Mell still looked at him, and still patted me kindly on the shoulder, and said to himself, in a whisper, if I heard right: 'Yes, I thought so.'
Mr. Creakle turned to his assistant, with a severe frown and laboured politeness:
'Now, you hear what this gentleman says, Mr. Mell. Have the goodness, if you please, to set him right before the assembled school.'
'He is right, sir, without correction,' returned Mr. Mell, in the midst of a dead silence; 'what he has said is true.'
'Be so good then as declare publicly, will you,' said Mr. Creakle, putting his head on one side, and rolling his eyes round the school, 'whether it ever came to my knowledge until this moment?'
'I believe not directly,' he returned.
'Why, you know not,' said Mr. Creakle. 'Don't you, man?'
'I apprehend you never supposed my worldly circumstances to be very good,' replied the assistant. 'You know what my position is, and always has been, here.'
'I apprehend, if you come to that,' said Mr. Creakle, with his veins swelling again bigger than ever, 'that you've been in a wrong position altogether, and mistook this for a charity school. Mr. Mell, we'll part, if you please. The sooner the better.'
'There is no time,' answered Mr. Mell, rising, 'like the present.'
'Sir, to you!' said Mr. Creakle.
'I take my leave of you, Mr. Creakle, and all of you,' said Mr. Mell, glancing round the room, and again patting me gently on the shoulders. 'James Steerforth, the best wish I can leave you is that you may come to be ashamed of what you have done today. At present I would prefer to see you anything rather than a friend, to me, or to anyone in whom I feel an interest.'
Once more he laid his hand upon my shoulder; and then taking his flute and a few books from his desk, and leaving the key in it for his successor, he went out of the school, with his property under his arm. Mr. Creakle then made a speech, through Tungay, in which he thanked Steerforth for asserting (though perhaps too warmly) the independence and respectability of Salem House; and which he wound up by shaking hands with Steerforth, while we gave three cheers - I did not quite know what for, but I supposed for Steerforth, and so joined in them ardently, though I felt miserable. Mr. Creakle then caned Tommy Traddles for being discovered in tears, instead of cheers, on account of Mr. Mell's departure; and went back to his sofa, or his bed, or wherever he had come from.
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.