David Copperfield – Day 281 of 331

“No, I have not been intimate with Mr. Wickfield,” returned Traddles; “or I might perhaps have waited on you long ago, Mr. Heep.”

There was something in the tone of this reply, which made Uriah look at the speaker again, with a very sinister and suspicious expression. But, seeing only Traddles, with his good-natured face, simple manner, and hair on end, he dismissed it as he replied, with a jerk of his whole body, but especially his throat:

“I am sorry for that, Mr. Traddles. You would have admired him as much as we all do. His little failings would only have endeared him to you the more. But if you would like to hear my fellow-partner eloquently spoken of, I should refer you to Copperfield. The family is a subject he’s very strong upon, if you never heard him.”

I was prevented from disclaiming the compliment (if I should have done so, in any case), by the entrance of Agnes, now ushered in by Mr. Micawber. She was not quite so self-possessed as usual, I thought; and had evidently undergone anxiety and fatigue. But her earnest cordiality, and her quiet beauty, shone with the gentler lustre for it.

I saw Uriah watch her while she greeted us; and he reminded me of an ugly and rebellious genie watching a good spirit. In the meanwhile, some slight sign passed between Mr. Micawber and Traddles; and Traddles, unobserved except by me, went out.

“Don’t wait, Micawber,” said Uriah.

Mr. Micawber, with his hand upon the ruler in his breast, stood erect before the door, most unmistakably contemplating one of his fellow-men, and that man his employer.

“What are you waiting for?” said Uriah. “Micawber! did you hear me tell you not to wait?”

“Yes!” replied the immovable Mr. Micawber.

“Then why do you wait?” said Uriah.

“Because I—in short, choose,” replied Mr. Micawber, with a burst.

Uriah’s cheeks lost colour, and an unwholesome paleness, still faintly tinged by his pervading red, overspread them. He looked at Mr. Micawber attentively, with his whole face breathing short and quick in every feature.

“You are a dissipated fellow, as all the world knows,” he said, with an effort at a smile, “and I am afraid you’ll oblige me to get rid of you. Go along! I’ll talk to you presently.”

“If there is a scoundrel on this earth,” said Mr. Micawber, suddenly breaking out again with the utmost vehemence, “with whom I have already talked too much, that scoundrel’s name is—Heep!

Uriah fell back, as if he had been struck or stung. Looking slowly round upon us with the darkest and wickedest expression that his face could wear, he said, in a lower voice:

“Oho! This is a conspiracy! You have met here by appointment! You are playing Booty with my clerk, are you, Copperfield? Now, take care. You’ll make nothing of this. We understand each other, you and me. There’s no love between us. You were always a puppy with a proud stomach, from your first coming here; and you envy me my rise, do you? None of your plots against me; I’ll counterplot you! Micawber, you be off. I’ll talk to you presently.”

“Mr. Micawber,” said I, “there is a sudden change in this fellow. in more respects than the extraordinary one of his speaking the truth in one particular, which assures me that he is brought to bay. Deal with him as he deserves!”

“You are a precious set of people, ain’t you?” said Uriah, in the same low voice, and breaking out into a clammy heat, which he wiped from his forehead, with his long lean hand, “to buy over my clerk, who is the very scum of society,—as you yourself were, Copperfield, you know it, before anyone had charity on you,—to defame me with his lies? Miss Trotwood, you had better stop this; or I’ll stop your husband shorter than will be pleasant to you. I won’t know your story professionally, for nothing, old lady! Miss Wickfield, if you have any love for your father, you had better not join that gang. I’ll ruin him, if you do. Now, come! I have got some of you under the harrow. Think twice, before it goes over you. Think twice, you, Micawber, if you don’t want to be crushed. I recommend you to take yourself off, and be talked to presently, you fool! while there’s time to retreat. Where’s mother?” he said, suddenly appearing to notice, with alarm, the absence of Traddles, and pulling down the bell-rope. “Fine doings in a person’s own house!”

“Mrs. Heep is here, sir,” said Traddles, returning with that worthy mother of a worthy son. “I have taken the liberty of making myself known to her.”

“Who are you to make yourself known?” retorted Uriah. “And what do you want here?”

“I am the agent and friend of Mr. Wickfield, sir,” said Traddles, in a composed and business-like way. “And I have a power of attorney from him in my pocket, to act for him in all matters.”

“The old ass has drunk himself into a state of dotage,” said Uriah, turning uglier than before, “and it has been got from him by fraud!”

“Something has been got from him by fraud, I know,” returned Traddles quietly; “and so do you, Mr. Heep. We will refer that question, if you please, to Mr. Micawber.”

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