David Copperfield – Day 221 of 331

“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.

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