“And what do you suppose, you conceited female,” said Mr. Cruncher, with unconscious inconsistency, “that the worth of your prayers may be? Name the price that you put your prayers at!”
“They only come from the heart, Jerry. They are worth no more than that.”
“Worth no more than that,” repeated Mr. Cruncher. “They ain’t worth much, then. Whether or no, I won’t be prayed agin, I tell you. I can’t afford it. I’m not a going to be made unlucky by your sneaking. If you must go flopping yourself down, flop in favour of your husband and child, and not in opposition to ’em. If I had had any but a unnat’ral wife, and this poor boy had had any but a unnat’ral mother, I might have made some money last week instead of being counter-prayed and countermined and religiously circumwented into the worst of luck. B-u-u-ust me!” said Mr. Cruncher, who all this time had been putting on his clothes, “if I ain’t, what with piety and one blowed thing and another, been choused this last week into as bad luck as ever a poor devil of a honest tradesman met with! Young Jerry, dress yourself, my boy, and while I clean my boots keep a eye upon your mother now and then, and if you see any signs of more flopping, give me a call. For, I tell you,” here he addressed his wife once more, “I won’t be gone agin, in this manner. I am as rickety as a hackney-coach, I’m as sleepy as laudanum, my lines is strained to that degree that I shouldn’t know, if it wasn’t for the pain in ’em, which was me and which somebody else, yet I’m none the better for it in pocket; and it’s my suspicion that you’ve been at it from morning to night to prevent me from being the better for it in pocket, and I won’t put up with it, Aggerawayter, and what do you say now!”
Growling, in addition, such phrases as “Ah! yes! You’re religious, too. You wouldn’t put yourself in opposition to the interests of your husband and child, would you? Not you!” and throwing off other sarcastic sparks from the whirling grindstone of his indignation, Mr. Cruncher betook himself to his boot-cleaning and his general preparation for business. In the meantime, his son, whose head was garnished with tenderer spikes, and whose young eyes stood close by one another, as his father’s did, kept the required watch upon his mother. He greatly disturbed that poor woman at intervals, by darting out of his sleeping closet, where he made his toilet, with a suppressed cry of “You are going to flop, mother. —Halloa, father!” and, after raising this fictitious alarm, darting in again with an undutiful grin.
Mr. Cruncher’s temper was not at all improved when he came to his breakfast. He resented Mrs. Cruncher’s saying grace with particular animosity.
“Now, Aggerawayter! What are you up to? At it again?”
His wife explained that she had merely “asked a blessing.”
“Don’t do it!” said Mr. Crunches looking about, as if he rather expected to see the loaf disappear under the efficacy of his wife’s petitions. “I ain’t a going to be blest out of house and home. I won’t have my wittles blest off my table. Keep still!”
Exceedingly red-eyed and grim, as if he had been up all night at a party which had taken anything but a convivial turn, Jerry Cruncher worried his breakfast rather than ate it, growling over it like any four-footed inmate of a menagerie. Towards nine o’clock he smoothed his ruffled aspect, and, presenting as respectable and business-like an exterior as he could overlay his natural self with, issued forth to the occupation of the day.
It could scarcely be called a trade, in spite of his favourite description of himself as “a honest tradesman.” His stock consisted of a wooden stool, made out of a broken-backed chair cut down, which stool, young Jerry, walking at his father’s side, carried every morning to beneath the banking-house window that was nearest Temple Bar: where, with the addition of the first handful of straw that could be gleaned from any passing vehicle to keep the cold and wet from the odd-job-man’s feet, it formed the encampment for the day. On this post of his, Mr. Cruncher was as well known to Fleet-street and the Temple, as the Bar itself,—and was almost as in-looking.
Encamped at a quarter before nine, in good time to touch his three-cornered hat to the oldest of men as they passed in to Tellson’s, Jerry took up his station on this windy March morning, with young Jerry standing by him, when not engaged in making forays through the Bar, to inflict bodily and mental injuries of an acute description on passing boys who were small enough for his amiable purpose. Father and son, extremely like each other, looking silently on at the morning traffic in Fleet-street, with their two heads as near to one another as the two eyes of each were, bore a considerable resemblance to a pair of monkeys. The resemblance was not lessened by the accidental circumstance, that the mature Jerry bit and spat out straw, while the twinkling eyes of the youthful Jerry were as restlessly watchful of him as of everything else in Fleet-street.
The head of one of the regular indoor messengers attached to Tellson’s establishment was put through the door, and the word was given:
“Hooray, father! Here’s an early job to begin with!”
Having thus given his parent God speed, young Jerry seated himself on the stool, entered on his reversionary interest in the straw his father had been chewing, and cogitated.
“Al-ways rusty! His fingers is al-ways rusty!” muttered young Jerry. “Where does my father get all that iron rust from? He don’t get no iron rust here!”