'We have all got on in life since then, Mr. Micawber,' said I.
'Mr. Copperfield,' returned Mr. Micawber, bitterly, 'when I was an inmate of that retreat I could look my fellow-man in the face, and punch his head if he offended me. My fellow-man and myself are no longer on those glorious terms!'
Turning from the building in a downcast manner, Mr. Micawber accepted my proffered arm on one side, and the proffered arm of Traddles on the other, and walked away between us.
'There are some landmarks,' observed Mr. Micawber, looking fondly back over his shoulder, 'on the road to the tomb, which, but for the impiety of the aspiration, a man would wish never to have passed. Such is the Bench in my chequered career.'
'Oh, you are in low spirits, Mr. Micawber,' said Traddles.
'I am, sir,' interposed Mr. Micawber.
'I hope,' said Traddles, 'it is not because you have conceived a dislike to the law — for I am a lawyer myself, you know.'
Mr. Micawber answered not a word.
'How is our friend Heep, Mr. Micawber?' said I, after a silence.
'My dear Copperfield,' returned Mr. Micawber, bursting into a state of much excitement, and turning pale, 'if you ask after my employer as your friend, I am sorry for it; if you ask after him as MY friend, I sardonically smile at it. In whatever capacity you ask after my employer, I beg, without offence to you, to limit my reply to this — that whatever his state of health may be, his appearance is foxy: not to say diabolical. You will allow me, as a private individual, to decline pursuing a subject which has lashed me to the utmost verge of desperation in my professional capacity.'
I expressed my regret for having innocently touched upon a theme that roused him so much. 'May I ask,' said I, 'without any hazard of repeating the mistake, how my old friends Mr. and Miss Wickfield are?'
'Miss Wickfield,' said Mr. Micawber, now turning red, 'is, as she always is, a pattern, and a bright example. My dear Copperfield, she is the only starry spot in a miserable existence. My respect for that young lady, my admiration of her character, my devotion to her for her love and truth, and goodness! — Take me,' said Mr. Micawber, 'down a turning, for, upon my soul, in my present state of mind I am not equal to this!'
We wheeled him off into a narrow street, where he took out his pocket-handkerchief, and stood with his back to a wall. If I looked as gravely at him as Traddles did, he must have found our company by no means inspiriting.
'It is my fate,' said Mr. Micawber, unfeignedly sobbing, but doing even that, with a shadow of the old expression of doing something genteel; 'it is my fate, gentlemen, that the finer feelings of our nature have become reproaches to me. My homage to Miss Wickfield, is a flight of arrows in my bosom. You had better leave me, if you please, to walk the earth as a vagabond. The worm will settle my business in double-quick time.'
Without attending to this invocation, we stood by, until he put up his pocket-handkerchief, pulled up his shirt-collar, and, to delude any person in the neighbourhood who might have been observing him, hummed a tune with his hat very much on one side. I then mentioned — not knowing what might be lost if we lost sight of him yet — that it would give me great pleasure to introduce him to my aunt, if he would ride out to Highgate, where a bed was at his service.
'You shall make us a glass of your own punch, Mr. Micawber,' said I, 'and forget whatever you have on your mind, in pleasanter reminiscences.'
'Or, if confiding anything to friends will be more likely to relieve you, you shall impart it to us, Mr. Micawber,' said Traddles, prudently.
'Gentlemen,' returned Mr. Micawber, 'do with me as you will! I am a straw upon the surface of the deep, and am tossed in all directions by the elephants — I beg your pardon; I should have said the elements.'
We walked on, arm-in-arm, again; found the coach in the act of starting; and arrived at Highgate without encountering any difficulties by the way. I was very uneasy and very uncertain in my mind what to say or do for the best — so was Traddles, evidently. Mr. Micawber was for the most part plunged into deep gloom. He occasionally made an attempt to smarten himself, and hum the fag-end of a tune; but his relapses into profound melancholy were only made the more impressive by the mockery of a hat exceedingly on one side, and a shirt-collar pulled up to his eyes.
We went to my aunt's house rather than to mine, because of Dora's not being well. My aunt presented herself on being sent for, and welcomed Mr. Micawber with gracious cordiality. Mr. Micawber kissed her hand, retired to the window, and pulling out his pocket-handkerchief, had a mental wrestle with himself.
Mr. Dick was at home. He was by nature so exceedingly compassionate of anyone who seemed to be ill at ease, and was so quick to find any such person out, that he shook hands with Mr. Micawber, at least half-a-dozen times in five minutes. To Mr. Micawber, in his trouble, this warmth, on the part of a stranger, was so extremely touching, that he could only say, on the occasion of each successive shake, 'My dear sir, you overpower me!' Which gratified Mr. Dick so much, that he went at it again with greater vigour than before.