Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 73 of 103)
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not going to pick holes in each other's coats, I
suppose ? "

" No, indeed !" said Mrs. Dilber and the man
together. "We should hope not."

" Very well, then ! " cried the woman.
" That's enough. Who's the worse for the loss
of a few things like these ? Not a dead man, I
suppose ? "

" No, indeed," said Mrs. Dilber, laughing.

" If he wanted to keep 'em after he was dead,
a wicked old screw," pursued the woman, " why
wasn't he natural in his lifetime ? If he had
been, he'd have had somebody to look after him
when he was struck with Death, instead of
lying gasping out his last there, alone by him-
self."

" It's the truest word that ever was spoke,"
said Mrs. Dilber. " It's a judgment on him."

" I wish it was a little heavier judgment,"
replied the woman ; " and it should have been,
you may depend upon it, if I could have laid
my hands on anything else. Open that bundle,
old Joe, and let me know the value of it.
Speak out plain. I'm not afraid to be the first^



30



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



nor afraid for them to see it. We knew pretty-
well that we were helping ourselves before we
met here, I believe. It's no sin. Open the
bundle, Joe."

But the gallantry of her friends would not
allow of this ; and the man in faded black,
mounting the breach first, produced his plunder.
It was not extensive. A seal or two, a pencil-
case, a pair of sleeve-buttons, and a brooch of
no great value, were all. They were severally
examined and appraised by old Joe, who chalked
the sums he was disposed to give for each upon
the wall, and added them up into a total when
he found that there was nothing more to come.

" That's your account," said Joe, " and I
wouldn't give another sixpence, if I was to be
boiled for not doing it. Who's next ?"

Mrs. Dilber was next. Sheets and towels, a
little wearing apparel, two old-fashioned silver
tea-spoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, and a few
boots. Her account was stated on the wall in
the same manner.

" I always give too much to ladies. It's a
weakness of mine, and that's the way I ruin my-
self," said old Joe. " That's your account. If
you asked me for another penny, and made it
an open question, I'd repent of being so liberal,
and knock off half-a-crown."

" And now undo my bundle, Joe," said the
first woman.

Joe went down on his knees for the greater
convenience of opening it, and, having unfast-
ened a great many knots, dragged out a large
heavy roll of some dark stuff.

"■ What do you call this ? " said Joe. " Bed-
curtains ?"

" Ah ! " returned the woman, laughing and
leaning forward on her crossed arms. " Bed-
curtains ! '■■

" You don't mean to say you took 'em down,
rings and all, with him lying there ? " said Joe.

" Yes, I do," replied the woman. " Why
not?"

" You were born to make your fortune," said
Joe, " and you'll certainly do it."

" I certainly shan't hold my hand, when I can
get anything in it by reaching it out, for the sake
of such a man as He was, I promise you, Joe,"
returned the woman coolly. " Don't drop that
oil upon the blankets, now."

" His blankets?" asked Joe.

''Whose else's do you think?" replied the
woman. " He isn't likely to take cold without
'em, I dare say."

" I hope he didn't die of anything catching ?
Eh?" said old Joe, stopping in his work, and
looking up.



" Don't you be afraid of that," returned the
woman. " I an't so fond of his company that
I'd loiter about him for such things, if he did.
Ah ! You may look through that shirt till your
eyes ache ; but you won't find a hole in it, nor
a threadbare place. It's the best he had, and a
fine one too. They'd have wasted it, if it
hadn't been for me."

" What do you call wasting of it ?" asked old
Joe.

" Putting it on him to be buried in, to be
sure," replied the woman with a laugh. " Some-
body was fool enough to do it, but I took it
off again. If calico an't good enough for
such a purpose, it isn't good enough for any-
thing. It's quite as becoming to the body.
He can't look uglier than he did in that
one."

Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror.
As they sat grouped about their spoil, in the
scanty light afforded by the old man's lamp, he
viewed them with a detestation and disgust
which could hardly have been greater, though
they had been obscene demons, marketing the
corpse itself.

" Ha, ha ! " laughed the same woman when
old Joe, producing a flannel bag with money in
it, told out their several gains upon the ground.
" This is the end of it, you see ! He frightened
every one away from him when he was alive, to
profit us when he was dead ! Ha, ha, ha ! "

" Spirit ! " said Scrooge, shuddering from
head to foot. " I see, I see. The case of this
unhappy man might be my own. My life tends
that way now. Merciful Heaven, what is
this ? "

He recoiled in terror, for the scene had
changed, and now he almost touched a bed : a
bare, uncurtained bed : on which, beneath a
ragged sheet, there lay a something covered up,
which, though it was dumb, announced itself in
awful language.

The room was very dark, too dark to be
observed with any accuracy, though Scrooge
glanced round it in obedience to a secret im-
pulse, anxious to know what kind of room it
was. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell
straight upon the bed : and on it, plundered
and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was
the body of this man.

Scrooge glanced towards the Phantom. Its
steady hand was pointed to the head. The
cover was so carelessly adjusted that the slightest
raising of it, the motion of a finger upon
Scrooge's part, would have disclosed the face.
He thought of it, felt how easy it would be to
do, and longed to do it ; but had no more



FAST RELENTING.



31



power to withdraw the veil than to dismiss the
spectre at his side.

Oh, cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up
thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors
as thou hast at thy command : for this is thy
dominion ! But of the loved, revered, and
honoured head thou canst not iarn one hair to
thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious.
It is not that the hand is heavy, and will fall
down when released ; it is not that the heart
and pulse are still ; but that the hand was open,
generous, and true ; the heart brave, warm, and
tender ; and the pulse a man's. Strike, Shadow,
strike ! And see his good deeds springing
from the wound, to sow the world with life
immortal !

No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge's
ears, and yet he heard them when he looked
upon the bed. He thought, if this man could
be raised up now, what would be his fore-
most thoughts? Avarice, hard dealing, griping
cares ? They have brought him to a rich end,
truly !

He lay, in the dark, empty house, with not a
man, a woman, or a child to say he was kind to
me in this or that, and for the memory of one
kind word I will be kind to him. A cat was
tearing at the door, and there was a sound of
gnawing rats beneath the hearth-stone. What
they wanted in the room of death, and why they
were so restless. and disturbed, Scrooge did not
dare to think.

" Spirit ! " he said, " this is a fearful place. In
leaving it, I shall not leave its lesson, trust me.
Let us go ! "

Still the Ghost pointed with an unmoved
finger to the head.

"I understand you," Scrooge returned, "and
I would do it if I could. But I have not the
power, Spirit. I have not the power."

Again it seemed to look upon him.

" If there is any person in the town who
feels emotion caused by this man's death," .^aid
Scrooge, quite agonised, " show that person to
me, Spirit, I beseech you !"

The Phantom spread its dark robe before him
for a moment, like a wing; and, withdrawing it,
revealed a room by daylight, where a mother and
her children were.

She was expecting some one, and with anxious
eagerness ; for she walked up and down the room ;
; started at every sound; looked out from thewin-
idow ; glanced at the clock ; tried, but in vain, to
.Vork with her needle ; and could hardly bear the
; voices of her children in their play.

At length the long-expected knock was heard.
She hurried to the door, and met her husband ;



a man whose face was careworn and depressed,
though he was young. There was a remarkable
expression in it now ; a kind of serious delight
of which he felt ashamed, and which he struggled
to repress.

He sat down to the dinner that had been
hoarding for him by the fire, and, when she
asked him faintly what news (which was not
until after a long silence), he appeared embar-
rassed how to answer.

"Is it good," she said, "or bad?" to help
him.

" Bad," he answered.

" We are quite ruined ? "

" No. There is hope yet, Caroline."

" If he relents," she said, amazed, " there is !
Nothing is past hope, if such a miracle has hap-
pened."

" He is past relenting," said her husband.
" He is dead."

She was a mild and patient creature, if her
face spoke truth ; but she was thankful in her
soul to hear it, and she said so with clasped
hands. She prayed forgiveness the next moment,
and was sorry ; but the first was the emotion of
her heart.

" What the half-drunken woman, whom I told
you of last night, said to me when I tried X.6 see
him and obtain a week's delay; and what I
thought was a mere excuse to avoid • me ; turns
out to have been quite true. He was ^not only
very ill, but dying, then."

" To whom will our debt be transferred?"

" I don't know. But, before that time, we
shall be ready with the money ; and, even
though we were not, it would be bad fortune
indeed to find so merciless a creditor in his
successor. We may sleep to-night with light
hearts, Caroline ! "

Yes. Soften it as they would, their hearts
were lighter. The children's faces, hushed and
clustered round to hear what they so little un-
derstood, were brighter ; and it was a happier
house for this man's death ! The only emotion
that the Ghost could show him, caused by the
event, was one of pleasure.

" Let me see some tenderness connected with
a death," said Scrooge ; " or that dark chamber,
Spirit, which we left just now, will be for ever
present to me."

The Ghost conducted him through several
streets familiar to his feet ; and, as they went
along, Scrooge looked here and there to find
himself, but nowhere was he to be seen. They
entered poor Bob Cratchit's house; the dwelling
he had visited before; and found tlie mother and
the children seated round the fire.



3?



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



Quiet. Very quiet. The noisy little Cratchits
were as still as statues in one corner, and sat
looking up at Peter, who had a book before
him. The mother and her daughters were en-
gaged in sewing. But surely they were very quiet !

" ' And he took a child, and set him in the
midst of them.' "

Where had Scrooge heard those words ? He
had not dreamed them. The boy must have
read them out, as he and the Spirit crossed the
threshold. Why did he not go on ?



The mother laid her work upon the table, and
put her hand up to her face.

" The colour hurts my eyes," she said.

The colour ? Ah, poor Tiny Tim i

" They're better now again," said Cratch it's
wife. " It makes them weak by candle-light ;
and I wouldn't show weak eyes to your fatlier,
when he comes home, for the world. It must
be near his time."

" Past it rather," Peter answered, shutting up
his book. " But I think he has walked a little




WHAT DO VOU CALL THIS.?" SAID JOE. "BED-CURTAINS.?"



slower than he used, these ie^ last evenings,
mother."

They were very quiet again. At last she said,
and in a steady, cheerful voice, that only faltered
once :

" 1 have known him walk with — I have known
him walk with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder very
fast indeed."

" And so have i," cried Peter. " Often,"

" And so have I," exclaimed another. So
had all.



" But he was very light to carry," she resumed,
intent upon her work, " and his father loved him
so, that it was no trouble : nO trouble. And
there is your father at the door ! "

She hurried out to meet him ; and little
Bob in his comforter — he had need of it, poor
fellow — came in. His tea was ready for him
on the hob, and they all tried who should
help him to it most. Then the two young
Cratchits got upon his knees, and laid, each
cluld, a little cheek against his face, as if they



POOR TINY TIM!



33



said, "Don't mind it, father. Don't be
grieved ! "

Bob was very cheerful with them, and spoke
pleasantly to all the family. He looked at the
work upon the table, and praised the industry
and speed of Mrs. Cratchit and the girls. They
would be done long before Sunday, he said.

" Sunday ! You went to-day, then, Robert ? "
said his wife.

" Yes, my dear," returned Bob. " I wish you
could have gone. It would have done you good
to see how green a place it is. But you'll see it
often. I promised him that I would walk there
on a Sunday. My little, little child !" cried Bob.
" My little child ! "

He broke down all at once. He couldn't help
it. If he could have helped it, he and his child
would have been farther apart, perhaps, than they
were.

He left the room, and went up-stairs into the
room above, which was lighted cheerfully, and
hung with Christmas. There was a chair set
close beside the child, and there were signs of
some one having been there lately. Poor Bob
sat down in it, and, when he had thought a little
and composed himself, he kissed the little face.
He was reconciled to what had happened, and
went down again quite happy.

They drew about the fire, and talked ; the girls
and mother working still. Bob told them of the
extraordinary kindness of Mr. Scrooge's nephew,
whom he had scarcely seen but once, and who,
meeting him in the street that day, and seeing
that he looked a little — " just a little down, you
know," said Bob, inquired what had happened
to distress him. " On which," said Bob, " for
he is the pleasantest-spoken gentleman you ever
heard, I told him. ' I am heartily sorry for it,
Mr. Cratchit,' he said, * and heartily sorry for
your good wife.' By-the-bye, how he ever knew
that I don't know."

" Knew what, my dear ? "

" Why, that you were a good wife," replied
Bob.

" Everybody knows that," said Peter.

" Very well observed, my boy ! " cried Bob.
" I hope they do. ' Heartily sorry,' he said,
' for your good wife. If I can be of service to
you in any way,' he said, giving me his card,
' that's where I live. Pray come to me.' Now,
it wasn't," cried Bob, " for the sake of anything
he might be able to do for us, so much as for
his kind way, that this was quite dehghtful. It
really seemed as if he had known our Tiny Tim,
and felt with us."

" I'm sure he's a good soul ! " said Mrs.
Cratchit.

Christmas Books, 3.



" You would be sure of it, my dear," returned
Bob, " if you saw and spoke to him. I shouldn't
be at all surprised — mark what I say ! — if he got
Peter a better situation."

" Only hear that, Peter," said Mrs. Cratchit.

" And then," cried one of the girls, " Peter
will be keeping company with some one, and
setting up for himself"

" Get along with you ! " retorted Peter, grin-
ning.

" It's just as likely as not," said Bob, " one of
these days; though there's plenty of time for
that, my dear. But, however and whenever we
part from one another, I am sure we shall none
of us forget poor Tiny Tim — shall we — or this
first parting that there was among us ? ''

" Never, father ! " cried they all.

" And I know," said Bob, " I know, my dears,
that when we recollect how patient and how
mild he was ; although he was a little, little
child ; we shall not quarrel easily among our-
selves, and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it."

" No, never, father ! " they all cried again.

" I am very happy," said little Bob, " I am
very happy ! "

Mrs. Cratchit kissed him, his daughters kissed
him, the two young Cratchits kissed him, and
Peter and himself shook hands. Spirit of Tiny
Tim, thy childish essence was from God !

" Spectre," said Scrooge, " something informs
me that our parting moment is at hand. I know
it, but I know not how. Tell me what man
that was whom we saw lying dead ? "

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come con-
veyed him, as before — though at a different time,
he thought : indeed, there seemed no order in
these latter visions, save that they were in the
Future — into the resorts of business men, but
showed him not himself. Indeed, the Spirit did
not stay for anything, but went straight on, as to
the end just now desired, until besought by
Scrooge to tarry for a moment.

" This court," said Scrooge, " through which
we hurry now, is where my place of occupation
is, and has been for a length of time. I see the
house. Let me behold what I shall be in days
to come."

The Spirit stopped ; the hand was pointed
elsewhere.

"The house is yonder," Scrooge exclaimed.
" Why do you point away ?"

The inexorable finger underwent no change.

Scrooge hastened to the window of his ofiice,
and looked in. It was an ofiice still, but not
his. The furniture was not the same, and the
figure in the chair was not himself. The Phantom
pointed as before.



34



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



He joined it once again, and, wondering why
and whither he had gone, accompanied it until
they reached an iron gate. He paused to look
round before entering.

A churchyard. Here, then, the wretched
man, whose name he had now to learn, lay
underneath the ground. It was a worthy place.
Walled in by houses; overrun by grass and
weeds, the growth of vegetation's death, not
life ; choked up with too much burying ; fat
with repleted appetite. A worthy place !

The Spirit stood among the graves, and
pointed down to One. He advanced towards
it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it
had been, but he dreaded that he saw new
meaning in its solemn shape.

" Before I draw nearer to that stone to which
you point/' said Scrooge, " answer me one
question. Are these the shadows of the things
that Will be, or are they shadows of the things
that May be only ? "

Still the Ghost pointed downward to the
grave by which it stood.

" Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends,
to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said
Scrooge. " But, if the courses be departed from,
the ends will change. Say it is thus with what
you show me ! "

The Spirit was immovable as ever.

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he
went ; and, following the finger, read upon the
stone of the neglected grave his own name,
Ebenezer Scrooge.

" Am /that man who lay upon the bed ? " he
cried upon his knees.

The finger pointed from the grave to him, and
back again.

" No, Spirit ! Oh no, no ! "

The finger still was there.

" Spirit ! " he cried, tight clutching at its robe,
" hear me ! I am not the man I was. I will
not be the man I must have been but for this
intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past
all hope ? "

For the first time the hand appeared to shake.

" Good Spirit," he pursued, as down upon the
ground he fell before it : " your nature inter-
cedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I
yet may change these shadows you have shown
me by an altered life ? "

The kind hand trembled.

" I will honour Christmas in my heart, and
try to keep it all the year. I will live in the
Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits
4jf all Three shall strive within me. I will not
shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell
me I may sponge away the writing on this stone ! "



In his agony, he caught the spectral hand.
It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his
entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger
yet, repulsed him.

Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have
his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the
Phantom's hood and dress. It shrunk, col-
lapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.



STAVE FIVE.



THE END OF IT.




ES ! and the bedpost was his own.
The bed was his own, the room was
his own. Best and happiest of all,
the Time before him was his own,
to make amends in !

" I will live in the Past, the Pre-
sent, and the Future ! " Scrooge repeated
as he scrambled out of bed. " The
Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh,
Jacob Marley ! Heaven and the Christmas
Time be praised for this ! I say it on my knees,
old Jacob ; on my knees ! "

He was so fluttered and so glowing with his
good intentions, that his broken voice would
scarcely answer to his call. He had been sob-
bing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and
his face was wet with tears.

" They are not torn down," cried Scrooge,
folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms,
" they are not torn down, rings and all. They
are here — I am here — the shadows of the things
that would have been may be dispelled. They
will be. I know they will ! "

His hands were busy with his garments all
this time ; turning them inside out, putting them
on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them,
making them parties to every kind of extrava-
gance.

" I don't know what to do ! " cried Scrooge,
laughing and crying in the same breath; and
making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his
stockings. " I am as light as a feather, I am as
happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-
boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A
merry Christmas to everybody ! A happy New
Year to all the world ! Hallo here ! Whoop !
Hallo ! "

He had frisked into the sitting-room, and was
now standing there : perfectly winded.

" There's the saucepan that the gruel was
in ! " cried Scrooge, starting oft' again, and going
round the fire-place. " There's the door by



A DELIGHTFUL BO Y.



.35



which the Ghost of Jacob IMarley entered !
There's the corner where the Ghost of Ghrist-
inas Present sat ! There's the window where I
saw the wandering Spirits ! It's all right, it's all
true, it all happened. Ha, ha, ha ! "

Really, for a man who had been out of prac-
tice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh,
3. most illustrious laugh. The father of a long,
long line of brilliant laughs !

" I don't know what day of the month it is,"
said Scrooge. " I don't know how long I have
been among the Spirits. I don't know anything.
I'm quite a baby. Nevermind. I don't care. I'd
rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!"

He was checked in his transports by the
churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had
ever heard. Clash, clash, hammer ; ding, dong,
bell ! Bell, dong, ding; hammer, clang, clash!
Oh, glorious, glorious !

Running to the window, he opened it, and
put out his head. No fog, no mist ; clear, bright,
jovial, stirring, cold ; cold, piping for the blood
to dance to; Golden sun-light; Heavenly sky;
sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious !
Glorious !

" What's ' to-day ? " cried Scrooge, calling
downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who
perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

" Eh?" returned the boy with all his might
of wonder.

" What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.

" To-day ! " replied the boy, " Why, Christ-
mas Day."

" It's Christmas Day ! " said Scrooge to him-
self. " I haven't missed it. The Spirits have
done it all in one night. They can do any-
thing they like. Of course they can. Of course
they can. Hallo, my fine fellow ! "

** Hallo ! " returned the boy.

" Do you know the Poulterer's in the next
street but one, at the corner?" Scrooge inquired.

" I should hope I did," replied the lad.

" An intelligent boy ! " said Scrooge. " A re-
markable boy ! Do you know whether they've
sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up
there? — Not the little prize Turkey: the big
one ? "

" What ! the one as big as me ? " returned the
boy.

" What a delightful boy ! " said Scrooge. " It's
a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck !"

" It's hanging there now," replied the boy.

" Is it ? " said Scrooge. " Go and buy it."

" Walk-ER ! " exclaimed the boy.

" No, no," said Scrooge, " I am in earnest.
Go and buy it, and tell 'em to bring it here,
that I may give them the directions where to



take it. Come back with the man, and I'll give
you a shilling. Come back with him in less
than five minutes, and I'll give you half-a-
crown ! "

The boy was off like a shot. He must have
had a steady hand at a trigger who could have
got a shot off half so fast.

" I'll send it to Bob Cratchit's," whispered
Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a
laugh. " He shan't know who sends it. It's
twice the size of Tiny Tim. Joe Miller never
made such a joke as sending it to Bob's will
be!"

The hand in which he wrote the address was
not a steady one ; but write it he did, somehow,
and went down-stairs to open the street-door,
ready for the coming of the poulterer's man.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 73 of 103)