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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 67)


'Don't go away, Mr. Pickwick,' said Lowten, 'I've got a letterfor you.' The stranger, seeming to hesitate, once more lookedtowards the ground, and the clerk winked slyly at Mr. PickwiCK,as if to intimate that some exquisite piece of humour was goingforward, though what it was Mr. Pickwick could not for the lifeof him divine.'Step in, Mr. Pickwick,' said Lowten. 'Well, will you leave amessage, Mr. Watty, or will you call again?'

'Ask him to be so kind as to leave out word what has been donein my business,' said the man; 'for God's sake don't neglect it,Mr. Lowten.'

'No, no; I won't forget it,' replied the clerk. 'Walk in, Mr.Pickwick. Good-morning, Mr. Watty; it's a fine day for walking,isn't it?' Seeing that the stranger still lingered, he beckoned SamWeller to follow his master in, and shut the door in his face.

'There never was such a pestering bankrupt as that since theworld began, I do believe!' said Lowten, throwing down his penwith the air of an injured man. 'His affairs haven't been inChancery quite four years yet, and I'm d--d if he don't comeworrying here twice a week. Step this way, Mr. Pickwick. PerkerIS in, and he'll see you, I know. Devilish cold,' he added pettishly,'standing at that door, wasting one's time with such seedyvagabonds!' Having very vehemently stirred a particularly largefire with a particularly small poker, the clerk led the way to hisprincipal's private room, and announced Mr. Pickwick.

'Ah, my dear Sir,' said little Mr. Perker, bustling up from hischair. 'Well, my dear sir, and what's the news about your matter,eh? Anything more about our friends in Freeman's Court?They've not been sleeping, I know that. Ah, they're very smartfellows; very smart, indeed.'

As the little man concluded, he took an emphatic pinch ofsnuff, as a tribute to the smartness of Messrs. Dodson and Fogg.

'They are great scoundrels,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Aye, aye,' said the little man; 'that's a matter of opinion, youknow, and we won't dispute about terms; because of course youcan't be expected to view these subjects with a professional eye.Well, we've done everything that's necessary. I have retainedSerjeant Snubbin.'

'Is he a good man?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'Good man!' replied Perker; 'bless your heart and soul, mydear Sir, Serjeant Snubbin is at the very top of his profession.Gets treble the business of any man in court--engaged in everycase. You needn't mention it abroad; but we say--we of theprofession--that Serjeant Snubbin leads the court by the nose.'

The little man took another pinch of snuff as he made thiscommunication, and nodded mysteriously to Mr. Pickwick.

'They have subpoenaed my three friends,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Ah! of course they would,' replied Perker. 'Importantwitnesses; saw you in a delicate situation.'

'But she fainted of her own accord,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Shethrew herself into my arms.'

'Very likely, my dear Sir,' replied Perker; 'very likely and verynatural. Nothing more so, my dear Sir, nothing. But who's toprove it?'

'They have subpoenaed my servant, too,' said Mr. Pickwick,quitting the other point; for there Mr. Perker's question hadsomewhat staggered him.

'Sam?' said Perker.

Mr. Pickwick replied in the affirmative.

'Of course, my dear Sir; of course. I knew they would. I couldhave told you that, a month ago. You know, my dear Sir, if youWILL take the management of your affairs into your own handsafter entrusting them to your solicitor, you must also take theconsequences.' Here Mr. Perker drew himself up with consciousdignity, and brushed some stray grains of snuff from his shirt frill.

'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 ofa compromise, I suppose,' replied Perker. 'It don't matter much,though; I don't think many counsel could get a great deal outof HIM.'

'I don't think they could,' said Mr. Pickwick, smiling, despitehis vexation, at the idea of Sam's appearance as a witness. 'Whatcourse 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 thefire, shrugged his shoulders, and remained expressively silent.

'You mean that in that case I must pay the damages?' saidMr. Pickwick, who had watched this telegraphic answer withconsiderable sternness.

Perker gave the fire another very unnecessary poke, and said,'I am afraid so.'

'Then I beg to announce to you my unalterable determinationto pay no damages whatever,' said Mr. Pickwick, mostemphatically. 'None, Perker. Not a pound, not a penny of mymoney, shall find its way into the pockets of Dodson and Fogg.That is my deliberate and irrevocable determination.' Mr. Pickwickgave a heavy blow on the table before him, in confirmationof 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 SerjeantSnubbin 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 utteramazement. 'Pooh, pooh, my dear Sir, impossible. See SerjeantSnubbin! Bless you, my dear Sir, such a thing was never heard of,without a consultation fee being previously paid, and a consultationfixed. It couldn't be done, my dear Sir; it couldn't be done.'

Mr. Pickwick, however, had made up his mind not only thatit could be done, but that it should be done; and the consequencewas, that within ten minutes after he had received the assurancethat the thing was impossible, he was conducted by his solicitorinto the outer office of the great Serjeant Snubbin himself.

It was an uncarpeted room of tolerable dimensions, with alarge writing-table drawn up near the fire, the baize top of whichhad long since lost all claim to its original hue of green, and hadgradually grown gray with dust and age, except where all tracesof its natural colour were obliterated by ink-stains. Upon thetable were numerous little bundles of papers tied with red tape;and behind it, sat an elderly clerk, whose sleek appearance andheavy gold watch-chain presented imposing indications of theextensive 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; notan opinion given yet, on any one of these cases; and an expeditionfee paid with all of 'em.' The clerk smiled as he said this, andinhaled the pinch of snuff with a zest which seemed to be compoundedof 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, andoffering it with the greatest cordiality; 'and the best of it is, thatas nobody alive except myself can read the serjeant's writing,they are obliged to wait for the opinions, when he has giventhem, 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 noisyboisterous laugh, but a silent, internal chuckle, which Mr. Pickwickdisliked to hear. When a man bleeds inwardly, it is a dangerousthing for himself; but when he laughs inwardly, it bodes nogood to other people.

'You haven't made me out that little list of the fees that I'm inyour debt, have you?' said Perker.

'No, I have not,' replied the clerk.

'I wish you would,' said Perker. 'Let me have them, and I'llsend you a cheque. But I suppose you're too busy pocketing theready money, to think of the debtors, eh? ha, ha, ha!' This sallyseemed to tickle the clerk amazingly, and he once more enjoyeda little quiet laugh to himself.

'But, Mr. Mallard, my dear friend,' said Perker, suddenlyrecovering his gravity, and drawing the great man's great maninto a Corner, by the lappel of his coat; 'you must persuade theSerjeant to see me, and my client here.'

'Come, come,' said the clerk, 'that's not bad either. See theSerjeant! come, that's too absurd.' Notwithstanding the absurdityof the proposal, however, the clerk allowed himself to begently drawn beyond the hearing of Mr. Pickwick; and after ashort conversation conducted in whispers, walked softly down alittle dark passage, and disappeared into the legal luminary'ssanctum, whence he shortly returned on tiptoe, and informedMr. Perker and Mr. Pickwick that the Serjeant had been prevailedupon, in violation of all established rules and customs, to admitthem at once.

Mr. Serjeant Snubbins was a lantern-faced, sallow-complexionedman, of about five-and-forty, or--as the novels say--he might be fifty. He had that dull-looking, boiled eye which isoften to be seen in the heads of people who have applied themselvesduring many years to a weary and laborious course ofstudy; and which would have been sufficient, without the additionaleyeglass which dangled from a broad black riband roundhis neck, to warn a stranger that he was very near-sighted. Hishair was thin and weak, which was partly attributable to hishaving never devoted much time to its arrangement, and partly tohis having worn for five-and-twenty years the forensic wig whichhung on a block beside him. The marks of hairpowder on hiscoat-collar, and the ill-washed and worse tied white neckerchiefround his throat, showed that he had not found leisure since heleft the court to make any alteration in his dress; while theslovenly style of the remainder of his costume warranted theinference that his personal appearance would not have been verymuch improved if he had. Books of practice, heaps of papers,and opened letters, were scattered over the table, without anyattempt at order or arrangement; the furniture of the room wasold and rickety; the doors of the book-case were rotting in theirhinges; the dust flew out from the carpet in little clouds at everystep; the blinds were yellow with age and dirt; the state ofeverything in the room showed, with a clearness not to bemistaken, that Mr. Serjeant Snubbin was far too much occupiedwith his professional pursuits to take any great heed or regard ofhis personal comforts.

The Serjeant was writing when his clients entered; he bowedabstractedly when Mr. Pickwick was introduced by his solicitor;and then, motioning them to a seat, put his pen carefully in theinkstand, 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, SerjeantSnubbin,' said Perker, 'to state to you, before you entered uponthe case, that he denies there being any ground or pretencewhatever for the action against him; and that unless he came intocourt with clean hands, and without the most conscientiousconviction 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 hiseyes; and, after looking at Mr. Pickwick for a few seconds withgreat curiosity, turned to Mr. Perker, and said, smiling slightlyas he spoke--'Has Mr. Pickwick a strong case?'

The attorney shrugged his shoulders.

'Do you propose calling witnesses?'

'No.'

The smile on the Serjeant's countenance became more defined;he rocked his leg with increased violence; and, throwing himselfback 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 thespectacles, through which he had attentively regarded suchdemonstrations of the barrister's feelings as he had permittedhimself to exhibit, more firmly on his nose; and said with greatenergy, and in utter disregard of all Mr. Perker's admonitorywinkings 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 ofthese matters as you must necessarily do, a very extraordinarycircumstance.'

The Serjeant tried to look gravely at the fire, but the smilecame back again.

'Gentlemen of your profession, Sir,' continued Mr. Pickwick,'see the worst side of human nature. All its disputes, all its ill-willand bad blood, rise up before you. You know from yourexperience of juries (I mean no disparagement to you, or them) howmuch depends upon effect; and you are apt to attribute to others,a desire to use, for purposes of deception and Self-interest, thevery instruments which you, in pure honesty and honour ofpurpose, and with a laudable desire to do your utmost for yourclient, know the temper and worth of so well, from constantlyemploying them yourselves. I really believe that to this circumstancemay be attributed the vulgar but very general notion ofyour being, as a body, suspicious, distrustful, and over-cautious.Conscious as I am, sir, of the disadvantage of making such adeclaration to you, under such circumstances, I have come here,because I wish you distinctly to understand, as my friendMr. Perker has said, that I am innocent of the falsehood laid tomy charge; and although I am very well aware of the inestimablevalue of your assistance, Sir, I must beg to add, that unless yousincerely believe this, I would rather be deprived of the aid ofyour talents than have the advantage of them.'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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