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CHAPTER 24
MY FIRST DISSIPATION


It was a wonderfully fine thing to have that lofty castle to
myself, and to feel, when I shut my outer door, like Robinson
Crusoe, when he had got into his fortification, and pulled his
ladder up after him. It was a wonderfully fine thing to walk about
town with the key of my house in my pocket, and to know that I
could ask any fellow to come home, and make quite sure of its being
inconvenient to nobody, if it were not so to me. It was a
wonderfully fine thing to let myself in and out, and to come and go
without a word to anyone, and to ring Mrs. Crupp up, gasping, from
the depths of the earth, when I wanted her - and when she was
disposed to come. All this, I say, was wonderfully fine; but I
must say, too, that there were times when it was very dreary.

It was fine in the morning, particularly in the fine mornings. It
looked a very fresh, free life, by daylight: still fresher, and
more free, by sunlight. But as the day declined, the life seemed
to go down too. I don't know how it was; it seldom looked well by
candle-light. I wanted somebody to talk to, then. I missed Agnes.
I found a tremendous blank, in the place of that smiling repository
of my confidence. Mrs. Crupp appeared to be a long way off. I
thought about my predecessor, who had died of drink and smoke; and
I could have wished he had been so good as to live, and not bother
me with his decease.

After two days and nights, I felt as if I had lived there for a
year, and yet I was not an hour older, but was quite as much
tormented by my own youthfulness as ever.

Steerforth not yet appearing, which induced me to apprehend that he
must be ill, I left the Commons early on the third day, and walked
out to Highgate. Mrs. Steerforth was very glad to see me, and said
that he had gone away with one of his Oxford friends to see another
who lived near St. Albans, but that she expected him to return
tomorrow. I was so fond of him, that I felt quite jealous of his
Oxford friends.

As she pressed me to stay to dinner, I remained, and I believe we
talked about nothing but him all day. I told her how much the
people liked him at Yarmouth, and what a delightful companion he
had been. Miss Dartle was full of hints and mysterious questions,
but took a great interest in all our proceedings there, and said,
'Was it really though?' and so forth, so often, that she got
everything out of me she wanted to know. Her appearance was
exactly what I have described it, when I first saw her; but the
society of the two ladies was so agreeable, and came so natural to
me, that I felt myself falling a little in love with her. I could
not help thinking, several times in the course of the evening, and
particularly when I walked home at night, what delightful company
she would be in Buckingham Street.

I was taking my coffee and roll in the morning, before going to the
Commons - and I may observe in this place that it is surprising how
much coffee Mrs. Crupp used, and how weak it was, considering -
when Steerforth himself walked in, to my unbounded joy.

'My dear Steerforth,' cried I, 'I began to think I should never see
you again!'

'I was carried off, by force of arms,' said Steerforth, 'the very
next morning after I got home. Why, Daisy, what a rare old
bachelor you are here!'

I showed him over the establishment, not omitting the pantry, with
no little pride, and he commended it highly. 'I tell you what, old
boy,' he added, 'I shall make quite a town-house of this place,
unless you give me notice to quit.'

This was a delightful hearing. I told him if he waited for that,
he would have to wait till doomsday.

'But you shall have some breakfast!' said I, with my hand on the
bell-rope, 'and Mrs. Crupp shall make you some fresh coffee, and
I'll toast you some bacon in a bachelor's Dutch-oven, that I have
got here.'

'No, no!' said Steerforth. 'Don't ring! I can't! I am going to
breakfast with one of these fellows who is at the Piazza Hotel, in
Covent Garden.'

'But you'll come back to dinner?' said I.

'I can't, upon my life. There's nothing I should like better, but
I must remain with these two fellows. We are all three off
together tomorrow morning.'

'Then bring them here to dinner,' I returned. 'Do you think they
would come?'

'Oh! they would come fast enough,' said Steerforth; 'but we should
inconvenience you. You had better come and dine with us
somewhere.'

I would not by any means consent to this, for it occurred to me
that I really ought to have a little house-warming, and that there
never could be a better opportunity. I had a new pride in my rooms
after his approval of them, and burned with a desire to develop
their utmost resources. I therefore made him promise positively in
the names of his two friends, and we appointed six o'clock as the
dinner-hour.

When he was gone, I rang for Mrs. Crupp, and acquainted her with my
desperate design. Mrs. Crupp said, in the first place, of course
it was well known she couldn't be expected to wait, but she knew a
handy young man, who she thought could be prevailed upon to do it,
and whose terms would be five shillings, and what I pleased. I
said, certainly we would have him. Next Mrs. Crupp said it was
clear she couldn't be in two places at once (which I felt to be
reasonable), and that 'a young gal' stationed in the pantry with a
bedroom candle, there never to desist from washing plates, would be
indispensable. I said, what would be the expense of this young
female? and Mrs. Crupp said she supposed eighteenpence would
neither make me nor break me. I said I supposed not; and THAT was
settled. Then Mrs. Crupp said, Now about the dinner.

It was a remarkable instance of want of forethought on the part of
the ironmonger who had made Mrs. Crupp's kitchen fireplace, that it
was capable of cooking nothing but chops and mashed potatoes. As
to a fish-kittle, Mrs. Crupp said, well! would I only come and look
at the range? She couldn't say fairer than that. Would I come and
look at it? As I should not have been much the wiser if I HAD
looked at it, I declined, and said, 'Never mind fish.' But Mrs.
Crupp said, Don't say that; oysters was in, why not them? So THAT
was settled. Mrs. Crupp then said what she would recommend would
be this. A pair of hot roast fowls - from the pastry-cook's; a
dish of stewed beef, with vegetables - from the pastry-cook's; two
little corner things, as a raised pie and a dish of kidneys - from
the pastrycook's; a tart, and (if I liked) a shape of jelly - from
the pastrycook's. This, Mrs. Crupp said, would leave her at full
liberty to concentrate her mind on the potatoes, and to serve up
the cheese and celery as she could wish to see it done.

I acted on Mrs. Crupp's opinion, and gave the order at the
pastry-cook's myself. Walking along the Strand, afterwards, and
observing a hard mottled substance in the window of a ham and beef
shop, which resembled marble, but was labelled 'Mock Turtle', I
went in and bought a slab of it, which I have since seen reason to
believe would have sufficed for fifteen people. This preparation,
Mrs. Crupp, after some difficulty, consented to warm up; and it
shrunk so much in a liquid state, that we found it what Steerforth
called 'rather a tight fit' for four.

These preparations happily completed, I bought a little dessert in
Covent Garden Market, and gave a rather extensive order at a retail
wine-merchant's in that vicinity. When I came home in the
afternoon, and saw the bottles drawn up in a square on the pantry
floor, they looked so numerous (though there were two missing,
which made Mrs. Crupp very uncomfortable), that I was absolutely
frightened at them.

One of Steerforth's friends was named Grainger, and the other
Markham. They were both very gay and lively fellows; Grainger,
something older than Steerforth; Markham, youthful-looking, and I
should say not more than twenty. I observed that the latter always
spoke of himself indefinitely, as 'a man', and seldom or never in
the first person singular.

'A man might get on very well here, Mr. Copperfield,' said Markham
- meaning himself.

'It's not a bad situation,' said I, 'and the rooms are really
commodious.'

'I hope you have both brought appetites with you?' said Steerforth.

'Upon my honour,' returned Markham, 'town seems to sharpen a man's
appetite. A man is hungry all day long. A man is perpetually
eating.'

Being a little embarrassed at first, and feeling much too young to
preside, I made Steerforth take the head of the table when dinner
was announced, and seated myself opposite to him. Everything was
very good; we did not spare the wine; and he exerted himself so
brilliantly to make the thing pass off well, that there was no
pause in our festivity. I was not quite such good company during
dinner as I could have wished to be, for my chair was opposite the
door, and my attention was distracted by observing that the handy
young man went out of the room very often, and that his shadow
always presented itself, immediately afterwards, on the wall of the
entry, with a bottle at its mouth. The 'young gal' likewise
occasioned me some uneasiness: not so much by neglecting to wash
the plates, as by breaking them. For being of an inquisitive
disposition, and unable to confine herself (as her positive
instructions were) to the pantry, she was constantly peering in at
us, and constantly imagining herself detected; in which belief, she
several times retired upon the plates (with which she had carefully
paved the floor), and did a great deal of destruction.

These, however, were small drawbacks, and easily forgotten when the
cloth was cleared, and the dessert put on the table; at which
period of the entertainment the handy young man was discovered to
be speechless. Giving him private directions to seek the society
of Mrs. Crupp, and to remove the 'young gal' to the basement also,
I abandoned myself to enjoyment.

I began, by being singularly cheerful and light-hearted; all sorts
of half-forgotten things to talk about, came rushing into my mind,
and made me hold forth in a most unwonted manner. I laughed
heartily at my own jokes, and everybody else's; called Steerforth
to order for not passing the wine; made several engagements to go
to Oxford; announced that I meant to have a dinner-party exactly
like that, once a week, until further notice; and madly took so
much snuff out of Grainger's box, that I was obliged to go into the
pantry, and have a private fit of sneezing ten minutes long.

I went on, by passing the wine faster and faster yet, and
continually starting up with a corkscrew to open more wine, long
before any was needed. I proposed Steerforth's health. I said he
was my dearest friend, the protector of my boyhood, and the
companion of my prime. I said I was delighted to propose his
health. I said I owed him more obligations than I could ever
repay, and held him in a higher admiration than I could ever
express. I finished by saying, 'I'll give you Steerforth! God
bless him! Hurrah!' We gave him three times three, and another,
and a good one to finish with. I broke my glass in going round the
table to shake hands with him, and I said (in two words)
'Steerforth - you'retheguidingstarofmyexistence.'

I went on, by finding suddenly that somebody was in the middle of
a song. Markham was the singer, and he sang 'When the heart of a
man is depressed with care'. He said, when he had sung it, he
would give us 'Woman!' I took objection to that, and I couldn't
allow it. I said it was not a respectful way of proposing the
toast, and I would never permit that toast to be drunk in my house
otherwise than as 'The Ladies!' I was very high with him, mainly I
think because I saw Steerforth and Grainger laughing at me - or at
him - or at both of us. He said a man was not to be dictated to.
I said a man was. He said a man was not to be insulted, then. I
said he was right there - never under my roof, where the Lares were
sacred, and the laws of hospitality paramount. He said it was no
derogation from a man's dignity to confess that I was a devilish
good fellow. I instantly proposed his health.

Somebody was smoking. We were all smoking. I was smoking, and
trying to suppress a rising tendency to shudder. Steerforth had
made a speech about me, in the course of which I had been affected
almost to tears. I returned thanks, and hoped the present company
would dine with me tomorrow, and the day after - each day at five
o'clock, that we might enjoy the pleasures of conversation and
society through a long evening. I felt called upon to propose an
individual. I would give them my aunt. Miss Betsey Trotwood, the
best of her sex!

Somebody was leaning out of my bedroom window, refreshing his
forehead against the cool stone of the parapet, and feeling the air
upon his face. It was myself. I was addressing myself as
'Copperfield', and saying, 'Why did you try to smoke? You might
have known you couldn't do it.' Now, somebody was unsteadily
contemplating his features in the looking-glass. That was I too.
I was very pale in the looking-glass; my eyes had a vacant
appearance; and my hair - only my hair, nothing else - looked
drunk.

Somebody said to me, 'Let us go to the theatre, Copperfield!' There
was no bedroom before me, but again the jingling table covered with
glasses; the lamp; Grainger on my right hand, Markham on my left,
and Steerforth opposite - all sitting in a mist, and a long way
off. The theatre? To be sure. The very thing. Come along! But
they must excuse me if I saw everybody out first, and turned the
lamp off - in case of fire.

Owing to some confusion in the dark, the door was gone. I was
feeling for it in the window-curtains, when Steerforth, laughing,
took me by the arm and led me out. We went downstairs, one behind
another. Near the bottom, somebody fell, and rolled down.
Somebody else said it was Copperfield. I was angry at that false
report, until, finding myself on my back in the passage, I began to
think there might be some foundation for it.

A very foggy night, with great rings round the lamps in the
streets! There was an indistinct talk of its being wet. I
considered it frosty. Steerforth dusted me under a lamp-post, and
put my hat into shape, which somebody produced from somewhere in a
most extraordinary manner, for I hadn't had it on before.
Steerforth then said, 'You are all right, Copperfield, are you
not?' and I told him, 'Neverberrer.'

A man, sitting in a pigeon-hole-place, looked out of the fog, and
took money from somebody, inquiring if I was one of the gentlemen
paid for, and appearing rather doubtful (as I remember in the
glimpse I had of him) whether to take the money for me or not.
Shortly afterwards, we were very high up in a very hot theatre,
looking down into a large pit, that seemed to me to smoke; the
people with whom it was crammed were so indistinct. There was a
great stage, too, looking very clean and smooth after the streets;
and there were people upon it, talking about something or other,
but not at all intelligibly. There was an abundance of bright
lights, and there was music, and there were ladies down in the
boxes, and I don't know what more. The whole building looked to me
as if it were learning to swim; it conducted itself in such an
unaccountable manner, when I tried to steady it.

On somebody's motion, we resolved to go downstairs to the
dress-boxes, where the ladies were. A gentleman lounging, full
dressed, on a sofa, with an opera-glass in his hand, passed before
my view, and also my own figure at full length in a glass. Then I
was being ushered into one of these boxes, and found myself saying
something as I sat down, and people about me crying 'Silence!' to
somebody, and ladies casting indignant glances at me, and - what!
yes! - Agnes, sitting on the seat before me, in the same box, with
a lady and gentleman beside her, whom I didn't know. I see her
face now, better than I did then, I dare say, with its indelible
look of regret and wonder turned upon me.

'Agnes!' I said, thickly, 'Lorblessmer! Agnes!'

'Hush! Pray!' she answered, I could not conceive why. 'You
disturb the company. Look at the stage!'

I tried, on her injunction, to fix it, and to hear something of
what was going on there, but quite in vain. I looked at her again
by and by, and saw her shrink into her corner, and put her gloved
hand to her forehead.

'Agnes!' I said. 'I'mafraidyou'renorwell.'

'Yes, yes. Do not mind me, Trotwood,' she returned. 'Listen! Are
you going away soon?'

'Amigoarawaysoo?' I repeated.

'Yes.'

I had a stupid intention of replying that I was going to wait, to
hand her downstairs. I suppose I expressed it, somehow; for after
she had looked at me attentively for a little while, she appeared
to understand, and replied in a low tone:

'I know you will do as I ask you, if I tell you I am very earnest
in it. Go away now, Trotwood, for my sake, and ask your friends to
take you home.'

She had so far improved me, for the time, that though I was angry
with her, I felt ashamed, and with a short 'Goori!' (which I
intended for 'Good night!') got up and went away. They followed,
and I stepped at once out of the box-door into my bedroom, where
only Steerforth was with me, helping me to undress, and where I was
by turns telling him that Agnes was my sister, and adjuring him to
bring the corkscrew, that I might open another bottle of wine.

How somebody, lying in my bed, lay saying and doing all this over
again, at cross purposes, in a feverish dream all night - the bed
a rocking sea that was never still! How, as that somebody slowly
settled down into myself, did I begin to parch, and feel as if my
outer covering of skin were a hard board; my tongue the bottom of
an empty kettle, furred with long service, and burning up over a
slow fire; the palms of my hands, hot plates of metal which no ice
could cool!

But the agony of mind, the remorse, and shame I felt when I became
conscious next day! My horror of having committed a thousand
offences I had forgotten, and which nothing could ever expiate - my
recollection of that indelible look which Agnes had given me - the
torturing impossibility of communicating with her, not knowing,
Beast that I was, how she came to be in London, or where she stayed
- my disgust of the very sight of the room where the revel had been
held - my racking head - the smell of smoke, the sight of glasses,
the impossibility of going out, or even getting up! Oh, what a day
it was!

Oh, what an evening, when I sat down by my fire to a basin of
mutton broth, dimpled all over with fat, and thought I was going
the way of my predecessor, and should succeed to his dismal story
as well as to his chambers, and had half a mind to rush express to
Dover and reveal all! What an evening, when Mrs. Crupp, coming in
to take away the broth-basin, produced one kidney on a cheese-plate
as the entire remains of yesterday's feast, and I was really
inclined to fall upon her nankeen breast and say, in heartfelt
penitence, 'Oh, Mrs. Crupp, Mrs. Crupp, never mind the broken
meats! I am very miserable!' - only that I doubted, even at that
pass, if Mrs. Crupp were quite the sort of woman to confide in!





David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction

England - Social life and customs - 19th century
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