'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 laboriously 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.'