III.13. An Old Man's Heart
Punctual to the moment, when the half hour's interval had expired, Mr. Bashwood
was announced at the office as waiting to see Mr. Pedgift by special appointment.
The lawyer looked up from his papers with an air of annoyance: he had totally
forgotten the meeting by the roadside. "See what he wants," said Pedgift Senior to
Pedgift Junior, working in the same room with him. "And if it's nothing of
importance, put it off to some other time."
Pedgift Junior swiftly disappeared and swiftly returned.
"Well?" asked the father.
"Well," answered the son, "he is rather more shaky and unintelligible than usual. I
can make nothing out of him, except that he persists in wanting to see you. My
own idea," pursued Pedgift Junior, with his usual, sardonic gravity, "is that he is
going to have a fit, and that he wishes to acknowledge your uniform kindness to
him by obliging you with a private view of the whole proceeding."
Pedgift Senior habitually matched everybody--his son included-- with their own
weapons. "Be good enough to remember, Augustus," he rejoined, "that my Room
is not a Court of Law. A bad joke is not invariably followed by 'roars of laughter'
here. Let Mr. Bashwood come in."
Mr. Bashwood was introduced, and Pedgift Junior withdrew. "You mustn't bleed
him, sir," whispered the incorrigible joker, as he passed the back of his father's
chair. "Hot-water bottles to the soles of his feet, and a mustard plaster on the pit
of his stomach--that's the modern treatment."
"Sit down, Bashwood," said Pedgift Senior when they were alone. "And don't
forget that time's money. Out with it, whatever it is, at the quickest possible rate,
and in the fewest possible words."
These preliminary directions, bluntly but not at all unkindly spoken, rather
increased than diminished the painful agitation under which Mr. Bashwood was
suffering. He stammered more helplessly, he trembled more continuously than
usual, as he made his little speech of thanks, and added his apologies at the end
for intruding on his patron in business hours.
"Everybody in the place, Mr. Pedgift, sir, knows your time is valuable. Oh, dear,
yes! oh, dear, yes! most valuable, most valuable! Excuse me, sir, I'm coming out
with it. Your goodness --or rather your business--no, your goodness gave me half
an hour to wait--and I have thought of what I had to say, and prepared it, and put
it short." Having got as far as that, he stopped with a pained, bewildered look. He
had put it away in his memory, and now, when the time came, he was too
confused to find it. And there was Mr. Pedgift mutely waiting; his face and
manner expressive alike of that silent sense of the value of his own time which
every patient who has visited a great doctor, every client who has consulted a
lawyer in large practice, knows so well. "Have you heard the news, sir?"
stammered Mr. Bashwood, shifting his ground in despair, and letting the
uppermost idea in his mind escape him, simply because it was the one idea in him
that was ready to come out.