite worn out
by all that had happened lately, lay down on a sack in the cart and
fell asleep. I slept soundly until we got to Yarmouth; which was
so entirely new and strange to me in the inn-yard to which we
drove, that I at once abandoned a latent hope I had had of meeting
with some of Mr. Peggotty's family there, perhaps even with little
The coach was in the yard, shining very much all over, but without
any horses to it as yet; and it looked in that state as if nothing
was more unlikely than its ever going to London. I was thinking
this, and wondering what would ultimately become of my box, which
Mr. Barkis had put down on the yard-pavement by the pole (he having
driven up the yard to turn his cart), and also what would
ultimately become of me, when a lady looked out of a bow-window
where some fowls and joints of meat were hanging up, and said:
'Is that the little gentleman from Blunderstone?'
'Yes, ma'am,' I said.
'What name?' inquired the lady.
'Copperfield, ma'am,' I said.
'That won't do,' returned the lady. 'Nobody's dinner is paid for
here, in that name.'
'Is it Murdstone, ma'am?' I said.
'If you're Master Murdstone,' said the lady, 'why do you go and
give another name, first?'
I explained to the lady how it was, who than rang a bell, and
called out, 'William! show the coffee-room!' upon which a waiter
came running out of a kitchen on the opposite side of the yard to
show it, and seemed a good deal surprised when he was only to show
it to me.
It was a large long room with some large maps in it. I doubt if I
could have felt much stranger if the maps had been real foreign
countries, and I cast away in the middle of them. I felt it was
taking a liberty to sit down, with my cap in my hand, on the corner
of the chair nearest the door; and when the waiter laid a cloth on
purpose for me, and put a set of castors on it, I think I must have
turned red all over with modesty.
He brought me some chops, and vegetables, and took the covers off
in such a bouncing manner that I was afraid I must have given him
some offence. But he greatly relieved my mind by putting a chair
for me at the table, and saying, very affably, 'Now, six-foot! come
I thanked him, and took my seat at the board; but found it
extremely difficult to handle my knife and fork with anything like
dexterity, or to avoid splashing myself with the gravy, while he
was standing opposite, staring so hard, and making me blush in the
most dreadful manner every time I caught his eye. After watching
me into the second chop, he said:
'There's half a pint of ale for you. Will you have it now?'
I thanked him and said, 'Yes.' Upon which he poured it out of a
jug into a large tumbler, and held it up against the light, and
made it look beautiful.
'My eye!' he said. 'It seems a good deal, don't it?'
'It does seem a good deal,' I answered with a smile. For it was
quite delightful to me, to find him so pleasant. He was a
twinkling-eyed, pimple-faced man, with his hair standing upright
all over his head; and as he stood with one arm a-kimbo, holding up
the glass to the light with the other hand, he looked quite
'There was a gentleman here, yesterday,' he said - 'a stout
gentleman, by the name of Topsawyer - perhaps you know him?'
'No,' I said, 'I don't think -'
'In breeches and gaiters, broad-brimmed hat, grey coat, speckled
choker,' said the waiter.
'No,' I said bashfully, 'I haven't the pleasure -'
'He came in here,' said the waiter, looking at the light through
the tumbler, 'ordered a glass of this ale - WOULD order it - I told
him not - drank it, and fell dead. It was too old for him. It
oughtn't to be drawn; that's the fact.'
I was very much shocked to hear of this melancholy accident, and
said I thought I had better have some water.
'Why you see,' said the waiter, still looking at the light through
the tumbler, with one of his eyes shut up, 'our people don't like
things being ordered and left. It offends 'em. But I'll drink it,
if you like. I'm used to it, and use is everything. I don't think
it'll hurt me, if I throw my head back, and take it off quick.
I replied that he would much oblige me by drinking it, if he
thought he could do it safely, but by no means otherwise. When he
did throw his head back, and take it off quick, I had a horrible
fear, I confess, of seeing him meet the fate of the lamented Mr.
Topsawyer, and fall lifeless on the carpet. But it didn't hurt
him. On the contrary, I thought he seemed the fresher for it.
'What have we got here?' he said, putting a fork into my dish.
'Chops,' I said.
'Lord bless my soul!' he exclaimed, 'I didn't know they were chops.
Why, a chop's the very thing to take off the bad effects of that
beer! Ain't it lucky?'
So he took a chop by the bone in one hand, and a potato in the
other, and ate away with a very good appetite, to my extreme
satisfaction. He afterwards took another chop, and another potato;
and after that, another chop and another potato. When we had done,
he brought me a pudding, and having set it before me, seemed to
ruminate, and to become absent in his mind for some moments.
'How's the pie?' he said, rousing himself.
'It's a pudding,' I made answer.
'Pudding!' he exclaimed. 'Why, bless me, so it is! What!' looking
at it nearer. 'You don't mean to say it's a batter-pudding!'
'Yes, it is indeed.'
'Why, a batter-pudding,' he said, taking up a table-spoon, 'is my
favourite pudding! Ain't that lucky? Come on, little 'un, and
let's see who'll get most.'
The waiter certainly got most. He entreated me more than once to
come in and win, but what with his table-spoon to my tea-spoon, his
dispatch to my dispatch, and his appetite to my appetite, I was
left far behind at the first mouthful, and had no chance with him.
I never saw anyone enjoy a pudding so much, I think; and he
laughed, when it was all gone, as if his enjoyment of it lasted
Finding him so very friendly and companionable, it was then that I
asked for the pen and ink and paper, to write to Peggotty. He not
only brought it immediately, but was good enough to look over me
while I wrote the letter. When I had finished it, he asked me
where I was going to school.
I said, 'Near London,' which was all I knew.
'Oh! my eye!' he said, looking very low-spirited, 'I am sorry for
'Why?' I asked him.
'Oh, Lord!' he said, shaking his head, 'that's the school where
they broke the boy's ribs - two ribs - a little boy he was. I
should say he was - let me see - how old are you, about?'
I told him between eight and nine.
'That's just his age,' he said. 'He was eight years and six months
old when they broke his first rib; eight years and eight months old
when they broke his second, and did for him.'
I could not disguise from myself, or from the waiter, that this was
an uncomfortable coincidence, and inquired how it was done. His
answer was not cheering to my spirits, for it consisted of two
dismal words, 'With whopping.'
The blowing of the coach-horn in the yard was a seasonable
diversion, which made me get up and hesitatingly inquire, in the
mingled pride and diffidence of having a purse (which I took out of
my pocket), if there were anything to pay.
'There's a sheet of letter-paper,' he returned. 'Did you ever buy
a sheet of letter-paper?'
I could not remember that I ever had.
'It's dear,' he said, 'on account of the duty. Threepence. That's
the way we're taxed in this country. There's nothing else, except
the waiter. Never mind the ink. I lose by that.'
'What should you - what should I - how much ought I to - what would
it be right to pay the waiter, if you please?' I stammered,
'If I hadn't a family, and that family hadn't the cowpock,' said
the waiter, 'I wouldn't take a sixpence. If I didn't support a
aged pairint, and a lovely sister,' - here the waiter was greatly
agitated - 'I wouldn't take a farthing. If I had a good place, and
was treated well here, I should beg acceptance of a trifle, instead
of taking of it. But I live on broken wittles - and I sleep on the
coals' - here the waiter burst into tears.
I was very much concerned for his misfortunes, and felt that any
recognition short of ninepence would be mere brutality and hardness
of heart. Therefore I gave him one of my three bright shillings,
which he received with much humility and veneration, and spun up
with his thumb, directly afterwards, to try the goodness of.
It was a little disconcerting to me, to find, when I was being
helped up behind the coach, that I was supposed to have eaten all
the dinner without any assistance. I discovered this, from
overhearing the lady in the bow-window say to the guard, 'Take care
of that child, George, or he'll burst!' and from observing that the
women-servants who were about the place came out to look and giggle
at me as a young phenomenon. My unfortunate friend the waiter, who
had quite recovered his spirits, did not appear to be disturbed by
this, but joined in the general admiration without being at all
confused. If I had any doubt of him, I suppose this half awakened
it; but I am inclined to believe that with the simple confidence of
a child, and the natural reliance of a child upon superior years
(qualities I am very sorry any children should prematurely change
for worldly wisdom), I had no serious mistrust of him on the whole,
I felt it rather hard, I must own, to be made, without deserving
it, the subject of jokes between the coachman and guard as to the
coach drawing heavy behind, on account of my sitting there, and as
to the greater expediency of my travelling by waggon. The story of
my supposed appetite getting wind among the outside passengers,
they were merry upon it likewise; and asked me whether I was going
to be paid for, at school, as two brothers or three, and whether I
was contracted for, or went upon the regular terms; with other
pleasant questions. But the worst of it was, that I knew I should
be ashamed to eat anything, when an opportunity offered, and that,
after a rather light dinner, I should remain hungry all night - for
I had left my cakes behind, at the hotel, in my hurry. My
apprehensions were realized. When we stopped for supper I couldn't
muster courage to take any, though I should have liked it very
much, but sat by the fire and said I didn't want anything. This
did not save me from more jokes, either; for a husky-voiced
gentleman with a rough face, who had been eating out of a
sandwich-box nearly all the way, except when he had been drinking
out of a bottle, said I was like a boa-constrictor who took enough
at one meal to last him a long time; after which, he actually
brought a rash out upon himself with boiled beef.
We had started from Yarmouth at three o'clock in the afternoon, and
we were due in London about eight next morning. It was Mid-summer
weather, and the evening was very pleasant. When we passed through
a village, I pictured to myself what the insides of the houses were
like, and what the inhabitants were about; and when boys came
running after us, and got up behind and swung there for a little
way, I wondered whether their fathers were alive, and whether they
Were happy at home. I had plenty to think of, therefore, besides
my mind running continually on the kind of place I was going to -
which was an awful speculation. Sometimes, I remember, I resigned
myself to thoughts of home and Peggotty; and to endeavouring, in a
confused blind way, to recall how I had felt, and what sort of boy
I used to be, before I bit Mr. Murdstone: which I couldn't satisfy
myself about by any means, I seemed to have bitten him in such a
The night was not so pleasant as the evening, for it got chilly;
and being put between two gentlemen (the rough-faced one and
another) to prevent my tumbling off the coach, I was nearly
smothered by their falling asleep, and completely blocking me up.
They squeezed me so hard sometimes, that I could not help crying
out, 'Oh! If you please!' - which they didn't like at all, because
it woke them. Opposite me was an elderly lady in a great fur
cloak, who looked in the dark more like a haystack than a lady, she
was wrapped up to such a degree. This lady had a basket with her,
and she hadn't known what to do with it, for a long time, until she
found that on account of my legs being short, it could go
underneath me. It cramped and hurt me so, that it made me
perfectly miserable; but if I moved in the least, and made a glass
that was in the basket rattle against something else (as it was
sure to do), she gave me the cruellest poke with her foot, and
said, 'Come, don't YOU fidget. YOUR bones are young enough, I'm
At last the sun rose, and then my companions seemed to sleep
easier. The difficulties under which they had laboured all night,
and which had found utterance in the most terrific gasps and
snorts, are not to be conceived. As the sun got higher, their
sleep became lighter, and so they gradually one by one awoke. I
recollect being very much surprised by the feint everybody made,
then, of not having been to sleep at all, and by the uncommon
indignation with which everyone repelled the charge. I labour
under the same kind of astonishment to this day, having invariably
observed that of all human weaknesses, the one to which our common
nature is the least disposed to confess (I cannot imagine why) is
the weakness of having gone to sleep in a coach.
What an amazing place London was to me when I saw it in the
distance, and how I believed all the adventures of all my favourite
heroes to be constantly enacting and re-enacting there, and how I
vaguely made it out in my own mind to be fuller of wonders and
wickedness than all the cities of the earth, I need not stop here
to relate. We approached it by degrees, and got, in due time, to
the inn in the Whitechapel district, for which we were bound. I
forget whether it was the Blue Bull, or the Blue Boar; but I know
it was the Blue Something, and that its likeness was painted up on
the back of the coach.
The guard's eye lighted on me as he was getting down, and he said
at the booking-office door:
'Is there anybody here for a yoongster booked in the name of
Murdstone, from Bloonderstone, Sooffolk, to be left till called
'Try Copperfield, if you please, sir,' said I, looking helplessly
'Is there anybody here for a yoongster, booked in the name of
Murdstone, from Bloonderstone, Sooffolk, but owning to the name of
Copperfield, to be left till called for?' said the guard. 'Come!
IS there anybody?'
No. There was nobody. I looked anxiously around; but the inquiry
made no impression on any of the bystanders, if I except a man in
gaiters, with one eye, who suggested that they had better put a
brass collar round my neck, and tie me up in the stable.
A ladder was brought, and I got down after the lady, who was like
a haystack: not daring to stir, until her basket was removed. The
coach was clear of passengers by that time, the luggage was very
soon cleared out, the horses had been taken out before the luggage,
and now the coach itself was wheeled and backed off by some
hostlers, out of the way. Still, nobody appeared, to claim the
dusty youngster from Blunderstone, Suffolk.
More solitary than Robinson Crusoe, who had nobody to look at him
and see that he was solitary, I went into the booking-office, and,
by invitation of the clerk on duty, passed behind the counter, and
sat down on the scale at which they weighed the luggage. Here, as
I sat looking at the parcels, packages, and books, and inhaling the
smell of stables (ever since associated with that morning), a
procession of most tremendous considerations began to march through
my mind. Supposing nobody should ever fetch me, how long would
they consent to keep me there? Would they keep me long enough to
spend seven shillings? Should I sleep at night in one of those
wooden bins, with the other luggage, and wash myself at the pump in
the yard in the morning; or should I be turned out every night, and
expected to come again to be left till called for, when the office
opened next day? Supposing there was no mistake in the case, and
Mr. Murdstone had devised this plan to get rid of me, what should
I do? If they allowed me to remain there until my seven shillings
were spent, I couldn't hope to remain there when I began to starve.
That would obviously be inconvenient and unpleasant to the
customers, besides entailing on the Blue Whatever-it-was, the risk
of funeral expenses. If I started off at once, and tried to walk
back home, how could I ever find my way, how could I ever hope to
walk so far, how could I make sure of anyone but Peggotty, even if
I got back? If I found out the nearest proper authorities, and
offered myself to go for a soldier, or a sailor, I was such a
little fellow that it was most likely they wouldn't take me in.
These thoughts, and a hundred other such thoughts, turned me
burning hot, and made me giddy with apprehension and dismay. I was
in the height of my fever when a man entered and whispered to the
clerk, who presently slanted me off the scale, and pushed me over
to him, as if I were weighed, bought, delivered, and paid for.
As I went out of the office, hand in hand with this new
acquaintance, I stole a look at him. He was a gaunt, sallow young
man, with hollow cheeks, and a chin almost as black as Mr.
Murdstone's; but there the likeness ended, for his whiskers were
shaved off, and his hair, instead of being glossy, was rusty and
dry. He was dressed in a suit of black clothes which were rather
rusty and dry too, and rather short in the sleeves and legs; and he
had a white neck-kerchief on, that was not over-clean. I did not,
and do not, suppose that this neck-kerchief was all the linen he
wore, but it was all he showed or gave any hint of.
'You're the new boy?' he said.
'Yes, sir,' I said.
I supposed I was. I didn't know.
'I'm one of the masters at Salem House,' he said.
I made him a bow and felt very much overawed. I was so ashamed to
allude to a commonplace thing like my box, to a scholar and a
master at Salem House, that we had gone some little distance from
the yard before I had the hardihood to mention it. We turned back,
on my humbly insinuating that it might be useful to me hereafter;
and he told the clerk that the carrier had instructions to call for
it at noon.
'If you please, sir,' I said, when we had accomplished about the
same distance as before, 'is it far?'
'It's down by Blackheath,' he said.
'Is that far, sir?' I diffidently asked.
'It's a good step,' he said. 'We shall go by the stage-coach.
It's about six miles.'
I was so faint and tired, that the idea of holding out for six
miles more, was too much for me. I took heart to tell him that I
had had nothing all night, and that if he would allow me to buy
something to eat, I should be very much obliged to him. He
appeared surprised at this - I see him stop and look at me now -
and after considering for a few moments, said he wanted to call on
an old person who lived not far off, and that the best way would be
for me to buy some bread, or whatever I liked best that was
wholesome, and make my breakfast at her house, where we could get
Accordingly we looked in at a baker's window, and after I had made
a series of proposals to buy everything that was bilious in the
shop, and he had rejected them one by one, we decided in favour of
a nice little loaf of brown bread, which cost me threepence. Then,
at a grocer's shop, we bought an egg and a slice of streaky bacon;
which still left what I thought a good deal of change, out of the
second of the bright shillings, and made me consider London a very
cheap place. These provisions laid in, we went on through a great
noise and uproar that confused my weary head beyond description,
and over a bridge which, no doubt, was London Bridge (indeed I
think he told me so, but I was half asleep), until we came to the
poor person's house, which was a part of some alms-houses, as I
knew by their look, and by an inscription on a stone over the gate
which said they were established for twenty-five poor women.
The Master at Salem House lifted the latch of one of a number of
little black doors that were all alike, and had each a little
diamond-paned window on one side, and another little diamond- paned
window above; and we went into the little house of one of these
poor old women, who was blowing a fire to make a little saucepan
boil. On seeing the master enter, the old woman stopped with the
bellows on her knee, and said something that I thought sounded like
'My Charley!' but on seeing me come in too, she got up, and rubbing
her hands made a confused sort of half curtsey.
'Can you cook this young gentleman's breakfast for him, if you
please?' said the Master at Salem House.
'Can I?' said the old woman. 'Yes can I, sure!'
'How's Mrs. Fibbitson today?' said the Master, looking at another
old woman in a large chair by the fire, who was such a bundle of
clothes that I feel grateful to this hour for not having sat upon
her by mistake.
'Ah, she's poorly,' said the first old woman. 'It's one of her bad
days. If the fire was to go out, through any accident, I verily
believe she'd go out too, and never come to life again.'
As they looked at her, I looked at her also. Although it was a
warm day, she seemed to think of nothing but the fire. I fancied
she was jealous even of the saucepan on it; and I have reason to
know that she took its impressment into the service of boiling my
egg and broiling my bacon, in dudgeon; for I saw her, with my own
discomfited eyes, shake her fist at me once, when those culinary
operations were going on, and no one else was looking. The sun
streamed in at the little window, but she sat with her own back and
the back of the large chair towards it, screening the fire as if
she were sedulously keeping IT warm, instead of it keeping her
warm, and watching it in a most distrustful manner. The completion
of the preparations for my breakfast, by relieving the fire, gave
her such extreme joy that she laughed aloud - and a very
unmelodious laugh she had, I must say.
I sat down to my brown loaf, my egg, and my rasher of bacon, with
a basin of milk besides, and made a most delicious meal. While I
was yet in the full enjoyment of it, the old woman of the house
said to the Master:
'Have you got your flute with you?'
'Yes,' he returned.
'Have a blow at it,' said the old woman, coaxingly. 'Do!'
The Master, upon this, put his hand underneath the skirts of his
coat, and brought out his flute in three pieces, which he screwed
together, and began immediately to play. My impression is, after
many years of consideration, that there never can have been anybody
in the world who played worse. He made the most dismal sounds I
have ever heard produced by any means, natural or artificial. I
don't know what the tunes were - if there were such things in the
performance at all, which I doubt - but the influence of the strain
upon me was, first, to make me think of all my sorrows until I
could hardly keep my tears back; then to take away my appetite; and
lastly, to make me so sleepy that I couldn't keep my eyes open.
They begin to close again, and I begin to nod, as the recollection
rises fresh upon me. Once more the little room, with its open
corner cupboard, and its square-backed chairs, and its angular
little staircase leading to the room above, and its three peacock's
feathers displayed over the mantelpiece - I remember wondering when
I first went in, what that peacock would have thought if he had
known what his finery was doomed to come to - fades from before me,
and I nod, and sleep. The flute becomes inaudible, the wheels of
the coach are heard instead, and I am on my journey. The coach
jolts, I wake with a start, and the flute has come back again, and
the Master at Salem House is sitting with his legs crossed, playing
it dolefully, while the old woman of the house looks on delighted.
She fades in her turn, and he fades, and all fades, and there is no
flute, no Master, no Salem House, no David Copperfield, no anything
but heavy sleep.
I dreamed, I thought, that once while he was blowing into this
dismal flute, the old woman of the house, who had gone nearer and
nearer to him in her ecstatic admiration, leaned over the back of
his chair and gave him an affectionate squeeze round the neck,
which stopped his playing for a moment. I was in the middle state
between sleeping and waking, either then or immediately afterwards;
for, as he resumed - it was a real fact that he had stopped playing
- I saw and heard the same old woman ask Mrs. Fibbitson if it
wasn't delicious (meaning the flute), to which Mrs. Fibbitson
replied, 'Ay, ay! yes!' and nodded at the fire: to which, I am
persuaded, she gave the credit of the whole performance.
When I seemed to have been dozing a long while, the Master at Salem
House unscrewed his flute into the three pieces, put them up as
before, and took me away. We found the coach very near at hand,
and got upon the roof; but I was so dead sleepy, that when we
stopped on the road to take up somebody else, they put me inside
where there were no passengers, and where I slept profoundly, until
I found the coach going at a footpace up a steep hill among green
leaves. Presently, it stopped, and had come to its destination.
A short walk brought us - I mean the Master and me - to Salem
House, which was enclosed with a high brick wall, and looked very
dull. Over a door in this wall was a board with SALEM HousE upon
it; and through a grating in this door we were surveyed when we
rang the bell by a surly face, which I found, on the door being
opened, belonged to a stout man with a bull-neck, a wooden leg,
overhanging temples, and his hair cut close all round his head.
'The new boy,' said the Master.
The man with the wooden leg eyed me all over - it didn't take long,
for there was not much of me - and locked the gate behind us, and
took out the key. We were going up to the house, among some dark
heavy trees, when he called after my conductor.
We looked back, and he was standing at the door of a little lodge,
where he lived, with a pair of boots in his hand.
'Here! The cobbler's been,' he said, 'since you've been out, Mr.
Mell, and he says he can't mend 'em any more. He says there ain't
a bit of the original boot left, and he wonders you expect it.'
With these words he threw the boots towards Mr. Mell, who went back
a few paces to pick them up, and looked at them (very
disconsolately, I was afraid), as we went on together. I observed
then, for the first time, that the boots he had on were a good deal
the worse for wear, and that his stocking was just breaking out in
one place, like a bud.
Salem House was a square brick building with wings; of a bare and
unfurnished appearance. All about it was so very quiet, that I
said to Mr. Mell I supposed the boys were out; but he seemed
surprised at my not knowing that it was holiday-time. That all the
boys were at their several homes. That Mr. Creakle, the
proprietor, was down by the sea-side with Mrs. and Miss Creakle;
and that I was sent in holiday-time as a punishment for my
misdoing, all of which he explained to me as we went along.
I gazed upon the schoolroom into which he took me, as the most
forlorn and desolate place I had ever seen. I see it now. A long
room with three long rows of desks, and six of forms, and bristling
all round with pegs for hats and slates. Scraps of old copy-books
and exercises litter the dirty floor. Some silkworms' houses, made
of the same materials, are scattered over the desks. Two miserable
little white mice, left behind by their owner, are running up and
down in a fusty castle made of pasteboard and wire, looking in all
the corners with their red eyes for anything to eat. A bird, in a
cage very little bigger than himself, makes a mournful rattle now
and then in hopping on his perch, two inches high, or dropping from
it; but neither sings nor chirps. There is a strange unwholesome
smell upon the room, like mildewed corduroys, sweet apples wanting
air, and rotten books. There could not well be more ink splashed
about it, if it had been roofless from its first construction, and
the skies had rained, snowed, hailed, and blown ink through the
varying seasons of the year.
Mr. Mell having left me while he took his irreparable boots
upstairs, I went softly to the upper end of the room, observing all
this as I crept along. Suddenly I came upon a pasteboard placard,
beautifully written, which was lying on the desk, and bore these
words: 'TAKE CARE OF HIM. HE BITES.'
I got upon the desk immediately, apprehensive of at least a great
dog underneath. But, though I looked all round with anxious eyes,
I could see nothing of him. I was still engaged in peering about,
when Mr. Mell came back, and asked me what I did up there?
'I beg your pardon, sir,' says I, 'if you please, I'm looking for
'Dog?' he says. 'What dog?'
'Isn't it a dog, sir?'
'Isn't what a dog?'
'That's to be taken care of, sir; that bites.'
'No, Copperfield,' says he, gravely, 'that's not a dog. That's a
boy. My instructions are, Copperfield, to put this placard on your
back. I am sorry to make such a beginning with you, but I must do
it.' With that he took me down, and tied the placard, which was
neatly constructed for the purpose, on my shoulders like a
knapsack; and wherever I went, afterwards, I had the consolation of
What I suffered from that placard, nobody can imagine. Whether it
was possible for people to see me or not, I always fancied that
somebody was reading it. It was no relief to turn round and find
nobody; for wherever my back was, there I imagined somebody always
to be. That cruel man with the wooden leg aggravated my
sufferings. He was in authority; and if he ever saw me leaning
against a tree, or a wall, or the house, he roared out from his
lodge door in a stupendous voice, 'Hallo, you sir! You
Copperfield! Show that badge conspicuous, or I'll report you!'
The playground was a bare gravelled yard, open to all the back of
the house and the offices; and I knew that the servants read it,
and the butcher read it, and the baker read it; that everybody, in
a word, who came backwards and forwards to the house, of a morning
when I was ordered to walk there, read that I was to be taken care
of, for I bit, I recollect that I positively began to have a dread
of myself, as a kind of wild boy who did bite.
There was an old door in this playground, on which the boys had a
custom of carving their names. It was completely covered with such
inscriptions. In my dread of the end of the vacation and their
coming back, I could not read a boy's name, without inquiring in
what tone and with what emphasis HE would read, 'Take care of him.
He bites.' There was one boy - a certain J. Steerforth - who cut
his name very deep and very often, who, I conceived, would read it
in a rather strong voice, and afterwards pull my hair. There was
another boy, one Tommy Traddles, who I dreaded would make game of
it, and pretend to be dreadfully frightened of me. There was a
third, George Demple, who I fancied would sing it. I have looked,
a little shrinking creature, at that door, until the owners of all
the names - there were five-and-forty of them in the school then,
Mr. Mell said - seemed to send me to Coventry by general
acclamation, and to cry out, each in his own way, 'Take care of
him. He bites!'
It was the same with the places at the desks and forms. It was the
same with the groves of deserted bedsteads I peeped at, on my way
to, and when I was in, my own bed. I remember dreaming night after
night, of being with my mother as she used to be, or of going to a
party at Mr. Peggotty's, or of travelling outside the stage-coach,
or of dining again with my unfortunate friend the waiter, and in
all these circumstances making people scream and stare, by the
unhappy disclosure that I had nothing on but my little night-shirt,
and that placard.
In the monotony of my life, and in my constant apprehension of the
re-opening of the school, it was such an insupportable affliction!
I had long tasks every day to do with Mr. Mell; but I did them,
there being no Mr. and Miss Murdstone here, and got through them
without disgrace. Before, and after them, I walked about -
supervised, as I have mentioned, by the man with the wooden leg.
How vividly I call to mind the damp about the house, the green
cracked flagstones in the court, an old leaky water-butt, and the
discoloured trunks of some of the grim trees, which seemed to have
dripped more in the rain than other trees, and to have blown less
in the sun! At one we dined, Mr. Mell and I, at the upper end of
a long bare dining-room, full of deal tables, and smelling of fat.
Then, we had more tasks until tea, which Mr. Mell drank out of a
blue teacup, and I out of a tin pot. All day long, and until seven
or eight in the evening, Mr. Mell, at his own detached desk in the
schoolroom, worked hard with pen, ink, ruler, books, and writing-
paper, making out the bills (as I found) for last half-year. When
he had put up his things for the night he took out his flute, and
blew at it, until I almost thought he would gradually blow his
whole being into the large hole at the top, and ooze away at the
I picture my small self in the dimly-lighted rooms, sitting with my
head upon my hand, listening to the doleful performance of Mr.
Mell, and conning tomorrow's lessons. I picture myself with my
books shut up, still listening to the doleful performance of Mr.
Mell, and listening through it to what used to be at home, and to
the blowing of the wind on Yarmouth flats, and feeling very sad and
solitary. I picture myself going up to bed, among the unused
rooms, and sitting on my bed-side crying for a comfortable word
from Peggotty. I picture myself coming downstairs in the morning,
and looking through a long ghastly gash of a staircase window at
the school-bell hanging on the top of an out-house with a
weathercock above it; and dreading the time when it shall ring J.
Steerforth and the rest to work: which is only second, in my
foreboding apprehensions, to the time when the man with the wooden
leg shall unlock the rusty gate to give admission to the awful Mr.
Creakle. I cannot think I was a very dangerous character in any of
these aspects, but in all of them I carried the same warning on my
Mr. Mell never said much to me, but he was never harsh to me. I
suppose we were company to each other, without talking. I forgot
to mention that he would talk to himself sometimes, and grin, and
clench his fist, and grind his teeth, and pull his hair in an
unaccountable manner. But he had these peculiarities: and at first
they frightened me, though I soon got used to them.
I ENLARGE MY CIRCLE OF ACQUAINTANCE
I HAD led this life about a month, when the man with the wooden leg
began to stump about with a mop and a bucket of water, from which
I inferred that preparations were making to receive Mr. Creakle and
the boys. I was not mistaken; for the mop came into the schoolroom
before long, and turned out Mr. Mell and me, who lived where we
could, and got on how we could, for some days, during which we were
always in the way of two or three young women, who had rarely shown
themselves before, and were so continually in the midst of dust
that I sneezed almost as much as if Salem House had been a great
One day I was informed by Mr. Mell that Mr. Creakle would be home
that evening. In the evening, after tea, I heard that he was come.
Before bedtime, I was fetched by the man with the wooden leg to
appear before him.
Mr. Creakle's part of the house was a good deal more comfortable
than ours, and he had a snug bit of garden that looked pleasant
after the dusty playground, which was such a desert in miniature,
that I thought no one but a camel, or a dromedary, could have felt
at home in it. It seemed to me a bold thing even to take notice
that the passage looked comfortable, as I went on my way,
trembling, to Mr. Creakle's presence: which so abashed me, when I
was ushered into it, that I hardly saw Mrs. Creakle or Miss Creakle
(who were both there, in the parlour), or anything but Mr. Creakle,
a stout gentleman with a bunch of watch-chain and seals, in an
arm-chair, with a tumbler and bottle beside him.
'So!' said Mr. Creakle. 'This is the young gentleman whose teeth
are to be filed! Turn him round.'
The wooden-legged man turned me about so as to exhibit the placard;
and having afforded time for a full survey of it, turned me about
again, with my face to Mr. Creakle, and posted himself at Mr.
Creakle's side. Mr. Creakle's face was fiery, and his eyes were
small, and deep in his head; he had thick veins in his forehead, a
little nose, and a large chin. He was bald on the top of his head;
and had some thin wet-looking hair that was just turning grey,
brushed across each temple, so that the two sides interlaced on his
forehead. But the circumstance about him which impressed me most,
was, that he had no voice, but spoke in a whisper. The exertion
this cost him, or the consciousness of talking in that feeble way,
made his angry face so much more angry, and his thick veins so much
thicker, when he spoke, that I am not surprised, on looking back,
at this peculiarity striking me as his chief one.
'Now,' said Mr. Creakle. 'What's the report of this boy?'
'There's nothing against him yet,' returned the man with the wooden
leg. 'There has been no opportunity.'
I thought Mr. Creakle was disappointed. I thought Mrs. and Miss
Creakle (at whom I now glanced for the first time, and who were,
both, thin and quiet) were not disappointed.
'Come here, sir!' said Mr. Creakle, beckoning to me.
'Come here!' said the man with the wooden leg, repeating the
'I have the happiness of knowing your father-in-law,' whispered Mr.
Creakle, taking me by the ear; 'and a worthy man he is, and a man
of a strong character. He knows me, and I know him. Do YOU know
me? Hey?' said Mr. Creakle, pinching my ear with ferocious
'Not yet, sir,' I said, flinching with the pain.
'Not yet? Hey?' repeated Mr. Creakle. 'But you will soon. Hey?'
'You will soon. Hey?' repeated the man with the wooden leg. I
afterwards found that he generally acted, with his strong voice, as
Mr. Creakle's interpreter to the boys.
I was very much frightened, and said, I hoped so, if he pleased.
I felt, all this while, as if my ear were blazing; he pinched it so
'I'll tell you what I am,' whispered Mr. Creakle, letting it go at
last, with a screw at parting that brought the water into my eyes.
'I'm a Tartar.'
'A Tartar,' said the man with the wooden leg.
'When I say I'll do a thing, I do it,' said Mr. Creakle; 'and when
I say I will have a thing done, I will have it done.'
'- Will have a thing done, I will have it done,' repeated the man
with the wooden leg.
'I am a determined character,' said Mr. Creakle. 'That's what I
am. I do my duty. That's what I do. My flesh and blood' - he
looked at Mrs. Creakle as he said this - 'when it rises against me,
is not my flesh and blood. I discard it. Has that fellow' - to
the man with the wooden leg -'been here again?'
'No,' was the answer.
'No,' said Mr. Creakle. 'He knows better. He knows me. Let him
keep away. I say let him keep away,' said Mr. Creakle, striking
his hand upon the table, and looking at Mrs. Creakle, 'for he knows
me. Now you have begun to know me too, my young friend, and you
may go. Take him away.'
I was very glad to be ordered away, for Mrs. and Miss Creakle were
both wiping their eyes, and I felt as uncomfortable for them as I
did for myself. But I had a petition on my mind which concerned me
so nearly, that I couldn't help saying, though I wondered at my own
'If you please, sir -'
Mr. Creakle whispered, 'Hah! What's this?' and bent his eyes upon
me, as if he would have burnt me up with them.
'If you please, sir,' I faltered, 'if I might be allowed (I am very
sorry indeed, sir, for what I did) to take this writing off, before
the boys come back -'
Whether Mr. Creakle was in earnest, or whether he only did it to
frighten me, I don't know, but he made a burst out of his chair,
before which I precipitately retreated, without waiting for the
escort Of the man with the wooden leg, and never once stopped until
I reached my own bedroom, where, finding I was not pursued, I went
to bed, as it was time, and lay quaking, for a couple of hours.
Next morning Mr. Sharp came back. Mr. Sharp was the first master,
and superior to Mr. Mell. Mr. Mell took his meals with the boys,
but Mr. Sharp dined and supped at Mr. Creakle's table. He was a
limp, delicate-looking gentleman, I thought, with a good deal of
nose, and a way of carrying his head on one side, as if it were a
little too heavy for him. His hair was very smooth and wavy; but
I was informed by the very first boy who came back that it was a
wig (a second-hand one HE said), and that Mr. Sharp went out every
Saturday afternoon to get it curled.
It was no other than Tommy Traddles who gave me this piece of
intelligence. He was the first boy who returned. He introduced
himself by informing me that I should find his name on the right-
hand corner of the gate, over the top-bolt; upon that I said,
'Traddles?' to which he replied, 'The same,' and then he asked me
for a full account of myself and family.
It was a happy circumstance for me that Traddles came back first.
He enjoyed my placard so much, that he saved me from the