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by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield Chapter 46 Summary
Intelligence One night, about a year after his marriage, David is walking home. He happens to go past Mrs. Steerforth's house. David sees the blinds drawn and the whole house shut up. He feels a bit depressed and doesn't notice anyone around him until suddenly, a woman's voice rings out. It's the voice of Mrs. Steerforth's maid asking David to come in and have a word with Miss Dartle. Miss Dartle saw David passing and would like him to speak with her. The maid tells David that Mrs. Steerforth is not well and stays in her room most of the time. Miss Dartle looks disdainfully at David. She asks if Emily has been found. She seems pleased to tell David that Emily has run away from Steerforth. Miss Dartle hopes openly that Emily has died. The woman asks if David wants to know what is known about Emily's whereabouts? David answers yes. Miss Dartle calls to Littimer to come out. Littimer informs David that he and Steerforth have been abroad with Emily. They have traveled through France, Switzerland, and Italy. Apparently, Emily has been quick to learn the languages of these places and has been much admired wherever they went. Littimer explains that, though they were happy for a time, Emily grew more and more depressed, and her low spirits dragged down Steerforth. After many arguments, Steerforth finally left Emily in Naples, Italy. But Steerforth (thinking that he was being generous) offered to arrange a marriage between Emily and another man who wouldn't mind her past indiscretions. (Hearing Littimer talk about this, both David and Miss Dartle are sure that Littimer is talking about himself.) Once Littimer explained to Emily that Steerforth had gone away, she tried desperately to kill herself. (Miss Dartle seems delighted by this news.) Littimer continues: Emily's behavior was awful, and Littimer was sure that she would murder him if she got the chance. (David thinks Emily would be quite right to try.) In the end, Littimer locked her up with nothing at hand to hurt herself or anyone else. But Emily still managed to escape by knocking the bars out of the window of her room and climbing down the wall. There has been no news of her since. Miss Dartle smiles at the thought that she may be dead. Littimer agrees that Emily may have drowned herself, or she may have found a way to join the local boatmen. Apparently, after Emily's escape, Littimer went to meet with Steerforth. Steerforth injured Littimer, and so Littimer left Steerforth's service and headed back to England to tell Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle this news (for a sum of money). Now, Littimer is looking for another job. All David wants to know is if Emily received a letter from home, or if he and Steerforth intercepted it. Littimer isn't willing to tell David straight out, but he strongly implies that Steerforth prevented Emily from getting her letter from Mr. Peggotty. David finishes up by telling Littimer that he plans to tell Mr. Peggotty this story, so Littimer had better watch himself. Littimer informs David that he is not afraid, and that this is a free country. Steerforth's servant takes off. Miss Dartle adds that Steerforth is sailing off the coast of Spain. She tells David that they share a common goal: David wants Emily saved, and Miss Dartle wants to make sure that Emily never has another chance to hurt Steerforth again. Mrs. Steerforth comes up behind Miss Dartle and greets David. Steerforth's mother reaffirms Miss Dartle's suspicions that Emily is going to try to get something more out of Steerforth. David respectfully disagrees: Emily, who has been so badly treated, would not accept a cup of water from Steerforth now. Miss Dartle looks like she wants to say something, but Mrs. Steerforth stops her. Mrs. Steerforth asks how David is – he's starting to get famous, she believes. David says that he has been lucky to get good reviews. Mrs. Steerforth asks if David's mother is alive. She tells David that it's a shame, because his mother would have been proud of him. David shakes her hand and leaves. He now seeks out Mr. Peggotty, who happens to be in London, lodging at that place where Mr. Dick stayed briefly. Mr. Peggotty greets David warmly. David passes on the news that he has heard from Littimer: that Emily has left Steerforth. Mr. Peggotty asks if David thinks she is still alive? David thinks she is, and Mr. Peggotty agrees – he would know if she had died. David suggests that little Emily might come back to London, having nowhere else to go. He asks if Mr. Peggotty remembers Martha Endell? Both David and Mr. Peggotty have seen her on the London streets. David tells Mr. Peggotty that Emily used to be kind to Martha (before Emily's own disaster). David suggests that they should look for Martha to see if she might know where Emily is. As they walk out to search for Martha, David asks after Ham Peggotty. Apparently, Ham is still working too hard, but he's popular in the village. David worries that, if Ham ever finds Steerforth, he might do something dangerous. Mr. Peggotty agrees that he has had similar concerns about Ham. David and Mr. Peggotty fall silent as they walk towards the lonely figure of a woman: it is Martha. They follow her through the London streets until she turns down a quiet alley.
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