CHAPTER XX. SHOWING HOW DODSON AND FOGG WERE MEN OF BUSINESS, AND THEIR CLERKS MEN OF PLEASURE; AND HOW AN AFFECTING INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE BETWEEN Mr. WELLER AND HIS LONG-LOST PARENT; SHOWING ALSO WHAT CHOICE SPIRITS ASSEMBLED AT THE MAGPIE AND STUMP, AND WHAT A CAPITAL CHAPTER THE NEXT ONE WILL BE
In the ground-floor front of a dingy house, at the very farthest end of Freeman's Court, Cornhill, sat the four clerks of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg, two of his Majesty's attorneys of the courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas at Westminster, and solicitors of the High Court of Chancery — the aforesaid clerks catching as favourable glimpses of heaven's light and heaven's sun, in the course of their daily labours, as a man might hope to do, were he placed at the bottom of a reasonably deep well; and without the opportunity of perceiving the stars in the day-time, which the latter secluded situation affords.
The clerks' office of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg was a dark, mouldy, earthy-smelling room, with a high wainscotted partition to screen the clerks from the vulgar gaze, a couple of old wooden chairs, a very loud-ticking clock, an almanac, an umbrella-stand, a row of hat-pegs, and a few shelves, on which were deposited several ticketed bundles of dirty papers, some old deal boxes with paper labels, and sundry decayed stone ink bottles of various shapes and sizes. There was a glass door leading into the passage which formed the entrance to the court, and on the outer side of this glass door, Mr. Pickwick, closely followed by Sam Weller, presented himself on the Friday morning succeeding the occurrence of which a faithful narration is given in the last chapter.
'Come in, can't you!' cried a voice from behind the partition, in reply to Mr. Pickwick's gentle tap at the door. And Mr. Pickwick and Sam entered accordingly.
'Mr. Dodson or Mr. Fogg at home, sir?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, gently, advancing, hat in hand, towards the partition.
'Mr. Dodson ain't at home, and Mr. Fogg's particularly engaged,' replied the voice; and at the same time the head to which the voice belonged, with a pen behind its ear, looked over the partition, and at Mr. Pickwick.
It was a ragged head, the sandy hair of which, scrupulously parted on one side, and flattened down with pomatum, was twisted into little semi-circular tails round a flat face ornamented with a pair of small eyes, and garnished with a very dirty shirt collar, and a rusty black stock.
'Mr. Dodson ain't at home, and Mr. Fogg's particularly engaged,' said the man to whom the head belonged.
'When will Mr. Dodson be back, sir?' inquired Mr. Pickwick. 'Can't say.'
'Will it be long before Mr. Fogg is disengaged, Sir?'
Here the man proceeded to mend his pen with great deliberation, while another clerk, who was mixing a Seidlitz powder, under cover of the lid of his desk, laughed approvingly.
'I think I'll wait,' said Mr. Pickwick. There was no reply; so Mr. Pickwick sat down unbidden, and listened to the loud ticking of the clock and the murmured conversation of the clerks.
'That was a game, wasn't it?' said one of the gentlemen, in a brown coat and brass buttons, inky drabs, and bluchers, at the conclusion of some inaudible relation of his previous evening's adventures.
'Devilish good — devilish good,' said the Seidlitz-powder man. 'Tom Cummins was in the chair,' said the man with the brown coat. 'It was half-past four when I got to Somers Town, and then I was so uncommon lushy, that I couldn't find the place where the latch-key went in, and was obliged to knock up the old 'ooman. I say, I wonder what old Fogg 'ud say, if he knew it. I should get the sack, I s'pose — eh?'
At this humorous notion, all the clerks laughed in concert.
'There was such a game with Fogg here, this mornin',' said the man in the brown coat, 'while Jack was upstairs sorting the papers, and you two were gone to the stamp-office. Fogg was down here, opening the letters when that chap as we issued the writ against at Camberwell, you know, came in — what's his name again?'
'Ramsey,' said the clerk who had spoken to Mr. Pickwick.
'Ah, Ramsey — a precious seedy-looking customer. "Well, sir," says old Fogg, looking at him very fierce — you know his way — "well, Sir, have you come to settle?" "Yes, I have, sir," said Ramsey, putting his hand in his pocket, and bringing out the money, "the debt's two pound ten, and the costs three pound five, and here it is, Sir;" and he sighed like bricks, as he lugged out the money, done up in a bit of blotting-paper. Old Fogg looked first at the money, and then at him, and then he coughed in his rum way, so that I knew something was coming. "You don't know there's a declaration filed, which increases the costs materially, I suppose," said Fogg. "You don't say that, sir," said Ramsey, starting back; "the time was only out last night, Sir." "I do say it, though," said Fogg, "my clerk's just gone to file it. Hasn't Mr. Jackson gone to file that declaration in Bullman and Ramsey, Mr. Wicks?" Of course I said yes, and then Fogg coughed again, and looked at Ramsey. "My God!" said Ramsey; "and here have I nearly driven myself mad, scraping this money together, and all to no purpose." "None at all," said Fogg coolly; "so you had better go back and scrape some more together, and bring it here in time." "I can't get it, by God!" said Ramsey, striking the desk with his fist. "Don't bully me, sir," said Fogg, getting into a passion on purpose. "I am not bullying you, sir," said Ramsey. "You are," said Fogg; "get out, sir; get out of this office, Sir, and come back, Sir, when you know how to behave yourself." Well, Ramsey tried to speak, but Fogg wouldn't let him, so he put the money in his pocket, and sneaked out. The door was scarcely shut, when old Fogg turned round to me, with a sweet smile on his face, and drew the declaration out of his coat pocket. "Here, Wicks," says Fogg, "take a cab, and go down to the Temple as quick as you can, and file that. The costs are quite safe, for he's a steady man with a large family, at a salary of five-and-twenty shillings a week, and if he gives us a warrant of attorney, as he must in the end, I know his employers will see it paid; so we may as well get all we can get out of him, Mr. Wicks; it's a Christian act to do it, Mr. Wicks, for with his large family and small income, he'll be all the better for a good lesson against getting into debt — won't he, Mr. Wicks, won't he?" — and he smiled so good-naturedly as he went away, that it was delightful to see him. He is a capital man of business,' said Wicks, in a tone of the deepest admiration, 'capital, isn't he?'
The other three cordially subscribed to this opinion, and the anecdote afforded the most unlimited satisfaction.
'Nice men these here, Sir,' whispered Mr. Weller to his master; 'wery nice notion of fun they has, Sir.'
Mr. Pickwick nodded assent, and coughed to attract the attention of the young gentlemen behind the partition, who, having now relaxed their minds by a little conversation among themselves, condescended to take some notice of the stranger.
'I wonder whether Fogg's disengaged now?' said Jackson.
'I'll see,' said Wicks, dismounting leisurely from his stool. 'What name shall I tell Mr. Fogg?'
'Pickwick,' replied the illustrious subject of these memoirs.
Mr. Jackson departed upstairs on his errand, and immediately returned with a message that Mr. Fogg would see Mr. Pickwick in five minutes; and having delivered it, returned again to his desk.
'What did he say his name was?' whispered Wicks.
'Pickwick,' replied Jackson; 'it's the defendant in Bardell and Pickwick.'
A sudden scraping of feet, mingled with the sound of suppressed laughter, was heard from behind the partition.
'They're a-twiggin' of you, Sir,' whispered Mr. Weller.
'Twigging of me, Sam!' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'what do you mean by twigging me?'
Mr. Weller replied by pointing with his thumb over his shoulder, and Mr. Pickwick, on looking up, became sensible of the pleasing fact, that all the four clerks, with countenances expressive of the utmost amusement, and with their heads thrust over the wooden screen, were minutely inspecting the figure and general appearance of the supposed trifler with female hearts, and disturber of female happiness. On his looking up, the row of heads suddenly disappeared, and the sound of pens travelling at a furious rate over paper, immediately succeeded.
A sudden ring at the bell which hung in the office, summoned Mr. Jackson to the apartment of Fogg, from whence he came back to say that he (Fogg) was ready to see Mr. Pickwick if he would step upstairs. Upstairs Mr. Pickwick did step accordingly, leaving Sam Weller below. The room door of the one-pair back, bore inscribed in legible characters the imposing words, 'Mr. Fogg'; and, having tapped thereat, and been desired to come in, Jackson ushered Mr. Pickwick into the presence.
'Is Mr. Dodson in?' inquired Mr. Fogg.
'Just come in, Sir,' replied Jackson.
'Ask him to step here.'
'Yes, sir.' Exit Jackson.
'Take a seat, sir,' said Fogg; 'there is the paper, sir; my partner will be here directly, and we can converse about this matter, sir.'
Mr. Pickwick took a seat and the paper, but, instead of reading the latter, peeped over the top of it, and took a survey of the man of business, who was an elderly, pimply-faced, vegetable-diet sort of man, in a black coat, dark mixture trousers, and small black gaiters; a kind of being who seemed to be an essential part of the desk at which he was writing, and to have as much thought or feeling.
After a few minutes' silence, Mr. Dodson, a plump, portly, stern-looking man, with a loud voice, appeared; and the conversation commenced.
'This is Mr. Pickwick,' said Fogg.
'Ah! You are the defendant, Sir, in Bardell and Pickwick?' said Dodson.
'I am, sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Well, sir,' said Dodson, 'and what do you propose?'
'Ah!' said Fogg, thrusting his hands into his trousers' pockets, and throwing himself back in his chair, 'what do you propose, Mr Pickwick?'
'Hush, Fogg,' said Dodson, 'let me hear what Mr. Pickwick has to say.'
'I came, gentlemen,' said Mr. Pickwick, gazing placidly on the two partners, 'I came here, gentlemen, to express the surprise with which I received your letter of the other day, and to inquire what grounds of action you can have against me.'
'Grounds of — ' Fogg had ejaculated this much, when he was stopped by Dodson.
'Mr. Fogg,' said Dodson, 'I am going to speak.' 'I beg your pardon, Mr. Dodson,' said Fogg.
'For the grounds of action, sir,' continued Dodson, with moral elevation in his air, 'you will consult your own conscience and your own feelings. We, Sir, we, are guided entirely by the statement of our client. That statement, Sir, may be true, or it may be false; it may be credible, or it may be incredible; but, if it be true, and if it be credible, I do not hesitate to say, Sir, that our grounds of action, Sir, are strong, and not to be shaken. You may be an unfortunate man, Sir, or you may be a designing one; but if I were called upon, as a juryman upon my oath, Sir, to express an opinion of your conduct, Sir, I do not hesitate to assert that I should have but one opinion about it.' Here Dodson drew himself up, with an air of offended virtue, and looked at Fogg, who thrust his hands farther in his pockets, and nodding his head sagely, said, in a tone of the fullest concurrence, 'Most certainly.'