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David Copperfield

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CHAPTER 41. DORA’S AUNTS

At last, an answer came from the two old ladies. They presented their compliments to Mr. Copperfield, and informed him that they had given his letter their best consideration, ‘with a view to the happiness of both parties’—which I thought rather an alarming expression, not only because of the use they had made of it in relation to the family difference before-mentioned, but because I had (and have all my life) observed that conventional phrases are a sort of fireworks, easily let off, and liable to take a great variety of shapes and colours not at all suggested by their original form. The Misses Spenlow added that they begged to forbear expressing, ‘through the medium of correspondence’, an opinion on the subject of Mr. Copperfield’s communication; but that if Mr. Copperfield would do them the favour to call, upon a certain day (accompanied, if he thought proper, by a confidential friend), they would be happy to hold some conversation on the subject.

To this favour, Mr. Copperfield immediately replied, with his respectful compliments, that he would have the honour of waiting on the Misses Spenlow, at the time appointed; accompanied, in accordance with their kind permission, by his friend Mr. Thomas Traddles of the Inner Temple. Having dispatched which missive, Mr. Copperfield fell into a condition of strong nervous agitation; and so remained until the day arrived.

It was a great augmentation of my uneasiness to be bereaved, at this eventful crisis, of the inestimable services of Miss Mills. But Mr. Mills, who was always doing something or other to annoy me—or I felt as if he were, which was the same thing—had brought his conduct to a climax, by taking it into his head that he would go to India. Why should he go to India, except to harass me? To be sure he had nothing to do with any other part of the world, and had a good deal to do with that part; being entirely in the India trade, whatever that was (I had floating dreams myself concerning golden shawls and elephants’ teeth); having been at Calcutta in his youth; and designing now to go out there again, in the capacity of resident partner. But this was nothing to me. However, it was so much to him that for India he was bound, and Julia with him; and Julia went into the country to take leave of her relations; and the house was put into a perfect suit of bills, announcing that it was to be let or sold, and that the furniture (Mangle and all) was to be taken at a valuation. So, here was another earthquake of which I became the sport, before I had recovered from the shock of its predecessor!

I was in several minds how to dress myself on the important day; being divided between my desire to appear to advantage, and my apprehensions of putting on anything that might impair my severely practical character in the eyes of the Misses Spenlow. I endeavoured to hit a happy medium between these two extremes; my aunt approved the result; and Mr. Dick threw one of his shoes after Traddles and me, for luck, as we went downstairs.

Excellent fellow as I knew Traddles to be, and warmly attached to him as I was, I could not help wishing, on that delicate occasion, that he had never contracted the habit of brushing his hair so very upright. It gave him a surprised look—not to say a hearth-broomy kind of expression—which, my apprehensions whispered, might be fatal to us.

I took the liberty of mentioning it to Traddles, as we were walking to Putney; and saying that if he WOULD smooth it down a little—

‘My dear Copperfield,’ said Traddles, lifting off his hat, and rubbing his hair all kinds of ways, ‘nothing would give me greater pleasure. But it won’t.’

‘Won’t be smoothed down?’ said I.

‘No,’ said Traddles. ‘Nothing will induce it. If I was to carry a half-hundred-weight upon it, all the way to Putney, it would be up again the moment the weight was taken off. You have no idea what obstinate hair mine is, Copperfield. I am quite a fretful porcupine.’

I was a little disappointed, I must confess, but thoroughly charmed by his good-nature too. I told him how I esteemed his good-nature; and said that his hair must have taken all the obstinacy out of his character, for he had none.

‘Oh!’ returned Traddles, laughing. ‘I assure you, it’s quite an old story, my unfortunate hair. My uncle’s wife couldn’t bear it. She said it exasperated her. It stood very much in my way, too, when I first fell in love with Sophy. Very much!’

‘Did she object to it?’

‘SHE didn’t,’ rejoined Traddles; ‘but her eldest sister—the one that’s the Beauty—quite made game of it, I understand. In fact, all the sisters laugh at it.’

‘Agreeable!’ said I.

‘Yes,’ returned Traddles with perfect innocence, ‘it’s a joke for us. They pretend that Sophy has a lock of it in her desk, and is obliged to shut it in a clasped book, to keep it down. We laugh about it.’

‘By the by, my dear Traddles,’ said I, ‘your experience may suggest something to me. When you became engaged to the young lady whom you have just mentioned, did you make a regular proposal to her family? Was there anything like—what we are going through today, for instance?’ I added, nervously.

‘Why,’ replied Traddles, on whose attentive face a thoughtful shade had stolen, ‘it was rather a painful transaction, Copperfield, in my case. You see, Sophy being of so much use in the family, none of them could endure the thought of her ever being married. Indeed, they had quite settled among themselves that she never was to be married, and they called her the old maid. Accordingly, when I mentioned it, with the greatest precaution, to Mrs. Crewler—’

‘The mama?’ said I.

‘The mama,’ said Traddles—‘Reverend Horace Crewler—when I mentioned it with every possible precaution to Mrs. Crewler, the effect upon her was such that she gave a scream and became insensible. I couldn’t approach the subject again, for months.’

‘You did at last?’ said I.

‘Well, the Reverend Horace did,’ said Traddles. ‘He is an excellent man, most exemplary in every way; and he pointed out to her that she ought, as a Christian, to reconcile herself to the sacrifice (especially as it was so uncertain), and to bear no uncharitable feeling towards me. As to myself, Copperfield, I give you my word, I felt a perfect bird of prey towards the family.’

‘The sisters took your part, I hope, Traddles?’

‘Why, I can’t say they did,’ he returned. ‘When we had comparatively reconciled Mrs. Crewler to it, we had to break it to Sarah. You recollect my mentioning Sarah, as the one that has something the matter with her spine?’

‘Perfectly!’

‘She clenched both her hands,’ said Traddles, looking at me in dismay; ‘shut her eyes; turned lead-colour; became perfectly stiff; and took nothing for two days but toast-and-water, administered with a tea-spoon.’

‘What a very unpleasant girl, Traddles!’ I remarked.

‘Oh, I beg your pardon, Copperfield!’ said Traddles. ‘She is a very charming girl, but she has a great deal of feeling. In fact, they all have. Sophy told me afterwards, that the self-reproach she underwent while she was in attendance upon Sarah, no words could describe. I know it must have been severe, by my own feelings, Copperfield; which were like a criminal’s. After Sarah was restored, we still had to break it to the other eight; and it produced various effects upon them of a most pathetic nature. The two little ones, whom Sophy educates, have only just left off de-testing me.’

‘At any rate, they are all reconciled to it now, I hope?’ said I.

‘Ye-yes, I should say they were, on the whole, resigned to it,’ said Traddles, doubtfully. ‘The fact is, we avoid mentioning the subject; and my unsettled prospects and indifferent circumstances are a great consolation to them. There will be a deplorable scene, whenever we are married. It will be much more like a funeral, than a wedding. And they’ll all hate me for taking her away!’

His honest face, as he looked at me with a serio-comic shake of his head, impresses me more in the remembrance than it did in the reality, for I was by this time in a state of such excessive trepidation and wandering of mind, as to be quite unable to fix my attention on anything. On our approaching the house where the Misses Spenlow lived, I was at such a discount in respect of my personal looks and presence of mind, that Traddles proposed a gentle stimulant in the form of a glass of ale. This having been administered at a neighbouring public-house, he conducted me, with tottering steps, to the Misses Spenlow’s door.

I had a vague sensation of being, as it were, on view, when the maid opened it; and of wavering, somehow, across a hall with a weather-glass in it, into a quiet little drawing-room on the ground-floor, commanding a neat garden. Also of sitting down here, on a sofa, and seeing Traddles’s hair start up, now his hat was removed, like one of those obtrusive little figures made of springs, that fly out of fictitious snuff-boxes when the lid is taken off. Also of hearing an old-fashioned clock ticking away on the chimney-piece, and trying to make it keep time to the jerking of my heart,—which it wouldn’t. Also of looking round the room for any sign of Dora, and seeing none. Also of thinking that Jip once barked in the distance, and was instantly choked by somebody. Ultimately I found myself backing Traddles into the fireplace, and bowing in great confusion to two dry little elderly ladies, dressed in black, and each looking wonderfully like a preparation in chip or tan of the late Mr. Spenlow.

‘Pray,’ said one of the two little ladies, ‘be seated.’

When I had done tumbling over Traddles, and had sat upon something which was not a cat—my first seat was—I so far recovered my sight, as to perceive that Mr. Spenlow had evidently been the youngest of the family; that there was a disparity of six or eight years between the two sisters; and that the younger appeared to be the manager of the conference, inasmuch as she had my letter in her hand—so familiar as it looked to me, and yet so odd!—and was referring to it through an eye-glass. They were dressed alike, but this sister wore her dress with a more youthful air than the other; and perhaps had a trifle more frill, or tucker, or brooch, or bracelet, or some little thing of that kind, which made her look more lively. They were both upright in their carriage, formal, precise, composed, and quiet. The sister who had not my letter, had her arms crossed on her breast, and resting on each other, like an Idol.

‘Mr. Copperfield, I believe,’ said the sister who had got my letter, addressing herself to Traddles.

This was a frightful beginning. Traddles had to indicate that I was Mr. Copperfield, and I had to lay claim to myself, and they had to divest themselves of a preconceived opinion that Traddles was Mr. Copperfield, and altogether we were in a nice condition. To improve it, we all distinctly heard Jip give two short barks, and receive another choke.

‘Mr. Copperfield!’ said the sister with the letter.

I did something—bowed, I suppose—and was all attention, when the other sister struck in.

‘My sister Lavinia,’ said she ‘being conversant with matters of this nature, will state what we consider most calculated to promote the happiness of both parties.’

I discovered afterwards that Miss Lavinia was an authority in affairs of the heart, by reason of there having anciently existed a certain Mr. Pidger, who played short whist, and was supposed to have been enamoured of her. My private opinion is, that this was entirely a gratuitous assumption, and that Pidger was altogether innocent of any such sentiments—to which he had never given any sort of expression that I could ever hear of. Both Miss Lavinia and Miss Clarissa had a superstition, however, that he would have declared his passion, if he had not been cut short in his youth (at about sixty) by over-drinking his constitution, and over-doing an attempt to set it right again by swilling Bath water. They had a lurking suspicion even, that he died of secret love; though I must say there was a picture of him in the house with a damask nose, which concealment did not appear to have ever preyed upon.

‘We will not,’ said Miss Lavinia, ‘enter on the past history of this matter. Our poor brother Francis’s death has cancelled that.’

‘We had not,’ said Miss Clarissa, ‘been in the habit of frequent association with our brother Francis; but there was no decided division or disunion between us. Francis took his road; we took ours. We considered it conducive to the happiness of all parties that it should be so. And it was so.’

Each of the sisters leaned a little forward to speak, shook her head after speaking, and became upright again when silent. Miss Clarissa never moved her arms. She sometimes played tunes upon them with her fingers—minuets and marches I should think—but never moved them.

‘Our niece’s position, or supposed position, is much changed by our brother Francis’s death,’ said Miss Lavinia; ‘and therefore we consider our brother’s opinions as regarded her position as being changed too. We have no reason to doubt, Mr. Copperfield, that you are a young gentleman possessed of good qualities and honourable character; or that you have an affection—or are fully persuaded that you have an affection—for our niece.’

I replied, as I usually did whenever I had a chance, that nobody had ever loved anybody else as I loved Dora. Traddles came to my assistance with a confirmatory murmur.

Miss Lavinia was going on to make some rejoinder, when Miss Clarissa, who appeared to be incessantly beset by a desire to refer to her brother Francis, struck in again:

‘If Dora’s mama,’ she said, ‘when she married our brother Francis, had at once said that there was not room for the family at the dinner-table, it would have been better for the happiness of all parties.’

‘Sister Clarissa,’ said Miss Lavinia. ‘Perhaps we needn’t mind that now.’

‘Sister Lavinia,’ said Miss Clarissa, ‘it belongs to the subject. With your branch of the subject, on which alone you are competent to speak, I should not think of interfering. On this branch of the subject I have a voice and an opinion. It would have been better for the happiness of all parties, if Dora’s mama, when she married our brother Francis, had mentioned plainly what her intentions were. We should then have known what we had to expect. We should have said “Pray do not invite us, at any time”; and all possibility of misunderstanding would have been avoided.’

When Miss Clarissa had shaken her head, Miss Lavinia resumed: again referring to my letter through her eye-glass. They both had little bright round twinkling eyes, by the way, which were like birds’ eyes. They were not unlike birds, altogether; having a sharp, brisk, sudden manner, and a little short, spruce way of adjusting themselves, like canaries.

Miss Lavinia, as I have said, resumed:

‘You ask permission of my sister Clarissa and myself, Mr. Copperfield, to visit here, as the accepted suitor of our niece.’

‘If our brother Francis,’ said Miss Clarissa, breaking out again, if I may call anything so calm a breaking out, ‘wished to surround himself with an atmosphere of Doctors’ Commons, and of Doctors’ Commons only, what right or desire had we to object? None, I am sure. We have ever been far from wishing to obtrude ourselves on anyone. But why not say so? Let our brother Francis and his wife have their society. Let my sister Lavinia and myself have our society. We can find it for ourselves, I hope.’

As this appeared to be addressed to Traddles and me, both Traddles and I made some sort of reply. Traddles was inaudible. I think I observed, myself, that it was highly creditable to all concerned. I don’t in the least know what I meant.

‘Sister Lavinia,’ said Miss Clarissa, having now relieved her mind, ‘you can go on, my dear.’

Miss Lavinia proceeded:

‘Mr. Copperfield, my sister Clarissa and I have been very careful indeed in considering this letter; and we have not considered it without finally showing it to our niece, and discussing it with our niece. We have no doubt that you think you like her very much.’

‘Think, ma’am,’ I rapturously began, ‘oh!—’

But Miss Clarissa giving me a look (just like a sharp canary), as requesting that I would not interrupt the oracle, I begged pardon.

‘Affection,’ said Miss Lavinia, glancing at her sister for corroboration, which she gave in the form of a little nod to every clause, ‘mature affection, homage, devotion, does not easily express itself. Its voice is low. It is modest and retiring, it lies in ambush, waits and waits. Such is the mature fruit. Sometimes a life glides away, and finds it still ripening in the shade.’

Of course I did not understand then that this was an allusion to her supposed experience of the stricken Pidger; but I saw, from the gravity with which Miss Clarissa nodded her head, that great weight was attached to these words.

‘The light—for I call them, in comparison with such sentiments, the light—inclinations of very young people,’ pursued Miss Lavinia, ‘are dust, compared to rocks. It is owing to the difficulty of knowing whether they are likely to endure or have any real foundation, that my sister Clarissa and myself have been very undecided how to act, Mr. Copperfield, and Mr.—’

‘Traddles,’ said my friend, finding himself looked at.

‘I beg pardon. Of the Inner Temple, I believe?’ said Miss Clarissa, again glancing at my letter.

Traddles said ‘Exactly so,’ and became pretty red in the face.

Now, although I had not received any express encouragement as yet, I fancied that I saw in the two little sisters, and particularly in Miss Lavinia, an intensified enjoyment of this new and fruitful subject of domestic interest, a settling down to make the most of it, a disposition to pet it, in which there was a good bright ray of hope. I thought I perceived that Miss Lavinia would have uncommon satisfaction in superintending two young lovers, like Dora and me; and that Miss Clarissa would have hardly less satisfaction in seeing her superintend us, and in chiming in with her own particular department of the subject whenever that impulse was strong upon her. This gave me courage to protest most vehemently that I loved Dora better than I could tell, or anyone believe; that all my friends knew how I loved her; that my aunt, Agnes, Traddles, everyone who knew me, knew how I loved her, and how earnest my love had made me. For the truth of this, I appealed to Traddles. And Traddles, firing up as if he were plunging into a Parliamentary Debate, really did come out nobly: confirming me in good round terms, and in a plain sensible practical manner, that evidently made a favourable impression.

‘I speak, if I may presume to say so, as one who has some little experience of such things,’ said Traddles, ‘being myself engaged to a young lady—one of ten, down in Devonshire—and seeing no probability, at present, of our engagement coming to a termination.’

‘You may be able to confirm what I have said, Mr. Traddles,’ observed Miss Lavinia, evidently taking a new interest in him, ‘of the affection that is modest and retiring; that waits and waits?’

‘Entirely, ma’am,’ said Traddles.

Miss Clarissa looked at Miss Lavinia, and shook her head gravely. Miss Lavinia looked consciously at Miss Clarissa, and heaved a little sigh. ‘Sister Lavinia,’ said Miss Clarissa, ‘take my smelling-bottle.’

Miss Lavinia revived herself with a few whiffs of aromatic vinegar—Traddles and I looking on with great solicitude the while; and then went on to say, rather faintly:

‘My sister and myself have been in great doubt, Mr. Traddles, what course we ought to take in reference to the likings, or imaginary likings, of such very young people as your friend Mr. Copperfield and our niece.’

‘Our brother Francis’s child,’ remarked Miss Clarissa. ‘If our brother Francis’s wife had found it convenient in her lifetime (though she had an unquestionable right to act as she thought best) to invite the family to her dinner-table, we might have known our brother Francis’s child better at the present moment. Sister Lavinia, proceed.’

Miss Lavinia turned my letter, so as to bring the superscription towards herself, and referred through her eye-glass to some orderly-looking notes she had made on that part of it.

‘It seems to us,’ said she, ‘prudent, Mr. Traddles, to bring these feelings to the test of our own observation. At present we know nothing of them, and are not in a situation to judge how much reality there may be in them. Therefore we are inclined so far to accede to Mr. Copperfield’s proposal, as to admit his visits here.’

‘I shall never, dear ladies,’ I exclaimed, relieved of an immense load of apprehension, ‘forget your kindness!’

‘But,’ pursued Miss Lavinia,—‘but, we would prefer to regard those visits, Mr. Traddles, as made, at present, to us. We must guard ourselves from recognizing any positive engagement between Mr. Copperfield and our niece, until we have had an opportunity—’

‘Until YOU have had an opportunity, sister Lavinia,’ said Miss Clarissa.

‘Be it so,’ assented Miss Lavinia, with a sigh—‘until I have had an opportunity of observing them.’

‘Copperfield,’ said Traddles, turning to me, ‘you feel, I am sure, that nothing could be more reasonable or considerate.’

‘Nothing!’ cried I. ‘I am deeply sensible of it.’

‘In this position of affairs,’ said Miss Lavinia, again referring to her notes, ‘and admitting his visits on this understanding only, we must require from Mr. Copperfield a distinct assurance, on his word of honour, that no communication of any kind shall take place between him and our niece without our knowledge. That no project whatever shall be entertained with regard to our niece, without being first submitted to us—’ ‘To you, sister Lavinia,’ Miss Clarissa interposed.

‘Be it so, Clarissa!’ assented Miss Lavinia resignedly—‘to me—and receiving our concurrence. We must make this a most express and serious stipulation, not to be broken on any account. We wished Mr. Copperfield to be accompanied by some confidential friend today,’ with an inclination of her head towards Traddles, who bowed, ‘in order that there might be no doubt or misconception on this subject. If Mr. Copperfield, or if you, Mr. Traddles, feel the least scruple, in giving this promise, I beg you to take time to consider it.’

I exclaimed, in a state of high ecstatic fervour, that not a moment’s consideration could be necessary. I bound myself by the required promise, in a most impassioned manner; called upon Traddles to witness it; and denounced myself as the most atrocious of characters if I ever swerved from it in the least degree.

‘Stay!’ said Miss Lavinia, holding up her hand; ‘we resolved, before we had the pleasure of receiving you two gentlemen, to leave you alone for a quarter of an hour, to consider this point. You will allow us to retire.’

It was in vain for me to say that no consideration was necessary. They persisted in withdrawing for the specified time. Accordingly, these little birds hopped out with great dignity; leaving me to receive the congratulations of Traddles, and to feel as if I were translated to regions of exquisite happiness. Exactly at the expiration of the quarter of an hour, they reappeared with no less dignity than they had disappeared. They had gone rustling away as if their little dresses were made of autumn-leaves: and they came rustling back, in like manner.

I then bound myself once more to the prescribed conditions.

‘Sister Clarissa,’ said Miss Lavinia, ‘the rest is with you.’

Miss Clarissa, unfolding her arms for the first time, took the notes and glanced at them.

‘We shall be happy,’ said Miss Clarissa, ‘to see Mr. Copperfield to dinner, every Sunday, if it should suit his convenience. Our hour is three.’

I bowed.

‘In the course of the week,’ said Miss Clarissa, ‘we shall be happy to see Mr. Copperfield to tea. Our hour is half-past six.’

I bowed again.

‘Twice in the week,’ said Miss Clarissa, ‘but, as a rule, not oftener.’

I bowed again.

‘Miss Trotwood,’ said Miss Clarissa, ‘mentioned in Mr. Copperfield’s letter, will perhaps call upon us. When visiting is better for the happiness of all parties, we are glad to receive visits, and return them. When it is better for the happiness of all parties that no visiting should take place, (as in the case of our brother Francis, and his establishment) that is quite different.’

I intimated that my aunt would be proud and delighted to make their acquaintance; though I must say I was not quite sure of their getting on very satisfactorily together. The conditions being now closed, I expressed my acknowledgements in the warmest manner; and, taking the hand, first of Miss Clarissa, and then of Miss Lavinia, pressed it, in each case, to my lips.

Miss Lavinia then arose, and begging Mr. Traddles to excuse us for a minute, requested me to follow her. I obeyed, all in a tremble, and was conducted into another room. There I found my blessed darling stopping her ears behind the door, with her dear little face against the wall; and Jip in the plate-warmer with his head tied up in a towel.

Oh! How beautiful she was in her black frock, and how she sobbed and cried at first, and wouldn’t come out from behind the door! How fond we were of one another, when she did come out at last; and what a state of bliss I was in, when we took Jip out of the plate-warmer, and restored him to the light, sneezing very much, and were all three reunited!

‘My dearest Dora! Now, indeed, my own for ever!’

‘Oh, DON’T!’ pleaded Dora. ‘Please!’

‘Are you not my own for ever, Dora?’

‘Oh yes, of course I am!’ cried Dora, ‘but I am so frightened!’

‘Frightened, my own?’

‘Oh yes! I don’t like him,’ said Dora. ‘Why don’t he go?’

‘Who, my life?’

‘Your friend,’ said Dora. ‘It isn’t any business of his. What a stupid he must be!’

‘My love!’ (There never was anything so coaxing as her childish ways.) ‘He is the best creature!’

‘Oh, but we don’t want any best creatures!’ pouted Dora.

‘My dear,’ I argued, ‘you will soon know him well, and like him of all things. And here is my aunt coming soon; and you’ll like her of all things too, when you know her.’

‘No, please don’t bring her!’ said Dora, giving me a horrified little kiss, and folding her hands. ‘Don’t. I know she’s a naughty, mischief-making old thing! Don’t let her come here, Doady!’ which was a corruption of David.

Remonstrance was of no use, then; so I laughed, and admired, and was very much in love and very happy; and she showed me Jip’s new trick of standing on his hind legs in a corner—which he did for about the space of a flash of lightning, and then fell down—and I don’t know how long I should have stayed there, oblivious of Traddles, if Miss Lavinia had not come in to take me away. Miss Lavinia was very fond of Dora (she told me Dora was exactly like what she had been herself at her age—she must have altered a good deal), and she treated Dora just as if she had been a toy. I wanted to persuade Dora to come and see Traddles, but on my proposing it she ran off to her own room and locked herself in; so I went to Traddles without her, and walked away with him on air.

‘Nothing could be more satisfactory,’ said Traddles; ‘and they are very agreeable old ladies, I am sure. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if you were to be married years before me, Copperfield.’

‘Does your Sophy play on any instrument, Traddles?’ I inquired, in the pride of my heart.

‘She knows enough of the piano to teach it to her little sisters,’ said Traddles.

‘Does she sing at all?’ I asked.

‘Why, she sings ballads, sometimes, to freshen up the others a little when they’re out of spirits,’ said Traddles. ‘Nothing scientific.’

‘She doesn’t sing to the guitar?’ said I.

‘Oh dear no!’ said Traddles.

‘Paint at all?’

‘Not at all,’ said Traddles.

I promised Traddles that he should hear Dora sing, and see some of her flower-painting. He said he should like it very much, and we went home arm in arm in great good humour and delight. I encouraged him to talk about Sophy, on the way; which he did with a loving reliance on her that I very much admired. I compared her in my mind with Dora, with considerable inward satisfaction; but I candidly admitted to myself that she seemed to be an excellent kind of girl for Traddles, too.

Of course my aunt was immediately made acquainted with the successful issue of the conference, and with all that had been said and done in the course of it. She was happy to see me so happy, and promised to call on Dora’s aunts without loss of time. But she took such a long walk up and down our rooms that night, while I was writing to Agnes, that I began to think she meant to walk till morning.

My letter to Agnes was a fervent and grateful one, narrating all the good effects that had resulted from my following her advice. She wrote, by return of post, to me. Her letter was hopeful, earnest, and cheerful. She was always cheerful from that time.

I had my hands more full than ever, now. My daily journeys to Highgate considered, Putney was a long way off; and I naturally wanted to go there as often as I could. The proposed tea-drinkings being quite impracticable, I compounded with Miss Lavinia for permission to visit every Saturday afternoon, without detriment to my privileged Sundays. So, the close of every week was a delicious time for me; and I got through the rest of the week by looking forward to it.

I was wonderfully relieved to find that my aunt and Dora’s aunts rubbed on, all things considered, much more smoothly than I could have expected. My aunt made her promised visit within a few days of the conference; and within a few more days, Dora’s aunts called upon her, in due state and form. Similar but more friendly exchanges took place afterwards, usually at intervals of three or four weeks. I know that my aunt distressed Dora’s aunts very much, by utterly setting at naught the dignity of fly-conveyance, and walking out to Putney at extraordinary times, as shortly after breakfast or just before tea; likewise by wearing her bonnet in any manner that happened to be comfortable to her head, without at all deferring to the prejudices of civilization on that subject. But Dora’s aunts soon agreed to regard my aunt as an eccentric and somewhat masculine lady, with a strong understanding; and although my aunt occasionally ruffled the feathers of Dora’s aunts, by expressing heretical opinions on various points of ceremony, she loved me too well not to sacrifice some of her little peculiarities to the general harmony.

The only member of our small society who positively refused to adapt himself to circumstances, was Jip. He never saw my aunt without immediately displaying every tooth in his head, retiring under a chair, and growling incessantly: with now and then a doleful howl, as if she really were too much for his feelings. All kinds of treatment were tried with him, coaxing, scolding, slapping, bringing him to Buckingham Street (where he instantly dashed at the two cats, to the terror of all beholders); but he never could prevail upon himself to bear my aunt’s society. He would sometimes think he had got the better of his objection, and be amiable for a few minutes; and then would put up his snub nose, and howl to that extent, that there was nothing for it but to blind him and put him in the plate-warmer. At length, Dora regularly muffled him in a towel and shut him up there, whenever my aunt was reported at the door.

One thing troubled me much, after we had fallen into this quiet train. It was, that Dora seemed by one consent to be regarded like a pretty toy or plaything. My aunt, with whom she gradually became familiar, always called her Little Blossom; and the pleasure of Miss Lavinia’s life was to wait upon her, curl her hair, make ornaments for her, and treat her like a pet child. What Miss Lavinia did, her sister did as a matter of course. It was very odd to me; but they all seemed to treat Dora, in her degree, much as Dora treated Jip in his.

I made up my mind to speak to Dora about this; and one day when we were out walking (for we were licensed by Miss Lavinia, after a while, to go out walking by ourselves), I said to her that I wished she could get them to behave towards her differently.

‘Because you know, my darling,’ I remonstrated, ‘you are not a child.’

‘There!’ said Dora. ‘Now you’re going to be cross!’

‘Cross, my love?’

‘I am sure they’re very kind to me,’ said Dora, ‘and I am very happy—’

‘Well! But my dearest life!’ said I, ‘you might be very happy, and yet be treated rationally.’

Dora gave me a reproachful look—the prettiest look!—and then began to sob, saying, if I didn’t like her, why had I ever wanted so much to be engaged to her? And why didn’t I go away, now, if I couldn’t bear her?

What could I do, but kiss away her tears, and tell her how I doted on her, after that!

‘I am sure I am very affectionate,’ said Dora; ‘you oughtn’t to be cruel to me, Doady!’

‘Cruel, my precious love! As if I would—or could—be cruel to you, for the world!’

‘Then don’t find fault with me,’ said Dora, making a rosebud of her mouth; ‘and I’ll be good.’

I was charmed by her presently asking me, of her own accord, to give her that cookery-book I had once spoken of, and to show her how to keep accounts as I had once promised I would. I brought the volume with me on my next visit (I got it prettily bound, first, to make it look less dry and more inviting); and as we strolled about the Common, I showed her an old housekeeping-book of my aunt’s, and gave her a set of tablets, and a pretty little pencil-case and box of leads, to practise housekeeping with.

But the cookery-book made Dora’s head ache, and the figures made her cry. They wouldn’t add up, she said. So she rubbed them out, and drew little nosegays and likenesses of me and Jip, all over the tablets.

Then I playfully tried verbal instruction in domestic matters, as we walked about on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes, for example, when we passed a butcher’s shop, I would say:

‘Now suppose, my pet, that we were married, and you were going to buy a shoulder of mutton for dinner, would you know how to buy it?’

My pretty little Dora’s face would fall, and she would make her mouth into a bud again, as if she would very much prefer to shut mine with a kiss.

‘Would you know how to buy it, my darling?’ I would repeat, perhaps, if I were very inflexible.

Dora would think a little, and then reply, perhaps, with great triumph:

‘Why, the butcher would know how to sell it, and what need I know? Oh, you silly boy!’

So, when I once asked Dora, with an eye to the cookery-book, what she would do, if we were married, and I were to say I should like a nice Irish stew, she replied that she would tell the servant to make it; and then clapped her little hands together across my arm, and laughed in such a charming manner that she was more delightful than ever.

Consequently, the principal use to which the cookery-book was devoted, was being put down in the corner for Jip to stand upon. But Dora was so pleased, when she had trained him to stand upon it without offering to come off, and at the same time to hold the pencil-case in his mouth, that I was very glad I had bought it.

And we fell back on the guitar-case, and the flower-painting, and the songs about never leaving off dancing, Ta ra la! and were as happy as the week was long. I occasionally wished I could venture to hint to Miss Lavinia, that she treated the darling of my heart a little too much like a plaything; and I sometimes awoke, as it were, wondering to find that I had fallen into the general fault, and treated her like a plaything too—but not often.






CHAPTER 42. MISCHIEF

I feel as if it were not for me to record, even though this manuscript is intended for no eyes but mine, how hard I worked at that tremendous short-hand, and all improvement appertaining to it, in my sense of responsibility to Dora and her aunts. I will only add, to what I have already written of my perseverance at this time of my life, and of a patient and continuous energy which then began to be matured within me, and which I know to be the strong part of my character, if it have any strength at all, that there, on looking back, I find the source of my success. I have been very fortunate in worldly matters; many men have worked much harder, and not succeeded half so well; but I never could have done what I have done, without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one object at a time, no matter how quickly its successor should come upon its heels, which I then formed. Heaven knows I write this, in no spirit of self-laudation. The man who reviews his own life, as I do mine, in going on here, from page to page, had need to have been a good man indeed, if he would be spared the sharp consciousness of many talents neglected, many opportunities wasted, many erratic and perverted feelings constantly at war within his breast, and defeating him. I do not hold one natural gift, I dare say, that I have not abused. My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest. I have never believed it possible that any natural or improved ability can claim immunity from the companionship of the steady, plain, hard-working qualities, and hope to gain its end. There is no such thing as such fulfilment on this earth. Some happy talent, and some fortunate opportunity, may form the two sides of the ladder on which some men mount, but the rounds of that ladder must be made of stuff to stand wear and tear; and there is no substitute for thorough-going, ardent, and sincere earnestness. Never to put one hand to anything, on which I could throw my whole self; and never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever it was; I find, now, to have been my golden rules.

How much of the practice I have just reduced to precept, I owe to Agnes, I will not repeat here. My narrative proceeds to Agnes, with a thankful love.

She came on a visit of a fortnight to the Doctor’s. Mr. Wickfield was the Doctor’s old friend, and the Doctor wished to talk with him, and do him good. It had been matter of conversation with Agnes when she was last in town, and this visit was the result. She and her father came together. I was not much surprised to hear from her that she had engaged to find a lodging in the neighbourhood for Mrs. Heep, whose rheumatic complaint required change of air, and who would be charmed to have it in such company. Neither was I surprised when, on the very next day, Uriah, like a dutiful son, brought his worthy mother to take possession.

‘You see, Master Copperfield,’ said he, as he forced himself upon my company for a turn in the Doctor’s garden, ‘where a person loves, a person is a little jealous—leastways, anxious to keep an eye on the beloved one.’

‘Of whom are you jealous, now?’ said I.

‘Thanks to you, Master Copperfield,’ he returned, ‘of no one in particular just at present—no male person, at least.’

‘Do you mean that you are jealous of a female person?’

He gave me a sidelong glance out of his sinister red eyes, and laughed.

‘Really, Master Copperfield,’ he said, ‘—I should say Mister, but I know you’ll excuse the abit I’ve got into—you’re so insinuating, that you draw me like a corkscrew! Well, I don’t mind telling you,’ putting his fish-like hand on mine, ‘I’m not a lady’s man in general, sir, and I never was, with Mrs. Strong.’

His eyes looked green now, as they watched mine with a rascally cunning.

‘What do you mean?’ said I.

‘Why, though I am a lawyer, Master Copperfield,’ he replied, with a dry grin, ‘I mean, just at present, what I say.’

‘And what do you mean by your look?’ I retorted, quietly.

‘By my look? Dear me, Copperfield, that’s sharp practice! What do I mean by my look?’

‘Yes,’ said I. ‘By your look.’

He seemed very much amused, and laughed as heartily as it was in his nature to laugh. After some scraping of his chin with his hand, he went on to say, with his eyes cast downward—still scraping, very slowly:

‘When I was but an umble clerk, she always looked down upon me. She was for ever having my Agnes backwards and forwards at her ouse, and she was for ever being a friend to you, Master Copperfield; but I was too far beneath her, myself, to be noticed.’

‘Well?’ said I; ‘suppose you were!’

‘—And beneath him too,’ pursued Uriah, very distinctly, and in a meditative tone of voice, as he continued to scrape his chin.

‘Don’t you know the Doctor better,’ said I, ‘than to suppose him conscious of your existence, when you were not before him?’

He directed his eyes at me in that sidelong glance again, and he made his face very lantern-jawed, for the greater convenience of scraping, as he answered:

‘Oh dear, I am not referring to the Doctor! Oh no, poor man! I mean Mr. Maldon!’

My heart quite died within me. All my old doubts and apprehensions on that subject, all the Doctor’s happiness and peace, all the mingled possibilities of innocence and compromise, that I could not unravel, I saw, in a moment, at the mercy of this fellow’s twisting.

‘He never could come into the office, without ordering and shoving me about,’ said Uriah. ‘One of your fine gentlemen he was! I was very meek and umble—and I am. But I didn’t like that sort of thing—and I don’t!’

He left off scraping his chin, and sucked in his cheeks until they seemed to meet inside; keeping his sidelong glance upon me all the while.

‘She is one of your lovely women, she is,’ he pursued, when he had slowly restored his face to its natural form; ‘and ready to be no friend to such as me, I know. She’s just the person as would put my Agnes up to higher sort of game. Now, I ain’t one of your lady’s men, Master Copperfield; but I’ve had eyes in my ed, a pretty long time back. We umble ones have got eyes, mostly speaking—and we look out of ‘em.’

I endeavoured to appear unconscious and not disquieted, but, I saw in his face, with poor success.

‘Now, I’m not a-going to let myself be run down, Copperfield,’ he continued, raising that part of his countenance, where his red eyebrows would have been if he had had any, with malignant triumph, ‘and I shall do what I can to put a stop to this friendship. I don’t approve of it. I don’t mind acknowledging to you that I’ve got rather a grudging disposition, and want to keep off all intruders. I ain’t a-going, if I know it, to run the risk of being plotted against.’

‘You are always plotting, and delude yourself into the belief that everybody else is doing the like, I think,’ said I.

‘Perhaps so, Master Copperfield,’ he replied. ‘But I’ve got a motive, as my fellow-partner used to say; and I go at it tooth and nail. I mustn’t be put upon, as a numble person, too much. I can’t allow people in my way. Really they must come out of the cart, Master Copperfield!’

‘I don’t understand you,’ said I.

‘Don’t you, though?’ he returned, with one of his jerks. ‘I’m astonished at that, Master Copperfield, you being usually so quick! I’ll try to be plainer, another time.—-Is that Mr. Maldon a-norseback, ringing at the gate, sir?’

‘It looks like him,’ I replied, as carelessly as I could.

Uriah stopped short, put his hands between his great knobs of knees, and doubled himself up with laughter. With perfectly silent laughter. Not a sound escaped from him. I was so repelled by his odious behaviour, particularly by this concluding instance, that I turned away without any ceremony; and left him doubled up in the middle of the garden, like a scarecrow in want of support.

It was not on that evening; but, as I well remember, on the next evening but one, which was a Sunday; that I took Agnes to see Dora. I had arranged the visit, beforehand, with Miss Lavinia; and Agnes was expected to tea.

I was in a flutter of pride and anxiety; pride in my dear little betrothed, and anxiety that Agnes should like her. All the way to Putney, Agnes being inside the stage-coach, and I outside, I pictured Dora to myself in every one of the pretty looks I knew so well; now making up my mind that I should like her to look exactly as she looked at such a time, and then doubting whether I should not prefer her looking as she looked at such another time; and almost worrying myself into a fever about it.

I was troubled by no doubt of her being very pretty, in any case; but it fell out that I had never seen her look so well. She was not in the drawing-room when I presented Agnes to her little aunts, but was shyly keeping out of the way. I knew where to look for her, now; and sure enough I found her stopping her ears again, behind the same dull old door.

At first she wouldn’t come at all; and then she pleaded for five minutes by my watch. When at length she put her arm through mine, to be taken to the drawing-room, her charming little face was flushed, and had never been so pretty. But, when we went into the room, and it turned pale, she was ten thousand times prettier yet.

Dora was afraid of Agnes. She had told me that she knew Agnes was ‘too clever’. But when she saw her looking at once so cheerful and so earnest, and so thoughtful, and so good, she gave a faint little cry of pleased surprise, and just put her affectionate arms round Agnes’s neck, and laid her innocent cheek against her face.

I never was so happy. I never was so pleased as when I saw those two sit down together, side by side. As when I saw my little darling looking up so naturally to those cordial eyes. As when I saw the tender, beautiful regard which Agnes cast upon her.

Miss Lavinia and Miss Clarissa partook, in their way, of my joy. It was the pleasantest tea-table in the world. Miss Clarissa presided. I cut and handed the sweet seed-cake—the little sisters had a bird-like fondness for picking up seeds and pecking at sugar; Miss Lavinia looked on with benignant patronage, as if our happy love were all her work; and we were perfectly contented with ourselves and one another.

The gentle cheerfulness of Agnes went to all their hearts. Her quiet interest in everything that interested Dora; her manner of making acquaintance with Jip (who responded instantly); her pleasant way, when Dora was ashamed to come over to her usual seat by me; her modest grace and ease, eliciting a crowd of blushing little marks of confidence from Dora; seemed to make our circle quite complete.

‘I am so glad,’ said Dora, after tea, ‘that you like me. I didn’t think you would; and I want, more than ever, to be liked, now Julia Mills is gone.’

I have omitted to mention it, by the by. Miss Mills had sailed, and Dora and I had gone aboard a great East Indiaman at Gravesend to see her; and we had had preserved ginger, and guava, and other delicacies of that sort for lunch; and we had left Miss Mills weeping on a camp-stool on the quarter-deck, with a large new diary under her arm, in which the original reflections awakened by the contemplation of Ocean were to be recorded under lock and key.

Agnes said she was afraid I must have given her an unpromising character; but Dora corrected that directly.

‘Oh no!’ she said, shaking her curls at me; ‘it was all praise. He thinks so much of your opinion, that I was quite afraid of it.’

‘My good opinion cannot strengthen his attachment to some people whom he knows,’ said Agnes, with a smile; ‘it is not worth their having.’

‘But please let me have it,’ said Dora, in her coaxing way, ‘if you can!’

We made merry about Dora’s wanting to be liked, and Dora said I was a goose, and she didn’t like me at any rate, and the short evening flew away on gossamer-wings. The time was at hand when the coach was to call for us. I was standing alone before the fire, when Dora came stealing softly in, to give me that usual precious little kiss before I went.

‘Don’t you think, if I had had her for a friend a long time ago, Doady,’ said Dora, her bright eyes shining very brightly, and her little right hand idly busying itself with one of the buttons of my coat, ‘I might have been more clever perhaps?’

‘My love!’ said I, ‘what nonsense!’

‘Do you think it is nonsense?’ returned Dora, without looking at me. ‘Are you sure it is?’

‘Of course I am!’ ‘I have forgotten,’ said Dora, still turning the button round and round, ‘what relation Agnes is to you, you dear bad boy.’

‘No blood-relation,’ I replied; ‘but we were brought up together, like brother and sister.’

‘I wonder why you ever fell in love with me?’ said Dora, beginning on another button of my coat.

‘Perhaps because I couldn’t see you, and not love you, Dora!’

‘Suppose you had never seen me at all,’ said Dora, going to another button.

‘Suppose we had never been born!’ said I, gaily.

I wondered what she was thinking about, as I glanced in admiring silence at the little soft hand travelling up the row of buttons on my coat, and at the clustering hair that lay against my breast, and at the lashes of her downcast eyes, slightly rising as they followed her idle fingers. At length her eyes were lifted up to mine, and she stood on tiptoe to give me, more thoughtfully than usual, that precious little kiss—once, twice, three times—and went out of the room.

They all came back together within five minutes afterwards, and Dora’s unusual thoughtfulness was quite gone then. She was laughingly resolved to put Jip through the whole of his performances, before the coach came. They took some time (not so much on account of their variety, as Jip’s reluctance), and were still unfinished when it was heard at the door. There was a hurried but affectionate parting between Agnes and herself; and Dora was to write to Agnes (who was not to mind her letters being foolish, she said), and Agnes was to write to Dora; and they had a second parting at the coach door, and a third when Dora, in spite of the remonstrances of Miss Lavinia, would come running out once more to remind Agnes at the coach window about writing, and to shake her curls at me on the box.

The stage-coach was to put us down near Covent Garden, where we were to take another stage-coach for Highgate. I was impatient for the short walk in the interval, that Agnes might praise Dora to me. Ah! what praise it was! How lovingly and fervently did it commend the pretty creature I had won, with all her artless graces best displayed, to my most gentle care! How thoughtfully remind me, yet with no pretence of doing so, of the trust in which I held the orphan child!

Never, never, had I loved Dora so deeply and truly, as I loved her that night. When we had again alighted, and were walking in the starlight along the quiet road that led to the Doctor’s house, I told Agnes it was her doing.

‘When you were sitting by her,’ said I, ‘you seemed to be no less her guardian angel than mine; and you seem so now, Agnes.’

‘A poor angel,’ she returned, ‘but faithful.’

The clear tone of her voice, going straight to my heart, made it natural to me to say:

‘The cheerfulness that belongs to you, Agnes (and to no one else that ever I have seen), is so restored, I have observed today, that I have begun to hope you are happier at home?’

‘I am happier in myself,’ she said; ‘I am quite cheerful and light-hearted.’

I glanced at the serene face looking upward, and thought it was the stars that made it seem so noble.

‘There has been no change at home,’ said Agnes, after a few moments.

‘No fresh reference,’ said I, ‘to—I wouldn’t distress you, Agnes, but I cannot help asking—to what we spoke of, when we parted last?’

‘No, none,’ she answered.

‘I have thought so much about it.’

‘You must think less about it. Remember that I confide in simple love and truth at last. Have no apprehensions for me, Trotwood,’ she added, after a moment; ‘the step you dread my taking, I shall never take.’

Although I think I had never really feared it, in any season of cool reflection, it was an unspeakable relief to me to have this assurance from her own truthful lips. I told her so, earnestly.

‘And when this visit is over,’ said I,—‘for we may not be alone another time,—how long is it likely to be, my dear Agnes, before you come to London again?’

‘Probably a long time,’ she replied; ‘I think it will be best—for papa’s sake—to remain at home. We are not likely to meet often, for some time to come; but I shall be a good correspondent of Dora’s, and we shall frequently hear of one another that way.’

We were now within the little courtyard of the Doctor’s cottage. It was growing late. There was a light in the window of Mrs. Strong’s chamber, and Agnes, pointing to it, bade me good night.

‘Do not be troubled,’ she said, giving me her hand, ‘by our misfortunes and anxieties. I can be happier in nothing than in your happiness. If you can ever give me help, rely upon it I will ask you for it. God bless you always!’ In her beaming smile, and in these last tones of her cheerful voice, I seemed again to see and hear my little Dora in her company. I stood awhile, looking through the porch at the stars, with a heart full of love and gratitude, and then walked slowly forth. I had engaged a bed at a decent alehouse close by, and was going out at the gate, when, happening to turn my head, I saw a light in the Doctor’s study. A half-reproachful fancy came into my mind, that he had been working at the Dictionary without my help. With the view of seeing if this were so, and, in any case, of bidding him good night, if he were yet sitting among his books, I turned back, and going softly across the hall, and gently opening the door, looked in.

The first person whom I saw, to my surprise, by the sober light of the shaded lamp, was Uriah. He was standing close beside it, with one of his skeleton hands over his mouth, and the other resting on the Doctor’s table. The Doctor sat in his study chair, covering his face with his hands. Mr. Wickfield, sorely troubled and distressed, was leaning forward, irresolutely touching the Doctor’s arm.

For an instant, I supposed that the Doctor was ill. I hastily advanced a step under that impression, when I met Uriah’s eye, and saw what was the matter. I would have withdrawn, but the Doctor made a gesture to detain me, and I remained.

‘At any rate,’ observed Uriah, with a writhe of his ungainly person, ‘we may keep the door shut. We needn’t make it known to ALL the town.’

Saying which, he went on his toes to the door, which I had left open, and carefully closed it. He then came back, and took up his former position. There was an obtrusive show of compassionate zeal in his voice and manner, more intolerable—at least to me—than any demeanour he could have assumed.

‘I have felt it incumbent upon me, Master Copperfield,’ said Uriah, ‘to point out to Doctor Strong what you and me have already talked about. You didn’t exactly understand me, though?’

I gave him a look, but no other answer; and, going to my good old master, said a few words that I meant to be words of comfort and encouragement. He put his hand upon my shoulder, as it had been his custom to do when I was quite a little fellow, but did not lift his grey head.

‘As you didn’t understand me, Master Copperfield,’ resumed Uriah in the same officious manner, ‘I may take the liberty of umbly mentioning, being among friends, that I have called Doctor Strong’s attention to the goings-on of Mrs. Strong. It’s much against the grain with me, I assure you, Copperfield, to be concerned in anything so unpleasant; but really, as it is, we’re all mixing ourselves up with what oughtn’t to be. That was what my meaning was, sir, when you didn’t understand me.’ I wonder now, when I recall his leer, that I did not collar him, and try to shake the breath out of his body.

‘I dare say I didn’t make myself very clear,’ he went on, ‘nor you neither. Naturally, we was both of us inclined to give such a subject a wide berth. Hows’ever, at last I have made up my mind to speak plain; and I have mentioned to Doctor Strong that—did you speak, sir?’

This was to the Doctor, who had moaned. The sound might have touched any heart, I thought, but it had no effect upon Uriah’s.

‘—mentioned to Doctor Strong,’ he proceeded, ‘that anyone may see that Mr. Maldon, and the lovely and agreeable lady as is Doctor Strong’s wife, are too sweet on one another. Really the time is come (we being at present all mixing ourselves up with what oughtn’t to be), when Doctor Strong must be told that this was full as plain to everybody as the sun, before Mr. Maldon went to India; that Mr. Maldon made excuses to come back, for nothing else; and that he’s always here, for nothing else. When you come in, sir, I was just putting it to my fellow-partner,’ towards whom he turned, ‘to say to Doctor Strong upon his word and honour, whether he’d ever been of this opinion long ago, or not. Come, Mr. Wickfield, sir! Would you be so good as tell us? Yes or no, sir? Come, partner!’

‘For God’s sake, my dear Doctor,’ said Mr. Wickfield again laying his irresolute hand upon the Doctor’s arm, ‘don’t attach too much weight to any suspicions I may have entertained.’

‘There!’ cried Uriah, shaking his head. ‘What a melancholy confirmation: ain’t it? Him! Such an old friend! Bless your soul, when I was nothing but a clerk in his office, Copperfield, I’ve seen him twenty times, if I’ve seen him once, quite in a taking about it—quite put out, you know (and very proper in him as a father; I’m sure I can’t blame him), to think that Miss Agnes was mixing herself up with what oughtn’t to be.’

‘My dear Strong,’ said Mr. Wickfield in a tremulous voice, ‘my good friend, I needn’t tell you that it has been my vice to look for some one master motive in everybody, and to try all actions by one narrow test. I may have fallen into such doubts as I have had, through this mistake.’

‘You have had doubts, Wickfield,’ said the Doctor, without lifting up his head. ‘You have had doubts.’

‘Speak up, fellow-partner,’ urged Uriah.

‘I had, at one time, certainly,’ said Mr. Wickfield. ‘I—God forgive me—I thought YOU had.’

‘No, no, no!’ returned the Doctor, in a tone of most pathetic grief. ‘I thought, at one time,’ said Mr. Wickfield, ‘that you wished to send Maldon abroad to effect a desirable separation.’

‘No, no, no!’ returned the Doctor. ‘To give Annie pleasure, by making some provision for the companion of her childhood. Nothing else.’

‘So I found,’ said Mr. Wickfield. ‘I couldn’t doubt it, when you told me so. But I thought—I implore you to remember the narrow construction which has been my besetting sin—that, in a case where there was so much disparity in point of years—’

‘That’s the way to put it, you see, Master Copperfield!’ observed Uriah, with fawning and offensive pity.

‘—a lady of such youth, and such attractions, however real her respect for you, might have been influenced in marrying, by worldly considerations only. I make no allowance for innumerable feelings and circumstances that may have all tended to good. For Heaven’s sake remember that!’

‘How kind he puts it!’ said Uriah, shaking his head.

‘Always observing her from one point of view,’ said Mr. Wickfield; ‘but by all that is dear to you, my old friend, I entreat you to consider what it was; I am forced to confess now, having no escape-’

‘No! There’s no way out of it, Mr. Wickfield, sir,’ observed Uriah, ‘when it’s got to this.’

‘—that I did,’ said Mr. Wickfield, glancing helplessly and distractedly at his partner, ‘that I did doubt her, and think her wanting in her duty to you; and that I did sometimes, if I must say all, feel averse to Agnes being in such a familiar relation towards her, as to see what I saw, or in my diseased theory fancied that I saw. I never mentioned this to anyone. I never meant it to be known to anyone. And though it is terrible to you to hear,’ said Mr. Wickfield, quite subdued, ‘if you knew how terrible it is for me to tell, you would feel compassion for me!’

The Doctor, in the perfect goodness of his nature, put out his hand. Mr. Wickfield held it for a little while in his, with his head bowed down.

‘I am sure,’ said Uriah, writhing himself into the silence like a Conger-eel, ‘that this is a subject full of unpleasantness to everybody. But since we have got so far, I ought to take the liberty of mentioning that Copperfield has noticed it too.’

I turned upon him, and asked him how he dared refer to me!

‘Oh! it’s very kind of you, Copperfield,’ returned Uriah, undulating all over, ‘and we all know what an amiable character yours is; but you know that the moment I spoke to you the other night, you knew what I meant. You know you knew what I meant, Copperfield. Don’t deny it! You deny it with the best intentions; but don’t do it, Copperfield.’

I saw the mild eye of the good old Doctor turned upon me for a moment, and I felt that the confession of my old misgivings and remembrances was too plainly written in my face to be overlooked. It was of no use raging. I could not undo that. Say what I would, I could not unsay it.

We were silent again, and remained so, until the Doctor rose and walked twice or thrice across the room. Presently he returned to where his chair stood; and, leaning on the back of it, and occasionally putting his handkerchief to his eyes, with a simple honesty that did him more honour, to my thinking, than any disguise he could have effected, said:

‘I have been much to blame. I believe I have been very much to blame. I have exposed one whom I hold in my heart, to trials and aspersions—I call them aspersions, even to have been conceived in anybody’s inmost mind—of which she never, but for me, could have been the object.’

Uriah Heep gave a kind of snivel. I think to express sympathy.

‘Of which my Annie,’ said the Doctor, ‘never, but for me, could have been the object. Gentlemen, I am old now, as you know; I do not feel, tonight, that I have much to live for. But my life—my Life—upon the truth and honour of the dear lady who has been the subject of this conversation!’

I do not think that the best embodiment of chivalry, the realization of the handsomest and most romantic figure ever imagined by painter, could have said this, with a more impressive and affecting dignity than the plain old Doctor did.

‘But I am not prepared,’ he went on, ‘to deny—perhaps I may have been, without knowing it, in some degree prepared to admit—that I may have unwittingly ensnared that lady into an unhappy marriage. I am a man quite unaccustomed to observe; and I cannot but believe that the observation of several people, of different ages and positions, all too plainly tending in one direction (and that so natural), is better than mine.’

I had often admired, as I have elsewhere described, his benignant manner towards his youthful wife; but the respectful tenderness he manifested in every reference to her on this occasion, and the almost reverential manner in which he put away from him the lightest doubt of her integrity, exalted him, in my eyes, beyond description.

‘I married that lady,’ said the Doctor, ‘when she was extremely young. I took her to myself when her character was scarcely formed. So far as it was developed, it had been my happiness to form it. I knew her father well. I knew her well. I had taught her what I could, for the love of all her beautiful and virtuous qualities. If I did her wrong; as I fear I did, in taking advantage (but I never meant it) of her gratitude and her affection; I ask pardon of that lady, in my heart!’

He walked across the room, and came back to the same place; holding the chair with a grasp that trembled, like his subdued voice, in its earnestness.

‘I regarded myself as a refuge, for her, from the dangers and vicissitudes of life. I persuaded myself that, unequal though we were in years, she would live tranquilly and contentedly with me. I did not shut out of my consideration the time when I should leave her free, and still young and still beautiful, but with her judgement more matured—no, gentlemen—upon my truth!’

His homely figure seemed to be lightened up by his fidelity and generosity. Every word he uttered had a force that no other grace could have imparted to it.

‘My life with this lady has been very happy. Until tonight, I have had uninterrupted occasion to bless the day on which I did her great injustice.’

His voice, more and more faltering in the utterance of these words, stopped for a few moments; then he went on:

‘Once awakened from my dream—I have been a poor dreamer, in one way or other, all my life—I see how natural it is that she should have some regretful feeling towards her old companion and her equal. That she does regard him with some innocent regret, with some blameless thoughts of what might have been, but for me, is, I fear, too true. Much that I have seen, but not noted, has come back upon me with new meaning, during this last trying hour. But, beyond this, gentlemen, the dear lady’s name never must be coupled with a word, a breath, of doubt.’

For a little while, his eye kindled and his voice was firm; for a little while he was again silent. Presently, he proceeded as before:

‘It only remains for me, to bear the knowledge of the unhappiness I have occasioned, as submissively as I can. It is she who should reproach; not I. To save her from misconstruction, cruel misconstruction, that even my friends have not been able to avoid, becomes my duty. The more retired we live, the better I shall discharge it. And when the time comes—may it come soon, if it be His merciful pleasure!—when my death shall release her from constraint, I shall close my eyes upon her honoured face, with unbounded confidence and love; and leave her, with no sorrow then, to happier and brighter days.’

I could not see him for the tears which his earnestness and goodness, so adorned by, and so adorning, the perfect simplicity of his manner, brought into my eyes. He had moved to the door, when he added:

‘Gentlemen, I have shown you my heart. I am sure you will respect it. What we have said tonight is never to be said more. Wickfield, give me an old friend’s arm upstairs!’

Mr. Wickfield hastened to him. Without interchanging a word they went slowly out of the room together, Uriah looking after them.

‘Well, Master Copperfield!’ said Uriah, meekly turning to me. ‘The thing hasn’t took quite the turn that might have been expected, for the old Scholar—what an excellent man!—is as blind as a brickbat; but this family’s out of the cart, I think!’

I needed but the sound of his voice to be so madly enraged as I never was before, and never have been since.

‘You villain,’ said I, ‘what do you mean by entrapping me into your schemes? How dare you appeal to me just now, you false rascal, as if we had been in discussion together?’

As we stood, front to front, I saw so plainly, in the stealthy exultation of his face, what I already so plainly knew; I mean that he forced his confidence upon me, expressly to make me miserable, and had set a deliberate trap for me in this very matter; that I couldn’t bear it. The whole of his lank cheek was invitingly before me, and I struck it with my open hand with that force that my fingers tingled as if I had burnt them.

He caught the hand in his, and we stood in that connexion, looking at each other. We stood so, a long time; long enough for me to see the white marks of my fingers die out of the deep red of his cheek, and leave it a deeper red.

‘Copperfield,’ he said at length, in a breathless voice, ‘have you taken leave of your senses?’

‘I have taken leave of you,’ said I, wresting my hand away. ‘You dog, I’ll know no more of you.’

‘Won’t you?’ said he, constrained by the pain of his cheek to put his hand there. ‘Perhaps you won’t be able to help it. Isn’t this ungrateful of you, now?’

‘I have shown you often enough,’ said I, ‘that I despise you. I have shown you now, more plainly, that I do. Why should I dread your doing your worst to all about you? What else do you ever do?’

He perfectly understood this allusion to the considerations that had hitherto restrained me in my communications with him. I rather think that neither the blow, nor the allusion, would have escaped me, but for the assurance I had had from Agnes that night. It is no matter.

There was another long pause. His eyes, as he looked at me, seemed to take every shade of colour that could make eyes ugly.

‘Copperfield,’ he said, removing his hand from his cheek, ‘you have always gone against me. I know you always used to be against me at Mr. Wickfield’s.’

‘You may think what you like,’ said I, still in a towering rage. ‘If it is not true, so much the worthier you.’

‘And yet I always liked you, Copperfield!’ he rejoined.

I deigned to make him no reply; and, taking up my hat, was going out to bed, when he came between me and the door.

‘Copperfield,’ he said, ‘there must be two parties to a quarrel. I won’t be one.’

‘You may go to the devil!’ said I.

‘Don’t say that!’ he replied. ‘I know you’ll be sorry afterwards. How can you make yourself so inferior to me, as to show such a bad spirit? But I forgive you.’

‘You forgive me!’ I repeated disdainfully.

‘I do, and you can’t help yourself,’ replied Uriah. ‘To think of your going and attacking me, that have always been a friend to you! But there can’t be a quarrel without two parties, and I won’t be one. I will be a friend to you, in spite of you. So now you know what you’ve got to expect.’

The necessity of carrying on this dialogue (his part in which was very slow; mine very quick) in a low tone, that the house might not be disturbed at an unseasonable hour, did not improve my temper; though my passion was cooling down. Merely telling him that I should expect from him what I always had expected, and had never yet been disappointed in, I opened the door upon him, as if he had been a great walnut put there to be cracked, and went out of the house. But he slept out of the house too, at his mother’s lodging; and before I had gone many hundred yards, came up with me.

‘You know, Copperfield,’ he said, in my ear (I did not turn my head), ‘you’re in quite a wrong position’; which I felt to be true, and that made me chafe the more; ‘you can’t make this a brave thing, and you can’t help being forgiven. I don’t intend to mention it to mother, nor to any living soul. I’m determined to forgive you. But I do wonder that you should lift your hand against a person that you knew to be so umble!’

I felt only less mean than he. He knew me better than I knew myself. If he had retorted or openly exasperated me, it would have been a relief and a justification; but he had put me on a slow fire, on which I lay tormented half the night.

In the morning, when I came out, the early church-bell was ringing, and he was walking up and down with his mother. He addressed me as if nothing had happened, and I could do no less than reply. I had struck him hard enough to give him the toothache, I suppose. At all events his face was tied up in a black silk handkerchief, which, with his hat perched on the top of it, was far from improving his appearance. I heard that he went to a dentist’s in London on the Monday morning, and had a tooth out. I hope it was a double one.

The Doctor gave out that he was not quite well; and remained alone, for a considerable part of every day, during the remainder of the visit. Agnes and her father had been gone a week, before we resumed our usual work. On the day preceding its resumption, the Doctor gave me with his own hands a folded note not sealed. It was addressed to myself; and laid an injunction on me, in a few affectionate words, never to refer to the subject of that evening. I had confided it to my aunt, but to no one else. It was not a subject I could discuss with Agnes, and Agnes certainly had not the least suspicion of what had passed.

Neither, I felt convinced, had Mrs. Strong then. Several weeks elapsed before I saw the least change in her. It came on slowly, like a cloud when there is no wind. At first, she seemed to wonder at the gentle compassion with which the Doctor spoke to her, and at his wish that she should have her mother with her, to relieve the dull monotony of her life. Often, when we were at work, and she was sitting by, I would see her pausing and looking at him with that memorable face. Afterwards, I sometimes observed her rise, with her eyes full of tears, and go out of the room. Gradually, an unhappy shadow fell upon her beauty, and deepened every day. Mrs. Markleham was a regular inmate of the cottage then; but she talked and talked, and saw nothing.

As this change stole on Annie, once like sunshine in the Doctor’s house, the Doctor became older in appearance, and more grave; but the sweetness of his temper, the placid kindness of his manner, and his benevolent solicitude for her, if they were capable of any increase, were increased. I saw him once, early on the morning of her birthday, when she came to sit in the window while we were at work (which she had always done, but now began to do with a timid and uncertain air that I thought very touching), take her forehead between his hands, kiss it, and go hurriedly away, too much moved to remain. I saw her stand where he had left her, like a statue; and then bend down her head, and clasp her hands, and weep, I cannot say how sorrowfully.

Sometimes, after that, I fancied that she tried to speak even to me, in intervals when we were left alone. But she never uttered a word. The Doctor always had some new project for her participating in amusements away from home, with her mother; and Mrs. Markleham, who was very fond of amusements, and very easily dissatisfied with anything else, entered into them with great good-will, and was loud in her commendations. But Annie, in a spiritless unhappy way, only went whither she was led, and seemed to have no care for anything.

I did not know what to think. Neither did my aunt; who must have walked, at various times, a hundred miles in her uncertainty. What was strangest of all was, that the only real relief which seemed to make its way into the secret region of this domestic unhappiness, made its way there in the person of Mr. Dick.

What his thoughts were on the subject, or what his observation was, I am as unable to explain, as I dare say he would have been to assist me in the task. But, as I have recorded in the narrative of my school days, his veneration for the Doctor was unbounded; and there is a subtlety of perception in real attachment, even when it is borne towards man by one of the lower animals, which leaves the highest intellect behind. To this mind of the heart, if I may call it so, in Mr. Dick, some bright ray of the truth shot straight.

He had proudly resumed his privilege, in many of his spare hours, of walking up and down the garden with the Doctor; as he had been accustomed to pace up and down The Doctor’s Walk at Canterbury. But matters were no sooner in this state, than he devoted all his spare time (and got up earlier to make it more) to these perambulations. If he had never been so happy as when the Doctor read that marvellous performance, the Dictionary, to him; he was now quite miserable unless the Doctor pulled it out of his pocket, and began. When the Doctor and I were engaged, he now fell into the custom of walking up and down with Mrs. Strong, and helping her to trim her favourite flowers, or weed the beds. I dare say he rarely spoke a dozen words in an hour: but his quiet interest, and his wistful face, found immediate response in both their breasts; each knew that the other liked him, and that he loved both; and he became what no one else could be—a link between them.

When I think of him, with his impenetrably wise face, walking up and down with the Doctor, delighted to be battered by the hard words in the Dictionary; when I think of him carrying huge watering-pots after Annie; kneeling down, in very paws of gloves, at patient microscopic work among the little leaves; expressing as no philosopher could have expressed, in everything he did, a delicate desire to be her friend; showering sympathy, trustfulness, and affection, out of every hole in the watering-pot; when I think of him never wandering in that better mind of his to which unhappiness addressed itself, never bringing the unfortunate King Charles into the garden, never wavering in his grateful service, never diverted from his knowledge that there was something wrong, or from his wish to set it right—I really feel almost ashamed of having known that he was not quite in his wits, taking account of the utmost I have done with mine.

‘Nobody but myself, Trot, knows what that man is!’ my aunt would proudly remark, when we conversed about it. ‘Dick will distinguish himself yet!’

I must refer to one other topic before I close this chapter. While the visit at the Doctor’s was still in progress, I observed that the postman brought two or three letters every morning for Uriah Heep, who remained at Highgate until the rest went back, it being a leisure time; and that these were always directed in a business-like manner by Mr. Micawber, who now assumed a round legal hand. I was glad to infer, from these slight premises, that Mr. Micawber was doing well; and consequently was much surprised to receive, about this time, the following letter from his amiable wife.

                         ‘CANTERBURY, Monday Evening.

‘You will doubtless be surprised, my dear Mr. Copperfield, to receive this communication. Still more so, by its contents. Still more so, by the stipulation of implicit confidence which I beg to impose. But my feelings as a wife and mother require relief; and as I do not wish to consult my family (already obnoxious to the feelings of Mr. Micawber), I know no one of whom I can better ask advice than my friend and former lodger.

‘You may be aware, my dear Mr. Copperfield, that between myself and Mr. Micawber (whom I will never desert), there has always been preserved a spirit of mutual confidence. Mr. Micawber may have occasionally given a bill without consulting me, or he may have misled me as to the period when that obligation would become due. This has actually happened. But, in general, Mr. Micawber has had no secrets from the bosom of affection—I allude to his wife—and has invariably, on our retirement to rest, recalled the events of the day.

‘You will picture to yourself, my dear Mr. Copperfield, what the poignancy of my feelings must be, when I inform you that Mr. Micawber is entirely changed. He is reserved. He is secret. His life is a mystery to the partner of his joys and sorrows—I again allude to his wife—and if I should assure you that beyond knowing that it is passed from morning to night at the office, I now know less of it than I do of the man in the south, connected with whose mouth the thoughtless children repeat an idle tale respecting cold plum porridge, I should adopt a popular fallacy to express an actual fact.

‘But this is not all. Mr. Micawber is morose. He is severe. He is estranged from our eldest son and daughter, he has no pride in his twins, he looks with an eye of coldness even on the unoffending stranger who last became a member of our circle. The pecuniary means of meeting our expenses, kept down to the utmost farthing, are obtained from him with great difficulty, and even under fearful threats that he will Settle himself (the exact expression); and he inexorably refuses to give any explanation whatever of this distracting policy.

‘This is hard to bear. This is heart-breaking. If you will advise me, knowing my feeble powers such as they are, how you think it will be best to exert them in a dilemma so unwonted, you will add another friendly obligation to the many you have already rendered me. With loves from the children, and a smile from the happily-unconscious stranger, I remain, dear Mr. Copperfield,

Your afflicted,

       ‘EMMA MICAWBER.’

I did not feel justified in giving a wife of Mrs. Micawber’s experience any other recommendation, than that she should try to reclaim Mr. Micawber by patience and kindness (as I knew she would in any case); but the letter set me thinking about him very much.






CHAPTER 43. ANOTHER RETROSPECT

Once again, let me pause upon a memorable period of my life. Let me stand aside, to see the phantoms of those days go by me, accompanying the shadow of myself, in dim procession.

Weeks, months, seasons, pass along. They seem little more than a summer day and a winter evening. Now, the Common where I walk with Dora is all in bloom, a field of bright gold; and now the unseen heather lies in mounds and bunches underneath a covering of snow. In a breath, the river that flows through our Sunday walks is sparkling in the summer sun, is ruffled by the winter wind, or thickened with drifting heaps of ice. Faster than ever river ran towards the sea, it flashes, darkens, and rolls away.

Not a thread changes, in the house of the two little bird-like ladies. The clock ticks over the fireplace, the weather-glass hangs in the hall. Neither clock nor weather-glass is ever right; but we believe in both, devoutly.

I have come legally to man’s estate. I have attained the dignity of twenty-one. But this is a sort of dignity that may be thrust upon one. Let me think what I have achieved.

I have tamed that savage stenographic mystery. I make a respectable income by it. I am in high repute for my accomplishment in all pertaining to the art, and am joined with eleven others in reporting the debates in Parliament for a Morning Newspaper. Night after night, I record predictions that never come to pass, professions that are never fulfilled, explanations that are only meant to mystify. I wallow in words. Britannia, that unfortunate female, is always before me, like a trussed fowl: skewered through and through with office-pens, and bound hand and foot with red tape. I am sufficiently behind the scenes to know the worth of political life. I am quite an Infidel about it, and shall never be converted.

My dear old Traddles has tried his hand at the same pursuit, but it is not in Traddles’s way. He is perfectly good-humoured respecting his failure, and reminds me that he always did consider himself slow. He has occasional employment on the same newspaper, in getting up the facts of dry subjects, to be written about and embellished by more fertile minds. He is called to the bar; and with admirable industry and self-denial has scraped another hundred pounds together, to fee a Conveyancer whose chambers he attends. A great deal of very hot port wine was consumed at his call; and, considering the figure, I should think the Inner Temple must have made a profit by it.

I have come out in another way. I have taken with fear and trembling to authorship. I wrote a little something, in secret, and sent it to a magazine, and it was published in the magazine. Since then, I have taken heart to write a good many trifling pieces. Now, I am regularly paid for them. Altogether, I am well off, when I tell my income on the fingers of my left hand, I pass the third finger and take in the fourth to the middle joint.

We have removed, from Buckingham Street, to a pleasant little cottage very near the one I looked at, when my enthusiasm first came on. My aunt, however (who has sold the house at Dover, to good advantage), is not going to remain here, but intends removing herself to a still more tiny cottage close at hand. What does this portend? My marriage? Yes!

Yes! I am going to be married to Dora! Miss Lavinia and Miss Clarissa have given their consent; and if ever canary birds were in a flutter, they are. Miss Lavinia, self-charged with the superintendence of my darling’s wardrobe, is constantly cutting out brown-paper cuirasses, and differing in opinion from a highly respectable young man, with a long bundle, and a yard measure under his arm. A dressmaker, always stabbed in the breast with a needle and thread, boards and lodges in the house; and seems to me, eating, drinking, or sleeping, never to take her thimble off. They make a lay-figure of my dear. They are always sending for her to come and try something on. We can’t be happy together for five minutes in the evening, but some intrusive female knocks at the door, and says, ‘Oh, if you please, Miss Dora, would you step upstairs!’

Miss Clarissa and my aunt roam all over London, to find out articles of furniture for Dora and me to look at. It would be better for them to buy the goods at once, without this ceremony of inspection; for, when we go to see a kitchen fender and meat-screen, Dora sees a Chinese house for Jip, with little bells on the top, and prefers that. And it takes a long time to accustom Jip to his new residence, after we have bought it; whenever he goes in or out, he makes all the little bells ring, and is horribly frightened.

Peggotty comes up to make herself useful, and falls to work immediately. Her department appears to be, to clean everything over and over again. She rubs everything that can be rubbed, until it shines, like her own honest forehead, with perpetual friction. And now it is, that I begin to see her solitary brother passing through the dark streets at night, and looking, as he goes, among the wandering faces. I never speak to him at such an hour. I know too well, as his grave figure passes onward, what he seeks, and what he dreads.

Why does Traddles look so important when he calls upon me this afternoon in the Commons—where I still occasionally attend, for form’s sake, when I have time? The realization of my boyish day-dreams is at hand. I am going to take out the licence.

It is a little document to do so much; and Traddles contemplates it, as it lies upon my desk, half in admiration, half in awe. There are the names, in the sweet old visionary connexion, David Copperfield and Dora Spenlow; and there, in the corner, is that Parental Institution, the Stamp Office, which is so benignantly interested in the various transactions of human life, looking down upon our Union; and there is the Archbishop of Canterbury invoking a blessing on us in print, and doing it as cheap as could possibly be expected.

Nevertheless, I am in a dream, a flustered, happy, hurried dream. I can’t believe that it is going to be; and yet I can’t believe but that everyone I pass in the street, must have some kind of perception, that I am to be married the day after tomorrow. The Surrogate knows me, when I go down to be sworn; and disposes of me easily, as if there were a Masonic understanding between us. Traddles is not at all wanted, but is in attendance as my general backer.

‘I hope the next time you come here, my dear fellow,’ I say to Traddles, ‘it will be on the same errand for yourself. And I hope it will be soon.’

‘Thank you for your good wishes, my dear Copperfield,’ he replies. ‘I hope so too. It’s a satisfaction to know that she’ll wait for me any length of time, and that she really is the dearest girl—’

‘When are you to meet her at the coach?’ I ask.

‘At seven,’ says Traddles, looking at his plain old silver watch—the very watch he once took a wheel out of, at school, to make a water-mill. ‘That is about Miss Wickfield’s time, is it not?’

‘A little earlier. Her time is half past eight.’ ‘I assure you, my dear boy,’ says Traddles, ‘I am almost as pleased as if I were going to be married myself, to think that this event is coming to such a happy termination. And really the great friendship and consideration of personally associating Sophy with the joyful occasion, and inviting her to be a bridesmaid in conjunction with Miss Wickfield, demands my warmest thanks. I am extremely sensible of it.’

I hear him, and shake hands with him; and we talk, and walk, and dine, and so on; but I don’t believe it. Nothing is real.

Sophy arrives at the house of Dora’s aunts, in due course. She has the most agreeable of faces,—not absolutely beautiful, but extraordinarily pleasant,—and is one of the most genial, unaffected, frank, engaging creatures I have ever seen. Traddles presents her to us with great pride; and rubs his hands for ten minutes by the clock, with every individual hair upon his head standing on tiptoe, when I congratulate him in a corner on his choice.

I have brought Agnes from the Canterbury coach, and her cheerful and beautiful face is among us for the second time. Agnes has a great liking for Traddles, and it is capital to see them meet, and to observe the glory of Traddles as he commends the dearest girl in the world to her acquaintance.

Still I don’t believe it. We have a delightful evening, and are supremely happy; but I don’t believe it yet. I can’t collect myself. I can’t check off my happiness as it takes place. I feel in a misty and unsettled kind of state; as if I had got up very early in the morning a week or two ago, and had never been to bed since. I can’t make out when yesterday was. I seem to have been carrying the licence about, in my pocket, many months.

Next day, too, when we all go in a flock to see the house—our house—Dora’s and mine—I am quite unable to regard myself as its master. I seem to be there, by permission of somebody else. I half expect the real master to come home presently, and say he is glad to see me. Such a beautiful little house as it is, with everything so bright and new; with the flowers on the carpets looking as if freshly gathered, and the green leaves on the paper as if they had just come out; with the spotless muslin curtains, and the blushing rose-coloured furniture, and Dora’s garden hat with the blue ribbon—do I remember, now, how I loved her in such another hat when I first knew her!—already hanging on its little peg; the guitar-case quite at home on its heels in a corner; and everybody tumbling over Jip’s pagoda, which is much too big for the establishment. Another happy evening, quite as unreal as all the rest of it, and I steal into the usual room before going away. Dora is not there. I suppose they have not done trying on yet. Miss Lavinia peeps in, and tells me mysteriously that she will not be long. She is rather long, notwithstanding; but by and by I hear a rustling at the door, and someone taps.

I say, ‘Come in!’ but someone taps again.

I go to the door, wondering who it is; there, I meet a pair of bright eyes, and a blushing face; they are Dora’s eyes and face, and Miss Lavinia has dressed her in tomorrow’s dress, bonnet and all, for me to see. I take my little wife to my heart; and Miss Lavinia gives a little scream because I tumble the bonnet, and Dora laughs and cries at once, because I am so pleased; and I believe it less than ever.

‘Do you think it pretty, Doady?’ says Dora.

Pretty! I should rather think I did.

‘And are you sure you like me very much?’ says Dora.

The topic is fraught with such danger to the bonnet, that Miss Lavinia gives another little scream, and begs me to understand that Dora is only to be looked at, and on no account to be touched. So Dora stands in a delightful state of confusion for a minute or two, to be admired; and then takes off her bonnet—looking so natural without it!—and runs away with it in her hand; and comes dancing down again in her own familiar dress, and asks Jip if I have got a beautiful little wife, and whether he’ll forgive her for being married, and kneels down to make him stand upon the cookery-book, for the last time in her single life.

I go home, more incredulous than ever, to a lodging that I have hard by; and get up very early in the morning, to ride to the Highgate road and fetch my aunt.

I have never seen my aunt in such state. She is dressed in lavender-coloured silk, and has a white bonnet on, and is amazing. Janet has dressed her, and is there to look at me. Peggotty is ready to go to church, intending to behold the ceremony from the gallery. Mr. Dick, who is to give my darling to me at the altar, has had his hair curled. Traddles, whom I have taken up by appointment at the turnpike, presents a dazzling combination of cream colour and light blue; and both he and Mr. Dick have a general effect about them of being all gloves.

No doubt I see this, because I know it is so; but I am astray, and seem to see nothing. Nor do I believe anything whatever. Still, as we drive along in an open carriage, this fairy marriage is real enough to fill me with a sort of wondering pity for the unfortunate people who have no part in it, but are sweeping out the shops, and going to their daily occupations.

My aunt sits with my hand in hers all the way. When we stop a little way short of the church, to put down Peggotty, whom we have brought on the box, she gives it a squeeze, and me a kiss.

‘God bless you, Trot! My own boy never could be dearer. I think of poor dear Baby this morning.’ ‘So do I. And of all I owe to you, dear aunt.’

‘Tut, child!’ says my aunt; and gives her hand in overflowing cordiality to Traddles, who then gives his to Mr. Dick, who then gives his to me, who then gives mine to Traddles, and then we come to the church door.

The church is calm enough, I am sure; but it might be a steam-power loom in full action, for any sedative effect it has on me. I am too far gone for that.

The rest is all a more or less incoherent dream.

A dream of their coming in with Dora; of the pew-opener arranging us, like a drill-sergeant, before the altar rails; of my wondering, even then, why pew-openers must always be the most disagreeable females procurable, and whether there is any religious dread of a disastrous infection of good-humour which renders it indispensable to set those vessels of vinegar upon the road to Heaven.

Of the clergyman and clerk appearing; of a few boatmen and some other people strolling in; of an ancient mariner behind me, strongly flavouring the church with rum; of the service beginning in a deep voice, and our all being very attentive.

Of Miss Lavinia, who acts as a semi-auxiliary bridesmaid, being the first to cry, and of her doing homage (as I take it) to the memory of Pidger, in sobs; of Miss Clarissa applying a smelling-bottle; of Agnes taking care of Dora; of my aunt endeavouring to represent herself as a model of sternness, with tears rolling down her face; of little Dora trembling very much, and making her responses in faint whispers.

Of our kneeling down together, side by side; of Dora’s trembling less and less, but always clasping Agnes by the hand; of the service being got through, quietly and gravely; of our all looking at each other in an April state of smiles and tears, when it is over; of my young wife being hysterical in the vestry, and crying for her poor papa, her dear papa.

Of her soon cheering up again, and our signing the register all round. Of my going into the gallery for Peggotty to bring her to sign it; of Peggotty’s hugging me in a corner, and telling me she saw my own dear mother married; of its being over, and our going away.

Of my walking so proudly and lovingly down the aisle with my sweet wife upon my arm, through a mist of half-seen people, pulpits, monuments, pews, fonts, organs, and church windows, in which there flutter faint airs of association with my childish church at home, so long ago.

Of their whispering, as we pass, what a youthful couple we are, and what a pretty little wife she is. Of our all being so merry and talkative in the carriage going back. Of Sophy telling us that when she saw Traddles (whom I had entrusted with the licence) asked for it, she almost fainted, having been convinced that he would contrive to lose it, or to have his pocket picked. Of Agnes laughing gaily; and of Dora being so fond of Agnes that she will not be separated from her, but still keeps her hand.

Of there being a breakfast, with abundance of things, pretty and substantial, to eat and drink, whereof I partake, as I should do in any other dream, without the least perception of their flavour; eating and drinking, as I may say, nothing but love and marriage, and no more believing in the viands than in anything else.

Of my making a speech in the same dreamy fashion, without having an idea of what I want to say, beyond such as may be comprehended in the full conviction that I haven’t said it. Of our being very sociably and simply happy (always in a dream though); and of Jip’s having wedding cake, and its not agreeing with him afterwards.

Of the pair of hired post-horses being ready, and of Dora’s going away to change her dress. Of my aunt and Miss Clarissa remaining with us; and our walking in the garden; and my aunt, who has made quite a speech at breakfast touching Dora’s aunts, being mightily amused with herself, but a little proud of it too.

Of Dora’s being ready, and of Miss Lavinia’s hovering about her, loth to lose the pretty toy that has given her so much pleasant occupation. Of Dora’s making a long series of surprised discoveries that she has forgotten all sorts of little things; and of everybody’s running everywhere to fetch them.

Of their all closing about Dora, when at last she begins to say good-bye, looking, with their bright colours and ribbons, like a bed of flowers. Of my darling being almost smothered among the flowers, and coming out, laughing and crying both together, to my jealous arms.

Of my wanting to carry Jip (who is to go along with us), and Dora’s saying no, that she must carry him, or else he’ll think she don’t like him any more, now she is married, and will break his heart. Of our going, arm in arm, and Dora stopping and looking back, and saying, ‘If I have ever been cross or ungrateful to anybody, don’t remember it!’ and bursting into tears.

Of her waving her little hand, and our going away once more. Of her once more stopping, and looking back, and hurrying to Agnes, and giving Agnes, above all the others, her last kisses and farewells.

We drive away together, and I awake from the dream. I believe it at last. It is my dear, dear, little wife beside me, whom I love so well!

‘Are you happy now, you foolish boy?’ says Dora, ‘and sure you don’t repent?’

I have stood aside to see the phantoms of those days go by me. They are gone, and I resume the journey of my story.






CHAPTER 44. OUR HOUSEKEEPING

It was a strange condition of things, the honeymoon being over, and the bridesmaids gone home, when I found myself sitting down in my own small house with Dora; quite thrown out of employment, as I may say, in respect of the delicious old occupation of making love.

It seemed such an extraordinary thing to have Dora always there. It was so unaccountable not to be obliged to go out to see her, not to have any occasion to be tormenting myself about her, not to have to write to her, not to be scheming and devising opportunities of being alone with her. Sometimes of an evening, when I looked up from my writing, and saw her seated opposite, I would lean back in my chair, and think how queer it was that there we were, alone together as a matter of course—nobody’s business any more—all the romance of our engagement put away upon a shelf, to rust—no one to please but one another—one another to please, for life.

When there was a debate, and I was kept out very late, it seemed so strange to me, as I was walking home, to think that Dora was at home! It was such a wonderful thing, at first, to have her coming softly down to talk to me as I ate my supper. It was such a stupendous thing to know for certain that she put her hair in papers. It was altogether such an astonishing event to see her do it!

I doubt whether two young birds could have known less about keeping house, than I and my pretty Dora did. We had a servant, of course. She kept house for us. I have still a latent belief that she must have been Mrs. Crupp’s daughter in disguise, we had such an awful time of it with Mary Anne.

Her name was Paragon. Her nature was represented to us, when we engaged her, as being feebly expressed in her name. She had a written character, as large as a proclamation; and, according to this document, could do everything of a domestic nature that ever I heard of, and a great many things that I never did hear of. She was a woman in the prime of life; of a severe countenance; and subject (particularly in the arms) to a sort of perpetual measles or fiery rash. She had a cousin in the Life-Guards, with such long legs that he looked like the afternoon shadow of somebody else. His shell-jacket was as much too little for him as he was too big for the premises. He made the cottage smaller than it need have been, by being so very much out of proportion to it. Besides which, the walls were not thick, and, whenever he passed the evening at our house, we always knew of it by hearing one continual growl in the kitchen.

Our treasure was warranted sober and honest. I am therefore willing to believe that she was in a fit when we found her under the boiler; and that the deficient tea-spoons were attributable to the dustman.

But she preyed upon our minds dreadfully. We felt our inexperience, and were unable to help ourselves. We should have been at her mercy, if she had had any; but she was a remorseless woman, and had none. She was the cause of our first little quarrel.

‘My dearest life,’ I said one day to Dora, ‘do you think Mary Anne has any idea of time?’

‘Why, Doady?’ inquired Dora, looking up, innocently, from her drawing.

‘My love, because it’s five, and we were to have dined at four.’

Dora glanced wistfully at the clock, and hinted that she thought it was too fast.

‘On the contrary, my love,’ said I, referring to my watch, ‘it’s a few minutes too slow.’

My little wife came and sat upon my knee, to coax me to be quiet, and drew a line with her pencil down the middle of my nose; but I couldn’t dine off that, though it was very agreeable.

‘Don’t you think, my dear,’ said I, ‘it would be better for you to remonstrate with Mary Anne?’

‘Oh no, please! I couldn’t, Doady!’ said Dora.

‘Why not, my love?’ I gently asked.

‘Oh, because I am such a little goose,’ said Dora, ‘and she knows I am!’

I thought this sentiment so incompatible with the establishment of any system of check on Mary Anne, that I frowned a little.

‘Oh, what ugly wrinkles in my bad boy’s forehead!’ said Dora, and still being on my knee, she traced them with her pencil; putting it to her rosy lips to make it mark blacker, and working at my forehead with a quaint little mockery of being industrious, that quite delighted me in spite of myself.

‘There’s a good child,’ said Dora, ‘it makes its face so much prettier to laugh.’ ‘But, my love,’ said I.

‘No, no! please!’ cried Dora, with a kiss, ‘don’t be a naughty Blue Beard! Don’t be serious!’

‘My precious wife,’ said I, ‘we must be serious sometimes. Come! Sit down on this chair, close beside me! Give me the pencil! There! Now let us talk sensibly. You know, dear’; what a little hand it was to hold, and what a tiny wedding-ring it was to see! ‘You know, my love, it is not exactly comfortable to have to go out without one’s dinner. Now, is it?’

‘N-n-no!’ replied Dora, faintly.

‘My love, how you tremble!’

‘Because I KNOW you’re going to scold me,’ exclaimed Dora, in a piteous voice.

‘My sweet, I am only going to reason.’

‘Oh, but reasoning is worse than scolding!’ exclaimed Dora, in despair. ‘I didn’t marry to be reasoned with. If you meant to reason with such a poor little thing as I am, you ought to have told me so, you cruel boy!’

I tried to pacify Dora, but she turned away her face, and shook her curls from side to side, and said, ‘You cruel, cruel boy!’ so many times, that I really did not exactly know what to do: so I took a few turns up and down the room in my uncertainty, and came back again.

‘Dora, my darling!’

‘No, I am not your darling. Because you must be sorry that you married me, or else you wouldn’t reason with me!’ returned Dora.

I felt so injured by the inconsequential nature of this charge, that it gave me courage to be grave.

‘Now, my own Dora,’ said I, ‘you are very childish, and are talking nonsense. You must remember, I am sure, that I was obliged to go out yesterday when dinner was half over; and that, the day before, I was made quite unwell by being obliged to eat underdone veal in a hurry; today, I don’t dine at all—and I am afraid to say how long we waited for breakfast—and then the water didn’t boil. I don’t mean to reproach you, my dear, but this is not comfortable.’

‘Oh, you cruel, cruel boy, to say I am a disagreeable wife!’ cried Dora.

‘Now, my dear Dora, you must know that I never said that!’

‘You said, I wasn’t comfortable!’ cried Dora. ‘I said the housekeeping was not comfortable!’

‘It’s exactly the same thing!’ cried Dora. And she evidently thought so, for she wept most grievously.

I took another turn across the room, full of love for my pretty wife, and distracted by self-accusatory inclinations to knock my head against the door. I sat down again, and said:

‘I am not blaming you, Dora. We have both a great deal to learn. I am only trying to show you, my dear, that you must—you really must’ (I was resolved not to give this up)—‘accustom yourself to look after Mary Anne. Likewise to act a little for yourself, and me.’

‘I wonder, I do, at your making such ungrateful speeches,’ sobbed Dora. ‘When you know that the other day, when you said you would like a little bit of fish, I went out myself, miles and miles, and ordered it, to surprise you.’

‘And it was very kind of you, my own darling,’ said I. ‘I felt it so much that I wouldn’t on any account have even mentioned that you bought a Salmon—which was too much for two. Or that it cost one pound six—which was more than we can afford.’

‘You enjoyed it very much,’ sobbed Dora. ‘And you said I was a Mouse.’

‘And I’ll say so again, my love,’ I returned, ‘a thousand times!’

But I had wounded Dora’s soft little heart, and she was not to be comforted. She was so pathetic in her sobbing and bewailing, that I felt as if I had said I don’t know what to hurt her. I was obliged to hurry away; I was kept out late; and I felt all night such pangs of remorse as made me miserable. I had the conscience of an assassin, and was haunted by a vague sense of enormous wickedness.

It was two or three hours past midnight when I got home. I found my aunt, in our house, sitting up for me.

‘Is anything the matter, aunt?’ said I, alarmed.

‘Nothing, Trot,’ she replied. ‘Sit down, sit down. Little Blossom has been rather out of spirits, and I have been keeping her company. That’s all.’

I leaned my head upon my hand; and felt more sorry and downcast, as I sat looking at the fire, than I could have supposed possible so soon after the fulfilment of my brightest hopes. As I sat thinking, I happened to meet my aunt’s eyes, which were resting on my face. There was an anxious expression in them, but it cleared directly.

‘I assure you, aunt,’ said I, ‘I have been quite unhappy myself all night, to think of Dora’s being so. But I had no other intention than to speak to her tenderly and lovingly about our home-affairs.’

My aunt nodded encouragement.

‘You must have patience, Trot,’ said she.

‘Of course. Heaven knows I don’t mean to be unreasonable, aunt!’

‘No, no,’ said my aunt. ‘But Little Blossom is a very tender little blossom, and the wind must be gentle with her.’

I thanked my good aunt, in my heart, for her tenderness towards my wife; and I was sure that she knew I did.

‘Don’t you think, aunt,’ said I, after some further contemplation of the fire, ‘that you could advise and counsel Dora a little, for our mutual advantage, now and then?’

‘Trot,’ returned my aunt, with some emotion, ‘no! Don’t ask me such a thing.’

Her tone was so very earnest that I raised my eyes in surprise.

‘I look back on my life, child,’ said my aunt, ‘and I think of some who are in their graves, with whom I might have been on kinder terms. If I judged harshly of other people’s mistakes in marriage, it may have been because I had bitter reason to judge harshly of my own. Let that pass. I have been a grumpy, frumpy, wayward sort of a woman, a good many years. I am still, and I always shall be. But you and I have done one another some good, Trot,—at all events, you have done me good, my dear; and division must not come between us, at this time of day.’

‘Division between us!’ cried I.

‘Child, child!’ said my aunt, smoothing her dress, ‘how soon it might come between us, or how unhappy I might make our Little Blossom, if I meddled in anything, a prophet couldn’t say. I want our pet to like me, and be as gay as a butterfly. Remember your own home, in that second marriage; and never do both me and her the injury you have hinted at!’

I comprehended, at once, that my aunt was right; and I comprehended the full extent of her generous feeling towards my dear wife.

‘These are early days, Trot,’ she pursued, ‘and Rome was not built in a day, nor in a year. You have chosen freely for yourself’; a cloud passed over her face for a moment, I thought; ‘and you have chosen a very pretty and a very affectionate creature. It will be your duty, and it will be your pleasure too—of course I know that; I am not delivering a lecture—to estimate her (as you chose her) by the qualities she has, and not by the qualities she may not have. The latter you must develop in her, if you can. And if you cannot, child,’ here my aunt rubbed her nose, ‘you must just accustom yourself to do without ‘em. But remember, my dear, your future is between you two. No one can assist you; you are to work it out for yourselves. This is marriage, Trot; and Heaven bless you both, in it, for a pair of babes in the wood as you are!’

My aunt said this in a sprightly way, and gave me a kiss to ratify the blessing.

‘Now,’ said she, ‘light my little lantern, and see me into my bandbox by the garden path’; for there was a communication between our cottages in that direction. ‘Give Betsey Trotwood’s love to Blossom, when you come back; and whatever you do, Trot, never dream of setting Betsey up as a scarecrow, for if I ever saw her in the glass, she’s quite grim enough and gaunt enough in her private capacity!’

With this my aunt tied her head up in a handkerchief, with which she was accustomed to make a bundle of it on such occasions; and I escorted her home. As she stood in her garden, holding up her little lantern to light me back, I thought her observation of me had an anxious air again; but I was too much occupied in pondering on what she had said, and too much impressed—for the first time, in reality—by the conviction that Dora and I had indeed to work out our future for ourselves, and that no one could assist us, to take much notice of it.

Dora came stealing down in her little slippers, to meet me, now that I was alone; and cried upon my shoulder, and said I had been hard-hearted and she had been naughty; and I said much the same thing in effect, I believe; and we made it up, and agreed that our first little difference was to be our last, and that we were never to have another if we lived a hundred years.

The next domestic trial we went through, was the Ordeal of Servants. Mary Anne’s cousin deserted into our coal-hole, and was brought out, to our great amazement, by a piquet of his companions in arms, who took him away handcuffed in a procession that covered our front-garden with ignominy. This nerved me to get rid of Mary Anne, who went so mildly, on receipt of wages, that I was surprised, until I found out about the tea-spoons, and also about the little sums she had borrowed in my name of the tradespeople without authority. After an interval of Mrs. Kidgerbury—the oldest inhabitant of Kentish Town, I believe, who went out charing, but was too feeble to execute her conceptions of that art—we found another treasure, who was one of the most amiable of women, but who generally made a point of falling either up or down the kitchen stairs with the tray, and almost plunged into the parlour, as into a bath, with the tea-things. The ravages committed by this unfortunate, rendering her dismissal necessary, she was succeeded (with intervals of Mrs. Kidgerbury) by a long line of Incapables; terminating in a young person of genteel appearance, who went to Greenwich Fair in Dora’s bonnet. After whom I remember nothing but an average equality of failure.

Everybody we had anything to do with seemed to cheat us. Our appearance in a shop was a signal for the damaged goods to be brought out immediately. If we bought a lobster, it was full of water. All our meat turned out to be tough, and there was hardly any crust to our loaves. In search of the principle on which joints ought to be roasted, to be roasted enough, and not too much, I myself referred to the Cookery Book, and found it there established as the allowance of a quarter of an hour to every pound, and say a quarter over. But the principle always failed us by some curious fatality, and we never could hit any medium between redness and cinders.

I had reason to believe that in accomplishing these failures we incurred a far greater expense than if we had achieved a series of triumphs. It appeared to me, on looking over the tradesmen’s books, as if we might have kept the basement storey paved with butter, such was the extensive scale of our consumption of that article. I don’t know whether the Excise returns of the period may have exhibited any increase in the demand for pepper; but if our performances did not affect the market, I should say several families must have left off using it. And the most wonderful fact of all was, that we never had anything in the house.

As to the washerwoman pawning the clothes, and coming in a state of penitent intoxication to apologize, I suppose that might have happened several times to anybody. Also the chimney on fire, the parish engine, and perjury on the part of the Beadle. But I apprehend that we were personally fortunate in engaging a servant with a taste for cordials, who swelled our running account for porter at the public-house by such inexplicable items as ‘quartern rum shrub (Mrs. C.)’; ‘Half-quartern gin and cloves (Mrs. C.)’; ‘Glass rum and peppermint (Mrs. C.)’—the parentheses always referring to Dora, who was supposed, it appeared on explanation, to have imbibed the whole of these refreshments.

One of our first feats in the housekeeping way was a little dinner to Traddles. I met him in town, and asked him to walk out with me that afternoon. He readily consenting, I wrote to Dora, saying I would bring him home. It was pleasant weather, and on the road we made my domestic happiness the theme of conversation. Traddles was very full of it; and said, that, picturing himself with such a home, and Sophy waiting and preparing for him, he could think of nothing wanting to complete his bliss.

I could not have wished for a prettier little wife at the opposite end of the table, but I certainly could have wished, when we sat down, for a little more room. I did not know how it was, but though there were only two of us, we were at once always cramped for room, and yet had always room enough to lose everything in. I suspect it may have been because nothing had a place of its own, except Jip’s pagoda, which invariably blocked up the main thoroughfare. On the present occasion, Traddles was so hemmed in by the pagoda and the guitar-case, and Dora’s flower-painting, and my writing-table, that I had serious doubts of the possibility of his using his knife and fork; but he protested, with his own good-humour, ‘Oceans of room, Copperfield! I assure you, Oceans!’

There was another thing I could have wished, namely, that Jip had never been encouraged to walk about the tablecloth during dinner. I began to think there was something disorderly in his being there at all, even if he had not been in the habit of putting his foot in the salt or the melted butter. On this occasion he seemed to think he was introduced expressly to keep Traddles at bay; and he barked at my old friend, and made short runs at his plate, with such undaunted pertinacity, that he may be said to have engrossed the conversation.

However, as I knew how tender-hearted my dear Dora was, and how sensitive she would be to any slight upon her favourite, I hinted no objection. For similar reasons I made no allusion to the skirmishing plates upon the floor; or to the disreputable appearance of the castors, which were all at sixes and sevens, and looked drunk; or to the further blockade of Traddles by wandering vegetable dishes and jugs. I could not help wondering in my own mind, as I contemplated the boiled leg of mutton before me, previous to carving it, how it came to pass that our joints of meat were of such extraordinary shapes—and whether our butcher contracted for all the deformed sheep that came into the world; but I kept my reflections to myself.

‘My love,’ said I to Dora, ‘what have you got in that dish?’

I could not imagine why Dora had been making tempting little faces at me, as if she wanted to kiss me.

‘Oysters, dear,’ said Dora, timidly.

‘Was that YOUR thought?’ said I, delighted.

‘Ye-yes, Doady,’ said Dora.

‘There never was a happier one!’ I exclaimed, laying down the carving-knife and fork. ‘There is nothing Traddles likes so much!’

‘Ye-yes, Doady,’ said Dora, ‘and so I bought a beautiful little barrel of them, and the man said they were very good. But I—I am afraid there’s something the matter with them. They don’t seem right.’ Here Dora shook her head, and diamonds twinkled in her eyes.

‘They are only opened in both shells,’ said I. ‘Take the top one off, my love.’

‘But it won’t come off!’ said Dora, trying very hard, and looking very much distressed.

‘Do you know, Copperfield,’ said Traddles, cheerfully examining the dish, ‘I think it is in consequence—they are capital oysters, but I think it is in consequence—of their never having been opened.’

They never had been opened; and we had no oyster-knives—and couldn’t have used them if we had; so we looked at the oysters and ate the mutton. At least we ate as much of it as was done, and made up with capers. If I had permitted him, I am satisfied that Traddles would have made a perfect savage of himself, and eaten a plateful of raw meat, to express enjoyment of the repast; but I would hear of no such immolation on the altar of friendship, and we had a course of bacon instead; there happening, by good fortune, to be cold bacon in the larder.

My poor little wife was in such affliction when she thought I should be annoyed, and in such a state of joy when she found I was not, that the discomfiture I had subdued, very soon vanished, and we passed a happy evening; Dora sitting with her arm on my chair while Traddles and I discussed a glass of wine, and taking every opportunity of whispering in my ear that it was so good of me not to be a cruel, cross old boy. By and by she made tea for us; which it was so pretty to see her do, as if she was busying herself with a set of doll’s tea-things, that I was not particular about the quality of the beverage. Then Traddles and I played a game or two at cribbage; and Dora singing to the guitar the while, it seemed to me as if our courtship and marriage were a tender dream of mine, and the night when I first listened to her voice were not yet over.

When Traddles went away, and I came back into the parlour from seeing him out, my wife planted her chair close to mine, and sat down by my side. ‘I am very sorry,’ she said. ‘Will you try to teach me, Doady?’

‘I must teach myself first, Dora,’ said I. ‘I am as bad as you, love.’

‘Ah! But you can learn,’ she returned; ‘and you are a clever, clever man!’

‘Nonsense, mouse!’ said I.

‘I wish,’ resumed my wife, after a long silence, ‘that I could have gone down into the country for a whole year, and lived with Agnes!’

Her hands were clasped upon my shoulder, and her chin rested on them, and her blue eyes looked quietly into mine.

‘Why so?’ I asked.

‘I think she might have improved me, and I think I might have learned from her,’ said Dora.

‘All in good time, my love. Agnes has had her father to take care of for these many years, you should remember. Even when she was quite a child, she was the Agnes whom we know,’ said I.

‘Will you call me a name I want you to call me?’ inquired Dora, without moving.

‘What is it?’ I asked with a smile.

‘It’s a stupid name,’ she said, shaking her curls for a moment. ‘Child-wife.’

I laughingly asked my child-wife what her fancy was in desiring to be so called. She answered without moving, otherwise than as the arm I twined about her may have brought her blue eyes nearer to me:

‘I don’t mean, you silly fellow, that you should use the name instead of Dora. I only mean that you should think of me that way. When you are going to be angry with me, say to yourself, “it’s only my child-wife!” When I am very disappointing, say, “I knew, a long time ago, that she would make but a child-wife!” When you miss what I should like to be, and I think can never be, say, “still my foolish child-wife loves me!” For indeed I do.’

I had not been serious with her; having no idea until now, that she was serious herself. But her affectionate nature was so happy in what I now said to her with my whole heart, that her face became a laughing one before her glittering eyes were dry. She was soon my child-wife indeed; sitting down on the floor outside the Chinese House, ringing all the little bells one after another, to punish Jip for his recent bad behaviour; while Jip lay blinking in the doorway with his head out, even too lazy to be teased.

This appeal of Dora’s made a strong impression on me. I look back on the time I write of; I invoke the innocent figure that I dearly loved, to come out from the mists and shadows of the past, and turn its gentle head towards me once again; and I can still declare that this one little speech was constantly in my memory. I may not have used it to the best account; I was young and inexperienced; but I never turned a deaf ear to its artless pleading.

Dora told me, shortly afterwards, that she was going to be a wonderful housekeeper. Accordingly, she polished the tablets, pointed the pencil, bought an immense account-book, carefully stitched up with a needle and thread all the leaves of the Cookery Book which Jip had torn, and made quite a desperate little attempt ‘to be good’, as she called it. But the figures had the old obstinate propensity—they WOULD NOT add up. When she had entered two or three laborious items in the account-book, Jip would walk over the page, wagging his tail, and smear them all out. Her own little right-hand middle finger got steeped to the very bone in ink; and I think that was the only decided result obtained.

Sometimes, of an evening, when I was at home and at work—for I wrote a good deal now, and was beginning in a small way to be known as a writer—I would lay down my pen, and watch my child-wife trying to be good. First of all, she would bring out the immense account-book, and lay it down upon the table, with a deep sigh. Then she would open it at the place where Jip had made it illegible last night, and call Jip up, to look at his misdeeds. This would occasion a diversion in Jip’s favour, and some inking of his nose, perhaps, as a penalty. Then she would tell Jip to lie down on the table instantly, ‘like a lion’—which was one of his tricks, though I cannot say the likeness was striking—and, if he were in an obedient humour, he would obey. Then she would take up a pen, and begin to write, and find a hair in it. Then she would take up another pen, and begin to write, and find that it spluttered. Then she would take up another pen, and begin to write, and say in a low voice, ‘Oh, it’s a talking pen, and will disturb Doady!’ And then she would give it up as a bad job, and put the account-book away, after pretending to crush the lion with it.

Or, if she were in a very sedate and serious state of mind, she would sit down with the tablets, and a little basket of bills and other documents, which looked more like curl-papers than anything else, and endeavour to get some result out of them. After severely comparing one with another, and making entries on the tablets, and blotting them out, and counting all the fingers of her left hand over and over again, backwards and forwards, she would be so vexed and discouraged, and would look so unhappy, that it gave me pain to see her bright face clouded—and for me!—and I would go softly to her, and say:

‘What’s the matter, Dora?’

Dora would look up hopelessly, and reply, ‘They won’t come right. They make my head ache so. And they won’t do anything I want!’

Then I would say, ‘Now let us try together. Let me show you, Dora.’

Then I would commence a practical demonstration, to which Dora would pay profound attention, perhaps for five minutes; when she would begin to be dreadfully tired, and would lighten the subject by curling my hair, or trying the effect of my face with my shirt-collar turned down. If I tacitly checked this playfulness, and persisted, she would look so scared and disconsolate, as she became more and more bewildered, that the remembrance of her natural gaiety when I first strayed into her path, and of her being my child-wife, would come reproachfully upon me; and I would lay the pencil down, and call for the guitar.

I had a great deal of work to do, and had many anxieties, but the same considerations made me keep them to myself. I am far from sure, now, that it was right to do this, but I did it for my child-wife’s sake. I search my breast, and I commit its secrets, if I know them, without any reservation to this paper. The old unhappy loss or want of something had, I am conscious, some place in my heart; but not to the embitterment of my life. When I walked alone in the fine weather, and thought of the summer days when all the air had been filled with my boyish enchantment, I did miss something of the realization of my dreams; but I thought it was a softened glory of the Past, which nothing could have thrown upon the present time. I did feel, sometimes, for a little while, that I could have wished my wife had been my counsellor; had had more character and purpose, to sustain me and improve me by; had been endowed with power to fill up the void which somewhere seemed to be about me; but I felt as if this were an unearthly consummation of my happiness, that never had been meant to be, and never could have been.

I was a boyish husband as to years. I had known the softening influence of no other sorrows or experiences than those recorded in these leaves. If I did any wrong, as I may have done much, I did it in mistaken love, and in my want of wisdom. I write the exact truth. It would avail me nothing to extenuate it now.

Thus it was that I took upon myself the toils and cares of our life, and had no partner in them. We lived much as before, in reference to our scrambling household arrangements; but I had got used to those, and Dora I was pleased to see was seldom vexed now. She was bright and cheerful in the old childish way, loved me dearly, and was happy with her old trifles.

When the debates were heavy—I mean as to length, not quality, for in the last respect they were not often otherwise—and I went home late, Dora would never rest when she heard my footsteps, but would always come downstairs to meet me. When my evenings were unoccupied by the pursuit for which I had qualified myself with so much pains, and I was engaged in writing at home, she would sit quietly near me, however late the hour, and be so mute, that I would often think she had dropped asleep. But generally, when I raised my head, I saw her blue eyes looking at me with the quiet attention of which I have already spoken.

‘Oh, what a weary boy!’ said Dora one night, when I met her eyes as I was shutting up my desk.

‘What a weary girl!’ said I. ‘That’s more to the purpose. You must go to bed another time, my love. It’s far too late for you.’

‘No, don’t send me to bed!’ pleaded Dora, coming to my side. ‘Pray, don’t do that!’

‘Dora!’ To my amazement she was sobbing on my neck. ‘Not well, my dear! not happy!’

‘Yes! quite well, and very happy!’ said Dora. ‘But say you’ll let me stop, and see you write.’

‘Why, what a sight for such bright eyes at midnight!’ I replied.

‘Are they bright, though?’ returned Dora, laughing. ‘I’m so glad they’re bright.’ ‘Little Vanity!’ said I.

But it was not vanity; it was only harmless delight in my admiration. I knew that very well, before she told me so.

‘If you think them pretty, say I may always stop, and see you write!’ said Dora. ‘Do you think them pretty?’

‘Very pretty.’

‘Then let me always stop and see you write.’

‘I am afraid that won’t improve their brightness, Dora.’

‘Yes, it will! Because, you clever boy, you’ll not forget me then, while you are full of silent fancies. Will you mind it, if I say something very, very silly?—-more than usual?’ inquired Dora, peeping over my shoulder into my face.

‘What wonderful thing is that?’ said I.

‘Please let me hold the pens,’ said Dora. ‘I want to have something to do with all those many hours when you are so industrious. May I hold the pens?’

The remembrance of her pretty joy when I said yes, brings tears into my eyes. The next time I sat down to write, and regularly afterwards, she sat in her old place, with a spare bundle of pens at her side. Her triumph in this connexion with my work, and her delight when I wanted a new pen—which I very often feigned to do—suggested to me a new way of pleasing my child-wife. I occasionally made a pretence of wanting a page or two of manuscript copied. Then Dora was in her glory. The preparations she made for this great work, the aprons she put on, the bibs she borrowed from the kitchen to keep off the ink, the time she took, the innumerable stoppages she made to have a laugh with Jip as if he understood it all, her conviction that her work was incomplete unless she signed her name at the end, and the way in which she would bring it to me, like a school-copy, and then, when I praised it, clasp me round the neck, are touching recollections to me, simple as they might appear to other men.

She took possession of the keys soon after this, and went jingling about the house with the whole bunch in a little basket, tied to her slender waist. I seldom found that the places to which they belonged were locked, or that they were of any use except as a plaything for Jip—but Dora was pleased, and that pleased me. She was quite satisfied that a good deal was effected by this make-belief of housekeeping; and was as merry as if we had been keeping a baby-house, for a joke.

So we went on. Dora was hardly less affectionate to my aunt than to me, and often told her of the time when she was afraid she was ‘a cross old thing’. I never saw my aunt unbend more systematically to anyone. She courted Jip, though Jip never responded; listened, day after day, to the guitar, though I am afraid she had no taste for music; never attacked the Incapables, though the temptation must have been severe; went wonderful distances on foot to purchase, as surprises, any trifles that she found out Dora wanted; and never came in by the garden, and missed her from the room, but she would call out, at the foot of the stairs, in a voice that sounded cheerfully all over the house:

‘Where’s Little Blossom?’






CHAPTER 45. MR. DICK FULFILS MY AUNT’S PREDICTIONS

It was some time now, since I had left the Doctor. Living in his neighbourhood, I saw him frequently; and we all went to his house on two or three occasions to dinner or tea. The Old Soldier was in permanent quarters under the Doctor’s roof. She was exactly the same as ever, and the same immortal butterflies hovered over her cap.

Like some other mothers, whom I have known in the course of my life, Mrs. Markleham was far more fond of pleasure than her daughter was. She required a great deal of amusement, and, like a deep old soldier, pretended, in consulting her own inclinations, to be devoting herself to her child. The Doctor’s desire that Annie should be entertained, was therefore particularly acceptable to this excellent parent; who expressed unqualified approval of his discretion.

I have no doubt, indeed, that she probed the Doctor’s wound without knowing it. Meaning nothing but a certain matured frivolity and selfishness, not always inseparable from full-blown years, I think she confirmed him in his fear that he was a constraint upon his young wife, and that there was no congeniality of feeling between them, by so strongly commending his design of lightening the load of her life.

‘My dear soul,’ she said to him one day when I was present, ‘you know there is no doubt it would be a little pokey for Annie to be always shut up here.’

The Doctor nodded his benevolent head. ‘When she comes to her mother’s age,’ said Mrs. Markleham, with a flourish of her fan, ‘then it’ll be another thing. You might put ME into a Jail, with genteel society and a rubber, and I should never care to come out. But I am not Annie, you know; and Annie is not her mother.’

‘Surely, surely,’ said the Doctor.

‘You are the best of creatures—no, I beg your pardon!’ for the Doctor made a gesture of deprecation, ‘I must say before your face, as I always say behind your back, you are the best of creatures; but of course you don’t—now do you?—-enter into the same pursuits and fancies as Annie?’

‘No,’ said the Doctor, in a sorrowful tone.

‘No, of course not,’ retorted the Old Soldier. ‘Take your Dictionary, for example. What a useful work a Dictionary is! What a necessary work! The meanings of words! Without Doctor Johnson, or somebody of that sort, we might have been at this present moment calling an Italian-iron, a bedstead. But we can’t expect a Dictionary—especially when it’s making—to interest Annie, can we?’

The Doctor shook his head.

‘And that’s why I so much approve,’ said Mrs. Markleham, tapping him on the shoulder with her shut-up fan, ‘of your thoughtfulness. It shows that you don’t expect, as many elderly people do expect, old heads on young shoulders. You have studied Annie’s character, and you understand it. That’s what I find so charming!’

Even the calm and patient face of Doctor Strong expressed some little sense of pain, I thought, under the infliction of these compliments.

‘Therefore, my dear Doctor,’ said the Old Soldier, giving him several affectionate taps, ‘you may command me, at all times and seasons. Now, do understand that I am entirely at your service. I am ready to go with Annie to operas, concerts, exhibitions, all kinds of places; and you shall never find that I am tired. Duty, my dear Doctor, before every consideration in the universe!’

She was as good as her word. She was one of those people who can bear a great deal of pleasure, and she never flinched in her perseverance in the cause. She seldom got hold of the newspaper (which she settled herself down in the softest chair in the house to read through an eye-glass, every day, for two hours), but she found out something that she was certain Annie would like to see. It was in vain for Annie to protest that she was weary of such things. Her mother’s remonstrance always was, ‘Now, my dear Annie, I am sure you know better; and I must tell you, my love, that you are not making a proper return for the kindness of Doctor Strong.’

This was usually said in the Doctor’s presence, and appeared to me to constitute Annie’s principal inducement for withdrawing her objections when she made any. But in general she resigned herself to her mother, and went where the Old Soldier would.

It rarely happened now that Mr. Maldon accompanied them. Sometimes my aunt and Dora were invited to do so, and accepted the invitation. Sometimes Dora only was asked. The time had been, when I should have been uneasy in her going; but reflection on what had passed that former night in the Doctor’s study, had made a change in my mistrust. I believed that the Doctor was right, and I had no worse suspicions.

My aunt rubbed her nose sometimes when she happened to be alone with me, and said she couldn’t make it out; she wished they were happier; she didn’t think our military friend (so she always called the Old Soldier) mended the matter at all. My aunt further expressed her opinion, ‘that if our military friend would cut off those butterflies, and give ‘em to the chimney-sweepers for May-day, it would look like the beginning of something sensible on her part.’

But her abiding reliance was on Mr. Dick. That man had evidently an idea in his head, she said; and if he could only once pen it up into a corner, which was his great difficulty, he would distinguish himself in some extraordinary manner.

Unconscious of this prediction, Mr. Dick continued to occupy precisely the same ground in reference to the Doctor and to Mrs. Strong. He seemed neither to advance nor to recede. He appeared to have settled into his original foundation, like a building; and I must confess that my faith in his ever Moving, was not much greater than if he had been a building.

But one night, when I had been married some months, Mr. Dick put his head into the parlour, where I was writing alone (Dora having gone out with my aunt to take tea with the two little birds), and said, with a significant cough:

‘You couldn’t speak to me without inconveniencing yourself, Trotwood, I am afraid?’

‘Certainly, Mr. Dick,’ said I; ‘come in!’

‘Trotwood,’ said Mr. Dick, laying his finger on the side of his nose, after he had shaken hands with me. ‘Before I sit down, I wish to make an observation. You know your aunt?’

‘A little,’ I replied.

‘She is the most wonderful woman in the world, sir!’

After the delivery of this communication, which he shot out of himself as if he were loaded with it, Mr. Dick sat down with greater gravity than usual, and looked at me.

‘Now, boy,’ said Mr. Dick, ‘I am going to put a question to you.’

‘As many as you please,’ said I.

‘What do you consider me, sir?’ asked Mr. Dick, folding his arms.

‘A dear old friend,’ said I. ‘Thank you, Trotwood,’ returned Mr. Dick, laughing, and reaching across in high glee to shake hands with me. ‘But I mean, boy,’ resuming his gravity, ‘what do you consider me in this respect?’ touching his forehead.

I was puzzled how to answer, but he helped me with a word.

‘Weak?’ said Mr. Dick.

‘Well,’ I replied, dubiously. ‘Rather so.’

‘Exactly!’ cried Mr. Dick, who seemed quite enchanted by my reply. ‘That is, Trotwood, when they took some of the trouble out of you-know-who’s head, and put it you know where, there was a—’ Mr. Dick made his two hands revolve very fast about each other a great number of times, and then brought them into collision, and rolled them over and over one another, to express confusion. ‘There was that sort of thing done to me somehow. Eh?’

I nodded at him, and he nodded back again.

‘In short, boy,’ said Mr. Dick, dropping his voice to a whisper, ‘I am simple.’

I would have qualified that conclusion, but he stopped me.

‘Yes, I am! She pretends I am not. She won’t hear of it; but I am. I know I am. If she hadn’t stood my friend, sir, I should have been shut up, to lead a dismal life these many years. But I’ll provide for her! I never spend the copying money. I put it in a box. I have made a will. I’ll leave it all to her. She shall be rich—noble!’

Mr. Dick took out his pocket-handkerchief, and wiped his eyes. He then folded it up with great care, pressed it smooth between his two hands, put it in his pocket, and seemed to put my aunt away with it.

‘Now you are a scholar, Trotwood,’ said Mr. Dick. ‘You are a fine scholar. You know what a learned man, what a great man, the Doctor is. You know what honour he has always done me. Not proud in his wisdom. Humble, humble—condescending even to poor Dick, who is simple and knows nothing. I have sent his name up, on a scrap of paper, to the kite, along the string, when it has been in the sky, among the larks. The kite has been glad to receive it, sir, and the sky has been brighter with it.’

I delighted him by saying, most heartily, that the Doctor was deserving of our best respect and highest esteem.

‘And his beautiful wife is a star,’ said Mr. Dick. ‘A shining star. I have seen her shine, sir. But,’ bringing his chair nearer, and laying one hand upon my knee—‘clouds, sir—clouds.’

I answered the solicitude which his face expressed, by conveying the same expression into my own, and shaking my head.

‘What clouds?’ said Mr. Dick.

He looked so wistfully into my face, and was so anxious to understand, that I took great pains to answer him slowly and distinctly, as I might have entered on an explanation to a child.

‘There is some unfortunate division between them,’ I replied. ‘Some unhappy cause of separation. A secret. It may be inseparable from the discrepancy in their years. It may have grown up out of almost nothing.’

Mr. Dick, who had told off every sentence with a thoughtful nod, paused when I had done, and sat considering, with his eyes upon my face, and his hand upon my knee.

‘Doctor not angry with her, Trotwood?’ he said, after some time.

‘No. Devoted to her.’

‘Then, I have got it, boy!’ said Mr. Dick.

The sudden exultation with which he slapped me on the knee, and leaned back in his chair, with his eyebrows lifted up as high as he could possibly lift them, made me think him farther out of his wits than ever. He became as suddenly grave again, and leaning forward as before, said—first respectfully taking out his pocket-handkerchief, as if it really did represent my aunt:

‘Most wonderful woman in the world, Trotwood. Why has she done nothing to set things right?’

‘Too delicate and difficult a subject for such interference,’ I replied.

‘Fine scholar,’ said Mr. Dick, touching me with his finger. ‘Why has HE done nothing?’

‘For the same reason,’ I returned.

‘Then, I have got it, boy!’ said Mr. Dick. And he stood up before me, more exultingly than before, nodding his head, and striking himself repeatedly upon the breast, until one might have supposed that he had nearly nodded and struck all the breath out of his body.

‘A poor fellow with a craze, sir,’ said Mr. Dick, ‘a simpleton, a weak-minded person—present company, you know!’ striking himself again, ‘may do what wonderful people may not do. I’ll bring them together, boy. I’ll try. They’ll not blame me. They’ll not object to me. They’ll not mind what I do, if it’s wrong. I’m only Mr. Dick. And who minds Dick? Dick’s nobody! Whoo!’ He blew a slight, contemptuous breath, as if he blew himself away.

It was fortunate he had proceeded so far with his mystery, for we heard the coach stop at the little garden gate, which brought my aunt and Dora home.

‘Not a word, boy!’ he pursued in a whisper; ‘leave all the blame with Dick—simple Dick—mad Dick. I have been thinking, sir, for some time, that I was getting it, and now I have got it. After what you have said to me, I am sure I have got it. All right!’ Not another word did Mr. Dick utter on the subject; but he made a very telegraph of himself for the next half-hour (to the great disturbance of my aunt’s mind), to enjoin inviolable secrecy on me.

To my surprise, I heard no more about it for some two or three weeks, though I was sufficiently interested in the result of his endeavours; descrying a strange gleam of good sense—I say nothing of good feeling, for that he always exhibited—in the conclusion to which he had come. At last I began to believe, that, in the flighty and unsettled state of his mind, he had either forgotten his intention or abandoned it.

One fair evening, when Dora was not inclined to go out, my aunt and I strolled up to the Doctor’s cottage. It was autumn, when there were no debates to vex the evening air; and I remember how the leaves smelt like our garden at Blunderstone as we trod them under foot, and how the old, unhappy feeling, seemed to go by, on the sighing wind.

It was twilight when we reached the cottage. Mrs. Strong was just coming out of the garden, where Mr. Dick yet lingered, busy with his knife, helping the gardener to point some stakes. The Doctor was engaged with someone in his study; but the visitor would be gone directly, Mrs. Strong said, and begged us to remain and see him. We went into the drawing-room with her, and sat down by the darkening window. There was never any ceremony about the visits of such old friends and neighbours as we were.

We had not sat here many minutes, when Mrs. Markleham, who usually contrived to be in a fuss about something, came bustling in, with her newspaper in her hand, and said, out of breath, ‘My goodness gracious, Annie, why didn’t you tell me there was someone in the Study!’

‘My dear mama,’ she quietly returned, ‘how could I know that you desired the information?’

‘Desired the information!’ said Mrs. Markleham, sinking on the sofa. ‘I never had such a turn in all my life!’

‘Have you been to the Study, then, mama?’ asked Annie.

‘BEEN to the Study, my dear!’ she returned emphatically. ‘Indeed I have! I came upon the amiable creature—if you’ll imagine my feelings, Miss Trotwood and David—in the act of making his will.’

Her daughter looked round from the window quickly.

‘In the act, my dear Annie,’ repeated Mrs. Markleham, spreading the newspaper on her lap like a table-cloth, and patting her hands upon it, ‘of making his last Will and Testament. The foresight and affection of the dear! I must tell you how it was. I really must, in justice to the darling—for he is nothing less!—tell you how it was. Perhaps you know, Miss Trotwood, that there is never a candle lighted in this house, until one’s eyes are literally falling out of one’s head with being stretched to read the paper. And that there is not a chair in this house, in which a paper can be what I call, read, except one in the Study. This took me to the Study, where I saw a light. I opened the door. In company with the dear Doctor were two professional people, evidently connected with the law, and they were all three standing at the table: the darling Doctor pen in hand. “This simply expresses then,” said the Doctor—Annie, my love, attend to the very words—“this simply expresses then, gentlemen, the confidence I have in Mrs. Strong, and gives her all unconditionally?” One of the professional people replied, “And gives her all unconditionally.” Upon that, with the natural feelings of a mother, I said, “Good God, I beg your pardon!” fell over the door-step, and came away through the little back passage where the pantry is.’

Mrs. Strong opened the window, and went out into the verandah, where she stood leaning against a pillar.

‘But now isn’t it, Miss Trotwood, isn’t it, David, invigorating,’ said Mrs. Markleham, mechanically following her with her eyes, ‘to find a man at Doctor Strong’s time of life, with the strength of mind to do this kind of thing? It only shows how right I was. I said to Annie, when Doctor Strong paid a very flattering visit to myself, and made her the subject of a declaration and an offer, I said, “My dear, there is no doubt whatever, in my opinion, with reference to a suitable provision for you, that Doctor Strong will do more than he binds himself to do.”’

Here the bell rang, and we heard the sound of the visitors’ feet as they went out.

‘It’s all over, no doubt,’ said the Old Soldier, after listening; ‘the dear creature has signed, sealed, and delivered, and his mind’s at rest. Well it may be! What a mind! Annie, my love, I am going to the Study with my paper, for I am a poor creature without news. Miss Trotwood, David, pray come and see the Doctor.’

I was conscious of Mr. Dick’s standing in the shadow of the room, shutting up his knife, when we accompanied her to the Study; and of my aunt’s rubbing her nose violently, by the way, as a mild vent for her intolerance of our military friend; but who got first into the Study, or how Mrs. Markleham settled herself in a moment in her easy-chair, or how my aunt and I came to be left together near the door (unless her eyes were quicker than mine, and she held me back), I have forgotten, if I ever knew. But this I know,—that we saw the Doctor before he saw us, sitting at his table, among the folio volumes in which he delighted, resting his head calmly on his hand. That, in the same moment, we saw Mrs. Strong glide in, pale and trembling. That Mr. Dick supported her on his arm. That he laid his other hand upon the Doctor’s arm, causing him to look up with an abstracted air. That, as the Doctor moved his head, his wife dropped down on one knee at his feet, and, with her hands imploringly lifted, fixed upon his face the memorable look I had never forgotten. That at this sight Mrs. Markleham dropped the newspaper, and stared more like a figure-head intended for a ship to be called The Astonishment, than anything else I can think of.

The gentleness of the Doctor’s manner and surprise, the dignity that mingled with the supplicating attitude of his wife, the amiable concern of Mr. Dick, and the earnestness with which my aunt said to herself, ‘That man mad!’ (triumphantly expressive of the misery from which she had saved him)—I see and hear, rather than remember, as I write about it.

‘Doctor!’ said Mr. Dick. ‘What is it that’s amiss? Look here!’

‘Annie!’ cried the Doctor. ‘Not at my feet, my dear!’

‘Yes!’ she said. ‘I beg and pray that no one will leave the room! Oh, my husband and father, break this long silence. Let us both know what it is that has come between us!’

Mrs. Markleham, by this time recovering the power of speech, and seeming to swell with family pride and motherly indignation, here exclaimed, ‘Annie, get up immediately, and don’t disgrace everybody belonging to you by humbling yourself like that, unless you wish to see me go out of my mind on the spot!’

‘Mama!’ returned Annie. ‘Waste no words on me, for my appeal is to my husband, and even you are nothing here.’

‘Nothing!’ exclaimed Mrs. Markleham. ‘Me, nothing! The child has taken leave of her senses. Please to get me a glass of water!’

I was too attentive to the Doctor and his wife, to give any heed to this request; and it made no impression on anybody else; so Mrs. Markleham panted, stared, and fanned herself.

20256

‘Annie!’ said the Doctor, tenderly taking her in his hands. ‘My dear! If any unavoidable change has come, in the sequence of time, upon our married life, you are not to blame. The fault is mine, and only mine. There is no change in my affection, admiration, and respect. I wish to make you happy. I truly love and honour you. Rise, Annie, pray!’

But she did not rise. After looking at him for a little while, she sank down closer to him, laid her arm across his knee, and dropping her head upon it, said:

‘If I have any friend here, who can speak one word for me, or for my husband in this matter; if I have any friend here, who can give a voice to any suspicion that my heart has sometimes whispered to me; if I have any friend here, who honours my husband, or has ever cared for me, and has anything within his knowledge, no matter what it is, that may help to mediate between us, I implore that friend to speak!’

There was a profound silence. After a few moments of painful hesitation, I broke the silence.

‘Mrs. Strong,’ I said, ‘there is something within my knowledge, which I have been earnestly entreated by Doctor Strong to conceal, and have concealed until tonight. But, I believe the time has come when it would be mistaken faith and delicacy to conceal it any longer, and when your appeal absolves me from his injunction.’

She turned her face towards me for a moment, and I knew that I was right. I could not have resisted its entreaty, if the assurance that it gave me had been less convincing.

‘Our future peace,’ she said, ‘may be in your hands. I trust it confidently to your not suppressing anything. I know beforehand that nothing you, or anyone, can tell me, will show my husband’s noble heart in any other light than one. Howsoever it may seem to you to touch me, disregard that. I will speak for myself, before him, and before God afterwards.’

Thus earnestly besought, I made no reference to the Doctor for his permission, but, without any other compromise of the truth than a little softening of the coarseness of Uriah Heep, related plainly what had passed in that same room that night. The staring of Mrs. Markleham during the whole narration, and the shrill, sharp interjections with which she occasionally interrupted it, defy description.

When I had finished, Annie remained, for some few moments, silent, with her head bent down, as I have described. Then, she took the Doctor’s hand (he was sitting in the same attitude as when we had entered the room), and pressed it to her breast, and kissed it. Mr. Dick softly raised her; and she stood, when she began to speak, leaning on him, and looking down upon her husband—from whom she never turned her eyes.

‘All that has ever been in my mind, since I was married,’ she said in a low, submissive, tender voice, ‘I will lay bare before you. I could not live and have one reservation, knowing what I know now.’

‘Nay, Annie,’ said the Doctor, mildly, ‘I have never doubted you, my child. There is no need; indeed there is no need, my dear.’

‘There is great need,’ she answered, in the same way, ‘that I should open my whole heart before the soul of generosity and truth, whom, year by year, and day by day, I have loved and venerated more and more, as Heaven knows!’

‘Really,’ interrupted Mrs. Markleham, ‘if I have any discretion at all—’

(‘Which you haven’t, you Marplot,’ observed my aunt, in an indignant whisper.) —‘I must be permitted to observe that it cannot be requisite to enter into these details.’

‘No one but my husband can judge of that, mama,’ said Annie without removing her eyes from his face, ‘and he will hear me. If I say anything to give you pain, mama, forgive me. I have borne pain first, often and long, myself.’

‘Upon my word!’ gasped Mrs. Markleham.

‘When I was very young,’ said Annie, ‘quite a little child, my first associations with knowledge of any kind were inseparable from a patient friend and teacher—the friend of my dead father—who was always dear to me. I can remember nothing that I know, without remembering him. He stored my mind with its first treasures, and stamped his character upon them all. They never could have been, I think, as good as they have been to me, if I had taken them from any other hands.’

‘Makes her mother nothing!’ exclaimed Mrs. Markleham.

‘Not so mama,’ said Annie; ‘but I make him what he was. I must do that. As I grew up, he occupied the same place still. I was proud of his interest: deeply, fondly, gratefully attached to him. I looked up to him, I can hardly describe how—as a father, as a guide, as one whose praise was different from all other praise, as one in whom I could have trusted and confided, if I had doubted all the world. You know, mama, how young and inexperienced I was, when you presented him before me, of a sudden, as a lover.’

‘I have mentioned the fact, fifty times at least, to everybody here!’ said Mrs. Markleham.

(‘Then hold your tongue, for the Lord’s sake, and don’t mention it any more!’ muttered my aunt.)

‘It was so great a change: so great a loss, I felt it, at first,’ said Annie, still preserving the same look and tone, ‘that I was agitated and distressed. I was but a girl; and when so great a change came in the character in which I had so long looked up to him, I think I was sorry. But nothing could have made him what he used to be again; and I was proud that he should think me so worthy, and we were married.’ ‘—At Saint Alphage, Canterbury,’ observed Mrs. Markleham.

(‘Confound the woman!’ said my aunt, ‘she WON’T be quiet!’)

‘I never thought,’ proceeded Annie, with a heightened colour, ‘of any worldly gain that my husband would bring to me. My young heart had no room in its homage for any such poor reference. Mama, forgive me when I say that it was you who first presented to my mind the thought that anyone could wrong me, and wrong him, by such a cruel suspicion.’

‘Me!’ cried Mrs. Markleham.

(‘Ah! You, to be sure!’ observed my aunt, ‘and you can’t fan it away, my military friend!’)

‘It was the first unhappiness of my new life,’ said Annie. ‘It was the first occasion of every unhappy moment I have known. These moments have been more, of late, than I can count; but not—my generous husband!—not for the reason you suppose; for in my heart there is not a thought, a recollection, or a hope, that any power could separate from you!’

She raised her eyes, and clasped her hands, and looked as beautiful and true, I thought, as any Spirit. The Doctor looked on her, henceforth, as steadfastly as she on him.

‘Mama is blameless,’ she went on, ‘of having ever urged you for herself, and she is blameless in intention every way, I am sure,—but when I saw how many importunate claims were pressed upon you in my name; how you were traded on in my name; how generous you were, and how Mr. Wickfield, who had your welfare very much at heart, resented it; the first sense of my exposure to the mean suspicion that my tenderness was bought—and sold to you, of all men on earth—fell upon me like unmerited disgrace, in which I forced you to participate. I cannot tell you what it was—mama cannot imagine what it was—to have this dread and trouble always on my mind, yet know in my own soul that on my marriage-day I crowned the love and honour of my life!’

‘A specimen of the thanks one gets,’ cried Mrs. Markleham, in tears, ‘for taking care of one’s family! I wish I was a Turk!’

(‘I wish you were, with all my heart—and in your native country!’ said my aunt.)

‘It was at that time that mama was most solicitous about my Cousin Maldon. I had liked him’: she spoke softly, but without any hesitation: ‘very much. We had been little lovers once. If circumstances had not happened otherwise, I might have come to persuade myself that I really loved him, and might have married him, and been most wretched. There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.’

I pondered on those words, even while I was studiously attending to what followed, as if they had some particular interest, or some strange application that I could not divine. ‘There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose’—‘no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.’

‘There is nothing,’ said Annie, ‘that we have in common. I have long found that there is nothing. If I were thankful to my husband for no more, instead of for so much, I should be thankful to him for having saved me from the first mistaken impulse of my undisciplined heart.’

She stood quite still, before the Doctor, and spoke with an earnestness that thrilled me. Yet her voice was just as quiet as before.

‘When he was waiting to be the object of your munificence, so freely bestowed for my sake, and when I was unhappy in the mercenary shape I was made to wear, I thought it would have become him better to have worked his own way on. I thought that if I had been he, I would have tried to do it, at the cost of almost any hardship. But I thought no worse of him, until the night of his departure for India. That night I knew he had a false and thankless heart. I saw a double meaning, then, in Mr. Wickfield’s scrutiny of me. I perceived, for the first time, the dark suspicion that shadowed my life.’

‘Suspicion, Annie!’ said the Doctor. ‘No, no, no!’

‘In your mind there was none, I know, my husband!’ she returned. ‘And when I came to you, that night, to lay down all my load of shame and grief, and knew that I had to tell that, underneath your roof, one of my own kindred, to whom you had been a benefactor, for the love of me, had spoken to me words that should have found no utterance, even if I had been the weak and mercenary wretch he thought me—my mind revolted from the taint the very tale conveyed. It died upon my lips, and from that hour till now has never passed them.’

Mrs. Markleham, with a short groan, leaned back in her easy-chair; and retired behind her fan, as if she were never coming out any more.

‘I have never, but in your presence, interchanged a word with him from that time; then, only when it has been necessary for the avoidance of this explanation. Years have passed since he knew, from me, what his situation here was. The kindnesses you have secretly done for his advancement, and then disclosed to me, for my surprise and pleasure, have been, you will believe, but aggravations of the unhappiness and burden of my secret.’

She sunk down gently at the Doctor’s feet, though he did his utmost to prevent her; and said, looking up, tearfully, into his face:

‘Do not speak to me yet! Let me say a little more! Right or wrong, if this were to be done again, I think I should do just the same. You never can know what it was to be devoted to you, with those old associations; to find that anyone could be so hard as to suppose that the truth of my heart was bartered away, and to be surrounded by appearances confirming that belief. I was very young, and had no adviser. Between mama and me, in all relating to you, there was a wide division. If I shrunk into myself, hiding the disrespect I had undergone, it was because I honoured you so much, and so much wished that you should honour me!’

‘Annie, my pure heart!’ said the Doctor, ‘my dear girl!’

‘A little more! a very few words more! I used to think there were so many whom you might have married, who would not have brought such charge and trouble on you, and who would have made your home a worthier home. I used to be afraid that I had better have remained your pupil, and almost your child. I used to fear that I was so unsuited to your learning and wisdom. If all this made me shrink within myself (as indeed it did), when I had that to tell, it was still because I honoured you so much, and hoped that you might one day honour me.’

‘That day has shone this long time, Annie,’ said the Doctor, ‘and can have but one long night, my dear.’

‘Another word! I afterwards meant—steadfastly meant, and purposed to myself—to bear the whole weight of knowing the unworthiness of one to whom you had been so good. And now a last word, dearest and best of friends! The cause of the late change in you, which I have seen with so much pain and sorrow, and have sometimes referred to my old apprehension—at other times to lingering suppositions nearer to the truth—has been made clear tonight; and by an accident I have also come to know, tonight, the full measure of your noble trust in me, even under that mistake. I do not hope that any love and duty I may render in return, will ever make me worthy of your priceless confidence; but with all this knowledge fresh upon me, I can lift my eyes to this dear face, revered as a father’s, loved as a husband’s, sacred to me in my childhood as a friend’s, and solemnly declare that in my lightest thought I have never wronged you; never wavered in the love and the fidelity I owe you!’

She had her arms around the Doctor’s neck, and he leant his head down over her, mingling his grey hair with her dark brown tresses.

‘Oh, hold me to your heart, my husband! Never cast me out! Do not think or speak of disparity between us, for there is none, except in all my many imperfections. Every succeeding year I have known this better, as I have esteemed you more and more. Oh, take me to your heart, my husband, for my love was founded on a rock, and it endures!’

In the silence that ensued, my aunt walked gravely up to Mr. Dick, without at all hurrying herself, and gave him a hug and a sounding kiss. And it was very fortunate, with a view to his credit, that she did so; for I am confident that I detected him at that moment in the act of making preparations to stand on one leg, as an appropriate expression of delight.

‘You are a very remarkable man, Dick!’ said my aunt, with an air of unqualified approbation; ‘and never pretend to be anything else, for I know better!’

With that, my aunt pulled him by the sleeve, and nodded to me; and we three stole quietly out of the room, and came away.

‘That’s a settler for our military friend, at any rate,’ said my aunt, on the way home. ‘I should sleep the better for that, if there was nothing else to be glad of!’

‘She was quite overcome, I am afraid,’ said Mr. Dick, with great commiseration.

‘What! Did you ever see a crocodile overcome?’ inquired my aunt.

‘I don’t think I ever saw a crocodile,’ returned Mr. Dick, mildly.

‘There never would have been anything the matter, if it hadn’t been for that old Animal,’ said my aunt, with strong emphasis. ‘It’s very much to be wished that some mothers would leave their daughters alone after marriage, and not be so violently affectionate. They seem to think the only return that can be made them for bringing an unfortunate young woman into the world—God bless my soul, as if she asked to be brought, or wanted to come!—is full liberty to worry her out of it again. What are you thinking of, Trot?’

I was thinking of all that had been said. My mind was still running on some of the expressions used. ‘There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.’ ‘The first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart.’ ‘My love was founded on a rock.’ But we were at home; and the trodden leaves were lying under-foot, and the autumn wind was blowing.