But when this young gentleman was ill at ease within himself he was in the habit of whistling. He also was given to the thrusting of his hands into his pockets. The more unhappy he was, the more he whistled, and the deeper he stuffed in his hands.
Just now, to all appearances, he was very unhappy indeed.
The air he had selected for his musical self-refreshment was the lively and slightly vulgar one of “Tommy make Room for your Uncle;” but let anybody just try to whistle that same vivacious tune to the time of the Dead March in “Saul,” and with a lingering and plaintive emphasis upon each note, with “linked sweetness long drawn out,” and then say whether the gloomiest of dirges would not be festive indeed in comparison.
Thus did Herbert Pryme whistle it as he looked down upon the piles of legal documents heaped up together upon his table.
All of them meant work, but none of them meant money. For Herbert was fain to accept the humble position of “devil” to a great legal light who occupied the floor below him, and who considered, and perhaps rightly, that he was doing the young man above him, who had been sent up from the country with a letter of introduction to him from a second cousin, a sufficient and inestimable benefit in allowing him to do his dirty work gratis.
It was all very useful to him, doubtless, but it was not remunerative; and Herbert wanted money badly.
“Oh, if I could only reckon upon a couple of hundred a year,” he sighed, half aloud to himself, “I might have a chance of winning her! It seems hard that heaps of these fellows can make hundreds a week by a short speech, or a few strokes of the pen, that cost them no labour and little forethought, whilst I, with all my hard work, can make nothing! What uphill work it is! Not that the Bar is not a fine profession; quite the finest there is,” for not even to himself would Herbert Pryme decry the legal muse whom he worshipped; “but, I suppose, like every other profession, it is overstocked; there are too many struggling for the same prizes. The fact is, that England is over-populated. Now, if a law were to be passed compelling one-half of the adult males in this country to remain in a state of celibacy for the space of fifteen years——” but here he stopped short in his soliloquy and smiled; for was not the one desire of his life at present to marry Beatrice Miller immediately? And how was the extra population to be stayed if every one of the doomed quota of marriageable males were of the same mind as himself?
Presently Mr. Pryme sauntered idly to the window, and stood looking drearily out of it, still whistling, of course.