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Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: Part 3,The Second of the Three Spirits

STAVE III: THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS

AWAKING in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and
sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrooge had
no occasion to be told that the bell was again upon the
stroke of One. He felt that he was restored to consciousness
in the right nick of time, for the especial purpose of holding
a conference with the second messenger despatched to him
through Jacob Marley’s intervention. But finding that he
turned uncomfortably cold when he began to wonder which
of his curtains this new spectre would draw back, he put
them every one aside with his own hands; and lying down
again, established a sharp look-out all round the bed. For
he wished to challenge the Spirit on the moment of its
appearance, and did not wish to be taken by surprise, and
made nervous.

Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves
on being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually
equal to the time-of-day, express the wide range of their
capacity for adventure by observing that they are good for
anything from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter; between which
opposite extremes, no doubt, there lies a tolerably wide and
comprehensive range of subjects. Without venturing for
Scrooge quite as hardily as this, I don’t mind calling on you
to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of
strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and
rhinoceros would have astonished him very much.

Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not by
any means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the
Bell struck One, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a
violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter
of an hour went by, yet nothing came. All this time, he lay
upon his bed, the very core and centre of a blaze of ruddy
light, which streamed upon it when the clock proclaimed the
hour; and which, being only light, was more alarming than
a dozen ghosts, as he was powerless to make out what it
meant, or would be at; and was sometimes apprehensive
that he might be at that very moment an interesting case of
spontaneous combustion, without having the consolation of
knowing it. At last, however, he began to think–as you or
I would have thought at first; for it is always the person not
in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done
in it, and would unquestionably have done it too–at last, I
say, he began to think that the source and secret of this
ghostly light might be in the adjoining room, from whence,
on further tracing it, it seemed to shine. This idea taking
full possession of his mind, he got up softly and shuffled in
his slippers to the door.

The moment Scrooge’s hand was on the lock, a strange
voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He
obeyed.

It was his own room. There was no doubt about that.
But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls
and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a
perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming
berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and
ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had
been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring
up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had
never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and
many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form
a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn,
great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages,
mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts,
cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears,
immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that
made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy
state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to
see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s
horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge,
as he came peeping round the door.

“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in! and know
me better, man!”

Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this
Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and
though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like
to meet them.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit.
“Look upon me!”

Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple
green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment
hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was
bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any
artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the
garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other
covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining
icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its
genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice,
its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded
round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword
was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.

“You have never seen the like of me before!” exclaimed
the Spirit.

“Never,” Scrooge made answer to it.

“Have never walked forth with the younger members of
my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers
born in these later years?” pursued the Phantom.

“I don’t think I have,” said Scrooge. “I am afraid I have
not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?”

“More than eighteen hundred,” said the Ghost.

“A tremendous family to provide for!” muttered Scrooge.

The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.

“Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where
you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt
a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught
to teach me, let me profit by it.”

“Touch my robe!”

Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.

Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game,
poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings,
fruit, and punch, all vanished instantly. So did the room,
the fire, the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they stood
in the city streets on Christmas morning, where (for the
weather was severe) the people made a rough, but brisk and
not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the
pavement in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of
their houses, whence it was mad delight to the boys to see
it come plumping down into the road below, and splitting
into artificial little snow-storms.

The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows
blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow
upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground;
which last deposit had been ploughed up in deep furrows by
the heavy wheels of carts and waggons; furrows that crossed
and re-crossed each other hundreds of times where the great
streets branched off; and made intricate channels, hard to trace
in the thick yellow mud and icy water. The sky was gloomy,
and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist,
half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended
in a shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great
Britain had, by one consent, caught fire, and were blazing away
to their dear hearts’ content. There was nothing very cheerful
in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of
cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest
summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.

For, the people who were shovelling away on the housetops
were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another
from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious
snowball–better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest–
laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it
went wrong. The poulterers’ shops were still half open, and the
fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory. There were great, round,
pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats
of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out
into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were
ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in
the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking
from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went
by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were
pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there
were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence
to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might
water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy
and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among
the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered
leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squat and swarthy, setting
off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great
compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and
beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after
dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among
these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and
stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was
something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and
round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.

The Grocers’! oh, the Grocers’! nearly closed, with perhaps
two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such
glimpses! It was not alone that the scales descending on the
counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller
parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled
up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended
scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even
that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so
extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight,
the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and
spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on
feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs
were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in
modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that
everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but
the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful
promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other
at the door, crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left
their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to
fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in
the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people
were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which
they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own,
worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws
to peck at if they chose.

But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and
chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in
their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the
same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and
nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners
to the bakers’ shops. The sight of these poor revellers
appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with
Scrooge beside him in a baker’s doorway, and taking off the
covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their
dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind
of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words
between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he
shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good
humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame
to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love
it, so it was!

In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and
yet there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners
and the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of
wet above each baker’s oven; where the pavement smoked as
if its stones were cooking too.

“Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from
your torch?” asked Scrooge.

“There is. My own.”

“Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?”
asked Scrooge.

“To any kindly given. To a poor one most.”

“Why to a poor one most?” asked Scrooge.

“Because it needs it most.”

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, after a moment’s thought, “I wonder
you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should
desire to cramp these people’s opportunities of innocent
enjoyment.”

“I!” cried the Spirit.

“You would deprive them of their means of dining every
seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said
to dine at all,” said Scrooge. “Wouldn’t you?”

“I!” cried the Spirit.

“You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day?” said
Scrooge. “And it comes to the same thing.”

“I seek!” exclaimed the Spirit.

“Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your
name, or at least in that of your family,” said Scrooge.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit,
“who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion,
pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness
in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and
kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge
their doings on themselves, not us.”

Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on,
invisible, as they had been before, into the suburbs of the
town. It was a remarkable quality of the Ghost (which
Scrooge had observed at the baker’s), that notwithstanding
his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any place
with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as
gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible
he could have done in any lofty hall.

And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in
showing off this power of his, or else it was his own kind,
generous, hearty nature, and his sympathy with all poor
men, that led him straight to Scrooge’s clerk’s; for there he
went, and took Scrooge with him, holding to his robe; and
on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped
to bless Bob Cratchit’s dwelling with the sprinkling of his
torch. Think of that! Bob had but fifteen “Bob” a-week
himself; he pocketed on Saturdays but fifteen copies of his
Christian name; and yet the Ghost of Christmas Present
blessed his four-roomed house!

Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out
but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons,
which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and
she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of
her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter
Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and
getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob’s private
property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the
day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly
attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks.
And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing
in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the
goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious
thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced
about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the
skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked
him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up,
knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and
peeled.

“What has ever got your precious father then?” said Mrs.
Cratchit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha
warn’t as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour?”

“Here’s Martha, mother!” said a girl, appearing as she
spoke.

“Here’s Martha, mother!” cried the two young Cratchits.
“Hurrah! There’s such a goose, Martha!”

“Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!”
said Mrs. Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times, and taking off
her shawl and bonnet for her with officious zeal.

“We’d a deal of work to finish up last night,” replied the
girl, “and had to clear away this morning, mother!”

“Well! Never mind so long as you are come,” said Mrs.
Cratchit. “Sit ye down before the fire, my dear, and have
a warm, Lord bless ye!”

“No, no! There’s father coming,” cried the two young
Cratchits, who were everywhere at once. “Hide, Martha,
hide!”

So Martha hid herself, and in came little Bob, the father,
with at least three feet of comforter exclusive of the fringe,
hanging down before him; and his threadbare clothes darned
up and brushed, to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his
shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and
had his limbs supported by an iron frame!

“Why, where’s our Martha?” cried Bob Cratchit, looking
round.

“Not coming,” said Mrs. Cratchit.

“Not coming!” said Bob, with a sudden declension in his
high spirits; for he had been Tim’s blood horse all the way
from church, and had come home rampant. “Not coming
upon Christmas Day!”

Martha didn’t like to see him disappointed, if it were only
in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet
door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits
hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house,
that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit,
when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had
hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.

“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he
gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the
strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home,
that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he
was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember
upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind
men see.”

Bob’s voice was tremulous when he told them this, and
trembled more when he said that Tiny Tim was growing
strong and hearty.

His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back
came Tiny Tim before another word was spoken, escorted by
his brother and sister to his stool before the fire; and while
Bob, turning up his cuffs–as if, poor fellow, they were
capable of being made more shabby–compounded some hot
mixture in a jug with gin and lemons, and stirred it round
and round and put it on the hob to simmer; Master Peter,
and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the
goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose
the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a
black swan was a matter of course–and in truth it was
something very like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made
the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot;
Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour;
Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted
the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny
corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for
everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard
upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest
they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be
helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was
said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs.
Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared
to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the
long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of
delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim,
excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with
the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe
there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and
flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal
admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes,
it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as
Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small
atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at
last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest
Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to
the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss
Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone–too nervous to
bear witnesses–to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should
break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got
over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they
were merry with the goose–a supposition at which the two
young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were
supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of
the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the
cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next
door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that!
That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit
entered–flushed, but smiling proudly–with the pudding,
like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half
of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with
Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly
too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by
Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that
now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had
had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had
something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it
was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have
been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed
to hint at such a thing.

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the
hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the
jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges
were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the
fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in
what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and
at Bob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of glass.
Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as
golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with
beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and
cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:

“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

Which all the family re-echoed.

“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

He sat very close to his father’s side upon his little
stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he
loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and
dreaded that he might be taken from him.

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt
before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”

“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor
chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully
preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future,
the child will die.”

“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he
will be spared.”

“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none
other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here.
What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and
decrease the surplus population.”

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by
the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not
adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered
What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what
men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the
sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live
than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear
the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life
among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Scrooge bent before the Ghost’s rebuke, and trembling cast
his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on
hearing his own name.

“Mr. Scrooge!” said Bob; “I’ll give you Mr. Scrooge, the
Founder of the Feast!”

“The Founder of the Feast indeed!” cried Mrs. Cratchit,
reddening. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece
of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he’d have a good
appetite for it.”

“My dear,” said Bob, “the children! Christmas Day.”

“It should be Christmas Day, I am sure,” said she, “on
which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard,
unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge. You know he is, Robert!
Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!”

“My dear,” was Bob’s mild answer, “Christmas Day.”

“I’ll drink his health for your sake and the Day’s,” said
Mrs. Cratchit, “not for his. Long life to him! A merry
Christmas and a happy new year! He’ll be very merry and
very happy, I have no doubt!”

The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of
their proceedings which had no heartiness. Tiny Tim drank
it last of all, but he didn’t care twopence for it. Scrooge
was the Ogre of the family. The mention of his name cast
a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for full
five minutes.

After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than
before, from the mere relief of Scrooge the Baleful being done
with. Bob Cratchit told them how he had a situation in his
eye for Master Peter, which would bring in, if obtained, full
five-and-sixpence weekly. The two young Cratchits laughed
tremendously at the idea of Peter’s being a man of business;
and Peter himself looked thoughtfully at the fire from
between his collars, as if he were deliberating what particular
investments he should favour when he came into the receipt
of that bewildering income. Martha, who was a poor
apprentice at a milliner’s, then told them what kind of work
she had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch,
and how she meant to lie abed to-morrow morning for a
good long rest; to-morrow being a holiday she passed at
home. Also how she had seen a countess and a lord some
days before, and how the lord “was much about as tall as
Peter;” at which Peter pulled up his collars so high that you
couldn’t have seen his head if you had been there. All this
time the chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and
by-and-bye they had a song, about a lost child travelling in
the snow, from Tiny Tim, who had a plaintive little voice,
and sang it very well indeed.

There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not
a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes
were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty;
and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside
of a pawnbroker’s. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased
with one another, and contented with the time; and when
they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings
of the Spirit’s torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye upon
them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.

By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty
heavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets,
the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and
all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Here, the flickering of
the blaze showed preparations for a cosy dinner, with hot
plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep
red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and darkness.
There all the children of the house were running out
into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins,
uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them. Here, again,
were shadows on the window-blind of guests assembling; and
there a group of handsome girls, all hooded and fur-booted,
and all chattering at once, tripped lightly off to some near
neighbour’s house; where, woe upon the single man who saw
them enter–artful witches, well they knew it–in a glow!

But, if you had judged from the numbers of people on
their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought
that no one was at home to give them welcome when they
got there, instead of every house expecting company, and
piling up its fires half-chimney high. Blessings on it, how
the Ghost exulted! How it bared its breadth of breast, and
opened its capacious palm, and floated on, outpouring, with
a generous hand, its bright and harmless mirth on everything
within its reach! The very lamplighter, who ran on before,
dotting the dusky street with specks of light, and who was
dressed to spend the evening somewhere, laughed out loudly
as the Spirit passed, though little kenned the lamplighter
that he had any company but Christmas!

And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they
stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses
of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place
of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed,
or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner;
and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse rank grass.
Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery
red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a
sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in
the thick gloom of darkest night.

“What place is this?” asked Scrooge.

“A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of
the earth,” returned the Spirit. “But they know me. See!”

A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they
advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and
stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a
glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their
children and their children’s children, and another generation
beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire.
The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling
of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a
Christmas song–it had been a very old song when he was a
boy–and from time to time they all joined in the chorus.
So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite
blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour
sank again.

The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Scrooge hold his
robe, and passing on above the moor, sped–whither? Not
to sea? To sea. To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw
the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them;
and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it
rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it
had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.

Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league
or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed,
the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse.
Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds
–born of the wind one might suppose, as sea-weed of the
water–rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.

But even here, two men who watched the light had made
a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed
out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their
horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they
wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and
one of them: the elder, too, with his face all damaged and
scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship
might be: struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in
itself.

Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea
–on, on–until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any
shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman
at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who
had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations;
but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or
had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his
companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward
hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or
sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another
on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared
to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those
he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted
to remember him.

It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening to the
moaning of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it
was to move on through the lonely darkness over an unknown
abyss, whose depths were secrets as profound as Death: it
was a great surprise to Scrooge, while thus engaged, to hear
a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge
to recognise it as his own nephew’s and to find himself in a
bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing smiling
by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving
affability!

“Ha, ha!” laughed Scrooge’s nephew. “Ha, ha, ha!”

If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a
man more blest in a laugh than Scrooge’s nephew, all I can
say is, I should like to know him too. Introduce him to me,
and I’ll cultivate his acquaintance.

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that
while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing
in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and
good-humour. When Scrooge’s nephew laughed in this way: holding
his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the
most extravagant contortions: Scrooge’s niece, by marriage,
laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being
not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.

“Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

“He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live!” cried
Scrooge’s nephew. “He believed it too!”

“More shame for him, Fred!” said Scrooge’s niece,
indignantly. Bless those women; they never do anything by
halves. They are always in earnest.

She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled,
surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that
seemed made to be kissed–as no doubt it was; all kinds of
good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another
when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever
saw in any little creature’s head. Altogether she was what
you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too.
Oh, perfectly satisfactory.

“He’s a comical old fellow,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that’s
the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However,
his offences carry their own punishment, and I have nothing
to say against him.”

“I’m sure he is very rich, Fred,” hinted Scrooge’s niece.
“At least you always tell me so.”

“What of that, my dear!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “His
wealth is of no use to him. He don’t do any good with it.
He don’t make himself comfortable with it. He hasn’t the
satisfaction of thinking–ha, ha, ha!–that he is ever going
to benefit US with it.”

“I have no patience with him,” observed Scrooge’s niece.
Scrooge’s niece’s sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed
the same opinion.

“Oh, I have!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “I am sorry for
him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers
by his ill whims! Himself, always. Here, he takes it into
his head to dislike us, and he won’t come and dine with us.
What’s the consequence? He don’t lose much of a dinner.”

“Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner,” interrupted
Scrooge’s niece. Everybody else said the same, and they
must be allowed to have been competent judges, because
they had just had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the
table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.

“Well! I’m very glad to hear it,” said Scrooge’s nephew,
“because I haven’t great faith in these young housekeepers.
What do you say, Topper?”

Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge’s niece’s
sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast,
who had no right to express an opinion on the subject.
Whereat Scrooge’s niece’s sister–the plump one with the lace
tucker: not the one with the roses–blushed.

“Do go on, Fred,” said Scrooge’s niece, clapping her hands.
“He never finishes what he begins to say! He is such a
ridiculous fellow!”

Scrooge’s nephew revelled in another laugh, and as it was
impossible to keep the infection off; though the plump sister
tried hard to do it with aromatic vinegar; his example was
unanimously followed.

“I was only going to say,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that
the consequence of his taking a dislike to us, and not making
merry with us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant
moments, which could do him no harm. I am sure he loses
pleasanter companions than he can find in his own thoughts,
either in his mouldy old office, or his dusty chambers. I
mean to give him the same chance every year, whether he
likes it or not, for I pity him. He may rail at Christmas
till he dies, but he can’t help thinking better of it–I defy
him–if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after
year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you? If it only
puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds,
that’s something; and I think I shook him yesterday.”

It was their turn to laugh now at the notion of his shaking
Scrooge. But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much
caring what they laughed at, so that they laughed at any
rate, he encouraged them in their merriment, and passed the
bottle joyously.

After tea, they had some music. For they were a musical
family, and knew what they were about, when they sung a
Glee or Catch, I can assure you: especially Topper, who
could growl away in the bass like a good one, and never
swell the large veins in his forehead, or get red in the face
over it. Scrooge’s niece played well upon the harp; and
played among other tunes a simple little air (a mere nothing:
you might learn to whistle it in two minutes), which had
been familiar to the child who fetched Scrooge from the
boarding-school, as he had been reminded by the Ghost of
Christmas Past. When this strain of music sounded, all the
things that Ghost had shown him, came upon his mind; he
softened more and more; and thought that if he could have
listened to it often, years ago, he might have cultivated the
kindnesses of life for his own happiness with his own hands,
without resorting to the sexton’s spade that buried Jacob
Marley.

But they didn’t devote the whole evening to music. After
a while they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children
sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its
mighty Founder was a child himself. Stop! There was first
a game at blind-man’s buff. Of course there was. And I
no more believe Topper was really blind than I believe he
had eyes in his boots. My opinion is, that it was a done
thing between him and Scrooge’s nephew; and that the
Ghost of Christmas Present knew it. The way he went after
that plump sister in the lace tucker, was an outrage on the
credulity of human nature. Knocking down the fire-irons,
tumbling over the chairs, bumping against the piano,
smothering himself among the curtains, wherever she went,
there went he! He always knew where the plump sister was.
He wouldn’t catch anybody else. If you had fallen up
against him (as some of them did), on purpose, he would
have made a feint of endeavouring to seize you, which would
have been an affront to your understanding, and would instantly
have sidled off in the direction of the plump sister.
She often cried out that it wasn’t fair; and it really was not.
But when at last, he caught her; when, in spite of all her
silken rustlings, and her rapid flutterings past him, he got
her into a corner whence there was no escape; then his
conduct was the most execrable. For his pretending not to
know her; his pretending that it was necessary to touch her
head-dress, and further to assure himself of her identity by
pressing a certain ring upon her finger, and a certain chain
about her neck; was vile, monstrous! No doubt she told
him her opinion of it, when, another blind-man being in
office, they were so very confidential together, behind the
curtains.

Scrooge’s niece was not one of the blind-man’s buff party,
but was made comfortable with a large chair and a footstool,
in a snug corner, where the Ghost and Scrooge were close
behind her. But she joined in the forfeits, and loved her
love to admiration with all the letters of the alphabet.
Likewise at the game of How, When, and Where, she was
very great, and to the secret joy of Scrooge’s nephew, beat
her sisters hollow: though they were sharp girls too, as Topper
could have told you. There might have been twenty people there,
young and old, but they all played, and so did Scrooge; for
wholly forgetting in the interest he had in what was going on, that
his voice made no sound in their ears, he sometimes came out with
his guess quite loud, and very often guessed quite right, too;
for the sharpest needle, best Whitechapel, warranted not to cut
in the eye, was not sharper than Scrooge; blunt as he took it in
his head to be.

The Ghost was greatly pleased to find him in this mood,
and looked upon him with such favour, that he begged like
a boy to be allowed to stay until the guests departed. But
this the Spirit said could not be done.

“Here is a new game,” said Scrooge. “One half hour,
Spirit, only one!”

It was a Game called Yes and No, where Scrooge’s nephew
had to think of something, and the rest must find out what;
he only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case
was. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed,
elicited from him that he was thinking of an animal, a live
animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an
animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes,
and lived in London, and walked about the streets,
and wasn’t made a show of, and wasn’t led by anybody, and
didn’t live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a market,
and was not a horse, or an ass, or a cow, or a bull, or a
tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat, or a bear. At every fresh
question that was put to him, this nephew burst into a
fresh roar of laughter; and was so inexpressibly tickled, that
he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp. At last
the plump sister, falling into a similar state, cried out:

“I have found it out! I know what it is, Fred! I know
what it is!”

“What is it?” cried Fred.

“It’s your Uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!”

Which it certainly was. Admiration was the universal
sentiment, though some objected that the reply to “Is it a
bear?” ought to have been “Yes;” inasmuch as an answer
in the negative was sufficient to have diverted their thoughts
from Mr. Scrooge, supposing they had ever had any tendency
that way.

“He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,” said
Fred, “and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health.
Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the
moment; and I say, ‘Uncle Scrooge!'”

“Well! Uncle Scrooge!” they cried.

“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old
man, whatever he is!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “He wouldn’t
take it from me, but may he have it, nevertheless. Uncle
Scrooge!”

Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay and light
of heart, that he would have pledged the unconscious
company in return, and thanked them in an inaudible speech,
if the Ghost had given him time. But the whole scene
passed off in the breath of the last word spoken by his
nephew; and he and the Spirit were again upon their travels.

Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they
visited, but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood
beside sick beds, and they were cheerful; on foreign lands,
and they were close at home; by struggling men, and they
were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and it was
rich. In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery’s every
refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not
made fast the door, and barred the Spirit out, he left his
blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.

It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge
had his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared
to be condensed into the space of time they passed
together. It was strange, too, that while Scrooge remained
unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly
older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of
it, until they left a children’s Twelfth Night party, when,
looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place,
he noticed that its hair was grey.

“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.

“My life upon this globe, is very brief,” replied the Ghost.
“It ends to-night.”

“To-night!” cried Scrooge.

“To-night at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing
near.”

The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at
that moment.

“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said
Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see
something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding
from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”

“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was
the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children;
wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt
down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed
the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling,
wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where
graceful youth should have filled their features out, and
touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled
hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and
pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat
enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No
change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any
grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has
monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to
him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but
the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie
of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon
them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,
and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for
on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the
writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out
its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye!
Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.
And bide the end!”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him
for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not.
As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the
prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes,
beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like
a mist along the ground, towards him.

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