Charles Dickens.

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

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case it should be Put Down first."

" Ah ! " cried Filer with a groan. " Put that
down indeed, Alderman, and you'll do some-
thing. Married ! Married ! ! The ignorance
of the first principles of political economy on
the part of these people ; their improvidence ;
their wickedness ; is, by heavens ! enough

to Now look at that couple, will you ? "

Well ! They were worth looking at. And
marriage seemed as reasonable and fair a deed
as they need have in contemplation.

" A man may live to be as old as Methu-
saleh," said Mr. Filer, " and may labour all his
life for the benefit of such people as those ; and
may heap up facts on figures, facts on figures,
facts on figures, mountains high and dry ; and
he can no more hope to persuade 'em that they
have no right or business to be married than he
can hope to persuade 'em that thoy have no
earthly right or business to be born. And that
we know they haven't. We reduced it to a
mathematical certainty long ago ! "

Alderman Cute was mightily diverted, enjd
laid his right forefinger on the side of his nose,
as much as to say to both his friends, " Observe
me, will you ? Keep your eye on the practical
man ! " — and called Meg to him.

" Come here, my girl ! " said Alderman Cute.
The young blood of her lover had been
mounting ^vrathfully within the last few minutes ;
and he was indisposed to let her come. But,
setting a constraint upon himself, he came for-
ward with a stride as Meg approached, and
stood beside her. Trotty kept her hand within
his arm still, but looked from face to face as
wildly as a sleeper in a dream.

" Now, I'm going to give you a word or two
of good advice, my girl," said the Alderman in
his nice easy way. " It's my place to give
advice, you know, because I'm a Justice. You
know I'm a Justice, don't you? "

Meg timidly said, "Yes." But everybody
knew Alderman Cute was a Justice ! Oh dear,
so active a Justice always. Who such a mote
of brightness in the public eye as Cute ?

*' You are going to be married, you say," pur-
sued the Alderman. " Very unbecoming and
indelicate in one of your sex ! But never mind
chat. After you are married, you'll quarrel with
your husband, and come to be a distressed wife.
You may think not ; but you will, because I tell I



you so. Now, I give you fair warning that I
have made up my mind to Put distressed wives
Down. So, don't be brought before me. You'll
have children — boys. Those boys will grow up
bad, of course, and run wild in the streets, with-
out shoes and stockings. Mind, my young
friend ! I'll convict 'em summarily, every one,
for I am determined to Put boys without shoes
and stockings Down. Perhaps your husband
will die young (most likely), and leave you with
a baby. Then you'll be turned out of doors,
and wander up and down the streets. Now,
don't wander near me, my dear, for I am re-
solved to Put all wandering mothers Down. All
young mothers, of all sorts and kinds, it's my
determination to Put Down. Don't think to
plead illness as an excuse with me ; or babies
as an excuse with me ; for all sick persons and
young children (I hope you know the church
service, but I'm afraid not) I am determined to
Put Down. And if you attempt, desperately,
and ungratefully, and impiously, and fraudulently
attempt, to drown yourself, or hang yourself, I'll
have no pity on you, for I have made up my
mind to Put all suicide Down ! If there is one
thing," said the Alderman with his self-satisfied
smile, " on which I can be said to have made up
my mind more than on another, it is to Put sui-
cide Down. So don't try it on. That's the
phrase, isn't it ? Ha, ha ! Now we understand
each other."

Toby knew not whether to be agonised or
glad to see that Meg had turned a deadly white,
and dropped her lover's hand.

" As for you, you dull dog," said the Alder-
man, turning with even increased cheerfulness
and urbanity to the young smith, " what are you
thinking of being married for? What do you
want to be married for, you silly fellow? If I
was a fine young, strapping chap like you, I
should be ashamed of being milksop enough to
pin myself to a woman's apron-strings ! Why,
she'll be an old woman before you're a middle-
aged man ! And a pretty figure you'll cut then,
with a draggle-tailed wife and a crowd of squall-
ing children crying after you wherever you go ! "

Oh, he knew how to banter the common
people. Alderman Cute !

" There ! Go along with you," said the Alder-
man, " and repent. Don't make such a fool of
yourself as to get married on New Year's Day.
You'll think very difTerently of it long before next
New Year's Day : a trim young fellow like you,
with all the girls looking after you ! There ! Go
along with you ! "

They went along. Not arm-in-arm, or hand-
in-hand, or interchanging bright glances -, but.



48



THE CHIMES.



she in tears ; he gloomy and down-looking. Were
these the hearts that had so lately made old
Toby's leap up from its faintness ? No, no.
The Alderman (a blessing on his head) had Put
them Down.

" As you happen to be here," said the Alder-
man to Toby, "you shall carry a letter for me.
Can you be quick? You're an old man."

Toby, who had been looking after Meg quite
stupidly, made shift to murmur out that he was
very quick and very strong.

" How old are you ?" inquired the Alderman.

" I am over sixty, sir," said Toby.

" Oh ! This man's a great deal past the
average age, you know," cried Mr. Filer, break-
ing in as if his patience would bear some trying,
but this was really carrying matters a little too
far.

" I feel I'm intruding, sir," said Toby. " I —
I misdoubted it this morning. Oh dear me ! "

The Alderman cut him short by giving him the
letter from his pocket. Toby would have got a
shilling too ; but Mr. Filer clearly showing that
in that case he would rob a certain given number
of persons of ninepence-halfpenny apiece, he only
got sixpence ; and thought himself very well off
to get that.

Then the Alaerman gave an arm to each of
his friends, and walked off in high feather; but,
he immediately came hurrying back alone, as if
he had forgotten something.

" Porter ! " said the Alderman.

" Sir ! " said Toby.

" Take care of that daughter of yours. She's
much too handsome."

" Even her good looks are stolen from some-
body or other, 1 suppose," thought Toby, look-
ing at the sixpence in his hand, and thinking of
the tripe. " She's been and robbed five hundred
ladies of a bloom apiece, I shouldn't wonder.
It's very dreadful ! "

" She's much too handsome, my man," re-
peated the Alderman. " The chances are that
she'll come to no good, I clearly see. Observe
what I say. Take care of her ! " With which
he hurried off again.

" Wrong every way ! Wrong every way ! "
said Trotty, clasping his hands. " Born bad.
No business here ! "

The Chimes came clashing in upon him as
he said the words. Full, loud, and sounding —
but with no encouragement. No, not a drop.

" The tune's changed," cried the old man as
he listened. " There's not a word of all that
fancy in it. Why should there be ? I have no
business with the New Year, nor with the old
one neither. Let me die ! "



Still the Bells, pealing forth their changes,
made the very air spin. Put 'em down. Put 'em
down ! Good Old Times, Good Old Times !
Facts and Figures, Facts and Figures ! Put 'em
down. Put 'em down ! If they said anything,
they said this, until the brain of Toby reeled.

He pressed his bewildered head between his
hands, as if to keep it from splitting asunder.
A well-timed action, as it happened ; for, finding
the letter in one of them, and being by that
means reminded of his charge, he fell mecha-
nically into his usual trot, and trotted off.




THE SECOND QUARTER.

HE 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 Alder-
man 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 any-
body'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 fingers.

" 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 hand-
some, like my darling M — e "

He couldn't finish her 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 on.

It was a hard frost that day. The air was
bracing, crisp, and clear. The wintry sun,



SIR JOSEPH BO 1 1 'LEY.



49



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 mis-
uses 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 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 Avaited 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 almanacs 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 calcu-
lated with as much precision as Mr. Filer could
work sums in men and Avomen.

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 aboard ship.
Its patterns were Last Year's, and going at a
sacrifice, before its breath was gone. Its trea-
sures were mere dirt beside the riches of its
unborn successor !

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 Toby's.
Christmas Books, 4.



This porter underwent some hard panting be-
fore 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 some time to do, for it was a
long way off, and hidden under a load of meat
— he said in a fat whis])er :

" 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 looking com-
placently from time to time at his own picture —
a full length ; a very full length — hanging over
the fire-place.

" What is this ? " said the last-named gentle-
man. " 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 de-
scription of account is setded 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 aftairs would
be found, I hope, in a state of preparation."

'■^ My dear Sir Joseph ! " said the ladv, who



so



THE CHIMES.



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
liuman transactions involves matter of deep
moment between a man and his — and his
])anker."

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 oppor-
tunity of being improved by such discourse.
Possibly he had this end before him in still for-
bearing 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," returned 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 other-
wise."

" 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 liim 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
Iriend the Poor Man, in my district, is my busi-
ness. 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 comfortable.

" Your only business, my good fellow," pur-
sued 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 encourage-
ment 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 Father — on the same terms — to his
children."

Toby was greatly moved.

" Oh ! You have a thankful family, Sir
Joseph !" cried his wife.

" ]\Iy 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."

" \Vhat man can do / do," pursued Sir Joseph.
" I do my duty as the Poor Man's Friend and
Father ; and I endeavour to educate his mind.



THE PEOPLE'S FRIEND AND FATHER.



SI



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 other-
wise, and they become impatient and discon-
tented, and are guilty of insurbordinate conduct
and black-hearted ingratitude ; which is un-
doubtedly 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 read it.

" Very polite and attentive, I am sure ! " ex-
claimed 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 even-
ing employment, and had the lines,

* 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 aiit 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 of him ! "

" Hem ! " coughed Sir Joseph. " Mr. Fish, if
you'll have the goodness to attend "

Mr. Fish immediately seized his pen, and
wrote from Sir Joseph's dictation.



" 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 per-
suade 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 forth.

" It appears," remarked Sir Joseph when he
had signed this letter, and IMn 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 pre-
pared. 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
preparation 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."

" Behindhand 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."



52



THE CHIMES.



"To Mrs. Chickenstalker ! " rej-^ealed Sir
Joseph in the same tone as before.

" A shop, sir," exclauned 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.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 76 of 103)