The Child-Wife

All this time I had gone on loving Dora harder than ever. If I may so express it, I was steeped in Dora. I was not merely over head and ears in love with her, I was saturated through and through.

I took night walks to Norwood where she lived, and perambulated round and round the house and garden for hours together, looking through crevices in the palings, using violent exertions to get my chin above the rusty nails on the top, blowing kisses at the lights in the windows, and romantically calling on the night to shield my Dora,—I don’t exactly know from what,—I suppose from fire, perhaps from mice, to which she had a great objection.

Dora had a discreet friend, comparatively stricken in years, almost of the ripe age of twenty, I should say, whose name was Miss Mills. Dora called her Julia. She was the bosom friend of Dora. Happy Miss Mills!

One day Miss Mills said: “Dora is coming to stay with me. She is coming the day after to-morrow. If you would like to call, I am sure papa would be happy to see you.”

I passed three days in a luxury of wretchedness. At last, arrayed for the purpose, at a vast expense, I went to Miss Mills’s, fraught with a declaration. Mr. Mills was not at home. I didn’t expect he would be. Nobody wanted him. Miss Mills was at home. Miss Mills would do.

I was shown into a room upstairs, where Miss Mills and Dora were. Dora’s little dog Jip was there. Miss Mills was copying music, and Dora was painting flowers. What were my feelings when I recognized flowers I had given her!

Miss Mills was very glad to see me, and very sorry her papa was not at home, though I thought we all bore that with fortitude. Miss Mills was conversational for a few minutes, and then laying down her pen, got up and left the room.

I began to think I would put it off till to-morrow.

“I hope your poor horse was not tired when he got home at night from that picnic,” said Dora, lifting up her beautiful eyes.

“It was a long way for him.”

I began to think I would do it to-day.

“It was a long way for him, for he had nothing to uphold him on the journey.”

“Wasn’t he fed, poor thing?”

I began to think I would put it off till to-morrow.

“Ye-yes, he was well taken care of. I mean he had not the unutterable happiness that I had in being so near to you.”

I saw now that I was in for it, and it must be done on the spot.

“I don’t know why you should care for being near me, or why you should call it a happiness. But of course you don’t mean what you say. Jip, you naughty boy, come here!”

I don’t know how I did it, but I did it in a moment. I intercepted Jip. I had Dora in my arms. I was full of eloquence. I never stopped for a word. I told her how I loved her. I told her I should die without her. I told her that I idolized and worshiped her. Jip barked madly all the time. My eloquence increased, and I said if she would like me to die for her, she had but to say the word, and I was ready. I had loved her to distraction every minute, day and night, since I first set eyes upon her. I loved her at that minute to distraction. I should always love her, every minute, to distraction. Lovers had loved before, and lovers would love again; but no lover had ever loved, might, could, would, or should ever love, as I loved Dora. The more I raved, the more Jip barked. Each of us in his own way got more mad every moment.

Well, well! Dora and I were sitting on the sofa by and by quiet enough, and Jip was lying in her lap winking peacefully at me. It was off my mind. I was in a state of perfect rapture. Dora and I were engaged.

Being poor, I felt it necessary the next time I went to my darling to expatiate on that unfortunate drawback. I soon carried desolation into the bosom of our joys—not that I meant to do it, but that I was so full of the subject—by asking Dora without the smallest preparation, if she could love a beggar.

“How can you ask me anything so foolish? Love a beggar!”

“Dora, my own dearest, I am a beggar!”

“How can you be such a silly thing,” replied Dora, slapping my hand, “as to sit there telling such stories? I’ll make Jip bite you, if you are so ridiculous.”

But I looked so serious that Dora began to cry. She did nothing but exclaim, “O dear! O dear!” And oh, she was so frightened! And where was Julia Mills? And oh, take her to Julia Mills, and go away, please! until I was almost beside myself.

I thought I had killed her. I sprinkled water on her face; I went down on my knees; I plucked at my hair; I implored her forgiveness; I besought her to look up; I ravaged Miss Mills’s work-box for a smelling-bottle, and in my agony of mind, applied an ivory needle-case instead, and dropped all the needles over Dora.

At last I got Dora to look at me, with a horrified expression which I gradually soothed until it was only loving, and her soft, pretty cheek was lying against mine.

“Is your heart mine still, dear Dora?”

“O yes! O yes! it’s all yours, oh, don’t be dreadful.”

“My dearest love, the crust well earned—”

“O yes; but I don’t want to hear any more about crusts. And after we are married, Jip must have a mutton chop every day at twelve, or he’ll die.”

I was charmed with her childish, winning way, and I fondly explained to her that Jip should have his mutton chop with his accustomed regularity.

When we had been engaged some half-year or so, Dora delighted me by asking me to give her that cookery-book I had once spoken of, and to show her how to keep accounts, as I had once promised I would. I brought the volume with me on my next visit (I got it prettily bound, first, to make it look less dry and more inviting), and showed her an old housekeeping book of my aunt’s, and gave her a set of tablets, and a pretty little pencil-case, and a box of leads, to practice housekeeping with.

But the cookery-book made Dora’s head ache, and the figures made her cry. They wouldn’t add up, she said. So she rubbed them out, and drew little nosegays, and likenesses of me and Jip, all over the tablets.

Time went on, and at last, here in this hand of mine, I held the wedding license. There were the two names in the sweet old visionary connection,—David Copperfield and Dora Spenlow; and there in the corner was that parental institution, the Stamp Office, looking down upon our union; and there, in the printed form of words, was the Archbishop of Canterbury, invoking a blessing on us and doing it as cheap as could possibly be expected.

I doubt whether two young birds could have known less about keeping house than I and my pretty Dora did. We had a servant, of course. She kept house for us. We had an awful time of it with Mary Anne. She was the cause of our first little quarrel.

“My dearest life,” I said one day to Dora, “do you think Mary Anne has any idea of time?”

“Why, Doady?”

“My love, because it’s five, and we were to have dined at four.”

My little wife came and sat upon my knee, to coax me to be quiet, and drew a line with her pencil down the middle of my nose; but I couldn’t dine off that, though it was very agreeable.

“Don’t you think, my dear, it would be better for you to remonstrate with Mary Anne?”

“O no, please! I couldn’t, Doady!”

“Why not, my love?”

“O, because I am such a little goose, and she knows I am!”

I thought this sentiment so incompatible with the establishment of any system of check on Mary Anne, that I frowned a little.

“My precious wife, we must be serious some times. Come! sit down on this chair, close beside me! Give me the pencil! There! Now let us talk sensibly. You know, dear,” what a little hand it was to hold, and what a tiny wedding ring it was to see,—”you know, my love, it is not exactly comfortable to have to go out without one’s dinner. Now, is it?”


“My love, how you tremble!”

“Because, I know you’re going to scold me.”

“My sweet, I am only going to reason.”

“O, but reasoning is worse than scolding! I didn’t marry to be reasoned with. If you meant to reason with such a poor little thing as I am, you ought to have told me so, you cruel boy!”

“Dora, my darling!”

“No, I am not your darling. Because you must be sorry that you married me, or else you wouldn’t reason with me!”

I felt so injured by the inconsequential nature of this charge, that it gave me courage to be grave.

“Now, my own Dora, you are childish, and are talking nonsense. You must remember, I am sure, that I was obliged to go out yesterday when dinner was half over; and that, the day before, I was made quite unwell by being obliged to eat underdone veal in a hurry; to-day, I don’t dine at all, and I am afraid to say how long we waited for breakfast, and then the water didn’t boil. I don’t mean to reproach you, my dear, but this, is not comfortable.”

“Oh, you cruel, cruel boy, to say I am a disagreeable wife!”

“Now, my dear Dora, you must know that I never said that!”

“You said I wasn’t comfortable!”

“I said the housekeeping was not comfortable!”

“It’s exactly the same thing! and I wonder, I do, at your making such ungrateful speeches. When you know that the other day, when you said you would like a little bit of fish, I went out myself, miles and miles, and ordered it to surprise you.”

“And it was very kind of you, my own darling; and I felt it so much that I wouldn’t on any account have mentioned that you bought a salmon, which was too much for two; or that it cost one pound six, which was more than we can afford.”

“You enjoyed it very much. And you said I was a Mouse.”

“And I’ll say so again, my love, a thousand times!”

I said it a thousand times, and more, and went on saying it until Mary Anne’s cousin deserted into our coal-hole and was brought out, to our great amazement, by a picket of his companions in arms, who took him away handcuffed in a procession that covered our front garden with disgrace.

“I am very sorry for all this, Doady. Will you call me a name I want you to call me?”

“What is it, my dear?”

“It’s a stupid name,—Child-wife. 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 you would like me to be, and what I think I never can be, say, ‘Still my foolish Child-wife loves me.’ For indeed I do.”

I invoke the innocent figure that I dearly loved to come out of the mists and shadows of the past, and to turn its gentle head toward me once again, and to bear witness that it was made happy by what I answered.


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