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They were Old Chimes – Trust me. Not speechless though – far from it. They had clear, loud, lusty sounding voices, had these Bells and far and wide they might be heard upon the wind. They would pour their cheerful notes into a listening ear royally, and bent on being heard; on stormy nights, by some poor mother watching a sick child, or some lone wife whose husband was at sea. Falling out into the road to look up at the belfry when the Chimes sounded, Toby stood still, for they were company to him.
Toby found himself face to face with his own child and looking close into her eyes. Bright eyes they were. Eyes that would bear a world of looking in, before their depths were fathomed. Dark eyes, that reflected back the eyes which searched them, not flashingly, but with a clear, calm, honest patient radiance, claiming kindred with the Light which Heaven called into being. Eyes that were beautiful and true, and beaming with Hope. With Hope so young and fresh; with Hope so buoyant, vigorous and bright.
As he was stooping to sit down, the Chimes rang. “Amen to the Bells, Father? Cried Meg. “They broke in like a grace, my dear. Many’s a kind thing they say to me”, said Toby.
“Richard says we are young now and years will make us old before we know it. And how hard father, to grow old and die, and think we might have cheered and helped each other. How hard in all our lives to love each other, and to grieve, apart, to see each other grow old and grey”, cried Meg! “As I’ve loved him a full three years, will I marry him on New Year’s Day, the best and happiest day, he says in the whole year, and one that almost sure to bring good fortune.”
“That’ll do,” said the gentleman, “Come here”. Two other gentlemen came out with him. “Your daughter eh?” said the Alderman. “What do you mean, married?” “They have no right or business to be married – they have no right or business to be born.” “There’s not the least mystery in dealing with this sort of people if you only understand ‘em.” said the Alderman. Meg turned a deadly white and dropped her lover’s hand.
“Born bad, no business here, wrong every way,” thought Toby. The Chimes came clashing in upon him, full, loud and sounding, but with no encouragement. ”The tune’s changed”, cried the old man. “There’s not a word of fancy in it.” ‘I have no business with the New Year, nor with the old one neither.”
The Year was Old that day. The patient Year had lived through the reproaches and misuses of its slanders, and faithfully performed its work. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. It had labored through its destined round, and now laid its weary head to die. The New Year, like an Infant Heir, to the whole world, was waited for. Books and toys, glittering trinkets for the New Year, schemes for fortunes, new inventions. The Old Year was already looked at as dead, its treasures mere dirt, and Toby didn’t even look up at the Chimes.
“I hope I hadn’t hurt you”, said Toby, to the man he ran into. Toby gazed at the man in the forlorn shoes carrying the small child. “Don’t go! “I’m a poor man, living in a poor place, but I can give you lodging for one night”, cried Toby. “Stay! The New Year can never be happy to me if I see the child and you wander away, without shelter for your heads.” “Come to the fire. Meg, where’s the kettle? Poor little feet, how cold they are. I’m sure there’s an ounce of tea and a bit of bacon somewhere!” The child burst into a sob and hugged Meg’s neck.
“You’re tired to death and broken down for want of rest. You come with me” said Toby to the man. “It’s not much of a place, only a loft with plenty of sweet hay. Cheer up – don’t give way! A new heart for a New Year – always!”
The child was murmuring a simple Prayer before lying down to sleep, and she remembered Meg’s name, “Dearly, dearly…. Toby heard her stop and ask for his. It was some time before the foolish old fellow could compose himself to mend the fire…
“Who hears us echo the dull vermin of the earth; the Putters Down of crushed and broken natures”, pursued the Goblin of the Bell, “who does so, does us wrong! Who turns his back on the fallen and disfigured of his kind, abandons them as vile, 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 to time and to eternity.” “Spare me, cried Toby, for Mercy’s sake!”
If it be so, O listener dear to him in all his visions, try to bear in mind the stern realities from which these shadows come; and in your sphere, endeavor to correct, improve and soften them. So may the New Year be a happy one to you, happy to many more whose happiness depends on you! So may each year be happier than the last!
Segments taken from The Chimes by Charles Dickens, 1853