David Copperfield – Day 77 of 331

“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!”

Comments

  1. ScottS-M Identicon Icon

    ScottS-M wrote:

    About time someone stood up for the kid. Good to see the Murdstones getting thwarted. I guess something else must go wrong for him though.

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