I, little David Copperfield, lived with my mother in a pretty house in the village of Blunderstone in Suffolk. I had never known my father, who died before I could remember anything, and I had neither brothers nor sisters. I was fondly loved by my pretty young mother, and our kind, good servant, Peggotty, and was a very happy little fellow. We had very few friends, and the only relation my mother talked about was an aunt of my father's, a tall and rather terrible old lady, from all accounts, who had once been to see us when I was quite a tiny baby, and had been so angry to find I was not a little girl that she had left the house quite offended, and had never been heard of since. One visitor, a tall dark gentleman, I did not like at all, and was rather inclined to be jealous that my mother should be so friendly with the stranger.
Peggotty and I were sitting one night by the parlor fire, alone. I had been reading to Peggotty about crocodiles. I was tired of reading, and dead sleepy; but having leave, as a high treat, to sit up until my mother came home from spending the evening at a neighbor's, I would rather have died upon my post (of course) than have gone to bed. I had reached that stage of sleepiness when Peggotty seemed to swell and grow immensely large. I propped my eyelids open with my two forefingers, and looked perseveringly at her as she sat at work; at the little house with a thatched roof, where she kept her yard-measure; at her work-box with a sliding-lid, with a view of St. Paul's Cathedral (with a pink dome) painted on the top; at the brass thimble on her finger; at herself, whom I thought lovely. I felt so sleepy that I knew if I lost sight of anything, for a moment, I was gone.
"Peggotty," says I, suddenly, "were you ever married?"
"Lord, Master Davy!" replied Peggotty. "What's put marriage in your head?"
She answered with such a start that it quite awoke me. And then she stopped in her work and looked at me, with her needle drawn out to its thread's length.
"But were you ever married, Peggotty?" says I. "You are a very handsome woman, ain't you?"
"Me handsome, Davy!" said Peggotty. "Lawk, no, my dear! But what put marriage in your head?"
"I don't know! You mustn't marry more than one person at a time, may you, Peggotty?"
"Certainly not," says Peggotty, with the promptest decision.
"But if you marry a person, and the person dies, why then you may marry another person, mayn't you, Peggotty?"
"You MAY," says Peggotty, "if you choose, my dear. That's a matter of opinion."
"But what is your opinion, Peggotty?" said I.
I asked her and looked curiously at her, because she looked so curiously at me.
"My opinion is," said Peggotty, taking her eyes from me, after waiting a little, and going on with her work, "that I never was married myself, Master Davy, and that I don't expect to be. That's all I know about the subject."
"You ain't cross, I suppose, Peggotty, are you?" said I, after sitting quiet for a minute.
I really thought she was, she had been so short with me; but I was quite mistaken; for she laid aside her work (which was a stocking of her own) and opening her arms wide, took my curly head within them, and gave it a good squeeze. I know it was a good squeeze, because, being very plump, whenever she made any little exertion after she was dressed, some of the buttons on the back of her flew off. And I recollect two bursting to the opposite side of the parlor while she was hugging me.
One day Peggotty asked me if I would like to go with her on a visit to her brother at Yarmouth.
"Is your brother an agreeable man, Peggotty?" I inquired.
"Oh, what an agreeable man he is!" cried Peggotty. "Then there's the sea, and the boats and ships, and the fishermen, and the beach. And 'Am to play with."
Ham was her nephew. I was quite anxious to go when I heard of all these delights; but my mother, what would she do all alone? Peggotty told me my mother was going to pay a visit to some friends, and would be sure to let me go. So all was arranged, and we were to start the next day in the carrier's cart. I was so eager that I wanted to put my hat and coat on the night before! But when the time came to say good-by to my dear mamma, I cried a little, for I had never left her before. It was rather a slow way of traveling, and I was very tired and sleepy when I arrived at Yarmouth, and found Ham waiting to meet me. He was a great strong fellow, six feet high, and took me on his back and the box under his arm to carry both to the house. I was delighted to find that this house was made of a real big black boat, with a door and windows cut in the side, and an iron funnel sticking out of the roof for a chimney. Inside, it was very cozy and clean, and I had a tiny bedroom in the stern. I was very much pleased to find a dear little girl, about my own age, to play with, and after tea I said:
"Sir," says he.
"Did you give your son the name of Ham because you lived in a sort of ark?"
Mr. Peggotty seemed to think it a deep idea, but answered:
"No, sir. I never giv' him no name."
"Who gave him that name, then?" said I, putting question number two of the catechism to Mr. Peggotty.
"Why, sir, his father giv' it him," said Mr. Peggotty.
"I thought you were his father!"
"My brother Joe was his father," said Mr. Peggotty.
"Dead, Mr. Peggotty?" I hinted, after a respectful pause.
"Drowndead," said Mr. Peggotty.
I was very much surprised that Mr. Peggotty was not Ham's father, and began to wonder whether I was mistaken about his relationship to anybody else there. I was so curious to know that I made up my mind to have it out with Mr. Peggotty.
"Little Em'ly," I said, glancing at her. "She is your daughter, isn't she, Mr. Peggotty?"
"No, sir. My brother-in-law, Tom, was her father."
I couldn't help it. "----Dead, Mr. Peggotty?" I hinted, after another respectful silence.
"Drowndead," said Mr. Peggotty.
I felt the difficulty of resuming the subject, but had not got to the bottom of it yet, and must get to the bottom somehow. So I said:
"Haven't you any children, Mr. Peggotty?"
"No, master," he answered, with a short laugh. "I'm a bacheldore."
"A bachelor!" I said, astonished. "Why, who's that, Mr. Peggotty?" Pointing to the person in the apron who was knitting.
"That's Missis Gummidge," said Mr. Peggotty.
"Gummidge, Mr. Peggotty?"
But at this point Peggotty--I mean my own Peggotty--made such impressive motions to me not to ask any more questions, that I could only sit and look at all the company, until it was time to go to bed.
Mrs. Gummidge lived with them too, and did the cooking and cleaning, for she was a poor widow and had no home of her own. I thought Mr. Peggotty was very good to take all these people to live with him, and I was quite right, for Mr. Peggotty was only a poor man himself and had to work hard to get a living.
Almost as soon as morning shone upon the oyster-shell frame of my mirror I was out of bed, and out with tittle Em'ly, picking up stones upon the beach.
"You're quite a sailor I suppose?" I said to Em'ly. I don't know that I supposed anything of the kind, but I felt it proper to say something; and a shining sail close to us made such a pretty little image of itself, at the moment, in her bright eye, that it came into my head to say this.
"No," replied Em'ly, shaking her head, "I'm afraid of the sea."
"Afraid!" I said, with a becoming air of boldness, and looking very big at the mighty ocean. "I ain't."
"Ah! but it's cruel," said Em'ly. "I have seen it very cruel to some of our men. I have seen it tear a boat as big as our house all to pieces."
"I hope it wasn't the boat that--"
"That father was drowned in?" said Em'ly. "No. Not that one, I never see that boat."
"Nor him?" I asked her.
Little Em'ly shook her head. "Not to remember!"
Here was something remarkable. I immediately went into an explanation how I had never seen my own father; and how my mother and I had always lived by ourselves in the happiest state imaginable, and lived so then, and always meant to live so; and how my father's grave was in the churchyard near our house, and shaded by a tree, beneath the boughs of which I had walked and heard the birds sing many a pleasant morning. But there were some differences between Em'ly's orphanhood and mine, it appeared. She had lost her mother before her father, and where her father's grave was no one knew, except that it was somewhere in the depths of the sea.
"Besides," said Em'ly, as she looked about for shells and pebbles, "your father was a gentleman and your mother is a lady; and my father was a fisherman and my mother was a fisherman's daughter, and my Uncle Dan is a fisherman."
"Dan is Mr. Peggotty, is he?" said I.
"Uncle--yonder," answered Em'ly, nodding at the boat-house.
"Yes. I mean him. He must be very good, I should think."
"Good?" said Em'ly. "If I was ever to be a lady, I'd give him a sky-blue coat with diamond buttons, nankeen trousers, a red velvet waistcoat, a cocked hat, a large gold watch, a silver pipe, and a box of money."
I said I had no doubt that Mr. Peggotty well deserved these treasures.
Little Em'ly had stopped and looked up at the sky while she named these articles, as if they were a glorious vision. We went on again picking up shells and pebbles.
"You would like to be a lady?" I said.
Em'ly looked at me, and laughed and nodded "yes."
"I should like it very much. We would all be gentlefolks together, then. Me, and uncle, and Ham, and Mrs. Gummidge. We wouldn't mind then, when there come stormy weather. Not for our own sakes, I mean. We would for the poor fishermen's, to be sure, and we'd help 'em with money when they come to any hurt."
I was quite sorry to leave these kind people and my dear little companion, but I was glad to think I should get back to my own dear mamma. When I reached home, however, I found a great change. My mother was married to the dark man I did not like, whose name was Mr. Murdstone, and he was a stern, hard man, who had no love for me, and did not allow my mother to pet and indulge me as she had done before. Mr. Murdstone's sister came to live with us, and as she was even more difficult to please than her brother, and disliked boys, my life was no longer a happy one. I tried to be good and obedient, for I knew it made my mother very unhappy to see me punished and found fault with. I had always had lessons with my mother, and as she was patient and gentle, I had enjoyed learning to read, but now I had a great many very hard lessons to do, and was so frightened and shy when Mr. and Miss Murdstone were in the room, that I did not get on at all well, and was continually in disgrace.
Let me remember how it used to be, and bring one morning back again.
I come into the second-best parlor after breakfast, with my books, and an exercise-book and a slate. My mother is ready for me at her writing-desk, but not half so ready as Mr. Murdstone in his easy-chair by the window (though he pretends to be reading a book), or as Miss Murdstone, sitting near my mother stringing steel beads. The very sight of these two has such an influence over me that I begin to feel the words I have been at infinite pains to get into my head all sliding away, and going I don't know where. I wonder where they do go, by-the-by?
I hand the first book to my mother. Perhaps it is a grammar, perhaps a history, or geography. I take a last drowning look at the page as I give it into her hand, and start off aloud at a racing pace while I have got it fresh. I trip over a word. Mr. Murdstone looks up. I trip over another word. Miss Murdstone looks up. I redden, tumble over half a dozen words and stop. I think my mother would show me the book if she dared, but she does not dare, and she says softly:
"Oh, Davy, Davy!"
"Now, Clara," says Mr. Murdstone, "be firm with the boy. Don't say, 'Oh, Davy, Davy!' That's childish. He knows his lesson, or he does not know it."
"He does not know it," Miss Murdstone interposes awfully.
"I am really afraid he does not," says my mother.
"Then you see, Clara," returns Miss Murdstone, "you should just give him the book back, and make him know it."
"Yes, certainly," says my mother; "that is what I intend to do, my dear Jane. Now, Davy, try once more, and don't be stupid."
I obey the first clause of my mother's words by trying once more, but am not so successful with the second, for I am very stupid. I tumble down before I get to the old place, at a point where I was all right before, and stop to think. But I can't think about the lesson. I think of the number of yards of net in Miss Murdstone's cap, or of the price of Mr. Murdstone's dressing-gown, or any such ridiculous matter that I have no business with, and don't want to have anything at all to do with. Mr. Murdstone makes a movement of impatience which I have been expecting for a long time. Miss Murdstone does the same. My mother glances submissively at them, shuts the book, and lays it by, to be worked out when my other tasks are done.
There is a pile of these tasks very soon, and it swells like a rolling snowball. The bigger it gets, the more stupid I get. The case is so hopeless, and I feel that I am wallowing in such a bog of nonsense, that I give up all idea of getting out, and abandon myself to my fate. The despairing way in which my mother and I look at each other, as I blunder on, is truly melancholy. But the greatest effect in these miserable lessons is when my mother (thinking nobody is observing her) tries to give me the cue by the motion of her lips. At that instant, Miss Murdstone, who has been lying in wait for nothing else all along says in a deep warning voice:
My mother starts, colors, and smiles faintly. Mr. Murdstone comes out of his chair, takes the book, throws it at me, or boxes my ears with it, and turns me out of the room by the shoulders.
My only pleasure was to go up into a little room at the top of the house where I had found a number of books that had belonged to my own father, and I would sit and read Robinson Crusoe, and many tales of travels and adventures, and I imagined myself to be sometimes one and sometimes another hero, and went about for days with the centre-piece out of an old set of boot-trees, pretending to be a captain in the British Royal Navy.
One morning when I went into the parlor with my books, I found my mother looking anxious, Miss Murdstone looking firm, and Mr. Murdstone binding something round the bottom of a cane--a lithe and limber cane, which he left off binding when I came in, and poised and switched in the air.
"I tell you, Clara," said Mr. Murdstone, "I have often been flogged myself."
"To be sure; of course," said Miss Murdstone.
"Certainly, my dear Jane," faltered my mother, meekly. "But--but do you think it did Edward good?"
"Do you think it did Edward harm, Clara?" asked Mr. Murdstone, gravely.
"That's the point!" said his sister.
To this my mother returned, "Certainly, my dear Jane," and said no more.
I felt afraid that all this had something to do with myself, and sought Mr. Murdstone's eye as it lighted on mine.
"Now, David," he said--and I saw that cast again, as he said it--"you must be far more careful to-day than usual." He gave the cane another poise and another switch; and having finished his preparation of it, laid it down beside him, with an expressive look, and took up his book.
This was a good freshener to my memory, as a beginning. I felt the words of my lessons slipping off, not one by one, or line by line, but by the entire page. I tried to lay hold of them; but they seemed, if I may so express it, to have put skates on, and to skim away from me with a smoothness there was no checking.
We began badly, and went on worse. I had come in with an idea of doing better than usual, thinking that I was very well prepared; but it turned out to be quite a mistake. Book after book was added to the heap of failures, Miss Murdstone being firmly watchful of us all the time. And when we came at last to a question about five thousand cheeses (canes he made it that day, I remember), my mother burst out crying.
"Clara!" said Miss Murdstone, in her warning voice.
"I am not quite well, my dear Jane, I think," said my mother.
I saw him wink, solemnly, at his sister, as he rose and said, taking up the cane:
"Why, Jane, we can hardly expect Clara to bear, with perfect firmness, the worry and torment that David has caused her to-day. Clara is greatly strengthened and improved; but we can hardly expect so much from her. David, you and I will go up-stairs, boy."
As he took me out at the door, my mother ran towards us. Miss Murdstone said, "Clara! are you a perfect fool?" and interfered. I saw my mother stop her ears then, and I heard her crying.
He walked me up to my room slowly and gravely--I am certain he had a delight in that formal show of doing justice--and when we got there, suddenly twisted my head under his arm.
"Mr. Murdstone! Sir!" I cried to him. "Don't! Pray don't beat me! I have tried to learn, sir, but I can't learn while you and Miss Murdstone are by. I can't indeed!"
"Can't you, indeed, David?" he said. "We'll try that."
He had my head as in a vise, but I twined round him somehow, and stopped him for a moment, entreating him not to beat me. It was only for a moment that I stopped him, for he cut me heavily an instant afterwards, and in the same instant I caught the hand with which he held me in my mouth, between my teeth, and bit it through. It sets my teeth on edge to think of it.
He beat me then, as if he would have beaten me to death. Above all the noise we made, I heard them running up the stairs, and crying out--I heard my mother crying out--and Peggotty. Then he was gone; and the door was locked outside; and I was lying, fevered, and hot, and torn, and raging in my puny way, upon the floor.
How well I recollect, when I became quiet, what an unnatural stillness seemed to reign through the whole house! How well I remember, when my smart and passion began to cool, how wicked I began to feel!
I sat listening for a long while, but there was not a sound. I crawled up from the floor, and saw my face in the glass, so swollen, red, and ugly that it almost frightened me. My stripes were sore and stiff, and made me cry afresh, when I moved; but they were nothing to the guilt I felt. It lay heavier on my breast than if I had been a most terrible criminal, I dare say, and the longer I thought of it the greater the offense seemed.
It had begun to grow dark, and I had shut the window (I had been lying, for the most part, with my head upon the sill, by turns crying, dozing, and looking listlessly out), when the key was turned, and Miss Murdstone came in with some bread and meat and milk. These she put down upon the table without a word, glaring at me the while and then retired, locking the door after her.
I never shall forget the waking next morning; the being cheerful and fresh for the first moment, and then the being weighed down by the stale and dismal oppression of remembrance. Miss Murdstone came again before I was out of bed; told me, in so many words, that I was free to walk in the garden for half an hour and no longer; retired, leaving the door open, that I might avail myself of that permission.
I did so, and did so every morning of my imprisonment, which lasted five days. If I could have seen my mother alone, I should have gone down on my knees to her and besought her forgiveness; but I saw no one, Miss Murdstone excepted, during the whole time.
The length of those five days I can convey no idea of to anyone. They occupy the place of years in my remembrance.
On the last night of my restraint, I was awakened by hearing my own name spoken in a whisper. I started up in bed, and, putting out my arms in the dark, said:
"Is that you, Peggotty?"
There was no immediate answer, but presently I heard my name again, in a tone so very mysterious and awful, that I think I should have gone into a fit, if it had not occurred to me that it must have come through the keyhole.
I groped my way to the door, and, putting my own lips to the keyhole, whispered:
"Is that you, Peggotty, dear?"
"Yes, my own precious Davy," she replied. "Be as soft as a mouse, or the cat'll hear us."
I understood this to mean Miss Murdstone, and knew that we must be careful and quiet; her room being close by.
"How's mamma, dear Peggotty? Is she very angry with me?"
I could hear Peggotty crying softly on her side of the keyhole, as I was doing on mine, before she answered. "No. Not very."
"What is going to be done with me, Peggotty, dear? Do you know?"
"School. Near London," was Peggotty's answer. I was obliged to get her to repeat it, for she spoke it the first time quite down my throat in consequence of my having forgotten to take my mouth away from the keyhole and put my ear there; and, though her words tickled me a good deal, I didn't hear them.
"Is that the reason why Miss Murdstone took the clothes out of my drawers?" which she had done, though I have forgotten to mention it.
"Yes," said Peggotty. "Box."
"Shan't I see mamma?"
"Yes," said Peggotty. "Morning."
Then Peggotty fitted her mouth close to the keyhole, and spoke these words through it with as much feeling and earnestness as a keyhole has ever been the means of communicating, I will venture to say, shooting in each broken little sentence in a convulsive little burst of its own.
"Davy, dear. If I ain't been azackly as intimate with you. Lately, as I used to be. It ain't because I don't love you. Just as well and more, my pretty poppet. It's because I thought it better for you. And for someone else besides. Davy, my darling, are you listening? Can you hear?"
"Ye--ye--ye--yes, Peggotty!" I sobbed.
"My own!" said Peggotty, with infinite compassion. "What I want to say, is. That you must never forget me. For I'll never forget you. And I'll take as much care of your mamma, Davy. As I ever took of you. And I won't leave her. The day may come when she'll be glad to lay her poor head. On her stupid, cross old Peggotty's arm again. And I'll write to you, my dear. Though I ain't no scholar. And I'll--I'll--" Peggotty fell to kissing the keyhole, as she couldn't kiss me.
"Thank you, dear Peggotty!" said I. "Oh, thank you! Thank you! Will you promise me one thing, Peggotty? Will you write and tell Mr. Peggotty and little Em'ly and Mrs. Gummidge and Ham that I am not so bad as they might suppose, and that I sent 'em all my love--especially to little Em'ly? Will you, if you please, Peggotty?"
The kind soul promised, and we both of us kissed the keyhole with the greatest affection--I patted it with my hand, I recollect, as if it had been her honest face--and parted.
In the morning Miss Murdstone appeared as usual, and told me I was going to school; which was not altogether such news to me as she supposed. She also informed me that when I was dressed, I was to come down-stairs into the parlor and have my breakfast. There I found my mother, very pale and with red eyes; into whose arms I ran, and begged her pardon from my suffering soul.
"Oh, Davy!" she said. "That you could hurt anyone I love! Try to be better, pray to be better! I forgive you; but I am so grieved, Davy, that you should have such bad passions in your heart."
Miss Murdstone was good enough to take me out to the cart, and to say on the way that she hoped I would repent, before I came to a bad end; and then I got into the cart, and the lazy horse walked off with it.
We might have gone about half a mile, and my pocket handkerchief was quite wet through, when the carrier stopped short.
Looking out to ascertain for what, I saw, to my amazement, Peggotty burst from a hedge and climb into the cart. She took me in both her arms and squeezed me until the pressure on my nose was extremely painful, though I never thought of that till afterwards, when I found it very tender. Not a single word did Peggotty speak, releasing one of her arms, she put it down in her pocket to the elbow, and brought out some paper-bags of cakes, which she crammed into my pockets, and a purse which she put into my hand, but not one word did she say. After another and a final squeeze with both arms, she got down from the cart and ran away; and my belief is, and has always been, without a solitary button on her gown. I picked up one, of several that was rolling about, and treasured it as a keepsake for a long time.
The carrier looked at me, as if to inquire if she were coming back. I shook my head, and said I thought not. "Then come up!" said the carrier to the lazy horse, who came up accordingly.
Having by this time cried as much as I possibly could, I began to think it was of no use crying any more. The carrier seeing me in this resolution, proposed that my pocket handkerchief should be spread upon the horse's back to dry. I thanked him and agreed; and particularly small it looked under those circumstances.
I had now time to examine the purse. It was a stiff leather purse, with a snap, and had three bright shillings in it, which Peggotty had evidently polished up with whitening, for my greater delight. But its precious contents were two half-crowns folded together in a bit of paper, on which was written, in my mother's hand, "For Davy. With my love." I was so overcome by this, that I asked the carrier to be so good as reach me my pocket handkerchief again, but he said he thought I had better do without it; and I thought I really had; so I wiped my eyes on my sleeve and stopped myself.
For good, too; though, in consequence of my previous feelings, I was still occasionally seized with a stormy sob. After we had jogged on for some little time, I asked the carrier if he was going all the way.
"All the way where?" inquired the carrier.
"There," I said.
"Where's there?" inquired the carrier.
"Near London," I said.
"Why, that horse," said the carrier, jerking the rein to point him out, "would be deader than pork afore he got over half the ground."
"Are you only going to Yarmouth then?" I asked.
"That's about it," said the carrier. "And there I shall take you to the stage-cutch, and the stage-cutch that'll take you to--wherever it is."
I shared my cakes with the carrier, who asked if Peggotty made them, and told him yes, she did all our cooking. The carrier looked thoughtful, and then asked if I would send a message to Peggotty from him. I agreed, and the message was "Barkis is willing." While I was waiting for the coach at Yarmouth, I wrote to Peggotty:
"MY DEAR PEGGOTTY:--I have come here safe. Barkis is willing. My love to mamma. Yours affectionately.
"P.S.--He says he particularly wanted you to know Barkis is willing."
At Yarmouth I found dinner was ordered for me, and felt very shy at having a table all to myself, and very much alarmed when the waiter told me he had seen a gentleman fall down dead after drinking some of their beer. I said I would have some water, and was quite grateful to the waiter for drinking the ale that had been ordered for me, for fear the people of the hotel should be offended. He also helped me to eat my dinner, and accepted one of my bright shillings.
After a long, tiring journey by the coach, for there were no trains in those days, I arrived in London and was taken to the school at Blackheath, by one of the masters, Mr. Mell.
I gazed upon the schoolroom into which he took me, as the most forlorn and desolate place I had ever seen. I see it now. A long room, with three long rows of desks, and six of long seats, bristling all round with pegs for hats and slates. Scraps of old copy-books and exercises litter the dirty floor.
Mr. Mell having left me for a few moments, I went softly to the upper end of the room, observing all this as I crept along. Suddenly I came upon a pasteboard placard, beautifully written which was lying on the desk, and bore these words--"Take care of him. He bites."
I got upon the desk immediately, afraid of at least a great dog underneath. But, though I looked all round with anxious eyes, I could see nothing of him. I was still engaged in peering about when Mr. Mell came back, and asked me what I did up there.
"I beg your pardon, sir," says I, "if you please, I'm looking for the dog."
"Dog?" says he. "What dog?"
"Isn't it a dog, sir?"
"Isn't what a dog?"
"That's to be taken care of, sir; that bites."
"No, Copperfield," says he, gravely, "that's not a dog. That's a boy. My instructions are, Copperfield, to put this placard on your back. I am sorry to make such a beginning with you, but I must do it."
With that, he took me down, and tied the placard, which was neatly constructed for the purpose, on my shoulders like a knapsack; and wherever I went, afterwards, I had the consolation of carrying it.
What I suffered from that placard, nobody can imagine. Whether it was possible for people to see me or not, I always fancied that somebody was reading it. It was no relief to turn round and find nobody; for wherever my back was, there I imagined somebody always to be.
There was an old door in this playground, on which the boys had a custom of carving their names. It was completely covered with such inscriptions. In my dread of the end of the vacation and their coming back, I could not read one boy's name, without inquiring in what tone and with what emphasis he would read, "Take care of him. He bites." There was one boy--a certain J. Steerforth--who cut his name very deep and very often, who, I conceived, would read it in a rather strong voice, and afterwards pull my hair. There was another boy, one Tommy Traddles, who I dreaded would make game of it, and pretend to be dreadfully frightened of me. There was a third, George Demple, who I fancied would sing it. I have looked, a little shrinking creature, at that door, until the owners of all the names--there were five-and-forty of them in the school then, Mr. Mell said--seemed to cry out, each in his own way, "Take care of him. He bites!"
Tommy Traddles was the first boy who returned. He introduced himself by informing me that I should find his name on the right-hand corner of the gate, over the top bolt; upon that I said, "Traddles?" to which he replied, "The same," and then he asked me for a full account of myself and family.
It was fortunate for me that Traddles came back first. He enjoyed my placard so much that he saved me from the embarrassment of either telling about it or trying to hide it by presenting me to every other boy who came back, great or small, immediately on his arrival, in this form of introduction, "Look here! Here's a game!" Happily, too, the greater part of the boys came back low-spirited, and were not so boisterous at my expense as I had expected. Some of them certainly could not resist the temptation of pretending that I was a dog, and patting and smoothing me lest I should bite, and saying, "Lie down, sir!" and calling me Towzer. This was naturally confusing, among so many strangers, and cost some tears, but on the whole it was much better than I had anticipated.
I was not considered as being formally received into the school, however, until J. Steerforth arrived. Before this boy, who was reputed to be a great scholar, and was very good-looking, and at least half-a-dozen years older than I, I was carried as before a judge. He inquired, under a shed in the playground, into the particulars of my punishment, and was pleased to express his opinion that it was a "jolly shame;" for which I became bound to him ever afterwards.
"What money have you got, Copperfield?" he said, walking aside with me when he had disposed of my affair in these terms.
I told him seven shillings.
"You had better give it to me to take care of," he said. "At least, you can, if you like. You needn't if you don't like."
I hastened to comply with his friendly suggestion, and, opening Peggotty's purse, turned it upside down into his hand.
"Do you want to spend anything now?" he asked me.
"No, thank you," I replied.
"You can, if you like, you know," said Steerforth. "Say the word."
"No, thank you, sir," I repeated.
"Perhaps you'd like to spend a couple of shillings or so in a bottle of currant wine by-and-by, up in the bedroom?" said Steerforth. "You belong to my bedroom, I find."
It certainly had not occurred to me before, but I said, Yes, I should like that.
"Very good," said Steerforth. "You'll be glad to spend another shilling or so in almond cakes, I dare say?"
I said, "Yes, I should like that, too."
"And another shilling or so in biscuits, and another in fruit, eh?" said Steerforth. "I say, young Copperfield, you're going it!"
I smiled because he smiled, but I was a little troubled in my mind, too.
"Well!" said Steerforth. "We must make it stretch as far as we can; that's all. I'll do the best in my power for you. I can go out when I like, and I'll smuggle the prog in." With these words he put the money in his pocket, and kindly told me not to make myself uneasy; he would take care it should be all right.
He was as good as his word, if that were all right which I had a secret misgiving was nearly all wrong--for I feared it was a waste of my mother's two half-crowns--though I had preserved the piece of paper they were wrapped in; which was a precious saving. When we went up-stairs to bed, he produced the whole seven shillings worth, and laid it out on my bed in the moonlight, saying:
"There you are, young Copperfield, and a royal spread you've got!"
I couldn't think of doing the honors of the feast at my time of life, while he was by; my hand shook at the very thought of it. I begged him to do me the favor of taking charge of the treat; and my request being seconded by the other boys who were in that room, he agreed to it, and sat upon my pillow, handing round the food--with perfect fairness, I must say--and giving out the currant wine in a little glass without a foot, which was his own property. As to me, I sat on his left hand, and the rest were grouped about us, on the nearest beds and on the floor.
How well I recollect our sitting there, talking in whispers; or their talking, and my respectfully listening, I ought rather to say; the moonlight falling a little way into the room, through the window, painting a pale window on the floor, and the greater part of us in shadow, except when Steerforth scratched a match, when he wanted to look for anything on the board, and shed a blue glare over us that was gone directly! A certain mysterious feeling, consequent on the darkness, the secrecy of the revel, and the whisper in which everything was said, steals over me again, and I listen to all they tell me, with a vague feeling of solemnity and awe, which makes me glad they are all so near, and frightens me (though I feign to laugh) when Traddles pretends to see a ghost in the corner.
I heard all kinds of things about the school and all belonging to it. I heard that Mr. Creakle was the sternest and most severe of masters; that he laid about him, right and left, every day of his life, charging in among the boys like a trooper, and slashing away, unmercifully.
I heard that the man with the wooden leg, whose name was Tungay, was an obstinate fellow who had formerly been in the hop business, but had come into the line with Mr. Creakle, in consequence, as was supposed among the boys, of his having broken his leg in Mr. Creakle's service, and having done a deal of dishonest work for him, and knowing his secrets.
But the greatest wonder that I heard of Mr. Creakle was, there being one boy in the school on whom he never ventured to lay a hand, and that that boy being J. Steerforth. Steerforth himself confirmed this when it was stated, and said that he should like to begin to see him do it. On being asked by a mild boy (not me) how he would proceed if he did begin to see him do it, he scratched a match on purpose to shed a glare over his reply, and said he would commence with knocking him down with a blow on the forehead from the seven-and-six-penny ink-bottle that was always on the mantelpiece. We sat in the dark for some time, breathless.
I heard that Miss Creakle was regarded by the school in general as being in love with Steerforth; and I am sure, as I sat in the dark, thinking of his nice voice, and his fine face, and his easy manner, and his curling hair, I thought it very likely. I heard that Mr. Mell was not a bad sort of fellow, but hadn't a sixpence to bless himself with; and that there was no doubt that old Mrs. Mell, his mother, was as poor as Job.
One day, Traddles (the most unfortunate boy in the world) breaks a window accidentally with a ball. I shudder at this moment with the tremendous sensation of seeing it done, and feeling that the ball has bounded on to Mr. Creakle's sacred head.
Poor Traddles! In a tight sky-blue suit that made his arms and legs like German sausages, or roly-poly puddings, he was the merriest and most miserable of all the boys. He was always being caned--I think he was caned every day that half-year, except one holiday Monday, when he was only rulered on both hands--and was always going to write to his uncle about it, and never did. After laying his head on the desk for a little while, he would cheer up somehow, begin to laugh again, and draw skeletons all over his slate before his eyes were dry. I used at first to wonder what comfort Traddles found in drawing skeletons. But I believe he only did it because they were easy, and didn't want any features.
He was very honorable, Traddles was; and held it as a solemn duty in the boys to stand by one another. He suffered for this on several occasions; and particularly once, when Steerforth laughed in church, and the beadle thought it was Traddles, and took him out. I see him now, going away under guard, despised by the congregation. He never said who was the real offender, though he smarted for it next day, and was imprisoned so many hours that he came forth with a whole churchyard full of skeletons swarming all over his Latin Dictionary. But he had his reward. Steerforth said there was nothing of the sneak in Traddles, and we all felt that to be the highest praise. For my part, I could have gone through a great deal (though I was much less brave than Traddles, and nothing like so old) to have won such a reward, as praise from J. Steerforth.
To see Steerforth walk to church before us, arm-in-arm with Miss Creakle, was one of the great sights of my life. I didn't think Miss Creakle equal to little Em'ly in point of beauty, and I didn't love her (I didn't dare); but I thought her a young lady of extraordinary attractions, and in point of gentility not to be surpassed. When Steerforth, in white trousers, carried her parasol for her, I felt proud to know him; and believed that she could not choose but adore him with all her heart. Mr. Sharp and Mr. Mell were both great personages in my eyes; but Steerforth was to them what the sun was to two stars. An accidental matter strengthened the friendship between Steerforth and me, in a manner that inspired me with great pride and satisfaction, though it sometimes led to inconvenience. It happened on one occasion, when he was doing me the honor of talking to me in the playground that I remarked that something or somebody--I forget what now--was like something or somebody in the story of Peregrine Pickle. He said nothing at the time; but when I was going to bed at night, asked me if I had got that book.
I told him no, and explained how it was that I had read it, and all those other books of which I had made mention.
"And do you recollect them?" Steerforth said.
"Oh yes," I replied; I had a good memory, and I believed I recollected them very well.
"Then I tell you what, young Copperfield," said Steerforth, "you shall tell 'em to me. I can't get to sleep very early at night, and I generally wake rather early in the morning. We'll go over 'em one after another. We'll make some regular Arabian Nights of it."
I felt extremely flattered by this arrangement, and we commenced carrying out the plan that very evening.
Steerforth showed his thought for me in one particular instance, in an unflinching manner that was a little troublesome, to poor Traddles and the rest. Peggotty's promised letter--what a comfortable letter it was!--arrived before "the half" of the school-term was many weeks old; and with it a cake in a perfect nest of oranges, and two bottles of cowslip wine. This treasure, as in duty bound, I laid at the feet of Steerforth, and begged him to divide it among the boys.
"Now, I'll tell you what, young Copperfield," said he, "the wine shall be kept to wet your whistle when you are story-telling."
I blushed at the idea, and begged him, in my modesty, not to think of it. But he said he had observed I was sometimes hoarse--a little roopy was his exact expression--and it should be, every drop, set apart to the purpose he had mentioned. Accordingly, it was locked up in his box, and drawn off by himself in a phial, and administered to me through a piece of quill in the cork, when I was supposed to be in want of something to restore my voice. Sometimes, to make it more powerful, he was so kind as to squeeze orange juice into it, or to stir it up with ginger, or dissolve a peppermint drop in it.
We seem to me to have been months over Peregrine, and months more over the other stories. The school never flagged for want of a story, I am certain; and the wine lasted out almost as well as the matter. Poor Traddles--I never think of that boy but with a strange disposition to laugh, and with tears in my eyes--was a sort of echo to the story; and pretended to be overcome with laughing at the funny parts, and to be overcome with fear when there was any passage of an alarming character in the story. This rather put me out very often. It was a great jest of his, I recollect, to pretend that he couldn't keep his teeth from chattering, whenever mention was made of an Alguazil in connection with the adventures of Gil Blas; and I remember when Gil Blas met the captain of the robbers in Madrid, this unlucky joker acted such a shudder of terror that he was overheard by Mr. Creakle, who was prowling about the passage, and handsomely flogged for disorderly conduct in the bedroom.
One day I had a visit from Mr. Peggotty and Ham, who had brought two enormous lobsters, a huge crab, and a large canvas bag of shrimps, as they "remembered I was partial to a relish with my meals."
I was proud to introduce my friend Steerforth to these kind, simple friends, and told them how good Steerforth was to me, and how he helped me with my work and took care of me, and Steerforth delighted the fishermen with his friendly, pleasant manners.
The "relish" was greatly enjoyed by the boys at supper that night. Only poor Traddles became very ill from eating crab so late.
At last the holidays came, and I went home. The carrier, Barkis, met me at Yarmouth, and was rather gruff, which I soon found out was because he had not had any answer to his message. I promised to ask Peggotty for one.
Ah, what a strange feeling it was to be going home when it was not home, and to find that every object I looked at reminded me of the happy old home, which was like a dream I could never dream again!
God knows how like a child the memory may have been that was awakened within me by the sound of my mother's voice in the old parlor, when I set foot in the hall.
I believed, from the solitary and thoughtful way in which my mother murmured her song, that she was alone. And I went softly into the room. She was sitting by the fire, nursing an infant, whose tiny hand she held against her neck. Her eyes were looking down upon its face, and she sat singing to it. I was so far right, that she had no other companion.
I spoke to her, and she started, and cried out. But seeing me, she called me her dear Davy, her own boy; and, coming half across the room to meet me, kneeled down upon the ground and kissed me, and laid my head down on her bosom near the little creature that was nestling there, and put its hand up to my lips.
I wish I had died. I wish I had died then, with that feeling in my heart! I should have been more fit for heaven than I ever have been since.
"He is your brother," said my mother, fondling me. "Davy, my pretty boy: my poor child!" Then she kissed me more and more, and clasped me round the neck. This she was doing when Peggotty came running in, and bounced down on the ground beside us and went mad about us both for a quarter of an hour.
We had a very happy afternoon the day I came. Mr. and Miss Murdstone were out, and I sat with my mother and Peggotty, and told them all about my school and Steerforth, and took the little baby in my arms and nursed it lovingly. But when the Murdstones came back I was more unhappy than ever.
I felt uncomfortable about going down to breakfast in The morning, as I had never set eyes on Mr. Murdstone since the day when I committed my memorable offense. However, as it must be done, I went down, after two or three false starts halfway, and as many runs back on tiptoe to my own room, and presented myself in the parlor.
He was standing before the fire with his back to it, while Miss Murdstone made the tea. He looked at me steadily as I entered, but made no sign of recognition whatever.
I went up to him, after a moment of confusion, and said, "I beg your pardon, sir. I am very sorry for what I did, and I hope you will forgive me."
"I am glad to hear you are sorry, David," he replied.
"How do you do, ma'am?" I said to Miss Murdstone.
"Ah, dear me!" sighed Miss Murdstone, giving me the tea-caddy scoop instead of her finger. "How long are the holidays?"
"A month, ma'am."
"Counting from when?"
"From to-day, ma'am."
"Oh!" said Miss Murdstone. "Then here's one day off."
She kept a calendar of the holidays in this way, and every morning checked a day off in exactly the same manner. She did it gloomily until she came to ten, but when she got into two figures she became more hopeful, and, as the time advanced, even jocular.
Thus the holidays lagged away, until the morning came when Miss Murdstone said: "Here's the last day off!" and gave me the closing cup of tea of the vacation.
I was not sorry to go. Again Mr. Barkis appeared at the gate, and again Miss Murdstone in her warning voice said: "Clara!" when my mother bent over me, to bid me farewell.
I kissed her and my baby brother; it is not so much the embrace she gave me that lives in my mind, though it was as fervent as could be, as what followed the embrace.
I was in the carrier's cart when I heard her calling to me. I looked out, and she stood at the garden gate alone, holding her baby up in her arms for me to see. It was cold, still weather; and not a hair of her head, or fold of her dress, was stirred, as she looked intently at me, holding up her child.
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--holding up her baby in her arms.
About two months after I had been back at school I was sent for one day to go into the parlor. I hurried in joyfully, for it was my birthday, and I thought it might be a box from Peggotty--but, alas! no; it was very sad news Mrs. Creakle had to give me--my dear mamma had died! Mrs. Creakle was very kind and gentle to me, and the boys, especially Traddles, were very sorry for me.
I went home the next day, and heard that the dear baby had died too. Peggotty received me with great tenderness, and told me about my mother's illness and how she had sent a loving message to me.
"Tell my dearest boy that his mother, as she lay here, blessed him not once, but a thousand times," and she had prayed to God to protect and keep her fatherless boy.
Mr. Murdstone did not take any notice of me, nor had Miss Murdstone a word of kindness for me. Peggotty was to leave in a month, and, to my great joy, I was allowed to go with her on a visit to Mr. Peggotty. On our way I found out that the mysterious message I had given to Peggotty meant that Barkis wanted to marry her, and Peggotty had consented. Everyone in Mr. Peggotty's cottage was pleased to see me, and did their best to comfort me. Little Em'ly was at school when I arrived, and I went out to meet her. 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 own 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 would do nothing but laugh.
"A little puss it is!" said Mr. Peggotty, patting her with his great hand.
"Ah," said Peggotty, running his fingers through her bright curls, "here's another orphan, you see, sir, and here," 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 a guardian, Mr. Peggotty," said I, "I don't think I should feel much like it."
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.
During this visit Peggotty was married to Mr. Barkis, and had a nice little house of her own, and I spent the night before I was to return home in a little room in the roof.
"Young or old, Davy dear, so long as I have this house over my head," said Peggotty, "you shall find it as if I expected you here directly every minute. I shall keep it as I used to keep your old little room, my darling, and if you was to go to China, you might think of its being kept just the same all the time you were away."
I felt how good and true a friend she was, and thanked her as well as I could, for they had brought me to the gate of my home, and Peggotty had me clasped in her arms.
I was poor and lonely at home, with no one near to speak a loving word, or a face to look on with love or liking, only the two persons who had broken my mother's heart. How utterly wretched and forlorn I felt! I found I was not to go back to school any more, and wandered about sad and solitary, neglected and uncared for. Peggotty's weekly visits were my only comfort. I longed to go to school, however hard an one, to be taught something anyhow, anywhere--but no one took any pains with me, and I had no friends near who could help me.
At last one day, after some weary months had passed, Mr. Murdstone told me I was to go to London and earn my own living. There was a place for me at Murdstone & Grinby's, a firm in the wine trade. My lodging and clothes would be provided for me by my step-father, and I would earn enough for my food and pocket money. The next day, I was sent up to London with the manager, dressed in a shabby little white hat with black crape round it for my mother, a black jacket, and hard, stiff corduroy trousers, a little fellow of ten years old, to fight my own battles with the world!
My place, I found, was one of the lowest in the firm of Murdstone & Grinby, with boys of no education and in quite an inferior station to myself--my duties were to wash the bottles, stick on labels, and so on. I was utterly miserable at being degraded in this way, when I thought of my former companions, Steerforth and Traddles, and my hopes of becoming a learned and famous man, and shed bitter tears, as I feared I would forget all I had learnt at school. My lodging, one bare little room, was in the house of some people named Micawber, shiftless, careless, good-natured people, who were always in debt and difficulties. I felt great pity for their misfortunes and did what I could to help poor Mrs. Micawber to sell her books and other little things she could spare, to buy food for herself, her husband, and their four children. I was too young and childish to know how to provide properly for myself, and often found I was obliged to live on bread and slices of cold pudding at the end of the week. If I had not been a very innocent-minded, good little boy, I might easily have fallen into bad ways at this time. But God took care of me and kept me from harm. I would not even tell Peggotty how miserable I was, for fear of distressing her.
The troubles of the Micawbers increased more and more, until at last they were obliged to leave London. I was very sad at this, for I had been with them so long that I felt they were my friends, and the prospect of being once more utterly alone and having to find a lodging with strangers, made me so unhappy that I determined to endure this sort of life no longer. The last Sunday the Micawbers were in town I dined with them. I had bought a spotted horse for their little boy and a doll for the little girl, and had saved up a shilling for the poor servant-girl. After I had seen them off the next morning by the coach, I wrote to Peggotty to ask her if she knew where my aunt, Miss Betsy Trotwood, lived, and to borrow half-a-guinea; for I had resolved to run away from Murdstone & Grinby's, and go to this aunt and tell her my story. I remembered my mother telling me of her visit when I was a baby, and that she fancied Miss Betsy had stroked her hair gently, and this gave me courage to appeal to her. Peggotty wrote, enclosing the half-guinea, and saying she only knew Miss Trotwood lived near Dover, but whether in that place itself, or at Folkestone, Sandgate, or Hythe, she could not tell. Hearing that all these places were close together, I made up my mind to start. As I had received my week's wages in advance, I waited till the following Saturday, thinking it would not be honest to go before. I went out to look for someone to carry my box to the coach office, and unfortunately hired a wicked young man who not only ran off with the box, but robbed me of my half-guinea, leaving me in dire distress. In despair, I started off to walk to Dover, and was forced to sell my waistcoat to buy some bread. The first night I found my way to my old school at Blackheath, and slept on a haystack close by, feeling some comfort in the thought of the boys being near. I knew Steerforth had left, or I would have tried to see him.
On I trudged the next day and sold my jacket at Chatham to a dreadful old man, who kept me waiting all day for the money, which was only one shilling and fourpence. I was afraid to buy anything but bread or to spend any money on a bed or a shelter for the night, and was terribly frightened by some rough tramps, who threw stones at me when I did not answer to their calls. After six days, I arrived at Dover, ragged, dusty, and half-dead with hunger and fatigue. But here, at first, I could get no tidings of my aunt, and, in despair, was going to try some of the other places Peggotty had mentioned, when the driver of a fly dropped his horsecloth, and as I was handing it up to him, I saw something kind in the man's face that encouraged me to ask once more if he knew where Miss Trotwood lived.
The man directed me towards some houses on the heights, and thither I toiled. Going into a little shop, I by chance met with Miss Trotwood's maid, who showed me the house, and went in leaving me standing at the gate, a forlorn little creature, without a jacket or waistcoat, my white hat crushed out of shape, my shoes worn out, my shirt and trousers torn and stained, my pretty curly hair tangled, my face and hands sunburnt and covered with dust. Lifting my eyes to one of the windows above, I saw a pleasant-faced gentleman with gray hair, who nodded at me several times, then shook his head and went away. I was just turning away to think what I should do, when a tall, erect elderly lady, with a gardening apron on and a knife in her hand, came out of the house, and began to dig up a root in the garden.
"Go away," she said. "Go away. No boys here."
But I felt desperate. Going in softly, I stood beside her, and touched her with my finger, and said timidly, "If you please, ma'am--" and when she looked up, I went on--
"Please, aunt, I am your nephew."
"Oh, Lord!" she exclaimed in astonishment, and sat flat down on the path, staring at me, while I went on--
"I am David Copperfield of Blunderstone, in Suffolk, where you came the night I was born, and saw my dear mamma. I have been very unhappy since she died. I have been neglected 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 starting out and have walked all the way, and have never slept in a bed since I began the journey." Here I broke into a passion of crying, and my aunt jumped up and took me into the house, where she opened a cupboard and took out some bottles, pouring some of the contents of each into my mouth, not noticing in her agitation what they were, for I fancied I tasted anise-seed water, anchovy sauce, and salad dressing! Then she put me on the sofa and sent the servant to ask "Mr. Dick" to come down. The gentleman whom I had seen at the window came in and was told by Miss Trotwood who the ragged little object on the sofa was, and she finished by saying--
"Now here you see young David Copperfield, and the question is what shall I do with him?"
"Do with him?" answered Mr. Dick. Then, after some consideration, and looking at me, he said, "Well, if I was you, I should wash him!"
Miss Trotwood was quite pleased at this, and a warm bath was got ready at once, after which I was dressed in a shirt and trousers belonging to Mr. Dick (for Janet had burnt my rags), rolled up in several shawls, and put on the sofa till dinner-time, where I slept, and woke with the impression that my aunt had come and put my hair off my face, and murmured, "Pretty fellow, poor fellow."
After dinner I had to tell my story all over again to my aunt and Mr. Dick. Miss Trotwood again asked Mr. Dick's advice, and was delighted when that gentleman suggested I should be put to bed. I knelt down to say my prayers that night in a pleasant room facing the sea, and as I lay in the clean, snow-white bed, I felt so grateful and comforted that I prayed earnestly I might never be homeless again, and might never forget the homeless.
The next morning my aunt told me she had written to Mr. Murdstone. I was alarmed to think that my step-father knew where I was, and exclaimed--
"Oh, I don't know what I shall do if I have to go back to Mr. Murdstone!"
But my aunt said nothing of her intentions, and I was uncertain what was to become of me. I hoped she might befriend me.
At last Mr. and Miss Murdstone arrived. To Miss Betsy's great indignation, Miss Murdstone rode a donkey across the green in front of the house, and stopped at the gate. Nothing made Miss Trotwood so angry as to see donkeys on that green, and I had already seen several battles between my aunt or Janet and the donkey boys.
After driving away the donkey and the boy who had dared to bring it there, Miss Trotwood received her visitors. She kept me near her, fenced in with a chair.
Mr. Murdstone told Miss Betsy that I was a very bad, stubborn, violent-tempered boy, whom he had tried to improve, but could not succeed; that he had put me in a respectable business from which I had run away. If Miss Trotwood chose to protect and encourage me now, she must do it always, for he had come to fetch me away from there and then, and if I was ready to come, and Miss Trotwood did not wish to give me up to be dealt with exactly as Mr. Murdstone liked, he would cast me off for always, and have no more to do with me.
"Are you ready to go, David?" asked my aunt.
But I answered no, and begged and prayed her for my father's sake to befriend and protect me, for neither Mr. nor Miss Murdstone had ever liked me or been kind to me and had made my mamma, who always loved me dearly, very unhappy about me, and I had been very miserable.
"Mr. Dick," said Miss Trotwood, "what shall I do with this child?"
Mr. Dick considered. "Have him measured for a suit of clothes directly."
"Mr. Dick," said Miss Trotwood, "your common sense is invaluable."
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 I can at least do as much for him as you have done. But I don't believe a word of it."
Then she told Mr. Murdstone what she thought of the way he had treated me and my mother, which did not make that gentleman feel very comfortable, and finished by turning to Miss Murdstone and saying--
"Good-day to you, too, ma'am, and if I ever see you ride a donkey across my green again, as sure as you have a head upon your shoulders, I'll knock your bonnet off and tread upon it!"
This startled Miss Murdstone so much that she went off quite quietly with her brother, while I, overjoyed, threw my arms round my aunt's neck, and kissed and thanked her with great heartiness.
Some clothes were bought for me that same day and marked "Trotwood Copperfield," for my aunt wished to call me by her name.
Now I felt my troubles were over, and I began quite a new life, well cared for and kindly treated. I was sent to a very nice school in Canterbury, where my aunt left me with these words, which I never forgot:
"Trot, be a credit to yourself, to me, and Mr. Dick, and heaven be with you. Never be mean in anything, never be false, never be cruel. Avoid these three vices, Trot, and I shall always be hopeful of you?"
I did my best to show my gratitude to my dear aunt by studying hard, and trying to be all she could wish.
When you are older you can read how Little David Copperfield grew up to be a good, clever man, and met again all his old friends, and made many new ones.
Also, what became of Steerforth, Traddles, the Peggottys, little Em'ly, and the Micawbers.
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