Editor’s Note: For the next three Saturdays, through Christmas Eve, we will be presenting the classic story, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s a story most are familiar with, but few have actually read. It’s an excellent tale, and a great chance to spend some time with your children, as you retell tell this classic to them. The first four weeks will be longer, which may take a few readings to get your little ones through, but Christmas Eve will be a short and easy read, perfect for ending the day and settling the youngsters down on the most exciting night of the year.

For the previous installments click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2

 

 

ghostofchristmaspresent

STAVE III
THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS
AWAKING in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up
in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrooge had no occasion to be told
that the bell was again upon the stroke of One. He felt that he was
restored to consciousness in the right nick of time, for the especial
purpose of holding a conference with the second messenger
despatched to him through Jacob Marley’s intervention. But, finding
that he turned uncomfortably cold when he began to wonder which of
his curtains this new spectre would draw back, he put them every one
aside with his own hands, and lying down again, established a sharp
look-out all round the bed. For, he wished to challenge the Spirit on
the moment of its appearance, and did not wish to be taken by
surprise, and made nervous.
Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves on
being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually equal to the
time-of-day, express the wide range of their capacity for adventure by
observing that they are good for anything from pitch-and-toss to
manslaughter; between which opposite extremes, no doubt, there lies
a tolerably wide and comprehensive range of subjects. Without
venturing for Scrooge quite as hardily as this, I don’t mind calling on
you to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of strange
appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoceros would
have astonished him very much.
Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not by any
means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck
One, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of
trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by,
yet nothing came. All this time, he lay upon his bed, the very core and
centre of a blaze of ruddy light, which streamed upon it when the
clock proclaimed the hour; and which, being only light, was more
alarming than a dozen ghosts, as he was powerless to make out what
it meant, or would be at; and was sometimes apprehensive that he
might be at that very moment an interesting case of spontaneous
combustion, without having the consolation of knowing it. At last,
however, he began to think—as you or I would have thought at first;
for it is always the person not in the predicament who knows what
ought to have been done in it, and would unquestionably have done it
too—at last, I say, he began to think that the source and secret of this
ghostly light might be in the adjoining room, from whence, on further
tracing it, it seemed to shine. This idea taking full possession of his
mind, he got up softly and shuffled in his slippers to the door.
The moment Scrooge’s hand was on the lock, a strange voice
called him by his name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.
It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had
undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so
hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part
of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly,
mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors
had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the
chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in
Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season
gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys,
geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long
wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters,
red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious
pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that
made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon
this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing
torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to
shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in! and know me better, man!”

Scrooge’s Third Visitor
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He
was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyes
were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me!”
Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple green
robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so
loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as if
disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. Its feet,
observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare;
and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here
and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and
free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery
voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round
its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the
ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.
“You have never seen the like of me before!” exclaimed the Spirit.
“Never,” Scrooge made answer to it.
“Have never walked forth with the younger members of my
family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in
these later years?” pursued the Phantom.
“I don’t think I have,” said Scrooge. “I am afraid I have not.
Have you had many brothers, Spirit?”
“More than eighteen hundred,” said the Ghost.
“A tremendous family to provide for!” muttered Scrooge.
The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you
will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which
is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”
“Touch my robe!”
Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.
Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry,
brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch,
all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the ruddy glow, the
hour of night, and they stood in the city streets on Christmas morning,
where (for the weather was severe) the people made a rough, but brisk
and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the
pavement in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of their
houses, whence it was mad delight to the boys to see it come
plumping down into the road below, and splitting into artificial little
snow-storms.
The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker,
contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and
with the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit had been
ploughed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts and
waggons; furrows that crossed and re-crossed each other hundreds of
times where the great streets branched off; and made intricate
channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icy water. The sky
was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy
mist, half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in a
shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great Britain had, by
one consent, caught fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts’
content. There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town,
and yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest
summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavoured to
diffuse in vain.
For, the people who were shovelling away on the housetops were
jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets,
and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball—better-natured
missile far than many a wordy jest—laughing heartily if it went right
and not less heartily if it went wrong. The poulterers’ shops were still
half open, and the fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory. There were
great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the
waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling
out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy,
brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of
their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in
wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at
the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in
blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the
shopkeepers’ benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that
people’s mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of
filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks
among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through
withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squat and swarthy,
setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great
compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and
beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.
The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a
bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared
to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went
gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless
excitement.
The Grocers’! oh, the Grocers’! nearly closed, with perhaps two
shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses! It was
not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry
sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that
the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even
that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose,
or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so
extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other
spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with
molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and
subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or
that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highlydecorated
boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its
Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in
the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each
other at the door, crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their
purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and
committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible;
while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the
polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might
have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for
Christmas daws to peck at if they chose.
But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and
chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best
clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there
emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings,
innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops. The
sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much,
for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker’s doorway, and
taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on
their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of
torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some
dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of
water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly.
For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so
it was! God love it, so it was!
In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and yet
there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the
progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each
baker’s oven; where the pavement smoked as if its stones were
cooking too.
“Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your
torch?” asked Scrooge.
“There is. My own.”
“Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?” asked Scrooge.
“To any kindly given. To a poor one most.”
“Why to a poor one most?” asked Scrooge.
“Because it needs it most.”
“Spirit,” said Scrooge, after a moment’s thought, “I wonder you,
of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to cramp
these people’s opportunities of innocent enjoyment.”
“I!” cried the Spirit.
“You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh
day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all,” said
Scrooge. “Wouldn’t you?”
“I!” cried the Spirit.
“You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day?” said
Scrooge. “And it comes to the same thing.”
“I seek!” exclaimed the Spirit.
“Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at
least in that of your family,” said Scrooge.
“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit,
“who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride,
ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as
strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived.
Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”
Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on, invisible, as
they had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was a
remarkable quality of the Ghost (which Scrooge had observed at the
baker’s), that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could
accommodate himself to any place with ease; and that he stood
beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a supernatural creature,
as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall.
And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing
off this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous, hearty
nature, and his sympathy with all poor men, that led him straight to
Scrooge’s clerk’s; for there he went, and took Scrooge with him,
holding to his robe; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled,
and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit’s dwelling with the sprinkling of
his torch. Think of that! Bob had but fifteen “Bob” a-week himself; he
pocketed on Saturdays but fifteen copies of his Christian name; and
yet the Ghost of Christmas Present blessed his four-roomed house!
Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out but
poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap
and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted
by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons;
while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of
potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob’s
private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the
day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and
yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now two
smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that
outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their
own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these
young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter
Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly
choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up,
knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.
“What has ever got your precious father then?” said Mrs.
Cratchit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn’t as late last
Christmas Day by half-an-hour?”
“Here’s Martha, mother!” said a girl, appearing as she spoke.
“Here’s Martha, mother!” cried the two young Cratchits.
“Hurrah! There’s such a goose, Martha!”
“Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!” said
Mrs. Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times, and taking off her shawl and
bonnet for her with officious zeal.
“We’d a deal of work to finish up last night,” replied the girl,
“and had to clear away this morning, mother!”
“Well! Never mind so long as you are come,” said Mrs. Cratchit.
“Sit ye down before the fire, my dear, and have a warm, Lord bless ye!”
“No, no! There’s father coming,” cried the two young Cratchits,
who were everywhere at once. “Hide, Martha, hide!”
So Martha hid herself, and in came little Bob, the father, with at
least three feet of comforter exclusive of the fringe, hanging down
before him; and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed, to look
seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he
bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!
“Why, where’s our Martha?” cried Bob Cratchit, looking round.
“Not coming,” said Mrs. Cratchit.
“Not coming!” said Bob, with a sudden declension in his high
spirits; for he had been Tim’s blood horse all the way from church,
and had come home rampant. “Not coming upon Christmas Day!”
Martha didn’t like to see him disappointed, if it were only in
joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and
ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim,
and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she
had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets
thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things
you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people
saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be
pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame
beggars walk, and blind men see.”
Bob’s voice was tremulous when he told them this, and trembled
more when he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty.
His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came
Tiny Tim before another word was spoken, escorted by his brother
and sister to his stool before the fire; and while Bob, turning up his
cuffs—as if, poor fellow, they were capable of being made more
shabby—compounded some hot mixture in a jug with gin and lemons,
and stirred it round and round and put it on the hob to simmer; Master
Peter, and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the goose,
with which they soon returned in high procession.
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the
rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan
was a matter of course—and in truth it was something very like it in
that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little
saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with
incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce;
Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny
corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody,
not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts,
crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose
before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and
grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs.
Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to
plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected
gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round
the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits,
beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there
ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and
cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by
apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the
whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight
(surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it
all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits
in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But
now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the
room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up
and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break
in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of
the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose—a
supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts
of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper.
A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an
eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a
laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute
Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly—with the
pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half
of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that
he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since
their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her
mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of
flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or
thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have
been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth
swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted,
and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table,
and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family
drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning
half a one; and at Bob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of
glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden
goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks,
while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:
“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”
Which all the family re-echoed.
“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
He sat very close to his father’s side upon his little stool. Bob
held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and
wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before,
“tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”
“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimneycorner,
and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these
shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”
“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared.”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of
my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he be
like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the
Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant,
forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus
is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men
shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more
worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.
Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much
life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”
Scrooge bent before the Ghost’s rebuke, and trembling cast his
eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on hearing his
own name.
“Mr. Scrooge!” said Bob; “I’ll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!”
“The Founder of the Feast indeed!” cried Mrs. Cratchit,
reddening. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind to
feast upon, and I hope he’d have a good appetite for it.”
“My dear,” said Bob, “the children! Christmas Day.”
“It should be Christmas Day, I am sure,” said she, “on which one
drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as
Mr. Scrooge. You know he is, Robert! Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!”
“My dear,” was Bob’s mild answer, “Christmas Day.”
“I’ll drink his health for your sake and the Day’s,” said Mrs.
Cratchit, “not for his. Long life to him! A merry Christmas and a
happy new year! He’ll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!”
The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of their
proceedings which had no heartiness. Tiny Tim drank it last of all, but
he didn’t care twopence for it. Scrooge was the Ogre of the family.
The mention of his name cast a dark shadow on the party, which was
not dispelled for full five minutes.
After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than
before, from the mere relief of Scrooge the Baleful being done with.
Bob Cratchit told them how he had a situation in his eye for Master
Peter, which would bring in, if obtained, full five-and-sixpence
weekly. The two young Cratchits laughed tremendously at the idea of
Peter’s being a man of business; and Peter himself looked
thoughtfully at the fire from between his collars, as if he were
deliberating what particular investments he should favour when he
came into the receipt of that bewildering income. Martha, who was a
poor apprentice at a milliner’s, then told them what kind of work she
had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch, and how she
meant to lie abed to-morrow morning for a good long rest; to-morrow
being a holiday she passed at home. Also how she had seen a countess
and a lord some days before, and how the lord “was much about as
tall as Peter;” at which Peter pulled up his collars so high that you
couldn’t have seen his head if you had been there. All this time the
chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and by-and-bye they had
a song, about a lost child travelling in the snow, from Tiny Tim, who
had a plaintive little voice, and sang it very well indeed.
There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a
handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far
from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might
have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But,
they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented
with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet in the
bright sprinklings of the Spirit’s torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye
upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.
By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and
as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the
roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was
wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a
cosy dinner, with hot plates baking through and through before the
fire, and deep red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and
darkness. There all the children of the house were running out into the
snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts,
and be the first to greet them. Here, again, were shadows on the
window-blind of guests assembling; and there a group of handsome
girls, all hooded and fur-booted, and all chattering at once, tripped
lightly off to some near neighbour’s house; where, woe upon the
single man who saw them enter—artful witches, well they knew it—
in a glow!
But, if you had judged from the numbers of people on their way
to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was at
home to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every
house expecting company, and piling up its fires half-chimney high.
Blessings on it, how the Ghost exulted! How it bared its breadth of
breast, and opened its capacious palm, and floated on, outpouring,
with a generous hand, its bright and harmless mirth on everything
within its reach! The very lamplighter, who ran on before, dotting the
dusky street with specks of light, and who was dressed to spend the
evening somewhere, laughed out loudly as the Spirit passed, though
little kenned the lamplighter that he had any company but Christmas!
And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood
upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone
were cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants; and
water spread itself wheresoever it listed, or would have done so, but
for the frost that held it prisoner; and nothing grew but moss and
furze, and coarse rank grass. Down in the west the setting sun had left
a streak of fiery red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant,
like a sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in the
thick gloom of darkest night.
“What place is this?” asked Scrooge.
“A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the
earth,” returned the Spirit. “But they know me. See!”
A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they
advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they
found a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old,
old man and woman, with their children and their children’s children,
and another generation beyond that, all decked out gaily in their
holiday attire. The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the
howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a
Christmas song—it had been a very old song when he was a boy—
and from time to time they all joined in the chorus. So surely as they
raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so
surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.
The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Scrooge hold his robe, and
passing on above the moor, sped—whither? Not to sea? To sea. To
Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful
range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were deafened by the
thundering of water, as it rolled and roared, and raged among the
dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.
Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from
shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through,
there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its
base, and storm-birds—born of the wind one might suppose, as seaweed
of the water—rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.
But even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire,
that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray of
brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over the rough
table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas in
their can of grog; and one of them: the elder, too, with his face all
damaged and scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old
ship might be: struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in itself.
Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea—on,
on—until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they
lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the
look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly
figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a
Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath
to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward
hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping,
good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on
any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities;
and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known
that they delighted to remember him.
It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening to the moaning
of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it was to move on
through the lonely darkness over an unknown abyss, whose depths
were secrets as profound as Death: it was a great surprise to Scrooge,
while thus engaged, to hear a hearty laugh. It was a much greater
surprise to Scrooge to recognise it as his own nephew’s and to find
himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing
smiling by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving
affability!
“Ha, ha!” laughed Scrooge’s nephew. “Ha, ha, ha!”
If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man
more blest in a laugh than Scrooge’s nephew, all I can say is, I should
like to know him too. Introduce him to me, and I’ll cultivate his
acquaintance.
It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while
there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world
so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour. When
Scrooge’s nephew laughed in this way: holding his sides, rolling his
head, and twisting his face into the most extravagant contortions:
Scrooge’s niece, by marriage, laughed as heartily as he. And their
assembled friends being not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.
“Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”
“He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live!” cried
Scrooge’s nephew. “He believed it too!”
“More shame for him, Fred!” said Scrooge’s niece, indignantly.
Bless those women; they never do anything by halves. They are always in earnest.
She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled,
surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made
to be kissed—as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about
her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the
sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature’s head.
Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you
know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectly satisfactory.
“He’s a comical old fellow,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that’s the
truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However, his offences carry
their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him.”
“I’m sure he is very rich, Fred,” hinted Scrooge’s niece. “At least you always tell me so.”
“What of that, my dear!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “His wealth is
of no use to him. He don’t do any good with it. He don’t make
himself comfortable with it. He hasn’t the satisfaction of thinking—
ha, ha, ha!—that he is ever going to benefit US with it.”
“I have no patience with him,” observed Scrooge’s niece.
Scrooge’s niece’s sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed the same opinion.
“Oh, I have!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “I am sorry for him; I
couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims!
Himself, always. Here, he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he
won’t come and dine with us. What’s the consequence? He don’t lose much of a dinner.”
“Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner,” interrupted
Scrooge’s niece. Everybody else said the same, and they must be
allowed to have been competent judges, because they had just had
dinner; and, with the dessert upon the table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.
“Well! I’m very glad to hear it,” said Scrooge’s nephew,
“because I haven’t great faith in these young housekeepers. What do you say, Topper?”
Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge’s niece’s
sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast, who
had no right to express an opinion on the subject. Whereat Scrooge’s
niece’s sister—the plump one with the lace tucker: not the one with the roses—blushed.
“Do go on, Fred,” said Scrooge’s niece, clapping her hands. “He
never finishes what he begins to say! He is such a ridiculous fellow!”
Scrooge’s nephew revelled in another laugh, and as it was
impossible to keep the infection off; though the plump sister tried
hard to do it with aromatic vinegar; his example was unanimously followed.
“I was only going to say,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that the
consequence of his taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with
us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments, which could do
him no harm. I am sure he loses pleasanter companions than he can
find in his own thoughts, either in his mouldy old office, or his dusty
chambers. I mean to give him the same chance every year, whether he
likes it or not, for I pity him. He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but
he can’t help thinking better of it—I defy him—if he finds me going
there, in good temper, year after year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how
are you? If it only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty
pounds, that’s something; and I think I shook him yesterday.”
It was their turn to laugh now at the notion of his shaking
Scrooge. But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much caring
what they laughed at, so that they laughed at any rate, he encouraged
them in their merriment, and passed the bottle joyously.
After tea, they had some music. For they were a musical family,
and knew what they were about, when they sung a Glee or Catch, I
can assure you: especially Topper, who could growl away in the bass
like a good one, and never swell the large veins in his forehead, or get
red in the face over it. Scrooge’s niece played well upon the harp; and
played among other tunes a simple little air (a mere nothing: you
might learn to whistle it in two minutes), which had been familiar to
the child who fetched Scrooge from the boarding-school, as he had
been reminded by the Ghost of Christmas Past. When this strain of
music sounded, all the things that Ghost had shown him, came upon
his mind; he softened more and more; and thought that if he could
have listened to it often, years ago, he might have cultivated the
kindnesses of life for his own happiness with his own hands, without
resorting to the sexton’s spade that buried Jacob Marley.
But they didn’t devote the whole evening to music. After a while
they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children sometimes, and
never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child
himself. Stop! There was first a game at blind-man’s buff. Of course
there was. And I no more believe Topper was really blind than I
believe he had eyes in his boots. My opinion is, that it was a done
thing between him and Scrooge’s nephew; and that the Ghost of
Christmas Present knew it. The way he went after that plump sister in
the lace tucker, was an outrage on the credulity of human nature.
Knocking down the fire-irons, tumbling over the chairs, bumping
against the piano, smothering himself among the curtains, wherever
she went, there went he! He always knew where the plump sister was.
He wouldn’t catch anybody else. If you had fallen up against him (as
some of them did), on purpose, he would have made a feint of
endeavouring to seize you, which would have been an affront to your
understanding, and would instantly have sidled off in the direction of
the plump sister. She often cried out that it wasn’t fair; and it really
was not. But when at last, he caught her; when, in spite of all her
silken rustlings, and her rapid flutterings past him, he got her into a
corner whence there was no escape; then his conduct was the most
execrable. For his pretending not to know her; his pretending that it
was necessary to touch her head-dress, and further to assure himself
of her identity by pressing a certain ring upon her finger, and a certain
chain about her neck; was vile, monstrous! No doubt she told him her
opinion of it, when, another blind-man being in office, they were so
very confidential together, behind the curtains.
Scrooge’s niece was not one of the blind-man’s buff party, but
was made comfortable with a large chair and a footstool, in a snug
corner, where the Ghost and Scrooge were close behind her. But she
joined in the forfeits, and loved her love to admiration with all the
letters of the alphabet. Likewise at the game of How, When, and
Where, she was very great, and to the secret joy of Scrooge’s nephew,
beat her sisters hollow: though they were sharp girls too, as Topper
could have told you. There might have been twenty people there,
young and old, but they all played, and so did Scrooge; for wholly
forgetting in the interest he had in what was going on, that his voice
made no sound in their ears, he sometimes came out with his guess
quite loud, and very often guessed quite right, too; for the sharpest
needle, best Whitechapel, warranted not to cut in the eye, was not
sharper than Scrooge; blunt as he took it in his head to be.
The Ghost was greatly pleased to find him in this mood, and
looked upon him with such favour, that he begged like a boy to be
allowed to stay until the guests departed. But this the Spirit said could not be done.
“Here is a new game,” said Scrooge. “One half hour, Spirit, only one!”
It was a Game called Yes and No, where Scrooge’s nephew had
to think of something, and the rest must find out what; he only
answering to their questions yes or no, as the case was. The brisk fire
of questioning to which he was exposed, elicited from him that he was
thinking of an animal, a live animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a
savage animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and
talked sometimes, and lived in London, and walked about the streets,
and wasn’t made a show of, and wasn’t led by anybody, and didn’t
live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a market, and was not a
horse, or an ass, or a cow, or a bull, or a tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a
cat, or a bear. At every fresh question that was put to him, this
nephew burst into a fresh roar of laughter; and was so inexpressibly
tickled, that he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp. At last
the plump sister, falling into a similar state, cried out:
“I have found it out! I know what it is, Fred! I know what it is!”
“What is it?” cried Fred.
“It’s your Uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!”
Which it certainly was. Admiration was the universal sentiment,
though some objected that the reply to “Is it a bear?” ought to have
been “Yes;” inasmuch as an answer in the negative was sufficient to
have diverted their thoughts from Mr. Scrooge, supposing they had
ever had any tendency that way.
“He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,” said Fred,
“and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a glass of
mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say, ‘Uncle Scrooge!’ ”
“Well! Uncle Scrooge!” they cried.
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old man,
whatever he is!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “He wouldn’t take it from
me, but may he have it, nevertheless. Uncle Scrooge!”
Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay and light of
heart, that he would have pledged the unconscious company in return,
and thanked them in an inaudible speech, if the Ghost had given him
time. But the whole scene passed off in the breath of the last word
spoken by his nephew; and he and the Spirit were again upon their travels.
Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited,
but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood beside sick beds, and
they were cheerful; on foreign lands, and they were close at home; by
struggling men, and they were patient in their greater hope; by
poverty, and it was rich. In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery’s
every refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not made
fast the door, and barred the Spirit out, he left his blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.
It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge had his
doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared to be
condensed into the space of time they passed together. It was strange,
too, that while Scrooge remained unaltered in his outward form, the
Ghost grew older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this change,
but never spoke of it, until they left a children’s Twelfth Night party,
when, looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place, he
noticed that its hair was grey.
“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.
“My life upon this globe, is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.”
“To-night!” cried Scrooge.
“To-night at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing near.”
The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that moment.
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge,
looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and
not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”
“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the
Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched,
abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and
clung upon the outside of its garment.
“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling,
wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth
should have filled their features out, and touched them with its
freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had
pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels
might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No
change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade,
through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in
this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked
themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them.
“And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is
Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their
degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that
written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried
the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who
tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end!”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the
last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
The bell struck twelve.
Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the
last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old
Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom,
draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.