I landed in London on a wintry autumn evening. It was dark and raining, and I saw more fog and mud in a minute than I had seen in a year. I walked from the Custom House to the Monument before I found a coach; and although the very house-fronts, looking on the swollen gutters, were like old friends to me, I could not but admit that they were very dingy friends.
I have often remarked—I suppose everybody has—that one’s going away from a familiar place, would seem to be the signal for change in it. As I looked out of the coach window, and observed that an old house on Fish-street Hill, which had stood untouched by painter, carpenter, or bricklayer, for a century, had been pulled down in my absence; and that a neighbouring street, of time-honoured insalubrity and inconvenience, was being drained and widened; I half expected to find St. Paul’s Cathedral looking older.
For some changes in the fortunes of my friends, I was prepared. My aunt had long been re-established at Dover, and Traddles had begun to get into some little practice at the Bar, in the very first term after my departure. He had chambers in Gray’s Inn, now; and had told me, in his last letters, that he was not without hopes of being soon united to the dearest girl in the world.
They expected me home before Christmas; but had no idea of my returning so soon. I had purposely misled them, that I might have the pleasure of taking them by surprise. And yet, I was perverse enough to feel a chill and disappointment in receiving no welcome, and rattling, alone and silent, through the misty streets.
The well-known shops, however, with their cheerful lights, did something for me; and when I alighted at the door of the Gray’s Inn Coffee-house, I had recovered my spirits. It recalled, at first, that so-different time when I had put up at the Golden Cross, and reminded me of the changes that had come to pass since then; but that was natural.
‘Do you know where Mr. Traddles lives in the Inn?’ I asked the waiter, as I warmed myself by the coffee-room fire.
‘Holborn Court, sir. Number two.’
‘Mr. Traddles has a rising reputation among the lawyers, I believe?’ said I.
‘Well, sir,’ returned the waiter, ‘probably he has, sir; but I am not aware of it myself.’
This waiter, who was middle-aged and spare, looked for help to a waiter of more authority—a stout, potential old man, with a double chin, in black breeches and stockings, who came out of a place like a churchwarden’s pew, at the end of the coffee-room, where he kept company with a cash-box, a Directory, a Law-list, and other books and papers.
‘Mr. Traddles,’ said the spare waiter. ‘Number two in the Court.’
The potential waiter waved him away, and turned, gravely, to me.
‘I was inquiring,’ said I, ‘whether Mr. Traddles, at number two in the Court, has not a rising reputation among the lawyers?’
‘Never heard his name,’ said the waiter, in a rich husky voice.
I felt quite apologetic for Traddles.
‘He’s a young man, sure?’ said the portentous waiter, fixing his eyes severely on me. ‘How long has he been in the Inn?’
‘Not above three years,’ said I.
The waiter, who I supposed had lived in his churchwarden’s pew for forty years, could not pursue such an insignificant subject. He asked me what I would have for dinner?
I felt I was in England again, and really was quite cast down on Traddles’s account. There seemed to be no hope for him. I meekly ordered a bit of fish and a steak, and stood before the fire musing on his obscurity.
As I followed the chief waiter with my eyes, I could not help thinking that the garden in which he had gradually blown to be the flower he was, was an arduous place to rise in. It had such a prescriptive, stiff-necked, long-established, solemn, elderly air. I glanced about the room, which had had its sanded floor sanded, no doubt, in exactly the same manner when the chief waiter was a boy—if he ever was a boy, which appeared improbable; and at the shining tables, where I saw myself reflected, in unruffled depths of old mahogany; and at the lamps, without a flaw in their trimming or cleaning; and at the comfortable green curtains, with their pure brass rods, snugly enclosing the boxes; and at the two large coal fires, brightly burning; and at the rows of decanters, burly as if with the consciousness of pipes of expensive old port wine below; and both England, and the law, appeared to me to be very difficult indeed to be taken by storm. I went up to my bedroom to change my wet clothes; and the vast extent of that old wainscoted apartment (which was over the archway leading to the Inn, I remember), and the sedate immensity of the four-post bedstead, and the indomitable gravity of the chests of drawers, all seemed to unite in sternly frowning on the fortunes of Traddles, or on any such daring youth. I came down again to my dinner; and even the slow comfort of the meal, and the orderly silence of the place—which was bare of guests, the Long Vacation not yet being over—were eloquent on the audacity of Traddles, and his small hopes of a livelihood for twenty years to come.