Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 78 of 103)
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kneaded up together in a leaven of mist and
darkness.

This was the belfry, where the ringers came.
He had caught hold of one of the frayed ropes
which hung down through apertures in the
oaken roof. At first he started, thinking it was
hair ; then trembled at the very thought of wak-
ing the deep Bell. The Bells themselves were
higher. Higher, Trotty, in his fascination, or in
working out the spell upon him, groped his way.
By ladders now, and toilsomely, for it was steep,
and not too certain holding for the feet.

Up, up, up ; and climb and clamber ; up, up,
up ; higher, higher, higher up !

Until, ascending through the floor, and paus-
ing with his head just raised above its beams, he
came among the Bells. It was barely possible
to make out their great shapes in the gloom ;
but there they were. Shadowy, and dark, and
dumb.

A heavy sense of dread and loneliness fell in-
stantly upon him, as he climbed into this airy
nest of stone and metal. His head went round
and round. He listened, and then raised a wild
" Halloa ! "

" Halloa ! '"' was mournfully protracted by the
echoes.

Giddy, confused, and out of breath, and
frightened, Toby looked about him vacantly,
and sunk down in a swoon.



THIRD QUARTER.

LACK are the brooding clouds, and
troubled the deep waters, when the
Sea of Thought, first heaving from a
calm, gives up its Dead. INIonsters
^ uncouth and wild arise in premature,

'""J imjjerfect resurrection ; the several parts
and shapes of difterent things are joined
and mixed by chance ; and when, and
how, and by what wonderful degrees each sepa-
rates from each, and every sense and object of
the mind resumes its usual form and lives again,
no man — though every man is every day the
casket of this type of the Great Mystery— can
tell.

So, when and how the darkness of the night-
black steeple changed to shining light; when
and how the solitary tower was peopled with a
myriad figures; when and how the whispered




ss



TJiE chimj:s.



** Haunt and hunt him," breathing monotonously
through his sleep or swoon, became a voice ex-
claiming in the waking ears of Trotty, " Break
his slumbers ; '"' when and how he ceased to
have a sluggish and confused idea that such
things were, companioning a host of others that
were not ; there are no dates or means to tell.
But, awake, and standing on his feet upon the
boards where he had lately lain, he saw this
Goblin Sight.

He saw the tower, whither his charmed foot-
steps had brought him, swarming with dwarf
phantoms, spirits, elfin creatures of the Bells.
He saw them leaping, flying, dropping, pouring
from the Bells, without a pause. He saw them
round him on the ground ; above him in the air,
clambering from him, by the ropes below ; look-
ing down upon him, from the massive iron-
girded beams ; peeping in upon him, through
the chinks and loopholes in the walls ; spread-
ing away and away from him in enlarging circles,
as the water ripples give place to a huge stone
that suddenly comes plashing in among them.
He saw them, of all aspects and all shapes. He
saw them ugly, handsome, crippled, exquisitely
formed. He saw them young, he saw them old,
he saw them kind, he saw them cruel, he saw
them merry, he saw them grim ; he saw them
dance, and heard them sing ; he saw them tear
their hair, and heard them howl. He saw the
air thick with them. He saw them come and
go incessantly. He saw them riding downward,
soaring upward, sailing off afar, perching near at
hand, all restless and all violently active. Stone
and brick, and slate and tile, became transparent
to him as to them. He saw them in the houses,
busy at the sleepers' beds. He saw them sooth-
ing people in their dreams ; he saw them beat-
ing them with knotted whips ; he saw them yell-
ing in their ears ; he saw them playing softest
music on their pillows ; he saw them cheering
some with the songs of birds and the perfume of
flowers ; he saw them flashing awful faces on the
troubled rest of others, from enchanted mirrors
which they carried in their hands.

He saw these creatures, not only among sleep-
ing men, but waking also, active in pursuits irre-
concilable with one another, and possessing or
assuming natures the most opposite. He saw
one buckling on innumerable wings to increase
his speed ; another loading himself with chains
and weights, to retard his. He saw some
putting the hands of clocks forward, some
putting the hands of clocks backward, some
endeavouring to stop the clock entirely. He
saw them representing, here a marriage cere-
mony, there a funeral 3 in this chamber an elec-



tion, in that a ball ; he saw, everywhere, restless
and untiring motion.

Bewildered by the host of shifting and extra-
ordinary figures, as well as by the uproar of the
Bells, which all this while were ringing, Trotty
clung to a wooden pillar for support, and turned
his white face here and there in mute and
stunned astonishment.

As he gazed the Chimes stopped. Instan-
taneous change ! The whole swarm fainted ;
their forms collapsed, their speed deserted
them j they sought to fly, but, in the act of fall-
ing, died and melted into air. No fresh supply
succeeded them. One straggler leaped down
pretty briskly from the surface of the Great Bell,
and alighted on his feet, but he was dead and
gone before he could turn round. Some few of
the late company who had gamboled in the
tower remained there, spinning over and over a
little longer; but these became at every turn
more faint, and few, and feeble, and soon went
the way of the rest. The last of all was one
small hunchback, who had got into an echoing
corner, where he twirled and twirled, and floated
by himself a long time ; showing such perse-
verance, that at last he dwindled to a leg, and
even to a foot, before he finally retired ; but he
vanished in the end, and then the tower was
silent.

Then, and not before, did Trotty see in every
Bell a bearded figure of the bulk and stature of
the Bell — incomprehensibly, a figure and the
Bell itself. Gigantic, grave, and darkly watchful
of him, as he stood rooted to the ground.

Mysterious and awful figures ! Resting on
nothing ; poised in the night air of the tower,
with their draped and hooded heads merged in
the dim roof; motionless and shadowy. Sha-
dowy and dark, although he saw them by some
light belonging to themselves — none else was
there — each with its muftled hand upon its
goblin mouth.

He could not plunge down wildly through
the opening in the floor; for all power of mo-
tion had deserted him. Otherwise he would
have done so — ay, would have thrown himself,
head foremost, from the steeple-top, rather than
have seen them watching him witli eyes that
would have waked and watched, although the
pupils had been taken out.

Again, again, the dread and terror of the
lonely place, and of the wild and fearful night
that reigned there, touched him like a spectral
hand. His distance from all help; the long,
dark, winding, ghost-beleaguered way that lay
between him and the earth on which men lived ;
his being high, high, high, up there, where it had



WHAT THE BELLS SAID.



59



made him dizzy to see the birds fly in the day ;
cut off from all good people, who at such an
hour were safe at home and sleeping in their
beds ; all this struck coldly through him, not as
a reflection, but a bodily sensation. Meantime,
his eyes and thoughts and fears were fixed upon
the watchful figures; which, rendered unhke
any figures of this world by the deep gloom and
shade enwrapping and enfolding them, as well
as by their looks and forms and supernatural
hovering above the floor, were nevertheless as
plainly to be seen as were the stalwart oaken
frames, cross-pieces, bars and beams, set up
there to support the Bells. These hemmed
them in a very forest of hewn timber ; from the
entanglements, intricacies, and depths of which,
as from among the boughs of a dead wood
blighted for their Phantom use, they kept their
darksome and unwinking watch.

A blast of air — how cold and shrill ! — came
moaning through the tower. As it died away,
the Great Bell, or the Goblin of the Great Bell,
spoke.

" What visitor is this ? " it said. The voice
was low and deep, and Trotty fancied that it
sounded in the other figures as well.

" I thought my name was called by the
Chimes ! " said Trotty, raising his hands in an
attitude of supplication. " I hardly know why
I am here, or how I came. I have listened to
the Chimes these many years. They have
cheered me often."

"And you have thanked them?" said the
Bell.

" A thousand times ! " cried Trotty.

"How?"

" I am a jioor man," faltered Trotty, " and
could only thank them in words."

"And always so?" inquired the Goblin of
the Bell. " Have you never done us wrong in
words ? "

" No ! " cried Trotty eagerly.

" Never done us foul, and false, and wicked
wrong in words ? " pursued the Goblin of the
Bell.

Trotty was about to answer, " Never !" But
he stopped, and was confused.

" The voice of Time," said the Phantom,
" cries to man. Advance ! Time is for his
advancement and improvement ; for his greater
worth, his greater happiness- . his better life ;
his progress onward to thai goal within its
knowledge and its view, and set there, in the
period when Time and He began. Ages of
darkness, wickedness, and violence have come
and gone — millions uncountable have suffered,
lived, and died — to point the way before him. |



\Vho seeks to turn him back, or stay him on his
course, arrests a mighty engine which will strike
the meddler dead ; and be the fiercer and the
wilder, ever, for its momentary check ! "

" I never did so to my knowledge, sir," said
Trotty. " It was quite by accident if I did. I
wouldn't go to do it, I'm sure."

" Who puts into the mouth of Time, or of its
ser\^ants," said the Goblin of the Bell, " a cry of
lamentation for days which have had their trial
and their failure, and have left deep traces of it
which the blind may see — a cry that only serves
the present time, by showing men how much it
needs their help when any ears can listen to re-
grets for such a past — v/ho does this, does a
wrong. And you have done that wrong to us,
the Chimes."

Trotty's first excess of fear was gone. But he
had felt tenderly and gratefully towards the
Bells, as you have seen ; and, when he heard
himself arraigned as one who had offended them
so weightily, his heart was touched with peni-
tence and grief.

" If you knew," said Trotty, clasping his
hands earnestly — " or perhaps you do know — if
you know how often you have kept me com-
pany ; how often you have cheered me up when
I've been low ; how you were quite the play-
thing of my little daughter Meg (almost the only
one she ever had) when first her mother died,
and she and me were left alone ; you won't bear
malice for a hasty word ! "

" Who hears in us, the Chimes, one note be-
speaking disregard, or stern regard, of any hope,
or joy, or pain, or sorrow, of the many-sorrowed
throng; who hears us make response to any
creed that gauges human passions and affections,
as it gauges the amount of miserable food on
which humanity may pine and wither ; does us
wrong. That wrong you have done us ! " said
the Bell.

" I have ! " said Trotty. " Oh, forgive me ! "

" Who hears us echo the dull vermin of the
earth : the Putters Down of crushed and broken
natures, formed to be raised up higher than such
maggots of the time can crawl or can conceive,"
pursued the Goblin of the Bell ; " who does so,
does us wrong. And you have done us wrong I "

" Not meaning it," said Trotty. " In my
ignorance. Not meaning it ! "

" Lastly, and most of all," pursued the Bell.
" Who turns his back upon the flUlen and dis-
figured of his kind ; abandons them as vile ; and
does not trace and track with pitying eyes the
unfenced precipice by which they fell from good
— grasping in their fall some tufts and shreds of
that lost soil, and clinging to them still when



6o



THE CHIMES.



bruised and dying in the gulf below ; does wrong
to Heaven and man, to time and to eternity.
And you have done that wrong ! "

" Spare me," cried Trotty, falling on his knees ;
" for Mercy's sake ! "

" Listen ! " said the Shadow.

" Listen !" cried the other Shadows.

" Listen ! " said a clear and childlike voice,
which Trotty thought he recognised as having
heard before.

The organ sounded faintly in the church below.
Swelling by degrees, the melody ascended to the
roof, and filled the choir and nave. Expanding
more and more, it rose up, up ; up, up ; higher,
higher, higher up ; awakening agitated hearts
within the burly piles of oak, the hollow bells,
the iron-bound doors, the stairs of solid stone ;
until the tower walls were insufficient to contain
it, and it soared into the sky.

No wonder that an old man's breast could not
contain a sound so vast and mighty. It broke
from that weak prison in a rush of tears ; and
Trotty put his hands before his face.

" Listen ! " said the Shadow.

" Listen ! " said the other Shadows.

" Listen ! " said the child's voice,

A solemn strain of blended voices rose into
the tower.

.It was a very low and mournful strain — a
Dirge — and, as he listened, Trotty heard his
child among the singers.

" She is dead ! " exclaimed the old man.
"Meg is dead! Her spirit calls to me. I hear it!"

" The Spirit of your child bewails the dead,
and mingles with the dead — dead hopes, dead
fancies, dead imaginings of youth," returned the
Bell, " but she is living. Learn from her life a
living truth. Learn from the creature dearest to
your heart how bad the bad are born. See every
bud and leaf plucked one by one from off the
fairest stem, and know how bare and wretched it
may be. Follow her ! To desperation ! "

Each of the shadowy figures stretched its right
arm forth, and pointed downward.

" The Spirit of the Chimes is your com-
panion," said the figure. " Go ! It stands behind
you ! "

Trotty turned and saw — the child ! The
child Will Fern had carried in the street ; the
child whom Meg had watched, but now, asleep !

" I carried her myself to-night," said Trotty.
" In these arms ! "

" Show him what he calls himself," said the
dark figures, one and all.

The tower opened at his feet. He looked down,
and beheld his own form, lying at the bottom,
on the outside : crushed and motionless.



" No more a living ma-n ! " cried Trotty.
" Dead ! "

" Dead ! " said the figures all together.

" Gracious Heaven ! And the New Year "

" Past," said the figures.

" What ! " he cried, shuddering. " I missed
my way, and, coming on the outside of this
tower in the dark, fell down — a year ago ? "

" Nine years ago ! " replied the figures.

As they gave the answer, they recalled their
outstretched hands ; and where their figures had
been, there the Bells were.

And they rung ; their time being come again.
And once again, vast multitudes of phantoms
sprung into existence ; once again were inco-
herently engaged, as they had been before ; once
again faded on the stopping of the Chimes ; and
dwindled into nothing.

" What are these ? " he asked his guide. '• If
I am not mad, what are these ? "

" Spirits of the Bells. Their sound upon the
air," returned the child. " They take such shapes
and occupations as the hopes and thoughts of
mortals, and the recollections they have stored
up, give them."

" And you," said Trotty wildly. " What are
you ? "

" Hush, hush ! " returned the child. " Look
here ! "

In a poor, mean room ; working at the same
kind of embroidery which he had often, often
seen before her ; Meg, his own dear daughter,
was presented to his view. He made no effort
to imprint his kisses on her face ; he did not
strive" to clasp her to his loving heart ; he knew
that such endearments were, for him, no more.
But, he held his trembling breath, and brushed
away the blinding tears, that he might look upon
her; that he might only see her.

Ah ! Changed ! Changed ! The light of the
clear eye, how dimmed ! The bloom, how faded
from the cheek ! Beautiful she was, as she had
ever been, but Hope, Hope, Hope, oh, where
was the fresh Hope that had spoken to him like
a voice ?

She looked up from her work at a companion.
Following her eyes, the old man started back.

In the woman grown he recognised her at a
glance. In the long silken hair he saw the self-
same curls ; around the lips, the child's expres-
sion lingering still. See ! In the eyes, now turned
inquiringly on Meg, there shone the very look
that scanned those features when he brought her
home !

Then what was this beside him ?

Looking with awe into its face, he saw a some-
thing reigning there : a lofty something, unde-



THE DIFFERENCE OF SHOES AND STOCKINGS.



6r



fined and indistinct, which made it hardly more
than a remembrance of that child — as yonder
figure might be — yet it was the same : the same :
and wore the dress.

Hark ! They were speaking !

" Meg ! " said Lilian, hesitating. " How often
you raise your head from your work to look at
me ! ■'

"Are my looks so altered, that they frighten
you ? " asked Meg.

" Nay, dear ! But you smile at that yourself!
^Vhy not smile Avhen you look at me, Meg ? "

" I do so. Do I not ? " she answered : smil-
ing on her.

" Now you do," said Lilian, " but not usually.
When you think I'm busy, and don't see you,
you look so anxious and so doubtful that I
hardly like to raise my eyes. There is httle
cause for smiling in this hard and toilsome life,
but you were once so cheerful."

" Am I not now ?" cried Meg, speaking in a
tone of strange alarm, and rising to embrace
her. " Do /make our weary life more weary to
you, Lilian?"

" You have been the only thing that made it
life," said Lilian, fervently kissing her ; " some-
times the only thing that made me care to live
so, Meg. Such work ! such work ! So many
hours, so many days, so many long, long nights
of hopeless, cheerless, never-ending work — not
to heap up riches, not to live grandly or gaily,
not to live upon enough, however coarse ; but
to earn bare bread; to scrape together just
enough to toil upon, and want upon, and keep
alive in us the consciousness of our hard fate !
Oh, Meg, Meg ! " she raised her voice and twined
her arms about her as she spoke, like one in
pain. " How can the cruel world go round, and
bear to look upon such lives ? "

" Lilly ! " said Meg, soothing her, and putting
back her hair from lier wet face. " Why, Lilly !
You ! So pretty and so young ! "

" Oh, Meg ! " she interrupted, holding her at
arm's length, and looking in her face imploringly.
" The worst of all, the worst of all ! Strike me
old, Meg ! Wither me and shrive me, and free
me from the dreadful thoughts that tempt me in
my youth ! "

Trotty turned to look upon his guide. But
the Spirit of the child had taken flight. Was
gone.

Neither did he himself remain in the same
place ] for Sir Joseph Bowley, Friend and Father
of the Poor, held a great festivity at Bowley
Hall, in honour of the natal day of Lady Bowley.
And as Lady Bowley had been born on New
Year's Day (which the local newspapers con-



sidered an especial pointing of the finger of Pro-
vidence to Number One, as Lady Bowley's
destined figure in Creation), it was on a New
Year's Day that this festivity took place.

Bowley Hall was full of visitors. The red.
faced gentleman was there. Mr. Filer was there,
the great Alderman Cute was there — Alderman
Cute had a sympathetic feeling with great people,
and had considerably improved his acijuaintance
with Sir Joseph Bowley on the strength of his
attentive letter: indeed, had become quite a
friend of the family since then — and many guests
were there. Trotty's ghost was there, wandering
about, poor phantom, drearily ; and looking for
its guide.

There was to be a great dinner in the Great
Hall. At which Sir Joseph Bowley, in his cele-
brated character of Friend and Father of the
Poor, was to make his great speech. Certain
plum-puddings were to be eaten by his Friends
and Children in another Hall first; and, at a
given signal. Friends and Children flocking in
among their Friends and Fathers, were to form
a family assemblage, with not one manly eye
therein unmoistened by emotion.

But there was more than this to happen.
Even more than this. Sir Joseph Bowley,
Baronet and Member of Parliament, was to play
a match at skittles — real skittles — with his
tenants !

" Which quite reminds one," said Alderman
Cute, " of the days of old King Hal, stout King
Hal, bluff King Hal. Ah ! Fine character ! "

" Very," said Mr. Filer drily. " For marry-
ing women and murdering 'em. Considerably
more than the average number of wives, by-the-
bye."

" You'll marry the beautiful ladies, and not
murder 'em, eh?" said Alderman Cute to the
heir of Bowley, aged twelve. " Sweet boy ! We
shall have this little gentleman in Parliament
now," said the Alderman, holding him by the
shoulders, and looking as reflective as he could,
" before we know where we are. We shall hear
of his successes at the poll ; his speeches in the
House ; his overtures from Governments ; his
brilliant achievements of all kinds. Ah ! we
shall make our little orations about him in the
Common Council, I'll be bound, before we have
time to look about us ! "

" Oh, the difference of shoes and stockings ! "
Trotty thought. But his heart yearned towards
the child, for the love of those same shoeless and
stockingless boys, predestined (by the Alderman)
to turn out bad, who might have been the chil-
dren of poor Meg.

" Richard," moaned Trotty, roaming among



62



THE CHIMES.



the company to and fro ; " where is he? I can't
find Richard ! Where is Richard ? "

Not likely to be there, if still alive ! But
Trotty's grief and solitude confused him ; and
he still went wandering among the gallant com-
pany, looking for his guide, and saying, " Where
is Richard ? Shov/ me Richard ! "

He was wandering thus, when he encountered
Mr. Fish, the confidential Secretary : in great
agitation.

" Bless my heart and soul ! " cried Mr Fish.
^'Where's Alderman Cute? Has anybody seen
the Alderman ? "

Seen the Alderman? Oh dear ! Who could
€ver help seeing the Alderman ? He was so
considerate, so aftable, he bore so much in mind
the natural desire of folks to see him, that, if he
had a fault, it was the being constantly On View.
And wherever the great people were, there, to
be sure, attracted by the kindred sympathy be-
tween great souls, was Cute.

Several voices cried that he was in the circle
round Sir Joseph. Mr. Fish made way there ;
found him ; and took him secretly into a window
near at hand. Trotty joined them. Not of his
own accord. He felt that his steps were led in
that direction.

"My dear Alderman Cute," said Mr. Fish,
" a little more this way. The most dreadful
circumstance has occurred. I have this moment
received the intelligence. I think it will be best
not to acquaint Sir Joseph with it till the day is
over. You understand Sir Joseph, and will
give me your opinion. The most frightful and
deplorable event ! "

" Fish ! " returned the Alderman. " Fish !
My good fellow, what is the matter? Nothing
revolutionary, I hope? No — no attempted in-
terference with the magistrates ? "

" Deedles, the banker," gasped the Secretary.
" Deedles Brothers — who was to have been
here to-day — high in office in the Goldsmiths'
Company "

" Not stopped ! " exclaimed the Alderman.
-" It can't be ! "

" Shot himself."

" Good God ! "

" Put a double-barrelled pistol to his mouth
in his own counting-house," said Mr. Fish, " and
blew his brains out. No motive. Princely
circumstances ! "

" Circumstances ! " exclaimed the Alderman.
" A man of noble fortune. One of the most
respectable of men. Suicide, Mr. Fish ! By
his own hand ! "

" This very morning," returned Mr. Fish.

" Oh, the brain, the brain ! " exclaimed the



pious Alderman, lifting up his hands. " Oh, the
nerves, the nerves ; the mysteries of this machine
called Man ! Oh, the little that unhinges it :
poor creatures that we are ! Perhaps a dinner,
Mr. Fish. Perhaps the conduct of his son, who,
I have heard, ran very wild, and was in the
habit of drawing bills upon him without the
least authority ! A most respectable man. One
of the most respectable men I ever knew ! A
lamentable instance, Mr. Fish. A public
calamity ! I shall make a point of wearing the
deepest mourning. A most respectable man!
But there is One above. We must submit, Mr.
Fish. We must submit !"



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 78 of 103)