CHAPTER 53 ANOTHER RETROSPECT
I must pause yet once again. O, my child-wife, there is a figure
in the moving crowd before my memory, quiet and still, saying in
its innocent love and childish beauty, Stop to think of me - turn
to look upon the Little Blossom, as it flutters to the ground!
I do. All else grows dim, and fades away. I am again with Dora,
in our cottage. I do not know how long she has been ill. I am so
used to it in feeling, that I cannot count the time. It is not
really long, in weeks or months; but, in my usage and experience,
it is a weary, weary while.
They have left off telling me to 'wait a few days more'. I have
begun to fear, remotely, that the day may never shine, when I shall
see my child-wife running in the sunlight with her old friend Jip.
He is, as it were suddenly, grown very old. It may be that he
misses in his mistress, something that enlivened him and made him
younger; but he mopes, and his sight is weak, and his limbs are
feeble, and my aunt is sorry that he objects to her no more, but
creeps near her as he lies on Dora's bed - she sitting at the
bedside - and mildly licks her hand.
Dora lies smiling on us, and is beautiful, and utters no hasty or
complaining word. She says that we are very good to her; that her
dear old careful boy is tiring himself out, she knows; that my aunt
has no sleep, yet is always wakeful, active, and kind. Sometimes,
the little bird-like ladies come to see her; and then we talk about
our wedding-day, and all that happy time.
What a strange rest and pause in my life there seems to be - and in
all life, within doors and without - when I sit in the quiet,
shaded, orderly room, with the blue eyes of my child-wife turned
towards me, and her little fingers twining round my hand! Many and
many an hour I sit thus; but, of all those times, three times come
the freshest on my mind.
It is morning; and Dora, made so trim by my aunt's hands, shows me
how her pretty hair will curl upon the pillow yet, an how long and
bright it is, and how she likes to have it loosely gathered in that
net she wears.
'Not that I am vain of it, now, you mocking boy,' she says, when I
smile; 'but because you used to say you thought it so beautiful;
and because, when I first began to think about you, I used to peep
in the glass, and wonder whether you would like very much to have
a lock of it. Oh what a foolish fellow you were, Doady, when I
gave you one!'
'That was on the day when you were painting the flowers I had given
you, Dora, and when I told you how much in love I was.'
'Ah! but I didn't like to tell you,' says Dora, 'then, how I had
cried over them, because I believed you really liked me! When I can
run about again as I used to do, Doady, let us go and see those
places where we were such a silly couple, shall we? And take some
of the old walks? And not forget poor papa?'
'Yes, we will, and have some happy days. So you must make haste to
get well, my dear.'
'Oh, I shall soon do that! I am so much better, you don't know!'
It is evening; and I sit in the same chair, by the same bed, with
the same face turned towards me. We have been silent, and there is
a smile upon her face. I have ceased to carry my light burden up
and down stairs now. She lies here all the day.
'My dear Dora!'
'You won't think what I am going to say, unreasonable, after what
you told me, such a little while ago, of Mr. Wickfield's not being
well? I want to see Agnes. Very much I want to see her.'
'I will write to her, my dear.'
'What a good, kind boy! Doady, take me on your arm. Indeed, my
dear, it's not a whim. It's not a foolish fancy. I want, very
much indeed, to see her!'
'I am certain of it. I have only to tell her so, and she is sure
'You are very lonely when you go downstairs, now?' Dora whispers,
with her arm about my neck.
'How can I be otherwise, my own love, when I see your empty chair?'
'My empty chair!' She clings to me for a little while, in silence.
'And you really miss me, Doady?' looking up, and brightly smiling.
'Even poor, giddy, stupid me?'
'My heart, who is there upon earth that I could miss so much?'
'Oh, husband! I am so glad, yet so sorry!' creeping closer to me,
and folding me in both her arms. She laughs and sobs, and then is
quiet, and quite happy.
'Quite!' she says. 'Only give Agnes my dear love, and tell her
that I want very, very, much to see her; and I have nothing left to
'Except to get well again, Dora.'
'Ah, Doady! Sometimes I think - you know I always was a silly
little thing! - that that will never be!'
'Don't say so, Dora! Dearest love, don't think so!'
'I won't, if I can help it, Doady. But I am very happy; though my
dear boy is so lonely by himself, before his child-wife's empty
It is night; and I am with her still. Agnes has arrived; has been
among us for a whole day and an evening. She, my aunt, and I, have
sat with Dora since the morning, all together. We have not talked
much, but Dora has been perfectly contented and cheerful. We are
Do I know, now, that my child-wife will soon leave me? They have
told me so; they have told me nothing new to my thoughts- but I am
far from sure that I have taken that truth to heart. I cannot
master it. I have withdrawn by myself, many times today, to weep.
I have remembered Who wept for a parting between the living and the
dead. I have bethought me of all that gracious and compassionate
history. I have tried to resign myself, and to console myself; and
that, I hope, I may have done imperfectly; but what I cannot firmly
settle in my mind is, that the end will absolutely come. I hold
her hand in mine, I hold her heart in mine, I see her love for me,
alive in all its strength. I cannot shut out a pale lingering
shadow of belief that she will be spared.
'I am going to speak to you, Doady. I am going to say something I
have often thought of saying, lately. You won't mind?' with a
'Mind, my darling?'
'Because I don't know what you will think, or what you may have
thought sometimes. Perhaps you have often thought the same.
Doady, dear, I am afraid I was too young.'
I lay my face upon the pillow by her, and she looks into my eyes,
and speaks very softly. Gradually, as she goes on, I feel, with a
stricken heart, that she is speaking of herself as past.
'I am afraid, dear, I was too young. I don't mean in years only,
but in experience, and thoughts, and everything. I was such a
silly little creature! I am afraid it would have been better, if we
had only loved each other as a boy and girl, and forgotten it. I
have begun to think I was not fit to be a wife.'
I try to stay my tears, and to reply, 'Oh, Dora, love, as fit as I
to be a husband!'
'I don't know,' with the old shake of her curls. 'Perhaps! But if
I had been more fit to be married I might have made you more so,
too. Besides, you are very clever, and I never was.'
'We have been very happy, my sweet Dora.'
'I was very happy, very. But, as years went on, my dear boy would
have wearied of his child-wife. She would have been less and less
a companion for him. He would have been more and more sensible of
what was wanting in his home. She wouldn't have improved. It is
better as it is.'
'Oh, Dora, dearest, dearest, do not speak to me so. Every word
seems a reproach!'
'No, not a syllable!' she answers, kissing me. 'Oh, my dear, you
never deserved it, and I loved you far too well to say a
reproachful word to you, in earnest - it was all the merit I had,
except being pretty - or you thought me so. Is it lonely, down-
'Don't cry! Is my chair there?'
'In its old place.'
'Oh, how my poor boy cries! Hush, hush! Now, make me one promise.
I want to speak to Agnes. When you go downstairs, tell Agnes so,
and send her up to me; and while I speak to her, let no one come -
not even aunt. I want to speak to Agnes by herself. I want to
speak to Agnes, quite alone.'
I promise that she shall, immediately; but I cannot leave her, for
'I said that it was better as it is!' she whispers, as she holds me
in her arms. 'Oh, Doady, after more years, you never could have
loved your child-wife better than you do; and, after more years,
she would so have tried and disappointed you, that you might not
have been able to love her half so well! I know I was too young and
foolish. It is much better as it is!'
Agnes is downstairs, when I go into the parlour; and I give her the
message. She disappears, leaving me alone with Jip.
His Chinese house is by the fire; and he lies within it, on his bed
of flannel, querulously trying to sleep. The bright moon is high
and clear. As I look out on the night, my tears fall fast, and my
undisciplined heart is chastened heavily - heavily.
I sit down by the fire, thinking with a blind remorse of all those
secret feelings I have nourished since my marriage. I think of
every little trifle between me and Dora, and feel the truth, that
trifles make the sum of life. Ever rising from the sea of my
remembrance, is the image of the dear child as I knew her first,
graced by my young love, and by her own, with every fascination
wherein such love is rich. Would it, indeed, have been better if
we had loved each other as a boy and a girl, and forgotten it?
Undisciplined heart, reply!
How the time wears, I know not; until I am recalled by my
child-wife's old companion. More restless than he was, he crawls
out of his house, and looks at me, and wanders to the door, and
whines to go upstairs.
'Not tonight, Jip! Not tonight!'
He comes very slowly back to me, licks my hand, and lifts his dim
eyes to my face.
'Oh, Jip! It may be, never again!'
He lies down at my feet, stretches himself out as if to sleep, and
with a plaintive cry, is dead.
'Oh, Agnes! Look, look, here!'
- That face, so full of pity, and of grief, that rain of tears,
that awful mute appeal to me, that solemn hand upraised towards
It is over. Darkness comes before my eyes; and, for a time, all
things are blotted out of my remembrance.