He preceded us to the dining-room — the first room I had entered in that house — and flinging open the door of Mr. Wickfield's former office, said, in a sonorous voice:
'Miss Trotwood, Mr. David Copperfield, Mr. Thomas Traddles, and Mr. Dixon!'
I had not seen Uriah Heep since the time of the blow. Our visit astonished him, evidently; not the less, I dare say, because it astonished ourselves. He did not gather his eyebrows together, for he had none worth mentioning; but he frowned to that degree that he almost closed his small eyes, while the hurried raising of his grisly hand to his chin betrayed some trepidation or surprise. This was only when we were in the act of entering his room, and when I caught a glance at him over my aunt's shoulder. A moment afterwards, he was as fawning and as humble as ever.
'Well, I am sure,' he said. 'This is indeed an unexpected pleasure! To have, as I may say, all friends round St. Paul's at once, is a treat unlooked for! Mr. Copperfield, I hope I see you well, and — if I may umbly express myself so — friendly towards them as is ever your friends, whether or not. Mrs. Copperfield, sir, I hope she's getting on. We have been made quite uneasy by the poor accounts we have had of her state, lately, I do assure you.'
I felt ashamed to let him take my hand, but I did not know yet what else to do.
'Things are changed in this office, Miss Trotwood, since I was an umble clerk, and held your pony; ain't they?' said Uriah, with his sickliest smile. 'But I am not changed, Miss Trotwood.'
'Well, sir,' returned my aunt, 'to tell you the truth, I think you are pretty constant to the promise of your youth; if that's any satisfaction to you.'
'Thank you, Miss Trotwood,' said Uriah, writhing in his ungainly manner, 'for your good opinion! Micawber, tell 'em to let Miss Agnes know — and mother. Mother will be quite in a state, when she sees the present company!' said Uriah, setting chairs.
'You are not busy, Mr. Heep?' said Traddles, whose eye the cunning red eye accidentally caught, as it at once scrutinized and evaded us.
'No, Mr. Traddles,' replied Uriah, resuming his official seat, and squeezing his bony hands, laid palm to palm between his bony knees. 'Not so much so as I could wish. But lawyers, sharks, and leeches, are not easily satisfied, you know! Not but what myself and Micawber have our hands pretty full, in general, on account of Mr. Wickfield's being hardly fit for any occupation, sir. But it's a pleasure as well as a duty, I am sure, to work for him. You've not been intimate with Mr. Wickfield, I think, Mr. Traddles? I believe I've only had the honour of seeing you once myself?'
'No, I have not been intimate with Mr. Wickfield,' returned Traddles; 'or I might perhaps have waited on you long ago, Mr. Heep.'
There was something in the tone of this reply, which made Uriah look at the speaker again, with a very sinister and suspicious expression. But, seeing only Traddles, with his good-natured face, simple manner, and hair on end, he dismissed it as he replied, with a jerk of his whole body, but especially his throat:
'I am sorry for that, Mr. Traddles. You would have admired him as much as we all do. His little failings would only have endeared him to you the more. But if you would like to hear my fellow-partner eloquently spoken of, I should refer you to Copperfield. The family is a subject he's very strong upon, if you never heard him.'
I was prevented from disclaiming the compliment (if I should have done so, in any case), by the entrance of Agnes, now ushered in by Mr. Micawber. She was not quite so self-possessed as usual, I thought; and had evidently undergone anxiety and fatigue. But her earnest cordiality, and her quiet beauty, shone with the gentler lustre for it.
I saw Uriah watch her while she greeted us; and he reminded me of an ugly and rebellious genie watching a good spirit. In the meanwhile, some slight sign passed between Mr. Micawber and Traddles; and Traddles, unobserved except by me, went out.
'Don't wait, Micawber,' said Uriah.
Mr. Micawber, with his hand upon the ruler in his breast, stood erect before the door, most unmistakably contemplating one of his fellow-men, and that man his employer.
'What are you waiting for?' said Uriah. 'Micawber! did you hear me tell you not to wait?'
'Yes!' replied the immovable Mr. Micawber.
'Then why DO you wait?' said Uriah.
'Because I — in short, choose,' replied Mr. Micawber, with a burst.
Uriah's cheeks lost colour, and an unwholesome paleness, still faintly tinged by his pervading red, overspread them. He looked at Mr. Micawber attentively, with his whole face breathing short and quick in every feature.
'You are a dissipated fellow, as all the world knows,' he said, with an effort at a smile, 'and I am afraid you'll oblige me to get rid of you. Go along! I'll talk to you presently.'