'The friendliness of this gentleman,' said Mr. Micawber to my aunt, 'if you will allow me, ma'am, to cull a figure of speech from the vocabulary of our coarser national sports — floors me. To a man who is struggling with a complicated burden of perplexity and disquiet, such a reception is trying, I assure you.'
'My friend Mr. Dick,' replied my aunt proudly, 'is not a common man.'
'That I am convinced of,' said Mr. Micawber. 'My dear sir!' for Mr. Dick was shaking hands with him again; 'I am deeply sensible of your cordiality!'
'How do you find yourself?' said Mr. Dick, with an anxious look.
'Indifferent, my dear sir,' returned Mr. Micawber, sighing.
'You must keep up your spirits,' said Mr. Dick, 'and make yourself as comfortable as possible.'
Mr. Micawber was quite overcome by these friendly words, and by finding Mr. Dick's hand again within his own. 'It has been my lot,' he observed, 'to meet, in the diversified panorama of human existence, with an occasional oasis, but never with one so green, so gushing, as the present!'
At another time I should have been amused by this; but I felt that we were all constrained and uneasy, and I watched Mr. Micawber so anxiously, in his vacillations between an evident disposition to reveal something, and a counter-disposition to reveal nothing, that I was in a perfect fever. Traddles, sitting on the edge of his chair, with his eyes wide open, and his hair more emphatically erect than ever, stared by turns at the ground and at Mr. Micawber, without so much as attempting to put in a word. My aunt, though I saw that her shrewdest observation was concentrated on her new guest, had more useful possession of her wits than either of us; for she held him in conversation, and made it necessary for him to talk, whether he liked it or not.
'You are a very old friend of my nephew's, Mr. Micawber,' said my aunt. 'I wish I had had the pleasure of seeing you before.'
'Madam,' returned Mr. Micawber, 'I wish I had had the honour of knowing you at an earlier period. I was not always the wreck you at present behold.'
'I hope Mrs. Micawber and your family are well, sir,' said my aunt.
Mr. Micawber inclined his head. 'They are as well, ma'am,' he desperately observed after a pause, 'as Aliens and Outcasts can ever hope to be.'
'Lord bless you, sir!' exclaimed my aunt, in her abrupt way. 'What are you talking about?'
'The subsistence of my family, ma'am,' returned Mr. Micawber, 'trembles in the balance. My employer — '
Here Mr. Micawber provokingly left off; and began to peel the lemons that had been under my directions set before him, together with all the other appliances he used in making punch.
'Your employer, you know,' said Mr. Dick, jogging his arm as a gentle reminder.
'My good sir,' returned Mr. Micawber, 'you recall me, I am obliged to you.' They shook hands again. 'My employer, ma'am — Mr. Heep — once did me the favour to observe to me, that if I were not in the receipt of the stipendiary emoluments appertaining to my engagement with him, I should probably be a mountebank about the country, swallowing a sword-blade, and eating the devouring element. For anything that I can perceive to the contrary, it is still probable that my children may be reduced to seek a livelihood by personal contortion, while Mrs. Micawber abets their unnatural feats by playing the barrel-organ.'
Mr. Micawber, with a random but expressive flourish of his knife, signified that these performances might be expected to take place after he was no more; then resumed his peeling with a desperate air.
My aunt leaned her elbow on the little round table that she usually kept beside her, and eyed him attentively. Notwithstanding the aversion with which I regarded the idea of entrapping him into any disclosure he was not prepared to make voluntarily, I should have taken him up at this point, but for the strange proceedings in which I saw him engaged; whereof his putting the lemon-peel into the kettle, the sugar into the snuffer-tray, the spirit into the empty jug, and confidently attempting to pour boiling water out of a candlestick, were among the most remarkable. I saw that a crisis was at hand, and it came. He clattered all his means and implements together, rose from his chair, pulled out his pocket-handkerchief, and burst into tears.
'My dear Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, behind his handkerchief, 'this is an occupation, of all others, requiring an untroubled mind, and self-respect. I cannot perform it. It is out of the question.'
'Mr. Micawber,' said I, 'what is the matter? Pray speak out. You are among friends.'
'Among friends, sir!' repeated Mr. Micawber; and all he had reserved came breaking out of him. 'Good heavens, it is principally because I AM among friends that my state of mind is what it is. What is the matter, gentlemen? What is NOT the matter? Villainy is the matter; baseness is the matter; deception, fraud, conspiracy, are the matter; and the name of the whole atrocious mass is — HEEP!'