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‘The connexion in question, my love,’ rejoined Mr. Micawber, ‘has not laid me, I repeat, under that load of personal obligation, that I am at all sensitive as to the formation of another connexion.’
‘Micawber,’ returned Mrs. Micawber. ‘There, I again say, you are wrong.
You do not know your power, Micawber. It is that which will strengthen, even in this step you are about to take, the connexion between yourself and Albion.’
Mr. Micawber sat in his elbow-chair, with his eyebrows raised; half receiving and half repudiating Mrs. Micawber’s views as they were stated, but very sensible of their foresight.
‘My dear Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘I wish Mr. Micawber to feel his position. It appears to me highly important that Mr. Micawber should, from the hour of his embarkation, feel his position. Your old knowledge of me, my dear Mr. Copperfield, will have told you that I have not the sanguine disposition of Mr. Micawber. My disposition is, if I may say so, eminently practical. I know that this is a long voyage. I know that it will involve many privations and inconveniences. I cannot shut my eyes to those facts. But I also know what Mr. Micawber is.
I know the latent power of Mr. Micawber. And therefore I consider it vitally important that Mr. Micawber should feel his position.’
‘My love,’ he observed, ‘perhaps you will allow me to remark that it is barely possible that I DO feel my position at the present moment.’
‘I think not, Micawber,’ she rejoined. ‘Not fully. My dear Mr.
Copperfield, Mr. Micawber’s is not a common case. Mr. Micawber is going to a distant country expressly in order that he may be fully understood and appreciated for the first time. I wish Mr. Micawber to take his stand upon that vessel’s prow, and firmly say, “This country I am come to conquer! Have you honours? Have you riches? Have you posts of profitable pecuniary emolument? Let them be brought forward. They are mine!”‘
Mr. Micawber, glancing at us all, seemed to think there was a good deal in this idea.
‘I wish Mr. Micawber, if I make myself understood,’ said Mrs. Micawber, in her argumentative tone, ‘to be the Caesar of his own fortunes. That, my dear Mr. Copperfield, appears to me to be his true position. From the first moment of this voyage, I wish Mr. Micawber to stand upon that vessel’s prow and say, “Enough of delay: enough of disappointment: enough of limited means. That was in the old country. This is the new.
Produce your reparation. Bring it forward!”‘
Mr. Micawber folded his arms in a resolute manner, as if he were then stationed on the figure-head.
‘And doing that,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘–feeling his position–am I not right in saying that Mr. Micawber will strengthen, and not weaken, his connexion with Britain? An important public character arising in that hemisphere, shall I be told that its influence will not be felt at home?
Can I be so weak as to imagine that Mr. Micawber, wielding the rod of talent and of power in Australia, will be nothing in England? I am but a woman; but I should be unworthy of myself and of my papa, if I were guilty of such absurd weakness.’
Mrs. Micawber’s conviction that her arguments were unanswerable, gave a moral elevation to her tone which I think I had never heard in it before.
‘And therefore it is,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘that I the more wish, that, at a future period, we may live again on the parent soil. Mr. Micawber may be–I cannot disguise from myself that the probability is, Mr.
Micawber will be–a page of History; and he ought then to be represented in the country which gave him birth, and did NOT give him employment!’
‘My love,’ observed Mr. Micawber, ‘it is impossible for me not to be touched by your affection. I am always willing to defer to your good sense. What will be–will be. Heaven forbid that I should grudge my native country any portion of the wealth that may be acc.u.mulated by our descendants!’
‘That’s well,’ said my aunt, nodding towards Mr. Peggotty, ‘and I drink my love to you all, and every blessing and success attend you!’
Mr. Peggotty put down the two children he had been nursing, one on each knee, to join Mr. and Mrs. Micawber in drinking to all of us in return; and when he and the Micawbers cordially shook hands as comrades, and his brown face brightened with a smile, I felt that he would make his way, establish a good name, and be beloved, go where he would.
Even the children were instructed, each to dip a wooden spoon into Mr.
Micawber’s pot, and pledge us in its contents. When this was done, my aunt and Agnes rose, and parted from the emigrants. It was a sorrowful farewell. They were all crying; the children hung about Agnes to the last; and we left poor Mrs. Micawber in a very distressed condition, sobbing and weeping by a dim candle, that must have made the room look, from the river, like a miserable light-house.
I went down again next morning to see that they were away. They had departed, in a boat, as early as five o’clock. It was a wonderful instance to me of the gap such partings make, that although my a.s.sociation of them with the tumble-down public-house and the wooden stairs dated only from last night, both seemed dreary and deserted, now that they were gone.
In the afternoon of the next day, my old nurse and I went down to Gravesend. We found the ship in the river, surrounded by a crowd of boats; a favourable wind blowing; the signal for sailing at her mast-head. I hired a boat directly, and we put off to her; and getting through the little vortex of confusion of which she was the centre, went on board.
Mr. Peggotty was waiting for us on deck. He told me that Mr. Micawber had just now been arrested again (and for the last time) at the suit of Heep, and that, in compliance with a request I had made to him, he had paid the money, which I repaid him. He then took us down between decks; and there, any lingering fears I had of his having heard any rumours of what had happened, were dispelled by Mr. Micawber’s coming out of the gloom, taking his arm with an air of friendship and protection, and telling me that they had scarcely been asunder for a moment, since the night before last.
It was such a strange scene to me, and so confined and dark, that, at first, I could make out hardly anything; but, by degrees, it cleared, as my eyes became more accustomed to the gloom, and I seemed to stand in a picture by OSTADE. Among the great beams, bulks, and ringbolts of the ship, and the emigrant-berths, and chests, and bundles, and barrels, and heaps of miscellaneous baggage–‘lighted up, here and there, by dangling lanterns; and elsewhere by the yellow daylight straying down a windsail or a hatchway–were crowded groups of people, making new friendships, taking leave of one another, talking, laughing, crying, eating and drinking; some, already settled down into the possession of their few feet of s.p.a.ce, with their little households arranged, and tiny children established on stools, or in dwarf elbow-chairs; others, despairing of a resting-place, and wandering disconsolately. From babies who had but a week or two of life behind them, to crooked old men and women who seemed to have but a week or two of life before them; and from ploughmen bodily carrying out soil of England on their boots, to smiths taking away samples of its soot and smoke upon their skins; every age and occupation appeared to be crammed into the narrow compa.s.s of the ‘tween decks.
As my eye glanced round this place, I thought I saw sitting, by an open port, with one of the Micawber children near her, a figure like Emily’s; it first attracted my attention, by another figure parting from it with a kiss; and as it glided calmly away through the disorder, reminding me of–Agnes! But in the rapid motion and confusion, and in the unsettlement of my own thoughts, I lost it again; and only knew that the time was come when all visitors were being warned to leave the ship; that my nurse was crying on a chest beside me; and that Mrs. Gummidge, a.s.sisted by some younger stooping woman in black, was busily arranging Mr. Peggotty’s goods.
‘Is there any last wured, Mas’r Davy?’ said he. ‘Is there any one forgotten thing afore we parts?’
‘One thing!’ said I. ‘Martha!’
He touched the younger woman I have mentioned on the shoulder, and Martha stood before me.
‘Heaven bless you, you good man!’ cried I. ‘You take her with you!’
She answered for him, with a burst of tears. I could speak no more at that time, but I wrung his hand; and if ever I have loved and honoured any man, I loved and honoured that man in my soul.
The ship was clearing fast of strangers. The greatest trial that I had, remained. I told him what the n.o.ble spirit that was gone, had given me in charge to say at parting. It moved him deeply. But when he charged me, in return, with many messages of affection and regret for those deaf ears, he moved me more.
The time was come. I embraced him, took my weeping nurse upon my arm, and hurried away. On deck, I took leave of poor Mrs. Micawber. She was looking distractedly about for her family, even then; and her last words to me were, that she never would desert Mr. Micawber.
We went over the side into our boat, and lay at a little distance, to see the ship wafted on her course. It was then calm, radiant sunset.
She lay between us, and the red light; and every taper line and spar was visible against the glow. A sight at once so beautiful, so mournful, and so hopeful, as the glorious ship, lying, still, on the flushed water, with all the life on board her crowded at the bulwarks, and there cl.u.s.tering, for a moment, bare-headed and silent, I never saw.
Silent, only for a moment. As the sails rose to the wind, and the ship began to move, there broke from all the boats three resounding cheers, which those on board took up, and echoed back, and which were echoed and re-echoed. My heart burst out when I heard the sound, and beheld the waving of the hats and handkerchiefs–and then I saw her!
Then I saw her, at her uncle’s side, and trembling on his shoulder. He pointed to us with an eager hand; and she saw us, and waved her last good-bye to me. Aye, Emily, beautiful and drooping, cling to him with the utmost trust of thy bruised heart; for he has clung to thee, with all the might of his great love!
Surrounded by the rosy light, and standing high upon the deck, apart together, she clinging to him, and he holding her, they solemnly pa.s.sed away. The night had fallen on the Kentish hills when we were rowed ash.o.r.e–and fallen darkly upon me.
CHAPTER 58. ABSENCE
It was a long and gloomy night that gathered on me, haunted by the ghosts of many hopes, of many dear remembrances, many errors, many unavailing sorrows and regrets.
I went away from England; not knowing, even then, how great the shock was, that I had to bear. I left all who were dear to me, and went away; and believed that I had borne it, and it was past. As a man upon a field of battle will receive a mortal hurt, and scarcely know that he is struck, so I, when I was left alone with my undisciplined heart, had no conception of the wound with which it had to strive.
The knowledge came upon me, not quickly, but little by little, and grain by grain. The desolate feeling with which I went abroad, deepened and widened hourly. At first it was a heavy sense of loss and sorrow, wherein I could distinguish little else. By imperceptible degrees, it became a hopeless consciousness of all that I had lost–love, friendship, interest; of all that had been shattered–my first trust, my first affection, the whole airy castle of my life; of all that remained–a ruined blank and waste, lying wide around me, unbroken, to the dark horizon.
If my grief were selfish, I did not know it to be so. I mourned for my child-wife, taken from her blooming world, so young. I mourned for him who might have won the love and admiration of thousands, as he had won mine long ago. I mourned for the broken heart that had found rest in the stormy sea; and for the wandering remnants of the simple home, where I had heard the night-wind blowing, when I was a child.
From the acc.u.mulated sadness into which I fell, I had at length no hope of ever issuing again. I roamed from place to place, carrying my burden with me everywhere. I felt its whole weight now; and I drooped beneath it, and I said in my heart that it could never be lightened.
When this despondency was at its worst, I believed that I should die.
Sometimes, I thought that I would like to die at home; and actually turned back on my road, that I might get there soon. At other times, I pa.s.sed on farther away,–from city to city, seeking I know not what, and trying to leave I know not what behind.
It is not in my power to retrace, one by one, all the weary phases of distress of mind through which I pa.s.sed. There are some dreams that can only be imperfectly and vaguely described; and when I oblige myself to look back on this time of my life, I seem to be recalling such a dream.
I see myself pa.s.sing on among the novelties of foreign towns, palaces, cathedrals, temples, pictures, castles, tombs, fantastic streets–the old abiding places of History and Fancy–as a dreamer might; bearing my painful load through all, and hardly conscious of the objects as they fade before me. Listlessness to everything, but brooding sorrow, was the night that fell on my undisciplined heart. Let me look up from it–as at last I did, thank Heaven!–and from its long, sad, wretched dream, to dawn.
For many months I travelled with this ever-darkening cloud upon my mind. Some blind reasons that I had for not returning home–reasons then struggling within me, vainly, for more distinct expression–kept me on my pilgrimage. Sometimes, I had proceeded restlessly from place to place, stopping nowhere; sometimes, I had lingered long in one spot. I had had no purpose, no sustaining soul within me, anywhere.
I was in Switzerland. I had come out of Italy, over one of the great pa.s.ses of the Alps, and had since wandered with a guide among the by-ways of the mountains. If those awful solitudes had spoken to my heart, I did not know it. I had found sublimity and wonder in the dread heights and precipices, in the roaring torrents, and the wastes of ice and snow; but as yet, they had taught me nothing else.
I came, one evening before sunset, down into a valley, where I was to rest. In the course of my descent to it, by the winding track along the mountain-side, from which I saw it shining far below, I think some long-unwonted sense of beauty and tranquillity, some softening influence awakened by its peace, moved faintly in my breast. I remember pausing once, with a kind of sorrow that was not all oppressive, not quite despairing. I remember almost hoping that some better change was possible within me.
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