• Victoria Reeve

A Christmas Carol


Stave II The First of the Three Spirits


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

To her 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 she went to bed. The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve!

She touched the spring of her 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, she scrambled out of bed, and groped her way to the window. She was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of her dressing-gown before she could see anything; and could see very little then. All she could make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro, and making a great stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had beaten off bright day, and taken possession of the world. This was a great relief, because “three days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Ms. Euphemia Scrooge or her 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 she thought, the more perplexed she was; and the more she endeavoured not to think, the more she thought.

Marley’s Ghost bothered her exceedingly. Every time she resolved within herself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, her mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all through, “Was it a dream or not?”

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

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

“Ding, dong!” “A quarter past,” said Scrooge, counting. “Ding, dong!” “Half-past!” said Scrooge. “Ding, dong!” “A quarter to it,” said Scrooge. “Ding, dong!” “The hour itself,” said Scrooge, triumphantly, “and nothing else!” She 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 her bed were drawn.

The curtains of her bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at her feet, nor the curtains at her back, but those to which her face was addressed. The curtains of her bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found herself 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 woman, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave her 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 singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.

Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.

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

“I am!”

The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside her, 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 anybody could have asked her; but she had a special desire to see the Spirit in her cap; and begged her to be covered.

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

Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowledge of having wilfully “bonneted” the Spirit at any period of her life. She then made bold to inquire what business brought her there.

“Your welfare!” said the Ghost.

Scrooge expressed herself 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 her thinking, for it said immediately:

“Your reclamation, then. Take heed!”

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

“Rise! and walk with me!”

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

“I am a mortal,” Scrooge remonstrated, “and liable to fall.”

“Bear but a touch of my hand there,” said the Spirit, laying it upon her 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 her hands together, as she looked about her. “I was bred in this place. I was a girl here!”

The Spirit gazed upon her mildly. Its gentle touch, though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the old woman’s sense of feeling. She was conscious of a thousand odours 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 her voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead her where she would.

“You recollect the way?” inquired the Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrooge said she knew it. And she 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 hanging in it. It was a large house, but one of broken fortunes; for the spacious offices were little used, their walls were damp and mossy, their windows broken, and their gates decayed. Fowls clucked and strutted in the stables; and the coach-houses and sheds were 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 savour in the air, a chilly bareness in the place, which associated itself somehow with too much getting up by candle-light, and not too much to eat.

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 girl was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see her poor forgotten self as she 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 heart of Scrooge with a softening influence, and gave a freer passage to her tears.

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

“Why, it’s Ali Baba!” Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. “It’s dear old honest Ali Baba! Yes, yes, I know! One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor girl! And Valentine,” said Scrooge, “and his wild sister, Olwyn; there they go! And what’s her name, who was put down in her drawers, asleep, at the Gate of Damascus; don’t you see her! And the Sultana’s Groom turned upside down by the Genii; there she is upon her head! Serve her right. I’m glad of it. What business had she to be married to the Prince!”

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

“There’s the Parrot!” cried Scrooge. “Green body and yellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce growing out of the top of his head; there she is! Poor Robyn Crusoe, she called her, when she came home again after sailing round the island. ‘Poor Robyn Crusoe, where have you been, Robyn Crusoe?’ The woman thought she was dreaming, but she wasn’t. It was the Parrot, you know. There goes Friday, running for her life to the little creek! Halloa! Hoop! Halloo!”

Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign to her usual character, she said, in pity for her former self, “Poor girl!” and cried again.

“I wish,” Scrooge muttered, putting her hand in her pocket, and looking about her, after drying her eyes with her cuff: “but it’s too late now.”

“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.

“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a girl singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given her something: that’s all.”

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

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

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

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

“I have come to bring you home, dear sister!” said the child, clapping his tiny hands, and bending down to laugh. “To bring you home, home, home!”

“Home, little Frances?” returned the girl.

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

“You are quite a man, little Frances!” exclaimed the girl.

He clapped his hands and laughed, and tried to touch her head; but being too little, laughed again, and stood on tiptoe to embrace her. Then he began to drag her, in his childish eagerness, towards the door; and she, nothing loth to go, accompanied him.

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

“Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered,” said the Ghost. “But he had a large heart!”

“So he had,” cried Scrooge. “You’re right. I will not gainsay it, Spirit. God forbid!”

“She died a man,” said the Ghost, “and had, as I think, children.”

“One child,” Scrooge returned. “True,” said the Ghost. “Your niece!” Scrooge seemed uneasy in her mind; and answered briefly, “Yes.”

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

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

“Know it!” said Scrooge. “Was I apprenticed here!”

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

“Why, it’s old Mrs. Fezziwig! Bless her heart; it’s Fezziwig alive again!”

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

“Yo ho, there! Euphemia! Dora!”

Scrooge’s former self, now grown a young woman, came briskly in, accompanied by her fellow-’prentice.

“Dora Wilkins, to be sure!” said Scrooge to the Ghost. “Bless me, yes. There she is. She was very much attached to me, was Dora. Poor Dora! Dear, dear!”

“Yo ho, my girls!” said Fezziwig. “No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dora. Christmas, Euphemia! Let’s have the shutters up,” cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of her hands, “before a woman can say Jane Robinson!”

You wouldn’t believe how those two lasses 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 lasses, and let’s have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dora! Chirrup, Euphemia!”

Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn’t have cleared away, or couldn’t have cleared away, with old Mrs. 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 fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mr. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Master Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young women and men employed in the business. In came the houseboy, with his cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with his sister’s particular friend, the milkwoman. In came the girl from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from her mistress; trying to hide herself behind the boy from next door but one, who was proved to have had his ears pulled by his master. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. 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 result was brought about, old Mrs. Fezziwig, clapping her hands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged her hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon her reappearance, she instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and she were a bran-new woman resolved to beat her out of sight, or perish.

There were more dances, and there were forfeits, 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 woman who knew her business better than you or I could have told it her!) struck up “Lady Roberta de Coverley.” Then old Mrs. Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mr. 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 who 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 Mr. Fezziwig. As to him, he was worthy to be her 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 skirts and, especially her bare arms. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn’t have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mr. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig “cut”—cut so deftly, that she appeared to wink with her legs, and came upon her feet again without a stagger.

When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mrs. and Mr. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually as she or he went out, wished her or him 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 lasses 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 woman out of her wits. Her heart and soul were in the scene, and with her former self. She corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now, when the bright faces of her former self and Dora were turned from them, that she remembered the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon her, 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 her to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when she had done so, said,

“Why! Is it not? She has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that she deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like her former, not her latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. She has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that her power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness she gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

She 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.”

Her former self turned down the lamps as she 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 she could see, but it produced an immediate effect. For again Scrooge saw herself. She was older now; a woman in the prime of life. Her 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.

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

“It matters little,” he 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?” she rejoined. “A golden one.” “This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” she 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,” he 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 aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”

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

He shook his 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 woman.”

“I was a girl,” she said impatiently.

“Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are,” he 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 everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us,” said the boy, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon her; “tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!”

She seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of herself. But she said with a struggle, “You think not.”

“I would gladly think otherwise if I could,” he answered, “Heaven knows! When I 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 boy—you who, in your very confidence with him, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing him, 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 her you once were.”

She was about to speak; but with his head turned from her, he 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!”

He left her, 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 her in both her arms, and forced her to observe what happened 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 boy, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw him, now a comely pater, sitting opposite his son. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in her 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 was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the father and son laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. 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 all the world have crushed that cravat, 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 his waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I should have expected 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 his lips; to have questioned him, that he might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of his downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake 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 woman enough to know its value.

But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such a rush immediately ensued that he with laughing face and plundered trouser legs was borne towards it the centre of a flushed and boisterous group, just in time to greet the mother, who came home attended by a woman laden with Christmas toys and presents. Then the shouting and the struggling, and the onslaught that was made on the defenceless porter!

The scaling her with chairs for ladders to dive into her pockets, despoil her of brown-paper parcels, hold on tight by her sash, hug her round her neck, pommel her back, and kick her legs in irrepressible affection! The shouts of wonder and delight with which the development 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 mistress of the house, having her son leaning fondly on her, sat down with him and his father at her own fireside; and when she thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called her mother, and been a spring-time in the haggard winter of her life, her sight grew very dim indeed.

“Bill,” said the wife, turning to her husband with a smile, “I saw an old friend of yours this afternoon.”

“Who was it?” “Guess!” “How can I? Tut, don’t I know?” he added in the same breath, laughing as she laughed. “Ms. Scrooge.” “Ms. Scrooge it was. I passed her office window; and as it was not shut up, and she had a candle inside, I could scarcely help seeing her. Her partner lies upon the point of death, I hear; and there she 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!”

She turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon her with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown her, 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 resistance 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 her, she 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 her force, she could not hide the light, which streamed from under it, in an unbroken flood upon the ground.

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

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