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‘Oh, Agnes! Look, look, here!’ –That face, so full of pity, and of grief, that rain of tears, that awful mute appeal to me, that solemn hand upraised towards Heaven!
It is over. Darkness comes before my eyes; and, for a time, all things are blotted out of my remembrance.
CHAPTER 54. Mr. MICAWBER’S TRANSACTIONS
This is not the time at which I am to enter on the state of my mind beneath its load of sorrow. I came to think that the Future was walled up before me, that the energy and action of my life were at an end, that I never could find any refuge but in the grave. I came to think so, I say, but not in the first shock of my grief. It slowly grew to that.
If the events I go on to relate, had not thickened around me, in the beginning to confuse, and in the end to augment, my affliction, it is possible (though I think not probable), that I might have fallen at once into this condition. As it was, an interval occurred before I fully knew my own distress; an interval, in which I even supposed that its sharpest pangs were past; and when my mind could soothe itself by resting on all that was most innocent and beautiful, in the tender story that was closed for ever.
When it was first proposed that I should go abroad, or how it came to be agreed among us that I was to seek the restoration of my peace in change and travel, I do not, even now, distinctly know. The spirit of Agnes so pervaded all we thought, and said, and did, in that time of sorrow, that I a.s.sume I may refer the project to her influence. But her influence was so quiet that I know no more.
And now, indeed, I began to think that in my old a.s.sociation of her with the stained-gla.s.s window in the church, a prophetic foreshadowing of what she would be to me, in the calamity that was to happen in the fullness of time, had found a way into my mind. In all that sorrow, from the moment, never to be forgotten, when she stood before me with her upraised hand, she was like a sacred presence in my lonely house. When the Angel of Death alighted there, my child-wife fell asleep–they told me so when I could bear to hear it–on her bosom, with a smile. From my swoon, I first awoke to a consciousness of her compa.s.sionate tears, her words of hope and peace, her gentle face bending down as from a purer region nearer Heaven, over my undisciplined heart, and softening its pain.
Let me go on.
I was to go abroad. That seemed to have been determined among us from the first. The ground now covering all that could perish of my departed wife, I waited only for what Mr. Micawber called the ‘final pulverization of Heep’; and for the departure of the emigrants.
At the request of Traddles, most affectionate and devoted of friends in my trouble, we returned to Canterbury: I mean my aunt, Agnes, and I. We proceeded by appointment straight to Mr. Micawber’s house; where, and at Mr. Wickfield’s, my friend had been labouring ever since our explosive meeting. When poor Mrs. Micawber saw me come in, in my black clothes, she was sensibly affected. There was a great deal of good in Mrs.
Micawber’s heart, which had not been dunned out of it in all those many years.
‘Well, Mr. and Mrs. Micawber,’ was my aunt’s first salutation after we were seated. ‘Pray, have you thought about that emigration proposal of mine?’
‘My dear madam,’ returned Mr. Micawber, ‘perhaps I cannot better express the conclusion at which Mrs. Micawber, your humble servant, and I may add our children, have jointly and severally arrived, than by borrowing the language of an ill.u.s.trious poet, to reply that our Boat is on the sh.o.r.e, and our Bark is on the sea.’
‘That’s right,’ said my aunt. ‘I augur all sort of good from your sensible decision.’
‘Madam, you do us a great deal of honour,’ he rejoined. He then referred to a memorandum. ‘With respect to the pecuniary a.s.sistance enabling us to launch our frail canoe on the ocean of enterprise, I have reconsidered that important business-point; and would beg to propose my notes of hand–drawn, it is needless to stipulate, on stamps of the amounts respectively required by the various Acts of Parliament applying to such securities–at eighteen, twenty-four, and thirty months.
The proposition I originally submitted, was twelve, eighteen, and twenty-four; but I am apprehensive that such an arrangement might not allow sufficient time for the requisite amount of–Something–to turn up. We might not,’ said Mr. Micawber, looking round the room as if it represented several hundred acres of highly cultivated land, ‘on the first responsibility becoming due, have been successful in our harvest, or we might not have got our harvest in. Labour, I believe, is sometimes difficult to obtain in that portion of our colonial possessions where it will be our lot to combat with the teeming soil.’
‘Arrange it in any way you please, sir,’ said my aunt.
‘Madam,’ he replied, ‘Mrs. Micawber and myself are deeply sensible of the very considerate kindness of our friends and patrons. What I wish is, to be perfectly business-like, and perfectly punctual. Turning over, as we are about to turn over, an entirely new leaf; and falling back, as we are now in the act of falling back, for a Spring of no common magnitude; it is important to my sense of self-respect, besides being an example to my son, that these arrangements should be concluded as between man and man.’
I don’t know that Mr. Micawber attached any meaning to this last phrase; I don’t know that anybody ever does, or did; but he appeared to relish it uncommonly, and repeated, with an impressive cough, ‘as between man and man’.
‘I propose,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘Bills–a convenience to the mercantile world, for which, I believe, we are originally indebted to the Jews, who appear to me to have had a devilish deal too much to do with them ever since–because they are negotiable. But if a Bond, or any other description of security, would be preferred, I should be happy to execute any such instrument. As between man and man.’
MY aunt observed, that in a case where both parties were willing to agree to anything, she took it for granted there would be no difficulty in settling this point. Mr. Micawber was of her opinion.
‘In reference to our domestic preparations, madam,’ said Mr. Micawber, with some pride, ‘for meeting the destiny to which we are now understood to be self-devoted, I beg to report them. My eldest daughter attends at five every morning in a neighbouring establishment, to acquire the process–if process it may be called–of milking cows. My younger children are instructed to observe, as closely as circ.u.mstances will permit, the habits of the pigs and poultry maintained in the poorer parts of this city: a pursuit from which they have, on two occasions, been brought home, within an inch of being run over. I have myself directed some attention, during the past week, to the art of baking; and my son Wilkins has issued forth with a walking-stick and driven cattle, when permitted, by the rugged hirelings who had them in charge, to render any voluntary service in that direction–which I regret to say, for the credit of our nature, was not often; he being generally warned, with imprecations, to desist.’
‘All very right indeed,’ said my aunt, encouragingly. ‘Mrs. Micawber has been busy, too, I have no doubt.’
‘My dear madam,’ returned Mrs. Micawber, with her business-like air.
‘I am free to confess that I have not been actively engaged in pursuits immediately connected with cultivation or with stock, though well aware that both will claim my attention on a foreign sh.o.r.e. Such opportunities as I have been enabled to alienate from my domestic duties, I have devoted to corresponding at some length with my family. For I own it seems to me, my dear Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mrs. Micawber, who always fell back on me, I suppose from old habit, to whomsoever else she might address her discourse at starting, ‘that the time is come when the past should be buried in oblivion; when my family should take Mr. Micawber by the hand, and Mr. Micawber should take my family by the hand; when the lion should lie down with the lamb, and my family be on terms with Mr.
I said I thought so too.
‘This, at least, is the light, my dear Mr. Copperfield,’ pursued Mrs.
Micawber, ‘in which I view the subject. When I lived at home with my papa and mama, my papa was accustomed to ask, when any point was under discussion in our limited circle, “In what light does my Emma view the subject?” That my papa was too partial, I know; still, on such a point as the frigid coldness which has ever subsisted between Mr. Micawber and my family, I necessarily have formed an opinion, delusive though it may be.’
‘No doubt. Of course you have, ma’am,’ said my aunt.
‘Precisely so,’ a.s.sented Mrs. Micawber. ‘Now, I may be wrong in my conclusions; it is very likely that I am, but my individual impression is, that the gulf between my family and Mr. Micawber may be traced to an apprehension, on the part of my family, that Mr. Micawber would require pecuniary accommodation. I cannot help thinking,’ said Mrs. Micawber, with an air of deep sagacity, ‘that there are members of my family who have been apprehensive that Mr. Micawber would solicit them for their names.—I do not mean to be conferred in Baptism upon our children, but to be inscribed on Bills of Exchange, and negotiated in the Money Market.’
The look of penetration with which Mrs. Micawber announced this discovery, as if no one had ever thought of it before, seemed rather to astonish my aunt; who abruptly replied, ‘Well, ma’am, upon the whole, I shouldn’t wonder if you were right!’
‘Mr. Micawber being now on the eve of casting off the pecuniary shackles that have so long enthralled him,’ said Mrs. Micawber, ‘and of commencing a new career in a country where there is sufficient range for his abilities,–which, in my opinion, is exceedingly important; Mr.
Micawber’s abilities peculiarly requiring s.p.a.ce,–it seems to me that my family should signalize the occasion by coming forward. What I could wish to see, would be a meeting between Mr. Micawber and my family at a festive entertainment, to be given at my family’s expense; where Mr.
Micawber’s health and prosperity being proposed, by some leading member of my family, Mr. Micawber might have an opportunity of developing his views.’
‘My dear,’ said Mr. Micawber, with some heat, ‘it may be better for me to state distinctly, at once, that if I were to develop my views to that a.s.sembled group, they would possibly be found of an offensive nature: my impression being that your family are, in the aggregate, impertinent Sn.o.bs; and, in detail, unmitigated Ruffians.’
‘Micawber,’ said Mrs. Micawber, shaking her head, ‘no! You have never understood them, and they have never understood you.’
Mr. Micawber coughed.
‘They have never understood you, Micawber,’ said his wife. ‘They may be incapable of it. If so, that is their misfortune. I can pity their misfortune.’
‘I am extremely sorry, my dear Emma,’ said Mr. Micawber, relenting, ‘to have been betrayed into any expressions that might, even remotely, have the appearance of being strong expressions. All I would say is, that I can go abroad without your family coming forward to favour me,–in short, with a parting Shove of their cold shoulders; and that, upon the whole, I would rather leave England with such impetus as I possess, than derive any acceleration of it from that quarter. At the same time, my dear, if they should condescend to reply to your communications–which our joint experience renders most improbable–far be it from me to be a barrier to your wishes.’
The matter being thus amicably settled, Mr. Micawber gave Mrs. Micawber his arm, and glancing at the heap of books and papers lying before Traddles on the table, said they would leave us to ourselves; which they ceremoniously did.
‘My dear Copperfield,’ said Traddles, leaning back in his chair when they were gone, and looking at me with an affection that made his eyes red, and his hair all kinds of shapes, ‘I don’t make any excuse for troubling you with business, because I know you are deeply interested in it, and it may divert your thoughts. My dear boy, I hope you are not worn out?’
‘I am quite myself,’ said I, after a pause. ‘We have more cause to think of my aunt than of anyone. You know how much she has done.’
‘Surely, surely,’ answered Traddles. ‘Who can forget it!’
‘But even that is not all,’ said I. ‘During the last fortnight, some new trouble has vexed her; and she has been in and out of London every day.
Several times she has gone out early, and been absent until evening.
Last night, Traddles, with this journey before her, it was almost midnight before she came home. You know what her consideration for others is. She will not tell me what has happened to distress her.’
My aunt, very pale, and with deep lines in her face, sat immovable until I had finished; when some stray tears found their way to her cheeks, and she put her hand on mine.
‘It’s nothing, Trot; it’s nothing. There will be no more of it. You shall know by and by. Now Agnes, my dear, let us attend to these affairs.’
‘I must do Mr. Micawber the justice to say,’ Traddles began, ‘that although he would appear not to have worked to any good account for himself, he is a most untiring man when he works for other people. I never saw such a fellow. If he always goes on in the same way, he must be, virtually, about two hundred years old, at present. The heat into which he has been continually putting himself; and the distracted and impetuous manner in which he has been diving, day and night, among papers and books; to say nothing of the immense number of letters he has written me between this house and Mr. Wickfield’s, and often across the table when he has been sitting opposite, and might much more easily have spoken; is quite extraordinary.’
‘Letters!’ cried my aunt. ‘I believe he dreams in letters!’
‘There’s Mr. d.i.c.k, too,’ said Traddles, ‘has been doing wonders! As soon as he was released from overlooking Uriah Heep, whom he kept in such charge as I never saw exceeded, he began to devote himself to Mr.
Wickfield. And really his anxiety to be of use in the investigations we have been making, and his real usefulness in extracting, and copying, and fetching, and carrying, have been quite stimulating to us.’
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