08DEC2021 – Quote of the Day – A Christmas Carol – Part 4

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

by Charles Dickens

(OCF editing – Part 4)

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.

Charles Dickens

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