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PREFACE
STAVE I: MARLEY'S GHOST
MARLEY was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker,
and the chief mourner.
Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to
put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind!
I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead
about a door-nail.
I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece
of ironmongery in the trade.
But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not
disturb it, or the Country's done for.
You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a
door-nail. Scrooge knew he was dead?
Of course he did.
How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't
know how many years.
Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole
residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner.
And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an
excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an
undoubted bargain.
The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from.
There is no doubt that Marley was dead.
This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I
am going to relate.
If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began,
there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an
easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than
there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in
a breezy spot--say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance-- literally to astonish his
son's weak mind.
Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name.
There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley.
The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley.
Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but
he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing,
wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!
Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire;
secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his
cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out
shrewdly in his grating voice.
A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin.
He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the
dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge.
No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him.
No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its
purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.
Foul weather didn't know where to have him.
The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over
him in only one respect. They often "came down" handsomely, and
Scrooge never did.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Scrooge,
how are you? When will you come to see me?"
No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock,
no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place,
of Scrooge.
Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would
tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as
though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!"
But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked.
To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep
its distance, was what the knowing ones call "nuts" to Scrooge.
Once upon a time--of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve--old Scrooge sat
busy in his counting-house.
It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the
court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and
stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.
The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already-- it had not
been light all day--and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring
offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air.
The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that
although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.
To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have
thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.
The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his
clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters.
Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that
it looked like one coal.
But he couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so
surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would
be necessary for them to part.
Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the
candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.
"A merry Christmas, uncle!
God save you!" cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who
came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
"Bah!" said Scrooge, "Humbug!"
He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of
Scrooge's, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes
sparkled, and his breath smoked again.
"Christmas a humbug, uncle!" said Scrooge's nephew.
"You don't mean that, I am sure?" "I do," said Scrooge.
"Merry Christmas!
What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry?
You're poor enough." "Come, then," returned the nephew gaily.
"What right have you to be dismal?
What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough."
Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, "Bah!" again;
and followed it up with "Humbug."
"Don't be cross, uncle!" said the nephew. "What else can I be," returned the uncle,
"when I live in such a world of fools as this?
Merry Christmas!
Out upon merry Christmas!
What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for
finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your
books and having every item in 'em through
a round dozen of months presented dead against you?
If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about
with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried
with a stake of holly through his heart.
He should!" "Uncle!" pleaded the nephew.
"Nephew!" returned the uncle sternly, "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep
it in mine."
"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it."
"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge.
"Much good may it do you!
Much good it has ever done you!" "There are many things from which I might
have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew.
"Christmas among the rest.
But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round--
apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to
it can be apart from that--as a good time;
a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long
calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up
hearts freely, and to think of people below
them as if they really were fellow- passengers to the grave, and not another
race of creatures bound on other journeys.
And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket,
I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"
The clerk in the Tank involuntarily applauded.
Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and
extinguished the last frail spark for ever.
"Let me hear another sound from you," said Scrooge, "and you'll keep your Christmas by
losing your situation! You're quite a powerful speaker, sir," he
added, turning to his nephew.
"I wonder you don't go into Parliament." "Don't be angry, uncle.
Come! Dine with us to-morrow."
Scrooge said that he would see him--yes, indeed he did.
He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that
extremity first.
"But why?" cried Scrooge's nephew. "Why?"
"Why did you get married?" said Scrooge. "Because I fell in love."
"Because you fell in love!" growled Scrooge, as if that were the only one thing
in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas.
"Good afternoon!"
"Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me before that happened.
Why give it as a reason for not coming now?"
"Good afternoon," said Scrooge.
"I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?"
"Good afternoon," said Scrooge. "I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you
so resolute.
We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party.
But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I'll keep my Christmas
humour to the last.
So A Merry Christmas, uncle!" "Good afternoon!" said Scrooge.
"And A Happy New Year!" "Good afternoon!" said Scrooge.
His nephew left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding.
He stopped at the outer door to bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, who,
cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned them cordially.
"There's another fellow," muttered Scrooge; who overheard him: "my clerk, with fifteen
shillings a week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas.
I'll retire to Bedlam."
This lunatic, in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had let two other people in.
They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off,
in Scrooge's office.
They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.
"Scrooge and Marley's, I believe," said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list.
"Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?"
"Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years," Scrooge replied.
"He died seven years ago, this very night."
"We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner," said
the gentleman, presenting his credentials. It certainly was; for they had been two
kindred spirits.
At the ominous word "liberality," Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the
credentials back.
"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a
pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision
for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.
Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in
want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge. "Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman,
laying down the pen again. "And the Union workhouses?" demanded
Scrooge.
"Are they still in operation?" "They are.
Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.
"Both very busy, sir."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop
them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."
"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to
the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund
to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.
We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt,
and Abundance rejoices.
What shall I put you down for?" "Nothing!"
Scrooge replied. "You wish to be anonymous?"
"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge.
"Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.
I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry.
I help to support the establishments I have mentioned--they cost enough; and those who
are badly off must go there." "Many can't go there; and many would rather
die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the
surplus population. Besides--excuse me--I don't know that."
"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.
"It's not my business," Scrooge returned.
"It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with
other people's. Mine occupies me constantly.
Good afternoon, gentlemen!"
Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.
Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more
facetious temper than was usual with him.
Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring
links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct
them on their way.
The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at
Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and
quarters in the clouds, with tremulous
vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.
The cold became intense.
In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the
gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged
men and boys were gathered: warming their
hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture.
The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowings sullenly congealed, and turned
to misanthropic ice.
The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp
heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed.
Poulterers' and grocers' trades became a splendid joke: a glorious pageant, with
which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and
sale had anything to do.
The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his
fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor's household should; and
even the little tailor, whom he had fined
five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and bloodthirsty in the
streets, stirred up to-morrow's pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the
baby sallied out to buy the beef.
Foggier yet, and colder. Piercing, searching, biting cold.
If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit's nose with a touch of such
weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have
roared to lusty purpose.
The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are
gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with a Christmas
carol: but at the first sound of
"God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!"
Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror,
leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.
At length the hour of shutting up the counting-house arrived.
With an ill-will Scrooge dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to
the expectant clerk in the Tank, who instantly snuffed his candle out, and put
on his hat.
"You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?" said Scrooge.
"If quite convenient, sir." "It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and
it's not fair.
If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?"
The clerk smiled faintly.
"And yet," said Scrooge, "you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for
no work." The clerk observed that it was only once a
year.
"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" said
Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin.
"But I suppose you must have the whole day.
Be here all the earlier next morning." The clerk promised that he would; and
Scrooge walked out with a growl.
The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of his white
comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat), went down a slide
on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys,
twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve, and then ran home to Camden
Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blindman's-buff.
Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read
all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker's-book, went
home to bed.
He lived in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased partner.
They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where
it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have
run there when it was a young house,
playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again.
It was old enough now, and dreary enough, for nobody lived in it but Scrooge, the
other rooms being all let out as offices.
The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope
with his hands.
The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as
if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.
Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the
door, except that it was very large.
It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole
residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about
him as any man in the city of London, even
including--which is a bold word--the corporation, aldermen, and livery.
Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley,
since his last mention of his seven years' dead partner that afternoon.
And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having
his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any
intermediate process of change--not a knocker, but Marley's face.
Marley's face.
It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a
dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.
It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with
ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.
The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes
were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.
That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in
spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.
As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.
To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible
sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue.
But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked
in, and lighted his candle.
He did pause, with a moment's irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look
cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of
Marley's pigtail sticking out into the hall.
But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held
the knocker on, so he said "Pooh, pooh!" and closed it with a bang.
The sound resounded through the house like thunder.
Every room above, and every cask in the wine-merchant's cellars below, appeared to
have a separate peal of echoes of its own.
Scrooge was not a man to be frightened by echoes.
He fastened the door, and walked across the hall, and up the stairs; slowly too:
trimming his candle as he went.
You may talk vaguely about driving a coach- and-six up a good old flight of stairs, or
through a bad young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say you might have got a hearse
up that staircase, and taken it broadwise,
with the splinter-bar towards the wall and the door towards the balustrades: and done
it easy.
There was plenty of width for that, and room to spare; which is perhaps the reason
why Scrooge thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom.
Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn't have lighted the entry too well,
so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge's dip.
Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that.
Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.
But before he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms to see that all
was right. He had just enough recollection of the face
to desire to do that.
Sitting-room, bedroom, lumber-room. All as they should be.
Nobody under the table, nobody under the sofa; a small fire in the grate; spoon and
basin ready; and the little saucepan of gruel (Scrooge had a cold in his head) upon
the hob.
Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his dressing-gown, which was
hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall.
Lumber-room as usual.
Old fire-guard, old shoes, two fish- baskets, washing-stand on three legs, and a
poker.
Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked himself in; double-locked himself
in, which was not his custom.
Thus secured against surprise, he took off his cravat; put on his dressing-gown and
slippers, and his nightcap; and sat down before the fire to take his gruel.
It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night.
He was obliged to sit close to it, and brood over it, before he could extract the
least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel.
The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all
round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures.
There were Cains and Abels, Pharaoh's daughters; Queens of Sheba, Angelic
messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams,
Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in
butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet that face of
Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet's rod, and swallowed up the
whole.
If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on
its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a
copy of old Marley's head on every one.
"Humbug!" said Scrooge; and walked across the room.
After several turns, he sat down again.
As he threw his head back in the chair, his glance happened to rest upon a bell, a
disused bell, that hung in the room, and communicated for some purpose now forgotten
with a chamber in the highest story of the building.
It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he
looked, he saw this bell begin to swing.
It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out
loudly, and so did every bell in the house. This might have lasted half a minute, or a
minute, but it seemed an hour.
The bells ceased as they had begun, together.
They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were
dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant's cellar.
Scrooge then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as
dragging chains.
The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much
louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards
his door.
"It's humbug still!" said Scrooge. "I won't believe it."
His colour changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door,
and passed into the room before his eyes.
Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, "I know him;
Marley's Ghost!" and fell again. The same face: the very same.
Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter
bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat- skirts, and the hair upon his head.
The chain he drew was clasped about his middle.
It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed
it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in
steel.
His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his
waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.
Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it
until now. No, nor did he believe it even now.
Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him;
though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very
texture of the folded kerchief bound about
its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before; he was still incredulous,
and fought against his senses. "How now!" said Scrooge, caustic and cold
as ever.
"What do you want with me?" "Much!"--Marley's voice, no doubt about it.
"Who are you?" "Ask me who I was."
"Who were you then?" said Scrooge, raising his voice.
"You're particular, for a shade." He was going to say "to a shade," but
substituted this, as more appropriate.
"In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley." "Can you--can you sit down?" asked Scrooge,
looking doubtfully at him. "I can."
"Do it, then."
Scrooge asked the question, because he didn't know whether a ghost so transparent
might find himself in a condition to take a chair; and felt that in the event of its
being impossible, it might involve the necessity of an embarrassing explanation.
But the ghost sat down on the opposite side of the fireplace, as if he were quite used
to it.
"You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.
"I don't," said Scrooge. "What evidence would you have of my reality
beyond that of your senses?"
"I don't know," said Scrooge. "Why do you doubt your senses?"
"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them.
A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats.
You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a
fragment of an underdone potato.
There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"
Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his
heart, by any means waggish then.
The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention,
and keeping down his terror; for the spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow
in his bones.
To sit, staring at those fixed glazed eyes, in silence for a moment, would play,
Scrooge felt, the very deuce with him.
There was something very awful, too, in the spectre's being provided with an infernal
atmosphere of its own.
Scrooge could not feel it himself, but this was clearly the case; for though the Ghost
sat perfectly motionless, its hair, and skirts, and tassels, were still agitated as
by the hot vapour from an oven.
"You see this toothpick?" said Scrooge, returning quickly to the charge, for the
reason just assigned; and wishing, though it were only for a second, to divert the
vision's stony gaze from himself.
"I do," replied the Ghost. "You are not looking at it," said Scrooge.
"But I see it," said the Ghost, "notwithstanding."
"Well!" returned Scrooge, "I have but to swallow this, and be for the rest of my
days persecuted by a legion of goblins, all of my own creation.
Humbug, I tell you! humbug!"
At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and
appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling
in a swoon.
But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round
its head, as if it were too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw dropped down upon
its breast!
Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.
"Mercy!" he said. "Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble
me?"
"Man of the worldly mind!" replied the Ghost, "do you believe in me or not?"
"I do," said Scrooge. "I must.
But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?"
"It is required of every man," the Ghost returned, "that the spirit within him
should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit
goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.
It is doomed to wander through the world-- oh, woe is me!--and witness what it cannot
share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"
Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.
"You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling.
"Tell me why?"
"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost.
"I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of
my own free will I wore it.
Is its pattern strange to you?" Scrooge trembled more and more.
"Or would you know," pursued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil
you bear yourself?
It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago.
You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!"
Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself
surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.
"Jacob," he said, imploringly.
"Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!"
"I have none to give," the Ghost replied.
"It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other
ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would.
A very little more is all permitted to me.
I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere.
My spirit never walked beyond our counting- house--mark me!--in life my spirit never
roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie
before me!"
It was a habit with Scrooge, whenever he became thoughtful, to put his hands in his
breeches pockets.
Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now, but without lifting up his
eyes, or getting off his knees.
"You must have been very slow about it, Jacob," Scrooge observed, in a business-
like manner, though with humility and deference.
"Slow!" the Ghost repeated.
"Seven years dead," mused Scrooge. "And travelling all the time!"
"The whole time," said the Ghost. "No rest, no peace.
Incessant torture of remorse."
"You travel fast?" said Scrooge. "On the wings of the wind," replied the
Ghost. "You might have got over a great quantity
of ground in seven years," said Scrooge.
The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in
the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting
it for a nuisance.
"Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed," cried the phantom, "not to know, that ages
of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity
before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed.
Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere,
whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of
usefulness.
Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity
misused! Yet such was I!
Oh! such was I!"
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now
began to apply this to himself. "Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its
hands again.
"Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business;
charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.
The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my
business!"
It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing
grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.
"At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said, "I suffer most.
Why did I walk through crowds of fellow- beings with my eyes turned down, and never
raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!
Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"
Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the spectre going on at this rate, and began to
quake exceedingly.
"Hear me!" cried the Ghost. "My time is nearly gone."
"I will," said Scrooge. "But don't be hard upon me!
Don't be flowery, Jacob!
Pray!" "How it is that I appear before you in a
shape that you can see, I may not tell. I have sat invisible beside you many and
many a day."
It was not an agreeable idea. Scrooge shivered, and wiped the
perspiration from his brow. "That is no light part of my penance,"
pursued the Ghost.
"I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my
fate. A chance and hope of my procuring,
Ebenezer."
"You were always a good friend to me," said Scrooge.
"Thank'ee!" "You will be haunted," resumed the Ghost,
"by Three Spirits."
Scrooge's countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost's had done.
"Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?" he demanded, in a faltering voice.
"It is."
"I--I think I'd rather not," said Scrooge. "Without their visits," said the Ghost,
"you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first to-morrow, when the bell
tolls One."
"Couldn't I take 'em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?" hinted Scrooge.
"Expect the second on the next night at the same hour.
The third upon the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate.
Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed
between us!"
When it had said these words, the spectre took its wrapper from the table, and bound
it round its head, as before.
Scrooge knew this, by the smart sound its teeth made, when the jaws were brought
together by the bandage.
He ventured to raise his eyes again, and found his supernatural visitor confronting
him in an erect attitude, with its chain wound over and about its arm.
The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the window
raised itself a little, so that when the spectre reached it, it was wide open.
It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did.
When they were within two paces of each other, Marley's Ghost held up its hand,
warning him to come no nearer.
Scrooge stopped.
Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand,
he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation
and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory.
The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated
out upon the bleak, dark night.
Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity.
He looked out.
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and
moaning as they went.
Every one of them wore chains like Marley's Ghost; some few (they might be guilty
governments) were linked together; none were free.
Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives.
He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a
monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to
assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step.
The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in
human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he could not tell.
But they and their spirit voices faded together; and the night became as it had
been when he walked home.
Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered.
It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were
undisturbed.
He tried to say "Humbug!" but stopped at the first syllable.
And being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or
his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull conversation of the Ghost, or the
lateness of the hour, much in need of
repose; went straight to bed, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the
instant.
>
STAVE II: THE FIRST OF THE THREE SPIRITS
WHEN Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed, he could scarcely
distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber.
He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a
neighbouring church struck the four quarters.
So he listened for the hour.
To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and from seven
to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped.
Twelve!
It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong.
An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve!
He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this most 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 or 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
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 a 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!
Halloo!"
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 instalments of those dainties to the young people: at the same
time, sending out a meagre servant to offer
a glass of "something" to the postboy, who answered that he thanked the gentleman, but
if it was the same tap 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 battled for the
way, and all the strife and tumult of a real city were.
It was made plain enough, by the dressing of the shops, that here too it was
Christmas time again; but it was evening, and the streets were lighted up.
The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it.
"Know it!" said Scrooge. "Was I apprenticed here!"
They went in.
At sight of an old gentleman in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that
if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling,
Scrooge cried in great excitement:
"Why, it's old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it's Fezziwig alive
again!"
Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour
of seven.