We were a little like undertakers, in the Commons, as regarded Probate transactions; generally making it a rule to look more or less cut up, when we had to deal with clients in mourning. In a similar feeling of delicacy, we were always blithe and light-hearted with the licence clients. Therefore I hinted to Peggotty that she would find Mr. Spenlow much recovered from the shock of Mr. Barkis's decease; and indeed he came in like a bridegroom.
But neither Peggotty nor I had eyes for him, when we saw, in company with him, Mr. Murdstone. He was very little changed. His hair looked as thick, and was certainly as black, as ever; and his glance was as little to be trusted as of old.
'Ah, Copperfield?' said Mr. Spenlow. 'You know this gentleman, I believe?'
I made my gentleman a distant bow, and Peggotty barely recognized him. He was, at first, somewhat disconcerted to meet us two together; but quickly decided what to do, and came up to me.
'I hope,' he said, 'that you are doing well?'
'It can hardly be interesting to you,' said I. 'Yes, if you wish to know.'
We looked at each other, and he addressed himself to Peggotty.
'And you,' said he. 'I am sorry to observe that you have lost your husband.'
'It's not the first loss I have had in my life, Mr. Murdstone,' replied Peggotty, trembling from head to foot. 'I am glad to hope that there is nobody to blame for this one, — nobody to answer for it.'
'Ha!' said he; 'that's a comfortable reflection. You have done your duty?'
'I have not worn anybody's life away,' said Peggotty, 'I am thankful to think! No, Mr. Murdstone, I have not worrited and frightened any sweet creetur to an early grave!'
He eyed her gloomily — remorsefully I thought — for an instant; and said, turning his head towards me, but looking at my feet instead of my face:
'We are not likely to encounter soon again; — a source of satisfaction to us both, no doubt, for such meetings as this can never be agreeable. I do not expect that you, who always rebelled against my just authority, exerted for your benefit and reformation, should owe me any good-will now. There is an antipathy between us — '
'An old one, I believe?' said I, interrupting him.
He smiled, and shot as evil a glance at me as could come from his dark eyes.
'It rankled in your baby breast,' he said. 'It embittered the life of your poor mother. You are right. I hope you may do better, yet; I hope you may correct yourself.'
Here he ended the dialogue, which had been carried on in a low voice, in a corner of the outer office, by passing into Mr. Spenlow's room, and saying aloud, in his smoothest manner:
'Gentlemen of Mr. Spenlow's profession are accustomed to family differences, and know how complicated and difficult they always are!' With that, he paid the money for his licence; and, receiving it neatly folded from Mr. Spenlow, together with a shake of the hand, and a polite wish for his happiness and the lady's, went out of the office.
I might have had more difficulty in constraining myself to be silent under his words, if I had had less difficulty in impressing upon Peggotty (who was only angry on my account, good creature!) that we were not in a place for recrimination, and that I besought her to hold her peace. She was so unusually roused, that I was glad to compound for an affectionate hug, elicited by this revival in her mind of our old injuries, and to make the best I could of it, before Mr. Spenlow and the clerks.
Mr. Spenlow did not appear to know what the connexion between Mr. Murdstone and myself was; which I was glad of, for I could not bear to acknowledge him, even in my own breast, remembering what I did of the history of my poor mother. Mr. Spenlow seemed to think, if he thought anything about the matter, that my aunt was the leader of the state party in our family, and that there was a rebel party commanded by somebody else — so I gathered at least from what he said, while we were waiting for Mr. Tiffey to make out Peggotty's bill of costs.
'Miss Trotwood,' he remarked, 'is very firm, no doubt, and not likely to give way to opposition. I have an admiration for her character, and I may congratulate you, Copperfield, on being on the right side. Differences between relations are much to be deplored — but they are extremely general — and the great thing is, to be on the right side': meaning, I take it, on the side of the moneyed interest.
'Rather a good marriage this, I believe?' said Mr. Spenlow.