'But the umblest persons, Master Copperfield,' he presently resumed, 'may be the instruments of good. I am glad to think I have been the instrument of good to Mr. Wickfield, and that I may be more so. Oh what a worthy man he is, Mister Copperfield, but how imprudent he has been!'
'I am sorry to hear it,' said I. I could not help adding, rather pointedly, 'on all accounts.'
'Decidedly so, Mister Copperfield,' replied Uriah. 'On all accounts. Miss Agnes's above all! You don't remember your own eloquent expressions, Master Copperfield; but I remember how you said one day that everybody must admire her, and how I thanked you for it! You have forgot that, I have no doubt, Master Copperfield?'
'No,' said I, drily.
'Oh how glad I am you have not!' exclaimed Uriah. 'To think that you should be the first to kindle the sparks of ambition in my umble breast, and that you've not forgot it! Oh! — Would you excuse me asking for a cup more coffee?'
Something in the emphasis he laid upon the kindling of those sparks, and something in the glance he directed at me as he said it, had made me start as if I had seen him illuminated by a blaze of light. Recalled by his request, preferred in quite another tone of voice, I did the honours of the shaving-pot; but I did them with an unsteadiness of hand, a sudden sense of being no match for him, and a perplexed suspicious anxiety as to what he might be going to say next, which I felt could not escape his observation.
He said nothing at all. He stirred his coffee round and round, he sipped it, he felt his chin softly with his grisly hand, he looked at the fire, he looked about the room, he gasped rather than smiled at me, he writhed and undulated about, in his deferential servility, he stirred and sipped again, but he left the renewal of the conversation to me.
'So, Mr. Wickfield,' said I, at last, 'who is worth five hundred of you — or me'; for my life, I think, I could not have helped dividing that part of the sentence with an awkward jerk; 'has been imprudent, has he, Mr. Heep?'
'Oh, very imprudent indeed, Master Copperfield,' returned Uriah, sighing modestly. 'Oh, very much so! But I wish you'd call me Uriah, if you please. It's like old times.'
'Well! Uriah,' said I, bolting it out with some difficulty.
'Thank you,' he returned, with fervour. 'Thank you, Master Copperfield! It's like the blowing of old breezes or the ringing of old bellses to hear YOU say Uriah. I beg your pardon. Was I making any observation?'
'About Mr. Wickfield,' I suggested.
'Oh! Yes, truly,' said Uriah. 'Ah! Great imprudence, Master Copperfield. It's a topic that I wouldn't touch upon, to any soul but you. Even to you I can only touch upon it, and no more. If anyone else had been in my place during the last few years, by this time he would have had Mr. Wickfield (oh, what a worthy man he is, Master Copperfield, too!) under his thumb. Un — der — his thumb,' said Uriah, very slowly, as he stretched out his cruel-looking hand above my table, and pressed his own thumb upon it, until it shook, and shook the room.
If I had been obliged to look at him with him splay foot on Mr. Wickfield's head, I think I could scarcely have hated him more.
'Oh, dear, yes, Master Copperfield,' he proceeded, in a soft voice, most remarkably contrasting with the action of his thumb, which did not diminish its hard pressure in the least degree, 'there's no doubt of it. There would have been loss, disgrace, I don't know what at all. Mr. Wickfield knows it. I am the umble instrument of umbly serving him, and he puts me on an eminence I hardly could have hoped to reach. How thankful should I be!' With his face turned towards me, as he finished, but without looking at me, he took his crooked thumb off the spot where he had planted it, and slowly and thoughtfully scraped his lank jaw with it, as if he were shaving himself.
I recollect well how indignantly my heart beat, as I saw his crafty face, with the appropriately red light of the fire upon it, preparing for something else.
'Master Copperfield,' he began — 'but am I keeping you up?'
'You are not keeping me up. I generally go to bed late.'
'Thank you, Master Copperfield! I have risen from my umble station since first you used to address me, it is true; but I am umble still. I hope I never shall be otherwise than umble. You will not think the worse of my umbleness, if I make a little confidence to you, Master Copperfield? Will you?'
'Oh no,' said I, with an effort.
'Thank you!' He took out his pocket-handkerchief, and began wiping the palms of his hands. 'Miss Agnes, Master Copperfield — ' 'Well, Uriah?'
'Oh, how pleasant to be called Uriah, spontaneously!' he cried; and gave himself a jerk, like a convulsive fish. 'You thought her looking very beautiful tonight, Master Copperfield?'
'I thought her looking as she always does: superior, in all respects, to everyone around her,' I returned.
'Oh, thank you! It's so true!' he cried. 'Oh, thank you very much for that!'
'Not at all,' I said, loftily. 'There is no reason why you should thank me.'