21DEC2021 – Quote of the Day – A Christmas Carol – Part 17

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

by Charles Dickens

(OCF editing – Part 17)

 

And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they

stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses

of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place

of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed,

or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner;

and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse rank grass.

Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery

red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a

sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in

the thick gloom of darkest night.

 

“What place is this?” asked Scrooge.

 

“A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of

the earth,” returned the Spirit. “But they know me. See!”

 

A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they

advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and

stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a

glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their

children and their children’s children, and another generation

beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire.

The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling

of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a

Christmas song–it had been a very old song when he was a

boy–and from time to time they all joined in the chorus.

So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite

blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour

sank again.

 

The Spirit did not tarry here, but bade Scrooge hold his

robe, and passing on above the moor, sped–whither? Not

to sea? To sea. To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw

the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them;

and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it

rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it

had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.

 

Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league

or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed,

the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse.

Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds

–born of the wind one might suppose, as sea-weed of the

water–rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.

 

But even here, two men who watched the light had made

a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed

out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their

horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they

wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and

one of them: the elder, too, with his face all damaged and

scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship

might be: struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in

itself.

 

Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea

–on, on–until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any

shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman

at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who

had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations;

but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or

had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his

companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward

hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or

sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another

on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared

to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those

he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted

to remember him.

 

It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening to the

moaning of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it

was to move on through the lonely darkness over an unknown

abyss, whose depths were secrets as profound as Death: it

was a great surprise to Scrooge, while thus engaged, to hear

a hearty laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge

to recognise it as his own nephew’s and to find himself in a

bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing smiling

by his side, and looking at that same nephew with approving

affability!

 

“Ha, ha!” laughed Scrooge’s nephew. “Ha, ha, ha!”

 

If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a

man more blest in a laugh than Scrooge’s nephew, all I can

say is, I should like to know him too. Introduce him to me,

and I’ll cultivate his acquaintance.

 

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that

while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing

in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and

good-humour. When Scrooge’s nephew laughed in this way: holding

his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the

most extravagant contortions: Scrooge’s niece, by marriage,

laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends being

not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.

 

“Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

 

“He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live!” cried

Scrooge’s nephew. “He believed it too!”

 

“More shame for him, Fred!” said Scrooge’s niece,

indignantly. Bless those women; they never do anything by

halves. They are always in earnest.

 

She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled,

surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that

seemed made to be kissed–as no doubt it was; all kinds of

good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another

when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever

saw in any little creature’s head. Altogether she was what

you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too.

Oh, perfectly satisfactory.

 

“He’s a comical old fellow,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that’s

the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However,

his offences carry their own punishment, and I have nothing

to say against him.”

 

“I’m sure he is very rich, Fred,” hinted Scrooge’s niece.

“At least you always tell me so.”

 

“What of that, my dear!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “His

wealth is of no use to him. He don’t do any good with it.

He don’t make himself comfortable with it. He hasn’t the

satisfaction of thinking–ha, ha, ha!–that he is ever going

to benefit US with it.”

 

“I have no patience with him,” observed Scrooge’s niece.

Scrooge’s niece’s sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed

the same opinion.

 

“Oh, I have!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “I am sorry for

him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers

by his ill whims! Himself, always. Here, he takes it into

his head to dislike us, and he won’t come and dine with us.

What’s the consequence? He don’t lose much of a dinner.”

 

“Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner,” interrupted

Scrooge’s niece. Everybody else said the same, and they

must be allowed to have been competent judges, because

they had just had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the

table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.

 

“Well! I’m very glad to hear it,” said Scrooge’s nephew,

“because I haven’t great faith in these young housekeepers.

What do you say, Topper?”

 

Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge’s niece’s

sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast,

who had no right to express an opinion on the subject.

Whereat Scrooge’s niece’s sister–the plump one with the lace

tucker: not the one with the roses–blushed.

 

“Do go on, Fred,” said Scrooge’s niece, clapping her hands.

“He never finishes what he begins to say! He is such a

ridiculous fellow!”

 

Scrooge’s nephew revelled in another laugh, and as it was

impossible to keep the infection off; though the plump sister

tried hard to do it with aromatic vinegar; his example was

unanimously followed.

 

“I was only going to say,” said Scrooge’s nephew, “that

the consequence of his taking a dislike to us, and not making

merry with us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant

moments, which could do him no harm. I am sure he loses

pleasanter companions than he can find in his own thoughts,

either in his mouldy old office, or his dusty chambers. I

mean to give him the same chance every year, whether he

likes it or not, for I pity him. He may rail at Christmas

till he dies, but he can’t help thinking better of it–I defy

him–if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after

year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you? If it only

puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds,

that’s something; and I think I shook him yesterday.”

 

It was their turn to laugh now at the notion of his shaking

Scrooge. But being thoroughly good-natured, and not much

caring what they laughed at, so that they laughed at any

rate, he encouraged them in their merriment, and passed the

bottle joyously.

Charles Dickens