I think continually about my age. Say I am seventeen, and say that seventeen is young for the eldest Miss Larkins, what of that? Besides, I shall be one-and-twenty in no time almost. I regularly take walks outside Mr. Larkins's house in the evening, though it cuts me to the heart to see the officers go in, or to hear them up in the drawing-room, where the eldest Miss Larkins plays the harp. I even walk, on two or three occasions, in a sickly, spoony manner, round and round the house after the family are gone to bed, wondering which is the eldest Miss Larkins's chamber (and pitching, I dare say now, on Mr. Larkins's instead); wishing that a fire would burst out; that the assembled crowd would stand appalled; that I, dashing through them with a ladder, might rear it against her window, save her in my arms, go back for something she had left behind, and perish in the flames. For I am generally disinterested in my love, and think I could be content to make a figure before Miss Larkins, and expire.
Generally, but not always. Sometimes brighter visions rise before me. When I dress (the occupation of two hours), for a great ball given at the Larkins's (the anticipation of three weeks), I indulge my fancy with pleasing images. I picture myself taking courage to make a declaration to Miss Larkins. I picture Miss Larkins sinking her head upon my shoulder, and saying, 'Oh, Mr. Copperfield, can I believe my ears!' I picture Mr. Larkins waiting on me next morning, and saying, 'My dear Copperfield, my daughter has told me all. Youth is no objection. Here are twenty thousand pounds. Be happy!' I picture my aunt relenting, and blessing us; and Mr. Dick and Doctor Strong being present at the marriage ceremony. I am a sensible fellow, I believe — I believe, on looking back, I mean — and modest I am sure; but all this goes on notwithstanding. I repair to the enchanted house, where there are lights, chattering, music, flowers, officers (I am sorry to see), and the eldest Miss Larkins, a blaze of beauty. She is dressed in blue, with blue flowers in her hair — forget-me-nots — as if SHE had any need to wear forget-me-nots. It is the first really grown-up party that I have ever been invited to, and I am a little uncomfortable; for I appear not to belong to anybody, and nobody appears to have anything to say to me, except Mr. Larkins, who asks me how my schoolfellows are, which he needn't do, as I have not come there to be insulted.
But after I have stood in the doorway for some time, and feasted my eyes upon the goddess of my heart, she approaches me — she, the eldest Miss Larkins! — and asks me pleasantly, if I dance?
I stammer, with a bow, 'With you, Miss Larkins.'
'With no one else?' inquires Miss Larkins.
'I should have no pleasure in dancing with anyone else.'
Miss Larkins laughs and blushes (or I think she blushes), and says, 'Next time but one, I shall be very glad.'
The time arrives. 'It is a waltz, I think,' Miss Larkins doubtfully observes, when I present myself. 'Do you waltz? If not, Captain Bailey — '
But I do waltz (pretty well, too, as it happens), and I take Miss Larkins out. I take her sternly from the side of Captain Bailey. He is wretched, I have no doubt; but he is nothing to me. I have been wretched, too. I waltz with the eldest Miss Larkins! I don't know where, among whom, or how long. I only know that I swim about in space, with a blue angel, in a state of blissful delirium, until I find myself alone with her in a little room, resting on a sofa. She admires a flower (pink camellia japonica, price half-a-crown), in my button-hole. I give it her, and say:
'I ask an inestimable price for it, Miss Larkins.'
'Indeed! What is that?' returns Miss Larkins.
'A flower of yours, that I may treasure it as a miser does gold.'
'You're a bold boy,' says Miss Larkins. 'There.'
She gives it me, not displeased; and I put it to my lips, and then into my breast. Miss Larkins, laughing, draws her hand through my arm, and says, 'Now take me back to Captain Bailey.'
I am lost in the recollection of this delicious interview, and the waltz, when she comes to me again, with a plain elderly gentleman who has been playing whist all night, upon her arm, and says:
'Oh! here is my bold friend! Mr. Chestle wants to know you, Mr. Copperfield.'
I feel at once that he is a friend of the family, and am much gratified.
'I admire your taste, sir,' says Mr. Chestle. 'It does you credit. I suppose you don't take much interest in hops; but I am a pretty large grower myself; and if you ever like to come over to our neighbourhood — neighbourhood of Ashford — and take a run about our place, — we shall be glad for you to stop as long as you like.'
I thank Mr. Chestle warmly, and shake hands. I think I am in a happy dream. I waltz with the eldest Miss Larkins once again. She says I waltz so well! I go home in a state of unspeakable bliss, and waltz in imagination, all night long, with my arm round the blue waist of my dear divinity. For some days afterwards, I am lost in rapturous reflections; but I neither see her in the street, nor when I call. I am imperfectly consoled for this disappointment by the sacred pledge, the perished flower.
'Trotwood,' says Agnes, one day after dinner. 'Who do you think is going to be married tomorrow? Someone you admire.'
'Not you, I suppose, Agnes?'
'Not me!' raising her cheerful face from the music she is copying. 'Do you hear him, Papa? — The eldest Miss Larkins.'
'To — to Captain Bailey?' I have just enough power to ask.
'No; to no Captain. To Mr. Chestle, a hop-grower.'
I am terribly dejected for about a week or two. I take off my ring, I wear my worst clothes, I use no bear's grease, and I frequently lament over the late Miss Larkins's faded flower. Being, by that time, rather tired of this kind of life, and having received new provocation from the butcher, I throw the flower away, go out with the butcher, and gloriously defeat him.
This, and the resumption of my ring, as well as of the bear's grease in moderation, are the last marks I can discern, now, in my progress to seventeen.