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 taken.
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 Copperfield!'
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 old friends.
'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?'