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Charles Dickens > David Copperfield > Chapter 15

David Copperfield

Chapter 15


Mr. Dick and I soon became the best of friends, and very often,
when his day's work was done, went out together to fly the great
kite. Every day of his life he had a long sitting at the Memorial,
which never made the least progress, however hard he laboured, for
King Charles the First always strayed into it, sooner or later, and
then it was thrown aside, and another one begun. The patience and
hope with which he bore these perpetual disappointments, the mild
perception he had that there was something wrong about King Charles
the First, the feeble efforts he made to keep him out, and the
certainty with which he came in, and tumbled the Memorial out of
all shape, made a deep impression on me. What Mr. Dick supposed
would come of the Memorial, if it were completed; where he thought
it was to go, or what he thought it was to do; he knew no more than
anybody else, I believe. Nor was it at all necessary that he
should trouble himself with such questions, for if anything were
certain under the sun, it was certain that the Memorial never would
be finished. It was quite an affecting sight, I used to think, to
see him with the kite when it was up a great height in the air.
What he had told me, in his room, about his belief in its
disseminating the statements pasted on it, which were nothing but
old leaves of abortive Memorials, might have been a fancy with him
sometimes; but not when he was out, looking up at the kite in the
sky, and feeling it pull and tug at his hand. He never looked so
serene as he did then. I used to fancy, as I sat by him of an
evening, on a green slope, and saw him watch the kite high in the
quiet air, that it lifted his mind out of its confusion, and bore
it (such was my boyish thought) into the skies. As he wound the
string in and it came lower and lower down out of the beautiful
light, until it fluttered to the ground, and lay there like a dead
thing, he seemed to wake gradually out of a dream; and I remember
to have seen him take it up, and look about him in a lost way, as
if they had both come down together, so that I pitied him with all
my heart.

While I advanced in friendship and intimacy with Mr. Dick, I did
not go backward in the favour of his staunch friend, my aunt. She
took so kindly to me, that, in the course of a few weeks, she
shortened my adopted name of Trotwood into Trot; and even
encouraged me to hope, that if I went on as I had begun, I might
take equal rank in her affections with my sister Betsey Trotwood.

'Trot,' said my aunt one evening, when the backgammon-board was
placed as usual for herself and Mr. Dick, 'we must not forget your

This was my only subject of anxiety, and I felt quite delighted by
her referring to it.

'Should you like to go to school at Canterbury?' said my aunt.

I replied that I should like it very much, as it was so near her.

'Good,' said my aunt. 'Should you like to go tomorrow?'

Being already no stranger to the general rapidity of my aunt's
evolutions, I was not surprised by the suddenness of the proposal,
and said: 'Yes.'

'Good,' said my aunt again. 'Janet, hire the grey pony and chaise
tomorrow morning at ten o'clock, and pack up Master Trotwood's
clothes tonight.'

I was greatly elated by these orders; but my heart smote me for my
selfishness, when I witnessed their effect on Mr. Dick, who was so
low-spirited at the prospect of our separation, and played so ill
in consequence, that my aunt, after giving him several admonitory
raps on the knuckles with her dice-box, shut up the board, and
declined to play with him any more. But, on hearing from my aunt
that I should sometimes come over on a Saturday, and that he could
sometimes come and see me on a Wednesday, he revived; and vowed to
make another kite for those occasions, of proportions greatly
surpassing the present one. In the morning he was downhearted
again, and would have sustained himself by giving me all the money
he had in his possession, gold and silver too, if my aunt had not
interposed, and limited the gift to five shillings, which, at his
earnest petition, were afterwards increased to ten. We parted at
the garden-gate in a most affectionate manner, and Mr. Dick did not
go into the house until my aunt had driven me out of sight of it.

My aunt, who was perfectly indifferent to public opinion, drove the
grey pony through Dover in a masterly manner; sitting high and
stiff like a state coachman, keeping a steady eye upon him wherever
he went, and making a point of not letting him have his own way in
any respect. When we came into the country road, she permitted him
to relax a little, however; and looking at me down in a valley of
cushion by her side, asked me whether I was happy?

'Very happy indeed, thank you, aunt,' I said.

She was much gratified; and both her hands being occupied, patted
me on the head with her whip.

'Is it a large school, aunt?' I asked.

'Why, I don't know,' said my aunt. 'We are going to Mr.
Wickfield's first.'

'Does he keep a school?' I asked.

'No, Trot,' said my aunt. 'He keeps an office.'

I asked for no more information about Mr. Wickfield, as she offered
none, and we conversed on other subjects until we came to
Canterbury, where, as it was market-day, my aunt had a great
opportunity of insinuating the grey pony among carts, baskets,
vegetables, and huckster's goods. The hair-breadth turns and
twists we made, drew down upon us a variety of speeches from the
people standing about, which were not always complimentary; but my
aunt drove on with perfect indifference, and I dare say would have
taken her own way with as much coolness through an enemy's country.

At length we stopped before a very old house bulging out over the
road; a house with long low lattice-windows bulging out still
farther, and beams with carved heads on the ends bulging out too,
so that I fancied the whole house was leaning forward, trying to
see who was passing on the narrow pavement below. It was quite
spotless in its cleanliness. The old-fashioned brass knocker on
the low arched door, ornamented with carved garlands of fruit and
flowers, twinkled like a star; the two stone steps descending to
the door were as white as if they had been covered with fair linen;
and all the angles and corners, and carvings and mouldings, and
quaint little panes of glass, and quainter little windows, though
as old as the hills, were as pure as any snow that ever fell upon
the hills.

When the pony-chaise stopped at the door, and my eyes were intent
upon the house, I saw a cadaverous face appear at a small window on
the ground floor (in a little round tower that formed one side of
the house), and quickly disappear. The low arched door then
opened, and the face came out. It was quite as cadaverous as it
had looked in the window, though in the grain of it there was that
tinge of red which is sometimes to be observed in the skins of
red-haired people. It belonged to a red-haired person - a youth of
fifteen, as I take it now, but looking much older - whose hair was
cropped as close as the closest stubble; who had hardly any
eyebrows, and no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered
and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep. He
was high-shouldered and bony; dressed in decent black, with a white
wisp of a neckcloth; buttoned up to the throat; and had a long,
lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention, as
he stood at the pony's head, rubbing his chin with it, and looking
up at us in the chaise.

'Is Mr. Wickfield at home, Uriah Heep?' said my aunt.

'Mr. Wickfield's at home, ma'am,' said Uriah Heep, 'if you'll
please to walk in there' - pointing with his long hand to the room
he meant.

We got out; and leaving him to hold the pony, went into a long low
parlour looking towards the street, from the window of which I
caught a glimpse, as I went in, of Uriah Heep breathing into the
pony's nostrils, and immediately covering them with his hand, as if
he were putting some spell upon him. Opposite to the tall old
chimney-piece were two portraits: one of a gentleman with grey hair
(though not by any means an old man) and black eyebrows, who was
looking over some papers tied together with red tape; the other, of
a lady, with a very placid and sweet expression of face, who was
looking at me.

I believe I was turning about in search of Uriah's picture, when,
a door at the farther end of the room opening, a gentleman entered,
at sight of whom I turned to the first-mentioned portrait again, to
make quite sure that it had not come out of its frame. But it was
stationary; and as the gentleman advanced into the light, I saw
that he was some years older than when he had had his picture

'Miss Betsey Trotwood,' said the gentleman, 'pray walk in. I was
engaged for a moment, but you'll excuse my being busy. You know my
motive. I have but one in life.'

Miss Betsey thanked him, and we went into his room, which was
furnished as an office, with books, papers, tin boxes, and so
forth. It looked into a garden, and had an iron safe let into the
wall; so immediately over the mantelshelf, that I wondered, as I
sat down, how the sweeps got round it when they swept the chimney.

'Well, Miss Trotwood,' said Mr. Wickfield; for I soon found that it
was he, and that he was a lawyer, and steward of the estates of a
rich gentleman of the county; 'what wind blows you here? Not an
ill wind, I hope?'

'No,' replied my aunt. 'I have not come for any law.'

'That's right, ma'am,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'You had better come
for anything else.'
His hair was quite white now, though his eyebrows were still black.
He had a very agreeable face, and, I thought, was handsome. There
was a certain richness in his complexion, which I had been long
accustomed, under Peggotty's tuition, to connect with port wine;
and I fancied it was in his voice too, and referred his growing
corpulency to the same cause. He was very cleanly dressed, in a
blue coat, striped waistcoat, and nankeen trousers; and his fine
frilled shirt and cambric neckcloth looked unusually soft and
white, reminding my strolling fancy (I call to mind) of the plumage
on the breast of a swan.

'This is my nephew,' said my aunt.

'Wasn't aware you had one, Miss Trotwood,' said Mr. Wickfield.

'My grand-nephew, that is to say,' observed my aunt.

'Wasn't aware you had a grand-nephew, I give you my word,' said Mr.

'I have adopted him,' said my aunt, with a wave of her hand,
importing that his knowledge and his ignorance were all one to her,
'and I have brought him here, to put to a school where he may be
thoroughly well taught, and well treated. Now tell me where that
school is, and what it is, and all about it.'

'Before I can advise you properly,' said Mr. Wickfield - 'the old
question, you know. What's your motive in this?'

'Deuce take the man!' exclaimed my aunt. 'Always fishing for
motives, when they're on the surface! Why, to make the child happy
and useful.'

'It must be a mixed motive, I think,' said Mr. Wickfield, shaking
his head and smiling incredulously.

'A mixed fiddlestick,' returned my aunt. 'You claim to have one
plain motive in all you do yourself. You don't suppose, I hope,
that you are the only plain dealer in the world?'

'Ay, but I have only one motive in life, Miss Trotwood,' he
rejoined, smiling. 'Other people have dozens, scores, hundreds.
I have only one. There's the difference. However, that's beside
the question. The best school? Whatever the motive, you want the

My aunt nodded assent.

'At the best we have,' said Mr. Wickfield, considering, 'your
nephew couldn't board just now.'

'But he could board somewhere else, I suppose?' suggested my aunt.

Mr. Wickfield thought I could. After a little discussion, he
proposed to take my aunt to the school, that she might see it and
judge for herself; also, to take her, with the same object, to two
or three houses where he thought I could be boarded. My aunt
embracing the proposal, we were all three going out together, when
he stopped and said:

'Our little friend here might have some motive, perhaps, for
objecting to the arrangements. I think we had better leave him

My aunt seemed disposed to contest the point; but to facilitate
matters I said I would gladly remain behind, if they pleased; and
returned into Mr. Wickfield's office, where I sat down again, in
the chair I had first occupied, to await their return.

It so happened that this chair was opposite a narrow passage, which
ended in the little circular room where I had seen Uriah Heep's
pale face looking out of the window. Uriah, having taken the pony
to a neighbouring stable, was at work at a desk in this room, which
had a brass frame on the top to hang paper upon, and on which the
writing he was making a copy of was then hanging. Though his face
was towards me, I thought, for some time, the writing being between
us, that he could not see me; but looking that way more
attentively, it made me uncomfortable to observe that, every now
and then, his sleepless eyes would come below the writing, like two
red suns, and stealthily stare at me for I dare say a whole minute
at a time, during which his pen went, or pretended to go, as
cleverly as ever. I made several attempts to get out of their way
- such as standing on a chair to look at a map on the other side of
the room, and poring over the columns of a Kentish newspaper - but
they always attracted me back again; and whenever I looked towards
those two red suns, I was sure to find them, either just rising or
just setting.

At length, much to my relief, my aunt and Mr. Wickfield came back,
after a pretty long absence. They were not so successful as I
could have wished; for though the advantages of the school were
undeniable, my aunt had not approved of any of the boarding-houses
proposed for me.

'It's very unfortunate,' said my aunt. 'I don't know what to do,

'It does happen unfortunately,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'But I'll tell
you what you can do, Miss Trotwood.'

'What's that?' inquired my aunt.

'Leave your nephew here, for the present. He's a quiet fellow. He
won't disturb me at all. It's a capital house for study. As quiet
as a monastery, and almost as roomy. Leave him here.'

My aunt evidently liked the offer, though she was delicate of
accepting it. So did I.
'Come, Miss Trotwood,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'This is the way out of
the difficulty. It's only a temporary arrangement, you know. If
it don't act well, or don't quite accord with our mutual
convenience, he can easily go to the right-about. There will be
time to find some better place for him in the meanwhile. You had
better determine to leave him here for the present!'

'I am very much obliged to you,' said my aunt; 'and so is he, I
see; but -'

'Come! I know what you mean,' cried Mr. Wickfield. 'You shall not
be oppressed by the receipt of favours, Miss Trotwood. You may pay
for him, if you like. We won't be hard about terms, but you shall
pay if you will.'

'On that understanding,' said my aunt, 'though it doesn't lessen
the real obligation, I shall be very glad to leave him.'

'Then come and see my little housekeeper,' said Mr. Wickfield.

We accordingly went up a wonderful old staircase; with a balustrade
so broad that we might have gone up that, almost as easily; and
into a shady old drawing-room, lighted by some three or four of the
quaint windows I had looked up at from the street: which had old
oak seats in them, that seemed to have come of the same trees as
the shining oak floor, and the great beams in the ceiling. It was
a prettily furnished room, with a piano and some lively furniture
in red and green, and some flowers. It seemed to be all old nooks
and corners; and in every nook and corner there was some queer
little table, or cupboard, or bookcase, or seat, or something or
other, that made me think there was not such another good corner in
the room; until I looked at the next one, and found it equal to it,
if not better. On everything there was the same air of retirement
and cleanliness that marked the house outside.

Mr. Wickfield tapped at a door in a corner of the panelled wall,
and a girl of about my own age came quickly out and kissed him. On
her face, I saw immediately the placid and sweet expression of the
lady whose picture had looked at me downstairs. It seemed to my
imagination as if the portrait had grown womanly, and the original
remained a child. Although her face was quite bright and happy,
there was a tranquillity about it, and about her - a quiet, good,
calm spirit - that I never have forgotten; that I shall never
forget. This was his little housekeeper, his daughter Agnes, Mr.
Wickfield said. When I heard how he said it, and saw how he held
her hand, I guessed what the one motive of his life was.

She had a little basket-trifle hanging at her side, with keys in
it; and she looked as staid and as discreet a housekeeper as the
old house could have. She listened to her father as he told her
about me, with a pleasant face; and when he had concluded, proposed
to my aunt that we should go upstairs and see my room. We all went
together, she before us: and a glorious old room it was, with more
oak beams, and diamond panes; and the broad balustrade going all
the way up to it.

I cannot call to mind where or when, in my childhood, I had seen a
stained glass window in a church. Nor do I recollect its subject.
But I know that when I saw her turn round, in the grave light of
the old staircase, and wait for us, above, I thought of that
window; and I associated something of its tranquil brightness with
Agnes Wickfield ever afterwards.

My aunt was as happy as I was, in the arrangement made for me; and
we went down to the drawing-room again, well pleased and gratified.
As she would not hear of staying to dinner, lest she should by any
chance fail to arrive at home with the grey pony before dark; and
as I apprehend Mr. Wickfield knew her too well to argue any point
with her; some lunch was provided for her there, and Agnes went
back to her governess, and Mr. Wickfield to his office. So we were
left to take leave of one another without any restraint.

She told me that everything would be arranged for me by Mr.
Wickfield, and that I should want for nothing, and gave me the
kindest words and the best advice.

'Trot,' said my aunt in conclusion, 'be a credit to yourself, to
me, and Mr. Dick, and Heaven be with you!'

I was greatly overcome, and could only thank her, again and again,
and send my love to Mr. Dick.

'Never,' said my aunt, 'be mean in anything; never be false; never
be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be
hopeful of you.'

I promised, as well as I could, that I would not abuse her kindness
or forget her admonition.

'The pony's at the door,' said my aunt, 'and I am off! Stay here.'
With these words she embraced me hastily, and went out of the room,
shutting the door after her. At first I was startled by so abrupt
a departure, and almost feared I had displeased her; but when I
looked into the street, and saw how dejectedly she got into the
chaise, and drove away without looking up, I understood her better
and did not do her that injustice.

By five o'clock, which was Mr. Wickfield's dinner-hour, I had
mustered up my spirits again, and was ready for my knife and fork.
The cloth was only laid for us two; but Agnes was waiting in the
drawing-room before dinner, went down with her father, and sat
opposite to him at table. I doubted whether he could have dined
without her.

We did not stay there, after dinner, but came upstairs into the
drawing-room again: in one snug corner of which, Agnes set glasses
for her father, and a decanter of port wine. I thought he would
have missed its usual flavour, if it had been put there for him by
any other hands.

There he sat, taking his wine, and taking a good deal of it, for
two hours; while Agnes played on the piano, worked, and talked to
him and me. He was, for the most part, gay and cheerful with us;
but sometimes his eyes rested on her, and he fell into a brooding
state, and was silent. She always observed this quickly, I
thought, and always roused him with a question or caress. Then he
came out of his meditation, and drank more wine.

Agnes made the tea, and presided over it; and the time passed away
after it, as after dinner, until she went to bed; when her father
took her in his arms and kissed her, and, she being gone, ordered
candles in his office. Then I went to bed too.

But in the course of the evening I had rambled down to the door,
and a little way along the street, that I might have another peep
at the old houses, and the grey Cathedral; and might think of my
coming through that old city on my journey, and of my passing the
very house I lived in, without knowing it. As I came back, I saw
Uriah Heep shutting up the office; and feeling friendly towards
everybody, went in and spoke to him, and at parting, gave him my
hand. But oh, what a clammy hand his was! as ghostly to the touch
as to the sight! I rubbed mine afterwards, to warm it, AND TO RUB

It was such an uncomfortable hand, that, when I went to my room, it
was still cold and wet upon my memory. Leaning out of the window,
and seeing one of the faces on the beam-ends looking at me
sideways, I fancied it was Uriah Heep got up there somehow, and
shut him out in a hurry.

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