Three Men and a Maid (Chapter 9, page 1 of 12)


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Chapter 9

The offices of the old-established firm of Marlowe, Thorpe, Prescott, Winslow and Appleby are in Ridgeway's Inn, not far from Fleet Street. If you are a millionaire beset by blackmailers or anyone else to whose comfort the best legal advice is essential, and have decided to put your affairs in the hands of the ablest and discreetest firm in London, you proceed through a dark and grimy entry and up a dark and grimy flight of stairs; and, having felt your way along a dark and grimy passage, you come at length to a dark and grimy door. There is plenty of dirt in other parts of Ridgeway's Inn, but nowhere is it so plentiful, so rich in alluvial deposits, as on the exterior of the offices of Marlowe, Thorpe, Prescott, Winslow and Appleby. As you tap on the topmost of the geological strata concealing the ground-glass of the door, a sense of relief and security floods your being. For in London grubbiness is the gauge of a lawyer's respectability.

The brass plate, let into the woodwork of this door, is misleading. Reading it, you get the impression that on the other side quite a covey of lawyers await your arrival. The name of the firm leads you to suppose that there will be barely standing-room in the office. You picture Thorpe jostling you aside as he makes for Prescott to discuss with him the latest case of demurrer, and Winslow and Appleby treading on your toes, deep in conversation on replevin. But these legal firms dwindle. The years go by and take their toll, snatching away here a Prescott, there an Appleby, till before you know where you are, you are down to your last lawyer. The only surviving member of the firm of Marlowe, Thorpe--what I said before--was, at the time with which this story deals, Sir Mallaby Marlowe, son of the original founder of the firm and father of the celebrated black-faced comedian, Samuel of that ilk; and the outer office, where callers were received and parked till Sir Mallaby could find time for them, was occupied by a single clerk.

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