22DEC2021 – Quote of the Day – A Christmas Carol – Part 18

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

by Charles Dickens

(OCF editing – Part 18)

 

After tea, they had some music. For they were a musical

family, and knew what they were about, when they sung a

Glee or Catch, I can assure you: especially Topper, who

could growl away in the bass like a good one, and never

swell the large veins in his forehead, or get red in the face

over it. Scrooge’s niece played well upon the harp; and

played among other tunes a simple little air (a mere nothing:

you might learn to whistle it in two minutes), which had

been familiar to the child who fetched Scrooge from the

boarding-school, as he had been reminded by the Ghost of

Christmas Past. When this strain of music sounded, all the

things that Ghost had shown him, came upon his mind; he

softened more and more; and thought that if he could have

listened to it often, years ago, he might have cultivated the

kindnesses of life for his own happiness with his own hands,

without resorting to the sexton’s spade that buried Jacob

Marley.

 

But they didn’t devote the whole evening to music. After

a while they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children

sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its

mighty Founder was a child himself. Stop! There was first

a game at blind-man’s buff. Of course there was. And I

no more believe Topper was really blind than I believe he

had eyes in his boots. My opinion is, that it was a done

thing between him and Scrooge’s nephew; and that the

Ghost of Christmas Present knew it. The way he went after

that plump sister in the lace tucker, was an outrage on the

credulity of human nature. Knocking down the fire-irons,

tumbling over the chairs, bumping against the piano,

smothering himself among the curtains, wherever she went,

there went he! He always knew where the plump sister was.

He wouldn’t catch anybody else. If you had fallen up

against him (as some of them did), on purpose, he would

have made a feint of endeavouring to seize you, which would

have been an affront to your understanding, and would instantly

have sidled off in the direction of the plump sister.

She often cried out that it wasn’t fair; and it really was not.

But when at last, he caught her; when, in spite of all her

silken rustlings, and her rapid flutterings past him, he got

her into a corner whence there was no escape; then his

conduct was the most execrable. For his pretending not to

know her; his pretending that it was necessary to touch her

head-dress, and further to assure himself of her identity by

pressing a certain ring upon her finger, and a certain chain

about her neck; was vile, monstrous! No doubt she told

him her opinion of it, when, another blind-man being in

office, they were so very confidential together, behind the

curtains.

 

Scrooge’s niece was not one of the blind-man’s buff party,

but was made comfortable with a large chair and a footstool,

in a snug corner, where the Ghost and Scrooge were close

behind her. But she joined in the forfeits, and loved her

love to admiration with all the letters of the alphabet.

Likewise at the game of How, When, and Where, she was

very great, and to the secret joy of Scrooge’s nephew, beat

her sisters hollow: though they were sharp girls too, as Topper

could have told you. There might have been twenty people there,

young and old, but they all played, and so did Scrooge; for

wholly forgetting in the interest he had in what was going on, that

his voice made no sound in their ears, he sometimes came out with

his guess quite loud, and very often guessed quite right, too;

for the sharpest needle, best Whitechapel, warranted not to cut

in the eye, was not sharper than Scrooge; blunt as he took it in

his head to be.

 

The Ghost was greatly pleased to find him in this mood,

and looked upon him with such favour, that he begged like

a boy to be allowed to stay until the guests departed. But

this the Spirit said could not be done.

 

“Here is a new game,” said Scrooge. “One half hour,

Spirit, only one!”

 

It was a Game called Yes and No, where Scrooge’s nephew

had to think of something, and the rest must find out what;

he only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case

was. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed,

elicited from him that he was thinking of an animal, a live

animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an

animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes,

and lived in London, and walked about the streets,

and wasn’t made a show of, and wasn’t led by anybody, and

didn’t live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a market,

and was not a horse, or an ass, or a cow, or a bull, or a

tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat, or a bear. At every fresh

question that was put to him, this nephew burst into a

fresh roar of laughter; and was so inexpressibly tickled, that

he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp. At last

the plump sister, falling into a similar state, cried out:

 

“I have found it out! I know what it is, Fred! I know

what it is!”

 

“What is it?” cried Fred.

 

“It’s your Uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!”

 

Which it certainly was. Admiration was the universal

sentiment, though some objected that the reply to “Is it a

bear?” ought to have been “Yes;” inasmuch as an answer

in the negative was sufficient to have diverted their thoughts

from Mr. Scrooge, supposing they had ever had any tendency

that way.

 

“He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure,” said

Fred, “and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health.

Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the

moment; and I say, ‘Uncle Scrooge!'”

 

“Well! Uncle Scrooge!” they cried.

 

“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old

man, whatever he is!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “He wouldn’t

take it from me, but may he have it, nevertheless. Uncle

Scrooge!”

 

Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay and light

of heart, that he would have pledged the unconscious

company in return, and thanked them in an inaudible speech,

if the Ghost had given him time. But the whole scene

passed off in the breath of the last word spoken by his

nephew; and he and the Spirit were again upon their travels.

 

Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they

visited, but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood

beside sick beds, and they were cheerful; on foreign lands,

and they were close at home; by struggling men, and they

were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and it was

rich. In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery’s every

refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not

made fast the door, and barred the Spirit out, he left his

blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.

 

It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge

had his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared

to be condensed into the space of time they passed

together. It was strange, too, that while Scrooge remained

unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly

older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of

it, until they left a children’s Twelfth Night party, when,

looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place,

he noticed that its hair was grey.

 

“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.

 

“My life upon this globe, is very brief,” replied the Ghost.

“It ends to-night.”

 

“To-night!” cried Scrooge.

 

“To-night at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing

near.”

 

The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at

that moment.

 

“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said

Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see

something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding

from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”

 

“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was

the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”

 

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children;

wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt

down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

 

“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed

the Ghost.

 

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling,

wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where

graceful youth should have filled their features out, and

touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled

hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and

pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat

enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No

change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any

grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has

monsters half so horrible and dread.

 

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to

him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but

the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie

of such enormous magnitude.

 

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

 

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon

them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.

This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,

and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for

on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the

writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out

its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye!

Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.

And bide the end!”

 

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

 

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him

for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

 

The bell struck twelve.

 

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not.

As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the

prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes,

beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like

a mist along the ground, towards him.

Charles Dickens