Part 8 out of 21
putting out my own. 'You were very good-natured to me once, when
I am afraid I didn't show that I thought so.'
'Was I though?' returned the old man. 'I'm glad to hear it, but I
don't remember when. Are you sure it was me?'
'I think my memory has got as short as my breath,' said Mr. Omer,
looking at me and shaking his head; 'for I don't remember you.'
'Don't you remember your coming to the coach to meet me, and my
having breakfast here, and our riding out to Blunderstone together:
you, and I, and Mrs. Joram, and Mr. Joram too - who wasn't her
'Why, Lord bless my soul!' exclaimed Mr. Omer, after being thrown
by his surprise into a fit of coughing, 'you don't say so! Minnie,
my dear, you recollect? Dear me, yes; the party was a lady, I
'My mother,' I rejoined.
'To - be - sure,' said Mr. Omer, touching my waistcoat with his
forefinger, 'and there was a little child too! There was two
parties. The little party was laid along with the other party.
Over at Blunderstone it was, of course. Dear me! And how have you
Very well, I thanked him, as I hoped he had been too.
'Oh! nothing to grumble at, you know,' said Mr. Omer. 'I find my
breath gets short, but it seldom gets longer as a man gets older.
I take it as it comes, and make the most of it. That's the best
way, ain't it?'
Mr. Omer coughed again, in consequence of laughing, and was
assisted out of his fit by his daughter, who now stood close beside
us, dancing her smallest child on the counter.
'Dear me!' said Mr. Omer. 'Yes, to be sure. Two parties! Why, in
that very ride, if you'll believe me, the day was named for my
Minnie to marry Joram. "Do name it, sir," says Joram. "Yes, do,
father," says Minnie. And now he's come into the business. And
look here! The youngest!'
Minnie laughed, and stroked her banded hair upon her temples, as
her father put one of his fat fingers into the hand of the child
she was dancing on the counter.
'Two parties, of course!' said Mr. Omer, nodding his head
retrospectively. 'Ex-actly so! And Joram's at work, at this
minute, on a grey one with silver nails, not this measurement' -
the measurement of the dancing child upon the counter - 'by a good
two inches. - Will you take something?'
I thanked him, but declined.
'Let me see,' said Mr. Omer. 'Barkis's the carrier's wife -
Peggotty's the boatman's sister - she had something to do with your
family? She was in service there, sure?'
My answering in the affirmative gave him great satisfaction.
'I believe my breath will get long next, my memory's getting so
much so,' said Mr. Omer. 'Well, sir, we've got a young relation of
hers here, under articles to us, that has as elegant a taste in the
dress-making business - I assure you I don't believe there's a
Duchess in England can touch her.'
'Not little Em'ly?' said I, involuntarily.
'Em'ly's her name,' said Mr. Omer, 'and she's little too. But if
you'll believe me, she has such a face of her own that half the
women in this town are mad against her.'
'Nonsense, father!' cried Minnie.
'My dear,' said Mr. Omer, 'I don't say it's the case with you,'
winking at me, 'but I say that half the women in Yarmouth - ah! and
in five mile round - are mad against that girl.'
'Then she should have kept to her own station in life, father,'
said Minnie, 'and not have given them any hold to talk about her,
and then they couldn't have done it.'
'Couldn't have done it, my dear!' retorted Mr. Omer. 'Couldn't
have done it! Is that YOUR knowledge of life? What is there that
any woman couldn't do, that she shouldn't do - especially on the
subject of another woman's good looks?'
I really thought it was all over with Mr. Omer, after he had
uttered this libellous pleasantry. He coughed to that extent, and
his breath eluded all his attempts to recover it with that
obstinacy, that I fully expected to see his head go down behind the
counter, and his little black breeches, with the rusty little
bunches of ribbons at the knees, come quivering up in a last
ineffectual struggle. At length, however, he got better, though he
still panted hard, and was so exhausted that he was obliged to sit
on the stool of the shop-desk.
'You see,' he said, wiping his head, and breathing with difficulty,
'she hasn't taken much to any companions here; she hasn't taken
kindly to any particular acquaintances and friends, not to mention
sweethearts. In consequence, an ill-natured story got about, that
Em'ly wanted to be a lady. Now my opinion is, that it came into
circulation principally on account of her sometimes saying, at the
school, that if she was a lady she would like to do so-and-so for
her uncle - don't you see? - and buy him such-and-such fine
'I assure you, Mr. Omer, she has said so to me,' I returned
eagerly, 'when we were both children.'
Mr. Omer nodded his head and rubbed his chin. 'Just so. Then out
of a very little, she could dress herself, you see, better than
most others could out of a deal, and that made things unpleasant.
Moreover, she was rather what might be called wayward - I'll go so
far as to say what I should call wayward myself,' said Mr. Omer; '-
didn't know her own mind quite - a little spoiled - and couldn't,
at first, exactly bind herself down. No more than that was ever
said against her, Minnie?'
'No, father,' said Mrs. Joram. 'That's the worst, I believe.'
'So when she got a situation,' said Mr. Omer, 'to keep a fractious
old lady company, they didn't very well agree, and she didn't stop.
At last she came here, apprenticed for three years. Nearly two of
'em are over, and she has been as good a girl as ever was. Worth
any six! Minnie, is she worth any six, now?'
'Yes, father,' replied Minnie. 'Never say I detracted from her!'
'Very good,' said Mr. Omer. 'That's right. And so, young
gentleman,' he added, after a few moments' further rubbing of his
chin, 'that you may not consider me long-winded as well as
short-breathed, I believe that's all about it.'
As they had spoken in a subdued tone, while speaking of Em'ly, I
had no doubt that she was near. On my asking now, if that were not
so, Mr. Omer nodded yes, and nodded towards the door of the
parlour. My hurried inquiry if I might peep in, was answered with
a free permission; and, looking through the glass, I saw her
sitting at her work. I saw her, a most beautiful little creature,
with the cloudless blue eyes, that had looked into my childish
heart, turned laughingly upon another child of Minnie's who was
playing near her; with enough of wilfulness in her bright face to
justify what I had heard; with much of the old capricious coyness
lurking in it; but with nothing in her pretty looks, I am sure, but
what was meant for goodness and for happiness, and what was on a
The tune across the yard that seemed as if it never had left off -
alas! it was the tune that never DOES leave off - was beating,
softly, all the while.
'Wouldn't you like to step in,' said Mr. Omer, 'and speak to her?
Walk in and speak to her, sir! Make yourself at home!'
I was too bashful to do so then - I was afraid of confusing her,
and I was no less afraid of confusing myself.- but I informed
myself of the hour at which she left of an evening, in order that
our visit might be timed accordingly; and taking leave of Mr. Omer,
and his pretty daughter, and her little children, went away to my
dear old Peggotty's.
Here she was, in the tiled kitchen, cooking dinner! The moment I
knocked at the door she opened it, and asked me what I pleased to
want. I looked at her with a smile, but she gave me no smile in
return. I had never ceased to write to her, but it must have been
seven years since we had met.
'Is Mr. Barkis at home, ma'am?' I said, feigning to speak roughly
'He's at home, sir,' returned Peggotty, 'but he's bad abed with the
'Don't he go over to Blunderstone now?' I asked.
'When he's well he do,' she answered.
'Do YOU ever go there, Mrs. Barkis?'
She looked at me more attentively, and I noticed a quick movement
of her hands towards each other.
'Because I want to ask a question about a house there, that they
call the - what is it? - the Rookery,' said I.
She took a step backward, and put out her hands in an undecided
frightened way, as if to keep me off.
'Peggotty!' I cried to her.
She cried, 'My darling boy!' and we both burst into tears, and were
locked in one another's arms.
What extravagances she committed; what laughing and crying over me;
what pride she showed, what joy, what sorrow that she whose pride
and joy I might have been, could never hold me in a fond embrace;
I have not the heart to tell. I was troubled with no misgiving
that it was young in me to respond to her emotions. I had never
laughed and cried in all my life, I dare say - not even to her -
more freely than I did that morning.
'Barkis will be so glad,' said Peggotty, wiping her eyes with her
apron, 'that it'll do him more good than pints of liniment. May I
go and tell him you are here? Will you come up and see him, my
Of course I would. But Peggotty could not get out of the room as
easily as she meant to, for as often as she got to the door and
looked round at me, she came back again to have another laugh and
another cry upon my shoulder. At last, to make the matter easier,
I went upstairs with her; and having waited outside for a minute,
while she said a word of preparation to Mr. Barkis, presented
myself before that invalid.
He received me with absolute enthusiasm. He was too rheumatic to
be shaken hands with, but he begged me to shake the tassel on the
top of his nightcap, which I did most cordially. When I sat down
by the side of the bed, he said that it did him a world of good to
feel as if he was driving me on the Blunderstone road again. As he
lay in bed, face upward, and so covered, with that exception, that
he seemed to be nothing but a face - like a conventional cherubim
- he looked the queerest object I ever beheld.
'What name was it, as I wrote up in the cart, sir?' said Mr.
Barkis, with a slow rheumatic smile.
'Ah! Mr. Barkis, we had some grave talks about that matter, hadn't
'I was willin' a long time, sir?' said Mr. Barkis.
'A long time,' said I.
'And I don't regret it,' said Mr. Barkis. 'Do you remember what
you told me once, about her making all the apple parsties and doing
all the cooking?'
'Yes, very well,' I returned.
'It was as true,' said Mr. Barkis, 'as turnips is. It was as
true,' said Mr. Barkis, nodding his nightcap, which was his only
means of emphasis, 'as taxes is. And nothing's truer than them.'
Mr. Barkis turned his eyes upon me, as if for my assent to this
result of his reflections in bed; and I gave it.
'Nothing's truer than them,' repeated Mr. Barkis; 'a man as poor as
I am, finds that out in his mind when he's laid up. I'm a very
poor man, sir!'
'I am sorry to hear it, Mr. Barkis.'
'A very poor man, indeed I am,' said Mr. Barkis.
Here his right hand came slowly and feebly from under the
bedclothes, and with a purposeless uncertain grasp took hold of a
stick which was loosely tied to the side of the bed. After some
poking about with this instrument, in the course of which his face
assumed a variety of distracted expressions, Mr. Barkis poked it
against a box, an end of which had been visible to me all the time.
Then his face became composed.
'Old clothes,' said Mr. Barkis.
'Oh!' said I.
'I wish it was Money, sir,' said Mr. Barkis.
'I wish it was, indeed,' said I.
'But it AIN'T,' said Mr. Barkis, opening both his eyes as wide as
he possibly could.
I expressed myself quite sure of that, and Mr. Barkis, turning his
eyes more gently to his wife, said:
'She's the usefullest and best of women, C. P. Barkis. All the
praise that anyone can give to C. P. Barkis, she deserves, and
more! My dear, you'll get a dinner today, for company; something
good to eat and drink, will you?'
I should have protested against this unnecessary demonstration in
my honour, but that I saw Peggotty, on the opposite side of the
bed, extremely anxious I should not. So I held my peace.
'I have got a trifle of money somewhere about me, my dear,' said
Mr. Barkis, 'but I'm a little tired. If you and Mr. David will
leave me for a short nap, I'll try and find it when I wake.'
We left the room, in compliance with this request. When we got
outside the door, Peggotty informed me that Mr. Barkis, being now
'a little nearer' than he used to be, always resorted to this same
device before producing a single coin from his store; and that he
endured unheard-of agonies in crawling out of bed alone, and taking
it from that unlucky box. In effect, we presently heard him
uttering suppressed groans of the most dismal nature, as this
magpie proceeding racked him in every joint; but while Peggotty's
eyes were full of compassion for him, she said his generous impulse
would do him good, and it was better not to check it. So he
groaned on, until he had got into bed again, suffering, I have no
doubt, a martyrdom; and then called us in, pretending to have just
woke up from a refreshing sleep, and to produce a guinea from under
his pillow. His satisfaction in which happy imposition on us, and
in having preserved the impenetrable secret of the box, appeared to
be a sufficient compensation to him for all his tortures.
I prepared Peggotty for Steerforth's arrival and it was not long
before he came. I am persuaded she knew no difference between his
having been a personal benefactor of hers, and a kind friend to me,
and that she would have received him with the utmost gratitude and
devotion in any case. But his easy, spirited good humour; his
genial manner, his handsome looks, his natural gift of adapting
himself to whomsoever he pleased, and making direct, when he cared
to do it, to the main point of interest in anybody's heart; bound
her to him wholly in five minutes. His manner to me, alone, would
have won her. But, through all these causes combined, I sincerely
believe she had a kind of adoration for him before he left the
house that night.
He stayed there with me to dinner - if I were to say willingly, I
should not half express how readily and gaily. He went into Mr.
Barkis's room like light and air, brightening and refreshing it as
if he were healthy weather. There was no noise, no effort, no
consciousness, in anything he did; but in everything an
indescribable lightness, a seeming impossibility of doing anything
else, or doing anything better, which was so graceful, so natural,
and agreeable, that it overcomes me, even now, in the remembrance.
We made merry in the little parlour, where the Book of Martyrs,
unthumbed since my time, was laid out upon the desk as of old, and
where I now turned over its terrific pictures, remembering the old
sensations they had awakened, but not feeling them. When Peggotty
spoke of what she called my room, and of its being ready for me at
night, and of her hoping I would occupy it, before I could so much
as look at Steerforth, hesitating, he was possessed of the whole
'Of course,' he said. 'You'll sleep here, while we stay, and I
shall sleep at the hotel.'
'But to bring you so far,' I returned, 'and to separate, seems bad
'Why, in the name of Heaven, where do you naturally belong?' he
said. 'What is "seems", compared to that?' It was settled at
He maintained all his delightful qualities to the last, until we
started forth, at eight o'clock, for Mr. Peggotty's boat. Indeed,
they were more and more brightly exhibited as the hours went on;
for I thought even then, and I have no doubt now, that the
consciousness of success in his determination to please, inspired
him with a new delicacy of perception, and made it, subtle as it
was, more easy to him. If anyone had told me, then, that all this
was a brilliant game, played for the excitement of the moment, for
the employment of high spirits, in the thoughtless love of
superiority, in a mere wasteful careless course of winning what was
worthless to him, and next minute thrown away - I say, if anyone
had told me such a lie that night, I wonder in what manner of
receiving it my indignation would have found a vent! Probably only
in an increase, had that been possible, of the romantic feelings of
fidelity and friendship with which I walked beside him, over the
dark wintry sands towards the old boat; the wind sighing around us
even more mournfully, than it had sighed and moaned upon the night
when I first darkened Mr. Peggotty's door.
'This is a wild kind of place, Steerforth, is it not?'
'Dismal enough in the dark,' he said: 'and the sea roars as if it
were hungry for us. Is that the boat, where I see a light yonder?'
'That's the boat,' said I.
'And it's the same I saw this morning,' he returned. 'I came
straight to it, by instinct, I suppose.'
We said no more as we approached the light, but made softly for the
door. I laid my hand upon the latch; and whispering Steerforth to
keep close to me, went in.
A murmur of voices had been audible on the outside, and, at the
moment of our entrance, a clapping of hands: which latter noise, I
was surprised to see, proceeded from the generally disconsolate
Mrs. Gummidge. But Mrs. Gummidge was not the only person there who
was unusually excited. Mr. Peggotty, his face lighted up with
uncommon satisfaction, and laughing with all his might, held his
rough arms wide open, as if for little Em'ly to run into them; Ham,
with a mixed expression in his face of admiration, exultation, and
a lumbering sort of bashfulness that sat upon him very well, held
little Em'ly by the hand, as if he were presenting her to Mr.
Peggotty; little Em'ly herself, blushing and shy, but delighted
with Mr. Peggotty's delight, as her joyous eyes expressed, was
stopped by our entrance (for she saw us first) in the very act of
springing from Ham to nestle in Mr. Peggotty's embrace. In the
first glimpse we had of them all, and at the moment of our passing
from the dark cold night into the warm light room, this was the way
in which they were all employed: Mrs. Gummidge in the background,
clapping her hands like a madwoman.
The little picture was so instantaneously dissolved by our going
in, that one might have doubted whether it had ever been. I was in
the midst of the astonished family, face to face with Mr. Peggotty,
and holding out my hand to him, when Ham shouted:
'Mas'r Davy! It's Mas'r Davy!'
In a moment we were all shaking hands with one another, and asking
one another how we did, and telling one another how glad we were to
meet, and all talking at once. Mr. Peggotty was so proud and
overjoyed to see us, that he did not know what to say or do, but
kept over and over again shaking hands with me, and then with
Steerforth, and then with me, and then ruffling his shaggy hair all
over his head, and laughing with such glee and triumph, that it was
a treat to see him.
'Why, that you two gent'lmen - gent'lmen growed - should come to
this here roof tonight, of all nights in my life,' said Mr.
Peggotty, 'is such a thing as never happened afore, I do rightly
believe! Em'ly, my darling, come here! Come here, my little
witch! There's Mas'r Davy's friend, my dear! There's the
gent'lman as you've heerd on, Em'ly. He comes to see you, along
with Mas'r Davy, on the brightest night of your uncle's life as
ever was or will be, Gorm the t'other one, and horroar for it!'
After delivering this speech all in a breath, and with
extraordinary animation and pleasure, Mr. Peggotty put one of his
large hands rapturously on each side of his niece's face, and
kissing it a dozen times, laid it with a gentle pride and love upon
his broad chest, and patted it as if his hand had been a lady's.
Then he let her go; and as she ran into the little chamber where I
used to sleep, looked round upon us, quite hot and out of breath
with his uncommon satisfaction.
'If you two gent'lmen - gent'lmen growed now, and such gent'lmen -'
said Mr. Peggotty.
'So th' are, so th' are!' cried Ham. 'Well said! So th' are.
Mas'r Davy bor' - gent'lmen growed - so th' are!'
'If you two gent'lmen, gent'lmen growed,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'don't
ex-cuse me for being in a state of mind, when you understand
matters, I'll arks your pardon. Em'ly, my dear! - She knows I'm a
going to tell,' here his delight broke out again, 'and has made
off. Would you be so good as look arter her, Mawther, for a
Mrs. Gummidge nodded and disappeared.
'If this ain't,' said Mr. Peggotty, sitting down among us by the
fire, 'the brightest night o' my life, I'm a shellfish - biled too
- and more I can't say. This here little Em'ly, sir,' in a low
voice to Steerforth, '- her as you see a blushing here just now -'
Steerforth only nodded; but with such a pleased expression of
interest, and of participation in Mr. Peggotty's feelings, that the
latter answered him as if he had spoken.
'To be sure,' said Mr. Peggotty. 'That's her, and so she is.
Ham nodded to me several times, as if he would have said so too.
'This here little Em'ly of ours,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'has been, in
our house, what I suppose (I'm a ignorant man, but that's my
belief) no one but a little bright-eyed creetur can be in a house.
She ain't my child; I never had one; but I couldn't love her more.
You understand! I couldn't do it!'
'I quite understand,' said Steerforth.
'I know you do, sir,' returned Mr. Peggotty, 'and thankee again.
Mas'r Davy, he can remember what she was; you may judge for your
own self what she is; but neither of you can't fully know what she
has been, is, and will be, to my loving art. I am rough, sir,'
said Mr. Peggotty, 'I am as rough as a Sea Porkypine; but no one,
unless, mayhap, it is a woman, can know, I think, what our little
Em'ly is to me. And betwixt ourselves,' sinking his voice lower
yet, 'that woman's name ain't Missis Gummidge neither, though she
has a world of merits.'
Mr. Peggotty ruffled his hair again, with both hands, as a further
preparation for what he was going to say, and went on, with a hand
upon each of his knees:
'There was a certain person as had know'd our Em'ly, from the time
when her father was drownded; as had seen her constant; when a
babby, when a young gal, when a woman. Not much of a person to
look at, he warn't,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'something o' my own build
- rough - a good deal o' the sou'-wester in him - wery salt - but,
on the whole, a honest sort of a chap, with his art in the right
I thought I had never seen Ham grin to anything like the extent to
which he sat grinning at us now.
'What does this here blessed tarpaulin go and do,' said Mr.
Peggotty, with his face one high noon of enjoyment, 'but he loses
that there art of his to our little Em'ly. He follers her about,
he makes hisself a sort o' servant to her, he loses in a great
measure his relish for his wittles, and in the long-run he makes it
clear to me wot's amiss. Now I could wish myself, you see, that
our little Em'ly was in a fair way of being married. I could wish
to see her, at all ewents, under articles to a honest man as had a
right to defend her. I don't know how long I may live, or how soon
I may die; but I know that if I was capsized, any night, in a gale
of wind in Yarmouth Roads here, and was to see the town-lights
shining for the last time over the rollers as I couldn't make no
head against, I could go down quieter for thinking "There's a man
ashore there, iron-true to my little Em'ly, God bless her, and no
wrong can touch my Em'ly while so be as that man lives."'
Mr. Peggotty, in simple earnestness, waved his right arm, as if he
were waving it at the town-lights for the last time, and then,
exchanging a nod with Ham, whose eye he caught, proceeded as
'Well! I counsels him to speak to Em'ly. He's big enough, but he's
bashfuller than a little un, and he don't like. So I speak.
"What! Him!" says Em'ly. "Him that I've know'd so intimate so
many years, and like so much. Oh, Uncle! I never can have him.
He's such a good fellow!" I gives her a kiss, and I says no more to
her than, "My dear, you're right to speak out, you're to choose for
yourself, you're as free as a little bird." Then I aways to him,
and I says, "I wish it could have been so, but it can't. But you
can both be as you was, and wot I say to you is, Be as you was with
her, like a man." He says to me, a-shaking of my hand, "I will!" he
says. And he was - honourable and manful - for two year going on,
and we was just the same at home here as afore.'
Mr. Peggotty's face, which had varied in its expression with the
various stages of his narrative, now resumed all its former
triumphant delight, as he laid a hand upon my knee and a hand upon
Steerforth's (previously wetting them both, for the greater
emphasis of the action), and divided the following speech between
'All of a sudden, one evening - as it might be tonight - comes
little Em'ly from her work, and him with her! There ain't so much
in that, you'll say. No, because he takes care on her, like a
brother, arter dark, and indeed afore dark, and at all times. But
this tarpaulin chap, he takes hold of her hand, and he cries out to
me, joyful, "Look here! This is to be my little wife!" And she
says, half bold and half shy, and half a laughing and half a
crying, "Yes, Uncle! If you please." - If I please!' cried Mr.
Peggotty, rolling his head in an ecstasy at the idea; 'Lord, as if
I should do anythink else! - "If you please, I am steadier now, and
I have thought better of it, and I'll be as good a little wife as
I can to him, for he's a dear, good fellow!" Then Missis Gummidge,
she claps her hands like a play, and you come in. Theer! the
murder's out!' said Mr. Peggotty - 'You come in! It took place
this here present hour; and here's the man that'll marry her, the
minute she's out of her time.'
Ham staggered, as well he might, under the blow Mr. Peggotty dealt
him in his unbounded joy, as a mark of confidence and friendship;
but feeling called upon to say something to us, he said, with much
faltering and great difficulty:
'She warn't no higher than you was, Mas'r Davy - when you first
come - when I thought what she'd grow up to be. I see her grown up
- gent'lmen - like a flower. I'd lay down my life for her - Mas'r
Davy - Oh! most content and cheerful! She's more to me - gent'lmen
- than - she's all to me that ever I can want, and more than ever
I - than ever I could say. I - I love her true. There ain't a
gent'lman in all the land - nor yet sailing upon all the sea - that
can love his lady more than I love her, though there's many a
common man - would say better - what he meant.'
I thought it affecting to see such a sturdy fellow as Ham was now,
trembling in the strength of what he felt for the pretty little
creature who had won his heart. I thought the simple confidence
reposed in us by Mr. Peggotty and by himself, was, in itself,
affecting. I was affected by the story altogether. How far my
emotions were influenced by the recollections of my childhood, I
don't know. Whether I had come there with any lingering fancy that
I was still to love little Em'ly, I don't know. I know that I was
filled with pleasure by all this; but, at first, with an
indescribably sensitive pleasure, that a very little would have
changed to pain.
Therefore, if it had depended upon me to touch the prevailing chord
among them with any skill, I should have made a poor hand of it.
But it depended upon Steerforth; and he did it with such address,
that in a few minutes we were all as easy and as happy as it was
possible to be.
'Mr. Peggotty,' he said, 'you are a thoroughly good fellow, and
deserve to be as happy as you are tonight. My hand upon it! Ham,
I give you joy, my boy. My hand upon that, too! Daisy, stir the
fire, and make it a brisk one! and Mr. Peggotty, unless you can
induce your gentle niece to come back (for whom I vacate this seat
in the corner), I shall go. Any gap at your fireside on such a
night - such a gap least of all - I wouldn't make, for the wealth
of the Indies!'
So Mr. Peggotty went into my old room to fetch little Em'ly. At
first little Em'ly didn't like to come, and then Ham went.
Presently they brought her to the fireside, very much confused, and
very shy, - but she soon became more assured when she found how
gently and respectfully Steerforth spoke to her; how skilfully he
avoided anything that would embarrass her; how he talked to Mr.
Peggotty of boats, and ships, and tides, and fish; how he referred
to me about the time when he had seen Mr. Peggotty at Salem House;
how delighted he was with the boat and all belonging to it; how
lightly and easily he carried on, until he brought us, by degrees,
into a charmed circle, and we were all talking away without any
Em'ly, indeed, said little all the evening; but she looked, and
listened, and her face got animated, and she was charming.
Steerforth told a story of a dismal shipwreck (which arose out of
his talk with Mr. Peggotty), as if he saw it all before him - and
little Em'ly's eyes were fastened on him all the time, as if she
saw it too. He told us a merry adventure of his own, as a relief
to that, with as much gaiety as if the narrative were as fresh to
him as it was to us - and little Em'ly laughed until the boat rang
with the musical sounds, and we all laughed (Steerforth too), in
irresistible sympathy with what was so pleasant and light-hearted.
He got Mr. Peggotty to sing, or rather to roar, 'When the stormy
winds do blow, do blow, do blow'; and he sang a sailor's song
himself, so pathetically and beautifully, that I could have almost
fancied that the real wind creeping sorrowfully round the house,
and murmuring low through our unbroken silence, was there to
As to Mrs. Gummidge, he roused that victim of despondency with a
success never attained by anyone else (so Mr. Peggotty informed
me), since the decease of the old one. He left her so little
leisure for being miserable, that she said next day she thought she
must have been bewitched.
But he set up no monopoly of the general attention, or the
conversation. When little Em'ly grew more courageous, and talked
(but still bashfully) across the fire to me, of our old wanderings
upon the beach, to pick up shells and pebbles; and when I asked her
if she recollected how I used to be devoted to her; and when we
both laughed and reddened, casting these looks back on the pleasant
old times, so unreal to look at now; he was silent and attentive,
and observed us thoughtfully. She sat, at this time, and all the
evening, on the old locker in her old little corner by the fire -
Ham beside her, where I used to sit. I could not satisfy myself
whether it was in her own little tormenting way, or in a maidenly
reserve before us, that she kept quite close to the wall, and away
from him; but I observed that she did so, all the evening.
As I remember, it was almost midnight when we took our leave. We
had had some biscuit and dried fish for supper, and Steerforth had
produced from his pocket a full flask of Hollands, which we men (I
may say we men, now, without a blush) had emptied. We parted
merrily; and as they all stood crowded round the door to light us
as far as they could upon our road, I saw the sweet blue eyes of
little Em'ly peeping after us, from behind Ham, and heard her soft
voice calling to us to be careful how we went.
'A most engaging little Beauty!' said Steerforth, taking my arm.
'Well! It's a quaint place, and they are quaint company, and it's
quite a new sensation to mix with them.'
'How fortunate we are, too,' I returned, 'to have arrived to
witness their happiness in that intended marriage! I never saw
people so happy. How delightful to see it, and to be made the
sharers in their honest joy, as we have been!'
'That's rather a chuckle-headed fellow for the girl; isn't he?'
He had been so hearty with him, and with them all, that I felt a
shock in this unexpected and cold reply. But turning quickly upon
him, and seeing a laugh in his eyes, I answered, much relieved:
'Ah, Steerforth! It's well for you to joke about the poor! You
may skirmish with Miss Dartle, or try to hide your sympathies in
jest from me, but I know better. When I see how perfectly you
understand them, how exquisitely you can enter into happiness like
this plain fisherman's, or humour a love like my old nurse's, I
know that there is not a joy or sorrow, not an emotion, of such
people, that can be indifferent to you. And I admire and love you
for it, Steerforth, twenty times the more!'
He stopped, and, looking in my face, said, 'Daisy, I believe you
are in earnest, and are good. I wish we all were!' Next moment he
was gaily singing Mr. Peggotty's song, as we walked at a round pace
back to Yarmouth.
SOME OLD SCENES, AND SOME NEW PEOPLE
Steerforth and I stayed for more than a fortnight in that part of
the country. We were very much together, I need not say; but
occasionally we were asunder for some hours at a time. He was a
good sailor, and I was but an indifferent one; and when he went out
boating with Mr. Peggotty, which was a favourite amusement of his,
I generally remained ashore. My occupation of Peggotty's
spare-room put a constraint upon me, from which he was free: for,
knowing how assiduously she attended on Mr. Barkis all day, I did
not like to remain out late at night; whereas Steerforth, lying at
the Inn, had nothing to consult but his own humour. Thus it came
about, that I heard of his making little treats for the fishermen
at Mr. Peggotty's house of call, 'The Willing Mind', after I was in
bed, and of his being afloat, wrapped in fishermen's clothes, whole
moonlight nights, and coming back when the morning tide was at
flood. By this time, however, I knew that his restless nature and
bold spirits delighted to find a vent in rough toil and hard
weather, as in any other means of excitement that presented itself
freshly to him; so none of his proceedings surprised me.
Another cause of our being sometimes apart, was, that I had
naturally an interest in going over to Blunderstone, and revisiting
the old familiar scenes of my childhood; while Steerforth, after
being there once, had naturally no great interest in going there
again. Hence, on three or four days that I can at once recall, we
went our several ways after an early breakfast, and met again at a
late dinner. I had no idea how he employed his time in the
interval, beyond a general knowledge that he was very popular in
the place, and had twenty means of actively diverting himself where
another man might not have found one.
For my own part, my occupation in my solitary pilgrimages was to
recall every yard of the old road as I went along it, and to haunt
the old spots, of which I never tired. I haunted them, as my
memory had often done, and lingered among them as my younger
thoughts had lingered when I was far away. The grave beneath the
tree, where both my parents lay - on which I had looked out, when
it was my father's only, with such curious feelings of compassion,
and by which I had stood, so desolate, when it was opened to
receive my pretty mother and her baby - the grave which Peggotty's
own faithful care had ever since kept neat, and made a garden of,
I walked near, by the hour. It lay a little off the churchyard
path, in a quiet corner, not so far removed but I could read the
names upon the stone as I walked to and fro, startled by the sound
of the church-bell when it struck the hour, for it was like a
departed voice to me. My reflections at these times were always
associated with the figure I was to make in life, and the
distinguished things I was to do. My echoing footsteps went to no
other tune, but were as constant to that as if I had come home to
build my castles in the air at a living mother's side.
There were great changes in my old home. The ragged nests, so long
deserted by the rooks, were gone; and the trees were lopped and
topped out of their remembered shapes. The garden had run wild,
and half the windows of the house were shut up. It was occupied,
but only by a poor lunatic gentleman, and the people who took care
of him. He was always sitting at my little window, looking out
into the churchyard; and I wondered whether his rambling thoughts
ever went upon any of the fancies that used to occupy mine, on the
rosy mornings when I peeped out of that same little window in my
night-clothes, and saw the sheep quietly feeding in the light of
the rising sun.
Our old neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Grayper, were gone to South
America, and the rain had made its way through the roof of their
empty house, and stained the outer walls. Mr. Chillip was married
again to a tall, raw-boned, high-nosed wife; and they had a weazen
little baby, with a heavy head that it couldn't hold up, and two
weak staring eyes, with which it seemed to be always wondering why
it had ever been born.
It was with a singular jumble of sadness and pleasure that I used
to linger about my native place, until the reddening winter sun
admonished me that it was time to start on my returning walk. But,
when the place was left behind, and especially when Steerforth and
I were happily seated over our dinner by a blazing fire, it was
delicious to think of having been there. So it was, though in a
softened degree, when I went to my neat room at night; and, turning
over the leaves of the crocodile-book (which was always there, upon
a little table), remembered with a grateful heart how blest I was
in having such a friend as Steerforth, such a friend as Peggotty,
and such a substitute for what I had lost as my excellent and
MY nearest way to Yarmouth, in coming back from these long walks,
was by a ferry. It landed me on the flat between the town and the
sea, which I could make straight across, and so save myself a
considerable circuit by the high road. Mr. Peggotty's house being
on that waste-place, and not a hundred yards out of my track, I
always looked in as I went by. Steerforth was pretty sure to be
there expecting me, and we went on together through the frosty air
and gathering fog towards the twinkling lights of the town.
One dark evening, when I was later than usual - for I had, that
day, been making my parting visit to Blunderstone, as we were now
about to return home - I found him alone in Mr. Peggotty's house,
sitting thoughtfully before the fire. He was so intent upon his
own reflections that he was quite unconscious of my approach.
This, indeed, he might easily have been if he had been less
absorbed, for footsteps fell noiselessly on the sandy ground
outside; but even my entrance failed to rouse him. I was standing
close to him, looking at him; and still, with a heavy brow, he was
lost in his meditations.
He gave such a start when I put my hand upon his shoulder, that he
made me start too.
'You come upon me,' he said, almost angrily, 'like a reproachful
'I was obliged to announce myself, somehow,' I replied. 'Have I
called you down from the stars?'
'No,' he answered. 'No.'
'Up from anywhere, then?' said I, taking my seat near him.
'I was looking at the pictures in the fire,' he returned.
'But you are spoiling them for me,' said I, as he stirred it
quickly with a piece of burning wood, striking out of it a train of
red-hot sparks that went careering up the little chimney, and
roaring out into the air.
'You would not have seen them,' he returned. 'I detest this
mongrel time, neither day nor night. How late you are! Where have
'I have been taking leave of my usual walk,' said I.
'And I have been sitting here,' said Steerforth, glancing round the
room, 'thinking that all the people we found so glad on the night
of our coming down, might - to judge from the present wasted air of
the place - be dispersed, or dead, or come to I don't know what
harm. David, I wish to God I had had a judicious father these last
'My dear Steerforth, what is the matter?'
'I wish with all my soul I had been better guided!' he exclaimed.
'I wish with all my soul I could guide myself better!'
There was a passionate dejection in his manner that quite amazed
me. He was more unlike himself than I could have supposed
'It would be better to be this poor Peggotty, or his lout of a
nephew,' he said, getting up and leaning moodily against the
chimney-piece, with his face towards the fire, 'than to be myself,
twenty times richer and twenty times wiser, and be the torment to
myself that I have been, in this Devil's bark of a boat, within the
I was so confounded by the alteration in him, that at first I could
only observe him in silence, as he stood leaning his head upon his
hand, and looking gloomily down at the fire. At length I begged
him, with all the earnestness I felt, to tell me what had occurred
to cross him so unusually, and to let me sympathize with him, if I
could not hope to advise him. Before I had well concluded, he
began to laugh - fretfully at first, but soon with returning
'Tut, it's nothing, Daisy! nothing!' he replied. 'I told you at
the inn in London, I am heavy company for myself, sometimes. I
have been a nightmare to myself, just now - must have had one, I
think. At odd dull times, nursery tales come up into the memory,
unrecognized for what they are. I believe I have been confounding
myself with the bad boy who "didn't care", and became food for
lions - a grander kind of going to the dogs, I suppose. What old
women call the horrors, have been creeping over me from head to
foot. I have been afraid of myself.'
'You are afraid of nothing else, I think,' said I.
'Perhaps not, and yet may have enough to be afraid of too,' he
answered. 'Well! So it goes by! I am not about to be hipped
again, David; but I tell you, my good fellow, once more, that it
would have been well for me (and for more than me) if I had had a
steadfast and judicious father!'
His face was always full of expression, but I never saw it express
such a dark kind of earnestness as when he said these words, with
his glance bent on the fire.
'So much for that!' he said, making as if he tossed something light
into the air, with his hand. "'Why, being gone, I am a man again,"
like Macbeth. And now for dinner! If I have not (Macbeth-like)
broken up the feast with most admired disorder, Daisy.'
'But where are they all, I wonder!' said I.
'God knows,' said Steerforth. 'After strolling to the ferry
looking for you, I strolled in here and found the place deserted.
That set me thinking, and you found me thinking.'
The advent of Mrs. Gummidge with a basket, explained how the house
had happened to be empty. She had hurried out to buy something
that was needed, against Mr. Peggotty's return with the tide; and
had left the door open in the meanwhile, lest Ham and little Em'ly,
with whom it was an early night, should come home while she was
gone. Steerforth, after very much improving Mrs. Gummidge's
spirits by a cheerful salutation and a jocose embrace, took my arm,
and hurried me away.
He had improved his own spirits, no less than Mrs. Gummidge's, for
they were again at their usual flow, and he was full of vivacious
conversation as we went along.
'And so,' he said, gaily, 'we abandon this buccaneer life tomorrow,
'So we agreed,' I returned. 'And our places by the coach are
taken, you know.'
'Ay! there's no help for it, I suppose,' said Steerforth. 'I have
almost forgotten that there is anything to do in the world but to
go out tossing on the sea here. I wish there was not.'
'As long as the novelty should last,' said I, laughing.
'Like enough,' he returned; 'though there's a sarcastic meaning in
that observation for an amiable piece of innocence like my young
friend. Well! I dare say I am a capricious fellow, David. I know
I am; but while the iron is hot, I can strike it vigorously too.
I could pass a reasonably good examination already, as a pilot in
these waters, I think.'
'Mr. Peggotty says you are a wonder,' I returned.
'A nautical phenomenon, eh?' laughed Steerforth.
'Indeed he does, and you know how truly; I know how ardent you are
in any pursuit you follow, and how easily you can master it. And
that amazes me most in you, Steerforth- that you should be
contented with such fitful uses of your powers.'
'Contented?' he answered, merrily. 'I am never contented, except
with your freshness, my gentle Daisy. As to fitfulness, I have
never learnt the art of binding myself to any of the wheels on
which the Ixions of these days are turning round and round. I
missed it somehow in a bad apprenticeship, and now don't care about
it. - You know I have bought a boat down here?'
'What an extraordinary fellow you are, Steerforth!' I exclaimed,
stopping - for this was the first I had heard of it. 'When you may
never care to come near the place again!'
'I don't know that,' he returned. 'I have taken a fancy to the
place. At all events,' walking me briskly on, 'I have bought a
boat that was for sale - a clipper, Mr. Peggotty says; and so she
is - and Mr. Peggotty will be master of her in my absence.'
'Now I understand you, Steerforth!' said I, exultingly. 'You
pretend to have bought it for yourself, but you have really done so
to confer a benefit on him. I might have known as much at first,
knowing you. My dear kind Steerforth, how can I tell you what I
think of your generosity?'
'Tush!' he answered, turning red. 'The less said, the better.'
'Didn't I know?' cried I, 'didn't I say that there was not a joy,
or sorrow, or any emotion of such honest hearts that was
indifferent to you?'
'Aye, aye,' he answered, 'you told me all that. There let it rest.
We have said enough!'
Afraid of offending him by pursuing the subject when he made so
light of it, I only pursued it in my thoughts as we went on at even
a quicker pace than before.
'She must be newly rigged,' said Steerforth, 'and I shall leave
Littimer behind to see it done, that I may know she is quite
complete. Did I tell you Littimer had come down?'
'Oh yes! came down this morning, with a letter from my mother.'
As our looks met, I observed that he was pale even to his lips,
though he looked very steadily at me. I feared that some
difference between him and his mother might have led to his being
in the frame of mind in which I had found him at the solitary
fireside. I hinted so.
'Oh no!' he said, shaking his head, and giving a slight laugh.
'Nothing of the sort! Yes. He is come down, that man of mine.'
'The same as ever?' said I.
'The same as ever,' said Steerforth. 'Distant and quiet as the
North Pole. He shall see to the boat being fresh named. She's the
"Stormy Petrel" now. What does Mr. Peggotty care for Stormy
Petrels! I'll have her christened again.'
'By what name?' I asked.
'The "Little Em'ly".'
As he had continued to look steadily at me, I took it as a reminder
that he objected to being extolled for his consideration. I could
not help showing in my face how much it pleased me, but I said
little, and he resumed his usual smile, and seemed relieved.
'But see here,' he said, looking before us, 'where the original
little Em'ly comes! And that fellow with her, eh? Upon my soul,
he's a true knight. He never leaves her!'
Ham was a boat-builder in these days, having improved a natural
ingenuity in that handicraft, until he had become a skilled
workman. He was in his working-dress, and looked rugged enough,
but manly withal, and a very fit protector for the blooming little
creature at his side. Indeed, there was a frankness in his face,
an honesty, and an undisguised show of his pride in her, and his
love for her, which were, to me, the best of good looks. I
thought, as they came towards us, that they were well matched even
in that particular.
She withdrew her hand timidly from his arm as we stopped to speak
to them, and blushed as she gave it to Steerforth and to me. When
they passed on, after we had exchanged a few words, she did not
like to replace that hand, but, still appearing timid and
constrained, walked by herself. I thought all this very pretty and
engaging, and Steerforth seemed to think so too, as we looked after
them fading away in the light of a young moon.
Suddenly there passed us - evidently following them - a young woman
whose approach we had not observed, but whose face I saw as she
went by, and thought I had a faint remembrance of. She was lightly
dressed; looked bold, and haggard, and flaunting, and poor; but
seemed, for the time, to have given all that to the wind which was
blowing, and to have nothing in her mind but going after them. As
the dark distant level, absorbing their figures into itself, left
but itself visible between us and the sea and clouds, her figure
disappeared in like manner, still no nearer to them than before.
'That is a black shadow to be following the girl,' said Steerforth,
standing still; 'what does it mean?'
He spoke in a low voice that sounded almost strange to Me.
'She must have it in her mind to beg of them, I think,' said I.
'A beggar would be no novelty,' said Steerforth; 'but it is a
strange thing that the beggar should take that shape tonight.'
'Why?' I asked.
'For no better reason, truly, than because I was thinking,' he
said, after a pause, 'of something like it, when it came by. Where
the Devil did it come from, I wonder!'
'From the shadow of this wall, I think,' said I, as we emerged upon
a road on which a wall abutted.
'It's gone!' he returned, looking over his shoulder. 'And all ill
go with it. Now for our dinner!'
But he looked again over his shoulder towards the sea-line
glimmering afar off, and yet again. And he wondered about it, in
some broken expressions, several times, in the short remainder of
our walk; and only seemed to forget it when the light of fire and
candle shone upon us, seated warm and merry, at table.
Littimer was there, and had his usual effect upon me. When I said
to him that I hoped Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle were well, he
answered respectfully (and of course respectably), that they were
tolerably well, he thanked me, and had sent their compliments.
This was all, and yet he seemed to me to say as plainly as a man
could say: 'You are very young, sir; you are exceedingly young.'
We had almost finished dinner, when taking a step or two towards
the table, from the corner where he kept watch upon us, or rather
upon me, as I felt, he said to his master:
'I beg your pardon, sir. Miss Mowcher is down here.'
'Who?' cried Steerforth, much astonished.
'Miss Mowcher, sir.'
'Why, what on earth does she do here?' said Steerforth.
'It appears to be her native part of the country, sir. She informs
me that she makes one of her professional visits here, every year,
sir. I met her in the street this afternoon, and she wished to
know if she might have the honour of waiting on you after dinner,
'Do you know the Giantess in question, Daisy?' inquired Steerforth.
I was obliged to confess - I felt ashamed, even of being at this
disadvantage before Littimer - that Miss Mowcher and I were wholly
'Then you shall know her,' said Steerforth, 'for she is one of the
seven wonders of the world. When Miss Mowcher comes, show her in.'
I felt some curiosity and excitement about this lady, especially as
Steerforth burst into a fit of laughing when I referred to her, and
positively refused to answer any question of which I made her the
subject. I remained, therefore, in a state of considerable
expectation until the cloth had been removed some half an hour, and
we were sitting over our decanter of wine before the fire, when the
door opened, and Littimer, with his habitual serenity quite
I looked at the doorway and saw nothing. I was still looking at
the doorway, thinking that Miss Mowcher was a long while making her
appearance, when, to my infinite astonishment, there came waddling
round a sofa which stood between me and it, a pursy dwarf, of about
forty or forty-five, with a very large head and face, a pair of
roguish grey eyes, and such extremely little arms, that, to enable
herself to lay a finger archly against her snub nose, as she ogled
Steerforth, she was obliged to meet the finger half-way, and lay
her nose against it. Her chin, which was what is called a double
chin, was so fat that it entirely swallowed up the strings of her
bonnet, bow and all. Throat she had none; waist she had none; legs
she had none, worth mentioning; for though she was more than
full-sized down to where her waist would have been, if she had had
any, and though she terminated, as human beings generally do, in a
pair of feet, she was so short that she stood at a common-sized
chair as at a table, resting a bag she carried on the seat. This
lady - dressed in an off-hand, easy style; bringing her nose and
her forefinger together, with the difficulty I have described;
standing with her head necessarily on one side, and, with one of
her sharp eyes shut up, making an uncommonly knowing face - after
ogling Steerforth for a few moments, broke into a torrent of words.
'What! My flower!' she pleasantly began, shaking her large head at
him. 'You're there, are you! Oh, you naughty boy, fie for shame,
what do you do so far away from home? Up to mischief, I'll be
bound. Oh, you're a downy fellow, Steerforth, so you are, and I'm
another, ain't I? Ha, ha, ha! You'd have betted a hundred pound
to five, now, that you wouldn't have seen me here, wouldn't you?
Bless you, man alive, I'm everywhere. I'm here and there, and
where not, like the conjurer's half-crown in the lady's
handkercher. Talking of handkerchers - and talking of ladies -
what a comfort you are to your blessed mother, ain't you, my dear
boy, over one of my shoulders, and I don't say which!'
Miss Mowcher untied her bonnet, at this passage of her discourse,
threw back the strings, and sat down, panting, on a footstool in
front of the fire - making a kind of arbour of the dining table,
which spread its mahogany shelter above her head.
'Oh my stars and what's-their-names!' she went on, clapping a hand
on each of her little knees, and glancing shrewdly at me, 'I'm of
too full a habit, that's the fact, Steerforth. After a flight of
stairs, it gives me as much trouble to draw every breath I want, as
if it was a bucket of water. If you saw me looking out of an upper
window, you'd think I was a fine woman, wouldn't you?'
'I should think that, wherever I saw you,' replied Steerforth.
'Go along, you dog, do!' cried the little creature, making a whisk
at him with the handkerchief with which she was wiping her face,
'and don't be impudent! But I give you my word and honour I was at
Lady Mithers's last week - THERE'S a woman! How SHE wears! - and
Mithers himself came into the room where I was waiting for her -
THERE'S a man! How HE wears! and his wig too, for he's had it
these ten years - and he went on at that rate in the complimentary
line, that I began to think I should be obliged to ring the bell.
Ha! ha! ha! He's a pleasant wretch, but he wants principle.'
'What were you doing for Lady Mithers?' asked Steerforth.
'That's tellings, my blessed infant,' she retorted, tapping her
nose again, screwing up her face, and twinkling her eyes like an
imp of supernatural intelligence. 'Never YOU mind! You'd like to
know whether I stop her hair from falling off, or dye it, or touch
up her complexion, or improve her eyebrows, wouldn't you? And so
you shall, my darling - when I tell you! Do you know what my great
grandfather's name was?'
'No,' said Steerforth.
'It was Walker, my sweet pet,' replied Miss Mowcher, 'and he came
of a long line of Walkers, that I inherit all the Hookey estates
I never beheld anything approaching to Miss Mowcher's wink except
Miss Mowcher's self-possession. She had a wonderful way too, when
listening to what was said to her, or when waiting for an answer to
what she had said herself, of pausing with her head cunningly on
one side, and one eye turned up like a magpie's. Altogether I was
lost in amazement, and sat staring at her, quite oblivious, I am
afraid, of the laws of politeness.
She had by this time drawn the chair to her side, and was busily
engaged in producing from the bag (plunging in her short arm to the
shoulder, at every dive) a number of small bottles, sponges, combs,
brushes, bits of flannel, little pairs of curling-irons, and other
instruments, which she tumbled in a heap upon the chair. From this
employment she suddenly desisted, and said to Steerforth, much to
'Who's your friend?'
'Mr. Copperfield,' said Steerforth; 'he wants to know you.'
'Well, then, he shall! I thought he looked as if he did!' returned
Miss Mowcher, waddling up to me, bag in hand, and laughing on me as
she came. 'Face like a peach!' standing on tiptoe to pinch my
cheek as I sat. 'Quite tempting! I'm very fond of peaches. Happy
to make your acquaintance, Mr. Copperfield, I'm sure.'
I said that I congratulated myself on having the honour to make
hers, and that the happiness was mutual.
'Oh, my goodness, how polite we are!' exclaimed Miss Mowcher,
making a preposterous attempt to cover her large face with her
morsel of a hand. 'What a world of gammon and spinnage it is,
though, ain't it!'
This was addressed confidentially to both of us, as the morsel of
a hand came away from the face, and buried itself, arm and all, in
the bag again.
'What do you mean, Miss Mowcher?' said Steerforth.
'Ha! ha! ha! What a refreshing set of humbugs we are, to be sure,
ain't we, my sweet child?' replied that morsel of a woman, feeling
in the bag with her head on one side and her eye in the air. 'Look
here!' taking something out. 'Scraps of the Russian Prince's
nails. Prince Alphabet turned topsy-turvy, I call him, for his
name's got all the letters in it, higgledy-piggledy.'
'The Russian Prince is a client of yours, is he?' said Steerforth.
'I believe you, my pet,' replied Miss Mowcher. 'I keep his nails
in order for him. Twice a week! Fingers and toes.'
'He pays well, I hope?' said Steerforth.
'Pays, as he speaks, my dear child - through the nose,' replied
Miss Mowcher. 'None of your close shavers the Prince ain't. You'd
say so, if you saw his moustachios. Red by nature, black by art.'
'By your art, of course,' said Steerforth.
Miss Mowcher winked assent. 'Forced to send for me. Couldn't help
it. The climate affected his dye; it did very well in Russia, but
it was no go here. You never saw such a rusty Prince in all your
born days as he was. Like old iron!'
'Is that why you called him a humbug, just now?' inquired
'Oh, you're a broth of a boy, ain't you?' returned Miss Mowcher,
shaking her head violently. 'I said, what a set of humbugs we were
in general, and I showed you the scraps of the Prince's nails to
prove it. The Prince's nails do more for me in private families of
the genteel sort, than all my talents put together. I always carry
'em about. They're the best introduction. If Miss Mowcher cuts
the Prince's nails, she must be all right. I give 'em away to the
young ladies. They put 'em in albums, I believe. Ha! ha! ha!
Upon my life, "the whole social system" (as the men call it when
they make speeches in Parliament) is a system of Prince's nails!'
said this least of women, trying to fold her short arms, and
nodding her large head.
Steerforth laughed heartily, and I laughed too. Miss Mowcher
continuing all the time to shake her head (which was very much on
one side), and to look into the air with one eye, and to wink with
'Well, well!' she said, smiting her small knees, and rising, 'this
is not business. Come, Steerforth, let's explore the polar
regions, and have it over.'
She then selected two or three of the little instruments, and a
little bottle, and asked (to my surprise) if the table would bear.
On Steerforth's replying in the affirmative, she pushed a chair
against it, and begging the assistance of my hand, mounted up,
pretty nimbly, to the top, as if it were a stage.
'If either of you saw my ankles,' she said, when she was safely
elevated, 'say so, and I'll go home and destroy myself!'
'I did not,' said Steerforth.
'I did not,' said I.
'Well then,' cried Miss Mowcher,' I'll consent to live. Now,
ducky, ducky, ducky, come to Mrs. Bond and be killed.'
This was an invocation to Steerforth to place himself under her
hands; who, accordingly, sat himself down, with his back to the
table, and his laughing face towards me, and submitted his head to
her inspection, evidently for no other purpose than our
entertainment. To see Miss Mowcher standing over him, looking at
his rich profusion of brown hair through a large round magnifying
glass, which she took out of her pocket, was a most amazing
'You're a pretty fellow!' said Miss Mowcher, after a brief
inspection. 'You'd be as bald as a friar on the top of your head
in twelve months, but for me. just half a minute, my young friend,
and we'll give you a polishing that shall keep your curls on for
the next ten years!'
With this, she tilted some of the contents of the little bottle on
to one of the little bits of flannel, and, again imparting some of
the virtues of that preparation to one of the little brushes, began
rubbing and scraping away with both on the crown of Steerforth's
head in the busiest manner I ever witnessed, talking all the time.
'There's Charley Pyegrave, the duke's son,' she said. 'You know
Charley?' peeping round into his face.
'A little,' said Steerforth.
'What a man HE is! THERE'S a whisker! As to Charley's legs, if
they were only a pair (which they ain't), they'd defy competition.
Would you believe he tried to do without me - in the Life-Guards,
'Mad!' said Steerforth.
'It looks like it. However, mad or sane, he tried,' returned Miss
Mowcher. 'What does he do, but, lo and behold you, he goes into a
perfumer's shop, and wants to buy a bottle of the Madagascar
'Charley does?' said Steerforth.
'Charley does. But they haven't got any of the Madagascar Liquid.'
'What is it? Something to drink?' asked Steerforth.
'To drink?' returned Miss Mowcher, stopping to slap his cheek. 'To
doctor his own moustachios with, you know. There was a woman in
the shop - elderly female - quite a Griffin - who had never even
heard of it by name. "Begging pardon, sir," said the Griffin to
Charley, "it's not - not - not ROUGE, is it?" "Rouge," said
Charley to the Griffin. "What the unmentionable to ears polite, do
you think I want with rouge?" "No offence, sir," said the Griffin;
"we have it asked for by so many names, I thought it might be." Now
that, my child,' continued Miss Mowcher, rubbing all the time as
busily as ever, 'is another instance of the refreshing humbug I was
speaking of. I do something in that way myself - perhaps a good
deal - perhaps a little - sharp's the word, my dear boy - never
'In what way do you mean? In the rouge way?' said Steerforth.
'Put this and that together, my tender pupil,' returned the wary
Mowcher, touching her nose, 'work it by the rule of Secrets in all
trades, and the product will give you the desired result. I say I
do a little in that way myself. One Dowager, SHE calls it
lip-salve. Another, SHE calls it gloves. Another, SHE calls it
tucker-edging. Another, SHE calls it a fan. I call it whatever
THEY call it. I supply it for 'em, but we keep up the trick so, to
one another, and make believe with such a face, that they'd as soon
think of laying it on, before a whole drawing-room, as before me.
And when I wait upon 'em, they'll say to me sometimes - WITH IT ON
- thick, and no mistake - "How am I looking, Mowcher? Am I pale?"
Ha! ha! ha! ha! Isn't THAT refreshing, my young friend!'
I never did in my days behold anything like Mowcher as she stood
upon the dining table, intensely enjoying this refreshment, rubbing
busily at Steerforth's head, and winking at me over it.
'Ah!' she said. 'Such things are not much in demand hereabouts.
That sets me off again! I haven't seen a pretty woman since I've
been here, jemmy.'
'No?' said Steerforth.
'Not the ghost of one,' replied Miss Mowcher.
'We could show her the substance of one, I think?' said Steerforth,
addressing his eyes to mine. 'Eh, Daisy?'
'Yes, indeed,' said I.
'Aha?' cried the little creature, glancing sharply at my face, and
then peeping round at Steerforth's. 'Umph?'
The first exclamation sounded like a question put to both of us,
and the second like a question put to Steerforth only. She seemed
to have found no answer to either, but continued to rub, with her
head on one side and her eye turned up, as if she were looking for
an answer in the air and were confident of its appearing presently.
'A sister of yours, Mr. Copperfield?' she cried, after a pause, and
still keeping the same look-out. 'Aye, aye?'
'No,' said Steerforth, before I could reply. 'Nothing of the sort.
On the contrary, Mr. Copperfield used - or I am much mistaken - to
have a great admiration for her.'
'Why, hasn't he now?' returned Miss Mowcher. 'Is he fickle? Oh,
for shame! Did he sip every flower, and change every hour, until
Polly his passion requited? - Is her name Polly?'
The Elfin suddenness with which she pounced upon me with this
question, and a searching look, quite disconcerted me for a moment.
'No, Miss Mowcher,' I replied. 'Her name is Emily.'
'Aha?' she cried exactly as before. 'Umph? What a rattle I am!
Mr. Copperfield, ain't I volatile?'
Her tone and look implied something that was not agreeable to me in
connexion with the subject. So I said, in a graver manner than any
of us had yet assumed:
'She is as virtuous as she is pretty. She is engaged to be married
to a most worthy and deserving man in her own station of life. I
esteem her for her good sense, as much as I admire her for her good
'Well said!' cried Steerforth. 'Hear, hear, hear! Now I'll quench
the curiosity of this little Fatima, my dear Daisy, by leaving her
nothing to guess at. She is at present apprenticed, Miss Mowcher,
or articled, or whatever it may be, to Omer and Joram,
Haberdashers, Milliners, and so forth, in this town. Do you
observe? Omer and Joram. The promise of which my friend has
spoken, is made and entered into with her cousin; Christian name,
Ham; surname, Peggotty; occupation, boat-builder; also of this
town. She lives with a relative; Christian name, unknown; surname,
Peggotty; occupation, seafaring; also of this town. She is the
prettiest and most engaging little fairy in the world. I admire
her - as my friend does - exceedingly. If it were not that I might
appear to disparage her Intended, which I know my friend would not
like, I would add, that to me she seems to be throwing herself
away; that I am sure she might do better; and that I swear she was
born to be a lady.'
Miss Mowcher listened to these words, which were very slowly and
distinctly spoken, with her head on one side, and her eye in the
air as if she were still looking for that answer. When he ceased
she became brisk again in an instant, and rattled away with
'Oh! And that's all about it, is it?' she exclaimed, trimming his
whiskers with a little restless pair of scissors, that went
glancing round his head in all directions. 'Very well: very well!
Quite a long story. Ought to end "and they lived happy ever
afterwards"; oughtn't it? Ah! What's that game at forfeits? I
love my love with an E, because she's enticing; I hate her with an
E, because she's engaged. I took her to the sign of the exquisite,
and treated her with an elopement, her name's Emily, and she lives
in the east? Ha! ha! ha! Mr. Copperfield, ain't I volatile?'
Merely looking at me with extravagant slyness, and not waiting for
any reply, she continued, without drawing breath:
'There! If ever any scapegrace was trimmed and touched up to
perfection, you are, Steerforth. If I understand any noddle in the
world, I understand yours. Do you hear me when I tell you that, my
darling? I understand yours,' peeping down into his face. 'Now
you may mizzle, jemmy (as we say at Court), and if Mr. Copperfield
will take the chair I'll operate on him.'
'What do you say, Daisy?' inquired Steerforth, laughing, and
resigning his seat. 'Will you be improved?'
'Thank you, Miss Mowcher, not this evening.'
'Don't say no,' returned the little woman, looking at me with the
aspect of a connoisseur; 'a little bit more eyebrow?'
'Thank you,' I returned, 'some other time.'
'Have it carried half a quarter of an inch towards the temple,'
said Miss Mowcher. 'We can do it in a fortnight.'
'No, I thank you. Not at present.'
'Go in for a tip,' she urged. 'No? Let's get the scaffolding up,
then, for a pair of whiskers. Come!'
I could not help blushing as I declined, for I felt we were on my
weak point, now. But Miss Mowcher, finding that I was not at
present disposed for any decoration within the range of her art,
and that I was, for the time being, proof against the blandishments
of the small bottle which she held up before one eye to enforce her
persuasions, said we would make a beginning on an early day, and
requested the aid of my hand to descend from her elevated station.
Thus assisted, she skipped down with much agility, and began to tie
her double chin into her bonnet.
'The fee,' said Steerforth, 'is -'
'Five bob,' replied Miss Mowcher, 'and dirt cheap, my chicken.
Ain't I volatile, Mr. Copperfield?'
I replied politely: 'Not at all.' But I thought she was rather so,
when she tossed up his two half-crowns like a goblin pieman, caught
them, dropped them in her pocket, and gave it a loud slap.
'That's the Till!' observed Miss Mowcher, standing at the chair
again, and replacing in the bag a miscellaneous collection of
little objects she had emptied out of it. 'Have I got all my
traps? It seems so. It won't do to be like long Ned Beadwood,
when they took him to church "to marry him to somebody", as he
says, and left the bride behind. Ha! ha! ha! A wicked rascal,
Ned, but droll! Now, I know I'm going to break your hearts, but I
am forced to leave you. You must call up all your fortitude, and
try to bear it. Good-bye, Mr. Copperfield! Take care of yourself,
jockey of Norfolk! How I have been rattling on! It's all the
fault of you two wretches. I forgive you! "Bob swore!" - as the
Englishman said for "Good night", when he first learnt French, and
thought it so like English. "Bob swore," my ducks!'
With the bag slung over her arm, and rattling as she waddled away,
she waddled to the door, where she stopped to inquire if she should
leave us a lock of her hair. 'Ain't I volatile?' she added, as a
commentary on this offer, and, with her finger on her nose,
Steerforth laughed to that degree, that it was impossible for me to
help laughing too; though I am not sure I should have done so, but
for this inducement. When we had had our laugh quite out, which
was after some time, he told me that Miss Mowcher had quite an
extensive connexion, and made herself useful to a variety of people
in a variety of ways. Some people trifled with her as a mere
oddity, he said; but she was as shrewdly and sharply observant as
anyone he knew, and as long-headed as she was short-armed. He told
me that what she had said of being here, and there, and everywhere,
was true enough; for she made little darts into the provinces, and
seemed to pick up customers everywhere, and to know everybody. I
asked him what her disposition was: whether it was at all
mischievous, and if her sympathies were generally on the right side
of things: but, not succeeding in attracting his attention to these
questions after two or three attempts, I forbore or forgot to
repeat them. He told me instead, with much rapidity, a good deal
about her skill, and her profits; and about her being a scientific
cupper, if I should ever have occasion for her service in that
She was the principal theme of our conversation during the evening:
and when we parted for the night Steerforth called after me over
the banisters, 'Bob swore!' as I went downstairs.
I was surprised, when I came to Mr. Barkis's house, to find Ham
walking up and down in front of it, and still more surprised to
learn from him that little Em'ly was inside. I naturally inquired
why he was not there too, instead of pacing the streets by himself?
'Why, you see, Mas'r Davy,' he rejoined, in a hesitating manner,
'Em'ly, she's talking to some 'un in here.'
'I should have thought,' said I, smiling, 'that that was a reason
for your being in here too, Ham.'
'Well, Mas'r Davy, in a general way, so 't would be,' he returned;
'but look'ee here, Mas'r Davy,' lowering his voice, and speaking
very gravely. 'It's a young woman, sir - a young woman, that Em'ly
knowed once, and doen't ought to know no more.'
When I heard these words, a light began to fall upon the figure I
had seen following them, some hours ago.
'It's a poor wurem, Mas'r Davy,' said Ham, 'as is trod under foot
by all the town. Up street and down street. The mowld o' the
churchyard don't hold any that the folk shrink away from, more.'
'Did I see her tonight, Ham, on the sand, after we met you?'
'Keeping us in sight?' said Ham. 'It's like you did, Mas'r Davy.
Not that I know'd then, she was theer, sir, but along of her
creeping soon arterwards under Em'ly's little winder, when she see
the light come, and whispering "Em'ly, Em'ly, for Christ's sake,
have a woman's heart towards me. I was once like you!" Those was
solemn words, Mas'r Davy, fur to hear!'
'They were indeed, Ham. What did Em'ly do?'
'Says Em'ly, "Martha, is it you? Oh, Martha, can it be you?" - for
they had sat at work together, many a day, at Mr. Omer's.'
'I recollect her now!' cried I, recalling one of the two girls I
had seen when I first went there. 'I recollect her quite well!'
'Martha Endell,' said Ham. 'Two or three year older than Em'ly,
but was at the school with her.'
'I never heard her name,' said I. 'I didn't mean to interrupt
'For the matter o' that, Mas'r Davy,' replied Ham, 'all's told
a'most in them words, "Em'ly, Em'ly, for Christ's sake, have a
woman's heart towards me. I was once like you!" She wanted to
speak to Em'ly. Em'ly couldn't speak to her theer, for her loving
uncle was come home, and he wouldn't - no, Mas'r Davy,' said Ham,
with great earnestness, 'he couldn't, kind-natur'd, tender-hearted
as he is, see them two together, side by side, for all the
treasures that's wrecked in the sea.'
I felt how true this was. I knew it, on the instant, quite as well
'So Em'ly writes in pencil on a bit of paper,' he pursued, 'and
gives it to her out o' winder to bring here. "Show that," she
says, "to my aunt, Mrs. Barkis, and she'll set you down by her
fire, for the love of me, till uncle is gone out, and I can come."
By and by she tells me what I tell you, Mas'r Davy, and asks me to
bring her. What can I do? She doen't ought to know any such, but
I can't deny her, when the tears is on her face.'
He put his hand into the breast of his shaggy jacket, and took out
with great care a pretty little purse.
'And if I could deny her when the tears was on her face, Mas'r
Davy,' said Ham, tenderly adjusting it on the rough palm of his
hand, 'how could I deny her when she give me this to carry for her
- knowing what she brought it for? Such a toy as it is!' said Ham,
thoughtfully looking on it. 'With such a little money in it, Em'ly
I shook him warmly by the hand when he had put it away again - for
that was more satisfactory to me than saying anything - and we
walked up and down, for a minute or two, in silence. The door
opened then, and Peggotty appeared, beckoning to Ham to come in.
I would have kept away, but she came after me, entreating me to
come in too. Even then, I would have avoided the room where they
all were, but for its being the neat-tiled kitchen I have mentioned
more than once. The door opening immediately into it, I found
myself among them before I considered whither I was going.
The girl - the same I had seen upon the sands - was near the fire.
She was sitting on the ground, with her head and one arm lying on
a chair. I fancied, from the disposition of her figure, that Em'ly
had but newly risen from the chair, and that the forlorn head might
perhaps have been lying on her lap. I saw but little of the girl's
face, over which her hair fell loose and scattered, as if she had
been disordering it with her own hands; but I saw that she was
young, and of a fair complexion. Peggotty had been crying. So had
little Em'ly. Not a word was spoken when we first went in; and the
Dutch clock by the dresser seemed, in the silence, to tick twice as
loud as usual. Em'ly spoke first.
'Martha wants,' she said to Ham, 'to go to London.'
'Why to London?' returned Ham.
He stood between them, looking on the prostrate girl with a mixture
of compassion for her, and of jealousy of her holding any
companionship with her whom he loved so well, which I have always
remembered distinctly. They both spoke as if she were ill; in a
soft, suppressed tone that was plainly heard, although it hardly
rose above a whisper.
'Better there than here,' said a third voice aloud - Martha's,
though she did not move. 'No one knows me there. Everybody knows
'What will she do there?' inquired Ham.
She lifted up her head, and looked darkly round at him for a
moment; then laid it down again, and curved her right arm about her
neck, as a woman in a fever, or in an agony of pain from a shot,
might twist herself.
'She will try to do well,' said little Em'ly. 'You don't know what
she has said to us. Does he - do they - aunt?'
Peggotty shook her head compassionately.
'I'll try,' said Martha, 'if you'll help me away. I never can do
worse than I have done here. I may do better. Oh!' with a
dreadful shiver, 'take me out of these streets, where the whole
town knows me from a child!'
As Em'ly held out her hand to Ham, I saw him put in it a little
canvas bag. She took it, as if she thought it were her purse, and
made a step or two forward; but finding her mistake, came back to
where he had retired near me, and showed it to him.
'It's all yourn, Em'ly,' I could hear him say. 'I haven't nowt in
all the wureld that ain't yourn, my dear. It ain't of no delight
to me, except for you!'
The tears rose freshly in her eyes, but she turned away and went to
Martha. What she gave her, I don't know. I saw her stooping over
her, and putting money in her bosom. She whispered something, as
she asked was that enough? 'More than enough,' the other said, and
took her hand and kissed it.
Then Martha arose, and gathering her shawl about her, covering her
face with it, and weeping aloud, went slowly to the door. She
stopped a moment before going out, as if she would have uttered
something or turned back; but no word passed her lips. Making the
same low, dreary, wretched moaning in her shawl, she went away.
As the door closed, little Em'ly looked at us three in a hurried
manner and then hid her face in her hands, and fell to sobbing.
'Doen't, Em'ly!' said Ham, tapping her gently on the shoulder.
'Doen't, my dear! You doen't ought to cry so, pretty!'
'Oh, Ham!' she exclaimed, still weeping pitifully, 'I am not so
good a girl as I ought to be! I know I have not the thankful
heart, sometimes, I ought to have!'
'Yes, yes, you have, I'm sure,' said Ham.
'No! no! no!' cried little Em'ly, sobbing, and shaking her head.
'I am not as good a girl as I ought to be. Not near! not near!'
And still she cried, as if her heart would break.
'I try your love too much. I know I do!' she sobbed. 'I'm often
cross to you, and changeable with you, when I ought to be far
different. You are never so to me. Why am I ever so to you, when
I should think of nothing but how to be grateful, and to make you
'You always make me so,' said Ham, 'my dear! I am happy in the
sight of you. I am happy, all day long, in the thoughts of you.'
'Ah! that's not enough!' she cried. 'That is because you are good;
not because I am! Oh, my dear, it might have been a better fortune
for you, if you had been fond of someone else - of someone steadier
and much worthier than me, who was all bound up in you, and never
vain and changeable like me!'
'Poor little tender-heart,' said Ham, in a low voice. 'Martha has
overset her, altogether.'
'Please, aunt,' sobbed Em'ly, 'come here, and let me lay my head
upon you. Oh, I am very miserable tonight, aunt! Oh, I am not as
good a girl as I ought to be. I am not, I know!'
Peggotty had hastened to the chair before the fire. Em'ly, with
her arms around her neck, kneeled by her, looking up most earnestly
into her face.
'Oh, pray, aunt, try to help me! Ham, dear, try to help me! Mr.
David, for the sake of old times, do, please, try to help me! I
want to be a better girl than I am. I want to feel a hundred times
more thankful than I do. I want to feel more, what a blessed thing
it is to be the wife of a good man, and to lead a peaceful life.
Oh me, oh me! Oh my heart, my heart!'
She dropped her face on my old nurse's breast, and, ceasing this
supplication, which in its agony and grief was half a woman's, half
a child's, as all her manner was (being, in that, more natural, and
better suited to her beauty, as I thought, than any other manner
could have been), wept silently, while my old nurse hushed her like
She got calmer by degrees, and then we soothed her; now talking
encouragingly, and now jesting a little with her, until she began
to raise her head and speak to us. So we got on, until she was
able to smile, and then to laugh, and then to sit up, half ashamed;
while Peggotty recalled her stray ringlets, dried her eyes, and
made her neat again, lest her uncle should wonder, when she got
home, why his darling had been crying.
I saw her do, that night, what I had never seen her do before. I
saw her innocently kiss her chosen husband on the cheek, and creep
close to his bluff form as if it were her best support. When they
went away together, in the waning moonlight, and I looked after
them, comparing their departure in my mind with Martha's, I saw
that she held his arm with both her hands, and still kept close to
I CORROBORATE Mr. DICK, AND CHOOSE A PROFESSION
When I awoke in the morning I thought very much of little Em'ly,
and her emotion last night, after Martha had left. I felt as if I
had come into the knowledge of those domestic weaknesses and
tendernesses in a sacred confidence, and that to disclose them,
even to Steerforth, would be wrong. I had no gentler feeling
towards anyone than towards the pretty creature who had been my
playmate, and whom I have always been persuaded, and shall always
be persuaded, to my dying day, I then devotedly loved. The
repetition to any ears - even to Steerforth's - of what she had
been unable to repress when her heart lay open to me by an
accident, I felt would be a rough deed, unworthy of myself,
unworthy of the light of our pure childhood, which I always saw
encircling her head. I made a resolution, therefore, to keep it in
my own breast; and there it gave her image a new grace.
While we were at breakfast, a letter was delivered to me from my
aunt. As it contained matter on which I thought Steerforth could
advise me as well as anyone, and on which I knew I should be
delighted to consult him, I resolved to make it a subject of
discussion on our journey home. For the present we had enough to
do, in taking leave of all our friends. Mr. Barkis was far from
being the last among them, in his regret at our departure; and I
believe would even have opened the box again, and sacrificed
another guinea, if it would have kept us eight-and-forty hours in
Yarmouth. Peggotty and all her family were full of grief at our
going. The whole house of Omer and Joram turned out to bid us
good-bye; and there were so many seafaring volunteers in attendance
on Steerforth, when our portmanteaux went to the coach, that if we
had had the baggage of a regiment with us, we should hardly have
wanted porters to carry it. In a word, we departed to the regret
and admiration of all concerned, and left a great many people very
sorry behind US.
Do you stay long here, Littimer?' said I, as he stood waiting to
see the coach start.
'No, sir,' he replied; 'probably not very long, sir.'
'He can hardly say, just now,' observed Steerforth, carelessly.
'He knows what he has to do, and he'll do it.'
'That I am sure he will,' said I.
Littimer touched his hat in acknowledgement of my good opinion, and
I felt about eight years old. He touched it once more, wishing us
a good journey; and we left him standing on the pavement, as
respectable a mystery as any pyramid in Egypt.
For some little time we held no conversation, Steerforth being
unusually silent, and I being sufficiently engaged in wondering,
within myself, when I should see the old places again, and what new
changes might happen to me or them in the meanwhile. At length
Steerforth, becoming gay and talkative in a moment, as he could
become anything he liked at any moment, pulled me by the arm:
'Find a voice, David. What about that letter you were speaking of
'Oh!' said I, taking it out of my pocket. 'It's from my aunt.'
'And what does she say, requiring consideration?'
'Why, she reminds me, Steerforth,' said I, 'that I came out on
this expedition to look about me, and to think a little.'
'Which, of course, you have done?'
'Indeed I can't say I have, particularly. To tell you the truth,
I am afraid I have forgotten it.'
'Well! look about you now, and make up for your negligence,' said
Steerforth. 'Look to the right, and you'll see a flat country,
with a good deal of marsh in it; look to the left, and you'll see
the same. Look to the front, and you'll find no difference; look
to the rear, and there it is still.'
I laughed, and replied that I saw no suitable profession in the
whole prospect; which was perhaps to be attributed to its flatness.
'What says our aunt on the subject?' inquired Steerforth, glancing
at the letter in my hand. 'Does she suggest anything?'
'Why, yes,' said I. 'She asks me, here, if I think I should like
to be a proctor? What do you think of it?'
'Well, I don't know,' replied Steerforth, coolly. 'You may as well
do that as anything else, I suppose?'
I could not help laughing again, at his balancing all callings and
professions so equally; and I told him so.
'What is a proctor, Steerforth?' said I.
'Why, he is a sort of monkish attorney,' replied Steerforth. 'He
is, to some faded courts held in Doctors' Commons, - a lazy old
nook near St. Paul's Churchyard - what solicitors are to the courts
of law and equity. He is a functionary whose existence, in the
natural course of things, would have terminated about two hundred
years ago. I can tell you best what he is, by telling you what
Doctors' Commons is. It's a little out-of-the-way place, where
they administer what is called ecclesiastical law, and play all
kinds of tricks with obsolete old monsters of acts of Parliament,
which three-fourths of the world know nothing about, and the other
fourth supposes to have been dug up, in a fossil state, in the days
of the Edwards. It's a place that has an ancient monopoly in suits
about people's wills and people's marriages, and disputes among
ships and boats.'
'Nonsense, Steerforth!' I exclaimed. 'You don't mean to say that
there is any affinity between nautical matters and ecclesiastical
'I don't, indeed, my dear boy,' he returned; 'but I mean to say
that they are managed and decided by the same set of people, down
in that same Doctors' Commons. You shall go there one day, and
find them blundering through half the nautical terms in Young's
Dictionary, apropos of the "Nancy" having run down the "Sarah
Jane", or Mr. Peggotty and the Yarmouth boatmen having put off in
a gale of wind with an anchor and cable to the "Nelson" Indiaman in
distress; and you shall go there another day, and find them deep in
the evidence, pro and con, respecting a clergyman who has
misbehaved himself; and you shall find the judge in the nautical
case, the advocate in the clergyman's case, or contrariwise. They
are like actors: now a man's a judge, and now he is not a judge;
now he's one thing, now he's another; now he's something else,
change and change about; but it's always a very pleasant,
profitable little affair of private theatricals, presented to an
uncommonly select audience.'
'But advocates and proctors are not one and the same?' said I, a
little puzzled. 'Are they?'
'No,' returned Steerforth, 'the advocates are civilians - men who
have taken a doctor's degree at college - which is the first reason
of my knowing anything about it. The proctors employ the
advocates. Both get very comfortable fees, and altogether they
make a mighty snug little party. On the whole, I would recommend
you to take to Doctors' Commons kindly, David. They plume them-
selves on their gentility there, I can tell you, if that's any
I made allowance for Steerforth's light way of treating the
subject, and, considering it with reference to the staid air of
gravity and antiquity which I associated with that 'lazy old nook
near St. Paul's Churchyard', did not feel indisposed towards my
aunt's suggestion; which she left to my free decision, making no
scruple of telling me that it had occurred to her, on her lately
visiting her own proctor in Doctors' Commons for the purpose of
settling her will in my favour.
'That's a laudable proceeding on the part of our aunt, at all
events,' said Steerforth, when I mentioned it; 'and one deserving
of all encouragement. Daisy, my advice is that you take kindly to
I quite made up my mind to do so. I then told Steerforth that my
aunt was in town awaiting me (as I found from her letter), and that
she had taken lodgings for a week at a kind of private hotel at
Lincoln's Inn Fields, where there was a stone staircase, and a
convenient door in the roof; my aunt being firmly persuaded that
every house in London was going to be burnt down every night.
We achieved the rest of our journey pleasantly, sometimes recurring
to Doctors' Commons, and anticipating the distant days when I
should be a proctor there, which Steerforth pictured in a variety
of humorous and whimsical lights, that made us both merry. When we
came to our journey's end, he went home, engaging to call upon me
next day but one; and I drove to Lincoln's Inn Fields, where I
found my aunt up, and waiting supper.
If I had been round the world since we parted, we could hardly have
been better pleased to meet again. My aunt cried outright as she
embraced me; and said, pretending to laugh, that if my poor mother
had been alive, that silly little creature would have shed tears,
she had no doubt.
'So you have left Mr. Dick behind, aunt?' said I. 'I am sorry for
that. Ah, Janet, how do you do?'
As Janet curtsied, hoping I was well, I observed my aunt's visage
lengthen very much.
'I am sorry for it, too,' said my aunt, rubbing her nose. 'I have
had no peace of mind, Trot, since I have been here.'
Before I could ask why, she told me.
'I am convinced,' said my aunt, laying her hand with melancholy
firmness on the table, 'that Dick's character is not a character to
keep the donkeys off. I am confident he wants strength of purpose.
I ought to have left Janet at home, instead, and then my mind might
perhaps have been at ease. If ever there was a donkey trespassing
on my green,' said my aunt, with emphasis, 'there was one this
afternoon at four o'clock. A cold feeling came over me from head
to foot, and I know it was a donkey!'
I tried to comfort her on this point, but she rejected consolation.
'It was a donkey,' said my aunt; 'and it was the one with the
stumpy tail which that Murdering sister of a woman rode, when she
came to my house.' This had been, ever since, the only name my
aunt knew for Miss Murdstone. 'If there is any Donkey in Dover,
whose audacity it is harder to me to bear than another's, that,'
said my aunt, striking the table, 'is the animal!'
Janet ventured to suggest that my aunt might be disturbing herself
unnecessarily, and that she believed the donkey in question was
then engaged in the sand-and-gravel line of business, and was not
available for purposes of trespass. But my aunt wouldn't hear of
Supper was comfortably served and hot, though my aunt's rooms were
very high up - whether that she might have more stone stairs for
her money, or might be nearer to the door in the roof, I don't know
- and consisted of a roast fowl, a steak, and some vegetables, to
all of which I did ample justice, and which were all excellent.
But my aunt had her own ideas concerning London provision, and ate
'I suppose this unfortunate fowl was born and brought up in a
cellar,' said my aunt, 'and never took the air except on a hackney
coach-stand. I hope the steak may be beef, but I don't believe it.
Nothing's genuine in the place, in my opinion, but the dirt.'
'Don't you think the fowl may have come out of the country, aunt?'
'Certainly not,' returned my aunt. 'It would be no pleasure to a
London tradesman to sell anything which was what he pretended it
I did not venture to controvert this opinion, but I made a good
supper, which it greatly satisfied her to see me do. When the
table was cleared, Janet assisted her to arrange her hair, to put
on her nightcap, which was of a smarter construction than usual
('in case of fire', my aunt said), and to fold her gown back over
her knees, these being her usual preparations for warming herself
before going to bed. I then made her, according to certain
established regulations from which no deviation, however slight,
could ever be permitted, a glass of hot wine and water, and a slice
of toast cut into long thin strips. With these accompaniments we
were left alone to finish the evening, my aunt sitting opposite to