'His ascendancy over papa,' said Agnes, 'is very great. He professes humility and gratitude—with truth, perhaps: I hope so—but his position is really one of power, and I fear he makes a hard use of his power.'
I said he was a hound, which, at the moment, was a great satisfaction to me.
'At the time I speak of, as the time when papa spoke to me,' pursued Agnes, 'he had told papa that he was going away; that he was very sorry, and unwilling to leave, but that he had better prospects. Papa was very much depressed then, and more bowed down by care than ever you or I have seen him; but he seemed relieved by this expedient of the partnership, though at the same time he seemed hurt by it and ashamed of it. [...] We are not likely to remain alone much longer,' said Agnes, 'and while I have an opportunity, let me earnestly entreat you, Trotwood, to be friendly to Uriah. Don't repel him. Don't resent (as I think you have a general disposition to do) what may be uncongenial to you in him. He may not deserve it, for we know no certain ill of him. In any case, think first of papa and me!'
Agnes had advised me to be friendly to Uriah Heep, for her sake and for that of her father. I was not sure how my ‘repelling’ or ‘resenting’ the man might affect anything, for I did not suppose Uriah any more honestly attached to me than I supposed him honestly attached to his position with Mister Wickfield, and thus reluctant to leave it without the chance of some great preferment elsewhere to induce him thither.
It was possible that I need not have invited him to my lodgings, and that Agnes’ plea to me to extend Uriah courtesy had not itself extended to making him a private guest in my rooms at so late an hour. But I did so nonetheless, and without much consideration. Uriah’s company did at least promise (though more by offering me the distraction of a direct skirmish than by providing me with more wholesome objects to think on) to dispel my lingering discomfort with the turgid conversation that had occupied the dull company we’d spent the evening in, and with the way Uriah himself had hovered about me all night: if my lips had parted to say but a word to Agnes, his eyes had followed the movement. Invited to speak to me, Uriah seemed both more at his ease (a matter of degree, given that, at least in my company, he never allowed himself to be entirely easy) and less ready to make himself obnoxious with his oppressive half-presence.
Uriah was now at pains to explain to me, with some relish, how good his prospects were at present. I was indignant with his manner of securing this success, due to its seeming to have come directly at Mister Wickfield’s expense, and tense as Uriah visibly prepared for some further, as-yet-unfathomable assault. I almost wondered if Uriah had not inveigled me into inviting him here (having lingered at dinner until all the rest of the company had departed save myself, and having then walked close beside me as I descended the stairs, and as I left the house) specifically to broach whatever subject he now intended to enter into.
His eyes had been turned on me for much of the conversation, but now he seemed unable to look at me directly (a task which he had not seemed to find too much for him at dinner!). Indeed he was inspecting my grate with interest when the crisis was brought to bear.
“Why that, Master Copperfield,” said Uriah, launching his second volley in response to my agreeing that Agnes had indeed looked well this evening, “is, in fact, the confidence that I am going to take the liberty of reposing. Umble as I am,” he wiped his hands hard, and looked at them and at the fire by turns, “umble as my mother is, and lowly as our poor but honest roof has ever been, the image of Miss Agnes (I don't mind trusting you with my secret, Master Copperfield, for I have always overflowed towards you since the first moment I had the pleasure of beholding you in a pony-shay) has been in my breast for years. Oh, Master Copperfield, with what a pure affection do I love the ground my Agnes walks on!”
I believe I had a delirious idea of seizing the red-hot poker out of the fire, and running him through with it. It went from me with a shock, like a ball fired from a rifle: but the image of Agnes, outraged by so much as a thought of this red-headed animal's, remained in my mind when I looked at him, sitting all awry as if his mean soul griped his body, and made me giddy. He seemed to swell and grow before my eyes; the room seemed full of the echoes of his voice; and the strange feeling (to which, perhaps, no one is quite a stranger) that all this had occurred before, at some indefinite time, and that I knew what he was going to say next, took possession of me.
A timely observation of the sense of power that there was in his face might have done much to bring back to my remembrance the entreaty of Agnes. But not making one, I heedlessly, with no appearance of composure whatever, enquired whether he had made his feelings known to Agnes.
I could hear my own voice cracking like a boy’s, and felt my cheeks burning with the embarrassment attendant on this lapse of self-command. More even than these sensations, I was conscious that my feelings were characterized by a degree of anger and desperate denial that I could not directly account for. The anger at least had been building for some little while (Why was his apparent pleasure at Agnes’ knowing of his change in status so disgusting to me that I wanted to do violence to him because he felt it?), but now it crested. I found I could hardly see through a swelling black haze that seemed simultaneously to obscure my vision, choke me and twist in my very innards. I could almost have sworn I felt this bile filling my body, and I certainly felt how it rendered me nauseous. Beyond all that, thinking as such was not to be thought of.
“Oh no, Mister Copperfield,” Uriah said slowly in answer to my question, watching me now as a vulture might watch something near to death. “I have not. Oh dear, no! I’ve not yet said a word of this to anyone but you. You see I am only just emerging from my lowly station. I rest a good deal of hope on her observing how useful I am to her father (for I trust to be very useful to him indeed, Master Copperfield), and how I smooth the way for him, and keep him straight. She's so much attached to her father, Master Copperfield, that I think she may come, on his account, to be kind to me. In fact,” he laid a confidential hand on my arm, for I was seated beside him on the sofa, “I hope I’ll give her reason to be kind to me very soon.”
Not understanding what I was doing, I seized the hand Uriah had set upon me. He regarded my action with an interest that brightened and sharpened his predatory, flickering gaze.
“No,” I whispered vehemently, not knowing what I was saying. I tightened my grip on his long, thin hand, feeling the curious contrast of his preternaturally cold skin against my own rage-heated flesh.
“No?” Uriah’s capacity to speak softly and slowly, in stark contrast to the pressure his cruel-looking hands could bring to bear and the demonic ferocity his actions at times partook of, had its own mesmeric power. He employed it against me now, allowing me to make the next move, and even forcing me to do it. If a body should ever require rope sufficient to hang himself with, I have no doubt that Uriah is the man to cheerfully supply it.
I seized his white shirt collar, which was stiff and resistant beneath my fingers, as cheap in its feeling as in its appearance. If I thought anything of my intentions in that moment, I might have supposed them to be something in the assault and battery line. I found myself, in great confusion, either tugging Uriah to myself or myself to Uriah. Still, I might have halted in my reckless course. I don’t know that anything would have come of my grip on his hand and his collar had he not lowered his long legs to accommodate me, allowing me to spill almost on to his lap. I lunged at him, not with my hands, which were still occupied as I have described, but with my very face, in such a desperate fashion that I think, regardless of all that transpired, I might have then aimed to bite the fellow somehow or other.
Uriah had other ideas, and interrupted my headlong flight by meeting me with an opposing force. He arrested me easily with a hand on my shoulder. I do not know whether I had hitherto realized that, being older and substantially taller than I was, Uriah was also a good deal stronger. Uriah looked at me for a moment, as though he were judging whether the time was right to launch himself into a set of skipping ropes already going at speed. He then bent to kiss my closed lips.
He did not perform the civility as a relative might have done, without blame or any extraordinary departure from the realms of conduct familiar to me. Instead, he kissed me with some force, and (why disguise it?) evident passion. I gasped with shock into his mouth, and he took his opportunity. He brought one of his long hands up to weave through my hair, and to secure my head where he appeared to want it. The other he occupied at my waist, and if I had been nearly on his lap before, I was pretty well on it now. I would have found it difficult to extricate myself if I’d tried, but I was not at present trying. Nor was my acceptance of his kisses particularly restrained. Indeed to call it simply ‘acceptance’ is perhaps to be too zealous in my own part. I had never been kissed before, except by Peggotty, my mother and my Aunt, and needless to say those kisses had been nothing like the ones I was currently held hostage to, and was enthusiastically (if with little idea of what I was doing) attempting to give some answer.
“Don’t you dare touch her,” I said. I tried to sneer manfully, breaking away from Uriah’s mouth to do it. I ended up speaking to him almost with a snarl, and certainly with unaccustomed ferocity. I was as over-heated as an oven going at full blast. “Marry her—” I scoffed incredulously, or at least I attempted to. I suspect that though that was indeed the destination I’d purchased a ticket to, I’d left the stage instead at the junction for Horror Hill and Little Whimpering (which is, I am certain, a village truly located somewhere in the Cotswolds). In my animation, I almost cursed him. “You wretched beast, you—Uriah!” His name was, it seemed to me, accusation enough.
Uriah jerked when I pronounced his name in accents of desperation, his full body seeming to undergo some seizure of feeling, and pressed me hard against him. I am ashamed to say I tore at his clothes, and that a button was lost forever, and that between this and my plaintive repetitions of his name, Uriah was almost distracted by the time I touched him in a manner in which, against the best medical advice, I had often handled myself. His head thrashed against the tall frame of my couch, going back and forth like the slender pendulum of a metronome. The hand that had clasped me in a kiss now greedily roamed my body, slipping under my clothing, darting and clever, making a thorough exploration of me. His other hand remained in possession of my hip, perhaps to prevent a hasty departure should I look like coming to my senses.
For my own part, the commingled fascination and repulsion I had ever felt for Uriah (one sentiment hardly separable from its twin), who I had only a moment ago resolved to dislike intensely after all, welled in me now and dominated my reason. I felt, as I have said, almost ill, and yet I felt potently drawn, as none of my boyish affections had ever drawn me. In answer to these sentiments, I stroked Uriah even as I made demands.
“Say you won’t,” I insisted. “Say you never will.” For the idea of his marrying Agnes drove my mind from me, and had to be dismissed at all costs: even in my current state, I held on to that much like a bit between my teeth. “Uriah, say it!” I pleaded with him.
“Oh David,” he choked in recompense. I had so rarely heard him pronounce my Christian name (and never without the rapid succession of a ‘Copperfield’) that I made a small sound of surprise in response, which he answered with another rapacious kiss.
“Promise me, Uriah,” I begged upon his giving me nothing more than my name in answer. He shivered as if wracked with fever, and I enjoyed, with a frightening degree of satisfaction, a wild knowledge of my own power (though without any commensurate acknowledgement within myself of whence such a power might derive from).
“That you should have to ask!” Uriah nearly laughed, gasping it. He managed to speak through his evident physical distress with an effort of will (and, I think, due to the triumph of his native loquaciousness, which would not be suppressed for anything). “That, I never could have expected. You needn’t carry on so.”
He stroked my face as though to soothe me as he said it, and to his apparent pleasure, I twined into his great hand like a cat. “You know you needn’t,” he continued. “Didn’t I tell you I treasured up your words?” Indeed, Uriah appeared to remember everything I had ever said to him (nor, it seemed, had I forgotten an utterance of his). “Didn’t I say you were the first to kindle up sparks of ambition in my breast?”
Something in the emphasis he’d laid upon the kindling of those sparks, and something in the glance he’d directed at me as he said it, not half an hour past, had made me start as if I had seen him illuminated by a blaze of light. It was as though I’d truly looked on him for the first time, though I had known him years—as though he had allowed me to see him at last, and to know him for what he was: a creature of infinite resource and Faustian ambition, who had quite definite intentions towards me. I’d then made him coffee (as though hoping to drown out the dark grandeur of that intimation with a healthy draft of the mundane, for this was, after all, only irritating, simpering, false Uriah!) with an unsteadiness of hand, a sudden sense of being no match for him, and a perplexed suspicious anxiety as to what he might be going to say next. I had felt that my unease could not escape his observation. Now I was certain that no trace of it had, and that in general, little that I did escaped him.
“Not Agnes,” he assured me now. “No, I won’t belong to any soul but you.” He shook his head slowly. “Oh you really must learn to listen, mustn’t you? I’ve been telling you this for such a long while.”
I dropped my head against his shoulder and nodded into it upon receipt of this assurance, continuing to move my hand, working almost to pull the information and consolation out of him. It did not then occur to me that I found the knowledge that he was to remain unclaimed and untouched a comfort, rather than the knowledge that Agnes should remain so.
He tilted my head up, finally relinquishing my hip to do it, and traced a still-icy thumb over my lower lip.
“Would you give me your mouth, David?” he asked, cajoling the favour out of me just as he had a second cup of coffee.
I blinked at him, understanding what he proposed. I had only heard scattered rumours of that act, but I could comprehend both something of what it must entail and the appeal of such a course of action. “Would you like that?” I asked. Stupidly, I suppose.
“Oh, beyond anything,” he assured me, with another of his not-quite grins. “Well. I should say almost anything.”
He lightly pressed me down, and I didn’t object (though I don’t know whether I could have managed to make the journey entirely of my own volition), sliding to the floor and pooling there at his feet like a disturbed blanket.
He had been surprisingly warm in my hand, given the native chill of his other extremities, and when I pressed a kiss against his member, which was as long, as thin and as pale as the rest of him promised, I found him equally warm against my lips.
“If you’d only take it—” he began to suggest, cutting himself off abruptly, with another great jerk of his person, when I anticipated him and slid the head of his organ into my mouth. “Oh fuck,” he breathed, seeming almost to luxuriate in the profanity. For my part, unused to cursing as I was, I coloured and felt the hardness that had been with me almost since we’d begun to kiss throb in sympathy. I wondered how it was that a piece of indecency that so affronted me should simultaneously affect me thus. It was low and coarse and at odds with Uriah’s cringing, flattering front; and yet I expected it almost, and even associated such demonstrations with Uriah, though I had never heard him give way to them before.
He pushed my head down, not without gentleness, and by means of a firm grip on my hair established something of a rhythm: pressing me down, then dragging me up, by degrees encouraging me to take more and more of his unmanageable length. He moaned when I thought to wrap a hand around the rest of him to compensate for the relative smallness of my mouth, and almost quaked with agitation. I knew many schoolboys traded in favours of this sort, but having enjoyed Steerforth’s patronage and protection while a boarder, I never had been thus worked upon. I wondered if I was doing this poorly due to my inexperience, and whether he was thus struggling to reach his conclusion, or quite the reverse.
Still, however I was doing, Uriah audibly appreciated the proceedings with a thousand small, eager sounds. When I noisily gulped at him, looking up at his expression to see how we were getting on, he was moved to more articulate tributes.
“That’s it,” he urged, shoving my head almost roughly, making me take more of him than I’d previously ventured to and pushing up into my mouth with shallow thrusts of his hips, “that’s right, you captivating little—David, precious, that’s—”
I never discovered what ‘that’ was, beyond ‘it’ and ‘right’, for Uriah seemed suddenly to choke on air, and without making any decision to do it, to hold my head where it was while he spent himself down my throat. I swallowed, thinking it must be the proper thing to do, and he looked at me as though he were starving and I were bread. I knew that if he’d had the blood for it, he’d have done it again in an instant.
He recovered with startling speed. I am lax after a conclusion myself, but Uriah seemed if anything sharper and more alive for his. He dragged me up against him and kissed me frantically, shoving his tongue where his organ had but recently been and seeming to chase the taste of himself on my lips. I tried to turn my head away, thinking this not wholly sanitary, but he would have none of it and wrenched me back almost angrily. His hand trembled a little as it found me. Indeed in that desperate condition, I suppose my own sex, shorter than his though it was, must have been difficult to miss.
“Was that right?” I asked him. I cannot say myself whether I truly wanted to know if I had done the thing properly or whether I only wanted his praise, which for his own part he had always seemed to enjoy giving me.
Normally I found Uriah’s effusions uncomfortable, false and difficult to bear. They made me uncomfortable now, but I also found them poignantly pleasurable. I was his precious boy, his own, his pet. I had the prettiest mouth in the world, and another time he’d sod me rotten, would I like that? Oh yes, he thought I would, and no gasps or feeble denials on my part would convince him otherwise (nor, in retrospect, would they have convinced anyone of even the feeblest understanding). I wanted him to stop, and to keep at it forever. I wanted to press into the swelling ache he was building in me, and to do anything that might heighten and prolong it.
I warned him when I thought myself near my peak, with some vague notion that he might wish to desist and allow me to finish rather than dirty his hand, but he seemed to appreciate the information in a different sense. The chief planner of a cathedral could not have looked prouder of the spire’s being raised than Uriah looked to be the architect of my climax. In fact, I am certain that the expression on his face when he cruelly twisted my nipple (which he’d been gently brushing with his knuckles only an instant before—an action which had lulled me into a too-trusting complacency) and caused me to peak with a startled half-scream testified to a degree of that mortal sin worthy of outright damnation.
I slumped against him in my aftermath, panting, and he was quiet as I lay there for some minutes. (Still he was never entirely inactive, and he stroked my back as though fiddling with some stray object for his own amusement all the while.) Indeed Uriah remained silent until I looked up at him, blinking.
Uriah chuckled then, with no little glee, in response to my evident bewilderment. “Oh I knew it,” he crowed. “Got you with that one, didn't I? You always have been a jealous thing.”
“Excuse me?” I said inanely. Sanity trickled back into my brain: belatedly, but it would come. “What happened?” I was silly enough to ask, as though the evidence of it weren’t sitting in my stomach and on the back of Uriah’s hand. “Why did I—” At last I stopped myself, harnessing something like self-control. This lapse had been bad enough, without adding ‘babbling before my co-conspirator after the thing was done’ to my account. The blame for what had happened was on us both. Uriah might have worked upon my feelings, but I had been the one to offer up feelings for him to work upon.
Uriah sighed, adjusting me on his lap (which, I now realized in this cooler atmosphere, was excessively bony, and no fit seat at all). “Really, ‘Master Copperfield’. You are usually so quick.”
I made a bid to escape my prison and acquire a more dignified attitude, but Uriah held fast, his bony limbs as narrow and unyielding as the iron bars of any prison.
“Shall I explain it to you?” he asked, seeming to take no notice of my struggles. “I’ll try to be plainer. You could not abide the thought of my loving anyone else, and when I taunted you with the prospect, you acted to set it right. For in that regard, you never could allow anyone in your way. Well, I shouldn't worry overmuch, for I never did like anyone but you in all my life, and only said it because you would be so unforthcoming!” He sighed once more and re-positioned me, and by this action I was once more made aware of the difference in our heights. While this difference was not in itself an insult that could be laid at Uriah’s door, being reminded of it certainly was. “You did make me wait such a while to turn the pleasure of beholding you into the pleasure of holding you, and if I made you cross by threatening to prefer Agnes, why it's only what you deserve.”
I batted at his chest (I think—I hope—to secure my release, rather than as a reaction to any supposed preference of his). This action did not much avail me.
“You said you loved the ground Agnes walked on!” I insisted, wanting to know exactly where he’d lied. Or perhaps I was still angry with him—was I angry, and with him? And what precisely for? Surely he was wrong about my motive! What could I care for Uriah’s opinion of me, or indeed for his opinion of anyone?
“Well,” Uriah chuckled, “she don’t stir about much, and everywhere she’s gone around that house and town, you’ll have gone too, I’d wager. So, in a manner of speaking.”
“You said the image of her was in your breast!” I persisted.
“And you’ll notice what image I interrupted my expressions with,” Uriah pointed out. “Uncommon honest, ain’t I?”
I found I could not easily let the thing go. “I recall you thanked me for complimenting her soon after we met, which, when I now think on it, suggests that you have liked her all this while!”
Uriah smirked at me. “You’ve such a memory. Really, you are remarkable for it. I won’t deny that I ‘ad an eye to marrying her,” he pronounced this with distaste, “for the sake of her fine attributes—namely the firm. And I can’t say that your coming to Canterbury to live with ‘em, looking quite the heir apparent, didn’t rather put me out. You must allow for my having resented you for it, given that I’d worked four years towards that end, since the age you yourself were then, and had no other sure means of advancement. Nor had I entirely relinquished that aim, if you wouldn’t come to terms. Why, a man must earn, and she’s as safe as she is dull.”
“Agnes isn’t dull,” I said stalwartly. I came to Agnes’ defense by force of habit, not even stopping to consider the specific charge he had lain against her. If a thing were bad, then Agnes surely could have no part in it, for Agnes was goodness itself.
Uriah rolled his eyes. “I’ll grant that ‘dear sister’ of yours many virtues I don’t much care about myself, but even your over-friendly heart can’t credit her with a vivacious personality. Besides, you wouldn’t like it if I complimented her.”
I raised my chin in what I fancied was a haughty manner, well-suited to setting him down. “Wouldn’t I? Agnes is—”
“Oh you can say what you like,” he interrupted me, “but if I do the same, how you take against it! You are an unforgiving little landlord, I am sure. You think a compliment to ‘the Divine Agnes’ ought by rights to be paid to you, if it’s mine. It was always very dear, the way it'd vex you if ever I had a kind word for the girl. You didn't even aspire to her, but you hated me so much as making an observation on her with a passion. You could do it, but not I.”
I could hardly claim that I’d long been purely uncomfortable with his praise when, not a quarter of an hour previously, his appreciation of my person had wrought in me an unprecedented and highly favorable response. Nor, it seemed, could I claim that there had been no jealousy in my actions this evening. I had been wildly, violently jealous. (Perhaps I often was, for Steerforth’s having other friends had seemed at times a burden to be resented to me.) But when I had set upon Uriah, I had not been jealous of my possible displacement as a brother in Agnes’ heart and life due to the advent of a husband, or of my exile from some hitherto-unthought-of role as her lover. Agnes inspired neither seething loathing nor endless rapt fascination in me. Uriah inspired little that was not deeply felt, and unreasonably so. We had known one another years, since I was a boy of eleven and he a boy of fifteen, and had lived hard by one another until I had come to London a little less than a year ago. Even with that degree of acquaintance, I had never grown so familiar with Uriah as to be inured to his profound effects upon me. Indeed I never expected to arrive at that condition. Agnes filled me with tranquility: I think Uriah might have snorted and called it the peace of the grave, if I had said as much. He, on the other hand, filled me with anger and a desire to impress or even (and I acknowledged this but reluctantly, for it was a complicated and an ugly urge) to dominate him. I had ever attended to him with the utmost care. I knew all of that to be inarguably true.
Uriah observed my silence shrewdly, but seemed yet intoxicated with his victory. “I am somewhat surprised this little lure of mine worked at all on you,” he admitted, his tone vexingly smug, “let alone that it elicited such a reaction. Oh, but I ought to have known, for you always do hate a thing’s being taken away from you.”
That stung, for it was true. It must have shown on my face, for Uriah allowed, “You cling on to anything that loves you, an’ it comes, perhaps, from ‘aving lost a parent (in childhood, rather than in infancy, when one can’t rightly know a thing about it), or ‘aving undergone upheavals early in life. I recognize it in myself. I’ve a motive, and I go at it tooth and nail. I won’t be put upon, and I won’t lose anything that’s mine. We are just alike, you and I, and you must admit it! Still, it shows very prettily in you. Why if I used to pay attention to my books of an evening and not to you, you'd always have ten questions or comments to address to me. And Mister Tidd,” he pronounced the name of that worthy with some sarcasm (and for the first time it occurred to me to wonder whether his effusions on the subject had, after all, been a schoolboy’s huffy mockery: for all I’d thought him a man, Uriah had been a very youth, younger than I was now, when he’d praised the author, or perhaps complained of him, to me), “could not remain your only rival for my attentions forever, you know! Or you would have done, if you’d thought ahead.”
Indeed I had not considered that if he and Agnes weren’t for one another, each of them might well be intended for someone else. Agnes seemed to me ethereal, too pure for a disorderly, imperfect and carnal human bond of matrimony. Uriah, however, was nothing like pure, and would attempt to secure his advantage as best he could, given that despite his bizarre, sinister power to bewitch me, his appearance and prospects were neither of them prepossessing.
“Who’d have you?” I asked, bluntly and awfully. Agnes he might secure with snares, but she had little love for him.
“Have you got a mirror about the place?” Uriah shot back instantly, his eyes narrowing and flickering brighter, the redness in them seeming to glow in the dim firelight.
I flushed, but took the hit as a thing deserved.
“Am I too low for any companion then? Have I not as much right to one as any man? You sound like our friends at the dinner party,” Uriah observed, “with all their talk of Blood. Are you quite proud, Master Copperfield, to be associated with such asinine, prejudiced swine as that lot? I shouldn’t be. In fact I rather think dinner was wasted on them, unless they were being fattened for the slaughter.”
“They’re no friends of mine,” I corrected him, shamed to bear the taint of their opinions, and more shamed at how Uriah’s thoughts echoed my private feeling on the matter, which I never should have voiced (at least not in these stringent terms). The remarkable degree of hatred that inflected his voice made me deeply uneasy. I had little doubt that if the whole company of our hosts had been headed to an abattoir, Uriah wouldn’t have batted a lashless eye. “And there is no need to insult them in such terms. They were foolish, I’ll grant you, but only foolish in the common way.”
Uriah scoffed at the easy way I let them off. “Foolish in the nobility way, more like. Look at me and tell me you didn’t think just as I did.”
I did so, claiming that I shouldn’t speak thus of any human creatures, no matter their degree of folly. Uriah greeted my effort with silent laughter that outraged me still further, for I knew my attempt to have been a feeble thing, and it was unsettling to have my notions challenged thus. I did not think Uriah precisely right, but I could not be easy knowing that he was not precisely wrong, either.
“It isn’t blood that makes you what you are,” I insisted. “It’s your behavior, which for your part includes an attempt to secure poor Agnes without loving her a jot. While claiming to do it—and solely for your own benefit! I may object to that purely from a disinterested knowledge of what is right, which I still lay claim to, even if I have acted foolishly myself this evening. I won’t let you do it, any more than I shall ‘come to terms with you’.”
“Oh won’t you?” Uriah asked, his lip curling. “Am I to have nothing, then? Neither you nor her?”
This calculating mention of Agnes, who I had hoped banished from his ambitions, sent a fresh wave of indignation through me. I answered him with utmost coolness, hoping that my face gave no outward sign of the turmoil within me.
“All men, I hope, may receive the rewards they deserve, and if this is yours, why, you might be thankful it’s no worse. You’re a mean, fawning villain, and you have obviously acted to substitute myself for Agnes in your scheme for some imagined advantage. Your trouble isn’t your ‘umble’ situation, so much as that you are a very cur.”
“Careful, Mister Copperfield,” Uriah said sharply, his nostrils quickly flaring with suppressed anger and his grip on my body tightening in a parody of a fond embrace. “Why if I am a dog, then you are my Master, and you’d better use me accordingly. I’m loyal, in my ‘art, but any dog can turn, if it’s beaten instead of fed by the hand it loves. It's late to turn back now, my own. Your protestations of horror make for a pretty spectacle, I am sure. But you and I both know what you did, and I know why we did it, even if you won’t. I take your regrets as something of an insult.”
“Take them as you choose,” I said, freeing myself with a wrench, standing and putting my person to rights even as he slowly, deliberately did the same. “I bear responsibility for my actions, but I committed to nothing, and you are hardly a compromised lady I ought to do right by. I am under no obligation to you, and you have no hold over me. As for what occurred, you manipulated me when I was at a pitch of emotion, and you cannot claim otherwise. Indeed, you did so deliberately.”
“I don’t exactly deny it,” Uriah said as he stood. He was taller than me by a head, and I suddenly had some physical appreciation of the possible harm he might be able to do me if he had a mind to. He seemed to have shed his customary cringing attitude with his inhibitions, and to be capable of anything tonight. “If my methods seem amiss, why I am sorry.” There was a sharp, satirical humor in the words. I wondered for how long his fawning had been an awful joke he told himself, and for how long every unctuous word Uriah uttered had been spoken as a curse upon the world. “I don’t really know how a gentleman goes about courting, I’m afraid! All stratagems are fair in love, ain’t they? Besides, though I am so umble,” and that word, I now understood, was the bitterest invective of them all, “I don’t exactly aim to court you, either. I aim to conquer. And you know, I think I have done—you look pretty conquered to me, just now.”
Of course I could not see myself, but I knew I was mussed in my dress despite my late efforts to conceal the effects of our activities, that my hair was plastered to my forehead with sweat, that my lips were swollen from having taken him in them, and that I must appear confused and liable to collapse onto my poor sofa (which had, like me, allowed scandalous liberties to be taken upon it this evening, and looked the more disheveled for it). Therefore I must presume Uriah had a point.
Gazing on my pathetic state, Uriah seemed almost to soften, or at least to reassess his course. The tight angle of his long limbs relaxed somewhat, and he regarded me with a sideways turn of his mouth.
“I suppose I’m being awful hard on you. Perhaps I’ve plucked a pear before it got a chance to fully ripen.”
I blushed at this, for I had seen Uriah eat a pear with relish once, and had marveled with what I had then conceived of as horror at the way he’d savored it, licking the juice off his long fingers and making an obscenity of the consumption of that innocent fruit. He’d somehow contrived, in his voracity, to leave nothing whatever of the core. The memory had lingered with me, and reoccurred to me now with startling vividness.
“I’m not your supper,” said I, as sternly as I could manage, “or any bit of it.”
“Ain’t you?” Uriah almost grinned. “Why, you’re my everything. Well. Enough of that for now. It’ll take time, maybe, for you to sort out the alteration of our circumstances for yourself. I recall I took a fortnight to come to terms with you! It was some years ago, but I remember the torment of it well enough, and how I tossed and turned and hardly slept for days running, just working out the thing. So I won't bear you any grudge on that account.”
Uriah bade me good evening; I was too stunned to respond, and would not have known what to have said if I had had my tongue. He slipped away decently enough, but then clattered down the stairs like an exuberant boy, possibly under the impression that the walls were better made than they were and that I could not hear his demonstrations of lightness of heart. I suppose he had, after all, exerted himself so as to thoroughly earn such a victorious display. He’d pushed his luck to good effect, securing my outrage to the full extent he could wish (and he would not have told me his plan at all, if he had wished for success rather than for my outrage). If that weren’t enough, he’d then coaxed me to suck him rather than simply pumping himself to completion in my hand. The madness that had overtaken me now amazed me. Perhaps it amazed him too.
I know not whether Uriah returned, late as the hour was, to his boardinghouse and spent the night there. I imagined him waking the landlady at three o’clock in the morning, or scaling the wall to obtain entrance via the window, or anything improbable. Perhaps he would wander the city until dawn, and pitch himself into work the next day with that infernal energy of his, as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
And then tomorrow, perhaps he would smile at Agnes and enjoy the thought of explaining to her this second indiscretion, which came so hard upon the heels of my last debauch and all my subsequent regrets and promises of reform, and was so much more shameful, besides. He might even indulge himself with incomprehensible hints regarding his conquest, though in her innocence Agnes never could guess what he aimed at.
Troubled and overwhelmed by these possibilities, I sat down hard on the couch and fell asleep there.
I spent the next weeks distracted by remembrances of the tightness of Uriah’s grip around me, and of the weight of him in my throat. I dreamed about him, as I had often done as a child: dreams that were, as they had always been, half adventure and half nightmare, shot through with danger and what, as an adult, I knew to be desire. This time when Red Uriah tied me to the mast of his ship and held his shining cutlass to my tender neck, Emily was nowhere to be found (neither, against all piratical practice that I am aware of, was a crew). Uriah leaned in, and I swallowed hard, and he said oh, David as he pressed the very tip of his blade into my skin. I woke up panting, and in an embarrassing condition.
I wondered if he did love me, as best he could—and how well, then, was that? I wondered if Uriah had fumbled with his gloves for so long because I made him ungainly, or whether he had done so to prolong the operation, so that by the time we reached my apartment, his hands had still been bare, and I had been forced to take one of them naked in my own as we ascended the staircase. If the latter were true, had he done it to discomfort me with his touch? Had he done it all, first to last, to unbalance me? Or had he held my hand and then my manhood because doing so was a pleasure to him, one he was loathe not to seize at?
Luckily Agnes returned to Canterbury swiftly, and I was not obliged to call again. I wrote a loving letter, but made my excuses for not coming to attend on her departure, pleading business. In truth I could not have stood to look at Uriah at present. Yet in something just under a fortnight, he upset all such scruples by presenting himself to me again in person. I answered a knock at my door, thinking that at this hour it could only be Mrs. Crupp, wanting something or other.
Uriah had the gall to apologize for not having given me the whole of a fortnight. “I found I couldn’t entirely reconcile myself to waiting,” he said, taking off his coat as though he’d been invited to do it. “Goodness, these are nice rooms, now I see them in the light.” The slight lilt with which he said as much conveyed to me in an instant that he thought I’d probably let myself be had, as far as rates went (and to my still greater annoyance, I wasn’t sure he wasn’t correct).
“What do you want?” I asked, abandoning the bit of writing I’d been engaged in but not leaving what I perceived to be the safe island of my little writing desk. It seemed to me a fortress, with the space between it and the door serving as a moat defensive to the house, against the envy of less happier lands.
“We’ve covered all that,” Uriah said. I was beginning both to appreciate and to be incandescently irritated by his positive gift for an immediate response. “The question is, what's next? What are we to do, in a practical capacity?”
“Forget any of what transpired ever did?” I suggested, for I was not entirely devoid of a capacity for rejoinder in my own part.
Uriah chuckled, almost without sound. “You are a funny one, Copperfield. I didn't find the experience particularly forgettable, myself!”
“Well what do you propose?” I demanded, hoping for once to back-foot him, to force him to take a definite position I could assault.
Uriah rubbed his hands together in glee, advancing towards me in an alarming fashion. “I am so very glad you’ve asked!”
It was about now that I realized that Uriah’s taking a position here would be no detriment whatever to him, and that I had in fact walked into an ambush. “Now, having had more time than you have done to come to grips with it all, I have thought of a few little plans for us which we might happily bring to fruition.”
“Us!” I said, horrified, but Uriah’s eyes simply flickered at me in amusement. He seemed to have budgeted for my bewilderment this time, and to be taking the thing in stride (and his stride was pretty long, capable of covering a good deal of ground).
“Ah, to hear you speak of ‘us’ in that spontaneous fashion!” he sighed.
“Oh pray stop dissimulating,” I said, throwing down my pen in annoyance. “Who the devil are you even performing for?”
“Why you, my dearest,” Uriah said, not cowed in the least, “as usual. And just because I perform a little, why, that don’t mean it ain’t true. Now don’t let’s get distracted, for I aimed to tell you all my plans.” He did seem to derive a great deal of enjoyment from that activity.
“Now as I see it,” he said, resuming his irritating habit of slowly and thoughtfully scraping his lank jaw with his hand, as if he were shaving himself, “we’ve about four options before us. The first I have outlined already: namely my marrying Anges to secure control over the firm in its entirety. For I can’t run the practice without old Wickfield’s capital if he dies, you know. I’m a good attorney, and I’ve been doing Wickfield’s work for ‘im for years, but people don’t trust a man with my ‘umble accents or appearance, either. If Wickfield died and I had not Agnes to bolster me, I should be obliged to give the thing up and to enter into someone else’s firm on bad terms. I have not done all I have done to be cast down now.”
“Mind how you speak of Mister Wickfield,” I said hotly. “He has ever been a friend to me, and, I think, to you!”
“I shouldn’t like you to go on thinking something as stupid as that,” Uriah said, leaning against the back of my couch and folding his long arms around his torso. “I’ve slaved for that patronizing old fool, you’ve seen me do it! Oh, he did me the great favor of taking me on at a meager salary for one person, let alone mother and self. He generously allowed me to run his business while he puffed himself up on his charity over my exploitation. When my father died, near as at the magistrates’ hands, for all they’d given him that sexton’s post, they pulled me out of the charity school before he was so much as lowered into the ground and said I was in luck, here was a man willing to allow me to clerk for him. And wasn’t I grateful, and remember always to be umble. Well I ain’t grateful to live off so-called charity and scraps while I work to the bone for another man’s benefit, and I never have been, any more than I have consented to be umble in my heart. You don’t see it my way, because he’s been kind enough to you—as kind as he thinks himself, I’d wager, and kind as he can be, between gentlemen such as yourselves. But you’ll not be able to deny the justice of my claims, and if you tried to, you’d only be betraying a sizable portion of yourself.”
I regarded Uriah, and found I could not quite deny them. He’d seemed to grow vast in his hatred, and while all he said was ugly, it was only as ugly as it was true. I could not say a thing was not true simply because I did not find it a comfort to think on. I could not do that injustice to him (though I resented him above all things), to my reason and sentiment, or to the world (which must perforce include so many in his position, obliged to kiss the rod that bludgeoned them). Uriah had worked up his speech pretty well, and I considered that he’d been thinking of what he wanted to say to me about his past and his position at least these last two weeks, and perhaps a good deal longer.
“None of what you have said is without some merit,” I said quietly. “And I am sorry for it. But I do think some allowance must be made for the fact that Mister Wickfield intended to do you a kindness, and that he has treated you tolerably well all this while. And—and if you cannot find it in your heart to make such an allowance, then you must still admit that Agnes, though she benefits from what you see as her father’s ill-use of you, has never done aught to deserve a loveless marriage to a man who despises her, however you intend to bring that abomination about!” Then too there was the fact that even speaking about this foul compact made me almost ill.
“Would you have me gain by some other means?” Uriah asked, his eyes flashing once more. “Shall I steal a great deal of money from somewhere or other? To provide for myself, if you don’t want provided for.”
“Obviously not,” I ground out. “I wouldn’t see you or any man in hell, via the gaol, if I might have spoken to prevent it. From both eternal and present perspectives, larceny is hardly a sound course.”
“You’ll see me in the gaol if anyone does,” Uriah remarked, and it took me a second to work out his meaning and to feel accordingly flustered and annoyed. “Well, so you’ve vetoed both of those courses. Luckily, I ‘adn't my ‘art set on either. Try it this way, then: you could come back to Canterbury and set up shop, either at Wickfield’s or off your own back. Or you could stay in London and we might get up a practice together, or find some better thing for you to occupy yourself with, if you don’t like the law. You don’t seem to, judging by the letters Miss Agnes reads to her father, and I must admit I never thought you would.”
“The subject of what occurred last month does not seem to directly arise in any of these proposals,” I pointed out.
“Oh I take repetitions of that as read across all the alternatives presented,” Uriah said, dismissing my concern with a wave of his large hand.
“In the first option you were married!” I objected. Sodomy was one thing, and adultery another altogether! Perhaps I ought to have condemned the vice in question more severely, but I was not altogether ignorant of the varied manners in which people arranged their domestic lives, and to my thinking it was a less harmful habit than the too-common practices of cruelty and abuse, authorized by and indeed performed within many a sanctified union.
“You’d rather I confined my desires entirely to Miss Agnes?” Uriah asked innocently. I felt I could have throttled him with good cheer. “No, I didn’t think so,” he concluded on viewing my pained expression. “And I notice you didn’t veto the last two. So you found them more amenable, then?”
I grit my teeth. “In the past fortnight I have thought over what you said, I confess, a great deal. I must admit to a keener interest in you than I was hitherto aware of, or indeed than I am comfortable with. But that does not mean I want to forgo the opportunity of marriage to live as your catamite!”
“But you prefer it to other options, don’t you?” Uriah asked, scraping his chin ever so slowly.
“They are hardly the only paths my life might take. Are you truly bringing financial and—amatory pressure to bear against the Wickfields in an effort to blackmail me into accepting your affections?” I drew myself up and said it loftily, hoping to thwart him I don’t know how. With the force of my injured decency, I suppose.
“I dare do all that may become a man,” Uriah said casually. “And a little extra besides, if it’s wanting.”
It was a particular point. He evidently knew how I felt about Shakespeare, as well. I wanted to ask how he’d discovered that, but not to give him the satisfaction of having been asked.
Uriah at last crossed to me. I stiffened in my chair as he came to stand behind me, laying a proprietary hand on my shoulder. “You wouldn’t see me married, I don’t think. Well, I can’t answer for my behavior if you do the same. I fear I might come over hysterical. Why, if you were to tell me you were engaged, I suspect I might be moved to do something awful. I don’t venture to say what. But it needn’t come to that. I told you we were alike, didn’t I? I don’t like to lose anything of mine either. You left us for London, and if the image of your coming had remained with me, the image of your going has left its own impression. I don’t mind telling you that I disliked it, and that I shouldn’t wish to see it again.”
I received the impression that he was being about as honest as he ever had been, with me and perhaps with anyone. His cant was duly employed, but there was an intensity behind his words that try as I might, I could not dismiss.
“I don’t trust you a whit,” I insisted. “Indeed, how can I?” I almost think I asked it in order to be told how I might.
“Oh but you ought to, David,” Uriah said, rubbing a cold thumb against my neck so that I shuddered at both the touch and the caress of my name. “I take as much of an interest in you as anyone in the world, and while most people, I am given to understand, take an active interest in the world in general as well, I am not troubled by much of one, myself. In fact I quite dislike the thing. You are, by virtue of your various charms and our long association, a particular exception with me. So you could have me all to yourself, you see. For I’d never leave you or grow indifferent to you, like some, and you shouldn’t ever have to share.”
The appeal of this idea came upon me suddenly, and positively blossomed in me. I was amazed by the childlike greed with which my heart answered his proposition, and looked away so as not to meet his prying eyes. So little had ever been all mine, and so few things, since I was a boy, had I felt myself securely in the possession of. I had almost never expected to be loved as much as I loved another, or, to be fairer to my Aunt, who had been kind to me since she had known me properly, to receive the sort of proofs of approval and affection I at times disliked myself for wanting very much indeed. I do believe that perhaps Murdstone’s cruelty and my mother’s death had left some part of me forever a child, fixed at that point: watching my mother and infant brother as the carriage pulled away and yearning to be summoned back, forgiven all and loved, exactly as I was, for my inadequacies as much as for any virtue I possessed.
“And you love me,” Uriah pressed. “For what else do you call the way you responded to that little provocation I laid before you? Or the way you’ve always watched me, since you were almost a child? Now shouldn’t you be with the person you love? Don’t you think?” He slid his hand down from my shoulder and insinuated it under my jacket as he spoke, and I found it a little difficult to think about anything, given the way he was lightly dragging the tips of his fingers across my chest, over my shirt. His touch was light, but his hand almost trembled with the effort to keep it that way. I felt as though he wanted to dig his nails in and mark or even to brand me. “It makes sense, does it not?” he insisted.
“I don’t love you,” I said flatly. “Mister Heep, I do not.”
He did scratch me through the fabric then, hard, and at a most sensitive point. When I gasped his name in outrage, it was not his surname. I squirmed under his hands but not, I think, entirely in an effort to escape them. I looked up at him petulantly, and in doing so I realized that I expected something to come of that. I relied on Uriah’s indulging me, and if he hadn’t done, if he hadn’t loved me enough to do it, I should have been quite at a loss.
Without wholly conceding, I think I understood from that point on, even as I felt I had known what Uriah would say regarding Agnes in our last conversation, what would happen to me now. I would let Uriah sod me, and if, out of a feeling of vindictive cruelty, he strung me out with want, I should even ask him to do it. I might beg. I’d say it shouldn’t happen again. It would happen again.
I’d give in and return to Canterbury, or I’d share rooms with him in London, and we should grow prosperous or go to the devil together, one way or another, in the end. He’d manage me beautifully, an able partner and an eternal co-conspirator. We’d throw one another into vexation and confusion, and we’d spend the rest of our lives arguing about how to spend the rest of our lives. Whether we were out-maneuvering one another or, jointly, someone else—or even the whole of the world—we’d enjoy ourselves immensely.
And he would always want me, just as he had promised me. He could not promise to be a good man, and he could not bring us to this pass without scheming and threats, but he could promise me that, and in its way it was more than I had thought to hope for from my life. It didn’t seem to matter to me that he wasn’t a good man, or a handsome one, or a rich one, insofar as I felt hate and fascination and everything for him. Perhaps that was love: a richer and more varied form of it than I had sought, that could not be punctured by dislike because I had always known it to encompass the whole range of human emotion. It was the sort of complicated and substantive affection that would not fade into dullness and regret quickly, if ever.
All this I understood, without yet knowing what it was I knew. I could not then have put it into words, but nevertheless, I felt it.
“You love me,” Uriah persisted, a little mollified by the sound of his right name, “oh yes, I know you do.”
I told him no, I didn’t love him at all, I couldn’t. I meant that I did or I could. He heard my meaning, and seemed in hearing it to fail to hear my words (though these never included any objection to his actions). Again and again he murmured his point, as he took me in his hand and brought me near to desperation, as he used the bear grease I employed on my hair for a purpose it was, I think, never sold for, and as he carried out a promised program of action, sinking into me with that litany and a melody of soft, pleased sounds I was ashamed of and enjoyed, that brought burning brands of humiliation to my cheeks. I came apart on compliments, on the assurance that I adored and was adored in turn.
In future, if my partner complimented anyone, he made a point of also mentioning that they were not so lovely, etcetera, as I was. I told Uriah to be silent on any number of occasions, embarrassed, mollified, and embarrassed to have been thus mollified. That sense of indecent exposure was preserved in intercourse, during which Uriah would tell me at length how much he desired me, while I squirmed with a discomfort that was too wedded to desire to ever be separated from it. One serious fight arose regarding the subject of Uriah’s never meaning his compliments to me, for I loathed them where I suspected hypocrisy. They were difficult to bear even where I did not suspect it, for I always doubted the truth of them in myself, and I wanted them so much. But Uriah, pleased to be asked to do it, once he understood what it was I needed (in other words, to be lavishly shown his power over me), was very ready to assure me of his sincerity.
My partner’s affection and approval arrived in the strangest forms, but they were potent. I came to rely on them utterly, and thus to be as under his power as ever poor Wickfield had been. But with, I think better safety, in that Uriah hated Wickfield, and if Uriah likewise hated me for my comparatively easy position in society and my being a perfect example of that system’s seeking to trample him down in order to elevate men like me, he loved me at least an inch more, for being myself and for being his.