'What a chap you are, Joe!' said Long Parkes.
'Such a inconsiderate lad!' murmured Tom Cobb.
'Putting himself forward and wringing the very nose off his own father's face!' exclaimed the parish-clerk, metaphorically.
'What HAVE I done?' reasoned poor Joe.
'Silence, sir!' returned his father, 'what do you mean by talking, when you see people that are more than two or three times your age, sitting still and silent and not dreaming of saying a word?'
'Why that's the proper time for me to talk, isn't it?' said Joe rebelliously.
'The proper time, sir!' retorted his father, 'the proper time's no time.'
'Ah to be sure!' muttered Parkes, nodding gravely to the other two who nodded likewise, observing under their breaths that that was the point.
'The proper time's no time, sir,' repeated John Willet; 'when I was your age I never talked, I never wanted to talk. I listened and improved myself that's what I did.'
'And you'd find your father rather a tough customer in argeyment, Joe, if anybody was to try and tackle him,' said Parkes.
'For the matter o' that, Phil!' observed Mr Willet, blowing a long, thin, spiral cloud of smoke out of the corner of his mouth, and staring at it abstractedly as it floated away; 'For the matter o' that, Phil, argeyment is a gift of Natur. If Natur has gifted a man with powers of argeyment, a man has a right to make the best of 'em, and has not a right to stand on false delicacy, and deny that he is so gifted; for that is a turning of his back on Natur, a flouting of her, a slighting of her precious caskets, and a proving of one's self to be a swine that isn't worth her scattering pearls before.'
The landlord pausing here for a very long time, Mr Parkes naturally concluded that he had brought his discourse to an end; and therefore, turning to the young man with some austerity, exclaimed:
'You hear what your father says, Joe? You wouldn't much like to tackle him in argeyment, I'm thinking, sir.'
'IF,' said John Willet, turning his eyes from the ceiling to the face of his interrupter, and uttering the monosyllable in capitals, to apprise him that he had put in his oar, as the vulgar say, with unbecoming and irreverent haste; 'IF, sir, Natur has fixed upon me the gift of argeyment, why should I not own to it, and rather glory in the same? Yes, sir, I AM a tough customer that way. You are right, sir. My toughness has been proved, sir, in this room many and many a time, as I think you know; and if you don't know,' added John, putting his pipe in his mouth again, 'so much the better, for I an't proud and am not going to tell you.'
A general murmur from his three cronies, and a general shaking of heads at the copper boiler, assured John Willet that they had had good experience of his powers and needed no further evidence to assure them of his superiority. John smoked with a little more dignity and surveyed them in silence.
'It's all very fine talking,' muttered Joe, who had been fidgeting in his chair with divers uneasy gestures. 'But if you mean to tell me that I'm never to open my lips--'
'Silence, sir!' roared his father. 'No, you never are. When your opinion's wanted, you give it. When you're spoke to, you speak. When your opinion's not wanted and you're not spoke to, don't you give an opinion and don't you speak. The world's undergone a nice alteration since my time, certainly. My belief is that there an't any boys left--that there isn't such a thing as a boy--that there's nothing now between a male baby and a man--and that all the boys went out with his blessed Majesty King George the Second.'
'That's a very true observation, always excepting the young princes,' said the parish-clerk, who, as the representative of church and state in that company, held himself bound to the nicest loyalty. 'If it's godly and righteous for boys, being of the ages of boys, to behave themselves like boys, then the young princes must be boys and cannot be otherwise.'
'Did you ever hear tell of mermaids, sir?' said Mr Willet.