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.'
'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?'