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Black are the brooding clouds and troubled the deep waters, when
the Sea of Thought, first heaving from a calm, gives up its Dead.
Monsters uncouth and wild, arise in premature, imperfect
resurrection; the several parts and shapes of different things are
joined and mixed by chance; and when, and how, and by what
wonderful degrees, each separates 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
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 'Haunt and hunt him,'
breathing monotonously through his sleep or swoon, became a voice
exclaiming 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 footsteps 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; looking
down upon him, from the massive iron-girded beams; peeping in upon
him, through the chinks and loopholes in the walls; spreading away
and away from him in enlarging circles, as the water ripples give
way 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 soothing
people in their dreams; he saw them beating them with knotted
whips; he saw them yelling 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 sleeping men but waking
also, active in pursuits irreconcilable 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 ceremony, there a funeral;
in this chamber an election, in that a ball he saw, everywhere,
restless and untiring motion.
Bewildered by the host of shifting and extraordinary 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. Instantaneous change! The whole
swarm fainted! their forms collapsed, their speed deserted them;
they sought to fly, but in the act of falling 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 gambolled 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 perseverance, 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. Shadowy and dark,
although he saw them by some light belonging to themselves--none
else was there--each with its muffled hand upon its goblin mouth.
He could not plunge down wildly through the opening in the floor;
for all power of motion had deserted him. Otherwise he would have
done so--aye, would have thrown himself, headforemost, from the
steeple-top, rather than have seen them watching him with eyes that
would have waked and watched although the pupils had been taken
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 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
unlike 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
'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.
'I am a poor man,' faltered Trotty, 'and could only thank them in
'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
'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 that
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. Who 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 servants,' 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 regrets for such a past--who 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 penitence 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
company; how often you have cheered me up when I've been low; how
you were quite the plaything 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 bespeaking 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
'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 fallen and disfigured 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
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
'The Spirit of the Chimes is your companion,' 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
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 man!' 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
incoherently 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
'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,
'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 expression 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 something reigning there:
a lofty something, undefined 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! Why not smile, when
you look at me, Meg?'
'I do so. Do I not?' she answered: smiling 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 little 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 I make our weary life more weary to
'You have been the only thing that made it life,' said Lilian,
fervently kissing her; 'sometimes 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 her
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 shrivel 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 considered an especial pointing of the finger of
Providence to number One, as Lady Bowley's destined figure in
Creation), it was on a New Year's Day that this festivity took
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 acquaintance 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 celebrated 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 me,' said Alderman Cute, 'of the days of old
King Hal, stout King Hal, bluff King Hal. Ah! Fine character!'
'Very,' said Mr. Filer, dryly. 'For marrying women and murdering
'em. Considerably more than the average number of wives by the
'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 children of poor Meg.
'Richard,' moaned Trotty, roaming among 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 company, looking for his guide, and saying, 'Where is
Richard? Show 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 ever help seeing the
Alderman? He was so considerate, so affable, he bore so much in
mind the natural desires 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
between 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
'Fish!' returned the Alderman. 'Fish! My good fellow, what is the
matter? Nothing revolutionary, I hope! No--no attempted
interference 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'
'Not stopped!' exclaimed the Alderman, 'It can't be!'
'Put a double-barrelled pistol to his mouth, in his own counting
house,' said Mr. Fish, 'and blew his brains out. No motive.
'Circumstances!' exclaimed the Alderman. 'A man of noble fortune.
One of the most respectable of men. Suicide, Mr. Fish! By his own
'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
What, Alderman! No word of Putting Down? Remember, Justice, your
high moral boast and pride. Come, Alderman! Balance those scales.
Throw me into this, the empty one, no dinner, and Nature's founts
in some poor woman, dried by starving misery and rendered obdurate
to claims for which her offspring HAS authority in holy mother Eve.
Weigh me the two, you Daniel, going to judgment, when your day
shall come! Weigh them, in the eyes of suffering thousands,
audience (not unmindful) of the grim farce you play. Or supposing
that you strayed from your five wits--it's not so far to go, but
that it might be--and laid hands upon that throat of yours, warning
your fellows (if you have a fellow) how they croak their
comfortable wickedness to raving heads and stricken hearts. What
The words rose up in Trotty's breast, as if they had been spoken by
some other voice within him. Alderman Cute pledged himself to Mr.
Fish that he would assist him in breaking the melancholy
catastrophe to Sir Joseph when the day was over. Then, before they
parted, wringing Mr. Fish's hand in bitterness of soul, he said,
'The most respectable of men!' And added that he hardly knew (not
even he), why such afflictions were allowed on earth.
'It's almost enough to make one think, if one didn't know better,'
said Alderman Cute, 'that at times some motion of a capsizing
nature was going on in things, which affected the general economy
of the social fabric. Deedles Brothers!'
The skittle-playing came off with immense success. Sir Joseph
knocked the pins about quite skilfully; Master Bowley took an
innings at a shorter distance also; and everybody said that now,
when a Baronet and the Son of a Baronet played at skittles, the
country was coming round again, as fast as it could come.
At its proper time, the Banquet was served up. Trotty
involuntarily repaired to the Hall with the rest, for he felt
himself conducted thither by some stronger impulse than his own
free will. The sight was gay in the extreme; the ladies were very
handsome; the visitors delighted, cheerful, and good-tempered.
When the lower doors were opened, and the people flocked in, in
their rustic dresses, the beauty of the spectacle was at its
height; but Trotty only murmured more and more, 'Where is Richard!
He should help and comfort her! I can't see Richard!'
There had been some speeches made; and Lady Bowley's health had
been proposed; and Sir Joseph Bowley had returned thanks, and had
made his great speech, showing by various pieces of evidence that
he was the born Friend and Father, and so forth; and had given as a
Toast, his Friends and Children, and the Dignity of Labour; when a
slight disturbance at the bottom of the Hall attracted Toby's
notice. After some confusion, noise, and opposition, one man broke
through the rest, and stood forward by himself.
Not Richard. No. But one whom he had thought of, and had looked
for, many times. In a scantier supply of light, he might have
doubted the identity of that worn man, so old, and grey, and bent;
but with a blaze of lamps upon his gnarled and knotted head, he
knew Will Fern as soon as he stepped forth.
'What is this!' exclaimed Sir Joseph, rising. 'Who gave this man
admittance? This is a criminal from prison! Mr. Fish, sir, WILL
you have the goodness--'
'A minute!' said Will Fern. 'A minute! My Lady, you was born on
this day along with a New Year. Get me a minute's leave to speak.'
She made some intercession for him. Sir Joseph took his seat
again, with native dignity.
The ragged visitor--for he was miserably dressed--looked round upon
the company, and made his homage to them with a humble bow.
'Gentlefolks!' he said. 'You've drunk the Labourer. Look at me!'
'Just come from jail,' said Mr. Fish.
'Just come from jail,' said Will. 'And neither for the first time,
nor the second, nor the third, nor yet the fourth.'
Mr. Filer was heard to remark testily, that four times was over the
average; and he ought to be ashamed of himself.
'Gentlefolks!' repeated Will Fern. 'Look at me! You see I'm at
the worst. Beyond all hurt or harm; beyond your help; for the time
when your kind words or kind actions could have done me good,'--he
struck his hand upon his breast, and shook his head, 'is gone, with
the scent of last year's beans or clover on the air. Let me say a
word for these,' pointing to the labouring people in the Hall; 'and
when you're met together, hear the real Truth spoke out for once.'
'There's not a man here,' said the host, 'who would have him for a
'Like enough, Sir Joseph. I believe it. Not the less true,
perhaps, is what I say. Perhaps that's a proof on it.
Gentlefolks, I've lived many a year in this place. You may see the
cottage from the sunk fence over yonder. I've seen the ladies draw
it in their books, a hundred times. It looks well in a picter,
I've heerd say; but there an't weather in picters, and maybe 'tis
fitter for that, than for a place to live in. Well! I lived
there. How hard--how bitter hard, I lived there, I won't say. Any
day in the year, and every day, you can judge for your own selves.'
He spoke as he had spoken on the night when Trotty found him in the
street. His voice was deeper and more husky, and had a trembling
in it now and then; but he never raised it passionately, and seldom
lifted it above the firm stern level of the homely facts he stated.
''Tis harder than you think for, gentlefolks, to grow up decent,
commonly decent, in such a place. That I growed up a man and not a
brute, says something for me--as I was then. As I am now, there's
nothing can be said for me or done for me. I'm past it.'
'I am glad this man has entered,' observed Sir Joseph, looking
round serenely. 'Don't disturb him. It appears to be Ordained.
He is an example: a living example. I hope and trust, and
confidently expect, that it will not be lost upon my Friends here.'
'I dragged on,' said Fern, after a moment's silence, 'somehow.
Neither me nor any other man knows how; but so heavy, that I
couldn't put a cheerful face upon it, or make believe that I was
anything but what I was. Now, gentlemen--you gentlemen that sits
at Sessions--when you see a man with discontent writ on his face,
you says to one another, "He's suspicious. I has my doubts," says
you, "about Will Fern. Watch that fellow!" I don't say,
gentlemen, it ain't quite nat'ral, but I say 'tis so; and from that
hour, whatever Will Fern does, or lets alone--all one--it goes
Alderman Cute stuck his thumbs in his waistcoat-pockets, and
leaning back in his chair, and smiling, winked at a neighbouring
chandelier. As much as to say, 'Of course! I told you so. The
common cry! Lord bless you, we are up to all this sort of thing--
myself and human nature.'
'Now, gentlemen,' said Will Fern, holding out his hands, and
flushing for an instant in his haggard face, 'see how your laws are
made to trap and hunt us when we're brought to this. I tries to
live elsewhere. And I'm a vagabond. To jail with him! I comes
back here. I goes a-nutting in your woods, and breaks--who don't?-
-a limber branch or two. To jail with him! One of your keepers
sees me in the broad day, near my own patch of garden, with a gun.
To jail with him! I has a nat'ral angry word with that man, when
I'm free again. To jail with him! I cuts a stick. To jail with
him! I eats a rotten apple or a turnip. To jail with him! It's
twenty mile away; and coming back I begs a trifle on the road. To
jail with him! At last, the constable, the keeper--anybody--finds
me anywhere, a-doing anything. To jail with him, for he's a
vagrant, and a jail-bird known; and jail's the only home he's got.'
The Alderman nodded sagaciously, as who should say, 'A very good
'Do I say this to serve MY cause!' cried Fern. 'Who can give me
back my liberty, who can give me back my good name, who can give me
back my innocent niece? Not all the Lords and Ladies in wide
England. But, gentlemen, gentlemen, dealing with other men like
me, begin at the right end. Give us, in mercy, better homes when
we're a-lying in our cradles; give us better food when we're a-
working for our lives; give us kinder laws to bring us back when
were a-going wrong; and don't set jail, jail, jail, afore us,
everywhere we turn. There an't a condescension you can show the
Labourer then, that he won't take, as ready and as grateful as a
man can be; for, he has a patient, peaceful, willing heart. But
you must put his rightful spirit in him first; for, whether he's a
wreck and ruin such as me, or is like one of them that stand here
now, his spirit is divided from you at this time. Bring it back,
gentlefolks, bring it back! Bring it back, afore the day comes
when even his Bible changes in his altered mind, and the words seem
to him to read, as they have sometimes read in my own eyes--in
jail: "Whither thou goest, I can Not go; where thou lodgest, I do
Not lodge; thy people are Not my people; Nor thy God my God!'
A sudden stir and agitation took place in Hall. Trotty thought at
first, that several had risen to eject the man; and hence this
change in its appearance. But, another moment showed him that the
room and all the company had vanished from his sight, and that his
daughter was again before him, seated at her work. But in a
poorer, meaner garret than before; and with no Lilian by her side.
The frame at which she had worked, was put away upon a shelf and
covered up. The chair in which she had sat, was turned against the
wall. A history was written in these little things, and in Meg's
grief-worn face. Oh! who could fail to read it!
Meg strained her eyes upon her work until it was too dark to see
the threads; and when the night closed in, she lighted her feeble
candle and worked on. Still her old father was invisible about
her; looking down upon her; loving her--how dearly loving her!--and
talking to her in a tender voice about the old times, and the
Bells. Though he knew, poor Trotty, though he knew she could not
A great part of the evening had worn away, when a knock came at her
door. She opened it. A man was on the threshold. A slouching,
moody, drunken sloven, wasted by intemperance and vice, and with
his matted hair and unshorn beard in wild disorder; but, with some
traces on him, too, of having been a man of good proportion and
good features in his youth.
He stopped until he had her leave to enter; and she, retiring a
pace of two from the open door, silently and sorrowfully looked
upon him. Trotty had his wish. He saw Richard.
'May I come in, Margaret?'
'Yes! Come in. Come in!'
It was well that Trotty knew him before he spoke; for with any
doubt remaining on his mind, the harsh discordant voice would have
persuaded him that it was not Richard but some other man.
There were but two chairs in the room. She gave him hers, and
stood at some short distance from him, waiting to hear what he had
He sat, however, staring vacantly at the floor; with a lustreless
and stupid smile. A spectacle of such deep degradation, of such
abject hopelessness, of such a miserable downfall, that she put her
hands before her face and turned away, lest he should see how much
it moved her.
Roused by the rustling of her dress, or some such trifling sound,
he lifted his head, and began to speak as if there had been no
pause since he entered.
'Still at work, Margaret? You work late.'
'I generally do.'
'So she said. She said you never tired; or never owned that you
tired. Not all the time you lived together. Not even when you
fainted, between work and fasting. But I told you that, the last
time I came.'
'You did,' she answered. 'And I implored you to tell me nothing
more; and you made me a solemn promise, Richard, that you never
'A solemn promise,' he repeated, with a drivelling laugh and vacant
stare. 'A solemn promise. To be sure. A solemn promise!'
Awakening, as it were, after a time; in the same manner as before;
he said with sudden animation:
'How can I help it, Margaret? What am I to do? She has been to me
'Again!' cried Meg, clasping her hands. 'O, does she think of me
so often! Has she been again!'
'Twenty times again,' said Richard. 'Margaret, she haunts me. She
comes behind me in the street, and thrusts it in my hand. I hear
her foot upon the ashes when I'm at my work (ha, ha! that an't
often), and before I can turn my head, her voice is in my ear,
saying, "Richard, don't look round. For Heaven's love, give her
this!" She brings it where I live: she sends it in letters; she
taps at the window and lays it on the sill. What CAN I do? Look
He held out in his hand a little purse, and chinked the money it
'Hide it,' sad Meg. 'Hide it! When she comes again, tell her,
Richard, that I love her in my soul. That I never lie down to
sleep, but I bless her, and pray for her. That, in my solitary
work, I never cease to have her in my thoughts. That she is with
me, night and day. That if I died to-morrow, I would remember her
with my last breath. But, that I cannot look upon it!'
He slowly recalled his hand, and crushing the purse together, said
with a kind of drowsy thoughtfulness:
'I told her so. I told her so, as plain as words could speak.
I've taken this gift back and left it at her door, a dozen times
since then. But when she came at last, and stood before me, face
to face, what could I do?'
'You saw her!' exclaimed Meg. 'You saw her! O, Lilian, my sweet
girl! O, Lilian, Lilian!'
'I saw her,' he went on to say, not answering, but engaged in the
same slow pursuit of his own thoughts. 'There she stood:
trembling! "How does she look, Richard? Does she ever speak of
me? Is she thinner? My old place at the table: what's in my old
place? And the frame she taught me our old work on--has she burnt
it, Richard!" There she was. I heard her say it.'
Meg checked her sobs, and with the tears streaming from her eyes,
bent over him to listen. Not to lose a breath.
With his arms resting on his knees; and stooping forward in his
chair, as if what he said were written on the ground in some half
legible character, which it was his occupation to decipher and
connect; he went on.
'"Richard, I have fallen very low; and you may guess how much I
have suffered in having this sent back, when I can bear to bring it
in my hand to you. But you loved her once, even in my memory,
dearly. Others stepped in between you; fears, and jealousies, and
doubts, and vanities, estranged you from her; but you did love her,
even in my memory!" I suppose I did,' he said, interrupting
himself for a moment. 'I did! That's neither here nor there--"O
Richard, if you ever did; if you have any memory for what is gone
and lost, take it to her once more. Once more! Tell her how I
laid my head upon your shoulder, where her own head might have
lain, and was so humble to you, Richard. Tell her that you looked
into my face, and saw the beauty which she used to praise, all
gone: all gone: and in its place, a poor, wan, hollow cheek, that
she would weep to see. Tell her everything, and take it back, and
she will not refuse again. She will not have the heart!"'
So he sat musing, and repeating the last words, until he woke
again, and rose.
'You won't take it, Margaret?'
She shook her head, and motioned an entreaty to him to leave her.
'Good night, Margaret.'
He turned to look upon her; struck by her sorrow, and perhaps by
the pity for himself which trembled in her voice. It was a quick
and rapid action; and for the moment some flash of his old bearing
kindled in his form. In the next he went as he had come. Nor did
this glimmer of a quenched fire seem to light him to a quicker
sense of his debasement.
In any mood, in any grief, in any torture of the mind or body,
Meg's work must be done. She sat down to her task, and plied it.
Night, midnight. Still she worked.
She had a meagre fire, the night being very cold; and rose at
intervals to mend it. The Chimes rang half-past twelve while she
was thus engaged; and when they ceased she heard a gentle knocking
at the door. Before she could so much as wonder who was there, at
that unusual hour, it opened.
O Youth and Beauty, happy as ye should be, look at this. O Youth
and Beauty, blest and blessing all within your reach, and working
out the ends of your Beneficent Creator, look at this!
She saw the entering figure; screamed its name; cried 'Lilian!'
It was swift, and fell upon its knees before her: clinging to her
'Up, dear! Up! Lilian! My own dearest!'
'Never more, Meg; never more! Here! Here! Close to you, holding
to you, feeling your dear breath upon my face!'
'Sweet Lilian! Darling Lilian! Child of my heart--no mother's
love can be more tender--lay your head upon my breast!'
'Never more, Meg. Never more! When I first looked into your face,
you knelt before me. On my knees before you, let me die. Let it
'You have come back. My Treasure! We will live together, work
together, hope together, die together!'
'Ah! Kiss my lips, Meg; fold your arms about me; press me to your
bosom; look kindly on me; but don't raise me. Let it be here. Let
me see the last of your dear face upon my knees!'
O Youth and Beauty, happy as ye should be, look at this! O Youth
and Beauty, working out the ends of your Beneficent Creator, look
'Forgive me, Meg! So dear, so dear! Forgive me! I know you do, I
see you do, but say so, Meg!'
She said so, with her lips on Lilian's cheek. And with her arms
twined round--she knew it now--a broken heart.
'His blessing on you, dearest love. Kiss me once more! He
suffered her to sit beside His feet, and dry them with her hair. O
Meg, what Mercy and Compassion!'
As she died, the Spirit of the child returning, innocent and
radiant, touched the old man with its hand, and beckoned him away.