'Possibly not, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, who had been flashing forth looks of fierce indignation, without producing the smallest effect on either of the sharp practitioners; 'I believe I am not, Sir. I have been persecuted and annoyed by scoundrels of late, Sir.' Perker coughed violently, and asked Mr. Pickwick whether he wouldn't like to look at the morning paper. To which inquiry Mr. Pickwick returned a most decided negative.
'True,' said Dodson, 'I dare say you have been annoyed in the Fleet; there are some odd gentry there. Whereabouts were your apartments, Mr. Pickwick?'
'My one room,' replied that much-injured gentleman, 'was on the coffee-room flight.'
'Oh, indeed!' said Dodson. 'I believe that is a very pleasant part of the establishment.'
'Very,'replied Mr. Pickwick drily.
There was a coolness about all this, which, to a gentleman of an excitable temperament, had, under the circumstances, rather an exasperating tendency. Mr. Pickwick restrained his wrath by gigantic efforts; but when Perker wrote a cheque for the whole amount, and Fogg deposited it in a small pocket-book, with a triumphant smile playing over his pimply features, which communicated itself likewise to the stern countenance of Dodson, he felt the blood in his cheeks tingling with indignation.
'Now, Mr. Dodson,' said Fogg, putting up the pocket-book and drawing on his gloves, 'I am at your service.'
'Very good,' said Dodson, rising; 'I am quite ready.'
'I am very happy,' said Fogg, softened by the cheque, 'to have had the pleasure of making Mr. Pickwick's acquaintance. I hope you don't think quite so ill of us, Mr. Pickwick, as when we first had the pleasure of seeing you.'
'I hope not,' said Dodson, with the high tone of calumniated virtue. 'Mr. Pickwick now knows us better, I trust; whatever your opinion of gentlemen of our profession may be, I beg to assure you, sir, that I bear no ill-will or vindictive feeling towards you for the sentiments you thought proper to express in our office in Freeman's Court, Cornhill, on the occasion to which my partner has referred.'
'Oh, no, no; nor I,' said Fogg, in a most forgiving manner.
'Our conduct, Sir,' said Dodson, 'will speak for itself, and justify itself, I hope, upon every occasion. We have been in the profession some years, Mr. Pickwick, and have been honoured with the confidence of many excellent clients. I wish you good-morning, Sir.'
'Good-morning, Mr. Pickwick,' said Fogg. So saying, he put his umbrella under his arm, drew off his right glove, and extended the hand of reconciliation to that most indignant gentleman; who, thereupon, thrust his hands beneath his coat tails, and eyed the attorney with looks of scornful amazement.
'Lowten!' cried Perker, at this moment. 'Open the door.'
'Wait one instant,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Perker, I WILL speak.'
'My dear Sir, pray let the matter rest where it is,' said the little attorney, who had been in a state of nervous apprehension during the whole interview; 'Mr. Pickwick, I beg — '
'I will not be put down, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick hastily. 'Mr. Dodson, you have addressed some remarks to me.'
Dodson turned round, bent his head meekly, and smiled.
'Some remarks to me,' repeated Mr. Pickwick, almost breathless; 'and your partner has tendered me his hand, and you have both assumed a tone of forgiveness and high-mindedness, which is an extent of impudence that I was not prepared for, even in you.'
'What, sir!' exclaimed Dodson.
'What, sir!' reiterated Fogg.
'Do you know that I have been the victim of your plots and conspiracies?' continued Mr. Pickwick. 'Do you know that I am the man whom you have been imprisoning and robbing? Do you know that you were the attorneys for the plaintiff, in Bardell and Pickwick?'
'Yes, sir, we do know it,' replied Dodson.
'Of course we know it, Sir,' rejoined Fogg, slapping his pocket — perhaps by accident.
'I see that you recollect it with satisfaction,' said Mr. Pickwick, attempting to call up a sneer for the first time in his life, and failing most signally in so doing. 'Although I have long been anxious to tell you, in plain terms, what my opinion of you is, I should have let even this opportunity pass, in deference to my friend Perker's wishes, but for the unwarrantable tone you have assumed, and your insolent familiarity. I say insolent familiarity, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, turning upon Fogg with a fierceness of gesture which caused that person to retreat towards the door with great expedition.
'Take care, Sir,' said Dodson, who, though he was the biggest man of the party, had prudently entrenched himself behind Fogg, and was speaking over his head with a very pale face. 'Let him assault you, Mr. Fogg; don't return it on any account.'
'No, no, I won't return it,' said Fogg, falling back a little more as he spoke; to the evident relief of his partner, who by these means was gradually getting into the outer office.
'You are,' continued Mr. Pickwick, resuming the thread of his discourse — 'you are a well-matched pair of mean, rascally, pettifogging robbers.'
'Well,' interposed Perker, 'is that all?'
'It is all summed up in that,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick; 'they are mean, rascally, pettifogging robbers.'
'There!' said Perker, in a most conciliatory tone. 'My dear sirs, he has said all he has to say. Now pray go. Lowten, is that door open?'
Mr. Lowten, with a distant giggle, replied in the affirmative.
'There, there — good-morning — good-morning — now pray, my dear sirs — Mr. Lowten, the door!' cried the little man, pushing Dodson & Fogg, nothing loath, out of the office; 'this way, my dear sirs — now pray don't prolong this — Dear me — Mr. Lowten — the door, sir — why don't you attend?'
'If there's law in England, sir,' said Dodson, looking towards Mr. Pickwick, as he put on his hat, 'you shall smart for this.'
'You are a couple of mean — '
'Remember, sir, you pay dearly for this,' said Fogg.
' — Rascally, pettifogging robbers!' continued Mr. Pickwick, taking not the least notice of the threats that were addressed to him.
'Robbers!' cried Mr. Pickwick, running to the stair-head, as the two attorneys descended.
'Robbers!' shouted Mr. Pickwick, breaking from Lowten and Perker, and thrusting his head out of the staircase window.
When Mr. Pickwick drew in his head again, his countenance was smiling and placid; and, walking quietly back into the office, he declared that he had now removed a great weight from his mind, and that he felt perfectly comfortable and happy.
Perker said nothing at all until he had emptied his snuff-box, and sent Lowten out to fill it, when he was seized with a fit of laughing, which lasted five minutes; at the expiration of which time he said that he supposed he ought to be very angry, but he couldn't think of the business seriously yet — when he could, he would be.
'Well, now,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'let me have a settlement with you.' 'Of the same kind as the last?' inquired Perker, with another laugh. 'Not exactly,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick, drawing out his pocket-book, and shaking the little man heartily by the hand, 'I only mean a pecuniary settlement. You have done me many acts of kindness that I can never repay, and have no wish to repay, for I prefer continuing the obligation.'
With this preface, the two friends dived into some very complicated accounts and vouchers, which, having been duly displayed and gone through by Perker, were at once discharged by Mr. Pickwick with many professions of esteem and friendship.
They had no sooner arrived at this point, than a most violent and startling knocking was heard at the door; it was not an ordinary double-knock, but a constant and uninterrupted succession of the loudest single raps, as if the knocker were endowed with the perpetual motion, or the person outside had forgotten to leave off.
'Dear me, what's that?' exclaimed Perker, starting.
'I think it is a knock at the door,' said Mr. Pickwick, as if there could be the smallest doubt of the fact.
The knocker made a more energetic reply than words could have yielded, for it continued to hammer with surprising force and noise, without a moment's cessation.
'Dear me!' said Perker, ringing his bell, 'we shall alarm the inn. Mr. Lowten, don't you hear a knock?'
'I'll answer the door in one moment, Sir,' replied the clerk.
The knocker appeared to hear the response, and to assert that it was quite impossible he could wait so long. It made a stupendous uproar.
'It's quite dreadful,' said Mr. Pickwick, stopping his ears.
'Make haste, Mr. Lowten,' Perker called out; 'we shall have the panels beaten in.'
Mr. Lowten, who was washing his hands in a dark closet, hurried to the door, and turning the handle, beheld the appearance which is described in the next chapter.