David Copperfield "He's A-going Out With The Tide"
by Charles Dickens

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"He's A-going Out With The Tide"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: One of the few sources of joy in David Copperfield's unhappy childhood was his mother's good-hearted servant-maid, Peggotty; and, when, years later, Copperfield receives a letter from her telling him that her husband, Barkis, is dying, he feels compelled to go to her and give her what comfort he can. Hurrying to Yarmouth, he finds Barkis near death; and as he, Peggotty, and her brother stand over the dying man, her brother whispers to Copperfield that Barkis is going out with the tide: the belief among the people along the coast is that babies are born only at high tide and that men die only at low tide. The water at that moment is nearing its ebb, and, he says, if Barkis can hold out a while longer, he will live until the next low tide. But the man's death occurs within a few hours, at low tide.

"He's a-going out with the tide," said Mr. Peggotty to me, behind his hand.
My eyes were dim, and so were Mr. Peggotty's; but I repeated in a whisper, "With the tide?"
"People can't die, along the coast," said Mr. Peggotty, "except when the tide's pretty nigh out. They can't be born, unless it's pretty nigh in–not properly born, till flood. . . ."