THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS.
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached.When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very airthrough which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
It was shrouded in a deep black garment, whichconcealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save oneoutstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach itsfigure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it wassurrounded.
He felt that it was tall and stately when it camebeside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. Heknew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.
“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet ToCome?” said Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with itshand.
“You are about to show me shadows of the things thathave not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Scrooge pursued. “Isthat so, Spirit?”
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for aninstant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the onlyanswer he received.
Although well used to ghostly company by this time,Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, andhe found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spiritpaused a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.
But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilledhim with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud, therewere ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched hisown to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap ofblack.
“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, “I fear you morethan any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, andas I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear youcompany, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straightbefore them.
“Lead on!” said Scrooge. “Lead on! The night is waningfast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”
The Phantom moved away as it had come towards him.Scrooge followed in the shadow of its dress, which bore him up, he thought, andcarried him along.
They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the cityrather seemed to spring up about them, and encompass them of its own act. Butthere they were, in the heart of it; on ’Change, amongst the merchants; whohurried up and down, and chinked the money in their pockets, and conversed ingroups, and looked at their watches, and trifled thoughtfully with their greatgold seals; and so forth, as Scrooge had seen them often.
The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of businessmen. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen totheir talk.
“No,” said a great fat man with a monstrous chin, “Idon’t know much about it, either way. I only know he’s dead.”
“When did he die?” inquired another.
“Last night, I believe.”
“Why, what was the matter with him?” asked a third,taking a vast quantity of snuff out of a very large snuff-box. “I thought he’dnever die.”
“God knows,” said the first, with a yawn.
“What has he done with his money?” asked a red-facedgentleman with a pendulous excrescence on the end of his nose, that shook likethe gills of a turkey-cock.
“I haven’t heard,” said the man with the large chin,yawning again. “Left it to his company, perhaps. He hasn’t left it to me.That’s all I know.”
This pleasantry was received with a general laugh.
“It’s likely to be a very cheap funeral,” said thesame speaker; “for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go to it. Suppose wemake up a party and volunteer?”
“I don’t mind going if a lunch is provided,” observedthe gentleman with the excrescence on his nose. “But I must be fed, if I makeone.”
“Well, I am the most disinterested among you, afterall,” said the first speaker, “for I never wear black gloves, and I never eatlunch. But I’ll offer to go, if anybody else will. When I come to think of it,I’m not at all sure that I wasn’t his most particular friend; for we used tostop and speak whenever we met. Bye, bye!”
Speakers and listeners strolled away, and mixed withother groups. Scrooge knew the men, and looked towards the Spirit for anexplanation.
The Phantom glided on into a street. Its fingerpointed to two persons meeting. Scrooge listened again, thinking that theexplanation might lie here.
He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men ofbusiness: very wealthy, and of great importance. He had made a point always ofstanding well in their esteem: in a business point of view, that is; strictlyin a business point of view.
“How are you?” said one.
“How are you?” returned the other.
“Well!” said the first. “Old Scratch has got his ownat last, hey?”
“So I am told,” returned the second. “Cold, isn’t it?”
“Seasonable for Christmas time. You’re not a skater, Isuppose?”
“No. No. Something else to think of. Good morning!”
Not another word. That was their meeting, their conversation,and their parting.
Scrooge was at first inclined to be surprised that theSpirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so trivial; butfeeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose, he set himself toconsider what it was likely to be. They could scarcely be supposed to have anybearing on the death of Jacob, his old partner, for that was Past, and thisGhost’s province was the Future. Nor could he think of any one immediatelyconnected with himself, to whom he could apply them. But nothing doubting thatto whomsoever they applied they had some latent moral for his own improvement,he resolved to treasure up every word he heard, and everything he saw; andespecially to observe the shadow of himself when it appeared. For he had anexpectation that the conduct of his future self would give him the clue hemissed, and would render the solution of these riddles easy.
He looked about in that very place for his own image;but another man stood in his accustomed corner, and though the clock pointed tohis usual time of day for being there, he saw no likeness of himself among themultitudes that poured in through the Porch. It gave him little surprise,however; for he had been revolving in his mind a change of life, and thoughtand hoped he saw his new-born resolutions carried out in this.
Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with itsoutstretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fanciedfrom the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that theUnseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel verycold.
They left the busy scene, and went into an obscurepart of the town, where Scrooge had never penetrated before, although herecognised its situation, and its bad repute. The ways were foul and narrow;the shops and houses wretched; the people half-naked, drunken, slipshod, ugly.Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell,and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reekedwith crime, with filth, and misery.
Far in this den of infamous resort, there was alow-browed, beetling shop, below a pent-house roof, where iron, old rags,bottles, bones, and greasy offal, were bought. Upon the floor within, werepiled up heaps of rusty keys, nails, chains, hinges, files, scales, weights,and refuse iron of all kinds. Secrets that few would like to scrutinise werebred and hidden in mountains of unseemly rags, masses of corrupted fat, andsepulchres of bones. Sitting in among the wares he dealt in, by a charcoalstove, made of old bricks, was a grey-haired rascal, nearly seventy years ofage; who had screened himself from the cold air without, by a frousy curtainingof miscellaneous tatters, hung upon a line; and smoked his pipe in all theluxury of calm retirement.
Scrooge and the Phantom came into the presence of thisman, just as a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop. But she hadscarcely entered, when another woman, similarly laden, came in too; and she wasclosely followed by a man in faded black, who was no less startled by the sightof them, than they had been upon the recognition of each other. After a shortperiod of blank astonishment, in which the old man with the pipe had joinedthem, they all three burst into a laugh.
“Let the charwoman alone to be the first!” cried shewho had entered first. “Let the laundress alone to be the second; and let theundertaker’s man alone to be the third. Look here, old Joe, here’s a chance! Ifwe haven’t all three met here without meaning it!”
“You couldn’t have met in a better place,” said oldJoe, removing his pipe from his mouth. “Come into the parlour. You were madefree of it long ago, you know; and the other two an’t strangers. Stop till Ishut the door of the shop. Ah! How it skreeks! There an’t such a rusty bit ofmetal in the place as its own hinges, I believe; and I’m sure there’s no such oldbones here, as mine. Ha, ha! We’re all suitable to our calling, we’re wellmatched. Come into the parlour. Come into the parlour.”
The parlour was the space behind the screen of rags.The old man raked the fire together with an old stair-rod, and having trimmedhis smoky lamp (for it was night), with the stem of his pipe, put it in hismouth again.
While he did this, the woman who had already spokenthrew her bundle on the floor, and sat down in a flaunting manner on a stool;crossing her elbows on her knees, and looking with a bold defiance at the othertwo.
“What odds then! What odds, Mrs. Dilber?” said thewoman. “Every person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did.”
“That’s true, indeed!” said the laundress. “No manmore so.”
“Why then, don’t stand staring as if you was afraid,woman; who’s the wiser? We’re not going to pick holes in each other’s coats, Isuppose?”
“No, indeed!” said Mrs. Dilber and the man together.“We should hope not.”
“Very well, then!” cried the woman. “That’s enough.Who’s the worse for the loss of a few things like these? Not a dead man, Isuppose.”
“No, indeed,” said Mrs. Dilber, laughing.
“If he wanted to keep ’em after he was dead, a wickedold screw,” pursued the woman, “why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime? If hehad been, he’d have had somebody to look after him when he was struck withDeath, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself.”
“It’s the truest word that ever was spoke,” said Mrs.Dilber. “It’s a judgment on him.”
“I wish it was a little heavier judgment,” replied thewoman; “and it should have been, you may depend upon it, if I could have laidmy hands on anything else. Open that bundle, old Joe, and let me know the valueof it. Speak out plain. I’m not afraid to be the first, nor afraid for them tosee it. We know pretty well that we were helping ourselves, before we met here,I believe. It’s no sin. Open the bundle, Joe.”
But the gallantry of her friends would not allow ofthis; and the man in faded black, mounting the breach first, produced hisplunder. It was not extensive. A seal or two, a pencil-case, a pair ofsleeve-buttons, and a brooch of no great value, were all. They were severallyexamined and appraised by old Joe, who chalked the sums he was disposed to givefor each, upon the wall, and added them up into a total when he found there wasnothing more to come.
“That’s your account,” said Joe, “and I wouldn’t giveanother sixpence, if I was to be boiled for not doing it. Who’s next?”
Mrs. Dilber was next. Sheets and towels, a littlewearing apparel, two old-fashioned silver teaspoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, anda few boots. Her account was stated on the wall in the same manner.
“I always give too much to ladies. It’s a weakness ofmine, and that’s the way I ruin myself,” said old Joe. “That’s your account. Ifyou asked me for another penny, and made it an open question, I’d repent ofbeing so liberal and knock off half-a-crown.”
“And now undo my bundle, Joe,” said the first woman.
Joe went down on his knees for the greater convenienceof opening it, and having unfastened a great many knots, dragged out a largeand heavy roll of some dark stuff.
“What do you call this?” said Joe. “Bed-curtains!”
“Ah!” returned the woman, laughing and leaning forwardon her crossed arms. “Bed-curtains!”
“You don’t mean to say you took ’em down, rings andall, with him lying there?” said Joe.
“Yes I do,” replied the woman. “Why not?”
“You were born to make your fortune,” said Joe, “andyou’ll certainly do it.”
“I certainly shan’t hold my hand, when I can getanything in it by reaching it out, for the sake of such a man as He was, Ipromise you, Joe,” returned the woman coolly. “Don’t drop that oil upon theblankets, now.”
“His blankets?” asked Joe.
“Whose else’s do you think?” replied the woman. “Heisn’t likely to take cold without ’em, I dare say.”
“I hope he didn’t die of anything catching? Eh?” saidold Joe, stopping in his work, and looking up.
“Don’t you be afraid of that,” returned the woman. “Ian’t so fond of his company that I’d loiter about him for such things, if hedid. Ah! you may look through that shirt till your eyes ache; but you won’tfind a hole in it, nor a threadbare place. It’s the best he had, and a fine onetoo. They’d have wasted it, if it hadn’t been for me.”
“What do you call wasting of it?” asked old Joe.
“Putting it on him to be buried in, to be sure,”replied the woman with a laugh. “Somebody was fool enough to do it, but I tookit off again. If calico an’t good enough for such a purpose, it isn’t goodenough for anything. It’s quite as becoming to the body. He can’t look uglierthan he did in that one.”
Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror. As theysat grouped about their spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old man’slamp, he viewed them with a detestation and disgust, which could hardly havebeen greater, though they had been obscene demons, marketing the corpse itself.
“Ha, ha!” laughed the same woman, when old Joe,producing a flannel bag with money in it, told out their several gains upon theground. “This is the end of it, you see! He frightened every one away from himwhen he was alive, to profit us when he was dead! Ha, ha, ha!”
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, shuddering from head to foot.“I see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life tends thatway, now. Merciful Heaven, what is this!”
He recoiled in terror, for the scene had changed, andnow he almost touched a bed: a bare, uncurtained bed: on which, beneath aragged sheet, there lay a something covered up, which, though it was dumb,announced itself in awful language.
The room was very dark, too dark to be observed withany accuracy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse,anxious to know what kind of room it was. A pale light, rising in the outerair, fell straight upon the bed; and on it, plundered and bereft, unwatched,unwept, uncared for, was the body of this man.
Scrooge glanced towards the Phantom. Its steady handwas pointed to the head. The cover was so carelessly adjusted that theslightest raising of it, the motion of a finger upon Scrooge’s part, would havedisclosed the face. He thought of it, felt how easy it would be to do, andlonged to do it; but had no more power to withdraw the veil than to dismiss thespectre at his side.
Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thinealtar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: forthis is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canstnot turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is notthat the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that theheart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; theheart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike!And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with lifeimmortal!
No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge’s ears, andyet he heard them when he looked upon the bed. He thought, if this man could beraised up now, what would be his foremost thoughts? Avarice, hard-dealing,griping cares? They have brought him to a rich end, truly!
He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, awoman, or a child, to say that he was kind to me in this or that, and for thememory of one kind word I will be kind to him. A cat was tearing at the door,and there was a sound of gnawing rats beneath the hearth-stone. What theywanted in the room of death, and why they were so restless and disturbed,Scrooge did not dare to think.
“Spirit!” he said, “this is a fearful place. Inleaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. Let us go!”
Still the Ghost pointed with an unmoved finger to thehead.
“I understand you,” Scrooge returned, “and I would doit, if I could. But I have not the power, Spirit. I have not the power.”
Again it seemed to look upon him.
“If there is any person in the town, who feels emotioncaused by this man’s death,” said Scrooge quite agonised, “show that person tome, Spirit, I beseech you!”
The Phantom spread its dark robe before him for amoment, like a wing; and withdrawing it, revealed a room by daylight, where amother and her children were.
She was expecting some one, and with anxiouseagerness; for she walked up and down the room; started at every sound; lookedout from the window; glanced at the clock; tried, but in vain, to work with herneedle; and could hardly bear the voices of the children in their play.
At length the long-expected knock was heard. Shehurried to the door, and met her husband; a man whose face was careworn anddepressed, though he was young. There was a remarkable expression in it now; akind of serious delight of which he felt ashamed, and which he struggled torepress.
He sat down to the dinner that had been hoarding forhim by the fire; and when she asked him faintly what news (which was not untilafter a long silence), he appeared embarrassed how to answer.
“Is it good?” she said, “or bad?”—to help him.
“Bad,” he answered.
“We are quite ruined?”
“No. There is hope yet, Caroline.”
“If he relents,” she said, amazed, “there is! Nothingis past hope, if such a miracle has happened.”
“He is past relenting,” said her husband. “He isdead.”
She was a mild and patient creature if her face spoketruth; but she was thankful in her soul to hear it, and she said so, withclasped hands. She prayed forgiveness the next moment, and was sorry; but thefirst was the emotion of her heart.
“What the half-drunken woman whom I told you of lastnight, said to me, when I tried to see him and obtain a week’s delay; and whatI thought was a mere excuse to avoid me; turns out to have been quite true. Hewas not only very ill, but dying, then.”
“To whom will our debt be transferred?”
“I don’t know. But before that time we shall be readywith the money; and even though we were not, it would be a bad fortune indeedto find so merciless a creditor in his successor. We may sleep to-night withlight hearts, Caroline!”
Yes. Soften it as they would, their hearts werelighter. The children’s faces, hushed and clustered round to hear what they solittle understood, were brighter; and it was a happier house for this man’sdeath! The only emotion that the Ghost could show him, caused by the event, wasone of pleasure.
“Let me see some tenderness connected with a death,”said Scrooge; “or that dark chamber, Spirit, which we left just now, will befor ever present to me.”
The Ghost conducted him through several streetsfamiliar to his feet; and as they went along, Scrooge looked here and there tofind himself, but nowhere was he to be seen. They entered poor Bob Cratchit’shouse; the dwelling he had visited before; and found the mother and thechildren seated round the fire.
Quiet. Very quiet. The noisy little Cratchits were asstill as statues in one corner, and sat looking up at Peter, who had a bookbefore him. The mother and her daughters were engaged in sewing. But surelythey were very quiet!
“ ‘And He took a child, and set him in the midst ofthem.’ ”
Where had Scrooge heard those words? He had notdreamed them. The boy must have read them out, as he and the Spirit crossed thethreshold. Why did he not go on?
The mother laid her work upon the table, and put herhand up to her face.
“The colour hurts my eyes,” she said.
The colour? Ah, poor Tiny Tim!
“They’re better now again,” said Cratchit’s wife. “Itmakes them weak by candle-light; and I wouldn’t show weak eyes to your fatherwhen he comes home, for the world. It must be near his time.”
“Past it rather,” Peter answered, shutting up hisbook. “But I think he has walked a little slower than he used, these few lastevenings, mother.”
They were very quiet again. At last she said, and in asteady, cheerful voice, that only faltered once:
“I have known him walk with—I have known him walk withTiny Tim upon his shoulder, very fast indeed.”
“And so have I,” cried Peter. “Often.”
“And so have I,” exclaimed another. So had all.
“But he was very light to carry,” she resumed, intentupon her work, “and his father loved him so, that it was no trouble: notrouble. And there is your father at the door!”
She hurried out to meet him; and little Bob in hiscomforter—he had need of it, poor fellow—came in. His tea was ready for him onthe hob, and they all tried who should help him to it most. Then the two youngCratchits got upon his knees and laid, each child a little cheek, against hisface, as if they said, “Don’t mind it, father. Don’t be grieved!”
Bob was very cheerful with them, and spoke pleasantlyto all the family. He looked at the work upon the table, and praised theindustry and speed of Mrs. Cratchit and the girls. They would be done longbefore Sunday, he said.
“Sunday! You went to-day, then, Robert?” said hiswife.
“Yes, my dear,” returned Bob. “I wish you could havegone. It would have done you good to see how green a place it is. But you’llsee it often. I promised him that I would walk there on a Sunday. My little,little child!” cried Bob. “My little child!”
He broke down all at once. He couldn’t help it. If he couldhave helped it, he and his child would have been farther apart perhaps thanthey were.
He left the room, and went up-stairs into the roomabove, which was lighted cheerfully, and hung with Christmas. There was a chairset close beside the child, and there were signs of some one having been there,lately. Poor Bob sat down in it, and when he had thought a little and composedhimself, he kissed the little face. He was reconciled to what had happened, andwent down again quite happy.
They drew about the fire, and talked; the girls andmother working still. Bob told them of the extraordinary kindness of Mr.Scrooge’s nephew, whom he had scarcely seen but once, and who, meeting him inthe street that day, and seeing that he looked a little—“just a little down youknow,” said Bob, inquired what had happened to distress him. “On which,” saidBob, “for he is the pleasantest-spoken gentleman you ever heard, I told him. ‘Iam heartily sorry for it, Mr. Cratchit,’ he said, ‘and heartily sorry for yourgood wife.’ By the bye, how he ever knew that, I don’t know.”
“Knew what, my dear?”
“Why, that you were a good wife,” replied Bob.
“Everybody knows that!” said Peter.
“Very well observed, my boy!” cried Bob. “I hope theydo. ‘Heartily sorry,’ he said, ‘for your good wife. If I can be of service toyou in any way,’ he said, giving me his card, ‘that’s where I live. Pray cometo me.’ Now, it wasn’t,” cried Bob, “for the sake of anything he might be ableto do for us, so much as for his kind way, that this was quite delightful. Itreally seemed as if he had known our Tiny Tim, and felt with us.”
“I’m sure he’s a good soul!” said Mrs. Cratchit.
“You would be surer of it, my dear,” returned Bob, “ifyou saw and spoke to him. I shouldn’t be at all surprised—mark what I say!—ifhe got Peter a better situation.”
“Only hear that, Peter,” said Mrs. Cratchit.
“And then,” cried one of the girls, “Peter will bekeeping company with some one, and setting up for himself.”
“Get along with you!” retorted Peter, grinning.
“It’s just as likely as not,” said Bob, “one of thesedays; though there’s plenty of time for that, my dear. But however and wheneverwe part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget poor TinyTim—shall we—or this first parting that there was among us?”
“Never, father!” cried they all.
“And I know,” said Bob, “I know, my dears, that whenwe recollect how patient and how mild he was; although he was a little, littlechild; we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves, and forget poor Tiny Tim indoing it.”
“No, never, father!” they all cried again.
“I am very happy,” said little Bob, “I am very happy!”
Mrs. Cratchit kissed him, his daughters kissed him,the two young Cratchits kissed him, and Peter and himself shook hands. Spiritof Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God!
“Spectre,” said Scrooge, “something informs me thatour parting moment is at hand. I know it, but I know not how. Tell me what manthat was whom we saw lying dead?”
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come conveyed him, asbefore—though at a different time, he thought: indeed, there seemed no order inthese latter visions, save that they were in the Future—into the resorts ofbusiness men, but showed him not himself. Indeed, the Spirit did not stay foranything, but went straight on, as to the end just now desired, until besoughtby Scrooge to tarry for a moment.
“This court,” said Scrooge, “through which we hurrynow, is where my place of occupation is, and has been for a length of time. Isee the house. Let me behold what I shall be, in days to come!”
The Spirit stopped; the hand was pointed elsewhere.
“The house is yonder,” Scrooge exclaimed. “Why do youpoint away?”
The inexorable finger underwent no change.
Scrooge hastened to the window of his office, andlooked in. It was an office still, but not his. The furniture was not the same,and the figure in the chair was not himself. The Phantom pointed as before.
He joined it once again, and wondering why and whitherhe had gone, accompanied it until they reached an iron gate. He paused to lookround before entering.
A churchyard. Here, then; the wretched man whose namehe had now to learn, lay underneath the ground. It was a worthy place. Walledin by houses; overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation’s death, notlife; choked up with too much burying; fat with repleted appetite. A worthyplace!
The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down toOne. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been,but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which youpoint,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of thethings that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by whichit stood.
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which,if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses bedeparted from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; andfollowing the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name,Ebenezer Scrooge.
“Am I that man who lay upon the bed?” he cried, uponhis knees.
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and backagain.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”
The finger still was there.
“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hearme! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for thisintercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!”
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground hefell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that Iyet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”
The kind hand trembled.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keepit all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. TheSpirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessonsthat they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It soughtto free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit,stronger yet, repulsed him.
Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fatereversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk,collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.
THE END OF IT.
Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own,the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was hisown, to make amends in!
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and theFuture!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of allThree shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Timebe praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”
He was so fluttered and so glowing with his goodintentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He hadbeen sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wetwith tears.
“They are not torn down,” cried Scrooge, folding oneof his bed-curtains in his arms, “they are not torn down, rings and all. Theyare here—I am here—the shadows of the things that would have been, may bedispelled. They will be. I know they will!”
His hands were busy with his garments all this time;turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislayingthem, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.
“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing andcrying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with hisstockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am asmerry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas toeverybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”
He had frisked into the sitting-room, and was nowstanding there: perfectly winded.
“There’s the saucepan that the gruel was in!” criedScrooge, starting off again, and going round the fireplace. “There’s the door,by which the Ghost of Jacob Marley entered! There’s the corner where the Ghostof Christmas Present, sat! There’s the window where I saw the wanderingSpirits! It’s all right, it’s all true, it all happened. Ha ha ha!”
Really, for a man who had been out of practice for somany years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of along, long line of brilliant laughs!
“I don’t know what day of the month it is!” saidScrooge. “I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t knowanything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby.Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!”
He was checked in his transports by the churchesringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer; ding,dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding; hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!
Running to the window, he opened it, and put out hishead. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping forthe blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merrybells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!
“What’s to-day!” cried Scrooge, calling downward to aboy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.
“To-day!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”
“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “Ihaven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can doanything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my finefellow!”
“Hallo!” returned the boy.
“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street butone, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.
“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.
“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy!Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging upthere?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”
“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.
“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s apleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”
“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.
“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”
“Walk-er!” exclaimed the boy.
“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buyit, and tell ’em to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where totake it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back withhim in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown!”
The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steadyhand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.
“I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s!” whispered Scrooge,rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. “He sha’n’t know who sends it.It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe Miller never made such a joke as sendingit to Bob’s will be!”
The hand in which he wrote the address was not asteady one, but write it he did, somehow, and went down-stairs to open thestreet door, ready for the coming of the poulterer’s man. As he stood there,waiting his arrival, the knocker caught his eye.
“I shall love it, as long as I live!” cried Scrooge,patting it with his hand. “I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honestexpression it has in its face! It’s a wonderful knocker!—Here’s the Turkey!Hallo! Whoop! How are you! Merry Christmas!”
It was a Turkey! He never could have stood upon hislegs, that bird. He would have snapped ’em short off in a minute, like sticksof sealing-wax.
“Why, it’s impossible to carry that to Camden Town,”said Scrooge. “You must have a cab.”
The chuckle with which he said this, and the chucklewith which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for thecab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to beexceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again,and chuckled till he cried.
Shaving was not an easy task, for his hand continuedto shake very much; and shaving requires attention, even when you don’t dancewhile you are at it. But if he had cut the end of his nose off, he would haveput a piece of sticking-plaister over it, and been quite satisfied.
He dressed himself “all in his best,” and at last gotout into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, as he hadseen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and walking with his handsbehind him, Scrooge regarded every one with a delighted smile. He looked soirresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured fellowssaid, “Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!” And Scrooge said oftenafterwards, that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were theblithest in his ears.
He had not gone far, when coming on towards him hebeheld the portly gentleman, who had walked into his counting-house the daybefore, and said, “Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe?” It sent a pang across hisheart to think how this old gentleman would look upon him when they met; but heknew what path lay straight before him, and he took it.
“My dear sir,” said Scrooge, quickening his pace, andtaking the old gentleman by both his hands. “How do you do? I hope yousucceeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry Christmas to you, sir!”
“Yes,” said Scrooge. “That is my name, and I fear itmay not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have thegoodness”—here Scrooge whispered in his ear.
“Lord bless me!” cried the gentleman, as if his breathwere taken away. “My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?”
“If you please,” said Scrooge. “Not a farthing less. Agreat many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me thatfavour?”
“My dear sir,” said the other, shaking hands with him.“I don’t know what to say to such munifi—”
“Don’t say anything, please,” retorted Scrooge. “Comeand see me. Will you come and see me?”
“I will!” cried the old gentleman. And it was clear hemeant to do it.
“Thank’ee,” said Scrooge. “I am much obliged to you. Ithank you fifty times. Bless you!”
He went to church, and walked about the streets, andwatched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, andquestioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to thewindows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had neverdreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness. In theafternoon he turned his steps towards his nephew’s house.
He passed the door a dozen times, before he had thecourage to go up and knock. But he made a dash, and did it:
“Is your master at home, my dear?” said Scrooge to thegirl. Nice girl! Very.
“Where is he, my love?” said Scrooge.
“He’s in the dining-room, sir, along with mistress.I’ll show you up-stairs, if you please.”
“Thank’ee. He knows me,” said Scrooge, with his handalready on the dining-room lock. “I’ll go in here, my dear.”
He turned it gently, and sidled his face in, round thedoor. They were looking at the table (which was spread out in great array); forthese young housekeepers are always nervous on such points, and like to seethat everything is right.
“Fred!” said Scrooge.
Dear heart alive, how his niece by marriage started!Scrooge had forgotten, for the moment, about her sitting in the corner with thefootstool, or he wouldn’t have done it, on any account.
“Why bless my soul!” cried Fred, “who’s that?”
“It’s I. Your uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner.Will you let me in, Fred?”
Let him in! It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off.He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. His niece lookedjust the same. So did Topper when he came. So did the plump sister when shecame. So did every one when they came. Wonderful party, wonderful games,wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!
But he was early at the office next morning. Oh, hewas early there. If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit cominglate! That was the thing he had set his heart upon.
And he did it; yes, he did! The clock struck nine. NoBob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half behind histime. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come into theTank.
His hat was off, before he opened the door; hiscomforter too. He was on his stool in a jiffy; driving away with his pen, as ifhe were trying to overtake nine o’clock.
“Hallo!” growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, asnear as he could feign it. “What do you mean by coming here at this time ofday?”
“I am very sorry, sir,” said Bob. “I am behind mytime.”
“You are?” repeated Scrooge. “Yes. I think you are.Step this way, sir, if you please.”
“It’s only once a year, sir,” pleaded Bob, appearingfrom the Tank. “It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday,sir.”
“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Scrooge, “Iam not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” hecontinued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoatthat he staggered back into the Tank again; “and therefore I am about to raiseyour salary!”
Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. Hehad a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and callingto the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.
“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with anearnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “Amerrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year!I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and wewill discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smokingbishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dotanother i, Bob Cratchit!”
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, andinfinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. Hebecame as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good oldcity knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, andlittle heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happenedon this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill oflaughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway,he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, ashave the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that wasquite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but livedupon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said ofhim, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed theknowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Timobserved, God bless Us, Every One!