"David Copperfield" was the favourite work of Dickens, as of many thousands of Dickens lovers. He had a special tenderness for it because it was largely autobiographical. David was himself, and the episode of Dora preserves, with all its tenderness and whimsicality, the memory of a real girl once loved by young Dickens.
David Copperfield is young - very young - studying law under Mr. Spenlow. Only a very young man would do such a foolish thing as to fall in love with Mr. Spenlow's daughter; but David is even young enough for that.
The first thing I did, on my own account, when I came back, was to take a night walk to Norwood. ... I, the moonstruck slave of Dora, perambulated round and round the house and garden for two hours, looking through crevices in the palings, getting my chin by dint of violent exertion above the rusty nails on the top, blowing kisses at the lights in the windows, and romantically calling on the night, at intervals, to shield my Dora - I don't exactly know what from, I suppose from fire. Perhaps from mice, to which she had a great objection.
It came about, in the end, that Mr. Spen-low told me this day week was Dora's birthday, and he would be glad if I would come and join a little picnic on the. occasion: I went out of my senses immediately; became a mere driveller next day, on receipt of a little lace-edged sheet of notepaper, 'favoured by Papa. To remind"; and passed the intervening period in a state of dotage.
I think I committed, every possible absurdity, in the way of preparation for this blessed event. I turn hot when I remember the cravat I bought. My. boots might be placed in any collection of instruments of torture. I provided, and sent down by. the Norwood coach the night before, a delicate little hamper, amounting in itself, 1 thought, almost to a declaration. There were crackers in it with the tenderest mottoes that could be got for money. At six in the morning I was in Covent Garden Market, buying a bouquet for Dora. At ten I was on horseback (I hired a gallant grey for the occasion), with the bouquet in my hat, to keep it fresh, trotting down to Norwood.
I suppose that when I saw Dora in the garden and pretended not to see her, and rode past the house pretending to be anxiously looking for it, I committed two small fooleries which other young gentlemen in my circumstances might have committed - because they came so very natural to me. But, oh, when I did find the house, and did dismount at the garden gate, and drag those stony-hearted boots across the lawn to Dora, sitting on a garden seat under a lilac tree, what a spectacle she was, upon that beautiful morning, among the butterflies, in a white chip bonnet and a dress of celestial blue!
There was a young lady with her - comparatively stricken in years - almost twenty, I should say. Her name was Miss Mills, and Dora called her Julia. She was the bosom friend of Dora. Happy Miss Mills !
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Copperfield! What dear flowers ! " said Dora.
I had an intention of saying (and had been studying for the best form of words for three miles) that I thought them beautiful before I saw them so near her. But I couldn't manage it. To see her lay the flowers against her little dimpled chin was to lose all presence of mind and power of language in a feeble ecstasy. I wonder I didn't say, "Kill me, if you have a heart, Miss Mills. Let me die here!"
The Story of a Bouquet
Then Dora held my flowers to Jip to smell. Then Jip growled, and wouldn't smell them. Then Dora laughed, and held them a little closer to Jip, to make him. Then Jip laid hold of a bit of geranium with his teeth, and worried imaginary cats in it. Then Dora beat him, and pouted, and said, "My poor beautiful flowers ! " as compassionately, I thought, as if Jip had laid hold of me. I wished he had !
1 shall never have such a ride again. I have never had such another. There were only those three, their hamper, my hamper, and the guitar-case, in the phaeton; and, of course, the phaeton was open, and I rode behind it, and Dora sat with her back to the horses, looking towards me. She kept the bouquet close to her on the cushion, and wouldn't allow Jip to sit on that side of her at all, for fear he should crush it. She often carried it in her hand, often refreshed herself with its fragrance. Our eyes at those times often met; and my great astonishment is that I didn't go over the head of my gallant grey into the carriage.
There was dust, I believe. There was a good deal of dust, I believe. I have a faint impression that Mr. Spenlow remonstrated with me for riding in it; but I knew of none. I was sensible of a mist of love and beauty about Dora, but of nothing else. He stood up sometimes, and asked me what I thought of the prospect. I said it was delightful, and I daresay it was, but it was all Dora to me. The sun shone Dora, and the birds sang Dora. The south wind blew Dora, and the wild-flowers in the hedges were all Doras, to a bud.
When 1 awoke next morning, I was resolute to declare my passion to Dora, and know my fate. Happiness or misery was now the question. There was no other question that 1 knew of in the world, and only Dora could give the answer to it. 1 passed three days in a luxury of wretchedness, torturing myself by putting every conceivable variety of discouraging construction on all that had ever taken place between Dora and me. At last, arrayed for that purpose at a vast expense, I went to Miss Mills's, fraught with a declaration.
How many times I went up and down the street and round the square - painfully aware of being a much better answer to the riddle than the original one - before I could persuade myself to go up the steps and knock, is no matter now. Even when, at last, I had knocked, and was waiting at the door, I had some flurried thought of asking if that were Mr. Blackboy's, begging pardon, and retreating. But I kept my ground.
Mr. Mills was not at home. I did not 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. Jip was there. Miss Mills was copying music (I recollect, it was a new song, called " Affection's Dirge"), and Dora was painting flowers. What were my feelings when I recognised my own flowers, the identical Covent Garden Market purchase ! I cannot say that they were very like, or that they particularly resembled any flowers that had ever come under my observation; but I knew from the paper round them, which was accurately copied, what the composition was.
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
"Affection's Dirge," 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 you got home at night," 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," said I, " for he had nothing to uphold him on the journey."
" Wasn't he fed-, poor thing ? " asked Dora.
I began to think I would put it off till to-morrow.
Dora bent her head over her drawing, and said, after a little while - I had sat, in the interval, in a burning fever, and with my legs in a very rigid state "You didn't seem to be sensible of that happiness yourself at one time of the day."
I saw now that I was in for it, and it must be done on the spot.
"You didn't care for that happiness in the least," said Dora, slightly raising her eyebrows, and shaking her head, "when you were sitting by Miss Kitt."
Kitt, I should observe, was the name of the creature in pink, with the little eyes.
" Though certainly I don't know why you should," said Dora, "or why you should call it a happiness at all. But, of course, you don't mean what you say. And I am sure no one doubts your being at liberty to do whatever you like. Jip, you naughty boy, come here ! "
I don't know how I did it. I did it in a moment. I intercepted Jip. I had Dora in my arms. I was full of eloquence. I never stopped for one word. I told her how I loved her. I told her I should die without her. I told her that I idolised and worshipped her. Jip barked madly all the time.
When Dora hung her head and cried, and I trembled, my eloquence increased so much the more. If she would like me to die for her, she had but to say the word, and I was ready. Life without Dora's love was not a thing to have on any terms. I couldn't bear it, and I wouldn't. I had loved her every minute, day and night, since I first saw her. I loved her at that minute to distraction. Lovers had loved before, and lovers would love again; but no lover 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.