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A Christmas Carol: The Ghost of Christmas Past
THE FIRST OF THE THREE SPIRITS.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed,he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window fromthe opaque walls of his chamber. He was endeavouring topierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of aneighbouring church struck the four quarters. So he listenedfor the hour.
To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on fromsix to seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up totwelve; then stopped. Twelve! It was past two when hewent to bed. The clock was wrong. An icicle must havegot into the works. Twelve!He touched the spring of his repeater, to correct this mostpreposterous clock. Its rapid little pulse beat twelve:and stopped.
“Why, it isn’t possible,” said Scrooge, “that I can haveslept through a whole day and far into another night. Itisn’t possible that anything has happened to the sun, andthis 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 rubthe frost off with the sleeve of his dressing-gown before hecould see anything; and could see very little then. All hecould make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremelycold, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro,and making a great stir, as there unquestionably would have beenif night had beaten off bright day, and taken possession of theworld. This was a great relief, because “three days after sightof this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge or hisorder,” 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 thoughtit over and over and over, and could make nothing of it. The more hethought, the more perplexed he was; and the more he endeavourednot to think, the more he thought.
Marley’s Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolvedwithin himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, hismind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its firstposition, 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 quartersmore, when he remembered, on a sudden, that the Ghost had warnedhim of a visitation when the bell tolled one. He resolved to lieawake until the hour was passed; and, considering that he couldno more go to sleep than go to Heaven, this was perhaps thewisest resolution in his power.
The quarter was so long, that he was more than once convinced hemust have sunk into a doze unconsciously, and missed the clock.At length it broke upon his listening ear.
“A quarter past,” said Scrooge, counting.
“Half-past!” said Scrooge.
“A quarter to it,” said Scrooge.
“The hour itself,” said Scrooge, triumphantly, “and nothing else!”
He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with adeep, dull, hollow, melancholy One. Light flashed up in the roomupon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.
The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by ahand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at hisback, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtainsof his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into ahalf-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with theunearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am nowto you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.
It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like achild as like an old man, viewed through some supernaturalmedium, which gave him the appearance of having recededfrom the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions.Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, waswhite as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle init, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms werevery long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its holdwere of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicatelyformed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunicof the purest white; and round its waist was bounda lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It helda branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singularcontradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmedwith summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was,that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clearjet of light, by which all this was visible; and which wasdoubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, agreat extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasingsteadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its beltsparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another,and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, sothe figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now athing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs,now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without abody: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visiblein the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in thevery wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct andclear as ever.
“Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold tome?” asked Scrooge.
The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as ifinstead 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 dwarfishstature.
“No. Your past.”
Perhaps, Scrooge could not have told anybody why, ifanybody could have asked him; but he had a special desireto 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 enoughthat you are one of those whose passions made this cap, andforce me through whole trains of years to wear it low uponmy brow!”
Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offendor any knowledge of having wilfully “bonneted” the Spirit atany period of his life. He then made bold to inquire whatbusiness brought him there.
“Your welfare!” said the Ghost.
Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could nothelp thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have beenmore conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heardhim thinking, for it said immediately:
“Your reclamation, then. Take heed!”
It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped himgently by the arm.
“Rise! and walk with me!”
It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that theweather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes;that bed was warm, and the thermometer a long way belowfreezing; that he was clad but lightly in his slippers,dressing-gown, and nightcap; and that he had a cold upon him atthat time. The grasp, though gentle as a woman’s hand,was not to be resisted. He rose: but finding that the Spiritmade 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 morethan this!”
As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall,and stood upon an open country road, with fields on eitherhand. The city had entirely vanished. Not a vestige of itwas to be seen. The darkness and the mist had vanishedwith it, for it was a clear, cold, winter day, with snow uponthe ground.
“Good Heaven!” said Scrooge, clasping his hands together,as he looked about him. “I was bred in this place. I wasa boy here!”
The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle touch,though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared stillpresent to the old man’s sense of feeling. He was consciousof a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connectedwith a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and careslong, long, forgotten!
“Your lip is trembling,” said the Ghost. “And what isthat upon your cheek?”
Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice,that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead himwhere he would.
“You recollect the way?” inquired the Spirit.
“Remember it!” cried Scrooge with fervour; “I couldwalk it blindfold.”
“Strange to have forgotten it for so many years!” observedthe Ghost. “Let us go on.”
They walked along the road, Scrooge recognising everygate, and post, and tree; until a little market-town appearedin the distance, with its bridge, its church, and winding river.Some shaggy ponies now were seen trotting towards themwith boys upon their backs, who called to other boys incountry gigs and carts, driven by farmers. All these boyswere in great spirits, and shouted to each other, until thebroad fields were so full of merry music, that the crisp airlaughed to hear it!
“These are but shadows of the things that have been,” saidthe Ghost. “They have no consciousness of us.”
The jocund travellers came on; and as they came, Scroogeknew and named them every one. Why was he rejoiced beyondall bounds to see them! Why did his cold eye glisten, andhis heart leap up as they went past! Why was he filledwith gladness when he heard them give each other MerryChristmas, as they parted at cross-roads and bye-ways, fortheir several homes! What was merry Christmas to Scrooge?Out upon merry Christmas! What good had it ever doneto him?
“The school is not quite deserted,” said the Ghost. “Asolitary 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, andsoon approached a mansion of dull red brick, with a littleweathercock-surmounted cupola, on the roof, and a bellhanging in it. It was a large house, but one of brokenfortunes; for the spacious offices were little used, their wallswere damp and mossy, their windows broken, and theirgates 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; forentering the dreary hall, and glancing through the opendoors of many rooms, they found them poorly furnished,cold, and vast. There was an earthy savour in the air, achilly bareness in the place, which associated itself somehowwith too much getting up by candle-light, and not toomuch to eat.
They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to adoor at the back of the house. It opened before them, anddisclosed a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still bylines of plain deal forms and desks. At one of these a lonelyboy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat downupon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as heused to be.
Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scufflefrom the mice behind the panelling, not a drip from thehalf-thawed water-spout in the dull yard behind, not a sigh amongthe leafless boughs of one despondent poplar, not the idleswinging of an empty store-house door, no, not a clicking inthe fire, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with a softeninginfluence, and gave a freer passage to his tears.
The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to hisyounger self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, inforeign garments: wonderfully real and distinct to look at:stood outside the window, with an axe stuck in his belt, andleading by the bridle an ass laden with wood.
“Why, it’s Ali Baba!” Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. “It’sdear old honest Ali Baba! Yes, yes, I know! One Christmastime, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone,he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor boy! AndValentine,” said Scrooge, “and his wild brother, Orson; therethey go! And what’s his name, who was put down in hisdrawers, 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 natureon such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice betweenlaughing and crying; and to see his heightened and excitedface; would have been a surprise to his business friends inthe city, indeed.
“There’s the Parrot!” cried Scrooge. “Green body andyellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce growing out of thetop of his head; there he is! Poor Robin Crusoe, he calledhim, when he came home again after sailing round theisland. ‘Poor Robin Crusoe, where have you been, RobinCrusoe?’ The man thought he was dreaming, but he wasn’t.It was the Parrot, you know. There goes Friday, runningfor his life to the little creek! Halloa! Hoop! Halloo!”
Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign to hisusual character, he said, in pity for his former self, “Poorboy!” and cried again.
“I wish,” Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in hispocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with hiscuff: “but it’s too late now.”
“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.
“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boysinging a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I shouldlike 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 theroom became a little darker and more dirty. The panels shrunk,the windows cracked; fragments of plaster fell out of theceiling, and the naked laths were shown instead; but howall this was brought about, Scrooge knew no more than youdo. He only knew that it was quite correct; that everythinghad happened so; that there he was, alone again, when allthe 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 ofhis 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, andoften kissing him, addressed him as her “Dear, dearbrother.”
“I have come to bring you home, dear brother!” said thechild, 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 goodand all. Home, for ever and ever. Father is so much kinderthan he used to be, that home’s like Heaven! He spoke sogently to me one dear night when I was going to bed, thatI was not afraid to ask him once more if you might comehome; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coachto bring you. And you’re to be a man!” said the child,opening her eyes, “and are never to come back here; butfirst, we’re to be together all the Christmas long, and havethe 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 hishead; but being too little, laughed again, and stood ontiptoe to embrace him. Then she began to drag him, in herchildish eagerness, towards the door; and he, nothing loth togo, accompanied her.
A terrible voice in the hall cried, “Bring down MasterScrooge’s box, there!” and in the hall appeared the schoolmasterhimself, who glared on Master Scrooge with a ferociouscondescension, and threw him into a dreadful state of mindby shaking hands with him. He then conveyed him and hissister into the veriest old well of a shivering best-parlour thatever was seen, where the maps upon the wall, and the celestialand terrestrial globes in the windows, were waxy with cold.Here he produced a decanter of curiously light wine, and ablock of curiously heavy cake, and administered instalmentsof 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 hadrather not. Master Scrooge’s trunk being by this time tiedon to the top of the chaise, the children bade the schoolmastergood-bye right willingly; and getting into it, drovegaily down the garden-sweep: the quick wheels dashing thehoar-frost and snow from off the dark leaves of the evergreenslike spray.
“Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might havewithered,” said the Ghost. “But she had a large heart!”
“So she had,” cried Scrooge. “You’re right. I will notgainsay 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 behindthem, they were now in the busy thoroughfares of a city,where shadowy passengers passed and repassed; where shadowycarts and coaches battled for the way, and all the strife andtumult of a real city were. It was made plain enough, bythe dressing of the shops, that here too it was Christmastime again; but it was evening, and the streets werelighted up.
The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and askedScrooge if he knew it.
“Know it!” said Scrooge. “Was I apprenticed here!”
They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welshwig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been twoinches taller he must have knocked his head against theceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement:
“Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’s Fezziwigalive again!”
Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at theclock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed hishands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all overhimself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence; andcalled out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:
“Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!”
Scrooge’s former self, now grown a young man, came brisklyin, accompanied by his fellow-’prentice.
“Dick Wilkins, to be sure!” said Scrooge to the Ghost.“Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attachedto me, was Dick. Poor Dick! Dear, dear!”
“Yo ho, my boys!” said Fezziwig. “No more work to-night.Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let’shave the shutters up,” cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clapof his hands, “before a man can say Jack Robinson!”
You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows went at it!They charged into the street with the shutters—one, two,three—had ’em up in their places—four, five, six—barred’em and pinned ’em—seven, eight, nine—and came backbefore you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.
“Hilli-ho!” cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from thehigh desk, with wonderful agility. “Clear away, my lads,and let’s have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup,Ebenezer!”
Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn’t have clearedaway, or couldn’t have cleared away, with old Fezziwig lookingon. It was done in a minute. Every movable was packed off, as ifit were dismissed from public life for evermore; the floor wasswept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped uponthe fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, andbright a ball-room, as you would desire to see upon a winter’snight.
In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to thelofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fiftystomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantialsmile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming andlovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts theybroke. In came all the young men and women employed inthe business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, thebaker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend,the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who wassuspected of not having board enough from his master; tryingto hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, whowas proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress.In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly,some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling;in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went,twenty couple at once; hands half round and back againthe other way; down the middle and up again; roundand round in various stages of affectionate grouping; oldtop couple always turning up in the wrong place; new topcouple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all topcouples at last, and not a bottom one to help them! Whenthis result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping hishands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and thefiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especiallyprovided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon hisreappearance, he instantly began again, though there were nodancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home,exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new manresolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.
There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and moredances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and therewas a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great pieceof Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer.But the great effect of the evening came after the Roastand Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sortof man who knew his business better than you or I couldhave told it him!) struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.” Thenold Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Topcouple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them;three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who werenot to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had nonotion of walking.
But if they had been twice as many—ah, four times—oldFezziwig would have been a match for them, and so wouldMrs. Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partnerin every sense of the term. If that’s not high praise, tell mehigher, and I’ll use it. A positive light appeared to issuefrom Fezziwig’s calves. They shone in every part of thedance like moons. You couldn’t have predicted, at any giventime, what would have become of them next. And when oldFezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance;advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow andcurtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again toyour place; Fezziwig “cut”—cut so deftly, that he appearedto wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again withouta stagger.
When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up.Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either sideof the door, and shaking hands with every person individuallyas he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas.When everybody had retired but the two ’prentices, they didthe same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away,and the lads were left to their beds; which were under acounter in the back-shop.
During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like aman out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene,and with his former self. He corroborated everything,remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwentthe strangest agitation. It was not until now, when thebright faces of his former self and Dick were turned fromthem, that he remembered the Ghost, and became consciousthat it was looking full upon him, while the light upon itshead burnt very clear.
“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these sillyfolks so full of gratitude.”
“Small!” echoed Scrooge.
The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices,who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig:and when he had done so, said,
“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds ofyour mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that somuch that he deserves this praise?”
“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, andspeaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self.“It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happyor unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; apleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words andlooks; in things so slight and insignificant that it isimpossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happinesshe gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.
“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.
“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.
“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.
“No,” said Scrooge, “No. I should like to be able to saya word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.”
His former self turned down the lamps as he gave utteranceto the wish; and Scrooge and the Ghost again stood side byside in the open air.
“My time grows short,” observed the Spirit. “Quick!”
This was not addressed to Scrooge, or to any one whom hecould see, but it produced an immediate effect. For againScrooge saw himself. He was older now; a man in the primeof life. His face had not the harsh and rigid lines of lateryears; but it had begun to wear the signs of care and avarice.There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, whichshowed the passion that had taken root, and where theshadow of the growing tree would fall.
He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair younggirl in a mourning-dress: in whose eyes there were tears,which sparkled in the light that shone out of the Ghost ofChristmas Past.
“It matters little,” she said, softly. “To you, very little.Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfortyou in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I haveno just cause to grieve.”
“What Idol has displaced you?” he rejoined.
“A golden one.”
“This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said.“There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; andthere is nothing it professes to condemn with such severityas the pursuit of wealth!”
“You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently.“All your other hopes have merged into the hope of beingbeyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen yournobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion,Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”
“What then?” he retorted. “Even if I have grown somuch wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you.”
She shook her head.
“Our contract is an old one. It was made when we wereboth poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we couldimprove our worldly fortune by our patient industry. Youare changed. When it was made, you were another man.”
“I was a boy,” he said impatiently.
“Your own feeling tells you that you were not what youare,” she returned. “I am. That which promised happinesswhen we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now thatwe are two. How often and how keenly I have thought ofthis, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it,and can release you.”
“Have I ever sought release?”
“In words. No. Never.”
“In what, then?”
“In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in anotheratmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. Ineverything that made my love of any worth or value in yoursight. If this had never been between us,” said the girl,looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; “tell me,would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!”
He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, inspite of himself. But he said with a struggle, “You thinknot.”
“I would gladly think otherwise if I could,” she answered,“Heaven knows! When I have learned a Truth like this,I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if youwere free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even I believethat you would choose a dowerless girl—you who, in yourvery confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or,choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to yourone guiding principle to do so, do I not know that yourrepentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and Irelease you. With a full heart, for the love of him youonce were.”
He was about to speak; but with her head turned fromhim, she resumed.
“You may—the memory of what is past half makes mehope you will—have pain in this. A very, very brief time,and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as anunprofitable dream, from which it happened well that youawoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!”
She left him, and they parted.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, “show me no more! Conductme home. Why do you delight to torture me?”
“One shadow more!” exclaimed the Ghost.
“No more!” cried Scrooge. “No more. I don’t wish tosee it. Show me no more!”
But the relentless Ghost pinioned him in both his arms,and forced him to observe what happened next.
They were in another scene and place; a room, not verylarge or handsome, but full of comfort. Near to the winterfire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scroogebelieved it was the same, until he saw her, now a comelymatron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in thisroom was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more childrenthere, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count;and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were notforty children conducting themselves like one, but everychild was conducting itself like forty. The consequenceswere uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care;on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily,and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning tomingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigandsmost ruthlessly. What would I not have given to be one ofthem! Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! Iwouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed thatbraided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious littleshoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! tosave my life. As to measuring her waist in sport, as theydid, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I shouldhave expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment,and never come straight again. And yet I shouldhave dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to havequestioned her, that she might have opened them; to havelooked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and neverraised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch ofwhich would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I shouldhave liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licenceof a child, and yet to have been man enough to know itsvalue.
But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such arush immediately ensued that she with laughing face andplundered dress was borne towards it the centre of a flushedand boisterous group, just in time to greet the father, whocame home attended by a man laden with Christmas toysand presents. Then the shouting and the struggling, andthe onslaught that was made on the defenceless porter!The scaling him with chairs for ladders to dive into hispockets, despoil him of brown-paper parcels, hold on tightby his cravat, hug him round his neck, pommel his back,and kick his legs in irrepressible affection! The shouts ofwonder and delight with which the development of everypackage was received! The terrible announcement that thebaby had been taken in the act of putting a doll’s frying-paninto his mouth, and was more than suspected of havingswallowed a fictitious turkey, glued on a wooden platter!The immense relief of finding this a false alarm! The joy,and gratitude, and ecstasy! They are all indescribable alike.It is enough that by degrees the children and their emotionsgot out of the parlour, and by one stair at a time, up to thetop of the house; where they went to bed, and so subsided.
And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever,when the master of the house, having his daughter leaningfondly on him, sat down with her and her mother at hisown fireside; and when he thought that such anothercreature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, mighthave called him father, and been a spring-time in thehaggard winter of his life, his sight grew very dim indeed.
“Belle,” said the husband, turning to his wife with asmile, “I saw an old friend of yours this afternoon.”
“Who was it?”
“How can I? Tut, don’t I know?” she added in thesame breath, laughing as he laughed. “Mr. Scrooge.”
“Mr. Scrooge it was. I passed his office window; and asit was not shut up, and he had a candle inside, I couldscarcely help seeing him. His partner lies upon the pointof death, I hear; and there he sat alone. Quite alone inthe world, I do believe.”
“Spirit!” said Scrooge in a broken voice, “remove mefrom this place.”
“I told you these were shadows of the things that havebeen,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, donot blame me!”
“Remove me!” Scrooge exclaimed, “I cannot bear it!”
He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked uponhim with a face, in which in some strange way there werefragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.
“Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”
In the struggle, if that can be called a struggle in whichthe Ghost with no visible resistance on its own part wasundisturbed by any effort of its adversary, Scrooge observedthat its light was burning high and bright; and dimlyconnecting that with its influence over him, he seized theextinguisher-cap, and by a sudden action pressed it downupon its head.
The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguishercovered its whole form; but though Scrooge pressed it downwith all his force, he could not hide the light: which streamedfrom under it, in an unbroken flood upon the ground.
He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by anirresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his ownbedroom. He gave the cap a parting squeeze, in which his handrelaxed; and had barely time to reel to bed, before he sankinto a heavy sleep.