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Charles Dickens > David Copperfield > Chapter 17

David Copperfield

Chapter 17


It has not occurred to me to mention Peggotty since I ran away;
but, of course, I wrote her a letter almost as soon as I was housed
at Dover, and another, and a longer letter, containing all
particulars fully related, when my aunt took me formally under her
protection. On my being settled at Doctor Strong's I wrote to her
again, detailing my happy condition and prospects. I never could
have derived anything like the pleasure from spending the money Mr.
Dick had given me, that I felt in sending a gold half-guinea to
Peggotty, per post, enclosed in this last letter, to discharge the
sum I had borrowed of her: in which epistle, not before, I
mentioned about the young man with the donkey-cart.

To these communications Peggotty replied as promptly, if not as
concisely, as a merchant's clerk. Her utmost powers of expression
(which were certainly not great in ink) were exhausted in the
attempt to write what she felt on the subject of my journey. Four
sides of incoherent and interjectional beginnings of sentences,
that had no end, except blots, were inadequate to afford her any
relief. But the blots were more expressive to me than the best
composition; for they showed me that Peggotty had been crying all
over the paper, and what could I have desired more?

I made out, without much difficulty, that she could not take quite
kindly to my aunt yet. The notice was too short after so long a
prepossession the other way. We never knew a person, she wrote;
but to think that Miss Betsey should seem to be so different from
what she had been thought to be, was a Moral! - that was her word.
She was evidently still afraid of Miss Betsey, for she sent her
grateful duty to her but timidly; and she was evidently afraid of
me, too, and entertained the probability of my running away again
soon: if I might judge from the repeated hints she threw out, that
the coach-fare to Yarmouth was always to be had of her for the

She gave me one piece of intelligence which affected me very much,
namely, that there had been a sale of the furniture at our old
home, and that Mr. and Miss Murdstone were gone away, and the house
was shut up, to be let or sold. God knows I had no part in it
while they remained there, but it pained me to think of the dear
old place as altogether abandoned; of the weeds growing tall in the
garden, and the fallen leaves lying thick and wet upon the paths.
I imagined how the winds of winter would howl round it, how the
cold rain would beat upon the window-glass, how the moon would make
ghosts on the walls of the empty rooms, watching their solitude all
night. I thought afresh of the grave in the churchyard, underneath
the tree: and it seemed as if the house were dead too, now, and all
connected with my father and mother were faded away.

There was no other news in Peggotty's letters. Mr. Barkis was an
excellent husband, she said, though still a little near; but we all
had our faults, and she had plenty (though I am sure I don't know
what they were); and he sent his duty, and my little bedroom was
always ready for me. Mr. Peggotty was well, and Ham was well, and
Mrs.. Gummidge was but poorly, and little Em'ly wouldn't send her
love, but said that Peggotty might send it, if she liked.

All this intelligence I dutifully imparted to my aunt, only
reserving to myself the mention of little Em'ly, to whom I
instinctively felt that she would not very tenderly incline. While
I was yet new at Doctor Strong's, she made several excursions over
to Canterbury to see me, and always at unseasonable hours: with the
view, I suppose, of taking me by surprise. But, finding me well
employed, and bearing a good character, and hearing on all hands
that I rose fast in the school, she soon discontinued these visits.
I saw her on a Saturday, every third or fourth week, when I went
over to Dover for a treat; and I saw Mr. Dick every alternate
Wednesday, when he arrived by stage-coach at noon, to stay until
next morning.

On these occasions Mr. Dick never travelled without a leathern
writing-desk, containing a supply of stationery and the Memorial;
in relation to which document he had a notion that time was
beginning to press now, and that it really must be got out of hand.

Mr. Dick was very partial to gingerbread. To render his visits the
more agreeable, my aunt had instructed me to open a credit for him
at a cake shop, which was hampered with the stipulation that he
should not be served with more than one shilling's-worth in the
course of any one day. This, and the reference of all his little
bills at the county inn where he slept, to my aunt, before they
were paid, induced me to suspect that he was only allowed to rattle
his money, and not to spend it. I found on further investigation
that this was so, or at least there was an agreement between him
and my aunt that he should account to her for all his
disbursements. As he had no idea of deceiving her, and always
desired to please her, he was thus made chary of launching into
expense. On this point, as well as on all other possible points,
Mr. Dick was convinced that my aunt was the wisest and most
wonderful of women; as he repeatedly told me with infinite secrecy,
and always in a whisper.

'Trotwood,' said Mr. Dick, with an air of mystery, after imparting
this confidence to me, one Wednesday; 'who's the man that hides
near our house and frightens her?'

'Frightens my aunt, sir?'

Mr. Dick nodded. 'I thought nothing would have frightened her,' he
said, 'for she's -' here he whispered softly, 'don't mention it -
the wisest and most wonderful of women.' Having said which, he
drew back, to observe the effect which this description of her made
upon me.

'The first time he came,' said Mr. Dick, 'was- let me see- sixteen
hundred and forty-nine was the date of King Charles's execution.
I think you said sixteen hundred and forty-nine?'

'Yes, sir.'

'I don't know how it can be,' said Mr. Dick, sorely puzzled and
shaking his head. 'I don't think I am as old as that.'

'Was it in that year that the man appeared, sir?' I asked.

'Why, really' said Mr. Dick, 'I don't see how it can have been in
that year, Trotwood. Did you get that date out of history?'

'Yes, sir.'

'I suppose history never lies, does it?' said Mr. Dick, with a
gleam of hope.

'Oh dear, no, sir!' I replied, most decisively. I was ingenuous
and young, and I thought so.

'I can't make it out,' said Mr. Dick, shaking his head. 'There's
something wrong, somewhere. However, it was very soon after the
mistake was made of putting some of the trouble out of King
Charles's head into my head, that the man first came. I was
walking out with Miss Trotwood after tea, just at dark, and there
he was, close to our house.'

'Walking about?' I inquired.

'Walking about?' repeated Mr. Dick. 'Let me see, I must recollect
a bit. N-no, no; he was not walking about.'

I asked, as the shortest way to get at it, what he WAS doing.

'Well, he wasn't there at all,' said Mr. Dick, 'until he came up
behind her, and whispered. Then she turned round and fainted, and
I stood still and looked at him, and he walked away; but that he
should have been hiding ever since (in the ground or somewhere), is
the most extraordinary thing!'

'HAS he been hiding ever since?' I asked.

'To be sure he has,' retorted Mr. Dick, nodding his head gravely.
'Never came out, till last night! We were walking last night, and
he came up behind her again, and I knew him again.'

'And did he frighten my aunt again?'

'All of a shiver,' said Mr. Dick, counterfeiting that affection and
making his teeth chatter. 'Held by the palings. Cried. But,
Trotwood, come here,' getting me close to him, that he might
whisper very softly; 'why did she give him money, boy, in the

'He was a beggar, perhaps.'

Mr. Dick shook his head, as utterly renouncing the suggestion; and
having replied a great many times, and with great confidence, 'No
beggar, no beggar, no beggar, sir!' went on to say, that from his
window he had afterwards, and late at night, seen my aunt give this
person money outside the garden rails in the moonlight, who then
slunk away - into the ground again, as he thought probable - and
was seen no more: while my aunt came hurriedly and secretly back
into the house, and had, even that morning, been quite different
from her usual self; which preyed on Mr. Dick's mind.

I had not the least belief, in the outset of this story, that the
unknown was anything but a delusion of Mr. Dick's, and one of the
line of that ill-fated Prince who occasioned him so much
difficulty; but after some reflection I began to entertain the
question whether an attempt, or threat of an attempt, might have
been twice made to take poor Mr. Dick himself from under my aunt's
protection, and whether my aunt, the strength of whose kind feeling
towards him I knew from herself, might have been induced to pay a
price for his peace and quiet. As I was already much attached to
Mr. Dick, and very solicitous for his welfare, my fears favoured
this supposition; and for a long time his Wednesday hardly ever
came round, without my entertaining a misgiving that he would not
be on the coach-box as usual. There he always appeared, however,
grey-headed, laughing, and happy; and he never had anything more to
tell of the man who could frighten my aunt.

These Wednesdays were the happiest days of Mr. Dick's life; they
were far from being the least happy of mine. He soon became known
to every boy in the school; and though he never took an active part
in any game but kite-flying, was as deeply interested in all our
sports as anyone among us. How often have I seen him, intent upon
a match at marbles or pegtop, looking on with a face of unutterable
interest, and hardly breathing at the critical times! How often,
at hare and hounds, have I seen him mounted on a little knoll,
cheering the whole field on to action, and waving his hat above his
grey head, oblivious of King Charles the Martyr's head, and all
belonging to it! How many a summer hour have I known to be but
blissful minutes to him in the cricket-field! How many winter days
have I seen him, standing blue-nosed, in the snow and east wind,
looking at the boys going down the long slide, and clapping his
worsted gloves in rapture!

He was an universal favourite, and his ingenuity in little things
was transcendent. He could cut oranges into such devices as none
of us had an idea of. He could make a boat out of anything, from
a skewer upwards. He could turn cramp-bones into chessmen; fashion
Roman chariots from old court cards; make spoked wheels out of
cotton reels, and bird-cages of old wire. But he was greatest of
all, perhaps, in the articles of string and straw; with which we
were all persuaded he could do anything that could be done by

Mr. Dick's renown was not long confined to us. After a few
Wednesdays, Doctor Strong himself made some inquiries of me about
him, and I told him all my aunt had told me; which interested the
Doctor so much that he requested, on the occasion of his next
visit, to be presented to him. This ceremony I performed; and the
Doctor begging Mr. Dick, whensoever he should not find me at the
coach office, to come on there, and rest himself until our
morning's work was over, it soon passed into a custom for Mr. Dick
to come on as a matter of course, and, if we were a little late, as
often happened on a Wednesday, to walk about the courtyard, waiting
for me. Here he made the acquaintance of the Doctor's beautiful
young wife (paler than formerly, all this time; more rarely seen by
me or anyone, I think; and not so gay, but not less beautiful), and
so became more and more familiar by degrees, until, at last, he
would come into the school and wait. He always sat in a particular
corner, on a particular stool, which was called 'Dick', after him;
here he would sit, with his grey head bent forward, attentively
listening to whatever might be going on, with a profound veneration
for the learning he had never been able to acquire.

This veneration Mr. Dick extended to the Doctor, whom he thought
the most subtle and accomplished philosopher of any age. It was
long before Mr. Dick ever spoke to him otherwise than bareheaded;
and even when he and the Doctor had struck up quite a friendship,
and would walk together by the hour, on that side of the courtyard
which was known among us as The Doctor's Walk, Mr. Dick would pull
off his hat at intervals to show his respect for wisdom and
knowledge. How it ever came about that the Doctor began to read
out scraps of the famous Dictionary, in these walks, I never knew;
perhaps he felt it all the same, at first, as reading to himself.
However, it passed into a custom too; and Mr. Dick, listening with
a face shining with pride and pleasure, in his heart of hearts
believed the Dictionary to be the most delightful book in the

As I think of them going up and down before those schoolroom
windows - the Doctor reading with his complacent smile, an
occasional flourish of the manuscript, or grave motion of his head;
and Mr. Dick listening, enchained by interest, with his poor wits
calmly wandering God knows where, upon the wings of hard words - I
think of it as one of the pleasantest things, in a quiet way, that
I have ever seen. I feel as if they might go walking to and fro
for ever, and the world might somehow be the better for it - as if
a thousand things it makes a noise about, were not one half so good
for it, or me.

Agnes was one of Mr. Dick's friends, very soon; and in often coming
to the house, he made acquaintance with Uriah. The friendship
between himself and me increased continually, and it was maintained
on this odd footing: that, while Mr. Dick came professedly to look
after me as my guardian, he always consulted me in any little
matter of doubt that arose, and invariably guided himself by my
advice; not only having a high respect for my native sagacity, but
considering that I inherited a good deal from my aunt.

One Thursday morning, when I was about to walk with Mr. Dick from
the hotel to the coach office before going back to school (for we
had an hour's school before breakfast), I met Uriah in the street,
who reminded me of the promise I had made to take tea with himself
and his mother: adding, with a writhe, 'But I didn't expect you to
keep it, Master Copperfield, we're so very umble.'

I really had not yet been able to make up my mind whether I liked
Uriah or detested him; and I was very doubtful about it still, as
I stood looking him in the face in the street. But I felt it quite
an affront to be supposed proud, and said I only wanted to be

' Oh, if that's all, Master Copperfield,' said Uriah, 'and it
really isn't our umbleness that prevents you, will you come this
evening? But if it is our umbleness, I hope you won't mind owning
to it, Master Copperfield; for we are well aware of our condition.'

I said I would mention it to Mr. Wickfield, and if he approved, as
I had no doubt he would, I would come with pleasure. So, at six
o'clock that evening, which was one of the early office evenings,
I announced myself as ready, to Uriah.

'Mother will be proud, indeed,' he said, as we walked away
together. 'Or she would be proud, if it wasn't sinful, Master

'Yet you didn't mind supposing I was proud this morning,' I

'Oh dear, no, Master Copperfield!' returned Uriah. 'Oh, believe
me, no! Such a thought never came into my head! I shouldn't have
deemed it at all proud if you had thought US too umble for you.
Because we are so very umble.'

'Have you been studying much law lately?' I asked, to change the

'Oh, Master Copperfield,' he said, with an air of self-denial, 'my
reading is hardly to be called study. I have passed an hour or two
in the evening, sometimes, with Mr. Tidd.'

'Rather hard, I suppose?' said I.
'He is hard to me sometimes,' returned Uriah. 'But I don't know
what he might be to a gifted person.'

After beating a little tune on his chin as he walked on, with the
two forefingers of his skeleton right hand, he added:

'There are expressions, you see, Master Copperfield - Latin words
and terms - in Mr. Tidd, that are trying to a reader of my umble

'Would you like to be taught Latin?' I said briskly. 'I will teach
it you with pleasure, as I learn it.'

'Oh, thank you, Master Copperfield,' he answered, shaking his head.
'I am sure it's very kind of you to make the offer, but I am much
too umble to accept it.'

'What nonsense, Uriah!'

'Oh, indeed you must excuse me, Master Copperfield! I am greatly
obliged, and I should like it of all things, I assure you; but I am
far too umble. There are people enough to tread upon me in my
lowly state, without my doing outrage to their feelings by
possessing learning. Learning ain't for me. A person like myself
had better not aspire. If he is to get on in life, he must get on
umbly, Master Copperfield!'

I never saw his mouth so wide, or the creases in his cheeks so
deep, as when he delivered himself of these sentiments: shaking his
head all the time, and writhing modestly.

'I think you are wrong, Uriah,' I said. 'I dare say there are
several things that I could teach you, if you would like to learn

'Oh, I don't doubt that, Master Copperfield,' he answered; 'not in
the least. But not being umble yourself, you don't judge well,
perhaps, for them that are. I won't provoke my betters with
knowledge, thank you. I'm much too umble. Here is my umble
dwelling, Master Copperfield!'

We entered a low, old-fashioned room, walked straight into from the
street, and found there Mrs. Heep, who was the dead image of Uriah,
only short. She received me with the utmost humility, and
apologized to me for giving her son a kiss, observing that, lowly
as they were, they had their natural affections, which they hoped
would give no offence to anyone. It was a perfectly decent room,
half parlour and half kitchen, but not at all a snug room. The
tea-things were set upon the table, and the kettle was boiling on
the hob. There was a chest of drawers with an escritoire top, for
Uriah to read or write at of an evening; there was Uriah's blue bag
lying down and vomiting papers; there was a company of Uriah's
books commanded by Mr. Tidd; there was a corner cupboard: and there
were the usual articles of furniture. I don't remember that any
individual object had a bare, pinched, spare look; but I do
remember that the whole place had.

It was perhaps a part of Mrs. Heep's humility, that she still wore
weeds. Notwithstanding the lapse of time that had occurred since
Mr. Heep's decease, she still wore weeds. I think there was some
compromise in the cap; but otherwise she was as weedy as in the
early days of her mourning.

'This is a day to be remembered, my Uriah, I am sure,' said Mrs.
Heep, making the tea, 'when Master Copperfield pays us a visit.'

'I said you'd think so, mother,' said Uriah.

'If I could have wished father to remain among us for any reason,'
said Mrs. Heep, 'it would have been, that he might have known his
company this afternoon.'

I felt embarrassed by these compliments; but I was sensible, too,
of being entertained as an honoured guest, and I thought Mrs. Heep
an agreeable woman.

'My Uriah,' said Mrs. Heep, 'has looked forward to this, sir, a
long while. He had his fears that our umbleness stood in the way,
and I joined in them myself. Umble we are, umble we have been,
umble we shall ever be,' said Mrs. Heep.

'I am sure you have no occasion to be so, ma'am,' I said, 'unless
you like.'

'Thank you, sir,' retorted Mrs. Heep. 'We know our station and are
thankful in it.'

I found that Mrs. Heep gradually got nearer to me, and that Uriah
gradually got opposite to me, and that they respectfully plied me
with the choicest of the eatables on the table. There was nothing
particularly choice there, to be sure; but I took the will for the
deed, and felt that they were very attentive. Presently they began
to talk about aunts, and then I told them about mine; and about
fathers and mothers, and then I told them about mine; and then Mrs.
Heep began to talk about fathers-in-law, and then I began to tell
her about mine - but stopped, because my aunt had advised me to
observe a silence on that subject. A tender young cork, however,
would have had no more chance against a pair of corkscrews, or a
tender young tooth against a pair of dentists, or a little
shuttlecock against two battledores, than I had against Uriah and
Mrs. Heep. They did just what they liked with me; and wormed
things out of me that I had no desire to tell, with a certainty I
blush to think of. the more especially, as in my juvenile
frankness, I took some credit to myself for being so confidential
and felt that I was quite the patron of my two respectful

They were very fond of one another: that was certain. I take it,
that had its effect upon me, as a touch of nature; but the skill
with which the one followed up whatever the other said, was a touch
of art which I was still less proof against. When there was
nothing more to be got out of me about myself (for on the Murdstone
and Grinby life, and on my journey, I was dumb), they began about
Mr. Wickfield and Agnes. Uriah threw the ball to Mrs. Heep, Mrs.
Heep caught it and threw it back to Uriah, Uriah kept it up a
little while, then sent it back to Mrs. Heep, and so they went on
tossing it about until I had no idea who had got it, and was quite
bewildered. The ball itself was always changing too. Now it was
Mr. Wickfield, now Agnes, now the excellence of Mr. Wickfield, now
my admiration of Agnes; now the extent of Mr. Wickfield's business
and resources, now our domestic life after dinner; now, the wine
that Mr. Wickfield took, the reason why he took it, and the pity
that it was he took so much; now one thing, now another, then
everything at once; and all the time, without appearing to speak
very often, or to do anything but sometimes encourage them a
little, for fear they should be overcome by their humility and the
honour of my company, I found myself perpetually letting out
something or other that I had no business to let out and seeing the
effect of it in the twinkling of Uriah's dinted nostrils.

I had begun to be a little uncomfortable, and to wish myself well
out of the visit, when a figure coming down the street passed the
door - it stood open to air the room, which was warm, the weather
being close for the time of year - came back again, looked in, and
walked in, exclaiming loudly, 'Copperfield! Is it possible?'

It was Mr. Micawber! It was Mr. Micawber, with his eye-glass, and
his walking-stick, and his shirt-collar, and his genteel air, and
the condescending roll in his voice, all complete!

'My dear Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, putting out his hand,
'this is indeed a meeting which is calculated to impress the mind
with a sense of the instability and uncertainty of all human - in
short, it is a most extraordinary meeting. Walking along the
street, reflecting upon the probability of something turning up (of
which I am at present rather sanguine), I find a young but valued
friend turn up, who is connected with the most eventful period of
my life; I may say, with the turning-point of my existence.
Copperfield, my dear fellow, how do you do?'

I cannot say - I really cannot say - that I was glad to see Mr.
Micawber there; but I was glad to see him too, and shook hands with
him, heartily, inquiring how Mrs. Micawber was.

'Thank you,' said Mr. Micawber, waving his hand as of old, and
settling his chin in his shirt-collar. 'She is tolerably
convalescent. The twins no longer derive their sustenance from
Nature's founts - in short,' said Mr. Micawber, in one of his
bursts of confidence, 'they are weaned - and Mrs. Micawber is, at
present, my travelling companion. She will be rejoiced,
Copperfield, to renew her acquaintance with one who has proved
himself in all respects a worthy minister at the sacred altar of

I said I should be delighted to see her.

'You are very good,' said Mr. Micawber.

Mr. Micawber then smiled, settled his chin again, and looked about

'I have discovered my friend Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber
genteelly, and without addressing himself particularly to anyone,
'not in solitude, but partaking of a social meal in company with a
widow lady, and one who is apparently her offspring - in short,'
said Mr. Micawber, in another of his bursts of confidence, 'her
son. I shall esteem it an honour to be presented.'

I could do no less, under these circumstances, than make Mr.
Micawber known to Uriah Heep and his mother; which I accordingly
did. As they abased themselves before him, Mr. Micawber took a
seat, and waved his hand in his most courtly manner.

'Any friend of my friend Copperfield's,' said Mr. Micawber, 'has a
personal claim upon myself.'

'We are too umble, sir,' said Mrs. Heep, 'my son and me, to be the
friends of Master Copperfield. He has been so good as take his tea
with us, and we are thankful to him for his company, also to you,
sir, for your notice.'

'Ma'am,' returned Mr. Micawber, with a bow, 'you are very obliging:
and what are you doing, Copperfield? Still in the wine trade?'

I was excessively anxious to get Mr. Micawber away; and replied,
with my hat in my hand, and a very red face, I have no doubt, that
I was a pupil at Doctor Strong's.

'A pupil?' said Mr. Micawber, raising his eyebrows. 'I am
extremely happy to hear it. Although a mind like my friend
Copperfield's' - to Uriah and Mrs. Heep - 'does not require that
cultivation which, without his knowledge of men and things, it
would require, still it is a rich soil teeming with latent
vegetation - in short,' said Mr. Micawber, smiling, in another
burst of confidence, 'it is an intellect capable of getting up the
classics to any extent.'

Uriah, with his long hands slowly twining over one another, made a
ghastly writhe from the waist upwards, to express his concurrence
in this estimation of me.

'Shall we go and see Mrs. Micawber, sir?' I said, to get Mr.
Micawber away.

'If you will do her that favour, Copperfield,' replied Mr.
Micawber, rising. 'I have no scruple in saying, in the presence of
our friends here, that I am a man who has, for some years,
contended against the pressure of pecuniary difficulties.' I knew
he was certain to say something of this kind; he always would be so
boastful about his difficulties. 'Sometimes I have risen superior
to my difficulties. Sometimes my difficulties have - in short,
have floored me. There have been times when I have administered a
succession of facers to them; there have been times when they have
been too many for me, and I have given in, and said to Mrs.
Micawber, in the words of Cato, "Plato, thou reasonest well. It's
all up now. I can show fight no more." But at no time of my life,'
said Mr. Micawber, 'have I enjoyed a higher degree of satisfaction
than in pouring my griefs (if I may describe difficulties, chiefly
arising out of warrants of attorney and promissory notes at two and
four months, by that word) into the bosom of my friend

Mr. Micawber closed this handsome tribute by saying, 'Mr. Heep!
Good evening. Mrs. Heep! Your servant,' and then walking out with
me in his most fashionable manner, making a good deal of noise on
the pavement with his shoes, and humming a tune as we went.

It was a little inn where Mr. Micawber put up, and he occupied a
little room in it, partitioned off from the commercial room, and
strongly flavoured with tobacco-smoke. I think it was over the
kitchen, because a warm greasy smell appeared to come up through
the chinks in the floor, and there was a flabby perspiration on the
walls. I know it was near the bar, on account of the smell of
spirits and jingling of glasses. Here, recumbent on a small sofa,
underneath a picture of a race-horse, with her head close to the
fire, and her feet pushing the mustard off the dumb-waiter at the
other end of the room, was Mrs. Micawber, to whom Mr. Micawber
entered first, saying, 'My dear, allow me to introduce to you a
pupil of Doctor Strong's.'

I noticed, by the by, that although Mr. Micawber was just as much
confused as ever about my age and standing, he always remembered,
as a genteel thing, that I was a pupil of Doctor Strong's.

Mrs. Micawber was amazed, but very glad to see me. I was very glad
to see her too, and, after an affectionate greeting on both sides,
sat down on the small sofa near her.

'My dear,' said Mr. Micawber, 'if you will mention to Copperfield
what our present position is, which I have no doubt he will like to
know, I will go and look at the paper the while, and see whether
anything turns up among the advertisements.'

'I thought you were at Plymouth, ma'am,' I said to Mrs. Micawber,
as he went out.

'My dear Master Copperfield,' she replied, 'we went to Plymouth.'

'To be on the spot,' I hinted.

'Just so,' said Mrs. Micawber. 'To be on the spot. But, the truth
is, talent is not wanted in the Custom House. The local influence
of my family was quite unavailing to obtain any employment in that
department, for a man of Mr. Micawber's abilities. They would
rather NOT have a man of Mr. Micawber's abilities. He would only
show the deficiency of the others. Apart from which,' said Mrs.
Micawber, 'I will not disguise from you, my dear Master
Copperfield, that when that branch of my family which is settled in
Plymouth, became aware that Mr. Micawber was accompanied by myself,
and by little Wilkins and his sister, and by the twins, they did
not receive him with that ardour which he might have expected,
being so newly released from captivity. In fact,' said Mrs.
Micawber, lowering her voice, - 'this is between ourselves - our
reception was cool.'

'Dear me!' I said.

'Yes,' said Mrs. Micawber. 'It is truly painful to contemplate
mankind in such an aspect, Master Copperfield, but our reception
was, decidedly, cool. There is no doubt about it. In fact, that
branch of my family which is settled in Plymouth became quite
personal to Mr. Micawber, before we had been there a week.'

I said, and thought, that they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

'Still, so it was,' continued Mrs. Micawber. 'Under such
circumstances, what could a man of Mr. Micawber's spirit do? But
one obvious course was left. To borrow, of that branch of my
family, the money to return to London, and to return at any

'Then you all came back again, ma'am?' I said.

'We all came back again,' replied Mrs. Micawber. 'Since then, I
have consulted other branches of my family on the course which it
is most expedient for Mr. Micawber to take - for I maintain that he
must take some course, Master Copperfield,' said Mrs. Micawber,
argumentatively. 'It is clear that a family of six, not including
a domestic, cannot live upon air.'

'Certainly, ma'am,' said I.

'The opinion of those other branches of my family,' pursued Mrs.
Micawber, 'is, that Mr. Micawber should immediately turn his
attention to coals.'

'To what, ma'am?'

'To coals,' said Mrs. Micawber. 'To the coal trade. Mr. Micawber
was induced to think, on inquiry, that there might be an opening
for a man of his talent in the Medway Coal Trade. Then, as Mr.
Micawber very properly said, the first step to be taken clearly
was, to come and see the Medway. Which we came and saw. I say
"we", Master Copperfield; for I never will,' said Mrs. Micawber
with emotion, 'I never will desert Mr. Micawber.'

I murmured my admiration and approbation.

'We came,' repeated Mrs. Micawber, 'and saw the Medway. My opinion
of the coal trade on that river is, that it may require talent, but
that it certainly requires capital. Talent, Mr. Micawber has;
capital, Mr. Micawber has not. We saw, I think, the greater part
of the Medway; and that is my individual conclusion. Being so near
here, Mr. Micawber was of opinion that it would be rash not to come
on, and see the Cathedral. Firstly, on account of its being so
well worth seeing, and our never having seen it; and secondly, on
account of the great probability of something turning up in a
cathedral town. We have been here,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'three
days. Nothing has, as yet, turned up; and it may not surprise you,
my dear Master Copperfield, so much as it would a stranger, to know
that we are at present waiting for a remittance from London, to
discharge our pecuniary obligations at this hotel. Until the
arrival of that remittance,' said Mrs. Micawber with much feeling,
'I am cut off from my home (I allude to lodgings in Pentonville),
from my boy and girl, and from my twins.'

I felt the utmost sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Micawber in this
anxious extremity, and said as much to Mr. Micawber, who now
returned: adding that I only wished I had money enough, to lend
them the amount they needed. Mr. Micawber's answer expressed the
disturbance of his mind. He said, shaking hands with me,
'Copperfield, you are a true friend; but when the worst comes to
the worst, no man is without a friend who is possessed of shaving
materials.' At this dreadful hint Mrs. Micawber threw her arms
round Mr. Micawber's neck and entreated him to be calm. He wept;
but so far recovered, almost immediately, as to ring the bell for
the waiter, and bespeak a hot kidney pudding and a plate of shrimps
for breakfast in the morning.

When I took my leave of them, they both pressed me so much to come
and dine before they went away, that I could not refuse. But, as
I knew I could not come next day, when I should have a good deal to
prepare in the evening, Mr. Micawber arranged that he would call at
Doctor Strong's in the course of the morning (having a presentiment
that the remittance would arrive by that post), and propose the day
after, if it would suit me better. Accordingly I was called out of
school next forenoon, and found Mr. Micawber in the parlour; who
had called to say that the dinner would take place as proposed.
When I asked him if the remittance had come, he pressed my hand and

As I was looking out of window that same evening, it surprised me,
and made me rather uneasy, to see Mr. Micawber and Uriah Heep walk
past, arm in arm: Uriah humbly sensible of the honour that was done
him, and Mr. Micawber taking a bland delight in extending his
patronage to Uriah. But I was still more surprised, when I went to
the little hotel next day at the appointed dinner-hour, which was
four o'clock, to find, from what Mr. Micawber said, that he had
gone home with Uriah, and had drunk brandy-and-water at Mrs.

'And I'll tell you what, my dear Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber,
'your friend Heep is a young fellow who might be attorney-general.
If I had known that young man, at the period when my difficulties
came to a crisis, all I can say is, that I believe my creditors
would have been a great deal better managed than they were.'

I hardly understood how this could have been, seeing that Mr.
Micawber had paid them nothing at all as it was; but I did not like
to ask. Neither did I like to say, that I hoped he had not been
too communicative to Uriah; or to inquire if they had talked much
about me. I was afraid of hurting Mr. Micawber's feelings, or, at
all events, Mrs. Micawber's, she being very sensitive; but I was
uncomfortable about it, too, and often thought about it afterwards.

We had a beautiful little dinner. Quite an elegant dish of fish;
the kidney-end of a loin of veal, roasted; fried sausage-meat; a
partridge, and a pudding. There was wine, and there was strong
ale; and after dinner Mrs. Micawber made us a bowl of hot punch
with her own hands.

Mr. Micawber was uncommonly convivial. I never saw him such good
company. He made his face shine with the punch, so that it looked
as if it had been varnished all over. He got cheerfully
sentimental about the town, and proposed success to it; observing
that Mrs. Micawber and himself had been made extremely snug and
comfortable there and that he never should forget the agreeable
hours they had passed in Canterbury. He proposed me afterwards;
and he, and Mrs. Micawber, and I, took a review of our past
acquaintance, in the course of which we sold the property all over
again. Then I proposed Mrs. Micawber: or, at least, said,
modestly, 'If you'll allow me, Mrs. Micawber, I shall now have the
pleasure of drinking your health, ma'am.' On which Mr. Micawber
delivered an eulogium on Mrs. Micawber's character, and said she
had ever been his guide, philosopher, and friend, and that he would
recommend me, when I came to a marrying time of life, to marry such
another woman, if such another woman could be found.

As the punch disappeared, Mr. Micawber became still more friendly
and convivial. Mrs. Micawber's spirits becoming elevated, too, we
sang 'Auld Lang Syne'. When we came to 'Here's a hand, my trusty
frere', we all joined hands round the table; and when we declared
we would 'take a right gude Willie Waught', and hadn't the least
idea what it meant, we were really affected.

In a word, I never saw anybody so thoroughly jovial as Mr. Micawber
was, down to the very last moment of the evening, when I took a
hearty farewell of himself and his amiable wife. Consequently, I
was not prepared, at seven o'clock next morning, to receive the
following communication, dated half past nine in the evening; a
quarter of an hour after I had left him: -


'The die is cast - all is over. Hiding the ravages of care with a
sickly mask of mirth, I have not informed you, this evening, that
there is no hope of the remittance! Under these circumstances,
alike humiliating to endure, humiliating to contemplate, and
humiliating to relate, I have discharged the pecuniary liability
contracted at this establishment, by giving a note of hand, made
payable fourteen days after date, at my residence, Pentonville,
London. When it becomes due, it will not be taken up. The result
is destruction. The bolt is impending, and the tree must fall.

'Let the wretched man who now addresses you, my dear Copperfield,
be a beacon to you through life. He writes with that intention,
and in that hope. If he could think himself of so much use, one
gleam of day might, by possibility, penetrate into the cheerless
dungeon of his remaining existence - though his longevity is, at
present (to say the least of it), extremely problematical.

'This is the last communication, my dear Copperfield, you will ever



                                 'Beggared Outcast,

                                        'WILKINS MICAWBER.'

I was so shocked by the contents of this heart-rending letter, that
I ran off directly towards the little hotel with the intention of
taking it on my way to Doctor Strong's, and trying to soothe Mr.
Micawber with a word of comfort. But, half-way there, I met the
London coach with Mr. and Mrs. Micawber up behind; Mr. Micawber,
the very picture of tranquil enjoyment, smiling at Mrs. Micawber's
conversation, eating walnuts out of a paper bag, with a bottle
sticking out of his breast pocket. As they did not see me, I
thought it best, all things considered, not to see them. So, with
a great weight taken off my mind, I turned into a by-street that
was the nearest way to school, and felt, upon the whole, relieved
that they were gone; though I still liked them very much,

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