Part 2 out of 4
whereupon Mr. Squeers said in a solemn voice, "For what we have received,
may the Lord make us truly thankful!"--and went away to his own.
After eating his share of porridge, and having further disposed of a slice
of bread and butter, allotted to him in virtue of his office, Nicholas sat
himself down, to wait for school-time. He could not but observe how silent
and sad the boys seemed to be. There was none of the noise and clamour of
a school-room; none of its boisterous play, or hearty mirth. The only
pupil who evinced the slightest tendency towards locomotion or playfulness
was Master Squeers, and as his chief amusement was to tread upon the other
boys' toes in his new boots, his flow of spirits was rather disagreeable
After some half-hour's delay, Mr. Squeers reappeared, and the boys took
their places and their books, and ranged themselves in front of the
"This is the class in English spelling, and philosophy, Nickleby," said
Squeers, beckoning Nicholas to stand beside him. "We'll get up a Latin
one, and hand that over to you. Now, then, where's the first boy?"
"Please, sir, he's cleaning the back parlour window," answered one of the
"So he is, to be sure," rejoined Squeers. "We go upon the practical mode
of teaching, Nickleby; the regular education system. C-l-e-a-n, clean,
verb active, to make bright, to scour. When the boy knows this out of
book, he goes and does it. Where's the second boy?"
"Please, sir, he's weeding the garden," replied a small voice.
"To be sure," said Squeers. "So he is. B-o-t, bot, t-i-n, tin, n-e-y, ney,
bottinney, noun substantive, a knowledge of plants. Third boy, what's a
"A beast, sir," replied the boy.
"So it is," said Squeers. "Ain't it, Nickleby?"
"I believe there is no doubt of that, sir," answered Nicholas.
"Of course there isn't," said Squeers. "A horse is a quadruped, and
quadruped's Latin for beast, as every body that's gone through the grammar
knows. As you're perfect in that," resumed Squeers, turning to the boy,
"go and look after _my_ horse, and rub him down well, or I'll rub you
down. The rest of the class go and draw water up till somebody tells you
to leave off, for it's washing day to-morrow."
So saying, he dismissed the class, and eyed Nicholas with a look, half
cunning and half doubtful, as if he were not altogether certain what he
might think of him by this time.
"That's the way we do it, Nickleby," he said, after a pause.
Nicholas shrugged his shoulders, and said he saw it was.
"And a very good way it is, too," said Squeers. "Now just take them
fourteen little boys and hear them some reading, because, you know, you
must begin to be useful."
Mr. Squeers said this as if it had suddenly occurred to him, either that
he must not say too much to his assistant, or that his assistant did not
say enough to him in praise of the establishment. The children were
arranged in a semi-circle round the new master, and he was soon listening
to their dull, drawling, hesitating recital of stories to be found in the
old spelling books. In this exciting occupation the morning lagged heavily
on. At one o'clock, the boys sat down in the kitchen to some hard salt
beef. After this, there was another hour of crouching in the schoolroom
and shivering with cold, and then school began again.
It was Mr. Squeers's custom to call the boys together, and make a sort of
report, after every half-yearly visit to the metropolis, regarding the
relations and friends he had seen, the news he had heard, the letters he
had brought down, and so forth. This solemn proceeding took place on the
afternoon of the day succeeding his return. The boys were recalled from
house-window, garden and stable, and cow-yard, when Mr. Squeers with a
small bundle of papers in his hand, and Mrs. Squeers following with a pair
of canes, entered the room, and proclaimed silence.
"Let any boy speak without leave," said Mr. Squeers mildly, "and I'll take
the skin off his back."
This special proclamation had the desired effect, and a death-like silence
immediately prevailed, in the midst of which Mr. Squeers went on to say:
"Boys, I've been to London, and have returned as strong and well as ever."
According to half-yearly custom, the boys gave three feeble cheers at this
refreshing intelligence. Such cheers! Sighs of extra strength with the
Squeers then proceeded to give several messages of various degrees of
unpleasantness to sundry of the boys, followed up by vigorous canings
where he had any grudge to pay off. One by one the boys answered to their
"Now let us see," said Squeers. "A letter for Cobbey. Stand up, Cobbey."
Another boy stood up and eyed the letter very hard, while Squeers made a
mental abstract of the same.
"Oh," said Squeers; "Cobbey's grandmother is dead, which is all the news
his sister sends, except eighteenpence, which will just pay for that
broken square of glass. Mrs. Squeers, my dear, will you take the money?"
The worthy lady pocketed the eighteenpence with a most business-like air,
and Squeers passed on to the next boy, as coolly as possible.
"Mobbs's step-mother," said Squeers, "took to her bed on hearing that he
wouldn't eat fat, and has been very ill ever since. She wishes to know, by
an early post, where he expects to go to if he quarrels with his vittles;
and with what feelings he could turn up his nose at the cow's liver broth,
after his good master had asked a blessing on it. This was told her in the
London newspapers--not by Mr. Squeers, for he is too kind and good to set
anybody against anybody--and it has vexed her so much, Mobbs can't think.
She is sorry to find he is discontented, which is sinful and horrid, and
hopes Mr. Squeers will flog him into a happier state of mind; and with
this view, she has also stopped his halfpenny a week pocket-money, and
given a double-bladed knife with a corkscrew in it to the Missionaries,
which she had bought on purpose for him."
[Illustration: BOLDER, COBBEY, GRAYMARSH, MOBB'S.]
"A sulky state of feeling," said Squeers, after a terrible pause.
"Cheerfulness and contentment must be kept up. Mobbs, come to me."
Mobbs moved slowly towards the desk, rubbing his eyes in anticipation of
good cause for doing so; and he soon afterwards retired by the side door,
with as good a cause as a boy need have.
Mr. Squeers then proceeded to open a miscellaneous collection of letters;
some enclosing money, which Mrs. Squeers "took care of;" and others
referring to small articles of apparel, all of which the same lady stated
to be too large, or too small, and calculated for nobody but young
Squeers, who would appear indeed to have had most accommodating limbs,
since everything that came into the school fitted him to a nicety. His
head, in particular, must have been singularly elastic, for hats and caps
of all dimensions were alike to him.
This business despatched, a few slovenly lessons were performed, and
Squeers retired to his fireside, leaving Nicholas to take care of the boys
in the schoolroom. There was a small stove at that corner of the room
which was nearest to the master's desk, and by it Nicholas sat down,
depressed and degraded by the consciousness of his position. But for the
present his resolve was taken. He had written to his mother and sister,
announcing the safe conclusion of his journey, and saying as little about
Dotheboys Hall, and saying that little as cheerfully, as he could. He
hoped that by remaining where he was, he might do some good, even there;
at all events, others depended too much on him to admit of his complaining
From the moment of making that resolve, Nicholas got on in his place as
well as he could, doing his best to improve matters. He arranged a few
regular lessons for the boys, and saw that they were well attended; but
his heart sank more and more, for besides the dull, unvarying round of
misery there was another system of annoyance which nearly drove him wild
by its injustice and cruelty. Upon the wretched creature Smike, all the
spleen and ill-humour that could not be vented on Nicholas, were
unceasingly bestowed. Drudgery would have been nothing--Smike was well
used to that. Buffetings inflicted without cause would have been equally a
matter of course, for to them also he had served a long and weary
apprenticeship; but it was no sooner observed that he had become attached
to Nicholas, than stripes and blows, morning, noon, and night, were his
only portion. Squeers was jealous of the influence which his new teacher
had so soon acquired; and his family hated him, and Smike paid for both.
Nicholas saw this, and ground his teeth at every repetition of the savage
and cowardly attack.
Not many weeks later, on a cold January morning, when Nicholas awoke he
found the entire school agog with quivering excitement. Smike had run
away, and Squeers's anger was at white heat against him and every one
"He is off," said Mrs. Squeers, angrily. "The cowhouse and stable are
locked up, so he can't be there; and he's not down stairs anywhere. He
must have gone York way, and by a public road too. Then of course,"
continued Mrs. Squeers, "as he had no money he must beg his way, and he
could do that nowhere, but on the public road."
"That's true," exclaimed Squeers, clapping his hands.
"True! Yes; but you would never have thought of it, if I hadn't said so,"
replied his wife. "Now, if you take the chaise and go one road, and I
borrow Swallow's chaise and go the other, one or other of us is pretty
certain to lay hold of him!"
This plan was adopted and put in execution without a moment's delay.
After a very hasty breakfast, Squeers started forth in the pony-chaise,
intent upon discovery and vengeance. Shortly afterwards, Mrs. Squeers
issued forth in another chaise and another direction, taking with her a
good-sized bludgeon, several odd pieces of strong cord, and a stout
Nicholas remained behind, in a tumult of feeling, sensible that whatever
might be the upshot of the boy's flight, nothing but painful and
deplorable consequences were likely to ensue from it. The unhappy being
had established a hold upon his sympathy and compassion, which made his
heart ache at the prospect of the suffering he was destined to undergo.
The next evening Squeers returned alone and unsuccessful. Another day
came, and Nicholas was scarcely awake when he heard the wheels of a chaise
approaching the house. It stopped. The voice of Mrs. Squeers was heard in
exultation. Nicholas hardly dared to look out of the window; but he did
so, and the very first object that met his eyes was the wretched Smike: so
bedabbled with mud and rain, so haggard, and worn, and wild, that, but for
his garments being such as no scarecrow was ever seen to wear, he might
have been doubtful, even then, of his identity.
"Lift him out," said Squeers, after he had literally feasted his eyes upon
the culprit. "Bring him in; bring him in!"
"Take care!" cried Mrs. Squeers. "We tied his legs under the apron and
made 'em fast to the chaise, to prevent his giving us the slip again."
With hands trembling with delight, Squeers unloosened the cord; and Smike,
more dead than alive, was brought into the house and securely locked up in
It may be a matter of surprise to some persons that Mr. and Mrs. Squeers
should have taken so much trouble to repossess themselves of an
incumbrance of which it was their wont to complain so loudly; but the
services of the drudge, if performed by any one else, would have cost some
ten or twelve shillings per week in the shape of wages; and furthermore,
all runaways were, as a matter of policy, made severe examples of, at
Dotheboys Hall, as in consequence of the limited extent of its
attractions, there was but little inducement, beyond the powerful impulse
of fear, for any pupil, provided with the usual number of legs and the
power of using them, to remain.
The news that Smike had been caught and brought back in triumph, ran like
wild-fire through the hungry community, and expectation was on tiptoe all
the morning. On tiptoe it was destined to remain, however, until
afternoon; when Squeers called the school together, and dragged Smike by
the collar to the front of the room before them all.
"Have you anything to say?" demanded Squeers, giving his right arm two or
three flourishes to try its power and suppleness. "Stand a little out of
the way, Mrs. Squeers, my dear; I've hardly got room enough."
"Spare me, sir!" cried Smike.
"Oh! that's all, is it?" said Squeers. "Yes, I'll flog you within an inch
of your life, and spare you that."
"I was driven to do it," said Smike faintly; and casting an imploring look
"Driven to do it, were you?" said Squeers. "Oh! It wasn't your fault; it
was mine, I suppose--eh?"
Squeers caught the boy firmly in his grip; one desperate cut had fallen on
his body--he was wincing from the lash and uttering a scream of pain--it
was raised again, and again about to fall--when Nicholas Nickleby,
suddenly starting up, cried "Stop!" in a voice that made the rafters ring.
"Who cried stop?" said Squeers, turning savagely round.
"I," said Nicholas, stepping forward. "This must not go on!"
"Must not go on!" cried Squeers, almost in a shriek.
"No!" thundered Nicholas.
Aghast and stupified by the boldness of the interference, Squeers released
his hold of Smike, and, falling back a pace or two, gazed upon Nicholas
with looks that were positively frightful.
"I say must not," repeated Nicholas, nothing daunted; "shall not. I will
Squeers continued to gaze upon him, with his eyes starting out of his
head; but astonishment had actually, for the moment, bereft him of speech.
"You have disregarded all my quiet interference in the miserable lad's
behalf," said Nicholas; "you have returned no answer to the letter in
which I begged forgiveness for him, and offered to be responsible that he
would remain quietly here. Don't blame me for this public interference.
You have brought it upon yourself; not I."
"Sit down, beggar!" screamed Squeers, almost beside himself with rage, and
seizing Smike as he spoke.
"Wretch," rejoined Nicholas, fiercely, "touch him at your peril! I will
not stand by and see it done. My blood is up, and I have the strength of
ten such men as you. Look to yourself, for by Heaven I will not spare you,
if you drive me on!"
"Stand back," cried Squeers, brandishing his weapon.
"I have a long series of insults to avenge," said Nicholas, flushed with
passion; "and my indignation is aggravated by the dastardly cruelties
practised on helpless infancy in this foul den. Have a care; for if you do
rouse the devil within me, the consequences shall fall heavily upon your
He had scarcely spoken, when Squeers, in a violent outbreak of wrath, and
with a cry like the howl of a wild beast, struck him a blow across the
face with his instrument of torture, which raised up a bar of livid flesh
as it was inflicted. Smarting with the agony of the blow, and
concentrating into that one moment all his feelings of rage, scorn, and
indignation, Nicholas sprang upon him, wrested the weapon from his hand,
and pinning him by the throat, beat the ruffian till he roared for mercy.
Then he hastily retired from the fray, leaving Squeers's family to restore
him as best they might. Seeking his room with all possible haste, Nicholas
considered seriously what course of action was best for him to adopt.
After a brief consideration, he packed up a few clothes in a small
leathern valise, and, finding that nobody offered to oppose his progress,
marched boldly out by the front door, and struck into the road which led
to Greta Bridge.
When he had cooled, sufficiently to be enabled to give his present
circumstances some little reflection, they did not appear in a very
encouraging light; he had only four shillings and a few pence in his
pocket, and was something more than two hundred and fifty miles from
London, whither he resolved to direct his steps.
He lay, that night, at a cottage where beds were let at a cheap rate to
the more humble class of travellers; and, rising betimes next morning,
made his way before night to Boroughbridge. Passing through that town in
search of some cheap resting-place, he stumbled upon an empty barn within
a couple of hundred yards of the road side; in a warm corner of which he
stretched his weary limbs, and soon fell asleep.
When he awoke next morning, and tried to recollect his dreams, which had
been all connected with his recent sojourn at Dotheboys Hall, he sat up,
rubbed his eyes, and stared--not with the most composed countenance
possible--at some motionless object which seemed to be stationed within a
few yards in front of him.
"Strange!" cried Nicholas, "can this be some lingering creation of the
visions that have scarcely left me? It cannot be real--and yet I--I am
The form moved, rose, advanced, and dropped upon its knees at his feet. It
was Smike indeed.
"Why do you kneel to me?" said Nicholas, hastily raising him.
"To go with you--anywhere--everywhere--to the world's end--to the
churchyard grave," replied Smike, clinging to his hand. "Let me, oh, do
let me. You are my home--my kind friend--take me with you, pray."
I am a friend who can do "little for you," said Nicholas, kindly. "How
came you here?"
He had followed him, it seemed; had never lost sight of him all the way;
had watched while he slept, and when he halted for refreshment; and had
feared to appear before, lest he should be sent back. He had not intended
to appear now, but Nicholas had awakened more suddenly than he looked for,
and he had had no time to conceal himself.
"Poor fellow!" said Nicholas, "your hard fate denies you any friend but
one, and he is nearly as poor and helpless as yourself."
"May I--may I go with you?" asked Smike timidly. "I will be your faithful
hard-working servant, I will, indeed. I want no clothes," added the poor
creature, drawing his rags together; "these will do very well. I only want
to be near you."
"And you shall!" cried Nicholas. "The world shall deal by you as it does
by me, till one or both of us shall quit it for a better. Come!"
With these words, he strapped his burden on his shoulders, and, taking his
stick in one hand, extended the other to his delighted charge; and so they
passed out of the old barn together, out from the nightmare of life at
Dotheboys Hall, into the busy world outside.
* * * * *
Some years later, when Mr. Squeers was making one of his customary
semi-annual visits to London, he was arrested and sent to jail by persons
who had discovered his system of fraud and cruelty, as well as the fact
that he had in his possession a stolen will. Upon John Browdie, a burly
Scotchman, devolved the duty of carrying the painful news to Mrs. Squeers,
and of dismissing the school.
So, arriving at Dotheboys Hall, he tied his horse to a gate, and made his
way to the schoolroom door, which he found locked on the inside. A
tremendous noise and riot arose from within, and, applying his eye to a
convenient crevice in the wall, he did not remain long in ignorance of its
The news of Mr. Squeers's downfall had reached Dotheboys; that was quite
clear. To all appearance, it had very recently become known to the young
gentlemen; for rebellion had just broken out.
It was one of the brimstone-and-treacle mornings, and Mrs. Squeers had
entered school according to custom with the large bowl and spoon, followed
by Miss Squeers and the amiable Wackford: who, during his father's
absence, had taken upon himself such minor branches of the executive as
kicking the pupils with his nailed boots, pulling the hair of some of the
smaller boys, pinching the others in aggravating places, and rendering
himself in various similar ways a great comfort and happiness to his
mother. Their entrance, whether by premeditation or a simultaneous
impulse, was the signal of revolt for the boys. While one detachment
rushed to the door and locked it, and another mounted the desks and forms,
the stoutest (and consequently the newest) boy seized the cane, and,
confronting Mrs. Squeers with a stern countenance, snatched off her cap
and beaver bonnet, put it on his own head, armed himself with the wooden
spoon, and bade her, on pain of death, go down upon her knees and take a
dose directly. Before that estimable lady could recover herself, or offer
the slightest retaliation, she was forced into a kneeling posture by a
crowd of shouting tormentors, and compelled to swallow a spoonful of the
odious mixture, rendered more than usually savoury by the immersion in the
bowl of Master Wackford's head, whose ducking was entrusted to another
rebel. The success of this first achievement prompted the malicious crowd,
whose faces were clustered together in every variety of lank and
half-starved ugliness, to further acts of outrage. The leader was
insisting upon Mrs. Squeers repeating her dose, Master Squeers was
undergoing another dip in the treacle, when John Browdie, bursting open
the door with a vigorous kick, rushed to the rescue. The shouts, screams,
groans, hoots, and clapping of hands, suddenly ceased, and a dead silence
"Ye be noice chaps," said John, looking steadily round. "What's to do
here, thou yoong dogs?"
"Squeers is in prison, and we are going to run away!" cried a score of
shrill voices. "We won't stop, we won't stop!"
"Weel then, dinnot stop," replied John; "who waants thee to stop? Roon
awa' loike men, but dinnot hurt the women.
"Hurrah!" cried the shrill voices, more shrilly still.
"Hurrah?" repeated John. "Weel, hurrah loike men too. Noo then, look out.
"Hurrah!" cried the voices.
"Hurrah! agean," said John. "Looder still."
The boys obeyed.
"Anoother!" said John. "Dinnot be afeared on it Let's have a good un!"
"Noo then," said John, "let's have yan more to end wi', and then coot off
as quick as you loike. Tak' a good breath noo--Squeers be in jail--the
school's brokken oop--it's all ower--past and gane--think o' thot, and let
it be a hearty 'un! Hurrah!"
Such a cheer arose as the walls of Dotheboys Hall had never echoed before,
and were destined never to respond to again. When the sound had died away,
the school was empty; and of the busy noisy crowd which had peopled it but
five minutes before, not one remained.
For some days afterwards, the neighbouring country was overrun with boys,
who, the report went, had been secretly furnished by Mr. and Mrs. Browdie,
not only with a hearty meal of bread and meat, but with sundry shillings
and sixpences to help them on their way.
There were a few timid young children, who, miserable as they had been,
and many as were the tears they had shed in the wretched school, still
knew no other home, and had formed for it a sort of attachment which made
them weep when the bolder spirits fled, and cling to it as a refuge. Of
these, some were found crying under hedges and in such places, frightened
at the solitude. One had a dead bird in a little cage; he had wandered
nearly twenty miles, and when his poor favourite died, lost courage, and
lay down beside him. Another was discovered in a yard hard by the school,
sleeping with a dog, who bit at those who came to remove him, and licked
the sleeping child's pale face.
They were taken back, and some other stragglers were recovered, but by
degrees they were all claimed, and, in course of time, Dotheboys Hall and
its last breaking up began to be forgotten by the neighbours, or to be
only spoken of as among things that had been.
[Illustration: LITTLE EM'LY AND DAVID COPPERFIELD.]
The first things that assume shape and form in the recollections of my
childhood are my mother, with her pretty hair and youthful shape, and
Peggotty, our faithful serving maid, with no shape at all, and eyes so
dark that they seemed to darken their whole neighbourhood in her face, and
cheeks and arms so hard and red that I wonder the birds didn't peck her in
preference to apples.
What else do I remember?--let me see. There comes to me a vision of our
home, Blunderstone Rookery, with its ground-floor kitchen, and long
passage leading from it to the front door. A dark store-room opens out of
the kitchen, and in it there is the smell of soap, pickles, pepper,
candles, and coffee, all at one whiff. Then there are the two
parlours;--the one in which we sit of an evening, my mother and I and
Peggotty,--for Peggotty is quite our companion,--and the best parlour
where we sit on a Sunday; grandly, but not so comfortably, while my mother
reads the old familiar Bible stories to us.
And now I see the outside of our house, with the latticed bedroom windows,
and the ragged old rooks' nests dangling in the elm-trees. I see the
garden--a very preserve of butterflies, where the pigeon house and
dog-kennel are, and the fruit trees. And I see again my mother winding her
bright curls around her fingers, and nobody is as proud of her beauty as I
One night when Peggotty and I had been sitting cosily by the parlour fire,
my mother came home from spending the evening at a neighbour's, and with
her was a gentleman with beautiful black hair and whiskers. As my mother
stooped to kiss me, the gentleman said I was a more highly privileged
little fellow than a monarch.
"What does that mean?" I asked him. He smiled and patted me on the head in
reply, but somehow I didn't like him, and I shrank away, jealous that his
hand should touch my mother's in touching me--although my mother's gentle
chiding made me ashamed of the involuntary motion, and of my dislike for
this new friend of hers, but from chance words which I heard Peggotty
utter, I knew that she too felt as I did.
From that time the gentleman with black whiskers, Mr. Murdstone by name,
was at our house constantly, and gradually I became used to seeing him,
but I liked him no better than at first. The sight of him filled me with a
fear that something was going to happen, and time proved that I was right
in my apprehension. One night when my mother, as usual, was out, Peggotty
"Master Davy, how should you like to go along with me and spend a
fortnight at my brother's at Yarmouth? Wouldn't _that_ be a treat?"
"Is your brother an agreeable man, Peggotty?" I inquired, provisionally.
"Oh what an agreeable man he is!" cried Peggotty, holding up her hands.
"Then there's the sea; and the boats; and the fishermen; and the beach;
and 'Am to play with----"
Peggotty meant her nephew Ham, but she spoke of him as a morsel of English
I was flushed with her summary of delights, and replied that it would
indeed be a treat, but what would my mother say?
But Peggotty was sure that I would be allowed to go, and so it proved. My
mother did not seem nearly so much surprised as I expected, and arranged
at once for my visit.
The day soon came for our going. I was in a fever of expectation, and half
afraid that an earthquake might stop the expedition, but soon after
breakfast we set off, in a carrier's cart, and the carrier's lazy horse
shuffled along, carrying us towards Yarmouth. We had a fine basket of
refreshments, and we ate a good deal, and slept a good deal, and finally
arrived in Yarmouth, where at the public-house we found Ham waiting for
us. He was a huge, strong fellow of six feet, with a simpering boy's face
and curly light hair, and he insisted on carrying me on his back, as well
as a small box of ours under his arm. We turned down lanes, and went past
gas-works, boat-builders' yards, and riggers' lofts, and presently Ham
"Yon's our house, Mas'r Davy!"
I looked over the wilderness, and away at the sea, and away at the river,
but no house could _I_ make out. There was a black barge not far off, high
and dry on the ground, with an iron funnel for a chimney, and smoking very
"That's not it?" said I. "That ship-looking thing?"
"That's it, Mas'r Davy," returned Ham.
If it had been Aladdin's palace, I could not have been more charmed with
the romantic idea of living in it. There was a delightful door cut in the
side, and it was roofed in, and there were little windows in it. It was
beautifully clean inside and as tidy as possible. There was a table, and a
Dutch clock, and a chest of drawers. On the walls were some coloured
pictures of Biblical subjects. Abraham in red, going to sacrifice Isaac in
blue, and Daniel in yellow, cast into a den of green lions, were most
prominent. Also, there was a mantel-shelf, and some lockers and boxes
which served for seats. Then Peggotty showed me the completest little
bedroom ever seen, in the stern of the vessel, with a tiny bed, a little
looking-glass framed in oyster-shells, and a nosegay of seaweed in a blue
mug on the table. The walls were white-washed, and the patchwork
counterpane made my eyes quite ache with its brightness.
When I took out my pocket-handkerchief, it smelt as if it had wrapped up a
lobster. When I confided this to Peggotty, she told me that her brother
dealt in lobsters, crabs, and crawfish, which accounted for the sea smells
in the delightful house.
The inmates of the boat were its master, Mr. Peggotty and his orphan
nephew and niece, Ham and little Em'ly, which latter was a beautiful
little girl, who wore a necklace of blue beads. There was also Mrs.
Gummidge, an old lady who sat continually by the fire and knitted, and who
was the widow of a former partner of Mr. Peggotty's.
With little Em'ly I at once fell violently in love, and we used to walk
upon the beach in a loving manner, hours and hours. I am sure I loved that
baby quite as truly and with more purity than can enter into the best love
of a later time of life; and when the time came for going home, our agony
of mind at parting was intense.
During my visit I had been completely absorbed in my new companions, but
no sooner were we turned homeward than my heart began to throb at thought
of again seeing my mother,--my comforter and friend. To my surprise, when
we reached the dear old Rookery, not my mother, but a strange servant
opened the door.
"Why, Peggotty," I said, ruefully, "isn't she come home?"
"Yes, yes, Master Davy," said Peggotty, "She's come home. Wait a bit,
Master Davy, and I'll--I'll tell you something."
Intensely agitated, Peggotty led me into the kitchen and closed the door,
then, as she untied her bonnet with a shaking hand, she said breathlessly;
"Master Davy, what do you think? You have got a Pa!"
I trembled and turned white, and thought of my father's grave in the
churchyard, which I knew so well.
"A new one," said Peggotty.
"A new one?" I repeated.
Peggotty gasped, as if she were swallowing something very hard, and,
putting out her hand, said,
"Come and see him."
"I don't want to see him."
"And your mama," said Peggotty.
I ceased to draw back, and we went straight to the best parlour. On one
side of the fire, sat my mother; on the other, Mr. Murdstone. My mother
dropped her work, and arose hurriedly, but timidly, I thought.
"Now, Clara, my dear," said Mr. Murdstone. "Recollect! control yourself!
Davy boy, how do you do?"
I gave him my hand. Then I went over to my mother. She kissed me, patted
me gently on the shoulder, and sat down again to her work, while Mr.
Murdstone watched us both. I turned to look out of the window, and as soon
as I could, I crept up-stairs. My old dear bedroom was changed, and I was
to sleep a long way off, and there on my bed, thinking miserable thoughts,
I cried myself to sleep. I was awakened by somebody saying, "Here he is!"
and there beside me were my mother and Peggotty, asking what was the
I answered, "Nothing," and turned over, to hide my trembling lip.
"Davy," said my mother. "Davy, my child!"
Then when she would have caressed me in the old fashion, Mr. Murdstone
came up and sent the others away.
"David," he said, making his lips thin, by pressing them together, "if I
have an obstinate horse or dog to deal with, what do you think I do?"
"I don't know."
"I beat him. I make him wince and smart. I say to myself, 'I'll conquer
that fellow;' and if it were to cost him all the blood he had, I should do
it. What is that upon your face?"
"Dirt," I said.
He knew it was the mark of tears as well as I. But if he had asked the
question twenty times, with twenty blows, I believe my baby heart would
have burst before I would have told him so.
"You have a good deal of intelligence for a little fellow," he said, "and
you understood me very well, I see. Wash that face, sir, and come down
He pointed to the washstand, and motioned me to obey him directly, and I
have little doubt that he would have knocked me down, had I hesitated.
As he walked me into the parlour, he said to my mother, "Clara, my dear,
you will not be made uncomfortable any more, I hope. We shall soon improve
our youthful humours."
I might have been made another creature for life, by a kind word just
then. A word of welcome home, of reassurance that it _was_ home, might
have made me dutiful to my new father, and made me respect instead of hate
him; but the word was not spoken, and the time for it was gone.
After that my life was a lonely one. Mr. Murdstone seemed to be very fond
of my mother, and she of him, but also she seemed to stand in great awe of
him, and dared not do what he might not approve. Soon Miss Murdstone came
to live with us. She was a gloomy-looking lady, dark like her brother, and
much like him in character. She assumed the care of the house, and mother
had nothing more to do with it. Meanwhile, I learnt lessons at home.
Shall I ever forget those lessons! They were presided over nominally by my
mother, but really by Mr. Murdstone and his sister, who were always
present, and the very sight of the Murdstones had such an effect upon me,
that every word I had tried to learn would glide away, and go I know not
where. I was treated to so much systematic cruelty that after six months,
I became sullen, dull, and dogged, and this feeling was not lessened by
the fact that I was more and more shut out from my mother. I believe I
should have been almost stupified but for the small collection of books
which had belonged to my own father, and to which I had access. From that
blessed little room, came forth "Roderick Random," "Peregrine Pickle,"
"Tom Jones," "The Vicar of Wakefield," "Robinson Crusoe," "Gil Blas," and
"Don Quixote,"--a glorious company to sustain me. They kept alive my
fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time--they, and the
"Arabian Nights" and "Tales of the Genii,"--and were my only comfort.
One morning, when I went into the parlour with my books, I found Mr.
Murdstone poising a cane in the air, which he had obtained, it seemed, for
the purpose of flogging me for any mistake I might make. My apprehension
was so great, that the words of my lessons slipped off by the entire
page,--I made mistake after mistake, failure upon failure,--and presently
Mr. Murdstone rose, taking up the cane, and telling me to follow him. As
he took me out at the door, my mother ran towards us. Miss Murdstone said,
"Clara! are you a perfect fool?" and interfered. I saw my mother stop her
ears then, and I heard her crying.
Mr. Murdstone walked me up to my room, and when we got there suddenly
twisted my head under his arm.
"Mr. Murdstone! Sir!" I cried, "Don't. Pray don't beat me! I have tried to
learn, sir, but I can't learn while you and Miss Murdstone are by. I can't
"Can't you, indeed, David?" he said. "We'll try that." He had my head as
in a vise, but I twined round him somehow, and stopped him for a moment,
entreating him again not to beat me. It was only for a moment though, for
he cut me heavily an instant afterwards, and in the same instant I caught
the hand with which he held me in my mouth and bit it through. It sets my
teeth on edge to think of it.
He beat me then, as if he would have beaten me to death. Above all the
noise we made, I heard them running up the stairs and crying out--my
mother and Peggotty. Then he was gone; and the door was locked outside;
and I was lying, fevered and hot, and torn, and sore, and raging in my
puny way, upon the floor.
How well I recollect, when I became quiet, what an unnatural stillness
seemed to reign through the house! When my passion began to cool, how
wicked I began to feel! My stripes were sore and stiff, and made me cry
afresh when I moved, but they were nothing to the guilt I felt. It lay
like lead upon my breast. For five days I was imprisoned, and of the
length of those days I can convey no idea to any one. They occupy the
place of years in my remembrance. On the fifth night Peggotty came to my
door and whispered my name through the keyhole.
"What is going to be done with me, Peggotty dear?" I asked.
"School. Near London," was Peggotty's answer.
"Is that the reason why Miss Murdstone took the clothes out of my
"Yes," said Peggotty. "Box."
"Shan't I see mama?"
"Yes," said Peggotty. "Morning."
Then followed some assurances of affection, which Peggotty sobbed through
the keyhole, and from that night I had an affection for her greater than
for any one, except my mother.
In the morning Miss Murdstone appeared and told me what I already knew,
and said that I was to come down into the parlour, and have my breakfast.
My mother was there, very pale, and with red eyes, into whose arms I ran,
and begged her pardon from my suffering soul.
"Oh, Davy," she said. "That you could hurt any one I love! Try to be
better, pray to be better! I forgive you, but I am so grieved, Davy, that
you should have such bad passions in your heart!"
They had persuaded her that I was a wicked fellow, and she was more sorry
for that, than for my going away. I felt it sorely. I tried to eat, but
tears dropped upon my bread-and-butter, and trickled into my tea, and I
could not swallow.
Presently the carrier was at the door, my box was in the cart, and before
I could realise it, my mother was holding me in a farewell embrace, and
then I got into the cart, and the lazy horse started off.
About half a mile away from home the carrier stopped, and Peggotty burst
from a hedge and climbed into the cart. She squeezed me until I could
scarcely speak, and crammed some bags of cakes into my pockets, and a
purse into my hand, but not a word did she speak. Then with a final hug,
she climbed down and ran away again, and we started on once more.
Having by this time cried as much as I possibly could, I began to think it
was of no use crying any more. The carrier agreed with me, and proposed
that my pocket handkerchief should be spread upon the horse's back to dry,
to which I assented, and then turned my attention to the purse. It had
three bright shillings in it, which Peggotty had evidently polished up
with whitening,--but more precious yet,--were two half-crowns in a bit of
paper on which my mother had written, "For Davy. With my love."
I was so overcome by this that I asked the carrier to reach me my pocket
handkerchief again, but he thought I had better do without it, so I wiped
my eyes on my sleeve and stopped myself--and on we jogged.
At Yarmouth we drove to the inn-yard, where I dismounted, and was given
dinner, after which I mounted the coach for London, and at three o'clock
we started off on a trip which was not unpleasant to me, with its many
novel sights and experiences. In London, at an inn in Whitechapel, I was
met by a Mr. Mell, one of the teachers at Salem House, the school to which
I was going. We journeyed on together, and by the next day were at Salem
House, which was a square brick building with wings, enclosed with a high
brick wall. I was astonished at the perfect quiet there, until Mr. Mell
told me that the boys were at their homes on account of it being
holiday-time, and that even the proprietor was away. And he added that I
was sent in vacation as a punishment for my misdoing.
I can see the schoolroom now, into which he took me, with its long rows of
desks and forms, and bristling all round with pegs for hats and slates.
Scraps of old copy-books and exercises littered the dirty floor, ink had
been splashed everywhere, and the air of the place was indescribably
dreary. My companion left me there alone for a while, and as I roamed
round, I came upon a pasteboard placard, beautifully written, lying on a
desk, bearing these words, "_Take care of him. He bites_."
I got upon the desk immediately, apprehensive of at least a great dog
underneath, but I could see nothing of him. I was still peering about,
when Mr. Mell came back, and asked what I did up there.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said I, "I'm looking for the dog."
"Dog," said he, "What dog?"
"The one that's to be taken care of, sir; that bites."
"Copperfield," said he, gravely, "that's not a dog. That's a boy. My
instructions are, Copperfield, to put this placard on your back. I am
sorry to make such a beginning with you, but I must do it."
With that he took me down, and tied the placard on my shoulders, and
wherever I went afterwards I carried it. What I suffered from that
placard, nobody can imagine. I always fancied that somebody was reading
it, and I began to have a dread of myself, as a kind of wild boy who _did_
bite. Above and beyond all, I dreaded the coming back of the boys and what
they might think of me, and my days and nights were filled with gloomy
forebodings. In a month Mr. Creakle, the proprietor of Salem House
arrived. He was stout, with a bald head, a fiery face, small, deep-set
eyes, thick veins in his forehead, a little nose, and a large chin. His
face always looked angry, but what impressed me most about him was that he
spoke always in a whisper. He inquired at once about my behaviour, and
seemed disappointed to find that there was nothing against me so far. He
then told me that he knew my stepfather as a man of strong character, and
that he should carry out his wishes concerning me. He pinched my ear with
ferocious playfulness, and I was very much frightened by his manner and
words; but before I was ordered away, I ventured to ask if the placard
might not be removed. Whether Mr. Creakle was in earnest, or only meant to
frighten me, I don't know, but he made a burst out of his chair, before
which I precipitately retreated, and never once stopped until I reached my
own bedroom, where, finding I was not pursued, I went to bed, and lay
quaking for a couple of hours.
The next day the other masters and the scholars began to arrive. Jolly
Tommy Traddles was the first boy back, and it was a happy circumstance for
me. He enjoyed my placard so much that he saved me from the embarrassment
of either disclosure or concealment, by presenting me to the other boys in
this way; "Look here! Here's a game!" Happily, too, most of the boys came
back low-spirited, and were not as boisterous at my expense as I expected.
Some of them did dance about me like wild Indians and pretended I was a
dog, patting me and saying, "Lie down, sir!" and calling me Towzer, which
of course was trying, but, on the whole, much better than I had
I was not considered as formally received into the school until I had met
J. Steerforth. He was one of the older scholars, reputed to be brilliant
and clever, and quite the lion of the school. He inquired, under a shed in
the playground, into the particulars of my punishment, and said it was "a
jolly shame," which opinion bound me to him ever afterwards. Then he asked
me what money I had, and when I answered seven shillings, he suggested
that I spend a couple of shillings or so in a bottle of currant wine, and
a couple or so in almond cakes, and another in fruit, and another in
biscuit, for a little celebration that night in our bedroom, in honour of
my arrival, and of course I said I should be glad to do so. I was a little
uneasy about wasting my mother's half-crowns, but I did not dare to say
so, and Steerforth procured the feast and laid it out on my bed, saying,
"There you are, young Copperfield, and a royal spread you've got."
I couldn't think of doing the honours of the feast, and begged him to
preside. So he sat upon my pillow, handing round the viands, and
dispensing the wine. As to me, I sat next to him, and the rest grouped
about us on the nearest beds and on the floor; and there we sat in the dim
moonlight, talking in whispers, while I heard all the school gossip, about
Mr. Creakle and his cruelty, and about the other masters, and that the
only boy on whom Mr. Creakle never dared to lay a hand was Steerforth. All
this and much more I heard before we at last betook ourselves to bed.
The next day school began in earnest, and so far as the boys were
concerned, Steerforth continued his protection of me, and was always a
very firm and useful friend, as no one dared annoy any one whom he liked.
One night he discovered that my head was filled with stories of my
favourite heroes, which I could relate with some measure of graphic
talent, and after that I was obliged to reel off stories by the yard,
making myself into a regular Sultana Scheherezade for his benefit. I was
much flattered by his interest in my tales, and the only drawback to
telling them was that I was often very sleepy at night, and it was
sometimes very hard work to be roused and forced into a long recital
before the rising bell rang, but Steerforth was resolute, and as in return
he explained sums and exercises to me, I was no loser by the transaction.
Also, I honestly admired and loved the handsome fellow, and desired to
And so from week to week the story-telling in the dark went on, and
whatever I had within me that was romantic or dreamy was encouraged by it.
By degrees the other boys joined the circle of listeners. Traddles was
always overcome with mirth at the comic parts of the stories. He used to
pretend that he couldn't keep his teeth from chattering when an Alguazil
was mentioned in connection with the adventures of Gil Blas, and I
remember when Gil Blas met the captain of the robbers in Madrid, Traddles
counterfeited such an ague of terror, that Mr. Creakle who was prowling
about the passage, overheard him, and flogged him for disorderly conduct.
There was little of especial moment in my first half-term at Salem House,
except the quarrel which took place between Steerforth and Mr. Mell; and
an unexpected visit from Ham and Mr. Peggotty when I had the delight of
introducing those rollicking fellows to Steerforth, whose bright, easy
manner charmed them, as it did most persons.
The rest of the half-year is a jumble in my recollection; and then came
the holidays, which were spent at home. I found my mother as tender as of
old. She hugged me and kissed me, and on that first blessed night, as Mr.
and Miss Murdstone were away on a visit, mother and Peggotty and I dined
together by the fireside in the old fashion. My mother spoke of herself as
a weak, ignorant young thing whom the Murdstones were endeavouring to make
as strong in character as themselves. Then we talked about Salem House and
my experiences and friends there, and were very happy. That evening as the
last of its race will never pass out of my memory. I was at home for a
month, but after that first night I felt in the way, for the Murdstones
were always with my mother. On the evening after my return I made a very
humble apology to Mr. Murdstone, which he received with cold dignity. I
tried to spend my evenings in the kitchen with Peggotty, but of this Mr.
Murdstone did not approve, so I sat wearily in the parlour, waiting for
the hours to wear themselves away. What walks I took alone! What meals I
had in silence and embarrassment! What dull evenings, poring over tables
of weights and measures, and what yawns and dozes I lapsed into in spite
of all my care! Thus the holidays lagged away, until the morning came when
Miss Murdstone gave me the closing cup of tea of the vacation. I was not
sorry to go. I had lapsed into a stupid state; but I was recovering a
little and looking foward to Steerforth. I kissed my mother, and had
climbed into the carrier's cart when I heard her calling me. I looked
back, and she stood at the garden-gate, looking intently at me.
So I lost her. So I saw her afterwards, in my sleep at school,--a silent
presence near my bed--looking at me with the same intent face,--and the
vision is still a constant blessing to me.
From then I pass over all that happened at Salem House until my birthday
in March. On the morning of that day I was summoned into Mr. Creakle's
august presence. Mrs. Creakle was in the room too, and somehow they broke
it to me that my mother was very ill. I knew all now!
"She is dead," they said.
There was no need to tell me so. I had already broken out into a desolate
cry, and felt an orphan in the wide world. If ever child were stricken
with sincere grief, I was. But I remember even so, that my sorrow was a
kind of satisfaction to me, when I walked in the playground, while the
boys were in school, and saw them glancing at me out of the windows, and
because of my grief I felt distinguished, and of vast importance. We had
no story-telling that night, and Traddles insisted on lending me his
pillow as a guarantee of his sympathy, which I understood and accepted.
I left Salem House upon noon the next day, stopping in Yarmouth to be
measured for my suit of black. Then all too soon I was at home again, only
it was home no longer, for my mother was not there. Mr. Murdstone, who was
weeping, took no notice of me. Miss Murdstone gave me her cold fingers,
and asked if I had been measured for my mourning, and if I had brought
home my shirts. There was no sign that they thought of my suffering,
and--alone--except for dear faithful Peggotty, I remained there,
motherless, and worse than fatherless, still stunned and giddy with the
shock. As soon as the funeral was over, Peggotty obtained permission to
take me home with her for a visit, and I was thankful for the change, even
though I knew that Peggotty was leaving the Rookery forever.
We found the old boat the same pleasant place as ever, only little Em'ly
and I seldom wandered on the beach now. She had tasks to learn, and
needlework to do. During the visit I had a great surprise, which was no
less than Peggotty's marriage to the carrier who had taken me on so many
trips, and whose affections it seemed, had long been fastened upon
Peggotty. He took her to a nice little home, and there she showed me a
room which she said would be mine whenever I chose to occupy it. I felt
the constancy of my dear old nurse, and thanked her as well as I could,
but the next day I was obliged to go back to the Murdstones. Peggotty made
the journey with me, and no words can express my forlorn and desolate
feelings when the cart took her away again, and I was left alone in the
place where I used to be so happy.
And now I fell into a state of neglect, apart from other boys of my own
age, and apart from all friendly faces. What would I not have given to
have been sent to school! I think Mr. Murdstone's means were straightened
at that time, and there was no mention of Salem House or of any other
school. I was not beaten or starved, only coldly neglected. Peggotty I was
seldom allowed to visit, but once a week she either came to see me or met
me somewhere, and that, and the dear old books were my only comfort.
One day Mr. Quinion, a visitor at the house, took pains to ask me some
questions about myself, and afterwards Mr. Murdstone called me to him, and
"I suppose you know, David, that I am not rich. You have received some
considerable education already. Education is costly; and even if I could
afford it, I am of opinion that it would not be at all advantageous to you
to be kept at a school. There is before you a fight with the world; and
the sooner you begin it the better. You may have heard of the counting
house of Murdstone and Grinby, in the wine trade? Mr. Quinion manages the
business, and he suggests thit it gives employment to some other boys, and
that he sees no reason why it shouldn't give employment to you. You will
earn enough to provide for your eating, and drinking, and pocket money.
Your lodging will be paid by me. So will your washing. Your clothes will
be looked after for you, too," said Mr. Murdstone, "as you will not be
able, yet awhile, to get them for yourself. So you are now going to
London, David, to begin the world on your own account."
Behold me, on the morrow, in a much-worn little white hat, with a crape
band round it, a black jacket, and stiff corduroy trousers! Behold me so
attired, and with my little worldly all in a small trunk, sitting, a lone,
lorn child, in the post-chaise, journeying to London with Mr. Quinion!
Behold me at ten years old, a little labouring hind in Murdstone and
Grinby's warehouse on the waterside at Blackfriars! It was a crazy old
house with a wharf of its own, but rotting with dirt and age. Their trade
was among many kinds of people, chiefly supplying wines and spirits to
certain packet ships. My work was pasting labels on full bottles, or
fitting corks to them, or sealing the corks, and the work was not half so
distasteful as were my companions, far below me in birth and education.
The oldest of the regular boys was named Mick Walker, and another boy in
my department, on account of his complexion, was called Mealy Potatoes. No
words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into this
companionship, and thought sadly of Traddles, Steerforth, and those other
boys, whom I felt sure would grow up to be great men.
I lodged with a Mr. Micawber who lived in Windsor Terrace. My pay at the
warehouse was six shillings a week. I provided my own breakfast and kept
bread and cheese to eat at night. Also, child that I was,--sometimes I
could not resist pastry cakes and puddings in the shop windows, all of
which made a large hole in my six shillings. From Monday to Saturday I had
no advice, no encouragement or help of any kind. I worked with common men
and boys, a shabby child. I lounged about the streets, insufficiently and
unsatisfactorily fed. But for the mercy of God, I might easily have been,
for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a little vagabond.
Yet they were kind to me at the warehouse and that I suffered and was
miserably unhappy, no one noticed. I concealed the fact even from Peggotty
(partly for love of her, and partly for shame).
I did my work not unskilfully, and though perfectly familiar with my
companions, my conduct and manner placed a space between us and I was
usually spoken of as the "little Gent." In my desolate condition, I became
really attached to the Micawbers, and when they experienced reverses of
fortune, and Mr. Micawber was carried off to the Debtors' Prison, I did
all that I could for them, and remained with Mrs. Micawber in lodgings
near the prison. But I plainly saw that a parting was near at hand, as it
was the Micawbers' intention to leave London as soon as Mr. Micawber could
free himself. So keen was my dread of lodging with new people, added to
the misery of my daily life at the warehouse, that I could not endure the
thought, and finally I made a resolution. I would run away!
Many times in the old days, my mother had told me the story of my one
relative, Aunt Betsey, who had been present at the time of my birth,
confident in her hopes of a niece who should be named for her, Betsey
Trotwood, and for whom she proposed to provide liberally. When I, David
Copperfield, came in place of the longed-for niece, Aunt Betsey shook the
dust of the place off her feet, and my mother never saw her afterwards. My
idea now was to find Aunt Betsey. Not knowing where she lived, I wrote a
long letter to Peggotty, and asked in it incidentally if she knew the
address, and also if she could lend me half a guinea for a short time. She
answered promptly and enclosed the half guinea, saying that Miss Betsey
lived just outside of Dover, which place I at once resolved to set out
for. However, I considered myself bound to remain at the warehouse until
Saturday night; and as when I first came there I had been paid for a week
in advance, not to present myself as usual to receive my wages. For this
reason I had borrowed the half guinea, that I might have a fund for my
Accordingly, when Saturday night came, I shook Mick Walker's hand, bade
good-night to Mealy Potatoes--and ran away.
My box was at my old lodging, and I had a card ready for it, addressed to
"Master David, to be left till called for at the Coach Office, Dover."
I found a young man with a donkey-cart whom I engaged for sixpence, to
remove my box, and in pulling the card for it out of my pocket, I tumbled
my half guinea out too. I put it in my mouth for safety, and had just tied
the card on, when I felt myself violently chucked under the chin by the
young man, and saw my half guinea fly out of my mouth into his hand.
"You give me my money back, if you please," said I, very much frightened.
"And leave me alone!"
"Come to the pollis," said he; "you shall prove it yourn to the pollis!"
"Give me my box and money, will you?" I cried, bursting into tears.
The young man still replied, "Come to the pollis!"
Then suddenly changed his mind, jumped into the cart, sat upon my box, and
exclaiming that he would drive to the pollis straight, rattled away.
I ran after him as fast as I could, narrowly escaping being run over some
twenty times in a mile, until I had no breath left to call out with. Now I
lost him, now I saw him, but at length, confused and exhausted, I left him
to go where he would with my box and money, and, panting and crying, but
never stopping, I faced about for Greenwich, and had some wild idea of
running straight to Dover. However, my scattered senses were soon
collected and I sat down on a doorstep, quite spent. Fortunately, it was a
fine summer night, and when I had recovered my breath, I went on again.
But I had only three-halfpence in the world, and as I trudged on, I
pictured to myself how I should be found dead in a day or two, under some
hedge. Passing a little pawnshop, I left my waistcoat, and went on, richer
by ninepence, and I foresaw that my jacket would go next, in fact that I
should be lucky if I got to Dover in a shirt and a pair of trousers.
It had occurred to me to go on as fast as I could towards Salem House, and
spend the night behind the wall at the back of my old school, where there
used to be a haystack. I imagined it would be a kind of company to have
the boys and the bedroom where I used to tell the stories, so near me. I
had a hard day's walk, and with great trouble found Salem House, and the
haystack, and lay down outside the dark and silent house. Never shall I
forget the lonely sensation of first lying down, without a roof above my
head! But at last I slept, and dreamed of old school-days, until the warm
beams of the sun, and the rising bell at Salem House awoke me. As none of
my old companions could still be there, I had no wish to linger, so I
crept away from the wall and struck out into the dusty Dover road.
That day I got through three and twenty miles, and at night I passed over
the bridge at Rochester, footsore and tired, eating bread as I walked.
There were plenty of signs, "Lodgings for Travellers," but I sought no
shelter, fearing to spend the few pence I had. Very stiff and sore of foot
I was in the morning, and I felt that I could go only a short distance
that day. I took off my jacket, and went into a shop, where I exchanged it
finally for one and fourpence. For threepence I refreshed myself
completely, and limped seven miles further. I slept under another
haystack, after washing my blistered feet in a stream, and went on in
rather better spirits, coming at last to the bare wide downs near Dover. I
then began to inquire of everyone I met, about my aunt, but no one knew
her, and finally, when the morning was far spent, in despair I went into a
little shop to ask once more. I spoke to the clerk, but a young woman on
whom he was waiting, took the inquiry to herself.
"My mistress?" she said. "What do you want with her, boy?"
On my replying that I wished to see Miss Trotwood, the young woman told me
to follow her. I needed no second permission, though by this time my legs
shook under me. Soon we came to a neat little cottage with cheerful
bow-windows, in front of it a gravelled court, full of flowers.
"This is Miss Trotwood's," said the young woman, and then she hurried in,
and left me standing at the gate. My shoes were by this time in a woeful
condition, my hat was crushed and bent, my shirt and trousers stained and
torn, my hair had known no comb or brush since I left London, my face,
neck, and hands, from unaccustomed exposure, were burnt to a berry-brown.
From head to foot I was powdered with dust. In this plight I waited to
introduce myself to my formidable aunt.
As I waited, there came out of the house a lady with a handkerchief tied
over her cap, a pair of gardening gloves on her hands, and carrying a
great knife. I knew her immediately, for she stalked out of the house
exactly as my mother had so often described her stalking up our garden at
"Go away!" said Miss Betsey, shaking her head, and waving her knife. "Go
along! No boys here!"
I watched her, with my heart at my lips, as she stopped to dig up a root.
Then I went up and touched her.
"If you please, ma'am," I began.
She started, and looked up.
"If you please, aunt."
"Eh?" exclaimed Miss Betsey, in a tone of amazement I have never heard
"If you please, aunt, I am your nephew."
"Oh, Lord!" said my aunt. And sat down flat in the garden-path.
"I am David Copperfield, of Blunderstone, in Suffolk--where you came, on
the night when I was born, and saw my dear mama. I have been very unhappy
since she died. I have been slighted and taught nothing, and thrown upon
myself, and put to work not fit for me. It made me run away to you. I was
robbed at first setting out, and have walked all the way, and have never
slept in a bed since I began the journey." Here my self-support gave way
all at once, and I broke into a passion of crying.
My aunt sat on the gravel, staring at me, until I began to cry, when she
got up in a great hurry, collared me, and took me into the parlour. Her
first proceeding there was to unlock a tall press, bring out several
bottles, and pour some of the contents of each into my mouth. I think they
must have been taken out at random, for I am sure I tasted aniseed water,
anchovy sauce, and salad dressing. Then she put me on a sofa with a shawl
under my head, and a handkerchief under my feet, lest I should soil the
cover, and then, sitting down so I could not see her face, she ejaculated
"Mercy on us!" at regular intervals.
After a time she rang a bell, and a grey-headed, florid old gentleman,
called Mr. Dick, who had the appearance of a grown-up boy, and who lived
with my aunt, appeared. When my aunt asked his opinion about what to do
with me, his advice was to wash me.
This Janet, the maid, was preparing to do, when suddenly my aunt became,
in one moment, rigid with indignation, and cried out, "Janet! Donkeys!"
Upon which, Janet came running as if the house were in flames, and darted
out on a little piece of green in front, to warn off two donkeys, lady
ridden, while my aunt seized the bridle of a third animal, laden with a
child, led him from the sacred spot, and boxed the ears of the unlucky
urchin in attendance.
To this hour I do not know whether my aunt had any lawful right of way
over that patch of green, but she had settled it in her own mind that she
had, and it was all the same to her. The passage of a donkey over that
spot was the one great outrage of her life. In whatever occupation or
conversation she was engaged, a donkey turned the current of her ideas,
and she was upon him straight. Jugs of water were kept in secret places
ready to be discharged on the offenders, sticks were laid in ambush behind
the doors; sallies were made at all hours, and incessant war prevailed,
which was perhaps an agreeable excitement to the donkey boys.
The bath was a great comfort, for I began to feel acute pains in my limbs,
and was so tired that I could scarcely keep awake for five minutes
together. Enrobed in clothes belonging to Mr. Dick, and tied up in great
shawls, I fell asleep, on the sofa, and only awoke in time to dine off a
roast fowl and pudding, while my aunt asked me a number of questions, and
spoke of my mother and Peggotty, and in the afternoon we talked again and
there was another alarm of Donkeys.
After tea we sat at the window until dusk, and shortly afterwards I was
escorted up to a pleasant room at the top of the house. When I had said my
prayers, and the candle had burnt out, I lay there yielding to a sensation
of profound gratitude and rest, nestling in the snow white sheets, and I
prayed that I might never be houseless any more, and might never forget
At breakfast the following day, I found myself the object of my aunt's
most rigid scrutiny.
"Hallo!" she said, after a time to attract my attention, and when I looked
up she told me that she had written Mr. Murdstone in regard to me, under
which information I became heavy of heart, for I felt that some efforts
would be made to force me to return to the warehouse, while the more I saw
of my aunt, the more sure I felt that she was the one with whom I wished
to stay; that with all her eccentricities and humours, she was one to be
honoured and trusted in.
On the second day after my arrival, my Aunt gave a sudden alarm of
donkeys, and to my consternation I beheld Miss Murdstone ride over the
sacred piece of green, and stop in front of the house.
"Go along with you!" cried my aunt, shaking her head and her fist at the
window. "You have no business there. How dare you trespass? Oh! you
I hurriedly told her who the offender was, and that Mr. Murdstone was
behind her, but Aunt Betsey was frantic, and cried, "I don't care who it
is--I won't allow it! Go away! Janet, lead him off!" and from behind my
aunt, I saw the donkey pulled round by the bridle, while Mr. Murdstone
tried to lead him on, and Miss Murdstone struck at Janet with a parasol,
and several boys shouted vigorously. But my aunt suddenly discovering the
donkey's guardian to be one of the most inveterate offenders against her,
rushed out and pounced upon him, while the Murdstones waited until she
should be at leisure to receive them. She marched past them into the
house, a little ruffled by the combat, and took no notice of them until
they were announced by Janet.
"Shall I go away, aunt?" I asked trembling.
"No, sir," said she. "Certainly not!" With which she pushed me into a
corner, and fenced me in with a chair, as if it were a prison, and there I
stayed. There were several sharp passages at arms between my aunt and the
Murdstones, when my past, and my mother's life came up for discussion.
Finally Mr. Murdstone said:
"I am here to take David back, Miss Trotwood; to dispose of him as I think
proper, and to deal with him as I think right. I am not here to make any
promise to anybody. You may possibly have some idea, Miss Trotwood, of
abetting him in his running away, and in his complaints to you. Now, I
must caution you, that if you abet him once, you abet him for good and
all. I cannot trifle, or be trifled with. I am here, for the first and
last time, to take him away. Is he ready to go? If you tell me he is not,
it is indifferent to me on what pretence,--my doors are shut against him
henceforth, and yours, I take it for granted are open to him."
My aunt had listened with the closest attention, her hands folded on her
knee, and looking grimly at the speaker. When he had finished, she turned
to Miss Murdstone, and said:
"Well, ma'am, have _you_ got anything to remark?"
As she had not, my aunt turned to me.
"And what does the boy say?" she said. "Are you ready to go, David?"
I answered no, and entreated her not to let me go. I begged and prayed my
aunt to befriend and protect me, for my father's sake.
My aunt consulted for a moment with Mr. Dick, and then she pulled me
towards her, and said to Mr. Murdstone:
"You can go when you like; I'll take my chance with the boy. If he's all
you say he is, at least I can do as much for him then, as you have done.
But I don't believe a word of it."
There were some additional words on both sides, and then the Murdstones
stood ready to leave.
"Good day, sir," said my aunt "and good-bye! Good day to you too,
ma'am,"--turning suddenly upon his sister. "Let me see you ride a donkey
over my green again, and as sure as you have a head upon your shoulders,
I'll knock your bonnet off, and tread upon it!"
The manner and matter of this speech were so fiery, that Miss Murdstone
without a word in answer, discreetly put her arm through her brother's,
and walked hastily out of the cottage, my aunt remaining at the window,
prepared in case of the donkey's re-appearance, to carry her threat into
execution. No attempt at defiance being made, however, her face gradually
relaxed, and became so pleasant, that I was emboldened to kiss and thank
her; which I did with great heartiness. She then told me that she wished
my name to be changed to Trotwood Copperfield, and this notion so pleased
her, that some ready-made clothes purchased for me that very day, were
marked "Trotwood Copperfield," in indelible ink before I put them on, and
it was settled that all my clothes thereafter should be marked in the same
Thus I began my new life in a new name, and with everything new about me.
For many days I felt that it was all a dream, and then the truth came over
me in waves of joy that it was no dream, but blessed, blessed reality!
Aunt Betsey soon sent me to Doctor Strong's excellent school at
Canterbury. It was decorously ordered on a sound system, with an appeal in
everything to the honour and good faith of the boys. We all felt that we
had a part in the management of the place, and learnt with a good will,
desiring to do it credit. We had noble games out of hours, and plenty of
liberty, and the whole plan of the school was as superior to that of Salem
House as can be imagined. I soon became warmly attached to the place, the
teachers, and the boys, and in a little while the Murdstone and Grinsby
life became so strange that I hardly believed in it. Of course I wrote to
Peggotty, relating my experiences, and how my aunt had taken me under her
care, and returning the half guinea I had borrowed, and Peggotty answered
promptly, but although she expressed herself as glad in my gladness, I
could see that she did not take quite kindly to my Aunt as yet.
The days glide swiftly on. I am higher in the school,--I am growing great
in Latin verse, think dancing school a tiresome affair, and neglect the
laces of my boots. Doctor Strong refers to me publicly as a promising
young scholar, at which my aunt remits me a guinea by the next post.
The shade of a young butcher crosses my path. He is the terror of Doctor
Strong's young gentlemen, whom he publicly disparages. He names
individuals (myself included) whom he could undertake to settle with one
hand, and the other tied behind him. He waylays the smaller boys to punch
their unprotected heads, and calls challenges after me in the streets. For
these reasons, I resolve to fight the butcher.
We meet by appointment with a select audience. Soon, I don't know where
the wall is, or where I am, or where anybody is, but after a bloody tangle
and tussle in the trodden grass, feeling very queer about the head, I
awake, and augur justly that the victory is not mine. I am taken home in a
sad plight, to have beef-steaks put to my eyes, and am rubbed with vinegar
and brandy, and find a great white puffy place on my upper lip, and for
several days I remain in the house with a green shade over my eyes, and
yet feeling that I did right to fight the butcher.
I change more and more, and now I am the head boy. I wear a gold watch and
chain, a ring upon my little finger, and a long-tailed coat. I am
seventeen, and am smitten with a violent passion for the eldest Miss
Larkins, who is about thirty. She amuses herself with me as with a new
toy, wears my ring for a season, and then announces her engagement to a
Mr. Chestle. I am terribly dejected for a week or two, then I rally,
become a boy once more, fight the butcher again, gloriously defeat him,
and feel better,--and soon my school days draw to a close.
My aunt and I had many grave deliberations on the calling to which I
should devote myself, but could come to no conclusion, as I had no
particular liking that I could discover, for any profession. So my aunt
proposed that while I was thinking the matter over, I take a little trip,
a breathing spell, as it were.
"What I want you to be, Trot," said my aunt,--"I don't mean physically,
but morally; you are very well physically--is, a firm fellow, a fine, firm
fellow, with a will of your own, with determination. With character, Trot,
with strength of character that is not to be influenced, except on good
reason, by anybody, or by anything. That's what I want you to be."
I intimated that I hoped I should be what she described, and she added
that it was best for me to go on my trip alone, to learn to rely upon
So I was fitted out with a handsome purse of money, and tenderly dismissed
upon my expedition, promising to write three times a week, and to be back
in a month's time.
I went first to say farewell to Doctor Strong, and then took my seat on
the box of the London coach. It was interesting to be sitting up there,
behind four horses; well educated, well dressed, with plenty of money, and
to look out for the places where I had slept on my weary journey. I
stretched my neck eagerly, looking for old landmarks, and when we passed
Salem House I fairly tingled with emotion. At Charing Cross I stopped at
the Golden Cross, and as soon as I had taken a room, ordered my dinner,
trying to appear as old and dignified as possible. In the evening I went
to the Covent Garden Theatre, and saw Julius Caesar and a pantomime. It
was new to me, and the mingled reality and mystery of the whole show,
lights, music, company, and glittering scenery, were so dazzling that when
I went out at midnight into the rain, I felt as if I had been for a time
an inmate of another world, and was so excited that instead of going to my
room in the hotel I ordered some porter and oysters, and sat revolving the
glorious visions in my mind until past one o'clock. Presently, I began to
watch a young man near me whose face was very familiar. Finally, I rose,
and with a fast-beating heart said,
"Steerforth, won't you speak to me?"
He quickly glanced up, but there was no recognition in his face.
"My God," he suddenly exclaimed, "It's little Copperfield!"
Then ensued a violent shaking of hands, and a volley of questions on both
sides. He was studying at Oxford, but was on his way to visit his mother,
who lived just out of London. He was as handsome, and fascinating, and
gay, as ever, in fact quite bewilderingly so to me; and all those things
which I enjoyed, he pronounced dreadful bores, quite like a man of the
world. However, we got on famously, and when he invited me to go with him
to his home at Highgate, I accepted with pleasure, and spent a delightful
week there in the genteel, old-fashioned, quiet home. At the end of the
week, Steerforth decided to go with me to Yarmouth, so we travelled on
together to the inn there, and took rooms.
As early as possible the next day, I visited Peggotty. She did not
recognise me after our seven years' separation, but when at last it dawned
on her who I was, she cried, "My darling boy!" and we both burst into
tears, and were locked in one another's arms as though I were a child
That evening Steerforth and I went to see Mr. Peggotty and my other
friends in the boat, and we were so warmly received that it was nearly
midnight when we took our leave. We stayed in Yarmouth for more than a
fortnight, and I made many pilgrimages to the dear haunts of my childhood,
particularly to that place where my mother and father lay, and mingled
with my sad thoughts were brighter ones, about my future--and of how in it
I was to become a man of whom they might have been proud.
At the end of the fortnight came a letter from Aunt Betsey, saying that
she had taken lodgings for a week in London, and that if I would join her,
we could discuss her latest plan for me, which was that I become a proctor
in Doctors' Commons.
I mentioned the plan to Steerforth, and he advised me to take kindly to
it, and by the time that I reached London I had made up my mind to do so.
My aunt was greatly pleased when I told her this, whereupon I proceeded to
add that my only objection to the plan lay in the great expense it would
be to article me,--a thousand pounds at least. I spoke of her past
liberality to me, and asked her whether I had not better choose some work
which required less expensive preliminaries.
For a time my aunt was deep in thought. Then she replied:
"Trot, my child, if I have any object in life, it is to provide for your
being a good, sensible, and happy man. I am bent upon it. It's in vain,
Trot, to recall the past, unless it has some influence upon the present.
Perhaps I might have been better friends with your father and mother. When
you came to me, a little runaway boy, perhaps I thought so. From that time
until now, Trot, you have ever been a credit to me, and a pride and
pleasure. I have no other claim upon my means,--and you are my adopted
child. Only be a loving child to me in my old age, and bear with my whims
and fancies, and you will do more for an old woman whose prime of life was
not so happy as it might have been, than ever that old woman did for you."
It was the first time I had heard my aunt refer to her past history. Her
quiet way of doing it would have exalted her in my respect and affection,
if anything could.
"All is agreed and understood between us now, Trot," she said, "and we
need talk of this no more. Give me a kiss, and we'll go to the Commons in
And accordingly at noon the next day we made our way to Doctors' Commons,
interviewed Mr. Spenlow, of the firm of Spenlow and Jorkins, and I was
accepted on a month's probation as an articled clerk. Mr. Spenlow then
conducted me through the Court, that I might see what sort of a place it
was. Then my aunt and I set off in search of lodgings for me, and before
night I was the proud and happy owner of the key to a little set of
chambers in the Adelphi, conveniently situated near the Court, and to my
taste in all ways. Seeing how enraptured I was with them, my aunt took
them for a month, with the privilege of a year, made arrangements with the
landlady about meals and linen, and I was to take possession in two days;
during which time I saw Aunt Betsey safely started on her homeward journey
towards Dover, dreading to leave me, but exulting in the coming
discomfiture of the vagrant donkeys.
It was a wonderfully fine thing to have that lofty castle to myself, and
when I had taken possession and shut my outer door, I felt like Robinson
Crusoe, when he had got within his fortification, and pulled his ladder up
after him. I felt rich, powerful, old, and important, and when I walked
out about town, with the keys of my house in my pocket, and able to ask
any fellow to come home with me, without giving anybody any inconvenience,
I became a quite different personage than ever heretofore.
Whatever there was of happiness or of sorrow, of success or of failure, in
my later life, does not belong on these pages. The identity of the child,
and of the boy, David Copperfield is now forever merged in the personality
of--Trotwood Copperfield, Esquire, householder and Man.
[Illustration: KIT NUBBLES.]
Christopher, or Kit Nubbles, as he was commonly called, was not handsome
in the estimation of anyone except his mother, and mothers are apt to be
partial. He was a shock-headed, shambling, awkward lad, with an uncommonly
wide mouth, very red cheeks, a turned-up nose, and certainly the most
comical expression of face I ever saw.
He was errand-boy at the Old Curiosity Shop, and deeply attached to both
little Nell Trent and her grandfather, his employer. And just here let me
explain that Nell's grandfather led a curious sort of double life; his
days were spent in the shop, but when night fell, he invariably took his
cloak, his hat, and his stick, and kissing the child, passed out, leaving
her alone through the long hours of the night, and Nell had no knowledge
that in those nightly absences he was haunting the gaming table; risking
large sums, and ever watching with feverish anticipation for the time when
he should win a vast fortune to lay by for the child, his pet and darling,
to keep her from want if death should take him away. But of this little
Nell knew nothing, or she would have implored him to give up the wicked
and dangerous pastime.
Nor did she know that it was from Quilp, a strange, rich, little dwarf,
who had many trades and callings, that her grandfather was borrowing the
money which he staked nightly in hopes of winning more, pledging his
little stock as security for the debt.
It was a lonely life that Nell led, with only the old man for companion,
so she had a genuine affection for the awkward errand-boy, Christopher,
who was one of the few bits of comedy in her days, and his devotion to her
verged on worship. One morning Nell's grandfather sent her with a note to
the little dwarf, Quilp; and Kit, who escorted her, while he waited for
her, got into a tussle with Quilp's boy, who asserted that Nell was ugly,
and that she and her grandfather were entirely in Quilp's power.
That was too much for Kit to bear in silence, and he retorted that Quilp
was the ugliest dwarf that could be seen anywheres for a penny.
This enraged Quilp's boy, who sprang upon Kit, and the two were engaged in
a hand-to-hand fight, when Quilp appeared and separated them, asking the
cause of the quarrel, and was told that Kit had called him, "The ugliest
dwarf that could be seen anywheres for a penny." Poor Kit never dreamed
that his unguarded remark was to be treasured up against him in the mind
of the jealous, vindictive, little dwarf, and used to separate him from
his idolised mistress and her grandfather, but it was even so, for there
was a power of revenge, a hatred, in the tiny body of the dwarf, entirely
out of proportion to his size.
Quilp at this time desired to injure the old man and his grandchild, and
soon made several discoveries in a secret way, which, added to what he
found out from little Nell's own artless words about her home life, and
her grandfather's habits, enabled him to put two and two together, and
guess correctly for what purpose the old man borrowed such large sums from
him, and he refused him further loans. More than this, he told the old man
that he (Quilp) held a bill of sale on his stock and property, and that he
and little Nell would be henceforth homeless and penniless.
The old man pleaded, with agony in his face and voice for one more
advance,--one more trial,--but Quilp was firm.
"Who is it?" retorted the old man, desperately, "that, notwithstanding all
my caution, told you? Come, let me know the name,--the person."
The crafty dwarf stopped short in his answer, and said,----
"Now, who do you think?"
"It was Kit. It must have been the boy. He played the spy, and you
tampered with him."
"How came you to think of him?" said the dwarf. "Yes, it was Kit. Poor
Kit!" So saying, he nodded in a friendly manner, and took his leave;
stopping when he passed the outer door a little distance, and grinning
with extraordinary delight.
"Poor Kit!" muttered Quilp. "I think it was Kit who said I was an uglier
dwarf than could be seen anywhere for a penny, wasn't it? Ha, ha, ha! Poor
And with that he went his way, still chuckling as he went.
That evening Kit spent in his own home. The room in which he sat down, was
an extremely poor and homely place, but with that air of comfort about it,
nevertheless, which cleanliness and order can always impart in some
degree. Late as the Dutch clock showed it to be, Kit's mother was still
hard at work at an ironing-table; a young child lay sleeping in a cradle
near the fire; and another, a sturdy boy of two or three years old, very
wide awake, was sitting bolt upright in a clothes-basket, staring over the
rim with his great round eyes. It was rather a queer-looking family; Kit,
his mother, and the children, being all strongly alike.
Kit was disposed to be out of temper, but he looked at the youngest child,
and from him to his other brother in the clothes-basket, and from him to
his mother, who had been at work without complaint since morning, and
thought it would be a better and kinder thing to be good-humoured. So he
rocked the cradle with his foot, made a face at the rebel in the
clothes-basket, which put him in high good-humour directly, and stoutly
determined to be talkative, and make himself agreeable.
"Did you tell me just now, that your master hadn't gone out to-night?"
inquired Mrs. Nubbles.
"Yes," said Kit, "worse luck!"
"You should say better luck, I think," returned his mother, "because Miss
Nelly won't have been left alone."
"Ah!" said Kit, "I forgot that. I said worse luck, because I've been
watching ever since eight o'clock, and seen nothing of her. Hark, what's
"It's only somebody outside."
"It's somebody crossing over here," said Kit, standing up to listen, "and
coming very fast too. He can't have gone out after I left, and the house
caught fire, mother!"
The boy stood for a moment, really bereft, by the apprehension he had
conjured up, of the power to move. The footsteps drew nearer, the door was
opened with a hasty hand, and the child herself, pale and breathless,
hurried into the room.
"Miss Nelly! What is the matter?" cried mother and son together.
"I must not stay a moment," she returned, "grandfather has been taken very
ill. I found him in a fit upon the floor."
"I'll run for a doctor----" said Kit, seizing his brimless hat. "I'll be
there directly, I'll----"
"No, no," cried Nell, "there is one there, you're not wanted,
you--you--must never come near us any more!"
"What!" roared Kit.
"Never again," said the child. "Don't ask me why, for I don't know. Pray
don't ask me why, pray don't be sorry, pray don't be vexed with me! I have
nothing to do with it indeed!
"He complains of you and raves of you," added the child, "I don't know
what you have done, but I hope it's nothing very bad."
"_I_ done!" roared Kit.
"He cries that you're the cause of all his misery," returned the child,
with tearful eyes. "He screamed and called for you; they say you must not
come near him, or he will die. You must not return to us any more. I came
to tell you. I thought it would be better that I should. Oh, Kit, what
_have_ you done? You, in whom I trusted so much, and who were almost the
only friend I had!"
The unfortunate Kit looked at his young mistress harder and harder, and
with eyes growing wider and wider, but was perfectly motionless and still.
"I have brought his money for the week," said the child, looking to the
woman, and laying it on the table,--"and--and--a little more, for he was
always good and kind to me. I hope he will be sorry and do well somewhere
else and not take this to heart too much. It grieves me very much to part
with him like this, but there is no help. It must be done. Good-night!"
With the tears streaming down her face, and her slight figure trembling
with intense agitation, the child hastened to the door, and disappeared as
rapidly as she had come.
The poor woman, who had no cause to doubt her son, but every reason for
relying on his honesty and truth, was staggered, notwithstanding, by his
not having advanced one word in his own defence.
Visions of gallantry, knavery, robbery, flocked into her brain and
rendered her afraid to question him. She rocked herself upon a chair,
wringing her hands and weeping bitterly. The baby in the cradle woke up
and cried; the boy in the clothes-basket fell over on his back with the
basket on him, and was seen no more; the mother wept louder yet and rocked
faster; but Kit, insensible to all the din and tumult, remained in a state
of utter stupefaction.
Of course, after that there was nothing for him to do but to keep as far
away as possible from the shop, which he did, except in the evenings, when
he often stole beneath Nell's window on a chance of merely seeing her. One
night he was rewarded by a scrap of whispered conversation with her from
her window. She told him how sick her grandfather had been, and over and
over Kit reiterated all there was for him to say--that he had done nothing
to cause that sickness.
"He'll be sure to get better now," said the boy, anxiously, "when he does,
say a good word--say a kind word for me, Miss Nell!"
"They tell me I must not even mention your name to him for a long, long
time," rejoined the child. "I dare not; and even if I might, what good
would a kind word do you, Kit? We shall be very poor they say. We shall
scarcely have bread to eat, for everything has been taken from us."
"It's not that I may be taken back," said the boy. "No, it's not that. It
isn't for the sake of food and wages that I've been waiting about in hopes
of seeing you. Don't think that I'd come in a time of trouble to talk of
such things as them. It's something very different from that. Perhaps he
might think it over-venturesome of me to say--well then,--to say this,"
said Kit, with sudden boldness. "This home is gone from you and him.
Mother and I have got a poor one, and why not come there, till he's had
time to look about and find a better? You think," said the boy, "that it's
very small and inconvenient. So it is, but it's very clean. Do try, Miss
Nell, do try. The little front room upstairs is very pleasant. Mother says
it would be just the thing for you, and so it would; and you'd have her to
wait upon you both, and me to run errands. We don't mean money, bless you;
you're not to think of that! Will you try him, Miss Nell? Only say you'll
try him. Do try to make old master come, and ask him first what I have
done. Will you only promise that, Miss Nell?"
The street door opened suddenly just then, and, conscious that they were
overheard, Nell closed her window quickly, and Kit stole away. And that
was his last view of his beloved mistress, for shortly afterwards the Old
Curiosity Shop was vacant of its tenants. Little Nell and her grandfather
had quietly slipped away, under cover of night, to face their poverty in a
new place; where, no one knew or could find out; and all that remained to
Kit to remind him of his past, was Nell's bird, which he rescued from the
shop, (now in Quilp's hands), took home, and hung in his window, to the
immeasurable delight of his whole family.
It now remained for Kit to find a new situation, and he roamed the city in
search of one daily. He was quite tired out with pacing the streets, to
say nothing of repeated disappointments, and was sitting down upon a step
to rest, one day, when there approached towards him a little clattering,
jingling, four-wheeled chaise, drawn by a little obstinate-looking,
rough-coated pony, and driven by a little placid-faced old gentleman.
Beside the little old gentleman sat a little old lady, plump and placid
like himself. As they passed where he sat, Kit looked so wistfully at the
little turnout, that the old gentleman looked at him. Kit rising and
putting his hand to his hat, the old gentleman intimated to the pony that
he wished to stop, to which proposal the pony graciously acceded.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Kit. "I'm sorry you stopped, sir, I only
meant, did you want your horse minded."
"I'm going to get down in the next street," returned the old gentleman.
"If you like to come on after us, you may have the job."
Kit thanked him, and joyfully obeyed, and held the refractory little beast
until the little old lady and little old gentleman came out, and the old
gentleman, taking his seat and the reins again, put his hand in his pocket
to find a sixpence for Kit. Not a sixpence could he find, and he thought a
shilling too much, but there was no shop in the street to get change at,
so he gave it to the boy.
"There," he said jokingly, "I'm coming here again next Monday at the same
time, and mind you're here, my lad, to work it out!"
"Thank you, sir," said Kit. "I'll be sure to be here."
He was quite serious, but they laughed heartily at his saying so, and then
the pony started off on a brisk trot, and Kit was left alone. Having
expended his treasure in such purchases as he knew would be most
acceptable at home, not forgetting some seed for the bird, he hastened
back as fast as he could.
Day after day, as he bent his steps homeward, returning from some new
effort to procure employment, Kit raised his eyes to the window of the
little room he had so much commended to the child Nell, and hoped to see
some indication of her presence.
"I think they must certainly come to-morrow, eh, mother?" said Kit, laying
aside his hat with a weary air, and sighing as he spoke. "They have been
gone a week. They surely couldn't stop away more than a week, could they
The mother shook her head, and reminded him how often he had been
disappointed already, and Kit, looking very mournful, clambered up to the
nail, took down the cage, and set himself to clean it, and to feed the
bird. His thoughts reverting from this occupation to the little old
gentleman who had given him the shilling, he suddenly recollected that
that was the very day--nay, nearly the very hour--at which the old
gentleman had said he should be at the Notary's office again. He no sooner
remembered this, than hastily explaining the nature of his errand, he went
off at full speed to the appointed place, and although when he arrived
there it was full two minutes after the time set, there was as yet no
pony-chaise to be seen. Greatly relieved, Kit leaned against a lamp-post
to take breath, and waited. Before long the pony came trotting round the
corner of the street, and behind him sat the little old gentleman, and the
little old lady.
Upon the pony's refusing to stand at the proper place, the old gentleman
alighted to lead him; whereupon the pony darted off with the old lady, and
stopped at the right house, leaving the old gentleman to come panting on
It was then that Kit presented himself at the pony's head, and touched his
hat with a smile.
"Why, bless me," cried the old gentleman, "the lad _is_ here! My dear, do
"I said I'd be here, sir," said Kit, patting Whisker's neck. "I hope
you've had a pleasant ride, sir. He's a very nice little pony."
"My dear," said the old gentleman. "This is an uncommon lad; a good lad,
"I'm sure he is," rejoined the old lady, "A very good lad, and I am sure
he is a good son."
Kit acknowledged these expressions of confidence by touching his hat again
and blushing very much. Then the old gentleman helped the old lady out,
and they went into the office--talking about him as they went, Kit could
not help feeling, and a few minutes later he was called in.
Kit entered in a great tremor, for he was not used to going among strange
ladies and gentlemen, and the tin boxes and bundles of dusty papers had in
his eyes an awful and a venerable air. Mr. Witherden, the notary, was a
bustling gentleman, who talked loud and fast.
"Well, boy," said Mr. Witherden, "you came to work out that shilling,--not
to get another, hey?"
"No indeed, sir," replied Kit, taking courage to look up. "I never thought
of such a thing."
"Now," said the old gentleman, Mr. Garland, when they had asked some
further questions of Kit, "I am not going to give you anything." "But," he
added, "perhaps I may want to know something more about you, so tell me
where you live."
Kit told him, and the old gentleman wrote down the address with his
pencil. He had scarcely done so, than there was a great uproar in the
street, and the old lady, hurrying to the window, cried that Whisker had
run away, upon which Kit darted out to the rescue, and the others
followed. Even in running away, however, Whisker was perverse, for he had
not gone far when he suddenly stopped. The old lady then stepped into her
seat, and Mr. Abel, her son, whom they had come to fetch, into his. The
old gentleman took his place also, and they drove away, more than once
turning to nod kindly to Kit, as he watched them from the road.
When Kit reached home, to his amazement he found the pony and his owners
"We are here before you, you see, Christopher," said Mr. Garland, smiling.
"Yes, sir," said Kit, and as he said it, he looked towards his mother for
an explanation of the visit.
"The gentleman's been kind enough, my dear," said she, "to ask me whether
you were in a good place, or in any place at all, and when I told him no,
he was so good as to say that----"
"That we wanted a good lad in our house," said the old lady and the old
gentleman both together, "and that perhaps we might think of it, if we
found everything as we would wish it to be."
As this thinking of it plainly meant the thinking of engaging Kit, he
immediately fell into a great flutter; for the little old couple were very
methodical and cautious, and asked so many questions that he began to be
afraid there was no chance of his success; but to his surprise at last he
found himself formally hired at an annual income of Six Pounds, over and
above his board and lodging, by Mr. and Mrs. Garland, of Abel Cottage,
Finchley; and it was settled that he should repair to his new abode on the
next day but one.
"Well, mother," said Kit, hurrying back into the house, after he had seen
the old people to their carriage, "I think my fortune's about made now."
"I should think it was indeed, Kit!" rejoined his mother. "Six pound a
year! Only think!"
"Ah!" said Kit, trying to maintain the gravity which the consideration of
such a sum demanded, but grinning with delight in spite of himself.
"There's a property! Please God, we'll make such a lady of you for
Sundays, mother! such a scholar of Jacob, such a child of the baby, such a
room of the one upstairs! Six pound a year!"
The remainder of that day, and the whole of the next, were a busy time for
the Nubbles family, to whom everything connected with Kit's outfit and
departure was matter of as great moment as if he had been about to
penetrate into the interior of Africa, or to take a cruise round the
world. It would be difficult to suppose that there ever was a box which
was opened and shut so many times within four-and-twenty hours as that
which contained his wardrobe and necessaries; and certainly there never
was one which to two small eyes presented such a mine of clothing as this
mighty chest, with its three shirts, and proportionate allowance of
stockings and pocket-handkerchiefs, disclosed to the astonished vision of
At last, after many kisses and hugs and tears, Kit left the house on the
next morning, and set out to walk to Finchley.
He wore no livery, but was dressed in a coat of pepper-and-salt, with
waistcoat of canary colour, and nether garments of iron-grey; besides
these glories, he shone in the lustre of a new pair of boots and an
extremely stiff and shiny hat. And in this attire, rather wondering that
he attracted so little attention, he made his way towards Abel Cottage.
It was a beautiful little cottage, with a thatched roof and little spires
at the gable-ends, and pieces of stained glass in some of the windows. On
one side of the house was a little stable, just the size for the pony,
with a little room over it, just the size for Kit. White curtains were
fluttering, and birds in cages were singing at the windows; plants were
arranged on either side of the path, and clustered about the door; and the
garden was bright with flowers in full bloom, which shed a sweet odour all
Everything within the house and without seemed to be the perfection of
neatness and order. Kit looked about him, and admired, and looked again,
before he could make up his mind to turn his head and ring the bell.
He rung the bell a great many times, and yet nobody came. But at last, as
he was sitting upon the box thinking about giants' castles, and princesses
tied up to pegs by the hair of their heads, and dragons bursting out from
behind gates, and other incidents of a like nature, common in story-books
to youths on their first visit to strange houses, the door was gently
opened, and a little servant-girl, very tidy, modest, and pretty,
"I suppose you're Christopher, sir?" said the servant-girl.
Kit got off the box, and said yes, he was, and was ushered in.
The old gentleman received him very kindly, and so did the old lady, whose
previous good opinion of him was greatly enhanced by his wiping his boots
on the mat. He was then taken into the parlour to be inspected in his new
clothes; and then was shown the garden and his little room, and when the
old gentleman had said all he had to say in the way of promise and advice,
and Kit had said all he had to say in the way of assurance and
thankfulness, he was handed over again to the old lady, who, summoning the
little servant-girl (whose name was Barbara), instructed her to take him
downstairs and give him something to eat and drink after his walk.
From that time Kit's was a useful, pleasant life, moving on in a peaceful
routine of duties and innocent joys from day to day, and from week to
week,--until the great, longed-for epoch of his life arrived--the day of
receiving, for the first time, one-fourth part of his annual income of Six
Pounds. It was to be a half-holiday, devoted to a whirl of entertainments,
and little Jacob was to know what oysters meant, and to see a play.
The day arrived, and wasn't Mr. Garland kind when he said to
him,--"Christopher, here's your money, and you have earned it
well;"--which praise in itself was worth as much as his wages.
Then the play itself! The horses which little Jacob believed from the
first to be alive,--and the ladies and gentlemen, of whose reality he
could be by no means persuaded, having never seen or heard anything at all
like them--the firing, which made Barbara (who had a holiday too)
wink--the forlorn lady who made her cry--the tyrant who made her
tremble--the clown who ventured on such familiarities with the military
man in boots--the lady who jumped over the nine-and-twenty ribbons and
came down safe upon the horse's back--everything was delightful, splendid,
and surprising! Little Jacob applauded until his hands were sore; Kit
cried "an-kor" at the end of everything; and Barbara's mother beat her
umbrella on the floor, in her ecstasies, until it was nearly worn down to
What was all this though--even all this--to the extraordinary dissipation
that ensued, when Kit, walking into an oyster-shop, as bold as if he lived
there, led his party into a box--a private box, fitted up with red
curtains, white tablecloth, and cruet-stand complete--and ordered a fierce
gentleman with whiskers, who acted as waiter, and called him "Christopher
Nubbles, sir," to bring three dozen of his largest-size oysters, and look
sharp about it! Then they fell to work upon the supper in earnest; and ate
and laughed and enjoyed themselves so thoroughly that it did Kit good to
see them, and made him laugh and eat likewise, from strong sympathy. But
the greatest miracle of the night was little Jacob, who ate oysters as if
he had been born and bred to the business. There was the baby, too, who
sat as good as gold, trying to force a large orange into his mouth, and
gazing intently at the lights in the chandelier,--there he was, sitting in
his mother's lap, and making indentations in his soft visage with an
oyster-shell, so contentedly that a heart of iron must have loved him! In
short, there never was a more successful supper; and when Kit proposed the
health of Mrs. and Mr. Garland, there were not six happier people in the
world. But all happiness has an end, and as it was now growing late, they
agreed that it was time to turn their faces homeward--and the great day
was at an end.
One morning just before this, when Kit was out exercising the pony, he was
called into the office where he had first seen Mr. and Mrs. Garland, to be
examined by a strange gentleman concerning what he knew of little Nell and
her grandfather. The gentleman told Kit that he was trying by every means
in his power to discover their hiding-place; and, finally, after Kit had
repeated all that he could remember of the life and words of his beloved
Miss Nelly and the old man, the stranger slipped a half-crown into his
hand and dismissed him. The strange gentleman liked Kit so much that he
desired to have him in his own service, but the boy stoutly refused to
leave his kind employer. At Mr. Garland's suggestion, however, he offered
his services to the stranger for an hour or two every day, and from that
came trouble to Kit.
Each day, going up and down, to and from the stranger's room, he had to
pass through the office of one Sampson Brass, attorney; who, through the
agency of Quilp, who was Sampson Brass's best client, was prejudiced
against Kit, and pledged to the little dwarf to do him all the injury that
he could, for venomous little Quilp had never forgiven the boy who had
been connected with his ruined client, and had called him "the ugliest
dwarf to be seen for a penny"; and he desired vengeance at any cost.