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David Copperfield
by [?]

I answered, “Nothing,” and turned over, to hide my trembling lip.

“Davy,” said my mother. “Davy, my child!”

Then when she would have caressed me in the old fashion, Mr. Murdstone came up and sent the others away.

“David,” he said, making his lips thin, by pressing them together, “if I have an obstinate horse or dog to deal with, what do you think I do?”

“I don’t know.”

“I beat him. I make him wince and smart. I say to myself, ‘I’ll conquer that fellow;’ and if it were to cost him all the blood he had, I should do it. What is that upon your face?”

“Dirt,” I said.

He knew it was the mark of tears as well as I. But if he had asked the question twenty times, with twenty blows, I believe my baby heart would have burst before I would have told him so.

“You have a good deal of intelligence for a little fellow,” he said, “and you understood me very well, I see. Wash that face, sir, and come down with me.”

He pointed to the washstand, and motioned me to obey him directly, and I have little doubt that he would have knocked me down, had I hesitated.

As he walked me into the parlour, he said to my mother, “Clara, my dear, you will not be made uncomfortable any more, I hope. We shall soon improve our youthful humours.”

I might have been made another creature for life, by a kind word just then. A word of welcome home, of reassurance that it was home, might have made me dutiful to my new father, and made me respect instead of hate him; but the word was not spoken, and the time for it was gone.

After that my life was a lonely one. Mr. Murdstone seemed to be very fond of my mother, and she of him, but also she seemed to stand in great awe of him, and dared not do what he might not approve. Soon Miss Murdstone came to live with us. She was a gloomy-looking lady, dark like her brother, and much like him in character. She assumed the care of the house, and mother had nothing more to do with it. Meanwhile, I learnt lessons at home.

Shall I ever forget those lessons! They were presided over nominally by my mother, but really by Mr. Murdstone and his sister, who were always present, and the very sight of the Murdstones had such an effect upon me, that every word I had tried to learn would glide away, and go I know not where. I was treated to so much systematic cruelty that after six months, I became sullen, dull, and dogged, and this feeling was not lessened by the fact that I was more and more shut out from my mother. I believe I should have been almost stupified but for the small collection of books which had belonged to my own father, and to which I had access. From that blessed little room, came forth “Roderick Random,” “Peregrine Pickle,” “Tom Jones,” “The Vicar of Wakefield,” “Robinson Crusoe,” “Gil Blas,” and “Don Quixote,”–a glorious company to sustain me. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time–they, and the “Arabian Nights” and “Tales of the Genii,”–and were my only comfort.

One morning, when I went into the parlour with my books, I found Mr. Murdstone poising a cane in the air, which he had obtained, it seemed, for the purpose of flogging me for any mistake I might make. My apprehension was so great, that the words of my lessons slipped off by the entire page,–I made mistake after mistake, failure upon failure,–and presently Mr. Murdstone rose, taking up the cane, and telling me to follow him. As he took me out at the door, my mother ran towards us. Miss Murdstone said, “Clara! are you a perfect fool?” and interfered. I saw my mother stop her ears then, and I heard her crying.