The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In is an 1844 novella by Charles Dickens. It is the second of Dickens' five Christmas Books, the first and best known of which is A Christmas Carol. The novella is divided into four parts which, to maintain the theme of bells from the title, are called "quarters", in reference to the quarter chimes of a striking clock.
The story of The Chimes concerns a working class man who comes to believe that he is worthless and worries that working-class people are wicked by nature. On New Year's Eve, some goblins show him visions of what will become of his loved ones if they are allowed to continue believing that they are worthless and wicked. In common with A Christmas Carol, social commentary forms an important part of the novella and its main character is a man who changes his point of view after a night time encounter with some spirits.
The main character of The Chimes is Toby Veck, known to everyone as Trotty Veck, a man who is more than sixty years old, has worked hard all his life but is still very poor. Trotty Veck earns a meagre living as a porter and messenger, getting his nickname as a result of constantly "trotting" about from place to place.
On New Year's Eve, Trotty Veck is sitting on the steps of a church near to his home, reading a newspaper and waiting for his daughter Meg to bring him his lunch. His newspaper does not make happy reading, being full of stories of crime. The articles that he reads make Trotty wonder if working-class people are wicked by nature.
Trotty's daughter Meg arrives and announces that she is going to marry her long-term sweetheart Richard the following day. Trotty is not happy to hear the news but tries to hide that from his daughter. The local magistrate, named Cute, arrives with some other wealthy men. They ask Trotty and Meg some questions about their lifestyles, making it clear that they consider Veck and his daughter to be objects of curiosity and also, as members of England's underclass, a potential danger to society. Meg is left wondering if it is a good idea for two poor people, such as Richard and herself, to get married at all.
Trotty Veck carries a message from Cute to the Member of Parliament Sir Joseph Bowley. When Trotty arrives, Sir Joseph makes a great show of how he is paying off all of his debts before the start of the New Year. He asks Trotty if he has cleared all of his debts. Trotty is ashamed to admit that he still owes a small amount to his local shop. He leaves with the feeling that he and other poor people are worthless.
On the way home, Trotty meets with a poor countryman named Will Fern and his orphaned niece Lilian. Fern has been accused of being a vagrant and is on his way to Cute's house to plead his case. Trotty warns the man that Cute plans to arrest him. He persuades Fern and the child to stay at his house for the night, where he and Meg share what little food they have with them.
That night, Trotty believes that he can hear the bells of the nearby church calling his name. He goes out and finds the door to the belltower unlocked. Climbing to the top of the belltower, he finds that each bell has its own goblin attendant. The goblins chastise Veck for having lost faith in people's ability to improve. He is told that he is now dead, having fallen down on his way up the belltower. The goblins force Veck to watch a series of visions that show the future lives of Meg, Richard, Will Fern and Lilian, who, after Veck's death, have been left with the impression that they are people of no importance. Being dead, Trotty is not able to intervene and stop his loved ones from making mistakes. Having not been able to marry Meg when he wanted to, Richard becomes an alcoholic. Meg eventually marries him but he dies penniless soon afterwards, leaving her with a baby. Will constantly suffers as a result of petty laws and restrictions and often finds himself in prison. Lilian is forced to turn to prostitution to support herself. Trotty finally sees a vision of Meg about to drown herself and her child. He cries out that he has learned his lesson and pleads with the goblins not to allow his daughter and grandchild to die. Trotty then finds that he can touch Meg and stops her from killing herself.
The visions end and Trotty Veck wakes up at home. He has learned that people are not naturally wicked but fall into wickedness when they have no alternative and when they have no faith in themselves. The story ends with the celebration of Meg and Richard's wedding on New Year's Day.