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ing up the stairs ; then coming straight towards his door.

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

His color changed though, when, without a pause, it cam.e
on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before
his eyes. Upon its coming in, the d3ang flame leaped up, as
though it cried " I know him ; Marley's Ghost ! " and fell
a2:ain.

The same face : the very same. Marley in his pigtail,
usual waistcoat, tights and boots ; the tassels on the latter



i8 A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

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

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

No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked
the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before
him ; though he felt the chilling influence of his death-cold
eyes ; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief
bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not
observed before ; he was still incredulous, and fought against
his senses.

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

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

" Who are you ? "

" Ask me who I wasP

" Who %ve7'e you then ? " said Scrooge, raising his voice.
" You're particular, for a shade." He was going to say " to
a shade," but substituted this, as more appropriate,

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

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

" I can."

" Do it, then."

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

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

" I don't," said Scrooge.

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

" I don't know," said Scrooge.

" Why do you doubt your senses ? "

" Because," said Scrooge, " a little thing affects them. A



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



19



slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may
be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of
cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more
of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are ! "

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

To sit, staring at those fixed glazed eyes, in silence for a
moment, would play, Scrooge felt, the very deuce with him.
There was something very awful, too, in the spectre's being
provided with an infernal atmosphere of its own. Scrooge
could not feel it himself, but this was clearly the case ; for
though the Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its hair, and
skirts, and tassels, were still agitated as by the hot vapor
from an oven.

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

" I do," replied the Ghost.

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

" But I see it," said the Ghost, " notwithstanding."

" Well ! " returned Scrooge, " I have but to swallow this,
and be for the rest of my days persecuted by a legion of gob-
lins, all of my own creation. Humbug, I tell you ! hum-
bug ! "

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

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

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

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

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

" It is required of every man," the Ghost returned, " that



20 ^ CHRISTMAS CAROL.

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

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

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

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

Scrooge trembled more and more.

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

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

" Jacob," he said, imploringly. " Old Jacob Marley, tell
me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob ! "

" I have none to give," the Ghost replied. " It comes
from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by
other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you
what I would. A very little more, is all permitted to me. I
cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My
spirit never walked beyond our counting-house — mark me ! — •
in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our
money-changing hole ; and weary journeys lie before me ! "

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

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

" Slow ! " the Ghost repeated.

** Seven years dead." mused Scrooge. "And travelling
all the time ! "



.'/ CHRISTMAS CAROL. 2 1

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

" You travel fast ? " said Scrooge.

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

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

The Ghost, on hearing this set up another cry, and
clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night,
that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a
a nuisance.

" Oh ! captive, bound and double-ironed," cried the phan-
tom, " not to know, that ages of incessant labor, byim mor-
tal 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 opportunity misused !
Yet such was I ! Oh ! such was I ! "

" But you were always a good man of business, 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 ; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were,
all, my business. The dealings 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 light 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."



22 A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

It was not an agreeable idea. Scrooge shivered, and wiped
the perspiration from his brow.

" That is no light part of my penance," pursued 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.
'■' Thank'ee ! "

" 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 be-
tween 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, with 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
ill the air ; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret \



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



23



wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusator}\ 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 curios-
ity. He looked out.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and
thither in restless haste, and moaning 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 hves. 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
door-step. 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 en-
shrouded 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 undis-
turbed. 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 conversation 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.



THE FIRST OF THE THREE SPIRITS.

When 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 endeavoring to



24



A CHRISTMAS CAROL



pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a
neighboring church struck the four quarters. So he hstened
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 1

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 anything 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 way to the window. He was obliged to rub
the frost off with the sleeve of his dressing-go Vv^n 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 pos-
session of the world. This was a great relief, because " three
days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebene-
zer 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 over, and could make nothing of
it. The more he thought, the more perplexed he was ; and
the more he endeavored 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 i^ 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 resolved 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 con*



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



25



vinced 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 noth-
ing 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 feet, nor the curtains at his
back, but those to which his face was addressed. The cur-
tains of his bed were drawn aside ; and Scrooge, starting up
into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself 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 proportions.
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 singu-
lar 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 increas-
ing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt



26 A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

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 in-
stead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.

" Who, and what are you ? " Scrooge demanded.

" 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 any-
body 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 1 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 I and walk with me 1 "

It would have been in vain for Scrooge to plead that the
weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes ;
that the bed was warm, and the thermometer a long way below



A CHRISTMAS CAROL.



27



freezing ; that he was clad but Hghtly in his slippers, dress-
ing-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 his robe in supplication.

*' T am a mortal," Scrooge remonstrated, " and liable to
fall."

" Bear but a touch of my hand there y said the Spirit, lay-
ing 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 to-
gether, 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 instantaneous, appeared still
present to the old man's sense of feeling. He was conscious
of a thousand odors floating in the air, each one connected
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 ferv^or; "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 recognizing every
gate, and post, and tree ; until a little market-town appeared
m 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,
3



28 ^ CHRISTMAS CAROL.

"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 1 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
weathercock-surmounted cupola, on the roof, and a bell hang-
ing 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 over- run 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 savor in the air, a chilly bareness in the place,
which associated itself somehow with too much getting up by
candle-light, and not too nmch to eat.

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 w^as reading near a feeble fire ; and Scrooge sat down
upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he
used to be.

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

The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his



Online LibraryCharles DickensChristmas stories → online text (page 2 of 36)