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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Part 2 out of 2

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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.

STAVE IV: THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS

THE Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When
it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in
the very 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 outstretched 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 paused 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 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 merchants; 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.
Observing 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."

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 explanation might lie here.

He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men of business:
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.

He looked about in that very place for his own image; but
another 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
outstretched 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 cesspools, 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,
beetling 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 the recognition of each
other. After a short period of blank astonishment, 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 entered 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 suitable
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. "Every 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 suppose?"

"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 'em after he was dead, a wicked old
screw," pursued the woman, "why wasn't he natural in his
lifetime? If he had 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 plunder. 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 sixpence, 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 opening 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 'em down, rings and
all, with him lying there?" said Joe.

"Yes I do," replied the woman. "Why not?"

"You were born to make your fortune," said Joe, "and
you'll certainly 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 blankets, now."

"His blankets?" asked Joe.

"Whose else's do you think?" replied the woman. "He
isn't likely to take cold without 'em, I dare say."

"I hope he didn't die of anything 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
had been obscene demons, marketing the corpse itself.

"Ha, ha!" laughed the same woman, when old Joe,
producing a flannel bag with money in it, told out their
several gains upon 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 almost touched a bed: a bare, uncurtained bed: on which,
beneath a 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 accuracy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience
to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of room it
was. A pale light, rising in the 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? Avarice, hard-dealing, griping cares?
They have brought him to a rich end, truly!

He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, 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.

"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 expression 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 hoarding 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."

"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 understood, 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 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 industry 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
working still. Bob told them of the extraordinary kindness
of Mr. Scrooge's nephew, whom he had scarcely seen but
once, and who, meeting him 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 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 anything 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 whenever 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!

"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. Indeed, 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 court," 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?"

Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which
it stood.

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if
persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the
courses be departed 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 before 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, stronger yet, repulsed him.

Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate
reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom's hood and dress.
It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.

STAVE V: 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 repeated, 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 Laocon 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, starting off again, and going round the fireplace.
"There's the door, by which the Ghost of Jacob Marley
entered! There's the corner where the 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, 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 Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look
about him.

"EH?" returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.

"To-day!" replied the boy. "Why, CHRISTMAS DAY."

"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "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 'em 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 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 Bob Cratchit's!" whispered Scrooge,
rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. "He sha'n't
know who sends it. It's twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe
Miller never made such a joke as 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 expression 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 'em 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 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 munifi--"

"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'ee," 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:

"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'ee. 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, wonderful
games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful 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 coming 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 behind 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?"

"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 momentary 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 borough, in the good old
world. Some people laughed to see the alteration 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!

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