David Copperfield – Day 193 of 331

“Why, my dear Copperfield,” said the Doctor, “you are a man! How do you do? I am delighted to see you. My dear Copperfield, how very much you have improved! You are quite—yes—dear me!”

I hoped he was well, and Mrs. Strong too.

“Oh dear, yes!” said the Doctor; “Annie’s quite well, and she’ll be delighted to see you. You were always her favourite. She said so, last night, when I showed her your letter. And—yes, to be sure — you recollect Mr. Jack Maldon, Copperfield?”

“Perfectly, sir.”

“Of course,” said the Doctor. “To be sure. He’s pretty well, too.”

“Has he come home, sir?” I inquired.

“From India?” said the Doctor. “Yes. Mr. Jack Maldon couldn’t bear the climate, my dear. Mrs. Markleham—you have not forgotten Mrs. Markleham?”

Forgotten the Old Soldier! And in that short time!

“Mrs. Markleham,” said the Doctor, “was quite vexed about him, poor thing; so we have got him at home again; and we have bought him a little Patent place, which agrees with him much better.” I knew enough of Mr. Jack Maldon to suspect from this account that it was a place where there was not much to do, and which was pretty well paid. The Doctor, walking up and down with his hand on my shoulder, and his kind face turned encouragingly to mine, went on:

“Now, my dear Copperfield, in reference to this proposal of yours. It’s very gratifying and agreeable to me, I am sure; but don’t you think you could do better? You achieved distinction, you know, when you were with us. You are qualified for many good things. You have laid a foundation that any edifice may be raised upon; and is it not a pity that you should devote the spring-time of your life to such a poor pursuit as I can offer?”

I became very glowing again, and, expressing myself in a rhapsodical style, I am afraid, urged my request strongly; reminding the Doctor that I had already a profession.

“Well, well,” said the Doctor, “that’s true. Certainly, your having a profession, and being actually engaged in studying it, makes a difference. But, my good young friend, what’s seventy pounds a year?”

“It doubles our income, Doctor Strong,” said I.

“Dear me!” replied the Doctor. “To think of that! Not that I mean to say it’s rigidly limited to seventy pounds a-year, because I have always contemplated making any young friend I might thus employ, a present too. Undoubtedly,” said the Doctor, still walking me up and down with his hand on my shoulder. “I have always taken an annual present into account.”

“My dear tutor,” said I (now, really, without any nonsense), “to whom I owe more obligations already than I ever can acknowledge—“

“No, no,” interposed the Doctor. “Pardon me!”

“If you will take such time as I have, and that is my mornings and evenings, and can think it worth seventy pounds a year, you will do me such a service as I cannot express.”

“Dear me!” said the Doctor, innocently. “To think that so little should go for so much! Dear, dear! And when you can do better, you will? On your word, now?” said the Doctor,—which he had always made a very grave appeal to the honour of us boys.

“On my word, sir!” I returned, answering in our old school manner.

“Then be it so,” said the Doctor, clapping me on the shoulder, and still keeping his hand there, as we still walked up and down.

“And I shall be twenty times happier, sir,” said I, with a little — I hope innocent—flattery, “if my employment is to be on the Dictionary.”

The Doctor stopped, smilingly clapped me on the shoulder again, and exclaimed, with a triumph most delightful to behold, as if I had penetrated to the profoundest depths of mortal sagacity, “My dear young friend, you have hit it. It is the Dictionary!”

How could it be anything else! His pockets were as full of it as his head. It was sticking out of him in all directions. He told me that since his retirement from scholastic life, he had been advancing with it wonderfully; and that nothing could suit him better than the proposed arrangements for morning and evening work, as it was his custom to walk about in the daytime with his considering cap on. His papers were in a little confusion, in consequence of Mr. Jack Maldon having lately proffered his occasional services as an amanuensis, and not being accustomed to that occupation; but we should soon put right what was amiss, and go on swimmingly. Afterwards, when we were fairly at our work, I found Mr. Jack Maldon’s efforts more troublesome to me than I had expected, as he had not confined himself to making numerous mistakes, but had sketched so many soldiers, and ladies’ heads, over the Doctor’s manuscript, that I often became involved in labyrinths of obscurity.

The Doctor was quite happy in the prospect of our going to work together on that wonderful performance, and we settled to begin next morning at seven o’clock. We were to work two hours every morning, and two or three hours every night, except on Saturdays, when I was to rest. On Sundays, of course, I was to rest also, and I considered these very easy terms.

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