One or the other.'
'Hum! The question, my dear friend,' said Mr Pecksniff, laying his hand tenderly upon his kinsman's knee, 'is involved with many considerations. What would I give them? Eh?'
'Ah! what would you give 'em?' repeated Jonas.
'Why, that, 'said Mr Pecksniff, 'would naturally depend in a great measure upon the kind of husbands they might choose, my dear young friend.'
Mr Jonas was evidently disconcerted, and at a loss how to proceed. It was a good answer. It seemed a deep one, but such is the wisdom of simplicity!'
'My standard for the merits I would require in a son-in-law,' said Mr Pecksniff, after a short silence, 'is a high one. Forgive me, my dear Mr Jonas,' he added, greatly moved, 'if I say that you have spoiled me, and made it a fanciful one; an imaginative one; a prismatically tinged one, if I may be permitted to call it so.'
'What do you mean by that?' growled Jonas, looking at him with increased disfavour.
'Indeed, my dear friend,' said Mr Pecksniff, 'you may well inquire. The heart is not always a royal mint, with patent machinery to work its metal into current coin. Sometimes it throws it out in strange forms, not easily recognized as coin at all. But it is sterling gold. It has at least that merit. It is sterling gold.'
'Is it?' grumbled Jonas, with a doubtful shake of the head.
'Aye!' said Mr Pecksniff, warming with his subject 'it is. To be plain with you, Mr Jonas, if I could find two such sons-in-law as you will one day make to some deserving man, capable of appreciating a nature such as yours, I would--forgetful of myself--bestow upon my daughters portions reaching to the very utmost limit of my means.'
This was strong language, and it was earnestly delivered. But who can wonder that such a man as Mr Pecksniff, after all he had seen and heard of Mr Jonas, should be strong and earnest upon such a theme; a theme that touched even the worldly lips of undertakers with the honey of eloquence!
Mr Jonas was silent, and looked thoughtfully at the landscape. For they were seated on the outside of the coach, at the back, and were travelling down into the country. He accompanied Mr Pecksniff home for a few days' change of air and scene after his recent trials.
'Well,' he said, at last, with captivating bluntness, 'suppose you got one such son-in-law as me, what then?'
Mr Pecksniff regarded him at first with inexpressible surprise; then gradually breaking into a sort of dejected vivacity, said:
'Then well I know whose husband he would be!'
'Whose?' asked Jonas, drily.
'My eldest girl's, Mr Jonas,' replied Pecksniff, with moistening eyes. 'My dear Cherry's; my staff, my scrip, my treasure, Mr Jonas. A hard struggle, but it is in the nature of things! I must one day part with her to a husband. I know it, my dear friend. I am prepared for it.'
'Ecod! you've been prepared for that a pretty long time, I should think,' said Jonas.
'Many have sought to bear her from me,' said Mr Pecksniff. 'All have failed. "I never will give my hand, papa"--those were her words--"unless my heart is won." She has not been quite so happy as she used to be, of late. I don't know why.'
Again Mr Jonas looked at the landscape; then at the coachman; then at the luggage on the roof; finally at Mr Pecksniff.
'I suppose you'll have to part with the other one, some of these days?' he observed, as he caught that gentleman's eye.
'Probably,' said the parent. 'Years will tame down the wildness of my foolish bird, and then it will be caged. But Cherry, Mr Jonas, Cherry--'
'Oh, ah!' interrupted Jonas. 'Years have made her all right enough. Nobody doubts that. But you haven't answered what I asked you. Of course, you're not obliged to do it, you know, if you don't like. You're the best judge.'
There was a warning sulkiness in the manner of this speech, which admonished Mr Pecksniff that his dear friend was not to be trifled with or fenced off, and that he must either return a straight- forward reply to his question, or plainly give him to understand that he declined to enlighten him upon the subject to which it referred.