David Copperfield – Day 82 of 331

Chapter 16: I Am a New Boy in More Senses Than One

Next morning, after breakfast, I entered on school life again. I went, accompanied by Mr. Wickfield, to the scene of my future studies—a grave building in a courtyard, with a learned air about it that seemed very well suited to the stray rooks and jackdaws who came down from the Cathedral towers to walk with a clerkly bearing on the grass-plot—and was introduced to my new master, Doctor Strong.

Doctor Strong looked almost as rusty, to my thinking, as the tall iron rails and gates outside the house; and almost as stiff and heavy as the great stone urns that flanked them, and were set up, on the top of the red-brick wall, at regular distances all round the court, like sublimated skittles, for Time to play at. He was in his library (I mean Doctor Strong was), with his clothes not particularly well brushed, and his hair not particularly well combed; his knee-smalls unbraced; his long black gaiters unbuttoned; and his shoes yawning like two caverns on the hearth-rug. Turning upon me a lustreless eye, that reminded me of a long-forgotten blind old horse who once used to crop the grass, and tumble over the graves, in Blunderstone churchyard, he said he was glad to see me: and then he gave me his hand; which I didn’t know what to do with, as it did nothing for itself.

But, sitting at work, not far from Doctor Strong, was a very pretty young lady—whom he called Annie, and who was his daughter, I supposed—who got me out of my difficulty by kneeling down to put Doctor Strong’s shoes on, and button his gaiters, which she did with great cheerfulness and quickness. When she had finished, and we were going out to the schoolroom, I was much surprised to hear Mr. Wickfield, in bidding her good morning, address her as “Mrs. Strong”; and I was wondering could she be Doctor Strong’s son’s wife, or could she be Mrs. Doctor Strong, when Doctor Strong himself unconsciously enlightened me.

“By the by, Wickfield,” he said, stopping in a passage with his hand on my shoulder; “you have not found any suitable provision for my wife’s cousin yet?”

“No,” said Mr. Wickfield. “No. Not yet.”

“I could wish it done as soon as it can be done, Wickfield,” said Doctor Strong, “for Jack Maldon is needy, and idle; and of those two bad things, worse things sometimes come. What does Doctor Watts say,” he added, looking at me, and moving his head to the time of his quotation, “‘Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do.'”

“Egad, Doctor,” returned Mr. Wickfield, “if Doctor Watts knew mankind, he might have written, with as much truth, ‘Satan finds some mischief still, for busy hands to do.’ The busy people achieve their full share of mischief in the world, you may rely upon it. What have the people been about, who have been the busiest in getting money, and in getting power, this century or two? No mischief?”

“Jack Maldon will never be very busy in getting either, I expect,” said Doctor Strong, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

“Perhaps not,” said Mr. Wickfield; “and you bring me back to the question, with an apology for digressing. No, I have not been able to dispose of Mr. Jack Maldon yet. I believe,” he said this with some hesitation, “I penetrate your motive, and it makes the thing more difficult.”

“My motive,” returned Doctor Strong, “is to make some suitable provision for a cousin, and an old playfellow, of Annie’s.”

“Yes, I know,” said Mr. Wickfield; “at home or abroad.”

“Aye!” replied the Doctor, apparently wondering why he emphasized those words so much. “At home or abroad.”

“Your own expression, you know,” said Mr. Wickfield. “Or abroad.”

“Surely,” the Doctor answered. “Surely. One or other.”

“One or other? Have you no choice?” asked Mr. Wickfield.

“No,” returned the Doctor.

“No?” with astonishment.

“Not the least.”

“No motive,” said Mr. Wickfield, “for meaning abroad, and not at home?”

“No,” returned the Doctor.

“I am bound to believe you, and of course I do believe you,” said Mr. Wickfield. “It might have simplified my office very much, if I had known it before. But I confess I entertained another impression.”

Doctor Strong regarded him with a puzzled and doubting look, which almost immediately subsided into a smile that gave me great encouragement; for it was full of amiability and sweetness, and there was a simplicity in it, and indeed in his whole manner, when the studious, pondering frost upon it was got through, very attractive and hopeful to a young scholar like me. Repeating “no”, and “not the least”, and other short assurances to the same purport, Doctor Strong jogged on before us, at a queer, uneven pace; and we followed: Mr. Wickfield, looking grave, I observed, and shaking his head to himself, without knowing that I saw him.

The schoolroom was a pretty large hall, on the quietest side of the house, confronted by the stately stare of some half-dozen of the great urns, and commanding a peep of an old secluded garden belonging to the Doctor, where the peaches were ripening on the sunny south wall. There were two great aloes, in tubs, on the turf outside the windows; the broad hard leaves of which plant (looking as if they were made of painted tin) have ever since, by association, been symbolical to me of silence and retirement. About five-and-twenty boys were studiously engaged at their books when we went in, but they rose to give the Doctor good morning, and remained standing when they saw Mr. Wickfield and me.

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