David Copperfield – Day 42 of 331

It was on this very first day that I had the misfortune to throw her, though she was not subject to such weakness in general, into a state of violent consternation. I came into the room where she and my mother were sitting; and the baby (who was only a few weeks old) being on my mother’s lap, I took it very carefully in my arms. Suddenly Miss Murdstone gave such a scream that I all but dropped it.

“My dear Jane!” cried my mother.

“Good heavens, Clara, do you see?” exclaimed Miss Murdstone.

“See what, my dear Jane?” said my mother; “where?”

“He’s got it!” cried Miss Murdstone. “The boy has got the baby!”

She was limp with horror; but stiffened herself to make a dart at me, and take it out of my arms. Then, she turned faint; and was so very ill that they were obliged to give her cherry brandy. I was solemnly interdicted by her, on her recovery, from touching my brother any more on any pretence whatever; and my poor mother, who, I could see, wished otherwise, meekly confirmed the interdict, by saying: “No doubt you are right, my dear Jane.”

On another occasion, when we three were together, this same dear baby—it was truly dear to me, for our mother’s sake—was the innocent occasion of Miss Murdstone’s going into a passion. My mother, who had been looking at its eyes as it lay upon her lap, said:

“Davy! come here!” and looked at mine.

I saw Miss Murdstone lay her beads down.

“I declare,” said my mother, gently, “they are exactly alike. I suppose they are mine. I think they are the colour of mine. But they are wonderfully alike.”

“What are you talking about, Clara?” said Miss Murdstone.

“My dear Jane,” faltered my mother, a little abashed by the harsh tone of this inquiry, “I find that the baby’s eyes and Davy’s are exactly alike.”

“Clara!” said Miss Murdstone, rising angrily, “you are a positive fool sometimes.”

“My dear Jane,” remonstrated my mother.

“A positive fool,” said Miss Murdstone. “Who else could compare my brother’s baby with your boy? They are not at all alike. They are exactly unlike. They are utterly dissimilar in all respects. I hope they will ever remain so. I will not sit here, and hear such comparisons made.” With that she stalked out, and made the door bang after her.

In short, I was not a favourite with Miss Murdstone. In short, I was not a favourite there with anybody, not even with myself; for those who did like me could not show it, and those who did not, showed it so plainly that I had a sensitive consciousness of always appearing constrained, boorish, and dull.

I felt that I made them as uncomfortable as they made me. If I came into the room where they were, and they were talking together and my mother seemed cheerful, an anxious cloud would steal over her face from the moment of my entrance. If Mr. Murdstone were in his best humour, I checked him. If Miss Murdstone were in her worst, I intensified it. I had perception enough to know that my mother was the victim always; that she was afraid to speak to me or to be kind to me, lest she should give them some offence by her manner of doing so, and receive a lecture afterwards; that she was not only ceaselessly afraid of her own offending, but of my offending, and uneasily watched their looks if I only moved. Therefore I resolved to keep myself as much out of their way as I could; and many a wintry hour did I hear the church clock strike, when I was sitting in my cheerless bedroom, wrapped in my little great-coat, poring over a book.

In the evening, sometimes, I went and sat with Peggotty in the kitchen. There I was comfortable, and not afraid of being myself. But neither of these resources was approved of in the parlour. The tormenting humour which was dominant there stopped them both. I was still held to be necessary to my poor mother’s training, and, as one of her trials, could not be suffered to absent myself.

“David,” said Mr. Murdstone, one day after dinner when I was going to leave the room as usual; “I am sorry to observe that you are of a sullen disposition.”

“As sulky as a bear!” said Miss Murdstone.

I stood still, and hung my head.

“Now, David,” said Mr. Murdstone, “a sullen obdurate disposition is, of all tempers, the worst.”

“And the boy’s is, of all such dispositions that ever I have seen,” remarked his sister, “the most confirmed and stubborn. I think, my dear Clara, even you must observe it?”

“I beg your pardon, my dear Jane,” said my mother, “but are you quite sure—I am certain you’ll excuse me, my dear Jane—that you understand Davy?”

“I should be somewhat ashamed of myself, Clara,” returned Miss Murdstone, “if I could not understand the boy, or any boy. I don’t profess to be profound; but I do lay claim to common sense.”

“No doubt, my dear Jane,” returned my mother, “your understanding is very vigorous—“

“Oh dear, no! Pray don’t say that, Clara,” interposed Miss Murdstone, angrily.

“But I am sure it is,” resumed my mother; “and everybody knows it is. I profit so much by it myself, in many ways—at least I ought to—that no one can be more convinced of it than myself; and therefore I speak with great diffidence, my dear Jane, I assure you.”

“We’ll say I don’t understand the boy, Clara,” returned Miss Murdstone, arranging the little fetters on her wrists. “We’ll agree, if you please, that I don’t understand him at all. He is much too deep for me. But perhaps my brother’s penetration may enable him to have some insight into his character. And I believe my brother was speaking on the subject when we—not very decently — interrupted him.”

“I think, Clara,” said Mr. Murdstone, in a low grave voice, “that there may be better and more dispassionate judges of such a question than you.”

“Edward,” replied my mother, timidly, “you are a far better judge of all questions than I pretend to be. Both you and Jane are. I only said—“

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