David Copperfield – Day 188 of 331

“What?” returned Agnes.

“Well! perhaps Dora first,” I admitted, with a blush.

“Certainly, Dora first, I hope,” said Agnes, laughing.

“But you next!” said I. “Where are you going?”

She was going to my rooms to see my aunt. The day being very fine, she was glad to come out of the chariot, which smelt (I had my head in it all this time) like a stable put under a cucumber-frame. I dismissed the coachman, and she took my arm, and we walked on together. She was like Hope embodied, to me. How different I felt in one short minute, having Agnes at my side!

My aunt had written her one of the odd, abrupt notes—very little longer than a Bank note—to which her epistolary efforts were usually limited. She had stated therein that she had fallen into adversity, and was leaving Dover for good, but had quite made up her mind to it, and was so well that nobody need be uncomfortable about her. Agnes had come to London to see my aunt, between whom and herself there had been a mutual liking these many years: indeed, it dated from the time of my taking up my residence in Mr. Wickfield’s house. She was not alone, she said. Her papa was with her—and Uriah Heep.

“And now they are partners,” said I. “Confound him!”

“Yes,” said Agnes. “They have some business here; and I took advantage of their coming, to come too. You must not think my visit all friendly and disinterested, Trotwood, for—I am afraid I may be cruelly prejudiced—I do not like to let papa go away alone, with him.”

“Does he exercise the same influence over Mr. Wickfield still, Agnes?”

Agnes shook her head. “There is such a change at home,” said she, “that you would scarcely know the dear old house. They live with us now.”

“They?” said I.

“Mr. Heep and his mother. He sleeps in your old room,” said Agnes, looking up into my face.

“I wish I had the ordering of his dreams,” said I. “He wouldn’t sleep there long.”

“I keep my own little room,” said Agnes, “where I used to learn my lessons. How the time goes! You remember? The little panelled room that opens from the drawing-room?”

“Remember, Agnes? When I saw you, for the first time, coming out at the door, with your quaint little basket of keys hanging at your side?”

“It is just the same,” said Agnes, smiling. “I am glad you think of it so pleasantly. We were very happy.”

“We were, indeed,” said I.

“I keep that room to myself still; but I cannot always desert Mrs. Heep, you know. And so,” said Agnes, quietly, “I feel obliged to bear her company, when I might prefer to be alone. But I have no other reason to complain of her. If she tires me, sometimes, by her praises of her son, it is only natural in a mother. He is a very good son to her.”

I looked at Agnes when she said these words, without detecting in her any consciousness of Uriah’s design. Her mild but earnest eyes met mine with their own beautiful frankness, and there was no change in her gentle face.

“The chief evil of their presence in the house,” said Agnes, “is that I cannot be as near papa as I could wish—Uriah Heep being so much between us—and cannot watch over him, if that is not too bold a thing to say, as closely as I would. But if any fraud or treachery is practising against him, I hope that simple love and truth will be strong in the end. I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.”

A certain bright smile, which I never saw on any other face, died away, even while I thought how good it was, and how familiar it had once been to me; and she asked me, with a quick change of expression (we were drawing very near my street), if I knew how the reverse in my aunt’s circumstances had been brought about. On my replying no, she had not told me yet, Agnes became thoughtful, and I fancied I felt her arm tremble in mine.

We found my aunt alone, in a state of some excitement. A difference of opinion had arisen between herself and Mrs. Crupp, on an abstract question (the propriety of chambers being inhabited by the gentler sex); and my aunt, utterly indifferent to spasms on the part of Mrs. Crupp, had cut the dispute short, by informing that lady that she smelt of my brandy, and that she would trouble her to walk out. Both of these expressions Mrs. Crupp considered actionable, and had expressed her intention of bringing before a “British Judy”—meaning, it was supposed, the bulwark of our national liberties.

My aunt, however, having had time to cool, while Peggotty was out showing Mr. Dick the soldiers at the Horse Guards—and being, besides, greatly pleased to see Agnes—rather plumed herself on the affair than otherwise, and received us with unimpaired good humour. When Agnes laid her bonnet on the table, and sat down beside her, I could not but think, looking on her mild eyes and her radiant forehead, how natural it seemed to have her there; how trustfully, although she was so young and inexperienced, my aunt confided in her; how strong she was, indeed, in simple love and truth.

We began to talk about my aunt’s losses, and I told them what I had tried to do that morning.

“Which was injudicious, Trot,” said my aunt, “but well meant. You are a generous boy—I suppose I must say, young man, now—and I am proud of you, my dear. So far, so good. Now, Trot and Agnes, let us look the case of Betsey Trotwood in the face, and see how it stands.”

I observed Agnes turn pale, as she looked very attentively at my aunt. My aunt, patting her cat, looked very attentively at Agnes.

“Betsey Trotwood,” said my aunt, who had always kept her money matters to herself. “—I don’t mean your sister, Trot, my dear, but myself—had a certain property. It don’t matter how much; enough to live on. More; for she had saved a little, and added to it. Betsey funded her property for some time, and then, by the advice of her man of business, laid it out on landed security. That did very well, and returned very good interest, till Betsey was paid off. I am talking of Betsey as if she was a man-of-war. Well! Then, Betsey had to look about her, for a new investment. She thought she was wiser, now, than her man of business, who was not such a good man of business by this time, as he used to be—I am alluding to your father, Agnes—and she took it into her head to lay it out for herself. So she took her pigs,” said my aunt, “to a foreign market; and a very bad market it turned out to be. First, she lost in the mining way, and then she lost in the diving way—fishing up treasure, or some such Tom Tiddler nonsense,” explained my aunt, rubbing her nose; “and then she lost in the mining way again, and, last of all, to set the thing entirely to rights, she lost in the banking way. I don’t know what the Bank shares were worth for a little while,” said my aunt; “cent per cent was the lowest of it, I believe; but the Bank was at the other end of the world, and tumbled into space, for what I know; anyhow, it fell to pieces, and never will and never can pay sixpence; and Betsey’s sixpences were all there, and there’s an end of them. Least said, soonest mended!”

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