David Copperfield – Day 186 of 331

As to sleep, I had dreams of poverty in all sorts of shapes, but I seemed to dream without the previous ceremony of going to sleep. Now I was ragged, wanting to sell Dora matches, six bundles for a halfpenny; now I was at the office in a nightgown and boots, remonstrated with by Mr. Spenlow on appearing before the clients in that airy attire; now I was hungrily picking up the crumbs that fell from old Tiffey’s daily biscuit, regularly eaten when St. Paul’s struck one; now I was hopelessly endeavouring to get a licence to marry Dora, having nothing but one of Uriah Heep’s gloves to offer in exchange, which the whole Commons rejected; and still, more or less conscious of my own room, I was always tossing about like a distressed ship in a sea of bed-clothes.

My aunt was restless, too, for I frequently heard her walking to and fro. Two or three times in the course of the night, attired in a long flannel wrapper in which she looked seven feet high, she appeared, like a disturbed ghost, in my room, and came to the side of the sofa on which I lay. On the first occasion I started up in alarm, to learn that she inferred from a particular light in the sky, that Westminster Abbey was on fire; and to be consulted in reference to the probability of its igniting Buckingham Street, in case the wind changed. Lying still, after that, I found that she sat down near me, whispering to herself “Poor boy!” And then it made me twenty times more wretched, to know how unselfishly mindful she was of me, and how selfishly mindful I was of myself.

It was difficult to believe that a night so long to me, could be short to anybody else. This consideration set me thinking and thinking of an imaginary party where people were dancing the hours away, until that became a dream too, and I heard the music incessantly playing one tune, and saw Dora incessantly dancing one dance, without taking the least notice of me. The man who had been playing the harp all night, was trying in vain to cover it with an ordinary-sized nightcap, when I awoke; or I should rather say, when I left off trying to go to sleep, and saw the sun shining in through the window at last.

There was an old Roman bath in those days at the bottom of one of the streets out of the Strand—it may be there still—in which I have had many a cold plunge. Dressing myself as quietly as I could, and leaving Peggotty to look after my aunt, I tumbled head foremost into it, and then went for a walk to Hampstead. I had a hope that this brisk treatment might freshen my wits a little; and I think it did them good, for I soon came to the conclusion that the first step I ought to take was, to try if my articles could be cancelled and the premium recovered. I got some breakfast on the Heath, and walked back to Doctors’ Commons, along the watered roads and through a pleasant smell of summer flowers, growing in gardens and carried into town on hucksters’ heads, intent on this first effort to meet our altered circumstances.

I arrived at the office so soon, after all, that I had half an hour’s loitering about the Commons, before old Tiffey, who was always first, appeared with his key. Then I sat down in my shady corner, looking up at the sunlight on the opposite chimney-pots, and thinking about Dora; until Mr. Spenlow came in, crisp and curly.

“How are you, Copperfield?” said he. “Fine morning!”

“Beautiful morning, sir,” said I. “Could I say a word to you before you go into Court?”

“By all means,” said he. “Come into my room.”

I followed him into his room, and he began putting on his gown, and touching himself up before a little glass he had, hanging inside a closet door.

“I am sorry to say,” said I, “that I have some rather disheartening intelligence from my aunt.”

“No!” said he. “Dear me! Not paralysis, I hope?”

“It has no reference to her health, sir,” I replied. “She has met with some large losses. In fact, she has very little left, indeed.”

“You as-tound me, Copperfield!” cried Mr. Spenlow.

I shook my head. “Indeed, sir,” said I, “her affairs are so changed, that I wished to ask you whether it would be possible—at a sacrifice on our part of some portion of the premium, of course,” I put in this, on the spur of the moment, warned by the blank expression of his face—“to cancel my articles?”

What it cost me to make this proposal, nobody knows. It was like asking, as a favour, to be sentenced to transportation from Dora.

“To cancel your articles, Copperfield? Cancel?”

I explained with tolerable firmness, that I really did not know where my means of subsistence were to come from, unless I could earn them for myself. I had no fear for the future, I said—and I laid great emphasis on that, as if to imply that I should still be decidedly eligible for a son-in-law one of these days—but, for the present, I was thrown upon my own resources. “I am extremely sorry to hear this, Copperfield,” said Mr. Spenlow. “Extremely sorry. It is not usual to cancel articles for any such reason. It is not a professional course of proceeding. It is not a convenient precedent at all. Far from it. At the same time—”

“You are very good, sir,” I murmured, anticipating a concession.

“Not at all. Don’t mention it,” said Mr. Spenlow. “At the same time, I was going to say, if it had been my lot to have my hands unfettered—if I had not a partner—Mr. Jorkins—”

My hopes were dashed in a moment, but I made another effort.

“Do you think, sir,” said I, “if I were to mention it to Mr. Jorkins—”

Mr. Spenlow shook his head discouragingly. “Heaven forbid, Copperfield,” he replied, “that I should do any man an injustice: still less, Mr. Jorkins. But I know my partner, Copperfield. Mr. Jorkins is not a man to respond to a proposition of this peculiar nature. Mr. Jorkins is very difficult to move from the beaten track. You know what he is!”

I am sure I knew nothing about him, except that he had originally been alone in the business, and now lived by himself in a house near Montagu Square, which was fearfully in want of painting; that he came very late of a day, and went away very early; that he never appeared to be consulted about anything; and that he had a dingy little black-hole of his own upstairs, where no business was ever done, and where there was a yellow old cartridge-paper pad upon his desk, unsoiled by ink, and reported to be twenty years of age.

“Would you object to my mentioning it to him, sir?” I asked.

“By no means,” said Mr. Spenlow. “But I have some experience of Mr. Jorkins, Copperfield. I wish it were otherwise, for I should be happy to meet your views in any respect. I cannot have the objection to your mentioning it to Mr. Jorkins, Copperfield, if you think it worth while.”

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