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Книга David Copperfield. Страница 207

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'"Dear Miss Trotwood and gentlemen -"'

'Bless and save the man!' exclaimed my aunt in a low voice. 'He'd write letters by the ream, if it was a capital offence!'

Mr. Micawber, without hearing her, went on.

'"In appearing before you to denounce probably the most consummate Villain that has ever existed,"' Mr. Micawber, without looking off the letter, pointed the ruler, like a ghostly truncheon, at Uriah Heep, '"I ask no consideration for myself. The victim, from my cradle, of pecuniary liabilities to which I have been unable to respond, I have ever been the sport and toy of debasing circumstances. Ignominy, Want, Despair, and Madness, have, collectively or separately, been the attendants of my career."'

The relish with which Mr. Micawber described himself as a prey to these dismal calamities, was only to be equalled by the emphasis with which he read his letter; and the kind of homage he rendered to it with a roll of his head, when he thought he had hit a sentence very hard indeed.

'"In an accumulation of Ignominy, Want, Despair, and Madness, I entered the office — or, as our lively neighbour the Gaul would term it, the Bureau — of the Firm, nominally conducted under the appellation of Wickfield and — HEEP, but in reality, wielded by — HEEP alone. HEEP, and only HEEP, is the mainspring of that machine. HEEP, and only HEEP, is the Forger and the Cheat."'

Uriah, more blue than white at these words, made a dart at the letter, as if to tear it in pieces. Mr. Micawber, with a perfect miracle of dexterity or luck, caught his advancing knuckles with the ruler, and disabled his right hand. It dropped at the wrist, as if it were broken. The blow sounded as if it had fallen on wood.

'The Devil take you!' said Uriah, writhing in a new way with pain.

'I'll be even with you.'

'Approach me again, you — you — you HEEP of infamy,' gasped Mr.

Micawber, 'and if your head is human, I'll break it. Come on, come on!'

I think I never saw anything more ridiculous — I was sensible of it, even at the time — than Mr. Micawber making broad-sword guards with the ruler, and crying, 'Come on!' while Traddles and I pushed him back into a corner, from which, as often as we got him into it, he persisted in emerging again.

His enemy, muttering to himself, after wringing his wounded hand for sometime, slowly drew off his neck-kerchief and bound it up; then held it in his other hand, and sat upon his table with his sullen face looking down.

Mr. Micawber, when he was sufficiently cool, proceeded with his letter.

'"The stipendiary emoluments in consideration of which I entered into the service of — HEEP,"' always pausing before that word and uttering it with astonishing vigour, '"were not defined, beyond the pittance of twenty-two shillings and six per week. The rest was left contingent on the value of my professional exertions; in other and more expressive words, on the baseness of my nature, the cupidity of my motives, the poverty of my family, the general moral (or rather immoral) resemblance between myself and — HEEP. Need I say, that it soon became necessary for me to solicit from — HEEP — pecuniary advances towards the support of Mrs. Micawber, and our blighted but rising family? Need I say that this necessity had been foreseen by — HEEP? That those advances were secured by I.O.U.'s and other similar acknowledgements, known to the legal institutions of this country? And that I thus became immeshed in the web he had spun for my reception?"'

Mr. Micawber's enjoyment of his epistolary powers, in describing this unfortunate state of things, really seemed to outweigh any pain or anxiety that the reality could have caused him. He read on: '"Then it was that — HEEP — began to favour me with just so much of his confidence, as was necessary to the discharge of his infernal business. Then it was that I began, if I may so Shakespearianly express myself, to dwindle, peak, and pine. I found that my services were constantly called into requisition for the falsification of business, and the mystification of an individual whom I will designate as Mr. W. That Mr. W. was imposed upon, kept in ignorance, and deluded, in every possible way; yet, that all this while, the ruffian — HEEP — was professing unbounded gratitude to, and unbounded friendship for, that much-abused gentleman. This was bad enough; but, as the philosophic Dane observes, with that universal applicability which distinguishes the illustrious ornament of the Elizabethan Era, worse remains behind!"'

Mr. Micawber was so very much struck by this happy rounding off with a quotation, that he indulged himself, and us, with a second reading of the sentence, under pretence of having lost his place.

'"It is not my intention,"' he continued reading on, '"to enter on a detailed list, within the compass of the present epistle (though it is ready elsewhere), of the various malpractices of a minor nature, affecting the individual whom I have denominated Mr. W., to which I have been a tacitly consenting party. My object, when the contest within myself between stipend and no stipend, baker and no baker, existence and non-existence, ceased, was to take advantage of my opportunities to discover and expose the major malpractices committed, to that gentleman's grievous wrong and injury, by — HEEP. Stimulated by the silent monitor within, and by a no less touching and appealing monitor without — to whom I will briefly refer as Miss W. — I entered on a not unlaborious task of clandestine investigation, protracted — now, to the best of my knowledge, information, and belief, over a period exceeding twelve calendar months."'

He read this passage as if it were from an Act of Parliament; and appeared majestically refreshed by the sound of the words.

'"My charges against — HEEP,"' he read on, glancing at him, and drawing the ruler into a convenient position under his left arm, in case of need, '"are as follows."'

We all held our breath, I think. I am sure Uriah held his.

'"First,"' said Mr. Micawber, '"When Mr. W.'s faculties and memory for business became, through causes into which it is not necessary or expedient for me to enter, weakened and confused, — HEEP — designedly perplexed and complicated the whole of the official transactions. When Mr. W. was least fit to enter on business, — HEEP was always at hand to force him to enter on it. He obtained Mr. W.'s signature under such circumstances to documents of importance, representing them to be other documents of no importance. He induced Mr. W. to empower him to draw out, thus, one particular sum of trust-money, amounting to twelve six fourteen, two and nine, and employed it to meet pretended business charges and deficiencies which were either already provided for, or had never really existed. He gave this proceeding, throughout, the appearance of having originated in Mr. W.'s own dishonest intention, and of having been accomplished by Mr. W.'s own dishonest act; and has used it, ever since, to torture and constrain him."'

'You shall prove this, you Copperfield!' said Uriah, with a threatening shake of the head. 'All in good time!'

'Ask — HEEP — Mr. Traddles, who lived in his house after him,' said Mr. Micawber, breaking off from the letter; 'will you?'

'The fool himself— and lives there now,' said Uriah, disdainfully.

'Ask — HEEP — if he ever kept a pocket-book in that house,' said Mr. Micawber; 'will you?'

I saw Uriah's lank hand stop, involuntarily, in the scraping of his chin.

'Or ask him,' said Mr. Micawber,'if he ever burnt one there. If he says yes, and asks you where the ashes are, refer him to Wilkins Micawber, and he will hear of something not at all to his advantage!'

The triumphant flourish with which Mr. Micawber delivered himself of these words, had a powerful effect in alarming the mother; who cried out, in much agitation: 'Ury, Ury! Be umble, and make terms, my dear!'

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