Charles Dickens.

The personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) online

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business, and perhaps it might be Wickfield and Heep! You
may not recollect it; but when a person is umble. Master
Copperfield , a person treasures such things up I "



170



"I recollect talking about It," saidi, " though 1 certainly
did not think it very likely then."

"Oh! who would have thought it likely, Mister Copper-
field 1 " returned Uriah , enthusiastically , " I am sure 1 didn't
myself. I recollect saying with my own lips that I was much
too umble. So I considered myself really and truly. "

He sat, with that carved grin on his face, looking at the
fire, as I looked at him.

"But the umblest persons. Master Copperfield," he pre-
sently resumed, "may be the instruments of good. I am glad
to think I have been the instrument of good to Mr. Wickfield,
and that I may be more so. Oh what a worthy man he is.
Mister Copperfield, but how imprudent he has been! "

"I am sorry to hear it," said I. I could not help adding,
rather pointedly, "on all accounts."

"Decidedly so, Mister Copperfield," replied Uriah. "On
all accounts. Miss Agnes's above all! You don't remember
your own eloquent expressions. Master Copperfield; but /re-
member how you said one day that everybody must admire
her, and how I thanked you for it I You have forgot that, I
have no doubt. Master Copperfield?"

"No," said I, drily.

"Oh how glad I am, you have not!" exclaimed Uriah. "To
think that you should be the first to kindle the sparks of am-
bition in my umble breast, and that you 've not forgot it! Oh !
— Would you excuse me asking for a cup more coflTee ? "

Something in the emphasis he laid upon the kindling of
those sparks, and something in the glance he directed at me as
he said it, had made me start as if I had seen him illuminated
by a blaze of light. Recalled by his request, preferred in quite
another tone of voice, I did the honours of the shaving-pot; but
I did them with an unsteadiness of hand, a sudden sense of
being no match for him, and a perplexed suspicious anxiety as



171



to what he might bo going to say next, which I felt could not
escape his observation.

He said nothing at all. He stirred his coffee round and
round, he sipped it, he felt his chin softly with his grisly hand,
he looked at the fire, he looked about the room, he gasped
rather than smiled at me, he writhed and undulated about, in
his deferential servility, he stirred and sipped again, but he
left the renewal of the conversation to me.

"So, Mr. Wickfield," said I, at last, "who is worth five
hundred of you — or me; " for my life, I think I could not have
helped dividing that part of the sentence with an awkward
jerk; "has been imprudent, has he, Mr. Heep?"

"Oh very imprudent indeed, Master Copperfield," re-
turned Uriah, sighing modestly. "Oh very much so! But
I wish you 'd call me Uriah, if you please. It 's like old
limes."

"Well I Uriah," said I, bolting it out with some difficulty.

"Thank you!" he returned, with fervour. "Thank you,
Master Copperfield! It 's like the blowing of old breezes or
the ringing of old bellses to hear you say Uriah. I beg your
pardon. Was I making any observation? "

"About Mr. Wickfield," I suggested.

" Oh I Yes, truly," said Uriah. " Ah ! Great imprudence.
Master Copperfield, It 's a topic that I wouldn't touch upon,
to any soul but you. Even to you I can only touch upon it,
and no more. If any one else had been in my place during the
last few years, by this time he would have had Mr. Wickfield
(oh, what a worthy man he is. Master Copperfield, too ! ) under
his thumb. Un — der — his thumb," said Uriah, very slowly,
as he stretched out his cruel-looking hand above my table, and
pressed his own thumb down upon it, until it shook, and shook
the room.

If I had been obliged to look at him with his splay foot on



172



Mr. WIckfield's head, I think I could scarcely have hated him
more.

"Oh dear, yes, Master Copperfield," he proceeded, in a
soft voice, most remarkably contrasting with the action of his
thumb, which did not diminish its hard pressure in the least de-
gree, "there's no doubt of it. There would have been loss,
disgrace, I don't know what all. Mr. Wickfield knows it. I
am the umble instrument of umbly serving him, and he puts
me on an eminence I hardly could have hoped to reach. How
thankful should I be!" With his face turned towards me, as
he finished, but without looking at me, he took his crooked
thumb off the spot where he had planted it, and slowly and
thoughtfully scraped his lank jaw with it, as if he were shaving
himself.

I recollect well how indignantly my heart beat, as I saw his
crafty face, with the appropriately red light of the fire upon it,
preparing for something else.

"Master Copperfield," he began — "but am I keeping you
up?"

"You are not keeping me up. I generally go to bed
late."

"Thank you, Master Copperfield! I have risen from my
umble station since first you used to address me, it is true ; but
I am umble still. I hope I never shall be otherwise than umble.
You will not think the worse of my umbleness, if I make a little
confidence to you, Master Copperfield? Will you?"

"Oh, no," said I, with an efi'ort.

"Thank you!" He took out his pocket-handkerchief, and
began wiping the palms of his hands. "Miss Agnes, Master
Copperfield — "

"Well, Uriah?"

"Oh, how pleasant to be called Uriah, spontaneously! " he
cried; and gave himself a jerk, like a convulsive fish. "You



173



thought her looking very beautiful to-night, Master Copper-
field?"

"I thought her looking as she always does: superior, in all
respects, to every one around her," I returned.

"Oh, thank you I It's so true I" he cried. "Oh, thank
you very much for that! "

"Not at all," I said, loftily. " There is no reason why you
should thank me."

"Why that, Master Copperfield," said Uriah, "is, in fact,
the confidence that I am going to take the liberty of reposing.
Umble as I am," he wiped his hands harder, and looked at
them and at the fire by turns, "umble as my mother is, and
lowly as our poor but honest roof has ever been, the image of
Miss Agnes (I don't mind trusting you with my secret, Master
Copperfield, for I have always overflowed towards you since
the first moment I had the pleasure of beholding you In a
poney-shay) has been in my breast for years. Oh, Master
Copperfield, with what a pure afi'ection do I love the ground
my Agnes walks on I "

I believe I had a delirious idea of seizing the red-hot poker
out of the fire, and running him through with it. It went from
me with a shock, like a ball fired from a rifle: but the image of
Agnes, outraged by so much as a thought of this red-headed
animal's, remained in my mind when I looked at him, sitting
all awry as if his mean soul griped his body, and made me
giddy. He seemed to swell and grow before my eyes; the
room seemed full of the echoes of his voice; and the strange
feeling (to which, perhaps, no one is quite a stranger) that all
this had occurred before, at some indefinite time, and that I
knew what he was going to say next, took possession of me.

A timely observation of the sense of power that there was
in his face, did more to bring back to my remembrance the
entreaty of Agnes, in its full force, than any effort I could



174



have made. I asked him, with a better appearance of com-
posure than I could have thought possible a minute before,
whether he had made his feelings known to Agnes.

"Oh, no, Master Copperfield !" he returned; "oh dear,
no! Not to any one but you. You see I am only just emerging
from my lowly station. I rest a good deal of hope on her
observing how useful I am to herfather (fori trust to be very
useful to him, indeed. Master Copperfield), and how I smooth
the way for him, and keep him straight. She 's so much
attached to her father, Master Copperfield (oh what a lovely
thing it is in a daughter!), that I think she may come, on his
account, to be kind to me."

I fathomed the depth of the rascal's whole scheme , and
understood why he laid it bare.

"If you *11 have the goodness to keep my secret. Master
Copperfield," he pursued, "and not, in general, to go against
me, I shall take it as a particular favour. You wouldn't wish
to make unpleasantness. I know what a friendly heart you 've
got; but having only known me on my umble footing (on
my umblest, I should say, for I am very umble still), you
might, unbeknown, go against me rather, with my Agnes.
I call her mine, you see, Master Copperfield. There 's a song
that says, 'I 'd crowns resign, to call her mine!' I hope to
do it, one of these days."

Dear Agnes! So much too loving and too good for any
one that I could think of, was it possible that she was reserved
to be the wife of such a wretch as this 1

" There 's no hurry at present, you know, Master Copper-
field," Uriah proceeded , in his slimy way, as I sat gazing at
him, with this thought in my mind. "My Agnes is very
young still; and mother and me will have to work our way
upards, and make a good many new arrangements, before it
would be quite convenient. So I shall have time gradually



175



to make her familiar with my hopes, as opportunities offer.
Oh, I 'm so much obliged to you for this confidence! Oh,
it 's such a relief, you can't think, to know that you under-
stand our situation, and are certain (as you wouldn't wish to
make unpleasantness in the family) not to go against me ! "

He took the hand which I dared not withhold, and having
given it a damp squeeze, referred to his pale-faced watch.

"Dear me!" hesaid, '* it 's past one. The moments slip
away so, in the confidence of old times , Master Copperfield,
that it 's almost half-past one ! "

I answered that I had thought it was later. Not that I had
really thought so, but because my conversational powers were
effectually scattered.

"Dear me 1" hesaid, considering. "The ouse that lam
stopping at — a sort of a private hotel and boarding ouse.
Master Copperfield, near the New River ed — will have gone
to bed these two hours."

"I am sorry," I returned, "that there is only one bed
here, and that I — "

"Oh, don't think of mentioning beds. Master Copper-
field!" he rejoined ecstatically, drawing up one leg. "But
would you have any objections to my laying down before
the fire?"

"If it comes to that," I said, "pray take my bed, and I '11
lie down before the fire."

His repudiation of this offer was almost shrill enough, in
the excess of its surprise and humility, to have penetrated to
the ears of Mrs. Crupp, then sleeping, I suppose, in a distant
chamber, situated at about the level of low water mark,
soothed in her slumbers by the ticking of an incorrigible
clock, to which she always referred me when we had any
little difference on the score of punctuality, and which was
never less than three quarters of an hour too slow, and had



176



always been put right in the morning by the best authorities.
As no arguments I could urge, in my bewildered condition,
had the least effect upon his modesty in inducing him to
accept my bed-room, I was obliged to make the best arrange-
ments I could, for his repose before the fire. The mattress
of the sofa (which was a great deal too short for his lank
figure), the sofa pillows , a blanket, the table-cover, a clean
breakfast-cloth, and a great coat, made him a bed and cover-
ing, for which he was more than thankful. Having lent him
a nightcap, which he put on at once, and in which he made
such an awful figure that I have never worn one since , I left
him to his rest.

I never shall forget that night. I never shall forget how
I turned and tumbled ; how I wearied myself with thinking
about Agnes and this creature; how I considered what could
I do , and what ought I to do ; how I could come to no other
conclusion than that the best course for her peace, was to do
nothing, and to keep to myself what I had heard. K I went
to sleep for a few moments, the image of Agnes with her
tender eyes, and of her father looking fondly on her, as I had
so often seen him look, arose before me with appealing faces,
and filled me with vague terrors. When I awoke, the recol-
lection that Uriah was lying in the next room sat heavy on me
like a waking night-mare; and oppressed me with a leaden
dread , as if I had had some meaner quality of devil for a
lodger.

The poker got into my dozing thoughts besides, and
wouldn't come out. I thought, between sleeping and waking,
that it was still red hot, and I had snatched it out of the fire,
and run him through the body. I was so haunted at last by
the idea, though I knew there was nothing in it, that I stole
into the next room to look at him. There I saw him, lying on
his back, with his legs extending to I don't know where,



177



gurglings taking place in his throat, stoppages in his nose,
and his mouth open like a post-office. He was so much worse
in reality than in my distempered fancy, that afterwards I
was attracted to him in very repulsion, and could not help
wandering in and out every half hour or so, and taking another
look at him. Still, the long, long night seemed heavy and
hopeless as ever, and no promise of day was in the murky sky.
When I saw him going down stairs early in the morning
(for, thank Heaven 1 he would not stay to breakfast), it ap-
peared to me as if the night was going away in his person.
When I went out to the Commons, I charged Mrs. Crupp with
particular directions to leave the windows open, that my
sitting-room might be aired, and purged of his presence.



12

Duiid Coppcrfu'hl. U,



CHAPTER X.

I fall into capliviiy.

I SAW no more of Uriah Heep, until the day when Agnes
left town. I -was at the coach-office to take leave of her and
see her go; and there was he, returning to Canterbury by the
same conveyance. It was some small satisfaction to me to ob-
serve his spare, short-waisted, high-shouldered, mulberry-
coloured great-coat perched up, in company with an umbrella
like a small tent, on the edge of the back seat on the roof,
while Agnes was , of course, inside ; but what I underwent in
my efforts to be friendly with him, while Agnes looked on,
perhaps deserved that little recompense. At the coach-win-
dow, as at the dinner-party, he hovered about us without a
moment's intermission, like a great vulture: gorging himself
on every syllable that I said to Agnes, or Agnes said to me.

In the state of trouble into which his disclosure by my fire
had thrown me, I had thought very much of the words Agnes
had used in reference to the partnership. "I did what I hope
was right. Feeling sure that it was necessary for papa's peace
that the sacrifice should be made, I entreated him to make it."
A miserable foreboding that she would yield to, and sustain
herself by, the same feeling in reference to any sacrifice for
his sake, had oppressed me ever since. I knew how she loved
him. I knew what the devotion of her nature was. I knew
from her own lips that she regarded herself as the innocent
cause of his errors, and as owing him a great debt she ardently
desired to pay. I had no consolation in seeing how different
flhe was from this detestable Rufus with the mulberry-coloured



179



great-coat, for I felt that in the very difTerence between them,
in the self-denial of her pure soul and the sordid baseness of
his, the greatest danger lay. All this, doubtless, he knew
thoroughly, and had, in his cunning, considered well.

Yet, I wag so certain that the prospect of such a sacrifice
afar off, must destroy the happiness of Agnes; and I was so
sure, from her manner, of its being unseen by her then, and
having cast no shadow on her yet; that I could as soon have
injured her, as given her any warning of what impended.
Thus it was that we parted without explanation: she waving
her hand and smiling farewell from the coach-window; her
evil genius writhing on the roof, as if he had her in his clutches
and triumphed.

I could not get over this farewell glimpse of them for a
long time. When Agnes wrote to tell me of her safe arrival,
I was as miserable as when I saw her going away. Whenever
I fell into a thoughtful state, this subject was sure to present
itself, and all my uneasiness was sure to be redoubled. Hardly
a night passed without my dreaming of it. It became a part of
my life, and as inseparable from my life as my own head.

I had ample leisure to refine upon my uneasiness: for
Steerforth was at Oxford , as he wrote to me, and when I was
not at the Commons, I was very much alone. I believe I had
at this time some lurking distrust of Steerforth. I wrote to
him most affectionately in reply to his, but I think I was glad,
upon the whole, that he could not come to London just then.
I suspect the truth to be, that the influence of Agnes was upon
me, undisturbed by the sight of him ; and that it was the more
powerful with me, because she had so large a share in my
thoughts and interest.

In the meantime, days and weeks slipped away. I was
articled to Spenlow and Jorkins. I had ninety pounds a year
(exclusive of my house-rent and sundry collateral matters)



180



from my aunt. My rooms were engaged for twelve months
certain: and though I still found them dreary of an evening,
and the evenings long, I could settle down into a state of
equable low spirits, and resign myself to coffee; which I seem,
on looking back, to have taken by the gallon at about this
period of ray existence. At about this time, too , I made three
discoveries: first, that Mrs. Crupp was a martyr to a curious
disorder called "the spazzums," which was generally accom-
panied with inflammation of the nose, and required to be con-
stantly treated with peppermint; secondly, that something
peculiar in the temperature of my pantry, made the brandy-
bottles burst; thirdly, that I was alone in the world, and much
given to record that circumstance in fragments of English ver-
sification.

On the day when I was articled, no festivity took place,
beyond my having sandwiches and sherry into the office for
the clerks, and going alone to the theatre at night. I went to
see " The Stranger*' as a Doctors' Commons sort of play, and
was so dreadfully cut up, that I hardly knew myself in my own
glass when I got home. Mr. Spenlow remarked, on this oc-
casion, when we concluded our business, that he should have
been happy to have seen me at his house at Norwood to cele-
brate our becoming connected, but for his domestic arrange-
ments being in some disorder, on account of the expected
return of his daughter from finishing her education at Paris.
But, he intimated that when she came home he should hope to
have the pleasure of entertaining me. 1 knew that he was
a widower with one daughter, and expressed my acknow-
ledgments.

Mr. Spenlow was as good as his word. In a week or two,
he referred to this engagement, and said, that if I would do
him the favour to come down next Saturday, and stay till Mon-
day, he would be extremely happy. Of course I said I would



181



do him the favour; and he was to drive me down in his phae-
ton, and to bring me back.

When the day arrived, my very carpet-bag was an object
of veneration to the stipendiary clerks, to whom the house at
Norwood was a sacred mystery. One of them informed me
that he had heard that Mr. Spenlow ate entirely off plate and
china; and another hinted at champagne being constantly on
draught, after the usual custom of table beer. The old clerk
with the wig, whose name was Mr. Tiffey, had been down on
business several times in the course of his career, and had on
each occasion penetrated to the breakfast-parlour. He de-
scribed it as an apartment of the most sumptuous nature, and
said that he had drunk brown East India sherry there, of a
quality so precious as to make a man wink.

We had an adjourned cause in the Consistory that day —
about excommunicating a baker who had been objecting in a
vestry to a paving-rate — and as the evidence was just twice
the length of Robinson Crusoe, according to a calculation I
made, it was rather late in the day before we finished. How-
ever, we got him excommunicated for six weeks, and sen-
tenced in no end of costs; and then the baker's proctor, and
the judge, and the advocates on both sides (who were all
nearly related), went out of town together, and Mr. Spenlow
and I drove away in the phaeton.

The phaeton was avery handsome affair; the horses arched
their necks and lifted up their legs as if they knew they belonged
to Doctors' Commons. There was a good deal of competition
in the Commons on all points of display, and it turned out some
very choice equipages then; though I always have considered,
and always shall consider, that in my time the great article of
competition there was starch: which I think was worn among the
proctors to as great an extent as it is in the nature of man to bear.

We were very pleasant, going down, and Mr. Spenlow



182



gave me some hints in reference to ray profession. He said it
was the genteelest profession in the world, and must on no
account be confounded with the profession of a solicitor:
being quite another sort of thing, infinitely more exclusive,
less mechanical, and more profitable. We took things much
more easily in the Commons than they could be taken any-
where else, he observed, and that set us, as a privileged
class, apart. He said it was impossible to conceal the dis-
agreeable fact, that we were chiefly employed by solicitors;
but he gave me to understand that they were an inferior race
of men, universally looked down upon by all proctors of any
pretensions.

I asked Mr. Spenlow what he considered the best sort of
professional business? He replied, that a good case of a
disputed will, where there was a neat little estate of thirty or
forty thousand pounds, was, perhaps, the best of all. In
such a case, he said, not only were there very pretty pickings
in the way of arguments at every stage of the proceedings,
and mountains upon mountains of evidence on inter-
rogatory and counter -interrogatory (to say nothing of
an appeal lying, first to the Delegates, and then to the
Lords); but, the costs being pretty sure to come out of the
estate at last, both sides went at it in a lively and spirited
manner, and expense was no consideration. Then, he
launched into a general eulogium on the Commons. What was
to be particularly admired (he said) in the Commons, was its
compactness. It was the most conveniently organised place
in the world. It was the complete idea of snugness. It lay in
a nut-shell. For example: You brought a divorce case, or a
restitution case, into the Consistory. Very good. You tried
it in the Consistory. You made a quiet little round game of it,
among a family group, and you played it out at leisure. Sup-
pose you were not satisfied with the Consistory, what did you



183



do then? Why, you went into the Arches. What was the
Arches? The same court, in the same room, with the same
bar, and the same practitioners, but another judge, for there
the Consistory judge could plead any court-day as an advocate.
Well, you played your round game out again. Still you were
not satisfied. Very good. What did you do then? Why,
you went to the Delegates. Who were the Delegates? Why,
the Ecclesiastical Delegates were the advocates without any
business, who had looked on at the round game when it was
playing in both courts, and had seen the cards shuffled, and cut,
and played, and had talked to all the players about it, and now
came fresh, as judges, to settle the matter to the satisfaction of
everybody! Discontented people might talk of corruption in
the Commons, closenesss in the Commons, and the necessity of
reforming the Commons, said Mr. Spenlow solemnly, in
conclusion ; but when the price of wheat per bushel had been
highest, the Commons had been busiest; and a man might
lay his hand upon his heart, and say this to the whole world,
— " Touch the Commons , and down comes the country' 1 "

I listened to all this with attention ; and though, I must say,
I had my doubts whether the country was quite as much
obliged to the Commons as Mr. Spenlow made out, I respect-
fully deferred to his opinion. That about the price of wheat
per bushel, I modestly felt was too much for my strength,
and quite settled the question. I have never, to this hour,
got the better of that bushel of wheat. It has re-appeared to
annihilate me, all through my life, in connexion with all
kinds of subjects. I don't know now, exactly, what it has to
do with me, or what right it has to crush me, on an infinite
variety of occasions; but whenever I see my old friend the
bushel brought in by the head and shoulders (as he always is,


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Online LibraryCharles DickensThe personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 27)