20DEC2021 – Quote of the Day – A Christmas Carol – Part 16

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

by Charles Dickens

(OCF editing – Part 16)

 

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the

hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the

jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges

were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the

fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in

what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and

at Bob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of glass.

Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

 

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as

golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with

beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and

cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:

 

“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

 

Which all the family re-echoed.

 

“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

 

He sat very close to his father’s side upon his little

stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he

loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and

dreaded that he might be taken from him.

 

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt

before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”

 

“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor

chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully

preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future,

the child will die.”

 

“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he

will be spared.”

 

“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none

other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here.

What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and

decrease the surplus population.”

 

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by

the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

 

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not

adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered

What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what

men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the

sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live

than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear

the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life

among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

 

Scrooge bent before the Ghost’s rebuke, and trembling cast

his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on

hearing his own name.

 

“Mr. Scrooge!” said Bob; “I’ll give you Mr. Scrooge, the

Founder of the Feast!”

 

“The Founder of the Feast indeed!” cried Mrs. Cratchit,

reddening. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece

of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he’d have a good

appetite for it.”

 

“My dear,” said Bob, “the children! Christmas Day.”

 

“It should be Christmas Day, I am sure,” said she, “on

which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard,

unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge. You know he is, Robert!

Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow!”

 

“My dear,” was Bob’s mild answer, “Christmas Day.”

 

“I’ll drink his health for your sake and the Day’s,” said

Mrs. Cratchit, “not for his. Long life to him! A merry

Christmas and a happy new year! He’ll be very merry and

very happy, I have no doubt!”

 

The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of

their proceedings which had no heartiness. Tiny Tim drank

it last of all, but he didn’t care twopence for it. Scrooge

was the Ogre of the family. The mention of his name cast

a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for full

five minutes.

 

After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than

before, from the mere relief of Scrooge the Baleful being done

with. Bob Cratchit told them how he had a situation in his

eye for Master Peter, which would bring in, if obtained, full

five-and-sixpence weekly. The two young Cratchits laughed

tremendously at the idea of Peter’s being a man of business;

and Peter himself looked thoughtfully at the fire from

between his collars, as if he were deliberating what particular

investments he should favour when he came into the receipt

of that bewildering income. Martha, who was a poor

apprentice at a milliner’s, then told them what kind of work

she had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch,

and how she meant to lie abed to-morrow morning for a

good long rest; to-morrow being a holiday she passed at

home. Also how she had seen a countess and a lord some

days before, and how the lord “was much about as tall as

Peter;” at which Peter pulled up his collars so high that you

couldn’t have seen his head if you had been there. All this

time the chestnuts and the jug went round and round; and

by-and-bye they had a song, about a lost child travelling in

the snow, from Tiny Tim, who had a plaintive little voice,

and sang it very well indeed.

 

There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not

a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes

were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty;

and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside

of a pawnbroker’s. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased

with one another, and contented with the time; and when

they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings

of the Spirit’s torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye upon

them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.

 

By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty

heavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets,

the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and

all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Here, the flickering of

the blaze showed preparations for a cosy dinner, with hot

plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep

red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and darkness.

There all the children of the house were running out

into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins,

uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them. Here, again,

were shadows on the window-blind of guests assembling; and

there a group of handsome girls, all hooded and fur-booted,

and all chattering at once, tripped lightly off to some near

neighbour’s house; where, woe upon the single man who saw

them enter–artful witches, well they knew it–in a glow!

 

But, if you had judged from the numbers of people on

their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought

that no one was at home to give them welcome when they

got there, instead of every house expecting company, and

piling up its fires half-chimney high. Blessings on it, how

the Ghost exulted! How it bared its breadth of breast, and

opened its capacious palm, and floated on, outpouring, with

a generous hand, its bright and harmless mirth on everything

within its reach! The very lamplighter, who ran on before,

dotting the dusky street with specks of light, and who was

dressed to spend the evening somewhere, laughed out loudly

as the Spirit passed, though little kenned the lamplighter

that he had any company but Christmas!

Charles Dickens