THE CHIMES by Charles Dickens (read online)

THE CHIMES

Charles Dickens

CHAPTER I–First Quarter.

Here are not many people–and as it is desirable that a story-

teller and a story-reader should establish a mutual understanding

as soon as possible, I beg it to be noticed that I confine this

observation neither to young people nor to little people, but

extend it to all conditions of people: little and big, young and

old: yet growing up, or already growing down again–there are not,

I say, many people who would care to sleep in a church. I don’t

mean at sermon-time in warm weather (when the thing has actually

been done, once or twice), but in the night, and alone. A great

multitude of persons will be violently astonished, I know, by this

position, in the broad bold Day. But it applies to Night. It must

be argued by night, and I will undertake to maintain it

successfully on any gusty winter’s night appointed for the purpose,

with any one opponent chosen from the rest, who will meet me singly

in an old churchyard, before an old church-door; and will

previously empower me to lock him in, if needful to his

satisfaction, until morning.

For the night-wind has a dismal trick of wandering round and round

a building of that sort, and moaning as it goes; and of trying,

with its unseen hand, the windows and the doors; and seeking out

some crevices by which to enter. And when it has got in; as one

not finding what it seeks, whatever that may be, it wails and howls

to issue forth again: and not content with stalking through the

aisles, and gliding round and round the pillars, and tempting the

deep organ, soars up to the roof, and strives to rend the rafters:

then flings itself despairingly upon the stones below, and passes,

muttering, into the vaults. Anon, it comes up stealthily, and

creeps along the walls, seeming to read, in whispers, the

Inscriptions sacred to the Dead. At some of these, it breaks out

shrilly, as with laughter; and at others, moans and cries as if it

were lamenting. It has a ghostly sound too, lingering within the

altar; where it seems to chaunt, in its wild way, of Wrong and

Murder done, and false Gods worshipped, in defiance of the Tables

of the Law, which look so fair and smooth, but are so flawed and

broken. Ugh! Heaven preserve us, sitting snugly round the fire!

It has an awful voice, that wind at Midnight, singing in a church!

But, high up in the steeple! There the foul blast roars and

whistles! High up in the steeple, where it is free to come and go

through many an airy arch and loophole, and to twist and twine

itself about the giddy stair, and twirl the groaning weathercock,

and make the very tower shake and shiver! High up in the steeple,

where the belfry is, and iron rails are ragged with rust, and

sheets of lead and copper, shrivelled by the changing weather,

crackle and heave beneath the unaccustomed tread; and birds stuff

shabby nests into corners of old oaken joists and beams; and dust

grows old and grey; and speckled spiders, indolent and fat with

long security, swing idly to and fro in the vibration of the bells,

and never loose their hold upon their thread-spun castles in the

air, or climb up sailor-like in quick alarm, or drop upon the

ground and ply a score of nimble legs to save one life! High up in

the steeple of an old church, far above the light and murmur of the

town and far below the flying clouds that shadow it, is the wild

and dreary place at night: and high up in the steeple of an old

church, dwelt the Chimes I tell of.

They were old Chimes, trust me. Centuries ago, these Bells had

been baptized by bishops: so many centuries ago, that the register

of their baptism was lost long, long before the memory of man, and

no one knew their names. They had had their Godfathers and

Godmothers, these Bells (for my own part, by the way, I would

rather incur the responsibility of being Godfather to a Bell than a

Boy), and had their silver mugs no doubt, besides. But Time had

mowed down their sponsors, and Henry the Eighth had melted down

their mugs; and they now hung, nameless and mugless, in the church-

tower.

Not speechless, though. Far from it. They had clear, loud, lusty,

sounding voices, had these Bells; and far and wide they might be

heard upon the wind. Much too sturdy Chimes were they, to be

dependent on the pleasure of the wind, moreover; for, fighting

gallantly against it when it took an adverse whim, they would pour

their cheerful notes into a listening ear right royally; and bent

on being heard on stormy nights, by some poor mother watching a

sick child, or some lone wife whose husband was at sea, they had

been sometimes known to beat a blustering Nor’ Wester; aye, ‘all to

fits,’ as Toby Veck said;–for though they chose to call him Trotty

Veck, his name was Toby, and nobody could make it anything else

either (except Tobias) without a special act of parliament; he

having been as lawfully christened in his day as the Bells had been

in theirs, though with not quite so much of solemnity or public

rejoicing.

For my part, I confess myself of Toby Veck’s belief, for I am sure

he had opportunities enough of forming a correct one. And whatever

Toby Veck said, I say. And I take my stand by Toby Veck, although

he DID stand all day long (and weary work it was) just outside the

church-door. In fact he was a ticket-porter, Toby Veck, and waited

there for jobs.

And a breezy, goose-skinned, blue-nosed, red-eyed, stony-toed,

tooth-chattering place it was, to wait in, in the winter-time, as

Toby Veck well knew. The wind came tearing round the corner–

especially the east wind–as if it had sallied forth, express, from

the confines of the earth, to have a blow at Toby. And oftentimes

it seemed to come upon him sooner than it had expected, for

bouncing round the corner, and passing Toby, it would suddenly

wheel round again, as if it cried ‘Why, here he is!’ Incontinently

his little white apron would be caught up over his head like a

naughty boy’s garments, and his feeble little cane would be seen to

wrestle and struggle unavailingly in his hand, and his legs would

undergo tremendous agitation, and Toby himself all aslant, and

facing now in this direction, now in that, would be so banged and

buffeted, and to touzled, and worried, and hustled, and lifted off

his feet, as to render it a state of things but one degree removed

from a positive miracle, that he wasn’t carried up bodily into the

air as a colony of frogs or snails or other very portable creatures

sometimes are, and rained down again, to the great astonishment of

the natives, on some strange corner of the world where ticket-

porters are unknown.

But, windy weather, in spite of its using him so roughly, was,

after all, a sort of holiday for Toby. That’s the fact. He didn’t

seem to wait so long for a sixpence in the wind, as at other times;

the having to fight with that boisterous element took off his

attention, and quite freshened him up, when he was getting hungry

and low-spirited. A hard frost too, or a fall of snow, was an

Event; and it seemed to do him good, somehow or other–it would

have been hard to say in what respect though, Toby! So wind and

frost and snow, and perhaps a good stiff storm of hail, were Toby

Veck’s red-letter days.

Wet weather was the worst; the cold, damp, clammy wet, that wrapped

him up like a moist great-coat–the only kind of great-coat Toby

owned, or could have added to his comfort by dispensing with. Wet

days, when the rain came slowly, thickly, obstinately down; when

the street’s throat, like his own, was choked with mist; when

smoking umbrellas passed and re-passed, spinning round and round

like so many teetotums, as they knocked against each other on the

crowded footway, throwing off a little whirlpool of uncomfortable

sprinklings; when gutters brawled and waterspouts were full and

noisy; when the wet from the projecting stones and ledges of the

church fell drip, drip, drip, on Toby, making the wisp of straw on

which he stood mere mud in no time; those were the days that tried

him. Then, indeed, you might see Toby looking anxiously out from

his shelter in an angle of the church wall–such a meagre shelter

that in summer time it never cast a shadow thicker than a good-

sized walking stick upon the sunny pavement–with a disconsolate

and lengthened face. But coming out, a minute afterwards, to warm

himself by exercise, and trotting up and down some dozen times, he

would brighten even then, and go back more brightly to his niche.

They called him Trotty from his pace, which meant speed if it

didn’t make it. He could have walked faster perhaps; most likely;

but rob him of his trot, and Toby would have taken to his bed and

died. It bespattered him with mud in dirty weather; it cost him a

world of trouble; he could have walked with infinitely greater

ease; but that was one reason for his clinging to it so

tenaciously. A weak, small, spare old man, he was a very Hercules,

this Toby, in his good intentions. He loved to earn his money. He

delighted to believe–Toby was very poor, and couldn’t well afford

to part with a delight–that he was worth his salt. With a

shilling or an eighteenpenny message or small parcel in hand, his

courage always high, rose higher. As he trotted on, he would call

out to fast Postmen ahead of him, to get out of the way; devoutly

believing that in the natural course of things he must inevitably

overtake and run them down; and he had perfect faith–not often

tested–in his being able to carry anything that man could lift.

Thus, even when he came out of his nook to warm himself on a wet

day, Toby trotted. Making, with his leaky shoes, a crooked line of

slushy footprints in the mire; and blowing on his chilly hands and

rubbing them against each other, poorly defended from the searching

cold by threadbare mufflers of grey worsted, with a private

apartment only for the thumb, and a common room or tap for the rest

of the fingers; Toby, with his knees bent and his cane beneath his

arm, still trotted. Falling out into the road to look up at the

belfry when the Chimes resounded, Toby trotted still.

He made this last excursion several times a day, for they were

company to him; and when he heard their voices, he had an interest

in glancing at their lodging-place, and thinking how they were

moved, and what hammers beat upon them. Perhaps he was the more

curious about these Bells, because there were points of resemblance

between themselves and him. They hung there, in all weathers, with

the wind and rain driving in upon them; facing only the outsides of

all those houses; never getting any nearer to the blazing fires

that gleamed and shone upon the windows, or came puffing out of the

chimney tops; and incapable of participation in any of the good

things that were constantly being handled, through the street doors

and the area railings, to prodigious cooks. Faces came and went at

many windows: sometimes pretty faces, youthful faces, pleasant

faces: sometimes the reverse: but Toby knew no more (though he

often speculated on these trifles, standing idle in the streets)

whence they came, or where they went, or whether, when the lips

moved, one kind word was said of him in all the year, than did the

Chimes themselves.

Toby was not a casuist–that he knew of, at least–and I don’t mean

to say that when he began to take to the Bells, and to knit up his

first rough acquaintance with them into something of a closer and

more delicate woof, he passed through these considerations one by

one, or held any formal review or great field-day in his thoughts.

But what I mean to say, and do say is, that as the functions of

Toby’s body, his digestive organs for example, did of their own

cunning, and by a great many operations of which he was altogether

ignorant, and the knowledge of which would have astonished him very

much, arrive at a certain end; so his mental faculties, without his

privity or concurrence, set all these wheels and springs in motion,

with a thousand others, when they worked to bring about his liking

for the Bells.

And though I had said his love, I would not have recalled the word,

though it would scarcely have expressed his complicated feeling.

For, being but a simple man, he invested them with a strange and

solemn character. They were so mysterious, often heard and never

seen; so high up, so far off, so full of such a deep strong melody,

that he regarded them with a species of awe; and sometimes when he

looked up at the dark arched windows in the tower, he half expected

to be beckoned to by something which was not a Bell, and yet was

what he had heard so often sounding in the Chimes. For all this,

Toby scouted with indignation a certain flying rumour that the

Chimes were haunted, as implying the possibility of their being

connected with any Evil thing. In short, they were very often in

his ears, and very often in his thoughts, but always in his good

opinion; and he very often got such a crick in his neck by staring

with his mouth wide open, at the steeple where they hung, that he

was fain to take an extra trot or two, afterwards, to cure it.

The very thing he was in the act of doing one cold day, when the

last drowsy sound of Twelve o’clock, just struck, was humming like

a melodious monster of a Bee, and not by any means a busy bee, all

through the steeple!

‘Dinner-time, eh!’ said Toby, trotting up and down before the

church. ‘Ah!’

Toby’s nose was very red, and his eyelids were very red, and he

winked very much, and his shoulders were very near his ears, and

his legs were very stiff, and altogether he was evidently a long

way upon the frosty side of cool.

‘Dinner-time, eh!’ repeated Toby, using his right-hand muffler like

an infantine boxing-glove, and punishing his chest for being cold.

‘Ah-h-h-h!’

He took a silent trot, after that, for a minute or two.

‘There’s nothing,’ said Toby, breaking forth afresh–but here he

stopped short in his trot, and with a face of great interest and

some alarm, felt his nose carefully all the way up. It was but a

little way (not being much of a nose) and he had soon finished.

‘I thought it was gone,’ said Toby, trotting off again. ‘It’s all

right, however. I am sure I couldn’t blame it if it was to go. It

has a precious hard service of it in the bitter weather, and

precious little to look forward to; for I don’t take snuff myself.

It’s a good deal tried, poor creetur, at the best of times; for

when it DOES get hold of a pleasant whiff or so (which an’t too

often) it’s generally from somebody else’s dinner, a-coming home

from the baker’s.’

The reflection reminded him of that other reflection, which he had

left unfinished.

‘There’s nothing,’ said Toby, ‘more regular in its coming round

than dinner-time, and nothing less regular in its coming round than

dinner. That’s the great difference between ’em. It’s took me a

long time to find it out. I wonder whether it would be worth any

gentleman’s while, now, to buy that obserwation for the Papers; or

the Parliament!’

Toby was only joking, for he gravely shook his head in self-

depreciation.

‘Why! Lord!’ said Toby. ‘The Papers is full of obserwations as it

is; and so’s the Parliament. Here’s last week’s paper, now;’

taking a very dirty one from his pocket, and holding it from him at

arm’s length; ‘full of obserwations! Full of obserwations! I like

to know the news as well as any man,’ said Toby, slowly; folding it

a little smaller, and putting it in his pocket again: ‘but it

almost goes against the grain with me to read a paper now. It

frightens me almost. I don’t know what we poor people are coming

to. Lord send we may be coming to something better in the New Year

nigh upon us!’

‘Why, father, father!’ said a pleasant voice, hard by.

But Toby, not hearing it, continued to trot backwards and forwards:

musing as he went, and talking to himself.

‘It seems as if we can’t go right, or do right, or be righted,’

said Toby. ‘I hadn’t much schooling, myself, when I was young; and

I can’t make out whether we have any business on the face of the

earth, or not. Sometimes I think we must have–a little; and

sometimes I think we must be intruding. I get so puzzled sometimes

that I am not even able to make up my mind whether there is any

good at all in us, or whether we are born bad. We seem to be

dreadful things; we seem to give a deal of trouble; we are always

being complained of and guarded against. One way or other, we fill

the papers. Talk of a New Year!’ said Toby, mournfully. ‘I can

bear up as well as another man at most times; better than a good

many, for I am as strong as a lion, and all men an’t; but supposing

it should really be that we have no right to a New Year–supposing

we really ARE intruding–‘

‘Why, father, father!’ said the pleasant voice again.

Toby heard it this time; started; stopped; and shortening his

sight, which had been directed a long way off as seeking the

enlightenment in the very heart of the approaching year, found

himself face to face with his own child, and looking close into her

eyes.

Bright eyes they were. Eyes that would bear a world of looking in,

before their depth was fathomed. Dark eyes, that reflected back

the eyes which searched them; not flashingly, or at the owner’s

will, but with a clear, calm, honest, patient radiance, claiming

kindred with that light which Heaven called into being. Eyes that

were beautiful and true, and beaming with Hope. With Hope so young

and fresh; with Hope so buoyant, vigorous, and bright, despite the

twenty years of work and poverty on which they had looked; that

they became a voice to Trotty Veck, and said: ‘I think we have

some business here–a little!’

Trotty kissed the lips belonging to the eyes, and squeezed the

blooming face between his hands.

‘Why, Pet,’ said Trotty. ‘What’s to do? I didn’t expect you to-

day, Meg.’

‘Neither did I expect to come, father,’ cried the girl, nodding her

head and smiling as she spoke. ‘But here I am! And not alone; not

alone!’

‘Why you don’t mean to say,’ observed Trotty, looking curiously at

a covered basket which she carried in her hand, ‘that you–‘

‘Smell it, father dear,’ said Meg. ‘Only smell it!’

Trotty was going to lift up the cover at once, in a great hurry,

when she gaily interposed her hand.

‘No, no, no,’ said Meg, with the glee of a child. ‘Lengthen it out

a little. Let me just lift up the corner; just the lit-tle ti-ny

cor-ner, you know,’ said Meg, suiting the action to the word with

the utmost gentleness, and speaking very softly, as if she were

afraid of being overheard by something inside the basket; ‘there.

Now. What’s that?’

Toby took the shortest possible sniff at the edge of the basket,

and cried out in a rapture:

‘Why, it’s hot!’

‘It’s burning hot!’ cried Meg. ‘Ha, ha, ha! It’s scalding hot!’

‘Ha, ha, ha!’ roared Toby, with a sort of kick. ‘It’s scalding

hot!’

‘But what is it, father?’ said Meg. ‘Come. You haven’t guessed

what it is. And you must guess what it is. I can’t think of

taking it out, till you guess what it is. Don’t be in such a

hurry! Wait a minute! A little bit more of the cover. Now

guess!’

Meg was in a perfect fright lest he should guess right too soon;

shrinking away, as she held the basket towards him; curling up her

pretty shoulders; stopping her ear with her hand, as if by so doing

she could keep the right word out of Toby’s lips; and laughing

softly the whole time.

Meanwhile Toby, putting a hand on each knee, bent down his nose to

the basket, and took a long inspiration at the lid; the grin upon

his withered face expanding in the process, as if he were inhaling

laughing gas.

‘Ah! It’s very nice,’ said Toby. ‘It an’t–I suppose it an’t

Polonies?’

‘No, no, no!’ cried Meg, delighted. ‘Nothing like Polonies!’

‘No,’ said Toby, after another sniff. ‘It’s–it’s mellower than

Polonies. It’s very nice. It improves every moment. It’s too

decided for Trotters. An’t it?’

Meg was in an ecstasy. He could not have gone wider of the mark

than Trotters–except Polonies.

‘Liver?’ said Toby, communing with himself. ‘No. There’s a

mildness about it that don’t answer to liver. Pettitoes? No. It

an’t faint enough for pettitoes. It wants the stringiness of

Cocks’ heads. And I know it an’t sausages. I’ll tell you what it

is. It’s chitterlings!’

‘No, it an’t!’ cried Meg, in a burst of delight. ‘No, it an’t!’

‘Why, what am I a-thinking of!’ said Toby, suddenly recovering a

position as near the perpendicular as it was possible for him to

assume. ‘I shall forget my own name next. It’s tripe!’

Tripe it was; and Meg, in high joy, protested he should say, in

half a minute more, it was the best tripe ever stewed.

‘And so,’ said Meg, busying herself exultingly with the basket,

‘I’ll lay the cloth at once, father; for I have brought the tripe

in a basin, and tied the basin up in a pocket-handkerchief; and if

I like to be proud for once, and spread that for a cloth, and call

it a cloth, there’s no law to prevent me; is there, father?’

‘Not that I know of, my dear,’ said Toby. ‘But they’re always a-

bringing up some new law or other.’

‘And according to what I was reading you in the paper the other

day, father; what the Judge said, you know; we poor people are

supposed to know them all. Ha ha! What a mistake! My goodness

me, how clever they think us!’

‘Yes, my dear,’ cried Trotty; ‘and they’d be very fond of any one

of us that DID know ’em all. He’d grow fat upon the work he’d get,

that man, and be popular with the gentlefolks in his neighbourhood.

Very much so!’

‘He’d eat his dinner with an appetite, whoever he was, if it smelt

like this,’ said Meg, cheerfully. ‘Make haste, for there’s a hot

potato besides, and half a pint of fresh-drawn beer in a bottle.

Where will you dine, father? On the Post, or on the Steps? Dear,

dear, how grand we are. Two places to choose from!’

‘The steps to-day, my Pet,’ said Trotty. ‘Steps in dry weather.

Post in wet. There’s a greater conveniency in the steps at all

times, because of the sitting down; but they’re rheumatic in the

damp.’

‘Then here,’ said Meg, clapping her hands, after a moment’s bustle;

‘here it is, all ready! And beautiful it looks! Come, father.

Come!’

Since his discovery of the contents of the basket, Trotty had been

standing looking at her–and had been speaking too–in an

abstracted manner, which showed that though she was the object of

his thoughts and eyes, to the exclusion even of tripe, he neither

saw nor thought about her as she was at that moment, but had before

him some imaginary rough sketch or drama of her future life.

Roused, now, by her cheerful summons, he shook off a melancholy

shake of the head which was just coming upon him, and trotted to

her side. As he was stooping to sit down, the Chimes rang.

‘Amen!’ said Trotty, pulling off his hat and looking up towards

them.

‘Amen to the Bells, father?’ cried Meg.

‘They broke in like a grace, my dear,’ said Trotty, taking his

seat. ‘They’d say a good one, I am sure, if they could. Many’s

the kind thing they say to me.’

‘The Bells do, father!’ laughed Meg, as she set the basin, and a

knife and fork, before him. ‘Well!’

‘Seem to, my Pet,’ said Trotty, falling to with great vigour. ‘And

where’s the difference? If I hear ’em, what does it matter whether

they speak it or not? Why bless you, my dear,’ said Toby, pointing

at the tower with his fork, and becoming more animated under the

influence of dinner, ‘how often have I heard them bells say, “Toby

Veck, Toby Veck, keep a good heart, Toby! Toby Veck, Toby Veck,

keep a good heart, Toby!” A million times? More!’

‘Well, I never!’ cried Meg.

She had, though–over and over again. For it was Toby’s constant

topic.

‘When things is very bad,’ said Trotty; ‘very bad indeed, I mean;

almost at the worst; then it’s “Toby Veck, Toby Veck, job coming

soon, Toby! Toby Veck, Toby Veck, job coming soon, Toby!” That

way.’

‘And it comes–at last, father,’ said Meg, with a touch of sadness

in her pleasant voice.

‘Always,’ answered the unconscious Toby. ‘Never fails.’

While this discourse was holding, Trotty made no pause in his

attack upon the savoury meat before him, but cut and ate, and cut

and drank, and cut and chewed, and dodged about, from tripe to hot

potato, and from hot potato back again to tripe, with an unctuous

and unflagging relish. But happening now to look all round the

street–in case anybody should be beckoning from any door or

window, for a porter–his eyes, in coming back again, encountered

Meg: sitting opposite to him, with her arms folded and only busy

in watching his progress with a smile of happiness.

‘Why, Lord forgive me!’ said Trotty, dropping his knife and fork.

‘My dove! Meg! why didn’t you tell me what a beast I was?’

‘Father?’

‘Sitting here,’ said Trotty, in penitent explanation, ‘cramming,

and stuffing, and gorging myself; and you before me there, never so

much as breaking your precious fast, nor wanting to, when–‘

‘But I have broken it, father,’ interposed his daughter, laughing,

‘all to bits. I have had my dinner.’

‘Nonsense,’ said Trotty. ‘Two dinners in one day! It an’t

possible! You might as well tell me that two New Year’s Days will

come together, or that I have had a gold head all my life, and

never changed it.’

‘I have had my dinner, father, for all that,’ said Meg, coming

nearer to him. ‘And if you’ll go on with yours, I’ll tell you how

and where; and how your dinner came to be brought; and–and

something else besides.’

Toby still appeared incredulous; but she looked into his face with

her clear eyes, and laying her hand upon his shoulder, motioned him

to go on while the meat was hot. So Trotty took up his knife and

fork again, and went to work. But much more slowly than before,

and shaking his head, as if he were not at all pleased with

himself.

‘I had my dinner, father,’ said Meg, after a little hesitation,

‘with–with Richard. His dinner-time was early; and as he brought

his dinner with him when he came to see me, we–we had it together,

father.’

Trotty took a little beer, and smacked his lips. Then he said,

‘Oh!’–because she waited.

‘And Richard says, father–‘ Meg resumed. Then stopped.

‘What does Richard say, Meg?’ asked Toby.

‘Richard says, father–‘ Another stoppage.

‘Richard’s a long time saying it,’ said Toby.

‘He says then, father,’ Meg continued, lifting up her eyes at last,

and speaking in a tremble, but quite plainly; ‘another year is

nearly gone, and where is the use of waiting on from year to year,

when it is so unlikely we shall ever be better off than we are now?

He says we are poor now, father, and we shall be poor then, but we

are young now, and years will make us old before we know it. He

says that if we wait: people in our condition: until we see our

way quite clearly, the way will be a narrow one indeed–the common

way–the Grave, father.’

A bolder man than Trotty Veck must needs have drawn upon his

boldness largely, to deny it. Trotty held his peace.

‘And how hard, father, to grow old, and die, and think we might

have cheered and helped each other! How hard in all our lives to

love each other; and to grieve, apart, to see each other working,

changing, growing old and grey. Even if I got the better of it,

and forgot him (which I never could), oh father dear, how hard to

have a heart so full as mine is now, and live to have it slowly

drained out every drop, without the recollection of one happy

moment of a woman’s life, to stay behind and comfort me, and make

me better!’

Trotty sat quite still. Meg dried her eyes, and said more gaily:

that is to say, with here a laugh, and there a sob, and here a

laugh and sob together:

‘So Richard says, father; as his work was yesterday made certain

for some time to come, and as I love him, and have loved him full

three years–ah! longer than that, if he knew it!–will I marry him

on New Year’s Day; the best and happiest day, he says, in the whole

year, and one that is almost sure to bring good fortune with it.

It’s a short notice, father–isn’t it?–but I haven’t my fortune to

be settled, or my wedding dresses to be made, like the great

ladies, father, have I? And he said so much, and said it in his

way; so strong and earnest, and all the time so kind and gentle;

that I said I’d come and talk to you, father. And as they paid the

money for that work of mine this morning (unexpectedly, I am sure!)

and as you have fared very poorly for a whole week, and as I

couldn’t help wishing there should be something to make this day a

sort of holiday to you as well as a dear and happy day to me,

father, I made a little treat and brought it to surprise you.’

‘And see how he leaves it cooling on the step!’ said another voice.

It was the voice of this same Richard, who had come upon them

unobserved, and stood before the father and daughter; looking down

upon them with a face as glowing as the iron on which his stout

sledge-hammer daily rung. A handsome, well-made, powerful

youngster he was; with eyes that sparkled like the red-hot

droppings from a furnace fire; black hair that curled about his

swarthy temples rarely; and a smile–a smile that bore out Meg’s

eulogium on his style of conversation.

‘See how he leaves it cooling on the step!’ said Richard. ‘Meg

don’t know what he likes. Not she!’

Trotty, all action and enthusiasm, immediately reached up his hand

to Richard, and was going to address him in great hurry, when the

house-door opened without any warning, and a footman very nearly

put his foot into the tripe.

‘Out of the vays here, will you! You must always go and be a-

settin on our steps, must you! You can’t go and give a turn to

none of the neighbours never, can’t you! WILL you clear the road,

or won’t you?’

Strictly speaking, the last question was irrelevant, as they had

already done it.

‘What’s the matter, what’s the matter!’ said the gentleman for whom

the door was opened; coming out of the house at that kind of light-

heavy pace–that peculiar compromise between a walk and a jog-trot-

-with which a gentleman upon the smooth down-hill of life, wearing

creaking boots, a watch-chain, and clean linen, MAY come out of his

house: not only without any abatement of his dignity, but with an

expression of having important and wealthy engagements elsewhere.

‘What’s the matter! What’s the matter!’

‘You’re always a-being begged, and prayed, upon your bended knees

you are,’ said the footman with great emphasis to Trotty Veck, ‘to

let our door-steps be. Why don’t you let ’em be? CAN’T you let

’em be?’

‘There! That’ll do, that’ll do!’ said the gentleman. ‘Halloa

there! Porter!’ beckoning with his head to Trotty Veck. ‘Come

here. What’s that? Your dinner?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Trotty, leaving it behind him in a corner.

‘Don’t leave it there,’ exclaimed the gentleman. ‘Bring it here,

bring it here. So! This is your dinner, is it?’

‘Yes, sir,’ repeated Trotty, looking with a fixed eye and a watery

mouth, at the piece of tripe he had reserved for a last delicious

tit-bit; which the gentleman was now turning over and over on the

end of the fork.

Two other gentlemen had come out with him. One was a low-spirited

gentleman of middle age, of a meagre habit, and a disconsolate

face; who kept his hands continually in the pockets of his scanty

pepper-and-salt trousers, very large and dog’s-eared from that

custom; and was not particularly well brushed or washed. The

other, a full-sized, sleek, well-conditioned gentleman, in a blue

coat with bright buttons, and a white cravat. This gentleman had a

very red face, as if an undue proportion of the blood in his body

were squeezed up into his head; which perhaps accounted for his

having also the appearance of being rather cold about the heart.

He who had Toby’s meat upon the fork, called to the first one by

the name of Filer; and they both drew near together. Mr. Filer

being exceedingly short-sighted, was obliged to go so close to the

remnant of Toby’s dinner before he could make out what it was, that

Toby’s heart leaped up into his mouth. But Mr. Filer didn’t eat

it.

‘This is a description of animal food, Alderman,’ said Filer,

making little punches in it with a pencil-case, ‘commonly known to

the labouring population of this country, by the name of tripe.’

The Alderman laughed, and winked; for he was a merry fellow,

Alderman Cute. Oh, and a sly fellow too! A knowing fellow. Up to

everything. Not to be imposed upon. Deep in the people’s hearts!

He knew them, Cute did. I believe you!

‘But who eats tripe?’ said Mr. Filer, looking round. ‘Tripe is

without an exception the least economical, and the most wasteful

article of consumption that the markets of this country can by

possibility produce. The loss upon a pound of tripe has been found

to be, in the boiling, seven-eights of a fifth more than the loss

upon a pound of any other animal substance whatever. Tripe is more

expensive, properly understood, than the hothouse pine-apple.

Taking into account the number of animals slaughtered yearly within

the bills of mortality alone; and forming a low estimate of the

quantity of tripe which the carcases of those animals, reasonably

well butchered, would yield; I find that the waste on that amount

of tripe, if boiled, would victual a garrison of five hundred men

for five months of thirty-one days each, and a February over. The

Waste, the Waste!’

Trotty stood aghast, and his legs shook under him. He seemed to

have starved a garrison of five hundred men with his own hand.

‘Who eats tripe?’ said Mr. Filer, warmly. ‘Who eats tripe?’

Trotty made a miserable bow.

‘You do, do you?’ said Mr. Filer. ‘Then I’ll tell you something.

You snatch your tripe, my friend, out of the mouths of widows and

orphans.’

‘I hope not, sir,’ said Trotty, faintly. ‘I’d sooner die of want!’

‘Divide the amount of tripe before-mentioned, Alderman,’ said Mr.

Filer, ‘by the estimated number of existing widows and orphans, and

the result will be one pennyweight of tripe to each. Not a grain

is left for that man. Consequently, he’s a robber.’

Trotty was so shocked, that it gave him no concern to see the

Alderman finish the tripe himself. It was a relief to get rid of

it, anyhow.

‘And what do you say?’ asked the Alderman, jocosely, of the red-

faced gentleman in the blue coat. ‘You have heard friend Filer.

What do YOU SAY?’

‘What’s it possible to say?’ returned the gentleman. ‘What IS to

be said? Who can take any interest in a fellow like this,’ meaning

Trotty; ‘in such degenerate times as these? Look at him. What an

object! The good old times, the grand old times, the great old

times! THOSE were the times for a bold peasantry, and all that

sort of thing. Those were the times for every sort of thing, in

fact. There’s nothing now-a-days. Ah!’ sighed the red-faced

gentleman. ‘The good old times, the good old times!’

The gentleman didn’t specify what particular times he alluded to;

nor did he say whether he objected to the present times, from a

disinterested consciousness that they had done nothing very

remarkable in producing himself.

‘The good old times, the good old times,’ repeated the gentleman.

‘What times they were! They were the only times. It’s of no use

talking about any other times, or discussing what the people are in

THESE times. You don’t call these, times, do you? I don’t. Look

into Strutt’s Costumes, and see what a Porter used to be, in any of

the good old English reigns.’

‘He hadn’t, in his very best circumstances, a shirt to his back, or

a stocking to his foot; and there was scarcely a vegetable in all

England for him to put into his mouth,’ said Mr. Filer. ‘I can

prove it, by tables.’

But still the red-faced gentleman extolled the good old times, the

grand old times, the great old times. No matter what anybody else

said, he still went turning round and round in one set form of

words concerning them; as a poor squirrel turns and turns in its

revolving cage; touching the mechanism, and trick of which, it has

probably quite as distinct perceptions, as ever this red-faced

gentleman had of his deceased Millennium.

It is possible that poor Trotty’s faith in these very vague Old

Times was not entirely destroyed, for he felt vague enough at that

moment. One thing, however, was plain to him, in the midst of his

distress; to wit, that however these gentlemen might differ in

details, his misgivings of that morning, and of many other

mornings, were well founded. ‘No, no. We can’t go right or do

right,’ thought Trotty in despair. ‘There is no good in us. We

are born bad!’

But Trotty had a father’s heart within him; which had somehow got

into his breast in spite of this decree; and he could not bear that

Meg, in the blush of her brief joy, should have her fortune read by

these wise gentlemen. ‘God help her,’ thought poor Trotty. ‘She

will know it soon enough.’

He anxiously signed, therefore, to the young smith, to take her

away. But he was so busy, talking to her softly at a little

distance, that he only became conscious of this desire,

simultaneously with Alderman Cute. Now, the Alderman had not yet

had his say, but HE was a philosopher, too–practical, though! Oh,

very practical–and, as he had no idea of losing any portion of his

audience, he cried ‘Stop!’

‘Now, you know,’ said the Alderman, addressing his two friends,

with a self-complacent smile upon his face which was habitual to

him, ‘I am a plain man, and a practical man; and I go to work in a

plain practical way. That’s my way. There is not the least

mystery or difficulty in dealing with this sort of people if you

only understand ’em, and can talk to ’em in their own manner. Now,

you Porter! Don’t you ever tell me, or anybody else, my friend,

that you haven’t always enough to eat, and of the best; because I

know better. I have tasted your tripe, you know, and you can’t

“chaff” me. You understand what “chaff” means, eh? That’s the

right word, isn’t it? Ha, ha, ha! Lord bless you,’ said the

Alderman, turning to his friends again, ‘it’s the easiest thing on

earth to deal with this sort of people, if you understand ’em.’

Famous man for the common people, Alderman Cute! Never out of

temper with them! Easy, affable, joking, knowing gentleman!

‘You see, my friend,’ pursued the Alderman, ‘there’s a great deal

of nonsense talked about Want–“hard up,” you know; that’s the

phrase, isn’t it? ha! ha! ha!–and I intend to Put it Down.

There’s a certain amount of cant in vogue about Starvation, and I

mean to Put it Down. That’s all! Lord bless you,’ said the

Alderman, turning to his friends again, ‘you may Put Down anything

among this sort of people, if you only know the way to set about

it.’

Trotty took Meg’s hand and drew it through his arm. He didn’t seem

to know what he was doing though.

‘Your daughter, eh?’ said the Alderman, chucking her familiarly

under the chin.

Always affable with the working classes, Alderman Cute! Knew what

pleased them! Not a bit of pride!

‘Where’s her mother?’ asked that worthy gentleman.

‘Dead,’ said Toby. ‘Her mother got up linen; and was called to

Heaven when She was born.’

‘Not to get up linen THERE, I suppose,’ remarked the Alderman

pleasantly

Toby might or might not have been able to separate his wife in

Heaven from her old pursuits. But query: If Mrs. Alderman Cute

had gone to Heaven, would Mr. Alderman Cute have pictured her as

holding any state or station there?

‘And you’re making love to her, are you?’ said Cute to the young

smith.

‘Yes,’ returned Richard quickly, for he was nettled by the

question. ‘And we are going to be married on New Year’s Day.’

‘What do you mean!’ cried Filer sharply. ‘Married!’

‘Why, yes, we’re thinking of it, Master,’ said Richard. ‘We’re

rather in a hurry, you see, in case it should be Put Down first.’

‘Ah!’ cried Filer, with a groan. ‘Put THAT down indeed, Alderman,

and you’ll do something. Married! Married!! The ignorance of the

first principles of political economy on the part of these people;

their improvidence; their wickedness; is, by Heavens! enough to–

Now look at that couple, will you!’

Well? They were worth looking at. And marriage seemed as

reasonable and fair a deed as they need have in contemplation.

‘A man may live to be as old as Methuselah,’ said Mr. Filer, ‘and

may labour all his life for the benefit of such people as those;

and may heap up facts on figures, facts on figures, facts on

figures, mountains high and dry; and he can no more hope to

persuade ’em that they have no right or business to be married,

than he can hope to persuade ’em that they have no earthly right or

business to be born. And THAT we know they haven’t. We reduced it

to a mathematical certainty long ago!’

Alderman Cute was mightily diverted, and laid his right forefinger

on the side of his nose, as much as to say to both his friends,

‘Observe me, will you! Keep your eye on the practical man!’–and

called Meg to him.

‘Come here, my girl!’ said Alderman Cute.

The young blood of her lover had been mounting, wrathfully, within

the last few minutes; and he was indisposed to let her come. But,

setting a constraint upon himself, he came forward with a stride as

Meg approached, and stood beside her. Trotty kept her hand within

his arm still, but looked from face to face as wildly as a sleeper

in a dream.

‘Now, I’m going to give you a word or two of good advice, my girl,’

said the Alderman, in his nice easy way. ‘It’s my place to give

advice, you know, because I’m a Justice. You know I’m a Justice,

don’t you?’

Meg timidly said, ‘Yes.’ But everybody knew Alderman Cute was a

Justice! Oh dear, so active a Justice always! Who such a mote of

brightness in the public eye, as Cute!

‘You are going to be married, you say,’ pursued the Alderman.

‘Very unbecoming and indelicate in one of your sex! But never mind

that. After you are married, you’ll quarrel with your husband and

come to be a distressed wife. You may think not; but you will,

because I tell you so. Now, I give you fair warning, that I have

made up my mind to Put distressed wives Down. So, don’t be brought

before me. You’ll have children–boys. Those boys will grow up

bad, of course, and run wild in the streets, without shoes and

stockings. Mind, my young friend! I’ll convict ’em summarily,

every one, for I am determined to Put boys without shoes and

stockings, Down. Perhaps your husband will die young (most likely)

and leave you with a baby. Then you’ll be turned out of doors, and

wander up and down the streets. Now, don’t wander near me, my

dear, for I am resolved, to Put all wandering mothers Down. All

young mothers, of all sorts and kinds, it’s my determination to Put

Down. Don’t think to plead illness as an excuse with me; or babies

as an excuse with me; for all sick persons and young children (I

hope you know the church-service, but I’m afraid not) I am

determined to Put Down. And if you attempt, desperately, and

ungratefully, and impiously, and fraudulently attempt, to drown

yourself, or hang yourself, I’ll have no pity for you, for I have

made up my mind to Put all suicide Down! If there is one thing,’

said the Alderman, with his self-satisfied smile, ‘on which I can

be said to have made up my mind more than on another, it is to Put

suicide Down. So don’t try it on. That’s the phrase, isn’t it?

Ha, ha! now we understand each other.’

Toby knew not whether to be agonised or glad, to see that Meg had

turned a deadly white, and dropped her lover’s hand.

‘And as for you, you dull dog,’ said the Alderman, turning with

even increased cheerfulness and urbanity to the young smith, ‘what

are you thinking of being married for? What do you want to be

married for, you silly fellow? If I was a fine, young, strapping

chap like you, I should be ashamed of being milksop enough to pin

myself to a woman’s apron-strings! Why, she’ll be an old woman

before you’re a middle-aged man! And a pretty figure you’ll cut

then, with a draggle-tailed wife and a crowd of squalling children

crying after you wherever you go!’

O, he knew how to banter the common people, Alderman Cute!

‘There! Go along with you,’ said the Alderman, ‘and repent. Don’t

make such a fool of yourself as to get married on New Year’s Day.

You’ll think very differently of it, long before next New Year’s

Day: a trim young fellow like you, with all the girls looking

after you. There! Go along with you!’

They went along. Not arm in arm, or hand in hand, or interchanging

bright glances; but, she in tears; he, gloomy and down-looking.

Were these the hearts that had so lately made old Toby’s leap up

from its faintness? No, no. The Alderman (a blessing on his

head!) had Put THEM Down.

‘As you happen to be here,’ said the Alderman to Toby, ‘you shall

carry a letter for me. Can you be quick? You’re an old man.’

Toby, who had been looking after Meg, quite stupidly, made shift to

murmur out that he was very quick, and very strong.

‘How old are you?’ inquired the Alderman.

‘I’m over sixty, sir,’ said Toby.

‘O! This man’s a great deal past the average age, you know,’ cried

Mr. Filer breaking in as if his patience would bear some trying,

but this really was carrying matters a little too far.

‘I feel I’m intruding, sir,’ said Toby. ‘I–I misdoubted it this

morning. Oh dear me!’

The Alderman cut him short by giving him the letter from his

pocket. Toby would have got a shilling too; but Mr. Filer clearly

showing that in that case he would rob a certain given number of

persons of ninepence-halfpenny a-piece, he only got sixpence; and

thought himself very well off to get that.

Then the Alderman gave an arm to each of his friends, and walked

off in high feather; but, he immediately came hurrying back alone,

as if he had forgotten something.

‘Porter!’ said the Alderman.

‘Sir!’ said Toby.

‘Take care of that daughter of yours. She’s much too handsome.’

‘Even her good looks are stolen from somebody or other, I suppose,’

thought Toby, looking at the sixpence in his hand, and thinking of

the tripe. ‘She’s been and robbed five hundred ladies of a bloom

a-piece, I shouldn’t wonder. It’s very dreadful!’

‘She’s much too handsome, my man,’ repeated the Alderman. ‘The

chances are, that she’ll come to no good, I clearly see. Observe

what I say. Take care of her!’ With which, he hurried off again.

‘Wrong every way. Wrong every way!’ said Trotty, clasping his

hands. ‘Born bad. No business here!’

The Chimes came clashing in upon him as he said the words. Full,

loud, and sounding–but with no encouragement. No, not a drop.

‘The tune’s changed,’ cried the old man, as he listened. ‘There’s

not a word of all that fancy in it. Why should there be? I have

no business with the New Year nor with the old one neither. Let me

die!’

Still the Bells, pealing forth their changes, made the very air

spin. Put ’em down, Put ’em down! Good old Times, Good old Times!

Facts and Figures, Facts and Figures! Put ’em down, Put ’em down!

If they said anything they said this, until the brain of Toby

reeled.

He pressed his bewildered head between his hands, as if to keep it

from splitting asunder. A well-timed action, as it happened; for

finding the letter in one of them, and being by that means reminded

of his charge, he fell, mechanically, into his usual trot, and

trotted off.

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