'Don't talk about being poor, and working hard!' said Dora, nestling closer to me. 'Oh, don't, don't!'
'My dearest love,' said I, 'the crust well-earned — '
'Oh, yes; but I don't want to hear any more about crusts!' said Dora. 'And Jip must have a mutton-chop every day at twelve, or he'll die.'
I was charmed with her childish, winning way. I fondly explained to Dora that Jip should have his mutton-chop with his accustomed regularity. I drew a picture of our frugal home, made independent by my labour — sketching in the little house I had seen at Highgate, and my aunt in her room upstairs.
'I am not dreadful now, Dora?' said I, tenderly.
'Oh, no, no!' cried Dora. 'But I hope your aunt will keep in her own room a good deal. And I hope she's not a scolding old thing!'
If it were possible for me to love Dora more than ever, I am sure I did. But I felt she was a little impracticable. It damped my new-born ardour, to find that ardour so difficult of communication to her. I made another trial. When she was quite herself again, and was curling Jip's ears, as he lay upon her lap, I became grave, and said:
'My own! May I mention something?'
'Oh, please don't be practical!' said Dora, coaxingly. 'Because it frightens me so!'
'Sweetheart!' I returned; 'there is nothing to alarm you in all this. I want you to think of it quite differently. I want to make it nerve you, and inspire you, Dora!'
'Oh, but that's so shocking!' cried Dora.
'My love, no. Perseverance and strength of character will enable us to bear much worse things.' 'But I haven't got any strength at all,' said Dora, shaking her curls. 'Have I, Jip? Oh, do kiss Jip, and be agreeable!'
It was impossible to resist kissing Jip, when she held him up to me for that purpose, putting her own bright, rosy little mouth into kissing form, as she directed the operation, which she insisted should be performed symmetrically, on the centre of his nose. I did as she bade me — rewarding myself afterwards for my obedience — and she charmed me out of my graver character for I don't know how long.
'But, Dora, my beloved!' said I, at last resuming it; 'I was going to mention something.'
The judge of the Prerogative Court might have fallen in love with her, to see her fold her little hands and hold them up, begging and praying me not to be dreadful any more.
'Indeed I am not going to be, my darling!' I assured her. 'But, Dora, my love, if you will sometimes think, — not despondingly, you know; far from that! — but if you will sometimes think — just to encourage yourself — that you are engaged to a poor man — '
'Don't, don't! Pray don't!' cried Dora. 'It's so very dreadful!'
'My soul, not at all!' said I, cheerfully. 'If you will sometimes think of that, and look about now and then at your papa's housekeeping, and endeavour to acquire a little habit — of accounts, for instance — '
Poor little Dora received this suggestion with something that was half a sob and half a scream.
' — It would be so useful to us afterwards,' I went on. 'And if you would promise me to read a little — a little Cookery Book that I would send you, it would be so excellent for both of us. For our path in life, my Dora,' said I, warming with the subject, 'is stony and rugged now, and it rests with us to smooth it. We must fight our way onward. We must be brave. There are obstacles to be met, and we must meet, and crush them!'
I was going on at a great rate, with a clenched hand, and a most enthusiastic countenance; but it was quite unnecessary to proceed. I had said enough. I had done it again. Oh, she was so frightened! Oh, where was Julia Mills! Oh, take her to Julia Mills, and go away, please! So that, in short, I was quite distracted, and raved about the drawing-room.
I thought I had killed her, this time. I sprinkled water on her face. I went down on my knees. I plucked at my hair. I denounced myself as a remorseless brute and a ruthless beast. I implored her forgiveness. I besought her to look up. I ravaged Miss Mills's work-box for a smelling-bottle, and in my agony of mind applied an ivory needle-case instead, and dropped all the needles over Dora. I shook my fists at Jip, who was as frantic as myself. I did every wild extravagance that could be done, and was a long way beyond the end of my wits when Miss Mills came into the room.
'Who has done this?' exclaimed Miss Mills, succouring her friend.
I replied, 'I, Miss Mills! I have done it! Behold the destroyer!' — or words to that effect — and hid my face from the light, in the sofa cushion.