From “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens
FROM CHAPTER 23
I CORROBORATE MR.DICK AND CHOOSE A PROFESSION
About mid-day, we set out for the office of Messrs Spenlow and Jorkins, in Doctors’ Commons. My aunt, who had this other general opinion in reference to London, that every man she saw was a pickpocket, gave me her purse to carry for her, which had ten guineas in it and some silver.
We made a pause at the toy shop in Fleet Street, to see the giants of Saint Dunstan’s strike upon the bells – we had timed our going, so as to catch them at it, at twelve o’clock – and then went on towards Ludgate Hill, and St. Paul’s Churchyard. We were crossing to the former place, when I found that my aunt greatly accelerated her speed, and looked frightened. I observed, at the same time, that a lowering ill-dressed man who had stopped and stared at us in passing, a little before, was coming so close after us as to brush against her.
‘Trot! My dear Trot!’ cried my aunt, in a terrified whisper, and pressing my arm. ‘I don’t know what I am to do.’
‘Don’t be alarmed,’ said I. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of. Step into a shop, and I’ll soon get rid of this fellow.’
‘No, no, child!’ she returned. ‘Don’t speak to him for the world. I entreat, I order you!’
‘Good Heaven, aunt!’ said I. ‘He is nothing but a sturdy beggar.’
‘You don’t know what he is!’ replied my aunt. ‘You don’t know who he is! You don’t know what you say!’
We had stopped in an empty door-way, while this was passing, and he had stopped too.
‘Don’t look at him!’ said my aunt, as I turned my head indignantly, ‘but get me a coach, my dear, and wait for me in St. Paul’s Churchyard.’
‘Wait for you?’ I replied.
‘Yes,’ rejoined my aunt. ‘I must go alone. I must go with him.’
‘With him, aunt? This man?’
‘I am in my senses,’ she replied, ‘and I tell you I must. Get me a coach!’
However much astonished I might be, I was sensible that I had no right to refuse compliance with such a peremptory command. I hurried away a few paces, and called a hackney-chariot which was passing empty. Almost before I could let down the steps, my aunt sprang in, I don’t know how, and the man followed. She waved her hand to me to go away, so earnestly, that, all confounded as I was, I turned from them at once. In doing so, I heard her say to the coachman, ‘Drive anywhere! Drive straight on!’ and presently the chariot passed me, going up the hill.
What Mr. Dick had told me, and what I had supposed to be a delusion of his, now came into my mind. I could not doubt that this person was the person of whom he had made such mysterious mention, though what the nature of his hold upon my aunt could possibly be, I was quite unable to imagine. After half an hour’s cooling in the churchyard, I saw the chariot coming back. The driver stopped beside me, and my aunt was sitting in it alone.
She had not yet sufficiently recovered from her agitation to be quite prepared for the visit we had to make. She desired me to get into the chariot, and to tell the coachman to drive slowly up and down a little while. She said no more, except, ‘My dear child, never ask me what it was, and don’t refer to it,’ until she had perfectly regained her composure, when she told me she was quite herself now, and we might get out. On her giving me her purse to pay the driver, I found that all the guineas were gone, and only the loose silver remained.
Doctors’ Commons was approached by a little low archway. Before we had taken many paces down the street beyond it, the noise of the city seemed to melt, as if by magic, into a softened distance. A few dull courts and narrow ways brought us to the sky-lighted offices of Spenlow and Jorkins; in the vestibule of which temple, accessible to pilgrims without the ceremony of knocking, three or four clerks were at work as copyists. One of these, a little dry man, sitting by himself, who wore a stiff brown wig that looked as if it were made of gingerbread, rose to receive my aunt, and show us into Mr. Spenlow’s room.
‘Mr. Spenlow’s in Court, ma’am,’ said the dry man; ‘it’s an Arches day; but it’s close by, and I’ll send for him directly.’
As we were left to look about us while Mr. Spenlow was fetched, I availed myself of the opportunity. The furniture of the room was old-fashioned and dusty; and the green baize on the top of the writing-table had lost all its color, and was as withered and pale as an old pauper. There were a great many bundles of papers on it, some endorsed as Allegations, and some (to my surprise) as Libels, and some as being in the Consistory Court, and some in the Arches Court, and some in the Prerogative Court, and some in the Admiralty Court, and some in the Delegates’ Court; giving me occasion to wonder much, how many Courts there might be in the gross, and how long it would take to understand them all. Besides these, there were sundry immense manuscript Books of Evidence taken on affidavit, strongly bound, and tied together in massive sets, a set to each cause, as if every cause were a history in ten or twenty volumes. All this looked tolerably expensive, I thought, and gave me an agreeable notion of a proctor’s business. I was casting my eyes with increasing complacency over these and many similar objects, when hasty footsteps were heard in the room outside, and Mr. Spenlow, in a black gown trimmed with white fur, came hurrying in, taking off his hat as he came.
He was a little light-haired gentleman, with undeniable boots, and the stiffest of white cravats and shirt-collars. He was buttoned up, mighty trim and tight, and must have taken a great deal of pains with his whiskers, which were accurately curled. His gold watch-chain was so massive, that a fancy came across me, that he ought to have a sinewy golden arm, to draw it out with, like those which are put up over the goldbeaters’ shops. He was got up with such care, and was so stiff, that he could hardly bend himself; being obliged, when he glanced at some papers on his desk, after sitting down in his chair, to move his whole body, from the bottom of his spine, like Punch.
I had previously been presented by my aunt, and had been courteously received. He now said:
‘And so, Mr. Copperfield, you think of entering into our profession? I casually mentioned to Miss Trotwood, when I had the pleasure of an interview with her the other day,’ – with another inclination of his body – Punch again – ‘that there was a vacancy here. Miss Trotwood was good enough to mention that she had a nephew who was her peculiar care, and for whom she was seeking to provide genteelly in life. That nephew, I believe, I have now the pleasure of’ – Punch again. I bowed my acknowledgements, and said, my aunt had mentioned to me that there was that opening, and that I believed I should like it very much. That I was strongly inclined to like it, and had taken immediately to the proposal. That I could not absolutely pledge myself to like it, until I knew something more about it. That although it was little else than a matter of form, I presumed I should have an opportunity of trying how I liked it, before I bound myself to it irrevocably.
‘Oh surely! surely!’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘We always, in this house, propose a month – an initiatory month. I should be happy, myself, to propose two months – three – an indefinite period, in fact – but I have a partner. Mr. Jorkins.’
‘And the premium, sir,’ I returned, ‘is a thousand pounds?’
‘And the premium, Stamp included, is a thousand pounds,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘As I have mentioned to Miss Trotwood, I am actuated by no mercenary considerations; few men are less so, I believe; but Mr. Jorkins has his opinions on these subjects, and I am bound to respect Mr. Jorkins’s opinions. Mr. Jorkins thinks a thousand pounds too little, in short.’
‘I suppose, sir,’ said I, still desiring to spare my aunt, ‘that it is not the custom here, if an articled clerk were particularly useful, and made himself a perfect master of his profession’ – I could not help blushing, this looked so like praising myself – ‘I suppose it is not the custom, in the later years of his time, to allow him any -‘
Mr. Spenlow, by a great effort, just lifted his head far enough out of his cravat to shake it, and answered, anticipating the word ‘salary’:
‘No. I will not say what consideration I might give to that point myself, Mr. Copperfield, if I were unfettered. Mr. Jorkins is immovable.’
I was quite dismayed by the idea of this terrible Jorkins. But I found out afterwards that he was a mild man of a heavy temperament, whose place in the business was to keep himself in the background, and be constantly exhibited by name as the most obdurate and ruthless of men. If a clerk wanted his salary raised, Mr. Jorkins wouldn’t listen to such a proposition. If a client were slow to settle his bill of costs, Mr. Jorkins was resolved to have it paid; and however painful these things might be (and always were) to the feelings of Mr. Spenlow, Mr. Jorkins would have his bond. The heart and hand of the good angel Spenlow would have been always open, but for the restraining demon Jorkins. As I have grown older, I think I have had experience of some other houses doing business on the principle of Spenlow and Jorkins
FROM CHAPTER 35
I arrived at the office so soon, after all, that I had half an hour’s loitering about the Commons, before old Tiffey, who was always first, appeared with his key. Then I sat down in my shady corner, looking up at the sunlight on the opposite chimney-pots, and thinking about Dora; until Mr. Spenlow came in, crisp and curly.
‘How are you, Copperfield?’ said he. ‘Fine morning!’
‘Beautiful morning, sir,’ said I. ‘Could I say a word to you before you go into Court?’
‘By all means,’ said he. ‘Come into my room.’
I followed him into his room, and he began putting on his gown, and touching himself up before a little glass he had, hanging inside a closet door.
‘I am sorry to say,’ said I, ‘that I have some rather disheartening intelligence from my aunt.’
‘No!’ said he. ‘Dear me! Not paralysis, I hope?’
‘It has no reference to her health, sir,’ I replied. ‘She has met with some large losses. In fact, she has very little left, indeed.’
‘You astound me, Copperfield!’ cried Mr. Spenlow.
I shook my head. ‘Indeed, sir,’ said I, ‘her affairs are so changed, that I wished to ask you whether it would be possible – at a sacrifice on our part of some portion of the premium, of course,’ I put in this, on the spur of the moment, warned by the blank expression of his face – ‘to cancel my articles?’
What it cost me to make this proposal, nobody knows. It was like asking, as a favour, to be sentenced to transportation from Dora.
‘To cancel your articles, Copperfield? Cancel?’
I explained with tolerable firmness, that I really did not know where my means of subsistence were to come from, unless I could earn them for myself. I had no fear for the future, I said – and I laid great emphasis on that, as if to imply that I should still be decidedly eligible for a son-in-law one of these days – but, for the present, I was thrown upon my own resources. ‘I am extremely sorry to hear this, Copperfield,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘Extremely sorry. It is not usual to cancel articles for any such reason. It is not a professional course of proceeding. It is not a convenient precedent at all. Far from it. At the same time -‘
‘You are very good, sir,’ I murmured, anticipating a concession.
‘Not at all. Don’t mention it,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘At the same time, I was going to say, if it had been my lot to have my hands unfettered – if I had not a partner – Mr. Jorkins -‘
My hopes were dashed in a moment, but I made another effort.
‘Do you think, sir,’ said I, ‘if I were to mention it to Mr. Jorkins -‘
Mr. Spenlow shook his head discouragingly. ‘Heaven forbid, Copperfield,’ he replied, ‘that I should do any man an injustice: still less, Mr. Jorkins. But I know my partner, Copperfield. Mr. Jorkins is not a man to respond to a proposition of this peculiar nature. Mr. Jorkins is very difficult to move from the beaten track. You know what he is!’
I am sure I knew nothing about him, except that he had originally been alone in the business, and now lived by himself in a house near Montagu Square, which was fearfully in want of painting; that he came very late of a day, and went away very early; that he never appeared to be consulted about anything; and that he had a dingy little black-hole of his own upstairs, where no business was ever done, and where there was a yellow old cartridge-paper pad upon his desk, unsoiled by ink, and reported to be twenty years of age.
‘Would you object to my mentioning it to him, sir?’ I asked.
‘By no means,’ said Mr. Spenlow. ‘But I have some experience of Mr. Jorkins, Copperfield. I wish it were otherwise, for I should be happy to meet your views in any respect. I cannot have the objection to your mentioning it to Mr. Jorkins, Copperfield, if you think it worth while.’
Availing myself of this permission, which was given with a warm shake of the hand, I sat thinking about Dora, and looking at the sunlight stealing from the chimney-pots down the wall of the opposite house, until Mr. Jorkins came. I then went up to Mr. Jorkins’s room, and evidently astonished Mr. Jorkins very much by making my appearance there.
‘Come in, Mr. Copperfield,’ said Mr. Jorkins. ‘Come in!’
I went in, and sat down; and stated my case to Mr. Jorkins pretty much as I had stated it to Mr. Spenlow. Mr. Jorkins was not by any means the awful creature one might have expected, but a large, mild, smooth-faced man of sixty, who took so much snuff that there was a tradition in the Commons that he lived principally on that stimulant, having little room in his system for any other article of diet.
‘You have mentioned this to Mr. Spenlow, I suppose?’ said Mr. Jorkins; when he had heard me, very restlessly, to an end.
I answered Yes, and told him that Mr. Spenlow had introduced his name.
‘He said I should object?’ asked Mr. Jorkins.
I was obliged to admit that Mr. Spenlow had considered it probable.
‘I am sorry to say, Mr. Copperfield, I can’t advance your object,’ said Mr. Jorkins, nervously. ‘The fact is – but I have an appointment at the Bank, if you’ll have the goodness to excuse me.’
With that he rose in a great hurry, and was going out of the room, when I made bold to say that I feared, then, there was no way of arranging the matter?
‘No!’ said Mr. Jorkins, stopping at the door to shake his head. ‘Oh, no! I object, you know,’ which he said very rapidly, and went out. ‘You must be aware, Mr. Copperfield,’ he added, looking restlessly in at the door again, ‘if Mr. Spenlow objects -‘
‘Personally, he does not object, sir,’ said I.
‘Oh! Personally!’ repeated Mr. Jorkins, in an impatient manner. ‘I assure you there’s an objection, Mr. Copperfield. Hopeless! What you wish to be done, can’t be done. I – I really have got an appointment at the Bank.’ With that he fairly ran away; and to the best of my knowledge, it was three days before he showed himself in the Commons again.
Being very anxious to leave no stone unturned, I waited until Mr. Spenlow came in, and then described what had passed; giving him to understand that I was not hopeless of his being able to soften the adamantine Jorkins, if he would undertake the task.
‘Copperfield,’ returned Mr. Spenlow, with a gracious smile, ‘you have not known my partner, Mr. Jorkins, as long as I have. Nothing is farther from my thoughts than to attribute any degree of artifice to Mr. Jorkins. But Mr. Jorkins has a way of stating his objections which often deceives people. No, Copperfield!’ shaking his head. ‘Mr. Jorkins is not to be moved, believe me!’
I was completely bewildered between Mr. Spenlow and Mr. Jorkins, as to which of them really was the objecting partner; but I saw with sufficient clearness that there was obduracy somewhere in the firm, and that the recovery of my aunt’s thousand pounds was out of the question.