Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

. (page 68 of 103)
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my will," said Scrooge indignantly, " every idiot
who goes about with ' Merry Christmas ' on his
lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and
buried with a stake of holly through his heart.
He should ! "

" Uncle ! " pleaded the nephew.

" Nephew !" returned the uncle sternly, " keep
Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it
in mine."

" Keep it !" repeated Scrooge's nephew. " But
you don't keep it."

" Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge.
" Much good may it do you ! Much good it has
ever done you ! "

" There are many things from which I might
have derived good, by which I have not profited,
I dare say," returned the nephew ; " Christmas
among the rest. But I am sure I have always
thought of Christmas-time, when it has come
round — apart from the veneration due to its
sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to
it can be apart from that — as a good time ; a
kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time ; the
only time I know of, in the long calendar of the



year, when men and women seem by one con-
sent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to
think of people below them as if they really were
fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another
race of creatures bound on other journeys. And
therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap
of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it
has done me good, and will do me good ; and I
say, God bless it ! ''

The clerk in the tank involuntarily applauded.
Becoming immediately sensible of the impro-
priety, he poked the fire, and extinguished the
last frail spark for ever.

"Let me hear another sound from jm^," said
Scrooge, "and you'll keep your Christmas by
losing your situation ! You're quite a powerful
speaker, sir," he added, turning to his nephew.
" I wonder you don't go into Parliament."

" Don't be angry, uncle. Come ! Dine with
us to-morrow."

Scrooge said that he would see him Yes,

indeed he did. He went the whole length of
the expression, and said that he would see him
in that extremity first.

" But why?" cried Scrooge's nephew. "Why?"

" Why did you get married ? " said Scrooge.

" Because I fell in love."

" Because you fell in love ! " growled Scrooge,
as if that were the only one thing in the world
more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. " Good
afternoon ! "

" Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me
before that happened. Why give it as a reason
for not coming now ? "

" Good afternoon," said Scrooge.

" I want nothing from you ; I ask nothing of
you ; why cannot we be friends ? "

" Good afternoon ! " said Scrooge.

" I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so
resolute. We have never had any quarrel to
which I have been a party. But I have made
the trial in homage to Christmas, and I'll keep
my Christmas humour to the last. So A Merry
Christmas, uncle ! "

"Good afternoon," said Scrooge.

" And A Happy New Year ! "

" Good afternoon ! " said Scrooge.

His nephew left the room without an angry
word, notwithstanding. He stopped at the outer
door to bestow the greetings of the season on
the clerk, who, cold as he was, was warmer than
Scrooge ; for he returned them cordially.

" There's another fellow," muttered Scrooge,
who overheard him : " my clerk, with fifteen shil-
lings a week, and a wife and family, talking about
a merry Christmas. I'll retire to Bedlam."

This lunatic, in letting Scrooge's nephew out.



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



had let two other people in. They were portly-
gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood,
with their hats off, in Scrooge's office. They
had books and papers in their hands, and bowed
to him.

" Scrooge and Marley's, I believe," said one
of the gentlemen, referring to his list. " Have
I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or
Mr. Marley?"

"Mr. Marley has been dead these seven
years," Scrooge replied. " He died seven years
ago, this very night."

" We have no doubt his liberality is well re-
presented by his surviving partner," said the
gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was; for they had been two
kindred spirits. At the ominous word "libe-
rality " Scrooge frowned, and shook his head,
and handed the credentials back.

"At this festive season of the year, Mr.
Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen,
" it is more than usually desirable that we should
make some slight provision for the Poor and
destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.
Many thousands are in want of common neces-
saries ; hundreds of thousands are in want of
common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

" Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, lay-
ing down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded
Scrooge. " Are they still in operation ? "

" They are. Still," returned the gentleman,
" I wish I could say they were not."

" The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full
vigour, then ? " said Scrooge.

" Both very busy, sir."

" Oh ! I was afraid, from what you said at
first, that something had occurred to stop them
in their useful course," said Scrooge. " I am
very glad to hear it."

" Under the impression that they scarcely
furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the
multitude," returned the gentleman, " a few of
us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the
Poor some meat and drink, and means of
warmth. We choose this time, because it is a
time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt,
and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you
down for ? "

" Nothing ! " Scrooge replied.

" You wish to be anonymous ? "

" I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge.
"Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen,
that is my answer. I don't make merry myself
at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle
people merry. I help to support the establish-



ments I have mentioned — they cost enough :
and those who are badly off must go there."

" Many can't go there ; and many would
rather die."

" If they would rather die," said Scrooge,
" they had better do it, and decrease the surplus
population. Besides — excuse me — I don't know
that."

" But you might know it," observed the gentle-
man.

" It's not my business," Scrooge returned.
" It's enough for a man to understand his own
business, and not to interfere with other people's.
Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon,
gentlemen ! "

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to
pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.
Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved
opinion of himself, and in a more facetious
temper than was usual with him.

Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so,
that people ran about with flaring links, proffer-
ing their services to go before horses in car-
riages, and conduct them on their way. The
ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell
was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out
of a Gothic window in the wall, became in-
visible, and struck the hours and quarters in the
clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards, as
if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up
there. The cold became intense. In the main
street, at the corner of the court, some labourers
were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a
great fire in a brazier, round which a party of
ragged men and boys were gathered : warming
their hands and winking their eyes before the
blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in
solitude, its ovefiowings suddenly congealed,
and turned to misanthropic ice. The bright-
ness of the shojDS, where holly sprigs and berries
crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made
pale faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers'
and grocers' trades became a splendid joke : a
glorious pageant, with which it was next to im-
possible to believe that such dull principles as
bargain and sale had anything to do. The Lord
Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion
House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers
to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor's house-
hold should ; and even the little tailor, whom he
had fined five shillings on the previous Monday
for being drunk and blood-thirsty in the streets,
stirred up to-morrow's pudding in his garret,
while his lean wife and the baby sallied out to
buy the beef

Foggier yet, and colder ! Piercing, searching,
biting cold. If the good St. Dunstan had but



GOD BLESS YOU, MERRY GENTLEMAN !



nipped the Evil Spirit's nose with a touch of
such weather as that, instead of using his familiar
weapons, then indeed he would have roared to
lusty purpose. The owner of one scant young
nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold
as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at
Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with a Christmas
carol ; but, at the first sound of

•' God bless you, merry gentleman,
^lay nothing you dismay ! "

Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of
action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the
keyhole to the fog, and even more congenial frost.

At length the hour of shutting up the counting-
house arrived. With an ill-will Scrooge dis-
mounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the
fact to the expectant clerk in the tank, who
instantly snuffed his candle out, and put on his
hat.

" You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?"
said Scrooge.

" If quite convenient, sir."

" It's not convenient," said Scrooge, " and it's
not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it,
you'd think yourself ill used, I'll be bound ? "

The clerk smiled faintly.

"And yet," said Scrooge, "you don't think
me ill used when I pay a day's wages for no
work."

The clerk observed that it was only once a
year.

"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket
every twenty-fifth of December ! " said Scrooge,
buttoning his great-coat to the chin. " But I
suppose you must have the whole day. Be here
all the earlier next morning."

The clerk promised that he would ; and
Scrooge walked out with a growl. The office
was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with
the long ends of his white comforter dangling
below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat),
went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a
lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being
Christmas-eve, and then ran home to Camden
Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blind-
man's buff.

Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his
usual melancholy tavern ; and having read all
the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the
evening with his banker's book, went home to
bed. He lived in chambers which had once
belonged to his deceased partner. They were
a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of
building up a yard, where it had so little busi-
ness to be, that one could scarcely help fancying
it must have run there when it was a young



hou.'e, j.i'aying at hideand-seek with other
housts, and have forgotten the way out again.
It was old enough now, and dreary enough \ for
nobody lived in it but Scrooge, the other rooms
being all let out as offices. The yard was so
dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every
stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The
fog and frost so hung about the black old gate-
way of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius
of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on
the threshold.

Now, it is a fact that there was nothing at all
particular about the knocker on the door, except
that it was very large. It is also a fact that
Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during
his whole residence in that place ; also that
Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy
about him as any man in the City of London,
even including — which is a bold word — the cor-
poration, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be
borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed
one thought on Marley since his last mention
of his seven-years'-dead partner that afternoon.
And then let any man explain to me, if he can,
how it happened that Scrooge, having his key
in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker,
without its undergoing any intermediate process
of change — not a knocker, but Marley's face.

Marley's face. It was not in impenetrable
shadow, as the other objects in the yard were,
but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster
in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious,
but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look :
with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly
forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if
by breath or hot air ; and, though the eyes were
wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That,
and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its
horror seemed to be in spite of the face, and
beyond its control, rather than a part of its own
expression.

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon,
it was a knocker again.

To say that he was not startled, or that his
blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation
to which it had been a stranger from infancy,
would be untrue. But he put his hand upon
the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily,
walked in, and lighted his candle.

He did pause, with a moment's irresolution,
before he shut the door; and he did look cau-
tiously behind it first, as if he half expected to
be terrified with the sight of Marley's pigtail
sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing
on the back of the door, except the screws and
nuts that held the knocker on, so he said,
" Pooh, pooh ! " and closed it with a bang.



A CHRISTMAS CAROL,



The sound resounded through the house like
thunder. Every room above, and every cask in
the wine merchant's cellars below, appeared to
have a separate peal of echoes of its own.
Scrooge was not a man to be frightened by
echoes. He fastened the door, and walked
across the hall, and \i\) the stairs : slowly, too :
trimming his candle as he went.

You may talk vaguely about driving a coach
and six up a good old flight of stairs, or through
a bad young Act of Parliament ; but I mean to
say you might have got a hearse up that stair-
case, and taken it broadwise, with the splinter-
bar towards the wall, and the door towards the
balustrades : and done it easy. There was plenty
of width for that, and room to spare ; which is
perhaps the reason why Scrooge thought he
saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in
the gloom. Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the
street wouldn't have lighted the entry too well,
so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with
Scrooge's dip.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that.
Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it. But,
before he shut his heavy door, he walked through
his rooms to see that all was right. He had just
enough recollection of the face to desire to do
that.

Sitting-room, bedroom, lumber-room. All as
they should be. Nobody under the table, nobody
under the sofa ; a small fire in the grate ; spoon
and basin ready ; and the little saucepan of gruel
(Scrooge had a cold in his head) upon the hob.
Nobody under the bed ; nobody in the closet ;
nobody in his dressing-gown, which was hanging
up in a suspicious attitude against the wall.
Lumber-room as usual. Old fire-guard, old
shoes, two fish baskets, washing-stand on three
legs, and a poker.

Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked
himself in ; double locked himself in, which was
not his custom. Thus secured against surprise,
he took off his cravat ; put on his dressing-gown
and slippers, and his nightcap ; and sat down
before the fire to take his gruel.

It was a very low fire indeed ; nothing on
such a bitter night. He was obliged to sit close
to it, and brood over it, before he could extract
the least sensation of warmth from such a hand-
ful of fuel. The fire-place was an old one, built
by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved
all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to
illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and
Abels, Pharaoh's daughters, Queens of Sheba,
Angelic messengers descending through the air
on clouds like feather beds, Abrahams, Belshaz-
zars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats,



hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts ; and
yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came
like the ancient Prophet's rod, and swallowed
up the whole. If each smooth tile had been a
blank at first, with power to shape some picture
on its surface from the disjointed fragments of
his thouglits, there would have been a copy ol
old Marley's head on every one.

" Humbug !" said Scrooge; and walked across
the room.

After several turns he sat down again. As he
threw his head back in the chair, his glance hap-
pened to rest upon a bell, a disused bell, that
hung in the room, and communicated, for some
purpose now forgotten, with a chamber in the
highest story of the building. It was with great
astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable
dread, that, as he looked, he saw this bell begin
to swing. It swung so softly in the outset that
it scarcely made a sound ; but soon it rang out
loudly, and so did every bell in the house.

This might have lasted half a minute, or a
minute, but it seemed an hour. The bells
ceased, as they had begun, together. They
were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down
below, as if some person were dragging a heavy
chain over the casks in the wine merchant's
cellar. Scrooge then remembered to have heard
that ghosts in haunted houses were described as
dragging chains. > ■■

The cellar door flew open with a booming
sound, and then he heard the noise much louder
on the floors below ; then coming up the stairs :
then coming straight towards his door.

" It's humbug still ! " said Scrooge. " 1 won't
believe it."

His colour changed, though, when, without a
pause, it came on through the heavy door, and
passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its
coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though
it cried, " I know him ! Marley's Ghost ! " and
fell again.

The same face : the very same. Marley in his
pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights, and boots; the
tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and
his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The
chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It
was long, and wound about him like a tail ; and
it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of
cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and
heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was
transparent ; so that Scrooge, observing him, and
looking through his waistcoat, could see the two
buttons on his coat behind.

Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley
had no bowels, but he had never believed it
until now.



THE GHOST.



No, nor did he believe it even now. Though

he looked the phantom through and through,
and saw it standing before him ; though he felt
the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes ; and
marked the very texture of tlie folded kerchief
bound about its head and chin, whicli wrapper
he had not observed before; he was still incredu-
lous, and fought against his senses.

" How now ! " said Scrooge, caustic and cold
as ever. '■ What do you want with me ?"

" Much ! " — Marley's voice, no doubt about it.

" Who are you ? "

" Ask me who I was."

" Who were you, then ? " said Scrooge, raising
his voice. " You're particular, for a shade." He
was going to say "/t? a shade," but substituted
this, as more appropriate.

*' In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley."

" Can you — can you sit down ?" asked Scrooge,
looking doubtfully at him.

"I can."

" Do it, then."

Scrooge asked the question, because he didn't
know whether a ghost so transparent might find
himself in a condition to take a chair ; and felt
that, in the event of its being impossible, it might
involve the necessity of an embarrassing expla-
nation. But the Ghost sat down on the opposite
side of the fire-place, as if he were quite used
to it.

" You don't believe in me," observed the
Ghost.

" I don't," said Scrooge.

" What evidence would you have of my reality
beyond that of your own senses ? "

" I don't know," said Scrooge.

" Why do you doubt your senses ? "

" Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing afifects
them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes
them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of
beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a
fragment of an underdone potato. There's
more of gravy than of grave about you, what-
ever you are ! "

Scrooge was not much in the habit of crack-
ing jokes, nor did he feel in his heart by any
means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried
to be smart, as a means of distracting his own
attention, and keeping down his terror; for the
spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow in his
bones. ,-■

To sit stafmg at those fixed glazed eyes in
silence, for a moment, would play, Scrooge felt,
the very deuce with him. There was something
very awful, too, in the spectre's being provided
with an infernal atmosphere of his own. Scrooge
could not feel it himself, but this svas clearly the



case ; for though the Ghost sat perfectly mo-
tionless, its hair, and skirts, and tassels were still
agitated as by the hot vapour from an oven.

" You see this toothpick?" said Scrooge, re-
turning quickly to the charge, for the reason just
assigned ; and wishing, though it were only for
a second, to divert the vision's stony gaze from
himself.

" I do," replied the Ghost.

" You are not looking at it," said Scrooge.

"But I see it," said the Ghost, "notwith-
standing."

" Well ! " returned Scrooge, " I have but to
swallow this, and be for the rest of my days per-
secuted by a legion of goblins, all of my own
creation. Humbug, I tell you ; humbug ! "

At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and
shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling
noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to
save himself from falling in a swoon. But how
much greater was his horror when the phantom,
taking off the bandage round his head, as if it
Avere too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw
dropped down upon its breast !

Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his
hands before his face.

" Mercy ! " he said. " Dreadful apparition,
why do you trouble me ? "

" Man of the worldly mind ! " replied the
Ghost, " do you believe in me or not ? "

" I do," said Scrooge. " I must. But why
do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come
tome?"

" It is required of every man," the Ghost
returned, "that the spirit within him should
walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel
far and wide ; and, if that spirit goes not forth
in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It
is doomed to wander through the world — oh,
woe is me ! — and witness what it cannot share,
but might have shared on earth, and turned to
happiness ! "

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its
chain and wrung its shadowy hands.

" You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling.
" Tell me why ? "

" I wear the chain I forged in life," replied
the Ghost. " I made it link by link, and yard
by yard ; I girded it on of my own free-will, and
of my o\vn free-will I wore it. Is its pattern
strange to you ? "

Scrooge trembled more and more.

" Or would you know," pursued the Ghost,
" the weight and length of the strong coil you
bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long
as this, seven Cliristmas-eves ago. You have
laboured on it since. It is a ponderous chain!"



8



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in
the expectation of finding himself surrounded
by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable ; but
he could see nothing.

"Jacob ! " he said imploringly. " Old Jacob



Marley, tell me more ! Speak comfort to me,
Jacob ! "

" I have none to give," the Ghost replied.
"It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge^
and is conveyed by other ministers, to other




MARLEY'S GHOST.



kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would.
A very little more is all permitted to me. I
cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger any-
where. My spirit never walked beyond our
counting-house — mark me ; — in life my spirit
never roved beyond the narrow limits of our
money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie
before me ! "



It was a habit with Scrooge, whenever he
became thoughtful, to put his hands in his
breeches pockets. Pondering on what the
Ghost had said, he did so now, but without
lifting up his eyes, or getting off his knees.

" You must have been very slow about it,
Jacob," Scrooge observed in a business-like
manner, though with humility and deference.



THE GHOST'S DEPARTURE.



"Slow ! " the Ghost repeated.

" Seven years dead," mused Scrooge. "And
travelling all the time ? "

"The whole time," said the Ghost. "No
rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse."

" You travel fast ? " said Scrooge.

" On the wings of the wind," replied the
Ghost.

" You might have got over a great quantity of
ground in seven years," said Scrooge.

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another
cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 68 of 103)