09DEC2021 – Quote of the Day – A Christmas Carol – Part 5

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

by Charles Dickens

(OCF editing – Part 5)

 

“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.

 

Charles Dickens

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