Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

. (page 74 of 103)
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As he stood there, waiting his arrival, the knocker
caught his eye.

" I shall love it as long as I live ! " cried
Scrooge, patting it with his hand. " I scarcely
ever looked at it before. What an honest
expression it has in its face ! It's a wonderful
knocker ! — Here's the Turkey. Hallo ! Whoop !
How are you ? Merry Christmas !"

It was a Turkey ! He never could have
stood upon his legs, that bird. He would
have snapped 'em short off in a minute, like
sticks of sealing-wax.

" Why, it's impossible to carry that to Cam-
den Town," said Scrooge. " You must have a
cab."

The chuckle with which he said this, and the
chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and
the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and
the chuckle with which he recompensed the
boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle
with which he sat down breathless in his chair
again, and chuckled till he cried.

Shaving was not an easy task, for his hand
continued to shake very much ; and shaving re-
quires attention, even when you don't dance
while you are at it. But, if he had cut the end
of his nose off, he would have put a piece of
sticking-plaster over it, and been quite satisfied.

He dressed himself " all in his best," and at
last got out into the streets. The people were
by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them
with the Ghost of Christmas Present ; and,
walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge re-
garded every one with a delighted smile. He
looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that
three or four good-humoured fellows said,
" Good morning, sir ! A merry Christmas to
you ! " And Scrooge said often afterwards that,
of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those
were the blithest in his ears.



36



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



He had not gone far when, coming on towards
him, he beheld the portly gentleman who had
walked into his counting-house the day before,
and said, " Scrooge and Marley's, I believe ? "
It sent a pang across his heart to think how this
old gentleman would look upon him when they
met ; but he knew what path lay straight before
him, and he took it.

'■ My dear sir," said Scrooge, quickening his
pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his
hands, " how do you do ? I hope you succeeded
yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry
Christmas to you, sir ! "

" Mr. Scrooge ? "

" Yes," said Scrooge. " That is my name,
and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow
me to ask your pardon. And will you have the

goodness " Here Scrooge whispered in his

ear.

** Lord bless me ! " cried the gentleman, as if
his breath were taken away. " My dear Mr.
Scrooge, are you serious ? "

" If you please," said Scrooge. " Not a
farthing less. A great many back-payments are
included in it, I assure you. Will you do me
that favour ? "

" My dear sir," said the other, shaking hands
with him^ " I don't know what to say to such
munifi "

" Don't say anything, please," retorted
Scrooge, " Come and see me. Will you come
and see me?"

" I will ! " cried the old gentleman. And it
was clear he meant to do it.

" Thankee,'' said Scrooge. " I am much
obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless
you ! "

He went to church, and walked about the
streets, and watched the people hurrying to and
fro, and patted the children on the head, and
questioned beggars, and looked down into the
kitchens of houses, and up to the windows ; and
found that everything could yield him pleasure.
He had never dreamed that any walk — that any-
thing — could give him so much happiness. In
the afternoon he turned his steps towards his
nephew's house.

He passed the door a dozen times before he
had the courage to go up and knock. But he
made a dash, and did it.

"Is your master at home, ray dear?" said
Scrooge to the girl. Nice girl ! Very.

" Yes, sir."

"Where is he, my love ?" said Scrooge.

" He's in the dining-room, sir, along with
mistress. I'll show you up-stairs, if you
please."



"Thankee. He knows me," said Scrooge,
with his hand already on the dining-room lock.
" I'll go in here, my dear."

He turned it gently, and sidled his face in
round the door. They were looking at the
table (which was spread out in great array) ;
for these young housekeepers are always nervous
on such points, and like to see that everything
is right.

" Fred ! " said Scrooge.

Dear heart alive, how his niece by marriage
started ! Scrooge had forgotten, for the moment,
about her sitting in the corner with the footstool,
or he wouldn't have done it on any account.

" Why, bless my soul ! " cried Fred, " who's
that ? "

" It's I. Your uncle Scrooge. I have come
to dinner. Will you let me in, Fred ?"

Let him in ! It is a mercy he didn't shake
his arm off. He was at home in five minutes.
Nothing could be heartier. His niece looked
just the same. So did Topper when he came.
So did the plump sister when she came. So
did every one when they came. Wonderful
party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity,
won-der-ful happiness !

But he was early at the office next morning.
Oh, he was early there ! If he could only be
there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming
late ! That was the thing he had set his heart
upon.

And he did it ; yes, he did ! The clock
struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No
Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a
half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his
door wide open, that he might see him come
into the tank.

His hat was off before he opened the
door ; his comforter too. He was on his stool
in a jifi"y ; driving away with his pen, as if he
were trying to overtake nine o'clock.

" Hallo ! " growled Scrooge in his accustomed
voice as near as he could feign it. " What do
you mean by coming here at this time of day ? "

" I am very sorry, sir," said Bob. " I a7n
behind my time."

" You are ! " repeated Scrooge. " Yes. I
think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please."

" It's only once a year, sir," pleaded Bob,
appearing from the tank. " It shall not be re-
peated. I was making rather merry yesterday,
sir."

" Now, I'll tell you what, my friend," said
Scrooge. " I am not going to stand this sort of
thing any longer. And therefore," he continued,
leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a
dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into



SCROOGE RECLAIMED BY CHRISTMAS.



37



the tank again : " and therefore I am about to
raise your salary ! "

Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the
ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking
Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling
to the people in the court for help and a strait-
waistcoat. '

" A merry Christmas, Bob ! " said Scrooge
with an earnestness that could not be mistaken,
as he clapped him on the back, " A merrier
Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have
given you for many a year ! I'll raise your
salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling
family, and we will discuss your affairs this very
afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking
bishop, Bob ! Make up the fires and buy
another coal-scuttle before you dot another i,
Bob Cratchit ! "

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it
all, and infinitely more ; and to Tiny Tim, who
did NOT die, he was a second father. He be-



came as good a friend, as good a master, and
as good a man as the good old City knew, or
any other good old city, town, or borough in the
good old world. Some people laughed to see
the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and
little heeded them ; for he was wise enough to
know that nothing ever happened on this globe,
for good, at which some people did not have
their fill of laughter in the outset ; and, knowing
that such as these would be blind anyway, he
thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle
up their eyes in grins as have the malady in less
attractive forms. His own heart laughed : and
that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits,
but lived upon the Total-Abstinence Principle
ever afterwards ; and it was always said of him
that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any
man alive possessed the knowledge. May that
be truly said of us, and all of us ! And so,
as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every
One!



END OF "A CHRISTMAS CAROL."





THE CHIMES:



A GOBLIN STORY OF SOME BELLS THAT RANG AN OLD YEAR OUT

AND A NEW YEAR IN.



FIRST QUARTER.

'X'HERE are not many people — and, as it is
■*- desirable that a story-teller and a story-
reader should establish a mutual understanding
as soon as possible, I beg it to be noticed that
I confine this observation neither to young



people, vJJJ to little people, but extend it to
all conditions of people : little and big, young
and old : yet growing up, or already grow-
ing down again — there are not, I say, many
people who would care to sleep in a church.
I don't mean at sermon-time in warm weather
(when the thing has actually been done once or



HIGH UP IN THE STEEPLE.



39



twice), but in the night, and alone. A great
multitude of persons will be violently astonished,
I know, by this position, in the broad bold Day.
But it applies to Night. It must be argued by
Night. And I will undertake to maintain it
successfully on any gusty winter's night ap-
pointed for the purpose, with any one opponent
chosen from the rest, who will meet me singly
in an old churchyard, before an old church-
door ; and will previously empower me to lock
him in, i£.needful to his satisfaction, until morn-
ing.

For the night wind has a dismal trick of wan-
dering round and round a building of that sort,
and moaning as it goes ; and of trying, with its
unseen hand, the windows and the doors ; and
seeking out some crevices by which to enter.
And when it has got in, as one not finding what
it seeks, whatever that may be, it wails and
howls to issue forth again ; and not content with
stalking through the aisles, and gliding round
and round the pillars, and tempting the deep
organ, soars up to the roof, and strives to rend
the rafters ; then flings itself despairingly upon
the stones below, and passes, muttering, into
the vaults. Anon, it comes up stealthily, and
creeps along the walls, seeming to read, in
whispers, the Inscriptions sacred to the Dead.
At some of these it breaks out shrilly, as with
laughter ; and, at others, moans and cries as if
it were lamenting. It has a ghostly sound, too,
lingering within the altar; where it seems to
chant, in its wild way, of Wrong and Murder
done, and false Gods worshipped, in defiance of
the Tables of the Law, which look so fair and
smooth, but are so flawed and broken. Ugh !
Heaven preserve us, sitting snugly round the
fire ! It has an awful voice, that wind at Mid-
night, singing in a church !

But, high up in the steeple ! There the foul
blast roars and whistles ! High up in the
steeple, where it is free to come and go through
many an airy arch and loophole, and to twist
and twine itself about the giddy stair, and twirl
the groaning weather-cock, and make the very
tower shake and shiver ! High up in the steeple,
where the belfry is, and iron rails are ragged
with rust, and sheets of lead and copper,
5-hrivelled by the changing weather, crackle and
heave beneath the unaccustomed tread; and
birds stuff shabby nests into corners of old
oaken joists and beams ; and dust grows old
and grey ; and speckled spiders, indolent and
fat with long security, swing idly to and fro in
the vibration of the bells, and never loose their
hold upon their thread-spun castles in the air, or
climb up sailor-like in quick alarm, or drop upon



the ground and ply a score of nimble legs to
save one's life ! High up in the steeple of an
old church, far above the light and murmur of
the town, and far below the flying clouds that
shadow it, is the wild and dreary place at night :
and high up in the steeple of an old ch;'rch
dwelt the Chimes I tell of.

They were old Chimes, trust me. Centuries
ago, these Bells had been baptized by bishops :
so many centuries ago, that the register of their
baptism was lost long, long before the memory
of man, and no one knew their names. They
had had their Godfathers and Godmothers, these
Bells (for my own part, by the way, I would
rather incur the responsibility of being Godfather
to a Bell than a Boy), and had had their silver
mugs, no doubt, besides. But time had mowed
down their sponsors, and Henry the Eighth had
melted down their mugs ; and they now hung,
nameless and mugless, in the church tower.

Not speechless, though. Far from it. They
had clear, loud, lusty, sounding voices, had
these Bells ; and far and wide they might be
heard upon the wind. Much too sturdy chimes
were they, to be dependent on the pleasure of
the wind, moreover ; for, fighting gallantly
against it when it took an adverse whim, they
would pour their cheerful notes into a listening
ear right royally ; and, bent on being heard, on
stormy nights, by some poor mother watching a
sick child, or some lone wife whose husband
was at sea, they had been sometimes known to
beat a blustering Nor'-Wester ; ay, " all to fits,"
as Toby Veck said ; — for, though they chose to
call him Trotty Veck, his name was Toby, and
nobody could make it anything else, either
(except Tobias), without a special Act of Par-
liament; he having been as lawfully christened
in his day as the Bells had been in theirs, though
with not quite so much of solemnity or public
rejoicing.

For my part, I confess myself of Toby Veck's
belief, for I am sure he had opportunities enough
of forming a correct one. And, whatever Toby
Veck said, I say. And I take my stand by
Toby Veck, although he did stand all day long
(and weary work it was) just outside the church-
door. In fact, he was a ticket porter, Toby
Veck, and waited there for jobs.

And a breezy, goose-skinned, blue-nosed,
red-eyed, stony-toed, tooth-chattering place it
was to wait in, in the winter-time, as Toby Veck
well knew. The wind came tearing round the
corner — especially the east wind — as if it had
sallied forth, express, from the confines of the
earth, to have a blow at Toby. And oftentimes
it seemed to come upon him sooner than it had



40



THE CHIMES.



expected ; for, bouncing round the corner, and
passing Toby, it would suddenly wheel round
again, as if it cried, " Why, here he is ! " In-
continently his little white apron would be
caught up over his head like a naughty boy's
garments, and his feeble little cane would be
seen to wrestle and struggle unavailingly in his
hand, and his legs would undergo tremendous
agitation, and Toby himself all aslant, and fac-
ing now in this direction, now in that, would be
so banged and buffeted, and tousled, and wor-
ried, and hustled, and lifted off his feet, as to
render it a state of things but one degree
removed from a positive miracle that he wasn't
carried up bodily into the air as a colony of
frogs, or snails, or other very portable creatures
sometimes are, and rained down again, to the
great astonishment of the natives, on some
strange corner of the world where ticket porters
are unknown.

But windy weather, in spite of its using him
so roughly, was, after all, a sort of holiday for
Toby. That's the fact. He didn't seem to
wait so long for a sixpence in the wind as at
other times ; the having to fight with that bois-
terous element took off his attention, and quite
freshened him up, when he was getting hungry
and low-spirited. A hard frost, too, or a fall of
snow, was an event, and it seemed to do him
good, somehow or other — it would have been
hard to say in what respect, though, Toby ! So
wind and frost and snow, and perhaps a good
stiff storm of hail, were Toby Veck's red-letter
days.

Wet weather was the worst ; the cold, damp,
clammy wet, that wrapped him up like a moist
great-coat — the only kind of great-coat Toby
owned, or could have added to his comfort by
dispensing with. Wet days, when the rain
came slowly, thickly, obstinately down ; when
the street's throat, like his own, was choked
with mist ; when smoking umbrellas passed and
re-passed, spinning round and round hke so
many teetotums, as they knocked against each
other on the crowded footway, throwing off a little
whirlpool of uncomfortable sprinklings ; when
gutters brawled, and water-spouts were full and
noisy ; when the wet from the projecting stones
and ledges of the church fell drip, drip, drip, on
Toby, making the wisp of straw on which he
stood mere mud in no time ; those were the
days that tried him. Then, indeed, you might
see Toby looking anxiously out from his shelter
in an angle of the church wall — such a meagre
shelter that in summer-time it never cast a
shadow thicker than a good-sized walking-stick
upon the sunny pavement — with a disconsolate



and lengthened face. But, coming out 3
minute afterwards to warm himself by exercise,
and trotting up and down some dozen times,
he would brighten even then, and go back more
brightly to his niche.

They called him Trotty from his pace, which
meant speed, if it didn't make it. He could
have walked faster, perhaps ; most likely ; but
rob him of his trot, and Toby would have taken
to his bed and died. It bespattered him with
mud in dirty weather ; it cost him a world of
trouble ; he could have walked with infinitely
greater ease ; but that was one reason for his
clinging to it so tenaciously. A weak, small,
spare old man, he was a very Hercules, this
Toby, in his good intentions. He loved to earn
his money. He delighted to believe — Toby was
very poor, and couldn't well afford to part with
a delight — that he was worth his salt. With a
shilling or an eighteen-penny message or small
parcel in hand, his courage, always high, rose
higher. As he trotted on, he would call out to
fast Postmen ahead of him to get out of the
way ; devoutly believing that, in the natural
course of things, he must inevitably overtake
and run them down ; and he had perfect faith
— not often tested — in his being able to carry
anything that man could lift.

Thus, even when he came out 01 his nook
to warm himself on a wet day, Toby trotted.
Making, with his leaky shoes, a crooked line of
slushy footprints in the mire ; and blowing on
his chilly hands and rubbing them against each
other, poorly defended from the searching cold
by threadbare mufflers of grey worsted, with a
private apartment only for the thumb, and a
common room or tap for the rest of the fingers ;
Toby, with his knees bent and his cane beneath
his arm, still trotted. Falling out into the road to
look up at the belfry when the Chimes resounded,
Toby trotted still.

He made this last excursion several times a
day, for they were company to him ; and, when
he heard their voices, he had an interest in
glancing at their lodging-place, and thinking
how they were moved, and what hammers beat
upon them. Perhaps he was the more curious
about these Bells, because there were points of
resemblance between themselves and him. They
hung there in all weathers, with the wind and
rain driving in upon them ; facing only the out-
sides of all those houses ; never getting any
nearer to the blazing fires that gleamed and
shone upon the windows, or came pufiing out of
the chimney-top ; and incapable of participation
in any of the good things that were constantly
being handed, through the street-doors and area



TROTTY VECK'S LIFE.



41



railings, to prodigious cooks. Faces came and
went at many windows : sometimes pretty faces,
youthful fiices, pleasant faces : sometimes the
reverse : but Toby knew no more (though he
often speculated on these trifles, standing idle
in the streets) whence they came, or where they
went, or whether, when the lips moved, one
kind word was said of him in all the year, than
did the Chimes themselves,

Toby was not a casuist — that he knew of, at
least — and I don't mean to say that when he
began to take to the Bells, and to knit up his
first rough acquaintance with them into some-
thing of a closer and more delicate woof, he
passed through these considerations one by one,
or held any formal review or great field day in
his thoughts. But what I mean to say, and do
say, is, that as the functions of Toby's body —
his digestive organs, for example — did of their
own cunning, and by a great many operations
of which he w'as altogether ignorant, and the
knowledge of which would have astonished him
very much, arrive at a certain end ; so his men-
tal faculties, without his privity or concurrence,
set all these wheels and springs in motion, with
a thousand others, when they worked to bring
about his liking for the Bells.

And though I had said his love, I would not
have recalled the word, though it would scarcely
have expressed his complicated feeling. For,
being but a simple man, he invested them with
a strange and solemn character. They were so
mysterious, often heard and never seen ; so high
up, so far off, so full of such a deep strong
melody, that he regarded them with a species of
awe ; and sometimes, when he looked up at the
dark arched windows in the tower, he half ex-
pected to be beckoned to by something which
was not a Bell, and yet was what he heard so
often sounding in the Chimes. For all this,
Toby scouted with indignation a certain flying
rumour that the Chimes were haunted, as im-
plying the possibility of their being connected
with any Evil thing. In short, they were very
often in his ears, and very often in his thoughts,
but always in his good opinion ; and he very
often got such a crick in his neck, by staring
with his mouth wide open at the steeple where
they hung, that he was fain to take an extra trot
or two afterwards to cure it.

The very thing he was in the act of doing one
cold day, when the last drowsy sound of Twelve
o'clock, just struck, was humming like a melo-
dious monster of a Bee, and not by any means
a busy Bee, all through the steeple !

"Dinner-time, eh?" said Toby, trotting up
and down before the church. " Ah ! "



Toby's nose was very red, and his eyelids
were very red, and he winked very much, and
his shoulders were very near his ears, and his
legs were very stift', and altogether he was
evidently a long way upon the frosty side of
cool.

" Dinner-time, eh ? " repeated Toby, using
his right-hand muffler like an infantine boxing
glove, and punishing his chest for being cold.
" Ah-h-h-h ! "

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

" There's nothing " said Toby, breaking

forth afresh. But here he stopped short in his
trot, and, with a face of great interest and some
alarm, felt his nose carefully all the way up. It
was but a little way (not being much of a nose),
and he had soon finished.

" I thought it was gone," said Toby, trotting
off again. " It's all right, however. I am sure
I couldn't blame it if it was to go. It has a pre-
cious hard service of it in the bitter weather, and
precious little to look forward to : for I don't
take snuff myself. It's a good deal tried, poor
creetur, at the best of times ; for, when it does
get hold of a pleasant whiff or so (which an't too
often), it's generally from somebody else's dinner
a-coming home from the baker's."

The reflection reminded him of that other
reflection, which he had left unfinished.

" There's nothing," said Toby, " more regular
in its coming round than dinner-time, and no-
thing less regular in its coming round than
dinner. That's the great difference between
'em. It's took me a long time to find it out. I
wonder whether it would be worth any gentle-
man's while, now, to buy that obserwation for
the Papers; or the Parliament !"

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

" Why ! Lord ! " said Toby. " The Papers is
full of obserwations as it is ; and so's the Parlia-
ment. Here's last week's paper, now;" taking
a very dirty one from his pocket, and holding it
from him at arm's length ; " full of obserwations !
Full of obserwations ! I like to know the news
as well as any man," said Toby slowly ; folding
it a little smaller, and putting it in his pocket
again : " but it almost goes against the grain
■with me to read a paper now. It frightens me
almost. I don't know what we poor people are
coming to. Lord send we may be coming to
something better in the New Year nigh upon
us !"

" Why, father, father ! " said a pleasant voice
hard by.

But Toby, not hearing it, continued to trot



42



THE CHIMES.



backwards and forwards : musing as he went,
and talking to himself.

" It seems as if we can't go right, or do right,
or be righted," said Toby. " I hadn't much
schooling, myself, when I was young ; and I



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 74 of 103)