Thursday, November 8, 2007


The Chimes by Charles Dickens

The Chimes by Charles Dickens
CHAPTER I - First Quarter.
HERE are not many people - and as it is desirable that a storyteller
and a story-reader should establish a mutual understanding
as soon as possible, I beg it to be noticed that I confine this
observation neither to young people nor to little people, but
extend it to all conditions of people: little and big, young and
old: yet growing up, or already growing down again - there are
not, I say, many people who would care to sleep in a church. I
don't mean at sermon-time in warm weather (when the thing has
actually been done, once or twice), but in the night, and alone. A
great multitude of persons will be violently astonished, I know, by
this position, in the broad bold Day. But it applies to Night. It
must be argued by night, and I will undertake to maintain it
successfully on any gusty winter's night appointed for the purpose,
with any one opponent chosen from the rest, who will meet me singly
in an old churchyard, before an old church-door; and will
previously empower me to lock him in, if needful to his
satisfaction, until morning.
For the night-wind has a dismal trick of wandering round and round
a building of that sort, and moaning as it goes; and of trying,
with its unseen hand, the windows and the doors; and seeking out
some crevices by which to enter. And when it has got in; as one
not finding what it seeks, whatever that may be, it wails and howls
to issue forth again: and not content with stalking through the
aisles, and gliding round and round the pillars, and tempting the
deep organ, soars up to the roof, and strives to rend the rafters:
then flings itself despairingly upon the stones below, and passes,
muttering, into the vaults. Anon, it comes up stealthily, and
creeps along the walls, seeming to read, in whispers, the
Inscriptions sacred to the Dead. At some of these, it breaks out
shrilly, as with laughter; and at others, moans and cries as if it
were lamenting. It has a ghostly sound too, lingering within the
altar; where it seems to chaunt, in its wild way, of Wrong and
Murder done, and false Gods worshipped, in defiance of the Tables
of the Law, which look so fair and smooth, but are so flawed and
broken. Ugh! Heaven preserve us, sitting snugly round the fire!
It has an awful voice, that wind at Midnight, singing in a church!
But, high up in the steeple! There the foul blast roars and
whistles! High up in the steeple, where it is free to come and go
through many an airy arch and loophole, and to twist and twine
itself about the giddy stair, and twirl the groaning weathercock,
and make the very tower shake and shiver! High up in the steeple,
where the belfry is, and iron rails are ragged with rust, and
sheets of lead and copper, shrivelled by the changing weather,
crackle and heave beneath the unaccustomed tread; and birds stuff
shabby nests into corners of old oaken joists and beams; and dust
grows old and grey; and speckled spiders, indolent and fat with
long security, swing idly to and fro in the vibration of the bells,
and never loose their hold upon their thread-spun castles in the
air, or climb up sailor-like in quick alarm, or drop upon the
ground and ply a score of nimble legs to save one life! High up in
the steeple of an old church, far above the light and murmur of the
town and far below the flying clouds that shadow it, is the wild
and dreary place at night: and high up in the steeple of an old
church, dwelt the Chimes I tell of.
They were old Chimes, trust me. Centuries ago, these Bells had
been baptized by bishops: so many centuries ago, that the register
of their baptism was lost long, long before the memory of man, and
no one knew their names. They had had their Godfathers and
Godmothers, these Bells (for my own part, by the way, I would
rather incur the responsibility of being Godfather to a Bell than a
Boy), and had their silver mugs no doubt, besides. But Time had
mowed down their sponsors, and Henry the Eighth had melted down
their mugs; and they now hung, nameless and mugless, in the churchtower.
Not speechless, though. Far from it. They had clear, loud, lusty,
sounding voices, had these Bells; and far and wide they might be
heard upon the wind. Much too sturdy Chimes were they, to be
dependent on the pleasure of the wind, moreover; for, fighting
gallantly against it when it took an adverse whim, they would pour
their cheerful notes into a listening ear right royally; and bent
on being heard on stormy nights, by some poor mother watching a
sick child, or some lone wife whose husband was at sea, they had
been sometimes known to beat a blustering Nor' Wester; aye, 'all to
fits,' as Toby Veck said; - for though they chose to call him
Trotty Veck, his name was Toby, and nobody could make it anything
else either (except Tobias) without a special act of parliament; he
having been as lawfully christened in his day as the Bells had been
in theirs, though with not quite so much of solemnity or public
For my part, I confess myself of Toby Veck's belief, for I am sure
he had opportunities enough of forming a correct one. And whatever
Toby Veck said, I say. And I take my stand by Toby Veck, although
he DID stand all day long (and weary work it was) just outside the
church-door. In fact he was a ticket-porter, Toby Veck, and waited
there for jobs.
And a breezy, goose-skinned, blue-nosed, red-eyed, stony-toed,
tooth-chattering place it was, to wait in, in the winter-time, as
Toby Veck well knew. The wind came tearing round the corner -
especially the east wind - as if it had sallied forth, express,
from the confines of the earth, to have a blow at Toby. And
oftentimes it seemed to come upon him sooner than it had expected,
for bouncing round the corner, and passing Toby, it would suddenly
wheel round again, as if it cried 'Why, here he is!' Incontinently
his little white apron would be caught up over his head like a
naughty boy's garments, and his feeble little cane would be seen to
wrestle and struggle unavailingly in his hand, and his legs would
undergo tremendous agitation, and Toby himself all aslant, and
facing now in this direction, now in that, would be so banged and
buffeted, and to touzled, and worried, and hustled, and lifted off
his feet, as to render it a state of things but one degree removed
from a positive miracle, that he wasn't carried up bodily into the
air as a colony of frogs or snails or other very portable creatures
sometimes are, and rained down again, to the great astonishment of
the natives, on some strange corner of the world where ticketporters
are unknown.
But, windy weather, in spite of its using him so roughly, was,
after all, a sort of holiday for Toby. That's the fact. He didn't
seem to wait so long for a sixpence in the wind, as at other times;
the having to fight with that boisterous element took off his
attention, and quite freshened him up, when he was getting hungry
and low-spirited. A hard frost too, or a fall of snow, was an
Event; and it seemed to do him good, somehow or other - it would
have been hard to say in what respect though, Toby! So wind and
frost and snow, and perhaps a good stiff storm of hail, were Toby
Veck's red-letter days.
Wet weather was the worst; the cold, damp, clammy wet, that wrapped
him up like a moist great-coat - the only kind of great-coat Toby
owned, or could have added to his comfort by dispensing with. Wet
days, when the rain came slowly, thickly, obstinately down; when
the street's throat, like his own, was choked with mist; when
smoking umbrellas passed and re-passed, spinning round and round
like so many teetotums, as they knocked against each other on the
crowded footway, throwing off a little whirlpool of uncomfortable
sprinklings; when gutters brawled and waterspouts were full and
noisy; when the wet from the projecting stones and ledges of the
church fell drip, drip, drip, on Toby, making the wisp of straw on
which he stood mere mud in no time; those were the days that tried
him. Then, indeed, you might see Toby looking anxiously out from
his shelter in an angle of the church wall - such a meagre shelter
that in summer time it never cast a shadow thicker than a goodsized
walking stick upon the sunny pavement - with a disconsolate
and lengthened face. But coming out, a minute afterwards, to warm
himself by exercise, and trotting up and down some dozen times, he
would brighten even then, and go back more brightly to his niche.
They called him Trotty from his pace, which meant speed if it
didn't make it. He could have walked faster perhaps; most likely;
but rob him of his trot, and Toby would have taken to his bed and
died. It bespattered him with mud in dirty weather; it cost him a
world of trouble; he could have walked with infinitely greater
ease; but that was one reason for his clinging to it so
tenaciously. A weak, small, spare old man, he was a very Hercules,
this Toby, in his good intentions. He loved to earn his money. He
delighted to believe - Toby was very poor, and couldn't well afford
to part with a delight - that he was worth his salt. With a
shilling or an eighteenpenny message or small parcel in hand, his
courage always high, rose higher. As he trotted on, he would call
out to fast Postmen ahead of him, to get out of the way; devoutly
believing that in the natural course of things he must inevitably
overtake and run them down; and he had perfect faith - not often
tested - in his being able to carry anything that man could lift.
Thus, even when he came out of his nook to warm himself on a wet
day, Toby trotted. Making, with his leaky shoes, a crooked line of
slushy footprints in the mire; and blowing on his chilly hands and
rubbing them against each other, poorly defended from the searching
cold by threadbare mufflers of grey worsted, with a private
apartment only for the thumb, and a common room or tap for the rest
of the fingers; Toby, with his knees bent and his cane beneath his
arm, still trotted. Falling out into the road to look up at the
belfry when the Chimes resounded, Toby trotted still.
He made this last excursion several times a day, for they were
company to him; and when he heard their voices, he had an interest
in glancing at their lodging-place, and thinking how they were
moved, and what hammers beat upon them. Perhaps he was the more
curious about these Bells, because there were points of resemblance
between themselves and him. They hung there, in all weathers, with
the wind and rain driving in upon them; facing only the outsides of
all those houses; never getting any nearer to the blazing fires
that gleamed and shone upon the windows, or came puffing out of the
chimney tops; and incapable of participation in any of the good
things that were constantly being handled, through the street doors
and the area railings, to prodigious cooks. Faces came and went at
many windows: sometimes pretty faces, youthful faces, pleasant
faces: sometimes the reverse: but Toby knew no more (though he
often speculated on these trifles, standing idle in the streets)
whence they came, or where they went, or whether, when the lips
moved, one kind word was said of him in all the year, than did the
Chimes themselves.
Toby was not a casuist - that he knew of, at least - and I don't
mean to say that when he began to take to the Bells, and to knit up
his first rough acquaintance with them into something of a closer
and more delicate woof, he passed through these considerations one
by one, or held any formal review or great field-day in his
thoughts. But what I mean to say, and do say is, that as the
functions of Toby's body, his digestive organs for example, did of
their own cunning, and by a great many operations of which he was
altogether ignorant, and the knowledge of which would have
astonished him very much, arrive at a certain end; so his mental
faculties, without his privity or concurrence, set all these wheels
and springs in motion, with a thousand others, when they worked to
bring about his liking for the Bells.
And though I had said his love, I would not have recalled the word,
though it would scarcely have expressed his complicated feeling.
For, being but a simple man, he invested them with a strange and
solemn character. They were so mysterious, often heard and never
seen; so high up, so far off, so full of such a deep strong melody,
that he regarded them with a species of awe; and sometimes when he
looked up at the dark arched windows in the tower, he half expected
to be beckoned to by something which was not a Bell, and yet was
what he had heard so often sounding in the Chimes. For all this,
Toby scouted with indignation a certain flying rumour that the
Chimes were haunted, as implying the possibility of their being
connected with any Evil thing. In short, they were very often in
his ears, and very often in his thoughts, but always in his good
opinion; and he very often got such a crick in his neck by staring
with his mouth wide open, at the steeple where they hung, that he
was fain to take an extra trot or two, afterwards, to cure it.
The very thing he was in the act of doing one cold day, when the
last drowsy sound of Twelve o'clock, just struck, was humming like
a melodious monster of a Bee, and not by any means a busy bee, all
through the steeple!
'Dinner-time, eh!' said Toby, trotting up and down before the
church. 'Ah!'
Toby's nose was very red, and his eyelids were very red, and he
winked very much, and his shoulders were very near his ears, and
his legs were very stiff, and altogether he was evidently a long
way upon the frosty side of cool.
'Dinner-time, eh!' repeated Toby, using his right-hand muffler like
an infantine boxing-glove, and punishing his chest for being cold.
He took a silent trot, after that, for a minute or two.
'There's nothing,' said Toby, breaking forth afresh - but here he
stopped short in his trot, and with a face of great interest and
some alarm, felt his nose carefully all the way up. It was but a
little way (not being much of a nose) and he had soon finished.
'I thought it was gone,' said Toby, trotting off again. 'It's all
right, however. I am sure I couldn't blame it if it was to go. It
has a precious hard service of it in the bitter weather, and
precious little to look forward to; for I don't take snuff myself.
It's a good deal tried, poor creetur, at the best of times; for
when it DOES get hold of a pleasant whiff or so (which an't too
often) it's generally from somebody else's dinner, a-coming home
from the baker's.'
The reflection reminded him of that other reflection, which he had
left unfinished.
'There's nothing,' said Toby, 'more regular in its coming round
than dinner-time, and nothing less regular in its coming round than
dinner. That's the great difference between 'em. It's took me a
long time to find it out. I wonder whether it would be worth any
gentleman's while, now, to buy that obserwation for the Papers; or
the Parliament!'
Toby was only joking, for he gravely shook his head in selfdepreciation.
'Why! Lord!' said Toby. 'The Papers is full of obserwations as it
is; and so's the Parliament. Here's last week's paper, now;'
taking a very dirty one from his pocket, and holding it from him at
arm's length; 'full of obserwations! Full of obserwations! I like
to know the news as well as any man,' said Toby, slowly; folding it
a little smaller, and putting it in his pocket again: 'but it
almost goes against the grain with me to read a paper now. It
frightens me almost. I don't know what we poor people are coming
to. Lord send we may be coming to something better in the New Year
nigh upon us!'
'Why, father, father!' said a pleasant voice, hard by.
But Toby, not hearing it, continued to trot backwards and forwards:
musing as he went, and talking to himself.
'It seems as if we can't go right, or do right, or be righted,'
said Toby. 'I hadn't much schooling, myself, when I was young; and
I can't make out whether we have any business on the face of the
earth, or not. Sometimes I think we must have - a little; and
sometimes I think we must be intruding. I get so puzzled sometimes
that I am not even able to make up my mind whether there is any
good at all in us, or whether we are born bad. We seem to be
dreadful things; we seem to give a deal of trouble; we are always
being complained of and guarded against. One way or other, we fill
the papers. Talk of a New Year!' said Toby, mournfully. 'I can
bear up as well as another man at most times; better than a good
many, for I am as strong as a lion, and all men an't; but supposing
it should really be that we have no right to a New Year - supposing
we really ARE intruding - '
'Why, father, father!' said the pleasant voice again.
Toby heard it this time; started; stopped; and shortening his
sight, which had been directed a long way off as seeking the
enlightenment in the very heart of the approaching year, found
himself face to face with his own child, and looking close into her
Bright eyes they were. Eyes that would bear a world of looking in,
before their depth was fathomed. Dark eyes, that reflected back
the eyes which searched them; not flashingly, or at the owner's
will, but with a clear, calm, honest, patient radiance, claiming
kindred with that light which Heaven called into being. Eyes that
were beautiful and true, and beaming with Hope. With Hope so young
and fresh; with Hope so buoyant, vigorous, and bright, despite the
twenty years of work and poverty on which they had looked; that
they became a voice to Trotty Veck, and said: 'I think we have
some business here - a little!'
Trotty kissed the lips belonging to the eyes, and squeezed the
blooming face between his hands.
'Why, Pet,' said Trotty. 'What's to do? I didn't expect you today,
'Neither did I expect to come, father,' cried the girl, nodding her
head and smiling as she spoke. 'But here I am! And not alone; not
'Why you don't mean to say,' observed Trotty, looking curiously at
a covered basket which she carried in her hand, 'that you - '
'Smell it, father dear,' said Meg. 'Only smell it!'
Trotty was going to lift up the cover at once, in a great hurry,
when she gaily interposed her hand.
'No, no, no,' said Meg, with the glee of a child. 'Lengthen it out
a little. Let me just lift up the corner; just the lit-tle ti-ny
cor-ner, you know,' said Meg, suiting the action to the word with
the utmost gentleness, and speaking very softly, as if she were
afraid of being overheard by something inside the basket; 'there.
Now. What's that?'
Toby took the shortest possible sniff at the edge of the basket,
and cried out in a rapture:
'Why, it's hot!'
'It's burning hot!' cried Meg. 'Ha, ha, ha! It's scalding hot!'
'Ha, ha, ha!' roared Toby, with a sort of kick. 'It's scalding
'But what is it, father?' said Meg. 'Come. You haven't guessed
what it is. And you must guess what it is. I can't think of
taking it out, till you guess what it is. Don't be in such a
hurry! Wait a minute! A little bit more of the cover. Now
Meg was in a perfect fright lest he should guess right too soon;
shrinking away, as she held the basket towards him; curling up her
pretty shoulders; stopping her ear with her hand, as if by so doing
she could keep the right word out of Toby's lips; and laughing
softly the whole time.
Meanwhile Toby, putting a hand on each knee, bent down his nose to
the basket, and took a long inspiration at the lid; the grin upon
his withered face expanding in the process, as if he were inhaling
laughing gas.
'Ah! It's very nice,' said Toby. 'It an't - I suppose it an't
'No, no, no!' cried Meg, delighted. 'Nothing like Polonies!'
'No,' said Toby, after another sniff. 'It's - it's mellower than
Polonies. It's very nice. It improves every moment. It's too
decided for Trotters. An't it?'
Meg was in an ecstasy. He could not have gone wider of the mark
than Trotters - except Polonies.
'Liver?' said Toby, communing with himself. 'No. There's a
mildness about it that don't answer to liver. Pettitoes? No. It
an't faint enough for pettitoes. It wants the stringiness of
Cocks' heads. And I know it an't sausages. I'll tell you what it
is. It's chitterlings!'
'No, it an't!' cried Meg, in a burst of delight. 'No, it an't!'
'Why, what am I a-thinking of!' said Toby, suddenly recovering a
position as near the perpendicular as it was possible for him to
assume. 'I shall forget my own name next. It's tripe!'
Tripe it was; and Meg, in high joy, protested he should say, in
half a minute more, it was the best tripe ever stewed.
'And so,' said Meg, busying herself exultingly with the basket,
'I'll lay the cloth at once, father; for I have brought the tripe
in a basin, and tied the basin up in a pocket-handkerchief; and if
I like to be proud for once, and spread that for a cloth, and call
it a cloth, there's no law to prevent me; is there, father?'
'Not that I know of, my dear,' said Toby. 'But they're always abringing
up some new law or other.'
'And according to what I was reading you in the paper the other
day, father; what the Judge said, you know; we poor people are
supposed to know them all. Ha ha! What a mistake! My goodness
me, how clever they think us!'
'Yes, my dear,' cried Trotty; 'and they'd be very fond of any one
of us that DID know 'em all. He'd grow fat upon the work he'd get,
that man, and be popular with the gentlefolks in his neighbourhood.
Very much so!'
'He'd eat his dinner with an appetite, whoever he was, if it smelt
like this,' said Meg, cheerfully. 'Make haste, for there's a hot
potato besides, and half a pint of fresh-drawn beer in a bottle.
Where will you dine, father? On the Post, or on the Steps? Dear,
dear, how grand we are. Two places to choose from!'
'The steps to-day, my Pet,' said Trotty. 'Steps in dry weather.
Post in wet. There's a greater conveniency in the steps at all
times, because of the sitting down; but they're rheumatic in the
'Then here,' said Meg, clapping her hands, after a moment's bustle;
'here it is, all ready! And beautiful it looks! Come, father.
Since his discovery of the contents of the basket, Trotty had been
standing looking at her - and had been speaking too - in an
abstracted manner, which showed that though she was the object of
his thoughts and eyes, to the exclusion even of tripe, he neither
saw nor thought about her as she was at that moment, but had before
him some imaginary rough sketch or drama of her future life.
Roused, now, by her cheerful summons, he shook off a melancholy
shake of the head which was just coming upon him, and trotted to
her side. As he was stooping to sit down, the Chimes rang.
'Amen!' said Trotty, pulling off his hat and looking up towards
'Amen to the Bells, father?' cried Meg.
'They broke in like a grace, my dear,' said Trotty, taking his
seat. 'They'd say a good one, I am sure, if they could. Many's
the kind thing they say to me.'
'The Bells do, father!' laughed Meg, as she set the basin, and a
knife and fork, before him. 'Well!'
'Seem to, my Pet,' said Trotty, falling to with great vigour. 'And
where's the difference? If I hear 'em, what does it matter whether
they speak it or not? Why bless you, my dear,' said Toby, pointing
at the tower with his fork, and becoming more animated under the
influence of dinner, 'how often have I heard them bells say, "Toby
Veck, Toby Veck, keep a good heart, Toby! Toby Veck, Toby Veck,
keep a good heart, Toby!" A million times? More!'
'Well, I never!' cried Meg.
She had, though - over and over again. For it was Toby's constant
'When things is very bad,' said Trotty; 'very bad indeed, I mean;
almost at the worst; then it's "Toby Veck, Toby Veck, job coming
soon, Toby! Toby Veck, Toby Veck, job coming soon, Toby!" That
'And it comes - at last, father,' said Meg, with a touch of sadness
in her pleasant voice.
'Always,' answered the unconscious Toby. 'Never fails.'
While this discourse was holding, Trotty made no pause in his
attack upon the savoury meat before him, but cut and ate, and cut
and drank, and cut and chewed, and dodged about, from tripe to hot
potato, and from hot potato back again to tripe, with an unctuous
and unflagging relish. But happening now to look all round the
street - in case anybody should be beckoning from any door or
window, for a porter - his eyes, in coming back again, encountered
Meg: sitting opposite to him, with her arms folded and only busy
in watching his progress with a smile of happiness.
'Why, Lord forgive me!' said Trotty, dropping his knife and fork.
'My dove! Meg! why didn't you tell me what a beast I was?'
'Sitting here,' said Trotty, in penitent explanation, 'cramming,
and stuffing, and gorging myself; and you before me there, never so
much as breaking your precious fast, nor wanting to, when - '
'But I have broken it, father,' interposed his daughter, laughing,
'all to bits. I have had my dinner.'
'Nonsense,' said Trotty. 'Two dinners in one day! It an't
possible! You might as well tell me that two New Year's Days will
come together, or that I have had a gold head all my life, and
never changed it.'
'I have had my dinner, father, for all that,' said Meg, coming
nearer to him. 'And if you'll go on with yours, I'll tell you how
and where; and how your dinner came to be brought; and - and
something else besides.'
Toby still appeared incredulous; but she looked into his face with
her clear eyes, and laying her hand upon his shoulder, motioned him
to go on while the meat was hot. So Trotty took up his knife and
fork again, and went to work. But much more slowly than before,
and shaking his head, as if he were not at all pleased with
'I had my dinner, father,' said Meg, after a little hesitation,
'with - with Richard. His dinner-time was early; and as he brought
his dinner with him when he came to see me, we - we had it
together, father.'
Trotty took a little beer, and smacked his lips. Then he said,
'Oh!' - because she waited.
'And Richard says, father - ' Meg resumed. Then stopped.
'What does Richard say, Meg?' asked Toby.
'Richard says, father - ' Another stoppage.
'Richard's a long time saying it,' said Toby.
'He says then, father,' Meg continued, lifting up her eyes at last,
and speaking in a tremble, but quite plainly; 'another year is
nearly gone, and where is the use of waiting on from year to year,
when it is so unlikely we shall ever be better off than we are now?
He says we are poor now, father, and we shall be poor then, but we
are young now, and years will make us old before we know it. He
says that if we wait: people in our condition: until we see our
way quite clearly, the way will be a narrow one indeed - the common
way - the Grave, father.'
A bolder man than Trotty Veck must needs have drawn upon his
boldness largely, to deny it. Trotty held his peace.
'And how hard, father, to grow old, and die, and think we might
have cheered and helped each other! How hard in all our lives to
love each other; and to grieve, apart, to see each other working,
changing, growing old and grey. Even if I got the better of it,
and forgot him (which I never could), oh father dear, how hard to
have a heart so full as mine is now, and live to have it slowly
drained out every drop, without the recollection of one happy
moment of a woman's life, to stay behind and comfort me, and make
me better!'
Trotty sat quite still. Meg dried her eyes, and said more gaily:
that is to say, with here a laugh, and there a sob, and here a
laugh and sob together:
'So Richard says, father; as his work was yesterday made certain
for some time to come, and as I love him, and have loved him full
three years - ah! longer than that, if he knew it! - will I marry
him on New Year's Day; the best and happiest day, he says, in the
whole year, and one that is almost sure to bring good fortune with
it. It's a short notice, father - isn't it? - but I haven't my
fortune to be settled, or my wedding dresses to be made, like the
great ladies, father, have I? And he said so much, and said it in
his way; so strong and earnest, and all the time so kind and
gentle; that I said I'd come and talk to you, father. And as they
paid the money for that work of mine this morning (unexpectedly, I
am sure!) and as you have fared very poorly for a whole week, and
as I couldn't help wishing there should be something to make this
day a sort of holiday to you as well as a dear and happy day to me,
father, I made a little treat and brought it to surprise you.'
'And see how he leaves it cooling on the step!' said another voice.
It was the voice of this same Richard, who had come upon them
unobserved, and stood before the father and daughter; looking down
upon them with a face as glowing as the iron on which his stout
sledge-hammer daily rung. A handsome, well-made, powerful
youngster he was; with eyes that sparkled like the red-hot
droppings from a furnace fire; black hair that curled about his
swarthy temples rarely; and a smile - a smile that bore out Meg's
eulogium on his style of conversation.
'See how he leaves it cooling on the step!' said Richard. 'Meg
don't know what he likes. Not she!'
Trotty, all action and enthusiasm, immediately reached up his hand
to Richard, and was going to address him in great hurry, when the
house-door opened without any warning, and a footman very nearly
put his foot into the tripe.
'Out of the ways here, will you! You must always go and be asettin
on our steps, must you! You can't go and give a turn to
none of the neighbours never, can't you! WILL you clear the road,
or won't you?'
Strictly speaking, the last question was irrelevant, as they had
already done it.
'What's the matter, what's the matter!' said the gentleman for whom
the door was opened; coming out of the house at that kind of lightheavy
pace - that peculiar compromise between a walk and a jog-trot
- with which a gentleman upon the smooth down-hill of life, wearing
creaking boots, a watch-chain, and clean linen, MAY come out of his
house: not only without any abatement of his dignity, but with an
expression of having important and wealthy engagements elsewhere.
'What's the matter! What's the matter!'
'You're always a-being begged, and prayed, upon your bended knees
you are,' said the footman with great emphasis to Trotty Veck, 'to
let our door-steps be. Why don't you let 'em be? CAN'T you let
'em be?'
'There! That'll do, that'll do!' said the gentleman. 'Halloa
there! Porter!' beckoning with his head to Trotty Veck. 'Come
here. What's that? Your dinner?'
'Yes, sir,' said Trotty, leaving it behind him in a corner.
'Don't leave it there,' exclaimed the gentleman. 'Bring it here,
bring it here. So! This is your dinner, is it?'
'Yes, sir,' repeated Trotty, looking with a fixed eye and a watery
mouth, at the piece of tripe he had reserved for a last delicious
tit-bit; which the gentleman was now turning over and over on the
end of the fork.
Two other gentlemen had come out with him. One was a low-spirited
gentleman of middle age, of a meagre habit, and a disconsolate
face; who kept his hands continually in the pockets of his scanty
pepper-and-salt trousers, very large and dog's-eared from that
custom; and was not particularly well brushed or washed. The
other, a full-sized, sleek, well-conditioned gentleman, in a blue
coat with bright buttons, and a white cravat. This gentleman had a
very red face, as if an undue proportion of the blood in his body
were squeezed up into his head; which perhaps accounted for his
having also the appearance of being rather cold about the heart.
He who had Toby's meat upon the fork, called to the first one by
the name of Filer; and they both drew near together. Mr. Filer
being exceedingly short-sighted, was obliged to go so close to the
remnant of Toby's dinner before he could make out what it was, that
Toby's heart leaped up into his mouth. But Mr. Filer didn't eat
'This is a description of animal food, Alderman,' said Filer,
making little punches in it with a pencil-case, 'commonly known to
the labouring population of this country, by the name of tripe.'
The Alderman laughed, and winked; for he was a merry fellow,
Alderman Cute. Oh, and a sly fellow too! A knowing fellow. Up to
everything. Not to be imposed upon. Deep in the people's hearts!
He knew them, Cute did. I believe you!
'But who eats tripe?' said Mr. Filer, looking round. 'Tripe is
without an exception the least economical, and the most wasteful
article of consumption that the markets of this country can by
possibility produce. The loss upon a pound of tripe has been found
to be, in the boiling, seven-eights of a fifth more than the loss
upon a pound of any other animal substance whatever. Tripe is more
expensive, properly understood, than the hothouse pine-apple.
Taking into account the number of animals slaughtered yearly within
the bills of mortality alone; and forming a low estimate of the
quantity of tripe which the carcases of those animals, reasonably
well butchered, would yield; I find that the waste on that amount
of tripe, if boiled, would victual a garrison of five hundred men
for five months of thirty-one days each, and a February over. The
Waste, the Waste!'
Trotty stood aghast, and his legs shook under him. He seemed to
have starved a garrison of five hundred men with his own hand.
'Who eats tripe?' said Mr. Filer, warmly. 'Who eats tripe?'
Trotty made a miserable bow.
'You do, do you?' said Mr. Filer. 'Then I'll tell you something.
You snatch your tripe, my friend, out of the mouths of widows and
'I hope not, sir,' said Trotty, faintly. 'I'd sooner die of want!'
'Divide the amount of tripe before-mentioned, Alderman,' said Mr.
Filer, 'by the estimated number of existing widows and orphans, and
the result will be one pennyweight of tripe to each. Not a grain
is left for that man. Consequently, he's a robber.'
Trotty was so shocked, that it gave him no concern to see the
Alderman finish the tripe himself. It was a relief to get rid of
it, anyhow.
'And what do you say?' asked the Alderman, jocosely, of the redfaced
gentleman in the blue coat. 'You have heard friend Filer.
What do YOU SAY?'
'What's it possible to say?' returned the gentleman. 'What IS to
be said? Who can take any interest in a fellow like this,' meaning
Trotty; 'in such degenerate times as these? Look at him. What an
object! The good old times, the grand old times, the great old
times! THOSE were the times for a bold peasantry, and all that
sort of thing. Those were the times for every sort of thing, in
fact. There's nothing now-a-days. Ah!' sighed the red-faced
gentleman. 'The good old times, the good old times!'
The gentleman didn't specify what particular times he alluded to;
nor did he say whether he objected to the present times, from a
disinterested consciousness that they had done nothing very
remarkable in producing himself.
'The good old times, the good old times,' repeated the gentleman.
'What times they were! They were the only times. It's of no use
talking about any other times, or discussing what the people are in
THESE times. You don't call these times, do you? I don't. Look
into Strutt's Costumes, and see what a Porter used to be, in any of
the good old English reigns.'
'He hadn't, in his very best circumstances, a shirt to his back, or
a stocking to his foot; and there was scarcely a vegetable in all
England for him to put into his mouth,' said Mr. Filer. 'I can
prove it, by tables.'
But still the red-faced gentleman extolled the good old times, the
grand old times, the great old times. No matter what anybody else
said, he still went turning round and round in one set form of
words concerning them; as a poor squirrel turns and turns in its
revolving cage; touching the mechanism, and trick of which, it has
probably quite as distinct perceptions, as ever this red-faced
gentleman had of his deceased Millennium.
It is possible that poor Trotty's faith in these very vague Old
Times was not entirely destroyed, for he felt vague enough at that
moment. One thing, however, was plain to him, in the midst of his
distress; to wit, that however these gentlemen might differ in
details, his misgivings of that morning, and of many other
mornings, were well founded. 'No, no. We can't go right or do
right,' thought Trotty in despair. 'There is no good in us. We
are born bad!'
But Trotty had a father's heart within him; which had somehow got
into his breast in spite of this decree; and he could not bear that
Meg, in the blush of her brief joy, should have her fortune read by
these wise gentlemen. 'God help her,' thought poor Trotty. 'She
will know it soon enough.'
He anxiously signed, therefore, to the young smith, to take her
away. But he was so busy, talking to her softly at a little
distance, that he only became conscious of this desire,
simultaneously with Alderman Cute. Now, the Alderman had not yet
had his say, but HE was a philosopher, too - practical, though!
Oh, very practical - and, as he had no idea of losing any portion
of his audience, he cried 'Stop!'
'Now, you know,' said the Alderman, addressing his two friends,
with a self-complacent smile upon his face which was habitual to
him, 'I am a plain man, and a practical man; and I go to work in a
plain practical way. That's my way. There is not the least
mystery or difficulty in dealing with this sort of people if you
only understand 'em, and can talk to 'em in their own manner. Now,
you Porter! Don't you ever tell me, or anybody else, my friend,
that you haven't always enough to eat, and of the best; because I
know better. I have tasted your tripe, you know, and you can't
"chaff" me. You understand what "chaff" means, eh? That's the
right word, isn't it? Ha, ha, ha! Lord bless you,' said the
Alderman, turning to his friends again, 'it's the easiest thing on
earth to deal with this sort of people, if you understand 'em.'
Famous man for the common people, Alderman Cute! Never out of
temper with them! Easy, affable, joking, knowing gentleman!
'You see, my friend,' pursued the Alderman, 'there's a great deal
of nonsense talked about Want - "hard up," you know; that's the
phrase, isn't it? ha! ha! ha! - and I intend to Put it Down.
There's a certain amount of cant in vogue about Starvation, and I
mean to Put it Down. That's all! Lord bless you,' said the
Alderman, turning to his friends again, 'you may Put Down anything
among this sort of people, if you only know the way to set about
Trotty took Meg's hand and drew it through his arm. He didn't seem
to know what he was doing though.
'Your daughter, eh?' said the Alderman, chucking her familiarly
under the chin.
Always affable with the working classes, Alderman Cute! Knew what
pleased them! Not a bit of pride!
'Where's her mother?' asked that worthy gentleman.
'Dead,' said Toby. 'Her mother got up linen; and was called to
Heaven when She was born.'
'Not to get up linen THERE, I suppose,' remarked the Alderman
Toby might or might not have been able to separate his wife in
Heaven from her old pursuits. But query: If Mrs. Alderman Cute
had gone to Heaven, would Mr. Alderman Cute have pictured her as
holding any state or station there?
'And you're making love to her, are you?' said Cute to the young
'Yes,' returned Richard quickly, for he was nettled by the
question. 'And we are going to be married on New Year's Day.'
'What do you mean!' cried Filer sharply. 'Married!'
'Why, yes, we're thinking of it, Master,' said Richard. 'We're
rather in a hurry, you see, in case it should be Put Down first.'
'Ah!' cried Filer, with a groan. 'Put THAT down indeed, Alderman,
and you'll do something. Married! Married!! The ignorance of the
first principles of political economy on the part of these people;
their improvidence; their wickedness; is, by Heavens! enough to -
Now look at that couple, will you!'
Well? They were worth looking at. And marriage seemed as
reasonable and fair a deed as they need have in contemplation.
'A man may live to be as old as Methuselah,' said Mr. Filer, 'and
may labour all his life for the benefit of such people as those;
and may heap up facts on figures, facts on figures, facts on
figures, mountains high and dry; and he can no more hope to
persuade 'em that they have no right or business to be married,
than he can hope to persuade 'em that they have no earthly right or
business to be born. And THAT we know they haven't. We reduced it
to a mathematical certainty long ago!'
Alderman Cute was mightily diverted, and laid his right forefinger
on the side of his nose, as much as to say to both his friends,
'Observe me, will you! Keep your eye on the practical man!' - and
called Meg to him.
'Come here, my girl!' said Alderman Cute.
The young blood of her lover had been mounting, wrathfully, within
the last few minutes; and he was indisposed to let her come. But,
setting a constraint upon himself, he came forward with a stride as
Meg approached, and stood beside her. Trotty kept her hand within
his arm still, but looked from face to face as wildly as a sleeper
in a dream.
'Now, I'm going to give you a word or two of good advice, my girl,'
said the Alderman, in his nice easy way. 'It's my place to give
advice, you know, because I'm a Justice. You know I'm a Justice,
don't you?'
Meg timidly said, 'Yes.' But everybody knew Alderman Cute was a
Justice! Oh dear, so active a Justice always! Who such a mote of
brightness in the public eye, as Cute!
'You are going to be married, you say,' pursued the Alderman.
'Very unbecoming and indelicate in one of your sex! But never mind
that. After you are married, you'll quarrel with your husband and
come to be a distressed wife. You may think not; but you will,
because I tell you so. Now, I give you fair warning, that I have
made up my mind to Put distressed wives Down. So, don't be brought
before me. You'll have children - boys. Those boys will grow up
bad, of course, and run wild in the streets, without shoes and
stockings. Mind, my young friend! I'll convict 'em summarily,
every one, for I am determined to Put boys without shoes and
stockings, Down. Perhaps your husband will die young (most likely)
and leave you with a baby. Then you'll be turned out of doors, and
wander up and down the streets. Now, don't wander near me, my
dear, for I am resolved, to Put all wandering mothers Down. All
young mothers, of all sorts and kinds, it's my determination to Put
Down. Don't think to plead illness as an excuse with me; or babies
as an excuse with me; for all sick persons and young children (I
hope you know the church-service, but I'm afraid not) I am
determined to Put Down. And if you attempt, desperately, and
ungratefully, and impiously, and fraudulently attempt, to drown
yourself, or hang yourself, I'll have no pity for you, for I have
made up my mind to Put all suicide Down! If there is one thing,'
said the Alderman, with his self-satisfied smile, 'on which I can
be said to have made up my mind more than on another, it is to Put
suicide Down. So don't try it on. That's the phrase, isn't it?
Ha, ha! now we understand each other.'
Toby knew not whether to be agonised or glad, to see that Meg had
turned a deadly white, and dropped her lover's hand.
'And as for you, you dull dog,' said the Alderman, turning with
even increased cheerfulness and urbanity to the young smith, 'what
are you thinking of being married for? What do you want to be
married for, you silly fellow? If I was a fine, young, strapping
chap like you, I should be ashamed of being milksop enough to pin
myself to a woman's apron-strings! Why, she'll be an old woman
before you're a middle-aged man! And a pretty figure you'll cut
then, with a draggle-tailed wife and a crowd of squalling children
crying after you wherever you go!'
O, he knew how to banter the common people, Alderman Cute!
'There! Go along with you,' said the Alderman, 'and repent. Don't
make such a fool of yourself as to get married on New Year's Day.
You'll think very differently of it, long before next New Year's
Day: a trim young fellow like you, with all the girls looking
after you. There! Go along with you!'
They went along. Not arm in arm, or hand in hand, or interchanging
bright glances; but, she in tears; he, gloomy and down-looking.
Were these the hearts that had so lately made old Toby's leap up
from its faintness? No, no. The Alderman (a blessing on his
head!) had Put THEM Down.
'As you happen to be here,' said the Alderman to Toby, 'you shall
carry a letter for me. Can you be quick? You're an old man.'
Toby, who had been looking after Meg, quite stupidly, made shift to
murmur out that he was very quick, and very strong.
'How old are you?' inquired the Alderman.
'I'm over sixty, sir,' said Toby.
'O! This man's a great deal past the average age, you know,' cried
Mr. Filer breaking in as if his patience would bear some trying,
but this really was carrying matters a little too far.
'I feel I'm intruding, sir,' said Toby. 'I - I misdoubted it this
morning. Oh dear me!'
The Alderman cut him short by giving him the letter from his
pocket. Toby would have got a shilling too; but Mr. Filer clearly
showing that in that case he would rob a certain given number of
persons of ninepence-halfpenny a-piece, he only got sixpence; and
thought himself very well off to get that.
Then the Alderman gave an arm to each of his friends, and walked
off in high feather; but, he immediately came hurrying back alone,
as if he had forgotten something.
'Porter!' said the Alderman.
'Sir!' said Toby.
'Take care of that daughter of yours. She's much too handsome.'
'Even her good looks are stolen from somebody or other, I suppose,'
thought Toby, looking at the sixpence in his hand, and thinking of
the tripe. 'She's been and robbed five hundred ladies of a bloom
a-piece, I shouldn't wonder. It's very dreadful!'
'She's much too handsome, my man,' repeated the Alderman. 'The
chances are, that she'll come to no good, I clearly see. Observe
what I say. Take care of her!' With which, he hurried off again.
'Wrong every way. Wrong every way!' said Trotty, clasping his
hands. 'Born bad. No business here!'
The Chimes came clashing in upon him as he said the words. Full,
loud, and sounding - but with no encouragement. No, not a drop.
'The tune's changed,' cried the old man, as he listened. 'There's
not a word of all that fancy in it. Why should there be? I have
no business with the New Year nor with the old one neither. Let me
Still the Bells, pealing forth their changes, made the very air
spin. Put 'em down, Put 'em down! Good old Times, Good old Times!
Facts and Figures, Facts and Figures! Put 'em down, Put 'em down!
If they said anything they said this, until the brain of Toby
He pressed his bewildered head between his hands, as if to keep it
from splitting asunder. A well-timed action, as it happened; for
finding the letter in one of them, and being by that means reminded
of his charge, he fell, mechanically, into his usual trot, and
trotted off.
CHAPTER II - The Second Quarter.
THE letter Toby had received from Alderman Cute, was addressed to a
great man in the great district of the town. The greatest district
of the town. It must have been the greatest district of the town,
because it was commonly called 'the world' by its inhabitants. The
letter positively seemed heavier in Toby's hand, than another
letter. Not because the Alderman had sealed it with a very large
coat of arms and no end of wax, but because of the weighty name on
the superscription, and the ponderous amount of gold and silver
with which it was associated.
'How different from us!' thought Toby, in all simplicity and
earnestness, as he looked at the direction. 'Divide the lively
turtles in the bills of mortality, by the number of gentlefolks
able to buy 'em; and whose share does he take but his own! As to
snatching tripe from anybody's mouth - he'd scorn it!'
With the involuntary homage due to such an exalted character, Toby
interposed a corner of his apron between the letter and his
'His children,' said Trotty, and a mist rose before his eyes; 'his
daughters - Gentlemen may win their hearts and marry them; they may
be happy wives and mothers; they may be handsome like my darling Me-'.
He couldn't finish the name. The final letter swelled in his
throat, to the size of the whole alphabet.
'Never mind,' thought Trotty. 'I know what I mean. That's more
than enough for me.' And with this consolatory rumination, trotted
It was a hard frost, that day. The air was bracing, crisp, and
clear. The wintry sun, though powerless for warmth, looked
brightly down upon the ice it was too weak to melt, and set a
radiant glory there. At other times, Trotty might have learned a
poor man's lesson from the wintry sun; but, he was past that, now.
The Year was Old, that day. The patient Year had lived through the
reproaches and misuses of its slanderers, and faithfully performed
its work. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. It had laboured through
the destined round, and now laid down its weary head to die. Shut
out from hope, high impulse, active happiness, itself, but active
messenger of many joys to others, it made appeal in its decline to
have its toiling days and patient hours remembered, and to die in
peace. Trotty might have read a poor man's allegory in the fading
year; but he was past that, now.
And only he? Or has the like appeal been ever made, by seventy
years at once upon an English labourer's head, and made in vain!
The streets were full of motion, and the shops were decked out
gaily. The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was
waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings. There were
books and toys for the New Year, glittering trinkets for the New
Year, dresses for the New Year, schemes of fortune for the New
Year; new inventions to beguile it. Its life was parcelled out in
almanacks and pocket-books; the coming of its moons, and stars, and
tides, was known beforehand to the moment; all the workings of its
seasons in their days and nights, were calculated with as much
precision as Mr. Filer could work sums in men and women.
The New Year, the New Year. Everywhere the New Year! The Old Year
was already looked upon as dead; and its effects were selling
cheap, like some drowned mariner's aboardship. Its patterns were
Last Year's, and going at a sacrifice, before its breath was gone.
Its treasures were mere dirt, beside the riches of its unborn
Trotty had no portion, to his thinking, in the New Year or the Old.
'Put 'em down, Put 'em down! Facts and Figures, Facts and Figures!
Good old Times, Good old Times! Put 'em down, Put 'em down!' - his
trot went to that measure, and would fit itself to nothing else.
But, even that one, melancholy as it was, brought him, in due time,
to the end of his journey. To the mansion of Sir Joseph Bowley,
Member of Parliament.
The door was opened by a Porter. Such a Porter! Not of Toby's
order. Quite another thing. His place was the ticket though; not
This Porter underwent some hard panting before he could speak;
having breathed himself by coming incautiously out of his chair,
without first taking time to think about it and compose his mind.
When he had found his voice - which it took him a long time to do,
for it was a long way off, and hidden under a load of meat - he
said in a fat whisper,
'Who's it from?'
Toby told him.
'You're to take it in, yourself,' said the Porter, pointing to a
room at the end of a long passage, opening from the hall.
'Everything goes straight in, on this day of the year. You're not
a bit too soon; for the carriage is at the door now, and they have
only come to town for a couple of hours, a' purpose.'
Toby wiped his feet (which were quite dry already) with great care,
and took the way pointed out to him; observing as he went that it
was an awfully grand house, but hushed and covered up, as if the
family were in the country. Knocking at the room-door, he was told
to enter from within; and doing so found himself in a spacious
library, where, at a table strewn with files and papers, were a
stately lady in a bonnet; and a not very stately gentleman in black
who wrote from her dictation; while another, and an older, and a
much statelier gentleman, whose hat and cane were on the table,
walked up and down, with one hand in his breast, and looked
complacently from time to time at his own picture - a full length;
a very full length - hanging over the fireplace.
'What is this?' said the last-named gentleman. 'Mr. Fish, will you
have the goodness to attend?'
Mr. Fish begged pardon, and taking the letter from Toby, handed it,
with great respect.
'From Alderman Cute, Sir Joseph.'
'Is this all? Have you nothing else, Porter?' inquired Sir Joseph.
Toby replied in the negative.
'You have no bill or demand upon me - my name is Bowley, Sir Joseph
Bowley - of any kind from anybody, have you?' said Sir Joseph. 'If
you have, present it. There is a cheque-book by the side of Mr.
Fish. I allow nothing to be carried into the New Year. Every
description of account is settled in this house at the close of the
old one. So that if death was to - to - '
'To cut,' suggested Mr. Fish.
'To sever, sir,' returned Sir Joseph, with great asperity, 'the
cord of existence - my affairs would be found, I hope, in a state
of preparation.'
'My dear Sir Joseph!' said the lady, who was greatly younger than
the gentleman. 'How shocking!'
'My lady Bowley,' returned Sir Joseph, floundering now and then, as
in the great depth of his observations, 'at this season of the year
we should think of - of - ourselves. We should look into our - our
accounts. We should feel that every return of so eventful a period
in human transactions, involves a matter of deep moment between a
man and his - and his banker.'
Sir Joseph delivered these words as if he felt the full morality of
what he was saying; and desired that even Trotty should have an
opportunity of being improved by such discourse. Possibly he had
this end before him in still forbearing to break the seal of the
letter, and in telling Trotty to wait where he was, a minute.
'You were desiring Mr. Fish to say, my lady - ' observed Sir
'Mr. Fish has said that, I believe,' returned his lady, glancing at
the letter. 'But, upon my word, Sir Joseph, I don't think I can
let it go after all. It is so very dear.'
'What is dear?' inquired Sir Joseph.
'That Charity, my love. They only allow two votes for a
subscription of five pounds. Really monstrous!'
'My lady Bowley,' returned Sir Joseph, 'you surprise me. Is the
luxury of feeling in proportion to the number of votes; or is it,
to a rightly constituted mind, in proportion to the number of
applicants, and the wholesome state of mind to which their
canvassing reduces them? Is there no excitement of the purest kind
in having two votes to dispose of among fifty people?'
'Not to me, I acknowledge,' replied the lady. 'It bores one.
Besides, one can't oblige one's acquaintance. But you are the Poor
Man's Friend, you know, Sir Joseph. You think otherwise.'
'I AM the Poor Man's Friend,' observed Sir Joseph, glancing at the
poor man present. 'As such I may be taunted. As such I have been
taunted. But I ask no other title.'
'Bless him for a noble gentleman!' thought Trotty.
'I don't agree with Cute here, for instance,' said Sir Joseph,
holding out the letter. 'I don't agree with the Filer party. I
don't agree with any party. My friend the Poor Man, has no
business with anything of that sort, and nothing of that sort has
any business with him. My friend the Poor Man, in my district, is
my business. No man or body of men has any right to interfere
between my friend and me. That is the ground I take. I assume a -
a paternal character towards my friend. I say, "My good fellow, I
will treat you paternally."'
Toby listened with great gravity, and began to feel more
'Your only business, my good fellow,' pursued Sir Joseph, looking
abstractedly at Toby; 'your only business in life is with me. You
needn't trouble yourself to think about anything. I will think for
you; I know what is good for you; I am your perpetual parent. Such
is the dispensation of an all-wise Providence! Now, the design of
your creation is - not that you should swill, and guzzle, and
associate your enjoyments, brutally, with food; Toby thought
remorsefully of the tripe; 'but that you should feel the Dignity of
Labour. Go forth erect into the cheerful morning air, and - and
stop there. Live hard and temperately, be respectful, exercise
your self-denial, bring up your family on next to nothing, pay your
rent as regularly as the clock strikes, be punctual in your
dealings (I set you a good example; you will find Mr. Fish, my
confidential secretary, with a cash-box before him at all times);
and you may trust to me to be your Friend and Father.'
'Nice children, indeed, Sir Joseph!' said the lady, with a shudder.
'Rheumatisms, and fevers, and crooked legs, and asthmas, and all
kinds of horrors!'
'My lady,' returned Sir Joseph, with solemnity, 'not the less am I
the Poor Man's Friend and Father. Not the less shall he receive
encouragement at my hands. Every quarter-day he will be put in
communication with Mr. Fish. Every New Year's Day, myself and
friends will drink his health. Once every year, myself and friends
will address him with the deepest feeling. Once in his life, he
may even perhaps receive; in public, in the presence of the gentry;
a Trifle from a Friend. And when, upheld no more by these
stimulants, and the Dignity of Labour, he sinks into his
comfortable grave, then, my lady' - here Sir Joseph blew his nose -
'I will be a Friend and a Father - on the same terms - to his
Toby was greatly moved.
'O! You have a thankful family, Sir Joseph!' cried his wife.
'My lady,' said Sir Joseph, quite majestically, 'Ingratitude is
known to be the sin of that class. I expect no other return.'
'Ah! Born bad!' thought Toby. 'Nothing melts us.'
'What man can do, I do,' pursued Sir Joseph. 'I do my duty as the
Poor Man's Friend and Father; and I endeavour to educate his mind,
by inculcating on all occasions the one great moral lesson which
that class requires. That is, entire Dependence on myself. They
have no business whatever with - with themselves. If wicked and
designing persons tell them otherwise, and they become impatient
and discontented, and are guilty of insubordinate conduct and
black-hearted ingratitude; which is undoubtedly the case; I am
their Friend and Father still. It is so Ordained. It is in the
nature of things.'
With that great sentiment, he opened the Alderman's letter; and
read it.
'Very polite and attentive, I am sure!' exclaimed Sir Joseph. 'My
lady, the Alderman is so obliging as to remind me that he has had
"the distinguished honour" - he is very good - of meeting me at the
house of our mutual friend Deedles, the banker; and he does me the
favour to inquire whether it will be agreeable to me to have Will
Fern put down.'
'MOST agreeable!' replied my Lady Bowley. 'The worst man among
them! He has been committing a robbery, I hope?'
'Why no,' said Sir Joseph', referring to the letter. 'Not quite.
Very near. Not quite. He came up to London, it seems, to look for
employment (trying to better himself - that's his story), and being
found at night asleep in a shed, was taken into custody, and
carried next morning before the Alderman. The Alderman observes
(very properly) that he is determined to put this sort of thing
down; and that if it will be agreeable to me to have Will Fern put
down, he will be happy to begin with him.'
'Let him be made an example of, by all means,' returned the lady.
'Last winter, when I introduced pinking and eyelet-holing among the
men and boys in the village, as a nice evening employment, and had
the lines,
O let us love our occupations,
Bless the squire and his relations,
Live upon our daily rations,
And always know our proper stations,
set to music on the new system, for them to sing the while; this
very Fern - I see him now - touched that hat of his, and said, "I
humbly ask your pardon, my lady, but AN'T I something different
from a great girl?" I expected it, of course; who can expect
anything but insolence and ingratitude from that class of people!
That is not to the purpose, however. Sir Joseph! Make an example
of him!'
'Hem!' coughed Sir Joseph. 'Mr. Fish, if you'll have the goodness
to attend - '
Mr. Fish immediately seized his pen, and wrote from Sir Joseph's
'Private. My dear Sir. I am very much indebted to you for your
courtesy in the matter of the man William Fern, of whom, I regret
to add, I can say nothing favourable. I have uniformly considered
myself in the light of his Friend and Father, but have been repaid
(a common case, I grieve to say) with ingratitude, and constant
opposition to my plans. He is a turbulent and rebellious spirit.
His character will not bear investigation. Nothing will persuade
him to be happy when he might. Under these circumstances, it
appears to me, I own, that when he comes before you again (as you
informed me he promised to do to-morrow, pending your inquiries,
and I think he may be so far relied upon), his committal for some
short term as a Vagabond, would be a service to society, and would
be a salutary example in a country where - for the sake of those
who are, through good and evil report, the Friends and Fathers of
the Poor, as well as with a view to that, generally speaking,
misguided class themselves - examples are greatly needed. And I
am,' and so forth.
'It appears,' remarked Sir Joseph when he had signed this letter,
and Mr. Fish was sealing it, 'as if this were Ordained: really.
At the close of the year, I wind up my account and strike my
balance, even with William Fern!'
Trotty, who had long ago relapsed, and was very low-spirited,
stepped forward with a rueful face to take the letter.
'With my compliments and thanks,' said Sir Joseph. 'Stop!'
'Stop!' echoed Mr. Fish.
'You have heard, perhaps,' said Sir Joseph, oracularly, 'certain
remarks into which I have been led respecting the solemn period of
time at which we have arrived, and the duty imposed upon us of
settling our affairs, and being prepared. You have observed that I
don't shelter myself behind my superior standing in society, but
that Mr. Fish - that gentleman - has a cheque-book at his elbow,
and is in fact here, to enable me to turn over a perfectly new
leaf, and enter on the epoch before us with a clean account. Now,
my friend, can you lay your hand upon your heart, and say, that you
also have made preparations for a New Year?'
'I am afraid, sir,' stammered Trotty, looking meekly at him, 'that
I am a - a - little behind-hand with the world.'
' Behind-hand with the world!' repeated Sir Joseph Bowley, in a
tone of terrible distinctness.
'I am afraid, sir,' faltered Trotty, 'that there's a matter of ten
or twelve shillings owing to Mrs. Chickenstalker.'
'To Mrs. Chickenstalker!' repeated Sir Joseph, in the same tone as
'A shop, sir,' exclaimed Toby, 'in the general line. Also a - a
little money on account of rent. A very little, sir. It oughtn't
to be owing, I know, but we have been hard put to it, indeed!'
Sir Joseph looked at his lady, and at Mr. Fish, and at Trotty, one
after another, twice all round. He then made a despondent gesture
with both hands at once, as if he gave the thing up altogether.
'How a man, even among this improvident and impracticable race; an
old man; a man grown grey; can look a New Year in the face, with
his affairs in this condition; how he can lie down on his bed at
night, and get up again in the morning, and - There!' he said,
turning his back on Trotty. 'Take the letter. Take the letter!'
'I heartily wish it was otherwise, sir,' said Trotty, anxious to
excuse himself. 'We have been tried very hard.'
Sir Joseph still repeating 'Take the letter, take the letter!' and
Mr. Fish not only saying the same thing, but giving additional
force to the request by motioning the bearer to the door, he had
nothing for it but to make his bow and leave the house. And in the
street, poor Trotty pulled his worn old hat down on his head, to
hide the grief he felt at getting no hold on the New Year,
He didn't even lift his hat to look up at the Bell tower when he
came to the old church on his return. He halted there a moment,
from habit: and knew that it was growing dark, and that the
steeple rose above him, indistinct and faint, in the murky air. He
knew, too, that the Chimes would ring immediately; and that they
sounded to his fancy, at such a time, like voices in the clouds.
But he only made the more haste to deliver the Alderman's letter,
and get out of the way before they began; for he dreaded to hear
them tagging 'Friends and Fathers, Friends and Fathers,' to the
burden they had rung out last.
Toby discharged himself of his commission, therefore, with all
possible speed, and set off trotting homeward. But what with his
pace, which was at best an awkward one in the street; and what with
his hat, which didn't improve it; he trotted against somebody in
less than no time, and was sent staggering out into the road.
'I beg your pardon, I'm sure!' said Trotty, pulling up his hat in
great confusion, and between the hat and the torn lining, fixing
his head into a kind of bee-hive. 'I hope I haven't hurt you.'
As to hurting anybody, Toby was not such an absolute Samson, but
that he was much more likely to be hurt himself: and indeed, he
had flown out into the road, like a shuttlecock. He had such an
opinion of his own strength, however, that he was in real concern
for the other party: and said again,
'I hope I haven't hurt you?'
The man against whom he had run; a sun-browned, sinewy, countrylooking
man, with grizzled hair, and a rough chin; stared at him
for a moment, as if he suspected him to be in jest. But, satisfied
of his good faith, he answered:
'No, friend. You have not hurt me.'
'Nor the child, I hope?' said Trotty.
'Nor the child,' returned the man. 'I thank you kindly.'
As he said so, he glanced at a little girl he carried in his arms,
asleep: and shading her face with the long end of the poor
handkerchief he wore about his throat, went slowly on.
The tone in which he said 'I thank you kindly,' penetrated Trotty's
heart. He was so jaded and foot-sore, and so soiled with travel,
and looked about him so forlorn and strange, that it was a comfort
to him to be able to thank any one: no matter for how little.
Toby stood gazing after him as he plodded wearily away, with the
child's arm clinging round his neck.
At the figure in the worn shoes - now the very shade and ghost of
shoes - rough leather leggings, common frock, and broad slouched
hat, Trotty stood gazing, blind to the whole street. And at the
child's arm, clinging round its neck.
Before he merged into the darkness the traveller stopped; and
looking round, and seeing Trotty standing there yet, seemed
undecided whether to return or go on. After doing first the one
and then the other, he came back, and Trotty went half-way to meet
'You can tell me, perhaps,' said the man with a faint smile, 'and
if you can I am sure you will, and I'd rather ask you than another
- where Alderman Cute lives.'
'Close at hand,' replied Toby. 'I'll show you his house with
'I was to have gone to him elsewhere to-morrow,' said the man,
accompanying Toby, 'but I'm uneasy under suspicion, and want to
clear myself, and to be free to go and seek my bread - I don't know
where. So, maybe he'll forgive my going to his house to-night.'
'It's impossible,' cried Toby with a start, 'that your name's
'Eh!' cried the other, turning on him in astonishment.
'Fern! Will Fern!' said Trotty.
'That's my name,' replied the other.
'Why then,' said Trotty, seizing him by the arm, and looking
cautiously round, 'for Heaven's sake don't go to him! Don't go to
him! He'll put you down as sure as ever you were born. Here! come
up this alley, and I'll tell you what I mean. Don't go to HIM.'
His new acquaintance looked as if he thought him mad; but he bore
him company nevertheless. When they were shrouded from
observation, Trotty told him what he knew, and what character he
had received, and all about it.
The subject of his history listened to it with a calmness that
surprised him. He did not contradict or interrupt it, once. He
nodded his head now and then - more in corroboration of an old and
worn-out story, it appeared, than in refutation of it; and once or
twice threw back his hat, and passed his freckled hand over a brow,
where every furrow he had ploughed seemed to have set its image in
little. But he did no more.
'It's true enough in the main,' he said, 'master, I could sift
grain from husk here and there, but let it be as 'tis. What odds?
I have gone against his plans; to my misfortun'. I can't help it;
I should do the like to-morrow. As to character, them gentlefolks
will search and search, and pry and pry, and have it as free from
spot or speck in us, afore they'll help us to a dry good word! -
Well! I hope they don't lose good opinion as easy as we do, or
their lives is strict indeed, and hardly worth the keeping. For
myself, master, I never took with that hand' - holding it before
him - 'what wasn't my own; and never held it back from work,
however hard, or poorly paid. Whoever can deny it, let him chop it
off! But when work won't maintain me like a human creetur; when my
living is so bad, that I am Hungry, out of doors and in; when I see
a whole working life begin that way, go on that way, and end that
way, without a chance or change; then I say to the gentlefolks
"Keep away from me! Let my cottage be. My doors is dark enough
without your darkening of 'em more. Don't look for me to come up
into the Park to help the show when there's a Birthday, or a fine
Speechmaking, or what not. Act your Plays and Games without me,
and be welcome to 'em, and enjoy 'em. We've nowt to do with one
another. I'm best let alone!"'
Seeing that the child in his arms had opened her eyes, and was
looking about her in wonder, he checked himself to say a word or
two of foolish prattle in her ear, and stand her on the ground
beside him. Then slowly winding one of her long tresses round and
round his rough forefinger like a ring, while she hung about his
dusty leg, he said to Trotty:
'I'm not a cross-grained man by natu', I believe; and easy
satisfied, I'm sure. I bear no ill-will against none of 'em. I
only want to live like one of the Almighty's creeturs. I can't - I
don't - and so there's a pit dug between me, and them that can and
do. There's others like me. You might tell 'em off by hundreds
and by thousands, sooner than by ones.'
Trotty knew he spoke the Truth in this, and shook his head to
signify as much.
'I've got a bad name this way,' said Fern; 'and I'm not likely, I'm
afeared, to get a better. 'Tan't lawful to be out of sorts, and I
AM out of sorts, though God knows I'd sooner bear a cheerful spirit
if I could. Well! I don't know as this Alderman could hurt ME
much by sending me to jail; but without a friend to speak a word
for me, he might do it; and you see - !' pointing downward with his
finger, at the child.
'She has a beautiful face,' said Trotty.
'Why yes!' replied the other in a low voice, as he gently turned it
up with both his hands towards his own, and looked upon it
steadfastly. 'I've thought so, many times. I've thought so, when
my hearth was very cold, and cupboard very bare. I thought so
t'other night, when we were taken like two thieves. But they -
they shouldn't try the little face too often, should they, Lilian?
That's hardly fair upon a man!'
He sunk his voice so low, and gazed upon her with an air so stern
and strange, that Toby, to divert the current of his thoughts,
inquired if his wife were living.
'I never had one,' he returned, shaking his head. 'She's my
brother's child: a orphan. Nine year old, though you'd hardly
think it; but she's tired and worn out now. They'd have taken care
on her, the Union - eight-and-twenty mile away from where we live -
between four walls (as they took care of my old father when he
couldn't work no more, though he didn't trouble 'em long); but I
took her instead, and she's lived with me ever since. Her mother
had a friend once, in London here. We are trying to find her, and
to find work too; but it's a large place. Never mind. More room
for us to walk about in, Lilly!'
Meeting the child's eyes with a smile which melted Toby more than
tears, he shook him by the hand.
'I don't so much as know your name,' he said, 'but I've opened my
heart free to you, for I'm thankful to you; with good reason. I'll
take your advice, and keep clear of this - '
'Justice,' suggested Toby.
'Ah!' he said. 'If that's the name they give him. This Justice.
And to-morrow will try whether there's better fortun' to be met
with, somewheres near London. Good night. A Happy New Year!'
'Stay!' cried Trotty, catching at his hand, as he relaxed his grip.
'Stay! The New Year never can be happy to me, if we part like
this. The New Year never can be happy to me, if I see the child
and you go wandering away, you don't know where, without a shelter
for your heads. Come home with me! I'm a poor man, living in a
poor place; but I can give you lodging for one night and never miss
it. Come home with me! Here! I'll take her!' cried Trotty,
lifting up the child. 'A pretty one! I'd carry twenty times her
weight, and never know I'd got it. Tell me if I go too quick for
you. I'm very fast. I always was!' Trotty said this, taking
about six of his trotting paces to one stride of his fatigued
companion; and with his thin legs quivering again, beneath the load
he bore.
'Why, she's as light,' said Trotty, trotting in his speech as well
as in his gait; for he couldn't bear to be thanked, and dreaded a
moment's pause; 'as light as a feather. Lighter than a Peacock's
feather - a great deal lighter. Here we are and here we go! Round
this first turning to the right, Uncle Will, and past the pump, and
sharp off up the passage to the left, right opposite the publichouse.
Here we are and here we go! Cross over, Uncle Will, and
mind the kidney pieman at the corner! Here we are and here we go!
Down the Mews here, Uncle Will, and stop at the black door, with
"T. Veck, Ticket Porter," wrote upon a board; and here we are and
here we go, and here we are indeed, my precious. Meg, surprising
With which words Trotty, in a breathless state, set the child down
before his daughter in the middle of the floor. The little visitor
looked once at Meg; and doubting nothing in that face, but trusting
everything she saw there; ran into her arms.
'Here we are and here we go!' cried Trotty, running round the room,
and choking audibly. 'Here, Uncle Will, here's a fire you know!
Why don't you come to the fire? Oh here we are and here we go!
Meg, my precious darling, where's the kettle? Here it is and here
it goes, and it'll bile in no time!'
Trotty really had picked up the kettle somewhere or other in the
course of his wild career and now put it on the fire: while Meg,
seating the child in a warm corner, knelt down on the ground before
her, and pulled off her shoes, and dried her wet feet on a cloth.
Ay, and she laughed at Trotty too - so pleasantly, so cheerfully,
that Trotty could have blessed her where she kneeled; for he had
seen that, when they entered, she was sitting by the fire in tears.
'Why, father!' said Meg. 'You're crazy to-night, I think. I don't
know what the Bells would say to that. Poor little feet. How cold
they are!'
'Oh, they're warmer now!' exclaimed the child. 'They're quite warm
'No, no, no,' said Meg. 'We haven't rubbed 'em half enough. We're
so busy. So busy! And when they're done, we'll brush out the damp
hair; and when that's done, we'll bring some colour to the poor
pale face with fresh water; and when that's done, we'll be so gay,
and brisk, and happy - !'
The child, in a burst of sobbing, clasped her round the neck;
caressed her fair cheek with its hand; and said, 'Oh Meg! oh dear
Toby's blessing could have done no more. Who could do more!
'Why, father!' cried Meg, after a pause.
'Here I am and here I go, my dear!' said Trotty.
'Good Gracious me!' cried Meg. 'He's crazy! He's put the dear
child's bonnet on the kettle, and hung the lid behind the door!'
'I didn't go for to do it, my love,' said Trotty, hastily repairing
this mistake. 'Meg, my dear?'
Meg looked towards him and saw that he had elaborately stationed
himself behind the chair of their male visitor, where with many
mysterious gestures he was holding up the sixpence he had earned.
'I see, my dear,' said Trotty, 'as I was coming in, half an ounce
of tea lying somewhere on the stairs; and I'm pretty sure there was
a bit of bacon too. As I don't remember where it was exactly, I'll
go myself and try to find 'em.'
With this inscrutable artifice, Toby withdrew to purchase the
viands he had spoken of, for ready money, at Mrs. Chickenstalker's;
and presently came back, pretending he had not been able to find
them, at first, in the dark.
'But here they are at last,' said Trotty, setting out the teathings,
'all correct! I was pretty sure it was tea, and a rasher.
So it is. Meg, my pet, if you'll just make the tea, while your
unworthy father toasts the bacon, we shall be ready, immediate.
It's a curious circumstance,' said Trotty, proceeding in his
cookery, with the assistance of the toasting-fork, 'curious, but
well known to my friends, that I never care, myself, for rashers,
nor for tea. I like to see other people enjoy 'em,' said Trotty,
speaking very loud, to impress the fact upon his guest, 'but to me,
as food, they're disagreeable.'
Yet Trotty sniffed the savour of the hissing bacon - ah! - as if he
liked it; and when he poured the boiling water in the tea-pot,
looked lovingly down into the depths of that snug cauldron, and
suffered the fragrant steam to curl about his nose, and wreathe his
head and face in a thick cloud. However, for all this, he neither
ate nor drank, except at the very beginning, a mere morsel for
form's sake, which he appeared to eat with infinite relish, but
declared was perfectly uninteresting to him.
No. Trotty's occupation was, to see Will Fern and Lilian eat and
drink; and so was Meg's. And never did spectators at a city dinner
or court banquet find such high delight in seeing others feast:
although it were a monarch or a pope: as those two did, in looking
on that night. Meg smiled at Trotty, Trotty laughed at Meg. Meg
shook her head, and made belief to clap her hands, applauding
Trotty; Trotty conveyed, in dumb-show, unintelligible narratives of
how and when and where he had found their visitors, to Meg; and
they were happy. Very happy.
'Although,' thought Trotty, sorrowfully, as he watched Meg's face;
'that match is broken off, I see!'
'Now, I'll tell you what,' said Trotty after tea. 'The little one,
she sleeps with Meg, I know.'
'With good Meg!' cried the child, caressing her. 'With Meg.'
'That's right,' said Trotty. 'And I shouldn't wonder if she kiss
Meg's father, won't she? I'M Meg's father.'
Mightily delighted Trotty was, when the child went timidly towards
him, and having kissed him, fell back upon Meg again.
'She's as sensible as Solomon,' said Trotty. 'Here we come and
here we - no, we don't - I don't mean that - I - what was I saying,
Meg, my precious?'
Meg looked towards their guest, who leaned upon her chair, and with
his face turned from her, fondled the child's head, half hidden in
her lap.
'To be sure,' said Toby. 'To be sure! I don't know what I'm
rambling on about, to-night. My wits are wool-gathering, I think.
Will Fern, you come along with me. You're tired to death, and
broken down for want of rest. You come along with me.' The man
still played with the child's curls, still leaned upon Meg's chair,
still turned away his face. He didn't speak, but in his rough
coarse fingers, clenching and expanding in the fair hair of the
child, there was an eloquence that said enough.
'Yes, yes,' said Trotty, answering unconsciously what he saw
expressed in his daughter's face. 'Take her with you, Meg. Get
her to bed. There! Now, Will, I'll show you where you lie. It's
not much of a place: only a loft; but, having a loft, I always
say, is one of the great conveniences of living in a mews; and till
this coach-house and stable gets a better let, we live here cheap.
There's plenty of sweet hay up there, belonging to a neighbour; and
it's as clean as hands, and Meg, can make it. Cheer up! Don't
give way. A new heart for a New Year, always!'
The hand released from the child's hair, had fallen, trembling,
into Trotty's hand. So Trotty, talking without intermission, led
him out as tenderly and easily as if he had been a child himself.
Returning before Meg, he listened for an instant at the door of her
little chamber; an adjoining room. The child was murmuring a
simple Prayer before lying down to sleep; and when she had
remembered Meg's name, 'Dearly, Dearly' - so her words ran - Trotty
heard her stop and ask for his.
It was some short time before the foolish little old fellow could
compose himself to mend the fire, and draw his chair to the warm
hearth. But, when he had done so, and had trimmed the light, he
took his newspaper from his pocket, and began to read. Carelessly
at first, and skimming up and down the columns; but with an earnest
and a sad attention, very soon.
For this same dreaded paper re-directed Trotty's thoughts into the
channel they had taken all that day, and which the day's events had
so marked out and shaped. His interest in the two wanderers had
set him on another course of thinking, and a happier one, for the
time; but being alone again, and reading of the crimes and
violences of the people, he relapsed into his former train.
In this mood, he came to an account (and it was not the first he
had ever read) of a woman who had laid her desperate hands not only
on her own life but on that of her young child. A crime so
terrible, and so revolting to his soul, dilated with the love of
Meg, that he let the journal drop, and fell back in his chair,
'Unnatural and cruel!' Toby cried. 'Unnatural and cruel! None but
people who were bad at heart, born bad, who had no business on the
earth, could do such deeds. It's too true, all I've heard to-day;
too just, too full of proof. We're Bad!'
The Chimes took up the words so suddenly - burst out so loud, and
clear, and sonorous - that the Bells seemed to strike him in his
And what was that, they said?
'Toby Veck, Toby Veck, waiting for you Toby! Toby Veck, Toby Veck,
waiting for you Toby! Come and see us, come and see us, Drag him
to us, drag him to us, Haunt and hunt him, haunt and hunt him,
Break his slumbers, break his slumbers! Toby Veck Toby Veck, door
open wide Toby, Toby Veck Toby Veck, door open wide Toby - ' then
fiercely back to their impetuous strain again, and ringing in the
very bricks and plaster on the walls.
Toby listened. Fancy, fancy! His remorse for having run away from
them that afternoon! No, no. Nothing of the kind. Again, again,
and yet a dozen times again. 'Haunt and hunt him, haunt and hunt
him, Drag him to us, drag him to us!' Deafening the whole town!
'Meg,' said Trotty softly: tapping at her door. 'Do you hear
'I hear the Bells, father. Surely they're very loud to-night.'
'Is she asleep?' said Toby, making an excuse for peeping in.
'So peacefully and happily! I can't leave her yet though, father.
Look how she holds my hand!'
'Meg,' whispered Trotty. 'Listen to the Bells!'
She listened, with her face towards him all the time. But it
underwent no change. She didn't understand them.
Trotty withdrew, resumed his seat by the fire, and once more
listened by himself. He remained here a little time.
It was impossible to bear it; their energy was dreadful.
'If the tower-door is really open,' said Toby, hastily laying aside
his apron, but never thinking of his hat, 'what's to hinder me from
going up into the steeple and satisfying myself? If it's shut, I
don't want any other satisfaction. That's enough.'
He was pretty certain as he slipped out quietly into the street
that he should find it shut and locked, for he knew the door well,
and had so rarely seen it open, that he couldn't reckon above three
times in all. It was a low arched portal, outside the church, in a
dark nook behind a column; and had such great iron hinges, and such
a monstrous lock, that there was more hinge and lock than door.
But what was his astonishment when, coming bare-headed to the
church; and putting his hand into this dark nook, with a certain
misgiving that it might be unexpectedly seized, and a shivering
propensity to draw it back again; he found that the door, which
opened outwards, actually stood ajar!
He thought, on the first surprise, of going back; or of getting a
light, or a companion, but his courage aided him immediately, and
he determined to ascend alone.
'What have I to fear?' said Trotty. 'It's a church! Besides, the
ringers may be there, and have forgotten to shut the door.' So he
went in, feeling his way as he went, like a blind man; for it was
very dark. And very quiet, for the Chimes were silent.
The dust from the street had blown into the recess; and lying
there, heaped up, made it so soft and velvet-like to the foot, that
there was something startling, even in that. The narrow stair was
so close to the door, too, that he stumbled at the very first; and
shutting the door upon himself, by striking it with his foot, and
causing it to rebound back heavily, he couldn't open it again.
This was another reason, however, for going on. Trotty groped his
way, and went on. Up, up, up, and round, and round; and up, up,
up; higher, higher, higher up!
It was a disagreeable staircase for that groping work; so low and
narrow, that his groping hand was always touching something; and it
often felt so like a man or ghostly figure standing up erect and
making room for him to pass without discovery, that he would rub
the smooth wall upward searching for its face, and downward
searching for its feet, while a chill tingling crept all over him.
Twice or thrice, a door or niche broke the monotonous surface; and
then it seemed a gap as wide as the whole church; and he felt on
the brink of an abyss, and going to tumble headlong down, until he
found the wall again.
Still up, up, up; and round and round; and up, up, up; higher,
higher, higher up!
At length, the dull and stifling atmosphere began to freshen:
presently to feel quite windy: presently it blew so strong, that
he could hardly keep his legs. But, he got to an arched window in
the tower, breast high, and holding tight, looked down upon the
house-tops, on the smoking chimneys, on the blur and blotch of
lights (towards the place where Meg was wondering where he was and
calling to him perhaps), all kneaded up together in a leaven of
mist and darkness.
This was the belfry, where the ringers came. He had caught hold of
one of the frayed ropes which hung down through apertures in the
oaken roof. At first he started, thinking it was hair; then
trembled at the very thought of waking the deep Bell. The Bells
themselves were higher. Higher, Trotty, in his fascination, or in
working out the spell upon him, groped his way. By ladders now,
and toilsomely, for it was steep, and not too certain holding for
the feet.
Up, up, up; and climb and clamber; up, up, up; higher, higher,
higher up!
Until, ascending through the floor, and pausing with his head just
raised above its beams, he came among the Bells. It was barely
possible to make out their great shapes in the gloom; but there
they were. Shadowy, and dark, and dumb.
A heavy sense of dread and loneliness fell instantly upon him, as
he climbed into this airy nest of stone and metal. His head went
round and round. He listened, and then raised a wild 'Holloa!'
Holloa! was mournfully protracted by the echoes.
Giddy, confused, and out of breath, and frightened, Toby looked
about him vacantly, and sunk down in a swoon.
CHAPTER III - Third Quarter.
BLACK are the brooding clouds and troubled the deep waters, when
the Sea of Thought, first heaving from a calm, gives up its Dead.
Monsters uncouth and wild, arise in premature, imperfect
resurrection; the several parts and shapes of different things are
joined and mixed by chance; and when, and how, and by what
wonderful degrees, each separates from each, and every sense and
object of the mind resumes its usual form and lives again, no man -
though every man is every day the casket of this type of the Great
Mystery - can tell.
So, when and how the darkness of the night-black steeple changed to
shining light; when and how the solitary tower was peopled with a
myriad figures; when and how the whispered 'Haunt and hunt him,'
breathing monotonously through his sleep or swoon, became a voice
exclaiming in the waking ears of Trotty, 'Break his slumbers;' when
and how he ceased to have a sluggish and confused idea that such
things were, companioning a host of others that were not; there are
no dates or means to tell. But, awake and standing on his feet
upon the boards where he had lately lain, he saw this Goblin Sight.
He saw the tower, whither his charmed footsteps had brought him,
swarming with dwarf phantoms, spirits, elfin creatures of the
Bells. He saw them leaping, flying, dropping, pouring from the
Bells without a pause. He saw them, round him on the ground; above
him, in the air; clambering from him, by the ropes below; looking
down upon him, from the massive iron-girded beams; peeping in upon
him, through the chinks and loopholes in the walls; spreading away
and away from him in enlarging circles, as the water ripples give
way to a huge stone that suddenly comes plashing in among them. He
saw them, of all aspects and all shapes. He saw them ugly,
handsome, crippled, exquisitely formed. He saw them young, he saw
them old, he saw them kind, he saw them cruel, he saw them merry,
he saw them grim; he saw them dance, and heard them sing; he saw
them tear their hair, and heard them howl. He saw the air thick
with them. He saw them come and go, incessantly. He saw them
riding downward, soaring upward, sailing off afar, perching near at
hand, all restless and all violently active. Stone, and brick, and
slate, and tile, became transparent to him as to them. He saw them
IN the houses, busy at the sleepers' beds. He saw them soothing
people in their dreams; he saw them beating them with knotted
whips; he saw them yelling in their ears; he saw them playing
softest music on their pillows; he saw them cheering some with the
songs of birds and the perfume of flowers; he saw them flashing
awful faces on the troubled rest of others, from enchanted mirrors
which they carried in their hands.
He saw these creatures, not only among sleeping men but waking
also, active in pursuits irreconcilable with one another, and
possessing or assuming natures the most opposite. He saw one
buckling on innumerable wings to increase his speed; another
loading himself with chains and weights, to retard his. He saw
some putting the hands of clocks forward, some putting the hands of
clocks backward, some endeavouring to stop the clock entirely. He
saw them representing, here a marriage ceremony, there a funeral;
in this chamber an election, in that a ball he saw, everywhere,
restless and untiring motion.
Bewildered by the host of shifting and extraordinary figures, as
well as by the uproar of the Bells, which all this while were
ringing, Trotty clung to a wooden pillar for support, and turned
his white face here and there, in mute and stunned astonishment.
As he gazed, the Chimes stopped. Instantaneous change! The whole
swarm fainted! their forms collapsed, their speed deserted them;
they sought to fly, but in the act of falling died and melted into
air. No fresh supply succeeded them. One straggler leaped down
pretty briskly from the surface of the Great Bell, and alighted on
his feet, but he was dead and gone before he could turn round.
Some few of the late company who had gambolled in the tower,
remained there, spinning over and over a little longer; but these
became at every turn more faint, and few, and feeble, and soon went
the way of the rest. The last of all was one small hunchback, who
had got into an echoing corner, where he twirled and twirled, and
floated by himself a long time; showing such perseverance, that at
last he dwindled to a leg and even to a foot, before he finally
retired; but he vanished in the end, and then the tower was silent.
Then and not before, did Trotty see in every Bell a bearded figure
of the bulk and stature of the Bell - incomprehensibly, a figure
and the Bell itself. Gigantic, grave, and darkly watchful of him,
as he stood rooted to the ground.
Mysterious and awful figures! Resting on nothing; poised in the
night air of the tower, with their draped and hooded heads merged
in the dim roof; motionless and shadowy. Shadowy and dark,
although he saw them by some light belonging to themselves - none
else was there - each with its muffled hand upon its goblin mouth.
He could not plunge down wildly through the opening in the floor;
for all power of motion had deserted him. Otherwise he would have
done so - aye, would have thrown himself, headforemost, from the
steeple-top, rather than have seen them watching him with eyes that
would have waked and watched although the pupils had been taken
Again, again, the dread and terror of the lonely place, and of the
wild and fearful night that reigned there, touched him like a
spectral hand. His distance from all help; the long, dark,
winding, ghost-beleaguered way that lay between him and the earth
on which men lived; his being high, high, high, up there, where it
had made him dizzy to see the birds fly in the day; cut off from
all good people, who at such an hour were safe at home and sleeping
in their beds; all this struck coldly through him, not as a
reflection but a bodily sensation. Meantime his eyes and thoughts
and fears, were fixed upon the watchful figures; which, rendered
unlike any figures of this world by the deep gloom and shade
enwrapping and enfolding them, as well as by their looks and forms
and supernatural hovering above the floor, were nevertheless as
plainly to be seen as were the stalwart oaken frames, cross-pieces,
bars and beams, set up there to support the Bells. These hemmed
them, in a very forest of hewn timber; from the entanglements,
intricacies, and depths of which, as from among the boughs of a
dead wood blighted for their phantom use, they kept their darksome
and unwinking watch.
A blast of air - how cold and shrill! - came moaning through the
tower. As it died away, the Great Bell, or the Goblin of the Great
Bell, spoke.
'What visitor is this!' it said. The voice was low and deep, and
Trotty fancied that it sounded in the other figures as well.
'I thought my name was called by the Chimes!' said Trotty, raising
his hands in an attitude of supplication. 'I hardly know why I am
here, or how I came. I have listened to the Chimes these many
years. They have cheered me often.'
'And you have thanked them?' said the Bell.
'A thousand times!' cried Trotty.
'I am a poor man,' faltered Trotty, 'and could only thank them in
'And always so?' inquired the Goblin of the Bell. 'Have you never
done us wrong in words?'
'No!' cried Trotty eagerly.
'Never done us foul, and false, and wicked wrong, in words?'
pursued the Goblin of the Bell.
Trotty was about to answer, 'Never!' But he stopped, and was
'The voice of Time,' said the Phantom, 'cries to man, Advance!
Time is for his advancement and improvement; for his greater worth,
his greater happiness, his better life; his progress onward to that
goal within its knowledge and its view, and set there, in the
period when Time and He began. Ages of darkness, wickedness, and
violence, have come and gone - millions uncountable, have suffered,
lived, and died - to point the way before him. Who seeks to turn
him back, or stay him on his course, arrests a mighty engine which
will strike the meddler dead; and be the fiercer and the wilder,
ever, for its momentary check!'
'I never did so to my knowledge, sir,' said Trotty. 'It was quite
by accident if I did. I wouldn't go to do it, I'm sure.'
'Who puts into the mouth of Time, or of its servants,' said the
Goblin of the Bell, 'a cry of lamentation for days which have had
their trial and their failure, and have left deep traces of it
which the blind may see - a cry that only serves the present time,
by showing men how much it needs their help when any ears can
listen to regrets for such a past - who does this, does a wrong.
And you have done that wrong, to us, the Chimes.'
Trotty's first excess of fear was gone. But he had felt tenderly
and gratefully towards the Bells, as you have seen; and when he
heard himself arraigned as one who had offended them so weightily,
his heart was touched with penitence and grief.
'If you knew,' said Trotty, clasping his hands earnestly - 'or
perhaps you do know - if you know how often you have kept me
company; how often you have cheered me up when I've been low; how
you were quite the plaything of my little daughter Meg (almost the
only one she ever had) when first her mother died, and she and me
were left alone; you won't bear malice for a hasty word!'
'Who hears in us, the Chimes, one note bespeaking disregard, or
stern regard, of any hope, or joy, or pain, or sorrow, of the manysorrowed
throng; who hears us make response to any creed that
gauges human passions and affections, as it gauges the amount of
miserable food on which humanity may pine and wither; does us
wrong. That wrong you have done us!' said the Bell.
'I have!' said Trotty. 'Oh forgive me!'
'Who hears us echo the dull vermin of the earth: the Putters Down
of crushed and broken natures, formed to be raised up higher than
such maggots of the time can crawl or can conceive,' pursued the
Goblin of the Bell; 'who does so, does us wrong. And you have done
us wrong!'
'Not meaning it,' said Trotty. 'In my ignorance. Not meaning it!'
'Lastly, and most of all,' pursued the Bell. 'Who turns his back
upon the fallen and disfigured of his kind; abandons them as vile;
and does not trace and track with pitying eyes the unfenced
precipice by which they fell from good - grasping in their fall
some tufts and shreds of that lost soil, and clinging to them still
when bruised and dying in the gulf below; does wrong to Heaven and
man, to time and to eternity. And you have done that wrong!'
'Spare me!' cried Trotty, falling on his knees; 'for Mercy's sake!'
'Listen!' said the Shadow.
'Listen!' cried the other Shadows.
'Listen!' said a clear and childlike voice, which Trotty thought he
recognised as having heard before.
The organ sounded faintly in the church below. Swelling by
degrees, the melody ascended to the roof, and filled the choir and
nave. Expanding more and more, it rose up, up; up, up; higher,
higher, higher up; awakening agitated hearts within the burly piles
of oak: the hollow bells, the iron-bound doors, the stairs of
solid stone; until the tower walls were insufficient to contain it,
and it soared into the sky.
No wonder that an old man's breast could not contain a sound so
vast and mighty. It broke from that weak prison in a rush of
tears; and Trotty put his hands before his face.
'Listen!' said the Shadow.
'Listen!' said the other Shadows.
'Listen!' said the child's voice.
A solemn strain of blended voices, rose into the tower.
It was a very low and mournful strain - a Dirge - and as he
listened, Trotty heard his child among the singers.
'She is dead!' exclaimed the old man. 'Meg is dead! Her Spirit
calls to me. I hear it!'
'The Spirit of your child bewails the dead, and mingles with the
dead - dead hopes, dead fancies, dead imaginings of youth,'
returned the Bell, 'but she is living. Learn from her life, a
living truth. Learn from the creature dearest to your heart, how
bad the bad are born. See every bud and leaf plucked one by one
from off the fairest stem, and know how bare and wretched it may
be. Follow her! To desperation!'
Each of the shadowy figures stretched its right arm forth, and
pointed downward.
'The Spirit of the Chimes is your companion,' said the figure.
'Go! It stands behind you!'
Trotty turned, and saw - the child! The child Will Fern had
carried in the street; the child whom Meg had watched, but now,
'I carried her myself, to-night,' said Trotty. 'In these arms!'
'Show him what he calls himself,' said the dark figures, one and
The tower opened at his feet. He looked down, and beheld his own
form, lying at the bottom, on the outside: crushed and motionless.
'No more a living man!' cried Trotty. 'Dead!'
'Dead!' said the figures all together.
'Gracious Heaven! And the New Year - '
'Past,' said the figures.
'What!' he cried, shuddering. 'I missed my way, and coming on the
outside of this tower in the dark, fell down - a year ago?'
'Nine years ago!' replied the figures.
As they gave the answer, they recalled their outstretched hands;
and where their figures had been, there the Bells were.
And they rung; their time being come again. And once again, vast
multitudes of phantoms sprung into existence; once again, were
incoherently engaged, as they had been before; once again, faded on
the stopping of the Chimes; and dwindled into nothing.
'What are these?' he asked his guide. 'If I am not mad, what are
'Spirits of the Bells. Their sound upon the air,' returned the
child. 'They take such shapes and occupations as the hopes and
thoughts of mortals, and the recollections they have stored up,
give them.'
'And you,' said Trotty wildly. 'What are you?'
'Hush, hush!' returned the child. 'Look here!'
In a poor, mean room; working at the same kind of embroidery which
he had often, often seen before her; Meg, his own dear daughter,
was presented to his view. He made no effort to imprint his kisses
on her face; he did not strive to clasp her to his loving heart; he
knew that such endearments were, for him, no more. But, he held
his trembling breath, and brushed away the blinding tears, that he
might look upon her; that he might only see her.
Ah! Changed. Changed. The light of the clear eye, how dimmed.
The bloom, how faded from the cheek. Beautiful she was, as she had
ever been, but Hope, Hope, Hope, oh where was the fresh Hope that
had spoken to him like a voice!
She looked up from her work, at a companion. Following her eyes,
the old man started back.
In the woman grown, he recognised her at a glance. In the long
silken hair, he saw the self-same curls; around the lips, the
child's expression lingering still. See! In the eyes, now turned
inquiringly on Meg, there shone the very look that scanned those
features when he brought her home!
Then what was this, beside him!
Looking with awe into its face, he saw a something reigning there:
a lofty something, undefined and indistinct, which made it hardly
more than a remembrance of that child - as yonder figure might be -
yet it was the same: the same: and wore the dress.
Hark. They were speaking!
'Meg,' said Lilian, hesitating. 'How often you raise your head
from your work to look at me!'
'Are my looks so altered, that they frighten you?' asked Meg.
'Nay, dear! But you smile at that, yourself! Why not smile, when
you look at me, Meg?'
'I do so. Do I not?' she answered: smiling on her.
'Now you do,' said Lilian, 'but not usually. When you think I'm
busy, and don't see you, you look so anxious and so doubtful, that
I hardly like to raise my eyes. There is little cause for smiling
in this hard and toilsome life, but you were once so cheerful.'
'Am I not now!' cried Meg, speaking in a tone of strange alarm, and
rising to embrace her. 'Do I make our weary life more weary to
you, Lilian!'
'You have been the only thing that made it life,' said Lilian,
fervently kissing her; 'sometimes the only thing that made me care
to live so, Meg. Such work, such work! So many hours, so many
days, so many long, long nights of hopeless, cheerless, neverending
work - not to heap up riches, not to live grandly or gaily,
not to live upon enough, however coarse; but to earn bare bread; to
scrape together just enough to toil upon, and want upon, and keep
alive in us the consciousness of our hard fate! Oh Meg, Meg!' she
raised her voice and twined her arms about her as she spoke, like
one in pain. 'How can the cruel world go round, and bear to look
upon such lives!'
'Lilly!' said Meg, soothing her, and putting back her hair from her
wet face. 'Why, Lilly! You! So pretty and so young!'
'Oh Meg!' she interrupted, holding her at arm's-length, and looking
in her face imploringly. 'The worst of all, the worst of all!
Strike me old, Meg! Wither me, and shrivel me, and free me from
the dreadful thoughts that tempt me in my youth!'
Trotty turned to look upon his guide. But the Spirit of the child
had taken flight. Was gone.
Neither did he himself remain in the same place; for, Sir Joseph
Bowley, Friend and Father of the Poor, held a great festivity at
Bowley Hall, in honour of the natal day of Lady Bowley. And as
Lady Bowley had been born on New Year's Day (which the local
newspapers considered an especial pointing of the finger of
Providence to number One, as Lady Bowley's destined figure in
Creation), it was on a New Year's Day that this festivity took
Bowley Hall was full of visitors. The red-faced gentleman was
there, Mr. Filer was there, the great Alderman Cute was there -
Alderman Cute had a sympathetic feeling with great people, and had
considerably improved his acquaintance with Sir Joseph Bowley on
the strength of his attentive letter: indeed had become quite a
friend of the family since then - and many guests were there.
Trotty's ghost was there, wandering about, poor phantom, drearily;
and looking for its guide.
There was to be a great dinner in the Great Hall. At which Sir
Joseph Bowley, in his celebrated character of Friend and Father of
the Poor, was to make his great speech. Certain plum-puddings were
to be eaten by his Friends and Children in another Hall first; and,
at a given signal, Friends and Children flocking in among their
Friends and Fathers, were to form a family assemblage, with not one
manly eye therein unmoistened by emotion.
But, there was more than this to happen. Even more than this. Sir
Joseph Bowley, Baronet and Member of Parliament, was to play a
match at skittles - real skittles - with his tenants!
'Which quite reminds me,' said Alderman Cute, 'of the days of old
King Hal, stout King Hal, bluff King Hal. Ah! Fine character!'
'Very,' said Mr. Filer, dryly. 'For marrying women and murdering
'em. Considerably more than the average number of wives by the
'You'll marry the beautiful ladies, and not murder 'em, eh?' said
Alderman Cute to the heir of Bowley, aged twelve. 'Sweet boy! We
shall have this little gentleman in Parliament now,' said the
Alderman, holding him by the shoulders, and looking as reflective
as he could, 'before we know where we are. We shall hear of his
successes at the poll; his speeches in the House; his overtures
from Governments; his brilliant achievements of all kinds; ah! we
shall make our little orations about him in the Common Council,
I'll be bound; before we have time to look about us!'
'Oh, the difference of shoes and stockings!' Trotty thought. But
his heart yearned towards the child, for the love of those same
shoeless and stockingless boys, predestined (by the Alderman) to
turn out bad, who might have been the children of poor Meg.
'Richard,' moaned Trotty, roaming among the company, to and fro;
'where is he? I can't find Richard! Where is Richard?' Not
likely to be there, if still alive! But Trotty's grief and
solitude confused him; and he still went wandering among the
gallant company, looking for his guide, and saying, 'Where is
Richard? Show me Richard!'
He was wandering thus, when he encountered Mr. Fish, the
confidential Secretary: in great agitation.
'Bless my heart and soul!' cried Mr. Fish. 'Where's Alderman Cute?
Has anybody seen the Alderman?'
Seen the Alderman? Oh dear! Who could ever help seeing the
Alderman? He was so considerate, so affable, he bore so much in
mind the natural desires of folks to see him, that if he had a
fault, it was the being constantly On View. And wherever the great
people were, there, to be sure, attracted by the kindred sympathy
between great souls, was Cute.
Several voices cried that he was in the circle round Sir Joseph.
Mr. Fish made way there; found him; and took him secretly into a
window near at hand. Trotty joined them. Not of his own accord.
He felt that his steps were led in that direction.
'My dear Alderman Cute,' said Mr. Fish. 'A little more this way.
The most dreadful circumstance has occurred. I have this moment
received the intelligence. I think it will be best not to acquaint
Sir Joseph with it till the day is over. You understand Sir
Joseph, and will give me your opinion. The most frightful and
deplorable event!'
'Fish!' returned the Alderman. 'Fish! My good fellow, what is the
matter? Nothing revolutionary, I hope! No - no attempted
interference with the magistrates?'
'Deedles, the banker,' gasped the Secretary. 'Deedles Brothers -
who was to have been here to-day - high in office in the
Goldsmiths' Company - '
'Not stopped!' exclaimed the Alderman, 'It can't be!'
'Shot himself.'
'Good God!'
'Put a double-barrelled pistol to his mouth, in his own counting
house,' said Mr. Fish, 'and blew his brains out. No motive.
Princely circumstances!'
'Circumstances!' exclaimed the Alderman. 'A man of noble fortune.
One of the most respectable of men. Suicide, Mr. Fish! By his own
'This very morning,' returned Mr. Fish.
'Oh the brain, the brain!' exclaimed the pious Alderman, lifting up
his hands. 'Oh the nerves, the nerves; the mysteries of this
machine called Man! Oh the little that unhinges it: poor
creatures that we are! Perhaps a dinner, Mr. Fish. Perhaps the
conduct of his son, who, I have heard, ran very wild, and was in
the habit of drawing bills upon him without the least authority! A
most respectable man. One of the most respectable men I ever knew!
A lamentable instance, Mr. Fish. A public calamity! I shall make
a point of wearing the deepest mourning. A most respectable man!
But there is One above. We must submit, Mr. Fish. We must
What, Alderman! No word of Putting Down? Remember, Justice, your
high moral boast and pride. Come, Alderman! Balance those scales.
Throw me into this, the empty one, no dinner, and Nature's founts
in some poor woman, dried by starving misery and rendered obdurate
to claims for which her offspring HAS authority in holy mother Eve.
Weigh me the two, you Daniel, going to judgment, when your day
shall come! Weigh them, in the eyes of suffering thousands,
audience (not unmindful) of the grim farce you play. Or supposing
that you strayed from your five wits - it's not so far to go, but
that it might be - and laid hands upon that throat of yours,
warning your fellows (if you have a fellow) how they croak their
comfortable wickedness to raving heads and stricken hearts. What
The words rose up in Trotty's breast, as if they had been spoken by
some other voice within him. Alderman Cute pledged himself to Mr.
Fish that he would assist him in breaking the melancholy
catastrophe to Sir Joseph when the day was over. Then, before they
parted, wringing Mr. Fish's hand in bitterness of soul, he said,
'The most respectable of men!' And added that he hardly knew (not
even he), why such afflictions were allowed on earth.
'It's almost enough to make one think, if one didn't know better,'
said Alderman Cute, 'that at times some motion of a capsizing
nature was going on in things, which affected the general economy
of the social fabric. Deedles Brothers!'
The skittle-playing came off with immense success. Sir Joseph
knocked the pins about quite skilfully; Master Bowley took an
innings at a shorter distance also; and everybody said that now,
when a Baronet and the Son of a Baronet played at skittles, the
country was coming round again, as fast as it could come.
At its proper time, the Banquet was served up. Trotty
involuntarily repaired to the Hall with the rest, for he felt
himself conducted thither by some stronger impulse than his own
free will. The sight was gay in the extreme; the ladies were very
handsome; the visitors delighted, cheerful, and good-tempered.
When the lower doors were opened, and the people flocked in, in
their rustic dresses, the beauty of the spectacle was at its
height; but Trotty only murmured more and more, 'Where is Richard!
He should help and comfort her! I can't see Richard!'
There had been some speeches made; and Lady Bowley's health had
been proposed; and Sir Joseph Bowley had returned thanks, and had
made his great speech, showing by various pieces of evidence that
he was the born Friend and Father, and so forth; and had given as a
Toast, his Friends and Children, and the Dignity of Labour; when a
slight disturbance at the bottom of the Hall attracted Toby's
notice. After some confusion, noise, and opposition, one man broke
through the rest, and stood forward by himself.
Not Richard. No. But one whom he had thought of, and had looked
for, many times. In a scantier supply of light, he might have
doubted the identity of that worn man, so old, and grey, and bent;
but with a blaze of lamps upon his gnarled and knotted head, he
knew Will Fern as soon as he stepped forth.
'What is this!' exclaimed Sir Joseph, rising. 'Who gave this man
admittance? This is a criminal from prison! Mr. Fish, sir, WILL
you have the goodness - '
'A minute!' said Will Fern. 'A minute! My Lady, you was born on
this day along with a New Year. Get me a minute's leave to speak.'
She made some intercession for him. Sir Joseph took his seat
again, with native dignity.
The ragged visitor - for he was miserably dressed - looked round
upon the company, and made his homage to them with a humble bow.
'Gentlefolks!' he said. 'You've drunk the Labourer. Look at me!'
'Just come from jail,' said Mr. Fish.
'Just come from jail,' said Will. 'And neither for the first time,
nor the second, nor the third, nor yet the fourth.'
Mr. Filer was heard to remark testily, that four times was over the
average; and he ought to be ashamed of himself.
'Gentlefolks!' repeated Will Fern. 'Look at me! You see I'm at
the worst. Beyond all hurt or harm; beyond your help; for the time
when your kind words or kind actions could have done me good,' - he
struck his hand upon his breast, and shook his head, 'is gone, with
the scent of last year's beans or clover on the air. Let me say a
word for these,' pointing to the labouring people in the Hall; 'and
when you're met together, hear the real Truth spoke out for once.'
'There's not a man here,' said the host, 'who would have him for a
'Like enough, Sir Joseph. I believe it. Not the less true,
perhaps, is what I say. Perhaps that's a proof on it.
Gentlefolks, I've lived many a year in this place. You may see the
cottage from the sunk fence over yonder. I've seen the ladies draw
it in their books, a hundred times. It looks well in a picter,
I've heerd say; but there an't weather in picters, and maybe 'tis
fitter for that, than for a place to live in. Well! I lived
there. How hard - how bitter hard, I lived there, I won't say.
Any day in the year, and every day, you can judge for your own
He spoke as he had spoken on the night when Trotty found him in the
street. His voice was deeper and more husky, and had a trembling
in it now and then; but he never raised it passionately, and seldom
lifted it above the firm stern level of the homely facts he stated.
''Tis harder than you think for, gentlefolks, to grow up decent,
commonly decent, in such a place. That I growed up a man and not a
brute, says something for me - as I was then. As I am now, there's
nothing can be said for me or done for me. I'm past it.'
'I am glad this man has entered,' observed Sir Joseph, looking
round serenely. 'Don't disturb him. It appears to be Ordained.
He is an example: a living example. I hope and trust, and
confidently expect, that it will not be lost upon my Friends here.'
'I dragged on,' said Fern, after a moment's silence, 'somehow.
Neither me nor any other man knows how; but so heavy, that I
couldn't put a cheerful face upon it, or make believe that I was
anything but what I was. Now, gentlemen - you gentlemen that sits
at Sessions - when you see a man with discontent writ on his face,
you says to one another, "He's suspicious. I has my doubts," says
you, "about Will Fern. Watch that fellow!" I don't say,
gentlemen, it ain't quite nat'ral, but I say 'tis so; and from that
hour, whatever Will Fern does, or lets alone - all one - it goes
against him.'
Alderman Cute stuck his thumbs in his waistcoat-pockets, and
leaning back in his chair, and smiling, winked at a neighbouring
chandelier. As much as to say, 'Of course! I told you so. The
common cry! Lord bless you, we are up to all this sort of thing -
myself and human nature.'
'Now, gentlemen,' said Will Fern, holding out his hands, and
flushing for an instant in his haggard face, 'see how your laws are
made to trap and hunt us when we're brought to this. I tries to
live elsewhere. And I'm a vagabond. To jail with him! I comes
back here. I goes a-nutting in your woods, and breaks - who don't?
- a limber branch or two. To jail with him! One of your keepers
sees me in the broad day, near my own patch of garden, with a gun.
To jail with him! I has a nat'ral angry word with that man, when
I'm free again. To jail with him! I cuts a stick. To jail with
him! I eats a rotten apple or a turnip. To jail with him! It's
twenty mile away; and coming back I begs a trifle on the road. To
jail with him! At last, the constable, the keeper - anybody -
finds me anywhere, a-doing anything. To jail with him, for he's a
vagrant, and a jail-bird known; and jail's the only home he's got.'
The Alderman nodded sagaciously, as who should say, 'A very good
home too!'
'Do I say this to serve MY cause!' cried Fern. 'Who can give me
back my liberty, who can give me back my good name, who can give me
back my innocent niece? Not all the Lords and Ladies in wide
England. But, gentlemen, gentlemen, dealing with other men like
me, begin at the right end. Give us, in mercy, better homes when
we're a-lying in our cradles; give us better food when we're aworking
for our lives; give us kinder laws to bring us back when
were a-going wrong; and don't set jail, jail, jail, afore us,
everywhere we turn. There an't a condescension you can show the
Labourer then, that he won't take, as ready and as grateful as a
man can be; for, he has a patient, peaceful, willing heart. But
you must put his rightful spirit in him first; for, whether he's a
wreck and ruin such as me, or is like one of them that stand here
now, his spirit is divided from you at this time. Bring it back,
gentlefolks, bring it back! Bring it back, afore the day comes
when even his Bible changes in his altered mind, and the words seem
to him to read, as they have sometimes read in my own eyes - in
jail: "Whither thou goest, I can Not go; where thou lodgest, I do
Not lodge; thy people are Not my people; Nor thy God my God!'
A sudden stir and agitation took place in Hall. Trotty thought at
first, that several had risen to eject the man; and hence this
change in its appearance. But, another moment showed him that the
room and all the company had vanished from his sight, and that his
daughter was again before him, seated at her work. But in a
poorer, meaner garret than before; and with no Lilian by her side.
The frame at which she had worked, was put away upon a shelf and
covered up. The chair in which she had sat, was turned against the
wall. A history was written in these little things, and in Meg's
grief-worn face. Oh! who could fail to read it!
Meg strained her eyes upon her work until it was too dark to see
the threads; and when the night closed in, she lighted her feeble
candle and worked on. Still her old father was invisible about
her; looking down upon her; loving her - how dearly loving her! -
and talking to her in a tender voice about the old times, and the
Bells. Though he knew, poor Trotty, though he knew she could not
hear him.
A great part of the evening had worn away, when a knock came at her
door. She opened it. A man was on the threshold. A slouching,
moody, drunken sloven, wasted by intemperance and vice, and with
his matted hair and unshorn beard in wild disorder; but, with some
traces on him, too, of having been a man of good proportion and
good features in his youth.
He stopped until he had her leave to enter; and she, retiring a
pace of two from the open door, silently and sorrowfully looked
upon him. Trotty had his wish. He saw Richard.
'May I come in, Margaret?'
'Yes! Come in. Come in!'
It was well that Trotty knew him before he spoke; for with any
doubt remaining on his mind, the harsh discordant voice would have
persuaded him that it was not Richard but some other man.
There were but two chairs in the room. She gave him hers, and
stood at some short distance from him, waiting to hear what he had
to say.
He sat, however, staring vacantly at the floor; with a lustreless
and stupid smile. A spectacle of such deep degradation, of such
abject hopelessness, of such a miserable downfall, that she put her
hands before her face and turned away, lest he should see how much
it moved her.
Roused by the rustling of her dress, or some such trifling sound,
he lifted his head, and began to speak as if there had been no
pause since he entered.
'Still at work, Margaret? You work late.'
'I generally do.'
'And early?'
'And early.'
'So she said. She said you never tired; or never owned that you
tired. Not all the time you lived together. Not even when you
fainted, between work and fasting. But I told you that, the last
time I came.'
'You did,' she answered. 'And I implored you to tell me nothing
more; and you made me a solemn promise, Richard, that you never
'A solemn promise,' he repeated, with a drivelling laugh and vacant
stare. 'A solemn promise. To he sure. A solemn promise!'
Awakening, as it were, after a time; in the same manner as before;
he said with sudden animation:
'How can I help it, Margaret? What am I to do? She has been to me
'Again!' cried Meg, clasping her hands. 'O, does she think of me
so often! Has she been again!'
'Twenty times again,' said Richard. 'Margaret, she haunts me. She
comes behind me in the street, and thrusts it in my hand. I hear
her foot upon the ashes when I'm at my work (ha, ha! that an't
often), and before I can turn my head, her voice is in my ear,
saying, "Richard, don't look round. For Heaven's love, give her
this!" She brings it where I live: she sends it in letters; she
taps at the window and lays it on the sill. What CAN I do? Look
at it!"
He held out in his hand a little purse, and chinked the money it
'Hide it,' sad Meg. 'Hide it! When she comes again, tell her,
Richard, that I love her in my soul. That I never lie down to
sleep, but I bless her, and pray for her. That, in my solitary
work, I never cease to have her in my thoughts. That she is with
me, night and day. That if I died to-morrow, I would remember her
with my last breath. But, that I cannot look upon it!'
He slowly recalled his hand, and crushing the purse together, said
with a kind of drowsy thoughtfulness:
'I told her so. I told her so, as plain as words could speak.
I've taken this gift back and left it at her door, a dozen times
since then. But when she came at last, and stood before me, face
to face, what could I do?'
'You saw her!' exclaimed Meg. 'You saw her! O, Lilian, my sweet
girl! O, Lilian, Lilian!'
'I saw her,' he went on to say, not answering, but engaged in the
same slow pursuit of his own thoughts. 'There she stood:
trembling! "How does she look, Richard? Does she ever speak of
me? Is she thinner? My old place at the table: what's in my old
place? And the frame she taught me our old work on - has she burnt
it, Richard!" There she was. I heard her say it.'
Meg checked her sobs, and with the tears streaming from her eyes,
bent over him to listen. Not to lose a breath.
With his arms resting on his knees; and stooping forward in his
chair, as if what he said were written on the ground in some half
legible character, which it was his occupation to decipher and
connect; he went on.
'"Richard, I have fallen very low; and you may guess how much I
have suffered in having this sent back, when I can bear to bring it
in my hand to you. But you loved her once, even in my memory,
dearly. Others stepped in between you; fears, and jealousies, and
doubts, and vanities, estranged you from her; but you did love her,
even in my memory!" I suppose I did,' he said, interrupting
himself for a moment. 'I did! That's neither here nor there - "O
Richard, if you ever did; if you have any memory for what is gone
and lost, take it to her once more. Once more! Tell her how I
laid my head upon your shoulder, where her own head might have
lain, and was so humble to you, Richard. Tell her that you looked
into my face, and saw the beauty which she used to praise, all
gone: all gone: and in its place, a poor, wan, hollow cheek, that
she would weep to see. Tell her everything, and take it back, and
she will not refuse again. She will not have the heart!"'
So he sat musing, and repeating the last words, until he woke
again, and rose.
'You won't take it, Margaret?'
She shook her head, and motioned an entreaty to him to leave her.
'Good night, Margaret.'
'Good night!'
He turned to look upon her; struck by her sorrow, and perhaps by
the pity for himself which trembled in her voice. It was a quick
and rapid action; and for the moment some flash of his old bearing
kindled in his form. In the next he went as he had come. Nor did
this glimmer of a quenched fire seem to light him to a quicker
sense of his debasement.
In any mood, in any grief, in any torture of the mind or body,
Meg's work must be done. She sat down to her task, and plied it.
Night, midnight. Still she worked.
She had a meagre fire, the night being very cold; and rose at
intervals to mend it. The Chimes rang half-past twelve while she
was thus engaged; and when they ceased she heard a gentle knocking
at the door. Before she could so much as wonder who was there, at
that unusual hour, it opened.
O Youth and Beauty, happy as ye should be, look at this. O Youth
and Beauty, blest and blessing all within your reach, and working
out the ends of your Beneficent Creator, look at this!
She saw the entering figure; screamed its name; cried 'Lilian!'
It was swift, and fell upon its knees before her: clinging to her
'Up, dear! Up! Lilian! My own dearest!'
'Never more, Meg; never more! Here! Here! Close to you, holding
to you, feeling your dear breath upon my face!'
'Sweet Lilian! Darling Lilian! Child of my heart - no mother's
love can be more tender - lay your head upon my breast!'
'Never more, Meg. Never more! When I first looked into your face,
you knelt before me. On my knees before you, let me die. Let it
be here!'
'You have come back. My Treasure! We will live together, work
together, hope together, die together!'
'Ah! Kiss my lips, Meg; fold your arms about me; press me to your
bosom; look kindly on me; but don't raise me. Let it be here. Let
me see the last of your dear face upon my knees!'
O Youth and Beauty, happy as ye should be, look at this! O Youth
and Beauty, working out the ends of your Beneficent Creator, look
at this!
'Forgive me, Meg! So dear, so dear! Forgive me! I know you do, I
see you do, but say so, Meg!'
She said so, with her lips on Lilian's cheek. And with her arms
twined round - she knew it now - a broken heart.
'His blessing on you, dearest love. Kiss me once more! He
suffered her to sit beside His feet, and dry them with her hair. O
Meg, what Mercy and Compassion!'
As she died, the Spirit of the child returning, innocent and
radiant, touched the old man with its hand, and beckoned him away.
CHAPTER IV - Fourth Quarter.
SOME new remembrance of the ghostly figures in the Bells; some
faint impression of the ringing of the Chimes; some giddy
consciousness of having seen the swarm of phantoms reproduced and
reproduced until the recollection of them lost itself in the
confusion of their numbers; some hurried knowledge, how conveyed to
him he knew not, that more years had passed; and Trotty, with the
Spirit of the child attending him, stood looking on at mortal
Fat company, rosy-cheeked company, comfortable company. They were
but two, but they were red enough for ten. They sat before a
bright fire, with a small low table between them; and unless the
fragrance of hot tea and muffins lingered longer in that room than
in most others, the table had seen service very lately. But all
the cups and saucers being clean, and in their proper places in the
corner-cupboard; and the brass toasting-fork hanging in its usual
nook and spreading its four idle fingers out as if it wanted to be
measured for a glove; there remained no other visible tokens of the
meal just finished, than such as purred and washed their whiskers
in the person of the basking cat, and glistened in the gracious,
not to say the greasy, faces of her patrons.
This cosy couple (married, evidently) had made a fair division of
the fire between them, and sat looking at the glowing sparks that
dropped into the grate; now nodding off into a doze; now waking up
again when some hot fragment, larger than the rest, came rattling
down, as if the fire were coming with it.
It was in no danger of sudden extinction, however; for it gleamed
not only in the little room, and on the panes of window-glass in
the door, and on the curtain half drawn across them, but in the
little shop beyond. A little shop, quite crammed and choked with
the abundance of its stock; a perfectly voracious little shop, with
a maw as accommodating and full as any shark's. Cheese, butter,
firewood, soap, pickles, matches, bacon, table-beer, peg-tops,
sweetmeats, boys' kites, bird-seed, cold ham, birch brooms, hearthstones,
salt, vinegar, blacking, red-herrings, stationery, lard,
mushroom-ketchup, staylaces, loaves of bread, shuttlecocks, eggs,
and slate pencil; everything was fish that came to the net of this
greedy little shop, and all articles were in its net. How many
other kinds of petty merchandise were there, it would be difficult
to say; but balls of packthread, ropes of onions, pounds of
candles, cabbage-nets, and brushes, hung in bunches from the
ceiling, like extraordinary fruit; while various odd canisters
emitting aromatic smells, established the veracity of the
inscription over the outer door, which informed the public that the
keeper of this little shop was a licensed dealer in tea, coffee,
tobacco, pepper, and snuff.
Glancing at such of these articles as were visible in the shining
of the blaze, and the less cheerful radiance of two smoky lamps
which burnt but dimly in the shop itself, as though its plethora
sat heavy on their lungs; and glancing, then, at one of the two
faces by the parlour-fire; Trotty had small difficulty in
recognising in the stout old lady, Mrs. Chickenstalker: always
inclined to corpulency, even in the days when he had known her as
established in the general line, and having a small balance against
him in her books.
The features of her companion were less easy to him. The great
broad chin, with creases in it large enough to hide a finger in;
the astonished eyes, that seemed to expostulate with themselves for
sinking deeper and deeper into the yielding fat of the soft face;
the nose afflicted with that disordered action of its functions
which is generally termed The Snuffles; the short thick throat and
labouring chest, with other beauties of the like description;
though calculated to impress the memory, Trotty could at first
allot to nobody he had ever known: and yet he had some
recollection of them too. At length, in Mrs. Chickenstalker's
partner in the general line, and in the crooked and eccentric line
of life, he recognised the former porter of Sir Joseph Bowley; an
apoplectic innocent, who had connected himself in Trotty's mind
with Mrs. Chickenstalker years ago, by giving him admission to the
mansion where he had confessed his obligations to that lady, and
drawn on his unlucky head such grave reproach.
Trotty had little interest in a change like this, after the changes
he had seen; but association is very strong sometimes; and he
looked involuntarily behind the parlour-door, where the accounts of
credit customers were usually kept in chalk. There was no record
of his name. Some names were there, but they were strange to him,
and infinitely fewer than of old; from which he argued that the
porter was an advocate of ready-money transactions, and on coming
into the business had looked pretty sharp after the Chickenstalker
So desolate was Trotty, and so mournful for the youth and promise
of his blighted child, that it was a sorrow to him, even to have no
place in Mrs. Chickenstalker's ledger.
'What sort of a night is it, Anne?' inquired the former porter of
Sir Joseph Bowley, stretching out his legs before the fire, and
rubbing as much of them as his short arms could reach; with an air
that added, 'Here I am if it's bad, and I don't want to go out if
it's good.'
'Blowing and sleeting hard,' returned his wife; 'and threatening
snow. Dark. And very cold.'
'I'm glad to think we had muffins,' said the former porter, in the
tone of one who had set his conscience at rest. 'It's a sort of
night that's meant for muffins. Likewise crumpets. Also Sally
The former porter mentioned each successive kind of eatable, as if
he were musingly summing up his good actions. After which he
rubbed his fat legs as before, and jerking them at the knees to get
the fire upon the yet unroasted parts, laughed as if somebody had
tickled him.
'You're in spirits, Tugby, my dear,' observed his wife.
The firm was Tugby, late Chickenstalker.
'No,' said Tugby. 'No. Not particular. I'm a little elewated.
The muffins came so pat!'
With that he chuckled until he was black in the face; and had so
much ado to become any other colour, that his fat legs took the
strangest excursions into the air. Nor were they reduced to
anything like decorum until Mrs. Tugby had thumped him violently on
the back, and shaken him as if he were a great bottle.
'Good gracious, goodness, lord-a-mercy bless and save the man!'
cried Mrs. Tugby, in great terror. 'What's he doing?'
Mr. Tugby wiped his eyes, and faintly repeated that he found
himself a little elewated.
'Then don't be so again, that's a dear good soul,' said Mrs. Tugby,
'if you don't want to frighten me to death, with your struggling
and fighting!'
Mr. Tugby said he wouldn't; but, his whole existence was a fight,
in which, if any judgment might be founded on the constantlyincreasing
shortness of his breath, and the deepening purple of his
face, he was always getting the worst of it.
'So it's blowing, and sleeting, and threatening snow; and it's
dark, and very cold, is it, my dear?' said Mr. Tugby, looking at
the fire, and reverting to the cream and marrow of his temporary
'Hard weather indeed,' returned his wife, shaking her head.
'Aye, aye! Years,' said Mr. Tugby, 'are like Christians in that
respect. Some of 'em die hard; some of 'em die easy. This one
hasn't many days to run, and is making a fight for it. I like him
all the better. There's a customer, my love!'
Attentive to the rattling door, Mrs. Tugby had already risen.
'Now then!' said that lady, passing out into the little shop.
'What's wanted? Oh! I beg your pardon, sir, I'm sure. I didn't
think it was you.'
She made this apology to a gentleman in black, who, with his
wristbands tucked up, and his hat cocked loungingly on one side,
and his hands in his pockets, sat down astride on the table-beer
barrel, and nodded in return.
'This is a bad business up-stairs, Mrs. Tugby,' said the gentleman.
'The man can't live.'
'Not the back-attic can't!' cried Tugby, coming out into the shop
to join the conference.
'The back-attic, Mr. Tugby,' said the gentleman, 'is coming downstairs
fast, and will be below the basement very soon.'
Looking by turns at Tugby and his wife, he sounded the barrel with
his knuckles for the depth of beer, and having found it, played a
tune upon the empty part.
'The back-attic, Mr. Tugby,' said the gentleman: Tugby having
stood in silent consternation for some time: 'is Going.'
'Then,' said Tugby, turning to his wife, 'he must Go, you know,
before he's Gone.'
'I don't think you can move him,' said the gentleman, shaking his
head. 'I wouldn't take the responsibility of saying it could be
done, myself. You had better leave him where he is. He can't live
'It's the only subject,' said Tugby, bringing the butter-scale down
upon the counter with a crash, by weighing his fist on it, 'that
we've ever had a word upon; she and me; and look what it comes to!
He's going to die here, after all. Going to die upon the premises.
Going to die in our house!'
'And where should he have died, Tugby?' cried his wife.
'In the workhouse,' he returned. 'What are workhouses made for?'
'Not for that,' said Mrs. Tugby, with great energy. 'Not for that!
Neither did I marry you for that. Don't think it, Tugby. I won't
have it. I won't allow it. I'd be separated first, and never see
your face again. When my widow's name stood over that door, as it
did for many years: this house being known as Mrs.
Chickenstalker's far and wide, and never known but to its honest
credit and its good report: when my widow's name stood over that
door, Tugby, I knew him as a handsome, steady, manly, independent
youth; I knew her as the sweetest-looking, sweetest-tempered girl,
eyes ever saw; I knew her father (poor old creetur, he fell down
from the steeple walking in his sleep, and killed himself), for the
simplest, hardest-working, childest-hearted man, that ever drew the
breath of life; and when I turn them out of house and home, may
angels turn me out of Heaven. As they would! And serve me right!'
Her old face, which had been a plump and dimpled one before the
changes which had come to pass, seemed to shine out of her as she
said these words; and when she dried her eyes, and shook her head
and her handkerchief at Tugby, with an expression of firmness which
it was quite clear was not to be easily resisted, Trotty said,
'Bless her! Bless her!'
Then he listened, with a panting heart, for what should follow.
Knowing nothing yet, but that they spoke of Meg.
If Tugby had been a little elevated in the parlour, he more than
balanced that account by being not a little depressed in the shop,
where he now stood staring at his wife, without attempting a reply;
secretly conveying, however - either in a fit of abstraction or as
a precautionary measure - all the money from the till into his own
pockets, as he looked at her.
The gentleman upon the table-beer cask, who appeared to be some
authorised medical attendant upon the poor, was far too well
accustomed, evidently, to little differences of opinion between man
and wife, to interpose any remark in this instance. He sat softly
whistling, and turning little drops of beer out of the tap upon the
ground, until there was a perfect calm: when he raised his head,
and said to Mrs. Tugby, late Chickenstalker:
'There's something interesting about the woman, even now. How did
she come to marry him?'
'Why that,' said Mrs. Tugby, taking a seat near him, 'is not the
least cruel part of her story, sir. You see they kept company, she
and Richard, many years ago. When they were a young and beautiful
couple, everything was settled, and they were to have been married
on a New Year's Day. But, somehow, Richard got it into his head,
through what the gentlemen told him, that he might do better, and
that he'd soon repent it, and that she wasn't good enough for him,
and that a young man of spirit had no business to be married. And
the gentlemen frightened her, and made her melancholy, and timid of
his deserting her, and of her children coming to the gallows, and
of its being wicked to be man and wife, and a good deal more of it.
And in short, they lingered and lingered, and their trust in one
another was broken, and so at last was the match. But the fault
was his. She would have married him, sir, joyfully. I've seen her
heart swell many times afterwards, when he passed her in a proud
and careless way; and never did a woman grieve more truly for a
man, than she for Richard when he first went wrong.'
'Oh! he went wrong, did he?' said the gentleman, pulling out the
vent-peg of the table-beer, and trying to peep down into the barrel
through the hole.
'Well, sir, I don't know that he rightly understood himself, you
see. I think his mind was troubled by their having broke with one
another; and that but for being ashamed before the gentlemen, and
perhaps for being uncertain too, how she might take it, he'd have
gone through any suffering or trial to have had Meg's promise and
Meg's hand again. That's my belief. He never said so; more's the
pity! He took to drinking, idling, bad companions: all the fine
resources that were to be so much better for him than the Home he
might have had. He lost his looks, his character, his health, his
strength, his friends, his work: everything!'
'He didn't lose everything, Mrs. Tugby,' returned the gentleman,
'because he gained a wife; and I want to know how he gained her.'
'I'm coming to it, sir, in a moment. This went on for years and
years; he sinking lower and lower; she enduring, poor thing,
miseries enough to wear her life away. At last, he was so cast
down, and cast out, that no one would employ or notice him; and
doors were shut upon him, go where he would. Applying from place
to place, and door to door; and coming for the hundredth time to
one gentleman who had often and often tried him (he was a good
workman to the very end); that gentleman, who knew his history,
said, "I believe you are incorrigible; there is only one person in
the world who has a chance of reclaiming you; ask me to trust you
no more, until she tries to do it." Something like that, in his
anger and vexation.'
'Ah!' said the gentleman. 'Well?'
'Well, sir, he went to her, and kneeled to her; said it was so;
said it ever had been so; and made a prayer to her to save him.'
'And she? - Don't distress yourself, Mrs. Tugby.'
'She came to me that night to ask me about living here. "What he
was once to me," she said, "is buried in a grave, side by side with
what I was to him. But I have thought of this; and I will make the
trial. In the hope of saving him; for the love of the lighthearted
girl (you remember her) who was to have been married on a
New Year's Day; and for the love of her Richard." And she said he
had come to her from Lilian, and Lilian had trusted to him, and she
never could forget that. So they were married; and when they came
home here, and I saw them, I hoped that such prophecies as parted
them when they were young, may not often fulfil themselves as they
did in this case, or I wouldn't be the makers of them for a Mine of
The gentleman got off the cask, and stretched himself, observing:
'I suppose he used her ill, as soon as they were married?'
'I don't think he ever did that,' said Mrs. Tugby, shaking her
head, and wiping her eyes. 'He went on better for a short time;
but, his habits were too old and strong to be got rid of; he soon
fell back a little; and was falling fast back, when his illness
came so strong upon him. I think he has always felt for her. I am
sure he has. I have seen him, in his crying fits and tremblings,
try to kiss her hand; and I have heard him call her "Meg," and say
it was her nineteenth birthday. There he has been lying, now,
these weeks and months. Between him and her baby, she has not been
able to do her old work; and by not being able to be regular, she
has lost it, even if she could have done it. How they have lived,
I hardly know!'
'I know,' muttered Mr. Tugby; looking at the till, and round the
shop, and at his wife; and rolling his head with immense
intelligence. 'Like Fighting Cocks!'
He was interrupted by a cry - a sound of lamentation - from the
upper story of the house. The gentleman moved hurriedly to the
'My friend,' he said, looking back, 'you needn't discuss whether he
shall be removed or not. He has spared you that trouble, I
Saying so, he ran up-stairs, followed by Mrs. Tugby; while Mr.
Tugby panted and grumbled after them at leisure: being rendered
more than commonly short-winded by the weight of the till, in which
there had been an inconvenient quantity of copper. Trotty, with
the child beside him, floated up the staircase like mere air.
'Follow her! Follow her! Follow her!' He heard the ghostly
voices in the Bells repeat their words as he ascended. 'Learn it,
from the creature dearest to your heart!'
It was over. It was over. And this was she, her father's pride
and joy! This haggard, wretched woman, weeping by the bed, if it
deserved that name, and pressing to her breast, and hanging down
her head upon, an infant. Who can tell how spare, how sickly, and
how poor an infant! Who can tell how dear!
'Thank God!' cried Trotty, holding up his folded hands. 'O, God be
thanked! She loves her child!'
The gentleman, not otherwise hard-hearted or indifferent to such
scenes, than that he saw them every day, and knew that they were
figures of no moment in the Filer sums - mere scratches in the
working of these calculations - laid his hand upon the heart that
beat no more, and listened for the breath, and said, 'His pain is
over. It's better as it is!' Mrs. Tugby tried to comfort her with
kindness. Mr. Tugby tried philosophy.
'Come, come!' he said, with his hands in his pockets, 'you mustn't
give way, you know. That won't do. You must fight up. What would
have become of me if I had given way when I was porter, and we had
as many as six runaway carriage-doubles at our door in one night!
But, I fell back upon my strength of mind, and didn't open it!'
Again Trotty heard the voices saying, 'Follow her!' He turned
towards his guide, and saw it rising from him, passing through the
air. 'Follow her!' it said. And vanished.
He hovered round her; sat down at her feet; looked up into her face
for one trace of her old self; listened for one note of her old
pleasant voice. He flitted round the child: so wan, so
prematurely old, so dreadful in its gravity, so plaintive in its
feeble, mournful, miserable wail. He almost worshipped it. He
clung to it as her only safeguard; as the last unbroken link that
bound her to endurance. He set his father's hope and trust on the
frail baby; watched her every look upon it as she held it in her
arms; and cried a thousand times, 'She loves it! God be thanked,
she loves it!'
He saw the woman tend her in the night; return to her when her
grudging husband was asleep, and all was still; encourage her, shed
tears with her, set nourishment before her. He saw the day come,
and the night again; the day, the night; the time go by; the house
of death relieved of death; the room left to herself and to the
child; he heard it moan and cry; he saw it harass her, and tire her
out, and when she slumbered in exhaustion, drag her back to
consciousness, and hold her with its little hands upon the rack;
but she was constant to it, gentle with it, patient with it.
Patient! Was its loving mother in her inmost heart and soul, and
had its Being knitted up with hers as when she carried it unborn.
All this time, she was in want: languishing away, in dire and
pining want. With the baby in her arms, she wandered here and
there, in quest of occupation; and with its thin face lying in her
lap, and looking up in hers, did any work for any wretched sum; a
day and night of labour for as many farthings as there were figures
on the dial. If she had quarrelled with it; if she had neglected
it; if she had looked upon it with a moment's hate; if, in the
frenzy of an instant, she had struck it! No. His comfort was, She
loved it always.
She told no one of her extremity, and wandered abroad in the day
lest she should be questioned by her only friend: for any help she
received from her hands, occasioned fresh disputes between the good
woman and her husband; and it was new bitterness to be the daily
cause of strife and discord, where she owed so much.
She loved it still. She loved it more and more. But a change fell
on the aspect of her love. One night.
She was singing faintly to it in its sleep, and walking to and fro
to hush it, when her door was softly opened, and a man looked in.
'For the last time,' he said.
'William Fern!'
'For the last time.'
He listened like a man pursued: and spoke in whispers.
'Margaret, my race is nearly run. I couldn't finish it, without a
parting word with you. Without one grateful word.'
'What have you done?' she asked: regarding him with terror.
He looked at her, but gave no answer.
After a short silence, he made a gesture with his hand, as if he
set her question by; as if he brushed it aside; and said:
'It's long ago, Margaret, now: but that night is as fresh in my
memory as ever 'twas. We little thought, then,' he added, looking
round, 'that we should ever meet like this. Your child, Margaret?
Let me have it in my arms. Let me hold your child.'
He put his hat upon the floor, and took it. And he trembled as he
took it, from head to foot.
'Is it a girl?'
He put his hand before its little face.
'See how weak I'm grown, Margaret, when I want the courage to look
at it! Let her be, a moment. I won't hurt her. It's long ago,
but - What's her name?'
'Margaret,' she answered, quickly.
'I'm glad of that,' he said. 'I'm glad of that!' He seemed to
breathe more freely; and after pausing for an instant, took away
his hand, and looked upon the infant's face. But covered it again,
'Margaret!' he said; and gave her back the child. 'It's Lilian's.'
'I held the same face in my arms when Lilian's mother died and left
'When Lilian's mother died and left her!' she repeated, wildly.
'How shrill you speak! Why do you fix your eyes upon me so?
She sunk down in a chair, and pressed the infant to her breast, and
wept over it. Sometimes, she released it from her embrace, to look
anxiously in its face: then strained it to her bosom again. At
those times, when she gazed upon it, then it was that something
fierce and terrible began to mingle with her love. Then it was
that her old father quailed.
'Follow her!' was sounded through the house. 'Learn it, from the
creature dearest to your heart!'
'Margaret,' said Fern, bending over her, and kissing her upon the
brow: 'I thank you for the last time. Good night. Good bye! Put
your hand in mine, and tell me you'll forget me from this hour, and
try to think the end of me was here.'
'What have you done?' she asked again.
'There'll be a Fire to-night,' he said, removing from her.
'There'll be Fires this winter-time, to light the dark nights,
East, West, North, and South. When you see the distant sky red,
they'll be blazing. When you see the distant sky red, think of me
no more; or, if you do, remember what a Hell was lighted up inside
of me, and think you see its flames reflected in the clouds. Good
night. Good bye!' She called to him; but he was gone. She sat
down stupefied, until her infant roused her to a sense of hunger,
cold, and darkness. She paced the room with it the livelong night,
hushing it and soothing it. She said at intervals, 'Like Lilian,
when her mother died and left her!' Why was her step so quick, her
eye so wild, her love so fierce and terrible, whenever she repeated
those words?
'But, it is Love,' said Trotty. 'It is Love. She'll never cease
to love it. My poor Meg!'
She dressed the child next morning with unusual care - ah, vain
expenditure of care upon such squalid robes! - and once more tried
to find some means of life. It was the last day of the Old Year.
She tried till night, and never broke her fast. She tried in vain.
She mingled with an abject crowd, who tarried in the snow, until it
pleased some officer appointed to dispense the public charity (the
lawful charity; not that once preached upon a Mount), to call them
in, and question them, and say to this one, 'Go to such a place,'
to that one, 'Come next week;' to make a football of another
wretch, and pass him here and there, from hand to hand, from house
to house, until he wearied and lay down to die; or started up and
robbed, and so became a higher sort of criminal, whose claims
allowed of no delay. Here, too, she failed.
She loved her child, and wished to have it lying on her breast.
And that was quite enough.
It was night: a bleak, dark, cutting night: when, pressing the
child close to her for warmth, she arrived outside the house she
called her home. She was so faint and giddy, that she saw no one
standing in the doorway until she was close upon it, and about to
enter. Then, she recognised the master of the house, who had so
disposed himself - with his person it was not difficult - as to
fill up the whole entry.
'O!' he said softly. 'You have come back?'
She looked at the child, and shook her head.
'Don't you think you have lived here long enough without paying any
rent? Don't you think that, without any money, you've been a
pretty constant customer at this shop, now?' said Mr. Tugby.
She repeated the same mute appeal.
'Suppose you try and deal somewhere else,' he said. 'And suppose
you provide yourself with another lodging. Come! Don't you think
you could manage it?'
She said in a low voice, that it was very late. To-morrow.
'Now I see what you want,' said Tugby; 'and what you mean. You
know there are two parties in this house about you, and you delight
in setting 'em by the ears. I don't want any quarrels; I'm
speaking softly to avoid a quarrel; but if you don't go away, I'll
speak out loud, and you shall cause words high enough to please
you. But you shan't come in. That I am determined.'
She put her hair back with her hand, and looked in a sudden manner
at the sky, and the dark lowering distance.
'This is the last night of an Old Year, and I won't carry ill-blood
and quarrellings and disturbances into a New One, to please you nor
anybody else,' said Tugby, who was quite a retail Friend and
Father. 'I wonder you an't ashamed of yourself, to carry such
practices into a New Year. If you haven't any business in the
world, but to be always giving way, and always making disturbances
between man and wife, you'd be better out of it. Go along with
'Follow her! To desperation!'
Again the old man heard the voices. Looking up, he saw the figures
hovering in the air, and pointing where she went, down the dark
'She loves it!' he exclaimed, in agonised entreaty for her.
'Chimes! she loves it still!'
'Follow her!' The shadow swept upon the track she had taken, like
a cloud.
He joined in the pursuit; he kept close to her; he looked into her
face. He saw the same fierce and terrible expression mingling with
her love, and kindling in her eyes. He heard her say, 'Like
Lilian! To be changed like Lilian!' and her speed redoubled.
O, for something to awaken her! For any sight, or sound, or scent,
to call up tender recollections in a brain on fire! For any gentle
image of the Past, to rise before her!
'I was her father! I was her father!' cried the old man,
stretching out his hands to the dark shadows flying on above.
'Have mercy on her, and on me! Where does she go? Turn her back!
I was her father!'
But they only pointed to her, as she hurried on; and said, 'To
desperation! Learn it from the creature dearest to your heart!' A
hundred voices echoed it. The air was made of breath expended in
those words. He seemed to take them in, at every gasp he drew.
They were everywhere, and not to be escaped. And still she hurried
on; the same light in her eyes, the same words in her mouth, 'Like
Lilian! To be changed like Lilian!' All at once she stopped.
'Now, turn her back!' exclaimed the old man, tearing his white
hair. 'My child! Meg! Turn her back! Great Father, turn her
In her own scanty shawl, she wrapped the baby warm. With her
fevered hands, she smoothed its limbs, composed its face, arranged
its mean attire. In her wasted arms she folded it, as though she
never would resign it more. And with her dry lips, kissed it in a
final pang, and last long agony of Love.
Putting its tiny hand up to her neck, and holding it there, within
her dress, next to her distracted heart, she set its sleeping face
against her: closely, steadily, against her: and sped onward to
the River.
To the rolling River, swift and dim, where Winter Night sat
brooding like the last dark thoughts of many who had sought a
refuge there before her. Where scattered lights upon the banks
gleamed sullen, red, and dull, as torches that were burning there,
to show the way to Death. Where no abode of living people cast its
shadow, on the deep, impenetrable, melancholy shade.
To the River! To that portal of Eternity, her desperate footsteps
tended with the swiftness of its rapid waters running to the sea.
He tried to touch her as she passed him, going down to its dark
level: but, the wild distempered form, the fierce and terrible
love, the desperation that had left all human check or hold behind,
swept by him like the wind.
He followed her. She paused a moment on the brink, before the
dreadful plunge. He fell down on his knees, and in a shriek
addressed the figures in the Bells now hovering above them.
'I have learnt it!' cried the old man. 'From the creature dearest
to my heart! O, save her, save her!'
He could wind his fingers in her dress; could hold it! As the
words escaped his lips, he felt his sense of touch return, and knew
that he detained her.
The figures looked down steadfastly upon him.
'I have learnt it!' cried the old man. 'O, have mercy on me in
this hour, if, in my love for her, so young and good, I slandered
Nature in the breasts of mothers rendered desperate! Pity my
presumption, wickedness, and ignorance, and save her.' He felt his
hold relaxing. They were silent still.
'Have mercy on her!' he exclaimed, 'as one in whom this dreadful
crime has sprung from Love perverted; from the strongest, deepest
Love we fallen creatures know! Think what her misery must have
been, when such seed bears such fruit! Heaven meant her to be
good. There is no loving mother on the earth who might not come to
this, if such a life had gone before. O, have mercy on my child,
who, even at this pass, means mercy to her own, and dies herself,
and perils her immortal soul, to save it!'
She was in his arms. He held her now. His strength was like a
'I see the Spirit of the Chimes among you!' cried the old man,
singling out the child, and speaking in some inspiration, which
their looks conveyed to him. 'I know that our inheritance is held
in store for us by Time. I know there is a sea of Time to rise one
day, before which all who wrong us or oppress us will be swept away
like leaves. I see it, on the flow! I know that we must trust and
hope, and neither doubt ourselves, nor doubt the good in one
another. I have learnt it from the creature dearest to my heart.
I clasp her in my arms again. O Spirits, merciful and good, I take
your lesson to my breast along with her! O Spirits, merciful and
good, I am grateful!'
He might have said more; but, the Bells, the old familiar Bells,
his own dear, constant, steady friends, the Chimes, began to ring
the joy-peals for a New Year: so lustily, so merrily, so happily,
so gaily, that he leapt upon his feet, and broke the spell that
bound him.
'And whatever you do, father,' said Meg, 'don't eat tripe again,
without asking some doctor whether it's likely to agree with you;
for how you HAVE been going on, Good gracious!'
She was working with her needle, at the little table by the fire;
dressing her simple gown with ribbons for her wedding. So quietly
happy, so blooming and youthful, so full of beautiful promise, that
he uttered a great cry as if it were an Angel in his house; then
flew to clasp her in his arms.
But, he caught his feet in the newspaper, which had fallen on the
hearth; and somebody came rushing in between them.
'No!' cried the voice of this same somebody; a generous and jolly
voice it was! 'Not even you. Not even you. The first kiss of Meg
in the New Year is mine. Mine! I have been waiting outside the
house, this hour, to hear the Bells and claim it. Meg, my precious
prize, a happy year! A life of happy years, my darling wife!'
And Richard smothered her with kisses.
You never in all your life saw anything like Trotty after this. I
don't care where you have lived or what you have seen; you never in
all your life saw anything at all approaching him! He sat down in
his chair and beat his knees and cried; he sat down in his chair
and beat his knees and laughed; he sat down in his chair and beat
his knees and laughed and cried together; he got out of his chair
and hugged Meg; he got out of his chair and hugged Richard; he got
out of his chair and hugged them both at once; he kept running up
to Meg, and squeezing her fresh face between his hands and kissing
it, going from her backwards not to lose sight of it, and running
up again like a figure in a magic lantern; and whatever he did, he
was constantly sitting himself down in his chair, and never
stopping in it for one single moment; being - that's the truth -
beside himself with joy.
'And to-morrow's your wedding-day, my pet!' cried Trotty. 'Your
real, happy wedding-day!'
'To-day!' cried Richard, shaking hands with him. 'To-day. The
Chimes are ringing in the New Year. Hear them!'
They WERE ringing! Bless their sturdy hearts, they WERE ringing!
Great Bells as they were; melodious, deep-mouthed, noble Bells;
cast in no common metal; made by no common founder; when had they
ever chimed like that, before!
'But, to-day, my pet,' said Trotty. 'You and Richard had some
words to-day.'
'Because he's such a bad fellow, father,' said Meg. 'An't you,
Richard? Such a headstrong, violent man! He'd have made no more
of speaking his mind to that great Alderman, and putting HIM down I
don't know where, than he would of - '
' - Kissing Meg,' suggested Richard. Doing it too!
'No. Not a bit more,' said Meg. 'But I wouldn't let him, father.
Where would have been the use!'
'Richard my boy!' cried Trotty. 'You was turned up Trumps
originally; and Trumps you must be, till you die! But, you were
crying by the fire to-night, my pet, when I came home! Why did you
cry by the fire?'
'I was thinking of the years we've passed together, father. Only
that. And thinking that you might miss me, and be lonely.'
Trotty was backing off to that extraordinary chair again, when the
child, who had been awakened by the noise, came running in halfdressed.
'Why, here she is!' cried Trotty, catching her up. 'Here's little
Lilian! Ha ha ha! Here we are and here we go! O here we are and
here we go again! And here we are and here we go! and Uncle Will
too!' Stopping in his trot to greet him heartily. 'O, Uncle Will,
the vision that I've had to-night, through lodging you! O, Uncle
Will, the obligations that you've laid me under, by your coming, my
good friend!'
Before Will Fern could make the least reply, a band of music burst
into the room, attended by a lot of neighbours, screaming 'A Happy
New Year, Meg!' 'A Happy Wedding!' 'Many of em!' and other
fragmentary good wishes of that sort. The Drum (who was a private
friend of Trotty's) then stepped forward, and said:
'Trotty Veck, my boy! It's got about, that your daughter is going
to be married to-morrow. There an't a soul that knows you that
don't wish you well, or that knows her and don't wish her well. Or
that knows you both, and don't wish you both all the happiness the
New Year can bring. And here we are, to play it in and dance it
in, accordingly.'
Which was received with a general shout. The Drum was rather
drunk, by-the-bye; but, never mind.
'What a happiness it is, I'm sure,' said Trotty, 'to be so
esteemed! How kind and neighbourly you are! It's all along of my
dear daughter. She deserves it!'
They were ready for a dance in half a second (Meg and Richard at
the top); and the Drum was on the very brink of feathering away
with all his power; when a combination of prodigious sounds was
heard outside, and a good-humoured comely woman of some fifty years
of age, or thereabouts, came running in, attended by a man bearing
a stone pitcher of terrific size, and closely followed by the
marrow-bones and cleavers, and the bells; not THE Bells, but a
portable collection on a frame.
Trotty said, 'It's Mrs. Chickenstalker!' And sat down and beat his
knees again.
'Married, and not tell me, Meg!' cried the good woman. 'Never! I
couldn't rest on the last night of the Old Year without coming to
wish you joy. I couldn't have done it, Meg. Not if I had been
bed-ridden. So here I am; and as it's New Year's Eve, and the Eve
of your wedding too, my dear, I had a little flip made, and brought
it with me.'
Mrs. Chickenstalker's notion of a little flip did honour to her
character. The pitcher steamed and smoked and reeked like a
volcano; and the man who had carried it, was faint.
'Mrs. Tugby!' said Trotty, who had been going round and round her,
in an ecstasy. - 'I SHOULD say, Chickenstalker - Bless your heart
and soul! A Happy New Year, and many of 'em! Mrs. Tugby,' said
Trotty when he had saluted her; - 'I SHOULD say, Chickenstalker -
This is William Fern and Lilian.'
The worthy dame, to his surprise, turned very pale and very red.
'Not Lilian Fern whose mother died in Dorsetshire!' said she.
Her uncle answered 'Yes,' and meeting hastily, they exchanged some
hurried words together; of which the upshot was, that Mrs.
Chickenstalker shook him by both hands; saluted Trotty on his cheek
again of her own free will; and took the child to her capacious
'Will Fern!' said Trotty, pulling on his right-hand muffler. 'Not
the friend you was hoping to find?'
'Ay!' returned Will, putting a hand on each of Trotty's shoulders.
'And like to prove a'most as good a friend, if that can be, as one
I found.'
'O!' said Trotty. 'Please to play up there. Will you have the
To the music of the band, and, the bells, the marrow-bones and
cleavers, all at once; and while the Chimes were yet in lusty
operation out of doors; Trotty, making Meg and Richard, second
couple, led off Mrs. Chickenstalker down the dance, and danced it
in a step unknown before or since; founded on his own peculiar
Had Trotty dreamed? Or, are his joys and sorrows, and the actors
in them, but a dream; himself a dream; the teller of this tale a
dreamer, waking but now? If it be so, O listener, dear to him in
all his visions, try to bear in mind the stern realities from which
these shadows come; and in your sphere - none is too wide, and none
too limited for such an end - endeavour to correct, improve, and
soften them. So may the New Year be a happy one to you, happy to
many more whose happiness depends on you! So may each year be
happier than the last, and not the meanest of our brethren or
sisterhood debarred their rightful share, in what our Great Creator
formed them to enjoy.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?