MY 'FIRST HALF' AT SALEM HOUSE
School began in earnest next day. A profound impression was made
upon me, I remember, by the roar of voices in the schoolroom
suddenly becoming hushed as death when Mr. Creakle entered after
breakfast, and stood in the doorway looking round upon us like a
giant in a story-book surveying his captives.
Tungay stood at Mr. Creakle's elbow. He had no occasion, I
thought, to cry out 'Silence!' so ferociously, for the boys were
all struck speechless and motionless.
Mr. Creakle was seen to speak, and Tungay was heard, to this
'Now, boys, this is a new half. Take care what you're about, in
this new half. Come fresh up to the lessons, I advise you, for I
come fresh up to the punishment. I won't flinch. It will be of no
use your rubbing yourselves; you won't rub the marks out that I
shall give you. Now get to work, every boy!'
When this dreadful exordium was over, and Tungay had stumped out
again, Mr. Creakle came to where I sat, and told me that if I were
famous for biting, he was famous for biting, too. He then showed
me the cane, and asked me what I thought of THAT, for a tooth? Was
it a sharp tooth, hey? Was it a double tooth, hey? Had it a deep
prong, hey? Did it bite, hey? Did it bite? At every question he
gave me a fleshy cut with it that made me writhe; so I was very
soon made free of Salem House (as Steerforth said), and was very
soon in tears also.
Not that I mean to say these were special marks of distinction,
which only I received. On the contrary, a large majority of the
boys (especially the smaller ones) were visited with similar
instances of notice, as Mr. Creakle made the round of the
schoolroom. Half the establishment was writhing and crying, before
the day's work began; and how much of it had writhed and cried
before the day's work was over, I am really afraid to recollect,
lest I should seem to exaggerate.
I should think there never can have been a man who enjoyed his
profession more than Mr. Creakle did. He had a delight in cutting
at the boys, which was like the satisfaction of a craving appetite.
I am confident that he couldn't resist a chubby boy, especially;
that there was a fascination in such a subject, which made him
restless in his mind, until he had scored and marked him for the
day. I was chubby myself, and ought to know. I am sure when I
think of the fellow now, my blood rises against him with the
disinterested indignation I should feel if I could have known all
about him without having ever been in his power; but it rises
hotly, because I know him to have been an incapable brute, who had
no more right to be possessed of the great trust he held, than to
be Lord High Admiral, or Commander-in-Chief - in either of which
capacities it is probable that he would have done infinitely less
Miserable little propitiators of a remorseless Idol, how abject we
were to him! What a launch in life I think it now, on looking
back, to be so mean and servile to a man of such parts and
Here I sit at the desk again, watching his eye - humbly watching
his eye, as he rules a ciphering-book for another victim whose
hands have just been flattened by that identical ruler, and who is
trying to wipe the sting out with a pocket-handkerchief. I have
plenty to do. I don't watch his eye in idleness, but because I am
morbidly attracted to it, in a dread desire to know what he will do
next, and whether it will be my turn to suffer, or somebody else's.
A lane of small boys beyond me, with the same interest in his eye,
watch it too. I think he knows it, though he pretends he don't.
He makes dreadful mouths as he rules the ciphering-book; and now he
throws his eye sideways down our lane, and we all droop over our
books and tremble. A moment afterwards we are again eyeing him.
An unhappy culprit, found guilty of imperfect exercise, approaches
at his command. The culprit falters excuses, and professes a
determination to do better tomorrow. Mr. Creakle cuts a joke
before he beats him, and we laugh at it, - miserable little dogs,
we laugh, with our visages as white as ashes, and our hearts
sinking into our boots.
Here I sit at the desk again, on a drowsy summer afternoon. A buzz
and hum go up around me, as if the boys were so many bluebottles.
A cloggy sensation of the lukewarm fat of meat is upon me (we dined
an hour or two ago), and my head is as heavy as so much lead. I
would give the world to go to sleep. I sit with my eye on Mr.
Creakle, blinking at him like a young owl; when sleep overpowers me
for a minute, he still looms through my slumber, ruling those
ciphering-books, until he softly comes behind me and wakes me to
plainer perception of him, with a red ridge across my back.
Here I am in the playground, with my eye still fascinated by him,
though I can't see him. The window at a little distance from which
I know he is having his dinner, stands for him, and I eye that
instead. If he shows his face near it, mine assumes an imploring
and submissive expression. If he looks out through the glass, the
boldest boy (Steerforth excepted) stops in the middle of a shout or
yell, and becomes contemplative. One day, Traddles (the most
unfortunate boy in the world) breaks that window accidentally, with
a ball. I shudder at this moment with the tremendous sensation of
seeing it done, and feeling that the ball has bounded on to Mr.
Creakle's sacred head.
Poor Traddles! In a tight sky-blue suit that made his arms and
legs like German sausages, or roly-poly puddings, he was the
merriest and most miserable of all the boys. He was always being
caned - I think he was caned every day that half-year, except one
holiday Monday when he was only ruler'd on both hands - and was
always going to write to his uncle about it, and never did. After
laying his head on the desk for a little while, he would cheer up,
somehow, begin to laugh again, and draw skeletons all over his
slate, before his eyes were dry. I used at first to wonder what
comfort Traddles found in drawing skeletons; and for some time
looked upon him as a sort of hermit, who reminded himself by those
symbols of mortality that caning couldn't last for ever. But I
believe he only did it because they were easy, and didn't want any
He was very honourable, Traddles was, and held it as a solemn duty
in the boys to stand by one another. He suffered for this on
several occasions; and particularly once, when Steerforth laughed
in church, and the Beadle thought it was Traddles, and took him
out. I see him now, going away in custody, despised by the
congregation. He never said who was the real offender, though he
smarted for it next day, and was imprisoned so many hours that he
came forth with a whole churchyard-full of skeletons swarming all
over his Latin Dictionary. But he had his reward. Steerforth said
there was nothing of the sneak in Traddles, and we all felt that to
be the highest praise. For my part, I could have gone through a
good deal (though I was much less brave than Traddles, and nothing
like so old) to have won such a recompense.
To see Steerforth walk to church before us, arm-in-arm with Miss
Creakle, was one of the great sights of my life. I didn't think
Miss Creakle equal to little Em'ly in point of beauty, and I didn't
love her (I didn't dare); but I thought her a young lady of
extraordinary attractions, and in point of gentility not to be
surpassed. When Steerforth, in white trousers, carried her parasol
for her, I felt proud to know him; and believed that she could not
choose but adore him with all her heart. Mr. Sharp and Mr. Mell
were both notable personages in my eyes; but Steerforth was to them
what the sun was to two stars.
Steerforth continued his protection of me, and proved a very useful
friend; since nobody dared to annoy one whom he honoured with his
countenance. He couldn't - or at all events he didn't - defend me
from Mr. Creakle, who was very severe with me; but whenever I had
been treated worse than usual, he always told me that I wanted a
little of his pluck, and that he wouldn't have stood it himself;
which I felt he intended for encouragement, and considered to be
very kind of him. There was one advantage, and only one that I
know of, in Mr. Creakle's severity. He found my placard in his way
when he came up or down behind the form on which I sat, and wanted
to make a cut at me in passing; for this reason it was soon taken
off, and I saw it no more.
An accidental circumstance cemented the intimacy between Steerforth
and me, in a manner that inspired me with great pride and
satisfaction, though it sometimes led to inconvenience. It
happened on one occasion, when he was doing me the honour of
talking to me in the playground, that I hazarded the observation
that something or somebody - I forget what now - was like something
or somebody in Peregrine Pickle. He said nothing at the time; but
when I was going to bed at night, asked me if I had got that book?
I told him no, and explained how it was that I had read it, and all
those other books of which I have made mention.
'And do you recollect them?' Steerforth said.
'Oh yes,' I replied; I had a good memory, and I believed I
recollected them very well.
'Then I tell you what, young Copperfield,' said Steerforth, 'you
shall tell 'em to me. I can't get to sleep very early at night,
and I generally wake rather early in the morning. We'll go over
'em one after another. We'll make some regular Arabian Nights of
I felt extremely flattered by this arrangement, and we commenced
carrying it into execution that very evening. What ravages I
committed on my favourite authors in the course of my
interpretation of them, I am not in a condition to say, and should
be very unwilling to know; but I had a profound faith in them, and
I had, to the best of my belief, a simple, earnest manner of
narrating what I did narrate; and these qualities went a long way.
The drawback was, that I was often sleepy at night, or out of
spirits and indisposed to resume the story; and then it was rather
hard work, and it must be done; for to disappoint or to displease
Steerforth was of course out of the question. In the morning, too,
when I felt weary, and should have enjoyed another hour's repose
very much, it was a tiresome thing to be roused, like the Sultana
Scheherazade, and forced into a long story before the getting-up
bell rang; but Steerforth was resolute; and as he explained to me,
in return, my sums and exercises, and anything in my tasks that was
too hard for me, I was no loser by the transaction. Let me do
myself justice, however. I was moved by no interested or selfish
motive, nor was I moved by fear of him. I admired and loved him,
and his approval was return enough. It was so precious to me that
I look back on these trifles, now, with an aching heart.
Steerforth was considerate, too; and showed his consideration, in
one particular instance, in an unflinching manner that was a little
tantalizing, I suspect, to poor Traddles and the rest. Peggotty's
promised letter - what a comfortable letter it was! - arrived
before 'the half' was many weeks old; and with it a cake in a
perfect nest of oranges, and two bottles of cowslip wine. This
treasure, as in duty bound, I laid at the feet of Steerforth, and
begged him to dispense.
'Now, I'll tell you what, young Copperfield,' said he: 'the wine
shall be kept to wet your whistle when you are story-telling.'
I blushed at the idea, and begged him, in my modesty, not to think
of it. But he said he had observed I was sometimes hoarse - a
little roopy was his exact expression - and it should be, every
drop, devoted to the purpose he had mentioned. Accordingly, it was
locked up in his box, and drawn off by himself in a phial, and
administered to me through a piece of quill in the cork, when I was
supposed to be in want of a restorative. Sometimes, to make it a
more sovereign specific, he was so kind as to squeeze orange juice
into it, or to stir it up with ginger, or dissolve a peppermint
drop in it; and although I cannot assert that the flavour was
improved by these experiments, or that it was exactly the compound
one would have chosen for a stomachic, the last thing at night and
the first thing in the morning, I drank it gratefully and was very
sensible of his attention.
We seem, to me, to have been months over Peregrine, and months more
over the other stories. The institution never flagged for want of
a story, I am certain; and the wine lasted out almost as well as
the matter. Poor Traddles - I never think of that boy but with a
strange disposition to laugh, and with tears in my eyes - was a
sort of chorus, in general; and affected to be convulsed with mirth
at the comic parts, and to be overcome with fear when there was any
passage of an alarming character in the narrative. This rather put
me out, very often. It was a great jest of his, I recollect, to
pretend that he couldn't keep his teeth from chattering, whenever
mention was made of an Alguazill in connexion with the adventures
of Gil Blas; and I remember that when Gil Blas met the captain of
the robbers in Madrid, this unlucky joker counterfeited such an
ague of terror, that he was overheard by Mr. Creakle, who was
prowling about the passage, and handsomely flogged for disorderly
conduct in the bedroom.
Whatever I had within me that was romantic and dreamy, was
encouraged by so much story-telling in the dark; and in that
respect the pursuit may not have been very profitable to me. But
the being cherished as a kind of plaything in my room, and the
consciousness that this accomplishment of mine was bruited about
among the boys, and attracted a good deal of notice to me though I
was the youngest there, stimulated me to exertion. In a school
carried on by sheer cruelty, whether it is presided over by a dunce
or not, there is not likely to be much learnt. I believe our boys
were, generally, as ignorant a set as any schoolboys in existence;
they were too much troubled and knocked about to learn; they could
no more do that to advantage, than any one can do anything to
advantage in a life of constant misfortune, torment, and worry.
But my little vanity, and Steerforth's help, urged me on somehow;
and without saving me from much, if anything, in the way of
punishment, made me, for the time I was there, an exception to the
general body, insomuch that I did steadily pick up some crumbs of
In this I was much assisted by Mr. Mell, who had a liking for me
that I am grateful to remember. It always gave me pain to observe
that Steerforth treated him with systematic disparagement, and
seldom lost an occasion of wounding his feelings, or inducing
others to do so. This troubled me the more for a long time,
because I had soon told Steerforth, from whom I could no more keep
such a secret, than I could keep a cake or any other tangible
possession, about the two old women Mr. Mell had taken me to see;
and I was always afraid that Steerforth would let it out, and twit
him with it.
We little thought, any one of us, I dare say, when I ate my
breakfast that first morning, and went to sleep under the shadow of
the peacock's feathers to the sound of the flute, what consequences
would come of the introduction into those alms-houses of my
insignificant person. But the visit had its unforeseen
consequences; and of a serious sort, too, in their way.
One day when Mr. Creakle kept the house from indisposition, which
naturally diffused a lively joy through the school, there was a
good deal of noise in the course of the morning's work. The great
relief and satisfaction experienced by the boys made them difficult
to manage; and though the dreaded Tungay brought his wooden leg in
twice or thrice, and took notes of the principal offenders' names,
no great impression was made by it, as they were pretty sure of
getting into trouble tomorrow, do what they would, and thought it
wise, no doubt, to enjoy themselves today.
It was, properly, a half-holiday; being Saturday. But as the noise
in the playground would have disturbed Mr. Creakle, and the weather
was not favourable for going out walking, we were ordered into
school in the afternoon, and set some lighter tasks than usual,
which were made for the occasion. It was the day of the week on
which Mr. Sharp went out to get his wig curled; so Mr. Mell, who
always did the drudgery, whatever it was, kept school by himself.
If I could associate the idea of a bull or a bear with anyone so
mild as Mr. Mell, I should think of him, in connexion with that
afternoon when the uproar was at its height, as of one of those
animals, baited by a thousand dogs. I recall him bending his
aching head, supported on his bony hand, over the book on his desk,
and wretchedly endeavouring to get on with his tiresome work,
amidst an uproar that might have made the Speaker of the House of
Commons giddy. Boys started in and out of their places, playing at
puss in the corner with other boys; there were laughing boys,
singing boys, talking boys, dancing boys, howling boys; boys
shuffled with their feet, boys whirled about him, grinning, making
faces, mimicking him behind his back and before his eyes; mimicking
his poverty, his boots, his coat, his mother, everything belonging
to him that they should have had consideration for.
'Silence!' cried Mr. Mell, suddenly rising up, and striking his
desk with the book. 'What does this mean! It's impossible to bear
it. It's maddening. How can you do it to me, boys?'
It was my book that he struck his desk with; and as I stood beside
him, following his eye as it glanced round the room, I saw the boys
all stop, some suddenly surprised, some half afraid, and some sorry
Steerforth's place was at the bottom of the school, at the opposite
end of the long room. He was lounging with his back against the
wall, and his hands in his pockets, and looked at Mr. Mell with his
mouth shut up as if he were whistling, when Mr. Mell looked at him.
'Silence, Mr. Steerforth!' said Mr. Mell.
'Silence yourself,' said Steerforth, turning red. 'Whom are you
'Sit down,' said Mr. Mell.
'Sit down yourself,' said Steerforth, 'and mind your business.'
There was a titter, and some applause; but Mr. Mell was so white,
that silence immediately succeeded; and one boy, who had darted out
behind him to imitate his mother again, changed his mind, and
pretended to want a pen mended.
'If you think, Steerforth,' said Mr. Mell, 'that I am not
acquainted with the power you can establish over any mind here' -
he laid his hand, without considering what he did (as I supposed),
upon my head - 'or that I have not observed you, within a few
minutes, urging your juniors on to every sort of outrage against
me, you are mistaken.'
'I don't give myself the trouble of thinking at all about you,'
said Steerforth, coolly; 'so I'm not mistaken, as it happens.'
'And when you make use of your position of favouritism here, sir,'
pursued Mr. Mell, with his lip trembling very much, 'to insult a
'A what? - where is he?' said Steerforth.
Here somebody cried out, 'Shame, J. Steerforth! Too bad!' It was
Traddles; whom Mr. Mell instantly discomfited by bidding him hold
- 'To insult one who is not fortunate in life, sir, and who never
gave you the least offence, and the many reasons for not insulting
whom you are old enough and wise enough to understand,' said Mr.
Mell, with his lips trembling more and more, 'you commit a mean and
base action. You can sit down or stand up as you please, sir.
Copperfield, go on.'
'Young Copperfield,' said Steerforth, coming forward up the room,
'stop a bit. I tell you what, Mr. Mell, once for all. When you
take the liberty of calling me mean or base, or anything of that
sort, you are an impudent beggar. You are always a beggar, you
know; but when you do that, you are an impudent beggar.'
I am not clear whether he was going to strike Mr. Mell, or Mr. Mell
was going to strike him, or there was any such intention on either
side. I saw a rigidity come upon the whole school as if they had
been turned into stone, and found Mr. Creakle in the midst of us,
with Tungay at his side, and Mrs. and Miss Creakle looking in at
the door as if they were frightened. Mr. Mell, with his elbows on
his desk and his face in his hands, sat, for some moments, quite
'Mr. Mell,' said Mr. Creakle, shaking him by the arm; and his
whisper was so audible now, that Tungay felt it unnecessary to
repeat his words; 'you have not forgotten yourself, I hope?'
'No, sir, no,' returned the Master, showing his face, and shaking
his head, and rubbing his hands in great agitation. 'No, sir. No.
I have remembered myself, I - no, Mr. Creakle, I have not forgotten
myself, I - I have remembered myself, sir. I - I - could wish you
had remembered me a little sooner, Mr. Creakle. It - it - would
have been more kind, sir, more just, sir. It would have saved me
Mr. Creakle, looking hard at Mr. Mell, put his hand on Tungay's
shoulder, and got his feet upon the form close by, and sat upon the
desk. After still looking hard at Mr. Mell from his throne, as he
shook his head, and rubbed his hands, and remained in the same
state of agitation, Mr. Creakle turned to Steerforth, and said:
'Now, sir, as he don't condescend to tell me, what is this?'
Steerforth evaded the question for a little while; looking in scorn
and anger on his opponent, and remaining silent. I could not help
thinking even in that interval, I remember, what a noble fellow he
was in appearance, and how homely and plain Mr. Mell looked opposed
'What did he mean by talking about favourites, then?' said
Steerforth at length.
'Favourites?' repeated Mr. Creakle, with the veins in his forehead
swelling quickly. 'Who talked about favourites?'
'He did,' said Steerforth.
'And pray, what did you mean by that, sir?' demanded Mr. Creakle,
turning angrily on his assistant.
'I meant, Mr. Creakle,' he returned in a low voice, 'as I said;
that no pupil had a right to avail himself of his position of
favouritism to degrade me.'
'To degrade YOU?' said Mr. Creakle. 'My stars! But give me leave
to ask you, Mr. What's-your-name'; and here Mr. Creakle folded his
arms, cane and all, upon his chest, and made such a knot of his
brows that his little eyes were hardly visible below them;
'whether, when you talk about favourites, you showed proper respect
to me? To me, sir,' said Mr. Creakle, darting his head at him
suddenly, and drawing it back again, 'the principal of this
establishment, and your employer.'
'It was not judicious, sir, I am willing to admit,' said Mr. Mell.
'I should not have done so, if I had been cool.'
Here Steerforth struck in.
'Then he said I was mean, and then he said I was base, and then I
called him a beggar. If I had been cool, perhaps I shouldn't have
called him a beggar. But I did, and I am ready to take the
consequences of it.'
Without considering, perhaps, whether there were any consequences
to be taken, I felt quite in a glow at this gallant speech. It
made an impression on the boys too, for there was a low stir among
them, though no one spoke a word.
'I am surprised, Steerforth - although your candour does you
honour,' said Mr. Creakle, 'does you honour, certainly - I am
surprised, Steerforth, I must say, that you should attach such an
epithet to any person employed and paid in Salem House, sir.'
Steerforth gave a short laugh.
'That's not an answer, sir,' said Mr. Creakle, 'to my remark. I
expect more than that from you, Steerforth.'
If Mr. Mell looked homely, in my eyes, before the handsome boy, it
would be quite impossible to say how homely Mr. Creakle looked.
'Let him deny it,' said Steerforth.
'Deny that he is a beggar, Steerforth?' cried Mr. Creakle. 'Why,
where does he go a-begging?'
'If he is not a beggar himself, his near relation's one,' said
Steerforth. 'It's all the same.'
He glanced at me, and Mr. Mell's hand gently patted me upon the
shoulder. I looked up with a flush upon my face and remorse in my
heart, but Mr. Mell's eyes were fixed on Steerforth. He continued
to pat me kindly on the shoulder, but he looked at him.
'Since you expect me, Mr. Creakle, to justify myself,' said
Steerforth, 'and to say what I mean, - what I have to say is, that
his mother lives on charity in an alms-house.'
Mr. Mell still looked at him, and still patted me kindly on the
shoulder, and said to himself, in a whisper, if I heard right:
'Yes, I thought so.'
Mr. Creakle turned to his assistant, with a severe frown and
'Now, you hear what this gentleman says, Mr. Mell. Have the
goodness, if you please, to set him right before the assembled
'He is right, sir, without correction,' returned Mr. Mell, in the
midst of a dead silence; 'what he has said is true.'
'Be so good then as declare publicly, will you,' said Mr. Creakle,
putting his head on one side, and rolling his eyes round the
school, 'whether it ever came to my knowledge until this moment?'
'I believe not directly,' he returned.
'Why, you know not,' said Mr. Creakle. 'Don't you, man?'
'I apprehend you never supposed my worldly circumstances to be very
good,' replied the assistant. 'You know what my position is, and
always has been, here.'
'I apprehend, if you come to that,' said Mr. Creakle, with his
veins swelling again bigger than ever, 'that you've been in a wrong
position altogether, and mistook this for a charity school. Mr.
Mell, we'll part, if you please. The sooner the better.'
'There is no time,' answered Mr. Mell, rising, 'like the present.'
'Sir, to you!' said Mr. Creakle.
'I take my leave of you, Mr. Creakle, and all of you,' said Mr.
Mell, glancing round the room, and again patting me gently on the
shoulders. 'James Steerforth, the best wish I can leave you is
that you may come to be ashamed of what you have done today. At
present I would prefer to see you anything rather than a friend, to
me, or to anyone in whom I feel an interest.'
Once more he laid his hand upon my shoulder; and then taking his
flute and a few books from his desk, and leaving the key in it for
his successor, he went out of the school, with his property under
his arm. Mr. Creakle then made a speech, through Tungay, in which
he thanked Steerforth for asserting (though perhaps too warmly) the
independence and respectability of Salem House; and which he wound
up by shaking hands with Steerforth, while we gave three cheers -
I did not quite know what for, but I supposed for Steerforth, and
so joined in them ardently, though I felt miserable. Mr. Creakle
then caned Tommy Traddles for being discovered in tears, instead of
cheers, on account of Mr. Mell's departure; and went back to his
sofa, or his bed, or wherever he had come from.
We were left to ourselves now, and looked very blank, I recollect,
on one another. For myself, I felt so much self-reproach and
contrition for my part in what had happened, that nothing would
have enabled me to keep back my tears but the fear that Steerforth,
who often looked at me, I saw, might think it unfriendly - or, I
should rather say, considering our relative ages, and the feeling
with which I regarded him, undutiful - if I showed the emotion
which distressed me. He was very angry with Traddles, and said he
was glad he had caught it.
Poor Traddles, who had passed the stage of lying with his head upon
the desk, and was relieving himself as usual with a burst of
skeletons, said he didn't care. Mr. Mell was ill-used.
'Who has ill-used him, you girl?' said Steerforth.
'Why, you have,' returned Traddles.
'What have I done?' said Steerforth.
'What have you done?' retorted Traddles. 'Hurt his feelings, and
lost him his situation.'
'His feelings?' repeated Steerforth disdainfully. 'His feelings
will soon get the better of it, I'll be bound. His feelings are
not like yours, Miss Traddles. As to his situation - which was a
precious one, wasn't it? - do you suppose I am not going to write
home, and take care that he gets some money? Polly?'
We thought this intention very noble in Steerforth, whose mother
was a widow, and rich, and would do almost anything, it was said,
that he asked her. We were all extremely glad to see Traddles so
put down, and exalted Steerforth to the skies: especially when he
told us, as he condescended to do, that what he had done had been
done expressly for us, and for our cause; and that he had conferred
a great boon upon us by unselfishly doing it.
But I must say that when I was going on with a story in the dark
that night, Mr. Mell's old flute seemed more than once to sound
mournfully in my ears; and that when at last Steerforth was tired,
and I lay down in my bed, I fancied it playing so sorrowfully
somewhere, that I was quite wretched.
I soon forgot him in the contemplation of Steerforth, who, in an
easy amateur way, and without any book (he seemed to me to know
everything by heart), took some of his classes until a new master
was found. The new master came from a grammar school; and before
he entered on his duties, dined in the parlour one day, to be
introduced to Steerforth. Steerforth approved of him highly, and
told us he was a Brick. Without exactly understanding what learned
distinction was meant by this, I respected him greatly for it, and
had no doubt whatever of his superior knowledge: though he never
took the pains with me - not that I was anybody - that Mr. Mell had
There was only one other event in this half-year, out of the daily
school-life, that made an impression upon me which still survives.
It survives for many reasons.
One afternoon, when we were all harassed into a state of dire
confusion, and Mr. Creakle was laying about him dreadfully, Tungay
came in, and called out in his usual strong way: 'Visitors for
A few words were interchanged between him and Mr. Creakle, as, who
the visitors were, and what room they were to be shown into; and
then I, who had, according to custom, stood up on the announcement
being made, and felt quite faint with astonishment, was told to go
by the back stairs and get a clean frill on, before I repaired to
the dining-room. These orders I obeyed, in such a flutter and
hurry of my young spirits as I had never known before; and when I
got to the parlour door, and the thought came into my head that it
might be my mother - I had only thought of Mr. or Miss Murdstone
until then - I drew back my hand from the lock, and stopped to have
a sob before I went in.
At first I saw nobody; but feeling a pressure against the door, I
looked round it, and there, to my amazement, were Mr. Peggotty and
Ham, ducking at me with their hats, and squeezing one another
against the wall. I could not help laughing; but it was much more
in the pleasure of seeing them, than at the appearance they made.
We shook hands in a very cordial way; and I laughed and laughed,
until I pulled out my pocket-handkerchief and wiped my eyes.
Mr. Peggotty (who never shut his mouth once, I remember, during the
visit) showed great concern when he saw me do this, and nudged Ham
to say something.
'Cheer up, Mas'r Davy bor'!' said Ham, in his simpering way. 'Why,
how you have growed!'
'Am I grown?' I said, drying my eyes. I was not crying at anything
in particular that I know of; but somehow it made me cry, to see
'Growed, Mas'r Davy bor'? Ain't he growed!' said Ham.
'Ain't he growed!' said Mr. Peggotty.
They made me laugh again by laughing at each other, and then we all
three laughed until I was in danger of crying again.
'Do you know how mama is, Mr. Peggotty?' I said. 'And how my dear,
dear, old Peggotty is?'
'Oncommon,' said Mr. Peggotty.
'And little Em'ly, and Mrs. Gummidge?'
'On - common,' said Mr. Peggotty.
There was a silence. Mr. Peggotty, to relieve it, took two
prodigious lobsters, and an enormous crab, and a large canvas bag
of shrimps, out of his pockets, and piled them up in Ham's arms.
'You see,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'knowing as you was partial to a
little relish with your wittles when you was along with us, we took
the liberty. The old Mawther biled 'em, she did. Mrs. Gummidge
biled 'em. Yes,' said Mr. Peggotty, slowly, who I thought appeared
to stick to the subject on account of having no other subject
ready, 'Mrs. Gummidge, I do assure you, she biled 'em.'
I expressed my thanks; and Mr. Peggotty, after looking at Ham, who
stood smiling sheepishly over the shellfish, without making any
attempt to help him, said:
'We come, you see, the wind and tide making in our favour, in one
of our Yarmouth lugs to Gravesen'. My sister she wrote to me the
name of this here place, and wrote to me as if ever I chanced to
come to Gravesen', I was to come over and inquire for Mas'r Davy
and give her dooty, humbly wishing him well and reporting of the
fam'ly as they was oncommon toe-be-sure. Little Em'ly, you see,
she'll write to my sister when I go back, as I see you and as you
was similarly oncommon, and so we make it quite a merry-
I was obliged to consider a little before I understood what Mr.
Peggotty meant by this figure, expressive of a complete circle of
intelligence. I then thanked him heartily; and said, with a
consciousness of reddening, that I supposed little Em'ly was
altered too, since we used to pick up shells and pebbles on the
'She's getting to be a woman, that's wot she's getting to be,' said
Mr. Peggotty. 'Ask HIM.'
He meant Ham, who beamed with delight and assent over the bag of
'Her pretty face!' said Mr. Peggotty, with his own shining like a
'Her learning!' said Ham.
'Her writing!' said Mr. Peggotty. 'Why it's as black as jet! And
so large it is, you might see it anywheres.'
It was perfectly delightful to behold with what enthusiasm Mr.
Peggotty became inspired when he thought of his little favourite.
He stands before me again, his bluff hairy face irradiating with a
joyful love and pride, for which I can find no description. His
honest eyes fire up, and sparkle, as if their depths were stirred
by something bright. His broad chest heaves with pleasure. His
strong loose hands clench themselves, in his earnestness; and he
emphasizes what he says with a right arm that shows, in my pigmy
view, like a sledge-hammer.
Ham was quite as earnest as he. I dare say they would have said
much more about her, if they had not been abashed by the unexpected
coming in of Steerforth, who, seeing me in a corner speaking with
two strangers, stopped in a song he was singing, and said: 'I
didn't know you were here, young Copperfield!' (for it was not the
usual visiting room) and crossed by us on his way out.
I am not sure whether it was in the pride of having such a friend
as Steerforth, or in the desire to explain to him how I came to
have such a friend as Mr. Peggotty, that I called to him as he was
going away. But I said, modestly - Good Heaven, how it all comes
back to me this long time afterwards! -
'Don't go, Steerforth, if you please. These are two Yarmouth
boatmen - very kind, good people - who are relations of my nurse,
and have come from Gravesend to see me.'
'Aye, aye?' said Steerforth, returning. 'I am glad to see them.
How are you both?'
There was an ease in his manner - a gay and light manner it was,
but not swaggering - which I still believe to have borne a kind of
enchantment with it. I still believe him, in virtue of this
carriage, his animal spirits, his delightful voice, his handsome
face and figure, and, for aught I know, of some inborn power of
attraction besides (which I think a few people possess), to have
carried a spell with him to which it was a natural weakness to
yield, and which not many persons could withstand. I could not but
see how pleased they were with him, and how they seemed to open
their hearts to him in a moment.
'You must let them know at home, if you please, Mr. Peggotty,' I
said, 'when that letter is sent, that Mr. Steerforth is very kind
to me, and that I don't know what I should ever do here without
'Nonsense!' said Steerforth, laughing. 'You mustn't tell them
anything of the sort.'
'And if Mr. Steerforth ever comes into Norfolk or Suffolk, Mr.
Peggotty,' I said, 'while I am there, you may depend upon it I
shall bring him to Yarmouth, if he will let me, to see your house.
You never saw such a good house, Steerforth. It's made out of a
'Made out of a boat, is it?' said Steerforth. 'It's the right sort
of a house for such a thorough-built boatman.'
'So 'tis, sir, so 'tis, sir,' said Ham, grinning. 'You're right,
young gen'l'm'n! Mas'r Davy bor', gen'l'm'n's right. A thorough-
built boatman! Hor, hor! That's what he is, too!'
Mr. Peggotty was no less pleased than his nephew, though his
modesty forbade him to claim a personal compliment so vociferously.
'Well, sir,' he said, bowing and chuckling, and tucking in the ends
of his neckerchief at his breast: 'I thankee, sir, I thankee! I do
my endeavours in my line of life, sir.'
'The best of men can do no more, Mr. Peggotty,' said Steerforth.
He had got his name already.
'I'll pound it, it's wot you do yourself, sir,' said Mr. Peggotty,
shaking his head, 'and wot you do well - right well! I thankee,
sir. I'm obleeged to you, sir, for your welcoming manner of me.
I'm rough, sir, but I'm ready - least ways, I hope I'm ready, you
unnerstand. My house ain't much for to see, sir, but it's hearty
at your service if ever you should come along with Mas'r Davy to
see it. I'm a reg'lar Dodman, I am,' said Mr. Peggotty, by which
he meant snail, and this was in allusion to his being slow to go,
for he had attempted to go after every sentence, and had somehow or
other come back again; 'but I wish you both well, and I wish you
Ham echoed this sentiment, and we parted with them in the heartiest
manner. I was almost tempted that evening to tell Steerforth about
pretty little Em'ly, but I was too timid of mentioning her name,
and too much afraid of his laughing at me. I remember that I
thought a good deal, and in an uneasy sort of way, about Mr.
Peggotty having said that she was getting on to be a woman; but I
decided that was nonsense.
We transported the shellfish, or the 'relish' as Mr. Peggotty had
modestly called it, up into our room unobserved, and made a great
supper that evening. But Traddles couldn't get happily out of it.
He was too unfortunate even to come through a supper like anybody
else. He was taken ill in the night - quite prostrate he was - in
consequence of Crab; and after being drugged with black draughts
and blue pills, to an extent which Demple (whose father was a
doctor) said was enough to undermine a horse's constitution,
received a caning and six chapters of Greek Testament for refusing
The rest of the half-year is a jumble in my recollection of the
daily strife and struggle of our lives; of the waning summer and
the changing season; of the frosty mornings when we were rung out
of bed, and the cold, cold smell of the dark nights when we were
rung into bed again; of the evening schoolroom dimly lighted and
indifferently warmed, and the morning schoolroom which was nothing
but a great shivering-machine; of the alternation of boiled beef
with roast beef, and boiled mutton with roast mutton; of clods of
bread-and-butter, dog's-eared lesson-books, cracked slates,
tear-blotted copy-books, canings, rulerings, hair-cuttings, rainy
Sundays, suet-puddings, and a dirty atmosphere of ink, surrounding
I well remember though, how the distant idea of the holidays, after
seeming for an immense time to be a stationary speck, began to come
towards us, and to grow and grow. How from counting months, we
came to weeks, and then to days; and how I then began to be afraid
that I should not be sent for and when I learnt from Steerforth
that I had been sent for, and was certainly to go home, had dim
forebodings that I might break my leg first. How the breaking-up
day changed its place fast, at last, from the week after next to
next week, this week, the day after tomorrow, tomorrow, today,
tonight - when I was inside the Yarmouth mail, and going home.
I had many a broken sleep inside the Yarmouth mail, and many an
incoherent dream of all these things. But when I awoke at
intervals, the ground outside the window was not the playground of
Salem House, and the sound in my ears was not the sound of Mr.
Creakle giving it to Traddles, but the sound of the coachman
touching up the horses.