Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 77 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 77 of 103)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Fish, and at Trotty, one after another, twice
all round. He then made a despondent ges-
ture 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 art'airs 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.




-i^^



THE POOR man's KKIFNO.



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 anywhere.

He didn't even hft 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 Avas growing dark, and
tJiat 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 loing 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 ;



THE COUNTRYMAN AND HIS CHILD.



53



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, be-
tween the hat and the torn lining, fixing his liead
into a kind of beehive. " 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, how-
ever, 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 footsore, 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 leg-
gings, 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 tra-
veller 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 him.

" 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 pleasure."

" 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 Fern ? "

" Eh ! " cried the other, turning on him in
astonishment.

" Fern ! Will Fern ■ " said Trotty.

" That's my name," repHed the other,

" Why, then," cried 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 /«w."

His new acquaintance looked as if he thought
him mad ; but he bore him company neverthe-
less. When they were shrouded from observa-
tion, 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 con-
tradict 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 Birth-
day, or a fine Speech-making, or what not. Act
your Plays antl Games without me, and be wel-



54



THE CHIMES.



come to 'em and enjoy 'em. We've nowt to do
with one another. I'm be.-t 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 natur', 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 Ahnighty'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 afeard, 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 vie much by send-
ing me to gaol ; but, without a friend to speak a

Avord 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 w-ill
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 lodg-
ing 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 he bore.

" Why, she's as light," said Trotty, trotting in
his speech as well as in his gait ; for he couldn't
bear to be thanked, and dreaded a moment's
pause ; " as light as a feather. Lighter than a
Peacock's feather — a great deal lighter. Here
we are, and here we go ! Round this first turn-
ing 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 you ! "

With which \vords Trotty, in a breathless state,
set the child do\vn oefore 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



TROTTV VECK'S HOSPITALITY.



55



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 some-
where or other in the course of his wild career,
and now put it on the fire : wliile 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 cheer-
fully, 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
they are ! "

" Oh, they're warmer now ! " exclaimed the
child. " They're quite warm now ! "

" No, no, no," said Meg, " We haven't
rubbed 'em half enough. We're so busy. So
busy I 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 \>< so
gay, and brisk, and happy "

The child, in a burst of sobbing, clasped lier
round the neck ; caressed her fair cheek with its
hand ; and said, " Oh, Meg ! oh, dear Meg ! "

Toby's blessing could have done no more.
Who could do more ?

" Wliy, 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 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, I'oby withdrew
to purchase the viands he had spoken of, for
ready money, at Mrs. Chickenstalker's ; and pre-
sently came back, pretending that 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 un-
worthy father toasts the bacon, we shall be ready
immediate. It's a curious circumstance," said
Trotty, proceeding in his cookery with the assist-
ance 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 arc 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 teapot, looked
lovingly down into the depths of that snug caul-
dron, and suft'ered 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 begin-
ning, 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 ^Vill 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 litde one, she sleeps with Meg, I
know."

" With good Meg ! " cried the child, caressing
her. " With ]\Ieg."

" That's right," said Trotty. " And I shouldn't
wonder if she kiss Meg's father, won't she ? /'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 her
lap.

" To be sure," said Toby. " To be sure ! I
don't know what I am rambling on about to-



56



THE CHIMES.



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 uncon-
sciously 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 ten-
derly and easily as if he had been a child him-
self

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, api)alled !

" Unnatural and cruel ! " Toby cried. " Un-
natural 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 chair.

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 slum-
bers, 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 anything ? "

" 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 lea/e
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
in 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



TROTTY VECK IN THE BELERY.



57



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
bareheaded 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 rnan or ghostly figure standing up erect
and making room for him to pass without dis-
covery, 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 housetops, 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



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 77 of 103)