The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > David Copperfield > Chapter 16

David Copperfield

Chapter 16


Next morning, after breakfast, I entered on school life again. I
went, accompanied by Mr. Wickfield, to the scene of my future
studies - a grave building in a courtyard, with a learned air about
it that seemed very well suited to the stray rooks and jackdaws who
came down from the Cathedral towers to walk with a clerkly bearing
on the grass-plot - and was introduced to my new master, Doctor

Doctor Strong looked almost as rusty, to my thinking, as the tall
iron rails and gates outside the house; and almost as stiff and
heavy as the great stone urns that flanked them, and were set up,
on the top of the red-brick wall, at regular distances all round
the court, like sublimated skittles, for Time to play at. He was
in his library (I mean Doctor Strong was), with his clothes not
particularly well brushed, and his hair not particularly well
combed; his knee-smalls unbraced; his long black gaiters
unbuttoned; and his shoes yawning like two caverns on the
hearth-rug. Turning upon me a lustreless eye, that reminded me of
a long-forgotten blind old horse who once used to crop the grass,
and tumble over the graves, in Blunderstone churchyard, he said he
was glad to see me: and then he gave me his hand; which I didn't
know what to do with, as it did nothing for itself.

But, sitting at work, not far from Doctor Strong, was a very pretty
young lady - whom he called Annie, and who was his daughter, I
supposed - who got me out of my difficulty by kneeling down to put
Doctor Strong's shoes on, and button his gaiters, which she did
with great cheerfulness and quickness. When she had finished, and
we were going out to the schoolroom, I was much surprised to hear
Mr. Wickfield, in bidding her good morning, address her as 'Mrs.
Strong'; and I was wondering could she be Doctor Strong's son's
wife, or could she be Mrs. Doctor Strong, when Doctor Strong
himself unconsciously enlightened me.

'By the by, Wickfield,' he said, stopping in a passage with his
hand on my shoulder; 'you have not found any suitable provision for
my wife's cousin yet?'

'No,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'No. Not yet.'

'I could wish it done as soon as it can be done, Wickfield,' said
Doctor Strong, 'for Jack Maldon is needy, and idle; and of those
two bad things, worse things sometimes come. What does Doctor
Watts say,' he added, looking at me, and moving his head to the
time of his quotation, '"Satan finds some mischief still, for idle
hands to do."'

'Egad, Doctor,' returned Mr. Wickfield, 'if Doctor Watts knew
mankind, he might have written, with as much truth, "Satan finds
some mischief still, for busy hands to do." The busy people achieve
their full share of mischief in the world, you may rely upon it.
What have the people been about, who have been the busiest in
getting money, and in getting power, this century or two? No

'Jack Maldon will never be very busy in getting either, I expect,'
said Doctor Strong, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

'Perhaps not,' said Mr. Wickfield; 'and you bring me back to the
question, with an apology for digressing. No, I have not been able
to dispose of Mr. Jack Maldon yet. I believe,' he said this with
some hesitation, 'I penetrate your motive, and it makes the thing
more difficult.'

'My motive,' returned Doctor Strong, 'is to make some suitable
provision for a cousin, and an old playfellow, of Annie's.'

'Yes, I know,' said Mr. Wickfield; 'at home or abroad.'

'Aye!' replied the Doctor, apparently wondering why he emphasized
those words so much. 'At home or abroad.'

'Your own expression, you know,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'Or abroad.'

'Surely,' the Doctor answered. 'Surely. One or other.'

'One or other? Have you no choice?' asked Mr. Wickfield.

'No,' returned the Doctor.

'No?' with astonishment.

'Not the least.'

'No motive,' said Mr. Wickfield, 'for meaning abroad, and not at

'No,' returned the Doctor.

'I am bound to believe you, and of course I do believe you,' said
Mr. Wickfield. 'It might have simplified my office very much, if
I had known it before. But I confess I entertained another

Doctor Strong regarded him with a puzzled and doubting look, which
almost immediately subsided into a smile that gave me great
encouragement; for it was full of amiability and sweetness, and
there was a simplicity in it, and indeed in his whole manner, when
the studious, pondering frost upon it was got through, very
attractive and hopeful to a young scholar like me. Repeating 'no',
and 'not the least', and other short assurances to the same
purport, Doctor Strong jogged on before us, at a queer, uneven
pace; and we followed: Mr. Wickfield, looking grave, I observed,
and shaking his head to himself, without knowing that I saw him.

The schoolroom was a pretty large hall, on the quietest side of the
house, confronted by the stately stare of some half-dozen of the
great urns, and commanding a peep of an old secluded garden
belonging to the Doctor, where the peaches were ripening on the
sunny south wall. There were two great aloes, in tubs, on the turf
outside the windows; the broad hard leaves of which plant (looking
as if they were made of painted tin) have ever since, by
association, been symbolical to me of silence and retirement.
About five-and-twenty boys were studiously engaged at their books
when we went in, but they rose to give the Doctor good morning, and
remained standing when they saw Mr. Wickfield and me.

'A new boy, young gentlemen,' said the Doctor; 'Trotwood

One Adams, who was the head-boy, then stepped out of his place and
welcomed me. He looked like a young clergyman, in his white
cravat, but he was very affable and good-humoured; and he showed me
my place, and presented me to the masters, in a gentlemanly way
that would have put me at my ease, if anything could.

It seemed to me so long, however, since I had been among such boys,
or among any companions of my own age, except Mick Walker and Mealy
Potatoes, that I felt as strange as ever I have done in my life.
I was so conscious of having passed through scenes of which they
could have no knowledge, and of having acquired experiences foreign
to my age, appearance, and condition as one of them, that I half
believed it was an imposture to come there as an ordinary little
schoolboy. I had become, in the Murdstone and Grinby time, however
short or long it may have been, so unused to the sports and games
of boys, that I knew I was awkward and inexperienced in the
commonest things belonging to them. Whatever I had learnt, had so
slipped away from me in the sordid cares of my life from day to
night, that now, when I was examined about what I knew, I knew
nothing, and was put into the lowest form of the school. But,
troubled as I was, by my want of boyish skill, and of book-learning
too, I was made infinitely more uncomfortable by the consideration,
that, in what I did know, I was much farther removed from my
companions than in what I did not. My mind ran upon what they
would think, if they knew of my familiar acquaintance with the
King's Bench Prison? Was there anything about me which would
reveal my proceedings in connexion with the Micawber family - all
those pawnings, and sellings, and suppers - in spite of myself?
Suppose some of the boys had seen me coming through Canterbury,
wayworn and ragged, and should find me out? What would they say,
who made so light of money, if they could know how I had scraped my
halfpence together, for the purchase of my daily saveloy and beer,
or my slices of pudding? How would it affect them, who were so
innocent of London life, and London streets, to discover how
knowing I was (and was ashamed to be) in some of the meanest phases
of both? All this ran in my head so much, on that first day at
Doctor Strong's, that I felt distrustful of my slightest look and
gesture; shrunk within myself whensoever I was approached by one of
my new schoolfellows; and hurried off the minute school was over,
afraid of committing myself in my response to any friendly notice
or advance.

But there was such an influence in Mr. Wickfield's old house, that
when I knocked at it, with my new school-books under my arm, I
began to feel my uneasiness softening away. As I went up to my
airy old room, the grave shadow of the staircase seemed to fall
upon my doubts and fears, and to make the past more indistinct. I
sat there, sturdily conning my books, until dinner-time (we were
out of school for good at three); and went down, hopeful of
becoming a passable sort of boy yet.

Agnes was in the drawing-room, waiting for her father, who was
detained by someone in his office. She met me with her pleasant
smile, and asked me how I liked the school. I told her I should
like it very much, I hoped; but I was a little strange to it at

'You have never been to school,' I said, 'have you?'
'Oh yes! Every day.'

'Ah, but you mean here, at your own home?'

'Papa couldn't spare me to go anywhere else,' she answered, smiling
and shaking her head. 'His housekeeper must be in his house, you

'He is very fond of you, I am sure,' I said.

She nodded 'Yes,' and went to the door to listen for his coming up,
that she might meet him on the stairs. But, as he was not there,
she came back again.

'Mama has been dead ever since I was born,' she said, in her quiet
way. 'I only know her picture, downstairs. I saw you looking at
it yesterday. Did you think whose it was?'

I told her yes, because it was so like herself.

'Papa says so, too,' said Agnes, pleased. 'Hark! That's papa

Her bright calm face lighted up with pleasure as she went to meet
him, and as they came in, hand in hand. He greeted me cordially;
and told me I should certainly be happy under Doctor Strong, who
was one of the gentlest of men.

'There may be some, perhaps - I don't know that there are - who
abuse his kindness,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'Never be one of those,
Trotwood, in anything. He is the least suspicious of mankind; and
whether that's a merit, or whether it's a blemish, it deserves
consideration in all dealings with the Doctor, great or small.'

He spoke, I thought, as if he were weary, or dissatisfied with
something; but I did not pursue the question in my mind, for dinner
was just then announced, and we went down and took the same seats
as before.

We had scarcely done so, when Uriah Heep put in his red head and
his lank hand at the door, and said:

'Here's Mr. Maldon begs the favour of a word, sir.'

'I am but this moment quit of Mr. Maldon,' said his master.

'Yes, sir,' returned Uriah; 'but Mr. Maldon has come back, and he
begs the favour of a word.'

As he held the door open with his hand, Uriah looked at me, and
looked at Agnes, and looked at the dishes, and looked at the
plates, and looked at every object in the room, I thought, - yet
seemed to look at nothing; he made such an appearance all the while
of keeping his red eyes dutifully on his master.
'I beg your pardon. It's only to say, on reflection,' observed a
voice behind Uriah, as Uriah's head was pushed away, and the
speaker's substituted - 'pray excuse me for this intrusion - that
as it seems I have no choice in the matter, the sooner I go abroad
the better. My cousin Annie did say, when we talked of it, that
she liked to have her friends within reach rather than to have them
banished, and the old Doctor -'

'Doctor Strong, was that?' Mr. Wickfield interposed, gravely.

'Doctor Strong, of course,' returned the other; 'I call him the old
Doctor; it's all the same, you know.'

'I don't know,' returned Mr. Wickfield.

'Well, Doctor Strong,' said the other - 'Doctor Strong was of the
same mind, I believed. But as it appears from the course you take
with me he has changed his mind, why there's no more to be said,
except that the sooner I am off, the better. Therefore, I thought
I'd come back and say, that the sooner I am off the better. When
a plunge is to be made into the water, it's of no use lingering on
the bank.'

'There shall be as little lingering as possible, in your case, Mr.
Maldon, you may depend upon it,' said Mr. Wickfield.

'Thank'ee,' said the other. 'Much obliged. I don't want to look
a gift-horse in the mouth, which is not a gracious thing to do;
otherwise, I dare say, my cousin Annie could easily arrange it in
her own way. I suppose Annie would only have to say to the old
Doctor -'

'Meaning that Mrs. Strong would only have to say to her husband -
do I follow you?' said Mr. Wickfield.

'Quite so,' returned the other, '- would only have to say, that she
wanted such and such a thing to be so and so; and it would be so
and so, as a matter of course.'

'And why as a matter of course, Mr. Maldon?' asked Mr. Wickfield,
sedately eating his dinner.

'Why, because Annie's a charming young girl, and the old Doctor -
Doctor Strong, I mean - is not quite a charming young boy,' said
Mr. Jack Maldon, laughing. 'No offence to anybody, Mr. Wickfield.
I only mean that I suppose some compensation is fair and reasonable
in that sort of marriage.'

'Compensation to the lady, sir?' asked Mr. Wickfield gravely.

'To the lady, sir,' Mr. Jack Maldon answered, laughing. But
appearing to remark that Mr. Wickfield went on with his dinner in
the same sedate, immovable manner, and that there was no hope of
making him relax a muscle of his face, he added:
'However, I have said what I came to say, and, with another apology
for this intrusion, I may take myself off. Of course I shall
observe your directions, in considering the matter as one to be
arranged between you and me solely, and not to be referred to, up
at the Doctor's.'

'Have you dined?' asked Mr. Wickfield, with a motion of his hand
towards the table.

'Thank'ee. I am going to dine,' said Mr. Maldon, 'with my cousin
Annie. Good-bye!'

Mr. Wickfield, without rising, looked after him thoughtfully as he
went out. He was rather a shallow sort of young gentleman, I
thought, with a handsome face, a rapid utterance, and a confident,
bold air. And this was the first I ever saw of Mr. Jack Maldon;
whom I had not expected to see so soon, when I heard the Doctor
speak of him that morning.

When we had dined, we went upstairs again, where everything went on
exactly as on the previous day. Agnes set the glasses and
decanters in the same corner, and Mr. Wickfield sat down to drink,
and drank a good deal. Agnes played the piano to him, sat by him,
and worked and talked, and played some games at dominoes with me.
In good time she made tea; and afterwards, when I brought down my
books, looked into them, and showed me what she knew of them (which
was no slight matter, though she said it was), and what was the
best way to learn and understand them. I see her, with her modest,
orderly, placid manner, and I hear her beautiful calm voice, as I
write these words. The influence for all good, which she came to
exercise over me at a later time, begins already to descend upon my
breast. I love little Em'ly, and I don't love Agnes - no, not at
all in that way - but I feel that there are goodness, peace, and
truth, wherever Agnes is; and that the soft light of the coloured
window in the church, seen long ago, falls on her always, and on me
when I am near her, and on everything around.

The time having come for her withdrawal for the night, and she
having left us, I gave Mr. Wickfield my hand, preparatory to going
away myself. But he checked me and said: 'Should you like to stay
with us, Trotwood, or to go elsewhere?'

'To stay,' I answered, quickly.

'You are sure?'

'If you please. If I may!'

'Why, it's but a dull life that we lead here, boy, I am afraid,' he

'Not more dull for me than Agnes, sir. Not dull at all!'

'Than Agnes,' he repeated, walking slowly to the great
chimney-piece, and leaning against it. 'Than Agnes!'

He had drank wine that evening (or I fancied it), until his eyes
were bloodshot. Not that I could see them now, for they were cast
down, and shaded by his hand; but I had noticed them a little while

'Now I wonder,' he muttered, 'whether my Agnes tires of me. When
should I ever tire of her! But that's different, that's quite

He was musing, not speaking to me; so I remained quiet.

'A dull old house,' he said, 'and a monotonous life; but I must
have her near me. I must keep her near me. If the thought that I
may die and leave my darling, or that my darling may die and leave
me, comes like a spectre, to distress my happiest hours, and is
only to be drowned in -'

He did not supply the word; but pacing slowly to the place where he
had sat, and mechanically going through the action of pouring wine
from the empty decanter, set it down and paced back again.

'If it is miserable to bear, when she is here,' he said, 'what
would it be, and she away? No, no, no. I cannot try that.'

He leaned against the chimney-piece, brooding so long that I could
not decide whether to run the risk of disturbing him by going, or
to remain quietly where I was, until he should come out of his
reverie. At length he aroused himself, and looked about the room
until his eyes encountered mine.

'Stay with us, Trotwood, eh?' he said in his usual manner, and as
if he were answering something I had just said. 'I am glad of it.
You are company to us both. It is wholesome to have you here.
Wholesome for me, wholesome for Agnes, wholesome perhaps for all of

'I am sure it is for me, sir,' I said. 'I am so glad to be here.'

'That's a fine fellow!' said Mr. Wickfield. 'As long as you are
glad to be here, you shall stay here.' He shook hands with me upon
it, and clapped me on the back; and told me that when I had
anything to do at night after Agnes had left us, or when I wished
to read for my own pleasure, I was free to come down to his room,
if he were there and if I desired it for company's sake, and to sit
with him. I thanked him for his consideration; and, as he went
down soon afterwards, and I was not tired, went down too, with a
book in my hand, to avail myself, for half-an-hour, of his

But, seeing a light in the little round office, and immediately
feeling myself attracted towards Uriah Heep, who had a sort of
fascination for me, I went in there instead. I found Uriah reading
a great fat book, with such demonstrative attention, that his lank
forefinger followed up every line as he read, and made clammy
tracks along the page (or so I fully believed) like a snail.

'You are working late tonight, Uriah,' says I.

'Yes, Master Copperfield,' says Uriah.

As I was getting on the stool opposite, to talk to him more
conveniently, I observed that he had not such a thing as a smile
about him, and that he could only widen his mouth and make two hard
creases down his cheeks, one on each side, to stand for one.

'I am not doing office-work, Master Copperfield,' said Uriah.

'What work, then?' I asked.

'I am improving my legal knowledge, Master Copperfield,' said
Uriah. 'I am going through Tidd's Practice. Oh, what a writer Mr.
Tidd is, Master Copperfield!'

My stool was such a tower of observation, that as I watched him
reading on again, after this rapturous exclamation, and following
up the lines with his forefinger, I observed that his nostrils,
which were thin and pointed, with sharp dints in them, had a
singular and most uncomfortable way of expanding and contracting
themselves - that they seemed to twinkle instead of his eyes, which
hardly ever twinkled at all.

'I suppose you are quite a great lawyer?' I said, after looking at
him for some time.

'Me, Master Copperfield?' said Uriah. 'Oh, no! I'm a very umble

It was no fancy of mine about his hands, I observed; for he
frequently ground the palms against each other as if to squeeze
them dry and warm, besides often wiping them, in a stealthy way, on
his pocket-handkerchief.

'I am well aware that I am the umblest person going,' said Uriah
Heep, modestly; 'let the other be where he may. My mother is
likewise a very umble person. We live in a numble abode, Master
Copperfield, but have much to be thankful for. My father's former
calling was umble. He was a sexton.'

'What is he now?' I asked.

'He is a partaker of glory at present, Master Copperfield,' said
Uriah Heep. 'But we have much to be thankful for. How much have
I to be thankful for in living with Mr. Wickfield!'

I asked Uriah if he had been with Mr. Wickfield long?

'I have been with him, going on four year, Master Copperfield,'
said Uriah; shutting up his book, after carefully marking the place
where he had left off. 'Since a year after my father's death. How
much have I to be thankful for, in that! How much have I to be
thankful for, in Mr. Wickfield's kind intention to give me my
articles, which would otherwise not lay within the umble means of
mother and self!'

'Then, when your articled time is over, you'll be a regular lawyer,
I suppose?' said I.

'With the blessing of Providence, Master Copperfield,' returned

'Perhaps you'll be a partner in Mr. Wickfield's business, one of
these days,' I said, to make myself agreeable; 'and it will be
Wickfield and Heep, or Heep late Wickfield.'

'Oh no, Master Copperfield,' returned Uriah, shaking his head, 'I
am much too umble for that!'

He certainly did look uncommonly like the carved face on the beam
outside my window, as he sat, in his humility, eyeing me sideways,
with his mouth widened, and the creases in his cheeks.

'Mr. Wickfield is a most excellent man, Master Copperfield,' said
Uriah. 'If you have known him long, you know it, I am sure, much
better than I can inform you.'

I replied that I was certain he was; but that I had not known him
long myself, though he was a friend of my aunt's.

'Oh, indeed, Master Copperfield,' said Uriah. 'Your aunt is a
sweet lady, Master Copperfield!'

He had a way of writhing when he wanted to express enthusiasm,
which was very ugly; and which diverted my attention from the
compliment he had paid my relation, to the snaky twistings of his
throat and body.

'A sweet lady, Master Copperfield!' said Uriah Heep. 'She has a
great admiration for Miss Agnes, Master Copperfield, I believe?'

I said, 'Yes,' boldly; not that I knew anything about it, Heaven
forgive me!

'I hope you have, too, Master Copperfield,' said Uriah. 'But I am
sure you must have.'

'Everybody must have,' I returned.

'Oh, thank you, Master Copperfield,' said Uriah Heep, 'for that
remark! It is so true! Umble as I am, I know it is so true! Oh,
thank you, Master Copperfield!'
He writhed himself quite off his stool in the excitement of his
feelings, and, being off, began to make arrangements for going

'Mother will be expecting me,' he said, referring to a pale,
inexpressive-faced watch in his pocket, 'and getting uneasy; for
though we are very umble, Master Copperfield, we are much attached
to one another. If you would come and see us, any afternoon, and
take a cup of tea at our lowly dwelling, mother would be as proud
of your company as I should be.'

I said I should be glad to come.

'Thank you, Master Copperfield,' returned Uriah, putting his book
away upon the shelf - 'I suppose you stop here, some time, Master

I said I was going to be brought up there, I believed, as long as
I remained at school.

'Oh, indeed!' exclaimed Uriah. 'I should think YOU would come into
the business at last, Master Copperfield!'

I protested that I had no views of that sort, and that no such
scheme was entertained in my behalf by anybody; but Uriah insisted
on blandly replying to all my assurances, 'Oh, yes, Master
Copperfield, I should think you would, indeed!' and, 'Oh, indeed,
Master Copperfield, I should think you would, certainly!' over and
over again. Being, at last, ready to leave the office for the
night, he asked me if it would suit my convenience to have the
light put out; and on my answering 'Yes,' instantly extinguished
it. After shaking hands with me - his hand felt like a fish, in
the dark - he opened the door into the street a very little, and
crept out, and shut it, leaving me to grope my way back into the
house: which cost me some trouble and a fall over his stool. This
was the proximate cause, I suppose, of my dreaming about him, for
what appeared to me to be half the night; and dreaming, among other
things, that he had launched Mr. Peggotty's house on a piratical
expedition, with a black flag at the masthead, bearing the
inscription 'Tidd's Practice', under which diabolical ensign he was
carrying me and little Em'ly to the Spanish Main, to be drowned.

I got a little the better of my uneasiness when I went to school
next day, and a good deal the better next day, and so shook it off
by degrees, that in less than a fortnight I was quite at home, and
happy, among my new companions. I was awkward enough in their
games, and backward enough in their studies; but custom would
improve me in the first respect, I hoped, and hard work in the
second. Accordingly, I went to work very hard, both in play and in
earnest, and gained great commendation. And, in a very little
while, the Murdstone and Grinby life became so strange to me that
I hardly believed in it, while my present life grew so familiar,
that I seemed to have been leading it a long time.

Doctor Strong's was an excellent school; as different from Mr.
Creakle's as good is from evil. It was very gravely and decorously
ordered, and on a sound system; with an appeal, in everything, to
the honour and good faith of the boys, and an avowed intention to
rely on their possession of those qualities unless they proved
themselves unworthy of it, which worked wonders. We all felt that
we had a part in the management of the place, and in sustaining its
character and dignity. Hence, we soon became warmly attached to it
- I am sure I did for one, and I never knew, in all my time, of any
other boy being otherwise - and learnt with a good will, desiring
to do it credit. We had noble games out of hours, and plenty of
liberty; but even then, as I remember, we were well spoken of in
the town, and rarely did any disgrace, by our appearance or manner,
to the reputation of Doctor Strong and Doctor Strong's boys.

Some of the higher scholars boarded in the Doctor's house, and
through them I learned, at second hand, some particulars of the
Doctor's history - as, how he had not yet been married twelve
months to the beautiful young lady I had seen in the study, whom he
had married for love; for she had not a sixpence, and had a world
of poor relations (so our fellows said) ready to swarm the Doctor
out of house and home. Also, how the Doctor's cogitating manner
was attributable to his being always engaged in looking out for
Greek roots; which, in my innocence and ignorance, I supposed to be
a botanical furor on the Doctor's part, especially as he always
looked at the ground when he walked about, until I understood that
they were roots of words, with a view to a new Dictionary which he
had in contemplation. Adams, our head-boy, who had a turn for
mathematics, had made a calculation, I was informed, of the time
this Dictionary would take in completing, on the Doctor's plan, and
at the Doctor's rate of going. He considered that it might be done
in one thousand six hundred and forty-nine years, counting from the
Doctor's last, or sixty-second, birthday.

But the Doctor himself was the idol of the whole school: and it
must have been a badly composed school if he had been anything
else, for he was the kindest of men; with a simple faith in him
that might have touched the stone hearts of the very urns upon the
wall. As he walked up and down that part of the courtyard which
was at the side of the house, with the stray rooks and jackdaws
looking after him with their heads cocked slyly, as if they knew
how much more knowing they were in worldly affairs than he, if any
sort of vagabond could only get near enough to his creaking shoes
to attract his attention to one sentence of a tale of distress,
that vagabond was made for the next two days. It was so notorious
in the house, that the masters and head-boys took pains to cut
these marauders off at angles, and to get out of windows, and turn
them out of the courtyard, before they could make the Doctor aware
of their presence; which was sometimes happily effected within a
few yards of him, without his knowing anything of the matter, as he
jogged to and fro. Outside his own domain, and unprotected, he was
a very sheep for the shearers. He would have taken his gaiters off
his legs, to give away. In fact, there was a story current among
us (I have no idea, and never had, on what authority, but I have
believed it for so many years that I feel quite certain it is
true), that on a frosty day, one winter-time, he actually did
bestow his gaiters on a beggar-woman, who occasioned some scandal
in the neighbourhood by exhibiting a fine infant from door to door,
wrapped in those garments, which were universally recognized, being
as well known in the vicinity as the Cathedral. The legend added
that the only person who did not identify them was the Doctor
himself, who, when they were shortly afterwards displayed at the
door of a little second-hand shop of no very good repute, where
such things were taken in exchange for gin, was more than once
observed to handle them approvingly, as if admiring some curious
novelty in the pattern, and considering them an improvement on his

It was very pleasant to see the Doctor with his pretty young wife.
He had a fatherly, benignant way of showing his fondness for her,
which seemed in itself to express a good man. I often saw them
walking in the garden where the peaches were, and I sometimes had
a nearer observation of them in the study or the parlour. She
appeared to me to take great care of the Doctor, and to like him
very much, though I never thought her vitally interested in the
Dictionary: some cumbrous fragments of which work the Doctor always
carried in his pockets, and in the lining of his hat, and generally
seemed to be expounding to her as they walked about.

I saw a good deal of Mrs. Strong, both because she had taken a
liking for me on the morning of my introduction to the Doctor, and
was always afterwards kind to me, and interested in me; and because
she was very fond of Agnes, and was often backwards and forwards at
our house. There was a curious constraint between her and Mr.
Wickfield, I thought (of whom she seemed to be afraid), that never
wore off. When she came there of an evening, she always shrunk
from accepting his escort home, and ran away with me instead. And
sometimes, as we were running gaily across the Cathedral yard
together, expecting to meet nobody, we would meet Mr. Jack Maldon,
who was always surprised to see us.

Mrs. Strong's mama was a lady I took great delight in. Her name
was Mrs. Markleham; but our boys used to call her the Old Soldier,
on account of her generalship, and the skill with which she
marshalled great forces of relations against the Doctor. She was
a little, sharp-eyed woman, who used to wear, when she was dressed,
one unchangeable cap, ornamented with some artificial flowers, and
two artificial butterflies supposed to be hovering above the
flowers. There was a superstition among us that this cap had come
from France, and could only originate in the workmanship of that
ingenious nation: but all I certainly know about it, is, that it
always made its appearance of an evening, wheresoever Mrs.
Markleham made HER appearance; that it was carried about to
friendly meetings in a Hindoo basket; that the butterflies had the
gift of trembling constantly; and that they improved the shining
hours at Doctor Strong's expense, like busy bees.

I observed the Old Soldier - not to adopt the name disrespectfully
- to pretty good advantage, on a night which is made memorable to
me by something else I shall relate. It was the night of a little
party at the Doctor's, which was given on the occasion of Mr. Jack
Maldon's departure for India, whither he was going as a cadet, or
something of that kind: Mr. Wickfield having at length arranged the
business. It happened to be the Doctor's birthday, too. We had
had a holiday, had made presents to him in the morning, had made a
speech to him through the head-boy, and had cheered him until we
were hoarse, and until he had shed tears. And now, in the evening,
Mr. Wickfield, Agnes, and I, went to have tea with him in his
private capacity.

Mr. Jack Maldon was there, before us. Mrs. Strong, dressed in
white, with cherry-coloured ribbons, was playing the piano, when we
went in; and he was leaning over her to turn the leaves. The clear
red and white of her complexion was not so blooming and flower-like
as usual, I thought, when she turned round; but she looked very
pretty, Wonderfully pretty.

'I have forgotten, Doctor,' said Mrs. Strong's mama, when we were
seated, 'to pay you the compliments of the day - though they are,
as you may suppose, very far from being mere compliments in my
case. Allow me to wish you many happy returns.'

'I thank you, ma'am,' replied the Doctor.

'Many, many, many, happy returns,' said the Old Soldier. 'Not only
for your own sake, but for Annie's, and John Maldon's, and many
other people's. It seems but yesterday to me, John, when you were
a little creature, a head shorter than Master Copperfield, making
baby love to Annie behind the gooseberry bushes in the

'My dear mama,' said Mrs. Strong, 'never mind that now.'

'Annie, don't be absurd,' returned her mother. 'If you are to
blush to hear of such things now you are an old married woman, when
are you not to blush to hear of them?'

'Old?' exclaimed Mr. Jack Maldon. 'Annie? Come!'

'Yes, John,' returned the Soldier. 'Virtually, an old married
woman. Although not old by years - for when did you ever hear me
say, or who has ever heard me say, that a girl of twenty was old by
years! - your cousin is the wife of the Doctor, and, as such, what
I have described her. It is well for you, John, that your cousin
is the wife of the Doctor. You have found in him an influential
and kind friend, who will be kinder yet, I venture to predict, if
you deserve it. I have no false pride. I never hesitate to admit,
frankly, that there are some members of our family who want a
friend. You were one yourself, before your cousin's influence
raised up one for you.'

The Doctor, in the goodness of his heart, waved his hand as if to
make light of it, and save Mr. Jack Maldon from any further
reminder. But Mrs. Markleham changed her chair for one next the
Doctor's, and putting her fan on his coat-sleeve, said:

'No, really, my dear Doctor, you must excuse me if I appear to
dwell on this rather, because I feel so very strongly. I call it
quite my monomania, it is such a subject of mine. You are a
blessing to us. You really are a Boon, you know.'

'Nonsense, nonsense,' said the Doctor.

'No, no, I beg your pardon,' retorted the Old Soldier. 'With
nobody present, but our dear and confidential friend Mr. Wickfield,
I cannot consent to be put down. I shall begin to assert the
privileges of a mother-in-law, if you go on like that, and scold
you. I am perfectly honest and outspoken. What I am saying, is
what I said when you first overpowered me with surprise - you
remember how surprised I was? - by proposing for Annie. Not that
there was anything so very much out of the way, in the mere fact of
the proposal - it would be ridiculous to say that! - but because,
you having known her poor father, and having known her from a baby
six months old, I hadn't thought of you in such a light at all, or
indeed as a marrying man in any way, - simply that, you know.'

'Aye, aye,' returned the Doctor, good-humouredly. 'Never mind.'

'But I DO mind,' said the Old Soldier, laying her fan upon his
lips. 'I mind very much. I recall these things that I may be
contradicted if I am wrong. Well! Then I spoke to Annie, and I
told her what had happened. I said, "My dear, here's Doctor Strong
has positively been and made you the subject of a handsome
declaration and an offer." Did I press it in the least? No. I
said, "Now, Annie, tell me the truth this moment; is your heart
free?" "Mama," she said crying, "I am extremely young" - which was
perfectly true - "and I hardly know if I have a heart at all."
"Then, my dear," I said, "you may rely upon it, it's free. At all
events, my love," said I, "Doctor Strong is in an agitated state of
mind, and must be answered. He cannot be kept in his present state
of suspense." "Mama," said Annie, still crying, "would he be
unhappy without me? If he would, I honour and respect him so much,
that I think I will have him." So it was settled. And then, and
not till then, I said to Annie, "Annie, Doctor Strong will not only
be your husband, but he will represent your late father: he will
represent the head of our family, he will represent the wisdom and
station, and I may say the means, of our family; and will be, in
short, a Boon to it." I used the word at the time, and I have used
it again, today. If I have any merit it is consistency.'

The daughter had sat quite silent and still during this speech,
with her eyes fixed on the ground; her cousin standing near her,
and looking on the ground too. She now said very softly, in a
trembling voice:

'Mama, I hope you have finished?'
'No, my dear Annie,' returned the Old Soldier, 'I have not quite
finished. Since you ask me, my love, I reply that I have not. I
complain that you really are a little unnatural towards your own
family; and, as it is of no use complaining to you. I mean to
complain to your husband. Now, my dear Doctor, do look at that
silly wife of yours.'

As the Doctor turned his kind face, with its smile of simplicity
and gentleness, towards her, she drooped her head more. I noticed
that Mr. Wickfield looked at her steadily.

'When I happened to say to that naughty thing, the other day,'
pursued her mother, shaking her head and her fan at her, playfully,
'that there was a family circumstance she might mention to you -
indeed, I think, was bound to mention - she said, that to mention
it was to ask a favour; and that, as you were too generous, and as
for her to ask was always to have, she wouldn't.'

'Annie, my dear,' said the Doctor. 'That was wrong. It robbed me
of a pleasure.'

'Almost the very words I said to her!' exclaimed her mother. 'Now
really, another time, when I know what she would tell you but for
this reason, and won't, I have a great mind, my dear Doctor, to
tell you myself.'

'I shall be glad if you will,' returned the Doctor.

'Shall I?'


'Well, then, I will!' said the Old Soldier. 'That's a bargain.'
And having, I suppose, carried her point, she tapped the Doctor's
hand several times with her fan (which she kissed first), and
returned triumphantly to her former station.

Some more company coming in, among whom were the two masters and
Adams, the talk became general; and it naturally turned on Mr. Jack
Maldon, and his voyage, and the country he was going to, and his
various plans and prospects. He was to leave that night, after
supper, in a post-chaise, for Gravesend; where the ship, in which
he was to make the voyage, lay; and was to be gone - unless he came
home on leave, or for his health - I don't know how many years. I
recollect it was settled by general consent that India was quite a
misrepresented country, and had nothing objectionable in it, but a
tiger or two, and a little heat in the warm part of the day. For
my own part, I looked on Mr. Jack Maldon as a modern Sindbad, and
pictured him the bosom friend of all the Rajahs in the East,
sitting under canopies, smoking curly golden pipes - a mile long,
if they could be straightened out.

Mrs. Strong was a very pretty singer: as I knew, who often heard
her singing by herself. But, whether she was afraid of singing
before people, or was out of voice that evening, it was certain
that she couldn't sing at all. She tried a duet, once, with her
cousin Maldon, but could not so much as begin; and afterwards, when
she tried to sing by herself, although she began sweetly, her voice
died away on a sudden, and left her quite distressed, with her head
hanging down over the keys. The good Doctor said she was nervous,
and, to relieve her, proposed a round game at cards; of which he
knew as much as of the art of playing the trombone. But I remarked
that the Old Soldier took him into custody directly, for her
partner; and instructed him, as the first preliminary of
initiation, to give her all the silver he had in his pocket.

We had a merry game, not made the less merry by the Doctor's
mistakes, of which he committed an innumerable quantity, in spite
of the watchfulness of the butterflies, and to their great
aggravation. Mrs. Strong had declined to play, on the ground of
not feeling very well; and her cousin Maldon had excused himself
because he had some packing to do. When he had done it, however,
he returned, and they sat together, talking, on the sofa. From
time to time she came and looked over the Doctor's hand, and told
him what to play. She was very pale, as she bent over him, and I
thought her finger trembled as she pointed out the cards; but the
Doctor was quite happy in her attention, and took no notice of
this, if it were so.

At supper, we were hardly so gay. Everyone appeared to feel that
a parting of that sort was an awkward thing, and that the nearer it
approached, the more awkward it was. Mr. Jack Maldon tried to be
very talkative, but was not at his ease, and made matters worse.
And they were not improved, as it appeared to me, by the Old
Soldier: who continually recalled passages of Mr. Jack Maldon's

The Doctor, however, who felt, I am sure, that he was making
everybody happy, was well pleased, and had no suspicion but that we
were all at the utmost height of enjoyment.

'Annie, my dear,' said he, looking at his watch, and filling his
glass, 'it is past your cousin jack's time, and we must not detain
him, since time and tide - both concerned in this case - wait for
no man. Mr. Jack Maldon, you have a long voyage, and a strange
country, before you; but many men have had both, and many men will
have both, to the end of time. The winds you are going to tempt,
have wafted thousands upon thousands to fortune, and brought
thousands upon thousands happily back.'

'It's an affecting thing,' said Mrs. Markleham - 'however it's
viewed, it's affecting, to see a fine young man one has known from
an infant, going away to the other end of the world, leaving all he
knows behind, and not knowing what's before him. A young man
really well deserves constant support and patronage,' looking at
the Doctor, 'who makes such sacrifices.'

'Time will go fast with you, Mr. Jack Maldon,' pursued the Doctor,
'and fast with all of us. Some of us can hardly expect, perhaps,
in the natural course of things, to greet you on your return. The
next best thing is to hope to do it, and that's my case. I shall
not weary you with good advice. You have long had a good model
before you, in your cousin Annie. Imitate her virtues as nearly as
you can.'

Mrs. Markleham fanned herself, and shook her head.

'Farewell, Mr. Jack,' said the Doctor, standing up; on which we all
stood up. 'A prosperous voyage out, a thriving career abroad, and
a happy return home!'

We all drank the toast, and all shook hands with Mr. Jack Maldon;
after which he hastily took leave of the ladies who were there, and
hurried to the door, where he was received, as he got into the
chaise, with a tremendous broadside of cheers discharged by our
boys, who had assembled on the lawn for the purpose. Running in
among them to swell the ranks, I was very near the chaise when it
rolled away; and I had a lively impression made upon me, in the
midst of the noise and dust, of having seen Mr. Jack Maldon rattle
past with an agitated face, and something cherry-coloured in his

After another broadside for the Doctor, and another for the
Doctor's wife, the boys dispersed, and I went back into the house,
where I found the guests all standing in a group about the Doctor,
discussing how Mr. Jack Maldon had gone away, and how he had borne
it, and how he had felt it, and all the rest of it. In the midst
of these remarks, Mrs. Markleham cried: 'Where's Annie?'

No Annie was there; and when they called to her, no Annie replied.
But all pressing out of the room, in a crowd, to see what was the
matter, we found her lying on the hall floor. There was great
alarm at first, until it was found that she was in a swoon, and
that the swoon was yielding to the usual means of recovery; when
the Doctor, who had lifted her head upon his knee, put her curls
aside with his hand, and said, looking around:

'Poor Annie! She's so faithful and tender-hearted! It's the
parting from her old playfellow and friend - her favourite cousin
- that has done this. Ah! It's a pity! I am very sorry!'

When she opened her eyes, and saw where she was, and that we were
all standing about her, she arose with assistance: turning her
head, as she did so, to lay it on the Doctor's shoulder - or to
hide it, I don't know which. We went into the drawing-room, to
leave her with the Doctor and her mother; but she said, it seemed,
that she was better than she had been since morning, and that she
would rather be brought among us; so they brought her in, looking
very white and weak, I thought, and sat her on a sofa.

'Annie, my dear,' said her mother, doing something to her dress.
'See here! You have lost a bow. Will anybody be so good as find
a ribbon; a cherry-coloured ribbon?'

It was the one she had worn at her bosom. We all looked for it; I
myself looked everywhere, I am certain - but nobody could find it.

'Do you recollect where you had it last, Annie?' said her mother.

I wondered how I could have thought she looked white, or anything
but burning red, when she answered that she had had it safe, a
little while ago, she thought, but it was not worth looking for.

Nevertheless, it was looked for again, and still not found. She
entreated that there might be no more searching; but it was still
sought for, in a desultory way, until she was quite well, and the
company took their departure.

We walked very slowly home, Mr. Wickfield, Agnes, and I - Agnes and
I admiring the moonlight, and Mr. Wickfield scarcely raising his
eyes from the ground. When we, at last, reached our own door,
Agnes discovered that she had left her little reticule behind.
Delighted to be of any service to her, I ran back to fetch it.

I went into the supper-room where it had been left, which was
deserted and dark. But a door of communication between that and
the Doctor's study, where there was a light, being open, I passed
on there, to say what I wanted, and to get a candle.

The Doctor was sitting in his easy-chair by the fireside, and his
young wife was on a stool at his feet. The Doctor, with a
complacent smile, was reading aloud some manuscript explanation or
statement of a theory out of that interminable Dictionary, and she
was looking up at him. But with such a face as I never saw. It
was so beautiful in its form, it was so ashy pale, it was so fixed
in its abstraction, it was so full of a wild, sleep-walking, dreamy
horror of I don't know what. The eyes were wide open, and her
brown hair fell in two rich clusters on her shoulders, and on her
white dress, disordered by the want of the lost ribbon. Distinctly
as I recollect her look, I cannot say of what it was expressive, I
cannot even say of what it is expressive to me now, rising again
before my older judgement. Penitence, humiliation, shame, pride,
love, and trustfulness - I see them all; and in them all, I see
that horror of I don't know what.

My entrance, and my saying what I wanted, roused her. It disturbed
the Doctor too, for when I went back to replace the candle I had
taken from the table, he was patting her head, in his fatherly way,
and saying he was a merciless drone to let her tempt him into
reading on; and he would have her go to bed.

But she asked him, in a rapid, urgent manner, to let her stay - to
let her feel assured (I heard her murmur some broken words to this
effect) that she was in his confidence that night. And, as she
turned again towards him, after glancing at me as I left the room
and went out at the door, I saw her cross her hands upon his knee,
and look up at him with the same face, something quieted, as he
resumed his reading.

It made a great impression on me, and I remembered it a long time
afterwards; as I shall have occasion to narrate when the time

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.