David Copperfield – Day 283 of 331

His enemy, muttering to himself, after wringing his wounded hand for sometime, slowly drew off his neck-kerchief and bound it up; then held it in his other hand, and sat upon his table with his sullen face looking down.

Mr. Micawber, when he was sufficiently cool, proceeded with his letter.

“‘The stipendiary emoluments in consideration of which I entered into the service of—Heep,'” always pausing before that word and uttering it with astonishing vigour, “‘were not defined, beyond the pittance of twenty-two shillings and six per week. The rest was left contingent on the value of my professional exertions; in other and more expressive words, on the baseness of my nature, the cupidity of my motives, the poverty of my family, the general moral (or rather immoral) resemblance between myself and—Heep. Need I say, that it soon became necessary for me to solicit from—Heep — pecuniary advances towards the support of Mrs. Micawber, and our blighted but rising family? Need I say that this necessity had been foreseen by—Heep? That those advances were secured by I.O.U.’s and other similar acknowledgements, known to the legal institutions of this country? And that I thus became immeshed in the web he had spun for my reception?'”

Mr. Micawber’s enjoyment of his epistolary powers, in describing this unfortunate state of things, really seemed to outweigh any pain or anxiety that the reality could have caused him. He read on:

“‘Then it was that—Heep—began to favour me with just so much of his confidence, as was necessary to the discharge of his infernal business. Then it was that I began, if I may so Shakespearianly express myself, to dwindle, peak, and pine. I found that my services were constantly called into requisition for the falsification of business, and the mystification of an individual whom I will designate as Mr. W. That Mr. W. was imposed upon, kept in ignorance, and deluded, in every possible way; yet, that all this while, the ruffian—Heep—was professing unbounded gratitude to, and unbounded friendship for, that much-abused gentleman. This was bad enough; but, as the philosophic Dane observes, with that universal applicability which distinguishes the illustrious ornament of the Elizabethan Era, worse remains behind!'”

Mr. Micawber was so very much struck by this happy rounding off with a quotation, that he indulged himself, and us, with a second reading of the sentence, under pretence of having lost his place.

“‘It is not my intention,'” he continued reading on, “‘to enter on a detailed list, within the compass of the present epistle (though it is ready elsewhere), of the various malpractices of a minor nature, affecting the individual whom I have denominated Mr. W., to which I have been a tacitly consenting party. My object, when the contest within myself between stipend and no stipend, baker and no baker, existence and non-existence, ceased, was to take advantage of my opportunities to discover and expose the major malpractices committed, to that gentleman’s grievous wrong and injury, by — Heep. Stimulated by the silent monitor within, and by a no less touching and appealing monitor without—to whom I will briefly refer as Miss W.—I entered on a not unlaborious task of clandestine investigation, protracted—now, to the best of my knowledge, information, and belief, over a period exceeding twelve calendar months.'”

He read this passage as if it were from an Act of Parliament; and appeared majestically refreshed by the sound of the words.

“‘My charges against—Heep,'” he read on, glancing at him, and drawing the ruler into a convenient position under his left arm, in case of need, “‘are as follows.'”

We all held our breath, I think. I am sure Uriah held his.

“‘First,'” said Mr. Micawber, “‘When Mr. W.’s faculties and memory for business became, through causes into which it is not necessary or expedient for me to enter, weakened and confused,—Heep — designedly perplexed and complicated the whole of the official transactions. When Mr. W. was least fit to enter on business, — Heep was always at hand to force him to enter on it. He obtained Mr. W.’s signature under such circumstances to documents of importance, representing them to be other documents of no importance. He induced Mr. W. to empower him to draw out, thus, one particular sum of trust-money, amounting to twelve six fourteen, two and nine, and employed it to meet pretended business charges and deficiencies which were either already provided for, or had never really existed. He gave this proceeding, throughout, the appearance of having originated in Mr. W.’s own dishonest intention, and of having been accomplished by Mr. W.’s own dishonest act; and has used it, ever since, to torture and constrain him.'”

“You shall prove this, you Copperfield!” said Uriah, with a threatening shake of the head. “All in good time!”

“Ask—Heep—Mr. Traddles, who lived in his house after him,” said Mr. Micawber, breaking off from the letter; “will you?”

“The fool himself—and lives there now,” said Uriah, disdainfully.

“Ask—Heep—if he ever kept a pocket-book in that house,” said Mr. Micawber; “will you?”

I saw Uriah’s lank hand stop, involuntarily, in the scraping of his chin.

“Or ask him,” said Mr. Micawber,”if he ever burnt one there. If he says yes, and asks you where the ashes are, refer him to Wilkins Micawber, and he will hear of something not at all to his advantage!”

The triumphant flourish with which Mr. Micawber delivered himself of these words, had a powerful effect in alarming the mother; who cried out, in much agitation:

“Ury, Ury! Be umble, and make terms, my dear!”

“Mother!” he retorted, “will you keep quiet? You’re in a fright, and don’t know what you say or mean. Umble!” he repeated, looking at me, with a snarl; “I’ve umbled some of ’em for a pretty long time back, umble as I was!”

Mr. Micawber, genteelly adjusting his chin in his cravat, presently proceeded with his composition.

“‘Second. Heep has, on several occasions, to the best of my knowledge, information, and belief—‘”

“But that won’t do,” muttered Uriah, relieved. “Mother, you keep quiet.”

“We will endeavour to provide something that will do, and do for you finally, sir, very shortly,” replied Mr. Micawber.

“‘Second. Heep has, on several occasions, to the best of my knowledge, information, and belief, systematically forged, to various entries, books, and documents, the signature of Mr. W.; and has distinctly done so in one instance, capable of proof by me. To wit, in manner following, that is to say:'”

Again, Mr. Micawber had a relish in this formal piling up of words, which, however ludicrously displayed in his case, was, I must say, not at all peculiar to him. I have observed it, in the course of my life, in numbers of men. It seems to me to be a general rule. In the taking of legal oaths, for instance, deponents seem to enjoy themselves mightily when they come to several good words in succession, for the expression of one idea; as, that they utterly detest, abominate, and abjure, or so forth; and the old anathemas were made relishing on the same principle. We talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannize over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occasions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so, the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them. And as individuals get into trouble by making too great a show of liveries, or as slaves when they are too numerous rise against their masters, so I think I could mention a nation that has got into many great difficulties, and will get into many greater, from maintaining too large a retinue of words.

Mr. Micawber read on, almost smacking his lips:

“‘To wit, in manner following, that is to say. Mr. W. being infirm, and it being within the bounds of probability that his decease might lead to some discoveries, and to the downfall of — Heep’s—power over the W. family,—as I, Wilkins Micawber, the undersigned, assume—unless the filial affection of his daughter could be secretly influenced from allowing any investigation of the partnership affairs to be ever made, the said—Heep—deemed it expedient to have a bond ready by him, as from Mr. W., for the before-mentioned sum of twelve six fourteen, two and nine, with interest, stated therein to have been advanced by—Heep—to Mr. W. to save Mr. W. from dishonour; though really the sum was never advanced by him, and has long been replaced. The signatures to this instrument purporting to be executed by Mr. W. and attested by Wilkins Micawber, are forgeries by—Heep. I have, in my possession, in his hand and pocket-book, several similar imitations of Mr. W.’s signature, here and there defaced by fire, but legible to anyone. I never attested any such document. And I have the document itself, in my possession.'” Uriah Heep, with a start, took out of his pocket a bunch of keys, and opened a certain drawer; then, suddenly bethought himself of what he was about, and turned again towards us, without looking in it.

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