07DEC2021 – Quote of the Day – A Christmas Carol – Part 3

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (IN PROSE BEING, A Ghost Story of Christmas)

by Charles Dickens

(OCF editing – Part 3)

 

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.

 

Charles Dickens