23DEC2021 – Quote of the Day – A Christmas Carol – Part 19

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

by Charles Dickens

(OCF editing – Part 19)

 

STAVE IV:  THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS

 

THE Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When

it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in

the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to

scatter gloom and mystery.

 

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed

its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible

save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been

difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it

from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

 

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside

him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a

solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither

spoke nor moved.

 

“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To

Come?” said Scrooge.

 

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its

hand.

 

“You are about to show me shadows of the things that

have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,”

Scrooge pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?”

 

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an

instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head.

That was the only answer he received.

 

Although well used to ghostly company by this time,

Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled

beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when

he prepared to follow it. The Spirit paused a moment, as

observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

 

But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him

with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the

dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon

him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost,

could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap

of black.

 

“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, “I fear you more

than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose

is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another

man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company,

and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak

to me?”

 

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight

before them.

 

“Lead on!” said Scrooge. “Lead on! The night is

waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead

on, Spirit!”

 

The Phantom moved away as it had come towards him.

Scrooge followed in the shadow of its dress, which bore him

up, he thought, and carried him along.

 

They scarcely seemed to enter the city; for the city rather

seemed to spring up about them, and encompass them of its

own act. But there they were, in the heart of it; on

‘Change, amongst the merchants; who hurried up and down,

and chinked the money in their pockets, and conversed in

groups, and looked at their watches, and trifled thoughtfully

with their great gold seals; and so forth, as Scrooge had

seen them often.

 

The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of business men.

Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge

advanced to listen to their talk.

 

“No,” said a great fat man with a monstrous chin, “I

don’t know much about it, either way. I only know he’s

dead.”

 

“When did he die?” inquired another.

 

“Last night, I believe.”

 

“Why, what was the matter with him?” asked a third,

taking a vast quantity of snuff out of a very large snuff-box.

“I thought he’d never die.”

 

“God knows,” said the first, with a yawn.

 

“What has he done with his money?” asked a red-faced

gentleman with a pendulous excrescence on the end of his

nose, that shook like the gills of a turkey-cock.

 

“I haven’t heard,” said the man with the large chin,

yawning again. “Left it to his company, perhaps. He hasn’t

left it to me. That’s all I know.”

 

This pleasantry was received with a general laugh.

 

“It’s likely to be a very cheap funeral,” said the same

speaker; “for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go

to it. Suppose we make up a party and volunteer?”

 

“I don’t mind going if a lunch is provided,” observed the

gentleman with the excrescence on his nose. “But I must

be fed, if I make one.”

 

Another laugh.

 

“Well, I am the most disinterested among you, after all,”

said the first speaker, “for I never wear black gloves, and I

never eat lunch. But I’ll offer to go, if anybody else will.

When I come to think of it, I’m not at all sure that I wasn’t

his most particular friend; for we used to stop and speak

whenever we met. Bye, bye!”

 

Speakers and listeners strolled away, and mixed with

other groups. Scrooge knew the men, and looked towards the

Spirit for an explanation.

 

The Phantom glided on into a street. Its finger pointed

to two persons meeting. Scrooge listened again, thinking

that the explanation might lie here.

 

He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men of business:

very wealthy, and of great importance. He had made a point

always of standing well in their esteem: in a business point

of view, that is; strictly in a business point of view.

 

“How are you?” said one.

 

“How are you?” returned the other.

 

“Well!” said the first. “Old Scratch has got his own at

last, hey?”

 

“So I am told,” returned the second. “Cold, isn’t it?”

 

“Seasonable for Christmas time. You’re not a skater, I

suppose?”

 

“No. No. Something else to think of. Good morning!”

 

Not another word. That was their meeting, their

conversation, and their parting.

 

Scrooge was at first inclined to be surprised that the

Spirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so

trivial; but feeling assured that they must have some hidden

purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be.

They could scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the

death of Jacob, his old partner, for that was Past, and this

Ghost’s province was the Future. Nor could he think of any

one immediately connected with himself, to whom he could

apply them. But nothing doubting that to whomsoever they

applied they had some latent moral for his own improvement,

he resolved to treasure up every word he heard,

and everything he saw; and especially to observe the

shadow of himself when it appeared. For he had an expectation

that the conduct of his future self would give him

the clue he missed, and would render the solution of these

riddles easy.

 

He looked about in that very place for his own image; but

another man stood in his accustomed corner, and though the

clock pointed to his usual time of day for being there, he

saw no likeness of himself among the multitudes that poured

in through the Porch. It gave him little surprise, however;

for he had been revolving in his mind a change of life, and

thought and hoped he saw his new-born resolutions carried

out in this.

 

Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its

outstretched hand. When he roused himself from his

thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and

its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes

were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel

very cold.

 

Charles Dickens

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