11DEC2021 – Quote of the Day – A Christmas Carol – Part 7

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

by Charles Dickens

(OCF editing – Part 7)

 

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!”

Charles Dickens

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