To THE EYES of Mr. Jeremiah Cruncher, sitting on his stool inFleet-street with his grisly urchin beside him, a vast number andvariety of objects in movement were every day presented. Who could situpon anything in Fleet-street during the busy hours of the day, andnot be dazed and deafened by two immense processions, one ever tendingwestward with the sun, the other ever tending eastward from the sun,both ever tending to the plains beyond the range of red and purplewhere the sun goes down!
With his straw in his mouth, Mr. Cruncher sat watching the twostreams, like the heathen rustic who has for several centuries been onduty watching one stream- saving that Jerry had no expectation oftheir ever running dry. Nor would it have been an expectation of ahopeful kind, since a small part of his income was derived from thepilotage of timid women (mostly of a full habit and past the middleterm of life) from Tellson's side of the tides to the oppositeshore. Brief as such companionship was in every separate instance, Mr.Cruncher never failed to become so interested in the lady as toexpress a strong desire to have the honour of drinking her very goodhealth. And it was from the gifts bestowed upon him towards theexecution of this benevolent purpose, that he recruited hisfinances, as just now observed.
Time was, when a poet sat upon a stool in a public place, andmused in the sight of men. Mr. Cruncher, sitting on a stool in apublic place, but not being a poet, mused as little as possible, andlooked about him.
It fell out that he was thus engaged in a season when crowds werefew, and belated women few, and when his affairs in general were sounprosperous as to awaken a strong suspicion in his breast that Mrs.Cruncher must have been "flopping" in some pointed manner, when anunusual concourse pouring down Fleet-street westward, attracted hisattention. Looking that way, Mr. Cruncher made out that some kind offuneral was coming along, and that there was popular objection to thisfuneral, which engendered uproar.
"Young Jerry," said Mr. Cruncher, turning to his offspring, "it'sa buryin'."
"Hooroar, father!" cried Young Jerry.
The young gentleman uttered this exultant sound with mysterioussignificance. The elder gentleman took the cry so ill, that he watchedhis opportunity, and smote the young gentleman on the ear.
"What d'ye mean? What are you hooroaring at? What do you want toconvey to your own father, you young Rip? This boy is a getting toomany for me!" said Mr. Cruncher, surveying him. "Him and his hooroars!Don't let me hear no more of you, or you shall feel some more of me.D'ye hear?"
"I warn't doing no harm," Young Jerry protested, rubbing his cheek.
"Drop it then," said Mr. Cruncher; "I won't have none of Your noharms. Get a top of that there seat, and look at the crowd.
His son obeyed, and the crowd approached; they were bawling andhissing round a dingy hearse and dingy mourning coach, in whichmourning coach there was only one mourner, dressed in the dingytrappings that were considered essential to the dignity of theposition. The position appeared by no means to please him, however,with an increasing rabble surrounding the coach, deriding him,making grimaces at him, and incessantly groaning and calling out:"Yah! Spies! Tst! Yaha! Spies!" with many compliments too numerous andforcible to repeat.
Funerals had at all times a remarkable attraction for Mr.Cruncher; he always pricked up his senses, and became excited, whena funeral passed Tellson's. Naturally, therefore, a funeral withthis uncommon attendance excited him greatly, and he asked of thefirst man who ran against him:
"What is it, brother? What's it about?"
"I don't know," said the man. "Spies! Yaha! Tst! Spies!"
He asked another man. "Who is it?"
"I don't know," returned the man, clapping his hands to his mouthnevertheless, and vociferating in a surprising heat and with thegreatest ardour, "Spies! Yaha! Tst, tst! Spi-ies!"
At length, a person better informed on the merits of the case,tumbled against him, and from this person he learned that thefuneral was the funeral of one Roger Cly.
"Was He a spy?" asked Mr. Cruncher.
"Old Bailey spy," returned his informant. "Yaha! Tst! Yah! OldBailey Spi-i-ies!"
"Why, to be sure!" exclaimed Jerry, recalling the Trial at whichhe had assisted. "I've seen him. Dead, is he?"
"Dead as mutton," returned the other, "and can't be too dead. Have'em out, there! Spies! Pull 'em out, there! Spies!"
The idea was so acceptable in the prevalent absence of any idea,that the crowd caught it up with eagerness, and loudly repeating thesuggestion to have 'em out, and to pull 'em out, mobbed the twovehicles so closely that they came to a stop. On the crowd's openingthe coach doors, the one mourner scuffled out of himself and was intheir hands for a moment; but he was so alert, and made such gooduse of his time, that in another moment he was scouring away up abye-street, after shedding his cloak, hat, long hatband, whitepocket-handkerchief, and other symbolical tears.
These, the people tore to pieces and scattered far and wide withgreat enjoyment, while the tradesmen hurriedly shut up their shops;for a crowd in those times stopped at nothing, and was a monstermuch dreaded. They had already got the length of opening the hearse totake the coffin out, when some brighter genius proposed instead, itsbeing escorted to its destination amidst general rejoicing.Practical suggestions being much needed, this suggestion, too, wasreceived with acclamation, and the coach was immediately filled witheight inside and a dozen out, while as many people got on the roofof the hearse as could by any exercise of ingenuity stick upon it.Among the first of these volunteers was Jerry Cruncher himself, whomodestly concealed his spiky head from the observation of Tellson's,in the further corner of the mourning coach.
The officiating undertakers made some protest against thesechanges in the ceremonies; but, the river being alarmingly near. andseveral voices remarking on the efficacy of cold immersion in bringingrefractory members of the profession to reason, the protest wasfaint and brief. The remodelled procession started, with achimney-sweep driving the hearse- advised by the regular driver, whowas perched beside him, under close inspection, for the purpose- andwith a pieman, also attended by his cabinet minister, driving themourning coach. A bear-leader, a popular street character of the time,was impressed as an additional ornament, before the cavalcade had gonefar down the Strand; and his bear, who was black and very mangy,gave quite an Undertaking air to that part of the procession inwhich he walked.
Thus, with beer-drinking, pipe-smoking, song-roaring, and infinitecaricaturing of woe, the disorderly procession went its way,recruiting at every step, and all the shops shutting up before it. Itsdestination was the old church of Saint Pancras, far off in thefields. It got there in course of time; insisted on pouring into theburial-ground; finally, accomplished the interment of the deceasedRoger Cly in its own way, and highly to its own satisfaction.
The dead man disposed of, and the crowd being under the necessity ofproviding some other entertainment for itself, another brighter genius(or perhaps the same) conceived the humour of impeaching casualpassers-by, as Old Bailey spies, and wreaking vengeance on them. Chasewas given to some scores of inoffensive persons who had never beennear the Old Bailey in their lives, in the realisation of thisfancy, and they were roughly hustled and maltreated. The transition tothe sport of window-breaking, and thence to the plundering ofpublic-houses, was easy and natural. At last, after several hours,when sundry summer houses had been pulled down, and some area-railingshad been torn up, to arm the more belligerent spirits, a rumour gotabout that the Guards were coming. Before this rumour, the crowdgradually melted away, and perhaps the Guards came, and perhaps theynever came, and this was the usual progress of a mob.
Mr. Cruncher did not assist at the closing sports, but hadremained behind in the churchyard, to confer and condole with theundertakers. The place had a soothing influence on him. He procureda pipe from a neighbouring public-house, and smoked it, looking inat the railings and maturely considering the spot.
"Jerry," said Mr. Cruncher, apostrophising himself in his usual way,"you see that there Cly that day, and you see with your own eyesthat he was a young 'un and a straight made 'un."
Having smoked his pipe out, and ruminated a little longer, he turnedhimself about, that he might appear, before the hour of closing, onhis station at Tellson's. Whether his meditations on mortality hadtouched his liver, or whether his general health had been previouslyat all amiss, or whether he desired to show a little attention to aneminent man, is not so much to the purpose, as that he made a shortcall upon his medical adviser- a distinguished surgeon- on his wayback.
Young Jerry relieved his father with dutiful interest, andreported No job in his absence. The bank closed, the ancient clerkscame out, the usual watch was set, and Mr. Cruncher and his son wenthome to tea.
"Now, I tell you where it is!" said Mr. Cruncher to his wife, onentering. "If, as a honest tradesman, my wenturs goes wrongto-night, I shall make sure that you've been praying again me, and Ishall work you for it just the same as if I seen you do it."
The dejected Mrs. Cruncher shook her head.
"Why, you're at it afore my face!" said Mr. Cruncher, with signsof angry apprehension.
"I am saying nothing."
"Well, then; don't meditate nothing. You might as well flop asmeditate. You may as well go again me one way as another. Drop italtogether."
"Yes, Jerry," repeated Mr. Cruncher sitting down to tea. "Ah! Itis yes, Jerry. That's about it. You may say yes, Jerry."
Mr. Cruncher had no particular meaning in these sulkycorroborations, but made use of them, as people not unfrequently do,to express general ironical dissatisfaction.
"You and your yes, Jerry," said Mr. Cruncher, taking a bite out ofhis bread-and-butter, and seeming to help it down with a largeinvisible oyster out of his saucer. "Ah! I think so. I believe you."
"You are going out to-night?" asked his decent wife, when he tookanother bite.
"Yes, I am."
"May I go with you, father?" asked his son, briskly.
"No, you mayn't. I'm a going- as your mother knows- a fishing.That's where I'm going to. Going a fishing."
"Your fishing-rod gets rayther rusty; don't it, father?"
"Never you mind."
"Shall you bring any fish home, father?"
"If I don't, you'll have short commons, to-morrow," returned thatgentleman, shaking his head; "that's questions enough for you; I ain'ta going out, till you've been long abed."
He devoted himself during the remainder of the evening to keepinga most vigilant watch on Mrs. Cruncher, and sullenly holding her inconversation that she might be prevented from meditating any petitionsto his disadvantage. With this view, he urged his son to hold her inconversation also, and led the unfortunate woman a hard life bydwelling on any causes of complaint he could bring against her, ratherthan he would leave her for a moment to her own reflections. Thedevoutest person could have rendered no greater homage to the efficacyof an honest prayer than he did in this distrust of his wife. It wasas if a professed unbeliever in ghosts should be frightened by a ghoststory.
"And mind you!" said Mr. Cruncher. "No games to-morrow! If I, as ahonest tradesman, succeed in providing a jinte of meat or two, none ofyour not touching of it, and sticking to bread. If I, as a honesttradesman, am able to provide a little beer, none of your declaring onwater. When you go to Rome, do as Rome does. Rome will be a uglycustomer to you, if you don't. I'm your Rome, you know."
Then he began grumbling again:
"With your flying into the face of your own wittles and drink! Idon't know how scarce you mayn't make the wittles and drink here, byyour flopping tricks and your unfeeling conduct. Look at your boy:he is your'n, ain't he? He's as thin as a lath. Do you call yourself amother, and not know that a mother's first duty is to blow her boyout?"
This touched Young Jerry on a tender place; who adjured his motherto perform her first duty, and, whatever else she did or neglected,above all things to lay especial stress on the discharge of thatmaternal function so affectingly and delicately indicated by his otherparent.
Thus the evening wore away with the Cruncher family, until YoungJerry was ordered to bed, and his mother, laid under similarinjunctions, obeyed them. Mr. Cruncher beguiled the earlier watches ofthe night with solitary pipes, and did not start upon his excursionuntil nearly one o'clock. Towards that small and ghostly hour, he roseup from his chair, took a key out of his pocket, opened a lockedcupboard, and brought forth a sack, a crowbar of convenient size, arope and chain, and other fishing tackle of that nature. Disposingthese articles about him in skilful manner, he bestowed a partingdefiance on Mrs. Cruncher, extinguished the light, and went out.
Young Jerry, who had only made a feint of undressing when he went tobed, was not long after his father. Under cover of the darkness hefollowed out of the room, followed down the stairs, followed downthe court, followed out into the streets. He was in no uneasinessconcerning his getting into the house again, for it was full oflodgers, and the door stood ajar all night.
Impelled by a laudable ambition to study the art and mystery ofhis father's honest calling, Young Jerry, keeping as close to housefronts, walls, and doorways, as his eyes were close to one another,held his honoured parent in view. The honoured parent steeringNorthward, had not gone far, when he was joined by another disciple ofIzaak Walton, and the two trudged on together.
Within half an hour from the first starting, they were beyond thewinking lamps, and the more than winking watchmen, and were out upon alonely road. Another fisherman was picked up here- and that sosilently, that if Young Jerry had been superstitious, he might havesupposed the second follower of the gentle craft to have, all of asudden, split himself into two.
The three went on, and Young Jerry went on, until the threestopped under a bank overhanging the road. Upon the top of the bankwas a low brick wall, surmounted by an iron railing. In the shadowof bank and wall the three turned out of the road, and up a blindlane, of which the wall- there, risen to some eight or ten feethigh- formed one side. Crouching down in a corner, peeping up thelane, the next object that Young Jerry saw, was the form of hishonoured parent, pretty well defined against a watery and cloudedmoon, nimbly scaling an iron gate. He was soon over, and then thesecond fisherman got over, and then the third. They all dropped softlyon the ground within the gate, and lay there a little- listeningperhaps. Then, they moved away on their hands and knees.
It was now Young Jerry's turn to approach the gate: which he did,holding his breath. Crouching down again in a corner there, andlooking in, he made out the three fishermen creeping through some rankgrass! and all the gravestones in the churchyard- it was a largechurchyard that they were in- looking on like ghosts in white, whilethe church tower itself looked on like the ghost of a monstrous giant.They did not creep far, before they stopped and stood upright. Andthen they began to fish.
They fished with a spade, at first. Presently the honoured parentappeared to be adjusting some instrument like a great corkscrew.Whatever tools they worked with, they worked hard, until the awfulstriking of the church clock so terrified Young Jerry, that he madeoff, with his hair as stiff as his father's.
But, his long-cherished desire to know more about these matters, notonly stopped him in his running away, but lured him back again. Theywere still fishing perseveringly, when he peeped in at the gate forthe second time; but, now they seemed to have got a bite. There wasa screwing and complaining sound down below, and their bent figureswere strained, as if by a weight. By slow degrees the weight brokeaway the earth upon it, and came to the surface. Young Jerry very wellknew what it would be; but, when he saw it, and saw his honouredparent about to wrench it open, he was so frightened, being new to thesight, that he made off again, and never stopped until he had run amile or more.
He would not have stopped then, for anything less necessary thanbreath, it being a spectral sort of race that he ran, and one highlydesirable to get to the end of. He had a strong idea that the coffinhe had seen was running after him; and, pictured as hopping onbehind him, bolt upright, upon its narrow end, always on the pointof overtaking him and hopping on at his side- perhaps taking hisarm- it was a pursuer to shun. It was an inconsistent and ubiquitousfiend too, for, while it was making the whole night behind himdreadful, he darted out into the roadway to avoid dark alleys, fearfulof its coming hopping out of them like a dropsical boy's-Kitewithout tail and wings. It hid in doorways too, rubbing its horribleshoulders against doors, and drawing them up to its ears, as if itwere laughing. It got into shadows on the road, and lay cunningly onits back to trip him up. All this time it was incessantly hopping onbehind and gaining on him, so that when the boy got to his own door hehad reason for being half dead. And even then it would not leavehim, but followed him upstairs with a bump on every stair, scrambledinto bed with him, and bumped down, dead and heavy, on his breast whenhe fell asleep.
From his oppressed slumber, Young Jerry in his closet was awakenedafter daybreak and before sunrise, by the presence of his father inthe family room. Something had gone wrong with him; at least, so YoungJerry inferred, from the circumstance of his holding Mrs. Cruncherby the ears, and knocking the back of her head against thehead-board of the bed.
"I told you I would," said Mr. Cruncher, "and I did."
"Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!" his wife implored.
"You oppose yourself to the profit of the business," said Jerry,"and me and my partners suffer. You was to honour and obey; why thedevil don't you?"
"I try to be a good wife, Jerry," the poor woman protested, withtears.
"Is it being a good wife to oppose your husband's business? Is ithonouring your husband to dishonour his business? Is it obeying yourhusband to disobey him on the vital subject of his business?"
"You hadn't taken to the dreadful business then, Jerry."
"It's enough for you," retorted Mr. Cruncher, "to be the wife of ahonest tradesman, and not to occupy your female mind with calculationswhen he took to his trade or when he didn't. A honouring and obeyingwife would let his trade alone altogether. Call yourself a religiouswoman? If you're a religious woman, give me a irreligious one! Youhave no more nat'ral sense of duty than the bed of this here Thamesriver has of a pile, and similarly it must be knocked into you."
The altercation was conducted in a low tone of voice, and terminatedin the honest tradesman's kicking off his clay-soiled boots, and lyingdown at his length on the floor. After taking a timid peep at himlying on his back, with his rusty hands under his head for a pillow,his son lay down too, and fell asleep again.
There was no fish for breakfast, and not much of anything else.Mr. Cruncher was out of spirits, and out of temper, and kept an ironpot-lid by him as a projectile for the correction of Mrs. Cruncher. incase he should observe any symptoms of her saying Grace. He wasbrushed and washed at the usual hour, and set off with his son topursue his ostensible calling.
Young Jerry, walking with the stool under his arm at his father'sside along sunny and crowded Fleet-street, was a very differentYoung Jerry from him of the previous night, running home throughdarkness and solitude from his grim pursuer. His cunning was freshwith the day, and his qualms were gone with the night- in whichparticulars it is not improbable that he had compeers inFleet-street and the City of London, that fine morning.
"Father," said Young Jerry, as they walked along: taking care tokeep at arm's length and to have the stool well between them:"what's a Resurrection-Man?"
Mr. Cruncher came to a stop on the pavement before he answered, "Howshould I know?"
"I thought you knowed everything, father," said the artless boy.
"Hem! Well," returned Mr. Cruncher, going on again, and lifting ofhis hat to give his spikes free play, "he's a tradesman."
"What's his goods, father?" asked the brisk Young Jerry.
"His goods," said Mr. Cruncher, after turning it over in his mind,"is a branch of Scientific goods."
"Persons' bodies, ain't it, father?" asked the lively boy.
"I believe it is something of that sort," said Mr. Cruncher.
"Oh, father, I should so like to be a Resurrection-Man when I'mquite growed up!"
Mr. Cruncher was soothed, but shook his head in a dubious andmoral way. "It depends upon how you develop your talents. Be carefulto develop your talents, and never to say no more than you can help tonobody, and there's no telling at the present time what you may notcome to be fit for." As Young Jerry, thus encouraged, went on a fewyards in advance, to plant the stool in the shadow of the Bar, Mr.Cruncher added to himself: "Jerry, you honest tradesman, there's hopeswot that boy will yet be a blessing to you, and a recompense to youfor his mother!"