David Copperfield – Day 171 of 331

When we got to our journey’s end, our first pursuit was to look about for a little lodging for Peggotty, where her brother could have a bed. We were so fortunate as to find one, of a very clean and cheap description, over a chandler’s shop, only two streets removed from me. When we had engaged this domicile, I bought some cold meat at an eating-house, and took my fellow-travellers home to tea; a proceeding, I regret to state, which did not meet with Mrs. Crupp’s approval, but quite the contrary. I ought to observe, however, in explanation of that lady’s state of mind, that she was much offended by Peggotty’s tucking up her widow’s gown before she had been ten minutes in the place, and setting to work to dust my bedroom. This Mrs. Crupp regarded in the light of a liberty, and a liberty, she said, was a thing she never allowed.

Mr. Peggotty had made a communication to me on the way to London for which I was not unprepared. It was, that he purposed first seeing Mrs. Steerforth. As I felt bound to assist him in this, and also to mediate between them; with the view of sparing the mother’s feelings as much as possible, I wrote to her that night. I told her as mildly as I could what his wrong was, and what my own share in his injury. I said he was a man in very common life, but of a most gentle and upright character; and that I ventured to express a hope that she would not refuse to see him in his heavy trouble. I mentioned two o’clock in the afternoon as the hour of our coming, and I sent the letter myself by the first coach in the morning.

At the appointed time, we stood at the door—the door of that house where I had been, a few days since, so happy: where my youthful confidence and warmth of heart had been yielded up so freely: which was closed against me henceforth: which was now a waste, a ruin.

No Littimer appeared. The pleasanter face which had replaced his, on the occasion of my last visit, answered to our summons, and went before us to the drawing-room. Mrs. Steerforth was sitting there. Rosa Dartle glided, as we went in, from another part of the room and stood behind her chair.

I saw, directly, in his mother’s face, that she knew from himself what he had done. It was very pale; and bore the traces of deeper emotion than my letter alone, weakened by the doubts her fondness would have raised upon it, would have been likely to create. I thought her more like him than ever I had thought her; and I felt, rather than saw, that the resemblance was not lost on my companion.

She sat upright in her arm-chair, with a stately, immovable, passionless air, that it seemed as if nothing could disturb. She looked very steadfastly at Mr. Peggotty when he stood before her; and he looked quite as steadfastly at her. Rosa Dartle’s keen glance comprehended all of us. For some moments not a word was spoken.

She motioned to Mr. Peggotty to be seated. He said, in a low voice, “I shouldn’t feel it nat’ral, ma’am, to sit down in this house. I’d sooner stand.” And this was succeeded by another silence, which she broke thus:

“I know, with deep regret, what has brought you here. What do you want of me? What do you ask me to do?”

He put his hat under his arm, and feeling in his breast for Emily’s letter, took it out, unfolded it, and gave it to her. “Please to read that, ma’am. That’s my niece’s hand!”

She read it, in the same stately and impassive way,—untouched by its contents, as far as I could see,—and returned it to him.

“‘Unless he brings me back a lady,’” said Mr. Peggotty, tracing out that part with his finger. “I come to know, ma’am, whether he will keep his wured?”

“No,” she returned.

“Why not?” said Mr. Peggotty.

“It is impossible. He would disgrace himself. You cannot fail to know that she is far below him.”

“Raise her up!” said Mr. Peggotty.

“She is uneducated and ignorant.”

“Maybe she’s not; maybe she is,” said Mr. Peggotty. “I think not, ma’am; but I’m no judge of them things. Teach her better!”

“Since you oblige me to speak more plainly, which I am very unwilling to do, her humble connexions would render such a thing impossible, if nothing else did.”

“Hark to this, ma’am,” he returned, slowly and quietly. “You know what it is to love your child. So do I. If she was a hundred times my child, I couldn’t love her more. You doen’t know what it is to lose your child. I do. All the heaps of riches in the wureld would be nowt to me (if they was mine) to buy her back! But, save her from this disgrace, and she shall never be disgraced by us. Not one of us that she’s growed up among, not one of us that’s lived along with her and had her for their all in all, these many year, will ever look upon her pritty face again. We’ll be content to let her be; we’ll be content to think of her, far off, as if she was underneath another sun and sky; we’ll be content to trust her to her husband,—to her little children, p’raps,—and bide the time when all of us shall be alike in quality afore our God!”

The rugged eloquence with which he spoke, was not devoid of all effect. She still preserved her proud manner, but there was a touch of softness in her voice, as she answered:

“I justify nothing. I make no counter-accusations. But I am sorry to repeat, it is impossible. Such a marriage would irretrievably blight my son’s career, and ruin his prospects. Nothing is more certain than that it never can take place, and never will. If there is any other compensation—”

“I am looking at the likeness of the face,” interrupted Mr. Peggotty, with a steady but a kindling eye, “that has looked at me, in my home, at my fireside, in my boat—wheer not? —smiling and friendly, when it was so treacherous, that I go half wild when I think of it. If the likeness of that face don’t turn to burning fire, at the thought of offering money to me for my child’s blight and ruin, it’s as bad. I doen’t know, being a lady’s, but what it’s worse.”

Comments

  1. ScottS-M Identicon Icon

    ScottS-M wrote:

    Geez they were pretty strict about this class stuff apparently. Pretty weird.

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