Here are not many people—and as it is desirable that a story–teller and _tory–reader should establish a mutual understanding as soon as possible, _eg it to be noticed that I confine this observation neither to young peopl_or to little people, but extend it to all conditions of people: little an_ig, young and old: yet growing up, or already growing down again—there ar_ot, I say, many people who would care to sleep in a church. I don’t mean a_ermon–time in warm weather (when the thing has actually been done, once o_wice), but in the night, and alone. A great multitude of persons will b_iolently astonished, I know, by this position, in the broad bold Day. But i_pplies to Night. It must be argued by night, and I will undertake to maintai_t successfully on any gusty winter’s night appointed for the purpose, wit_ny one opponent chosen from the rest, who will meet me singly in an ol_hurchyard, before an old church–door; and will previously empower me to loc_im in, if needful to his satisfaction, until morning.
For the night–wind has a dismal trick of wandering round and round a buildin_f that sort, and moaning as it goes; and of trying, with its unseen hand, th_indows and the doors; and seeking out some crevices by which to enter. An_hen it has got in; as one not finding what it seeks, whatever that may be, i_ails and howls to issue forth again: and not content with stalking throug_he aisles, and gliding round and round the pillars, and tempting the dee_rgan, soars up to the roof, and strives to rend the rafters: then fling_tself despairingly upon the stones below, and passes, muttering, into th_aults. Anon, it comes up stealthily, and creeps along the walls, seeming t_ead, in whispers, the Inscriptions sacred to the Dead. At some of these, i_reaks out shrilly, as with laughter; and at others, moans and cries as if i_ere lamenting. It has a ghostly sound too, lingering within the altar; wher_t seems to chaunt, in its wild way, of Wrong and Murder done, and false God_orshipped, in defiance of the Tables of the Law, which look so fair an_mooth, but are so flawed and broken. Ugh! Heaven preserve us, sitting snugl_ound the fire! It has an awful voice, that wind at Midnight, singing in _hurch!
But, high up in the steeple! There the foul blast roars and whistles! High u_n the steeple, where it is free to come and go through many an airy arch an_oophole, and to twist and twine itself about the giddy stair, and twirl th_roaning weathercock, and make the very tower shake and shiver! High up in th_teeple, where the belfry is, and iron rails are ragged with rust, and sheet_f lead and copper, shrivelled by the changing weather, crackle and heav_eneath the unaccustomed tread; and birds stuff shabby nests into corners o_ld 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 o_he bells, and never loose their hold upon their thread–spun castles in th_ir, or climb up sailor–like in quick alarm, or drop upon the ground and ply _core of nimble legs to save one life! High up in the steeple of an ol_hurch, far above the light and murmur of the town and far below the flyin_louds that shadow it, is the wild and dreary place at night: and high up i_he steeple of an old church, dwelt the Chimes I tell of.
They were old Chimes, trust me. Centuries ago, these Bells had been baptize_y bishops: so many centuries ago, that the register of their baptism was los_ong, long before the memory of man, and no one knew their names. They had ha_heir Godfathers and Godmothers, these Bells (for my own part, by the way, _ould rather incur the responsibility of being Godfather to a Bell than _oy), and had their silver mugs no doubt, besides. But Time had mowed dow_heir sponsors, and Henry the Eighth had melted down their mugs; and they no_ung, nameless and mugless, in the church–tower.
Not speechless, though. Far from it. They had clear, loud, lusty, soundin_oices, 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; an_ent on being heard on stormy nights, by some poor mother watching a sic_hild, or some lone wife whose husband was at sea, they had been sometime_nown to beat a blustering Nor’ Wester; aye, ‘all to fits,’ as Toby Vec_aid;—for though they chose to call him Trotty Veck, his name was Toby, an_obody could make it anything else either (except Tobias) without a specia_ct of parliament; he having been as lawfully christened in his day as th_ells had been in theirs, though with not quite so much of solemnity or publi_ejoicing.
For my part, I confess myself of Toby Veck’s belief, for I am sure he ha_pportunities enough of forming a correct one. And whatever Toby Veck said, _ay. And I take my stand by Toby Veck, although he did stand all day long (an_eary work it was) just outside the church–door. In fact he was _icket–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 Vec_ell knew. The wind came tearing round the corner—especially the east wind—a_f it had sallied forth, express, from the confines of the earth, to have _low at Toby. And oftentimes it seemed to come upon him sooner than it ha_xpected, for bouncing round the corner, and passing Toby, it would suddenl_heel round again, as if it cried ‘Why, here he is!’ Incontinently his littl_hite 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 unavailingl_n his hand, and his legs would undergo tremendous agitation, and Toby himsel_ll aslant, and facing now in this direction, now in that, would be so bange_nd buffeted, and to touzled, and worried, and hustled, and lifted off hi_eet, as to render it a state of things but one degree removed from a positiv_iracle, that he wasn’t carried up bodily into the air as a colony of frogs o_nails or other very portable creatures sometimes are, and rained down again, to the great astonishment of the natives, on some strange corner of the worl_here ticket–porters are unknown.
But, windy weather, in spite of its using him so roughly, was, after all, _ort of holiday for Toby. That’s the fact. He didn’t seem to wait so long fo_ sixpence in the wind, as at other times; the having to fight with tha_oisterous element took off his attention, and quite freshened him up, when h_as getting hungry and low–spirited. A hard frost too, or a fall of snow, wa_n Event; and it seemed to do him good, somehow or other—it would have bee_ard to say in what respect though, Toby! So wind and frost and snow, an_erhaps 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 u_ike a moist great–coat—the only kind of great–coat Toby owned, or could hav_dded 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 choke_ith mist; when smoking umbrellas passed and re–passed, spinning round an_ound like so many teetotums, as they knocked against each other on th_rowded footway, throwing off a little whirlpool of uncomfortable sprinklings; when gutters brawled and waterspouts were full and noisy; when the wet fro_he 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 th_ays that tried him. Then, indeed, you might see Toby looking anxiously ou_rom his shelter in an angle of the church wall—such a meagre shelter that i_ummer time it never cast a shadow thicker than a good–sized walking stic_pon the sunny pavement—with a disconsolate and lengthened face. But comin_ut, a minute afterwards, to warm himself by exercise, and trotting up an_own some dozen times, he would brighten even then, and go back more brightl_o 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, an_oby would have taken to his bed and died. It bespattered him with mud i_irty weather; it cost him a world of trouble; he could have walked wit_nfinitely greater ease; but that was one reason for his clinging to it s_enaciously. 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 t_elieve—Toby was very poor, and couldn’t well afford to part with _elight—that he was worth his salt. With a shilling or an eighteenpenn_essage or small parcel in hand, his courage always high, rose higher. As h_rotted on, he would call out to fast Postmen ahead of him, to get out of th_ay; devoutly believing that in the natural course of things he mus_nevitably overtake and run them down; and he had perfect faith—not ofte_ested—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, Tob_rotted. Making, with his leaky shoes, a crooked line of slushy footprints i_he mire; and blowing on his chilly hands and rubbing them against each other, poorly defended from the searching cold by threadbare mufflers of gre_orsted, with a private apartment only for the thumb, and a common room or ta_or the rest of the fingers; Toby, with his knees bent and his cane beneat_is arm, still trotted. Falling out into the road to look up at the belfr_hen 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 thei_odging–place, and thinking how they were moved, and what hammers beat upo_hem. Perhaps he was the more curious about these Bells, because there wer_oints of resemblance between themselves and him. They hung there, in al_eathers, with the wind and rain driving in upon them; facing only th_utsides of all those houses; never getting any nearer to the blazing fire_hat gleamed and shone upon the windows, or came puffing out of the chimne_ops; and incapable of participation in any of the good things that wer_onstantly being handled, through the street doors and the area railings, t_rodigious 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, on_ind 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 tha_hen he began to take to the Bells, and to knit up his first roug_cquaintance with them into something of a closer and more delicate woof, h_assed through these considerations one by one, or held any formal review o_reat field–day in his thoughts. But what I mean to say, and do say is, tha_s the functions of Toby’s body, his digestive organs for example, did o_heir own cunning, and by a great many operations of which he was altogethe_gnorant, and the knowledge of which would have astonished him very much, arrive at a certain end; so his mental faculties, without his privity o_oncurrence, set all these wheels and springs in motion, with a thousan_thers, 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 i_ould scarcely have expressed his complicated feeling. For, being but a simpl_an, he invested them with a strange and solemn character. They were s_ysterious, often heard and never seen; so high up, so far off, so full o_uch a deep strong melody, that he regarded them with a species of awe; an_ometimes when he looked up at the dark arched windows in the tower, he hal_xpected to be beckoned to by something which was not a Bell, and yet was wha_e had heard so often sounding in the Chimes. For all this, Toby scouted wit_ndignation a certain flying rumour that the Chimes were haunted, as implyin_he possibility of their being connected with any Evil thing. In short, the_ere very often in his ears, and very often in his thoughts, but always in hi_ood opinion; and he very often got such a crick in his neck by staring wit_is mouth wide open, at the steeple where they hung, that he was fain to tak_n extra trot or two, afterwards, to cure it.
The very thing he was in the act of doing one cold day, when the last drows_ound of Twelve o’clock, just struck, was humming like a melodious monster o_ 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 ver_uch, 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 a_nfantine 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 shor_n his trot, and with a face of great interest and some alarm, felt his nos_arefully 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 har_ervice 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 th_est of times; for when it does get hold of a pleasant whiff or so (which an’_oo often) it’s generally from somebody else’s dinner, a–coming home from th_aker’s.’
The reflection reminded him of that other reflection, which he had lef_nfinished.
‘There’s nothing,’ said Toby, ‘more regular in its coming round tha_inner–time, and nothing less regular in its coming round than dinner. That’_he great difference between ’em. It’s took me a long time to find it out. _onder whether it would be worth any gentleman’s while, now, to buy tha_bserwation 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’_he Parliament. Here’s last week’s paper, now;’ taking a very dirty one fro_is 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: ‘bu_t almost goes against the grain with me to read a paper now. It frightens m_lmost. I don’t know what we poor people are coming to. Lord send we may b_oming 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 a_e went, and talking to himself.
‘It seems as if we can’t go right, or do right, or be righted,’ said Toby. ‘_adn’t much schooling, myself, when I was young; and I can’t make out whethe_e have any business on the face of the earth, or not. Sometimes I think w_ust have—a little; and sometimes I think we must be intruding. I get s_uzzled sometimes that I am not even able to make up my mind whether there i_ny good at all in us, or whether we are born bad. We seem to be dreadfu_hings; we seem to give a deal of trouble; we are always being complained o_nd guarded against. One way or other, we fill the papers. Talk of a Ne_ear!’ said Toby, mournfully. ‘I can bear up as well as another man at mos_imes; better than a good many, for I am as strong as a lion, and all me_n’t; but supposing it should really be that we have no right to a Ne_ear—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 ha_een directed a long way off as seeking the enlightenment in the very heart o_he approaching year, found himself face to face with his own child, an_ooking close into her eyes.
Bright eyes they were. Eyes that would bear a world of looking in, befor_heir depth was fathomed. Dark eyes, that reflected back the eyes whic_earched them; not flashingly, or at the owner’s will, but with a clear, calm, honest, patient radiance, claiming kindred with that light which Heaven calle_nto being. Eyes that were beautiful and true, and beaming with Hope. Wit_ope so young and fresh; with Hope so buoyant, vigorous, and bright, despit_he twenty years of work and poverty on which they had looked; that the_ecame a voice to Trotty Veck, and said: ‘I think we have some business here—_ittle!’
Trotty kissed the lips belonging to the eyes, and squeezed the blooming fac_etween 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 an_miling 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 covere_asket 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 sh_aily 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, an_peaking very softly, as if she were afraid of being overheard by somethin_nside the basket; ‘there. Now. What’s that?’
Toby took the shortest possible sniff at the edge of the basket, and cried ou_n 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. An_ou must guess what it is. I can’t think of taking it out, till you guess wha_t is. Don’t be in such a hurry! Wait a minute! A little bit more of th_over. Now guess!’
Meg was in a perfect fright lest he should guess right too soon; shrinkin_way, 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 righ_ord 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 fac_xpanding 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’_ery 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 tha_rotters—except Polonies.
‘Liver?’ said Toby, communing with himself. ‘No. There’s a mildness about i_hat 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’l_ell 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 a_ear the perpendicular as it was possible for him to assume. ‘I shall forge_y own name next. It’s tripe!’
Tripe it was; and Meg, in high joy, protested he should say, in half a minut_ore, it was the best tripe ever stewed.
‘And so,’ said Meg, busying herself exultingly with the basket, ‘I’ll lay th_loth at once, father; for I have brought the tripe in a basin, and tied th_asin up in a pocket–handkerchief; and if I like to be proud for once, an_pread that for a cloth, and call it a cloth, there’s no law to prevent me; i_here, father?’
‘Not that I know of, my dear,’ said Toby. ‘But they’re always a–bringing u_ome 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 tha_id know ’em all. He’d grow fat upon the work he’d get, that man, and b_opular 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 hal_ pint of fresh–drawn beer in a bottle. Where will you dine, father? On th_ost, or on the Steps? Dear, dear, how grand we are. Two places to choos_rom!’
‘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 th_itting down; but they’re rheumatic in the damp.’
‘Then here,’ said Meg, clapping her hands, after a moment’s bustle; ‘here i_s, all ready! And beautiful it looks! Come, father. Come!’
Since his discovery of the contents of the basket, Trotty had been standin_ooking at her—and had been speaking too—in an abstracted manner, which showe_hat though she was the object of his thoughts and eyes, to the exclusion eve_f tripe, he neither saw nor thought about her as she was at that moment, bu_ad 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 th_ead which was just coming upon him, and trotted to her side. As he wa_tooping 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’_ay a good one, I am sure, if they could. Many’s the kind thing they say t_e.’
‘The Bells do, father!’ laughed Meg, as she set the basin, and a knife an_ork, before him. ‘Well!’
‘Seem to, my Pet,’ said Trotty, falling to with great vigour. ‘And where’s th_ifference? 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, an_ecoming more animated under the influence of dinner, ‘how often have I hear_hem 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 a_he 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 he_leasant voice.
‘Always,’ answered the unconscious Toby. ‘Never fails.’
While this discourse was holding, Trotty made no pause in his attack upon th_avoury meat before him, but cut and ate, and cut and drank, and cut an_hewed, and dodged about, from tripe to hot potato, and from hot potato bac_gain to tripe, with an unctuous and unflagging relish. But happening now t_ook all round the street—in case anybody should be beckoning from any door o_indow, for a porter—his eyes, in coming back again, encountered Meg: sittin_pposite to him, with her arms folded and only busy in watching his progres_ith a smile of happiness.
‘Why, Lord forgive me!’ said Trotty, dropping his knife and fork. ‘My dove!
Meg! why didn’t you tell me what a beast I was?’
‘Sitting here,’ said Trotty, in penitent explanation, ‘cramming, and stuffing, and gorging myself; and you before me there, never so much as breaking you_recious fast, nor wanting to, when—’
‘But I have broken it, father,’ interposed his daughter, laughing, ‘all t_its. I have had my dinner.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Trotty. ‘Two dinners in one day! It an’t possible! You migh_s well tell me that two New Year’s Days will come together, or that I hav_ad 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 you_inner came to be brought; and—and something else besides.’
Toby still appeared incredulous; but she looked into his face with her clea_yes, and laying her hand upon his shoulder, motioned him to go on while th_eat 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 a_ll pleased with himself.
‘I had my dinner, father,’ said Meg, after a little hesitation, ‘with—wit_ichard. His dinner–time was early; and as he brought his dinner with him whe_e came to see me, we—we had it together, father.’
Trotty took a little beer, and smacked his lips. Then he said, ‘Oh!’—becaus_he 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, an_peaking in a tremble, but quite plainly; ‘another year is nearly gone, an_here is the use of waiting on from year to year, when it is so unlikely w_hall ever be better off than we are now? He says we are poor now, father, an_e shall be poor then, but we are young now, and years will make us old befor_e know it. He says that if we wait: people in our condition: until we see ou_ay quite clearly, the way will be a narrow one indeed—the common way—th_rave, 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 cheere_nd helped each other! How hard in all our lives to love each other; and t_rieve, apart, to see each other working, changing, growing old and grey. Eve_f I got the better of it, and forgot him (which I never could), oh fathe_ear, how hard to have a heart so full as mine is now, and live to have i_lowly drained out every drop, without the recollection of one happy moment o_ 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 t_ay, 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 tim_o come, and as I love him, and have loved him full three years—ah! longe_han that, if he knew it!—will I marry him on New Year’s Day; the best an_appiest day, he says, in the whole year, and one that is almost sure to brin_ood fortune with it. It’s a short notice, father—isn’t it?—but I haven’t m_ortune to be settled, or my wedding dresses to be made, like the grea_adies, father, have I? And he said so much, and said it in his way; so stron_nd earnest, and all the time so kind and gentle; that I said I’d come an_alk to you, father. And as they paid the money for that work of mine thi_orning (unexpectedly, I am sure!) and as you have fared very poorly for _hole week, and as I couldn’t help wishing there should be something to mak_his 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, an_tood before the father and daughter; looking down upon them with a face a_lowing 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–ho_roppings from a furnace fire; black hair that curled about his swarth_emples rarely; and a smile—a smile that bore out Meg’s eulogium on his styl_f conversation.
‘See how he leaves it cooling on the step!’ said Richard. ‘Meg don’t know wha_e 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 opene_ithout 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 ou_teps, 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 don_t.
‘What’s the matter, what’s the matter!’ said the gentleman for whom the doo_as opened; coming out of the house at that kind of light–heavy pace—tha_eculiar compromise between a walk and a jog–trot—with which a gentleman upo_he smooth down–hill of life, wearing creaking boots, a watch–chain, and clea_inen, may come out of his house: not only without any abatement of hi_ignity, but with an expression of having important and wealthy engagement_lsewhere. ‘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–step_e. 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 i_ere. So! This is your dinner, is it?’
‘Yes, sir,’ repeated Trotty, looking with a fixed eye and a watery mouth, a_he piece of tripe he had reserved for a last delicious tit–bit; which th_entleman 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 o_iddle age, of a meagre habit, and a disconsolate face; who kept his hand_ontinually in the pockets of his scanty pepper–and–salt trousers, very larg_nd dog’s–eared from that custom; and was not particularly well brushed o_ashed. The other, a full–sized, sleek, well–conditioned gentleman, in a blu_oat with bright buttons, and a white cravat. This gentleman had a very re_ace, as if an undue proportion of the blood in his body were squeezed up int_is head; which perhaps accounted for his having also the appearance of bein_ather cold about the heart.
He who had Toby’s meat upon the fork, called to the first one by the name o_iler; and they both drew near together. Mr. Filer being exceedingl_hort–sighted, was obliged to go so close to the remnant of Toby’s dinne_efore he could make out what it was, that Toby’s heart leaped up into hi_outh. But Mr. Filer didn’t eat it.
‘This is a description of animal food, Alderman,’ said Filer, making littl_unches in it with a pencil–case, ‘commonly known to the labouring populatio_f 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 b_mposed upon. Deep in the people’s hearts! He knew them, Cute did. I believ_ou!
‘But who eats tripe?’ said Mr. Filer, looking round. ‘Tripe is without a_xception the least economical, and the most wasteful article of consumptio_hat the markets of this country can by possibility produce. The loss upon _ound of tripe has been found to be, in the boiling, seven–eights of a fift_ore than the loss upon a pound of any other animal substance whatever. Trip_s more expensive, properly understood, than the hothouse pine–apple. Takin_nto account the number of animals slaughtered yearly within the bills o_ortality alone; and forming a low estimate of the quantity of tripe which th_arcases of those animals, reasonably well butchered, would yield; I find tha_he waste on that amount of tripe, if boiled, would victual a garrison of fiv_undred men for five months of thirty–one days each, and a February over. Th_aste, the Waste!’
Trotty stood aghast, and his legs shook under him. He seemed to have starved _arrison 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 snatc_our 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, ‘b_he estimated number of existing widows and orphans, and the result will b_ne 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 finis_he tripe himself. It was a relief to get rid of it, anyhow.
‘And what do you say?’ asked the Alderman, jocosely, of the red–face_entleman 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? Wh_an take any interest in a fellow like this,’ meaning Trotty; ‘in suc_egenerate 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 bol_easantry, and all that sort of thing. Those were the times for every sort o_hing, in fact. There’s nothing now–a–days. Ah!’ sighed the red–face_entleman. ‘The good old times, the good old times!’
The gentleman didn’t specify what particular times he alluded to; nor did h_ay whether he objected to the present times, from a disintereste_onsciousness that they had done nothing very remarkable in producing himself.
‘The good old times, the good old times,’ repeated the gentleman. ‘What time_hey were! They were the only times. It’s of no use talking about any othe_imes, or discussing what the people are in these times. You don’t call thes_imes, do you? I don’t. Look into Strutt’s Costumes, and see what a Porte_sed 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 stockin_o his foot; and there was scarcely a vegetable in all England for him to pu_nto his mouth,’ said Mr. Filer. ‘I can prove it, by tables.’
But still the red–faced gentleman extolled the good old times, the grand ol_imes, the great old times. No matter what anybody else said, he still wen_urning round and round in one set form of words concerning them; as a poo_quirrel turns and turns in its revolving cage; touching the mechanism, an_rick of which, it has probably quite as distinct perceptions, as ever thi_ed–faced gentleman had of his deceased Millennium.
It is possible that poor Trotty’s faith in these very vague Old Times was no_ntirely 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 howeve_hese gentlemen might differ in details, his misgivings of that morning, an_f many other mornings, were well founded. ‘No, no. We can’t go right or d_ight,’ 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 hi_reast in spite of this decree; and he could not bear that Meg, in the blus_f her brief joy, should have her fortune read by these wise gentlemen. ‘Go_elp her,’ thought poor Trotty. ‘She will know it soon enough.’
He anxiously signed, therefore, to the young smith, to take her away. But h_as so busy, talking to her softly at a little distance, that he only becam_onscious of this desire, simultaneously with Alderman Cute. Now, the Alderma_ad 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 _elf–complacent smile upon his face which was habitual to him, ‘I am a plai_an, and a practical man; and I go to work in a plain practical way. That’s m_ay. There is not the least mystery or difficulty in dealing with this sort o_eople 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 yo_aven’t always enough to eat, and of the best; because I know better. I hav_asted 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 bles_ou,’ said the Alderman, turning to his friends again, ‘it’s the easiest thin_n earth to deal with this sort of people, if you understand ’em.’
Famous man for the common people, Alderman Cute! Never out of temper wit_hem! Easy, affable, joking, knowing gentleman!
‘You see, my friend,’ pursued the Alderman, ‘there’s a great deal of nonsens_alked 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 vogu_bout Starvation, and I mean to Put it Down. That’s all! Lord bless you,’ sai_he Alderman, turning to his friends again, ‘you may Put Down anything amon_his 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 kno_hat he was doing though.
‘Your daughter, eh?’ said the Alderman, chucking her familiarly under th_hin.
Always affable with the working classes, Alderman Cute! Knew what please_hem! 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 Sh_as 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 he_ld 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 w_re 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 _urry, you see, in case it should be Put Down first.’
‘Ah!’ cried Filer, with a groan. ‘Put that down indeed, Alderman, and you’l_o something. Married! Married!! The ignorance of the first principles o_olitical economy on the part of these people; their improvidence; thei_ickedness; 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 _eed as they need have in contemplation.
‘A man may live to be as old as Methuselah,’ said Mr. Filer, ‘and may labou_ll his life for the benefit of such people as those; and may heap up facts o_igures, facts on figures, facts on figures, mountains high and dry; and h_an no more hope to persuade ’em that they have no right or business to b_arried, than he can hope to persuade ’em that they have no earthly right o_usiness to be born. And that we know they haven’t. We reduced it to _athematical certainty long ago!’
Alderman Cute was mightily diverted, and laid his right forefinger on the sid_f 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 las_ew minutes; and he was indisposed to let her come. But, setting a constrain_pon himself, he came forward with a stride as Meg approached, and stoo_eside her. Trotty kept her hand within his arm still, but looked from face t_ace 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 th_lderman, 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! O_ear, so active a Justice always! Who such a mote of brightness in the publi_ye, as Cute!
‘You are going to be married, you say,’ pursued the Alderman. ‘Very unbecomin_nd 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 ma_hink 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 brough_efore 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 youn_riend! I’ll convict ’em summarily, every one, for I am determined to Put boy_ithout shoes and stockings, Down. Perhaps your husband will die young (mos_ikely) and leave you with a baby. Then you’ll be turned out of doors, an_ander up and down the streets. Now, don’t wander near me, my dear, for I a_esolved, to Put all wandering mothers Down. All young mothers, of all sort_nd kinds, it’s my determination to Put Down. Don’t think to plead illness a_n excuse with me; or babies as an excuse with me; for all sick persons an_oung children (I hope you know the church–service, but I’m afraid not) I a_etermined to Put Down. And if you attempt, desperately, and ungratefully, an_mpiously, and fraudulently attempt, to drown yourself, or hang yourself, I’l_ave no pity for you, for I have made up my mind to Put all suicide Down! I_here is one thing,’ said the Alderman, with his self–satisfied smile, ‘o_hich I can be said to have made up my mind more than on another, it is to Pu_uicide Down. So don’t try it on. That’s the phrase, isn’t it? Ha, ha! now w_nderstand each other.’
Toby knew not whether to be agonised or glad, to see that Meg had turned _eadly white, and dropped her lover’s hand.
‘And as for you, you dull dog,’ said the Alderman, turning with even increase_heerfulness and urbanity to the young smith, ‘what are you thinking of bein_arried for? What do you want to be married for, you silly fellow? If I was _ine, young, strapping chap like you, I should be ashamed of being milkso_nough to pin myself to a woman’s apron–strings! Why, she’ll be an old woma_efore you’re a middle–aged man! And a pretty figure you’ll cut then, with _raggle–tailed wife and a crowd of squalling children crying after yo_herever 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 _ool of yourself as to get married on New Year’s Day. You’ll think ver_ifferently of it, long before next New Year’s Day: a trim young fellow lik_ou, 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 brigh_lances; but, she in tears; he, gloomy and down–looking. Were these the heart_hat had so lately made old Toby’s leap up from its faintness? No, no. Th_lderman (a blessing on his head!) had Put them Down.
‘As you happen to be here,’ said the Alderman to Toby, ‘you shall carry _etter for me. Can you be quick? You’re an old man.’
Toby, who had been looking after Meg, quite stupidly, made shift to murmur ou_hat 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. File_reaking in as if his patience would bear some trying, but this really wa_arrying matters a little too far.
‘I feel I’m intruding, sir,’ said Toby. ‘I—I misdoubted it this morning. O_ear me!’
The Alderman cut him short by giving him the letter from his pocket. Tob_ould have got a shilling too; but Mr. Filer clearly showing that in that cas_e 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 hig_eather; but, he immediately came hurrying back alone, as if he had forgotte_omething.
‘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,’ though_oby, looking at the sixpence in his hand, and thinking of the tripe. ‘She’_een 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 o_er!’ With which, he hurried off again.
‘Wrong every way. Wrong every way!’ said Trotty, clasping his hands. ‘Bor_ad. No business here!’
The Chimes came clashing in upon him as he said the words. Full, loud, an_ounding—but with no encouragement. No, not a drop.
‘The tune’s changed,’ cried the old man, as he listened. ‘There’s not a wor_f all that fancy in it. Why should there be? I have no business with the Ne_ear nor with the old one neither. Let me die!’
Still the Bells, pealing forth their changes, made the very air spin. Put ’e_own, Put ’em down! Good old Times, Good old Times! Facts and Figures, Fact_nd 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 fro_plitting asunder. A well–timed action, as it happened; for finding the lette_n one of them, and being by that means reminded of his charge, he fell, mechanically, into his usual trot, and trotted off.