Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens' Children Stories



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One night Nell and her grandfather went out to walk. A terrible thunder-storm coming on, they were forced to take refuge in a small public-house where men played cards. The old man watched them with increasing interest and excitement, until his whole appearance underwent a complete change. His face was flushed and eager, his teeth set. He seized Nell's little purse, and in spite of her entreaties joined in the game, gambling with such a savage thirst for gain that the distressed and frightened child could almost better have borne to see him dead. The night was far advanced before the play came to an end, and they were forced to remain where they were until the morning. And in the night the child was awakened from her troubled sleep to find a figure in the room. It was her grandfather himself, his white face pinched and sharpened by the greediness which made his eyes unnaturally bright, counting the money of which his hands were robbing her.

Evening after evening, after that night, the old man would steal away, not to return until the night was far spent, demanding, wildly, money. And at last there came an hour when the child overheard him, tempted beyond his feeble powers of resistence, undertake to find more money to feed the desperate passion which had laid hold upon his weakness by robbing Mrs. Jarley.

That night the child took her grandfather by the hand and led him forth; sustained by one idea – that they were flying from disgrace and crime, and that her grandfather's preservation must depend solely upon her firmness; the old man following as though she had been an angel messenger sent to lead him where she would.

They slept in the open air that night, and on the following morning some men offered to take them a long distance on their barge. These men, though they were not unkindly, drank and quarrelled among themselves, to Nell's inexpressible terror. It rained, too, heavily, and she was wet and cold. At last they reached the great city whither the barge was bound, and here they wandered up and down, being now penniless, and watched the faces of those who passed, to find among them a ray of encouragement or hope.

They laid down that night, and the next night too, with nothing between them and the sky; a penny loaf was all they had had that day, and when the third morning came, it found the child much weaker, yet she made no complaint. Faint and spiritless as they were, the streets were insupportable; and the child, throughout the remainder of that hard day, compelled herself to press on, that they might reach the country. Evening was drawing on; they were dragging themselves through the last street. Seeing a traveller on foot before them, she shot on before her grandfather and began in a few faint words to implore the stranger's help. He turned his head, the child uttered a wild shriek, and fell senseless at his feet. It was the village schoolmaster who had been so kind to them before.

The good man took her in his arms and carried her quickly to a little inn hard by, where she was tenderly put to bed and where a doctor arrived with all speed.

The schoolmaster, as it appeared, was on his way to a new home. And when the child had recovered somewhat from her exhaustion, it was arranged that she and her grandfather should accompany him to the village whither he was bound, and that he should endeavor to find them some humble occupation by which they could subsist.

It was a secluded village, lying among the quiet country scenes Nell loved. And here, her grandfather being tranquil and at rest, a great peace fell upon the spirit of the child. Often she would steal into the church, and sit down among the quiet figures carved upon the tombs. What if the spot awakened thoughts of death? It would be no pain to sleep here. For the time was drawing nearer every day when Nell was to rest indeed. She never murmured or complained, but faded like a light upon a summer's evening and died. Day after day and all day long, the old man, broken-hearted and with no love or care for anything in life, would sit beside her grave with her straw hat and the little basket she had been used to carry, waiting till she should come to him again. At last they found him lying dead upon the stone. And in the church where they had often prayed and mused and lingered, hand in hand, the child and the old man slept together.

LITTLE DAVID COPPERFIELD

LITTLE DAVID COPPERFIELD lived with his mother in a pretty house in the village of Blunderstone in Suffolk. His father died before David could remember anything and he had neither brothers nor sisters. He was fondly loved by his pretty young mother, and their kind, good servant Peggotty, and David was a very happy little fellow. They had very few friends, and the only relation Mrs. Copperfield talked about was an aunt of David's father, a tall and rather terrible old lady, from all accounts. One visitor, a tall dark gentleman, David did not like at all, and he was rather inclined to be jealous that his mother should be friendly with the stranger.

One day Peggotty, the servant, asked David if he would like to go with her on a visit to her brother at Yarmouth.

"Is your brother an agreeable man, Peggotty?" he enquired.

"Oh, what an agreeable man he is!" cried Peggotty. "Then there's the sea, and the boats and ships, and the fishermen, and the beach. And 'Am to play with."

Ham was her nephew. David was quite anxious to go when he heard of all these delights; but his mother, what would she do all alone? Peggotty told him his mother was going to pay a visit to some friends, and would be sure to let him go. So all was arranged, and they were to start the next day in the carrier's cart. When they arrived at Yarmouth, they found Ham waiting to meet them. He was a great strong fellow, six feet high, and took David on his back and the box under his arm to carry both to the house. David was delighted to find that this house was made of a real big black boat, with a door and windows cut in the side, and an iron funnel sticking out of the roof for a chimney. Inside, it was very cosy and clean, and David had a tiny bedroom in the stern. He was very much pleased to find a dear little girl, about his own age, to play with, and soon discovered that she and Ham were orphans, children of Mr. Peggotty's brother and sister, whose fathers had been drowned at sea, so kind Mr. Peggotty had taken them to live with him. David was very happy in this queer house, playing on the beach with Em'ly, as they called the little girl, and told her all about his happy home; and she told him how her father had been drowned at sea before she came to live with her uncle. David said he thought Mr. Peggotty must be a very good man.

"Good!" said Em'ly. "If ever I was to be a lady, I'd give him a sky-blue coat with diamond buttons, nankeen trousers, a red velvet waistcoat, a cocked hat, a large gold watch, a silver pipe, and a box of money!"

David was quite sorry to leave these kind people and his dear little companion, but still he was glad to think he should get back to his own dear mamma. When he reached home, however, he found a great change. His mother was married to the dark man David did not like, whose name was Mr. Murdstone, and he was a stern, hard man, who had no love for little David, and did not allow his mother to pet and indulge him as she had done before. Mr. Murdstone's sister came to live with them, and as she was even more difficult to please than her brother, and disliked boys, David's life was no longer a happy one. He had always had lessons with his mother, and as she was patient and gentle, he had enjoyed learning to read, but now he had a great many very hard lessons to do, and was so frightened and shy when Mr. and Miss Murdstone were in the room, that he did not get on at all well, and was continually in disgrace. His only pleasure was to go up into the little room at the top of the house where he had found a number of books that had belonged to his own father, and he would sit and read Robinson Crusoe, and many tales of travels and adventures.

But one day he got into sad trouble over his lessons, and Mr. Murdstone was very angry, and took him away from his mother and beat him with a cane. David had never been beaten in his life before, and was so maddened by pain and rage that he bit Mr. Murdstone's hand! Now, indeed, he had done something to deserve the punishment, and Mr. Murdstone in a fury, beat him savagely, and left him sobbing and crying on the floor. David was kept locked up in his room for some days, seeing no one but Miss Murdstone, who brought him his food. At last, one night, he heard his name whispered at the key hole.

"Is that you, Peggotty?" he asked, groping his way to the door.

"Yes, my precious Davy. Be as soft as a mouse or the cat will hear us."

David understood she meant Miss Murdstone, whose room was quite near. "How's mamma, Peggotty dear? Is she very angry with me?" he whispered.

"No – not very," she said.

"What is going to be done with me, dear Peggotty, do you know?" asked poor David, who had been wondering all these long, lonely days.

"School – near London – "

"When, Peggotty?"

"To-morrow," answered Peggotty.

"Shan't I see mamma?"

"Yes – morning," she said, and went on to promise David she would always love him, and take the greatest care of his dear mamma, and write him every week.

The next morning David saw his mother, very pale and with red eyes. He ran to her arms and begged her to forgive him.

"Oh, Davy," she said, "that you should hurt anyone I love! I forgive you, Davy, but it grieves me so that you should have such bad passions in your heart. Try to be better, pray to be better."

David was very unhappy that his mother should think him so wicked, and though she kissed him, and said, "I forgive you, my dear boy, God bless you," he cried so bitterly when he was on his way in the carrier's cart, that his pocket handkerchief had to be spread out on the horse's back to dry.

After they had gone a little way the cart stopped, and Peggotty came running up, with a parcel of cakes and a purse for David. After giving him a good hug, she ran off.

Davy found three bright shillings in the purse, and two half-crowns wrapped in paper on which was written, in his mother's hand – "For Davy. With my love."

Davy shared his cakes with the carrier, who asked if Peggotty made them, and David told him yes, she did all their cooking. The carrier looked thoughtful, and then asked David if he would send a message to Peggotty from him. David agreed, and the message was "Barkis is willing." While David was waiting for the coach at Yarmouth, he wrote to Peggotty:

"My Dear Peggotty, – I have come here safe. Barkis is willing. My love to mamma. – Yours affectionately."

"P. S.– He says he particularly wanted you to know Barkis is willing."

At Yarmouth he found dinner was ordered for him, and felt very shy at having a table all to himself, and very much alarmed when the waiter told him he had seen a gentleman fall down dead, after drinking some of their beer. David said he would have some water, and was quite grateful to the waiter for drinking the ale that had been ordered for him, for fear the people of the hotel should be offended. He also helped David to eat his dinner and accepted one of his bright shillings.

When they got to Salem House, as the School was called, David found that he had been sent before the holidays were over as a punishment, and was also to wear a placard on his back, on which was written – "Take care of him. He bites." This made David miserable, and he dreaded the return of the boys.

Some of the boys teased David by pretending he was a dog, calling him Towser, and patting and stroking him; but, on the whole, it was not so bad as David had expected. The head boy, Steerforth, promised to take care of him, and David loved him dearly, and thought him a great hero. Steerforth took a great fancy to the pretty bright-eyed little fellow, and David became a favorite with all the boys, by telling them all he could remember of the tales he had read.

One day David had a visit from Mr. Peggotty and Ham, who had brought two enormous lobsters, a huge crab, and a large canvas bag of shrimps, as they "remembered he was partial to a relish with his meals."

David was proud to introduce his friend Steerforth to these kind simple friends, and told them how good Steerforth was to him, and the "relish" was much appreciated by the boys at supper that night.

When he got home for the holidays David found he had a little baby brother, and his mother and Peggotty were very much pleased to see him again. Mr. and Miss Murdstone were out, and David sat with his mother and Peggotty, and told them all about his school and Steerforth, and took the little baby in his arms and nursed it lovingly. But when the Murdstones came back they showed plainly they disliked him, and thought him in the way, and scolded him, and would not allow him to touch the baby, or even to sit with Peggotty in the kitchen, so he was not sorry when the time came for him to go back to school, except for leaving his dear mamma and the baby.

About two months after he had been back at school he was sent for one day and told that his dear mamma had died! The wife of the head-master was very kind and gentle to the desolate little boy, and the boys were very sorry for him.

David went home the next day, and heard that the dear baby had died too. Peggotty received him with great tenderness, and told him about his mother's illness and how she had sent a loving message.

"Tell my dearest boy that his mother, as she lay here, blessed him not once, but a thousand times," and she had prayed to God to protect and keep her fatherless boy.

Mr. Murdstone did not take any notice of poor little David, nor had Miss Murdstone a word of kindness for the orphan. Peggotty was to leave in a month, and, to their great joy, David was allowed to go with her on a visit to Mr. Peggotty. On their way David found out that the mysterious message he had given to Peggotty meant that Barkis wanted to marry her, and Peggotty had consented. Everyone in Mr. Peggotty's cottage was pleased to see David, and did their best to comfort him. Little Em'ly was at school when he arrived, and he went out to meet her, but when he saw her coming along, her blue eyes bluer, and her bright face prettier than ever, he pretended not to know her, and was passing by, when Em'ly laughed and ran away, so of course he was obliged to run and catch her and try to kiss her, but she would not let him, saying she was not a baby now. But she was kind to him all the same, and when they spoke about the loss of his dear mother, David saw that her eyes were full of tears.

During this visit Peggotty was married to Mr. Barkis, and had a nice little house of her own, and Davy spent the night before he was to return home in a little room in the roof.

"Young or old, Davy dear, so long as I have this house over my head," said Peggotty, "you shall find it as if I expected you here directly every minute. I shall keep it as I used to keep your old little room, my darling, and if you was to go to China, you might think of its being kept just the same all the time you were away."

David felt how good and true a friend she was, and thanked her as well as he could, for they had brought him to the gate of his home, and Peggotty had him clasped in her arms.

How utterly wretched and forlorn he felt! He found he was not to go back to school any more, and wandered about sad and solitary, neglected and uncared for. Peggotty's weekly visits were his only comfort. No one took any pains with him, and he had no friends near who could help him.

At last one day, after some weary months had passed, Mr. Murdstone told him he was to go to London and earn his own living. There was a place for him at Murdstone & Grinby's, a firm in the wine trade. His lodging and clothes would be provided for him by his step-father, and he would earn enough for his food and pocket money. The next day David was sent up to London with the manager, dressed in a shabby little white hat with black crape round it for his mother, a black jacket, and hard, stiff corduroy trousers, a little fellow of ten years old to fight his own battles in the world!

His place, he found, was one of the lowest, with boys of no education and in quite an inferior station to himself – his duties were to wash bottles, stick on labels, and so on. David was utterly miserable at being degraded in this way, and shed bitter tears, as he feared he would forget all he had learnt at school. His lodging, one bare little room, was in the house of some people named Micawber, shiftless, careless, good-natured people, who were always in debt and difficulties. David felt great pity for their misfortunes and did what he could to help poor Mrs. Micawber to sell her books and other little things she could spare, to buy food for herself, her husband, and their four children. If he had not been a very innocent-minded, good little boy, he might easily have fallen into bad ways at this time. But God took care of the orphan boy and kept him from harm.

The troubles of the Micawbers increased more and more, until at last they were obliged to leave London. The last Sunday the Micawbers were in town David dined with them. After he had seen them off the next morning by the coach, he wrote to Peggotty to ask her if she knew where his aunt, Miss Betsy Trotwood, lived, and to borrow half a guinea; for he had resolved to run away from Murdstone & Grinby's, and go to his aunt and tell her his story. Peggotty wrote, enclosing the half-guinea, and saying she only knew Miss Trotwood lived near Dover, but whether in that place itself, or at Folkestone, Sandgate, or Hythe, she could not tell. Hearing that all these places were close together, David made up his mind to start. As he had received his week's wages in advance, he waited till the following Saturday, thinking it would not be honest to go before. He went out to look for some one to carry his box to the coach office, and unfortunately employed a wicked young man who not only ran off with his box, but robbed him of his half-guinea, leaving poor David in dire distress. In despair, he started off to walk to Dover, and was forced to sell his waistcoat to buy some bread. The first night he found his way to his old school at Blackheath, and slept on a haystack close by, feeling some comfort in the thought of the boys being near. He knew Steerforth had left, or he would have tried to see him.

On he trudged the next day and sold his jacket for one shilling and fourpence. He was afraid to buy anything but bread or to spend any money on a bed or a shelter for the night. After six days, he arrived at Dover, ragged, dusty, and half-dead with hunger and fatigue. But here, at first, he could get no tidings of his aunt, and, in despair, was going to try some of the other places Peggotty had mentioned, when the driver of a fly dropped his horsecloth, and as David was handing it up to him, he saw something kind in the man's face that encouraged him to ask once more if he knew where Miss Trotwood lived.

The man directed him towards some houses on the heights, and thither David toiled; a forlorn little creature, without a jacket or waistcoat, his white hat crushed out of shape, his shoes worn out, his shirt and trousers torn and stained, his pretty curly hair tangled, his face and hands sunburnt, and covered with dust. Lifting his big, wistful eyes to one of the windows above, he saw a pleasant faced gentleman with grey hair, who nodded at him several times, then shook his head and went away. David was just turning away to think what he should do, when a tall, erect, elderly lady, with a gardening apron on and a knife in her hand, came out of the house, and began to dig up a root in the garden.

"Go away," she cried. "Go away. No boys here."

But David felt desperate. Going in softly, he stood beside her, and touched her with his finger, and said timidly, "If you please, ma'am – " and when she looked up, he went on —

"Please, aunt, I am your nephew."

"Oh, Lord!" she exclaimed in astonishment, and sat flat down on the path, staring at him, while he went on —

"I am David Copperfield, of Blunderstone, in Suffolk, where you came the night I was born, and saw my dear mamma. I have been unhappy since she died. I have been slighted and taught nothing, and thrown upon myself, and put to work not fit for me. It made me run away to you. I was robbed at first starting out and have walked all the way, and have never slept in a bed since I began the journey." Here he broke into a passion of crying, and his aunt jumped up and took him into the house, where she put him on the sofa and sent the servant to ask "Mr. Dick" to come down. The gentleman whom David had seen at the window came in and was told who the ragged little object on the sofa was.

"Now here you see young David Copperfield, and the question is What shall I do with him?"



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