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David Copperfield

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield Chapter 31 Summary

A Greater Loss

  • David decides to stay in Peggotty's house until Mr. Omer comes to pick up Mr. Barkis's body.
  • Peggotty asks David to take care of Mr. Barkis's will.
  • They open the chest Mr. Barkis kept hidden under his bed.
  • In it, they find a huge amount of money: 3,000 pounds, which is about U.S.$336,000 in today's money (source).
  • Mr. Barkis leaves some of the money as a trust fund for Mr. Peggotty, which will be divided between Peggotty, little Emily, and David once Mr. Peggotty dies. The rest, he leaves to Peggotty.
  • David spends the week before Mr. Barkis's funeral sorting out his possessions.
  • He finds out that little Emily is supposed to be married two weeks from now.
  • David attends the funeral along with Mr. Chillip and Mr. Omer. No one else is there, and the churchyard is very quiet.
  • Peggotty plans to travel with David to London the next day to settle the final legal matters of the will.
  • Little Emily is supposed to be spending the day at Mr. Omer's shop.
  • Ham is supposed to bring her from Mr. Omer's shop to the old boat house where Peggotty, David, and Mr. Peggotty would meet them for the evening.
  • David walks towards Yarmouth and eats at an inn there.
  • He strolls towards Mr. Peggotty's house, where the lights are on inside.
  • David finds Mr. Peggotty at home smoking his pipe. Dinner has been laid out.
  • Peggotty is sitting waiting and doing needlework.
  • Mr. Peggotty comments that Peggotty has done right by Mr. Barkis, and Mr. Barkis has done right by her.
  • The dreary Mrs. Gummidge groans at this.
  • Mr. Peggotty tells Mrs. Gummidge to cheer up. If she cheered up a bit, she might find that she likes to be cheery.
  • Mrs. Gummidge replies that being cheerful doesn't come naturally to her, since she is so lonesome.
  • Mr. Peggotty places a lamp in the window to signal to little Emily that he's home and waiting for her.
  • Peggotty thinks Mr. Peggotty's a bit babyish for doing this, but she seems fond of him for it. Mr. Peggotty really dotes on Emily.
  • But when Ham arrives, he is alone.
  • Ham asks David to come outside to see what he and Emily have to show David.
  • David comes outside to find Ham terribly pale.
  • Once Ham has closed the door behind them, he starts to cry.
  • Ham tells David that Emily has run away, that she has gone to ruin and disgrace.
  • He begs David to tell him how to break the news to Mr. Peggotty.
  • But just then, even though David tries to hold the door shut, Mr. Peggotty comes out.
  • Mr. Peggotty bites his lip so badly that it bleeds.
  • The boatman asks David to read aloud the letter that Emily left for Ham.
  • The letter says that, by the time they read this, Emily will be far away.
  • She says that she won't come back unless "he" (30.53) brings her back a lady.
  • Emily thanks all of them, but especially her uncle, who has been so kind.
  • If she never comes back, Emily asks them to remember her as a child, as though she had died then and been buried.
  • Mr. Peggotty thanks David for reading the letter and stands unmoving.
  • Mr. Peggotty asks who the man might be. Mr. Peggotty wants to know his name.
  • Ham looks at David, and suddenly David sits down from shock.
  • Ham tells Mr. Peggotty that, for some time now, there has been a gentleman and a servant around Yarmouth.
  • The night before, this servant was seen talking to little Emily.
  • Ham begs David not to say the name, but David feels struck dumb, as though he can't move.
  • Mr. Peggotty guesses it anyway: it's Steerforth.
  • Ham tells David that he knows it's not David's fault, but that Steerforth is a "damned villain" (31.70).
  • Mr. Peggotty takes his coat down from its peg on the wall.
  • He's going to look for Emily, but first, he's going to sink Steerforth's boat.
  • Mr. Peggotty is going to search for Emily throughout the world and bring her back to Yarmouth.
  • Mrs. Gummidge starts up unexpectedly and tells him not to go out like that: she begs him to sit down and remember with her what it was like when he first adopted Ham and Emily and brought Mrs. Gummidge, the young widow, into his home. She tells him to soften his heart for a time before he goes searching for Emily.
  • Mr. Peggotty sits down and starts to cry, and David follows suit.

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