"Some thief or ruffian," said the locksmith. "Give me a light."
"No, no," she returned hastily. "I would rather go myself, alone."
She left the room, and Varden heard the sound of whispers without. Then the words "My God!" came, tittered in a voice dreadful to hear.
Varden rushed out. A look of terror was on the woman's face, and before her stood a man, of sinister appearance, whom the locksmith had passed on the road from Chigwell the previous night.
The man fled, but the locksmith was after him and would have held him but for the widow, who clutched his arms.
"The other way—the other way!" she cried. "Do not touch him, on your life! He carries other lives besides his own. Don't ask what it means. He is not to be followed or stopped! Come back!"
"The other way!" said the locksmith. "Why, there he goes!"
The old man looked at her in wonder, and let her draw him into the house. Still that look of terror was on her face, as she implored him not to question her.
Presently she withdrew, and left him in his perplexity alone, and Barnaby came in.
"I have been asleep," said the idiot, with widely opened eyes. "There have been great faces coming and going—close to my face, and then a mile away. That's sleep, eh? I dreamed just now that something—it was in the shape of a man—followed me and wouldn't let me be. It came creeping on to worry me, nearer and nearer. I ran faster, leaped, sprang out of bed and to the window, and there in the street below—"
"Halloa, halloa, halloa! Bow, wow, wow!" cried a hoarse voice. "What's the matter here? Halloa!"
The locksmith started, and there was Grip, a large raven, Barnaby's close companion, perched on the top of a chair.
"Halloa, halloa, halloa! Keep up your spirits! Never say die!" the bird went on, in a hoarse voice. "Bow, wow, wow!" And then he began to whistle.
The locksmith said "Good-night," and went his way home, disturbed in thought.
"In league with that ill-looking figure that might have fallen from a gibbet. He listening and hiding here. Barnaby first upon the spot last night. Can she, who has always borne so fair a name, be guilty of such crimes in secret?" said the locksmith, musing. "Heaven forgive me if I am wrong, and send me just thoughts."
II—Barnaby Is Enrolled
It is seven in the forenoon, on June 2, 1780, and Barnaby and his mother, who had travelled to London to escape that unwelcome visitor whom Varden had noticed, were resting in one of the recesses of Westminster Bridge.
A vast throng of persons were crossing the river to the Surrey shore in unusual haste and excitement, and nearly every man in this great concourse wore in his hat a blue cockade.
When the bridge was clear, which was not till nearly two hours had elapsed, the widow inquired of an old man what was the meaning of the great assemblage.
"Why, haven't you heard?" he returned. "This is the day Lord George Gordon presents the petition against the Catholics, and his lordship has declared he won't present it to the House of Commons at all unless it is attended to the door by forty thousand good men and true, at least. There's a crowd for you!"
"A crowd, indeed!" said Barnaby. "Do you hear that, mother? That's a brave crowd he talks of. Come!"
"Not to join it!" cried his mother. "You don't know what mischief they may do, or where they may lead you. Dear Barnaby, for my sake——"
"For your sake!" he answered. "It is for your sake, mother. Here's a brave crowd! Come—or wait till I come back! Yes, yes, wait here!"
A stranger gave Barnaby a blue cockade and bade him wear it, and while he was still fixing it in his hat Lord Gordon and his secretary, Gashford, passed, and then turned back.
"You lag behind, friend, and are late," said Lord George. "It's past ten now. Didn't you know the hour of assemblage was ten o'clock?"
Barnaby shook his head, and looked vacantly from one to the other.
"He cannot tell you, sir," the widow interposed. "It's no use to ask him. We know nothing of these matters. This is my son—my poor, afflicted son, dearer to me than my own life. He is not in his right senses—he is not, indeed."
"He has surely no appearance," said Lord George, whispering in his secretary's ear, "of being deranged. We must not construe any trifling peculiarity into madness. You desire to make one of this body?" he added, addressing Barnaby. "And intended to make one, did you?"
"Yes, yes," said Barnaby, with sparkling eyes. "To be sure, I did. I told her so myself."
"Then follow me." replied Lord George, "and you shall have your wish."
Barnaby kissed his mother tenderly, and telling her their fortunes were made now, did as he was desired.
They hastened on to St. George's Fields, where the vast army of men was drawn up in sections. Doubtless there were honest zealots sprinkled here and there, but for the most part the throng was composed of the very scum and refuse of London.
Barnaby was acclaimed by a man in the ranks, Hugh, the rough hostler of the Maypole, whom Barnaby in his frequent wanderings had long known.
"What! you wear the colour, do you? Fall in, Barnaby. You shall march between me and Dennis, and you shall carry," said Hugh, taking a flag from the hand of a tired man, "the gayest silken streamer in this valiant army."
"In the name of God, no!" shrieked the widow, who had followed in pursuit and now darted forward. "Barnaby, my lord, he'll come back—Barnaby!"
"Women in the field!" cried Hugh, stepping between them, and holding her off with his outstretched hand. "It's against all orders—ladies carrying off our gallant soldiers from their duty. Give the word of command, captain."
The words, "Form! March!" rang out.
She was thrown to the ground; the whole field was in motion; Barnaby was whirled away into the heart of a dense mass of men, and the widow saw him no more.
Barnaby himself, heedless of the weight of the great banner he carried, marched proud, happy, and elated past all telling. Hugh was at his side, and next to Hugh came a squat, thick-set personage called Dennis, who, unknown to his companions, was no other than the public hangman.
"I wish I could see her somewhere," said Barnaby, looking anxiously around. "She would be proud to see me now, eh, Hugh? She'd cry with joy, I know she would."
"Why, what palaver's this?" asked Mr. Dennis, with supreme disdain. "We ain't got no sentimental members among us, I hope."
"Don't be uneasy, brother," cried Hugh, "he's only talking of his mother."
"His mother!" growled Mr. Dennis, with a strong oath, and in tones of deep disgust. "And have I combined myself with this here section, and turned out on this here memorable day, to hear men talk about their mothers?"
"Barnaby's right," cried Hugh, with a grin, "and I say it. Lookee, bold lad, if she's not here to see it's because I've provided for her, and sent half-a-dozen gentlemen, every one of 'em with a blue flag, to take her to a grand house all hung round with gold and silver banners, where she'll wait till you come and want for nothing. And we'll get money for her. Money, cocked hats, and gold lace will all belong to us if we are true to that noble gentleman, if we carry our flags and keep 'em safe. That's all we've got to do.
"Don't you see, man," Hugh whispered to Dennis, "that the lad's a natural, and can be got to do anything if you take him the right way? He's worth a dozen men in earnest, as you'd find if you tried a fall with him. You'll soon see whether he's of use or not."
Mr. Dennis received this explanation with many nods and winks, and softened his behaviour towards Barnaby from that moment.
Hugh was right. It was Barnaby who stood his ground, and grasped his pole more firmly when the Guards came out to clear the mob away from Westminster.
One soldier came spurring on, cutting at the hands of those who would have forced his charger back, and still Barnaby, without retreating an inch, waited for his coming. Some called to him to fly, when the pole swept the air above the people's heads, and the man's saddle was empty in an instant.
Then he and Hugh turned and fled, the crowd opening and closing so quickly that there was no clue to the course they had taken.
III.—The Storming of Newgate
For several days London was in the hands of the rioters. Catholic chapels were burned, the private residences of Catholics were sacked. From the moment of the first outbreak at Westminster every symptom of order vanished. Fifty resolute men might have turned the rioters; a single company of soldiers could have scattered them like dust; but no man interposed, no authority restrained them.
But Barnaby, bold Barnaby, had been taken. Left behind at the resort of the rioters by Hugh, who led a body of men to Chigwell, he had been captured by the soldiers, a proclamation of the Privy Council having at last encouraged the magistrates to set the military in motion for the arrest of certain ringleaders.
He was placed in Newgate and heavily ironed, and presently Grip, with drooping head and plumes rough and tumbled, was thrust into his cell.
Another man was also taken and placed in Newgate on that day, and presently he and Barnaby stood staring at each other, face to face. Suddenly Barnaby laid hands upon him, and cried, "Ah, I know! You are the robber!"
The other struggled with him silently, but finding the young man too strong for him, raised his eyes and said, "I am your father."
Barnaby released his hold, fell back, and looked at him aghast. Then he sprang towards him, put his arms about his neck, and pressed his head against his cheek. He never learnt that his father, supposed to have been murdered, was himself a murderer. This was the widow's dreadful secret.
And now Hugh, with a huge army, was at the gates of Newgate, bent on rescue. He had returned, to find Barnaby taken, and at once announced that the prison must be stormed. In vain the military commanders tried to rouse the magistrates, and in particular the Lord Mayor; no orders were given, and the soldiers could do nothing within the precincts of the city without the warrant of the civil authorities.
In a dense mass the rioters halted before the prison-gate. All those who had already been conspicuous were there, and others who had friends or relatives within the jail hastened to the attack.
Hugh had brought, by force, old Gabriel Varden to pick the lock of the great door, but this the sturdy locksmith resolutely refused to do.
"You have got some friends of ours in your custody, master," Hugh called out to the head jailer, who had appeared on the roof. "Deliver up our friends, and you may keep the rest."
"It's my duty to keep them all. I shall do my duty," replied the jailer, firmly.
A shower of stones compelled the keeper of the jail to retire.
Gabriel Varden was urged by blows, by offers of reward, and by threats of instant death to do the office the rioters required of him, and all in vain. He was knocked down, was up again, buffeting with a score of them. He had never loved his life so well as then, but nothing could move him.
The cry was raised, "You lose time. Remember the prisoners! Remember Barnaby!" And the crowd left the locksmith, to gather fuel, for an entrance was to be forced by fire. Furniture from the prison lodge was piled up in a monstrous heap and set blazing, oil was poured on, and at last the great gate yielded to the flames. It settled deeper in the red-hot cinders, tottered, and was down.
Hugh leaped upon the blazing heap, and dashed into the jail. The hangman followed. And then so many rushed upon their track that the fire got trodden down. There was no need of it now, for, inside and out, the prison was soon in flames.
Barnaby and his father were quickly released, and passed from hand to hand into the street. Soon all the wretched inmates of the jail were free, except four condemned to die whom Dennis kept under guard. And these Hugh roughly insisted on liberating, to the sullen anger of the hangman.
"You won't let these men alone, and leave 'em to me? You've no respect for nothing, haven't you?" said Dennis, and with a scowl he disappeared.
Three hundred prisoners in all were released from Newgate, and many of these returned to haunt the place of their captivity, and were retaken. The day after the storming of Newgate, the mob having now had London at its mercy for a week, the authorities at last took serious action, and at nightfall the military held the streets.
Hugh and Barnaby and old Rudge had taken refuge in a rough out-house in the outskirts of London, where they were wont to rest, when Dennis stood before them; he had not been seen since the storming of Newgate.
A few minutes later, and the shed was filled with soldiers, while a body of horse galloping into the field drew op before it.
"Here!" said Dennis, "it's them two young ones, gentlemen, that the proclamation puts a price on. This other's an escaped felon. I'm sorry for it, brother," he added, addressing himself to Hugh; "but you've brought it on yourself; you forced me to do it; you wouldn't respect the soundest constitutional principles, you know; you went and wiolated the wery framework of society."
Barnaby and his father were carried off by one road in the centre of a body of foot-soldiers; Hugh, fast bound upon a horse, was taken by another.
IV.—The Fate of the Rioters
The riots had been stamped out, and once more the city was quiet.
Barnaby sat in his dungeon. Beside him, with his hand in hers, sat his mother; worn and altered, full of grief, and heavy-hearted, but the same to him.
"Mother," he said, "how long—how many days and nights—shall I be kept here?"
"Not many, dear. I hope not many."
"If they kill me—they may; I heard it said—what will become of Grip?"
The sound of the word suggested to the raven his old phrase, "Never say die!" But he stopped short in the middle of it as if he lacked the heart to get through the shortest sentence.
"Will they take his life as well as mine?" said Barnaby. "I wish they would. If you and I and he could die together, there would be none to feel sorry, or to grieve for us. Don't you cry for me. They said that I am bold, and so I am, and so I will be."
The turnkey came to close the cells for the night, the widow tore herself away, and Barnaby was alone.
He was to die. There was no hope. They had tried to save him. The locksmith had carried petitions and memorials to the fountain-head with his own hands. But the well was not one of mercy, and Barnaby was to die. From the first, his mother had never left him, save at night; and, with her beside him, he was contented.
"They call me silly, mother. They shall see—to-morrow."
Dennis and Hugh were in the courtyard. "No reprieve, no reprieve! Nobody comes near us. There's only the night left now!" moaned Dennis. "Do you think they'll reprieve me in the night, brother? I've known reprieves come in the night afore now. Don't you think there's a good chance yet? Don't you? Say you do."
"You ought to be the best instead of the worst," said Hugh, stopping before him. "Ha, ha, ha! See the hangman when it comes home to him."
The clock struck. Barnaby looked in his mother's face, and saw that the time had come. After a long embrace he rushed away, and they carried her away, insensible.
"See the hangman when it comes home to him!" cried Hugh, as Dennis, still moaning, fell down in a fit. "Courage, bold Barnaby, what care we? A man can die but once. If you wake in the night, sing that out lustily, and fall asleep again."
The time wore on. Five o'clock had struck—six—seven—and eight. They were to die at noon, and in the crowd without it was said they could tell the hangman, when he came out, by his being the shorter one, and that the man who was to suffer with him was named Hugh; and that it was Barnaby Rudge who would be hanged in Bloomsbury Square.
At the first stroke of twelve the prison bell began to toll, and the three were brought forth into the yard together.
Barnaby was the only one who had washed or trimmed himself that morning. He still wore the broken peacock's feathers in his hat; and all his usual scraps of finery were carefully disposed about his person.
"What cheer, Barnaby?", cried Hugh. "Don't be downcast, lad. Leave that to him," he added, with a nod in the direction of Dennis, held up between two men.
"Bless you!" cried Barnaby, "I'm not frightened, Hugh. I'm quite happy. Look at me! Am I afraid to die? Will they see me tremble?"
"I'd say this," said Hugh, wringing Barnaby by the hand, and looking round at the officers and functionaries gathered in the yard, "that if I had ten lives to lose I'd lay them all down to save this one. This one that will be lost through mine!"
"Not through you," said Barnaby mildly. "Don't say that. You were not to blame. You have always been very good to me. Hugh, we shall know what makes the stars shine now!"
Hugh spoke no more, but moved onward in his place with a careless air, listening as he went to the service for the dead. As soon as he had passed the door, his miserable associate was carried out; and the crowd beheld the rest. Barnaby would have mounted the steps at the same time, but he was restrained, as he was to undergo the sentence elsewhere.
It was only just when the cart was starting that the courier reached the jail with the reprieve. All night Gabriel Varden and his friends had been at work; they had gone to the young Prince of Wales, and even to the ante-chamber of the king himself. Successful, at last, in awakening an interest in his favour, they had an interview with the minister in his bed as late as eight o'clock that morning. The result of a searching inquiry was that, between eleven and twelve o'clock, a free pardon to Barnaby Rudge was made out and signed, and Gabriel Varden had the grateful task of bringing him home in triumph with an enthusiastic mob.
"I needn't say," observed the locksmith, when his house in Clerkenwell was reached at last, and he and Barnaby were safe within, "that, except among ourselves, I didn't want to make a triumph of it. But directly we got into the street, we were known, and the hub-bub began. Of the two, and after experience of both, I think I'd rather be taken out of my house by a crowd of enemies than escorted home by a mob of friends!"
At last the crowd dispersed. And Barnaby stretched himself on the ground beside his mother's couch, and fell into a deep sleep.
* * * * *
"Bleak House," a story with a purpose, like most of Dickens's works, was published when the author was forty years old. The object of the story was to ventilate the monstrous injustice wrought by delays in the old Court of Chancery, which defeated all the purposes of a court of justice. Many of the characters, who, though famous, are not essential to the development of the story, were drawn from real life. Turveydrop was suggested by George IV., and Inspector Bucket was a friend of the author in the Metropolitan Police Force. Harold Skimpole was identified with Leigh Hunt. Dickens himself admitted the resemblance; but only in so far as none of Skimpole's vices could be attributed to his prototype. The original of Bleak House was a country mansion in Hertfordshire, near St. Albans, though it is usually said to be a summer residence of the novelist at Broadstairs.
London. Implacable November weather. The Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Fog everywhere, and at the very heart of the fog sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery. The case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. No man alive knows what it means. It has passed into a joke. It has been death to many, but it is a joke in the profession.
Mr. Kenge (of Kenge and Carboy, solicitors, Lincoln's Inn) first mentioned Jarndyce and Jarndyce to me, and told me that the costs already amounted to from sixty to seventy thousand pounds.
My godmother, who brought me up, was just dead, and Mr. Kenge came to tell me that Mr. Jarndyce proposed, knowing my desolate position, that I should go to a first-rate school, where my education should be completed and my comfort secured. What did I say to this? What could I say but accept the proposal thankfully?
I passed at this school six happy, quiet years, and then one day came a note from Kenge and Carboy, mentioning that their client, Mr. Jarndyce, being in the house, desired my services as an eligible companion to this young lady.
So I said good-bye to the school and went to London, and was driven to Mr. Kenge's office. He was not altered, but he was surprised to see how altered I was, and appeared quite pleased.
"As you are going to be the companion of the young lady who is now in the Chancellor's private room, Miss Summerson," he said, "we thought it well that you should be in attendance also."
Mr. Kenge gave me his arm, and we went out of his office and into the court, and then into a comfortable sort of room where a young lady and a young gentleman were standing talking.
They looked up when I came in, and I saw in the young lady a beautiful girl, with rich golden hair, and a bright, innocent, trusting face.
"Miss Ada," said Mr. Kenge, "this is Miss Summerson."
She came to meet me with a smile of welcome and her hand extended, but seemed to change her mind in a moment, and kissed me.
The young gentleman was her distant cousin, she told me, and his name Richard Carstone. He was a handsome youth, and after she had called him up to where we sat, he stood by us, talking gaily, like a light-hearted boy. He was very young, not more than nineteen then, but nearly two years older than she was. They were both orphans, and had never met before that day. Our all three coming together for the first time in such an unusual place was a thing to talk about, and we talked about it.
Presently we heard a bustle, and Mr. Kenge said that the court had risen, and soon after we all followed him into the next room. There was the Lord Chancellor sitting in an armchair at the table, and his manner was both courtly and kind.
"Miss Clare," said his lordship. "Miss Ada Clare?" Mr. Kenge presented her.
"The Jarndyce in question," said the Lord Chancellor, turning over papers, "is Jarndyce of Bleak House—a dreary name."
"But not a dreary place, my lord," said Mr. Kenge.
"Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House is not married?" said his lordship.
"He is not, my lord," said Mr. Kenge.
"Young Mr. Richard Carstone is present?" said the Lord Chancellor.
Richard bowed and stepped forward.
"Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House, my lord," Mr. Kenge observed, "if I may venture to remind your lordship, provides a suitable companion for——"
"For Mr. Richard Carstone!" I thought I heard his lordship say in a low voice.
"For Miss Ada Clare. This is the young lady, Miss Esther Summerson."
"Miss Summerson is not related to any party in the cause, I think."
"No, my lord."
"Very well," said his lordship, after taking Miss Ada aside and asking her if she thought she would be happy at Bleak House. "I shall make the order. Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House has chosen, so far as I may judge, a very good companion for the young lady, and the arrangement seems the best of which the circumstances admit."
He dismissed us pleasantly and we all went out. As we stood for a minute, waiting for Mr. Kenge, a curious little old woman, Miss Flite, in a squeezed bonnet, and carrying a reticule, came curtsying and smiling up to us, with an air of great ceremony.
"Oh!" said she, "The wards in Jarndyce. Very happy, I am sure, to have the honour. It is a good omen for youth, and hope, and beauty when they find themselves in this place, and don't know what's to come of it."
"Mad!" whispered Richard, not thinking she could hear him.
"Right! Mad, young gentleman," she returned quickly. "I was a ward myself. I was not mad at that time. I had youth and hope; I believe beauty. It matters very little now. Neither of the three served, or saved me. I have the honour to attend court regularly. I expect a judgment. On the Day of Judgment. I have discovered that the sixth seal mentioned in the Revelations is the great seal. Pray accept my blessing."
Mr. Kenge coming up, the poor old lady went on. "I shall confer estates on both. Shortly. On the Day of Judgment. This is a good omen for you. Accept my blessing."
We left her at the bottom of the stairs. She was still saying, with a curtsy, and a smile between every little sentence, "Youth. And hope. And beauty. And Chancery."
The morning after, walking out early, we met the old lady again, smiling and saying in her air of patronage, "The wards in Jarndyce! Ve-ry happy, I am sure! Pray come and see my lodgings. It will be a good omen for me. Youth, and hope, and beauty, are very seldom there."
She took my hand and beckoned Richard and Ada to come too, and in a few moments she was at home.
She had stopped at a shop over which was written, "Krook, Rag and Bottle Warehouse." Inside was an old man in spectacles and a hair cap, and entering the shop the little old lady presented him to us.
"My landlord, Krook," she said. "He is called among the neighbours the Lord Chancellor. His shop is called the Court of Chancery."
She lived at the top of the house in a room from which she had a glimpse of the roof of Lincoln's Inn Hall, and this seemed to be her principal inducement for living there.
We drove down to Bleak House, in Hertfordshire, next day, and all three of us were anxious and nervous when the night closed in, and the driver, pointing to a light sparkling on the top of a hill, cried, "That's Bleak House!"
"Ada, my love, Esther, my dear, you are welcome. Rick, if I had a hand to spare at present I would give it you!"
The gentleman who said these words in a clear, hospitable voice, kissed us both in a fatherly way, and bore us across the hall into a ruddy little room, all in a glow with a blazing fire.
"Now, Rick!" said he, "I have a hand at liberty. A word in earnest is as good as a speech. I am heartily glad to see you. You are at home. Warm yourself!"
While he spoke I glanced at his face. It was a handsome face, full of change and motion; and his hair was a silvered iron grey. I took him to be nearer sixty than fifty, but he was upright, hearty, and robust.
So this was our coming to Bleak House.
The very next morning I was installed as housekeeper and presented with two bunches of keys—a large bunch for the housekeeping and a little bunch for the cellars. I could not help trembling when I met Mr. Jarndyce, for I knew it was he who had done everything for me since my godmother's death.
"Nonsense!" he said. "I hear of a good little orphan girl without a protector, and I take it into my head to be that protector. She grows up, and more than justifies my good opinion, and I remain her guardian and her friend. What is there in all this?"
He soon began to talk to me confidentially as if I had been in the habit of conversing with him every morning for I don't know how long.
"Of course, Esther," he said, "you don't understand this Chancery business?"
I shook my head.
"I don't know who does," he returned. "The lawyers have twisted it into such a state of bedevilment that the original merits of the case have long disappeared. Its about a will, and the trusts under a will—or it was once. It's about nothing but costs now. It was about a will when it was about anything. A certain Jarndyce, in an evil hour, made a great fortune and made a great will. In the question how the trusts under that will are to be administered, the fortune left by the will is squandered away; the legatees under the will are reduced to such a miserable condition that they would be sufficiently punished if they had committed an enormous crime in having money left them, and the will itself is made a dead letter. All through the deplorable cause everybody must have copies, over and over again, of everything that has accumulated about it in the way of cartloads of papers, and must go down the middle and up again, through such an infernal country-dance of costs and fees and nonsense and corruption as was never dreamed of in the wildest visions of a witch's sabbath. And we can't get out of the suit on any terms, for we are made parties to it, and must be parties to it, whether we like it or not. But it won't do to think of it! Thinking of it drove my great-uncle, poor Tom Jarndyce, to blow his brains out."
"I hope sir—" said I.
"I think you had better call me Guardian, my dear."
"I hope, Guardian," said I, giving the housekeeping keys the least shake in the world, "that you may not be trusting too much to my discretion. I am not clever, and that's the truth."
"You are clever enough to be the good little woman of our lives here, my dear," he returned playfully; "the little old woman of the rhyme, who sweeps the cobwebs of the sky, and you will sweep them out of our sky in the course of your housekeeping, Esther."
This was the beginning of my being called Old Woman, and Mother Hubbard, and Dame Durden, and so many names of that sort, that my own soon became quite lost.
One of the things I noticed from the first about my guardian was that, though he was always doing a thousand acts of kindness, he could not bear any acknowledgments.
We had somehow got to see more of Miss Flite on our visits to London: for the Lord Chancellor always had to be consulted before Richard could settle in any profession, and as Richard first wanted to be a doctor and then tired of that in favour of the army, there were several consultations. I remember one visit because it was the first time we met Mr. Woodcourt.
My guardian and Ada and I heard of Miss Flite having been ill, and when we called we found a medical gentleman attending her in her garret in Lincoln's Inn.
Miss Flite dropped a general curtsy.
"Honoured, indeed," she said, "by another visit from the wards in Jarndyce! Very happy to receive Jarndyce of Bleak House beneath my humble roof!"
"Has she been very ill?" asked Mr. Jarndyce in a whisper of the doctor.
"Oh, decidedly unwell!" she answered confidentially. "Not pain, you know—trouble. Only Mr. Woodcourt knows how much. My physician, Mr. Woodcourt"—with great stateliness—"The wards in Jarndyce; Jarndyce of Bleak House. The kindest physician in the college," she whispered to me. "I expect a judgment. On the Day of Judgment. And shall then confer estates."
"She will be as well, in a day or two," said Mr. Woodcourt, with an observant smile, "as she ever will be. Have you heard of her good fortune?"
"Most extraordinary!" said Miss Flite. "Every Saturday Kenge and Carboy place a paper of shillings in my hand. Always the same number. One for every day in the week. I think that the Lord Chancellor forwards them. Until the judgment I expect is given."
My guardian was contemplating Miss Flite's birds, and I had no need to look beyond him.
III.—I Am Made Happy
I sometimes thought that Mr. Woodcourt loved me, and that, if he had been richer, he would perhaps have told me that he loved me before he went away. I had thought sometimes that if he had done so I should have been glad. As it was, he went to the East Indies, and later we read in the papers of a great shipwreck, that Allan Woodcourt had worked like a hero to save the drowning, and succour the survivors.
I had been ill when my dear guardian asked me one day if I would care to read something he had written, and I said "Yes." There was estrangement at that time between Richard and Mr. Jarndyce, for the unhappy boy had taken it into his head that the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce would yet be settled, and would bring him fortune, and this kept him from devoting himself seriously to any profession. Of course, he and my darling Ada had fallen in love, and my guardian insisting on their waiting till Richard was earning some income before any engagement could be recognised, increased the estrangement. I knew, to my distress, that Richard suspected my guardian of having a conflicting claim in the horrible lawsuit and this made him think unjustly of Mr. Jarndyce.
I read the letter. It was so impressive in its love for me, and in the unselfish caution it gave me, that my eyes were too often blinded to read much at a time. But I read it through three times before I laid it down. It asked me would I be the mistress of Bleak House. It was not a love-letter, though it expressed so much love, but was written just as he would at any time have spoken to me.
I felt that to devote my life to his happiness was to thank him poorly for all he had done for me. Still I cried very much; not only in the fulness of my heart after reading the letter, but as if something for which there was no name or distinct idea were lost to me. I was very happy, very thankful, very hopeful, but I cried very much.
On entering the breakfast-room next morning I found my guardian just as usual; quite as frank, as open, as free. I thought he might speak to me about the letter, but he never did.
At the end of a week I went to him and said, rather hesitating and trembling, "Guardian, when would you like to have the answer to the letter?"
"When it's ready, my dear," he replied.
"I think it's ready," said I, "and I have brought it myself."
I put my two arms around his neck and kissed him, and he said was this the mistress of Bleak House? And I said "Yes," and it made no difference presently, and I said nothing to my pet, Ada, about it.
It was a few days after this, when Mr. Vholes, the attorney whom Richard employed to watch his interests, called at Bleak House, and told us that his client was very embarrassed financially, and so thought of throwing up his commission in the army.
To avert this I went down to Deal and found Richard alone in the barracks. He was writing at a table, with a great confusion of clothes, tin cases, books, boots, and brushes strewn all about the floor. So worn and haggard he looked, even in the fulness of his handsome youth!
My mission was quite fruitless.
"No, Dame Durden! Two subjects I forbid. The first is John Jarndyce. The second, you know what. Call it madness, and I tell you I can't help it now, and can't be sane. But it is no such thing; it is the one object I have to pursue."
He went on to tell me that it was impossible to remain a soldier; that, apart from debts and duns, he took no interest in his employment and was not fit for it. He showed me papers to prove that his retirement was arranged. Knowing I had done no good by coming down, I prepared to return to London on the morrow.
There was some excitement in the town by reason of the arrival of a big Indiaman, and, as it happened, amongst those who came on shore from the ship was Mr. Allan Woodcourt. I met him in the hotel where I was staying, and he seemed quite pleased to see me. He was glad to meet Richard again, too, and promised, on my asking him, to befriend Richard in London.
IV.—End of Jarndyce and Jarndyce
Richard always declared that it was Ada he meant to see righted, no less than himself, and his anxiety on that point so impressed Mr. Woodcourt that he told me about it. It revived a fear I had had before, that my dear girl's little property might be absorbed by Mr. Vholes, and that Richard's justification to himself would be this.
So I went up to London to see Richard, who now lived in Symond's Inn, and my darling Ada went with me. He was poring over a table covered with dusty papers, but he received us very affectionately.
I noticed, as he passed his two hands over his head, how sunken and how large his eyes appeared, and how dry his lips were. He spoke of the case half-hopefully, half-despondently, "Either the suit must be ended, Esther, or the suitor. But it shall be the suit—the suit." Then he took a few turns up and down, and sank upon the sofa. "I get so tired," he said gloomily. "It is such weary, weary work."
"Esther, dear," Ada said, very quietly, "I am not going home again. Never any more. I am going to stay with my dear husband. We have been married above two months. Go home without me, my own Esther; I shall never go home any more."
I often came to Richard and his wife, and I often met Mr. Woodcourt there. Richard still suspected my guardian, and refused to see him, and when I said this was so unreasonable, my guardian only said, "What shall we find reasonable in Jarndyce and Jarndyce? Unreason and injustice from beginning to end, if it ever has an end. How should poor Rick, always hovering near it, pluck reason out of it?"
It was some months after this when Mr. Woodcourt asked me to be his wife, and I had to tell him I was not free. But I had to tell him that I could never forget how proud and glad I was at having been beloved by him.
He took my hand and kissed it, and was like himself again.
All this time my guardian had never referred to his letter or my answer, so I said to him next morning I would be the mistress of Bleak House whenever he pleased.
"Next month?" my guardian said gaily.
"Next month, dear guardian."
At the end of the month my guardian went away to Yorkshire, and asked me to follow him. I was very much surprised, and when the journey was over my guardian explained that he had asked me to come down to see a house he had bought for Mr. Woodcourt, with whom he was always very pleased.
It was a beautiful summer morning when we went out to look at the house, and there over the porch was written. "Bleak House." He led me to a seat, and sitting down beside me, said:
"When I wrote you the letter to which you brought the answer"—my guardian smiled as he referred to it—"I had my own happiness too much in view; but I had yours, too. Hear me, my love, but do not speak. When Woodcourt came home, I saw that there was other happiness for you; I saw with whom you would be happier. Well, I have long been in Allan Woodcourt's confidence, although he was not, until yesterday, in mine. One more last word. When Allan Woodcourt spoke to you, my dear, he spoke with my knowledge and consent. But I gave him no encouragement; not I, for these surprises were my great reward, and I was too miserly to part with a scrap of it. He was to come and tell me all that passed, and he did. I have no more to say. This is Bleak House. This day I give this house its little mistress, and before God it is the brightest day in all my life."
He rose, and raised me with him. We were no longer alone. My husband—I have called him by that name full seven happy years now—stood at my side.
"Allan," said my guardian, "take from me the best wife that ever man had. What more can I say for you than that I know you deserve her?"
He kissed me once again. And now the tears were in his eyes as he said, more softly, "Esther, my dearest, after so many years, there is a kind of parting in this too. I know that my mistake has caused you some distress. Forgive your old guardian in restoring him to his old place in your affections. Allan, take my dear."
We all three went home together next day. We had an intimation from Mr. Kenge that the case would come on at Westminster in two days, and that a certain will had been found which might end the suit in Richard's favour.
Allan took me down to Westminster, and when we came to Westminster Hall we found that the Court of Chancery was full, and that something unusual had occurred. We asked a gentleman by us if he knew what case was on. He told us Jarndyce and Jarndyce, and that, as well as he could make out, it was over. Over for the day? "No," he said; "over for good."
In a few minutes a crowd came streaming out, and we saw Mr. Kenge. He told us that Jarndyce and Jarndyce was a monument of Chancery practice, and—in a good many words—that the case was over because the whole estate was found to have been absorbed in costs.
We hurried away, first to my guardian, and then to Ada and Richard.
Richard was lying on the sofa with his eyes closed when I went in. When he opened them, I fully saw, for the first time, how worn he was. But he spoke cheerfully, and said how glad he was to think of our intended marriage.
In the evening my guardian came in and laid his hand softly on Richard's.
"Oh, sir," said Richard, "you are a good man, a good man!" and burst into tears.
My guardian sat down beside him, keeping his hand on Richard's.
"My dear Rick," he said, "the clouds have cleared away, and it is bright now. We can see now. And how are you, my dear boy?"
"I am very weak, sir, but I hope I shall be stronger. I have to begin the world."
He sought to raise himself a little.
"Ada, my darling!" Allan raised him, so that she could hold him on her bosom. "I have done you many wrongs, my own. I have married you to poverty and trouble, I have scattered your means to the winds. You will forgive me all this, my Ada, before I begin the world?"
A smile lit up his face as she bent to kiss him. He slowly laid his face upon her bosom, drew his arms closer round her neck, and with one parting sob began the world. Not this—oh, not this! The world that sets this right.
* * * * *
"David Copperfield"—published in 1849-50—will always be acclaimed by many as the best of all Dickens's books. It was its author's favourite, and its universal and lasting popularity is entirely deserved. "David Copperfield" is especially remarkable for the autobiographical element, not only in the wretched days of childhood at the wine merchant's, but in the shorthand-reporting in the House of Commons. Dickens never forgot his early degradation, as it seemed to him, in the blacking warehouse at Hungerford Stairs, or quite forgave those who sent him to an occupation he so loathed. Much of "David Copperfield" is familiar in our mouths as household words, and Swinburne has maintained that Micawber ranks with Dick Swiveller as one of the greatest characters in all Dickens's novels. "Copperfield" comes midway in the great list of works by Charles Dickens.
I.—My Early Childhood
I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night, at Blunderstone, in Suffolk. I was a posthumous child. My father's eyes had been closed upon the light of this world six months when mine opened upon it. Miss Betsey Trotwood, an aunt of my father's, and consequently a great-aunt of mine, arrived on the afternoon of the day I was born, and explained to my mother (who was very much afraid of her) that she meant to provide for her child, which was to be a girl.
My aunt said never a word when she learnt that it was a boy, and not a girl, but took her bonnet by the strings in the manner of a sling, aimed a blow at the doctor's head with it, put it on bent, walked out, and never came back. She vanished like a discontented fairy.
The first objects that assume a distinct presence before me, as I look far back into the blank of my infancy, are my mother, with her pretty air and youthful shape, and Peggotty, my old nurse, with no shape at all, and with cheeks and arms so red and hard that I wondered the birds didn't peck her in preference to apples.
I remember a few years later, a gentleman with beautiful black hair and whiskers walking home from church on Sunday with us; and, somehow, I didn't like him or his deep voice, and I was jealous that his hand should touch my mother's in touching me—which it did.
It must have been about this time that, waking up from an uncomfortable doze one night, I found Peggotty and my mother both in tears, and both talking.
"Not such a one as this Mr. Copperfield wouldn't have liked," said Peggotty. "That I say, and that I swear!"
"Good heavens!" cried my mother. "You'll drive me mad! How can you have the heart to say such bitter things to me, when you are well aware that out of this place I haven't a single friend to turn to?" But the following Sunday I saw the gentleman with the black whiskers again, and he walked home from church with us, and gradually I became used to seeing him and knowing him as Mr. Murdstone. I liked him no better than at first, and had the same uneasy jealousy of him.
It was on my return from a visit to Yarmouth, where I went with Peggotty to spend a fortnight at her brother's, that I found my mother married to Mr. Murdstone. They were sitting by the fire in the best parlour when I came in.
I gave him my hand. After a moment of suspense, I went and kissed my mother. I could not look at her, I could not look at him; I knew quite well he was looking at us both. As soon as I could creep away, I crept upstairs, and cried myself to sleep.
A word of encouragement, of pity for my childish ignorance, of welcome home, of reassurance to me that it was home, might have made me dutiful to him in my heart henceforth, instead of in my hypocritical outside, and might have made me respect instead of hating him.
Miss Murdstone arrived next day; she was dark, like her brother, and greatly resembled him in face and voice. Firmness was the grand quality on which both of them took their stand.
I soon fell into disgrace over my lessons. I never could do them with my mother satisfactorily with the Murdstones sitting by; their influence upon me was like the fascination of two snakes on a wretched young bird.
One dreadful morning, when the lessons had turned out even more badly than usual, Mr. Murdstone seized hold of me and twisted my head under his arm preparatory to beating me with a cane. At the first stroke I caught the hand with which he held me, in my mouth, between my teeth, and bit it through. He beat me then as if he would have beaten me to death. And when he had gone, I was kept a close prisoner in my room, and was not allowed to see my mother, and was only permitted to walk in the garden for half an hour every day. Miss Murdstone acted as gaoler, and after five days of this confinement, she told me I was to be sent away to school—to Salem House School, Blackheath.
I saw my mother before I left. They had persuaded her I was a wicked fellow, and she was more sorry for that than for my going.
II.—I Begin Life on My own Account
I was doing my second term at school when I was told that my mother was dead, and that I was to go home to the funeral.
I never returned to Salem House. Mr. Murdstone and his sister left me to myself, and I could see that Mr. Murdstone liked me less than ever. At odd times I speculated on the possibility of not being taught any more or cared for any more, and growing up to be a shabby, moody man, lounging an idle life away about the village.
Peggotty was under notice to quit, and thought of going to live with her brother at Yarmouth; but as it turned out, she didn't do this, but married the old carrier Barkis instead.
"Young or old, Davy dear, as long as I am alive, and have this house over my head," said Peggotty to me on the day she was married, "you shall find it as if I expected you here directly. I shall keep it every day, as I used to keep your old little room, my darling."
The solitary condition I now fell into for some weeks was ended one day by Mr. Murdstone telling me that I was to be put into the business of Murdstone and Grinby.
"You will earn enough to provide for your eating and drinking, and pocket money," said Mr. Murdstone. "Your lodging, which I have arranged for, will be paid by me. So will your washing, and your clothes will be looked after for you, too. You are now going to London, David, to begin the world on your own account."
"In short, you are provided for," observed his sister, "and will please to do your duty."
So I became, at ten years old, a little labouring hind in the service of Murdstone and Grinby.
Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse was at the waterside, down in Blackfriars, and an important branch of their trade was the supply of wines and spirits to certain packet ships. A great many empty bottles were one of the consequences of this traffic, and a certain number of men and boys, of whom I was one, were employed to rinse and wash them. When the empty bottles ran short, there were labels to be pasted on full ones, or corks to be fitted to them, or finished bottles to be packed in casks.
There were three or four boys, counting me. Mick Walker was the name of the oldest; he wore a ragged apron, and a paper cap. The next boy was introduced to me under the extraordinary name of Mealy Potatoes, which had been bestowed upon him on account of his complexion, which was pale, or mealy.
No words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into this companionship, and compared these associates with those of my happier childhood, with the boys at Salem House. Often in the early morning, when I was alone, I mingled my tears with the water in which I was washing the bottles, and sobbed as if there were a flaw in my breast, and it were in danger of bursting.
My salary was six or seven shillings a week—I think it was six at first, and seven afterwards—and I had to support myself on that money all the week. My breakfast was a penny loaf and a pennyworth of milk, and I kept another small loaf and a modicum of cheese to make my supper on at night.
I was so young and childish, and so little qualified to undertake the whole charge of my existence, that often of a morning I could not resist the stale pastry put out for sale at half price at the pastry-cooks' doors, and spent on that the money I should have kept for my dinner. On those days I either went without my dinner, or bought a roll or a slice of pudding.
I was such a child, and so little, that frequently when I went into the bar of a strange public-house for a glass of ale or porter to moisten what I had for dinner, they were afraid to give it me.
I know I do not exaggerate the scantiness of my resources or the difficulties of my life. I know that if a shilling were given me at any time, I spent it in a dinner or a tea. I know that I worked from morning until night, a shabby child, and that I lounged about the streets, insufficiently and unsatisfactorily fed. I know that, but for the mercy of God, I might easily have been, for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a little vagabond.
Arrangements had been made by Mr. Murdstone for my lodging with Mr. Micawber—who took orders on commission for Murdstone and Grinby—and Mr. Micawber himself escorted me to his house in Windsor Terrace, City Road.
Mr. Micawber was a stoutish, middle-aged person, in a brown surtout, with no more hair upon his head than there is upon an egg, and with a very extensive face. His clothes were shabby, but he wore an imposing shirt-collar. He carried a jaunty sort of a stick, with a large pair of rusty tassels to it; and an eyeglass hung outside his coat—for ornament, I afterwards found, as he very seldom looked through it, and couldn't see anything when he did.
Arrived at his house in Windsor Terrace—which, I noticed, was shabby, like himself, but also, like himself, made all the show it could—he presented me to Mrs. Micawber, a thin and faded lady, not at all young.
"I never thought," said Mrs. Micawber, as she showed me my room at the top of the house at the back, "before I was married that I should ever find it necessary to take a lodger. But Mr. Micawber being in difficulties, all considerations of private feeling must give way."
I said, "Yes, ma'am."
"Mr. Micawber's difficulties are almost overwhelming just at present," said Mrs. Micawber, "and whether it is possible to bring him through them I don't know. If Mr. Micawber's creditors will not give him time, they must take the consequences."
In my forlorn state, I soon became quite attached to this family, and when Mr. Micawber's difficulties came to a crisis, and he was arrested and carried to the King's Bench Prison in the Borough, and Mrs. Micawber shortly afterwards followed him, I hired a little room in the neighbourhood of that institution.
Mr. Micawber was in due time released under the Insolvent Debtors' Act, and it was decided that he should go down to Plymouth, where Mrs. Micawber held that her family had influence.
My own mind was now made up. I had resolved to run away—to go by some means or other down into the country, to the only relation I had in the world, and tell my story to my aunt, Miss Betsey. I knew from Peggotty that Miss Betsey lived near Dover, but whether at Dover itself, at Hythe, Sandgate, or Folkstone, she could not say. One of our men, however, informing me on my asking him about these places that they were all close together, I deemed this enough for my object; and after seeing the Micawbers off at the coach office, I set off.
III.—My Aunt Provides for Me
It was on the sixth day of my flight that I reached the wide downs near Dover and set foot in the town.
I had walked every step of the way, sleeping under haystacks at night. Fortunately, it was summer weather, for I was obliged to part with coat and waistcoat to buy food. My shoes were in a woeful condition, and my hat—which had served me for a nightcap, too—was so crushed and bent that no old battered saucepan on the dunghill need have been ashamed to vie with it. My shirt and trousers, stained with heat, dew, grass, and the Kentish soil on which I had slept, might have frightened the birds from my aunt's garden as I stood at the gate. My hair had known no comb or brush since I left London. In this plight I waited to introduce myself to my formidable aunt.
As I stood there, a lady came out of the house, with a handkerchief over her cap, a pair of gardening gloves on her hands and carrying a great knife. I was sure she must be Miss Betsey from her walk, for my mother had often described the way my aunt came to the house when I was born.
"Go away!" said Miss Betsey, shaking her head. "Go along! No boys here!"
I watched her as she marched to a corner of the garden, and then, in desperation, I went softly and stood beside her.
"If you please, ma'am—if you please, aunt, I am your nephew."
"Oh, Lord!" said my aunt, and sat flat down in the garden path.
"I am David Copperfield, of Blunderstone, in Suffolk, where you came when I was born. I have been very unhappy since my mother died. I have been taught nothing and put to work not fit for me. It made me run away to you, and I have walked all the way, and have never slept in bed since I began the journey."
Here my self-support gave way all at once, and I broke into a passion of crying.
Thereupon, my aunt got up in a great hurry, collared me, and took me into the parlour.
The first thing my aunt did was to pour the contents of several bottles down my throat. I think they must have been taken out at random, for I am sure I tasted aniseed water, anchovy sauce, and salad dressing. Then she put me on the sofa, and, acting on the advice of a pleasant-looking, grey-headed gentleman, whom she called "Mr. Dick," heated a bath for me. After that I was enrobed in a shirt and trousers belonging to Mr. Dick, tied up in two or three great shawls, and fell asleep.
That was the beginning of my aunt's adoption of me. She wrote to Mr. Murdstone, and he and his sister arrived a few days later, and were routed by my aunt.
Mr. Murdstone said, finally, he would only take me back unconditionally, and that if I did not return there and then his doors would be shut against me henceforth.
"And what does the boy say?" said my aunt. "Are you ready to go, David?"
I answered "No," and entreated her not to let me go. I begged and prayed my aunt to befriend and protect me, for my father's sake.
"Mr. Dick," said my aunt, "what shall I do with this child?"
Mr. Dick considered, hesitated, brightened, and rejoined, "Have him measured for a suit of clothes directly!"
"Mr. Dick," said my aunt, "give me your hand, for your commonsense is invaluable." She pulled me towards her, and said to Mr. Murdstone, "You can go when you like; I'll take my chance with the boy!"
When they had gone my aunt announced that Mr. Dick would be joint guardian of me, with herself, and that I should be called Trotwood Copperfield.
Thus I began my new life, in a new name, and with everything new about me.
My aunt sent me to school at Canterbury, and, there being no room at the school for boarders, settled that I should board with her old lawyer, Mr. Wickfield.
My aunt was as happy as I was in this arrangement. For Mr. Wickfield's house was quiet and still; and Mr. Wickfield's little housekeeper was his only daughter, Agnes, a child of about my own age, whose face, so bright and happy, was the child likeness of a woman's portrait that was on the staircase. There was a tranquility about the house, and about Agnes, a good, calm spirit, that I have never forgotten and never shall.
The school I now went to was better in every way than Salem House. It seemed to me so long, however, since I had been among any companions of my own age, except Mick Walker and Mealy Potatoes, that I felt very strange at first. Whatever I had learnt had so slipped away from me that when I was examined about what I knew, I knew nothing, and was put in the lowest form of the school.
But I got a little the better of my uneasiness when I went to school the next day, and a good deal the better the day after, and so shook it off, by degrees, that in less than a fortnight I was quite at home, and happy among my new companions.
"Trot," said my aunt, when she left me at Mr. Wickfield's, "be a credit to yourself, to me, and Mr. Dick, and Heaven be with you! Never be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid these vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you. And now the pony's at the door, and I am off!"
She embraced me hastily, and went out of the house, shutting the door after her. When I looked into the street I noticed how dejectedly she got into the chaise, and that she drove away without looking up.
IV.—Uriah Heep and Mr. Micawber
I first saw Uriah Heep on the day my aunt introduced me to Mr. Wickfield's house. He was then a red-haired youth of fifteen, but looking much older, whose hair was cropped as close as the closest stubble; who had hardly any eyebrows and no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown. He was high-shouldered and bony; dressed in decent black, with a white wisp of a neck-cloth; buttoned up to the throat; and had a long, lank, skeleton hand.
Heep was Mr. Wickfield's clerk, and I often saw him of an evening in the little round office reading, and from time to time strayed in to talk to him.
He told me, one night, he was not doing office work, but was improving his legal knowledge.
"I suppose you are quite a great lawyer?" I said, after looking at him for some time.
"Me, Master Copperfield?" said Uriah. "Oh, no! I'm a very 'umble person. I am well aware that I am the 'umblest person going, let the other be where he may. My mother is likewise a very 'umble person. We live in a 'umble abode, Master Copperfield, but have much to be thankful for. My father's former calling was 'umble; he was a sexton."
"What is he now?" I asked.
"He is a partaker of glory at present, Master Copperfield," said Uriah Heep. "But we have much to be thankful for. How much have I to be thankful for in living with Mr. Wickfield!"
I asked Uriah if he had been with Mr. Wickfield long.
"I have been with him going on four years, Master Copperfield," said Uriah, "since a year after my father's death. How much I have to be thankful for in that! How much have I to be thankful for in Mr. Wickfield's kind intention to give me my articles, which would otherwise not lay within the 'umble means of mother and self!"
"Perhaps, when you're a regular lawyer, you'll be a partner in Mr. Wickfield's business, one of these days," I said to make myself agreeable; "and it will be Wickfield and Heep or Heep late Wickfield."
"Oh, no, Master Copperfield," returned Uriah, shaking his head, "I am much too 'umble for that!"
It must have been five or six years later, when I was in London, that Uriah recalled my prophecy to me.
Agnes had noticed as I had noticed, long before this, a gradual alteration in Mr. Wickfield. He sat longer and longer over his wine, and it was at such times, when his hands trembled, and his speech was not plain, that Uriah was most certain to want him on some business.
So it came about that Agnes had to tell me that Uriah had made himself indispensable to her father.
"He is subtle and watchful," she said. "He has mastered papa's weaknesses, fostered them, and taken advantage of them, until papa is afraid of him."
If I was indignant to hear that Uriah had wormed himself into such promotion, I restrained my feelings when we met, for Agnes had bidden me not to repel him, for her father's sake, and for her own.
"What a prophet you have shown yourself, Master Copperfield!" said Uriah, reminding me of my early words. "You may not recollect it; but when a person is 'umble, a person treasures such things up. But the 'umblest persons, Master Copperfield, may be instruments of good. I am glad to think I have been the instrument of good to Mr. Wickfield, and that I may be more so. Oh, what a worthy man he is; but how imprudent he has been!"
When the rascal went on to tell me confidentially that he "loved the ground his Agnes walked on," and that he thought she might come to be kind to him, knowing his usefulness to her father, I had a delirious idea of seizing the red-hot poker out of the fire and running him through with it. However, I thought of Agnes, and could say nothing. In the end all the evil machinations of Uriah Heep were frustrated by my old friend Mr. Micawber, who, visiting Canterbury on the chance of something suitable turning up, and meeting me in Heep's company, was subsequently engaged by Heep as a clerk at twenty-two and sixpence per week.
It was only after Micawber had found that Uriah Heep had forged Mr. Wickfield's name to various documents, and had fraudulently speculated with moneys entrusted by my aunt, amongst others, to his partner, that he turned upon him and denounced him, and accomplished what he called "the final pulverisation of Keep."
Mr. Micawber being once more "in pecuniary shackles," my aunt, so grateful, as we all were, for the services he had rendered, suggested emigration to Australia to him; he at once responded to the idea.
"The climate, I believe, is healthy," said Mrs. Micawber. "Then the question arises: Now, are the circumstances of the country such that a man of Mr. Micawber's abilities would have a fair chance of rising?—I will not say, at present, to be governor or anything of that sort; but would there be a reasonable opening for his talents to develop themselves? If so, it is evident to me that Australia is the legitimate sphere of action for Mr. Micawber."
"I entertain the conviction," said Mr. Micawber, "that it is, under existing circumstances, the land, the only land, for myself and family; and that something of an extraordinary nature will turn up on that shore."
But the defeat of Heep and Micawber's departure belong to the days of my manhood. Let me look back at intervening years.
V.—I Achieve Manhood
My school-days! The silent gliding on of my existence—the unseen, unfelt progress of my life—from childhood up to youth!
Time has stolen on unobserved, and I am the head boy now in the school, and look down on the line of boys below me with a condescending interest in such of them as bring to my mind the boy I was myself when I first came here. That little fellow seems to be no part of me; I remember him as something left behind upon the road of life, and almost think of him as of someone else.
And the little girl I saw on that first day at Mr. Wickfield's, where is she? Gone also. In her stead, the perfect likeness of the picture, a child likeness no more, moves about the house; and Agnes—my sweet sister, as I call her in my thoughts, my counsellor and friend—the better angel of the lives of all who come within her calm, good, self-denying influence—is quite a woman.
It is time for me to have a profession, and my aunt proposes that I should be a proctor in Doctors' Commons. I learn that the proctors are a sort of solicitors, and that the Doctors' Commons is a faded court held near St. Paul's Churchyard, where people's marriages and wills are disposed of and disputes about ships and boats are settled.
So I am articled, and later, when my aunt has lost her money, through no fault of her own, but through the rascality of Uriah Heep, and I seek Mr. Spenlow to know if it is possible for my articles to be cancelled, it is, I am assured, Mr. Jorkins who is inexorable.
"If it had been my lot to have my hands unfettered, if I had not a partner—Mr. Jorkins," says Mr. Spenlow. "But I know my partner, Copperfield. Mr. Jorkins is not a man to respond to a proposition of this peculiar nature. Mr. Jorkins is very difficult to move from the beaten track."
The years pass.
I have come legally to man's estate. I have attained the dignity of twenty-one. Let me think what I have achieved.
Determined to do something to bring in money, I have mastered the savage mystery of shorthand, and make a respectable income by reporting the debates in Parliament for a morning newspaper. Night after night I record predictions that never come to pass, professions that are never fulfilled, explanations that are only meant to mystify.
I have come out in another way. I have taken, with fear and trembling, to authorship. I wrote a little something in secret, and sent it to a magazine, and it was published. Since then I have taken heart to write a good many trifling pieces.
My record is nearly finished.
Peggotty, a widow, is with my aunt, and Mr. Dick is in the room.
"Goodness me!" said my aunt, "who's this you're bringing home?"
"Agnes," said I.
We were to be married within a fortnight. It was not till I had told Agnes of my love that I learnt from her, as she laid her gentle hands upon my shoulders and looked calmly in my face, that she had loved me all my life.
Let me look back once more, for the last time, before I close these leaves.
I have advanced in fame and fortune. I have been married ten years, and I see my children playing in the room.
Here is my aunt, in stronger spectacles, an old woman of fourscore years and more, but upright yet, and godmother to a real, living Betsey Trotwood. Always with her, here comes Peggotty, my good old nurse, likewise in spectacles. A newspaper from Australia tells me that Mr. Micawber is now a magistrate and a rising townsman at Port Middlebay.
One face is above all these and beyond them all. I turn my head and see it, in its beautiful serenity, beside me. So may thy face be by me, Agnes, when I close my life; and when realities are melting from me, may I still find thee near me, pointing upward!
* * * * *
Dombey and Son
The publication of "Dombey and Son" began in October, 1846, and the story was completed in twenty monthly parts at one shilling each, the last number being issued in April, 1848. Its success was striking and immediate, the sale of its first number exceeding that of "Martin Chuzzlewit" by more than 12,000 copies—a remarkable thing considering the immense superiority of "Chuzzlewit." "Dombey and Son," indeed, is by no means one of Dickens's best books; though little Paul will always retain the sympathies of the reader, and the story of his short life for ever move us with its pathos. The popularity of "Dombey and Son" provoked an impudent publication called "Dombey and Daughter," which was started in January, 1847, and was issued monthly at a penny. Two stage versions of "Dombey" appeared—in London in 1873, and in New York in 1888, but in neither case was the adaptation particularly successful. "What are the wild waves saying?" was made the subject of a song—a duet—which at one time was widely sung, but is now, happily forgotten.
I.—Dombey and Son
Dombey sat in the corner of the darkened room in the great armchair by the bedside, and Son lay tucked up warm in a little basket-bedstead.
Dombey was about eight-and-forty years of age; Son about eight-and-forty minutes. Dombey was rather bald, rather red, and though a handsome, well-made man, too stern and pompous in appearance to be prepossessing. Son was very bald, and very red, and somewhat crushed and spotted in his general effect, as yet.
"The house will once again, Mrs. Dombey," said Mr. Dombey, "be not only in name, but in fact, Dombey and Son; Dombey and Son! He will be christened Paul, Mrs. Dombey, of course!"
The sick lady feebly echoed, "Of course," and closed her eyes again.
"His father's name, Mrs. Dombey, and his grandfather's! I wish his grandfather were alive this day." And again he said "Dombey and Son" in exactly the same tone as before, and then went downstairs to learn what that fashionable physician, Dr. Parker Peps, had to say, for Mrs. Dombey lay very weak and still.
"Dombey and Son"—those three words conveyed the idea of Mr. Dombey's life. The earth was made for Dombey and Son to trade in, and the sun and moon were made to give them light.
He had risen, as his father had before him, in the course of life and death, from Son to Dombey, and for nearly twenty years had been the sole representative of the firm. Of those years he had been married ten—married, as some said, to a lady with no heart to give him. But such idle talk never reached the ears of Mr. Dombey. Dombey and Son often dealt in hides, never in hearts. Mr. Dombey would have reasoned that a matrimonial alliance with himself must, in the nature of things, be gratifying and honourable to any woman of commonsense.
One drawback only could be admitted. Until the present day there had been no issue—to speak of. There had been a girl some six years before, a child who now crouched by her mother's bed, unobserved. But what was that girl to Dombey and Son?
"Nature must be called upon to make a vigorous effort in this instance!" said Doctor Parker Peps, referring to Mrs. Dombey.
Mrs. Chick, Mr. Dombey's married sister, emphasised this opinion.
"Now my dear Paul," said Mrs. Chick, "you may rest assured that there is nothing wanting but an effort on Fanny's part."
They returned to the sick-room and its stillness. In vain Mrs. Chick exhorted her sister-in-law to make an effort; no sound came in answer but the loud ticking of Mr. Dombey's watch and Dr. Parker Pep's watch, which seemed in the silence to be running a race.
"Fanny!" said Mrs. Chick, "Only look at me. Only open your eyes to show me that you hear and understand me."
Still no answer. Mrs. Dombey lay motionless, clasping her little daughter to her breast.
"Mamma!" cried the child, sobbing aloud. "Oh, dear mamma!"
Thus clinging fast to that slight spar within her arms, the mother drifted out upon the dark and unknown sea that rolls round all the world.
Mr. Dombey, in the days to come, could not forget that closing scene— that he had had no part in it; that he had stood a mere spectator while those two figures lay clasped in each other's arms. His previous feelings of indifference towards his little daughter Florence changed into an uneasiness of an extraordinary kind. He had never conceived an aversion to her; it had not been worth his while or in his humour. But now he was ill at ease about her. He read nothing in her glance, when he saw her later in the solemn house, of the passionate desire to run clinging to him, and the dread of a repulse; the pitiable need in which she stood of some assurance and encouragement. He saw nothing of this.
In spite of his early promise, all the vigilance and care bestowed upon him could not make little Paul a thriving boy. There was something wan and wistful in his look, and he had a strange, old-fashioned, thoughtful way of sitting brooding in his miniature armchair.
The medical practitioner recommended sea-air, and Mrs. Pipchin, who conducted an infantile boarding house of a very select description at Brighton, and whose scale of charges was high, was entrusted with the care of Paul's health when he was little more than five years old.
Mrs. Pipchin was a marvellous ill-favoured, ill-conditioned old lady, with a mottled face like bad marble, a hook nose, and a hard grey eye. It was generally said that Mrs. Pipchin was a woman of system with children, and no doubt she was. Certainly the wild ones went home tame enough, after sojourning for a few months beneath her hospitable roof.
At this exemplary old lady Paul would sit staring in his little armchair by the fire for any length of time. He was not fond of her, he was not afraid of her.
Once she asked him, when they were alone, what he was thinking about.
"You," said Paul, without the least reserve. "I'm thinking how old you must be."
"You mustn't say such things as that, young gentleman," returned the dame.
"Why not?" asked Paul.
"Because it's not polite!" said Mrs. Pipchin, snappishly.
"Not polite?" said Paul.
"No! And remember the story of the little boy that was gored to death by a mad bull for asking questions!"
"If the bull was mad," said Paul, "how did he know that the boy had asked questions? Nobody can go and whisper secrets to a mad bull. I don't believe that story."
"You don't believe it, sir?"
"No," said Paul.
"Not if it should happen to have been a tame bull, you little infidel?" said Mrs. Pipchin.
As Paul had not considered the subject in that light, he allowed himself to be put down for the present.
Mr. Dombey came down to Brighton every Sunday, and Florence was her brother's constant companion.
At first, Paul got no stronger, and a little carriage was procured for him, in which he could lie at his ease and be wheeled down to the sea-side; there he would sit or lie for hours together; never so distressed as by the company of children—Florence alone excepted, always.
"Go away, if you please," he would say to any child who came up to him. "Thank you, but I don't want you. I think you had better go and play, if you please."
His favourite spot was quite a lonely one, far away from most loungers; and, with Florence sitting by his side, and the wind blowing on his face, and the water near the wheels of his bed, he wanted nothing more.
"I want to know what it says," he said once, looking steadily in her face. "The sea, Floy, what is it that it keeps on saying?"
She told him that it was only the noise of the rolling waves.
"Yes, yes," he said. "But I know that they are always saying something. Always the same thing. What place is over there?" He rose up, looking eagerly at the horizon.
She told him that there was another country opposite, but he said he didn't mean that; he meant farther away—farther away!
Very often afterwards, in the midst of their talk, he would break off, to try to understand what it was that the waves were always saying, and would rise up on his couch to look at that invisible region far away.
At the end of twelve months at Mrs. Pipchin's, Paul had grown strong enough to dispense with his little carriage, though he still looked thin and delicate.
Mr. Dombey therefore decided to remove him, not from Brighton, but to Doctor Blimber's educational establishment. "I fear," said Mr. Dombey, addressing Mrs. Pipchin, "that my son in his studies is behind many children of his age. Now instead of being behind his peers, my son ought to be before them—far before them. There is an eminence ready for him to mount upon. The education of my son must not be delayed. It must not be left imperfect."
Doctor Blimber only undertook the charge of ten young gentlemen, and his establishment was a great hot-house, in which there was a forcing apparatus incessantly at work.
Florence would remain at Mrs. Pipchin's, and for the first six months Paul would return there for the Sunday.
"Now, Paul," said Mr. Dombey exultingly, when they stood on the doctor's doorsteps, "This is the way, indeed, to be Dombey and Son, and have money. You are almost a man already."
"Almost," returned the child.
III.—Doctor Blimber's Academy
The Doctor was a portly gentleman in a suit of black, with strings at his knees, and stockings below them. He had a bald head, highly polished, a deep voice, and a chin so very double that it was a wonder how he ever managed to shave into the creases.
Mrs. Blimber was not learned herself, but she pretended to be, and that did quite as well.
As to Miss Blimber, there was no light nonsense about her. She was dry and sandy with working in the graves of dead languages.
Mr. Feeder, B.A., Dr. Blimber's assistant, was a kind of human barrel- organ, with a list of tunes at which he was continually working, over and over again, without any variation.
Under the forcing system at Dr. Blimber's a young gentleman usually took leave of his spirits in three weeks; he had all the cares of the world on his head in three months, and he conceived bitter sentiments against his parents or guardians in four.
The doctor was sitting in his study when Mr. Dombey and Paul arrived. "And how do you do, sir?" he said to Mr. Dombey. "And how is my little friend?" It seemed to Paul as if the great clock in the hall took this up, and went on saying, "how, is, my, lit-tle friend? how, is, my, lit-tle friend?" over and over again.
Paul was handed over to Miss Blimber at once to be "brought on."
"Cornelia," said the doctor. "Dombey will be your charge at first. Bring him on, Cornelia, bring him on."
It was hard work, for no sooner had Paul mastered subject A than he was immediately provided with subject B, from which we passed to C, and even D. Often he felt giddy and confused, and drowsy and dull.
But there were always the Saturdays when Florence came at noon to fetch him, and never would she, in any weather, stay away. Florence brought the school-books he was studying, and every Saturday night would patiently assist him through so much as they could anticipate together of his next week's work. And this saved him, possibly, from sinking underneath the burden which the fair Cornelia Blimber piled upon his back.
It was not that Miss Blimber meant to be too hard upon him, or that Dr. Blimber meant to bear too heavily on the young gentlemen in general. But when Dr. Blimber said that Paul made great progress, and was naturally clever, Mr. Dombey was more bent than ever on his being forced and crammed.
Such spirits as he had at the outset Paul soon lost, of course. But he retained all that was strange, and odd, and thoughtful in his character; and Mrs. Blimber thought him "odd," and whispered that he was "old fashioned," and that was all.
Between little Paul Dombey the youngest, and Mr. Toots, the oldest of Dr. Blimber's young gentlemen, a strong attachment existed. Toots had "gone through" so much, that he had left off growing, and was free to pursue his own course of study, which was chiefly to write long letters to himself from persons of distinction, addressed "P. Toots, Esquire, Brighton," to preserve them in his desk with great care.
"How are you?" Toots would say to Paul, fifty times a day.
"Quite well, sir, thank you," Paul would answer.
"Shake hands," would be Toot's next advance. Which Paul, of course, would immediately do.
"I say!" cried Toots one evening, finding Paul looking out of the window. "I say, what do you think about?"
"Oh, I think about a great many things," replied Paul.
"Do you, though?" said Toots, appearing to consider that fact in itself surprising.
"If you had to die," said Paul, "don't you think you would rather die on a moonlight night, when the sky is quite clear, and the wind blowing, as it did last night?"
Mr. Toots, looking doubtfully at Paul, said he didn't know about that.
"It was a beautiful night," said Paul. "There was a boat over there, in the full light of the moon, a boat with a sail."
Mr. Toots, feeling called upon to say something, suggested "Smugglers," and then added, "or Preventive."
"A boat with a sail," repeated Paul. "It went away into the distance, and what do you think it seemed to do as it moved with the waves?"
"Pitch!" said Mr. Toots.
"It seemed to beckon," said the child; "to beckon me to come."
Certainly people found him an "old-fashioned" child. At the end of the term Dr. and Mrs. Blimber gave an early party to their pupils and their parents and guardians, and it was a day or two before this event when Paul was taken ill. This illness released him from his books, and made him think the more of Florence.
They all loved "Dombey's sister" at that party, and Paul, sitting in a cushioned corner, heard her praises constantly. There was a half-intelligible sentiment, too, diffused around, referring to Florence and himself, and breathing sympathy for both, that soothed and touched him. He did not know why, but it seemed to have something to do with his "old-fashioned" reputation.
The time arrived for taking leave.
"Good-bye, Doctor Blimber," said Paul, stretching out his hand.
"Good-bye, my little friend," returned the doctor. "Dombey, Dombey, you have always been my favourite pupil."
"God bless you!" said Cornelia, taking both Paul's hands in hers. And it showed, Paul thought, how easily one might do injustice to a person; for Miss Blimber meant it—though she was a Forcer—and felt it.
There was a general move after Paul and Florence down the staircase, in which the whole Blimber family were included. Such a circumstance, Mr. Feeder said aloud, as has never happened in the case of any former young gentleman within his experience. The servants, with the butler—a stern man—at their head, had all an interest in seeing little Dombey go; while the young gentlemen pressed to shake hands with him, crying individually "Dombey, don't forget me!"
Once for a last look, Paul turned and gazed upon the faces addressed to him, and from that time whenever he thought of Dr. Blimber's it came back as he had seen it in this last view; and it never seemed to be a real place, but always a dream, full of faces.
IV.—Paul Goes Out with the Stream
From the night they brought him home from Dr. Blimber's Paul had never risen from his little bed. He lay there, listening to the noises in the street, quite tranquilly; not caring much how the time went, but watching it, and watching everywhere about him with observing eyes.
When the sunbeams struck into his room through the rustling blinds, and quivered on the opposite wall like golden water, he knew that evening was coming on.
By little and little he got tired of the bustle of the day, the noise of the carriages and carts, and people passing and repassing; and would fall asleep or be troubled with a restless and uneasy sense of a rushing river. "Why will it never stop, Floy?" he would sometimes ask her. "It is bearing me away, I think!"
But Floy could always soothe him.
He was visited by as many as three grave doctors, and the room was so quiet, and Paul was so observant of them, that he even knew the difference in the sound of their watches. But his interest centred in Sir Parker Peps; for Paul had heard them say long ago that that gentleman had been with his mamma when she clasped Florence in her arms and died. And he could not forget it now. He liked him for it. He was not afraid.
The people in the room were always changing, and in the night-time Paul began to wonder languidly who the figure was, with its head upon its hand, that returned so often and remained so long.
"Floy," he said, "what is that—there at the bottom of the bed?"
"There's nothing there except papa."
The figure lifted up its head and rose, and said, "My own boy! Don't you know me?"
Paul looked it in the face, and thought, was that his father? The next time he observed the figure at the bottom of the bed, he called to it.
"Don't be sorry for me, dear papa. Indeed, I am quite happy."
That was the beginning of his always saying in the morning that he was a great deal better, and that they were to tell his father so.
How many times the golden water danced upon the wall, how many nights the dark, dark river rolled towards the sea, Paul never counted, never sought to know.
One night he had been thinking of his mother, and her picture in the drawing-room downstairs.
"Floy, did I ever see mamma?"
The river was running very fast now, and confusing his mind. Paul fell asleep, and when he awoke the sun was high.
"Floy, come close to me, and let me see you."
Sister and brother wound their arms around each other, and the golden light came streaming in, and fell upon them locked together.
"How fast the river runs between its green banks and the rushes, Floy! But it's very near the sea. I hear the waves. They always said so."
Presently he told her that the motion of the boat upon the stream was lulling him to rest, now the boat was out at sea but gliding smoothly on. And now there was a shore before him. Who stood on the bank?
He put his hands together, as he had been used to do at his prayers. He did not remove his arms to do it, but they saw him fold them so behind her neck.
"Mamma is like you, Floy. I know her by the face! The light about her head is shining on me as I go."
The golden ripple on the wall came back again, and nothing else stirred in the room. The old, old fashion! The fashion that came in with our first parents, and will last unchanged until our race has run its course, and the wide firmament is rolled up like a scroll. The old, old fashion—Death!