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STAVE III: THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS



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STAVE III: THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS

AWAKING in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and

sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrooge had

no occasion to be told that the bell was again upon the

stroke of One. He felt that he was restored to consciousness

in the right nick of time, for the especial purpose of holding

a conference with the second messenger dispatched to him

through Jacob Marley's intervention. But finding that he

turned uncomfortably cold when he began to wonder which

of his curtains this new spectre would draw back, he put

them every one aside with his own hands; and lying down

again, established a sharp look-out all round the bed. For

he wished to challenge the Spirit on the moment of its

appearance, and did not wish to be taken by surprise, and

made nervous.
Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves

on being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually

equal to the time-of-day, express the wide range of their

capacity for adventure by observing that they are good for

anything from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter; between which

opposite extremes, no doubt, there lies a tolerably wide and

comprehensive range of subjects. Without venturing for

Scrooge quite as hardily as this, I don't mind calling on you

to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of

strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and

rhinoceros would have astonished him very much.
Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not by

any means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the

Bell struck One, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a

violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter

of an hour went by, yet nothing came. All this time, he lay

upon his bed, the very core and centre of a blaze of ruddy

light, which streamed upon it when the clock proclaimed the

hour; and which, being only light, was more alarming than

a dozen ghosts, as he was powerless to make out what it

meant, or would be at; and was sometimes apprehensive

that he might be at that very moment an interesting case of

spontaneous combustion, without having the consolation of

knowing it. At last, however, he began to think--as you or

I would have thought at first; for it is always the person not

in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done

in it, and would unquestionably have done it too--at last, I

say, he began to think that the source and secret of this

ghostly light might be in the adjoining room, from whence,

on further tracing it, it seemed to shine. This idea taking

full possession of his mind, he got up softly and shuffled in

his slippers to the door.
The moment Scrooge's hand was on the lock, a strange

voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He

obeyed.
It was his own room. There was no doubt about that.

But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls

and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a

perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming

berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and

ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had

been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring

up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had

never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and

many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form

a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn,

great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages,

mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts,

cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears,

immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that

made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy

state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to

see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's

horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge,

as he came peeping round the door.


"Come in!" exclaimed the Ghost. "Come in! and know

me better, man!"


Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this

Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and

though the Spirit's eyes were clear and kind, he did not like

to meet them.


"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," said the Spirit.

"Look upon me!"


Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple

green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment

hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was

bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any

artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the

garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other

covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining

icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its

genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice,

its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded

round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword

was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.


"You have never seen the like of me before!" exclaimed

the Spirit.


"Never," Scrooge made answer to it.
"Have never walked forth with the younger members of

my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers

born in these later years?" pursued the Phantom.
"I don't think I have," said Scrooge. "I am afraid I have

not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?"


"More than eighteen hundred," said the Ghost.
"A tremendous family to provide for!" muttered Scrooge.
The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.
"Spirit," said Scrooge submissively, "conduct me where

you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt

a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught

to teach me, let me profit by it."


"Touch my robe!"
Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.
Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys, geese, game,

poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings,

fruit, and punch, all vanished instantly. So did the room,

the fire, the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they stood

in the city streets on Christmas morning, where (for the

weather was severe) the people made a rough, but brisk and

not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping the snow from the

pavement in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of

their houses, whence it was mad delight to the boys to see

it come plumping down into the road below, and splitting

into artificial little snow-storms.
The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows

blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow

upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground;

which last deposit had been ploughed up in deep furrows by

the heavy wheels of carts and waggons; furrows that crossed

and re-crossed each other hundreds of times where the great

streets branched off; and made intricate channels, hard to trace

in the thick yellow mud and icy water. The sky was gloomy,

and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist,

half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended

in a shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great

Britain had, by one consent, caught fire, and were blazing away

to their dear hearts' content. There was nothing very cheerful

in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of

cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest

summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.


For, the people who were shovelling away on the housetops

were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another

from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious

snowball--better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest--

laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it

went wrong. The poulterers' shops were still half open, and the

fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There were great, round,

pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats

of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out

into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were

ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in

the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars, and winking

from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went

by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were

pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there

were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers' benevolence

to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might

water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy

and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among

the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered

leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squat and swarthy, setting

off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great

compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and

beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after

dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among

these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and

stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was

something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and

round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.
The Grocers'! oh, the Grocers'! nearly closed, with perhaps

two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such

glimpses! It was not alone that the scales descending on the

counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller

parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled

up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended

scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even

that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so

extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight,

the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and

spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on

feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs

were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in

modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that

everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but

the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful

promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other

at the door, crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left

their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to

fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in

the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people

were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which

they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own,

worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws

to peck at if they chose.
But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and

chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in

their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the

same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and

nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners

to the bakers' shops. The sight of these poor revellers

appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with

Scrooge beside him in a baker's doorway, and taking off the

covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their

dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind

of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words

between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he

shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good

humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame

to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love

it, so it was!


In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and

yet there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners

and the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of

wet above each baker's oven; where the pavement smoked as

if its stones were cooking too.
"Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from

your torch?" asked Scrooge.


"There is. My own."
"Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?"

asked Scrooge.


"To any kindly given. To a poor one most."
"Why to a poor one most?" asked Scrooge.
"Because it needs it most."
"Spirit," said Scrooge, after a moment's thought, "I wonder

you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should

desire to cramp these people's opportunities of innocent

enjoyment."


"I!" cried the Spirit.
"You would deprive them of their means of dining every

seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said

to dine at all," said Scrooge. "Wouldn't you?"
"I!" cried the Spirit.
"You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day?" said

Scrooge. "And it comes to the same thing."


"I seek!" exclaimed the Spirit.
"Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your

name, or at least in that of your family," said Scrooge.


"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit,

"who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion,

pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness

in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and

kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge

their doings on themselves, not us."


Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on,

invisible, as they had been before, into the suburbs of the

town. It was a remarkable quality of the Ghost (which

Scrooge had observed at the baker's), that notwithstanding

his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any place

with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as

gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible

he could have done in any lofty hall.


And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in

showing off this power of his, or else it was his own kind,

generous, hearty nature, and his sympathy with all poor

men, that led him straight to Scrooge's clerk's; for there he

went, and took Scrooge with him, holding to his robe; and

on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped

to bless Bob Cratchit's dwelling with the sprinkling of his

torch. Think of that! Bob had but fifteen "Bob" a-week

himself; he pocketed on Saturdays but fifteen copies of his

Christian name; and yet the Ghost of Christmas Present

blessed his four-roomed house!
Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit's wife, dressed out

but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons,

which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and

she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of

her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter

Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and

getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob's private

property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the

day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly

attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks.

And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing

in, screaming that outside the baker's they had smelt the

goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious

thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced

about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the

skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked

him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up,

knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and

peeled.
"What has ever got your precious father then?" said Mrs.

Cratchit. "And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha

warn't as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour?"
"Here's Martha, mother!" said a girl, appearing as she

spoke.
"Here's Martha, mother!" cried the two young Cratchits.

"Hurrah! There's such a goose, Martha!"
"Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!"

said Mrs. Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times, and taking off

her shawl and bonnet for her with officious zeal.
"We'd a deal of work to finish up last night," replied the

girl, "and had to clear away this morning, mother!"


"Well! Never mind so long as you are come," said Mrs.

Cratchit. "Sit ye down before the fire, my dear, and have

a warm, Lord bless ye!"
"No, no! There's father coming," cried the two young

Cratchits, who were everywhere at once. "Hide, Martha,

hide!"
So Martha hid herself, and in came little Bob, the father,

with at least three feet of comforter exclusive of the fringe,

hanging down before him; and his threadbare clothes darned

up and brushed, to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his

shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and

had his limbs supported by an iron frame!


"Why, where's our Martha?" cried Bob Cratchit, looking

round.
"Not coming," said Mrs. Cratchit.


"Not coming!" said Bob, with a sudden declension in his

high spirits; for he had been Tim's blood horse all the way

from church, and had come home rampant. "Not coming

upon Christmas Day!"


Martha didn't like to see him disappointed, if it were only

in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet

door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits

hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house,

that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.
"And how did little Tim behave?" asked Mrs. Cratchit,

when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had

hugged his daughter to his heart's content.
"As good as gold," said Bob, "and better. Somehow he

gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the

strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home,

that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he

was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember

upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind

men see."
Bob's voice was tremulous when he told them this, and

trembled more when he said that Tiny Tim was growing

strong and hearty.
His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back

came Tiny Tim before another word was spoken, escorted by

his brother and sister to his stool before the fire; and while

Bob, turning up his cuffs--as if, poor fellow, they were

capable of being made more shabby--compounded some hot

mixture in a jug with gin and lemons, and stirred it round

and round and put it on the hob to simmer; Master Peter,

and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the

goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose

the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a

black swan was a matter of course--and in truth it was

something very like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made

the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot;

Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour;

Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted

the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny

corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for

everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard

upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest

they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be

helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was

said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs.

Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared

to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the

long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of

delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim,

excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with

the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!


There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe

there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and

flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal

admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes,

it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as

Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small

atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it all at

last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest

Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to

the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss

Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone--too nervous to

bear witnesses--to take the pudding up and bring it in.


Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should

break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got

over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they

were merry with the goose--a supposition at which the two

young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were

supposed.


Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of

the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the

cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next

door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that!

That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit

entered--flushed, but smiling proudly--with the pudding,

like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half

of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with

Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly

too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by

Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that

now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had

had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had

something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it

was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have

been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed

to hint at such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the

hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the

jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges

were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the

fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in

what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and

at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass.

Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.


These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as

golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with

beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and

cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:


"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!"
Which all the family re-echoed.
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
He sat very close to his father's side upon his little

stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he

loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and

dreaded that he might be taken from him.


"Spirit," said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt

before, "tell me if Tiny Tim will live."


"I see a vacant seat," replied the Ghost, "in the poor

chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully

preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future,

the child will die."


"No, no," said Scrooge. "Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he

will be spared."


"If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none

other of my race," returned the Ghost, "will find him here.

What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and

decrease the surplus population."


Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by

the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.


"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not

adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered

What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what

men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the

sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live

than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! to hear

the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life

among his hungry brothers in the dust!"


Scrooge bent before the Ghost's rebuke, and trembling cast

his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on

hearing his own name.
"Mr. Scrooge!" said Bob; "I'll give you Mr. Scrooge, the

Founder of the Feast!"


"The Founder of the Feast indeed!" cried Mrs. Cratchit,

reddening. "I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece

of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good

appetite for it."


"My dear," said Bob, "the children! Christmas Day."
"It should be Christmas Day, I am sure," said she, "on

which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard,

unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge. You know he is, Robert!

Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!"


"My dear," was Bob's mild answer, "Christmas Day."
"I'll drink his health for your sake and the Day's," said

Mrs. Cratchit, "not for his. Long life to him! A merry

Christmas and a happy new year! He'll be very merry and

very happy, I have no doubt!"


The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of

their proceedings which had no heartiness. Tiny Tim drank

it last of all, but he didn't care twopence for it. Scrooge

was the Ogre of the family. The mention of his name cast

a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for full

five minutes.


After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than

before, from the mere relief of Scrooge the Baleful being done

with. Bob Cratchit told them how he had a situation in his

eye for Master Peter, which would bring in, if obtained, full

five-and-sixpence weekly. The two young Cratchits laughed

tremendously at the idea of Peter's being a man of business;

and Peter himself looked thoughtfully at the fire from

between his collars, as if he were deliberating what particular

investments he should favour when he came into the receipt

of that bewildering income. Martha, who was a poor

apprentice at a milliner's, then told them what kind of work

she had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch,

and how she meant to lie abed to-morrow morning for a

good long rest; to-morrow being a holiday she passed at

home. Also how she had seen a countess and a lord some

days before, and how the lord "was much about as tall as

Peter;" at which Peter pulled up his collars so high that you

couldn't have seen his head if you had been there. All this

time the chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and

by-and-bye they had a song, about a lost child travelling in

the snow, from Tiny Tim, who had a plaintive little voice,

and sang it very well indeed.


There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not

a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes

were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty;

and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside

of a pawnbroker's. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased

with one another, and contented with the time; and when

they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings

of the Spirit's torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye upon

them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.
By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty

heavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets,

the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and

all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Here, the flickering of

the blaze showed preparations for a cosy dinner, with hot

plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep

red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and darkness.

There all the children of the house were running out

into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins,

uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them. Here, again,

were shadows on the window-blind of guests assembling; and

there a group of handsome girls, all hooded and fur-booted,

and all chattering at once, tripped lightly off to some near

neighbour's house; where, woe upon the single man who saw

them enter--artful witches, well they knew it--in a glow!
But, if you had judged from the numbers of people on

their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought

that no one was at home to give them welcome when they

got there, instead of every house expecting company, and

piling up its fires half-chimney high. Blessings on it, how

the Ghost exulted! How it bared its breadth of breast, and

opened its capacious palm, and floated on, outpouring, with

a generous hand, its bright and harmless mirth on everything

within its reach! The very lamplighter, who ran on before,

dotting the dusky street with specks of light, and who was

dressed to spend the evening somewhere, laughed out loudly

as the Spirit passed, though little kenned the lamplighter

that he had any company but Christmas!
And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they

stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses

of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place

of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed,

or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner;

and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse rank grass.

Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery

red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a

sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in

the thick gloom of darkest night.


"What place is this?" asked Scrooge.
"A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of

the earth," returned the Spirit. "But they know me. See!"


A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they

advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and

stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a

glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their

children and their children's children, and another generation

beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire.

The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling

of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a

Christmas song--it had been a very old song when he was a

boy--and from time to time they all joined in the chorus.

So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite

blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour

sank again.
The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Scrooge hold his

robe, and passing on above the moor, sped--whither? Not

to sea? To sea. To Scrooge's horror, looking back, he saw

the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them;

and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it

rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it

had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.
Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league

or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed,

the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse.

Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds

--born of the wind one might suppose, as sea-weed of the

water--rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.


But even here, two men who watched the light had made

a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed

out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their

horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they

wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and

one of them: the elder, too, with his face all damaged and

scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship

might be: struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in

itself.
Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea

--on, on--until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any

shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman

at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who

had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations;

but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or

had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his

companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward

hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or

sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another

on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared

to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those

he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted

to remember him.


It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening to the

moaning of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it

was to move on through the lonely darkness over an unknown

abyss, whose depths were secrets as profound as Death: it

was a great surprise to Scrooge, while thus engaged, to hear

a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge

to recognise it as his own nephew's and to find himself in a

bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing smiling

by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving

affability!


"Ha, ha!" laughed Scrooge's nephew. "Ha, ha, ha!"
If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a

man more blest in a laugh than Scrooge's nephew, all I can

say is, I should like to know him too. Introduce him to me,

and I'll cultivate his acquaintance.


It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that

while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing

in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and

good-humour. When Scrooge's nephew laughed in this way: holding

his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the

most extravagant contortions: Scrooge's niece, by marriage,

laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being

not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.


"Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha!"
"He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live!" cried

Scrooge's nephew. "He believed it too!"


"More shame for him, Fred!" said Scrooge's niece,

indignantly. Bless those women; they never do anything by

halves. They are always in earnest.
She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled,

surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that

seemed made to be kissed--as no doubt it was; all kinds of

good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another

when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever

saw in any little creature's head. Altogether she was what

you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too.

Oh, perfectly satisfactory.


"He's a comical old fellow," said Scrooge's nephew, "that's

the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However,

his offences carry their own punishment, and I have nothing

to say against him."


"I'm sure he is very rich, Fred," hinted Scrooge's niece.

"At least you always tell me so."


"What of that, my dear!" said Scrooge's nephew. "His

wealth is of no use to him. He don't do any good with it.

He don't make himself comfortable with it. He hasn't the

satisfaction of thinking--ha, ha, ha!--that he is ever going

to benefit US with it."
"I have no patience with him," observed Scrooge's niece.

Scrooge's niece's sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed

the same opinion.
"Oh, I have!" said Scrooge's nephew. "I am sorry for

him; I couldn't be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers

by his ill whims! Himself, always. Here, he takes it into

his head to dislike us, and he won't come and dine with us.

What's the consequence? He don't lose much of a dinner."
"Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner," interrupted

Scrooge's niece. Everybody else said the same, and they

must be allowed to have been competent judges, because

they had just had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the

table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.
"Well! I'm very glad to hear it," said Scrooge's nephew,

"because I haven't great faith in these young housekeepers.

What do you say, Topper?"
Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge's niece's

sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast,

who had no right to express an opinion on the subject.

Whereat Scrooge's niece's sister--the plump one with the lace

tucker: not the one with the roses--blushed.
"Do go on, Fred," said Scrooge's niece, clapping her hands.

"He never finishes what he begins to say! He is such a

ridiculous fellow!"
Scrooge's nephew revelled in another laugh, and as it was

impossible to keep the infection off; though the plump sister

tried hard to do it with aromatic vinegar; his example was

unanimously followed.


"I was only going to say," said Scrooge's nephew, "that

the consequence of his taking a dislike to us, and not making

merry with us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant

moments, which could do him no harm. I am sure he loses

pleasanter companions than he can find in his own thoughts,

either in his mouldy old office, or his dusty chambers. I

mean to give him the same chance every year, whether he

likes it or not, for I pity him. He may rail at Christmas

till he dies, but he can't help thinking better of it--I defy

him--if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after

year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you? If it only

puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds,

that's something; and I think I shook him yesterday."
It was their turn to laugh now at the notion of his shaking

Scrooge. But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much

caring what they laughed at, so that they laughed at any

rate, he encouraged them in their merriment, and passed the

bottle joyously.
After tea, they had some music. For they were a musical

family, and knew what they were about, when they sung a

Glee or Catch, I can assure you: especially Topper, who

could growl away in the bass like a good one, and never

swell the large veins in his forehead, or get red in the face

over it. Scrooge's niece played well upon the harp; and

played among other tunes a simple little air (a mere nothing:

you might learn to whistle it in two minutes), which had

been familiar to the child who fetched Scrooge from the

boarding-school, as he had been reminded by the Ghost of

Christmas Past. When this strain of music sounded, all the

things that Ghost had shown him, came upon his mind; he

softened more and more; and thought that if he could have

listened to it often, years ago, he might have cultivated the

kindnesses of life for his own happiness with his own hands,

without resorting to the sexton's spade that buried Jacob

Marley.
But they didn't devote the whole evening to music. After

a while they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children

sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its

mighty Founder was a child himself. Stop! There was first

a game at blind-man's buff. Of course there was. And I

no more believe Topper was really blind than I believe he

had eyes in his boots. My opinion is, that it was a done

thing between him and Scrooge's nephew; and that the

Ghost of Christmas Present knew it. The way he went after

that plump sister in the lace tucker, was an outrage on the

credulity of human nature. Knocking down the fire-irons,

tumbling over the chairs, bumping against the piano,

smothering himself among the curtains, wherever she went,

there went he! He always knew where the plump sister was.

He wouldn't catch anybody else. If you had fallen up

against him (as some of them did), on purpose, he would

have made a feint of endeavouring to seize you, which would

have been an affront to your understanding, and would instantly

have sidled off in the direction of the plump sister.

She often cried out that it wasn't fair; and it really was not.

But when at last, he caught her; when, in spite of all her

silken rustlings, and her rapid flutterings past him, he got

her into a corner whence there was no escape; then his

conduct was the most execrable. For his pretending not to

know her; his pretending that it was necessary to touch her

head-dress, and further to assure himself of her identity by

pressing a certain ring upon her finger, and a certain chain

about her neck; was vile, monstrous! No doubt she told

him her opinion of it, when, another blind-man being in

office, they were so very confidential together, behind the

curtains.
Scrooge's niece was not one of the blind-man's buff party,

but was made comfortable with a large chair and a footstool,

in a snug corner, where the Ghost and Scrooge were close

behind her. But she joined in the forfeits, and loved her

love to admiration with all the letters of the alphabet.

Likewise at the game of How, When, and Where, she was

very great, and to the secret joy of Scrooge's nephew, beat

her sisters hollow: though they were sharp girls too, as Topper

could have told you. There might have been twenty people there,

young and old, but they all played, and so did Scrooge; for

wholly forgetting in the interest he had in what was going on, that

his voice made no sound in their ears, he sometimes came out with

his guess quite loud, and very often guessed quite right, too;

for the sharpest needle, best Whitechapel, warranted not to cut

in the eye, was not sharper than Scrooge; blunt as he took it in

his head to be.


The Ghost was greatly pleased to find him in this mood,

and looked upon him with such favour, that he begged like

a boy to be allowed to stay until the guests departed. But

this the Spirit said could not be done.


"Here is a new game," said Scrooge. "One half hour,

Spirit, only one!"


It was a Game called Yes and No, where Scrooge's nephew

had to think of something, and the rest must find out what;

he only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case

was. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed,

elicited from him that he was thinking of an animal, a live

animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an

animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes,

and lived in London, and walked about the streets,

and wasn't made a show of, and wasn't led by anybody, and

didn't live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a market,

and was not a horse, or an ass, or a cow, or a bull, or a

tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat, or a bear. At every fresh

question that was put to him, this nephew burst into a

fresh roar of laughter; and was so inexpressibly tickled, that

he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp. At last

the plump sister, falling into a similar state, cried out:


"I have found it out! I know what it is, Fred! I know

what it is!"


"What is it?" cried Fred.
"It's your Uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!"
Which it certainly was. Admiration was the universal

sentiment, though some objected that the reply to "Is it a

bear?" ought to have been "Yes;" inasmuch as an answer

in the negative was sufficient to have diverted their thoughts

from Mr. Scrooge, supposing they had ever had any tendency

that way.


"He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure," said

Fred, "and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health.

Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the

moment; and I say, 'Uncle Scrooge!'"


"Well! Uncle Scrooge!" they cried.
"A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old

man, whatever he is!" said Scrooge's nephew. "He wouldn't

take it from me, but may he have it, nevertheless. Uncle

Scrooge!"


Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay and light

of heart, that he would have pledged the unconscious

company in return, and thanked them in an inaudible speech,

if the Ghost had given him time. But the whole scene

passed off in the breath of the last word spoken by his

nephew; and he and the Spirit were again upon their travels.


Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they

visited, but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood

beside sick beds, and they were cheerful; on foreign lands,

and they were close at home; by struggling men, and they

were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and it was

rich. In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery's every

refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not

made fast the door, and barred the Spirit out, he left his

blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.
It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge

had his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared

to be condensed into the space of time they passed

together. It was strange, too, that while Scrooge remained

unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly

older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of

it, until they left a children's Twelfth Night party, when,

looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place,

he noticed that its hair was grey.
"Are spirits' lives so short?" asked Scrooge.
"My life upon this globe, is very brief," replied the Ghost.

"It ends to-night."


"To-night!" cried Scrooge.
"To-night at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing

near."
The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at

that moment.
"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said

Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, "but I see

something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding

from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?"


"It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it," was

the Spirit's sorrowful reply. "Look here."


From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children;

wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt

down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
"Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!" exclaimed

the Ghost.


They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling,

wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where

graceful youth should have filled their features out, and

touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled

hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and

pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat

enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No

change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any

grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has

monsters half so horrible and dread.


Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to

him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but

the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie

of such enormous magnitude.


"Spirit! are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.
"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon

them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.

This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,

and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for

on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the

writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out

its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye!

Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.

And bide the end!"
"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.
"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him

for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?"


The bell struck twelve.
Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not.

As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the

prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes,

beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like

a mist along the ground, towards him.



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