'It only remains for me, to bear the knowledge of the unhappiness I have occasioned, as submissively as I can. It is she who should reproach; not I. To save her from misconstruction, cruel misconstruction, that even my friends have not been able to avoid, becomes my duty. The more retired we live, the better I shall discharge it. And when the time comes — may it come soon, if it be His merciful pleasure! — when my death shall release her from constraint, I shall close my eyes upon her honoured face, with unbounded confidence and love; and leave her, with no sorrow then, to happier and brighter days.'
I could not see him for the tears which his earnestness and goodness, so adorned by, and so adorning, the perfect simplicity of his manner, brought into my eyes. He had moved to the door, when he added:
'Gentlemen, I have shown you my heart. I am sure you will respect it. What we have said tonight is never to be said more. Wickfield, give me an old friend's arm upstairs!'
Mr. Wickfield hastened to him. Without interchanging a word they went slowly out of the room together, Uriah looking after them.
'Well, Master Copperfield!' said Uriah, meekly turning to me. 'The thing hasn't took quite the turn that might have been expected, for the old Scholar — what an excellent man! — is as blind as a brickbat; but this family's out of the cart, I think!'
I needed but the sound of his voice to be so madly enraged as I never was before, and never have been since.
'You villain,' said I, 'what do you mean by entrapping me into your schemes? How dare you appeal to me just now, you false rascal, as if we had been in discussion together?'
As we stood, front to front, I saw so plainly, in the stealthy exultation of his face, what I already so plainly knew; I mean that he forced his confidence upon me, expressly to make me miserable, and had set a deliberate trap for me in this very matter; that I couldn't bear it. The whole of his lank cheek was invitingly before me, and I struck it with my open hand with that force that my fingers tingled as if I had burnt them.
He caught the hand in his, and we stood in that connexion, looking at each other. We stood so, a long time; long enough for me to see the white marks of my fingers die out of the deep red of his cheek, and leave it a deeper red.
'Copperfield,' he said at length, in a breathless voice, 'have you taken leave of your senses?'
'I have taken leave of you,' said I, wresting my hand away. 'You dog, I'll know no more of you.'
'Won't you?' said he, constrained by the pain of his cheek to put his hand there. 'Perhaps you won't be able to help it. Isn't this ungrateful of you, now?'
'I have shown you often enough,' said I, 'that I despise you. I have shown you now, more plainly, that I do. Why should I dread your doing your worst to all about you? What else do you ever do?'
He perfectly understood this allusion to the considerations that had hitherto restrained me in my communications with him. I rather think that neither the blow, nor the allusion, would have escaped me, but for the assurance I had had from Agnes that night. It is no matter.
There was another long pause. His eyes, as he looked at me, seemed to take every shade of colour that could make eyes ugly.
'Copperfield,' he said, removing his hand from his cheek, 'you have always gone against me. I know you always used to be against me at Mr. Wickfield's.'
'You may think what you like,' said I, still in a towering rage. 'If it is not true, so much the worthier you.'
'And yet I always liked you, Copperfield!' he rejoined.
I deigned to make him no reply; and, taking up my hat, was going out to bed, when he came between me and the door.
'Copperfield,' he said, 'there must be two parties to a quarrel. I won't be one.'
'You may go to the devil!' said I.
'Don't say that!' he replied. 'I know you'll be sorry afterwards. How can you make yourself so inferior to me, as to show such a bad spirit? But I forgive you.'
'You forgive me!' I repeated disdainfully.
'I do, and you can't help yourself,' replied Uriah. 'To think of your going and attacking me, that have always been a friend to you! But there can't be a quarrel without two parties, and I won't be one. I will be a friend to you, in spite of you. So now you know what you've got to expect.'