'What a cold spring it is!' whimpered old Anthony, drawing near the evening fire, 'It was a warmer season, sure, when I was young!'
'You needn't go scorching your clothes into holes, whether it was or not,' observed the amiable Jonas, raising his eyes from yesterday's newspaper, 'Broadcloth ain't so cheap as that comes to.'
'A good lad!' cried the father, breathing on his cold hands, and feebly chafing them against each other. 'A prudent lad! He never delivered himself up to the vanities of dress. No, no!'
'I don't know but I would, though, mind you, if I could do it for nothing,' said his son, as he resumed the paper.
'Ah!' chuckled the old man. 'IF, indeed!--But it's very cold.'
'Let the fire be!' cried Mr Jonas, stopping his honoured parent's hand in the use of the poker. 'Do you mean to come to want in your old age, that you take to wasting now?'
'There's not time for that, Jonas,' said the old man.
'Not time for what?' bawled his heir.
'For me to come to want. I wish there was!'
'You always were as selfish an old blade as need be,' said Jonas in a voice too low for him to hear, and looking at him with an angry frown. 'You act up to your character. You wouldn't mind coming to want, wouldn't you! I dare say you wouldn't. And your own flesh and blood might come to want too, might they, for anything you cared? Oh you precious old flint!'
After this dutiful address he took his tea-cup in his hand--for that meal was in progress, and the father and son and Chuffey were partakers of it. Then, looking steadfastly at his father, and stopping now and then to carry a spoonful of tea to his lips, he proceeded in the same tone, thus:
'Want, indeed! You're a nice old man to be talking of want at this time of day. Beginning to talk of want, are you? Well, I declare! There isn't time? No, I should hope not. But you'd live to be a couple of hundred if you could; and after all be discontented. I know you!'
The old man sighed, and still sat cowering before the fire. Mr Jonas shook his Britannia-metal teaspoon at him, and taking a loftier position, went on to argue the point on high moral grounds.
'If you're in such a state of mind as that,' he grumbled, but in the same subdued key, 'why don't you make over your property? Buy an annuity cheap, and make your life interesting to yourself and everybody else that watches the speculation. But no, that wouldn't suit YOU. That would be natural conduct to your own son, and you like to be unnatural, and to keep him out of his rights. Why, I should be ashamed of myself if I was you, and glad to hide my head in the what you may call it.'
Possibly this general phrase supplied the place of grave, or tomb, or sepulchre, or cemetery, or mausoleum, or other such word which the filial tenderness of Mr Jonas made him delicate of pronouncing. He pursued the theme no further; for Chuffey, somehow discovering, from his old corner by the fireside, that Anthony was in the attitude of a listener, and that Jonas appeared to be speaking, suddenly cried out, like one inspired:
'He is your own son, Mr Chuzzlewit. Your own son, sir!'
Old Chuffey little suspected what depth of application these words had, or that, in the bitter satire which they bore, they might have sunk into the old man's very soul, could he have known what words here hanging on his own son's lips, or what was passing in his thoughts. But the voice diverted the current of Anthony's reflections, and roused him.
'Yes, yes, Chuffey, Jonas is a chip of the old block. It is a very old block, now, Chuffey,' said the old man, with a strange look of discomposure.
'Precious old,' assented Jonas
'No, no, no,' said Chuffey. 'No, Mr Chuzzlewit. Not old at all, sir.'
'Oh! He's worse than ever, you know!' cried Jonas, quite disgusted. 'Upon my soul, father, he's getting too bad. Hold your tongue, will you?'
'He says you're wrong!' cried Anthony to the old clerk.
'Tut, tut!' was Chuffey's answer. 'I know better. I say HE'S wrong.