David Copperfield – Day 92 of 331

As I think of them going up and down before those schoolroom windows—the Doctor reading with his complacent smile, an occasional flourish of the manuscript, or grave motion of his head; and Mr. Dick listening, enchained by interest, with his poor wits calmly wandering God knows where, upon the wings of hard words—I think of it as one of the pleasantest things, in a quiet way, that I have ever seen. I feel as if they might go walking to and fro for ever, and the world might somehow be the better for it—as if a thousand things it makes a noise about, were not one half so good for it, or me.

Agnes was one of Mr. Dick’s friends, very soon; and in often coming to the house, he made acquaintance with Uriah. The friendship between himself and me increased continually, and it was maintained on this odd footing: that, while Mr. Dick came professedly to look after me as my guardian, he always consulted me in any little matter of doubt that arose, and invariably guided himself by my advice; not only having a high respect for my native sagacity, but considering that I inherited a good deal from my aunt.

One Thursday morning, when I was about to walk with Mr. Dick from the hotel to the coach office before going back to school (for we had an hour’s school before breakfast), I met Uriah in the street, who reminded me of the promise I had made to take tea with himself and his mother: adding, with a writhe, “But I didn’t expect you to keep it, Master Copperfield, we’re so very umble.”

I really had not yet been able to make up my mind whether I liked Uriah or detested him; and I was very doubtful about it still, as I stood looking him in the face in the street. But I felt it quite an affront to be supposed proud, and said I only wanted to be asked.

“Oh, if that’s all, Master Copperfield,” said Uriah, “and it really isn’t our umbleness that prevents you, will you come this evening? But if it is our umbleness, I hope you won’t mind owning to it, Master Copperfield; for we are well aware of our condition.”

I said I would mention it to Mr. Wickfield, and if he approved, as I had no doubt he would, I would come with pleasure. So, at six o’clock that evening, which was one of the early office evenings, I announced myself as ready, to Uriah.

“Mother will be proud, indeed,” he said, as we walked away together. “Or she would be proud, if it wasn’t sinful, Master Copperfield.”

“Yet you didn’t mind supposing I was proud this morning,” I returned.

“Oh dear, no, Master Copperfield!” returned Uriah. “Oh, believe me, no! Such a thought never came into my head! I shouldn’t have deemed it at all proud if you had thought us too umble for you. Because we are so very umble.”

“Have you been studying much law lately?” I asked, to change the subject.

“Oh, Master Copperfield,” he said, with an air of self-denial, “my reading is hardly to be called study. I have passed an hour or two in the evening, sometimes, with Mr. Tidd.”

“Rather hard, I suppose?” said I. “He is hard to me sometimes,” returned Uriah. “But I don’t know what he might be to a gifted person.”

After beating a little tune on his chin as he walked on, with the two forefingers of his skeleton right hand, he added:

“There are expressions, you see, Master Copperfield—Latin words and terms—in Mr. Tidd, that are trying to a reader of my umble attainments.”

“Would you like to be taught Latin?” I said briskly. “I will teach it you with pleasure, as I learn it.”

“Oh, thank you, Master Copperfield,” he answered, shaking his head. “I am sure it’s very kind of you to make the offer, but I am much too umble to accept it.”

“What nonsense, Uriah!”

“Oh, indeed you must excuse me, Master Copperfield! I am greatly obliged, and I should like it of all things, I assure you; but I am far too umble. There are people enough to tread upon me in my lowly state, without my doing outrage to their feelings by possessing learning. Learning ain’t for me. A person like myself had better not aspire. If he is to get on in life, he must get on umbly, Master Copperfield!”

I never saw his mouth so wide, or the creases in his cheeks so deep, as when he delivered himself of these sentiments: shaking his head all the time, and writhing modestly.

“I think you are wrong, Uriah,” I said. “I dare say there are several things that I could teach you, if you would like to learn them.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that, Master Copperfield,” he answered; “not in the least. But not being umble yourself, you don’t judge well, perhaps, for them that are. I won’t provoke my betters with knowledge, thank you. I’m much too umble. Here is my umble dwelling, Master Copperfield!”

We entered a low, old-fashioned room, walked straight into from the street, and found there Mrs. Heep, who was the dead image of Uriah, only short. She received me with the utmost humility, and apologized to me for giving her son a kiss, observing that, lowly as they were, they had their natural affections, which they hoped would give no offence to anyone. It was a perfectly decent room, half parlour and half kitchen, but not at all a snug room. The tea-things were set upon the table, and the kettle was boiling on the hob. There was a chest of drawers with an escritoire top, for Uriah to read or write at of an evening; there was Uriah’s blue bag lying down and vomiting papers; there was a company of Uriah’s books commanded by Mr. Tidd; there was a corner cupboard: and there were the usual articles of furniture. I don’t remember that any individual object had a bare, pinched, spare look; but I do remember that the whole place had.

It was perhaps a part of Mrs. Heep’s humility, that she still wore weeds. Notwithstanding the lapse of time that had occurred since Mr. Heep’s decease, she still wore weeds. I think there was some compromise in the cap; but otherwise she was as weedy as in the early days of her mourning.

“This is a day to be remembered, my Uriah, I am sure,” said Mrs. Heep, making the tea, “when Master Copperfield pays us a visit.”

“I said you’d think so, mother,” said Uriah.

“If I could have wished father to remain among us for any reason,” said Mrs. Heep, “it would have been, that he might have known his company this afternoon.”

I felt embarrassed by these compliments; but I was sensible, too, of being entertained as an honoured guest, and I thought Mrs. Heep an agreeable woman.

“My Uriah,” said Mrs. Heep, “has looked forward to this, sir, a long while. He had his fears that our umbleness stood in the way, and I joined in them myself. Umble we are, umble we have been, umble we shall ever be,” said Mrs. Heep.

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