Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 72 of 103)
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and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so
irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-
humour. When Scrooge's nephew laughed in
this way : holding his sides, rolling his head,
and twisting his face into the most extravagant
contortions : Scrooge's niece, by marriage,
laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled
friends, being not a bit behindhand, roared out
lustily.

" Ha, ha ! Ha, ha, ha, ha ! "

" He said that Christmas was a humbug, as
I live ! " cried Scrooge's nephew. " He believed
it, too ! "

" More shariie for him, Fred ! " said Scrooge's
niece indignantly. Bless those women ! they
never do anything by halves. They are always
in earnest.

She was very pretty; exceedingly pretty.
With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face ;
a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be
kissed — as no doubt it was ; all kinds of good
little dots about her chin, that melted into one
another when she laughed ; and the sunniest
pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature's
head. Altogether she was what you would have
called provoking, you know ; but satisfactory,
too. Oh, perfectly satisfactory !

" He's a comical old fellow," said Scrooge's
nephew, " that's the truth ; and not so pleasant
as he might be. However, his offences carry
their own punishment, and I have nothing to
say against him."

" I'm sure he is very rich, Fred," hinted
Scrooge's niece. "At least, you always tell
Pie so."

"What of that, my dear?" said Scrooge's
nephew. " His wealth is of no use to him.
He don't do any good with it. He don't make
himself comfortable with it. He hasn't the
satisfaction of thinking — ha, ha, ha ! — that he
is ever going to benefit Us with it."

"I have no patience with him," observed
Scrooge's niece. Scrooge's niece's sisters, and
all the other ladies, expressed the same opinion.

" Oh, I have ! " said Scrooge's nephew. " I am
sorry for him ; I couldn't be angry with him if I
tried. Who suffers by his ill whims ? Himself
always. Here he takes it into his head to



dislike us, and he won't come and dine w'th us.
What's the consequence ? He don't lose much
of a dinner."

" Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner,"
interrupted Scrooge's niece. Everybody else
said the same, and they must be allowed to have
been competent judges, because they had just
had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the
table, were clustered round the fire, by lamp-
light.

" Well ! I am very glad to hear it," said
Scrooge's nephew, " because I haven't any great
faith in these young housekeepers. What do
you say, Topper ? "

Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of
Scrooge's niece's sisters, for he answered that a
bachelor was a wretched outcast, who had no
right to express an opinion on the subject.
Whereat Scrooge's niece's sister — the plump
one with the lace tucker : not the one with the
roses — blushed.

" Do go on, Fred," said Scrooge's niece, clap-
ping her hands. " He never finishes what he
begins to say ! He is such a ridiculous fel-
low ! "

Scrooge's nephew revelled in another laugh,
and, as it was impossible to keep the infection
off; though the plump sister tried hard to do it
with aromatic vinegar ; his example was unani-
mously followed.

" I was only going to say," said Scrooge's
nephew, " that the consequence of his taking a
dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is,
as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments,
which could do him no harm. I am sure he
loses pleasanter companions than he can find in
his own thoughts, either in his mouldy old office
or his dusty chambers. I mean to give him the
same chance every year, whether he likes it or
not, for I pity him. He may rail at Christmas
till he dies, but he can't help thinking better of
it — I defy him — if he finds me going there, in
good temper, year after year, and saying, ' Uncle
Scrooge, how are you ? ' If it only puts him in
the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds,
f/iafs something ; and I think I shook him yes-
terday."

It was their turn to laugh, now, at the notion
of his shaking Scrooge. But, being thoroughly
good-natured, and not much caring what they
laughed at, so that they laughed at any rate, he
encouraged them in their merriment, and passed
the bottle, joyously.

After tea they had some music. For they
were a musical family, and knew what they were
about when they sung a Glee or Catch, I can
assure you : especially Topper, who could



V£S AND NO.



n



growl away in the bass like a good one, and
never swell the large veins in his forehead, or
get red in the face over it. Scrooge's niece
playeil well upon the harp ; and })layed, among
other tunes, a simple little air (a mere nothing :
you might learn to whistle it in two minutes),
which had been familiar to the cliild who fetched
Scrooge from the boarding-school, as he had
been reminded by the Ghost of Christmas Past.
When this strain of music sounded, all the
things that Ghost had shown him came upon
his mind ; he softened more and more ; and
thought that if he could have listened to it
often, years ago, he might have cultivated the
kindnesses of life for his own happiness with his
own hands, without resorting to the sexton's
spade that buried Jacob JNIarley.

But they didn't devote the whole evening to
music. After awhile they played at forfeits ; for
it is good to be children sometimes, and never
better than at Christmas, when its mighty
Founder was a child himself Stop ! There
was firot a game at blind-man's buff. Of course
there was. And I no more believe Topper was
really blind than I believe he had eyes in his
boots. My opinion is, that it was a done thing
between him and Scrooge's nephew ; and that
the Ghost of Christmas Present knew it. The
way he went after that plump sister in the
lace tucker was an outrage on the credulity of
human nature. Knocking down the fire-irons,
tumbling over the chairs, bumping up against
the piano, smothering himself amongst the cur-
tains, wherever she went, there went he ! He
always knew where the plump sister was. He
wouldn't catch anybody else. If you had fallen
up against him (as some of them did) on pur-
pose, he would have made a feint of endeavour-
ing to seize you, which would have been an
atiront to your understanding, and would in-
stantly have sidled off in the direction of the
plump sister. She often cried out that it wasn't
fair ; and it really was not. But when, at last,
he caught her ; when, in spite of all her silken
rustlings, and her rapid flutterings past him, he
got her into a corner whence there was no
escape ; then his conduct was the most exe-
crable. For his pretending not to know her ;
his pretending that it was necessary to touch
her head-dress, and further to assure himself of
her identity by pressing a certain ring upon her
finger, and a certain chain about her neck ; was
vile, monstrous ! No doubt she told him her
opinion of it when, another blind man being in
office, they were so very confidential together
behind the curtains.

Scrooge's niece was not one of the blind-



man's-buff party, but was made comfortable
with a large chair and a footstool, in a snug
corner where the Ghost and Scrooge were close
behind her. But she joined in the forfeits, and
loved her love to admiration with all the letters
of the alphabet. Likewise at the game of How,.
When, and Where, she was very great, and, tO'
the secret joy of Scrooge's nephew, beat her
sisters hollow : though they were sharp girls too,
as Topper could have told you. There might
have been twenty people there, young and old,
but they all played, and so did Scrooge ; for,
wholly forgetting, in the interest he had in what
was going on, that his voice made no sound in
their ears, he sometimes came out with his guess
quite loud, and very often guessed right, too, for
the sharpest needle, best Whitechapel, warranted
not to cut in the eye, was not sharper than
Scrooge ; blunt as he took it in his head tcv
be.

The Ghost was greatly pleased to find him in
this mood, and looked upon him with such
favour, that he begged like a boy to be allowed
to stay until the guests departed. But this the
Spirit said could not be done.

" Here is a new game," said Scrooge. " One
half-hour. Spirit, only one ! "

It was a game called Yes and No, where
Scrooge's nephew had to think of something,
and the rest must find out what ; he only
answering to their questions yes or no, as the
case was. The brisk fire of questioning ta
which he was exposed elicited from him that he
was thinking of an animal, a live animal, rather
a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an ani-
mal that growled and grunted sometimes, and
talked sometimes, and lived in London, and
walked about the streets, and wasn't made a^
show of, and wasn't led by anybody, and didn't
live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a
market, and was not a horse, or an ass, or a cow,
or a bull, or a tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat,,
or a bear. At every fresh question that was put
to him, this nephew burst into a fresh roar of
laughter ; and was so inexpressibly tickled, that
he was obliged to get up off the sofa, and stamj).
At last the plump sister, falling into a similar
state, cried out :

" I have found it out ! I know what it is,
Fred ! I know what it is ! "

" What is it ? " cried Fred.

" It's your uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge ! "

Which it certainly was. Admiration was the
universal sentiment, though some objected that
the reply to " Is it a bear?" ought to have been
" Yes ; " inasmuch as an answer in the negative
was suflicient to have diverted their thoughts



26



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



from Mr. Scrooge, supposing they had ever had
any tendency that way.

" He has given us plenty of merriment, I am
sure," said Fred, " and it would be ungrateful
not to drink his health. Here is a glass of
mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment ;
and I say, ' Uncle Scrooge ! ' "

'' Well ! Uncle Scrooge ! " they cried.

" A merry Christmas and a happy New Year
to the old man, whatever he is ! " said Scrooge's
nephew. '* He wouldn't take it from me, but
may he have it, nevertheless. Uncle Scrooge ! "

Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so
gay and light of heart, that he would have
pledged the unconscious company in return,
and thanked them in an inaudible speech, if the
Ghost had given him time. But the whole scene
passed off in the breath of the last word spoken
by his nephew ; and he and the Spirit were
again upon their travels.

Much they saw, and far they went, and many
homes they visited, but always with a happy
end. The Spirit stood beside sick beds, and
they were cheerful ; on foreign lands, and they
were close at home; by struggling men, and
they were patient in their greater hope ; by
poverty, and it was rich. In almshouse, hos-
pital, and gaol, in misery's every refuge, where
vain man in his little brief authority had not
made fast the door, and barred the Spirit out,
he left his blessing, and taught Scrooge his pre-
cepts.

It was a long night, if it were only a night ;
but Scrooge had his doubts of this, because the
Christmas holidays appeared to be condensed
into the space of time they passed together. It
was strange, too, that, while Scrooge remained
unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew
older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this
change, but never spoke of it until they left a
children's Twelfth-Night party, when, looking at
the Spirit as they stood together in an open
place, he noticed that its hair was grey.

" Are spirits' lives so short?" asked Scrooge.

" My life upon this globe is very brief," re-
plied the Ghost. " It ends to-night,"

" To-night ! " cried Scrooge.

" To-night at midnight. Hark 1 The time is
drawing near."

The chimes were ringing the three-quarters
past eleven at that moment.

" Forgive me if I am not justified in what I
ask," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's
robe, " but I see something strange, and not be-
longing to yourself, protruding from your skirts.
Is it a foot or a claw ? "

" It might be a claw, for the flesh there is



Look



upon it," was the Spirit's sorrowful reply,
here."

P'rom the foldings of its robe it brought two
children ; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous,
miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and
clung upon the outside of its garment.

" Oh, Man ! look here ! Look, look, down
here ! " exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre,
ragged, scowling, wolfish ; but prostrate, too, in
their humility. Where graceful youth should
have filled their features out, and touched them
with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled
hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted
them, and pulled them into shreds. Where
angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked,
and glared out menacing. No change, no degra-
dation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade,
through all the mysteries of wonderful creation,
has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them
shown to him in this way, he tried to say they
were fine children, but the words choked them-
selves, rather than be parties to a lie of such
enormous magnitude.

" Spirit ! arc they yours ? " Scrooge could say
no more.

" They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking
down upon them. "And they cling to me,
appealing from their fathers. This boy is Igno-
rance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both,
and all of their degree, but most of all beware
this boy, for on his brow I see that written
which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.
Deny it ! " cried the Spirit, stretching out its
hand towards the city. " Slander those who
tell it ye ! Admit it for your factious purposes,
and make it worse ! And bide the end ! "

" Have they no refuge or resource ? " cried
Scrooge.

" Are there no prisons ? " said the Spirit,
turning on him for the last time with his own
words. " Are there no workhouses ? "

The bell struck Twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and
saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate,
he remembered the prediction of old Jacob
Marley, and, lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn
Phantom, draped and hooded, coming like a
mist along the ground towards him.



A DEATH HAS OCCURRED.



27



STAVE FOUR.



THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS.




HE 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 gar-
ment, 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 pre-
sence 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 con-
tracted 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 1 " 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 excres-
cence 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



28



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



men, and looked towards the Spirit for an ex-
planation.

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
Tivere 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 are
not a skater, I suppose ? "




"THIS PLEASANTRY WAS RECEIVED WITH A GENERAL LAUGH."



" 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 con-
versations apparently so trivial ; but, feeling
assured that they must have some hidden pur-
pose, he set himself to consider what it was
likely to be. Tliey 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 ihink
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.



GIIOULES.



29



He looked about in that very place for his
own image; but another man stood in his accus-
tomed 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 revolv-
ing 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 Phan-
tom, with its outstretched hand. When he
roused himself from his thouglitful quest, he
fancied, from the turn of the hand, and its situa-
tion in reference to himself, that the Unseen
Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him
shudder, and feel very cold.

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 scru-
tinise 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 frouzy curtaining of
miscellaneous tatters hung upon a line ; and
smoked his pipe in all the luxury of calm retire-
ment. :j^

Scrooge and the Phantom came into the pre-
sence 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 into his mouth again.

While he did this, the woman who had
already spoken threw her bundle on the tloor,
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 more so."

" Why, then, don't stand staring as if you
was afraid, woman ! Who's the wiser ? We're



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 72 of 103)