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Charles Dickens > David Copperfield > Chapter 31

David Copperfield

Chapter 31


It was not difficult for me, on Peggotty's solicitation, to resolve
to stay where I was, until after the remains of the poor carrier
should have made their last journey to Blunderstone. She had long
ago bought, out of her own savings, a little piece of ground in our
old churchyard near the grave of 'her sweet girl', as she always
called my mother; and there they were to rest.

In keeping Peggotty company, and doing all I could for her (little
enough at the utmost), I was as grateful, I rejoice to think, as
even now I could wish myself to have been. But I am afraid I had
a supreme satisfaction, of a personal and professional nature, in
taking charge of Mr. Barkis's will, and expounding its contents.

I may claim the merit of having originated the suggestion that the
will should be looked for in the box. After some search, it was
found in the box, at the bottom of a horse's nose-bag; wherein
(besides hay) there was discovered an old gold watch, with chain
and seals, which Mr. Barkis had worn on his wedding-day, and which
had never been seen before or since; a silver tobacco-stopper, in
the form of a leg; an imitation lemon, full of minute cups and
saucers, which I have some idea Mr. Barkis must have purchased to
present to me when I was a child, and afterwards found himself
unable to part with; eighty-seven guineas and a half, in guineas
and half-guineas; two hundred and ten pounds, in perfectly clean
Bank notes; certain receipts for Bank of England stock; an old
horseshoe, a bad shilling, a piece of camphor, and an oyster-shell.
From the circumstance of the latter article having been much
polished, and displaying prismatic colours on the inside, I
conclude that Mr. Barkis had some general ideas about pearls, which
never resolved themselves into anything definite.

For years and years, Mr. Barkis had carried this box, on all his
journeys, every day. That it might the better escape notice, he
had invented a fiction that it belonged to 'Mr. Blackboy', and was
'to be left with Barkis till called for'; a fable he had
elaborately written on the lid, in characters now scarcely legible.

He had hoarded, all these years, I found, to good purpose. His
property in money amounted to nearly three thousand pounds. Of
this he bequeathed the interest of one thousand to Mr. Peggotty for
his life; on his decease, the principal to be equally divided
between Peggotty, little Emily, and me, or the survivor or
survivors of us, share and share alike. All the rest he died
possessed of, he bequeathed to Peggotty; whom he left residuary
legatee, and sole executrix of that his last will and testament.

I felt myself quite a proctor when I read this document aloud with
all possible ceremony, and set forth its provisions, any number of
times, to those whom they concerned. I began to think there was
more in the Commons than I had supposed. I examined the will with
the deepest attention, pronounced it perfectly formal in all
respects, made a pencil-mark or so in the margin, and thought it
rather extraordinary that I knew so much.

In this abstruse pursuit; in making an account for Peggotty, of all
the property into which she had come; in arranging all the affairs
in an orderly manner; and in being her referee and adviser on every
point, to our joint delight; I passed the week before the funeral.
I did not see little Emily in that interval, but they told me she
was to be quietly married in a fortnight.

I did not attend the funeral in character, if I may venture to say
so. I mean I was not dressed up in a black coat and a streamer, to
frighten the birds; but I walked over to Blunderstone early in the
morning, and was in the churchyard when it came, attended only by
Peggotty and her brother. The mad gentleman looked on, out of my
little window; Mr. Chillip's baby wagged its heavy head, and rolled
its goggle eyes, at the clergyman, over its nurse's shoulder; Mr.
Omer breathed short in the background; no one else was there; and
it was very quiet. We walked about the churchyard for an hour,
after all was over; and pulled some young leaves from the tree
above my mother's grave.

A dread falls on me here. A cloud is lowering on the distant town,
towards which I retraced my solitary steps. I fear to approach it.
I cannot bear to think of what did come, upon that memorable night;
of what must come again, if I go on.

It is no worse, because I write of it. It would be no better, if
I stopped my most unwilling hand. It is done. Nothing can undo
it; nothing can make it otherwise than as it was.

My old nurse was to go to London with me next day, on the business
of the will. Little Emily was passing that day at Mr. Omer's. We
were all to meet in the old boathouse that night. Ham would bring
Emily at the usual hour. I would walk back at my leisure. The
brother and sister would return as they had come, and be expecting
us, when the day closed in, at the fireside.

I parted from them at the wicket-gate, where visionary Strap had
rested with Roderick Random's knapsack in the days of yore; and,
instead of going straight back, walked a little distance on the
road to Lowestoft. Then I turned, and walked back towards
Yarmouth. I stayed to dine at a decent alehouse, some mile or two
from the Ferry I have mentioned before; and thus the day wore away,
and it was evening when I reached it. Rain was falling heavily by
that time, and it was a wild night; but there was a moon behind the
clouds, and it was not dark.

I was soon within sight of Mr. Peggotty's house, and of the light
within it shining through the window. A little floundering across
the sand, which was heavy, brought me to the door, and I went in.

It looked very comfortable indeed. Mr. Peggotty had smoked his
evening pipe and there were preparations for some supper by and by.
The fire was bright, the ashes were thrown up, the locker was ready
for little Emily in her old place. In her own old place sat
Peggotty, once more, looking (but for her dress) as if she had
never left it. She had fallen back, already, on the society of the
work-box with St. Paul's upon the lid, the yard-measure in the
cottage, and the bit of wax-candle; and there they all were, just
as if they had never been disturbed. Mrs. Gummidge appeared to be
fretting a little, in her old corner; and consequently looked quite
natural, too.

'You're first of the lot, Mas'r Davy!' said Mr. Peggotty with a
happy face. 'Doen't keep in that coat, sir, if it's wet.'

'Thank you, Mr. Peggotty,' said I, giving him my outer coat to hang
up. 'It's quite dry.'

'So 'tis!' said Mr. Peggotty, feeling my shoulders. 'As a chip!
Sit ye down, sir. It ain't o' no use saying welcome to you, but
you're welcome, kind and hearty.'

'Thank you, Mr. Peggotty, I am sure of that. Well, Peggotty!' said
I, giving her a kiss. 'And how are you, old woman?'

'Ha, ha!' laughed Mr. Peggotty, sitting down beside us, and rubbing
his hands in his sense of relief from recent trouble, and in the
genuine heartiness of his nature; 'there's not a woman in the
wureld, sir - as I tell her - that need to feel more easy in her
mind than her! She done her dooty by the departed, and the
departed know'd it; and the departed done what was right by her, as
she done what was right by the departed; - and - and - and it's all

Mrs. Gummidge groaned.

'Cheer up, my pritty mawther!' said Mr. Peggotty. (But he shook
his head aside at us, evidently sensible of the tendency of the
late occurrences to recall the memory of the old one.) 'Doen't be
down! Cheer up, for your own self, on'y a little bit, and see if
a good deal more doen't come nat'ral!'

'Not to me, Dan'l,' returned Mrs. Gummidge. 'Nothink's nat'ral to
me but to be lone and lorn.'

'No, no,' said Mr. Peggotty, soothing her sorrows.

'Yes, yes, Dan'l!' said Mrs. Gummidge. 'I ain't a person to live
with them as has had money left. Thinks go too contrary with me.
I had better be a riddance.'

'Why, how should I ever spend it without you?' said Mr. Peggotty,
with an air of serious remonstrance. 'What are you a talking on?
Doen't I want you more now, than ever I did?'

'I know'd I was never wanted before!' cried Mrs. Gummidge, with a
pitiable whimper, 'and now I'm told so! How could I expect to be
wanted, being so lone and lorn, and so contrary!'

Mr. Peggotty seemed very much shocked at himself for having made a
speech capable of this unfeeling construction, but was prevented
from replying, by Peggotty's pulling his sleeve, and shaking her
head. After looking at Mrs. Gummidge for some moments, in sore
distress of mind, he glanced at the Dutch clock, rose, snuffed the
candle, and put it in the window.

'Theer!'said Mr. Peggotty, cheerily.'Theer we are, Missis
Gummidge!' Mrs. Gummidge slightly groaned. 'Lighted up, accordin'
to custom! You're a wonderin' what that's fur, sir! Well, it's
fur our little Em'ly. You see, the path ain't over light or
cheerful arter dark; and when I'm here at the hour as she's a
comin' home, I puts the light in the winder. That, you see,' said
Mr. Peggotty, bending over me with great glee, 'meets two objects.
She says, says Em'ly, "Theer's home!" she says. And likewise, says
Em'ly, "My uncle's theer!" Fur if I ain't theer, I never have no
light showed.'

'You're a baby!' said Peggotty; very fond of him for it, if she
thought so.

'Well,' returned Mr. Peggotty, standing with his legs pretty wide
apart, and rubbing his hands up and down them in his comfortable
satisfaction, as he looked alternately at us and at the fire. 'I
doen't know but I am. Not, you see, to look at.'

'Not azackly,' observed Peggotty.

'No,' laughed Mr. Peggotty, 'not to look at, but to - to consider
on, you know. I doen't care, bless you! Now I tell you. When I
go a looking and looking about that theer pritty house of our
Em'ly's, I'm - I'm Gormed,' said Mr. Peggotty, with sudden emphasis
- 'theer! I can't say more - if I doen't feel as if the littlest
things was her, a'most. I takes 'em up and I put 'em down, and I
touches of 'em as delicate as if they was our Em'ly. So 'tis with
her little bonnets and that. I couldn't see one on 'em rough used
a purpose - not fur the whole wureld. There's a babby fur you, in
the form of a great Sea Porkypine!' said Mr. Peggotty, relieving
his earnestness with a roar of laughter.

Peggotty and I both laughed, but not so loud.

'It's my opinion, you see,' said Mr. Peggotty, with a delighted
face, after some further rubbing of his legs, 'as this is along of
my havin' played with her so much, and made believe as we was
Turks, and French, and sharks, and every wariety of forinners -
bless you, yes; and lions and whales, and I doen't know what all!
- when she warn't no higher than my knee. I've got into the way on
it, you know. Why, this here candle, now!' said Mr. Peggotty,
gleefully holding out his hand towards it, 'I know wery well that
arter she's married and gone, I shall put that candle theer, just
the same as now. I know wery well that when I'm here o' nights
(and where else should I live, bless your arts, whatever fortun' I
come into!) and she ain't here or I ain't theer, I shall put the
candle in the winder, and sit afore the fire, pretending I'm
expecting of her, like I'm a doing now. THERE'S a babby for you,'
said Mr. Peggotty, with another roar, 'in the form of a Sea
Porkypine! Why, at the present minute, when I see the candle
sparkle up, I says to myself, "She's a looking at it! Em'ly's a
coming!" THERE'S a babby for you, in the form of a Sea Porkypine!
Right for all that,' said Mr. Peggotty, stopping in his roar, and
smiting his hands together; 'fur here she is!'

It was only Ham. The night should have turned more wet since I
came in, for he had a large sou'wester hat on, slouched over his

'Wheer's Em'ly?' said Mr. Peggotty.

Ham made a motion with his head, as if she were outside. Mr.
Peggotty took the light from the window, trimmed it, put it on the
table, and was busily stirring the fire, when Ham, who had not
moved, said:

'Mas'r Davy, will you come out a minute, and see what Em'ly and me
has got to show you?'

We went out. As I passed him at the door, I saw, to my
astonishment and fright, that he was deadly pale. He pushed me
hastily into the open air, and closed the door upon us. Only upon
us two.

'Ham! what's the matter?'

'Mas'r Davy! -' Oh, for his broken heart, how dreadfully he wept!

I was paralysed by the sight of such grief. I don't know what I
thought, or what I dreaded. I could only look at him.

'Ham! Poor good fellow! For Heaven's sake, tell me what's the

'My love, Mas'r Davy - the pride and hope of my art - her that I'd
have died for, and would die for now - she's gone!'


'Em'ly's run away! Oh, Mas'r Davy, think HOW she's run away, when
I pray my good and gracious God to kill her (her that is so dear
above all things) sooner than let her come to ruin and disgrace!'

The face he turned up to the troubled sky, the quivering of his
clasped hands, the agony of his figure, remain associated with the
lonely waste, in my remembrance, to this hour. It is always night
there, and he is the only object in the scene.

'You're a scholar,' he said, hurriedly, 'and know what's right and
best. What am I to say, indoors? How am I ever to break it to
him, Mas'r Davy?'

I saw the door move, and instinctively tried to hold the latch on
the outside, to gain a moment's time. It was too late. Mr.
Peggotty thrust forth his face; and never could I forget the change
that came upon it when he saw us, if I were to live five hundred

I remember a great wail and cry, and the women hanging about him,
and we all standing in the room; I with a paper in my hand, which
Ham had given me; Mr. Peggotty, with his vest torn open, his hair
wild, his face and lips quite white, and blood trickling down his
bosom (it had sprung from his mouth, I think), looking fixedly at

'Read it, sir,' he said, in a low shivering voice. 'Slow, please.
I doen't know as I can understand.'

In the midst of the silence of death, I read thus, from a blotted

'"When you, who love me so much better than I ever have deserved,
even when my mind was innocent, see this, I shall be far away."'

'I shall be fur away,' he repeated slowly. 'Stop! Em'ly fur away.

'"When I leave my dear home - my dear home - oh, my dear home! - in
the morning,"'

the letter bore date on the previous night:

'"- it will be never to come back, unless he brings me back a lady.
This will be found at night, many hours after, instead of me. Oh,
if you knew how my heart is torn. If even you, that I have wronged
so much, that never can forgive me, could only know what I suffer!
I am too wicked to write about myself! Oh, take comfort in
thinking that I am so bad. Oh, for mercy's sake, tell uncle that
I never loved him half so dear as now. Oh, don't remember how
affectionate and kind you have all been to me - don't remember we
were ever to be married - but try to think as if I died when I was
little, and was buried somewhere. Pray Heaven that I am going away
from, have compassion on my uncle! Tell him that I never loved him
half so dear. Be his comfort. Love some good girl that will be
what I was once to uncle, and be true to you, and worthy of you,
and know no shame but me. God bless all! I'll pray for all,
often, on my knees. If he don't bring me back a lady, and I don't
pray for my own self, I'll pray for all. My parting love to uncle.
My last tears, and my last thanks, for uncle!"'

That was all.

He stood, long after I had ceased to read, still looking at me. At
length I ventured to take his hand, and to entreat him, as well as
I could, to endeavour to get some command of himself. He replied,
'I thankee, sir, I thankee!' without moving.

Ham spoke to him. Mr. Peggotty was so far sensible of HIS
affliction, that he wrung his hand; but, otherwise, he remained in
the same state, and no one dared to disturb him.

Slowly, at last, he moved his eyes from my face, as if he were
waking from a vision, and cast them round the room. Then he said,
in a low voice:

'Who's the man? I want to know his name.'

Ham glanced at me, and suddenly I felt a shock that struck me back.

'There's a man suspected,' said Mr. Peggotty. 'Who is it?'

'Mas'r Davy!' implored Ham. 'Go out a bit, and let me tell him
what I must. You doen't ought to hear it, sir.'

I felt the shock again. I sank down in a chair, and tried to utter
some reply; but my tongue was fettered, and my sight was weak.

'I want to know his name!' I heard said once more.

'For some time past,' Ham faltered, 'there's been a servant about
here, at odd times. There's been a gen'lm'n too. Both of 'em
belonged to one another.'

Mr. Peggotty stood fixed as before, but now looking at him.

'The servant,' pursued Ham, 'was seen along with - our poor girl -
last night. He's been in hiding about here, this week or over. He
was thought to have gone, but he was hiding. Doen't stay, Mas'r
Davy, doen't!'

I felt Peggotty's arm round my neck, but I could not have moved if
the house had been about to fall upon me.

'A strange chay and hosses was outside town, this morning, on the
Norwich road, a'most afore the day broke,' Ham went on. 'The
servant went to it, and come from it, and went to it again. When
he went to it again, Em'ly was nigh him. The t'other was inside.
He's the man.'

'For the Lord's love,' said Mr. Peggotty, falling back, and putting
out his hand, as if to keep off what he dreaded. 'Doen't tell me
his name's Steerforth!'

'Mas'r Davy,' exclaimed Ham, in a broken voice, 'it ain't no fault
of yourn - and I am far from laying of it to you - but his name is
Steerforth, and he's a damned villain!'

Mr. Peggotty uttered no cry, and shed no tear, and moved no more,
until he seemed to wake again, all at once, and pulled down his
rough coat from its peg in a corner.

'Bear a hand with this! I'm struck of a heap, and can't do it,' he
said, impatiently. 'Bear a hand and help me. Well!' when somebody
had done so. 'Now give me that theer hat!'

Ham asked him whither he was going.

'I'm a going to seek my niece. I'm a going to seek my Em'ly. I'm
a going, first, to stave in that theer boat, and sink it where I
would have drownded him, as I'm a living soul, if I had had one
thought of what was in him! As he sat afore me,' he said, wildly,
holding out his clenched right hand, 'as he sat afore me, face to
face, strike me down dead, but I'd have drownded him, and thought
it right! - I'm a going to seek my niece.'

'Where?' cried Ham, interposing himself before the door.

'Anywhere! I'm a going to seek my niece through the wureld. I'm
a going to find my poor niece in her shame, and bring her back. No
one stop me! I tell you I'm a going to seek my niece!'

'No, no!' cried Mrs. Gummidge, coming between them, in a fit of
crying. 'No, no, Dan'l, not as you are now. Seek her in a little
while, my lone lorn Dan'l, and that'll be but right! but not as you
are now. Sit ye down, and give me your forgiveness for having ever
been a worrit to you, Dan'l - what have my contraries ever been to
this! - and let us speak a word about them times when she was first
an orphan, and when Ham was too, and when I was a poor widder
woman, and you took me in. It'll soften your poor heart, Dan'l,'
laying her head upon his shoulder, 'and you'll bear your sorrow
better; for you know the promise, Dan'l, "As you have done it unto
one of the least of these, you have done it unto me",- and that can
never fail under this roof, that's been our shelter for so many,
many year!'

He was quite passive now; and when I heard him crying, the impulse
that had been upon me to go down upon my knees, and ask their
pardon for the desolation I had caused, and curse Steer- forth,
yielded to a better feeling, My overcharged heart found the same
relief, and I cried too.

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