David Copperfield – Day 294 of 331

My aunt remained quiet; until again some stray tears found their way to her cheeks. “You are quite right,” she said. “It was very thoughtful to mention it.”

“Can I—or Copperfield—do anything?” asked Traddles, gently.

“Nothing,” said my aunt. “I thank you many times. Trot, my dear, a vain threat! Let us have Mr. and Mrs. Micawber back. And don’t any of you speak to me!” With that she smoothed her dress, and sat, with her upright carriage, looking at the door.

“Well, Mr. and Mrs. Micawber!” said my aunt, when they entered. “We have been discussing your emigration, with many apologies to you for keeping you out of the room so long; and I’ll tell you what arrangements we propose.”

These she explained to the unbounded satisfaction of the family, — children and all being then present,—and so much to the awakening of Mr. Micawber’s punctual habits in the opening stage of all bill transactions, that he could not be dissuaded from immediately rushing out, in the highest spirits, to buy the stamps for his notes of hand. But, his joy received a sudden check; for within five minutes, he returned in the custody of a sheriff’s officer, informing us, in a flood of tears, that all was lost. We, being quite prepared for this event, which was of course a proceeding of Uriah Heep’s, soon paid the money; and in five minutes more Mr. Micawber was seated at the table, filling up the stamps with an expression of perfect joy, which only that congenial employment, or the making of punch, could impart in full completeness to his shining face. To see him at work on the stamps, with the relish of an artist, touching them like pictures, looking at them sideways, taking weighty notes of dates and amounts in his pocket-book, and contemplating them when finished, with a high sense of their precious value, was a sight indeed.

“Now, the best thing you can do, sir, if you’ll allow me to advise you,” said my aunt, after silently observing him, “is to abjure that occupation for evermore.”

“Madam,” replied Mr. Micawber, “it is my intention to register such a vow on the virgin page of the future. Mrs. Micawber will attest it. I trust,” said Mr. Micawber, solemnly, “that my son Wilkins will ever bear in mind, that he had infinitely better put his fist in the fire, than use it to handle the serpents that have poisoned the life-blood of his unhappy parent!” Deeply affected, and changed in a moment to the image of despair, Mr. Micawber regarded the serpents with a look of gloomy abhorrence (in which his late admiration of them was not quite subdued), folded them up and put them in his pocket.

This closed the proceedings of the evening. We were weary with sorrow and fatigue, and my aunt and I were to return to London on the morrow. It was arranged that the Micawbers should follow us, after effecting a sale of their goods to a broker; that Mr. Wickfield’s affairs should be brought to a settlement, with all convenient speed, under the direction of Traddles; and that Agnes should also come to London, pending those arrangements. We passed the night at the old house, which, freed from the presence of the Heeps, seemed purged of a disease; and I lay in my old room, like a shipwrecked wanderer come home.

We went back next day to my aunt’s house—not to mine—and when she and I sat alone, as of old, before going to bed, she said:

“Trot, do you really wish to know what I have had upon my mind lately?”

“Indeed I do, aunt. If there ever was a time when I felt unwilling that you should have a sorrow or anxiety which I could not share, it is now.”

“You have had sorrow enough, child,” said my aunt, affectionately, “without the addition of my little miseries. I could have no other motive, Trot, in keeping anything from you.”

“I know that well,” said I. “But tell me now.”

“Would you ride with me a little way tomorrow morning?” asked my aunt.

“Of course.”

“At nine,” said she. “I’ll tell you then, my dear.”

At nine, accordingly, we went out in a little chariot, and drove to London. We drove a long way through the streets, until we came to one of the large hospitals. Standing hard by the building was a plain hearse. The driver recognized my aunt, and, in obedience to a motion of her hand at the window, drove slowly off; we following.

“You understand it now, Trot,” said my aunt. “He is gone!”

“Did he die in the hospital?”

“Yes.”

She sat immovable beside me; but, again I saw the stray tears on her face.

“He was there once before,” said my aunt presently. “He was ailing a long time—a shattered, broken man, these many years. When he knew his state in this last illness, he asked them to send for me. He was sorry then. Very sorry.”

“You went, I know, aunt.”

“I went. I was with him a good deal afterwards.”

“He died the night before we went to Canterbury?” said I. My aunt nodded. “No one can harm him now,” she said. “It was a vain threat.”

We drove away, out of town, to the churchyard at Hornsey. “Better here than in the streets,” said my aunt. “He was born here.”

We alighted; and followed the plain coffin to a corner I remember well, where the service was read consigning it to the dust.

“Six-and-thirty years ago, this day, my dear,” said my aunt, as we walked back to the chariot, “I was married. God forgive us all!” We took our seats in silence; and so she sat beside me for a long time, holding my hand. At length she suddenly burst into tears, and said:

“He was a fine-looking man when I married him, Trot—and he was sadly changed!”

It did not last long. After the relief of tears, she soon became composed, and even cheerful. Her nerves were a little shaken, she said, or she would not have given way to it. God forgive us all!

So we rode back to her little cottage at Highgate, where we found the following short note, which had arrived by that morning’s post from Mr. Micawber:

          "Canterbury,
               "Friday.
"My dear Madam, and Copperfield,

“The fair land of promise lately looming on the horizon is again enveloped in impenetrable mists, and for ever withdrawn from the eyes of a drifting wretch whose Doom is sealed!

“Another writ has been issued (in His Majesty’s High Court of King’s Bench at Westminster), in another cause of Heep v. Micawber, and the defendant in that cause is the prey of the sheriff having legal jurisdiction in this bailiwick.

     "Now's the day, and now's the hour,
     See the front of battle lower,
     See approach proud Edward's power ---
     Chains and slavery!

“Consigned to which, and to a speedy end (for mental torture is not supportable beyond a certain point, and that point I feel I have attained), my course is run. Bless you, bless you! Some future traveller, visiting, from motives of curiosity, not unmingled, let us hope, with sympathy, the place of confinement allotted to debtors in this city, may, and I trust will, Ponder, as he traces on its wall, inscribed with a rusty nail,

                              "The obscure initials,
                                   "W. M.

“P.S. I re-open this to say that our common friend, Mr. Thomas Traddles (who has not yet left us, and is looking extremely well), has paid the debt and costs, in the noble name of Miss Trotwood; and that myself and family are at the height of earthly bliss.”

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