A CHRISTMAS CAROL (IN PROSE BEING, A Ghost Story of Christmas)
by Charles Dickens
(OCF editing – Part 20)
They left the busy scene, and went into an obscure part
of the town, where Scrooge had never penetrated before,
although he recognised its situation, and its bad repute. The
ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched;
the people half-naked, drunken, slipshod, ugly. Alleys and
archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of
smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the
whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery.
Far in this den of infamous resort, there was a low-browed,
beetling shop, below a pent-house roof, where iron, old rags,
bottles, bones, and greasy offal, were bought. Upon the floor
within, were piled up heaps of rusty keys, nails, chains, hinges,
files, scales, weights, and refuse iron of all kinds. Secrets
that few would like to scrutinise were bred and hidden in
mountains of unseemly rags, masses of corrupted fat, and
sepulchres of bones. Sitting in among the wares he dealt in, by a
charcoal stove, made of old bricks, was a grey-haired rascal,
nearly seventy years of age; who had screened himself from the
cold air without, by a frousy curtaining of miscellaneous
tatters, hung upon a line; and smoked his pipe in all the luxury
of calm retirement.
Scrooge and the Phantom came into the presence of this
man, just as a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the
shop. But she had scarcely entered, when another woman,
similarly laden, came in too; and she was closely followed by
a man in faded black, who was no less startled by the sight
of them, than they had been upon the recognition of each
other. After a short period of blank astonishment, in which
the old man with the pipe had joined them, they all three
burst into a laugh.
“Let the charwoman alone to be the first!” cried she who
had entered first. “Let the laundress alone to be the second;
and let the undertaker’s man alone to be the third. Look
here, old Joe, here’s a chance! If we haven’t all three met
here without meaning it!”
“You couldn’t have met in a better place,” said old Joe,
removing his pipe from his mouth. “Come into the parlour.
You were made free of it long ago, you know; and the other
two an’t strangers. Stop till I shut the door of the shop.
Ah! How it skreeks! There an’t such a rusty bit of metal
in the place as its own hinges, I believe; and I’m sure there’s
no such old bones here, as mine. Ha, ha! We’re all suitable
to our calling, we’re well matched. Come into the
parlour. Come into the parlour.”
The parlour was the space behind the screen of rags. The
old man raked the fire together with an old stair-rod, and
having trimmed his smoky lamp (for it was night), with the
stem of his pipe, put it in his mouth again.
While he did this, the woman who had already spoken
threw her bundle on the floor, and sat down in a flaunting
manner on a stool; crossing her elbows on her knees, and
looking with a bold defiance at the other two.
“What odds then! What odds, Mrs. Dilber?” said the
woman. “Every person has a right to take care of themselves.
He always did.”
“That’s true, indeed!” said the laundress. “No man
“Why then, don’t stand staring as if you was afraid,
woman; who’s the wiser? We’re not going to pick holes in
each other’s coats, I suppose?”
“No, indeed!” said Mrs. Dilber and the man together.
“We should hope not.”
“Very well, then!” cried the woman. “That’s enough.
Who’s the worse for the loss of a few things like these?
Not a dead man, I suppose.”
“No, indeed,” said Mrs. Dilber, laughing.
“If he wanted to keep ’em after he was dead, a wicked old
screw,” pursued the woman, “why wasn’t he natural in his
lifetime? If he had been, he’d have had somebody to look
after him when he was struck with Death, instead of lying
gasping out his last there, alone by himself.”
“It’s the truest word that ever was spoke,” said Mrs.
Dilber. “It’s a judgment on him.”
“I wish it was a little heavier judgment,” replied the
woman; “and it should have been, you may depend upon it,
if I could have laid my hands on anything else. Open that
bundle, old Joe, and let me know the value of it. Speak out
plain. I’m not afraid to be the first, nor afraid for them to
see it. We know pretty well that we were helping ourselves,
before we met here, I believe. It’s no sin. Open the bundle,
But the gallantry of her friends would not allow of this;
and the man in faded black, mounting the breach first,
produced his plunder. It was not extensive. A seal or two,
a pencil-case, a pair of sleeve-buttons, and a brooch of no
great value, were all. They were severally examined and
appraised by old Joe, who chalked the sums he was disposed
to give for each, upon the wall, and added them up into a
total when he found there was nothing more to come.
“That’s your account,” said Joe, “and I wouldn’t give
another sixpence, if I was to be boiled for not doing it.
Mrs. Dilber was next. Sheets and towels, a little wearing
apparel, two old-fashioned silver teaspoons, a pair of
sugar-tongs, and a few boots. Her account was stated on the wall
in the same manner.
“I always give too much to ladies. It’s a weakness of mine,
and that’s the way I ruin myself,” said old Joe. “That’s
your account. If you asked me for another penny, and made
it an open question, I’d repent of being so liberal and knock
“And now undo my bundle, Joe,” said the first woman.
Joe went down on his knees for the greater convenience
of opening it, and having unfastened a great many knots,
dragged out a large and heavy roll of some dark stuff.
“What do you call this?” said Joe. “Bed-curtains!”
“Ah!” returned the woman, laughing and leaning forward
on her crossed arms. “Bed-curtains!”
“You don’t mean to say you took ’em down, rings and
all, with him lying there?” said Joe.
“Yes I do,” replied the woman. “Why not?”
“You were born to make your fortune,” said Joe, “and
you’ll certainly do it.”
“I certainly shan’t hold my hand, when I can get anything
in it by reaching it out, for the sake of such a man as He
was, I promise you, Joe,” returned the woman coolly. “Don’t
drop that oil upon the blankets, now.”
“His blankets?” asked Joe.
“Whose else’s do you think?” replied the woman. “He
isn’t likely to take cold without ’em, I dare say.”
“I hope he didn’t die of anything catching? Eh?” said
old Joe, stopping in his work, and looking up.
“Don’t you be afraid of that,” returned the woman. “I
an’t so fond of his company that I’d loiter about him for
such things, if he did. Ah! you may look through that
shirt till your eyes ache; but you won’t find a hole in it, nor
a threadbare place. It’s the best he had, and a fine one too.
They’d have wasted it, if it hadn’t been for me.”
“What do you call wasting of it?” asked old Joe.
“Putting it on him to be buried in, to be sure,” replied
the woman with a laugh. “Somebody was fool enough to
do it, but I took it off again. If calico an’t good enough for
such a purpose, it isn’t good enough for anything. It’s quite
as becoming to the body. He can’t look uglier than he did
in that one.”
Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror. As they sat
grouped about their spoil, in the scanty light afforded by
the old man’s lamp, he viewed them with a detestation and
disgust, which could hardly have been greater, though they
had been obscene demons, marketing the corpse itself.
“Ha, ha!” laughed the same woman, when old Joe,
producing a flannel bag with money in it, told out their
several gains upon the ground. “This is the end of it, you
see! He frightened every one away from him when he was
alive, to profit us when he was dead! Ha, ha, ha!”
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, shuddering from head to foot. “I
see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own.
My life tends that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what is