Mr. MICAWBER'S GAUNTLET
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Until the day arrived on which I was to entertain my newly-found
old friends, I lived principally on Dora and coffee. In my
love-lorn condition, my appetite languished; and I was glad of it,
for I felt as though it would have been an act of perfidy towards
Dora to have a natural relish for my dinner. The quantity of
walking exercise I took, was not in this respect attended with its
usual consequence, as the disappointment counteracted the fresh
air. I have my doubts, too, founded on the acute experience
acquired at this period of my life, whether a sound enjoyment of
animal food can develop itself freely in any human subject who is
always in torment from tight boots. I think the extremities
require to be at peace before the stomach will conduct itself with
On the occasion of this domestic little party, I did not repeat my
former extensive preparations. I merely provided a pair of soles,
a small leg of mutton, and a pigeon-pie. Mrs. Crupp broke out into
rebellion on my first bashful hint in reference to the cooking of
the fish and joint, and said, with a dignified sense of injury,
'No! No, sir! You will not ask me sich a thing, for you are
better acquainted with me than to suppose me capable of doing what
I cannot do with ampial satisfaction to my own feelings!' But, in
the end, a compromise was effected; and Mrs. Crupp consented to
achieve this feat, on condition that I dined from home for a
And here I may remark, that what I underwent from Mrs. Crupp, in
consequence of the tyranny she established over me, was dreadful.
I never was so much afraid of anyone. We made a compromise of
everything. If I hesitated, she was taken with that wonderful
disorder which was always lying in ambush in her system, ready, at
the shortest notice, to prey upon her vitals. If I rang the bell
impatiently, after half-a-dozen unavailing modest pulls, and she
appeared at last - which was not by any means to be relied upon -
she would appear with a reproachful aspect, sink breathless on a
chair near the door, lay her hand upon her nankeen bosom, and
become so ill, that I was glad, at any sacrifice of brandy or
anything else, to get rid of her. If I objected to having my bed
made at five o'clock in the afternoon - which I do still think an
uncomfortable arrangement - one motion of her hand towards the same
nankeen region of wounded sensibility was enough to make me falter
an apology. In short, I would have done anything in an honourable
way rather than give Mrs. Crupp offence; and she was the terror of
I bought a second-hand dumb-waiter for this dinner-party, in
preference to re-engaging the handy young man; against whom I had
conceived a prejudice, in consequence of meeting him in the Strand,
one Sunday morning, in a waistcoat remarkably like one of mine,
which had been missing since the former occasion. The 'young gal'
was re-engaged; but on the stipulation that she should only bring
in the dishes, and then withdraw to the landing-place, beyond the
outer door; where a habit of sniffing she had contracted would be
lost upon the guests, and where her retiring on the plates would be
a physical impossibility.
Having laid in the materials for a bowl of punch, to be compounded
by Mr. Micawber; having provided a bottle of lavender-water, two
wax-candles, a paper of mixed pins, and a pincushion, to assist
Mrs. Micawber in her toilette at my dressing-table; having also
caused the fire in my bedroom to be lighted for Mrs. Micawber's
convenience; and having laid the cloth with my own hands, I awaited
the result with composure.
At the appointed time, my three visitors arrived together. Mr.
Micawber with more shirt-collar than usual, and a new ribbon to his
eye-glass; Mrs. Micawber with her cap in a whitey-brown paper
parcel; Traddles carrying the parcel, and supporting Mrs. Micawber
on his arm. They were all delighted with my residence. When I
conducted Mrs. Micawber to my dressing-table, and she saw the scale
on which it was prepared for her, she was in such raptures, that
she called Mr. Micawber to come in and look.
'My dear Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'this is luxurious. This
is a way of life which reminds me of the period when I was myself
in a state of celibacy, and Mrs. Micawber had not yet been
solicited to plight her faith at the Hymeneal altar.'
'He means, solicited by him, Mr. Copperfield,' said Mrs. Micawber,
archly. 'He cannot answer for others.'
'My dear,' returned Mr. Micawber with sudden seriousness, 'I have
no desire to answer for others. I am too well aware that when, in
the inscrutable decrees of Fate, you were reserved for me, it is
possible you may have been reserved for one, destined, after a
protracted struggle, at length to fall a victim to pecuniary
involvements of a complicated nature. I understand your allusion,
my love. I regret it, but I can bear it.'
'Micawber!' exclaimed Mrs. Micawber, in tears. 'Have I deserved
this! I, who never have deserted you; who never WILL desert you,
'My love,' said Mr. Micawber, much affected, 'you will forgive, and
our old and tried friend Copperfield will, I am sure, forgive, the
momentary laceration of a wounded spirit, made sensitive by a
recent collision with the Minion of Power - in other words, with a
ribald Turncock attached to the water-works - and will pity, not
condemn, its excesses.'
Mr. Micawber then embraced Mrs. Micawber, and pressed my hand;
leaving me to infer from this broken allusion that his domestic
supply of water had been cut off that afternoon, in consequence of
default in the payment of the company's rates.
To divert his thoughts from this melancholy subject, I informed Mr.
Micawber that I relied upon him for a bowl of punch, and led him to
the lemons. His recent despondency, not to say despair, was gone
in a moment. I never saw a man so thoroughly enjoy himself amid
the fragrance of lemon-peel and sugar, the odour of burning rum,
and the steam of boiling water, as Mr. Micawber did that afternoon.
It was wonderful to see his face shining at us out of a thin cloud
of these delicate fumes, as he stirred, and mixed, and tasted, and
looked as if he were making, instead of punch, a fortune for his
family down to the latest posterity. As to Mrs. Micawber, I don't
know whether it was the effect of the cap, or the lavender-water,
or the pins, or the fire, or the wax-candles, but she came out of
my room, comparatively speaking, lovely. And the lark was never
gayer than that excellent woman.
I suppose - I never ventured to inquire, but I suppose - that Mrs.
Crupp, after frying the soles, was taken ill. Because we broke
down at that point. The leg of mutton came up very red within, and
very pale without: besides having a foreign substance of a gritty
nature sprinkled over it, as if if had had a fall into the ashes of
that remarkable kitchen fireplace. But we were not in condition to
judge of this fact from the appearance of the gravy, forasmuch as
the 'young gal' had dropped it all upon the stairs - where it
remained, by the by, in a long train, until it was worn out. The
pigeon-pie was not bad, but it was a delusive pie: the crust being
like a disappointing head, phrenologically speaking: full of lumps
and bumps, with nothing particular underneath. In short, the
banquet was such a failure that I should have been quite unhappy -
about the failure, I mean, for I was always unhappy about Dora - if
I had not been relieved by the great good humour of my company, and
by a bright suggestion from Mr. Micawber.
'My dear friend Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'accidents will
occur in the best-regulated families; and in families not regulated
by that pervading influence which sanctifies while it enhances the
- a - I would say, in short, by the influence of Woman, in the
lofty character of Wife, they may be expected with confidence, and
must be borne with philosophy. If you will allow me to take the
liberty of remarking that there are few comestibles better, in
their way, than a Devil, and that I believe, with a little division
of labour, we could accomplish a good one if the young person in
attendance could produce a gridiron, I would put it to you, that
this little misfortune may be easily repaired.'
There was a gridiron in the pantry, on which my morning rasher of
bacon was cooked. We had it in, in a twinkling, and immediately
applied ourselves to carrying Mr. Micawber's idea into effect. The
division of labour to which he had referred was this: - Traddles
cut the mutton into slices; Mr. Micawber (who could do anything of
this sort to perfection) covered them with pepper, mustard, salt,
and cayenne; I put them on the gridiron, turned them with a fork,
and took them off, under Mr. Micawber's direction; and Mrs.
Micawber heated, and continually stirred, some mushroom ketchup in
a little saucepan. When we had slices enough done to begin upon,
we fell-to, with our sleeves still tucked up at the wrist, more
slices sputtering and blazing on the fire, and our attention
divided between the mutton on our plates, and the mutton then
What with the novelty of this cookery, the excellence of it, the
bustle of it, the frequent starting up to look after it, the
frequent sitting down to dispose of it as the crisp slices came off
the gridiron hot and hot, the being so busy, so flushed with the
fire, so amused, and in the midst of such a tempting noise and
savour, we reduced the leg of mutton to the bone. My own appetite
came back miraculously. I am ashamed to record it, but I really
believe I forgot Dora for a little while. I am satisfied that Mr.
and Mrs. Micawber could not have enjoyed the feast more, if they
had sold a bed to provide it. Traddles laughed as heartily, almost
the whole time, as he ate and worked. Indeed we all did, all at
once; and I dare say there was never a greater success.
We were at the height of our enjoyment, and were all busily
engaged, in our several departments, endeavouring to bring the last
batch of slices to a state of perfection that should crown the
feast, when I was aware of a strange presence in the room, and my
eyes encountered those of the staid Littimer, standing hat in hand
'What's the matter?' I involuntarily asked.
'I beg your pardon, sir, I was directed to come in. Is my master
not here, sir?'
'Have you not seen him, sir?'
'No; don't you come from him?'
'Not immediately so, sir.'
'Did he tell you you would find him here?'
'Not exactly so, sir. But I should think he might be here
tomorrow, as he has not been here today.'
'Is he coming up from Oxford?'
'I beg, sir,' he returned respectfully, 'that you will be seated,
and allow me to do this.' With which he took the fork from my
unresisting hand, and bent over the gridiron, as if his whole
attention were concentrated on it.
We should not have been much discomposed, I dare say, by the
appearance of Steerforth himself, but we became in a moment the
meekest of the meek before his respectable serving-man. Mr.
Micawber, humming a tune, to show that he was quite at ease,
subsided into his chair, with the handle of a hastily concealed
fork sticking out of the bosom of his coat, as if he had stabbed
himself. Mrs. Micawber put on her brown gloves, and assumed a
genteel languor. Traddles ran his greasy hands through his hair,
and stood it bolt upright, and stared in confusion on the
table-cloth. As for me, I was a mere infant at the head of my own
table; and hardly ventured to glance at the respectable phenomenon,
who had come from Heaven knows where, to put my establishment to
Meanwhile he took the mutton off the gridiron, and gravely handed
it round. We all took some, but our appreciation of it was gone,
and we merely made a show of eating it. As we severally pushed
away our plates, he noiselessly removed them, and set on the
cheese. He took that off, too, when it was done with; cleared the
table; piled everything on the dumb-waiter; gave us our
wine-glasses; and, of his own accord, wheeled the dumb-waiter into
the pantry. All this was done in a perfect manner, and he never
raised his eyes from what he was about. Yet his very elbows, when
he had his back towards me, seemed to teem with the expression of
his fixed opinion that I was extremely young.
'Can I do anything more, sir?'
I thanked him and said, No; but would he take no dinner himself?
'None, I am obliged to you, sir.'
'Is Mr. Steerforth coming from Oxford?'
'I beg your pardon, sir?'
'Is Mr. Steerforth coming from Oxford?'
'I should imagine that he might be here tomorrow, sir. I rather
thought he might have been here today, sir. The mistake is mine,
no doubt, sir.'
'If you should see him first -' said I.
'If you'll excuse me, sir, I don't think I shall see him first.'
'In case you do,' said I, 'pray say that I am sorry he was not here
today, as an old schoolfellow of his was here.'
'Indeed, sir!' and he divided a bow between me and Traddles, with
a glance at the latter.
He was moving softly to the door, when, in a forlorn hope of saying
something naturally - which I never could, to this man - I said:
'Did you remain long at Yarmouth, that time?'
'Not particularly so, sir.'
'You saw the boat completed?'
'Yes, sir. I remained behind on purpose to see the boat
'I know!' He raised his eyes to mine respectfully.
'Mr. Steerforth has not seen it yet, I suppose?'
'I really can't say, sir. I think - but I really can't say, sir.
I wish you good night, sir.'
He comprehended everybody present, in the respectful bow with which
he followed these words, and disappeared. My visitors seemed to
breathe more freely when he was gone; but my own relief was very
great, for besides the constraint, arising from that extraordinary
sense of being at a disadvantage which I always had in this man's
presence, my conscience had embarrassed me with whispers that I had
mistrusted his master, and I could not repress a vague uneasy dread
that he might find it out. How was it, having so little in reality
to conceal, that I always DID feel as if this man were finding me
Mr. Micawber roused me from this reflection, which was blended with
a certain remorseful apprehension of seeing Steerforth himself, by
bestowing many encomiums on the absent Littimer as a most
respectable fellow, and a thoroughly admirable servant. Mr.
Micawber, I may remark, had taken his full share of the general
bow, and had received it with infinite condescension.
'But punch, my dear Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, tasting it,
'like time and tide, waits for no man. Ah! it is at the present
moment in high flavour. My love, will you give me your opinion?'
Mrs. Micawber pronounced it excellent.
'Then I will drink,' said Mr. Micawber, 'if my friend Copperfield
will permit me to take that social liberty, to the days when my
friend Copperfield and myself were younger, and fought our way in
the world side by side. I may say, of myself and Copperfield, in
words we have sung together before now, that
We twa hae run about the braes
And pu'd the gowans' fine
- in a figurative point of view - on several occasions. I am not
exactly aware,' said Mr. Micawber, with the old roll in his voice,
and the old indescribable air of saying something genteel, 'what
gowans may be, but I have no doubt that Copperfield and myself
would frequently have taken a pull at them, if it had been
Mr. Micawber, at the then present moment, took a pull at his punch.
So we all did: Traddles evidently lost in wondering at what distant
time Mr. Micawber and I could have been comrades in the battle of
'Ahem!' said Mr. Micawber, clearing his throat, and warming with
the punch and with the fire. 'My dear, another glass?'
Mrs. Micawber said it must be very little; but we couldn't allow
that, so it was a glassful.
'As we are quite confidential here, Mr. Copperfield,' said Mrs.
Micawber, sipping her punch, 'Mr. Traddles being a part of our
domesticity, I should much like to have your opinion on Mr.
Micawber's prospects. For corn,' said Mrs. Micawber
argumentatively, 'as I have repeatedly said to Mr. Micawber, may be
gentlemanly, but it is not remunerative. Commission to the extent
of two and ninepence in a fortnight cannot, however limited our
ideas, be considered remunerative.'
We were all agreed upon that.
'Then,' said Mrs. Micawber, who prided herself on taking a clear
view of things, and keeping Mr. Micawber straight by her woman's
wisdom, when he might otherwise go a little crooked, 'then I ask
myself this question. If corn is not to be relied upon, what is?
Are coals to be relied upon? Not at all. We have turned our
attention to that experiment, on the suggestion of my family, and
we find it fallacious.'
Mr. Micawber, leaning back in his chair with his hands in his
pockets, eyed us aside, and nodded his head, as much as to say that
the case was very clearly put.
'The articles of corn and coals,' said Mrs. Micawber, still more
argumentatively, 'being equally out of the question, Mr.
Copperfield, I naturally look round the world, and say, "What is
there in which a person of Mr. Micawber's talent is likely to
succeed?" And I exclude the doing anything on commission, because
commission is not a certainty. What is best suited to a person of
Mr. Micawber's peculiar temperament is, I am convinced, a
Traddles and I both expressed, by a feeling murmur, that this great
discovery was no doubt true of Mr. Micawber, and that it did him
'I will not conceal from you, my dear Mr. Copperfield,' said Mrs.
Micawber, 'that I have long felt the Brewing business to be
particularly adapted to Mr. Micawber. Look at Barclay and Perkins!
Look at Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton! It is on that extensive
footing that Mr. Micawber, I know from my own knowledge of him, is
calculated to shine; and the profits, I am told, are e-NOR-MOUS!
But if Mr. Micawber cannot get into those firms - which decline to
answer his letters, when he offers his services even in an inferior
capacity - what is the use of dwelling upon that idea? None. I
may have a conviction that Mr. Micawber's manners -'
'Hem! Really, my dear,' interposed Mr. Micawber.
'My love, be silent,' said Mrs. Micawber, laying her brown glove on
his hand. 'I may have a conviction, Mr. Copperfield, that Mr.
Micawber's manners peculiarly qualify him for the Banking business.
I may argue within myself, that if I had a deposit at a
banking-house, the manners of Mr. Micawber, as representing that
banking-house, would inspire confidence, and must extend the
connexion. But if the various banking-houses refuse to avail
themselves of Mr. Micawber's abilities, or receive the offer of
them with contumely, what is the use of dwelling upon THAT idea?
None. As to originating a banking-business, I may know that there
are members of my family who, if they chose to place their money in
Mr. Micawber's hands, might found an establishment of that
description. But if they do NOT choose to place their money in Mr.
Micawber's hands - which they don't - what is the use of that?
Again I contend that we are no farther advanced than we were
I shook my head, and said, 'Not a bit.' Traddles also shook his
head, and said, 'Not a bit.'
'What do I deduce from this?' Mrs. Micawber went on to say, still
with the same air of putting a case lucidly. 'What is the
conclusion, my dear Mr. Copperfield, to which I am irresistibly
brought? Am I wrong in saying, it is clear that we must live?'
I answered 'Not at all!' and Traddles answered 'Not at all!' and I
found myself afterwards sagely adding, alone, that a person must
either live or die.
'Just so,' returned Mrs. Micawber, 'It is precisely that. And the
fact is, my dear Mr. Copperfield, that we can not live without
something widely different from existing circumstances shortly
turning up. Now I am convinced, myself, and this I have pointed
out to Mr. Micawber several times of late, that things cannot be
expected to turn up of themselves. We must, in a measure, assist
to turn them up. I may be wrong, but I have formed that opinion.'
Both Traddles and I applauded it highly.
'Very well,' said Mrs. Micawber. 'Then what do I recommend? Here
is Mr. Micawber with a variety of qualifications - with great
'Really, my love,' said Mr. Micawber.
'Pray, my dear, allow me to conclude. Here is Mr. Micawber, with
a variety of qualifications, with great talent - I should say, with
genius, but that may be the partiality of a wife -'
Traddles and I both murmured 'No.'
'And here is Mr. Micawber without any suitable position or
employment. Where does that responsibility rest? Clearly on
society. Then I would make a fact so disgraceful known, and boldly
challenge society to set it right. It appears to me, my dear Mr.
Copperfield,' said Mrs. Micawber, forcibly, 'that what Mr. Micawber
has to do, is to throw down the gauntlet to society, and say, in
effect, "Show me who will take that up. Let the party immediately
I ventured to ask Mrs. Micawber how this was to be done.
'By advertising,' said Mrs. Micawber - 'in all the papers. It
appears to me, that what Mr. Micawber has to do, in justice to
himself, in justice to his family, and I will even go so far as to
say in justice to society, by which he has been hitherto
overlooked, is to advertise in all the papers; to describe himself
plainly as so-and-so, with such and such qualifications and to put
it thus: "Now employ me, on remunerative terms, and address,
post-paid, to W. M., Post Office, Camden Town."'
'This idea of Mrs. Micawber's, my dear Copperfield,' said Mr.
Micawber, making his shirt-collar meet in front of his chin, and
glancing at me sideways, 'is, in fact, the Leap to which I alluded,
when I last had the pleasure of seeing you.'
'Advertising is rather expensive,' I remarked, dubiously.
'Exactly so!' said Mrs. Micawber, preserving the same logical air.
'Quite true, my dear Mr. Copperfield! I have made the identical
observation to Mr. Micawber. It is for that reason especially,
that I think Mr. Micawber ought (as I have already said, in justice
to himself, in justice to his family, and in justice to society) to
raise a certain sum of money - on a bill.'
Mr. Micawber, leaning back in his chair, trifled with his eye-glass
and cast his eyes up at the ceiling; but I thought him observant of
Traddles, too, who was looking at the fire.
'If no member of my family,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'is possessed of
sufficient natural feeling to negotiate that bill - I believe there
is a better business-term to express what I mean -'
Mr. Micawber, with his eyes still cast up at the ceiling, suggested
'To discount that bill,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'then my opinion is,
that Mr. Micawber should go into the City, should take that bill
into the Money Market, and should dispose of it for what he can
get. If the individuals in the Money Market oblige Mr. Micawber to
sustain a great sacrifice, that is between themselves and their
consciences. I view it, steadily, as an investment. I recommend
Mr. Micawber, my dear Mr. Copperfield, to do the same; to regard it
as an investment which is sure of return, and to make up his mind
to any sacrifice.'
I felt, but I am sure I don't know why, that this was self-denying
and devoted in Mrs. Micawber, and I uttered a murmur to that
effect. Traddles, who took his tone from me, did likewise, still
looking at the fire.
'I will not,' said Mrs. Micawber, finishing her punch, and
gathering her scarf about her shoulders, preparatory to her
withdrawal to my bedroom: 'I will not protract these remarks on the
subject of Mr. Micawber's pecuniary affairs. At your fireside, my
dear Mr. Copperfield, and in the presence of Mr. Traddles, who,
though not so old a friend, is quite one of ourselves, I could not
refrain from making you acquainted with the course I advise Mr.
Micawber to take. I feel that the time is arrived when Mr.
Micawber should exert himself and - I will add - assert himself,
and it appears to me that these are the means. I am aware that I
am merely a female, and that a masculine judgement is usually
considered more competent to the discussion of such questions;
still I must not forget that, when I lived at home with my papa and
mama, my papa was in the habit of saying, "Emma's form is fragile,
but her grasp of a subject is inferior to none." That my papa was
too partial, I well know; but that he was an observer of character
in some degree, my duty and my reason equally forbid me to doubt.'
With these words, and resisting our entreaties that she would grace
the remaining circulation of the punch with her presence, Mrs.
Micawber retired to my bedroom. And really I felt that she was a
noble woman - the sort of woman who might have been a Roman matron,
and done all manner of heroic things, in times of public trouble.
In the fervour of this impression, I congratulated Mr. Micawber on
the treasure he possessed. So did Traddles. Mr. Micawber extended
his hand to each of us in succession, and then covered his face
with his pocket-handkerchief, which I think had more snuff upon it
than he was aware of. He then returned to the punch, in the
highest state of exhilaration.
He was full of eloquence. He gave us to understand that in our
children we lived again, and that, under the pressure of pecuniary
difficulties, any accession to their number was doubly welcome. He
said that Mrs. Micawber had latterly had her doubts on this point,
but that he had dispelled them, and reassured her. As to her
family, they were totally unworthy of her, and their sentiments
were utterly indifferent to him, and they might - I quote his own
expression - go to the Devil.
Mr. Micawber then delivered a warm eulogy on Traddles. He said
Traddles's was a character, to the steady virtues of which he (Mr.
Micawber) could lay no claim, but which, he thanked Heaven, he
could admire. He feelingly alluded to the young lady, unknown,
whom Traddles had honoured with his affection, and who had
reciprocated that affection by honouring and blessing Traddles with
her affection. Mr. Micawber pledged her. So did I. Traddles
thanked us both, by saying, with a simplicity and honesty I had
sense enough to be quite charmed with, 'I am very much obliged to
you indeed. And I do assure you, she's the dearest girl! -'
Mr. Micawber took an early opportunity, after that, of hinting,
with the utmost delicacy and ceremony, at the state of MY
affections. Nothing but the serious assurance of his friend
Copperfield to the contrary, he observed, could deprive him of the
impression that his friend Copperfield loved and was beloved.
After feeling very hot and uncomfortable for some time, and after
a good deal of blushing, stammering, and denying, I said, having my
glass in my hand, 'Well! I would give them D.!' which so excited
and gratified Mr. Micawber, that he ran with a glass of punch into
my bedroom, in order that Mrs. Micawber might drink D., who drank
it with enthusiasm, crying from within, in a shrill voice, 'Hear,
hear! My dear Mr. Copperfield, I am delighted. Hear!' and tapping
at the wall, by way of applause.
Our conversation, afterwards, took a more worldly turn; Mr.
Micawber telling us that he found Camden Town inconvenient, and
that the first thing he contemplated doing, when the advertisement
should have been the cause of something satisfactory turning up,
was to move. He mentioned a terrace at the western end of Oxford
Street, fronting Hyde Park, on which he had always had his eye, but
which he did not expect to attain immediately, as it would require
a large establishment. There would probably be an interval, he
explained, in which he should content himself with the upper part
of a house, over some respectable place of business - say in
Piccadilly, - which would be a cheerful situation for Mrs.
Micawber; and where, by throwing out a bow-window, or carrying up
the roof another story, or making some little alteration of that
sort, they might live, comfortably and reputably, for a few years.
Whatever was reserved for him, he expressly said, or wherever his
abode might be, we might rely on this - there would always be a
room for Traddles, and a knife and fork for me. We acknowledged
his kindness; and he begged us to forgive his having launched into
these practical and business-like details, and to excuse it as
natural in one who was making entirely new arrangements in life.
Mrs. Micawber, tapping at the wall again to know if tea were ready,
broke up this particular phase of our friendly conversation. She
made tea for us in a most agreeable manner; and, whenever I went
near her, in handing about the tea-cups and bread-and-butter, asked
me, in a whisper, whether D. was fair, or dark, or whether she was
short, or tall: or something of that kind; which I think I liked.
After tea, we discussed a variety of topics before the fire; and
Mrs. Micawber was good enough to sing us (in a small, thin, flat
voice, which I remembered to have considered, when I first knew
her, the very table-beer of acoustics) the favourite ballads of
'The Dashing White Sergeant', and 'Little Tafflin'. For both of
these songs Mrs. Micawber had been famous when she lived at home
with her papa and mama. Mr. Micawber told us, that when he heard
her sing the first one, on the first occasion of his seeing her
beneath the parental roof, she had attracted his attention in an
extraordinary degree; but that when it came to Little Tafflin, he
had resolved to win that woman or perish in the attempt.
It was between ten and eleven o'clock when Mrs. Micawber rose to
replace her cap in the whitey-brown paper parcel, and to put on her
bonnet. Mr. Micawber took the opportunity of Traddles putting on
his great-coat, to slip a letter into my hand, with a whispered
request that I would read it at my leisure. I also took the
opportunity of my holding a candle over the banisters to light them
down, when Mr. Micawber was going first, leading Mrs. Micawber, and
Traddles was following with the cap, to detain Traddles for a
moment on the top of the stairs.
'Traddles,' said I, 'Mr. Micawber don't mean any harm, poor fellow:
but, if I were you, I wouldn't lend him anything.'
'My dear Copperfield,' returned Traddles, smiling, 'I haven't got
anything to lend.'
'You have got a name, you know,' said I.
'Oh! You call THAT something to lend?' returned Traddles, with a
'Oh!' said Traddles. 'Yes, to be sure! I am very much obliged to
you, Copperfield; but - I am afraid I have lent him that already.'
'For the bill that is to be a certain investment?' I inquired.
'No,' said Traddles. 'Not for that one. This is the first I have
heard of that one. I have been thinking that he will most likely
propose that one, on the way home. Mine's another.'
'I hope there will be nothing wrong about it,' said I.
'I hope not,' said Traddles. 'I should think not, though, because
he told me, only the other day, that it was provided for. That was
Mr. Micawber's expression, "Provided for."'
Mr. Micawber looking up at this juncture to where we were standing,
I had only time to repeat my caution. Traddles thanked me, and
descended. But I was much afraid, when I observed the good-natured
manner in which he went down with the cap in his hand, and gave
Mrs. Micawber his arm, that he would be carried into the Money
Market neck and heels.
I returned to my fireside, and was musing, half gravely and half
laughing, on the character of Mr. Micawber and the old relations
between us, when I heard a quick step ascending the stairs. At
first, I thought it was Traddles coming back for something Mrs.
Micawber had left behind; but as the step approached, I knew it,
and felt my heart beat high, and the blood rush to my face, for it
I was never unmindful of Agnes, and she never left that sanctuary
in my thoughts - if I may call it so - where I had placed her from
the first. But when he entered, and stood before me with his hand
out, the darkness that had fallen on him changed to light, and I
felt confounded and ashamed of having doubted one I loved so
heartily. I loved her none the less; I thought of her as the same
benignant, gentle angel in my life; I reproached myself, not her,
with having done him an injury; and I would have made him any
atonement if I had known what to make, and how to make it.
'Why, Daisy, old boy, dumb-foundered!' laughed Steerforth, shaking
my hand heartily, and throwing it gaily away. 'Have I detected you
in another feast, you Sybarite! These Doctors' Commons fellows are
the gayest men in town, I believe, and beat us sober Oxford people
all to nothing!' His bright glance went merrily round the room, as
he took the seat on the sofa opposite to me, which Mrs. Micawber
had recently vacated, and stirred the fire into a blaze.
'I was so surprised at first,' said I, giving him welcome with all
the cordiality I felt, 'that I had hardly breath to greet you with,
'Well, the sight of me is good for sore eyes, as the Scotch say,'
replied Steerforth, 'and so is the sight of you, Daisy, in full
bloom. How are you, my Bacchanal?'
'I am very well,' said I; 'and not at all Bacchanalian tonight,
though I confess to another party of three.'
'All of whom I met in the street, talking loud in your praise,'
returned Steerforth. 'Who's our friend in the tights?'
I gave him the best idea I could, in a few words, of Mr. Micawber.
He laughed heartily at my feeble portrait of that gentleman, and
said he was a man to know, and he must know him.
'But who do you suppose our other friend is?' said I, in my turn.
'Heaven knows,' said Steerforth. 'Not a bore, I hope? I thought
he looked a little like one.'
'Traddles!' I replied, triumphantly.
'Who's he?' asked Steerforth, in his careless way.
'Don't you remember Traddles? Traddles in our room at Salem
'Oh! That fellow!' said Steerforth, beating a lump of coal on the
top of the fire, with the poker. 'Is he as soft as ever? And
where the deuce did you pick him up?'
I extolled Traddles in reply, as highly as I could; for I felt that
Steerforth rather slighted him. Steerforth, dismissing the subject
with a light nod, and a smile, and the remark that he would be glad
to see the old fellow too, for he had always been an odd fish,
inquired if I could give him anything to eat? During most of this
short dialogue, when he had not been speaking in a wild vivacious
manner, he had sat idly beating on the lump of coal with the poker.
I observed that he did the same thing while I was getting out the
remains of the pigeon-pie, and so forth.
'Why, Daisy, here's a supper for a king!' he exclaimed, starting
out of his silence with a burst, and taking his seat at the table.
'I shall do it justice, for I have come from Yarmouth.'
'I thought you came from Oxford?' I returned.
'Not I,' said Steerforth. 'I have been seafaring - better
'Littimer was here today, to inquire for you,' I remarked, 'and I
understood him that you were at Oxford; though, now I think of it,
he certainly did not say so.'
'Littimer is a greater fool than I thought him, to have been
inquiring for me at all,' said Steerforth, jovially pouring out a
glass of wine, and drinking to me. 'As to understanding him, you
are a cleverer fellow than most of us, Daisy, if you can do that.'
'That's true, indeed,' said I, moving my chair to the table. 'So
you have been at Yarmouth, Steerforth!' interested to know all
about it. 'Have you been there long?'
'No,' he returned. 'An escapade of a week or so.'
'And how are they all? Of course, little Emily is not married
'Not yet. Going to be, I believe - in so many weeks, or months, or
something or other. I have not seen much of 'em. By the by'; he
laid down his knife and fork, which he had been using with great
diligence, and began feeling in his pockets; 'I have a letter for
'Why, from your old nurse,' he returned, taking some papers out of
his breast pocket. "'J. Steerforth, Esquire, debtor, to The
Willing Mind"; that's not it. Patience, and we'll find it
presently. Old what's-his-name's in a bad way, and it's about
that, I believe.'
'Barkis, do you mean?'
'Yes!' still feeling in his pockets, and looking over their
contents: 'it's all over with poor Barkis, I am afraid. I saw a
little apothecary there - surgeon, or whatever he is - who brought
your worship into the world. He was mighty learned about the case,
to me; but the upshot of his opinion was, that the carrier was
making his last journey rather fast. - Put your hand into the
breast pocket of my great-coat on the chair yonder, and I think
you'll find the letter. Is it there?'
'Here it is!' said I.
It was from Peggotty; something less legible than usual, and brief.
It informed me of her husband's hopeless state, and hinted at his
being 'a little nearer' than heretofore, and consequently more
difficult to manage for his own comfort. It said nothing of her
weariness and watching, and praised him highly. It was written
with a plain, unaffected, homely piety that I knew to be genuine,
and ended with 'my duty to my ever darling' - meaning myself.
While I deciphered it, Steerforth continued to eat and drink.
'It's a bad job,' he said, when I had done; 'but the sun sets every
day, and people die every minute, and we mustn't be scared by the
common lot. If we failed to hold our own, because that equal foot
at all men's doors was heard knocking somewhere, every object in
this world would slip from us. No! Ride on! Rough-shod if need
be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride on over all
obstacles, and win the race!'
'And win what race?' said I.
'The race that one has started in,' said he. 'Ride on!'
I noticed, I remember, as he paused, looking at me with his
handsome head a little thrown back, and his glass raised in his
hand, that, though the freshness of the sea-wind was on his face,
and it was ruddy, there were traces in it, made since I last saw
it, as if he had applied himself to some habitual strain of the
fervent energy which, when roused, was so passionately roused
within him. I had it in my thoughts to remonstrate with him upon
his desperate way of pursuing any fancy that he took - such as this
buffeting of rough seas, and braving of hard weather, for example
- when my mind glanced off to the immediate subject of our
conversation again, and pursued that instead.
'I tell you what, Steerforth,' said I, 'if your high spirits will
listen to me -'
'They are potent spirits, and will do whatever you like,' he
answered, moving from the table to the fireside again.
'Then I tell you what, Steerforth. I think I will go down and see
my old nurse. It is not that I can do her any good, or render her
any real service; but she is so attached to me that my visit will
have as much effect on her, as if I could do both. She will take
it so kindly that it will be a comfort and support to her. It is
no great effort to make, I am sure, for such a friend as she has
been to me. Wouldn't you go a day's journey, if you were in my
His face was thoughtful, and he sat considering a little before he
answered, in a low voice, 'Well! Go. You can do no harm.'
'You have just come back,' said I, 'and it would be in vain to ask
you to go with me?'
'Quite,' he returned. 'I am for Highgate tonight. I have not seen
my mother this long time, and it lies upon my conscience, for it's
something to be loved as she loves her prodigal son. - Bah!
Nonsense! - You mean to go tomorrow, I suppose?' he said, holding
me out at arm's length, with a hand on each of my shoulders.
'Yes, I think so.'
'Well, then, don't go till next day. I wanted you to come and stay
a few days with us. Here I am, on purpose to bid you, and you fly
off to Yarmouth!'
'You are a nice fellow to talk of flying off, Steerforth, who are
always running wild on some unknown expedition or other!'
He looked at me for a moment without speaking, and then rejoined,
still holding me as before, and giving me a shake:
'Come! Say the next day, and pass as much of tomorrow as you can
with us! Who knows when we may meet again, else? Come! Say the
next day! I want you to stand between Rosa Dartle and me, and keep
'Would you love each other too much, without me?'
'Yes; or hate,' laughed Steerforth; 'no matter which. Come! Say
the next day!'
I said the next day; and he put on his great-coat and lighted his
cigar, and set off to walk home. Finding him in this intention, I
put on my own great-coat (but did not light my own cigar, having
had enough of that for one while) and walked with him as far as the
open road: a dull road, then, at night. He was in great spirits
all the way; and when we parted, and I looked after him going so
gallantly and airily homeward, I thought of his saying, 'Ride on
over all obstacles, and win the race!' and wished, for the first
time, that he had some worthy race to run.
I was undressing in my own room, when Mr. Micawber's letter tumbled
on the floor. Thus reminded of it, I broke the seal and read as
follows. It was dated an hour and a half before dinner. I am not
sure whether I have mentioned that, when Mr. Micawber was at any
particularly desperate crisis, he used a sort of legal phraseology,
which he seemed to think equivalent to winding up his affairs.
'SIR - for I dare not say my dear Copperfield,
'It is expedient that I should inform you that the undersigned is
Crushed. Some flickering efforts to spare you the premature
knowledge of his calamitous position, you may observe in him this
day; but hope has sunk beneath the horizon, and the undersigned is
'The present communication is penned within the personal range (I
cannot call it the society) of an individual, in a state closely
bordering on intoxication, employed by a broker. That individual
is in legal possession of the premises, under a distress for rent.
His inventory includes, not only the chattels and effects of every
description belonging to the undersigned, as yearly tenant of this
habitation, but also those appertaining to Mr. Thomas Traddles,
lodger, a member of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.
'If any drop of gloom were wanting in the overflowing cup, which is
now "commended" (in the language of an immortal Writer) to the lips
of the undersigned, it would be found in the fact, that a friendly
acceptance granted to the undersigned, by the before-mentioned Mr.
Thomas Traddles, for the sum Of 23l 4s 9 1/2d is over due, and is
NOT provided for. Also, in the fact that the living
responsibilities clinging to the undersigned will, in the course of
nature, be increased by the sum of one more helpless victim; whose
miserable appearance may be looked for - in round numbers - at the
expiration of a period not exceeding six lunar months from the
'After premising thus much, it would be a work of supererogation to
add, that dust and ashes are for ever scattered
Poor Traddles! I knew enough of Mr. Micawber by this time, to
foresee that he might be expected to recover the blow; but my
night's rest was sorely distressed by thoughts of Traddles, and of
the curate's daughter, who was one of ten, down in Devonshire, and
who was such a dear girl, and who would wait for Traddles (ominous
praise!) until she was sixty, or any age that could be mentioned.