'And what do they want him to prove?' asked Mr. Pickwick, after two or three minutes' silence.
'That you sent him up to the plaintiff 's to make some offer of a compromise, I suppose,' replied Perker. 'It don't matter much, though; I don't think many counsel could get a great deal out of HIM.'
'I don't think they could,' said Mr. Pickwick, smiling, despite his vexation, at the idea of Sam's appearance as a witness. 'What course do we pursue?'
'We have only one to adopt, my dear Sir,' replied Perker; 'cross-examine the witnesses; trust to Snubbin's eloquence; throw dust in the eyes of the judge; throw ourselves on the jury.'
'And suppose the verdict is against me?' said Mr. Pickwick.
Mr. Perker smiled, took a very long pinch of snuff, stirred the fire, shrugged his shoulders, and remained expressively silent.
'You mean that in that case I must pay the damages?' said Mr. Pickwick, who had watched this telegraphic answer with considerable sternness.
Perker gave the fire another very unnecessary poke, and said, 'I am afraid so.'
'Then I beg to announce to you my unalterable determination to pay no damages whatever,' said Mr. Pickwick, most emphatically. 'None, Perker. Not a pound, not a penny of my money, shall find its way into the pockets of Dodson and Fogg. That is my deliberate and irrevocable determination.' Mr. Pickwick gave a heavy blow on the table before him, in confirmation of the irrevocability of his intention.
'Very well, my dear Sir, very well,' said Perker. 'You know best, of course.'
'Of course,' replied Mr. Pickwick hastily. 'Where does Serjeant Snubbin live?' 'In Lincoln's Inn Old Square,' replied Perker.
'I should like to see him,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'See Serjeant Snubbin, my dear Sir!' rejoined Perker, in utter amazement. 'Pooh, pooh, my dear Sir, impossible. See Serjeant Snubbin! Bless you, my dear Sir, such a thing was never heard of, without a consultation fee being previously paid, and a consultation fixed. It couldn't be done, my dear Sir; it couldn't be done.'
Mr. Pickwick, however, had made up his mind not only that it could be done, but that it should be done; and the consequence was, that within ten minutes after he had received the assurance that the thing was impossible, he was conducted by his solicitor into the outer office of the great Serjeant Snubbin himself.
It was an uncarpeted room of tolerable dimensions, with a large writing-table drawn up near the fire, the baize top of which had long since lost all claim to its original hue of green, and had gradually grown gray with dust and age, except where all traces of its natural colour were obliterated by ink-stains. Upon the table were numerous little bundles of papers tied with red tape; and behind it, sat an elderly clerk, whose sleek appearance and heavy gold watch-chain presented imposing indications of the extensive and lucrative practice of Mr. Serjeant Snubbin.
'Is the Serjeant in his room, Mr. Mallard?' inquired Perker, offering his box with all imaginable courtesy.
'Yes, he is,' was the reply, 'but he's very busy. Look here; not an opinion given yet, on any one of these cases; and an expedition fee paid with all of 'em.' The clerk smiled as he said this, and inhaled the pinch of snuff with a zest which seemed to be compounded of a fondness for snuff and a relish for fees.
'Something like practice that,' said Perker.
'Yes,' said the barrister's clerk, producing his own box, and offering it with the greatest cordiality; 'and the best of it is, that as nobody alive except myself can read the serjeant's writing, they are obliged to wait for the opinions, when he has given them, till I have copied 'em, ha-ha-ha!'
'Which makes good for we know who, besides the serjeant, and draws a little more out of the clients, eh?' said Perker; 'ha, ha, ha!' At this the serjeant's clerk laughed again — not a noisy boisterous laugh, but a silent, internal chuckle, which Mr. Pickwick disliked to hear. When a man bleeds inwardly, it is a dangerous thing for himself; but when he laughs inwardly, it bodes no good to other people.
'You haven't made me out that little list of the fees that I'm in your debt, have you?' said Perker.
'No, I have not,' replied the clerk.
'I wish you would,' said Perker. 'Let me have them, and I'll send you a cheque. But I suppose you're too busy pocketing the ready money, to think of the debtors, eh? ha, ha, ha!' This sally seemed to tickle the clerk amazingly, and he once more enjoyed a little quiet laugh to himself.
'But, Mr. Mallard, my dear friend,' said Perker, suddenly recovering his gravity, and drawing the great man's great man into a Corner, by the lappel of his coat; 'you must persuade the Serjeant to see me, and my client here.'
'Come, come,' said the clerk, 'that's not bad either. See the Serjeant! come, that's too absurd.' Notwithstanding the absurdity of the proposal, however, the clerk allowed himself to be gently drawn beyond the hearing of Mr. Pickwick; and after a short conversation conducted in whispers, walked softly down a little dark passage, and disappeared into the legal luminary's sanctum, whence he shortly returned on tiptoe, and informed Mr. Perker and Mr. Pickwick that the Serjeant had been prevailed upon, in violation of all established rules and customs, to admit them at once.
Mr. Serjeant Snubbins was a lantern-faced, sallow-complexioned man, of about five-and-forty, or — as the novels say — he might be fifty. He had that dull-looking, boiled eye which is often to be seen in the heads of people who have applied themselves during many years to a weary and laborious course of study; and which would have been sufficient, without the additional eyeglass which dangled from a broad black riband round his neck, to warn a stranger that he was very near-sighted. His hair was thin and weak, which was partly attributable to his having never devoted much time to its arrangement, and partly to his having worn for five-and-twenty years the forensic wig which hung on a block beside him. The marks of hairpowder on his coat-collar, and the ill-washed and worse tied white neckerchief round his throat, showed that he had not found leisure since he left the court to make any alteration in his dress; while the slovenly style of the remainder of his costume warranted the inference that his personal appearance would not have been very much improved if he had. Books of practice, heaps of papers, and opened letters, were scattered over the table, without any attempt at order or arrangement; the furniture of the room was old and rickety; the doors of the book-case were rotting in their hinges; the dust flew out from the carpet in little clouds at every step; the blinds were yellow with age and dirt; the state of everything in the room showed, with a clearness not to be mistaken, that Mr. Serjeant Snubbin was far too much occupied with his professional pursuits to take any great heed or regard of his personal comforts.
The Serjeant was writing when his clients entered; he bowed abstractedly when Mr. Pickwick was introduced by his solicitor; and then, motioning them to a seat, put his pen carefully in the inkstand, nursed his left leg, and waited to be spoken to.
'Mr. Pickwick is the defendant in Bardell and Pickwick, Serjeant Snubbin,' said Perker.
'I am retained in that, am I?' said the Serjeant.
'You are, Sir,' replied Perker.
The Serjeant nodded his head, and waited for something else.
'Mr. Pickwick was anxious to call upon you, Serjeant Snubbin,' said Perker, 'to state to you, before you entered upon the case, that he denies there being any ground or pretence whatever for the action against him; and that unless he came into court with clean hands, and without the most conscientious conviction that he was right in resisting the plaintiff's demand, he would not be there at all. I believe I state your views correctly; do I not, my dear Sir?' said the little man, turning to Mr. Pickwick.
'Quite so,' replied that gentleman.
Mr. Serjeant Snubbin unfolded his glasses, raised them to his eyes; and, after looking at Mr. Pickwick for a few seconds with great curiosity, turned to Mr. Perker, and said, smiling slightly as he spoke — 'Has Mr. Pickwick a strong case?'
The attorney shrugged his shoulders.
'Do you propose calling witnesses?'
The smile on the Serjeant's countenance became more defined; he rocked his leg with increased violence; and, throwing himself back in his easy-chair, coughed dubiously.
These tokens of the Serjeant's presentiments on the subject, slight as they were, were not lost on Mr. Pickwick. He settled the spectacles, through which he had attentively regarded such demonstrations of the barrister's feelings as he had permitted himself to exhibit, more firmly on his nose; and said with great energy, and in utter disregard of all Mr. Perker's admonitory winkings and frownings —
'My wishing to wait upon you, for such a purpose as this, Sir, appears, I have no doubt, to a gentleman who sees so much of these matters as you must necessarily do, a very extraordinary circumstance.'
The Serjeant tried to look gravely at the fire, but the smile came back again.
'Gentlemen of your profession, Sir,' continued Mr. Pickwick, 'see the worst side of human nature. All its disputes, all its ill-will and bad blood, rise up before you. You know from your experience of juries (I mean no disparagement to you, or them) how much depends upon effect; and you are apt to attribute to others, a desire to use, for purposes of deception and Self-interest, the very instruments which you, in pure honesty and honour of purpose, and with a laudable desire to do your utmost for your client, know the temper and worth of so well, from constantly employing them yourselves. I really believe that to this circumstance may be attributed the vulgar but very general notion of your being, as a body, suspicious, distrustful, and over-cautious. Conscious as I am, sir, of the disadvantage of making such a declaration to you, under such circumstances, I have come here, because I wish you distinctly to understand, as my friend Mr. Perker has said, that I am innocent of the falsehood laid to my charge; and although I am very well aware of the inestimable value of your assistance, Sir, I must beg to add, that unless you sincerely believe this, I would rather be deprived of the aid of your talents than have the advantage of them.'