The time having come for her withdrawal for the night, and she having left us, I gave Mr. Wickfield my hand, preparatory to going away myself. But he checked me and said: 'Should you like to stay with us, Trotwood, or to go elsewhere?'
'To stay,' I answered, quickly.
'You are sure?'
'If you please. If I may!'
'Why, it's but a dull life that we lead here, boy, I am afraid,' he said.
'Not more dull for me than Agnes, sir. Not dull at all!'
'Than Agnes,' he repeated, walking slowly to the great chimney-piece, and leaning against it. 'Than Agnes!'
He had drank wine that evening (or I fancied it), until his eyes were bloodshot. Not that I could see them now, for they were cast down, and shaded by his hand; but I had noticed them a little while before.
'Now I wonder,' he muttered, 'whether my Agnes tires of me. When should I ever tire of her! But that's different, that's quite different.'
He was musing, not speaking to me; so I remained quiet.
'A dull old house,' he said, 'and a monotonous life; but I must have her near me. I must keep her near me. If the thought that I may die and leave my darling, or that my darling may die and leave me, comes like a spectre, to distress my happiest hours, and is only to be drowned in — '
He did not supply the word; but pacing slowly to the place where he had sat, and mechanically going through the action of pouring wine from the empty decanter, set it down and paced back again.
'If it is miserable to bear, when she is here,' he said, 'what would it be, and she away? No, no, no. I cannot try that.'
He leaned against the chimney-piece, brooding so long that I could not decide whether to run the risk of disturbing him by going, or to remain quietly where I was, until he should come out of his reverie. At length he aroused himself, and looked about the room until his eyes encountered mine.
'Stay with us, Trotwood, eh?' he said in his usual manner, and as if he were answering something I had just said. 'I am glad of it. You are company to us both. It is wholesome to have you here. Wholesome for me, wholesome for Agnes, wholesome perhaps for all of us.'
'I am sure it is for me, sir,' I said. 'I am so glad to be here.'
'That's a fine fellow!' said Mr. Wickfield. 'As long as you are glad to be here, you shall stay here.' He shook hands with me upon it, and clapped me on the back; and told me that when I had anything to do at night after Agnes had left us, or when I wished to read for my own pleasure, I was free to come down to his room, if he were there and if I desired it for company's sake, and to sit with him. I thanked him for his consideration; and, as he went down soon afterwards, and I was not tired, went down too, with a book in my hand, to avail myself, for half-an-hour, of his permission.
But, seeing a light in the little round office, and immediately feeling myself attracted towards Uriah Heep, who had a sort of fascination for me, I went in there instead. I found Uriah reading a great fat book, with such demonstrative attention, that his lank forefinger followed up every line as he read, and made clammy tracks along the page (or so I fully believed) like a snail.
'You are working late tonight, Uriah,' says I.
'Yes, Master Copperfield,' says Uriah.
As I was getting on the stool opposite, to talk to him more conveniently, I observed that he had not such a thing as a smile about him, and that he could only widen his mouth and make two hard creases down his cheeks, one on each side, to stand for one.
'I am not doing office-work, Master Copperfield,' said Uriah.
'What work, then?' I asked.
'I am improving my legal knowledge, Master Copperfield,' said Uriah. 'I am going through Tidd's Practice. Oh, what a writer Mr. Tidd is, Master Copperfield!'
My stool was such a tower of observation, that as I watched him reading on again, after this rapturous exclamation, and following up the lines with his forefinger, I observed that his nostrils, which were thin and pointed, with sharp dints in them, had a singular and most uncomfortable way of expanding and contracting themselves — that they seemed to twinkle instead of his eyes, which hardly ever twinkled at all.
'I suppose you are quite a great lawyer?' I said, after looking at him for some time.
'Me, Master Copperfield?' said Uriah. 'Oh, no! I'm a very umble person.'
It was no fancy of mine about his hands, I observed; for he frequently ground the palms against each other as if to squeeze them dry and warm, besides often wiping them, in a stealthy way, on his pocket-handkerchief.