IT was some time now, since I had left the Doctor. Living in his neighbourhood, I saw him frequently; and we all went to his house on two or three occasions to dinner or tea. The Old Soldier was in permanent quarters under the Doctors roof. She was exactly the same as ever, and the same immortal butterflies hovered over her cap.
Like some other mothers, whom I have known in the course of my life, Mrs. Markleham was far more fond of pleasure than her daughter was. She required a great deal of amusement, and, like a deep old soldier, pretended, in consulting her own inclinations, to be devoting herself to her child. The Doctors desire that Annie should be entertained, was therefore particularly acceptable to this excellent parent; who expressed unqualified approval of his discretion.
I have no doubt, indeed, that she probed the Doctors wound without knowing it. Meaning nothing but a certain matured frivolity and selfishness, not always inseparable from fullblown years, I think she confirmed him in his fear that he was a constraint upon his young wife, and that there was no congeniality of feeling between them, by so strongly commending his design of lightening the load of her life.
When she comes to her mothers age, said Mrs. Markleham, with a flourish of her fan, then itll be another thing. You might put ME into a jail, with genteel society and a rubber, and I should never care to come out. But I am not Annie, you know; and Annie is not her mother.
You are the best of creaturesno, I beg your pardon! for the Doctor made a gesture of depreciation, I must say before your face, as I always say behind your back, you are the best of creatures; but of course you dontnow do you? enter into the same pursuits and fancies as Annie?
No, of course not, retorted the Old Soldier. Take your Dictionary, for example. What a useful work a Dictionary is! What a necessary work! The meanings of words! Without Doctor Johnson, or somebody of that sort, we might have been at this present moment calling an Italianiron a bedstead. But we cant expect a Dictionaryespecially when its makingto interest Annie, can we?
And thats why I so much approve, said Mrs. Markleham, tapping him on the shoulder with her shut-up fan, of your thoughtfulness. It shows that you dont expect, as many elderly people do expect, old heads on young shoulders. You have studied Annies character, and you understand it. Thats what I find so charming!
Therefore, my dear Doctor, said the Soldier, giving him several affectionate taps, you may command me, at all times and seasons. Now, do understand that I am entirely at your service. I am ready to go with Annie to operas, concerts, exhibitions, all kinds of places; and you shall never find that I am tired. Duty, my dear Doctor, before every consideration in the universe!
She was as good as her word. She was one of those people who can bear a great deal of pleasure, and she never flinched in her perseverance in the cause. She seldom got hold of the newspaper (which she settled herself down in the softest chair in the house to read through an eye-glass, every day, for two hours), but she found out something that she was certain Annie would like to see. It was in vain for Annie to protest that she was weary of such things. Her mothers remonstrance always was, Now, my dear Annie, I am sure you know better; and I must tell you, my love, that you are not making a proper return for the kindness of Doctor Strong.
This was usually said in the Doctors presence, and appeared to me to constitute Annies principal inducement for withdrawing her objections when she made any. But in general she resigned herself to her mother, and went where the Old Soldier would.
It rarely happened now that Mr. Maldon accompanied them. Sometimes my aunt and Dora were invited to do so, and accepted the invitation. Sometimes Dora only was asked. The time had been, when I should have been uneasy in her going; but reflection on what had passed that former night in the Doctors study, had made a change in my mistrust. I believed that the Doctor was right, and I had no worse suspicions.
My aunt rubbed her nose sometimes when she happened to be alone with me, and said she couldnt make it out; she wished they were happier; she didnt think our military friend (so she always called the Old Soldier) mended the matter at all. My aunt further expressed her opinion, that if our military friend would cut off those butterflies, and give em to the chimney-sweepers for May Day, it would look like the beginning of something sensible on her part.
But her abiding reliance was on Mr. Dick. That man had evidently an idea in his head, she said; and if he could only once pen it up into a corner, which was his great difficulty, he would distinguish himself in some extraordinary manner.
Unconscious of this prediction, Mr. Dick continued to occupy precisely the same ground in reference to the Doctor and to Mrs. Strong. He seemed neither to advance nor to recede. He appeared to have settled into his original foundation, like a building; and I must confess that my faith in his ever moving, was not much greater than if he had been a building.
But one night, when I had been married some months, Mr. Dick put his head into the parlour, where I was writing alone (Dora having gone out with my aunt to take tea with the two little birds), and said, with a significant cough:
Thank you, Trotwood, returned Mr. Dick, laughing, and reaching across in high glee to shake hands with me. But I mean, boy, resuming his gravity, what do you consider me in this respect? touching his forehead.
Exactly! cried Mr. Dick, who seemed quite enchanted by my reply. That is, Trotwood, when they took some of the trouble out of you-know-whos head, and put it you know where, there was a Mr. Dick made his two hands revolve very fast about each other a great number of times, and then brought them into collision, and rolled them over and over one another, to express confusion. There was that sort of thing done to me somehow? Eh?
Yes, I am! She pretends I am not. She wont hear of it; but I am. I know I am. If she hadnt stood my friend, Sir, I should have been shut up, to lead a dismal life these many years. But Ill provide for her! I never spend the copying money. I put it in a box. I have made a will. Ill leave it all to her. She shall be richnoble!
Mr. Dick took out his pocket-handkerchief, and wiped his eyes. He then folded it up with great care, pressed it smooth between his two hands, put it in his pocket, and seemed to put my aunt away with it.
Now you are a scholar, Trotwood, said Mr. Dick. You are a fine scholar. You know what a learned man, what a great man, the Doctor is. You know what honour he has always done me. Not proud in his wisdom. Humble, humblecondescending even to poor Dick, who is simple and knows nothing. I have sent his name up, on a scrap of paper, to the kite, along the string, when it has been in the sky, among the larks. The kite has been glad to receive it, Sir, and the sky has been brighter with it.
There is some unfortunate division between them, I replied. Some unhappy cause of separation. A secret. It may be inseparable from the discrepancy in their years. It may have grown up out of almost nothing.
The sudden exultation with which he slapped me on the knee, and leaned back in his chair, with his eyebrows lifted up as high as he could possibly lift them, made me think him farther out of his wits than ever. He became as suddenly grave again, and leaning forward as before, saidfirst respectfully taking out his pocket-handkerchief, as if it really did represent my aunt:
Then, I have got it, boy! said Mr. Dick. And he stood up before me, more exultingly than before, nodding his head, and striking himself repeatedly upon the breast, until one might have supposed that he had nearly nodded and struck all the breath out of his body.
A poor fellow with a craze, Sir, said Mr. Dick, a simpleton, a weak-minded personpresent company, you know! striking himself again, may do what wonderful people may not do. Ill bring them together, boy. Ill try. Theyll not blame me. Theyll not object to me. Theyll not mind what I do, if its wrong. Im only Mr. Dick. And who minds Dick? Dicks nobody! Whoo!
Not a word, boy! he pursued in a whisper; leave all the blame with Dicksimple Dickmad Dick. I have been thinking, Sir, for some time, that I was getting it, and now I have got it. After what you have said to me, I am sure I have got it. All right!
To my surprise, I heard no more about it for some two or three weeks, though I was sufficiently interested in the result of his endeavours; descrying a strange gleam of good senseI say nothing of good feeling, for that he always exhibitedin the conclusion to which he had come. At last I began to believe, that, in the flighty and unsettled state of his mind, he had either forgotten his intention or abandoned it.
One fair evening, when Dora was not inclined to go out, my aunt and I strolled up the Doctors cottage. It was autumn, when there were no debates to vex the evening air; and I remember how the leaves smelt like our garden at Blunderstone as we trod them underfoot, and how the old, unhappy feeling, seemed to go by, on the sighing wind.
It was twilight when we reached the cottage. Mrs. Strong was just coming out of the garden, where Mr. Dick yet lingered, busy with his knife, helping the gardener to point some stakes. The Doctor was engaged with some one in his study; but the visitor would be gone directly, Mrs. Strong said, and begged us to remain and see him. We went into the drawing-room with her, and sat down by the darkening window. There was never any ceremony about the visits of such old friends and neighbours as we were.
We had not sat here many minutes, when Mrs. Markleham, who usually contrived to be in a fuss about something, came bustling in, with her newspaper in her hand, and said, out of breath, My goodness gracious, Annie, why didnt you tell me there was some one in the Study!
In the act, my dear Annie, repeated Mrs. Markleham, spreading the newspaper on her lap like a table-cloth, and patting her hands upon it, of making his last Will and Testament. The foresight and affection of the dear! I must tell you how it was. I really must, in justice to the darlingfor he is nothing less!tell you how it was. Perhaps you know, Miss Trotwood, that there is never a candle lighted in this house, until ones eyes are literally falling out of ones head with being stretched to read the paper. And that there is not a chair in this house, in which a paper can be what I call, read, except one in the Study. This took me to the Study, where I saw a light. I opened the door. In company with the dear Doctor were two professional people, evidently connected with the law, and they were all three standing at the table: the darling Doctor pen in hand. This simply expresses then, said the DoctorAnnie, my love, attend to the very wordsthis simply expresses then, gentlemen, the confidence I have in Mrs. Strong, and gives her all unconditionally? One of the professional people replied, And gives her all unconditionally. Upon that, with the natural feelings of a mother, I said, Good God, I beg your pardon! fell over the doorstep, and came away through the little back-passage where the pantry is.
But now isnt it, Miss Trotwood, isnt it, David, invigorating, said Mrs. Markleham, mechanically following her with her eyes, to find a man at Doctor Strongs time of life, with the strength of mind to do this kind of thing? It only shows how right I was. I said to Annie, when Doctor Strong paid a very flattering visit to myself, and made her the subject of a declaration and an offer, I said, My dear, there is no doubt whatever, in my opinion, with reference to a suitable provision for you, that Doctor Strong will do more than he binds himself to do.
Its all over, no doubt, said the Old Soldier, after listening; the dear creature has signed, sealed, and delivered, and his minds at rest. Well it may be! What a mind! Annie, my love, I am going to the Study with my paper, for I am a poor creature without news. Miss Trotwood, David, pray come and see the Doctor.
I was conscious of Mr. Dicks standing in the shadow of the room, shutting up his knife, when we accompanied her to the Study; and of my aunts rubbing her nose violently, by the way, as a mild vent for her intolerance of our military friend; but who got first into the Study, or how Mrs. Markleham settled herself in a moment in her easy-chair, or how my aunt and I came to be left together near the door (unless her eyes were quicker than mine, and she held me back), I have forgotten, if I ever knew. But this I know,that we saw the Doctor before he saw us, sitting at his table, among the folio volumes in which he delighted, resting his head calmly on his hand. That, in the same moment, we saw Mrs. Strong glide in, pale and trembling. That Mr. Dick supported her on his arm. That he laid his other hand upon the Doctors arm, causing him to look up with an abstracted air. That, as the Doctor moved his head, his wife dropped down on one knee at his feet, and, with her hands imploringly lifted, fixed upon his face the memorable look I had never forgotten. That at this sight Mrs. Markleham dropped the newspaper, and stared more like a figure-head intended for a ship to be called The Astonishment, than anything else I can think of.
The gentleness of the Doctors manner and surprise, the dignity that mingled with the supplicating attitude of his wife, the amiable concern of Mr. Dick, and the earnestness with which my aunt said to herself, That man mad! (triumphantly expressive of the misery from which she had saved him), I see and hear, rather than remember, as I write about it.
Mrs. Markleham, by this time recovering the power of speech, and seeming to swell with family pride and motherly indignation, here exclaimed, Annie, get up immediately, and dont disgrace everybody belonging to you by humbling yourself like that, unless you wish to see me go out of my mind on the spot!
Annie! said the Doctor, tenderly taking her in his hands. My dear! If any unavoidable change has come, in the sequence of time, upon our married life, you are not to blame. The fault is mine, and only mine. There is no change in my affection, admiration, and respect. I wish to make you happy. I truly love and honour you. Rise, Annie, pray!
If I have any friend here, who can speak one word for me, or for my husband, in this matter; if I have any friend here, who can give a voice to any suspicion that my heart has sometimes whispered to me; if I have any friend here, who honours my husband, or has ever cared for me, and has anything within his knowledge, no matter what it is, that may help to mediate between us,I implore that friend to speak!
Mrs. Strong, I said, there is something within my knowledge, which I have been earnestly entreated by Doctor Strong to conceal, and have concealed until to-night. But, I believe the time has come when it would be mistaken faith and delicacy to conceal it any longer, and when your appeal absolves me from this injunction.
Our future peace, she said, may be in your hands. I trust it confidently to your not suppressing anything. I know beforehand that nothing you, or anyone, can tell me, will show my husbands noble heart in any other light than one. Howsoever it may seem to you to touch me, disregard that. I will speak for myself, before him, and before God afterwards.
Thus earnestly besought, I made no reference to the Doctor for his permission, but, without any other compromise of the truth than a little softening of the coarseness of Uriah Heep, related plainly what had passed in that same room that night. The staring of Mrs. Markleham during the whole narration, and the shrill, sharp interjections with which she occasionally interrupted it defy description.
When I had finished, Annie remained, for some few moments, silent, with her head bent down, as I have described. Then, she took the Doctors hand (he was sitting in the same attitude as when we had entered the room), and pressed it to her breast, and kissed it. Mr. Dick softly raised her; and she stood, when she began to speak, leaning on him, and looking down upon her husbandfrom whom she never turned her eyes.
There is great need, she answered, in the same way, that I should open my whole heart before the soul of generosity and truth, whom, year by year, and day by day, I have loved and venerated more and more, as Heaven knows!
No one but my husband can judge of that, mama, said Annie, without removing her eyes from his face, and he will hear me. If I say anything to give pain, mama, forgive me. I have borne pain first, often and long, myself.
When I was very young, said Annie, quite a little child, my first associations with knowledge of any kind were inseparable from a patient friend and teacherthe friend of my dear fatherwho was always dear to me. I can remember nothing that I know, without remembering him. He stored my mind with its first treasures, and stamped his character upon them all. They never could have been, I think, as good as they have been to me, if I had taken them from any other hands.
Not so, mama, said Annie; but I make him what he was. I must do that. As I grew up, he occupied the same place still. I was proud of his interest: deeply fondly, gratefully attached to him. I looked up to him I can hardly describe howas a father, as a guide, as one whose praise was different from all other praise, as one in whom I could have trusted and confided, if I had doubted all the world. You know, mama, how young and inexperienced I was, when you presented him before me, of a sudden, as a lover.
It was so great a change: so great a loss, I felt it at first, said Annie, still preserving the same look and tone, that I was agitated and distressed. I was but a girl; and when so great a change came in the character in which I had so long looked up to him, I think I was sorry. But nothing could have made him what he used to be again; and I was proud that he should think me so worthy, and we were married.
I never thought, proceeded Annie, with a heightened colour, of any worldly gain that my husband would bring to me. My young heart had no room in its homage for any such poor reference. Mama, forgive me when I say that it was you who first presented to my mind the thought that anyone could wrong me, and wrong him, by such a cruel suspicion.
It was the first unhappiness of my new life, said Annie. It was the first occasion of every unhappy moment I have known. Those moments have been more, of late, than I can count; but notmy generous husband!not for the reason you suppose; for in my heart there is not a thought, a recollection, or a hope, that any power could separate from you!
Mama is blameless, she went on, of having ever urged you for herself, and she is blameless in intention every way, I am sure,but when I saw how many importunate claims were pressed upon you in my name; how you were traded on in my name; how generous you were, and how Mr. Wickfield, who had your welfare very much at heart, resented it; the first sense of my exposure to the mean suspicion that my tenderness was boughtand sold to you, of all men, on earthfell upon me, like unmerited disgrace, in which I forced you to participate. I cannot tell you what it wasmama cannot imagine what it wasto have this dread and trouble always on my mind, yet know in my own soul that on my marriage-day I crowned the love and honour of my life!
It was at that time that mama was most solicitous about my cousin Maldon. I had liked him: she spoke softly, but without any hesitation: very much. We had been little lovers once. If circumstances had not happened otherwise, I might have come to persuade myself that I really loved him, and might have married him, and been most wretched. There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.
I pondered on those words, even while I was studiously attending to what followed, as if they had some particular interest, or some strange application that I could not divine. There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purposeno disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.
There is nothing, said Annie, that we have in common. I have long found that there is nothing. If I were thankful to my husband for no more, instead of for so much, I should be thankful to him for having saved me from the first mistaken impulse of my undisciplined heart.
When he was waiting to be the object of your munificence, so freely bestowed for my sake, and when I was unhappy in the mercenary shape I was made to wear, I thought it would have become him better to have worked his own way on. I thought that if I had been he, I would have tried to do it, at the cost of almost any hardship. But I thought no worse of him, until the night of his departure for India. That night I knew he had a false and thankless heart. I saw a double meaning, then, in Mr. Wickfields scrutiny of me. I perceived, for the first time, the dark suspicion that shadowed my life.
In your mind there was none, I know, my husband! she returned. And when I came to you, that night, to lay down all my load of shame and grief, and knew that I had to tell, that underneath your roof, one of my own kindred, to whom you had been a benefactor, for the love of me, had spoken to me words that should have found no utterance, even if I had been the weak and mercenary wretch he thought memy mind revolted from the taint the very tale conveyed. It died upon my lips, and from that hour till now has never passed them.
I have never, but in your presence, interchanged a word with him from that time; then, only when it has been necessary for the avoidance of this explanation. Years have passed since he knew, from me, what his situation here was. The kindnesses you have secretly done for his advancement, and then disclosed to me, for my surprise and pleasure, have been, you will believe, but aggravations of the unhappiness and burden of my secret.
Do not speak to me yet! Let me say little more! Right or wrong, if this were to be done again, I think I should do just the same. You never can know what it was to be devoted to you, with those old associations; to find that anyone could be so hard as to suppose that the truth of my heart was bartered away, and to be surrounded by appearances confirming that belief. I was very young, and had no adviser. Between mama and me, in all relating to you, there was a wide division. If I shrank into myself, hiding the disrespect I had undergone, it was because I honoured you so much, and so much wished that you should honour me!
A little more! a very few words more! I used to think there were so many whom you might have married, who would not have brought such charge and trouble on you, and who would have made your home a worthier home. I used to be afraid that I had better have remained your pupil, and almost your child. I used to fear that I was so unsuited to your learning and wisdom. If all this made me shrink within myself (as indeed it did), when I had that to tell, it was still because I honoured you so much, and hoped that you might one day honour me.
Another word! I afterwards meantsteadfastly meant, and purposed to myselfto bear the whole weight of knowing the unworthiness of one to whom you had been so good. And now a last word, dearest and best of friends! The cause of the late change in you, which I have seen with so much pain and sorrow, and have sometimes referred to my old apprehensionat other times to lingering suppositions nearer to the truthhas been made clear to-night; and by an accident I have also come to know, to-night, the full measure of your noble trust in me, even under that mistake. I do not hope that any love and duty I may render in return, will ever make me worthy of your priceless confidence; but with all this knowledge fresh upon me, I can lift my eyes to this dear face, revered as a fathers, loved as a husbands, sacred to me in my childhood as a friends, and solemnly declare that in my lightest thought I had never wronged you; never wavered in the love and the fidelity I owe you!
Oh, hold me to your heart, my husband! Never cast me out! Do not think or speak of disparity between us, for there is none, except in all my many imperfections. Every succeeding year I have known this better, as I have esteemed you more and more. Oh, take me to your heart, my husband, for my love was founded on a rock, and it endures!
In the silence that ensued, my aunt walked gravely up to Mr. Dick, without at all hurrying herself, and gave him a hug and a sounding kiss. And it was very fortunate, with a view to his credit, that she did so; for I am confident that I detected him at that moment in the act of making preparations to stand on one leg, as an appropriate expression of delight.
There never would have been anything the matter, if it hadnt been for that old Animal, said my aunt, with strong emphasis. Its very much to be wished that some mothers would leave their daughters alone after marriage, and not be so violently affectionate. They seem to think the only return that can be made them for bringing an unfortunate young woman into the worldGod bless my soul, as if she asked to be brought, or wanted to come!is full liberty to worry her out of it again. What are you thinking of, Trot?
I was thinking of all that had been said. My mind was still running on some of the expressions used. There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose. The first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart. My love was founded on a rock. But we were at home; and the trodden leaves were lying underfoot, and the autumn wind was blowing.