David Copperfield – Day 212 of 331

“Uriah!” said I, as civilly as I could, after a silence.

“Master Copperfield!” said Uriah.

“To tell you the truth (at which you will not be offended), I came out to walk alone, because I have had so much company.”

He looked at me sideways, and said with his hardest grin, “You mean mother.”

“Why yes, I do,” said I.

“Ah! But you know we’re so very umble,” he returned. “And having such a knowledge of our own umbleness, we must really take care that we’re not pushed to the wall by them as isn’t umble. All stratagems are fair in love, sir.”

Raising his great hands until they touched his chin, he rubbed them softly, and softly chuckled; looking as like a malevolent baboon, I thought, as anything human could look.

“You see,” he said, still hugging himself in that unpleasant way, and shaking his head at me, “you’re quite a dangerous rival, Master Copperfield. You always was, you know.”

“Do you set a watch upon Miss Wickfield, and make her home no home, because of me?” said I.

“Oh! Master Copperfield! Those are very arsh words,” he replied.

“Put my meaning into any words you like,” said I. “You know what it is, Uriah, as well as I do.”

“Oh no! You must put it into words,” he said. “Oh, really! I couldn’t myself.”

“Do you suppose,” said I, constraining myself to be very temperate and quiet with him, on account of Agnes, “that I regard Miss Wickfield otherwise than as a very dear sister?”

“Well, Master Copperfield,” he replied, “you perceive I am not bound to answer that question. You may not, you know. But then, you see, you may!”

Anything to equal the low cunning of his visage, and of his shadowless eyes without the ghost of an eyelash, I never saw.

“Come then!” said I. “For the sake of Miss Wickfield—“

“My Agnes!” he exclaimed, with a sickly, angular contortion of himself. “Would you be so good as call her Agnes, Master Copperfield!”

“For the sake of Agnes Wickfield—Heaven bless her!”

“Thank you for that blessing, Master Copperfield!”he interposed.

“I will tell you what I should, under any other circumstances, as soon have thought of telling to—Jack Ketch.”

“To who, sir?” said Uriah, stretching out his neck, and shading his ear with his hand.

“To the hangman,” I returned. “The most unlikely person I could think of,”—though his own face had suggested the allusion quite as a natural sequence. “I am engaged to another young lady. I hope that contents you.”

“Upon your soul?” said Uriah.

I was about indignantly to give my assertion the confirmation he required, when he caught hold of my hand, and gave it a squeeze.

“Oh, Master Copperfield!” he said. “If you had only had the condescension to return my confidence when I poured out the fulness of my art, the night I put you so much out of the way by sleeping before your sitting-room fire, I never should have doubted you. As it is, I’m sure I’ll take off mother directly, and only too appy. I know you’ll excuse the precautions of affection, won’t you? What a pity, Master Copperfield, that you didn’t condescend to return my confidence! I’m sure I gave you every opportunity. But you never have condescended to me, as much as I could have wished. I know you have never liked me, as I have liked you!”

All this time he was squeezing my hand with his damp fishy fingers, while I made every effort I decently could to get it away. But I was quite unsuccessful. He drew it under the sleeve of his mulberry-coloured great-coat, and I walked on, almost upon compulsion, arm-in-arm with him.

“Shall we turn?” said Uriah, by and by wheeling me face about towards the town, on which the early moon was now shining, silvering the distant windows.

“Before we leave the subject, you ought to understand,” said I, breaking a pretty long silence, “that I believe Agnes Wickfield to be as far above you, and as far removed from all your aspirations, as that moon herself!”

“Peaceful! Ain’t she!” said Uriah. “Very! Now confess, Master Copperfield, that you haven’t liked me quite as I have liked you. All along you’ve thought me too umble now, I shouldn’t wonder?”

“I am not fond of professions of humility,” I returned, “or professions of anything else.”

“There now!” said Uriah, looking flabby and lead-coloured in the moonlight. “Didn’t I know it! But how little you think of the rightful umbleness of a person in my station, Master Copperfield! Father and me was both brought up at a foundation school for boys; and mother, she was likewise brought up at a public, sort of charitable, establishment. They taught us all a deal of umbleness — not much else that I know of, from morning to night. We was to be umble to this person, and umble to that; and to pull off our caps here, and to make bows there; and always to know our place, and abase ourselves before our betters. And we had such a lot of betters! Father got the monitor-medal by being umble. So did I. Father got made a sexton by being umble. He had the character, among the gentlefolks, of being such a well-behaved man, that they were determined to bring him in. ‘Be umble, Uriah,’ says father to me, ‘and you’ll get on. It was what was always being dinned into you and me at school; it’s what goes down best. Be umble,’ says father, ‘and you’ll do!’ And really it ain’t done bad!”

It was the first time it had ever occurred to me, that this detestable cant of false humility might have originated out of the Heep family. I had seen the harvest, but had never thought of the seed.

“When I was quite a young boy,” said Uriah, “I got to know what umbleness did, and I took to it. I ate umble pie with an appetite. I stopped at the umble point of my learning, and says I, ‘Hold hard!’ When you offered to teach me Latin, I knew better. ‘People like to be above you,’ says father, ‘keep yourself down.’ I am very umble to the present moment, Master Copperfield, but I’ve got a little power!”

And he said all this—I knew, as I saw his face in the moonlight — that I might understand he was resolved to recompense himself by using his power. I had never doubted his meanness, his craft and malice; but I fully comprehended now, for the first time, what a base, unrelenting, and revengeful spirit, must have been engendered by this early, and this long, suppression.

His account of himself was so far attended with an agreeable result, that it led to his withdrawing his hand in order that he might have another hug of himself under the chin. Once apart from him, I was determined to keep apart; and we walked back, side by side, saying very little more by the way. Whether his spirits were elevated by the communication I had made to him, or by his having indulged in this retrospect, I don’t know; but they were raised by some influence. He talked more at dinner than was usual with him; asked his mother (off duty, from the moment of our re-entering the house) whether he was not growing too old for a bachelor; and once looked at Agnes so, that I would have given all I had, for leave to knock him down.

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