THE FIRST OF THE THREE SPIRITS.
When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking outof bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaquewalls of his chamber. He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness with hisferret eyes, when the chimes of a neighbouring church struck the four quarters.So he listened for the hour.
To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on fromsix to seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up to twelve; thenstopped. Twelve! It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong. Anicicle must have got into the works. Twelve!
He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct thismost preposterous clock. Its rapid little pulse beat twelve: and stopped.
“Why, it isn’t possible,” said Scrooge, “that I canhave slept through a whole day and far into another night. It isn’t possiblethat anything has happened to the sun, and this is twelve at noon!”
The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out ofbed, and groped his way to the window. He was obliged to rub the frost off withthe sleeve of his dressing-gown before he could see anything; and could seevery little then. All he could make out was, that it was still very foggy andextremely cold, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro, andmaking a great stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night hadbeaten off bright day, and taken possession of the world. This was a greatrelief, because “three days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Mr.Ebenezer Scrooge or his order,” and so forth, would have become a mere UnitedStates’ security if there were no days to count by.
Scrooge went to bed again, and thought, and thought,and thought it over and over and over, and could make nothing of it. The morehe thought, the more perplexed he was; and the more he endeavoured not tothink, the more he thought.
Marley’s Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time heresolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, hismind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first position, andpresented the same problem to be worked all through, “Was it a dream or not?”
Scrooge lay in this state until the chime had gonethree quarters more, when he remembered, on a sudden, that the Ghost had warnedhim of a visitation when the bell tolled one. He resolved to lie awake untilthe hour was passed; and, considering that he could no more go to sleep than goto Heaven, this was perhaps the wisest resolution in his power.
The quarter was so long, that he was more than onceconvinced he must have sunk into a doze unconsciously, and missed the clock. Atlength it broke upon his listening ear.
“A quarter past,” said Scrooge, counting.
“Half-past!” said Scrooge.
“A quarter to it,” said Scrooge.
“The hour itself,” said Scrooge, triumphantly, “andnothing else!”
He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it nowdid with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy One. Light flashed up in the roomupon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.
The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you,by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, butthose to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside;and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face toface with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now toyou, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.
It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so likea child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gavehim the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to achild’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, waswhite as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and thetenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; thehands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet,most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunicof the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheenof which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and,in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed withsummer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown ofits head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this wasvisible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its dullermoments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it withincreasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkledand glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light oneinstant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in itsdistinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twentylegs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of whichdissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein theymelted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinctand clear as ever.
“Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold tome?” asked Scrooge.
The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as ifinstead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.
“Who, and what are you?” Scrooge demanded.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”
“Long Past?” inquired Scrooge: observant of itsdwarfish stature.
“No. Your past.”
Perhaps, Scrooge could not have told anybody why, ifanybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit inhis cap; and begged him to be covered.
“What!” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon putout, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one ofthose whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of yearsto wear it low upon my brow!”
Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offendor any knowledge of having wilfully “bonneted” the Spirit at any period of hislife. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.
“Your welfare!” said the Ghost.
Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could nothelp thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive tothat end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:
“Your reclamation, then. Take heed!”
It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and claspedhim gently by the arm.
“Rise! and walk with me!”
It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead thatthe weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that bed waswarm, and the thermometer a long way below freezing; that he was clad butlightly in his slippers, dressing-gown, and nightcap; and that he had a coldupon him at that time. The grasp, though gentle as a woman’s hand, was not tobe resisted. He rose: but finding that the Spirit made towards the window,clasped his robe in supplication.
“I am a mortal,” Scrooge remonstrated, “and liable tofall.”
“Bear but a touch of my hand there,” said the Spirit,laying it upon his heart, “and you shall be upheld in more than this!”
As the words were spoken, they passed through thewall, and stood upon an open country road, with fields on either hand. The cityhad entirely vanished. Not a vestige of it was to be seen. The darkness and themist had vanished with it, for it was a clear, cold, winter day, with snow uponthe ground.
“Good Heaven!” said Scrooge, clasping his handstogether, as he looked about him. “I was bred in this place. I was a boy here!”
The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle touch,though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the oldman’s sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in theair, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, andcares long, long, forgotten!
“Your lip is trembling,” said the Ghost. “And what isthat upon your cheek?”
Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in hisvoice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would.
“You recollect the way?” inquired the Spirit.
“Remember it!” cried Scrooge with fervour; “I couldwalk it blindfold.”
“Strange to have forgotten it for so many years!”observed the Ghost. “Let us go on.”
They walked along the road, Scrooge recognising everygate, and post, and tree; until a little market-town appeared in the distance,with its bridge, its church, and winding river. Some shaggy ponies now wereseen trotting towards them with boys upon their backs, who called to other boysin country gigs and carts, driven by farmers. All these boys were in greatspirits, and shouted to each other, until the broad fields were so full ofmerry music, that the crisp air laughed to hear it!
“These are but shadows of the things that have been,”said the Ghost. “They have no consciousness of us.”
The jocund travellers came on; and as they came,Scrooge knew and named them every one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds tosee them! Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up as they wentpast! Why was he filled with gladness when he heard them give each other MerryChristmas, as they parted at cross-roads and bye-ways, for their several homes!What was merry Christmas to Scrooge? Out upon merry Christmas! What good had itever done to him?
“The school is not quite deserted,” said the Ghost. “Asolitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.”
Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed.
They left the high-road, by a well-remembered lane,and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick, with a littleweathercock-surmounted cupola, on the roof, and a bell hanging in it. It was alarge house, but one of broken fortunes; for the spacious offices were littleused, their walls were damp and mossy, their windows broken, and their gatesdecayed. Fowls clucked and strutted in the stables; and the coach-houses andsheds were over-run with grass. Nor was it more retentive of its ancient state,within; for entering the dreary hall, and glancing through the open doors ofmany rooms, they found them poorly furnished, cold, and vast. There was anearthy savour in the air, a chilly bareness in the place, which associateditself somehow with too much getting up by candle-light, and not too much toeat.
They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, toa door at the back of the house. It opened before them, and disclosed a long,bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain deal forms and desks.At one of these a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge satdown upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.
Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak andscuffle from the mice behind the panelling, not a drip from the half-thawedwater-spout in the dull yard behind, not a sigh among the leafless boughs ofone despondent poplar, not the idle swinging of an empty store-house door, no,not a clicking in the fire, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with a softeninginfluence, and gave a freer passage to his tears.
The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to hisyounger self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, in foreign garments:wonderfully real and distinct to look at: stood outside the window, with an axestuck in his belt, and leading by the bridle an ass laden with wood.
“Why, it’s Ali Baba!” Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy.“It’s dear old honest Ali Baba! Yes, yes, I know! One Christmas time, whenyonder solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time,just like that. Poor boy! And Valentine,” said Scrooge, “and his wild brother,Orson; there they go! And what’s his name, who was put down in his drawers,asleep, at the Gate of Damascus; don’t you see him! And the Sultan’s Groomturned upside down by the Genii; there he is upon his head! Serve him right.I’m glad of it. What business had he to be married to the Princess!”
To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness of hisnature on such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing andcrying; and to see his heightened and excited face; would have been a surpriseto his business friends in the city, indeed.
“There’s the Parrot!” cried Scrooge. “Green body andyellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce growing out of the top of his head;there he is! Poor Robin Crusoe, he called him, when he came home again aftersailing round the island. ‘Poor Robin Crusoe, where have you been, RobinCrusoe?’ The man thought he was dreaming, but he wasn’t. It was the Parrot, youknow. There goes Friday, running for his life to the little creek! Halloa!Hoop! Halloo!”
Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign tohis usual character, he said, in pity for his former self, “Poor boy!” andcried again.
“I wish,” Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in hispocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: “but it’stoo late now.”
“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.
“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boysinging a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have givenhim something: that’s all.”
The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved its hand:saying as it did so, “Let us see another Christmas!”
Scrooge’s former self grew larger at the words, andthe room became a little darker and more dirty. The panels shrunk, the windowscracked; fragments of plaster fell out of the ceiling, and the naked laths wereshown instead; but how all this was brought about, Scrooge knew no more thanyou do. He only knew that it was quite correct; that everything had happenedso; that there he was, alone again, when all the other boys had gone home forthe jolly holidays.
He was not reading now, but walking up and downdespairingly. Scrooge looked at the Ghost, and with a mournful shaking of hishead, glanced anxiously towards the door.
It opened; and a little girl, much younger than theboy, came darting in, and putting her arms about his neck, and often kissinghim, addressed him as her “Dear, dear brother.”
“I have come to bring you home, dear brother!” saidthe child, clapping her tiny hands, and bending down to laugh. “To bring youhome, home, home!”
“Home, little Fan?” returned the boy.
“Yes!” said the child, brimful of glee. “Home, forgood and all. Home, for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used tobe, that home’s like Heaven! He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I wasgoing to bed, that I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might comehome; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you. Andyou’re to be a man!” said the child, opening her eyes, “and are never to comeback here; but first, we’re to be together all the Christmas long, and have themerriest time in all the world.”
“You are quite a woman, little Fan!” exclaimed theboy.
She clapped her hands and laughed, and tried to touchhis head; but being too little, laughed again, and stood on tiptoe to embracehim. Then she began to drag him, in her childish eagerness, towards the door;and he, nothing loth to go, accompanied her.
A terrible voice in the hall cried, “Bring down MasterScrooge’s box, there!” and in the hall appeared the schoolmaster himself, whoglared on Master Scrooge with a ferocious condescension, and threw him into adreadful state of mind by shaking hands with him. He then conveyed him and hissister into the veriest old well of a shivering best-parlour that ever wasseen, where the maps upon the wall, and the celestial and terrestrial globes inthe windows, were waxy with cold. Here he produced a decanter of curiouslylight wine, and a block of curiously heavy cake, and administered instalmentsof those dainties to the young people: at the same time, sending out a meagreservant to offer a glass of “something” to the postboy, who answered that hethanked the gentleman, but if it was the same tap as he had tasted before, hehad rather not. Master Scrooge’s trunk being by this time tied on to the top ofthe chaise, the children bade the schoolmaster good-bye right willingly; andgetting into it, drove gaily down the garden-sweep: the quick wheels dashingthe hoar-frost and snow from off the dark leaves of the evergreens like spray.
“Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might havewithered,” said the Ghost. “But she had a large heart!”
“So she had,” cried Scrooge. “You’re right. I will notgainsay it, Spirit. God forbid!”
“She died a woman,” said the Ghost, “and had, as I think,children.”
“One child,” Scrooge returned.
“True,” said the Ghost. “Your nephew!”
Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and answeredbriefly, “Yes.”
Although they had but that moment left the schoolbehind them, they were now in the busy thoroughfares of a city, where shadowypassengers passed and repassed; where shadowy carts and coaches battled for theway, and all the strife and tumult of a real city were. It was made plainenough, by the dressing of the shops, that here too it was Christmas time again;but it was evening, and the streets were lighted up.
The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, andasked Scrooge if he knew it.
“Know it!” said Scrooge. “Was I apprenticed here!”
They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welshwig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller hemust have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in greatexcitement:
“Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’sFezziwig alive again!”
Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at theclock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted hiscapacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ ofbenevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:
“Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!”
Scrooge’s former self, now grown a young man, camebriskly in, accompanied by his fellow-’prentice.
“Dick Wilkins, to be sure!” said Scrooge to the Ghost.“Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick. PoorDick! Dear, dear!”
“Yo ho, my boys!” said Fezziwig. “No more workto-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let’s have the shutters up,”cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, “before a man can say JackRobinson!”
You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows went at it!They charged into the street with the shutters—one, two, three—had ’em up intheir places—four, five, six—barred ’em and pinned ’em—seven, eight, nine—andcame back before you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.
“Hilli-ho!” cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from thehigh desk, with wonderful agility. “Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots ofroom here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Ebenezer!”
Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn’t havecleared away, or couldn’t have cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on. Itwas done in a minute. Every movable was packed off, as if it were dismissedfrom public life for evermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps weretrimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, andwarm, and dry, and bright a ball-room, as you would desire to see upon awinter’s night.
In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up tothe lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fiftystomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came thethree Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whosehearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in thebusiness. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook,with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from overthe way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; tryingto hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to havehad her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; someshyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, somepulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twentycouple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middleand up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; oldtop couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting offagain, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom oneto help them! When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping hishands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged hishot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. Butscorning rest, upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though therewere no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted,on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, orperish.
There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.” Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.
But if they had been twice as many—ah, four times—oldFezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As toher, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that’s nothigh praise, tell me higher, and I’ll use it. A positive light appeared toissue from Fezziwig’s calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons.You couldn’t have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of themnext. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance;advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew,thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig “cut”—cut so deftly,that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without astagger.
When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball brokeup. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door,and shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wishedhim or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two’prentices, they did the same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away,and the lads were left to their beds; which were under a counter in theback-shop.
During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted likea man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with hisformer self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyedeverything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now, whenthe bright faces of his former self and Dick were turned from them, that heremembered the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him,while the light upon its head burnt very clear.
“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these sillyfolks so full of gratitude.”
“Small!” echoed Scrooge.
The Spirit signed to him to listen to the twoapprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and whenhe had done so, said,
“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of yourmortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves thispraise?”
“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark,and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’tthat, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make ourservice light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies inwords and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible toadd and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great asif it cost a fortune.”
He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.
“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.
“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.
“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.
“No,” said Scrooge, “No. I should like to be able tosay a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.”
His former self turned down the lamps as he gaveutterance to the wish; and Scrooge and the Ghost again stood side by side inthe open air.
“My time grows short,” observed the Spirit. “Quick!”
This was not addressed to Scrooge, or to any one whomhe could see, but it produced an immediate effect. For again Scrooge sawhimself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. His face had not theharsh and rigid lines of later years; but it had begun to wear the signs ofcare and avarice. There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, whichshowed the passion that had taken root, and where the shadow of the growingtree would fall.
He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair younggirl in a mourning-dress: in whose eyes there were tears, which sparkled in thelight that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“It matters little,” she said, softly. “To you, verylittle. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you intime to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”
“What Idol has displaced you?” he rejoined.
“A golden one.”
“This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” hesaid. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothingit professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!”
“You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently. “Allyour other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of itssordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, untilthe master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”
“What then?” he retorted. “Even if I have grown somuch wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you.”
She shook her head.
“Our contract is an old one. It was made when we wereboth poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve ourworldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, youwere another man.”
“I was a boy,” he said impatiently.
“Your own feeling tells you that you were not what youare,” she returned. “I am. That which promised happiness when we were one inheart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly Ihave thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it,and can release you.”
“Have I ever sought release?”
“In words. No. Never.”
“In what, then?”
“In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in anotheratmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made mylove of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us,”said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; “tell me, wouldyou seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!”
He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition,in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle, “You think not.”
“I would gladly think otherwise if I could,” sheanswered, “Heaven knows! When I have learned a Truth like this, I know howstrong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free to-day, to-morrow,yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl—you who,in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her,if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so,do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and Irelease you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were.”
He was about to speak; but with her head turned fromhim, she resumed.
“You may—the memory of what is past half makes me hopeyou will—have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss therecollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happenedwell that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!”
She left him, and they parted.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, “show me no more! Conduct mehome. Why do you delight to torture me?”
“One shadow more!” exclaimed the Ghost.
“No more!” cried Scrooge. “No more. I don’t wish tosee it. Show me no more!”
But the relentless Ghost pinioned him in both hisarms, and forced him to observe what happened next.
They were in another scene and place; a room, not verylarge or handsome, but full of comfort. Near to the winter fire sat a beautifulyoung girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until hesaw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in thisroom was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scroogein his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd inthe poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, butevery child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproariousbeyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother anddaughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soonbeginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands mostruthlessly. What would I not have given to be one of them! Though I never couldhave been so rude, no, no! I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world havecrushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe,I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. As tomeasuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t havedone it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment,and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, tohave touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them;to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush;to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyondprice: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightestlicence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.
But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such arush immediately ensued that she with laughing face and plundered dress wasborne towards it the centre of a flushed and boisterous group, just in time togreet the father, who came home attended by a man laden with Christmas toys andpresents. Then the shouting and the struggling, and the onslaught that was madeon the defenceless porter! The scaling him with chairs for ladders to dive intohis pockets, despoil him of brown-paper parcels, hold on tight by his cravat,hug him round his neck, pommel his back, and kick his legs in irrepressibleaffection! The shouts of wonder and delight with which the development of everypackage was received! The terrible announcement that the baby had been taken inthe act of putting a doll’s frying-pan into his mouth, and was more thansuspected of having swallowed a fictitious turkey, glued on a wooden platter!The immense relief of finding this a false alarm! The joy, and gratitude, andecstasy! They are all indescribable alike. It is enough that by degrees thechildren and their emotions got out of the parlour, and by one stair at a time,up to the top of the house; where they went to bed, and so subsided.
And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever,when the master of the house, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, satdown with her and her mother at his own fireside; and when he thought that suchanother creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have calledhim father, and been a spring-time in the haggard winter of his life, his sightgrew very dim indeed.
“Belle,” said the husband, turning to his wife with asmile, “I saw an old friend of yours this afternoon.”
“Who was it?”
“How can I? Tut, don’t I know?” she added in the samebreath, laughing as he laughed. “Mr. Scrooge.”
“Mr. Scrooge it was. I passed his office window; andas it was not shut up, and he had a candle inside, I could scarcely help seeinghim. His partner lies upon the point of death, I hear; and there he sat alone.Quite alone in the world, I do believe.”
“Spirit!” said Scrooge in a broken voice, “remove mefrom this place.”
“I told you these were shadows of the things that havebeen,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”
“Remove me!” Scrooge exclaimed, “I cannot bear it!”
He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it lookedupon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of allthe faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.
“Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”
In the struggle, if that can be called a struggle inwhich the Ghost with no visible resistance on its own part was undisturbed byany effort of its adversary, Scrooge observed that its light was burning highand bright; and dimly connecting that with its influence over him, he seizedthe extinguisher-cap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head.
The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that theextinguisher covered its whole form; but though Scrooge pressed it down withall his force, he could not hide the light: which streamed from under it, in anunbroken flood upon the ground.
He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He gave the cap a parting squeeze, in which his hand relaxed; and had barely time to reel to bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.
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 tobe told that the bell was again upon the stroke of One. He felt that he wasrestored to consciousness in the right nick of time, for the especial purposeof holding a conference with the second messenger despatched to him throughJacob Marley’s intervention. But finding that he turned uncomfortably cold whenhe began to wonder which of his curtains this new spectre would draw back, heput them every one aside with his own hands; and lying down again, establisheda sharp look-out all round the bed. For he wished to challenge the Spirit onthe moment of its appearance, and did not wish to be taken by surprise, andmade nervous.
Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plumethemselves on being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually equal tothe time-of-day, express the wide range of their capacity for adventure byobserving that they are good for anything from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter;between which opposite extremes, no doubt, there lies a tolerably wide andcomprehensive range of subjects. Without venturing for Scrooge quite as hardilyas this, I don’t mind calling on you to believe that he was ready for a goodbroad field of strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby andrhinoceros would have astonished him very much.
Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not byany means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck One,and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Fiveminutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came. All thistime, 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, beingonly light, was more alarming than a dozen ghosts, as he was powerless to makeout what it meant, or would be at; and was sometimes apprehensive that he mightbe at that very moment an interesting case of spontaneous combustion, withouthaving the consolation of knowing it. At last, however, he began to think—asyou or I would have thought at first; for it is always the person not in thepredicament who knows what ought to have been done in it, and wouldunquestionably have done it too—at last, I say, he began to think that thesource and secret of this ghostly light might be in the adjoining room, fromwhence, on further tracing it, it seemed to shine. This idea taking fullpossession of his mind, he got up softly and shuffled in his slippers to thedoor.
The moment Scrooge’s hand was on the lock, a strangevoice 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 sohung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part ofwhich, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe,and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had beenscattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as thatdull 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 akind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints ofmeat, 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 madethe 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 shapenot unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light onScrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in! and know mebetter, man!”
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before thisSpirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyeswere clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said theSpirit. “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!” exclaimedthe Spirit.
“Never,” Scrooge made answer to it.
“Have never walked forth with the younger members ofmy family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these lateryears?” pursued the Phantom.
“I don’t think I have,” said Scrooge. “I am afraid Ihave not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?”
“More than eighteen hundred,” said the Ghost.
“A tremendous family to provide for!” mutteredScrooge.
The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me whereyou will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which isworking 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, andpunch, all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the ruddy glow, thehour 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 notunpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the pavement in front oftheir dwellings, and from the tops of their houses, whence it was mad delightto the boys to see it come plumping down into the road below, and splittinginto artificial little snow-storms.
The house fronts looked black enough, and the windowsblacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, andwith the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit had been ploughed upin deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts and waggons; furrows that crossedand re-crossed each other hundreds of times where the great streets branchedoff; and made intricate channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icywater. The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingymist, half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in a shower ofsooty 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 wasnothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air ofcheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun mighthave endeavoured to diffuse in vain.
For, the people who were shovelling away on thehousetops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from theparapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball—better-naturedmissile far than many a wordy jest—laughing heartily if it went right and notless heartily if it went wrong. The poulterers’ shops were still half open, andthe fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory. There were great, round,pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly oldgentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in theirapoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed SpanishOnions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winkingfrom their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanceddemurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered highin blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might watergratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown,recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasantshufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins,squat and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, inthe great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating andbeseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The verygold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, thoughmembers of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there wassomething going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their littleworld in slow and passionless excitement.
The Grocers’! oh, the Grocers’! nearly closed, withperhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses! It wasnot alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or thatthe twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters wererattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents oftea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were soplentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon solong and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so cakedand spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint andsubsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or thatthe French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes,or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but thecustomers 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 wickerbaskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came runningback to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the besthumour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh thatthe polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might havebeen their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws topeck at if they chose.
But soon the steeples called good people all, tochurch and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in theirbest clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emergedfrom scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people,carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops. The sight of these poor revellersappeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside himin a baker’s doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkledincense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind oftorch, for once or twice when there were angry words between somedinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water onthem from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, itwas a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love it, so itwas!
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 progressof their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker’s oven; wherethe pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.
“Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle fromyour 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, “Iwonder you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire tocramp these people’s opportunities of innocent enjoyment.”
“I!” cried the Spirit.
“You would deprive them of their means of dining everyseventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all,” saidScrooge. “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 yourname, or at least in that of your family,” said Scrooge.
“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returnedthe 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 asstrange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Rememberthat, 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 aremarkable quality of the Ghost (which Scrooge had observed at the baker’s),that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to anyplace with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully andlike a supernatural creature, as it was possible he could have done in anylofty hall.
And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had inshowing off this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous, heartynature, and his sympathy with all poor men, that led him straight to Scrooge’sclerk’s; for there he went, and took Scrooge with him, holding to his robe; andon the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless BobCratchit’s dwelling with the sprinkling of his torch. Think of that! Bob hadbut fifteen “Bob” a-week himself; he pocketed on Saturdays but fifteen copiesof his Christian name; and yet the Ghost of Christmas Present blessed hisfour-roomed house!
Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressedout but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheapand make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted byBelinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while MasterPeter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting thecorners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob’s private property, conferred uponhis son and heir in honour of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himselfso gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks.And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming thatoutside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; andbasking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits dancedabout the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (notproud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slowpotatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out andpeeled.
“What has ever got your precious father then?” saidMrs. Cratchit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn’t as late lastChristmas Day by half-an-hour?”
“Here’s Martha, mother!” said a girl, appearing as shespoke.
“Here’s Martha, mother!” cried the two youngCratchits. “Hurrah! There’s such a goose, Martha!”
“Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late youare!” said Mrs. Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times, and taking off her shawland bonnet for her with officious zeal.
“We’d a deal of work to finish up last night,” repliedthe 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 blessye!”
“No, no! There’s father coming,” cried the two youngCratchits, who were everywhere at once. “Hide, Martha, hide!”
So Martha hid herself, and in came little Bob, thefather, with at least three feet of comforter exclusive of the fringe, hangingdown before him; and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed, to lookseasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a littlecrutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!
“Why, where’s our Martha?” cried Bob Cratchit, lookinground.
“Not coming,” said Mrs. Cratchit.
“Not coming!” said Bob, with a sudden declension inhis 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 wereonly in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and raninto his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him offinto 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 tohis heart’s content.
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow hegets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest thingsyou ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him inthe church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them toremember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
Bob’s voice was tremulous when he told them this, andtrembled more when he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty.
His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, andback came Tiny Tim before another word was spoken, escorted by his brother andsister 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 hotmixture in a jug with gin and lemons, and stirred it round and round and put iton the hob to simmer; Master Peter, and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits wentto fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought agoose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swanwas a matter of course—and in truth it was something very like it in thathouse. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan)hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; MissBelinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob tookTiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits setchairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon theirposts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goosebefore their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and gracewas said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, lookingslowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; butwhen she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, onemurmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by thetwo young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feeblycried Hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’tbelieve there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, sizeand cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauceand 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 uponthe dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, andthe youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to theeyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit leftthe room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up and bringit in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose itshould break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall ofthe back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose—asupposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrorswere supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out ofthe copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like aneating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’snext door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchitentered—flushed, but smiling proudly—with the pudding, like a speckledcannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignitedbrandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmlytoo, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchitsince 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. Everybodyhad something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a smallpudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. AnyCratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth wascleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug beingtasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, anda shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew roundthe hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and atBob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and acustard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, aswell as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaminglooks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bobproposed:
“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 ofall.
He sat very close to his father’s side upon his littlestool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, andwished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had neverfelt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”
“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poorchimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If theseshadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”
“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say hewill be spared.”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, noneother of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he belike to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted bythe Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, notadamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplusis, 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 tolive than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect onthe leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in thedust!”
Scrooge bent before the Ghost’s rebuke, and tremblingcast his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on hearing his ownname.
“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 tofeast 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, “onwhich one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man asMr. Scrooge. You know he is, Robert! Nobody knows it better than you do, poorfellow!”
“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 ahappy new year! He’ll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!”
The children drank the toast after her. It was thefirst of their proceedings which had no heartiness. Tiny Tim drank it last ofall, 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 notdispelled for full five minutes.
After it had passed away, they were ten times merrierthan before, from the mere relief of Scrooge the Baleful being done with. BobCratchit told them how he had a situation in his eye for Master Peter, whichwould bring in, if obtained, full five-and-sixpence weekly. The two youngCratchits 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, asif he were deliberating what particular investments he should favour when hecame into the receipt of that bewildering income. Martha, who was a poorapprentice at a milliner’s, then told them what kind of work she had to do, andhow many hours she worked at a stretch, and how she meant to lie abed to-morrowmorning 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 highthat you couldn’t have seen his head if you had been there. All this time thechestnuts 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 plaintivelittle voice, and sang it very well indeed.
There was nothing of high mark in this. They were nota handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from beingwater-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and verylikely 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, andlooked 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 prettyheavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightnessof the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, waswonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cosydinner, with hot plates baking through and through before the fire, and deepred curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and darkness. There all thechildren of the house were running out into the snow to meet their marriedsisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them.Here, again, were shadows on the window-blind of guests assembling; and there agroup 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 singleman who saw them enter—artful witches, well they knew it—in a glow!
But, if you had judged from the numbers of people ontheir way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was athome to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every house expectingcompany, and piling up its fires half-chimney high. Blessings on it, how theGhost exulted! How it bared its breadth of breast, and opened its capaciouspalm, and floated on, outpouring, with a generous hand, its bright and harmlessmirth 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 theevening somewhere, laughed out loudly as the Spirit passed, though littlekenned 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 stonewere cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants; and water spreaditself wheresoever it listed, or would have done so, but for the frost thatheld 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 glaredupon 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 bowelsof the earth,” returned the Spirit. “But they know me. See!”
A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftlythey advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they founda cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old man and woman,with their children and their children’s children, and another generationbeyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire. The old man, in avoice that seldom rose above the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, wassinging them a Christmas song—it had been a very old song when he was a boy—andfrom time to time they all joined in the chorus. So surely as they raised theirvoices, 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 holdhis robe, and passing on above the moor, sped—whither? Not to sea? To sea. ToScrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful rangeof 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, andfiercely tried to undermine the earth.
Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some leagueor 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 sea-weed of thewater—rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.
But even here, two men who watched the light had madea fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray ofbrightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over the rough table atwhich 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 withhard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship might be: struck up a sturdysong that was like a Gale in itself.
Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heavingsea—on, on—until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, theylighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out inthe bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their severalstations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmasthought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone ChristmasDay, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking orsleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than onany day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and hadremembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delightedto remember him.
It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening tothe moaning of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it was to move onthrough the lonely darkness over an unknown abyss, whose depths were secrets asprofound as Death: it was a great surprise to Scrooge, while thus engaged, tohear a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognise itas his own nephew’s and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, withthe Spirit standing smiling by his side, and looking at that same nephew withapproving affability!
“Ha, ha!” laughed Scrooge’s nephew. “Ha, ha, ha!”
If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to knowa man more blest in a laugh than Scrooge’s nephew, all I can say is, I shouldlike 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 theworld so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour. When Scrooge’snephew laughed in this way: holding his sides, rolling his head, and twistinghis face into the most extravagant contortions: Scrooge’s niece, by marriage,laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being not a bitbehindhand, 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 arealways in earnest.
She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With adimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed madeto 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 eyesyou ever saw in any little creature’s head. Altogether she was what you wouldhave called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectlysatisfactory.
“He’s a comical old fellow,” said Scrooge’s nephew,“that’s the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However, his offencescarry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him.”
“I’m sure he is very rich, Fred,” hinted Scrooge’sniece. “At least you always tell me so.”
“What of that, my dear!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “Hiswealth is of no use to him. He don’t do any good with it. He don’t make himselfcomfortable with it. He hasn’t the satisfaction of thinking—ha, ha, ha!—that heis ever going to benefit US with it.”
“I have no patience with him,” observed Scrooge’sniece. Scrooge’s niece’s sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed the sameopinion.
“Oh, I have!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “I am sorry forhim; 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’tcome 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 beallowed 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’snephew, “because I haven’t great faith in these young housekeepers. What do yousay, Topper?”
Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge’sniece’s sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast, whohad no right to express an opinion on the subject. Whereat Scrooge’s niece’ssister—the plump one with the lace tucker: not the one with the roses—blushed.
“Do go on, Fred,” said Scrooge’s niece, clapping herhands. “He never finishes what he begins to say! He is such a ridiculousfellow!”
Scrooge’s nephew revelled in another laugh, and as itwas impossible to keep the infection off; though the plump sister tried hard todo 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 withus, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments, which could do him noharm. I am sure he loses pleasanter companions than he can find in his ownthoughts, either in his mouldy old office, or his dusty chambers. I mean togive him the same chance every year, whether he likes it or not, for I pityhim. He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but he can’t help thinking betterof 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 leavehis poor clerk fifty pounds, that’s something; and I think I shook himyesterday.”
It was their turn to laugh now at the notion of hisshaking Scrooge. But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much caring whatthey laughed at, so that they laughed at any rate, he encouraged them in theirmerriment, and passed the bottle joyously.
After tea, they had some music. For they were amusical 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 agood one, and never swell the large veins in his forehead, or get red in theface over it. Scrooge’s niece played well upon the harp; and played among othertunes a simple little air (a mere nothing: you might learn to whistle it in twominutes), which had been familiar to the child who fetched Scrooge from theboarding-school, as he had been reminded by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Whenthis strain of music sounded, all the things that Ghost had shown him, cameupon his mind; he softened more and more; and thought that if he could havelistened to it often, years ago, he might have cultivated the kindnesses oflife for his own happiness with his own hands, without resorting to thesexton’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 childhimself. 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 hisboots. My opinion is, that it was a done thing between him and Scrooge’snephew; and that the Ghost of Christmas Present knew it. The way he went afterthat plump sister in the lace tucker, was an outrage on the credulity of humannature. Knocking down the fire-irons, tumbling over the chairs, bumping againstthe piano, smothering himself among the curtains, wherever she went, there wenthe! 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 wouldhave made a feint of endeavouring to seize you, which would have been anaffront to your understanding, and would instantly have sidled off in thedirection of the plump sister. She often cried out that it wasn’t fair; and itreally was not. But when at last, he caught her; when, in spite of all hersilken rustlings, and her rapid flutterings past him, he got her into a cornerwhence there was no escape; then his conduct was the most execrable. For hispretending not to know her; his pretending that it was necessary to touch herhead-dress, and further to assure himself of her identity by pressing a certainring 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 inoffice, they were so very confidential together, behind the curtains.
Scrooge’s niece was not one of the blind-man’s buffparty, but was made comfortable with a large chair and a footstool, in a snugcorner, where the Ghost and Scrooge were close behind her. But she joined inthe forfeits, and loved her love to admiration with all the letters of thealphabet. Likewise at the game of How, When, and Where, she was very great, andto the secret joy of Scrooge’s nephew, beat her sisters hollow: though theywere sharp girls too, as Topper could have told you. There might have beentwenty 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 hisvoice made no sound in their ears, he sometimes came out with his guess quiteloud, and very often guessed quite right, too; for the sharpest needle, bestWhitechapel, 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 thismood, and looked upon him with such favour, that he begged like a boy to beallowed to stay until the guests departed. But this the Spirit said could notbe done.
“Here is a new game,” said Scrooge. “One half hour,Spirit, only one!”
It was a Game called Yes and No, where Scrooge’snephew had to think of something, and the rest must find out what; he onlyanswering to their questions yes or no, as the case was. The brisk fire ofquestioning to which he was exposed, elicited from him that he was thinking ofan animal, a live animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, ananimal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived inLondon, and walked about the streets, and wasn’t made a show of, and wasn’t ledby 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 apig, or a cat, or a bear. At every fresh question that was put to him, thisnephew 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 knowwhat it is!”
“What is it?” cried Fred.
“It’s your Uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!”
Which it certainly was. Admiration was the universalsentiment, though some objected that the reply to “Is it a bear?” ought to havebeen “Yes;” inasmuch as an answer in the negative was sufficient to havediverted their thoughts from Mr. Scrooge, supposing they had ever had anytendency that way.
“He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,” saidFred, “and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a glass ofmulled 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 oldman, whatever he is!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “He wouldn’t take it from me, butmay he have it, nevertheless. Uncle Scrooge!”
Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay andlight 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. Butthe 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 theyvisited, but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood beside sick beds, andthey were cheerful; on foreign lands, and they were close at home; bystruggling men, and they were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and itwas rich. In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery’s every refuge, wherevain man in his little brief authority had not made fast the door, and barredthe Spirit out, he left his blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.
It was a long night, if it were only a night; butScrooge had his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared to becondensed into the space of time they passed together. It was strange, too,that while Scrooge remained unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grewolder, 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 Spiritas 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 theGhost. “It ends to-night.”
“To-night!” cried Scrooge.
“To-night at midnight. Hark! The time is drawingnear.”
The chimes were ringing the three quarters past elevenat that moment.
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” saidScrooge, 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 aclaw?”
“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 twochildren; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down atits feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimedthe 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 tohim in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words chokedthemselves, 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 uponthem. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy isIgnorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, butmost 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 itshand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for yourfactious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning onhim 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 itnot. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of oldJacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped andhooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.