David Copperfield – Day 76 of 331

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:

“Miss Trotwood!”

“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-“

“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.”

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