David Copperfield – Day 3 of 331

“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.

“You were speaking about its being a girl,” said Miss Betsey. “I have no doubt it will be a girl. I have a presentiment that it must be a girl. Now child, from the moment of the birth of this girl—“

“Perhaps boy,” my mother took the liberty of putting in.

“I tell you I have a presentiment that it must be a girl,” returned Miss Betsey. “Don’t contradict. From the moment of this girl’s birth, child, I intend to be her friend. I intend to be her godmother, and I beg you’ll call her Betsey Trotwood Copperfield. There must be no mistakes in life with this Betsey Trotwood. There must be no trifling with her affections, poor dear. She must be well brought up, and well guarded from reposing any foolish confidences where they are not deserved. I must make that my care.”

There was a twitch of Miss Betsey’s head, after each of these sentences, as if her own old wrongs were working within her, and she repressed any plainer reference to them by strong constraint. So my mother suspected, at least, as she observed her by the low glimmer of the fire: too much scared by Miss Betsey, too uneasy in herself, and too subdued and bewildered altogether, to observe anything very clearly, or to know what to say.

“And was David good to you, child?” asked Miss Betsey, when she had been silent for a little while, and these motions of her head had gradually ceased. “Were you comfortable together?”

“We were very happy,” said my mother. “Mr. Copperfield was only too good to me.”

“What, he spoilt you, I suppose?” returned Miss Betsey.

“For being quite alone and dependent on myself in this rough world again, yes, I fear he did indeed,” sobbed my mother.

“Well! Don’t cry!” said Miss Betsey. “You were not equally matched, child—if any two people can be equally matched—and so I asked the question. You were an orphan, weren’t you?”


“And a governess?”

“I was nursery-governess in a family where Mr. Copperfield came to visit. Mr. Copperfield was very kind to me, and took a great deal of notice of me, and paid me a good deal of attention, and at last proposed to me. And I accepted him. And so we were married,” said my mother simply.

“Ha! Poor Baby!” mused Miss Betsey, with her frown still bent upon the fire. “Do you know anything?”

“I beg your pardon, ma’am,” faltered my mother.

“About keeping house, for instance,” said Miss Betsey.

“Not much, I fear,” returned my mother. “Not so much as I could wish. But Mr. Copperfield was teaching me—“

(“Much he knew about it himself!”) said Miss Betsey in a parenthesis.

— “And I hope I should have improved, being very anxious to learn, and he very patient to teach me, if the great misfortune of his death”—my mother broke down again here, and could get no farther.

“Well, well!” said Miss Betsey.

—“I kept my housekeeping-book regularly, and balanced it with Mr. Copperfield every night,” cried my mother in another burst of distress, and breaking down again.

“Well, well!” said Miss Betsey. “Don’t cry any more.”

— “And I am sure we never had a word of difference respecting it, except when Mr. Copperfield objected to my threes and fives being too much like each other, or to my putting curly tails to my sevens and nines,” resumed my mother in another burst, and breaking down again.

“You’ll make yourself ill,” said Miss Betsey, “and you know that will not be good either for you or for my god-daughter. Come! You mustn’t do it!”

This argument had some share in quieting my mother, though her increasing indisposition had a larger one. There was an interval of silence, only broken by Miss Betsey’s occasionally ejaculating “Ha!” as she sat with her feet upon the fender.

“David had bought an annuity for himself with his money, I know,” said she, by and by. “What did he do for you?”

“Mr. Copperfield,” said my mother, answering with some difficulty, “was so considerate and good as to secure the reversion of a part of it to me.”

“How much?” asked Miss Betsey.

“A hundred and five pounds a year,” said my mother.

“He might have done worse,” said my aunt.

The word was appropriate to the moment. My mother was so much worse that Peggotty, coming in with the teaboard and candles, and seeing at a glance how ill she was,—as Miss Betsey might have done sooner if there had been light enough,—conveyed her upstairs to her own room with all speed; and immediately dispatched Ham Peggotty, her nephew, who had been for some days past secreted in the house, unknown to my mother, as a special messenger in case of emergency, to fetch the nurse and doctor.

Those allied powers were considerably astonished, when they arrived within a few minutes of each other, to find an unknown lady of portentous appearance, sitting before the fire, with her bonnet tied over her left arm, stopping her ears with jewellers’ cotton. Peggotty knowing nothing about her, and my mother saying nothing about her, she was quite a mystery in the parlour; and the fact of her having a magazine of jewellers’ cotton in her pocket, and sticking the article in her ears in that way, did not detract from the solemnity of her presence.

The doctor having been upstairs and come down again, and having satisfied himself, I suppose, that there was a probability of this unknown lady and himself having to sit there, face to face, for some hours, laid himself out to be polite and social. He was the meekest of his sex, the mildest of little men. He sidled in and out of a room, to take up the less space. He walked as softly as the Ghost in Hamlet, and more slowly. He carried his head on one side, partly in modest depreciation of himself, partly in modest propitiation of everybody else. It is nothing to say that he hadn’t a word to throw at a dog. He couldn’t have thrown a word at a mad dog. He might have offered him one gently, or half a one, or a fragment of one; for he spoke as slowly as he walked; but he wouldn’t have been rude to him, and he couldn’t have been quick with him, for any earthly consideration.

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