Charles Dickens.

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

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r^n't make out whether Ave have any business
on the face of the earth, or not. Sometimes I
think we must have — a little ; and sometimes I
think we must be intruding. I get so puzzled
sometimes that I am not even able to make up
my mind whether there is any good at all in us,
or whether we are born bad. AV^e seem to do
dreadful things ; we seem to give a deal of
trouble ; we are always being complained of and
guarded against. One way or another, we fill
the papers. Talk of a New Year ! " said Toby
mournfully. " I can bear up as well as another
man at most times; better than a good many,
for I am as strong as a lion, and all men an't ;
but supposing it should really be that we have
no right to a New Year — supposing we really
are intruding "

" Why, father, father .' " said the pleasant voice

Toby heard it this time ; started ; stopped ;
and shortening his sight, which had been directed
a long way off, as seeking for enlightenment in
the very heart of the approaching year, found
himselt face to face with his own child, and look-
ing close into her eyes.

Bright eyes they were. Eyes that would bear
a world of looking in, before their depth w^as
fathomed. Dark eyes, that reflected back the
eyes which searched them ; not flashingly or at
the owner's will, but with a clear, calm, honest,
patient radiance, claiming kindred with that light
which Heaven called into being. Eyes that were
beautiful and true, and beaming with Hope.
Witli Hope so young and fresh ; with Hope
so buoyant, vigorous, and bright, despite the
twenty years of work and poverty on which they
had looked ; that they became a voice to Trotty
Veck, and said : " I think we have some busi-
ness here — a little ! "

Trotty kissed the lips belonging to the eyes, and
squeezed the blooming face between his hands.
_ " Why, pet," said Trotty, " what's to do ? I
didn't expect you to-day, Meg."

" Neither did I expect to come, father," cried
the girl, nodding her head and smiling as she
spoke. " But here I am ! And not alone : not
alone ! "

" Why, you don't mean to say," observed
Trotty, looking curiously at a covered basket
which she carried in her hand, " that you "

" Smell it, father dear," said Meg. " Only
smell it ! "

Trotty was going to lift up the cover at once,

in a great hurry, when she gaily interposed her

" No, no, no," said Meg with the glee of a
child. " Lengthen it out a little. Let me just
lift up the corner ; just the lit-tle ti-ny cor-ner,
you know," said Meg, suiting the action to the
word with the utmost gentleness, and speaking
very softly, as if she were afraid of being over-
heard by something inside the basket. " There !
Now. What's that ? "

Toby took the shortest possible sniff at the
edge of the basket, and cried out in a rapture :

" Why, it's hot ! "

"It's burning hot!" cried Meg. "Ha, ha,
ha ! It's scalding hot ! "

" Ha, ha, ha ! " roared Toby with a sort of
kick. " It's scalding hot ! "

" But what is it, father ? " said Meg. " Come !
You haven't guessed what it is. And you must
guess what it is. I can't think of taking it out
till you guess what it is. Don't be in such a
hurry ! Wait a minute ! A little bit more of
the cover. Now guess ! "

Meg was in a perfect fright lest he should
guess right too soon ; shrinking away as she
held the basket towards him ; curling up her
pretty shoulders ; stopping her ear with her
hand, as if by so doing she could keep the right
word out of Toby's lips ; and laughing softly the
whole time.

Meanwhile, Toby, putting a hand on each
knee, bent down his nose to the basket, and
took a long inspiration at the lid ; the grin upon
his withered face expanding in the process, as if
he were inhaling laughing gas.

" Ah ! It's very nice," said Toby. '•' It an't
— I suppose it an't Polonies ? "

" No, no, no ! " cried Meg, delighted. " No-
thing like Polonies !"

" No," said Toby after another sniff. " It's
— it's mellower than Polonies. It's very nice.
It improves every moment. It's too decided for
Trotters. An't it ? "

Meg was in an ecstasy. He could not have
gone wider of the mark than Trotters — except

"Liver?" said Toby, communing with him-
self. " No. There's a mildness about it that
don't answer to liver. Pettitoes ? No. It an't
faint enough for pettitoes. It wants the stringi-
ness of cocks' heads. And I know it an't sau-
sages. I'll tell you what it is. It's chitterlings !"

" No, it an't ! " cried Meg in a burst of de-
light. " No, it an't ! "

" Why, what am I a thinking of?" said Toby,
suddenly recovering a position as near the per-



pendicular as it was possible for him to assume.
" I shall forget my own name next. It's tripe ! "

Tripe it was ; and Meg, in high joy, protested
he should say, in half a minute more, it was the
best tripe ever stewed.

" And so," said Meg, busying herself exult-
ingly with her basket, " I'll lay the cloth at once,
father ; for I have brought the tripe in a basin,
and tied the basin up in a pocket-handkerchief;
and if I like to be proud for once, and spread
that for a cloth, and call it a cloth, there's no
law to prevent me ; is there, father?"

•' Not that I know of, my dear," said Toby,
" But they're always a bringing up some new law
or other."

" And according to what I was reading you
in the paper the other day, father; what the
Judge said, you know ; we poor people are sup-
posed 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 knoAv 'em
all. He'd grow fat upon the work he'd get, that
man, and be popular with the gentlefolks in his
neighbourhood. Very much so ! "

" He'd eat his dinner with an appetite, who-
ever he was, if it smelt like this," said Meg
cheerfully. " Make haste, for there's a hot potato
besides, and half a pint of fresh-drawn beer in a
bottle. Where will you dine, father? On the
Post, or on the Steps ? Dear, dear, how grand
we are ! Two places to choose from ! "

" The steps to-day, my pet," said Trotty.
" Steps in dry weather. Post in wet. There's
a greater conveniency in the steps at all times,
because of the sitting down ; but they're rheu-
matic in the damp."

" Then here," said Meg, clapping her hands,
after a moment's bustle ; " here it is, all ready !
And beautiful it looks ! Come, father ! Come !"

Since his discovery of the contents of the
basket, Trotty had been standing looking at her
— and had been speaking too — in an abstracted
manner, which showed that though she was the
object of his thoughts and eyes, to the exclusion
even of tripe, he neither saw nor thought about
her as she was at that moment, but had before
him some imaginary rough sketch or drama of
her future life. Roused, now, by her cheerful
summons, he shook off a melancholy shake of
the head which was just coming upon him, and
trotted to her side. As he was stooping to sit
down, the Chimes rang.

" Amen ! " said Trotty, pulling off his hat and
looking up towards them.

" Amen to the Bells, father ! " cried Meg.

" They broke in like a grace, my dear," said
Trotty, taking his seat. " They'd say a good
one, I am sure, if they could. Many's the kind
thing they say to me."

" The Bells do, father !" laughed Meg as she
set the basin and a knife and fork before \\\m.
" Well ! "

" Seem to, my pet," said Trotty, falling to
with great vigour. " And where's the difference ?
If I hear 'em, what does it matter whether they
speak it or not ? Why, bless you, my dear,"
said Toby, pointing at the tower with his fork,
and becoming more animated under the influ-
ence of dinner, " how often have I heard them
Bells say, ' Toby Veck, Toby Veck, keep a good
heart, Toby ! Toby Veck, Toby Veck, keep a
good heart, Toby ! ' A million times ? More ! "

" Well, I never ! " cried Meg.

She bad, though — over and over again. For
it was Toby's constant topic.

" When things is very bad," said Trotty ;
" very bad indeed, I mean ; almost at the worst;
then it's ' Toby Veck, Toby Veck, job coming
soon, Toby ! Toby Veck, Toby Veck, job
coming soon, Toby !' That way."

" And it comes — at last, father," said Meg
with a touch of sadness in her pleasant voice.

" Always," answered the unconscious Toby.
" Never fails."

While this discourse was holding, Trotty made
no pause in his attack upon the savoury meat
before him, but cut and ate, and cut and drank,
and cut and chewed, and dodged about from
tripe to hot potato, and from hot potato back
again to tripe, with an unctuous .and unllagging
relish. But happening now to look all round
the street — in case anybody should be beckon-
ing from any door or window for a porter — his
eyes, in coming back again, encountered Meg :
sitting opposite to him, with her arms folded :
and only busy in watching his progress with a
smile of happiness.

" Why, Lord forgive me !" said Trotty, drop-
ping his knife and fork. " My dove ! Meg !
why didn't you tell me what a beast I was ?"

" Father ! "

" Sitting here," said Trotty in penitent expla-
nation, " cramming, and stuffing, and gorging
myself; and you before me there, never so much
as breaking your precious fast, nor wanting to,
when "

" But I have broken it, father," interposed
his daughter, laughing, " all to bits. I have had
my dinner."

" Nonsense ! " said Trotty. " Two dinners in
one day ! It an't possible ! You might as well
tell me that two New Year's Days will come



together, or that I have had a gold head all my
life, and never changed it."'

" I have had my dinner, father, for all that,"
said Meg, coming nearer to him. " And if you'll
go on with yours, I'll tell you how and where ;
and how your dinner came to be brought ; and
— and something else besides."

Toby still appeared incredulous ; but she
looked into his face with her clear eyes, and,
laying her hand upon his shoulder, motioned
him to go on while the meat was hot. So
Trotty took ^ up his knife and fork again, and
w'ent 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 re-
sumed. Then stopped.

" What does Richard say, Meg ?" asked Toby.

" Richard says, father " Another stop-

" Richard's a long time saying it," said Toby.

" He says, then, father," Meg continued, lift-
ing 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
v/e are young now, and years will make us old
before we know it. He says that if we wait :
people in our condition : until we see our way
quite clearly, the way will be a narrow one in-
deed — the common way — the Grave, father."

A bolder man than Trotty Veck must needs
have drawn upon his boldness largely to deny it.
Trotty held his peace.

" And how hard, father, to grow old, and die,
and think we might have cheered and helped
each other ! How hard in all our lives to love
each other ; and to grieve, apart, to see each
other working, changing, growing old and grey !
Even if I got the better of it, and forgot him
(which I never could), oh, father dear, how hard
to have a heart so full as mine is now, and live
to have it slowly drained out every drop, with-
out the recollection of one happy moment of a
woman's life to stay behind and comfort me, and
make me better ! "

Trotty sat quite still. Meg dried her eyes,
and said more gaily : that is to say, with here a

laugh, and there a sob, and here a laugh and
sob together.

" So Richard says, father ; as his work was
yesterday made certain for some time to come,
and as 1 love him and have loved him full three
years — ah ! longer than that, if he knew it ! —
will I marry him on New Year's Day; the best
and happiest day, he says, in the whole year, and
one that is almost sure to bring good fortune
with it ? It's a short notice, father — isn't it ? —
but I haven't my fortune to be settled, or my
wedding dresses to be made, like the great
ladies, father, have I ? And he said so much,
and said it in his way ; so strong and earnest,
and all the time so kind and gentle ; that I said
I'd come and talk to you, father. And as they
paid the money for that work of mine this morn-
ing (unexpectedly, I am sure !), and as you have
fared very poorly for a whole week, and as I
couldn't help wishing there should be something
to make this day a sort of holiday to you as well
as a dear and happy day to me, father, I made
a little treat, and brought it to surprise you."

" And see how he leaves it cool'Mg on the
step !" said another voice.

It was the voice of the same Richard, who
had come upon them unobserved, and stood
before the father and daughter : looking down
upon them with a face as glowing as the iron on
which his stout sledge-hammer daily rung. A
handsome, well-made, powerful youngster he
was ; with eyes that sparkled like the red-hot
droppings from a furnace fire ; black hair that
curled about his swarthy temples rarely; and
a smile — a smile that bore out Meg's eulogium
on his style of conversation.

" See how he leaves it cooling on the step ! "
said Richard. " Meg don't know what he likes.
Not she ! "

Trotty, all action and enthusiasm, immediately
reached up his hand to Richard, and was going
to address him in a great hurry, when the house-
door opened without any warning, and a foot-
man very nearly put his foot in the tripe.

" Out of the vays here, will you ? You must
always go and be a settin' on our steps, must
you ? You can't go and give a turn to none of
the neighbours never, can't you ? Will you clear
the road, or won't you ?"

Strictly speaking, the last question was irrele-
vant, as they had already done it.

" What's the matter, what's the matter?" said
the gentleman for whom the door was opened ;
coming out of the house at that kind of hght-
heavy pace — that peculiar compromise between
a walk and a jog-trot — with which a gentleman
upon the smooth downhill of life, wearing creak-



ing boots, a watch-chain, and clean h'nen, may
come out of his house : not only without any
abatement of h^ dignity, but with an expres-
sion of having important and wealthy engage-
ments elsewhere. " What's the matter ? What's
the matter ? "

" You're always a being begged and prayed,
upon your bended knees you are," said the foot-
man with great emphasis to Trotty Veck, " to
let our door-steps Idc. Why don't you let 'em
be ? Can't vou let 'em be ? "

"There! 'That'll do, that'll do!" said the
gentleman. " Halloa there ! Porter ! " beckon-
ing 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 gentle-
man. " Bring it here, bring it here. So ! This
is your dinner, is it ? "

'* Yes, sir," repeated Trotty, looking with a
fixed eye and a watery mouth at the piece of
tripe he had reserved for a last delicious tit-bit ;
which the gentleman was now turning over and
over on the end of the fork.

Two other gentlemen had come out with him.
One was a low-spirited gentleman of middle age,
of a meagre habit, and a disconsolate face ; who
kept his hands continually in the pockets of his
scanty pepper-and-salt trousers, very large and
dog's-eared from that custom ; and was not par-
ticularly well brushed or washed. The other, a
full-sized, sleek, well-conditioned gentleman, in
a blue coat with bright buttons, and a white
cravat. This gentleman had a very red face,
as if an undue proportion of the blood in
his body were squeezed up into his head;
which perhaps accounted for his having also
the appearance of being rather cold about the

He who had Toby's meat upon the fork called
to the first one by the name of Filer ; and they
both drew near together. Mr. Filer, being ex-
ceedingly short-sighted, was obliged to go so
close to the remnant of Toby's dinner, before he
could make out what it was, that Toby's heart
leaped up into his mouth. But Mr. Filer didn't
eat it.

" This is a description of animal food. Alder-
man," said Filer, making little punches in it with
a pencil-case, " commonly known to the labour-
ing population of this country by the name of

The Alderman laughed, and winked ; for he
was a merry fellow. Alderman Cute. Oh, and
a sly fellow too I A knowing fellow. Up to
everything. Not to be imposed upon. Deep

in the people's hearts ! He knew them. Cute
did. I believe you !

" But who eats tripe ? " said Mr. Filer, look-
ing round. " Tripe is, without an exception,
the least economical and the most wasteful
article of consumption that the markets of this
country can by possibility produce. The loss
upon a pound cf tripe has been found to be, in
the boiling, seven-eighths of a fifth more than the
loss upon a pound of any other animal substance
whatever. Tripe is more expensive, properly
understood, than the hothouse pine- apple.
Taking into account the number of animals
slaughtered yearly within the bills of mortality
alone ; and forming a low estimate of the quan-
tity of tripe which the carcases of those animals,
reasonably well butchered, would yield ; I find
that the waste on that amount of tri]3e, if boiled,
would victual a garrison of five hundred men
for five months of thirty-one days each, and a
February over. The Waste, the Waste ! "

Trotty stood aghast, and his legs shook under
him. He seemed to have starved a garrison of
five hundred men with his own hand.

" Who eats tripe ? " said Mr. Filer warmly.
" Who eats tripe ? "'

Trotty made a miserable bow.
"You do, do you?" said Mr. Filer. "Then
I'll tell you something. You snatch your tripe,
my friend, out of the mouths of widows and

" I hope not, sir," said Trotty faintly. " I'd
sooner die of want ! "

" Divide the amount of tripe before men-
tioned. Alderman," said Mr. Filer, " by the esti-
mated number of existing widows and orphans,
and the result will be one pennyweight of tripe
to each. Not a grain is left for that man. Con-
sequently, he's a robber."

Trotty was so shocked, that it gave him no
concern to see the Alderman finish the tripe
himself It was a relief to get rid of it, any-

" And what do you say ? " asked the Alder-
man jocosely of the red-faced gentleman in the
blue coat. "You have heard friend Filer.
What d.o you say?"

"What's it possible to say?" returned the
gentleman. " What is to be said ? Who can
take any interest in a fellow like this," meaning
Trotty, " in such degenerate times as these ?
Look at him ! What an object I The good
old times, the grand old times, the great old
times ! Those were the times for a bold pea-
santry, and all that sort of thing. Those were
the times for every sort of thing, in fact. There's
nothing nowadays. Ah ! " sighed the red-faced



gentleman. "The good old times, the good old
times ! "

The gentleman didn't specify what particular
times he alluded to ; nor did he say whether he
objected to the present times from a disinter-
ested consciousness that they had done nothing
very remarkable in producing himself.

"The good old times, the good old times !"
repeated the gentleman. " What times they
were ! They were the only 'times. It's of no
use talking about any other times, or discussing
what the people are in these times. You don't
call these times, do you ? I don't. Look into
Strutt's Costumes, and see what a Porter used
to be in any of the good old English reigns."

" He hadn't, in his very best circumstances, a
shirt to his back, or a stocking to his foot ; and
there was scarcely a vegetable in all England
for him to put into his mouth," said Mr. Filer.
" I can prove it by tables."

But still the red-faced gentleman extolled the
good old times, the grand old times, the great
old times. No matter what anybody else said,
he still went turning round and round in one
set form of words concerning them ; as a poor
squirrel turns and turns in its revolving cage ;
touching the mechanism and trick of which it
has probably quite as distinct perceptions as
ever this red-faced gentleman had of his de-
ceased Millennium.

It is possible that poor Trotty's faith in these
very vague Old Times was not entirely de-
stroyed, for he felt vague enough at that mo-
ment. One thing, however, was ])lain to him,
in the midst of his distress ; to wit, that, how-
ever these gentlemen might differ in details, his
misgivings of that morning, and of many other
mornings, were well founded. " No, no. We
can't go right or do right," thought Trotty in
despair. " There is no good in us. We are
horn bad ! "

But Trotty had a father's heart within him ;
which had somehow got into his breast in spite
of this decree ; and he could not bear that Meg,
in the blush of her brief joy, should have her
fortune read by these wise gentlemen. " God
help her!" thought poor Trotty. "She will
know it soon enough."

He anxiously signed, therefore, to the young
smith to take her away. But he was so busy,
talking to her softly at a little distance, that he
only became conscious of this desire simul-
taneously with Alderman Cute. Now, the
Alderman had not yet had his say, but he was a
philosopher, too — practical, though ! Oh, very
practical ! — and, as he had no idea of losing
any portion of his audience, he cried " Stop ! "

" Now, you know," said the Alderman, ad-
dressing his two friends with a self-complacent
smile upon his face, which was habitual to him,
" I am a plain man, and a practical man ; and
I go to work in a plain practical way. That's
my way. There is not the least mystery or dif-
ficulty in dealing with this sort of people if you
only understand 'em, and can talk to 'em in
their own manner. Now, you Porter ! Don't
you ever tell me, or anybody else, my friend,
that you haven't always enough to eat, and of
the best ; because I know better. I have tasted
your tripe, you know, and you can't ' chaff me.
You understand what * chaff' means, eh ? That's
the right word, isn't it ? Ha, ha, ha ! Lord
bless you," said the Alderman, turning to his
friends again, " it's the easiest thing on earth to
deal with this sort of people, if you only under-
stand 'em ! "

Famous man for the common people. Alder-
man Cute ! Never out of temper with them !
Easy, affable, joking, knowing gentleman !

" You see, my friend," pursued the Alderman,
" there's a great deal of nonsense talked about
Want — ' hard up,' you know : that's the phrase,
isn't it ? ha ! ha ! ha ! — and I intend to Put it
Down. There's a certain amount of C2.nt in
vogue about Starvation, and I mean to Put it
Down. That's all ! Lord bless you," said the
Alderman, turning to his friends again, " you
may Put Down anything among this sort of
people, if you only know the way to set about

Trotty took Meg's hand, and drew it through
his arm. He didn't seem to know what he was
doing, though.

" Your daughter, eh ? " said the Alderman,
chucking her familiarly under the chin.

Always affable with the working-classes,
Alderman Cute ! Knew what pleased them \
Not a bit of pride !

"Where's her mother?" asked that worthy

" Dead," said Toby. " Her mother got up
linen ; and was called to Heaven when She was

" Not to get up linen there, I suppose ? " re-
marked the Alderman pleasantly.

Toby might or might not have been able to
separate his wife in Heaven from her old pur-
suits. But query : If Mrs. Alderman Cute had
gone to Heaven, would Mr. Alderman Cute
have pictured her as holding any state or station
there ?

" And you're making love to her, are you ? "
said Cute to the young smith.

" Yes," returned Richard quickly, for he was



nettled by the question, " And we are going to
be married on New Year's Day."

" What do you mean ? " cried Filer sharply.
*' Married ! "

*' Why, yes, we're thinking of it, master," said
Richard. " We're rather in a hurry, you see, in

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 75 of 103)