Stave 2: The First of the Three Spirits - A Christmas Carol

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When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a neighbouring church struck the four quarters. So he listened for the hour.

To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to
seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then
stopped. Twelve. It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was
wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve.

He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this most
preposterous clock. Its rapid little pulse beat twelve: and
stopped.

‘Why, it isn’t possible,’ said Scrooge,
‘that I can have slept through a whole day and far into
another night. It isn’t possible that anything has happened
to the sun, and this is twelve at noon.’

The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and
groped his way to the window. He was obliged to rub the frost off
with the sleeve of his dressing–gown before he could see
anything; and could see very little then. All he could make out
was, that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that
there was no noise of people running to and fro, and making a great
stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had beaten
off bright day, and taken possession of the world. This was a great
relief, because “Three days after sight of this First of
Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge on his order,” and so
forth, would have become a mere United States security if there
were no days to count by.

Scrooge went to bed again, and thought, and thought, and thought
it over and over, and could make nothing of it. The more he
thought, the more perplexed he was; and, the more he endeavoured
not to think, the more he thought.

Marley’s Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he
resolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a
dream, his mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to
its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all
through, “Was it a dream or not?”

Scrooge lay in this state until the chime had gone
three–quarters more, when he remembered, on a sudden, that
the Ghost had warned him of a visitation when the bell tolled one.
He resolved to lie awake until the hour was passed; and,
considering that he could no more go to sleep than go to heaven,
this was, perhaps, the wisest resolution in his power.

The quarter was so long, that he was more than once convinced he
must have sunk into a doze unconsciously, and missed the clock. At
length it broke upon his listening ear.

‘Ding, dong!’

‘A quarter past,’ said Scrooge, counting.

‘Ding, dong!’

‘Half past,’ said Scrooge.

‘Ding, dong!’

‘A quarter to it,’ said Scrooge.

‘Ding, dong!’

‘The hour itself,’ said Scrooge triumphantly,
‘and nothing else!’

He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a
deep, dull, hollow, melancholy ONE. Light flashed up in the room
upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.

The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand.
Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but
those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were
drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half–recumbent
attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who
drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in
the spirit at your elbow.

It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a
child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium,
which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and
being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which
hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age;
and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom
was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands
the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and
feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare.
It wore a tunic of the purest white, and round its waist was bound
a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch
of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of
that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But
the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head
there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was
visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its
duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held
under its arm.

Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing
steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled
and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was
light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself
fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now
with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a
head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no
outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted
away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again;
distinct and clear as ever.

‘Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to
me?’ asked Scrooge.

‘I am.’

The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of
being so close beside him, it were at a distance.

‘Who, and what are you?’ Scrooge demanded.

‘I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.’

‘Long Past?’ inquired Scrooge: observant of its
dwarfish stature.

‘No. Your past.’

Perhaps, Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody
could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit
in his cap; and begged him to be covered.

‘What!’ exclaimed the Ghost, ‘would you so
soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not
enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and
force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my
brow?’

Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any
knowledge of having wilfully bonneted the Spirit at any period of
his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him
there.

‘Your welfare,’ said the Ghost.

Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help
thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more
conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for
it said immediately:

‘Your reclamation, then. Take heed.’

It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently
by the arm.

‘Rise, and walk with me.’

It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the weather
and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that bed was
warm, and the thermometer a long way below freezing; that he was
clad but lightly in his slippers, dressing–gown, and
nightcap; and that he had a cold upon him at that time. The grasp,
though gentle as a woman’s hand, was not to be resisted. He
rose: but finding that the Spirit made towards the window, clasped
his robe in supplication.

‘I am mortal,’ Scrooge remonstrated, ‘and
liable to fall.’

‘Bear but a touch of my hand there,’ said the
Spirit, laying it upon his heart, ‘and you shall be upheld in
more than this.’

As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and
stood upon an open country road, with fields on either hand. The
city had entirely vanished. Not a vestige of it was to be seen. The
darkness and the mist had vanished with it, for it was a clear,
cold, winter day, with snow upon the ground.

‘Good Heaven!’ said Scrooge, clasping his hands
together, as he looked about him. ‘I was bred in this place.
I was a boy here.’

The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle touch, though it
had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the old
man’s sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thousand odours
floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts,
and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten.

‘Your lip is trembling,’ said the Ghost. ‘and
what is that upon your cheek?’

Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it
was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would.

‘You recollect the way?’ inquired the Spirit.

‘Remember it!’ cried Scrooge with fervour; ‘I
could walk it blindfold.’

‘Strange to have forgotten it for so many years,’
observed the Ghost. ‘Let us go on.’

They walked along the road, Scrooge recognising every gate, and
post, and tree; until a little market–town appeared in the
distance, with its bridge, its church, and winding river. Some
shaggy ponies now were seen trotting towards them with boys upon
their backs, who called to other boys in country gigs and carts,
driven by farmers. All these boys were in great spirits, and
shouted to each other, until the broad fields were so full of merry
music, that the crisp air laughed to hear it.

‘These are but shadows of the things that have
been,’ said the Ghost. ‘They have no consciousness of
us.’

The jocund travellers came on; and as they came, Scrooge knew
and named them every one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to
see them? Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up as
they went past? Why was he filled with gladness when he heard them
give each other Merry Christmas, as they parted at
cross–roads and bye–ways, for their several homes? What
was merry Christmas to Scrooge? Out upon merry Christmas! What good
had it ever done to him?

‘The school is not quite deserted,’ said the Ghost.
‘A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there
still.’

Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed.

They left the high–road, by a well–remembered lane,
and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick, with a little
weathercock–surmounted cupola, on the roof, and a bell
hanging in it. It was a large house, but one of broken fortunes;
for the spacious offices were little used, their walls were damp
and mossy, their windows broken, and their gates decayed. Fowls
clucked and strutted in the stables; and the coach–houses and
sheds were over–run with grass. Nor was it more retentive of
its ancient state, within; for entering the dreary hall, and
glancing through the open doors of many rooms, they found them
poorly furnished, cold, and vast. There was an earthy savour in the
air, a chilly bareness in the place, which associated itself
somehow with too much getting up by candle–light, and not too
much to eat.

They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to a door at
the back of the house. It opened before them, and disclosed a long,
bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain deal
forms and desks. At one of these a lonely boy was reading near a
feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his
poor forgotten self as he used to be.

Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scuffle from
the mice behind the panelling, not a drip from the
half–thawed water–spout in the dull yard behind, not a
sigh among the leafless boughs of one despondent poplar, not the
idle swinging of an empty store–house door, no, not a
clicking in the fire, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with a
softening influence, and gave a freer passage to his tears.

The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger
self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, in foreign garments:
wonderfully real and distinct to look at: stood outside the window,
with an axe stuck in his belt, and leading by the bridle an ass
laden with wood.

‘Why, it’s Ali Baba.’ Scrooge exclaimed in
ecstasy. ‘It’s dear old honest Ali Baba. Yes, yes, I
know. One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here
all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor
boy. And Valentine,’ said Scrooge, ‘and his wild
brother, Orson; there they go. And what’s his name, who was
put down in his drawers, asleep, at the Gate of Damascus;
don’t you see him. And the Sultan’s Groom turned upside
down by the Genii; there he is upon his head. Serve him right!
I’m glad of it. What business had he to be married to the
Princess?’

To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness of his nature on
such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing and
crying; and to see his heightened and excited face would have been
a surprise to his business friends in the city, indeed.

‘There’s the Parrot!’ cried Scrooge.
‘Green body and yellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce
growing out of the top of his head; there he is. Poor Robin Crusoe,
he called him, when he came home again after sailing round the
island. “Poor Robin Crusoe, where have you been, Robin
Crusoe.” The man thought he was dreaming, but he
wasn’t. It was the Parrot, you know. There goes Friday,
running for his life to the little creek. Halloa! Hoop!
Hallo!’

Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign to his usual
character, he said, in pity for his former self, ‘Poor
boy!’ and cried again.

‘I wish,’ Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his
pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff:
‘but it’s too late now.’

‘What is the matter?’ asked the Spirit.

‘Nothing,’ said Scrooge. ‘Nothing. There was a
boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like
to have given him something: that’s all.’

The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved its hand: saying as it
did so, ‘Let us see another Christmas.’

Scrooge’s former self grew larger at the words, and the
room became a little darker and more dirty. The panels shrunk, the
windows cracked; fragments of plaster fell out of the ceiling, and
the naked laths were shown instead; but how all this was brought
about, Scrooge knew no more than you do. He only knew that it was
quite correct; that everything had happened so; that there he was,
alone again, when all the other boys had gone home for the jolly
holidays.

He was not reading now, but walking up and down
despairingly.

Scrooge looked at the Ghost, and with a mournful shaking of his
head, glanced anxiously towards the door.

It opened; and a little girl, much younger than the boy, came
darting in, and putting her arms about his neck, and often kissing
him, addressed him as her ‘Dear, dear brother!’

‘I have come to bring you home, dear brother!’ said
the child, clapping her tiny hands, and bending down to laugh.
‘To bring you home, home, home!’

‘Home, little Fan?’ returned the boy.

‘Yes,’ said the child, brimful of glee. ‘Home,
for good and all! Home, for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder
than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven. He spoke so
gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, that I was not
afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said
Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you. And
you’re to be a man!’ said the child, opening her eyes,
‘and are never to come back here; but first, we’re to
be together all the Christmas long, and have the merriest time in
all the world!’

‘You are quite a woman, little Fan!’ exclaimed the
boy.

She clapped her hands and laughed, and tried to touch his head;
but being too little, laughed again, and stood on tiptoe to embrace
him. Then she began to drag him, in her childish eagerness, towards
the door; and he, nothing loth to go, accompanied her.

A terrible voice in the hall cried. ‘Bring down Master
Scrooge’s box, there!’ and in the hall appeared the
schoolmaster himself, who glared on Master Scrooge with a ferocious
condescension, and threw him into a dreadful state of mind by
shaking hands with him. He then conveyed him and his sister into
the veriest old well of a shivering best–parlour that ever
was seen, where the maps upon the wall, and the celestial and
terrestrial globes in the windows, were waxy with cold. Here he
produced a decanter of curiously light wine, and a block of
curiously heavy cake, and administered installments of those
dainties to the young people: at the same time, sending out a
meagre servant to offer a glass of something to the postboy, who
answered that he thanked the gentleman, but if it was the same tap
as he had tasted before, he had rather not. Master Scrooge’s
trunk being by this time tied on to the top of the chaise, the
children bade the schoolmaster good–bye right willingly; and
getting into it, drove gaily down the garden–sweep: the quick
wheels dashing the hoar–frost and snow from off the dark
leaves of the evergreens like spray.

‘Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have
withered,’ said the Ghost. ‘But she had a large
heart.’

‘So she had,’ cried Scrooge. ‘You’re
right. I will not gainsay it, Spirit. God forbid.’

‘She died a woman,’ said the Ghost, ‘and had,
as I think, children.’

‘One child,’ Scrooge returned.

‘True,’ said the Ghost. ‘Your
nephew.’

Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and answered briefly,
‘Yes.’

Although they had but that moment left the school behind them,
they were now in the busy thoroughfares of a city, where shadowy
passengers passed and repassed; where shadowy carts and coaches
battle for the way, and all the strife and tumult of a real city
were. It was made plain enough, by the dressing of the shops, that
here too it was Christmas time again; but it was evening, and the
streets were lighted up.

The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge
if he knew it.

‘Know it?’ said Scrooge. ‘I was apprenticed
here!’

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig,
sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches
taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge
cried in great excitement:

‘Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’s
Fezziwig alive again.’

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock,
which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted
his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes
to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily,
rich, fat, jovial voice:

‘Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!’

Scrooge’s former self, now grown a young man, came briskly
in, accompanied by his fellow–prentice.

‘Dick Wilkins, to be sure!’ said Scrooge to the
Ghost. ‘Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached
to me, was Dick. Poor Dick. Dear, dear.’

‘Yo ho, my boys,’ said Fezziwig. ‘No more work
to–night! Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer.
Let’s have the shutters up,’ cried old Fezziwig, with a
sharp clap of his hands, ‘before a man can say Jack
Robinson.’

You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows went at it.
They charged into the street with the shutters—one, two,
three—had them up in their places—four, five,
six—barred them and pinned them—seven, eight,
nine—and came back before you could have got to twelve,
panting like race–horses.

‘Hilli–ho!’ cried old Fezziwig, skipping down
from the high desk, with wonderful agility. ‘Clear away, my
lads, and let’s have lots of room here. Hilli–ho, Dick.
Chirrup, Ebenezer.’

Clear away. There was nothing they wouldn’t have cleared
away, or couldn’t have cleared away, with old Fezziwig
looking on. It was done in a minute. Every movable was packed off,
as if it were dismissed from public life for evermore; the floor
was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon
the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and
bright a ball–room, as you would desire to see upon a
winter’s night.

In came a fiddler with a music–book, and went up to the
lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty
stomach–aches. In came Mrs Fezziwig, one vast substantial
smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In
came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all
the young men and women employed in the business. In came the
housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her
brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy
from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough
from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next
door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her
mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some
boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some
pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went,
twenty couples at once; hands half round and back again the other
way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various
stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up
in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as
they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to
help them. When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig,
clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, ‘Well
done!’ and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of
porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest,
upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were
no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home,
exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran–new man resolved
to beat him out of sight, or perish.

There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more
dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a
great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold
Boiled, and there were mince–pies, and plenty of beer. But
the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled,
when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind. The sort of man who knew his
business better than you or I could have told it him.) struck up
‘Sir Roger de Coverley.’ Then old Fezziwig stood out to
dance with Mrs Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece
of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of
partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would
dance, and had no notion of walking.

But if they had been twice as many—ah, four times—
old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs
Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every
sense of the term. If that’s not high praise, tell me higher,
and I’ll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from
Fezziwig’s calves. They shone in every part of the dance like
moons. You couldn’t have predicted, at any given time, what
would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs
Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both
hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew,
thread–the–needle, and back again to your place;
Fezziwig cut—cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his
legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.

When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr
and Mrs Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the
door, and shaking hands with every person individually as he or she
went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had
retired but the two ‘prentices, they did the same to them;
and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads were left to
their beds; which were under a counter in the back–shop.

During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like a man out
of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his
former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything,
enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was
not until now, when the bright faces of his former self and Dick
were turned from them, that he remembered the Ghost, and became
conscious that it was looking full upon him, while the light upon
its head burnt very clear.

‘A small matter,’ said the Ghost, ‘to make
these silly folks so full of gratitude.’

‘Small,’ echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who
were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he
had done so, said,

‘Why? Is it not******. He has spent but a few pounds of
your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he
deserves this praise?’

‘It isn’t that,’ said Scrooge, heated by the
remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter,
self. ‘It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to
render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or
burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words
and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is
impossible to add and count them up: what then? The happiness he
gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.’

He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.

‘What is the matter?’ asked the Ghost.

‘Nothing in particular,’ said Scrooge.

‘Something, I think,’ the Ghost insisted.

‘No,’ said Scrooge, ‘No. I should like to be
able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s
all.’

His former self turned down the lamps as he gave utterance to
the wish; and Scrooge and the Ghost again stood side by side in the
open air.

‘My time grows short,’ observed the Spirit.
‘Quick.’

This was not addressed to Scrooge, or to any one whom he could
see, but it produced an immediate effect. For again Scrooge saw
himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. His face had
not the harsh and rigid lines of later years; but it had begun to
wear the signs of care and avarice. There was an eager, greedy,
restless motion in the eye, which showed the passion that had taken
root, and where the shadow of the growing tree would fall.

He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young girl in a
mourning–dress: in whose eyes there were tears, which
sparkled in the light that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas
Past.

‘It matters little,’ she said, softly. ‘To
you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can
cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do,
I have no just cause to grieve.’

‘What Idol has displaced you?’ he rejoined.

‘A golden one.’

‘This is the even–handed dealing of the
world,’ he said. ‘There is nothing on which it is so
hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with
such severity as the pursuit of wealth.’

‘You fear the world too much,’ she answered, gently.
‘All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being
beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler
aspirations fall off one by one, until the master–passion,
Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?’

‘What then?’ he retorted. ‘Even if I have
grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards
you.’

She shook her head.

‘Am I?’

‘Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both
poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve
our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When
it was made, you were another man.’

‘I was a boy,’ he said impatiently.

‘Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you
are,’ she returned. ‘I am. That which promised
happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now
that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I
will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can
release you.’

‘Have I ever sought release?’

‘In words? No. Never.’

‘In what, then?’

‘In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another
atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything
that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had
never been between us,’ said the girl, looking mildly, but
with steadiness, upon him; ‘tell me, would you seek me out
and try to win me now? Ah, no.’

He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite
of himself. But he said with a struggle, ‘You think
not?’

‘I would gladly think otherwise if I could,’ she
answered, ‘Heaven knows. When I have learned a Truth like
this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you
were free to–day, to–morrow, yesterday, can even I
believe that you would choose a dowerless girl—you who, in
your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or,
choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one
guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your repentance and
regret would surely follow. I do; and I release you. With a full
heart, for the love of him you once were.’

He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she
resumed.

‘You may—the memory of what is past half makes me
hope you will—have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and
you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable
dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy
in the life you have chosen.’

She left him, and they parted.

‘Spirit,’ said Scrooge, ‘show me no more.
Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?’

‘One shadow more,’ exclaimed the Ghost.

‘No more!’ cried Scrooge. ‘No more, I
don’t wish to see it. Show me no more.’

But the relentless Ghost pinioned him in both his arms, and
forced him to observe what happened next.

They were in another scene and place; a room, not very large or
handsome, but full of comfort. Near to the winter fire sat a
beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it
was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting
opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was perfectly
tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his
agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd
in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves
like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The
consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to
care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily,
and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle
in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly.
What would I not have given to one of them! Though I never could
have been so rude, no, no. I wouldn’t for the wealth of all
the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for
the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God
bless my soul! to save my life. As to measuring her waist in sport,
as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I
should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a
punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have
dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned
her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the
lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let
loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond
price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the
lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to
know its value.

But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such a rush
immediately ensued that she with laughing face and plundered dress
was borne towards it the centre of a flushed and boisterous group,
just in time to greet the father, who came home attended by a man
laden with Christmas toys and presents. Then the shouting and the
struggling, and the onslaught that was made on the defenceless
porter! The scaling him with chairs for ladders to dive into his
pockets, despoil him of brown–paper parcels, hold on tight by
his cravat, hug him round his neck, pommel his back, and kick his
legs in irrepressible affection! The shouts of wonder and delight
with which the development of every package was received! The
terrible announcement that the baby had been taken in the act of
putting a doll’s frying–pan into his mouth, and was
more than suspected of having swallowed a fictitious turkey, glued
on a wooden platter! The immense relief of finding this a false
alarm! The joy, and gratitude, and ecstasy! They are all
indescribable alike. It is enough that by degrees the children and
their emotions got out of the parlour, and by one stair at a time,
up to the top of the house; where they went to bed, and so
subsided.

And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever, when the
master of the house, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat
down with her and her mother at his own fireside; and when he
thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full
of promise, might have called him father, and been a
spring–time in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew
very dim indeed.

‘Belle,’ said the husband, turning to his wife with
a smile, ‘I saw an old friend of yours this
afternoon.’

‘Who was it?’

‘Guess!’

‘How can I? Tut, don’t I know,’ she added in
the same breath, laughing as he laughed. ‘Mr
Scrooge.’

‘Mr Scrooge it was. I passed his office window; and as it
was not shut up, and he had a candle inside, I could scarcely help
seeing him. His partner lies upon the point of death, I hear; and
there he sat alone. Quite alone in the world, I do
believe.’

‘Spirit,’ said Scrooge in a broken voice,
‘remove me from this place.’

‘I told you these were shadows of the things that have
been,’ said the Ghost. ‘That they are what they are, do
not blame me.’

‘Remove me,’ Scrooge exclaimed, ‘I cannot bear
it.’

He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him
with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of
all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.

‘Leave me! Take me back! Haunt me no longer!’

In the struggle, if that can be called a struggle in which the
Ghost with no visible resistance on its own part was undisturbed by
any effort of its adversary, Scrooge observed that its light was
burning high and bright; and dimly connecting that with its
influence over him, he seized the extinguisher–cap, and by a
sudden action pressed it down upon its head.

The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguisher covered
its whole form; but though Scrooge pressed it down with all his
force, he could not hide the light, which streamed from under it,
in an unbroken flood upon the ground.

He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an
irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom.
He gave the cap a parting squeeze, in which his hand relaxed; and
had barely time to reel to bed, before he sank into a heavy
sleep.