The Second Quarter.
The letter Toby had received from Alderman Cute, was addressed to a
great man in the great district of the town. The greatest district
of the town. It must have been the greatest district of the town,
because it was commonly called 'the world' by its inhabitants. The
letter positively seemed heavier in Toby's hand, than another
letter. Not because the Alderman had sealed it with a very large
coat of arms and no end of wax, but because of the weighty name on
the superscription, and the ponderous amount of gold and silver
with which it was associated.
'How different from us!' thought Toby, in all simplicity and
earnestness, as he looked at the direction. 'Divide the lively
turtles in the bills of mortality, by the number of gentlefolks
able to buy 'em; and whose share does he take but his own! As to
snatching tripe from anybody's mouth--he'd scorn it!'
With the involuntary homage due to such an exalted character, Toby
interposed a corner of his apron between the letter and his
'His children,' said Trotty, and a mist rose before his eyes; 'his
daughters--Gentlemen may win their hearts and marry them; they may
be happy wives and mothers; they may be handsome like my darling M-
He couldn't finish the name. The final letter swelled in his
throat, to the size of the whole alphabet.
'Never mind,' thought Trotty. 'I know what I mean. That's more
than enough for me.' And with this consolatory rumination, trotted
It was a hard frost, that day. The air was bracing, crisp, and
clear. The wintry sun, though powerless for warmth, looked
brightly down upon the ice it was too weak to melt, and set a
radiant glory there. At other times, Trotty might have learned a
poor man's lesson from the wintry sun; but, he was past that, now.
The Year was Old, that day. The patient Year had lived through the
reproaches and misuses of its slanderers, and faithfully performed
its work. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. It had laboured through
the destined round, and now laid down its weary head to die. Shut
out from hope, high impulse, active happiness, itself, but active
messenger of many joys to others, it made appeal in its decline to
have its toiling days and patient hours remembered, and to die in
peace. Trotty might have read a poor man's allegory in the fading
year; but he was past that, now.
And only he? Or has the like appeal been ever made, by seventy
years at once upon an English labourer's head, and made in vain!
The streets were full of motion, and the shops were decked out
gaily. The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was
waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings. There were
books and toys for the New Year, glittering trinkets for the New
Year, dresses for the New Year, schemes of fortune for the New
Year; new inventions to beguile it. Its life was parcelled out in
almanacks and pocket-books; the coming of its moons, and stars, and
tides, was known beforehand to the moment; all the workings of its
seasons in their days and nights, were calculated with as much
precision as Mr. Filer could work sums in men and women.
The New Year, the New Year. Everywhere the New Year! The Old Year
was already looked upon as dead; and its effects were selling
cheap, like some drowned mariner's aboardship. Its patterns were
Last Year's, and going at a sacrifice, before its breath was gone.
Its treasures were mere dirt, beside the riches of its unborn
Trotty had no portion, to his thinking, in the New Year or the Old.
'Put 'em down, Put 'em down! Facts and Figures, Facts and Figures!
Good old Times, Good old Times! Put 'em down, Put 'em down!'--his
trot went to that measure, and would fit itself to nothing else.
But, even that one, melancholy as it was, brought him, in due time,
to the end of his journey. To the mansion of Sir Joseph Bowley,
Member of Parliament.
The door was opened by a Porter. Such a Porter! Not of Toby's
order. Quite another thing. His place was the ticket though; not
This Porter underwent some hard panting before he could speak;
having breathed himself by coming incautiously out of his chair,
without first taking time to think about it and compose his mind.
When he had found his voice--which it took him a long time to do,
for it was a long way off, and hidden under a load of meat--he said
in a fat whisper,
'Who's it from?'
Toby told him.
'You're to take it in, yourself,' said the Porter, pointing to a
room at the end of a long passage, opening from the hall.
'Everything goes straight in, on this day of the year. You're not
a bit too soon; for the carriage is at the door now, and they have
only come to town for a couple of hours, a' purpose.'
Toby wiped his feet (which were quite dry already) with great care,
and took the way pointed out to him; observing as he went that it
was an awfully grand house, but hushed and covered up, as if the
family were in the country. Knocking at the room-door, he was told
to enter from within; and doing so found himself in a spacious
library, where, at a table strewn with files and papers, were a
stately lady in a bonnet; and a not very stately gentleman in black
who wrote from her dictation; while another, and an older, and a
much statelier gentleman, whose hat and cane were on the table,
walked up and down, with one hand in his breast, and looked
complacently from time to time at his own picture--a full length; a
very full length--hanging over the fireplace.
'What is this?' said the last-named gentleman. 'Mr. Fish, will you
have the goodness to attend?'
Mr. Fish begged pardon, and taking the letter from Toby, handed it,
with great respect.
'From Alderman Cute, Sir Joseph.'
'Is this all? Have you nothing else, Porter?' inquired Sir Joseph.
Toby replied in the negative.
'You have no bill or demand upon me--my name is Bowley, Sir Joseph
Bowley--of any kind from anybody, have you?' said Sir Joseph. 'If
you have, present it. There is a cheque-book by the side of Mr.
Fish. I allow nothing to be carried into the New Year. Every
description of account is settled in this house at the close of the
old one. So that if death was to--to--'
'To cut,' suggested Mr. Fish.
'To sever, sir,' returned Sir Joseph, with great asperity, 'the
cord of existence--my affairs would be found, I hope, in a state of
'My dear Sir Joseph!' said the lady, who was greatly younger than
the gentleman. 'How shocking!'
'My lady Bowley,' returned Sir Joseph, floundering now and then, as
in the great depth of his observations, 'at this season of the year
we should think of--of--ourselves. We should look into our--our
accounts. We should feel that every return of so eventful a period
in human transactions, involves a matter of deep moment between a
man and his--and his banker.'
Sir Joseph delivered these words as if he felt the full morality of
what he was saying; and desired that even Trotty should have an
opportunity of being improved by such discourse. Possibly he had
this end before him in still forbearing to break the seal of the
letter, and in telling Trotty to wait where he was, a minute.
'You were desiring Mr. Fish to say, my lady--' observed Sir Joseph.
'Mr. Fish has said that, I believe,' returned his lady, glancing at
the letter. 'But, upon my word, Sir Joseph, I don't think I can
let it go after all. It is so very dear.'
'What is dear?' inquired Sir Joseph.
'That Charity, my love. They only allow two votes for a
subscription of five pounds. Really monstrous!'
'My lady Bowley,' returned Sir Joseph, 'you surprise me. Is the
luxury of feeling in proportion to the number of votes; or is it,
to a rightly constituted mind, in proportion to the number of
applicants, and the wholesome state of mind to which their
canvassing reduces them? Is there no excitement of the purest kind
in having two votes to dispose of among fifty people?'
'Not to me, I acknowledge,' replied the lady. 'It bores one.
Besides, one can't oblige one's acquaintance. But you are the Poor
Man's Friend, you know, Sir Joseph. You think otherwise.'
'I AM the Poor Man's Friend,' observed Sir Joseph, glancing at the
poor man present. 'As such I may be taunted. As such I have been
taunted. But I ask no other title.'
'Bless him for a noble gentleman!' thought Trotty.
'I don't agree with Cute here, for instance,' said Sir Joseph,
holding out the letter. 'I don't agree with the Filer party. I
don't agree with any party. My friend the Poor Man, has no
business with anything of that sort, and nothing of that sort has
any business with him. My friend the Poor Man, in my district, is
my business. No man or body of men has any right to interfere
between my friend and me. That is the ground I take. I assume a--
a paternal character towards my friend. I say, "My good fellow, I
will treat you paternally."'
Toby listened with great gravity, and began to feel more
'Your only business, my good fellow,' pursued Sir Joseph, looking
abstractedly at Toby; 'your only business in life is with me. You
needn't trouble yourself to think about anything. I will think for
you; I know what is good for you; I am your perpetual parent. Such
is the dispensation of an all-wise Providence! Now, the design of
your creation is--not that you should swill, and guzzle, and
associate your enjoyments, brutally, with food; Toby thought
remorsefully of the tripe; 'but that you should feel the Dignity of
Labour. Go forth erect into the cheerful morning air, and--and
stop there. Live hard and temperately, be respectful, exercise
your self-denial, bring up your family on next to nothing, pay your
rent as regularly as the clock strikes, be punctual in your
dealings (I set you a good example; you will find Mr. Fish, my
confidential secretary, with a cash-box before him at all times);
and you may trust to me to be your Friend and Father.'
'Nice children, indeed, Sir Joseph!' said the lady, with a shudder.
'Rheumatisms, and fevers, and crooked legs, and asthmas, and all
kinds of horrors!'
'My lady,' returned Sir Joseph, with solemnity, 'not the less am I
the Poor Man's Friend and Father. Not the less shall he receive
encouragement at my hands. Every quarter-day he will be put in
communication with Mr. Fish. Every New Year's Day, myself and
friends will drink his health. Once every year, myself and friends
will address him with the deepest feeling. Once in his life, he
may even perhaps receive; in public, in the presence of the gentry;
a Trifle from a Friend. And when, upheld no more by these
stimulants, and the Dignity of Labour, he sinks into his
comfortable grave, then, my lady'--here Sir Joseph blew his nose--
'I will be a Friend and a Father--on the same terms--to his
Toby was greatly moved.
'O! You have a thankful family, Sir Joseph!' cried his wife.
'My lady,' said Sir Joseph, quite majestically, 'Ingratitude is
known to be the sin of that class. I expect no other return.'
'Ah! Born bad!' thought Toby. 'Nothing melts us.'
'What man can do, _I_ do,' pursued Sir Joseph. 'I do my duty as
the Poor Man's Friend and Father; and I endeavour to educate his
mind, by inculcating on all occasions the one great moral lesson
which that class requires. That is, entire Dependence on myself.
They have no business whatever with--with themselves. If wicked
and designing persons tell them otherwise, and they become
impatient and discontented, and are guilty of insubordinate conduct
and black-hearted ingratitude; which is undoubtedly the case; I am
their Friend and Father still. It is so Ordained. It is in the
nature of things.'
With that great sentiment, he opened the Alderman's letter; and
'Very polite and attentive, I am sure!' exclaimed Sir Joseph. 'My
lady, the Alderman is so obliging as to remind me that he has had
"the distinguished honour"--he is very good--of meeting me at the
house of our mutual friend Deedles, the banker; and he does me the
favour to inquire whether it will be agreeable to me to have Will
Fern put down.'
'MOST agreeable!' replied my Lady Bowley. 'The worst man among
them! He has been committing a robbery, I hope?'
'Why no,' said Sir Joseph', referring to the letter. 'Not quite.
Very near. Not quite. He came up to London, it seems, to look for
employment (trying to better himself--that's his story), and being
found at night asleep in a shed, was taken into custody, and
carried next morning before the Alderman. The Alderman observes
(very properly) that he is determined to put this sort of thing
down; and that if it will be agreeable to me to have Will Fern put
down, he will be happy to begin with him.'
'Let him be made an example of, by all means,' returned the lady.
'Last winter, when I introduced pinking and eyelet-holing among the
men and boys in the village, as a nice evening employment, and had
O let us love our occupations,
Bless the squire and his relations,
Live upon our daily rations,
And always know our proper stations,
set to music on the new system, for them to sing the while; this
very Fern--I see him now--touched that hat of his, and said, "I
humbly ask your pardon, my lady, but AN'T I something different
from a great girl?" I expected it, of course; who can expect
anything but insolence and ingratitude from that class of people!
That is not to the purpose, however. Sir Joseph! Make an example
'Hem!' coughed Sir Joseph. 'Mr. Fish, if you'll have the goodness
Mr. Fish immediately seized his pen, and wrote from Sir Joseph's
'Private. My dear Sir. I am very much indebted to you for your
courtesy in the matter of the man William Fern, of whom, I regret
to add, I can say nothing favourable. I have uniformly considered
myself in the light of his Friend and Father, but have been repaid
(a common case, I grieve to say) with ingratitude, and constant
opposition to my plans. He is a turbulent and rebellious spirit.
His character will not bear investigation. Nothing will persuade
him to be happy when he might. Under these circumstances, it
appears to me, I own, that when he comes before you again (as you
informed me he promised to do to-morrow, pending your inquiries,
and I think he may be so far relied upon), his committal for some
short term as a Vagabond, would be a service to society, and would
be a salutary example in a country where--for the sake of those who
are, through good and evil report, the Friends and Fathers of the
Poor, as well as with a view to that, generally speaking, misguided
class themselves--examples are greatly needed. And I am,' and so
'It appears,' remarked Sir Joseph when he had signed this letter,
and Mr. Fish was sealing it, 'as if this were Ordained: really.
At the close of the year, I wind up my account and strike my
balance, even with William Fern!'
Trotty, who had long ago relapsed, and was very low-spirited,
stepped forward with a rueful face to take the letter.
'With my compliments and thanks,' said Sir Joseph. 'Stop!'
'Stop!' echoed Mr. Fish.
'You have heard, perhaps,' said Sir Joseph, oracularly, 'certain
remarks into which I have been led respecting the solemn period of
time at which we have arrived, and the duty imposed upon us of
settling our affairs, and being prepared. You have observed that I
don't shelter myself behind my superior standing in society, but
that Mr. Fish--that gentleman--has a cheque-book at his elbow, and
is in fact here, to enable me to turn over a perfectly new leaf,
and enter on the epoch before us with a clean account. Now, my
friend, can you lay your hand upon your heart, and say, that you
also have made preparations for a New Year?'
'I am afraid, sir,' stammered Trotty, looking meekly at him, 'that
I am a--a--little behind-hand with the world.'
' Behind-hand with the world!' repeated Sir Joseph Bowley, in a
tone of terrible distinctness.
'I am afraid, sir,' faltered Trotty, 'that there's a matter of ten
or twelve shillings owing to Mrs. Chickenstalker.'
'To Mrs. Chickenstalker!' repeated Sir Joseph, in the same tone as
'A shop, sir,' exclaimed Toby, 'in the general line. Also a--a
little money on account of rent. A very little, sir. It oughtn't
to be owing, I know, but we have been hard put to it, indeed!'
Sir Joseph looked at his lady, and at Mr. Fish, and at Trotty, one
after another, twice all round. He then made a despondent gesture
with both hands at once, as if he gave the thing up altogether.
'How a man, even among this improvident and impracticable race; an
old man; a man grown grey; can look a New Year in the face, with
his affairs in this condition; how he can lie down on his bed at
night, and get up again in the morning, and--There!' he said,
turning his back on Trotty. 'Take the letter. Take the letter!'
'I heartily wish it was otherwise, sir,' said Trotty, anxious to
excuse himself. 'We have been tried very hard.'
Sir Joseph still repeating 'Take the letter, take the letter!' and
Mr. Fish not only saying the same thing, but giving additional
force to the request by motioning the bearer to the door, he had
nothing for it but to make his bow and leave the house. And in the
street, poor Trotty pulled his worn old hat down on his head, to
hide the grief he felt at getting no hold on the New Year,
He didn't even lift his hat to look up at the Bell tower when he
came to the old church on his return. He halted there a moment,
from habit: and knew that it was growing dark, and that the
steeple rose above him, indistinct and faint, in the murky air. He
knew, too, that the Chimes would ring immediately; and that they
sounded to his fancy, at such a time, like voices in the clouds.
But he only made the more haste to deliver the Alderman's letter,
and get out of the way before they began; for he dreaded to hear
them tagging 'Friends and Fathers, Friends and Fathers,' to the
burden they had rung out last.
Toby discharged himself of his commission, therefore, with all
possible speed, and set off trotting homeward. But what with his
pace, which was at best an awkward one in the street; and what with
his hat, which didn't improve it; he trotted against somebody in
less than no time, and was sent staggering out into the road.
'I beg your pardon, I'm sure!' said Trotty, pulling up his hat in
great confusion, and between the hat and the torn lining, fixing
his head into a kind of bee-hive. 'I hope I haven't hurt you.'
As to hurting anybody, Toby was not such an absolute Samson, but
that he was much more likely to be hurt himself: and indeed, he
had flown out into the road, like a shuttlecock. He had such an
opinion of his own strength, however, that he was in real concern
for the other party: and said again,
'I hope I haven't hurt you?'
The man against whom he had run; a sun-browned, sinewy, country-
looking man, with grizzled hair, and a rough chin; stared at him
for a moment, as if he suspected him to be in jest. But, satisfied
of his good faith, he answered:
'No, friend. You have not hurt me.'
'Nor the child, I hope?' said Trotty.
'Nor the child,' returned the man. 'I thank you kindly.'
As he said so, he glanced at a little girl he carried in his arms,
asleep: and shading her face with the long end of the poor
handkerchief he wore about his throat, went slowly on.
The tone in which he said 'I thank you kindly,' penetrated Trotty's
heart. He was so jaded and foot-sore, and so soiled with travel,
and looked about him so forlorn and strange, that it was a comfort
to him to be able to thank any one: no matter for how little.
Toby stood gazing after him as he plodded wearily away, with the
child's arm clinging round his neck.
At the figure in the worn shoes--now the very shade and ghost of
shoes--rough leather leggings, common frock, and broad slouched
hat, Trotty stood gazing, blind to the whole street. And at the
child's arm, clinging round its neck.
Before he merged into the darkness the traveller stopped; and
looking round, and seeing Trotty standing there yet, seemed
undecided whether to return or go on. After doing first the one
and then the other, he came back, and Trotty went half-way to meet
'You can tell me, perhaps,' said the man with a faint smile, 'and
if you can I am sure you will, and I'd rather ask you than another-
-where Alderman Cute lives.'
'Close at hand,' replied Toby. 'I'll show you his house with
'I was to have gone to him elsewhere to-morrow,' said the man,
accompanying Toby, 'but I'm uneasy under suspicion, and want to
clear myself, and to be free to go and seek my bread--I don't know
where. So, maybe he'll forgive my going to his house to-night.'
'It's impossible,' cried Toby with a start, 'that your name's
'Eh!' cried the other, turning on him in astonishment.
'Fern! Will Fern!' said Trotty.
'That's my name,' replied the other.
'Why then,' said Trotty, seizing him by the arm, and looking
cautiously round, 'for Heaven's sake don't go to him! Don't go to
him! He'll put you down as sure as ever you were born. Here! come
up this alley, and I'll tell you what I mean. Don't go to HIM.'
His new acquaintance looked as if he thought him mad; but he bore
him company nevertheless. When they were shrouded from
observation, Trotty told him what he knew, and what character he
had received, and all about it.
The subject of his history listened to it with a calmness that
surprised him. He did not contradict or interrupt it, once. He
nodded his head now and then--more in corroboration of an old and
worn-out story, it appeared, than in refutation of it; and once or
twice threw back his hat, and passed his freckled hand over a brow,
where every furrow he had ploughed seemed to have set its image in
little. But he did no more.
'It's true enough in the main,' he said, 'master, I could sift
grain from husk here and there, but let it be as 'tis. What odds?
I have gone against his plans; to my misfortun'. I can't help it;
I should do the like to-morrow. As to character, them gentlefolks
will search and search, and pry and pry, and have it as free from
spot or speck in us, afore they'll help us to a dry good word!--
Well! I hope they don't lose good opinion as easy as we do, or
their lives is strict indeed, and hardly worth the keeping. For
myself, master, I never took with that hand'--holding it before
him--'what wasn't my own; and never held it back from work, however
hard, or poorly paid. Whoever can deny it, let him chop it off!
But when work won't maintain me like a human creetur; when my
living is so bad, that I am Hungry, out of doors and in; when I see
a whole working life begin that way, go on that way, and end that
way, without a chance or change; then I say to the gentlefolks
"Keep away from me! Let my cottage be. My doors is dark enough
without your darkening of 'em more. Don't look for me to come up
into the Park to help the show when there's a Birthday, or a fine
Speechmaking, or what not. Act your Plays and Games without me,
and be welcome to 'em, and enjoy 'em. We've nowt to do with one
another. I'm best let alone!"'
Seeing that the child in his arms had opened her eyes, and was
looking about her in wonder, he checked himself to say a word or
two of foolish prattle in her ear, and stand her on the ground
beside him. Then slowly winding one of her long tresses round and
round his rough forefinger like a ring, while she hung about his
dusty leg, he said to Trotty:
'I'm not a cross-grained man by natu', I believe; and easy
satisfied, I'm sure. I bear no ill-will against none of 'em. I
only want to live like one of the Almighty's creeturs. I can't--I
don't--and so there's a pit dug between me, and them that can and
do. There's others like me. You might tell 'em off by hundreds
and by thousands, sooner than by ones.'
Trotty knew he spoke the Truth in this, and shook his head to
signify as much.
'I've got a bad name this way,' said Fern; 'and I'm not likely, I'm
afeared, to get a better. 'Tan't lawful to be out of sorts, and I
AM out of sorts, though God knows I'd sooner bear a cheerful spirit
if I could. Well! I don't know as this Alderman could hurt ME
much by sending me to jail; but without a friend to speak a word
for me, he might do it; and you see--!' pointing downward with his
finger, at the child.
'She has a beautiful face,' said Trotty.
'Why yes!' replied the other in a low voice, as he gently turned it
up with both his hands towards his own, and looked upon it
steadfastly. 'I've thought so, many times. I've thought so, when
my hearth was very cold, and cupboard very bare. I thought so
t'other night, when we were taken like two thieves. But they--they
shouldn't try the little face too often, should they, Lilian?
That's hardly fair upon a man!'
He sunk his voice so low, and gazed upon her with an air so stern
and strange, that Toby, to divert the current of his thoughts,
inquired if his wife were living.
'I never had one,' he returned, shaking his head. 'She's my
brother's child: a orphan. Nine year old, though you'd hardly
think it; but she's tired and worn out now. They'd have taken care
on her, the Union--eight-and-twenty mile away from where we live--
between four walls (as they took care of my old father when he
couldn't work no more, though he didn't trouble 'em long); but I
took her instead, and she's lived with me ever since. Her mother
had a friend once, in London here. We are trying to find her, and
to find work too; but it's a large place. Never mind. More room
for us to walk about in, Lilly!'
Meeting the child's eyes with a smile which melted Toby more than
tears, he shook him by the hand.
'I don't so much as know your name,' he said, 'but I've opened my
heart free to you, for I'm thankful to you; with good reason. I'll
take your advice, and keep clear of this--'
'Justice,' suggested Toby.
'Ah!' he said. 'If that's the name they give him. This Justice.
And to-morrow will try whether there's better fortun' to be met
with, somewheres near London. Good night. A Happy New Year!'
'Stay!' cried Trotty, catching at his hand, as he relaxed his grip.
'Stay! The New Year never can be happy to me, if we part like
this. The New Year never can be happy to me, if I see the child
and you go wandering away, you don't know where, without a shelter
for your heads. Come home with me! I'm a poor man, living in a
poor place; but I can give you lodging for one night and never miss
it. Come home with me! Here! I'll take her!' cried Trotty,
lifting up the child. 'A pretty one! I'd carry twenty times her
weight, and never know I'd got it. Tell me if I go too quick for
you. I'm very fast. I always was!' Trotty said this, taking
about six of his trotting paces to one stride of his fatigued
companion; and with his thin legs quivering again, beneath the load
'Why, she's as light,' said Trotty, trotting in his speech as well
as in his gait; for he couldn't bear to be thanked, and dreaded a
moment's pause; 'as light as a feather. Lighter than a Peacock's
feather--a great deal lighter. Here we are and here we go! Round
this first turning to the right, Uncle Will, and past the pump, and
sharp off up the passage to the left, right opposite the public-
house. Here we are and here we go! Cross over, Uncle Will, and
mind the kidney pieman at the corner! Here we are and here we go!
Down the Mews here, Uncle Will, and stop at the black door, with
"T. Veck, Ticket Porter," wrote upon a board; and here we are and
here we go, and here we are indeed, my precious. Meg, surprising
With which words Trotty, in a breathless state, set the child down
before his daughter in the middle of the floor. The little visitor
looked once at Meg; and doubting nothing in that face, but trusting
everything she saw there; ran into her arms.
'Here we are and here we go!' cried Trotty, running round the room,
and choking audibly. 'Here, Uncle Will, here's a fire you know!
Why don't you come to the fire? Oh here we are and here we go!
Meg, my precious darling, where's the kettle? Here it is and here
it goes, and it'll bile in no time!'
Trotty really had picked up the kettle somewhere or other in the
course of his wild career and now put it on the fire: while Meg,
seating the child in a warm corner, knelt down on the ground before
her, and pulled off her shoes, and dried her wet feet on a cloth.
Ay, and she laughed at Trotty too--so pleasantly, so cheerfully,
that Trotty could have blessed her where she kneeled; for he had
seen that, when they entered, she was sitting by the fire in tears.
'Why, father!' said Meg. 'You're crazy to-night, I think. I don't
know what the Bells would say to that. Poor little feet. How cold
'Oh, they're warmer now!' exclaimed the child. 'They're quite warm
'No, no, no,' said Meg. 'We haven't rubbed 'em half enough. We're
so busy. So busy! And when they're done, we'll brush out the damp
hair; and when that's done, we'll bring some colour to the poor
pale face with fresh water; and when that's done, we'll be so gay,
and brisk, and happy--!'
The child, in a burst of sobbing, clasped her round the neck;
caressed her fair cheek with its hand; and said, 'Oh Meg! oh dear
Toby's blessing could have done no more. Who could do more!
'Why, father!' cried Meg, after a pause.
'Here I am and here I go, my dear!' said Trotty.
'Good Gracious me!' cried Meg. 'He's crazy! He's put the dear
child's bonnet on the kettle, and hung the lid behind the door!'
'I didn't go for to do it, my love,' said Trotty, hastily repairing
this mistake. 'Meg, my dear?'
Meg looked towards him and saw that he had elaborately stationed
himself behind the chair of their male visitor, where with many
mysterious gestures he was holding up the sixpence he had earned.
'I see, my dear,' said Trotty, 'as I was coming in, half an ounce
of tea lying somewhere on the stairs; and I'm pretty sure there was
a bit of bacon too. As I don't remember where it was exactly, I'll
go myself and try to find 'em.'
With this inscrutable artifice, Toby withdrew to purchase the
viands he had spoken of, for ready money, at Mrs. Chickenstalker's;
and presently came back, pretending he had not been able to find
them, at first, in the dark.
'But here they are at last,' said Trotty, setting out the tea-
things, 'all correct! I was pretty sure it was tea, and a rasher.
So it is. Meg, my pet, if you'll just make the tea, while your
unworthy father toasts the bacon, we shall be ready, immediate.
It's a curious circumstance,' said Trotty, proceeding in his
cookery, with the assistance of the toasting-fork, 'curious, but
well known to my friends, that I never care, myself, for rashers,
nor for tea. I like to see other people enjoy 'em,' said Trotty,
speaking very loud, to impress the fact upon his guest, 'but to me,
as food, they're disagreeable.'
Yet Trotty sniffed the savour of the hissing bacon--ah!--as if he
liked it; and when he poured the boiling water in the tea-pot,
looked lovingly down into the depths of that snug cauldron, and
suffered the fragrant steam to curl about his nose, and wreathe his
head and face in a thick cloud. However, for all this, he neither
ate nor drank, except at the very beginning, a mere morsel for
form's sake, which he appeared to eat with infinite relish, but
declared was perfectly uninteresting to him.
No. Trotty's occupation was, to see Will Fern and Lilian eat and
drink; and so was Meg's. And never did spectators at a city dinner
or court banquet find such high delight in seeing others feast:
although it were a monarch or a pope: as those two did, in looking
on that night. Meg smiled at Trotty, Trotty laughed at Meg. Meg
shook her head, and made belief to clap her hands, applauding
Trotty; Trotty conveyed, in dumb-show, unintelligible narratives of
how and when and where he had found their visitors, to Meg; and
they were happy. Very happy.
'Although,' thought Trotty, sorrowfully, as he watched Meg's face;
'that match is broken off, I see!'
'Now, I'll tell you what,' said Trotty after tea. 'The little one,
she sleeps with Meg, I know.'
'With good Meg!' cried the child, caressing her. 'With Meg.'
'That's right,' said Trotty. 'And I shouldn't wonder if she kiss
Meg's father, won't she? I'M Meg's father.'
Mightily delighted Trotty was, when the child went timidly towards
him, and having kissed him, fell back upon Meg again.
'She's as sensible as Solomon,' said Trotty. 'Here we come and
here we--no, we don't--I don't mean that--I--what was I saying,
Meg, my precious?'
Meg looked towards their guest, who leaned upon her chair, and with
his face turned from her, fondled the child's head, half hidden in
'To be sure,' said Toby. 'To be sure! I don't know what I'm
rambling on about, to-night. My wits are wool-gathering, I think.
Will Fern, you come along with me. You're tired to death, and
broken down for want of rest. You come along with me.' The man
still played with the child's curls, still leaned upon Meg's chair,
still turned away his face. He didn't speak, but in his rough
coarse fingers, clenching and expanding in the fair hair of the
child, there was an eloquence that said enough.
'Yes, yes,' said Trotty, answering unconsciously what he saw
expressed in his daughter's face. 'Take her with you, Meg. Get
her to bed. There! Now, Will, I'll show you where you lie. It's
not much of a place: only a loft; but, having a loft, I always
say, is one of the great conveniences of living in a mews; and till
this coach-house and stable gets a better let, we live here cheap.
There's plenty of sweet hay up there, belonging to a neighbour; and
it's as clean as hands, and Meg, can make it. Cheer up! Don't
give way. A new heart for a New Year, always!'
The hand released from the child's hair, had fallen, trembling,
into Trotty's hand. So Trotty, talking without intermission, led
him out as tenderly and easily as if he had been a child himself.
Returning before Meg, he listened for an instant at the door of her
little chamber; an adjoining room. The child was murmuring a
simple Prayer before lying down to sleep; and when she had
remembered Meg's name, 'Dearly, Dearly'--so her words ran--Trotty
heard her stop and ask for his.
It was some short time before the foolish little old fellow could
compose himself to mend the fire, and draw his chair to the warm
hearth. But, when he had done so, and had trimmed the light, he
took his newspaper from his pocket, and began to read. Carelessly
at first, and skimming up and down the columns; but with an earnest
and a sad attention, very soon.
For this same dreaded paper re-directed Trotty's thoughts into the
channel they had taken all that day, and which the day's events had
so marked out and shaped. His interest in the two wanderers had
set him on another course of thinking, and a happier one, for the
time; but being alone again, and reading of the crimes and
violences of the people, he relapsed into his former train.
In this mood, he came to an account (and it was not the first he
had ever read) of a woman who had laid her desperate hands not only
on her own life but on that of her young child. A crime so
terrible, and so revolting to his soul, dilated with the love of
Meg, that he let the journal drop, and fell back in his chair,
'Unnatural and cruel!' Toby cried. 'Unnatural and cruel! None but
people who were bad at heart, born bad, who had no business on the
earth, could do such deeds. It's too true, all I've heard to-day;
too just, too full of proof. We're Bad!'
The Chimes took up the words so suddenly--burst out so loud, and
clear, and sonorous--that the Bells seemed to strike him in his
And what was that, they said?
'Toby Veck, Toby Veck, waiting for you Toby! Toby Veck, Toby Veck,
waiting for you Toby! Come and see us, come and see us, Drag him
to us, drag him to us, Haunt and hunt him, haunt and hunt him,
Break his slumbers, break his slumbers! Toby Veck Toby Veck, door
open wide Toby, Toby Veck Toby Veck, door open wide Toby--' then
fiercely back to their impetuous strain again, and ringing in the
very bricks and plaster on the walls.
Toby listened. Fancy, fancy! His remorse for having run away from
them that afternoon! No, no. Nothing of the kind. Again, again,
and yet a dozen times again. 'Haunt and hunt him, haunt and hunt
him, Drag him to us, drag him to us!' Deafening the whole town!
'Meg,' said Trotty softly: tapping at her door. 'Do you hear
'I hear the Bells, father. Surely they're very loud to-night.'
'Is she asleep?' said Toby, making an excuse for peeping in.
'So peacefully and happily! I can't leave her yet though, father.
Look how she holds my hand!'
'Meg,' whispered Trotty. 'Listen to the Bells!'
She listened, with her face towards him all the time. But it
underwent no change. She didn't understand them.
Trotty withdrew, resumed his seat by the fire, and once more
listened by himself. He remained here a little time.
It was impossible to bear it; their energy was dreadful.
'If the tower-door is really open,' said Toby, hastily laying aside
his apron, but never thinking of his hat, 'what's to hinder me from
going up into the steeple and satisfying myself? If it's shut, I
don't want any other satisfaction. That's enough.'
He was pretty certain as he slipped out quietly into the street
that he should find it shut and locked, for he knew the door well,
and had so rarely seen it open, that he couldn't reckon above three
times in all. It was a low arched portal, outside the church, in a
dark nook behind a column; and had such great iron hinges, and such
a monstrous lock, that there was more hinge and lock than door.
But what was his astonishment when, coming bare-headed to the
church; and putting his hand into this dark nook, with a certain
misgiving that it might be unexpectedly seized, and a shivering
propensity to draw it back again; he found that the door, which
opened outwards, actually stood ajar!
He thought, on the first surprise, of going back; or of getting a
light, or a companion, but his courage aided him immediately, and
he determined to ascend alone.
'What have I to fear?' said Trotty. 'It's a church! Besides, the
ringers may be there, and have forgotten to shut the door.' So he
went in, feeling his way as he went, like a blind man; for it was
very dark. And very quiet, for the Chimes were silent.
The dust from the street had blown into the recess; and lying
there, heaped up, made it so soft and velvet-like to the foot, that
there was something startling, even in that. The narrow stair was
so close to the door, too, that he stumbled at the very first; and
shutting the door upon himself, by striking it with his foot, and
causing it to rebound back heavily, he couldn't open it again.
This was another reason, however, for going on. Trotty groped his
way, and went on. Up, up, up, and round, and round; and up, up,
up; higher, higher, higher up!
It was a disagreeable staircase for that groping work; so low and
narrow, that his groping hand was always touching something; and it
often felt so like a man or ghostly figure standing up erect and
making room for him to pass without discovery, that he would rub
the smooth wall upward searching for its face, and downward
searching for its feet, while a chill tingling crept all over him.
Twice or thrice, a door or niche broke the monotonous surface; and
then it seemed a gap as wide as the whole church; and he felt on
the brink of an abyss, and going to tumble headlong down, until he
found the wall again.
Still up, up, up; and round and round; and up, up, up; higher,
higher, higher up!
At length, the dull and stifling atmosphere began to freshen:
presently to feel quite windy: presently it blew so strong, that
he could hardly keep his legs. But, he got to an arched window in
the tower, breast high, and holding tight, looked down upon the
house-tops, on the smoking chimneys, on the blur and blotch of
lights (towards the place where Meg was wondering where he was and
calling to him perhaps), all kneaded up together in a leaven of
mist and darkness.
This was the belfry, where the ringers came. He had caught hold of
one of the frayed ropes which hung down through apertures in the
oaken roof. At first he started, thinking it was hair; then
trembled at the very thought of waking the deep Bell. The Bells
themselves were higher. Higher, Trotty, in his fascination, or in
working out the spell upon him, groped his way. By ladders now,
and toilsomely, for it was steep, and not too certain holding for
Up, up, up; and climb and clamber; up, up, up; higher, higher,
Until, ascending through the floor, and pausing with his head just
raised above its beams, he came among the Bells. It was barely
possible to make out their great shapes in the gloom; but there
they were. Shadowy, and dark, and dumb.
A heavy sense of dread and loneliness fell instantly upon him, as
he climbed into this airy nest of stone and metal. His head went
round and round. He listened, and then raised a wild 'Holloa!'
Holloa! was mournfully protracted by the echoes.
Giddy, confused, and out of breath, and frightened, Toby looked
about him vacantly, and sunk down in a swoon.