Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits - A Christmas Carol

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

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

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

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

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

‘Come in!’ exclaimed the Ghost. ‘Come in, and
know me better, man.’

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

‘I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,’ said the
Spirit. ‘Look upon me.’

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

‘You have never seen the like of me before?’
exclaimed the Spirit.

‘Never,’ Scrooge made answer to it.

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

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

‘More than eighteen hundred,’ said the Ghost.

‘A tremendous family to provide for,’ muttered
Scrooge.

The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.

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

‘Touch my robe.’

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

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

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

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

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

But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and
chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their
best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time
there emerged from scores of bye–streets, lanes, and nameless
turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the
baker’ shops. The sight of these poor revellers appeared to
interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him
in a baker’s doorway, and taking off 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 sur 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 sur 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.

‘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 I 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 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 Scrooge!’

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

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

‘Well! Uncle Scrooge!’ they cried.

‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old man,
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 a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling,
wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful
youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with
its 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 abide the
end.’

‘Have they no refuge or resource?’ cried
Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons?’ said the Spirit, turning on
him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no
workhouses?’ The bell struck twelve.

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