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Christmas

Stories

including

A Christmas Carol

by

Charles Dickens

A PENN STATE ELECTRONIC CLASSICS SERIES PUBLICATION

Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens is a publication of the Pennsylvania State University. This Portable Docu- ment file is furnished free and without any charge of any kind. Any person using this document file, for any purpose, and in any way does so at his or her own risk. Neither the Pennsylvania State University nor Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, nor anyone associated with the Pennsylvania State University assumes any responsibility for the material contained within the document or for the file as an electronic transmission, in any way.

Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens, the Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classics Series, Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, Hazleton, PA 18202-1291 is a Portable Document File produced as part of an ongoing student publication project to bring classical works of literature, in English, to free and easy access of those wishing to make use of them.

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Charles Dickens

Contents

Contents

Contents

Contents

Contents

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

5

Some Christmas Stories ..........................

78

A CHRISTMAS TREE

78

WHAT CHRISTMAS IS

95

AS WE GROW OLDER

95

THE POOR RELATION’S STORY

100

THE CHILD’S STORY

111

THE SCHOOLBOY’S STORY

116

NOBODY’S STORY

...........................

126

Christmas Stories

Christmas Stories The young Dickens from a scan from 1858 book "cyclopedia of Wit and Humor"

The young Dickens from a scan from 1858 book "cyclopedia of Wit and Humor" edited by William E. Burton. Image courtesy of Wikipedia:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9b/

Charles_dickensyoung.jpg

Charles Dickens

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant, C. D. December, 1843.

Stave 1: Marley’s Ghost

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but

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that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain. The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot — say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance — literally to astonish his son’s weak mind. Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him. Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oys- ter. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas. External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often ‘came down’ handsomely, and Scrooge never did. Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, ‘My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?’ No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him

Charles Dickens

what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life in- quired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, ‘No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!’ But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympa- thy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call ‘nuts’ to Scrooge. Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christ- mas Eve — old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already — it had not been light all day — and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phan- toms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring ev- erything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale. The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagina- tion, he failed. ‘A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!’ cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

Christmas Stories

‘Bah!’ said Scrooge, ‘Humbug!’ He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. ‘Christmas a humbug, uncle!’ said Scrooge’s nephew. ‘You don’t mean that, I am sure?’ ‘I do,’ said Scrooge. ‘Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.’ ‘Come, then,’ returned the nephew gaily. ‘What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.’ Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the mo- ment, said ‘Bah!’ again; and followed it up with ‘Humbug.’ ‘Don’t be cross, uncle!’ said the nephew. ‘What else can I be,’ returned the uncle, ‘when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christ- mas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills with- out money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ‘em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,’ said Scrooge indignantly, ‘every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!’ ‘Uncle!’ pleaded the nephew. ‘Nephew!’ returned the uncle sternly, ‘keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.’ ‘Keep it!’ repeated Scrooge’s nephew. ‘But you don’t keep it.’ ‘Let me leave it alone, then,’ said Scrooge. ‘Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!’ ‘There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the venera- tion due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time; a kind, forgiving, chari- table, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of

Charles Dickens

the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!’ The clerk in the Tank involuntarily applauded. Becoming imme- diately sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and extin- guished the last frail spark for ever. ‘Let me hear another sound from you,’ said Scrooge, ‘and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation! You’re quite a power- ful speaker, sir,’ he added, turning to his nephew. ‘I wonder you don’t go into Parliament.’ ‘Don’t be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us tomorrow.’ Scrooge said that he would see him — yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first. ‘But why?’ cried Scrooge’s nephew. ‘Why?’ ‘Why did you get married?’ said Scrooge. ‘Because I fell in love.’ ‘Because you fell in love!’ growled Scrooge, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. ‘Good afternoon!’ ‘Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me beforehappened. Why give it as a reason for not coming now?’ ‘Good afternoon,’ said Scrooge. ‘I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?’ ‘Good afternoon,’ said Scrooge. ‘I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humour to the last. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!’ ‘Good afternoon,’ said Scrooge. ‘And A Happy New Year!’ ‘Good afternoon,’ said Scrooge. His nephew left the room without an angry word, notwithstand-

Christmas Stories

ing. He stopped at the outer door to bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, who cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned them cordially. ‘There’s another fellow,’ muttered Scrooge; who overheard him:

‘my clerk, with fifteen shillings a week, and a wife and family, talk- ing about a merry Christmas. I’ll retire to Bedlam.’ This lunatic, in letting Scrooge’s nephew out, had let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge’s office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him. ‘Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe,’ said one of the gentlemen, refer- ring to his list. ‘Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?’ ‘Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,’ Scrooge replied. ‘He died seven years ago, this very night.’ ‘We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviv- ing partner,’ said the gentleman, presenting his credentials. It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word ‘liberality,’ Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back. ‘At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,’ said the gentle- man, taking up a pen, ‘it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of com- mon comforts, sir.’ ‘Are there no prisons?’ asked Scrooge. ‘Plenty of prisons,’ said the gentleman, laying down the pen again. ‘And the Union workhouses?’ demanded Scrooge. ‘Are they still in operation?’ ‘They are. Still,’ returned the gentleman, ‘I wish I could say they were not.’ ‘The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?’ said Scrooge. ‘Both very busy, sir.’ ‘Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,’ said Scrooge. ‘I’m very

Charles Dickens

glad to hear it.’ ‘Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,’ returned the gentleman, ‘a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance re- joices. What shall I put you down for?’ ‘Nothing!’ Scrooge replied. ‘You wish to be anonymous?’ ‘I wish to be left alone,’ said Scrooge. ‘Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.’ ‘Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.’ ‘If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.’ ‘But you might know it,’ observed the gentleman. ‘It’s not my business,’ Scrooge returned. ‘It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!’ Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge returned his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him. Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibra- tions afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. In the main street at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their

Christmas Stories

eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in soli- tude, its overflowing sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice. The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries crack- led in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers’ and grocers’ trades became a splendid joke; a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do. The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should; and even the little tailor, whom he had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and bloodthirsty in the streets, stirred up to-morrow’s pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef. Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose. The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge’s keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of

‘God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!’

Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more conge- nial frost. At length the hour of shutting up the counting-house arrived. With an ill-will Scrooge dismounted from his stool, and tacitly ad- mitted the fact to the expectant clerk in the Tank, who instantly snuffed his candle out, and put on his hat. ‘You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?’ said Scrooge. ‘If quite convenient, sir.’ ‘It’s not convenient,’ said Scrooge, ‘and it’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound?’ The clerk smiled faintly.

Charles Dickens

‘And yet,’ said Scrooge, ‘you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.’ The clerk observed that it was only once a year. ‘A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!’ said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. ‘But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.’ The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl. The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christ- mas Eve, and then ran home to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blindman’s-buff. Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tav- ern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker’s-book, went home to bed. He lived in cham- bers which had once belonged to his deceased partner. They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again. It was old enough now, and dreary enough, for nobody lived in it but Scrooge, the other rooms being all let out as offices. The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold. Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole resi- dence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon. And then let any man explain to me, if he

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can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any interme- diate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face. Marley’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other ob- jects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were per- fectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression. As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again. To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not con- scious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and lighted his candle. He did pause, with a moment’s irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half-ex- pected to be terrified with the sight of Marley’s pigtail sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on, so he said ‘Pooh, pooh!’ and closed it with a bang. The sound resounded through the house like thunder. Every room above, and every cask in the wine-merchant’s cellars below, appeared to have a separate peal of echoes of its own. Scrooge was not a man to be frightened by echoes. He fastened the door, and walked across the hall, and up the stairs; slowly too: trimming his candle as he went. You may talk vaguely about driving a coach-and-six up a good old flight of stairs, or through a bad young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say you might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken it broadwise, with the splinter-bar towards the wall and the door towards the balustrades: and done it easy. There was plenty of width for that, and room to spare; which is perhaps the reason why Scrooge thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom. Half a dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn’t have

Charles Dickens

lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge’s dip. Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it. But before he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of the face to desire to do that. Sitting-room, bedroom, lumber-room. All as they should be. Nobody under the table, nobody under the sofa; a small fire in the grate; spoon and basin ready; and the little saucepan of gruel (Scrooge had a cold in his head) upon the hob. Nobody under the bed; no- body in the closet; nobody in his dressing-gown, which was hang- ing up in a suspicious attitude against the wall. Lumber-room as usual. Old fire-guards, old shoes, two fish-baskets, washing-stand on three legs, and a poker. Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked himself in; double- locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus secured against surprise, he took off his cravat; put on his dressing-gown and slip- pers, and his nightcap; and sat down before the fire to take his gruel. It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night. He was obliged to sit close to it, and brood over it, before he could extract the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel. The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illus- trate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaohs’ daugh- ters; Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts — and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, and swallowed up the whole. If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley’s head on every one. ‘Humbug!’ said Scrooge; and walked across the room. After several turns, he sat down again. As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell, a disused bell, that hung in the room, and communicated for some purpose now forgotten with a chamber in the highest story of the building. It was

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with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he saw this bell begin to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house. This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar. Scrooge then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains. The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door. ‘It’s humbug still!’ said Scrooge. ‘I won’t believe it.’ His colour changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried ‘I know him; Marley’s Ghost!’ and fell again. The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waist- coat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind. Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now. No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phan- tom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death- cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before; he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses. ‘How now!’ said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. ‘What do you want with me?’

Charles Dickens

‘Much!’ Marley’s voice, no doubt about it. ‘Who are you?’ ‘Ask me who I was.’ ‘Who were you then?’ said Scrooge, raising his voice. ‘You’re par- ticular, for a shade.’ He was going to say ‘to a shade,’ but substituted this, as more appropriate. ‘In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley.’ ‘Can you, can you sit down?’ asked Scrooge, looking doubtfully at him. ‘I can.’ ‘Do it, then.’ Scrooge asked the question, because he didn’t know whether a ghost so transparent might find himself in a condition to take a chair; and felt that in the event of its being impossible, it might involve the necessity of an embarrassing explanation. But the ghost sat down on the opposite side of the fireplace, as if he were quite used to it. ‘You don’t believe in me,’ observed the Ghost. ‘I don’t.’ said Scrooge. ‘What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Scrooge. ‘Why do you doubt your senses?’ ‘Because,’ said Scrooge, ‘a little thing affects them. A slight disor- der of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!’ Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones. To sit, staring at those fixed glazed eyes, in silence for a moment, would play, Scrooge felt, the very deuce with him. There was some- thing very awful, too, in the spectre’s being provided with an infer- nal atmosphere of its own. Scrooge could not feel it himself, but

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this was clearly the case; for though the Ghost sat perfectly motion- less, its hair, and skirts, and tassels, were still agitated as by the hot vapour from an oven. ‘You see this toothpick?’ said Scrooge, returning quickly to the charge, for the reason just assigned; and wishing, though it were only for a second, to divert the vision’s stony gaze from himself. ‘I do,’ replied the Ghost. ‘You are not looking at it,’ said Scrooge. ‘But I see it,’ said the Ghost, ‘notwithstanding.’ ‘Well!’ returned Scrooge, ‘I have but to swallow this, and be for the rest of my days persecuted by a legion of goblins, all of my own creation. Humbug, I tell you! humbug!’ At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast! Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face. ‘Mercy!’ he said. ‘Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?’ ‘Man of the worldly mind!’ replied the Ghost, ‘do you believe in me or not?’ ‘I do,’ said Scrooge. ‘I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?’ ‘It is required of every man,’ the Ghost returned, ‘that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world — oh, woe is me! — and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!’ Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands. ‘You are fettered,’ said Scrooge, trembling. ‘Tell me why?’ ‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?’ Scrooge trembled more and more.

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‘Or would you know,’ pursued the Ghost, ‘the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!’ Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing. ‘Jacob,’ he said, imploringly. ‘Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!’ ‘I have none to give,’ the Ghost replied. ‘It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more, is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house — mark me! — in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!’ It was a habit with Scrooge, whenever he became thoughtful, to put his hands in his breeches pockets. Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now, but without lifting up his eyes, or getting off his knees. ‘You must have been very slow about it, Jacob,’ Scrooge observed, in a business-like manner, though with humility and deference. ‘Slow!’ the Ghost repeated. ‘Seven years dead,’ mused Scrooge. ‘And travelling all the time!’ ‘The whole time,’ said the Ghost. ‘No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.’ ‘You travel fast?’ said Scrooge. ‘On the wings of the wind,’ replied the Ghost. ‘You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,’ said Scrooge. The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance. ‘Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,’ cried the phantom, ‘not to know, that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is

Christmas Stories

susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!’ ‘But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. ‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’ It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again. ‘At this time of the rolling year,’ the spectre said ‘I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!’ Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the spectre going on at this rate, and began to quake exceedingly. ‘Hear me!’ cried the Ghost. ‘My time is nearly gone.’ ‘I will,’ said Scrooge. ‘But don’t be hard upon me! Don’t be flow- ery, Jacob! Pray!’ ‘How it is that I appear before you in a shape that you can see, I may not tell. I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day.’ It was not an agreeable idea. Scrooge shivered, and wiped the per- spiration from his brow. ‘That is no light part of my penance,’ pursued the Ghost. ‘I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.’ ‘You were always a good friend to me,’ said Scrooge. ‘Thank ‘ee!’ ‘You will be haunted,’ resumed the Ghost, ‘by Three Spirits.’ Scrooge’s countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost’s had done. ‘Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?’ he demanded, in a faltering voice. ‘It is.’

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‘I — I think I’d rather not,’ said Scrooge. ‘Without their visits,’ said the Ghost, ‘you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls One.’ ‘Couldn’t I take ‘em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?’ hinted Scrooge. ‘Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!’ When it had said these words, the spectre took its wrapper from the table, and bound it round its head, as before. Scrooge knew this, by the smart sound its teeth made, when the jaws were brought together by the bandage. He ventured to raise his eyes again, and found his supernatural visitor confronting him in an erect attitude, with its chain wound over and about its arm. The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that when the spectre reached it, it was wide open. It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, Marley’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer. Scrooge stopped. Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a mo- ment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night. Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out. The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite fa- miliar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below,

Christmas Stories

upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever. Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded to- gether; and the night became as it had been when he walked home. Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He tried to say ‘Humbug!’ but stopped at the first syllable. And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull onversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant.

Stave 2: The First of the Three Spirits

When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a neighbouring church struck the four quarters. So he listened for the hour. To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped. Twelve. It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve. He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this most prepos- terous clock. Its rapid little pulse beat twelve: and stopped. ‘Why, it isn’t possible,’ said Scrooge, ‘that I can have slept through a whole day and far into another night. It isn’t possible that any- thing has happened to the sun, and this is twelve at noon.’ The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and groped his way to the window. He was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of his dressing-gown before he could see anything; and could see very little then. All he could make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no noise of

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people running to and with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy one. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow. It was a strange figure — like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white, and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubt- less the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extin- guisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm. Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadi- ness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glit- tered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.

Christmas Stories

‘Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me.’ asked Scrooge. ‘I am.’ The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of be- ing so close beside him, it were at a distance. ‘Who, and what are you.’ Scrooge demanded. ‘I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.’ ‘Long Past.’ inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature. ‘No. Your past.’ Perhaps, Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered. ‘What.’ exclaimed the Ghost,’ would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give. Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow.’ Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowl- edge of having wilfully bonneted the Spirit at any period of his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there. ‘Your welfare.’ said the Ghost. Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help think- ing that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:

‘Your reclamation, then. Take heed.’ It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm. ‘Rise. and walk with me.’ It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that bed was warm, and the thermometer a long way below freezing; that he was clad but lightly in his slippers, dressing-gown, and nightcap; and that he had a cold upon him at that time. The grasp, though gentle as a woman’s hand, was not to be resisted. He rose: but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped his robe in supplica- tion. ‘I am mortal,’ Scrooge remonstrated, ‘and liable to fall.’

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‘Bear but a touch of my hand there,’ said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart,’ and you shall be upheld in more than this.’ As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood upon an open country road, with fields on either hand. The city had entirely vanished. Not a vestige of it was to be seen. The dark- ness and the mist had vanished with it, for it was a clear, cold, win- ter day, with snow upon the ground. ‘Good Heaven!’ said Scrooge, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. ‘I was bred in this place. I was a boy here.’ The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle touch, though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the old man’s sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten. ‘Your lip is trembling,’ said the Ghost. ‘And what is that upon your cheek.’ Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would. ‘You recollect the way.’ inquired the Spirit. ‘Remember it.’ cried Scrooge with fervour; ‘I could walk it blind- fold.’ ‘Strange to have forgotten it for so many years.’ Observed the Ghost. ‘Let us go on.’ They walked along the road, Scrooge recognising every gate, and post, and tree; until a little market-town appeared in the distance, with its bridge, its church, and winding river. Some shaggy ponies now were seen trotting towards them with boys upon their backs, who called to other boys in country gigs and carts, driven by farm- ers. All these boys were in great spirits, and shouted to each other, until the broad fields were so full of merry music, that the crisp air laughed to hear it. ‘These are but shadows of the things that have been,’ said the Ghost. ‘They have no consciousness of us.’ The jocund travellers came on; and as they came, Scrooge knew and named them every one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to see them. Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up as they went past. Why was he filled with gladness when he heard

Christmas Stories

them give each other Merry Christmas, as they parted at cross-roads and bye-ways, for their several homes. What was merry Christmas to Scrooge. Out upon merry Christmas. What good had it ever done to him. ‘The school is not quite deserted,’ said the Ghost. ‘A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.’ Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed. They left the high-road, by a well-remembered lane, and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick, with a little weathercock- surmounted cupola, on the roof, and a bell hanging in it. It was a large house, but one of broken fortunes; for the spacious offices were little used, their walls were damp and mossy, their windows broken, and their gates decayed. Fowls clucked and strutted in the stables; and the coach-houses and sheds were over-run with grass. Nor was it more retentive of its ancient state, within; for entering the dreary hall, and glancing through the open doors of many rooms, they found them poorly furnished, cold, and vast. There was an earthy savour in the air, a chilly bareness in the place, which associ- ated itself somehow with too much getting up by candle-light, and not too much to eat. They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to a door at the back of the house. It opened before them, and disclosed a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain deal forms and desks. At one of these a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be. Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scuffle from the mice behind the panelling, not a drip from the half-thawed water- spout in the dull yard behind, not a sigh among the leafless boughs of one despondent poplar, not the idle swinging of an empty store-house door, no, not a clicking in the fire, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with a softening influence, and gave a freer passage to his tears. The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, in foreign garments:

wonderfully real and distinct to look at: stood outside the window, with an axe stuck in his belt, and leading by the bridle an ass laden with wood.

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‘Why, it’s Ali Baba.’ Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. ‘It’s dear old honest Ali Baba. Yes, yes, I know. One Christmas time, when yon- der solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor boy. And Valentine,’ said Scrooge,’ and his wild brother, Orson; there they go. And what’s his name, who was put down in his drawers, asleep, at the Gate of Damascus; don’t you see him. And the Sultan’s Groom turned upside down by the Genii; there he is upon his head. Serve him right. I’m glad of it. What business had he to be married to the Princess.’ To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness of his nature on such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing and crying; and to see his heightened and excited face; would have been a surprise to his business friends in the city, indeed. ‘There’s the Parrot.’ cried Scrooge. ‘Green body and yellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce growing out of the top of his head; there he is. Poor Robin Crusoe, he called him, when he came home again after sailing round the island. ‘Poor Robin Crusoe, where have you been, Robin Crusoe.’ The man thought he was dreaming, but he wasn’t. It was the Parrot, you know. There goes Friday, running for his life to the little creek. Halloa. Hoop. Hallo.’ Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign to his usual char- acter, he said, in pity for his former self, ‘Poor boy.’ and cried again. ‘I wish,’ Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: ‘but it’s too late now.’ ‘What is the matter.’ asked the Spirit. ‘Nothing,’ said Scrooge. ‘Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.’ The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved its hand: saying as it did so, ‘Let us see another Christmas.’ Scrooge’s former self grew larger at the words, and the room be- came a little darker and more dirty. The panels shrunk, the win- dows cracked; fragments of plaster fell out of the ceiling, and the naked laths were shown instead; but how all this was brought about, Scrooge knew no more than you do. He only knew that it was quite correct; that everything had happened so; that there he was, alone

Christmas Stories

again, when all the other boys had gone home for the jolly holidays. He 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, and putting her arms about his neck, and often kissing him, addressed him as her ‘Dear, dear brother.’ ‘I have come to bring you home, dear brother.’ said the child, 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, brimful of glee. ‘Home, for good and all. Home, for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven. He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, 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.’ said the child, opening her eyes,’ and are never to come back here; but first, we’re to be together all the 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, to- wards the door; and he, nothing loth to go, accompanied her. A terrible voice in the hall cried.’ Bring down Master Scrooge’s box, there.’ and in the hall appeared the schoolmaster himself, who glared on Master Scrooge with a ferocious condescension, and threw him into a dreadful state of mind by shaking hands with him. He then conveyed him and his sister into the veriest old well of a shiv- ering best-parlour that ever was seen, where the maps upon the wall, and the celestial and terrestrial globes in the windows, were waxy with cold. Here he produced a decanter of curiously light wine, and a block of curiously heavy cake, and administered instalments of those dainties to the young people: at the same time, sending out a meagre servant to offer a glass of something to the postboy, who answered that he thanked the gentleman, but if it was the same tap

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as he had tasted before, he had rather not. Master Scrooge’s trunk being by this time tied on to the top of the chaise, the children bade the schoolmaster good-bye right willingly; and getting into it, drove gaily down the garden-sweep: the quick wheels dashing the hoar- frost and snow from off the dark leaves of the evergreens like spray. ‘Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered,’ said the Ghost. ‘But she had a large heart.’ ‘So she had,’ cried Scrooge. ‘You’re right. I will not gainsay it, Spirit. God forbid.’ ‘She died a woman,’ said the Ghost,’ and had, as I think, chil- dren.’ ‘One child,’ Scrooge returned. ‘True,’ said the Ghost. ‘Your nephew.’ Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and answered briefly, ‘Yes.’ Although they had but that moment left the school behind them, they were now in the busy thoroughfares of a city, where shadowy passengers passed and repassed; where shadowy carts and coaches battle for the way, and all the strife and tumult of a real city were. It was made plain enough, by the dressing of the shops, that here too it was Christmas time again; but it was evening, and the streets were lighted up. The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it. ‘Know it.’ said Scrooge. ‘Was I apprenticed here.’ They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must 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 capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shows to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:

‘Yo ho, there. Ebenezer. Dick.’ Scrooge’s former self, now grown a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-prentice.

Christmas Stories

‘Dick Wilkins, to be sure.’ said Scrooge to the Ghost. ‘Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick. Poor Dick. Dear, dear.’ ‘Yo ho, my boys.’ said Fezziwig. ‘No more work to-night. Christ- mas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer. Let’s have the shutters up,’ cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, ‘before a man can say Jack Robinson.’ You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows went at it. They charged into the street with the shutters — one, two, three — had them up in their places — four, five, six — barred them and pinned then — 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 the high desk, with wonderful agility. ‘Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots of room here. Hilli-ho, Dick. Chirrup, Ebenezer.’ 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. Every movable was packed off, as if it were dis- missed from public life for evermore; the floor was swept and wa- tered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ball- room, as you would desire to see upon a winter’s night. In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach- aches. In came Mrs Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up

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again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them. When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out,’ Well done.’ and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish. There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind. The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him.) struck up Sir Roger de Coverley.’ Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking. But if they had been twice as many — ah, four times — old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that’s not high praise, tell me higher, and I’ll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig’s calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn’t have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig cut — cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger. 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 shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went

Christmas Stories

out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two prentices, they did the same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads were left to their beds; which were under a counter in the back-shop. During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now, when the bright faces of his former self and Dick were turned from them, that he remembered the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him, while the light upon its head burnt very clear. ‘A small matter,’ said the Ghost,’ to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.’ ‘Small.’ echoed Scrooge. The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said, ‘Why. Is it not. He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise.’ ‘It isn’t that,’ said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. ‘It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up: what then. The happiness he gives, is quite 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. ‘Something, I think.’ the Ghost insisted. ‘No,’ said Scrooge,’ No. 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 as he gave utterance to the wish; and Scrooge and the Ghost again stood side by side in the open air.

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‘My time grows short,’ observed the Spirit. ‘Quick.’ This was not addressed to Scrooge, or to any one whom he could see, but it produced an immediate effect. For again Scrooge saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. His face had not the harsh and rigid lines of later years; but it 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, and where the shadow of the growing tree would fall. He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young girl in a mourning-dress: in whose eyes there were tears, which sparkled in the light that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas Past. ‘It matters little,’ she said, softly. ‘To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.’ ‘What Idol has displaced you.’ he rejoined. ‘A golden one.’ ‘This is the even-handed dealing of the world.’ he said. ‘There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth.’ ‘You fear the world too much,’ she answered, gently. ‘All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not.’ ‘What then.’ he retorted. ‘Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then. I am not changed towards you.’ She shook her head. ‘Am I.’ ‘Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.’ ‘I was a boy,’ he said impatiently. ‘Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are,’ she returned. ‘I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can release you.’

Christmas Stories

‘Have I ever sought release.’ ‘In words. No. Never.’ ‘In what, then.’ ‘In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us,’ said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him;’ tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now. Ah, no.’ He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle,’ You think not.’ ‘I would gladly think otherwise if I could,’ she answered, ‘Heaven knows. When I have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl — you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your re- pentance and regret would surely follow. I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were.’ He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed. ‘You may — the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will — have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dis- miss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.’ She left him, and they parted. ‘Spirit.’ said Scrooge,’ show me no more. Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me.’ ‘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 pinioned him in both his arms, and forced him to observe what happened next. They were in another scene and place; a room, not very large or handsome, but full of comfort. Near to the winter fire sat a beauti-

Charles Dickens

ful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daugh- ter. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious be- yond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to one of them. Though I never could have been so rude, no, no. I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul. To save my life. As to mea- suring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have ques- tioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value. But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such a rush im- mediately ensued that she with laughing face and plundered dress was borne towards it the centre of a flushed and boisterous group, just in time to greet the father, who came home attended by a man laden with Christmas toys and presents. Then the shouting and the struggling, and the onslaught that was made on the defenceless por- ter. The scaling him with chairs for ladders to dive into his pockets, despoil him of brown-paper parcels, hold on tight by his cravat, hug him round his neck, pommel his back, and kick his legs in irrepressible affection. The shouts of wonder and delight with which the development of every package was received. The terrible an- nouncement that the baby had been taken in the act of putting a

Christmas Stories

doll’s frying-pan into his mouth, and was more than suspected of having swallowed a fictitious turkey, glued on a wooden platter. The immense relief of finding this a false alarm. The joy, and grati- tude, and ecstasy. They are all indescribable alike. It is enough that by degrees the children and their emotions got out of the parlour, and by one stair at a time, up to the top of the house; where they went to bed, and so subsided. And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever, when the master of the house, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat down with her and her mother at his own fireside; and when he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called him father, and been a spring-time in the haggard winter of his life, 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.’ ‘Who was it.’ ‘Guess.’ ‘How can I. Tut, don’t I know.’ she added in the same breath, laughing as he laughed. ‘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 scarcely help seeing him. His partner lies upon the point of death, I hear; and there he sat alone. Quite alone in the world, I do believe.’ ‘Spirit.’ said Scrooge in a broken voice,’ remove me from this place.’ ‘I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,’ said the Ghost. ‘That they are what they are, do not blame me.’ ‘Remove me.’ Scrooge exclaimed,’ I cannot bear it.’ He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it. ‘Leave me. Take me back. Haunt me no longer.’ In the struggle, if that can be called a struggle in which the Ghost with no visible resistance on its own part was undisturbed by any effort of its adversary, Scrooge observed that its light was burning high and bright; and dimly connecting that with its influence over him, he seized the extinguisher-cap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head.

Charles Dickens

The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguisher covered its whole form; but though Scrooge pressed it down with all his force, he could not hide the light, which streamed from under it, in an unbroken flood upon the ground. He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irre- sistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He gave the cap a parting squeeze, in which his hand relaxed; and had barely time to reel to bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.

Stave 3: 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, find- ing 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 adven- ture 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. With- out venturing for Scrooge quite as hardily as this, I don’t mind call- ing on you to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoc- eros 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.

Christmas Stories

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 pro- claimed 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-pud- dings, 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.’

Charles Dickens

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 un- constrained 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 fam- ily; 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 morn- ing, where (for the weather was severe) the people made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow

Christmas Stories

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 recrossed each other hundreds of times where the great streets branched off; and made intricate chan- nels, 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 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 endeav- oured 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 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 con- spicuous 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

Charles Dickens

Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, ur- gently 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 stag- nant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was something go- ing 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 al- monds 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 tart- ness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hur- ried 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, innumer- able people, carrying their dinners to the baker’ 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

Christmas Stories

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 cook- ing 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 out kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.’

Charles Dickens

Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on, invisible, as they had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was a remark- able quality of the Ghost (which Scrooge had observed at the baker’s), that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate him- self 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 sprin- kling of his torch. Think of that. Bob had but fifteen bob a-week himself; he pocketed on Saturdays but fifteen copies of his Chris- tian 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 Christ- mas Day by half-an-hour.’ ‘Here’s Martha, mother.’ said a girl, appearing as she spoke.

Christmas Stories

‘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 thought- ful, 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

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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 proces- sion. 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 ev- erybody, 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 (sur- veying 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

Christmas Stories

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 eat- ing-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 Christ- mas 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 quan- tity 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, mean- ing 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.

Charles Dickens

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-cor- ner, 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 popula- tion.’ 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 worth- less 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, redden- ing. ‘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.’

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‘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 thought- fully 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 hand- some 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

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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 be- fore 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 shad- ows 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.’

Christmas Stories

Alight 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 holi- day 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 ¾ whither. Not to sea. To sea. To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a fright- ful 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

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them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christ- mas 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 approv- ing 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

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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 sun- niest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature’s head. Alto- gether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but 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 sis- ters, 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 impos-

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sible 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 conse- quence 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 fa- miliar 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

Christmas Stories

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, wher- ever 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 con- duct 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, mon- strous. 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 cor- ner, 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 could have told you. There might have been twenty people there, young and old, but they all played, and so did Scrooge, for, wholly forget- ting 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.

Charles Dickens

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 an- swering 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 ani- mal, a savage animal, an animal that growled and grunted some- times, 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 inex- pressibly 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 Scrooge.’ 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, what- ever 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,

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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 con- densed 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, look- ing 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.

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‘Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.’ exclaimed the Ghost. They were a boy and a 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 fresh- est 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 magni- tude. ‘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 Igno- rance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.’ ‘Have they no refuge or resource.’ cried Scrooge. ‘Are there no prisons.’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses.’ The bell struck twelve. Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.

Christmas Stories

Stave 4: The Last of the Spirits

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one out- stretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded. He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved. ‘I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come,’ said Scrooge. The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand. ‘You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,’ Scrooge pursued. ‘Is that so, Spirit.’ The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received. Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit pauses a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover. But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black. ‘Ghost of the Future.’ he exclaimed,’ I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will

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you not speak to me.’ It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them. ‘Lead on.’ said Scrooge. ‘Lead on. The night is waning fast, 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, and carried him along. They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city rather seemed to spring up about them, and encompass them of its own act. But there they were, in the heart of it; on Change, amongst the mer- chants; who hurried up and down, and chinked the money in their pockets, and conversed in groups, and looked at their watches, and trifled thoughtfully with their great gold seals; and so forth, as Scrooge had seen them often. The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of business men. Ob- serving that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk. ‘No,’ said a great fat man with a monstrous chin,’ I don’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’d never die.’ ‘God knows,’ said the first, with a yawn. ‘What has he done with his money.’ asked a red-faced gentleman with a pendulous excrescence on the end of his nose, that shook like the 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 the same speaker;’ for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go to it. Suppose we make up a party and volunteer.’ ‘I don’t mind going if a lunch is provided,’ observed the gentleman with the excrescence on his nose. ‘But I must be fed, if I make one.’

Christmas Stories

Another laugh. ‘Well, I am the most disinterested among you, after all,’ said the first speaker,’ for I never wear black gloves, and I never eat lunch. 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 to stop and speak whenever we met. Bye, bye.’ Speakers and listeners strolled away, and mixed with other groups. Scrooge knew the men, and looked towards the Spirit for an explanation. The Phantom glided on into a street. Its finger pointed to two persons meeting. Scrooge listened again, thinking that the explana- tion might lie here. He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men of aye busi- ness: very wealthy, and of great importance. He had made a point always of standing well in their esteem: in a business point of view, that is; strictly in 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 own at last, hey.’ ‘So I am told,’ returned the second. ‘Cold, isn’t it.’ ‘Seasonable for Christmas time. You’re not a skater, I suppose.’ ‘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 the Spirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be. They could scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the death of Jacob, his old partner, for that was Past, and this Ghost’s province was the Future. Nor could he think of any one immediately connected with himself, to whom he could apply them. But nothing doubting that to 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; and especially to observe the shadow of himself when it appeared. For he had an expectation that the conduct of his future self would give him the clue he missed, and would render the solution of these riddles easy.

Charles Dickens

He looked about in that very place for his own image; but an- other man stood in his accustomed corner, and though the clock pointed to his usual time of day for being there, he saw no likeness of himself among the multitudes 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 thought and hoped he saw his new-born resolutions carried out in this. Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its out- stretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold. They left the busy scene, and went into an obscure part of the town, where Scrooge had never penetrated before, although he recognised 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 cess- pools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery. Far in this den of infamous resort, there was a low-browed, bee- tling shop, below a pent-house roof, where iron, old rags, bottles, bones, and greasy offal, were bought. Upon the floor within, were piled up heaps of rusty keys, nails, chains, hinges, files, scales, weights, and refuse iron of all kinds. Secrets that few would like to scrutinise were bred and hidden in mountains of unseemly rags, masses of corrupted fat, and sepulchres of bones. Sitting in among the wares he dealt in, by a charcoal stove, made of old bricks, was a grey- haired rascal, nearly seventy years of age; who had screened himself from the cold air without, by a frousy curtaining of miscellaneous tatters, hung upon a line; and smoked his pipe in all the luxury of calm retirement. Scrooge and the Phantom came into the presence of this man, just as a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop. But she had scarcely entered, when another woman, similarly laden, came in too; and she was closely followed by a man in faded black, who was no less startled by the sight of them, than they had been upon

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the recognition of each other. After a short period of blank aston- ishment, in which the old man with the pipe had joined them, they all three burst into a laugh. ‘Let the charwoman alone to be the first.’ cried she who had en- tered first. ‘Let the laundress alone to be the second; and let the undertaker’s man alone to be the third. Look here, old Joe, here’s a chance. If we haven’t all three met here without meaning it.’ ‘You couldn’t have met in a better place,’ said old Joe, removing his pipe from his mouth. ‘Come into the parlour. You were made free of it long ago, you know; and the other two an’t strangers. Stop till I shut the door of the shop. Ah. How it skreeks. There an’t such a rusty bit of metal in the place as its own hinges, I believe; and I’m sure there’s no such old bones here, as mine. Ha, ha. We’re all suit- able to our calling, we’re well matched. 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 trimmed his smoky lamp (for it was night), with the stem of his pipe, put it in his mouth again. While he did this, the woman who had already spoken threw 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 other two. ‘What odds then. What odds, Mrs Dilber.’ said the woman. ‘Ev- ery person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did.’ ‘That’s true, indeed.’ said the laundress. ‘No man more 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, I sup- pose.’ ‘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, I suppose.’ ‘No, indeed,’ said Mrs Dilber, laughing. ‘If he wanted to keep them after he was dead, a wicked old screw,’ pursued the woman, ’why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime. If he had

Charles Dickens

been, he’d have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death, 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 the woman;’ and it should have been, you may depend upon it, if I could have laid my hands on anything else. Open that bundle, old Joe, and let me know the value of it. Speak out plain. I’m not afraid to be the first, nor afraid for them to see 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 of this; and the man in faded black, mounting the breach first, produced his plun- der. It was not extensive. A seal or two, a pencil-case, a pair of sleeve-buttons, and a brooch of no great value, were all. They were severally examined and appraised by old Joe, who chalked the sums he was disposed to give for each, upon the wall, and added them up into a total when he found there was nothing more to come. ‘That’s your account,’ said Joe,’ and I wouldn’t give another six- pence, if I was to be boiled for not doing it. Who’s next.’ Mrs Dilber was next. Sheets and towels, a little wearing apparel, two old-fashioned silver teaspoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, and a few boots. Her account was stated on the wall in the same manner. ‘I always give too much to ladies. It’s a weakness of mine, and that’s the way I ruin myself,’ said old Joe. ‘That’s your account. If you asked me for another penny, and made it an open question, I’d repent of being 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 convenience of open- ing it, and having unfastened a great many knots, dragged out a large and heavy roll of some dark stuff. ‘What do you call this.’ said Joe. ‘Bed-curtains.’ ‘Ah.’ returned the woman, laughing and leaning forward on her crossed arms. ‘Bed- curtains.’ ‘You don’t mean to say you took them down, rings and all, with him lying there.’ said Joe.

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‘Yes I do,’ replied the woman. ‘Why not.’ ‘You were born to make your fortune,’ said Joe,’ and you’ll cer- tainly do it.’ ‘I certainly shan’t hold my hand, when I can get anything in it by reaching it out, for the sake of such a man as he was, I promise you, Joe,’ returned the woman coolly. ‘Don’t drop that oil upon the blan- kets, now.’ ‘His blankets.’ asked Joe. ‘Whose else’s do you think.’ replied the woman. ‘He isn’t likely to take cold without them, I dare say.’ ‘I hope he didn’t die of any thing catching. Eh,’ Said old Joe, stopping in his work, and looking up. ‘Don’t you be afraid of that,’ returned the woman. ‘I an’t so fond of his company that I’d loiter about him for such things, if he did. Ah, you may look through that shirt till your eyes ache; but you won’t find a hole in it, nor a threadbare place. It’s the best he had, and a fine one too. 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 took it off again. If calico an’t good enough for such a purpose, it isn’t good enough for anything. It’s quite as becoming to the body. He can’t look uglier than he did in that one.’ Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror. As they sat grouped about their spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old man’s lamp, he viewed them with a detestation and disgust, which could hardly have been greater, though they 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 the ground. ‘This is the end of it, you see. He frightened every one away from him when 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 that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what is this.’ He recoiled in terror, for the scene had changed, and now he al- most touched a bed: a bare, uncurtained bed: on which, beneath a

Charles Dickens

ragged 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 with any accu- racy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience to a secret im- pulse, anxious to know what kind of room it was. A pale light, ris- ing in the outer air, 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 hand was pointed to the head. The cover was so carelessly adjusted that the slightest raising of it, the motion of a finger upon Scrooge’s part, would have disclosed the face. He thought of it, felt how easy it would be to do, and longed to do it; but had no more power to withdraw the veil than to dismiss the spectre at his side. Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion. But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart 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 life immortal. No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge’s ears, and yet he heard them when he looked upon the bed. He thought, if this man could be raised up now, what would be his foremost thoughts. Ava- rice, hard-dealing, griping cares. They have brought him to a rich end, truly. He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, a woman, or a child, to say that he was kind to me in this or that, and for the memory 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 they wanted 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. In leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me. Let us go.’ Still the Ghost pointed with an unmoved finger to the head.

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‘I understand you,’ Scrooge returned,’ and I would do it, 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 emotion caused by this man’s death,’ said Scrooge quite agonised, ‘show that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you.’ The Phantom spread its dark robe before him for a moment, like a wing; and withdrawing it, revealed a room by daylight, where a mother and her children were. She was expecting some one, and with anxious eagerness; for she walked up and down the room; started at every sound; looked out from the window; glanced at the clock; tried, but in vain, to work with her needle; and could hardly bear the voices of the children in their play. At length the long-expected knock was heard. She hurried to the door, and met her husband; a man whose face was careworn and depressed, though he was young. There was a remarkable expres- sion in it now; a kind of serious delight of which he felt ashamed, and which he struggled to repress. He sat down to the dinner that had been boarding for him by the fire; and when she asked him faintly what news (which was not until after 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. Nothing is past hope, if such a miracle has happened.’ ‘He is past relenting,’ said her husband. ‘He is dead.’ She was a mild and patient creature if her face spoke truth; but she was thankful in her soul to hear it, and she said so, with clasped hands. She prayed forgiveness the next moment, and was sorry; but the first was the emotion of her heart. ‘What the half-drunken woman whom I told you of last night, said to me, when I tried to see him and obtain a week’s delay; and what I thought was a mere excuse to avoid me; turns out to have been quite true. He was not only very ill, but dying, then.’

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‘To whom will our debt be transferred.’ ‘I don’t know. But before that time we shall be ready with the money; and even though we were not, it would be a bad fortune indeed to find so merciless a creditor in his successor. We may sleep to-night with light hearts, Caroline.’ Yes. Soften it as they would, their hearts were lighter. The children’s faces, hushed and clustered round to hear what they so little under- stood, were brighter; and it was a happier house for this man’s death. The only emotion that the Ghost could show him, caused by the event, was one of pleasure. ‘Let me see some tenderness connected with a death,’ said Scrooge;’ or that dark chamber, Spirit, which we left just now, will be for ever present to me.’ The Ghost conducted him through several streets familiar to his feet; and as they went along, Scrooge looked here and there to find himself, but nowhere was he to be seen. They entered poor Bob Cratchit’s house; the dwelling he had visited before; and found the mother and the children seated round the fire. Quiet. Very quiet. The noisy little Cratchits were as still as statues in one corner, and sat looking up at Peter, who had a book before him. The mother and her daughters were engaged in sewing. But surely they were very quiet. ‘And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them.’ Where had Scrooge heard those words. He had not dreamed them. The boy must have read them out, as he and the Spirit crossed the threshold. Why did he not go on. The mother laid her work upon the table, and put her hand 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. ‘It makes them weak by candle-light; and I wouldn’t show weak eyes to your father when he comes home, for the world. It must be near his time.’ ‘Past it rather,’ Peter answered, shutting up his book. ‘But I think he has walked a little slower than he used, these few last evenings, mother.’ They were very quiet again. At last she said, and in a steady, cheerful

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voice, that only faltered once:

‘I have known him walk with — I have known him walk with Tiny 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, intent upon her work,’ and his father loved him so, that it was no trouble: no trouble. And there is your father at the door.’ She hurried out to meet him; and little Bob in his comforter — he had need of it, poor fellow — came in. His tea was ready for him on the hob, and they all tried who should help him to it most. Then the two young Cratchits got upon his knees and laid, each child a little cheek, against his face, as if they said,’ Don’t mind it, father. Don’t be grieved.’ Bob was very cheerful with them, and spoke pleasantly to all the family. He looked at the work upon the table, and praised the in- dustry and speed of Mrs Cratchit and the girls. They would be done long before Sunday, he said. ‘Sunday. You went to-day, then, Robert.’ said his wife. ‘Yes, my dear,’ returned Bob. ‘I wish you could have gone. It would have done you good to see how green a place it is. But you’ll see 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 could have helped it, he and his child would have been farther apart perhaps than they were. He left the room, and went up-stairs into the room above, which was lighted cheerfully, and hung with Christmas. There was a chair set 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 composed himself, he kissed the little face. He was reconciled to what had happened, and went down again quite happy. They drew about the fire, and talked; the girls and mother work- ing still. Bob told them of the extraordinary kindness of Mr Scrooge’s nephew, whom he had scarcely seen but once, and who, meeting him in the street that day, and seeing that he looked a little — ’just a little down you know,’ said Bob, inquired what had happened to

Charles Dickens

distress him. ‘On which,’ said Bob,’ for he is the pleasantest-spoken gentleman you ever heard, I told him. ‘I am heartily sorry for it, Mr Cratchit,’ he said, ’and heartily sorry for your good 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 they do. ‘Heartily sorry,’ he said, ’for your good wife. If I can be of service to you in any way,’ he said, giving me his card, ’that’s where I live. Pray come to me.’ Now, it wasn’t,’ cried Bob,’ for the sake of any- thing he might be able to do for us, so much as for his kind way, that this was quite delightful. It really 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, ’if you saw and spoke to him. I shouldn’t be at all surprised — mark what I say. — if he got Peter a better situation.’ ‘Only hear that, Peter,’ said Mrs Cratchit. ‘And then,’ cried one of the girls,’ Peter will be keeping 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 these days; though there’s plenty of time for that, my dear. But however and when ever we part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget poor Tiny Tim — 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 when we recollect how patient and how mild he was; although he was a little, little child; we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves, and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing 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. Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God.

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‘Spectre,’ said Scrooge, ’something informs me that our parting moment is at hand. I know it, but I know not how. Tell me what man that was whom we saw lying dead.’ The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come conveyed him, as before — though at a different time, he thought: indeed, there seemed no order in these latter visions, save that they were in the Future — into the resorts of business men, but showed him not himself. In- deed, the Spirit did not stay for anything, but went straight on, as to the end just now desired, until besought by Scrooge to tarry for a moment. ‘This courts,’ said Scrooge,’ through which we hurry now, is where my place of occupation is, and has been for a length of time. I see 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 you point away.’ The inexorable finger underwent no change. Scrooge hastened to the window of his office, and looked 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 whither he had gone, accompanied it until they reached an iron gate. He paused to look round before entering. A churchyard. Here, then, the wretched man whose name he had now to learn, lay underneath the ground. It was a worthy place. Walled in by houses; overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation’s death, not life; choked up with too much burying; fat with repleted appetite. A worthy place. The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. 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 you point,’ said Scrooge, ‘answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only.’

Charles Dickens

Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood. ‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if perse- vered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. ‘But if the courses be de- parted 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; and following 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, upon his knees. The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again. ‘No, Spirit. Oh no, no.’ The finger still was there. ‘Spirit.’ he cried, tight clutching at its robe,’ hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. 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 he fell be- fore it:’ Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet 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 keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone.’ In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stron- ger yet, repulsed him. Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate aye reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.

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Stave 5: 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 his own, to make amends in! ‘I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future,’ Scrooge re- peated, as he scrambled out of bed. ‘The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley. Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this. I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees.’ He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears. ‘They are not torn down.’ cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed- curtains in his arms,’ they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here — I am here — the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. 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, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance. ‘I don’t know what to do.’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings. ‘I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody. A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here. Whoop. Hallo.’ He had frisked into the sitting-room, and was now standing there:

perfectly winded. ‘There’s the saucepan that the gruel was in.’ cried Scrooge, start- ing 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 Ghost of Christmas Present, sat. There’s the window where I saw the wandering Spirits. 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 so many years,

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it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs. ‘I don’t know what day of the month it is,’ said Scrooge. ‘I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. 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 churches ringing 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 his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious. ‘What’s to-day.’ cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sun- day 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. ‘I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow.’ ‘Hallo.’ returned the boy. ‘Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, 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 up there? — 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 a pleasure 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 buy it, and tell them to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come

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back with him 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 steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast. ‘I’ll send it to Bon Cratchit’s.’ whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. ‘He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending it to Bob’s will be.’ The hand in which he wrote the address was not a steady one, but write it he did, somehow, and went down-stairs to open the street 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 honest expres- sion 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 his legs, that bird. He would have snapped them short off in a minute, like sticks of 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 chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded 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 continued to shake very much; and shaving requires attention, even when you don’t dance while you are at it. But if he had cut the end of his nose off, he would have put a piece of sticking-plaister over it, and been quite satisfied. He dressed himself all in his best, and at last got out into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded every one with a delighted smile. He looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured fellows said,’ Good morning, sir. A merry

Charles Dickens

Christmas to you.’ And Scrooge said often afterwards, that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears. He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld the portly gentleman, who had walked into his counting-house the day before, and said,’ Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe.’ It sent a pang across his heart to think how this old gentleman would look upon him when they met; but he knew what path lay straight before him, and he took it. ‘My dear sir,’ said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands. ‘How do you do. I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry Christmas to you, sir.’ ‘Mr Scrooge.’ ‘Yes,’ said Scrooge. ‘That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness’ — here Scrooge whispered in his ear. ‘Lord bless me.’ cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. ‘My dear Mr Scrooge, are you serious.’ ‘If you please,’ said Scrooge. ‘Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour.’ ‘My dear sir,’ said the other, shaking hands with him. ‘I don’t know what to say to such munificence.’ ‘Don’t say anything please,’ retorted Scrooge. ‘Come and see me. Will you come and see me.’ ‘I will.’ cried the old gentleman. And it was clear he meant to do it. ‘Thank you,’ said Scrooge. ‘I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless you.’ He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness. In the afternoon he turned his steps towards his nephew’s house. He passed the door a dozen times, before he had the courage to go up and knock. But he made a dash, and did it:

Christmas Stories

‘Is your master at home, my dear.’ said Scrooge to the girl. Nice girl. Very. ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘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 you. He knows me,’ said Scrooge, with his hand already on the dining-room lock. ‘I’ll go in here, my dear.’ He turned it gently, and sidled his face in, round the door. They were looking at the table (which was spread out in great array); for these young housekeepers are always nervous on such points, and like to see that 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 the footstool, 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 looked just the same. So did Topper when he came. So did the plump sister when she came. So did every one when they came. Wonderful party, won- derful games, wonderful unanimity, wonderful happiness. But he was early at the office next morning. Oh, he was early there. If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit com- ing late. That was the thing he had set his heart upon. And he did it; yes, he did. The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half be- hind his time. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come into the Tank. His hat was off, before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a jiffy; driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o’clock. ‘Hallo.’ growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. ‘What do you mean by coming here at this time of day.’

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‘I am very sorry, sir,’ said Bob. ‘I am behind my time.’ ‘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, appearing from the Tank. ‘It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.’ ‘Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,’ said Scrooge,’ I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,’ he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again;’ and therefore I am about to raise your salary.’ Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a mo- mentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat. ‘A merry Christmas, Bob,’ said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. ‘A merrier 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 we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob. Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit.’ Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or bor- ough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alter- ation in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter 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, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him. He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Christmas Stories

Some Christmas Stories

A CHRISTMAS TREE

I HAVE BEEN LOOKING ON, this evening, at a merry company of chil- dren assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas Tree. The tree was planted in the middle of a great round table, and tow- ered high above their heads. It was brilliantly lighted by a multitude of little tapers; and everywhere sparkled and glittered with bright objects. There were rosy-cheeked dolls, hiding behind the green leaves; and there were real watches (with movable hands, at least, and an endless capacity of being wound up) dangling from innu- merable twigs; there were French-polished tables, chairs, bedsteads, wardrobes, eight-day clocks, and various other articles of domestic furniture (wonderfully made, in tin, at Wolverhampton), perched among the boughs, as if in preparation for some fairy housekeep- ing; there were jolly, broad-faced little men, much more agreeable in appearance than many real men—and no wonder, for their heads took off, and showed them to be full of sugar-plums; there were fiddles and drums; there were tambourines, books, work-boxes, paint-boxes, sweetmeat-boxes, peep-show boxes, and all kinds of boxes; there were trinkets for the elder girls, far brighter than any grown-up gold and jewels; there were baskets and pincushions in all devices; there were guns, swords, and banners; there were witches standing in enchanted rings of pasteboard, to tell fortunes; there were teetotums, humming-tops, needle-cases, pen-wipers, smelling- bottles, conversation-cards, bouquet-holders; real fruit, made artifi- cially dazzling with gold leaf; imitation apples, pears, and walnuts, crammed with surprises; in short, as a pretty child, before me, de- lightedly whispered to another pretty child, her bosom friend, “There

Charles Dickens

was everything, and more.” This motley collection of odd objects, clustering on the tree like magic fruit, and flashing back the bright looks directed towards it from every side—some of the diamond- eyes admiring it were hardly on a level with the table, and a few were languishing in timid wonder on the bosoms of pretty mothers, aunts, and nurses—made a lively realisation of the fancies of child- hood; and set me thinking how all the trees that grow and all the things that come into existence on the earth, have their wild adorn- ments at that well-remembered time. Being now at home again, and alone, the only person in the house awake, my thoughts are drawn back, by a fascination which I do not care to resist, to my own childhood. I begin to consider, what do we all remember best upon the branches of the Christmas Tree of our own young Christmas days, by which we climbed to real life. Straight, in the middle of the room, cramped in the freedom of its growth by no encircling walls or soon-reached ceiling, a shadowy tree arises; and, looking up into the dreamy brightness of its top— for I observe in this tree the singular property that it appears to grow downward towards the earth—I look into my youngest Christ- mas recollections! All toys at first, I find. Up yonder, among the green holly and red berries, is the Tumbler with his hands in his pockets, who wouldn’t lie down, but whenever he was put upon the floor, persisted in roll- ing his fat body about, until he rolled himself still, and brought those lobster eyes of his to bear upon me—when I affected to laugh very much, but in my heart of hearts was extremely doubtful of him. Close beside him is that infernal snuff-box, out of which there sprang a demoniacal Counsellor in a black gown, with an obnox- ious head of hair, and a red cloth mouth, wide open, who was not to be endured on any terms, but could not be put away either; for he used suddenly, in a highly magnified state, to fly out of Mammoth Snuff-boxes in dreams, when least expected. Nor is the frog with cobbler’s wax on his tail, far off; for there was no knowing where he wouldn’t jump; and when he flew over the candle, and came upon one’s hand with that spotted back—red on a green ground—he was horrible. The cardboard lady in a blue-silk skirt, who was stood up against the candlestick to dance, and whom I see on the same branch,

Christmas Stories

was milder, and was beautiful; but I can’t say as much for the larger cardboard man, who used to be hung against the wall and pulled by a string; there was a sinister expression in that nose of his; and when he got his legs round his neck (which he very often did), he was ghastly, and not a creature to be alone with. When did that dreadful Mask first look at me? Who put it on, and why was I so frightened that the sight of it is an era in my life? It is not a hideous visage in itself; it is even meant to be droll, why then were its stolid features so intolerable? Surely not because it hid the wearer’s face. An apron would have done as much; and though I should have preferred even the apron away, it would not have been absolutely insupportable, like the mask. Was it the immovability of the mask? The doll’s face was immovable, but I was not afraid of her. Perhaps that fixed and set change coming over a real face, in- fused into my quickened heart some remote suggestion and dread of the universal change that is to come on every face, and make it still? Nothing reconciled me to it. No drummers, from whom pro- ceeded a melancholy chirping on the turning of a handle; no regi- ment of soldiers, with a mute band, taken out of a box, and fitted, one by one, upon a stiff and lazy little set of lazy-tongs; no old woman, made of wires and a brown-paper composition, cutting up a pie for two small children; could give me a permanent comfort, for a long time. Nor was it any satisfaction to be shown the Mask, and see that it was made of paper, or to have it locked up and be assured that no one wore it. The mere recollection of that fixed face, the mere knowledge of its existence anywhere, was sufficient to awake me in the night all perspiration and horror, with, “O I know it’s coming! O the mask!” I never wondered what the dear old donkey with the panniers— there he is! was made of, then! His hide was real to the touch, I recollect. And the great black horse with the round red spots all over him—the horse that I could even get upon—I never wondered what had brought him to that strange condition, or thought that such a horse was not commonly seen at Newmarket. The four horses of no colour, next to him, that went into the waggon of cheeses, and could be taken out and stabled under the piano, appear to have bits of fur- tippet for their tails, and other bits for their manes, and to stand on

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pegs instead of legs, but it was not so when they were brought home for a Christmas present. They were all right, then; neither was their harness unceremoniously nailed into their chests, as appears to be the case now. The tinkling works of the music-cart, I DID find out, to be made of quill tooth-picks and wire; and I always thought that little tumbler in his shirt sleeves, perpetually swarming up one side of a wooden frame, and coming down, head foremost, on the other, rather a weak-minded person—though good-natured; but the Jacob’s Ladder, next him, made of little squares of red wood, that went flapping and clattering over one another, each developing a differ- ent picture, and the whole enlivened by small bells, was a mighty marvel and a great delight. Ah! The Doll’s house!—of which I was not proprietor, but where I visited. I don’t admire the Houses of Parliament half so much as that stone-fronted mansion with real glass windows, and door-steps, and a real balcony—greener than I ever see now, except at watering places; and even they afford but a poor imitation. And though it did open all at once, the entire house-front (which was a blow, I admit, as cancelling the fiction of a staircase), it was but to shut it up again, and I could believe. Even open, there were three distinct rooms in it: a sitting-room and bed-room, elegantly furnished, and best of all, a kitchen, with uncommonly soft fire-irons, a plentiful assort- ment of diminutive utensils—oh, the warming-pan!—and a tin man- cook in profile, who was always going to fry two fish. What Barmecide justice have I done to the noble feasts wherein the set of wooden platters figured, each with its own peculiar delicacy, as a ham or turkey, glued tight on to it, and garnished with something green, which I recollect as moss! Could all the Temperance Societies of these later days, united, give me such a tea-drinking as I have had through the means of yonder little set of blue crockery, which really would hold liquid (it ran out of the small wooden cask, I recollect, and tasted of matches), and which made tea, nectar. And if the two legs of the ineffectual little sugar-tongs did tumble over one an- other, and want purpose, like Punch’s hands, what does it matter? And if I did once shriek out, as a poisoned child, and strike the fashionable company with consternation, by reason of having drunk a little teaspoon, inadvertently dissolved in too hot tea, I was never

Christmas Stories

the worse for it, except by a powder! Upon the next branches of the tree, lower down, hard by the green roller and miniature gardening-tools, how thick the books begin to hang. Thin books, in themselves, at first, but many of them, and with deliciously smooth covers of bright red or green. What fat black letters to begin with! “A was an archer, and shot at a frog.” Of course he was. He was an apple-pie also, and there he is! He was a good many things in his time, was A, and so were most of his friends, except X, who had so little versatility, that I never knew him to get beyond Xerxes or Xantippe—like Y, who was always confined to a Yacht or a Yew Tree; and Z condemned for ever to be a Zebra or a Zany. But, now, the very tree itself changes, and becomes a bean- stalk—the marvellous bean-stalk up which Jack climbed to the Giant’s house! And now, those dreadfully interesting, double-headed giants, with their clubs over their shoulders, begin to stride along the boughs in a perfect throng, dragging knights and ladies home for dinner by the hair of their heads. And Jack—how noble, with his sword of sharpness, and his shoes of swiftness! Again those old meditations come upon me as I gaze up at him; and I debate within myself whether there was more than one Jack (which I am loth to believe possible), or only one genuine original admirable Jack, who achieved all the recorded exploits. Good for Christmas-time is the ruddy colour of the cloak, in which—the tree making a forest of itself for her to trip through, with her basket—Little Red Riding-Hood comes to me one Christ- mas Eve to give me information of the cruelty and treachery of that dissembling Wolf who ate her grandmother, without making any impression on his appetite, and then ate her, after making that fero- cious joke about his teeth. She was my first love. I felt that if I could have married Little Red Riding-Hood, I should have known perfect bliss. But, it was not to be; and there was nothing for it but to look out the Wolf in the Noah’s Ark there, and put him late in the pro- cession on the table, as a monster who was to be degraded. O the wonderful Noah’s Ark! It was not found seaworthy when put in a washing-tub, and the animals were crammed in at the roof, and needed to have their legs well shaken down before they could be got in, even there—-and then, ten to one but they began to tumble out

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at the door, which was but imperfectly fastened with a wire latch— but what was that against it! Consider the noble fly, a size or two smaller than the elephant: the lady-bird, the butterfly—all triumphs of art! Consider the goose, whose feet were so small, and whose balance was so indifferent, that he usually tumbled forward, and knocked down all the animal creation. Consider Noah and his fam- ily, like idiotic tobacco-stoppers; and how the leopard stuck to warm little fingers; and how the tails of the larger animals used gradually to resolve themselves into frayed bits of string! Hush! Again a forest, and somebody up in a tree—not Robin Hood, not Valentine, not the Yellow Dwarf (I have passed him and all Mother Bunch’s wonders, without mention), but an Eastern King with a glittering scimitar and turban. By Allah! two Eastern Kings, for I see another, looking over his shoulder! Down upon the grass, at the tree’s foot, lies the full length of a coal-black Giant, stretched asleep, with his head in a lady’s lap; and near them is a glass box, fastened with four locks of shining steel, in which he keeps the lady prisoner when he is awake. I see the four keys at his girdle now. The lady makes signs to the two kings in the tree, who softly descend. It is the setting-in of the bright Arabian Nights. Oh, now all common things become uncommon and enchanted to me. All lamps are wonderful; all rings are talismans. Common flower-pots are full of treasure, with a little earth scattered on the top; trees are for Ali Baba to hide in; beef-steaks are to throw down into the Valley of Diamonds, that the precious stones may stick to them, and be carried by the eagles to their nests, whence the traders, with loud cries, will scare them. Tarts are made, according to the recipe of the Vizier’s son of Bussorah, who turned pastrycook after he was set down in his drawers at the gate of Damascus; cobblers are all Mustaphas, and in the habit of sewing up people cut into four pieces, to whom they are taken blind-fold. Any iron ring let into stone is the entrance to a cave which only waits for the magician, and the little fire, and the necromancy, that will make the earth shake. All the dates imported come from the same tree as that unlucky date, with whose shell the merchant knocked out the eye of the genie’s invisible son. All olives are of the stock of that fresh fruit, concerning which the Commander of the

Christmas Stories

Faithful overheard the boy conduct the fictitious trial of the fraudu- lent olive merchant; all apples are akin to the apple purchased (with two others) from the Sultan’s gardener for three sequins, and which the tall black slave stole from the child. All dogs are associated with the dog, really a transformed man, who jumped upon the baker’s counter, and put his paw on the piece of bad money. All rice recalls the rice which the awful lady, who was a ghoule, could only peck by grains, because of her nightly feasts in the burial-place. My very rocking-horse,—there he is, with his nostrils turned completely in- side-out, indicative of Blood!—should have a peg in his neck, by virtue thereof to fly away with me, as the wooden horse did with the Prince of Persia, in the sight of all his father’s Court. Yes, on every object that I recognise among those upper branches of my Christmas Tree, I see this fairy light! When I wake in bed, at daybreak, on the cold, dark, winter mornings, the white snow dimly beheld, outside, through the frost on the window-pane, I hear Dinarzade. “Sister, sister, if you are yet awake, I pray you finish the history of the Young King of the Black Islands.” Scheherazade re- plies, “If my lord the Sultan will suffer me to live another day, sister, I will not only finish that, but tell you a more wonderful story yet.” Then, the gracious Sultan goes out, giving no orders for the execu- tion, and we all three breathe again. At this height of my tree I begin to see, cowering among the leaves- -it may be born of turkey, or of pudding, or mince pie, or of these many fancies, jumbled with Robinson Crusoe on his desert island, Philip Quarll among the monkeys, Sandford and Merton with Mr. Barlow, Mother Bunch, and the Mask—or it may be the result of indigestion, assisted by imagination and over-doctoring—a prodi- gious nightmare. It is so exceedingly indistinct, that I don’t know why it’s frightful—but I know it is. I can only make out that it is an immense array of shapeless things, which appear to be planted on a vast exaggeration of the lazy-tongs that used to bear the toy soldiers, and to be slowly coming close to my eyes, and receding to an immeasurable distance. When it comes closest, it is worse. In connection with it I descry remembrances of winter nights incred- ibly long; of being sent early to bed, as a punishment for some small offence, and waking in two hours, with a sensation of having been

Charles Dickens

asleep two nights; of the laden hopelessness of morning ever dawn- ing; and the oppression of a weight of remorse. And now, I see a wonderful row of little lights rise smoothly out of the ground, before a vast green curtain. Now, a bell rings—a magic bell, which still sounds in my ears unlike all other bells—and music plays, amidst a buzz of voices, and a fragrant smell of orange- peel and oil. Anon, the magic bell commands the music to cease, and the great green curtain rolls itself up majestically, and The Play begins! The devoted dog of Montargis avenges the death of his master, foully murdered in the Forest of Bondy; and a humor- ous Peasant with a red nose and a very little hat, whom I take from this hour forth to my bosom as a friend (I think he was a Waiter or an Hostler at a village Inn, but many years have passed since he and I have met), remarks that the sassigassity of that dog is indeed sur- prising; and evermore this jocular conceit will live in my remem- brance fresh and unfading, overtopping all possible jokes, unto the end of time. Or now, I learn with bitter tears how poor Jane Shore, dressed all in white, and with her brown hair hanging down, went starving through the streets; or how George Barnwell killed the worthiest uncle that ever man had, and was afterwards so sorry for it that he ought to have been let off. Comes swift to comfort me, the Pantomime—stupendous Phenomenon!—when clowns are shot from loaded mortars into the great chandelier, bright constellation that it is; when Harlequins, covered all over with scales of pure gold, twist and sparkle, like amazing fish; when Pantaloon (whom I deem it no irreverence to compare in my own mind to my grandfather) puts red-hot pokers in his pocket, and cries “Here’s somebody com- ing!” or taxes the Clown with petty larceny, by saying, “Now, I sawed you do it!” when Everything is capable, with the greatest ease, of being changed into Anything; and “Nothing is, but thinking makes it so.” Now, too, I perceive my first experience of the dreary sensa- tion—often to return in after-life—of being unable, next day, to get back to the dull, settled world; of wanting to live for ever in the bright atmosphere I have quitted; of doting on the little Fairy, with the wand like a celestial Barber’s Pole, and pining for a Fairy im- mortality along with her. Ah, she comes back, in many shapes, as my eye wanders down the branches of my Christmas Tree, and goes

Christmas Stories

as often, and has never yet stayed by me! Out of this delight springs the toy-theatre,—there it is, with its familiar proscenium, and ladies in feathers, in the boxes!—and all its attendant occupation with paste and glue, and gum, and water colours, in the getting-up of The Miller and his Men, and Eliza- beth, or the Exile of Siberia. In spite of a few besetting accidents and failures (particularly an unreasonable disposition in the respect- able Kelmar, and some others, to become faint in the legs, and double up, at exciting points of the drama), a teeming world of fancies so suggestive and all-embracing, that, far below it on my Christmas Tree, I see dark, dirty, real Theatres in the day-time, adorned with these associations as with the freshest garlands of the rarest flowers, and charming me yet. But hark! The Waits are playing, and they break my childish sleep! What images do I associate with the Christmas music as I see them set forth on the Christmas Tree? Known before all the others, keep- ing far apart from all the others, they gather round my little bed. An angel, speaking to a group of shepherds in a field; some travellers, with eyes uplifted, following a star; a baby in a manger; a child in a spacious temple, talking with grave men; a solemn figure, with a mild and beautiful face, raising a dead girl by the hand; again, near a city gate, calling back the son of a widow, on his bier, to life; a crowd of people looking through the opened roof of a chamber where he sits, and letting down a sick person on a bed, with ropes; the same, in a tempest, walking on the water to a ship; again, on a sea-shore, teaching a great multitude; again, with a child upon his knee, and other children round; again, restoring sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, strength to the lame, knowledge to the ignorant; again, dying upon a Cross, watched by armed soldiers, a thick darkness coming on, the earth beginning to shake, and only one voice heard, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Still, on the lower and maturer branches of the Tree, Christmas associations cluster thick. School-books shut up; Ovid and Virgil si- lenced; the Rule of Three, with its cool impertinent inquiries, long disposed of; Terence and Plautus acted no more, in an arena of huddled desks and forms, all chipped, and notched, and inked; cricket-bats,

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stumps, and balls, left higher up, with the smell of trodden grass and the softened noise of shouts in the evening air; the tree is still fresh, still gay. If I no more come home at Christmas-time, there will be boys and girls (thank Heaven! ) while the World lasts; and they do! Yonder they dance and play upon the branches of my Tree, God bless them, merrily, and my heart dancesand plays too! And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday— the longer, the better—from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree! Away into the winter prospect. There are many such upon the tree! On, by low-lying, misty grounds, through fens and fogs, up long hills, winding dark as caverns between thick plantations, al- most shutting out the sparkling stars; so, out on broad heights, un- til we stop at last, with sudden silence, at an avenue. The gate-bell has a deep, half-awful sound in the frosty air; the gate swings open on its hinges; and, as we drive up to a great house, the glancing lights grow larger in the windows, and the opposing rows of trees seem to fall solemnly back on either side, to give us place. At inter- vals, all day, a frightened hare has shot across this whitened turf; or the distant clatter of a herd of deer trampling the hard frost, has, for the minute, crushed the silence too. Their watchful eyes beneath the fern may be shining now, if we could see them, like the icy dewdrops on the leaves; but they are still, and all is still. And so, the lights growing larger, and the trees falling back before us, and clos- ing up again behind us, as if to forbid retreat, we come to the house. There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories— Ghost Stories, or more shame for us—round the Christmas fire; and we have never stirred, except to draw a little nearer to it. But, no matter for that. We came to the house, and it is an old house, full of great chimneys where wood is burnt on ancient dogs upon the hearth, and grim portraits (some of them with grim legends, too) lower distrustfully from the oaken panels of the walls. We are a middle-

Christmas Stories

aged nobleman, and we make a generous supper with our host and hostess and their guests—it being Christmas-time, and the old house full of company—and then we go to bed. Our room is a very old room. It is hung with tapestry. We don’t like the portrait of a cava- lier in green, over the fireplace. There are great black beams in the ceiling, and there is a great black bedstead, supported at the foot by two great black figures, who seem to have come off a couple of tombs in the old baronial church in the park, for our particular accommodation. But, we are not a superstitious nobleman, and we don’t mind. Well! we dismiss our servant, lock the door, and sit before the fire in our dressing-gown, musing about a great many things. At length we go to bed. Well! we can’t sleep. We toss and tumble, and can’t sleep. The embers on the hearth burn fitfully and make the room look ghostly. We can’t help peeping out over the counterpane, at the two black figures and the cavalier—that wicked- looking cavalier—in green. In the flickering light they seem to ad- vance and retire: which, though we are not by any means a supersti- tious nobleman, is not agreeable. Well! we get nervous—more and more nervous. We say “This is very foolish, but we can’t stand this; we’ll pretend to be ill, and knock up somebody.” Well! we are just going to do it, when the locked door opens, and there comes in a young woman, deadly pale, and with long fair hair, who glides to the fire, and sits down in the chair we have left there, wringing her hands. Then, we notice that her clothes are wet. Our tongue cleaves to the roof of our mouth, and we can’t speak; but, we observe her accurately. Her clothes are wet; her long hair is dabbled with moist mud; she is dressed in the fashion of two hundred years ago; and she has at her girdle a bunch of rusty keys. Well! there she sits, and we can’t even faint, we are in such a state about it. Presently she gets up, and tries all the locks in the room with the rusty keys, which won’t fit one of them; then, she fixes her eyes on the portrait of the cavalier in green, and says, in a low, terrible voice, “The stags know it!” After that, she wrings her hands again, passes the bedside, and goes out at the door. We hurry on our dressing-gown, seize our pistols (we always travel with pistols), and are following, when we find the door locked. We turn the key, look out into the dark gal- lery; no one there. We wander away, and try to find our servant.

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Can’t be done. We pace the gallery till daybreak; then return to our deserted room, fall asleep, and are awakened by our servant (noth- ing ever haunts him) and the shining sun. Well! we make a wretched breakfast, and all the company say we look queer. After breakfast, we go over the house with our host, and then we take him to the portrait of the cavalier in green, and then it all comes out. He was false to a young housekeeper once attached to that family, and fa- mous for her beauty, who drowned herself in a pond, and whose body was discovered, after a long time, because the stags refused to drink of the water. Since which, it has been whispered that she traverses the house at midnight (but goes especially to that room where the cavalier in green was wont to sleep), trying the old locks with the rusty keys. Well! we tell our host of what we have seen, and a shade comes over his features, and he begs it may be hushed up; and so it is. But, it’s all true; and we said so, before we died (we are dead now) to many responsible people. There is no end to the old houses, with resounding galleries, and dismal state-bedchambers, and haunted wings shut up for many years, through which we may ramble, with an agreeable creeping up our back, and encounter any number of ghosts, but (it is worthy of remark perhaps) reducible to a very few general types and classes; for, ghosts have little originality, and “walk” in a beaten track. Thus, it comes to pass, that a certain room in a certain old hall, where a certain bad lord, baronet, knight, or gentleman, shot himself, has certain planks in the floor from which the blood will not be taken out. You may scrape and scrape, as the present owner has done, or plane and plane, as his father did, or scrub and scrub, as his grand- father did, or burn and burn with strong acids, as his great-grandfa- ther did, but, there the blood will still be—no redder and no paler— no more and no less—always just the same. Thus, in such another house there is a haunted door, that never will keep open; or another door that never will keep shut, or a haunted sound of a spinning- wheel, or a hammer, or a footstep, or a cry, or a sigh, or a horse’s tramp, or the rattling of a chain. Or else, there is a turret-clock, which, at the midnight hour, strikes thirteen when the head of the family is going to die; or a shadowy, immovable black carriage which at such a time is always seen by somebody, waiting near the great

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gates in the stable-yard. Or thus, it came to pass how Lady Mary went to pay a visit at a large wild house in the Scottish Highlands, and, being fatigued with her long journey, retired to bed early, and innocently said, next morning, at the breakfast-table, “How odd, to have so late a party last night, in this remote place, and not to tell me of it, before I went to bed!” Then, every one asked Lady Mary what she meant? Then, Lady Mary replied, “Why, all night long, the carriages were driving round and round the terrace, underneath my window!” Then, the owner of the house turned pale, and so did his Lady, and Charles Macdoodle of Macdoodle signed to Lady Mary to say no more, and every one was silent. After breakfast, Charles Macdoodle told Lady Mary that it was a tradition in the family that those rumbling carriages on the terrace betokened death. And so it proved, for, two months afterwards, the Lady of the mansion died. And Lady Mary, who was a Maid of Honour at Court, often told this story to the old Queen Charlotte; by this token that the old King always said, “Eh, eh? What, what? Ghosts, ghosts? No such thing, no such thing!” And never left off saying so, until he went to bed. Or, a friend of somebody’s whom most of us know, when he was a young man at college, had a particular friend, with whom he made the compact that, if it were possible for the Spirit to return to this earth after its separation from the body, he of the twain who first died, should reappear to the other. In course of time, this compact was forgotten by our friend; the two young men having progressed in life, and taken diverging paths that were wide asunder. But, one night, many years afterwards, our friend being in the North of En- gland, and staying for the night in an inn, on the Yorkshire Moors, happened to look out of bed; and there, in the moonlight, leaning on a bureau near the window, steadfastly regarding him, saw his old college friend! The appearance being solemnly addressed, replied, in a kind of whisper, but very audibly, “Do not come near me. I am dead. I am here to redeem my promise. I come from another world, but may not disclose its secrets!” Then, the whole form becoming paler, melted, as it were, into the moonlight, and faded away. Or, there was the daughter of the first occupier of the picturesque Elizabethan house, so famous in our neighbourhood. You have heard

Charles Dickens

about her? No! Why, she went out one summer evening at twilight, when she was a beautiful girl, just seventeen years of age, to gather flowers in the garden; and presently came running, terrified, into the hall to her father, saying, “Oh, dear father, I have met myself!” He took her in his arms, and told her it was fancy, but she said, “Oh no! I met myself in the broad walk, and I was pale and gathering withered flowers, and I turned my head, and held them up!” And, that night, she died; and a picture of her story was begun, though never finished, and they say it is somewhere in the house to this day, with its face to the wall. Or, the uncle of my brother’s wife was riding home on horseback, one mellow evening at sunset, when, in a green lane close to his own house, he saw a man standing before him, in the very centre of a narrow way. “Why does that man in the cloak stand there!” he thought. “Does he want me to ride over him?” But the figure never moved. He felt a strange sensation at seeing it so still, but slackened his trot and rode forward. When he was so close to it, as almost to touch it with his stirrup, his horse shied, and the figure glided up the bank, in a curious, unearthly manner—backward, and without seeming to use its feet—and was gone. The uncle of my brother’s wife, exclaiming, “Good Heaven! It’s my cousin Harry, from Bombay!” put spurs to his horse, which was suddenly in a profuse sweat, and, wondering at such strange behaviour, dashed round to the front of his house. There, he saw the same figure, just passing in at the long French window of the drawing-room, open- ing on the ground. He threw his bridle to a servant, and hastened in after it. His sister was sitting there, alone. “Alice, where’s my cousin Harry?” “Your cousin Harry, John?” “Yes. From Bombay. I met him in the lane just now, and saw him enter here, this instant.” Not a creature had been seen by any one; and in that hour and minute, as it afterwards appeared, this cousin died in India. Or, it was a certain sensible old maiden lady, who died at ninety- nine, and retained her faculties to the last, who really did see the Orphan Boy; a story which has often been incorrectly told, but, of which the real truth is this—because it is, in fact, a story belonging to our family—and she was a connexion of our family. When she was about forty years of age, and still an uncommonly fine woman

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(her lover died young, which was the reason why she never married, though she had many offers), she went to stay at a place in Kent, which her brother, an Indian-Merchant, had newly bought. There was a story that this place had once been held in trust by the guard- ian of a young boy; who was himself the next heir, and who killed the young boy by harsh and cruel treatment. She knew nothing of that. It has been said that there was a Cage in her bedroom in which the guardian used to put the boy. There was no such thing. There was only a closet. She went to bed, made no alarm whatever in the night, and in the morning said composedly to her maid when she came in, “Who is the pretty forlorn-looking child who has been peeping out of that closet all night?” The maid replied by giving a loud scream, and instantly decamping. She was surprised; but she was a woman of remarkable strength of mind, and she dressed her- self and went downstairs, and closeted herself with her brother. “Now, Walter,” she said, “I have been disturbed all night by a pretty, for- lorn-looking boy, who has been constantly peeping out of that closet in my room, which I can’t open. This is some trick.” “I am afraid not, Charlotte,” said he, “for it is the legend of the house. It is the Orphan Boy. What did he do?” “He opened the door softly,” said she, “and peeped out. Sometimes, he came a step or two into the room. Then, I called to him, to encourage him, and he shrunk, and shuddered, and crept in again, and shut the door.” “The closet has no communication, Charlotte,” said her brother, “with any other part of the house, and it’s nailed up.” This was undeniably true, and it took two carpenters a whole forenoon to get it open, for examina- tion. Then, she was satisfied that she had seen the Orphan Boy. But, the wild and terrible part of the story is, that he was also seen by three of her brother’s sons, in succession, who all died young. On the occasion of each child being taken ill, he came home in a heat, twelve hours before, and said, Oh, Mamma, he had been play- ing under a particular oak-tree, in a certain meadow, with a strange boy—a pretty, forlorn-looking boy, who was very timid, and made signs! From fatal experience, the parents came to know that this was the Orphan Boy, and that the course of that child whom he chose for his little playmate was surely run. Legion is the name of the German castles, where we sit up alone

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to wait for the Spectre—where we are shown into a room, made comparatively cheerful for our reception—where we glance round at the shadows, thrown on the blank walls by the crackling fire— where we feel very lonely when the village innkeeper and his pretty daughter have retired, after laying down a fresh store of wood upon the hearth, and setting forth on the small table such supper-cheer as a cold roast capon, bread, grapes, and a flask of old Rhine wine— where the reverberating doors close on their retreat, one after an- other, like so many peals of sullen thunder—and where, about the small hours of the night, we come into the knowledge of divers supernatural mysteries. Legion is the name of the haunted German students, in whose society we draw yet nearer to the fire, while the schoolboy in the corner opens his eyes wide and round, and flies off the footstool he has chosen for his seat, when the door accidentally blows open. Vast is the crop of such fruit, shining on our Christmas Tree; in blossom, almost at the very top; ripening all down the boughs! Among the later toys and fancies hanging there—as idle often and less pure—be the images once associated with the sweet old Waits, the softened music in the night, ever unalterable! Encircled by the social thoughts of Christmas-time, still let the benignant fig- ure of my childhood stand unchanged! In every cheerful image and suggestion that the season brings, may the bright star that rested above the poor roof, be the star of all the Christian World! A moment’s pause, O vanishing tree, of which the lower boughs are dark to me as yet, and let me look once more! I know there are blank spaces on thy branches, where eyes that I have loved have shone and smiled; from which they are departed. But, far above, I see the raiser of the dead girl, and the Widow’s Son; and God is good! If Age be hiding for me in the unseen portion of thy down- ward growth, O may I, with a grey head, turn a child’s heart to that figure yet, and a child’s trustfulness and confidence! Now, the tree is decorated with bright merriment, and song, and dance, and cheerfulness. And they are welcome. Innocent and wel- come be they ever held, beneath the branches of the Christmas Tree, which cast no gloomy shadow! But, as it sinks into the ground, I hear a whisper going through the leaves. “This, in commemoration

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of the law of love and kindness, mercy and compassion. This, in remembrance of Me!”

Charles Dickens

WHAT CHRISTMAS IS AS WE GROW OLDER

TIME WAS, WITH MOST of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and every one around the Christmas fire; and made the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete. Time came, perhaps, all so soon, when our thoughts over-leaped that narrow boundary; when there was some one (very dear, we thought then, very beautiful, and absolutely perfect) wanting to the fulness of our happiness; when we were wanting too (or we thought so, which did just as well) at the Christmas hearth by which that some one sat; and when we intertwined with every wreath and gar- land of our life that some one’s name. That was the time for the bright visionary Christmases which have long arisen from us to show faintly, after summer rain, in the palest edges of the rainbow! That was the time for the beatified enjoyment of the things that were to be, and never were, and yet the things that were so real in our resolute hope that it would be hard to say, now, what realities achieved since, have been stronger! What! Did that Christmas never really come when we and the priceless pearl who was our young choice were received, after the happiest of totally impossible marriages, by the two united families previously at daggers—drawn on our account? When brothers and sisters-in-law who had always been rather cool to us before our rela- tionship was effected, perfectly doted on us, and when fathers and mothers overwhelmed us with unlimited incomes? Was that Christ- mas dinner never really eaten, after which we arose, and generously and eloquently rendered honour to our late rival, present in the company, then and there exchanging friendship and forgiveness,

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and founding an attachment, not to be surpassed in Greek or Ro- man story, which subsisted until death? Has that same rival long ceased to care for that same priceless pearl, and married for money, and become usurious? Above all, do we really know, now, that we should probably have been miserable if we had won and worn the pearl, and that we are better without her? That Christmas when we had recently achieved so much fame; when we had been carried in triumph somewhere, for doing some- thing great and good; when we had won an honoured and ennobled name, and arrived and were received at home in a shower of tears of joy; is it possible that that Christmas has not come yet? And is our life here, at the best, so constituted that, pausing as we advance at such a noticeable mile-stone in the track as this great birthday, we look back on the things that never were, as naturally and full as gravely as on the things that have been and are gone, or have been and still are? If it be so, and so it seems to be, must we come to the conclusion that life is little better than a dream, and little worth the loves and strivings that we crowd into it? No! Far be such miscalled philosophy from us, dear Reader, on Christmas Day! Nearer and closer to our hearts be the Christmas spirit, which is the spirit of active usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness and forbearance! It is in the last virtues especially, that we are, or should be, strengthened by the unaccomplished visions of our youth; for, who shall say that they are not our teachers to deal gently even with the impalpable noth- ings of the earth! Therefore, as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons that they bring, expands! Let us welcome every one of them, and summon them to take their places by the Christmas hearth. Welcome, old aspirations, glittering creatures of an ardent fancy, to your shelter underneath the holly! We know you, and have not outlived you yet. Welcome, old projects and old loves, however fleet- ing, to your nooks among the steadier lights that burn around us. Welcome, all that was ever real to our hearts; and for the earnestness that made you real, thanks to Heaven! Do we build no Christmas castles in the clouds now? Let our thoughts, fluttering like butter-

Charles Dickens

flies among these flowers of children, bear witness! Before this boy, there stretches out a Future, brighter than we ever looked on in our old romantic time, but bright with honour and with truth. Around this little head on which the sunny curls lie heaped, the graces sport, as prettily, as airily, as when there was no scythe within the reach of Time to shear away the curls of our first-love. Upon another girl’s face near it—placider but smiling bright—a quiet and contented little face, we see Home fairly written. Shining from the word, as rays shine from a star, we see how, when our graves are old, other hopes than ours are young, other hearts than ours are moved; how other ways are smoothed; how other happiness blooms, ripens, and decays—no, not decays, for other homes and other bands of chil- dren, not yet in being nor for ages yet to be, arise, and bloom and ripen to the end of all! Welcome, everything! Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places round the Christmas fire, where what is sits open-hearted! In yonder shadow, do we see obtruding furtively upon the blaze, an enemy’s face? By Christmas Day we do forgive him! If the injury he has done us may admit of such companionship, let him come here and take his place. If otherwise, unhappily, let him go hence, assured that we will never injure nor accuse him. On this day we shut out Nothing! “Pause,” says a low voice. “Nothing? Think!” “On Christmas Day, we will shut out from our fireside, Noth- ing.” “Not the shadow of a vast City where the withered leaves are lying deep?” the voice replies. “Not the shadow that darkens the whole globe? Not the shadow of the City of the Dead?” Not even that. Of all days in the year, we will turn our faces to- wards that City upon Christmas Day, and from its silent hosts bring those we loved, among us. City of the Dead, in the blessed name wherein we are gathered together at this time, and in the Presence that is here among us according to the promise, we will receive, and not dismiss, thy people who are dear to us! Yes. We can look upon these children angels that alight, so sol- emnly, so beautifully among the living children by the fire, and can

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bear to think how they departed from us. Entertaining angels un- awares, as the Patriarchs did, the playful children are unconscious of their guests; but we can see them—can see a radiant arm around one favourite neck, as if there were a tempting of that child away. Among the celestial figures there is one, a poor misshapen boy on earth, of a glorious beauty now, of whom his dying mother said it grieved her much to leave him here, alone, for so many years as it was likely would elapse before he came to her—being such a little child. But he went quickly, and was laid upon her breast, and in her hand she leads him. There was a gallant boy, who fell, far away, upon a burning sand beneath a burning sun, and said, “Tell them at home, with my last love, how much I could have wished to kiss them once, but that I died contented and had done my duty!” Or there was another, over whom they read the words, “Therefore we commit his body to the deep,” and so consigned him to the lonely ocean and sailed on. Or there was another, who lay down to his rest in the dark shadow of great forests, and, on earth, awoke no more. O shall they not, from sand and sea and forest, be brought home at such a time! There was a dear girl—almost a woman—never to be one—who made a mourning Christmas in a house of joy, and went her track- less way to the silent City. Do we recollect her, worn out, faintly whispering what could not be heard, and falling into that last sleep for weariness? O look upon her now! O look upon her beauty, her serenity, her changeless youth, her happiness! The daughter of Jairus was recalled to life, to die; but she, more blest, has heard the same voice, saying unto her, “Arise for ever!” We had a friend who was our friend from early days, with whom we often pictured the changes that were to come upon our lives, and merrily imagined how we would speak, and walk, and think, and talk, when we came to be old. His destined habitation in the City of the Dead received him in his prime. Shall he be shut out from our Christmas remembrance? Would his love have so excluded us? Lost friend, lost child, lost parent, sister, brother, husband, wife, we will not so discard you! You shall hold your cherished places in our Christmas hearts, and by our Christmas fires; and in the season of immortal hope, and on the birthday of immortal mercy, we will

Charles Dickens

shut out Nothing! The winter sun goes down over town and village; on the sea it makes a rosy path, as if the Sacred tread were fresh upon the water. A few more moments, and it sinks, and night comes on, and lights begin to sparkle in the prospect. On the hill-side beyond the shape- lessly-diffused town, and in the quiet keeping of the trees that gird the village-steeple, remembrances are cut in stone, planted in com- mon flowers, growing in grass, entwined with lowly brambles around many a mound of earth. In town and village, there are doors and windows closed against the weather, there are flaming logs heaped high, there are joyful faces, there is healthy music of voices. Be all ungentleness and harm excluded from the temples of the House- hold Gods, but be those remembrances admitted with tender en- couragement! They are of the time and all its comforting and peace- ful reassurances; and of the history that re-united even upon earth the living and the dead; and of the broad beneficence and goodness that too many men have tried to tear to narrow shreds.

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THE POOR RELATION’S STORY

HE WAS VERY RELUCTANT to take precedence of so many respected members of the family, by beginning the round of stories they were to relate as they sat in a goodly circle by the Christmas fire; and he

modestly suggested that it would be more correct if “John our es- teemed host” (whose health he begged to drink) would have the kindness to begin. For as to himself, he said, he was so little used to lead the way that really— But as they all cried out here, that he must begin, and agreed with one voice that he might, could, would, and should begin, he left off rubbing his hands, and took his legs out from under his armchair, and did begin.

  • I have no doubt (said the poor relation) that I shall surprise the

assembled members of our family, and particularly John our esteemed host to whom we are so much indebted for the great hospitality with which he has this day entertained us, by the confession I am going to make. But, if you do me the honour to be surprised at anything that falls from a person so unimportant in the family as I

am, I can only say that I shall be scrupulously accurate in all I relate.

  • I am not what I am supposed to be. I am quite another thing.

Perhaps before I go further, I had better glance at what I am sup- posed to be. It is supposed, unless I mistake—the assembled members of our family will correct me if I do, which is very likely (here the poor relation looked mildly about him for contradiction); that I am nobody’s enemy but my own. That I never met with any particular success in anything. That I failed in business because I was unbusiness-like and credulous—in not being prepared for the in- terested designs of my partner. That I failed in love, because I was ridiculously trustful—in thinking it impossible that Christiana could deceive me. That I failed in my expectations from my uncle Chill, on account of not being as sharp as he could have wished in worldly

Charles Dickens

matters. That, through life, I have been rather put upon and disap- pointed in a general way. That I am at present a bachelor of between fifty-nine and sixty years of age, living on a limited income in the form of a quarterly allowance, to which I see that John our esteemed host wishes me to make no further allusion. The supposition as to my present pursuits and habits is to the following effect. I live in a lodging in the Clapham Road—a very clean back room, in a very respectable house—where I am expected not to be at home in the day-time, unless poorly; and which I usually leave in the morning at nine o’clock, on pretence of going to business. I take my breakfast—my roll and butter, and my half-pint of coffee—at the old-established coffee-shop near Westminster Bridge; and then I go into the City—I don’t know why—and sit in Garraway’s Coffee House, and on ‘Change, and walk about, and look into a few offices and counting-houses where some of my relations or acquaintance are so good as to tolerate me, and where I stand by the fire if the weather happens to be cold. I get through the day in this way until five o’clock, and then I dine: at a cost, on the average, of one and threepence. Having still a little money to spend on my evening’s entertainment, I look into the old-established coffee-shop as I go home, and take my cup of tea, and perhaps my bit of toast. So, as the large hand of the clock makes its way round to the morning hour again, I make my way round to the Clapham Road again, and go to bed when I get to my lodging—fire being expensive, and be- ing objected to by the family on account of its giving trouble and making a dirt. Sometimes, one of my relations or acquaintances is so obliging as to ask me to dinner. Those are holiday occasions, and then I gener- ally walk in the Park. I am a solitary man, and seldom walk with anybody. Not that I am avoided because I am shabby; for I am not at all shabby, having always a very good suit of black on (or rather Oxford mixture, which has the appearance of black and wears much better); but I have got into a habit of speaking low, and being rather silent, and my spirits are not high, and I am sensible that I am not an attractive companion. The only exception to this general rule is the child of my first

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cousin, Little Frank. I have a particular affection for that child, and he takes very kindly to me. He is a diffident boy by nature; and in a crowd he is soon run over, as I may say, and forgotten. He and I, however, get on exceedingly well. I have a fancy that the poor child will in time succeed to my peculiar position in the family. We talk but little; still, we understand each other. We walk about, hand in hand; and without much speaking he knows what I mean, and I know what he means. When he was very little indeed, I used to take him to the windows of the toy-shops, and show him the toys inside. It is surprising how soon he found out that I would have made him a great many presents if I had been in circumstances to do it. Little Frank and I go and look at the outside of the Monument— he is very fond of the Monument—and at the Bridges, and at all the sights that are free. On two of my birthdays, we have dined on e-la- mode beef, and gone at half-price to the play, and been deeply in- terested. I was once walking with him in Lombard Street, which we often visit on account of my having mentioned to him that there are great riches there—he is very fond of Lombard Street—when a gentleman said to me as he passed by, “Sir, your little son has dropped his glove.” I assure you, if you will excuse my remarking on so trivial a circumstance, this accidental mention of the child as mine, quite touched my heart and brought the foolish tears into my eyes. When Little Frank is sent to school in the country, I shall be very much at a loss what to do with myself, but I have the intention of walking down there once a month and seeing him on a half holiday. I am told he will then be at play upon the Heath; and if my visits should be objected to, as unsettling the child, I can see him from a distance without his seeing me, and walk back again. His mother comes of a highly genteel family, and rather disapproves, I am aware, of our being too much together. I know that I am not calculated to improve his retiring disposition; but I think he would miss me be- yond the feeling of the moment if we were wholly separated. When I die in the Clapham Road, I shall not leave much more in this world than I shall take out of it; but, I happen to have a minia- ture of a bright-faced boy, with a curling head, and an open shirt- frill waving down his bosom (my mother had it taken for me, but I can’t believe that it was ever like), which will be worth nothing to

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sell, and which I shall beg may he given to Frank. I have written my dear boy a little letter with it, in which I have told him that I felt very sorry to part from him, though bound to confess that I knew no reason why I should remain here. I have given him some short advice, the best in my power, to take warning of the consequences of being nobody’s enemy but his own; and I have endeavoured to comfort him for what I fear he will consider a bereavement, by point- ing out to him, that I was only a superfluous something to every one but him; and that having by some means failed to find a place in this great assembly, I am better out of it. Such (said the poor relation, clearing his throat and beginning to speak a little louder) is the general impression about me. Now, it is a remarkable circumstance which forms the aim and purpose of my story, that this is all wrong. This is not my life, and these are not my habits. I do not even live in the Clapham Road. Comparatively speaking, I am very seldom there. I reside, mostly, in a—I am al- most ashamed to say the word, it sounds so full of pretension—in a Castle. I do not mean that it is an old baronial habitation, but still it is a building always known to every one by the name of a Castle. In it, I preserve the particulars of my history; they run thus:

It was when I first took John Spatter (who had been my clerk) into partnership, and when I was still a young man of not more than five-and-twenty, residing in the house of my uncle Chill, from whom I had considerable expectations, that I ventured to propose to Christiana. I had loved Christiana a long time. She was very beau- tiful, and very winning in all respects. I rather mistrusted her wid- owed mother, who I feared was of a plotting and mercenary turn of mind; but, I thought as well of her as I could, for Christiana’s sake. I never had loved any one but Christiana, and she had been all the world, and O far more than all the world, to me, from our child- hood! Christiana accepted me with her mother’s consent, and I was ren- dered very happy indeed. My life at my uncle Chill’s was of a spare dull kind, and my garret chamber was as dull, and bare, and cold, as an upper prison room in some stern northern fortress. But, having Christiana’s love, I wanted nothing upon earth. I would not have changed my lot with any human being.

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Avarice was, unhappily, my uncle Chill’s master-vice. Though he was rich, he pinched, and scraped, and clutched, and lived miser- ably. As Christiana had no fortune, I was for some time a little fear- ful of confessing our engagement to him; but, at length I wrote him a letter, saying how it all truly was. I put it into his hand one night, on going to bed. As I came down-stairs next morning, shivering in the cold De- cember air; colder in my uncle’s unwarmed house than in the street, where the winter sun did sometimes shine, and which was at all events enlivened by cheerful faces and voices passing along; I car- ried a heavy heart towards the long, low breakfast-room in which my uncle sat. It was a large room with a small fire, and there was a great bay window in it which the rain had marked in the night as if with the tears of houseless people. It stared upon a raw yard, with a cracked stone pavement, and some rusted iron railings half uprooted, whence an ugly out-building that had once been a dissecting-room (in the time of the great surgeon who had mortgaged the house to my uncle), stared at it. We rose so early always, that at that time of the year we break- fasted by candle-light. When I went into the room, my uncle was so contracted by the cold, and so huddled together in his chair behind the one dim candle, that I did not see him until I was close to the table. As I held out my hand to him, he caught up his stick (being in- firm, he always walked about the house with a stick), and made a blow at me, and said, “You fool!” “Uncle,” I returned, “I didn’t expect you to be so angry as this.” Nor had I expected it, though he was a hard and angry old man. “You didn’t expect!” said he; “when did you ever expect? When did you ever calculate, or look forward, you contemptible dog?” “These are hard words, uncle!” “Hard words? Feathers, to pelt such an idiot as you with,” said he. “Here! Betsy Snap! Look at him!” Betsy Snap was a withered, hard-favoured, yellow old woman— our only domestic—always employed, at this time of the morning, in rubbing my uncle’s legs. As my uncle adjured her to look at me, he put his lean grip on the crown of her head, she kneeling beside

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him, and turned her face towards me. An involuntary thought con- necting them both with the Dissecting Room, as it must often have been in the surgeon’s time, passed across my mind in the midst of my anxiety. “Look at the snivelling milksop!” said my uncle. “Look at the baby! This is the gentleman who, people say, is nobody’s enemy but his own. This is the gentleman who can’t say no. This is the gentle- man who was making such large profits in his business that he must needs take a partner, t’other day. This is the gentleman who is going to marry a wife without a penny, and who falls into the hands of Jezabels who are speculating on my death!” I knew, now, how great my uncle’s rage was; for nothing short of his being almost beside himself would have induced him to utter that concluding word, which he held in such repugnance that it was never spoken or hinted at before him on any account. “On my death,” he repeated, as if he were defying me by defying his own abhorrence of the word. “On my death—death—Death! But I’ll spoil the speculation. Eat your last under this roof, you feeble wretch, and may it choke you!” You may suppose that I had not much appetite for the breakfast to which I was bidden in these terms; but, I took my accustomed seat. I saw that I was repudiated henceforth by my uncle; still I could bear that very well, possessing Christiana’s heart. He emptied his basin of bread and milk as usual, only that he took it on his knees with his chair turned away from the table where I sat. When he had done, he carefully snuffed out the candle; and the cold, slate-coloured, miserable day looked in upon us. “Now, Mr. Michael,” said he, “before we part, I should like to have a word with these ladies in your presence.” “As you will, sir,” I returned; “but you deceive yourself, and wrong us, cruelly, if you suppose that there is any feeling at stake in this contract but pure, disinterested, faithful love.” To this, he only replied, “You lie!” and not one other word. We went, through half-thawed snow and half-frozen rain, to the house where Christiana and her mother lived. My uncle knew them very well. They were sitting at their breakfast, and were surprised to see us at that hour.

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“Your servant, ma’am,” said my uncle to the mother. “You divine the purpose of my visit, I dare say, ma’am. I understand there is a world of pure, disinterested, faithful love cooped up here. I am happy to bring it all it wants, to make it complete. I bring you your son-in- law, ma’am—and you, your husband, miss. The gentleman is a per- fect stranger to me, but I wish him joy of his wise bargain.” He snarled at me as he went out, and I never saw him again.

IT IS ALTOGETHER a mistake (continued the poor relation) to suppose that my dear Christiana, over-persuaded and influenced by her mother, married a rich man, the dirt from whose carriage wheels is often, in these changed times, thrown upon me as she rides by. No, no. She married me. The way we came to be married rather sooner than we intended, was this. I took a frugal lodging and was saving and planning for her sake, when, one day, she spoke to me with great earnestness, and said:

“My dear Michael, I have given you my heart. I have said that I loved you, and I have pledged myself to be your wife. I am as much yours through all changes of good and evil as if we had been married on the day when such words passed between us. I know you well, and know that if we should be separated and our union broken off, your whole life would be shadowed, and all that might, even now, be stronger in your character for the conflict with the world would then be weak- ened to the shadow of what it is!” “God help me, Christiana!” said I. “You speak the truth.” “Michael!” said she, putting her hand in mine, in all maidenly devotion, “let us keep apart no longer. It is but for me to say that I can live contented upon such means as you have, and I well know you are happy. I say so from my heart. Strive no more alone; let us strive together. My dear Michael, it is not right that I should keep secret from you what you do not suspect, but what distresses my whole life. My mother: without considering that what you have lost, you have lost for me, and on the assurance of my faith: sets her heart on riches, and urges another suit upon me, to my misery. I cannot bear this, for to bear it is to be untrue to you. I would rather share your struggles than look on. I want no better home than you

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can give me. I know that you will aspire and labour with a higher courage if I am wholly yours, and let it be so when you will!” I was blest indeed, that day, and a new world opened to me. We were married in a very little while, and I took my wife to our happy home. That was the beginning of the residence I have spoken of; the Castle we have ever since inhabited together, dates from that time. All our children have been born in it. Our first child—now married—was a little girl, whom we called Christiana. Her son is so like Little Frank, that I hardly know which is which.

THE CURRENT IMPRESSION as to my partner’s dealings with me is also quite erroneous. He did not begin to treat me coldly, as a poor simple- ton, when my uncle and I so fatally quarrelled; nor did he after- wards gradually possess himself of our business and edge me out. On the contrary, he behaved to me with the utmost good faith and honour. Matters between us took this turn:- On the day of my separation from my uncle, and even before the arrival at our counting-house of my trunks (which he sent after me, not carriage paid), I went down to our room of business, on our little wharf, overlooking the river; and there I told John Spatter what had happened. John did not say, in reply, that rich old relatives were palpable facts, and that love and sentiment were moonshine and fiction. He addressed me thus:

“Michael,” said John, “we were at school together, and I generally had the knack of getting on better than you, and making a higher reputation.” “You had, John,” I returned. “Although” said John, “I borrowed your books and lost them; borrowed your pocket-money, and never repaid it; got you to buy my damaged knives at a higher price than I had given for them new; and to own to the windows that I had broken.” “All not worth mentioning, John Spatter,” said I, “but certainly true.” “When you were first established in this infant business, which promises to thrive so well,” pursued John, “I came to you, in my search for almost any employment, and you made me your clerk.” “Still not worth mentioning, my dear John Spatter,” said I; “still,

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equally true.” “And finding that I had a good head for business, and that I was really useful to the business, you did not like to retain me in that capacity, and thought it an act of justice soon to make me your partner.” “Still less worth mentioning than any of those other little circum- stances you have recalled, John Spatter,” said I; “for I was, and am, sensible of your merits and my deficiencies.” “Now, my good friend,” said John, drawing my arm through his, as he had had a habit of doing at school; while two vessels outside the windows of our counting-house—which were shaped like the stern windows of a ship—went lightly down the river with the tide, as John and I might then be sailing away in company, and in trust and confidence, on our voyage of life; “let there, under these friendly circumstances, be a right understanding between us. You are too easy, Michael. You are nobody’s enemy but your own. If I were to give you that damaging character among our connexion, with a shrug, and a shake of the head, and a sigh; and if I were further to abuse the trust you place in me—” “But you never will abuse it at all, John,” I observed. “Never!” said he; “but I am putting a case—I say, and if I were further to abuse that trust by keeping this piece of our common affairs in the dark, and this other piece in the light, and again this other piece in the twilight, and so on, I should strengthen my strength, and weaken your weakness, day by day, until at last I found myself on the high road to fortune, and you left behind on some bare common, a hopeless number of miles out of the way.” “Exactly so,” said I. “To prevent this, Michael,” said John Spatter, “or the remotest chance of this, there must be perfect openness between us. Nothing must be concealed, and we must have but one interest.” “My dear John Spatter,” I assured him, “that is precisely what I mean.” “And when you are too easy,” pursued John, his face glowing with friendship, “you must allow me to prevent that imperfection in your nature from being taken advantage of, by any one; you must not expect me to humour it—”

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“My dear John Spatter,” I interrupted, “I don’t expect you to humour it. I want to correct it.” “And I, too,” said John. “Exactly so!” cried I. “We both have the same end in view; and, honourably seeking it, and fully trusting one another, and having but one interest, ours will be a prosperous and happy partnership.” “I am sure of it!” returned John Spatter. And we shook hands most affectionately. I took John home to my Castle, and we had a very happy day. Our partnership throve well. My friend and partner supplied what I wanted, as I had foreseen that he would, and by improving both the business and myself, amply acknowledged any little rise in life to which I had helped him.

I AM NOT (said the poor relation, looking at the fire as he slowly rubbed his hands) very rich, for I never cared to be that; but I have enough, and am above all moderate wants and anxieties. My Castle is not a splendid place, but it is very comfortable, and it has a warm and cheerful air, and is quite a picture of Home. Our eldest girl, who is very like her mother, married John Spatter’s eldest son. Our two families are closely united in other ties of attach- ment. It is very pleasant of an evening, when we are all assembled together—which frequently happens—and when John and I talk over old times, and the one interest there has always been between us. I really do not know, in my Castle, what loneliness is. Some of our children or grandchildren are always about it, and the young voices of my descendants are delightful—O, how delightful!—to me to hear. My dearest and most devoted wife, ever faithful, ever loving, ever helpful and sustaining and consoling, is the priceless blessing of my house; from whom all its other blessings spring. We are rather a musical family, and when Christiana sees me, at any time, a little weary or depressed, she steals to the piano and sings a gentle air she used to sing when we were first betrothed. So weak a man am I, that I cannot bear to hear it from any other source. They played it once, at the Theatre, when I was there with Little Frank; and the child said wondering, “Cousin Michael, whose hot tears are these that have fallen on my hand!”

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Such is my Castle, and such are the real particulars of my life therein preserved. I often take Little Frank home there. He is very welcome to my grandchildren, and they play together. At this time of the year—the Christmas and New Year time—I am seldom out of my Castle. For, the associations of the season seem to hold me there, and the precepts of the season seem to teach me that it is well to be there.

“AND THE CASTLE IS—” observed a grave, kind voice among the company. “Yes. My Castle,” said the poor relation, shaking his head as he still looked at the fire, “is in the Air. John our esteemed host sug- gests its situation accurately. My Castle is in the Air! I have done. Will you be so good as to pass the story?”

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THE CHILD’S STORY

ONCE UPON A TIME, a good many years ago, there was a traveller, and he set out upon a journey. It was a magic journey, and was to seem very long when he began it, and very short when he got half way through. He travelled along a rather dark path for some little time, without meeting anything, until at last he came to a beautiful child. So he said to the child, “What do you do here?” And the child said, “I am always at play. Come and play with me!” So, he played with that child, the whole day long, and they were very merry. The sky was so blue, the sun was so bright, the water was so sparkling, the leaves were so green, the flowers were so lovely, and they heard such singing-birds and saw so many butteries, that everything was beautiful. This was in fine weather. When it rained, they loved to watch the falling drops, and to smell the fresh scents. When it blew, it was delightful to listen to the wind, and fancy what it said, as it came rushing from its home—where was that, they wondered!—whistling and howling, driving the clouds before it, bending the trees, rumbling in the chimneys, shaking the house, and making the sea roar in fury. But, when it snowed, that was best of all; for, they liked nothing so well as to look up at the white flakes falling fast and thick, like down from the breasts of millions of white birds; and to see how smooth and deep the drift was; and to listen to the hush upon the paths and roads. They had plenty of the finest toys in the world, and the most astonishing picture-books: all about scimitars and slippers and tur- bans, and dwarfs and giants and genii and fairies, and blue-beards and bean-stalks and riches and caverns and forests and Valentines and Orsons: and all new and all true. But, one day, of a sudden, the traveller lost the child. He called to him over and over again, but got no answer. So, he went upon his

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road, and went on for a little while without meeting anything, until at last he came to a handsome boy. So, he said to the boy, “What do you do here?” And the boy said, “I am always learning. Come and learn with me.” So he learned with that boy about Jupiter and Juno, and the Greeks and the Romans, and I don’t know what, and learned more than I could tell—or he either, for he soon forgot a great deal of it. But, they were not always learning; they had the merriest games that ever were played. They rowed upon the river in summer, and skated on the ice in winter; they were active afoot, and active on horse- back; at cricket, and all games at ball; at prisoner’s base, hare and hounds, follow my leader, and more sports than I can think of; nobody could beat them. They had holidays too, and Twelfth cakes, and parties where they danced till midnight, and real Theatres where they saw palaces of real gold and silver rise out of the real earth, and saw all the wonders of the world at once. As to friends, they had such dear friends and so many of them, that I want the time to reckon them up. They were all young, like the handsome boy, and were never to be strange to one another all their lives through. Still, one day, in the midst of all these pleasures, the traveller lost the boy as he had lost the child, and, after calling to him in vain, went on upon his journey. So he went on for a little while without seeing anything, until at last he came to a young man. So, he said to the young man, “What do you do here?” And the young man said, “I am always in love. Come and love with me.” So, he went away with that young man, and presently they came to one of the prettiest girls that ever was seen—just like Fanny in the corner there—and she had eyes like Fanny, and hair like Fanny, and dimples like Fanny’s, and she laughed and coloured just as Fanny does while I am talking about her. So, the young man fell in love directly—just as Somebody I won’t mention, the first time he came here, did with Fanny. Well! he was teased sometimes—just as Some- body used to be by Fanny; and they quarrelled sometimes—just as Somebody and Fanny used to quarrel; and they made it up, and sat in the dark, and wrote letters every day, and never were happy asun- der, and were always looking out for one another and pretending not to, and were engaged at Christmas-time, and sat close to one

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another by the fire, and were going to be married very soon—all exactly like Somebody I won’t mention, and Fanny! But, the traveller lost them one day, as he had lost the rest of his friends, and, after calling to them to come back, which they never did, went on upon his journey. So, he went on for a little while with- out seeing anything, until at last he came to a middle-aged gentle- man. So, he said to the gentleman, “What are you doing here?” And his answer was, “I am always busy. Come and be busy with me!” So, he began to be very busy with that gentleman, and they went on through the wood together. The whole journey was through a wood, only it had been open and green at first, like a wood in spring; and now began to be thick and dark, like a wood in summer; some of the little trees that had come out earliest, were even turning brown. The gentleman was not alone, but had a lady of about the same age with him, who was his Wife; and they had children, who were with them too. So, they all went on together through the wood, cutting down the trees, and making a path through the branches and the fallen leaves, and carrying burdens, and working hard. Sometimes, they came to a long green avenue that opened into deeper woods. Then they would hear a very little, distant voice cry- ing, “Father, father, I am another child! Stop for me!” And presently they would see a very little figure, growing larger as it came along, running to join them. When it came up, they all crowded round it, and kissed and welcomed it; and then they all went on together. Sometimes, they came to several avenues at once, and then they all stood still, and one of the children said, “Father, I am going to sea,” and another said, “Father, I am going to India,” and another, “Father, I am going to seek my fortune where I can,” and another, “Father, I am going to Heaven!” So, with many tears at parting, they went, solitary, down those avenues, each child upon its way; and the child who went to Heaven, rose into the golden air and vanished. Whenever these partings happened, the traveller looked at the gentleman, and saw him glance up at the sky above the trees, where the day was beginning to decline, and the sunset to come on. He saw, too, that his hair was turning grey. But, they never could rest long, for they had their journey to perform, and it was necessary for

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them to be always busy. At last, there had been so many partings that there were no chil- dren left, and only the traveller, the gentleman, and the lady, went upon their way in company. And now the wood was yellow; and now brown; and the leaves, even of the forest trees, began to fall. So, they came to an avenue that was darker than the rest, and were pressing forward on their journey without looking down it when the lady stopped. “My husband,” said the lady. “I am called.” They listened, and they heard a voice a long way down the av- enue, say, “Mother, mother!” It was the voice of the first child who had said, “I am going to Heaven!” and the father said, “I pray not yet. The sunset is very near. I pray not yet!” But, the voice cried, “Mother, mother!” without minding him, though his hair was now quite white, and tears were on his face. Then, the mother, who was already drawn into the shade of the dark avenue and moving away with her arms still round his neck, kissed him, and said, “My dearest, I am summoned, and I go!” And she was gone. And the traveller and he were left alone together. And they went on and on together, until they came to very near the end of the wood: so near, that they could see the sunset shining red before them through the trees. Yet, once more, while he broke his way among the branches, the traveller lost his friend. He called and called, but there was no reply, and when he passed out of the wood, and saw the peaceful sun going down upon a wide purple prospect, he came to an old man sitting on a fallen tree. So, he said to the old man, “What do you do here?” And the old man said with a calm smile, “I am always re- membering. Come and remember with me!” So the traveller sat down by the side of that old man, face to face with the serene sunset; and all his friends came softly back and stood around him. The beautiful child, the handsome boy, the young man in love, the father, mother, and children: every one of them was there, and he had lost nothing. So, he loved them all, and was kind and forbearing with them all, and was always pleased to watch them all, and they all honoured and loved him. And I think the traveller

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must be yourself, dear Grandfather, because this what you do to us, and what we do to you.

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THE SCHOOLBOY’S STORY

BEING RATHER YOUNG at present—I am getting on in years, but still

  • I am rather young—I have no particular adventures of my own to

fall back upon. It wouldn’t much interest anybody here, I suppose,

to know what a screw the Reverend is, or what a griffin she is, or how they do stick it into parents—particularly hair-cutting, and medical attendance. One of our fellows was charged in his half’s account twelve and sixpence for two pills—tolerably profitable at six and threepence a-piece, I should think—and he never took them either, but put them up the sleeve of his jacket. As to the beef, it’s shameful. It’s not beef. Regular beef isn’t veins. You can chew regular beef. Besides which, there’s gravy to regular beef, and you never see a drop to ours. Another of our fellows went home ill, and heard the family doctor tell his father that he couldn’t account for his complaint unless it was the beer. Of course it was the beer, and well it might be! However, beef and Old Cheeseman are two different things. So is beer. It was Old Cheeseman I meant to tell about; not the manner in which our fellows get their constitutions destroyed for the sake of profit. Why, look at the pie-crust alone. There’s no flakiness in it. It’s solid— like damp lead. Then our fellows get nightmares, and are bolstered for calling out and waking other fellows. Who can wonder! Old Cheeseman one night walked in his sleep, put his hat on over his night-cap, got hold of a fishing-rod and a cricket-bat, and went down into the parlour, where they naturally thought from his ap- pearance he was a Ghost. Why, he never would have done that if his meals had been wholesome. When we all begin to walk in our sleeps,

  • I suppose they’ll be sorry for it. Old Cheeseman wasn’t second Latin Master then; he was a fellow himself. He was first brought there, very small, in a post-chaise, by

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a woman who was always taking snuff and shaking him—and that was the most he remembered about it. He never went home for the holidays. His accounts (he never learnt any extras) were sent to a Bank, and the Bank paid them; and he had a brown suit twice a- year, and went into boots at twelve. They were always too big for him, too. In the Midsummer holidays, some of our fellows who lived within walking distance, used to come back and climb the trees outside the playground wall, on purpose to look at Old Cheeseman reading there by himself. He was always as mild as the tea—and that’s pretty mild, I should hope!—so when they whistled to him, he looked up and nodded; and when they said, “Halloa, Old Cheeseman, what have you had for dinner?” he said, “Boiled mutton;” and when they said, “An’t it solitary, Old Cheeseman?” he said, “It is a little dull sometimes:” and then they said, “Well good-bye, Old Cheeseman!” and climbed down again. Of course it was imposing on Old Cheeseman to give him nothing but boiled mutton through a whole Vacation, but that was just like the system. When they didn’t give him boiled mutton, they gave him rice pudding, pretending it was a treat. And saved the butcher. So Old Cheeseman went on. The holidays brought him into other trouble besides the loneliness; because when the fellows began to come back, not wanting to, he was always glad to see them; which was aggravating when they were not at all glad to see him, and so he got his head knocked against walls, and that was the way his nose bled. But he was a favourite in general. Once a subscription was raised for him; and, to keep up his spirits, he was presented before the holidays with two white mice, a rabbit, a pigeon, and a beautiful puppy. Old Cheeseman cried about it—especially soon afterwards, when they all ate one another. Of course Old Cheeseman used to be called by the names of all sorts of cheeses—Double Glo’sterman, Family Cheshireman, Dutch- man, North Wiltshireman, and all that. But he never minded it. And I don’t mean to say he was old in point of years—because he wasn’t—only he was called from the first, Old Cheeseman. At last, Old Cheeseman was made second Latin Master. He was brought in one morning at the beginning of a new half, and pre-

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sented to the school in that capacity as “Mr. Cheeseman.” Then our fellows all agreed that Old Cheeseman was a spy, and a deserter, who had gone over to the enemy’s camp, and sold himself for gold. It was no excuse for him that he had sold himself for very little gold—two pound ten a quarter and his washing, as was reported. It was decided by a Parliament which sat about it, that Old Cheeseman’s mercenary motives could alone be taken into account, and that he had “coined our blood for drachmas.” The Parliament took the ex- pression out of the quarrel scene between Brutus and Cassius. When it was settled in this strong way that Old Cheeseman was a tremendous traitor, who had wormed himself into our fellows’ se- crets on purpose to get himself into favour by giving up everything he knew, all courageous fellows were invited to come forward and enrol themselves in a Society for making a set against him. The President of the Society was First boy, named Bob Tarter. His father was in the West Indies, and he owned, himself, that his father was worth Millions. He had great power among our fellows, and he wrote a parody, beginning —

“Who made believe to be so meek That we could hardly hear him speak, Yet turned out an Informing Sneak? Old Cheeseman.”

— and on in that way through more than a dozen verses, which he used to go and sing, every morning, close by the new master’s desk. He trained one of the low boys, too, a rosy-cheeked little Brass who didn’t care what he did, to go up to him with his Latin Grammar one morning, and say it so: nominativus pronominum —Old Cheeseman, raro exprimitur —was never suspected, nisi distinctionis—of being an informer, aut emphasis gratia—until he proved one. Ut—for instance, vos damnastis—when he sold the boys. Quasi—as though, dicat—he should say, pretaerea nemo—I’m a Ju- das! All this produced a great effect on Old Cheeseman. He had never had much hair; but what he had, began to get thinner and thinner every day. He grew paler and more worn; and sometimes of an evening he was seen sitting at his desk with a precious long snuff

Charles Dickens

to his candle, and his hands before his face, crying. But no member of the Society could pity him, even if he felt inclined, because the President said it was Old Cheeseman’s conscience. So Old Cheeseman went on, and didn’t he lead a miserable life! Of course the Reverend turned up his nose at him, and of course she did— because both of them always do that at all the masters—but he suffered from the fellows most, and he suffered from them constantly. He never told about it, that the Society could find out; but he got no credit for that, because the President said it was Old Cheeseman’s cowardice. He had only one friend in the world, and that one was almost as powerless as he was, for it was only Jane. Jane was a sort of wardrobe woman to our fellows, and took care of the boxes. She had come at first, I believe, as a kind of apprentice—some of our fellows say from a Charity, but I don’t know—and after her time was out, had stopped at so much a year. So little a year, perhaps I ought to say, for it is far more likely. However, she had put some pounds in the Sav- ings’ Bank, and she was a very nice young woman. She was not quite pretty; but she had a very frank, honest, bright face, and all our fellows were fond of her. She was uncommonly neat and cheer- ful, and uncommonly comfortable and kind. And if anything was the matter with a fellow’s mother, he always went and showed the letter to Jane. Jane was Old Cheeseman’s friend. The more the Society went against him, the more Jane stood by him. She used to give him a good-humoured look out of her still-room window, sometimes, that seemed to set him up for the day. She used to pass out of the or- chard and the kitchen garden (always kept locked, I believe you!) through the playground, when she might have gone the other way, only to give a turn of her head, as much as to say “Keep up your spirits!” to Old Cheeseman. His slip of a room was so fresh and orderly that it was well known who looked after it while he was at his desk; and when our fellows saw a smoking hot dumpling on his plate at dinner, they knew with indignation who had sent it up. Under these circumstances, the Society resolved, after a quantity of meeting and debating, that Jane should be requested to cut Old Cheeseman dead; and that if she refused, she must be sent to Cov- entry herself. So a deputation, headed by the President, was ap-

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pointed to wait on Jane, and inform her of the vote the Society had been under the painful necessity of passing. She was very much respected for all her good qualities, and there was a story about her having once waylaid the Reverend in his own study, and got a fel- low off from severe punishment, of her own kind comfortable heart. So the deputation didn’t much like the job. However, they went up, and the President told Jane all about it. Upon which Jane turned very red, burst into tears, informed the President and the deputa- tion, in a way not at all like her usual way, that they were a parcel of malicious young savages, and turned the whole respected body out of the room. Consequently it was entered in the Society’s book (kept in astronomical cypher for fear of detection), that all communica- tion with Jane was interdicted: and the President addressed the members on this convincing instance of Old Cheeseman’s under- mining. But Jane was as true to Old Cheeseman as Old Cheeseman was