Summary and Analysis
It is decided that David will attend school in Canterbury, and the next day Miss Trotwood escorts David on his journey. In Canterbury they stop at the office of Mr. Wickfield, a lawyer, and are welcomed at the door by a Mr. Uriah Heep, a red-haired clerk about fifteen years old. Miss Trotwood has come for advice on which school to enroll David in. Mr. Wickfield takes Miss Trotwood to visit "the best we have," while David observes Uriah Heep, whose eyes look "like two red suns."
Miss Trotwood likes the school, but none of the available boarding houses suit her, so it is decided that David will board with Mr. Wickfield. David meets Mr. Wickfield's daughter, Agnes, a girl of David's age, and he is then shown his room. David's aunt tells him to "be a credit to yourself, to me, and Mr. Dick," embraces him, and then departs.
After supper that evening, David notices that Mr. Wickfield drinks a great deal of wine. Just before bedtime, David sees Uriah Heep closing up the office, and after a brief conversation, David says goodnight and shakes Uriah's hand. "But oh, what a clammy hand his was! as ghostly to the touch as to the sight. I rubbed mine afterwards, to warm it, and to rub his off."
David begins school the next day and is introduced to his new schoolmaster, Doctor Strong, a carelessly dressed man with a "lustreless eye," whose life's project is the writing of an immense never-to-be-completed dictionary. With Dr. Strong is his pretty wife, Annie, who is much younger than her husband. In a conversation between Wickfield and Strong, David hears about one of Annie's cousins, a Mr. Jack Maldon, apparently a loafer, for whom Mr. Wickfield is trying to find some suitable provision.
Although school is very pleasant, it has been so long since David has mingled with boys his own age that he is apprehensive about how he will get on with his classmates. He has such an initial fear of his new situation that he hurries back to Mr. Wickfield's at the close of the first day of classes to avoid meeting any of the students.
After dinner that evening, Mr. Wickfield has his usual large portion of wine. David enjoys Agnes' company; however, he reassures himself that he loves Em'ly — but yet he feels "there are goodness, peace, and truth, wherever Agnes is."
When it is time for bed, David notices Uriah Heep is still in the office, poring over a huge book. Heep is studying law, but he contends that he is far too "umble" ever to become Mr. Wickfleld's partner. Instead, Uriah suggests that David might "come into the business," but David protests that he has "no views of that sort."
David learns more about Doctor Strong from some of the boys that board at his house. The old Doctor has been married to the pretty young Annie for less than a year, and during that time he has had to support a host of her relatives. Among them is Mrs. Markleham (known to the boys as the Old Soldier), who is Annie Strong's mother.
One night, a small party is held for Jack Maldon, who is leaving for India "as a cadet, or something of that kind, Mr. Wickfleld having at length arranged the business." It is also Doctor Strong's birthday. Mrs. Markleham, in wishing him "many, many, many happy returns," thanks him for what he has done for her family, but she does it in such a way that her self-centeredness is dearly revealed. She also mentions that she remembers when Jack Maldon was "a little creature, a head shorter than Master Copperfield, making baby love to Annie . . ."
Throughout the evening, Mrs. Strong seems ill at ease. Although she is "a very pretty singer," she is unable to begin a duet with her cousin, Jack Maldon, and when she tries to sing by herself, her voice dies away and she is left "with her head hanging down over the keys."
As Maldon departs, David notices that he is carrying "something cherry-coloured in his hand." Shortly afterward, Annie is found in a swoon, and her mother notices that her bow, a "cherrycoloured ribbon," is missing. Annie says that she thinks she had it safe, a little while ago.
In Chapter 15, we first meet one of the notable villains of all of English literature — Uriah Heep. His future activities will play an important part in the lives of several of the characters. As yet he is only a boy, and it is doubtful that his ambitions are formed, although they are perhaps already in the making. Dickens has managed to make Uriah Heep so unpleasant physically that he is repulsive to David.
Although Mr. Wickfield is obviously a good man, we should already detect a weakness in his character — if only in the fact that he feels that he has to drink a great quantity of wine each night before going to bed. He is devoted to his daughter, whom he calls his "little housekeeper," and she is equally devoted to him.
We see in Chapter 16 that after an initial period of adjustment, David is happy in Doctor Strong's school, and he has every reason to be. It is "an excellent school, as different from Mr. Creakle's as good is from evil." There is "an appeal, in everything, to the honour and good faith of the boys," and the boys feel that they have "a part in the management of the place, and in sustaining its character and dignity." Such a school was virtually unknown in Dickens' day, indicating that he had educational views that were far ahead of their time.