Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 69 of 103)
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dead silence of the night, that the Ward would
have been justified in indicting it for a nui-
sance.

" Oh ! captive, bound, and double-ironed,"
cried the phantom, " not to know that ages of
incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this
earth must pass into eternity before the good of
which it is susceptible is all developed ! Not to
know that any Christian spirit working kindly in
its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find
its mortal life too short for its vast means of
usefulness ! Not to know that no space of regret
can make amends for one life's opportunities
misused ! Yet such was I ! Oh, such was I ! "

" But you were always a good man of busi-
ness, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began
to apply this to himself.

" Business ! " cried the Ghost, wringing its
hands again. " Mankind was my business. The
common welfare was my business; chanty,
mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all,
my business. The dealir.gs of my trade were
but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean
of my business ! "

It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that
were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and
flung it heavily upon the ground again.

" At this time of the rolling year," the spectre
said, " I suffer most. Why did I walk through
crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned
down, and never raise them to that blessed Star
which led the Wise Men to a poor abode?
Were there no poor homes to which its Hght
would have conducted me I "

Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the
spectre going on at this rate, and began to
quake exceedingly.

" Hear me ! " cried the Ghost. " My time is
nearly gone."

" I will," said Scrooge. " But don't be hard
upon me ! Don't be flowery, Jacob ! Pray !"

" How it is that I appear before you in a
shape that you can see, I may not tell. I have
sat invisible beside you many and many a day."

It was not an agreeable idea. Scrooge



shivered, and wiped the perspiration from his
brow.

" That is no light part of my penance," pur-
sued the Ghost. " I am here to-night to warn
you that you have yet a chance and hope of
escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my
procuring, Ebenezer."

" You were always a good friend to me," said
Scrooge. " Thankee ! "

" You will be haunted," resumed the Ghost,
" by Three Spirits."

Scrooge's countenance fell almost as low as
the Ghost's had done.

"Is that the chance and hope you mentioned,
Jacob ? " he demanded in a faltering voice.

" It is."

" I — I think I'd rather not," said Scrooge.

" Without their visits," said the Ghost, " you
cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect
the first to-morrow when the bell tolls One."

" Couldn't I take 'em all at once, and have it
over, Jacob ? " hinted Scrooge.

" Expect the second on the next night at the
same hour. The third, upon the next night
when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to
vibrate. Look to see me no more ; and look
that, for your own sake, you remember what has
passed between us ! "

When it had said these words, the spectre
took its wrapper from the table, and bound it
round its head as before. Scrooge knew this by
the smart sound its teeth made when the jaws
were brought together by the bandage. He
ventured to raise his eyes again, and found his
supernatural visitor confronting him in an erect
attitude, witli its chain wound over and about
its arm.

The apparition walked backward from him ;
and, at every step it took, the window raised
itself a little, so that, when the spectre reached
it, it was wide open. It beckoned Scrooge to
approach, which he did. When they were within
two paces of each other, Marley's Ghost held up
its hand, warning him to come no nearer.
Scrooge stopped.

Not so much in obedience as in surprise and
fear ; for, on the raising of the hand, he became
sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent
sounds of lamentation and regret ; wailings in-
expressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The
spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in
the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the
bleak, dark night.

Scrooge followed to the window : desperate in
his curiosity. He looked out.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering
hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning



10



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



as they went. Every one of them wore chains

like Marley's Ghost ; some few (they might be
guilty governments) were linked together ; none
were free. Many had been personally known
to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite
familiar with one old ghost in a white waistcoat,
with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle,
who cried piteously at being unable to assist a
wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw
below upon a doorstep. The misery with them all
was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for
good, in human matters, and had lost the power
for ever.

Whether these creatures faded into mist, or
mist enshrouded them, he could not tell. But
they and their spirit voices faded together; and
the night became as it had been when he walked
home.

Scrooge closed the window, and examined the
door by which the Ghost had entered. It was
double locked, as he had locked it with his own
hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He
tried to say " Humbug ! " but stopped at the
first syllable. And being, from the emotion he
had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his
glimpse of the Invisible World, or the dull con-
versation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the
hour, much in need of repose, went straight to
bed without undressing, and fell asleep upon the
instant.




STAVE TWO.

THE FIRST OK THE THREE SPIRITS.

fHEN Scrooge awoke it was so
dark, that, looking out of bed,
he could scarcely distinguish
the transparent window from the
opaque walls of his chamber. He
was endeavouring to pierce the
darkness with his ferret eyes, when the
chimes of a neighbouring church struck
the four quarters. So he listened for the hour.

To his great astonishment, the heavy bell
went on from six to seven, and from seven to
eight, and regularly up to twelve ; then stopped.
Twelve ! It was past two when he went to bed.
The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got
into the works. Twelve !

He touched the spring of his repeater, to
correct this most preposterous clock. Its rapid
little pulse beat twelve, and stopped.

" Why, it isn't possible," said Scrooge, " that
I can have slept through a whole day and far
into another night. It isn't possible that any-



thing has happened to the sun, and this is
twelve at noon ! "

The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled
out of bed, and groped his Avay to the window.
He was obliged to rub the frost off with the
sleeve of his dressing-gown before he could see
anything ; and could see very little then. All
he could make out was, that it was still very
foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no
noise of people running to and fro, and making
a great stir, as there unquestionably would have
been if night had beaten off bright day, and
taken possession of the world. This was a
great relief, because " Three days after sight of
this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer
Scrooge or his order," and so forth, would have
become a mere United States security if there
were no days to count by.

Scrooge went to bed again, and thought, and
thought, and thought it over and over, and
could make nothing of it. The more he thought,
the more perplexed he was ; and, the more he
endeavoured not to think, the more he thought.

Marley's Ghost bothered him exceedingly.
Every time he resolved within himself, after
mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind
flew back again, like a strong spring released,
to its first position, and presented the same
problem to be worked all through, " Was it a
dream or not?"

Scrooge lay in this state until the chime had
gone three quarters more, when he remembered,
on a sudden, that the Ghost had warned him of
a visitation when the bell tolled one. He re-
solved to lie awake until the hour was passed ;
and, considering that he could no more go to
sleep than go to Heaven, this was, perhaps, the
wisest resolution in his power.

The quarter was so long, that he was more
than once convinced he must have sunk into a
doze unconsciously, and missed the clock. At
length it broke upon his listening ear.

" Ding, dong ! "

" A quarter past," said Scrooge, counting.

" Ding, dong ! "

" Half past," said Scrooge.

" Ding, dong ! "

" A quarter to it," said Scrooge.

" Ding, dong ! "

" The hour itself," said Scrooge triumphantly,
" and nothing else ! "

He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which
it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy
One. Light flashed up in the room upon the
instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.

The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I
tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his



ANOTHER UNEARTHLY VISITOR.



It



feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to
which his face was addressed. The curtains
of his bed were drawn aside ; and Scrooge,
starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found
himseh' face to face with the unearthly visitor
who drew them: as close to it as I am now
to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your
elbow.

It was a strange figure — like a child : yet not
so like a child as like an old man, viewed
through some supernatural medium, which gave
him the appearance of having receded from the
view, and being diminished to a child's propor-
tions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and
down its back, was white, as if with age ; and
yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the
tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms
were very long and muscular ; the hands the
same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength.
Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were,
like those upper members, bare. It wore a
tunic of the purest white ; and round its waist
was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which
was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green
holly in its hand ; and, in singular contradiction
of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed
with summer flowers. But the strangest thing
about it was, that from the crown of its head
there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which
all this was visible ; and which was doubtless
the occasion of its using, in its duller moments,
a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held
under its arm.

Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it
with increasing steadiness, was no^ its strangest
quality. For, as its belt sparkled and glittered,
now in one part and now in another, and what was
light one instant at another time was dark, so the
figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness : being
now a thing with one arm, now with one leg,
now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without
a head, now a head without a body : of which
dissolving parts no outline would be visible in
the dense gloom wherein they melted away.
And, in the very wonder of this, it would be
itself again ; distinct and clear as ever.

" Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was
foretold to me ? " asked Scrooge.

" I am ! "

The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly
low, as if, instead of being so close beside him,
it were at a distance.

" Who and what are you ? " Scrooge de-
manded.

" I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."

'' Long Past ? " inquired Scrooge ; observant
of its dwarfish stature.



" No. Your past."

Perhaps Scrooge could not have told anybody
why, if anybody could have asked him ; but he
had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap ;
and begged him to be covered.

" What ! " exclaimed the Ghost, " would you
so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I
give? Is it not enough that you are one of
those whose passions made this cap, and force
me through whole trains of years to wear it low
upon my brow ? "

Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to
offend or any knowledge of having wilfully
" bonneted " the Spirit at any period of his life.
He then made bold to inquire what business
brought him there.

" Your welfare ! " said the Ghost.

Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but
could not help thinking that a night of unbroken
rest would have been more conducive to that
end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking,
for it said immediately :

'' Your reclamation, then. Take heed ! "

It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and
clasped him gently by the arm.

" Rise ! and walk with me ! "

It would have been in vain for Scrooge to
plead that the weather and the hour were not
adapted to pedestrian purposes ; that bed was
warm, and the thermometer a long way below
freezing; that he was clad but lightly in his
slippers, dressing-gown, and nightcap ; and that
he had a cold upon him at that time. The
grasp, though gentle as a woman's hand, was
not to be resisted. He rose : but, finding that
the Spirit made towards the window, clasped its
robe in supplication.

" I am a mortal," Scrooge remonstrated, '' and
liable to fall."

" Bear but a touch of my hand f/ic/r,'" said
the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, " and you
shall be upheld in more than this ! "

As the words were spoken, they passed through
the wall, and stood upon an open country road,
with fields on either hand. The city had entirely
vanished. Not a vestige of it was to be seen.
The darkness and the mist had vanished with it,
for it was a clear, cold, winter day, with snow
upon the ground.

" Good Heaven ! " said Scrooge, clasping his
hands together, as he looked about him. " I
was bred in this place. I was a boy here ! "

The Spirit gazed upon him mildly. Its gentle
touch, though it had been light and instanta-
neous, appeared still present to the old man's
sense of feeling. He was conscious of a thou-
sand odours floating in the air, each one con-



12



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



nected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes,
and joys, and cares long, long forgotten !

" Your lip is trembling," said the Ghost.
" And what is that upon your cheek ? "

Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching
in his voice, that it was a pimple ; and begged
the Ghost to lead him where he would.

" You recollect the way ? " inquired the
Spirit.

" Remember it !" cried Scrooge with fervour ;
" I could walk it blindfold."

" Strange to have forgotten it for so many
years ! " observed the Ghost. ** Let us go on."

They walked along the road, Scrooge recog-
nising every gate, and post, and tree, until a
little market-town appeared in the distance, with
its bridge, its church, and winding river. Some
shaggy ponies now were seen trotting towards
them with boys upon their backs, who called to
other boys in country gigs and carts^ driven by
farmers. All these boys were in great spirits,
and shouted to each other, until the broad fields
were so full of merry music, that the crisp air
laughed to hear it. >~

"These are but shadows of the things that
have been," said the Ghost. "They have no
consciousness of us."

The jocund travellers came on ; and as they
came, Scrooge knew and named them every
one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds
to see them ? Why did his cold eye glisten,
and his heart leap up as they went past ? Why
was he filled with gladness when he heard them
give each other Merry Christmas, as they parted
at cross-roads and by-ways for their several
homes ? What was merry Christmas to Scrooge ?
Out upon merry Christmas ! What good had it
ever done to him ?

" The school is not quite deserted," said the
Ghost. " A solitary child, neglected by his
friends, is left there still."

Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed.

They left the high-road by a well-remembered
lane, and soon approached a mansion of dull
red brick, with a little weather-cock surmounted
cupola on the roof, and a bell hanging in it. It
was a large house, but one of broken fortunes :
for the spacious offices were little used, their
walls were damp and mossy, their windows
broken, and their gates decayed. Fowls clucked
and strutted in the stables; and the coach-
houses and sheds were overrun with grass. Nor
was it more retentive of its ancient state within ;
for, entering the dreary hall, and glancing through
the open doors of many rooms, they found them
poorly furnished, cold, and vast. There was an
earthy savour in the air, a chilly bareness in the



place, which/ associated itself somehow with too
much getting up by candle-light, and not too
much to eat. "n

They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the
hall, to a door at the back of the house. It
opened before them, and disclosed a long, bare,
melancholy room, made barer still by lines of
plain deal forms and desks. At one of these a
lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire ; and
Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see
his poor forgotten self as he had used to be.

Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak
and scuffle from the mice behind the paneUing,
not a drip from the half-thawed water-spout in
the dull yard behind, not a sigh among the leaf-
less boughs of one despondent poplar, not the
idle swinging of an empty storehouse door, no,
not a clicking in the fire, but fell upon the heart
of Scrooge with softening influence, and gave a
freer passage to his tears.

The Spirit touched him on the arm, and
pointed to his younger self, intent upon his
reading. Suddenly a man in foreign garments ;
wonderfully real and distinct to look at : stood
outside the window, with an axe stuck in his
belt, and leading by the bridle an ass laden with
wood.

" Why, it's Ali Baba ! " Scrooge exclaimed in
ecstasy. " It's dear old honest Ali Baba ! Yes,
yes, I know. One Christmas-time, when yonder
solitary child was left here all alone, he did
come, for the first time, just like that. Poor
boy ! And Valentine," said Scrooge, "and his
wild brother, Orson ; there they go ! And
what's his name, who was put down in his
drawers, asleep, at the gate of Damascus ; don't
you see him ? And the Sultan's Groom turned
upside down by the Genii : there he is upon his
head ! Serve him right ! I'm glad of it. What
business had he to be married to the Princess?"

To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness
of his nature on such subjects, in a most extra-
ordinary voice between laughing and crying;
and to see his heightened and excited face ;
would have been a surprise to his business
friends in the City, indeed.

" There's the Parrot ! " cried Scrooge. " Green
body and yellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce
growing out of the top of his head ; there he is !
Poor Robin Crusoe he called him, when he
came home again after sailing round the island.
' Poor Robin Crusoe, where have you been,
Robin Crusoe ? ' The man thought he was
dreaming, but he wasn't. It was the Parrot,
you know. There goes Friday, running for his
life to the litde creek ! Halloa ! Hoop !
Halloo ! "



SCROOGE'S SCHOOL DAYS.



13



Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign
to his usual character, he said, in pity for his
former self, " Poor boy ! " and cried again.

" I wish," Scrooge muttered, putting his hand
in his pocket, and looking about him, after dry-
ing his eyes with his cuff: "but it's too late
now."

" What is the matter?" asked the Spirit.

" Nothing," said Scrooge. " Nothing. There
was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door
last night. 1 should like to have given him
something : that's all."

The Ghost smiled thoughtfully, and waved its
hand : saying, as it did so, " Let us see another
Christmas ! "

Scrooge's former self grew larger at the words,
and the room became a little darker and more
dirty. The panels shrunk, the windows cracked;
fragments of plaster fell out of the ceiling, and
the naked laths were shown instead ; but how
all this was brought about Scrooge knew no
more than you do. He only knew that it was quite
correct : that everything had happened so ; that
there he was, alone again, when all the other
boys had gone home for the jolly holidays.

He was not reading now, but walking up and
down despairingly. Scrooge looked at the Ghost,
and, with a mournful shaking of his head, glanced
anxiously towards the door.

It opened; and a little girl, much younger
than the boy, came darting in, and, putting her
arms about his neck, and often kissing him,
addressed him as her "dear, dear brother."

" I have come to bring you home, dear
brother !" said the child, clapping her tiny hands,
and bending down to laugh. "To bring you
home, home, home ! "

" Home, little Fan ? " returned the boy.

" Yes ! " said the child, brimful of glee.
" Home for good and all. Home for ever
and ever. Father is so much kinder than he
used to be, that home's like Heaven ! He spoke
so gently to me one dear night when I was going
to bed, that I was not afraid to ask him once
more if you might come home : and he said
Yes, you should ; and sent me in a coach to
bring you. And you're to be a man ! " said the
child, opening her eyes ; " and are never to
come back here ; but first we're to be together
all the Christmas long, and have the merriest
time in all the world."

" You are quite a woman, little Fan 1 " ex-
claimed the boy.

She clapped her hands and laughed, and tried
to touch his head ; but, being too little, laughed
again, and stood on tiptoe to embrace him.
Then she began to drag him, in her childish



eagerness, towards the door ; and he, nothing
loath to go, accompanied her.

A terrible voice in the hall cried, " Bring
down Master Scrooge's box, there ! " and in the
hall appeared the schoolmaster himself, who
glared on Master Scrooge with a ferocious con-
descension, and threw him into a dreadful state
of mind by shaking hands with him. He then
conveyed him and his sister into the veriest old
well of a shivering best parlour that ever was
seen, where the maps upon the wall, and the
celestial and terrestrial globes in the windows,
were waxy with cold. Here he produced a
decanter of curiously light wine, and a block of
curiously heavy cake, and administered instal-
ments of those dainties to the young people : at
the same time sending out a meagre servant to
offer a glass of "something" to the postboy,
who answered that he thanked the gentle-
man, but, if it was the same tap as he had tasted
before, he had rather not. Master Scrooge's
trunk being by this time tied on to the top of
the chaise, the children bade the schoolmaster
good-bye right willingly; and, getting into it,
drove gaily down the garden sweep ; the quick
wheels dashing the hoar frost and snow from off
the dark leaves of the evergreens like spray.

" Always a delicate creature, whom a breath
might have withered," said the Ghost. "But
she had a large heart ! " . '''

" So she had," cried Scrooge. " You're right.
I will not gainsay it, Spirit. God forbid ! "

" She died a woman," said the Ghost, " and
had, as I think, children."

" One child," Scrooge returned.

" True," said the Ghost. " Your nephew ! "

Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and
answered briefly, " Yes."

Although they had but that moment left the
school behind them, they were now in the busy
thoroughfares of a city, where shadowy pas-
sengers passed and repassed ; where shadowy
carts and coaches battled for the way, and all
the strife and tumult of a real city were. It was
made plain enough, by the dressing of the shops,
that here, too, it was Christmas-time again ; but
it was evening, and the streets were lighted
up.

The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse
door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it.

" Know it ! " said Scrooge. " Was I appren-
ticed here ? "

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman
in a Welsh wig, sitting behind such a high desk,
that if he had been two inches taller, he must
have knocked his head against the ceiling,
Scrooge cried in great excitement :



14



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



"Why, it's old Fezziwig ! Bless his heart, it's
Fezziwig alive again ! "

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked
up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of
seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his
capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself,
from his shoes to his organ of benevolence ; and
called out, in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial
voice :

" Yo ho, there ! Ebenezer ! Dick ! "

Scrooge's former self, now grown a young man,
came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-
'prentice.

" Dick Wilkins, to be sure !" said Scrooge to
the Ghost. " Bless me, yes. There he is. He
was very much attached to me, was Dick. Poor
Dick ! Dear, dear ! "

" Yo ho, my boys ! " said Fezziwig. " No more
work to-night. Christmas-eve, Dick. Christmas,
Ebenezer! Let's have the shutters up," cried
old Fezziwig with a sharp clap of his hands,
" before a man can say Jack Robinson ! "



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 69 of 103)