David Copperfield – Day 200 of 331

He kept me waiting so long, that I fervently hoped the Club would fine him for being late. At last he came out; and then I saw my own Dora hang up the bird-cage, and peep into the balcony to look for me, and run in again when she saw I was there, while Jip remained behind, to bark injuriously at an immense butcher’s dog in the street, who could have taken him like a pill.

Dora came to the drawing-room door to meet me; and Jip came scrambling out, tumbling over his own growls, under the impression that I was a Bandit; and we all three went in, as happy and loving as could be. I soon carried desolation into the bosom of our joys — not that I meant to do it, but that I was so full of the subject — by asking Dora, without the smallest preparation, if she could love a beggar?

My pretty, little, startled Dora! Her only association with the word was a yellow face and a nightcap, or a pair of crutches, or a wooden leg, or a dog with a decanter-stand in his mouth, or something of that kind; and she stared at me with the most delightful wonder.

“How can you ask me anything so foolish?” pouted Dora. “Love a beggar!”

“Dora, my own dearest!” said I. “I am a beggar!”

“How can you be such a silly thing,” replied Dora, slapping my hand, “as to sit there, telling such stories? I’ll make Jip bite you!”

Her childish way was the most delicious way in the world to me, but it was necessary to be explicit, and I solemnly repeated:

“Dora, my own life, I am your ruined David!”

“I declare I’ll make Jip bite you!” said Dora, shaking her curls, “if you are so ridiculous.”

But I looked so serious, that Dora left off shaking her curls, and laid her trembling little hand upon my shoulder, and first looked scared and anxious, then began to cry. That was dreadful. I fell upon my knees before the sofa, caressing her, and imploring her not to rend my heart; but, for some time, poor little Dora did nothing but exclaim Oh dear! Oh dear! And oh, she was so frightened! And where was Julia Mills! And oh, take her to Julia Mills, and go away, please! until I was almost beside myself.

At last, after an agony of supplication and protestation, I got Dora to look at me, with a horrified expression of face, which I gradually soothed until it was only loving, and her soft, pretty cheek was lying against mine. Then I told her, with my arms clasped round her, how I loved her, so dearly, and so dearly; how I felt it right to offer to release her from her engagement, because now I was poor; how I never could bear it, or recover it, if I lost her; how I had no fears of poverty, if she had none, my arm being nerved and my heart inspired by her; how I was already working with a courage such as none but lovers knew; how I had begun to be practical, and look into the future; how a crust well earned was sweeter far than a feast inherited; and much more to the same purpose, which I delivered in a burst of passionate eloquence quite surprising to myself, though I had been thinking about it, day and night, ever since my aunt had astonished me.

“Is your heart mine still, dear Dora?” said I, rapturously, for I knew by her clinging to me that it was.

“Oh, yes!” cried Dora. “Oh, yes, it’s all yours. Oh, don’t be dreadful!”

I dreadful! To Dora!

“Don’t talk about being poor, and working hard!” said Dora, nestling closer to me. “Oh, don’t, don’t!”

“My dearest love,” said I, “the crust well-earned—“

“Oh, yes; but I don’t want to hear any more about crusts!” said Dora. “And Jip must have a mutton-chop every day at twelve, or he’ll die.”

I was charmed with her childish, winning way. I fondly explained to Dora that Jip should have his mutton-chop with his accustomed regularity. I drew a picture of our frugal home, made independent by my labour—sketching in the little house I had seen at Highgate, and my aunt in her room upstairs.

“I am not dreadful now, Dora?” said I, tenderly.

“Oh, no, no!” cried Dora. “But I hope your aunt will keep in her own room a good deal. And I hope she’s not a scolding old thing!”

If it were possible for me to love Dora more than ever, I am sure I did. But I felt she was a little impracticable. It damped my new-born ardour, to find that ardour so difficult of communication to her. I made another trial. When she was quite herself again, and was curling Jip’s ears, as he lay upon her lap, I became grave, and said:

“My own! May I mention something?”

“Oh, please don’t be practical!” said Dora, coaxingly. “Because it frightens me so!”

“Sweetheart!” I returned; “there is nothing to alarm you in all this. I want you to think of it quite differently. I want to make it nerve you, and inspire you, Dora!”

“Oh, but that’s so shocking!” cried Dora.

“My love, no. Perseverance and strength of character will enable us to bear much worse things.”

“But I haven’t got any strength at all,” said Dora, shaking her curls. “Have I, Jip? Oh, do kiss Jip, and be agreeable!”

It was impossible to resist kissing Jip, when she held him up to me for that purpose, putting her own bright, rosy little mouth into kissing form, as she directed the operation, which she insisted should be performed symmetrically, on the centre of his nose. I did as she bade me—rewarding myself afterwards for my obedience — and she charmed me out of my graver character for I don’t know how long.

“But, Dora, my beloved!” said I, at last resuming it; “I was going to mention something.”

The judge of the Prerogative Court might have fallen in love with her, to see her fold her little hands and hold them up, begging and praying me not to be dreadful any more.

“Indeed I am not going to be, my darling!” I assured her. “But, Dora, my love, if you will sometimes think,—not despondingly, you know; far from that!—but if you will sometimes think—just to encourage yourself—that you are engaged to a poor man—“

“Don’t, don’t! Pray don’t!” cried Dora. “It’s so very dreadful!”

“My soul, not at all!” said I, cheerfully. “If you will sometimes think of that, and look about now and then at your papa’s housekeeping, and endeavour to acquire a little habit—of accounts, for instance—“

Poor little Dora received this suggestion with something that was half a sob and half a scream.

“—It would be so useful to us afterwards,” I went on. “And if you would promise me to read a little—a little Cookery Book that I would send you, it would be so excellent for both of us. For our path in life, my Dora,” said I, warming with the subject, “is stony and rugged now, and it rests with us to smooth it. We must fight our way onward. We must be brave. There are obstacles to be met, and we must meet, and crush them!”

I was going on at a great rate, with a clenched hand, and a most enthusiastic countenance; but it was quite unnecessary to proceed. I had said enough. I had done it again. Oh, she was so frightened! Oh, where was Julia Mills! Oh, take her to Julia Mills, and go away, please! So that, in short, I was quite distracted, and raved about the drawing-room.

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