HERE arenot many people - and as it is desirable that a story-teller anda story-reader should establish a mutual understandingas soon aspossibleI beg it to be noticed that I confine thisobservationneither to young people nor to little peoplebutextend itto all conditions of people: little and bigyoung andold: yet growing upor already growing down again - there arenotIsaymany people who would care to sleep in a church. Idon't meanat sermon-time in warm weather (when the thing hasactuallybeen doneonce or twice)but in the nightand alone. Agreatmultitude of persons will be violently astonishedI knowbythispositionin the broad bold Day. But it applies to Night. Itmust beargued by nightand I will undertake to maintain itsuccessfullyon any gusty winter's night appointed for the purposewith anyone opponent chosen from the restwho will meet me singlyin an oldchurchyardbefore an old church-door; and willpreviouslyempower me to lock him inif needful to hissatisfactionuntil morning.
For thenight-wind has a dismal trick of wandering round and rounda buildingof that sortand moaning as it goes; and of tryingwith itsunseen handthe windows and the doors; and seeking outsomecrevices by which to enter. And when it has got in; as onenotfinding what it seekswhatever that may beit wails and howlsto issueforth again: and not content with stalking through theaislesand gliding round and round the pillarsand tempting thedeeporgansoars up to the roofand strives to rend the rafters:thenflings itself despairingly upon the stones belowand passesmutteringinto the vaults. Anonit comes up stealthilyandcreepsalong the wallsseeming to readin whisperstheInscriptionssacred to the Dead. At some of theseit breaks outshrillyas with laughter; and at othersmoans and cries as if itwerelamenting. It has a ghostly sound toolingering within thealtar;where it seems to chauntin its wild wayof Wrong andMurderdoneand false Gods worshippedin defiance of the Tablesof theLawwhich look so fair and smoothbut are so flawed andbroken. Ugh! Heaven preserve ussitting snugly round the fire!It has anawful voicethat wind at Midnightsinging in a church!
Buthighup in the steeple! There the foul blast roars andwhistles! High up in the steeplewhere it is free to come and gothroughmany an airy arch and loopholeand to twist and twineitselfabout the giddy stairand twirl the groaning weathercockand makethe very tower shake and shiver! High up in the steeplewhere thebelfry isand iron rails are ragged with rustandsheets oflead and coppershrivelled by the changing weathercrackleand heave beneath the unaccustomed tread; and birds stuffshabbynests into corners of old oaken joists and beams; and dustgrows oldand grey; and speckled spidersindolent and fat withlongsecurityswing idly to and fro in the vibration of the bellsand neverloose their hold upon their thread-spun castles in theairorclimb up sailor-like in quick alarmor drop upon theground andply a score of nimble legs to save one life! High up inthesteeple of an old churchfar above the light and murmur of thetown andfar below the flying clouds that shadow itis the wildand drearyplace at night: and high up in the steeple of an oldchurchdwelt the Chimes I tell of.
They wereold Chimestrust me. Centuries agothese Bells hadbeenbaptized by bishops: so many centuries agothat the registerof theirbaptism was lost longlong before the memory of manandno oneknew their names. They had had their Godfathers andGodmothersthese Bells (for my own partby the wayI wouldratherincur the responsibility of being Godfather to a Bell than aBoy)andhad their silver mugs no doubtbesides. But Time hadmowed downtheir sponsorsand Henry the Eighth had melted downtheirmugs; and they now hungnameless and muglessin the church-tower.
Notspeechlessthough. Far from it. They had clearloudlustysoundingvoiceshad these Bells; and far and wide they might beheard uponthe wind. Much too sturdy Chimes were theyto bedependenton the pleasure of the windmoreover; forfightinggallantlyagainst it when it took an adverse whimthey would pourtheircheerful notes into a listening ear right royally; and benton beingheard on stormy nightsby some poor mother watching asickchildor some lone wife whose husband was at seathey hadbeensometimes known to beat a blustering Nor' Wester; aye'all tofits' asToby Veck said; - for though they chose to call himTrottyVeckhis name was Tobyand nobody could make it anythingelseeither (except Tobias) without a special act of parliament; hehavingbeen as lawfully christened in his day as the Bells had beenin theirsthough with not quite so much of solemnity or publicrejoicing.
For mypartI confess myself of Toby Veck's belieffor I am surehe hadopportunities enough of forming a correct one. And whateverToby VecksaidI say. And I take my stand by Toby Veckalthoughhe DIDstand all day long (and weary work it was) just outside thechurch-door. In fact he was a ticket-porterToby Veckand waitedthere forjobs.
And abreezygoose-skinnedblue-nosedred-eyedstony-toedtooth-chatteringplace it wasto wait inin the winter-timeasToby Veckwell knew. The wind came tearing round the corner -especiallythe east wind - as if it had sallied forthexpressfrom theconfines of the earthto have a blow at Toby. Andoftentimesit seemed to come upon him sooner than it had expectedforbouncing round the cornerand passing Tobyit would suddenlywheelround againas if it cried 'Whyhere he is!' Incontinentlyhis littlewhite apron would be caught up over his head like anaughtyboy's garmentsand his feeble little cane would be seen towrestleand struggle unavailingly in his handand his legs wouldundergotremendous agitationand Toby himself all aslantandfacing nowin this directionnow in thatwould be so banged andbuffetedand to touzledand worriedand hustledand lifted offhis feetas to render it a state of things but one degree removedfrom apositive miraclethat he wasn't carried up bodily into theair as acolony of frogs or snails or other very portable creaturessometimesareand rained down againto the great astonishment ofthenativeson some strange corner of the world where ticket-portersare unknown.
Butwindyweatherin spite of its using him so roughlywasafter alla sort of holiday for Toby. That's the fact. He didn'tseem towait so long for a sixpence in the windas at other times;the havingto fight with that boisterous element took off hisattentionand quite freshened him upwhen he was getting hungryandlow-spirited. A hard frost tooor a fall of snowwas anEvent; andit seemed to do him goodsomehow or other - it wouldhave beenhard to say in what respect thoughToby! So wind andfrost andsnowand perhaps a good stiff storm of hailwere TobyVeck'sred-letter days.
Wetweather was the worst; the colddampclammy wetthat wrappedhim uplike a moist great-coat - the only kind of great-coat Tobyownedorcould have added to his comfort by dispensing with. Wetdayswhenthe rain came slowlythicklyobstinately down; whenthestreet's throatlike his ownwas choked with mist; whensmokingumbrellas passed and re-passedspinning round and roundlike somany teetotumsas they knocked against each other on thecrowdedfootwaythrowing off a little whirlpool of uncomfortablesprinklings;when gutters brawled and waterspouts were full andnoisy;when the wet from the projecting stones and ledges of thechurchfell dripdripdripon Tobymaking the wisp of straw onwhich hestood mere mud in no time; those were the days that triedhim. Thenindeedyou might see Toby looking anxiously out fromhisshelter in an angle of the church wall - such a meagre shelterthat insummer time it never cast a shadow thicker than a good-sizedwalking stick upon the sunny pavement - with a disconsolateandlengthened face. But coming outa minute afterwardsto warmhimself byexerciseand trotting up and down some dozen timeshewouldbrighten even thenand go back more brightly to his niche.
Theycalled him Trotty from his pacewhich meant speed if itdidn'tmake it. He could have walked faster perhaps; most likely;but robhim of his trotand Toby would have taken to his bed anddied. It bespattered him with mud in dirty weather; it cost him aworld oftrouble; he could have walked with infinitely greaterease; butthat was one reason for his clinging to it sotenaciously. A weaksmallspare old manhe was a very Herculesthis Tobyin his good intentions. He loved to earn his money. Hedelightedto believe - Toby was very poorand couldn't well affordto partwith a delight - that he was worth his salt. With ashillingor an eighteenpenny message or small parcel in handhiscouragealways highrose higher. As he trotted onhe would callout tofast Postmen ahead of himto get out of the way; devoutlybelievingthat in the natural course of things he must inevitablyovertakeand run them down; and he had perfect faith - not oftentested -in his being able to carry anything that man could lift.
Thusevenwhen he came out of his nook to warm himself on a wetdayTobytrotted. Makingwith his leaky shoesa crooked line ofslushyfootprints in the mire; and blowing on his chilly hands andrubbingthem against each otherpoorly defended from the searchingcold bythreadbare mufflers of grey worstedwith a privateapartmentonly for the thumband a common room or tap for the restof thefingers; Tobywith his knees bent and his cane beneath hisarmstilltrotted. Falling out into the road to look up at thebelfrywhen the Chimes resoundedToby trotted still.
He madethis last excursion several times a dayfor they werecompany tohim; and when he heard their voiceshe had an interestinglancing at their lodging-placeand thinking how they weremovedandwhat hammers beat upon them. Perhaps he was the morecuriousabout these Bellsbecause there were points of resemblancebetweenthemselves and him. They hung therein all weatherswiththe windand rain driving in upon them; facing only the outsides ofall thosehouses; never getting any nearer to the blazing firesthatgleamed and shone upon the windowsor came puffing out of thechimneytops; and incapable of participation in any of the goodthingsthat were constantly being handledthrough the street doorsand thearea railingsto prodigious cooks. Faces came and went atmanywindows: sometimes pretty facesyouthful facespleasantfaces: sometimes the reverse: but Toby knew no more (though heoftenspeculated on these triflesstanding idle in the streets)whencethey cameor where they wentor whetherwhen the lipsmovedonekind word was said of him in all the yearthan did theChimesthemselves.
Toby wasnot a casuist - that he knew ofat least - and I don'tmean tosay that when he began to take to the Bellsand to knit uphis firstrough acquaintance with them into something of a closerand moredelicate woofhe passed through these considerations oneby oneorheld any formal review or great field-day in histhoughts. But what I mean to sayand do say isthat as thefunctionsof Toby's bodyhis digestive organs for exampledid oftheir owncunningand by a great many operations of which he wasaltogetherignorantand the knowledge of which would haveastonishedhim very mucharrive at a certain end; so his mentalfacultieswithout his privity or concurrenceset all these wheelsandsprings in motionwith a thousand otherswhen they worked tobringabout his liking for the Bells.
And thoughI had said his loveI would not have recalled the wordthough itwould scarcely have expressed his complicated feeling.Forbeingbut a simple manhe invested them with a strange andsolemncharacter. They were so mysteriousoften heard and neverseen; sohigh upso far offso full of such a deep strong melodythat heregarded them with a species of awe; and sometimes when helooked upat the dark arched windows in the towerhe half expectedto bebeckoned to by something which was not a Belland yet waswhat hehad heard so often sounding in the Chimes. For all thisTobyscouted with indignation a certain flying rumour that theChimeswere hauntedas implying the possibility of their beingconnectedwith any Evil thing. In shortthey were very often inhis earsand very often in his thoughtsbut always in his goodopinion;and he very often got such a crick in his neck by staringwith hismouth wide openat the steeple where they hungthat hewas fainto take an extra trot or twoafterwardsto cure it.
The verything he was in the act of doing one cold daywhen thelastdrowsy sound of Twelve o'clockjust struckwas humming likeamelodious monster of a Beeand not by any means a busy beeallthroughthe steeple!
'Dinner-timeeh!' said Tobytrotting up and down before thechurch. 'Ah!'
Toby'snose was very redand his eyelids were very redand hewinkedvery muchand his shoulders were very near his earsandhis legswere very stiffand altogether he was evidently a longway uponthe frosty side of cool.
'Dinner-timeeh!' repeated Tobyusing his right-hand muffler likeaninfantine boxing-gloveand punishing his chest for being cold.'Ah-h-h-h!'
He took asilent trotafter thatfor a minute or two.
'There'snothing' said Tobybreaking forth afresh - but here hestoppedshort in his trotand with a face of great interest andsomealarmfelt his nose carefully all the way up. It was but alittle way(not being much of a nose) and he had soon finished.
'I thoughtit was gone' said Tobytrotting off again. 'It's allrighthowever. I am sure I couldn't blame it if it was to go. Ithas aprecious hard service of it in the bitter weatherandpreciouslittle to look forward to; for I don't take snuff myself.It's agood deal triedpoor creeturat the best of times; forwhen itDOES get hold of a pleasant whiff or so (which an't toooften)it's generally from somebody else's dinnera-coming homefrom thebaker's.'
Thereflection reminded him of that other reflectionwhich he hadleftunfinished.
'There'snothing' said Toby'more regular in its coming roundthandinner-timeand nothing less regular in its coming round thandinner. That's the great difference between 'em. It's took me along timeto find it out. I wonder whether it would be worth anygentleman'swhilenowto buy that obserwation for the Papers; ortheParliament!'
Toby wasonly jokingfor he gravely shook his head in self-depreciation.
'Why!Lord!' said Toby. 'The Papers is full of obserwations as itis; andso's the Parliament. Here's last week's papernow;'taking avery dirty one from his pocketand holding it from him atarm'slength; 'full of obserwations! Full of obserwations! Iliketo knowthe news as well as any man' said Tobyslowly; folding ita littlesmallerand putting it in his pocket again: 'but italmostgoes against the grain with me to read a paper now. Itfrightensme almost. I don't know what we poor people are comingto. Lord send we may be coming to something better in the New Yearnigh uponus!'
'Whyfatherfather!' said a pleasant voicehard by.
But Tobynot hearing itcontinued to trot backwards and forwards:musing ashe wentand talking to himself.
'It seemsas if we can't go rightor do rightor be righted'saidToby. 'I hadn't much schoolingmyselfwhen I was young; andI can'tmake out whether we have any business on the face of theearthornot. Sometimes I think we must have - a little; andsometimesI think we must be intruding. I get so puzzled sometimesthat I amnot even able to make up my mind whether there is anygood atall in usor whether we are born bad. We seem to bedreadfulthings; we seem to give a deal of trouble; we are alwaysbeingcomplained of and guarded against. One way or otherwe fillthepapers. Talk of a New Year!' said Tobymournfully. 'Icanbear up aswell as another man at most times; better than a goodmanyforI am as strong as a lionand all men an't; but supposingit shouldreally be that we have no right to a New Year - supposingwe reallyARE intruding - '
'Whyfatherfather!' said the pleasant voice again.
Toby heardit this time; started; stopped; and shortening hissightwhich had been directed a long way off as seeking theenlightenmentin the very heart of the approaching yearfoundhimselfface to face with his own childand looking close into hereyes.
Brighteyes they were. Eyes that would bear a world of looking inbeforetheir depth was fathomed. Dark eyesthat reflected backthe eyeswhich searched them; not flashinglyor at the owner'swillbutwith a clearcalmhonestpatient radianceclaimingkindredwith that light which Heaven called into being. Eyes thatwerebeautiful and trueand beaming with Hope. With Hope so youngand fresh;with Hope so buoyantvigorousand brightdespite thetwentyyears of work and poverty on which they had looked; thattheybecame a voice to Trotty Veckand said: 'I think we havesomebusiness here - a little!'
Trottykissed the lips belonging to the eyesand squeezed thebloomingface between his hands.
'WhyPet' said Trotty. 'What's to do? I didn't expect you to-dayMeg.'
'Neitherdid I expect to comefather' cried the girlnodding herhead andsmiling as she spoke. 'But here I am! And not alone; notalone!'
'Why youdon't mean to say' observed Trottylooking curiously ata coveredbasket which she carried in her hand'that you - '
'Smell itfather dear' said Meg. 'Only smell it!'
Trotty wasgoing to lift up the cover at oncein a great hurrywhen shegaily interposed her hand.
'Nonono' said Megwith the glee of a child. 'Lengthen it outa little. Let me just lift up the corner; just the lit-tle ti-nycor-neryou know' said Megsuiting the action to the word withthe utmostgentlenessand speaking very softlyas if she wereafraid ofbeing overheard by something inside the basket; 'there.Now. What's that?'
Toby tookthe shortest possible sniff at the edge of the basketand criedout in a rapture:
'It'sburning hot!' cried Meg. 'Hahaha! It's scalding hot!'
'Hahaha!' roared Tobywith a sort of kick. 'It's scaldinghot!'
'But whatis itfather?' said Meg. 'Come. You haven't guessedwhat itis. And you must guess what it is. I can't think oftaking itouttill you guess what it is. Don't be in such ahurry! Wait a minute! A little bit more of the cover. Nowguess!'
Meg was ina perfect fright lest he should guess right too soon;shrinkingawayas she held the basket towards him; curling up herprettyshoulders; stopping her ear with her handas if by so doingshe couldkeep the right word out of Toby's lips; and laughingsoftly thewhole time.
MeanwhileTobyputting a hand on each kneebent down his nose tothebasketand took a long inspiration at the lid; the grin uponhiswithered face expanding in the processas if he were inhalinglaughinggas.
'Ah! It's very nice' said Toby. 'It an't - I suppose it an'tPolonies?'
'Nonono!' cried Megdelighted. 'Nothing like Polonies!'
'No' saidTobyafter another sniff. 'It's - it's mellower thanPolonies. It's very nice. It improves every moment. It's toodecidedfor Trotters. An't it?'
Meg was inan ecstasy. He could not have gone wider of the markthanTrotters - except Polonies.
'Liver?'said Tobycommuning with himself. 'No. There's amildnessabout it that don't answer to liver. Pettitoes? No. Itan't faintenough for pettitoes. It wants the stringiness ofCocks'heads. And I know it an't sausages. I'll tell you what itis. It's chitterlings!'
'Noitan't!' cried Megin a burst of delight. 'Noit an't!'
'Whywhatam I a-thinking of!' said Tobysuddenly recovering apositionas near the perpendicular as it was possible for him toassume. 'I shall forget my own name next. It's tripe!'
Tripe itwas; and Megin high joyprotested he should sayinhalf aminute moreit was the best tripe ever stewed.
'And so'said Megbusying herself exultingly with the basket'I'll laythe cloth at oncefather; for I have brought the tripein abasinand tied the basin up in a pocket-handkerchief; and ifI like tobe proud for onceand spread that for a clothand callit acloththere's no law to prevent me; is therefather?'
'Not thatI know ofmy dear' said Toby. 'But they're always a-bringingup some new law or other.'
'Andaccording to what I was reading you in the paper the otherdayfather; what the Judge saidyou know; we poor people aresupposedto know them all. Ha ha! What a mistake! Mygoodnessmehowclever they think us!'
'Yesmydear' cried Trotty; 'and they'd be very fond of any oneof us thatDID know 'em all. He'd grow fat upon the work he'd getthat manand be popular with the gentlefolks in his neighbourhood.Very muchso!'
'He'd eathis dinner with an appetitewhoever he wasif it smeltlikethis' said Megcheerfully. 'Make hastefor there's a hotpotatobesidesand half a pint of fresh-drawn beer in a bottle.Where willyou dinefather? On the Postor on the Steps? Deardearhowgrand we are. Two places to choose from!'
'The stepsto-daymy Pet' said Trotty. 'Steps in dry weather.Post inwet. There's a greater conveniency in the steps at alltimesbecause of the sitting down; but they're rheumatic in thedamp.'
'Thenhere' said Megclapping her handsafter a moment's bustle;'here itisall ready! And beautiful it looks! Comefather.Come!'
Since hisdiscovery of the contents of the basketTrotty had beenstandinglooking at her - and had been speaking too - in anabstractedmannerwhich showed that though she was the object ofhisthoughts and eyesto the exclusion even of tripehe neithersaw northought about her as she was at that momentbut had beforehim someimaginary rough sketch or drama of her future life.Rousednowby her cheerful summonshe shook off a melancholyshake ofthe head which was just coming upon himand trotted toher side. As he was stooping to sit downthe Chimes rang.
'Amen!'said Trottypulling off his hat and looking up towardsthem.
'Amen tothe Bellsfather?' cried Meg.
'Theybroke in like a gracemy dear' said Trottytaking hisseat. 'They'd say a good oneI am sureif they could. Many'sthe kindthing they say to me.'
'The Bellsdofather!' laughed Megas she set the basinand aknife andforkbefore him. 'Well!'
'Seem tomy Pet' said Trottyfalling to with great vigour. 'Andwhere'sthe difference? If I hear 'emwhat does it matter whetherthey speakit or not? Why bless youmy dear' said Tobypointingat thetower with his forkand becoming more animated under theinfluenceof dinner'how often have I heard them bells say"TobyVeckTobyVeckkeep a good heartToby! Toby VeckToby Veckkeep agood heartToby!" A million times? More!'
'WellInever!' cried Meg.
She hadthough - over and over again. For it was Toby's constanttopic.
'Whenthings is very bad' said Trotty; 'very bad indeedI mean;almost atthe worst; then it's "Toby VeckToby Veckjob comingsoonToby! Toby VeckToby Veckjob coming soonToby!" Thatway.'
'And itcomes - at lastfather' said Megwith a touch of sadnessin herpleasant voice.
'Always'answered the unconscious Toby. 'Never fails.'
While thisdiscourse was holdingTrotty made no pause in hisattackupon the savoury meat before himbut cut and ateand cutand drankand cut and chewedand dodged aboutfrom tripe to hotpotatoand from hot potato back again to tripewith an unctuousandunflagging relish. But happening now to look all round thestreet -in case anybody should be beckoning from any door orwindowfor a porter - his eyesin coming back againencounteredMeg: sitting opposite to himwith her arms folded and only busyinwatching his progress with a smile of happiness.
'WhyLordforgive me!' said Trottydropping his knife and fork.'My dove! Meg! why didn't you tell me what a beast I was?'
'Sittinghere' said Trottyin penitent explanation'crammingandstuffingand gorging myself; and you before me therenever somuch asbreaking your precious fastnor wanting towhen - '
'But Ihave broken itfather' interposed his daughterlaughing'all tobits. I have had my dinner.'
'Nonsense'said Trotty. 'Two dinners in one day! It an'tpossible! You might as well tell me that two New Year's Days willcometogetheror that I have had a gold head all my lifeandneverchanged it.'
'I havehad my dinnerfatherfor all that' said Megcomingnearer tohim. 'And if you'll go on with yoursI'll tell you howand where;and how your dinner came to be brought; and - andsomethingelse besides.'
Toby stillappeared incredulous; but she looked into his face withher cleareyesand laying her hand upon his shouldermotioned himto go onwhile the meat was hot. So Trotty took up his knife andforkagainand went to work. But much more slowly than beforeandshaking his headas if he were not at all pleased withhimself.
'I had mydinnerfather' said Megafter a little hesitation'with -with Richard. His dinner-time was early; and as he broughthis dinnerwith him when he came to see mewe - we had ittogetherfather.'
Trottytook a little beerand smacked his lips. Then he said'Oh!' -because she waited.
'AndRichard saysfather - ' Meg resumed. Then stopped.
'What doesRichard sayMeg?' asked Toby.
'Richardsaysfather - ' Another stoppage.
'Richard'sa long time saying it' said Toby.
'He saysthenfather' Meg continuedlifting up her eyes at lastandspeaking in a tremblebut quite plainly; 'another year isnearlygoneand where is the use of waiting on from year to yearwhen it isso unlikely we shall ever be better off than we are now?He says weare poor nowfatherand we shall be poor thenbut weare youngnowand years will make us old before we know it. Hesays thatif we wait: people in our condition: until we see ourway quiteclearlythe way will be a narrow one indeed - the commonway - theGravefather.'
A bolderman than Trotty Veck must needs have drawn upon hisboldnesslargelyto deny it. Trotty held his peace.
'And howhardfatherto grow oldand dieand think we mighthavecheered and helped each other! How hard in all our lives tolove eachother; and to grieveapartto see each other workingchanginggrowing old and grey. Even if I got the better of itand forgothim (which I never could)oh father dearhow hard tohave aheart so full as mine is nowand live to have it slowlydrainedout every dropwithout the recollection of one happymoment ofa woman's lifeto stay behind and comfort meand makemebetter!'
Trotty satquite still. Meg dried her eyesand said more gaily:that is tosaywith here a laughand there a soband here alaugh andsob together:
'SoRichard saysfather; as his work was yesterday made certainfor sometime to comeand as I love himand have loved him fullthreeyears - ah! longer than thatif he knew it! - will I marryhim on NewYear's Day; the best and happiest dayhe saysin thewholeyearand one that is almost sure to bring good fortune withit. It's a short noticefather - isn't it? - but I haven't myfortune tobe settledor my wedding dresses to be madelike thegreatladiesfatherhave I? And he said so muchand said it inhis way;so strong and earnestand all the time so kind andgentle;that I said I'd come and talk to youfather. And as theypaid themoney for that work of mine this morning (unexpectedlyIam sure!)and as you have fared very poorly for a whole weekandas Icouldn't help wishing there should be something to make thisday a sortof holiday to you as well as a dear and happy day to mefatherImade a little treat and brought it to surprise you.'
'And seehow he leaves it cooling on the step!' said another voice.
It was thevoice of this same Richardwho had come upon themunobservedand stood before the father and daughter; looking downupon themwith a face as glowing as the iron on which his stoutsledge-hammerdaily rung. A handsomewell-madepowerfulyoungsterhe was; with eyes that sparkled like the red-hotdroppingsfrom a furnace fire; black hair that curled about hisswarthytemples rarely; and a smile - a smile that bore out Meg'seulogiumon his style of conversation.
'See howhe leaves it cooling on the step!' said Richard. 'Megdon't knowwhat he likes. Not she!'
Trottyall action and enthusiasmimmediately reached up his handtoRichardand was going to address him in great hurrywhen thehouse-dooropened without any warningand a footman very nearlyput hisfoot into the tripe.
'Out ofthe ways herewill you! You must always go and be a-settin onour stepsmust you! You can't go and give a turn tonone ofthe neighbours nevercan't you! WILL you clear the roador won'tyou?'
Strictlyspeakingthe last question was irrelevantas they hadalreadydone it.
'What'sthe matterwhat's the matter!' said the gentleman for whomthe doorwas opened; coming out of the house at that kind of light-heavy pace- that peculiar compromise between a walk and a jog-trot- withwhich a gentleman upon the smooth down-hill of lifewearingcreakingbootsa watch-chainand clean linenMAY come out of hishouse: not only without any abatement of his dignitybut with anexpressionof having important and wealthy engagements elsewhere.'What'sthe matter! What's the matter!'
'You'realways a-being beggedand prayedupon your bended kneesyou are'said the footman with great emphasis to Trotty Veck'tolet ourdoor-steps be. Why don't you let 'em be? CAN'T you let'em be?'
'There! That'll dothat'll do!' said the gentleman. 'Halloathere! Porter!' beckoning with his head to Trotty Veck. 'Comehere. What's that? Your dinner?'
'Yessir' said Trottyleaving it behind him in a corner.
'Don'tleave it there' exclaimed the gentleman. 'Bring it herebring ithere. So! This is your dinneris it?'
'Yessir' repeated Trottylooking with a fixed eye and a waterymouthatthe piece of tripe he had reserved for a last delicioustit-bit;which the gentleman was now turning over and over on theend of thefork.
Two othergentlemen had come out with him. One was a low-spiritedgentlemanof middle ageof a meagre habitand a disconsolateface; whokept his hands continually in the pockets of his scantypepper-and-salttrousersvery large and dog's-eared from thatcustom;and was not particularly well brushed or washed. Theotherafull-sizedsleekwell-conditioned gentlemanin a bluecoat withbright buttonsand a white cravat. This gentleman had avery redfaceas if an undue proportion of the blood in his bodyweresqueezed up into his head; which perhaps accounted for hishavingalso the appearance of being rather cold about the heart.
He who hadToby's meat upon the forkcalled to the first one bythe nameof Filer; and they both drew near together. Mr. Filerbeingexceedingly short-sightedwas obliged to go so close to theremnant ofToby's dinner before he could make out what it wasthatToby'sheart leaped up into his mouth. But Mr. Filer didn't eatit.
'This is adescription of animal foodAlderman' said Filermakinglittle punches in it with a pencil-case'commonly known tothelabouring population of this countryby the name of tripe.'
TheAlderman laughedand winked; for he was a merry fellowAldermanCute. Ohand a sly fellow too! A knowing fellow. Up toeverything. Not to be imposed upon. Deep in the people's hearts!He knewthemCute did. I believe you!
'But whoeats tripe?' said Mr. Filerlooking round. 'Tripe iswithout anexception the least economicaland the most wastefularticle ofconsumption that the markets of this country can bypossibilityproduce. The loss upon a pound of tripe has been foundto beinthe boilingseven-eights of a fifth more than the lossupon apound of any other animal substance whatever. Tripe is moreexpensiveproperly understoodthan the hothouse pine-apple.Takinginto account the number of animals slaughtered yearly withinthe billsof mortality alone; and forming a low estimate of thequantityof tripe which the carcases of those animalsreasonablywellbutcheredwould yield; I find that the waste on that amountof tripeif boiledwould victual a garrison of five hundred menfor fivemonths of thirty-one days eachand a February over. TheWastetheWaste!'
Trottystood aghastand his legs shook under him. He seemed tohavestarved a garrison of five hundred men with his own hand.
'Who eatstripe?' said Mr. Filerwarmly. 'Who eats tripe?'
Trottymade a miserable bow.
'You dodo you?' said Mr. Filer. 'Then I'll tell you something.You snatchyour tripemy friendout of the mouths of widows andorphans.'
'I hopenotsir' said Trottyfaintly. 'I'd sooner die of want!'
'Dividethe amount of tripe before-mentionedAlderman' said Mr.Filer'bythe estimated number of existing widows and orphansandthe resultwill be one pennyweight of tripe to each. Not a grainis leftfor that man. Consequentlyhe's a robber.'
Trotty wasso shockedthat it gave him no concern to see theAldermanfinish the tripe himself. It was a relief to get rid ofitanyhow.
'And whatdo you say?' asked the Aldermanjocoselyof the red-facedgentleman in the blue coat. 'You have heard friend Filer.What doYOU SAY?'
'What's itpossible to say?' returned the gentleman. 'What IS tobe said? Who can take any interest in a fellow like this' meaningTrotty;'in such degenerate times as these? Look at him. What anobject! The good old timesthe grand old timesthe great oldtimes! THOSE were the times for a bold peasantryand all thatsort ofthing. Those were the times for every sort of thinginfact. There's nothing now-a-days. Ah!' sighed the red-facedgentleman. 'The good old timesthe good old times!'
Thegentleman didn't specify what particular times he alluded to;nor did hesay whether he objected to the present timesfrom adisinterestedconsciousness that they had done nothing veryremarkablein producing himself.
'The goodold timesthe good old times' repeated the gentleman.'Whattimes they were! They were the only times. It's of no usetalkingabout any other timesor discussing what the people are inTHESEtimes. You don't call these timesdo you? I don't. LookintoStrutt's Costumesand see what a Porter used to bein any ofthe goodold English reigns.'
'Hehadn'tin his very best circumstancesa shirt to his backora stockingto his foot; and there was scarcely a vegetable in allEnglandfor him to put into his mouth' said Mr. Filer. 'I canprove itby tables.'
But stillthe red-faced gentleman extolled the good old timesthegrand oldtimesthe great old times. No matter what anybody elsesaidhestill went turning round and round in one set form ofwordsconcerning them; as a poor squirrel turns and turns in itsrevolvingcage; touching the mechanismand trick of whichit hasprobablyquite as distinct perceptionsas ever this red-facedgentlemanhad of his deceased Millennium.
It ispossible that poor Trotty's faith in these very vague OldTimes wasnot entirely destroyedfor he felt vague enough at thatmoment. One thinghoweverwas plain to himin the midst of hisdistress;to witthat however these gentlemen might differ indetailshis misgivings of that morningand of many othermorningswere well founded. 'Nono. We can't go right or doright'thought Trotty in despair. 'There is no good in us. Weare bornbad!'
But Trottyhad a father's heart within him; which had somehow gotinto hisbreast in spite of this decree; and he could not bear thatMeginthe blush of her brief joyshould have her fortune read bythese wisegentlemen. 'God help her' thought poor Trotty. 'Shewill knowit soon enough.'
Heanxiously signedthereforeto the young smithto take heraway. But he was so busytalking to her softly at a littledistancethat he only became conscious of this desiresimultaneouslywith Alderman Cute. Nowthe Alderman had not yethad hissaybut HE was a philosophertoo - practicalthough!Ohverypractical - andas he had no idea of losing any portionof hisaudiencehe cried 'Stop!'
'Nowyouknow' said the Aldermanaddressing his two friendswith aself-complacent smile upon his face which was habitual tohim'I ama plain manand a practical man; and I go to work in aplainpractical way. That's my way. There is not the leastmystery ordifficulty in dealing with this sort of people if youonlyunderstand 'emand can talk to 'em in their own manner. NowyouPorter! Don't you ever tell meor anybody elsemy friendthat youhaven't always enough to eatand of the best; because Iknowbetter. I have tasted your tripeyou knowand you can't"chaff"me. You understand what "chaff" meanseh? That's therightwordisn't it? Hahaha! Lord bless you' said theAldermanturning to his friends again'it's the easiest thing onearth todeal with this sort of peopleif you understand 'em.'
Famous manfor the common peopleAlderman Cute! Never out oftemperwith them! Easyaffablejokingknowing gentleman!
'You seemy friend' pursued the Alderman'there's a great dealofnonsense talked about Want - "hard up" you know; that'sthephraseisn't it? ha! ha! ha! - and I intend to Put it Down.There's acertain amount of cant in vogue about Starvationand Imean toPut it Down. That's all! Lord bless you' said theAldermanturning to his friends again'you may Put Down anythingamong thissort of peopleif you only know the way to set aboutit.'
Trottytook Meg's hand and drew it through his arm. He didn't seemto knowwhat he was doing though.
'Yourdaughtereh?' said the Aldermanchucking her familiarlyunder thechin.
Alwaysaffable with the working classesAlderman Cute! Knew whatpleasedthem! Not a bit of pride!
'Where'sher mother?' asked that worthy gentleman.
'Dead'said Toby. 'Her mother got up linen; and was called toHeavenwhen She was born.'
'Not toget up linen THEREI suppose' remarked the Aldermanpleasantly
Toby mightor might not have been able to separate his wife inHeavenfrom her old pursuits. But query: If Mrs. Alderman Cutehad goneto Heavenwould Mr. Alderman Cute have pictured her asholdingany state or station there?
'Andyou're making love to herare you?' said Cute to the youngsmith.
'Yes'returned Richard quicklyfor he was nettled by thequestion. 'And we are going to be married on New Year's Day.'
'What doyou mean!' cried Filer sharply. 'Married!'
'Whyyeswe're thinking of itMaster' said Richard. 'We'rerather ina hurryyou seein case it should be Put Down first.'
'Ah!'cried Filerwith a groan. 'Put THAT down indeedAldermanand you'lldo something. Married! Married!! The ignorance ofthefirstprinciples of political economy on the part of these people;theirimprovidence; their wickedness; isby Heavens! enough to -Now lookat that couplewill you!'
Well? They were worth looking at. And marriage seemed asreasonableand fair a deed as they need have in contemplation.
'A man maylive to be as old as Methuselah' said Mr. Filer'andmay labourall his life for the benefit of such people as those;and mayheap up facts on figuresfacts on figuresfacts onfiguresmountains high and dry; and he can no more hope topersuade'em that they have no right or business to be marriedthan hecan hope to persuade 'em that they have no earthly right orbusinessto be born. And THAT we know they haven't. We reduced itto amathematical certainty long ago!'
AldermanCute was mightily divertedand laid his right forefingeron theside of his noseas much as to say to both his friends'Observemewill you! Keep your eye on the practical man!' - andcalled Megto him.
'Comeheremy girl!' said Alderman Cute.
The youngblood of her lover had been mountingwrathfullywithinthe lastfew minutes; and he was indisposed to let her come. Butsetting aconstraint upon himselfhe came forward with a stride asMegapproachedand stood beside her. Trotty kept her hand withinhis armstillbut looked from face to face as wildly as a sleeperin adream.
'NowI'mgoing to give you a word or two of good advicemy girl'said theAldermanin his nice easy way. 'It's my place to giveadviceyou knowbecause I'm a Justice. You know I'm a Justicedon'tyou?'
Megtimidly said'Yes.' But everybody knew Alderman Cute was aJustice! Oh dearso active a Justice always! Who such a mote ofbrightnessin the public eyeas Cute!
'You aregoing to be marriedyou say' pursued the Alderman.'Veryunbecoming and indelicate in one of your sex! But never mindthat. After you are marriedyou'll quarrel with your husband andcome to bea distressed wife. You may think not; but you willbecause Itell you so. NowI give you fair warningthat I havemade up mymind to Put distressed wives Down. Sodon't be broughtbeforeme. You'll have children - boys. Those boys will grow upbadofcourseand run wild in the streetswithout shoes andstockings. Mindmy young friend! I'll convict 'em summarilyevery onefor I am determined to Put boys without shoes andstockingsDown. Perhaps your husband will die young (most likely)and leaveyou with a baby. Then you'll be turned out of doorsandwander upand down the streets. Nowdon't wander near memydearforI am resolvedto Put all wandering mothers Down. Allyoungmothersof all sorts and kindsit's my determination to PutDown. Don't think to plead illness as an excuse with me; or babiesas anexcuse with me; for all sick persons and young children (Ihope youknow the church-servicebut I'm afraid not) I amdeterminedto Put Down. And if you attemptdesperatelyandungratefullyand impiouslyand fraudulently attemptto drownyourselfor hang yourselfI'll have no pity for youfor I havemade up mymind to Put all suicide Down! If there is one thing'said theAldermanwith his self-satisfied smile'on which I canbe said tohave made up my mind more than on anotherit is to PutsuicideDown. So don't try it on. That's the phraseisn't it?Haha!now we understand each other.'
Toby knewnot whether to be agonised or gladto see that Meg hadturned adeadly whiteand dropped her lover's hand.
'And asfor youyou dull dog' said the Aldermanturning withevenincreased cheerfulness and urbanity to the young smith'whatare youthinking of being married for? What do you want to bemarriedforyou silly fellow? If I was a fineyoungstrappingchap likeyouI should be ashamed of being milksop enough to pinmyself toa woman's apron-strings! Whyshe'll be an old womanbeforeyou're a middle-aged man! And a pretty figure you'll cutthenwitha draggle-tailed wife and a crowd of squalling childrencryingafter you wherever you go!'
Ohe knewhow to banter the common peopleAlderman Cute!
'There! Go along with you' said the Alderman'and repent. Don'tmake sucha fool of yourself as to get married on New Year's Day.You'llthink very differently of itlong before next New Year'sDay: a trim young fellow like youwith all the girls lookingafteryou. There! Go along with you!'
They wentalong. Not arm in armor hand in handor interchangingbrightglances; butshe in tears; hegloomy and down-looking.Were thesethe hearts that had so lately made old Toby's leap upfrom itsfaintness? Nono. The Alderman (a blessing on hishead!) hadPut THEM Down.
'As youhappen to be here' said the Alderman to Toby'you shallcarry aletter for me. Can you be quick? You're an old man.'
Tobywhohad been looking after Megquite stupidlymade shift tomurmur outthat he was very quickand very strong.
'How oldare you?' inquired the Alderman.
'I'm oversixtysir' said Toby.
'O! This man's a great deal past the average ageyou know' criedMr. Filerbreaking in as if his patience would bear some tryingbut thisreally was carrying matters a little too far.
'I feelI'm intrudingsir' said Toby. 'I - I misdoubted it thismorning. Oh dear me!'
TheAlderman cut him short by giving him the letter from hispocket. Toby would have got a shilling too; but Mr. Filer clearlyshowingthat in that case he would rob a certain given number ofpersons ofninepence-halfpenny a-piecehe only got sixpence; andthoughthimself very well off to get that.
Then theAlderman gave an arm to each of his friendsand walkedoff inhigh feather; buthe immediately came hurrying back aloneas if hehad forgotten something.
'Porter!'said the Alderman.
'Take careof that daughter of yours. She's much too handsome.'
'Even hergood looks are stolen from somebody or otherI suppose'thoughtTobylooking at the sixpence in his handand thinking ofthetripe. 'She's been and robbed five hundred ladies of a blooma-pieceIshouldn't wonder. It's very dreadful!'
'She'smuch too handsomemy man' repeated the Alderman. 'Thechancesarethat she'll come to no goodI clearly see. Observewhat Isay. Take care of her!' With whichhe hurried off again.
'Wrongevery way. Wrong every way!' said Trottyclasping hishands. 'Born bad. No business here!'
The Chimescame clashing in upon him as he said the words. Fullloudandsounding - but with no encouragement. Nonot a drop.
'Thetune's changed' cried the old manas he listened. 'There'snot a wordof all that fancy in it. Why should there be? I havenobusiness with the New Year nor with the old one neither. Let medie!'
Still theBellspealing forth their changesmade the very airspin. Put 'em downPut 'em down! Good old TimesGood old Times!Facts andFiguresFacts and Figures! Put 'em downPut 'em down!If theysaid anything they said thisuntil the brain of Tobyreeled.
He pressedhis bewildered head between his handsas if to keep itfromsplitting asunder. A well-timed actionas it happened; forfindingthe letter in one of themand being by that means remindedof hischargehe fellmechanicallyinto his usual trotandtrottedoff.
The Second Quarter.
THE letterToby had received from Alderman Cutewas addressed to agreat manin the great district of the town. The greatest districtof thetown. It must have been the greatest district of the townbecause itwas commonly called 'the world' by its inhabitants. Theletterpositively seemed heavier in Toby's handthan anotherletter. Not because the Alderman had sealed it with a very largecoat ofarms and no end of waxbut because of the weighty name onthesuperscriptionand the ponderous amount of gold and silverwith whichit was associated.
'Howdifferent from us!' thought Tobyin all simplicity andearnestnessas he looked at the direction. 'Divide the livelyturtles inthe bills of mortalityby the number of gentlefolksable tobuy 'em; and whose share does he take but his own! As tosnatchingtripe from anybody's mouth - he'd scorn it!'
With theinvoluntary homage due to such an exalted characterTobyinterposeda corner of his apron between the letter and hisfingers.
'Hischildren' said Trottyand a mist rose before his eyes; 'hisdaughters- Gentlemen may win their hearts and marry them; they maybe happywives and mothers; they may be handsome like my darling M-e-'.
Hecouldn't finish the name. The final letter swelled in histhroattothe size of the whole alphabet.
'Nevermind' thought Trotty. 'I know what I mean. That's morethanenough for me.' And with this consolatory ruminationtrottedon.
It was ahard frostthat day. The air was bracingcrispandclear. The wintry sunthough powerless for warmthlookedbrightlydown upon the ice it was too weak to meltand set aradiantglory there. At other timesTrotty might have learned apoor man'slesson from the wintry sun; buthe was past thatnow.
The Yearwas Oldthat day. The patient Year had lived through thereproachesand misuses of its slanderersand faithfully performedits work. Springsummerautumnwinter. It had laboured throughthedestined roundand now laid down its weary head to die. Shutout fromhopehigh impulseactive happinessitselfbut activemessengerof many joys to othersit made appeal in its decline tohave itstoiling days and patient hours rememberedand to die inpeace. Trotty might have read a poor man's allegory in the fadingyear; buthe was past thatnow.
And onlyhe? Or has the like appeal been ever madeby seventyyears atonce upon an English labourer's headand made in vain!
Thestreets were full of motionand the shops were decked outgaily. The New Yearlike an Infant Heir to the whole worldwaswaitedforwith welcomespresentsand rejoicings. There werebooks andtoys for the New Yearglittering trinkets for the NewYeardresses for the New Yearschemes of fortune for the NewYear; newinventions to beguile it. Its life was parcelled out inalmanacksand pocket-books; the coming of its moonsand starsandtideswasknown beforehand to the moment; all the workings of itsseasons intheir days and nightswere calculated with as muchprecisionas Mr. Filer could work sums in men and women.
The NewYearthe New Year. Everywhere the New Year! The Old Yearwasalready looked upon as dead; and its effects were sellingcheaplike some drowned mariner's aboardship. Its patterns wereLastYear'sand going at a sacrificebefore its breath was gone.Itstreasures were mere dirtbeside the riches of its unbornsuccessor!
Trotty hadno portionto his thinkingin the New Year or the Old.
'Put 'emdownPut 'em down! Facts and FiguresFacts and Figures!Good oldTimesGood old Times! Put 'em downPut 'em down!' - histrot wentto that measureand would fit itself to nothing else.
Buteventhat onemelancholy as it wasbrought himin due timeto the endof his journey. To the mansion of Sir Joseph BowleyMember ofParliament.
The doorwas opened by a Porter. Such a Porter! Not of Toby'sorder. Quite another thing. His place was the ticket though; notToby's.
ThisPorter underwent some hard panting before he could speak;havingbreathed himself by coming incautiously out of his chairwithoutfirst taking time to think about it and compose his mind.When hehad found his voice - which it took him a long time to dofor it wasa long way offand hidden under a load of meat - hesaid in afat whisper
'You're totake it inyourself' said the Porterpointing to aroom atthe end of a long passageopening from the hall.'Everythinggoes straight inon this day of the year. You're nota bit toosoon; for the carriage is at the door nowand they haveonly cometo town for a couple of hoursa' purpose.'
Toby wipedhis feet (which were quite dry already) with great careand tookthe way pointed out to him; observing as he went that itwas anawfully grand housebut hushed and covered upas if thefamilywere in the country. Knocking at the room-doorhe was toldto enterfrom within; and doing so found himself in a spaciouslibrarywhereat a table strewn with files and paperswere astatelylady in a bonnet; and a not very stately gentleman in blackwho wrotefrom her dictation; while anotherand an olderand amuchstatelier gentlemanwhose hat and cane were on the tablewalked upand downwith one hand in his breastand lookedcomplacentlyfrom time to time at his own picture - a full length;a veryfull length - hanging over the fireplace.
'What isthis?' said the last-named gentleman. 'Mr. Fishwill youhave thegoodness to attend?'
Mr. Fishbegged pardonand taking the letter from Tobyhanded itwith greatrespect.
'FromAlderman CuteSir Joseph.'
'Is thisall? Have you nothing elsePorter?' inquired Sir Joseph.
Tobyreplied in the negative.
'You haveno bill or demand upon me - my name is BowleySir JosephBowley -of any kind from anybodyhave you?' said Sir Joseph. 'Ifyou havepresent it. There is a cheque-book by the side of Mr.Fish. I allow nothing to be carried into the New Year. Everydescriptionof account is settled in this house at the close of theold one. So that if death was to - to - '
'To cut'suggested Mr. Fish.
'To seversir' returned Sir Josephwith great asperity'thecord ofexistence - my affairs would be foundI hopein a stateofpreparation.'
'My dearSir Joseph!' said the ladywho was greatly younger thanthegentleman. 'How shocking!'
'My ladyBowley' returned Sir Josephfloundering now and thenasin thegreat depth of his observations'at this season of the yearwe shouldthink of - of - ourselves. We should look into our - ouraccounts. We should feel that every return of so eventful a periodin humantransactionsinvolves a matter of deep moment between aman andhis - and his banker.'
Sir Josephdelivered these words as if he felt the full morality ofwhat hewas saying; and desired that even Trotty should have anopportunityof being improved by such discourse. Possibly he hadthis endbefore him in still forbearing to break the seal of theletterand in telling Trotty to wait where he wasa minute.
'You weredesiring Mr. Fish to saymy lady - ' observed SirJoseph.
'Mr. Fishhas said thatI believe' returned his ladyglancing attheletter. 'Butupon my wordSir JosephI don't think I canlet it goafter all. It is so very dear.'
'What isdear?' inquired Sir Joseph.
'ThatCharitymy love. They only allow two votes for asubscriptionof five pounds. Really monstrous!'
'My ladyBowley' returned Sir Joseph'you surprise me. Is theluxury offeeling in proportion to the number of votes; or is itto arightly constituted mindin proportion to the number ofapplicantsand the wholesome state of mind to which theircanvassingreduces them? Is there no excitement of the purest kindin havingtwo votes to dispose of among fifty people?'
'Not tomeI acknowledge' replied the lady. 'It bores one.Besidesone can't oblige one's acquaintance. But you are the PoorMan'sFriendyou knowSir Joseph. You think otherwise.'
'I AM thePoor Man's Friend' observed Sir Josephglancing at thepoor manpresent. 'As such I may be taunted. As such I have beentaunted. But I ask no other title.'
'Bless himfor a noble gentleman!' thought Trotty.
'I don'tagree with Cute herefor instance' said Sir Josephholdingout the letter. 'I don't agree with the Filer party. Idon'tagree with any party. My friend the Poor Manhas nobusinesswith anything of that sortand nothing of that sort hasanybusiness with him. My friend the Poor Manin my districtismybusiness. No man or body of men has any right to interferebetween myfriend and me. That is the ground I take. I assume a -a paternalcharacter towards my friend. I say"My good fellowIwill treatyou paternally."'
Tobylistened with great gravityand began to feel morecomfortable.
'Your onlybusinessmy good fellow' pursued Sir Josephlookingabstractedlyat Toby; 'your only business in life is with me. Youneedn'ttrouble yourself to think about anything. I will think foryou; Iknow what is good for you; I am your perpetual parent. Suchis thedispensation of an all-wise Providence! Nowthe design ofyourcreation is - not that you should swilland guzzleandassociateyour enjoymentsbrutallywith food; Toby thoughtremorsefullyof the tripe; 'but that you should feel the Dignity ofLabour. Go forth erect into the cheerful morning airand - andstopthere. Live hard and temperatelybe respectfulexerciseyourself-denialbring up your family on next to nothingpay yourrent asregularly as the clock strikesbe punctual in yourdealings(I set you a good example; you will find Mr. Fishmyconfidentialsecretarywith a cash-box before him at all times);and youmay trust to me to be your Friend and Father.'
'NicechildrenindeedSir Joseph!' said the ladywith a shudder.'Rheumatismsand feversand crooked legsand asthmasand allkinds ofhorrors!'
'My lady'returned Sir Josephwith solemnity'not the less am Ithe PoorMan's Friend and Father. Not the less shall he receiveencouragementat my hands. Every quarter-day he will be put incommunicationwith Mr. Fish. Every New Year's Daymyself andfriendswill drink his health. Once every yearmyself and friendswilladdress him with the deepest feeling. Once in his lifehemay evenperhaps receive; in publicin the presence of the gentry;a Triflefrom a Friend. And whenupheld no more by thesestimulantsand the Dignity of Labourhe sinks into hiscomfortablegravethenmy lady' - here Sir Joseph blew his nose -'I will bea Friend and a Father - on the same terms - to hischildren.'
Toby wasgreatly moved.
'O! Youhave a thankful familySir Joseph!' cried his wife.
'My lady'said Sir Josephquite majestically'Ingratitude isknown tobe the sin of that class. I expect no other return.'
'Ah! Born bad!' thought Toby. 'Nothing melts us.'
'What mancan doI do' pursued Sir Joseph. 'I do my duty as thePoor Man'sFriend and Father; and I endeavour to educate his mindbyinculcating on all occasions the one great moral lesson whichthat classrequires. That isentire Dependence on myself. Theyhave nobusiness whatever with - with themselves. If wicked anddesigningpersons tell them otherwiseand they become impatientanddiscontentedand are guilty of insubordinate conduct andblack-heartedingratitude; which is undoubtedly the case; I amtheirFriend and Father still. It is so Ordained. It is in thenature ofthings.'
With thatgreat sentimenthe opened the Alderman's letter; andread it.
'Verypolite and attentiveI am sure!' exclaimed Sir Joseph. 'MyladytheAlderman is so obliging as to remind me that he has had"thedistinguished honour" - he is very good - of meeting me at thehouse ofour mutual friend Deedlesthe banker; and he does me thefavour toinquire whether it will be agreeable to me to have WillFern putdown.'
'MOSTagreeable!' replied my Lady Bowley. 'The worst man amongthem! He has been committing a robberyI hope?'
'Why no'said Sir Joseph'referring to the letter. 'Not quite.Verynear. Not quite. He came up to Londonit seemsto lookforemployment(trying to better himself - that's his story)and beingfound atnight asleep in a shedwas taken into custodyandcarriednext morning before the Alderman. The Alderman observes(veryproperly) that he is determined to put this sort of thingdown; andthat if it will be agreeable to me to have Will Fern putdownhewill be happy to begin with him.'
'Let himbe made an example ofby all means' returned the lady.'Lastwinterwhen I introduced pinking and eyelet-holing among themen andboys in the villageas a nice evening employmentand hadthe lines
O let uslove our occupationsBless thesquire and his relationsLive uponour daily rationsAnd alwaysknow our proper stations
set tomusic on the new systemfor them to sing the while; thisvery Fern- I see him now - touched that hat of hisand said"Ihumbly askyour pardonmy ladybut AN'T I something differentfrom agreat girl?" I expected itof course; who can expectanythingbut insolence and ingratitude from that class of people!That isnot to the purposehowever. Sir Joseph! Make an exampleof him!'
'Hem!'coughed Sir Joseph. 'Mr. Fishif you'll have the goodnessto attend- '
Mr. Fishimmediately seized his penand wrote from Sir Joseph'sdictation.
'Private. My dear Sir. I am very much indebted to you for yourcourtesyin the matter of the man William Fernof whomI regretto addIcan say nothing favourable. I have uniformly consideredmyself inthe light of his Friend and Fatherbut have been repaid(a commoncaseI grieve to say) with ingratitudeand constantoppositionto my plans. He is a turbulent and rebellious spirit.Hischaracter will not bear investigation. Nothing will persuadehim to behappy when he might. Under these circumstancesitappears tomeI ownthat when he comes before you again (as youinformedme he promised to do to-morrowpending your inquiriesand Ithink he may be so far relied upon)his committal for someshort termas a Vagabondwould be a service to societyand wouldbe asalutary example in a country where - for the sake of thosewho arethrough good and evil reportthe Friends and Fathers ofthe Pooras well as with a view to thatgenerally speakingmisguidedclass themselves - examples are greatly needed. And Iam' andso forth.
'Itappears' remarked Sir Joseph when he had signed this letterand Mr.Fish was sealing it'as if this were Ordained: really.At theclose of the yearI wind up my account and strike mybalanceeven with William Fern!'
Trottywho had long ago relapsedand was very low-spiritedsteppedforward with a rueful face to take the letter.
'With mycompliments and thanks' said Sir Joseph. 'Stop!'
'Stop!'echoed Mr. Fish.
'You haveheardperhaps' said Sir Josephoracularly'certainremarksinto which I have been led respecting the solemn period oftime atwhich we have arrivedand the duty imposed upon us ofsettlingour affairsand being prepared. You have observed that Idon'tshelter myself behind my superior standing in societybutthat Mr.Fish - that gentleman - has a cheque-book at his elbowand is infact hereto enable me to turn over a perfectly newleafandenter on the epoch before us with a clean account. Nowmy friendcan you lay your hand upon your heartand saythat youalso havemade preparations for a New Year?'
'I amafraidsir' stammered Trottylooking meekly at him'thatI am a - a- little behind-hand with the world.'
'Behind-hand with the world!' repeated Sir Joseph Bowleyin atone ofterrible distinctness.
'I amafraidsir' faltered Trotty'that there's a matter of tenor twelveshillings owing to Mrs. Chickenstalker.'
'To Mrs.Chickenstalker!' repeated Sir Josephin the same tone asbefore.
'A shopsir' exclaimed Toby'in the general line. Also a - alittlemoney on account of rent. A very littlesir. It oughtn'tto beowingI knowbut we have been hard put to itindeed!'
Sir Josephlooked at his ladyand at Mr. Fishand at Trottyoneafteranothertwice all round. He then made a despondent gesturewith bothhands at onceas if he gave the thing up altogether.
'How amaneven among this improvident and impracticable race; anold man; aman grown grey; can look a New Year in the facewithhisaffairs in this condition; how he can lie down on his bed atnightandget up again in the morningand - There!' he saidturninghis back on Trotty. 'Take the letter. Take the letter!'
'Iheartily wish it was otherwisesir' said Trottyanxious toexcusehimself. 'We have been tried very hard.'
Sir Josephstill repeating 'Take the lettertake the letter!' andMr. Fishnot only saying the same thingbut giving additionalforce tothe request by motioning the bearer to the doorhe hadnothingfor it but to make his bow and leave the house. And in thestreetpoor Trotty pulled his worn old hat down on his headtohide thegrief he felt at getting no hold on the New Yearanywhere.
He didn'teven lift his hat to look up at the Bell tower when hecame tothe old church on his return. He halted there a momentfromhabit: and knew that it was growing darkand that thesteeplerose above himindistinct and faintin the murky air. Heknewtoothat the Chimes would ring immediately; and that theysounded tohis fancyat such a timelike voices in the clouds.But heonly made the more haste to deliver the Alderman's letterand getout of the way before they began; for he dreaded to hearthemtagging 'Friends and FathersFriends and Fathers' to theburdenthey had rung out last.
Tobydischarged himself of his commissionthereforewith allpossiblespeedand set off trotting homeward. But what with hispacewhich was at best an awkward one in the street; and what withhis hatwhich didn't improve it; he trotted against somebody inless thanno timeand was sent staggering out into the road.
'I begyour pardonI'm sure!' said Trottypulling up his hat ingreatconfusionand between the hat and the torn liningfixinghis headinto a kind of bee-hive. 'I hope I haven't hurt you.'
As tohurting anybodyToby was not such an absolute Samsonbutthat hewas much more likely to be hurt himself: and indeedhehad flownout into the roadlike a shuttlecock. He had such anopinion ofhis own strengthhoweverthat he was in real concernfor theother party: and said again
'I hope Ihaven't hurt you?'
The managainst whom he had run; a sun-brownedsinewycountry-lookingmanwith grizzled hairand a rough chin; stared at himfor amomentas if he suspected him to be in jest. Butsatisfiedof hisgood faithhe answered:
'Nofriend. You have not hurt me.'
'Nor thechildI hope?' said Trotty.
'Nor thechild' returned the man. 'I thank you kindly.'
As he saidsohe glanced at a little girl he carried in his armsasleep: and shading her face with the long end of the poorhandkerchiefhe wore about his throatwent slowly on.
The tonein which he said 'I thank you kindly' penetrated Trotty'sheart. He was so jaded and foot-soreand so soiled with traveland lookedabout him so forlorn and strangethat it was a comfortto him tobe able to thank any one: no matter for how little.Toby stoodgazing after him as he plodded wearily awaywith thechild'sarm clinging round his neck.
At thefigure in the worn shoes - now the very shade and ghost ofshoes -rough leather leggingscommon frockand broad slouchedhatTrotty stood gazingblind to the whole street. And at thechild'sarmclinging round its neck.
Before hemerged into the darkness the traveller stopped; andlookingroundand seeing Trotty standing there yetseemedundecidedwhether to return or go on. After doing first the oneand thenthe otherhe came backand Trotty went half-way to meethim.
'You cantell meperhaps' said the man with a faint smile'andif you canI am sure you willand I'd rather ask you than another- whereAlderman Cute lives.'
'Close athand' replied Toby. 'I'll show you his house withpleasure.'
'I was tohave gone to him elsewhere to-morrow' said the manaccompanyingToby'but I'm uneasy under suspicionand want toclearmyselfand to be free to go and seek my bread - I don't knowwhere. Somaybe he'll forgive my going to his house to-night.'
'It'simpossible' cried Toby with a start'that your name'sFern!'
'Eh!'cried the otherturning on him in astonishment.
'Fern! Will Fern!' said Trotty.
'That's myname' replied the other.
'Whythen' said Trottyseizing him by the armand lookingcautiouslyround'for Heaven's sake don't go to him! Don't go tohim! He'll put you down as sure as ever you were born. Here! comeup thisalleyand I'll tell you what I mean. Don't go to HIM.'
His newacquaintance looked as if he thought him mad; but he borehimcompany nevertheless. When they were shrouded fromobservationTrotty told him what he knewand what character hehadreceivedand all about it.
Thesubject of his history listened to it with a calmness thatsurprisedhim. He did not contradict or interrupt itonce. Henodded hishead now and then - more in corroboration of an old andworn-outstoryit appearedthan in refutation of it; and once ortwicethrew back his hatand passed his freckled hand over a browwhereevery furrow he had ploughed seemed to have set its image inlittle. But he did no more.
'It's trueenough in the main' he said'masterI could siftgrain fromhusk here and therebut let it be as 'tis. What odds?I havegone against his plans; to my misfortun'. I can't help it;I shoulddo the like to-morrow. As to characterthem gentlefolkswillsearch and searchand pry and pryand have it as free fromspot orspeck in usafore they'll help us to a dry good word! -Well! Ihope they don't lose good opinion as easy as we doortheirlives is strict indeedand hardly worth the keeping. FormyselfmasterI never took with that hand' - holding it beforehim -'what wasn't my own; and never held it back from workhoweverhardor poorly paid. Whoever can deny itlet him chop itoff! But when work won't maintain me like a human creetur; when myliving isso badthat I am Hungryout of doors and in; when I seea wholeworking life begin that waygo on that wayand end thatwaywithout a chance or change; then I say to the gentlefolks"Keepaway from me! Let my cottage be. My doors is dark enoughwithoutyour darkening of 'em more. Don't look for me to come upinto thePark to help the show when there's a Birthdayor a fineSpeechmakingor what not. Act your Plays and Games without meand bewelcome to 'emand enjoy 'em. We've nowt to do with oneanother. I'm best let alone!"'
Seeingthat the child in his arms had opened her eyesand waslookingabout her in wonderhe checked himself to say a word ortwo offoolish prattle in her earand stand her on the groundbesidehim. Then slowly winding one of her long tresses round andround hisrough forefinger like a ringwhile she hung about hisdusty leghe said to Trotty:
'I'm not across-grained man by natu'I believe; and easysatisfiedI'm sure. I bear no ill-will against none of 'em. Ionly wantto live like one of the Almighty's creeturs. I can't - Idon't -and so there's a pit dug between meand them that can anddo. There's others like me. You might tell 'em off by hundredsand bythousandssooner than by ones.'
Trottyknew he spoke the Truth in thisand shook his head tosignify asmuch.
'I've gota bad name this way' said Fern; 'and I'm not likelyI'mafearedto get a better. 'Tan't lawful to be out of sortsand IAM out ofsortsthough God knows I'd sooner bear a cheerful spiritif Icould. Well! I don't know as this Alderman could hurt MEmuch bysending me to jail; but without a friend to speak a wordfor mehemight do it; and you see - !' pointing downward with hisfingeratthe child.
'She has abeautiful face' said Trotty.
'Why yes!'replied the other in a low voiceas he gently turned itup withboth his hands towards his ownand looked upon itsteadfastly. 'I've thought somany times. I've thought sowhenmy hearthwas very coldand cupboard very bare. I thought sot'othernightwhen we were taken like two thieves. But they -theyshouldn't try the little face too oftenshould theyLilian?That'shardly fair upon a man!'
He sunkhis voice so lowand gazed upon her with an air so sternandstrangethat Tobyto divert the current of his thoughtsinquiredif his wife were living.
'I neverhad one' he returnedshaking his head. 'She's mybrother'schild: a orphan. Nine year oldthough you'd hardlythink it;but she's tired and worn out now. They'd have taken careon herthe Union - eight-and-twenty mile away from where we live -betweenfour walls (as they took care of my old father when hecouldn'twork no morethough he didn't trouble 'em long); but Itook herinsteadand she's lived with me ever since. Her motherhad afriend oncein London here. We are trying to find herandto findwork too; but it's a large place. Never mind. More roomfor us towalk about inLilly!'
Meetingthe child's eyes with a smile which melted Toby more thantearsheshook him by the hand.
'I don'tso much as know your name' he said'but I've opened myheart freeto youfor I'm thankful to you; with good reason. I'lltake youradviceand keep clear of this - '
'Ah!' hesaid. 'If that's the name they give him. This Justice.Andto-morrow will try whether there's better fortun' to be metwithsomewheres near London. Good night. A Happy New Year!'
'Stay!'cried Trottycatching at his handas he relaxed his grip.'Stay! The New Year never can be happy to meif we part likethis. The New Year never can be happy to meif I see the childand you gowandering awayyou don't know wherewithout a shelterfor yourheads. Come home with me! I'm a poor manliving in apoorplace; but I can give you lodging for one night and never missit. Come home with me! Here! I'll take her!' cried Trottylifting upthe child. 'A pretty one! I'd carry twenty times herweightand never know I'd got it. Tell me if I go too quick foryou. I'm very fast. I always was!' Trotty said thistakingabout sixof his trotting paces to one stride of his fatiguedcompanion;and with his thin legs quivering againbeneath the loadhe bore.
'Whyshe's as light' said Trottytrotting in his speech as wellas in hisgait; for he couldn't bear to be thankedand dreaded amoment'spause; 'as light as a feather. Lighter than a Peacock'sfeather -a great deal lighter. Here we are and here we go! Roundthis firstturning to the rightUncle Willand past the pumpandsharp offup the passage to the leftright opposite the public-house. Here we are and here we go! Cross overUncle Willandmind thekidney pieman at the corner! Here we are and here we go!Down theMews hereUncle Willand stop at the black doorwith"T.VeckTicket Porter" wrote upon a board; and here we are andhere wegoand here we are indeedmy precious. Megsurprisingyou!'
With whichwords Trottyin a breathless stateset the child downbefore hisdaughter in the middle of the floor. The little visitorlookedonce at Meg; and doubting nothing in that facebut trustingeverythingshe saw there; ran into her arms.
'Here weare and here we go!' cried Trottyrunning round the roomandchoking audibly. 'HereUncle Willhere's a fire you know!Why don'tyou come to the fire? Oh here we are and here we go!Megmyprecious darlingwhere's the kettle? Here it is and hereit goesand it'll bile in no time!'
Trottyreally had picked up the kettle somewhere or other in thecourse ofhis wild career and now put it on the fire: while Megseatingthe child in a warm cornerknelt down on the ground beforeherandpulled off her shoesand dried her wet feet on a cloth.Ayandshe laughed at Trotty too - so pleasantlyso cheerfullythatTrotty could have blessed her where she kneeled; for he hadseen thatwhen they enteredshe was sitting by the fire in tears.
'Whyfather!' said Meg. 'You're crazy to-nightI think. Idon'tknow whatthe Bells would say to that. Poor little feet. How coldthey are!'
'Ohthey're warmer now!' exclaimed the child. 'They're quite warmnow!'
'Nonono' said Meg. 'We haven't rubbed 'em half enough. We'reso busy. So busy! And when they're donewe'll brush out the damphair; andwhen that's donewe'll bring some colour to the poorpale facewith fresh water; and when that's donewe'll be so gayand briskand happy - !'
The childin a burst of sobbingclasped her round the neck;caressedher fair cheek with its hand; and said'Oh Meg! oh dearMeg!'
Toby'sblessing could have done no more. Who could do more!
'Whyfather!' cried Megafter a pause.
'Here I amand here I gomy dear!' said Trotty.
'GoodGracious me!' cried Meg. 'He's crazy! He's put the dearchild'sbonnet on the kettleand hung the lid behind the door!'
'I didn'tgo for to do itmy love' said Trottyhastily repairingthismistake. 'Megmy dear?'
Meg lookedtowards him and saw that he had elaborately stationedhimselfbehind the chair of their male visitorwhere with manymysteriousgestures he was holding up the sixpence he had earned.
'I seemydear' said Trotty'as I was coming inhalf an ounceof tealying somewhere on the stairs; and I'm pretty sure there wasa bit ofbacon too. As I don't remember where it was exactlyI'llgo myselfand try to find 'em.'
With thisinscrutable artificeToby withdrew to purchase theviands hehad spoken offor ready moneyat Mrs. Chickenstalker's;andpresently came backpretending he had not been able to findthematfirstin the dark.
'But herethey are at last' said Trottysetting out the tea-things'all correct! I was pretty sure it was teaand a rasher.So it is. Megmy petif you'll just make the teawhile yourunworthyfather toasts the baconwe shall be readyimmediate.It's acurious circumstance' said Trottyproceeding in hiscookerywith the assistance of the toasting-fork'curiousbutwell knownto my friendsthat I never caremyselffor rashersnor fortea. I like to see other people enjoy 'em' said Trottyspeakingvery loudto impress the fact upon his guest'but to meas foodthey're disagreeable.'
Yet Trottysniffed the savour of the hissing bacon - ah! - as if heliked it;and when he poured the boiling water in the tea-potlookedlovingly down into the depths of that snug cauldronandsufferedthe fragrant steam to curl about his noseand wreathe hishead andface in a thick cloud. Howeverfor all thishe neitherate nordrankexcept at the very beginninga mere morsel forform'ssakewhich he appeared to eat with infinite relishbutdeclaredwas perfectly uninteresting to him.
No. Trotty's occupation wasto see Will Fern and Lilian eat anddrink; andso was Meg's. And never did spectators at a city dinneror courtbanquet find such high delight in seeing others feast:althoughit were a monarch or a pope: as those two didin lookingon thatnight. Meg smiled at TrottyTrotty laughed at Meg. Megshook herheadand made belief to clap her handsapplaudingTrotty;Trotty conveyedin dumb-showunintelligible narratives ofhow andwhen and where he had found their visitorsto Meg; andthey werehappy. Very happy.
'Although'thought Trottysorrowfullyas he watched Meg's face;'thatmatch is broken offI see!'
'NowI'lltell you what' said Trotty after tea. 'The little oneshe sleepswith MegI know.'
'With goodMeg!' cried the childcaressing her. 'With Meg.'
'That'sright' said Trotty. 'And I shouldn't wonder if she kissMeg'sfatherwon't she? I'M Meg's father.'
Mightilydelighted Trotty waswhen the child went timidly towardshimandhaving kissed himfell back upon Meg again.
'She's assensible as Solomon' said Trotty. 'Here we come andhere we -nowe don't - I don't mean that - I - what was I sayingMegmyprecious?'
Meg lookedtowards their guestwho leaned upon her chairand withhis faceturned from herfondled the child's headhalf hidden inher lap.
'To besure' said Toby. 'To be sure! I don't know what I'mramblingon aboutto-night. My wits are wool-gatheringI think.Will Fernyou come along with me. You're tired to deathandbrokendown for want of rest. You come along with me.' The manstillplayed with the child's curlsstill leaned upon Meg's chairstillturned away his face. He didn't speakbut in his roughcoarsefingersclenching and expanding in the fair hair of thechildthere was an eloquence that said enough.
'Yesyes' said Trottyanswering unconsciously what he sawexpressedin his daughter's face. 'Take her with youMeg. Gether tobed. There! NowWillI'll show you where you lie. It'snot muchof a place: only a loft; buthaving a loftI alwayssayisone of the great conveniences of living in a mews; and tillthiscoach-house and stable gets a better letwe live here cheap.There'splenty of sweet hay up therebelonging to a neighbour; andit's asclean as handsand Megcan make it. Cheer up! Don'tgive way. A new heart for a New Yearalways!'
The handreleased from the child's hairhad fallentremblingintoTrotty's hand. So Trottytalking without intermissionledhim out astenderly and easily as if he had been a child himself.Returningbefore Meghe listened for an instant at the door of herlittlechamber; an adjoining room. The child was murmuring asimplePrayer before lying down to sleep; and when she hadrememberedMeg's name'DearlyDearly' - so her words ran - Trottyheard herstop and ask for his.
It wassome short time before the foolish little old fellow couldcomposehimself to mend the fireand draw his chair to the warmhearth. Butwhen he had done soand had trimmed the lighthetook hisnewspaper from his pocketand began to read. Carelesslyat firstand skimming up and down the columns; but with an earnestand a sadattentionvery soon.
For thissame dreaded paper re-directed Trotty's thoughts into thechannelthey had taken all that dayand which the day's events hadso markedout and shaped. His interest in the two wanderers hadset him onanother course of thinkingand a happier onefor thetime; butbeing alone againand reading of the crimes andviolencesof the peoplehe relapsed into his former train.
In thismoodhe came to an account (and it was not the first hehad everread) of a woman who had laid her desperate hands not onlyon her ownlife but on that of her young child. A crime soterribleand so revolting to his souldilated with the love ofMegthathe let the journal dropand fell back in his chairappalled!
'Unnaturaland cruel!' Toby cried. 'Unnatural and cruel! None butpeople whowere bad at heartborn badwho had no business on theearthcould do such deeds. It's too trueall I've heard to-day;too justtoo full of proof. We're Bad!'
The Chimestook up the words so suddenly - burst out so loudandclearandsonorous - that the Bells seemed to strike him in hischair.
And whatwas thatthey said?
'TobyVeckToby Veckwaiting for you Toby! Toby VeckToby Veckwaitingfor you Toby! Come and see uscome and see usDrag himto usdrag him to usHaunt and hunt himhaunt and hunt himBreak hisslumbersbreak his slumbers! Toby Veck Toby Veckdooropen wideTobyToby Veck Toby Veckdoor open wide Toby - ' thenfiercelyback to their impetuous strain againand ringing in theverybricks and plaster on the walls.
Tobylistened. Fancyfancy! His remorse for having run awayfromthem thatafternoon! Nono. Nothing of the kind. Againagainand yet adozen times again. 'Haunt and hunt himhaunt and hunthimDraghim to usdrag him to us!' Deafening the whole town!
'Meg'said Trotty softly: tapping at her door. 'Do you hearanything?'
'I hearthe Bellsfather. Surely they're very loud to-night.'
'Is sheasleep?' said Tobymaking an excuse for peeping in.
'Sopeacefully and happily! I can't leave her yet thoughfather.Look howshe holds my hand!'
'Meg'whispered Trotty. 'Listen to the Bells!'
Shelistenedwith her face towards him all the time. But itunderwentno change. She didn't understand them.
Trottywithdrewresumed his seat by the fireand once morelistenedby himself. He remained here a little time.
It wasimpossible to bear it; their energy was dreadful.
'If thetower-door is really open' said Tobyhastily laying asidehis apronbut never thinking of his hat'what's to hinder me fromgoing upinto the steeple and satisfying myself? If it's shutIdon't wantany other satisfaction. That's enough.'
He waspretty certain as he slipped out quietly into the streetthat heshould find it shut and lockedfor he knew the door welland had sorarely seen it openthat he couldn't reckon above threetimes inall. It was a low arched portaloutside the churchin adark nookbehind a column; and had such great iron hingesand suchamonstrous lockthat there was more hinge and lock than door.
But whatwas his astonishment whencoming bare-headed to thechurch;and putting his hand into this dark nookwith a certainmisgivingthat it might be unexpectedly seizedand a shiveringpropensityto draw it back again; he found that the doorwhichopenedoutwardsactually stood ajar!
Hethoughton the first surpriseof going back; or of getting alightora companionbut his courage aided him immediatelyandhedetermined to ascend alone.
'What haveI to fear?' said Trotty. 'It's a church! Besidestheringersmay be thereand have forgotten to shut the door.' So hewent infeeling his way as he wentlike a blind man; for it wasverydark. And very quietfor the Chimes were silent.
The dustfrom the street had blown into the recess; and lyingthereheaped upmade it so soft and velvet-like to the footthatthere wassomething startlingeven in that. The narrow stair wasso closeto the doortoothat he stumbled at the very first; andshuttingthe door upon himselfby striking it with his footandcausing itto rebound back heavilyhe couldn't open it again.
This wasanother reasonhoweverfor going on. Trotty groped hiswayandwent on. Upupupand roundand round; and upupup;higherhigherhigher up!
It was adisagreeable staircase for that groping work; so low andnarrowthat his groping hand was always touching something; and itoften feltso like a man or ghostly figure standing up erect andmakingroom for him to pass without discoverythat he would rubthe smoothwall upward searching for its faceand downwardsearchingfor its feetwhile a chill tingling crept all over him.Twice orthricea door or niche broke the monotonous surface; andthen itseemed a gap as wide as the whole church; and he felt onthe brinkof an abyssand going to tumble headlong downuntil hefound thewall again.
Still upupup; and round and round; and upupup; higherhigherhigher up!
At lengththe dull and stifling atmosphere began to freshen:presentlyto feel quite windy: presently it blew so strongthathe couldhardly keep his legs. Buthe got to an arched window inthe towerbreast highand holding tightlooked down upon thehouse-topson the smoking chimneyson the blur and blotch oflights(towards the place where Meg was wondering where he was andcalling tohim perhaps)all kneaded up together in a leaven ofmist anddarkness.
This wasthe belfrywhere the ringers came. He had caught hold ofone of thefrayed ropes which hung down through apertures in theoakenroof. At first he startedthinking it was hair; thentrembledat the very thought of waking the deep Bell. The Bellsthemselveswere higher. HigherTrottyin his fascinationor inworkingout the spell upon himgroped his way. By ladders nowandtoilsomelyfor it was steepand not too certain holding forthe feet.
Upupup; and climb and clamber; upupup; higherhigherhigher up!
Untilascending through the floorand pausing with his head justraisedabove its beamshe came among the Bells. It was barelypossibleto make out their great shapes in the gloom; but theretheywere. Shadowyand darkand dumb.
A heavysense of dread and loneliness fell instantly upon himashe climbedinto this airy nest of stone and metal. His head wentround andround. He listenedand then raised a wild 'Holloa!'Holloa!was mournfully protracted by the echoes.
Giddyconfusedand out of breathand frightenedToby lookedabout himvacantlyand sunk down in a swoon.
BLACK arethe brooding clouds and troubled the deep waterswhenthe Sea ofThoughtfirst heaving from a calmgives up its Dead.Monstersuncouth and wildarise in prematureimperfectresurrection;the several parts and shapes of different things arejoined andmixed by chance; and whenand howand by whatwonderfuldegreeseach separates from eachand every sense andobject ofthe mind resumes its usual form and lives againno man -thoughevery man is every day the casket of this type of the GreatMystery -can tell.
Sowhenand how the darkness of the night-black steeple changed toshininglight; when and how the solitary tower was peopled with amyriadfigures; when and how the whispered 'Haunt and hunt him'breathingmonotonously through his sleep or swoonbecame a voiceexclaimingin the waking ears of Trotty'Break his slumbers;' whenand how heceased to have a sluggish and confused idea that suchthingswerecompanioning a host of others that were not; there areno datesor means to tell. Butawake and standing on his feetupon theboards where he had lately lainhe saw this Goblin Sight.
He saw thetowerwhither his charmed footsteps had brought himswarmingwith dwarf phantomsspiritselfin creatures of theBells. He saw them leapingflyingdroppingpouring from theBellswithout a pause. He saw themround him on the ground; abovehiminthe air; clambering from himby the ropes below; lookingdown uponhimfrom the massive iron-girded beams; peeping in uponhimthrough the chinks and loopholes in the walls; spreading awayand awayfrom him in enlarging circlesas the water ripples giveway to ahuge stone that suddenly comes plashing in among them. Hesaw themof all aspects and all shapes. He saw them uglyhandsomecrippledexquisitely formed. He saw them younghe sawthem oldhe saw them kindhe saw them cruelhe saw them merryhe sawthem grim; he saw them danceand heard them sing; he sawthem teartheir hairand heard them howl. He saw the air thickwiththem. He saw them come and goincessantly. He saw themridingdownwardsoaring upwardsailing off afarperching near athandallrestless and all violently active. Stoneand brickandslateandtilebecame transparent to him as to them. He saw themIN thehousesbusy at the sleepers' beds. He saw them soothingpeople intheir dreams; he saw them beating them with knottedwhips; hesaw them yelling in their ears; he saw them playingsoftestmusic on their pillows; he saw them cheering some with thesongs ofbirds and the perfume of flowers; he saw them flashingawfulfaces on the troubled rest of othersfrom enchanted mirrorswhich theycarried in their hands.
He sawthese creaturesnot only among sleeping men but wakingalsoactive in pursuits irreconcilable with one anotherandpossessingor assuming natures the most opposite. He saw onebucklingon innumerable wings to increase his speed; anotherloadinghimself with chains and weightsto retard his. He sawsomeputting the hands of clocks forwardsome putting the hands ofclocksbackwardsome endeavouring to stop the clock entirely. Hesaw themrepresentinghere a marriage ceremonythere a funeral;in thischamber an electionin that a ball he saweverywhererestlessand untiring motion.
Bewilderedby the host of shifting and extraordinary figuresaswell as bythe uproar of the Bellswhich all this while wereringingTrotty clung to a wooden pillar for supportand turnedhis whiteface here and therein mute and stunned astonishment.
As hegazedthe Chimes stopped. Instantaneous change! Thewholeswarmfainted! their forms collapsedtheir speed deserted them;theysought to flybut in the act of falling died and melted intoair. No fresh supply succeeded them. One straggler leaped downprettybriskly from the surface of the Great Belland alighted onhis feetbut he was dead and gone before he could turn round.Some fewof the late company who had gambolled in the towerremainedtherespinning over and over a little longer; but thesebecame atevery turn more faintand fewand feebleand soon wentthe way ofthe rest. The last of all was one small hunchbackwhohad gotinto an echoing cornerwhere he twirled and twirledandfloated byhimself a long time; showing such perseverancethat atlast hedwindled to a leg and even to a footbefore he finallyretired;but he vanished in the endand then the tower was silent.
Then andnot beforedid Trotty see in every Bell a bearded figureof thebulk and stature of the Bell - incomprehensiblya figureand theBell itself. Giganticgraveand darkly watchful of himas hestood rooted to the ground.
Mysteriousand awful figures! Resting on nothing; poised in thenight airof the towerwith their draped and hooded heads mergedin the dimroof; motionless and shadowy. Shadowy and darkalthoughhe saw them by some light belonging to themselves - noneelse wasthere - each with its muffled hand upon its goblin mouth.
He couldnot plunge down wildly through the opening in the floor;for allpower of motion had deserted him. Otherwise he would havedone so -ayewould have thrown himselfheadforemostfrom thesteeple-toprather than have seen them watching him with eyes thatwould havewaked and watched although the pupils had been takenout.
Againagainthe dread and terror of the lonely placeand of thewild andfearful night that reigned theretouched him like aspectralhand. His distance from all help; the longdarkwindingghost-beleaguered way that lay between him and the earthon whichmen lived; his being highhighhighup therewhere ithad madehim dizzy to see the birds fly in the day; cut off fromall goodpeoplewho at such an hour were safe at home and sleepingin theirbeds; all this struck coldly through himnot as areflectionbut a bodily sensation. Meantime his eyes and thoughtsand fearswere fixed upon the watchful figures; whichrenderedunlike anyfigures of this world by the deep gloom and shadeenwrappingand enfolding themas well as by their looks and formsandsupernatural hovering above the floorwere nevertheless asplainly tobe seen as were the stalwart oaken framescross-piecesbars andbeamsset up there to support the Bells. These hemmedthemin avery forest of hewn timber; from the entanglementsintricaciesand depths of whichas from among the boughs of adead woodblighted for their phantom usethey kept their darksomeandunwinking watch.
A blast ofair - how cold and shrill! - came moaning through thetower. As it died awaythe Great Bellor the Goblin of the GreatBellspoke.
'Whatvisitor is this!' it said. The voice was low and deepandTrottyfancied that it sounded in the other figures as well.
'I thoughtmy name was called by the Chimes!' said Trottyraisinghis handsin an attitude of supplication. 'I hardly know why I amhereorhow I came. I have listened to the Chimes these manyyears. They have cheered me often.'
'And youhave thanked them?' said the Bell.
'Athousand times!' cried Trotty.
'I am apoor man' faltered Trotty'and could only thank them inwords.'
'Andalways so?' inquired the Goblin of the Bell. 'Have you neverdone uswrong in words?'
'No!'cried Trotty eagerly.
'Neverdone us fouland falseand wicked wrongin words?'pursuedthe Goblin of the Bell.
Trotty wasabout to answer'Never!' But he stoppedand wasconfused.
'The voiceof Time' said the Phantom'cries to manAdvance!Time isfor his advancement and improvement; for his greater worthhisgreater happinesshis better life; his progress onward to thatgoalwithin its knowledge and its viewand set therein theperiodwhen Time and He began. Ages of darknesswickednessandviolencehave come and gone - millions uncountablehave sufferedlivedanddied - to point the way before him. Who seeks to turnhim backor stay him on his coursearrests a mighty engine whichwillstrike the meddler dead; and be the fiercer and the wildereverforits momentary check!'
'I neverdid so to my knowledgesir' said Trotty. 'It was quitebyaccident if I did. I wouldn't go to do itI'm sure.'
'Who putsinto the mouth of Timeor of its servants' said theGoblin ofthe Bell'a cry of lamentation for days which have hadtheirtrial and their failureand have left deep traces of itwhich theblind may see - a cry that only serves the present timeby showingmen how much it needs their help when any ears canlisten toregrets for such a past - who does thisdoes a wrong.And youhave done that wrongto usthe Chimes.'
Trotty'sfirst excess of fear was gone. But he had felt tenderlyandgratefully towards the Bellsas you have seen; and when heheardhimself arraigned as one who had offended them so weightilyhis heartwas touched with penitence and grief.
'If youknew' said Trottyclasping his hands earnestly - 'orperhapsyou do know - if you know how often you have kept mecompany;how often you have cheered me up when I've been low; howyou werequite the plaything of my little daughter Meg (almost theonly oneshe ever had) when first her mother diedand she and mewere leftalone; you won't bear malice for a hasty word!'
'Who hearsin usthe Chimesone note bespeaking disregardorsternregardof any hopeor joyor painor sorrowof the many-sorrowedthrong; who hears us make response to any creed thatgaugeshuman passions and affectionsas it gauges the amount ofmiserablefood on which humanity may pine and wither; does uswrong. That wrong you have done us!' said the Bell.
'I have!'said Trotty. 'Oh forgive me!'
'Who hearsus echo the dull vermin of the earth: the Putters Downof crushedand broken naturesformed to be raised up higher thansuchmaggots of the time can crawl or can conceive' pursued theGoblin ofthe Bell; 'who does sodoes us wrong. And you have doneus wrong!'
'Notmeaning it' said Trotty. 'In my ignorance. Not meaningit!'
'Lastlyand most of all' pursued the Bell. 'Who turns his backupon thefallen and disfigured of his kind; abandons them as vile;and doesnot trace and track with pitying eyes the unfencedprecipiceby which they fell from good - grasping in their fallsome tuftsand shreds of that lost soiland clinging to them stillwhenbruised and dying in the gulf below; does wrong to Heaven andmantotime and to eternity. And you have done that wrong!'
'Spareme!' cried Trottyfalling on his knees; 'for Mercy's sake!'
'Listen!'said the Shadow.
'Listen!'cried the other Shadows.
'Listen!'said a clear and childlike voicewhich Trotty thought herecognisedas having heard before.
The organsounded faintly in the church below. Swelling bydegreesthe melody ascended to the roofand filled the choir andnave. Expanding more and moreit rose upup; upup; higherhigherhigher up; awakening agitated hearts within the burly pilesof oak: the hollow bellsthe iron-bound doorsthe stairs ofsolidstone; until the tower walls were insufficient to contain itand itsoared into the sky.
No wonderthat an old man's breast could not contain a sound sovast andmighty. It broke from that weak prison in a rush oftears; andTrotty put his hands before his face.
'Listen!'said the Shadow.
'Listen!'said the other Shadows.
'Listen!'said the child's voice.
A solemnstrain of blended voicesrose into the tower.
It was avery low and mournful strain - a Dirge - and as helistenedTrotty heard his child among the singers.
'She isdead!' exclaimed the old man. 'Meg is dead! Her Spiritcalls tome. I hear it!'
'TheSpirit of your child bewails the deadand mingles with thedead -dead hopesdead fanciesdead imaginings of youth'returnedthe Bell'but she is living. Learn from her lifealivingtruth. Learn from the creature dearest to your hearthowbad thebad are born. See every bud and leaf plucked one by onefrom offthe fairest stemand know how bare and wretched it maybe. Follow her! To desperation!'
Each ofthe shadowy figures stretched its right arm forthandpointeddownward.
'TheSpirit of the Chimes is your companion' said the figure.
'Go! It stands behind you!'
Trottyturnedand saw - the child! The child Will Fern hadcarried inthe street; the child whom Meg had watchedbut nowasleep!
'I carriedher myselfto-night' said Trotty. 'In these arms!'
'Show himwhat he calls himself' said the dark figuresone andall.
The toweropened at his feet. He looked downand beheld his ownformlying at the bottomon the outside: crushed and motionless.
'No more aliving man!' cried Trotty. 'Dead!'
'Dead!'said the figures all together.
'GraciousHeaven! And the New Year - '
'Past'said the figures.
'What!' hecriedshuddering. 'I missed my wayand coming on theoutside ofthis tower in the darkfell down - a year ago?'
'Nineyears ago!' replied the figures.
As theygave the answerthey recalled their outstretched hands;and wheretheir figures had beenthere the Bells were.
And theyrung; their time being come again. And once againvastmultitudesof phantoms sprung into existence; once againwereincoherentlyengagedas they had been before; once againfaded onthestopping of the Chimes; and dwindled into nothing.
'What arethese?' he asked his guide. 'If I am not madwhat arethese?'
'Spiritsof the Bells. Their sound upon the air' returned thechild. 'They take such shapes and occupations as the hopes andthoughtsof mortalsand the recollections they have stored upgivethem.'
'And you'said Trotty wildly. 'What are you?'
'Hushhush!' returned the child. 'Look here!'
In a poormean room; working at the same kind of embroidery whichhe hadoftenoften seen before her; Meghis own dear daughterwaspresented to his view. He made no effort to imprint his kisseson herface; he did not strive to clasp her to his loving heart; heknew thatsuch endearments werefor himno more. Buthe heldhistrembling breathand brushed away the blinding tearsthat hemight lookupon her; that he might only see her.
Ah! Changed. Changed. The light of the clear eyehow dimmed.The bloomhow faded from the cheek. Beautiful she wasas she hadever beenbut HopeHopeHopeoh where was the fresh Hope thathad spokento him like a voice!
She lookedup from her workat a companion. Following her eyesthe oldman started back.
In thewoman grownhe recognised her at a glance. In the longsilkenhairhe saw the self-same curls; around the lipsthechild'sexpression lingering still. See! In the eyesnow turnedinquiringlyon Megthere shone the very look that scanned thosefeatureswhen he brought her home!
Then whatwas thisbeside him!
Lookingwith awe into its facehe saw a something reigning there:a loftysomethingundefined and indistinctwhich made it hardlymore thana remembrance of that child - as yonder figure might be -yet it wasthe same: the same: and wore the dress.
Hark. They were speaking!
'Meg'said Lilianhesitating. 'How often you raise your headfrom yourwork to look at me!'
'Are mylooks so alteredthat they frighten you?' asked Meg.
'Naydear! But you smile at thatyourself! Why not smilewhenyou lookat meMeg?'
'I do so. Do I not?' she answered: smiling on her.
'Now youdo' said Lilian'but not usually. When you think I'mbusyanddon't see youyou look so anxious and so doubtfulthatI hardlylike to raise my eyes. There is little cause for smilingin thishard and toilsome lifebut you were once so cheerful.'
'Am I notnow!' cried Megspeaking in a tone of strange alarmandrising toembrace her. 'Do I make our weary life more weary toyouLilian!'
'You havebeen the only thing that made it life' said Lilianferventlykissing her; 'sometimes the only thing that made me careto livesoMeg. Such worksuch work! So many hoursso manydayssomany longlong nights of hopelesscheerlessnever-endingwork - not to heap up richesnot to live grandly or gailynot tolive upon enoughhowever coarse; but to earn bare bread; toscrapetogether just enough to toil uponand want uponand keepalive inus the consciousness of our hard fate! Oh MegMeg!' sheraised hervoice and twined her arms about her as she spokelikeone inpain. 'How can the cruel world go roundand bear to lookupon suchlives!'
'Lilly!'said Megsoothing herand putting back her hair from herwet face. 'WhyLilly! You! So pretty and so young!'
'Oh Meg!'she interruptedholding her at arm's-lengthand lookingin herface imploringly. 'The worst of allthe worst of all!Strike meoldMeg! Wither meand shrivel meand free me fromthedreadful thoughts that tempt me in my youth!'
Trottyturned to look upon his guide. But the Spirit of the childhad takenflight. Was gone.
Neitherdid he himself remain in the same place; forSir JosephBowleyFriend and Father of the Poorheld a great festivity atBowleyHallin honour of the natal day of Lady Bowley. And asLadyBowley had been born on New Year's Day (which the localnewspapersconsidered an especial pointing of the finger ofProvidenceto number Oneas Lady Bowley's destined figure inCreation)it was on a New Year's Day that this festivity tookplace.
BowleyHall was full of visitors. The red-faced gentleman wasthereMr.Filer was therethe great Alderman Cute was there -AldermanCute had a sympathetic feeling with great peopleand hadconsiderablyimproved his acquaintance with Sir Joseph Bowley onthestrength of his attentive letter: indeed had become quite afriend ofthe family since then - and many guests were there.Trotty'sghost was therewandering aboutpoor phantomdrearily;andlooking for its guide.
There wasto be a great dinner in the Great Hall. At which SirJosephBowleyin his celebrated character of Friend and Father ofthe Poorwas to make his great speech. Certain plum-puddings wereto beeaten by his Friends and Children in another Hall first; andat a givensignalFriends and Children flocking in among theirFriendsand Fatherswere to form a family assemblagewith not onemanly eyetherein unmoistened by emotion.
Buttherewas more than this to happen. Even more than this. SirJosephBowleyBaronet and Member of Parliamentwas to play amatch atskittles - real skittles - with his tenants!
'Whichquite reminds me' said Alderman Cute'of the days of oldKing Halstout King Halbluff King Hal. Ah! Fine character!'
'Very'said Mr. Filerdryly. 'For marrying women and murdering'em. Considerably more than the average number of wives by thebye.'
'You'llmarry the beautiful ladiesand not murder 'emeh?' saidAldermanCute to the heir of Bowleyaged twelve. 'Sweet boy! Weshall havethis little gentleman in Parliament now' said theAldermanholding him by the shouldersand looking as reflectiveas hecould'before we know where we are. We shall hear of hissuccessesat the poll; his speeches in the House; his overturesfromGovernments; his brilliant achievements of all kinds; ah! weshall makeour little orations about him in the Common CouncilI'll bebound; before we have time to look about us!'
'Ohthedifference of shoes and stockings!' Trotty thought. Buthis heartyearned towards the childfor the love of those sameshoelessand stockingless boyspredestined (by the Alderman) toturn outbadwho might have been the children of poor Meg.
'Richard'moaned Trottyroaming among the companyto and fro;'where ishe? I can't find Richard! Where is Richard?' Notlikely tobe thereif still alive! But Trotty's grief andsolitudeconfused him; and he still went wandering among thegallantcompanylooking for his guideand saying'Where isRichard? Show me Richard!'
He waswandering thuswhen he encountered Mr. FishtheconfidentialSecretary: in great agitation.
'Bless myheart and soul!' cried Mr. Fish. 'Where's Alderman Cute?Hasanybody seen the Alderman?'
Seen theAlderman? Oh dear! Who could ever help seeing theAlderman? He was so considerateso affablehe bore so much inmind thenatural desires of folks to see himthat if he had afaultitwas the being constantly On View. And wherever the greatpeoplewerethereto be sureattracted by the kindred sympathybetweengreat soulswas Cute.
Severalvoices cried that he was in the circle round Sir Joseph.Mr. Fishmade way there; found him; and took him secretly into awindownear at hand. Trotty joined them. Not of his own accord.He feltthat his steps were led in that direction.
'My dearAlderman Cute' said Mr. Fish. 'A little more this way.The mostdreadful circumstance has occurred. I have this momentreceivedthe intelligence. I think it will be best not to acquaintSir Josephwith it till the day is over. You understand SirJosephand will give me your opinion. The most frightful anddeplorableevent!'
'Fish!'returned the Alderman. 'Fish! My good fellowwhat is thematter? Nothing revolutionaryI hope! No - no attemptedinterferencewith the magistrates?'
'Deedlesthe banker' gasped the Secretary. 'Deedles Brothers -who was tohave been here to-day - high in office in theGoldsmiths'Company - '
'Notstopped!' exclaimed the Alderman'It can't be!'
'Put adouble-barrelled pistol to his mouthin his own countinghouse'said Mr. Fish'and blew his brains out. No motive.Princelycircumstances!'
'Circumstances!'exclaimed the Alderman. 'A man of noble fortune.One of themost respectable of men. SuicideMr. Fish! By his ownhand!'
'This verymorning' returned Mr. Fish.
'Oh thebrainthe brain!' exclaimed the pious Aldermanlifting uphishands. 'Oh the nervesthe nerves; the mysteries of thismachinecalled Man! Oh the little that unhinges it: poorcreaturesthat we are! Perhaps a dinnerMr. Fish. Perhaps theconduct ofhis sonwhoI have heardran very wildand was inthe habitof drawing bills upon him without the least authority! Amostrespectable man. One of the most respectable men I ever knew!Alamentable instanceMr. Fish. A public calamity! I shallmakea point ofwearing the deepest mourning. A most respectable man!But thereis One above. We must submitMr. Fish. We mustsubmit!'
WhatAlderman! No word of Putting Down? RememberJusticeyourhigh moralboast and pride. ComeAlderman! Balance those scales.Throw meinto thisthe empty oneno dinnerand Nature's fountsin somepoor womandried by starving misery and rendered obdurateto claimsfor which her offspring HAS authority in holy mother Eve.Weigh methe twoyou Danielgoing to judgmentwhen your dayshallcome! Weigh themin the eyes of suffering thousandsaudience(not unmindful) of the grim farce you play. Or supposingthat youstrayed from your five wits - it's not so far to gobutthat itmight be - and laid hands upon that throat of yourswarningyour fellows (if you have a fellow) how they croak theircomfortablewickedness to raving heads and stricken hearts. Whatthen?
The wordsrose up in Trotty's breastas if they had been spoken bysome othervoice within him. Alderman Cute pledged himself to Mr.Fish thathe would assist him in breaking the melancholycatastropheto Sir Joseph when the day was over. Thenbefore theypartedwringing Mr. Fish's hand in bitterness of soulhe said'The mostrespectable of men!' And added that he hardly knew (noteven he)why such afflictions were allowed on earth.
'It'salmost enough to make one thinkif one didn't know better'saidAlderman Cute'that at times some motion of a capsizingnature wasgoing on in thingswhich affected the general economyof thesocial fabric. Deedles Brothers!'
Theskittle-playing came off with immense success. Sir Josephknockedthe pins about quite skilfully; Master Bowley took aninnings ata shorter distance also; and everybody said that nowwhen aBaronet and the Son of a Baronet played at skittlesthecountrywas coming round againas fast as it could come.
At itsproper timethe Banquet was served up. Trottyinvoluntarilyrepaired to the Hall with the restfor he felthimselfconducted thither by some stronger impulse than his ownfreewill. The sight was gay in the extreme; the ladies were veryhandsome;the visitors delightedcheerfuland good-tempered.When thelower doors were openedand the people flocked inintheirrustic dressesthe beauty of the spectacle was at itsheight;but Trotty only murmured more and more'Where is Richard!He shouldhelp and comfort her! I can't see Richard!'
There hadbeen some speeches made; and Lady Bowley's health hadbeenproposed; and Sir Joseph Bowley had returned thanksand hadmade hisgreat speechshowing by various pieces of evidence thathe was theborn Friend and Fatherand so forth; and had given as aToasthisFriends and Childrenand the Dignity of Labour; when aslightdisturbance at the bottom of the Hall attracted Toby'snotice. After some confusionnoiseand oppositionone man brokethroughthe restand stood forward by himself.
NotRichard. No. But one whom he had thought ofand hadlookedformanytimes. In a scantier supply of lighthe might havedoubtedthe identity of that worn manso oldand greyand bent;but with ablaze of lamps upon his gnarled and knotted headheknew WillFern as soon as he stepped forth.
'What isthis!' exclaimed Sir Josephrising. 'Who gave this manadmittance? This is a criminal from prison! Mr. FishsirWILLyou havethe goodness - '
'Aminute!' said Will Fern. 'A minute! My Ladyyou was bornonthis dayalong with a New Year. Get me a minute's leave to speak.'
She madesome intercession for him. Sir Joseph took his seatagainwith native dignity.
The raggedvisitor - for he was miserably dressed - looked roundupon thecompanyand made his homage to them with a humble bow.
'Gentlefolks!'he said. 'You've drunk the Labourer. Look at me!'
'Just comefrom jail' said Mr. Fish.
'Just comefrom jail' said Will. 'And neither for the first timenor thesecondnor the thirdnor yet the fourth.'
Mr. Filerwas heard to remark testilythat four times was over theaverage;and he ought to be ashamed of himself.
'Gentlefolks!'repeated Will Fern. 'Look at me! You see I'm attheworst. Beyond all hurt or harm; beyond your help; for the timewhen yourkind words or kind actions could have done me good' - hestruck hishand upon his breastand shook his head'is gonewiththe scentof last year's beans or clover on the air. Let me say aword forthese' pointing to the labouring people in the Hall; 'andwhenyou're met togetherhear the real Truth spoke out for once.'
'There'snot a man here' said the host'who would have him for aspokesman.'
'LikeenoughSir Joseph. I believe it. Not the less trueperhapsis what I say. Perhaps that's a proof on it.GentlefolksI've lived many a year in this place. You may see thecottagefrom the sunk fence over yonder. I've seen the ladies drawit intheir booksa hundred times. It looks well in a picterI've heerdsay; but there an't weather in pictersand maybe 'tisfitter forthatthan for a place to live in. Well! I livedthere. How hard - how bitter hardI lived thereI won't say.Any day inthe yearand every dayyou can judge for your ownselves.'
He spokeas he had spoken on the night when Trotty found him in thestreet. His voice was deeper and more huskyand had a tremblingin it nowand then; but he never raised it passionatelyand seldomlifted itabove the firm stern level of the homely facts he stated.
''Tisharder than you think forgentlefolksto grow up decentcommonlydecentin such a place. That I growed up a man and not abrutesays something for me - as I was then. As I am nowthere'snothingcan be said for me or done for me. I'm past it.'
'I am gladthis man has entered' observed Sir Josephlookingroundserenely. 'Don't disturb him. It appears to be Ordained.He is anexample: a living example. I hope and trustandconfidentlyexpectthat it will not be lost upon my Friends here.'
'I draggedon' said Fernafter a moment's silence'somehow.Neither menor any other man knows how; but so heavythat Icouldn'tput a cheerful face upon itor make believe that I wasanythingbut what I was. Nowgentlemen - you gentlemen that sitsatSessions - when you see a man with discontent writ on his faceyou saysto one another"He's suspicious. I has my doubts"saysyou"about Will Fern. Watch that fellow!" I don'tsaygentlemenit ain't quite nat'ralbut I say 'tis so; and from thathourwhatever Will Fern doesor lets alone - all one - it goesagainsthim.'
AldermanCute stuck his thumbs in his waistcoat-pocketsandleaningback in his chairand smilingwinked at a neighbouringchandelier. As much as to say'Of course! I told you so. Thecommoncry! Lord bless youwe are up to all this sort of thing -myself andhuman nature.'
'Nowgentlemen' said Will Fernholding out his handsandflushingfor an instant in his haggard face'see how your laws aremade totrap and hunt us when we're brought to this. I tries toliveelsewhere. And I'm a vagabond. To jail with him! Icomesbackhere. I goes a-nutting in your woodsand breaks - who don't?- a limberbranch or two. To jail with him! One of your keeperssees me inthe broad daynear my own patch of gardenwith a gun.To jailwith him! I has a nat'ral angry word with that manwhenI'm freeagain. To jail with him! I cuts a stick. To jailwithhim! I eats a rotten apple or a turnip. To jail with him! It'stwentymile away; and coming back I begs a trifle on the road. Tojail withhim! At lastthe constablethe keeper - anybody -finds meanywherea-doing anything. To jail with himfor he's avagrantand a jail-bird known; and jail's the only home he's got.'
TheAlderman nodded sagaciouslyas who should say'A very goodhome too!'
'Do I saythis to serve MY cause!' cried Fern. 'Who can give meback mylibertywho can give me back my good namewho can give meback myinnocent niece? Not all the Lords and Ladies in wideEngland. Butgentlemengentlemendealing with other men likemebeginat the right end. Give usin mercybetter homes whenwe'rea-lying in our cradles; give us better food when we're a-workingfor our lives; give us kinder laws to bring us back whenwerea-going wrong; and don't set jailjailjailafore useverywherewe turn. There an't a condescension you can show theLabourerthenthat he won't takeas ready and as grateful as aman canbe; forhe has a patientpeacefulwilling heart. Butyou mustput his rightful spirit in him first; forwhether he's awreck andruin such as meor is like one of them that stand herenowhisspirit is divided from you at this time. Bring it backgentlefolksbring it back! Bring it backafore the day comeswhen evenhis Bible changes in his altered mindand the words seemto him toreadas they have sometimes read in my own eyes - injail: "Whither thou goestI can Not go; where thou lodgestI doNot lodge;thy people are Not my people; Nor thy God my God!'
A suddenstir and agitation took place in Hall. Trotty thought atfirstthat several had risen to eject the man; and hence thischange inits appearance. Butanother moment showed him that theroom andall the company had vanished from his sightand that hisdaughterwas again before himseated at her work. But in apoorermeaner garret than before; and with no Lilian by her side.
The frameat which she had workedwas put away upon a shelf andcoveredup. The chair in which she had satwas turned against thewall. A history was written in these little thingsand in Meg'sgrief-wornface. Oh! who could fail to read it!
Megstrained her eyes upon her work until it was too dark to seethethreads; and when the night closed inshe lighted her feeblecandle andworked on. Still her old father was invisible abouther;looking down upon her; loving her - how dearly loving her! -andtalking to her in a tender voice about the old timesand theBells. Though he knewpoor Trottythough he knew she could nothear him.
A greatpart of the evening had worn awaywhen a knock came at herdoor. She opened it. A man was on the threshold. A slouchingmoodydrunken slovenwasted by intemperance and viceand withhis mattedhair and unshorn beard in wild disorder; butwith sometraces onhimtooof having been a man of good proportion andgoodfeatures in his youth.
He stoppeduntil he had her leave to enter; and sheretiring apace oftwo from the open doorsilently and sorrowfully lookedupon him. Trotty had his wish. He saw Richard.
'May Icome inMargaret?'
'Yes! Come in. Come in!'
It waswell that Trotty knew him before he spoke; for with anydoubtremaining on his mindthe harsh discordant voice would havepersuadedhim that it was not Richard but some other man.
There werebut two chairs in the room. She gave him hersandstood atsome short distance from himwaiting to hear what he hadto say.
He sathoweverstaring vacantly at the floor; with a lustrelessand stupidsmile. A spectacle of such deep degradationof suchabjecthopelessnessof such a miserable downfallthat she put herhandsbefore her face and turned awaylest he should see how muchit movedher.
Roused bythe rustling of her dressor some such trifling soundhe liftedhis headand began to speak as if there had been nopausesince he entered.
'Still atworkMargaret? You work late.'
'So shesaid. She said you never tired; or never owned that youtired. Not all the time you lived together. Not even when youfaintedbetween work and fasting. But I told you thatthe lasttime Icame.'
'You did'she answered. 'And I implored you to tell me nothingmore; andyou made me a solemn promiseRichardthat you neverwould.'
'A solemnpromise' he repeatedwith a drivelling laugh and vacantstare. 'A solemn promise. To he sure. A solemn promise!'Awakeningas it wereafter a time; in the same manner as before;he saidwith sudden animation:
'How can Ihelp itMargaret? What am I to do? She has been to meagain!'
'Again!'cried Megclasping her hands. 'Odoes she think of meso often! Has she been again!'
'Twentytimes again' said Richard. 'Margaretshe haunts me. Shecomesbehind me in the streetand thrusts it in my hand. I hearher footupon the ashes when I'm at my work (haha! that an'toften)and before I can turn my headher voice is in my earsaying"Richarddon't look round. For Heaven's lovegive herthis!" She brings it where I live: she sends it in letters; shetaps atthe window and lays it on the sill. What CAN I do? Lookat it!"
He heldout in his hand a little purseand chinked the money itenclosed.
'Hide it'sad Meg. 'Hide it! When she comes againtell herRichardthat I love her in my soul. That I never lie down tosleepbutI bless herand pray for her. Thatin my solitaryworkInever cease to have her in my thoughts. That she is withmenightand day. That if I died to-morrowI would remember herwith mylast breath. Butthat I cannot look upon it!'
He slowlyrecalled his handand crushing the purse togethersaidwith akind of drowsy thoughtfulness:
'I toldher so. I told her soas plain as words could speak.I've takenthis gift back and left it at her doora dozen timessincethen. But when she came at lastand stood before mefaceto facewhat could I do?'
'You sawher!' exclaimed Meg. 'You saw her! OLilianmy sweetgirl! OLilianLilian!'
'I sawher' he went on to saynot answeringbut engaged in thesame slowpursuit of his own thoughts. 'There she stood:trembling! "How does she lookRichard? Does she ever speak ofme? Is she thinner? My old place at the table: what's in myoldplace? And the frame she taught me our old work on - has she burntitRichard!" There she was. I heard her say it.'
Megchecked her sobsand with the tears streaming from her eyesbent overhim to listen. Not to lose a breath.
With hisarms resting on his knees; and stooping forward in hischairasif what he said were written on the ground in some halflegiblecharacterwhich it was his occupation to decipher andconnect;he went on.
'"RichardI have fallen very low; and you may guess how much Ihavesuffered in having this sent backwhen I can bear to bring itin my handto you. But you loved her onceeven in my memorydearly. Others stepped in between you; fearsand jealousiesanddoubtsand vanitiesestranged you from her; but you did love hereven in mymemory!" I suppose I did' he saidinterruptinghimselffor a moment. 'I did! That's neither here nor there - "ORichardif you ever did; if you have any memory for what is goneand losttake it to her once more. Once more! Tell her how Ilaid myhead upon your shoulderwhere her own head might havelainandwas so humble to youRichard. Tell her that you lookedinto myfaceand saw the beauty which she used to praiseallgone: all gone: and in its placea poorwanhollow cheekthatshe wouldweep to see. Tell her everythingand take it backandshe willnot refuse again. She will not have the heart!"'
So he satmusingand repeating the last wordsuntil he wokeagainandrose.
'You won'ttake itMargaret?'
She shookher headand motioned an entreaty to him to leave her.
He turnedto look upon her; struck by her sorrowand perhaps bythe pityfor himself which trembled in her voice. It was a quickand rapidaction; and for the moment some flash of his old bearingkindled inhis form. In the next he went as he had come. Nor didthisglimmer of a quenched fire seem to light him to a quickersense ofhis debasement.
In anymoodin any griefin any torture of the mind or bodyMeg's workmust be done. She sat down to her taskand plied it.Nightmidnight. Still she worked.
She had ameagre firethe night being very cold; and rose atintervalsto mend it. The Chimes rang half-past twelve while shewas thusengaged; and when they ceased she heard a gentle knockingat thedoor. Before she could so much as wonder who was thereatthatunusual hourit opened.
O Youthand Beautyhappy as ye should belook at this. O YouthandBeautyblest and blessing all within your reachand workingout theends of your Beneficent Creatorlook at this!
She sawthe entering figure; screamed its name; cried 'Lilian!'
It wasswiftand fell upon its knees before her: clinging to herdress.
'Updear! Up! Lilian! My own dearest!'
'NevermoreMeg; never more! Here! Here! Close to youholdingto youfeeling your dear breath upon my face!'
'SweetLilian! Darling Lilian! Child of my heart - no mother'slove canbe more tender - lay your head upon my breast!'
'NevermoreMeg. Never more! When I first looked into yourfaceyou kneltbefore me. On my knees before youlet me die. Let itbe here!'
'You havecome back. My Treasure! We will live togetherworktogetherhope togetherdie together!'
'Ah! Kiss my lipsMeg; fold your arms about me; press me to yourbosom;look kindly on me; but don't raise me. Let it be here. Letme see thelast of your dear face upon my knees!'
O Youthand Beautyhappy as ye should belook at this! O YouthandBeautyworking out the ends of your Beneficent Creatorlookat this!
'ForgivemeMeg! So dearso dear! Forgive me! I know youdoIsee youdobut say soMeg!'
She saidsowith her lips on Lilian's cheek. And with her armstwinedround - she knew it now - a broken heart.
'Hisblessing on youdearest love. Kiss me once more! Hesufferedher to sit beside His feetand dry them with her hair. OMegwhatMercy and Compassion!'
As shediedthe Spirit of the child returninginnocent andradianttouched the old man with its handand beckoned him away.
SOME newremembrance of the ghostly figures in the Bells; somefaintimpression of the ringing of the Chimes; some giddyconsciousnessof having seen the swarm of phantoms reproduced andreproduceduntil the recollection of them lost itself in theconfusionof their numbers; some hurried knowledgehow conveyed tohim heknew notthat more years had passed; and Trottywith theSpirit ofthe child attending himstood looking on at mortalcompany.
Fatcompanyrosy-cheeked companycomfortable company. They werebut twobut they were red enough for ten. They sat before abrightfirewith a small low table between them; and unless thefragranceof hot tea and muffins lingered longer in that room thanin mostothersthe table had seen service very lately. But allthe cupsand saucers being cleanand in their proper places in thecorner-cupboard;and the brass toasting-fork hanging in its usualnook andspreading its four idle fingers out as if it wanted to bemeasuredfor a glove; there remained no other visible tokens of themeal justfinishedthan such as purred and washed their whiskersin theperson of the basking catand glistened in the graciousnot to saythe greasyfaces of her patrons.
This cosycouple (marriedevidently) had made a fair division ofthe firebetween themand sat looking at the glowing sparks thatdroppedinto the grate; now nodding off into a doze; now waking upagain whensome hot fragmentlarger than the restcame rattlingdownasif the fire were coming with it.
It was inno danger of sudden extinctionhowever; for it gleamednot onlyin the little roomand on the panes of window-glass inthe doorand on the curtain half drawn across thembut in thelittleshop beyond. A little shopquite crammed and choked withtheabundance of its stock; a perfectly voracious little shopwitha maw asaccommodating and full as any shark's. Cheesebutterfirewoodsoappicklesmatchesbacontable-beerpeg-topssweetmeatsboys' kitesbird-seedcold hambirch broomshearth-stonessaltvinegarblackingred-herringsstationerylardmushroom-ketchupstaylacesloaves of breadshuttlecockseggsand slatepencil; everything was fish that came to the net of thisgreedylittle shopand all articles were in its net. How manyotherkinds of petty merchandise were thereit would be difficultto say;but balls of packthreadropes of onionspounds ofcandlescabbage-netsand brusheshung in bunches from theceilinglike extraordinary fruit; while various odd canistersemittingaromatic smellsestablished the veracity of theinscriptionover the outer doorwhich informed the public that thekeeper ofthis little shop was a licensed dealer in teacoffeetobaccopepperand snuff.
Glancingat such of these articles as were visible in the shiningof theblazeand the less cheerful radiance of two smoky lampswhichburnt but dimly in the shop itselfas though its plethorasat heavyon their lungs; and glancingthenat one of the twofaces bythe parlour-fire; Trotty had small difficulty inrecognisingin the stout old ladyMrs. Chickenstalker: alwaysinclinedto corpulencyeven in the days when he had known her asestablishedin the general lineand having a small balance againsthim in herbooks.
Thefeatures of her companion were less easy to him. The greatbroadchinwith creases in it large enough to hide a finger in;theastonished eyesthat seemed to expostulate with themselves forsinkingdeeper and deeper into the yielding fat of the soft face;the noseafflicted with that disordered action of its functionswhich isgenerally termed The Snuffles; the short thick throat andlabouringchestwith other beauties of the like description;thoughcalculated to impress the memoryTrotty could at firstallot tonobody he had ever known: and yet he had somerecollectionof them too. At lengthin Mrs. Chickenstalker'spartner inthe general lineand in the crooked and eccentric lineof lifehe recognised the former porter of Sir Joseph Bowley; anapoplecticinnocentwho had connected himself in Trotty's mindwith Mrs.Chickenstalker years agoby giving him admission to themansionwhere he had confessed his obligations to that ladyanddrawn onhis unlucky head such grave reproach.
Trotty hadlittle interest in a change like thisafter the changeshe hadseen; but association is very strong sometimes; and helookedinvoluntarily behind the parlour-doorwhere the accounts ofcreditcustomers were usually kept in chalk. There was no recordof hisname. Some names were therebut they were strange to himandinfinitely fewer than of old; from which he argued that theporter wasan advocate of ready-money transactionsand on cominginto thebusiness had looked pretty sharp after the Chickenstalkerdefaulters.
Sodesolate was Trottyand so mournful for the youth and promiseof hisblighted childthat it was a sorrow to himeven to have noplace inMrs. Chickenstalker's ledger.
'What sortof a night is itAnne?' inquired the former porter ofSir JosephBowleystretching out his legs before the fireandrubbing asmuch of them as his short arms could reach; with an airthatadded'Here I am if it's badand I don't want to go out ifit'sgood.'
'Blowingand sleeting hard' returned his wife; 'and threateningsnow. Dark. And very cold.'
'I'm gladto think we had muffins' said the former porterin thetone ofone who had set his conscience at rest. 'It's a sort ofnightthat's meant for muffins. Likewise crumpets. Also SallyLunns.'
The formerporter mentioned each successive kind of eatableas ifhe weremusingly summing up his good actions. After which herubbed hisfat legs as beforeand jerking them at the knees to getthe fireupon the yet unroasted partslaughed as if somebody hadtickledhim.
'You're inspiritsTugbymy dear' observed his wife.
The firmwas Tugbylate Chickenstalker.
'No' saidTugby. 'No. Not particular. I'm a little elewated.Themuffins came so pat!'
With thathe chuckled until he was black in the face; and had somuch adoto become any other colourthat his fat legs took thestrangestexcursions into the air. Nor were they reduced toanythinglike decorum until Mrs. Tugby had thumped him violently onthe backand shaken him as if he were a great bottle.
'Goodgraciousgoodnesslord-a-mercy bless and save the man!'cried Mrs.Tugbyin great terror. 'What's he doing?'
Mr. Tugbywiped his eyesand faintly repeated that he foundhimself alittle elewated.
'Thendon't be so againthat's a dear good soul' said Mrs. Tugby'if youdon't want to frighten me to deathwith your strugglingandfighting!'
Mr. Tugbysaid he wouldn't; buthis whole existence was a fightin whichif any judgment might be founded on the constantly-increasingshortness of his breathand the deepening purple of hisfacehewas always getting the worst of it.
'So it'sblowingand sleetingand threatening snow; and it'sdarkandvery coldis itmy dear?' said Mr. Tugbylooking atthe fireand reverting to the cream and marrow of his temporaryelevation.
'Hardweather indeed' returned his wifeshaking her head.
'Ayeaye! Years' said Mr. Tugby'are like Christians in thatrespect. Some of 'em die hard; some of 'em die easy. This onehasn'tmany days to runand is making a fight for it. I like himall thebetter. There's a customermy love!'
Attentiveto the rattling doorMrs. Tugby had already risen.
'Nowthen!' said that ladypassing out into the little shop.'What'swanted? Oh! I beg your pardonsirI'm sure. Ididn'tthink itwas you.'
She madethis apology to a gentleman in blackwhowith hiswristbandstucked upand his hat cocked loungingly on one sideand hishands in his pocketssat down astride on the table-beerbarreland nodded in return.
'This is abad business up-stairsMrs. Tugby' said the gentleman.'The mancan't live.'
'Not theback-attic can't!' cried Tugbycoming out into the shopto jointhe conference.
'Theback-atticMr. Tugby' said the gentleman'is coming down-stairsfastand will be below the basement very soon.'
Looking byturns at Tugby and his wifehe sounded the barrel withhisknuckles for the depth of beerand having found itplayed atune uponthe empty part.
'Theback-atticMr. Tugby' said the gentleman: Tugby havingstood insilent consternation for some time: 'is Going.'
'Then'said Tugbyturning to his wife'he must Goyou knowbeforehe's Gone.'
'I don'tthink you can move him' said the gentlemanshaking hishead. 'I wouldn't take the responsibility of saying it could bedonemyself. You had better leave him where he is. He can'tlivelong.'
'It's theonly subject' said Tugbybringing the butter-scale downupon thecounter with a crashby weighing his fist on it'thatwe've everhad a word upon; she and me; and look what it comes to!He's goingto die hereafter all. Going to die upon the premises.Going todie in our house!'
'And whereshould he have diedTugby?' cried his wife.
'In theworkhouse' he returned. 'What are workhouses made for?'
'Not forthat' said Mrs. Tugbywith great energy. 'Not for that!Neitherdid I marry you for that. Don't think itTugby. I won'thave it. I won't allow it. I'd be separated firstand never seeyour faceagain. When my widow's name stood over that dooras itdid formany years: this house being known as Mrs.Chickenstalker'sfar and wideand never known but to its honestcredit andits good report: when my widow's name stood over thatdoorTugbyI knew him as a handsomesteadymanlyindependentyouth; Iknew her as the sweetest-lookingsweetest-tempered girleyes eversaw; I knew her father (poor old creeturhe fell downfrom thesteeple walking in his sleepand killed himself)for thesimplesthardest-workingchildest-hearted manthat ever drew thebreath oflife; and when I turn them out of house and homemayangelsturn me out of Heaven. As they would! And serve meright!'
Her oldfacewhich had been a plump and dimpled one before thechangeswhich had come to passseemed to shine out of her as shesaid thesewords; and when she dried her eyesand shook her headand herhandkerchief at Tugbywith an expression of firmness whichit wasquite clear was not to be easily resistedTrotty said'Blessher! Bless her!'
Then helistenedwith a panting heartfor what should follow.Knowingnothing yetbut that they spoke of Meg.
If Tugbyhad been a little elevated in the parlourhe more thanbalancedthat account by being not a little depressed in the shopwhere henow stood staring at his wifewithout attempting a reply;secretlyconveyinghowever - either in a fit of abstraction or asaprecautionary measure - all the money from the till into his ownpocketsas he looked at her.
Thegentleman upon the table-beer caskwho appeared to be someauthorisedmedical attendant upon the poorwas far too wellaccustomedevidentlyto little differences of opinion between manand wifeto interpose any remark in this instance. He sat softlywhistlingand turning little drops of beer out of the tap upon thegrounduntil there was a perfect calm: when he raised his headand saidto Mrs. Tugbylate Chickenstalker:
'There'ssomething interesting about the womaneven now. How didshe cometo marry him?'
'Whythat' said Mrs. Tugbytaking a seat near him'is not theleastcruel part of her storysir. You see they kept companysheandRichardmany years ago. When they were a young and beautifulcoupleeverything was settledand they were to have been marriedon a NewYear's Day. ButsomehowRichard got it into his headthroughwhat the gentlemen told himthat he might do betterandthat he'dsoon repent itand that she wasn't good enough for himand that ayoung man of spirit had no business to be married. Andthegentlemen frightened herand made her melancholyand timid ofhisdeserting herand of her children coming to the gallowsandof itsbeing wicked to be man and wifeand a good deal more of it.And inshortthey lingered and lingeredand their trust in oneanotherwas brokenand so at last was the match. But the faultwas his. She would have married himsirjoyfully. I've seen herheartswell many times afterwardswhen he passed her in a proudandcareless way; and never did a woman grieve more truly for amanthanshe for Richard when he first went wrong.'
'Oh! hewent wrongdid he?' said the gentlemanpulling out thevent-pegof the table-beerand trying to peep down into the barrelthroughthe hole.
'WellsirI don't know that he rightly understood himselfyousee. I think his mind was troubled by their having broke with oneanother;and that but for being ashamed before the gentlemenandperhapsfor being uncertain toohow she might take ithe'd havegonethrough any suffering or trial to have had Meg's promise andMeg's handagain. That's my belief. He never said so; more's thepity! He took to drinkingidlingbad companions: all the fineresourcesthat were to be so much better for him than the Home hemight havehad. He lost his lookshis characterhis healthhisstrengthhis friendshis work: everything!'
'He didn'tlose everythingMrs. Tugby' returned the gentleman'becausehe gained a wife; and I want to know how he gained her.'
'I'mcoming to itsirin a moment. This went on for years andyears; hesinking lower and lower; she enduringpoor thingmiseriesenough to wear her life away. At lasthe was so castdownandcast outthat no one would employ or notice him; anddoors wereshut upon himgo where he would. Applying from placeto placeand door to door; and coming for the hundredth time toonegentleman who had often and often tried him (he was a goodworkman tothe very end); that gentlemanwho knew his historysaid"Ibelieve you are incorrigible; there is only one person inthe worldwho has a chance of reclaiming you; ask me to trust youno moreuntil she tries to do it." Something like thatin hisanger andvexation.'
'Ah!' saidthe gentleman. 'Well?'
'Wellsirhe went to herand kneeled to her; said it was so;said itever had been so; and made a prayer to her to save him.'
'And she?- Don't distress yourselfMrs. Tugby.'
'She cameto me that night to ask me about living here. "What hewas onceto me" she said"is buried in a graveside by side withwhat I wasto him. But I have thought of this; and I will make thetrial. In the hope of saving him; for the love of the light-heartedgirl (you remember her) who was to have been married on aNew Year'sDay; and for the love of her Richard." And she said hehad cometo her from Lilianand Lilian had trusted to himand shenevercould forget that. So they were married; and when they camehome hereand I saw themI hoped that such prophecies as partedthem whenthey were youngmay not often fulfil themselves as theydid inthis caseor I wouldn't be the makers of them for a Mine ofGold.'
Thegentleman got off the caskand stretched himselfobserving:
'I supposehe used her illas soon as they were married?'
'I don'tthink he ever did that' said Mrs. Tugbyshaking herheadandwiping her eyes. 'He went on better for a short time;buthishabits were too old and strong to be got rid of; he soonfell backa little; and was falling fast backwhen his illnesscame sostrong upon him. I think he has always felt for her. I amsure hehas. I have seen himin his crying fits and tremblingstry tokiss her hand; and I have heard him call her "Meg" and sayit was hernineteenth birthday. There he has been lyingnowtheseweeks and months. Between him and her babyshe has not beenable to doher old work; and by not being able to be regularshehas lostiteven if she could have done it. How they have livedI hardlyknow!'
'I know'muttered Mr. Tugby; looking at the tilland round theshopandat his wife; and rolling his head with immenseintelligence. 'Like Fighting Cocks!'
He wasinterrupted by a cry - a sound of lamentation - from theupperstory of the house. The gentleman moved hurriedly to thedoor.
'Myfriend' he saidlooking back'you needn't discuss whether heshall beremoved or not. He has spared you that troubleIbelieve.'
Saying sohe ran up-stairsfollowed by Mrs. Tugby; while Mr.Tugbypanted and grumbled after them at leisure: being renderedmore thancommonly short-winded by the weight of the tillin whichthere hadbeen an inconvenient quantity of copper. Trottywiththe childbeside himfloated up the staircase like mere air.
'Followher! Follow her! Follow her!' He heard the ghostlyvoices inthe Bells repeat their words as he ascended. 'Learn itfrom thecreature dearest to your heart!'
It wasover. It was over. And this was sheher father's prideand joy! This haggardwretched womanweeping by the bedif itdeservedthat nameand pressing to her breastand hanging downher headuponan infant. Who can tell how sparehow sicklyandhow pooran infant! Who can tell how dear!
'ThankGod!' cried Trottyholding up his folded hands. 'OGod bethanked! She loves her child!'
Thegentlemannot otherwise hard-hearted or indifferent to suchscenesthan that he saw them every dayand knew that they werefigures ofno moment in the Filer sums - mere scratches in theworking ofthese calculations - laid his hand upon the heart thatbeat nomoreand listened for the breathand said'His pain isover. It's better as it is!' Mrs. Tugby tried to comfort her withkindness. Mr. Tugby tried philosophy.
'Comecome!' he saidwith his hands in his pockets'you mustn'tgive wayyou know. That won't do. You must fight up. Whatwouldhavebecome of me if I had given way when I was porterand we hadas many assix runaway carriage-doubles at our door in one night!ButIfell back upon my strength of mindand didn't open it!'
AgainTrotty heard the voices saying'Follow her!' He turnedtowardshis guideand saw it rising from himpassing through theair. 'Follow her!' it said. And vanished.
He hoveredround her; sat down at her feet; looked up into her facefor onetrace of her old self; listened for one note of her oldpleasantvoice. He flitted round the child: so wansoprematurelyoldso dreadful in its gravityso plaintive in itsfeeblemournfulmiserable wail. He almost worshipped it. Heclung toit as her only safeguard; as the last unbroken link thatbound herto endurance. He set his father's hope and trust on thefrailbaby; watched her every look upon it as she held it in herarms; andcried a thousand times'She loves it! God be thankedshe lovesit!'
He saw thewoman tend her in the night; return to her when hergrudginghusband was asleepand all was still; encourage hershedtears withherset nourishment before her. He saw the day comeand thenight again; the daythe night; the time go by; the houseof deathrelieved of death; the room left to herself and to thechild; heheard it moan and cry; he saw it harass herand tire heroutandwhen she slumbered in exhaustiondrag her back toconsciousnessand hold her with its little hands upon the rack;but shewas constant to itgentle with itpatient with it.Patient! Was its loving mother in her inmost heart and soulandhad itsBeing knitted up with hers as when she carried it unborn.
All thistimeshe was in want: languishing awayin dire andpiningwant. With the baby in her armsshe wandered here andthereinquest of occupation; and with its thin face lying in herlapandlooking up in hersdid any work for any wretched sum; aday andnight of labour for as many farthings as there were figureson thedial. If she had quarrelled with it; if she had neglectedit; if shehad looked upon it with a moment's hate; ifin thefrenzy ofan instantshe had struck it! No. His comfort wasSheloved italways.
She toldno one of her extremityand wandered abroad in the daylest sheshould be questioned by her only friend: for any help shereceivedfrom her handsoccasioned fresh disputes between the goodwoman andher husband; and it was new bitterness to be the dailycause ofstrife and discordwhere she owed so much.
She lovedit still. She loved it more and more. But a change fellon theaspect of her love. One night.
She wassinging faintly to it in its sleepand walking to and froto hushitwhen her door was softly openedand a man looked in.
'For thelast time' he said.
'For thelast time.'
Helistened like a man pursued: and spoke in whispers.
'Margaretmy race is nearly run. I couldn't finish itwithout apartingword with you. Without one grateful word.'
'What haveyou done?' she asked: regarding him with terror.
He lookedat herbut gave no answer.
After ashort silencehe made a gesture with his handas if heset herquestion by; as if he brushed it aside; and said:
'It's longagoMargaretnow: but that night is as fresh in mymemory asever 'twas. We little thoughtthen' he addedlookinground'that we should ever meet like this. Your childMargaret?Let mehave it in my arms. Let me hold your child.'
He put hishat upon the floorand took it. And he trembled as hetook itfrom head to foot.
'Is it agirl?'
He put hishand before its little face.
'See howweak I'm grownMargaretwhen I want the courage to lookat it! Let her bea moment. I won't hurt her. It's long agobut -What's her name?'
'I'm gladof that' he said. 'I'm glad of that!' He seemed tobreathemore freely; and after pausing for an instanttook awayhis handand looked upon the infant's face. But covered it againimmediately.
'Margaret!'he said; and gave her back the child. 'It's Lilian's.'
'I heldthe same face in my arms when Lilian's mother died and lefther.'
'WhenLilian's mother died and left her!' she repeatedwildly.
'Howshrill you speak! Why do you fix your eyes upon me so?Margaret!'
She sunkdown in a chairand pressed the infant to her breastandwept overit. Sometimesshe released it from her embraceto lookanxiouslyin its face: then strained it to her bosom again. Atthosetimeswhen she gazed upon itthen it was that somethingfierce andterrible began to mingle with her love. Then it wasthat herold father quailed.
'Followher!' was sounded through the house. 'Learn itfrom thecreaturedearest to your heart!'
'Margaret'said Fernbending over herand kissing her upon thebrow: 'I thank you for the last time. Good night. Good bye! Putyour handin mineand tell me you'll forget me from this hourandtry tothink the end of me was here.'
'What haveyou done?' she asked again.
'There'llbe a Fire to-night' he saidremoving from her.'There'llbe Fires this winter-timeto light the dark nightsEastWestNorthand South. When you see the distant sky redthey'll beblazing. When you see the distant sky redthink of meno more;orif you doremember what a Hell was lighted up insideof meandthink you see its flames reflected in the clouds. Goodnight. Good bye!' She called to him; but he was gone. She satdownstupefieduntil her infant roused her to a sense of hungercoldanddarkness. She paced the room with it the livelong nighthushing itand soothing it. She said at intervals'Like Lilianwhen hermother died and left her!' Why was her step so quickhereye sowildher love so fierce and terriblewhenever she repeatedthosewords?
'Butitis Love' said Trotty. 'It is Love. She'll never ceaseto loveit. My poor Meg!'
Shedressed the child next morning with unusual care - ahvainexpenditureof care upon such squalid robes! - and once more triedto findsome means of life. It was the last day of the Old Year.She triedtill nightand never broke her fast. She tried in vain.
Shemingled with an abject crowdwho tarried in the snowuntil itpleasedsome officer appointed to dispense the public charity (thelawfulcharity; not that once preached upon a Mount)to call theminandquestion themand say to this one'Go to such a place'to thatone'Come next week;' to make a football of anotherwretchand pass him here and therefrom hand to handfrom houseto houseuntil he wearied and lay down to die; or started up androbbedand so became a higher sort of criminalwhose claimsallowed ofno delay. Heretooshe failed.
She lovedher childand wished to have it lying on her breast.And thatwas quite enough.
It wasnight: a bleakdarkcutting night: whenpressing thechildclose to her for warmthshe arrived outside the house shecalled herhome. She was so faint and giddythat she saw no onestandingin the doorway until she was close upon itand about toenter. Thenshe recognised the master of the housewho had sodisposedhimself - with his person it was not difficult - as tofill upthe whole entry.
'O!' hesaid softly. 'You have come back?'
She lookedat the childand shook her head.
'Don't youthink you have lived here long enough without paying anyrent? Don't you think thatwithout any moneyyou've been aprettyconstant customer at this shopnow?' said Mr. Tugby.
Sherepeated the same mute appeal.
'Supposeyou try and deal somewhere else' he said. 'And supposeyouprovide yourself with another lodging. Come! Don't youthinkyou couldmanage it?'
She saidin a low voicethat it was very late. To-morrow.
'Now I seewhat you want' said Tugby; 'and what you mean. Youknow thereare two parties in this house about youand you delightin setting'em by the ears. I don't want any quarrels; I'mspeakingsoftly to avoid a quarrel; but if you don't go awayI'llspeak outloudand you shall cause words high enough to pleaseyou. But you shan't come in. That I am determined.'
She puther hair back with her handand looked in a sudden mannerat theskyand the dark lowering distance.
'This isthe last night of an Old Yearand I won't carry ill-bloodandquarrellings and disturbances into a New Oneto please you noranybodyelse' said Tugbywho was quite a retail Friend andFather. 'I wonder you an't ashamed of yourselfto carry suchpracticesinto a New Year. If you haven't any business in theworldbutto be always giving wayand always making disturbancesbetweenman and wifeyou'd be better out of it. Go along withyou.'
'Followher! To desperation!'
Again theold man heard the voices. Looking uphe saw the figureshoveringin the airand pointing where she wentdown the darkstreet.
'She lovesit!' he exclaimedin agonised entreaty for her.'Chimes!she loves it still!'
'Followher!' The shadow swept upon the track she had takenlikea cloud.
He joinedin the pursuit; he kept close to her; he looked into herface. He saw the same fierce and terrible expression mingling withher loveand kindling in her eyes. He heard her say'LikeLilian! To be changed like Lilian!' and her speed redoubled.
Oforsomething to awaken her! For any sightor soundor scentto call uptender recollections in a brain on fire! For any gentleimage ofthe Pastto rise before her!
'I was herfather! I was her father!' cried the old manstretchingout his hands to the dark shadows flying on above.'Havemercy on herand on me! Where does she go? Turn herback!I was herfather!'
But theyonly pointed to heras she hurried on; and said'Todesperation! Learn it from the creature dearest to your heart!' Ahundredvoices echoed it. The air was made of breath expended inthosewords. He seemed to take them inat every gasp he drew.They wereeverywhereand not to be escaped. And still she hurriedon; thesame light in her eyesthe same words in her mouth'LikeLilian! To be changed like Lilian!' All at once she stopped.
'Nowturnher back!' exclaimed the old mantearing his whitehair. 'My child! Meg! Turn her back! Great Fatherturnherback!'
In her ownscanty shawlshe wrapped the baby warm. With herfeveredhandsshe smoothed its limbscomposed its facearrangedits meanattire. In her wasted arms she folded itas though sheneverwould resign it more. And with her dry lipskissed it in afinalpangand last long agony of Love.
Puttingits tiny hand up to her neckand holding it therewithinher dressnext to her distracted heartshe set its sleeping faceagainsther: closelysteadilyagainst her: and sped onward tothe River.
To therolling Riverswift and dimwhere Winter Night satbroodinglike the last dark thoughts of many who had sought arefugethere before her. Where scattered lights upon the banksgleamedsullenredand dullas torches that were burning thereto showthe way to Death. Where no abode of living people cast itsshadowonthe deepimpenetrablemelancholy shade.
To theRiver! To that portal of Eternityher desperate footstepstendedwith the swiftness of its rapid waters running to the sea.He triedto touch her as she passed himgoing down to its darklevel: butthe wild distempered formthe fierce and terriblelovethedesperation that had left all human check or hold behindswept byhim like the wind.
Hefollowed her. She paused a moment on the brinkbefore thedreadfulplunge. He fell down on his kneesand in a shriekaddressedthe figures in the Bells now hovering above them.
'I havelearnt it!' cried the old man. 'From the creature dearestto myheart! Osave hersave her!'
He couldwind his fingers in her dress; could hold it! As thewordsescaped his lipshe felt his sense of touch returnand knewthat hedetained her.
Thefigures looked down steadfastly upon him.
'I havelearnt it!' cried the old man. 'Ohave mercy on me inthis hourifin my love for herso young and goodI slanderedNature inthe breasts of mothers rendered desperate! Pity mypresumptionwickednessand ignoranceand save her.' He felt hisholdrelaxing. They were silent still.
'Havemercy on her!' he exclaimed'as one in whom this dreadfulcrime hassprung from Love perverted; from the strongestdeepestLove wefallen creatures know! Think what her misery must havebeenwhensuch seed bears such fruit! Heaven meant her to begood. There is no loving mother on the earth who might not come tothisifsuch a life had gone before. Ohave mercy on my childwhoevenat this passmeans mercy to her ownand dies herselfand perilsher immortal soulto save it!'
She was inhis arms. He held her now. His strength was like agiant's.
'I see theSpirit of the Chimes among you!' cried the old mansinglingout the childand speaking in some inspirationwhichtheirlooks conveyed to him. 'I know that our inheritance is heldin storefor us by Time. I know there is a sea of Time to rise onedaybefore which all who wrong us or oppress us will be swept awaylikeleaves. I see iton the flow! I know that we must trustandhopeandneither doubt ourselvesnor doubt the good in oneanother. I have learnt it from the creature dearest to my heart.I claspher in my arms again. O Spiritsmerciful and goodI takeyourlesson to my breast along with her! O Spiritsmerciful andgoodI amgrateful!'
He mighthave said more; butthe Bellsthe old familiar Bellshis owndearconstantsteady friendsthe Chimesbegan to ringthejoy-peals for a New Year: so lustilyso merrilyso happilyso gailythat he leapt upon his feetand broke the spell thatbound him.
'Andwhatever you dofather' said Meg'don't eat tripe againwithoutasking some doctor whether it's likely to agree with you;for howyou HAVE been going onGood gracious!'
She wasworking with her needleat the little table by the fire;dressingher simple gown with ribbons for her wedding. So quietlyhappysoblooming and youthfulso full of beautiful promisethathe uttereda great cry as if it were an Angel in his house; thenflew toclasp her in his arms.
Buthecaught his feet in the newspaperwhich had fallen on thehearth;and somebody came rushing in between them.
'No!'cried the voice of this same somebody; a generous and jollyvoice itwas! 'Not even you. Not even you. The first kiss ofMegin the NewYear is mine. Mine! I have been waiting outside thehousethis hourto hear the Bells and claim it. Megmy preciousprizeahappy year! A life of happy yearsmy darling wife!'
AndRichard smothered her with kisses.
You neverin all your life saw anything like Trotty after this. Idon't carewhere you have lived or what you have seen; you never inall yourlife saw anything at all approaching him! He sat down inhis chairand beat his knees and cried; he sat down in his chairand beathis knees and laughed; he sat down in his chair and beathis kneesand laughed and cried together; he got out of his chairand huggedMeg; he got out of his chair and hugged Richard; he gotout of hischair and hugged them both at once; he kept running upto Megand squeezing her fresh face between his hands and kissingitgoingfrom her backwards not to lose sight of itand runningup againlike a figure in a magic lantern; and whatever he didhewasconstantly sitting himself down in his chairand neverstoppingin it for one single moment; being - that's the truth -besidehimself with joy.
'Andto-morrow's your wedding-daymy pet!' cried Trotty. 'Yourrealhappy wedding-day!'
'To-day!'cried Richardshaking hands with him. 'To-day. TheChimes areringing in the New Year. Hear them!'
They WEREringing! Bless their sturdy heartsthey WERE ringing!GreatBells as they were; melodiousdeep-mouthednoble Bells;cast in nocommon metal; made by no common founder; when had theyeverchimed like thatbefore!
'Butto-daymy pet' said Trotty. 'You and Richard had somewordsto-day.'
'Becausehe's such a bad fellowfather' said Meg. 'An't youRichard? Such a headstrongviolent man! He'd have made no moreofspeaking his mind to that great Aldermanand putting HIM down Idon't knowwherethan he would of - '
' -Kissing Meg' suggested Richard. Doing it too!
'No. Not a bit more' said Meg. 'But I wouldn't let himfather.Wherewould have been the use!'
'Richardmy boy!' cried Trotty. 'You was turned up Trumpsoriginally;and Trumps you must betill you die! Butyou werecrying bythe fire to-nightmy petwhen I came home! Why did youcry by thefire?'
'I wasthinking of the years we've passed togetherfather. Onlythat. And thinking that you might miss meand be lonely.'
Trotty wasbacking off to that extraordinary chair againwhen thechildwhohad been awakened by the noisecame running in half-dressed.
'Whyhereshe is!' cried Trottycatching her up. 'Here's littleLilian! Ha ha ha! Here we are and here we go! O here we are andhere we goagain! And here we are and here we go! and Uncle Willtoo!' Stopping in his trot to greet him heartily. 'OUncle Willthe visionthat I've had to-nightthrough lodging you! OUncleWilltheobligations that you've laid me underby your comingmygoodfriend!'
BeforeWill Fern could make the least replya band of music burstinto theroomattended by a lot of neighboursscreaming 'A HappyNew YearMeg!' 'A Happy Wedding!' 'Many of em!' and otherfragmentarygood wishes of that sort. The Drum (who was a privatefriend ofTrotty's) then stepped forwardand said:
'TrottyVeckmy boy! It's got aboutthat your daughter is goingto bemarried to-morrow. There an't a soul that knows you thatdon't wishyou wellor that knows her and don't wish her well. Orthat knowsyou bothand don't wish you both all the happiness theNew Yearcan bring. And here we areto play it in and dance itinaccordingly.'
Which wasreceived with a general shout. The Drum was ratherdrunkby-the-bye; butnever mind.
'What ahappiness it isI'm sure' said Trotty'to be soesteemed! How kind and neighbourly you are! It's all along of mydeardaughter. She deserves it!'
They wereready for a dance in half a second (Meg and Richard atthe top);and the Drum was on the very brink of feathering awaywith allhis power; when a combination of prodigious sounds washeardoutsideand a good-humoured comely woman of some fifty yearsof ageorthereaboutscame running inattended by a man bearinga stonepitcher of terrific sizeand closely followed by themarrow-bonesand cleaversand the bells; not THE Bellsbut aportablecollection on a frame.
Trottysaid'It's Mrs. Chickenstalker!' And sat down and beat hiskneesagain.
'Marriedand not tell meMeg!' cried the good woman. 'Never! Icouldn'trest on the last night of the Old Year without coming towish youjoy. I couldn't have done itMeg. Not if I had beenbed-ridden. So here I am; and as it's New Year's Eveand the Eveof yourwedding toomy dearI had a little flip madeand broughtit withme.'
Mrs.Chickenstalker's notion of a little flip did honour to hercharacter. The pitcher steamed and smoked and reeked like avolcano;and the man who had carried itwas faint.
'Mrs.Tugby!' said Trottywho had been going round and round herin anecstasy. - 'I SHOULD sayChickenstalker - Bless your heartand soul! A Happy New Yearand many of 'em! Mrs. Tugby' saidTrottywhen he had saluted her; - 'I SHOULD sayChickenstalker -This isWilliam Fern and Lilian.'
The worthydameto his surpriseturned very pale and very red.
'NotLilian Fern whose mother died in Dorsetshire!' said she.
Her uncleanswered 'Yes' and meeting hastilythey exchanged somehurriedwords together; of which the upshot wasthat Mrs.Chickenstalkershook him by both hands; saluted Trotty on his cheekagain ofher own free will; and took the child to her capaciousbreast.
'WillFern!' said Trottypulling on his right-hand muffler. 'Notthe friendyou was hoping to find?'
'Ay!'returned Willputting a hand on each of Trotty's shoulders.'And liketo prove a'most as good a friendif that can beas oneI found.'
'O!' saidTrotty. 'Please to play up there. Will you have thegoodness!'
To themusic of the bandandthe bellsthe marrow-bones andcleaversall at once; and while the Chimes were yet in lustyoperationout of doors; Trottymaking Meg and Richardsecondcoupleled off Mrs. Chickenstalker down the danceand danced itin a stepunknown before or since; founded on his own peculiartrot.
Had Trottydreamed? Orare his joys and sorrowsand the actorsin thembut a dream; himself a dream; the teller of this tale adreamerwaking but now? If it be soO listenerdear to him inall hisvisionstry to bear in mind the stern realities from whichtheseshadows come; and in your sphere - none is too wideand nonetoolimited for such an end - endeavour to correctimproveandsoftenthem. So may the New Year be a happy one to youhappy tomany morewhose happiness depends on you! So may each year behappierthan the lastand not the meanest of our brethren orsisterhooddebarred their rightful sharein what our Great Creatorformedthem to enjoy.