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 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 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 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 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.