David Copperfield – Day 265 of 331

“You shall make us a glass of your own punch, Mr. Micawber,” said I, “and forget whatever you have on your mind, in pleasanter reminiscences.”

“Or, if confiding anything to friends will be more likely to relieve you, you shall impart it to us, Mr. Micawber,” said Traddles, prudently.

“Gentlemen,” returned Mr. Micawber, “do with me as you will! I am a straw upon the surface of the deep, and am tossed in all directions by the elephants—I beg your pardon; I should have said the elements.”

We walked on, arm-in-arm, again; found the coach in the act of starting; and arrived at Highgate without encountering any difficulties by the way. I was very uneasy and very uncertain in my mind what to say or do for the best—so was Traddles, evidently. Mr. Micawber was for the most part plunged into deep gloom. He occasionally made an attempt to smarten himself, and hum the fag-end of a tune; but his relapses into profound melancholy were only made the more impressive by the mockery of a hat exceedingly on one side, and a shirt-collar pulled up to his eyes.

We went to my aunt’s house rather than to mine, because of Dora’s not being well. My aunt presented herself on being sent for, and welcomed Mr. Micawber with gracious cordiality. Mr. Micawber kissed her hand, retired to the window, and pulling out his pocket-handkerchief, had a mental wrestle with himself.

Mr. Dick was at home. He was by nature so exceedingly compassionate of anyone who seemed to be ill at ease, and was so quick to find any such person out, that he shook hands with Mr. Micawber, at least half-a-dozen times in five minutes. To Mr. Micawber, in his trouble, this warmth, on the part of a stranger, was so extremely touching, that he could only say, on the occasion of each successive shake, “My dear sir, you overpower me!” Which gratified Mr. Dick so much, that he went at it again with greater vigour than before.

“The friendliness of this gentleman,” said Mr. Micawber to my aunt, “if you will allow me, ma’am, to cull a figure of speech from the vocabulary of our coarser national sports—floors me. To a man who is struggling with a complicated burden of perplexity and disquiet, such a reception is trying, I assure you.”

“My friend Mr. Dick,” replied my aunt proudly, “is not a common man.”

“That I am convinced of,” said Mr. Micawber. “My dear sir!” for Mr. Dick was shaking hands with him again; “I am deeply sensible of your cordiality!”

“How do you find yourself?” said Mr. Dick, with an anxious look.

“Indifferent, my dear sir,” returned Mr. Micawber, sighing.

“You must keep up your spirits,” said Mr. Dick, “and make yourself as comfortable as possible.”

Mr. Micawber was quite overcome by these friendly words, and by finding Mr. Dick’s hand again within his own. “It has been my lot,” he observed, “to meet, in the diversified panorama of human existence, with an occasional oasis, but never with one so green, so gushing, as the present!”

At another time I should have been amused by this; but I felt that we were all constrained and uneasy, and I watched Mr. Micawber so anxiously, in his vacillations between an evident disposition to reveal something, and a counter-disposition to reveal nothing, that I was in a perfect fever. Traddles, sitting on the edge of his chair, with his eyes wide open, and his hair more emphatically erect than ever, stared by turns at the ground and at Mr. Micawber, without so much as attempting to put in a word. My aunt, though I saw that her shrewdest observation was concentrated on her new guest, had more useful possession of her wits than either of us; for she held him in conversation, and made it necessary for him to talk, whether he liked it or not.

“You are a very old friend of my nephew’s, Mr. Micawber,” said my aunt. “I wish I had had the pleasure of seeing you before.”

“Madam,” returned Mr. Micawber, “I wish I had had the honour of knowing you at an earlier period. I was not always the wreck you at present behold.”

“I hope Mrs. Micawber and your family are well, sir,” said my aunt.

Mr. Micawber inclined his head. “They are as well, ma’am,” he desperately observed after a pause, “as Aliens and Outcasts can ever hope to be.”

“Lord bless you, sir!” exclaimed my aunt, in her abrupt way. “What are you talking about?”

“The subsistence of my family, ma’am,” returned Mr. Micawber, “trembles in the balance. My employer—“

Here Mr. Micawber provokingly left off; and began to peel the lemons that had been under my directions set before him, together with all the other appliances he used in making punch.

“Your employer, you know,” said Mr. Dick, jogging his arm as a gentle reminder.

“My good sir,” returned Mr. Micawber, “you recall me, I am obliged to you.” They shook hands again. “My employer, ma’am—Mr. Heep — once did me the favour to observe to me, that if I were not in the receipt of the stipendiary emoluments appertaining to my engagement with him, I should probably be a mountebank about the country, swallowing a sword-blade, and eating the devouring element. For anything that I can perceive to the contrary, it is still probable that my children may be reduced to seek a livelihood by personal contortion, while Mrs. Micawber abets their unnatural feats by playing the barrel-organ.”

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