Any one of these partners would have disinherited his son on thequestion of rebuilding Tellson's. In this respect the House was muchon a par with the Country; which did very often disinherit its sonsfor suggesting improvements in laws and customs that had long beenhighly objectionable, but were only the more respectable.
Thus it had come to pass, that Tellson's was the triumphantperfection of inconvenience. After bursting open a door of idioticobstinacy with a weak rattle in its throat, you fell into Tellson'sdown two steps, and came to your senses in a miserable little shop,with two little counters, where the oldest of men made your chequeshake as if the wind rustled it, while they examined the signatureby the dingiest of windows, which were always under a shower-bath ofmud from Fleet-street, and which were made the dingier by their owniron bars proper, and the heavy shadow of Temple Bar. If your businessnecessitated your seeing "the House," you were put into a species ofCondemned Hold at the back, where you meditated on a misspent life,until the House came with its hands in its pockets, and you couldhardly bunk at it in the dismal twilight. Your money came out of, orwent into, wormy old wooden drawers, particles of which flew up yournose and down your throat when they were opened and shut. Yourbank-notes had a musty odour, as if they were fast decomposing intorags again. Your plate was stowed away among the neighbouringcesspools, and evil communications corrupted its good polish in aday or two. Your deeds got into extemporised strong-rooms made ofkitchens and sculleries, and fretted all the fat out of theirparchments into the banking-house air. Your lighter boxes of familypapers went up-stairs into a Barmecide room, that always had a greatdining-table in it and never had a dinner, and where, even in the yearone thousand seven hundred and eighty, the first letters written toyou by your old love, or by your little children, were but newlyreleased from the horror of being ogled through the windows, by theheads exposed on Temple Bar with an insensate brutality and ferocityworthy of Abyssinia or Ashantee.
But indeed, at that time, putting to death was a recipe much invogue with all trades and professions, and not least of all withTellson's. Death is Nature's remedy for all things, and why notLegislation's? Accordingly, the forger was put to Death; the uttererof a bad note was put to Death; the unlawful opener of a letter wasput to Death; the purloiner of forty shillings and sixpence was put toDeath; the holder of a horse at Tellson's door, who made off withit, was put to Death; the coiner of a bad shilling was put to Death;the sounders of three-fourths of the notes in the whole gamut ofCrime, were put to Death. Not that it did the least good in the way ofprevention- it might almost have been worth remarking that the factwas exactly the reverse- but, it cleared off (as to this world) thetrouble of each particular case, and left nothing else connectedwith it to be looked after. Thus, Tellson's, in its day, likegreater places of business, its contemporaries, had taken so manylives, that, if the heads laid low before it had been ranged on TempleBar instead of being privately disposed of, they would probably haveexcluded what little light the ground floor had, in a rathersignificant manner.
Cramped in all kinds of dim cupboards and hutches at Tellson's theoldest of men carried on the business gravely. When they took ayoung man into Tellson's London house, they hid him somewhere tillhe was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he hadthe full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him. Then only was hepermitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books, andcasting his breeches and gaiters into the general weight of theestablishment.
Outside Tellson's- never by any means in it, unless called in- wasan odd-job-man, an occasional porter and messenger, who served asthe live sign of the house. He was never absent during business hours,unless upon an errand, and then he was represented by his son: agrisly urchin of twelve, who was his express image. Peopleunderstood that Tellson's, in a stately way, tolerated theodd-job-man. The house had always tolerated some person in thatcapacity, and time and tide had drifted this person to the post. Hissurname was Cruncher, and on the youthful occasion of his renouncingby proxy the works of darkness, in the easterly parish church ofHounsditch, he had received the added appellation of Jerry.
The scene was Mr. Cruncher's private lodging in Hanging-sword-alley,Whitefriars: the time, half-past seven of the clock on a windy Marchmorning, Anno Domini seventeen hundred and eighty. (Mr. Cruncherhimself always spoke of the year of our Lord as Anna Dominoes:apparently under the impression that the Christian era dated fromthe invention of a popular game, by a lady who had bestowed her nameupon it.)
Mr. Cruncher's apartments were not in a savoury neighbourhood, andwere but two in number, even if a closet with a single pane of glassin it might be counted as one. But they were very decently kept. Earlyas it was, on the windy March morning, the room in which he lay abedwas already scrubbed throughout; and between the cups and saucersarranged for breakfast, and the lumbering deal table, a very cleanwhite cloth was spread.
Mr. Cruncher reposed under a patchwork counterpane, like a Harlequinat home. At first, he slept heavily, but, by degrees, began to rolland surge in bed, until he rose above the surface, with his spiky hairlooking as if it must tear the sheets to ribbons. At which juncture,he exclaimed, in a voice of dire exasperation:
"Bust me, if she ain't at it agin!"
A woman of orderly and industrious appearance rose from her knees ina corner, with sufficient haste and trepidation to show that she wasthe person referred to.
"What!" said Mr. Cruncher, looking out of bed for a boot. "You're atit agin, are you?"
After hailing the morn with this second salutation, he threw aboot at the woman as a third. It was a very muddy boot, and mayintroduce the odd circumstance connected with Mr. Cruncher'sdomestic economy, that, whereas he often came home after banking hourswith clean boots, he often got up next morning to find the sameboots covered with clay.
"What," said Mr. Cruncher, varying his apostrophe after missinghis mark- "what are you up to, Aggerawayter?"
"I was only saying my prayers."
"Saying your prayers! You're a nice woman! What do you mean byflopping yourself down and praying agin me?"
"I was not praying against you; I was praying for you."
"You weren't. And if you were, I won't be took the liberty with.Here! your mother's a nice woman, young Jerry, going a praying aginyour father's prosperity. You've got a dutiful mother, you have, myson. You've got a religious mother, you have, my boy: going andflopping herself down, and praying that the bread-and-butter may besnatched out of the mouth of her only child."
Master Cruncher (who was in his shirt) took this very ill, and,turning to his mother, strongly deprecated any praying away of hispersonal board.
"And what do you suppose, you conceited female," said Mr.Cruncher, with unconscious inconsistency, "that the worth of yourprayers may be? Name the price that you put your prayers at!"
"They only come from the heart, Jerry. They are worth no more thanthat."
"Worth no more than that," repeated Mr. Cruncher. "They ain'tworth much, then. Whether or no, I won't be prayed agin, I tell you. Ican't afford it. I'm not a going to be made unlucky by yoursneaking. If you must go flopping yourself down, flop in favour ofyour husband and child, and not in opposition to 'em. If I had had anybut a unnat'ral wife, and this poor boy had had any but a unnat'ralmother, I might have made some money last week instead of beingcounter-prayed and countermined and religiously circumvented intothe worst of luck. B-u-u-ust me!" said Mr. Cruncher, who all this timehad been putting on his clothes, "if I ain't, what with piety andone blowed thing and another, been choused this last week into asbad luck as ever a poor devil of a honest tradesman met with! YoungJerry, dress yourself, my boy, and while I clean my boots keep a eyeupon your mother now and then, and if you see any signs of moreflopping, give me a call. For, I tell you," here he addressed his wifeonce more, "I won't be gone agin, in this manner. I am as rickety as ahackney-coach, I'm as sleepy as laudanum, my lines is strained to thatdegree 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 itin pocket; and it's my suspicion that you've been at it from morningto night to prevent me from being the better for it in pocket, and Iwon'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 ofyour husband and child, would you? Not you!" and throwing off othersarcastic sparks from the whirling grindstone of his indignation,Mr. Cruncher betook himself to his boot-cleaning and his generalpreparation for business. In the meantime, his son, whose head wasgarnished with tenderer spikes, and whose young eyes stood close byone another, as his father's did, kept the required watch upon hismother. He greatly disturbed that poor woman at intervals, bydarting out of his sleeping closet, where he made his toilet, with asuppressed cry of "You are going to flop, mother.- Halloa, father!"and, after raising this fictitious alarm, darting in again with anundutiful grin.
Mr. Cruncher's temper was not at all improved when he came to hisbreakfast. He resented Mrs. Cruncher's saying grace with particularanimosity.
"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. Cruncher, looking about, as if he ratherexpected to see the loaf disappear under the efficacy of his wife'spetitions. "I ain't a going to be blest out of house and home. I won'thave my vittles blest off my table. Keep still!"
Exceedingly red-eyed and grim, as if he had been up all night at aparty which had taken anything but a convivial turn, Jerry Cruncherworried his breakfast rather than ate it, growling over it like anyfour-footed inmate of a menagerie. Towards nine o'clock he smoothedhis ruffled aspect, and, presenting as respectable and business-likean exterior as he could overlay his natural self with, issued forth tothe occupation of the day.
It could scarcely be called a trade, in spite of his favouritedescription of himself as "a honest tradesman." His stock consisted ofa wooden stool, made out of a broken-backed chair cut down, whichstool, young Jerry, walking at his father's side, carried everymorning to beneath the banking-house window that was nearest TempleBar: where, with the addition of the first handful of straw that couldbe gleaned from any passing vehicle to keep the cold and wet fromthe odd-job-man's feet, it formed the encampment for the day. Onthis post of his, Mr. Cruncher was as well known to Fleet-street andthe Temple, as the Bar itself,-and was almost as ill-looking.
Encamped at a quarter before nine, in good time to touch histhree-cornered hat to the oldest of men as they passed in toTellson's, Jerry took up his station on this windy March morning, withyoung Jerry standing by him, when not engaged in making forays throughthe Bar, to inflict bodily and mental injuries of an acute descriptionon passing boys who were small enough for his amiable purpose.Father and son, extremely like each other, looking silently on atthe morning traffic in Fleet-street, with their two heads as near toone another as the two eyes of each were, bore a considerableresemblance to a pair of monkeys. The resemblance was not lessenedby the accidental circumstance, that the mature Jerry bit and spat outstraw, while the twinkling eyes of the youthful Jerry were asrestlessly watchful of him as of everything else in Fleet-street.
The head of one of the regular indoor messengers attached toTellson's establishment was put through the door, and the word wasgiven:
"Hooray, father! Here's an early job to begin with!"
Having thus given his parent God speed, young Jerry seated himselfon the stool, entered on his reversionary interest in the straw hisfather 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 noiron rust here!"