MY AUNT MAKES UP HER MIND ABOUT ME.
On going down in the morning, I found my aunt musing so profoundly over the breakfast table, with her elbow on the tray, that the contents of the urn had overflowed the teapot and were laying the whole table-cloth under water, when my entrance put her meditations to flight. I felt sure that I had been the subject of her reflections, and was more than ever anxious to know her intentions towards me. Yet I dared not express my anxiety, lest it should give her offence.
My eyes, however, not being so much under control as my tongue, were attracted towards my aunt very often during breakfast. I never could look at her for a few moments together but I found her looking at me—in an odd thoughtful manner, as if I were an immense way off, instead of being on the other side of the small round table. When she had finished her breakfast, my aunt very deliberately leaned back in her chair, knitted her brows, folded her arms, and contemplated me at her leisure, with such a fixedness of attention that I was quite overpowered by embarrassment. Not having as yet finished my own breakfast, I attempted to hide my confusion by proceeding with it; but my knife tumbled over my fork, my fork tripped up my knife, I chipped bits of bacon a surprising height into the air instead of cutting them for my own eating, and choked myself with my tea, which persisted in going the wrong way instead of the right one, until I gave in altogether, and sat blushing under my aunt’s close scrutiny.
‘Hallo!’ said my aunt, after a long time.
I looked up, and met her sharp bright glance respectfully.
‘I have written to him,’ said my aunt.
‘To your father-in-law,’ said my aunt. ‘I have sent him a letter that I’ll trouble him to attend to, or he and I will fall out, I can tell him!’
‘Does he know where I am, aunt?’ I inquired, alarmed.
‘I have told him,’ said my aunt, with a nod.
‘Shall I—be—given up to him?’ I faltered.
‘I don’t know,’ said my aunt. ‘We shall see.’
‘Oh! I can’t think what I shall do,’ I exclaimed, ‘if I have to go back to Mr. Murdstone!’
‘I don’t know anything about it,’ said my aunt, shaking her head. ‘I can’t say, I am sure. We shall see.’
My spirits sank under these words, and I became very downcast and heavy of heart. My aunt, without appearing to take much heed of me, put on a coarse apron with a bib, which she took out of the press; washed up the teacups with her own hands; and, when everything was washed and set in the tray again, and the cloth folded and put on the top of the whole, rang for Janet to remove it. She next swept up the crumbs with a little broom (putting on a pair of gloves first), until there did not appear to be one microscopic speck left on the carpet; next dusted and arranged the room, which was dusted and arranged to a hair’s breadth already. When all these tasks were performed to her satisfaction, she took off the gloves and apron, folded them up, put them in the particular corner of the press from which they had been taken, brought out her work-box to her own table in the open window, and sat down, with the green fan between her and the light, to work.
‘I wish you’d go upstairs,’ said my aunt, as she threaded her needle, ‘and give my compliments to Mr. Dick, and I’ll be glad to know how he gets on with his Memorial.’
I rose with all alacrity, to acquit myself of this commission.
‘I suppose,’ said my aunt, eyeing me as narrowly as she had eyed the needle in threading it, ‘you think Mr. Dick a short name, eh?’
‘I thought it was rather a short name, yesterday,’ I confessed.
‘You are not to suppose that he hasn’t got a longer name, if he chose to use it,’ said my aunt, with a loftier air. ‘Babley—Mr. Richard Babley—that’s the gentleman’s true name.’
I was going to suggest, with a modest sense of my youth and the familiarity I had been already guilty of, that I had better give him the full benefit of that name, when my aunt went on to say:
‘But don’t you call him by it, whatever you do. He can’t bear his name. That’s a peculiarity of his. Though I don’t know that it’s much of a peculiarity, either; for he has been ill-used enough, by some that bear it, to have a mortal antipathy for it, Heaven knows. Mr. Dick is his name here, and everywhere else, now—if he ever went anywhere else, which he don’t. So take care, child, you don’t call him anything BUT Mr. Dick.’
I promised to obey, and went upstairs with my message; thinking, as I went, that if Mr. Dick had been working at his Memorial long, at the same rate as I had seen him working at it, through the open door, when I came down, he was probably getting on very well indeed. I found him still driving at it with a long pen, and his head almost laid upon the paper. He was so intent upon it, that I had ample leisure to observe the large paper kite in a corner, the confusion of bundles of manuscript, the number of pens, and, above all, the quantity of ink (which he seemed to have in, in half-gallon jars by the dozen), before he observed my being present.
‘Ha! Phoebus!’ said Mr. Dick, laying down his pen. ‘How does the world go? I’ll tell you what,’ he added, in a lower tone, ‘I shouldn’t wish it to be mentioned, but it’s a—’ here he beckoned to me, and put his lips close to my ear—’it’s a mad world. Mad as Bedlam, boy!’ said Mr. Dick, taking snuff from a round box on the table, and laughing heartily.
Without presuming to give my opinion on this question, I delivered my message.
‘Well,’ said Mr. Dick, in answer, ‘my compliments to her, and I—I believe I have made a start. I think I have made a start,’ said Mr. Dick, passing his hand among his grey hair, and casting anything but a confident look at his manuscript. ‘You have been to school?’
‘Yes, sir,’ I answered; ‘for a short time.’
‘Do you recollect the date,’ said Mr. Dick, looking earnestly at me, and taking up his pen to note it down, ‘when King Charles the First had his head cut off?’ I said I believed it happened in the year sixteen hundred and forty-nine.
‘Well,’ returned Mr. Dick, scratching his ear with his pen, and looking dubiously at me. ‘So the books say; but I don’t see how that can be. Because, if it was so long ago, how could the people about him have made that mistake of putting some of the trouble out of his head, after it was taken off, into mine?’
I was very much surprised by the inquiry; but could give no information on this point.
‘It’s very strange,’ said Mr. Dick, with a despondent look upon his papers, and with his hand among his hair again, ‘that I never can get that quite right. I never can make that perfectly clear. But no matter, no matter!’ he said cheerfully, and rousing himself, ‘there’s time enough! My compliments to Miss Trotwood, I am getting on very well indeed.’
I was going away, when he directed my attention to the kite.
‘What do you think of that for a kite?’ he said.
I answered that it was a beautiful one. I should think it must have been as much as seven feet high.
‘I made it. We’ll go and fly it, you and I,’ said Mr. Dick. ‘Do you see this?’
He showed me that it was covered with manuscript, very closely and labouriously written; but so plainly, that as I looked along the lines, I thought I saw some allusion to King Charles the First’s head again, in one or two places.
‘There’s plenty of string,’ said Mr. Dick, ‘and when it flies high, it takes the facts a long way. That’s my manner of diffusing ’em. I don’t know where they may come down. It’s according to circumstances, and the wind, and so forth; but I take my chance of that.’
His face was so very mild and pleasant, and had something so reverend in it, though it was hale and hearty, that I was not sure but that he was having a good-humoured jest with me. So I laughed, and he laughed, and we parted the best friends possible.
‘Well, child,’ said my aunt, when I went downstairs. ‘And what of Mr. Dick, this morning?’
I informed her that he sent his compliments, and was getting on very well indeed.
‘What do you think of him?’ said my aunt.
I had some shadowy idea of endeavouring to evade the question, by replying that I thought him a very nice gentleman; but my aunt was not to be so put off, for she laid her work down in her lap, and said, folding her hands upon it:
‘Come! Your sister Betsey Trotwood would have told me what she thought of anyone, directly. Be as like your sister as you can, and speak out!’
‘Is he—is Mr. Dick—I ask because I don’t know, aunt—is he at all out of his mind, then?’ I stammered; for I felt I was on dangerous ground.
‘Not a morsel,’ said my aunt.
‘Oh, indeed!’ I observed faintly.
‘If there is anything in the world,’ said my aunt, with great decision and force of manner, ‘that Mr. Dick is not, it’s that.’
I had nothing better to offer, than another timid, ‘Oh, indeed!’
‘He has been CALLED mad,’ said my aunt. ‘I have a selfish pleasure in saying he has been called mad, or I should not have had the benefit of his society and advice for these last ten years and upwards—in fact, ever since your sister, Betsey Trotwood, disappointed me.’
‘So long as that?’ I said.
‘And nice people they were, who had the audacity to call him mad,’ pursued my aunt. ‘Mr. Dick is a sort of distant connexion of mine—it doesn’t matter how; I needn’t enter into that. If it hadn’t been for me, his own brother would have shut him up for life. That’s all.’
I am afraid it was hypocritical in me, but seeing that my aunt felt strongly on the subject, I tried to look as if I felt strongly too.
‘A proud fool!’ said my aunt. ‘Because his brother was a little eccentric—though he is not half so eccentric as a good many people—he didn’t like to have him visible about his house, and sent him away to some private asylum-place: though he had been left to his particular care by their deceased father, who thought him almost a natural. And a wise man he must have been to think so! Mad himself, no doubt.’
Again, as my aunt looked quite convinced, I endeavoured to look quite convinced also.
‘So I stepped in,’ said my aunt, ‘and made him an offer. I said, “Your brother’s sane—a great deal more sane than you are, or ever will be, it is to be hoped. Let him have his little income, and come and live with me. I am not afraid of him, I am not proud, I am ready to take care of him, and shall not ill-treat him as some people (besides the asylum-folks) have done.” After a good deal of squabbling,’ said my aunt, ‘I got him; and he has been here ever since. He is the most friendly and amenable creature in existence; and as for advice!—But nobody knows what that man’s mind is, except myself.’
My aunt smoothed her dress and shook her head, as if she smoothed defiance of the whole world out of the one, and shook it out of the other.
‘He had a favourite sister,’ said my aunt, ‘a good creature, and very kind to him. But she did what they all do—took a husband. And HE did what they all do—made her wretched. It had such an effect upon the mind of Mr. Dick (that’s not madness, I hope!) that, combined with his fear of his brother, and his sense of his unkindness, it threw him into a fever. That was before he came to me, but the recollection of it is oppressive to him even now. Did he say anything to you about King Charles the First, child?’
‘Ah!’ said my aunt, rubbing her nose as if she were a little vexed. ‘That’s his allegorical way of expressing it. He connects his illness with great disturbance and agitation, naturally, and that’s the figure, or the simile, or whatever it’s called, which he chooses to use. And why shouldn’t he, if he thinks proper!’
I said: ‘Certainly, aunt.’
‘It’s not a business-like way of speaking,’ said my aunt, ‘nor a worldly way. I am aware of that; and that’s the reason why I insist upon it, that there shan’t be a word about it in his Memorial.’
‘Is it a Memorial about his own history that he is writing, aunt?’
‘Yes, child,’ said my aunt, rubbing her nose again. ‘He is memorializing the Lord Chancellor, or the Lord Somebody or other—one of those people, at all events, who are paid to be memorialized—about his affairs. I suppose it will go in, one of these days. He hasn’t been able to draw it up yet, without introducing that mode of expressing himself; but it don’t signify; it keeps him employed.’
In fact, I found out afterwards that Mr. Dick had been for upwards of ten years endeavouring to keep King Charles the First out of the Memorial; but he had been constantly getting into it, and was there now.
‘I say again,’ said my aunt, ‘nobody knows what that man’s mind is except myself; and he’s the most amenable and friendly creature in existence. If he likes to fly a kite sometimes, what of that! Franklin used to fly a kite. He was a Quaker, or something of that sort, if I am not mistaken. And a Quaker flying a kite is a much more ridiculous object than anybody else.’
If I could have supposed that my aunt had recounted these particulars for my especial behoof, and as a piece of confidence in me, I should have felt very much distinguished, and should have augured favourably from such a mark of her good opinion. But I could hardly help observing that she had launched into them, chiefly because the question was raised in her own mind, and with very little reference to me, though she had addressed herself to me in the absence of anybody else.
At the same time, I must say that the generosity of her championship of poor harmless Mr. Dick, not only inspired my young breast with some selfish hope for myself, but warmed it unselfishly towards her. I believe that I began to know that there was something about my aunt, notwithstanding her many eccentricities and odd humours, to be honoured and trusted in. Though she was just as sharp that day as on the day before, and was in and out about the donkeys just as often, and was thrown into a tremendous state of indignation, when a young man, going by, ogled Janet at a window (which was one of the gravest misdemeanours that could be committed against my aunt’s dignity), she seemed to me to command more of my respect, if not less of my fear.
The anxiety I underwent, in the interval which necessarily elapsed before a reply could be received to her letter to Mr. Murdstone, was extreme; but I made an endeavour to suppress it, and to be as agreeable as I could in a quiet way, both to my aunt and Mr. Dick. The latter and I would have gone out to fly the great kite; but that I had still no other clothes than the anything but ornamental garments with which I had been decorated on the first day, and which confined me to the house, except for an hour after dark, when my aunt, for my health’s sake, paraded me up and down on the cliff outside, before going to bed. At length the reply from Mr. Murdstone came, and my aunt informed me, to my infinite terror, that he was coming to speak to her herself on the next day. On the next day, still bundled up in my curious habiliments, I sat counting the time, flushed and heated by the conflict of sinking hopes and rising fears within me; and waiting to be startled by the sight of the gloomy face, whose non-arrival startled me every minute.
My aunt was a little more imperious and stern than usual, but I observed no other token of her preparing herself to receive the visitor so much dreaded by me. She sat at work in the window, and I sat by, with my thoughts running astray on all possible and impossible results of Mr. Murdstone’s visit, until pretty late in the afternoon. Our dinner had been indefinitely postponed; but it was growing so late, that my aunt had ordered it to be got ready, when she gave a sudden alarm of donkeys, and to my consternation and amazement, I beheld Miss Murdstone, on a side-saddle, ride deliberately over the sacred piece of green, and stop in front of the house, looking about her.
‘Go along with you!’ cried my aunt, shaking her head and her fist at the window. ‘You have no business there. How dare you trespass? Go along! Oh! you bold-faced thing!’
My aunt was so exasperated by the coolness with which Miss Murdstone looked about her, that I really believe she was motionless, and unable for the moment to dart out according to custom. I seized the opportunity to inform her who it was; and that the gentleman now coming near the offender (for the way up was very steep, and he had dropped behind), was Mr. Murdstone himself.
‘I don’t care who it is!’ cried my aunt, still shaking her head and gesticulating anything but welcome from the bow-window. ‘I won’t be trespassed upon. I won’t allow it. Go away! Janet, turn him round. Lead him off!’ and I saw, from behind my aunt, a sort of hurried battle-piece, in which the donkey stood resisting everybody, with all his four legs planted different ways, while Janet tried to pull him round by the bridle, Mr. Murdstone tried to lead him on, Miss Murdstone struck at Janet with a parasol, and several boys, who had come to see the engagement, shouted vigorously. But my aunt, suddenly descrying among them the young malefactor who was the donkey’s guardian, and who was one of the most inveterate offenders against her, though hardly in his teens, rushed out to the scene of action, pounced upon him, captured him, dragged him, with his jacket over his head, and his heels grinding the ground, into the garden, and, calling upon Janet to fetch the constables and justices, that he might be taken, tried, and executed on the spot, held him at bay there. This part of the business, however, did not last long; for the young rascal, being expert at a variety of feints and dodges, of which my aunt had no conception, soon went whooping away, leaving some deep impressions of his nailed boots in the flower-beds, and taking his donkey in triumph with him.
Miss Murdstone, during the latter portion of the contest, had dismounted, and was now waiting with her brother at the bottom of the steps, until my aunt should be at leisure to receive them. My aunt, a little ruffled by the combat, marched past them into the house, with great dignity, and took no notice of their presence, until they were announced by Janet.
‘Shall I go away, aunt?’ I asked, trembling.
‘No, sir,’ said my aunt. ‘Certainly not!’ With which she pushed me into a corner near her, and fenced Me in with a chair, as if it were a prison or a bar of justice. This position I continued to occupy during the whole interview, and from it I now saw Mr. and Miss Murdstone enter the room.
‘Oh!’ said my aunt, ‘I was not aware at first to whom I had the pleasure of objecting. But I don’t allow anybody to ride over that turf. I make no exceptions. I don’t allow anybody to do it.’
‘Your regulation is rather awkward to strangers,’ said Miss Murdstone.
‘Is it!’ said my aunt.
Mr. Murdstone seemed afraid of a renewal of hostilities, and interposing began:
‘I beg your pardon,’ observed my aunt with a keen look. ‘You are the Mr. Murdstone who married the widow of my late nephew, David Copperfield, of Blunderstone Rookery!—Though why Rookery, I don’t know!’
‘I am,’ said Mr. Murdstone.
‘You’ll excuse my saying, sir,’ returned my aunt, ‘that I think it would have been a much better and happier thing if you had left that poor child alone.’
‘I so far agree with what Miss Trotwood has remarked,’ observed Miss Murdstone, bridling, ‘that I consider our lamented Clara to have been, in all essential respects, a mere child.’
‘It is a comfort to you and me, ma’am,’ said my aunt, ‘who are getting on in life, and are not likely to be made unhappy by our personal attractions, that nobody can say the same of us.’
‘No doubt!’ returned Miss Murdstone, though, I thought, not with a very ready or gracious assent. ‘And it certainly might have been, as you say, a better and happier thing for my brother if he had never entered into such a marriage. I have always been of that opinion.’
‘I have no doubt you have,’ said my aunt. ‘Janet,’ ringing the bell, ‘my compliments to Mr. Dick, and beg him to come down.’
Until he came, my aunt sat perfectly upright and stiff, frowning at the wall. When he came, my aunt performed the ceremony of introduction.
‘Mr. Dick. An old and intimate friend. On whose judgement,’ said my aunt, with emphasis, as an admonition to Mr. Dick, who was biting his forefinger and looking rather foolish, ‘I rely.’
Mr. Dick took his finger out of his mouth, on this hint, and stood among the group, with a grave and attentive expression of face.
My aunt inclined her head to Mr. Murdstone, who went on:
‘Miss Trotwood: on the receipt of your letter, I considered it an act of greater justice to myself, and perhaps of more respect to you—s’
‘Thank you,’ said my aunt, still eyeing him keenly. ‘You needn’t mind me.’
‘To answer it in person, however inconvenient the journey,’ pursued Mr. Murdstone, ‘rather than by letter. This unhappy boy who has run away from his friends and his occupation—’
‘And whose appearance,’ interposed his sister, directing general attention to me in my indefinable costume, ‘is perfectly scandalous and disgraceful.’
‘Jane Murdstone,’ said her brother, ‘have the goodness not to interrupt me. This unhappy boy, Miss Trotwood, has been the occasion of much domestic trouble and uneasiness; both during the lifetime of my late dear wife, and since. He has a sullen, rebellious spirit; a violent temper; and an untoward, intractable disposition. Both my sister and myself have endeavoured to correct his vices, but ineffectually. And I have felt—we both have felt, I may say; my sister being fully in my confidence—that it is right you should receive this grave and dispassionate assurance from our lips.’
‘It can hardly be necessary for me to confirm anything stated by my brother,’ said Miss Murdstone; ‘but I beg to observe, that, of all the boys in the world, I believe this is the worst boy.’
‘Strong!’ said my aunt, shortly.
‘But not at all too strong for the facts,’ returned Miss Murdstone.
‘Ha!’ said my aunt. ‘Well, sir?’
‘I have my own opinions,’ resumed Mr. Murdstone, whose face darkened more and more, the more he and my aunt observed each other, which they did very narrowly, ‘as to the best mode of bringing him up; they are founded, in part, on my knowledge of him, and in part on my knowledge of my own means and resources. I am responsible for them to myself, I act upon them, and I say no more about them. It is enough that I place this boy under the eye of a friend of my own, in a respectable business; that it does not please him; that he runs away from it; makes himself a common vagabond about the country; and comes here, in rags, to appeal to you, Miss Trotwood. I wish to set before you, honourably, the exact consequences—so far as they are within my knowledge—of your abetting him in this appeal.’
‘But about the respectable business first,’ said my aunt. ‘If he had been your own boy, you would have put him to it, just the same, I suppose?’
‘If he had been my brother’s own boy,’ returned Miss Murdstone, striking in, ‘his character, I trust, would have been altogether different.’
‘Or if the poor child, his mother, had been alive, he would still have gone into the respectable business, would he?’ said my aunt.
‘I believe,’ said Mr. Murdstone, with an inclination of his head, ‘that Clara would have disputed nothing which myself and my sister Jane Murdstone were agreed was for the best.’
Miss Murdstone confirmed this with an audible murmur.
‘Humph!’ said my aunt. ‘Unfortunate baby!’
Mr. Dick, who had been rattling his money all this time, was rattling it so loudly now, that my aunt felt it necessary to check him with a look, before saying:
‘The poor child’s annuity died with her?’
‘Died with her,’ replied Mr. Murdstone.
‘And there was no settlement of the little property—the house and garden—the what’s-its-name Rookery without any rooks in it—upon her boy?’
‘It had been left to her, unconditionally, by her first husband,’ Mr. Murdstone began, when my aunt caught him up with the greatest irascibility and impatience.
‘Good Lord, man, there’s no occasion to say that. Left to her unconditionally! I think I see David Copperfield looking forward to any condition of any sort or kind, though it stared him point-blank in the face! Of course it was left to her unconditionally. But when she married again—when she took that most disastrous step of marrying you, in short,’ said my aunt, ‘to be plain—did no one put in a word for the boy at that time?’
‘My late wife loved her second husband, ma’am,’ said Mr. Murdstone, ‘and trusted implicitly in him.’
‘Your late wife, sir, was a most unworldly, most unhappy, most unfortunate baby,’ returned my aunt, shaking her head at him. ‘That’s what she was. And now, what have you got to say next?’
‘Merely this, Miss Trotwood,’ he returned. ‘I am here to take David back—to take him back unconditionally, to dispose of him as I think proper, and to deal with him as I think right. I am not here to make any promise, or give any pledge to anybody. You may possibly have some idea, Miss Trotwood, of abetting him in his running away, and in his complaints to you. Your manner, which I must say does not seem intended to propitiate, induces me to think it possible. Now I must caution you that if you abet him once, you abet him for good and all; if you step in between him and me, now, you must step in, Miss Trotwood, for ever. I cannot trifle, or be trifled with. I am here, for the first and last time, to take him away. Is he ready to go? If he is not—and you tell me he is not; on any pretence; it is indifferent to me what—my doors are shut against him henceforth, and yours, I take it for granted, are open to him.’
To this address, my aunt had listened with the closest attention, sitting perfectly upright, with her hands folded on one knee, and looking grimly on the speaker. When he had finished, she turned her eyes so as to command Miss Murdstone, without otherwise disturbing her attitude, and said:
‘Well, ma’am, have YOU got anything to remark?’
‘Indeed, Miss Trotwood,’ said Miss Murdstone, ‘all that I could say has been so well said by my brother, and all that I know to be the fact has been so plainly stated by him, that I have nothing to add except my thanks for your politeness. For your very great politeness, I am sure,’ said Miss Murdstone; with an irony which no more affected my aunt, than it discomposed the cannon I had slept by at Chatham.
‘And what does the boy say?’ said my aunt. ‘Are you ready to go, David?’
I answered no, and entreated her not to let me go. I said that neither Mr. nor Miss Murdstone had ever liked me, or had ever been kind to me. That they had made my mama, who always loved me dearly, unhappy about me, and that I knew it well, and that Peggotty knew it. I said that I had been more miserable than I thought anybody could believe, who only knew how young I was. And I begged and prayed my aunt—I forget in what terms now, but I remember that they affected me very much then—to befriend and protect me, for my father’s sake.
‘Mr. Dick,’ said my aunt, ‘what shall I do with this child?’
Mr. Dick considered, hesitated, brightened, and rejoined, ‘Have him measured for a suit of clothes directly.’
‘Mr. Dick,’ said my aunt triumphantly, ‘give me your hand, for your common sense is invaluable.’ Having shaken it with great cordiality, she pulled me towards her and said to Mr. Murdstone:
‘You can go when you like; I’ll take my chance with the boy. If he’s all you say he is, at least I can do as much for him then, as you have done. But I don’t believe a word of it.’
‘Miss Trotwood,’ rejoined Mr. Murdstone, shrugging his shoulders, as he rose, ‘if you were a gentleman—’
‘Bah! Stuff and nonsense!’ said my aunt. ‘Don’t talk to me!’
‘How exquisitely polite!’ exclaimed Miss Murdstone, rising. ‘Overpowering, really!’
‘Do you think I don’t know,’ said my aunt, turning a deaf ear to the sister, and continuing to address the brother, and to shake her head at him with infinite expression, ‘what kind of life you must have led that poor, unhappy, misdirected baby? Do you think I don’t know what a woeful day it was for the soft little creature when you first came in her way—smirking and making great eyes at her, I’ll be bound, as if you couldn’t say boh! to a goose!’
‘I never heard anything so elegant!’ said Miss Murdstone.
‘Do you think I can’t understand you as well as if I had seen you,’ pursued my aunt, ‘now that I DO see and hear you—which, I tell you candidly, is anything but a pleasure to me? Oh yes, bless us! who so smooth and silky as Mr. Murdstone at first! The poor, benighted innocent had never seen such a man. He was made of sweetness. He worshipped her. He doted on her boy—tenderly doted on him! He was to be another father to him, and they were all to live together in a garden of roses, weren’t they? Ugh! Get along with you, do!’ said my aunt.
‘I never heard anything like this person in my life!’ exclaimed Miss Murdstone.
‘And when you had made sure of the poor little fool,’ said my aunt—’God forgive me that I should call her so, and she gone where YOU won’t go in a hurry—because you had not done wrong enough to her and hers, you must begin to train her, must you? begin to break her, like a poor caged bird, and wear her deluded life away, in teaching her to sing YOUR notes?’
‘This is either insanity or intoxication,’ said Miss Murdstone, in a perfect agony at not being able to turn the current of my aunt’s address towards herself; ‘and my suspicion is that it’s intoxication.’
Miss Betsey, without taking the least notice of the interruption, continued to address herself to Mr. Murdstone as if there had been no such thing.
‘Mr. Murdstone,’ she said, shaking her finger at him, ‘you were a tyrant to the simple baby, and you broke her heart. She was a loving baby—I know that; I knew it, years before you ever saw her—and through the best part of her weakness you gave her the wounds she died of. There is the truth for your comfort, however you like it. And you and your instruments may make the most of it.’
‘Allow me to inquire, Miss Trotwood,’ interposed Miss Murdstone, ‘whom you are pleased to call, in a choice of words in which I am not experienced, my brother’s instruments?’
‘It was clear enough, as I have told you, years before YOU ever saw her—and why, in the mysterious dispensations of Providence, you ever did see her, is more than humanity can comprehend—it was clear enough that the poor soft little thing would marry somebody, at some time or other; but I did hope it wouldn’t have been as bad as it has turned out. That was the time, Mr. Murdstone, when she gave birth to her boy here,’ said my aunt; ‘to the poor child you sometimes tormented her through afterwards, which is a disagreeable remembrance and makes the sight of him odious now. Aye, aye! you needn’t wince!’ said my aunt. ‘I know it’s true without that.’
He had stood by the door, all this while, observant of her with a smile upon his face, though his black eyebrows were heavily contracted. I remarked now, that, though the smile was on his face still, his colour had gone in a moment, and he seemed to breathe as if he had been running.
‘Good day, sir,’ said my aunt, ‘and good-bye! Good day to you, too, ma’am,’ said my aunt, turning suddenly upon his sister. ‘Let me see you ride a donkey over my green again, and as sure as you have a head upon your shoulders, I’ll knock your bonnet off, and tread upon it!’
It would require a painter, and no common painter too, to depict my aunt’s face as she delivered herself of this very unexpected sentiment, and Miss Murdstone’s face as she heard it. But the manner of the speech, no less than the matter, was so fiery, that Miss Murdstone, without a word in answer, discreetly put her arm through her brother’s, and walked haughtily out of the cottage; my aunt remaining in the window looking after them; prepared, I have no doubt, in case of the donkey’s reappearance, to carry her threat into instant execution.
No attempt at defiance being made, however, her face gradually relaxed, and became so pleasant, that I was emboldened to kiss and thank her; which I did with great heartiness, and with both my arms clasped round her neck. I then shook hands with Mr. Dick, who shook hands with me a great many times, and hailed this happy close of the proceedings with repeated bursts of laughter.
‘You’ll consider yourself guardian, jointly with me, of this child, Mr. Dick,’ said my aunt.
‘I shall be delighted,’ said Mr. Dick, ‘to be the guardian of David’s son.’
‘Very good,’ returned my aunt, ‘that’s settled. I have been thinking, do you know, Mr. Dick, that I might call him Trotwood?’
‘Certainly, certainly. Call him Trotwood, certainly,’ said Mr. Dick. ‘David’s son’s Trotwood.’
‘Trotwood Copperfield, you mean,’ returned my aunt.
‘Yes, to be sure. Yes. Trotwood Copperfield,’ said Mr. Dick, a little abashed.
My aunt took so kindly to the notion, that some ready-made clothes, which were purchased for me that afternoon, were marked ‘Trotwood Copperfield’, in her own handwriting, and in indelible marking-ink, before I put them on; and it was settled that all the other clothes which were ordered to be made for me (a complete outfit was bespoke that afternoon) should be marked in the same way.
Thus I began my new life, in a new name, and with everything new about me. Now that the state of doubt was over, I felt, for many days, like one in a dream. I never thought that I had a curious couple of guardians, in my aunt and Mr. Dick. I never thought of anything about myself, distinctly. The two things clearest in my mind were, that a remoteness had come upon the old Blunderstone life—which seemed to lie in the haze of an immeasurable distance; and that a curtain had for ever fallen on my life at Murdstone and Grinby’s. No one has ever raised that curtain since. I have lifted it for a moment, even in this narrative, with a reluctant hand, and dropped it gladly. The remembrance of that life is fraught with so much pain to me, with so much mental suffering and want of hope, that I have never had the courage even to examine how long I was doomed to lead it. Whether it lasted for a year, or more, or less, I do not know. I only know that it was, and ceased to be; and that I have written, and there I leave it.