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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, Toby withdrew to purchase the viands he had spoken of, for ready money, at Mrs. Chickenstalker's; and presently came back, pretending that he had not been able to find them at first, in the dark.'—pp. 68—80.
The events of the day acted so powerfully on the imagination of the ticket-porter as to give a dark colouring to his dreams. He fell from the belfry, and was killed. The ominous and brutal predictions of Alderman Cute sowed suspicion between Meg and Richard, the latter became a confirmed drunkard, the former wore out her existence in squalid poverty, and then attempted to end it by suicide. The beauty of Lilian proved her ruin, and she died repentant yet wretched; whilst her noble-hearted uncle, Will Fern, was reduced through successive steps to poverty, crime, and outlawry. One passage in the imaginative history of the last, we must quote as full of significancy and truth. It speaks of the wrongs of the poor man in a strain from which wisdom may be learnt by statesmen. It was delivered on occasion of a festivity at Bowley Hall, in honour of Lady Bowley's birth-day. Many guests were assembled, and the tenantry of the baronet were admitted to the lower part of the hall.
• 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, and 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! 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 spokesman.'
• 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 a’nt 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 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 onemit goes against him.'
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 any where, a doing any. thing. 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 home too!' "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 we're 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!” ?-pp. 117--124.
What a picture is here unfolded! and who shall say in how many cases the process described is perpetually going on! A vicious system has corrupted public feeling, and rendered us insensible to that which is passing before our eyes. But so it is; and even novelists can detect and expose the wrong done by our social system, whilst moral and religious men are insensible of the enormity, or heedless of its mischievous results.
We must indulge in one more extract. The father looks again upon his child, but, alas, how changed ! The buoyancy of her spirit is gone; her bright eye is shaded, she is poor, half famished, and alone. Lilian has left her, and Richard, —but Mr. Dickens shall describe both.
• 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 griefworn 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 fecble 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 hear him.
· 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 or two from the open door, silently and sorrowfully looked upon him. Trotty had his wish: he saw Richard.
“May I come in, Margaret ?'
• 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 to say.
“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.'
"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 would.'
"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 !'
“ Again !'cried Meg, clasping her hands. Oh, 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 at it!
• He held out in his hand a little purse, and chinked the money it enclosed.
"Hide it,' said 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! Oh, Lilian, my sweet girl! Oh, 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
it.' • Meg checked her sobs, and, with the tears streaming frem 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 be 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