I BECOME NEGLECTED, AND AM PROVIDED FOR.
The first act of business Miss Murdstone performed when the day of the solemnity was over, and light was freely admitted into the house, was to give Peggotty a month’s warning. Much as Peggotty would have disliked such a service, I believe she would have retained it, for my sake, in preference to the best upon earth. She told me we must part, and told me why; and we condoled with one another, in all sincerity.
As to me or my future, not a word was said, or a step taken. Happy they would have been, I dare say, if they could have dismissed me at a month’s warning too. I mustered courage once, to ask Miss Murdstone when I was going back to school; and she answered dryly, she believed I was not going back at all. I was told nothing more. I was very anxious to know what was going to be done with me, and so was Peggotty; but neither she nor I could pick up any information on the subject.
There was one change in my condition, which, while it relieved me of a great deal of present uneasiness, might have made me, if I had been capable of considering it closely, yet more uncomfortable about the future. It was this. The constraint that had been put upon me, was quite abandoned. I was so far from being required to keep my dull post in the parlour, that on several occasions, when I took my seat there, Miss Murdstone frowned to me to go away. I was so far from being warned off from Peggotty’s society, that, provided I was not in Mr. Murdstone’s, I was never sought out or inquired for. At first I was in daily dread of his taking my education in hand again, or of Miss Murdstone’s devoting herself to it; but I soon began to think that such fears were groundless, and that all I had to anticipate was neglect.
I do not conceive that this discovery gave me much pain then. I was still giddy with the shock of my mother’s death, and in a kind of stunned state as to all tributary things. I can recollect, indeed, to have speculated, at odd times, on the possibility of my not being taught any more, or cared for any more; and growing up to be a shabby, moody man, lounging an idle life away, about the village; as well as on the feasibility of my getting rid of this picture by going away somewhere, like the hero in a story, to seek my fortune: but these were transient visions, daydreams I sat looking at sometimes, as if they were faintly painted or written on the wall of my room, and which, as they melted away, left the wall blank again.
‘Peggotty,’ I said in a thoughtful whisper, one evening, when I was warming my hands at the kitchen fire, ‘Mr. Murdstone likes me less than he used to. He never liked me much, Peggotty; but he would rather not even see me now, if he can help it.’
‘Perhaps it’s his sorrow,’ said Peggotty, stroking my hair.
‘I am sure, Peggotty, I am sorry too. If I believed it was his sorrow, I should not think of it at all. But it’s not that; oh, no, it’s not that.’
‘How do you know it’s not that?’ said Peggotty, after a silence.
‘Oh, his sorrow is another and quite a different thing. He is sorry at this moment, sitting by the fireside with Miss Murdstone; but if I was to go in, Peggotty, he would be something besides.’
‘What would he be?’ said Peggotty.
‘Angry,’ I answered, with an involuntary imitation of his dark frown. ‘If he was only sorry, he wouldn’t look at me as he does. I am only sorry, and it makes me feel kinder.’
Peggotty said nothing for a little while; and I warmed my hands, as silent as she.
‘Davy,’ she said at length.
‘Yes, Peggotty?’ ‘I have tried, my dear, all ways I could think of—all the ways there are, and all the ways there ain’t, in short—to get a suitable service here, in Blunderstone; but there’s no such a thing, my love.’
‘And what do you mean to do, Peggotty,’ says I, wistfully. ‘Do you mean to go and seek your fortune?’
‘I expect I shall be forced to go to Yarmouth,’ replied Peggotty, ‘and live there.’
‘You might have gone farther off,’ I said, brightening a little, ‘and been as bad as lost. I shall see you sometimes, my dear old Peggotty, there. You won’t be quite at the other end of the world, will you?’
‘Contrary ways, please God!’ cried Peggotty, with great animation. ‘As long as you are here, my pet, I shall come over every week of my life to see you. One day, every week of my life!’
I felt a great weight taken off my mind by this promise: but even this was not all, for Peggotty went on to say:
‘I’m a-going, Davy, you see, to my brother’s, first, for another fortnight’s visit—just till I have had time to look about me, and get to be something like myself again. Now, I have been thinking that perhaps, as they don’t want you here at present, you might be let to go along with me.’
If anything, short of being in a different relation to every one about me, Peggotty excepted, could have given me a sense of pleasure at that time, it would have been this project of all others. The idea of being again surrounded by those honest faces, shining welcome on me; of renewing the peacefulness of the sweet Sunday morning, when the bells were ringing, the stones dropping in the water, and the shadowy ships breaking through the mist; of roaming up and down with little Em’ly, telling her my troubles, and finding charms against them in the shells and pebbles on the beach; made a calm in my heart. It was ruffled next moment, to be sure, by a doubt of Miss Murdstone’s giving her consent; but even that was set at rest soon, for she came out to take an evening grope in the store-closet while we were yet in conversation, and Peggotty, with a boldness that amazed me, broached the topic on the spot.
‘The boy will be idle there,’ said Miss Murdstone, looking into a pickle-jar, ‘and idleness is the root of all evil. But, to be sure, he would be idle here—or anywhere, in my opinion.’
Peggotty had an angry answer ready, I could see; but she swallowed it for my sake, and remained silent.
‘Humph!’ said Miss Murdstone, still keeping her eye on the pickles; ‘it is of more importance than anything else—it is of paramount importance—that my brother should not be disturbed or made uncomfortable. I suppose I had better say yes.’
I thanked her, without making any demonstration of joy, lest it should induce her to withdraw her assent. Nor could I help thinking this a prudent course, since she looked at me out of the pickle-jar, with as great an access of sourness as if her black eyes had absorbed its contents. However, the permission was given, and was never retracted; for when the month was out, Peggotty and I were ready to depart.
Mr. Barkis came into the house for Peggotty’s boxes. I had never known him to pass the garden-gate before, but on this occasion he came into the house. And he gave me a look as he shouldered the largest box and went out, which I thought had meaning in it, if meaning could ever be said to find its way into Mr. Barkis’s visage.
Peggotty was naturally in low spirits at leaving what had been her home so many years, and where the two strong attachments of her life—for my mother and myself—had been formed. She had been walking in the churchyard, too, very early; and she got into the cart, and sat in it with her handkerchief at her eyes.
So long as she remained in this condition, Mr. Barkis gave no sign of life whatever. He sat in his usual place and attitude like a great stuffed figure. But when she began to look about her, and to speak to me, he nodded his head and grinned several times. I have not the least notion at whom, or what he meant by it.
‘It’s a beautiful day, Mr. Barkis!’ I said, as an act of politeness.
‘It ain’t bad,’ said Mr. Barkis, who generally qualified his speech, and rarely committed himself.
‘Peggotty is quite comfortable now, Mr. Barkis,’ I remarked, for his satisfaction.
‘Is she, though?’ said Mr. Barkis.
After reflecting about it, with a sagacious air, Mr. Barkis eyed her, and said:
‘ARE you pretty comfortable?’
Peggotty laughed, and answered in the affirmative.
‘But really and truly, you know. Are you?’ growled Mr. Barkis, sliding nearer to her on the seat, and nudging her with his elbow. ‘Are you? Really and truly pretty comfortable? Are you? Eh?’
At each of these inquiries Mr. Barkis shuffled nearer to her, and gave her another nudge; so that at last we were all crowded together in the left-hand corner of the cart, and I was so squeezed that I could hardly bear it.
Peggotty calling his attention to my sufferings, Mr. Barkis gave me a little more room at once, and got away by degrees. But I could not help observing that he seemed to think he had hit upon a wonderful expedient for expressing himself in a neat, agreeable, and pointed manner, without the inconvenience of inventing conversation. He manifestly chuckled over it for some time. By and by he turned to Peggotty again, and repeating, ‘Are you pretty comfortable though?’ bore down upon us as before, until the breath was nearly edged out of my body. By and by he made another descent upon us with the same inquiry, and the same result. At length, I got up whenever I saw him coming, and standing on the foot-board, pretended to look at the prospect; after which I did very well.
He was so polite as to stop at a public-house, expressly on our account, and entertain us with broiled mutton and beer. Even when Peggotty was in the act of drinking, he was seized with one of those approaches, and almost choked her. But as we drew nearer to the end of our journey, he had more to do and less time for gallantry; and when we got on Yarmouth pavement, we were all too much shaken and jolted, I apprehend, to have any leisure for anything else.
Mr. Peggotty and Ham waited for us at the old place. They received me and Peggotty in an affectionate manner, and shook hands with Mr. Barkis, who, with his hat on the very back of his head, and a shame-faced leer upon his countenance, and pervading his very legs, presented but a vacant appearance, I thought. They each took one of Peggotty’s trunks, and we were going away, when Mr. Barkis solemnly made a sign to me with his forefinger to come under an archway.
‘I say,’ growled Mr. Barkis, ‘it was all right.’
I looked up into his face, and answered, with an attempt to be very profound: ‘Oh!’
‘It didn’t come to a end there,’ said Mr. Barkis, nodding confidentially. ‘It was all right.’
Again I answered, ‘Oh!’
‘You know who was willin’,’ said my friend. ‘It was Barkis, and Barkis only.’
I nodded assent.
‘It’s all right,’ said Mr. Barkis, shaking hands; ‘I’m a friend of your’n. You made it all right, first. It’s all right.’
In his attempts to be particularly lucid, Mr. Barkis was so extremely mysterious, that I might have stood looking in his face for an hour, and most assuredly should have got as much information out of it as out of the face of a clock that had stopped, but for Peggotty’s calling me away. As we were going along, she asked me what he had said; and I told her he had said it was all right.
‘Like his impudence,’ said Peggotty, ‘but I don’t mind that! Davy dear, what should you think if I was to think of being married?’
‘Why—I suppose you would like me as much then, Peggotty, as you do now?’ I returned, after a little consideration.
Greatly to the astonishment of the passengers in the street, as well as of her relations going on before, the good soul was obliged to stop and embrace me on the spot, with many protestations of her unalterable love.
‘Tell me what should you say, darling?’ she asked again, when this was over, and we were walking on.
‘If you were thinking of being married—to Mr. Barkis, Peggotty?’
‘Yes,’ said Peggotty.
‘I should think it would be a very good thing. For then you know, Peggotty, you would always have the horse and cart to bring you over to see me, and could come for nothing, and be sure of coming.’
‘The sense of the dear!’ cried Peggotty. ‘What I have been thinking of, this month back! Yes, my precious; and I think I should be more independent altogether, you see; let alone my working with a better heart in my own house, than I could in anybody else’s now. I don’t know what I might be fit for, now, as a servant to a stranger. And I shall be always near my pretty’s resting-place,’ said Peggotty, musing, ‘and be able to see it when I like; and when I lie down to rest, I may be laid not far off from my darling girl!’
We neither of us said anything for a little while.
‘But I wouldn’t so much as give it another thought,’ said Peggotty, cheerily ‘if my Davy was anyways against it—not if I had been asked in church thirty times three times over, and was wearing out the ring in my pocket.’
‘Look at me, Peggotty,’ I replied; ‘and see if I am not really glad, and don’t truly wish it!’ As indeed I did, with all my heart.
‘Well, my life,’ said Peggotty, giving me a squeeze, ‘I have thought of it night and day, every way I can, and I hope the right way; but I’ll think of it again, and speak to my brother about it, and in the meantime we’ll keep it to ourselves, Davy, you and me. Barkis is a good plain creature,’ said Peggotty, ‘and if I tried to do my duty by him, I think it would be my fault if I wasn’t—if I wasn’t pretty comfortable,’ said Peggotty, laughing heartily. This quotation from Mr. Barkis was so appropriate, and tickled us both so much, that we laughed again and again, and were quite in a pleasant humour when we came within view of Mr. Peggotty’s cottage.
It looked just the same, except that it may, perhaps, have shrunk a little in my eyes; and Mrs. Gummidge was waiting at the door as if she had stood there ever since. All within was the same, down to the seaweed in the blue mug in my bedroom. I went into the out-house to look about me; and the very same lobsters, crabs, and crawfish possessed by the same desire to pinch the world in general, appeared to be in the same state of conglomeration in the same old corner.
But there was no little Em’ly to be seen, so I asked Mr. Peggotty where she was.
‘She’s at school, sir,’ said Mr. Peggotty, wiping the heat consequent on the porterage of Peggotty’s box from his forehead; ‘she’ll be home,’ looking at the Dutch clock, ‘in from twenty minutes to half-an-hour’s time. We all on us feel the loss of her, bless ye!’
Mrs. Gummidge moaned.
‘Cheer up, Mawther!’ cried Mr. Peggotty.
‘I feel it more than anybody else,’ said Mrs. Gummidge; ‘I’m a lone lorn creetur’, and she used to be a’most the only thing that didn’t go contrary with me.’
Mrs. Gummidge, whimpering and shaking her head, applied herself to blowing the fire. Mr. Peggotty, looking round upon us while she was so engaged, said in a low voice, which he shaded with his hand: ‘The old ‘un!’ From this I rightly conjectured that no improvement had taken place since my last visit in the state of Mrs. Gummidge’s spirits.
Now, the whole place was, or it should have been, quite as delightful a place as ever; and yet it did not impress me in the same way. I felt rather disappointed with it. Perhaps it was because little Em’ly was not at home. I knew the way by which she would come, and presently found myself strolling along the path to meet her.
A figure appeared in the distance before long, and I soon knew it to be Em’ly, who was a little creature still in stature, though she was grown. But when she drew nearer, and I saw her blue eyes looking bluer, and her dimpled face looking brighter, and her whole self prettier and gayer, a curious feeling came over me that made me pretend not to know her, and pass by as if I were looking at something a long way off. I have done such a thing since in later life, or I am mistaken.
Little Em’ly didn’t care a bit. She saw me well enough; but instead of turning round and calling after me, ran away laughing. This obliged me to run after her, and she ran so fast that we were very near the cottage before I caught her.
‘Oh, it’s you, is it?’ said little Em’ly.
‘Why, you knew who it was, Em’ly,’ said I.
‘And didn’t YOU know who it was?’ said Em’ly. I was going to kiss her, but she covered her cherry lips with her hands, and said she wasn’t a baby now, and ran away, laughing more than ever, into the house.
She seemed to delight in teasing me, which was a change in her I wondered at very much. The tea table was ready, and our little locker was put out in its old place, but instead of coming to sit by me, she went and bestowed her company upon that grumbling Mrs. Gummidge: and on Mr. Peggotty’s inquiring why, rumpled her hair all over her face to hide it, and could do nothing but laugh.
‘A little puss, it is!’ said Mr. Peggotty, patting her with his great hand.
‘So sh’ is! so sh’ is!’ cried Ham. ‘Mas’r Davy bor’, so sh’ is!’ and he sat and chuckled at her for some time, in a state of mingled admiration and delight, that made his face a burning red.
Little Em’ly was spoiled by them all, in fact; and by no one more than Mr. Peggotty himself, whom she could have coaxed into anything, by only going and laying her cheek against his rough whisker. That was my opinion, at least, when I saw her do it; and I held Mr. Peggotty to be thoroughly in the right. But she was so affectionate and sweet-natured, and had such a pleasant manner of being both sly and shy at once, that she captivated me more than ever.
She was tender-hearted, too; for when, as we sat round the fire after tea, an allusion was made by Mr. Peggotty over his pipe to the loss I had sustained, the tears stood in her eyes, and she looked at me so kindly across the table, that I felt quite thankful to her.
‘Ah!’ said Mr. Peggotty, taking up her curls, and running them over his hand like water, ‘here’s another orphan, you see, sir. And here,’ said Mr. Peggotty, giving Ham a backhanded knock in the chest, ‘is another of ’em, though he don’t look much like it.’
‘If I had you for my guardian, Mr. Peggotty,’ said I, shaking my head, ‘I don’t think I should FEEL much like it.’
‘Well said, Mas’r Davy bor’!’ cried Ham, in an ecstasy. ‘Hoorah! Well said! Nor more you wouldn’t! Hor! Hor!’—Here he returned Mr. Peggotty’s back-hander, and little Em’ly got up and kissed Mr. Peggotty. ‘And how’s your friend, sir?’ said Mr. Peggotty to me.
‘Steerforth?’ said I.
‘That’s the name!’ cried Mr. Peggotty, turning to Ham. ‘I knowed it was something in our way.’
‘You said it was Rudderford,’ observed Ham, laughing.
‘Well!’ retorted Mr. Peggotty. ‘And ye steer with a rudder, don’t ye? It ain’t fur off. How is he, sir?’
‘He was very well indeed when I came away, Mr. Peggotty.’
‘There’s a friend!’ said Mr. Peggotty, stretching out his pipe. ‘There’s a friend, if you talk of friends! Why, Lord love my heart alive, if it ain’t a treat to look at him!’
‘He is very handsome, is he not?’ said I, my heart warming with this praise.
‘Handsome!’ cried Mr. Peggotty. ‘He stands up to you like—like a—why I don’t know what he don’t stand up to you like. He’s so bold!’
‘Yes! That’s just his character,’ said I. ‘He’s as brave as a lion, and you can’t think how frank he is, Mr. Peggotty.’
‘And I do suppose, now,’ said Mr. Peggotty, looking at me through the smoke of his pipe, ‘that in the way of book-larning he’d take the wind out of a’most anything.’
‘Yes,’ said I, delighted; ‘he knows everything. He is astonishingly clever.’
‘There’s a friend!’ murmured Mr. Peggotty, with a grave toss of his head.
‘Nothing seems to cost him any trouble,’ said I. ‘He knows a task if he only looks at it. He is the best cricketer you ever saw. He will give you almost as many men as you like at draughts, and beat you easily.’
Mr. Peggotty gave his head another toss, as much as to say: ‘Of course he will.’
‘He is such a speaker,’ I pursued, ‘that he can win anybody over; and I don’t know what you’d say if you were to hear him sing, Mr. Peggotty.’
Mr. Peggotty gave his head another toss, as much as to say: ‘I have no doubt of it.’
‘Then, he’s such a generous, fine, noble fellow,’ said I, quite carried away by my favourite theme, ‘that it’s hardly possible to give him as much praise as he deserves. I am sure I can never feel thankful enough for the generosity with which he has protected me, so much younger and lower in the school than himself.’
I was running on, very fast indeed, when my eyes rested on little Em’ly’s face, which was bent forward over the table, listening with the deepest attention, her breath held, her blue eyes sparkling like jewels, and the colour mantling in her cheeks. She looked so extraordinarily earnest and pretty, that I stopped in a sort of wonder; and they all observed her at the same time, for as I stopped, they laughed and looked at her.
‘Em’ly is like me,’ said Peggotty, ‘and would like to see him.’
Em’ly was confused by our all observing her, and hung down her head, and her face was covered with blushes. Glancing up presently through her stray curls, and seeing that we were all looking at her still (I am sure I, for one, could have looked at her for hours), she ran away, and kept away till it was nearly bedtime.
I lay down in the old little bed in the stern of the boat, and the wind came moaning on across the flat as it had done before. But I could not help fancying, now, that it moaned of those who were gone; and instead of thinking that the sea might rise in the night and float the boat away, I thought of the sea that had risen, since I last heard those sounds, and drowned my happy home. I recollect, as the wind and water began to sound fainter in my ears, putting a short clause into my prayers, petitioning that I might grow up to marry little Em’ly, and so dropping lovingly asleep.
The days passed pretty much as they had passed before, except—it was a great exception—that little Em’ly and I seldom wandered on the beach now. She had tasks to learn, and needle-work to do; and was absent during a great part of each day. But I felt that we should not have had those old wanderings, even if it had been otherwise. Wild and full of childish whims as Em’ly was, she was more of a little woman than I had supposed. She seemed to have got a great distance away from me, in little more than a year. She liked me, but she laughed at me, and tormented me; and when I went to meet her, stole home another way, and was laughing at the door when I came back, disappointed. The best times were when she sat quietly at work in the doorway, and I sat on the wooden step at her feet, reading to her. It seems to me, at this hour, that I have never seen such sunlight as on those bright April afternoons; that I have never seen such a sunny little figure as I used to see, sitting in the doorway of the old boat; that I have never beheld such sky, such water, such glorified ships sailing away into golden air.
On the very first evening after our arrival, Mr. Barkis appeared in an exceedingly vacant and awkward condition, and with a bundle of oranges tied up in a handkerchief. As he made no allusion of any kind to this property, he was supposed to have left it behind him by accident when he went away; until Ham, running after him to restore it, came back with the information that it was intended for Peggotty. After that occasion he appeared every evening at exactly the same hour, and always with a little bundle, to which he never alluded, and which he regularly put behind the door and left there. These offerings of affection were of a most various and eccentric description. Among them I remember a double set of pigs’ trotters, a huge pin-cushion, half a bushel or so of apples, a pair of jet earrings, some Spanish onions, a box of dominoes, a canary bird and cage, and a leg of pickled pork.
Mr. Barkis’s wooing, as I remember it, was altogether of a peculiar kind. He very seldom said anything; but would sit by the fire in much the same attitude as he sat in his cart, and stare heavily at Peggotty, who was opposite. One night, being, as I suppose, inspired by love, he made a dart at the bit of wax-candle she kept for her thread, and put it in his waistcoat-pocket and carried it off. After that, his great delight was to produce it when it was wanted, sticking to the lining of his pocket, in a partially melted state, and pocket it again when it was done with. He seemed to enjoy himself very much, and not to feel at all called upon to talk. Even when he took Peggotty out for a walk on the flats, he had no uneasiness on that head, I believe; contenting himself with now and then asking her if she was pretty comfortable; and I remember that sometimes, after he was gone, Peggotty would throw her apron over her face, and laugh for half-an-hour. Indeed, we were all more or less amused, except that miserable Mrs. Gummidge, whose courtship would appear to have been of an exactly parallel nature, she was so continually reminded by these transactions of the old one.
At length, when the term of my visit was nearly expired, it was given out that Peggotty and Mr. Barkis were going to make a day’s holiday together, and that little Em’ly and I were to accompany them. I had but a broken sleep the night before, in anticipation of the pleasure of a whole day with Em’ly. We were all astir betimes in the morning; and while we were yet at breakfast, Mr. Barkis appeared in the distance, driving a chaise-cart towards the object of his affections.
Peggotty was dressed as usual, in her neat and quiet mourning; but Mr. Barkis bloomed in a new blue coat, of which the tailor had given him such good measure, that the cuffs would have rendered gloves unnecessary in the coldest weather, while the collar was so high that it pushed his hair up on end on the top of his head. His bright buttons, too, were of the largest size. Rendered complete by drab pantaloons and a buff waistcoat, I thought Mr. Barkis a phenomenon of respectability.
When we were all in a bustle outside the door, I found that Mr. Peggotty was prepared with an old shoe, which was to be thrown after us for luck, and which he offered to Mrs. Gummidge for that purpose.
‘No. It had better be done by somebody else, Dan’l,’ said Mrs. Gummidge. ‘I’m a lone lorn creetur’ myself, and everythink that reminds me of creetur’s that ain’t lone and lorn, goes contrary with me.’
‘Come, old gal!’ cried Mr. Peggotty. ‘Take and heave it.’
‘No, Dan’l,’ returned Mrs. Gummidge, whimpering and shaking her head. ‘If I felt less, I could do more. You don’t feel like me, Dan’l; thinks don’t go contrary with you, nor you with them; you had better do it yourself.’
But here Peggotty, who had been going about from one to another in a hurried way, kissing everybody, called out from the cart, in which we all were by this time (Em’ly and I on two little chairs, side by side), that Mrs. Gummidge must do it. So Mrs. Gummidge did it; and, I am sorry to relate, cast a damp upon the festive character of our departure, by immediately bursting into tears, and sinking subdued into the arms of Ham, with the declaration that she knowed she was a burden, and had better be carried to the House at once. Which I really thought was a sensible idea, that Ham might have acted on.
Away we went, however, on our holiday excursion; and the first thing we did was to stop at a church, where Mr. Barkis tied the horse to some rails, and went in with Peggotty, leaving little Em’ly and me alone in the chaise. I took that occasion to put my arm round Em’ly’s waist, and propose that as I was going away so very soon now, we should determine to be very affectionate to one another, and very happy, all day. Little Em’ly consenting, and allowing me to kiss her, I became desperate; informing her, I recollect, that I never could love another, and that I was prepared to shed the blood of anybody who should aspire to her affections.
How merry little Em’ly made herself about it! With what a demure assumption of being immensely older and wiser than I, the fairy little woman said I was ‘a silly boy’; and then laughed so charmingly that I forgot the pain of being called by that disparaging name, in the pleasure of looking at her.
Mr. Barkis and Peggotty were a good while in the church, but came out at last, and then we drove away into the country. As we were going along, Mr. Barkis turned to me, and said, with a wink,—by the by, I should hardly have thought, before, that he could wink:
‘What name was it as I wrote up in the cart?’
‘Clara Peggotty,’ I answered.
‘What name would it be as I should write up now, if there was a tilt here?’
‘Clara Peggotty, again?’ I suggested.
‘Clara Peggotty BARKIS!’ he returned, and burst into a roar of laughter that shook the chaise.
In a word, they were married, and had gone into the church for no other purpose. Peggotty was resolved that it should be quietly done; and the clerk had given her away, and there had been no witnesses of the ceremony. She was a little confused when Mr. Barkis made this abrupt announcement of their union, and could not hug me enough in token of her unimpaired affection; but she soon became herself again, and said she was very glad it was over.
We drove to a little inn in a by-road, where we were expected, and where we had a very comfortable dinner, and passed the day with great satisfaction. If Peggotty had been married every day for the last ten years, she could hardly have been more at her ease about it; it made no sort of difference in her: she was just the same as ever, and went out for a stroll with little Em’ly and me before tea, while Mr. Barkis philosophically smoked his pipe, and enjoyed himself, I suppose, with the contemplation of his happiness. If so, it sharpened his appetite; for I distinctly call to mind that, although he had eaten a good deal of pork and greens at dinner, and had finished off with a fowl or two, he was obliged to have cold boiled bacon for tea, and disposed of a large quantity without any emotion.
I have often thought, since, what an odd, innocent, out-of-the-way kind of wedding it must have been! We got into the chaise again soon after dark, and drove cosily back, looking up at the stars, and talking about them. I was their chief exponent, and opened Mr. Barkis’s mind to an amazing extent. I told him all I knew, but he would have believed anything I might have taken it into my head to impart to him; for he had a profound veneration for my abilities, and informed his wife in my hearing, on that very occasion, that I was ‘a young Roeshus’—by which I think he meant prodigy.
When we had exhausted the subject of the stars, or rather when I had exhausted the mental faculties of Mr. Barkis, little Em’ly and I made a cloak of an old wrapper, and sat under it for the rest of the journey. Ah, how I loved her! What happiness (I thought) if we were married, and were going away anywhere to live among the trees and in the fields, never growing older, never growing wiser, children ever, rambling hand in hand through sunshine and among flowery meadows, laying down our heads on moss at night, in a sweet sleep of purity and peace, and buried by the birds when we were dead! Some such picture, with no real world in it, bright with the light of our innocence, and vague as the stars afar off, was in my mind all the way. I am glad to think there were two such guileless hearts at Peggotty’s marriage as little Em’ly’s and mine. I am glad to think the Loves and Graces took such airy forms in its homely procession.
Well, we came to the old boat again in good time at night; and there Mr. and Mrs. Barkis bade us good-bye, and drove away snugly to their own home. I felt then, for the first time, that I had lost Peggotty. I should have gone to bed with a sore heart indeed under any other roof but that which sheltered little Em’ly’s head.
Mr. Peggotty and Ham knew what was in my thoughts as well as I did, and were ready with some supper and their hospitable faces to drive it away. Little Em’ly came and sat beside me on the locker for the only time in all that visit; and it was altogether a wonderful close to a wonderful day.
It was a night tide; and soon after we went to bed, Mr. Peggotty and Ham went out to fish. I felt very brave at being left alone in the solitary house, the protector of Em’ly and Mrs. Gummidge, and only wished that a lion or a serpent, or any ill-disposed monster, would make an attack upon us, that I might destroy him, and cover myself with glory. But as nothing of the sort happened to be walking about on Yarmouth flats that night, I provided the best substitute I could by dreaming of dragons until morning.
With morning came Peggotty; who called to me, as usual, under my window as if Mr. Barkis the carrier had been from first to last a dream too. After breakfast she took me to her own home, and a beautiful little home it was. Of all the moveables in it, I must have been impressed by a certain old bureau of some dark wood in the parlour (the tile-floored kitchen was the general sitting-room), with a retreating top which opened, let down, and became a desk, within which was a large quarto edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. This precious volume, of which I do not recollect one word, I immediately discovered and immediately applied myself to; and I never visited the house afterwards, but I kneeled on a chair, opened the casket where this gem was enshrined, spread my arms over the desk, and fell to devouring the book afresh. I was chiefly edified, I am afraid, by the pictures, which were numerous, and represented all kinds of dismal horrors; but the Martyrs and Peggotty’s house have been inseparable in my mind ever since, and are now.
I took leave of Mr. Peggotty, and Ham, and Mrs. Gummidge, and little Em’ly, that day; and passed the night at Peggotty’s, in a little room in the roof (with the Crocodile Book on a shelf by the bed’s head) which was to be always mine, Peggotty said, and should always be kept for me in exactly the same state.
‘Young or old, Davy dear, as long as I am alive and have this house over my head,’ said Peggotty, ‘you shall find it as if I expected you here directly minute. I shall keep it every day, as I used to keep your old little room, my darling; and if you was to go to China, you might think of it as being kept just the same, all the time you were away.’
I felt the truth and constancy of my dear old nurse, with all my heart, and thanked her as well as I could. That was not very well, for she spoke to me thus, with her arms round my neck, in the morning, and I was going home in the morning, and I went home in the morning, with herself and Mr. Barkis in the cart. They left me at the gate, not easily or lightly; and it was a strange sight to me to see the cart go on, taking Peggotty away, and leaving me under the old elm-trees looking at the house, in which there was no face to look on mine with love or liking any more.
And now I fell into a state of neglect, which I cannot look back upon without compassion. I fell at once into a solitary condition,—apart from all friendly notice, apart from the society of all other boys of my own age, apart from all companionship but my own spiritless thoughts,—which seems to cast its gloom upon this paper as I write.
What would I have given, to have been sent to the hardest school that ever was kept!—to have been taught something, anyhow, anywhere! No such hope dawned upon me. They disliked me; and they sullenly, sternly, steadily, overlooked me. I think Mr. Murdstone’s means were straitened at about this time; but it is little to the purpose. He could not bear me; and in putting me from him he tried, as I believe, to put away the notion that I had any claim upon him—and succeeded.
I was not actively ill-used. I was not beaten, or starved; but the wrong that was done to me had no intervals of relenting, and was done in a systematic, passionless manner. Day after day, week after week, month after month, I was coldly neglected. I wonder sometimes, when I think of it, what they would have done if I had been taken with an illness; whether I should have lain down in my lonely room, and languished through it in my usual solitary way, or whether anybody would have helped me out.
When Mr. and Miss Murdstone were at home, I took my meals with them; in their absence, I ate and drank by myself. At all times I lounged about the house and neighbourhood quite disregarded, except that they were jealous of my making any friends: thinking, perhaps, that if I did, I might complain to someone. For this reason, though Mr. Chillip often asked me to go and see him (he was a widower, having, some years before that, lost a little small light-haired wife, whom I can just remember connecting in my own thoughts with a pale tortoise-shell cat), it was but seldom that I enjoyed the happiness of passing an afternoon in his closet of a surgery; reading some book that was new to me, with the smell of the whole Pharmacopoeia coming up my nose, or pounding something in a mortar under his mild directions.
For the same reason, added no doubt to the old dislike of her, I was seldom allowed to visit Peggotty. Faithful to her promise, she either came to see me, or met me somewhere near, once every week, and never empty-handed; but many and bitter were the disappointments I had, in being refused permission to pay a visit to her at her house. Some few times, however, at long intervals, I was allowed to go there; and then I found out that Mr. Barkis was something of a miser, or as Peggotty dutifully expressed it, was ‘a little near’, and kept a heap of money in a box under his bed, which he pretended was only full of coats and trousers. In this coffer, his riches hid themselves with such a tenacious modesty, that the smallest instalments could only be tempted out by artifice; so that Peggotty had to prepare a long and elabourate scheme, a very Gunpowder Plot, for every Saturday’s expenses.
All this time I was so conscious of the waste of any promise I had given, and of my being utterly neglected, that I should have been perfectly miserable, I have no doubt, but for the old books. They were my only comfort; and I was as true to them as they were to me, and read them over and over I don’t know how many times more.
I now approach a period of my life, which I can never lose the remembrance of, while I remember anything: and the recollection of which has often, without my invocation, come before me like a ghost, and haunted happier times.
I had been out, one day, loitering somewhere, in the listless, meditative manner that my way of life engendered, when, turning the corner of a lane near our house, I came upon Mr. Murdstone walking with a gentleman. I was confused, and was going by them, when the gentleman cried:
‘No, sir, David Copperfield,’ I said.
‘Don’t tell me. You are Brooks,’ said the gentleman. ‘You are Brooks of Sheffield. That’s your name.’
At these words, I observed the gentleman more attentively. His laugh coming to my remembrance too, I knew him to be Mr. Quinion, whom I had gone over to Lowestoft with Mr. Murdstone to see, before—it is no matter—I need not recall when.
‘And how do you get on, and where are you being educated, Brooks?’ said Mr. Quinion.
He had put his hand upon my shoulder, and turned me about, to walk with them. I did not know what to reply, and glanced dubiously at Mr. Murdstone.
‘He is at home at present,’ said the latter. ‘He is not being educated anywhere. I don’t know what to do with him. He is a difficult subject.’
That old, double look was on me for a moment; and then his eyes darkened with a frown, as it turned, in its aversion, elsewhere.
‘Humph!’ said Mr. Quinion, looking at us both, I thought. ‘Fine weather!’
Silence ensued, and I was considering how I could best disengage my shoulder from his hand, and go away, when he said:
‘I suppose you are a pretty sharp fellow still? Eh, Brooks?’
‘Aye! He is sharp enough,’ said Mr. Murdstone, impatiently. ‘You had better let him go. He will not thank you for troubling him.’
On this hint, Mr. Quinion released me, and I made the best of my way home. Looking back as I turned into the front garden, I saw Mr. Murdstone leaning against the wicket of the churchyard, and Mr. Quinion talking to him. They were both looking after me, and I felt that they were speaking of me.
Mr. Quinion lay at our house that night. After breakfast, the next morning, I had put my chair away, and was going out of the room, when Mr. Murdstone called me back. He then gravely repaired to another table, where his sister sat herself at her desk. Mr. Quinion, with his hands in his pockets, stood looking out of window; and I stood looking at them all.
‘David,’ said Mr. Murdstone, ‘to the young this is a world for action; not for moping and droning in.’ —’As you do,’ added his sister.
‘Jane Murdstone, leave it to me, if you please. I say, David, to the young this is a world for action, and not for moping and droning in. It is especially so for a young boy of your disposition, which requires a great deal of correcting; and to which no greater service can be done than to force it to conform to the ways of the working world, and to bend it and break it.’
‘For stubbornness won’t do here,’ said his sister ‘What it wants is, to be crushed. And crushed it must be. Shall be, too!’
He gave her a look, half in remonstrance, half in approval, and went on:
‘I suppose you know, David, that I am not rich. At any rate, you know it now. You have received some considerable education already. Education is costly; and even if it were not, and I could afford it, I am of opinion that it would not be at all advantageous to you to be kept at school. What is before you, is a fight with the world; and the sooner you begin it, the better.’
I think it occurred to me that I had already begun it, in my poor way: but it occurs to me now, whether or no.
‘You have heard the “counting-house” mentioned sometimes,’ said Mr. Murdstone.
‘The counting-house, sir?’ I repeated. ‘Of Murdstone and Grinby, in the wine trade,’ he replied.
I suppose I looked uncertain, for he went on hastily:
‘You have heard the “counting-house” mentioned, or the business, or the cellars, or the wharf, or something about it.’
‘I think I have heard the business mentioned, sir,’ I said, remembering what I vaguely knew of his and his sister’s resources. ‘But I don’t know when.’
‘It does not matter when,’ he returned. ‘Mr. Quinion manages that business.’
I glanced at the latter deferentially as he stood looking out of window.
‘Mr. Quinion suggests that it gives employment to some other boys, and that he sees no reason why it shouldn’t, on the same terms, give employment to you.’
‘He having,’ Mr. Quinion observed in a low voice, and half turning round, ‘no other prospect, Murdstone.’
Mr. Murdstone, with an impatient, even an angry gesture, resumed, without noticing what he had said:
‘Those terms are, that you will earn enough for yourself to provide for your eating and drinking, and pocket-money. Your lodging (which I have arranged for) will be paid by me. So will your washing—’
‘—Which will be kept down to my estimate,’ said his sister.
‘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, with Mr. Quinion, to begin the world on your own account.’
‘In short, you are provided for,’ observed his sister; ‘and will please to do your duty.’
Though I quite understood that the purpose of this announcement was to get rid of me, I have no distinct remembrance whether it pleased or frightened me. My impression is, that I was in a state of confusion about it, and, oscillating between the two points, touched neither. Nor had I much time for the clearing of my thoughts, as Mr. Quinion was to go upon the morrow.
Behold me, on the morrow, in a much-worn little white hat, with a black crape round it for my mother, a black jacket, and a pair of hard, stiff corduroy trousers—which Miss Murdstone considered the best armour for the legs in that fight with the world which was now to come off. Behold me so attired, and with my little worldly all before me in a small trunk, sitting, a lone lorn child (as Mrs. Gummidge might have said), in the post-chaise that was carrying Mr. Quinion to the London coach at Yarmouth! See, how our house and church are lessening in the distance; how the grave beneath the tree is blotted out by intervening objects; how the spire points upwards from my old playground no more, and the sky is empty!
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