'My part in them,' said Mr. Wickfield, shaking his white head, 'has much matter for regret—for deep regret, and deep contrition, Trotwood, you well know. But I would not cancel it, if it were in my power.'
I could readily believe that, looking at the face beside him.
'I should cancel with it,' he pursued, 'such patience and devotion, such fidelity, such a child's love, as I must not forget, no! even to forget myself.'
'I understand you, sir,' I softly said. 'I hold it—I have always held it—in veneration.'
'But no one knows, not even you,' he returned, 'how much she has done, how much she has undergone, how hard she has striven. Dear Agnes!'
She had put her hand entreatingly on his arm, to stop him; and was very, very pale.
'Well, well!' he said with a sigh, dismissing, as I then saw, some trial she had borne, or was yet to bear, in connexion with what my aunt had told me. 'Well! I have never told you, Trotwood, of her mother. Has anyone?'
'It's not much—though it was much to suffer. She married me in opposition to her father's wish, and he renounced her. She prayed him to forgive her, before my Agnes came into this world. He was a very hard man, and her mother had long been dead. He repulsed her. He broke her heart.'
Agnes leaned upon his shoulder, and stole her arm about his neck.
'She had an affectionate and gentle heart,' he said; 'and it was broken. I knew its tender nature very well. No one could, if I did not. She loved me dearly, but was never happy. She was always labouring, in secret, under this distress; and being delicate and downcast at the time of his last repulse—for it was not the first, by many—pined away and died. She left me Agnes, two weeks old; and the grey hair that you recollect me with, when you first came.' He kissed Agnes on her cheek.
'My love for my dear child was a diseased love, but my mind was all unhealthy then. I say no more of that. I am not speaking of myself, Trotwood, but of her mother, and of her. If I give you any clue to what I am, or to what I have been, you will unravel it, I know. What Agnes is, I need not say. I have always read something of her poor mother's story, in her character; and so I tell it you tonight, when we three are again together, after such great changes. I have told it all.'
His bowed head, and her angel-face and filial duty, derived a more pathetic meaning from it than they had had before. If I had wanted anything by which to mark this night of our re-union, I should have found it in this.
Agnes rose up from her father's side, before long; and going softly to her piano, played some of the old airs to which we had often listened in that place.
'Have you any intention of going away again?' Agnes asked me, as I was standing by.
'What does my sister say to that?'
'I hope not.'
'Then I have no such intention, Agnes.'
'I think you ought not, Trotwood, since you ask me,' she said, mildly. 'Your growing reputation and success enlarge your power of doing good; and if I could spare my brother,' with her eyes upon me, 'perhaps the time could not.'
'What I am, you have made me, Agnes. You should know best.'
'I made you, Trotwood?'
'Yes! Agnes, my dear girl!' I said, bending over her. 'I tried to tell you, when we met today, something that has been in my thoughts since Dora died. You remember, when you came down to me in our little room—pointing upward, Agnes?'
'Oh, Trotwood!' she returned, her eyes filled with tears. 'So loving, so confiding, and so young! Can I ever forget?'
'As you were then, my sister, I have often thought since, you have ever been to me. Ever pointing upward, Agnes; ever leading me to something better; ever directing me to higher things!'
She only shook her head; through her tears I saw the same sad quiet smile.
'And I am so grateful to you for it, Agnes, so bound to you, that there is no name for the affection of my heart. I want you to know, yet don't know how to tell you, that all my life long I shall look up to you, and be guided by you, as I have been through the darkness that is past. Whatever betides, whatever new ties you may form, whatever changes may come between us, I shall always look to you, and love you, as I do now, and have always done. You will always be my solace and resource, as you have always been. Until I die, my dearest sister, I shall see you always before me, pointing upward!'
She put her hand in mine, and told me she was proud of me, and of what I said; although I praised her very far beyond her worth. Then she went on softly playing, but without removing her eyes from me. 'Do you know, what I have heard tonight, Agnes,' said I, strangely seems to be a part of the feeling with which I regarded you when I saw you first—with which I sat beside you in my rough school-days?'
'You knew I had no mother,' she replied with a smile, 'and felt kindly towards me.'
'More than that, Agnes, I knew, almost as if I had known this story, that there was something inexplicably gentle and softened, surrounding you; something that might have been sorrowful in someone else (as I can now understand it was), but was not so in you.'
She softly played on, looking at me still.
'Will you laugh at my cherishing such fancies, Agnes?'
'Or at my saying that I really believe I felt, even then, that you could be faithfully affectionate against all discouragement, and never cease to be so, until you ceased to live?—-Will you laugh at such a dream?'
'Oh, no! Oh, no!'
For an instant, a distressful shadow crossed her face; but, even in the start it gave me, it was gone; and she was playing on, and looking at me with her own calm smile.
As I rode back in the lonely night, the wind going by me like a restless memory, I thought of this, and feared she was not happy. I was not happy; but, thus far, I had faithfully set the seal upon the Past, and, thinking of her, pointing upward, thought of her as pointing to that sky above me, where, in the mystery to come, I might yet love her with a love unknown on earth, and tell her what the strife had been within me when I loved her here.
CHAPTER 61. I AM SHOWN TWO INTERESTING PENITENTS
For a time—at all events until my book should be completed, which would be the work of several months—I took up my abode in my aunt's house at Dover; and there, sitting in the window from which I had looked out at the moon upon the sea, when that roof first gave me shelter, I quietly pursued my task.
In pursuance of my intention of referring to my own fictions only when their course should incidentally connect itself with the progress of my story, I do not enter on the aspirations, the delights, anxieties, and triumphs of my art. That I truly devoted myself to it with my strongest earnestness, and bestowed upon it every energy of my soul, I have already said. If the books I have written be of any worth, they will supply the rest. I shall otherwise have written to poor purpose, and the rest will be of interest to no one.
Occasionally, I went to London; to lose myself in the swarm of life there, or to consult with Traddles on some business point. He had managed for me, in my absence, with the soundest judgement; and my worldly affairs were prospering. As my notoriety began to bring upon me an enormous quantity of letters from people of whom I had no knowledge—chiefly about nothing, and extremely difficult to answer—I agreed with Traddles to have my name painted up on his door. There, the devoted postman on that beat delivered bushels of letters for me; and there, at intervals, I laboured through them, like a Home Secretary of State without the salary.
Among this correspondence, there dropped in, every now and then, an obliging proposal from one of the numerous outsiders always lurking about the Commons, to practise under cover of my name (if I would take the necessary steps remaining to make a proctor of myself), and pay me a percentage on the profits. But I declined these offers; being already aware that there were plenty of such covert practitioners in existence, and considering the Commons quite bad enough, without my doing anything to make it worse.
The girls had gone home, when my name burst into bloom on Traddles's door; and the sharp boy looked, all day, as if he had never heard of Sophy, shut up in a back room, glancing down from her work into a sooty little strip of garden with a pump in it. But there I always found her, the same bright housewife; often humming her Devonshire ballads when no strange foot was coming up the stairs, and blunting the sharp boy in his official closet with melody.
I wondered, at first, why I so often found Sophy writing in a copy-book; and why she always shut it up when I appeared, and hurried it into the table-drawer. But the secret soon came out. One day, Traddles (who had just come home through the drizzling sleet from Court) took a paper out of his desk, and asked me what I thought of that handwriting?
'Oh, DON'T, Tom!' cried Sophy, who was warming his slippers before the fire.
'My dear,' returned Tom, in a delighted state, 'why not? What do you say to that writing, Copperfield?'
'It's extraordinarily legal and formal,' said I. 'I don't think I ever saw such a stiff hand.'
'Not like a lady's hand, is it?' said Traddles.
'A lady's!' I repeated. 'Bricks and mortar are more like a lady's hand!'
Traddles broke into a rapturous laugh, and informed me that it was Sophy's writing; that Sophy had vowed and declared he would need a copying-clerk soon, and she would be that clerk; that she had acquired this hand from a pattern; and that she could throw off—I forget how many folios an hour. Sophy was very much confused by my being told all this, and said that when 'Tom' was made a judge he wouldn't be so ready to proclaim it. Which 'Tom' denied; averring that he should always be equally proud of it, under all circumstances.
'What a thoroughly good and charming wife she is, my dear Traddles!' said I, when she had gone away, laughing.
'My dear Copperfield,' returned Traddles, 'she is, without any exception, the dearest girl! The way she manages this place; her punctuality, domestic knowledge, economy, and order; her cheerfulness, Copperfield!'
'Indeed, you have reason to commend her!' I returned. 'You are a happy fellow. I believe you make yourselves, and each other, two of the happiest people in the world.'
'I am sure we ARE two of the happiest people,' returned Traddles. 'I admit that, at all events. Bless my soul, when I see her getting up by candle-light on these dark mornings, busying herself in the day's arrangements, going out to market before the clerks come into the Inn, caring for no weather, devising the most capital little dinners out of the plainest materials, making puddings and pies, keeping everything in its right place, always so neat and ornamental herself, sitting up at night with me if it's ever so late, sweet-tempered and encouraging always, and all for me, I positively sometimes can't believe it, Copperfield!'
He was tender of the very slippers she had been warming, as he put them on, and stretched his feet enjoyingly upon the fender.
'I positively sometimes can't believe it,' said Traddles. 'Then our pleasures! Dear me, they are inexpensive, but they are quite wonderful! When we are at home here, of an evening, and shut the outer door, and draw those curtains—which she made—where could we be more snug? When it's fine, and we go out for a walk in the evening, the streets abound in enjoyment for us. We look into the glittering windows of the jewellers' shops; and I show Sophy which of the diamond-eyed serpents, coiled up on white satin rising grounds, I would give her if I could afford it; and Sophy shows me which of the gold watches that are capped and jewelled and engine-turned, and possessed of the horizontal lever-escape-movement, and all sorts of things, she would buy for me if she could afford it; and we pick out the spoons and forks, fish-slices, butter-knives, and sugar-tongs, we should both prefer if we could both afford it; and really we go away as if we had got them! Then, when we stroll into the squares, and great streets, and see a house to let, sometimes we look up at it, and say, how would THAT do, if I was made a judge? And we parcel it out—such a room for us, such rooms for the girls, and so forth; until we settle to our satisfaction that it would do, or it wouldn't do, as the case may be. Sometimes, we go at half-price to the pit of the theatre—the very smell of which is cheap, in my opinion, at the money—and there we thoroughly enjoy the play: which Sophy believes every word of, and so do I. In walking home, perhaps we buy a little bit of something at a cook's-shop, or a little lobster at the fishmongers, and bring it here, and make a splendid supper, chatting about what we have seen. Now, you know, Copperfield, if I was Lord Chancellor, we couldn't do this!'
'You would do something, whatever you were, my dear Traddles,' thought I, 'that would be pleasant and amiable. And by the way,' I said aloud, 'I suppose you never draw any skeletons now?'
'Really,' replied Traddles, laughing, and reddening, 'I can't wholly deny that I do, my dear Copperfield. For being in one of the back rows of the King's Bench the other day, with a pen in my hand, the fancy came into my head to try how I had preserved that accomplishment. And I am afraid there's a skeleton—in a wig—on the ledge of the desk.'
After we had both laughed heartily, Traddles wound up by looking with a smile at the fire, and saying, in his forgiving way, 'Old Creakle!'
'I have a letter from that old—Rascal here,' said I. For I never was less disposed to forgive him the way he used to batter Traddles, than when I saw Traddles so ready to forgive him himself.
'From Creakle the schoolmaster?' exclaimed Traddles. 'No!'
'Among the persons who are attracted to me in my rising fame and fortune,' said I, looking over my letters, 'and who discover that they were always much attached to me, is the self-same Creakle. He is not a schoolmaster now, Traddles. He is retired. He is a Middlesex Magistrate.'
I thought Traddles might be surprised to hear it, but he was not so at all.
'How do you suppose he comes to be a Middlesex Magistrate?' said I.
'Oh dear me!' replied Traddles, 'it would be very difficult to answer that question. Perhaps he voted for somebody, or lent money to somebody, or bought something of somebody, or otherwise obliged somebody, or jobbed for somebody, who knew somebody who got the lieutenant of the county to nominate him for the commission.'
'On the commission he is, at any rate,' said I. 'And he writes to me here, that he will be glad to show me, in operation, the only true system of prison discipline; the only unchallengeable way of making sincere and lasting converts and penitents—which, you know, is by solitary confinement. What do you say?'
'To the system?' inquired Traddles, looking grave.
'No. To my accepting the offer, and your going with me?'
'I don't object,' said Traddles.
'Then I'll write to say so. You remember (to say nothing of our treatment) this same Creakle turning his son out of doors, I suppose, and the life he used to lead his wife and daughter?'
'Perfectly,' said Traddles.
'Yet, if you'll read his letter, you'll find he is the tenderest of men to prisoners convicted of the whole calendar of felonies,' said I; 'though I can't find that his tenderness extends to any other class of created beings.'
Traddles shrugged his shoulders, and was not at all surprised. I had not expected him to be, and was not surprised myself; or my observation of similar practical satires would have been but scanty. We arranged the time of our visit, and I wrote accordingly to Mr. Creakle that evening.
On the appointed day—I think it was the next day, but no matter—Traddles and I repaired to the prison where Mr. Creakle was powerful. It was an immense and solid building, erected at a vast expense. I could not help thinking, as we approached the gate, what an uproar would have been made in the country, if any deluded man had proposed to spend one half the money it had cost, on the erection of an industrial school for the young, or a house of refuge for the deserving old.
In an office that might have been on the ground-floor of the Tower of Babel, it was so massively constructed, we were presented to our old schoolmaster; who was one of a group, composed of two or three of the busier sort of magistrates, and some visitors they had brought. He received me, like a man who had formed my mind in bygone years, and had always loved me tenderly. On my introducing Traddles, Mr. Creakle expressed, in like manner, but in an inferior degree, that he had always been Traddles's guide, philosopher, and friend. Our venerable instructor was a great deal older, and not improved in appearance. His face was as fiery as ever; his eyes were as small, and rather deeper set. The scanty, wet-looking grey hair, by which I remembered him, was almost gone; and the thick veins in his bald head were none the more agreeable to look at.
After some conversation among these gentlemen, from which I might have supposed that there was nothing in the world to be legitimately taken into account but the supreme comfort of prisoners, at any expense, and nothing on the wide earth to be done outside prison-doors, we began our inspection. It being then just dinner-time, we went, first into the great kitchen, where every prisoner's dinner was in course of being set out separately (to be handed to him in his cell), with the regularity and precision of clock-work. I said aside, to Traddles, that I wondered whether it occurred to anybody, that there was a striking contrast between these plentiful repasts of choice quality, and the dinners, not to say of paupers, but of soldiers, sailors, labourers, the great bulk of the honest, working community; of whom not one man in five hundred ever dined half so well. But I learned that the 'system' required high living; and, in short, to dispose of the system, once for all, I found that on that head and on all others, 'the system' put an end to all doubts, and disposed of all anomalies. Nobody appeared to have the least idea that there was any other system, but THE system, to be considered.
As we were going through some of the magnificent passages, I inquired of Mr. Creakle and his friends what were supposed to be the main advantages of this all-governing and universally over-riding system? I found them to be the perfect isolation of prisoners—so that no one man in confinement there, knew anything about another; and the reduction of prisoners to a wholesome state of mind, leading to sincere contrition and repentance.
Now, it struck me, when we began to visit individuals in their cells, and to traverse the passages in which those cells were, and to have the manner of the going to chapel and so forth, explained to us, that there was a strong probability of the prisoners knowing a good deal about each other, and of their carrying on a pretty complete system of intercourse. This, at the time I write, has been proved, I believe, to be the case; but, as it would have been flat blasphemy against the system to have hinted such a doubt then, I looked out for the penitence as diligently as I could.
And here again, I had great misgivings. I found as prevalent a fashion in the form of the penitence, as I had left outside in the forms of the coats and waistcoats in the windows of the tailors' shops. I found a vast amount of profession, varying very little in character: varying very little (which I thought exceedingly suspicious), even in words. I found a great many foxes, disparaging whole vineyards of inaccessible grapes; but I found very few foxes whom I would have trusted within reach of a bunch. Above all, I found that the most professing men were the greatest objects of interest; and that their conceit, their vanity, their want of excitement, and their love of deception (which many of them possessed to an almost incredible extent, as their histories showed), all prompted to these professions, and were all gratified by them.
However, I heard so repeatedly, in the course of our goings to and fro, of a certain Number Twenty Seven, who was the Favourite, and who really appeared to be a Model Prisoner, that I resolved to suspend my judgement until I should see Twenty Seven. Twenty Eight, I understood, was also a bright particular star; but it was his misfortune to have his glory a little dimmed by the extraordinary lustre of Twenty Seven. I heard so much of Twenty Seven, of his pious admonitions to everybody around him, and of the beautiful letters he constantly wrote to his mother (whom he seemed to consider in a very bad way), that I became quite impatient to see him.
I had to restrain my impatience for some time, on account of Twenty Seven being reserved for a concluding effect. But, at last, we came to the door of his cell; and Mr. Creakle, looking through a little hole in it, reported to us, in a state of the greatest admiration, that he was reading a Hymn Book.
There was such a rush of heads immediately, to see Number Twenty Seven reading his Hymn Book, that the little hole was blocked up, six or seven heads deep. To remedy this inconvenience, and give us an opportunity of conversing with Twenty Seven in all his purity, Mr. Creakle directed the door of the cell to be unlocked, and Twenty Seven to be invited out into the passage. This was done; and whom should Traddles and I then behold, to our amazement, in this converted Number Twenty Seven, but Uriah Heep!
He knew us directly; and said, as he came out—with the old writhe,—
'How do you do, Mr. Copperfield? How do you do, Mr. Traddles?'
This recognition caused a general admiration in the party. I rather thought that everyone was struck by his not being proud, and taking notice of us.
'Well, Twenty Seven,' said Mr. Creakle, mournfully admiring him. 'How do you find yourself today?'
'I am very umble, sir!' replied Uriah Heep.
'You are always so, Twenty Seven,' said Mr. Creakle.
Here, another gentleman asked, with extreme anxiety: 'Are you quite comfortable?'
'Yes, I thank you, sir!' said Uriah Heep, looking in that direction. 'Far more comfortable here, than ever I was outside. I see my follies, now, sir. That's what makes me comfortable.'
Several gentlemen were much affected; and a third questioner, forcing himself to the front, inquired with extreme feeling: 'How do you find the beef?'
'Thank you, sir,' replied Uriah, glancing in the new direction of this voice, 'it was tougher yesterday than I could wish; but it's my duty to bear. I have committed follies, gentlemen,' said Uriah, looking round with a meek smile, 'and I ought to bear the consequences without repining.' A murmur, partly of gratification at Twenty Seven's celestial state of mind, and partly of indignation against the Contractor who had given him any cause of complaint (a note of which was immediately made by Mr. Creakle), having subsided, Twenty Seven stood in the midst of us, as if he felt himself the principal object of merit in a highly meritorious museum. That we, the neophytes, might have an excess of light shining upon us all at once, orders were given to let out Twenty Eight.
I had been so much astonished already, that I only felt a kind of resigned wonder when Mr. Littimer walked forth, reading a good book!
'Twenty Eight,' said a gentleman in spectacles, who had not yet spoken, 'you complained last week, my good fellow, of the cocoa. How has it been since?'
'I thank you, sir,' said Mr. Littimer, 'it has been better made. If I might take the liberty of saying so, sir, I don't think the milk which is boiled with it is quite genuine; but I am aware, sir, that there is a great adulteration of milk, in London, and that the article in a pure state is difficult to be obtained.'
It appeared to me that the gentleman in spectacles backed his Twenty Eight against Mr. Creakle's Twenty Seven, for each of them took his own man in hand.
'What is your state of mind, Twenty Eight?' said the questioner in spectacles.
'I thank you, sir,' returned Mr. Littimer; 'I see my follies now, sir. I am a good deal troubled when I think of the sins of my former companions, sir; but I trust they may find forgiveness.'
'You are quite happy yourself?' said the questioner, nodding encouragement.
'I am much obliged to you, sir,' returned Mr. Littimer. 'Perfectly so.'
'Is there anything at all on your mind now?' said the questioner. 'If so, mention it, Twenty Eight.'
'Sir,' said Mr. Littimer, without looking up, 'if my eyes have not deceived me, there is a gentleman present who was acquainted with me in my former life. It may be profitable to that gentleman to know, sir, that I attribute my past follies, entirely to having lived a thoughtless life in the service of young men; and to having allowed myself to be led by them into weaknesses, which I had not the strength to resist. I hope that gentleman will take warning, sir, and will not be offended at my freedom. It is for his good. I am conscious of my own past follies. I hope he may repent of all the wickedness and sin to which he has been a party.'
I observed that several gentlemen were shading their eyes, each with one hand, as if they had just come into church.
'This does you credit, Twenty Eight,' returned the questioner. 'I should have expected it of you. Is there anything else?'
'Sir,' returned Mr. Littimer, slightly lifting up his eyebrows, but not his eyes, 'there was a young woman who fell into dissolute courses, that I endeavoured to save, sir, but could not rescue. I beg that gentleman, if he has it in his power, to inform that young woman from me that I forgive her her bad conduct towards myself, and that I call her to repentance—if he will be so good.'
'I have no doubt, Twenty Eight,' returned the questioner, 'that the gentleman you refer to feels very strongly—as we all must—what you have so properly said. We will not detain you.'
'I thank you, sir,' said Mr. Littimer. 'Gentlemen, I wish you a good day, and hoping you and your families will also see your wickedness, and amend!'
With this, Number Twenty Eight retired, after a glance between him and Uriah; as if they were not altogether unknown to each other, through some medium of communication; and a murmur went round the group, as his door shut upon him, that he was a most respectable man, and a beautiful case.
'Now, Twenty Seven,' said Mr. Creakle, entering on a clear stage with his man, 'is there anything that anyone can do for you? If so, mention it.'
'I would umbly ask, sir,' returned Uriah, with a jerk of his malevolent head, 'for leave to write again to mother.'
'It shall certainly be granted,' said Mr. Creakle.
'Thank you, sir! I am anxious about mother. I am afraid she ain't safe.'
Somebody incautiously asked, what from? But there was a scandalized whisper of 'Hush!'
'Immortally safe, sir,' returned Uriah, writhing in the direction of the voice. 'I should wish mother to be got into my state. I never should have been got into my present state if I hadn't come here. I wish mother had come here. It would be better for everybody, if they got took up, and was brought here.'
This sentiment gave unbounded satisfaction—greater satisfaction, I think, than anything that had passed yet.
'Before I come here,' said Uriah, stealing a look at us, as if he would have blighted the outer world to which we belonged, if he could, 'I was given to follies; but now I am sensible of my follies. There's a deal of sin outside. There's a deal of sin in mother. There's nothing but sin everywhere—except here.'
'You are quite changed?' said Mr. Creakle.
'Oh dear, yes, sir!' cried this hopeful penitent.
'You wouldn't relapse, if you were going out?' asked somebody else.
'Oh de-ar no, sir!'
'Well!' said Mr. Creakle, 'this is very gratifying. You have addressed Mr. Copperfield, Twenty Seven. Do you wish to say anything further to him?'
'You knew me, a long time before I came here and was changed, Mr. Copperfield,' said Uriah, looking at me; and a more villainous look I never saw, even on his visage. 'You knew me when, in spite of my follies, I was umble among them that was proud, and meek among them that was violent—you was violent to me yourself, Mr. Copperfield. Once, you struck me a blow in the face, you know.'
General commiseration. Several indignant glances directed at me.
'But I forgive you, Mr. Copperfield,' said Uriah, making his forgiving nature the subject of a most impious and awful parallel, which I shall not record. 'I forgive everybody. It would ill become me to bear malice. I freely forgive you, and I hope you'll curb your passions in future. I hope Mr. W. will repent, and Miss W., and all of that sinful lot. You've been visited with affliction, and I hope it may do you good; but you'd better have come here. Mr. W. had better have come here, and Miss W. too. The best wish I could give you, Mr. Copperfield, and give all of you gentlemen, is, that you could be took up and brought here. When I think of my past follies, and my present state, I am sure it would be best for you. I pity all who ain't brought here!'
He sneaked back into his cell, amidst a little chorus of approbation; and both Traddles and I experienced a great relief when he was locked in.
It was a characteristic feature in this repentance, that I was fain to ask what these two men had done, to be there at all. That appeared to be the last thing about which they had anything to say. I addressed myself to one of the two warders, who, I suspected from certain latent indications in their faces, knew pretty well what all this stir was worth.
'Do you know,' said I, as we walked along the passage, 'what felony was Number Twenty Seven's last "folly"?'
The answer was that it was a Bank case.
'A fraud on the Bank of England?' I asked. 'Yes, sir. Fraud, forgery, and conspiracy. He and some others. He set the others on. It was a deep plot for a large sum. Sentence, transportation for life. Twenty Seven was the knowingest bird of the lot, and had very nearly kept himself safe; but not quite. The Bank was just able to put salt upon his tail—and only just.'
'Do you know Twenty Eight's offence?'
'Twenty Eight,' returned my informant, speaking throughout in a low tone, and looking over his shoulder as we walked along the passage, to guard himself from being overheard, in such an unlawful reference to these Immaculates, by Creakle and the rest; 'Twenty Eight (also transportation) got a place, and robbed a young master of a matter of two hundred and fifty pounds in money and valuables, the night before they were going abroad. I particularly recollect his case, from his being took by a dwarf.'
'A little woman. I have forgot her name?'
'That's it! He had eluded pursuit, and was going to America in a flaxen wig, and whiskers, and such a complete disguise as never you see in all your born days; when the little woman, being in Southampton, met him walking along the street—picked him out with her sharp eye in a moment—ran betwixt his legs to upset him—and held on to him like grim Death.'
'Excellent Miss Mowcher!' cried I.
'You'd have said so, if you had seen her, standing on a chair in the witness-box at the trial, as I did,' said my friend. 'He cut her face right open, and pounded her in the most brutal manner, when she took him; but she never loosed her hold till he was locked up. She held so tight to him, in fact, that the officers were obliged to take 'em both together. She gave her evidence in the gamest way, and was highly complimented by the Bench, and cheered right home to her lodgings. She said in Court that she'd have took him single-handed (on account of what she knew concerning him), if he had been Samson. And it's my belief she would!'
It was mine too, and I highly respected Miss Mowcher for it.
We had now seen all there was to see. It would have been in vain to represent to such a man as the Worshipful Mr. Creakle, that Twenty Seven and Twenty Eight were perfectly consistent and unchanged; that exactly what they were then, they had always been; that the hypocritical knaves were just the subjects to make that sort of profession in such a place; that they knew its market-value at least as well as we did, in the immediate service it would do them when they were expatriated; in a word, that it was a rotten, hollow, painfully suggestive piece of business altogether. We left them to their system and themselves, and went home wondering.
'Perhaps it's a good thing, Traddles,' said I, 'to have an unsound Hobby ridden hard; for it's the sooner ridden to death.'
'I hope so,' replied Traddles.
CHAPTER 62. A LIGHT SHINES ON MY WAY
The year came round to Christmas-time, and I had been at home above two months. I had seen Agnes frequently. However loud the general voice might be in giving me encouragement, and however fervent the emotions and endeavours to which it roused me, I heard her lightest word of praise as I heard nothing else.
At least once a week, and sometimes oftener, I rode over there, and passed the evening. I usually rode back at night; for the old unhappy sense was always hovering about me now—most sorrowfully when I left her—and I was glad to be up and out, rather than wandering over the past in weary wakefulness or miserable dreams. I wore away the longest part of many wild sad nights, in those rides; reviving, as I went, the thoughts that had occupied me in my long absence.
Or, if I were to say rather that I listened to the echoes of those thoughts, I should better express the truth. They spoke to me from afar off. I had put them at a distance, and accepted my inevitable place. When I read to Agnes what I wrote; when I saw her listening face; moved her to smiles or tears; and heard her cordial voice so earnest on the shadowy events of that imaginative world in which I lived; I thought what a fate mine might have been—but only thought so, as I had thought after I was married to Dora, what I could have wished my wife to be.
My duty to Agnes, who loved me with a love, which, if I disquieted, I wronged most selfishly and poorly, and could never restore; my matured assurance that I, who had worked out my own destiny, and won what I had impetuously set my heart on, had no right to murmur, and must bear; comprised what I felt and what I had learned. But I loved her: and now it even became some consolation to me, vaguely to conceive a distant day when I might blamelessly avow it; when all this should be over; when I could say 'Agnes, so it was when I came home; and now I am old, and I never have loved since!'
She did not once show me any change in herself. What she always had been to me, she still was; wholly unaltered.
Between my aunt and me there had been something, in this connexion, since the night of my return, which I cannot call a restraint, or an avoidance of the subject, so much as an implied understanding that we thought of it together, but did not shape our thoughts into words. When, according to our old custom, we sat before the fire at night, we often fell into this train; as naturally, and as consciously to each other, as if we had unreservedly said so. But we preserved an unbroken silence. I believed that she had read, or partly read, my thoughts that night; and that she fully comprehended why I gave mine no more distinct expression.
This Christmas-time being come, and Agnes having reposed no new confidence in me, a doubt that had several times arisen in my mind—whether she could have that perception of the true state of my breast, which restrained her with the apprehension of giving me pain—began to oppress me heavily. If that were so, my sacrifice was nothing; my plainest obligation to her unfulfilled; and every poor action I had shrunk from, I was hourly doing. I resolved to set this right beyond all doubt;—if such a barrier were between us, to break it down at once with a determined hand.
It was—what lasting reason have I to remember it!—a cold, harsh, winter day. There had been snow, some hours before; and it lay, not deep, but hard-frozen on the ground. Out at sea, beyond my window, the wind blew ruggedly from the north. I had been thinking of it, sweeping over those mountain wastes of snow in Switzerland, then inaccessible to any human foot; and had been speculating which was the lonelier, those solitary regions, or a deserted ocean.
'Riding today, Trot?' said my aunt, putting her head in at the door.
'Yes,' said I, 'I am going over to Canterbury. It's a good day for a ride.'
'I hope your horse may think so too,' said my aunt; 'but at present he is holding down his head and his ears, standing before the door there, as if he thought his stable preferable.'
My aunt, I may observe, allowed my horse on the forbidden ground, but had not at all relented towards the donkeys.
'He will be fresh enough, presently!' said I.
'The ride will do his master good, at all events,' observed my aunt, glancing at the papers on my table. 'Ah, child, you pass a good many hours here! I never thought, when I used to read books, what work it was to write them.'
'It's work enough to read them, sometimes,' I returned. 'As to the writing, it has its own charms, aunt.'
'Ah! I see!' said my aunt. 'Ambition, love of approbation, sympathy, and much more, I suppose? Well: go along with you!'
'Do you know anything more,' said I, standing composedly before her—she had patted me on the shoulder, and sat down in my chair—'of that attachment of Agnes?'
She looked up in my face a little while, before replying:
'I think I do, Trot.'
'Are you confirmed in your impression?' I inquired.
'I think I am, Trot.'
She looked so steadfastly at me: with a kind of doubt, or pity, or suspense in her affection: that I summoned the stronger determination to show her a perfectly cheerful face.
'And what is more, Trot—' said my aunt.
'I think Agnes is going to be married.'
'God bless her!' said I, cheerfully.
'God bless her!' said my aunt, 'and her husband too!'
I echoed it, parted from my aunt, and went lightly downstairs, mounted, and rode away. There was greater reason than before to do what I had resolved to do.
How well I recollect the wintry ride! The frozen particles of ice, brushed from the blades of grass by the wind, and borne across my face; the hard clatter of the horse's hoofs, beating a tune upon the ground; the stiff-tilled soil; the snowdrift, lightly eddying in the chalk-pit as the breeze ruffled it; the smoking team with the waggon of old hay, stopping to breathe on the hill-top, and shaking their bells musically; the whitened slopes and sweeps of Down-land lying against the dark sky, as if they were drawn on a huge slate!
I found Agnes alone. The little girls had gone to their own homes now, and she was alone by the fire, reading. She put down her book on seeing me come in; and having welcomed me as usual, took her work-basket and sat in one of the old-fashioned windows.
I sat beside her on the window-seat, and we talked of what I was doing, and when it would be done, and of the progress I had made since my last visit. Agnes was very cheerful; and laughingly predicted that I should soon become too famous to be talked to, on such subjects.
'So I make the most of the present time, you see,' said Agnes, 'and talk to you while I may.'
As I looked at her beautiful face, observant of her work, she raised her mild clear eyes, and saw that I was looking at her.
'You are thoughtful today, Trotwood!'
'Agnes, shall I tell you what about? I came to tell you.'
She put aside her work, as she was used to do when we were seriously discussing anything; and gave me her whole attention.
'My dear Agnes, do you doubt my being true to you?'
'No!' she answered, with a look of astonishment.
'Do you doubt my being what I always have been to you?'
'No!' she answered, as before.
'Do you remember that I tried to tell you, when I came home, what a debt of gratitude I owed you, dearest Agnes, and how fervently I felt towards you?'
'I remember it,' she said, gently, 'very well.'
'You have a secret,' said I. 'Let me share it, Agnes.'
She cast down her eyes, and trembled.
'I could hardly fail to know, even if I had not heard—but from other lips than yours, Agnes, which seems strange—that there is someone upon whom you have bestowed the treasure of your love. Do not shut me out of what concerns your happiness so nearly! If you can trust me, as you say you can, and as I know you may, let me be your friend, your brother, in this matter, of all others!'
With an appealing, almost a reproachful, glance, she rose from the window; and hurrying across the room as if without knowing where, put her hands before her face, and burst into such tears as smote me to the heart.
And yet they awakened something in me, bringing promise to my heart. Without my knowing why, these tears allied themselves with the quietly sad smile which was so fixed in my remembrance, and shook me more with hope than fear or sorrow.
'Agnes! Sister! Dearest! What have I done?'
'Let me go away, Trotwood. I am not well. I am not myself. I will speak to you by and by—another time. I will write to you. Don't speak to me now. Don't! don't!'
I sought to recollect what she had said, when I had spoken to her on that former night, of her affection needing no return. It seemed a very world that I must search through in a moment. 'Agnes, I cannot bear to see you so, and think that I have been the cause. My dearest girl, dearer to me than anything in life, if you are unhappy, let me share your unhappiness. If you are in need of help or counsel, let me try to give it to you. If you have indeed a burden on your heart, let me try to lighten it. For whom do I live now, Agnes, if it is not for you!'
'Oh, spare me! I am not myself! Another time!' was all I could distinguish.
Was it a selfish error that was leading me away? Or, having once a clue to hope, was there something opening to me that I had not dared to think of?
'I must say more. I cannot let you leave me so! For Heaven's sake, Agnes, let us not mistake each other after all these years, and all that has come and gone with them! I must speak plainly. If you have any lingering thought that I could envy the happiness you will confer; that I could not resign you to a dearer protector, of your own choosing; that I could not, from my removed place, be a contented witness of your joy; dismiss it, for I don't deserve it! I have not suffered quite in vain. You have not taught me quite in vain. There is no alloy of self in what I feel for you.'
She was quiet now. In a little time, she turned her pale face towards me, and said in a low voice, broken here and there, but very clear:
'I owe it to your pure friendship for me, Trotwood—which, indeed, I do not doubt—to tell you, you are mistaken. I can do no more. If I have sometimes, in the course of years, wanted help and counsel, they have come to me. If I have sometimes been unhappy, the feeling has passed away. If I have ever had a burden on my heart, it has been lightened for me. If I have any secret, it is—no new one; and is—not what you suppose. I cannot reveal it, or divide it. It has long been mine, and must remain mine.'
'Agnes! Stay! A moment!'
She was going away, but I detained her. I clasped my arm about her waist. 'In the course of years!' 'It is not a new one!' New thoughts and hopes were whirling through my mind, and all the colours of my life were changing.
'Dearest Agnes! Whom I so respect and honour—whom I so devotedly love! When I came here today, I thought that nothing could have wrested this confession from me. I thought I could have kept it in my bosom all our lives, till we were old. But, Agnes, if I have indeed any new-born hope that I may ever call you something more than Sister, widely different from Sister!—'
Her tears fell fast; but they were not like those she had lately shed, and I saw my hope brighten in them.
'Agnes! Ever my guide, and best support! If you had been more mindful of yourself, and less of me, when we grew up here together, I think my heedless fancy never would have wandered from you. But you were so much better than I, so necessary to me in every boyish hope and disappointment, that to have you to confide in, and rely upon in everything, became a second nature, supplanting for the time the first and greater one of loving you as I do!'
Still weeping, but not sadly—joyfully! And clasped in my arms as she had never been, as I had thought she never was to be!
'When I loved Dora—fondly, Agnes, as you know—'
'Yes!' she cried, earnestly. 'I am glad to know it!'
'When I loved her—even then, my love would have been incomplete, without your sympathy. I had it, and it was perfected. And when I lost her, Agnes, what should I have been without you, still!'
Closer in my arms, nearer to my heart, her trembling hand upon my shoulder, her sweet eyes shining through her tears, on mine!
'I went away, dear Agnes, loving you. I stayed away, loving you. I returned home, loving you!'
And now, I tried to tell her of the struggle I had had, and the conclusion I had come to. I tried to lay my mind before her, truly, and entirely. I tried to show her how I had hoped I had come into the better knowledge of myself and of her; how I had resigned myself to what that better knowledge brought; and how I had come there, even that day, in my fidelity to this. If she did so love me (I said) that she could take me for her husband, she could do so, on no deserving of mine, except upon the truth of my love for her, and the trouble in which it had ripened to be what it was; and hence it was that I revealed it. And O, Agnes, even out of thy true eyes, in that same time, the spirit of my child-wife looked upon me, saying it was well; and winning me, through thee, to tenderest recollections of the Blossom that had withered in its bloom!
'I am so blest, Trotwood—my heart is so overcharged—but there is one thing I must say.'
She laid her gentle hands upon my shoulders, and looked calmly in my face.
'Do you know, yet, what it is?'
'I am afraid to speculate on what it is. Tell me, my dear.'
'I have loved you all my life!'
O, we were happy, we were happy! Our tears were not for the trials (hers so much the greater) through which we had come to be thus, but for the rapture of being thus, never to be divided more!
We walked, that winter evening, in the fields together; and the blessed calm within us seemed to be partaken by the frosty air. The early stars began to shine while we were lingering on, and looking up to them, we thanked our GOD for having guided us to this tranquillity.
We stood together in the same old-fashioned window at night, when the moon was shining; Agnes with her quiet eyes raised up to it; I following her glance. Long miles of road then opened out before my mind; and, toiling on, I saw a ragged way-worn boy, forsaken and neglected, who should come to call even the heart now beating against mine, his own.
It was nearly dinner-time next day when we appeared before my aunt. She was up in my study, Peggotty said: which it was her pride to keep in readiness and order for me. We found her, in her spectacles, sitting by the fire.
'Goodness me!' said my aunt, peering through the dusk, 'who's this you're bringing home?'
'Agnes,' said I.
As we had arranged to say nothing at first, my aunt was not a little discomfited. She darted a hopeful glance at me, when I said 'Agnes'; but seeing that I looked as usual, she took off her spectacles in despair, and rubbed her nose with them.
She greeted Agnes heartily, nevertheless; and we were soon in the lighted parlour downstairs, at dinner. My aunt put on her spectacles twice or thrice, to take another look at me, but as often took them off again, disappointed, and rubbed her nose with them. Much to the discomfiture of Mr. Dick, who knew this to be a bad symptom.
'By the by, aunt,' said I, after dinner; 'I have been speaking to Agnes about what you told me.'
'Then, Trot,' said my aunt, turning scarlet, 'you did wrong, and broke your promise.'
'You are not angry, aunt, I trust? I am sure you won't be, when you learn that Agnes is not unhappy in any attachment.'
'Stuff and nonsense!' said my aunt.
As my aunt appeared to be annoyed, I thought the best way was to cut her annoyance short. I took Agnes in my arm to the back of her chair, and we both leaned over her. My aunt, with one clap of her hands, and one look through her spectacles, immediately went into hysterics, for the first and only time in all my knowledge of her.
The hysterics called up Peggotty. The moment my aunt was restored, she flew at Peggotty, and calling her a silly old creature, hugged her with all her might. After that, she hugged Mr. Dick (who was highly honoured, but a good deal surprised); and after that, told them why. Then, we were all happy together.
I could not discover whether my aunt, in her last short conversation with me, had fallen on a pious fraud, or had really mistaken the state of my mind. It was quite enough, she said, that she had told me Agnes was going to be married; and that I now knew better than anyone how true it was.
We were married within a fortnight. Traddles and Sophy, and Doctor and Mrs. Strong, were the only guests at our quiet wedding. We left them full of joy; and drove away together. Clasped in my embrace, I held the source of every worthy aspiration I had ever had; the centre of myself, the circle of my life, my own, my wife; my love of whom was founded on a rock!
'Dearest husband!' said Agnes. 'Now that I may call you by that name, I have one thing more to tell you.'
'Let me hear it, love.'
'It grows out of the night when Dora died. She sent you for me.'
'She told me that she left me something. Can you think what it was?'
I believed I could. I drew the wife who had so long loved me, closer to my side.
'She told me that she made a last request to me, and left me a last charge.'
'And it was—'
'That only I would occupy this vacant place.'
And Agnes laid her head upon my breast, and wept; and I wept with her, though we were so happy.
CHAPTER 63. A VISITOR
What I have purposed to record is nearly finished; but there is yet an incident conspicuous in my memory, on which it often rests with delight, and without which one thread in the web I have spun would have a ravelled end.
I had advanced in fame and fortune, my domestic joy was perfect, I had been married ten happy years. Agnes and I were sitting by the fire, in our house in London, one night in spring, and three of our children were playing in the room, when I was told that a stranger wished to see me.
He had been asked if he came on business, and had answered No; he had come for the pleasure of seeing me, and had come a long way. He was an old man, my servant said, and looked like a farmer.
As this sounded mysterious to the children, and moreover was like the beginning of a favourite story Agnes used to tell them, introductory to the arrival of a wicked old Fairy in a cloak who hated everybody, it produced some commotion. One of our boys laid his head in his mother's lap to be out of harm's way, and little Agnes (our eldest child) left her doll in a chair to represent her, and thrust out her little heap of golden curls from between the window-curtains, to see what happened next.
'Let him come in here!' said I.
There soon appeared, pausing in the dark doorway as he entered, a hale, grey-haired old man. Little Agnes, attracted by his looks, had run to bring him in, and I had not yet clearly seen his face, when my wife, starting up, cried out to me, in a pleased and agitated voice, that it was Mr. Peggotty!
It WAS Mr. Peggotty. An old man now, but in a ruddy, hearty, strong old age. When our first emotion was over, and he sat before the fire with the children on his knees, and the blaze shining on his face, he looked, to me, as vigorous and robust, withal as handsome, an old man, as ever I had seen.
'Mas'r Davy,' said he. And the old name in the old tone fell so naturally on my ear! 'Mas'r Davy, 'tis a joyful hour as I see you, once more, 'long with your own trew wife!'
'A joyful hour indeed, old friend!' cried I.
'And these heer pretty ones,' said Mr. Peggotty. 'To look at these heer flowers! Why, Mas'r Davy, you was but the heighth of the littlest of these, when I first see you! When Em'ly warn't no bigger, and our poor lad were BUT a lad!'
'Time has changed me more than it has changed you since then,' said I. 'But let these dear rogues go to bed; and as no house in England but this must hold you, tell me where to send for your luggage (is the old black bag among it, that went so far, I wonder!), and then, over a glass of Yarmouth grog, we will have the tidings of ten years!'
'Are you alone?' asked Agnes.
'Yes, ma'am,' he said, kissing her hand, 'quite alone.'
We sat him between us, not knowing how to give him welcome enough; and as I began to listen to his old familiar voice, I could have fancied he was still pursuing his long journey in search of his darling niece.
'It's a mort of water,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'fur to come across, and on'y stay a matter of fower weeks. But water ('specially when 'tis salt) comes nat'ral to me; and friends is dear, and I am heer. —Which is verse,' said Mr. Peggotty, surprised to find it out, 'though I hadn't such intentions.'
'Are you going back those many thousand miles, so soon?' asked Agnes.
'Yes, ma'am,' he returned. 'I giv the promise to Em'ly, afore I come away. You see, I doen't grow younger as the years comes round, and if I hadn't sailed as 'twas, most like I shouldn't never have done 't. And it's allus been on my mind, as I must come and see Mas'r Davy and your own sweet blooming self, in your wedded happiness, afore I got to be too old.'
He looked at us, as if he could never feast his eyes on us sufficiently. Agnes laughingly put back some scattered locks of his grey hair, that he might see us better.
'And now tell us,' said I, 'everything relating to your fortunes.'
'Our fortuns, Mas'r Davy,' he rejoined, 'is soon told. We haven't fared nohows, but fared to thrive. We've allus thrived. We've worked as we ought to 't, and maybe we lived a leetle hard at first or so, but we have allus thrived. What with sheep-farming, and what with stock-farming, and what with one thing and what with t'other, we are as well to do, as well could be. Theer's been kiender a blessing fell upon us,' said Mr. Peggotty, reverentially inclining his head, 'and we've done nowt but prosper. That is, in the long run. If not yesterday, why then today. If not today, why then tomorrow.'
'And Emily?' said Agnes and I, both together.
'Em'ly,' said he, 'arter you left her, ma'am—and I never heerd her saying of her prayers at night, t'other side the canvas screen, when we was settled in the Bush, but what I heerd your name—and arter she and me lost sight of Mas'r Davy, that theer shining sundown—was that low, at first, that, if she had know'd then what Mas'r Davy kep from us so kind and thowtful, 'tis my opinion she'd have drooped away. But theer was some poor folks aboard as had illness among 'em, and she took care of them; and theer was the children in our company, and she took care of them; and so she got to be busy, and to be doing good, and that helped her.'
'When did she first hear of it?' I asked.
'I kep it from her arter I heerd on 't,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'going on nigh a year. We was living then in a solitary place, but among the beautifullest trees, and with the roses a-covering our Beein to the roof. Theer come along one day, when I was out a-working on the land, a traveller from our own Norfolk or Suffolk in England (I doen't rightly mind which), and of course we took him in, and giv him to eat and drink, and made him welcome. We all do that, all the colony over. He'd got an old newspaper with him, and some other account in print of the storm. That's how she know'd it. When I came home at night, I found she know'd it.'
He dropped his voice as he said these words, and the gravity I so well remembered overspread his face.
'Did it change her much?' we asked.
'Aye, for a good long time,' he said, shaking his head; 'if not to this present hour. But I think the solitoode done her good. And she had a deal to mind in the way of poultry and the like, and minded of it, and come through. I wonder,' he said thoughtfully, 'if you could see my Em'ly now, Mas'r Davy, whether you'd know her!'
'Is she so altered?' I inquired.
'I doen't know. I see her ev'ry day, and doen't know; But, odd-times, I have thowt so. A slight figure,' said Mr. Peggotty, looking at the fire, 'kiender worn; soft, sorrowful, blue eyes; a delicate face; a pritty head, leaning a little down; a quiet voice and way—timid a'most. That's Em'ly!'
We silently observed him as he sat, still looking at the fire.
'Some thinks,' he said, 'as her affection was ill-bestowed; some, as her marriage was broken off by death. No one knows how 'tis. She might have married well, a mort of times, "but, uncle," she says to me, "that's gone for ever." Cheerful along with me; retired when others is by; fond of going any distance fur to teach a child, or fur to tend a sick person, or fur to do some kindness tow'rds a young girl's wedding (and she's done a many, but has never seen one); fondly loving of her uncle; patient; liked by young and old; sowt out by all that has any trouble. That's Em'ly!'
He drew his hand across his face, and with a half-suppressed sigh looked up from the fire.
'Is Martha with you yet?' I asked.
'Martha,' he replied, 'got married, Mas'r Davy, in the second year. A young man, a farm-labourer, as come by us on his way to market with his mas'r's drays—a journey of over five hundred mile, theer and back—made offers fur to take her fur his wife (wives is very scarce theer), and then to set up fur their two selves in the Bush. She spoke to me fur to tell him her trew story. I did. They was married, and they live fower hundred mile away from any voices but their own and the singing birds.'
'Mrs. Gummidge?' I suggested.
It was a pleasant key to touch, for Mr. Peggotty suddenly burst into a roar of laughter, and rubbed his hands up and down his legs, as he had been accustomed to do when he enjoyed himself in the long-shipwrecked boat.
'Would you believe it!' he said. 'Why, someun even made offer fur to marry her! If a ship's cook that was turning settler, Mas'r Davy, didn't make offers fur to marry Missis Gummidge, I'm Gormed—and I can't say no fairer than that!'
I never saw Agnes laugh so. This sudden ecstasy on the part of Mr. Peggotty was so delightful to her, that she could not leave off laughing; and the more she laughed the more she made me laugh, and the greater Mr. Peggotty's ecstasy became, and the more he rubbed his legs.
'And what did Mrs. Gummidge say?' I asked, when I was grave enough.
'If you'll believe me,' returned Mr. Peggotty, 'Missis Gummidge, 'stead of saying "thank you, I'm much obleeged to you, I ain't a-going fur to change my condition at my time of life," up'd with a bucket as was standing by, and laid it over that theer ship's cook's head 'till he sung out fur help, and I went in and reskied of him.'
Mr. Peggotty burst into a great roar of laughter, and Agnes and I both kept him company.
'But I must say this, for the good creetur,' he resumed, wiping his face, when we were quite exhausted; 'she has been all she said she'd be to us, and more. She's the willingest, the trewest, the honestest-helping woman, Mas'r Davy, as ever draw'd the breath of life. I have never know'd her to be lone and lorn, for a single minute, not even when the colony was all afore us, and we was new to it. And thinking of the old 'un is a thing she never done, I do assure you, since she left England!'
'Now, last, not least, Mr. Micawber,' said I. 'He has paid off every obligation he incurred here—even to Traddles's bill, you remember my dear Agnes—and therefore we may take it for granted that he is doing well. But what is the latest news of him?'
Mr. Peggotty, with a smile, put his hand in his breast-pocket, and produced a flat-folded, paper parcel, from which he took out, with much care, a little odd-looking newspaper.
'You are to understan', Mas'r Davy,' said he, 'as we have left the Bush now, being so well to do; and have gone right away round to Port Middlebay Harbour, wheer theer's what we call a town.'
'Mr. Micawber was in the Bush near you?' said I.
'Bless you, yes,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'and turned to with a will. I never wish to meet a better gen'l'man for turning to with a will. I've seen that theer bald head of his a perspiring in the sun, Mas'r Davy, till I a'most thowt it would have melted away. And now he's a Magistrate.'
'A Magistrate, eh?' said I.
Mr. Peggotty pointed to a certain paragraph in the newspaper, where I read aloud as follows, from the Port Middlebay Times:
'The public dinner to our distinguished fellow-colonist and townsman, WILKINS MICAWBER, ESQUIRE, Port Middlebay District Magistrate, came off yesterday in the large room of the Hotel, which was crowded to suffocation. It is estimated that not fewer than forty-seven persons must have been accommodated with dinner at one time, exclusive of the company in the passage and on the stairs. The beauty, fashion, and exclusiveness of Port Middlebay, flocked to do honour to one so deservedly esteemed, so highly talented, and so widely popular. Doctor Mell (of Colonial Salem-House Grammar School, Port Middlebay) presided, and on his right sat the distinguished guest. After the removal of the cloth, and the singing of Non Nobis (beautifully executed, and in which we were at no loss to distinguish the bell-like notes of that gifted amateur, WILKINS MICAWBER, ESQUIRE, JUNIOR), the usual loyal and patriotic toasts were severally given and rapturously received. Doctor Mell, in a speech replete with feeling, then proposed "Our distinguished Guest, the ornament of our town. May he never leave us but to better himself, and may his success among us be such as to render his bettering himself impossible!" The cheering with which the toast was received defies description. Again and again it rose and fell, like the waves of ocean. At length all was hushed, and WILKINS MICAWBER, ESQUIRE, presented himself to return thanks. Far be it from us, in the present comparatively imperfect state of the resources of our establishment, to endeavour to follow our distinguished townsman through the smoothly-flowing periods of his polished and highly-ornate address! Suffice it to observe, that it was a masterpiece of eloquence; and that those passages in which he more particularly traced his own successful career to its source, and warned the younger portion of his auditory from the shoals of ever incurring pecuniary liabilities which they were unable to liquidate, brought a tear into the manliest eye present. The remaining toasts were DOCTOR MELL; Mrs. MICAWBER (who gracefully bowed her acknowledgements from the side-door, where a galaxy of beauty was elevated on chairs, at once to witness and adorn the gratifying scene), Mrs. RIDGER BEGS (late Miss Micawber); Mrs. MELL; WILKINS MICAWBER, ESQUIRE, JUNIOR (who convulsed the assembly by humorously remarking that he found himself unable to return thanks in a speech, but would do so, with their permission, in a song); Mrs. MICAWBER'S FAMILY (well known, it is needless to remark, in the mother-country), &c. &c. &c. At the conclusion of the proceedings the tables were cleared as if by art-magic for dancing. Among the votaries of TERPSICHORE, who disported themselves until Sol gave warning for departure, Wilkins Micawber, Esquire, Junior, and the lovely and accomplished Miss Helena, fourth daughter of Doctor Mell, were particularly remarkable.'
I was looking back to the name of Doctor Mell, pleased to have discovered, in these happier circumstances, Mr. Mell, formerly poor pinched usher to my Middlesex magistrate, when Mr. Peggotty pointing to another part of the paper, my eyes rested on my own name, and I read thus:
'TO DAVID COPPERFIELD, ESQUIRE,
'THE EMINENT AUTHOR.
'My Dear Sir,
'Years have elapsed, since I had an opportunity of ocularly perusing the lineaments, now familiar to the imaginations of a considerable portion of the civilized world.
'But, my dear Sir, though estranged (by the force of circumstances over which I have had no control) from the personal society of the friend and companion of my youth, I have not been unmindful of his soaring flight. Nor have I been debarred,
Though seas between us braid ha' roared,
(BURNS) from participating in the intellectual feasts he has spread before us.
'I cannot, therefore, allow of the departure from this place of an individual whom we mutually respect and esteem, without, my dear Sir, taking this public opportunity of thanking you, on my own behalf, and, I may undertake to add, on that of the whole of the Inhabitants of Port Middlebay, for the gratification of which you are the ministering agent.
'Go on, my dear Sir! You are not unknown here, you are not unappreciated. Though "remote", we are neither "unfriended", "melancholy", nor (I may add) "slow". Go on, my dear Sir, in your Eagle course! The inhabitants of Port Middlebay may at least aspire to watch it, with delight, with entertainment, with instruction!
'Among the eyes elevated towards you from this portion of the globe, will ever be found, while it has light and life,
'The 'Eye 'Appertaining to
'WILKINS MICAWBER, 'Magistrate.'
I found, on glancing at the remaining contents of the newspaper, that Mr. Micawber was a diligent and esteemed correspondent of that journal. There was another letter from him in the same paper, touching a bridge; there was an advertisement of a collection of similar letters by him, to be shortly republished, in a neat volume, 'with considerable additions'; and, unless I am very much mistaken, the Leading Article was his also.
We talked much of Mr. Micawber, on many other evenings while Mr. Peggotty remained with us. He lived with us during the whole term of his stay,—which, I think, was something less than a month,—and his sister and my aunt came to London to see him. Agnes and I parted from him aboard-ship, when he sailed; and we shall never part from him more, on earth.
But before he left, he went with me to Yarmouth, to see a little tablet I had put up in the churchyard to the memory of Ham. While I was copying the plain inscription for him at his request, I saw him stoop, and gather a tuft of grass from the grave and a little earth.
'For Em'ly,' he said, as he put it in his breast. 'I promised, Mas'r Davy.'
CHAPTER 64. A LAST RETROSPECT
And now my written story ends. I look back, once more—for the last time—before I close these leaves.
I see myself, with Agnes at my side, journeying along the road of life. I see our children and our friends around us; and I hear the roar of many voices, not indifferent to me as I travel on.
What faces are the most distinct to me in the fleeting crowd? Lo, these; all turning to me as I ask my thoughts the question!
Here is my aunt, in stronger spectacles, an old woman of four-score years and more, but upright yet, and a steady walker of six miles at a stretch in winter weather.
Always with her, here comes Peggotty, my good old nurse, likewise in spectacles, accustomed to do needle-work at night very close to the lamp, but never sitting down to it without a bit of wax candle, a yard-measure in a little house, and a work-box with a picture of St. Paul's upon the lid.
The cheeks and arms of Peggotty, so hard and red in my childish days, when I wondered why the birds didn't peck her in preference to apples, are shrivelled now; and her eyes, that used to darken their whole neighbourhood in her face, are fainter (though they glitter still); but her rough forefinger, which I once associated with a pocket nutmeg-grater, is just the same, and when I see my least child catching at it as it totters from my aunt to her, I think of our little parlour at home, when I could scarcely walk. My aunt's old disappointment is set right, now. She is godmother to a real living Betsey Trotwood; and Dora (the next in order) says she spoils her.
There is something bulky in Peggotty's pocket. It is nothing smaller than the Crocodile Book, which is in rather a dilapidated condition by this time, with divers of the leaves torn and stitched across, but which Peggotty exhibits to the children as a precious relic. I find it very curious to see my own infant face, looking up at me from the Crocodile stories; and to be reminded by it of my old acquaintance Brooks of Sheffield.
Among my boys, this summer holiday time, I see an old man making giant kites, and gazing at them in the air, with a delight for which there are no words. He greets me rapturously, and whispers, with many nods and winks, 'Trotwood, you will be glad to hear that I shall finish the Memorial when I have nothing else to do, and that your aunt's the most extraordinary woman in the world, sir!'
Who is this bent lady, supporting herself by a stick, and showing me a countenance in which there are some traces of old pride and beauty, feebly contending with a querulous, imbecile, fretful wandering of the mind? She is in a garden; and near her stands a sharp, dark, withered woman, with a white scar on her lip. Let me hear what they say.
'Rosa, I have forgotten this gentleman's name.'
Rosa bends over her, and calls to her, 'Mr. Copperfield.'
'I am glad to see you, sir. I am sorry to observe you are in mourning. I hope Time will be good to you.'
Her impatient attendant scolds her, tells her I am not in mourning, bids her look again, tries to rouse her.
'You have seen my son, sir,' says the elder lady. 'Are you reconciled?'
Looking fixedly at me, she puts her hand to her forehead, and moans. Suddenly, she cries, in a terrible voice, 'Rosa, come to me. He is dead!' Rosa kneeling at her feet, by turns caresses her, and quarrels with her; now fiercely telling her, 'I loved him better than you ever did!'—now soothing her to sleep on her breast, like a sick child. Thus I leave them; thus I always find them; thus they wear their time away, from year to year.
What ship comes sailing home from India, and what English lady is this, married to a growling old Scotch Croesus with great flaps of ears? Can this be Julia Mills?
Indeed it is Julia Mills, peevish and fine, with a black man to carry cards and letters to her on a golden salver, and a copper-coloured woman in linen, with a bright handkerchief round her head, to serve her Tiffin in her dressing-room. But Julia keeps no diary in these days; never sings Affection's Dirge; eternally quarrels with the old Scotch Croesus, who is a sort of yellow bear with a tanned hide. Julia is steeped in money to the throat, and talks and thinks of nothing else. I liked her better in the Desert of Sahara.
Or perhaps this IS the Desert of Sahara! For, though Julia has a stately house, and mighty company, and sumptuous dinners every day, I see no green growth near her; nothing that can ever come to fruit or flower. What Julia calls 'society', I see; among it Mr. Jack Maldon, from his Patent Place, sneering at the hand that gave it him, and speaking to me of the Doctor as 'so charmingly antique'. But when society is the name for such hollow gentlemen and ladies, Julia, and when its breeding is professed indifference to everything that can advance or can retard mankind, I think we must have lost ourselves in that same Desert of Sahara, and had better find the way out.
And lo, the Doctor, always our good friend, labouring at his Dictionary (somewhere about the letter D), and happy in his home and wife. Also the Old Soldier, on a considerably reduced footing, and by no means so influential as in days of yore!
Working at his chambers in the Temple, with a busy aspect, and his hair (where he is not bald) made more rebellious than ever by the constant friction of his lawyer's-wig, I come, in a later time, upon my dear old Traddles. His table is covered with thick piles of papers; and I say, as I look around me:
'If Sophy were your clerk, now, Traddles, she would have enough to do!'
'You may say that, my dear Copperfield! But those were capital days, too, in Holborn Court! Were they not?'
'When she told you you would be a judge? But it was not the town talk then!'
'At all events,' says Traddles, 'if I ever am one—' 'Why, you know you will be.'
'Well, my dear Copperfield, WHEN I am one, I shall tell the story, as I said I would.'
We walk away, arm in arm. I am going to have a family dinner with Traddles. It is Sophy's birthday; and, on our road, Traddles discourses to me of the good fortune he has enjoyed.
'I really have been able, my dear Copperfield, to do all that I had most at heart. There's the Reverend Horace promoted to that living at four hundred and fifty pounds a year; there are our two boys receiving the very best education, and distinguishing themselves as steady scholars and good fellows; there are three of the girls married very comfortably; there are three more living with us; there are three more keeping house for the Reverend Horace since Mrs. Crewler's decease; and all of them happy.'
'Except—' I suggest.
'Except the Beauty,' says Traddles. 'Yes. It was very unfortunate that she should marry such a vagabond. But there was a certain dash and glare about him that caught her. However, now we have got her safe at our house, and got rid of him, we must cheer her up again.'
Traddles's house is one of the very houses—or it easily may have been—which he and Sophy used to parcel out, in their evening walks. It is a large house; but Traddles keeps his papers in his dressing-room and his boots with his papers; and he and Sophy squeeze themselves into upper rooms, reserving the best bedrooms for the Beauty and the girls. There is no room to spare in the house; for more of 'the girls' are here, and always are here, by some accident or other, than I know how to count. Here, when we go in, is a crowd of them, running down to the door, and handing Traddles about to be kissed, until he is out of breath. Here, established in perpetuity, is the poor Beauty, a widow with a little girl; here, at dinner on Sophy's birthday, are the three married girls with their three husbands, and one of the husband's brothers, and another husband's cousin, and another husband's sister, who appears to me to be engaged to the cousin. Traddles, exactly the same simple, unaffected fellow as he ever was, sits at the foot of the large table like a Patriarch; and Sophy beams upon him, from the head, across a cheerful space that is certainly not glittering with Britannia metal.
And now, as I close my task, subduing my desire to linger yet, these faces fade away. But one face, shining on me like a Heavenly light by which I see all other objects, is above them and beyond them all. And that remains.
I turn my head, and see it, in its beautiful serenity, beside me.
My lamp burns low, and I have written far into the night; but the dear presence, without which I were nothing, bears me company.
O Agnes, O my soul, so may thy face be by me when I close my life indeed; so may I, when realities are melting from me, like the shadows which I now dismiss, still find thee near me, pointing upward!