The year is 1780. The narrator describes Tellson's Bank in London as an old, cramped building with ancient clerks. The bank has business interests connecting England and France. Encrusted by tradition and unwilling to change, the bank seems much like England itself.
The bank is a symbol of England and France. Like the tradition-encrusted bank, each of these countries has problems with the institutions they've inherited, such as the monarchy.
In his cramped apartment in a poor London neighborhood, Jerry Cruncher yells at his wife for "praying against" him, which he insists is interfering with his work as an "honest tradesman."
Jerry's dislike of praying and insistence that it interferes with his business, implies that his work as an "honest tradesmen" makes him feel guilty.
Jerry and his son then go to work—they sit outside Tellson's waiting for odd jobs from the bank. On this day, word emerges from the bank that a porter is needed. Jerry hurries inside. Jerry's young son, left alone outside, wonders why his father's boots are muddy and his fingers stained by rust.
The stains of guilt on Jerry's conscience are represented by the mud and rust from his nocturnal work, which is as of yet still unrevealed.