The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > David Copperfield > Chapter 57

David Copperfield

Chapter 57


One thing more, I had to do, before yielding myself to the shock of
these emotions. It was, to conceal what had occurred, from those
who were going away; and to dismiss them on their voyage in happy
ignorance. In this, no time was to be lost.

I took Mr. Micawber aside that same night, and confided to him the
task of standing between Mr. Peggotty and intelligence of the late
catastrophe. He zealously undertook to do so, and to intercept any
newspaper through which it might, without such precautions, reach

'If it penetrates to him, sir,' said Mr. Micawber, striking himself
on the breast, 'it shall first pass through this body!'

Mr. Micawber, I must observe, in his adaptation of himself to a new
state of society, had acquired a bold buccaneering air, not
absolutely lawless, but defensive and prompt. One might have
supposed him a child of the wilderness, long accustomed to live out
of the confines of civilization, and about to return to his native

He had provided himself, among other things, with a complete suit
of oilskin, and a straw hat with a very low crown, pitched or
caulked on the outside. In this rough clothing, with a common
mariner's telescope under his arm, and a shrewd trick of casting up
his eye at the sky as looking out for dirty weather, he was far
more nautical, after his manner, than Mr. Peggotty. His whole
family, if I may so express it, were cleared for action. I found
Mrs. Micawber in the closest and most uncompromising of bonnets,
made fast under the chin; and in a shawl which tied her up (as I
had been tied up, when my aunt first received me) like a bundle,
and was secured behind at the waist, in a strong knot. Miss
Micawber I found made snug for stormy weather, in the same manner;
with nothing superfluous about her. Master Micawber was hardly
visible in a Guernsey shirt, and the shaggiest suit of slops I ever
saw; and the children were done up, like preserved meats, in
impervious cases. Both Mr. Micawber and his eldest son wore their
sleeves loosely turned back at the wrists, as being ready to lend
a hand in any direction, and to 'tumble up', or sing out, 'Yeo -
Heave - Yeo!' on the shortest notice.

Thus Traddles and I found them at nightfall, assembled on the
wooden steps, at that time known as Hungerford Stairs, watching the
departure of a boat with some of their property on board. I had
told Traddles of the terrible event, and it had greatly shocked
him; but there could be no doubt of the kindness of keeping it a
secret, and he had come to help me in this last service. It was
here that I took Mr. Micawber aside, and received his promise.

The Micawber family were lodged in a little, dirty, tumble-down
public-house, which in those days was close to the stairs, and
whose protruding wooden rooms overhung the river. The family, as
emigrants, being objects of some interest in and about Hungerford,
attracted so many beholders, that we were glad to take refuge in
their room. It was one of the wooden chambers upstairs, with the
tide flowing underneath. My aunt and Agnes were there, busily
making some little extra comforts, in the way of dress, for the
children. Peggotty was quietly assisting, with the old insensible
work-box, yard-measure, and bit of wax-candle before her, that had
now outlived so much.

It was not easy to answer her inquiries; still less to whisper Mr.
Peggotty, when Mr. Micawber brought him in, that I had given the
letter, and all was well. But I did both, and made them happy. If
I showed any trace of what I felt, my own sorrows were sufficient
to account for it.

'And when does the ship sail, Mr. Micawber?' asked my aunt.

Mr. Micawber considered it necessary to prepare either my aunt or
his wife, by degrees, and said, sooner than he had expected

'The boat brought you word, I suppose?' said my aunt.

'It did, ma'am,' he returned.

'Well?' said my aunt. 'And she sails -'

'Madam,' he replied, 'I am informed that we must positively be on
board before seven tomorrow morning.'

'Heyday!' said my aunt, 'that's soon. Is it a sea-going fact, Mr.
''Tis so, ma'am. She'll drop down the river with that theer tide.
If Mas'r Davy and my sister comes aboard at Gravesen', arternoon o'
next day, they'll see the last on us.'

'And that we shall do,' said I, 'be sure!'

'Until then, and until we are at sea,' observed Mr. Micawber, with
a glance of intelligence at me, 'Mr. Peggotty and myself will
constantly keep a double look-out together, on our goods and
chattels. Emma, my love,' said Mr. Micawber, clearing his throat
in his magnificent way, 'my friend Mr. Thomas Traddles is so
obliging as to solicit, in my ear, that he should have the
privilege of ordering the ingredients necessary to the composition
of a moderate portion of that Beverage which is peculiarly
associated, in our minds, with the Roast Beef of Old England. I
allude to - in short, Punch. Under ordinary circumstances, I
should scruple to entreat the indulgence of Miss Trotwood and Miss
Wickfield, but-'

'I can only say for myself,' said my aunt, 'that I will drink all
happiness and success to you, Mr. Micawber, with the utmost

'And I too!' said Agnes, with a smile.

Mr. Micawber immediately descended to the bar, where he appeared to
be quite at home; and in due time returned with a steaming jug. I
could not but observe that he had been peeling the lemons with his
own clasp-knife, which, as became the knife of a practical settler,
was about a foot long; and which he wiped, not wholly without
ostentation, on the sleeve of his coat. Mrs. Micawber and the two
elder members of the family I now found to be provided with similar
formidable instruments, while every child had its own wooden spoon
attached to its body by a strong line. In a similar anticipation
of life afloat, and in the Bush, Mr. Micawber, instead of helping
Mrs. Micawber and his eldest son and daughter to punch, in
wine-glasses, which he might easily have done, for there was a
shelf-full in the room, served it out to them in a series of
villainous little tin pots; and I never saw him enjoy anything so
much as drinking out of his own particular pint pot, and putting it
in his pocket at the close of the evening.

'The luxuries of the old country,' said Mr. Micawber, with an
intense satisfaction in their renouncement, 'we abandon. The
denizens of the forest cannot, of course, expect to participate in
the refinements of the land of the Free.'

Here, a boy came in to say that Mr. Micawber was wanted downstairs.

'I have a presentiment,' said Mrs. Micawber, setting down her tin
pot, 'that it is a member of my family!'

'If so, my dear,' observed Mr. Micawber, with his usual suddenness
of warmth on that subject, 'as the member of your family - whoever
he, she, or it, may be - has kept us waiting for a considerable
period, perhaps the Member may now wait MY convenience.'

'Micawber,' said his wife, in a low tone, 'at such a time as
this -'

'"It is not meet,"' said Mr. Micawber, rising, '"that every nice
offence should bear its comment!" Emma, I stand reproved.'

'The loss, Micawber,' observed his wife, 'has been my family's, not
yours. If my family are at length sensible of the deprivation to
which their own conduct has, in the past, exposed them, and now
desire to extend the hand of fellowship, let it not be repulsed.'

'My dear,' he returned, 'so be it!'

'If not for their sakes; for mine, Micawber,' said his wife.

'Emma,' he returned, 'that view of the question is, at such a
moment, irresistible. I cannot, even now, distinctly pledge myself
to fall upon your family's neck; but the member of your family, who
is now in attendance, shall have no genial warmth frozen by me.'

Mr. Micawber withdrew, and was absent some little time; in the
course of which Mrs. Micawber was not wholly free from an
apprehension that words might have arisen between him and the
Member. At length the same boy reappeared, and presented me with
a note written in pencil, and headed, in a legal manner, 'Heep v.
Micawber'. From this document, I learned that Mr. Micawber being
again arrested, 'Was in a final paroxysm of despair; and that he
begged me to send him his knife and pint pot, by bearer, as they
might prove serviceable during the brief remainder of his
existence, in jail. He also requested, as a last act of
friendship, that I would see his family to the Parish Workhouse,
and forget that such a Being ever lived.

Of course I answered this note by going down with the boy to pay
the money, where I found Mr. Micawber sitting in a corner, looking
darkly at the Sheriff 's Officer who had effected the capture. On
his release, he embraced me with the utmost fervour; and made an
entry of the transaction in his pocket-book - being very
particular, I recollect, about a halfpenny I inadvertently omitted
from my statement of the total.

This momentous pocket-book was a timely reminder to him of another
transaction. On our return to the room upstairs (where he
accounted for his absence by saying that it had been occasioned by
circumstances over which he had no control), he took out of it a
large sheet of paper, folded small, and quite covered with long
sums, carefully worked. From the glimpse I had of them, I should
say that I never saw such sums out of a school ciphering-book.
These, it seemed, were calculations of compound interest on what he
called 'the principal amount of forty-one, ten, eleven and a half',
for various periods. After a careful consideration of these, and
an elaborate estimate of his resources, he had come to the
conclusion to select that sum which represented the amount with
compound interest to two years, fifteen calendar months, and
fourteen days, from that date. For this he had drawn a
note-of-hand with great neatness, which he handed over to Traddles
on the spot, a discharge of his debt in full (as between man and
man), with many acknowledgements.

'I have still a presentiment,' said Mrs. Micawber, pensively
shaking her head, 'that my family will appear on board, before we
finally depart.'

Mr. Micawber evidently had his presentiment on the subject too, but
he put it in his tin pot and swallowed it.

'If you have any opportunity of sending letters home, on your
passage, Mrs. Micawber,' said my aunt, 'you must let us hear from
you, you know.'

'My dear Miss Trotwood,' she replied, 'I shall only be too happy to
think that anyone expects to hear from us. I shall not fail to
correspond. Mr. Copperfield, I trust, as an old and familiar
friend, will not object to receive occasional intelligence,
himself, from one who knew him when the twins were yet

I said that I should hope to hear, whenever she had an opportunity
of writing.

'Please Heaven, there will be many such opportunities,' said Mr.
Micawber. 'The ocean, in these times, is a perfect fleet of ships;
and we can hardly fail to encounter many, in running over. It is
merely crossing,' said Mr. Micawber, trifling with his eye-glass,
'merely crossing. The distance is quite imaginary.'

I think, now, how odd it was, but how wonderfully like Mr.
Micawber, that, when he went from London to Canterbury, he should
have talked as if he were going to the farthest limits of the
earth; and, when he went from England to Australia, as if he were
going for a little trip across the channel.

'On the voyage, I shall endeavour,' said Mr. Micawber,
'occasionally to spin them a yarn; and the melody of my son Wilkins
will, I trust, be acceptable at the galley-fire. When Mrs.
Micawber has her sea-legs on - an expression in which I hope there
is no conventional impropriety - she will give them, I dare say,
"Little Tafflin". Porpoises and dolphins, I believe, will be
frequently observed athwart our Bows; and, either on the starboard
or the larboard quarter, objects of interest will be continually
descried. In short,' said Mr. Micawber, with the old genteel air,
'the probability is, all will be found so exciting, alow and aloft,
that when the lookout, stationed in the main-top, cries Land-oh! we
shall be very considerably astonished!'

With that he flourished off the contents of his little tin pot, as
if he had made the voyage, and had passed a first-class examination
before the highest naval authorities.

' What I chiefly hope, my dear Mr. Copperfield,' said Mrs.
Micawber, 'is, that in some branches of our family we may live
again in the old country. Do not frown, Micawber! I do not now
refer to my own family, but to our children's children. However
vigorous the sapling,' said Mrs. Micawber, shaking her head, 'I
cannot forget the parent-tree; and when our race attains to
eminence and fortune, I own I should wish that fortune to flow into
the coffers of Britannia.'

'My dear,' said Mr. Micawber, 'Britannia must take her chance. I
am bound to say that she has never done much for me, and that I
have no particular wish upon the subject.'

'Micawber,' returned Mrs. Micawber, 'there, you are wrong. You are
going out, Micawber, to this distant clime, to strengthen, not to
weaken, the connexion between yourself and Albion.'

'The connexion in question, my love,' rejoined Mr. Micawber, 'has
not laid me, I repeat, under that load of personal obligation, that
I am at all sensitive as to the formation of another connexion.'

'Micawber,' returned Mrs. Micawber. 'There, I again say, you are
wrong. You do not know your power, Micawber. It is that which
will strengthen, even in this step you are about to take, the
connexion between yourself and Albion.'

Mr. Micawber sat in his elbow-chair, with his eyebrows raised; half
receiving and half repudiating Mrs. Micawber's views as they were
stated, but very sensible of their foresight.

'My dear Mr. Copperfield,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'I wish Mr. Micawber
to feel his position. It appears to me highly important that Mr.
Micawber should, from the hour of his embarkation, feel his
position. Your old knowledge of me, my dear Mr. Copperfield, will
have told you that I have not the sanguine disposition of Mr.
Micawber. My disposition is, if I may say so, eminently practical.
I know that this is a long voyage. I know that it will involve
many privations and inconveniences. I cannot shut my eyes to those
facts. But I also know what Mr. Micawber is. I know the latent
power of Mr. Micawber. And therefore I consider it vitally
important that Mr. Micawber should feel his position.'

'My love,' he observed, 'perhaps you will allow me to remark that
it is barely possible that I DO feel my position at the present

'I think not, Micawber,' she rejoined. 'Not fully. My dear Mr.
Copperfield, Mr. Micawber's is not a common case. Mr. Micawber is
going to a distant country expressly in order that he may be fully
understood and appreciated for the first time. I wish Mr. Micawber
to take his stand upon that vessel's prow, and firmly say, "This
country I am come to conquer! Have you honours? Have you riches?
Have you posts of profitable pecuniary emolument? Let them be
brought forward. They are mine!"'

Mr. Micawber, glancing at us all, seemed to think there was a good
deal in this idea.

'I wish Mr. Micawber, if I make myself understood,' said Mrs.
Micawber, in her argumentative tone, 'to be the Caesar of his own
fortunes. That, my dear Mr. Copperfield, appears to me to be his
true position. From the first moment of this voyage, I wish Mr.
Micawber to stand upon that vessel's prow and say, "Enough of
delay: enough of disappointment: enough of limited means. That was
in the old country. This is the new. Produce your reparation.
Bring it forward!"'

Mr. Micawber folded his arms in a resolute manner, as if he were
then stationed on the figure-head.

'And doing that,' said Mrs. Micawber, '- feeling his position - am
I not right in saying that Mr. Micawber will strengthen, and not
weaken, his connexion with Britain? An important public character
arising in that hemisphere, shall I be told that its influence will
not be felt at home? Can I be so weak as to imagine that Mr.
Micawber, wielding the rod of talent and of power in Australia,
will be nothing in England? I am but a woman; but I should be
unworthy of myself and of my papa, if I were guilty of such absurd

Mrs. Micawber's conviction that her arguments were unanswerable,
gave a moral elevation to her tone which I think I had never heard
in it before.

'And therefore it is,' said Mrs. Micawber, 'that I the more wish,
that, at a future period, we may live again on the parent soil.
Mr. Micawber may be - I cannot disguise from myself that the
probability is, Mr. Micawber will be - a page of History; and he
ought then to be represented in the country which gave him birth,
and did NOT give him employment!'

'My love,' observed Mr. Micawber, 'it is impossible for me not to
be touched by your affection. I am always willing to defer to your
good sense. What will be - will be. Heaven forbid that I should
grudge my native country any portion of the wealth that may be
accumulated by our descendants!'

'That's well,' said my aunt, nodding towards Mr. Peggotty, 'and I
drink my love to you all, and every blessing and success attend

Mr. Peggotty put down the two children he had been nursing, one on
each knee, to join Mr. and Mrs. Micawber in drinking to all of us
in return; and when he and the Micawbers cordially shook hands as
comrades, and his brown face brightened with a smile, I felt that
he would make his way, establish a good name, and be beloved, go
where he would.

Even the children were instructed, each to dip a wooden spoon into
Mr. Micawber's pot, and pledge us in its contents. When this was
done, my aunt and Agnes rose, and parted from the emigrants. It
was a sorrowful farewell. They were all crying; the children hung
about Agnes to the last; and we left poor Mrs. Micawber in a very
distressed condition, sobbing and weeping by a dim candle, that
must have made the room look, from the river, like a miserable

I went down again next morning to see that they were away. They
had departed, in a boat, as early as five o'clock. It was a
wonderful instance to me of the gap such partings make, that
although my association of them with the tumble-down public-house
and the wooden stairs dated only from last night, both seemed
dreary and deserted, now that they were gone.

In the afternoon of the next day, my old nurse and I went down to
Gravesend. We found the ship in the river, surrounded by a crowd
of boats; a favourable wind blowing; the signal for sailing at her
mast-head. I hired a boat directly, and we put off to her; and
getting through the little vortex of confusion of which she was the
centre, went on board.

Mr. Peggotty was waiting for us on deck. He told me that Mr.
Micawber had just now been arrested again (and for the last time)
at the suit of Heep, and that, in compliance with a request I had
made to him, he had paid the money, which I repaid him. He then
took us down between decks; and there, any lingering fears I had of
his having heard any rumours of what had happened, were dispelled
by Mr. Micawber's coming out of the gloom, taking his arm with an
air of friendship and protection, and telling me that they had
scarcely been asunder for a moment, since the night before last.

It was such a strange scene to me, and so confined and dark, that,
at first, I could make out hardly anything; but, by degrees, it
cleared, as my eyes became more accustomed to the gloom, and I
seemed to stand in a picture by OSTADE. Among the great beams,
bulks, and ringbolts of the ship, and the emigrant-berths, and
chests, and bundles, and barrels, and heaps of miscellaneous
baggage -'lighted up, here and there, by dangling lanterns; and
elsewhere by the yellow daylight straying down a windsail or a
hatchway - were crowded groups of people, making new friendships,
taking leave of one another, talking, laughing, crying, eating and
drinking; some, already settled down into the possession of their
few feet of space, with their little households arranged, and tiny
children established on stools, or in dwarf elbow-chairs; others,
despairing of a resting-place, and wandering disconsolately. From
babies who had but a week or two of life behind them, to crooked
old men and women who seemed to have but a week or two of life
before them; and from ploughmen bodily carrying out soil of England
on their boots, to smiths taking away samples of its soot and smoke
upon their skins; every age and occupation appeared to be crammed
into the narrow compass of the 'tween decks.

As my eye glanced round this place, I thought I saw sitting, by an
open port, with one of the Micawber children near her, a figure
like Emily's; it first attracted my attention, by another figure
parting from it with a kiss; and as it glided calmly away through
the disorder, reminding me of - Agnes! But in the rapid motion and
confusion, and in the unsettlement of my own thoughts, I lost it
again; and only knew that the time was come when all visitors were
being warned to leave the ship; that my nurse was crying on a chest
beside me; and that Mrs. Gummidge, assisted by some younger
stooping woman in black, was busily arranging Mr. Peggotty's goods.

'Is there any last wured, Mas'r Davy?' said he. 'Is there any one
forgotten thing afore we parts?'

'One thing!' said I. 'Martha!'

He touched the younger woman I have mentioned on the shoulder, and
Martha stood before me.

'Heaven bless you, you good man!' cried I. 'You take her with

She answered for him, with a burst of tears. I could speak no more
at that time, but I wrung his hand; and if ever I have loved and
honoured any man, I loved and honoured that man in my soul.

The ship was clearing fast of strangers. The greatest trial that
I had, remained. I told him what the noble spirit that was gone,
had given me in charge to say at parting. It moved him deeply.
But when he charged me, in return, with many messages of affection
and regret for those deaf ears, he moved me more.

The time was come. I embraced him, took my weeping nurse upon my
arm, and hurried away. On deck, I took leave of poor Mrs.
Micawber. She was looking distractedly about for her family, even
then; and her last words to me were, that she never would desert
Mr. Micawber.

We went over the side into our boat, and lay at a little distance,
to see the ship wafted on her course. It was then calm, radiant
sunset. She lay between us, and the red light; and every taper
line and spar was visible against the glow. A sight at once so
beautiful, so mournful, and so hopeful, as the glorious ship,
lying, still, on the flushed water, with all the life on board her
crowded at the bulwarks, and there clustering, for a moment,
bare-headed and silent, I never saw.

Silent, only for a moment. As the sails rose to the wind, and the
ship began to move, there broke from all the boats three resounding
cheers, which those on board took up, and echoed back, and which
were echoed and re-echoed. My heart burst out when I heard the
sound, and beheld the waving of the hats and handkerchiefs - and
then I saw her!

Then I saw her, at her uncle's side, and trembling on his shoulder.
He pointed to us with an eager hand; and she saw us, and waved her
last good-bye to me. Aye, Emily, beautiful and drooping, cling to
him with the utmost trust of thy bruised heart; for he has clung to
thee, with all the might of his great love!

Surrounded by the rosy light, and standing high upon the deck,
apart together, she clinging to him, and he holding her, they
solemnly passed away. The night had fallen on the Kentish hills
when we were rowed ashore - and fallen darkly upon me.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

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