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They are only opened in both shells," said I. "Take the top one off, my love."
"But it won't come off," said Dora, trying very hard, and looking very much distressed.
"Do you know, Copperfield," said Traddles, cheer. fully, examining the dish, "I think it is in consequence--they are capital oysters, but I think it is in consequence of their never having been opened."
They never had been opened and we had no oysterknives-and couldn't have used them if we had; so we looked at the oysters and ate the mutton. At least we ate as much of it as was done, and made up with capers. If I had permitted him, I am satisfied that Traddles would have made a perfect savage of himself and eaten a plateful of raw meat to express enjoy. ment of the repast; but I would hear of no such immolation on the altar of friendship; and we had a course of bacon instead, there happening, by good fortune, to be cold bacon in the larder
My poor little wife was in such affliction when she thought I should be annoyed, and in such a state of joy when she found that I was not, that the discomfiture I had subdued very soon vanished, and we passed a happy evening, Dora sitting with her arm on my chair while Traddles and I discussed a glass of wine, and taking every opportunity of whispering in my ear that it was so good of me not to be a cruel, cross boy. By-and-by she made tea for us, which it was so pretty to see her do, as if she was busying herself with a set of doll's tea things, that I was not particular about the quality of the beverage. Then Traddles and I played a game or two at cribbage; and Dora singing to the guitar the while, it seemed to me as if our courtship and marriage were a tender dream of mine and the night when I first listened to her voice were not yet over.
When Traddles went away, and I came back into the parlor from seeing him out, my wife planted her chair close to mine and sat down by my side.
"I am very sorry," she said. "Will you try to teach me, Doady?"
"I must teach myself first, Dora," said I. "I am as bad as you, love."
"Ah! But you can learn," she returned; "and you are a clever, clever man!"
"Nonsense, mouse!" said I.
"I wish," resumed my wife, after a long silence, "that I could have gone down into the country for a whole year, and lived with Agnes!"
Her hands were clasped upon my shoulder, and her chin rested on them, and her blue eyes looked quietly into mine.
"Wh so?" I asked.
"I think she might have improved me, and I think I might have learned from her," said Dora.
"All in good time, my love. Agnes has had her father to take care of for these many years, you should remember. Even when she was quite a child, she was the Agnes whom we know," said I.
"Will you call me a name I want you to call me?" inquired Dora, without moving.
"What is it?" I asked with a smile.
"It's a stupid name," she said, shaking her curls for a moment. "Child-wife."
I laughingly asked my child-wife what her fancy was in desiring to be so called. She answered without moving, otherwise than as the arm I twined about her may have brought her blue eyes nearer
"I don't mean, you silly fellow, that you should use the name instead of Dora. I only mean that you should think of me that way. When you are going to be angry with me, say to yourself, 'it's only my child-wife! When I am very disappointing, say, 'I knew, a long time ago, that she would make but a child-wife.' When you miss what I should like to be, and I think can never be, say, 'still my foolish child-wife loves me!' For indeed I do."
I had not been serious with her, having no idea, until now, that she was serious herself. But her affectionate nature was so happy in what I now said to her with my whole heart, that her face became a laughing one before her glittering eyes were dry. She was soon my child-wife, indeed; sitting down on the floor outside the Chinese House, ringing all the little bells one after another, to punish Jip for his recent bad behavior; while Jip lay blinking in the doorway with his head out, even too lazy to be teased.
This appeal of Dora's made a strong impression on me. I look back on the time I write of; I invoke the innocent figure that I dearly loved, to come out from the mists and shadows of the past, and turn its gentle head toward me once again; and I can still declare that this one little speech was constantly in my memory. I may not have used it to the best account; I was young and inexperienced, but I never turned a deaf ear to its artless pleading.
Dora told me, shortly afterward, that she was going to be a wonderful housekeeper. Accordingly, she polished the tablets, pointed the pencil, bought an immense account-book, carefully stitched up with a needle and thread all the leaves of the Cookery Book which Jip had torn, and made quite a desperate little attempt "to be good" as she called it. But the fig. ures had the old obstinate propensity-they would not add up. When she had entered two or three laborious items in the account-book, Jip would walk over the page, wagging his tail, and smear them all out. Her own little right-hand middle finger got steeped to the very bone in ink; and I think that was the only decided result obtained.
Sometimes, of an evening, when I was at home and at work-for I wrote a good deal now, and was beginning in a small way to be known as a writer-I would lay down my pen, and watch my child-wife trying to be good. First of all, she would bring out the immense account-book, and lay it down upon the table, with a deep sigh. Then she would open it at
the place where Jip had made it illegible last night, and call Jip to look at his misdeeds. This would occasion a diversion in Jip's favor, and some inking of his nose, perhaps, as a penalty. Then she would tell Jip to lie down on the table instantly, "like a lion "--which was one of his tricks, though I cannot say the likeness was striking-and, if he were in an obedient humor, he would obey. Then she would take up a pen and begin to write, and find a hair in it. Then she would take up another pen, and begin to write, and find that it spluttered. Then she would take up another pen, and begin to write, and say in a low voice, "Oh, it's a talking pen, and will disturb Doady!" And then she would give it up as a bad job, and put the account-book away, after pretending to crush the lion with it.
Or, if she were in a very sedate and serious state of mind, she would sit down with the tablets, and a little basket of bills and other documents, which looked more like curl-paper than anything else, and endeavor to get some result out of them. After severely comparing one with another, and making entries on the tablets and blotting them out, and counting all the fingers of her left hand over and over again, backward and forward, she would be so vexed and discouraged, and would look so unhappy, that it gave me pain to see her bright face cloudedand for me!-and I would go softly to her, and say: "What's the matter, Dora?”
Dora would look up hopelessly and reply, "They won't come right. They make my head ache so. And they won't do anything I want!"
Then I would say, "Now let us try together. Let me show you, Dora."
Then I would commence a practical demonstration to which Dora would pay profound attention, perhaps for five minutes; when she would begin to get dreadfully tired, and would lighten the subject by curling my hair, or trying the effect of my face with my shirt collar turned down. If I tacitly
checked this playfulness, and persisted, she would look so scared and disconsolate, as she became more and more bewildered, that the remembrance of her natural gayety when I first strayed into her path, and of her being my child-wife, would come reproachfully upon me; and I would lay the pencil down, and call for the guitar.
I had a great deal of work to do, and had many anxieties, but the same considerations made me keep them to myself. I am far from sure, now, that it was right to do this, but I did it for my child-wife's sake. I search my breast and I commit its secrets, if I know them, without any reservation to this paper. The old unhappy loss or want of something had, I am conscious, some place in my heart; but not to the embitterment of my life. When I walked alone in fine weather, and thought of the summer days when all the air had been filled with my boyish enchantment, I did miss something of the realization of my dreams, but I thought it was a softened glory of the
past, which nothing could have thrown upon the present time. I did feel, sometimes, for a little while that I could have wished my wife had been my counselor; had had more character and purpose, to sustain me, and improve me by; had been endowed with power to fill up the void which somewhere seemed to be about me; but I felt as if this were an unearthly consummation of my happiness, that never had been meant to be, and never could have been.
I was a boyish husband as to years. I had known the softening influences of no other sorrows or experiences than those recorded in these leaves. If I did any wrong, as I may have done much, I did it in mistaken love, and in my want of wisdom. I write the exact truth. It would avail me nothing to extenuate it.
Thus it was that I took upon myself the toils and cares of our life, and had no partner in them. We lived much as before, in reference to our scrambling household arrangements; but I had got used to those, and Dora, I was pleased to see, was seldom vexed now. She was bright and cheerful in the old childish way, loved me dearly, and was happy with her old trifles.
When the debates were heavy-I mean as to length, not quality, for in the last respect they were not often otherwise-and I went home late, Dora would never rest when she heard my footsteps, but would always come down-stairs to meet me. When my evenings were unoccupied by the pursuit for which I nad qualified myself with so much pains, and I was engaged in writing at home, she would sit quietly near me, however late the hour, and be so mute, that I would often think she had dropped asleep. But generally, when I raised my head, I saw her blue eyes looking at me with the quiet attention of which I have already spoken.
"Oh, what a weary boy!" said Dora one night, when I met her eyes as I was shutting up my desk.
"What a weary girl!" said I. "That's more to the purpose. You must go to bed another time, my love. It's far too late for you.”
"No, don't send me to bed!" pleaded Dora, com. ing to my side. "Pray don't do that!" "Dora!"
To my amazement she was sobbing on my neck. "Not well, my dear! not happy!"
"Yes! quite well, and very happy!" said Dora. "But say you'll let me stop, and see you write." "Why, what a sight for such bright eyes at midnight!" I replied.
"Are they bright, though?" returned Dora, laughing. I'm so glad they're bright." "Little Vanity!" said I.
But it was not vanity; it was only harmless delight in my admiration. I knew that very well, before she told me so.
"If you think them pretty, say I may always stop and see you write!" said Dora. "Do you think them pretty?"
"Then let me always stop and see you write." "I am afraid that won't improve their brightness, Dora."
"Yes it will! Because, you clever boy, you'll not forget me then, while you are full of silent fancies. Will you mind it, if I say something very, very silly more than usual?" inquired Dora, peeping over my shoulder into my face.
"What wonderful thing is that?" said I.
"Please let me hold the pens," said Dora. "I want to have something to do with all those many hours when you are so industrious. May I hold
The remembrance of her pretty joy when I said Yes, bring tears into my eyes. The next time I sat down to write, and regularly afterward, she sat in her old place, with a spare bundle of pens at her side. Her triumph in this connection with my work, and her delight when I wanted a new pen-which I very often feigned to do-suggested to me a new way of pleasing my child-wife. I occasionally made a pretense of wanting a page or two of manuscript copied. Then Dora was in her glory. The preparations she made for the great work, the aprons she put on, the bibs she borrowed from the kitchen to keep off the ink, the time she took, the innumerable stoppages she made to have a laugh with Jip as if he understood it all, her conviction that her work was incom. plete unless she signed her name at the end, and the way in which she would bring it to me, like a schoolcopy, and then, when I praised it, clasp me round the neck, are touching recollections to me, simple as they might appear to other men.
She took possession of the keys soon after this, and went jingling about the house with the whole bunch in a little basket tied to her slender waist. I seldom found that the places to which they belonged were locked, or that they were of any use except as a plaything for Jip-but Dora was pleased, and that pleased me. She was quite satisfied that a good deal was effected by this make-belief of housekeeping, and was as merry as if we had been keeping a babyhouse for a joke.
I now write of the time when I had been married, I suppose, about a year and a half. After several varieties of experiment, we had given up the housekeeping as a bad job. The house kept itself, and we kept a page. The principal function of this retainer was to quarrel with the cook; in which respect he was a perfect Whittington, without his cat, or the remotest chance of being made Lord Mayor.
tearful boy, and broke into such deplorable lamenta. tions, when a cessation of our connection was hinted at, that we were obliged to keep him. He had no mother—no anything in the way of a relative, that I could discover, except a sister, who fled to America the moment we had taken him off her hands; and he became quartered on us like a horrible young changeling. He had a lively perception of his own unfortunate state, and was always rubbing his eyes with the sieeve of his jacket, or stooping to blow his nose on the extreme corner of a little pocket-handkerchief, which he never would take completely out of his pocket, but alway economized and secreted.
This unlucky page, engaged in an evil hour at six pounds ten per annum, was a source of continual trouble to me. I watched him as he grew-and he grew like scarlet beans-with painful apprehensions of the time when he would begin to shave; even of the days when he would be bald or gray. I saw no prospect of ever getting rid of him; and, projecting myself into the future, used to think what an inconvenience he would be when he was an old man.
I never expected anything less than this unfortunate's manner of getting me out of my difficulty. He stole Dora's watch, which, like everything else belonging to us, had no particular place of its own; and, converting it into money, spent the produce (he was always a weak-minded boy), in incessantly riding up and down between London and Uxbridge outside the coach. He was taken to Bow Street, as well as I remember, on the completion of his fifteenth journey; when four-and-sixpence, and a second-hand fife which he couldn't play, were found upon his person.
All this led me into some serious reflections, and presented our mistakes in a new aspect; as I could not help communicating to Dora one evening, in spite of my tenderness for her.
My love," said I, "it is very painful for me to think that our want of system and management involves not only ourselves (which we have got used to), but other people."
"You have been silent for a long time, and now you are going to be cross!" said Dora.
"No, my dear, indeed! Let me explain to you what I mean."
"I think I don't want to know," said Dora. "But I want you to know, my love. Put Jip down." Dora put his nose to mine, and said, Boh!" to drive my seriousness away; but, not succeeding, ordered him into his Pagoda, and sat looking at me, with her hands folded, and a most resigned little expression of countenance.
"The fact is, my dear," I began, "there is contagion in us. We infect every one about us."
I might have gone on in this figurative manner, if Dora's face had not admonished me that she was wondering whether I was going to propose any new kind of vaccination, or other medical remedy, for this unwholesome state of ours. Therefore I checked myself, and made my meaning plainer.
"It is not merely, my pet," said I, "that we lose money and comfort, and even temper sometimes, by not learning to be more careful; but that we incur the serious responsibility of spoiling every one who comes into our service, or has any dealings with us. I begin to be afraid that the fault is not entirely on one side, but that these people all turn out ill because we don't turn out very well ourselves."
"Oh, what an accusation!" exclaimed Dora, opening her eyes wide; "to say that you ever saw me take gold watches! Oh!"
"My dearest," I remonstrated, “don't talk preposterous nonsense! Who has made the least allusion
to gold watches?"
"You did," returned Dora. "You know you did. You said I hadn't turned out well, and compared me to him."
"To whom?" I asked.
"To the page," sobbed Dora. "Oh, you cruel fellow, to compare your affectionate wife to a transported page! Why didn't you tell me your opinion of me before we were married? Why didn't you say, you hard-hearted thing, that you were convinced I was worse than a transported page? Oh, what a dreadful opinion to have of me! Oh, my goodness!" "Now, Dora, my love," I returned, gently trying to remove the handkerchief she pressed to her eyes, "this is not only very ridiculous of you, but very wrong. In the first place, it's not true."
"You always said he was a story-teller," sobbed Dora. "And now you say the same of me! what shall I do? What shall I do?"
"My darling girl," I retorted, "I really must entreat you to be reasonable, and listen to what I did say and do say. My dear Dora, unless we learn to do our duty to those whom we employ, they will never learn to do their duty to us. I am afraid we present opportunities to people to do wrong, that never ought to be presented. Even if we were as lax as we are in all our arrangements by choice— which we are not; even if we liked it, and I found it agreeable to be so-which we don't—I am persuaded we should have no right to go on in this way. We are positively corrupting people. We are bound to think of that. I can't help thinking of it, Dora. It is a reflection I am unable to dismiss, and it sometimes makes me very uneasy. There, dear, that's all. Come, now; don't be foolish."
Dora would not allow me for a long time to remove the handkerchief. She sat sobbing and murmuring behind it, that, if I was uneasy, why had I ever mar. ried? Why hadn't I said, even the day before we went to church, that I knew I should be uneasy, and I would rather not? If I couldn't bear it, why didn't I send her away to her aunt's at Putney, or to Julia Mills in India? Julia would be glad to see her, and would not call her a transported page; Julia never had called her anything of the sort. In short, Dora was so afflicted, and so afflicted me by being in that condition, that I felt it was of no use repeating this
kind of effort, though never so mildly, and I must take some other course.
What other course was left to take? To "form her mind?" This was a common phrase of words which had a fair and promising sound, and I resolved to form Dora's mind.
I began immediately. When Dora was very childish, and I would have infinitely preferred to humor her, I tried to be grave—and disconcerted her, and myself too. I talked to her on the subjects which occupied my thoughts; and I read Shakespeare to her-and fatigued her to the last degree. I accustomed myself to giving her, as it were, quite casually, little scraps of useful information, or sound opinion -and she started from them when I let them off, as if they had been crackers. No matter how incidentally or naturally I endeavored to form my little wife's mind, I could not help seeing that she always had an instinctive perception of what I was about, and became a prey to the keenest apprehensions. In particular, it was clear to me, that she thought Shakespeare a terrible fellow. The formation went on very slowly.
I pressed Traddles into the service without his knowledge; and whenever he came to see us, exploded my mines upon him for the edification of Dora at second hand. The amount of practical wisdom I bestowed upon Traddles in this manner was immense, and of the best quality; but it had no other effect upon Dora than to depress her spirits, and make her always nervous with the dread that it would be her turn next. I found myself in the condition of a schoolmaster, a trap, a pitfall; of always playing spider to Dora's fly, and always pouncing out of my hole to her infinite disturbance.
Still, looking forward through this intermediate stage, to the time when there should be a perfect sympathy between Dora and me, and when I should have "formed her mind" to my entire satisfaction, I persevered, even for months. Finding at last, however, that, although I had been all this time a very porcupine or hedgehog, bristling all over with determination, I had effected nothing, it began to occur to me that perhaps Dora's mind was already formed.
On further consideration this appeared so likely, that I abandoned my scheme, which had a more promising appearance in words than in action; resolv. ing henceforth to be satisfied with my child-wife, and try to change her into nothing else by any process. I was heartily tired of being sagacious and prudent by myself, and of seeing my darling under restraint; so, I bought a pretty pair of ear-rings for her, and a collar for Jip, and went home one day to make myself agreeable.
Dora was delighted with the little presents, and kissed me joyfully; but there was a shadow between us, however slight, and I made up my mind that it should not be there. If there must be such a shadow anywhere, I would keep it for the future in my own breast.
I sat down by my wife on the sofa, and put the earrings in her ears; and then I told her that I feared we had not been quite as good company lately as we used to be, and that the fault was mine. Which I sincerely felt, and which indeed it was.
"The truth is, Dora, my life," I said, "I have been trying to be wise."
"And to make me wise, too," said Dora, timidly. "Haven't you, Doady?"
I nodded assent to the pretty inquiry of the raised eyebrows, and kissed the parted lips.
"It's of not a bit of use," said Dora, shaking her head until the ear-rings rang again. "You know what a little thing I am, and what I wanted you to call me from the first. If you can't do so, I am afraid you'll never like me. Are you sure you don't think, sometimes, it would have been better to have-" "Done what, my dear?" for she made no effort to proceed.
She put her arms round my neck, and laughed, and called herself by her favorite name of goose, and hid her face on my shoulder in such a profusion of curls that it was quite a task to clear them away and see it.
"Don't I think it would have been better to have done nothing, than to have tried to form my little wife's mind?" said I, laughing at myself. "Is that the question. Yes, indeed I do."
"Is that what you have been trying?" cried Dora. "Oh, what a shocking boy!"
"But I shall never try any more," said I. "For I love her dearly as she is."
"Without a story-really?" inquired Dora, creeping closer to me.
"Why should I seek to change," said I, "what has been so precious to me for so long? You never can show better than as your own natural self, my sweet Dora; and we'll try no conceited experiments, but go back to our old way, and be happy."
"And be happy!" returned Dora. "Yes! All day! And you won't mind things going a tiny morsel wrong, sometimes?"
"No, no," said I. "We must do the best we can." "And you won't tell me any more that we make other people bad,” coaxed Dora; "will you? Because you know it's so dreadfully cross!"
"No, no,” said I.
"It's better for me to be stupid than uncomfortable, isn't it?" said Dora.
"Better to be naturally Dora than anything else in the world."
"In the world. Ah, Doady, it's a large place!" She shook her head, turned her delighted bright eyes up to mine, kissed me, broke into a merry laugh, and sprang away to put on Jip's new collar.
So ended my last attempt to make any change in Dora. I had been unhappy in trying it; I could not endure my own solitary wisdom; I could not recon
cile it with her former appeal to me as my child-wife. I resolved to do what I could, in a quiet way, to improve our proceedings myself; but, I foresaw that my utmost would be very little, or I must degenerate into the spider again, and be forever lying in wait.
But, as that year wore on, Dora was not strong. I had hoped that lighter hands than mine would help to mold her character, and that a baby-smile upon her breast might change my child-wife to a woman. It was not to be. The spirit fluttered for a' moment on the threshold of its little prison, and, unconscious of captivity, took wing.
"When I can run about again, as I used to do, aunt," said Dora, "I shall make Jip race. He is getting quite slow and lazy."
"I suspect, my dear," said my aunt, quietly working by her side, "he has a worse disorder than that. Age, Dora."
"Do you think he is old?" said Dora, astonished. "Oh, how strange it seems that Jip should be old!" "It's a complaint we are all liable to, Little One, as we get on in life," said my aunt, cheerfully; "I don't feel more free from it than I used to be, I assure you."
"But Jip," said Dora, looking at him with compassion, "even little Jip! Oh, poor fellow!"
"I dare say he'll last a long time yet, Blossom," said my aunt, patting Dora on the cheek, as she leaned out of her couch to look at Jip, who responded by standing on his hind legs, and balking himself in various asthmatic attempts to scramble up by the head and shoulders. "He must have a piece of flannel in the house this winter, and I shouldn't wonder if he came out quite fresh again, with the flowers in the spring. Bless the little dog!" exclaimed my aunt. "If he had as many lives as a cat, and was on the point of losing 'em all, he'd bark at me with his last breath, I believe!"
Dora had helped him up on the sofa, where he really was defying my aunt to such a furious extent that he couldn't keep straight, but barked himself sideways. The more my aunt looked at him, the more he reproached her; for, she had lately taken to spectacles, and for some inscrutable reason he considered the glasses personal.
Dora made him lie down by her, with a good deal of persuasion; and when he was quiet, drew one of his long ears through and through her hand, repeating thoughtfully, "Even little Jip! Oh, poor fellow."
"His lungs are good enough," said my aunt, gayly, "and his dislikes are not all feeble. He has a good many years before him, no doubt. But if you want a dog to race with, Little Blossom, he has lived too well for that, and I'll give you one."
"Thank you, Aunt," said Dora, faintly, "but don't, please!"
"No?" said my aunt, taking off her spectacles.
"I couldn't have any other dog but Jip," said Dora. "It would be so unkind to Jip! Besides, I couldn't be such friends with any other dog but Jip; because