Chapter 5. The Couple who Dote Upon Their Children

by Charles Dickens

The couple who dote upon their children have usually a great many of them: six or eight at least.  The children are either the healthiest in all the world, or the most unfortunate in existence.  In either case, they are equally the theme of their doting parents, and equally a source of mental anguish and irritation to their doting parents’ friends.

The couple who dote upon their children recognise no dates but those connected with their births, accidents, illnesses, or remarkable deeds.  They keep a mental almanack with a vast number of Innocents’-days, all in red letters.  They recollect the last coronation, because on that day little Tom fell down the kitchen stairs; the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, because it was on the fifth of November that Ned asked whether wooden legs were made in heaven and cocked hats grew in gardens.  Mrs. Whiffler will never cease to recollect the last day of the old year as long as she lives, for it was on that day that the baby had the four red spots on its nose which they took for measles: nor Christmas-day, for twenty-one days after Christmas-day the twins were born; nor Good Friday, for it was on a Good Friday that she was frightened by the donkey-cart when she was in the family way with Georgiana.  The movable feasts have no motion for Mr. and Mrs. Whiffler, but remain pinned down tight and fast to the shoulders of some small child, from whom they can never be separated any more.  Time was made, according to their creed, not for slaves but for girls and boys; the restless sands in his glass are but little children at play.

As we have already intimated, the children of this couple can know no medium.  They are either prodigies of good health or prodigies of bad health; whatever they are, they must be prodigies.  Mr. Whiffler must have to describe at his office such excruciating agonies constantly undergone by his eldest boy, as nobody else’s eldest boy ever underwent; or he must be able to declare that there never was a child endowed with such amazing health, such an indomitable constitution, and such a cast-iron frame, as his child.  His children must be, in some respect or other, above and beyond the children of all other people.  To such an extent is this feeling pushed, that we were once slightly acquainted with a lady and gentleman who carried their heads so high and became so proud after their youngest child fell out of a two-pair-of-stairs window without hurting himself much, that the greater part of their friends were obliged to forego their acquaintance.  But perhaps this may be an extreme case, and one not justly entitled to be considered as a precedent of general application.

If a friend happen to dine in a friendly way with one of these couples who dote upon their children, it is nearly impossible for him to divert the conversation from their favourite topic.  Everything reminds Mr. Whiffler of Ned, or Mrs. Whiffler of Mary Anne, or of the time before Ned was born, or the time before Mary Anne was thought of.  The slightest remark, however harmless in itself, will awaken slumbering recollections of the twins.  It is impossible to steer clear of them.  They will come uppermost, let the poor man do what he may.  Ned has been known to be lost sight of for half an hour, Dick has been forgotten, the name of Mary Anne has not been mentioned, but the twins will out.  Nothing can keep down the twins.

‘It’s a very extraordinary thing, Saunders,’ says Mr. Whiffler to the visitor, ‘but—you have seen our little babies, the—the—twins?’  The friend’s heart sinks within him as he answers, ‘Oh, yes—often.’  ‘Your talking of the Pyramids,’ says Mr. Whiffler, quite as a matter of course, ‘reminds me of the twins.  It’s a very extraordinary thing about those babies—what colour should you say their eyes were?’  ‘Upon my word,’ the friend stammers, ‘I hardly know how to answer’—the fact being, that except as the friend does not remember to have heard of any departure from the ordinary course of nature in the instance of these twins, they might have no eyes at all for aught he has observed to the contrary.  ‘You wouldn’t say they were red, I suppose?’ says Mr. Whiffler.  The friend hesitates, and rather thinks they are; but inferring from the expression of Mr. Whiffler’s face that red is not the colour, smiles with some confidence, and says, ‘No, no! very different from that.’  ‘What should you say to blue?’ says Mr. Whiffler.  The friend glances at him, and observing a different expression in his face, ventures to say, ‘I should say they were blue—a decided blue.’  ‘To be sure!’ cries Mr. Whiffler, triumphantly, ‘I knew you would!  But what should you say if I was to tell you that the boy’s eyes are blue and the girl’s hazel, eh?’  ‘Impossible!’ exclaims the friend, not at all knowing why it should be impossible.  ‘A fact, notwithstanding,’ cries Mr. Whiffler; ‘and let me tell you, Saunders, that’snot a common thing in twins, or a circumstance that’ll happen every day.’

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