"TROTTY" seems a strange name for an old man, but it was given to Toby Veck because of his always going at a trot to do his errands; for he was a ticket porter or messenger and his office was to take letters and messages for people who were in too great a hurry to send them by post, which in those days was neither so cheap nor so quick as it is now. He did not earn very much, and had to be out in all weathers and all day long. But Toby was of a cheerful disposition, and looked on the bright side of everything, and was grateful for any small mercies that came in his way; and so was happier than many people who never knew what it is to be hungry or in want of comforts. His greatest joy was his dear, bright, pretty daughter Meg, who loved him dearly.
One cold day, near the end of the year, Toby had been waiting a long time for a job, trotting up and down in his usual place before the church, and trying hard to keep himself warm, when the bells chimed twelve o'clock, which made Toby think of dinner.
"There's nothing," he remarked, carefully feeling his nose to make sure it was still there, "more regular in coming round than dinner-time, and nothing less regular in coming round than dinner. That's the great difference between 'em." He went on talking to himself, trotting up and down, and never noticing who was coming near to him.
"Why, father, father," said a pleasant voice, and Toby turned to find his daughter's sweet, bright eyes close to his.
"Why, pet," said he, kissing her and squeezing her blooming face between his hands, "what's to-do? I didn't expect you to-day, Meg."
"Neither did I expect to come, father," said Meg, nodding and smiling. "But here I am! And not alone, not alone!"
"Why you don't mean to say," observed Trotty, looking curiously at the covered basket she carried, "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 a 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 rapture:
"Why, it's hot," he said.
But to Meg's great delight he could not guess what it was that smelt so good.
"Polonies? Trotters? Liver? Pigs' feet? Sausages?" he tried one after the other. At last he exclaimed in triumph. "Why, what am I a-thinking of? It's tripe."
And it was.
"And so," said Meg, "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 nobody 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 neighborhood. 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 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!"
And just as Toby was about to sit down to his dinner on the door-steps of a big house close by, the chimes rang out again, and Toby took off his hat and said, "Amen."
"Amen to the bells, father?"
"They broke in like a grace, my dear," said Trotty; "they'd say a good one if they could, I'm sure. Many's the kind thing they say to me. How often have I heard them bells say, 'Toby Veck, keep a good heart, Toby!' A million times? More!"
"Well, I never!" cried Meg.
"When things is very bad, then it's 'Toby Veck, Toby Veck, job coming soon, Toby!'"
"And it comes--at last, father," said Meg, with a touch of sadness in her pleasant voice.
"Always," answered Toby. "Never fails."
While this discourse was holding, Trotty made no pause in his attack upon the savory 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 unfailing 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, saw Meg sitting opposite him, with her arms folded, and only busy in watching his dinner with a smile of happiness.
"Why, Lord forgive me!" said Trotty, dropping his knife and fork. "My dove! Meg! why didn't you tell me what a beast I was?"
"Sitting here," said Trotty, in a sorrowful manner, "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 ain'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 will 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 not to believe her; 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 as poor as we are, 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 gray. 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 remembering 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?"
Just then Richard himself came up to persuade Toby to agree to their plan; and, almost at the same moment, a footman came out of the house and ordered them all off the steps, and some gentlemen came out who called up Trotty, and asked a great many questions, and found a good deal of fault, telling Richard he was very foolish to want to get married, which made Toby feel very unhappy, and Richard very angry. So the lovers went off together sadly; Richard looking gloomy and downcast, and Meg in tears. Toby, who had a letter given him to carry, and a sixpence, trotted off in rather low spirits to a very grand house, where he was told to take the letter in to the gentleman. While he was waiting, he heard the letter read. It was from Alderman Cute, to tell Sir Joseph Bowley that one of his tenants named Will Fern, who had come to London to try to get work, and been brought before him charged with sleeping in a shed, and asking if Sir Joseph wished him to be dealt kindly with or otherwise. To Toby's great disappointment, for Sir Joseph had talked a great deal about being a friend to the poor, the answer was given that Will Fern might be sent to prison as a vagabond, and made an example of, though his only fault was that he was poor. On his way home, Toby, thinking sadly, with his hat pulled down low on his head, ran against a man dressed like a country-man, carrying a fair-haired little girl. Toby enquired anxiously if he had hurt either of them. The man answered no, and seeing Toby had a kind face, he asked him the way to Alderman Cute's house.
"It's impossible," cried Toby, "that your name is Will Fern?"
"That's my name," said the man.
Thereupon Toby told him what he had just heard, and said, "Don't go there."
Poor Will told him how he could not make a living in the country, and had come to London with his orphan niece to try to find a friend of her mother's and to endeavor to get some work, and, wishing Toby a happy New Year, was about to trudge wearily off again, when Trotty caught his hand, saying--
"Stay! The New Year never can be happy to me if I see the child and you go wandering away without a shelter for your heads. Come home with me. I'm a poor man, living in a poor place; but I can give you lodging for one night, and never miss it. Come home with me! Here! I'll take her!" cried Trotty, lifting up the child. "A pretty one! I'd carry twenty times her weight and never know I'd got it. Tell me if I go too quick for you. I'm very fast. I always was!" Trotty said this, taking about six of his trotting paces to one stride of his tired companion, and with his thin legs quivering again beneath the load he bore.
"Why, she's as light," said Trotty, trotting in his speech as well as in his gait--for he couldn't bear to be thanked, and dreaded a moment's pause--"as light as a feather. Lighter than a peacock's feather--a great deal lighter. Here we are and here we go!" And, rushing in, he set the child down before his daughter. The little girl gave one look at Meg's sweet face and ran into her arms at once, while Trotty ran round the room, saying, "Here we are and here we go. Here, Uncle Will, come to the fire. Meg, my precious darling, where's the kettle? Here it is and here it goes, and it'll bile in no time!"
"Why, father!" said Meg, as she knelt before the child and pulled off her wet shoes, "you're crazy to-night, I think. I don't know what the bells would say to that. Poor little feet, how cold they are!"
"Oh, they're warmer now!" exclaimed the child. "They're quite warm now!"
"No, no, no," said Meg. "We haven't rubbed 'em half enough. We're so busy. And when they're done, we'll brush out the damp hair; and when that's done, we'll bring some color to the poor pale face with fresh water; and when that's done, we'll be so gay and brisk and happy!"
The child, sobbing, clasped her round the neck, saying, "O Meg, O dear Meg!"
"Good gracious me!" said Meg presently, "father's crazy. He's put the dear child's bonnet on the kettle, and hung the lid behind the door!"
Trotty hastily repaired this mistake, and went off to find some tea and a rasher of bacon he fancied "he had seen lying somewhere on the stairs."
He soon came back and made the tea, and before long they were all enjoying the meal. Trotty and Meg only took a morsel for form's sake (for they had only a very little, not enough for all), but their delight was in seeing their visitors eat, and very happy they were--though Trotty had noticed that Meg was sitting by the fire in tears when they had come in, and he feared her marriage had been broken off.
After tea Meg took Lilian to bed, and Toby showed Will Fern where he was to sleep. As he came back past Meg's door he heard the child saying her prayers, remembering Meg's name and asking for his. Then he went to sit by the fire and read his paper, and fell asleep to have a wonderful dream, so terrible and sad, that it was a great relief when he woke.
"And whatever you do, father," said Meg, "don't eat tripe again without asking some doctor whether it's likely to agree with you; for how you have been going on! Good gracious!"
She was working with her needle at the little table by the fire, dressing her simple gown with ribbons for her wedding--so quietly happy, so blooming and youthful, so full of beautiful promise that he uttered a great cry as if it were an angel in his house, then flew to clasp her in his arms.
But he caught his feet in the newspaper, which had fallen on the hearth, and somebody came rushing in between them.
"No!" cried the voice of this same somebody. A generous and jolly voice it was! "Not even you; not even you. The first kiss of Meg in the New Year is mine--mine! I have been waiting outside the house this hour to hear the bells and claim it. Meg, my precious prize, a happy year! A life of happy years, my darling wife!"
And Richard smothered her with kisses.
You never in all your life saw anything like Trotty after this, I don't care where you have lived or what you have seen; you never in your life saw anything at all approaching him! He kept running up to Meg, and squeezing her fresh face between his hands and kissing it, going from her backwards not to lose sight of it, and running up again like a figure in a magic lantern; and whatever he did, he was constantly sitting himself down in his chair, and never stopping in it for one single moment, being--that's the truth--beside himself with joy.
"And to-morrow's your wedding-day, my pet!" cried Trotty. "Your real, happy wedding-day!"
"To-day!" cried Richard, shaking hands with him. "To-day. The chimes are ringing in the New Year. Hear them!"
They were ringing! Bless their sturdy hearts, they were ringing! Great bells as they were--melodious, deep-mouthed, noble bells, cast in no common metal, made by no common founder--when had they ever chimed like that before?
Trotty was backing off to that wonderful chair again, when the child, who had been awakened by the noise, came running in half-dressed.
"Why, here she is!" cried Trotty, catching her up. "Here's little Lilian! Ha, ha, ha! Here we are and here we go. Oh, here we are and here we go again! And here we are and here we go! And Uncle Will, too!"
Before Will Fern could make the least reply, a band of music burst into the room, attended by a flock of neighbors, screaming, "A Happy New Year, Meg!" "A happy wedding!" "Many of 'em!" and other fragmentary good-wishes of that sort. The Drum (who was a private friend of Trotty's) then stepped forward and said:
"Trotty Veck, my boy, it's got about that your daughter is going to be married to-morrow. There ain't a soul that knows you that don't wish you well, or that knows her and don't wish her well. Or that knows you both, and don't wish you both all the happiness the New Year can bring. And here we are to play it in and dance it in accordingly."
Then Mrs. Chickenstalker came in (a good-humored, nice-looking woman who, to the delight of all, turned out to be the friend of Lilian's mother, for whom Will Fern had come to look), with a stone pitcher full of "flip," to wish Meg joy, and then the music struck up, and Trotty, making Meg and Richard second couple, led off Mrs. Chickenstalker down the dance, and danced it in a step unknown before or since, founded on his own peculiar trot.
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