Charles Dickens, David Copperfield: Ch. 1

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Ham Peggotty, who went to the national school,h and was a very dragon at his catechism,w and who may therefore be regarded as a credible witness, reported next day, that happening to peep in at the parlour-door an hour after this, he was instantly descried by Miss Betsey, then walking to and fro in a state of agitation, and pounced upon before he could make his escape. That there were now occasional sounds of feet and voices overhead which he inferred the cotton did not exclude, from the circumstance of his evidently being clutched by the lady as a victim on whom to expend her superabundant agitation when the sounds were loudest. That, marching him constantly up and down by the collar (as if he had been taking too much laudanumw), she, at those times, shook him, rumpled his hair, made light of his linen,h stopped his ears as if she confounded them with her own, and otherwise tousled and maltreated him. This was in part confirmed by his aunt, who saw him at half past twelve o'clock, soon after his release, and affirmed that he was then as red as I was.

The mild Mr. Chillip could not possibly bear malice at such a time, if at any time. He sidled into the parlour as soon as he was at liberty, and said to my aunt in his meekest manner:

'Well, ma'am, I am happy to congratulate you.'

'What upon?' said my aunt, sharply.

Mr. Chillip was fluttered again, by the extreme severity of my aunt's manner; so he made her a little bow and gave her a little smile, to mollifyw her.

'Mercy on the man, what's he doing!' cried my aunt, impatiently. 'Can't he speak?'

'Be calm, my dear ma'am,' said Mr. Chillip, in his softest accents.

'There is no longer any occasion for uneasiness, ma'am. Be calm.'

It has since been considered almost a miracle that my aunt didn't shake him, and shake what he had to say, out of him. She only shook her own head at him, but in a way that made him quail.

'Well, ma'am,' resumed Mr. Chillip, as soon as he had courage, 'I am happy to congratulate you. All is now over, ma'am, and well over.'

During the five minutes or so that Mr. Chillip devoted to the delivery of this oration, my aunt eyed him narrowly.w

'How is she?' said my aunt, folding her arms with her bonnet still tied on one of them.

'Well, ma'am, she will soon be quite comfortable, I hope,' returned Mr. Chillip. 'Quite as comfortable as we can expect a young mother to be, under these melancholy domestic circumstances. There cannot be any objection to your seeing her presently, ma'am. It may do her good.'

'And SHE. How is SHE?' said my aunt, sharply.

Mr. Chillip laid his head a little more on one side, and looked at my aunt like an amiable bird.

'The baby,' said my aunt. 'How is she?'

'Ma'am,' returned Mr. Chillip, 'I apprehended you had known. It's a boy.'

My aunt said never a word, but took her bonnet by the strings, in the manner of a sling, aimed a blow at Mr. Chillip's head with it, put it on bent, walked out, and never came back. She vanished like a discontented fairy; or like one of those supernatural beings, whom it was popularly supposed I was entitled to see; and never came back any more.

No. I lay in my basket, and my mother lay in her bed; but Betsey Trotwood Copperfield was for ever in the land of dreams and shadows, the tremendous region whence I had so lately travelled;d and the light upon the window of our room shone out upon the earthly bourne of all such travellers, and the mound above the ashes and the dust that once was he, without whom I had never been.d

X [h] the national school,

Education

At the time an inexpensive school for poorer children under the aegis of the Anglican (or national) Church. 

X [w] catechism,

Religion

(Search.)

X [w] laudanum

Things

A common opium-alcohol (usually gin) compound used as a sedative and pain-killer (Search).

X [h] his linen,

Things

Here the white clothes, such as shirt and cuffs, which may be of linen or were once made of linen.

X [w] mollify

Soften.

X [w] narrowly.

Closely; rigorously.

X [d] the tremendous region whence I had so lately …

Writing & Reading

Part of an evocative paragraph that recalls Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality upon Recollections of Early Childhood, which imagines each individual soul journeying across vast stellar spaces to earth. There will be several other instances in the novel in which Dickens appears to draw on Wordsworth. …

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X [d] earthly bourne of all such travellers, and th…

Writing & Reading

Echoing Hamlet's soliloquy "To be or not to be" in which appears "That undiscover'd country from whose bourn / No traveler ever returns." Dickens was intimately familiar with all of Shakespeare's plays.