Life in London / or, the Pitfalls of a Great City

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[Frontispiece]

Life In London

Or The

Pitfalls Of A Great City

By Edwin Hodder, Esq.

1890.

Contents.

  1. The Introduction
  2. School-Boy Days
  3. Starting Well
  4. Meeting A School-Fellow
  5. A Farce
  6. The Lecture
  7. Getting On In The World
  8. A Test Of Friendship
  9. In Exile
  10. Making Discoveries
  11. The Sick Chamber

Chapter I.

The Introduction.

Breathless and excited, George Weston came running down a street in Islington. He knocked at the door of No. 16, and in his impatience, until it was opened, commenced a tattoo with his knuckles upon the panels.

“Oh, mother, mother, I have got such splendid news!” he cried, as he hurried down stairs into the room where Mrs. Weston, with her apron on and sleeves tucked up, was busy in her domestic affairs. “Such splendid news!” repeated George. “I have been down to Mr. Compton’s with the letter Uncle Henry gave me, in which he said I wanted a situation, and should be glad if Mr. Compton could help me; and, sure enough, I was able to see him, and he is such a kind, fatherly old gentlemen, mother. I am sure I shall like him.”

“Well, George, and what did he say!”

“Oh! I’ve got ever so much to tell you, before I come to that part. The office, you know, is in Falcon Court, Fleet Street; such a dismal place, with the houses all crammed together, and a little space in front, not more than large enough to turn a baker’s bread-truck in. All the windows are of ground glass, as if the people inside were too busy to see out, or to be seen; and on every door there are lots of names of people who have their offices there, and some of them are actually right up at the top storeys of the houses. Well, I found out the name of Mr. Compton, and I tapped at a door where ‘Clerk’s Office’ was written. I think I ought not to have tapped, but to have gone in, for somebody said rather sharply, ‘Come in,’ and in I went. An old gentleman was standing beside a sort of counter, with a lot of heavy books on it, and he asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to see Mr. Compton, and had got a letter for him. He told me to sit down until Mr. Compton was disengaged, and then he would see me.”

“And what sort of an office was it, George? And who was the old gentleman? The manager, I suppose!”

“I think he was, because he seemed to do as he liked, and all the clerks talked in a whisper while he was there. I had to wait more than half-an-hour, and I was able to look round and see all that was going on. It is a large office, and there were ten clerks seated on uncomfortable high stools, without backs, poring over books and papers. I don’t think I shall like those clerks, they stared at me so rudely, and I felt so ashamed, because one looked hard at me, and then whispered to another: and I believe they were saying something about my boots, which you know, mother, are terribly down at heel, and so I put one foot over the other, to try and hide them.”

“There was no need of that, George. It did not alter the fact that they were down at heel; and there is no disgrace in being clothed only as respectable as we can afford, is there?”

“Not a bit, mother: and I feel so vexed with myself because I knew I turned red, which made the two clerks smile. But I must go on telling you what else I saw. The old gentleman seems quite a character—he is nearly bald, has got no whiskers, wears a big white neckcloth and a tail coat, and takes snuff every five minutes out of a silver box. Whether he knows it or not, the clerks are very rude to him: for when he took snuff, one of them sneezed, or pretended to sneeze, every time, and another snuffled, as if he were taking snuff too.”

“That certainly does not speak well for the clerks,” said Mrs. Weston. “Old gentlemen do have peculiar ways sometimes, but it is not right for young people to ridicule them.”

“No, it is not; and I don’t like to see people do a thing behind another one’s back they are afraid to do before his face. When the clerks had to speak to the old gentleman, they were as civil as possible, and said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘No, sir,’ to him so meekly, as if they were quite afraid of him; but after a little while, when he took up his hat and went out, they all began talking and laughing out loud, although when he was there, they had only occasionally spoken in low whispers. There was only one young man, out of the whole lot, who did not join with them, but kept at his work; and I thought if I got a situation in that office, I should try and make friends with him.”

“That’s right, George. I would rather you should not have a situation at all, than get mixed up with bad companions. But go on, I am so anxious to hear what Mr. Compton said.”

“Well, after half-an-hour, I heard a door in the next room close, and a table-bell touched, and then the old gentleman, who had by this time returned, went in Presently he came out again, and said Mr. Compton would see me. Oh, mother! I felt so funny, you don’t know. My mouth got quite dry, my face flushed, and I couldn’t think whatever I should say, I felt just as I did that day at the school examination, when I had to make one of the prize speeches. But I got all to rights directly I saw Mr. Compton. He said, ‘Good morning to you—be seated,’ in such a nice way, that I felt at home with him at once.”

“And what did you say to him, George?”

“I had learnt by heart what I was going to say, but in the hurry I had forgotten every word. So I said, ‘My name is—’ (it’s a wonder I did not say Norval, for I felt a bit bewildered at the sound of my own voice) ‘—my name is George Weston, sir, and I have brought you a letter from my uncle, Mr. Henry Brunton, who knows you, I think.’ ‘Oh! yes,” he said, ‘he knows me very well; and, if I mistake not, this letter is about you, for he was talking to me about a nephew the other day.’ Isn’t that just like Uncle Henry?—he never said anything about that to us, but he is so good and kind, we are always finding out some of his generous actions, about which he never speaks. While Mr. Compton was reading the letter, I had leisure to look at him, and at his room. He is such a fine-looking old man, just like that picture we saw in the Academy, last year, of the village squire. He looks as if he were very benevolent and kind-hearted, and he dresses just like some of the country gentlemen, with a dark green coat and velvet collar, a frill shirt, and a little bit of buf. waistcoat seen under his coat, which he keeps buttoned. He had got lots of books, and papers, and files about, and sat hi an arm-chair so cosily—in fact, I should not have thought that nice carpeted room was really an office, if it had not been for the ground-glass windows. Just as I was thinking why it was the glorious sunshine is not admitted into offices, Mr. Compton said—”

“What did he say, George? I have waited so patiently to hear.”

“He said, ‘Well, Mr. Weston,’—(he did really call me Mr. Weston, mother; I suppose he took me for a young man: it is evident he did not know I was wearing a stick-up shirt collar for the first time in my life)—’I have read this letter, and am inclined to think I may be able to do something for you.’ That put my ‘spirits up,’ as poor father used to say; and I said, ‘I’m very glad to hear it, Sir.’ So then he told me that he wanted a junior clerk in his office, who could write quickly, be brisk at accounts, and make himself generally useful, as the advertisements in the Times say. I told him I could do all these things; and he passed me a sheet of paper, to give him a specimen of my handwriting. I hardly knew what to write, but I fixed upon a passage of Scripture, ‘Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ My hand was so shaky, that all the letters with tails to them had the queerest flourishes you ever saw. Mr. Compton smiled when I handed him the sheet of paper—I don’t know whether it was at the writing, or at the quotation, and I wished I had written a passage from Seneca instead!”

“You did not feel ashamed at having written a part of God’s word, did you, George?”

“No, not ashamed, mother; but I thought it was not business-like, and seemed too much like a schoolboy.”

“I think it was very business-like. It would convey the idea that you would seek to do your business from the best and highest motives. But what did Mr. Compton say?”

“He only said he thought the handwriting was good. Then he told me that he would take me as his clerk, and should expect me to be at my post next Monday morning, at nine o’clock. ‘And now,’ he said, ‘we must fix upon a salary; and as your uncle has told me that you are anxious to maintain yourself, I will give you a weekly sum sufficient for that purpose; and if you give me satisfaction, I will raise it yearly.’ And what do you think he offered me, mother?”

“I really do not know; perhaps, as you are young, and have never been in a situation before, he said five shillings a week, although I did not think you would get any salary at all for the first six months.”

“No, mother, more than five shillings; guess again,” said George, his face shining with excited delight.

“Then I will guess seven and sixpence a week,” said his mother, doubtfully, for she thought she had gone too high.

“More than that, mother; guess only once more, for I cannot keep it in if you are not very quick.”

“Then I shall say ten shillings a week, George; but I am afraid I have guessed too much.”

“No, mother, under the mark again. I am to have ten shillings and sixpence—half a guinea a week! Isn’t that splendid? Only fancy, Mr. George Weston, Junior Clerk to Mr. Compton, at half-a-guinea a week! My fortune is made; and, depend upon it, mother, we shall get on in the world now, first-rate. Why, I shall only want—say, half-a-crown a week for myself, and then there will be all the rest for you. Now don’t you think blind-eyed Fortune must have dropped her bandage this morning, and have spied me out?”

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