David Copperfield – Day 2 of 331

My mother had a sure foreboding at the second glance, that it was Miss Betsey. The setting sun was glowing on the strange lady, over the garden-fence, and she came walking up to the door with a fell rigidity of figure and composure of countenance that could have belonged to nobody else.

When she reached the house, she gave another proof of her identity. My father had often hinted that she seldom conducted herself like any ordinary Christian; and now, instead of ringing the bell, she came and looked in at that identical window, pressing the end of her nose against the glass to that extent, that my poor dear mother used to say it became perfectly flat and white in a moment.

She gave my mother such a turn, that I have always been convinced I am indebted to Miss Betsey for having been born on a Friday.

My mother had left her chair in her agitation, and gone behind it in the corner. Miss Betsey, looking round the room, slowly and inquiringly, began on the other side, and carried her eyes on, like a Saracen’s Head in a Dutch clock, until they reached my mother. Then she made a frown and a gesture to my mother, like one who was accustomed to be obeyed, to come and open the door. My mother went.

“Mrs. David Copperfield, I think,” said Miss Betsey; the emphasis referring, perhaps, to my mother’s mourning weeds, and her condition.

“Yes,” said my mother, faintly.

“Miss Trotwood,” said the visitor. “You have heard of her, I dare say?”

My mother answered she had had that pleasure. And she had a disagreeable consciousness of not appearing to imply that it had been an overpowering pleasure.

“Now you see her,” said Miss Betsey. My mother bent her head, and begged her to walk in.

They went into the parlour my mother had come from, the fire in the best room on the other side of the passage not being lighted—not having been lighted, indeed, since my father’s funeral; and when they were both seated, and Miss Betsey said nothing, my mother, after vainly trying to restrain herself, began to cry. “Oh tut, tut, tut!” said Miss Betsey, in a hurry. “Don’t do that! Come, come!”

My mother couldn’t help it notwithstanding, so she cried until she had had her cry out.

“Take off your cap, child,” said Miss Betsey, “and let me see you.”

My mother was too much afraid of her to refuse compliance with this odd request, if she had any disposition to do so. Therefore she did as she was told, and did it with such nervous hands that her hair (which was luxuriant and beautiful) fell all about her face.

“Why, bless my heart!” exclaimed Miss Betsey. “You are a very Baby!”

My mother was, no doubt, unusually youthful in appearance even for her years; she hung her head, as if it were her fault, poor thing, and said, sobbing, that indeed she was afraid she was but a childish widow, and would be but a childish mother if she lived. In a short pause which ensued, she had a fancy that she felt Miss Betsey touch her hair, and that with no ungentle hand; but, looking at her, in her timid hope, she found that lady sitting with the skirt of her dress tucked up, her hands folded on one knee, and her feet upon the fender, frowning at the fire.

“In the name of Heaven,” said Miss Betsey, suddenly, “why Rookery?”

“Do you mean the house, ma’am?” asked my mother.

“Why Rookery?” said Miss Betsey. “Cookery would have been more to the purpose, if you had had any practical ideas of life, either of you.”

“The name was Mr. Copperfield’s choice,” returned my mother. “When he bought the house, he liked to think that there were rooks about it.”

The evening wind made such a disturbance just now, among some tall old elm-trees at the bottom of the garden, that neither my mother nor Miss Betsey could forbear glancing that way. As the elms bent to one another, like giants who were whispering secrets, and after a few seconds of such repose, fell into a violent flurry, tossing their wild arms about, as if their late confidences were really too wicked for their peace of mind, some weatherbeaten ragged old rooks’-nests, burdening their higher branches, swung like wrecks upon a stormy sea.

“Where are the birds?” asked Miss Betsey.

“The—?” My mother had been thinking of something else.

“The rooks—what has become of them?” asked Miss Betsey.

“There have not been any since we have lived here,” said my mother. “We thought—Mr. Copperfield thought—it was quite a large rookery; but the nests were very old ones, and the birds have deserted them a long while.”

“David Copperfield all over!” cried Miss Betsey. “David Copperfield from head to foot! Calls a house a rookery when there’s not a rook near it, and takes the birds on trust, because he sees the nests!”

“Mr. Copperfield,” returned my mother, “is dead, and if you dare to speak unkindly of him to me—“

My poor dear mother, I suppose, had some momentary intention of committing an assault and battery upon my aunt, who could easily have settled her with one hand, even if my mother had been in far better training for such an encounter than she was that evening. But it passed with the action of rising from her chair; and she sat down again very meekly, and fainted.

When she came to herself, or when Miss Betsey had restored her, whichever it was, she found the latter standing at the window. The twilight was by this time shading down into darkness; and dimly as they saw each other, they could not have done that without the aid of the fire.

“Well?” said Miss Betsey, coming back to her chair, as if she had only been taking a casual look at the prospect; “and when do you expect—“

“I am all in a tremble,” faltered my mother. “I don’t know what’s the matter. I shall die, I am sure!”

“No, no, no,” said Miss Betsey. “Have some tea.”

“Oh dear me, dear me, do you think it will do me any good?” cried my mother in a helpless manner.

“Of course it will,” said Miss Betsey. “It’s nothing but fancy. What do you call your girl?”

“I don’t know that it will be a girl, yet, ma’am,” said my mother innocently.

“Bless the Baby!” exclaimed Miss Betsey, unconsciously quoting the second sentiment of the pincushion in the drawer upstairs, but applying it to my mother instead of me, “I don’t mean that. I mean your servant-girl.”

“Peggotty,” said my mother.

“Peggotty!” repeated Miss Betsey, with some indignation. “Do you mean to say, child, that any human being has gone into a Christian church, and got herself named Peggotty?”

“It’s her surname,” said my mother, faintly. “Mr. Copperfield called her by it, because her Christian name was the same as mine.”

“Here! Peggotty!” cried Miss Betsey, opening the parlour door. “Tea. Your mistress is a little unwell. Don’t dawdle.”

Having issued this mandate with as much potentiality as if she had been a recognized authority in the house ever since it had been a house, and having looked out to confront the amazed Peggotty coming along the passage with a candle at the sound of a strange voice, Miss Betsey shut the door again, and sat down as before: with her feet on the fender, the skirt of her dress tucked up, and her hands folded on one knee.

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