David Copperfield – Day 73 of 331

Chapter 14: My Aunt Makes Up Her Mind about Me

On going down in the morning, I found my aunt musing so profoundly over the breakfast table, with her elbow on the tray, that the contents of the urn had overflowed the teapot and were laying the whole table-cloth under water, when my entrance put her meditations to flight. I felt sure that I had been the subject of her reflections, and was more than ever anxious to know her intentions towards me. Yet I dared not express my anxiety, lest it should give her offence.

My eyes, however, not being so much under control as my tongue, were attracted towards my aunt very often during breakfast. I never could look at her for a few moments together but I found her looking at me—in an odd thoughtful manner, as if I were an immense way off, instead of being on the other side of the small round table. When she had finished her breakfast, my aunt very deliberately leaned back in her chair, knitted her brows, folded her arms, and contemplated me at her leisure, with such a fixedness of attention that I was quite overpowered by embarrassment. Not having as yet finished my own breakfast, I attempted to hide my confusion by proceeding with it; but my knife tumbled over my fork, my fork tripped up my knife, I chipped bits of bacon a surprising height into the air instead of cutting them for my own eating, and choked myself with my tea, which persisted in going the wrong way instead of the right one, until I gave in altogether, and sat blushing under my aunt’s close scrutiny.

“Hallo!” said my aunt, after a long time.

I looked up, and met her sharp bright glance respectfully.

“I have written to him,” said my aunt.


“To your father-in-law,” said my aunt. “I have sent him a letter that I’ll trouble him to attend to, or he and I will fall out, I can tell him!”

“Does he know where I am, aunt?” I inquired, alarmed.

“I have told him,” said my aunt, with a nod.

“Shall I—be—given up to him?” I faltered.

“I don’t know,” said my aunt. “We shall see.”

“Oh! I can’t think what I shall do,” I exclaimed, “if I have to go back to Mr. Murdstone!”

“I don’t know anything about it,” said my aunt, shaking her head. “I can’t say, I am sure. We shall see.”

My spirits sank under these words, and I became very downcast and heavy of heart. My aunt, without appearing to take much heed of me, put on a coarse apron with a bib, which she took out of the press; washed up the teacups with her own hands; and, when everything was washed and set in the tray again, and the cloth folded and put on the top of the whole, rang for Janet to remove it. She next swept up the crumbs with a little broom (putting on a pair of gloves first), until there did not appear to be one microscopic speck left on the carpet; next dusted and arranged the room, which was dusted and arranged to a hair’s breadth already. When all these tasks were performed to her satisfaction, she took off the gloves and apron, folded them up, put them in the particular corner of the press from which they had been taken, brought out her work-box to her own table in the open window, and sat down, with the green fan between her and the light, to work.

“I wish you’d go upstairs,” said my aunt, as she threaded her needle, “and give my compliments to Mr. Dick, and I’ll be glad to know how he gets on with his Memorial.”

I rose with all alacrity, to acquit myself of this commission.

“I suppose,” said my aunt, eyeing me as narrowly as she had eyed the needle in threading it, “you think Mr. Dick a short name, eh?”

“I thought it was rather a short name, yesterday,” I confessed.

“You are not to suppose that he hasn’t got a longer name, if he chose to use it,” said my aunt, with a loftier air. “Babley—Mr. Richard Babley—that’s the gentleman’s true name.”

I was going to suggest, with a modest sense of my youth and the familiarity I had been already guilty of, that I had better give him the full benefit of that name, when my aunt went on to say:

“But don’t you call him by it, whatever you do. He can’t bear his name. That’s a peculiarity of his. Though I don’t know that it’s much of a peculiarity, either; for he has been ill-used enough, by some that bear it, to have a mortal antipathy for it, Heaven knows. Mr. Dick is his name here, and everywhere else, now—if he ever went anywhere else, which he don’t. So take care, child, you don’t call him anything but Mr. Dick.”

I promised to obey, and went upstairs with my message; thinking, as I went, that if Mr. Dick had been working at his Memorial long, at the same rate as I had seen him working at it, through the open door, when I came down, he was probably getting on very well indeed. I found him still driving at it with a long pen, and his head almost laid upon the paper. He was so intent upon it, that I had ample leisure to observe the large paper kite in a corner, the confusion of bundles of manuscript, the number of pens, and, above all, the quantity of ink (which he seemed to have in, in half-gallon jars by the dozen), before he observed my being present.

“Ha! Phoebus!” said Mr. Dick, laying down his pen. “How does the world go? I’ll tell you what,” he added, in a lower tone, “I shouldn’t wish it to be mentioned, but it’s a—” here he beckoned to me, and put his lips close to my ear—“it’s a mad world. Mad as Bedlam, boy!” said Mr. Dick, taking snuff from a round box on the table, and laughing heartily.

Without presuming to give my opinion on this question, I delivered my message.

“Well,” said Mr. Dick, in answer, “my compliments to her, and I — I believe I have made a start. I think I have made a start,” said Mr. Dick, passing his hand among his grey hair, and casting anything but a confident look at his manuscript. “You have been to school?”

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