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
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
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
“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
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
The chimes were ringing the three quarters past eleven at
“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
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.