'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!'
'I never heard anything so elegant!' said Miss Murdstone.
'Do you think I can't understand you as well as if I had seen you,' pursued my aunt, 'now that I DO see and hear you — which, I tell you candidly, is anything but a pleasure to me? Oh yes, bless us! who so smooth and silky as Mr. Murdstone at first! The poor, benighted innocent had never seen such a man. He was made of sweetness. He worshipped her. He doted on her boy — tenderly doted on him! He was to be another father to him, and they were all to live together in a garden of roses, weren't they? Ugh! Get along with you, do!' said my aunt.
'I never heard anything like this person in my life!' exclaimed Miss Murdstone.
'And when you had made sure of the poor little fool,' said my aunt — 'God forgive me that I should call her so, and she gone where YOU won't go in a hurry — because you had not done wrong enough to her and hers, you must begin to train her, must you? begin to break her, like a poor caged bird, and wear her deluded life away, in teaching her to sing YOUR notes?'
'This is either insanity or intoxication,' said Miss Murdstone, in a perfect agony at not being able to turn the current of my aunt's address towards herself; 'and my suspicion is that it's intoxication.'
Miss Betsey, without taking the least notice of the interruption, continued to address herself to Mr. Murdstone as if there had been no such thing.