'As you didn't understand me, Master Copperfield,' resumed Uriah in the same officious manner, 'I may take the liberty of umbly mentioning, being among friends, that I have called Doctor Strong's attention to the goings-on of Mrs. Strong. It's much against the grain with me, I assure you, Copperfield, to be concerned in anything so unpleasant; but really, as it is, we're all mixing ourselves up with what oughtn't to be. That was what my meaning was, sir, when you didn't understand me.' I wonder now, when I recall his leer, that I did not collar him, and try to shake the breath out of his body.
'I dare say I didn't make myself very clear,' he went on, 'nor you neither. Naturally, we was both of us inclined to give such a subject a wide berth. Hows'ever, at last I have made up my mind to speak plain; and I have mentioned to Doctor Strong that — did you speak, sir?'
This was to the Doctor, who had moaned. The sound might have touched any heart, I thought, but it had no effect upon Uriah's.
' — mentioned to Doctor Strong,' he proceeded, 'that anyone may see that Mr. Maldon, and the lovely and agreeable lady as is Doctor Strong's wife, are too sweet on one another. Really the time is come (we being at present all mixing ourselves up with what oughtn't to be), when Doctor Strong must be told that this was full as plain to everybody as the sun, before Mr. Maldon went to India; that Mr. Maldon made excuses to come back, for nothing else; and that he's always here, for nothing else. When you come in, sir, I was just putting it to my fellow-partner,' towards whom he turned, 'to say to Doctor Strong upon his word and honour, whether he'd ever been of this opinion long ago, or not. Come, Mr. Wickfield, sir! Would you be so good as tell us? Yes or no, sir? Come, partner!'
'For God's sake, my dear Doctor,' said Mr. Wickfield again laying his irresolute hand upon the Doctor's arm, 'don't attach too much weight to any suspicions I may have entertained.'
'There!' cried Uriah, shaking his head. 'What a melancholy confirmation: ain't it? Him! Such an old friend! Bless your soul, when I was nothing but a clerk in his office, Copperfield, I've seen him twenty times, if I've seen him once, quite in a taking about it — quite put out, you know (and very proper in him as a father; I'm sure I can't blame him), to think that Miss Agnes was mixing herself up with what oughtn't to be.'
'My dear Strong,' said Mr. Wickfield in a tremulous voice, 'my good friend, I needn't tell you that it has been my vice to look for some one master motive in everybody, and to try all actions by one narrow test. I may have fallen into such doubts as I have had, through this mistake.'
'You have had doubts, Wickfield,' said the Doctor, without lifting up his head. 'You have had doubts.'
'Speak up, fellow-partner,' urged Uriah.
'I had, at one time, certainly,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'I — God forgive me — I thought YOU had.'
'No, no, no!' returned the Doctor, in a tone of most pathetic grief. 'I thought, at one time,' said Mr. Wickfield, 'that you wished to send Maldon abroad to effect a desirable separation.'
'No, no, no!' returned the Doctor. 'To give Annie pleasure, by making some provision for the companion of her childhood. Nothing else.'
'So I found,' said Mr. Wickfield. 'I couldn't doubt it, when you told me so. But I thought — I implore you to remember the narrow construction which has been my besetting sin — that, in a case where there was so much disparity in point of years — '
'That's the way to put it, you see, Master Copperfield!' observed Uriah, with fawning and offensive pity.
' — a lady of such youth, and such attractions, however real her respect for you, might have been influenced in marrying, by worldly considerations only. I make no allowance for innumerable feelings and circumstances that may have all tended to good. For Heaven's sake remember that!'
'How kind he puts it!' said Uriah, shaking his head.
'Always observing her from one point of view,' said Mr. Wickfield; 'but by all that is dear to you, my old friend, I entreat you to consider what it was; I am forced to confess now, having no escape-'
'No! There's no way out of it, Mr. Wickfield, sir,' observed Uriah, 'when it's got to this.'
' — that I did,' said Mr. Wickfield, glancing helplessly and distractedly at his partner, 'that I did doubt her, and think her wanting in her duty to you; and that I did sometimes, if I must say all, feel averse to Agnes being in such a familiar relation towards her, as to see what I saw, or in my diseased theory fancied that I saw. I never mentioned this to anyone. I never meant it to be known to anyone. And though it is terrible to you to hear,' said Mr. Wickfield, quite subdued, 'if you knew how terrible it is for me to tell, you would feel compassion for me!'
The Doctor, in the perfect goodness of his nature, put out his hand. Mr. Wickfield held it for a little while in his, with his head bowed down.