|PART 2: THE FIRST OF THE THREE SPIRITS
[For PART 1 of A Christmas Carol, click here.]
by Jesse Kornbluth
How could that be? He had gone to bed at two. The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve!
He squinted at his pocket watch. Twelve!
“It isn't possible,” said Scrooge, “that I can have slept through a whole day and far into another night.”
He scrambled out of bed and went to the window. All he could see was that it was dark and foggy and extremely cold, and there were no people out.
Scrooge went back to bed.
As he lay there, he thought and thought, and the more he thought, the more perplexed he was --- about the strangeness of the time, but even more, about Marley's Ghost. Was it a dream or not?
Then he remembered: The Ghost had warned him of a visitation when the bell tolled one. He decided to lie awake until it came, but time passed slowly, and he dozed.
The church bell rang. One. Suddenly light flashed in the room and Scrooge found himself face to face with an unearthly visitor who was sitting as close to him as I am now to you.
The visitor was a strange figure. It was small like a child. Its hair was white --- and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it. The arms were very long and muscular, and the hands looked uncommonly strong. Its legs and feet were bare. It wore clothes of the purest white; around its waist was a shiny belt. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand.
At first Scrooge thought the strangest thing about the visitor was a bright clear jet of light streaming from the top of its head. But the more he looked, its strangest quality was how the figure changed --- sometimes light, sometimes dark, now seeming to have one arm and one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body.
“Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?” asked Scrooge.
“I am,” the visitor said, in a soft and gentle voice.
“Who, and what are you?” Scrooge demanded.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”
“No,” the visitor said. “Your past.”
“What business brings you here?”
“Your welfare!” said the Ghost. “So take heed!"
The Ghost put out its hand as it spoke, and clasped Scrooge gently by the arm.
“Rise! And walk with me!”
There would have been no point for Scrooge to plead that the weather was miserable and the hour was late and that he was only wearing his slippers, robe and nightcap --- the Ghost was not to be resisted.
The Ghost gestured for him to approach the window.
“I am mortal,” Scrooge said. “I might fall.”
“Take my hand.”
Just as he said those words, they passed --- as if by magic --- through the wall, and stood upon an open country road, with fields on either hand. The city had entirely vanished. The darkness and the mist had also vanished --- it was a clear, cold, winter day.
“Good Heaven!” said Scrooge, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. “I was born here. I was a boy here!”
“Your lip is trembling,” said the Ghost, noticing that Scrooge was silently crying. “And what is that upon your cheek?”
Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catch in his voice, that it was nothing, and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would.
“You know the way,” said the Spirit.
“Remember it?”' cried Scrooge. “I could walk it blindfold.”
“Strange to have forgotten it for so many years!” observed the Ghost. “Let’s go on.”
As they walked along the road, Scrooge recognized every gate, post and tree. A little market town appeared in the distance, with its bridge, its church, and winding river. Some shaggy ponies now were seen trotting towards them with boys upon their backs, who called to other boys in carts driven by farmers. All these boys were in great spirits, and shouted to each other, until the broad fields were filled with the joyous music of children.
“Those are only shadows of the things that used to be,” said the Ghost. “They are not aware that we are here.”
More people appeared. Scrooge knew and named them all. He was happy to see them, His cold eye glistened, and his heart leapt up as they went past. And he was filled with gladness when he heard them wish each other Merry Christmas as they headed off to their homes.
“The school is not quite deserted,” said the Ghost. “One child, neglected by his friends, is still there.”
Scrooge said he knew that. And he sobbed.
They left the road and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick. It was a large house, but the rooms were unused, their walls were damp and mossy, and their windows were broken.
The Ghost and Scrooge walked to a door at the back of the house. It opened before them, revealing a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of desks. At one of these a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire.
Scrooge sat down and wept to see the boy --- his poor forgotten self, as he used to be.
The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, in foreign clothes, stood outside the window, with an axe stuck in his belt. Behind him was a donkey laden with wood.
“Why, it's Ali Baba,” Scrooge exclaimed. “It's dear old honest Ali Baba! Yes, yes, I know. One Christmas time, when that child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor boy!”
Scrooge stopped and rubbed his eyes with his cuff.
“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.
“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing.”
The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved its hand. “Let’s see another Christmas!” he suggested.
The room became darker and dirtier. The panels shrunk, the windows cracked; fragments of plaster fell out of the ceiling --- but how all this was brought about, Scrooge knew no more than you do. He only knew that it seemed right, the way everything had happened. And there he was, alone again, when all the other boys had gone home for the jolly holidays.
The boy was not reading now, but walking up and down despairingly. Scrooge looked at the Ghost, and with a mournful shaking of his head, glanced anxiously towards the door.
It opened; and a little girl, much younger than the boy, came darting in. She put her arms about his neck and kissed him.
“I have come to bring you home, dear brother!” said the girl, clapping her tiny hands, and bending down to laugh. “To bring you home, home, home!”
“Home, little Fan?” returned the boy.
“Yes!” said the child. “Home, for good and all. Home, forever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be that home's like Heaven! He spoke so gently to me one night that I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you. And you're to be a man, and are never to come back here; but first, we're to be together all Christmas long, and have the merriest time in all the world.”
“You are quite a woman, little Fan!” exclaimed the boy.
She clapped her hands and laughed, and tried to touch his head; but being too little, laughed again, and stood on tiptoe to embrace him. Then she began to drag him, in her childish eagerness, towards the door.
A voice in the hall cried, “Bring down Master Scrooge's box, there!” and very quickly Scrooge's trunk was tied on to the top of the carriage, and the children were telling the schoolmaster good-bye and driving out of the drive and toward their home.
“Always a delicate creature,” said the Ghost. “But she had a large heart.”
“So she did.”
“She had a child,” said the Ghost.
“One child,” Scrooge noted.
“True,” said the Ghost. “Your nephew.”
Scrooge seemed uneasy and answered briefly, "Yes."
Now they were in the busy thoroughfares of a city. It was clear by 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, and asked Scrooge if he knew it.
“Know it?” said Scrooge. “I apprenticed here.”
They went in. An old gentleman in a Welsh wig sat behind a desk so high that if he had been two inches taller he would have knocked his head against the ceiling.
Scrooge cried in great excitement: “Why, it's old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it's Fezziwig alive again!”
Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands, adjusted his vest, laughed all over himself, and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice: “Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!”
Scrooge's former self, now grown into a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow apprentice.
“That’s Dick Wilkins,” said Scrooge to the Ghost. “Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick. Poor Dick.”
“Yo ho, my boys!” said Fezziwig. “No more work tonight. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let's have the shutters up!”
You wouldn't believe how those two fellows went at it. They charged into the street with the shutters --- one, two, three --- and had them up in their places --- four, five, six --- and barred them and pinned them --- seven, eight, nine --- and came back before you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.
“Hilli-ho!” cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from his desk. “Clear away, my lads, and let's have lots of room here!”
Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn't have cleared away, or couldn't have cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on. It was done in a minute. Everything that could be moved was packed off. The floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire. The warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright as a ballroom.
In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came.
And away they all went, twenty couples dancing at once, until old Fezziwig clapped his hands to stop the dancing and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose.
There were more dances, and there was cake, and there was a great piece of Roast Beef, and there were mince pies, and plenty to drink. But the great effect of the evening came when the fiddler struck up Mr. Fezziwig‘s favorite tune and the Fezziwigs danced together.
When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shook hands with every person individually as he or she went out, and wished him or her a Merry Christmas.
During the whole of this time, Scrooge‘s heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He remembered everything and enjoyed everything. Only when the bright faces of his former self and Dick left the ball did he remember the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him.
“How little it takes,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude."
“How little!” echoed Scrooge.
“Why! Is it not? He has spent only a few pounds --- three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?"
“It isn't that,” said Scrooge, speaking unconsciously like his younger self. “It isn't that, Spirit. The happiness he gives is as great as if it cost a fortune.”
He felt the Spirit's glance, and stopped.
“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.
“Nothing in particular,” said Scrooge. “Well, I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That's all.”
His former self turned down the lamps, and Scrooge and the Ghost again stood side by side in the open air.
“My time grows short,” the Spirit said. “Quick!”
Again Scrooge saw himself. He was older now, a man in the prime of life. His face had begun to wear the signs of care and avarice. There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, which showed the passion that had taken root --- the passion for money.
Scrooge was not alone now. He sat by the side of a young girl in a mourning dress. There were tears in her eyes.
“It matters little,” she said, softly. “Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in times to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no reason to grieve.”
“What idol has displaced you?” he asked.
“A golden one.”
“This is the way of the world,” he said. “There is nothing it pretends to hate more than the pursuit of wealth!”
She answered gently: “I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until Gain is all you care about.”
“What if that’s true?” he retorted. “I am not changed towards you.”
She shook her head.
“Our contract was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until we could improve our worldly fortune by our hard industry. You were another man then. Now you are changed.”
“I was a boy,” Scrooge said impatiently.
“The way you speak tells you that you were not what you are now,” she said. 'I am. I release you from our contract. It’s the right thing --- I can’t believe any more that you would choose a poor girl. I know if you did, you would regret it. So I release you. With a full heart, for the love of the man you once were.”
He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she continued: “The memory of what is past may give you pain. Part of me hopes for that. But it will be a very, very brief pain, and you will dismiss the memory of it. So….may you be happy in the life you have chosen!"
She left him, and they parted.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, “show me no more! Take me home!”
“One shadow more!” exclaimed the Ghost.
“No more!” cried Scrooge. “No more, I don't wish to see it. Show me no more!”
But the relentless Ghost grabbed him and forced him to look at what happened next.
They were in another scene and place: a room, not very large or handsome, but comfortable. Near to the fireplace sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last girl that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her --- a mother now --- sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were many children there. The place was noisy, but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that family?
But now a knocking at the door was heard, and they all rushed to greet the father, who entered with a man struggling under the weight of Christmas toys and presents. The children grabbed the father, and tugged on him, and pounded his back, and shouted with wonder and delight as each package was set out. It seemed to take forever to clear the room of the little children and get them to bed.
And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever as the master of the house sat down with his eldest daughter and her mother at his own fireside. And he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called him father, and been a joy to him in the winter of his life, and his sight grew very dim indeed.
“Belle,” said the husband, turning to his wife with a smile, “I saw an old friend of yours this afternoon.”
“How can I? Oh! Wait! Was it Mr. Scrooge?”
“Mr. Scrooge it was. I passed his office window; and as it was not shut up, and he had a candle inside, I could see him clearly. 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, ”take me away from this place.”
“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. '”They are what they are --- don’t blame me!”
“'Remove me!” Scrooge exclaimed, “Leave me! Take me back! Haunt me no longer!”
The next thing he knew, Scrooge was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and more, of being in his own bedroom. He barely had time to pull up the covers before he sank into a heavy sleep.
PART II: THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS
Scrooge's snoring woke him. He immediately looked round the bed --- he didn't want to be taken by surprise. And he wondered: What curtain would this new ghost draw back?
But when the bell struck One and no ghost appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling.
Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came. Except this: The whole time, a blaze of light streamed upon the bed --- and because it was only light and he couldn't figure out what it meant, it was more frightening than a dozen ghosts.
He got up softly and shuffled in his slippers to the door.
The moment Scrooge's hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by his name, and ordered him to 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 green --- it looked like a forest. Bright gleaming berries glistened from every leaf. There was holly, mistletoe and ivy. And a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney.
Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, poultry, suckling pigs, long wreaths of sausages, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense cakes and bowls of punch.
And then were was a jolly Giant, holding a glowing torch, which he held high, the better to shed its light on Scrooge.
“Come in!'' exclaimed the Ghost.
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Ghost. The Ghost's eyes were clear and kind, but Scrooge did not want to look into them.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,'' said the Ghost. “Look upon me!''
Scrooge did. The Ghost wore a simple green robe, bordered with white fur. Its feet were bare. On its head it wore a holly wreath. Its hair was curly. Its eyes sparkled. It seemed… joyful.
“You have never seen anything like me before!'' exclaimed the Ghost.
“Never,'' Scrooge said. “Spirit, take me where you will. I went forth last night because I was forced to, and I learnt a lesson that is working now. Tonight, if you have something to teach me, let me learn from it.''
“Touch my robe!''
Scrooge did as he was told.
Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game, poultry, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit and punch --- all vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire, the hour of night.
Now Scrooge and the Ghost stood on a city street on Christmas morning. They could see nothing very cheerful through the gloomy, dingy mist, and yet there was cheerfulness in the air. The people who were shoveling snow from their steps were happy to be doing so. Now and then a snowball would fly, and someone would shout with delight if it hit its target. The customers in the food shops were all so hurried they tumbled against each other at the door, crashing their baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, all in the best spirit. And then it was time for church, and they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes and with their most pleasant faces.
For the Ghost, this was the signal to lead Scrooge to his clerk's house. There he found Mrs. Cratchit, Bob Cratchit's wife, in a faded dress. Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, was setting the table, while young Peter Cratchit plunged a forkful of potatoes into his mouth. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker's they had smelt the goose and just knew it was theirs.
“What has ever got your precious father?'' said Mrs. Cratchit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim? And Martha wasn't as late last Christmas Day.”
“Here's Martha, mother!'' cried the two young Cratchits. “Hurrah! There's such a goose, Martha!''
“Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!'' said Mrs. Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times.
“We had a lot of work to finish up last night,'' the girl replied, “and had to clear away this morning, mother!''
“Well! Never mind so long as you are here,'' said Mrs. Cratchit. “Sit down before the fire, my dear.”
“No, no! Father's coming,'' cried the two young Cratchits. “Hide, Martha, hide!''
So Martha hid herself, and in came Bob, with Tiny Tim on his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he carried a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame.
“Where's our Martha?'' cried Bob, looking round.
“Not coming,'' said Mrs. Cratchit.
“Not coming!'' said Bob. “Not coming on Christmas Day?''
Martha didn't like to see him disappointed, even if it was only in joke; so she came out from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim off to see the pudding as it cooked.
“And how did little Tim behave?'' asked Mrs. Cratchit.
“As good as gold,'' said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who it was that made lame beggars walk and blind men see.''
Bob's voice trembled when he told them this, and trembled more when he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty.
The children went out to fetch the goose, while Mrs. Cratchit heated the gravy. Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible speed. Belinda sweetened up the applesauce. Martha put out the plates. And the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody.
At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, then Mrs. Cratchit plunged the carving knife into the goose. A murmur of delight arose all round the table, and even Tiny Tim beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried, “Hurrah!”
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Served with applesauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family.
And then, as Belinda changed the plates, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone to bring in the pudding. But what if it should not be done enough! What if it broke as it was being served? What if somebody got over the wall of the backyard and stole it while they were merry with the goose? All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Mrs. Cratchit entered, flushed, but smiling proudly. The pudding was like a cannonball, so hard and firm. “Oh, a wonderful pudding!” Bob Cratchit said, proclaiming it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was a small pudding for a large family.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. Apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, and Bob proposed: “A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!''
Which all the family echoed.
“God bless us every one!'' said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
He sat very close to his father's side upon his little stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he wished to keep him by his side and dreaded that he might be taken from him.
“Spirit,'' said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.''
“I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved,” replied the Ghost. “If these shadows remain unchanged in the future, the child will die.''
“No, no,'' said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! Say he will be spared.''
“If these shadows remain unchanged in the future, no one will find him here,” the Ghost repeated. “What then? Didn't someone say: 'If he's likely to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.'''
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Ghost, and was overcome with penitence and grief. And then he heard his own name, and looked up.
“Mr. Scrooge!'' said Bob. “A toast to Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!''
“The Founder of the Feast indeed!'' cried Mrs. Cratchit, reddening. “I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it.''
“My dear,'' said Bob, “`think of the children, think of Christmas Day.''
“It would be Christmas Day, I am sure,'' said she, “on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge. You know he is, Robert! Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!''
“My dear,'' was Bob's mild answer. ”Christmas Day.''
“I'll drink his health for your sake and the Day's --- not for his,'' said Mrs. Cratchit. ”Long life to him. A merry Christmas and a happy new year! He'll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!''
The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of their festivities that had no heartiness. Tiny Tim drank it last of all, but he didn't care for it. Scrooge was the Ogre of the family. The mention of his name cast a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for a full five minutes.
After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than before, from the mere relief of Scrooge being done with. Bob Cratchit told them how he had found a possible employer for Peter, and if that worked out, Peter would have quite a nice salary. The two young Cratchits laughed tremendously at the idea of Peter's being a man of business; and Peter himself looked into the fire and thought about the investments he'd make someday. Martha told them what kind of work she had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch, and how she meant to lie in bed tomorrow morning for a good long rest. All this time the chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and bye and bye they had a song, about a lost child traveling in the snow, from Tiny Tim.
There was nothing fancy in any of this. They were not a handsome family, they were not well dressed, their shoes were far from being waterproof. But they were happy, and grateful, and pleased with one another.
Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.
By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and as Scrooge and the Ghost went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in the houses was wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cozy dinner. There, all the children of the house were running out into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them. Here, again, were shadows on the window blind of guests assembling; and there was a group of handsome girls, all chattering at once, as they tripped lightly off to some neighbor's house.
If you had judged from the numbers of people on their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was at home to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every house expecting company, and piling up its fires half-chimney high. Blessings on it, how the Ghost enjoyed what it saw!
But now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood in a bleak and desert field, where masses of stone were cast about as though this was the burial ground of giants. The setting sun had left a streak of fiery red and then was lost in the thick gloom of darkest night.
The Ghost did not linger here, but motioned to Scrooge to follow out to the shore. There stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of seaweed clung to its base, and birds rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.
The two men who watched the light had made a fire. Joining their hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas.
Again the Ghost sped on, until he and Scrooge landed on a ship. They stood beside the sailor at the wheel, the lookout in the bow, the officers who had the watch --- and every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke softly to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had a kinder word for one another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered the people he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him.
It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while he saw all of this, to hear a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognize it as his own nephew's, and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Ghost standing smiling by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving affability.
"Ha, ha!'' laughed Scrooge's nephew. "Ha, ha, ha!''
If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blessed in a laugh than Scrooge's nephew, all I can say is, I should like to know him too.
When Scrooge's nephew laughed in this way --- holding his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the most extravagant contortions --- his wife laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends roared out with them.
"He said that Christmas was a humbug!'' cried Scrooge's nephew. "He believed it too!''
"More shame for him, Fred!'' said his wife.
"He's a comical old fellow,'' said Scrooge's nephew, "that's the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. But his crimes carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him.''
"I'm sure he is very rich, Fred,'' his wife said.
"What of that, my dear!'' said Scrooge's nephew. "His wealth is of no use to him. He doesn't do any good with it. He doesn't make himself comfortable with it. He hasn't the satisfaction of thinking -- ha, ha, ha! -- that he is ever going to benefit us with his fortune.''
"I have no patience with him,'' she said, and her sisters and all the other ladies expressed the same opinion.
"Oh, I have!'' said Scrooge's nephew. "I am sorry for him; I couldn't be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his foul mood? He does, always. Here, he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won't come and dine with us. What's the consequence? He loses a very good dinner.''
Then Scrooge's nephew turned serious: "I mean to invite him to join us every year, whether he likes it or not, for I pity him. He may mock Christmas till he dies, but he can't help thinking better of it if I go there, in good humor, year after year, saying 'Uncle Scrooge, how are you?' If it only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk a little money, that's something.''
After tea, they had some music. And all the things that Ghost had shown him filled Scrooge's mind. He softened more and more, and thought that if he could have listened to music more often, years ago, he might have cultivated the kindnesses of life for his own happiness.
After a while, Scrooge's nephew and his children played games, and Scrooge saw how it is good to be young sometimes, and never better than at Christmas. There might have been twenty people there, young and old, but they all played, and so did Scrooge, who forgot that his voice made no sound in their ears and sometimes came out, and quite loudly at that, with his guess to their quizzes.
The Ghost was pleased to find Scrooge in this mood, and was delighted when Scrooge begged like a boy to be allowed to stay until the guests departed. But the Ghost said this could not be done.
"They're starting a new game,'' said Scrooge. "One half hour, Spirit, only one!''
It was a Game called Yes and No, where Scrooge's nephew had to think of something, and the rest must find out what. He only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case was. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed, produced these responses: He was thinking of an animal, a live animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived in London, and walked about the streets, be it didn't live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a market, and was not a horse, or an ass, or a cow, or a bull, or a tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat, or a bear. At every fresh question that was put to him, this nephew burst into a fresh roar of laughter.
At last his sister cried out: "I have it! I know what it is, Fred! I know what it is!''
"What is it?'' cried Fred.
"It's your Uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!''
Which it certainly was.
"He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,'' said Fred, "and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health." He reached for a glass of mulled wine. "To Uncle Scrooge!''
"Well! Uncle Scrooge!'' they cried.
"A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old man, whatever he is!'' said Scrooge's nephew. "He wouldn't take it from me, but may he have it, nevertheless. Uncle Scrooge!''
Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay and light of heart, that he would have toasted his nephew's family in return, if the Ghost had given him time. But the whole scene passed with the last word spoken by his nephew, and Scrooge and the Ghost were again upon their travels.
Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited, but always with a happy end. The Ghost stood by sick beds, and they were cheerful. He showed Scrooge foreign lands, and they seemed close at home. He visited struggling men, and they seemed patient in their greater hope. He went to the poor, and they were rich. In hospitals and jails, in misery's every refuge, the Ghost left his blessing and taught Scrooge new lessons.
It was a long night, and a strange one, for while Scrooge remained unchanged in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of it, until they left a children's Twelfth Night party, when he looked at the Ghost as they stood together in an open place and noticed that its hair was grey.
"Are spirits' lives so short?'' asked Scrooge.
"My life upon this globe is very brief,'' replied the Ghost. "It ends tonight.''
"Tonight!'' cried Scrooge.
"Tonight at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing near.''
The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at that moment.
"Forgive me," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Ghost's robe, `"but I see something strange protruding from your robe.
From his robe, two children appeared. They were wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
"Look, look, down here!'' exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and girl. Yellow, ragged, scowling, wolfish --- but also humble.
Scrooge was appalled. He tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves.
"Spirit! Are they yours?'' was all Scrooge could say.
"They are Man's,'' said the Ghost, looking down upon them. "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Need. Beware them both.''
"Have they no home or help?'' cried Scrooge.
"Are there no prisons?'' said the Ghost, turning on Scrooge for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?''
The bell struck twelve.
Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.
[The conclusion of “A Christmas Carol” will be published tomorrow.]
Wednesday, December 22, 2010