David Copperfield – Day 245 of 331

“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.”

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