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Charles Dickens > David Copperfield > Chapter 43

David Copperfield

Chapter 43


Once again, let me pause upon a memorable period of my life. Let
me stand aside, to see the phantoms of those days go by me,
accompanying the shadow of myself, in dim procession.

Weeks, months, seasons, pass along. They seem little more than a
summer day and a winter evening. Now, the Common where I walk with
Dora is all in bloom, a field of bright gold; and now the unseen
heather lies in mounds and bunches underneath a covering of snow.
In a breath, the river that flows through our Sunday walks is
sparkling in the summer sun, is ruffled by the winter wind, or
thickened with drifting heaps of ice. Faster than ever river ran
towards the sea, it flashes, darkens, and rolls away.

Not a thread changes, in the house of the two little bird-like
ladies. The clock ticks over the fireplace, the weather-glass
hangs in the hall. Neither clock nor weather-glass is ever right;
but we believe in both, devoutly.

I have come legally to man's estate. I have attained the dignity
of twenty-one. But this is a sort of dignity that may be thrust
upon one. Let me think what I have achieved.

I have tamed that savage stenographic mystery. I make a
respectable income by it. I am in high repute for my
accomplishment in all pertaining to the art, and am joined with
eleven others in reporting the debates in Parliament for a Morning
Newspaper. Night after night, I record predictions that never come
to pass, professions that are never fulfilled, explanations that
are only meant to mystify. I wallow in words. Britannia, that
unfortunate female, is always before me, like a trussed fowl:
skewered through and through with office-pens, and bound hand and
foot with red tape. I am sufficiently behind the scenes to know
the worth of political life. I am quite an Infidel about it, and
shall never be converted.

My dear old Traddles has tried his hand at the same pursuit, but it
is not in Traddles's way. He is perfectly good-humoured respecting
his failure, and reminds me that he always did consider himself
slow. He has occasional employment on the same newspaper, in
getting up the facts of dry subjects, to be written about and
embellished by more fertile minds. He is called to the bar; and
with admirable industry and self-denial has scraped another hundred
pounds together, to fee a Conveyancer whose chambers he attends.
A great deal of very hot port wine was consumed at his call; and,
considering the figure, I should think the Inner Temple must have
made a profit by it.

I have come out in another way. I have taken with fear and
trembling to authorship. I wrote a little something, in secret,
and sent it to a magazine, and it was published in the magazine.
Since then, I have taken heart to write a good many trifling
pieces. Now, I am regularly paid for them. Altogether, I am well
off, when I tell my income on the fingers of my left hand, I pass
the third finger and take in the fourth to the middle joint.

We have removed, from Buckingham Street, to a pleasant little
cottage very near the one I looked at, when my enthusiasm first
came on. My aunt, however (who has sold the house at Dover, to
good advantage), is not going to remain here, but intends removing
herself to a still more tiny cottage close at hand. What does this
portend? My marriage? Yes!

Yes! I am going to be married to Dora! Miss Lavinia and Miss
Clarissa have given their consent; and if ever canary birds were in
a flutter, they are. Miss Lavinia, self-charged with the
superintendence of my darling's wardrobe, is constantly cutting out
brown-paper cuirasses, and differing in opinion from a highly
respectable young man, with a long bundle, and a yard measure under
his arm. A dressmaker, always stabbed in the breast with a needle
and thread, boards and lodges in the house; and seems to me,
eating, drinking, or sleeping, never to take her thimble off. They
make a lay-figure of my dear. They are always sending for her to
come and try something on. We can't be happy together for five
minutes in the evening, but some intrusive female knocks at the
door, and says, 'Oh, if you please, Miss Dora, would you step

Miss Clarissa and my aunt roam all over London, to find out
articles of furniture for Dora and me to look at. It would be
better for them to buy the goods at once, without this ceremony of
inspection; for, when we go to see a kitchen fender and
meat-screen, Dora sees a Chinese house for Jip, with little bells
on the top, and prefers that. And it takes a long time to accustom
Jip to his new residence, after we have bought it; whenever he goes
in or out, he makes all the little bells ring, and is horribly

Peggotty comes up to make herself useful, and falls to work
immediately. Her department appears to be, to clean everything
over and over again. She rubs everything that can be rubbed, until
it shines, like her own honest forehead, with perpetual friction.
And now it is, that I begin to see her solitary brother passing
through the dark streets at night, and looking, as he goes, among
the wandering faces. I never speak to him at such an hour. I know
too well, as his grave figure passes onward, what he seeks, and
what he dreads.

Why does Traddles look so important when he calls upon me this
afternoon in the Commons - where I still occasionally attend, for
form's sake, when I have time? The realization of my boyish
day-dreams is at hand. I am going to take out the licence.

It is a little document to do so much; and Traddles contemplates
it, as it lies upon my desk, half in admiration, half in awe.
There are the names, in the sweet old visionary connexion, David
Copperfield and Dora Spenlow; and there, in the corner, is that
Parental Institution, the Stamp Office, which is so benignantly
interested in the various transactions of human life, looking down
upon our Union; and there is the Archbishop of Canterbury invoking
a blessing on us in print, and doing it as cheap as could possibly
be expected.

Nevertheless, I am in a dream, a flustered, happy, hurried dream.
I can't believe that it is going to be; and yet I can't believe but
that everyone I pass in the street, must have some kind of
perception, that I am to be married the day after tomorrow. The
Surrogate knows me, when I go down to be sworn; and disposes of me
easily, as if there were a Masonic understanding between us.
Traddles is not at all wanted, but is in attendance as my general

'I hope the next time you come here, my dear fellow,' I say to
Traddles, 'it will be on the same errand for yourself. And I hope
it will be soon.'

'Thank you for your good wishes, my dear Copperfield,' he replies.
'I hope so too. It's a satisfaction to know that she'll wait for
me any length of time, and that she really is the dearest girl -'

'When are you to meet her at the coach?' I ask.

'At seven,' says Traddles, looking at his plain old silver watch -
the very watch he once took a wheel out of, at school, to make a
water-mill. 'That is about Miss Wickfield's time, is it not?'

'A little earlier. Her time is half past eight.'
'I assure you, my dear boy,' says Traddles, 'I am almost as pleased
as if I were going to be married myself, to think that this event
is coming to such a happy termination. And really the great
friendship and consideration of personally associating Sophy with
the joyful occasion, and inviting her to be a bridesmaid in
conjunction with Miss Wickfield, demands my warmest thanks. I am
extremely sensible of it.'

I hear him, and shake hands with him; and we talk, and walk, and
dine, and so on; but I don't believe it. Nothing is real.

Sophy arrives at the house of Dora's aunts, in due course. She has
the most agreeable of faces, - not absolutely beautiful, but
extraordinarily pleasant, - and is one of the most genial,
unaffected, frank, engaging creatures I have ever seen. Traddles
presents her to us with great pride; and rubs his hands for ten
minutes by the clock, with every individual hair upon his head
standing on tiptoe, when I congratulate him in a corner on his

I have brought Agnes from the Canterbury coach, and her cheerful
and beautiful face is among us for the second time. Agnes has a
great liking for Traddles, and it is capital to see them meet, and
to observe the glory of Traddles as he commends the dearest girl in
the world to her acquaintance.

Still I don't believe it. We have a delightful evening, and are
supremely happy; but I don't believe it yet. I can't collect
myself. I can't check off my happiness as it takes place. I feel
in a misty and unsettled kind of state; as if I had got up very
early in the morning a week or two ago, and had never been to bed
since. I can't make out when yesterday was. I seem to have been
carrying the licence about, in my pocket, many months.

Next day, too, when we all go in a flock to see the house - our
house - Dora's and mine - I am quite unable to regard myself as its
master. I seem to be there, by permission of somebody else. I
half expect the real master to come home presently, and say he is
glad to see me. Such a beautiful little house as it is, with
everything so bright and new; with the flowers on the carpets
looking as if freshly gathered, and the green leaves on the paper
as if they had just come out; with the spotless muslin curtains,
and the blushing rose-coloured furniture, and Dora's garden hat
with the blue ribbon - do I remember, now, how I loved her in such
another hat when I first knew her! - already hanging on its little
peg; the guitar-case quite at home on its heels in a corner; and
everybody tumbling over Jip's pagoda, which is much too big for the
establishment. Another happy evening, quite as unreal as all the
rest of it, and I steal into the usual room before going away.
Dora is not there. I suppose they have not done trying on yet.
Miss Lavinia peeps in, and tells me mysteriously that she will not
be long. She is rather long, notwithstanding; but by and by I hear
a rustling at the door, and someone taps.

I say, 'Come in!' but someone taps again.

I go to the door, wondering who it is; there, I meet a pair of
bright eyes, and a blushing face; they are Dora's eyes and face,
and Miss Lavinia has dressed her in tomorrow's dress, bonnet and
all, for me to see. I take my little wife to my heart; and Miss
Lavinia gives a little scream because I tumble the bonnet, and Dora
laughs and cries at once, because I am so pleased; and I believe it
less than ever.

'Do you think it pretty, Doady?' says Dora.

Pretty! I should rather think I did.

'And are you sure you like me very much?' says Dora.

The topic is fraught with such danger to the bonnet, that Miss
Lavinia gives another little scream, and begs me to understand that
Dora is only to be looked at, and on no account to be touched. So
Dora stands in a delightful state of confusion for a minute or two,
to be admired; and then takes off her bonnet - looking so natural
without it! - and runs away with it in her hand; and comes dancing
down again in her own familiar dress, and asks Jip if I have got a
beautiful little wife, and whether he'll forgive her for being
married, and kneels down to make him stand upon the cookery-book,
for the last time in her single life.

I go home, more incredulous than ever, to a lodging that I have
hard by; and get up very early in the morning, to ride to the
Highgate road and fetch my aunt.

I have never seen my aunt in such state. She is dressed in
lavender-coloured silk, and has a white bonnet on, and is amazing.
Janet has dressed her, and is there to look at me. Peggotty is
ready to go to church, intending to behold the ceremony from the
gallery. Mr. Dick, who is to give my darling to me at the altar,
has had his hair curled. Traddles, whom I have taken up by
appointment at the turnpike, presents a dazzling combination of
cream colour and light blue; and both he and Mr. Dick have a
general effect about them of being all gloves.

No doubt I see this, because I know it is so; but I am astray, and
seem to see nothing. Nor do I believe anything whatever. Still,
as we drive along in an open carriage, this fairy marriage is real
enough to fill me with a sort of wondering pity for the unfortunate
people who have no part in it, but are sweeping out the shops, and
going to their daily occupations.

My aunt sits with my hand in hers all the way. When we stop a
little way short of the church, to put down Peggotty, whom we have
brought on the box, she gives it a squeeze, and me a kiss.

'God bless you, Trot! My own boy never could be dearer. I think
of poor dear Baby this morning.'
'So do I. And of all I owe to you, dear aunt.'

'Tut, child!' says my aunt; and gives her hand in overflowing
cordiality to Traddles, who then gives his to Mr. Dick, who then
gives his to me, who then gives mine to Traddles, and then we come
to the church door.

The church is calm enough, I am sure; but it might be a steam-power
loom in full action, for any sedative effect it has on me. I am
too far gone for that.

The rest is all a more or less incoherent dream.

A dream of their coming in with Dora; of the pew-opener arranging
us, like a drill-sergeant, before the altar rails; of my wondering,
even then, why pew-openers must always be the most disagreeable
females procurable, and whether there is any religious dread of a
disastrous infection of good-humour which renders it indispensable
to set those vessels of vinegar upon the road to Heaven.

Of the clergyman and clerk appearing; of a few boatmen and some
other people strolling in; of an ancient mariner behind me,
strongly flavouring the church with rum; of the service beginning
in a deep voice, and our all being very attentive.

Of Miss Lavinia, who acts as a semi-auxiliary bridesmaid, being the
first to cry, and of her doing homage (as I take it) to the memory
of Pidger, in sobs; of Miss Clarissa applying a smelling-bottle; of
Agnes taking care of Dora; of my aunt endeavouring to represent
herself as a model of sternness, with tears rolling down her face;
of little Dora trembling very much, and making her responses in
faint whispers.

Of our kneeling down together, side by side; of Dora's trembling
less and less, but always clasping Agnes by the hand; of the
service being got through, quietly and gravely; of our all looking
at each other in an April state of smiles and tears, when it is
over; of my young wife being hysterical in the vestry, and crying
for her poor papa, her dear papa.

Of her soon cheering up again, and our signing the register all
round. Of my going into the gallery for Peggotty to bring her to
sign it; of Peggotty's hugging me in a corner, and telling me she
saw my own dear mother married; of its being over, and our going

Of my walking so proudly and lovingly down the aisle with my sweet
wife upon my arm, through a mist of half-seen people, pulpits,
monuments, pews, fonts, organs, and church windows, in which there
flutter faint airs of association with my childish church at home,
so long ago.

Of their whispering, as we pass, what a youthful couple we are, and
what a pretty little wife she is. Of our all being so merry and
talkative in the carriage going back. Of Sophy telling us that
when she saw Traddles (whom I had entrusted with the licence) asked
for it, she almost fainted, having been convinced that he would
contrive to lose it, or to have his pocket picked. Of Agnes
laughing gaily; and of Dora being so fond of Agnes that she will
not be separated from her, but still keeps her hand.

Of there being a breakfast, with abundance of things, pretty and
substantial, to eat and drink, whereof I partake, as I should do in
any other dream, without the least perception of their flavour;
eating and drinking, as I may say, nothing but love and marriage,
and no more believing in the viands than in anything else.

Of my making a speech in the same dreamy fashion, without having an
idea of what I want to say, beyond such as may be comprehended in
the full conviction that I haven't said it. Of our being very
sociably and simply happy (always in a dream though); and of Jip's
having wedding cake, and its not agreeing with him afterwards.

Of the pair of hired post-horses being ready, and of Dora's going
away to change her dress. Of my aunt and Miss Clarissa remaining
with us; and our walking in the garden; and my aunt, who has made
quite a speech at breakfast touching Dora's aunts, being mightily
amused with herself, but a little proud of it too.

Of Dora's being ready, and of Miss Lavinia's hovering about her,
loth to lose the pretty toy that has given her so much pleasant
occupation. Of Dora's making a long series of surprised
discoveries that she has forgotten all sorts of little things; and
of everybody's running everywhere to fetch them.

Of their all closing about Dora, when at last she begins to say
good-bye, looking, with their bright colours and ribbons, like a
bed of flowers. Of my darling being almost smothered among the
flowers, and coming out, laughing and crying both together, to my
jealous arms.

Of my wanting to carry Jip (who is to go along with us), and Dora's
saying no, that she must carry him, or else he'll think she don't
like him any more, now she is married, and will break his heart.
Of our going, arm in arm, and Dora stopping and looking back, and
saying, 'If I have ever been cross or ungrateful to anybody, don't
remember it!' and bursting into tears.

Of her waving her little hand, and our going away once more. Of
her once more stopping, and looking back, and hurrying to Agnes,
and giving Agnes, above all the others, her last kisses and

We drive away together, and I awake from the dream. I believe it
at last. It is my dear, dear, little wife beside me, whom I love
so well!

'Are you happy now, you foolish boy?' says Dora, 'and sure you
don't repent?'

I have stood aside to see the phantoms of those days go by me.
They are gone, and I resume the journey of my story.

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