Background.

The Chimes

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 1 (First Quarter) of The Chimes:

Toby’s nose was very red, and his eyelids were very red, and he winked very much, and his shoulders were very near his ears, and his legs were very stiff, and altogether he was evidently a long way upon the frosty side of cool.

‘Dinner-time, eh!’ repeated Toby, using his right-hand muffler like an infantine boxing-glove, and punishing his chest for being cold. ‘Ah-h-h-h!’

He took a silent trot, after that, for a minute or two.

‘There’s nothing,’ said Toby, breaking forth afresh—but here he stopped short in his trot, and with a face of great interest and some alarm, felt his nose carefully all the way up. It was but a little way (not being much of a nose) and he had soon finished.

‘I thought it was gone,’ said Toby, trotting off again. ‘It’s all right, however. I am sure I couldn’t blame it if it was to go. It has a precious hard service of it in the bitter weather, and precious little to look forward to; for I don’t take snuff myself. It’s a good deal tried, poor creetur, at the best of times; for when it does get hold of a pleasant whiff or so (which an’t too often) it’s generally from somebody else’s dinner, a-coming home from the baker’s.’

The reflection reminded him of that other reflection, which he had left unfinished.

‘There’s nothing,’ said Toby, ‘more regular in its coming round than dinner-time, and nothing less regular in its coming round than dinner. That’s the great difference between ’em. It’s took me a long time to find it out. I wonder whether it would be worth any gentleman’s while, now, to buy that obserwation for the Papers; or the Parliament!’

Toby was only joking, for he gravely shook his head in self-depreciation.

‘Why! Lord!’ said Toby. ‘The Papers is full of obserwations as it is; and so’s the Parliament. Here’s last week’s paper, now;’ taking a very dirty one from his pocket, and holding it from him at arm’s length; ‘full of obserwations! Full of obserwations! I like to know the news as well as any man,’ said Toby, slowly; folding it a little smaller, and putting it in his pocket again: ‘but it almost goes against the grain with me to read a paper now. It frightens me almost. I don’t know what we poor people are coming to. Lord send we may be coming to something better in the New Year nigh upon us!’

‘Why, father, father!’ said a pleasant voice, hard by.

But Toby, not hearing it, continued to trot backwards and forwards: musing as he went, and talking to himself.

‘It seems as if we can’t go right, or do right, or be righted,’ said Toby. ‘I hadn’t much schooling, myself, when I was young; and I can’t make out whether we have any business on the face of the earth, or not. Sometimes I think we must have—a little; and sometimes I think we must be intruding. I get so puzzled sometimes that I am not even able to make up my mind whether there is any good at all in us, or whether we are born bad. We seem to be dreadful things; we seem to give a deal of trouble; we are always being complained of and guarded against. One way or other, we fill the papers. Talk of a New Year!’ said Toby, mournfully. ‘I can bear up as well as another man at most times; better than a good many, for I am as strong as a lion, and all men an’t; but supposing it should really be that we have no right to a New Year—supposing we really are intruding—’

‘Why, father, father!’ said the pleasant voice again.

Toby heard it this time; started; stopped; and shortening his sight, which had been directed a long way off as seeking the enlightenment in the very heart of the approaching year, found himself face to face with his own child, and looking close into her eyes.

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I can’t make out whether we have any business on the face of the earth, or not.
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