Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 70 of 103)
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You wouldn't believe how those two fellows
went at it ! They charged into the street with
the shutters — one, two, three — had 'em up in
their places — four, five, six — barred 'em and
pinned 'em — seven, eight, nine — and came back
before you could have got to twelve, panting
like race-horses. , ,.

" Hilli-ho ! " cried old Fezziwig, skipping
down from the high desk with wonderful agility.
" Clear away, my lads, and let's have lots of
room here ! Hilli-ho, Dick ! Chirrup, Ebenezer ! "

Clear away ! There was nothing they wouldn't
have cleared away, or couldn't have cleared
away, with old Fezziwig looking on. It was
done in a minute. Every movable was packed
off, as if it were dismissed from public life for
evermore ; the floor was swept and watered, the
lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the
fire ; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm,
and dry, and bright a ball-room as you would
desire to see upon a winter's night.

In came a fiddle with a music-book, and went

up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of

it, and tuned like fifty stomachaches. In came

Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In

...

came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beammg and
lovable. In came the six young followers whose
hearts they broke. In came all the young men
and women employed in the business. In came
the housemaid, with her cousin the baker. In
came the cook, with her brother's particular
friend the milkman. In came the boy from
over the way, who was suspected of not having
board enough from his master; trying to hide
himself behind the girl from next door but one,



who was proved to have had her ears pulled
by her mistress. In they all came, one aftei
another ; some shyly, some boldly, some grace-
fully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pull-
ing; in they all came, any how and every how.
Away they all went, twenty couple at once ;
hands half round and back again the other way ;
down the middle and up again ; round and
round in various stages of affectionate grouping;
old top couple always turning up in the wrong
place ; new top couple starting off again as soon
as they got there ; all top couples at last, and
not a bottom one to help them ! When this re-
sult was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping
his hands to stop the dance, cried out, " Well
done ! " and the fiddler plunged his hot face into
a pot of porter, especially provided for that
purpose. But, scorning rest upon his reappear-
ance, he instantly began again, though there
were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had
been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and
he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him
out of sight, or perish.

There were more dances, and there were for-
feits, and more dances, and there was cake, and
there was negus, and there was a great piece of
Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold
Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of
beer. But the great effect of the evening came
after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler
(an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who
knew his business better than you or I could
have told it him !) struck up " Sir Roger de
Coverley." Then old Fezziwig stood out to
dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too ;
with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them;
three or four and twenty pair of partners ; people
who were not to be trifled with; people Avho
would dance, and had no notion of walking.

But if they had been twice as many — ah!
four times — old Fezziwig would have been a
match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig.
As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in
every sense of the term. If that's not high
praise, tell me higher, and I'll use it. A positive
light appeared to issue from Fezziwig's calves.
They shone in every part of the dance like
moons. You couldn't have predicted, at any
given time, what would become of them next.
And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had
gone all through the dance ; advance and retire,
both hands to your partner, bow and curtsy,
cork-screw, thread-the-needle, and back again to
your place; Fezziwig " cut"' — cut so deftly, that
he appeared to wink with his legs, and came
upon his feet again without a stagger.

When the clock struck eleven, this domestic



SCROOGE'S OLD LOVE.



'5



ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took

their stations, one on either side the door, and,
shaking hands with every person individually as
he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry
Christmas. When everybody had retired but
the two 'prentices, they did the same to them ;
and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the
lads were left to their beds ] which were under
a counter in the back-shop.

During the whole of this time Scrooge had
acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and
soul were in the scene, antl with his former self.
He corroborated everything, remembered every-
thing, enjoyed everything, and underwent the
strangest agitation. It was not until now, when
the bright faces of his former self and Dick were
turned from them, that he remembered the Ghost,
and became conscious that it was looking full
upon him, while the light upon its head burnt
very clear.

" A small matter," said the Ghost, " to make
these silly folks so full of gratitude."

'• Small ! " echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two
apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts
in praise of Fezziwig ; and, when he had done
so, said : .

" Why ! Is it not ? He has spent but a few
pounds of your mortal money : three or four,
perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this
praise ? "

" It isn't that," said Scrooge, heated by the
remark, and speaking unconsciously like his
former, not his latter self. " It isn't that. Spirit.
He has the power to render us happy or un-
happy; to make our service light or burden-
some ; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power
lies in w^ords and looks ; in things so slight and
insignificant that it is impossible to add and
count 'em up : what then ? The happiness he
gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune."

He felt the Spirit's glance, and stopped.

"What is the matter?" asked the Ghost.

" Nothing particular," said Scrooge.

" Something, I think ? " the Ghost insisted.

" No," said Scrooge, " no. I should like to
be able to say a word or two to my clerk just
now. That's all."

His former self turned down the lamps as he
gave utterance to the wish ; and Scrooge and
the Ghost again stood side by side in the open
air.

" My time grows short," observed the Spirit.
'' Quick ! "

This was not addressed to Scrooge, or to any
one whom he could see, but it produced an
immediate effect. For again Scrooge saw him-



self. He was older now ; a man in the prime
of life. His face had not the harsh and rigid
lines of later years ; but it had begun to wear
the signs of care and avarice. There was an
eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, which
showed the passion that had taken root, and
where the shadow of the growing tree would fall.

He was not alone, but sat by the side of a
fair young girl in a mourning dress : in whose
eyes there were tears, which sparkled in the
light that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas
Past.

" It matters little," she said softly. " To you,
very little. Another idol has displaced me ;
and, if it can cheer and comfort you in time to
come as I would have tried to do, I have no
just cause to grieve."

" What Idol has displaced you ? " he re-
joined.

" A golden one."

" This is the even-handed dealing of the
world ! " he said. " There is nothing on which
it is so hard as poverty ; and there is nothing it
professes to condemn with such severity as the
pursuit of wealth ! "

" You fear the world too much," she answered
gently. " All your other hopes have merged
into the hope of being beyond the chance of its
sordid reproach, I have seen your nobler aspi-
rations foil off one by one, until the master pas-
sion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?"

"What then?" he retorted. "Even if I
have grown so much wiser, what then ? I am
not changed towards you."

She shook her head.

" Am I ? "

" Our contract is an old one. It was made
when we were both poor, and content to be so,
until, in good season, we could improve our
worldly fortune by our patient industry. You
are changed. When it was made you were
another man."

" I was a boy," he said impatiently.

"Your own feeling tells you that you were not
what you are," she returned. " I am. That
which promised happiness when we were one in
heart is fraught with misery now that we are two.
How often and how keenly I have thought of
this I will not say. It is enough that I have
thought of it, and can release you,"

" Have I ever sought release ?"

"In words. No. Never."

"In what, then?"

"In a changed nature ; in an altered spirit ;
in another atmosphere of life ; another Hope as
its great end. In ever3'thing that made my love
of any worth or value in your sight. If this had



i6



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



never been between us," said the girl, looking
mildly, but with steadiness, upon him ; " tell
me, would you seek me out and try to win me
now ? Ah, no ! "

He seemed to yield to the justice of this sup-
position in spite of himself. But he said, with
a struggle, " You think not." ^,^

" I would gladly think otherwise if I could,"
she answered. " Heaven knows ! When /
have learned a Truth like this, I know how
strong and irresistible it must be. But if you
were free to-day, to-morrow, yesterday, can even
I believe that you would choose a dowerless
girl — you who, in your very confidence with her,
weigh everything by Gain : or, choosing her, if
for a moment you were false enough to your
one guiding principle to do so, do I not know
that your repentance and regret would surely
follow ? I do ; and I release you. With a full
heart, for the love of him you once were."

He was about to speak ; but, with her head
turned from him, she resumed.

"You may — the memory of what is past half
makes me hope you will — have pain in this.
A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the
recollection of it gladly, as an unprofitable
dream, from which it happened well that you
awoke. May you be happy in the life you have
chosen ! "

She left him, and they parted.

" Spirit ! " said Scrooge, " show me no more !
Conduct me home. Why do you delight to
torture me ? "

" One shadow more ! " exclaimed the Ghost.

" No more ! " cried Scrooge. " No more !
I don't wish to see it. Show me no more ! "

But the relentless Ghost pinioned him in both
his arms, and forced him to observe what hap-
pened next.

They were in another scene and place; a room,
not very large or handsome, but full of comfort.
Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young
girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it
was the same, until he saw her, now a comely
matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The
noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for
there were more children there than Scrooge in
his agitated state of mind could count; and,
unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they
were not forty children conducting themselves
like one, but every child w^as conducting itself
like forty. The consequences were uproarious
beyond belief; but no one seemed to care ; on
the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed
heartily, and enjoyed it very much ; and the
latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports,
got pillaged by the young brigands most ruth-



lessly. What would I not have given to be one
of them ! Though I never could have been so
rude, no, no ! I wouldn't for the wealth of al)
the world have crushed that braided hair, and
torn it down ; and, for the precious little shoe,
I wouldn't have plucked it off, God bless my
soul ! to save my life. As to measuring her
waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I
couldn't have done it ; I should have ex-
pected my arm to have grown round it for a
punishment, and never come straight again.
And yet I should have dearly liked, I own,
to have touched her lips ; to have questioned
her, that she might have opened them ; to have
looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes,
and never raised a blush ; to have let loose
waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keep-
sake beyond price : in short, I should have liked,
I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of
a child, and yet to have been man enough to
know its value.

But now a knocking at the door was heard,
and such a rush immediately ensued that she,
with laughing face and plundered dress, was
borne towards it in the centre of a flushed and
boisterous group, just in time to greet the
father, who came home attended by a man
laden with Christmas toys and presents. Then
the shouting and the struggling, and the on-
slaught that was made on the defenceless
porter ! The scaling him, with chairs for ladders,
to dive into his pockets, despoil him of brown-
paper parcels, hold on tight by his cravat, hug
him round the neck, pummel his back, and kick
his legs in irrepressible aftection ! The shouts
of wonder and delight with which the develop-
ment of every package was received ! The
terrible announcement that the baby had been
taken in the act of putting a doll's frying-pan
into his mouth, and was more than suspected of
having swallowed a fictitious turkey, glued on a
wooden platter ! The immense relief of finding
this a false alarm ! The joy, and gratitude, and
ecstasy ! They are all indescribable alike. It
is enough that, by degrees, the children and
their emotions got out of the parlour, and, by
one stair at a time, up to the top of the house,
where they went to bed, and so subsided.

And now Scrooge looked on more attentively
than ever, when the master of the house, having
his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat down
with her and her mother at his own fireside ;
and when he thought that such another creature,
quite as graceful and as full of promise, might
have called him father, and been a spring-time
in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew
very dim indeed.



EXPECTING A THIRD VISITOR.



17



'' Belle," said the husband, turning to his
wife with a smile, " I saw an old friend of yours
this afternoon."

" Who was it ? "

" Guess ! "

"How can I? Tut, don't I know?" she
added in the same breath, laughing as he laughed.
■" Mr. Scrooge."

*' Mr. Scrooge it was. I passed his office
window ; and as it was not shut up, and he had
a candle inside, I could scarcely help seeing
him. His partner lies upon the point of death,
I hear ; and there he sat alone. Quite alone in
the world, I do believe."

*' Spirit ! " said Scrooge in a broken voice,
*' remove me from this place."

" I told you these were shadows of the things
that have been," said the Ghost. " That they
are what they are, do not blame me ! "

" Remove me ! " Scrooge exclaimed. " I
cannot bear it ! "

He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it
looked upon him with a face in which in some
strange way there were fragments of all the faces
it had shown him, wrestled with it.

" Leave me ! Take me back ! Haunt me no
longer ! "

In the struggle — if that can be called a
struggle in which the Ghost, with no visible re-
sistance on its own part, was undisturbed by
any effort of its adversary — Scrooge observed
that its light was burning high and bright ; and
dimly connecting that with its influence over him,
he seized the extinguisher cap, and by a sudden
action pressed it down upon its head.

The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the
extinguisher covered its whole form ; but, though
"Scrooge pressed it down with all his force, he
could not hide the light, which streamed from
under it in an unbroken flood upon the ground.

He was conscious of being exhausted, and
overcome by an irresistible drowsiness ; and,
further, of being in his own bedroom. He
gave the cap a parting squeeze, in which his
hand relaxed ; and had barely time to reel to
bed before he sank into a heavy sleep.



STAVE THREE.

THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS.

AWAKING in the middle of a prodigiously
tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get
his thoughts together, Scrooge had no occasion
Christmas Books, 2.



to be told that the bell was again upon the
stroke of One. He felt that he was restored
to consciousness in the right nick of time, for
the especial purpose of holding a conference
with the second messenger dispatched to him
through Jacob Marley's intervention. But, find-
ing that he turned uncomfortably cold when
he began to wonder which of his curtains this
new spectre would draw back, he put them
every one aside with his own hands, and, lying
down again, established a sharp look-out all
round the bed. For he wished to challenge
the Spirit on the moment of its appearance, and
did not wish to be taken by surprise and made
nervous.

Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who
plume themselves on being acquainted with a
move or two, and being usually equal to the
time of day, express the wide range of their
capacity for adventure by observing that they
are good for anything from pitch-and-toss to
manslaughter ; between which opposite extremes,
no doubt, there lies a tolerably wide and com-
prehensive range of subjects. Without venturing
for Scrooge quite as hardily as this, I don't mind
calling on you to believe that he was ready for
a good broad field of strange appearances, and
that nothing between a baby and a rhinoceros
would have astonished him very much. '"^

Now, being prepared for almost anything, he
was not by any means prepared for nothing ;
and consequently, when the bell struck One, and
no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent
fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a
quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came.
All this time he lay upon his bed, the very core
and centre of a blaze of ruddy light, which
streamed upon it when the clock proclaimed the
hour; and which, being only light, was more
alarming than a dozen ghosts, as he was power-
less to make out what it meant, or would be at ;
and was sometimes apprehensive that he might
be at that very moment an interesting case of
spontaneous combustion, without having the
consolation of knowing it. At last, however,
he began to think — as you or I would have
thought at first ; for it is always the person not
in the predicament who knows what ought to
have been done in it, and would unquestionably
have done it too — at last, I say, he began to
think that the source and secret of this ghostly
light might be in the adjoining room, from
whence, on further tracing it, it seemed to shine.
This idea taking full possession of his mind, he
got up softly, and shuffled in his slippers to the
door.

The moment Scrooge's hand was on tV.a inrk,



i8



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



a strange voice called him by his name, and
bade him enter. He obeyed.

It was his own room. There was no doubt
about that. But it had undergone a surprising
transformation. The walls and ceiling were so
hung with living green, that it looked a perfect
grove ; from every part of which bright gleaming
berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly,
mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if
so many httle mirrors had been scattered there ;
and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the
chimney as that dull petrifaction of a hearth had
never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for
many and many a winter season gone. Heaped
up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were tur-
keys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints
of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages,
mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters,
red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy
oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes,
and seething bowls of punch, that made the
chamber dim with their delicious steam. In
easy state upon this couch there sat a jolly Giant,
glorious to see ; who bore a glowing torch, in
shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up,
high up, to shed its light on Scrooge as he came
peeping round the door.

" Come in 1 " exclaimed the Ghost. " Come
in ! and know me better, man ! "

Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head
before this Spirit. He was not the dogged
Scrooge he had been ; and, though the Spirit's
eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to
meet them.

" I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," said
the Spirit. " Look upon me ! "

Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in
one simple deep green robe, or mantle, bordered
with white fur. This garment hung so loosely
on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare,
as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by
any artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the
ample folds of the garment, were also bare ; and
on its head it wore no other covering than a
holly wreath, set here and there with shining
icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and
free ; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye,
its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained
demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round its
middle was an antique scabbard ; but no sword
was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up
with rust.

" You have never seen the like of me before I"
exclaimed the Spirit.

" Never," Scrooge made answer to it.

" Have never walked forth with the younger
members of my family ; meaning (for I am very



young) my elder brothers born in these later
years ? " pursued the Phantom.

" I don't think I have," said Scrooge. ** I am
afraid I have not. Have you had many brothers,
Spirit ? "

"More than eighteen hundred," said the
Ghost.

" A tremendous family to provide for," mut-
tered Scrooge.

The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.

" Spirit," said Scrooge submissively, " conduct
me where you will. I went forth last night on
compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is
working now. To-night, if you have aught to
teach me, let me profit by it."

" Touch my robe ! "

Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.

Holly, mistletoe, red berries, ivy, turkeys,
geese, game, poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages,
oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch, all
vanished instantly. So did the room, the fire,
the ruddy glow, the hour of night, and they
stood in the city streets on Christmas morning,
where (for the weather was severe) the people
made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant
kind of music, in scraping the snow from the
pavement in front of their dwellings, and from
the tops of their houses, whence it was mad
delight to the boys to see it come plumping
down into the road below, and splitting into
artificial little snow-storms. •^

The house-fronts looked black enough, and
the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth
white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and with
the dirtier snow upon the ground ; which last
deposit had been ploughed up in deep furrows
by the heavy wheels of carts and waggons;
furrows that crossed and recrossed each other
hundreds of times where the great streets
branched off; and made intricate channels, hard
to trace, in the thick yellow mud and icy water.
The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets
were choked up with a dingy mist, half thawed,
half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in
a shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys
in Great Britain had, by one consent, caught
fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts'
content. There was nothing very cheerful in
the climate or the town, and yet was there an
air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest
summer air and brightest summer sun might
have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.

For, the people who were shovelling away on
the housetops were jovial and full of glee ;
calling out to one another from the parapets,
and now and then exchanging a facetious snow-
ball — better-natured missile far than many a



CHRISTMAS SHOPS.



19



wordy jest — laughing heartily if it went right,
and not less heartily if it went wrong. The
poulterers' shops were still half open, and the
fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There
were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chest-
nuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old
gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbUng
out into the street in their apoplectic opulence.
There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed
Spanish onions, shining in the fatness of their
growth like Spanish Friars, and winking from
their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as
they went by, and glanced demurely at the
hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and
apples clustered high in blooming pyramids ;
there were bunches of grapes, made, in the
shopkeepers' benevolence, to dangle from con-
spicuous hooks that people's mouths might water
gratis as they passed ; there were piles of filberts,



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 70 of 103)